Revelation - Lesson 1

By Stafford North

Five Keys that Unlock the Book of Revelation

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The student can identify the main symbols in Revelation and explain its basic story.
  2. The student can tell which approach to Revelation he/she has chosen and why.


  1. Have a way to show students visually a picture of the dragon, the seven-headed beast, the beast with two horns like a lamb, the harlot. These are available on the PowerPoint or you can order the pictures and show them that way.
  2. If you choose to do it, have ready your visuals-overhead projector and transparencies, PowerPoint, chalkboard.
  3. Have enough of the student worksheets for all the students to have one.
  4. Have pencils/pens ready for students to use.
  5. All students should have a Bible.
  6. Have a map for students to see that shows the seven cities of the seven churches of Asia. One is included on PowerPoint.


You should know the five most common views of the meaning of Revelation and five reasons why one of these is in harmony with what the book teaches about itself.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 10 minutes)

  1. Call the roll, welcome visitors, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Introduce to the class the study for the next quarter-the Book of Revelation.
  3. Q: What thoughts come to your mind when you hear "Book of Revelation?"(Wild pictures of animals, fear, hard to understand, end of the world, false teachings about the second coming, etc.) We can understand this book which God gave with the full intent that we would learn from it and obey it. Open your Bibles to Revelation 1:3. Someone read this verse. Q: Who is promised a blessing from Christ? (The one who reads this letter (aloud) to others, those who hear him read it, and those who "take it to heart" or, as other translations say, who "obey" it? Q: Can we be included in this blessing? (yes) So let's give our attention to the study of this last revelation from God to man which we have recorded in scripture.
  4. Perhaps the best summation of the meaning of Revelation is this: Christ and his followers will win; Satan and his followers will lose."
  5. Songs: (as desired)"Praise Him, Praise Him"-"over the world victorious.""Jesus is Lord"
  6. Prayer asking especially for God's help in our study of Revelation.

Learning Experiences: (about 30 minutes)

