Revelation is a simple book with a simple message. We begin to unpack the commands and images of the final book of Christian Scripture. There is a clear and profound purpose within the words of Revelation – the call to faithfulness. It is written to believers in the church. To encourage and challenge them toward a life of faith. The constant choice of our lives is this – will I be a faithful witness or will I choose a lesser way.
Revelation 1:1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
Now, there’s a lot packed in this introduction, and the most important things, in my view, about understanding this book are right here.
The Book Is Addressed To Servants
First, it’s really vital to understand who this book is addressed to. Who’s it addressed to? Believers. And what word does he use? Servants. It’s his servants. This is the Greek word doulos. So this is servant, somebody that is in your service.
Now Jesus gave multiple parables about servants. And there were two kinds of servants that he would talk about. What were they? Faithful and unfaithful. You had faithful servants and unfaithful servants.
So a servant is somebody that’s in a station; they’re a servant. But how they discharge that station, how they discharge that duty is a matter of whether they’re faithful or not.
So this is a book that’s an instruction to his servants. That does not mean that people who aren’t his servants couldn’t benefit from it. It does not mean that scholars could not benefit from it. But it’s written to his servants.
Now why is it written to his servants?
Do You Want A Blessing?
Look at verse 3. God wants to give a blessing. The point of this is—I want my servants to hear this book, and I want it to give them a blessing.
This word blessing is makarios, which just means happy. Anybody here interested in happiness? Would you rather be happy or miserable? That’s a fundamental question.
Well, of course we want to have a happy life. And so he says, this is how you get it if you’re my servant. You do three things: You read, hear, and keep the words of this prophecy. Read, hear, and keep. Read, understand, and then do.
This is a real familiar pattern in the Bible, isn’t it? One of the most famous passages in the Bible is Deuteronomy 30. Deuteronomy 30 is used by Paul in Romans to sum up his whole point in chapter 10. And it’s Moses speaking to the children, and he says, look, this is not all that hard. This is pretty simple. You don’t have to have a missionary come from somewhere else and explain it. You don’t have to have an angel come down from heaven and explain it. Because it’s right there in your heart. You know the right thing to do. So just think about it, and do it. Listen, hear, do.
I’m setting before you today two roads: a road of blessing and a road of cursing.
God’s not in any way threatening the children of Israel whether they are actually elect or not. He’s not saying, well, if you take this road, I really elected you. If you take that road, I didn’t elect you. That’s not what he’s talking about. He’s talking about—are you going to have a blessing? Are you going to have a blessing, or not?
If you want a blessing, do this. Do what you know is right. If you don’t want a blessing, then don’t do that. That’s how simple this is.
Well, it’s the same kind of thing. If you, my servants, want this blessing, then read this prophecy, listen, hear the words of this prophecy, and then keep, do the lessons of this prophecy.
The Time Is Near
Why? The time is near.
It’s interesting, the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him.
Here we have the trinity in full cooperation. We have God, who is Jesus, giving a message to Jesus who’s going to turn around and give it to John, who’s going to turn around and give it to the churches, who are then going to spread it to the rest of the earth. You have this whole message sequence taking place.
And he says “things which must shortly take place.” Another way to translate this word that’s translated here shortly is speedily. It’s going to happen real speedily.
Well, of course we know that Revelation is about the end of the age, and this was given in the first century. So, how can it be that here we are two thousand years later, and it’s speedily?
Think about it. In regards to time, what does the Bible say our life is? A wisp of vapor.
Think about a wisp of vapor. You’re boiling some water to make some oatmeal, and the vapor pops up. How long is it there? A half second, two seconds, something like that. It’s just gone.
So, if you have a wisp of vapor as a lifetime, how many lifetimes in a century? Two? So you’ve got twenty centuries, two lives per century, 40 wisps of vapor. So we’ve been 40 wisps of vapor, so it’s been about 80 seconds. It’s only been a minute since this was written, from God’s perspective. Speedily still fits in.
Jesus Is The Messenger
And he sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.
Now this is important. The word angel is the Greek word aggelos. It’s just a transliteration to the English word, I suppose. And it means messenger.
So, you have to look at the context of aggelos to know who the messenger is.
If it’s a messenger of a spiritual being sent by God from heaven to tell somebody something, then it’s what we call angels.
But in this instance, we’re going to see that Jesus is the actual one who comes and talks to John and gives John this message, for the most part.
So Jesus is the messenger. And Jesus is called in the Old Testament, most people think, the angel of the Lord. And Jesus, of course, is not an angel in the way we think about it because angels were created, and Jesus is the creator.
But Jesus is a messenger. And he’s going to give these letters to the messengers of the churches. And, so, that’s important to bear in mind here that we’re using the word messenger when we look at this aggelos.
The Message Is Given To The Apostle John
And signified it by His angel to His servant John—Now this is John the apostle. And John the apostle is the only apostle who actually was not murdered.
You remember when Jesus is talking to Peter, and he says, “what’s it to you if I keep John around forever?” And John is like, “hey, look at me. I’m not going to die!” So there was some kind of rumor that went around… I love those guys.
His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God—So this is John the apostle who bore witness to the word of God, and although he was not murdered, he was exiled, which is another form of death. The first form of death that Adam and Eve experienced was exile. They were exiled from the garden.
Socrates was given two death choices: Drink a cup of Hemlock, which is poison, or exile. He chose hemlock.
Who bore witness—so witness here is the Greek word martyreo, which is the root, and so is the word testimony, martyreo.
So what we’re talking about here is martyrdom. Martyrdom is what this book is largely about. And so, if you want to be blessed, you read, you hear, and then you do. And one of the main things that this book wants us to do is to make being a witness, a martyr, number one.
