Mount Revelation (Revelation 1:1-3)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 1:1–1:3
Happy Ever After
(One Mission: Firm to the End)
September 7th, 2014
I. Spiritual Vistas
This morning we begin a journey into what is probably the most intriguing, and mysterious, and powerful, and divisive, but comforting book in the entire Bible. That book is the book of Leviticus. Ah, Leviticus! Even the title of the book is a bit elusive, but exciting, right?
Oh, wait. Is it September already? Okay..my bad. Let's try this again. This morning we begin a journey into what is probably the most intriguing, and mysterious, and powerful, and divisive, but comforting book in the entire Bible. That book is the book of the Revelation.
But let's take our first steps down that Revelation Road by thinking about this question:
When you think about the idea of reading and attempting to understand Revelation, would you say that such a task is comparable to...
A. An especially long walk through a haunted house.
B. Taking a class on quantum mechanics...as a fourth grader.
C. Summiting a majestic, but technically challenging, Himalayan peak.
This morning, I want us to see that, in spite of our initial feelings or previous experiences, in spite of what we've heard or what we've seen, option “C” is the most helpful way to think about tackling the book of Revelation.
Why do I say that? Because both the spiritual scenery and the spiritual vistas that we will discover in the book of the Revelation, are absolutely breathtaking. But at the same time, that scenery, and those vistas, are not “cookies on the lowest shelf”. There is no tramway that will take you straight to the top of Mount Revelation. There's no getting around it. This book requires work. But...but, the payoff is well worth it.
Are you ready to start our ascent? Turn with me this morning to the book of the Revelation, and look with me at Revelation, chapter 1.
II. The Passage: “The Words of This Prophecy” (1:1-3)
Let's begin this morning by looking together at verses 1-3. Let me read through those verses, and then we will go back and discover some of the key principles that God has for us. Let me read, beginning in verse 1...
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,  who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.  Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
A. Perspectives and Presuppositions
Now before we dig deeper into these introductory verses, I think it's important that I explain something about the approach I'd like us to take as we tackle this amazing book.
For 2000 years, Christians and Christian scholars have debated and speculated about how to make sense of this book. There is the idealist or spiritual school of interpretation. There is the futurist school. There is the historicist approach, and the preterist approach. Add to that what are called pre-millenial, post-millenial, and amillenial perspectives, and you end up with what can be a very confusing jumble of options.
But even though studying these different approaches can be very helpful, I am not going to explicitly interact with any of these specific viewpoints. So instead of spending time talking about the merits of this or that approach, instead of spending time trying to dismantle the latest, sensationalistic buzz about Revelation, I am simply going to teach each passage in a clear, consistent way, and always trying to explain how I arrived at a particular conclusion.
What I would ask you to do is join me on this journey, but do so with an open mind. Let's try to approach this book as if we'd never read it before, as if we'd never heard any teaching on it, or read any books about it. Together, let's start from scratch with the Revelation and see what God has for us.
B. Five Firm Footholds
So as we go back to the opening verses of this book, I want us to see this morning that what we find here are five principles that will help us as we seek to understand Revelation. If we return to the mountain climbing analogy we talked about earlier, I would describe what we find here as five firm footholds that will help us stay safe and make progress as we move toward the summit of Mount Revelation.
1. Foothold #1: Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1)
We see that right away, don't we? Look at those first two verses again: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,  who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
Above everything else, this book is about Jesus. Jesus is both the revealer and the One revealed. As we see here, God gave the revelation to Jesus, and Jesus reveals it, through His angel, to a man named John. (v. 2: “the testimony of Jesus Christ”)
The Greek word for “revelation” is the word apokalypsis (it's where our word apocalypse comes from). It's a fairly common word, used eighteen times throughout the New Testament. And it always retains that basic idea of something “revealed”, or “made known”; “manifested”. And in more than half of the verses where this word is used, it is explicitly connected with Jesus.
And so as we move through this book in the coming months, we should always be asking, not only “What is this passage revealing?”, but also, “What is this passage revealing about Jesus?”
