Books 1-4 Gospels The four Gospels - Matthew - Mark - Luke - John - Gospel harmonies



Four Gospels about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ have been accepted as authentic by the Church from at least the 2nd century:

The first three "Synoptic Gospels" (synoptic from the Greek, "taking the same view") - Matthew, Mark and Luke;

The fourth quite different Gospel of John.

The Synoptics suggest Jesus' ministry lasted one year;

John's that it covered a three year period.

There are differences between the three Synoptic Gospels and even more between them and the Gospel of John. But there is little disagreement between their accounts of the arrest, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus, and his commission to preach the Gospel to the world.

Accounting for these differences is not easy. But after the death of Jesus, stories about his life and death and resurrection, his sayings and teachings and parables, his travels and miracles, and his disputes with the religious authorities, would have circulated, but not in writing. Instead, in the oral tradition of the time, they would have been passed on through the spoken word, and with little loss of accuracy. After a period, much of this material was committed to writing, and then, from perhaps c AD50-60 and even earlier, made available to the Gospel writers in different parts of the Christian world.

The traditional view is that Matthew wrote his Gospel first, probably in the Aramaic language.

The modern view is that Mark's Gospel came first, and that both Matthew and Luke based theirs on Mark and other collections of material about Jesus.

John's Gospel appears to have been composed either independently, or at least in an independent way.

Equally, there are many problems trying to establish where and when the Gospels were written, and, in the case of Matthew and John according to modern scholars, who actually wrote them. None of these issues are important compared with the message of Jesus Christ. However, they are interesting questions and are covered in outline here:

Book 1 of 27 - GOSPEL OF MATTHEW

Writer: The apostle Matthew (also called Levi);

Date: Traditionally the first Gospel to be written, perhaps c AD40-50 in Aramaic, with the Greek translation sometime before AD70;

Where written: Probably Palestine;

Readers: To appeal to Jews, and especially Jewish Christians. There are frequent references to Jewish prophecy, and many Old Testament quotations;

Why written: To show that the man Jesus of Nazareth, was the kingly Messiah or Christ prophesied as the saviour of Israel throughout much of Jewish history.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: There was no Aramaic original. Instead the Gospel was written by an unknown Jewish Christian, using Mark's Gospel and other collections among his sources. These might have included sayings compiled by the apostle Matthew. Suggested date is c AD85-90; place of writing possibly Syrian Antioch.

Book 2 of 27 - GOSPEL OF MARK

Writer: John Mark, son of Mary of Jerusalem and cousin of Barnabas. Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas at the start of the First Missionary Journey. He was traditionally a companion and the "interpreter of Peter", and the apostle Peter probably provided Mark with much of the material for this Gospel;

Date: Traditionally the second Gospel to be written; perhaps c AD53-63, the year 53 being the earliest date Mark could have joined Peter in Rome;

Where written: Rome;

Readers: To appeal to the Roman world, and particularly Gentile Christians. The Gospel has few references to Old Testament prophecy, and explains Jewish words and customs;

Why written: To show Jesus Christ is not only the active and powerful Son of God, but also the servant, saviour and redeemer (or ransomer) of sinful man.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: The first Gospel to be written using material provided to John Mark by Peter, but at a later date - perhaps AD65-75. This would have been around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. It was then used by Matthew and Luke in writing their Gospels.

Book 3 of 27 - GOSPEL OF LUKE

Writer: Luke, a Gentile and the "beloved physician", a friend and traveling companion of the apostle Paul;

Date: Traditionally the third Gospel, written in c AD62, before the Acts of the Apostles which finishes around the time of Paul's first Roman captivity. Some commentators propose c AD58-60 in Caesarea when Paul was in prison. Perhaps some of the material for the Gospel and for Acts was collected at this time;

Where written: Possibly Achaia in southern Greece, or drafted in Caesarea;

Readers: The unknown Theophilus, but more generally aimed at the Greek world and Gentile Christians. Jewish customs are explained, and sometimes Greek words substituted for the Hebrew;

Why written: To give an orderly account of the life of Jesus using eye-witness accounts.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by Luke as late as c AD80-85 using the Gospel of Mark, and other collections amongst his main sources.

