An argument is a determination of the theme and/or purpose of a book of the Bible, and a tracing through of the book to determine how each passage relates to the development of that theme or purpose. While an argument is not an exposition, it can be of great assistance in the interpretation and exposition of a book or passage.
I wrote this argument while a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. It is written from a dispensational, premillennial viewpoint.
NOTE: I will be turning the superscripts into active links in a future release. For now, it is necessary to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the footnotes.
Traditionally, Revelation was believed to have been written by John the Apostle. Johannine authorship, however, has not gone unchallenged. Alternate suggestions include John the Elder, John the prophet, John Mark, and an author who used John as a pseudonym.1
Objections to Johannine authorship include linguistic differences, lack of apostolic claims, supposed theological differences (easily refuted) and historical difficulties.2 But in spite of these objections, most conservative authors still accept Johannine authorship.
The discussion of the authorship of Revelation is long and involved (Alford devotes 32 pages to it3), certainly beyond the scope of so brief a work as this one. It will suffice to state a few of the reasons for accepting the Johannine authorship of Revelation.
There are two major views concerning the date of this book. Some contend for an early date, around A.D. 68 or 69, during the reign of Nero. This view, supported by such notab1e scholars as Westcott, Hort and Lightfoot, is based largely upon a statement attributed to Papias to the effect that John the Apostle was martyred before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.5 But it is not academically safe to base an opinion on only one such piece of evidence, especially when it is taken into account that to accept this evidence is to assume that the quote is genuine and that Papias knew what he was talking about--assumptions which Walvoord seems to doubt.6
In support of a latter date, A.D. 95 or 96, is the following evidence:
The later date is held by Smith8, Walvoord9, Alford10 and Guthrie.11
The Apocalypse is a book of prophecy. In its unfolding of the future, it particularly emphasizes the repeated and increasingly violent worldwide attempts of earthly personalities and peoples, energized and directed by demonic powers and led by Satan, to oppose and prevent the execution of the de- clared intention of Christ to establish His kingly rule on earth. It makes clear that this conflict is certain to end in the complete overthrow of these evil forces and the establishment of the everlasting kingdom of Christ. This age-long conflict, even involving war in heaven, is made up of a series of plots on the part of the enemies of Christ to defeat the King of kings. Each plot ends in failure, followed by fearful divine judgment. And the long conflict terminates in the final judgment of the Great White Throne, the appear- ance of the New Jerusalem, and the beginning of eternity.13
The purpose of the book is threefold. First, it was designed to challenge the seven churches of Asia Minor to holy living. Second, it was intended to forewarn those who were in- different to the coming threats and who would not be prepared for the storm when it broke. But a third and primary purpose of the book was to bring a message of hope to those who were passing through, or who knew that they may soon be called to pass through, fierce temptation.14 As Walvoord has stated,
It would seem entirely reasonable that in the midst of perse cution the church should be given a book of such assurance as that embodied in the content of the Revelation, which holds before them not only a realistic explanation as to why persecution is permitted but also a promise of ultimate triumph and reward.15
Although a discussion of the interpretive methods applied to this book is beyond the scope of this argument, brief mention shall be made of the four major schools of interpretation.
This view regards the book as one great allegory, going beyond the natural symbolism of the prophecy. This opens the door to all sorts of interpretations, some of which see the prophecies as already fulfilled, and some of which view the events as yet future.16
Most preterists believe that the book of Revelation is a record of the conflicts of the early church with Judaism and paganism, with the closing chapters showing the contemporary triumph of the church.17
This approach considers Revelation as a symbolic representation of church history culminating in Christ's second advent. Though it has more to commend it than the two previously mentioned methods, its adherents have had a tendency to interpret the book as climaxing in their own generation. Its interpretation therefore depends on the time and circumstances of the expositor. As a result, as many as fifty different interpretations have been put forth by adherents to the historical approach.18
This point of view regards Revelation as futuristic begin- ning with chapter 4. The futuristic approach is limited to con- servative expositors who are usually premillennial.19 Walvoord says concerning this approach,
In contrast to the other approaches to the book of Revelation, the futuristic position allows a more literal interpretation of the specific prophecies of the book. Though recognizing the frequent symbolism in various prophecies, the events foreshadowed by these symbols and their interpretation are regarded as being fulfilled in a normal way.20
The futurist approach will be taken in this argument.
