Who wrote it?
The author of Revelation identifies himself as “John” four times (1:1, 4; 21:2; 22:8). The earliest church fathers, from Justin Martyr to Tertullian, unanimously agreed that this John was none other than the son of Zebedee, one of the 12 apostles, and the “beloved disciple” of Jesus, the same John to whom is attributed the writing of the Gospel of John and 1, 2 and 3 John.
In the third and fourth centuries, however, some church leaders attributed the book to another John and point out grammatical differences between Revelation and the other writings of the apostle. Nevertheless, the apostle continues to be widely credited as the author of this apocalyptic/prophetic work for several reasons:
- John is described in Acts 4:13 as “unschooled” and may have been incapable of writing in cultured Greek.
- It’s unlikely that anyone in the early church, other than the apostle, was so well-known to identify himself simply as “John.”
- Many expressions in Revelation are common to John’s other writings. For example, the word “Logos” as a term for Christ is used only in John’s Gospel and Revelation (John 1:1; Rev. 19:13). And the term “the Lamb” as a messianic title is found only in the same writings.
While we cannot say with absolute certainly that the apostle John wrote Revelation, we have the testimony of the early church fathers and a lack of sufficient evidence against their claims. The apostle John most likely is the author.
What kind of book is this?
First, Revelation, like most New Testament books, is an epistle, a letter intended for a specific audience. Rev. 1:11 makes this clear: “What you see, write it in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia …” The closing of the book also resembles an epistle: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
The book differs from other New Testament writings, however, in two key ways:
- Unlike other biblical epistles, Revelation is a prophecy (1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19), which forthtells the word of the Lord for the present and foretells future events.
- Revelation is apocalyptic literature, a style popular in John’s day but unknown to many modern-day readers. Apocalyptic literature is a special kind of writing that arose among Jews and Christians to “reveal certain mysteries about heaven and earth, humankind and God, angels and demons, the life of the world today, and the world to come,” according to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Many noncanonical books were written in this style between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D., among them: The Book of Enoch, The Psalms of Solomon, and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.
Key features of apocalyptic writing include: the appearance of angels as guides and interpreters; authorship during times of intense persecution of believers; the use of vivid images and symbols; and the use of numbers to convey concepts.
When was it written?
Most modern scholars believe Revelation was written about 95-96 A.D., late in the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.), who carried out a consistently brutal campaign against Christians. Many evangelical scholars, however, favor an earlier date. Specifically, they believe Revelation was written during the reign of Nero (54-68 A.D.) prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Nero severely persecuted Christians, and scholars who hold to a preterist view of Revelation believe much of what is written foretells the destruction of the temple and God’s judgment of both Romans and Jews who persecuted Christians.
Where was it written?
John tells us that he was on the Island of Patmos when he received the Revelation (1:9). Patmos is in the Mediterranean Sea and lies west of the coast of modern-day Turkey. John was exiled to Patmos for his faithful testimony of the risen Christ.
Why was it written?
According to the HCSB Study Bible, “This prophetic book originally intended to teach that faithfulness to Jesus ultimately triumphs over all the evils of this world and that Jesus will return to earth as King and Lamb-Bridegroom. God’s people who read and study Revelation today should view it with this original purpose in mind.”
How does it affect me?
Revelation teaches us many truths. First, it reminds us that God is sovereign over human events and angelic forces. He is moving human history toward its climax in the return of Christ and the establishment of new heavens and a new earth. Second, this apocalyptic book tells us how the early church faced intense persecution and was encouraged to persevere as believers looked for God to vindicate them and judge the wicked. Third, the prophetic nature of Revelation shows the timeless message of Christ’s redemption as it spoke to believers in John’s day and speaks yet to us today. Finally, Revelation gives us a glimpse, however hazy, of Christ’s certain, future, glorious, personal return to earth. We may proclaim confidently, as John did, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).