By David Samuel
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Rev 1:1-3, NASB)
The first three verses of Revelation provide details that set the tone for the rest of the book. The book of Revelation is just that: revelation. The future was a mystery, but it is now revealed so that God’s servants can know what God wants them to do. Those who do not understand Revelation either have not read or heard it, or they are not God’s servants.
A servant is someone who does what his master tells him to do. The blessing of understanding God’s mysteries is upon those who, when they read or hear what God says, heed His message. God knows your heart, and if you will be faithful to what God shows you, then He will let you in on more of His secrets. Knowledge about the future is not given to satisfy people’s curiosity; it is given to those who are ready to do what God says.
In the first century, books and people who could read were scarce. The printing press had not been invented, and books had to be copied by hand. John sent the book of Revelation as a letter to seven churches, and it was read to them by someone who could read. While the blessing of the letter can be equally upon both those who read it and those who hear it read, the blessing is restricted to those who heed the commands in the letter.
The first sentence reveals the importance of a chain of command. God gave the revelation to Jesus, Jesus gave it to an angel, and the angel signified it to John. After John sent the letter to the seven churches, copies were made, and Revelation eventually became part of the Bible. The Bible is now published all over the world, and you can read Revelation for yourself, to your children, or to others who cannot read. Will you be faithful to heed the things written in the Bible, and will you pass them on to other faithful people? Are you a link in God’s chain?
As the word signify signifies, Revelation was written in signs and symbols for more than one reason. Not only does symbolic language prevent unfaithful people from understanding the letter, it protects those who publish the letter. The letter contains a critique of oppressive political, religious, and business systems. Before good governments protected freedom of speech, evil leaders would kill those who criticized them. Now that Revelation is available in book form, tyrants still try to prevent the Bible’s distribution. Revelation’s symbolic language aids in its publication by restricting the full understanding of its content to God’s servants.
Not only is Revelation a letter, it is also an apocalyptic prophecy, one that reveals things which, beginning in the first century, soon began to happen. Prophecy explains the future so that people take appropriate action. When people know that God blesses certain behaviors and punishes other behaviors, faithful people choose the behaviors that God blesses. Prophecy tells people which behaviors will be blessed and which behaviors will be judged
A prophetic message can come in a variety of forms, and Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy. Apocalyptic literature is usually communicated by an angel, written in symbolic language, speaks about judgment or the future, and involves a vision of heaven or God’s throne. In Revelation, an angel visits John, shows him God’s throne in heaven, and gives him symbolic information about the future. Revelation, therefore, is an apocalyptic prophecy sent as a letter to seven churches in ancient Turkey.
Revelation, besides revealing what God wants those churches to do, also reveals mankind’s mid-term and long-term futures. When people say that Revelation predicted things that would happen soon – and then complain that those things never happened – they are suggesting that God has not been faithful. Those who have this attitude do not see the big picture or are not being faithful to what they already know.
The Bible explains that God temporarily delays the consummation of history, giving sinners time to repent. However, when the world’s two types of people become hardened in their ways, God will take quick action. Even in the first century, God acted quickly. When Jesus obeyed the Father and bore humanity’s sins on the cross, God resurrected him in only three days. Correspondingly, Acts 12:23 tells of Herod immediately dropping dead when he allowed people to worship him as a god. The Bible predicts the polarization of mankind into two hardened groups, those who are completely faithful to God and those who absolutely refuse God’s truth.
One of the most important things to take away from these first few verses is that Revelation is a revelation of Jesus Christ. It is primarily a message from Jesus giving wisdom and hope to faithful people in an evil society. Revelation does this by revealing Jesus’ power and God’s eternal plan for their safety. It also shows that God allows difficult things to happen, sometimes even to faithful people, because of mankind’s ongoing sin. Revelation’s main point, however, is that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection has secured eternal salvation for those who are faithful.
After John received the visions we call Revelation, he testified to both God’s word and Jesus’ testimony. Revelation brings together God’s ancient prophecies in the Old Testament with the Gospel testimony of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and everlasting kingdom. As commanded, John sent the letter to churches in ancient Turkey, and that same message now comes to you. Now that you understand Revelation 1:1-3, how will your life be different? Will you walk away into darkness, or will you be faithful and heed the revelation of Jesus Christ?