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The Book of Revelation, also called the Revelation of St. John, the Apocalypse of John, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ, is the last book of the New Testament. It may be shortened to Revelation, although is often mispronounced as Revelations. It is the only book in the Canon that is wholly composed of apocalyptic literature.


There has always been debate about Revelation's composition as well as its trustworthiness. In the Catalog of Eusebius it is placed in the disputed category along with the Epistle of Jude, the Epistle of James and the Gospel according to the Hebrews.

It is also the more conservative view that John wrote the book, the same that wrote the Gospel of John.


The last book of the New Testament is commonly known today as the "Book of Revelation". The title found on some of the earliest manuscripts is "The Revelation of John" ( ), and the most common title found on later manuscripts is "The Revelation of the theologian" .

The Greek word ἀποκάλυψις, sometimes rendered directly from the Greek as apocalypse, is usually translated in English as revelation, since the literal meaning of the Greek word is "the act of revealing or unveiling").

Some later manuscripts add Evangelist or Apostle to the title. The book is effectively composed with its title within the opening words: "Revelation (Ἀποκάλυψις) of Jesus Christ".


The book is addressed by John, "to the seven churches in the province of Asia" (1:4). Its epistolary introduction and conclusion are remarkably similar to those found in the letters of Paul (1:4-8, 22:21). Consequently, John in vision is instructed by "one like a son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest," to write a circular letter addressed to the seven churches of Asia (1:11–3:22).

The second vision, which makes up the rest of the book (chs. 4–22), begins with "a door was opened in heaven" and it showed things that must be here after. These events are foreseen: the Great Tribulation, the campaign of Armageddon, the second coming of the Messiah with the restoration of peace to the world and his 1,000 year reign, the imprisonment of Satan (portrayed as a dragon) until he is 'loosed' for the final rebellion, God's final judgment over Satan, the Great White Throne of judgment, and the ushering in of the New Heavens and New Earth. Alternatively, according to the Preterist theory, the events of the latter part of the Apocalypse of John are interpreted as being fulfilled by events in the first century.

Revelation is considered by some to be one of the most controversial and difficult books of the Bible, with many diverse interpretations of the various names and events in the account. Martin Luther initially considered Revelation to be "neither apostolic nor prophetic" and stated that "Christ is neither taught nor known in it", and placed it in his Antilegomena. John Calvin believed the book to be canonical, yet it was the only New Testament book on which he did not write a commentary.

In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus and other bishops argued against including this book in the New Testament canon, chiefly because of the difficulties of interpreting it and the danger for abuse. Christians in Syriamarker also reject it because of Montanism's heavy reliance on it. Ultimately it was included in the canon though it remains the only book of the New Testament that is not read within the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Traditional View of Authorship

The author of Revelation identifies himself several times as "John". The author also states that he was on Patmosmarker when he received his first vision. As a result, the author of Revelation is referred to as John of Patmos. John explicitly addresses Revelation to seven churches of Asia Minor: Ephesusmarker, Smyrnamarker, Pergamosmarker, Thyatiramarker, Sardismarker, Philadelphiamarker, and Laodiceamarker.

The traditional view holds that John the Apostle—considered to have written the Gospel and the epistles of John—was exiled on Patmos in the Aegean archipelago during the reign of Domitian, and there wrote Revelation. Those in favour of a single common author point to similarities between the Gospel and Revelation. For example, both works are soteriological and possess a high Christology, stressing Jesus' divine side as opposed to the human side stressed by the Synoptic Gospels. In the Gospel of John and in Revelation, Jesus is referred to as "the Word of God" ( ), although the context in Revelation is very different from John. The Word in Rev 19:13 is involved in judgement but in John 1:1, the image is used to speak of a role in creation and redemption. Explanations of the differences between John's work by proponents of the single-author view include factoring in underlying motifs and purposes, authorial target audience, the author's collaboration with or utilization of different scribes and the advanced age of John the Apostle when he wrote Revelation. Like his Old Testament counterpart Daniel, John is held to have been kept alive to receive the prophetic vision.

A natural reading of the text would reveal that John is writing literally as he sees the vision and that he is warned by an angel not to alter the text through a subsequent edit, so as to maintain the textual integrity of the book.

Early Views of Authorship

A number of Church Fathers weighed in on the authorship of Revelation. Justin Martyr avows his belief in its apostolic origin. Irenaeus assumes it as a conceded point. At the end of the second century, it is accepted at Antiochmarker by Theophilus, and in Africa by Tertullian. At the beginning of the third century, it is adopted by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen of Alexandria, later by Methodius, Cyprian, and Lactantius. Dionysius of Alexandria rejected it, upon doctrinal rather than critical grounds. Eusebius inclined to class the Apocalypse with the spurious books. Jerome relegated it to second class. Most canons included it, but some, especially in the Eastern Church, rejected it. It is wholly absent from the Peshitta.

