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Revelation 1:1-3: Becoming Faithful Witnesses

Becoming faithful witnesses to Jesus, is to believe Jesus, live Jesus, and share Jesus with others.

Revelation 1:1-3: 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, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

A couple of months ago, my wife and I took our children to Bar Harbor, ME, about an eight-an-a-half hour trip. It was a rather short vacation— we arrived on Wednesday, we visited Main Street in the pouring rain on Thursday, and we were back home on Friday.

Imagine being in a minivan with two-year-old twins, a five-year-old, and a six-year-old who both sometimes act like two-year-olds. Guess what they asked the most? “Are we there yet?” Usually, our answer was “You will see when we get there!”

Many of us approach the Book of Revelation with the same question, “Are we there yet?” because it is supposed to predict the future, the end times, and the Second Coming of Jesus.

As we embark on a forty-plus-week journey together to study Revelation, let me say this: just as my children were not the only children who have ever asked their parents, “Are we there yet?” on a road trip, you are not the only believers who want to know, “Are we there yet?”

In the last 2000 years, every generation of Christians has turned to the Book of Revelation to answer the question, “Are we there yet?” and many rather than answering, “You will see when we get there,” have taken it upon themselves to predict the dates, times, and events that only God knows. Could it be that throughout the generations, believers have been focusing on the wrong question? Because the intended goal of Revelation was not to answer whether we are there yet or not, but to encourage believers to be faithful witnesses of Jesus until Jesus comes or takes us home?

The problem is that most of us approach the Book of Revelation with presuppositions about the book and the end times. Not only does that create fear and uncertainty about the present and the future, but it also distracts us from our active mission to be faithful witnesses of Jesus in the time that we have on earth. So, while we wait for Jesus’s Second Coming, what we really need is to study Revelation to be faithful witnesses of Jesus.

As we look at Revelation verse by verse in our series, “Uncovering Revelation,” it is important to understand that Revelation 1:1-3 was the introduction to a letter sent to seven churches in Asia Minor in the midst of persecution. Revelation cannot mean to us what it did not mean to them. To them, it was meant to inspire courage to be faithful witnesses as they endured hardships as they faced the rising tide of cultural, political, and religious opposition.

The big idea is that Revelation is not about concealing the truth and making it confusing and difficult to understand, but rather Revelation is about revealing the truth that was previously concealed to encourage us to be faithful witnesses of Jesus until Jesus comes or takes us home.

The question is, how does Revelation help us to become faithful witnesses of Jesus? Revelation 1:1-3 reveals three truths about becoming faithful witnesses by uncovering the purpose, promise, and prognosis of Revelation.

The Purpose of Revelation

 Verses 1 and 2 in the ESV translation reads, “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, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.”

In Matthew 24, the disciples asked Jesus about the end times and His Second Coming, and Jesus replied, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” However, in Revelation, it changes because the Father decided to give Revelation to Jesus and Jesus gave it to John the Apostle through an angel to reveal what was previously concealed to John and other believers.

Why now and not before? To encourage believers to be martyrs of Christ.

The phrase “bore witness” in verse 2, in Greek it is “martyreo” from which we get the English word “martyred.” And testimony in the phrase “testimony of Jesus Christ” is martyria which is the noun form of martyreo. This means that the cost to be a martyr of Christ, that is to be a faithful witness, might differ for each person, depending on their circumstances. In the first century, not every believer died, but many did die. John is the only apostle who died a natural death, but every other apostle was killed for their faithful witness. John and every believer never needed this Revelation to be a faithful witness of Jesus in words and actions.

There are three purposes of Revelation for martyrs of Christ in verse 1.

The first purpose was to reveal what was previously concealed about Jesus. The Greek word for revelation in v.1 is apokalupsis. Apo means “away from” and kalupto means “to cover”; to take the cover away. Take the cover away from what? What does verse 1 say? The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

It is the uncovering of the full glory of Jesus as He comes the second time which is going to be far more glorious than His first coming. He comes not a lamb, but a lion; not as mere man, but as mighty warrior King.

Scholars have long argued over whether it is “the revelation about Jesus” or “the revelation from Jesus” or both. There is enough evidence in the Greek grammar that either one can be supported. I say, that though Revelation is from Jesus, it is also about Jesus because Jesus is the focus, not only in this book, but in the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Also, it is not Revelations; it is Revelation. There is only one Revelation, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals Revelation and Revelation reveals Jesus. It is meant to be read as one revelation to see the unity of the content to reveal Jesus in His full glory to encourage believers to be faithful witnesses.

 The second purpose was to reveal what was previously concealed about Jesus to every doulos (slaved or bondservant in Greek). This word occurs 127 times in the New Testament and refers to saved believers who willfully submit themselves to Jesus as their Lord and Master. Doulos enforces the idea of the martyrs of Christ who died to themselves and the world to live for Jesus.

To non-believers, Revelation would not make sense but to believers in whom the Spirit dwells, Revelation should be crystal clear. Because the verse says, “He [Jesus] made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.” Today Jesus does that through the Holy Spirit as we open His Word.

 The third purpose was to reveal what was previously concealed about Jesus to every doulos regarding what must take place soon. For 2000 years, the word soon in the phrase the things that must soon take place has generated much division. In our times, the Preterists use this verse to promote Replacement Theology, meaning the Church has replaced Israel, which is incorrect. They interpret that when John wrote, “things must soon take place,” he meant a short time from the time of his writing. That is one way to interpret the text, but not the only way, especially when we see it in the context of the whole Bible and the redemptive history narrative of Israel.

