By Christopher VanDusen
For most people in the world, the year 2020 has brought events that have significantly changed the way they think and live. It has brought much suffering, anxiety, depression, and fear to many, many people. This includes believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of us are asking, “If this is what happened in 2020, what will next year bring?” While we can’t know exactly what will happen next year, we can know that, if 2021 comes, some things will happen, and eventually, one thing will happen — the return of the Lord Jesus. But how can we know what to expect, and benefit from this knowledge? The first three verses of the Book of Revelation tell us.
These three verses describe the character, content, authors, and recipients of what is officially titled The Revelation to John:
“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.” (ESV)
In this introduction to Revelation, the apostle John teaches 8 things about this book:
- It Belongs to Jesus Christ (v. 1a)
- It Began with God (v. 1b)
- It Briefs Christ’s Slaves (v. 1c)
- It was Brought to John (v. 1d)
- It Bears Witness to the Word (v. 2a)
- It Bears Witness to the Witness (v. 2b)
- It Bears Witness to Wonders (v. 2c)
- It Blesses those who Welcome It (v. 3)
The Revelation Belongs to Jesus Christ
The first thing that John tells us about this book of the Bible is what form it takes, and whom it concerns. He does this by calling it “the revelation of Jesus Christ”. The Greek word translated “revelation” is that from which we get the word “apocalypse”. It could also be translated “unveiling” or “disclosure”. It refers to a message that teaches people what used to be hidden and secret to them.
Second, this revelation is “of Jesus Christ”. The word “of” can mean “about”, “from”, “belonging to”, or a combination. In this case, John is saying that this revelation is from Jesus Christ, and that it belongs to Him. The reason we can know this is that John next says that “God gave” it to Jesus. Thus, it now belongs to Him, and it’s from Him.
But why does John call Jesus “Jesus Christ”? First, the name “Jesus” is the name given to Him at birth, and literally means “the Lord is salvation”. It was given to Him to show that He’s the One who “saves His people from their sins”. Second, the title “Christ” comes from the Greek word christos, which literally means “anointed one”, or “poured upon one”. It’s an allusion to prophets, priests, and kings in the Old Testament who were “poured upon”, or “anointed”, with oil, to symbolize that God had chosen and empowered them with God the Holy Spirit to serve in that office. In a similar way, Jesus was anointed by God the Father with the Holy Spirit to be the ultimate Prophet, High Priest, and King of His people. As Prophet, He reveals who God is, since He Himself is God in the flesh. As High Priest, He sacrificed Himself and serves as the Mediator and Intercessor between God and His people. As King, He rules the entire universe by His divine power, and rules His church through His Word. In short, the name “Jesus Christ” most simply describes who Jesus is. As the Christ, He’s the One who gave Revelation to John.
The Revelation Began with God
The second thing John tells us about this book is who it’s Source is, by saying that “God gave” the revelation to Jesus Christ. Obviously, this can’t be referring to Jesus, since He can’t give Himself something that He already possesses. Rather, this means God the Father of Jesus Christ. Although Jesus shares God’s knowledge, since He shares His essence, nature, and attributes, this is only in His divine nature. He also has a human nature, which means He also was ignorant of some things, or at least didn’t have the ability to reveal the things in this book at one time. Therefore, God the Father had to give this revelation to Jesus, so He was able to share it with John.
The Revelation Briefs Christ’s Slaves
The third thing that John says about the contents of this book is who they’re for, and what they’re about. He explains that God gave Jesus this revelation, “to show to his servants the things that must soon take place”.
First, he says that Jesus was enabled to “show to his servants” its message. John uses the word “show” instead of “teach” or “preach” because Revelation communicates through pictures, symbols, and visions. These are things that require the audience to imagine things that represent concepts and ideas. And who was the original audience? According to the ESV, it was Christ’s “servants”. This is a mistranslation of the Greek word, doulos, which literally means “slave”, or someone who is owned by another, and obeys him as master. In this case, the Master is Christ. And whom does He rule as Master? All those whom He purchased through His death, and makes obedient to Him through His Spirit.
Second, John describes the content of this book as “the things that must soon take place”. In other words, Revelation showed the original audience events that would happen in a short time.
The Revelation was Brought to John
The fourth thing that John says about this book is that its contents were given to him by an angel:
“He [Jesus] made it known by sending his angel to his servant John . . .”
