The Book of Revelation For Dummies


by Larry R. Helyer, PhD, and Richard Wagner





About the Authors

Dr. Larry R. Helyer: Larry is Professor of Biblical Studies at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He received his doctorate in New Testament from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. He pastored Baptist churches in Portland, Oregon, and Sun Valley, California, before moving to the Midwest and teaching biblical studies at Taylor University for 28 years. He has taught a wide range of Bible courses covering both the Old and New Testaments and Jewish literature of the Second Temple. Larry has traveled extensively in the land of the Bible and lived in Israel for a year during his student days at Jerusalem University College.

Larry is author of two books, Yesterday, Today, and Forever: The Continuing Relevance of the Old Testament and Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period: A Guide for New Testament Students. Larry has authored numerous journal and dictionary articles on biblical and theological subjects and has just finished a book on New Testament theology. He was the initial translator of 2 Samuel for the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Richard Wagner: Rich is author of The Expeditionary Man, The Myth of Happiness, The Gospel Unplugged, and several For Dummies books, including C. S. Lewis & Narnia For Dummies, Christianity For Dummies, and Christian Prayer For Dummies. He has been a guest on Christian radio programs across the country discussing Christian discipleship issues as well as C.S. Lewis. Richard has served in church leadership and teaching roles for more than a dozen years.

Rich graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Taylor University and pursued graduate studies at The American University in Washington, DC. Rich lives in New England with his wife and three sons. You can find him online at



Larry dedicates this book in memory of his mother, Hazel M. Helyer (1916–2000). Her love for the Bible, large portions of which she knew from memory, left a legacy far beyond what she could have imagined.

Rich also dedicates the book to his mother, Carolyn, for her lifelong testimony of Jesus Christ as well as her tireless, selfless example of living as a disciple.

Authors’ Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the helpful people at Wiley Publishing who shepherded us through this entire process. Their expertise and encouragement made this book possible. Special thanks go to our indefatigable project editor, Stephen Clark, and our most congenial and efficient acquisitions editor, Lindsay Lefevere. Stephen’s many, helpful suggestions and comments — and timely encouragement — greatly improved this book. Danielle Voirol, our sharp-eyed and savvy copy editor, and our two technical editors, Dr. Robert Berg and Rev. Ken Cavanagh, saved us from more mistakes than we’d like to admit. In short, we’re better writers because of this collaboration.

We’re grateful to our literary agent, Matt Wagner, for his efficient handling of contract, schedule, and financial matters.

Finally, we acknowledge our indebtedness to former teachers, biblical scholars, colleagues, friends, and fellow travelers on the way to the New Jerusalem. Their contributions are too numerous to list. May they all join in for the final chorus: “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

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Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Stephen R. Clark

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About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : Revealing the End of the Biblical Story

Chapter 1: One Man’s Visions, All Humans’ Fate

Why Read Revelation, Anyway?

Taking a Whirlwind Tour through Revelation

Monitoring the Book’s Timeline

Chapter 2: Setting the Stage: The Apostle John and the World in Which He Lived

ID-ing John Doe, Author of Revelation

Understanding the Troubled Times in Which John Lived

Playing the Dating Game

Unraveling Revelation’s Textured Style of Writing

Chapter 3: The Prequels: Prophecies throughout the Bible

Understanding the Old Testament Backdrop to Revelation

Peeking into Old Testament Prophecy

Examining the 70 Weeks of Daniel 9

Exploring the Olivet Discourse: Jesus’s Prophecy

Part II : Interpreting the Book of Revelation

Chapter 4: Choosing a Perspective for Understanding Revelation

Solving the Revelation Puzzle: Four Solutions throughout History

Futurist: Events Will Take Place at a Moment’s Notice

Historicist: Covering the Entire History of the Church

Preterist: Explaining Historical Events from the First Century

Idealist: Identifying Themes, Not Literal Events

What’s Your Angle? Evaluating the Four Approaches

Chapter 5: Deciphering Symbols with Your Secret Decoder Ring

Giving John’s Readers a Heads-up

Why Use Symbols?

