The prologue presents the basic themes of the book and declares that the season of fulfillment has arrived – Revelation 1:1-3.
Revelation’s first paragraph details its purpose, key themes, main characters, and how it communicates. Its purpose is to reveal, and its protagonists are God, Jesus, and the “his servants.”It is “the prophecy,” and its source is God. The contents concern “what things must come to pass,” which provides its chronological perspective (“soon”).
The paragraph also tells how Revelation communicates (“he signified”), and provides the first of many examples of how it applies passages from the Old Testament – (“what things must come to pass soon”).
The book is a single document; in its entirety, it is addressed to the same audience. It consists of a prologue, a series of visions, and an epilogue. It is the “revelation” or apokalypsis, a Greek term denoting “revelation, disclosure, an unveiling” – (Strong’s – #G602). Its intent is to unveil, not to veil.
- (Revelation 1:1-3) – “Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show his servants the things which must come to pass soon, and he showed them by signs, sending through his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatsoever things he saw. Happy is he that reads, and they who hear, the words of the prophecy, and keep the things written in it, for the season is near.”
“Revelation” is not the title of the book but the designation of what it is. This very first word is singular, for it is not a collection of loosely connected visions, but a singular disclosure. It is the revelation “of Jesus Christ.” The genitive construction 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 is 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 reigns 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; especially in his sacrificial death. Likewise, “testimony” is applied to the “saints” who remain faithful in tribulation, even when violent death is inevitable – (Revelation 1:4, 1:11, 1:20, 12:11, 13:7-10).
The purpose 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. It is from the book of Daniel and provides the first example of how Revelation applies Old Testament passages. It does not use citation formulas, such as “it is written.” Instead, the book uses verbal allusions to fold Old Testament passages into his prophetic narrative.
When John does allude to the Old Testament, he uses the Greek Septuagint version. Note the first verse of Revelation compared to a passage from 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,” in Revelation, becomes “soon”; that is, “soon” from the perspective of the first readers of the book.
The book is called “the prophecy,” once again, applying a singular noun to the entire document. In the epilogue, it is also called “the prophecy of this book, and once more, in the singular number – (Revelation 22:7).
The unveiling of imminent events is necessary because the “season is near.” Imminence will be reiterated in the book’s concluding section. The phrase is another allusion to 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.”
Again, what for Daniel was “in later days” is now imminent. 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 the book, precisely because the “season is at hand.” This understanding is confirmed in the epilogue:
- (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 rendering translates the Greek term, sémainō, which is related to the noun for “sign,” or semeion (Strong’s – #G4591). It means to “indicate, show by sign, to signify.” In warfare, it referred to visual and audible “signals” used to order advance, retreat, or attack. It points to the symbolic nature of the visions, which communicate by means of symbols – (Revelation 12:1-3, 13:13, 15:1, 16:14).
The target audience consists of the “servants” of Jesus (doulos, “slave, servant”), a term applied to the followers of Jesus elsewhere in the book- (Revelation 2:20, 7:3, 12:17, 13:7).
“Blessed is the one who reads and they who hear.” This reflects the real-life situation of the audience. In the first century, books were expensive, and commoners often illiterate. The practice was to have a document read aloud to the assembly by a designated reader, and thus, here – “One who reads” and “they who hear.”
Thus, Revelation discloses how the kingdom of God will achieve final victory, the role of the “servants” of Jesus in the 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 being disclosed and put into motion by Jesus on behalf of his saints – The time of fulfillment has arrived!