Book of Revelation – The Meaning, The Mystery, and More

The Book of Revelation has fascinated readers for nearly 2,000 years. In this article we’ll delve into the most popular topics related to this famous apocalyptic text. We’ll discuss the most famous verses, key symbols, and noteworthy characters of Revelation. We’ll debate if the Apostle John is really the author of Revelation. We’ll examine popular books that feature themes of Revelation. And we’ll even consider the question – what if the John’s Revelation was coming true today. It promises to be a wild ride – are you ready?

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I. Book of Revelation – Fast Facts

1-Who is the author of the Book of Revelation? 

The author identifies himself as John of Patmos. The mainstream view is that this is the Apostle John, however not everyone agrees on this. (See more about this controversy in Section III below – “Debate: Did the Apostle John really write Revelation?”)

2-When was the Book of Revelation written?

The majority of early church fathers believed the Book of Revelation was written sometime between 64-96 AD. Modern scholars tend to pinpoint the date to 81-96 AD. Why 64AD? It was the year of the Great Fire of Rome – allegedly started by the Emperor Nero (but blamed on the Christians). Emperor Nero was the first historical figure to be proclaimed as the Antichrist and it was believed by many that the Beast of Revelation was none other than Nero himself. As for the 81-96 AD range – these dates comprise the reign of Emperor Domitian – allegedly the Roman ruler who exiled the Apostle John to the island of Patmos where the saint is thought to have written this book. 

3-What are the other names for the Book of Revelation?

The Book of Revelation is also sometimes called The Revelation to John, The Apocalypse of John, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, The Apocalypse, or just Revelation

Note that the word “Revelation” is singular and not pluralized in any of the titles. 

4-Where is the Book of Revelation in The Bible?

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the New Testament in most Christian Bibles. 

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II. What is the Book of Revelation About?

Revelation – a Synopsis

At it’s most basic level, the Book of Revelation is a piece of apocalyptic literature about the End of the World and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ

The book is structured as a letter from John of Patmos writing to the Seven Churches of Asia. In the text, John describes his visions (i.e. his inspired revelations) of a coming apocalypse – a series of cataclysmic catastrophes that will rock the world – and warns his readers about the Antichrist – the incarnate of Satan’s Son who is destined to rule the world during Armageddon. Thankfully John concludes on a positive note – describing the inevitable victory of Good over Evil in the form of Jesus Christ’s glorious return to save the world. 

Revelation – Key Definitions

If we truly want to understand what the Book of Revelation is about, we should probably define a couple key words. To begin with we need to know the definition of the word revelation. Next we’ll need to know what people mean when they talk about apocalyptic literature

What is the definition of the word revelation?

If we want to delve into the meaning of the BOOK of Revelation we first need to start by knowing what the meaning of the WORD revelation is. To that end, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com give the meaning of the word revelation as follows: 

  • an act of revealing or communicating divine truth
  • something that is revealed by God to humans
  • an act of revealing to view or making known
  • something that is revealed
    especially : an enlightening or astonishing disclosure
  • a pleasant often enlightening surprise

Meanwhile, Bible Study Tools talks about the meaning of revelation from a Biblical standpoint, defining a revelation as “an uncovering, a bringing to light of that which had been previously wholly hidden or only obscurely seen… The Scriptures are not merely the “record” of revelation; they are the revelation itself in a written form, in order to the accurate preservation and propagation of the truth.”

Now that we understand what a revelation is, let’s explore what people mean when they talk about apocalyptic literature

What is Apocalyptic Literature?

Britannica has a great piece about this topic and defines apocalyptic literature as a “literary genre that foretells supernaturally inspired cataclysmic events that will transpire at the end of the world.” The discussion points out a few key elements of this type of writing:

  • It is a product of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
  • “Apocalyptic literature is characteristically pseudonymous.
  • It takes narrative form.
  • It employs esoteric language.
  • It expresses a pessimistic view of the present.
  • It treats the final events as imminent.”

There are well over 30 ancient texts that have been classified as apocalyptic literature, but the most famous are:

And yet, it is the Book of Revelation that is nigh synonymous with the word Apocalypse — and a single reading of the text is enough to let anyone understand why. 

III. Debate: Did the Apostle John really write Revelation? (Feature Article)

Did the Apostle John really write The Book of Revelation?

The answer is not as easy as it seems. In this feature article we’ll explore who “John of Patmos” may be. I’ll give you the arguments in favor of St John being the author and also talk about why some experts believe there was “another John” behind this famous book. I’ll also give you my opinion on this age-old question which has now plagued Christians for nearly 2,000 years. 

