Before I get started down this path, I just want to say that these are just my thoughts on the book of Revelation. The material is from commentaries, sermons, and other resources that I have run across over the years regarding this book. I don’t claim to have anymore knowledge than anyone else on the topic of Revelation because even on a good day the most I can claim is that I have the same gift as Balaam’s donkey: I can put some words together. As a gift, it is not something I can lay claim to as my own, but something God has been pleased to allow me. It is my hope as you read my notes on this book that you will receive blessing, insight and instruction. Most of all, I hope that these notes will draw you closer to my Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ.
(1) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
(2) Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
(3) Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
The Title of the Book
The very first phrase of this book makes its title clear: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Often this book is mistakenly referred to as “Revelations” plural, but this is The Revelation (singular) of Jesus Christ. Other Bible prophecies can also be described as “revelations” because they all reveal something about God and his future plans for mankind, but this book claims “revelation” as its title because it is the revelation to end all revelations. It is literally the ultimate (definitive, final, decisive) book of prophecy. It has no equal and it comes to us from none other than Christ Himself. To add or detract from it is to destroy its message and diminish its worth. This the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Taken by itself, the phrase “Revelation of Jesus Christ” can either mean it is a revelation where Christ is the subject and more is revealed about Him, or it can mean it is “a revelation which Christ makes to mankind, that is, it is his in the sense that he communicates it to the world.” (Albert Barnes) It’s clear even from the very first verse, that the second meaning is the intent of the phrase because it is a revelation that Christ says God gave to Him about things that must come to pass (end times) to show to His servants. Christ is certainly at the center of this book, but the subject is the end times.
The word translated “revelation” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis. We get our English word “apocalypse” from it. “Apocalypse” in English means “the final destruction of the world,” and while this is certainly covered, the literal meaning of apokalupsis means to “uncover, lay bare, to remove the veil of darkness, or ignorance.” The idea behind it is to “show something that up to this point has been hidden.” In the Gospels, Jesus’ disciples often asked Him about the end times (a.k.a. eschatology). In answer to their questions, the Lord would give His disciples limited and sometimes cryptic answers. Revelation seeks to bring God’s plan for the end of time into fuller focus.
While John is the man God used to write down the events of Revelation, the actual source of it is Jesus Christ. John is careful to open the book with that view in mind. This the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not of John. Christ, true to form, reveals nothing to His people that His Father has not already revealed to Him, so the next phrase in this book states that this the revelation that God gave to Jesus. (“I speak that which I have seen with my Father…” John 8:38a. See also John 7:16, 8:28.)
The Mission of the Book
The mission of the book is clear: “to [show] unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.” By “his servants” is meant God’s people, believers. The next phrase is interesting. It says that Revelation is a prophecy of things which must “shortly come to pass.” The book was written over 2,000 years ago. Much of what it prophesies has not come to pass – yet. So, what’s going on? To compensate for this apparent discrepancy, some commentators will spiritualize the prophecies of Revelation and imply they have all been fulfilled in some sort of spiritual sense, but the prophecies of Revelation – unless context clearly dictates otherwise – are meant to be understood literally. Remember, this book comes to us from an Eternal Being who is not constrained by time like you and I are. So, when God says this book is about things which must shortly come to pass, we need to understand time according to God’s measurement and not ours. 2 Peter 3:8 teaches us not to be “ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” It may have been over 2,000 years since John penned the words of Revelation, but in light of eternity before a God Who is not bound by time, that is a short time!
The message of Revelation was “sent and signified…by his angel unto his servant John.” Another interesting turn of phrase. “Sent” is the Greek word apostellō, meaning “to send.” The noun form apostellō is where we get the word “apostle,” or “sent one.” The word translated “signified” is the Greek word sēmainō (say-MY-no), which means “a mark,” or “to indicate.” It’s probably best to understand this as sign-ified. In other words, verified by means of signs and symbols. When this word is used in other New Testament passages (John 12:33; John 18:32; John 21:19; Acts 11:28; Acts 25:27), it is used in connection with something that was going to come to pass, or, in a legal sense, to point out the charges against someone.
