This overview of Revelation was designed to show what John intended to communicate to his flock on the mainland at the end of the first century A.D. John was in exile on Patmos. The Christians in the churches of the area were undergoing various degrees of persecution, particularly in forced emperor worship. Most congregations had various flaws, such as loosing their zeal for the Lord, tolerating sin in their midst, dealing with false doctrines, and general apathy. They were probably wondering why they were suffering.
John contrasts the church conditions with what things are like in heaven. In God's presence everything is perfect and praise is offered continuously. Thereafter the visions speak of mostly coming events, where the wicked are increasingly punished by God through various plagues and disasters. Eventually the wicked loose their ability to repent and are thereby doomed to join Satan and the other beasts in the lake of fire forever. The faithful, though impatient, are eventually rewarded with a new heaven and a new earth where there are never any things to bring sorrow and all things are healed. The faithful are forever in the presence of their God and Savior.
The literary style of Revelation is in the coded apocryphal language, where images, words, and numbers generally have special meanings. The result is a painting with words that communicate some great spiritual truths. However, to those who do not know the code, the picture is weird and incomprehensible, like a bad dream. That lets John's letter get past the Roman guards and censors and encourage the suffering Christians on the mainland.
We who are living near the year 2000 A.D. probably wonder about the final words of Jesus, "I am coming soon." We also see bad and possible worsening conditions around us. We join with the martyrs in heaven in asking "how long?" before God executes his judgment on the unbelievers. We may think of ourselves as having good-enough lives and congregations. Like the seven churches, we may not think we deserve any hardships and fail to see that God wants to mold us into being more Christ-like (perfect). We tend to resist the discipline that God sends to help us grow spiritually. We also have a natural curiosity about the details of the end times. That makes us look at the world events and review a mental checklist of prophesied conditions to see if they fit yet. No one has ever been successful in describing those details accurately. This overview continues that tradition. You are therefore encouraged to review the insights of other writers and speakers. Some will have valuable interpretations that have not been included in this overview. Others will have interpretations that stray from the meanings intended by John and the Holy Spirit. Discernment is therefore required.
In the last chapter I hinted at a question that may have interesting implications. In each chapter of Revelation, who and where are the saints, and what are they doing and what is happening to them? Let's use this question to look back at the book of Revelation in review.
Chapter 1. The saint is John, who is in exile on Patmos and receives a vision.
Chapters 2 and 3. The saints are in seven congregations on the mainland. They are imperfect and may be suffering persecutions to various degrees. They are warned to strengthen and hold on to their faith.
Chapters 4 and 5. Except for the 24 elders in heaven, the general saints are not mentioned.
Chapter 6. There is no mention about the saints suffering or avoiding the partial disasters that affect a quarter of the earth. In verses 9-11 the martyrs (killed for the faith) are under the altar (in heaven, presumably) asking "How long?" They are purified and told to wait until the completion of the killing of the saints on earth.
Chapter 7. The saints on earth are "branded" with God's seal before the next disasters begin. John then sees the great, uncountable multitude of saints in heaven, from every nation and tribe. They have already suffered in the great tribulation and are now in a blissful condition in the presence of God.
Chapter 8. The prayers of the saints are important in heaven. There is no mention of whether the saints are spared during the disasters that affect a third of the earth.
Chapter 9. The saints are protected from being harmed by the evil forces released by the fifth angel. They are not mentioned when the sixth angel blows his trumpet.
Chapter 10. Only John is mentioned as he participates in the vision.
Chapter 11. John gets to count the saints in heaven but not those who are excluded. The two witnesses may be special saints who have great powers in word and deed, are killed, resurrected, and raised to heaven. The 24 elders in heaven announce the time for rewarding the saints.
Chapter 12. After failing to destroy the Jews (woman) and Christ (son), Satan turns to war against the saints (verse 17).
Chapter 13. The evil beasts are given power to war against and conquer the saints! (verse 7) "This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints." (verse 10) The saints cannot buy or sell. (verse 17) So the saints on earth are going to lose that war and suffer severe persecution. There will be no glorious rule of Christianity on earth.
