An icon of Saint John the Divine in the cave on Patmos listening to the voice that tells him to write
The Book of Revelation is also known as the Revelation to John, the Apocalypse of John (Greek, Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου), or the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The title on some of the earliest manuscripts is “The Apocalypse of John” (Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰωάννου), and the most common title on later manuscripts is “The Apocalypse of the Theologian” (Ἀποκάλυψις τοῦ Θεολόγου). Some later manuscripts add Evangelist or Apostle to the title.
The Greek word apocalypse literally means “unveiling” but in English it is often translated as revelation. The first words of the book are effectively self-titled: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”
This is the last book of the New Testament, and the only New Testament book that is wholly composed of apocalyptic literature. It is a fitting close to the New Testament, and to the whole Bible, for it depicts the consummation towards which the whole Biblical message of redemption is focussed.
This book has been described as “an inspired picture-book,” it draws on magnificent poetic imagery, and it makes a powerful appeal to imaginations of its readers.
The images of the seven churches, the seven lampstands, the seven seals and the seven trumpets, the sharp two-edged sword, the four horsemen, the 144,000, the Archangel Michael, the Great Tribulation, Armageddon, the Antichrist, the Hideous Beast whose number is 666, the Rapture, the Second Coming, the Day of Judgement, the Heavenly City and Tree of Life are embedded – if not fully understood – in popular culture and imagination. Indeed, the poet laureate, Andrew Motion, under a heading “Book of Revelation,” called in The Guardian yesterday (17 February 2009) for a greater emphasis on teaching the Bible in schools so pupils and students would have a better foundation for cultural studies.
Some say it predicts global warming, AIDS and even the Chernobyl nuclear disaster or a coming destruction of the earth. But Biblical scholars have different – indeed a variety of different – interpretations of this Book, which over has inspired countless artists, poets, creative writers and intellectuals.
After a short introduction (1: 1-10), the book presents a brief account of the author.
The first vision (1: 11 to 3: 22) – related by “one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest,” speaking with “a loud voice like a trumpet” – is addressed to the Seven Churches of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna (Izmir), Pergamos (Pergamon), Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (1: 4, 11). Today, the sites of all these early churches are in modern western Turkey.
The second set of visions, which makes up the rest of the book (chapter 4-22), begins with “a door … opened in the sky” and describes what some might call the end of the world – or more properly, the end of the age, in which Satan’s rule through humanity is destroyed by the Messiah.
The events that are foreseen include:
● the Great Tribulation,
● the Campaign of Armageddon,
● the Second Coming of the Messiah with the restoration of peace to the world and his 1,000-year reign,
● the imprisonment of Satan (portrayed as a dragon) until he is “loosed” for the final rebellion, God’s final judgment over Satan,
● the judgment from the Great White throne,
● the ushering in of the New Heaven and New Earth.
The structure of the Book of Revelation:
The Book of Revelation is involves a series of parallel, ever-progressing sections. In a climatic form, these bring before the reader, over and over again, the struggle of the Church and its victory over its enemies in God’s providence. The chapters of Revelation present a series of events, full of imagery, and metaphor, which detail the chronology of God’s judgment on the world.
The number seven is frequently as a symbol within the book, and Revelation is divided into seven cycles of events, although only five of these sections are clearly marked.
Stephen Smalley (The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse, pp 21-22) presents the following dramatic schema, which helps in reading Revelation:
The Drama: The Revelation to John
Prologue: The Oracle is Disclosed (1: 1-8)
Superscription: The Revelation to John (1: 1-3).
Salutation and Doxology (1: 4-8).
