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By Alan F. Johnson
ZondervanCopyright © 1996 Zondervan
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Chapter OneREVELATION 1:1-3
Text and Exposition
1. Introduction (1:1-8)
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw-that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
The Prologue contains a description of the nature of the book, a reference to the author, and a statement that the book was meant for congregational reading. Probably vv. 1-3 were written last.
1 The book is called the "revelation of Jesus Christ." "Revelation" (apokalypsis) means to expose in full view what was formerly hidden, veiled, or secret. In the NT the word occurs exclusively in the religious sense of a divine disclosure. "Revelation" may refer to either some present or future aspect of God's will (Luke 2:32; Rom 16:25; Eph 3:5) or to persons (Rom 8:19) or especially to the future unveiling of Jesus Christ at his return in glory (2 Thess 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13). In this single occurrence of apokalypsis in the Johannine writings, the meaning is not primarily the appearing or revealing of Christ-though certainly the book does this-but rather, as the following words show, the disclosure of "what must soon take place."
The content of the book comes from its author, Jesus Christ. Yet even Christ is not the final author but a mediator, for he receives the revelation from God the Father ("which God gave him to show"). John is the human instrument for communicating what he has seen by the agency of Christ's messenger or angel (cf. 22:6, 8, 16). Through John the revelation is to be made known to the servants of God who comprise the churches (cf. 22:16).
"What must soon take place" implies that the revelation concerns events that are future (cf. Dan 2:28-29, 45; Mark 13:7; Rev 4:1; 22:6). But in what sense can we understand that the events will arise "soon" (en tachei)? From the preterist point of view (the events are seen to be imminent to the time of the author; cf. Introduction), the sense is plain: all will "soon" take place-i.e., in John's day. Others translate en tachei as "quickly" (grammatically this is acceptable) and understand the author to describe events that will rapidly run their course once they begin. However, it is better to translate en tachei as "soon" in the light of the words "the time is near" in v.3 (cf. 22:10).
Yet, if we adopt this sense, it is not necessary to follow the preterist interpretation of the book. In eschatology and apocalyptic, the future is always viewed as imminent without the necessity of intervening time (ef. Luke 18:8). That en tachei does not preclude delay or intervening events is evident from the Book of Revelation itself. In chapter 6 we hear the cry of the martyred saints: "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you ... avenge our blood?" They are told to "wait a little longer" (vv.10-11). Therefore, "soonness" means imminency in eschatological terms. The church in every age has always lived with the expectancy of the consummation of all things in its day. Imminency describes an event possible any day, impossible no day. If this sense is followed, we are neither forced to accept a "mistaken apocalyptic" view as Schweitzer advocated nor a preterist interpretation (Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus [New York: Macmillan, 1968]).
Two more focal points of the book are introduced by the words "by sending his angel to his servant John." First, they introduce us to the significance of angels in the worship of God, in the revelation of God's Word, and in the execution of his judgments in the earth. Angels are referred to sixty-seven times in Revelation.
The second focal point is the word "servant" (doulos). All of God's people are known in Revelation as his servants. No less than eleven times in the book are they so described (e.g., 2:20; 7:3; 22:3). John is one servant selected to receive this revelation and communicate it to other servants of God. "Servant," used throughout the NT to describe those who are so designated as the special representatives of the Lord Christ himself, becomes a beautiful title of honor for God's people. Here, then, in the Prologue are five links in the chain of authorship: God, Christ, his angel, his servant John, and those servants to whom John addressed his book.
2 Two elements in the book are of chief importance: "The word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." In referring to his visions as the "word of God," John emphasizes his continuity with the prophets in the OT as well as the apostles in the NT. The following passages show us John's concept of the Word of God: 1:9; 3:8, 10; 6:9; 12:11; 17:17; 19:9; 20:4. In 19:13 Jesus is himself identified with the name "the Word of God." Here, in chapter 1, the reference is not directly to Christ but to the promises and acts of God revealed in this book that are realized through Jesus, the Word of God incarnate (cf. John 1:1-2; 1 John 1:1). The church needs to be reminded that the neglected Book of Revelation is the very Word of God to us. While John's literary activity is evident throughout, he claims that what he presents he actually "saw" in divinely disclosed visions. And in the book God himself bears witness to the readers that these things are not the product of John's own mind (1:1-2; 21:5; 22:6; cf. 2 Peter 1:21).