2. Foothold #2: Revelation was Given to Seven Real Churches (1:1)
In verse 1 we read that Jesus is revealing this revelation for the sake of his “servants”, of whom John is included. But beyond John, who else was this message intended for? Well, if we were to skip ahead to verse 4, we read: John to the seven churches that are in Asia... And if we were to skip down even further, to verse 11, we find more specific information: “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
The churches for whom Revelation was given are churches in these seven cities in the west of the Roman province of Asia Minor (today, the country of Turkey). Furthermore, we know from verse 9 that John, the writer, is on an island called Patmos, which is right off the southwest coast of this very region. Additionally, the order of the churches, as they are listed in verse 11, is the order in which a courier would have delivered this letter, this message, to each of the cities.
Now, if we were to keep going this morning, and as we will see in the coming weeks, chapters 2 and three contain short letters from Jesus for each of these individual churches. And these letters confirm that these are very real churches with very real problems.
Why is all of this important? Because any time we study any book of the Bible, some of the basic questions we ask in order to understand the book are, “Do we know who wrote the book? Do we know the circumstances that prompted the book to be written?” And, “Do we know who the original recipient or recipients were? Who was the intended audience?”
Knowing that my letter was written to a spouse, or to a government official, or to a friend who is fighting in a war far away, knowing that would help you make better sense of what you would find in the letter itself. The same is true for the Revelation.
3. Foothold #3: Revelation was Conveyed Through Symbolic Number and Images (1:1)
Notice, in verses 1-3, the words used to describe the Revelation: it was intended “to show” the readers what “must soon take place” (v. 1). John bore witness to “all that he saw” (v. 2). It is described as a “prophecy” in verse 3. And if were to dig a bit deeper, we would discover that the original word used in verse 1, where we read that Jesus “made it know”, is a word, that literally means, “to give a sign”; “to signify” something.
It is words like these that prepare us for the reality that most of this book was conveyed to John in symbolic imagery. Now, it's important that we're clear about what John was seeing. John was not seeing images of a future reality or a spiritual reality that was completely foreign to him and that he was doing his best to describe. No. In this letter we find John describing exactly what he was shown.
And what he was shown were symbolic images, and symbolic actions, and symbolic numbers, that were specifically chosen, specifically designed in order to communicate certain specific ideas to John and the seven churches of Asia. Let me give you an example of what I mean. This is an example designed for you as the original audience. What you think if I told you...
“Behold, I looked and I saw a great eagle in the sky, large and bald, soaring above the clouds. And below, on the earth, a donkey and an elephant stood facing each other in conflict. Suddenly, there was a great earthquake. And after the earthquake, I looked, and behold, a fire came out of the earth and engulfed the elephant and the donkey. When this was complete, I saw the same creatures. But now, they were different.”
Now, if you were to guess, what do you think my vision was all about? Yes, the vision has to do with a coming 'shake-up' in the American political system; some major event that will actually refine both of the major political parties. But think about the significance of learning about this through this kind of symbolic message. It's very different than me just telling you about a political shake-up, right?
Well, even though this style of writing is fairly foreign to us, it was not in the ancient world; especially in Jewish circles. Starting with some of the Old Testament prophets (like Daniel and Ezekiel), and extending into the centuries right before the birth of Jesus , this kind of symbolic, image-based vision was well known to Jews and to the early church. And because the Revelation is the most well-known of all these writings, scholars refer to these kinds of visions as apocalyptic literature. Like the apokalypsis given to John, there are similarities between all of these biblical and non-biblical writings.
So even though this symbolic imagery can be confusing, the Revelation doesn't leave us in the dark. It gives us clues into what is happening in terms of symbolism. Look for example at verse 20 of chapter 1. After see a disturbing, but glorious vision of the Lord Jesus, walking among seven golden lampstands, holding seven stars in His right hand, we learn:
As for the mystery [the symbolism] of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels [or messengers] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
So as you see, the symbolism is explained for us. Along with this, we know from other parts of the Bible that the number seven is not simply a random occurrence here, but is a number that speaks of God's complete or perfect workmanship.
