Themes in the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse)

Before reading this Study Sheet read Revelation in its entirety, if possible without a break so that you can absorb its atmosphere and it architecture, freeing yourself from the piecemeal fashion in which its verses are often quoted.

Although often referred to as The Revelation of St. John the Divine, there is n consensus on its authorship. In spite of the markedly shared use of language and symbolism, most scholars find it difficult to assign single authorship to the Gospel of John ("The Beloved Disciple"), 1,2 & 4 John and Revelation although many agree that there must have been a Johannine School in the last decade of the 1st Century CE.

In spite of the often elaborate symbolism, the central themes in Revelation are reasonably straightforward: God is in charge; although Evil appears to be in the ascendant, God will intervene, bringing history to its goal, the full communion of God and humanity. There is reassurance those who are assailed need to hang on; the steadfast will be victorious.

Equally, although much of the work is visionary, it has a strong contemporary streak, becoming involved in the religious controversies of its time, written by a lead of the church. As a prologue it presents four letters which all follow a common form:

  1. An instruction to 'the seer' to write to "the Angel" of the given church
  2. The naming of Jesus, often in a numerically significant and always in a metaphorical guise or with a title
  3. A description of the church's situation which the message addresses
  4. An exhortation as to how the church must behave. As with the rest, in spite of the complexity of the language, the messages are simple: hold fast.

From then on the seer and his readers are swept into another world. In spite of its vicissitudes, the whole narrative links heaven and earth, with the Roof the Resurrection sustaining hope throughout a series of trials, culminating in the vision of the New Jerusalem, the new heaven and the new earth.

Revelation breaks the mould of Jewish-based apocalyptic literature in three ways. First, in its degree of artistry; although it does not directly quote the OT, it is a work, says Johnson, "steeped in the diction, terminology, rhythm, motifs, and ethos of the classic OT prophets", making use of classic prophets such as Amos and Isaiah and apocalyptic predecessors such as Zechariah, Daniel and, above all, Ezekiel. Secondly, it draws upon Merkabah (chariot) Jewish tradition. Thirdly, and most of all, it transcends the apocalyptic genre because of the Christian experience of Jesus, "shaped by its acute awareness of God's present power, demonstrated by the Resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit."

Taken from

Johnson, Luke T.: The Writings of The New Testament: An Interpretation, Fortress, 2002

KC IX/07

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