Modern Views of Authorship

Some modern scholarship suggests that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist and John of Patmos were three separate individuals. This can be determined via new means of inquiry such as textual criticism. Certain lines of evidence suggest that John of Patmos wrote only Revelation, neither the Gospel of John nor the Johannine Epistles. For one, the author of Revelation identifies himself as "John" several times, but the author of the Gospel of John never identifies himself directly. While both works liken Jesus to a lamb, they consistently use different words for lamb when referring to him—the Gospel uses amnos, Revelation uses arnion. Lastly, the Gospel is written in nearly flawless Greek, but Revelation contains grammatical errors and stylistic abnormalities which indicate its author may not have been as familiar with the Greek language as the Gospel's author.

Most commentators accept Revelation to be the unified text of one writer. Robert Henry Charles saw things slightly differently. He agreed that Revelation possessed an underlying original structure because the seven beatitudes, which exist unobtrusively in the text, have not been disturbed and that the first of these is right at the beginning (1:3) and the seventh near the end (22:7), Thus, prologue and epilogue are part of the original. However, he reasoned on internal textual grounds, that the book was edited by someone who spoke no Hebrew and who wished to promote a different theology to John's. As a result, everything after 20:3 has been left in a haphazard state with no attempt to structure it logically as John would surely have done. Furthermore, the story of the defeat of the ten kingdoms has been deleted and replaced by 19:9 and 10. John's theology of chastity has been replaced by the editor's theology of outright celibacy, which accounts for 14: 4 'they which were not defiled with women: for they are virgins', and which makes little sense when John's true church is symbolised as a bride of the Lamb. Most importantly, the editor has completely rewritten John's theology of the Millennium which is "emptied of all significance". In the edited version, the martyrs when raised to glory, are "sitting on thrones in splendid idleness for full one thousand years" when, according to Charles, John's intention had been to show "the Millennial Reign is one of arduous spiritual toil" in which Christ and his martyrs evangelise the whole world, Jewish and Gentile.

It has been contended that the core verses of the book, in general chapters 4 through 22, are surviving records of the prophecies of John the Baptist. The Lamb of God references in the Gospels are all associated with John the Baptist, and other hallmarks of Revelation can be tied to what is known of John the Baptist.


According to early tradition, this book was composed near the end of Domitian's reign, around the year 95. Others contend for an earlier date, 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero or shortly thereafter. The majority of modern scholars also use these two sets of dates. Those who are in favour of the later date appeal to the earliest external testimony, that of the Christian father Irenaeus, who stated that he had received information relative to this book from those who had seen John face to face. He says that "it was not seen very long time since, but almost in our day, towards the end of Domitian's reign", who according to Eusebius of Caesarea had started the persecution referred to in the book; however, recent scholars dispute that the book is situated in a time of ongoing persecution and have also doubted the reality of a large-scale Domitian persecution.

Those who favour the earlier date rely solely on internal evidence, as no other external testimony exists earlier than Irenaeus, whose own writings can be dated no earlier than the late 2nd century. Also, the earliest extant manuscript evidence of Revelation(P98) is likewise dated no earlier than the late second century.

This internal evidence for the earlier date is typically centered around the preterist interpretation of chapter 17 and the seven heads of the "beast" as the succession of Roman emperors up to the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. However, this interpretation has several problems when trying to align the chapter with the history of the Caesars. For example, to try and identify Nero as the "fifth head", the one who "is" or the one in power at the time set by the chapter, would call for an exclusion of Julius as the first emperor or "head", and instead would start with Augustus as the first, in spite of several ancient sources who acknowledge Julius as the first emperor.

According to Epiphanius of Salamis, the Revelation of John was written in the time of Claudius.

Some exegesis (Paul Touilleux, Albert Gelin, André Feuillet) distinguishes two dates: publication (under Domitian) and date of the visions (under Vespasian). Various editors would have a hand in the formation of the document, according to these theories. The dating of the work is still widely debated in the scholarly community.


Revelation is divided into seven cycles of events. The number seven appears frequently as a symbol within the text. The chapters of Revelation present a series of events, full of imagery and metaphor which detail the chronology of God's judgement on the world.

Exact interpretations of the chronology of Revelation vary extensively. The work may be interpreted literally, as a chronological list of events that will occur as the time of Revelation grows near. At the same time, the imagery can be seen to contain symbolic commentaries on the world during the historical period in which Revelation was written, or "pre-commentaries" on our world today.


This book has a wide variety of interpretations. They range from the simple message that we should have faith that God will prevail, to complex end time scenarios.

