Book Summaries

Gr. Apokalupsis, "apocalypse," "disclosure," "unveiling," "something revealed."] The last book of the NT, to which its author, John gives the title, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (ch 1:1). In the earliest extant Greek manuscripts the title reads simply, Apokalupsis Ioannou, "Apocalypse of John," more elaborate titles coming from later centuries. In religious literature the term apokalupsis refers to the unveiling of the future, especially through the medium of symbolic prophecy. Daniel and Zechariah are the OT counterparts of the Revelation in the NT. During the intertestamental and early Christian periods, many other non-Biblical apocalyptic treatises were produced by the Jews, the pseudepigraphical works known as First Enoch and the Sibylline Oracles being noteworthy examples of this type of literary activity (see Pseudepigrapha). While the Western church accepted the Revelation as Scripture from the very first, for centuries the churches in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria generally rejected its claim to a place in the sacred canon, and it was not until the close of the 4th cent. that the last book of the NT as we know it today was generally accepted in the East. The first Christian writer to refer expressly to the Revelation was Justin Martyr (c. a.d. 140). The first known commentary on it was written about a.d. 170 by Melito of Sardis, the church in his city being one of the churches mentioned in the Apocalypse. Cyprian of Carthage, about the middle of the 3rd cent., highly honoured the Apocalypse, while Eusebius of Caesarea (died c. a.d. 340) was not sure about its authenticity, but permitted its reading. Gregory of Nazianzus (died a.d. 389?) published a list of NT books omitting the Revelation as did Cyril of Jerusalem (died a.d. 386). It was not until the "Easter Letter" of Athanasius in a.d. 367 that the 27 books now composing the NT were all mentioned together as canonical.

The author of the Revelation identifies himself simply as "John" (see chs 1:1, 4, 9; 21:2, KJV; 22:8), "your brother" (ch 1:9). Apparently he was so well known that he did not consider it necessary to identify himself further in order to secure the confidence of its intended readers. All Christian writers until the middle of the 3rd cent. whose works are extant today and who mention the matter at all attribute it to John the apostle. Among these writers were Justin Martyr (died c. a.d. 165; Dialogue With Trypho 81), Irenaeus (died c. a.d. 202; Against Heresies iv. 20. 11; 30. 4; v. 26. 1; 35. 2; etc.), Tertullian (died c. a.d. 240; The Prescription Against Heretics 36; Against Marcion iii. 14. 3; etc.), Hippolytus (died c. a.d. 235; Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, xxxvi), Clement of Alexandria (died c. a.d. 220; Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? xlii), and Origen (died c. a.d. 254; Commentary on John 1. 14). Irenaeus(op. cit. iii. 3.1 4; ANF, vol. 1, p. 416) mentions also that the apostle John was living in Ephesus until the days of the emperor Trajan (a.d. 98 ­117), and Polycrates (died c. a.d. 200) testifies that he was buried there (Epistle to Victor and the Roman Church Concerning the Day of Keeping the Passover; ANF, vol. 8, p. 773). These statements coincide with the fact that John addressed himself to Ephesus and the other churches of Asia (Rev 1:4, 11).

