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A Study On The Book Of Revelation



A.     Aims

Through a close reading of the Apocalypse, students will gain an insight into the apocalyptic (‘Revelation) in the Jewish and Christian eschatology (‘teaching about things at the end-time). The book of Revelation not only reflects the church situation of John’s generation but also shows us an ever-present spiritual struggle over which true Christians must become victors, in order to receive the blessing of the eternal kingdom. With the power of God the conscientious members will carry on the life of the church and their genuine faith will endure the test of time and the severe tribulation coming from the world and the evil force.

B.     Class Syllabus

1.        Introduction: What Is Apocalyptic?

A complicated subject in Biblical and theological studies

 a.      History of the apocalyptic;

 b.      The apocalyptic as a religious idea; socio-religious movement; a literary genre in the Israelite religion and Christian beliefs;

 c.      Characteristics of the apocalyptic.

2.        An Overview of the Book and Approaches to Revelation

 a.      The ‘Last’ Book of the Bible—From Creation/Eden, Covenant, Christ, Church, to Consummation—an anagogic tendentiousness in divine economy;

 b.      Structural Components of the Book;

 c.      Precedents in Daniel 7-12, Zechariah, Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21 regarding the symbolism of the vision, concepts and signs of the end-time, position of the people of God and the holy city.    

3.        John and the Church in Tribulation

 a.      The presence of the risen Lord (1.9-20)—John receives the vision ‘in the Spirit;

 b.      The image of the ‘son of Man in the apocalyptic and Gospel tradition;

 c.      Letters to Seven Churches in Asia Minor (Rev 2-3); 4) the main thrust of the messages to the seven churches (2.1-3.22)

4.        ‘Heavenly Throne’ (the Divine Throne) 4.1-5.14

 a.      Theophany in the Old Testament (Exod 19.30-32; Ps 77.17f; Ezek 1.4,13,114,24), and in particular, the throne vision in Ezekiel 1, 10 Daniel 7.14-18 (cf. 1 Enoch 14); the book and the seals (4.1ff);

 b.      Jesus’s two roles as the ‘Lion’ and the ‘Lamb’; universal victory and praise (5.8-14) 

5.        Heavenly Worship and the Vision of the Seven Seals 6.1-8.1

 a.      God transfers the accomplishment of his plan for history to Christ the Lamb;

 b.      Description of the events is determined by the apocalyptic idea of end-time oppression and terrors that precede the end (cf. Dan 2.28-29; 11.27; 4 Ezr 13.30);

 c.      The Enigmatic Four Horsemen described with the opening of the first four seals (see Attachment 2 for description of woes);

 d.      The preservation of the 144,000 members of the community of salvation and the pastoral care they receive from the enthroned Lamb (7.1-17). Who are those 144,000? They represent a certain complete divinely approved members who have fulfilled the universal and particular demands of the Gospel (Jn 3.3-5; Matt 7.21-23; Gal 3.26-29; Rom 6-8).         

6.        Vision of the Seven Trumpets 8.2-11.19

 a.      Heavenly worship (8.2-5; cf. 4.1-5.14; 7.9-12): prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God and Christ (4.8-11; 5.9-10, 12-14; 7.10-12; 11.18-18; 15.3-4; 19.1-8). Prayer for the ‘coming’ of God’s kingdom and justice (6.9-11), and the final advent of God/Christ (22.20; cf. 1 Cor 16.22).

 b.      The first four trumpets: The final troubles intensify. Trumpets used for 1) the call to festive assembly and battle, 2) announcement of warning and victor;

 c.      The New Year’s Day (rosh hashana);

 d.      The accession of the king, and more significantly,

 e.      They were instrumental in theophany (Exod 19.16; Num 10.2-10; Josh 6.4; Ezek 33.3; Joel 2.1,15; Amos 3.6). Seven trumpets fit into the apocalyptic pattern of the woes that must precede the victory of God at the End. Note that the plagues are reminiscent of the Egyptian plagues in the Exodus tradition (hail and fire Exod 9.23-25; blood in Exod 8.8-9; darkness in Exod 10.21. locust-like creatures of 9.1-12 in Exod 10.12.

