SYNOPSIS – The Prologue presents the basic themes of the book and declares that the season of fulfillment has arrived – Revelation 1:1-3.
The first paragraph of Revelation presents its purpose, key themes, main characters, and how it communicates. The purpose is to reveal. The protagonists are God, Jesus, and the “his servants.”The book is “the prophecy” and its source is God. The contents of the book concern “what things must come to pass),” thus providing the chronological perspective (“soon”). And, last by not least, how Revelation communicates (“he signified”) and applies passages from the Hebrew Bible.
The book is a single document. In its entirety, it is addressed to the same audience. It is comprised of a prologue, a series of visions, and an epilogue. It is a “revelation” or apokalypsis, a Greek term denoting “revelation, disclosure, an unveiling” (Strong’s – #G602). The intent is to disclose, not to conceal.
(Revelation 1:1-3) – “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to himto 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 Godand the witness of Jesus Christ, —whatsoever things he saw. Happy! he that readethand they who hearthe words of the prophecy, and keep the things |therein| written; forthe seasonisnear” – (The Emphasized Bible).
“Revelation” is not the title of the book but a designation of what it is. This first word is singular. The book is not a collection of loosely connected visions but a singular disclosure.
It is a revelation “of Jesus Christ.” The genitive construction of this clause can mean it is an unveiling about Jesus, one that belongs to him, or both. The book does reveal information about the identity and role of Jesus, therefore, both senses may be intended.
God “gave” this “revelation” to Jesus who, in turn, “gave” it to his angel to “show his servants” imminent events. The stress in the clause falls on his possession of the “revelation.” Events in the subsequent visions unfold as Jesus unveils them to “his servant,” John. However, it includes a great deal of information about Jesus and HOW he is reigning in the here-and-now.
The contents are labeled the “word of God” and the “testimony of Jesus.” The latter term is repeated several times in the book to stress the faithful “testimony” given by Jesus; that is, in his sacrificial death. Likewise, “testimony” is applied to the “saints” who remain faithful in persecution and tribulation, even when violent death is inevitable – (Revelation 1:4, 1:11, 1:20, 12:11, 13:7-10).
The objective is “to show” God’s servants “WHAT THINGS MUST COME TO PASS soon.” The phrase summarizes the contents of Revelation, and the disclosed events are imminent.
“Soon” translates a prepositional phrase – en tachei – Literally, “with speed.” The same clause is used elsewhere for something that is imminent – (Luke 18:8, Acts 12:7, 22:18, 25:4, Romans 16:20, 1 Timothy 3:14).
The very first verse uses several terms from the book of Daniel and provides the first example of how John applies an Old Testament passage. However, he employs no citation formula – no “even as it is written.” Instead, he uses verbal allusions to fold passages from the Hebrew scriptures into his narrative.
When John does allude to the Old Testament, he uses the Greek Septuagint version, not the original Hebrew text. 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 king Nebuchadnezzar WHAT THINGS MUST COME TO PASS (ha dei genesthai) in later days.”
What for Daniel would not occur until “latter days” is changed to “soon” – That is, “soon” from the perspective of the first readers of the book.
The book is also called “the prophecy,” again applying a singular noun to the entire document. 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 is necessary because the “season is near.” Imminence will be reiterated in the book’s concluding section. The phrase is another allusion to the book of 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 (kairos) OF THE END.”
The same point made previously is presented here – What was for Daniel “in later days” is now imminent – The “season is at hand.” Daniel was told to “seal the book until the season of the end.” In Contrast, Jesus now 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 Daniel is quite 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. The verb translates a Greek term, sémainō, which is related to the noun used for “sign” – 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 attack. This points to the symbolic nature of the visions – They communicate by means of symbols – (Revelation 12:1-3, 13:13, 15:1, 16:14).
The book’s target audience is comprised of the “servants” of Jesus – (doulos, “slave, servant”), a term applied to the followers of Jesus elsewhere in Revelation – “Those who have the testimony of Jesus” – (Revelation 2:20, 7:3, 12:17, 13:7).
“Blessed is the one who reads and they who hear.” This reflects a real-life situation. In the first century, 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 will achieve final victory, the role of the servants of Jesus in the kingdom, and what all this means for the marginalized churches of Asia.
What the book of Daniel anticipated for 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!