You will find an introduction and outline to Revelation, here.
A prayer from Gregory of Nazianus [ (329-389) an early Church father] for your use before reading.
I. Prologue 1:1-8: There are six “literary units” in this prologue. Verses 1-2 functions as a descriptive title. “Revelation” in verse 1 is not talking about the text but about what John saw and experienced. The authority of the book is explained here. Verse 3 is the first of 7 beatitudes in the book. The author uses the number 7 as a symbol and also as a way of organizing this book. Revelation is the only Jewish or Christian apocalyptic that is written as a letter. Verses 4-5a are a traditional salutation expanded by the author. “Him” refers to God. Verses 5b-6 are a doxology. Verses 7-8 are what is called an “amplified oracle” one prophetic saying is added to another prophetic saying to expand or interpret it. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, therefore referring to the beginning and the end. “In the highly stratified society of John’s day, deities and rulers were accorded strings of extravagant titles. One of John’s strategies for underlining the majesty and power of God and Christ in contrast to Satan and the earthly rulers in league with him is the use of titles of dignity drawn from various sources.” (Aune, 1189)
You can see from these first 8 verses the author of Revelation is able to use a variety of literary types and intense images in a very few verses.
II. John’s Commissioning Vision 1:9-20 : Verses 9-10 tell us the circumstances of the vision. John was probably on Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea, because he was exiled. There is no evidence that Patmos was a Roman penal colony. Exile, which could be voluntary or involuntary was a “relatively lenient form of punishment in Roman jurisprudence, usually reserved for people of wealth and postition.” (Aune, 1189)
Verses 11-20 are the vision itself. Notice how John’s account follows the general literary form for heavenly encounters. The divine being is seen, the person is fearful, the divine beings says “do not be afraid” and explains who it is and then a task is given. Notice the use of the number 7.
III. The Letters to the Seven Churches 2:1-3:22 : These letters are actually prophetic messages written in the form of royal edicts. All seven have a similar form.
- An introduction: the addressee, “thus says” and the identification of the sender
- “I know” followed by commendation and criticism of the church addressed.
- A concluding promise and exhortation.
We do not know why these 7 churches were chosen out of many possibilities. By the second century these 7 churches were believed to represent the church universal.
As you read the letters to the seven churches notice all the images borrowed from the rest of the Bible, especially the New Testament.
Aune, David E. “Revelation” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 26 “The Book of Revelation”.
Metzger, Bruce, “Revelation” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.