Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Who was “John the Revelator”?

It has become common in some Christian circles to speak of the writer of the book of Revelation as being “John the Revelator.” Who was this guy?

This nom de plume seems to have originated with German Bible scholars of the 19th century who approached the Bible as literature, simply a series of writings produced by human understanding and imagination. For instance, in studying the book of Daniel, they concluded there must have been two authors. The first six chapters were no doubt written by a man named Daniel who lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. But the rest, especially chapter eight which contains a thinly veiled description of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the division of his kingdom into four parts and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes, could not possibly have been known by this Daniel who had lived centuries before the events he described. Therefore there must have been a second “Daniel” who wrote after those events.

After studying the book of Revelation, they concluded that the writer had done a masterful job of blending elements of Daniel and Ezekiel with current events. He had spun a wonderful yarn, but they had no idea who the writer could be. He called himself John, but they could not connect him to anyone named John who was known to have lived in that time period. It could not be the apostle John, for his writing style and choice of words did not match those found in the gospel and epistles of John the apostle. So why not just call him “John the Revelator”?

I suppose that all makes sense to those who do not believe in a God who had any part in the events described in the Bible, or in the writing of it. For those who believe that God was very much involved in all of that, there are immense problems with the idea of “John the Revelator.”

The first verse of the book of Revelation identifies it as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ which . . . was signified by his angel unto his servant, John.” This revelation was given to John, not by John, therefore it cannot be correct to speak of him as “the Revelator.”

Secondly. if we believe that John actually saw Jesus as he is described in chapter one, standing in the midst of seven candlesticks, his feet glowing as molten brass, his eyes as flames of fire and a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth, it is not hard to believe that his writing style would change.

If we believe that John the apostle actually saw everything he records in the Revelation, it is entirely inappropriate to follow the lead of unbelieving scholars and call him “John the Revelator.” Why don’t we just call him “the Apostle John”?

The Apocalypse

Two hundred years ago scholars in Germany, calling themselves higher critics, began analysing the writing style of the books of the Bible. They concluded, among other things, that Genesis had been compiled by an unknown writer from two different strands of oral tradition and that the book of Daniel had been written by two different writers hundreds of years apart.

When they came to the last book of the Bible, they expressed great admiration for the way the writer combined elements from Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah with places and circumstances of his day to create a vivid allegory. But, they said, we have no idea who the writer was. He says his name is John, but we cannot identify him with any man named John that we know of from history. It certainly wasn’t the apostle John, because his writing style is completely different from the style of John’s gospel and epistles. So we will just call the unknown man John the Revelator.

Now, if you believe, as I do, that it was the apostle John who wrote the Apocalypse, and that he really did see our Lord standing in the midst of a golden candlestick with feet like molten brass, seven stars in his hand and a sword coming out of His mouth, then it is not hard to believe that he could not describe what he saw in the same style of writing that he had used before. “John the Revelator” may sound sophisticated, but it is the language of unbelief. I will speak of the writer of Revelation as the apostle John.

Apocalypse is the Greek word that is translated Revelation. John tells us in the very first verse that the Revelation was given to him (not by him). The book is addressed to the seven churches of Asia. The cities where these churches once existed were all in the area of Asia Minor that is now Turkey. John lived at Ephesus for many years, but was exiled to the island of Patmos in the year 97 by the emperor Domitian. He was released two years later by the emperor Trajan, The visions recorded in this book were given to John some time during this two-year period.

John was well known to the members of the seven churches of Asia and they will have known that he was exiled to Patmos. Thus he needed no more introduction than that which he gives. Chapters two and three reveal God’s analysis of the spiritual condition of each of those seven churches at that time.

Some Christians try to match the scenes of Revelation to current events an believe they are getting deep into the Bible. I believe they are missing the point. The book is meant to reveal to us that God is yet at work behind all the mystifying events that are taking place in the world around us and that one day He will bring the world into judgment and set all things aright.

I am trying to write an introduction, not a commentary. Every believer should read this book for themselves, looking for the personal spiritual message that God may have for him. Here is just one line of thought to get you started:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. Water in the Bible is a symbol of the turbulent and unstable nature of humanity without God. The dry land is a symbol of the stability of those people who acknowledge God as Saviour and Lord. Thus the beast arising from the sea represents pagan religions and the beast arising from the dry land is something that arises out of Christianity, yet behaves much the same as the first beast. Frogs are amphibious, at home in the water or on dry land. Frog spirits (Revelation 16:13-14) try to deceive Christians into believing that they can be at home in the ever-changing world and also be at home in the changeless church of Jesus Christ.

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