AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Here are seven facts we learn about the book of Revelation based on the opening three verses:
- Revelation is an unveiling. The revelation [apokalypsis] (v. 1a). The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek work apokalypsis (used 18 times in the NT but only here in Revelation). Sometimes Revelation is called “the Apocalypse.” Apocalyptic literature is filled with symbols. Many of Revelation’s symbols come from the OT books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. Because of these symbols in Revelation, some might think that the book is a concealing of truth. But, as the title suggest, the book is actually a revealing (unveiling, disclosure) of truth.
- Revelation is about Jesus Christ. Of [about] Jesus Christ (v. 1b). There are many characters in Revelation, but Jesus is the main character. The Gospels reveal Christ in His humiliation; Revelation reveals Christ in His exaltation.
- Revelation is from Jesus Christ. Of [from] Jesus Christ, which God gave him (v. 1b-c). Jesus is the One revealed and the Revealer.
- Revelation was written to the seven churches of Asia. To show his servants (v. 1d). These "servants" are identified in verse 4 as "the seven churches in the province of Asia" (see also chapters 2-3). These churches were located in modern-day Turkey. The word "show" is similar to "revelation" (v. 1) and means "to reveal or unveil."
- Revelation was written to reveal future events. The things that must soon take place (v. 1e). The word "must" indicates that these things that will take place are secured by God's sovereign purpose and power. But how should we interpret the word "soon"? (see also 22:7, 12, 20.) Some say it means "swiftly" or "suddenly." In other words, when Christ does return, it will happen very quickly. Others believe that "soon" means "without delay." But how can this be correct since about 1900 years have gone by since Revelation was written? The New Testament says that we are living in the "last days" (see Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:1; 1 Peter 1:20). The "last days" began after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Now we are waiting for Him to come back. There is really nothing delaying His return (other than the patience of God, see 2 Peter 3:3-9). He could come at any moment, so that is how the Bible can say He is coming "soon." When will it happen? "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 13:32). "So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority'" (Acts 1:6-7). So Jesus said, "You don’t know, and you’re not supposed to know." "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (2 Peter 3:10). The coming of Christ will be unpredictable. There are five schools of interpretation concerning "the things must soon take place": (1) historism - the prophecies of Revelation are being fulfilled throughout history; preterism - most of the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled in the early days of the Christian church; (3) futurism - chapters 4-22 refer primarily to events that will take place at the end of time; (4) idealism - the symbols of Revelation do not relate to historical events but rather to timeless spiritual truths; (5) mixed - a combination of more than one of the above views.
- Revelation was written by John. 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 (vv. 1f-2). Who is "John"? (See also 1:4, 9; 22:8.) He is the apostle John. He would have been well known to the churches of Asia because he ministered in Ephesus. There was a four-state process by which Revelation came to the church: (1) God gave it to Jesus; (2) Jesus gave it to "his angel"; (3) the angel gave it to John; and (4) John wrote it down for the churches (and for us). When was Revelation written? Possibly A.D. 95 or 96. Where was it written? From the island of Patmos (see 1:9).
- Revelation promises a blessing to all who hear and obey its words. 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 (v. 3). This is the first of seven beatitudes in Revelation (1:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). One of the distinctive features of Revelation is its frequent use of the number seven (52 times). There is a threefold blessing to the reader (the one who read the book aloud during a church gathering), the hearer, and the "heeder." Revelation is not just about eschatology; it’s also about ethics.