Revelation 1:1 – The Verse that Sets us up for Success

(1)  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,

                   This is the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” This is not the revelation of John, as some Bible publications say. This is not a book about the beast, the dragon, or the great harlot. This a book about Jesus. We cannot lose sight of this! While we will identity the symbols of the beast, dragon, harlot and others; and while we will speak much on the themes of vengeance leading to restoration in the book, we must not lose sight that this is about Jesus Christ, he is at the center of all themes and events in the book. He lives, He reigns, He is the victor. This is the revelation of Jesus Christ.

                   Seeing how it is made known so early in the book that this is “revelation,” it is puzzling to me that many have argued that the book is concealing in nature. An impressive story has been built around this concept; something about God hiding information from the Romans so that they wouldn’t be able to understand this book, and that this would not make the lives of the Christians any more difficult. There is only one problem that I can see with that viewpoint, the book itself never ceases to refute such an idea. It begins with the word apokalupsis (revelation), which refers to something that is revealing, unclothed and naked. However, the argument will be made that, while this is a revelation, it was intended for “his servants,” and therefore, written in such a way that only they could understand. But Jesus refutes that when he opens this book up for all to hear: “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Even the blessing given in 1:3 does not suggest a concealed matter, but the blessing is upon those who would “read aloud,” and for “those who hear,” and finally for those who obey the words.

The idea that this book was concealing to the Romans becomes further presumptuous when we begin reading through the book. Remember, those who argue for a concealed book of Revelation (that was an oxymoron!) are arguing that this book was written the way it was to keep the Christians safe from further persecution that might have come if the Romans understood this book. But if we would only read through the book, then this man-made conception would crumple before our eyes! For a Roman would only need to read the first three sentences of the book to find evidence that is both incriminating and offensive. There is nothing cryptic about describing Jesus as the ruler over the kings of the earth (1:5)! That is clear as day and rejects the supremacy of the Roman Emperor. This description of Jesus being the ruler over the emperor is enough for the Romans to go to war against Christianity! Also, how long would it take for the Romans to suspect (enough to do harm) that they are the “beast” described in the book? And would they not get the idea that these Christians were rebellious revolutionaries when they read this: “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” (19:17-21)? With many other examples through the book, it is easy to see how the Romans could find plenty of evidence to prosecute the Christians if they wanted to; but, as is evident from the Neronian persecution of the first century, no evidence was necessary to prosecute Christians. All in all, the book does not support the idea that it was written in such a way to keep Christians safe. So then, why was it written the way it was written? Because this is the only natural and logical way for it to be written! This manner of language in the book of Revelation is how God has always communicated coming events to man; did we think that God would change his approach in the very last book? The book of Revelation is exactly what we would expect from the God who spoke in this same language style through the prophets before John. This book shares in the iconic language of God’s judgments, vengeance, and restoration that is so common in the books of the prophets. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Zechariah and others, communicated the purposes of God by use of this very language. Remind me again who Zechariah, residing in peaceful times, was trying to keep safe by “concealing” his message in this language? I apologize for being facetious, but I want to impress upon us the lack of support there is for this theory that revealing language was intended to be concealing for the safety of its readers.

“Which God gave him to show to his servants.” Do you believe that God wants us to understand His word? Or has God set us up for failure that we should be carried away with our own private interpretations so that everyone believes, practices, and teaches something completely different out of the same books of the Bible? I believe that God would have us all to properly understand His words. He has told us that that is His desire (Ephesians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:4). In every inspired word, God has set us up for success toward a proper understanding of exactly the truths that God has revealed in the books of the Bible. The book of Revelation is certainly not excluded from that. I cannot read Revelation 1:1 without seeing that God has truly set us up for success.

Everything we need for the process of moving forward and accurately understanding Revelation was simply handed to us in the first sentence of the book of Revelation. No strings attached? It may seem that way at first, but there is. For we now hold the responsibility to take what we learn from the first verse and understand the rest of Revelation in harmony to what God tell us in verse one. Now let’s consider the verse:

In this verse, we learn:

  1. The book will reveal things to the servants of Jesus.
  2. These things will shortly come to pass.
  3. These things were signified before they reached the eyes and ears of John.

