Over the years critics have challenged the inspiration of the book of Revelation because its literary form is similar to a controversial body of writings known as apocalyptic literature. This type of literature was fairly common just before and during the apostolic era. Well-meaning authors, concerned about conditions in that era (200 B.C. to A.D. 100), often employed this dramatic form of writing to express their views on how the age-old conflict between good and evil finally would be resolved.
Apocalyptic writers frequently borrowed symbols and other imagery from the Old Testament prophets. But far too often they enhanced and embellished biblical material to suit their own fantasies. Hoping to give their theories greater weight and authority, they falsely attributed their writings to notable prophets and figures from the past. By using deceptive pseudonyms, the authors gave their writings the appearance of having been written by well-known prophets of ancient times while concealing their true identity.
As a result, apocalyptic writing as a class of literature is generally recognized as unreliable, lacking credibility and having no legitimate claim to divine authority. Regrettably, far too many scholars and critics place the book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of the Bible, in the same class.
They don’t realize that the book of Revelation is in a class of its own. Its dramatic symbolism comes from the divine author of all the other books of the Bible, not from the imaginations of John. John simply recorded what Jesus Christ revealed to him.
The writings of John are of the same genre as Old Testament prophecies. He was a faithful disciple of Jesus Himself. He makes it clear he received his prophetic visions directly from Christ, making him a prophet in his own right. Unlike the apocalyptic writers of his era who hid behind deceptive pseudonyms, John clearly identifies himself and explains in vivid detail how he received the visions and messages included in the book of Revelation.
John’s vision of God’s throne
In chapters 4 and 5 John describes being transported in vision into heaven to the very throne of God. Here He sees God the Father holding a sealed scroll containing the prophetic message He wants revealed to His people, the Church of God.
As John is invited to appear before God, a voice tells him: “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1 Revelation 4:1After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.
American King James Version×). Before John relates these prophecies to his readers, he establishes the source and authenticity of his visions: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne” (Revelation 4:2 Revelation 4:2And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
American King James Version×). Then he describes, awestruck, how he was taken in a vision to the throne of God to witness a ceremony.
Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel recorded similar experiences. They received visions of God appearing to them on His throne. Isaiah wrote: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1 Isaiah 6:1In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
American King James Version×). Notice Isaiah’s reaction:
“So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.’
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ And He said, ‘Go, and tell this people …’” (Isaiah 6:5-8 Isaiah 6:5-8 5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the middle of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
6 Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
7 And he laid it on my mouth, and said, See, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.
8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
American King James Version×; compare Ezekiel 1:26-28 Ezekiel 1:26-28 26 And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and on the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above on it. 27 And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. 28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.
American King James Version×; Ezekiel 2:1-5 Ezekiel 2:1-5 1 And he said to me, Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you. 2 And the spirit entered into me when he spoke to me, and set me on my feet, that I heard him that spoke to me. 3 And he said to me, Son of man, I send you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even to this very day. 4 For they are impudent children and stiff hearted. I do send you to them; and you shall say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD. 5 And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
American King James Version×; Ezekiel 10:1-4 Ezekiel 10:1-4 1 Then I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. 2 And he spoke to the man clothed with linen, and said, Go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill your hand with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight. 3 Now the cherubim stood on the right side of the house, when the man went in; and the cloud filled the inner court. 4 Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the LORD’s glory.
American King James Version×; Daniel 7:9-14 Daniel 7:9-14 9 I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. 10 A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. 11 I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spoke: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. 12 As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. 13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
American King James Version×).
God here identifies Himself as the author of the prophecies recorded by these men. Their visions came directly from His throne! They carried His divine authority.
The source of John’s visions
The book of Revelation carries the same authority. God was equally careful in revealing to John the source of his prophetic visions. God wanted him—and us—to understand that He, the Supreme Ruler of the universe, personally reveals the contents of the book of Revelation.
John sees God’s throne surrounded by heavenly witnesses. During the ensuing ceremony the elders bow in worship before the living Creator God. Then they sing these words: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11 Revelation 4:11You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.
American King James Version×).
Notice what John saw next: “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1 Revelation 5:1And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
American King James Version×). Here is the real author of the book of Revelation, the Supreme Ruler of the universe. In His right hand are the prophecies of the book of Revelation, sealed and unreadable.
That, however, quickly changes. Christ is authorized to open the seals and reveal the contents of the scroll. “But one of the elders said to me [John], ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals’ ” (Revelation 5:5 Revelation 5:5And one of the elders said to me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
American King James Version×). Revelation 5:6-7 Revelation 5:6-7 6 And I beheld, and, see, in the middle of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the middle of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne.
American King James Version×then describe how Jesus, the Lamb slain for our sins, takes the scroll from His Father’s hand. The audience then kneels before Christ, holding symbolic “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8 Revelation 5:8And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.
American King James Version×).
The message is obvious. The scroll, now in Christ’s hands, contains the answer to the continuous prayers of God’s people for justice and deliverance and for the establishment of the Kingdom of God to rule on earth (see Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×).
Notice the audience’s reaction: “They sing a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth’ ” (Revelation 5:9-10 Revelation 5:9-10 9 And they sung a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10 And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
American King James Version×, NRSV).
Here is the heart of the prophecies in Revelation. They explain how and when our faithful God will avenge the enemies of the called, chosen and faithful servants of God. They explain His judgments on all evildoers and the victory He will achieve over them. They explain the reward the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, will bring to His faithful saints.
Now let’s examine just what those prophecies contain.