7.        Mission of Prophecy in the Context of the End Event (10.1-11); the Measurement of the Temple (11.1-14) and Powers of Evil on the Rampage 12.1-14.20

An Interlude between the sixth and the seventh trumpets (cf. a twofold perspective on the church militant/triumphant in chapter 7, which is an interlude between the sixth and seventh seals).

 a.      The commissioning to proclaim the Gospel and issue warning to the world about the approaching activity of judgment (cf. Ezek 2-3; 1 Cor 9.16f); 2)   Divine measurement for the holy temple and the worshippers (cf. Ezek 40.2-4; 44.4-5; Matt 21.22); 3) The ministry of the prophets takes place in the ‘Holy   City’, the symbolism of which points to the church. Two olive trees and two lampstands reflect Joshua the priest and Zerubabbel (Zech 4)—the believers are ‘priests’ (Exod 19.16-22; 1 Pet 2.9) and ‘kings’ (Exod 19.6). They are bearers of the light (Isa 42.6, 39.6; 51.4; Matt 5.14; 1 Thess 5.3; Php 2.15); 2) Importance of ‘witness’ and ‘testimony’ with ‘martyrdom’ (1.8; 4.8; 11.17); 3) The Woman, the Dragon, and the Children 12.1-18.

 b.      Background: the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3.1-16); from Israel escapes from the dragon /Pharaoh into the wilderness on wings of the eagle (Exod 19.4; Ps 74.12-15); Zion, ‘mother’ of the people of God from whom the Messiah comes forth (Isa 66.7-9; II Esdr. 13.32-38); the Messiah—the woman’s child—is pictured in Ps 2.7-9 and Isa 6.9.

 c.      Christians or Brothers (12.10) are offspring/seed of the woman (mother—church in Gal 4.26). The devil like a roaring lion wants to devoir believers (1 Peter 5.8; cf. Rev 19.9). Imagery of Beasts from the sea echoes the primeval conflict between God and the evil force represented by Rahab, Leviathan, etc (Ps 47.12-15; 74.13-15; 89.10-13; 93.1-4; 104.4-9; Isa 17.12-14; 51.9-10; Job 26.12-13; 38.8-11; Hab 3.8-15). So the devil wants to destroy the church ministry—God’s people and God’s work (cf. Acts 26.18; Col 1.13).

8.        The Seven Last Plagues: Cosmic Catastrophe 15.1-16.21; the Fall of Babylon and the Lament 16.1-18.24

The visions of the Seven Bowls are preceded by a heavenly prologue (15.1-8) that interprets what follows. It consists of two parts: 1) preparations for the discharge of the bowls of wrath; 2) a heavenly hymn of praise of those who overcome.

Following the summary view of the coming judgment in 14.5-20, this section, ‘The Visions of the Seven Bowls’ (16.1-21), goes back behind it in time. It is concerned with the manifestations, prior to the end, of God’s punishing anger toward his adversaries from the cosmos to the representative of the world’s rebellion against the creator, Rome (leading up to the fall ‘Babylon’ in Rev 17-18), or anti-Christ evil schemes.

Like the parallel sixth trumpet (9.13-21), the pouring out of the sixth bowl reveals a demonic army released to cross the Euphrates and attack the Roman civilization (Note: in our contemporary interpretation, some take it as a reference to Iraq’s attack on Israel as a prelude to the Third World War).

