Mention the book of Revelation, and you’ll receive a spectrum of responses. Some will be intrigued, others fascinated, some perplexed, others hesitant, some nervous, others afraid. Toss around a mention of the number 666 or the beast, and some will wince while others grow wide-eyed.
Revelation falls into a genre known as apocalyptic literature. The Greek for apocalypse means “revelation” or “the unveiling of things not previously known.” Just as you wouldn’t pick up an electronics manual and read it like a novel or open a cookbook and read it like a history book, Revelation has its own style. While genres like the Psalms, the Gospels, and epistles are much more instructive and straightforward, Revelation draws on layers of symbols, unusual visions, and strange imagery to give glimpses into the heavenly realm and the future.
John writes to the seven churches in Asia. In modern terms, this would be like sending a group text or email. Even though the churches are called out specifically (Revelation 2–3), everyone is reading the same content, learning from each other, and being called Christward.
With each passing page, we must resist the temptation to overemphasize or become dogmatic about interpretations or debatable topics that draw us away from what, or rather who, this book is all about: this is a revelation of Jesus Christ.
We must also practice generous grace toward those who read and interpret passages differently than us. Some read Revelation from a futurist perspective, seeing most of the chapters as being about what’s to come. Others read from a historicist view, noting that much of the book focuses on what has happened over the centuries, and only a pinch is of what’s still to come. Others take a preterist outlook, viewing much of what’s described as happening only during the time John lived. Still others take an idealist method of interpretation, believing the teachings aren’t tied to specific events but rather describe the ongoing battle between good and evil found in every age.
Regardless of your perspective, remember that followers of Jesus have hotly debated this book for thousands of years and will likely continue until Christ’s return. Your goal isn’t to win an argument. Your goal is to be conformed to the image of Jesus and discover the extravagant hope he has for you—in the past, in the present, and in the future.