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Revelation 1:3

Blessed is he
Luther’s comments underscore the need for a consistently literal interpretation of this book: “Even if it were a blessed thing to believe what is contained in it, no man knows what that is.”1 For if different interpretive views render wholly different meanings, then what blessing could be derived and how could the prophecy be kept? How can one keep what one is not sure one has in the first place? One reason for such blessing is undoubtedly to be found in the close ties between this book and all the rest of Scripture: “The reason is easy to understand. Since so much of this book is based on the Old Testament, a proper study of it will require a study of the Old Testament, resulting in a more comprehensive knowledge of the Bible.”2 This is one of seven unique blessings found in Revelation for:
  1. He who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy (Rev. Rev. 1:3+).
  2. The dead who die in the Lord during part of the Tribulation (Rev. Rev. 14:13+).
  3. He who watches and keeps his garments (Rev. Rev. 16:15+).
  4. Those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. Rev. 19:9+).
  5. He who has part in the first resurrection (Rev. Rev. 20:6+).
  6. He who keeps the words of this prophecy (Rev. Rev. 22:7+).
  7. Those who do His commandments (Rev. Rev. 22:14+).
See commentary on Revelation 1:1 regarding the perspicuity of Scripture.

he who reads and those who hear
The phrase denotes a single reader who reads the letter out loud in the midst of a congregation of listeners. At the time the book was written, writing materials were expensive and scarce. Nor was there an inexpensive means for producing copies of a written document—tedious copying by hand being the means of replication. Generally, a Christian assembly might only have access to a single copy of a document so written works were often read so that their contents might be accessible to the wider assembly.3

the words
The message of God is not conveyed by some existential and personal encounter. Rather, it is conveyed by words. God has specifically chosen normative language as the mode for communicating what He wants us to know and keep. This is the basis for the Golden Rule of Interpretation discussed in the introduction. Scripture makes plain that the Word of God is a detailed message conveyed by individual words , not mere concepts (Jos. Jos. 8:35; Jer. Jer. 26:2; Mtt. Mat. 5:18; Luke Luke 16:17; John John 5:46; John John 17:8; Acts Acts 24:14; Rom. Rom. 3:2; Rom. Rom. 16:26; 1Cor. 1Cor. 14:37; Rev. Rev. 22:7+, Rev. 22:18-19+). Jesus Himself said that not one jot or one tittle will “pass from the law till all be fulfilled” (Mtt. Mat. 5:18). A “jot” refers to the smallest Hebrew character: י, yod. A “tittle” is the fraction of a pen stroke which distinguishes similar Hebrew characters, for example the tiny overhang in the upper right which distinguishes a dalet ( ד ) from a resh ( ר ). This tiny pen stroke distinguishes words which appear almost identical, but with meanings as different as “to stand” ( אָמַד [ʾāmaḏ] ) and “to speak” ( אָמַר [ʾāmar] ). It has become fashionable to promote the idea that Scripture conveys information primarily at the level of concepts rather than words. But one must appreciate that the building blocks for expressing thoughts are individual words. And without the precision of individual words, both in their meaning and preservation, the thoughts and intent of the original author cannot be reliably determined . This, in part, explains the emphasis of Scripture on the very words themselves as evidenced by the reliance of Jesus on grammatical subtleties in His arguments employing the Scriptures (Mtt. Mat. 22:31, Mat. 22:42-45; John John 10:35; Gal. Gal. 3:16). The importance of the individual words of Scripture is also illustrated by the sober warning which attends those who would add or remove words from this prophecy given to John. This is the heart of the issue as to which translation is best suited for study. It is our view, and that of others knowledgeable on the subject, that the best translation is one which follows a policy of formal equivalence where the very meaning of the individual words is preserved as closely as possible. While it is an undeniable fact that all translations involve interpretation by the translators, some translations involve more interpretation than others. It is these translations, which employ thought-for-thought dynamic equivalence, which are to be avoided:

There is an Italian proverb which says, “Translators are traitors” (Traddutore, traditore; “Translators, traitors”), and it’s true. All translation loses meaning. All translators are traitors to the actual meaning. There is no such thing as a noninterpretive translation. . . . Are you going to translate words [formal equivalence] and be interpretive, or are you going to translate meaning [dynamic equivalence] and be more interpretive? [emphasis added]4

The concept is this: as a disciple of Jesus Christ, we want the minimum distance between the inspired inerrant text and our own understanding. A word-for-word (formal equivalence) translation tends to minimize the interpretive layer which separates us from the original. A thought-for-thought translation (dynamic equivalence) steps in to interpret things for us. What is particularly damaging about the latter is that ambiguity in the text—involving issues that we as students of the Word need to wrestle with and recognize involves ambiguity—is masked by the interpretive decisions of the thought-for-thought translators. In effect, they are performing both translation and interpretation. It is the latter which we seek to minimize:

Translators have to ask themselves, “What am I going to do with ambiguity?” If the Greek or Hebrew isn’t clear, when it can mean several different things, what am I going to do? The KJV, NASB, RSV, and ESV generally answer that question, “Leave it alone. If we can reproduce in English the same ambiguity that is present in the Greek, then we will leave it ambiguous. We will not make up the reader’s mind.” On the other hand, the NIV will not leave any ambiguity. They make up the reader’s mind whenever they feel it is necessary, and the NLT goes to even greater lengths than the NIV.5

