For some background on my argument here, see this post.
The Book of Revelation is often called, rightly, a prophecy, but far too often does that mean in the minds of most readers, something in the future. Many believe that ‘prophecy’ is always in the future, but I believe that this is a fallacy based on misunderstanding of what prophecy is. Simply, prophecy is not the fore-telling of far distant events, but the inspired message for the audience there and then. It is not a secret code to be worked out by later readers, nor should the genre be ignored, but everything to be understood correctly but be put in its place.
The author clearly denotes that the work is a prophecy in Revelation 1.3 (and several other places), meaning of course, that he is a prophet.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. NASB
God blesses the one who reads the words of this prophecy to the church, and he blesses all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near. NLT
Μακάριος ὁ ἀναγινώσκων καὶ οἱ ἀκούοντες τοὺς λόγους τῆς προφητείας καὶ τηροῦντες τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ γεγραμμένα, ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς.
It’s that key word, προφητείας, which plagues us and which we must attempt to discover what it actually meant, still means, and not what we subjectively wish it to mean today.
First, I note that in the Septuagint, we see the word used by Tobit (2.6) in reference to the prophet Amos who spoke in his own time about the destruction coming to Israel because of the injustices done to the poor.
Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said against Bethel, “Your festivals shall be turned into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.” And I wept. (NRSV)
καὶ ἐμνήσθην τῆς προφητείας Αμως καθὼς εἶπεν στραφήσονται αἱ ἑορταὶ ὑμῶν εἰς πένθος καὶ πᾶσαι αἱ εὐφροσύναι ὑμῶν εἰς θρῆνον καὶ ἔκλαυσα
Amos wasn’t speaking about Tobit, and Tobit knew that. Instead Tobit fulfilled what Amos had said, then went and did what Amos said. Amos was dead, but Tobit took what Amos said and applied to his own life.
Paul would later use say that gifts were bestowed through prophecy,
Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 1 Timothy 4:14 NRSV
μὴ ἀμέλει τοῦ ἐν σοὶ χαρίσματος, ὃ ἐδόθη σοι διὰ προφητείας μετὰ ἐπιθέσεως τῶν χειρῶν τοῦ πρεσβυτερίου.
In a pseudepigraphical book, prophecy is connected to nothing more that delivering God’s Law or ruling Israel,
And Eupolemus says in a certain ‘Concerning the Prophecy of Elijah,’ that Moses prophesied for forty years, then Joshua the son of Nun [prophesied] for thirty years. [Joshua] lived for one hundred ten years, and set up the holy Tabernacle at Shiloh. Eupolemus Concerning Moses 2:1
Εὐπόλεμος δέ φησιν ἔν τινι Περὶ τῆς Ἠλίου προφητείας Μωσῆν προφητεῦσαι ἔτη μ· εἶτα Ἰησοῦν, τὸν τοῦ Ναυῆ υἱόν, ἔτη λ· βιῶσαι δ᾽ αὐτὸν ἔτη ρι πῆξαί τε τὴν ἱερὰν σκηνὴν ἐν Σιλοῖ.
Philo, in line with the mention above, cites Moses and defines prophecy,
But since there is an infinite variety of both human and divine circumstances which are unknown both to king, and lawgiver, and chief priest, for a man is no less a created and mortal being from having all these offices, or because he is clothed with such a vast and boundless inheritance of honor and happiness, he was also of necessity invested with the gift of prophecy, in order that he might through the providence of God learn all those things which he was unable to comprehend by his own reason; for what the mind is unable to attain to, that prophecy masters. De vita Mosis 2:6
ἀλλ᾽ ἐπειδὴ μυρία καὶ βασιλεῖ καὶ νομοθέτῃ καὶ ἀρχιερεῖ τῶν ἀνθρωπείων καὶ θείων ἄδηλα γενητὸς γὰρ οὐδὲν ἧττον καὶ θνητός ἐστιν, εἰ καὶ τοσοῦτον καὶ οὕτως ἄφθονον περιβέβληται κλῆρον εὐπραγιῶν, ἀναγκαίως καὶ προφητείας ἔτυχεν, ἵν᾽ ὅσα μὴ λογισμῷ δύναται καταλαμβάνειν, ταῦτα προνοίᾳ θεοῦ εὕροι· ὧν γὰρ ὁ νοῦς ἀπολείπεται, πρὸς ταῦθ᾽ ἡ προφητεία φθάνει.
