Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation - Lesson 34

Revelation (Part 1)

Revelation was written by the apostle John in the late first century using apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary genres. A possible structure by time line would be the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-5) and the future (chapters 6-22). 

Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Lesson 34
Watching Now
Revelation (Part 1)


A. Background to the Revelation

1. John in mid-90's on Patmos under Domition

2. Writing to encourage persecuted churches in Asia Minor to "overcome"

3. Three-fold genre

a. Apocalyptic

b. Prophetic

c. Epistolary

4. A preterist-futurist approach

5. A historic (classical) premillenial approach

B. Revelation Time Line

1. Past: Intro (Chapter 1)

2. Present

a. Chapters 2-3: Letters to 7 churches

b. Chapters 4-5: Heavenly Praise

3. Future

a. Chapters 6-19

i. 7 Seals

ii. 7 Trumpets

iii. 7 Bowls of God's Wrath

b. Chapters 20-22

i. Millenium

ii. New Heavens and New Earth

C. Revelation 1-6

1. Chapter 1 – Rich theology, especially Christology

2. Chapters 2-3 – The whole spectrum of churches, good and bad (from Philadelphia to Laodicea)

a. Note also 2:9 and 3:9 and the birkath-ha-minim

b. Note Philadelphia vs. Smyrna

c. Not three abused texts (3:10, 3:15, 3:20)

3. Chapters 4-5 – Heavenly praise to prepare us for what comes next: the lion who is a Lamb (5:5-6)

4. Chapter 6 – Seals as precursors to tribulation

D. Unsealing a scroll

E. Approaching the Abyss

1. Seals

2. Trumpets

3. Bowls

4. The End

F. Revelation 7-11

1. Chapter 7 – First interlude; Jews who represent the whole church

2. Chapters 8-9 – Plagues like in Egypt

a. 1/3 the key fraction

b. Woes: overtly demonic

c. Believers still protected (9:4)

d. Intended for repentance (9:20-21)

3. Chapters 10-11 – Second interlude

a. The little, bittersweet scroll (but now no more delay)

b. The powerful witness (progressive polarization)

4. Progressive polarization before the End (Chapter 11)

a. Successful evangelism

b. Increase of evil

G. The Tribulation of Revelation (7) 8-16

1. Scenario 1

a. First three years

i. First (2) cycles of plagues (chapters 7-10)

ii. Testimony of the two witnesses (chapters 11-12)

b. Second three years

i. Persecution of God's elect (chapters 13-14)

ii. Final cycle of plagues (chapters 15-17)

2. Scenario 2 (3 years)

a. Testimony of the two witnesses

b. Persecution of God's elect

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.

  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee and persecuted Christians because he considered them enemies of God. After his conversion experience, he travelled in Asia Minor and Europe preaching the gospel and planting churches. Many of the letters in the New Testament are ones that he wrote to these churches.


  • Correlation of the accounts in Galatians and Acts on Paul's trip to Jerusalem. 

  • Galatians as a model of apologetics supporting Christianity.

  • Comparing faith and works in Judaism and Christianity. 

  • Paul faced persecution when he preached in Thessalonica. The return of Christ is a central theme in the letters to the Thessalonians.

  • One aspect of the subject of biblical eschatology is the timing and nature of the tribulation. 

  • Paul addresses the extremes of asceticism and hedonism, as well as concerns regarding marriage, spiritiual gifts and the resurrection.

  • Divisions in the Corinthian church were caused by both theology and lifestyle.

  • Whether or not believers should eat food that had been offered to idols was an issue in the Corinthian church. The importance and role of spiritual gifts was a major topic of discussion.

  • Paul updates the people in the church in Corinth about his travels. He also follows up on relationships and defends his apostolic ministry.

  • Paul responds to specific situations in the Corinthian church including emphasizing a correct perspective on giving and encouragement to see God's redemptive purpose in our suffering.

  • Knowing the key places as backgrounds for Romans, the timeline and the outline of the book are helpful to understanding the context and message.

  • Paul wrote Romans as a systematic exposition of the gospel.


