The opening words of the book of Revelation begin with “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (v.1). This means that this book’s purpose is to reveal something. God gave it “to show to His servants the things that must soon take place,” and “make it known” to His servant John. We begin by finding that Revelation is a message from the triune God through John to seven churches in Asia. Before the salutation that begins in Revelation 1:4, John penned a prologue that provides four vital pieces of information to help us understand the book. According to the opening verses, Revelation is an apocalyptic prophecy, a historical letter, a gospel testimony, and a means of blessing for God’s needy people.
The first three verses of Revelation form a prologue or preface which tells us the purpose of the book, the importance of the book, and the spirit or attitude in which it is to be read. There are two words in this paragraph that reveal to us the special nature of this book: it is called a revelation and a prophecy. The Greek word which is translated “revelation” is apokalupsis, which literally means “an unveiling of something hidden.” It might be used of a sculpture that has been covered by a cloth (veil), which is now pulled away. The apostle Paul used this word to describe Jesus’ second coming (1 Thess. 1:7). Revelation is more accurately, an unveiling of the plan of God for the history of the world, especially of the Church. A revelation removes the veil which obscures our understanding, it unravels the mystery, and it makes the meaning plain.
As we move through the book of Revelation, we will find many mysteries made clear. We will learn why evil persists on the earth, and what the ultimate fate of evil will be. The mystery of godliness will also be explained, so that we can discover how to live a godly, righteous life in the midst of a broken, evil world. Many other mysteries will be unveiled in this book of apokalupsis, of revelation.
Then there is the other word used to describe the book of Revelation: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy.” This is a book that deals in predictions. It deals with people and events which lie in the future. Powerful personalities are waiting to make their entrance on the stage of human events. Extraordinary circumstances are waiting to unfold as the juggernaut of history rumbles toward its fateful consummation. We will meet these personalities and witness these events in the book of Revelation.
The book is called the “revelation of Jesus Christ,” and John says that Jesus Himself “made it known by sending His angel to His servant John.” The English phrase “made it known” actually has a deeper meaning in the original Greek, where instead of three words there is just one Greek word, semaino. This word should be translated “signified” – or, if you want to really get the true sense of this word: “sign-i-fied.” In other words, Jesus made His revelation known to John by signs or symbols. Once you grasp the symbolic “sign-ificance” of this book, you can begin to understand and apply the book of Revelation.
Revelation is a book of symbols, and these symbols are important. Symbols help to simplify difficult concepts and to clarify things which are baffling or murky. The book of Revelation uses symbols with great precision and clarity. The weird beasts and strange persons of Revelation are all symbols of things which are real and literal. As we journey through this study together I think you will be surprised to see how many seemingly difficult images and events in the book of Revelation become clear. The key to understanding the symbols of Revelation is recognizing that almost all of these symbols have been given to us elsewhere in the Bible.
Who is the author of the book of Revelation? At first glance, the answer might seem to be John. But look again. John writes that this book is “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him,” and which Jesus in turn made known to John. The author of Revelation is God Himself! John was certainly involved in the process of producing this book, but it truly had its origin not in the mind of John, but within the Godhead, in the mind of God the Father. The Father revealed it to the Son, who in turn made it known to a human being named John.
Why did God the Father have to give this revelation to Jesus the Son? Remember that in Matthew 24:36 Jesus said that though He understood many of the events of the last days of the age, He did not know the time when these events would happen. This knowledge, He said, belonged only to the Father. Now of course, since Jesus is risen and glorified, He knows all that the Father knows, but while on earth the timing of these events was unknown even to Jesus Himself.
So God the Father gave this revelation to Jesus, who in turn entrusted it to John by means of an angel. Thus, while all Scripture is inspired by God, the book of Revelation occupies a unique place in the Bible, because no other book in the Bible has been given to us in this way. John’s roll in the writing of this book is virtually that of a secretary taking dictation. John is the writer, but God is the Author of the book of Revelation.
As we begin our journey through the vision God gave to John, notice the inspiring promise we find at the onset: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.” God has promised all the readers of this book – including you and me – a special blessing if we read, hear, and take to heart the words of this prophecy. What kind of blessing? I believe the Lord is promising that we will find comfort, guidance, and assurance, even through such times of upheaval and fear described in Revelation. The twenty-first century is full of troubled and confused times, filled with temptations, pressures, and anti-Christian philosophies – and the days will grow darker as we near the conclusion of history. But the person who understands the book of Revelation will have a faithful guide through the tumult and confusion of this dying age.
Revelation 1:1-3 Study Questions:
Who is this book all about and what do we learn about him in the opening verses 1-8?
What does it mean that this book serves as a “testimony” or “witness” (v. 2)?