Act 1: Creation and Salvation through Judgement (1: 9 to 11: 19)
Scene 1: Seven Oracles (1: 9 to 3: 22)
Vision of the Son of Man (1: 9-18)
The Commission to Write (1: 19-20)
Letters to the Seven Churches (2: 1 to 3: 22)
Ephesus (2: 1-7)
Smyrna (2: 8-11)
Pergamum (2: 12-17)
Thyatira (2: 18-29)
Sardis (3: 1-6)
Philadelphia (3: 7-13)
Laodicea (3: 14-22)
Interval: Adoration in Heaven’s Court: God and His Christ (4: 1 to 5: 14)
Scene 2: Seven Seals (6: 1-17)
Seals 1-4: The Four Horsemen (6: 1-8)
Seal 5: The City of the Martyrs (6: 9-11)
Seal 6: The Great Earthquake (6: 12-17)
Interval: The Church Protected (7: 1-17)
Scene 3: Seven Trumpets (8: 1 to 9: 21)
Seal 7: Silence in Heaven (8: 1)
Prelude: Censing of the Saints (8: 2-6)
Trumpets 1-4: Portents of the End (8: 7-12)
The Eagle’s Warning (8: 13)
Trumpet 5 (First Woe): Locusts (9: 1-12)
Trumpet 6 (Second Woe): Fiendish Cavalry (9: 13-21)
Interval: God’s Sovereignty (10: 1 to 11: 19)
The Angel from Heaven (10: 1-11)
Measuring the Temple (11: 1-2)
The Two Witnesses (11: 3-14)
Trumpet 7 (Third Woe): Redemption through Conflict (11: 15-19)
Act 2: Salvation through Judgement, and New Creation (12: 1 to 22: 17)
Scene 4: Seven Signs (12: 1 to 14: 20)
Sign 1: The Woman (12: 1-2)
Sign 2: The Huge Dragon (12: 3-6)
Sign 3: War in Heaven (12: 7-9)
:: A Song of Praise in Heaven (12: 10-12)
Sign 4: War on Earth (12: 13-18)
Sign 5: The Beast from the Sea (13: 1-10)
Sign 6: The Beast from the Earth (13: 11-18)
:: A Vision of the Redeemed (14: 1-5)
Sign 7: Angelic Judgment (14: 6-20)
Interval: A New Exodus (15: 1-8)
Prologue (15: 1)
An Exodus Hymn (15: 2-4)
The Angelic Commission (15: 5-8)
Scene 5: Seven Bowls (16: 1-21)
Prelude: the Angelic Mission (16: 1)
Bowls 1-3: Natural Disasters of Judgment (16: 2-4)
Judgement Doxologies (16: 5-7)
Bowls 4-7: The Final Battle Heralded (16: 8-21)
Interval: The Fall of Babylon (17: 1 to 18: 24)
Introduction (17: 1-2)
Vision of the Woman and the Scarlet Beast (17: 3-6)
The Interpretation of the Vision (17: 7-18)
Lament over Babylon and a Call to Rejoice (18: 1-20)
Babylon Destroyed (18: 21-24)
Scene 6: Seven Visions (19: 1 to 20: 15)
Introduction: Rejoicing in Heaven (19: 1-5)
Vision 1: The Marriage Feast of the Lamb (19: 6-10)
Vision 2: The Warrior-Messiah (19: 11-16)
Vision 3: Antichrist Destroyed (19: 17-21)
Vision 4: Satan Bound (20: 1-3)
Vision 5: A Millennial Reign (20: 4-6)
Vision 6: Satan Destroyed (20: 7-10)
Vision 7: Final Judgment (20: 11-15)
Interval: Prelude to the Final Scene (21: 1)
The New Creation
Scene 7: Seven Prophecies (21: 2 to 22: 17)
Prophecy 1: New Covenant (21: 2-4)
Prophecy 2: New Life (21: 5-8)
Prophecy 3: New Jerusalem (21: 22-27)
Prophecy 5: New Relationship (22: 1-5)
Prophecy 6: New Advent (22: 6-9)
Prophecy 7: New Testimony (22: 10-17)
The Oracle is Complete (22: 18-21)
The author of the Book of Revelation identifies himself several times as “John” (1: 1, 4, 9; 22: 8). He says that he was on the island of Patmos when he received his first vision (1: 9; 4: 1–2). As a result, the author of Revelation is referred to as John of Patmos. John explicitly addresses Revelation to seven churches of Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos (Pergamum), Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (1: 4, 11). All these church sites are located in present-day Anatolia or western Turkey.
