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Introduction to the Book of Revelation


I. Writer


         The author of this book called himself “John” (See 1:1, 2, 4, 9; 22:8). In the last years of the first century, the only one who was alive among the twelve apostles was John and as long as John was mentioned among the churches, everyone would know that it was John the apostle and the introduction was not needed. According to the tradition of the early church, John the apostle fulfilled his duty at work in Asia in his old age. Therefore he was familiar with the churches in that area and it was suitable for the Lord to use him to write epistles to the seven churches in Asia (See 1:4). Though some people argued that the words used in the Book of Revelation were greatly different from that in the book of John and the first, second and third epistles of John, the words were certainly different because the Book of Revelation was recorded completely according to what he had seen and heard. Christ was called “the Word of God” (See 19:13) at least and such appellation was especially used by John (See John. 1:1, 2, 14; 1John. 1:1). Moreover, the “Lamb”, “truth” and “witness” that were frequently used in this book were usually seen in John’s books. And therefore the majority of the Bible exegetes agreed that this book was written by John the apostle.

    John the apostle was the son of Zebedee (Matt.10:2), the younger brother of James. His mother Salome (Matt. 27:56; cf. Mark.15:40; 16:1), one of the sisters who followed and served Jesus from Galilee (Matt. 27:55), was possibly the sister of the Lord’s mother (Matt. 27:56; cf. John.19:25). John and his brother James were therefore possibly the Lord’s cousins. No wonder that the two brothers asked their mother to seek favor in the face of the Lord, so that they could sit in His kingdom, one on His right hand and one on His left (Matt. 20:20-21).

         Probably, John was born in a wealthy family: his father, possessing boats and hired servants (Mark. 1:20), was a great fisherman. And John also knew the high priest (John. 18:15). Apart from his house in Galilee, it appears that he had another house in Jerusalem (John. 19:27).

         Originally, he was the disciple of John the Baptist. When John the Baptist testified toward his disciples: “Behold, the Lamb of God”, two of the disciples followed Jesus and abode with him. One of them is Andrew, and the other unnamed is John the apostle (John. 1:35-40), for he had never mentioned his own name in the gospel written by himself.

         It seems that he had been called by the Lord more than once. In the first time, the Lord said to them: “Come and see.”(John. 1:39) But after following the Lord for a period of time, he returned to his fishing business. Later, the Lord called him the second time by the Sea of Galilee and he left his father, partners and the boat, thus becoming a fisher of man (Matt. 4:18-22). Still later on, the Lord called him out of the disciples to be one of the twelve apostles (Luke. 6:13-14).

         Of the twelve disciples, there were three who were especially intimate with the Lord----Peter, James and John (Luke. 8:51; 9:28; Mark. 14:33). Of these three, John was the one nearest to the Lord. John had leaned on the breast of Jesus (John. 13:25); he was the one whom Jesus loved (John. 13:23); he was the only disciple witnessing the Lord’s suffering below the cross (John. 19:26); and he was the one who was entrusted by the Lord with the responsibility to take home the Lord’s mother (John. 19:27).

         John and his brother were called “Boanerges, which is, the son of the thunder” (Mark. 3:17). It was therefore imaginable that John was an irritable man. When he saw someone casting out demons in the Lord’s name, who did not follow together with them, John was provoked to jealousy for the Lord and forbade his work (Luke. 9:49). When John saw that the people in Samaria refused to receive the Lord, he and James asked the Lord to permit them to replay the story of Elijah----to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them (Luke. 9:54). However, his disposition as son of thunder was melted by Lord’s love and gradually became an apostle who specialized in preaching love.

         After the Lord’s ascension, he left and dwelt in Jerusalem. Knowing that the Lord had given Peter the key of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:18-19), John held his proper position and assisted Peter to build the churches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He cooperated with Peter closely: they prayed with one accord in that upper room; they stood up on the Day of Pentecost to announce the gospel, they healed the born lame at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful and testified the Lord’s resurrection to the people. They were both put in custody by the rulers afterwards, and both preached Jesus of Nazareth before them, and they had been fellow-workers in Samaria (Acts. 1:13-14; 2:14; 3:1-4:22; 8:14).

