The Revelation of John - Introduction
The Revelation of John encourages Christians to keep faith in the face of trial and persecution. The author is a Christian prophet, John, who is persecuted himself and writes from exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea to churches in what is now western Turkey. He often employs the visionary and symbolic language characteristic of apocalyptic (“unveiling,” revelatory) literature to give his readers confidence that God, not Satan or the Roman emperor, is the Lord of history. Though there are symbolic images that seem to refer to Nero (54–68 C.E.) and parts may have been written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the book in its present form probably was written during the reign of Domitian (81–96 C.E.), a period when emperor worship was geographically extensive and coercive.
Among New Testament writings, Revelation is unique as a thoroughly apocalyptic document; it has forerunners in parts of such Old Testament books as Daniel, Isaiah, and Zechariah. Its very structure and language seem strongly influenced by Ezekiel. Like other apocalyptic writings composed in times of crisis and danger and portraying a struggle between God and God's adversaries, Revelation veils its message to hide it from pagan foes. Yet, the purpose of the symbols is to unveil or reveal to believers the ultimate divine victory and to encourage their loyalty to God. Steeped in Old Testament references, many of the seemingly cryptic statements are clarified when the reader consults these Scriptures.
The structure of Revelation is dominated by series of sevens, the biblical number of fullness or completeness. In powerful imagery and sometimes moving liturgical language, history is portrayed as unfolding toward that ultimate fullness of God's triumph in a new heaven and new earth. God and the Lamb (Jesus Christ) are “the first and the last.” To them belong “praise and honor, glory and might forever.” Such a message, though rooted in the first century, has been spiritually uplifting to poets, musicians, artists, and ordinary Christians through the ages.