Chapter 1 - Way prepared by the vision of the living, victorious Christ
Chapters 2, 3 - The audience for whose benefit the drama is produced is presented with its vices and virtues.
Chapter 4 - Prepares way for all that follows. Says in language of John 14, Believe in God.
Chapter 5 - Presents the sovereignty of God vindicated by work of Christ;
Christ, as leading figure says, Believe also in Mel
Chapters 6-18 - Pictured is the wrath of God against the enemies of His cause.
Chapters 19-22 - Final, complete victory of God and the eternal destiny of men are set forth.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND IN THE STUDY OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION:
1. It is impressionistic literature designed to create and drive home one impression.
In the case of Revelation, the impression is the sovereignty of God and his ultimate victory over all enemies.
2. It is apocalyptic (prophetic), written by one whose shoulders were bowed with discouragement.
It reveals supernatural victory.
3. It was written primarily for its own times, and throughout its pages the history of the latter part
of the first century leaps at the reader.
4. It seems obvious that the date of the book is during the reign of Domitian as Roman Emperor, A .D. 81-96,
although emperors before him had been deified after death.
Domitian demanded that he be known as dorninus et deuo while he yet lived.
The persecution under Domitian was especially severe in Asia Minor,
perhaps because the Christian church was strongest there.
The forms of punishment were many.
Some were put to death, some were exiled, some were tortured into a confession of the divinity
of the emperor, some had their property confiscated, some received combinations of these measures.
All this is very plainly reflected in the book of Revelation.
Domitian began his letters, Our Lord and God commands that it should be done so and so,
and formally decreed that no one should address him otherwise, either in writing or by word of mouth.
He had images of himself erected throughout the empire to make this worship more convenient.
Domitian raised himself above all the other gods and chose for his statues the most hallowed sites
in the temple and caused entire hosts of victims to be sacrificed for refusal to worship him.
5. This book was written in dangerous times.
The personal safety of both writer and reader was endangered if the persecutors understood
the true meaning of the book. For this reason the message of the apocalypse was written
so as to conceal and to reveal -- to conceal the message from the outsider but to reveal its message
to the initiated.
6. Characteristics of Apocalyptic Literature:
(1) It was always possessed of a historical significance.
So a knowledge of the historical situation lends much aid in determining the correct interpretation.
The main purpose of such literature was to bring comfort, assurance, and courage in difficult days.
(2) Another characteristic is the presentation of the message through visions.
(3) There is also the predictive element.
The apocalyptic was the word for a dark day and condition. It pictured the present as a time of evil,
turmoil, persecution, upheaval, but the future was predicted to be a glorious period of vindication,
triumph, and freedom from all the handicaps which beset us here.
(4) One of the main characteristics of apocalyptic is the use of symbols. The writer was faced with the task of seeing the invisible, painting the unpaintable,
and expressing the inexpressible.
The book is therefore filled with imagery and symbolism which are hard to understand,
and which make the task of modern interpreter far removed from those conditions exceedingly difficult.
Symbolism is a system in which qualities, ideas, principles, etc., are represented by things concrete.
The symbols have a meaning for the initiated but are hopeless jargon to one unacquainted with such terms.
The meaning of the greater part of the symbols is clear, but there are some symbols in the interpretation
of which there is much room for diversity of opinion.
About these symbols, one cannot afford to be dogmatic.
It appears that the wise thing to do in interpreting symbols is to follow the proper method
of interpreting parables -- find the central truth which is being portrayed,
and let the details fit in in the most natural way.
In that day, when language was primitive and the vocabulary meager, one Hebrew word sometimes
was compelled to do duty for a score of diverse meanings.
Under such conditions men came naturally to use numbers as we use words.
A certain number would suggest a definite concept, such as:
1 Expressed the idea of unity or existence.
It stood for that which was unique and alone.
This word does not appear symbolically in the book of Revelation.
It is, of course, at the base of other numbers that do appear -- some frequently. 2 - Two were far stronger and more effective than one.
Thus the number 2 came to stand for strengthening, for confirmation,
for redoubled courage and energy.
There was a symbolic significance in the fact that Jesus sent his disciples forth two by two.
