The first thing that we see in this first chapter is the preface which John wrote to explain the purposes of the book. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” As mentioned above this is the preface of the grand conclusion of the Scriptures. Many men of God have mentioned the comparison of this book which is a description of the end with the book of beginnings, Genesis. In Genesis we do indeed see the beginning of the universe, of the human race, of nations, of Israel, and of other institutions and ideals. In the book of Revelation we have the final destiny of things. It was summed up by Jim Combs like this: “In Genesis, paradise is lost; in Revelation paradise is regained.” This is the spirit in which this preface of John is written. But moving past the things that have already been mentioned in our introduction let us note the following five points in this preface.
First we see the substance of the book in the words “the revelation of Jesus Christ….” What we learn from the title is that this unveiling has the Lord Jesus Christ as its central figure. We can take the title of the book here given in several ways. First, we can take it as Jesus Christ Himself being the revelation itself. It is Christ that is being revealed in this book this makes sense because it is ultimately His coming and His role as Savior and Judge of the earth that is the ultimate end of the book. In this book we have a treasury of names and titles that are given to Christ; the first, the last, the Alpha, the Omega, the one which is, was, and ever more shall be, etc. We see Christ as the “spirit of prophecy” in this book which agrees with all of the Scripture that declares that “the volume of the book is written of Him.” The whole of the Bible is dedicated to revealing Christ and the last book of the Bible does not swerve from that end and purpose. The Revelation is not a private prophecy but is intrinsically linked to the whole.
The title of the book also leads us to believe that Christ is also the Revealer of truth. It is this very idea that proceeds in the rest of this verse. All revelation itself comes from Christ. This is and always has been role of the second person in the Godhead. He is called the Word for He is the full expression of the invisible God just as a word is the full expression of an invisible thought. It is said of the Son that “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). We see the Father only by seeing Christ. Matthew recorded Christ as saying, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). This is what is meant in this first verse here when it says that the revelation was given to Him. He is the only mediator between God and men. He is the first revealer and all the angels and men that receive and pass on the word receive it first from Him. In His hands the bread is multiplied and then it is given into the hands of men and angels to distribute. “The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it” (Ps. 68:11).
But the title goes further than showing Christ to be the substance and the ultimate means of what is written; in this book for the title is zeroing in on the specific things or events that are revealed; things which “must shortly come to pass.” We should take this seriously. All of the things and events of this book are given to us by Christ. They are translated to us by John but Christ is the giver of this book. That is the claim of this book. Those who would reject the message of this book must also reject the ultimate giver of the message which is Christ Jesus Himself. These things were and are not cunningly devised fables given to us by fallible, blood thirsty, and vengeful men. These things are descriptions given to us by Christ. And that is the only reason that they are important and the only reason that they have such a blessing connected to them.
Secondly, we see in the preface the means of translating the book which is described in the following words: “which God gave unto him [Jesus Christ], to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John….” So we have the origin of the message in the title, the revelation of Jesus Christ. And we have the receivers of the message in the term “his servants.” It is interesting to note hear that the word “servants” is in plural here when it is in the singular when speaking about John at the end of this verse. The receiver of this message was not John the individual but all of the servants of Christ. Let those who claim that the Revelation should not be included in the cannon deal with the fact that the apostle John said that it was meant for all of the servants of Christ to read. It was meant for distribution to all saints. This word was meant for you and me. It was meant to be our resource for those things which must shortly or quickly come to pass. This book is all of ours and belongs in our Bible.
God wanted to show all of us what would be. This should excite us to study this book even more. But the words here in the preface that we see are not meant to focus on the origin or the end but the means of these truths being translated from one to the other. How did we receive this book? The description given here is that it was first God given (given to Christ), it was secondly Christ sent (given by Christ), and it was lastly apostle written (written by an apostle). Consider quickly these three. The word of God as a whole is God breathed or inspired of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (II Tim. 3:16). All Scripture is given of God and the claim of the book of Revelation is that it is also. Do not let men try to convince you that the apostles never claimed that their writings were given of God. Peter claimed the writings of Paul were. And John here boldly claims that his book is. We have here, if we so choose to believe, a “thus saith the Lord” contained in this book. And the word that is God given is given by the mediation of Christ as we have already seen in the above point. The revelation is given by God to Christ. Grace and truth comes from Christ alone. Secondly, the revelation is given by Christ. It was given by His angel to the one that wrote these words. Now we can take this word angel in many ways here. Jesus Christ is the Angel of the Lord and here in the first three chapters of this book it is Jesus Himself that is speaking to John. An angel may also be a simple messenger such as the pastors of the seven churches in chapter two and three. In the fourth chapter and beyond it is one of the elders that speaks and shows things to John. Or the word could be speaking of an actual angel which in the last few chapters of this book shows things unto John. Whichever means Christ used to give the word to John to write this book, Christ was the one that ultimately gave it. All of the New Testament is things that are given to us by Christ (John 16). Lastly, it is written by an apostle, John the servant of Christ. By the way this being a servant of Christ is the only title which John here gives of himself. Paul like John considered serving Christ his greatest calling and the one thing or chief thing that he wanted to be known as. But the point being is this, this is apostolic authority. The ultimate goal for Christ in our age is for us to have a book that was written by His chosen witnesses. This book, which later becomes known as the New Testament, would be the final authority for the Christian. This is our apostolic authority. And since we have the book in our hand we can add this one truth to this and that is that the book has been preserved by God as well; “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my [Christ] words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24). We as the servants of Christ still have what Christ wanted us to have through the means He decided to use.
