Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 1:1–3

Revelation 1:1–3
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who then testified to everything that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!
(NET Bible)

Unveiling the future

Perhaps you have heard the old news-joke: “End of the world! Film at 10:00.” These days we might wonder what kind of Twitter messages — called Tweets — would be posted when dire judgments unfold and sweep the earth.

Perhaps you have also heard that this world is not going to go on forever. Fact check says, “TRUE.” But surely that cannot happen on your watch, can it? Can it?

“The revelation of Jesus Christ” looks to us like the beginning of a sentence, but it is actually the title of this written account, which records the visions given by God to the Apostle John. To understand what a revelation is, think of the sudden appearance of a new car model as the covering drape is pulled aside. New Testament scholar Grant Osborne says, “In the NT the word group occurs 44 times . . . nearly always with the basic thrust ‘to uncover what has formerly been hidden.’”[1]

So, what is being uncovered? We get a big clue in the phrase “the revelation of Jesus Christ ” (1:1). The Greek underlying the italicized phrase does not tell us whether the revelation is from Jesus Christ or about him. In fact, I agree with Daniel Wallace, who thinks the answer is both.[2] Jesus Christ is both the source of the information given to John and its subject as well.

We encounter a difficulty in the clause “what must happen very soon” (1:1) in that over 1900 years have passed since the revelation was recorded. New Testament scholar Craig Keener makes the point that the phrase “the time is near” in 1:3 sheds light on the issue. He says, “Whatever else ‘the time is near’ (1:3) might mean, it probably means that the events of the end will be unexpected and that we should be ready for them at any time (Mark 13:32–37; 1 Thess. 5:2), so that believers should live ‘every moment as though it were our last.’”[3] So, we must stay on constant alert.

The phrase “very soon” (1:1) is used seven times in the New Testament. It is interesting that John opens Revelation with an emphasis on the any-moment-onset of the predicted events and closes the book on the same note. Jesus expressed this idea when he said, “But as for that day and hour no one knows it – not even the angels in heaven — except the Father alone” (Matt. 24:36). Almost immediately Jesus applied the concept by saying, “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt. 24:42).

John mentions his own role, that of being a witness to the word of God and what he has seen (1:2). The combination of word and witness is thematic. These references make clear that giving witness to the Word of God and to Jesus can result in both exile and death, a fact not well appreciated in the safety of the United States.

Note carefully that John calls what he has written a prophecy (1:3). On this basis, Osborne[4] expresses the idea that Revelation must be characterized not as apocalyptic but as prophetic-apocalyptic. The prophets did not merely spin out visions; they demanded accountability from the people to God!

John quickly turns attention to those receiving the revealed knowledge he has recorded (1:3). Verse 3 is notable for having forms translated in present tense: “the one who reads” and “those who hear and obey.” Osborne sums up their combined emphasis by saying, “God’s blessings will be experienced by those who persevere.”[5] Notice that the sequence of blessing starts with knowledge gained from the one who reads, but the blessing only extends to those who both hear and obey. So, the study of God’s Word is foundational to pleasing him, but it must be obeyed not just read.

Keener captures much of the significance held by John’s prophecy when he describes what the return of Jesus will provide: “[God promises] a happy ending to God’s people but a tragic one for all who chose to reject his way. Because the specific time is unknown and near, no one dare postpone repentance.”[6]

Do Not Stop Short!

How satisfied would your boss be if you told him that you had driven three-fourths of the way to work? Not very! Did you do the required reading but not the required report? Not likely! In a similar way, you would be foolish to read Revelation only for its predictions about end-times events. The greater blessing comes when you hear and obey, because that is what God requires.

Jesus made himself very clear: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.” (Matt. 7:24–25). The final storm is coming to test every house!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 52.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 120–121.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 61.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 58–59.

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 57.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 61.


Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!