For this study, I’m going to be reading from the Greek text, so my translations will retain an “accent,” so to speak. But I am convinced the gems are easier to find in the original language, and my decision was immediately rewarded as I opened to the first page and read the first three words.
Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
The first three words in Greek say
Apocalypse [of] Jesus Christ.Revelation 1:1
According to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek Lexicon, the Greek word Ἀποκάλυψις | Apocalypse means first uncovering, such as taking off one’s head covering. The second definition is disclosing, such as of hidden springs. The definition you and I are the most familiar with is the third entry, revelation, especially of divine mysteries, and otherwise of persons. The final definition is manifestations.
And when you think about it, the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is really all of those things. In this Apocalypse, Jesus is
- Uncovering His divine nature, for though He appears in human form, He is gloriously transformed, the heavenly man as well as the earthly man, both fully divine as well as fully human.
- Disclosing the hidden spring of prophecy that was (and is) already present and at work in human history, and which is moving forward to its culmination. It is a story unfolding in ways that are recognized mostly in hindsight, that few see coming, but which is nonetheless true and real.
- Revealing the invisible truth about heaven, Satan, and the world, as it all is now, as well as the future, and what reality will be one day. These are mysteries that were already being revealed in John’s day, that John the Baptist had paved the way for, that Jesus had spoken of and lived out, that the apostle Paul found so mind-blowing.
- Manifesting His Person as Lord, as the Son of Man, as Head of the church, as the Source of life and light, as the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, and as the slain Lamb.
But it is not Jesus telling us this. It is John. In the preamble to his letter, he wrote,
An Apocalypse given by and about Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His enslaved ones the things which must take place quickly, and He indicated with signs, having sent forth through His angel to His enslaved one, John, who testified the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all that he saw.
Blessed is the one publicly reading this aloud, and the ones hearing the words of this prophecy and keeping the things having been written in it,
for the time is at hand.Revelation 1:1-3
It is a particularly Johannine (which means “John-like”) phrase, to say Jesus indicated with signs the message He was delivering. Other Gospels called Jesus’ miraculous signs wonders and miracles. But John selected seven signs that would without question reveal Jesus as God the Son, Messiah.
That is a Johannine signature. In John’s Gospel there are seven signs, seven witnesses, and seven divine declarations, three sets of seven, just as there are in John’s Apocalypse.
Throughout this revelation, John will revisit the idea of blessing. As frightening, violent, turbulent, and full of hardship as the lives were of John’s readers, he would reassure them it will be worth it—it is possible to remain faithful because of Jesus, and it is worth it to remain faithful, because the now of what is happening is only temporary, and the then of what God has in store will make now seem as vanishing as a puff of mist.
Even though John’s format was as a letter, and he introduced his letter as an apocalypse, he also clarified that what he was about to disclose included prophecy, instruction to be heeded and kept. Everyone who is involved in absorbing what I am telling you, John was saying, is going to be blessed. But only if you continue in keeping it. Because in this letter is prophecy.
What is Prophecy?
If it was of highest importance that John make sure people understood blessing would only come from keeping the prophecy, then we need to know what prophecy actually is, and how in the world we would keep it.
Well, first off, we need to ask who and what prophets are, because what they delivered was either prophecy . . . or it was not. The case can even be made that we have prophets to this day, just as their were known prophets in the first-century church. A prophet is one who either
- Delivers a word from God (also called oracles)
- Delivers their own ideas
- Delivers a word from some other supernatural source
In the Torah, the Lord explained how prophets received God’s word,
“Hear my words:
“When there are prophets among you,God to Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, Numbers 12:6-7 (NRSV)
I the Lord make myself known to them in visions;
I speak to them in dreams.”
All the prophetic books in the Bible are introduced as something the prophet either heard, or usually saw, from God. Thousands of years later, the apostle Peter explained,
First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.2 Peter 1:20-21 (NRSV)
The imagery Peter leaves us with is someone swept up by the Holy Spirit, so in tune with the Lord in those moments they were able to write from that divine perspective, in however limited a way in their own style, language, personality, and culture. Possibly, Peter was giving guidance about words from God that were being delivered by the apostles and prophets then among them. For example,
- The Prophet Anna announced the birth of Messiah to all those worshipping at the temple.
- Apostle Peter quoted the Prophet Joel in explaining the outpouring of prophetic anointing by God on both women and men.
- There was a well-known prophet, Agabus, who accurately foretold the future.
- Two prophets, Judas and Silas, were appointed by the church in Jerusalem to deliver an important letter to all the Christian assemblies worldwide.
- The evangelist Philip had four daughters all of whom were prophets.
- Apostle Paul acknowledged the rich outpouring of prophetic gifts from the Spirit—there were prophets and teachers in his own home church at Antioch, as well as prophets exhorting the people in Corinth and Ephesus and Thessalonica, at the very least.
- But there were also false prophets who posed a potential threat, such as Bar-Jesus, and others whom Jesus had warned would come.
Apostle John gave his assemblies a way to discern the source of a prophet’s utterances, writing,
Beloved ones, do not believe all spirits, but rather test the spirits whether they are of God; for many pseudo-prophets have gone out into the world.1 John 4:1
The Prophesied Prophet
God had more to say about how the Lord gave revelation to Prophets, for there was one prophet like no other.
“Not so with my servant Moses;God to Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, Numbers 12:8 (NRSV)
he is entrusted with all my house.
With him I speak face to face— clearly, not in riddles;
and he beholds the form of the Lord.”
Knowing Moses was unlike all other prophets, when he reported to the people what God had told him, it became the sign of the Messiah.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.God to Moses, Deuteronomy 18:18-19 (NRSV)
That prophet like Moses is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is directly from Him that John had received the Apocalypse, and it is given directly to you and me—personally!—in a letter that has been carefully treasured as a family heirloom for the past two thousand years by our ancestors, brothers and sisters in the Lord, for us to read today.