Overview of the Book of Revelation

The Book of Revelation

By Robert Thomas, Th.M., Th.D.
Professor, New Testament, The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, California

How do you strengthen people who are persecuted for being Christians? How do you motivate God-rejecting people to repent and turn to Him? God’s answer to both questions is the same: by telling them what is to happen in the future, the very thing He does in the final book of the Bible.

Revelation, sometimes called the Apocalypse, centers around prophetic predictions of the future: Revelation 1.3; 10.11; 18.20; 19.10; 22.6,7,9,10,18,19. Revelation plays a significant role in Biblical prophecy as a whole.

John, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, wrote the book in about 95 A.D. while in exile on a small Mediterranean island off the coast of Asia Minor: Revelation 1.9. The resurrected Jesus appeared to him there and gave him information about the future for John to deliver to messengers from seven churches of the nearby Roman province located in the western portion of what is now Turkey.

The announced subject of the book is “things that must happen soon,” Revelation 1.1; the highlight of which is stated in the book’s theme verse, “Behold, He (Jesus) will come with the clouds,” Revelation 1.7. Revelation deals with the return of Jesus Christ and all the events accompanying His return. In instructing John to write the book, Jesus appeared to the apostle in a glorified state, Revelation 1.12-16; and gave him an advance outline of the prophecy, Revelation 1.19. It included the vision of Jesus he had just seen, Revelation 1.12-16; a message to each of the seven churches, Revelation 2 – 3; and events to transpire on earth after the faithful in the churches are taken away to Heaven at Jesus’ promised coming: Revelation 4 – 22.

Two themes recur in Jesus’ messages to the churches, one of threat and one of encouragement. He issued threats to those in the churches whose relationship to Himself was only superficial. He promised to come and judge these people because of their empty professions: Revelation 2.5 and 3.11,16. For them an unparalleled hour of trial is imminent: Revelation 3.10. His words of encouragement went to the faithful who had stood firm in the face of persecution caused by their faith in Him. For these He promised His imminent return to deliver them from adversity: Revelation 2.25 and 3.11,20. Chapters two and three advise the churches about needed adjustments in their lives in view of the outpouring of God’s wrath described in chapters four and following.

Jesus devoted the bulk of His revelation to John to describing judgments about to fall on an unrepentant world because of its rebellion against God. Through prophetic vision, He first allowed John to visit the heavenly throne-room from which the judgments will proceed: Revelation 4 – 5. There the prophet encountered the Father, seated on His throne and the slain Lamb, Jesus, Who was the only One worthy to open a seven-sealed scroll the Father gave Him.

As it turns out, the seven-sealed scroll contained the remainder of Revelation except for some concluding remarks in chapter 22. John saw the breaking of the first six seals, Revelation 6, portrayed as a drama before his eyes. First came four horses with riders depicting:

  1. peaceful conquest of the world, the white horse
  2. warfare and bloodshed, the red horse
  3. widespread famine, the black horse
  4. death to one-quarter of earth’s population, the pale horse.

Then he witnessed martyred saints in Heaven praying for God to avenge their blood by punishing people responsible for their deaths. Next, the sixth seal divulged various cosmic and terrestrial disturbances which unmistakably signal to earth’s inhabitants the seal judgments have initiated the predicted wrath of God against rebellious humanity.

The breaking of the seventh seal in Revelation 8.1 resulted in the sounding of seven trumpets, Revelation 8.7 – 11.15; in themselves seven physical judgments additional to and more severe than those of the first six seals. The first six trumpets were prophetic of:

  1. the burning of a third of earth’s vegetation
  2. destruction of a third of sea life
  3. poisoning of a third of earth’s fresh water
  4. darkening of a third of the heavenly bodies
  5. a pain-inflicting demonic locust plague
  6. death to a third of earth’s inhabitants through another demonic visitation.

The blowing of the seventh trumpet, Revelation 11.15, ushered in another series of judgments predicting God’s future visitations against rebellious mankind, the seven vials of God’s wrath: Revelation 15.7. The seven vials represented to John what will be the seven last plagues to complete God’s wrath, Revelation 15.1; against creatures who have rebelled against Him. The first six of those plagues will produce:

  1. afflicting of false-Christ worshipers with incurable sores: Revelation 16.2
  2. death to all sea life: Revelation 16.3
  3. transformation of all fresh water into blood: Revelation 16.4-7
  4. scorching of all rebels because of superheat from the sun: Revelation 16.8,9
  5. darkening of the false-Christ’s kingdom: Revelation 16.10,11
  6. battle preparation for the doom of earth’s kings: Revelation 16.12-16

The prophetic message of the seventh vial of God’s wrath carries forward into the eternal state: Revelation 16.17 – 22.5. It will include eight main events:

  1. the Second Coming of Christ to conquer His enemies
  2. a summons of birds to feast on conquered humans
  3. the slaughter of Christ’s human opponents
  4. Satan’s imprisonment
  5. Satan’s release and final defeat
  6. The setting of the Great White Throne Judgment
  7. Sentencing of lost people to the lake of fire
  8. A sketch of the New Jerusalem and those excluded from it

Along with his description of the seals, trumpets and vials, John’s visions also furnish supplemental data in Revelation 7.1-17; 10.1 – 14.20; 17.1 – 18.24 and 21.9 – 22.5 to give readers details of the future judgments which will occupy seven years, the Tribulation; one thousand years, the Millennium; and eternity future as this present creation of God runs its course and steps aside to be replaced by His new creation.

Revelation’s picture of the future is more than sufficient to strike terror in the thoughts of any person who has not made his/her peace with God through a personal invitation to Christ for salvation from sin and its punishment. But that picture is also more than sufficient to offer incentive to the faithful believer in Christ to persevere through present trials, awaiting His imminent coming to deliver from those trials to a future of unparalleled joy.

From Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible – King James Version
Published by AMG Publishers, 2000. Used with permission.

© 2005-2009 Good News For Israel


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