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INTRODUCTION: Revelation 1:1-8

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

A. The Prologue [verses 1-3]
Revelation 1:1-2 describes what this book is and how it was communicated:

It is ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’. Scholars discuss two potential meanings of this description:

[1] The revelation is about Jesus Christ,
[2] The revelation belongs to Jesus Christ.

Neither of these meanings excludes the other, so we may feel comfortable accepting both. Indeed, as we look at the content of this book we will realize that both are actually true.

The process of communication is described as:

God gave this revelation to Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ made it known by sending his angel [or ‘messenger’] to his servant, John.
John testified to everything he saw.

The purpose of the book is ‘to show his servants what must soon take place’ [verse1].

The ‘must’ is significant. It is not just what ‘will’ soon take place, but what ‘must’. This ‘must’ is repeated in 22:6. God has his purpose, his agenda. What he has willed must take place

The ‘soon’ is rather ambiguous, given that this book was written no later than the AD90s!
Here, and in 22:6, the Greek text reads en tachei - ‘with speed’. It is variously translated ‘soon’, ‘shortly’, ‘quickly’. The related adverb tachu, also translated ‘quickly’, ‘shortly’, ‘soon’, is used in Revelation 2:5,16; 3:11; 11:14; and 22:7,12,20. We may explain the use of these words by referring to Peter’s ‘a thousand years are like a day’ [2Peter 3:8], and such an explanation would be validated by Peter’s reference. But there is surely something more than that going on here. There is both urgency and encouragement in these words – urgency for the godless to repent, urgency for the ‘backsliding’ believer to repent, and encouragement for the suffering saints to ‘hang in there’ in faithfulness – as evident in the repeated ‘this calls for patient endurance’ later in the book. But even this does not fully explain the soon/quickly perspective, and we probably need to look deeper into what Peter actually means by his one day/a thousand years reference: that it is perhaps not just, or even primarily, about the human and divine perceptions of the passing of linear time, but about the overlap of time and eternity, the overlap of ‘the already’ and the ‘not yet’, which is a dynamic reality evident throughout this book. The permanent eternal reality already exists. At any moment it could break through into human time and space.

This ‘soon’ concept is reaffirmed in verse 3 - ‘… because the time is near’.

John describes the general subject matter of the book in two different ways. What he is writing, what he saw, is:

‘the word of God’
‘the testimony of Jesus Christ’ [verse 2].

John is not playing a game with apocalyptic writing and symbols. He is communicating deep and powerful truth that comes from the Father and the Son.

He then [verse 3] describes as blessed those who read the book and those who hear it and take it to heart.

John uses two words to describe the book:

[1] It is the ‘revelation …’ [verse 1]. The Greek word is ‘apokalupsis’ from which we derive our English ‘apocalyptic’ and apocalypse’. It refers to an uncovering, a disclosure, a revealing of what was hidden. And this is interesting, because many of us have the feeling that the meaning of Revelation is hidden! The very word ‘revelation’ is the opposite of ‘hidden’. God, in this last book of the Bible is not seeking to hide the truth, but to disclose, uncover, reveal the truth. Here in this book God reveals the truth about the space, the hiatus, between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ – between his defeat of Satan on the cross and his final termination of Satan when he returns in glory. Yes it is in symbols. But so that we get the picture this truth is put before us repeatedly, again and again, in many different symbols.

[2] It is a ‘prophecy’ [verse 3]. W.E. Vine says that ‘prophecy’ ‘signifies the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God.’

Our minds are almost automatically geared to think of the future when we see or hear reference to ‘prophecy’, but fore-telling the future is only a part of the content of ‘prophecy’. This is very evident when we read the Old Testament ‘prophets’.

The burden of Isaiah, for example, was to remind the Israelites of their historic knowledge of who God is and what God had done, to point out the wrongness of their present sins, to challenge them to repentance and to warn them of impending judgment.

Contemporary Christian perceptions of ‘prophecy’ are also coloured by the meaning given to the word by some Charismatic teachers and writers – a somewhat mystical and subjective ‘word’ given directly from God to a person with ‘the gift of prophecy’, and understood to be the word of God himself given to be spoken to, into or over an individual or group.

A third corrupted understanding of the concept of ‘prophecy’ is held by those involved in the ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ who believe that there are modern day ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ whose authority and power at least equals that of the apostles and prophets used by God to record the Bible, and whose messages supersede and surpass the written Word.

John, in calling this book a ‘prophecy’, indicates that it is the word of God, affirming the truth already revealed by God in the past, and applied to the situation in which John and his readers found themselves. Its references to things as yet in the future are an essential part of the encouragement of the saints in their current situation. Here in this book is what God gave to John to say to Christians suffering intense persecution and pressure at the hands of the Satan and his minions.

B. The greetings [verses 4-8]
The Book of Revelation is addressed ‘To the seven churches in the province of Asia’. ‘Asia’ refers to a Roman province in the western portion of what we now know as Turkey. The churches are identified by name in 1:11, and individual letters written to each in chapters 2 and 3.

This does not mean that the content of Revelation is relevant only to those seven churches. Like the New Testament apostolic letters the content is God’s message for believers of all times and all places. What was true of these seven churches represents what is true of any church and every church. The message meant for their encouragement is also meant for the encouragement of all believers in all ages.

