a biblical theology of the book of Revelation

The book of Revelation has been studied by all generations of Christians with various interpretations of the book.  Often the studies have focused solely upon its Apocalyptic nature, seeking to interpret the prophetic messages of the book.  Yet Revelation has a vast theological message that has been largely ignored.

Within a three part series and two guest bloggers we will attempt to trace the theological themes of the book of Revelation through the lenses of

1) the glory of God,

2) suffering and victory, and

3) redemption.

Theology of the glory of God from the book of Revelation

Many have tried to establish a theme for the Book of Revelation, but the following summary by George G. Weeber captures its theme and focus,

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, as the unveiling of our exalted, glorified, and sovereign Lord over His church and the world as the Revealer and Executor of the secret decrees of God in order to consummate His victory over the world of evil at His Second Coming and establish the royal kingdom of God.[1]

The glory of God is a theme that permeates the Book of Revelation. From chapter 1 through 22 there is a golden vein that describes and ascribes glory to God. This portion of the paper will describe the theme of God’s glory in Revelation as it relates to his holiness and incomparability.

The Glory of God Within the Literary Structure

Worship scenes play an important role in unifying the book because they are not just interludes, but part of the context. The hymn sections of Revelation usually provide commentary within the narrative visions in which they are embedded. The primary reason that the author introduced throne scenes was to serve as literary contexts for commentary on the hymns. This makes them important for the structural analysis of Revelation.[2]

Revelation is a hymnal of worship describing God’s glory as seen in His holiness and incomparability. The setting of the book of Revelation is within the throne room of God and the hymns are sung in this setting. The worship in Revelation is characterized by thanksgiving (11:17), praise (19:5), prayer (5:8), and song. Worship for God is expressed in the context of desolation and divine judgment.

The Book of Revelation has, like many letters, a prologue (1:1-8), body (1:9-22:5), and epilogue (22:6-21).[3] Within all three elements there is an overwhelmingly large emphasis given to the praise and glory of God. The author of Revelation teaches his readers a lot about how to worship God now in light of how we will worship Him in the future. Among the 22 chapters of Revelation there are 11 distinct worship episodes, which make up a sizable chuck of the book’s text.[4] The verb proskymeo (to worship) is used 24 times in Revelation compared to 59 times in all of Scripture.[5] One could say worship is what ties Revelation together.

The Glory of God is pictured within His divine characteristics

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is full of imagery and expresses John’s reverence for God. Within Revelation God is presented in all His majesty and glory. It is His glory that lights the heavens (21:23). We see God as holy, omnipotent, omniscient and eternal. There is an emphasis on His righteousness and judgment upon sin, but little about His love and mercy.[6] The character of God within Revelation is fitting to the role He plays as the Judge of mankind.

God is holy.  Those that are in the presence of God near His throne never cease to worship God day and night. They cry out to God, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος, κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ: 4:8; cf.4:9, 11; 19:2) There is no one that is like or will ever be like our God. He is incomparable. He alone is worthy of worship because He is holy.

God is Sovereign over all things, including the judgment of man and His dealing with evil.[7] God protects His people and punishes rebellion. The picture in Revelation is of God ruling history and the fact that He will bring about history’s consummation in Christ.[8] The overwhelming picture of God is of a mighty potentate seated on His throne (4:3), a picture that is determined by the visionary nature of the book and by the need to stress the sovereignty of God over the forces of evil.[9]

God sits on His throne (τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ: 4:9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:15; 21:5).[10] He rules and reigns over His people and their dominion with His supreme plan. He reigns on His throne as Judge and King.[11] It is God, not the evil one, who sits on the throne, and it is God who judges His enemies and blesses those who faithfully follow the Lamb of God.[12] The Book of Revelation is a letter written to encourage followers of Christ to focus their faith on the triumph of a sovereign God’s reign, which has now been disclosed through the exaltation and reign of Christ.

God is sovereign over all creation. The twenty-four elders proclaim God as the Creator of all things (4:11). He creates and He sustains (cf. 10:6; 14:7). The culmination of absolute sovereignty is seen in God’s creation of the new heavens and earth (21:1-22:5). At that time, He destroys the old earth tainted by sin and combines earth and heaven “making all things new” (21:5). The Book of Revelation conveys a sense of sovereignty that no other New Testament book approaches.[13]

God is Eternal as related to His Sovereignty. God is described as One who will be forever and ever. He is “the One who is and who was and who is to come” (ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος: 1:4, 8; 4:8-10; 11:17; 16:5). God is in control of the present in the same way He was in control of the past and will be in control of the future.[14] With this promise of His eternal control is the promise of His coming and judgment. God does not have a beginning or end, for He is described as “the First and Last” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος: 1:17; 22:13). He not only controls the past and the future, but everything in between, for He is “the Alpha and Omega” (Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ: 1:8, 17;21:6, 13).

