The acceptance of the book of Revelation by the Western Church was markedly different than that of the Eastern Church.1 Perhaps this was because the Western Church had more direct knowledge of its author since the seven churches of Asia were its direct recipients. Beckwith lists the following Church Fathers who accepted the Apocalypse: Papias, bishop of Hierapolis; Justin Martyr; Irenaeus, presbyter and bishop of Lyons (Gaul); Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (in Syria); Tertullian of Carthage; and Clement of Alexandria.2 The early acceptance of the book of Revelation in the very area to which it was addressed is strong evidence of its rightful canonicity. If the Apocalypse were not the inspired work of John, purporting as it does to be an address from their superior to the seven churches of Proconsular Asia, it would have assuredly been rejected in that region; whereas the earliest testimonies in those churches are all in its favor.3
In the literature of the second half of the second century, evidence begins to reveal wide circulation of the Apocalypse. Andreas quotes Papias about Revelation Rev. 12:7+ ff. Irenaeus refers to old copies of the book and to people who knew John. Other early authors who mention the book are Justin, Eusebius, Apollonius, and Theophilus the Bishop of Antioch. It is referred to a number of times in the Epistle of the Churches of Vienne. Other references to the book abound. Tertullian . . . quotes from eighteen out of the twenty-two chapters . . . and cites it as Scripture. Some literature from the period seems to refer to the book using similar phraseology, e.g., the Shepherd of Hermas, which refers to the great tribulation, and the Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas, which according to Swete abounds in imagery similar to the book of Revelation. The circulation and wide use of the book as Scripture are evident by the beginning of the third century.4
The Apocalypse seems to have been accepted almost from the beginning in the Western church . . . it appears to have been recognized by Papias . . . and may be reflected by Ignatius . . . it was accepted by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origin. It was included in the earliest list of canonical works, the Muratorian Canon, in the latter part of the second century.5The book was accepted as canonical in the West much earlier than the East. full acceptance in the canon was recognized in the Festal Letter of Athanasius written from Alexandria in 367. The Damasine Council (382) and the Council of Carthage (397) ratified this by officially including it in the canon of New Testament Scriptures.6
Today, the book of Revelation is well-established in the canon of Scripture. Its extensive connections with the Old Testament and undeniable relationship to related passages of Scripture, especially its many parallels with the book of Genesis, make it impractical to dismiss as uninspired or inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. Yet there are still those who oppose its teachings.
Earlier the battle over the authority of its teachings took place in relation to its canonization, but now the battle rages over how it is to be interpreted. Opposition to its plain teachings in our own time has come on two fronts: a rejection of the predicted time of upheaval and judgment to come upon the earth prior to the return of Christ and a rejection of His subsequent reign for one thousand years upon the earth following His return. By overemphasizing the symbolic nature of the text or associating the text with the genre of obscure Jewish apocryphal works, todays commentators attempt to persuade the student to approach the text in a way which allows the denial of these realities. Yet, as we shall see, these are plainly the teachings of this most fascinating book of the New Testament.
1 No other writing of the New Testament can claim in comparison with the Apocalypse more abundant and more trustworthy evidence that it was widely known at an early date.Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 337.
2 Ibid., 338-339.
3 A. R. Fausset, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 1:1.
6 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), s.v. Introduction.