Who Wrote the Book of Revelation?
Oct 4, 2023 · Christopher Hunt
“Who is the author of Revelation?” or “Who wrote Revelation?” are commonly searched questions on the internet. In the opening verses of the book, the author identifies himself as John, exiled on Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea (Revelation 1:9). Christian tradition holds that this was the same John who was Jesus’ disciple and close companion, who became an apostle after Christ’s ascension, and who authored the Gospel of John and the three epistles of the same name. Various details have led some scholars to question John’s authorship of Revelation. Yet, theological and thematic indicators, and the testimony of early church leaders, support the traditional view that, indeed, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, is the same John who received revelatory visions from the Holy Spirit on the island of Patmos.
The Apostle John as Author of Revelation
Most Bible scholars date the book of Revelation to the mid-90s AD, very late in John’s life (c. 6-100 AD). They conclude this, in part, from Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202 AD), a mid-second century bishop, who wrote that John received “the Revelation” near the end of Roman Emperor Domitian’s reign (96 AD). Irenaeus was a disciple of the martyred bishop Polycarp (65-155 AD), who was himself, according to church tradition, a disciple of the apostle John. Other early church leaders, including Christian philosopher Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) and the bishop Melito of Sardis (died c. 180 AD), also attributed authorship to the apostle. All of this by itself provides great primary source authority that John authored Revelation.
Some scholars question the authorship of Revelation because they observe stylistic contrasts between the Gospel of John and the three epistles on the one hand and Revelation on the other. In his gospel, John never refers directly to himself, speaking only in the third person as the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23). Even as a witness to momentous events in Jesus’ ministry, in his gospel, John dramatically downplays his own presence. Then in his letters to the churches around Ephesus, which are canonized in the Bible as 1, 2, and 3 John, the apostle speaks in the first person throughout, but still does not name himself. On the other hand, in Revelation, the author immediately identifies himself as John and relates personal experiences throughout the book. This departure, and the fact the Greek writing style in Revelation is noticeably different from John’s other writings, has led some scholars to believe a different John wrote Revelation.
Yet, certain distinctive themes link Revelation more firmly to the apostle John. In his gospel, for example, John identified Jesus as the Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Through the Word, God created “all things” (John 1:3). To clear up any doubt that he was talking about Jesus of Nazareth, John boldly stated one of the great theses of his gospel: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In a very similar tone, Revelation also calls Jesus Christ the Word of God: “He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself…his name is the Word of God” (Revelation 19:12-13). John’s gospel also calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) and tells the story of how this spotless lamb would die for the sins of the world. The book of Revelation describes Christ as the Lamb who was slain: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12). These titles are distinctively characteristic of how John described his beloved teacher, Jesus.
Jesus Christ as Author of Revelation
While the attributions of early church fathers like Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus, along with distinctive Johannine themes, affirm John’s authorship, Revelation itself points to yet another author, the one whose message is being recorded:
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ…On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea’” (Revelation 1:1-2, 10-11).
Obediently, John records all that he sees and hears from his own point of view, repeating the phrase “Then I saw,” over and over, but he is not the originator of any of the messages. All these he attributes to Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus carries John through a series of visions and some very specific messages for the churches around Ephesus, all to warn, correct, encourage, and comfort his people as they await his return. The book closes with a final confirmation that the message of Revelation is that of Christ: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
Few books in the Bible stir up questions like the book of Revelation. If you have questions about Revelation that need answers, you’re invited to check out our six-part audio Bible study, “Revelation: A Comfort for Believers.” Subscribe to Groundwork and download the study guide. It’s all free.