Thursday, October 8, 2009

Revelation Chapter 1, Part 1 - Introduction

I was looking back over some of the studies that I have already posted here on The Christian Journey and I realized that when I began posting the study of the book of Revelation is was as a study on the seven churches which begins in chapter two and I never went back and picked up chapter one. Instead I have just continued on and posted studies on chapters four and five. So before I move on to chapter six in that study I thought I would go back and post a series of studies on chapter one. I pray that you find this helpful and that through this (and everything else I post) that you will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation Chapter 1, Part 1

Chapter one begins with the words “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” and this is what we need to remember as we study this book. This book was not given to us so that we can debate over the chronology of end time events, or so that we can speculate on what the ten horns on the beast might be. The purpose of this book is to reveal Jesus Christ. In this book we will see Jesus not as the suffering servant of the Gospels, but as the risen King, and the Judge of the world.

We will break this chapter down into three sections as follows:

    Introduction (verses 1-3)
    Greeting (verses 4-8)
    John’s vision of Jesus (verses 9-20)

Let’s jump right in and see what we can learn.

Introduction (Verses 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, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 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.
Revelation 1:1-3
As I have already pointed out, Revelation begins with the words “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” and that is, first and foremost, what this book is. Merriam Webster defines the word Revelation this way:
An act of revealing or communicating divine truth: something that is revealed by God to humans. 1
The word comes from the Greek word apokálupsis, which means to reveal, uncover, unveil, disclose. Dr Zodhiates says that this is:
One of three words referring to the Second Coming of Christ. The other two words are epipháneia appearing and parousía coming, presence. Apokálupsis, a grander and more comprehensive word, includes not merely the thing shown and seen but the interpretation, the unveiling of the same. 2
So what we will see here is the unveiling of Jesus Christ. This is telling us that the book of Revelation is an open book, that is, it is a revealing of God’s plan.  By way of comparison let’s look at what Daniel was told when his prophecy was written:
But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.
Daniel 12:4
When Daniel was given his prophecy he was told that the book was to be sealed, or shut up, until the end of time. When John received this prophecy; however, he was told that he was to write it down and share it with his fellow servants because he was going to be shown the things that “must soon take place.”

Daniel also tells us “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Daniel 2:28) and that is exactly what He is doing here; God is revealing to the church the mystery of what is to come. But as we will see in a few verses that is actually that third part of the book; first John will tell us the things that he has seen, and then the things that are.

Next notice that this is the Revelation that God the Father gave to His Son Jesus. The use of the word “gave” here implies that this was a gift from the Father to the Son, but for what purpose would God the Father give a gift to Jesus? Some have tied this back to Mark 13:32 where Jesus said, speaking of His second coming, “Of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” John MacArthur points out that there are two “insurmountable difficulties” with this view; he writes:
The most obvious one is that the book of Revelation nowhere gives the day or hour of Christ’s return. Thus, it does not contain the very information the Father was supposedly revealing to the Son. Further, the glorified, ascended Son resumed the full use of His divine attributes more than half a century before the book of Revelation was written. Being fully God and omniscient, He had no need for anyone to give Him any information.3
So why is Jesus receiving this gift from His Father? To see the answer to this question we must go back to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Speaking of Jesus, Paul said:
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11
Here what we see is that because Jesus humbled Himself to become a man, and because He was obedient to the Father’s will even to the point of death, His Father highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name. Every knee will one day bow before Him, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. Again John MacArthur writes:
Christ’s exaltation, promised in the last three verses (9–11) of that passage, is described in detail in the book of Revelation. It thus contains the full disclosure of the glory that will be Christ’s at His return—His ultimate reward from the Father for His faithfulness during His humiliation.4
So the answer to the question then is this; the Father, by giving this Revelation to Jesus to show to His followers, is telling us that Jesus, because of His faithfulness and obedience, has been exalted to the highest place of honor, and this Revelation lays out, in detail, what that exaltation looks like.

The next thing we see in these verses is the progression of the message. Verse one tells us that God gave this Revelation to Jesus to show to His bond-servants. The word that is translated here, as “bond-servant” is the Greek word doúlos, and it means:
A slave, one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will being altogether consumed in the will of the other.5 
This word, according to Dr. Vine was:
Originally the lowest term in the scale of servitude, came also to mean “one who gives himself up to the will of another.” 6
What a perfect picture of what it means to be a Christian. As a bond-servant we willingly put ourselves in into a permanent relationship of servitude under the authority of Jesus. Our will becomes subject to His will and we give ourselves up in service to Him. This is not a concept that is unique to the book of Revelation; Paul used this term many times to describe himself and his relation to Jesus.

To understand the concept of a bond-servant we need to look back to the Old Testament books of Exodus and Deuteronomy where we can see the Jewish origins of this position.
Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.
Exodus 21:1-6

If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. And to your female slave you shall do the same.
Deuteronomy 15:12-17

From these two passages we can see that a bond-servant was one who has chosen to be in a relationship of subservience to his master. This is not one who has been forced into bondage, but one who has, because of his love for his master, chosen to submit himself to his masters will. As a bond-servant he has forever and willingly given up all of his own rights and his own will to do the will of his master.

