************ Sermon on Revelation 1:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 3, 2007
"The Unveiling of Christ"
As we start our study of the book of Revelation, I want to give some warnings about what to expect.
If you are expecting insight into the times and dates set by the authority of God the Father, you will be disappointed (Acts 1:7). If you are expecting me to read 21st century technology and politics into the visions of Revelation, you will be disappointed. If you think Revelation has more to do with our time than it does with the first century, you will be disappointed. If you are expecting me to dig out charts and maps and to get all excited about the nations of Israel and Iraq and Russia, you will be disappointed.
I believe not only in the inspiration of Scripture – that it comes from God – but also in the perspecuity of Scripture. By this I mean that Scripture is understandable to its original audience and they do not need computers, advanced mathematics, or a 21st century political map to understand what it is saying. The book of Revelation gave first-century Christians insight into the ways and purposes of God in their time. God intended first century believers to understand the message of Revelation and to derive comfort and strength from it.
The opening verse of this book tells us four important things as we study this book: the title, the author, the audience, and the subject.
I The Revelation of Jesus Christ
A Our opening verse says it all. It tells us the title and the focus of the book in front of us:
(Rev 1:1) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John ...The Bible book in front of us is the "revelation of Jesus Christ." It is all about Jesus.
Notice the word "revelation" – it is singular, not plural. I cringe whenever I hear people say the book of "Revelations." Yes, there are multiple visions in this book but there is only one revelation of Jesus Christ.
B "The revelation of Jesus Christ." The word "revelation" is interesting. In the Greek language it is the word "apocalypse." The word means "unveil, take off a covering, reveal." In popular thought, apocalyptic literature reveals the future.
Many treat the book of Revelation as containing hidden mysteries and secrets and codes. Actually, its title tells us it does not hide but reveals, it doesn't disguise but makes clear, it is not mysterious but straight forward. It is the "revelation," the "apocalypse," that unveils and reveals and takes off the covering. Though the book of Revelation is at times rather baffling and strange – containing such puzzling images as the four living creatures, the twenty four elders, the four horsemen, the 144,000, the number 666, Armagedon, and so on – it is meant to be an unveiling, a revealing.
But what does it reveal? That is the question.
C "The revelation of Jesus Christ." This book reveals Jesus. It is the same thing every book of the Bible reveals. From beginning to end the Bible tells us about God's plan to save the fallen human race through His Son.
Like everyone else, Christians tend to focus on what is in front of them – deadlines, paychecks, clothing, food, shelter, vacations, job, school, sports, politics, and so on. We need to look after day-to-day things, of course, but we also need to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Col 3:1-2).
We need to see Jesus – to meet Him whose eyes are blazing (Rev 1:14), whose voice is like a trumpet blast (Rev 1:10), whose demands are all or nothing, whose glory is beyond all imagination. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2).
D "The revelation of Jesus Christ." But how are we to understand this? Is this revelation about Christ or is this the revelation from Christ? Is Jesus the One revealed or is Jesus the Revealer? Is Jesus the subject or the object?
Look at verse 1. "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants ..." A revelation has been given to Jesus which He shows to others. So, Jesus is the Revealer. It is the revelation that has come from Jesus.
But Jesus is also the central figure in this letter, this book. Look at verse 2: John clearly identifies the book as a testimony of Jesus Christ. Verse 5: Jesus Christ is identified as the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the One Who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood. Verse 7: Jesus is coming with the clouds. Verse 8: Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Verse 12-16: Jesus is described as the "son of man" of Daniel. Verse 18: Jesus is the Living One Who died and now is alive for ever and ever and holds the keys of death and Hades.
Is Jesus the revealed or the Revealer? The short answer: "Yes." The long answer: "Yes. Yes." He is both.
E "The revelation of Jesus Christ." The book of Revelation was written to set Christ before us. To look at this book without seeing Jesus is to miss the whole point of this book, a point made in the opening verse and the opening phrase.
