New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation - Lesson 54

Revelation - Introduction

Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Lesson 54
Watching Now
Revelation - Introduction


Part 1

I.  Introduction

A.  Authorship

1.  The author claims to be John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8)

2.  Tradition states the author was John

a.  Justin Martyr

b.  Melito

c.  Eusebius

d.  Irenaeus

3.  Opposition to this came from Dionysius (3rd Century)

B.  Date

1.  Probably the mid 90's

2.  Written during a time of persecution

a.  Persecution under Nero was too limited

b.  Probably during the persecution of Domitian (81-96)

C.  Literary Genre - Apocalyptic Literature

1.  Other examples

a.  Daniel

b.  Isaiah 24-27

c.  Ezekiel 38-39

d.  Zechariah 9-14

e.  Enoch

f.  Apocalypse of Baruch

g.  2 Esdras

2.  Qualities of Apocalyptic Literature

a.  The view that the world is divided into two camps (good and evil) ruled by God and Satan.

b.  There is moral dualism between God and Satan, good and evil, not metaphysical dualism between body and spirit.

c.  Pseudepigraphic authorship

d.  Expecting that the old age was about to end and the new age to begin shortly

e.  Believing that the time of great persecution had begun and sometimes this kind of work is called "tracts for hard times."

f.  Cosmic and eschatological events taking place

g.  Fantastic symbolism

h.  Angelic intervention in the activities of the world

i.  Predictions as to when the final consummation would take place

3.  Use of Metaphorical Imagery

a.  Stars falling

b.  Altars speaking

c.  Locusts as large as horses with serpent tails

d.  A lamb with seven horns

e.  A monster with ten horns and seven heads

4.  Use of Symbolic Numbers

a.  "Seven" is used 54 times

b.  "Twelve" is used 23 times

c.  "Four" is used 16 times

5.  Use of Symbolic Color

a.  Purple - royalty

b.  Black - death

c.  White - victory, joy, purity

6.  Use of various objects and figures

a.  Woman - people or cities

b.  Horns - power

c.  Wings - mobility

d.  Eyes - knowledge, omniscience

d.  Trumpets - superhuman, divine voices

f.  Sword - Word of God, which judges and punishes

7.  Heavy Use of the Old Testament

D.  Outline

1.  Prologue (1:1-8)

2.  Messages to the Seven Churches (1:9-3:22)

3.  The Seven Seals (4:1-8:2)

a.  The vision of God and the Lamb (4:1-5:14)

b.  First interlude - Two visions of comfort (7:1-17)

c.  Opening the seven seals (6:1-17, 8:1-2)

4.  The Seven Trumpets (8:3-11:19)

a.  Opening the seven trumpets (8:3-9:21; 11:15-18)

b.  Second interlude - the two witnesses (10:1-11:14)

5.  The Dragon and two beasts (12:1-14:20)

6.  The Seven Bowls (15:1-18:24)

a.  Opening the seven bowls (15:1-16:21)

b.  The fall of Babylon (17:1-18:24)

7.  The final victory and last judgment (19:1-20:15)

8.  The heavenly Jerusalem (21:1-22:5)

9.  Epilogue (22:6-21)

Class Resources
  • Acts was written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke left off with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

  • Luke wrote as a historian and includes details related to geography, political leaders and navigational terms. He was also an eyewitness and acquainted with eyewitnesses of events recorded in Acts.

  • Luke's purpose in writing Acts was give an orderly historical account of events surrounding Christ's ascension, the first followers of Christ and the spread of the early Church.

  • Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the whole book. The structure of the book of Acts shows how this theme was fulfilled by recording events relating the spread of the gospel geographically.

  • At first, the early Church was made up mostly of Jews who continued to live a Jewish lifestyle.

  • Two events in the early Church were the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • The elements of conversion in the New Testament are repentance, faith, confession, regeneration and baptism.

  • Many of the early Christians spoke Greek and Aramaic. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was martyred for his faith.

  • The apostle Paul's background as a Jew, training as a Pharisee, and Roman citizenship had a significant influence in his ministry and writings.

  • Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

  • After Paul's conversion, on some areas of his theology his positions stayed the same, and on some areas his positions changed dramatically.

  • Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The conversion of Cornelius and Peter's vision were important events in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles into the early Church.