         Before the fall of Jerusalem, John the apostle had moved westward to minister the Lord in the churches in Asia Minor (Paul was martyred in that days.). He abode in Ephesus, from which he was exiled, in the reign of the Roman despot Domitian, to the island of Patmos----a desolate island in the Aegean Sea----where he saw the vision of the glorious Lord and wrote the Book of Revelation.

John lived a long life of almost 100 years on earth. It was then spread among the disciples that John would not die, but John himself clarified the rumor (John. 21:23). We knew from his disciple Polycrates that John the apostle was martyred for his Lord in his old age.


II. The Time and Location the Book was Written


         Probably John the apostle recorded the signs while he saw them (See 10:4) and he arranged them into a book after he was released from the island called Patmos and returned to Asia (See 1:9). We could conclude that this book was probably written between A. D. 95 and 99 and in two places----the island called Patmos and Ephesus.


III. The Recipients


         This epistle was written to His servants (See 1:1) and the angels of the seven churches (See 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7,14) and it was also written to the whole church (See 1:4), that all the saints could read, hear and keep the words (See 1:3).


IV. The Motivation for Writing the Book


         At that time, the churches were both persecuted by the Roman Empire (See 1:9; 2:9) and attacked by heresies (See 2:2, 9, 13-15; 20). The churches were persecuted both inside and outside and were facing the great crisis of survival. And therefore the Lord wrote this book through John the apostle with the following reasons:

  1) Exhorting all men to turn their eyes away from tribulations and look upon the Lord, regain their first love, overcome all the circumstances and be faithful to the end, that they shall partake in the kingdom. 

2) Warning all men not to follow heresies or the trend of the world but to hold fast to the word of God and the name of the Lord, that they shall be rewarded in future.

3) Opening the spiritual mysteries to make us see that the progress of the worldly things is arranged and managed by the hand of God so that we could turn our eyes to Him from the outer things and therefore we could receive consolation.

4) Opening the mysteries of eternity to change our insight from the earth to the heaven and from this age to eternity so that we shall be encouraged and strengthened to finish the race of this life.


V. The Importance of This Book


         This book is a summary of the Bible. Without this book, the Bible would have a beginning but no end and the difficult problems in other books would be unsolved.

This book is one that realizes the hope. Without this book, many of the promises and hopes recorded in each book would seem to be unfinished to us.

This book states the end of Satan and its followers. Without this book, many believers would be still puzzled about God’s power and plan.

This book makes us long for the second coming of the Lord, be encouraged in tribulation, that we can’t help crying out that, “come, Lord Jesus”.


VI. General Description


         This book brings believers into the heaven and the spirit: first knowing the greatness of the Lord from every aspect, our relation with Him; knowing ourselves from the church history and the real conditions and knowing the heavenly mysteries------everything in the earth will be realized according to the eternal plan of God and the world is striding forward the final result gradually. If believers have not come to realize the truth, we will be left on the earth and our bodies shall suffer various disasters. However, if we are faithful unto the end, we shall reign with Christ for a thousand years. A little glorious condition of eternity is also revealed in this book so that our hearts will be attracted to seize opportunities to make us prepared as a bride adorned for the second coming of the husband.


VII. Special Points


         The features of this book are as follows:

1) there are many signs in this book. The mysterious things cannot be expressed by concrete words and therefore signs, metaphors and implied meanings are used in the narrative. Only those who have a willing to pursue the knowledge of them will understand them with the help of the Holy Spirit.

         2) numbers are frequently used in this book and here an example of seven is given and various things related to seven are listed: “seven churches” (1:4, 11, 20), “seven Spirits” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6,6), “seven golden lampstands” (1:12, 20, 20), “seven stars” (1:16, 20, 20; 2:1; 3:1), “seven lamps of fire” (4:5, 5), “seven seals” (5:1, 2, 5, 9; 6:1; 8:1), “seven horns and seven eyes” (5:6), “seven angels” (8:2, 6; 15:1, 6, 7, 8; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9), “seven thunders” (10:3, 4, 4, 4), “seven thousand people” (11:13), “heads” (12:3, 3; 13:1, 1, 3; 17:3, 7, 9); “seven woes” (15:1, 1, 6, 8; 21:9), “seven bowels” (16:1; 17:1), “seven mountains” (17:9), “seven kings” (17:10, 11).

