The Book of Revelation has been sensationalized more than any other book in the bible. It is, in fact, a book filled with wonders and mysteries, complicated Old Testament references and prophecies of future history forshadowing the second coming of Christ. Vivid imagery and extensive use of metaphors make Revelation riveting reading. Yet its basic message truly does not deviate from the rest of the New Testament. It is first and formost a book that encourages the Christian to remain faithful to Christ and Christ's teachings.
The author of Revelation was John, and the date of the work seems to be in 85 or 86 AD during the Domitian Persecution of the Christians. John was sent to a penal colony on the Isle of Patmos. He was likely condemned to work in the quarries. While there he had many visions. He writes in his introduction that God had given this message to Christ and Jesus had instructed an angel to deliver it to John. John then faithfully recorded all he was shown and addressed his message to the "Seven Churches".
The visions have been interpreted in various ways over the centuries. The book has been seen as a contemporary allegory of events of the times, as a future history, as a spiritual exposition of the individual, and as a clear exposition of the actual events to occur at Christ's second coming. Most commentators hold all of these views simultaneously to some extent. Yet the basic message is clear. God will ultimately defeat the forces of evil. Thus, the reader is cautioned to remain steadfast and faithful.
Because of the complex nature of the Book of Revelation it is not a book that should be taken on lightly or by a beginner. It is also enlightening to first study the Gospel and letters of John. It is best to take Revelation as an in-depth study, and in the whole, if possible, to keep passages in context. John frequently quotes the Old Testament. (As much as 25 percent of the book is said to be quotation or reference to apocalyptic books written before Christ.) A student of this book should have handy references to Isaiah, Daniel, etc. Group discussion and study is recommended.
Revelation: A Life Application Bible Study is inexpensive and contains 13 lessons, charts, maps, study questions and notes. Visit our Life Application page for more information on how to use this work in a Bible study.
Revelation vol 1and Revelation vol 2, by William Barclay are great both as an in-depth study for a group and also as a daily guide for individuals. Visit our page on Barclay for more information on how to use Barclay's works in a Bible study.