The word “angel” in this passage comes from the Greek word aggelos (pronounced ANG-el-os) and literally means “messenger.” You’ll note as you read through Revelation that John often talks to an angel as he writes and sees the things he sees. When Christ does speak, it is either to the audience in the given context, or to John directly, but nowhere in the book does John directly address Christ. Conversations and clarifying details always come by means of the God-approved angel. The Revelation of Christ to His people and the world in general is a one-way conversation. It is Christ talking to us. We have nothing to add to the conversation. It is for us to listen and to learn.
John, the Faithful Witness
In verse 2, John gives testimony as to his role regarding the Book of Revelation. Very simply, he bore record of all that he saw. “Bare record” in our English translation is actually one word in Greek: martureō (mar-too-reh’-o). It means “to be a witness.” It is based on the same root as the word from which we get the term “martyr.” In Greek, the noun just means “witness,” but Christians in Bible times were so often tortured and killed for their faith that our word “martyr” means someone who has died for a cause. Martureō, “to testify,” “to witness” is a legal term and you can picture a person in a court room being called to bear witness to something he or she saw. John’s statement here is that he has given unembellished witness to the things that were revealed to him, but as we study Revelation we need to understand that John was a first-century witness to things that would happen centuries in the future. So, his record, while supernaturally provided, will be couched in his first-century understanding of events. Let’s do this in reverse: Let’s say you are a child of the early 21st century and you’d never seen the film It’s a Wonderful Life. Somehow, you get into a time machine and travel to the past to see the premier of that film – but you are limited in your description to modern terms and concepts. You might describe the story like this: “Some guy named George Bailey was the head of some bank. He got in trouble because he lost an $8000.00 deposit. His wife finds out, so she gets on Twitter to let her followers know her husband’s trouble. The tweet goes viral. Then someone gets the idea to start a GoFundMe page. That also goes viral and people from all over the place start donating, and the guy is saved from going to prison. The end.” Granted, that’s an exaggeration, but it does somewhat help us relate to John’s situation as he is tasked with reporting on what he sees in the future.
Comfort One Another with These Words
Revelation begins with its own title clearly stated, it also comes with a promise: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.” Prophecy, especially New Testament prophecy, is meant to bring comfort to believers. Unfortunately, it often brings contention instead, as people try to force interpretations on what prophecy teaches, or to set dates. But if you look at the writings of Paul, when he spoke of the Lord’s return, he ended his “revelation” with the words: “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). John had the same goal in mind. Why? Because God gives us prophecy to bolster our faith. When John wrote Revelation, Christianity had been so successful that it was persecuted across the entire Roman empire. Christians were being put on trial, found guilty for their faith, and were imprisoned for believing on Jesus, like John was, or were executed like Paul. Many were not just merely executed, they were tortured first. (See Hebrews 11:36-38) Suffering persecution is the history of the Christian faith throughout all the ages from Abel to John! According to church legend, the Romans tried killing John by boiling him in oil, but he miraculously survived. Being exiled to the isle of Patmos was the Romans’ second choice of punishment for the apostle. Such were the times in which John lived. It was late first century and believers were becoming fearful and despondent in the light of the persecutions they suffered. Human nature being what it is, many believers were beginning to question their faith. “Is my faith in Christ really worth all of this? Given all these sufferings, is faith in Christ even real?” In answer to all of that God gave John the Book of Revelation to comfort his readers and remind them that their Savior was well aware of their plight and in full control of events. John wanted his readers to understand that their Savior was a God who not only knew the future, but determined it. This is why in verse 3 he admonishes his audience to not just read Revelation, but to hear (listen intently to) and keep (to watch over, preserve, memorize, meditate upon, ponder in the heart) the “things which are written therein,” and then he reminds them: “the time is at hand.”