Understanding Common Interpretations

Part III : Taking a Grand Tour of the Book of Revelation

Chapter 6: Setting Up the Scope of the Book (1:1–20)

Declassified! Releasing God’s Secrets in the Apocalyptic Press

Probing the Prologue (1:1–3)

Saluting the Saints in Asia (1:4–6)

Sounding the Theme (1:7–8)

Initiating the Visions (1:9–11)

Seeing the First and the Last (1:12–18)

Charting the Course (1:19–20)

Chapter 7: Reading the Seven Letters to Conflicted Churches (1:19–3:22)

The Symmetry of the Messages

Asking about the Audience

Getting to Know the Seven Churches Up Close and Personal

Chapter 8: Peeking into the Throne Room (4:1–5:14)

Focusing on the “Someone” on the Throne (4:1–11)

Singing Praise to the Lamb with Scroll-Opening Skills (5:1–14)

Chapter 9: Breaking Seven Seals (6:1–8:1)

Unsealing the Beginning of the End

The First Four Seals: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (6:1–8)

The Fifth seal: The blood of martyrs (6:9–11)

The Sixth Seal: The Day of the Lord Has Come! (6:12–17)

Pausing for Effect (7:1–17)

The Seventh Seal: Silence in Heaven (8:1–5)

Chapter 10: Sounding Seven Trumpets (8:2–11:19)

Previewing the Seven Trumpets

The First Four Trumpets: Fire, Blood, and Hail

Wailing the Woes of the Last Three Trumpets

The First Interlude: The Angel and the Little Scroll

The Second Interlude: Two Star Witnesses in Jerusalem

Beginning of the End: The Seventh Trumpet

Chapter 11: A Woman, a Dragon, Two Beasts, and More! (12:1–14:20)

Heavenly Drama: The Dragon Falls, the Woman Is Saved (12:1–17)

Two Beasty Boys Join the Dragon to Make Their Mark (13:1–18)

The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1–5)

Three Angels with Three Messages (14:6–13)

Harvesting and the Grapes of Wrath (14:14–20)

Chapter 12: Seven Angels, Seven Bowls, and a Final Smackdown (15:1–18:24)

A Preamble to God’s Final Wrath (15:1–8)

Pouring Out the Seven Bowls (16:1–21)

But First, a Word from Our End-Times Sponsor, the Lamb (16:15)

Exposing the Mystery of Babylon the Great (17:1–18)

Loveless in the Ruins: Celebrating Babylon’s Fall (18:1–24)

Chapter 13: Coming of the Kingdom (19:1–20:15)

Returning as Promised (19:1–21)

Dawning of the Millennial Age (20:1–6)

Letting Satan Loose (20:7–10)

Standing at the Great White Throne (20:11–15)

Sorting Out Two Theological Issues

Chapter 14: Seeing the New Jerusalem and a Triumphant Church (21:1–22:6)

Exploring a New Creation (21:1–8)

Taking a Virtual Tour of the New Jerusalem (21:9–27)

Coming Home to the Garden (22:1–6)

Chapter 15: Promising to Return (22:6–21)

Verifying the Source of the Message (22:6–8)

Getting to the End on Time (22:7)

Knocking “Other” Worship (22:8–9)

Leaving the Scroll Unsealed (22:10–15)

And Now, In Conclusion (22:16–21)

Part IV : The Part of Tens

Chapter 16: Ten Common Questions about the End Times

What Does Eschatology Mean?

What Do the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls Symbolize?

What’s the Great Tribulation?

What’s the Rapture?

Who Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Who is the Antichrist?

What’s the Mark of the Beast (666)?

What’s the Significance of the Term Babylon?

What’s the Millennium?

What’s the Lake of Fire?

Chapter 17: Ten Tips for Interpreting Scripture and Prophecy

Don’t Depend on English Words for Sorting Out Hidden Meanings

Keep Verses in Context

Look to Other Scripture as a Guide

Remember the Target Audience

Look for the Original Meaning

Identify the Literary Style

View Fulfilled Prophecy as a Prototype

Don’t Try to Pin Down Timelines for Fulfillment

Note that Biblical Prophecy Can Have Stages of Fulfillment

Consider that Some Biblical Prophecy Is Conditional

Appendix: Glossary


A common cartoon theme involves a person wearing a sandwich sign or carrying a poster that proclaims, “Repent! The end is near!” What’s implied is that some sudden, violent event is just around the corner and that people need to brace themselves for whatever’s coming. And usually, the end that’s near involves something nasty, if not totally devastating.

The idea of a dramatic and destructive end to the earth has been around for ages. It’s the stuff of some really great sci-fi movies, and a lot of the elements that go into these stories come right out of the Bible. In fact, terms such as repent and Antichrist and Armageddon are direct references to messages, characters, and events that make up the book of Revelation. When you examine these themes and images in the context of religion, faith, and biblical history, things get even more interesting.

