Summary: Keep the faith, persevere to the end, because you’re already part of his eternal kingdom, already one of his priests able to come into his presence to worship him and to serve him.
It’s hard to imagine what life was like for Christians in the first century. They were a marginalised minority, looked down on by Jews, Greeks and Romans alike. But as if that wasn’t enough, as the century drew to its end various bouts of persecution broke out against them led by the Roman emperor. The Emperor, Domitian, wanted to be recognised as a living god but of course Christians refused to worship him. So he began a campaign against them. The aim of this persecution was to get Christians to deny their faith in order to save their lives. So it’s into this environment that God speaks through the apostle John.
See how the book begins: This is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. The message comes from God via Jesus Christ who sends an angel to John so he can pass the message on to us. Here is a message that’s come a long way for a very serious purpose.
Why is God so careful to mark out the process by which this revelation comes to us? Why is it so important that we understand the origins of this message?
Let me suggest that the answer lies in what we find here in the first chapter. It lies in the person of Jesus Christ, it lies in the things we’re told John shares with his readers and it lies in the content of the message.
And notice the importance that’s placed on the message. Look at v3: "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near." First the person who reads this message aloud is blessed. The expectation is that the message would be read aloud in the church. Then those who hear it and keep it, i.e. do what it says, are blessed. i.e. They receive the commendation of God, they receive the good things that he has stored up for those who persevere to the end. By the way, you’ll hear that refrain over and over again as we look at the seven letters to the seven churches over the next few weeks. "Whoever conquers"; or "whoever overcomes" is a recurring phrase, always with a promise of reward at the end. And just to emphasise how important this message is, the book also ends with a dire warning to those who would either add to or take away from its message.
But let’s think about why it’s so important. He begins with
The Person of Jesus Christ.
Who he is
First he describes who Jesus is, the things he’s done and the things he will do. In fact, in the way of apocalyptic literature there are seven characteristics given in vs 5&6.
First he’s the faithful witness. The word used is the word for martyr. Jesus is the first Christian martyr, if you like. He’s the first one to shed his blood as a sign of his faith in and allegiance to the living God. If the context of this message is persecution, then Jesus is the ultimate example of one who stood firm, who persevered in his obedience to God in the face of suffering and death.
He’s the firstborn from the dead. The ultimate answer to those who threaten us with suffering and death is the resurrection from the dead. Are you afraid of death? Do you wonder whether our hope of eternal life is for real? How do you know that there’s anything after this life? The answer to all those lies in Jesus Christ; in his risen body; in those hands and side that he showed to Thomas in the upper room. Jesus promised that in his Father’s house were many rooms and that he was going to prepare a place for us and the assurance that he’s going to keep that promise is his own risen body.