Book of Revelation is a unique portion of the New Testament. Unlike the other Books found in the latter part of the Bible, the Book of Revelation is not presented as a historical document or an instructional discussion, but is essentially a prophetic book, intended to deliver a glimpse of upcoming history that affects the happenings of the church. Also more mystery and disagreement surrounds the Book of Revelation than any other part of the New Testament. Why is this so? One reason why there is so much disharmony in the interpretations of the Book of Revelation is that there are different perspectives from which this apocalyptic book could be understood. The magnificence of revelation is apparent in its intersection of shared imagery, language and style. It is often beneficial to read revelation alongside the Old Testament. Bible scholars have found up to 500 references from the Old Testament in Revelation.
The perspectives held by different individuals vary according to their personal beliefs, schooling, and agendas. The book is written in a style called apocalyptic literature, which was popular from 200 B.C. To 200 A.D, and was normally used in times of persecution, usually depicting the conflict. Features of this style of writing include the use of highly figurative of or symbolic language between good and evil. The element of repetition is an important characteristic of the Book of Revelation. In order to interpret the book properly, it is necessary to understand the historical context in which it was written.
Although the meaning of the text of the Book of Revelation is open to interpretation, the authorship of the Book has been shown to be quite definite. The Book of Revelation was authored by the apostle John, brother of James, who was known as the one "who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ" (1:1-2). The authorship of the book by John is supported by the testimony of Justin Martyr (165 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (220 A.D.), Hippolytus (236 A.D.), and Origen (254 A.D.).
There is controversy over when exactly the Book of Revelation was written, and one's interpretation perspective may influence which date to adhere to. There are two dates proposed by different scholars for the authorship of the book. The first date proposed is from 81 A.D. To 96 A.D., which was the end of the reign of Emperor Domitian. The other proposed date is 65-68 A.D., which was the latter part of the reign of Nero. The first proposed date is followed by the ancient church and is supported by historical testimony. The second proposed date, however, is supported by internal evidence found within the Book of Revelation itself.
The visions that inspired John to write the Book of Revelation were seen upon the Island of Patmos. Johnson (1891) explains the validity of this claim in the following passage:
It is the Universal testimony of the early church that John survived the destruction of Jerusalem, that when the storm of war was gathering around that devoted city he, in obedience to the Lord's warning (Matt. 24:16), fled from the coming desolation, and finally took up his abode in Ephesus, in the midst of the churches of Asia, founded by the apostle Paul. During his long sojourn in this region, which extended until the close of his life, he was banished in the persecution of the latter part of the reign of Domitian. Patmos, the place of exile, is simply a rocky prison house in the sea. It consists of three rocky masses connected by isthmuses, is about thirty miles in circuit, lies in the south part of the Aegean sea, and one of a group called the Sporades.
John was influenced by the prophecies of Daniel more than any other book, and the Book of Revelation was written with a similar purpose to the book of Daniel. The Book of Daniel was written with the purpose of comforting the Jews under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. Similarly, the Book of Revelation was written at a time when the Christians were cruelly persecuted under the reign of Domitian, and false-prophets tried to seduce people into heathen practices. The main message in the Book of Revelation is for Christians to stay true to their faith and to have courage in dealing with misfortunes. John encourages Christians with promises of reward, and that Christ's triumphant return is at hand, when he will come to judge the living and the dead. However, the time of Christ's return is unknown. In fact, many Christians of the apostolic age believed that Christ would return during their own lifetime or generation.
Often times, the purpose of determining authorial intention is to safeguard one's own perspective of interpretation. Nonetheless, the main purpose of the Book of Revelation is clearly stated at the beginning and the end of the book (1:1,3; 22:10,16): to reveal "things which must shortly come to pass." Specifically, the Book of Revelation may be interpreted as a message from Christ himself of the judgement to come upon those who were persecuting His people, and this judgement was especially directed towards two enemies, Babylon the harlot and the beast. The Harlot is often interpreted as either the city of Rome or Jerusalem. The beast, which supported the harlot, is often interpreted as the Roman Empire led by persecuting emperors, such as Nero and Domitian. Overall, the purpose of the Book of Revelation may be interpreted as a message of warning for erring disciples and a message of comfort for faithful disciples. The key verse that summarizes the Book of Revelation is found at Revelation 17:14, and reads as follows:
These will make war with the lamb, and the lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful."
There are generally four different views utilized in the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. All methods of interpretation have something of value to offer, and nothing is gained by repressing one interpretation in favour of another. These include the preterist view, the historicist view, the futurist view, and the idealist view. The preterist view believes that the book refers to events that were fulfilled in the first century A.D., or shortly thereafter. This perspective promotes the idea that the book was written primarily to encourage the original readers. Preterists would believe that the current value of the Book of Revelation is didactic, or it teaches the value of faithfulness to God.
The historicist view interprets the book as providing a panoramic view of the church from its inception through history. This view believes that the Book of Revelation contains information about events such as the rise of Catholicism, Islam, the Protestant Reformation, etc., ending with the second coming of Christ. Historicists would believe that the book encourages Christians living throughout all periods in history.
The futurist view holds that the Book of Revelation depicts events that immediately precede the second coming of Christ. Therefore, much of the book is unfolding now, or has yet to occur. Futurists believe that the Book of Revelation holds the most value for those who will be living at the time of Christ's return.
The Idealist view ascertains that the Book of Revelation does not address any specific historical situation. Alternately, it is enforcing the principle that good will ultimately triumph over evil. Idealists believe that the Book of Revelation is relevant to any time in history. The chosen method of interpretation varies depending on personal, educational, and historical factors.
Overall, the whole Book of Revelation might be divided into five parts. The first part contains chapters one to four, and it embraces the Introduction, the Vision of the Son of Man, the Letters to the Seven Churches, and Vision of the Opened Heaven and the Throne of God. The second part, which is comprised of chapters five to eleven, opens with a Vision of a Book sealed with Seven Seals in the Hands of Him who sits upon the Throne, which is the Book of Destiny whose contents are hidden by the seals. The Lamb of God opens the seals and consequentially reveals the future. As each seal is opened a vision appears which delivers a symbol representing a period of history relevant to the church. Six seals are opened, followed by a pause before the opening of the seventh seal. The seventh seal is then opened and is found to contain Seven Thunders and Seven Trumpets. The trumpets are sounded in succession, and each is followed by important events. When the last trumpeted is sounded, the End arrives with the return of Christ. In other words, the Seven Seals, with the Seven Trumpets under the last seal reach to the end of time.
The third part, which is comprised of chapters twelve through eighteen, opens with a vision of a woman, which is a symbol of the church. A Seven-headed Beast and a…