The book of Revelation is presumed to be one of the most difficult books in the New Testament. Most believers today are not sure if the book holds any theological significance to their Christian belief and practice. Rarely are sermons preached from it. Sometimes, people are left more confused than edified when they hear its teachings and message. Yet, we may assume that Christ did not mean this book to be a source of confusion among today’s churches. This is quite reasonable especially when one looks at the promise of blessing to the reader, hearer, and doer of the words of the prophecy of the book (Revelation 1:3).
The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John in response to Christ’s revelation to him. The message was specifically meant to be for the seven churches in Asia Minor which make present day Turkey (Revelation 1-3). The book can be fascinating to those with an artistic and creative mind especially when they are bent to seek for an adventurous and novel interpretation of the book. To some readers, the book can be very perplexing. Why? Barker and Kohlenberger III (1994) suggests that the obscurity of symbols and visions found throughout the book are easily understood in light of the usages of literary genres during the first century A.D.
The language of symbolism and imagery seem to have been familiar with John’s audience than present-day readers. A study of apocalyptic literature, Old Testament apocalyptic books, the Apocrypha and the Dead Sea Scrolls can help the reader understand the book of Revelation. Of particular interest, the name of the book Revelation suggests that the book is an open book. It’s not sealed. The Greek word apocalypse suggests an unveiling or a revealing. It is not in accord with sound doctrine to regard the book as hidden, sealed or mysterious.
From a study of its text, the book shows that the churches to whom it was addressed were in the midst of a serious crisis. Depending on one’s view on the date of its composition, its internal evidence suggests a time of hardship and persecution. Five of the seven churches had become disloyal to Christ and Christ’s addresses in the first three chapters of the book show that the major thrust of the book is theological. Sadly, most people today would use the book to support political movements but that does not seem to be the purpose of the book.
If the book was meant to be a blessing to its hearers, what kind of message was it carrying? And, why is does it presents difficulties to the modern reader? Firstly, if we are to view the recipients of the book as believers in the Roman provinces of Asia, then there is historical proof of their persecution at the time. For those in persecution and suffering, the book carried with it a message of hope, victory, and salvation. Using the common imagery and symbolism that was found in Israel between 200 B. C. to A. D. 200 the Lord sought to show the churches their failures and to encourage them to examine their stand with him. Using his own example of his suffering and death, He promises rewards to all those that would overcome.
Interestingly, the book does not offer a theology of escape as presupposed by the premillennialists. Rather, the book seems to suggest that no matter what hardships and sufferings Christians experience in this world, the events are strictly monitored and conditioned by God in the heavenly. Because Christ has already won the battle, likewise, faithful and obedient believers will have a share of Christ’s victory in this world and the world to come. In the final analysis, there will be victory; evil will be overcome by good and even those who have been martyred for the cause of Christ will be vindicated. Because the Lamb has conquered, likewise its followers do conquer.
Sadly, the churches today seem to have been robbed of the book’s theological significance. The writer has been in the church for more than two decades and has never heard a message preached from the book of Revelation except on a funeral where the familiar phrase of those who die in Christ are followed by their good works. The other only verse this writer has heard quoted in prayer is Revelation 12:11 but he wonders if the application that has attached to it is true as the verse is used in the casting of demons.
In conclusion, Revelation is one of the Bible books that is not known, read or understood by many Christians today. Yet, in it, the higher Christological views should motivate believers to seek authentic Christianity in anticipation for a glorious reign with Christ at the end of time.
Kohlenberger III, John R and Kenneth L. Barker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.