Revelation #2 Revelation 1: 1-5 What's Happening Soon in Revelation

Revelation #2 Revelation 1: 1-5 What's Happening Soon in Revelation

 Let’s start our study of the Book of Revelation.

 1 A revealing of Jesus, the Messiah. God gave it to make plain to his servants what is about to happen. He published and delivered it by Angel to his servant John. 2 And John told everything he saw: God's Word—the witness of Jesus Christ! 3 How blessed the reader! How blessed the hearers and keepers of these oracle words, all the words written in this book! Time is just about up.

 We just read the Message paraphrase of the original language.  A paraphrase is an attempt to put what is written into easier-to-understand language.  The original language, Greek (Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), translated for us as a revealing of Jesus, the Messiah, supports our understanding that the Revelation is about Jesus. Jesus is both the revealer and revealing His story through a messenger, an angel to John. 

 In this preamble, the word servant is used.  If you recall this can be misleading for the original word meant slave.  This revelation is given to Jesus’ slave John.  Being a slave to Christ is a good thing, it is not involuntary servitude it is willing entering into a relationship of dedication, loyalty, and obedience.  It is what we mean by the term, bending the knee to the Lordship of Jesus.  To do so is to willingly and wholeheartedly surrender one’s rights, such that you strive to align all your thoughts and behaviors in sync with Jesus.  You make Jesus your authority for living.  In doing so you identify with Jesus.  We hear a lot of foolishness about identifying these days.   At work, I identify as transparent, my pronouns are who/where … because good employees are hard to find. But when we identify with Jesus it’s a serious reality choice, who we are, and what we are about is rooted in Christ. We have placed ourselves at His command, a life-long commission, a life-long enlistment.  That’s what it means to be a servant of Christ.

 One of the many reasons anyone voluntarily becomes a slave to Jesus is that they believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, that He is the door, the means, to forgiveness, reconciliation, and life eternal.  When one asks God to accept their faith a transformation process begins, their character begins to change, and their lives begin to align with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Jesus sets them free to live their lives to the full. They start to become the person that God created them to be.  They recognize that they are accepted and belong, that their life has meaning and purpose, and that they can live significantly by loving others with the love that has been lavished upon them.  Have you bent your knee to Jesus?  With the dualism, the either-or that we will encounter in the Revelation you will be aligned with Christ or aligned with the anti-Christ. It’s my prediction that those aligned with Christ win with Christ. It is always best to be a winner. Consider what is at stake, life to the full now, eternity later, and make your best decision.

 There is another secret buried in the original language translated for us as “told everything he saw.” The phrase “everything he saw” (emarturEsen, ἐμαρτύρησεν) carries with it the idea of being a martyr. John’s testimony is backed up by his willingness to face death because of it.  You can kill me but I’m not changing my testimony. 

 The root word for martyr shows up again in “the witness of Jesus Christ!”  (marturian μαρτυρίαν). The witness of Jesus, backed up by His death and subsequent resurrection, is to the consummation Kingdom of God. The revealer, Jesus, is unveiling Himself as well as revealing the end state of history, the consummation of the Kingdom.

 The slaves of Jesus are willing to be martyrs rather than recant their testimony.  Jesus was asked if he was the son of God (Luke 22:70), and his answer led to his execution.  Believers are to follow Jesus' example and refuse to surrender their faith in the face of death. This is the type of loyalty Christ's followers are called to.

 Verse three is the first of seven beautitudes in the Book.  The blessing for reading and more so for keeping the truth the Revelation reveals includes spiritual insight into God’s ultimate plan for redeeming humanity from corruption, the reader finds encouragement and hope during the trials and tribulations this life can visit upon them, so there is comfort and reassurance during the hard times. The writing helps motivate those who read and keep its teachings to live faithfully in a world that has turned its back on God.  There are seven beatitudes, and this one is part of that 7, the number that stands for the complete unfolding plan of God.  Part of God’s plan for you is empowering you to persevere in adverse times.

 Let’s squeeze in a cultural tidbit.  This is a letter that was to be read to the congregation.  The public reading of the scripture was a Jewish practice.  The scrolls would be opened and a member of the congregation would read aloud the word of God.  Scholars assume not many people would be educated enough to read at this time. Today in some of our traditions today there is a time in a gathering when the scripture is read aloud before the preaching time. Illiteracy is at the root of this ritual.

 Blessed are those who keep this oracle.   Generally, an oracle means simply God’s Word.  As God’s word the oracle is authoritative.  To keep the oracle has a moral dimension to it.  There is something within the writing that those who hear are to do.

 Now let’s deal with what the writer means by “the time is just about up,” that what is written here will happen soon.  Well, it’s been a little longer than what we would consider soon.  So what do we make of this? With apocalyptic language “soon” addresses the certainty of the event, not chronological proximity.  “Soon,” “quickly,” and “the time is at hand” mean that what has been written will become a reality but no time frame is given. There is no specific time frame to pin down, just the assurance that what is written will occur. What we are left with is expectancy, possibly even surprise. For believers caught up amidst suffering the idea of “soon” would have given them a sense of hope and with hope the power to cope with the situation.  For all those who have bent the knee to Jesus, the victory realized will be soon.