Preterist view

Preterism holds that the contents of Revelation constitute a prophecy of events that were fulfilled in the first century. Preterist interpretations generally identify either Jerusalem or the Roman Empire as the persecutor of the Church, "Babylon", the "Mother of Harlots", etc. They see Armageddon as God's judgement on the Jews, carried out by the Roman army, which is identified as "the beast". It sees Revelation being fulfilled in 70, thereby bringing the full presence of God to dwell with all humanity. Some preterists see the second half of Revelation as changing focus to Rome, its persecution of Christians, and the fall of the Roman Empire. It also holds that the Emperor Nero was possibly the number of the beast mentioned in the book as his name equals 666 in Hebrew, if using the Greek spelling of Nero's name (Neron Caesar), but using the Hebrew symbols with their assigned numeric values (an ancient method known as gematria). However, a few ancient manuscripts of the Revelation say the number is 616, fifty less than the more well known numeral. A possible method to this problem lies in early translation. In the assumption that the Revelation was meant to be distributed among the Early Christians, it could very well be assumed that occasionally someone may have used the Latin spelling of Nero's name (Nero Caesar), so the total value of the gematria would be 616.

Futurist view

The futurist view assigns all or most of the prophecy to the future, shortly before the second coming; especially when interpreted in conjunction with Daniel, Isaiah 2:11-22, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-5:11, and other eschatological sections of the bible.

Futurist interpretations generally predict a resurrection of the dead and a rapture of the living, wherein all true Christians and those who have not reached an age of accountability are gathered to Christ at the time God's kingdom comes on earth. They also believe a tribulation will occur - a seven year period of time when believers will experience worldwide persecution and martyrdom, and be purified and strengthened by it. Futurists differ on when believers will be raptured, but there are three primary views: 1) before the tribulation; 2) near or at the midpoint of the tribulation; or 3) at the end of the tribulation. There is also a fourth view of multiple raptures throughout the tribulation, but this view does not have a mainstream following.

Pretribulationists believe that all Christians then alive will be taken up to meet Christ before the Tribulation begins. In this manner, Christians are "kept" from the Tribulation, much as Noah was removed before God judged the antediluvian world.

Midtribulationists believe that the rapture of the faithful will occur approximately halfway through the Tribulation, after it begins but before the worst part of it occurs. Some midtribulationists, particularly those holding to a "pre-wrath rapture" of the church, believe that God's wrath is poured out during a "Great Tribulation" that is limited to the last 3½ years of the Tribulation, after believers have been caught up to Christ.

Post-tribulationists believe that Christians will not be taken up into Heaven, but will be received into the Kingdom at the end of the Tribulation. (Pretribulationist Tim LaHaye admits a post-tribulation rapture is the closest of the three views to that held by the early church.)

All three views hold that Christians will return with Christ at the end of the Tribulation. Proponents of all three views also generally portray Israel as unwittingly signing a seven year peace treaty with the Antichrist, which initiates the seven year Tribulation. Many also tend to view the Antichrist as head of a revived Roman Empire, but the geographic location of this empire is unknown. Hal Lindsey suggests that this revived Roman Empire will be centered in western Europe, with Rome as its capital. Tim LaHaye promotes the belief that Babylon will be the capital of a worldwide empire. Joel Richardson and Walid Shoebat have both recently written books proposing a revived eastern Roman Empire, which will fall with the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. (Istanbul also has seven hills, was a capital of the Roman Empire and is known as the Golden Hornmarker - notable given the eschatological references to the "Little Horn" , .)

There is also a variant futuristic view that the Tribulation can occur in any generation, meaning Satan always has an antichrist in the wings and there is always a nation-state that can become the revived Roman Empire. This variant view is developed by Angela Hunt in her fictional work, The Immortal.

The futurist view was first proposed by two Catholic writers, Manuel Lacunza and Ribera. Lacunza wrote under the pen name "Ben-Ezra", and his work was banned by the Catholic Church. It has grown in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries, so that today it is probably most readily recognized. Books about the "rapture" by authors like Hal Lindsey, and the more recent Left Behind novels (by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye) and movies, have done much to popularize this school of thought.

The Rastafarians hold to a historicist view of the book of Revelation, relating it both to 20th-century events such as the crowning of Ethiopianmarker Emperor Haile Selassie and the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, and also to future events such as the second coming of Selassie on the day of judgment.

The various views on tribulation are actually a subset of theological interpretations on the Millennium, mentioned in Revelation 20. There are three main interpretations: Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism.

Premillennialism believes that Christ will return to the earth, bind Satan, and reign for a literal thousand years on earth with Jerusalem as his capital. Thus Christ returns before ("pre-") the thousand years mentioned in chapter 20. There are generally two subclasses of Premillennialism: Dispensational and Historic. Some form of premillennialism is thought to be the oldest millennial view in church history. Papias, believed to be a disciple of the Apostle John, was a premillenialist, according to Eusebius. Also Justin Martyr and Irenaeus expressed belief in premillennialism in their writings.

Amillennialism, the traditional view for Roman Catholicism, believes that the thousand years mentioned are not ("a-") a literal thousand years, but is figurative for what is now the church age, usually, the time between Christ's first ascension and second coming. This view is often associated with Augustine of Hippo. Amillennialists differ on the time frame of the millennium. Some say it started with Pentecost, others say it started with the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70), and other starting points have also been proposed. Whether this eschatology is the result of caesaropapism, which may have also been the reason that premillennialism was condemned, is sharply disputed.

