Purpose of the Book of Revelation

            Why would anyone write a book like Revelation, which is so different from the other books of the New Testament?  The focus of this essay will be the examination of the purpose of the book of Revelation.  Included in the discussion will be which John wrote the book and the various interpretive views used with this particular book.

            The authors identify themselves in the first few verses of the book, as is common for many New Testament books.  I say ‘authors’ because the human author makes it quite clear he was sent the revelation by God through an angel. God wrote the book of Revelation through the hand of someone named John.  The human author identifies himself as John in Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8.1  John also indicated in Revelation 1:9 that he was on the island of Patmos, which is where Ignatius claimed John was exiled to.2 Justin Martyr, who lived in the first part of the second century, attributed the prophecy to the Apostle John.3,4  Numerous early Church Fathers credited the Apostle John with having authored the book of Revelation.5 It is evident, from the fact that the author did not identify himself more fully, that he was sufficiently well known by the churches to which he addressed the letters.  The language used was not that of a person for whom Greek was their first language, while the use of imagery suggests knowledge only a Hebrew would have – both of these issues would be satisfied by the Apostle John.6  All of this suggests the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation.

            The various methods of interpretation of the book must be examined to provide a framework for understanding the text and to help determine the purpose of the book.  There have historically been four different methods of interpreting the book of Revelation, particularly chapters 4 through 22 of the book of Revelation: allegorical, preteristic, historical, and futuristic.  Each of these will be examined in turn.

            The allegorical approach, also known as the spiritual approach, sees the book of Revelation as a purely symbolic discussion of the conflict between God and Satan.7 Those who hold to this view, like Augustine, Clement of Alexandria and Origen, claim there is nothing literal in this book.  In this view, the entire book is simply a timeless allegory about the conflict between good and evil.8  Since it is not considered a prophetic work, those who hold this view do not believe in any millennial kingdom of Christ and as such hold to an amillennial view.  The problem with this view is that it ignores the author’s statement in Revelation 1:3 that it was prophesy.

The Preterist approach views the book of Revelation as symbolic history.  This view sees the book as having been symbolically descriptive of the things that had occurred in John’s time and do not look to any time in the author’s future.9 Since it does not look to the future, this view is amillennial.  This view sees the purpose of the book as purely one of comfort and encouragement.  The problem with this view is that, like the allegorical approach, it ignores the fact that John specifically stated he was writing prophecy. 10

A third method of interpretation is the historic method.  This view recognizes that there is a great deal of symbolic language, but contends that the book of Revelation uses symbolism to present the complete Church history up to the time of Christ’s return.  In this view, it is thought the thousand years spoken of in Revelation 20:2 is the peace that follows the conversion of the world brought on by the gradual spread of the Gospel.  As such, this view is postmillennial.11  Walvoord quotes Henry C. Theissen as saying that Wycliffe, Luther, and Sir Isaac Newton, among others, held this position.12  The problem with this position, as Wiersbe points out is, “One interpreter sees Luther and the Reformation in a symbol that, to another student, stands for the invention of the printing press.” 13

The futurist approach sees all the visions from chapters 4 through 22 relating to a time preceding and following the return of Christ.  This premillennial view looks forward to Christ’s future return to earth and reign on earth for one thousand years as prophesied in Revelation 20:2-7.  Variations of this view were held by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Victorinus, all of whom were early Church Fathers.14  Those who hold to this method of interpretation use a more literal interpretation where possible, recognizing the symbolic language that is so prevalent in Revelation must be accounted for in any interpretive system.  People who object to this view usually argue that it would offer no “practical comfort.”15

I tend to agree with Elwell’s position that each of the four different approaches have something of value in them. Certainly the book of Revelation can be used as an allegory for the ever-present combat of good versus evil, with Christ reigning supreme in the end.  I also think the perterists have something to their idea that the book does refer to John’s day. However, it also can be applied to almost any point in the history of the Church.  But since I hold to a contextual-historical interpretation of the bible, I think the futurist’s premillennial view holds the most for us in how to interpret this book.16

 While some may believe the futurist’s approach held no comfort, that was not necessarily the primary purpose of the text.  The human author states his purpose in writing the book along side that of God’s purpose in giving the revelation to him in Revelation 1:1-3, to present everything he was told to say:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. 

