Welcome to my first blog post of 2018 and our inaugural post that will help us study through the book of Revelation together this year. Over the past two to three years, as I spent much time in this last book of the New Testament, I have been deeply impacted and blessed. I also have found it to be far more practical, powerful, penetrating, and praise-producing than what I previously believed. I pray these will be your experiences also.
This coming Sunday we will look at Revelation 1:1-3:The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
There are several truths that emerge from this introduction to the book that will provide instructions and direction for how to understand Revelation and apply it. In the midst of them, we also will come across some very important words of application for now.
1. This Book Is About Jesus Christ: “The Revelation Of Jesus Christ”
Right off the bat we find out these pages, more than anything else, unveil, they uncover, they bring to the forefront, Jesus Christ. This last book of the New Testament, just like the entire Bible, has Jesus Christ as the central figure. If our understanding of these twenty-two chapters somehow sets him aside, we have misunderstood them.
These first four words of the English text (first two words in the Greek text) also remind us that Bible intake is best done and life (Think: work, recreation, marriage, parenting, rest) is best lived out with Jesus Christ at the center, as our hope, our resource of power, or focus, and our ultimate goal!
2. This Book Is From God: “Which God Gave Him”
Here is an interesting statement. Though the book is about the second person of God, the Son who became man, it is God the Father who gave to the Son the things about Jesus Christ that should be revealed in these pages. This not only emphasizes the divine origin of the book, but also highlights both the Father and the Son are involved in communicating it. We will learn later in the book (chapters 4-5) that the sovereign plan and work of both the Father and Son are behind what is revealed in this book and what takes place in this world—with special emphasis on what happens between the first coming of Jesus Christ and his second coming, which leads into the future eternal age.
Herein we find a good reminder, to approach the Word of God as just what it is: From God, all of it (2 Tim. 3:16-17). And so, it is authoritative, useful, and should be our ultimate source for truth and wisdom upon which we build all of life.
3. This Book Reveals How Old Testament Prophecies Are Being Fulfilled During This Present Age: “To Show His Servants The Things That Must Soon Take Place.”
The clause “the things that must soon take place,” seems to be parallel to the statement in Rev. 1:19, lit. “the things that are about to be after these things.” That statement is surely dependent upon the Greek translation of Daniel 2:29, which reads, “the things that must be after these things” (which is parallel to the Daniel 2:28 statement in the Greek translation: “the things that must be in the last days”). Both of those statements are on the lips of Daniel as he prepares to give messages to king Nebuchadnezzar about the future end times. All John has done is to substitute “soon” for “after these things” or “in the last days.” What appears to be communicated here is this: What Daniel saw in visions that looked far into the distance, John is now seeing as beginning. In other words, the end-times or last days have arrived (Rom. 10:11; Heb. 1:3)!
So, John, living at the end of the first century, AD, was at the beginning of the end-times fulfillments of what Old Testament prophets had looked into the distance to see.
This suggests that Revelation is not primarily about what had already happened before the days John is writing (what some call the Preterist view of Revelation), nor is it looking to the distant future to see only what happens at the very end of this age and leading into the next age (what some call the futurist view—a view that was popularized in the Left Behind series). Rather, the best approach to Revelation is one that sees it revealing what is happening throughout the Church age (the very time in which we are now living)—and on through the Second Coming into eternity future.
The approach to Revelation I believe best fits the book’s content and structure is what some have called the Redemptive-Historical-Idealist view. Simply-put, as the ESV Study Bible explains this approach in the Introduction to Revelation, “Revelation’s visions symbolize the conflict between Christ and his church on the one hand, and Satan and his evil conspirators on the other, from the apostolic age to Christ’s second coming.”
I believe the book, after sharing the vision of Christ in chapter 1 that makes the point he is present among the church to empower for mission, to rebuke when they stray, and to help in the face of persecution, then in chapters 2-3 gives comfort and correction flowing out of that vision to the universal church (represented by the seven churches of Asia Minor [present day western Turkey]), then affirms in chapters 4-5 that the Father and Son are sovereign over history and, therefore, all that is happening in this age flows from their sovereign plan, as well as out of the saving work of Christ. Then, in chapters 6-20 we find six different pictures of the outworking of God’s salvation of his people, his protection of them in the face of persecution, and his judgment upon unbelievers from the first coming to second coming of Christ. Each picture recaps the pictures before it, but also adds different elements and moves us closer and closer to a more detailed understanding of the age we are living in, why we face a hostile culture, and how we can remain faithful to God. Then, in the climactic conclusion to the book (chapters 21-22) we see the future certain hope of the true Church, the new heaven and new earth, which is designed to motivate us to persevere in this age now.
