The first word of this book, Ἀποκάλυψις [Apokalypsis] , should be kept in mind by the reader throughout the book. For it is Gods intention to reveal rather than conceal:
In the New Testament, apokalypsis always has the majestic sense of Gods unveiling of himself to his creatures, an unveiling that we call by its Latin name revelation. . . . It depicts the progressive and immediate unveiling of the otherwise unknown and unknowable God to his church throughout the ages.2The clearness and lucidity (perspicuity) of the Scriptures is their consistent theme (Deu. Deu. 29:29; Pr. Pr. 13:13; Isa. Isa. 5:24; Isa. Isa. 45:19; Mtt. Mat. 11:25; Mtt. Mat. 24:15; Luke Luke 10:21, Luke 10:26; Luke 24:25; 2Ti. 2Ti. 3:16; 2Pe. 2Pe. 1:19). Yet if Scripture is meant to be understood, why do we have such a difficult time understanding it, and especially this book? Our problem is not so much the difficulty of understanding, but our own idolatry and rebellion. We are unwilling to study to know God and to submit in obedience to that which may be known. We are more interested in other pursuits than in seeking God through His revealed words of life (John John 6:63, John 6:68). As is often the case where Scripture is concerned, our inability to understand is more a reflection of our lack of zeal than the difficulty which attends the interpretation of Gods Word. When the average person in our country spends multiple hours in front of a television set daily, but just cant find the time to read Gods Word, the issue is not one of time management, but idolatry. When we come to this last book of Scripture, our lack of preparation is evidenced all the more because what God intends as revelation, we see as mystery. Yet Paul holds that revelation is the antithesis of mystery (Rom. Rom. 16:25). This book is not intended to be a veiled document full of mysterious symbols, but an unveiling and clarification of things which have heretofore not been revealed by God.3 In order to grasp the meaning of this revelation, we need a foundation in the rest of Scriptures, and especially the Old Testament. (See The Importance of the Old Testament.) There are several reasons why we believe that this book is not intended to be enigmatic. First, we believe that a chief purpose of God was the creation of language to communicate with man. If this is so, then the intellect of man and the clarity of language must be sufficient for this task:
If God is the originator of language and if the chief purpose of originating it was to convey His message to humanity, then it must follow that He, being all-wise and all-loving, originated sufficient language to convey all that was in His heart to tell mankind. Furthermore, it must also follow that He would use language and expect people to understand it in its literal, normal, and plain sense.4Second, we have the pattern established by the rest of Scripture. It is unthinkable to believe that God would speak with precision and clarity from Genesis to Jude, and then when it comes to the end abandon all precision and clarity.5 It is not Gods intention to train us how to read and understand 65 books of the Bible and then throw us a curve in the 66th book by expecting that we adopt an entirely different approach. (See the discussion regarding The Art and Science of Interpretation.) So it is our duty here to make sense of this book, based upon what related passages reveal concerning its central themes, while reading the text in the same way as the rest of Scripture.
of Jesus Christ
The central question surrounding this phrase is whether Jesus Christ is the source of the revelation (subjective genitive) or being described by the revelation (objective genitive). Elsewhere, a very similar Greek phrase ἀποκαλύψεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [apokalypseōs Iēsou Christou] is used by Paul: For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. Gal. 1:12).6 It would seem that in Galatians the genitive Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [Iēsou Christou] is subjective rather than objective, for Paul is discussing the source of his revelatory knowledge. It did not come through man, nor was it taught, but it came through the revelation of Jesus. Jesus was the source of Pauls revelation, not man. In favor of the objective genitive (Jesus as the object being revealed), is the oft-expressed longing of the NT writers for His appearing (1Cor. 1Cor. 1:7; 2Th. 2Th. 1:7; 1Pe. 1Pe. 1:7). In these passages, the appearing of Jesus is referred to as the revelation of Jesus Christ. Apart from the glimpses provided within this book and elsewhere in the NT, the true character and glory of Christ is yet hidden. When He appears, His glory will no longer be veiled and all men everywhere will understand that He is God.7 If context is king in interpretation, then the next phrase would indicate we are to take this as the subjective genitive: which God gave Him to show His servants.8 The emphasis here is on Jesus Christ as the source of the revelation being given to John. Wallace suggests the possibility that this is a plenary genitive indicating the revelation is both from Christ and about Christ.9 However, as Thomas has observed, such an understanding violates the basic interpretive principle that the original author had only one intended meaning.10 The context favors the subjective genitive (the revelation is from Jesus Christ), but we should be aware that throughout Scripture, Jesus is involved with revelation in at least three ways:
- He is the source of revelation (Gal. Gal. 1:12; 1Pe. 1Pe. 1:11; Rev. Rev. 1:1+).