There are an extraordinary number of books and tapes and DVD's available about the book of Revelation and the end times. You all have heard about the "Left Behind" series. There is all sorts of media available with the word "Apocalypse" or the phrase "End Times" in the title. People get excited about these and ask me about them all the time. When you read or listen to or watch any of these, ask yourself a question: what is the author most excited about, what does he focus his attention upon? If it isn't Jesus he is not being true to the book of Revelation and is putting your focus in the wrong place.
From beginning to end this book is "The revelation of Jesus Christ." It is from Him and it is about Him.
(Rom 11:36) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
II From God the Father
What is the title? "The revelation of Jesus Christ." Who is the Author? Look at verse 1 again:
(Rev 1:1) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John ...Did you catch what John wrote? John says it is the revelation "which God gave him to show."
In verse 4 John identifies himself as the human author. But standing behind the human author is God Himself.
You need to realize there really is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9). At the time Revelation was written people were as interested in the end times as they are now. Apocalyptic literature was all the rage at that time. One of the books in my office is "The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments" – it contains 50-60 of these testaments. Hundreds of these books were written from 500 B.C. to A.D. 70.
However, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" is completely different than all the other apocalyptic books. What makes it different is this: it is NOT the product of a wild and vivid human imagination. What makes it different is this: it comes from God. God is the author. God is its source.
Look at verse 2. We are told it is "the word of God." In other words, it is equal to the Old Testament Scriptures. It is inspired of God. It is the very breath of God (2 Tim 3:16).
Look at verse 3. Blessings are pronounced on those who read the words of this prophecy, and blessings are pronounced on those who hear it and take it to heart. This blessing envisions public worship. The scene is of a reader standing in the congregation, reading Revelation aloud from start to finish, while the rest of the Christians listen. Are the fanciful words of men to be read in divine worship? Does someone stand up and read from the novel or story of the week? Of course not! It is the Word of God that is read in worship and it is the reading and hearing of the Word of God that brings blessings (through the operation of the Spirit).
III To Show His Servants
A What is the title? "The revelation of Jesus Christ." Who is the Author? God. Who is the audience? Look at verse 1 again:
(Rev 1:1) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John ...The audience is identified as "his servants."
Who are these servants? In John's writings a servant is a very common word, a common identifier for those who are Christian. It is another way of saying "people of God, congregation." Anyone who believes in Jesus is a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, Revelation is written for anyone who believes in Christ Jesus.
B But there is more we can say about the audience. If you look at an introduction to Revelation you will learn that:
John's purpose was to give hope and encouragement to those Christians who were suffering severe persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ.Revelation was written to persecuted Christians. It is addressed to a church under attack.
The church's ultimate enemy is identified in Revelation as the dragon, "the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan" (Rev 20:2). He attacks the church from within and without, through physical threat, spiritual deception, and material seduction. He adopts various disguises and comes as various kinds of characters: the beast from the sea, the false prophet, the harlot, and so on.
The church today faces the same enemy. We continue to be under attack from within and without. Revelation urges us to endure and to stay pure.
C But we can say still more about the audience. Look at verse 4. John writes "To the seven churches in the province of Asia." Now, this is strange, to say the least. I say this because we know of at least twelve churches in Asia Minor at that time. So why are these seven picked?
You need to realize that numbers are important in Revelation. Numbers are significant. Revelation loves to repeat certain numbers because they are significant. So, we see seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls. But we also see the numbers ten and twelve over and over again. Each number is used because of what it represents. The number seven, for instance, signifies completeness, fullness. So, the seven churches represent all churches, the full number of them, the complete number of them. And, that full number, that complete number, includes us today. Though Revelation is not written to us, it is written for us.
IV To Show What Must Soon Take Place
A What is the title? "The revelation of Jesus Christ." Who is the Author? God. Who is the audience? The church of Jesus Christ. What is the subject? Look at verse 1 again:
(Rev 1:1) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John ...Did you catch the subject: "to show ... what must soon take place"?
There are three vitally important words we need to look at: show, must, and soon.
The first word is "show." Revelation is given "to show" us something. John testifies in this book, says verse 2, "to everything he saw." Look at verse 11: John is told to "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches ..." Revelation is a book to be seen. Its images are so vivid, even terrifying, but also so comforting. In an age before movies and DVD's and big screen TV's, John is showing us his message with word pictures.
