Why The Book of Revelation Was Written


Everything about the Book of Revelation falls into place when we understand why God inspired John to write it. There is much misunderstanding of the book and I hope this post helps in some way.

The Book of Revelation was written to seven Churches in Asia Minor which were struggling with the problem of Emperor worship. Emperor worship was the main problem in the Book of Revelation. That is historical fact. We cannot ignore historical fact, nor can we understand the Book of Revelation in ignorance of this fact.

Those who did not participate in emperor worship were barred from commerce, shunned from society, arrested and sometimes put to death.

And to the angel of the church in Per’gamum write: `The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of An’tipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells." (Revelation 2:12-13)

Antipas (in the passage above) had been appointed Bishop of Pergamum and was martyred by burning on the altar of the temples to the Emperor Trajan in that city.

Ruins of the Temple of the Emperor Trajan in the Ancient City of Pergamum

The Book of Revelation was written as a message of hope to Christians in an age of Emperor worship and great persecution, that those who persevere to the end will be greatly blessed and rewarded with entry into heaven.

*I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance (Revelation 1:9

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance (Revelation 2:2)

Because you have kept my word of patient endurance (Revelation 3:10)

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:10)

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. (Revelation 14:12)*

It is a message of hope during an age of emperor worship for those that endure persecution patiently. Only when we accept these historical facts can we begin to understand what the book it means to us today for our salvation.



Actually, a better question to ask is ‘why apocalyptic literature (of which John’s is one) are written’.

You grasped something right here: you will find that the apocalyptic genre of literature really blossomed during times of uncertainty. The genre came into being at a time when Jews felt their religion and culture being threatened, when looming threats made them feel uncertain about their status as the chosen nation. It’s a theodicy question: why would a good God allow His people to experience stuff like exile or subjugation by a foreign power? That’s what apocalyptic work try to address. Apocalyptic works (claim to) give the readers ‘spoilers’ of what will come (usually in symbolic language) to give them encouragement. The apocalyptic worldview that whatever evil is currently happening is all part of God’s plan (He just allows them to happen); one should not worry because this evil will not last forever and God has a happy ending in store for His people. To put it in simple terms, no threat is too big, because all’s well that ends well - just hold on tight. John’s apocalypse is thus really in line with other apocalyptic literature in this regard.


Yes. The message of hope is such an important characteristic of this apocalyptic literature. It being inspired and essentially Christocentric gives us the reason for our hope.
I guess that’s why it makes sense seeing so many prayerful and liturgical elements present in the writing. As Pope Benedict XVI states, “The Apocalypse presents us with a community gathered in prayer, because it is in prayer that we gain an increasing awareness of Jesus’s presence with us and within us,”

(Prayer in the first part of the Book of Revelation (Rev. 1:4-3: 22) - Pope Benedict XVI)


And on a visceral level…having a dragon chase you through the desert would get you praying. Best to know where to direct those to for actual help. :slight_smile:


Thank you for adding to and elevating this thread.



I have a translator translating the 12th century Bible commentary Glossa Ordinaria on the book of Revelation, which is the best commentary I have ever seen on this book, and I have studied many of them. There is a very large preface that has different forwards by various ancient writers. Here is one section…

Whence this book is also called Apocalypse, that is, Revelation, because here are contained the things which God revealed to John, and which John revealed to the Church, namely, how great trouble the Church went through in its first time, is now going through, and shall go through in the last times of Antichrist - which tribulation will be so great that it is possible even for the elect to get perturbed - and what rewards it shall receive for these things both now and in the future, so that those whom the announced torments frighten, the promised rewards may gladden. Therefore this book is known among the rest of the Scriptures of the New Testament by the name of prophecy; and it is more outstanding than other prophecies, for just as the New Testament is superior to the Old, the Gospel superior to the Law, so is this prophecy superior to the prophecies of the Old Testament, because it announces, concerning Christ and the Church, sacraments that have for a great part already been fulfilled. Or even because, while to others a one fold prophecy was given, to this one a threefold one was given, namely, concerning at the same time the past, the present, and the future.


So many people read Revelation for the many-headed beasts or the dire plagues. But I think the letters at the beginning are the crucial part of the book. In fact, they’re are one of the keys that help unravel the text. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That one phrase could help sum up much of Revelation really.


Very well put, and quite true.

In the context of emperor worship, that about sums up the whole book.



OK, I’ll bite on this.

First, why is the book written with so much symbolism? and what does the symbolism mean?

Second, does it seem like it was written by the Apostle John?

Third, about 22:18, why the dire warning about not adding or taking away from this self-described “prophecy”? I notice this is the verse Protestants use as declaring the end of revelation and the rejection of tradition.