God’s purpose is also given in the same verse, to encourage people to take heed of what is told within the revelation and practice it.  Revelation 1:19 expands that purpose by stating specifically that John to write about what he had seen, what was happening at that time, and what would occur in the future.  While that may have been the expressed purpose in writing the book, I think there were many different purposes.  One purpose was to present the reader with a better understanding of what their faith in Christ would do for them.  The book was an encouragement to the Christian who could look forward to the time he would be reunited with Christ, and as such was a book that offered very practical comfort.  It was a spur to action for those who needed an extra nudge to help them maintain the course past difficult times as well, be they living in John’s time or any other time.  Another purpose of the book was to show exactly what Paul had taught concerning Israel being brought back into the fold would come to pass.   In doing so, God gave encouragement to future Jews who would hear the Gospel, but He also laid the groundwork to bring glory to Himself when the various prophecies in the book of Revelation appear to come to pass. I think a final purpose I see for the book was to provide a constant reminder to the Christians who would follow the Apostolic age that Christ can return at any time, and to encourage us to remain faithful, just as Christ is faithful.

            Christ loves those who love Him.  One manifestation of that love was the book of Revelation.  He loved us and so chose to offer us this book as a means to encourage us with something of what we have to look forward to. God, using John the Apostle, wrote the book of Revelation. Possibly the best approach to interpreting and applying the book of Revelation in our lives today would be to use a literal-cultural-historical-grammatical interpretation, with an approach that combined the various views presented earlier, but focusing upon the premillennial futurist’s approach. This would provide the most accurate interpretation and would make it easier for each person to understand the book on many different levels.

Works Cited

    Elwell, Walter A. ed. “Revelation: Introduction.” Evangelical Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company. 1989. [CD-ROM]. Logos Library System. 1996.

    Ignatius. “The Episle of Ignatius to the Tarsians”. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I, chapter 3. [On-Line] Available: <http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-28.htm#P2610_431080&gt; [Accessed December 11, 1998].

    International Bible Society. The Holy Bible: The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 1984. Scholar’s Library [CD-ROM]. Logos Library System. 1997.

    Johnson, Alan F.1981. “Revelation”. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 12. Ed. Gaebeleien, Frank E., Douglass, J. D. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation. 397-603.

Martyr, Justin. “Dialogue of Justin”. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I, Chapters 80-81,  [On-Line] Available: <http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-48.htm#P4767_1027095&gt; [Accessed December 11, 1998].

    Martyr, Justin. “Introductory Note to the First Apology of Justin Martyr“. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I <http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-45.htm#P3573_611640&gt; [Accessed December 11, 1998].

    Richards, Lawrence O. “Study Guide 169: Introduction – Revelation.” The Teacher’s Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. 1987. Scholar’s Library [CD-ROM]. Logos Library System. 1997.

    Walvoord, John F. The revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago, IL: Moody Press. 1966.

    Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament, Wheaton, IL : Victor Books. 1992. Scholar’s Library [CD-ROM], Logos Library System. 1997.





Foot Notes

1 All Bible references are drawn from: International Bible Society, The Holy Bible: The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 1984) Scholar’s Library [CD-ROM], Logos Library System.

2 Ignatius, “The Episle of Ignatius to the Tarsians”, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, chapter 3, [On-Line] Available: <http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-28.htm#P2610_431080&gt; [Accessed December 11, 1998].

3 Justin Martyr, “Dialogue of Justin”, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, Chapters 80-81, [On-Line] Available: <http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-48.htm#P4767_1027095&gt; [Accessed December 11, 1998].

4 Justin Martyr, “Introductory Note to the First Apology of Justin Martyr.” Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I <http://ccel.wheaton.edu/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-45.htm#P3573_611640&gt; [Accessed December 11, 1998].

5 John F. Walvoord, The revelation of Jesus Christ, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), 12-14.

6 Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12. Ed. Frank E. Gaebeleien, J. D. Douglass, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 404-405.

