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REVELATION – Background Information

Who, When, Where...

Glossary

Outline

Other Study Resources on Revelation


Who, When, Where...

Who wrote the book of Revelation?

The author identifies himself as "John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." (1.9) Though it is possible, there is no indication or likelihood that this is the disciple John the son of Zebedee who is presumed to have written the gospel of John or the presumed John "the Elder" who wrote the three letters of John. The John of Revelation does associate himself with the prophets (22.9) and seems to have been a Jewish-Christian who was exiled to Patmos because of his faith. The book of Revelation presents itself as a prophetic, pastoral message that the Church has come to recognize as an inspired Word of God.

When was Revelation written?

Most modern interpreters believe that Revelation was written sometime during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96 CE). According to Irenaeus (a second century theologian), it was in fact written toward the end of Domitian’s reign, and so sometime around 95 CE is a good estimate. Revelation was probably composed then, but it does contain earlier material. It reflects a situation where Christians were at least feeling some tension between their beliefs and practices as Christians and the expectations and demands of living as citizens within the Roman Empire.

To whom was it written?

It was written to seven Christian churches in the Roman province of Asia.

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Revelation Glossary

666 - 144,000 - Antichrist - Apocalypse, apocalyptic - Armageddon - Chiliasts - Dispensationalism - Eschatology - Millennium - Postmillennialism - Premillennialism - Preterist - Rapture - Symbolism - Tribulation

 

 

666 – Revelation 13.17-18 – "…This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six." (Some ancient versions read "six hundred sixteen.) There has been no lack of speculation regarding what this number means. Since both Hebrew and Greek use their alphabets for counting, it is possible to add up the value of the letters of a person’s name and arrive at a sum. Everything from the Roman emperor Nero to Adolph Hitler has been suggested. Others have pointed to the Roman Latin system of numbers where, if you take each of the numeric symbols—I(1), V(5), X(10), L(50), C(100), D(500)—and add them together, you arrive at 666. This suggests that perhaps the Roman political system is the "beast." According to the movie "The Omen," it will be an actual number embedded on the scalp of the human-born antichrist. Other recent speculations include Gorbachev (who bore the "mark of the beast") and Ronald Wilson Reagan (the only U.S. president to have 6 letters in each of his names). The identity of the beast remains beyond our confirmation, but it most likely does refer to Caesar Nero who is referred to in other ways in chapter 13.

144,000 –Revelation 7.1-8; 14.1-5 – The number of Jews—12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—who believe in Christ and provide a witness to the faithfulness of God. For non-literalists, this number refers to the wholeness and completeness of God’s promises to Israel. To Dispensationalists, it actually refers to 144,000 Christian Jews who will be divinely protected from the tribulation and serve as evangelists to the world. To Jehovah’s Witnesses, it refers to 144,000 "heavenly class" Christians who will be raptured first and have a judging role in the Kingdom of God.

Antichrist - The word "antichrist" appears only four times in the Bible: 1 John 2.18, 22; 4.3; and 2 John 7. In these instances it is refers to human beings, teachers who are supposedly Christian but who are false and deceptive. Some claim that the "little horn" of the fourth beast described in Daniel 7-8 is to be understood as the antichrist. In the New Testament, the name has been applied to the "false Christs" mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24.5,23-24 and to the "lawless one" described in 2 Thessalonians 2.3-4, 8-10. For those looking for the antichrist in Revelation, it has usually been identified as the beast from the sea mentioned in 13.1 and 17.1-18.

Apocalypse, apocalyptic - "Apocalypse" transliterates a Greek word meaning uncovering or revealing. It is the first word of the last book of the New Testament, and hence the book is called Revelation or sometimes "the Apocalypse." What is usually revealed is some hidden or secret information about the end of time. Apocalyptic literature often uses symbols and highly charged language to relate the seer’s heavenly journey and vision of the end. Daniel 7-12 in the Old Testament also is an apocalypse as is Mark 13 and 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18 in the New Testament.

Armageddon - The word "Armageddon" occurs only once in the Bible at Revelation 16.16 where it is used to locate the mythical place where the last battle would be fought. The word comes from the Hebrew "Har Megiddo," meaning, the Mount of Megiddo. There is indeed a place called Megiddo in northern Israel (see map) where, because of its strategic location, many battles were fought in ancient times, but it is a plain, not a mountain.

Dispensationalism - This concept originated around 1830 in Scotland with J. N. Darby of the Plymouth Brethren Church. He divided all of human history into seven epochs or "dispensations," characterized by the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3. C. I. Scofield popularized his views in the United States in the early 1900s. More recent advocates of this kind of eschatological outlook include Hal Lindsey and Jack van Impe. According to this view, we are currently living near the end of the sixth dispensation. The rapture and/or the beginning of the seven years of the "Great Tribulation" immediately precede the seventh dispensation of Christ’s millennial reign. In general, most such Dispensationalist or Futurist interpreters of Revelation are also Premillennialists. Israel and the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple often play a central role in Dispensationalist calculations which accounts for their interest in and support for the modern state of Israel.

Eschatology - Eschatos is a Greek word meaning "last." Eschatology, therefore, is a general way of referring to beliefs or teachings regarding the "last things," that is, events that happen in the end times.