- He is the object of revelation (Luke Luke 24:44; 1Cor. 1Cor. 1:7; 2Th. 2Th. 1:7; 1Pe. 1Pe. 1:7; Rev. Rev. 1:11-18+; Rev. 5:6-10+; Rev. 19:11-16+). Many fail to see the centrality of Jesus Christ in this volume. . . . [Some] become preoccupied with the identification of events and persons other than our Lord. Many seem to be more interested in the Antichrist than in Jesus Christ.11
- His incarnation is the revelation of God to man (Isa. Isa. 9:1-2; John John 1:14, John 1:18; John 12:45; John 14:8-9; Col. Col. 1:15; Col. 2:9; Heb. Heb. 1:2; 1Jn. 1Jn. 1:2).
which God gave Him
Some have taken this as an indication that Jesus did not know the content of the Revelation which was provided by the Father. When Jesus came in the incarnation, He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Php. Php. 2:7). Between His birth of the virgin Mary and His ascension to the Father, Jesus exhibited traits of His humanity. As a child, He grew in stature and wisdom (Luke Luke 2:40, Luke 2:52). He learned by the things that He suffered (Heb. Heb. 5:8), and when speaking to His disciples concerning His Second Coming, He admitted of limitations to His earthly knowledge: But of that Day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [emphasis added] (Mark Mark 13:32). Yet these characteristics of His humanity were recorded prior to His ascension and glorification (John John 16:14; John 17:5). It seems unlikely that Jesus, the very Source of the Spirit of Christ who testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that would follow (1Pe. 1Pe. 1:11) and the Agent of what is revealed to John (Rev. Rev. 1:10+), would lack the information related in this book. It seems best to understand the revelation as a gift from the Father which recognizes the role distinctions within the Trinity (John John 5:20; 1Cor. 1Cor. 15:28). The members of the Trinity are co-equal, yet occupy different roles within the plan and purposes of God. Here, the Father gives revelation to the Son. To the unfamiliar reader, this might seem to imply an inferior position of Jesus in relation to the Father. Not so. Within the Trinity there is a beautiful harmony of perfect cooperation to affect Gods purpose. The submission of the Son to the Father is that of a perfect voluntary servanthood (Isa. Isa. 49:6; Isa. 50:10; Isa. 52:13; Isa. 53:11; Mtt. Mat. 12:18; John John 5:19). It is by this motivation that Jesus delivers His kingdom to God the Father (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:24-28). It was the love of Jesus both for mankind and to fulfill the will of the Father which caused him to make Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Php. Php. 2:7). This is to be the model of those who follow Him. We submit not because it is required, but out of obedience to His Word and a desire to follow His example.12
to show His servants
The Revelation is not just for John, nor just for the Seven Churches of Asia, but for all saints of all ages. Here, then, in the Prologue are five links in the chain of authorship: God, Christ, his angel, his servant John, and those servants to whom John addressed his book [the seven churches and the saints of all ages].13 The revelation is to be shown to His servants (literally, slaves). These are they who hear His voice (John John 10:3, John 10:16, John 10:27; Acts Acts 22:14; Heb. Heb. 3:7, Heb. 3:15; Heb. 4:7) and respond in faith. Those who lack faith in the Son are unable to comprehend what is shown here:
This is why unbelievers find the book of Revelation incomprehensible; it was not intended for them. It was given by the Father to the Son to show to those who willingly serve Him. Those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord cannot expect to comprehend this book. A natural man, explains Paul, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (1Cor. 1Cor. 2:14).14For more on the spiritual conditions necessary for an understanding of this book and the Scriptures in general, see Hiding or Revealing?.
