What was the historical background for Revelation? 

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The Author of the Book of Revelation

Early Christian tradition recognizes the apostle John as the author of the book of Revelation (ch. 1:1-3). At that time, all the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ, except John, were dead. And most of the believers who had seen Jesus Christ were also dead. John was exiled on the isle of Patmos. The second generation for Christianity encountered a great threat and it needed a new revelation of Jesus Christ. So, the Lord, in mercy gave the church comforting messages through His apostle John.

The Historical Background for the Book of Revelation

The book of Revelation was written during the time of Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81–96) in the Romans province of Asia. The issue of emperor worship became a great threat for Christians, who were persecuted for refusing to give their worship to the Emperor. Such persecution formed the background of John’s exile to Patmos, and thus of the writing of the book of Revelation.

Emperor worship, in Rome, started when the Romans defeated the East and their commanders were often worshiped as deities.  It was common to build temples to the goddess Roma, an embodiment of the spirit of empire, and with her worship was connected to the emperors.

In 195 B.C., a temple was built to the goddess Roma at Smyrna. And in 29 B.C., Augustus gave permission for the building of a temple at Ephesus for the dual worship of Roma and Julius Caesar. And he also build another at Pergamum for the worship of Roma and himself. This was the first occasion of a worship of a living emperor.

With time, in these pagan circles, the worship of Roma became less practiced and that of the emperor became more widespread. The Senate did officially deify certain dead emperors. However, the worship of the emperor didn’t take the place of the worship of local gods.

Gaius Caligula (37–41 A.D.) was the first emperor to urge the worship of himself. And he persecuted the Jews and the Christians for declining his command. But his successors were more accommodating to people with other faiths.  

The next emperor to make an issue over the worship of himself was Domitian at the time of the apostle John. At his time, Christianity was not legally accepted by the Roman government. And Domitian energetically tried to accomplish his claim to deity and to force his citizens to worship him. The Roman historian Suetonius recorded that he issued a letter in the name of his procurators, beginning with the words, “‘Our Master and our God bids that this be done’” (Domitian xiii. 2; Loeb ed., Suetonius vol. 2, p. 367).

A Message of Hope

The book of Revelation presents itself as an apocalypse unveiling the mysteries of the future ending in the triumph of Jesus Christ (ch. 1:1). The visions of the book that were given to John fulfilled specific needs in their own time and it also carried a message of hope and warning to all future generations. Through these visions, believers in all the ages, can see the majesty of heaven revealed in their resurrected Savior who is standing at the throne of God and greatly outranks in glory and strength any worldly power that demand their worship (Revelation 5:13).

Also, the book of Revelation affirms the truth that Jesus Christ is at work perfecting His faithful children on earth so that they may reflect His righteous character. And He leads His church through the ages of history toward the fulfilling of His divine plan.  “That He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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