Postmillennialism believes that Christ will return after ("post-") a literal/figurative thousand years, in which the world will have essentially become a Christendom. This view was held by Jonathan Edwards. This view gained momentum through the nineteenth century, but World Wars I and II dealt a setback to this approach.

Eastern Orthodox view

Eastern Orthodoxy treats the text as simultaneously describing contemporaneous events and as prophecy of events to come, for which the contemporaneous events were a form of foreshadow. It rejects attempts to determine, before the fact, if the events of Revelation are occurring by mapping them onto present-day events, taking to heart the Scriptural warning against those who proclaim "He is here!" prematurely. Instead, the book is seen as a warning to be spiritually and morally ready for the end times, whenever they may come ("as a thief in the night"), but they will come at the time of God's choosing, not something that can be precipitated nor trivially deduced by mortals.

Book of Revelation is the only book of the New Testament that is not read during services by the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the Coptic Orthodox Church (which is not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox church but is liturgically similar), the whole Book of Revelation is read during Apocalypse Night or Bright Saturday (the eve of the Resurrection).

Paschal liturgical view

This view, which has found expression among both Catholic and Protestant theologians, considers the liturgical worship, particularly the Easter rites, of early Christianity as background and context for understanding the Book of Revelation's structure and significance. This perspective is explained in The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (new edition, 2004) by Massey H. Shepherd, an Episcopal scholar, and in Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth (1999), in which he states that Revelation in form is structured after creation, fall, judgment and redemption. Those who hold this view say that the Temple’s destruction (A.D. 70) had a profound effect on the Jewish people, not only in Jerusalem but among the Greek-speaking Jews of the Mediterranean.. They believe The Book of Revelation provides insight into the early Eucharist, saying that it is the new Temple worship in the New Heaven and Earth. The idea of the Eucharist as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet is also explored by British Methodist Geoffrey Wainwright in his book Eucharist and Eschatology (Oxford University Press, 1980).

Esoteric view

The esoterist views Revelation as bearing multiple levels of meaning, the lowest being the literal or "dead-letter." Those who are instructed in esoteric knowledge enter gradually into more subtle levels of understanding of the text. They see the book as delivering both a series of warnings for humanity and a detailed account of internal, spiritual processes of the individual soul.

The Gnostic Kabbalist believes that Revelation (like Genesis) is a very profound book of Kabbalistic symbolism. This view is held by teachers such as H.P. Blavatsky, Eliphas Levi, Rudolf Steiner.

Christian Gnostics, however, are unlikely to be attracted to the teaching of Revelation because the doctrine of salvation through the sacrificed Lamb, which is central to Revelation, is repugnant to Gnostics. Christian Gnostics "believed in the Forgiveness of Sins, but in no vicarious sacrifice for sin ... they accepted Christ in the full realisation of the word; his life, not his death, was the key-note of their doctrine and their practice."

A zodiacal interpretation of Genesis and Revelation (as alpha and omega) is given in Anna P. Johnson Tau: The key of heaven in which it is claimed the astrology practised in Eden is the missing wisdom that would make prophecy and modern science completely compatible. Anna Johnson claimed that the two witnesses of Revelation are the male and female principles, that the norms of western society are wholly perverse, and that death could be overcome if the vagina was no longer 'prostituted' to sexual lust. In her theory, the human aging process and biblical animal sacrifice have both been needless human cringing before a fire-god demiurge. Creation and evolution can coexist because evolution needs much shorter time periods if punctuated by periodic calamities brought about by the change of aeon which permit huge jumps in world development. It is one of these huge jumps which will make it possible for the elect to survive the passing away of the old earth.

One of the strengths of Anna Johnson's work is that she introduces the zodiacal interpretation without losing sight of the theology that makes Revelation worth reading in the first place. In Bruce Malina and John Pilch, the "altered states of consciousness of the sky traveler" seem to have reduced the sacrificed Lamb to little more than the symbol for Aries. Whilst these authors clearly demonstrate the extent to which astrology formed the intellectual knowledge of the "first century Mediterranean world", it may be doubtful how much relevance Latin authors had to the mindset of such an apparent Romano-phobe as John the Divine. Just because the metaphors John uses are astrological does not mean the story he tells is also astrological.

Radical discipleship view

The radical discipleship view asserts that the Book of Revelation is best understood as a handbook for radical discipleship; i.e. how to remain faithful to the spirit and teachings of Jesus and avoid simply assimilating to surrounding society. In this view, the primary agenda of the book is to expose the worldly powers as impostors which seek to oppose the ways of God. The chief temptation for Christians in the first century, and today, is to fail to hold fast to the non-violent teachings and example of Jesus and instead be lured into unquestioning adoption of worldly, national or cultural values, imperialism being the most dangerous and insidious. This perspective (closely related to liberation theology) draws on the approach of radical Bible scholars such as Ched Myers, William Stringfellow, Richard Horsley, Daniel Berrigan, Wes Howard-Brook, and Joerg Reiger <<></<>ref>

Paschal spiritual view

There is also a perspective that holds that the book of Revelation describes a spiritual battle that took place while Jesus was on the cross and in the grave. Some Primitive Baptists believe this to be the intended meaning.