But the book of Revelation is no easy read. Some people, after slogging through Revelation, seem to suffer from what we call PTRRD: Post-Traumatic Revelation Reading Disorder. Maybe you’ve had this experience. You start reading with a rush of enthusiasm, and all goes well through the first three chapters and their letters to the seven churches. Then things start to get hairy: visions from heaven, creatures with eyes covering their bodies, plagues, horses of different colors, angels everywhere. Seven seals are opened, seven trumpets are sounded, seven bowls are poured out, and things get really confusing. Throw in grapes of wrath, red dragons, giant hail, and something called the rapture, and, well, you get the idea. Lost becomes more than just the name of a television series — it’s the perfect descriptor of your mental state.

Our intent is to help you avoid PTRRD. We act as your tour guides to help you navigate the amazing book of Revelation. Even if you can’t figure out every single detail, clues that open up large chunks of the text abound. We promise you’ll come away with a better understanding of what Revelation is about, as well as a ton of cool information that you can sprinkle into conversations and impress your friends!

About This Book

The first thing you may discover is that there’s no one dominant or right way to interpret the book of Revelation. About the only thing all serious students of Revelation can agree on is that in the end, good wins over evil. Theological views about what happens, when it happens, and to whom it happens vary widely. In The Book of Revelation For Dummies, we introduce the leading views and point you to some of the most likely meanings.

Revelation is arguably the most perplexing book in all the Bible, so our goal is to be clear and concise. Therefore, we aim for an easy-to-understand, approachable discussion, without trying to bombard you with a lot of theological gobbledygook.

The topics in the book are logically ordered, so you can read from start to finish if you want to. But this is a reference book, so don’t feel you have to read it from cover to cover. You may prefer to browse the Table of Contents, flip through the pages, or thumb through the index to locate a topic that you find particularly engaging.

Conventions Used in This Book

To make sure you get the most out of this book, keep the following conventions and definitions in mind.


The word apocalypse has become associated with a devastating event, including the end of the world. But the term actually means “to unveil” or “to reveal.” And so, Revelation is a revealing (apocalypse) of the biblical view of how all things come to an end. People often refer to any literature that addresses the end of the world as apocalyptic.

Bible references

The Bible verses we quote are from the New Revised Standard Version translation, unless otherwise noted. We cite passages using the standard convention, Book chapter:verse. For example, John 3:16 refers to John as the book of the Bible, 3 as the chapter of the book, and 16 as the verse of the chapter. If you don’t see a colon in a Bible reference, the number refers to an entire chapter; in other words, Rev. 4–5 means chapters 4 through 5 of the book of Revelation.

When we refer to the Old Testament, we’re talking about those sacred scriptures that Christianity shares with Judaism. Jews refer to these scriptures as the Tanak, or Hebrew Bible. For Protestants and Jews, these scriptures consist of the same 39 books; Catholics include several additional books, collectively called the Apocrypha.

We occasionally refer to Jewish works that aren’t part of the Bible, such as 1 Enoch. If you’re really interested in reading the book of 1 Enoch, check out the English translation with introduction and notes by E. Isaac in James H. Charlesworth, ed., Volume 1. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments (Doubleday).


For the purposes of this book, historical Christianity, biblical Christianity, and orthodox Christianity are interchangeable terms. Each speaks of beliefs that the church has historically upheld for some 2,000 years. Simply, Christianity is monotheistic (believing in one God), is based on the teachings of Jesus, and embraces the entire Bible as truth.


When we refer to dates, we use the newer designations BCE (before common era) and CE (common era) rather than the more traditional BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, in the year of the Lord). If you’re unfamiliar with the newer terms, no sweat. The year 34 BCE is the same as 34 BC, and 1050 CE is equivalent to AD 1050.

Names of God

Although God has many names, we generally use God and Lord in this book. Also, in accordance with historical usage, we use the traditional masculine pronoun he to refer to God.

Prophecy and prophesying

People often think of prophecy as being limited to future events. But from a biblical perspective, prophecy is a noun that refers to something more general: the act of speaking the mind and counsel of God. Biblical prophets were, in a sense, the mouthpiece of God, delivering important information to God’s people. Biblical prophecy, among other things, addressed current events, offered guidance on behavior, revealed elements of the character of God, reassured God’s people, and often predicted future events. Sometimes, prophecy about the future was conditional: If bad behavior continued, bad things would happen; if behavior was brought back in line with God’s will, bad things would be averted. The point is that biblically speaking, all prophesy isn’t just about foretelling the future.

Note that prophesy is the verb usage of the word: Prophets prophesy prophecy!