God is Omnipotent as related to His Sovereignty. God is a mighty God.[15] He is the divine warrior and has all the power to do His will. Whatever evil is done in His sight by the evil powers of this world, God has more power still. God is stronger than the kings of earth. He will overcome and be the victor over evil. He will judge in His power and glory (18:8). God is “Almighty” (ὁ παντοκράτωρ: 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22), and all heaven ascribes power and might to Him (7:12; 12:10).

The Glory of God Seen Within His Son Jesus Christ

From the beginning of the text John greet his readers “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (1:5) The first vision of John in Revelation is Jesus in all His glory (1:12-20).

Jesus is referred to by John with many distinct divine names: the “I AM” (1:8, 17; 2:23; 21:6; 22:13, 16), Son of God (2:18), ruler of God’s creation (3:14), Word of God (19:13; cf. John 1:1-14 & 1 John 1:1-4), and the Lamb of God (13:11; cf. John 1:29, 36; 21:15) . These characteristics and more are vivid throughout the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

The Lamb of God (ἀρνίον) is a constant symbol for Christ in Revelation as the victor over the forces of evil and the Church as the body of Christ, which shares this victory with Him (17:14).[16] He has opened up the way for His people to have a glorious destiny. He is the Lamb worshiped by all heaven (5:6) and worthy to open the seven seals (6:1, 3ff). The greatness and glory of the Lamb is indicated in the way He is joined with God (cf. 7:9; 14:4; 22:1-3).[17] He is equated with God. Jesus is the supreme One and His glory makes His saving work possible.

There is a hint to the humanity of Christ as He is referenced to being from the tribe of Judah and the house of David. Greater emphasis, however, is placed on His deity. Revelation leaves us no doubt that Jesus Christ is the God of all. He is triumphant over death and regarded as the eternal One of infinite power and majesty who is worthy of all honor and adoration.[18] He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, slays the wicked, delivers the righteous, and reigns over the earth. John cannot help but fall before Him and worship. At the conclusion of two visions, he falls at the feet of the angel to worship, and the angel responds, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” (19:10; 22:9)[19]

The Book of Revelation is a cataclysmic reminder that through Christ life is stronger than death and eventually the kingdom of this world will be the kingdom of our Lord and His Messiah (1:6; 5:10).[20] He will reign forever and ever (11:15). There is no one like Jesus Christ. Jesus is supreme.

In conclusion, the Book of Revelation has a heavy emphasis on the glory of God. God’s glory is seen in the literary structure of the book, within His characteristics, and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If one wants to grow in his or her understanding of God’s glory, the Revelation of Jesus Christ is a great place to start. God is enthroned in heaven and is working out His purposes on earth. Revelation calls us to respond with awe, godly fear, praise, faith, and obedience.[21] One day we will ourselves cry to the Lord, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

[1]George G. Weeber, The Consummation of History: A Study of the Book of Revelation, (s.l: s.n., 1978,) 27.

[2] David E. Aune, Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 22. (Word Books: Dallas, TX. 1997), xcviii.

[3]Dennis A. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing Co., 2001), 26-28.

[4]1:12-20; 4:1-5:14; 7:9-17; 8:3-5; 11:16-19; 12:10-12; 14:1-7; 15:2-8; 16:5-7; 19:1-10; 20:4-6; 21:1-22:5

[5]Leon Morris, New Testament Theology, (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1986), 296.

[6]John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 10.

[7]Note there is a great conflict between good and evil (Ch.12-19; and reiterated in 20:1-10).

[8]Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co, 2000), 40.

[9] I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 573.

[10] There are also variations of this phrase cf. 4:2, 3; 7:10; 19:4; 20:11.

[11] His sovereignty is seen in His judgment through the 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets and 7 Bowls.

[12] Robert W. Wall, Revelation: New International Biblical Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 39.

[13]D.A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 721.

[14] Grant Osborne. Baker Evangelical Commentary of The New Testament: Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 32.

[15] The sovereign might of God is seen in the incredible use of εδοθη, a divine passive that points to Gods control of the events (6:2, 4, 8, 11; 7:2; 8:2, 3; 9:1; 3, 5; 11:1, 2; 12:14; 13:5, 7, 14; 13:5, 7, 14, 15; 16:8). Osborne, 32.

[16]Weeber, 27.

[17]Morris, 293.

[18]Walvoord, 27.

[19] J. Ramsey Michaels in His commentary suggests that the parallels in the two visions are intended to form a contrasting pair, each centering on a city personified as a woman—Babylon and Jerusalem, prostitute and bride. Interpreting the Book of Revelation: Guides to New Testament Exegesis, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), 65-66.

[20]Stephen F. Smalley, The Revelation to John (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 19.

[21]Poythress, 40.