John’s Introduction to Revelation (Part1)
May 17, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
Last year I was asked by one of the listeners of our radio program, Shepherd’s Call, if I could do a series on the book of Revelation. I don’t remember what my answer was, but if you asked me two weeks ago I would have said “yes,” but with a qualification.
We just recently finished the series What is a healthy church member?. I wanted to follow-up that series with another set of studies that is still related to the church. I thought that the book of Revelation would be a good complement especially when we come to chapters 2 and 3. In these two chapters we find Christ’s diagnoses of seven churches that existed when the book of Revelation was written.
These seven churches had different characteristics which make for a very interesting study on what healthy churches and sick churches look like. Studying what the Lord Jesus had to say about the seven churches will give us important insights on what things we should and should not be doing in order to be a healthy church. And so I thought I that this would be a great follow-up to our study on what is a healthy church member.
You may be wondering, would I continue with the remaining chapters, after chapter 3? In chapters 4 to 22 we have a panorama of the events that will happen on earth and in heaven just before the Lord returns and ushers His kingdom here on earth and eventually transforms the universe into the new heavens and a new earth. I am sure that would be a fascinating series.
So would I also go into all those chapters after I’m done with chapter 3? My answer, “I’ll cross the bridge when we get there.” Honestly, I feel that to attempt to do a series on the book of Revelation is like the act of those who rush in where angels fear to tread. I will not pretend that it is going to be an easy task.
I am not really sure of the reason but you will be surprised to know that even John Calvin himself—considered to be the prince of biblical commentators of the past centuries and whose commentaries scholars today still consult—did not write a commentary on the book of Revelation. (Calvin also had no commentaries on 2Jn and 3Jn.)
If you are going to pray for me and Holy Spirit answers your prayer to give me the knowledge, wisdom, conviction, and power to teach on this book till the last chapter, then by God’s grace, I will. I suggest that you pray the prayers of Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians for me.
Now that we come to a new book of the Bible, it is important that I give you an introduction of the book. What I usually do when I begin a new series on any book of the Bible, and before I go and jump into the very first verse of the book, is to first answer basic questions about the book such as …
- Who wrote the book?
- When was it written?
- To whom was it written?
- Why was it written?
- What is written?
However, today, instead of doing that, I will go immediately into the opening verses of chapter 1 because this contains the introduction which John himself wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. John’s introduction to the book of Revelation 1:1-3.
If you are using an ESV translation you will see on top of verse 1 the subheading, Prologue
(in Filipino, “Pambungad”). Let’s read this:
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 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.
And so today, I want us to look into this section, and the title I am giving to this message is, John’s Introduction to Revelation.
I will break down this Prologue (Dict.: “a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work”) into several parts and explaining each part. Here are the different elements that we see in John’s own general introduction to the book of Revelation:
- The nature of this book
- The central subject of this book
- The transmission of this book
- The recipients of this book
- The other nature of this book
- The promise of this book (to be continued next week)
- The Nature Of This Book
The first element of this prologue or general introduction is found in the opening phrase says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.”
I want you to focus on the word “revelation." Here John identifies what he wrote as a “revelation.” It is important that we understand that word means because it is a key to understanding the rest of the book.
The word revelation
in this verse comes from the Greek word “apokalupsis”
from which we get the word apocalypse
. Apocalypse literally means uncovering, unveiling, revealing, or disclosing. So “revelation” or “apocalypse” means that in this book God is disclosing to us things we would not otherwise know or be able to discover.
But the word apocalypse
also indicates a particular type of disclosure, a particular form
of writing. It is a type of literature that unveils, discloses, or reveals unseen heavenly or future realities by the use of a series of symbols, signs, names, numbers, colors, and creatures.
We today are not used to this kind of literature. We have Novels, Poems, Dramas, Short stories, Comics, Histories, Biographies, etc. But we are not used to this type of writing called apocalyptic writing where unseen heavenly or future realities are represented by means of symbolic visions of beasts, many-headed monsters or cosmic catastrophies.