  • The church at Antioch sent out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark to preach the gospel. This was Paul's first missionary journey.

  • The Jerusalem Council was a meeting of the early Church leaders to decide how to include Gentiles Christians into what had, up to this point, been a predominantly Jewish Christian group.

  • Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor, then to Macedonia and Greece.

  • Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

  • A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

  • Paul addresses some issues regarding the second coming of Christ, such as being responsible to work and support yourself in the meantime.

  • On his third missionary journey, Paul spent most of his time in Ephesus.

  • Paul defends his apostleship and explains that the foundation of our relationship with God is based on faith, not works.

  • Paul begins by defending his apostleship. He then explains justification by faith and gives some ethical exhortations. (The lecture does not cover points C. Ethical Exhortations (5:1-6:10) and D. Conclusion (6:11-18), but we included the outline points for your benefit.)

  • Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and responds to questions about marriage, spiritual gifts and the Lord's Supper.

  • Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

  • The content of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was shaped by the ethnic background of the congregation and the challenges they were facing at that time.

  • The outline of Paul's letter to the Romans indicates his understanding of the fundamental concepts of the gospel.

  • Paul wrote Romans from the perspective of his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

  • Paul begins Romans by stating the problem of sin and enumerating a few specific sins. His conclusion in chapter 3 is that both the Jews and the Gentiles are under the wrath of God.

  • The divine remedy to the problem of sin and separation from God is justification by a righteous God.

  • The results of God's righteousness include, peace, hope, freedom, living in the Spirit and assurance.

  • Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.

  • A major theme in the book of Philippians is joy in times of adversity.

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the preeminence and supremacy of Christ.

  • Imperative is always based on the indicative.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul, partly because the content follows an outline that is similar to other letters attributed to him that are contained in the New Testament.

  • In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes who we are in Christ and the mystery of the gospel.

  • Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon should receive his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a committed disciple of Christ under Paul's influence and is returning to him.

  • Luke does not record the details of Paul's death in the book of Acts.

  • The best argument is for Pauline authorship, possibly with the help of a secretary.

  • Two themes in 1 Timothy are the role and requirements for bishops and elders, and the role of women in ministry.

  • Paul gives instructions to Titus who is a pastor in Crete.

  • Paul gives instruction to Timothy, who is a young pastor.

  • It is unclear who wrote the book of Hebrews.

  • A major theme in Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. There are also passages that emphasize that perseverance is essential.

  • According to James, true faith results in works.

  • The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians to be faithful during a time of suffering.

  • Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some people question whether or not 2 Peter was written by the apostle Peter.

  • Themes in 2 Peter include false teachers and the return of the Lord.

  • 1 John is similar to the Gospel of John in style, vocabulary, theology and purpose.

  • John makes a distinction between acts of sin and continuing in sin.

  • Jesus came as God in the flesh and offers us the gift of eternal life.

  • Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

  • The philosphy of interepretation you use when you study the book of Revelation determines what you think specific passages in the book are teaching.

  • Chapters 1-12 begins with the seven churches, and includes the seven seals and seven trumpets.

  • Revelation chapters 13-22 focus on the beast, Christ's final victory, final judgment and the millenium.

  • After Christ ascended and the church was spreading, it was helpful to have a written record of Christ's life and the apostles' teaching. All the books included in the New Testament were written before the end of the first century.

  • Each book included in the New Testament had to meet specific criteria. They are arranged with the Gospels first, then letters, then the book of Revelation.

In this second graduate-level class on New Testament Survey, Dr. Robert Stein walks you through the New Testament books Acts through Revelation. In his analysis of the books, you will learn not only the facts but also be challenged with their theological and spiritual significance.


