Revelation 1:1-3, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him (Jesus) to show His servants — things which must shortly take place. And He (Jesus) sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John (the Apostle John), (2) who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he (John) saw. (3) Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
In roughly the year 32 AD, some 40 days following His resurrection which occurred three days after His crucifixion, Jesus led a group of His 120 closest disciples one final time to the top of the Mount of Olives. Acts 1:4 picks up the narrative, “And being assembled together with them, Jesus commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘which,’ He said, ‘you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’ Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, ‘Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ Now when Jesus had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as Jesus went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem.”
In the chronology of events progressing from the Ascension of Jesus to the Book of Revelation (which was written in the mid-’90s) much had taken place. 10 days following their return to Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church. In response to this incredible moment, Peter stands up and preaches a bold sermon declaring Jesus to be the Christ! On day one 3000 souls were added to their ranks.
While the City of Jerusalem may have been ground zero for this new moving of God, over the coming years the good news of Jesus would spread out into the surrounding regions of Judea and Samaria. With time, the Gospel would then jump beyond the borders of Israel with churches being established in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Antioch to the North.
In fact, on the way to one of these cities — intending to do Christians harm, a religious zealot named Saul would find the trajectory of his life forever altered through a supernatural encounter with the risen Jesus. Then using the intricate system of Roman roads and shipping lanes, the second half of the Book of Acts records how this man now called Paul would embark on three different missionary endeavors. Paul would not only plant churches throughout Asian Minor, but ultimately he would carry the Gospel into Eastern Europe.
Astoundingly, by the time Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD and the Jewish people forced to flee their homeland, the Church founded by Jesus and empowered by His Spirit had become a global institution with a cross-cultural appeal. Jew and Gentile, man and woman, slave and free, Greek and barbarian were all becoming followers of Jesus!
In less than 40 years, what began on the Day of Pentecost had spread across the world! By the time John receives his “Revelation of Jesus Christ” not only was there a vibrant church community situated in the Roman capital but according to Philippians 4:22 Paul goes so far as to confirm there were believers in “Caesar’s household!”
With the destruction of Jerusalem came the end of the first church. As such, in the years that followed, many of the original Apostles moved out into new, uncharted territories. For example… Andrew went north into what is today modern Russia. Matthew and Philip moved south into Ethiopia and parts of Northern Africa. Thomas set out east ultimately landing in India. The Apostle Peter would find himself in Rome with John in Ephesus where he would oversee a collection of seven churches located in Asia Minor — Galatia.
While it’s true the Good News was advancing like wildfire across the known world, we should note it’s spread would not be allowed to continue unopposed. Aside from the consistent persecution of Christians by religious Jews hardened in their rejection of Jesus, things took a dramatic turn when Paul eventually stood before the sadistic Emperor Nero to give an account for the spread of Christianity and in particular his role in the process.
Historically, we know Nero’s exposure to the Gospel and subsequent rejection of Jesus caused this unstable sociopath to grow even more unhinged. On the night of July 19, 64 AD a great fire began in the various merchant shops that surrounded the Circus Maximus in downtown Rome. After nine long days, the fire had destroyed roughly two-thirds of the city.
Have you heard the expression, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned?” Well, this saying rose from the commoners belief this devastating fire had actually been started by Nero and his minions in order to clear enough real-estate for the building of a new, extravagant palace.
According to The Annals, the first-century Roman historian Tacitus writes that needing a scapegoat for the political fallout he was experiencing on account of this fire, Nero decided to blame Christians. It was the original Fake News and a great persecution resulted!
Of this time, Fox’s Book of Martyrs records how this madman Nero would have Christians sewn into the skins of wild beasts and then fed to a pack of hungry dogs. Another account records how Nero would have Believers dipped in hot wax, fixed to trees, and set on fire to illuminate his garden parties. During this first wave of persecution, Nero would order Paul re-arrested and beheaded. The Apostle Peter was later crucified upside down.