A natural reading of the text sees John writing literally as he sees the vision (Revelation 1: 11; 10: 4; 14: 3; 19: 9; 21: 5), and that he is warned by an angel not to alter the text through a subsequent editing (Revelation 22: 18-19) do that the textual integrity of the book is maintained.
The traditional view is that John the Apostle – considered to be the author of Saint John’s Gospel and the three Johannine Letters – was exiled on the island of Patmos in the Dodecanese archipelago in the Aegean during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, and that he wrote Revelation there. He tells us that he is writing from the island of Patmos and that he is there “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1: 9).
The bells of the Monastery of Saint John on the island of Patmos
It was possible as I stood at the top of the monastic mountain that dominates Patmos, to imagine vividly and creatively that as the sun set behind me in the west and the lights began to come on in the towns scattered before me on the Anatolian mainland in the east, that the seven churches and towns to which this book is addressed were being lit up like a seven-branched candlestick, like the Menorah in the Temple.
Although the John of Revelation does not say he is one of the disciples or that he knew Jesus, we know that he was a significant figure in the early church in the Asia Minor and the details he gives us about these seven churches of Asia indicate these communities knew him and he knew them.
A common author?
Does the author’s style of writing show that Saint John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation have more differences to each other than anything they share in common?
Those in favour of a single common author for the Gospel and Revelation point to the similarities between the Gospel and Revelation. For example, both works are soteriological, referring to Jesus as the saviour, and display a high Christology, stressing the divinity of Jesus over his humanity.
In the Gospel of John and in Revelation, Jesus is referred to as “the Word of God” (Ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ), although the context in Revelation is very different from Saint John’s Gospel. In Revelation 19: 13, the Word of God is involved in judgment but in John 1: 1, the author speaks of the role of the Word in creation and redemption.
Explanations for the differences between John’s works by proponents of the single-author view include factoring in underlying motifs and purposes, the different target audiences, the author’s collaboration with or utilisation of different scribes and the advanced age of John the Apostle when he wrote Revelation.
Modern opinions on authorship
Many scholars today suggest that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist and John of Patmos were three different individuals. The author of Revelation identifies himself as John several times, but the author of the Gospel never identifies himself directly. Both works liken Jesus to a lamb, but consistently use different words for the lamb – the Gospel uses amnos, while Revelation uses arnion.
While the Gospel is written in almost flawless Greek, Revelation contains some grammatical errors and stylistic abnormalities that indicate its author may not have been as familiar with Greek as the author of the Fourth Gospel.
The dating of the Book of Revelation is still widely debated by scholars. Internal evidence seems to suggest that the Temple in Jerusalem is still standing at the time of the vision and that the mark of the beast is an allusion to Nero Caesar. Since the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 and Nero killed himself in AD 68, the vision would then date about AD 68 or 69, in the reign of Nero or shortly afterwards. The majority of modern scholars also use these dates.
Parts of the book, such as Chapter 11, may have been written before the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD, but many critics date the book in its present form towards the close of the reign of Domitian (81-96), when that emperor began to demand that his subject address him as “Lord and God” and worship his image.
But early tradition in the Church said the book was written near the end of Domitian’s reign, around 95 or 96. Irenaeus, whod died in the year 185, said he had received evidence from those who knew John face-to-face that John had seen the visions “at the end of the reign of Domitian,” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 5.30.3) who, according to Eusebius, had started the persecution referred to in the book.
However, recent scholars debate whether the book is situated in a time of on-going persecution and have questioned the reality of a large-scale Domitian persecution, pointing out that there is little evidence of imperial oppression during his reign. This leaves the way open to accepting the view that was popular among 19th century scholars that the Book of Revelation was written between AD 64, as a result of persecution under Nero, and AD 70, the fall of Jerusalem.
Some commentators distinguish two dates: its publication (under Domitian) and the date of the visions (under Vespasian).
The acceptance of Revelation:
The Book of Revelation can be one of the most controversial and difficult books of the Bible, with many diverse interpretations of the meanings of the various names and events in the book.
