SYNOPSIS: The Prologue to the book of Revelation presents the basic themes of the book and anchors its visions in the past Death and Resurrection of Jesus – Revelation 1:1-8.
The first paragraph of the Book of Revelation introduces the key subjects and characters of the book. It also tells the reader how it communicates. It identifies the purpose of the book (to reveal), its protagonists (God, Jesus, angel, John), nature (prophecy), source (God), target audience (God’s servants), contents (what things must come to pass), chronological perspective (soon), method of communication (signified), and it provides an example of how Revelation applies scriptures from the Old Testament.
The book is a single document addressed in its entirety to the same audience. It is comprised of a prologue, a series of visions, and an epilogue. The book is a “revelation” or apokalypsis of Jesus Christ, a Greek term that denotes “revelation, disclosure, an unveiling” (Strong’s – #G602). The intent is to disclose, not to conceal.
(Revelation 1:1-3 – The Emphasized Bible) – “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to point out unto his servants the things which must needs come to pass with speed,—and he shewed them by signs, sending through his messenger, unto his servant John; who bare witness as to the word of God, and the witness of Jesus Christ,—whatsoever things he saw. Happy! he that readeth, and they who hear, the words of the prophecy, and keep the things therein written; for the season is near.”
“Revelation” is not the title of the book but a designation of what it is. This first word is singular; it is not a collection of loosely connected visions but a singular disclosure: A revelation “of Jesus Christ.” The genitive construction can mean it is an unveiling about Jesus or one that belongs to him or both.
The book does reveal information about the identity and role of Jesus and, so, perhaps both senses are present. God “gave” it to Jesus who, in turn, “gave” it to his angel to show his servants imminent events. The stress falls on his possession of the revelation. Events in the subsequent visions unfold as Jesus unveils them to his servant, John.
The contents of the book are labeled the “Word of God” and the “witness of Jesus.” The latter term is repeated several times to stress his faithful witness in his sacrificial death. “Witness” is also applied to the “saints” who endure faithfully through persecution, even when violent death is inevitable (Revelation 1:4, 1:11, 1:20, 13:7-10).
The objective of this “revelation” is “to show” God’s servants – “WHAT THINGS MUST COME TO PASS soon.” This phrase summarizes the contents of the book of Revelation. The events disclosed in it are imminent. “Soon” translates a prepositional phrase, en tachei, literally, “with speed.” The same clause is used elsewhere in the New Testament for something imminent (Luke 18:8, Acts 12:7, 22:18, 25:4, Romans 16:20, 1 Timothy 3:14).
The very first paragraph of the book uses words from the book of Daniel. Verse 1 provides the first example of how John applies passages from the Old Testament to his visions. However, he employs no citation formula, no, “even as it is written.” Instead, he uses verbal allusions to fold Old Testament phrases into his narrative.
When John does allude to the Old Testament, he uses the Greek Septuagint version, not the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Note the first verse of Revelation compared to a passage from the book of Daniel:
(Revelation 1:1) – “REVELATION (apokalupsis) of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants WHAT THINGS MUST COME TO PASS (ha dei genesthai) soon.”
(Daniel 2:28) – “There is a God in heaven that REVEALS mysteries and made known to the king Nebuchadnezzar WHAT THINGS MUST COME TO PASS (ha dei genesthai) in later days.”
What for the prophet Daniel would not occur until “latter days” is to occur “soon”; or, at least, from the perspective of John and the churches of Asia. The book is also called “the prophecy,” again, applying a singular noun to the entire book. It unveils what was previously veiled. It is also called “the prophecy of this book, also in the singular number (Revelation 22:7).
The unveiling by Jesus is necessary because the “season is near.” Imminence is reiterated in the book’s conclusion. This phrase is another allusion from Daniel, and it is used in the same way as in the first instance. Note the comparison:
(Revelation 1:3) – “Blessed is he that reads and they that hear the words of the prophecy and keep the things that are written in it, for the SEASON (kairos) IS AT HAND.”
(Daniel 12:4) – “Shut up the words and seal the book, even until the SEASON (kairou) OF THE END.”
The same point is made as before. What was for Daniel “in later days” is now imminent. The prophet was told to seal the book until the “season of the end,” whereas, Jesus declares a blessing on all who read and heed this book, for “the season is at hand.” This understanding is confirmed in the epilogue where the allusion to the book of Daniel is very clear:
(Revelation 22:7) – “SEAL NOT the words of the prophecy of this book, FOR THE SEASON IS AT HAND” (compare Daniel 12:4).
