We are sure that everyone has asked the question as to why the book of Revelation is a part of the New Testament canon of Scriptures. The answer to the question is somewhat simple, but maybe needs to be occasionally reconsidered, especially when people lose hope during chaotic times.
Revelation has for many been considered an anomaly in reference to the other books of the New Testament. And indeed it is in reference to how it is written. However, when considering the fact that God would not continually send prophets among His people as He did throughout the history of Israel, He knew that His people needed encouragement in times of extreme social chaos and war. So instead of sending a prophet as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or Ezekiel to remind His people to remain faithful and not lose hope, He had the Holy Spirit write one book of encouragement for Christians that would stay with them until the final coming of King Jesus and the end of all things.
God subsequently commissioned the Spirit that one apocalyptic message be written with cryptic symbols that would be a message of continual encouragement for Christians until the final coming of His Son. This one book—Revelation—would remind Christians that as long as they remained faithful to the victorious King Jesus, everything would turn out for good in the end. They too, as those first recipients to whom the book was written, would join in Jesus’ victory over death.
The Old Testament faithfuls had the privilege—if indeed we would use the word “privilege”—of having inspired prophets to remind the people in the midst of kingdom conflicts that their King in heaven was still in charge of all things. They could personally receive the encouragement of the prophets if they had the privilege of being within hearing distance of the prophets’ messages.
Christians today, however, have something that is far better than the occasional prophet who might pass through the village. Every evening the Christian today can sit down in his or her living room, and in the midst of social turmoil and war, be within reading distance of the same message of encouragement that the Old Testament faithfuls received only if they had the opportunity of being within hearing distance of a prophet. The Christian’s blessing over the Old Testament faithfuls, therefore, is tremendous. While bombs may be exploding around us, we can read in the book of Revelation that King Jesus is still “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tm 6:15).
God the Father “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come” (Ep 1:20,21). The kingly function of the resurrected Son of God is sprinkled throughout the New Testament letters. But it is revealed in visionary pictures throughout the book of Revelation.
So why would we have a written visionary picture of our King in action at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places? If we take time to think about this for a moment, the answer is quite obvious. Throughout the epistles the fact that King Jesus ascended to reign with all authority is stated as a matter of fact. But in the book of Revelation the Holy Spirit wanted to give the people of God, until the final coming of the King, something on which they could rely for hope in the midst of tremendous social or political conflict, especially in times of war.
Throughout the centuries, Christians would not read Revelation as if its prophecies were taking place in their present time of social chaos. On the contrary, they would read with hope, knowing that those first Christians to whom the message of the book was originally written, personally survived the fulfillment of the conflicts that were prophesied to take place in their century.
In order for the Holy Spirit to give the people of God for all time a document of encouragement, He needed to use an in-time example of deliverance from hostile forces that had set themselves against the people of God in the historical context when Revelation was written. Or, if the hardships were not direct upon Christians, the Holy Spirit needed to give hope to the people of God who had to suffer indirectly from hostilities that may be occurring around them. The message of Revelation, therefore, is that we, regardless of any present hostilities that may affect us, will survive as did the early Christians who suffered through the hostilities that are recorded in the visions of Revelation. And since those Christians survived, we too, will be survivors.
Regardless of whether direct or indirect, the Holy Spirit wanted to use some early historical conflict as an example through which the people of God prevailed with their faith, regardless of the political and social conflicts in which they had to live until King Jesus finally came in the end to end all worldly confusion. Therefore, the Spirit recorded an example of an in-time victory of the saints who lived in the midst of persecution or war in order to give Christians for at least two thousand years, a reminder that they too in any century will likewise pass through any social turmoil of the times. Regardless of where they would be in the world in a time of war or social chaos, those Christians who maintained their faith and hope in King Jesus, would be survivors, whether in death, or in actually surviving some social turmoil.
Throughout Revelation, therefore, the Spirit constantly reminded the original readers, as well as Christian readers from the time the book was originally inscribed by John, that times of turmoil would pass, but the body of Christ would survive. This message is sprinkled throughout the New Testament, but consummated in the book of Revelation. Notice in the midst of the book of Revelation the consummation of this message of encouragement: “… from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rv 1:5). He “made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rv 1:6). “All the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Amen” (Rv 1:7). “I [King Jesus] am the Alpha and the Omega … the Almighty” (Rv 1:8). “Do not fear. I [King Jesus] am the first and the last. I am He who lives. And I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Rv 1:17,18). “The living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever” (Rv 4:9). “You [King Jesus] are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and because of Your will they were created and have their existence” (Rv 4:11). “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever” (Rv 5:13).
To add to John’s redundancy on this theme throughout Revelation, consider the theme verse of the entire book: These will make war with the Lamb and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rv 17:14).
The theme of the book is obvious. The Holy Spirit needed an in-time example of the faithful overcoming those earthly powers who ignored the kingship of Jesus, and thus assaulted Christians directly. He needed a historical message of victory for those who would have to endure wars between earthly states from which they, too, would indirectly suffer hardship until the final coming of King Jesus.
