1. Recipients, Author and Time of Writing
The Revelation is the only prophetic book of the NT and it is the keystone of the Word of God. The Holy Scriptures start with a revelation on the past (Genesis 1) and they end with a revelation on the future.
The Revelation is a very solemn book speaking much about divine judgments but it is also a wonderful book in which we find the completion of God's ways up to eternal glory. As with all prophecies the Revelation also is not easily understood. This is why it is sometimes called “the book with seven seals” and is much neglected by many Christians.
The main thought of OT and NT biblical prophecy is the still future introduction of the reign of the Lord Jesus' over creation as well as the preceding events, especially in relation to Israel, God's earthly people. The assembly of the Living God, the body of Christ, is not mentioned at all in OT prophecies. The assembly or church is subject of a divine mystery revealed in the NT only (compare Eph. 3:2-11). The assembly also plays a subordinate part in the NT prophecies. This heavenly company's expectation is not centred on happenings of the last days. It is much rather centred on the coming of the Lord Jesus to rapture the believers. And this rapture will happen anytime (compare Rev. 22:7.12.20). Most biblical prophecies including the ones in Revelation concern the time after the rapture.
There have been many attempts up to the present day to interpret the Revelation in a different way. The Past Interpretation sees the battle of Christendom gaining strength against heathen Rome ending with faith's victory. The historical interpretation sees in it a description of the whole time of Christendom. This way of interpretation was especially popular during the time of Reformation: Luther for example saw the Antichrist in the Pope. The spiritualizing method looks at the book as timeless symbolizing the fight between good and evil.
The correct way however to consider the Revelation is to look at chapters 4 to 22 regarding the future (see also paragraph 2 Purpose and Subject). This view has already been seen, in part, by the Church Fathers. The book of Revelation is the fulfilment of every biblical prophecy. It cannot be understood without knowing the OT prophets (Ezekiel and Daniel especially), nor without knowing the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25 and 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
The language of Revelation is largely symbolical. One can only explain these symbols in connection with the Holy Scriptures as a whole and especially in connection with prophecy as a whole. For we learn from Peter, in 2 Peter 1:20, “...that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”
Author and Time of Writing
The Revelation is the only book in the NT mentioning John as author. John mentions his name four times in the book (Rev. 1:1.4.9, 22:8). Justin the martyr (around 100 to 165 AC), Irenaeus (around 140 to 220 AC) and the Muratori Canon (end of 2 nd century) confirm that the Apostle John is the author. He is the author of the forth gospel and of three epistles. Irenaeus also mentions that John has written the book of Revelation towards the end of the Roman emperor Domitian's reign. Domitian reigned from 81 to 95 AC. According to Rev. 1:9 John was in the isle called Patmos which is 50 miles off the coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey). This is where he wrote the Revelation of Jesus Christ around 95 AC upon God's command.
However, doubts in relation to the authorship of Revelation have been raised from the time of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria and pupil of Origines (2 nd part of 3 rd century) onward. The reasons mentioned are doctrinal distinctions compared with John's other writings as well as the very simple language of the book. There is no convincing reason however why one should doubt the Apostle John's authorship.
It is evident that the Revelation bears the style of an epistle at the beginning and at the end. In chapter 1:4 follows a greeting after the introduction: “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come.” The final words of the book are similar to some of the NT epistles: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
If we were to conclude from that, however, that the Revelation is addressed to the seven churches of Minor Asia mentioned at the beginning we would misunderstand the purpose of the Holy Spirit. The final words of Revelation which are directed to all the saints contradict this thought. But the introductory words of the book also distinctly show that the Revelation is directed to all Christians. Blessed is he who reads and they who hear the words of this prophecy. The number seven of the churches in Asia Minor (chap. 1:11 and chap. 2 to 3) is the expression of divine perfection and points to the fact that the whole church (or assembly) is spoken of.
2. Subject and purpose of writing
Verse 1 of the Revelation already shows God's intention: “...to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass”. The person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Redeemer, is in the centre of these future events. We see the Lord Jesus as righteous judge in chapter 1 and as the one who will soon be coming in the last chapter. But also in the course of the entire book of Revelation we see, time and again, the Lord Jesus as the one who acts.
Chapter 1:19 gives us the key to divide the book.
“Write these things which you have seen ,
And the things which are , and
the things which shall be hereafter.”
“The things which you have seen” refer to the vision of chapter 1:12-18. There we see the Lord Jesus as judge of his church amidst the seven golden candlesticks.
“The things which are” can only refer to the seven letters in chap. 2 and 3 addressed to the seven churches. These churches symbolically present the whole of Christendom from the beginning to the end.
Finally “the things which shall be hereafter” show us the events that will occur after the church has been raptured. They are described starting from chapter 4:1, where John hears the words: “Come up hither, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.”
Chapters 4 to 22 therefore are describing things happening after the actual time of grace. The believers (symbolized in the 24 elders of chapter 4:4) will then be in the heavenly glory already.
To start with we see God as creator and ruler, the Lord Jesus as the slain lamb and the believers gathered round the throne in heaven (chapter 4 and 5). In the following paragraph (chapters 6 to 11) the seven seals of the book are opened by the Lamb. Then seven blows of trumpets start two series of terrible plagues and judgments. The seventh trumpet leads to the fulfilment of the mystery of God and to the setting out of Christ's reign in the Millennium. Chapters 12 and 13 show the people of Israel during this time of tribulation, the casting of Satan to the earth and the most powerful men of that time, the head of the Roman Empire and finally the Antichrist. Chapters 14 and 15 show two kinds of martyrs of that time. Chapter 16 follows with a third series of judgments with seven vials of wrath. Chapter 17 and 18 show the judgment of Babylon (which is Christendom departed from God). Finally chapter 19 brings in Christ appearing on earth. Chapters 20 to 22 show the Millennium and the eternal state with a new heaven and a new earth. The book of Revelation closes with solemn appeals of the Lord Jesus to men in general and to the believers especially.
The expressions for Christ in the Revelation are as follows:
4. Overview of Contents
I. Revelation 1 “What You Have Seen”
II. Revelation 2 – 3 “What Is”
III. Revelation 4 – 22 “Things Which Must be Hereafter”