Who, What, When? – Revelation 1:1-6 10/11/20

Who, What, When? – Revelation 1:1-6 10/11/20

We will be starting a rather extensive series in the Revelation this week. As we consider wading into the mysteries of the Revelation, we’ll find there will be times that the best we can do is simply admit we don’t know what some specific passage is telling us. That’s ok. Whether we understand the symbolism or hidden message or timing, there will always be something that applies to our daily lives.

There is one foundational truth that we can use as we examine the strange, the bazaar, and the mysterious aspects of Revelation. That is God’s love. This is the foundational characteristic of our God;[1] 1 John 4:16 ~

16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.[2]

God always acts consistent with His nature. Therefore we can expect that even the horrific images of the book of Revelation will serve as a frame for God’s love. With that, our full text today is Revelation 1:1-6, which as usual, I will leave to you to look up. At the outset, note that “Revelation” is singular; it is not “Revelations.[3] It reveals Jesus Christ in His glory as our Savior, as our Great High Priest, as our King, and as the One who is in complete control.[4]

The word, “revelation,” is (Ἀποκάλυψις)[5] in Greek. In the New Testament, the word is used exclusively in the religious sense of divine disclosure.[6] It references laying bare what was previously unknown, a disclosure of truth.[7]

So, right out the gates we run across a potential problem; Revelation 1:1b and the statement that these things must take place “shortly.” The word is (τάχει)[8] and means “quickly,” “shortly,” or “soon.”[9] It most often pertains to a point of time followed another point of time with a relatively brief interval between the two.[10] What do we do with that? We start by looking at the grammar. Here the word is a noun in the dative case which normally functions as the indirect object of some verb, or as the object of a preposition.[11] It serves to reference the person or thing that is given something, or that receives the action of another.[12] Here it is the object of the preposition “in” (ἐν) within the infinitive clause “take place in a short time.”

Now, this may be understood in a number of ways. I seems to me that the most natural reading is that this will take place in a short period of time after it was written: i.e. within a few years. Remembering that this was written somewhere around 1,950 years ago, this creates some problems. The vast majority Christians in the western hemisphere are still waiting for these events to take place. Now honestly, there’s virtually no standard of time measurement that would argue that nearly 2000 years could in any way be argued to be “soon.”

So, how do we understand this? Was Jesus wrong? There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, most of us are unfamiliar with our world histories. There are events in history that could be reasonably interpreted to be the fulfillment of much of the Revelation. A number of scholars, good conservative scholars with a commitment to the inspiration of the word of God, make the argument that these things in the Revelation have, in fact, already taken place. Events under the reign of Nero in the 70’s fit very well. Events that took place under Domitian in the 90’s also fit very well.

This is known as the Preterist view of eschatology; this interpretive approach sees Jesus’ prophesies about His return and the destruction of the temple, and the Revelation, as having been, from John’s perspective, in the future, but from our perspective, as being completed in the past.[13] Having said that, I don’t find the Preterist view to be compelling. Some, maybe even many, of the events that took place under Roman rule fit very well with the things described. However, the historic events that the Preterists point to as having been fulfilled in the Revelation seem, to me, to fail to match the global nature of the events described, an example of this is Revelation 8:7 with one-third of all trees dying. Even granting symbolic language and apocalyptic hyperbole, the scope of this and the following passages seem to go beyond the historic events that took place under Nero or Domitian.

So, do we have to ignore the presence of the word “shortly” (τάχει)[14] in the text? Not at all. As we look at grammar and word meanings, we find something interesting. It could be that (τάχει),[15] “soon,” is actually intended to mean “quickly.” This is a perfectly legitimate translation, and is grammatically acceptable.[16] The passage may then be interpreted to say that, once these things begin, it will all take place quickly.[17]

Having said that, there is, finally, an alternative way to interpret the text of Revelation 1:1. Rather than simply looking at the grammar, we can also consider the genre. The genre of apocalypse is used heavily in this book. When dealing with eschatology and apocalyptic language, the future is always seen as immanent regardless of the intervening lapse of time.[18] In apocalyptic literature, time as a chronological sequence is, at best, a secondary concern.[19] “Soon” simply means that it could take place at any time.[20]

Having said that, a word of caution is in order. It would seem the original audience understood these events to be imminent, that is, within most of their lifetimes. That remains the most natural reading.[21] So draw your conclusions with caution.

Then, at last, we find out who the specific recipients of the letter are; Revelation 1:4a. Now, “Asia” was a reference to what we think of as Asia Minor, mostly the western region of modern day Turkey.[22] There's no mystery in that. But why just seven churches? These were literal, real, churches that existed during the first century.[23] But surely there were others. We know there were. After all, we’ve just spent sixteen weeks studying the letter to the Colossians, and that church was in this region.

Some have seen each of the churches to symbolically stand for different church ages down through history.[24] Ephesus would prophetically stand in the place of all churches during the apostolic period up to around A.D. 95.[25] Smyrna represents the martyred church which would last until about A.D. 316 and Constantine.[26] The next periods become more difficult to find agreement on… until we get to Laodicea and the present period of lukewarm apostasy.[27]

Here’s the catch, there’s nothing in the text that suggests this is John’s intent.[28] What’s more, there is an interesting detail; the churches are listed in the order they would have been visited if you were to start in Ephesus and follow the ancient travel circuit ending in Laodicea.[29] The truth is, in every church age examples of each of these churches may be found.[30] Personally, I find the speculation about symbolic church ages to be relatively unimportant. Whether they symbolically stand for something or not, we can learn from what Jesus had to say to them in very much the same way we learned from what Jesus had to say to the church in Colossi.

Take another look at Revelation 1:5b-6. This Jesus loves us with an unshakable and sacrificing love. Because of that love He has cleansed us of sin in every respect; he has taken the penalty for our sin, its power is broken through Him, and, ultimately, we will no longer deal with the presence of sin. In love ,Jesus has appointed each of us to be both kings and priests to God the Father. I encourage you to spend some time this week meditating on Revelation 1:5b-6, think about this Person who loves us so much that He would do what He did, that He would suffer what He suffered, so that we could enjoy Him forever. That will give you the right lenses to read the rest of the Revelation with.

And then, with the angelic hosts, you will be ready to ascribe to Him glory and dominion forever and ever.

[1] Leif Hetland, Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes: A Worldview that will Transform Your Life, (Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., Shippensburg, PA.: 2011), 126. [2] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Jn 4:16. [3] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 887. [4] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 887. [5]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 1:1. [6] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 416. [7] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1995). [8]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 1:1. [9] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998). [10] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 635. [11] Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013). [12] Michael S. Heiser and Vincent M. Setterholm, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology (Lexham Press, 2013; 2013). [13] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 416. [14]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 1:1. [15]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 1:1. [16] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 416. [17] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 888. [18] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 416. [19] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 41. [20] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 417. [21] John Noē, Unraveling the End: A Balanced Scholarly Synthesis of Four Competing and Conflicting End Time Views, (East2West Press, Indianapolis, IN.: 2014. 349. [22] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 889. [23] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 418. [24] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 418. [25] Richard Eckley, Revelation: A Commentary for Bible Students, Wesleyan Commentary Series, gen. publisher, Donald Cady, exec. Ed., David Holdren, managing ed., Lawrence Wilson, theological ed., Stephen Lennox, snr. ed., Darlene Teague, (Wesleyan Publishing House, Indianapolis, IN.: 2006), 41. [26] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 419. [27] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 419. [28] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 419-420. [29] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 420. [30] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 420.

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