It is important to keep in mind that this book is specifically addressed ‘to the churches’, not to unbelievers. It was not given to primarily to move unbelievers to repentance. It was given to show God’s ‘servants’ what must soon take place. Although it repeatedly speaks of the judgments that must fall on the unbelievers there is no command to unbelievers to repent in order to avoid the judgments. Indeed all the commands to repent are actually given to the churches.

The greeting is similar to greetings in other New Testament letters: ‘grace and peace to you’ – a greeting grounded in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom God’s grace is active towards us and through whom we have peace with God.

John describes this ‘grace and peace’ as coming from the Father, the Spirit and the Son:

‘… from him who is, and who was, and who is to come’ – this is the eternal God, the I AM.

‘ … from the seven spirits before his throne’ – this is the Holy Spirit [‘seven’ being a reference to the perfection of the Holy Spirit]. John refers to the

‘seven Spirits’ again in 3:1, 4:5 and 5:6.

‘and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.’ This description of Jesus Christ encompasses

His incarnation – during which he glorified the Father [see John 17:4] – ‘the faithful witness’.
His crucifixion and resurrection, in which he conquered sin and death – ‘the firstborn from the dead’.
His ascension to the right hand of God, where he is ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’.

Each of these aspects of Jesus Christ are of key relevance to John’s readers in the context of their witness, their struggle, and their victory.

From his greeting addressed to his readers John moves to a doxology in praise of Jesus Christ, in which he further describes Jesus Christ and what he has done for those who believe in him:

He loves us.
He has freed us from our sins by his blood.
He has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.

Three massive truths are condensed into this brief description: [1] the amazing and incredible love of Christ for us that moved him to come to save us; [2] our salvation – deliverance from our sins, deliverance from all the guilt, the condemnation, the judgment, the alienation caused by our sins – and the cost of this salvation – his blood; and [3] the goal, the end, the purpose of that salvation, that deliverance – that we are even now already ‘a kingdom’, and we are even now already ‘priests’ – serving and living in the presence of God, without inhibition, without prohibition. Just as John’s three descriptions of Jesus Christ in verse 5a are an encouragement to struggling Christians, so these three parallel descriptions of the relation of Jesus Christ to believers are affirming, strengthening and empowering.

John then ascribes to Jesus ‘glory and power for ever and ever!’ This praise of Jesus Christ is one of the recurring themes of this book, a focal point that crops up in unexpected places, reminding the suffering first century believers, and us, that this power and glory of Christ is real, and is present. He is already, even now, ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’. We are not waiting for some later time when Christ will be glorious and powerful: he is glorious and powerful, worthy of our praise and exaltation even now, already. Known to all who are believers, but unseen and unacknowledged by unbelievers.

John moves on to describe something that is in the future, something that Jesus himself had told his disciples while he was still with them:

‘Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him …’ [verse 7].
‘They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory’ [Matthew 24:30].
‘In the future you will see the Son of Man … coming on the clouds of heaven’ [Matthew 26:64].

What believers now know, unbelievers will then see – they will realize that this mighty, glorious, powerful One is the one they had ‘pierced’, and they will all ‘mourn because of him’ [verse 7; Zechariah 12:10]. Even before John records the things revealed to him he here gives his readers this strong word of encouragement: Jesus is the Victor. Jesus is coming back. Their trust in him will be vindicated. Those who are persecuting them will see him, and be devastated.

[But let us not restrict this ‘piercing’ to the physical piercing inflicted by the soldiers on Golgotha. It goes beyond that to Christ’s rejection by the Jews of his day. It goes beyond that to God’s rejection by his rebellious nation throughout their history. It goes beyond that to the first pair in the Garden of God. And there, in them, we are all included. There we rejected him. There, and in our every sin, we pierced him.]

The truth of this hope is doubly confirmed – ‘So shall it be! Amen.’

The voice of God is reported for the first time in this book: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega … who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty’ [verse 8]. God affirms what John has already said about him in verse 4 – with additional information:

He is also ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ [the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet] – the beginning and the end, the first and the last. All things have their origin in him and all things have their consummation in him. This description is true of both the Father and the Son, as we will see as we work through the text.

He is also ‘the Almighty’ – nothing is stronger than God, nothing can defeat or undo his purpose. Although this title is true also of the Son, here in Revelation ‘Almighty’ seems to be applied only to the Father. The Greek word is pantokrator. It is used several times in Revelation, and only once in the rest of the New Testament [in 2Corinthians 6:18, in an Old Testament quote.] The word means ‘ruler over everything’. In the Old Testament the concept of God as ‘the Almighty’ is expressed frequently – where it means Lord ‘of hosts’ or Lord ‘of the armies’. It refers to the incredible and unsurpassable power of God, and his authority to summon and enlist in the aid of his purpose and his people whatever resources and means he chooses.

Answer these questions about Revelation 1:1-8:

What do these verses tell us about who God is?

What do these verses tell us about who Jesus Christ is?

What do these verses tell us about what Jesus Christ has already done for those who believe in him?

What do these verses tell us about believers?

What do these verses tell us about human history?

What do these verses tell us about the Book of Revelation?

Suggest how even these introductory verses are geared to encourage struggling believers.