Summary: What would it be like to see the risen Lord? John did - but it was in a lonely and desolate place. Are you in such a place? You might be surprised at what the Lord can show you there.
The first chapter of Revelation holds the key to the entire book. We find that key in verse 19 - and we’ll get there shortly - it is an outline that is crucial in revealing God’s plan for us and for planet earth.
But in order to understand the book we also need to understand its author. John was one of the 12 disciples. He wrote the gospel of John. In it he refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He also wrote the three epistles of 1-3 John.
John was the only apostle thought to have died a natural death - all the others were murdered. But that didn’t mean John had it easy - and the circumstances for the vision he receives are certainly far from ideal.
In a way the book reminds me of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" where an angel comes and escorts Ebenezer Scrooge to see events in the future. But unlike that story of fiction - this tale is all too true - and also unlike Dickens - there is no way to change these events - they will happen, just as the angel revealed them.
That ought to bring us comfort - God will bring about justice. It should also put fear into our hearts if we have not joined the kingdom of God offered through His Son Jesus.
We’re going to look at chapter 1 in three sections: The Purpose of the Book, The Vision of Jesus, and The Words of Jesus.
The Purpose of the Book
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
The first five words of the book are really what the entire epistle is about: it reveals Jesus Christ -
Who He is in His glory
Who He is in His churches
Who He is in judging a sinful earth
Who He is in rescuing those who are His,
Who He is in coming back, setting things right again, and bringing in an everlasting kingdom.
If you miss this, you miss the entire purpose of the book.
"…must soon take place" - a lot of people claim that the events in Revelation (or at least the first 19 chapters) took place within John’s lifetime. We’ll get into why I don’t hold that position as we move through the book. But the phrase actually comes from a Greek word where we get the term "tachometer." It means "speedily" - not as in "it will happen soon" but that "once it starts it will happen in a short time frame."
At the end of verse 3 it says "for the time is near." That uses the Greek word chyros - which means "appropriate time." The end will come when it is supposed to. So does that support the 1st century fulfillment? Not necessarily. Remember - 2 Peter 3:8 "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day." So for God - it’s only been a couple of days since John wrote this. Our idea of "soon" and God’s are not the same thing.
This is the only book of the Bible that has a blessing associated with reading and hearing. They didn’t have books like we do so someone would literally read the letter aloud in church - they even had an official office for "reader." Why is there a benefit for you reading and studying Revelation? Verse 3 gives two provisos: if you "hear" and "keep."
"Hear" comes from the Greek word where we most likely get "acoustic." I think the author probably means more than just sound waves bouncing around the room - to "hear" means you take it in - you listen. Jesus will repeat this phrase over and over: "let him who has an ear to hear, let him hear." This uses the same Greek word as here. While on earth Jesus differentiated between those who wanted to hear what He had to say and those who would be within ear shot but all His words would just bounce off. Listen - what is the Lord telling us in this book? It’s about sin, salvation, and judgment. If you aren’t sufficiently warned to put your life into God’s hands by reading this book I don’t know what will!
John also says we should "keep" it. The Greek word means "to guard or detain." The idea is that you don’t just hear the message and just go your merry way - you hold on to it - it should inform your life, influence your actions, invade your thoughts.