Introduction to the Book of Revelation


“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.” (Revelation 1:1a)

Many readers of the Scripture have come to the Book of Revelation and wondered if it was a locked treasure chest. They sensed that it contained something very valuable, but opening “the chest” seemed difficult if not impossible. However, when we apply diligent and prayerful study to this last book of the Bible, we will most certainly be granted access to its rich blessings.

While reading the first chapter of the Revelation, I was inspired to devote more attention to this book. The first verse clearly states that the book was written to give “His servants” more knowledge. This book is intended for us as believers. The third verse tells us, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear.” We are encouraged to read and listen. Therefore, the book of Revelation should also be preached to us.


The first discovery we make in chapter one is that the book is a revelation of Jesus. So often the book is falsely attributed to John. It was written down by John, the brother of James and the son of Zebedee. This is the same John who wrote the gospel, as well as the familiar letters in the New Testament. It is important to make this distinction, because we find many men named John in the Bible. Toward the end of his life John was a regional elder in Ephesus. After that he was exiled to the island of Patmos by the emperor Domitian. Was he a political insurgent or criminal? No! He was Jesus’ beloved disciple who had been cast out and considered unworthy to live among the people. It was a hard lot for him, especially in his old age. John was 96 years old and still had no rest. He humbly described himself as “your brother and companion in the tribulation” (verse 9). Jesus endured the utmost tribulation. However, every apostle also participated in these tribulations. We are not excluded either. God utilized the time of John’s exile to give us the book of Revelation (verse 2). It was first sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor (verse 4) and today it is available for us as well.

The opening chapter in Revelation is especially valuable for us. It serves as a bridge between the rest of the Bible to the book of Revelation. Right from the beginning we are made aware of its content and purpose. It is about Jesus and His church and is intended for the church. Jesus cleansed His church with His own blood and gave its members the status of priests and kings. This is a central theme of the Bible. Other apostles write of this as well, and therefore this thought connects the last book of the Bible to the other books. Furthermore, this chapter gives us directions for understanding Revelation and is a link to the following chapters.

By studying this book we will notice that the Revelation not only describes the future, but also binds the rest of the Bible together and brings it to a conclusion. Without it, a Bible scholar would quickly notice that something is needed to bring the Bible to completeness.

The book of Revelation is closely tied to the rest of the Bible. Here we find symbols, pictures, events, and numbers of which almost all are mentioned elsewhere in God’s Word. During reading we will notice how carefully each element was chosen to express the correct meaning. Parallel elements in the Word of God help us to understand the Revelation. The Bible is self-explaining. We cannot read the book of Revelation, or other parts of the Bible, as merely a historical reference book. Moreover, we need to read deliberately and thoughtfully, reference other Scriptures, reflect and pray. If we are unable to understand the Bible properly, we also will also be unable to understand this book correctly. This is the reason why the Revelation has been interpreted in so many different ways. Many make the mistake of interpreting the Revelation first, and then attempting to make the rest of the Bible fit their interpretation of Revelation. This is particularly true for the doctrine of Jesus’ literal millennial reign. When examining this doctrine a little closer, one immediately notices the contradictions. On the one hand, it is said that everyone who repents and is saved enters Christ’s kingdom. Yet, some claim that Christ is coming in the future to set up His kingdom here on earth. The kingdom of God already began with Jesus’ coming to earth and it has no end.

Revelation 1:12-17 begins to describe Jesus in metaphorical language. Every kind of language has its own beauty. If we attempt to read Chinese characters, we will notice how complicated this language is. However, this is not the case for the Chinese, who are familiar with it. For them it is a way of communicating and acquiring knowledge. It is the same with our writing system. Each character has a specific meaning. Yet, in order for God to give us as people revelation, He needed to choose a language that would still be relevant and understood after centuries. Metaphorical language is one of the first languages that people used.

The Bible often speaks through imagery. Right from the beginning, God used this form of language to reveal His will to man. This started in the Garden of Eden. The devil’s working was illustrated by a serpent who would bruise the heel of the woman’s Seed. This language continues. When Joseph dared to share his dreams he earned contempt, ridicule, and hate. Even his father was resentful. Why? Because they understood the imagery in his dreams. They understood the parable of the sheaves, and also the second parable where the sun and moon, and 11 stars bowed down before Joseph (Genesis 37:10). Despite their attitude toward these dreams, everything came to fruition.