Besides providing a general introduction to the book, chapter 1 gives us a picture of an exhalted, victorious Christ.
These three verses introduce the book as the"Revelation of Jesus Christ," given by God to Christ, and sent by Christ via an angel to John, who in turn passes it on to the servants of Christ. The purpose of this Revelation is "to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass." The expression en tachei, translated "shortly" in the AV, is best rendered "sud- denly," so that the idea is not that the eventwill occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden.21
This introduction also pronounces a blessing upon those who read, hear and keep the words written in this book.
The importance of knowing those things which shall come to pass in the future is that it brings encouragement to those believers who are presently undergoing hardship.
John addresses the prophecy to the seven churches of Asia, and gives them greetings from the Father, Whom he describes with great stress upon His eternality, and from Jesus Christ, to Whom he gives a most lofty description, with a reference to His return (verse 7), and to His eternality (verse 8).
These descriptions of Father and Son, together with reference to Their relationship with the redeemed, are intended to comfort those in persecution with the knowledge that the Almighty is on thier side.
At the time John had the vision which is recorded in this book, he was on the island of Patmos, a prisoner because of his Christian testimony. The expression "the Lord's day" is probably to be identified with the Old Testament expression "the day of the Lord" rather than with the first day of the week.22 Upon hearing a great voice, John turned to see a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ. But as opposed to the humble, suffering servant of the gospels, John saw the Lord as a great, exhalted Judge, with eyes like a flame of fire, and a sharp twoÄedged sword coming out of His mouth. This picture of an exhalted Christ, a judging Christ, together with the description of verses 5-8, is meant to give encouragement and comfort to the church. The One Who loves them is Sovereign, and will judge the world.
Verse 19 is the key verse to the book, from which the book can be outlined. The "angels of the seven churches" mentioned in verse 20 are probably men sent by the seven churches to ascertain John's state (angelos can mean "messenger" as well as "angel"). They will be "messengers" to carry God's message back to the churches.23
This section is made up of seven letters to the seven churches of the Roman province of Asia, what we know today as Asia Minor. These messages are designed to give comfort in some places, warning and challenge in others.
The message here is primarily one of challenge and warning. Although Christ commends the Ephesians for their labor, patience, and intolerance of evil (including their intolerance of the deeds of the Nicolaitans, a group of professing Christians who lived licentiously24), he condemns them for having left their first love, and commands them to "repent, and do the first works," and warns that He will "remove their lampstand" if they don't repent (probably meaning that He will remove them from a place of blessing, or remove the church as a testimony for Himself25).
This is the shortest of the seven messages, and yet it is perhaps the most beautiful. The church at Smyrna was under great persecution, apparently at the hands of Jews. Their poverty was apparently due to their Christian testimoney, for they are said to be, in actuality, rich. They are told that some of them will be cast into prison, but they are encouraged to be faithful to Christ even unto death, and they will receive a crown of life. The message to this church is one of encouragement, and what could be more encouraging than Christ's closing words, "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death."
This church is commended for its stance in the face of persecution, but is also rebuked for its tolerance of certain false teachings and practices. The meaning of "Satan's throne" is subject to various interpretations. It is safest to understand it as a reference to the fact that many idolatrous cults had worship centers there26. The "doctrine of Balaam" is probably intermarriage with the heathen and spiritual compromise27, and the Nicolaitans have already been mentioned above. Walvoord referrs to the church in Pergamum as being "a church in compromise."28
The message to Pergamum was intended, therefore, in part to comfort, but mainly as a warning.
This message contains both warning and encouragement. There was a problem with a certain woman in the church who was leading many astray, just as Jezebel had led Israel astray. Christ warns that He will judge her and her followers unless they repent. But to the rest of the church, those who have not fol- lowed this false prophetess, the Lord has no condemnation, but He does encourage them to hold fast to that which they have already, and further encourages them by telling them what awaits those who overcome.
This church, as a whole, seems to have been in horrible shape. Christ exhorts them to repent and hold fast to what they had received and heard, or else He would come in judgment. But there were a few in Sardis who were faithful to Christ, and these He assures will walk with Him. Thus, despite the deadness of the church as a whole, faithful individuals "shall be clothed in white raiment." The purpose of this message, therefore, is encouragement as well as exhortation.
