Study Guide

Book of Revelation

Book of Revelation Introduction

What was that guy smoking?

Oh, sorry, we were just trying to guess what you'll be thinking after you finish reading the Book of Revelation. Come on. A story about a guy who claims to receive a message from God about the end of the world? A message that includes visions of angels of destruction, seven headed beasts, and rivers of blood? You're not the only one who suspects there's something a little trippy about the last book of the Bible.

Even some of the early bishops didn't like Revelation (they thought it was too hard to understand… um, yep). Martin Luther said that it was "neither apostolic or prophetic," which was a pretty big burn back in the 16th century. Thomas Jefferson thought Revelation was so weird that he didn't even bother to include it in his reedited version of the Bible (which probably earned him some side eyes from those angels of destruction). And George Bernard Shaw called it "a peculiar record of the visions of a drug addict." Hmmm.

But before we stage an intervention, let's figure out just what Revelation's deal is. Probably more than any book in the Bible, Revelation requires oodles of historical and theological know-how. See, the author was banished for being a Christian (which was illegal back in the good old days of the Roman Empire). So he's not only got a bone to pick with Rome, but he also wants to encourage and uplift other Christians who might be facing the same thing.

Trouble is, he's got to be crafty about how he criticizes the Roman Empire. He can't just go around calling the Emperor a demon beast from the pits of hell or throwing "Romans, go home" graffiti on every wall he sees. So he writes a message in code. A code you can only crack if you've got the right skills.

Don't worry, you don't have to spend tons of time and money studying early Christian literature and painstakingly learning how to translate Koine Greek on your own. Just take a stroll with your old friend, Shmoop. (Sorry, shameless plug. We just can't help ourselves.) We promise by the time you're done, this whole thing will make a lot more sense.

And if it doesn't, just remember: always say no to drugs.

What is Book of Revelation About and Why Should I Care?

Being uncool got you down? Do you find yourself with nothing to do on a Friday night (or a Saturday night)? Does no one truly appreciate the awesomeness of your Star Wars fan blog? You're not alone.

In the first century, Christians were really unpopular, too. We're talking sitting-by-themselves-at-lunch, spit-balls-in-their-hair, no-one-will-go-to-prom-with-them unpopular. And like many freaks and geeks throughout the ages, their bullies only made things worse. Unfortunately for them, their bullies just happened to be the Roman Empire. These guys didn't just push nerds into lockers or dole out wedgies in the hallway. They beheaded people. Yep. And you thought preps and jocks could be brutal.

That's where the Book of Revelation comes in. The whole thing is kind of one big "It Gets Better" video. It's a message for these geeky Christians: Hey, guys, don't worry. We've actually got the coolest deity around (Jesus!) and he's going to sort this whole mess out soon. When this world is over we're all going to go on to bigger and better things. Those bigger and better things included an eternity living in a sparkling city in Heaven with God. So, yeah, they were really looking forward to graduation.

As for the bullies? Revelation predicted that they were going to end up in God's burn book. Literally. Because if you get on God's bad side, you end up burning. For all eternity. In a Lake of Fire. Hope those meanies like screaming and writhing in pain, because that's their new after-school activity.

So, if you've ever been left out, or picked on, or made fun of, the Book of Revelation might just be for you. And the next time those jerks come after you for wearing your "Han Shot First" shirt in gym class, just think of Revelation. Sure, the armies of Heaven probably aren't going fly down and smite them, but don't worry. Revenge is a dish best served with a side of irony.

Book of Revelation Resources

Websites

Beastly Numbers
Check out this funny collection of Beast-inspired numbers. The Dragon would not be amused.

The Brick Testament: Revelation
Sure, everyone loves Bible scenes acted out by little Lego men, but their take on Revelation is particularly worth a scroll.

Movie or TV Productions

The Apocalypse
Okay, somebody had to make a movie about the Book of Revelation, right? This film isn't much for historical accuracy, but it makes up for it with awesome low-budget dramatizations of scenes right from John's letter.

Left Behind: The Movie
Staring born-again Christian actor, Kirk Cameron, this movie portrays the beginning of a modern-day apocalypse.

Historical Documents

The Book of Revelation
Check out the full text of Revelation, so you can relive all the freaky visions first-hand.

Revelation on Frontline
Here's all kinds of informative coverage from PBS on the last and creepiest book of the Bible.

Video

Who You Gonna Call?
Ghostbusters actually quotes the Book of Revelation. Well, misquotes it. The passage Ray and Winston mean to cite is Revelation 6:12. But we're impressed anyway.

Worthy Is the Lamb
Here's a hymn based on Revelation 5:12. Sung with loveliness by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

Audio

Interview with Elaine Pagels
Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels sits down with Terry Gross to discuss her work, Book of Revelation: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics. Smart people talking about cool stuff—doesn't get much better than that.

June 6th, 2006
Nothing terrible happened on this date (6/6/06), but that didn't stop people from freaking out just a little.

Impact of the Book of Revelation
Another NPR story about the impact Revelation has had on our culture. Hint: a lot.

Images

Patmos
Check out this map of Patmos, just in case you want to explore the home of our visionary narrator.

The Roman Empire
This is what it looked like in the wayback days.

The Cave of the Apocalypse
Check out the little spot in Patmos where John is rumored to have seen all his heavenly visions.

The Four Horsemen
Here's a cool, modern take on those ancient apocalyptic riders.

The Number of the Beast
This is a classic Far Side comic, which demonstrates that work in Hell doesn't always go as planned.

Revelation: The Chart
A handy little flowchart for the events in Revelation. Pin it to your wall so you never forget a bloody detail.