I have not given lots of commercials for books, or anything. There is a brilliant little book on the Book of Revelation, though, that I want to call to your attention. It is by Bruce M. Metzger, entitled, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation. It’s put out by Abingdon Press. It’s just over 100 pages (I like short books – I hate 700-page commentaries). It’s the first thing I would read on the Book of Revelation. Is it the infallible interpretation of the Book of Revelation? No, and he would be the very first person to say that. But it is simple and sensible. And there are not a lot of books on Revelation that are simple, and even less that are sensible. So it’s a great little book. I think you’ll appreciate it. I had the privilege of studying in my doctoral work under Bruce Metzger, a very humble man, a giant, and one of the really great New Testament theologians in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The author of the Book of Revelation claims to be John, and he doesn’t qualify his name in any significant way. That usually means that he must be a pretty well-known John. You remember that we dealt with this issue in the Book of James, where the author just claims to be James, with the assumption that the readers know who he is. Tradition that begins in the middle of the second century states that the author was John the brother of James who was martyred (not the author of the Book of James) -- in other words, one of the twelve disciples, one of the sons of Zebedee. There are also references in Justin Martyr, Eusebius, etc., as to that authorship. Melito, who mentions James as the author, came from one of the churches addressed in Revelation, and so does Irenaeus. They may have had additional info that John had written this, because there are letters in this book addressed to their churches.

In the third century, a bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius, argued that it was not the apostle John, but a different John, John the Elder. The theological ideas and emphasis and vocabulary are very different. If you read the gospel of John and the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse of John, the style and vocabulary is quite different, and the emphases, as such.

As to the dating of it, it’s a work that’s written during a time of persecution. We see in 1:9, “I, John, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” He was a prisoner on Patmos. In 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” In 2:13, we have another message to a different church, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you.” This is a book that’s being written to people who are facing martyrdom and death. It’s a book that is meant to encourage Christians to endure to the end, even though for many it may mean martyrdom. It’s something that a lot of Christians through the centuries and a lot of our brothers and sisters in Christ today are experiencing. We should not take our freedom and lack of fear of this kind of persecution as something we merit. It’s a gift. We should be thankful for it, but it has not been so for many, and it was not so for the original readers of this.

Sometimes when we think of the first century, we think of the persecution under Nero, where according to good tradition, Peter and Paul are martyred in Rome, and where Christians were thrown to the beasts in the arena. But that was not really a very broad persecution. This persecution in Revelation exists over in Asia, not in Rome. Apparently, Nero’s persecution never went much beyond Rome itself; and the next major time of persecution came under the reign of Domitian. Domitian demanded that his subjects throughout the empire refer to him as Lord and God. And there seem to be allusions to this, with the mark of the beast accepting that kind of a designation, where the evil emperor demands this kind of thing. So it may very well be that the persecution, if you look at a time, fits best the middle of the AD 90’s. There’s some other evidence for this. The city of Laodicea is described as being prosperous in the Book of Revelation, and we know that a devastating earthquake happened in AD 61, and if that’s true you probably need some time for it to regain its prosperity, so the middle of the 90’s would be a fine time for that. As to the church in Smyrna, a bishop there named Polycarp who later is martyred in Rome, mentions that there is no church in Smyrna until after the time of Paul, which would be the late 60’s. So, dating-wise, with its heavy emphasis on the state persecuting people, it looks like the best time for the Book of Revelation to have been written would be the middle-90’s.

The Book of Revelation has a very unusual literary form or literary genre. It’s known as apocalyptic literature. We have in the Old Testament books that are like that. Daniel is most like that, but there are parts of books like Isaiah 24-27, Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 9-14; and from the Apocrypha, the Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, 2 Esdras, Jubilees, The Testament of the 12 Patriarchs – these are all apocalyptic works.

Apocalyptic literature has various kinds of characteristics. Not all of them are present in every apocalyptic work, but there’s a whole listing of things that indicate a work is essentially apocalyptic:

• The idea that the whole world is divided into two camps, good and evil (God rules the good / Satan the evil);

• sometimes you have pseudepigraphic authorship (that’s not true with Revelation, but it’s true with books like Enoch and 2 Esdras, etc.);

• the idea that we’re living in the end times, and the end of ages is come;

• there’s a great persecution beginning to take place and this is written to help people in persecution (sometimes this kind of literature has been called “Tracts for Hard Times”, something to read in this difficult time);

• there is a moral dualism between God and Satan or good and evil. It is not a metaphysical dualism between flesh or body and spirit – not that philosophical kind of dualism, but a moral dualism; there are lots of cosmic events taking place; symbolism is fantastic (there are angels that intervene, predictions as to when all of this will take place).

