Revelation 1:1-3 Part 1

As was intimated in the introductory sermons, our standard exegetical procedure ends up in a line-by-line exposition of the text of Scripture. Here a little; there a little. Word by Word, line by line, concept by concept until we know, as precisely as possible, what it says.

This is exactly what we did throughout the Gospel of Matthew; and there is no change in that standard of procedure in our approach to The Revelation of John.

We’re going to read, and spend some time in, the title of John’s Revelation, which is found in the first three verses. Hopefully, when we’re through with it, you’ll be able to quote these verses and be able to teach them whenever the opportunity arises.

Once again, let’s read:

1) A Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to Him to show to His servants that which is necessary to be done in quickness, and has made it known having sent through His messenger to His servant John,

2) Who did bear witness the Word of God and the witness of Jesus Christ all he saw.

3) Blessed the ones reading and hearing the words of the prophecy and keeping things having been written in it, for the time is near.

You remember, of course, the enormous amounts of study-and-preaching time that we spent together in the Gospel of Matthew – much of which is invaluable to us in setting the context to John’s Revelation. And I want to remind you this morning of a number of things that we learned as we went through the Gospel.

First let me call to your attention that it is Jesus Christ (The Cornerstone) and His apostles (the remainder of the foundation) that form the bed-rock of the new temple made without hands. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through His apostles, that constitutes the Rock upon which the Church is built, each of His “little ones” precious stones in the structure of the temple. It is apostolic doctrine - preaching and teaching - that is the very voice of the Christ…… Living Water flowing into the arid wastelands of pagan nations, causing many all over the fallen and cursed earth to sink their roots deeply into the river of living water. We have the preaching and teaching of His apostles; and we have all been warned that anything other than apostolic doctrine is anathema. They are the “scribes” of the new Israel, the inspired authors of The Gospel of God, which is the power of God into salvation to those who are faithing.

Jesus’ last word to them before His ascension was that they disciple the nations, putting His covenant “mark” of baptism on them, and teaching them to obey the One Who has been given all authority in the heavens and upon the earth (Matthew 28).

Secondly, Jesus had told His disciples to continue to scour the countryside for every last one from the tribes of Israel who God had kept for Himself. He gave them specific instructions about how to find them and recognize them. Then he told His disciples what to do with them when they found them.

Having given them the signs of coming destruction of Jerusalem and all of Israel, the apostles of Jesus were to extricate, in this generation, all His people from the danger to come.

The massive job of doing that was hampered by the fact that most of these who God had kept for Himself were the poor and the sick and the dispossessed and the lame and the blind and the deaf…… all of which had been brought about by Israel’s false shepherds, often called ravenous wolves, feeding on the helpless for their own benefits. But Jesus had come to find His Father’s elect; and the apostles were to continue to hunt for them after the resurrection! All of them had to be found, and all of them had to be moved from harm’s way before the abomination of desolation.

So the apostles, along with newly elected deacons, prepared (as the first chapters of The Acts of the Apostles indicates) the diaspora – the extrication of all of those who God had kept for Himself from the twelve tribes of Israel.

Those with wealth in property and other valuables sold everything (it would soon be worthless anyway). And they pooled the money, giving it to the apostles for the poor who couldn’t move themselves out of Israel and into the nations. Scripture says there were 144,000 of them, 12,000 from each tribe, who were to escape the coming conflagration.

Many of these were the ones following Jesus, hundreds of them having been healed by Him of their leprosy, their blindness, their deafness, their demon possession, their brokenness, their destitution – all as a result of the savage godlessness of judaistic leadership (and all of this prophesied by the prophet Isaiah).

Having questioned Jesus about what was going to happen (Matthew 24), the apostles knew, from His answer, that this was all going down in their lifetimes; so they had a very short time to get all these people out of harm’s way.

The entirety of the remainder of the New Testament was written during this period – thirty five to forty years. The apostles and their helpers continued to travel the whole of Israel, finding the lost sheep of the house of Israel; the Church in Jerusalem continued to feed the sheep with the Gospel and with relocation assistance; some of the apostles were preaching the Gospel in the nations and helping the new Churches that were being established by the relocating Jewish Christians; the letters to the Churches by Paul and James and Peter and Jude and John were letters of correction and letters of comfort to all the “little ones” in very perilous and distressing times.