There are two possible in-time conflicts through which the original recipients of Revelation had to remain faithful in the first and second centuries. The reader can make his choice as to which conflict John referred directly, whether Jewish or Roman persecution. But we must be very clear on one point here in making a choice concerning what modern-day self-appointed false prophets have harped for years concerning their twisted interpretation of the book of Revelation. These “theologians” have assumed that the book of Revelation was a prophecy of events that would transpire at the end of time. By twisting the prophecies of Revelation to make them refer specifically to present events, they have stolen the message of Revelation from the original recipients to whom John wrote.
Such “prophetic thieves” have likewise stolen a message of hope in Revelation from centuries of faithful Christians who needed a Spirit-inspired historical record of faithfulness during persecution. But modern-day prophets have stolen away the purpose of Revelation from being an encouraging message to those who had to endure the traumatic experience of social chaos and war when Revelation was first written. For this reason, a great number of discouraged Christians today have simply stayed away from reading the book, even though they are in the midst of great suffering.
Christians throughout the centuries have endured many of the same hardships that the early recipients of Revelation suffered. Christians throughout the years have endured by reading a Book of encouragement that was written in the first century who suffered and survived great social turmoil. We today have been encouraged by the examples of faithfulness of those early Christians who were suffering in the first century when the book of Revelation was first written.
Unfortunately, too many modern-day prognosticators have accused the Holy Spirit of missing the date for the fulfillment of the encouraging prophecies of Revelation by almost two thousand years. When John wrote that the prophecies of the book would shortly come to pass, modern-day prophets assume that “shortly come to pass” means at least two thousand years (See Rv 1:1; 22:6).
The early Christians suffered dismay and death as they struggled through persecution. They did so in hope of deliverance in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem. The modern-day prognosticators have likewise accused the Holy Spirit of missing the time for an encouraging prophetic message that was written to those who initially experienced—even being fed to lions in the Roman Coliseum—of the Roman Empire. This persecution was not terminated until the rise of Caesar Constantine and his signing of the Edit of Toleration in A.D. 311. But at the time, the persecuted needed to know that the Holy Spirit had not gone wrong in reference to the fulfillment of the encouraging message of Revelation that God would bring vengeance on their persecutors in their time.
Modern-day prophetic speculators should be concerned about their stealing an encouraging message of hope away from every Christian who has lived in the last two thousand years. Thousands of first century Christians personally endured harsh persecution from Jewish persecutors, and later the Roman state psychopaths who sought to produce entertainment in the Roman Coliseum by throwing Christians to starved lions. By faith these persecuted Christians remained faithful unto death because they believed that King Jesus was King of kings and Lord of Lords (See Rv 2:10). The twisting of these precious words of encouragement for Christians since that first disciple was thrown to a salivating lion will certainly lead to destruction of those who misapply the prophecies of the book of Revelation (2 Tm 4:3,4; 2 Pt 3:16).
As stated previously, we read the book of Revelation to receive hope from the example of the faithful. We do not read the book with fear of some impending prophecy of dread that is about to come upon us in our time. We read the book and glean great encouragement in the fact that since God took the early Christians through great turmoil, He will likewise do the same for us.
Now the in-time chaos through which the early Christians would be victorious could be either the destruction of the Jewish state that ended in A.D. 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem, or the termination of Roman state persecution that ended the first of the fourth century with Contantine’s signing of the Edict of Toleration. If the “beast” and “false prophet” of Revelation refer to the finalization of the Jewish state, then John would have received the prophetic visions before A.D. 70. If the “beast” and “false prophet” refer to the Roman state and state religion, then John could have received and written the prophetic visions before A.D. 97/98 when it is believed that he was eventually martyred by Roman.
Regardless of the immediate historical enemy of those to whom the book was written, the Spirit wanted the book to be written as a prophetic history book for all Christians who lived thereafter. The message of the book was prophetic to the immediate recipients, but now it is a history book of encouragement for every Christian since the prophecies of the book were fulfilled in the first and second centuries. As a history book of conquests, the message of the book is thus quite clear. As our Savior overcame, we too will be victorious in the midst of any social chaos or war in which we might presently be engulfed. As the early Christians overcame when the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled, we have an example of their victory that we too can overcome.
While the reader makes up his or her mind concerning the date when John received the visions, and when he wrote the book, one must not miss the point of why the book of Revelation is in our New Testament. When considering the theme of the book—the victory of the saints because of the victory of King Jesus—we come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit wanted to record for posterity an example of Christians overcoming any social chaos and persecution in which they would find themselves until the final coming of Jesus.
If we steal the fulfillment of John’s prophetic visions away from the early Christians who first received the book of Revelation, then we have stolen more than words away from two thousand years of Christians who have read the book in order to receive hope in times of turmoil. We have stolen away from the New Testament a living testimony of Christians who endured far greater hardships than most Christians have endured since then.