STUDY 22 - THE BOOK OF REVELATION
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.381-397; R.H.Gundry, pp.457-476.
Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An
Introduction to the New
"The book of Revelation closes the canon and the history of the
NT. Irrespective of whether or not it was the last in order to be
written, it is final in its thought, for it embodies the expectation of
a church that had been launched in the world as an institution, and
that was eagerly awaiting the consummation of its mission". 
1. BACKGROUND TO THE APOCALYPSE
The experience of the apostle
It is commonly held that the apostle John was exiled on the Island of
Patmos (1:4,9) during the reign of emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96).
Persecution was not widespread at the time, but the emperor's claim to
worship anticipated it.
The units of the Apocalypse
John's spiritual experience on Patmos was visionary. So, Tenney
"The book consists of a series of visions, each of which is a unit in
itself. While there are many small units introduced by the phrase
'and I saw' (5:1,11; 6:1,9, etc.), the four main divisions are
introduced by the phrase 'in the Spirit' (1:10; 4:2; 17:1-3;
21:9-10). These divisions are of varied content and unequal
length, but they give a unitary organisation to the book". 
We need to understand what is meant by apocalyptic literature.
M.C.Tenney explains the genre this way:
"Revelation belongs to the category of apocalyptic literature.
Apocalyptic literature was usually produced in times of persecution and
oppression as a means of encouraging those who were suffering for their
faith. It was characterised (1) by an intense despair of present
circumstances and an equally intense hope of divine intervention in the
future; (2) by the use of symbolic language, dreams, and visions; (3)
by the introduction of celestial and demonic powers as messengers and
agents in the progress of God's purpose; (4) by the prediction of a
catastrophic judgment of the wicked and supernatural deliverance for
the righteous; and (5) frequently by the pseudonymous ascription of the
writing to a prominent character of biblical history, such as Ezra (2
Esdras) or Enoch (Book of Enoch). The book of Revelation possess
most of these characteristics except that the author declares his name,
and assumes that he is known, not as a past celebrity, but as a present
participant in the affairs of those whom he addressed". 
The seven churches
In chapter one Christ is the Lord of the church. He walks in the midst
of the lampstands (churches), observing and judging their life and
witness. The leaders of the churches are in his hands, promoted and
protected by him. Chapters 2 and 3 contain the contents of seven
letters to the seven churches - of Asian Ephesus (2:1-7), Smyrna
(2:8-11), Pergamum (2:19-17), Thyatira (2:18-29), Sardis (3:1-6),
Philadelphia (3:7-13), and Laodicea (3:14-92). They contain the Lord's
words of commendation, complaint, and counsel. They also supply a
background to the period (e.g., 2:10,13; 3:10).
2. INTERPRETATIONS OF THE APOCALYPSE
There are four main schools of interpretation represented by
The preterist school (prophecy for the time) holds that
of the book relates only to the events of the day in which it was
written. Many liberal scholars rule out predictive prophecy
Antichrist is not taken to be a future dictator, but a Roman Caesar of
The idealist school (prophecy being fulfilled all the
time) sees the
principles of prophecy being fulfilled all the time, e.g., the four
horsemen of Rev.6:1-8 will always be in the same order - conquest, war,
famine and death. This interpretation often takes Revelation
the spiritual struggle between good and evil.
The historicist school (prophecy through time) holds that
outlines in symbolic form the entire course of the church's history
from Pentecost to the parousia. The old evangelicals A.J.Gordon and
A.B.Simpson held this view.
The futurist school (prophecy before time) holds that the
chapters of Revelation apply either to the day in which the book was
written, or else that the seven churches of Asia represent seven
periods of church history (as do the historicists), but contend that
from chapter four the remainder of the book deals with the period of
the 'Great Tribulation' which takes place just before Christ's
Bible expositors such as C.I.Scofield and H.A.Ironside are futurists.
Millennialist views based on
See Rev.20:1-7, which speaks of Christ reigning on the earth for a
thousand years. A number of views are held with this passage in mind:
The amillennial view holds that the millennium does not (or
exist as a literal period. Christ may appear at any time, but his
coming will mark the end of the age, with the final judgment, and the
making of everything new.
The premillennial view holds that Christ will return
personally to rule
over the kingdoms of the earth; that the dead will be raised and will
reign with him for 1000 years; that at the end of this time there will
be a rebellion; then will come the final judgment and the eternal
The postmillennial view takes the 1000 years to be
figurative of a long
interval that precedes the coming of Christ. In this period the
triumphs over the nations, introducing the reign of peace that will
endure until Christ returns in final judgment.
3. CONTENT OF THE APOCALYPSE
As mentioned, the writer's visions give the book a unity. But
it is important to see the Revelation as a Christocentric book.
The central person of Revelation
"The real key to the interpretation of Revelation does not lie in any
one of those theories. however great its merits, but in the structure
of the book itself as it presents the person of Christ. The very title
of the book, 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to
show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to
pass...' indicates that the central theme is the person of Christ as he
reveals the future" (M.C.Tenney). 
In Rev.4 the throne of Almighty God, the creator of the universe,
occupies a central place in the universe - and in Rev.5 the Lion-Lamb,
the Son of God, is seen in the midst of the throne. He is the cosmic
Revelation - a book of numbers
Numbers feature greatly in the Apocalypse, giving a sense of planned
design. There are four living creatures, four horsemen, four
angels. There are seven churches, seven spirits of God, seven
seals, seven thunders, seven bowls, seven major personages, seven
beatitudes. There are twelve gates to the city of God, twelve
foundations, twelve kinds of fruit in the tree of life. There
twenty-four elders. There are 144,000 in companies.
4. OUTLINE OF THE APOCALYPSE
This is M.C.Tenney's general outline using 'the clues provided
by the book itself':
The Revelation of Jesus
Christ - in 'the things shortly to come to pass'
Prologue: Christ communicating (1:1-8)
Vision 1: Christ in the church: the living One (1:9-3:22)
Vision 2: Christ in the cosmos: the Redeemer (4:1-16:21)
Vision 3: Christ in conquest: the Warrior (17:1-21:8)
Vision 4: Christ in consummation: the Lamb (21:9-22:5)
Epilogue: Christ challenging (22:6-21).
5. EVALUATION OF THE APOCALYPSE
The book of Revelation gives a revelation of Christ. Christ
dominates the book. From chapter one his holiness, authority and
power can be felt. He is the Lion-Lamb in the midst of the
throne, able to open the seals of the scroll (5:l-14). He is a
powerful Saviour, who redeems his people on earth, and keeps them safe
to his bridal feast (19:7; 21:9). He is the King of kings, and
the Lord of lords (19:9), who rides the war-horse as a conqueror
(19:11). Revelation states very forcibly that time and history
are in Christ's hands.
This vision would give to John, and the Christians suffering under the
rule of emperor Domitian, tremendous support and strength. The
appreciation of the Lord's omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence
has given the church endurance in persecution down the years. Without a
doubt the book of Revelation will give fortitude to the church at the
end of the age.
Note the last promise, prayer and benediction of the book, which also
provides a fitting conclusion to the NT and the Bible as a whole.
He who testifies to these things says,
"Yes, I am coming soon".
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people.
1. M.C.Tenney, p.371.
2. M.C.Tenney, p.390.
3. M.C.Tenney, p.381-383.
4. M.C.Tenney, p.390.