Fourth, doesn’t this book seem to be almost mystical in content, foretelling of Satan being thrown into the lake of fire?

Fifth, and then there’s the perennial debates about a thousand-year reign of Christ before the end of time, Hmmmm.

Sixth, is chap 12 about the Blessed Virgin Mary? Why wouldn’t the writer be more explicit?


Here is some answers from the Glossa Ordinaria

This revelation was shown to the blessed John through some images while he was in an ecstasy of mind, and in some places the meaning of the images was explained to him, so that he might write it in the same way as it had been revealed to him; for God wanted his mysteries to be revealed to the faithful through images, so that they might not be understood without effort, because what is acquired with effort is possessed more pleasurably and more securely. He also wanted images to be explained in a few places, so as to hint that an explanation for the images had to be sought in all places, and so that the faithful might find it when seeking, and that the unfaithful or the heretics who strive to corrupt and tread sacred mysteries underfoot might not understand at all.

According to the Glossa, the woman in chapter 12 refers to the Church, though the Gloss does mention Mary in an interlinear gloss as more of an alternative sense.


A catechesis from the Pope aids in answering this. This can also help demonstrate how Scripture is not a static document; or a dead letter of the past. It is part of the living Tradition of the Church.

Also at the heart of the visions that the Book of Revelation unfolds, are the deeply significant vision of the Woman bringing forth a male child and the complementary one of the dragon, already thrown down from Heaven but still very powerful.

This Woman represents Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, but at the same time she also represents the whole Church, the People of God of all times, the Church which in all ages, with great suffering, brings forth Christ ever anew. And she is always threatened by the dragon’s power. She appears defenceless and weak.

But while she is threatened, persecuted by the dragon, she is also protected by God’s comfort. And in the end this Woman wins. The dragon does not win.

This is the great prophecy of this Book that inspires confidence in us! The Woman who suffers in history, the Church which is persecuted, appears in the end as the radiant Bride, the figure of the new Jerusalem where there will be no more mourning or weeping, an image of the world transformed, of the new world whose light is God himself, whose lamp is the Lamb.



This is sort of off the main topic of this thread, why the book was written in the first place, but…

False prophets were common, people who claimed to speak on behalf of God but were teaching doctrines contrary to what Christ and his Apostles taught or who operated apart from the Church.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

John’s first letter is about false prophets.



Well, that’s the whole point of the book. Apocalyptic literature in general rests on the premise that they unveil (hence apokalypsis - an ‘unveiling’) coded secret knowledge about the course of human history that will only make sense to their intended recipients. Look at every piece of writing that falls under the ‘apocalyptic’ rubric: John’s Apocalypse, the last half of the book of Daniel, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Assumption of Moses, the Apocalypse of Peter. All these books are chock-full of symbolism and visions.

There’s also a practical side to this as well: apocalyptic literature were often written in times of persecution as a way to encourage the persecuted. Encoding things in symbolic terms (especially if you’re talking about current events) was a way to avoid exposing the writers and the intended audience into further danger. It’s kind of like modern-day political cartoons: even if the artist directly never names who he was targeting, anyone ‘in the know’ will be able to guess immediately the target’s identity.

You also need to understand the worldview of apocalyptic literature. To sum, it’s basically ‘as above, so below’. Events that take place in Heaven reflect and influence those that occur down here on Earth; everything in Heaven is the counterpart of some earthly reality, and everything that happens here right now is reflected in Heaven. That’s why John could see “the woman clothed with the sun” give birth to the Son who will rule nations with a rod of iron up there in the sky - it’s the heavenly reflection of the earthly reality. And this is also why in Daniel 10, the prince of the Persian kingdom and the prince of Greece are in combat with Michael, the “prince” and guardian angel in Israel; this heavenly conflict reflects a historical event on the earth (maybe the persecution of Antiochus against the Jews during 167-164 BC).

Second, does it seem like it was written by the Apostle John?

That’s the common belief since ancient times, but there were some people in antiquity and some people today who dispute it for a number of reasons.

Third, about 22:18, why the dire warning about not adding or taking away from this self-described “prophecy”? I notice this is the verse Protestants use as declaring the end of revelation and the rejection of tradition.

Again, I think this is a misinterpretation of an apocalyptic work’s conceit. Apocalyptic literature work under the premise that they were ‘revealed’ by God to a human medium, usually via an angel. “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God agave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” Obviously you wouldn’t want to distort the message of a work which explicitly claims (indirect) divine authorship.

On another level, the warning of 22:18-19 is a reference to Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 12:32, where the language about “adding to” and “taking away from” serves as a warning against deceptive teaching which affirmed that idolatry was not inconsistent with faith in the God of Israel. So the warning in Revelation could be seen in such a way: it doesn’t refer so much to literally adding or subtracting words to the text of the book (or the Bible) as a whole but a warning against false teaching and idolatry - which we know was a problem for the churches John was addressing.

