Daily Bible Study Tips: Overview of Revelation

Overview of Revelation from the Rev. Clyde Stanfield, Guest Contributor
Historical Background
Symbolism in Apocalyptic Writing
Dispensationalist Interpretation of Revelation

Comments on Revelation

Comparison of Apocalyptic Writing and Prophecy

Reader Question Answered:   Rev. 2:14 (when the Lord is talking to one of the churches) says that He is angry because they've eaten meat offered as sacrifices to idols.  Is there more to this than just eating the meat?

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Overview of Revelation
by the Rev. Clyde Stanfield, Guest Contributor


Whether you believe the book of Revelation or not, we own it. What we need to do is become intelligent and astute about how we interpret it. What I am attempting to do is present how the letter, Revelation, came into the life and witness of the church by giving some of the historical background.

Revelation is an example of apocalyptic writing. “Apocalyptic” means “revealed.” That which was hidden becomes revealed. Apocalyptic writing always has a Seer, who sees the vision but doesn’t understand what he sees. In Revelation, this is the writer, John. Apocalyptic also always has an Interpreter. In Revelation, this is Jesus.

Historical Background

In 586 B.C., the Babylonians razed the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and deported most of the people of Judea. In 539 B.C., the Persians beat the Babylonians, and in 538 B.C. they sent the Jews home to a pile of rubble. In the years 520 to 515 B.C., the Jews rebuilt the Temple, and from 444 to 432 B.C. they began rebuilding the city under the leadership of Nehemiah, a Jewish servant of the Persian king, and Ezra, a scribe in Babylon. Around 400 to 350 B.C., the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) became accepted as basic scripture by the Hebrew people. Deuteronomic Theology was “Keep the Law of God. Be faithful. God will reward you.”

After Babylon, the Jews were politically powerless, economically impoverished, and militarily defenseless. This didn’t square with Deuteronomic Theology. Two new types of literature arose to address this situation, Wisdom Literature (e.g., Job and Ecclesiastes) and Apocalyptic Literature (e.g., Daniel 7-12, Revelation, and several non-canonical books).

Apocalyptic literature incorporated Persian beliefs with the Deuteronomic faith. The Persians believed that we are part of a cosmic struggle between dark and light, evil and good, and that ultimately light and good will win. The major characteristics of apocalyptic literature are as follows:
Daniel addresses the oppression of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes, 167 to 164 B.C. Revelation addresses the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Domitian. Revelation is a letter written about 95 A.D. to the churches of Asia Minor – present-day Turkey – during a time of great suffering and struggle. Its message is “Remain faithful. Do not lose faith. Be courageous in the face of danger and suffering. God will usher you into the new age.”

Symbolism in Apocalyptic Writing

Many of the symbols in apocalyptic writing come from Persian beliefs. People understood the symbols! Numbers and colors are especially important, as follows:

The symbols in Revelation were understood by the people of the time. For example, Revelation speaks of 144,000 people. Remember 10 and 12? 10 is completion/inclusion, and 12 is the people of God. 144,000 is symbolic of the inclusion of the people of God. How did we get it to mean exclusion?

Dispensationalist Interpretation of Revelation

Around 1827, a man named John Wilson Darby decided that the Bible contains all of human history: past, present, and future. This is known as Bible prophecy, premillennial end-times, or dispensationalism. Darby’s interpretive systems was as follows: This is very common theology today, but you can see that John Nelson Darby didn’t think much of the Church.

If there are dispensationalists among us, I’m not going to try to change your mind. You will make your own decision about that, but I will say that it doesn’t square with a historical perspective. I’m totally Wesleyan here. What unites us as Christians is “Jesus Christ is Lord.” All else is just out there to argue about.

"Overview of Revelation" Copyright 2009, 2010 by Clyde Stanfield

Webpage Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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