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New Testament: Revelation

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JudgementThe book of Revelation calls Christians to remain faithful to God and Christ and to resist the powers of evil in the conviction that God will prevail and bring salvation in the new Jerusalem. The book consists of six cycles of visions, each of which warns of the dangers arising from sin and evil. Yet each cycle concludes by showing readers the glories of worship in God's presence, which gives reason for hope. The visions make vivid contrasts between Christ the Lamb and Satan's agent, the beast. The visions help to alienate readers from powers of idolatry and oppression, while strengthening their faith in the salvation God provides.

So What?

Revelation shapes the way that people understand God, themselves, and their world. The book vividly portrays the powers of evil that work within the world, powers that can lead people to despair. Yet Revelation offers an even more compelling portrait of God and Christ the Lamb, who provide redemption and confident hope that God's purposes will prevail. By warning about the power of evil and presenting the promises of life in God, the book fosters faith and perseverance.

Where Do I Find It?

Revelation is the last book in the Bible, the twenty-seventh book of the New Testament.

Who Wrote It?

Revelation was written by a man named John, who calls himself a brother in the faith (1:1). Early church tradition identified him with John the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve apostles. Since the author does not claim to be an apostle or to have seen the earthly Jesus, however, many assume that he was not the apostle but an early Christian prophet.

When Was It Written?

Revelation was probably written between 85 and 95 C.E. Early Christian tradition says that it was written toward the end of the Roman Emperor Domitian's reign, which concluded in 96 C.E., but it is not clear that the date can be known so precisely. The book was probably written some years after Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman forces in 70 C.E., but before the end of the first century.

What's It About?

Revelation calls readers to resist the forces of evil and remain faithful to God and Christ the Lamb, in the confidence that God will prevail and provide life in the new Jerusalem.

How Do I Read It?

Many people create scenarios of the future by pasting together verses taken from various parts of the Bible, but this often leads to fruitless speculation. It is best to read Revelation as a whole, as a book with its own integrity. As you go, note that the visions do not move in a neat chronological sequence, but often repeat and overlap, making it impossible to create a step-by-step guide to the future. Also keep in mind that Revelation would have been meaningful to the Christians who first read it, nearly two thousand years ago, and that by keeping their context in mind we can see how Revelation addresses the real needs of people living in this world.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

I. Christ and the Seven Churches (Revelation 1:1-3:22)
John sees a vision of the risen Christ, who directs him to write to seven churches in Asia, encouraging them to remain faithful.

A. Introduction (Revelation 1:1-8)
John addresses seven churches in Asia Minor, greeting them in the name of God, Jesus, and the seven spirits before the throne.

B. Vision of Christ among the Churches (Revelation 1:9-20)
John sees Christ, the Son of Man, among the seven lampstands that represent the seven churches, and Christ commands John to write what he sees.

C. Messages to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2:1-3:22)
Each of the seven churches is addressed with words of encouragement, calls to repent, and promises to the faithful.

II. The Seven Seals (Revelation 4:1-7:17)
In God's heavenly throne room, the Lamb opens the seven seals on a scroll, and with each seal threatening figures appear until John sees a vision of the redeemed singing praise to God and the Lamb for salvation.

A. The Heavenly Throne Room (Revelation 4:1-11)
God's throne stands in the heavenly throne room, surrounded by four creatures and twenty-four elders who offer continual praises.

B. The Slain and Living Lamb (Revelation 5:1-14)

John sees Christ as a slaughtered and living Lamb, and the whole creation joins in praising God and the Lamb for their saving help.

C. The First Six Seals (Revelation 6:1-17)
When the Lamb opens the seals on a scroll in God's hand, a series of threats appear, including four horsemen, a vision of martyrs, and a cosmic earthquake.

D. The 144,000 and Great Multitude (Revelation 7:1-17)
The threats are interrupted by a vision of 144,000 redeemed, and these turn out to be a great multitude from every tribe and nation.