The acceptance of Revelation into the canon is the result of an historical process, and the eventual exclusion of other contemporary apocalyptic literature may help to throw some light on the historical processes that decided what was orthodox, what was heterodox, and what was heretical.
Among the Church Fathers, Justin Martyr accepted its apostolic origins. Irenaeus (178 AD) assumes that John is the author of Revelation. At the end of the second century, it was accepted in Antioch by Theophilus and in North Africa by Tertullian.
At the beginning of the third century, it is accepted by Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Methodius, Cyprian and Lactantius. However, Dionysius of Alexandria (247) rejected it for doctrinal reasons rather than on critical grounds.
Eusebius (315) was inclined to classify it as one of the spurious books. Jerome relegated it to second class. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus and other bishops argued against including this book in the canon of the New Testament, mainly because of the difficulties of interpreting it and the danger for abuse.
Eventually, most canons included Revelation. However, some, especially in the Eastern Church, rejected it and it is wholly absent from the Peshitta. Christians in Syria, for example, rejected it because of the Montanists’ heavy reliance on it. In the ninth century, Revelation was counted along with the Apocalypse of Peter among the “disputed” books in the Stichometry of Saint Nicophoros, Patriarch of Constantinople.
Although this book promises blessings on those who read it out aloud, and to those who hear it read, Revelation is the only book that is not read within the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and it was omitted from the original table of readings for the Book of Common Prayer.
Martin Luther at first considered Revelation to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and said that “Christ is neither taught nor known in it.” Luther placed this book in his Antilegomena.
John Calvin accepted the book as canonical, yet it is the only New Testament book on which he did not write a commentary.
The Book of Revelation is best read by taking into account a number of considerations.
1, This book comprises the substance of real visions that repeat with kaleidoscopic variety certain great principles of God’s just and merciful government of the whole creation. By drawing attention to these central principles, the Church has been encouraged down the ages and sustained over the centuries in the face of fierce antagonism, opposition and persecution.
2, The literary genre of this book is apocalyptic style. In addition, there are other elements, so that there are seven letters in Chapters 2 and 3, and several prophetic utterances are pronounced throughout the book.
3, As this is apocalyptic literature, the message of the Book of Revelation is conveyed through typical apocalyptic symbolism such as numbers and strange beasts, and – as in reading any apocalyptic literature – it is important to make a distinction between the descriptions of the symbols and the reality conveyed by the symbols.
4, Although the key for understanding symbols is long lost, in other cases the prophetic symbolism found in Old Testament apocalyptic writings can shed light on the meanings.
5, The Book of Revelation relies heavily on the Septuagint or Greek translation of the Old Testament. The book contains more references to the Old Testament than any other document in the New Testament, so that of the 404 verses in the book, 275 of these include one or more allusions to passages in the Old Testament. Many books in the Old Testament are drawn upon, and John frequently uses Daniel (especially Chapter 7), as well as regularly echoing the prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah.
Interpreting the Book of Revelation:
The interpretations of the chronology of Revelation vary extensively. The work may be interpreted literally, as a chronological list of events that will occur as the time of Revelation grows near. At the same time, the imagery can be seen to contain symbolic commentaries on the world during the historical period in which Revelation was written.
Throughout the course of Church history, the Book of Revelation has been interpreted in widely diverging and different ways. These interpretations are not mutually exclusive and many Christians adopt a combination of these approaches, while some churches have also established their own specific positions on Revelation.
Although by no means an exhaustive list, we can identify the following approaches to interpreting the Book of Revelation:
1, What are the views of this book within the Churches? The allegorical or mythical approach to this book is commonly held by the majority of Christians, including the majority of Anglicans, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics.
Among Anglicans or Episcopalians, the Book of Revelation is generally seen as a book of hope and also a book of warning. It gives hope to those Christians who are being persecuted, assuring them that their sufferings are not in vain, while warning others of the coming events and what will happen to them.
