Revelation 1:1 “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,
2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
Before diving in, I would like to address a few preconceptions that many will be carrying in their minds as they read this:
1). This is not a new interpretation of Revelation. Most of what is presented has been represented throughout church history to one degree or another. By contrast, many of the popular ideas and interpretations of the modern day have not been around very long. That does not automatically mean other interpretations are wrong. It just means I did not make this up last night.
2). Regardless of the light in which this presentation may cast your favorite preachers and authors, I am not calling anyone’s integrity, intelligence, or faith into question.
3). As there is a wealth of treasure to be found in Revelation, there is not a single correct interpretation of the book—there is instead a single correct theme. Revelation may be illuminated by the Holy Spirit to convey a number of things—the only caveat is that one must not add to or subtract from its central theme. In other words, as long as you’re taking into account everything within the book, then you probably aren’t too far from the mark (no pun intended).
4.) This is not an exhaustive exegesis of Revelation’s content, but rather an overview of how the book was intended to be read. This may undermine certain doctrines and theologies at first glance, but doctrine is not the issue here. Doctrine sorts itself out when we properly understand Scripture, and few doctrines, if any, rely solely on one book of the Bible.
5.) I unapologetically defer to the times in which the book was written. Revelation was intended to be disseminated and dispersed on a mass scale, in contrast to Old Testament prophecies such as Daniel which were intended to be held in secret until the appointed time. The meaning of Revelation is one which would’ve been immediately understood and relevant to the original readers, although that primary context certainly does not exclude readers of any other age. To put it simply, Revelation can never mean to us what it would never have meant to the original recipients.
I could add more, but brevity is my aim. Suffice it to say, I encourage you to prayerfully consider all claims and messages taken from the book of Revelation, no matter the source.
Prologue (Revelation 1:1-8)
To return to the beginning, in the first phrase of the book, the author establishes the purpose even before introducing himself: This revelation is about Jesus Christ in particular—everything introduced after these words is subjective to the person and identity of Jesus. This means that when interpreting the words and symbols, one must keep Jesus as the focal point. This also underscores the original recipients—these are the words from Jesus addressed to specific people, some of whom are even identified by name.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ was delivered via an angel to John at the command of God (meaning that the “of Jesus Christ” does in fact mean the book is about Jesus Christ, and not just that it came from Him). Revelation contains “things which must soon take place,” things which will bless (in the original Greek meaning, “make glad”) those who heed them because the “time is short.” The English “blessed” often has a mystical meaning to it, but when used in the Greek New Testament, there is nothing supernatural about it, as “blessed” simply means “glad” or “happy.”
How is Revelation a happy book?
The book was intended to uplift a struggling Christian community suffering under the heel of multiple oppressive Roman emperors. To provide a little perspective in the timeline of the first century: Jesus was born likely just a couple years B.C., then crucified around A.D. 30; Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70; and most the apostles were martyred in the meantime. Revelation was most likely written just before Jerusalem was destroyed. That’s a generation since Jesus’ earthly ministry—some 40 years of waiting for Jesus to come back—while in the meantime, Christians were being imprisoned, exiled, robbed, and executed. At the time of Revelation’s writing and distribution, a Christian’s very life was placed in jeopardy for their faith.
Since first-century Christians already had it worse than most of today’s Western Christians can imagine, we must conclude Revelation was not a warning of a future persecution that paled in comparison to their own. Rather it was in part an answer to the question—“Where is Jesus amidst all of our suffering?” When understood in that light, Revelation serves as a direct answer to the philosophical objections to Christianity known as the “Problem of Pain” and the “Problem of Evil.”
Essentially, if you are frightened, discouraged, or dismayed by what you read in Revelation, then you aren’t reading it correctly, since Revelation was intended to encourage the persecuted Body of Christ. Any interpretation which ventures outside that purview to the original recipients needs to start over.
Once he has made the purpose and intent clear, John introduces himself as merely the messenger in a story shown him by Jesus through an angelic intermediary. The story is conveyed in a series of visions, the first of which comes while he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” It’s unlikely that John had much means for fellowship with other believers during his exile to Patmos, so he held fellowship directly with the Lord. While he was “in the Spirit,” John heard a voice behind him. The revelation which followed is comprised of seven visions which portray a singular theme from multiple vantage points, lengths, and levels of magnification.