However, the original readers of the book of Revelation were comfortable in reading such types of literature because, as far as we know, this type of writing was already used by some OT prophets like Daniel, Zechariah, and Ezekiel, and was continued to be used by non-biblical Jewish writers up to the time of John, and even after. When John wrote the book of Revelation, there were already many Apocalyptic writings in existence.
During the years between the OT and the NT, there were no prophetic words from God, written or spoken. God was silent. At some points during those silent years the people of God suffered greatly because of the oppression by their enemies. It was during those times that apocalyptic literature developed rapidly.
Like Daniel, Zechariah, and Ezekiel, these writers used symbolic visions, to dramatize the intervention of God in human history to bring times of trouble to an end and destroy all wickedness. Their intention was to give hope and to help the oppressed believers find purpose in their sufferings.
And so when John wrote the book of Revelation using this form of literature, its original readers did not take it as some kind of mysterious, strange, vague, obscure, complex, absolutely confusing, or incomprehensible book. Those ancient believers knew how to read it those kinds of writings and so for them, the book of Revelation was an unveiling, an uncovering, a disclosure of unseen heavenly realities and hidden future events that are now revealed. For its first readers, the book of Revelation was not a puzzle; it was not a mystery, it was not a covering, it was not a hiding. It was an unveiling. It was a revelation.
And what does it reveal? What does it unveil? What does it uncover?
The revelation of Jesus Christ.
- The Central Subject Of This Book
We come now to the second element of this prologue: The central subject of the book. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
It is an unveiling or uncovering, or disclosure of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To better understand the phrase, “revelation of Jesus Christ,” let’s look at Gal 1:12 where we find the exact phrase and see how it is used. In the letter of Paul to the Galatians, we find the church in Galatia is being infiltrated by false teachers. These false teachers convinced the Galatians of a false gospel which requires them to be circumcised. As a result of this, some of the Galatians were deserting the God of grace and the gospel of grace and turning to a different gospel by works and by rituals. To correct that, Paul had to bring them back to the true gospel which he preached to them at first. This he did by showing them that the gospel that he preached was not something he received from men but that he received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Gal 1:12 - For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
What Paul meant was not that he received a revelation from
Jesus Christ but that he actually received a revelation of
Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself was revealed to Him. Look at Gal 1:15-16 as he explains what happened.
15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal (apokaluptō) his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
This is the meaning of the phrase in Rev 1:1, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” The book of Revelation is not just from
Jesus Christ. While there is some truth to that as Rev 22:16 says, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.” But what John really wants to show us here is that the book of Revelation is about Jesus Christ Himself
. The book of Revelation unveils, uncovers Him.
One of the proofs that I can show you that this is a revelation about Jesus Christ is number of titles that we find here for our Savior. Willmington’s Guide to the Bible
writes, “This book lists more titles for our Savior than does any other book in the Bible.”
I noted almost 40 titles of Jesus in this book:
- He is called Jesus Christ (1:1)
- the faithful Witness (1:5)
- the firstborn from the dead (1:5)
- the ruler of kings of the earth (1:5)
- the Son of man (1:13)
- the First and the Last (1:17)
- the living One (1:18)
- the Keeper of the keys of hell and death (1:18)
- the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand (2:1)
- the who walks amidst the seven lampstands (2:1)
- the One who died and came to life (2:8)
- the One who has the sharp two-edged sword (2:12)
- the Son of God (2:18)
- the One who has eyes like a flame of fire (2:18)
- the one whose feet are like burnished bronze (2:18)
- the One who has the seven Spirits of God (3:1)
- the one who has the seven stars (3:1)
- the holy one (3:7)
- the true one (3:7)
- the one who has the key of David (3:7)
- the Amen (3:14)
- the faithful and true witness (3:14)
- the beginning of God's creation (3:14)
- the Lion of the tribe of Judah (5:5)
- the root of David (5:5)
- the Lamb who has the right to open the scroll and break its seven seals (5:5)
- the Lamb who sits on the God’s throne and receives worship from the heavenly multitudes (5:8-14)
- the Lamb who is full of wrath (6:16, 17)
- the Lamb who is caring and compassionate (7:17)
- the Lord who was crucified (11:8)
- the male Child who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron (12:5)
- the Faithful and True (19:11)
- the Word of God (19:13)
- the King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16)
- the One who is seated on the Great White Throne and who will judge the nations (20:11)
- the Alpha and Omega (22:13)
- the Beginning and the End (22:13)
- the Root and descendant of David (22:16)
- the bright morning Star (22:16)
All of those names of Christ in just one book highlight the fact that Jesus is the central subject of the book.