Prophecy, so far, has been defined as ruling, law giving, comprehension and bringing representing God’s legal case against Israel. We could boil it down to this, that prophecy and thus prophets are those who claim direct inspiration from God. Rather, a prophet who claims direct inspiration from God issues words (these are prophecies) which he claims are from God, under the inspiration of the Spirit. The notion of inspiration by the breath of God (Spirit) can be derived easily enough from Philo –
And if, indeed, any one assuming the name and appearance of a prophet [Deuteronomy 13:1], appearing to be inspired and possessed by the Holy Spirit, were to seek to lead the people to the worship of those who are accounted gods in the different cities, it would not be fitting for the people to attend to him being deceived by the name of a prophet. For such an one is an impostor and not a prophet, since he has been inventing speeches and oracles full of falsehood, De specialibus legibus 1:315
κἂν μέντοι τις ὄνομα καὶ σχῆμα προφητείας ὑποδύς, ἐνθουσιᾶν καὶ κατέχεσθαι δοκῶν, ἄγῃ πρὸς τὴν τῶν νενομισμένων κατὰ πόλεις θρησκείαν θεῶν, οὐκ ἄξιον προσέχειν ἀπατωμένους ὀνόματι προφήτου· γόης γὰρ ἀλλ᾽ οὐ προφήτης ἐστὶν ὁ τοιοῦτος, ἐπειδὴ ψευδόμενος λόγια καὶ χρησμοὺς ἐπλάσατο.
In Josephus, he notes that the Temple was chosen by Prophecy (Ant. 4.200). In 7.72, David is seen asking the Prophets about the will of God while in 8.418, it is said that by prophecy, people know the will of God and what they should avoid. Still, the sense of the future events is immediate which is echoed in 10.93 when describing Jeremiah’s predictions about what would soon happen. For Josephus, prophecies were meant to be fulfilled quickly (I note Revelation 22.20 here) which in accordance with Deuteronomy 13 would allow for testing of the prophet.
What about the actual meaning of the word?
προφητεία, ας, ἡ prophecy; (1) as the gift (χάρισμα) of inspired speaking granted to believers by the Spirit prophecy, ability to prophesy (RO 12.6); (2) as the utterance of a prophet prophetic words, inspired saying, prophecy (1C 14.6); (3) as a foretelling of future events prediction, prophecy (MT 13.14); (4) as the work of a prophet prophetic activity, prophesying (RV 11.6)
33.460 προφητεία, ας f: an utterance inspired by God – ‘inspired utterance, prophecy.’ καὶ ἀναπληροῦται αὐτοῖς ἡ προφητεία Ἠσαΐου ‘so that the prophecy of Isaiah comes true in their case’ Mt 13.14; εἴτε δὲ προφητεῖαι, καταργηθήσονται ‘and if there are inspired utterances, they will cease’ 1 Cor 13.8. It is possible that προφητεία in 1 Cor 13.8 refers to the action of producing such inspired utterances rather than to the resulting verbal form of the utterances themselves.
προφητεία, ἡ, the gift of interpreting the will of the gods, Orac. ap. Luc.
II. in N.T., the gift of expounding scripture, of speaking and preaching.
προφητεία, προφητείας, ἡ (προφητεύω, which see), Hebrew נְבוּאָה, prophecy, i. e. discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; especially by foretelling future events. Used in the N. T. — of the utterances of the O. T. prophets: Matt. 13:14; 2 Pet. 1:20,21 (on this passage see γίνομαι, 5 e. α.); — of the prediction of events relating to Christ’s kingdom and its speedy triumph, together with the consolations and admonitions pertaining thereto: Rev. 11:6; 22:19; τό πνεῦμα τῆς προφητείας, the spirit of prophecy, the divine mind, to which the prophetic faculty is due, Rev. 19:10 ; οἱ λόγοι τῆς προφητείας, Rev. 1:3; 22:7,10,18; — of the endowment and speech of the Christian teachers called προφῆται (see προφήτης, II. 1 f.): Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10; 13:2; 14:6,22; plural the gifts and utterances of these prophets, 1 Cor. 13:8; 1 Thess. 5:20; — specifically, of the prognostication of those achievements which one set apart to teach the gospel will accomplish for the kingdom of Christ, 1 Tim. 4:14; plural 1:18 (see προάγω, 2 a. and compare the commentaries). ((The Septuagint, Josephus); among native Greek writers used only by Lucian, Alex. 40, 60; (to which add inscriptions (see Liddell and Scott, under the word, I.)).)*
So, the generally agree – it is an inspired speech from a person sent of God to tell about His will. The ‘future’ is generally immediate or better yet, it is generally about the prophet applying the ‘how come’ to the ‘what’s happening now.’ Prophets do not make ‘predictions’ because what they say are to be the words of God, nor do they tell of events thousands of years hence. A prophecy is the words of a prophet which is a person sent by God to tell about the will of God.
Eschatology is a part of Christianity, but I have seriously doubts if Revelation is apart of Eschatology, or at least not in the way we’ve been told to think about Eschatology.