The Prologue to Revelation

Revelation 1:1-8

We call the first eight verses of Revelation a prologue, which serves as a foreword that sets up the rest of the book. This introduction divides into two halves: the first gives the source and nature of the book (Rev 1:1-3), the second gives an official greeting (Rev 1:4-8). Throughout this opening section, one particular focus receives the greatest amount of attention –the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

The Source and Nature of Revelation (Rev 1:1-3)

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ” tells us that this book will be a revealing or uncovering of things previously hidden from our knowledge and view, and that the one who will do the revealing is Jesus Christ himself.

“Which God gave him to show to his servants” portrays Christ as an intermediary agent, someone who receives a message from the source, then passes it along to others. This resembles how Christ taught people during his earthly ministry before the crucifixion. He said whatever the Father wanted him to say (John 12:49-50).

“I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that his command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak.”

By doing this he exhibited the harmony and humility that exists among the Godhead.

If harmony exists among the Godhead, then such humility should also exist among God’s redeemed children, whom John calls servants (Rev 2:20; 19:5; 22:3, 6). This description underscores our obligation to give full allegiance to Christ as our master and to be loyal to him no matter how much the institutions, systems, and temptations of this world may pressure us in another direction. We belong to Christ and are obligated to serve him.

“Things which must shortly take place” refers to the actions and events revealed from Chapter 4 onward (this phrase reappears in Rev 4:1 and again in Rev 22:6). The prophet Daniel gave a similar description in the Old Testament (OT) when he foreshadowed how the kingdoms of Earth would be overthrown in the end and replaced by the kingdom of God. Though Daniel’s prophecies foreshadowed these climactic events, John reveals them more completely in this book of Revelation.

Shortly corresponds with near in Rev 1:3 to indicate close proximity of time. From an OT vantage point these events were far away, but from a New Testament (NT) view they are “just around the corner.” This was true in the first century and is still true today. Though things have been quite bad in the world since Christ’s first appearance, esp. for Christians, help is on the way. God’s final intervention and ultimate relief are close at hand. We’re not waiting for anything else to occur besides the reappearance of Christ himself.

“And he sent and signified it” explains the method by which Christ revealed this extraordinary message to believers. First, this was a message sent from God – it is divine, apostolic revelation. Second, though, it involves a special, added character or dimension; not only does it reveal end time events as a preview of what will happen, but these events are also significant (“signified”) because they reveal important truth about Christ. This doesn’t mean that the events of Revelation are only symbolic, but rather that they are real events with special significance. Consider how Jesus performed signs during his earthly ministry (John 2:11; 4:54, etc.). These were real but extraordinary events that revealed who he was to the world. The events of Revelation serve a similar purpose, but on a grander scale.

“By his angel to his servant John” foreshadows the involvement of various angels throughout the book, serving as intermediary messengers from Christ to John (Rev 22:6, 16).

“Who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ” refers again to the source of this revelation as coming from God the Father through Jesus Christ to John. As such, this was a divine message from God himself bearing the highest authority possible and therefore demands our attention. It’s not just about Christ but from Christ.

“To all the things that he saw” reminds us that John received this information by means of a vision, not just verbal information alone. He didn’t just write down what he heard or what came to his mind; he wrote down what he saw. Furthermore, he wrote down “all” that he saw, which means that he didn’t leave anything out. He didn’t keep anything to himself, but he wrote down everything that appeared to him from Christ.

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it.” People often interpret this verse as some kind of exclusive, mystical blessing from God that comes upon anyone who studies this book. We’ll say things like, “If you’re going to study a book of the Bible, study Revelation because it’s the only book with a blessing attached to it.” Yet that’s not what John says.

First, he specifies that he is referring to anyone who either reads or hears the message of this book. By this he refers to the practice of public Scripture reading in congregational worship. A man (sg.) would read the letter, document, or scroll to the congregation (pl.) who could hear him. Yet reading or hearing this message wasn’t enough to experience God’s blessing, otherwise we would be no better than the person who hears the Word of God but does nothing in response (like the man who looks in a mirror in the morning but does nothing to correct his disheveled appearance, Jam 1:22).

John makes a similar connection between reading/hearing and retaining/doing when he says, “and keep those things.” Keep means that God expects us to remember what the book of Revelation says and to allow what it tells us to impact our moral and ethical behavior on a personal, individual, and daily basis. It should stick with us and change the way that we live in this world and behave towards God. It should transform the way we respond to the difficulties we face as Christians. If you’re unfamiliar with this book because you don’t know or understand what it says, then you’re not able to experience the blessing that comes from responding to the message in a personal way.

How is Revelation impacting your person life today? This is an important question, “for the time is near.” This was true in the first century and it’s true today. Christ is about to set in motion the final events that will overthrow the kingdoms of this world and establish his superior kingdom forever. We’ll be miserable, discouraged, pessimistic, and depressed if you live based upon your own personal feelings and circumstances and upon current world events. But if we live with God’s soon coming kingdom and victory in mind, we’ll be fully informed, spiritually encouraged, and deeply blessed.

