What is the book of Revelation?

What is the book of Revelation?

What is Revelation?

If Revelation were a movie what genre would it be? Comedy? Nope. Definitely not. What kind of movie?…

It would be in the genre of apocalyptic. The apocalyptic genre is about disaster and destruction. As far as movies go, it’s kind of a serious and science-fiction-ish genre.

Interestingly, these types of movies are getting more and more popular. In the pre-1950s there were 4 movies in that genre. In the 1960s there were 25. And from 2010 through 2019 there were 101 movies in that genre.

So, the genre of the book of Revelation is really popular right now. But the book of Revelation tells us the true story.

“The book of Revelation is the ultimate action thriller. Anyone who loves a great novel will certainly love this book. It contains drama, suspense, mystery, and horror. It tells of rebellion, unprecedented economic collapse, and the ultimate war of human history. Revelation is a book of astounding drama and horror, but also of hope and joy. It culminates with a happy ending, as sin and death are banished forever (21:4; 22:3).”[1]

Revelation is the last book of the Bible. Therefore, there’s a lot that came before it. And a lot that is important to understand, from Genesis to Jude, that informs our reading of Revelation.

I know some people that read books and go straight to the back and read that first. I don’t understand that. It doesn’t make sense to me. I do, however, eat pizza crust first so maybe you think I have no room to talk…

But the point is understanding the beginning parts of the book is important to understand the conclusion. This is especially important when we consider that there are some 278 allusions to the Old Testament in the book of Revelation, and that’s in a book that is 404 verses long (some commentators say over four hundred allusions)!

Revelation is a revelation, prophecy, and letter

Revelation 1:1–3 shows us a few important things about what kind of book it is. It tells us who the divine author is: “Jesus Christ.” We already talked about if it was a movie what type of movie it would be, but as a book, it is actually in three different genres…

Revelation (Apocalypse)

Revelation 1:1 says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ…” The term revelation (Greek ἀποκάλυψις, apokalupsis) here means “uncovering” or “revealing.” And that’s what the book is, it’s “an ‘unveiling’ of unseen spiritual forces operating behind the scenes in history and controlling its events and outcome.”[2]

Brian Tabb says,

“Apocalypses have two principal functions: (1) they encourage and comfort believers during severe trials… and (2) they challenge readers to adopt a new perspective on reality in the light of coming judgment and to live accordingly.”[3]


Revelation 1:1 goes on to say that it is also a prophecy in part by saying that it is about “the things that must soon take place.” Richard Bauckham says that

“Biblical prophecy always both addressed the prophet’s contemporaries about their own present and the future immediately impending for them and raised hopes which proved able to transcend their immediate relevance to the prophet’s contemporaries and to continue to direct later readers to God’s purpose for their future.”[4]

So, Revelation was both for the contemporary audience and for us the future audience.


John wrote “to the seven churches that are in Asia” (Rev. 1:4). So, Revelation is addressed to first-century churches. It’s a letter. But it’s also a revelation. It’s revealing the truth of the spiritual cosmic battle that’s unseen by the physical eye. Revelation is also prophecy. It’s telling us what is and what will happen.[5]

Revelation’s Wild Imagery

In the book of Revelation, you have beasts and you have Babylon. You have terrible bowls and a terrible dragon. You have persecution and plagues. You have what is pure and what is putrid. You have what is right worship and what is wrong. You have death and the second death. You have earth and the new earth. You have now and you have later. You have the Lamb that’s the Lion.

In the book of Revelation, you have things as they really are. Revelation is a revelation of the way things are. It’s a disclosure. A revealing. It’s the truth made literally seen through symbols.

It’s the uncovering. The unwrapping of a Christmas present. The truth of what was inside was hidden and unclear until the package is unwrapped and opened.

“Revelation is not a riddle to be decoded by experts or marginalized by those in the pews. It is a book – indeed, the final book – of Christian Scripture meant to decode our reality, capture our imaginations and master our lives with the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”[6]

That’s what Revelation’s wild imagery is for. It paints a true picture for us through powerful symbols.

Revelation “is not a secret code that allows believers to decipher the timeline of Jesus’s return.”[7]


[1] John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near, 25.

[2] The ESV Study Bible.

[3] Brian Tabb, All Things New.“Revelation, with regard to both content and construction, is one of the most exquisite of all apocalypses both Jewish and Christian” (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation and Commentary, 3). 

[4] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 152.

[5] “The book of Revelation was written to seven churches as both encouragement and challenge. An apocalyptic letter, it relies on visions, symbols, and Old Testament references to reveal the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise given to Abraham in Genesis” (https://bibleproject.com/learn/revelation/).

[6] Brian Tabb, All Things New [New Studies in Biblical Theology]. InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition).

[7] https://bibleproject.com/learn/revelation.

Photo by Sincerely Media


About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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