Jesus “signified” to his servants. This verb translates a Greek term, sémainō, which is related to the noun used for “sign,” or semeion (Strong’s – #G4591). It means to “indicate, show by sign, to signify.” In warfare, it referred to “signals” used to order an advance, retreat, or an attack. This points to the symbolic nature of the book’s visions; they communicate by means of symbols (Revelation 12:1-3, 13:13, 15:1, 16:14, 19:20).
The first audience of the book of Revelation was comprised of “servants” of Jesus (doulos, “slave, servant”), a term applied to Christians elsewhere in the New Testament (Luke 12:37, Acts 2:18, 4:29, 1 Peter 2:16, Revelation 2:20, 7:3).
“Blessed is the one who reads and they who hear.” This statement reflects a real-life situation. Books were expensive and commoners were often illiterate. The practice was to have a document read aloud to the assembly by a designated reader, thus, here “one who reads” and “they who hear.”
The book of Revelation discloses how the kingdom of God achieves final victory, the role of the servants of Jesus in this process, and what all this means for the marginalized churches of Asia. What the book of Daniel anticipated in a remote future, and in a veiled form, is now disclosed and put into motion by Jesus on behalf of his saints – the time of fulfillment has arrived!
(Revelation 1:4-8 – The Emphasized Bible) – “John unto the Seven Assemblies which are in Asia Favour to you, and peace, from—Him who Is, And who Was, and who is Coming, and from—The Seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from—Jesus Christ,—The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us out of our sins with his blood,—and he hath made us [to be] a kingdom—priests unto his God and Father, Unto him be the glory, and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen. Lo! he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, such also as pierced him; and allʹ the tribes of the land shall smite themselves for him. Yea! Amen. I am the Aˎ and the Z, saith the Lord,—the God who Is, and who Was, and who is Coming, The Almighty.”
The salutation sends greetings from God, Jesus, and the “Seven Spirits of God.” It emphasizes the present reign of Jesus over the political powers of the earth. Further, it bases that reign on his past Death and Resurrection. The addressees are identified: The seven churches or “assemblies” of Asia. They were in the Roman province of Asia in western Asia Minor. They are identified by name in Verse 11.
God is the one “who is and who was and who is coming.” This expands on His self-designation given to Moses from the Burning Bush – “I am who I am.” This phrase occurs three more times in the book of Revelation. Like Moses, John received his commission while in exile and separated from God’s people. Just as God removed His people from Egypt to make them a “kingdom of priests,” so, Jesus has now “loosed” his people and constituted them a “kingdom, priests.”
The application of terms and images used originally for Israel to the churches of Asia is consistent throughout Revelation. The Exodus motif reappears in several of its subsequent visions (Exodus 3:14 19:4-5, Revelation 4:8, 11:17, 16:5).
The term “Seven Spirits” occurs nowhere else in Scripture outside the book of Revelation. Its significance is not worked out at this point, although the “spirits” are linked to the Throne. The image is derived from a passage in the book of Zechariah where the “seven eyes of Yahweh go about all the earth” (Zechariah 4:10, Revelation 3:1, 4:5, 5:6).
“From Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, Firstborn of the Dead, Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.” “Faithful Witness” refers to his obedience in death. “Firstborn of the Dead” is a reference to his resurrection. “The Ruler of the kings of the earth” is the present status of Jesus. The phrase alludes to two Old Testament passages:
(Psalm 2:2-9) – “The KINGS OF THE EARTH set themselves against Yahweh and his anointed one.”
(Psalm 89:27) – “I will make him higher than the KINGS OF THE EARTH.”
The 89th Psalm is the source of the other two messianic titles used in this verse:
(Psalm 89:27) – “I will make him my FIRSTBORN…”
(Psalm 89:37) – “His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a FAITHFUL WITNESS in heaven.”
Thus, the clause, the “kings of the earth,” is the verbal link by which Revelation connects Psalm 89:27 and Psalm 2:2-9, then it applies both passages to what Jesus became due to his Death and Resurrection. His sovereignty over the political powers of the earth is a repeated theme in Revelation. His reign is not a future promise but a present reality; his elevation to the throne was accomplished by his past Death and Resurrection (Revelation 11:15, 12:10, 17:14, 19:16, 20:4).
“To him who loves us and, by his blood, loosed us from our sins.” Christ’s sacrificial death redeemed his churches and demonstrated his love for them. “Loosed” is a literal rendering of a Greek verb with the basic sense, to “free, deliver, loose.” The pertinent point is not the forgiveness of sin but liberation from its bondage.
