Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


30. Revelation

Video Introduction


The chapter begins with an overview of the content of the book of Revelation. Then, it considers the question of genre and of how the book is read in Christian circles before moving on to discussion of historical background for the book and its major themes.

Revelation is a book that combines elements of three genres: letter, prophecy, and apocalypse. The last of these is a foreign genre to most modern readers but was common in the ancient world; familiarity with its key features aids in understanding Revelation the way it would have been read at the time of its composition.

In fact, Revelation has been read in three different ways throughout Christian history: as a historical work that conveyed distinctive messages to people at the time of its writing, as an idealist or symbolic work replete with universal themes, and as a futurist writing that could only be understood at a time when its predictions began to be fulfilled. The latter approach is often pursued at a popular level, but academic scholars prefer idealist and, especially, historical readings.

In terms of historical background, Revelation is thought to have been produced by an otherwise unknown Christian named John (not to be confused with John the apostle) who was in exile on the island of Patmos. It was sent to seven churches in Asia Minor at a time when the Roman government was viewed as an especially hostile force, persecuting and murdering Christians. Scholars debate whether periods during the reign of Nero or Domitian provide the best backdrop for the book’s contents.

Revelation seeks to unveil the truth about God and the world. The Roman Empire, in particular, is exposed as a monstrous phenomenon, responsible for abominable injustice. It stands under the judgment of God, who controls the future and will act soon to rescue faithful believers from the forces of evil. Revelation depicts the ultimate victory of God as something that has already been assured and, indeed, accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The book also presents God and Jesus Christ as the only ones worthy of worship and, in that vein, it is replete with liturgical material intended to aid the church in its worship life.

Study Questions

  1. Describe the three genres of literature that contribute to the book of Revelation. List six features of “apocalypses” that would characterize Revelation.

  2. Describe the three ways in which Revelation is often read within Christianity and provide two examples of how these “ways of reading” play out with regard to specific texts. Which ways of reading are preferred in academic scholarship?

  3. Reflect on the sufferings of Christians that the book of Revelation may be intended to address: What sort of hardships and tribulations did Christians experience in Asia Minor at this time? How might theories regarding the date of this book’s composition affect your summation on this point?

  4. What purpose does the book of Revelation state as the reason for its writing? List four ways in which it seeks to fulfill this purpose.

  5. How is the image of the “whore of Babylon” intended to unveil the truth about Rome? Cite at least four ways in which this image applies to Rome.

  6. How does the book of Revelation expect to inspire hope in its readers? In what way does its vision of the future claim to provide assurance that goes beyond mere wishful thinking?

Overview: The Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation

Interactive: Three Approaches to Revelation

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Click to see different approaches to interpreting Revelation.