The Revelation of John is the most complete example of the apocalyptic style of literature in the Bible. Other smaller examples are found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah and in various apocryphal works. The author is traditionally listed as the same author as the Gospel according to John and the three letters from John. It was written from exile on the Isle of Patmos, a penal and mining colony of the Roman Empire. This document was written near the end of the first century most likely during the reign of Emperor Domitian AD 81-96. Under Domitian, emperor worship was mandatory and coercive. The document was written to bring help and hope to those suffering persecution. The early Christians refused to bow to or worship the emperor and because of this refusal were being hunted, imprisoned and executed. Revelation is rooted in the history and the images of the Old Testament. The apocalyptic style utilizes images that would be clear to the first listeners but a mystery to the oppressors.
In interpreting Revelation the reader needs to consider the following hermeneutical principles:
1. Establish what the passage meant to its original readers – see it in the light of its history. The first question is always “what did it mean?” The question of “what does it mean and how do we apply it to our lives?” comes second.
2. Understand the Apocalyptic style – to take this book as a logical treatise or time table completely misses the point.
3. Understanding Revelation requires an understanding of the Old Testament. Clues to the meaning of Revelation’s symbols are found in existing scripture.
4. Obscure passages must be understood in the light of passages that are clear (Not the other way around).
5. It is a book of visions – we should treat visions as we do parables, looking first at the whole picture and then try to understand and discover the main idea.
6. We are not meant to take John’s visions as a sequence of events which follow one after another. The oriental mind was not preoccupied with chronology as modern readers tend to be.
Key learning: When we work our way through all of the images, symbols and visions the final statement is obvious: in the end, Jesus wins. No matter how difficult life seems today the Bible promises that, ultimately, good triumphs over evil and God’s purpose for the world will be accomplished.