Understanding the Book of Revelation: Context and Questions


The book of Revelation is often viewed as the most difficult book of the Bible to understand. It is a challenging book, but a very important book as it was written to provide insight to believers about the things that would come to pass from the end of the first century A.D. up to and beyond the time Jesus would return to the earth. For us, this means it is filled with over 1900 years of history and stills contains prophecies regarding the future.

We will tackle the “Understanding the Book of Revelation” over the next four weeks using some basic reading and study tools. This will provide you basic understanding and give you a framework to dive more deeply into Revelation so you can build your understanding as you continue to learn.

Context and Questions

To understand any book, we need to understand the context or its place in the greater picture. Of course, asking questions and seeking the answers can provide valuable information, satisfy your curiosity and lead to further questions and learning. The first thing to do is to read the book completely through a number of times (even if you find it confusing) to get familiar with the content and language.

The Bible is a book that contains 66 books, of which 39 books make up the Old Testament (before the time of Jesus) and 27 books make up the New Testament (from the time of Jesus and beyond). Revelation is the last book of the New Testament and, therefore, the last book of the entire Bible.

Of course, the difficulty of the book of Revelation is the language and images used. It is, as if the message is couched in fantastic symbols that seem unrelated and disconnected; however, as you will discover, Revelation is a very powerful book that contains important information and messages. The images are connected and interwoven to form a picture leading us to the return of Jesus to the earth.

We will consider the context of Revelation by asking some questions:

Do you know who wrote the book of Revelation?

The first two verses of Revelation chapter one tells us:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.(Rev. 1:1-2, ESV)

The message was give to John from Jesus Christ by an angel that Jesus sent to John. We understand that John was the writer, but the source was Jesus Christ.

To further our knowledge and understanding, we can ask, “who was John and what do we know about him?

It is always good to refer to more than one source, as there are usually differing views. The first two sources I check are: the ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible and the Archaeological Study Bible (New International Version). Both sources identify John, the son of Zebedee, (the writer of the fourth Gospel) as the writer of the Revelation. Two terms used in the book of Revelation regarding Jesus that are used in the Gospel of John that help identify him as the writer are: Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Word of God (John 1:1, 14, 29; Revelation 5:6; 19:13). John was termed, “the beloved disciple” of Jesus was part of Jesus’ inner circle, along with Peter and James (John 21:20,24).

Do you know when the book of Revelation was written?

Referring to the same sources as above, both sources agree that John wrote the Revelation about A.D. 95-96.

Do you know the circumstances under which the author gained the information to write the book of Revelation?

At this time, a Roman Emperor named “Domitian” was in power. Regarding this time period, the Archaeological Study Bible says, “The book of Revelation was written at a time when the Roman authorities were beginning to enforce emperor worship. Christians, who held that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Rom. 10:19), faced increasing persecution, including martyrdom (Rev. 2:13; 6:9). The apostle John had been exiled to the island of Patmos for his activities as a Christian missionary (1:9), and believers were being warned against coming opposition (2:10; 3:10)” (ASB, p. 2043).

Do you know what the purpose of the book of Revelation is?

The answer to this question is stated in Revelation 1:1-3, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

John tells us that the purpose of what follows in the book of Revelation is for us to know from the time it was given to John to:

  • Show Jesus’ servant what will soon take place;
  • Keep/guard what is written in the book, because;
  • The time of Jesus’ return to the earth is near.

The book of revelation is Jesus’ revelation (revealing) to the apostle John of things that were going to take place near the end of the first century A.D. and continue until to the return of Jesus to the earth. Persecution against the believers had already begun and John had been exiled because of his testimony of Jesus. What follows in the book provides us with information as to where we are in the events leading up to Jesus’ return. Now that is motivation!

Here are some further questions to consider:

  1. What is a “revelation”? (The “revelation of Jesus Christ)
  2. Who is the audience of the Revelation?
  3. Where can you find out more about the audience?
  4. Where was John exiled?
  5. What can you find out about the place John was exiled to?
  6. What do you learn from this information about the Revelation?

Want to know more?

Contact us and we will be happy to answer your questions.

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