As was the case with Smyrna, this church receives no condemnation. It seems obvious that they, too, were suffering persecution. The message to them is comfort and encouragement. They are comforted by the knowledge that they will be kept from "the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world," and they are encouraged to hold fast.
This church receives no commendation - only condemnation. The message to them is a warning to repent.
These chapters describe the events of the tribulation, the millennium and the eternal state, and are intended to show the saints what they will be missing during the tribulation and the blessedness which will be theirs afterwards.
John is called up into heaven at this point to see the "things which must be hereafter." He sees a vision of God sitting upon a throne with twenty four elders surrounding Him, each elder also on a throne. Also around the throne were four "living creatures" of fascinating description. When these four living creatures worship God, the twenty four elders, probably representing the church,29 also worship, and cast their crowns before the throne. God was holding a seven-sealed scroll in His right hand, and John wept when he learned that no man was found worthy to open it. But then there appears on the scene "a Lamb as though it had been slain," obviously the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is said to be worthy to open the scroll. When He takes the scroll, the four living creatures, the twenty four elders and a hugh multitude of angels worship Him.
In this heavenly scene, we see some connected with the church present, namely, the twenty four elders. We also see Jesus Christ worshipped by all those in heaven. Such a scene should encourage a church undergoing persecution. Besides being an encouragement, this scene also sets the stage for the openning of the seven seals.
These seven seals are judgments which will come upon the earth during the tribulation period. The first four seals are four horsemen, representing the antichrist, war, famine and death.
The fifth seal is martyrdom. Many who take a stand for Christ during the tribulation will pay for it with their lives. The martyrs wonder when they will be avenged, and are told to wait for the rest of the believers who will be killed.
The sixth seal consists of all sorts of earthly and celestial disturbances, so terrible that men are said to plead with the mountains to fall on them and hide them from God's wrath.
These six seals show how God will pour out His wrath upon the earth. The persecuted church of the first century would be comforted in seeing that God will one day avenge them, and would realize that it is far better for them to endure the persecutions of their day than to have to endure the great judgments which shall one day fall upon those who do not believe.
Chapter 7 is a parenthetic which preceeds the openning of the seventh seal. Here we see 144,000 Jews sealed, called "the servants of God." Then, in a heavenly seen, we are shown that a multitude of Gentiles will also be saved during the trib- ulation. So even while God's wrath is being poured out upon the earth, He still has a remnant present upon the earth, and He will still be saving men.
Finally the seventh seal, composed of seven trumpets, is openned.
It has been suggested that the seven trumpet judgments will be in answer to the prayers of the saints mentioned in 8:2-4.30
When the first trumpet sounds, celestial disturbances cause a third of the earth's trees and all the grass to be de- stroyed. With the sounding of the second trumpet, something resembling a mountain falls into the sea, and one third of the sea becomes blood, killing one third of the sea's life. With the third trumpet, a "great star" falls from heaven, brightly burning, and poisons one third of the earth's drinking water. When the fourth trumpet sounds, the sun and the moon are effected. The effects of these first four trumpet judgments will greatly upset the ecological balance of the earth, so it is easy to see how famine (third seal) and death (fourth seal) will be extant.
After the fourth trumpet, John heard an angel say, as it flew through heaven, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound." It's as though he were saying, "If you thought the first four trumpets were bad, just wait until you see the last three!"
At the sounding of the fifth trumpet, a star, apparently a fallen angel, comes down from heaven and opens up the bottomless pit, out of which come hideous creatures. Their king is Satan (verse 11), so these locusts are probably demons. These demons are able to afflict a man for five months, and to afflict him so bad that he will seek death, but will not be able to die. It should be noted that these demonic beings will not be able to afflict those who have the seal of God in their foreheads. This fifth trumpet is also the first woe.
At the sounding of the sixth trumpet, a great army of 200,000,000 is released from the Euphrates River. The horses of this army are given a fascinating description, which this author will not try to decipher.
Despite these six judgments, those remaining on the earth fail to repent.
Verses l0:1--11:14 comprise another parenthetic which, together with the sixth trumpet, makes up the second woe. In chapter 10, John tells of an angel with a little scroll open in his hand. John heard "seven thunders" utter something, but he was not permitted to write what they uttered. But the angel announced that there would be no further delay-Äonce the seventh angel sounded, "the mystery of God should be finished." Ryrie explains, "When the seventh angel sounds his trumpet (11:15), the bowl judgments will be poured out (16:1-21) and the tribulation will come to an end with the return of Christ."31 John then was commanded to eat the little scroll, which was sweet in his mouth but bitter in his belly.
