The Book of Revelation, is also known as The Revelation of Saint John the Divine and The Apocalypse, from the Greek aποκάλυψης (apokalypsis), meaning unveiling or revelation, which is the first word in the work.
Nothing is known for certain about the date or circumstances in which this book was written or the identity of the author. It claims to be an epistle (letter) written to the Seven Churches of Asia (Asia Minor, or Anatolia, then part of the Roman Empire, today part of Turkey), which were among the first and most important early Christian communities outside Israel.
After a preamble in the form of a short explanation of the epistle and greetings to its intended recipients, the author tells us that his name is John and that while he was on the island of Patmos because of his Christian faith, he received a vision from God who ordered him to write down what he saw and send the result to the Seven Churches.
"I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
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, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.'"
New Testament, Book of Revelations, chapter 1, verses 9-11.
John then goes on to recount his vision in a series of vivid and mysterious images about a future both dark and glorious, prophesying nothing less than the end of the world in a dramatic and horrifying last stand-off between the forces of good and evil. Scholars have been scratching their heads over and arguing about the meanings of the many details and the work as a whole for almost 2000 years.
The work has been dated by some scholars to the middle or end of the 1st century AD, and many believe it was written around 95-96 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD).
If this was really an epistle addressed to the Seven Churches, there may have been at least seven copies of it sent to the early Christians of Anatolia. And if the Christians there accepted its authenticity and its message, presumably further copies of it would have been made for circulation among believers. All this would have been done in secrecy, as the Christians were at that time being persecuted by the Roman authorities.
The book was eventually officially accepted as part of the New Testament canon of 27 books by the Orthodox Church in 419, after Christianity had become the established religion of the Roman Empire, although some Church leaders and theologians rejected it.
Because of the secrecy of early Christianity and the scarcity of surviving contemporary evidence, many orally transmitted legends about events and personalities circulated. Often several very different accounts concerning the same event or person existed, and the diverse versions were written about often centuries later. Many have become accepted by various branches of Christianity in various ways, either as historical truth or as traditional narrative.
The tradition concerning John was that as a Christian he was sent into exile on Patmos and that the island was one of several used as penal colonies by the Roman authorities. Other stories tell of the Romans forcing John to work in a copper mine and attempting to boil him in oil.
Another tradition is that he was John the Apostle, the Galilean fisherman who became one of the original twelve disciples of Christ, and also John the Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John in The New Testament. According to this legend, John the Apostle left Jerusalem to accompany the Virgin Mary (Christ's mother) to Ephesus where there was already a Christian community. At some point he wrote his gospel and epistles. After Mary's death he was imprisoned on Patmos and wrote the Revelation. It is a neat story and appears to tie up a lot of loose ends.
However this narrative has been challenged on several grounds, and many scholars have argued that the apostle, the gospel author and the writer of the Revelation must have been three separate people. Thus, the John who penned the Apocalypse is usually referred to as John of Patmos or John the Theologian, presumably because the book reveals its author's broad knowledge of The Old Testament, and is also known as John the Revelator and John the Divine.
Unfortunately, this leaves us with the loose ends. Who was the John whose grave is said to lie in the Basilica of Saint John in Ephesus, and who is also referred to as John the Theologian? And how can John the Apostle have lived with the Virgin Mary in Ephesus when other accounts relate that she died and was buried in Jerusalem?
See also the photos and article about the Basilica of Saint John
in Selçuk, near Ephesus on Selçuk gallery 1, pages 5-13.