As was with the studies that were conducted these past six years, such as the Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt, and the Belgic Confession, which were spread over several thousand pages that were typed up, read and studied, this study also is conducted as a result of various requests from brothers and sisters who expressed a desire to know more about this very important book in Scripture. Not only is it an important book, but it is also a mysterious book, difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to explain. When I say that it is an important book, in no way do I imply that it is ranked higher than the other books of the Bible. But perhaps because of its purpose, to explain to the church what the final outcome would be and to tie all the prophecies and testimonies together in their ultimate fulfillment, it is subject to more mystery and awe than the other books of the canon.
In the compilation of this study, extensive use was made of 'Die Bybel met verklarende aantekeninge' (the Afrikaans Bible with exegetical notes) issued by 'Verenigde Protestantse Uitgewers (Edms) Bpk. Kaapstad, 1976' (United Protestant Publishers, Cape Town, 1976) with permission from the Bible Society of South Africa.
All honor and glory is given to our Lord, Jesus Christ, who inspired the church fathers at that time to compile and publish this Bible that has so much value to so many students of the Reformed Faith.
The last book of the Bible serves as a revelation or apocalypse and also as a prophecy. That is why it is also called a prophetic-apocalyptic book with which we indicate its distinctive character, setting it apart from the other books of the New Testament.
There is a close relationship between prophecy and apocalypses and yet there are distinctive differences. Prophecy can be seen as a summarizing concept and apocalypses as a particular type of prophecy. In general, prophecy can be described as the preaching or interpretation of the counsel of God within specific times, circumstances, environments, and nations. Prophecy works toward the ultimate conclusion of God's will in accordance with His salvation plan for the elect. In contrast, apocalypse is, as a rule, a scriptural announcement of God's counsel for the future and it opens up a wide vision of world events and relations between nations. It announces the end of the world as God's catastrophic and violent intervention in the history of the world. Prophecy speaks about contemporary events and images; apocalypse speaks the language of dreams and visions and makes use of metaphors and figures of speech. Images from the human and animal world, phenomena from nature and fantasy, colors, numbers, and geometry, are used to give the prophecies symbolic meaning. These images are distorted from reality so that they may illustrate the prophetic beyond their realistic boundaries.
In this sense, the revelation of John is at the same time prophetic and apocalyptic in nature. It has its root in the time and circumstance of the author and is a testimony of the persecution of the early Christians. At the same time it testifies about the future suffering of believers of all times and the destiny of all nations. It speaks about the history of the world in a language of heavenly and supernatural images and visions.
What we read in this revelation, therefore, should not be taken literally, but the imagery and specific language in which it was written should be interpreted with the rest of Scripture at hand, through the figure of speech. Equally important is that the imagination should not overpower the reason, which is richly connected to the rest of Scripture. Contemporary events should not be used to find similarities with the imagery of this book in an attempt to define fulfillment of prophecy. The reader is admonished to exercise great care and humbleness in the attempt to traverse the depths of this book.
As prophetic-apocalyptic Scripture, the book of Revelation draws closely and richly on the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, portions of Isaiah, and Joel. But the testimonies of the Old Testament regarding the return of Christ are presented in this book in a worldwide context and impact, which culminates in the Second Coming of Christ in glory. Firmly embedded in the prophecies and testimonies of Scripture, salvation history is finally and universally unfolded with Christ as its glorious King.
The book originates from God himself. He gave it to Christ who again gave it to his holy angels and to his servant the Apostle John. That is why the content of this book is truly the word of God and testifies about Jesus Christ. Not only does it follow that this book is of Divine authority, but also that it is the continuation and final fulfillment of the revelation God gave in the rest of Scripture. Therefore, the imagery and figures of speech may never be interpreted without binding it with the rest of Scripture.
The author calls himself John without indicating that he is the Apostle. There are some who doubt that it is the Apostle John who wrote the book, but it should be noted that the Apostle was so well known among the churches that it was not necessary to identify himself other than in the way he was known to them. It is commonly agreed that the Apostle lived in Ephesus when he wrote the book of Revelation and there are significant similarities of expressions and style between this book and his other books. This, and the fact that another John would have explicitly identified himself to the church, caused general agreement that the Apostle John was indeed the author of the book of Revelation.
One can only estimate when the book was written. According to Revelation 1:9 - 11 it happened when the Apostle was in exile on the island Patmos by Ephesus. The persecution of the Christians, which included the Apostle, was that of Caesar Domitianus, who ruled from 81 - 95 AD. Traditional wisdom places the penning of the book of Revelation at the last year of Caesar Domitianus, which is 95 AD. There is no reason to doubt that this is correct.
The book Revelation is in the form of a letter to the seven churches in Asia, but it is to the address of the church of Christ of all times. The whole is of a poetic nature, artfully structured according to a remarkable schema in which certain numbers, especially the number seven, is skillfully used as basis of its imagery. For example, the seven churches, seven letters, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven angels, seven spirits, seven thunders, and so on. There are also other places in which the number seven is used or multiples of it.
The purpose of this book is to comfort the persecuted churches by announcing to them the triumph of Christ and his gospel and that the complete salvation of the believers is at hand.
The contents of the book deals with what is now and what will take place in the future. The main theme throughout the book is that the Lord will return. We see this clearly in the words of Christ himself in
Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
Revelation 22:7, 12, 20 "Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book." 12"Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done." 20He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
We will see the same thing in many other passages in the book of Revelation, which we will deal with during the study.
With these statements Christ does not only mean his physical return on the clouds, but the entire world history, everything that happened since his incarnation, has to be seen as a preparation for his final return and judgment. The history of man, and in particular salvation history, is like a golden thread from before creation till after the final judgment and separation of believers and unbelievers. It is an unbroken thread oftentimes viewed from different perspectives but continually pushed along from event to event, till it reaches the grand finale in the last judgment; reaching its goal as predetermined before creation: the collection of a people who freely desire to glorify God.
The book of Revelation is an excellent comforter for the church who is admonished by it to persevere in the expectation of Jesus Christ who will appear in his full majesty and glory to take the faithful to the New Jerusalem.
After the first introductory verses, there are three main divisions of the book, namely, first, 1:9 -3:22, which deal with the appearance of Christ and, through John, the sending of letters to the seven churches. Second, 4:1 - 20:15 in which the deployment of God's salvation history is described, with the accompanying wicked attacks of Satan. Third, 21:1 - 22:5 wherein the completion of salvation history is described. The book is closed with admonitions and closing prayers in 22:6 - 21.
Before we start with the passage-by-passage exposition of the Book of Revelation, we will first look at who this book is about, namely, Jesus Christ. Secondly, we will look at the Scriptures that Jesus used to reveal himself to the Jews as the Messiah. And finally, before the study itself, we will look at the purpose of God for creating all of this that we experience today. These topics will prepare us for this study and bring our understanding to a level where many of the occurrences would be much clearer.