Following Nero’s death on June 9, 68 AD the Church would enjoy about a dozen or so years of peace until a man named Domitian rose to power in 81 AD. While Domitian proved to be equally as brutal as Nero, the great difference between these two leaders was that Domitian was sane and thus his persecution of the Church systematic and fanatical.
In his attempt to restore an Empire that was in a rapid decline, Domitian revived the Imperial Cult which deified the Caesar and members of his household. Once a year every living person under Roman dominion was required to offer a pinch of incense while declaring, “Caesar is lord.” A failure to do so would result in a swift execution. Not only did a widespread slaughter of Christians naturally ensue, but in the end Domitian ordered for John, the last of the original Apostles, to be arrested and publicly executed.
Church father Tertullian records how John, who by now a feeble old man, was brought into the Colosseum and given one final chance to declare Caesar lord. When John obviously refused Domitian ordered that he be lowered into a vat of boiling oil. Amazingly, instead of screams, the people heard John worshipping Jesus as he’d been supernaturally preserved.
Freaked out by the entire ordeal, Emperor Domitian exiles John to the tinny rock island of Patmos. As a prisoner of Rome, this elderly man would spend the rest of his days working in one of the quarries the island was legendary for. As we’re going to see, beginning with verse 9, it was while in Patmos John would receive and record the Book of Revelation.
It’s important to understand the backdrop for this “Revelation of Jesus Christ” had been this incredibly savage second wave of Christian persecution. Refusing to recant their faith, Believers were being rounded up and fed to the lions while spectators looked on and cheered with delight. While Christians knew what Jesus had said — in John 15:20 He’d been clear, “If they persecute Me, they will also persecute you” — the pressing question on everyone’s mind was how long this persecution would continue before His return!
As you study the New Testament as well as early church history there is no doubt the imminent return of Jesus for His Church was a central belief and expectation. In his letter to a Church located in Thessalonica experiencing the first round of persecution, Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, “For this we say by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord, therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Regarding his Epistles, the Apostle Paul would reference the soon return of Christ four more times in his first letter to the Thessalonians and again three times in his second. Additionally, Paul broaches the subject in 1 Corinthians 1, 4, 11, and 15, Philippians 1 and 3, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 6, 2 Timothy 4, Titus 2, and lastly in Hebrews chapters 9 and 10.
And yet, please know the soon return of Jesus wasn’t just limited to the writings of Paul. In James 5, the half-brother of Jesus and lead pastor of the church in Jerusalem would write, “Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
Jesus’ other sibling a man named Jude would write in verses 14 and 15 of his treatise, “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.’”
In 2 Peter 3, the great Apostle would pen, “Where is the promise of His coming? ... The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
Twice in his letters John the Apostle would reference Jesus’ coming. In his first letter he mentions “that when Jesus appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” Regarding those “who do not confess Jesus as coming in the flesh,” in his second letter, John declares these false teachers to be “deceivers and an antichrist.”
Now the question begs… Why would the early followers of Jesus be so obsessed with His imminent return? Well, aside from the fact the very first exhortation given to them by the angels following His ascension was His return to earth, the reason Jesus’ coming consumed the early church comes back to the numerous occasions all throughout His ministry when Jesus repeatedly promised His return and encouraged His followers to watch and wait for it to happen! Here are two examples…
In Matthew 24:42-44 Jesus commanded, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Again, in Mark 13:32-37, Jesus said, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming — in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning — lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
I mean let’s be real the 90s proved to be a challenging decade for the early believers. You had Christians all throughout the Empire experiencing incredible persecution. By this point, all of the Apostles had been martyred except John who’s now been exiled to Patmos. On top of all this, the Church has been praying and looking for the return of Jesus for roughly 60 years. Where was He? Had He forgotten about them? What was the deal?
Understand, this is what made “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” so powerful in the moment it was given. The remedy for their present sufferings, their genuine fears, and deepest worries, as well as the real challenges they were all facing, was a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ.
