Peering through the early morning mist over the azure waters of the Aegean Sea from a prominence on the island prison of Patmos on the Lord's Day morning, the centenarian apostle John may have found himself nursing a plethora of apparently contradictory notions. The 45 miles of water that separated him from his beloved disciples in Ephesus may as well have been a vast ocean. Further, exile on Patmos could not have been a Club Med experience. Given his age and circumstances, the sense of his own mortality must have pressed on him. Somber reflections, however, may have been mitigated by precious memories. The water may have summoned vivid mental portraits of those early, heady days on the Sea of Galilee when he with incredulity observed the miracles of Jesus, felt his heart quickened by the authority of the teachings of Jesus, and reveled in the fellowship of the motley crew of fellow-fishermen, a hated agent of Roman taxation, and an assortment of other unlikely inhabitants of Galilee who followed the One whom they believed to be the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.
The pirouette of these contemplations, accompanied only by the music of the breakers on the eastern beach of Patmos and the occasional rustling of the prevailing southeasterly breeze, on this Sunday morning was destined for divine interruption as John describes in Revelation 1:9-11. "In the Spirit" on the Lord's Day, John's relative serenity was shaken by a loud voice that was "like a trumpet." The voice was intelligible, instructing the aging apostle to write all that he was about to see and cede the contents to seven congregations in Asia Minor. The inclination to look in the direction of this phonic mandate rewarded the islander not only with a vision of seven golden lampstands but also with a startling revelation of one "like a son of man" regally displayed against the backdrop of an unforgettable heavenly landscape. The series of visions, which followed like a Mongol hoard, constitute the book of the Revelation. Frequently John needed assistance to understand the vision. And if John was sometimes baffled by his own book, little wonder that the intervention of more than 1,900 years and the often contradictory interpretations of hundreds of commentators leave contemporary exegetes with a formidable task of attempting to provide insight into that which is generally acknowledged to be one of the most difficult books of the Bible.
Although these themes have been visited frequently, an introduction to the commentary sets the stage to understand the nature and direction of the commentator. Attention will now be focused on those introductory matters affecting the interpretation of the Revelation.
Conjectures about the authorship of the Apocalypse do not proliferate as with some books. The four suggestions include John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee, one of the "sons of thunder," who was one of the most intimate of the Lord's original circle of disciples; a certain John the Elder, who lived at Ephesus well into the second century; another John about whom nothing is known, the name itself most probably being a pseudonym; or, more recently, John the Baptist. The vast majority of energies expended relate to arguments maintaining or opposing the authorship of John the apostle. Even though the present author disagrees with the conclusions of R. H. Charles, the most comprehensive discussion of the question is still found in his A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1920)
Among the more interesting postulates is the proposal of J. Massyngberde Ford in her Anchor Bible commentary. She posits John the Baptist and the prophetic community associated with him as the probable author. Noting that John of the Apocalypse makes no claim for apostleship, Ford prefers to believe that the origins of the book should be traced to the community surrounding the fiery prophet, John the Baptist, and that at least a portion of the book dates to the time of Christ. J. M. Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975.This view blends well with the perspectives of those who find strong similarities with John the Baptist and the Qumran sect and find Revelation not dissimilar from the apocalyptic emphases of the Dead Sea documents. For extensive discussions on the eschatology of Qumran, see C. A. Evans and P. W. Flint, eds., Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); L. H. Schiffman, The Eschatological Community of the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Study of the Rule of the Congregation, SBLMS 38 (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1989); W. W. Fields, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History: Volume One, 1947-1960 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009); J. VanderKam and P. Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002).
Ford's proposal lacks historical precedence but has greater plausibility than most historical-critical reconstructions. Ford notes in the preaching of John the Baptist theological themes, such as the emphasis upon the Lamb of God, which are reduplicated in the Apocalypse. In the end, lack of earlier testimony of such involvement, the presence of more developed ecclesiology in the Apocalypse, and the developed opposition to the early Christian movement on the part of both Rome and the Jewish community all seem devastating to Ford's idea. The possibility of another unknown John or someone using this name as a pseudonym seems even less likely than the Ford proposal.