In Eastern Orthodoxy, the book is seen as simultaneously describing contemporaneous events and as a prophecy of events to come, for which the contemporaneous events were a form of foreshadow. It rejects attempts to determine, before the fact, if the events of Revelation are occurring by mapping them onto present-day events, taking to heart the Scriptural warning against those who proclaim “He is here!” prematurely. Instead, the book is seen as a warning to be spiritually and morally ready for the end times, whenever they may come (“as a thief in the night”), but they will come at the time of God’s choosing, not something that can be precipitated nor trivially deduced by mortals.
2, For some, the Book of Revelation should be understood in its first century historical context within the genre of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature. This approach considers the text as addressed to the seven named Churches that were historical communities in Asia Minor. According to this view, the assertions that “the time is near” were to be taken literally by those seven churches; and so this book is read a warning not to conform to contemporary Greco-Roman society which John “unveils” as beastly, demonic and subject to divine judgment.
3, According to some interpretations, the visions in the Book of Revelation constitutes a prophecy of events that were fulfilled in the first century AD. This view identifies either Jerusalem or Pagan Rome with the persecutor of the Church, “Babylon,” the “Mother of Harlots,” etc. Armageddon is seen as God’s judgment on the Jews, carried out by the Roman army, which is identified as “the beast.” Some people who hold this view see the second half of Revelation as changing focus to Rome, its persecution of Christians, and the fall of the Roman Empire. This view sees the Revelation being fulfilled in the year 70 AD, with the full presence of God coming to dwell with humanity. It also identifies the Emperor Nero with the number of the beast as his name equals 666 in Hebrew if using the Greek spelling of Nero’s name (Neron Caesar), but using the Hebrew symbols with their assigned numeric values (an ancient method known as gematria).
4, There are those who read the prophecy as spanning the time from the end of the first century through to the second coming of Christ. This reading applies the symbols of Revelation to the gradual division and collapse of the Roman Empire, the emergence of a divided Europe in the West and an Arabic empire in the East, and the collapse of the Eastern Empire while Europe attempts to reunite and recreate the Roman Empire.
Those who hold this view see Revelation as teaching that the Church would expand, despite persecution, until it “conquered” the whole world. But in the process, it would gradually evolve into an apostate system within which true Christians would be a persecuted minority. The apostate Church is associated with the symbols of the “Mother of Harlots” and “Babylon.” It is seen as an “Antichrist system” which exists for much of history rather than expecting a single “Antichrist” in the last days. In this interpretation, Christ defeats a confederacy of his enemies, rescues Israel from certain destruction, judges apostate Christianity, vindicates the true believers, and establishes his kingdom on earth.
Those who hold this interpretation tend to be millenarian, emphasising the literal reign of Christ on earth, and some of them use this interpretation as the foundation for an anti-Catholic polemic.
5, Another view assigns all or most of the prophecy to the future, shortly before the second coming, especially when interpreted alongside other eschatological passages in the Bible (including Daniel, Isaiah 2: 11-22 and I Thessalonians 4: 15-5: 11). Those who hold this view predict a resurrection of the dead and a rapture of the living, in which all true Christians are gathered to Christ when God’s kingdom comes on earth. They also speak of a great tribulation – a seven-year period when believers will experience world-wide persecution and martyrdom, and be purified and strengthened. But there are differences over whether those believers will be caught up in the rapture to meet Christ before the tribulation begins, half-way through the tribulation, or at the end of the Tribulation.
These views have been identified in recent years with authors like Hal Lindsey and more recently with the Left Behind novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, and movies that have done much to popularise these ideas.
6, Among interesting – I would say captivating – modern interpretations is the Paschal Liturgical view, found among Catholic and Protestant theologians who see the liturgical worship, particularly the Easter rites, of early Christianity as the background and the context for understanding this book. This view from an Anglican perspective is most cogently expressed by Massey H. Shepherd, an Episcopal scholar, in The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (2004).