Chapter 14. The "branded" saints are now with Jesus in heaven. The angels issue a final call to worship God or else suffer the consequences. "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus." (verse 12) Then an important pronouncement: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.... they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." (verse 13) In verse 16 the earth is harvested by Christ, "because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe." (verse 15) This may be the final and sudden removal of the saints from the earth, possibly described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Another angel harvests "grapes", presumably unbelievers.
Chapter 15. The saints are in heaven singing.
Chapter 16. The saints are not mentioned, except that their persecutors are punished.
Chapter 17. The woman is drunk on the blood of the saints that she killed previously.
Chapter 18. The saints are called to "come out of her" (verse 4) before she is destroyed. The saints are to rejoice over the destruction of their killer.
Chapter 19. The great multitude of praising voices in heaven presumably includes saints.
Chapter 20. The martyrs are resurrected to reign first while the other dead saints wait longer. Satan tries one final assault on the saints (now all in heaven?) but fails and is destroyed at last. Everyone is resurrected and those who are not saints are sent to join Satan in the second death.
Chapters 21, 22. The saints are forever united with God in the "new Jerusalem", the place prepared for them by Jesus (John 14:1-4). It is glorious. This series makes me think that the "1000 years" during which the martyrs reign with Christ is in the "New Jerusalem" as it is being prepared for the wedding feast of chapter 21. That makes it simultaneous with the 2000 years that we have had on earth (so far), waiting for those final days.
Here are some review questions to check up on what you have learned. Use your Bible and your previous answers. See how many you can answer. Then check on the pages in square brackets: [ ]. Use the link to Lesson 11 at the bottom of each page to get back to this one.
The style of writing of the book of Revelation is called ___an apology, ___an aerosol, ___an apocalypse, ___a calypso, ___a eulogy. [Lesson 1]
Such literature was usually written during times of ___prosperity, ___persecution, ___purposelessness, ___military strength, ___national triumph. [Lesson 1]
The style of writing contains a coded language which will fool foreign rulers. ___true, ___false. [Lessons 2, 3]
Writers of most apocalypses seldom write their names to their work for fear of being discovered and punished. ___true, ___false. [Lesson 2]
Who wrote the book of Revelation? [Lessons 2, 3]
Where was he when he wrote it? [Lesson 3]
Part 2. [Lesson 4]
Name the 7 churches to which John wrote.
Choose two of them, name them, tell what was good (if anything) about the people in them, tell what was bad (if anything) about them, and tell what Jesus promises to the faithful.
. . .good:
. . .bad:
. . .promise:
. . .good:
. . .bad:
. . .promise:
The following are code numbers that appear in Revelation. Explain the symbolism and meaning of five of these numbers.
3: [Lesson 3]
4: [Lesson 3]
7: [Lesson 3]
10: [Lesson 3]
12: [Lesson 3]
144: [Lesson 6]
666: [Lessons 3, 7]
1000: [Lessons 3, 10]
144,000: [Lessons 6, 8]
The following are code words and phrases that appear in Revelation. Explain the symbolism and meaning of four of them.
Lamb: [Lesson 5, many others]
serpent: [Lesson 6]
beast: [Lessons 7, 9, others]
sword from the mouth: [Lessons 3, 4, 9]
alpha and omega: [Lesson 3]
who is, who was, and who is to come: [Lessons 3, 5, 9]
who was, is not, and who is to come: [Lesson 9]
marked with the number of the beast: [Lessons 7, 8, end of Rev.13]
Part 4. Who sends the plagues that cause the trouble? [Lessons 6, Lessons 7, 8]
Why do the Christians suffer through some of them? [Lessons 6, 7]
What is the author of Revelation trying to tell the Christians through his coded language? [Background, Introduction, 6, 11]
Why is the book often considered a message of hope for Christians? [clue: Who is in control?]
Background, Introduction, Lesson 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11