The Book of Revelation

Revelation in one paragraph: Sometime in the late first century, a man named John was forced to go to a small island off the coast of Turkey. While there he had a vision. And what a vision! Letters to seven churches, the heavenly court, seven lampstands, seven stars, seven angels, seven bowls, seven trumpets, seven seals, the Beast from the Sea, the Judgment, 144,000 and 666, the final battle at Armageddon, the blood of the lamb, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Jesus returning in power, a new heaven and a new earth.

All that, and the words that inspired Handel’s Hallelujah chorus.


More words about Revelation

About the Greek island of Patmos and the Seven Churches of Asia.

Patmos is a great modern tourist destination.

What is an apocalypse anyway?

Commentaries on Revelation



Your Bible may also use the word "apocalypse" as a title or description for this book. An apocalypse is a big act of destruction. Literature about such acts of destruction can be called "apocalyptic literature." In the world of religion, an apocalyptic book is often about the end of the world.

The rich visual feast of Revelation has provoked a rich response of hymns and art throughout the Christian era. There as been an equally rich range of ideas on how to understand the book. Is it about John’s time? Is it a code about events later in the first century? Is it a more deeply coded message about our time or even about our future? Is it to be understood literally, as an allegory (where everything is in code) or in some other fashion?

There are some things that people can agree on. The book records a vision (1:10 "the Spirit took control of me"). That is, it is something that came as a dream or mystical experience. John doesn’t claim he physically went to heaven, or that these actual beasts and figures roamed the island with him. In Chapters 2 and 3 there are letters to seven churches. These are all real places, located in modern Turkey, to the east of Patmos. Starting in chapter 4 is a complicated vision that starts in heaven and uses many images and ideas from the Old Testament and, according to some scholars, Zoroastrian religion.. At the risk of oversimplifying a vision with many messages, the main part of the book records God’s judgment on a sinful empire. Eventually God’s enemies are defeated after a huge battle and Jesus returns.

But the return of Jesus is not the end of the book. After Jesus comes back are the events of chapters 21 and 22.

No wonder that some Christians through the ages have just warned people to stay away from the book. It’s too easy to go off the deep end, they thought.

Among the many issues this book raises

Who whom is it intended? To those who first read it? To some situation in the church after the first centaury? To us today? To the future?

Or does it have a universal message - or rather, a message to a situation that reoccurs often in history?

Why is it in the Bible? This book was not readily accepted and many in the early church did not consider it valuable enough to include.

Revelation 21: A new heaven and a new earth. This chapter is one I've listed as a Great Chapter of the New Testament.

Last updated 2/24/09; first posted 11/26/00; original content © 2009, 2006 John P. Nordin