Revelation is the most feared book in the Bible. Many claim that it is impossible to understand, which is ironic in light of its title. It is the Apocalypse (unveiling), not the Apocrypha (hidden)! The purpose of the the book is to reveal, not conceal. The problem is not that men can't understand it, it's that they won't believe it! Like the rest of the Bible, this book is to be taken literally for exactly what it says. When symbols and figures are used we must rely on the word of God to interpret them.
There are 3 main schools of thought about Revelation:
1) Preterist - This false view teaches that the events recorded in Revelation describe the problems and persecutions of the church during the times the book was written.
2) Historic - This false view teaches that the events recorded in Revelation describe the history of the church. I also disagree with the view that chapters 1-3 are historical while 4-22 are prophetic.
3) Futurist - This is the correct view of the book. It teaches that book is what it claims to be, a "prophecy" (1:3). The whole book is futuristic (1:10).
Most commentaries teach that this book was written in about 95 A.D. There is no way to prove that from scripture. It doesn't really matter when it was written because the events recorded in it will take place in the future (I believe it was written during the Acts period). We can get a good idea of what this book is all about by considering some things in the first chapter.
The Introduction (1:1-3)
Notice that this book was given to “shew” God's servants "things which must shortly come to pass.” For those to whom the apostle John is writing, the fulfillment of all that is written in this book was "at hand" (v.3; 22:6-10, 20). Therefore, John could not have written this book to the Body of Christ which is not the subject of prophecy (Revelation called “prophecy” five times), but the mystery revealed through Paul. Its been almost 2,000 years since he wrote it and it has not been fulfilled. We are living in a parenthetic dispensation in which prophecy concerning Israel is not being fulfilled. What does it mean that the Lord "signified" this book? He made it known by signs (1 Cor. 1:22). Would we be blessed by keeping the things written in this book (compare 22:14 with Eph. 1:3)? Is the instruction in 14:9-12 something that we must keep?
The Salutation (1:4-6)
This brief salutation is full of doctrinal truth. Notice the Trinity (three in one). The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible, but the doctrine certainly is (1 Jn. 5:7). The “us” in v.5-6 refers to John and his brothers (Jews) and companions in TRIBULATION (v.9). Yes, Christ loves us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, but nowhere in Paul’s epistles do we learn that He has made the Body of Christ to be kings and priests to reign on earth. John is referring to what Christ will do for Israel, whom He has loved with an “everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), upon His revelation (v.7). They will be washed from their sins as nation (Acts 3:19; Rom. 11:26-27; Zech. 12:9-10; 13:1; 1 Pet. 1:1-21) and made to be kings and priests on the earth (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21; 5:10; 20:4; Ex. 19:5-6; Isa. 61:6; 1 Pet. 2:5,9).
The Theme of the Book (v.7-8)
The main theme of the book is the revelation of Jesus Christ. This does not describe the rapture of the Body of Christ.
• He cometh - He is presently hidden away as it were in the third heaven at the right hand of the Father. He will be revealed with great power and glory from heaven and come back to earth.
• with clouds – Clouds were associated with God’s presence in OT (Ex. 40:33-34, man cannot look upon His glory). He ascended in a cloud and is coming in like manner (Acts 1:9-12; Zech. 14:4).
• and every eye shall see him – This will be a public and visible return to earth (Matt. 24:29-30).
• and they also which pierced him – Israel (Zech. 12:10)
• and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him – Why (19:11)?
The Opening Vision (vs.9-20)
John saw the glorified Son of Man as the coming King and Judge. This vision is the major theme of the book. Here is the One that is going to be revealed from Heaven (19:11-16)!
How could John be a companion to the tribulation saints? He witnessed the whole tribulation and will be resurrected to enter the kingdom with those that endure it. They must patiently endure the tribulation before the kingdom comes (Lk. 21:19; Jam. 5:7-11; 14:12). Why was John in the isle of Patmos? Tradition says he was banished there by the Roman Emperor in 95 A.D. and that while there God gave him the revelation. Everything we need to understand the Bible is contained in the Bible. The Bible interprets itself. John plainly stated why he was there (v.2, 9). God sent him there to receive this revelation (probably during Acts period) just like He sent Paul into Arabia to receive revelations for this present age.
If we don’t understand v.10 it will greatly hinder our understanding of the whole book. What did John mean by, “I was in the Spirit”? Every believer is in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), but that is not what is being referred to here. John was in the Spirit in the same sense that this phrase is used throughout the book of Revelation (4:2; 17:3; 21:10). The Holy Spirit transported him to the future day of the Lord to be a witness and write what he saw. God did this for other prophets (Ezek. 37:1, in 40-48 he saw the future temple).
Many refer to Sunday as the Lord’s day, but the Bible never does. The “Lord’s day” is the same thing as the “day of the Lord” which is mentioned 29 times in the Bible. It is the day that the Lord judges the earth in great wrath (Isa. 13:6-13). The Lord’s day is a prophetic period of time in which includes the 70th week of Daniel, the second coming of Christ, His millennial reign, the last battle with Satan, the renovation of the heavens and earth with fire, and the great white throne judgment. The book of Revelation reveals this day in great detail. It stands in contrast with this present age in which man is having his day.
It is important to understand that the whole book of Revelation was sent to the seven churches for their instruction, and not just the seven letters in chapters 2-3. Why these seven churches? They are representative churches of all the tribulation saints (number of completion, “what the Spirit saith unto the churches”). Why churches in Asia and not Israel? They are scattered outside the land in the tribulation period (Jam. 1:1).
The word “seven” and “seventh” are used 59 times in Revelation and there are many sets of sevens (churches, Spirits (1:4), golden candlesticks (1:12), stars (1:16), lamps of fire (4:5), seals (5:1), angels (8:2), trumpets (8:2), thunders (10:3), plagues (15:1), vials (17:1), and kings (17:10). This book is the completion of the prophetic program. Seven is a very important number in God’s dealings with Israel (7 feasts, 70x7 in Dan. 9).
Christ told John that he was to write concerning three things (v.19):
1) The things which thou hast seen (1) – The vision of Christ
2) The things which are (2-20) – the Lord’s day
3) The things which shall be hereafter (21-22) – eternal state