1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw--that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Greetings and Doxology
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. 7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. 8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
So we begin the book of Revelation. And specifically this is a revelation or vision given to the apostle John, who was one of the only apostles who wasn't martyred for their witness for Jesus Christ. John is exiled on the Patmos, when he receives this vision of what is to come. Although John wrote the gospel of John, and 1,2 and 3 John, this is a different type of book. It is called "apocalyptic literature". Apocalyptic means "unveiling, revealing or uncovering". It is revealing something new that has not been known before. The only other book in this genre in the bible is the Old Testament book of Daniel.
Since this is a vision, there is much symbolic imagery in the book, which is similar to other Jewish apocalyptic literature during John's day. As such, we shouldn't try to analyze every detail and symbol, as John may not even have understood what he was writing. As in interpreting any book of the bible, we need to be very careful to interpret this book in its context. The major context is that John is writing to the seven literal and historical churches in Asia Minor, who are undergoing intense and severe persecution. As such John is encouraging the believers to persevere in the time of trial, and to know one day Jesus will conquer evil once and for all when he comes again.
It is important for you to know that there are four main interpretive methods used when interpreting this book, that will influence how one interprets this book. I will give a brief description of each.
1. Preterist - The view that these events had already taken place when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. Therefore, they were already living in the eternal state of the future heavens and earth after that event.
2. Historical - Revelation reveals the movement of church through history. For instance, the Protestant Reformation, which occurred in the 16th century, is an example of this. Some of the Reformers viewed the papacy at that time as a fulfillment of the beast portrayed in Revelation 13.
3. Futurist - This view sees all the events of Revelation as happening in the future. It is a literalistic view that sees a literal 7 year tribulation period and a 1,000 year, or millenial reign of Christ. Out of this view many events happening today are connected with specific details in the book of Revelation. Out of this view people have tried to predict the exact date of Jesus' return, based on current events. Hal Lindsay's book, "The Late Great Planet Earth" is a great example of this view being used. There is one thing in common with all exact day predictions up to this point. They have all been wrong. But that is not to say we shouldn't be waiting and watching for Jesus' return.
4. Idealistic. This is exactly the opposite of view #3. Everything in the book is seen as symbolic of the struggle between good and evil that happens in every age and time.
Biblical scholar Robert Mounce summarizes the idealist view stating, “Revelation is a theological poem presenting the ageless struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. It is a philosophy of history wherein Christian forces are continuously meeting and conquering the demonic forces of evil.”
These 4 interpretive models will be very important to keep in mind as we journey through this book. Maybe there is a sense in which there is a piece of each of these approaches relevant for our interpretation. One thing is for sure, I believe the book of Revelation is a book relevant for all churches of all ages, regardless of how close we are to Jesus' eventual return. I hope you are as excited as I am to go through it.