The Judgment over the GreatCity (18.1-24)—Rome (the great harlot enthroned above the ocean/many waters/rivers) riding on the beast (17.1- 18), symbolizes that the prince of the world—Satan controls the kingdom of darkness and sin (1 Jn 5.19). Characterized by affluence and arrogance  (cf. Tyre in Ezek 28.21-19), this great city:

Note: Roman emperors (RSV ‘kings’) and their dates: Julius Caesar d. 44 B.C; Augustus  (Octavian) 31 B.C.-14 A.D.; Tiberias 14-37; Gaius (Caligula) 37-41; Claudius 41- 54; Nero 54-68; Galba 68-69; Otho 69; Vitellius 69; Vespasian 68-79; Titus 79-81; Domitian 81-96; Nerva 96-98; Trajan 98-117; Hadrian 117-138

John says that the first five emperors have ‘fallen’. At the time of the writing of Revelation, he and his fellow Christians live in the time of sixth emperor, who ‘is’ (17.10). There will be another emperor, the seventh, who will remain only a little while. Then comes the last emperor, the eighth, who is also one of the seven. The eighth emperor will rule for only a short time and will share his rule with ten kings—a motif derived from Dan 7. But it is no way to pinpoint accurately which emperors John’s description refers to—what we can be sure is that John’s writing falls on the times from Nero to Trajan, and that the number ‘seven’ is symbolic, standing for the line of the Roman emperors.

The Fall of Rome echoes materials drawn from various biblical laments, taunt-songs, and dirges over the destroyed cities of the enemies of God (Isa 13.21; 23.1-16; 23.1-116; 34.11-14; 47.7-9; Jer 50.39; 51.37; Zeph 2.14-15; Ezek 32.17-32 on Egypt).

9.        Hymnic Finale and God’s New World 19.1-22.5

Parallel to 1.9-20 (the glory of Christ and the sevenfold message to the churches in 2.1-3,21) and 4.1-5.14 (throne room of God and the Lamb and the ensuing sevenfold visions of the last plagues in 6.1-18.24), the third division of Revelation begins with a transcendent scene of the glory of God and /or Christ (19.1-11). From the transcendent scene proceeds a sevenfold vision surrounding the Parousia (i.e., Second Coming of Christ):

 a.      Marriage feast of the lamb (19.6ff)

It stands in the prophetic tradition (Hos 2.14-20; Isa 62.5; Jer 2.2), the Gospels (Mark 2.19; John 3.29), and the Pauline tradition (2 Cor 11.2; Eph 5.25-32).

 b.      The Second Coming of Christ (19.11-16)

It is a recurrent theme in the teaching of Jesus Christ and the apostles (Matt 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21 1 Thess  4; 1 Cor 15).

 c.      Last Battle (19.17-21)

Christ and his heavenly army against the two combined groups: rebellious human beings—not just the ‘high and mighty’ but also the little people and slaves (19.18; 6.15; 13.16) and the transpersonal powers of evil that have inspired and deceived them, as symbolized by the beasts and false prophet. Both groups are defeated by Christ.

 d.      Satan bound (20.1-3)

The Dragon, symbolic of the ultimate power of evil is still at large, despite the disappearance of the rebellious, self-deifying human empire and its advocates represented by the beast and the false prophet. In comparison with the one thousand year rule (20.4ff), the biding of Satan deserves a separate vision with its own picture of the End. It is an echo of Isa 24.22 concerning the prisoners in a pit of the host of heaven and kings of the earth.

 e.      The millennium (20.4-6)

It is one of the most difficulty scriptures in the Bible. It has elicited a great deal of discussion in history concerning the pre-millennium, post-millennium, and a-millennium (spiritual millennium). It should not be taken literally, but spiritually. 

 f.       The defeat of Gog and Magog:

Gog is symbolic of the eschatological enemy of God. In Ezekiel, Gog of the land of Magog (Ezek 38.1-9; 14-16) plots to invade the land of Israel, but only to meet the divine triumph (Ezek 39.1-7); Gog and his army became the sacrificial feat to the birds and beasts (39.11-16; 17-20; cf. Isa 18.6; 34.6; Jer 12.9; Zeph 1.7).

 g.      New Heaven and New Earth

New heaven and new earth are the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom of God (21.1-22.5). The effulgent, visionary Jerusalem and the divine throne depicted in the prophetic tradition (Isa 60.19; Zech 14; Ezek 43.1-4; 48.35; Ezek 36.28; 37.26-27) has come to its fullest expression, when God establishes the new Jerusalem in heaven: the prophetic utopia in Ezekiel characterized by cultic purity and natural plenty in Ezek 40-48 has been spiritually realized in Rev 22.1ff. The wicked are condemned with the Devil onto perpetuating suffering in hell (21.11-15; 22.15), and the saved one will for ever enjoy spiritual abundance and bliss in the civitate Dei (city of God).

