“Revelation” Carson & Moo pp. 697-725
In many ways Revelation is one of the most difficult books in the New Testament. The book has a complicated and multi-faceted structure. Unfortunately, the different ways the structure may be interpreted make significant differences in the interpretation of the book as a whole. Carson and Moo think the most likely unifying theme is the repetitive use of groups of seven. They therefore outline the book as follows:
Messages to seven churches (2:1-3:22)
Vision of heaven (4:1-5:14)
Seven seals (6:1-8:5)
Seven trumpets (8:6-11:19)
Seven significant signs (12:1-14:20)
Seven bowls (15:1-16:21)
Triumph of Almighty God (17:1-21:8)
New Jerusalem (21:9-22:9)
Early Christian testimony ascribes the book to the apostle John. However, by the later second century there were those who did not accept that view and assigned authorship to other people, in part because of the potential for interpreting chapter 20 as teaching “chiliasm,” an early term for “premillennialism,” which has historically been rejected by the Church. This cast doubt on the book’s canonicity as well. Contemporary doubts about apostolic authorship have to do more with the lack of apostolic claims in the text and stylistic differences between this and writings more universally ascribed to John. Those arguments are inconclusive, as the same author may write in a different style and with different types of claims when writing with very different intents. The book claims to be written from the island of Patmos, a place of exile used by Roman authorities.
Dating of the book of Revelation is also problematic. John lived a very long time. Early Christian authors suggest authorship during the reign of Domitian, Claudius, Trajan, or Nero. Carson and Moo consider Claudius too early and Trajan too late, leaving the most likely times during the reign of Nero (54-68) or Domitian (81-96). Both times had surges in persecution, both had increased emphasis on worship of the emperor, thus inciting the kind of struggles we find in the churches from chapters 2 and 3. Revelation 11:1-2 may suggest that the temple in Jerusalem is still standing. Yet much of the language in the book is metaphorical, so it is difficult to tell if the author refers to the temple in Jerusalem or a temple in heaven. Carson and Moo tend toward the reign of Domitian.
The book is written to seven churches in Asia Minor, probably well known to John, who had lived and worked in the area for years. Is it an apocalypse? If so, and the opening lines seem to indicate it is, it is an early example of one. Apocalypses are often pseudonymous and very symbolic. However this book does not seem to be pseudonymous. Could it rightly be considered an epistle? Possibly, though it is very complicated and symbolic in nature.We are probably safest considering it an early form of an apocalypse, but one which does not follow all the patterns which emerged by the close of the second century.
Revelation gained canonical status quite early in the West, as early as first half of the second century. It was disputed in the East into the third century. However, it was eventually received throughout Christianity. Just the same, scholars consider that Revelation is one of the books which is best interpreted in light of the canonical Gospels, Acts, the Pauline Epistles, and 1 John, rather than serving as the guide to interpret those other books.
How is the text interpreted? Four basic approaches exist in modern scholarship. First, we see the “preterist” approach. This says that the visions describe events in John’s time. Symbols and visions refer to events in the world in that day. John uses them to urge faithfulness to Christ. In the “historical” approach people see a sketch of history from Christ to the present. This approach was widely used during the Reformation, especially identifying the beast with the Papacy. In the “futurist” approach scholars look for the fulfillment of all the events in very end of the world. Finally, in an “idealist” approach scholars view Revelation as explaining the general ways of the world and God’s person as he works in the world. Carson and Moo find some truth in all approaches but tend to view the futurist approach as the most useful.
Throughout Revelation we see an emphasis on the sovereignty of God. God is able to bring all things to their rightful conclusion. There is a very high Christology. Jesus is portrayed as God. Though Jesus is presented clearly as the almighty God, the cross is always visible. Everything Jesus does is related to his death for the sins of the world. We also see the reality of God’s judgment against all sin, as he pours out his wrath and rescues his people, those whose names are written in the book of life. Revelation gives great comfort to people who are suffering, whether in the first century or the twenty-first century.