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.

Lord, as I read the psalms let me hear you singing. As I read your words, let me hear you speaking. As I reflect on each page, let me see your image. And as I seek to put your precepts into practice, let my heart be filled with joy. Amen.

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.

A. To Ephesus: 2:1-7  Ephesus was an important city for trade and commerce as well as the location of the Roman provincial governor. It has a population of about 225,000 and was an imperial cult center with four imperial temples. What did Ephesus do well? What is Ephesus’ problem? What are they exhorted to do? Nicolaitans are described in 2:14-15 as teaching sexual immorality and eating meat offered to idols. Verse 7, “eating from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God” refers to Genesis and is a metaphor form eternal life.
B. To Smyrna 2:8-11 Smyrna was an imperial cult center also. The “slander” was probably denunciation of Christians to the Roman authorities. “the crown/wreath of life” is a metaphor form eternal life.
C. To Pergamum 2:12-17 Pergamum had a large altar to Zeus. It also had the first and most important temple to Augustus. Pergamum was a city of about 120,000. The reference to “satan’s throne” may refer to the imperial cult temple. Again, what is the church commended for, what is it criticized for? Manna was the name for the food provided to Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16:1-36) but also Jews expected that miracle to be repeated in the last days (John 6:31-34). So manna, as in John 6:49-51 is a metaphor for eternal life.
D. To Thyatira 2:18-29 Jezabel was the wife of king Ahab who opposed the true prophets of God ( 1 Kings 16:28-19:31; 2 Kings 9:22, 30-37.) What is this church commended for, what is it criticized for? In the Old Testament, adultery was a way of speaking about idolatry and the abandonment of God.  Are you seeing any pattern? The morning star is Jesus (22:16).
E. To Sardis 3:1-6  Sardis was a rival city to Ephesus and Smyrna. It had a temple to Augusus. Its population was between 60,000- 100,000. There was a large synagogue there, one of the largest discovered thus far. It suffered destruction from an earthquake in 17 A.D. and was rebuilt with imperial aid. This church is mostly criticized but a few are faithful. White garments symbolized moral and spiritual purity.
F. To Philadelphia 3:7-13 Philadelphia was a smaller town. It was also damaged in the earthquake of 17 A.D. The key of David alludes to Isaiah 22:22. Philadelphia though of “little power” is commended for what?
G. To Laodicea 3:14-22 Laodicea was destroyed in an earthquake in 60 A.D. and rebuilt. It’s imperial temple was built after the earthquake. The area had hot springs which were considered to have medicinal properties and also the area had cold waters valued for their purity. The letter’s reference to hot, cold and lukewarm reflect the areas water supply. Laodicea also had a medical school and a pharmaceutical industry with a famous eye salve. (v 18).
Read More About It:

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.