Book 4 of 27 - GOSPEL OF JOHN

Writer: The apostle John, son of Zebedee;

Date: c AD90-100. Note that the ancient Ryland's papyrus with its short extract from John's Gospel is dated to the first half of the 2nd century;

Where written: Ephesus in the west of Asia Minor, before or after John's banishment to the island of Patmos which lay off the coast in the Aegean Sea;

Readers: The whole Christian Church - Jew, Greek and Roman;

Why written: To convince his readers that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Still traditionally Ephesus, c AD90-110. The oral traditions and theology of the apostle John were compiled during his lifetime, and the Gospel finally published by a close companion. This might have been John the Elder, possibly after John's death, with the Elder "interpreting" John, much as John Mark "interpreted" the apostle Peter.


In the "Story of Jesus" (see J B Phillips Homepage), the many different Travels and Acts of Jesus have been collected together and arranged to follow what are called "Gospel Harmonies". These attempt to place the events of Jesus' life in chronological order.

Because the Gospels were written, not as historical biographies but as collections of teaching material aimed at different audiences - Jews, Romans, Greeks, the whole world - there will never be complete agreement between the Harmonies.

In arranging the Gospels in this way for "The Story of Jesus", any differences between various Harmonies have been reconciled by making the following general assumptions:

- Mark's Gospel is in date order;

- Luke's Gospel is usually in date order, but there are discrepancies. These may be because he had to reconcile various eye-witness and written accounts;

- Matthew grouped some of his material to meet his teaching aims. His order is therefore not always chronological;

- The relationship of John's material to the three Synoptic Gospels has been developed by scholarly research over the last two centuries. Although there are still disagreements, these relationships are assumed to be generally reliable.

Whatever discrepencies arise, the rearrangement of the Gospels in "The Story of Jesus" should make it possible to:

1. More easily follow the events in Jesus' life,

2. Find in one place, all His miracles, parables, confrontations, Easter story etc,

3. Compare the different Gospel versions of the same event or teaching


The Travel Areas of the Acts of the Apostles and Where Paul Sent his Letters

Map Key:
Provinces, islands and cities playing an important recorded part in the Early Church according to the Acts of the Apostles
Locations in boxes - The six cities and one province receiving Letters from the Apostle Paul


Book 5 of 27 - ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 

Writer: Luke, a Gentile and the "beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14), a friend and travelling companion of Paul;

Date: c AD63, towards the end of Paul's Roman captivity;

Where written: Rome, but possibly drafted in part, or material collected in Caesarea;

Reader: The unknown Theophilus, either a senior Roman official who was also a Christian, or symbolically the entire Gentile Church;

Why: To record that part of the history of the early Church from the resurrection of Jesus to the imprisonment of Paul in Rome 30 years later; the area concerned is in Map above. It bridges much of the period between the Gospel story of Jesus and the Letters to the Church. One interesting theory is that it was written as part of the preparation for Paul's legal defence in Rome some years after his arrest in Jerusalem.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Still probably written by Luke, but perhaps c AD80 as a continuation of his Gospel. It probably used material collected from Paul during his imprisonment at Caesarea in c AD58-60



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD57 or 58 towards the end of his Third Missionary Journey

Where written: Corinth, during his 3 months stay in Greece

Readers: The Christian church already established in Rome. Paul hoped to visit them for the first time

Why: Probably the most important work ever written on the theory and practise of Christianity. It has had a profound impact on Christians throughout history. It describes our ever-present sinful condition, God's plan to save all mankind through "justification by faith" in his crucified and risen son, Jesus Christ, and our resulting "sanctification" through God's Holy Spirit. There is also a major section on Christian duties and relations with the world

JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH - The doctrine that men are made just, proved or shown to be just and right, vindicated, absolved, by faith in Jesus Christ;

SANCTIFICATION - Made, declared, regarded as, shown to be sacred or holy; free from sin or evil; set apart to sacred use



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD56-57 during Paul's Third Missionary Journey

Where written: Ephesus in modern western Turkey, during his nearly 3 year stay there

Readers: The largely Gentile church established at Corinth, a major commerce centre and capital of Achaia, when Paul stayed there for 18 months during his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:11)