Click here to read this feature article: “Who Really Wrote Revelation?”

IV. Revelation in The Bible

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As noted already, the Book of Revelation can be found as the final book of the New Testament in most Christian Bibles. But it wasn’t always that way.

When was The Book of Revelation added to The Bible?

The earliest Christians didn’t have the modern Bible that we know today – in fact those of the first and second centuries often didn’t even agree on which books among early Christian literature should be recognized as ‘canon’ and which should be cast aside – such was the case with the Book of Revelation too. Although we don’t know the exact date the Revelation was formally included into early forms of The Bible, we can pinpoint down to the decade. Writings from early church fathers and various councils of elders discuss the book as follows:

Given these dates, we can say with some assurance that the Book of Revelation was accepted into formal Christian canon sometime between 364 AD and 367 AD.

Additionally it should be noted that the Book of Revelation was also later affirmed by the synods of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD)   and the church elders Philastrius of Brescia (385 AD), Rufinus of Aquileia (404 AD), Jerome (414 AD), and Augustine (426 AD).

As an interesting aside, in addition to the challenges that the  Book of Revelation faced in mainstream Christian circles, it should be noted that some Eastern Orthodox churches have never accepted it into their sacred canon.

What is the relationship of Revelation to The Old Testament?

It’s hard to overlook the fact that much of the content, symbols, and imagery of the Book of Revelation can be found in numerous books of the Hebrew Old Testament and other apocryphal literature from the time before Christ. For example, debates rage over the relationship of Revelation to all of the following Old Testament books. 

One thing is for sure, the author of Revelation was very familiar with the Hebrew Old Testament.

The importance of this fact is key for another reason — that the author of Revelation was so influenced by the Old Testament speaks to the author likely being Jewish. And what do we know about St John the Apostle?

  • He was a Jew from Galilee. 
  • His mentor Jesus was also a Jew, and as an apocalyptic teacher Jesus was quoted many times over in preaching that ‘this generation will not pass away before these things come to pass’ (Matthew 24:34) and similar apocalyptic messages that related back to the Old Testament.
  • That Saint John was indoctrinated with a heavy dose of apocalyptic thinking is an easy connection to make.

Most importantly, these facts support the case for Saint John as the author of the Book of Revelation. (Keep this in mind when you read the feature article “Who Really Wrote Revelation?”

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"The Apocalypse" by Master Bertram, c 1380 AD

V. The 13 Most Famous Verses from Revelation (Feature Article)

No study of the Book of Revelation would be complete without diving into the most famous verses from the text. We have another feature article that explores this topic in detail and provides some great artwork to accompany the verses.  Click here to read “The 13 Most Famous Verses from The Book of Revelation.”

VI. Key Symbols of Revelation

Given that the Book of Revelation is at one and the same time an apocalyptic, prophetic, and futuristic text, it should come as no surprise that the book is filled with symbols and imagery laced with alternative meaning. Church elders and scholars have debated for nearly 2,000 years about what all the signs and symbols of Revelation mean. We have an in-depth article about this topic called “Understanding the Apocalyptic Imagery & Symbols from the Book of Revelation” that we encourage you to read, but in the meantime, here is a brief introduction to each of the key symbols. 

Key Symbols:

(Each of these symbols is explored in more detailed in the feature article). 

  • 7 Churches of Asia: important messages are delivered to churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
  • Book of Life: a roll call of those who will be saved. This famous tome is referenced throughout the Bible and also plays a role in The Last Temptation of John books
  • Throne of God: the seat of the Supreme Being – who is attended to by various other dignitaries of Revelation. 
  • 7 Seals of Revelation: one of the most important symbols in Revelation – as each seal is broken, a terrible new judgement is released upon the world. 
  • 7 Trumpets of Revelation: the angels blow their trumpets after the 7th Seal is broken – releasing further catastrophes and starting the 3 Woes. 
  • Golden Censor: an incense burner that is filled with fire from the alter of Heaven and poured upon the earth. 
  • The Wormwood Star: the star of doom from Revelations 8 that falls from the sky and poisons the waters of earth. 
  • 3 Woes: world catastrophes that are triggered by the final 3 trumpets. The 3rd Woe also triggers the release of the 7 Bowls. 
  • The Little Scroll – a ‘bitter’ scroll given to John by a Mighty Angel (Michael?) that is a source of prophetic knowledge about the coming apocalypse. 
  • 7 Bowls of Revelation: more disasters are unleashed upon our world as each of the Seven Angels pour out a bowl filled with God’s wrath. 
  • NOTE: The relationship between the 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets, 7 Bowls, and 3 Woes is explored in detail in the feature article
  • The New Jerusalem: the climax of Revelation occurs in Revelation 21 when a New Jerusalem emerges where the saved ones will dwell with God. 
  • The River of Life: Revelation 22 describes the return of Eden and the final destruction of the curse of sin. 

