The Genre of the Book of Revelation

(1) A prophetic message

Those listening would thus have classified what they were hearing as a book of Christian prophecy comparable to Old Testament prophetic books such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

  • For John’s audience, “revelation” or “apocalypse” did not have associations with end-times catastrophes but rather prophetic words or visions, as shown in Paul’s letters, which were probably familiar to the churches of Asia (e.g., 1 Cor 14:6, 26; 2 Cor 12:1, 7).

This was a popular literary genre, which originated about 200 BC and remained widespread among Jews and Christians until a century or two after Christ. It was only later called “apocalypse.”

  • An apocalypse typically explains unseen spiritual realities behind human events or looks forward to history’s end. It is characterized by dreams, visions, and other highly symbolic ways of communicating.
  • Several noncanonical apocalypses prior to or contemporary with Revelation (1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham) illustrate the genre, and it is likely that John and some of his readers would have been familiar with these or similar works.

A big difference for this prophetic message is that the primary revealer is the risen Lord Jesus.

  • He conveys this message to the prophet John through an angel and through “the Spirit” (2:7, 11, etc.), whom the early Christians recognized as the source of prophecy.

(2) A circular letter

Revelation does resemble other early Christian letters in the following ways:

  • The sender identifies himself as “John,” and his recipients as “the seven churches” in Asia,
  • John extends a classic greeting of “grace … and peace.”
  • He proceeds to offer a prayer of praise and thanks to God (1:5b–6).


Williamson, Peter S. Revelation. Ed. Mary Healy. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. Print. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, pages 18-19.

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