Why: Paul is aware from a number of sources, including letters and visitors from Corinth, that the church has serious problems with false teachers and trying to live the Christian life in a liberal and pagan city. In this letter, and perhaps with limited knowledge of the real situation, he deals guardedly with the issue of false teachers (2 Corinthians is far more direct). However he does not hesitate to tackle problems of sexual immorality, lawsuits, the Lord's Supper, and resurrection, while also answering the Corinthians questions about marriage, eating and socialising between Jews and Gentile Christians, and spiritual gifts and worship. This Letter includes Paul's famous chapter 13 on love.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: The First and Second Letters to the Corinthians could be part of a series of four or more letters sent by Paul to Corinth as the church's problems were first identified and then resolved - all at heavy emotional cost to Paul and no doubt the Christians of Corinth. At an earlier stage in this saga, Paul may have made a short, unrecorded visit from Ephesus across to Corinth.

The four letters could be:

(1) A letter, now lost but referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9, warning against relationships with sinners and the sexually immoral. Parts of this "lost" letter might have been preserved in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1;

(2) Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians here. This addresses specific questions raised in a letter sent from Corinth, and even more serious issues reported to Paul by visitors from Corinth;

(3) A "stern" letter, referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:3 and 7:12 which deals with the problem of false teachers who are attacking Paul. This is possibly preserved in part as 2 Corinthians 10:1-13:10; and

(4) A "glad" letter that is mainly the first part of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapters 1 to 9, plus 13:11-14. In this, Paul appears to be reconciled with the church following the return of Titus from Corinth with a positive report, 2 Corinthians 7:6)



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD57, a few months after his First Letter

Where written: Macedonia in northern Greece, after the return (2 Corinthians 7:5-7) of Titus from Corinth

Reader: The church in Corinth

Why: Paul continues to be attacked by false teachers in Corinth who question his authority as an apostle and the truth of the Gospel he preaches. In the first part of the letter he defends himself and Christ's Gospel against these charges. By chapters 8 and 9, by which time he is discussing the collection for the Jerusalem Church and Titus has returned from Corinth, he appears to be reconciled with the majority of the church.

 With chapter 10, there is an abrupt change in tone. Chapters 10-13 are either a final warning to a small number of unrepentant church members who are still attacking Paul, or part of an earlier "stern" letter (the "third" letter described in the introduction to 1 Corinthians)

According to Some Modern Scholarship: See introduction to the First Letter to the Corinthians above



Writer: The apostle Paul, writing either (1) to the churches of South Galatia such as Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe established during his First Missionary Journey; or (2) to North Galatia, possibly resulting from his Second Journey. Galatia is in present-day Turkey

Date: (1) If South Galatia, c AD48 or 49 before the Council at Jerusalem; or (2) if North Galatia, c AD56 or 57 some time before Paul's Letter to the Romans

Where written: Where written: (1) On the way to the Council at Jerusalem; or (2) possibly from Macedonia or Corinth on Paul's Third Journey

Readers: The churches established (1) during Paul's First or (2) possibly Second Journey's

Why: The church is moving away from Paul's teaching of "justification by faith" in Jesus Christ towards meeting the needs of the Law. Paul condemns those who are teaching in this false way, and in contrast, declares that he has the authority of a true apostle. If the Galatians want to practice Jewish traditions such as circumcision, they have a stark choice - either slavery to the Law or freedom in Jesus. But they must understand that the liberty they enjoy as Christians is not a licence to behave as they want, but an obligation to serve others according to God's will.



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD62; sent with the letters to the Colossians, and to Philemon

Where written: Under house arrest in Rome

Readers: The church in Ephesus, but also a circular letter to other churches in the province of Asia;

Why: The Christian Jews of Asia may have been keeping themselves somewhat aloof from Gentile converts. In this general letter, Paul shows that God sent Christ to break down the ancient barriers between Jew and Gentile; through a shared faith, all are one as the Church of Christ. The second part of the letter has advice on the Christian life including the well-known verses on the "armour of God" (6:10-18).

According to some modern scholarship: Composed and written c AD62 by a secretary and signed by Paul; OR towards the end of the 1st century by an unknown Christian using Paul's name to give the letter authority



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD 61 or 63, either before, or after the Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon

Where written: Under house arrest in Rome

Readers: The church at Philippi founded by Paul during his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:12-40);

Why: Philippi is a caring and generous church (2 Corinthians 8:1-5), for whom Paul has a special affection. Its members probably included Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth, the Phillipian jailer and his family, and perhaps Luke. In this Letter, Paul shows his joy in spite of his imprisonment, his love for the church, his overwhelming devotion to Christ and all he means, and his concern that the Phillipians will drift away from all they have been taught.