First, God the Father gave this revelation to Jesus. Then, Jesus “made it known” to John by “sending his angel”. The word “angel”, from the Greek word angelos, literally means “messenger”. However, since John calls this messenger Christ’s angel, it’s clear that he’s referring to one of God’s non-physical beings who serve Him as His messengers. In this case, the message that this angel gave to John was the revelation of imminent events that God gave to Jesus to show to His slaves. One of those slaves was John himself, since he calls himself “his doulos John”.
The Revelation Bears Witness to the Word
In verse 2, John describes how he recorded the revelation that was given to him by Christ’s angel. First, he did this by bearing “witness to the word of God”. The phrase “bore witness” means “testified” or “presented evidence”. And what did he testify to? “The word of God”. The word “word” is just another way of saying “message”, so John testified to God’s message. As we saw in verse 1, the name “God” refers to God the Father, so the One who gave the revelation to Jesus is the One who’s message John testified to. By saying he did this, he’s simply describing the revelation as God the Father’s message, which he testified to in his own words.
The Revelation Bears Witness to the Witness
The sixth thing that John says about this revelation is that he recorded it by testifying to “the testimony of Jesus Christ”. Since John says in verse 1 that God gave this revelation to Jesus, and that Jesus then sent it to John through His angel, it’s best to see this phrase as another description of the revelation. It’s not just John’s testimony that he recorded, but Christ’s testimony. This testimony is Christ’s communication of the revelation that God gave to Him, which John then testified to in his own words.
The Revelation Bears Witness to Wonders
The seventh thing that John says about the revelation is that “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus Christ” is “all that he saw”. Here, John is again revealing that he received this revelation in the form of visions, or visual representations of things that God showed him. In order to share this revelation with others, he had to describe these visions in his own words.
The Revelation Blesses Those who Welcome It
In verse 3, John promises blessing for those who welcome the message of Revelation by saying,
“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 word “blessed” literally means “happy”, but can also refer to the reason that someone is happy. That’s the way it’s used here. John isn’t saying that those who learn “the words of this prophecy” will necessarily be happy as they learn them, but that they’ll be ultimately happy for eternity, since God has made them “blessed”.
But who’s blessed by this revelation? First, “those who read aloud the words of this prophecy”. The original Greek simply uses the Greek word for “read”, but the ESV rightly interprets this word as “read aloud”, since Revelation was sent to seven churches, where it was read to those congregations by one or more men. John describes its contents as “prophecy”. The Greek word translated “prophecy” literally means “speech in front of”, and isn’t always used for predictions. That’s why John can call all of what he’s recorded in Revelation as “prophecy”, including things that were happening at that time.
The second group that God has blessed “are those who hear, and who keep what is written in” Revelation. This refers to those who didn’t just read Revelation, but who heard it, and kept its message. The word translated “keep” could also be translated “guard” or “watch over”. It means to pay careful attention to something, in order to respond to it. In the same way, those who are blessed by hearing Revelation are those who pay careful attention to it, understand it, and rightly respond to it.
John ends this introduction by giving the reason that these responsive people are blessed — “for the time is near”. What time is he talking about? The time when “the things which must soon take place” take place. As John goes on to reveal, this refers both to things that would happen in his day, and events that will happen when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth.
Learn and Pay Attention to This Revelation
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this introduction apply to you?
First, God gave this revelation to the Lord to show you what will soon take place. This means that Revelation was written so you can understand what will happen in the future.
Second, you are blessed if you read this book to a brother or sister in Christ.
Third, you’re blessed if you learn and pay attention to this book in order to live in light of its message, since the time when what it predicts will happen is almost here. Remember, Jesus is coming quickly.
If you aren’t a slave of Christ who welcomes the message of this book, then you’re living in rebellion against Him, and heading for eternal punishment. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to become the man Christ, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take the punishment we deserve from God. Then, God raised Him from the dead and took Him into heaven as the Ruler of the universe. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior to receive His forgiveness, mercy, and peace, since Jesus is going to judge everyone perfectly, and punish all His enemies in a place of eternal torment. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion against Him, and are trusting in Him as Lord and Savior. If you have, then He requires all of His people to be baptized under water by one of His people as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and a profession of faith.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.