Summary: This is the second of what will be a long series on the Book of Revelation. The first sermon was "Introduction to the Book of Revelation
An Exposition of Revelation: 1:1-3
Verse 1: The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to his servant John to reveal to his fellow servants what must quickly come to pass, having signified this by sending His angel to John.
The Book of Revelation itself begins with a significant issue of interpretation, the first of many in the book. We discussed last week in the message “An Introduction to the Book of Revelation” that the intent of the book was not to hide things but to reveal them. I think that Bass in “Back to the Future” is right in this assessment when he goes to great pains to demonstrate this very point. This is not to say that there are not things which are hidden in the book. This is especially true for the unbeliever. Revelation is for the servants of God, for them to understand.
But just what is meant by “Revelation of Jesus Christ?” Is Jesus doing the revealing, or is Jesus the one who is to be revealed. Most commentators choose the first option. They would understand verse one as saying that God gave a revelation to Jesus who gave it to John by means of an angel to give to the leaders of the seven churches to give to their charges. Besides being a cumbersome transmission process, there are theological issues in God giving a revelation to Jesus. It would make Jesus inferior to God. This seriously disagrees with the portrait of Jesus in Revelation as well as the rest of Scripture. If Jesus is fully God in Himself, what Calvin calls “autotheos”, then why would anything need to be revealed to Him? It is true that while Jesus was on earth, He did claim that only the Father knew of the events at the end of time, the Son did not. But Jesus is now exalted at the right hand of the Father. He is presented as “all-knowing” in addition to “all-powerful” and “all-present” in the Book of Revelation. So, because of this, I think the latter is preferable, that this is a revelation to us of the person of Jesus Himself.
The interpretation of the Book of Revelation is plagued with questions of translation of the text. I have looked over many of the grammatical constructions of the first verse and have tried to interpret its sense. Most take the “him” in the “which God gave Him” to refer to Jesus. It is true that “Jesus Christ” is closer to the “Him” in the text, but it could grammatically refer to John as well. As there are many grammatical peculiarities in the text of Revelation itself in addition to the fact that it reduces the theological difficulties associated with the traditional translation, I have chosen John to be the one who received the revelation of the person of Jesus Christ by means of one of the Lord’s angels to give to the seven churches. It is also a prophecy that Jesus will be revealed to the world as the one who was pierced, which every eye shall see, to set up His Kingdom.
We talked last week that it was important to understand the double fulfillment of prophecy, first as a sign to be fulfilled in the relatively near future, and then later in an ultimate sense which the sign points to. This, I feel is the key to Revelation. And the need for this understanding comes here in the first verse of the book. It speaks of certain events which must quickly come to pass. To the readers and hearers of Revelation, this means that the events described would happen in their lifetime. This same expectation occurs elsewhere in the New Testament. One example is the prophecy of Matthew 24-25 which Bass rightly compares with Revelation in its structure. Here it says that the current generation would live to see the fulfillment. I think that the hearers of both Revelation and Matthew did indeed live to see the first fulfillment of the prophecy in the destruction of Jerusalem. This acts as a sign to us of a future fulfillment of an even greater magnitude which may occur quickly, perhaps in our current generation. So God is not just warning the seven churches of Revelation, He is warning us as well.
Verse 2: This same John bore witness of everything he saw about Jesus Christ and the Word of God.
I have tried to give the idea of this verse which would be rather clumsy to translate literally from the Greek into English. What is emphasized in this verse is the witness John bore about Jesus and the Word of God. Both the verb “bore witness” appears in this verse as well as the noun “testimony”. This is one of the Apostle John’s favorite words as it is a major theme of his gospel as well. He bears witness about the Word of God as well as gives eyewitness testimony about Jesus Christ. John is one who likes to engage the senses. In the beginning of the First Epistle of John, he employs the senses of sight, sound, and touch when he says these things concerning the word of Life. In the Gospel we see the senses engaged in bearing witness, such as Thomas is invited to look and Jesus’ wounds and touch them as well. Here the eyes and ears are witnesses to Jesus. A witness in court is called to truthfully and competently tell the jury what he or she has experienced. What John is telling us is that he has held nothing back and that he was totally engaged in his testimony.