Concluding Scriptures: Luke 21.29-36; Hebrews 10.26-29,32-36; 1 Peter 1.3-7; 5.7-9; 2 Peter 3.8-13.


A.     Preterist Interpretation

Preterist interpretation attributes fulfillment of the messages of the book of Revelation almost exclusively to the past-specifically the past of the Early-Church period. Such, for example, is represented by Luis de Alcazar (died 1613), Jesuit of Seville in Spain, whose monumental Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse was published posthumously in 1614. He and various conservative Protestant writers of later centuries (such a Moses Stuart, I. T. Beckwith, and H. B. Swete) have tended toward interpretation which sees most of the messages of Revelation fulfilled by the time of Constantine the Great in the 4th century A.D.

Strength lies in the hermeneutic principles this school adopts: careful notation of the historical setting and backgrounds for the Rev; interpretation of symbols in harmony with the conventional meanings of those symbols at the time of writing; alertness to the fact that the Rev belongs to a genre of the apocalyptic.

B.     Futursitic Interpretation:

It looks upon Rev as treating mainly events of the future-not merely John's future but our own. Most of the events from Revelation 4 onward (at least up to chapter 19) fit within a seven-year period  just before Christ's Second only known as dispensationalists or   pretribulationists, believes that there is a rapture of the church at a secret coming of Christ seven years (cf. ‘come up hither’ in Rev 4.1) as this secret rupture) before His visible second coming.,

It seems difficult to find much, if anything, to say favorably of this view. On the other hand, negative considerations often include failure to give due respect to the nature of apocalyptic literature, disregard for the Biblical perspective concerning history, lack of sufficient appreciation for historical backgrounds and settings, and re­moval of interpretation from the realm of possible scholarly control.

C.     Continuous-Historical Interpretation

The book of Revela­tion is the continuous-historical or historicist. This tends to place most of the book of Revelation within the period of history from the time of John to the eschatological climax. There are really two schools of continuous-historical interpretation-what may be called the "straight-line" and what may be called the "recapitulationist."

Numerous interpreters of earlier generations tended to follow the straight-line method, which usually accept the "seven churches' as literal churches of John's day, but would stretch out the rest of the book of Revelation into a continuous line of events happening through­out the Christian centuries. For example, the seals were frequently interpreted as depicting events down to the time of Constantine, the first six trumpets as a description of the barbarian invasions and of the Moslem conquest, the details of chapters 10 and 11 as dealing with the Reformation of the 16th century, et cetera. Even the seven last plagues were often considered as belonging within the historical period (the firs plague as representing the French Revolution, for example).

The "recapitulationist" version tends to see the various series of messages-such as churches, seals, and trumpets-as providing parallel treatment or cover ages of the history of Christianity from the time of Christ to the eschatological consummation. Often the last chapters of Revelation are considered entirely eschatological, though various interpreters differ on where they divide ' between historical series and pure eschatology. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids Mich., 1940), and S. L. Morris, The Drama of Christianity (Richmond Va., 1928), possibly could be classified as recapitulationist continuous historical, though in some ways they are better classified as "philosophy of history". Perhaps the most representative example of continuous historical interpretation of the recapitulationist variety is Uriah Smith 7'houghts on Daniel and the Revelation (rev. ed.; Nashville, Tenn., 1944). He sees the churches, seals, trumpets, and struggle between the powers o good and evil in Revelation 12 and 13 as four parallel historical series depicting developments during the Christian era.