  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the deity of Christ. Philemon was written to a gentlema Paul knows to encourage him to welcome back Onesimus, his runaway slave, who became a disciple of Christ and was returning.

  • Paul addresses how to live in different roles: husbands and wives, masters and slaves, elders and others in the church.

  • Paul describes the blessings of salvation and encourages believers to live in unity that transcends cultural and racial barriers. 

  • Paul describes to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, who they are in Christ, and the ethical implications for how they should live their daily lives.

  • Paul contrasts the condescention and the exaltation of Christ, and addresses specific situations in the Philippian church.

  • Paul writes to encourage and instruct Timothy and Titus, both of whom are young pastors. It is important for Titus to identify and train elders and deal effectively with factious people. 

  • Paul instructs Timothy about how to pastor a church and turn it away from heresy.

  • Both 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians contain key passages addressing the roles of men and women in the local church. Some of them address conduct when gathering for corporate worship.

  • 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gives some direction for gender roles in a worship service.

  • Key themes and catchwords in James include trials, wisdom, temptation, speech, doubt and perseverance.

  • James discusses the roles of faith and works in a believers life and the importance of prayer.

  • A prominent theme in Hebrews chapters 1-5 is the superiority of Christ to the angels and to Moses.

  • Hebrews 6:4-8 is a key warning passage. Christ's priesthood is superior to both the Levitical priesthood and also to Melchizedek. Chapter 11 remembers the heroes of the faith.

  • A major theme of 1 Peter is perseverance despite persecution.

  • The outline of 1 Peter has similarities to other letters of the first century that emphasize a high view of Christology.

  • Jude and 2 Peter both emphasize refuting false teachers.

  • In his epistles, John emphasizes themes that refute gnostic doctrines. He outlines the tests of life as keeping God’s commandments, loving one another and believing in Jesus as the God-man.

  • As you study and preach from the epistles of John, note the passages that Dr. Blomberg describes as, “gems from John.”

  • Revelation was written by the apostle John in the late first century using apocalyptic, prophetic and epistolary genres. A possible structure by time line would be the past (chapter 1), the present (chapters 2-5) and the future (chapters 6-22). 

  • In addition to the framework of eschatology, Revelation chapters 1-6 develops themes of Christology including a description of Jesus as the lion who is a lamb, as well as the spiritual condition of some of the churches in the first century. 

  • In both of the possible scenarios for the tribulation, believers are exempt from God’s wrath but they are not exempt from Satan’s attacks.

  • Revelation chapters 12-22 cover themes of salvation and judgment of nations, Armageddon, the millennium and the new heavens and new earth.

Using the English New Testament, this course surveys the New Testament epistles and the apocalypse. Issues of introduction and content receive emphasis as well as a continual focus on the theology of evangelism and on the contemporary relevance of the variety of issues these documents raise for contemporary life.


Dr. Craig Blomberg
Introduction to the New Testament: Romans to Revelation
Revelation (Part 1)
Lesson Transcript

This is the 34th lecture in the online series of lectures on understanding the Epistles and Revelation, in complement with the textbook by Craig Blomberg’s Book, Acts through Revelation, An Introduction and Survey. 


The final book of the Christian Canon is technically known as the Apocalypse but rendered in the English Bible as the Book of Revelation. It is an oddity of recent English popular Christian usage that the book is often called the Book of Revelations, as if the title was plural but no English addition of the Bible so labels this last and wonderful book. Thus, while it undoubtedly has nothing whatsoever to do with one’s sanctification, it certainly reflects a measure of education if one will discipline oneself to refer to the book by its Biblical name, ‘Revelation.’ 