Aesthetic and literary view

Charles Cutler Torrey taught semitic languages at Yale. His style combined meticulous linguistic research with free-wheeling theorising. His lasting contribution has been to show how much more meaningful the prophets are when treated as poets, a point often lost sight of because most English bibles render everything in prose. Poetry was also the reason John never directly quoted the older prophets. Had he done so, he would have had to use their (Hebrew) poetry whereas he wanted to write his own. Torrey insisted Revelation had been originally written in Aramaic. This was why the surviving Greek translation was written in such a strange idiom. It was a literal translation that had to comply with the warning at Revelation 22:18 that the text must not be corrupted in any way. According to Torrey, "The Fourth Gospel was brought to Ephesus by a Christian fugitive from Palestine soon after the middle of the first century. It was written in Aramaic." Later, the Ephesians claimed this fugitive to have been the beloved disciple himself. Subsequently, John had been banished by Nero and died on Patmos after writing Revelation. Torrey argued from the example of Paul's mission that (until 80CE when Christians were expelled from the synagogues) it was taken for granted that the Christian message must be brought to the Gentiles by Jews, and Jews alone. In every city, the Christian message was first heard in the synagogue and, for cultural reasons, the evangelist would have spoken in Aramaic, else "he would have had no hearing." Torrey showed how the three major songs in Revelation (the new song, the song of Moses and the Lamb and the chorus at 19: 6-8) each fell naturally into four regular metrical lines plus a coda. Other dramatic moments in Revelation, such as 6: 16 where the terrified people cry out to be hidden, behave in a similar way.

Christina Rossetti was a Victorian poet who believed the sensual excitement of the natural world found its meaningful purpose in death and in God. Her The Face of the Deep is a meditation upon the Apocalypse. She invites her readers to accompany her to learn from Revelation rather than merely to learn about it. In her view, what Revelation has to teach is patience. Patience is the closest to perfection the human condition allows. The book, which is largely written in prose, frequently breaks into poetry or jubilation, much like Revelation itself. The relevance of John's visions belongs to Christians of all times as a continuous present meditation. Such matters are eternal and outside of normal human reckoning. "That winter which will be the death of Time has no promise of termination. Winter that returns not to spring ... - who can bear it?" She dealt deftly with the vengeful aspects of John's message. "A few are charged to do judgment; everyone without exception is charged to show mercy." Her conclusion is that Christians should see John as "representative of all his brethren" so they should "hope as he hoped, love as he loved."

Recently, aesthetic and literary modes of interpretation have developed, which focus on Revelation as a work of art and imagination, viewing the imagery as symbolic depictions of timeless truths and the victory of good over evil. Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza wrote Revelation: Vision of a just world from the viewpoint of rhetoric which, we are told, involves "ideological practices and persuasive goals". Accordingly, Revelation's meaning is partially determined by the way John goes about saying things, partially by the context in which readers receive the message and partially by its appeal to something beyond logic. It is Professor Schuessler Fiorenza's view that Revelation has particular relevance today as a liberating message to disadvantaged groups. John's book is a vision of a just world, not a vengeful threat of world-destruction. Her view that Revelation's message is not gender-based has caused dissent. She says we are to look behind the symbols rather than make a fetish out of them. Tina Pippin puts an opposing view: that John writes "horror literature" and "the misogyny which underlies the narrative is extreme". However, Professor Schuessler Fiorenza would seem to be saying John's book is more like science fiction; it does not foretell the future but uses present-day concepts to show how reality could be very different.

D. H. Lawrence took an opposing, pessimistic view of Revelation in the final book he wrote, Apocalypse. He saw the language which Revelation used as being bleak and destructive; a 'death-product'. Instead, he wanted to champion a public-spirited individualism (which he identified with the historical Jesus supplemented by an ill-defined cosmic consciousness) against its two natural enemies. One of these he called "the sovereignty of the intellect" which he saw in a technology-based totalitarian society. The other enemy he styled "vulgarity" and that was what he found in Revelation. "It is very nice if you are poor and not humble ... to bring your enemies down to utter destruction, while you yourself rise up to grandeur. And nowhere does this happen so splendiferously than in Revelation." His specific aesthetic objections to Revelation were that its imagery was unnatural and that phrases like "the wrath of the Lamb" were "ridiculous". He saw Revelation as comprising two discordant halves. In the first, there was a scheme of cosmic renewal "great Chaldean sky-spaces" which he quite liked. Then the book hinged around the birth of the baby messiah. After that, "flamboyant hate and simple lust ... for the end of the world."

