The End is Near?
Does the book of Revelation tell us that the end of the world is near? Does the book of Revelation tell us anything about the end of the world? Did you know that the book of Revelation repeatedly says that it is concerned with events that were to come to pass soon after it was written? The very first verse of the book says, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place." How can we ever hope to understand this beautiful book if we ignore that clearly stated time frame for its fulfillment?
Revelation was written to provide comfort and encouragement to those first century Christians who were being persecuted and killed by the Roman empire. They must have wondered if God had forgotten about them, and they must have wondered how the church could possibly prevail against the might and power of Rome. The book of Revelation was written to answer those questions.
The 25 lessons on this website are a complete course on the book of Revelation that can be used for self study or to teach the book to others. They begin with a lengthy but vital introduction and then proceed on a verse by verse walk through the entire book. Each lesson is 45 minutes long, and included for each lesson is a complete transcript and an audio copy of the lesson in the MP3 format. Many lessons also include a colorful handout. These resources are available using the links found on the upper left of each page.
Please study the book of Revelation carefully, leaving your preconceptions behind. Revelation is meant to be understood, and it can be understood!
What is Revelation?
This would seem to be an odd question to ask about a
book of the Bible, but Revelation is like few other books
of the Bible. Is it prophecy? Is it history? Is it literal?
Is it figurative? Is it art? Just what is Revelation? Here
are several answers to that question:
(1) Philip Carrington said: “In the case of Revelation,
we are dealing with an artist greater than Stevenson or
Coleridge or Bach. John has a better sense of the right
word than Stevenson. He has a greater command of unearthly
supernatural loveliness than Coleridge. He has a richer
sense of melody and rhythm in composition than Bach. It is
the only masterpiece of pure art in the New Testament. Its
fullness and richness and harmonic variety place it far
above Greek tragedy.”
(2) Novelist Will Self in an introduction to a pocket
edition of Revelation wrote: “In its vile obscurantism is
its baneful effect; the original language may have welded
the metaphoric with the signified, the ‘logos’ with the
flesh, but in the King James version, the text is a guignol
of tedium, a portentous horror film.”
(3) Hal Lindsey wrote in 1973: “The information in the
book you are about to read is more up to date than
tomorrow’s newspaper. I can say this with confidence
because the facts and predictions in the next few pages are
all taken from the greatest sourcebook of current events in
(4) Williams Barclay, referring to Revelation as “The
strange book,” wrote: “When a student of the New Testament
embarks upon the study of Revelation, he finds himself
projected into a different world. Here is something quite
unlike the rest of the New Testament. And not only is it
different, but it is notoriously difficult for a modern
mind to understand. As a result it has sometimes been
abandoned and has instead become the playground a religious
eccentrics. One despairing commentator said that there are
as many riddles in the Revelation as there are words. And
another that the study of Revelation either finds or leaves
a man mad!”
(5) “There is a choral, symphonic nature about the book
of Revelation that stirs up our feelings as much as it does
our ideas. It is a dramatic, forceful, yet surprisingly
tender and comforting book. The result is that this
remarkable book is both hard to understand fully and
impossible to forget.”
(6) “Beautiful beyond description is the last book of
the Bible. Beautiful in form, in symbolism, in purpose, and
in meaning. Where in Scripture do we find a more vivid and
picturesque portrayal of the Christ, Faithful and True,
going forth unto victory, seated upon a white horse,
arrayed in a garment sprinkled with blood, followed by the
armies of heaven?”
What is Revelation? There are as many answers to that
question as there are commentators. We will see how we
answer that question at the end of our studies.
What is Revelation About?
Either Revelation is almost totally neglected or it is
elevated to a prominence shared by no other Biblical book.
No other part of the Bible has proved so fascinating to
commentators, and no other has suffered so much at their
What is this book all bout? The Future? The Past?
Heaven? The Church?
Most people would tell you that Revelation is all about
Heaven, the second coming of Christ, and the end of the
world ... and perhaps as we study the book we will find
that they are right. But we need to be very careful. Not
every coming of Christ in the New Testament deals with his
final coming at the end of the world.
In Matthew 24:29–30 Jesus speaks of a time when:
The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its
light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers
of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son
of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of
the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man
coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great
That sounds like the end of the world, doesn’t it. But
if we keep reading, we find something interesting in verse
34: “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things take place.”