In 11:1-14 we read that the nations will tread upon Jerusalem for 42 months (the last half of the tribulation), and we also read about God's two witnesses. Their exact identity is not given, but they will be able to work miracles similar to those done by Moses and Elijah. They will prophesy 2,260 days, performing their miracles, and then, "when they shall have finished their testimoney," they will be killed. The earth will rejoice at their death, but after 3« days they will be resurrected, and within the same hour there will be a great earthquake which will destroy a tenth of the city (Jerusalem) and kill 7,000 of its inhabitants. It appears from verse 13 that the remainder of the city will turn to God.
Finally, in 11:15-19, the seventh trumpet is sounded. This is the announcement of the setting up of Christ's reign over the earth, a time when His servants will be rewarded, and those who oppose Him will be judged.
This passage, with its trumpet judgments and the two witnesses, would surely comfort a church undergoing hardship. Herein we see again God's judgment upon the ungodly-Äthose who would persecute His saints. The victory of God's two witnesses must certainly be encouraging to a persecuted church, as also the anticipation of Christ's earthly rule.
Although this passage deals primarily with Israel in the tribulation, it gives some of Israel's past history, such as its giving birth to Christ, as well as some of Satan's past history, such as his fall. But during the tribulation, apparently midway, Satan will be banished from heaven, and will bring havoc upon the earth, but particularly upon Israel. But Israel will somehow be helped by the earth--perhaps some of the Gentile nations will be compassionate-Äand will survive the devil's assaults.
There are two ways in which this passage could bring encouragement to the church. First, the church will be in heaven when Satan is cast down, and will therefore be among those in verse 12 who rejoice rather than among those upon whom woe is pronounced. They will not suffer from Satan's wrath. Second, although Satan's wrath is fierce, God still protects His people from it.
This passage describes two prominent figures of the tribulation period. The first, the beast out of the sea, is com- manly called "the antichrist." He will be a blasphemous ruler, who will rule the entire world for the last 3« years of the tribu- lation. He will be empowered by Satan and, together with Satan, will be worshipped. He will be a great persecutor of the saints, and seems to have the peculiarity of having recovered from a fatal wound.
The second beast comes up out of the earth. He works miracles, and forces everybody to worship the first beast or else be killed. He also causes everyone to receive a mark, with- out which they can neither buy nor sell.
Those Christians alive during the reign of Domitian suf- fered persecution, but they could be thankful that they would not be around when this demonic duo comes to power.
Though chaos and ungodliness will be the primary characteristics of the tribulation, God will have a remnant present. We are reminded of the 144,000, and the everlasting gospel is yet preached. The fall of Babylon is foretold, as well as the fate of those who worship the beast. According to verse 12, this know- ledge should bring comfort to the saints, knowing that the Word of God will still go forth, and that the enemies of the gospel will be punished eternally.
This passage is rather hard to interpret. It may refer to Armageddon, or it may just refer to judgment in general during the tribulation. Following as it does the proclamation, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them" (verse 13), it may be intended to explain why they will be blessed--they'll miss these judgments which are yet to come.
Chapter 15 describes another heavenly scene. John sees seven angels with the seven last plagues, and the tribulation saints with the harps of God, singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb. Then he sees the seven angels come out of the temple, and one of the four living creatures gives them the seven golden bowels of the wrath of God. After this, the temple was filled with smoke, and nobody could enter until the seven plagues were fulfilled.
The first bowl of wrath was poured out, and all those who had the mark of the beast got some sort of sore, described as "foul and painful" (16:2). When the second bowl was poured out, the sea became like the blood of a dead man. All aquatic life died. With the third bowl, all the drinking water became blood. Notice the similarities between the second and third trumpets and the second and third bowls. But the bowl judgments effect all of the sea and all of the waters, not just one third.
After the third bowl, an angel proclaims God's righteous- ness. The followers of the beast had shed the blood of the saints, and now they shall have blood to drink.
The fourth bowl causes the sun to be hotter, and to scorch people. But rather than repent, the inhabitants of the earth will just blaspheme God more and more.
