Revelation, book of (the Revelation to John)

Also known as the Apocalypse [[➝ apocalypse]] (Greek = ‘revelation’), a similar kind of writing to the OT book of Daniel. From early in the 2nd cent. it was ascribed to John the Apostle, thought also to be the author of the fourth gospel, but most modern scholars cannot reconcile the barbaric Greek of Rev. with the fluent prose of the gospel and regard Revelation as the work of a recognized prophet in the Church, writing for his contemporaries about the year 95 CE.
The book has often been an embarrassment to the Church. Its bizarre imagery has been incomprehensible or misunderstood and it is certainly unintelligible without recognition of its frequent allusions to the OT. Apocalyptic sects have used it as a handbook to predict the future. Many Christians have found the apparent gloating over the defeat of the Church's enemies to be morally repulsive (Rev. 18:6–7).
An important principle of interpretation is to see what messages Rev. was giving out to the Churches for whom it was written. References to Rome are clear: the ‘seven hills’ of 17:9; and ‘Babylon’ of 16:19 stand for Rome (as in 1 Pet. 5:13), the power which destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE as did the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The seer writes to encourage Christians under the threat, or experience, of persecution, which is usually thought to be an escalation by the emperor Domitian (81–96 CE) of the sporadic outbursts of persecution, such as that by Nero, whose persecution in 64 CE seems to be remembered in Rev. 13 and 17. The book is thus more hostile to the empire and the surrounding culture than was Paul (Rom. 13:1, 7). It condemns idolatry (‘fornication’, Rev. 17:2) and the abuse of power in this world, and looks forward in hope to the coming of the Kingdom with a new heaven and a new earth. At the time of writing the power of evil represented by Rome is symbolized in Rev. by the traditional images of beasts, and those forces of chaos are in rebellion against the Creator. The readers are summoned to an uncompromising witness against the social and economic idolatry in which they are surrounded, but he will preserve his faithful people in their adversity. The visions of Rev. consist of five series and they have a common pattern of persecution of the faithful (as 6:9–11), followed by the judgement on the nations (6:12–17) and then the victory of the Lamb (Christ) and the salvation of his followers (7:9–17). This present life for Christians is therefore one of struggle, suffering, and death but with the hope of ultimate joy and peace where evil is subdued and ‘there is no more sea’ (Rev. 21:1). The theme of the book is sustained by formidable symbolisms: twelve [[➝ Twelve, the]] months, twelve signs of the zodiac (a mistake for the correct number of thirteen), twelve tribes and apostles; there are seven planets, days of the week, colours of the rainbow—all numbers signifying completeness. But the number of the antichrist is six (one short) and Satan is a treble six (666), and the name Nero Caesar if written in Hebrew letters would make 666. There was a terrifying rumour that Nero, who committed suicide in 68 CE, would return from the dead (Rev. 13:3).
The clearest sections of Rev. are the first three chapters, with messages to seven Churches in Asia Minor. Their situations are well known to the writer, and the seer's exhortations are designed to fit each Church's current position. Where they have stood firm, praise is given (to Smyrna and Philadelphia); where they are failing, they are rebuked—especially Laodicea. Modern readers of Rev. may not be able to take literally what is prophesied, though there exist today fundamentalist and conservative Christians, as there have often been in the past, who believe the book to be a prediction of the end of the world in this generation. Some have even anticipated the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:12–16) to be fought with the mass destruction by nuclear weapons. There is certainly in the seer's words the faith that the salvation of Jesus, the Word of God (19:13), can be available to every generation. Every Christian can follow Jesus and through suffering like his win through to victory (2:7, 17, 26). We shall all be judged by our deeds (20:12–13). And there is a role for the Church—that of mediating God's forgiveness and urging repentance (3:7–9). In this way the Lord comes on his day (1:10)
year in, year out, in preaching and in Eucharist, and the New Jerusalem descends from God not at the end of all time but whenever a martyr wins a crown (3:12; 21:2, 10).

Dictionary of the Bible.

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