3) this book could be read from various angles, for example: the epistles to the seven churches in the second and third chapters could be read by four ways: a) they are the real conditions of the seven churches in the province of Asia; b) they are the seven kinds of conditions of the churches in every phase; c) they are the types of the development of the church history; d) they could be warnings and exhortations to everyone who reads this book.

4) this book elevates men into the heavenly state to see the development of all the things on the earth with the high and everlasting insight.

5) this book is one that talks about judgments and it includes the judgment of the seven churches, the judgment of antichrists, the judgment of Babylon the great, the judgment before the white throne and etc.

6) this book reveals the mystery in heaven, the mystery of the spiritual conflict, the mystery of disasters in the last time, the mystery of the new Jerusalem and a new heave and a new earth and etc.

7) this book is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” and it completely reveals our Lord from various angles, so that we could know Him more deeply.

8) it is specially mentioned in this book that the great tribulation shall come in the last time and its terrible condition is unprecedented and unrepeatable. “Woe, woe, woe” to all those who experience it indeed.

9) this book still has seven promises of “blessing” and seven heavenly “praise” in the awesome description. “Seven” refers to the perfect works from God. All those who love God are encouraged by love to pursue blessings and sing the praise.


VIII. It’s Relations with Other Books in the Bible 


         There are 404 verses in this book and 278 of which are quoted from the Old Testament. The quoted scriptures are from 25 rolls and there are more than five hundred places. Almost every roll of the Old Testament is related to this book, however, the Book of Genesis is the closest one.

    1) the Book of Genesis is the beginning of the Bible and in which the beginning of all things is recorded; the Book of Revelation is the ending of the Bible and in which the ending of all things is recorded.

2) the old heaven and the old earth and the creation of old life are recorded in the first three chapters of the Book of Genesis; the old heaven and the old earth and the ending of old life and that everything is renewed is recorded in the last three chapters of the Book of Revelation.

3) how men lost the enjoyment of paradise and the tree of life because of sin is recorded in the Book of Genesis; in the Book of Revelation it is recorded that overcomers shall enjoy the fruits from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God and all the people of God shall partake in the river of life and the tree of life.

4) the building of the towel and the city of Babel is recorded in the Book of Genesis; the ending of the city of Babel and that the city of New Jerusalem shall come down out of heaven is recorded in the Book of Revelation.

5) it is recorded in the Book of Genesis how Satan deceived men to sin and fall and the death was brought in; it is recorded in the Book of Revelation that Satan, sin and death are thrown into the lake of fire out of the city of New Jerusalem.

6) the marriage of “the first Adam” is recorded in the Book of Genesis; the marriage of “the last Adam” is recorded in the Book of Revelation.

7) how God had destroyed all flesh by flood is recorded in the Book of Genesis; how God will destroy all the negative persons and things by fire.


IX. Key Verses


“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (1:19).

     “He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).


X. Key Words


Revelation” (1:1), “open” (5:2, 5, 9; 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12; 8:1).

“Witness” (1:2, 5, 9; 2:13; 3:14; 6:9; 11:3, 7; 12:11, 17; 17:6; 19:10, 10; 20:4; 22:18), “testify” (1:2; 22:16, 20).

“Judge” (6:10; 11:18; 14:7; 18:8; 19:11; 20:4, 12, 13), “judgment” (17:1; 18:10), “wrath” (6:16, 17; 11:18; 14:10, 19), “the wrath of God” (14:10; 15:1, 7; 16:1).