But what is it about Christ that is revealed here?
As we read this book we are going to see an unveiling of Christ that is different from the unveiling of Christ in the Gospels. The Gospels unveil Christ in his humiliation. The book of Revelation reveals Christ in his exaltation. Here in the book of Revelation we have a vision of Christ, not in humility, not in human form but in the fulness of power, in sovereign majesty, and eternal glory.
5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- We see this as soon as we get into 1:5-6. Here Christ begins to be unveiled.
7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
- Then immediately in 1:7 we read of the announcement of His coming with universal dominion:
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two- edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “ Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
- In 1:12-18 we have Christ’s divine glory displayed both visually and audibly.
- In chapters 2 and 3 Christ is revealed as the Lord who is spiritually present among the seven struggling churches on earth; he is the omniscient One who diagnoses each church and sovereignly commands appropriate responses of repentance and persevering faithfulness.
- In ch. 5 Jesus is unveiled as the glorious Lamb who alone is worthy to open the seals and receives worship together with God the Father.
- In chs. 6-19 see Jesus disclosed as the glorious Lamb who opens the seven seals which releases His wrath on all His enemies.
- In ch. 20 we see Jesus revealed as the one who establishes his millennial reign, makes a final destruction of Satan and his allies, judges the nations, and destroys death, the last enemy.
- In chs 21-22 Christ is finally revealed as the one who ushers the New Heavens and the new earth and lives with His people who will reign with Him forever and ever.
And so we’ve seen two elements in this prologue, a) The nature of this book
, and b) the central subject of this book.
Now let us look at c) The transmission of this book.
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
- The Transmission Of This Book
- God, who is the ultimate source of this book, gave this to Jesus.
- Christ gave it to His angel.
- The angel gave it to John.
- John delivered it to the churches.
- God, who is the ultimate source of this book, gave this to Jesus.
God did not just give this book to Jesus as a gift. God accompanies what is given to Jesus with an important task and that is to show or to make known what is in the book to the servants of Jesus. This sense of responsibility is like that of Jn 12:49: For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment — what to say and what to speak.
Jesus Christ receives the task of showing it to His servants.
- Christ gave to His angel what He received from His Father.
(We cannot be sure who this angel is, Gabriel or Michael.) Rev 22:16 - “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.
- The angel gave it to John. Rev 22:8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me…
- John delivered it to the churches. This is the reason why John attests to the truthfulness of the prophecy in v. 2: [John], who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
Matthew Henry Commentary:
He was one who bore record of the word of God in general, and of the testimony of Jesus in particular, and of all things that he saw; he was an eye-witness, and he concealed nothing that he saw. Nothing recorded in this revelation was his own invention or imagination; but all was the record of God and the testimony of Jesus; and, as he added nothing to it, so he kept back no part of the counsels of God.
And so we’ve seen three elements in this prologue, a) The nature of this book
, b) the central subject of this book,
and c) the transmission of this book.
Now let us look at the fourth element which is d) the recipients of the book.
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants.
- The Recipients Of This Book
The word servants
here is the Greek word doulois
, and the ESV footnote says that its literal translation is “bondservants.”
