Watch our Livestream 10am Sundays Give Online

The Who, When, and Why of the Book of Revelation

• Daniel Baker

Posted in Bible, Book of Revelation, History of Redemption, New Testament

Our final post introducing the book of Revelation will speak on three issues—who, what, and why. Who wrote it doesn't tend to impact how we interpret the book, but when it was written certainly does. Asking why it was written also helps us approach the book rightly.

Who Wrote Revelation?

The author identifies himself as "John" in Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; and 22:8. But the question is, which John is it? Three basic theories exist for which John it was: (1) the apostle John, (2) an "elder" John who is different from the apostle, and (3) someone anonymously writing but taking the name of the apostle. The last is felt to be unlikely because taking the name of so eminent and known a person would not make sense. The strongest arguments seem to be for the apostle John being the author. Along these lines Leon Morris has a good summary of the issues, and here are four of the reasons he suggests.

(1) The author identifies himself as "John" without any elaboration and was apparently known by the churches in the seven cities of chapters 2-3. This points to a John that had a significant place in the early church.

(2) There is early and strong evidence in the church that John wrote it. Several second-century church fathers assume John's authorship of the book. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, the Muratorian Canon, Melito the bishop of Sardis, and Clement of Alexandria all defend John the apostle's authorship.

(3) Any perceived differences of Greek style between this book and the gospel of John are explainable by practical matters like the difference of content and the possible common practice of a secretary with the gospel that he wouldn't have had in exile. Further, the book is a dynamic, direct work of prophecy and not a more polished and literary work of historical narrative like his gospel.

(4) There are many similarities between the author of Revelation and the gospel of John in such terms as "the word," "the Lamb," "the water of life," "true," and others.

The above gives us good reason to say that John the apostle wrote Revelation.

When Did John Write Revelation?

The question of the dating is trickier and impacts our understanding of the book a bit more. The two basic assumptions are that he either wrote it in the 60s during the reign of Nero or the 90s during the reign of Domitian. If he wrote it in the 60s, then he was only a few years before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Those who think the work is largely about things that have already happened (Preterist view) often hold to this earlier date and say that it largely refers to the fall of Jerusalem.

D.A Carson leans toward the later date and gives a good summary of the issues in his New Testament introduction. He points out that Ireneaus, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen held to the later date, and these are strong, early witnesses. Also, there is an assumption in Revelation that emperor worship was an established practice, which is behind the self-worship demanded by "the beast" in places like 13:4. This existed during Nero, but this was not why he persecuted Christians. Domitian persecuted Christians for their refusal to worship the emperor as he asked to be referred to as "lord and god." While the extent of Christian persecution during the reigns of these two emperors is debated, there is enough in either one to be the backdrop for the prophecy.

The state of the churches is an important point in this discussion. Laodicea in 3:17 says, "I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing." Yet, the city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60-61, and to rebuild so quickly and become so wealthy seems unlikely. Further, the church in Smyrna didn't exist until A.D. 60-64, and to be included with the other six churches we would assume that it was firmly established. Those who hold to the earlier date point out that the five kings of 17:9-11 match the situation during Nero's day, though Beale notes there are problems in how the kings line up with what is said about those kings. Carson is persuaded by the emperor worship and state of the churches during Domitian's reign, and G.K. Beale closes his discussion on the date by saying, "To sum up, the earlier date may be right, but the internal evidence is not sufficient to outweigh the firm tradition stemming from Irenaeus."[1]

I lean toward the later date, but not all those preaching this series this summer land there.

Why Did John Write Revelation?

To ask why John wrote this work we first need to state the obvious: God gave it to him to write, and John simply obeyed. That is the nature of such a prophetic work. But the letter was written in a context that adds more to this why question.

On this we can think about some of the obvious features of it. There is the sense of Christ's imminent return. He tells us four times, "I am coming soon," and the whole book demonstrates that Christ's cataclysmic return will be soon—soon as God sees it, not in the sense of our "30-seconds-is-too-long-to-wait" generation. We can also see the towering rise of the devil and his influence behind so much of the organized and institutionalized evil of our world.

Amidst these is a view of the exalted Christ and "him who sits on the throne." Then we have the drumbeat of calls to overcome in the face of hardship. Fifteen of the 24 occurrences of the Greek for "overcome" are found in Revelation in places like 2:7, "To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God."

All of these combine to give us a picture of Christ exhorting his church to remain faithful in times of opposition because he is coming soon. We will face our Lord and Judge soon, either because we go to him in death or because he comes to us in all of his glory. Either way, our call is to remain faithful to him in the midst of a fallen world. Truly, then, "the focus of the book is exhortation to the church community to witness to Christ in the midst of a compromising, idolatrous church and world."[2] May it fulfill that purpose in our lives as well!

We could obviously have said much more in these posts about Revelation, but hopefully these give us some perspective to help us gain all we can out of our short series in this mysterious and profound book of the Bible.

Daniel B.

[1] G.K. Beale, NIGTC, 27.

[2] Ibid., 33.

Cornerstone Fellowship Church logo

We are a church built on the Bible, guided and empowered by the Spirit, striving to make disciples, and pursuing holiness in the context of robust biblical relationships.

Email Updates & Newsletter

Times & Location

10am on Sundays

401 Upchurch St, Apex, NC 27502

© 2024 Cornerstone Fellowship Church of Apex