The things which God has prophesied are guaranteed to transpire (Dan. Dan. 2:29, Dan. 2:45; Mtt. Mat. 24:6; Mat. 26:54; Mark Mark 13:7; Luke Luke 21:9) for Scripture cannot be broken (John John 10:35). The things which transpire here are not without Scriptural foundation and this is the very reason they must take place. See Related Passages and Themes.
shortly take place
Shortly is ἐν τάχει [en tachei] . Considerable discussion attends the meaning of this phrase. Three alternatives are before us:
- The phrase requires all of the events set forth in the book to have transpired within the lifetimes of Johns initial readers (the preterist interpretation).
- The phrase denotes events which may be in the distant future, but which transpire in rapid sequence once they begin.
- The phrase denotes closeness in time, but from Gods perspective.
- he will avenge them speedily (Luke Luke 18:8) God will avenge His elect who cry out day and night though he bears long with them.
- Arise quickly (Acts Acts 12:7)
- going there shortly (Acts Acts 25:4)
- get out of Jerusalem quickly (Acts Acts 22:18)
- And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly (Rom. Rom. 16:20)
- I hope to come to you shortly (1Ti. 1Ti. 3:14)
- things which must shortly take place (Rev. Rev. 22:6+) (after which Jesus says I am coming quickly ἔρχομαι ταχύ [erchomai tachy] )
Gentry cites Revelation Rev. 22:7-9+ as a reference to the yet future second coming. This creates a contradiction within Gentrys brand of preterism. Since Revelation Rev. 22:6+ refers to the whole book of Revelation, it would be impossible to take tachos as a reference to A.D. 70 (as Gentry does) and at the same time hold that Revelation Rev. 22:7-9+ teaches the second coming.15As Mills observes, it is impossible to restrict the sense of en tachei to the lifetime of Johns readers:16
The Greek noun translated shortly is used only twice in Revelation, once in Rev. Rev. 1:1+ and again in Rev. 22:6+, thus effectively bracketing the whole book. The prophecies bracketed by these shortlys include letters addressed to churches that existed two millennia ago (chapters 2-3), clear descriptions of Christs physical return to this earth (Rev. Rev. 1:7+; 19:19-27 [sic ]), and a prediction of His reign on earth for one thousand years (Rev. Rev. 20:4+). Both uses of this word, then, must be understood as having the same sense and yet embrace, at the absolute minimum, a period of nearly three millennia. Therefore, only two interpretations present themselves: either, when the events start occurring they will proceed rapidly, or that the whole sweep of history is seen from a divine perspective in which one thousand years is as but a day (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:8). [emphasis added]17The use of this same verb within the LXX also provides evidence for a long delay in fulfillment:
It is significant to note that the Septuagint uses tachos in passages which even by the most conservative estimations could not have fulfillments within hundreds or even thousands of years. For example, Isaiah Isa. 13:22 . . . was written around 700 B.C. and foretold the destruction of Babylon, which occurred at the earliest in 539 B.C. Similarly, Isaiah Isa. 5:26 speaks of the manner, not the time frame, by which the Assyrian invasion of Israel will come with speed swiftly.18Since en tachei can span long periods of time, the question then becomes one of whether it denotes the manner in which events will transpire (rapidly) or the certainty and imminency attending the events?