Now, we tend to think of martyr just in terms of somebody who actually has their life terminated as a result of their witness. But the life of a martyr is actually much more than that. You don’t live the life of a martyr and then become a martyr when you die. You’re either a witness or you’re not with the way you live your life. And I think we’ll see this as we go through.
If you are living the life of a witness, what you’re doing is you’re setting yourself completely at odds with the world’s system because you’re living in the King’s system. You’re living in Jesus’ system. And when you set yourself at odds with the world’s system, there’s a price to pay.
And that’s what God wants us to do. It could cost you your life. It could cost you your position. Most of the time what it costs you is acceptance by the world. That’s the primary thing we have to give up as witnesses, being accepted by the world’s system.
John bore witness. He was persecuted by the Roman government. He wasn’t killed. He was exiled to the Isle of Patmos. Tradition says he was boiled in oil and the boiling oil didn’t hurt him, so they sent him to Patmos. That’s just tradition.
Revelation 1:2. Who bore witness—John bore witness—to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ—and that’s why he was on Patmos.
God Wants His Servants To Be A Witness
Verse 3. Blessed is he who reads. So one of the things we’re going to do as we go through this is read every word because that gives us a blessing. And those who hear or understand. So, we’re going to do our best to understand. But, we’re not necessary going to try to understand what the events are actually going to be. Because if God wanted us to totally understand the mechanics of what’s going to happen, he would have made it abundantly clear exactly what’s going to happen.
What’s the main point we’re supposed to get from this? How to be a great witness. That’s the main thing we’re going to focus on.
So, here’s what we’re going to focus on as we go through Revelation. We’ll look at the events and what’s going to happen, because he tells us about it. But, we’re not going to focus so much on understanding and predicting. We’re going to focus on what he wants us to do. His servants learning to be an awesome witness. That’s the main thing Revelation is about. Which is why I will assert Revelation is a pretty simple book.
It’s pretty simple. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s going to happen. It’s going to be really tough. And I want you to hang in there. And if you do, you’re going to have amazing blessings. The world hates you. The world is going to hate you. If you’re a witness, the world is going to hate you. And that hate is going to hurt. And when it does, just hang in there. Because it’s worth it.
John is a living example of that. He had an uncomfortable life. Patmos is about a 30 square mile island that nothing grows on. The word Patmos means infertile. It’s just a piece of rock. Actually, those of us from Midland, TX might feel kind of comfortable there, come to think of it.
But he’s there. It’s actually a pretty beautiful place in the Aegean Sea, but there’s just nothing there. He’s isolated. He’s exiled because he was faithful to bear witness. He was a good witness. And that’s an example of what Jesus wants us to do. He wants us to be willing to be isolated from the world.
So that’s what we’re going to do as we go through here.
The Seven Churches
So verse 4. John, to the seven churches which are in Asia—So John writes this letter to these seven churches in Asia minor.
These churches are on the western side of what is now Turkey. So, this Isle of Patmos would be off the western coast of Turkey. As for the churches; some of them are along the coast, and some of them are just inland.
It’s very interesting because he goes through Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. When he goes through those churches, he’s actually following them in a circle. Ephesus is the southwestern-most church, and then the first ones go right up the coastline, then he comes down, and then follows them down the interior. It actually makes a circle, which is very interesting.
Seven churches. Seven in the Bible is kind of a number of completion. Can you think, off hand of some other sevens that are used? The Sabbath day, the seventh day is the day, “I’m finished. I’m finished on the seventh day.”
Any others? The Menorah has seven on it. The seven lights that represent the seven days of God. It’s kind of a completion number.
And so we have seven churches that are in Asia.
Two Views Of What The Churches Represent
Now, there are two prevailing opinions about what these churches represent. One prevailing opinion is that each of these churches represents a predominant church period, like the characteristics of each of these churches are dominant in a particular age of the churches going forward. That’s the one predominate view.
For example, the church at Ephesus, would go from 33 AD to 100 AD of the early church—and when he talks about Ephesus, he’s talking about the early church period. So that’s one predominant view.
The other predominant view is that these are seven different kinds of churches, and the seven different kinds of churches, you can find in any age. You can find a cold church, and you can find an on-fire church, and you can find a persecuted church.
Both of those views are supportable. Me, of course, being a person who believes in the paradoxes in the Bible and that God is a paradox, and that everything we see is paradoxical, I would, of course, believe they are both represented.
The Four Kingdoms
This is what I would recommend to you, that this chronological representation, where Ephesus is 33-100, is representative of the churches in the Roman Empire, the western civilization. Because, you remember from Daniel’s dream—and we’re probably going to do a lot of Daniel as we go through Revelation, because the two books are so intertwined—but you remember, in Daniel’s dream, when he has the statue that tells all of world history, it has four kingdoms, and then there’s the Kingdom of God.
And the four kingdoms: You’ve got the head of gold, which was Babylon. And then you’ve got the breast of silver, which was the Medo-Persian Empire. And then you’ve got the bronze torso which was the Greek Empire and Alexander the Great, who conquers the world and shifts the world from an eastern axis to a western axis. And then the Romans come in and basically just appropriate Alexander’s empire. And so you have the Roman world.
And that’s the final age before there’s another kingdom that comes in that’s not made with the hands of man. It’s a rock in this dream—it’s a rock that’s carved without the hands of man. It comes in and smashes the statue and fills the whole earth. So you’ve got the Kingdom of God.
So between the kingdom of God and the Roman Empire, it’s all Roman Empire.