The Preterist view is one among four methods of interpretation of Revelation. The other three are the Idealist, the Historicist, and the Futurist. We will look into each of those methods in the next blog because they are necessary to understand whether the unfolding events in Revelation are literal or figurative, whether they have already happened, is happening, or will happen, whether Jesus is coming soon, has come, or is not coming, whether He will reign for a literal 1,000 years or not; whether the Rapture, bodily resurrection, and the tribulation and the timing of the tribulation are literal or not.

For me, the Futurists’ view is the only view that sees the Book of Revelation as a prophetic, apocalyptic, literal account of events in the global context from the rapture of the church to the second coming of Jesus to a literal millennial kingdom in the future. The premillennial position is that Jesus will reign for literally 1,000 years as described in Revelation 20. That is the Futurists’ view as opposed to the Idealist and Preterist views of amillennial and postmillennial that do not believe in the literal 1,000-year reign.

The word “soon” in verse 1 translates in ESV from two Greek words: “en” which is “in” and “tachos” meaning “swiftness.” Basically, once these events begin to take place, they will happen swiftly in a short period of time.

The church that I grew up in in Pakistan did not teach the assurance of salvation. The only possible way I was told that I could go to heaven was if I was a martyr for Christ, which was no different from Muslims in Pakistan. Whenever I felt I hadn’t committed any of the obvious sins, I would pray that Jesus would come swiftly but when I felt that I had messed up, I would blame Him that He didn’t come when I was good. It was never about me being good or bad; it was about being a faithful witness of Jesus in all seasons by never doubting His redeeming work.

One of the applications here is that when we study Revelation, we should not get distracted by details but to direct our attention to the big picture that Jesus is coming soon and we need to be faithful witnesses of Jesus until He comes or takes us home.

The Promise of Revelation

 Verse 3a reads, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it,” The Greek word for “Blessed” is Makarios which is God’s favor, His provision which quite literally is His grace extended to us to know Jesus and have faith in Jesus even when we face hardships.

This promise of the blessing that revelation uncovers for us is also threefold. The verse says, blessed is the one who reads it aloud, those who hear it, and those who keep what is written in it.

I was talking to a believer who was saddened that he did not have the time to read the Bible regularly. I asked, why don’t you listen to the Bible during your commute? He felt that might be cheating. No, whether you read or listen you will be blessed by the Word of God.

The application is whether you read or listen to the Word of God, the important part is to apply it to your life. The final truth necessary to become a faithful witness is:

 The Prognosis of Revelation

The end of verse 3 reads “for the time is near.” A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer and was told that his time was near, but they couldn’t say how soon. It was too soon, and he regretted his complacency, that he could have done more for the Lord.

In another situation, the doctors gave another believer 4-6 months to live, so it drastically changed his priorities. So, the right prognosis of Revelation matters because the wrong prognosis can create confusion and complacency as to how we should live our lives.

2 Peter 3:8-9 reads, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

The application is live as if this is the last hour. If there is someone who has not accepted Jesus, do not wait because Jesus can come any minute.

A pastor was asked, “If you knew that Jesus is coming tomorrow, would you do anything differently?” He responded with “No, I will do exactly what I have been doing ever since I was saved— to be a faithful witness of Jesus in words and actions.”

I ask the same of you, “Would you do anything differently if you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow?”

Have you been a faithful witness of Jesus? If not, my prayer is that uncovering the purpose, the promise, and the prognosis of Revelation has inspired courage in you to be a martyr of Christ, that is, a faithful witness to Jesus.

To be a martyr of Christ, a faithful witness to Jesus, is to believe Jesus, live Jesus, and share Jesus with others.

 When interpreting soon and near, do not try to discover when Jesus is coming, but rather, how Jesus will come. Because He will come ‘suddenly’ and ‘swiftly.’ Jesus is coming soon, and He says, in Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” His coming is nearer than ever before and when the clock strikes, whether it’s in an hour, a month, or a year, things will move rapidly.

Read the Word, listen to the Word, apply the Word in your life, and share it with others. That is how we become martyrs of Christ, faithful witnesses of Jesus, until He comes or takes us home.

Study Questions

  1. What do you know about the author John the Apostle?
  2. What does the word, Revelation, mean?
  3. In the context of the book when you read “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” which way do you lean?
    • “Revelation from Jesus Christ”
    • “Revelation about Jesus Christ”
    • (Discuss apokalupsisapo means “away from” and kalupto means “to cover.”)
  4. Why do you think God gave the Revelation to Jesus? Why did Jesus communicate the Revelation to John through an angel?

Deeper Study Questions

  1. Revelation 1:3 says that blessed are those who read, hear, and put the Word of God into practice. If you feel comfortable discuss with your group:
    • How often do you read or listen to the Bible?
    • In what way do you apply the Word of God regularly?
    • Find an accountability partner to read the Bible together (start with Revelation).
  2. Revelation 1:3 was a challenge to believers to be faithful witnesses until Jesus comes or takes us home. If you feel comfortable share with your group:
    • At least one way that you were a faithful witness last week (think of any conversation or action that demonstrated that you are a follower of Jesus).
    • How were you a faithful witness to your family members?

Personal Study

Using a good commentary (book or online), look up different schools of thought in interpreting Revelation. Read carefully about the following methods of interpretation:

the Preterists, the Idealists, the Historicists, the Futurists

Which view do you lean toward?

In one paragraph summarize why you lean toward that view.

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