Theological Themes in Revelation
rev. by Kristofer Phan Coffman (01/2023)
Babylon is the name given to the whore that personifies the arrogance, opulence, and violence of the world’s ruling power (17:1-18:24). The traits of Babylon resemble those of ancient Rome as well as other powers. Finally, however, the city is destroyed by its own ally, the beast, showing the destructive qualities of evil (17:16).
A seven-headed beast is the agent of Satan, who seeks to dominate the earth by violence and economic control (13:1-18). The beast becomes the object of false worship and is the counterpart to Christ the Lamb, who brings redemption and true worship. The beast is overthrown in a final great battle and thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (19:11-21).
Revelation recognizes that evil powers conquer by killing and oppressing people (13:7). Christ, however, conquers by overcoming evil through his own self-sacrifice (5:5-6). The followers of Jesus are called to conquer by remaining faithful to him and to resist the forces of evil (2:7, 11).
Creation, in biblical terms, is the universe as we know or perceive it. Genesis says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the book of Revelation (which speaks of end times) the author declares that God created all things and… More
Heaven, earth, and sea were all made by God, the Creator (4:11; 10:6; 14:7). Creation finds its harmony in worshiping the God who made it (5:13). Because evil powers seek to dominate the world, the Creator works to bring their rule to an end, destroying those who would destroy the earth (11:18).
The martyrs call out, asking how long God will permit injustice to continue on the earth (6:9-11). The visions of the beast and Babylon show tyrannical powers dominating the world through violence and the power of wealth (13:1-10; 17:1-6). God sends plagues that are designed to move the ungodly to Repentance is a central biblical teaching. All people are sinful and God desires that all people repent of their sins. The Hebrew word for repent means to “turn away” from sin. The Greek word for repentance means to “change on’e mind,” more specifically, it means… More, and God finally destroys the powers that ruin the world, bringing liberation for those who were oppressed (19:1-8).
Throughout Revelation, Christ is portrayed as the Lamb who was slain (5:5-6). God’s power is unleashed through Jesus’ crucifixion, for the blood of Jesus redeems people from sin and brings them into God’s kingdom.
Revelation speaks often of the nations of the world. At many points the nations are taken in by the powers of evil and fall prey to idolatry (18:3). God judges the nations for their sin, yet the Lamb was sacrificed for people of every nation, and there are repeated expressions of hope that the nations will come to worship God (5:9-10; 15:3-4). The vision of the new Jerusalem extends hope that the nations will find a place there (21:24-26; 22:2).
The new creation that appears in Revelation 21:1-22:5 is where the new Jerusalem is located. Readers in the seven churches addressed by Revelation find a sense of hope in knowing that God has a place for the faithful in this city, where the In the Garden of Eden, the tree of life is the tree that confers immortality. Adam and Eve, because of their disobedience, lost access to the fruits of the garden. In the book of Revelation the tree of life appears again; this time it is… More is located (2:7; 3:12). Although readers find themselves living in Babylon, the city of lust for wealth and power, they find a new identity as citizens of the new Jerusalem, where they will reign and worship God forever.
The Power of Speech
Revelation is a book focused on the power of speech for both good and evil. John refers to himself as one who testifies, and he begins his Prophecy is the gift, inspired by God, of speaking and interpreting the divine will. Prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel spoke words of judgment and comfort to the people of Israel on behalf of God. More with a Blessing is the asking for or the giving of God’s favor. Isaac was tricked into blessing Jacob instead of his firstborn Esau. At the Last Supper Jesus offered a blessing over bread and wine. To be blessed is to be favored by God. More on “the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy” (1:3). The conflict centers around speech; the agent of Satan, the beast, is “given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words” (13:5). On the other hand, the agent of God, Jesus, fights against him with a voice “like the sound of many waters.” John vividly describes the power of Jesus’ voice in his vision of the Son of Man: “from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword” (1:16).
While Revelation is often known for its violent imagery, its discussion of resurrection is an important counterweight. While the powers allied with Satan can kill, they cannot give life. The dragon tries to fake resurrection, but its follower the beast has only appeared to receive a death-blow (13:3). In contrast, Christ is “the living one,” the one who was dead and now is alive forever and ever (1:18). Because he holds “the keys of Death and of Hades” (1:18), he can raise his followers to new life.
Satan or the devil is the personification of evil; Revelation pictures him as a dragon. Satan’s power is manifested in untrue words and in acts of violence against the faithful (2:9-10, 13). Satan is banished from God’s heavenly throne room, so that he can no longer accuse people before God, but allies himself with a beast who tyrannizes the world (12:7-12; 13:2-4). In the end Satan is banished to the underworld for a thousand years before being released and thrown into the lake of fire for eternity (20:1-10).
A throne is a symbol of power, and the many references to God’s throne emphasize the power to rule (4:2). Scenes of worship regularly center on the throne of God and the Lamb (4:10; 5:13; 7:10). Revelation recognizes that evil powers seek to maintain their own throne or power base in the world and to oppress people (13:2), but God remains sovereign and will prevail (22:3).
The Christians at Laodicea are complacent because of their wealth, and people ally themselves with the powers of oppression in order to secure more wealth (3:17; 18:3). When picturing the city of Babylon, Revelation notes how the obsession with luxury is often tied to arrogance and violence (18:9-24). The book urges Christians not to reduce life to obtaining commodities, but to pursue faithfulness and justice, which are forms of true wealth.
A witness points to what is true. Throughout Revelation there is conflict between the forces of evil, which deceive, and the allies of God, who is true. Jesus is a witness who remained faithful to the point of death (1:5). Jesus’ followers are also called to show steadfast faithfulness in the face of evil, for by their lives and their deaths they too bear witness to the power of God (2:13; 12:11; 17:6).
Revelation assumes that all people worship someone or something. The only question is whether they worship the God who made them and the Lamb who redeems them (4:10; 5:14) or worship the adversaries of God, pictured as the dragon and the beast (13:4). Worship of God is associated with blessing, whereas worship of the powers of evil brings destruction.