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD62; sent with the Letters to the Ephesians, and to Philemon

Where written: Under house arrest in Rome

Reader: The church at Colossae in Asia Minor, probably established by Christian workers from Ephesus. Colossae does not appear to have been visited by Paul

Why: Colossians is a general message of love and friendship to a church Paul has not visited. In it, he warns them against false prophets who teach a mixture of Jewish tradition and Greek philosophy and mysticism which belittles Christ's coming. In doing so he makes clear exactly who Jesus is, and his part (Paul's) in teaching the true Gospel as an apostle to the Gentiles



Writer: The apostle Paul, probably his earliest surviving letter. Both 1 & 2 Thessalonians are known as "eschatological" books from the Greek for the "last things", as they include teaching about the end-times and the second coming of Jesus

Date: c AD52 during his Second Missionary Journey

Where written: Corinth (Acts 18:11) during his 18 month stay

Readers: The church of mainly Greek converts established in Thessalonica by Paul earlier during this, his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 17:1-9)

Why: Paul, concerned that the Thessalonians are rejecting the Gospel, sends Timothy to encourage and strengthen them. Timothy returns to Corinth from Macedonia (Acts 18:5) with a favourable report, and Paul writes his First Letter



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD52, a few months after his First Letter to the Thessalonians

Where written: Corinth, during his 18 month stay, Acts 18:11

Readers: The church in Thessalonica

Why: Following his First Letter, Paul must have received reports that the church was still preoccupied with the Second Coming of Jesus. He therefore writes his second "eschatological" letter


A Word of Explanation about the three Teaching or Pastoral Letters - 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, c AD64-67:

According to strong tradition and indirect evidence, Paul was not executed in c AD64 during the Nero persecutions. Instead, after being released from prison some time before, he continued his travels, visiting such places as Crete, Macedonia, Nicopolis in Achaia, Troas, Miletus, and Corinth, and perhaps even reaching Spain. Then he was re-arrested, tried and executed in c AD67. During his travels, he wrote two of his three "pastoral" or teaching letters - the First Letter to Timothy and the Letter to Titus. Then under sentence of death in Rome, his Second Letter to Timothy.



Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD66, assuming Paul was released from house arrest in Rome and continued his travels

Where written: perhaps Macedonia

Reader: Timothy, Paul's disciples and friend, and now a minister in Ephesus

Why: Paul writes to the young Timothy to encourage and advise him on his conduct and work as a minister;

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by an unknown Christian towards the end of the 1st century, using Paul's name and some of his original material to give the letter authority



Writer: The apostle Paul, his last recorded words

Date: c AD67, assuming Paul was re-arrested, and returned to Rome for trial and execution

Where written: Rome

Reader: Timothy, Paul's disciple and friend, and still a minister in Ephesus

Why: Paul's last letter before his presumed execution, in which he encourages Timothy in his difficult job as a young minister, and gives him further instruction. He also asks Timothy to visit him in Rome

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by an unknown Christian towards the end of the 1st century, using Paul's name and some of his original material to give the letter authority


Book 17 of 27 - PAUL'S LETTER TO TITUS

Writer: The apostle Paul

Date: c AD66, assuming Paul was released from house arrest in Rome and continued his travels

Where written: Perhaps Macedonia or Ephesus

Reader: Titus, a Gentile convert, and friend and helper of Paul. Now a minister on the island of Crete

Why: Paul writes to encourage Titus who is working in difficult circumstances in Crete. He also instructs him in various matters

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by an unknown Christian towards the end of the 1st century, using Paul's name and some of his original material to give the letter authority 



Writer: The apostle Paul; his only surviving letter about an individual

Date: c AD62; carried by Tychicus together with the Letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians

Where written: By Paul under house arrest in Rome

Reader: Philemon at Colossae;

Why: To ask Philemon to forgive and welcome back the runaway slave Onesimus, now a brother in Christ. The Letter is a model of forgiveness, love, and tact



Writer: The apostle Paul according to the tradition of the Roman Catholic church and the early Anglican church. Hebrews is credited in its title to Paul in the 1611 "King James Version" of the Holy Bible;