7 Walvoord, 16.

8 Warren W. Wiersbe, “Revelation: Introductory Notes to Revelation,” Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament, (Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1992), Scholar’s Library [CD-ROM], Logos Library System, section III, paragraph B.

9 Walter A. Elwell, ed., “Revelation: Introduction,” Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1989), paragraph 17.

10 Wiersbe, section III, paragraph A.

11 Lawrence O. Richards, “Study Guide 169: Introduction – Revelation,” The Teacher’s Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987), “History of Interpretation” section, “Postmillennial” paragraph.

12 Walvoord, 18.

13 Wiersbe, section III, paragraph B.

14 Johnson, 408-409.

15 Walvoord, 21.

16Elwell, paragraph 21.

13 Responses

  1. […] wbmoore placed an interesting blog post on Purpose of the Book of Revelation « Wbmoore's WeblogHere’s a brief overviewWhy would anyone write a book like Revelation, which is so different from the other books of the New Testament? The focus of this essay will be the examination of the purpose of the book of Revelation. Included in the discussion will be … […]

  2. Preterists do not believe that it was written about events that had past already, but about things which were “at hand” [near], or “must shortly come to pass” in John’s day. They were things that were in the future, but not in the far-off future. If it was in the far-off future (according to preterists), it becomes physically impossible for anyone to “keep” [obey] the words of the prophecy until the fulfillment. According to the preterist, the futurist view has no meaning or application, nor can it be understood by anyone until the time in which it is fulfilled.

    • I’m not sure what point you are trying to make.

      From http://www.preteristviewpoint.com/ :

      “The word “preterist” or “preterism,” of course, means past fulfillment. Simply expressed, the word refers to that view of Bible prophecy which recognizes that all of the O.T. and N.T. prophecies of future redemptive and soteriological events were fulfilled completely at the time of the Roman invasion of Jerusalem and the burning of its Temple in A.D. 70. ”

      Dictionary.com defines preterist as:

      a person who maintains that the prophecies in the Apocalypse have already been fulfilled. Compare futurist ( def. 2 ) , presentist.

      On the other hand, what I wrote was:

      The Preterist approach views the book of Revelation as symbolic history. This view sees the book as having been symbolically descriptive of the things that had occurred in John’s time and do not look to any time in the author’s future.

  3. source of my comments are kjv bible
    The first three verses (kjv) are addressed directly to a select/elect group of people who will be of the generation that succeeds. Much of the book has been veiled from mankind for nearly 2000 years. It is the final exam for this select group. Verse 3 ends with “the time is at hand”. Indeed, as they slowly unlock and partake of God’s hidden manna ,in the bible; they see the events which are described unfolding before their eyes. The seventh trumpet sounds when these 14400 are sealed. They no longer believe in God through faith but by fact.

    In summary…….the book of revelation is intended to justify (validate) his elect.

    may God bless

    • I am not sure yo uand I would use the terms validate and justify the same way.

      I think that verses 1-3 tell us that the book of Revelation was given as a warning of things that were to happen, so they would read/hear it and take the things in it to heart because the end was near.

      I think everyone will believe in God in fact, not just the 144000.

  4. Mr Moore,
    I pray that what I am about to tell you will not be rejected based on established theology. It grieves my soul that almost two thousands years of theological study has turned the bible and God’s word into an action comic book. A book of mystical action heroes, ( the two witnesses), and mystical super villains, (the antichrist, the beast 666, the beast from the bottomless pit). Let’s not forget the rapture and the final physical battle between good and evil.

    But enough of my tirade.

    My post on your website John 11:49-52 ties directly to the following; and should be part of your consideration of what I about to tell you.

    Your consideration and reply, if any, should be based on the KJV version of the bible. (The reason for this request will become obvious later in this post).

    There will be two separate gatherings of the seed in the so called end times (which time is at hand).

    The first gathering will be of the Jewish people who are under the law and under God’s curse. This gathering is almost complete.(Jews currently flooding back to Israel )

    The second gathering will be of the Godly seed. Both of these gatherings are talked about throughout the bible.