VII. The Main Characters of Revelation

The Book of Revelation is filled with a colorful cast of characters – some good, some evil, but all interesting. Here are the main characters from Revelation with links to learn more about each one…

Jesus Christ

The very first verse of Revelation tells us that the visions of the author are in fact the ‘testimony of Jesus Christ.’ Jesus is featured throughout Revelation and the book is the de facto story of Christ’s Second Coming. 

Later in Revelation (example 5:5 Jesus is also called “The Conquering Lion of Judah“)

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"The Second Coming" by Ron DiCianni

John of Patmos

We meet John of Patmos in Revelation 1:9 where he identifies himself as the author of the Book of Revelation. John of Patmos is thus clearly an important figure for our research, and yet, we know so little about him. Is he Saint John the Apostle or another persona entirely? Check out this article to learn more: “Who Really Wrote Revelation?

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Gustav Dore's "John of Patmos"

The Seven Angels of the 7 Churches

Revelation 1: 20 introduces the Seven Angels of the 7 Churches. As we discussed above, John gives a message to each angel at each of the churches in Revelation chapters 2 & 3. The angels are located at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

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Jezebel

We meet Jezebel only once in Revelation by name – in verse 2: 20-25 which warns the Church of Thyatira to be wary of the prophetess’s teachings. 

For an interesting discussion about Jezebel visit this article by the United Church of God

 

The 24 Elders

Twenty-Four Elders appear in Revelation 4:4, described as surrounding the Throne of God. Much debates exists about who the elders were: specific people/kings, the heads of churches or cities, or perhaps an allegory for different types of matter, elements, planets, or even our souls. 

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The 4 Living Creatures

Also in the throne room that is described in Revelation 4: 8 are 4 ‘living creatures’ described as having six wings and with “eyes all over, front and back. The popular interpretation is that the creatures in Revelations are similar to those described by the prophet Ezekiel in the Old Testament and the most popular theories suggest that the living creatures are either angels or perhaps the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Additionally, because of their many eyes, they are held to be all knowledgeable and it’s said that nothing escapes their notice.

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Souls in White Robes

Revelation 6 introduces us to the souls in white robes who had previously died for the faith. For an excellent discussion on these souls and who they may be see this article by Bible.org

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Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Possibly the most popular of all personalities in Revelation, the 4 Horsemen are introduced to us in Revelation 6 where we meet 4 beings riding on horses of various colors (red, black, white, and pale). At the most basic level they are said to represent Disease, War, Famine, and Death. Because some believe Revelation was an allegorical attack on the Roman empire, others believe the riders represent oppressions by that famed world power. Still others hold a different theory

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Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Victor Vasnetsov, c1887

4 Angels holding the 4 Winds

Revelation 7 showcases the 4 winds being held in check by 4 powerful angels. This event occurs just prior to all hell being unleashed onto the world (literally!) since the next few chapters see the breaking of the Seals, the blowing of Trumpets, and more (all associated with world catastrophes). Some suggest the angels holding back the winds is an allegory for God’s power holding back Satan’s and that the latter can only act when given the OK by God. 

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The 144,000

Another popular group from Revelation is the famed 144,000. The Book of Life holds the names of those 144,000 lucky people who are apparently marked to be able to avoid the catastrophes that the rest of the world will suffer in Revelation. These raptured people will be redeemed and taken to heaven where they will wait it out while the world is cleansed. Their fate is described in Revelation 7 and 14. 

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Seven angelic trumpeters

Revelation 8 is when the real action of the book heats up as famed 7 Seals begin to be broken and the Seven Angels begin to blow their trumpets. There is actually an EIGHT angel who pours a golden censer full of wrath upon the world just to add to the fun. 

For a discussion on WHO the angels are, see this article by Bible Study Tools

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The seven angels with seven trumpets, and the angel with a censer, from the Bamberg Apocalypse.

Abaddon

In Revelation 9 we meet Abaddon! He is also known as Apollyon The Destroyer. Some suggest this is Satan, others the devil’s chief demon, and still others the Angel of Death

For commentary here, see articles by Got Questions or Bible Study Tools

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The Mighty Angel

Revelation Chapter 10 is actually considered a kind of ‘interlude’ as the people of earth are given a slight reprieve from all the catastrophes caused by the breaking of the Seven Seals and the blowing of the Seven Trumpets. During this break in the action, John of Patmos is given the little scroll by the mighty angel – as instructed, John eats the ‘bitter’ scroll. This will become a source from which he can prophesy what he knows to all peoples and all nations.