Date: c AD65 before the start of the Jewish War of AD66-73, and certainly before the Fall of Jerusalem in AD70;

Where written: Traditionally Italy, possibly Rome;

Reader: A small group of Jewish Christians, possibly known to the author, and living in a specific location. As "Hebrews", they may well have lived in Jerusalem, but other suggestions include Alexandria, Corinth, Ephesus, or Rome itself. They had been persecuted for their Christian faith, were losing their initial enthusiasm and in danger of falling away altogether and embracing some new form of Judaism;

Why: To prove to Jewish Christians the superiority of Jesus Christ over the Law and prophets of the Old Testament. The entire Letter is included in Part C;

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Although credited to Paul for centuries, most modern scholars maintain Hebrews was not written by him, but by an unknown author at this time. Whoever the author was, he or she was certainly a Jewish Christian, knew the Old Testament well, and wrote excellent Greek. Suggestions include Silas and Priscilla, but the most likely candidates are Apollos or Barnabas.  

The place of writing is unknown, but from Hebrews 13:24, it may have been from Italy. Or else it was sent to Italy, as it includes greetings from expatriate Italian Christians


Book 20 of 27 - LETTER OF JAMES

Writer: James, brother of Jesus, and a leader of the church in Jerusalem

Date: c AD45-50, before the Council at Jerusalem of c AD49. The Letter includes no hint of the important decisions made at that time

Where written: Possibly Jerusalem

Readers: Jewish Christians living outside Palestine as Jews of the "Dispersion"

Why: An early letter to Jewish Christians, encouraging them in times of trial, and teaching them how to respond in Godly ways. In language similar to the Sermon on the Mount, James instructs his readers on many aspects of practical Christian living. In doing so, he shows that the Christian life reveals itself through faith leading to good works, not by merely claiming to have faith and holiness.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Most of the material was written by James in Judea before the Council at Jerusalem, and edited into its final form following his death in c AD62; OR written by an unknown Christian Jew around the end of the 1st century, using James' name to give the letter authority.



Writer: The Apostle Peter, dictating to Silvanus (otherwise known as Silas) as his secretary

Date: c AD64, some time before Peter's execution

Where written: Rome, symbolically "Babylon" (1 Peter 5:13)

Readers: The churches of Asia Minor - present-day Turkey, with their largely Jewish, but also Gentile membership

Why: To encourage the church members as they experience apparently undeserved trials and suffering. Also to provide practical advice on relations with the civil authorities, and within society and families

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by followers of Peter after his death



Writer: The apostle Peter;

Date: c AD65-67, not long before Peter's execution;

Where written: Rome;

Readers: Scattered Christian churches, possibly the same ones referred to in 1 Peter;

Why: A warning about false teachers, especially their denial of Christ's divinity and his second coming.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: This is the most disputed Letter of the New Testament, partly because it appears to include material from the Letter of Jude. It may therefore have been written by an unknown Christian towards the end of the 1st century or early in the 2nd


 Book 23 of 27 - FIRST LETTER OF JOHN

Writer: The apostle John, towards the end of his life;

Date: c AD90-100

Where written: Ephesus, on the west coast of Asia Minor (to where Paul wrote his Letter to the Ephesians in c AD62)

Readers: The church in Ephesus and throughout the province of Asia; also as a circular letter to the church at large

Why: A general letter on living the Christian life through faith in Jesus Christ, and in accordance with the Gospel they have been taught. He warns his readers about the ways of the world and false teachers, and proclaims the preeminence of love - God's love for us, and in response, our duty to love each other

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by a close companion of John, known as John the Elder



Writer: The apostle John, towards the end of his life

Date: c AD90-100

Where written: Ephesus

Readers: Either a Christian lady and her family, or symbolically a church and its members

Why: Whether written to a church or a family, it encourages them to live in love, and warns against false teachers

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by the author of the First Letter, or by another elder of the church in Ephesus


Book 25 of 27 - THIRD LETTER OF JOHN

Writer: The apostle John, towards the end of his life

Date: c AD90-100

Where written: Ephesus

Reader: Gaius, a common Roman name. Other Gaius' in the New Testament are from Corinth (Romans 16:23, 1 Corinthians 1:14), from Macedonia (Acts 19:29); and from Derbe (Acts 20:4,5)