Continuous-historical interpretation of both varieties gives due respect to the apocalyptic and biblical perspectives regarding cosmic scope and historical emphasis. Too often, however, interpreters using this approach have failed to take into adequate account the historic settings and backgrounds both for the entire book and for specific symbols used in it. Indeed, there is a tendency among continuous historical interpreters to ignore the meaning of the message for John' own day and to launch out with private interpretations of the symbolism. Somehow each interpreter tends to become a "law unto himself,' and frequently the applications given to the messages are widely divergent. A comparison of Barnes, Clarke, Elliott, and others, for example reveals numerous contradictions in the application of symbols Continuous-historical interpreters also tend at times to carry points to ridiculous fineness of interpretation. For example, B. H. Carroll, Th Book of Revelation (New York, 1913), page 221, refers to the frogs i Revelation 16 as representing (1) the Council of Trent, (2) Vatican Council 1, and (3) "papal encyclicals and syllabuses, particularly those completing the system of Mariolatry." One wonders if Carroll had written his book today whether he might not have put Vatican II in place of his third choice! Such absurdity in interpretation (unfortunately, among historicists many examples could be cited) has led various scholars to look with disdain upon this approach. It is an approach, however, which does have some real values to contribute if only it is tempered with sound hermeneutic.

D.     Other Approaches

Although the foregoing methods of interpreting the book of Revelation are the traditional and most common ones, certain variations have appeared in recent years. Various terminologies are used to describe them, such as "symbolic," "dramatic," "mythological language," "idealist," "value-philosophy," "recurrent fulfillment," and "allegorical." Among numerous representatives of one or the other of these ap­proaches are E. W. Benson, Raymond Calkins, WiIIiam Milhgan, Paul S. Minear, S. L. Morris, and D. T. Niles. Frequently these approaches win overlap each other as well as embrace either preterist or continuous-­historical interpretation (or to some degree both of the latter). Often these special interpretations accept the messages of Revelation as applicable for John's day, but refuse to limit their fulfillment to that era. This is true irrespective of whether wider fulfillments are looked upon as being simply drama, as containing a revelation of ideals, or as having actual historical fulfillment in one way or another.

Instead of treating the many variations, we would simply call attention here to engage ourselves with a close reading of the text. By taking into consideration the philological/historical/theological perspectives, we will attempt to embrace not only the concrete situation of the early Christianity but also the spiritual or allegorical meaning contained therein. We shall never be dogmatic about the prophecies or hidden symbols as exclusively fulfilled in our own times. The interpretation of Revelation correlates in a certain sense the preterist and continuous-historical interpretation, but it does so in a way that allows for repeated historical fulfillments beyond the writer's own time or beyond any other specific time in history. From a certain viewpoint, this approach may be considered essentially a variation of the continuous-historical mode of interpreting the book of Revelation. As a striking example of the approach I quote a few paragraphs from Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif., 191 1), pp. 585-589:

The names of the seven churches are symbolic of the church in different periods of the Christian era. The number seven indicates complete­ness, and is symbolic of the fact that the messages extend to the end of time, while the symbols used reveal the condition of the church at different periods in the history of the world ....

At the time when John was given this revelation, many had lost their first love of gospel truth. But in His mercy God did not leave the church to continue in a degenerate state. In a message of infinite tenderness He revealed His love for them, and His desire that they should make sure work for eternity. "Remember," He pleaded, "from whence thou are fallen, and repent, and do the first works."

The church was defective, and in need of stem reproof and chastise­ment; and John was inspired to record messages of warning and reproof and entreaty to those who, losing sight of the fundamental principles of the gospel, should imperil their hope of salvation. But always the words of rebuke that God finds it necessary to send are spoken in tender love, and with the promise of peace to every penitent believer. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock," the Lord declares; "if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. "

And for those who in the midst of conflict should maintain their faith in God, the prophet was given the words of commendation and promise: "I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name. Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." The believers were admonished: "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die." "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man should ever take thy crown."