  1. Before we start studying about what the Book of Revelation means, let's take a quick look at the five most common views taken by various teachers and writers on the book. We need to know what these are and which is most in harmony with what Revelation says about itself. (Hand out the Worksheets for Lesson 1.) Fill in the blanks on the worksheets. (Use PowerPoint or overheads or chalkboard to show information marked "Visual.") Fill in No. 1 a through e as we look at the various possible views.
    1. Visual: Destruction of Jerusalem. Some believe that the various disasters revealed in Revelation predict the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jews had rejected Jesus and persecuted the early church and, so these say, God here reveals that He is going to bring about the fall of Jerusalem.
    2. Visual: Fall of Rome. Others believe the Fall of Rome is the event predicted by the disasters described in Revelation. The greatest persecution the church has endured came at the hands of the Roman Empire and Revelation is an encouragement to early Christians to stand fast during Roman persecution and a promise the God will bring the persecutor to defeat.
    3. Visual: Prediction of Religious and Political History. Those who hold this view suggest that Revelation is a prediction of the major events in the history of the world between Christ's first coming and His second coming. Thus, in Revelation we read about the Roman Empire, the Turks, Mohammad, the Catholic Church, war between France and England, John Calvin, Martin Luther and many other world events.
    4. Visual: Philosophical Principles. Some hold that Revelation is not about specific historical and religious events at all, but is a revealing of a certain "repeating pattern" which events will follow: Christ is preached and this is always followed by political and religious persecution. That pattern will be seen over and over in all places and all times.
    5. Visual: Events Around the End of the World. Those holding this view say that Revelation teaches that there will be a "rapture" when all living Christians and all dead Christians will be taken to heaven and this event will be followed by seven years of tribulation when the Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and then will come a terrible war over Israel. This war will climax in the battle of Armageddon and then Jesus will return and establish His kingdom on earth where He will reign with His people for 1000 years.—Q: Which of these five views have you heard the most about? Now circle the letter preceding the one which you think might be the one we will find most in harmony with our study of Revelation.
  2. Let's look at Revelation for five keys which will guide us to an answer about which of these five views is the one to follow. Fill in No.2 as we move through it.
    1. Q: From what you know about the Book of Revelation, what would you say makes it different from any other book in the New Testament? (It tells about lots of animals and strange events. It has lots of figures of speech.) No. 2 a. Visual: Revelation is Written in Symbols. This is the first key to understanding Revelation. Let's read a few verses from the book: 1:14-16; 6:7-8; 8:8-9;12:1-4. This is obviously not like reading in Matthew or Ephesians. Q: What kind of literature is Matthew? (Biography) Q: What kind of literature in Ephesians? (Epistle). No. a. 1. Q: What kind of literature is Revelation? (Apocalypse). In this type of literature the writer usually sees a vision filled with symbolic figures and numbers which predict historical events. Q: Are there any Old Testament books that use this style of writing? (parts of Daniel and Ezekiel) No. a 2. We read most books of the Bible with the assumption that their words are to be taken literally with an occasional figure of speech thrown in. In apocalyptic literature, however, we assume the opposite, that most will be figurative.Q: How do we determine whether a statement is to be taken figuratively or literally? Use this sentence, for example: "I'm burning up." How would you take that? Why? (We tend to take a statement literally unless it forces us to an obvious impossibility or something clearly not the author's intent. Since I am obviously not on fire, the statement must mean something other than what appears on the surface.) So fill in No. a 3. Here is another statement: Jesus says, "I am the water of life." Q: Figurative or literal? (figurative because obviously Jesus is not water. So we look for the deeper meaning-that Jesus is as important to us spiritually as water is physically. So, in Revelation. We find many statements that are clearly not saying what they might, on the surface, appear to say. (Teacher: Put your right hand above your left hand and parallel to it as a demonstration of how figurative language works.) Say: This is how figurative language works. It says one thing (wave your right hand a bit) but it means something deeper (wave your left hand a bit). Students, all of you do this same thing with your hands and repeat after me-(wave your right hand)-This is what it says (now wave your left hand) This is what is means. Jesus says, "I am the water of life" but he means something deeper, "You need me spiritually like you need water physically."No. a 4. Q: Why did the Holy Spirit choose to reveal the message He gives in Revelation in this way? (Because He wanted to reveal it to some while concealing it from others.) Jesus said the same of His parables (Matthew 13:13). As we learn what the message is about, we will understand why God wanted Christians to get it and others to see only a mystery.So, the first key to understanding Revelation is that it is written largely in symbolic language.
    2. Next we want to see if Revelation gives any clues to when the primary events of which it speaks will happen. Did those who first received the book, in the first century, get from the book some idea of the time period with which it will deal? Let's read these verses: 1:1; 1:3; 3:11; 22:6; 22:10. Q: Remembering that those who first read these words lived near the end of the first century, what time frame would you say the author is suggesting for when the story of Revelation would happen? (Soon, starting near the end of the first century.) No. 2 b. So the second principle is this. Visual: Revelation is Written Primarily About Events Which Will "Shortly Come to Pass." While not everything mentioned in the book would come in the time period
    3. soon after it was written, the primary thrust of the message has to do with that period of time.
    4. For the next key to understanding Revelation we need to look at what the book of Revelation says will be happening to the church during this "soon to come" time period. Let's read these verses: 1:9; 2:13; 6:9; 12:17; 13:7; 17:6. Q: What does it sound like would be happening to the church in the time after they received the book of Revelation? (persecution) So the third key to understanding Revelation is this. No. 2 c. Visual: Revelation Was Given to Comfort Persecuted Christians. Revelation clearly is about persecution of the church and is both a warning that it is coming and a message of comfort to those who were about to endure it. Something is said about persecution of Christians in nearly every chapter. So, to understand it, we must find in its message something that would benefit those Christians who first received it who were about to undergo persecution in the near future.
    5. The book of Revelation tells a story. It is like a play, a drama. Its real cast of characters is "hidden" by making each one of them appear in some symbolic form. Sometimes, today, one who writes a comic strip or a political cartoon will use this method. The president may be represented as a rabbit and congress as a turtle. Yet, when Revelation presents its key players in such symbols, it gives us enough clues that we can recognize them. So the fourth principle. Visual: Revelation Reveals the Key Characters in Its Drama.Here are some of the characters which we can identify. Look at 2 d i. One of the major players is a dragon. Visual: Dragon.