What a mystery! John Calvin once commented that while he had written commentaries on virtually all of the New Testament, he deliberately did not set to write a volume on Revelation. Simple because he was convinced that he wasn’t sure what he would say. That approach would be a good model for many throughout the history of the church who have been too quickly convinced that they knew precisely the meaning of every last detail of this book. And also those who confidently use it to decipher current events of the times they live, predicting scenarios by which their generation would see the return of Christ. We have discussed some of this in the introduction of the letters to the Thessalonians. The only things that can be said without exception to this, is to date one hundred percent of them have been wrong. Someday, one may turn out to be correct but my guess is that the exact scenario that will usher in Christ’s return will not have been traced out in advance by anyone. That is part of why Christ will come as a thief in the night, even though, those who are prepared because they’re always watching for him, will not be surprised in the way others who are not looking for him. It is better therefore to approach the Book of Revelation with different objectives than correlate these with the headlines of recent and coming newspapers articles. It is better for us to encourage those among whom we have opportunities for ministry, for those who will believe and trust us to read and reflect on and ponder and not get caught up in whatever the day’s fashion is in terms of popular writing and preaching on how we know that we are living in the last days of the last days and can began to see all kinds of predictions being fulfilled around us. 


Never forget that Christ in his discourse on the Mount of Olives as he outlined those kinds of signs of the times that in fact have recurred so regularly throughout human history. Signs such as earthquakes and famines and war and rumors of wars will happen, and he concluded that these things must happen but the end is not yet. And still so many Christians completely inverse that as if what he had written was, when you see such things, know that the end is now or very soon. 


What then, should we do with the Book of Revelation? Well, as with our opening lecture on introduction to Paul, here, as we close this lecture series on the Epistles and Revelation, we can only begin to scratch the surface and therefore feel a need to comment some good literature to the theological students listening and studying this series along with the accompanying textbook. 


But for a full detailed overview of a combination of approaches on the Book of Revelation, though undoubtedly bias by the fact that he was a former teacher and professor, Grant Osborne’s commentary on the Book of Revelation and the Baker’s Exegetical Commentary series on the New Testament published in the early 2000 is unsurpassed. At a midrange level, very readable by the serious lay-person, we continue to recommend Robert Mounties New International Commentary on the New Testament, especially as much as it was revised in the late 90s after already establishing itself as a standard twenty years earlier. For popular level challenge and insight, Eugene Peterson’s book, Reversed Thunder, has insights into contemporary trends while the somewhat more formal commentary in the NIV Application Commentary series by Crag Keener going well beyond what most of the volume’s in that series do with the original meanings and historical background, especially in footnotes. Nevertheless, it remains also wonderful introduction even if thorough one to all the issues surrounding this marvelous book, including those of contemporary significance. If one can find through an inter library loan or used books or photo copied form now that it is out of print, Robert Mounties’ barely one hundred page paperback of a study guide for introductory readers and readings of the Book of revelation, ‘What Are We Waiting For?’ This is complete with study guide questions and remains unsurpassed to this day. It is a tragedy that at least at the time of this lecture’s dictation that it has not again been brought back into print. Out supplementary textbook will refer to this in both the footnotes and bibliography and numerous other good sources, a few of which we will note as this final set of reflections as Revelation unfolds. 


A key background for the book, picking up on just a few highlights in the hopes that the textbook is reasonably self-explanatory, despite the same kinds of doubts expressed surrounding the authorship of the Gospel and three Epistles that bear John’s name, a credible case can be made out again for Revelation as well; this is the Apostle, son of Zebedee, an elder man in the mid-90s, 1st century, on the island in the Greek Aegean Sea, Patmos that may have functioned as a penial colony though that is disputed; it was the place that Scriptures and traditions suggest John was exiled as one of the leaders, most likely under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Domitian during the years of 94-96 AD exercised a short lived but at times intense persecution selectively against Christians and particularly against the more out spoken Christian leaders. John receives visions from the Lord one Sunday while he was worshiping and writes those down as best as he could and then sends them off to churches in the Roman province of Asian Minor which today would be Western Tuckey. This was to encourage the churches as the persecution extended to them or at least looms increasingly on the horizon. It speaks of Christians at the end of each of those seven letters as those who overcome rather than succumbing to the temptation and renouncing their faith. The literary genre of this book partakes of apocalyptic first of all, the very first word in what today we call chapter 1 and verse 1, a well-known literary genre of which there are many Jewish and Greek, Roman and later Christian examples. You can see particularly the excerpts in Mitchell Roches’ volume on apocalyptic literature, a reader in which above all one comes to expect past, present and future events of human history, particularly impinging on the people addressed to be described in a highly symbolic fashion. The worst guidance that can be given, despite the popularity of such guidance is to take everything in a book like Revelation as literally as possible. The same mistake would apply equally to trying to understand an editorial cartoon in our newspapers today. One has to understand what the imagery denoted and connoted to a 1st century or turn of the century Christian author with either Jewish or Greco-Roman background in Asia Minor.  


