The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. (NKJV)
Revelation 1:19 seems to give a natural division of the book: “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” Many expositors follow this outline. However, we believe that one purpose of the book is to reveal the Lord Jesus Himself, and so we have the following outline:
1. The revelation of Himself to the reader, ch. 1.
2. The revelation of Himself to the churches, chs. 2, 3.
3. The revelation of Himself to the world, chs. 4-22.
The first 20 verses give us the introduction to the book, telling us its origin and purpose. We’ll look at the first three verses in this post. In them, we see:
1. God’s purpose in giving the book, v. 1.
Through the Lord Jesus, the purpose is to show His servants things which must shortly take place. In the first post, we discussed something of the different ways that men understand what this means. It seems to me that it refers to verifiable, identifiable things – events – which will clearly demonstrate the knowledge and power of God, not just ongoing processes or principles, not just vague generalities, but real, tangible happenings. Our Lord did on occasion speak in general terms, as in Matthew 24, where He told of wars and rumors of wars, of strife and violence, of false Messiahs and prophets, but He also gave specific details about some things, things which were to prepare His people to act when they saw them. For example, in Mark’s account, He said, “But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.” This isn’t the place really to enter into that discussion, except to say, similarly, that Revelation isn’t about generalities, but about specific things designed to forewarn of and prepare God’s people for that which lies ahead. I believe that’s as true for today as it was for John’s day.
“shortly”. What does this word mean? Some say that it means that the things in the book happened during the early days of the church, that it was designed to encourage and strengthen them during the oncoming trials. No doubt, the book did encourage those early believers. But, unless these folks believe that all the book has been fulfilled, even they have to admit that some things still haven’t happened after nearly 2000 years.
The same expression in the original language is translated “speedily” in Luke 18:7, 8. This is how I think it should be translated in Revelation 1:1. In other words, I believe that John was saying that when these things began to happen, they would happen very quickly, and not that they would happen very soon.
And come to pass they must. Ephesians 3:11 refers to the eternal purpose which [God] accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:30 says that in the mind and purpose of God, believers are already glorified. One need only look in the mirror or the medicine cabinet to see that that hasn’t yet happened. But it must happen, and so must these things in Revelation.
2. God’s procedure in giving the book.
He sent and signified by His angel to His servant John.
Several years ago, I read a rather odd comment about the word “signified.” The author maintained that, even though the word was usually pronounced “sig-ni-fied,” in this verse, it’s supposed to be pronounced “sign-i-fied.” This, he said, is because Revelation is given in “signs.” As I said, “rather odd.” However, the word translated “signified” is used five other times in the NT (John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27) and means “to give a clear record.” I suppose it could be argued that Revelation is given in signs, or symbols, and that’s why it’s so hard to understand. That’s true, but nearly every symbol is explained somewhere in the book, and so, in spite of our difficulties, it “gives a clear record”.
by His angel.
This isn’t the first time such a thing has been said. For example, at Sinai, Exodus 20:1 says that God spoke all these words, referring to the giving of the Ten Commandments. Yet, in two other places, the Bible says that God spoke through an angel at that time, Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2. There is no contradiction. God may have spoken through angels, but it was still He Who spoke. So here. Even if it were an angel through whom the Lord Jesus spoke to John, it was still the Lord Jesus Who was speaking.
His servant John.
Unbelieving scholars maintain that Revelation is simply the delusional ravings of an overworked old man suffering from Roman imprisonment on the Isle of Patmos. If that’s true, then John isn’t simply deluded, but a liar and a fraud, because he claimed that what he wrote came from God. And if that’s true, then there’s no reason to study the book, any more than the rest of Scripture, which unbelieving scholars also deny as divinely inspired.
John said that he bore witness to:
1. the word of God. Again, he states the source of his writing as being from God and not just his own thought.
2. the testimony of Jesus Christ, Who, in just a couple of verses, is called the faithful witness, v. 5. The rest of the book is His testimony, not only to what was then current in the churches He addressed, but also as to what was coming down the road.
3. to all things that he saw. John isn’t merely a puppet or a robot, transcribing what he was “programmed” to say. He, too, was a “witness”. The doctrine of verbal inspiration doesn’t mean that the writers were mere automatons. God used men of different abilities, backgrounds, education, even nationality, to write His Word. Moses wrote differently from Ezekiel, and Paul wrote differently from Matthew or Luke. It was, and is, still God’s Word.
3. God’s promise in giving the book.
a. He promises blessing for those who read.
Until the invention of the printing press, copies of the Scripture were laboriously copied out by hand, so very few had their own personal copy. Indeed, one of the instructions for Israel’s king was that he was to write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites, Deuteronomy 17:18, a copy he was continually to read and obey. (Even though most of us have easy access to Scripture, this might be a good idea for us. The time and effort it would take to write out the Scripture by hand – not on a typewriter or computer, but pen in hand, might help us to do a better job of knowing what it says.) At meetings or gatherings, one person would read aloud to the others. There is an excellent example of this in Nehemiah 8:1-11, which describes a service in which the Word was read aloud from morning until midday.
The ESV translates v. 3 this way: Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy….
b. He promises blessing to those who hear.
There is something to be said for hearing someone else read the Word out loud. I’ve told elsewhere the story of my wife’s and my reading of Genesis 15 and hearing her read v. 12 and me reading v. 17. Hearing these verses that I had read silently many times gave me a whole different insight into that chapter. (“Look Now Toward Heaven.” Sorry, I don’t have the technical savvy to give you the direct link. You know, “old dog, new tricks.” 🙂 )
c. He promises blessing to those who “keep” what it says.
As we mentioned in the first post, the word translated “keep” is the same word used of the soldiers who “guarded” the tomb of Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we’re to hide away the Word under lock and key like a valuable treasure, or that we merely have it on display, like a wheel-barrow-sized copy on the coffee table, but that we pay attention to it, honor it, read it, not just because it comes up on some “reading schedule,” but because it’s God’s word to us.
Long ago, I fell for a young woman in a different state. We wrote. Oh, how I waited for those letters! I devoured them when they came in the mail. I didn’t have to have a “schedule” to read them. I didn’t have to force myself to read them out of some sense of “duty.” I didn’t just read here and there in them. I didn’t have to try to “memorize” them. I read them. Over and over. And over. I was eager to read them! I loved the one who wrote them!
It turned out she wasn’t the one God had for me, but I had the same attitude toward the one who was later on. I couldn’t wait to be with her. That was more than 45 years ago, and she’s out in the kitchen fixing something delicious to eat while I sit in here trying to write something “delicious to read.” I can’t imagine her not being here.
I wish that we as individuals, as churches, and as a nation, had that same intense desire, that same fervent longing, for God and His Word.
4. God’s perspective in giving the book.
the time is near….
Yes, it’s been nearly 2000 years. Yes, in one way or another, people are saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:4). Yes, things are out of control and getting worse. Jesus said things would be like that before He came. But, as James said, “Behold, the Judge is standing at the door,” James 5:9, and one of these days, He’s going to open it and step through. It may be before I finish this post. It may not be in the lifetimes of our grandchildren. He doesn’t look at our calendar.
But, one day, He will open it and step through.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.