And there are explanations like this at other key places in the bookof the Revelation. Moreover, there are just enough of these (along with the Old Testament, as well as the words of Jesus...just enough) to give us a set of “symbolic glasses”, so we can think correctly about the other parts of what was revealed.
The key to understanding this letter, this vision, is to be consistent; to use the same approach to every passage that includes this kind of symbolic imagery. But that points us to yet another foothold.
4. Foothold #4: Revelation Should Always be Taken as a Whole (1:2)
As you will see (if you didn't already know this), this letter can be broken into a few different parts. At the beginning and end of the book, we find a clear introduction and conclusion. And as I already mentioned, in chapter 2 and 3, there are brief, individual letters to each of these churches. But the majority of the book, from chapter 4 to the beginning of chapter 22, is a series of visions.
Now, the common mistake is to, for all intents and purposes, separate these visions from the rest of the book. But as we read in verse 2, John “bore witness” to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. The whole book is the “testimony of Jesus”. All of it. The whole book is a “prophecy” (v. 3), which simply means, “a message that God has spoken forth”.
A basic principle of healthy Bible study is using what is most clear in Scripture to interpret what is less clear. That principle is very important in Revelation, because as we will see, the individual letters to the seven churches set the trajectory for where we're headed in terms of the rest of the letter. Finally...
5. Foothold #5: Revelation is Meant to be Kept (1:3)
Did you notice the blessing announced in verse 3:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
This blessing is the first of (not surprisingly) seven blessings given throughout the letter. But as you can see, this blessing is given, not only to those who read and/or hear the words of the Revelation, but to those “who keep what is written in it”. Do you think about the Revelation like that? Do you think about it as a message from God that is to be obeyed? How often do you ask yourself, “Am I keeping the Revelation?” or “What will it look like for me today to keep the Revelation?”
I can assure you, to “keep” Revelation does not mean being confident that you have every part of the book figured out. Let me give you an example of one thing Jesus calls us to keep in this Revelation He's given to us:
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,  he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb...”  Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Revelation 14:9, 10, 12)
Five firm footholds. Remember, without firm footholds, our ascent up the mountain can become dangerous and bogged down. In the same way, if we don't keep these things in mind and consistently apply them to our interpretation of this book, we will struggle, and possibly get spiritually detoured in the same way Paul warns Timothy about the kind of man who...
… is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions... (I Timothy 6:4)
III. Revelation and Revolution
Brothers and sisters, friends, let me encourage you this morning. God has spiritual vistas that He wants you to see through this Revelation. And when you see them, He wants you to be moved by them. He wants you to be changed by them. When true revelation is given TO you, there is always true revolution WITHIN you.
Think about it. The revelation of deception in our marriage changes us. The revelation of a deadly disease changes us. The revelation that your child is secretly struggling changes us. The revelation of a will from a long lost and very rich uncle changes us.
Will the Revelation of Jesus Christ revolutionize you? Well, wonderfully, you don't have to master the Book of the Revelation in order to experience the revolution that Jesus can bring. As we will see throughout this book, in one way or another, this book regularly brings us back to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those historical, monumental, earth-shattering realities are the foundation for everything this letter reveals.
And so when the astounding significance of the cross and the empty grave Jesus is REVEALED to you, there is revolution in your life. When you trust that Jesus did everything you could not do to make you right with God, when you trust that all you can do is believe Jesus did it all, when you trust that Jesus is the rightful King, when you embrace, by grace, through faith, the absolute forgiveness and amazing love God has for you, you can't help but be changed.
There is a blessing for you this morning. The blessing of life. Reach out for it in faith. And that blessing is to be enjoyed by all of us, even those who are already walking with Christ.
Are you ready for the ascent? Are you ready to head to the top of Mount Revelation? Let's ask God to help us on this journey, to prepare our hearts, so that our passionate goal would be to understand and keep this Revelation of Jesus.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)