Do you remember the first time that you read (or tried to read) Revelation? What kind of experience was it? Confusing? Intimidating? Exhilarating? Mind-boggling? You probably made sense of chapter 1 even with its unusual vision of one “like a son of man” (1:13) at the end. You may have even felt comfortable with the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. But how did you react to the four living creatures in chapter 4 or the Lamb with seven horns and eyes in chapter 5? Or what did you think about the moon turning red or the 144,000 or the talking eagle or Babylon, the mother of prostitutes? If you are like most people, when you finished the last page, you put down your Bible and concluded that Revelation is one bizarre book.
This last book of the Bible describes itself in 1:1 as a “revelation of Jesus Christ” (NRSV), an expression that functions as a title for the entire book. The term revelation (apokalypsis in Greek) suggests that something once hidden is now being unveiled or displayed openly (i.e., from John’s generation on). To speak about the book as a revelation “of Jesus Christ” could mean that it tells us something about Jesus Christ, or that it is communication from Jesus Christ, or (most likely) some of both.
In this “final chapter” of the story of salvation, God pulls back the curtain to give his people a glimpse of his plans for human history, plans that center around Jesus Christ. Revelation is powerful, difficult, perplexing, colorful, suspenseful, tragic, and amazing. It is like a raging river, a bloody battle, an enticing mystery, and a breathtaking wedding all rolled into one. You had better fasten your seat belt because Revelation will take you on the interpretive ride of your life. Let’s begin our ride with a look at the historical context of Revelation.