Paul uses this term to describe himself at the beginning of three of his epistles (Rom. 1:1, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:1) and in each of these instances it precedes his mention of apostleship indicating that his position as a bond-servant of Christ was of greater significance to him than his position as an apostle. And this is the term that is used here in Revelation to describe the followers of Christ; we are told that this is the Revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His bond-servants. (For more on this topic see the post Servants or Slaves)

Continuing in verse one we see is that this revelation was given to show us the things “which must shortly take place.” This is an interesting phrase, and it is the reason that some scholars, know as preterits, believe that this book was written to prophesy the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They reason that the book was written during the time of Nero (about 65 A.D.) before the fall of Jerusalem, and that it was a warning to the Jews living at that time about the things that were about to happen. They also argue that since the book doesn’t contain anything about this event, one of the most significant in Jewish history, it therefore stands to reason that this is what the book was warning about.

Those with a pre-tribulational position also use this phrase to support their position that the return of Christ is imminent. They argue that this phrase means that the events contained in the book of Revelation will take place “soon.” But this Greek phrase can also mean that once the events described in this book begin they will continue in a rapid-fire fashion, and will all be accomplished in a very short period of time. This point can definitely be argued since all of the judgments contained herein will come to completion in the span of just seven years. Warren Wiersbe says here:
The phrase… “shortly come to pass” (v. 1) [does] not mean that these prophecies were to be fulfilled right away in John’s day. Rather, they indicate how swiftly time will transpire when they are fulfilled. 7
So the question that must be answered here is this: is John talking about how the events will happen, or when the events will happen? Robert Van Kampen in his commentary on Revelation put it this way:
Theologically, for John to state that the events depicted in Revelation will happen soon, with reference to time, contradicts Matthew 24:36. Matthew 24:36 states, ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.’ Therefore, John could not say how soon the Lord might return or how soon the events connected with His return might transpire unless God gave him direct revelation.8
For this reason I believe that John is telling us how and not when these events will take place.

Continuing then in verse 1 we see that Jesus sent and communicated this message, by means of His angel, to His bond-servant John. As we move throughout the book we will see that at several times John is receiving this message from an angel, but we will also see John getting pieces of it from the elders, the living creatures and from Jesus Himself. But Jesus communicates the majority of this revelation to John through His angel. The Greek word translated angel here is the word ággelos, which simply means messenger.

We also see here in verse one the use again of the term bond-servant. This time used to describe John himself. Just like Paul, James, Jude, and Peter, John does not bring any special attention to himself. He doesn’t say that he was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, he doesn’t draw attention to his apostleship, he simply says that he is John, the bond-servant of Jesus.

Now, moving into verse two we are told that John “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ”. With this simple sentence John is telling us that he took no literary license with the recording of this book – he didn’t embellish anything; he simply bore witness to what he saw – the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Like the prophets in the Old Testament, who received the “word of the Lord”, John is also receiving the word of God, and the word that he is receiving is the testimony of the risen and glorified Son of God; Jesus Christ the Almighty.

This is not the first time we have heard this from John. This is the same way he began his first epistle:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:1-3

This should be the passion of every Christian. We know God, and we know His Son. All that we need to do is share what we have seen and heard with this lost and dying world. Jesus said that if He is lifted up He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32). Getting people ‘saved’ is not our responsibility - that is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are simply to lift up Jesus and declare what we see and hear as we grow closer to Him through His word; He will draw men to Himself. This is what John is doing here; it was the pattern of His life.

In verse three we see the first promise of blessing in the book of Revelation. This blessing is promised first to the one who reads the book, and then to the one who hears, and heeds, what is written in it. In the church of the first century it was very uncommon for the congregation to have in there possession more than one copy of the Scriptures since all copying was done by hand and the expense of doing so was beyond the means of most people. So it was the practice of these early Christians to have someone, usually the leader of the congregation, read aloud from the Scriptures whenever they assembled together. What we are being told here is that there is a blessing promised to the one who reads aloud the book of Revelation.

Secondly, we are also told that there is a blessing for those who hear and heed what is written here. Note that this promised blessing is not promised to these who hear only, but to those who act upon what they hear. This is no different than what we read in the letter of James:
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:22-25 (NASB)
John then ends his introduction by telling us that the time is near. He is not here telling us that he has knowledge as to when the events he is describing will take place; what he is pointing out is that the events contained in this prophecy are the next events to take place in the plan of God. Again, Robert Van Kampen writes:
Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost indicated that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a mark of the ‘last days.’ We are presently living in the ‘last days.’ Thus, a literal physical reign (kingdom) of God is the next event on the agenda of God. It is near. 9

1 Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary. Includes index. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
2 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G602). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
3 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (17). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (18). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G1401). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
6 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:73). Nashville: T. Nelson.
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (795). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8 Van Kampen, Robert.  Revelation Commentary Ch1 Pg2 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
9 Van Kampen, Robert.  Revelation Commentary Ch1 Pg3 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura

Next time we will look at John's greeting in verses 4-8.
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Georgy said...


I am georgy. I see you’ve got a wonderful blog. Care for a blogroll exchange with mine? Please reply.

Georgy N Joseph

KingsKid777 said...

You seem to be very knowledgeable. I agree that the book of Revelation shows us Jesus as King.