Massey Shepherd was Professor of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California, and Director of the Graduate School of Theology at the University of the South Sewanee, Tennessee. A leading liturgical scholar and church historian in the Episcopal Church (TEC), his best known work in this field is The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (London: Lutterworth Press, 1960; reprint James C Clarke, 2004), in which he relates the development of the Paschal rites of the ancient Church, from apostolic times to the end of the age of persecution, as the background and context for understanding the outline and basic theme of Revelation.
In this book, Massey Shepherd offers a new approach to the basic structure of the Book of Revelation. He surveys the development of Paschal rites and customs of the ancient Church, from apostolic times to the end of the age of persecution, as a background and context for understanding the outline and basic theme of Revelation. He opens fresh perspectives to he New Testament and early Christian literature, the liturgy and piety of the primitive Church, and the origins of the Christian Year.
From a Roman Catholic perspective, this argument is made by Scott Hahn, a former Lutheran theologian, in his The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, where he argues that Revelation, in form, is structured after creation, fall, judgment and redemption.
Those who hold this view say that the Temple’s destruction in AD 70 had a profound effect on the Jewish people, not only in Jerusalem but among the Greek-speaking Jews of the Mediterranean. They believe Revelation provides insight into the early Eucharist, and that it is the new Temple worship in the New Heaven and New Earth. The idea of the Eucharist as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet is also explored by the English Methodist, Geoffrey Wainwright, in Eucharist and Eschatology (Oxford: OUP, 1980).
7, Then there are the “radical discipleship” theologians and writers who say the Book of Revelation is best understood as a handbook for radical discipleship, or how to remain faithful to the spirit and teachings of Jesus and avoid simply assimilating to surrounding society.
For them, the book exposes the worldly powers as impostors who seek to oppose the ways of God. The chief temptation for Christians – in the first century and today – is to fail to hold fast to Christ’s teachings, instead being lured into the values of the nation or the prevailing culture, with imperialism becoming the most dangerous and insidious threat.
This perspective is close to liberation theology and its advocates include writers such as Ched Myers, William Stringfellow, Richard Horsley, Daniel Berrigan, Wes Howard-Brook and Joerg Reiger.
The image of the Apocalyptic in popular imagination is one of doom and gloom. Ask most people about the Book of Revelation, and they will instantly respond with images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Armageddon.
But this is a positive book. It is beautiful drama and poetry, it was written to encourage the young church in Asia Minor in the face of division, schism and persecution, and it ends on a high note with positive images of the New Heaven and the New Earth, concluding with those cheering verses:
“The one who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’
“Amen. Come Lord Jesus!
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all the saints. Amen.”
As we begin to work our way through this book, may we look forward to receiving its message, to the coming of the Lord Jesus, and to be being filled with the grace of Christ.
Some questions for discussion:
What are your received images of the Book of Revelation?
Are you comfortable with working through this book?
Do you know Christians who have been hurt by divisions within the Church or who have first-hand experience of oppression or persecution?
How do you think the Church can be a real sign or sacrament of the New Heaven and the New Earth?
Next: The Prologue (1: 1-8).
Readings and references:
Beale, G.K., The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids/Cambridge, 1999, New International Greek Testament Commentary).
Boxall, Ian, (2006) The Revelation of Saint John (London: Continuum, and Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, Black’s New Testament Commentary).
Boxall, Ian, Revelation: Vision and Insight – An Introduction to the Apocalypse (London: SPCK, 2002).
Brown, Raymond E., Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, Anchor Bible, 1997).
Ehrman, Bart D., The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford/New York: OUP, 2004).
Ford, J. Massyngberde, Revelation (New York: Doubleday, The Anchor Bible, 1975).
Hahn, Scott, The Lamb’s Supper: Mass as Heaven on Earth (London: Darton, Longman, Todd, 1999).
Shepherd, Massey H., The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (London: Lutterworth Press, 1960; reprint James Clarke, 2004).
Smalley, Stephen S., The Revelation to John – A commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (London: SPCK, 2005).
Sweet, J.P.M., Revelation (London: SCM Press, and Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1979/1990).
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for an introduction to the Book of Revelation in a Bible Study in a tutorial group on Wednesday 18 February 2009.