What is a bondservant? A bondservant is a slave who served out of love and devotion. A doulos
(singular) is one who sells himself voluntarily into slavery to another. We have an example of that in Ex 21 and Dt 15. In these passages God says that if a slave says to his master, “‘I will not go out from you,’ because I love you and your household; I want to serve you, not out of duty or out of fear, but out of love; I want to be your slave for life because I love you,” in that case, the master is to take an awl and push it through the earlobe of his servant into the door. After that, he will be his slave for life.
Here is one clear reason why non-Christians find this book incomprehensible. [Because] it was never intended for them. It was to be shown to people who are the willing slaves of Christ. And if He is not your Lord, you wouldn't be expected to comprehend this.
And why is it that only those kinds of people will understand this book.
(1Co 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
To the unbeliever, to the hypocrite in the church, the book is chaos, the book is confusion. But to the loving, willing slave of Jesus Christ, it is an unveiling, it is an uncovering that makes things very clear.
And so, I have to say to you at the very outset: If you're not a Christian these truths are closed to you. Oh, you may understand the words that I say, and as I go through, if you listen carefully to my explanation it may make sense to you in terms of the data on the page. But it can never grip your life, it can never become real to you in your heart, you will never comprehend its significance fully and its meaning in terms of its real depth, because you're not a bond-slave.
We’ll look at just one more element today and continue next week. We’ve seen four elements in this prologue, a) The nature of this book
, b) the central subject of this book, c) The transmission of this book, and d) the recipients of the book.
Now let us look at the fifth element which is e) the other nature of this book.
- The Other Nature Of This Book
Remember the first element of this introduction is the nature of this book and it is a revelation, an unveiling or a disclosure. But it is also a prophecy.
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. … 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy …
Rev 22:10 says, And he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.
The book of Revelation is the only book in the NT that is prophetic in nature. It is different from all other New Testament books. While there are portions in the other NT books that contain predictions about the future like Mt 24 and 25, The discussions of Paul about the rapture and the day of the Lord in 1Thessalonians, and the writing of Peter and others, no NT book is like the book of Revelation in that the bulk of the material found it is are almost all prophecy.
Let’s compare the Book of Revelation with the other NT books. I’ve borrowed most of these ideas from MacArthur:
tell us that Jesus came and lived and died and rose and ascended. And while there are some references to the future, the theme of the gospels is about the life and and teachings of Jesus which happened in the past.
The book of Acts
follows. The book of Acts contains the history of the church from the ascension of Jesus Christ, the birth of the church and the expansion of the church from Jerusalem to Rome. That's already happened in the past.
And what do we see in the letters
of Paul and James and Peter and John and Jude and the writer of Hebrews? Well they're all about explaining the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ and its application to the life of the church and the believer.
And so we could say the first five books of the New Testament are about the past. And the next group of books (twenty-one of them) are all about the present and how we are to apply the realities of the work of Christ now. And the last book is about the future. This is about the things which must shortly take place. It is a book made up of prophecy about the future.
That the book of Revelation is about future prophecy can also be seen in its outline
. Look at Rev 1:19 and you will find here John’s outline of the book.
19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
There are those who see in this verse a three-part division.
- The past = “the things that you have seen” (ch. 1)
- The present = “those that are” (chs. 2 and 3)
- The future = “and those that are to take place after this.” (chs. 4 to 22)
I take a different approach. I think this is just a two-part division; you see this in the following translations:
- ESV: Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
- NET: "Therefore write what you have seen, both what things currently are and what is going to happen after these things."
- NLTSB: what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.
- NAB: Write down, therefore, whatever you see in visions—what you see now and will see in time to come.
These different translations take the Greek construction καί… καί as "both… and.”
So instead of a three part outline, I think that Rev 1:19 gives us a two part outline:
- 1 to 3 = “those that are”
- 4 to 22 = “those that are to take place after this.”
But whether you choose the three-part or the two-part outline, what is important is that these outlines show that this book has a lot of prophetic material in the sense of the future sense of prophecy. The predictive prophecy is in chapters 4 to 22. And so this is prophetic literature.