Many people actually don’t realize just how ‘scriptural’ John’s Revelation is - just how full of allusions to the Old Testament it is. All they see is the monsters.

(Rev. 22:18-19) “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

(Deut. 4:1-4) “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baal-peor, for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. But you who held fast to the Lord your God are all alive today.” …] (Deut. 29:18, 20) “Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. …] The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.


Wasn’t the Book of Revelations an “iffy” inclusion in the original Canon?


I don’t have the knowledge to add to this thread per say but it is extremely helpful !!

Thank you guys so much! :thumbsup:


I agree with TimothyH’s take on this.

I would also add that the churches John wrote to were written in the order you would arrive to them along the Roman road system in Asia Minor. And it starts with the closest church opposite the isle of Patmos. The same order he addressed them in the book.

I point this out because some people wonder why all the major episcopal sees were left out (Rome,Alexandria,Antioch,Jerusalem). In my opinion, the choice of churches is simply a function of his exile, and these were the churches that were closest to him geography wise.


Of course, there’s also the fact that only three of them really ‘existed’ (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch) by the time John is thought to have written Revelation (the 90s): Jerusalem would not be prominent again until the 4th century, and even then, its inclusion among the major sees was more ceremonial. The late 1st-early 2nd century was really that transitional period when the churches of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria was replacing the weakening ‘mother church’ in Jerusalem in directing Christian mission and expansion.

(The Jerusalem church was so weakened and decentralized by the Jewish-Roman Wars of AD 66-73 and AD 132-135 that it essentially lost the importance and authority it had in the first few decades of Christianity. The first bishops were of course Jewish Christians - Jesus’ ‘brothers’ and their grandsons and great-grandsons, no less - but after AD 135, when all Jews were expelled from Jerusalem, non-Jewish Christians took on the episcopal see. Those events dealt a severe blow to Christians in Jerusalem: later Christians no longer paid much real deference to the mother church up until the 4th century, when Constantine’s church-building projects in the Holy Land put Jerusalem back on the map.)


I would just say it(Jerusalem) was “underground” during those years of persecution and turmoil. They would not be visible (like at the apostolic council) because of the danger. More than one Church Father has traced the bishops back to James. Many don’t have years associated with them, because so many were martyred and in rapid succession.


The thing with the Jerusalem church is, those two Jewish Wars really fragmented and decentralized the community. Of course, many Christians fled from Jerusalem during the 70s, Christians were killed during the persecution of Trajan (including Simon, second bishop of Jerusalem and son of Clopas, making him Jesus’ cousin) and the Bar Kochba rebellion, and when Hadrian kicked the Jews out out the city and renamed it Aelia Capitolina, most of its Christians - particularly those who (still) identified themselves as Jews - also left, leaving only the gentile Christians there. With Jerusalem/Aelia’s status weakened, focus was shifted to other cities in Palestine, for example Caesarea, which actually became the chief prelature of Palestine.

It’s not so much that the Jerusalem church was literally ‘underground’; it was only obscured by the more important dioceses (as we would say): there were by then only relatively few Christians in the city, and most Christians by then - save for the occasional pilgrim or scholar who was curious about the land - had little to no interest in the earthly Jerusalem, the same city that rejected Jesus and was destroyed because of it. (They were looking forward for the new Jerusalem instead; you can actually blame John’s Revelation for this mentality. :D) In fact, almost nobody referred to the city by its original name: for most people it was Aelia Capitolina. ‘Jerusalem’ was either Aelia back when it was still the ‘holy city’ or the heavenly Zion that is out of this world.

Its status was that minor: in those days the bishop of Caesarea was the chief prelate of Palestine, not the bishop of Aelia; in fact, as metropolitans they appointed the bishops of Aelia. When these churches were engaged in councils at that time (2nd-3rd century), Caesarea was always named first, while Aelia was second. It would not be until the year 200 that the bishops of Aelia would make efforts to develop the prestige of the local Christian community there. And it would not be until the time of Constantine that the Holy Land craze would sweep Christendom.

P.S. For the 2nd century up to the early 3rd, persecution was more of a sporadic, local thing: while Christians were of course disliked by many people and were often subject to discrimination, there was yet no systematic, Empire-wide edict to actively hunt them down. (That would only come in with Diocletian in the late 3rd-early 4th century.) So the situation was different from province to province: one province might be very harsh towards Christians, another might consider them more of a minor nuisance and left them alone. I’d say Christians in those days were more susceptible to falling victim to mob lynchings than they were to be legally executed.


Thanks Patrick, as always, lots of good information to consider :slight_smile:

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