James Morgan Pryse begins his work, "The purpose of this book is to show that the Apocalypse is a manual of spiritual development and not, as conventionally interpreted, a cryptic history or prophecy". Mr Pryse's book contains an introductory treatise of sacred science, his own English translation of Revelation and a commentary thereupon. He writes from an esoteric standpoint which he calls gnostic, but it seems to be entirely outside any surviving Christian tradition. On this theory, Revelation is a 'pilgrim's progress' of individual spiritual development. That individual starts as "I, John", goes through the difficult stages of development as "the sacrificed Lamb", and reaches his goal as "Iesous the Christos". It assumes the impulse to begin such a journey comes from a spark inside the individual, not from any book. Whatever implausibilities Mr Pryse's interpretation may possess, its great strength is that it does not merely attempt to explain what John's language is about but goes far to show that such a message could only be conveyed in the language used. The reason such an unlikely text as Revelation became part of the Christian canon was because that would have been the only way to preserve it from deliberate destruction. Paradoxically, Revelation was written to conceal, along the lines of making the heart of this people fat. Such a path of spiritual development is difficult, hence the wealth of negative and destructive imagery employed and the appeal to Jesus to "come quickly" so that a process which would otherwise take many lifetimes can be completed using intuition and enlightenment. Those who 'die the death' are simply being put back into the pool of life to try again.

S. Tamar Kamionkowski has constructed a general theory of how prophets use metaphor and imagery. Metaphor can be a means of tackling subjects that are too painful, or too shameful, to be spoken of directly. A sense of fear and calamity, either actual or impending, is a typical backdrop to prophecy. Society is made anxious when the clear values people hold dear seem to have been trodden down in the everyday confusion. Despite the talk of a new heaven and a new earth, prophets are profoundly conservative in their aims which are to sweep away everything rotten so that reality can return to the purity that had always been originally intended. There are two main types of theory about metaphor. In the first, one item is compared with another so that the qualities they share can be contrasted with the qualities present in one item but absent in the other. The metaphor is used as a substitute for reality. In the second theory, metaphor is less about using words than about how we use comparisons to construct meaning out of messiness. G. B. Caird denies this means everything is relative. When a prophet speaks metaphorically, he feels a burning urge to get others to share his vision not just to think about the problem for themselves. The conclusion is that readers can learn more about a prophet's message if they ask why particular metaphors are being used and not others.

The historical-critical view

The historical-critical method treats Revelation as a text and attempts to understand Revelation in its first century historical context within the genre of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature.

This approach considers the text as an address to seven historical communities in Asia Minor. Under this view, assertions that "the time is near" are to be taken literally by those communities. Consequently the work is viewed as a warning not to conform to contemporary Greco-Roman society which John "unveils" as beastly, demonic and subject to divine judgment. There is further information on these topics in the entries on higher criticism and apocalyptic literature.

The acceptance of Revelation into the canon is itself the result of a historical process, essentially no different from the career of other texts. The eventual exclusion of other contemporary apocalyptic literature from the canon may throw light on the unfolding historical processes of what was officially considered orthodox, what was heterodox, what was even heretical. Interpretation of meanings and imagery are anchored in what the historical author intended and what his contemporary audience inferred; a message to Christians not to assimilate into the Roman imperial culture was John's central message. Thus, his letter (written in the apocalyptic genre) is pastoral in nature, and the symbolism of Revelation is to be understood entirely within its historical, literary and social context. Critics study the conventions of apocalyptic literature and events of the first century to make sense of what the author may have intended.

During a discussion about Revelation on 23 August 2006, Pope Benedict XVI remarked: "The seer of Patmos, identified with the apostle, is granted a series of visions meant to reassure the Christians of Asia amid the persecutions and trials of the end of the first century."

Some Christians hold that the historical-critical method is incompatible with the Christian faith. Scripture, they say, provides what evidence we have for Christ's message. It is the basis of faith and its message contains timeless truths which are meant to inspire fresh meanings for each new generation. This is the sole grounds for the texts existing in the first place. To apply the external rules of historical and critical methods to these texts will not have anything to say about this. Christians do not read Revelation to learn about the economic and social history of first century Asia Minor. As a result, the method is alien to the way the texts themselves work. For example, John the Divine incorporates existing prophecy into Revelation in a way that is unlikely to have been contemplated by the original prophets themselves. This makes him a very bad historical-critical lecturer but, possibly, nonetheless inspired as a prophet in his own right. For this reason, the historical-critical method can be said to be inappropriate to its object of study.


Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books". Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he considered it as "merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." Martin Luther changed his perspective on Revelation over time. In the preface to the German translation of Revelation that he composed in 1522, he said that he did not consider the book prophetic or apostolic, since "Christ is neither taught nor known in it." But in the completely new preface that he composed in 1530, he reversed his position and concluded that Christ was central to the book. He concluded, as we see here in this book, that through and beyond all plagues, beasts, and evil angels, Christ is nonetheless with the saints and wins the final victory." John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."

