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1The 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, 2who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3Blessed 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 ESV)
Road signs exist for a purpose. However, some of us have intentionally or unintentionally ignored road signs from to time, and because of that, we might have missed a turn, or even worse, we might end up with a traffic ticket.
Some people are fascinated with the future. Many individuals even try to predict their coming days by means of astrology, fortune-telling, or tarot cards. Well, according to my understanding, no one can foretell the future by human means. As God is the Lord of human history, therefore only He can reveal the future to us.
The last book of the New Testament is about the future. If we want to know about our future, the Book of Revelation is a good pick. The first three verses are the prologue of this book. These opening verses are like road signs, for they give us the focuses and directions to understand this book.
First of all, the first Greek word of Revelation is ‘Apocalypse’, meaning ‘revelation’. So, what is revelation?
1) The Definition of ‘Revelation’ (Revelation 1:1)
The Greek word ‘apocalypse’ is a compound word, which means to show or to uncover. The first word of the Book of Revelation sets the stage for us to understand the flow of this book. God wants to uncover of something hidden, the making known of what we could not find out for ourselves. In simple terms, revelation is an act of uncovering, or an object uncovered.
Let me give you a few examples. A museum wants to display a new exhibit and a date of the official unveiling is scheduled. Before the unveiling of this exhibit, the public has not seen the magnificent sculpture of a renowned sculptor in this museum before. Some car enthusiasts love to go to motor shows, especially they are keen to witness the unveiling of a new model. Before the official unveiling of this new car, the general public hasn’t seen its beauty and its latest technologies.
Before the completion of the Book of Revelation, no one on earth knows the details of end times. On the Island of Patmos, God took the initiation to reveal the roadmap of the future to John the Apostle.
2) The Process of the Revelation (Revelation 1:1)
A Four-stage Process
If you read verse one carefully, it isn’t hard for you to find out the process of the revelation in this book. There was a four-stage process involved. First of all, God unveiled the revealed content to Jesus Christ. And from Jesus, He gave it to the angel. Then the angel passed it on to John. And from John, John wrote it down for the churches.
The Possible Problems of Communication
Regarding to the four stages of communication, the question we might raise is: since there are four parties involved in transmitting the content of the revelation, would there be communication problems? According to our understanding, the communication between one person and another often results in discrepancies. For instance, John bumped into Mary in a supermarket, and somehow they talked about the food that they liked. John told Mary that he doesn’t like desserts, but if he had to choose a sweet course at a dinner party, he would prefer chocolate ice cream. After shopping for grocery, Mary was on her way home. As she was walking on the street, she came across Jane, a mutual friend of John and her. Along with other guests, John and Mary are invited to Jane’s house for dinner that night. And because of that, Jane is out to buy the food for this occasion. As Mary wanted to help Jane in her food selection, she told her that John likes chocolate ice cream. Definitely, there is a communication problem here; the fact is that John doesn’t like desserts, but if he has to have a sweet course, he prefers chocolate ice cream.
From God to Christ
According to the context of this verse, God is the author of the content of the revelation. Yet even Jesus Christ is not the final author but a mediator, for He receives the revelation from God the Father. Primarily, in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, God clearly reveals the truths about the First Advent of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, the Book of Revelation has its focus on the Second Advent of Jesus Christ and the end times. Although Jesus Christ is seen as the mediator of God’s truths, He wouldn’t make any error of communicating the content of the revelation to the angel. The reason is simply because He is God.
From Christ to the Angel
From God the Father, He revealed His heavenly plan to Jesus the Son. And from Jesus Christ, He passed on God’s revealed truths to an angel. One of the many duties of angels is to mediate divine revelation (Revelation 1:1; 22:6). Among these messengers, Gabriel is one of the two angels mentioned by name in the Bible. God sends Gabriel from heaven to execute His plan on earth. In Revelation 1:1, Jesus sent an unnamed angel to present this revelation to the Apostle John. Since the Bible is silent about this angel, there is no need for us to speculate on the identity of this messenger. Would Jesus have communication problems transmitting God’s plan to the angel? Definitely not! Let me give you an illustration. The translation from one language to another is not only tricky but it might lose a certain degree of meaning relative to the original text. As for Jesus and His angels, they all speak the same heavenly language, thus there is no need for translation. Also, all of the angels in the heavenly realm are faithful servants. If God asks them to convey messages to human beings, they will truthfully do so.