However, a certain statement by Papias (died c. a.d. 163), as quoted by the church historian Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. iii. 39. 3, 4; Loeb ed., vol. 1, pp. 291, 293), who died c. a.d. 340, has been interpreted to mean that the apostle John died long before the close of the 1st cent. Unfortunately the works of Papias have been lost, and all that is known of what he wrote exists today in highly fragmentary form in quotations preserved by Eusebius and other writers. However, conclusions based on this ambiguous statement of Papias are, at best, highly conjectural. The first serious challenge to Johannine authorship was raised by Dionysius of Alexandria (died c. a.d. 265; see Eusebius Hist. Eccl. vii. 24, 25). Because of substantial literary differences between the Revelation and the Gospel of John, he concluded that the 2 works could not have come from one man. For instance, the word pisteuo, "to believe," occurs 100 times in the Gospel, and not once in the Revelation; kosmos, "world," 79 times in John, and 3 times in the Revelation; alla, "but," more than 100 times in John, and only 13 times in the Revelation. In referring to Christ as "the Lamb," the Gospel always uses the word amnos, whereas in the Revelation it is consistently arnion. Numerous other linguistic differences are also apparent. Dionysius also noted that the Greek of the Gospel is correct and idiomatic, whereas in many places that of the Revelation departs from accepted Greek grammar and syntax. It cannot be denied that the vocabulary and literary style of the Revelation are strikingly different from those of the Gospel According to John. The former exhibits an unusual degree of liberty with the ordinary standards of Greek diction and syntax, whereas the language of the Gospel conforms to good Greek usage. Dionysius also emphasised the fact that whereas in the Revelation the author repeatedly gives his name, the author of the Gospel of John concealed his identity. Furthermore, Eusebius, apparently influenced by Dionysius, interpreted Papias' statement, referred to above, to mean that there were 2 men by the name of John who lived in Asia toward the close of the 1st cent.--the apostle and another called "the presbyter," or elder--and concluded that the latter was the author of the book of Revelation. However, the quotation from Papias may also be taken as identifying this "presbyter" with John the apostle. These criticisms appear to have had a wide influence upon the thinking of the Eastern church in regard to the canonicity of the book. Many modern scholars have followed Dionysius and Eusebius in their conclusion. Certain considerations, however, testify to the fact that the evidence upon which these conclusions were based is not as strong or impressive as might at first appear. Furthermore, there are striking literary parallels between the 2 works that strongly suggest identity of authorship. It must be remembered that Greek was not John's native tongue, and that when called he was most probably an unlettered fisherman. To what extent he later mastered Greek is not known, though the fact that the closing years of his ministry were spent at Ephesus, in a Greek-speaking region, would suggest that he doubtless attained a certain degree of fluency in that language. In writing the Gospel of John, which reflects the deliberate thought and polish of an author quietly at work in his study, John, like Paul and other NT writers, may well have had the services of a Greek amanuensis, or secretary. On the other hand, in the book of Revelation the author explicitly declares that he was on the "isle that is called Patmos" (Rev 1:9), where he would doubtless be forced to rely on his own limited acquaintance with the niceties of the Greek language. Since his native tongue was Aramaic rather than Greek, it is not surprising that the Revelation, though written in Greek, should at many places reflect Semitic idioms and often deviate from the best Greek grammar. The situation under which the Revelation was composed is altogether sufficient to account for the great differences of language and grammatical construction between the two books. To balance the linguistic differences, there are a number of literary parallels. For instance, the Revelation speaks of "the water of life" (chs 21:6; 22:17), and the Gospel, of "living water" (Jn 4:10; 7:38; cf. Rev 22:17; Jn 7:37). Certain characteristic Johannine expressions that occur in both books but do not occur elsewhere in the NT are opsis, "appearance" or "face" (Jn 7:24; 11:44; cf. Rev 1:16); terein ton logon, "keep my saying [or, "word"]" (Jn 8:51, 52, 55; cf. Rev 3:8, 10; etc.); and onoma auto, "his name" (Jn 1:6; 3:1; cf. Rev 6:8). Except in instances where OT symbolism is used, only the Gospel of John (ch 1:29, 36) and the Revelation (ch 5:6; and 28 other times) characterise Christ as the Lamb. Thus, from a strictly scholarly point of view the arguments for the traditional view, making the apostle John author of the Revelation, are fully as reasonable and valid as those that deny his authorship. Inasmuch as Christian writers generally to the middle of the 3rd cent. a.d. attest Johannine authorship, and the challenge to it did not arise until about a century after the book was written, there is strong evidence in favour of the traditional view.

Modern scholarship is divided between assigning the writing of the Revelation to a comparatively early date--usually in the reign of Nero (a.d. 54 ­68)--or a later date toward the end of the reign of Domitian (a.d. 81 ­96). Nero was notorious as the first Roman emperor to persecute Christians. Many scholars consider the persecution of the church, reflected at various points in the Revelation (see chs 13; 17), as referring to that of Nero. They also note that his name, Nero Caesar, when spelled in Hebrew consonantal letters (Nrwn Qsr) adds up to the mystic number 666 of ch 13:18. Accordingly, a number of outstanding scholars have dated the Revelation in the late 60's or in the 70's of the 1st cent. It should be noted, however, that this line of reasoning depends not on objective evidence but on a subjective interpretation of certain passages in the book. Early Christian writers were almost unanimous in ascribing the writing of the Revelation to the reign of the emperor Domitian. Irenaeus, for instance, declares that it was written "towards the end of Domitian's reign" (Against Heresies v. 30. 3; ANF, vol. 1, pp. 559, 560). Victorinus (died c. a.d. 303) says that John was "condemned to the labour of the mines by Caesar Domitian," and that while there "he saw the Apocalypse" (Commentary on the Apocalypse, on ch 10:11; ANF, vol. 7, p. 353). Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. iii. 20. 8, 9) similarly records that John was sent to the island of Patmos by Domitian, and adds that he was released by Domitian's successor Nerva (a.d. 96 ­98), after which the apostle returned to Ephesus. Early Christian scholarship thus clearly assigns the writing of the Revelation to the close of Domitian's reign, about a.d. 96.