See also

Book references


  • Aune D.E., Revelation 6-16, WBC, t. 52B, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville 1998.
  • Bass, Ralph E., Jr. (2004) Back to the Future: A Study in the Book of Revelation Greenville, SC: Living Hope Press, ISBN 0-9759547-0-9.
  • Beale G.K., The Book of Revelation, NIGTC, Grand Rapids – Cambridge 1999. = ISBN 0-8028-2174-X
  • Bousset W., Die Offenbarung Johannis, Göttingen 18965, 19066.
  • Boxall, Ian, (2006) The Revelation of Saint John (Black's New Testament Commentary) London: Continuum, and Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. ISBN 0-8264-7135-8 U.S. edition: ISBN 1-5656-3202-8
  • Boxall, Ian (2002)Revelation: Vision and Insight - An Introduction to the Apocalypse London: SPCK ISBN 0-2810-5362-6
  • Ford, J. Massyngberde (1975) Revelation, The Anchor Bible, New York: Doubleday ISBN 0-385-00895-3.
  • Gentry, Kenneth L., Jr. (1998) Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, ISBN 0-915815-43-5.
  • Gentry, Kenneth L., Jr. (2002) The Beast of Revelation Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, ISBN 0-915815-41-9.
  • Hudson, Gary W. (2006) Revelation: Awakening The Christ Within, Vesica Press, ISBN 0977851729
  • Kiddle M., The Revelation of St. John (The Moffat New Testament Commentary), New York – London 1941.
  • Lohmeyer E., Die Offenbarung des Johannes, Tübingen 1953.
  • Mounce R.H., The Book of Revelation, Michigan 19771, 19982.
  • Prigent P., L’Apocalypse, Paris 1981.
  • Müller U.B., Die Offenbarung des Johannes, Güttersloh 1995.
  • Roloff J., Die Offenbarung des Johannes, Zürich 19872.
  • Hahn, Scott (1999) The Lamb's Supper: Mass as Heaven on Earth, Darton, Longman, Todd, ISBN 0-232-52500-5
  • Shepherd, Massey H. (2004) The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse, James Clarke, ISBN 0-227-17005-9
  • Stonehouse, Ned B., (c. 1929) The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church. A Study in the History of the New Testament Canon, n.d., Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre. [Major discussion of the controversy surrounding the acceptance/rejection of Revelation into the New Testament canon.]
  • Sweet, J. P. M., (1979, Updated 1990) Revelation, London: SCM Press, and Philadelphia: Trinity Press International. ISBN 0-3340-2311-4.
  • Wikenhauser A., Offenbarung des Johannes, Regensburg 1947, 1959.
  • Zahn Th., Die Offenbarung des Johannes, t. 1-2, Leipzig 1924-1926.
  • Francesco Vitali, Piccolo Dizionario dell'Apocalisse, TAU Editrice, Todi 2008