“Loosed us from our sins.” This clause is unusual and unexpected. More commonly, the Bible refers to being “forgiven” or “cleansed” from sin, not “loosed.” The probable Old Testament passage alluded to is from the book of Deuteronomy, a verse which, in turn, is conceptually linked to the passage from Exodus already alluded to in this verse in Revelation. The Exodus-theme is a frequent one and applied consistently in the Book of Revelation to the followers of Jesus:
(Exodus 19:4-6) – “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”
(Deuteronomy 7:6-8) – “Yahweh thy God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth…Because Yahweh loves you, and because he would keep the oath which he swore unto your fathers, Yahweh brought you out with a mighty hand, and delivered you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
“He made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” “Made” is in the aorist tense and refers to a past event, in this case, the death of Jesus. This priestly role is a present calling to which the churches are appointed. What Israel was called but failed to do has now fallen to the churches. “Kings, Priests” signifies what kind of reign this is and how the saints participate in it (Exodus 19:5-6, 1 Peter 2:5-10, Revelation 5:10, 20:6).
“To him be the glory and the dominion unto the ages of the ages.” The doxology reiterates the theme of God’s kingdom rule and is an allusion to Daniel 4:34-35:
“I, Nebuchadnezzar uplifted my eyes and I blessed the Most-High and glorified him who lives forever, WHOSE DOMINION IS AN EVERLASTING DOMINION, and his kingdom lasts from generation to generation.”
The phrase is reiterated several times in the book of Revelation. This bold claim is announced to the suffering churches of Asia. God reigns supreme through his appointed heir, Jesus, regardless of appearances or the persecuting activities of hostile forces (Revelation 1:9, 7:9, 10:11, 13:7).
“He is coming with the clouds.” This alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 where a human figure “like a son of man” was seen “coming with the clouds of the heavens to approach the Ancient of days.” The verb tense from the book of Daniel is changed from an imperfect (“he was coming”) to a present (“he is coming”). What was promised is now coming to fruition in the lives of the churches (Revelation 1:13, 11:15, 14:14).
“Every eye will see him, whoever pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him.” “Every eye” includes the churches of Asia and hints at a broader group. The “tribes” mourn because the Son of Man was pierced on their behalf, not over their doom. Elsewhere in Revelation, the term “tribe” is applied to redeemed men and women, the ones from “every tribe” who will mourn when they see the one who was pierced (Revelation 5:9, 7:9).
In Verse 7, the book combines clauses from Daniel 7:13-14 and Zechariah 12:10. Both refer to “tribes,” the term that links the two passages here. God poured out the spirit of supplication on the house of David so that they mourned when they saw the “one whom they pierced…So shall the land wail tribe by tribe apart.”
In the book of Zechariah, it was not the hostile nations that mourned but, instead, the tribes of Israel that were rescued from the assault. Note well that “every eye” of Judah from Zechariah’s prophecy has been changed. It is now to “all the tribes of the earth.” A prophecy originally given to national Israel is here universalized and applied to the churches of Asia (at a minimum).
“I am Alpha and the Omega…the Almighty.” The one speaking is “the Lord God who is and who was and who is coming.” His voice is heard in the book only here and in New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:5-8). No other scriptural passage refers to God as “Alpha and Omega.” ‘Alpha’ is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, ‘Omega’ the last (‘Α,’ ‘Ω’). He is the one who begins things and brings them to their intended conclusions.
“Almighty” represents the Greek noun pantokratōr, which signifies one with might or sovereignty over others. It is used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term for “hosts” (e.g., “Yahweh of hosts”). This is a fitting end to the salutation. The reference to His might reassures the churches. The same One who transcends history (“He who is, who was and who is coming”) will complete what He started (“Alpha and Omega”), and He possesses the power to do so (“Almighty”).
The salutation contains key themes that are expanded in the book. This includes Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, his present reign, its universal extent, the participation of believers in that reign, and His sovereignty over all political powers. His exaltation is the result of his faithful obedience unto death; his reign and authority are anchored in his past Death and Resurrection.
Throughout the salutation, the seven churches remain in view. Its themes set the tone for the rest of the book and encourage Christians that are living in a hostile society. From the start, the book of Revelation is addressed to Christian congregations and not to national Israel. Interpretations that insist the focus is on Israel fail to heed “the words of this prophecy and to keep the things written in it.”
Above all, the opening paragraph anchors its visions and interpretations in the past Death and Resurrection of Jesus.