What Is Revelation All About? Bible Meaning for Today (2023)

Of all the books in the New Testament, I suspect that none have generated the variety of interpretations that Revelation has.

This book is filled with symbolism, with multi-headed dragons and other strange creatures, a lion that looks like a slain lamb, bowls of wrath, an enormous golden city, and many other scenes that seem to come from a very fertile imagination.

Many people read Revelation, find it confusing, and never go back to it. Others adopt a popular perspective on the book and search it looking for “signs of the times.” But I believe Revelation is not just a book about the End Times.

Rather it was relevant for the time and culture in which it was originally written, as well as all persecuted believers throughout history. This article will briefly explore this way of understanding this revelation of Jesus to his church.

Apocalyptic Literature of Revelation

Revelation falls into the literary genre of apocalyptic literature. The dictionary defines apocalyptic as “describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world.

This has led many to view Revelation as describing the end of the world as we know it. But apocalyptic has an entirely different meaning in the Scripture.

The first sentence in Revelation reads, “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1).

The word translated “revelation” in this passage is the Greek word apokalypsis. It is defined as “revelation, what is revealed, disclosure, to make the information known with an implication that the information can be understood.”

This word is also used elsewhere in Scripture and is generally translated as “revealed.” Matthew 11:27 is an example where we find Jesus saying, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed (apokalypsis) them to little children.”

So, the visions of Revelation are essentially pulling back the covers and helping John, and his readers, to see what would normally be hidden. It is a glimpse into what is happening from a heavenly perspective.

These visions are filled with symbolism and Old Testament references. And they can be confusing to the modern reader. But knowing the culture and audience this was originally written to can help in understanding the message of this book.

The Audience of Revelation

Revelation is addressed as a letter from John, the author, to seven churches in the province of Asia. These seven churches are each mentioned by name in chapters two and three, along with a personalized message from Jesus.

It is quite likely that there were more than seven churches at the time in what is today the country of Turkey. But seven is a significant number in Revelation: seven seals, seven plagues, seven bowls of wrath, seven-fold Spirit, seven candlesticks, seven churches. So, it is likely that these seven were chosen as representative churches.

The province of Asia was a part of the Roman empire. And, as such, there would have been a lot of pressure to conform to Roman culture, including emperor worship.

There was also pressure from Jewish groups and temptations from other cults with some Christian window dressing. All in all, it was a challenging time for these seven churches.

The temptation to compromise with the culture around them was great. A couple of these churches had refused to do so and were suffering because of it.

Others were struggling with compromise or infection from local cults. And for at least one, the struggle seemed to be over, giving in to the culture and becoming like them.

The Purpose of Revelation

The purpose statement for Revelation is found in that first sentence quoted above. The intent of this revelation was “to show his servants what must soon take place.” It was to look into the near future.

It must be admitted that our time scales do not always align with God’s, but there does seem to be an expectation that what is revealed would be something they would see happening.

Given the condition of these seven churches as described in chapters two and three, a description of the distant end of the world would not be overly helpful.

These were churches that were suffering because of their stand for Christ, or in danger of compromise with a culture in order to prevent that suffering.

They were in need of a message that would enable them to remain faithful and to resist the temptation to compromise in order to get along.

And that is what Revelation does for them. After their personalized messages, the scene shifts to heaven’s throne room. And we find out who is actually on the throne. And it is not Caesar and the imperial cult.

God is on the real throne, attended by the hosts of heaven. And Jesus is introduced as the Lion, the root of David, and a lamb that was slain. He is the Lord that they are serving. And to him was given authority to rule.

As the visions unfold, we see a conflict between Satan, described as a dragon, and his followers, against the servants of the Lamb. This conflict parallels what these churches were experiencing in the physical realm.

Revelation makes clear that, in the end, the Lamb is victorious over the Dragon. And those who have remained faithful to the Lamb will inherit a renewed creation.

This message would serve two purposes. It would encourage those who were faithfully suffering as believers to continue in the struggle. It would not be in vain. Their reward for faithfulness was sure and waiting for them.

On the other hand, those who had given in to compromise, or were tempted to do so, were in grave danger.

When they aligned themselves with the imperial cult or any of the other cults circulating in that day, they were aligning themselves against the Lamb. And nothing good awaited those who were not following the Lamb.

For the one, the future included a renewed heaven and earth and a part in the New Jerusalem. For the other, judgment and the Lake of Fire. This is a message designed to encourage the one and cause the other to take stock and turn away from compromise and to faithfulness.

The Message for Believers Today

I believe that when we use Revelation as a tool to map out the End Times, that we have missed the point of this book that we are encouraged to read.

In Revelation 1:3, Jesus tells us, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

In the Bible, prophecy is a message from God. Sometimes about the future. But more commonly addressing current events.

So, the message from Jesus to those seven churches in the first century is the same as it is for us today. Be faithful in the face of opposition to the gospel. Do not compromise with the culture. Babylon, our culture, will fall and be destroyed.

So come out from her (Revelation 18:4) and be the distinct people that God has called us to be. A people that will inherit the renewed creation.

General Revelation vs Special Revelation

Read the transcript of this video by Dan Darling discussing the distinctions of revelations in the Bible:

There are two ways that God reveals himself in the world, general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is, as the Bible says, the heavens declare the glory of God, that you can't help but look around and say, there's got to be a designer here. There's got to be a God here. This is how remote tribes, for instance, can come to faith in Christ. They just look around and say, there's got to be something here. A special revelation is Jesus himself being revealed through the scriptures, someone teaching somebody the scriptures and the gospel. And God uses both.

I think he uses general revelation to stir in man's heart the sort of quest for, there's something more out there. And then he searches that and God brings to him a missionary or a pastor or a gospel film, or a website that explains and breaks down the scriptures. And it says in Romans, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" We can't all just sit back and say, well, they're going to see in nature. It's up to us to take that to the ends of the earth and share it. But God uses both. And at the end of time, no man's going to be without excuse. You say, well, what about all those that are heathen in other countries? Well, their heart should have been stirred by the revelation of God and nature and general revelation. And if they were earnest in seeking that out, God would have found them to a place where they can hear the truth.

For further reading:

What Are the Different End Times Opinions Amongst Denominations?

What Are the Seven Seals and Trumpets in Revelation?

Book of Revelation Summary

Is the Apocalypse Mentioned in the Bible?

What Is the Biblical Significance of the Number 7?

Does the Bible Contain Allegory?

Does God Have a Throne in Heaven?

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What Is Revelation All About? Bible Meaning for Today (1)Ed Jarrettis a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs atA Clay Jar. You can also follow him onTwitterorFacebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.

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