From John to God’s Servants
In the small and remote Island of Patmos, God revealed His plan to John. Although Jesus sent an angel to speak to John, He often bypassed the angel and spoke to John directly. As John faithfully recorded the details of God’s revealed truths, we have the Book of Revelation. Being faithful to God is not a slogan, but a way of life. After many years of faithful service, John somehow ended up as an exile in Patmos. Although ministry was different than before, John still faithfully served Jesus like before. If you are a Christian worker, you would have encountered many difficulties before, and even now you may still be facing some unbearable circumstances. My encouragement to you is keep up the good work. Remember one thing is that faithfully serving God is never easy, but it is worthy to do so.
3) The Source of the Revelation (Revelation 1:1)
If you read different Bible versions side by side, you will find out there is a variance in verse one. Some Bible translations say: “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (ESV, HCSB, NET, NKJV). Other English Bibles translate as “The revelation from Jesus Christ” (NLT, NIV 2011). According to the translation, “The revelation of Jesus Christ” could mean either that the revelation was made by Jesus Christ or that it was made about Him or that it belongs to Him. But, whatever Bible version you prefer, the context of the verse points to the source of revelation is from God.
Two Kinds of Revelation
By the way, there are two types of God-given revelation. The first one is natural revelation. The second is called special or supernatural revelation. Let me briefly speak of the first one.
God is impartial to all human beings. He takes the initiative to reveal Himself to all humankind. Through His creation, God reveals His power to humanity (Job 12:7, 8; Psa.19:1–6; Rom. 1:19, 20). Also, God reveals His Law in our hearts, for our conscience and thoughts either accuse us or tell us we are doing right (Romans 2:14, 15). Furthermore, God has revealed Himself throughout history in various ways. However, natural revelation has its limitations. Although natural revelation points humanity to the Creator, it doesn’t point them to Jesus Christ the Saviour.
People often call Nature Mother Nature, but G. K. Chesterton, an English author and journalist, calls nature our sister. In his own words, he says, “The main point of Christianity is this: Nature is not our mother; Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same Father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”
God Continues to Speak
George Washington Carver, a Black American agricultural scientist, says, “I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” As you can see, God continues to speak to all human beings through His creation.
The other kind of revelation is special revelation. Let me give you a few examples. In the Bible, God spoke to numerous individuals through dreams and visions. You might have a very strange dream last night, but don’t treat it as a special revelation from God. In the Old and New Testament, there are many accounts of God appearing personally to various people. And the most special one is the appearance of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Let me sum it up that the Bible is a special revelation that we shouldn’t take it lightly. And because of the Bible, we can encounter the Saviour Jesus Christ personally and understand His plan of salvation.
The Book of Revelation
The Bible consists of 66 books and the Book of Revelation is part of God’s special revelation. Therefore, we should pay great attention in interpreting each individual book.
Four Schools of Interpretation
For your information, generally speaking, there are four approaches to or four schools of interpreting the Book of Revelation. However, there are other schools of interpretation as well.
The first school is called the preterist. They believe all of the prophecies contained in the Book of Revelation have already been fulfilled, not long after the Apostle John’s own time.
The second school of interpretation is called the historicist. Most of these scholars believe the Book of Revelation as a prewritten record of the course of history from the time of the apostle to the end of the world.
The third group is the idealist, or some called the spiritual approach or the symbolic approach. They believe the Book of Revelation is full of symbols to depict the great struggle between good and evil.
The fourth group is the futurist. They believe most of the prophecies contained in the Apocalypse have never yet been fulfilled and await future fulfillment. After chapter four, most of the content relate to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and future events. As for me, I am one of the futurists.
Since the Bible is the special revelation of God, we must pay great attention to its interpretation. When I was a new believer in Christ, I began to have an interest in the end times. As a result, I purchased many books on this topic and spent many hours studying about it. As the Book of Revelation is the special revelation of God, we need to pay extra care to its interpretation.
4) The Urgency of the Revelation
‘Must soon take place’ (ESV)
According to John, the prophecies that he received from God ‘must soon take place’. The Greek word ‘soon’ (en tachei; cf. 2:16; 22:7, 12, 20) means that the action will be sudden when it comes, not necessarily that it will occur immediately. Once the end-time events commence, they will happen in quick succession (cf. Luke 18:8; Acts 12:7; 22:18; 25:4; Romans16:20).
The prophecies contain in the Book of Revelation must soon take place. These events do not happen in a brief time span, but are imminent. In other words, they are about to happen.
One Bible scholar suggests this phrase would be better translated, “the things necessary to be in God’s timing.”