John’s Official Greeting to the Churches (Rev 1:4-8)

This next section of this introduction begins with a standard epistolary greeting formula. This means that it follows the normal way of starting a letter in the first century. This pattern included three parts: the author, the recipients, and a statement of well-wishes.

“John, to the seven churches which are in Asia” reminds us that though Christ himself revealed the contents of this letter to John (sometimes with angelic assistance), John was the human agent who wrote it down. It also shows us that the “servants” of God were the members of local churches. The original recipients were members of seven churches in the Asia Minor region (modern Turkey), each of which receive individualized attention in Rev 2-3. Early Christian records indicate that John spent the later years of his life providing pastoral leadership to the churches of Asia Minor, so they would not have been surprised to receive such a letter from him at this time.

“Grace and peace” had become the common way for early Christians to greet one another. Paul used this same expression in all his own letters to churches, and Peter did the same in his two NT letters.

Grace refers to the undeserved favor of God towards his spiritual children (in contrast to the general well-wishes or “good luck” of a secular greeting).

Peace refers to the OT Jewish concept that encompassed the well-being of a person’s entire being, whether physical, mental, emotional, material, financial, or spiritual. This concept is deepened for NT believers because we understand how the person and work of Christ (both past, present, and future) will make this peace complete in every way by bringing us into a perfect relationship with God and a guaranteed place in his kingdom.

John specifies the source for this two-fold blessing in Rev 1:4-8. This source is none other than the three persons of the triune Godhead – the Father, the Spirit, and the Son, the only source from whom true grace and peace may come.

“From him who is and who was and who is to come,” this phrase may initially appear to be a reference to Christ, but this conclusion makes little sense in light of the fact that Christ will be emphasized in the next verse, receiving subsequent mention in the present sequence. Instead, it makes better sense to understand this as a majestic description of God the Father. This title bears a striking similarity to the way that God revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as, “I am who I am” (Exo 3:14).

Yet John does more than repeat this infamous name here – he elaborates in a fuller way, even stretching some grammatical rules to do so. With this name for God, John makes it very clear that the Father is eternal. As eternal, he has existed both in the past and the present and will also not only exist in the future but will come in the future. Just as he has manifested himself in the past (as when he delivered Israel from Egypt) and just as he manifested himself through the earthly ministry of Christ, so he will manifest himself on an even grander scale when he bursts onto the scene in the near future – he is coming.

“And from the seven spirits who are before his throne” is a phrase that certainly catches the reader’s and hearer’s attention. What does this mean? Though people have suggested a variety of interpretations, the best alternative seems to be that this is a reference to the Spirit of God himself. One reason why this makes good sense is because no other spirit, or even angelic creature, can be the source of grace and peace. God alone provides these blessings. It also seems likely that John is drawing from a similar depiction of the Spirit of God given by the OT prophet Zechariah in which seven oil lampstands represent the Spirit of God at work in the world (Zech 4:1-6). John seems to borrow from the same passage again by alluding to the Spirit of God as the “seven eyes of the Lord” (Zech 4:10; Rev 5:6). If this is correct, then we should understand that God bestows his grace and brings his peace to pass in the world through the active and comprehensive ministry of his Spirit, the third person of the Godhead.

“And from Jesus Christ” is the third source John names for “grace and peace.” At this this seems unusual because it’s out of order with the normal NT pattern for portraying the Trinity as Father, Son, and Spirit. Yet here it makes sense because though the book of Revelation glorifies all three Persons of the Godhead, it especially magnifies Christ as it has already begun to do in the first two verses and as it does extensively in the next few verses.

“The faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth,” this threefold description of Jesus likely draws from things written in Psalm 89, an OT psalm that explains and emphasizes God’s never-ending commitment to the Davidic Covenant and David’s royal line, which guaranteed that a descendant of David would sit on the throne forever (2 Sam 7:8-16).

  • “The faithful witness” refers back to Psa 89:37, which speaks of the timeless, shining witness of the sun in the sky.
  • “The firstborn from the dead” refers to his preeminence and superior position over all people, even as one who had once died (Psa 89:27).
  • “The ruler over the kings of the earth” also draws from Psa 89:27 (see also Psa 2:2, 6-7), reminding us that Christ will triumph completely over all other world rulers of this world and unlike them, he will reign forever.

Though we cannot say for sure, it’s possible that John has also arranged these three allusions to Psa 89 in a way that reminds us of Christ’s earthly ministry (as a “witness”), his death and resurrection (as coming “from the dead”), and his ascension (as “ruler”). In any case, he shifts from describing Christ with these exalted, Davidic titles to praising him for his work of redemption, delivering us from sin and giving us a place in God’s kingdom.

“To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood” – this phrase shifts our attention away from the identity of Christ to his past work of redemption. Though John is about to reveal so much more that Christ will do, he first pauses to praise Christ for what he has already accomplished on our behalf. What Christ has done for us was motivated by his love for us.