John MacArthur adds:
In all prophetic literature there's a two-sided emphasis: There is coming future glory for Christ in which the saints will participate, but there's always that other side of coming future judgment on the wicked. And so as we flow through this and we say Jesus Christ is the theme and future glory is the main, the main emphasis; we will also see running along with the future unveiling of the glory of Christ the destruction of sin, Satan, demons and sinners. While it surely predicts with detail the coming glory of Jesus Christ and the way the saints will share in that glory, it also predicts the damnation of sinners.
Here we find a God of love who will dwell among men, and wipe away all tears, and abolish death, and abolish sorrow, and abolish pain. But before that, He will send His enemies into a place of sorrow, and pain, and death, and tears that is unimaginable. There is a Lamb who has been slain, but there is the wrath of the Lamb also. There is a river of the water of life, but there is a lake of fire, as well. And so, we will look at the future. It is prophecy.
The ideas or notes below are taken from the MacArthur’s Study Bible or sermon and some from other commentaries:
- Preterist view
Now there are some people who don't think this is true. Liberal theologians say: The book of Revelation is a look back into the distant past. Most of the visions were already fulfilled during the early years of the Christian church. This is called the preterist
is the Latin word for past
. Preterists think these events—either the destruction of Jerusalem or the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, or both—would “soon take place” only from the standpoint of John and the churches of Asia. Full preterists hold that the major prophecies of the book were fulfilled either in the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70) or the fall of Rome (A.D. 476).
The major problem with the preterist position is that the decisive victory portrayed in the latter chapters of the Book of Revelation was never achieved. For example, the second coming of Christ, the physical resurrection of believers at the end of history, the complete overthrow of Satan, the final destruction of evil, and the physical recreation of the present heavens and earth—all of these have not yet happened.
- Historicist view
Now there are other people who say: No, it actually is a panorama, starting at the time John wrote and he is just describing all of church history until the second coming. These are called the historicists
. While the preterists place the book of Revelation entirely within the period in which it was written, the historicists view Revelation as a panoramic view of church history from apostolic times to the coming of the Lord.
So there are some who will go into this book and find the barbarian invasions of Rome and the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. They’ll find a lot of different individual popes. They’ll find Mohammed and the emergence of Islam in here. They’ll find the French Revolution. They'll even find the Jesuits.
The problem with this view is that you can't take this massive period of events and put them together because if you read the book of Revelation carefully, many of the events that you find here happens in a period of 3½ years, or “42 months” (11:2; 13:5) or “1260 days” (11:3; 12:6).
- Idealist view
There's a third group that come along and these are the idealists
. They say: Well, it doesn't really speak about real people; it doesn't speak about real events; it doesn't speak about real acts or real wars; it's just allegorical, it's just all about spiritual battle, and spiritual warfare, and we just need to spiritualize it. They say the book of Revelation is a timeless depiction of the cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. The stories that you find here are simply designed to teach timeless truths as God’s ultimate victory over evil.
The problem with this view is that you can make the book of Revelation to mean absolutely anything you want it to mean. There's no rules to control your interpretation any more.
- Futurist view
That leaves us with only one other option and that is that it's future. The futurist
approach insists that the events of chs. 6–22 are yet future, and that those chapters literally and symbolically depict actual people and events yet to appear on the world scene. It describes the events surrounding the second coming of Jesus Christ (chs. 6–19), the Millennium, the total defeat of Satan, his allies, and even death, and final judgment (ch. 20), and the recreation of the new heaven and a new earth (chs. 21–22). All of these events have not yet occurred. Only the futurist view does justice to Revelation’s claim to be prophecy and interprets the book by the same grammatical-historical method as chs. 1–3 and the rest of Scripture.
There's only one way to look at this and that it is future prophecy. So we're embarking on a revelation of Jesus Christ, from God, to Christians, about the future, the time of the coming of Christ.
Why does it say in v. 1 “things that must soon take place”?
and why at the end of v. 3, “For the time is near”?
If we go back next week, we will look at this. We will also look at the promise of the book, ““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.”