Concept of Time
We might not have thought about it before, but people have different concept of time. For the North Americans and most Westerners, their understanding of time is linear. As Westerners view time as linear, they see time as limited in supply. Because of that, they want to accomplish as many things as possible, thus meeting deadlines and being efficient are crucial in life. In other cultures, people regard time as cyclical and endless, therefore they think doing things right and maintaining harmony are more important than getting things done on time.
Time and God
There is an interesting verse in 2 Peter. Peter says, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8 ESV) As you can see, God has a different perspective of time than us. Since God is eternal, He has a different relationship with time. Eternity is without beginning, without succession, and without end; it is an ever-abiding present. According to my understanding, time stands still before God, as He has His ever-abiding presence in every moment of our lives.
The Importance of the Revelation
As the prophecies of the Book of Revelation are about to happen anytime, and once the end-time events commence, they will happen in quick succession, therefore they are very important! We must understand these prophecies and pay extra attention to them.
5) The Object of Revelation (Revelation 1:1)
God wants to reveal these revelations to His servants. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people are frequently described as God’s servants (Leviticus 25:42, 55; Deuteronomy 32:36; Ezra 5:11; Nehemiah 1:6, 10; Psalm 34:22; Isaiah 54:17). In the New Testament, Christians are seen as God’s servants as well.
Direction to Serve
As God’s servants, we need to know the direction or way to serve Him. Because of the revelation that we receive in this book, we can serve God to the best of our ability and knowledge.
A late theologian and pastor had an unfortunate childhood. His father died when he was two years old. As a boy, he had to help his widowed mother by working on Saturdays and school holidays. He worked for a godly Christian, who was a cobbler by trade. The shoemaker made the best use of his shop. He posted Bible verses all over his shop so that people would have the chance to see the Word of God. He also grabbed the opportunities to share the Gospel with his customers. As a result, many of his clients came to faith in Jesus Christ. When the pastor was a lad, the unwavering service of this godly cobbler had an enormous impact on him.
If you’re a believer in Christ, my recommendation to you is spend time reading the Book of Revelation so that you can understand God’s big picture of redemption. Moreover, spend some time devising plans how to serve God in a better way.
6) John’s Testimony (Revelation 1:2)
John not only wrote the Book of Revelation, but he is also the author of the Gospel of John and another three letters in the New Testament. In the Gospel of John and his three epistles, he sets the focus on the first Advent of Jesus Christ. In Revelation, John puts the focus on the second coming of Jesus Christ and other related events. In short, John is a faithful witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, that is to say, the message from God and witness borne by Jesus Christ.
God and Jesus
One noteworthy point is that John puts God and Jesus on the same plane (Revelation 1:9; 19:10; 20:4). In a simple sentence, Jesus is God. Many people mistakenly consider Jesus as simply a religious teacher, but in fact He is God.
In some modern court cases, eyewitnesses are always summoned to testify. In Revelation, Jesus and John are both witnesses. Broadly speaking, all Christians are eyewitnesses who witness the saving grace of God. As eyewitnesses, all we have do is to present our personal salvation story to others.
Revelation and God’s Word
In verse two, John clearly points out that the content of the Book of Revelation is the word of God, thus readers shouldn’t take it lightly. If you are interested to find out what will happen in the end times, reading the Book of Revelation is a good place to start. When you start to do so, please bear in mind that the content of Revelation is not fictional, but are messages from God.
7) The Purpose of Revelation (Revelation 1:3)
The way to Blessedness
John says, 3Blessed 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 1:3 ESV) He points the readers to the way of blessedness.
Three Actions that Leads to Blessedness
John the Apostle states that there are three actions which lead to blessedness, namely, read, hear and keep.
In the early church, reading Scripture aloud by a lector is a common practice. Although most contemporary worship services that I know of don’t have this practice, Bible reading is essential in early church. For instance, in the city of Ephesus, the literacy rate is fifteen percent of the population, therefore lectors must read the Bible aloud in worship.
According to the Jewish tradition, hearing and obeying are always linked together. The purpose of hearing God’s Word is instant obedience.
The third action is keeping God’s Word. As the Book of Revelation is part of the New Testament Canon, reading it in public worship is a means to bless the hearers. If people hear the word of God and keep it, they will for sure be blessed (Luke 11:27–28 ESV)! As the Epoch of God’s Redemption is near (Revelation 1:3), it is blessed to respond to the Book of Revelation by reading, hearing and keeping. Do you have the habit of reading the Bible? I hope you do. Reading the Bible is crucial, but most important of all, we must respond to God’s Word with obedience. Like I said earlier, the three actions of reading, hearing and keeping God’s Word lead to His blessings!