Millennium - Millennium is the Latin word for "1000 years." In Revelation 20, Satan is bound for 1000 years while Christ and the Christian martyrs reign. This brief reference has given rise to considerable discussion among those who read Revelation literally about whether Christ will actually return to earth before the 1000 year reign in order to inaugurate it (Premillennialism) or after it (Postmillennialism). Groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, most Baptists, and Assemblies of God hold to a premillennarian viewpoint, but there are considerable differences in how they understand it. (Another general term for such millennialists is chiliasts.) Those groups who understand the 1000 years symbolically—which includes Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and others—are called amillennarian. Some amillenarians understand the millennium as that period of time between the first and second coming of Christ. Others describe it as a symbolic period time marking the inauguration of the world to come. Note that 1000 is 10 cubed, and a cube is the perfect geometrical shape describing the new Jerusalem in 21.9-27. It is, therefore, perhaps a way of talking about ‘time’ after time is ended. That is, it is ‘God’s time’ or eternal ‘time.’

Preterist - Preterist interpretations of Revelation believe that most, if not all, eschatological events happened in the first century of this era, especially in connection with the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE.

Rapture - The word comes from the Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17, where, in describing the resurrection and return of the Lord, Paul says that "we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up (Latin: rapio / raptum) in the clouds together with them [the dead in Christ] to meet the Lord in the air." This is the only mention of such a concept in the whole Bible, though the instantaneous transformation described in 1 Corinthians 15.51-52 is also sometimes cited as describing a "rapture" as well as the description of some being taken and some being left behind in Matthew 24.40-41 and Luke 17.34-35. The concept of a rapture is not to be found in Revelation, and many Christians (Lutherans in general among them) do not believe in a rapture as an event marked by saints vanishing from earth. Instead, the act of being "caught up" is simply one way to describe what happens to Christians who are alive when the final resurrection and judgment occurs. Among those who read Revelation with a "literal" or Dispensationalist viewpoint and for whom the rapture is a singular event, there is considerable debate about when the rapture occurs in respect to their understanding of the events in Revelation. Some claim a "Pre-Tribulation" view, pointing to Revelation 4.1 as an indication of the rapture preceding the seven years of tribulations. Others point to Revelation 11.12 and 12.14 as an indication that the rapture occurs "Mid-Tribulation." Still others, using the sequence described in 1 Corinthians 15.51-52 as a basis, point to texts like Revelation 11.15-19 and 14.14-16 to claim a "Post-Tribulation" rapture.

Event

   
  Rapture according to:
(Rev 4.1: "Come up")
Pre-Tribulationists
"Great Tribulation" of 7 years (Rev 7.14)    
  Rapture according to:
(Rev 11.12: "Come up" or
Rev 18.4: "Come out")
Mid-, Post-, or Partial Tribulationists
  Second Coming of Christ according to: Premillennialists
  First Resurrection  

Millennium (Rev 20)

   
  Second Resurrection/Judgment according to: Premillennialists
  Second Coming of Christ according to: Postmillennialists

Most of the literal interpreters who are concerned with these issues (Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, etc.) are pre-tribulation, premillennial, Dispensationalists.

Symbolism - Like most of the other apocalyptic literature of its time, Revelation employs symbolism to convey its message. (On this symbolism, see the "Reading Guide Guide to the Apocalypse of John" link given below.)

NUMBERS

 

COLORS

 

ANIMALS

3 spiritual world   White Victory   Beasts, Dragon satanic powers
4 created order   Red War & Strife   Lamb animal of sacrifice
7 perfection, completion (7=3+4)   Black Famine & Suffering   Lion King
10 totality   Pale Death (i.e., gray-yellow,   Eagles & Oxen superior animals of their kind
12 Israel, the people of God (12=3x4)     the color of rotting meat)   Horns power (multiple horns= multiple rulers)
multiples of these numbers are also symbolic (144,000=10x10x10x12x12)            

Tribulation - The "Great Tribulation" or "Great Ordeal" is mentioned in 7.14 in the context of describing the saints who have "come out of the great ordeal."  It is also referred to in 3.10 as "the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth." In 13.5-10, it is described as the time when the first beast exercises authority on earth. Also see Rapture above.


Outline of Revelation

Revelation     Session Topics
1.1-8   Prologue 1- Once upon a time…
1.9-20   Vision of Christ
2.1-3.22   Letters to the Seven Churches
4.1-5.14   Vision of the Throne of Heaven 2 - How many times…
6.1-8.5   The Seven Seals
  7.1-17

Visions of Hope

8.6-11.19   The Seven Trumpets 3 - Time for a Change
  10.1-11.13

Visions of Hope

12.1-14.20   Seven Portents 4 - Time Is on Our Side
15.1-16.21   The Seven Bowls of the Wrath of God 5 - Time’s Up
  15.2-8

Vision of Hope

17.1-20.3   Prelude to the End
20.4-22.17   The End: New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem 6 - Time after Time
22.18-21   Epilogue

Other Study Resources on Revelation

Augsburg Commentary on Revelation by Gerhard Krodel (Augsburg Fortress, 1989) – excellent general commentary

Revelation: Vision of a Just World from Proclamation Commentaries by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (Fortress Press, 1991)

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination by Eugene Peterson (HarperCollins, 1988)

Joy in our Weakness-A Gift of Hope from the Book of Revelation by Marva Dawn (Concordia, 1994)

"A Reading Guide to the Apocalypse of John" at http://www.chowan.edu/acadp/webcourses/rel112newtestamentintroduction/reading.htm

"Visions of the Apocalypse" at http://www.visions-of-apocalypse.com/   - a multimedia reading of Revelation

"End Times, the Millennium, and the Book of Revelation" resource list at http://www.unidial.com/~eandsynod/resourcec/revelatn.htm


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MGVH
1999 Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman
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