In the Greek, this word we have in verse one translated as “Revelation” is apokalypsis from which we get our English word apocalypse. As a noun, the word describes something that was concealed but had now been laid bare or made naked through an uncovering or unveiling. Think of this word describing the moment they pull back the curtain on the Price Is Right in order to reveal what you could win on the Showcase Showdown! In the context for which this word is being used here in verse 1, we know the book was given in order to reveal the true essence of the person of “Jesus Christ.”
Also notice this book is presented to us as “The Revelation.” The reason this is significant is the use of the definite article “The” as well as the singular tense of “Revelation” indicates the purpose of this book was to uncover or lay bear for us a component or aspect of the person of Jesus that had not been revealed through the previous 65 books of the Bible! In many ways, this first verse can be translated as “The Supreme Revelation of Jesus Christ.”
It’s interesting that this aspect of the character of “Jesus Christ” previously concealed from view could only be revealed to “His servants” via the permission of God the Father. We’re told in verse one, this book presents “the Revelation” that God “gave” or better translated allowed His Son Jesus “to show His servants” — literally to expose to the eyes.
For those of you who’ve uttered those two words, “I do” you understand at some point following the vows a day arrives when you finally meet the actual person you married… You know when a part of their personality previously concealed from view roars to the surface.
You may have been told it was there — even warned by loved ones. You likely heard rumors. But in one unexpected moment, something is said or done and for better or worse the veil is pulled back and who your spouse really is becomes totally laid bear before you!
While for most this ends up being a negative occurrence where your love and commitment demands longsuffering, patience, and likely therapy — regarding our relationship with Jesus, this surprise serves as a welcomed development. It’s as though in the context of everything the Church (the Bride of Christ) was presently experiencing, a part of the Groom’s character and personality she hadn’t yet seen needed to be revealed to her!
It’s interesting to consider, but up to this point in time — while, through the circulation of the four Gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Church knew a lot about Jesus — their understanding was so incomplete it demanded this new “Revelation.” The truth was there were aspects of Jesus’ character and personality yet to be revealed.
Through the Gospels, the Church knew Jesus as the Suffering Servant who willingly dawned a Crown of Thorns bearing the shame of a Cross. In light of what they were presently experiencing, it was now important the Church also see Jesus as the Triumphal King of heaven coronated with a Crown of Gold, glory, and honor — enthroned with power.
From Jerusalem, Jesus was judged by wicked men and in turn, took upon Himself the wrath of God. And yet, the Church needed to also know the day was coming when from the same city Jesus would pour out the wrath of God on the world in His judgment of wicked man!
During His earthly ministry Jesus presented Himself to the world as the Lamb of God. He was meek and mild and persecuted by those He came to save. And yet, for a Church experiencing a similar persecution, it was now important they also see Jesus as The Lion of the Tribe of Judah! No longer meek and mild, Jesus would come roaring back to earth in vengeance and strength. The persecuted would become the Prosecutor.
When Jesus first entered the Holy City we’re told in the Gospels how He sat upon a lowly donkey willing to surrender His life to His enemies. In this Revelation, Jesus now wants His followers to know when He returns to Jerusalem He’ll be mounted on a White Stallion, swing a great sword, with His will to take the lives of His enemies. He will be victorious!
In order to grasp how truly significant this Revelation is just imagine how limited and incomplete our understanding of Jesus would be without this final book? In fact, I think the case can be made without the Book of Revelation we really wouldn’t know Jesus at all! This is why I believe the best way to view the Book is not to read or classify it as being a book of prophecy — which it is, but rather as the fifth and final Gospel!
There are some who debate the meaning of this word “The Revelation OF Jesus Christ.” From the Greek, scholars debate whether or not it should be translated as “of Jesus Christ” or “from Jesus Christ.” The reality is it doesn’t really matter. You see all the things Jesus reveals to us are designed to reveal Jesus to us! In a radicle way, this book is completely unique in that Jesus is both the teacher and the subject, the revealer and the revelation.
With all of these things in mind, let’s get back to verse 1… The book opens, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants — things which must shortly take place.” For starters, this phrase “which must shortly take place” tells us, right from the jump, the book itself will contain what we’d call Irrefutable Prophecies concerning future world events. These are not predictions about what might occur in the future. What we’ll find described in this book will happen! In fact, we’re told they “MUST take place!”