Verse 34 provides a time frame—the most important
feature of any prophecy. Whatever the “coming” was in
verses 29–30, it must have happened in the first
A basic principle of Bible study is that we should use
the easy verses to help explain the difficult verses. And
verse 34 is very easy to understand!
The language in Matthew 24 is the language of judgment,
and there are many judgments in the Bible: Sodom, Gomorrah,
Egypt, Edom, Tyre, Sidon, Babylon, Assyria, Judah, Israel,
Jerusalem, Rome, and the World. The same sort of language
used in Matthew 24 to describe a judgment against Jerusalem
in A.D. 70 is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe other
So what can we conclude about Revelation from Matthew
24? Only that we should be careful not to automatically
assume that language of judgment must apply to the final
judgment of the world. It definitely does not in Matthew
24, and we may discover that it does not in Revelation.
One thing we can say for sure is that Revelation is a
book about Jesus. Some of the most wonderful titles and
images of the Messiah in all of Scripture are found in
- The faithful witness
- The first born of the dead
- The ruler of kings on earth
- The first and the last
- The living one
- The true one
- The one with the key of death
- The one with the key of David
- The lion of Judah
- The lamb that was slain
- The King of kings and Lord of lords
- The alpha and omega
- The bright morning star
Not only is this a book about Christ, but this is a book
about the church of Christ. The most beautiful descriptions
of the Lord’s church found anywhere in the Bible are found
in this book.
Does it Matter What We Believe About Revelation?
Revelation has permeated the popular culture. There are
many people who can’t name the four gospels yet who have
heard about 666.
Revelation forms the basis for virtually all of the
predictions by the end-is-near prophets. Many feel that the
Middle East and especially Israel will play a special role
in the end of the world.
Here is a list of book titles from the 1980’s and
1990’s: Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East, Iraq in
Prophecy, Holy War for the Promised Land, Prophecy 2000:
Rushing to Armageddon, The Rise of Babylon: Sign of the End
Times, Global Peace and the Rise of the Antichrist, The
Coming Russian Invasion of America, The New Millennium by
Pat Robertson, Road to Armageddon by Billy Graham, 88
Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988 and its much anticipated
(and unexpected!) sequel, The Final Shout: Rapture Report
1989, and The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey.
A simple Amazon search would turn up many more that are
available today. One that I purchased recently is entitled
Armageddon, Oil, and Terror, by John Walvoord, someone we
will have more to say about later. That book lists a series
of 12 catastrophic events that will supposedly take place
as the fulfillment of Revelation.
Walvoord writes: “The rapidly increasing tempo of change
in modern life has given the entire world a sense of
impending crisis. ... How long can world tensions be kept
in check? ... As alarming as these events are, they really
are not surprising in light of the Bible’s end-time
prophecies.” (pp. 4-5)
Let me read next from the introduction of a similar
book: “It is impossible for the most thoughtless to
overlook the impressive and almost unprecedented character
of the age in which we live. Events, as rapid in their
succession as they are startling in their magnitude, ...
chase each other like waves on the sea... .”
And where did that second quote come from? From another
modern end-is-near bestseller? No. It came from The Great
Tribulation, or Things Coming on the Earth by John Cumming,
which was published in 1863 in New York at the height of
the U.S. Civil War!
The first time I taught this class in 1990, we were at
war with Iraq—the site of ancient Babylon. Popular books at
that time told us that the locusts were smart bombs, and
Sadam Hussein was the antichrist.
The second time I taught Revelation was in the aftermath
of a war with Waco. David Koresh’s crazy ideas about the
seven seals in Revelation were broadcast by the national
media, who seemed to particularly enjoy an opportunity to
heap ridicule on the Bible.
Now, the third time I am teaching the book, we are once
again at war in Iraq. And once again, the books and the
preachers are shouting that the signs are clear that this
is the end.
Do we really believe that God’s word changes with the
headlines? Is that what we want the world to believe? These
modern day prophets of doom are doing great damage to God’s
Another example is premillennialism. As we will see,
that false doctrine involves much more than simply a 1000
year reign of Christ. The premillennialist doctrine has
consequences that run counter to the very heart of the
It matters what we believe about and what teach about
Do misconceptions about Revelation make any
Yes. In fact, misconceptions about the Jews and the end
of the world may have effected political decisions. Ronald
Reagan said “I sometimes believe we’re heading very fast
for Armageddon” and told People magazine in 1983 that
“theologians have been studying the ancient prophecies—what
would portend the coming of Armageddon—and have said that
never, in the time between the prophecies up until now, has
there ever been a time in which so many of the prophecies
are coming together. There have been times in the past when
people thought the end of the world was coming, but never
anything like this.” Will a president one day mistakenly
see himself as an instrument of God destined to make end
time prophecies come true?