Two witnesses confirmed the truth, and their testimony which otherwise would have been weak
was made strong.
So in the book of Revelation the truth of God is confirmed by two witnesses who are slain
and rise again and ascend to heaven.
This symbolizes a strong witness which prospers then seems to be beaten to earth
only to rise again to heavenly triumph.
3 Was a symbol of the divine.
The divinest thing in life was 3 and the divine origin of life was 3. Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost -- the trinity. Three came to carry the thought of the divine. 4 - To man in Biblical clays the world was a great flat surface with four boundaries,
east and west and north and south.
There were four winds from the four sides of the earth. In the town man placed himself
within the limit of four walls.
Thus when he thought of the world he thought in terms of four.
Four became the cosmic number.
The world in which men lived and worked and died was conveniently symbolized by 4.
10 - Perhaps our decimal system arose from the intensive study by a man of his own fingers and toes.
That was a crude and cruel age where many were maimed and crippled through disease,
accident, or warfare.
A perfect, full-rounded man was one who had all his members intact.
So the number 5doubled to 10 came to stand for human completeness.
The whole duty of man was summed up on 10 commandments.
The picture of complete power in government was that of a beast with 10 horns.
In Revelation the dragon, the first beast, and the scarlet boast have 10 horns each,
and in the case of this last beast the 10 horns are called 10 kings - - complete world power
as it appeared to belong to Rome with her provincial system.
As a multiple, 10 occurs also in many of the higher numbers of Revelation: 70 = a very sacred number, 1000 = ultimate completeness -- completeness raised
to the nth degree, etc. 7- When man began to analyze and combine numbers, he developed other interesting symbols.
He took the perfect world number 4 and added to it the perfect divine number 3 and got 7,
the most sacred number to the Hebrews.
This number runs throughout the book of Revelation.
There are seven Spirits, seven churches, seven golden candlesticks, seven stars,
seven sections to the book.
The sacred number, multiplied by the complete number '2O, resulted in the very sacred 70. There were 70 members of the Jewish high court; Jesus sent out 70 prepared workers.
In a sweeping figure Jesus presented the idea of an unlimited Christian forgiveness
when he told a disciple to forgive his brother seventy times seven. 12 - In the field of multiplication, 4 was multiplied by 3, and the resultant 12 became a well-known symbol.
In Hebrew religious thought it was the symbol of organized religion in the world.
There were 12' tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, 12 gates to the Holy City in Revelation.
This number was reduplicated to 144,000 when the author of Revelation wanted to picture
the security of a perfect number sealed from the wrath of God visited upon the earth.
3 ½ - In the realm of division the perfect number 7was cut in half.
The resulting 3 ½ came to express the incomplete that which was imperfect.
It symbolized restless longings not yet fulfilled, aspirations unrealized.
When the writer of the Revelation wished to describe that condition, when he found it necessary
to picture the world waiting for something which had not arrived, when he saw men in despair
and confusion seeking for peace and light, he used 3 ½
This takes several forms: 34, a time, times, and half time, 42 months 1,260 days,
--- all have the same meaning.
In Revelation 2 witnesses preached 34 years - - an indefinite time;
the court of the temple was trampled by the ungodly 3 ½ years;
the saints were persecuted 42 months; the church was in the wilderness 1,260 days.
Always 3 ½ or its equivalent stood for the indefinite, the incomplete, the dissatisfied.
6 - To the Jew the number 6 had a sinister meaning.
As 7 was the sacred number, 6 fell short of it and failed.
6 was the charge that met defeat, with success just in its grasp.
It had within it the stroke of doom.
It had the ability to be great, but failed to measure up.
It was for the Jew what 13 is for many today -- an evil number.
6 was an evil number for the Jews.
It is important to keep this in mind when we come to the number 666 in Revelation.
Apart from this symbolism of numbers in Revelation, there is an abundance of other figurative language.
Many objects are used symbolically.
Birds, beasts, persons, cities, elements of nature, weapons, qualities (light, darkness, etc.),
precious stones -- all these and many others are carefully used by the author as he gives to us
his picture book of the triumph of righteousness over evil.
One cannot possibly approach the true interpretation of Revelation if he ignores this central characteristic.
