What Is the Purpose of Revelation?
The purpose of Revelation is tied up with its literary type as a prophetic-apocalyptic letter, especially with its images. The images of Revelation create a symbolic world in which the readers may live as they read (or hear) the book. When they enter this symbolic world, its message affects them and changes their entire perception of the world in which they live. They are able to see their own situation in this world from a heavenly perspective as they are transported by the visions of Revelation into the future. There they can see the present from the perspective of its final outcome—God’s ultimate victory. In this way Revelation provides Christians with a set of “prophetic counterimages” to purge their imagination of the pagan view of the world and restore it with a view of what is real and how the world will be one day under God’s rule. Bauckham illustrates using Revelation 17:
For example, in chapter 17 John’s readers share his vision of a woman. At first glance, she might seem to be the goddess Roma, in all her glory, a stunning personification of the civilization of Rome, as she was worshipped in many a temple in the cities of Asia. But as John sees her, she is a Roman prostitute, a seductive whore and a scheming witch, and her wealth and splendour represent the profits of her disreputable trade. For good measure there are biblical overtones of the harlot queen Jezebel to reinforce the impression. In this way, John’s readers are able to perceive something of Rome’s true character—her moral corruption behind the enticing propagandist illusions of Rome which they constantly encountered in their cities.
As Christians in hostile circumstances read the book again and again, they are continually reminded that “what they believe is not strange and odd, but truly normal from God’s perspective.”
By using images in this way, Revelation answers the question, “Who is Lord?” During times of oppression and persecution, the righteous suffer and the wicked seem to prosper. This raises the question of whether God is on the throne and still in control. Revelation says that in spite of how things appear, Caesar is not Lord and Satan is not Lord. Jesus is Lord, and he is coming soon to set things right. Revelation provides that prophetic word from God that people need in order to remain faithful in the midst of opposition.
God uses this prophetic-apocalyptic letter to pull back the curtain in his cosmic drama and show his people how things will turn out in the end. The main message of Revelation is “God will win!” Those who are not compromising with the pagan world should see God’s future and be filled with hope in the present. Those who are compromising should be shocked out of their spiritual slumber and warned to repent. As the “last chapter” of the story of salvation, Revelation gives people a foretaste of God’s ultimate victory and offers them the perspective and the encouragement they need to overcome.