Free Bible Study Magazine
An Extract from Dr Pieter Lalleman’s (Spurgeon’s College) superb new Bible study guide: The Lion and the Lamb (Studies from the Book of Revelation). Available now (paperback £8.99) from our bookstore.
Chapter One: The Risen Lord
The part of the Bible that we will discuss is often referred to as ‘the Revelation of John’, but the author himself calls it ‘the Revelation of Jesus Christ’. It is the risen Lord Jesus who appears to John and then gives him insight into ‘what must soon take place’ (1:1). John is instructed to write down what he has seen and heard (1:19; cf. the emphasis on the written form of the text in 22:6–11, 18–19).
The book begins slowly because it has a number of introductions: first there is chapter 1, then chapters 2 and 3 on the situation in the seven cities, and chapters 4 and 5 on the situation in heaven. The next main part of the book only begins in chapter 6.
In the Introduction I explained the kind of book Revelation is. By order of the risen Lord Jesus, John is writing this book to seven named local congregations in Asia Minor, the area which is now Turkey (1:11). He is himself on the island of Patmos, off the Turkish coast (1:9). He may have been sent there in exile by the Roman authorities, but Patmos was not known as a prison island; hence it is more likely that John was there merely to preach the gospel.
In John’s time the Roman Empire included the whole territory from Spain and England to Egypt and Syria. There was peace throughout this area and Asia Minor, moreover, was also prosperous thanks to trade and industry. The inhabitants of Asia Minor were therefore very satisfied with the Roman rule and they participated enthusiastically in the worship of the many Roman gods. Religion played a large role in many social activities. In addition to traditional gods, the living emperor was worshiped as a god and the cities of Asia Minor competed to be allowed to build a temple for the emperor. It is important to be aware that severe persecution of the Christians only began in the third century and that John mentions the name of only one martyr, Antipas (2:13). The present problem is that Jesus’s followers were expected to participate in society like everyone else, including the worship of the emperor—and that many did so! The book of Revelation is meant to prevent them from this ‘automatic’ idolatry. As Nick Page writes, ‘Revelation is not written to console those going through trouble: it is written to make trouble.’
It is characteristic of the book of Revelation that John makes much use of the Scriptures of Israel, our Old Testament. However, he never quotes them literally and he does not refer to them either; it is up to us as readers to find out where and how he works with the Old Testament. The Old Testament sources of Revelation are found especially in the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; in second place we have Genesis 1–2, Exodus 7–15, the Psalms, and the other prophetic books. In the present chapter John describes his call in a way that recalls the call narrative of Ezekiel, and this book also plays a role in the structure of Revelation.
Explanation of the Text
Verses 1–3 Preface
Verse 1a. John calls his book a ‘revelation’ (apocalypse, see the Introduction) of the Lord Jesus Christ. His ‘servants’ are in the first place the first hearers of the book, the members of the seven churches to which it will be sent, but in the second place all Christians. For all of us there is a blessing from God (1:3).
Verses 1b and 2. Angels play a role in the transmission of the revelation and they appear in almost every chapter of this book; but it is especially the Lord Jesus who reveals himself and his plan to John. John modestly calls himself a servant of the Lord (1:1b).
Verse 3. At the time of the New Testament, most people could not read, so the letter which contained the revelation had to be read out to them. Yet in every town and village at least some would be able to read.
Prophecy is not merely information, it is a message that we must ‘take to heart’ or ‘keep’ (NRSV).