It may be that the stress [in Rev. Rev. 22:20+] is on the certainty of the coming or on the immediacy of the coming. But ones view does not hinge on the futuristic present, but on the adverb ταχύ [tachy] . The force of the sentence may then mean, Whenever I come, I will come quickly, in which case the stress is on the certainty of the coming (cf. Matt Mat. 28:8). Or, it may mean, I am on my way and I intend to be there very soon.19Some understand the primary meaning of en tachei in this passage as denoting the manner in which the events transpire:
tachy does not mean soon but swiftly. It indicates rapidity of action, as is well seen in its accurate use in the medical compound tachycardia (tachy and kardia = the heart), which does not mean that the heart will beat soon, but that it is beating rapidly. Of course, the swift action may take place at the very same time, as in Mtt. Mat. 28:7-8 . . .G. H. Lang, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Selected Studies (Miami Springs, FL: Conley & Schoettle Publishing Co., 1945, 1985), 387-88.20
Not only is there a preponderance of lexical support for understanding the tachos family as including the notion of quickly or suddenly, there is also the further support that all the occurrences in Revelation are adverbs of manner. These terms are not descriptive of when the events will occur and our Lord will come, but rather, descriptive of the manner in which they will take place when they occur.21
Both futurists and nonfuturists . . . agree that the idea of tachos here has to do with swiftness of execution when the prophetic events begin to take place. . . . Both certainty and rapidity of action are involved here. Whatever seeming delay there is, action is certain and it will be swift.22Although this meaning is possible, it does not seem to be the best understanding of the meaning here because, To say that the relief will come suddenly offers no encouragement, but to say that it will come soon does.23 It seems more likely that en tachei emphasizes the certainty and imminency of the events:24
The presence of en tachei in Rev. Rev. 1:1+ shows that for the first time the events predicted by Daniel and foreseen by Christ stood in readiness to be fulfilled. Therefore, John could speak of them as imminent, but earlier prophets could not.25
Either tachus means that when the events occur they will be rapid, or the whole sweep of history is seen from a divine perspective where one thousand years is as but a day (2Pe. 2Pe. 3:8). The latter must be preferred as the former leaves unresolved the tension that part of Revelation relates to churches that existed two millennia ago. This understanding readily accepts as completely honest and trustworthy the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ; expressed in human terms, then, tachus denotes imminence and not immediacy. The irony of this situation is that those scholars who take tachus literally end up allegorizing the text, and those scholars who take the text literally end up seeking an unusual meaning for this word! The only satisfactory position I can see is therefore to regard tachus as being used in a technical sensea sense understood as being within the whole biblical framework of the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ.26See Imminency.
Ἐσήμανεν [Esēmanen] . The same root word is used in John John 12:33, σημαίνων [sēmainōn] , where Jesus describes His death on the cross by indicating He will be lifted up from the earth in the same way as Moses lifted up the serpent on a pole. Elsewhere, Agabus indicated by the Spirit that there was to be a worldwide famine (Acts Acts 11:28). The appearance of this term does not justify a departure from the Golden Rule of Interpretation when interpreting symbols as some hold. It merely indicates a way of communicating which includes symbol or analogy. Although symbols occur, they reside within a textual framework which is subject to normative interpretation with due recognition of the meaning conveyed by the symbols. This symbolism . . . in no way gives license for a departure from the normal grammatical-historical system of hermeneutics. To clarify this point Govett proposes that esemanen be translated represent. The revelation given to John, symbolic though it be, is to be interpreted just as one would interpret the rest of the Bible.27 This term evidently meant a kind of communication that is neither plain statement nor an attempt at concealment. It is figurative, symbolic, or imaginative, and is intended to convey truth by picture rather than by definition.28 The revelation has already been signified from the perspective of the reader: Johns use of the aorist emartyresen, then, is best explained by his adoption of the perspective of his readers in regard to his composition of this book. When they received it, his testimony as recorded in its pages would be a thing of the past.29 See Interpreting Symbols.
An angelic host shows John the Revelation. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues (Rev. Rev. 21:9+). This angel was specifically sent to show John the things which must shortly take place (Rev. Rev. 22:6+, Rev. 22:16+). Here, as elsewhere in Scripture, an angel serves as the intermediary by which revelation is given to man:
Angels were used for the revelation of the Law of Moses (Acts Acts 7:53; Gal. Gal. 3:19; Heb. Heb. 2:2). They were active in the presenting of the prophetic truth to Daniel (Dan. Dan. 7:16-27; Dan. 8:16-26; Dan. 9:20-27; Dan. 10:1-Dan. 12:13) and to Zechariah (Zec. Zec. 1:9; Zec. 2:3; Zec. 4:1, Zec. 4:5; Zec. 5:5; Zec. 6:4, Zec. 6:5). Angels were used to announce the birth of John to Zacharias (Luke Luke 1:11-20) and the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke Luke 1:26-38) and to Joseph (Mtt. Mat. 1:20-21).30Some suggest that the angel actively contributed to the train of visionary events which passed before John:
The office of the angel, as I take it, was, to form the connection between Johns senses or imagination and the things which he was to describe, making to pass in review before him what was only afterwards to take place in fact. How this was done, I cannot say: but as the devil could take Jesus to a high mountain and show him at one view all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, I am sure that it falls sufficiently within the sphere of angelic natures thus to picture things to man; and that when commissioned of the Lord for the purpose, no good angel is wanting in ability to be the instrument in making John see whatever visions he describes in this book.31This seems unlikely given that John was said to be in the Spirit (Rev. Rev. 1:10+)the Holy Spirit is elsewhere the agent by which such visionary events are presented. The phrase And I saw. . . occurs no less than forty times.32 This indicates Johns primary role as a scribe rather than an author.