(5) The dramatic element, one of the most effective instruments of any writer, serves as another
characteristic of apocalyptic.
One of the chief purposes of apocalyptic literature was to make the truth taught as vivid and forceful
Frequently the figures are presented for the purpose of adding vividness to aid in creating
the desired impression.
The details are of significance only from this viewpoint and are not to be pressed.
This principle is true of many of the visions and figures in the book.
It makes its vivid and dramatic impression upon the reader by means of the grotesque and terrific symbols.
Rivers of blood; hailstones weighing one hundred pounds; a dragon so large he knocks down
a third of the stars when he lashes with his tail; Death riding a horse, with the Grave following behind;
a woman, with the moon as a dress and the sun as a footstool; animals with many heads and horns;
a dragon that casts from its mouth a river of water to destroy a woman who is flying through the air;
a dragon, a beast, and a false prophet, each of which vomits up a frog which joins in gathering
an army -- all these are symbolical, but they are more than just symbols.
They are exaggerated symbols for the purpose of a dramatic effect.
The meaning of the figure is to be discerned viewing it in broad perspective as a whole
and not by trying to determine the meaning of each minute detail.
The message of Revelation can only be unveiled to us when we rightly interpret the symbols
as they were related to the background of the book and as they conveyed their message to those
who first received the book -- its meaning for them and its meaning for us.
Therefore, we must find that meaning to know the application of the book today.
The books of the Bible are directed to the different faculties of man; i.e., Romans to reason,
Psalms to emotions, etc.
In a similar way Revelation is addressed to the imagination.
As you read Revelation, you must seek to see in your mind's eye the various episodes
intense with drama, just as if you were standing on Patmos with John and viewing them.
You must yield yourself to the majesty of the movement as Christ walks among his broken churches
with healing for their hurt.
Unless you can do this, you will miss the greatest messages of Revelation.
And when you come to the end of this great drama, after the reverent prayer of the writer,
Even so: Come, Lord Jesus, you will be filled with an overwhelming impression of majesty,
reverence, and awe.
You will feel the assurance of victory in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds;
and you will know without doubt that, come what may, Christ is supreme and that no power
can take from him the victory which is rightfully his.
7. The Recipients of Revelation
The text of Revelation indicates that the book is addressed to the seven churches that are in Asia
... unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna., and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis,
and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea (1:4, 11) -- but we are not to suppose
that the book was restricted to these churches.
The use of the number 7, which is the symbolical number for completeness, indicates that the book
was for all the churches of Asia Minor ... The seven were to serve as messengers
to make this Revelation known to all their sister churches.
Speaking generally, then, the book of Revelation was directed to the Christians of Asia Minor.
Its first message was for them.
Its message is universal.
The same message of victory and triumph is to characterize Christians in every age
until the kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.
The condition of the Christians who first received Revelation was very critical.
Christianity had remained for several decades unnoticed by the Roman Government.
It had been regarded as a part of the Jewish religion, which was a legalized religion of Rome.
When it became known that Christianity was not just a new patch on the old garment of Judaism,
the Christians found themselves in difficulty with the government as well as with their fellow men.
There are several reasons for the antagonism directed against the Christians.
(1) Christianity was an illegal religion.
The Roman Government tolerated the religions of conquered provinces.
So long as the religion did not try to proselyte, it was thus legal.
But the Christian religion could not thus be bound down.
Its very purpose is that of making Christians of other people.
For this reason it was outlawed.
(2) Christianity was an exclusive religion.
Its adherents refuse to mingle freely with heathen social life and customs.
Their refusal to go to idol temples and their refusal to have idols in their homes caused them
to be looked upon as enemies to the gods.
(3) Christians were recruited chiefly from the poor and the outcast.
This caused Christianity to be looked down upon by those who regarded themselves as the respectable.
(4) Christians refused to worship the emperor.
But they could not that the Kurios Caesar was superior to their Kurios Christ.
Therefore, persecution and martyrdom became their lot.
Because of their attitude toward the Roman gods, the Christians were blamed with all the calamities
which befell the empire. If there was no rain, the Christians were blamed for offending the deities.
If there was a flood on the Tiber, the Christians were blamed.
A famine, an earthquake, military reversals -- all were blamed on the Christians.