Why: To give thanks for Gaius' faith, and his hospitality to visiting Christians

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by the author of the First Letter, or by another elder of the church in Ephesus


Book 26 of 27 - LETTER OF JUDE

Writer: Jude, the brother of James, and thus of Jesus

Date: c AD67, before the fall of Jerusalem in AD70

Where written: Possibly Palestine

Readers: A church, or number of churches of mainly Jewish Christians, perhaps in the Palestine area. Or in Assyria or Persia where Jude traditionally preached

Why: To warn against immoral teachers and heresies undermining their faith in Jesus

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by an unknown Christian towards the end of the 1st century or in to the 2nd.


Book 27 of 27 - BOOK OF REVELATION

Writer: The apostle John in exile

Date: EITHER c AD68-70 following the persecutions of Emperor Nero, but before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70; OR c AD90-95 during the persecutions attributed to Emperor Domitian at the end of his reign AD81-96

Where written: The Aegean island of Patmos off the west coast of Asia Minor

Reader: The seven named churches of Asia, and the entire Church of Christ

Why: An apocalyptic book describing the revelation Jesus Christ gave to John. The beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1-11) is a prologue describing the downfall of mankind and his separation from God. Revelation is an epilogue in which God and man are reconciled through Christ

Apocalyptic - Greek for "uncover", "reveal". The revealing of great or violent events and especially the end of the world, often described in Jewish apocalyptic literature. The word is applied especially to the Book of Revelation which bears comparison with the Old Testament Books of Daniel and parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Zechariah.

According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written towards the end of the 1st century by a close companion of John known as John the Elder, or by another follower. The earlier date of c AD68-70 for the apostle John would help account for the differences in style and language between Revelation and the later Gospel of John

Revelation was written .....

To warn and encourage the churches of Asia as they underwent internal problems and external persecution within the Roman Empire (chapters 1:1-3:22). It then describes how Jesus Christ the Lamb of God is the "instrument" of:

(1) God's judgment on the whole universe (chapters 4:1-19:10);

(2) The final defeat of evil (chapters 19:11-20:15), and:

(3) The coming of a new heaven and a new earth - the new Jerusalem (chapters 21:1-22:5).

It closes with Christ's final appeal to all mankind (chapter 22:6-21).

In the Book, John describes a series of highly symbolic, mainly Old Testament-type visions, many of which incorporate the sacred and perfect number "seven" - seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven angels, seven last plagues. Much of the Book appears to be in sequence but many of the events may overlap. Some of the contents and characters seem straightforward; others are confusing and difficult to understand.

The attempts to interpret Revelations are beyond measure but here the aim is simply to clarify how the different stages in the Book develop and to identify the variety of "beings", objects and events the reader encounters.

In making more sense of the Book, it can prove helpful to view it at three levels:

(1) John wrote Revelation when the seemingly all-powerful Roman Empire with its cult of emperor-worship was persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ. It was also widely expected that the dead emperor Nero would come back to life to take revenge against the Rome he once ruled. The Book is therefore a product of that period in world history 2,000 years ago;

(2) How mankind behaved and ruled in Roman times is no different from any other period in human history in any other part of the world, right through to the end of time - whether the empire or way of life is Ancient Indian, Chinese, Persian, Islamic, Holy Roman, Incan, Napoleonic, British, modern American, European, Pacific, world government, or some other form of future empire. Certainly the parallels between Rome and the present are striking;  

(3) Most importantly, God is sovereign. He will destroy all forms of evil in his own time and everyone will face a final judgement. Only faith in Jesus Christ can give us life to the full on earth, no matter what trials we may go through, followed by eternal life with Him in heaven - the new Jerusalem.  

However in keeping with this arrangement of the New Testament, the reader is recommended to read Revelation not as a book to be analysed and understood, but as a spiritual book to feed upon, and through it, to better understand the power of God and the place of Jesus Christ in his scheme of things. Later, he or she can study the Book knowing they will never plumb its depths nor make much difference to their Christian lives.

More likely, they could find themselves "engaging in stupid arguments, genealogies, controversies and quarrels (over the Law)" that Paul warned Titus to avoid.

As Paul continued "They settle nothing and lead nowhere" (Titus 3:9-10).