Let's read 12:9 and 20:2. Q: Whom does the dragon represent? (Satan, the devil) (Teacher: hold you hands in the parallel position and wave the right one and say-Says Dragon-Means Satan.)The next key character we need to identify is a beast.

Visual: First Beast. 

First Beast

Look at the questions under 2 d ii and complete them as I read these verses. No. a. Notice from the picture that the beast has seven heads and ten horns. He has a mouth like a lion, body like a leopard, and paws like a bear. This associates him with the fourth beast in Daniel 7 which represented a great world empire yet to come. Fill in No. b as I read 13:2b. (The dragon gave the beast great power.) Now do No.c while I read 13:6. (The beast blasphemes God.) Now No. d while I read the first part of 13:7. (The beast made war against the saints.) Q: Who are the saints? (church) No. e while I read the last part of 13:7. (The beast ruled over all nations or peoples). No. f while I read 17:9-10. (The beast's seven heads represent seven hills and seven kings. Of those seven kings of the beast, five are passed, one is present, and one is coming. So the beast was in existence at the time Revelation was written. The beast also has some connection with seven hills.) Q: So, what world-wide political power that opposed God and His people was in power at the time the book of Revelation was written and also had a connection with seven hills? (Roman Empire) So whenever the book of Revelation mentions this first beast (wave right hand) it actually means the Roman Empire (wave left hand). Fill in 2 d ii.Now look at 2 d iii. The next character to identify is a second beast, also called "the false prophet." Visual: Second Beast.

Second Beast

The artist here has given him two horns like a lamb but has made the rest of the him beast-like. Some others have pictured his body also like a lamb. We cannot be sure about this. Fill in No. iii a as I read 13:11. (The second beast has two horns like a lamb. He is on the side of the beast-Satan.) No. b. After I read verse 12, tell me what is the only thing this beast seeks to do. (Make everybody worship the first beast-actually the heads of the first beast, as later verses show.) No. c. Q: What do the heads of the beast represent? (The emperors of the Roman Empire.) Q: So what does the second beast promote? (Worship of the emperors). No.