The third thing that we see in this preface is the use of the book by John as described in these words: “Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” The visions of John were indeed mysterious. Harry Ironside pointed out the word “signified” used in the first verse goes further than just to show something but to show it with the use of symbols and signs. He said that it is indeed “a book of symbols” and that it takes diligence to handle and study these visions. These words come with a heavy burden to find the points of reference for the symbols used therein “somewhere else in the Bible.” The diligent job of comparing spiritual things with spiritual and studying line upon line comes with these words. The burden upon the hearer of these words, which is us, we will deal with momentarily.
But let us consider the burden upon the apostle that penned them. How he responded to these words is an example to us. It is this that he speaks of in these words. Our text said that he bore record. He stood as a witness to these things. The term “bare record” offer us a great word picture of bearing a burden. John bore the burden of being a witness for Christ. He took up the cross and followed Christ. In this text there are three distinct areas in which he bore record first of the word of God. He bore record to divine revelation. John stood up and said that boldly that the revelation came directly from God. As he said in the another book: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3). This John bore the burden of a prophet. He also bore record of the testimony of Jesus Christ. The word of God was that which he bore record from without; but the testimony of Jesus Christ was something from within him. In the Old Testament the testimony was that which was within the tabernacle and within the ark. It was indeed known as the ark of the testimony for within it was carried the law and the manna and the rod that budded. Here it is all that Christ did that John believed and received by faith. “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true” (John 3:33). It is described by Paul as something that is in the Christian: “Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you… (I Cor. 1:6). It is the testimony of the gospel itself where Christ suffered and died for our sins and rose again the third day. And it is particularly connected with us working that testimony out before the eyes of men; as the ark of the covenant was carried openly into battle in the days of old to signify the presence of God in the camp. Paul said this in his last letter: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God… (II Tim. 1:8). It is interesting that the word testimony as it is used in the rest of this book is connected with suffering and martyrdom and the word testimony itself, as it is translated, is the word marturian from which we get the word martyr. This is the cross which he willing bore and willingly took up. And it is later described as the reason which he was exiled to Patmos; the testimony of Christ. Therefore here he bore record as a Christian. And lastly he bore witness of the things that he saw; the things that he himself had experience from God. He is sharing with us what God has shown to him. He like Paul held back nothing that was profitable for us. He shared all things with us that he saw. In this he bore record as a minister to men. This is all any of us can do is bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced.
The fourth point in the preface concerns the blessing connected with the book as seen in these words: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein….” This is one of many beatitudes in the Scripture that belong to people who belong to the Lord. Happiness and blessedness belong to those who attend to the word of God. This same blessing could well be stated of all books in the Bible and so is connected with this one. The blessing belongs to those who give attendance to reading, even when your understanding is not as fruitful as you would hope. The blessing belongs to those who not only read but hear. Faith comes by hearing and the continued line of reasoning in this book is that he that has ears let him hear. I am afraid that there are many that who call themselves Christians who sit under preaching but never hear it. And the blessing does not only belong to those who read and hear the words given by God, specifically here in this book, but to those who keep, possess, or do the word of God. Henry said this: “It is not sufficient to our blessedness that we read and hear the scriptures, but we must keep the things that are written; we must keep them in our memories, in our minds, in our affections, and in practice, and we shall be blessed in the deed.” The blessing is not for those who merely hear the word but those who act on the word; those who receive it and make it their own, hence the word “keep.” Hearing stimulates our faith for the blessed hope.
And that brings us to the importance of the book which is captured in these words: “… for the time is at hand.” The importance of the words which we see in this particular book is that they are close to where we are. Some of the words find us right where we are in this age as we will see in the second and third chapters to the seven churches and in the suffering of persecution mentioned throughout this book. The unrestrained wrath of sin is ready to pour out over this world. The return of Christ is and always has been immanent. There is little if anything that stands in the way of the things which are written in this book from coming to pass. Christ preached that the kingdom of God is at hand when He was on this earth. And that coming is just as close today as it ever has been. And in this lies the importance of this book; to encourage the saints, to provoke the saints to good works, to warn the unruly to walk uprightly, and to insight our hope. Lift up your heads, the redemption draws nigh.