This angel is also called the Mighty Angel of the 7 Thunders. 

As to WHO the Mighty Angel is we don’t know. Some say Archangel Michael, others Archangel Gabriel, and still others Jesus Christ. 

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Johannes verschlingt das Buch "Might Angel and Little Scroll" c 1530

The Two Witnesses

Although perhaps not as popular as other figures from Revelation, these two prophets are no less important. We meet them in Revelation 11:14 and their role is to prophecy to the world during the 1,260 days that God’s Temple is ‘being trampled upon’ by Satan’s minions.

As to WHO they are the debate ranges – the most popular theories are that they are Elijah and Enoch of Old Testament fame. This is the case in the Last Temptation of John books where the Two Witnesses play a prominent role. 

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The Beast

The Beast of Revelation is one of the most famous archetypes of the entire book – synonymous with the Antichrist himself.

Yet what many people don’t realize is that there is more than just one beast discussed in the book.

In fact there are THREE related Beast-type characters that we need to focus our attention on. They are…

The Dragon

Revelation 12 introduces the Dragon – a version of ‘the serpent’ that has repeatedly been representative of Lucifer/Satan throughout other books of The Bible. Archangel Michael casts the dragon out of heaven and down to earth, where It then makes war upon the world. 

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The Beast of the Sea 

We meet the sea beast in Revelation 13 and 17. After the beast rises from the sea it is given ‘authority and power’ from the dragon. Most theories suggest the sea beast is representative of world governments and/or the old world order (i.e. the Roman government). 

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The Beast of the Earth

Also called The False Prophet, this beast is described in Revelation 13. Although not as famous as the dragon or the beast of the sea, the beast of the earth is no less important, for this is the beast who looks like a lamb but deceives like a dragon. Additionally, this beast will lead the world astray by causing people to get The Mark of the Beast

Understanding the beast character is critical to grasping the meaning of Revelation. For additional discussions about the Beasts of Revelation see…

  1. Got Questions – Who is the Beast of Revelation?
  2. Life, Hope, & Truth – Who is the Beast?
  3. Simply Bible – the 3 Beasts of Revelation
  4. WUA Seminars – What do the 4 Beast of Revelation represent?

Both beasts (in their human form) feature highly in The Last Temptation of John book series. 

The Woman & her Child

The woman who gives birth to a child in Revelation 12 is often misunderstood. She is not to be confused with the ‘other’ woman of Revelation (i.e. Mystery, the whore of Babylon), and her child is not the Antichrist. Despite the Dragon trying to eat the child at birth, the baby is instead taken up to God, while the woman flees into the wilderness and war breaks out in heaven.

Debates rage as to if the woman is The Virgin Mary, the Catholic Church, or another person, and the same goes for the identity of her child (is it Jesus, his teaching, the people of the church or the world). 

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Archangel Michael

Although we don’t know if the Mighty Angel of Revelation 10 is Michael, we DO know he appears in Revelation 12 since Michael’s feats of strength are detailed in The War of Heaven where the powerful archangel casts Satan (in the form of The Dragon) and his minions out of God’s kingdom. 

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Victory of St. Michael by Raphael, 16th century

Mystery, the Whore of Babylon

Another key figure in Revelation is the Whore of Babylon, AKA “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth.”

We meet this woman in Revelation 17 and her story continues through chapter 18. She is the woman clothed in scarlet who rides upon the Beast (of the sea). 

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The traditional view is that the whore is representative of Rome and many of the details which describe Mystery fit this theory. 

To learn more about Mystery, check out these links: 

VIII. Popular Books about Revelation

Here are some NON-fiction books that will help you continue your research on Revelation…

For some fun reading, consider these popular FICTIONAL accounts that deal with the events of Revelation…

IX. What if the Book of Revelation was coming true TODAY?

The Antichrist has come.

What if the events detailed in The Book of Revelations were about to occur… this year?

Could anyone save us from certain death? The answer is YES. Hard as it may be to believe, St. John the Apostle is still alive today – having been blessed with the Gift of Immortality so that he could survive to fight against the coming of The Antichrist. Unfortunately, over the course of the last 2,000 years John has lost is faith!

Can John recover his faith in time to stop Armageddon or will Satan’s Son achieve Ultimate Victory? The answer to that question and many more will be revealed in the thrilling new book series The Last Temptation of John.

Read the trilogy today… if your faith is strong enough.

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