I’m beginning a series of posts in preparation for Bible Study Fellowship’s forthcoming study of the Book of Revelation. As you all know, there is so much in this book that I’ve decided to break it into smaller components for better understanding. I hope this helps to digest the information and feel a bit prepared before the study begins. This will serve two purposes: 1) Not to feel so overwhelmed with Revelation 2) To of course have some background before diving right in. I have no idea what BSF will focus on for me it will be critical to have background knowledge BEFORE studying the actual text which dives right in. So let’s begin!
Who wrote Revelation?
First off, let me just say this: in the Book of Revelation there will be many things in doubt and question due to the ambiguity of the text. Hence, many things in this study will be interpretations–and that is all. No definitive answers. Starting with who wrote the book.
For years, scholars attributed the book to John the Apostle who wrote the Book of John. In verse 1 of Revelation, the author identifies himself: “John”. However, that’s all the author tells us. He doesn’t say, “Hey, it’s me! John who walked with Jesus.”
In verse 9, he does say, “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos”.
This doesn’t help much either.
It didn’t take long to question the author either. Dionysius of Alexandria (231-265 AD) first pointed out that this author declared his name. John, the apostle, did not when he wrote the Book of John. And the style and vocabulary of this author were so different from the known writings of the Apostle John that there’s no way they could be one and the same.
Many chuck this up to the difficulties of translating languages from the Aramaic to the Hebrew and the Greek. Others cite the facts similar terms were used such as “Word of God” for Christ, “water of life” and “the Lamb” to say, yes, indeed, John the Apostle wrote the Book.
So, who wrote Revelation? No one knows. And in the end, does it really matter? As in verse 1 of Revelation, God gave the revelation to Jesus who gave the revelation to an angel who gave it to a man named John who gave it to us. Just like the rest of the Bible, if we accept it as God’s divine word to His people, does it matter who put pen to paper? Accept it as a gift from God and remember His ways are not ours.
When was the Book of Revelation written? Again, up for debate. Scholars have narrowed it down to two time periods, not all that far apart.
One, during the alter portion of the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (37-68 AD)
Two, a bit later, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD).
Some scholars (known as preterists which I will cover in a later post) support the earlier time frame because it was before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Hence, Revelation’s message about the fall and destruction speaks to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Most scholars (the futurists) argue for the later date. They cite the preponderence of early scholars saying s0 (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Victorinus, and Jerome). The author, John, was banished to the island of Patmos. This was a favorite punishment of the Emperor Domitian.
So, when was the Book of Revelation written? No one knows. And in the end, does it really matter? Some say yes because it holds the clue if this book is written as a warning of what’s to come or as a warning of what happened and is thus a purely historical document. All of this is true.
However, for me, we need to focus on how this applies to us today. I’m not one to worry what the future holds as I may be dead tomorrow. I’m not going to live my life thinking the world is ending. If it does, there’s nothing I can do about it so why worry (Philippians 4:6).
The Book of Revelation has so many different interpretations one can easily get bogged down in the subtle nuances and the quoted passages that support this argument and that. For me, that’s not what this study will be about. It will be about what is God saying to me today? Right where I’m at. Right where He has placed me. And how can I take the understanding He will give me and apply it to my life, my community, my church, my world. That will be my focus.
Where is the Island of Patmos? One thing John tells us is he was on the island of Patmos when he received his revelation from the angel. The island of Patmos is a tiny Greek island about 34 square miles. See map HERE and HERE It’s tiny, secluded, and hard to access, a perfect place to send criminals in the first century AD. Think modern-day Alcatraz–a place criminals were sent to work and die.
Who was John writing to? “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:11).
John was writing to seven early Christian churches in Asia Minor. See map HERE, HERE, and HERE
As you can see from the second and third maps, the churches were located on a major road that ran north to south. It would have been easy for a messenger to send the letter quickly. There were other churches in Asia Minor at the time but these churches seemed to be selected for the need they evinced. Their faith was shrinking and needed encouragement.