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It always helps to have a little perspective on things. A bird's-eye view of a maze will always be less confusing than when you're stuck in the middle of one. A good course syllabus helps to guide you through the many assignments and projects when you have a confusing class. A neutral third party can help you see things more clearly when you're involved in a thorny disagreement. Revelation is like a love letter from God, giving an eternal perspective to people caught in the middle of difficult circumstances. He shows his people what must soon take place so they can have hope while they hang on. We might not all agree on God's definition of "soon." But there's no denying the love he expresses in this letter, his gift to his church.
A REVELATION FROM AND ABOUT JESUS
Read Revelation 1:1-8.
1. Revelation starts out with some pretty hefty claims. Whose revelation is this? How does that add weight to its claims? What's the chain of command through which it's revealed (1:1-4)?
2. In case you were feeling a little fainthearted about studying Revelation, there's good news right from the start! By definition, "revelation" means that things will be made clearer, not murkier. What will be the result for people reading this letter and taking it to heart (1:3)? How was Jesus' message similar during his ministry on earth (Luke 6:20-23; 8:8-10, 15)?
"Asia" was a common designation for the Roman province of western Asia Minor (modern western Turkey), where Christianity was flourishing by the end of the first century.... Churches had spread throughout the province of Asia and were not limited to the cities mentioned in Revelation (Acts 19:10). But John writes to the most prominent and strategic seven cities in the region, from which word would quickly spread to outlying areas.
3. How does John begin and end his greeting/blessing to the churches (1:4, 8)? Isaiah gives a fuller sense of this shorthand understanding of God. Read Isaiah 41:1-4; 44:6-8; 48:12-13. How would this reminder of who God is encourage people living under the strong hand of a Roman emperor?
4. Of the Father, Son, and Spirit, Jesus gets the most airtime in this introduction - pointing ahead to the central place he has in this revelation - though all three members of the Trinity are at work together (1:4-5). What three titles is Jesus given in the beginning of verse 5? Think about each one for a minute. What implications do they have for people who follow him?
5. How does John describe the work that Jesus accomplished (1:5b-6)? What is John's response to his own statement? Do you have a similar reaction, or do you take for granted these words that describe the radical action of God in this world?
In my times of deepest brokenness, when no sophisticated theological argument could comfort me, my deepest assurance of God's love has been to look at the cross and remember that God himself has shared my pain with me. Revelation 1:5 uses the present tense, "loves," perhaps because the suffering church here needs assurance that God's love for them continues, that he has not forgotten them.
6. The description of Jesus in 1:7 is a reference back to the Old Testament - to a vision of Daniel (Dan. 7:13) and a prophecy of Zechariah (Zech. 12:10), where in both cases, everything is finally made right and God's enemies are destroyed. Jesus himself refers to this same image when his disciples ask him about the end of the age in Matthew 24 (specifically 24:30). How does John's reference to this image of Jesus coming with the clouds help to tie the message of the Bible together? How does 1:7 make the identity of Jesus clearer?
JESUS AMONG US
Read Revelation 1:9-20.
7. Following John's greetings, he reminds us of his purpose. Why was John on the island of Patmos (1:9)? How does that mesh with God's purposes for him once he got there (1:1-2)? Can you relate to being in situations that didn't seem to be going your way, but in hindsight were part of God's plan for you? Explain.
8. According to John, what can we expect to be part of the package of being a follower of Jesus, at least while we're here on earth (1:9a)? How do you see that working out in the life of the church? In your personal life?
Revelation employs much symbolism. Although one should read most narratives in the Bible literally, prophetic and apocalyptic texts are different.... They contain considerable symbolism, and often were fulfilled in unexpected ways.... Revelation's symbols may appear obscure to us, but they were mostly fathomable (or at least evocative) to the believers in the seven churches, at least after some reflection....
Revelation, like the Fourth Gospel, is full of implicit allusions to the Old Testament; indeed, it contains more biblical allusions than any other early Christian work.... Many of the allusions recall also the context of their biblical source; many, however, blend various biblical allusions, and Revelation regularly recycles its images to apply them in a fresh way.
9. Imagine yourself as a first-century Jewish man, worshipping on the Lord's Day, when you turn around and see what John saw in 1:12-13. What does the setting seem to be? (For help with this, read Exodus 25:31-35; 28:4; Leviticus 8:7; and 2 Chronicles 4:7.) How does John's vision demonstrate continuity with his Jewish roots? How does it demonstrate continuity with his earthly worship experience?
10. This is no ordinary priest that John sees! Compare the description in 1:14-16 with Isaiah 11:1-5; Ezekiel 1:24-28; 43:2; and Daniel 7:9-10; 10:5-6. John would no doubt have remembered these images from the Hebrew Bible and understood their significance. Is it any wonder that John falls at his feet as though dead (1:17)? What would Jesus' presence convey to John based on the Old Testament passages? How does Jesus' appearance add weight to his message in 1:18?
11. When key symbols are clearly explained in apocalyptic literature, we should pay close attention. According to Jesus, what are the seven stars and the seven golden lampstands (1:20)? Where are they in relation to Jesus (1:13, 16)? What comfort can be found in knowing this?
We see here in Revelation Christ's faithfulness to the church, including the local church. When we see the flaws in churches, our tendency is sometimes to react with disdain; but we must never give up on the spiritual life that remains in the church, for the Lord of the churches, who offered his blood to redeem them, still loves them and walks among them.
12. What perspective do you gain from this first chapter of Revelation? How does it affect your view of history? Of national crises? Of difficult circumstances? Of the future? Of the church? Of Jesus' understanding? His love? Of his ability to make a difference?
RESPONDING TO GOD'S WORD
IN YOUR GROUP:
John's natural reaction to this vision of Jesus and all he did was to break into worship (1:5-6). In fact, much of Revelation has to do with worship. Skim through the book and look at the various hymns of praise (most are indented in modern Bibles such that they're easy to pick out). How many does your group recognize that have been set to music? Choose one to read together as worship.
ON YOUR OWN:
Whatever else "the time is near" (1:3) might mean, it probably means that the events of the end will be unexpected and that we should be ready for them at any time, so that believers should live "every moment as though it were our last."
Among other things, Revelation is a summons to readiness. If you knew Jesus would be "coming with the clouds" tomorrow, what would you be sure to get done today? Consider doing such things sooner rather than later.
Excerpted from Revelation Copyright © 2010 by Craig S. Keener, Janet Nygren, and Karen H. Jobes. Excerpted by permission.
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