I have always wanted to do a full blown verse by verse study of the book of Revelation. At this point in my life I am rejoicing at reaching the 30th anniversary of my heart being open and my journey of faith beginning with Jesus Christ. As I look back at these 30 years at many victories and successes (ALL HIS) and many many failures and set backs in my walk with Christ (All mine), I admit that for many years I would not have been able to undertake such a huge task of this mysterious and often confusing book of Revelation.
It is not that I have reached some place of grand understanding or tremendous spiritual maturity that I now take up this task, but I no longer fear this book as I have in years past. I believe that the best approach to this great work of the Apostle John is to let the text speak for itself. We also must recognizing that the text itself as it is laid out by John the “Revelator” often times references back to many many Old Testament passages. I will endeavor to point out any and all Old Testament references as I become aware of them in this study.
I know also that most studies of the book of Revelation start with a debate for or against either a late or early date of the books authorship. I would love to talk to any readers who have an interest in this topic, but I do believe that in many cases this debate is used as a distraction and a diversion from the text itself. I am not at all saying that I do not have an opinion. I am firmly in the camp of the early date of the writing of the book of the Revelation. I believe that it was written probably in the early to mid 60’s AD. I have arrived at this position through a great deal of research and study and I believe in the early date very firmly. But please, do me a big huge favor… If you want to advocate for the late date, (I will discuss it with you at length if that is your wish) BUT, please, first read the book; “Before Jerusalem Fell” by Dr. Kenneth Gentry. All potential discussion about this topic from my vantage point will probably be covered in this incredibly exhaustive study on the topic. Believe me; the date of the authorship matters, but there is already a definitive work out there that I think it answers the preponderance of the questions and outlines the bulk of the evidence about the date much better than I can. So if a debate about the date is what you are looking for, take on Dr. Gentry first; if you show him and his phenomenal work to be in error, then I suppose I will talk with you about it.
I would like to start here with an introduction to the book itself. I have tried for some time to think of a great attention grabbing and gripping introduction, but I have come up short over and over. I have realized that the best introduction to this great inspired work is to be found in the first three verses of the book itself. So it is appropriate for us to just dive into the text and begin. (I will be using the King James Version (KJV) of the bible for this entire study-unless otherwise stated).
Revelation Chapter 1, Verses 1-3:
“(1) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: (2) Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. (3) Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
The first thing we see in the introduction by way of verse one is that this book is a “Revelation of Jesus Christ”. The Greek word translated “Revelation”: Apokalupsis — Means: an unveiling, uncovering, or revealing. There is nothing mysterious about this word. John simply states that the book is written with the intent of exposing and unveiling Jesus Christ.
The question might arise: “Wasn’t Jesus revealed when he came by way of his incarnation, birth, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension?” And the answer would be absolutely–Yes! He came and was revealed as the savoir, the redeemer, the healer and many many other roles and descriptions that would apply.
We might liken this book to a phrase often used by Paul Harvey…”And now, the rest of the story.” The rest of the story is the unveiling of Christ at His second coming. Here in the book of Revelation he is revealed as conqueror, King, but not only King, but King of Kings. He is revealed as Judge, Jury and executioner. He is revealed in so many fulfillments of the Old Testament prophecies and even many New Testament promises that Jesus made himself during his earthly ministry at His incarnation.
The author of the book of Revelation also wrote a gospel. It is very interesting when you study all four of the gospels together, the three; Matthew, Mark and Luke are called “the Synoptic gospels”. The idea of “Synoptic” means that the three gospels take a common view from their similarity in content, order, and statement. One of the commonalities of the three synoptic gospels is that all three of them record the Olivet Discourse. The Olivet Discourse is a sermon of Jesus given from the mount of Olives pertaining the last days of the nation of Israel, the destruction of Jerusalem, and God’s judgment on his covenantal people for their ultimate rejection of their Messiah. John on the other hand makes no mention in his gospel of this Olivet discourse. It seems readily apparent that this book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is John’s version of the Olivet Discourse but with a great deal more detail. It is also quite obvious that John was not sitting around Ephesus wondering what he could write about (like I often do…just not in Ephesus) and then decided to come up with this tale on his own.