What is the Time Frame of Revelation?
The time frame is vital to understanding any prophecy.
It helped us understand Matthew 24 a moment ago, and it
will help us understand Revelation.
Absent a time frame, we are left with what I call the
Nostradamus Effect. That is, we have vague statements with
no anchor in time that could apply to any of dozens of
events that have happened throughout history. If I told you
a king would arise, and he would be followed by another
king who would do this or that, and then by a third king
who would be evil, would you be surprised if it happened at
some point in the next 2000 years? But what if I told you
exactly when it would happen? And what if I told you that
600 years before the fact? Prophecies without timeframes
are usually not that impressive. For one reason, how can
they ever be proved wrong?
Fortunately, Revelation has a very clear time frame.
John says that the events dealt with in the book would
occur shortly after the book was written, and he tells us
that four times!
Revelation 1:1 (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which
God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which
must shortly come to pass)
Revelation 1:3 (Blessed is he that readeth, and they
that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things
which are written therein: for the time is at hand.)
Revelation 22:6 (And he said unto me, These sayings are
faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets
sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which
must shortly be done.)
Revelation 22:10 (And he saith unto me, Seal not the
sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at
The meaning of these passages would not be disputed in
any other context. In Revelation, however, the passages
conflict with men’s interpretation of the book and instead
of changing their interpretation many change the clear
meaning of these important verses.
Walvoord recognizes the proper meaning but ignores it.
Hinds inserts a word in order to have John say that his
writings concern events that were to shortly begin to come
to pass. Others say it means that the events in the book
would happen quickly. That, however, is not what John
The timeframe in Revelation 22:10 is particularly
instructive. In that verse, John was told to “seal not the
sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at
hand.” Daniel received a vision in 550 B.C. (described in
Daniel 8) that was fulfilled 400 years later in 165 B.C.
when the sanctuary was restored after the desecration by
Antiochus Epiphanes. In Daniel 8:26, Daniel was told to
shut up the vision because its fulfillment was a long way
off. In Revelation 22:10 John is told just the opposite —
Don’t seal up the vision because the time for its
fulfillment is at hand. By what theory do we argue that the
“long way off” in Daniel is 400 years, while the “time at
hand” in Revelation is 2000 years and counting? Does that
make any sense?
What about 2 Peter 3:8 where we see that to God 1000
years appears as 1 day? Time does not mean the same thing
to God as it means to man yet in Revelation 1:1, 3 God is
not talking to himself — God is talking to man. Which time
frame do you think he would use? In Daniel 8 he said that
400 years were “many days.”
Many commentators ignore or try to explain away those
clearly stated timeframes. We will not do that in this
Why Should We Study Revelation?
The easy answer is that we should study Revelation for
the same reason we study any other book in the Bible. It is
the Word of God, and we should want to know everything
about it. But there are other reasons that apply
specifically to this book.
First, I would argue that few evangelistic tools are
better than a knowledge of Revelation. Just placing a
commentary on your desk at work can create an open door for
spreading the gospel.
Second, people out in the world are interested in
Revelation, and if we can answer their questions about this
book, they may trust us on other books. People are
interested in Revelation. their interest provides us with a
Historian Timothy P. Webber tells us that a resurgence
of interest in prophetic themes is one of the most
significant developments in American religion since World
War II. This fact, he says, is evidenced generally in the
rising flood of eschatological literature pouring forth
from the so-called “Christian” publishers.
One of the most widely distributed books of the present
era is Hal Lindsey’s multi-million selling The Late Great
Planet Earth. It has been translated into no fewer than 31
languages and circulated in more than 50 nations. It was
Lindsey’s book that caused Newsweek magazine to report that
in America there is a “boom in doom”!
There is a widespread popular interest in Revelation
today. Unfortunately, most of the interest in Revelation
seems based on a radical misunderstanding of the nature and
purpose of the book.
A third reason to study Revelation is that it is
incredibly interesting. If you enjoy Bible studies that
cause you to search for clues all throughout the Bible then
you will love Revelation. If you enjoy the study of
history, and particularly the history of Rome, then you
will love Revelation.
A fourth reason to study Revelation is that the book is
incredibly beautiful and dramatic.
