What is Revelation about? For many of us, the book of Revelation is shrouded in a cloud of mystery and sometimes, we read it as if it's a book of signs that predict the future. Many people get excited at this thought. We begin our new series in Revelation with the first 8 verses of this book. These verses give a broad summary of the entire book and the themes of the book of Revelation and right at the start, we'd like to state that the book of Revelation is not about the "end times". What then is it about? Read on!
(A) Revelation shows us things Jesus means for us to see (Rev 1:1-2)
The book of Revelation is written by John, who is the writer of the Gospel of John, and 1-3 John. 1. In Rev 1:1, there is no doubt about what the book of Revelation is about. We are told that the contents of this book consists of the revelation that belong to Jesus (Rev 1:1) and it was given to Jesus to "show his servants the things that must soon take place" (Rev 1:1). This relationship must be clear from the start. This might confuse us because many of us don't think that God the Father has a relationship and activity with God the Son. Many of us think of God as a blob with no character. But this is not so.
Jesus made "the things" known by sending his angel to his servant John (Rev 1:1b). He does it by sending his angel to John, who then "bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:2). This is why John meets angels again and again in the rest of the book. The angels come by the will and purpose of Jesus Christ. Right in the first verse, we see that the revelation come from Jesus, and they serve a specific purpose. Thus, if we on the receiving end do not receive and grasp this message, the revelation is lost.
God gives us Scripture to help us understand things that are to come. But is this about the "end times"? When John wrote it, it could mean one of two things. It could mean something "to come" in the immediate future (thus it would have been completed in our time) or it could mean something that would happen to come in the distant future (thus we are still waiting for it too). Things that must soon take place" -- either reading it as stressing what is to come, or, to talk about something that is near and has already taken place. G.K. Beale, in his commentary on Revelation explains:
The focus of “quickness” and “nearness” in verses 1-3 is primarily on the inauguration of prophetic fulfilment and its ongoing aspect rather than nearness of consummate fulfilment (the return of the Lord), thought the latter thought is secondarily present.
What it means for us then, is that instead of getting caught up in predicting things to happen, we are to read it as events that are near to us and have happened/are already happening. This is helpful when we read of the events in the rest of chapter 1. The table below helps us discern when the events happened or if the verses speak of something to come.
|Sending angel to John (Rev 1:1b)||Happened
(in the first few verses of this book)
|John bearing witness (Rev 1:2)||Happened
(John writes this text which is then sent around)
|Freed us from our sins by his blood (Rev 1:5a)||Happened
(on the cross)
|Firstborn of the dead (Rev 1:5b)||Happened
(When Jesus resurrected, He was the first to come back from the
dead and everyone else in His line is also promised this.)
|Made us a kingdom (Rev 1:5c)||Happened
(In Mark 1:14-15, we read of how the kingdom began with Jesus' arrival)
|Coming with the clouds, every see Him, all tribes wailing (Rev 1:7)||Will happen|
|7 golden lampstands (Rev 1:12)
(Some context and explanation will be helpful. In Zec 4:1-6, there is a reference to lampstands and olive trees, which refers to Zerubbabel, the first person to return from exile. The lampstands is just a reference to God's people. Dan 2 speaks of one like the son of man, and a similar description appears here.)
(This refers to the first Christmas, when Jesus appeared to His people. He comes and moves among his people, the lampstands, ministering and building his church, even till today.)
|Sharp-edged sword from mouth (Rev 1:16)||Happened
(In Isa 49:2 and 11:4 we read a description of how this person speaks like a sword, in power and righteousness.)
One simple thing we're supposed to learn from these verses and Rev 1:1-2 is that Jesus means for us to understand this divine view of things that have happened in the Gospels -- He came, lived among His people, started His kingdom. We are meant to see His glory and to see His purpose here.
(B) Revelation is meant for the church’s obedience and blessing (Rev 1:3-4)
When we read on in Rev 1:3, we read of two types of people that are blessed. God has prepared a wonderful blessing for the one who reads these words, and also those who hear it. The Bible also speaks of obedience in terms of hearing, keeping, owning, treasuring and cherishing not just hearing and obeying. We don't just download or apply God's Word. We also keep it. What is your attitude as you came in tonight? Did you come ready to download information? Did you come seeking some new discovery? Or did you come excited to hear and know God? If you've been a Christian for a long time, chances are you have heard a sermon about God's word and it's importance. But if we're brutally honest, there are some of us who are not growing, because although though we know that we ought to read our bible and pray, we don't care. Rev 1:3 challenges us and shows us that much joy and blessing is promised to the one who knows and loves God His words. Let us not merely be hearers and doers of God's Word but also keepers of it, to own it and hold it close to our hearts.