4. The Book Is Highly Symbolic: "He Made It known By Sending His Angel To His Servant John."
The clause the ESV translates, “he made it known,” is better translated, “he signified it” or “he symbolized it.” The verb used is sēmainō. Its noun form, sēmeion, was used over and over again by John in the Gospel of John to refer to Jesus’ miracles. John’s point there was that Jesus’ miracles gave signs of other truths. In other words, they signified or symbolized the gospel. The visions that John receives in Revelation give pictures. We might say what John “literally” sees is often not intended to be taken in a literal way to gain the message. For example, in ch. 1 John receives a vision of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. However, the point is not that this is what Jesus literally looks like now. The point is for the reader to see the depictions of Jesus in light of their Old Testament backgrounds and to understand them as symbolizing truths about Jesus.
The book of Revelation also belongs to a genre of literature known as apocalyptic, which virtually all scholars have recognized as being very symbolic in nature. So, this is another reason to expect a figurative, not a literal book.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. To affirm Revelation is highly symbolic is not to say that we can make the symbols mean whatever we want them to mean and so the message of Revelation is whatever a reader desires. No, there is one intended meaning for each unit of communication. And the symbols are almost always understood by looking at their vast Old Testament background, as well as by seeing them in the context and structure of Revelation itself.
Our goal in Revelation will not be to interpret it as our favorite pastor did, like our parents did, or to seek some literal understanding. The goal is to find the divinely inspired meaning that John intends in his writing of it. We can expect that to be highly symbolic or figurative.
As we go through the book, we will also provide much more support for a symbolic or figurative understanding of the book, such as a figurative use of numbers.
5. The Human Author Of The Book Is John The Apostle: “He Made It Known By Sending His Angel to His Servant John.”
The writer identifies himself as “John” (see 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8) and since he did not feel a need to explain more about his identify, he was a well-known John. The readers simply knew who he was. Being such a well-known leader would fit the Apostle John. Additionally, several second century church leaders referred to the Apostle John as the author of Revelation, not the least of which was Irenaeus, who heard Polycarp preach when he was young and Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John.
This means that the author of Revelation is the same as the author of John and also 1, 2, and 3 John. This is supported by the fact we see some similar uses of words among these works. Some scholars emphasize that there is too much difference between Revelation and these other New Testament books to be written by the same author. We must, however, keep in mind that Revelation is a very different kind of genre than these other books. The difference in genre could just as easily account for the differences rather than there being a different author.
6. The Book Represents A Sound Witness To What John Saw: “Who Bore Witness To The Word Of God and To The Testimony Of Jesus Christ, Even To All That He Saw.”
Here we discover that John received the “Word of God,” which means it is authoritative communication from God (words that are faithful and true: See 19:9; 21:5). These words also are a testimony about Jesus Christ, which we should expect, since it is a “revelation of Jesus Christ” (see 1:1). Finally, we learn here that John bore witness to all he saw (in the context of the book this means he bore faithful witness to what he saw!), which reminds us that the vast majority of what he received was in the form of visions. We need to keep this in mind as we interpret some of the strange images. They are what John saw in the visions. Yet, they are meant to symbolize some truth(s), rather than necessarily to be taken literally.
7. Happiness Is Promised To Those Who Read And Follow The Truths In Revelation: “Blessed Is The One Who Reads Aloud The Words Of This Prophecy, And Blessed Are Those Who Hear, And Who Keep What Is Written In It, For The Time Is Near.”
The word translated, “blessed” (makarios in Greek) is better translated as “happy” than “blessed.” There are seven such beatitudes throughout Revelation that teach the following. In 16:15 we learn that those who persevere in righteousness and faithfulness and so are ready for the coming of Christ, they are happy. This is in addition to pronouncing God’s grace-produced happiness upon those who read, hear, and keep the words of this prophecy (1:3; 22:7); those who have washed robes and thus have eternal life (22:14); those who die in Christ (14:13); those who are effectively called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9); and those who have been raised or graduated in this age to be with Christ now (20:6).
But the truth captured in 1:3 is that the way to true happiness is to know and follow God’s Word. According to this promise, this especially includes the book of Revelation.
My prayer is that we will put our hearts and minds prayerfully and diligently into the message of this book with the result we will realize the happiness that comes with it.
I hope this prepares you not only for living as joyful followers in a hostile culture, but also for understanding more fully the first three verses of Revelation, and how to understand the entire book.
Joyfully Reading Revelation With You!