(1: 1) “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John.”
The book begins with an inscription (vs. 1-3) bearing the title “Revelation,” or “Apocalypse.” The word literally means to ‘take away the veil.’ Hence the core of this book forms a prophetic disclosure made by God to His blessed Son Jesus Christ. As we’ll find in v. 7, the disclosure involves events surrounding the coming of our Lord. During His earthly ministry, Christ told His disciples that the day of His coming was known only to the Father (Matt. 24: 36). Now the Father reveals to His Son the circumstances of that coming.
From Father to Son, the revelation was then committed to an angel (perhaps Gabriel), who revealed it to John the Apostle, to make known unto His “servants” things which must shortly come to pass. We understand servants to signify the visible church. Before Christ ascended on high, He gave commission to His twelve apostles to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 24: 18-20). Servants must therefore comprise those who have entered the visible church through baptism and Christian instruction.
No visible church is perfect; all must contain both wheat and tares. For that reason, many will be cast out in the day of Christ’s return. Where do you, the reader, stand in Christ? When the Lord of the Harvest comes, He will reckon with His servants (Matt. 25: 13-30), that is, He will judge His visible church.
John is sent to make known events that will soon transpire, and to warn Christ’s servants to keep their garments undefiled, that they may stand unashamed in the day of Christ’s return. The heavy emphasis on law in these visions tells us that things have now reached a crisis, and that steadfastness and fidelity are more needed than ever.
But what does John mean when he writes, ‘things which must shortly come to pass?‘ Dr. Bullinger translates this as: “things which must needs come to pass with speed.” John means that the coming of Jesus Christ is imminent, and that we are to perceive it as such. This imminency is according to God’s standard of time, and not man’s. The creature must wait upon the creator for the fulfillment of promises. In Luke 18: 7-8, Christ tells us that God will avenge His own elect speedily, though He bear long with them. Both imminency and delay are implied: imminency from God’s perspective, where a day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3: 8); delay from man’s perspective, where it often seems that God’s promises will never reach fruition. But we are assured in these inspired words that these things must of necessity come to pass quickly. Hence, we may view the judgments revealed in this book as about to break forth at any moment. But it is the faith and repentance of mankind which alone cause judgment to be deferred (Genesis 18: 23-32).
(1: 2) “Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.”
And we know that John’s testimony is true (John 21: 24). Hence we feel assured that these visions are of the very highest inspiration, and not (as some imply) mere “Oriental poetry.”
In this heavenly book, John bears witness of the “Word of God.” The term is often used in Scripture to denote a prophetic revelation (1 Sam. 9: 27; 1 Kings 12: 22; 1 Chron. 17: 3). Like the prophet Daniel, John, the greatly beloved, is led to record what he saw and heard concerning the events involving Christ’s second coming.
(1: 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 Lord promises a blessing to the public reader of this book, and to its hearers. This calls to mind the practice of ancient apostolic assemblies, where a minister read portions of Scripture, providing a commentary or explanation of what was read. The Apocalypse is therefore to be read in Christian assemblies, that its precepts may be followed. Blessed are they who hear, and who keep the words of this book. As John previously testified, “And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2: 3). Hearing is not enough. We must be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves (James 1: 22). That this book has a practical bearing on Christian conduct is clearly evidenced in this verse.
And this suggests to us an important principle of interpretation. The Apocalypse is, after all, a revelation, or disclosure. Therefore, it cannot be so abstruse that its meaning may not be apprehended by the most simple and unlettered servant of Jesus Christ. The practical nature of the exhortations given apprise us that Revelation must be interpreted in a simple and childlike manner. We need not be philosophers or historians in order to understand these visions. We are, however, required to believe what God has revealed will come to pass. For the “time is at hand.”
What time? we ask. Surely the coming Dispensation of Judgment, which will break forth during the 70th week of Daniel. The prophecies of this book must therefore deal with this time-period, which to us is yet future. However, Christians are to understand its imminency, to shake off carnal security, and to be about the King’s business.
We remember that King David reigned in Hebron over the House of Judah for seven years and six months, while the house of Saul still bore rule over the rest of Israel (2 Sam. 2: 10-11, 5: 4-5). But during this seven years and six months, David waxed stronger and stronger, whereas Saul’s house waxed weaker and weaker (2 Sam. 3: 1-2).
We’ll find as we proceed in these studies, that the manifestation of Christ’s lordship over the creation begins when He takes the seven-sealed scroll from the Father’s hand, and begins to break the seals. The seven seals comprehend a period of seven years, during which Christ reigns over the house of Judah (the church) while the rest of Israel abides in unbelief. When Christ returns to reign, the Jews are converted, all Israel saved, and the antitypical David rules from the metropolis of Jerusalem over all the nations of the world–thus fulfilling, in its truest sense, the Old Testamant prophecies regarding the establishment of King David’s throne.