III. The Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8:1-11:19)
Angels blow trumpets, bringing six plagues upon the earth, only to have the judgments interrupted so that witness could be given to the nations, preparing for the announcement of the kingdom of God and Christ.

A. The First Six Trumpets (Revelation 8:1-9:21)
Angels blow trumpets, summoning plagues on sea and land, calling forth hideous creatures from the underworld and the River Euphrates, yet the ungodly refuse to repent.

B. John Commissioned to Prophesy Again (Revelation 10:1-11)
The movement toward destruction is interrupted by an angel who calls John to prophesy again concerning many nations and kings.

C. Temple and Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-14)
John sees a vision of the temple, which represents the community of faith, and two witnesses calling the world to repent. These witnesses are slain yet rise to life again.

D. Seventh Trumpet (Revelation 11:15-19)

When the peoples of the world give glory to God, the seventh trumpet sounds and angelic voices proclaim that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah.

IV. Conflict and Victory over the Dragon and Beast (Revelation 12:1-15:8)
In a series of unnumbered visions, John sees the people of God threatened by Satan the dragon and his ally the beast, yet in the end the faithful are brought to victory beside heaven's crystal sea.

A. The Woman and the Dragon (Revelation 12:1-18)
Satan the dragon is thrown down from heaven, and he persecutes a woman representing the people of God, although she is protected by God.

B. The Beast from the Sea (Revelation 13:1-10)
A seven-headed beast, who is Satan's agent, rises from the sea to dominate the nations of the world and persecute the people of God.

C. The Beast from the Land (Revelation 13:11-18)
A second beast rises from the land to make people worship the sea beast and to imprint people with that beast's name or number, which is 666.

D. Followers of the Lamb and the Beast (Revelation 14:1-13)

A vision of 144,000 shows that those who follow the Lamb are blessed, whereas angels warn that the followers of the beast will suffer God's fiery judgment.

E. The Harvest of the Earth (Revelation 14:14-20)

A vision of a grain harvest extends the hope that the faithful will be gathered in as redeemed people of God, while a vision of grapes being trampled in the wine press of God's wrath warns of the punishment that awaits the wicked.

F. The Heavenly Temple (Revelation 15:1-8)

The faithful sing praises to God beside the crystal sea in heaven, then seven angels process out of the heavenly temple to bring plagues upon the earth.

V. Seven Final Plagues and the Fall of Babylon (Revelation 16:1-19:10)
After angels pour seven final plagues onto the earth, John sees a vision of the fall of Babylon the whore, who personifies the political and economic powers that dominate the earth.

A. The Seven Bowl Plagues (Revelation 16:1-21)
Seven angels pour out bowls full of plagues filled with divine wrath on the earth, yet the ungodly refuse to repent.

B. Babylon the Whore (Revelation 17:1-18)
Babylon the whore, who represents the oppressive power that dominates the earth, rides on the seven-headed beast, until the beast turns against her and destroys her with fire.

C. Judgment on Babylon (Revelation 18:1-24)
Angels speak judgment against fallen Babylon because of the city's arrogance, materialism, and violence. Babylon's allies grieve her downfall because it has diminished their own status and income.

D. Celebrating Babylon's Demise (Revelation 19:1-10)
Songs of Hallelujah sound in heaven at the fall of Babylon the whore, even as the faithful hear that the bride of the Lamb is ready for the great marriage celebration.

VI. From the Great Battle to the New Jerusalem (Revelation 19:11-22:21)
The beast is defeated by the word of Christ, Satan is bound for a thousand years then destroyed, and after a final judgment John sees a new creation and new Jerusalem, where the redeemed worship in the presence of God.

A. Defeating the Beast (Revelation 19:11-21)
Christ appears on a white horse to defeat the beast and his allies by the power of God's word.

