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date: 25 February 2021

The Book of Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christlocked

  • Christopher RowlandChristopher RowlandUniversity of Oxford

Summary

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, or the Apocalypse of John, has been extraordinarily influential in Christian life and theology. For example, because of the many hymns sung by the heavenly host, Revelation has, like Isaiah 6:3, been particularly influential on liturgy and also music, for instance, the setting of Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain,” in Handel’s Messiah. It is one of two biblical apocalyptic texts (the other being the book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible). Apart from the opening words, a dominant theme of Revelation is prophecy, and its imagery emphasizing what John “saw” on Patmos suggests that the form of prophecy in the first century ce included a significant visionary element, akin to earlier biblical exemplars such as Ezekiel 1:40–48 and Zechariah 1–8. The interpretation and reception of Revelation are closely linked. Like other biblical prophetic books, it became a reservoir for understandings of the future, but alongside it there developed a role as a way of unmasking the imperfections in church and society. This article uses the evidence of its reception to understand the nature and meaning of the book, its theological antecedents, and its relationship to other early Christian writings. Its role as an eschatological guide as well as its importance for political theology, complementing what we find in Daniel, are considered. It has also inspired artists down the centuries, from the time of the first illuminated Apocalypses, and this rich visual tradition captures something of importance about the book itself and the visionary stimulus it has provided.

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