Revelation is a book of symbols. And symbols mean things are not what they seem on the surface.
Do you remember the 3-D picture craze? You look at a pattern or design on a page long enough and suddenly you see the flower, the planet, the fish, the logo, that is just beneath the surface (HOLD UP EXAMPLE). The trick is not to focus your eyes on the surface of the page but behind or beneath the surface until the hidden picture suddenly springs into view.The 3-D picture craze provides an illustration of what we see in Revelation. Things are not what they seem. To see the underlying picture, the pattern that counts, we have to focus beyond mere surface details. For instance, Smyrna appears poor but in reality is rich (Rev 2:9). Sardis has a reputation for life but is dead (Rev 3:1). Laodicea thinks herself rich, but this church is destitute (Rev 3:17). The beast seems invincible, able to conquer and kill the saints, but their faithfulness even to death proves to be their victory (Rev 11:7; 13:7). What appears to the naked human eye to be weak, helpless, hunted, poor and defeated proves in the final run to be victorious in Christ, the Lamb Who was slain.
B The second word is "must." We come across that word "must" often in the Bible:
(Jn 3:14) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up ...That word "must" speaks of divine purpose and divine predestination. It tells us of things that must take place according to God's plan. Things that cannot be changed. Things that cannot be stopped. Things that will happen.
(Luke 24:7) 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'" (cf Jn 12:34)
(Rev 22:6) The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place."
What must happen if you are a Christian? What must happen is that Christ will win the final victory, we will be vindicated, sin will be destroyed, the new Jerusalem will come, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, we will eat from the tree of life, and we will live with Jesus forever. That must happen. That will happen. It is in the plans. It is in the works. What comfort and joy and hope this should give us.
What must happen if you are an unbeliever? None of the judgments and wraths mentioned in this book will be escaped or reduced or compromised. God will not change His mind. God will not change His judgments. His enemies will go down to defeat. The seven bowls of wrath will be emptied. The lake of fire will never be extinguished.
All of this must happen. And, it has been set in motion by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
C The third word is "soon." God's intent is to show what must "soon" take place. The second last verse of this book also uses this word:
(Rev 22:20) He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.This word is used eight times in this book. And similar phrases too – verse 3 says "the time is near."
"Soon." "Very near." What exactly does this mean?
We know that Revelation was written down sometime between A.D. 60 and A.D. 90. And, at least 1900 years have elapsed since these words were written down. So what does "soon" mean? Do we have to assume that John really thought the visions he saw were going to happen during his lifetime but he make a mistake? Remember, we said Revelation is the "word of God." It is inspired. There are no mistakes in the inspired word of God!
Again, what does "soon" mean?
One of the rules for understanding Revelation is that we need to look at it in the light of the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel and Daniel. Towards the end of Daniel's book we see a command to "seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end" (Dan 12:4). Daniel's sealing of his book symbolizes that a long period of time separates the words of his book from its fulfillment. John, by contrast, is commanded not to seal up the words of his prophecy "because the time is near" (Rev 22:10).
How near? John is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. The time of the Kingdom is now. What God shows and John sees is happening now. It started to happen with the death and resurrection and ascension of Christ. So look at verse 5: Jesus is described as "the ruler of the kings of the earth." Look at verse 6: Jesus has made us to be a kingdom and priests. The Kingdom has come but it has not yet come in its entirety.
So, Revelation gave first-century Christians insight into what was happening in their time, before their very eyes. It was telling them that victory belongs to God and to His Christ.
What is the title? "The revelation of Jesus Christ." Who is the Author? God. Who is the audience? The church of Jesus Christ. What is the subject? To show what must soon take place.
Let me end by asking if the message of Revelation fills you with comfort or with dread? If you are part of the Kingdom, if you bow before King Jesus, then the Revelation of Jesus Christ fills you with comfort and hope. However, if you have not repented and you have not believed, then the seven bowls of wrath and the unquenchable lake of fire should fill you with dread. It is one or the other.
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