It was through one who declared himself to be a "brother, and companion in tribulation," that Christ revealed to His church the things that they must suffer for His sake. Looking down through long centuries of darkness and superstition, the aged exile saw multitudes suffering martyrdom because of their love for the truth. But he saw also that He who sustained His early witnesses would not forsake His faithful followers during the centuries of persecution that they must pass through before the close of time. "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer," the Lord declared; "behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation: ... be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."

And to all the faithful ones who were striving against evil, John heard the promises made: "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels." "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne."

III. The Book Revelation and the Apocalyptic

A.     The Apocalyptic and the Jewish Eschatology

B.     The Lord Jesus Christ on eschatology

C.     The Apostle Paul on Eschatology

IV.  Structural Analysis of Revelation

A.     Christ in Historical and Meta-historical Level

1.        Christ in the Church 1.9-3.22

2.        Christ in the Cosmos 4.1-16.21

3.        Christ in Conquest 17.1-21.8

4.        Christ in Consummation 21.9-22.5

B.     Spiritual Conflict in the Creation and Redemption

1.        The Struggle on Earth --the church persecuted, avenged, protected, and victorious

 a.      Christ among 7 Lampstands, chs 1-3

 b.      7 Sealed Book, chs 4-7

 c.      7 Trumpets chs 8-11

2.        The Deeper Spiritual Background--Christ and the church persecuted by the  Dragon and his Helpers, and then Victorious

 a.      The woman and Child persecuted by the Dragon and his legion (12-14)

 b.      Seven Bowls of Wrath (chs 15,16)

 c.      Fall of the Harlot and Beasts (17-19)

 d.      Judgment on Satan: and then the New Heaven and New Earth (20-22)

3.        The Theme of Victory

 a.      Promise of Victory 1.9-3.22

 b.      Lamb as Victor 4.1-8.1

 c.      The Prophets as Victors 8.2-11.18

 d.      The Faithful as Victors 11.19-15.4

 e.      Victory over Babylon 15.5-19.10

 f.       Victory over the Devil 18.11-22.7

C.     Spiritual/Allegorical Interpretation

1.        The Lord and His Church: The Unveiling of God’s Mystery 1.12-2.22

 a.      Opening Vision 1.12-18

 b.      Letters to the seven churches 2.1-3.22

 c.      (1-4) Churches tempted to compromise

 d.      (5-7) Churches in Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea and their degeneration

 e.      Warning against possible downfall

2.        The Lord Jesus Christ and the World: The Unraveling of God’s Purpose 4.1-   11.19

 a.      Throne in Heaven 4.1-5.14

 b.      Judgment and Mercy 6.1-8.1

 c.      (1-4) Horsemen: Loss of Peace

 d.      (5-7) Earthquake (Loss of stability), Sealed Multitude; Unsealed Scroll

 e.      Altar in Heaven 8.2-5

 f.       Wages of Sin, and Gift of Kingdom 8.6-11.19

 g.      (1-4) 4 Trumpets: Loss of subsistence

 h.      (5-7) Woes (Loss of faith), Gospel, Kingdom Comes

3.        The Lord of All Rule: The Unraveling of God’s Power 12.1-22.5

 a.      God’s Purpose in Travail 12.1-17

 b.      Christ Imperator 1.31-14.20

 c.      (1-4) 4 Monsters: The Rebellion of Evil

 d.      (5-7) Mark of Beast and of Lamb; Nature of Judgment; Close of an Age

 e.      Song of Salvation 15.1-8

 f.       Christ Victor 16.1-19.4

 g.      (1-4) 4 Plagues (Beginning of the End)

 h.      (5-7) The Last Issue; Judgment Executed: Babylon is No More

 i.        Great Halleluyah 19.5-16

 j.        Christ Pantokrator 19.17-22.21

 k.      (1-4) 4 Powers: End of their Misrule

 l.        (5-7) The Final Encounter; the Last Judgment; the EternalCity