The obvious challenge with this introduction centers on the timing of when these things would “take place.” Sadly, the English translation of this word “shortly” is terribly misleading because it leaves the impression John is saying the events he describes would happen soon. Considering John wrote in the mid-90s and we presently find ourselves some 1930 years later with these things not yet occurring an obvious problem arises.
Please understand, while our English translation is convoluted, not so for someone reading the original Greek manuscript. In the Greek, the word translated as “shortly” is en tachos. In contrast to the way we’d interpret “shortly” to implying something occurring soon, en tachos was used to denote the WAY these events would unfold once they began. You see when these things finally do “take place” they will happen suddenly and very quickly.
What is interesting about this word is that it does present a tale of sorts for how we can know when we’re getting closer to these events happening. To this point, it is from this Greek word en tachos we get our English term tachometer. While your speedometer tells you how fast you’re going, the tachometer measures the speed of the engine itself in RPMs.
You see not only will these future events play out very quickly when they finally do happen, but the idea is that things on God’s prophetic timeline will rev up, accelerate, and intensify in frequency the closer you actually get to them. Let me illustrate this idea…
If you’re going to travel from Atlanta with Miami as your final destination, you’re looking at a 10-hour-drive without stops. With the help of Google, you know heading south using I75 is your best route. And yet, the truth is apart from your smartphone and a general sense of direction there is very little sign you’re actually heading the right direction when you begin.
The first indication you’re on track takes place about an hour and a half later as you pass through Macon which is south of Atlanta. As you continue your way, you cross the gnat-line and enter peanut country. Even though you’ve been on the road for 3.5 boring hours, you’ve had virtually no signs Miami is any closer. Finally, at long last, just south of Valdosta, you cross the border of Georgia and Florida and see your first sign — “Miami 438 miles!”
For the next few hours, as you drive through Lake City, Ocala, and The Villages, you’ll get a sign every 75 or so miles updating your progress. Not long after you’ll get your biggest sign yet — to get to Miami you’ll need to exit I75 and take the Florida Turnpike south to Orlando. From Disney, you get another sign that reads “Miami 236 miles.” At this point, you can be confident you’re getting closer because the signs for Miami are happening more often!
As you work your way through the heart of Florida, signs are coming more frequently. In Yeehaw Junction you see “Miami 163 miles.” Continuing your drive south — in Port St. Lucie you read another sign that says, “Miami 113 miles.” Soon after that, another sign tells you to avoid tolls jump off the Turnpike and take I95 south the rest of the way. You agree!
Working your way down the Eastern Coast of Florida, signs are happening with more frequency than at any other point during your journey. Once in Boca Raton, you get a sign, “Miami 45 miles!” Now with every mile comes another sign. Finally, in Fort Lauderdale, you read, “Miami 28 miles!” At this point signs are literally everywhere: “Welcome to North Miami” — “Exit for Miami Beach” — “Marlins Park Ahead” — “Miami International Airport.”
While there was little to indicate you were even heading the right direction early into your journey, the closer you got to the final destination the more the signs accelerated. You see not only does en tachos tell us the events recorded in this book will happen quickly, but we’ll know we’re closer to them initiating when the frequency of the signs intensifies.
To this point… There is no question we live in an exciting time when the conditions for the End Times scenario are more realistic than at any other point in history. For the first time since this Revelation was originally given to John, Israel is once again a sovereign nation. Unseen since the fall of Rome, Europe has been unified into a single union.
At no other time than the present, we see national markets forged together into a global, interdependent economy run by just a hand full of banks. Today, we possess weapons that can kill huge segments of the population instantly as well as cause ecological disasters on a massive scale. Air travel has shrunken a vast planet. Satellite and cable make it possible to witness events around the globe happen in real-time. The internet has brought the world closer to a return to Babel by linking together all the peoples of the world.
