Today we begin our study of what must be ranked among the most intriguing, perplexing, and debate-provoking of all the books of the Bible. We are talking, of course, about Revelation, the final book of the New Testament and the subject of much discussion and speculation throughout the history of the church.
Few could deny the significance of the book of Revelation in theological reflection. During the early church, many Christians questioned its divine inspiration. At the time of the Reformation, many people believed it was being fulfilled as the papacy persecuted the Protestants. In the nineteenth century, various theological sects were birthed by claiming to have unlocked the book of Revelation. Over the past few decades, works that attempt to show how the events of Revelation are unfolding in our day have routinely dominated the lists of best-selling Christian books.
Do the differences in how people have understood Revelation mean that our efforts are hopeless? By no means. The people of God have heard His voice in the pages of the book and their souls have been strengthened. We will grasp the book’s main message—Jesus will defeat all His and our enemies—and its chief applications if we come to the book with the right expectations in light of its genre.
John, the author of Revelation, identifies the genre of his book in its very first verse, telling us that it is a “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). The word “revelation” translates the Greek word apokalypsis, which comes directly into English as apocalypse. Among other things, Revelation is apocalyptic literature, which is an “unveiling” (apokalypsis can be translated as “unveiling”). Apocalyptic literature pulls back the curtain of what we see, unveiling the way things really are. It describes in vivid terms the truth of what is going on around us on the spiritual plane. Apocalyptic literature reminds us that all is not what it seems, that the Lord is not absent when His people suffer in this world. He remains the true Power in control and will certainly win in the end. His enemies and ours—the world, the flesh, and the devil—war against Him and us fiercely, but their defeat is sure.
The “unveiling” to John is from and about the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was delivered to him through an angel (v. 2). Its message remains as urgent and vital today as it was in the first century.