When we read, “To him who loved us,” we should recall what John wrote in his gospel, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16-17). When he breaks into the world a second time, he will judge the world for its wickedness and much blood will be shed as a result. Yet in case we’re tempted to view this as excessively cruel, we should first pause to remember that he has already come once before, and we crucified him. Yet he allowed this to occur in love so that he could cleanse us from our sins with through his own violent, bloody death on our behalf, in our place.

“And has made us kings and priests to his God and Father,” this statement describes the outcome of Christ cleansing us from our sins. As a result of his cleansing, we are no longer recipients of his judgment and slaves to sin and Satan. Instead, we are rulers in his kingdom who will carry out important tasks that accomplish his will and advance his glory in the world forever. We are also priests, which means that we will worship and serve him forever and be his intermediary representatives who extend his blessings to the rest of his creation.

“To him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” This statement is a Christian way of announcing our firm belief that because of who Christ is and what he has done, he alone deserves to rule and reign over all things and all people for all time, without question. With this belief firmly fixed in our minds, we’re in for a real treat as we read the book of Revelation, because that’s what this book is all about – revealing to us how this belief will play out in the end.

“Behold, he is coming with clouds, and every eye will see him, even they who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. Even so, Amen.” Here John provides us with an official announcement, a prophetic press conference you might say. This announcement isn’t new, though, because John combines things that both Daniel and Zechariah have already said in the OT.

  • Dan 7:13 announced that the Son of Man would come in the clouds, which is a way of saying that he would come from above, from the heavens.

“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!”

  • Zech 12:10 announced that Israelites would repent when they see the glorified Christ, but John here expands this as a reference to all the nations of the world, not just Israelites. When he returns the second time from heaven, all the world will acknowledge their sins in the end and be remorseful (though they will not all necessarily repent).

“I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

It’s interesting to know that during his earthly teaching ministry, Christ already joined these two OT verses together and John would have been in the audience to hear it when he did (Matt 24:30).

“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” This closing statement wraps up the introduction to Revelation with a statement of dogmatic completion and certainty. Though it may portray Christ himself as speaking, it is also likely that God the Father is the speaker instead. Since the Father and Son are perfectly in sync with each other, this distinction is not always clear. Since John is writing to a primarily Gentile audience (saved Gentiles, that is) in Asia Minor, he uses the first and final letters of the Greek alphabet, then provides further commentary of his own underscore the eternality and infinitude of God.

By saying, “Says the Lord,” John speaks in a way that resembles the OT prophets, who often used such a phrase to ensure that their audience knew that the message was from God. Then, by repeating this name already introduced, “who is and who was and who is to come,” John further underscores the self-existence of God, just as Moses did when he announced to Israel God’s impending plan for deliverance from Egypt. By adding “the Almighty,” John uses a Greek word that compares to the Hebrew title for God, El Shaddai, which means “all powerful.”

Important Takeaways

As we begin our study of Revelation, we must adopt the right frame of mind and perspective. We must lift our eyes far above our present circumstances and tune our ears away from the press conferences and headlines of our godless world. What God is doing in the world is far more significant and timeless than the problems we face day to day and year to year.

Focus on Christ.

He is superior in every way to any other rulers of this world, no matter how good or bad they may be. In the end, every world leader will answer to Christ and be held accountable to him. If that is the case, then why do we get so worried?

Not only is Christ eternal and all powerful, but he loves us so much that he suffered and died for us to release us from the power of our sins. He has also given us hope and confidence in the future because he has also risen from the dead. Has any other leader ever done such a thing?

Experience grace and peace from the Triune God.

When we focus on our problems and failures more than on Christ, we lose sight of God’s favor and feel discouraged and worthless instead. When we focus on world crises and events more than Christ, we fail to enjoy God’s peace and suffer feelings of marginalization and fear instead. If current experiences in your life right now have caused you to be agitated and frustrated, angry and afraid, then you need to discover the message of Revelation.

Be transformed daily by God’s plan for the ages.

If you hear and remember the message of Revelation, then you will be a position for its truth to shape the way you think and live on a daily basis. Though it’s not necessarily a book that’s filled with specific instructions, it’s a book that can transform your daily mindset, nonetheless.

Let me be clear, the book of Revelation properly understood will not motivate you to build an underground bunker, stockpile food supplies, and fear the worst. Nor will it motivate you to examine world news headlines to figure out if the “pieces are falling into place” for the antichrist to make an appearance, the mark of the beast to be enforced, or the one-world government to fall into place. Neither will it motive you to quit your job, sell everything that you have, and stare up into heaven from your rooftop.

Properly understood, the book of Revelation will inspire you to live your regular, ordinary, daily Christian life with grace and peace, with your eyes towards heaven knowing with full confidence that God is on the move. No matter what may happen today, Christ is coming soon, and we know that for a fact. We also know that he will make all things right in the end. No matter how chaotic things may seem to be, the end of the story is certain – Christ will establish the perfect kingdom of God and we will rule and reign with him forever.

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