    In regard to the first gathering, I offer the following verses (kjv) for your consideration.

    Rev Ch 16 vs 13-17 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

    14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.

    15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

    16 And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

    17 And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, saying, It is done.

    The reason I insist on the kjv bible is that the NIV version changed the word them in verse 16, to kings. They assumed verse 16 tied to the previous verses (even after the admonishment in verse 15 and rev ch 22 vs 18.

    God changed subjects and was referring to the return of the first Jewish group.

    Lastly, Isaiah ch 65 (kjv) should help your understanding.

    May God Bless

    • I am sorry for not responding earlier. I have been quite busy.
      I am really not sure of what point you are trying to make with what you have written here.

  5. Mr Moore

    I hope all is well with you. Your silence has been deafening.

    Usually I try to be concise and to the point. I am a retired accountant of 69 years of age and am not a fan of speculation. I picked up the the kjv bible some 14 years ago. The first thing I read was the book of revelation. My first reaction was to realize how much trouble mankind was in. My second reaction was that God was giving me a puzzle to solve. Over the years, as the puzzle pieces slowly fell into place, the big picture took form and the worldly events began to recognizably unfold.

    The vial events of rev ch 17 are occurring as I write. The euphrates has effectively dried up and the kings of the east (russia and china), have entered the military fray in the middle east. The king of the north (iran) is massing ground troops for a syrian invasion.

    With all this in mind, I offer the following concerning the tribulation which is in the book of daniel and the second gathering;which is of the Godly seed.

    Rev Ch 17 vs 10 kjv

    And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.

    In the histoey of the U S presidency there have been three occasions when a president took office, that five preceding presidents were still alive, The last time this occurred was when Bush (43) took office. This makes Mr. Obama the seventh king. When Mr Obama finished his first term, there was no doubt in my mind he would be reelected (he
    must continue a short space).

    Mr. Obama’s coming premature departure from office is directly referenced in the book of daniel (kjv) chapter 11 (last two verses). The tribulation and gathering of the Godly seed are referenced in the book of daniel chapter 12 first verse.

    thank you and may God bless

    • Hello again.

      I will be interested to see if Obama leaves office early. I dont think he will, but anything is possible with God.

      But again, I am not sure what point you are making with what you are sharing.

  6. Mr Moore

    The first four verses of chapter 11 in the book of revelation describe the appointment of the two witnesses.(use kjv version only).

    With one small change and one statement of fact, you or one of your readers, should be able to identify the two witnesses.

    Change………..In verse four change the capital G in the word God to a lower case g.

    Fact……………..The holy city of Najaf, in Iraq, was trampled underfoot for 42 months during the Iraq war.

    • If you look at the Greek word for ‘god’ in verse 4, it is kurios. This does not mean God, but Lord – which is the same word used in Rev 11:8.

      But again… I am not trying to be obtuse but I’m not sure what you are saying…

  7. Mr Moore

    You have been very gracious by allowing me to continue to post on your websites. The purpose of my postings have been arranged to bring you to an understanding of my logic on the purpose of the book of revelation……..This will be my last post and is intended to bring you full circle to my original post,

    I believe Jesus states “I come as a thief”

    This has come to mean to me that he will quietly and secretly gather hid elect.

    I thought there might be a 1% chance that I am on the list, So, some time ago I made up a new first and last name for myself. I have never written it down or spoken it aloud to anyone.,,,,,,,so here I sit, waiting for my white stone..

    Finally, I leave you with a statement from the book of Enoch (the Lord’s scribe)………..The righteous will inhabit the earth and the elect will possess it

    May God be merciful

    • I think we can be certain of our salvation, certain we will be with God.
      1 Thessalonians 5:2

      For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.

      2 Peter 3:10

      But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

      Revelation 3:3

      Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

      Revelation 16:15

      Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

      I dont think it means that God will secretly come – not to gather the elect secretly. I think it means the judgment of Christ will come – for both believers and nonbelievers (Rev 16:15).

      God make us righteous. God elects us. God gifts us faith, salvation, and grace.

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