Author: Ron Graham
What Were John’s Sources?
—Did John Construct the Visions?
The Revelation of Christ (Revelation 1-5) >The Prologue >The Introduction >The chain of communication
It is important to understand that John did not make up the visions in the book of Revelation. John faithfully recorded what he really saw.
There is a clear chain of communication through which the visions came (Revelation 1:1-2).
The Heavenly Chain
- (1) God to Christ,
- (2) Christ to the angel,
- (3) the angel to John,
- (4) John to the churches.
So many commentaries however, take little account of John's claim to this chain. They take the view that John adopted a certain literary style popular in his time, and made up these visions out of his own imagination, borrowing and adapting from various books he had read and from cultures familiar to him.
1 Not Mythology and Not Even Scripture
There may be certain similarities between John's visions and various mythologies, symbols, allegories, visions, even other parts of the Bible. But there is no warrant for an assumption that these were the sources of John's book of Revelation.
The most striking similarities are found in the book of Daniel. For example, the vision of the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9-14) is comparable to the vision of Christ (Revelation 1:12-17).
However, this only shows that the same Divine Author was behind the revelations given to Daniel and to John, and that those revelations are related. It does not mean John was indebted to Daniel, or that John used the book of Daniel to help him compose the book of Revelation.
If John constructed this book synthetically, from the religious, political, and cultural symbolism familiar to him, then we must treat as rhetoric, if not as a lie, John's claim that his book is an eye-witness report of visions an angel showed him directly.
Do we want to understand the book of Revelation? Then surely we would be wise to start off on the right foot, and accept John's claim that he actually saw these visions; he didn't make them up. We ought to accept the chain of communication that John asserts.
2 Not apocalyptic literature
We hear it said that the book of Revelation is "apocalyptic literature". The so-called "apocalyptic" literature is a collection of counterfeit pseudo revelations made up by men. Therefore I object strongly to calling the book of Revelation "apocalyptic literature".
The book of Revelation is a genuine revelation from God, through Christ and his angels, to John. John carefully wrote it down, but he did not make it up.
It is true that the first word in the book, "revelation" is from the same Greek word that we get "Apocalypse". The word occurs only this once in the book, however it is used 44 times elsewhere in the New Testament, including the noun and verb forms, apokalupsis (meaning revelation) and apokalupto (to reveal).
I would caution you, however, against using words like "apocalypse" and "apocalyptic" when referring to the book of Revelation, because these words have developed popular meanings that are not John’s meaning in his use of "apocalupsis" in the book’s title.
3 Not John’s Own Imagination
Notice carefully John's claim that the revelation was "signified" to him by the angel (Revelation 1:1). A revelation can be given in plain words, or it can be signified. What does that mean?
You can see the meaning of the word signified if you put a dash in the middle: sign-ified. Instead of plain words, the message is conveyed in powerful signs and wonders portrayed in a vision or dream. Revelation is a book in which the gospel is "signified".
John, however did not signify it. He did not make up these visions. It was the angel who signified the revelation. John was the seer of the visions, not the author of them. He bore witness of what he saw and of what understanding he was given (Revelation 1:2,11,19). Only in that sense is he the author of Revelation. I repeat that he did not author the visions.
At the end of the book Jesus says, "I Jesus have sent my angel to testify to you these things in the churches" (Revelation 22:16). That was John's source for his book, and that's why he warns not to add anything to the words of the book, or take anything away (Revelation 22:18-19).