The Revelation to John, aka Revelation, is notoriously difficult. It is also widely abused. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This simple introduction will get you started with Revelation: don’t be put off by that reputation!
1. Recognize what you’ll be reading: inspired preaching to a church in trouble. You may not be persecuted for your faith, but John’s church most certainly was, and many Christians have been since. A key question as we read Revelation is “How does this speak to a suffering church?”
2. Don’t get too caught up in details. Revelation is full of poetic symbolism. Don’t be afraid of it. Not all of it will be as clear to you as it would have been to those who first heard it. That’s OK. Let the overall drama of the Revelation speak to you.
3. The more of the Old Testament you know, the better you’ll get on with Revelation. Almost 600 OT references have been picked up, most of them probably unconscious. John is just so steeped in the language of scripture that it forms a natural part of his language.
4. Some of the most important symbols of the book are not hard to decode. Rome (and its empire) is represented by Babylon, “the great beast”, “the great whore”, “the scarlet beast”. Jerusalem is Sodom. Satan is the dragon. Israel is a woman. Jesus is “the child” and “the lamb”. (This is, of course, an over-simplification)
5. Numbers always have meaning. 3 stands for heaven, 4 for earth. 7 is the number of completion or perfection. So when John writes letters to 7 churches, he is not merely addressing 7 seperate congregations but is simultaneously speaking to the whole Church. 6 represents evil because it is short of 7. The infamous 666 almost certainly represents the Emperor. It wouldn’t have been safe to mention him by name!
6. Notice how central ‘worship’ is to this book. The heart of Revelation’s message is the victory of Christ and the sovereignty of God over all the powers of the earth. Though this was written for a church facing the might of the Roman Empire, it can still speak to us because those powers have not gone away.
7. When you’ve read Revelation for yourself a few times is the time to read what others have said about it. I found Following the Lamb by Christina Le Moignan (who had the misfortune to be one of my tutors at theological college) very helpful. No doubt others will have recommendations of their own. But if you’ll take my advice, you’ll avoid anything by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.