Above is a video I did reciting Revelation 1:1-3 in Greek. My goal is to finish memorizing the entire book by the time I write my dissertation in a year or so. I’ll also do a blog post on the portions I recite. The Greek and English texts are shown below. Should be fun!
“Τhe Revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Ἀποκάλυψις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ).
These first three words tell us the purpose of the book of Revelation. The word revelation simply means to unveil. It carries the idea of revealing something that is at present hidden. It is a Revelation both about Jesus Christ and one given by him. Here in this first verse it’s clear that the Revelation is given by Jesus Christ; it was given to Jesus by God (the Father) to show his servants what must take place and then Jesus in turn reveals it to John. Also it is very important to see right from the beginning that the Revelation is just that, it’s a revelation. It’s not something that’s meant to confuse, or something that’s meant to keep hidden; it’s just the opposite: it is an unveiling.
Revelation was most likely written at around 90 ΑD under the reign of the Roman Emperor Dometian. It was a time of intense persecution of Christians where believers were being boiled alive, sawed in half, stoned, and beaten for their faith. They may have been tempted to ask the question “what am I missing here?” Jesus Christ promised that he would return that he would make all things right, that he would overthrow his people’s enemies and that he would rule and reign forever. At this point in church history it certainly didn’t look like that was happening or would happen anytime soon, so the unveiling of the Revelation given by Christ himself is to show what is hidden behind those circumstances: that Christ reigns even now! So as we read through this book we should always have at the back of our mind the question: what does this say about Jesus Christ and his rule?
“To show his servants what must take place soon.” (δεῖξαι τοῖς ⸀δούλοις αὐτοῦ…)
This phrase has been the brunt of many debates over the years as to the timing of the book of Revelation. Those who think that everything in Revelation starting in chapter 4 is wholly future would say that this phrase doesn’t mean anything about a near present fulfillment of these events, but rather as the Scripture teaches “to God a day is like 1000 years in 1000 years is like a day.” We are therefore to live as though these events are happening very soon when in reality they may still be years and years and years in the future and indeed in John’s time they were at least 2000 years from taking place. There are also those who want to emphasize the then present fulfillment of the book of Revelation who often look to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70 as the fulfillment of most of what is described in it. I, however take a mediating position. I don’t believe most of the book of Revelation was fulfilled in A.D. 70, partly because I believe the book of Revelation was written later. Also, it makes much more sense to see in the events described in Revelation a description of things that will take place at the very end of history. On the other hand, I do not believe that the majority of Revelation had only a future fulfillment with regard to John’s day. Briefly, it seems to me that the book of Revelation describes events which are taking place in John’s day, will continue to take place throughout church history, and will find a culmination in the events just before and when Christ returns. More on that as we study the book.
“And he showed and he signified it by sending through his angel to his servant John.” (καὶ ἐσήμανεν ἀποστείλας…)
The word we should pay attention to hear is “signify”, which in the context of Revelation appears to carry the idea of something revealed through symbols. This word can carry that idea at its root and it seems apparent, given the symbolism throughout Revelation, that this is its intended use here. So, we should avoid reading Revelation in a strictly literal sense where possible and instead give proper weight to the fact that it is a revelation given through signs and through symbols. The seven seals, the seven bowls, the seven trumpets, the scroll, Babylon, the great harlot, the Dragon, the beasts, the sea, the thousand years, etc. are all symbols pointing to a reality beyond themselves. It is this reality that John’s apocalypse is meant to unveil.
“He testified concerning the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ as much as he saw.” (ὃς ἐμαρτύρησεν τὸν λόγον ⸋τοῦ θεοῦ⸌ καὶ τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ…).
Everything that John sees and conveys in Revelation is a testimony to God’s word and to Jesus Christ. In Romans 9 Paul, when reflecting on Israel’s mass rejection of Jesus Christ, asks the question “has God as God’s word failed?” The present circumstances of Paul’s day regarding Israel naturally led to that question, so Paul proceeds to demonstrate why God’s word has not failed and indeed is being fulfilled. Similarly, the book of Revelation’s purpose is to demonstrate that God’s word given through Jesus Christ has not failed, and that it is being worked out even in their present tribulations.
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud and who hears the words of this prophecy, and who keeps the things written in it, for the time is near.” (Μακάριος ὁ ἀναγινώσκων καὶ ⸂οἱ ἀκούοντες⸃ ⸄τοὺς λόγους⸅ τῆς προφητείας ⸆ καὶ τηροῦντες τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ γεγραμμένα, ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς).
John directly addresses the person in charge of reading his letter out loud to the churches in Asia as well as those who will hear it read. He exhorts them to keep what he writes, because the time is near. Now, this blessing is one of the primary reasons I love the book of Revelation. It is the word of God and it promises a blessing on those who keep it. Some might say that the blessing comes as we in the 21st century watch these events unfold before our eyes, and in a sense I agree with that. However, it seems clear that the same would be true of those first century readers of the Revelation. It is essential then to recognize that the readers contemporary to John would have been able to understand everything that was written in their own time, and if an interpretation of Revelation suggests that only we in our time can understand the symbols it contains, then it should probably be questioned. As the verse says, for the time is near. The events of Revelation are upon us, as they were upon those Christians in the 1st century suffering tribulation.
So, let us read and study these words carefully, and let us keep what is written. In the book of Revelation we will see the majesty, glory, wonder, and sovereignty of our God and his Christ. When rightly understood, Revelation can only lead to the people of God crying out in praise for the God who rules all things, for the Lion and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, who has secured for all time the salvation of his people, and the Spirit who enables them to endure to the end!