B. The Thousand-Year Kingdom (Revelation 20:1-10)
After the fall of the beast, Satan is bound for a thousand years while the faithful reign with Christ; then Satan is momentarily released and destroyed by heavenly fire.

C. The Last Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15)

The dead are raised and are held accountable for their works, as written in the books of deeds, yet salvation ultimately is based on the book of life, which expresses the mercy of God.

D. New Heavens and Earth (Revelation 21:1-8)
A new heaven and earth appear, and new Jerusalem descends, as a voice from God's throne declares that death and grieving have passed away.

E. The New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-22:5)
New Jerusalem has twelve gates through which the nations enter, and living waters flow through its streets, as the saints gather before God's throne in worship.

F. Final Warnings and Blessings (Revelation 22:6-21)

Revelation concludes with warnings against the ungodly but with repeated promises of the blessing to be found in relationship with God and the Lamb.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

Revelation is addressed to churches in seven cities in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It presents visions that John says he received while on the island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Asia Minor. John had apparently been exiled to Patmos because of his Christian witness (1:9-11). John recounts the visions in his own words, giving the visions clear literary form. He writes in his own peculiar Greek style, often ignoring proper forms of Greek usage.

The opening chapters show that the Christians in the churches addressed by Revelation faced several types of challenges: First, those in Smyrna and Philadelphia faced threats of persecution. Some in each city apparently verbally denounced Christians, placing them in danger of imprisonment and possible death. These readers receive encouragement to remain faithful in the face of hostility (2:8-11; 3:7-13). Second, readers in Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira were confronted with questions of assimilation into the wider non-Christian culture. One specific issue involved eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. Some in those communities thought it acceptable to eat such food, but they are warned that doing so means compromising their faith too far (2:1-7, 12-29). Third, readers in Sardis and Laodicea seemed successful and prosperous, yet were spiritually dead or complacent. They are called to renewed zeal for the faith (3:1-6, 14-22).

These early Christian readers lived in the Roman Empire. Worship of the emperor was part of social life, and many cities in Asia Minor had temples to the emperor as well as to other gods. People often participated in imperial worship because Rome provided new levels of prosperity and opportunities for social advancement. The visions in the latter part of Revelation challenge this benign view of the world by pointing to ways in which the ruling power fostered false worship, engaged in violence against the faithful, and was obsessed with wealth. As an alternative to the oppressive powers personified as the beast and Babylon, Revelation calls readers to remain faithful to Christ the Lamb and to the city of God, new Jerusalem.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

Apocalypse. The Greek word apokalypsis or "apocalypse" appears in Revelation 1:1, and it simply means "revelation." This term has also been given to other ancient writings that are written in a form like that of Revelation. Examples include Daniel 7-12 and the book known as 2 Esdras (or 4 Ezra), which is found in the Apocrypha. An apocalypse is a narrative in which an angelic being reveals a supernatural world to a human recipient and points to salvation at the end of time. Usually the revelations are given through a rich array of images. When writing the book of Revelation, John used a literary form that would have been familiar to his readers.

Female imagery. Revelation includes the contrasting female images of Babylon the whore and new Jerusalem the bride (17:1-6; 21:2), while the people of God are pictured as a woman giving birth (12:1-17). One of John's opponents is the woman false prophet Jezebel (2:20). Some find this use of female imagery problematic, since it seems to limit women's roles. Others point out that these female figures play strong roles in the book, that male images such as the beast function similarly, and that John's opponents include men (2:14).

Martyrs. Revelation includes visions of Christian martyrs calling out for God to see that justice is done (6:9-11). The book also warns that the powers of evil will work to bring about the deaths of more Christians (12:17; 13:7; 17:6), while assuring readers that the martyrs will have a future place in God's kingdom (20:4-6). Revelation does not glorify martyrdom or imply that Christians should seek it out. Rather, the book encourages all Christians to remain faithful in the face of opposition, knowing that God will not forsake God's people but will bring them everlasting life.

