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Book of Revelation For Dummies

From The Book of Revelation For Dummies by Richard Wagner, Larry R. Helyer

If you're befuddled by the Book of Revelation in the Bible, don't fret. Take a look at the basic structure of the Book of Revelation; its major interpretations; the various perspectives on the Millennial Kingdom mentioned in Revelation 20; and how key events shaped John the Apostle and his writing. By doing so, you'll better understand this final book of the Bible's New Testament.

Basic Structure of the Book of Revelation

Reading the Book of Revelation can be challenging — the storyline twists and turns and isn't strictly chronological. The author of the Book of Revelation, Saint John the Divine, offers a transcription of seven letters and later describes strange beasts, visions of judgments, governments, demonic battles, heaven, and a new world order — a prophetic vision for the end of the world. Even through all of this there is a clear structure; take a look at the layout of the Book of Revelation:

  • Prologue (Rev. 1)

  • Letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2–3)

  • The throne room and the scroll with seven seals (Rev. 4–5)

  • Judgments and vignettes

    • Seal judgments (Rev. 6)

    • 144,000; the multitude (Rev. 7)

    • Trumpet judgments (Rev. 8–9)

    • The angel and a little scroll (Rev. 10)

    • Two witnesses (Rev. 11)

    • A pregnant woman and the dragon (Rev. 12)

    • Two beasts (Rev. 13)

    • 144,000 on Mount Zion; three angels; harvest of the earth (Rev. 14)

    • Bowl judgments and the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 15–16)

    • A woman on the beast and the fall of Babylon (Rev. 17–18)

  • The Millennium and the Last Judgment (Rev. 19–20)

  • A new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21)

  • Epilogue (Rev. 22)

Interpreting the Book of Revelation

The real meaning of the Bible's Book of Revelation is a popular, ongoing debate. You'll find four major interpretive approaches to the Book of Revelation that can help you read, understand, and figure out the apocalyptic letter of John. Key to understanding commentaries on Revelations is knowing the position of the commentator.

Here are brief definitions of the four major interpretive approaches:

  • Preterist: Revelation speaks of things that are already history. The book isn't prophecy about the end of time; it's directed at Christians trying to live their faith in the Roman Empire. This is the prevailing view among modern scholars who aren't aligned with orthodox Christianity. Strength: The observation that the book was intended for a first-century audience. Weakness: Fails to take seriously the idea that the Holy Spirit can reveal what's going to happen, as the book purports to do.

  • Historicist: Revelation gives a bird's eye view of the entire sweep of Christian church history, from the post-Pentecost church (Acts 2) until Jesus returns. This view has few adherents today. Strength: The conviction that God controls the course of history. Weakness: Revelation then has little relevance for its original audience; also, historicists have wildly divergent views concerning the particulars.

  • Idealist: There's no correlation between the visions and any historical reality; they're simply symbols of the ongoing struggle between good and evil. Strength: The recognition that the book clearly communicates enduring ideals. Weakness: Divorces ideas from history, thereby calling into question Jesus's historical death, resurrection, and ascension.

  • Futurist: By the sixth seal (6:12–17), the book describes events leading up to Jesus's return. Glances at earlier stages of redemptive history (as in Rev. 12) illuminate End Time events. The focus is on a historical struggle that unfolds at the end of the age and climaxes with Jesus's Second Coming. Strength: Incorporates the insights of the other views without sacrificing the essential point of their position: namely, that the book prophesies a literal return of Jesus and a new creation. Weakness: The weakness of the futuristic view is that it interprets 1:9–3:22 just like preterists and historicists, that is, as referring to the first century. Then it declares that at 4:1, or at least by 6:12, the sixth seal, everything else is about the final period of earth history before Christ returns. Critics find this arbitrary and therefore unconvincing.

Book of Revelation: Perspectives on the Millennial Kingdom

The exact meaning of the Millenium, the 1,000 year reign that John speaks of in Revelation 20, is a centuries-old debate in Christian circles. One problem comes from the different interpretations concerning the meaning of the Millenium. The following chart can help you sort out these respective viewpoints:

Category Premillennialism Amillennialism Postmillennialism
Beginning of the Millennium Jesus's Second Coming Jesus's resurrection When a majority of the of the Millennium world's population converts to Jesus
Duration 1,000 years or a long period of time Undetermined; lasts until Jesus's Second Undetermined; lasts until Jesus's Second
Jesus's type of reign Physical, earthly Spiritual (through conversion) Spiritual (through conversion)
Tribulation (period of suffering before Jesus's Second Coming) Literal 7-year period Brief period before Jesus's Second Brief period before Jesus's Second
Timing of the rapture (transport of believers to heaven) Before the Tribulation, halfway through, or after it Occurs as part of Jesus's Second Coming Occurs as part of Jesus's Second Coming

Book of Revelation: Events Surrounding the Apostle John's Writings

John, who wrote the Bible's Book of Revelation, was the longest living Apostle; as such, he witnessed extraordinary changes in the political, social, religious, and economic world. The following historical events were significant to John the Apostle and his audience:

  • First outbreak of persecution against Christians by Nero (64 CE)

  • Paul and Peter are martyred at Rome (67–68 CE)

  • Jerusalem is sacked and the second Temple burns (70 CE)

  • The emperor Domitian accepts worship as a god (81–96 CE)

  • John is exiled to Patmos (90–95 CE)

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