How does this type of literature fit into the Bible as a whole?
Written by the aging apostle John when he was exiled on the island of Patmos (a Roman penal colony) in roughly in the mid 90’s AD, Revelation is the final book of the Bible. Jesus gave the apostle this Revelation to help seven first-century churches in the province of Asia Minor who were being oppressed as minorities in their culture. Threatened by false teaching, (satanic) persecution, and the temptation to compromise with paganism through idolatry and immorality, it has been said that the churches listed in Revelation are also representative of all churches across time. This means that Jesus was promising a divine end-time intervention and ultimate triumph for everyone who puts their faith in Him. Revelation thus speaks heavily into a field of theology called “eschatology”, which is concerned with the study of the end times.
How do we read the Prophecy normally?
Perhaps the first step to reading Revelation normally is actually reading it in the first place. Some, either for fear of sensationalism or due to frustration over what is not immediately clear in the text, have an aversion to Revelation. At the other end of the spectrum, some have an unhealthy preoccupation with eschatology, continually projecting current political and social events onto the text to make speculative predictions about the end times. This approach is also problematic because it tends to overlook Revelation’s original audience, historical context, and the Bible holistically.
As mentioned above, modern audiences need to realize that while Revelation was written for us, it was not written directly to us. Studying historical background can help us understand the letter’s original context and the way its symbolism would have been understood by John’s contemporaries. Yet, while Revelation does pertain to a setting in the past, it also causes us to be alert and looking to the future in anticipation of the second coming of Christ and a new heaven and earth.
Revelation is perhaps the most complex book in the entire Bible and requires careful and thorough study because in it multiple literary styles converge. The overall genre of Revelation is prophecy (22:19) which gives visions of real persons and events with imaginative and symbolic details that hearken back to Old Testament prophecies such as Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. However, the title “Revelation” also signifies that it belongs to the genre of apocalypse (revealing or unveiling heavenly or future realities), which utilizes poetry, imagery, metaphor, simile, and allusion to our capture attention and imagination.
How does this part of the Bible point to Jesus?
Revelation is all about Jesus; it was ultimately authored by Him, and points explicitly to His glory, power over enemies, and impending return. The overarching theme of Revelation deals with an unseen spiritual war in which the church was and still is engaged; a cosmic conflict between God and His Christ against Satan and his allies. In this conflict, Jesus has already won the decisive victory through His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection. Revelation clearly positions Jesus as the focal point of not only God’s redemptive work, but also as the centerpiece of history itself, as stated by Jesus Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13).
How does the Prophecy fit into our lives today?
As followers of Jesus, it is clear there is blessing to be had in reading even the perceived craziness of the book of Revelation. Perhaps on its pages, we will be prompted to trust God to guide us through odd apocalyptic images. Or maybe the blessing is in a renewed confidence that God will not and does not allow evil to stand forever in His good world. Either way, John’s visions reveal that Jesus has overcome evil through His death on the cross, His resurrection, and one day through His return as the true King of kings. In this strange but beautifully wise letter/vision/discourse/prophecy, John brings us to a throne of enduring hope. He brings us to Jesus and reminds us that in Him our suffering, our distress, our tears, our hurts, and our pains aren’t relativized, ignored, or discounted. In Jesus, all of our sorrow is redeemed and our future hope invades our present distress to the glory of God.