Domitian (a.d. 81 ­96) encouraged the cult of emperor worship, but Christians declined to venerate the emperor or to address him by the title "lord," which title they reserved for Jesus Christ alone. When Domitian zealously sought to establish his claim to deity in the minds of the populace and to force his subjects to worship him, he naturally encountered the opposition of the Christians. This situation doubtless constitutes the immediate cause of John's exile to Patmos, and thus of the writing of the Revelation. The church was confronted with the greatest external threat to its existence it had known, and needed a new revelation of Jesus Christ to confirm its faith. Thus the visions accorded John met a specific need in their own time--that of strengthening Christians in their refusal to bow to the emperor, and to reassure them that their Lord, now ascended and standing at the throne of God, would one day reign supreme over the earth.

In 4 successive lines of prophecy the Revelation sets forth the experiences of the church, and events on earth to take place prior to the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The book is a revelation of Jesus Christ at work perfecting a people on earth to reflect His flawless character and guiding them through the vicissitudes of history toward the accomplishment of His eternal purpose. The focus of attention is the cataclysmic end of this world and the establishment of a new world. The 4 major divisions, or lines of prophecy, are: (1) the 7 churches (Rev 1 ­3); (2) the 7 seals (chs 4 to 8:1); (3) the 7 trumpets (chs 8:2 to 11); and (4) the closing events of the great controversy (chs 12 ­22). Following a brief introduction (ch 1:1 ­3), John records a series of 7 messages addressed to "the seven churches which are in Asia" (ch 1:4) in which he represents Christ in different aspects of His ministry on their behalf. To each church a message of instruction, warning, and encouragement was addressed, particularly appropriate to its own situation. In view of the fact that in Revelation the imminent return of Christ is stressed (see chs 1:1, 3; 3:11; 6:11; 12:12; 17:10; 22:6, 7, 12, 20), and because of the nature of the promises made to the 7 churches (see chs 2:7, 10, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 10, 12, 21), it is evident that John envisioned these messages as relevant to the needs of believers until our Lord's return. Accordingly, the letters to the 7 churches may appropriately be considered as providing guidance, comfort, and strength for the church, not only in John's day but throughout the Christian Era to the very close of time. In the setting of a sublime description of God's throne John introduces a book "sealed with seven seals" (chs 4; 5), prefatory to the prophecy of the 7 seals (chs 6:1 to 8:1). This line of prophecy presents Christ as superintending the affairs of earth and working out all things according to God's will in preparation "for the great day of his wrath" (ch 6:17). The vision of the 7 trumpets (Rev 8:2 to 11:19) presents a series of events that reach a climax when "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ" (ch 11:15). Another interlude (chs 10:1 to 11:13) pictures a mighty angel coming down from heaven with "a little book open" that contains a message to be given to "many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings" (ch 10:2, 11). Central in the message of this book is "the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein" (ch 11:1), and the work of the "two witnesses" (v 3).

The 4th great line of prophecy (chs 12 to 22) represents the church of God on earth--figuratively "a woman clothed with the sun" and "the remnant of her seed" (ch 12:1, 17)--as enduring severe persecution at the hands of the dragon (vs. 13 ­17), the beast (ch 13:1 ­8), and "another beast" (vs. 11 ­18). The climactic crisis comes when those who love and serve God are faced with the death decree of ch 13:15 ­17, which demands their allegiance to the apostate power. This demand for universal allegiance stands in opposition to the messages proclaimed by the 3 angels of ch 14:6 ­11. Confronted by the threat of ch 13:15 ­17 and the warning of ch 14:6 ­11, the inhabitants of earth make the great final decision to be loyal to God or to reject His gracious appeal. God's judgements (chs 15; 16) are then poured out upon those who reject His mercy. The great apostate organisation itself, "Babylon the great," is annihilated (ch 18). In heaven there is a paean of victory (ch 19:1 ­9), and Christ comes forth as King of kings and Lord of lords to defeat the coalition of the kings of the earth who are arrayed against Him (vs. 11 ­21). After a thousand years "the dead, small and great, stand before God" to be "judged according to their works" (ch 20:5, 12). The great judgement scene closes with the lake of fire, in which sin and sinners are destroyed (vs. 14, 15). Chapters 21:1 to 22:5 present God's people in the new earth, in God's own presence, reigning "for ever and ever" (ch 22:5). Verses 6 ­21 stand as the conclusion to the Apocalypse, which closes with emphasis on the Lord's speedy return (v 20).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.