The verdict of the imperial government was that Christianity must be destroyed in or to safeguard
the permanence and integrity of the empire.
This policy of the government to exterminate Christianity was by itself a sufficient menace
to have brought despair to the hearts of the baffled churches, but this was not all.
While this danger threatened without, another fierce monster stalked within in the form
of pernicious heresy.
The heresy of Judaism combined with that of Gnosticism which expressed itself practically
in antinomianisin to produce bewilderment, controversy, and dissension to destroy fellowship
and threaten to destroy the permanence of Christianity.
For the deepest appreciation and clearest understanding of Revelation we must keep this in mind.
When people were being killed, exiled, and robbed of all their property for refusal to renounce
their religion, when evils were threatening to strike a death blow within the church, is there any hope
for the future?
Revelation is God's answer to this question.
8. The Conditions In The Roman Empire
During the last part of the first century A.D., the period in which Revelation was written,
Rome was near the zenith of her greatness.
The empire was bound together by large and well-trained armies.
The distant frontiers were characterized by garrisons of experienced soldiers schooled in the discipline
of Roman army life.
The fear of the Roman legions had spread far; they seemed invincible.
Rome was built on two things: conquest and commerce.
Rome had vast wealth.
The palaces of the rich were dazzling in their beauty.
Men rivaled one with another in extravagances.
Caligula spent $500,000 on one banquet.
A patriot gave a dinner in Nero's honor and spent $160,000 for roses alone.
The main banquet hail in Nero's famous Golden House was circular and revolved day and night
in imitation of the heavenly bodies.
Slaves were everywhere to assist their masters and help to show off their lord's riches.
Caligula's wife wore a set of emeralds valued at two million dollars.
In contrast with such wealth and extravagance there was much dire poverty.
There was no work for hire; the slaves did that kind of work.
The idle poor swarmed to the capital to be fed by the enormous dole system and to be amused
by the many interesting things of the city life.
Such conditions wore conducive to bad morals.
The picture of the moral conditions of the Roman life can hardly be painted too dark.
The Romans cast away everything that was good and honorable.
Crimes were multiplied; vice made no attempt to hide; a monstrous contest of lust
and wickedness was carried on.
Marriage came to be a commercial transaction easily effected and as easily dissolved.
Children were a burden, and they were left to the slaves for rearing or wore sold as slaves themselves.
Rome was not only the center of government and wealth, it was the headquarters of religion as well.
The religion of the day was a mixture of fear, superstition, and ceremony.
Domitian delighted in being looked upon as divine and in being so worshipped.
To the Christian such homage was idolatry and an utter denial of faith in Christ.
To the Romans the refusal to worship the emperor was a sign of disloyalty to the State and an act of treason.
Emperor worship was forced upon the Christians as a test of their loyalty to the State.
At first Christians were called upon to perform the ceremonies of loyal service and worship to the emperor.
To refuse was disloyal; to agree was to prove that one was not a Christian.
As the demand for emperor worship grew, Christians were outlawed as a body as soon
as their adherence to the sect became known.
Detailed methods were worked out to enforce the State religion and to punish the Christians.
There was appointed an official body known as the praefectus urbi for the enforcing
of worship in each town.
Those were responsible for punishing people in the various cities over a province.
The group with the greatest authority was the concilia composed of deputies sent from the various towns
or divisions of a province.
Their duty was to build images of the emperor, altars for his worship, and in every way sponsor
the state religion and make it effective.
They forced the people to worship the emperor, identified all who did,
and punished in various ways all who refused.
The purpose of Revelation is in the background of all that has been said as to the Christians,
their condition, and their need.
It is to show that so great a power as Rome was doomed to overthrow, that in the end the kingdom of God
would triumph and Christ would reign supreme.
It is to present a ringing call to maintain loyalty to the faith at all costs, even in the face of martyrdom.
This message is peculiarly relevant today - - the call to choose the eternal rather than the temporal;
to resist temptation, to refuse to compromise with pagan secularism, to place the claim of conscience
above all demands against it; to cherish the confidence of ultimate victory for the kingdom of God,
not only in the reign of Domitian but also in every other chaotic period of world history,
including the twentieth century.