(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Like former prophetic writings in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse of John and Revelation to John), the only book of prophecy in the New Testament, summons contemporaries of the prophet to be faithful to God in a time of crisis for the Christian faith. Addressed as a circular letter to the churches of western Asia Minor (now Turkey), probably near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 c.e.), it finds Christians there adopting a variety of stances toward the pagan environment, from accommodation at one extreme to passive resistance at the other. It encourages the resisters to remain loyal to Christ in spite of harassment and warns compromisers to repent lest they fall under judgment together with the world of the godless.{/Title}

The author gives his name as John. From the middle of the second century onward, in keeping with the testimony of the next generation after the apostles, he has been identified as Saint John, son of Zebedee, member of the twelve nearest to Jesus, author also of the Gospel of John and of the three Johannine epistles. Since the European Enlightenment, critical scholarship has cast doubt on this tradition, and on ancient traditions generally, citing in this case marked differences between the writings in grammar, style, genre, and temper.

During the closing decades of the first century, the Roman province of Asia was enjoying an economic boom, accompanied by spreading acceptance of the Roman peace and its cultural emblems. In particular, popular fervor attached itself to a Roman cult in which officers of the government were accorded rites of worship. The imperial cult was fostered in Asia through the proconsul based in the great port city of Ephesus, with a hierarchy of priests at temples and shrines throughout the interior. The largest concentration of Christians in the empire lived in the populous and prosperous urban centers of Asia, the region having been evangelized almost half a century earlier by Saint. Paul and his associates, though even at the century’s end the Christians formed but a minority of the total populace. Out of the many cities and towns, John was instructed to write to churches in seven, selected as representative of all.

Although John uses an array of artful literary devices to shape his prophecy, there is little agreement among interpreters on the details of its structure. Most recognize a prologue (1:1-11) and an epilogue (22:6-21), which mirror each other and sandwich the whole. A reasonable analysis might divide the main body as follows. Introduced by a vision of the resurrected Christ (1:10-20) are seven oracles directed to the angels of the seven churches (chapters 2-3), calling on five of them to amend their worldly ways and promising the two who are holding up under pressure generous compensation for their sufferings. Then John is invited into the sky by a voice that echoes the first vision of Christ, and he finds himself in the throne room of heaven (chapters 4-5). There follow seven apocalyptic revelations of the end of...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Theology series. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Organizes the theological concepts of the book into a coherent presentation.

Friesen, Steven J. Imperial Cults and the Apocalypse of John: Reading Revelation in the Ruins. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2001. A specialist in Anatolian archaeology reconstructs the social and cultural background to the Apocalypse with the help of the material remains.

Kovacs, K., and Christopher Rowland. Revelation. Blackwell Bible Commentaries. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003. A commentary that focuses on the many ways the book has been interpreted or been influential, including references in art and literature as well as biblical studies and theology.

Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002. A conventional and insightful commentary on the text of the book, interacting with all the most significant previous commentaries.