  1. Other apocalypses popular in the early Christian era did not achieve canonical status, except for 2 Esdras (Apocalypse of Ezra), which is canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Churches.
  2. Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and related writings Volume 1 of New Testament Apocrypha, Westminster John Knox Press, 2003 p.47.
  3. John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes,
  4. The former is found in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus, among other manuscripts, while the latter is found in the Majority Text and others; however, a number of other variations of the title do exist. Nestle-Aland. Novum Testamentum Graece. 27th ed. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Druck: 1996, p. 632.
  5. , New American Bible
  6. Luther's Treatment of the 'Disputed Books' of the New Testament
  7. Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the future, P.297. ISBN 0802835163 ISBN 9780802835161, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979.
  8. see N. B. Stonehouse, Apocalypse in the Ancient Church, (c. 1929), pp. 139-142, esp. p. 138
  9. Rev. 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8
  10. Rev 1:9; 4:1-2
  11. Rev. 1:4, 11
  12. Revelation By Ben Witherington III, p. 32
  13. Guthrie, D: "New Testament Introduction - Hebrews to Revelation", page 260ff. The Tyndale Press: London, 1966
  14. "Apocalypse", Encyclopedia Biblica
  15. Griggs, C. Wilfred. "John the Beloved" in Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. Selections from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Scriptures of the Church (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1992) p. 379. Griggs favors the "one John" theory but mentions that some modern scholars have hypothesized that there are multiple Johns.
  16. New Testament Greek Lexicon based on Strong's Concordance
  17. Ehrman 2004, p. 467ff
  18. Few, however, give reasons. Austin Farrer considers, and rejects, the idea that the first three chapters were written on a different occasion to the rest: Austin Farrer The Revelation of St John the Divine Oxford: OUP (1964) p. 32. C. C. Torrey considers, and rejects, the idea that it is a Christian recasting of a Jewish original or that it is the edited summary of various lost apocalypses, the latter on the grounds that Revelation incorporates no known apocalypses: C. C. Torrey The Apocalypse of John New Haven: Yale University Press (1958) p. 77 and p. 5. One modern writer who does not accept the unified view is Bruce J. Malina who begins his The New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John, "The author of the book of Revelation was a Jesus-group prophet named John. As is well known from the literary study of the book of Revelation, the first three verses of the work trace back to a compiler or editor who took John's letter to the seven Asian churches and inserted four of John's major visions into that letter"
  19. R. H. Charles A critical and exegetical commentary on the Revelation of St John Edinburgh: T&T Clark 2 vols (1920) p.xxiv
  20. Charles Revelation p. xxviii
  21. Charles Revelation p. liv
  22. Ford, p. 30.
  23. Before Jerusalem Fell, ISBN 0930464206. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1989.
  24. Robert Mounce. The Book of Revelation, pg. 15-16. Cambridge: Eerdman's.
  25. A.H. 5.30.3
  26. Brown 1997, p. 806-809
  29. Mounce, pg.19-21
  30. Mounce, pg.315-316
  31. PG, XLI 909-910.
  32. Robert J. Karris (ed.) The Collegeville Bible Commentary Liturgical Press, 1992 p. 1296.
  33. Ken Bowers, Hiding in plain sight, Cedar Fort, 2000 p. 175.
  34. Hanegraaff, Hank. 2007. The Apocalypse Code (ISBN 0-8499-0184-7) Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
  35. p. 94-95
  36. Scott Hahn, The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, ISBN 0385496591. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1999.
  37. R. Frances Swiney (Rosa Frances Emily Biggs) The Esoteric Teaching of the Gnostics London: Yellon, Williams & Co (1909) p.3 & 4
  38. Anna P. Johnson Tau: The key of heaven New York: Asa K Butts (1881)
  39. Bruce J. Malina & John J. Pilch Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation Minneapolis: Fortress (2000)
  40. Charles C. Torrey The Apocalypse of John New Haven: Yale University Press (1958). Christopher R. North in his The Second Isaiah London: OUP (1964) p. 23 says of Torrey's earlier Isaiah theory, "Few scholars of any standing have accepted his theory." This is the general view of Torrey's theories. However, Christopher North goes on to cite Torrey on 20 major occasions and many more minor ones in the course of his book. So, Torrey must have had some influence and poetry is the key.
  41. Apocalypse of John p. 7
  42. Apocalypse of John p. 37
  43. Apocalypse of John p. 8
  44. Apocalypse of John p. 137
  45. Apocalypse of John p. 140
  46. "Flowers preach to us if we will hear," begins her poem 'Consider the lilies of the field' Goblin Market London: Oxford University Press (1913) p. 87
  47. Ms Rossetti remarks that patience is a word which does not occur in the Bible until the New Testament, as if the usage first came from Christ's own lips. Christina Rossetti The Face of the Deep London: SPCK (1892) p. 115
  48. "Christians should resemble fire-flies, not glow-worms; their brightness drawing eyes upward, not downward." The Face of the Deep p. 26
  49. 'vision' lends the wrong emphasis as Ms Rossetti sought to minimise the distinction between John's experience and that of others. She quoted 1 John 3:24 "He abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us" to show that when John says, "I was in the Spirit" it is not exceptional.
  50. The Face of the Deep p. 301
  51. The Face of the Deep p. 292
  52. The Face of the Deep p. 495
  53. Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza Revelation: Vision of a just world Edinburgh: T&T Clark (1993). The book seems to have started life as Invitation to the Book of Revelation Garden City: Doubleday (1981)
  54. Tina Pippin Death & Desire: The rhetoric of gender in the Apocalypse of John Louisville: Westminster-John Knox (1993) p. 105
  55. D. H. Lawrence Apocalypse London: Martin Secker (1932) published posthumously with an introduction (p. v - xli) by Richard Aldington which is an integral part of the text.
  56. Apocalypse p. xxiii
  57. Apocalypse p. 6
  58. Apocalypse p. 11 Lawrence did not consider how these two types of Christianity (good and bad in his view) might be related other than as opposites. He noted the difference meant that the John who wrote a gospel could not be the same John that wrote Revelation.
  59. James M. Pryse Apocalypse unsealed London: Watkins (1910). The theory behind the book is given in Arthur Avalon (Sir John Woodroffe) The Serpent Power Madras (Chennai): Ganesh & Co (1913). One version of how these beliefs might have travelled from India to the Middle East, Greece and Rome is given in the opening chapters of Rudolf Otto The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man London: Lutterworth (1938)
  60. S. Tamar Kamionkowski Gender reversal and cosmic chaos London: Sheffield Academic Press (2003) The theory is derived from the literature on metaphor generally then applied as a case study to Ezekiel. However, it fits John the Divine as well, if not better.
  61. G. B. Caird Language and imagery of the Bible London: Duckworth (1980) discussed in Kamionkowski at page 48 and 49.
  62. Pope Benedict: Read Book of Revelation as Christ's victory over evil - Catholic Online
  63. Barry D. Smith The Historical-Critical Method, Jesus Research, and the Christian Scholar Trinity Journal no 15 (1994) p. 201 - p. 220
  64. Bergh: Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 16
  65. For the preface of 1522 see Luther's Works volume 35 pp. 398-399. For the quotation of the preface from 1530 see the same volume, p. 411.
  66. Drane, John. An Introduction to The Bible. ISBN 0745919103 p 778

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