As we look a the introductory remarks it is very clear that the impetus behind the writing of this book is God himself.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants…”
Here we see that God gave to Jesus Christ this revelation and Jesus was to impart it directly to His servants. This begs the question: Didn’t Jesus say in the gospels that he did not know the day or the hour of his own return?
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.“ Mark 13:31
In reading these words of Jesus from the Olivet Discourse, it does appear that in his incarnation (his humanity) Jesus was not given this knowledge. The passage from Mark is part of the Olivet Discourse and it is clear that while Jesus did not know the “Day or the Hour”, the Father most certainly knew both the day and the hour. This opening statement seems to indicate that this lack of knowledge on Jesus part, of the timing of these events came to an end with the Revelation. Jesus was given all this information by his Father to pass on to his servants and Jesus does indeed tell us when these events were to occur. In verse one he says that these things that he is being given by his father were to “Shortly come to pass”. The English Standard Version (ESV) uses the word “Soon”. In verse three he tells John that “The time (of these events) was “AT HAND”. Other translations use the word “Near”.
Recognizing that John was writing to a first century audience we must not then insist on a 21st century application of these words. If the terms of the book had no meaning to the first century audience then they would likewise remain meaningless to us in our day. For John to tell his contemporaries that these things were “Near” or “At Hand” or “Soon” or “Shortly” to come to pass, and then find out that really they were over 2000 years in their future, would make no sense and would make John to be a false prophet. Worse yet…These are the words of Christ as given to Him by His Father, if He was wrong we have even greater issues.
After this we see in verse one that Jesus, after receiving this prophetic information from His Father, passed it on to an angel to dispatch it to the Apostle John.
“…and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:”
So the chain of custody of this divine expose’ is now; from the Father to the Son to an angel then to John the Apostle who is about to bare this record to everyone else in his intended audience.
“Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” Rev 1:2
So we have a divine and authoritative chain of information and it has been delivered. The first thing John does is to pronounce a “blessing” upon all who read and hear the words of this prophecy. Again please recognize that today it is our privilege and indeed a blessing to read and hear these words. But John couches this blessing in a purpose clause at the end of verse three; “For the time is at hand”. Please remember that we are reading other peoples mail. The blessing was specifically intended for that first century audience who would see these very events unfold in front of their eyes.
I know that there are many today who think that the blessing pronounced in this introduction is for us today, as well as the entire prophecy. We have no shortage of prophecy experts who are prepared to tell us that the events of the book of Revelation are occurring in our own day.
What about those people who read this prophecy in the fourth century? Did they too see these events in their day? What about the reformers in the 16th century? Did they see all these things about to occur shortly? or did they look for these apocalyptic things to be “at hand” to them?
To remove this book from its intended first century audience is to demand that all these events have happened over and over repeatedly for the last 2000 years and logic would dictate that they would have to continue happening on into the foreseeable future. This ripping out of its audience context would make this book to be nothing but a fable with no meaning at all. But knowing that we are dealing with the divinely inspired word of God we must take the writings of this portion of scripture very seriously. We must keep it in its time context, its audience context, and the context of the very Jewish period in which it was written as we will see again, much of the book is the fulfillment of many Old Testament passages.
But lastly we must continue to go back to the first five words of this book as we study it. This IS “The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The book in fact begins and ends with Jesus Christ. It opens with the declaration that it is the revelation of Jesus Christ, and it ends on the last verse with the grace of Jesus Christ.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” Revelation 22:21
Let’s at this point learn a word that I hope will guide us during this study: Christocentric. The word “Christocentric” means “Christ Centered”.
This book is from first to last written about Jesus Christ, with the intent to Glorify Jesus Christ, and reveal him in his glories. If we keep Jesus Christ at the forefront of our hearts and minds and allow the text of this amazing book to speak for itself we will indeed, in a way, participate in that blessing that was promised to that first century audience. The blessing that we can expect is Jesus Christ himself. If it appears that I am attempting to make this to be all about Jesus Christ, then I have rightly communicated the introduction to the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ. More to come.