The truth is we’ve had more prophetic signs occur in our lifetime than in virtually the 20 centuries before us. The stage is set! Could this be evidence things are revving up and may shortly take place? Maybe, if this isn’t it, I’d like to see what that might look like!
Let’s continue… After God granted Jesus permission to reveal this aspect of Himself to “His servants” by revealing “things which must shortly take place,” we’re told, “and Jesus sent and signified it (the Revelation) by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.”
This phrase that Jesus “sent and signified” the Revelation is insightful for it tells us how the revelation would be articulated — Jesus would reveal Himself by revealing the future using signs! One of the intriguing things about Revelation is that it introduces no new theology. As the last book, it’s purpose is to bring everything else in Scripture to a close.
Naturally, one of the assumptions made of the reader, is that person has already read the previous 65 books before getting to the final Book of Revelation… The idea is that the reader is already familiar with established Biblical concepts, imagery, and precedents.
Every image you’ll encounter in this book finds its interpretive meaning in its Old Testament first use. In fact, of the 404 verses in the Book of Revelation, 278 or a little less than 70% are direct references to the Old Testament. One commentator cited 17 references to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 43 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 79 to Isaiah, 15 to Zechariah, and 53 to the prophecies of Daniel. To this point, David Guzik described Revelation as an “Old Testament book placed in the New Testament.”
So (and we’ll have to wrap things up with this thought)… Why would such a profound Revelation of Jesus Christ use such a complex style — signs that necessitate the other 65 books to provide the cipher? There are a few answers people give to this question…
First, there are some who argue John used symbols to conceal the real meaning of the book from the secular enemies of the church… that by using code, Christians would understand the book, while the Romans would see it as undecipherable gibberish.
Others postulate that John was forced into using symbols because he had a really hard time describing what he saw of the future. In verse 2, John says he “bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.” As you can imagine someone time-traveling from the first-century would be linguistically limited in their ability to describe the technological advances of our present age.
While there may be some truth to these two perspectives, ultimately, I believe there is a much more simple explanation… One of the great criticisms of the Book of Revelation is that it’s hopelessly complex, complicated, and unknowable. It’s why so many people are intimidated to study it. And yet, I agree and disagree with this particular sentiment. In the end, I believe the ability to understand depends on who it is trying to understand.
Let me explain… Because as I’ve mentioned the book necessitates you’ve read the previous 65 and can cipher the symbols to discern there meaning (which don’t worry I will help you with), the case can be made that Jesus was intentionally seeking to limit who would receive this special revelation of Himself to only His faithful followers!
Again, verse 1 describes the book as “the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants!” I believe, for the nonChristian, the book is specifically crafted to be mysterious. And yet, for the Christian, Jesus has the exact opposite goal in mind.
Case in point, in verse 3, we’re told explicitly, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it.” Many scholars believe what’s being described here is the Book of Revelation being used in the ecclesiastical seating of the church assembly during a Sunday morning service.
Look again… “Blessed is he who reads” or literally he (singular) who distinguishes or makes known accurately — the teacher (me). “Blessed are those who hear” and “keep those things which are written” or those (plural) who consider what is being said — the congregation (you). This Greek word “keep” means to attend to carefully, guard, protect, or cherish. The Book of Revelation was designed to be taught and understood in a communal setting.
Most incredibly, Revelation is the only book in the Bible that promises such a blessing! While I’ll discuss this in more detail in a later study, verse 3 is actually the first of seven promised blessings articulated in the book! You see, if these 22 chapters were completely unknowable, how exactly could they be a blessing to anyone?
I promise our pace will pick up next week, but in closing, it really is amazing to think that while in His first coming Jesus revealed Himself to the entire world, this particular Revelation was not for mass consumption. This book was not written for the unbelieving world and the target audience wasn’t seekers Jesus was somehow attempting to convince or convert. Instead, this book is for the believer! It’s for you and me!
How glorious and exciting it is to think that there is a part of Himself Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior has reserved for just His own. In the end, the heart behind this book is that it’s a “Revelation” of the Groom He’s specifically reserved for only His Bride!
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