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After a prologue, the book comprises two main parts. The first (chaps. 2 - 3) contains letters to the seven churches of Asia, warning them against false teachers and offering encouragement. The rest consists of a series of visions, replete with allegories, numbers and other symbols, and a strong eschatological message. These features are characteristic of the apocalyptic writing then in vogue.
Interpretation of the Book of Revelation has been a source of much controversy. Some have held that it had a message only for the 1st century world. Others maintain that the book is a prophecy to be fulfilled totally in the future (see Millenarianism). Undoubtedly, John spoke to the situation of his day. The letters to the seven churches indicate a situation of crisis, probably brought on by Roman persecutions of the Christians. From his understanding of the revelation of God for his day, he painted a vision of God's final triumph over evil that has sustained many Christians in later eras.
In the Book of Revelation, John is interpreting the significance of the cross and resurrection for the future, be it near or distant. He declares their meaning for time and history until the end. God is on his throne (chap. 4); Christ has won the victory (chap. 5); God is at work in the midst of apparent chaos (seals, trumpets, and bowls). The true victors are those called out in Christ from every tongue, nation, and people (chaps. 5, 20). Although God's work in history has been hidden except to eyes of faith, the final stanza will reveal that all history has truly been his story (chaps. 17, 20). The victory won in history by the cross will be displayed in history by the return, and God will ultimately be revealed as all in all (chaps. 21, 22).
W J Abraham, Divine Revelation and the Limits of Historical Criticism (1982); J Baillie, The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought (1956); J W Bowman, The First Christian Drama: The Book of Revelation (1968); E Brunner, Revelation and Reason (1984); A Dulles, Models of Revelation (1983); J Ellul, Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation (1977); W J Harrington, The Apocalypse of St. John: A Commentary (1969); W G Heidt, The Book of the Apocalypse (1962); G Moran, Theology of Revelation (1966); R Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation (1967).
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