John addresses the 7 churches in Asia (Asia Minor), which is further elaborated on in Rev 1:11. John uses the standard greeting of "grace to you and peace from him...". This is a common greeting, but it is lost to us these days. It speaks of the grace and wholeness from God, and that marks the Christian community, even if they are separated by distance. What can we learn from here? We see that Those that bear the name of Christian are precious in God's sight! Whether or not we know each other, one thing we know is that each person has a story of what it took God to bring you into His family and bring peace to you. Each person in this Bible study and in your churches has walked the road of faith and is precious in His sight. Remember that on Sat night as you prepare to go to church, and on Sunday when you prepare to worship together. It is a gathering of people who have received grace and peace from Him!
Why is this important? Remember that the churches were under huge persecution and pressure (c.f. Rev 1:9). As John writes this, He is writing alone from the rock on Patmos. Here is the last disciple of Jesus left on that rock on Patmos, cut off from the church. He walked with Jesus, saw the risen Christ, saw the church grow in the period of acts, but also saw how the apostles and disciples gradually died for their faith. How would you feel, if that was you? Didn't Jesus promised His kingdom, so what does this all mean? Have you felt defeated, ready to echo the words of Ps 73, instead of triumphant? It is to this man that Jesus sends this revelation, to encourage him and to encourage the church. These are words for us too.
(C) Revelation is from our Triune God and to His praise (Rev 1:5-8)
In John's greeting in Rev 1:4b-6, he also describes the members of the Trinity. The Father is described as the one "who is and who was and who is to come" (Rev 1:4) and also "His God and Father" (Rev 1:6). He is Jesus' God and Father, too, and we see the relationship within the Trinity. Jesus Christ is the "faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of kings on earth" (Rev 1:4b) who "loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father" (Rev 1:5). Jesus will also come with the clouds (Rev 1:7a). Last but not least, the Holy Spirit is also present, described as "seven spirits" before the throne, with seven signifying a full and complete spirit.
What's the significance of fleshing out each member of the Trinity instead of just saying "God"? Each member has a different role and personality and therefore, in this case, when we talk about peace, we are meant to think of their relationship and how that peace comes to us. Jesus allows us peace with the Father, but is also applied to us in the Spirit. Therefore the work of the Trinity gives us a richer, fuller picture.
John also brings the gospel to bear on our identity (Rev 1:5-7). We are ones whom God loved and have been freed from our sins by His blood. We are now in His kingdom and are also priests to the Father. Now, even non-Levites, non-Israelites can come as God's people as priests to Him. Some of these words can bounce off us quite easily when we've been in church for a while. The idea of God's love and the freedom achieved by His blood can become Bible words that don't mean much and even taken for granted. But when we stop, pause and think about who we really are today, it's an absolutely crazy idea. Of all the people in this world, He knows you and me and has chosen to love us. God loves us when we are the most unlovely. We like to think that God loves us because we are special, but far from it! God loves us when we were still ugly rebels, who care about nothing but the glory of our own name and have chosen to live our lives apart from Him. He loves us even though He sees the depths of our hearts and even all our hidden sins, parts of us that we don't want to acknowledge and certainly would never want another to see. God loved us while we were yet sinners and enemies of Him (Rom 5:8).
Rev 1:7 reminds us that He is coming again. We don't know what Rev 1:7 will really be like. Many artists have tried to depict it. Hymn writers have also written about it. But the point is that it will bring absolute joy to Christians but absolute terror to those who do not. When He comes, He will not come again to proclaim His gospel, but He comes to judge. This opening address also closes with God pulling from the Greek alphabet to show the fullness of His reign, and His eternal nature. He uses the Old Testament formula to show how eternal He is, the God of History and time. He is the Lord God Almighty.
The Book of Revelation is full of things that are difficult to imagine and sometimes we can be distracted and lost in it. But in these opening verses, we are reminded that these things were written for a clear and specific purpose. It is meant to lift our eyes up and to draw our eyes to Jesus. Lots of people come to this book hoping to read signs and to figure our the future and to come with this incredibly narrow focus would leave you disappointed. This book is about something better -- about the glory reign and rule of Jesus as He is!
What does this mean practically for you and me? Resolve to give praise and glory to Jesus. It doesn't mean singing songs or singing loudly. It means that in your life and mine, we decrease and He increases (c.f. John 3:30), and rightfully so. There is no other way Jesus can be glorified if you remain big in your own eyes. Revelation is meant to show the Cosmic Christ, and designed to show the power of Jesus and in contrast, we appear small.
As we end this study and prepare for this new year, it is also timely to pause and consider the state of your heart as you come before God. This may be the first time that you are seeing God in this way. Has God revealed Himself to you today? Has He shown you your sin? Don't brush it aside. God draws us to Him by showing us our sin, but also holds out the hope of a Savior, who loves us and freed us from sin by His blood to make us into a kingdom of priests. Come to Him today! For others, are you walking with Him? What are you doing with this Jesus as He is revealed in Rev 1:1-8? Are you discouraged? Meet Him here and find peace in the one who reigns and rules. In this new year, may we also be people who read, hear, obey and keep His words.