Apocalypse vs Prophecy?


Most theological scholars agree that the:

Book of Revelation is a unique, finely blended combination of three distinct literary types: apocalypse, prophecy, and letter [epistle].¹

Yes, it’s also an epistle. Don’t take my word for it, open a Bible to the last book — Revelation. When you read the first three chapters, you will notice that it was written in letter form to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 1–3) by God, through John (Rev. 1:9), for believers to better understand God in their own time and in the future.

What does Revelation mean?

According to theologian Richard Bauckham,

The word ‘revelation’ or ‘apocalypse’ suggests that the book belongs to the genre of ancient Jewish and Christian literature which modern scholars call apocalypses, and even though we cannot in fact be sure that the word itself already had this technical sense when John used it, there is a great deal in Revelation which resembles the other works we call apocalypses.²

Starting with chapter 4, the real diversity of which genre classification Revelation represents becomes more blended.

Personally, I concur with other scholars that:

Revelation is a prophecy cast in an apocalyptic mold and written down in a letter form³ in order to motivate the audience to change their behavior in the light of the transcendent reality of the book’s message.⁴

John clearly intends this apocalypse to be a prophetic word to the church. His book boldly declares: “This prophecy,” (Rev. 1:3; 22:18–19) as a “testimony of Jesus,” for which he and the churches are suffering, (1:9; 20:4) “is the Spirit of prophecy.” (19:10)

His inspired book was not to be sealed for the future. It was a word from God for their present situation and is related to what they were predicting in the future.

The apocalypses teach us that Revelation describes a moment of acute crisis for its own religious community, those seven churches in Asia. Like the other apocalypses, it critiques current events, even major political and cultural developments, from a divine perspective. And like the other apocalypses, it calls its ancient audience to rigorous, even dangerous, levels of faithfulness under challenging circumstances.— Greg Carey⁵, New Testament Theologian

It’s somewhat like discussing the detrimental effects of global warming in the present day using current language and imagery vs discussing a less identifiable future.

Describing Revelation

Prophets must use the relatable vocabulary of their own era to express the thoughts and concepts that have never entered in our minds as yet.

Some distinguish prophecy from that apocalyptic on the basis that the former sees the divine deliverance amid history, while the latter expects it at the end of history.⁶

There are portions of Daniel 7–12 and Ezekiel 33–48 that are considered apocalyptic. These apocalypses have similar characteristics to passages with ones in the book of Revelation:

What Revelation means in today’s context

Elaborate and sometimes bizarre symbolism depicts past, present, and future events in a way that requires a careful decoding of the elements of the text. Battles between the forces of good and evil also often appear with the good eventually triumphing. Apocalypses, therefore, encourage a beleaguered religious community in times of oppression or persecution.⁷

What makes John’s apocalypse different, therefore, is this combination prophecy cast in an apocalyptic mold.

The Book of Revelation was written to a first-century audience. The problem also relates to the comprehensive way that John sees everything in light of the Old Testament, which he cites or echoes over 250 times, so that every significant moment in his narrative is imaged almost exclusively in Old Testament language.⁸

Classifying the genre of Revelation is important for study and theology.

However, when we read this book, we need to hear with the ears of the original intended audience and understand the overall message from their perspective. They spoke a different language, had different customs, and lived in vastly different cultures.

John’s ability to get and maintain people’s attention is impressive. His delivery differed from a typical prophet. His style was antithetically opposite to conventional wisdom, more than his predecessors or what was expected by his audience.

Yet, his timeless message was familiar enough that people didn’t discount the urgent call to action:

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matt. 24:44

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Rev. 3:20

When Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts, you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.

Personally, I recommend that you listen to my favourite full audio version of Revelation NLT Audio Bible | 1:06:58 after reading this article.

Please note the audio link is in NLT — New Living Translation. For article purposes, passages quoted in this article are from the NIV — New International Version.

For further study, I also recommend you check out this great resource:

Note: This article is not meant to be an interpretation treatment of the Book of Revelation.

For a personal experience thought treatment of Revelation, check out my other article:
“City” defined by Costa Rican Taxi Driver: Community requires a garden, worship and education center

¹ Gordon D. Fee and Douglas K. Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 250.

² Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, New Testament Theology (Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 1.

³ D A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) 479.

⁴ G.K. Beale, “Genre,” in The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 39.

⁵ Greg Carey. “What Does The Book Of Revelation Really Mean?HuffPost, HuffPost, 2 Mar. 2012, www.huffpost.com/entry/revelation-2012_b_1168906.

⁶ Beale, “Genre,” in The Book of Revelation, 37.

⁷ William W. Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson,
2004), 444.

⁸ Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 3rd ed., 249.



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Samantha Postman

Samantha Postman


Advice for Success, Philosophy & Wisdom to help you unlock your unlimited potential. Broken home to Global Speaker, Creative, CEO+ www.samanthapostman.com