    1. As I read the last half of verse 14, fill in what the second beast actually does. (Sets up images of the Roman Emperors and forces people to worship them.) The cities of the seven churches addressed in Revelation were hot-beds of emperor worship. Visual: Map. MapNotice on the map the location of these seven cities. In the ruins of Ephesus, for example, archaeologists have found a temple complex to the Roman Emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. The grounds were as large as five football fields and in it stood a temple three stories high with a place to offer sacrifices to these Emperors. Fill in 2 d iii. So the second beast, with two horns like a lamb, represents the Cult of Emperor Worship.
    2. Another in the cast of characters is introduced in chapter 17. Visual: The Prostitute. ProstituteI'll give you a couple of minutes to read the verse beside each question and fill it in. (Give a little time for students to use their Bibles and complete these questions then go through the questions and let the students call out the answers to you.) No. e i. The great prostitute represents a great city that rules over the kings of the earth (17:18). No. e ii. She rides on the back of the beast with seven heads and ten horns (17:3). No. e iii. She holds in her hand a cup which is filled with the blood of the saints (17:6). No. e iv. She is dressed in purple and scarlet and wears beautiful jewels. No. e v. An ancient city to which she is compared is Babylon. No. e vi. The prostitute represents the city of Rome. Visual: Revelation Reveals that the Prostitute is the City of Rome. Only that city ruled the kings of the earth, only the city of Rome rode on the beast to control the Roman Empire, only the city of Rome led in a widespread persecution of Christians, only the city of Rome fits the description of luxury portrayed here, and only the city of Rome of that day could be compared to the ancient city of Babylon with its luxury and its persecution of God's people. Be sure to complete No. 2 e.
  1. Now that we have looked at five keys which the Book of Revelation teaches about itself, let's return to the five possible views of Revelation with which we began. Look at your worksheets and lets examine these in light of what we have just learned. Q: Which of the five so you think best fits what we have just learned? (That the Roman Empire will persecute Christians and that God will eventually destroy the Roman Empire.) Now look at No. 3 on your worksheet.
    1. As I read each question, you call out the words that go in the blanks. No. 3 a. The Roman view fits that the Revelation was written in-symbols.
    2. No. 3 b. The Roman view fits with the concept of the story happening-soon. The Roman persecution began shortly after the Book of Revelation was written and delivered around 90 AD and continued for about two centuries. Then the Roman Empire was destroyed by about 475 AD.
    3. No. 3 c. The Roman view fits with idea that Christians were soon to be-persecuted. The worst persecution Christians have ever experienced was under the hands of the Romans whom some say killed as many as six million Christians. While that number is probably too high, the Roman persecution was very severe.
    4. No. 3 d. The Roman view fits with the idea that dragon is-Satan; the first beast represents-the Roman Empire; and the second beast represents-the Cult of Emperor Worship. The story of Revelation is that Satan wanted to stop the church and he did so by trying to persecute it out of existence. To do this, he brought up two helpers. First was the Roman Empire, the most powerful force then on earth. He turned the Roman Empire against the church by the development of Emperor worship. When Christians refused to worship Roman Emperors as gods, the Empire saw them as traitors and sought to destroy them.
    5. No. 3 e. The Roman view fits with the idea that the prostitute is-the city of Rome. Rome, the headquarters of the Empire, was the moving force behind the persecution.
    6. (If there is time, you may wish to show how none of the other views fits these keys.) None of the other views fits nearly so well with what Revelation tells us about itself. The Jerusalem view, for example, makes Jerusalem to be the prostitute leading kings of the world and riding on the back of the beast. But that does not fit. The historical view makes the second beast to be the Catholic Church. While you may disagree with the views of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church never set up images of Roman Emperors and forced people to worship them. The philosophical principles view says that the teaching of Revelation is equally applicable in any age but the book itself says it is about things that will happen soon. While there are certainly lessons any age can learn from the book, the primary application is certainly to the early Christian centuries. The "end-times" views ignores the "soon" timetable and says that there will be another Roman Empire that will arise later so that these events can apply to the Roman Empire as the book teaches. But another empire centuries later, would not be the Roman Empire to which this book makes reference or the one to which the early Christians to whom the book was addressed would have understood.

Application: (about 2 minutes)

Q: What attributes of God do you see from what we have studied? (power, wisdom, love for His people) Q: Why would those attributes have been of special value to the Christians of the early centuries? (because of the terrible opposition and persecution they faced) Q: What benefit can we have from recognizing these attributes of God? (we face problems, opposition, and being different from the world. We need to think about how God cares for His people, sustains them, and eventually saves them.)

Assignment: (about 1 minute)

  1. Study the worksheet you have filled out and be prepared to answer some questions from it at the beginning of the next class period. This will be our usual plan-take some notes during one class, study them during the week, and then take a quiz over that information at the next class meeting. We will let each of you grade your own paper and then we will collect the grades without names so we can get a class average. (Or explain whatever other plan you may wish to use on the quiz and grades.) Let's make this a great learning experience by putting in some study outside of our class time.
  2. Our next lesson will be on Revelation chapters 1, 2, and 3. Read those before you come to class next week.

Evaluation: (for next class period)

The review quiz given at the next class period will evaluate what students have learned during this class session and their study time following.


While the basic information you will need for teaching this class will be provided, you may wish to have some commentaries on Revelation to which you can refer. The following are commentaries that follow the general approach taken by the author of this course: J. W. Roberts: Commentary on Revelation, Sweet Publications. Homer Hailey: Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, Baker.Ray Summers: Worthy is the Lamb, Broadman Press.You might also find helpful the Teacher's Guide to Revelation by Stafford North. Call Landmark Books at 1-800-377-3164.

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