Rule 7

The letters and Revelation of John warn of false teaching and pagan persecution.

Near the end of the New Testament, after the letters attributed to James and Peter, there are three letters of John and then the "Revelation to John," which is generally known simply as "Revelation." Near the end of the second century Eusebius suggested in his history of the church that the first letter had been written by the author of the fourth gospel but that the second two letters were written by other Christians from this particular teaching tradition. Similarities, however, in 1 and 2 John are evidence of a single author (in the New Testament only these letters warn of "antichrists"), and it seems likely that other Christians in this teaching tradition wrote 3 John and Revelation.

The three letters of John address concerns that may be distinguished from the gospel of John, which asserts among divided Greek-speaking Jews that Jesus has fulfilled scripture as the eternal Word of God made flesh. The letters attributed to John address a conflict among Christians over the proper teaching tradition within the church. 1 and 2 John oppose the position of former members of the church, who have separated themselves and are no longer worshipping Jesus as the Son of God, who was incarnated "in the flesh." (1 Jn. 2:19, 4:1; 2 Jn. 7) 3 John criticizes a Christian leader, who has rejected the authority of the elder writing the letter and expelled his emissaries from the church. (3 Jn. 9-10)

Revelation, like the second half of Daniel (chapters 7-12) in the Old Testament, is "apocalyptic" literature, and thus is also known as the "Apocalypse." The word is derived from a Greek term meaning "disclosure," but in the church it means as well a style of writing that draws heavily on images from the Jewish scriptures to portray dramatically the consummation of all that God has promised. More than two-thirds of the verses in Revelation include one or more allusions to passages in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible and the scriptures of Greek-speaking Jews and Christians in the first few centuries of the church. For its author, and also for the church that placed this book at the end of the New Testament, Revelation is the last episode in the story of God that began with Genesis.

Apocalyptic literature often refers to secret books that are revealed to the writer but kept secret until the end of time. Also, apocalyptic literature is commonly written under a pseudonym, perhaps to honoring a tradition of teaching as well as to protect the author. Revelation seems to share both conventions. The author is commanded not to seal up "the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near." (Rev. 22:10) Moreover, Revelation begins by affirming that its "revelation of Jesus Christ" has come from an angel to John, who is the servant of God. (Rev. 1:1) It is "John [who writes] to the seven churches that are in Asia." (Rev. 1:4) And, the book concludes: "I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things." (Rev. 22:8)

Despite these references to the identity of the author, there is no specific link made with the disciple and apostle, John, the brother of James and the son of Zebedee, who is the companion of Peter in leading the church in the first eight chapters of Acts. Nor does Revelation refer to "the disciple whom Jesus loved," which is identifying language for the author of the gospel of John. The last reference to the apostle, John, in Acts concerns the death of his brother, James, at the hands of King Herod. (Acts 12:2) Thereafter, Acts refers only to the John whose other name was Mark. Because Revelation concerns Roman persecution, it was probably written after the death of John, the disciple and apostle, perhaps during the reign of Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) when subjects were first required to address the Emperor as "Lord and God" and to worship his image.

Much has been written about the symbolism in the Revelation to John, and in this regard the history of the church reveals more disagreement than unanimity. The use of mysterious figures and extraordinary metaphors would have made it more difficult for imperial police to see that this book was a call to resist pagan idolatry, and surely this is a reason for its apocalyptic form. Revelation proclaims a powerful, if hidden, message that Jesus Christ will triumph over the pagan idols of the Roman Empire. Whatever else it may mean, Revelation witnesses to an enduring hope in the God whose will is known throughout the Jewish scriptures and whose word is fulfilled in the death, resurrection and coming return of Jesus Christ.

To read more about the letters of John.

To read more about the Revelation to John. © Robert Traer 2016