Thirdly, Jesus had warned His apostles that they, and the Churches, would suffer many things. And, certainly, the persecution of the Roman emperors, during a time of turmoil and upheaval in the empire, was a major factor in those perilous times for the Church.

But by no means was that the only factor; and neither was it the most malignant.

Jesus, in Matthew chapter 23, in excoriating the judaists, told them that they had humiliated, maimed and killed the prophets that God had sent to them (even to John the baptizer). And now Jesus was going to send the apostles to preach the Gospel to all the nations. And that the judaizers were going to crucify them and scourge them and persecute them from city to city! And, for that, all the righteous blood shed upon the earth from Able to Zechariah would be upon them. And it would come in this generation!

So, you see, the Church of Jesus Christ was going to suffer at the hands of Rome and at the hands of judaizers. But, having persecuted God’s prophets, and then having crucified the Son of God, the ultimate culpability (the blood of all the righteous and all the prophets) would come upon them because of their persecution of the Lord’s people – the Church! Once again, the terminal point of this culpability was to occur during this generation – a generation during which many of the Lord’s apostles, helpers and deacons, and the lost sheep of the house of Israel would still be alive to see it!

So, not only did the new Churches in the nations need correction from Paul and the others, but they needed much comfort. These who God had held for Himself (the lost sheep of the house of Israel) had to leave their homeland of a thousand years, they had to establish new homelands, new jobs, new households, new everything! The beloved nation of King David and King Solomon, according to Jesus and his apostles, was about to experience great tribulation. Daniel’s abomination of desolation was about to come upon them (according to Luke it was the Roman armies), the temple and the ceremonial system and the sacrificial system and the priesthood and everything else about the promised land was about to be crushed, dissolved and discontinued; for God was adjudicating, in King Jesus, the covenantal sanctions against Israel.

Thus the letters of comfort from the apostles – including this letter from John. Surely there is correction for the Churches, and exhortation for perseverance; but the letter is primarily a letter of comfort and preparation for that which was shortly to come. For, as Jesus told His apostles in Matthew 24, nothing like it had ever occurred. People all over the world would be shocked and grieved, especially these expatriated Jewish Christians. They were going to suspect that the end of the world had come upon them.

But John lays it all out there for them exactly what to expect; and he comforts them in the terror that is about to befall them and their nation. Persevere, be faithful, and don’t faint! God the Son, the resurrected and ascended Savior of the world, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is doing it, and glory be to His holy Name. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Now. Having briefly reviewed some of the things we learned from our study in Matthew, let me now take you to a short foray into the historical and geographical context leading to the letter that we find before us this morning.

John and his brother James were in the fishing business with their father Zebedee. The business was located around the Sea of Galilee. Peter and his brother Andrew were also involved in that business. Jesus approached them and said “follow me”; and they did. The mother of John and James was Salome, who we find later on to be lobbying Jesus for her sons’ positions in Jesus’ administration when He became King of Israel.

John is well-known in history as the “theologian” of the group, as is evidenced by his gospel, and by his three letters to the Churches.

Sometime during the thirty-five years after Jesus’ resurrection, John’s ministry to the Lord’s people in the nations took him to the city of Ephesus where he became pastor, and where he also had a close (pastoral) relationship with all seven of the Churches in the region. This letter was to be sent to all seven of them. That’s a very significant number as we’ll see down the line.

The Scripture locates these Churches as being in “Asia”. We know the region now as being in western Turkey. Ephesus is on the Aegean Sea across from Greece; and I suppose that one could say that it is the first city one encounters when traveling from eastern Europe to western Asia. It’s directly across the Aegean from Athens.

In Rome, from 54 to 68AD, it was the profligate and demented and murderous Nero who was emperor. He was said by some to be good to his own people, but he mercilessly prosecuted uprisings against his rule. Parthians, Gauls, Brittains, Christians and Jews all felt the brunt of his hatred, as he put down revolts. It was probably he who started the fire in Rome, and then blamed it on Christians. He then began rounding them up and feeding them to wild dogs, and burning them at night to provide light for the city.