1 As teachers, our primary calling is to make the Scriptures known. The best defense is a strong offense.
3 To be sure, many aspects of this revelation are set forth elsewhere in Scripture, but not in the completeness or sequence shown John.
5 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 1:1.
7 Some accept the words as if they were meant to express the revealment of the Revelation. This I take to be a mistake . . . It is not the Apocalypse which is the subject of the disclosure. This book is not the Apocalypse of the Apocalypse, but THE APOCALYPSE OF JESUS CHRIST. . . . If The Revelation of Jesus Christ meant nothing more than certain communications made known by Christ, I can see no significance or propriety in affixing this title to this book, rather than to any other books of holy Scripture. Are they not all alike the revelation of Jesus Christ, in this sense? Does not Peter say of the inspired writers in general, that they were moved by the Spirit of Christ which was in them? Why then single out this particular book as The Revelation of Jesus Christ, when it is no more the gift of Jesus than any other inspired book?J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 16. These opening words in the book present two major ideas about Christ. First, this book is an unveiling by or from Him, that is, a revelation of the future that God gave Him to give to us through His servant. Second, the book is an unveiling concerning Jesus Christ, an unveiling in which God makes known to us the future and Christs role in it. The second of these seems more prominent. Though this book certainly is a revelation by Jesus Christ, it is foremost a revelation or unveiling of Him.Harold D. Foos, Christology in the Book of Revelation, in Mal Couch, ed., A Bible Handbook to Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 104.
8 So [Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906)], [M. R. Vincent, Vincents Word Studies (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2002)], and [A. T. Robertson, Robertsons Word Pictures in Six Volumes (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2003)].
9 Is the revelation that which comes from Christ or is it about Christ? In Rev. Rev. 22:16+ Jesus tells John that his angel was the one proclaiming the message of the book to John. Thus, the book is certainly a revelation from Christ (hence, we may have a subjective genitive in Rev. Rev. 1:1+). But the revelation is supremely and ultimately about Christ. Thus, the genitive in Rev. Rev. 1:1+ may also be an objective genitive. The question is whether the author intended both in Rev. Rev. 1:1+. Since this is the title of his bookintended to describe the whole of the workit may well be a plenary genitive.Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999, 2002), 120.
10 Wallace has fallen into the same pit as have so many others by his neglect of the basics of hermeneutics. One of his glaring errors violates the principle of single meaning. In his consideration of a category he calls the Plenary Genitive, he labors the point that a particular passages construction may be at the same time both objective genitive and subjective genitive. . . . Wallace consciously rejects the wisdom of past authorities . . . His volume could have been helpful, but this feature makes it extremely dangerous.Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2002), 158.
12 This equality among the persons of the Trinity while fulfilling different roles well-illustrates the principle of equality of value, but difference in role so essential to the biblical family unit. The man and the women are absolutely equal in value before God, yet occupy different roles if the harmony and synergy God intended is to come to fruition in the family unit. The man is to be the leader (1Cor. 1Cor. 11:3; Eph. Eph. 5:22-24; Col. Col. 3:18) while demonstrating sacrificial love toward his wife (Eph. Eph. 5:25; Col. Col. 3:19). This delicate balance within the family unit requires selflessness. It is selfishness which factors large in divorce.
14 MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Rev. 1:1.
16 An exception to this statement can be made in the case of full preterism which holds that the entire book of Revelation has already been fulfilled. But this is outside of orthodox Christianity.
17 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), s.v. Introduction.
26 Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 1:1.
31 Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 20.