There is a close relationship between prophecy and apocalyptic literature. There’s no real sharp difference between them, but a general thing that is associated with one and not the other is that prophecy tends to talk more about this-worldly events, political events. Apocalyptic literature talks more about other-worldly events (the end of history, the end of this planet, etc.). So prophecy many times can talk about Syria, Babylon, or places like that; here, you’re not talking about nations so much. You’re talking about Satan and his evil. You have lots of imagery here that’s very metaphorical. If you’re a literalist and you come to the Book of Revelation, you’re dead. It really has lots and lots of metaphorical imagery, for instance:

• stars falling,

• altars speaking,

• locusts as large as horses with scorpion tails ….

I remember when I was a brand new Christian. I just came to know the Lord, and Johnny Ray was our Sunday School teacher. He was teaching from the Book of Revelation, and when he came to this description of these horses with scorpion-like tails, he said, “Boy, it’s going to be a tough world to live in in those days, when these scorpion-like horses come around and start stinging you.” He took it all very literally. Johnny was a literalist, and a better Christian than I’ll ever be – a wonderful, loving man. But he was the wrong man to teach the Book of Revelation to us, because he didn’t see any of the metaphorical dimension of this. He probably would think that if you saw these as metaphorical you no longer believed the Bible being true, because he was very literalistic this way. But, again, he was a wonderful Christian.

Continuing with our list:

• a lamb here with 7 horns,

• a monster with 10 horns and 7 heads,

• smoke coming out of the mouths of horses with serpent-like tails, etc.

I mentioned that there’s a difference between apocalyptic literature and prophecy. And yet, there’s no real sharp dividing line, and it should be remembered that the writer of this apocalyptic work refers to it as a book of prophecy. He says (1:3), “Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy.” And then in chapter 22, when he comes to the end of the book, he again refers back to this as a word of prophecy. And it’s hard to make clear dividing lines. We see in 22:7, “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” And then in 22:10, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near ….” So you don’t want to make them absolute different genres. I think there’s a dimension in which prophecy in a traditional sense deals more with this edge of the line (dealing with this-worldly events), and other-worldly events would be apocalyptic literature. Please note that the examples of apocalyptic literature I mentioned earlier like Isaiah 24-27, and in Zechariah, and in Ezekiel, all are found in books of prophecy. So there is no absolute, sharp break between them. There are differences in emphases, but there’s no absolute break between them.

There is also a difference between the apocalyptic literature in Judaism (Book of Enoch, 2 Esdras, etc.), where they tend to focus on the far-distant past – the time of Enoch, etc. Revelation doesn’t look back to the far-distant past, but to the near-past, because Jesus is the center of history. And so you’re not looking back thousands of years earlier, but to 60 years or so earlier. And there’s no pseudepigrapha used in this book.

We have heavy use in the symbolism of numbers. The word “seven” is found 54 times in the book. It’s amazing – it seems that the author just came back from Las Vegas, and had been playing dice out there or something. We have seven spirits, seven thunders, seven angels, seven plagues, seven horns, seven eyes, seven trumpets, seven stars, seven lampstands, seven seals, seven bowls, etc. And even when a number is not there, you find seven being used. Look with me at 5:12, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” There are seven things in this list. So, the use of numbers is frequently given there. The number “twelve” occurs 23 times; the number “four” 16 times; and the numbers “six” and three-and-a-half” appear frequently. Use of colors – purple and black and white – which have certain symbolism associated with them are used, and there are other figures, like a woman referring to a city; horns, to the idea of power; wings, referring to mobility ; eyes for knowledge; a sword for the word of God, etc.

If you are going to ask where all this metaphorical terminology comes from, this is a book that is heavily borrowing terminology from the Old Testament. The book that I remember from years ago, an early work – one published before 1910, by R.H. Charles, was a 2-volume commentary on Revelation for the International Critical Commentary series. And I was just amazed, because he spent lots of time showing every Old Testament analogy or example being used in the Book of Revelation. It was absolutely amazing to see how this material comes from the Old Testament. It doesn’t come from other Greek literature; it’s Old Testament material, heavily influenced by that.

The outline is pretty straightforward. You have after the prologue a message to the seven churches, followed by seven seals (with an interlude); then you have seven trumpets (then an interlude); then there is a major section as to a dragon and two beasts; then the seven bowls; the final victory; and the last judgment; the heavenly Jerusalem; and the epilogue. And how they all fit together, we’ll talk about next.