XI. Outlines of the Book


The Revelation of Jesus Christ

I. Foreword (1:1-8)

  A. the origin, contents and functions of this book (1:1-3)

  B. the recipients of this book, grace and blessing (1:4-6)

  C. the will of this book------declaring that the Lord shall come again and He lives forever and is almighty (1:7-8)

II. The things which you have seen------the sign of glorious Christ (1:9-20)

  A. the condition at that time of the one who saw the sign (1:9-11)

  B. the sign of glorious Christ that had been seen (1:12-16)

  C. the reaction and the reception of instructions after he had seen the sign (1:17-19)

III. The things which are------the seven churches (2:1-3:22)

  A. the church of Ephesus (2:1-7)------the sluggish church

  B. the church in Smyrna (2:8-11)------the church of tribulation

  C. the church in Pergamos (2:12-17)------the worldly church

  D. the church in Thyatira (2:18-29)------the licentious church

  E. the church in Sardis (3:1-6)------the declining church

  F. the church in Philadelphia (3:7-13)------the church that hold fasts

  G. the church of the Laodiceans (3:14-22)------the lukewarm church

IV. The things which will take place after this------the last time and eternity (4:1-22:17)

  A. the scenes in the heaven (4:1-5:14)

1. One who sits on the throne receives worship (4:1-11)------the arbitrator of the universe

2. a scroll sealed closely (5:1-4)------the hidden will of God

3. the Lion and the Lamb (5:5-14)------only Him is worthy to open the scroll

  B. opening the seven seals (6:1-8:5)

1. the first seal------a white horse (6:1-2)

2. the second seal------a fiery red horse (6:3-4)

3. the third seal------a black horse (6:5-6)

4. the forth seal------a pale horse (6:7-8)

5. the fifth seal------the cry under the altar (6:9-11)

6. the sixth seal------the heaven and the earth shake (6:12-17)

The first inserted sign: the sealed children of Israel (7:1-8)

The second inserted sign: the conditions after the church has been raptured (7:9-17)

7. the seventh seal------the seven trumpets are brought in (8:1-5)

  C. sounding the seven trumpets (8:6-11:19)

1. the first trumpet------a third of the things on the earth were burned up (8:6-7)

2. the second trumpet------a third of the sea was ruined (8:8-9)

3. the third trumpet------a third of the waters were damaged (8:10-11)

4. the forth trumpet------a third of the sun, the moon and the stars were struck (8:12)

5. the fifth trumpet------the first woe (8:13-9:11)

6. the sixth trumpet------the second woe (9:12-21)

The third inserted sign: a mighty angel and a little book (10:1-11)

The forth inserted sign: the holy city and two witnesses (11:1-13)

7. the seventh trumpet------the third woe (11:14-19)

The fifth inserted sign: a woman in labor and a great, fiery red dragon (12:1-17)

The second inserted sign: a beast rising up out of the sea and a beast coming up out of the earth (13:1-18)

The forth inserted sign: three kinds of reaping and four kinds of declarations (14:1-20)

  D. pouring out the seven bowls (15:1-16:21)

1. the preparation of the last seven plagues and praise (15:1-8)

2. the first bowl------the plague that a loathsome sore came upon men (16:1-2)

3. the second bowl------the plague that the sea became blood (16:3)

4. the third bowl------the plague that the waters became blood (16:4-7)

5. the forth bowl------the plague that the sun scorched men (16:8-9)

6. the fifth bowl------the plague that the kingdom of the beast became full of darkness and men became painful (16:10-11)

7. the sixth bowl------the plague that three unclean spirits stirred up the battle of great day (16:12-16)

    8. the seventh bowl------the plague of great hail (16:17-21)

  E. the kingdom of a thousand years and the two wives, two cities and two suppers before and after it (17:1-22:5)

1. the judgment of the great harlot (17:1-18)

2. the falling of Babylon the great (18:1-24)

3. the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:1-10)

4. the supper of all the birds in the midst of heaven (19:11-21)

5. the kingdom of a thousand years and the judgment before the great white throne (20:1-15)

6. the bride of the Lamb is adorned (21:1-9)

7. the holy city, New Jerusalem (21:10-22:5)

V. Epilogue (22:6-21)

  A. the message (22:6-16)

  B. the reaction (22:17)

  C. the warning (22:18-19)

  D. the praise and blessing (22:20-21)


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Sharon Ren