There are many stories in the Bible that contain a spiritual symbol. For example, consider Egypt and Canaan. In the same way that the nation of Israel was enslaved and forced to serve Egypt, man is also trapped and bound by sin. Canaan represents full and complete salvation. The New Testament frequently makes use of metaphorical language. Our life is compared to grass, a flower, fog, or a breeze. Life without God is compared to wandering in the darkness. God’s Word is presented as water, a seed, or other symbols. Worries and the lusts of the flesh are compared to weeds, whereas the fruit of the Spirit is presented as good fruit. The image of a pearl, or a treasure hidden in a field, is a picture of salvation. Jesus is described as a lamb, and people are often pictured as wandering, lost sheep. A cunning person, full of deceit, is compared to a snake or a fox (Luke 13:32), and a cruel and vindictive person is called a tiger. The picture of a ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing represents the hypocritical nature where the inward is grossly different from the outward appearance (Matthew 7:15). These pictures help us to understand the Bible better.

As we have already noticed, the law of symbolic language is based on similarities. We find this in the Revelation as well. This helps us to understand that the woman clothed with the sun and a garland of 12 stars in Revelation 12:1 refers to the Church and the 12 apostles. In chapter 17, verse 1 we recognize that the strange beast on which the harlot is sitting is a picture of corruptible religion. During our study of Revelation we will discover that lifeless objects represent political events. Pictures of living creatures represent something religious. When we ignore this law of interpretation we will go astray.

In Revelation 1:4, seven churches are named as the audience. Why are only seven named, even though there were obviously more churches at the time? The number seven is a complete and recurring number. We know that after the seventh day of the week we begin again with the first day of the next week. In the Old Testament, we find a number of instances connected to seven years. For example, in the seventh year a field was not supposed to be tilled. After that year, there would be a fresh start. This offers us a helpful glimpse into understanding the construction of Revelation. When the seven seals have been completed, the seven trumpets start. In this sense, we are invited to consider a new thought – or a new series – from the beginning. Revelation is formed by different series running parallel to one another. First one side of the story is shown, then another, and so on.

The first three chapters serve as an introduction and preparation for the glimpse into the future that follows. As we have seen from our brief study of the importance of the first chapter, we realize that we cannot see the future of the church of God if we do not understand her current state properly. That is why John first received insight into the life of the churches in Asia Minor. He was charged to pass this knowledge on. These messages to the churches were written for our sake as well, so that we could be watchful and avoid the same dangers. It is remarkable that John received this insight regarding the churches' condition even though he was still on earth. In order to see the future, he was invited to come up to heaven (Chapter 4:1). Chapters 4 to 7 are a preparation for the seven angels with trumpets. The first thing that enters John’s field of vision is the living God and the church surrounding His throne. In the Lord’s revelation of the future to John, the church is also significant.

In our study of Revelation we will understand the reason behind the great apostasy, which was a time when the things of man were given priority, resulting in grave apostasy. The true believers had to assemble in secret for many years. We will also understand why the flame of Martin Luther’s reformation died so quickly. The followers of Martin Luther adopted the system of the Catholic church. In the metaphorical language of Revelation, this means that they worshiped the image of the beast. In doing so, they completely silenced the Spirit and the Word of God. The Brothers of the "Evening Light" noticed these errors and took a definite stand against them. With this decision they chose the only correct path that protects from error and fallacy.

There is no other Bible study that is able to deepen a child of God in the truth like a serious study of the Revelation. This is why I would like to encourage every reader to take time to read and learn from this book. It is especially valuable for young people. Whoever understands Revelation properly will no longer waver in other doctrines. Through careful study, we will understand that doctrine and prophesies fit together in the finest detail. Whoever knows the Revelation will also be able to follow our history to its end. We will be able to recognize the time in which we live. These relationships between doctrine, prophecy, and history are most clearly presented to us in Revelation. Praise God that He is so concerned about us a people!

To help us understand the book of Revelation, the resources The Revelation Explained by F. G. Smith or Systematic Bible Study by Edmund Krebs are recommended. I used both books in my study of Revelation and found them to be very valuable. May God bless everyone in their study.

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