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Who Wrote the Revelation of Jesus Christ?

In seminary, if we misspelled the name of a book of the Bible in a paper or on a test, our grade was lowered by one letter. Doom befell the person who wrote “Galations” instead of “Galatians” or “Revelations” instead of “Revelation”! Yes, you read that right. “RevelationS” with an S is incorrect. Look at the first two words in Revelation 1:1 and see.

Revelation begins with a series of seven short epistles, written in an apocalyptic style. The main body is in the literary form of an apocalypse, a genre that is not well represented in the Bible. You’ll find apocalyptic passages in Daniel and Zechariah, as well as other secular and religious documents from ancient times. An apocalypse addresses an audience that faces great adversity and reassures them that they will prevail. It exaggerates the ferocity of their adversaries, the difficulty of their struggles, and the importance of their victory.

You can think of an apocalypse as the ancient equivalent of a disaster movie, which depicts a valiant struggle against an earthquake, flood, epidemic, asteroid, or alien invasion, but it takes on global proportions, and the very existence of the human race is at stake. The message of an apocalypse (or a modern disaster movie) is “Yes, it’s going to be very bad, everything is at stake, the world might even end, but no matter what, the hero will save us and we will win.”

Revelation is an apocalypse that fits the conditions that were prevalent during Nero’s empire-wide persecution in about AD 95, which puts it toward the end of the Apostle John’s life. It describes the persecution in exaggerated, metaphorical ways. Ordinary things in a church, such as the Communion service or the book containing the list of the catechumens, take on cosmic importance. The overall theme of the book is “we will go through extreme difficulties, and just as it seems that all is lost, our ultimate victory will come,” or, “Jesus always wins!”

The end of the world, the extinction of the human race, or the end of all that is good and true hangs ominously over every apocalypse and disaster movie, but it’s not supposed to encourage the readers to fight, or to discourage them into resignation, it’s supposed to rally them to endure.

The Polity of the Ancient Church

Bear with me, you have to know this to follow the discussion. The word “polity” means “organizational strutcure.” The ancient church‘s polity had three orders of ministry:

The genuine epistles of Ignatius, which he wrote at about the same time as the Revelation, describe this system. All of the churches on his route from Antioch to Rome had this polity.

Today, churches generally have the same polity as the ancient church, but with different terminology. Clergy who function as priests might be called ministers, preachers, elders, or presbyters. Clergy who function as bishops might be called superintendents or regional ministers, and the biblical terms elder and deacon might be used for congregational leaders instead of clergy. There’s not much point in debating polity, because it’s mainly an argument about words.

Okay, now to the point. Who wrote the Revelation?

If you write an academic paper demonstrating that Paul wrote Galatians, you’ll hear crickets in the night. However, if you write an academic paper that Teddy Roosevelt wrote Galatians, the press will gather at your door. Writing an essay to demonstrate that the Apostle John wrote Revelation guarantees me obscurity. Here come the crickets, get ready for a nap:

The key to the authorship of Revelation is in the letters to the seven churches. Letters have senders and recipients, and couriers to take them from one to the other. We know who the recipients were. If we can identify the sender, we can identify the author.

The Apostle John wrote the Revelation

Taking the Roman road system into account, if you visit the cities in the same order as the letters appear in Revelation, you would travel in a loop starting from Patmos.

The Apostle John could receive visitors while he was in prison, but since he could not leave, he sent a courier to take the revelation to his churches. Because he was writing by hand, it took conscious effort to put the letters to the churches in geographical order, probably to help the courier remember his route. Each letter begins with a metaphorical description of the city as seen by an arriving traveler. For example, when travelers arrived in Pergamum’s harbor, they saw a steep mountain with terraces. At the top, there was a pagan temple dedicated to Imperial cult on a rocky ledge that looked like a throne—and was even called a throne by the locals. Using “Satan” as a code word for Caesar, Pergamum really was located at Satan’s throne. Laodicea had lukewarm sulfur springs. The water was too cool to use as a spa and tasted too bad to drink; the only thing you could do with that water was spit it out of your mouth. The descriptions served a dual purpose. They not only helped the courier recognize the city, they were part of the message.

The recurring theme in Revelation is Jesus slain, yet alive; defeated, yet conquering. Since the Apostle John wrote it, the whole book could be taken, not just as an apocalypse conveying a message of comfort and exhortation in extreme times, but as an expression of vindicated grief. For John, alone and desolate on Patmos, the Last Supper could have been the last “normal” moment in his life. He was the last living member of the Twelve, the others were gone. There was a hideous persecution, and the churches were falling into heresy. He had a vision of Jesus vindicated and victorious, of an end to persecution, and of an infinite number of Christians. Who, but the Aspotle John, would write that?

To me, at least, the evidence is overwhelming that John the Apostle was the author of Revelation. Of course, that’s just my opinion, mind you. After all that work, I hope it’s yours, too.

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