The fifth bowl causes darkness to fall upon the kingdom of the beast, which somehow causes pain to his subjects. And yet as they sit in darkness with painful sores and scorched bodies, with no water to drink, they still do not repent--they just keep blaspheming God.
With the outpouring of the sixth bowl, the Euphrates is dried up to prepare the way for the kings of the east, and un- clean spirits go forth to gather the armies of the world to Armageddon.
The seventh bowl of wrath initiates a great earthquake which destroys many cities. Then there is a great hailstorm with each stone weighing a talent (about 100 pounds32). But men still do not repent--they continue to blaspheme.
This passage on the seven bowls of wrath would give the readers more knowledge of God's wrath upon the godless, and encourage them to hold fast to their profession of faith in Christ.
Babylon probably symbolizes a false religious system which is embraced by most or all of the world. This religious system will be rich, and will persecute the true saints of God. But God will cause the antichrist and his associates to destroy this religious system. The merchants of the world will mourn her destruction, since her indulgence in luxury will make many of them rich. But in heaven there will be great rejoicing over her de- struction.
This passage would be of encouragement to the persecuted church of the first century because they were suffering at the hands of false religions, both Judaistic and pagan.
In contrast to Babylon, which will be violently overthrown, the true church is called to the marriage supper of the lamb. This must take place just before the Lord returns, which He does on a white horse, followed by the armies of heaven. At Armaged- don He is victorious over the armies of the beast and of the kings of the earth. The beast and the false prophet are then cast into the lake of fire. An angel comes down from heaven, binds Satan, and casts him into a bottemless pit, where he will be for one thousand years.
Next, thrones are set up, and the saints of the tribulation are resurrected to reign with Christ for one thousand years.
The knowledge that Jesus Christ will one day be victorious over all the kings of the earth was certain to bring comfort to the first century church.
At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released from the bottomless pit and will deceive the unregenerate people then inhabiting the earth, getting them to gather together against the saints. But God will send down fire from heaven to devour them. Then comes the great white throne judgment. Satan and all the lost will be cast into the lake of fire.
This passage would comfort a church under persecution be- cause they would see the final judgment of all that is evil.
This fantastic description of the New Jerusalem and the eternal state is designed to show the first century church what their final lot will be.
In this last passage, Christ assures the readers that He is coming indeed, and invites them to "take the water of life freely."
The message of this book has been one of comfort and warning. The prediction of judgment upon the enemies of God would bring comfort to the persecuted saints, but it would also be a warning to the indifferent of what awaits them if they do not turn to Christ. The prediction of Christ's ultimate victory and the blessedness of an eternity with Him would also bring comfort to the saints.
1Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, pp. 946-948.
2lbid, pp. 940-946.
3Alford, Alford's Greek Testament, vol. 4, PP. 198-229.
4Wilbur M. Smith in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1493.
5John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 13.
7Smith, p. 1493.
9Walvoord, p. 14.
10Alford, pp. 230-236.
11Guthrie, p. 957.
12S.D. Toussaint, Professor's lecture notes on Revelation, Bible 308, p. 2.
13Smith, p. 1494.
14Guthrie, p. 962.
15Walvoord, p. 14.
16Ibid., pp. 16-17.
17Ibid., p. 17.
18Ibid., pp. 18-19.
19Ibid., p. 20.
20Ibid. p. 21.
21Ibid., p. 35.
22Ibid., p. 42.
23C.I. Scofield, ed., The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1352.
24Ibid., p. 1353.
25Walvoord, p. 57.
26Smith, p. 1504.
27Walvoord, p. 68.
28Ibid., p. 65.
29Scofield, p. 1356
30Todd, according to Smith, p. 1508.
31Charles C. Ryrie, ed., The Ryrie Study Bible: New Testament, p. 467.
32Scofield, p. 1206.
Alford, Henry. Alford's Greek Testament. 4 vols. Grand Rapids: Guardian Press, 1976.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. Downers Grove: Inter- Varsity Press, 1970.
Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Harrison, Everett F., eds. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.
Ryrie, Charles C., ed. The Ryrie Study Bible: New Testament. Chicago: Moody Press, 1976.
Scofield, C.I., ed. The New Scofield Reference Bible. New York: Oxford, 1967.
Toussaint, Stanley D. Professor's lecture notes, Bible 308, Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring 1981.
Walvoord, John F. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Chicago: Moody Press, 1966.