Some today think we need to add drama to the gospel by
presenting dramatic plays in the worship service or by
adding dramatic music to cassettes of the scriptures. The
Bible is already dramatic! It does not need any help from
us. How exactly does man increase the drama of a story that
involves the incarnation, death, resurrection, and
ascension of deity? Simply reading the book of Revelation
from the pulpit would provide more drama than any play that
man could ever write.
This book contains images that outdo much of what we
find in the movies: Blood and horror? In Revelation 14:20
we read of a river of blood 200 miles long that comes up to
a horse’s bridle. Fierce creatures? How about seven headed
beasts and dragons? Success of an underdog? How about the
church versus the greatest political and military power the
world had ever known? Happy ending? How about the church
Who Wrote Revelation?
This one is easy. Revelation 1:1-2 tells us that the
author was John, who bare record of the word of God and of
the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things things
that he saw. That could be no other than the Apostle
Some commentaries begin by doubting the truthfulness of
that claim of authorship in the first two verses of the
book. It makes me wonder why they bother to read any
When Was Revelation Written?
We are going to deal with this question at length when
we get to Revelation 17, but since that will be months from
now I will briefly discuss it here in the introduction.
Augustus was the first emperor of Rome. (Some argue that
Julius Caesar was the first emperor, but we will deal with
that objection later in our studies.) Following Augustus
were Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. After Nero,
there was a period of civil war in which four emperors came
to power in the span of about a year. The first three of
those four (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) reigned for only a
short time before they were killed. The fourth was
Vespasian, who was followed by his son Titus, and then by
his other son Domitian.
The key verse in dating Revelation is 17:10-11, where
John discusses 8 kings, and tells us that one is, one will
come and continue only a short time, and then the eighth
will come. If we can determine the one that “is” then we
will know when the book was written.
The first problem is that I listed 11 emperors and John
mentions only 8. I believe the explanation to that problem
is that John ignores the three who came and went during the
Civil Wars. (Daniel 7, by contrast, mentions them but says
they were plucked up.) If we omit those three, then number
8 is Domitian. Counting back one, we reach Titus, who did
reign only a short time as we read in 17:10-11. Counting
back one more, we reach Vespasian, who then must be the
king who “is.” Thus, I will argue that Revelation was
written during the reign of Vespasian, although it likely
was not circulated until some time later when John’s exile
But there is external evidence from shortly after the
time that tells us John was banished by Domitian and
restored by Nerva. How can that fit in with our proposed
date for the book during the reign of Vespasian?
In December of 69, Vespasian was acclaimed emperor, but
for the first half of 70, he was occupied in Alexandria,
while his elder son Titus was engaged upon the siege of
Jerusalem. His younger son Domitian, the sole
representative of the family in Rome, accepted the name of
Caesar and imperial residence and was invested with full
consular authority, his name being placed at the head of
all dispatches and edicts. As Josephus tells us, Domitian
was ruler until his father showed up, and for over 6 months
with the backing of the army that is what happened.
It was perhaps during this time that John was exiled to
Patmos. That would have been in early AD 70. In June,
Domitian left Rome, and shortly thereafter Vespasian
arrived. In the following year he took as his colleague in
the consularship, Nerva, a lawyer and a future emperor.
Nerva held office in AD 71, and perhaps at that time he
revoked the sentence that had exiled John to Patmos, which
would mean that John's exile would have lasted almost
exactly one year.
So John could have been banished by Domitian and
restored by Nerva, as the tradition tells us, but in AD
70-71 rather than later when Domitian became emperor and
later still when Nerva took his place.
Why Was Revelation Written?
In studying any book, one should always begin with same
question: Why was the book written? What was its initial
A short answer to this question is that the book of
Revelation was written to provide comfort and encouragement
to the people of God. The book was written to convince the
church that God had not abandoned them.
If I had to point to a theme from the book itself, I
would point to two verses:
Revelation 6:10 They cried out with a loud voice, ‘’O
Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt
judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the
Revelation 17:14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the
Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of
kings, and those with him are called and chosen and
We will have much more to say later about the theme of
the book and its initial audience, but one thing we can say
now is that we should be very wary of any view that makes
us the focus of this book! This book was written to
Christians suffering under Roman persecution, and any
interpretation that ignores that suffering is a fatally
God was not comforting persecuted first century
Christians by telling them about some great battle that
would happen 2000 years later! The focus of the problem was
first century Roman persecution, and the focus of
Revelation is first century Rome.