The dramatic symbolism of the book of Revelation comes from the divine author of all the other books of the Bible.
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). 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). 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). 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 ...'" (verses 5-8; compare Ezekiel:1:26-28; 2:1-5; 10:1, 4; Daniel:7:9-10, 13-14).
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).
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). 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). Verses 6-7 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" (verse 8).
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).
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, 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.