 A quick summary of the preamble before we press on.  Jesus is both the revealer and who is revealed, the significance of  His work.  When we voluntarily bend the knee to the Lordship of Christ we become His slaves and are to remain loyal even in the face of death for our testimony. There is a blessing for us as we read and heed what is written in Revelation, there is grace to persevere and hope to cope with the problems we are facing.  We can know with certainty, even if we do not know when that the Kingdom will be consummated and with it, victory realized so we conduct the affairs of our lives with expectancy. 

 Revelation 1:4-8 (MSG)

4 I, John, am writing this to the seven churches in Asia province: All the best to you from The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive, and from the Seven Spirits assembled before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ—Loyal Witness, Firstborn from the dead, Ruler of all earthly kings. Glory and strength to Christ, who loves us, who blood-washed our sins from our lives, 6 Who made us a Kingdom, Priests for his Father, forever—and yes, he's on his way! 7 Riding the clouds, he'll be seen by every eye, those who mocked and killed him will see him, People from all nations and all times will tear their clothes in lament. Oh, Yes.
8 The Master declares, "I'm A to Z. I'm The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive. I'm the Sovereign-Strong."

 The 7 churches are listed in verse 11.  We adopted a date for the writing of this letter to be around 95 AD.  At this time the 7 congregations written to are the most prominent in Asia Minor.  There were others but these were the influential churches. John must have been known by these congregations. John’s vision will soon take us to otherworldly realms but here the Revelation is anchored in historic churches. It is a message to them.  Because of the nature of apocalyptic literature, it is also a message to us.  A message about Jesus.  

 John gives us good greetings from himself, from God the Father, from the 7 Spirits, and Jesus. We can safely conclude that John is the John we read about in the gospels, one of the first disciples of Jesus, whom history has named John the Apostle.  Scholars can support other identities but the council of Nicea included the Revelation as part of the authorized books called scripture.  That council also rejected other apocalypses that didn’t meet their criteria of authentication. Regardless if the author is John the Apostle or the writer picking a name everyone would recognize, or some other John, what we will read is considered the Word of God.

 John sends us greetings from the One who was, and is, and is to come. This is an important title as later in the writing this title is going to change and that change holds something significant.  “Was” refers to the past, “is” refers to the present, and “is to come” refers to the future, this is the God of human history. It is an affirmation of God’s sovereignty. Scholars debate but I think we can surmise that John is greeting us in the name of God the Father. 

 The 7 Spirits identifies the Holy Spirit. 7 represents completeness, harmony, and integrity. To identify the Holy Spirit as the 7 Spirits is a way of expressing the fullness and the perfection of the Holy Spirit’s work.  John might very well be drawing this imagery from the prophet Isaiah (11:2-3) where the Spirit of the Lord is given 7 attributes that are in turn given to those anointed by the Spirit:  wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, reverence for God, and the power to restore righteousness. As one who has bent their knee to Jesus the Holy Spirit indwells you empowering you with these same attributes in your service to God. John is greeting us in the name of the Holy Spirit.

 We also receive greetings from Jesus who is the Loyal Witness, Firstborn from the dead, and Ruler of all earthly kings. Again the word witness is the translation of the Greek word from which we get our word “martyr.” Jesus is our model and He was faithful to His mission of proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God, for which He was executed.  As followers of Jesus, we too are to be willing to die for our mission, for our faith. But death is not the end for Jesus nor for those who follow His lead, for Jesus is the Firstborn from the dead.  The gospels read of His resurrection, and that He is the first, tells us that others will follow. That of course is one of the great hopes of Christianity, a bodily resurrection.  Even though they kill you because of your testimony, there will be a resurrection. 

 Jesus is also identified as the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.  This is present tense, Jesus is Lord right now, not at some future date. So the drama is being set up because the world sure doesn’t seem to be under the rulership of Jesus. There is going to be a clash between the kings of the earth and Jesus, this is part of the dualism of apocalyptic literature. Things are not what they seem to be from the vantage point that the writer of Ecclesiastes called under the sun.  Evil appears to be all-powerful, but the real power is God in Christ, who we shall soon see is the ruler of history.

 Just in case you missed it, John gives Jesus three titles here. The number 3 can represent completeness or perfection.  The number three is part of worship as we shall see in Revelation chapter 7, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” but most often it is a number that represents God.  John has greeted us in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Such a greeting contributes to the doctrine of the Trinity, one God, three persons; diversity within the oneness.

 We will pick up next time right here in the middle of verse 5.  There is a powerful message that we can take away from this greeting John has given us.  “Evil is apparent power which is really powerless” (Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book In the Bible, pp 48-49). While “God is real power clothed in apparent powerlessness” (ibid. p 48).  Consider how Jesus won the victory over sin and death, and the ultimate defeat of evil.  He allowed himself to be crucified, being taken by your enemies and killed looks like powerlessness, but in God’s plan, the tables were turned, and the powerless is revealed as the powerful. Nothing stops God’s plan for human redemption.

 We can take away three truths from this teaching. 

 1.     When we voluntarily bend the knee to the Lordship of Christ we become His slaves and are to remain loyal even in the face of death for our testimony.

2.     2.  When we die following Jesus, it’s not the end, there is a bodily resurrection promised. This truth emboldens us to be faithful witnesses.

 3.     Even if it doesn’t look like it, God’s plan to redeem His creation will not be stopped. So we live with the expectancy that everything will become alright in Christ.  


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