Numbers. Revelation includes visions that unfold in patterns of seven seals, trumpets, and bowls. Some passages play on the number twelve, since there are twelve gates to the new Jerusalem and 144,000 is the number used for the people of God. Such numbers do indicate completeness, as does the number 1,000, but they have no secret meaning. A special case is 666, the number of the beast, which corresponds to the name of a person (13:18). The most likely interpretation of this particular number is that it corresponds to the name Nero Caesar.

Old Testament and Revelation. Revelation uses Old Testament language and imagery in nearly every chapter, making clear that the God of the prophets is the God to whom John bears witness. Surprisingly, Revelation does not include any exact quotations of the Old Testament. This flexible use of the Old Testament helps to show that God will be faithful and keep the promises made through the prophets, yet John does not assume that these promises will be fulfilled in a mechanistic way.

Prophecy. Revelation identifies itself as a book of prophecy (1:3). In today's popular thought, prophecy is often equated with prediction, but this is not the way Revelation itself refers to prophecy. False prophets in the book are not faulted for making false predictions but for encouraging people to worship false gods (2:20; 16:13-14). Similarly, true prophets are not said to make true predictions but to call people to worship God and Christ (11:3; 19:10). Revelation is a true prophecy because it bears inspired witness to the true God and to the Lamb.

Seven spirits. Revelation periodically refers to seven spirits. These spirits burn like torches before God's throne and are the seven eyes of Christ the Lamb (1:4; 4:5; 5:6). The identity of these spirits is disputed. Some think they are seven angels or angelic spirits. Others think that the number seven signifies completeness and that the seven spirits are a way to speak of the Holy Spirit.

Symbolic language. Revelation communicates much of its message through vivid word pictures. The agent of God is Jesus, pictured as a Lamb, and the agent of Satan is the beast. These word pictures do not conceal Revelation's meaning but reveal something about the way God works, in contrast to the ways of evil. Many of the word pictures point to things of abiding significance. Just as the Lamb was real for people in the first century and remains real for people today, the beast symbolizes oppressive powers that were at work in John's time as they remain at work today.

Synagogue of Satan. Revelation twice notes that Christians were being slandered by some from the local Jewish communities, whom the book calls a synagogue of Satan (2:9; 3:9). It is important to note that there apparently were Jewish communities in all seven of the cities mentioned in Revelation 2-3 and that there seems to have been conflicts between Christians and Jews in only two of these places. John does not demonize all Jews but is sharply critical of synagogue members who denounce Christians, since their words could have led to Christians being imprisoned and possibly killed.

Violence. Revelation includes many visions in which there are destructive plagues and battles between the forces of God and the powers of evil. The book assumes that the powers of evil seek to ruin the earth and that God the Creator must therefore overthrow these powers (11:18). Significantly, the followers of Jesus are sometimes pictured as the victims of violence, but they are not the perpetrators of violence. They resist evil, but in the end the defeat of tyrannical powers comes through the word of Christ (19:15).

What will happen "soon." Revelation says that things will happen "soon," giving the impression that it describes events that are to occur shortly after the book was written (1:1-3; 22:20). Nevertheless, more than nineteen centuries have passed since Revelation was composed. Revelation speaks of things happening soon, yet the visions John describes do not unfold according to ordinary chronological time. An hour or a day in the visionary world does not equal the same amount of time in the ordinary world. Revelation does not offer readers any way to predict when the end will come.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

Babylon. Babylon is the name given to the whore that personifies the arrogance, opulence, and violence of the world's ruling power (17:1-18:24). The traits of Babylon resemble those of ancient Rome as well as other powers. Finally, however, the city is destroyed by its own ally, the beast, showing the destructive qualities of evil (17:16).

Beast. A seven-headed beast is the agent of Satan, who seeks to dominate the earth by violence and economic control (13:1-18). The beast becomes the object of false worship and is the counterpart to Christ the Lamb, who brings redemption and true worship. The beast is overthrown in a final great battle and thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (19:11-21).

