When I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins, and so that you do not share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities." Revelation 18:4-5
The book of Revelation has long seemed under the exclusive control of those who read its powerful imagery as a blueprint for the imminent End. Bestsellers by the dozen lay out doomsday scenarios that revel in the death and destruction of unbelievers and the world they inhabit, while assuring "true" believers of their salvation via rapture. But is this the only way to read Revelation? Could these paranoid fantasies reflect the intention of Revelation's author? More important, do they truly express the Word of God for us today?
Revelation has attracted some strange bedfellows to its list of readers: Isaac Newton and D.H. Lawrence both wrote commentaries on it. Emily Dickinson and Hunter S. Thompson both claim Revelation as one of the texts most influential upon them as writers. And beneath the attention-grabbing interpretations of prophecy writers, a wide variety of readings of Revelation have been produced in recent years from a diversity of scholarly and faith perspectives. Revelation is a rich text. Any one reading, including this one, cannot exhaust its meaning. What we can do, though, is attempt to read it first of all from the viewpoint of the world in which it was written and proclaimed: the world of Asia Minor within the Roman Empire of the late first century of the common era.
The Historical Setting