Nevertheless, by the time we get to Revelation 1:3, we see that the author views himself as a prophet and his writing as a prophecy as well, which means Revelation as prophetic and apocalyptic, distinguishing itself from certain other forms of apocalyptical literature that focuses only on the past and or present events is to be viewed certainly like so much of Old Testament prophecy as proclaiming God’s diagnosis of the present state and appropriate ways for God’s people to respond. But it goes beyond that, having a future oriented or predictive element as well. So that once the code or symbolism that the author is employing is understood, one will recognize that genuine future events from John’s perspective at the end of the first century are being revealed to him in his visions. He then attempts to communicate, with no doubt, frustrations of mortal language, in the written form of this book. And then finally, Revelation is epistolary in form, not merely because it was mailed to the seven churches, but also in chapters 2-3, it contains the seven letters, each written uniquely for a specific church but designed eventually to circulate among all of them and then, no doubt, more widely so that each can learn from the kinds of comments made to the other congregations as well. 


Of all the approaches that have been suggested and we echo many commentators to say that there are elements of truth in all of them. It would seem that a combination of the present and future with an emphasis then on the future is the best approach to interpreting this book because of this combination of genres. It does refer to things that will happen in the future, particularly from chapter 6 onward, the futurist approach captures the fullest of the combination of what John originally intended. But because it had to be meaningful to readers at the end of the 1st century, one has to understand historical events and background of that time which is the view and approach that the preterits excel in, though often creating a dichotomy and not adopting futurist convictions that these events are yet to come but to see them as almost entirely fulfilled in the 1st century. 


Even more debated is the approach to the millennium with the various views discussed in detail in our textbook, but it is the Lecturer’s conviction and for readers whose views who differ and also listeners to this lecture series who views also differs, we ask only that you give us the kind of hearing that the Bereans gave Paul in searching the Scriptures daily to see if these things might possibly be true and if you come to a different conviction, we extend the right hand of fellowship because as on other topics where we’ve made the point, no one’s salvation is at stake, no one’s sanctification is at stake on a peripheral theological debate such as this. We need to learn better how to learn to disagree together in love. At least the listeners will have heard one approach, arguably the dominant approach prior to Augustin in the first several centuries of the Christian era and in terms of pre-millennialism, certainly a widely held approach, particularly at the beginning level among evangelicals world-wide for the past century and a half. Although, as the textbook goes, the pre-millennialists have divided themselves into classical or historic pre-millennialist on the one hand and dispensational pre-millennialist on the other hand with the later in my opinion proving less probable and particularly with its advocacy of a pre-tribulation rather than a post-tribulation rapture.  At this point however, we merely clarify our pre-understandings and leave our textbook to articulate them and the rational for them in greater detail. 


The map on the next PowerPoint slide introduces us to that portion of Tuckey; we scrutinized somewhat when we discussed 1st Peter. But it zeros in more specifically on the seven churches of Revelation and one can see that although, it is by no means a circle as some people have imagined  when they hear the term circular letter. One needs only to connect the symbols for churches from Ephesus to Smyrna to Pergamum to Thyatira to Sardis to Philadelphia to Laodicea and back again to see that the lines do not intersect in any point and in fact, well-travelled roads though the map doesn’t show this. One could see how it could have been possible for well-travelled roads to connect each of those communities in the order in which we find the letters listed in Revelation 2-3. This in fact was the case in the 1st century so that the theory of a given church making a copy of the document to keep for itself and then passing it on to the next church is quite plausible. 