It was late in Nero’s rule that John, preaching the Gospel in Asia (part of Nero’s empire) was exiled to the island of Patmos (because of the Gospel). This little island, about thirteen square miles, is closer to Turkey (Asia) than it is to Greece, but it is now considered a part of the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea.

It was probably uninhabited then, except for rejects from other places. Men were probably sent there to eliminate them from mainland societies. Since it was primarily uninhabited, exiles were expected to just die there.

But, as his text says, John received the Revelation while he was there. And apparently, somehow he sent copies back to the mainland – to all seven of his Churches which were clustered there close to each other in (what is now) the far western portion of Turkey.

Inasmuch as we know that the letters of all of the apostles and Gospel writers were circulated among most (if not all) of the Churches in the nations, this letter too would have been copied and sent abroad to as many of the Lord’s people as possible.

That copying and circulation would have had to be done quickly, because the Revelation made it clear that the events to occur were “near”. Caesar Nero ordered a crushing of the rebellion in Palestine sometime late in 66AD. Titus, the commander of the Roman armies was tasked to accomplish that. And by the time Nero committed suicide in 68AD, Titus was already in Palestine with an incredible military force. But we’ll leave a more thorough discussion of that for a later date.

And, by the way, just as a historical note here, I sat down inside the Roman Coliseum a few years ago just to contemplate the history there. The building of that infamous structure was begun while Titus was in Palestine with his army. To say the least, it was an unforgettable visit – one that I highly recommend to any of you, once you know some of the history and what the newly-crowned King of Kings was doing in, and with, His nations.

But before we finish today, we need to address at least one word in the translation. And that word that I want to spend some time on is the first word that John wrote. It’s also the word at the top of the page. We call the letter “The Revelation” because of the first word of the letter.

Please note that the word isn’t plural. Many people call it “revelations”; but it is not several, or many, revelations. It is one Revelation.

The Greek word, transliterated into English, is apocalypse. Please erase it from the deep recesses of your minds that this word means “doomsday”. Don’t even think about it. From pagans to the Christian Church….. we’ve been conditioned to associate “apocalypse” with world-ending, history-terminating, nature-dissolving finality! That’s mostly because of the mistranslation and/or misinterpretation of this letter.

From commentaries, to fiction books, to pulpiteering, to artistic renderings, to movies…….. apocalypsis is associated with holocaust!

A post-Vietnam era film called Apocalypse Now had dozens of heavily-armed helicopters flying low into the Mekong Delta while playing Wagnerian opera over loudspeakers. It was to frighten the Viet Cong into believing it was their doomsday!

The film Apocalypto is a holocaust scenario about Incas and Mayans in Central America.

Most Roman Catholic and Evangelical theologizing envisions a final battle of world-wide proportions, followed closely by a final judgment and destruction of the world in a flaming inferno. And all of that is associated with the word “apocalypse”.

But all of that is just a case of reading something back into this word that’s not there. The word simply means “revelation”, or “disclosure”. Apo means “from”, and kalupto means “cover”. From cover! From being hidden. Therefore “To Reveal”. Apocalypto is “to reveal”. Apocalypsis is “revelation”. To uncover, or to disclose, that which has been hidden.

A good example of the word can be found in Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome, at chapter eight and verse 18:

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”

So. Finally, John’s letter is one of exhortation, and one of comfort, to the Lord’s people who are about to see and experience some incredible things. And those things are “revealed” or “uncovered” to John, who writes them down and sends it in a letter to seven Churches.

I leave you with an exhortation from Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle in London) from Isaiah 40:5, which says “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together……”

He said:We are not discouraged by the length of his delays; we are not disheartened by the long period which he allots to the church in which to struggle with little success and much defeat. We believe that God will never suffer this world, which has once seen Christ's blood shed upon it, to be always (evil’s) stronghold. Christ came hither to deliver this world from the detested sway of the powers of darkness. What a shout shall that be when men and angels shall unite to cry ‘Hallelujah, hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!’ What a satisfaction will it be in that day to have had a share in the fight, to have helped to break the arrows of the bow, and to have aided in winning the victory for our Lord! Happy are they who trust themselves with this conquering Lord, and who fight side by side with him, doing their little in his name and by his strength! How unhappy are those on the side of evil! It is a losing side, and it is a matter wherein to lose is to lose and to be lost for ever. On whose side are you?”