by Rev. David A. Moffat

The book of Revelation is one of the most mysterious of all the Biblical books, and quite frankly, the multitude of scholars and interpreters who clamour to have their interpretations heard by the wider world often only succeed in confusing the mind of the sincere reader. It is also one of the most widely abused books of the Bible – it figures prominently in some churches attempts to scare their audience into a faith purported to save them from the horrors described in the book. Beware!

Historical Context

The book is thought to have been written by the Apostle John, around the end of the first century AD. Certainly, we can establish a few facts in the first chapter: the author, called John, is an influential figure in the early Christian Churches of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), and he is writing from the island of Patmos. By implication, he is not there by choice, but has been imprisoned by the authorities of the day because of his religious beliefs (see verse 9 of the first chapter). It is believed that John is there under the oppression by the emperor Domitian, whose favoured method was that of removing the leaders before striking the flock. John’s aim, then, is to offer hope and encourage adherence to the faith despite the attack upon it by the hostile authorities.

Revelation shares some characteristics with other books of the Bible – most particularly the book of Daniel. These two are often associated together, thanks to the the strange, often horrifying contents of the visions they describe. Both speak in clearly coded, symbolic terms. Both paint pictures of cosmic battles between good and evil. Both predict disasters of various kinds. Both have emerged out of times in which their respective audiences were undergoing some form of religious persecution.


The book is essentially a continuous series of fantastic visions, including:

One like the Son of Man – The Lord Jesus Christ. (Chapter 1)
The throne in heaven, including visions of a scroll, the Lamb who was slain, four beasts, 24 elders, 144,000 sealed from humanity, and a great multitude (Chapters 4, 5, 7, 8, 14, & 19)
Seven seals, including the four horsemen (Chapters 6 & 8)
Seven trumpets (Chapters 8 & 9)
The woman clothed with the sun and the dragon (Chapter 12)
The beasts out of the sea and the earth (Chapter 13)
Seven plagues or bowls (Chapters 15 & 16)
The woman Babylon (Chapters 17 & 18)
The rider on the white horse (Chapter 19)
The victory (Chapter 20)
The New Jerusalem (Chapter 21 & 22)

The other major body of material contained within the book are the letters to the seven churches, found in chapters 2 & 3.

Theme – Hope

Nowadays, the book of Revelation, is most closely associated with another term – Armageddon. The end of the world as we know it. We think of the book as foretelling terrible events. As I said above, it is common for some churches to play on that fear, and in so doing confirming that perception. However, on closer inspection, it is quite clear that the book’s purpose is quite the opposite – to instil a sense of HOPE! John wrote to a people already in the throes of persecution. They didn’t need it predicted. But they did need assurances that the faith was worth maintaining, that those who died did not do so in vain.

This hope is one of the messages we need to hear too. Every one of us goes through turmoil of one kind or another. We don’t need literal earthquakes, wars, famine or disease to experience suffering. But what we need in suffering is to know that there is an end, that there is a purpose to it all. Once we gain this knowledge, we are often able to find the strength to endure more than we might have imagined ourselves capable of. Without it, it become all to easy to give up, or look for the easy way out. Take any matter of conscience, for example. Sometimes we hold a particular principle of behaviour as important or precious. But when we suffer some hardship our minds can more easily lay it aside, or even deny it, if doing so releases us from that particular difficulty. In order to maintain our stance, we need to know that our efforts are not meaningless, and that there is hope and strength outside of ourselves to draw upon. We need to know that despite the short term attraction of giving up, there is something greater and far more important which is worth waiting for. This is a type of Revelation experience.

Theme – Revealed Truth

One of the ideas which is often missed in interpreting the book is contained within the title itself – ‘Revelation’. It is the very first word of the book. It may also be rendered ‘Apocalypse’, which is very close to the Greek word it translates – it means the same as ‘revelation’. In reality the word means ‘to uncover’. Both these titles have been distorted to something similar to ‘Armageddon’. Revelation ‘uncovers’ the will of God for mankind. This happens a number of ways.

[1] An uncovering of Christ Himself.

Prominent among all the visions, are those which involve Jesus Christ. I would draw your attention to chapters 1, 6 & 19. Chapter one introduces the whole book, and shows us its overall purpose. But this vision also sets the events of the book in motion. This is because the presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts acts as a light which shines into the darkest corners of our lives, bringing out the negative tendencies which we deny to ourselves and others. These tendencies seek to destroy what is good, and hold us in a wholly negative state. We see this in action as we read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life in the world. Evil cannot tolerate goodness, and denies the truth. So if it can, it will seek to destroy the source of that goodness and truth – God Himself.

The twisting of truth can be seen in the horsemen of the apocalypse, described in chapter 6. Each one represents a descending step in people’s understanding of Jesus Christ.

The rider on the white horse, is the closest to the reality (compare each of the four to the vision in chapter 19), and describes the Christ who rules the hearts of sincere Christians, those who have granted Him victory over the evil which often over runs all our lives.

The red rider is the angry, aggressive Christ of those who seeks to force their own perception and understanding of truth upon others, all the while intent upon destroying those who don’t share that understanding.

The black rider is Christ understood as a good man whose teachings were wise, but who has no spiritual substance to his being. He has lost the spiritual reality of the one true God. Therefore, his followers also lose the ability to understand the Bible spiritually, seeing it as a purely historical record, and an inaccurate one at that.

The rider on the pale horse [actually, it is the light green of young grass which is described here – a most unnatural colour] speaks of the actual death of Christ to many people in today’s world.

Then, in chapter 19 we meet Christ as he really is, with a clarity which is lacking in the previous descriptions. Can you see how each rider in chapter represents Christ made in our own image, according to our finite perception and understanding? We follow the Christ we believe in, and that Christ dictates our actions.

[2] An uncovering of the state of mankind.

Intimately connected with that revelation of God, is an uncovering of our own states of goodness and evil. The two are inextricably linked. This is how ‘judgement’ works. Not that we stand before a Divinely-appointed court, but that God is revealed to us, and at the same time, our own inner character is revealed for all to see. This will be a painful process for those parts which we keep well hidden, a relief for those parts we long to disclose.

[3] An uncovering of the future.

But what is that future? Certainly, it culminates in the final two chapters. Mankind as we were intended to be. It will be a time when God is understood more fully, and when mankind can live in peace. The question is whether the various visions of Revelation foreshadow natural events. As I said before, I don’t think we need the physical misery described here to experience the Revelation states. They are already a part of our reality. Of course, some of these events may literally come about. We’ve already seen worldwide events which have caused great suffering, and we’re already anticipating worse to come (as I write, the world waits for the third in the series of modern catastrophes: 11th September 2001, 12th October 2002, 13th November 2003). But my message is that we’re not awaiting some worldwide calamity to take place, a point in time when we’ll be able to say, ‘Ah, see, it said this would happen in Revelation’. Revelation is part of our reality now, part of our spiritual journey, whether we are affected by natural events or not. And the ultimate fulfilment of that reality will be when we come into a greater understanding of all of life as it really is – an event which awaits all of us after death.