To tour the ruins and visit the modern cities that stand on the sites of the seven churches of Revelation, is a most rewarding experience. Among other things, it introduces you to a full range of Biblical Archaeology and the ability today with remains or what is covered over to excavate different sites. We have already looked at some of the extensive ruins of the church and community at Ephesus when we introduced the letter to the Ephesians. Here, indeed, is a portion of Saint John’s Basilica reflecting the traditions that this indeed is where John settled down to minister during the later stages of his life and to which he returned after the very brief exile on the Island of Patmos ended by Emperor Domitian’s death and the end of the persecution for the time being. The church dates from the 4th century and onward, but is a reminder of these traditions associating John with Ephesus. 


The next slide turns to the spectacular theatre in Pergamum, one of the best preserved and/or re-enforced buildings of the ancient ruins, complete with the back walls with perfect acoustics. Now, moving to Laodicea we see in the next slide the ruins of the entrance to a later Christian church there; for the most part there isn’t that much left to see. This provides us with an object lesson of the threat from Revelation, the spewing out of the church from his mouth due to their lukewarm attitude. We see the Roman fortress or acropolis over-looking Pergamum reminding us of their imperial presence and the ever present temptation on the local level for imperial officials to give Christians a hard time, not least because of their unwillingness to treat Caesar as Lord and sacrifice to him, though they did agree to pray for him. In the letter to the seven churches and to the church at Pergamum where a reference to Satan’s throne appears, which could refer to the center of Roman Imperial allegiance and worship. It could refer as well to what once was a small temple or shrine erected to Zeus, the head of the Greek pantheon of gods, still marked by the tree and the scattering of stones, a few still in straight lines and steps form where that temple originally existed. 


Not much remains in Philadelphia, though a small and picturesque modern village does occupy the site of the ancient city of ‘Brotherly Love’. But this large pillar of a very grand archway, once marking the entrance to another church from a few centuries after the time of John, called the Church of Saint John, the Theologian, is perhaps the most dramatic thing for tourists to see there. A spectacular reconstruction of the façade of the gymnasium at Sardis, complete with Latin letters and inscriptions on almost all of the wall here in this image, originally marked the place where one would go into a type of multi-recreational center, ruins of hot, medium and cold Roman baths can still be seen after one goes through the archway. The one difference of course, being that there was religious significance, in this case, one or more of all of the many Roman options which conflicted at one level or another with Christian convictions and thereby made Christian participation in the recreation activities and sporting events always a controversial matter with different opinions among different Christians being expressed. 


And then, finally, we see again in Sardis, ruins of the shops that line much like our strip malls, the edges of the large open air market places, the agora (market place) in Greek or the form in Latin. If you ever get a chance to take a tour and see these and related sites; including others that follow in the steps of Saint Paul, don’t hesitate to take the opportunity for such. In many seminaries and studies it has always been encouraged to take such trips and invite others who would be especially interested in such travels. These trips are usually taken in May of any given year. 


The outline of the Book of Revelation is reasonably straight forward in broad strokes and very difficult to determine, especially for the large center piece of that structure in minute detail. Chapter 1 creates an introduction to all of the books and visions that John received. Chapters 2-3 clearly present in closely parallel form though not in content, the letters to the seven churches. Chapters 4-5 give us a window into the heavenly praise going on chronologically. The only thing that we can say is that it refers to praise at some time after that moment in which Christ returned to heaven, triumphant because he appears there by having made atonement for the sins of humanity. Chapters 6-19 return to earth and present a backbone to the outline to twenty one judgements of God on the wicked people and their wickedness, the unbelievers of this earth in three consecutives sets of sevens, depicted symbolically by seven seals that enable a scroll of God’s coming judgement to be unrolled and read, seven trumpets announcing further judgements and seven bowls or vials of God’s wrath and symbolically depicting horrible things overflowing from their container and poured out on the earth. Finally, chapter 20 introduces us to a thousand year period of a golden age of human history with Christ reigning on this earth, but still elements of imperfection and opportunity for evil to rear its ugly head and seduce people to rebel against God and everything good at the end of that period and then chapters 21-22 reflect the banishment to the lake of fire forever of all wickedness and all the wicked and the complete re-creation of heaven and earth as a place of perfect glory and enjoyment for the redeemed of God’s people.