Let’s consider these points one-by-one:

  1. The book will reveal things to the servants of Jesus.

Understanding the original audience of the book of Revelation is essential to a proper understanding of the book. This book was originally for the eyes of the Christians that were living and serving Christ at the date that the book was written (68-69 A.D. See my section on dating the book). This means, first, that we are reading someone else’s mail! Many miss that point and immediately walk over verse one and start reading the book as if it was written for them and their generation. That’s a big mistake. Contrary to the media today, not everything is centered around us; and I believe it would be beneficial for anyone who wants to learn about Revelation to eat a big piece of humble pie before proceeding.

  1. These things will shortly come to pass.

How do we accurately understand when the events of the book will happen? God just told us. “Shortly.” The things recorded in this book will happen shortly. Shortly for whom? For the original recipients of the book. Understanding this will solve the vast majority of problems that people face during interpreting Revelation. Many have struggled to make things within the book appear as something that is either happening within their time, or within a future time. Because of this, people have seen the Catholic Church, Russia, the United States, Hitler, the Chinese army, nuclear warfare, and even former Presidents in the book of Revelation. However, are any of these things contemporary with the first century Christian? Certainly not. So then, our understanding of the book needs to be completely dependent on the fact that these things “God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.”

How short is “shortly?” Well, God had told regular people that the events contained in the book would take place shortly. So I would ask a regular person today what “shortly” means to them. It appears that most people view important events that will come to pass shortly in their life as things that will happen within the next 1-5 years. Maybe some would push it to be within the next 10 years (but again, that’s pushing it). So, I would conclude that the Revelation of Jesus Christ was meant for a certain date of first century Christians to show them things pertaining to God’s purposes, that would happen within the next few years of their lives.

Someone might object, as I’ve heard it before, that the “shortly” in Revelation is not with reference to the life and times of the first century Christian but in reference to God. Therefore, these recorded events could take place anywhere, anytime, because a short time to God can be thousands of years to mankind. The problem with that is that it’s not in context with Revelation 1:1. God wasn’t talking to Himself in the first verse. If He would have, it is doubtful that He would have used words relating to a span of time, like “shortly,” seeing how God is everlasting and not restrained by time. However, God wrote to an audience that is very much restrained by time, short and long-term. God wrote to men on earth, telling them that these things will shortly come to pass. I think it can be identified that the above argument does not exist because it makes sense, but because it is in line with the desires of some to make Revelation something that it is not.

  1. These things were signified before they reached the eyes and ears of John.

Lastly, the inspired word tells us that the things that will shortly happen have also been “signified.” It is so important for us to not progress any further into Revelation before we get a handle on this word. The original word translated “signified” is “sēmainō” (transliteration), and means “to give a sign, to signify, indicate, to make known” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of New Testament Words. Public Domain). Observing the definition, it is clear that the context where this word is used will be the deciding factor on whether it means to “give a sign” or “to make known.” I believe the context should lead us all to the conclusion that the word was meant to convey the idea that the events described in the book of Revelation will be in signs, and are therefore, not the reality but an illustration of the reality. Think about it, skip through the book and you’ll see a dragon, a beast, a harlot on the back of the beast, etc. All of which show the necessity of understanding “sēmainō” as “to give a sign.” The English translators of the bible were right to translate the Greek word into “signified,” because the context of the book is about events soon to take place that are portrayed by figures. The conclusion is that Revelation is a figurative (not literal) book.

I’ve yet to see anyone who considers the book of Revelation as a literal book. But what I have seen (and a lot of it), are people who take some of it as figurative and some of it as literal. To that I say, who gave you the authority to pick and choose? If God said that it is figurative, then it is figurative. Very few have been able to be consistent with this. Some will take the beast as figurative, but the 144,000 as literal, or the dragon as figurative, but Armageddon as literal, or the number 666 as figurative, but the 1,000-year reign of Christ as literal. There are plenty of examples of this out there in nearly every commentary. This is not right. We do not have that authority. Only God withholds the right to stop us within the reading of Revelation and say “okay, now what I am about to say is going to be literal.” And this, God will do on very rare occasions within the book, and I’ll be sure to point that out when we get there, but for now, let’s establish in our mind that what we are about to see events that would shortly take place in the lives of the mid first century Christians, and such events have been illustrated in signs that represent the coming realities.

Someone might say, “why is this book in signs.” To this, many have suggested different reasons, but I would suggest to you that God never gave us His reason. So with respect to that, all that I can say with confidence is that a simple reading through the book of Revelation will prove that these signs are a very powerful way to get the point of the book across.

Let’s take the words of Revelation 1:1 with us through the study of the book, and simply use them as authorized and inspired guidelines for a successful (truthful) understanding of the book of Revelation.

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