The book of Revelation is a complete part of God final message to mankind. There is no need to set out for some ancient ruin or to look on dusty monastery shelves for chapter twenty-three or a long-lost volume two. Nothing needs to be added. The angel who spoke to John had him write that into the text. The Apostle listed the things he saw and heard in order. It was then sent out to seven identified assemblies as the original recipients and to general Christian populations in every age following. That means it is in God’s book with an eternal petition to warrant its inclusion. God kept His Word exactly as He intended and first composed it. It is understandable and it is complete.
It has also been said (as is true with the rest of the Bible), that it was not written to us, but rather for us. Yet, my view is this principle is easily displaced under the weight of various private interpretations. We should also recall that God has said that His Word is simple, that we can understand it; and there is no private interpretation of prophesy. With that comes the notion there is no license for thinking that the interpretation is not simple. If anything, we forget to look at it through the eyes of a commoner, and add layers filed with our ideas, definitions, higher views and seemingly boundless knowledge.
We are removed by nearly two millennia from the publication of the Revelation, and that means the immediate impact is long gone. Some of the swirling and mysterious theories thought to arise out of its pages have further served to obscure its purpose to whole generations of readers and students.
To gain a basic understanding, it should not be viewed as if it is some mysterious and continuing oracle, or an all-seeing-eye gazing into far distant times and places. It should not become some excuse to train our sight on some deep corner of someone else’s dream. It should be tended to exactly as it was composed: to note “…things that must shortly come to pass.” Without that understood at the outset, we dispose of any immediacy and pertinence it had to the audience to whom it had been first given. If it could not have been understood by them, it ends up being dead-on-arrival for everyone else. To track that notion, I will hold that the early history of the Roman Empire is invaluable to its understanding. That is why I wrote this outline and incorporated some very basic ancient information and an abbreviated history of the emperors of Rome carried into the fourth century. The long form for that background information (and a good deal more), can be found in such works as Charles Rollin’s Ancient History (2 volumes) and Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (6 volumes).