Revelation is the final book of the Bible, written by the apostle John to seven churches in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey, while John was living as an exile on Patmos, an island off the coast of Greece.
Revelation was written after Jesus revealed Himself to John, and it is full of symbolism and imagery that may be difficult to understand, but its purpose is clear: to show Christians that Jesus has conquered evil, and He will return to eradicate it for good.
Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy, a type of writing that recounts and describes a symbolic vision, which reveals God’s perspective on historical or current events so that people could live in light of history’s final outcome. In this case, John receives a vision from Jesus, which reveals what will happen when He returns to judge the world and reign over a new creation, and how these seven churches (and all Christians) should live in light of the hope of His return.
As the letter opens, John addresses the seven churches—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea—and begins to describe how Jesus revealed Himself to him and what He instructed him to do.
In Chapters 2 and 3, John addresses each church specifically, identifying each church’s current state of spiritual well-being and challenging or encouraging them to remain faithful to Jesus.
In Chapters 4 and 5, John is shown the throne room in Heaven, where elders and creatures are worshiping God. There, he is shown the Lamb of God, Jesus, who was slain for the sins of the world. The Lamb is the only One who can break the scroll with seven seals, which represent God’s plan for bringing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
In Chapters 6-16, John sees seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls, symbols which play a role in God’s justice against evil and lead to the final day of the Lord’s judgment.
Chapters 6-8 describe the seven seals, which are warnings against coming judgment and the persecution of Christians. At the end of Chapter 6, the Lamb breaks the sixth seal, bringing forth the Day of the Lord described in the Old Testament. The people of earth ask themselves, “‘Who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:17).
In Chapter 7, John answers this question. An angel of the Lord places a protective mark on the people who are faithful to God. Verse 9 describes them as “a great multitude no one could count, from every tribe, people and language.” These are the ones who can stand in the Day of the Lord.
Then the seventh seal is opened, bringing the Day of the Lord to completion.
Chapters 8-11 describe the seven trumpets, which, like the seven seals, bring forth judgment on the earth. The trumpets symbolize plagues, like the plagues of Egypt in Exodus.
But even at the end of all this destruction, Revelation 9:20 says, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands.” God’s judgment alone will not bring people to repentance.
In Chapters 10 and 11, an angel appears to John and commands him to eat the unsealed scroll, whose message is revealed to him in two visions about the Temple of God and His witnesses, symbolizing John’s responsibility to proclaim God’s message of hope, judgment and restoration to the world. God’s Kingdom will be revealed when the nations see the church imitating the loving sacrifice of the Lamb of God. God’s mercy will bring repentance.
In Chapters 12-14, John shares a series of symbolic visions. Chapter 12 reveals the battle between God and Satan, which God has won “by the blood of the Lamb” and the testimony of those who have been saved by Him—but which still rages on. Satan has been defeated by Christ, but he will fight against God and His people until he is dealt his final blow.
Chapter 13 looks at earthly evils and how people have devoted themselves to worshiping these powers, rather than God.
Chapter 14 describes the Army of the Lamb (those who are faithful to Jesus) and the final judgment of the people of earth, which Jesus described in His parable on the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).
Chapters 15-16 once again describe the final judgment. Seven angels pour out seven bowls, containing seven plagues, which culminate in a final battle between the Lamb and His army and the dragon and his demons.
Chapters 17-18 repeat the message of the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls. John describes the fall of Babylon, a city which is an archetype for all the corrupt kingdoms of the world, and Chapter 19 describes the triumphant celebration of God’s victory over evil, and an invitation to “the wedding supper of the Lamb.”
Chapter 20 describes in greater detail the final battle between God and Satan and the final judgment. Satan and all who choose to reject God are thrown into the lake of fire, an eternal punishment.
Finally, in Chapters 21 and 22, John describes the New Jerusalem, where all things are made new and God’s people, the Bride of Christ, dwell joyfully and peacefully in His presence and under His perfect rule forever.
The book ends with Christ’s final message: “‘Yes, I am coming soon’” (Revelation 22:20).
Mercy leads to repentance: Throughout Revelation, John repeatedly shows that it is not God’s judgment that leads to repentance, but His mercy, which saves.
Now and not yet: God’s Kingdom on earth was inaugurated when Jesus was born into this world. Humanity was invited into God’s Kingdom when Jesus rose from the dead. All Christians are citizens of God’s Kingdom from the moment they repent and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, but God’s plan for bringing His Kingdom to earth has not yet been finished. There is a time coming when Jesus will return and establish an everlasting Kingdom: the New Jerusalem. Until that time, Christians should live with an eternal perspective. This life is not all there is, so we have hope in hardship. But not everyone will inherit eternal life, so we must be faithful to live out and share the Gospel of hope with everyone we can.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Revelation is one of the most complex books in the Bible, due to symbolic visions and imagery, and references to many other Scriptures. Many of the images presented in Revelation do not have a clear, literal meaning, so our understanding of them is limited.
But Revelation is not meant to be read in an effort to determine exactly when and how Jesus will return and finish His redemptive work. Rather, it is meant to encourage readers to remain faithful to Him, no matter what the future holds.
The book offers two choices: remain faithful to God and receive eternal blessing, or reject Him and receive eternal punishment. No matter what we choose, God does not change, and Jesus will still be victorious over evil.
Revelation is the end, but it is also a peek into a new beginning. One day, there will be no more tears, pain or suffering. There will be no more injustice, violence, sin or evil.
“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:3-5).