Conquering. Revelation recognizes that evil powers conquer by killing and oppressing people (13:7). Christ, however, conquers by overcoming evil through his own self-sacrifice (5:5-6). The followers of Jesus are called to conquer by remaining faithful to him and to resist the forces of evil (2:7, 11).

Creation. Heaven, earth, and sea were all made by God, the Creator (4:11; 10:6; 14:7). Creation finds its harmony in worshiping the God who made it (5:13). Because evil powers seek to dominate the world, the Creator works to bring their rule to an end, destroying those who would destroy the earth (11:18).

Justice. The martyrs call out, asking how long God will permit injustice to continue on the earth (6:9-11). The visions of the beast and Babylon show tyrannical powers dominating the world through violence and the power of wealth (13:1-10; 17:1-6). God sends plagues that are designed to move the ungodly to repent, and God finally destroys the powers that ruin the world, bringing liberation for those who were oppressed (19:1-8).

Lamb. Throughout Revelation, Christ is portrayed as the Lamb who was slain (5:5-6). God's power is unleashed through Jesus' crucifixion, for the blood of Jesus redeems people from sin and brings them into God's kingdom.

Nations. Revelation speaks often of the nations of the world. At many points the nations are taken in by the powers of evil and fall prey to idolatry (18:3). God judges the nations for their sin, yet the Lamb was sacrificed for people of every nation, and there are repeated expressions of hope that the nations will come to worship God (5:9-10; 15:3-4). The vision of the new Jerusalem extends hope that the nations will find a place there (21:24-26; 22:2).

New Jerusalem. The new creation that appears in Revelation 21:1-22:5 is where the new Jerusalem is located. Readers in the seven churches addressed by Revelation find a sense of hope in knowing that God has a place for the faithful in this city, where the tree of life is located (2:7; 3:12). Although readers find themselves living in Babylon, the whore city, they find a new identity as citizens of the new Jerusalem, where they will reign and worship God forever.

Satan. Satan or the devil is the personification of evil; Revelation pictures him as a dragon. Satan's power is manifested in untrue words and in acts of violence against the faithful (2:9-10, 13). Satan is banished from God's heavenly throne room, so that he can no longer accuse people before God, but allies himself with a beast who tyrannizes the world (12:7-12; 13:2-4). In the end Satan is banished to the underworld for a thousand years before being released and thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (20:1-10).

Throne. A throne is a symbol of power, and the many references to God's throne emphasize the power to rule (4:2). Scenes of worship regularly center on the throne of God and the Lamb (4:10; 5:13; 7:10). Revelation recognizes that evil powers seek to maintain their own throne or power base in the world and to oppress people (13:2), but God remains sovereign and will prevail (22:3).

Wealth. The Christians at Laodicea are complacent because of their wealth, and people ally themselves with the powers of oppression in order to secure more wealth (3:17; 18:3). When picturing the city of Babylon, Revelation notes how the obsession with luxury is often tied to arrogance and violence (18:9-24). The book urges Christians not to reduce life to obtaining commodities, but to pursue faithfulness and justice, which are forms of true wealth.

Witness. A witness points to what is true. Throughout Revelation there is conflict between the forces of evil, which deceive, and the allies of God, who is true. Jesus is a witness who remained faithful to the point of death (1:5). Jesus' followers are also called to show steadfast faithfulness in the face of evil, for by their lives and their deaths they too bear witness to the power of God (2:13; 12:11; 17:6).

Worship. Revelation assumes that all people worship someone or something. The only question is whether they worship the God who made them and the Lamb who redeems them (4:10; 5:14) or worship the adversaries of God, pictured as the dragon and the beast (13:4). Worship of God is associated with blessing, whereas worship of the powers of evil brings destruction.

AUTHOR: Craig R. Koester, Professor of New Testament

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