In order to draw your attention to particular words and phrases, we use the following formatting conventions:

bullet Italics highlight terms that we define.

bullet Boldface indicates keywords in explanatory bulleted lists.

bullet When we provide a cross-reference to another chapter within this book, we capitalize the word Chapter before the chapter number; however, when we’re referring to a book of the Bible, the word chapter is lowercased.

What You’re Not to Read

Although we focus on what you need to know about the book of Revelation, we also include some additional topics that, although informative, you can skip during your first read-through of the book. These include sidebars, the shaded boxes that show up every so often throughout the book. Sidebars deal with subjects related to the chapter, but they aren’t necessary reading.

You can also bypass text with a Technical Stuff icon beside it — this icon indicates technical, theological, or historical bits of info that’s helpful but more advanced. If your eyes start to glaze over in reading them, you can pass over them without missing the basics.

Foolish Assumptions

In writing this book, we didn’t assume any particular religious faith leanings for the reader. You may be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or atheist. But regardless of your faith background, we believe you’re generally curious about biblical prophecy and the book of Revelation.

Although we don’t assume you have previous knowledge of the Christian Bible, we figure you have access to one — either in print or online — so you can check out our references to specific Bible passages.

How This Book Is Organized

The Book of Revelation For Dummies is divided into four parts. Here’s a glimpse of each one.

Part I: Revealing the End of the Biblical Story

Part I begins with an overview of Revelation and its major themes, side detours, and often-confusing symbolism. You then explore who the book’s author is and when he likely wrote it. Rounding out the discussion, Part I helps you better understand the prophecy of Revelation by diving into the Old Testament prophetic writings and exploring the characteristics of apocalyptic literature, a genre of Jewish and Christian literature that claims to foretell catastrophic events that’ll transpire during the last days of the world.

Part II: Interpreting the Book of Revelation

In Part II, we introduce you to the sticky topic of interpreting Revelation. Within the Christian church, four views on how to understand Revelation have been long dominant. We explain each of these perspectives and compare and contrast them, noting their strengths and weaknesses. After that, we begin to show you how to make sense of all the symbolism that runs throughout the book’s 22 chapters.

Part III: Taking a Grand Tour of the Book of Revelation

Part III is, in many ways, the heart of this book. In it, we take you on a guided expedition through each and every chapter of Revelation. We identify the key themes and explain the likely meaning of the underlying symbolism along the way.

Part IV: The Part of Tens

In the final part, we explain ten confusing terms that often stymie people when they read Revelation. We then give you ten practical tips to think about when you’re reading and studying Revelation and the Bible as a whole. A glossary of terms follows the Tens chapters for easy reference.

Icons Used in This Book

The icons in this book help you quickly identify specific kinds of information that may be of use to you:

The Remember icon highlights important ideas for you to keep in mind to deepen your understanding of Revelation.

This icon draws attention to important points that help you make sense of Revelation’s prophecy.

Steer clear of the pitfalls we flag in the Warning paragraphs.

The Technical Stuff icon indicates more-advanced or scholarly information about the topic being discussed. It’s useful but not essential for an overall understanding of the discussion.

Where to Go from Here

Now that you’re at the end of the introduction, you have your boarding pass and are ready to begin your travel into the apocalyptical world of Revelation. You have several routes to choose from as you begin your trip:

bullet If you’re interested in reading the book from cover to cover, turn the page and proceed to Chapter 1.

bullet If you’d like to know who this guy called John is (who wrote the book), go to Chapter 2.

bullet To get a perspective on the major ways people interpret Revelation, check out Chapter 4.

bullet If you’d like to use this book as a companion guide as you’re simultaneously reading your Bible, turn directly to Part III.

bullet If you like to read the last page of a novel first, then read Chapters 14 and 15. They tell you how it all turns out in the end!

Part I

Revealing the End of the Biblical Story

In this part . . .

The book of Revelation may be about the “end of all things,” but we have to start somewhere. This part gets your apocalyptic feel wet, so to speak, by introducing you to the book’s author, the original recipients of the book, and the world in which it was written.

After you’ve immersed your feet in the waters around Patmos (where the author wrote the book), you’re ready to dive into biblical prophecy, which is essential to a solid understanding of the symbolism in Revelation. We introduce you to biblical prophecy, taking it step-by-step so you don’t get the bends. After that, we provide a first look at Revelation, giving an overview of the book’s structure and timeline. So come on in, the water’s fine . . . though we do seem to recall a certain beast that may be lurking in the sea! (But you have to wait for Revelation 13 for that.)