"Testimony" translates the Greek martyria, another important term for the author. It is variously rendered as "witness," "attestation," "validation," "verification." "The testimony of Jesus" grammatically could be the testimony "to" Jesus-i. e., John's own testimony about Jesus (objective genitive). However, the alternate grammatical sense -the testimony or validation "from" Jesus (subjective genitive)-is to be preferred. John testifies both to the Word of God received in the visions and also to the validation of his message from Jesus himself. The important range of possible implications of the term in the following references is worthy of study: 1:9; 6:9; 12:11, 17; 19:10; 20:4; 22:16-20.
3 "The one who reads" reflects the early form of worship where a reader read the Scriptures aloud on the Lord's Day. "Those who hear" are the people of the congregation who listen to the reading. "This prophecy" is John's way of describing his writing and refers to the entire Book of Revelation (10:11; 19:10; 22:7, 9-10, 18). Prophecy involves not only future events but also the ethical and spiritual exhortations and warnings contained in the whole writing. Thus John immediately sets off his writing from the late Jewish apocalyptic literature (which did not issue from the prophets) and at the same time puts himself on a par with the OT prophets (cf. 10:8-11; David Hill, "Prophecy and Prophets in the Revelation of St. John," NTS, 18 [1971-72], 401-18).
The twofold benediction "blessed" (makarios) pronounced on the reader and the congregation emphasizes the importance of the message in that they will be hearing not only the word of John the prophet but actually the inspired word of Christ (Rev contains six more beatitudes: 14:13; 16:15;19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). John wrote in anticipation of the full and immediate recognition of his message as worthy to be read in the churches as the Word of God coming from Christ himself. In the ancient Jewish synagogue tradition in which John was raised, no such blessing was promised on anyone who recited a mere human teaching, even if from a rabbi, while one who read a biblical text (Scripture) performed a mitzvah (commanded act) and was worthy to receive a divine blessing.
All must listen carefully and "take to heart what is written" (terountes, "observe," "watch," "keep") because "the time is near," the time or season (kairos) for the fulfillment of the return of Christ (v.7; cf. Luke 11:28, 21:8) and for all that is written in this book (cf. 22:10). The season (kairos) for Christ's return is always imminent-now as it has been from the days of his ascension (John 21:22; Acts 1:11).
A comparison of the Prologue (1:1-3) with the Epilogue (22:7-21) shows that John has followed throughout Revelation a deliberate literary pattern, This should alert us to the possibility that the entire book was designed to be heard as a single unit in the public worship service. As Minear says, "The student should not be content with his interpretation of any passage unless and until it fits into the message of the book as a whole" (I Saw a New Earth, p. 5). This should not in any way detract from the fact that John claims to have seen real visions ("saw," v.2), which we may assume were arranged by John in their particular literary form for purposes of communication.
B. Greetings and Doxology
1 To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father-to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.
8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
John now addresses the recipients of his book: "To the seven churches in the province of Asia" (cf. v. 11; 2:1-3:22). Almost immediately he introduces an expanded form of the Christian Trinitarian greeting that merges into a doxology to Christ (vv.5b-6) and is followed by a staccato exclamation calling attention to the return of Christ to the world (v.7). The Father concludes the greeting with assurances of his divine sovereignty.
4 The epistolary form of address immediately distinguishes this book from all other Jewish apocalyptic works (cf. Introduction). None of the pseudepigraphical works contain such epistolary addresses. John writes to actual, historical churches, addressing them in the same way the NT epistles are addressed, These churches he writes to actually existed in the Roman province of Asia (the western part of present-day Turkey), as the details in chapters 2 and 3 indicate. But the question is this: Why did John address these churches and only these seven churches? There were other churches in Asia at the close of the first century. The NT itself refers to congregations at Troas (Acts 20:5-12), Colosse (Col 1:2), and Hierapolis (Col 4:13). There might also have been churches at Magnesia and Tralles, since Ignatius wrote to them less than twenty years later.
Excerpted from Revelation by Alan F. Johnson Copyright © 1996 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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