One helpful rule of thumb on this matter is as follows: the only reliable translations for detailed study are those which include italicized words. These translations use formal equivalence as evidenced by the italicized words which signify phrases and conjunctions added by the translators for clarity of reading, but for which no corresponding words exist in the original language text. This also helps the careful student to know when he is standing on solid ground (words not in italics) or thin ice (italicized phrases).6 Now it is certainly true that every believer is a “translation” of God’s Word and not necessarily a word-for-word representation. God uses our testimony, even though imperfect, to witness of Christ and the Bible to others around us. This is as it should be. We need not always carry a Bible with us and read from it with precision for people to hear and respond in faith. Yet, when it comes to studying God’s Word where we have a choice of which written text to study and how close we adhere to the original, this is another matter entirely. We should always opt to stay as close to the Words of the Master as possible. This is illustrated by the popular game where people sit in adjacent positions and a story is told by the person on one end of the row of chairs. Each person in line whispers the story to the next person in line. When the story reaches the opposite end of the line, it is retold to all. It is amazing to observe how the story has changed little-by-little as it goes along until significant differences have occurred between its source and its destination. The student of God’s Word ought to be concerned about how many chairs separate him from the Words of the Master. Some of those chairs might be unavoidable—perhaps the student is unable to learn the original languages of the Bible so he must depend upon a translation into his own tongue. Yet why choose to sit two or three chairs further away from the Master by using a paraphrase which allows His Word to be distorted and misunderstood?7

this prophecy
This book is not merely an allegory or devotional treatise extolling the eventual victory of good over evil. The events described within this book are bona fide prophecy and include the prediction of actual historical events. See Can’t God Prophesy?

and keep those things which are written
Keep is the present active participle τηροῦντες [tērountes] , “while holding fast.” The saints are told to “be continually hanging on to” the things which John writes. This requires focus and energy and implies the need for watchfulness in order to avoid having them taken away. One aspect of keeping those things which are written involves a proper interpretation of their meaning. For it is possible to keep the words (Rev. Rev. 22:7+), but with their incorrect meaning. The result is that the things written herein are not properly kept for they are not properly understood. One example of such corruption of the things written would be amillennialism which holds that there is no future earthly kingdom of a thousand years (Rev. Rev. 20:4-6+), but that the kingdom period has already begun. Keeping the words in such a way as to denude them of their meaning is no preservation at all. Another aspect of keeping those things which are written is the preservation of both the content and proper interpretation of the text and passing it on to each successive generation. Jesus’ haunting words come to mind: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke Luke 18:8). This is where an understanding of church history can be a great boon to the saints of any age in that they come to appreciate their position within the stream of biblical history and doctrine which flows from Genesis to the Second Coming of Christ. Without such understanding, it is unlikely that we will keep those things which are written in the way God intended. The things which are written include both prophetic revelation concerning events in history, but also important exhortations concerning the application of the message within this book. The Psalm writer admonishes the saints to keep God’s precepts (Ps. Ps. 119:4). James tells us to be doer’s of the Word and not just hearers only (Jas. Jas. 1:22). We are told to watch and keep our garments, lest we “walk naked and they see our shame” (Rev. Rev. 16:15+). Christianity is not a passive intellectual exercise, but an active application and promulgation of the message of God (Mtt. Mat. 24:42-44; Mat. 25:13). We would do well to remember the response of Jesus to the woman who blessed His mother Mary:

And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke Luke 11:27-28)


the time is near
The Greek phrase is καιρὸς ἐγγύς [kairos engys] . Kairos is a key eschatological term indicating a coming time of crisis associated with the last times.8

The word used in Revelation Rev. 1:3+ . . . is kairos . It does not speak of an era or time span, but signifies “the right time,” “the right moment,” “the opportune time.” It is used in Galatians Gal. 4:4 wherein the Bible states, “But when the fulness of the time [kairos] was come, God sent forth His son. . .” Christ came at just the right moment. The time was “ripe” for the coming of God’s Son.9

[Engus] can refer to any event predicted by the prophets, as when Mark indicates that “the time [kairos ] is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand [engus]” (Mark Mark 1:15). Something was “at hand” that has to do with kairos time. It was the Kingdom hope and aspiration of every Old Testament Jew who knew the writings of the Hebrew prophets.10

This word for “time” differs from chronos which generally refers to what we would call chronological time:

Καιρός [Kairos] (“time”) frequently has a technical sense in the NT, referring to the end times when the earthly kingdom of Israel will be instituted (cf. Acts Acts 1:7; Acts 3:20; 1Th. 1Th. 5:1). The events of this book are thus identified with the last of the critical epoch-making periods foreordained of God. From the perspective of prophetic anticipation this period is declared to be ἐγγύς [engys] (“near”).11

Time does not translate chronos, which refers to time on a clock or calendar, but kairos, which refers to seasons, epochs, or eras. The next great era of God’s redemptive history is near.12

James makes an almost identical statement using the same Greek verb concerning the coming of the Lord for believers (not in judgment): “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (ἤγγικεν [ēngiken] )” (Jas. Jas. 5:7-8). The meaning in James is that “of approaching in time . . . [and concerns] the Lord’s return.”13 Peter uses the same term: “the end of all things is at hand” (1Pe. 1Pe. 4:7). As with the previous statement concerning things which must shortly take place (Rev. Rev. 1:1+), this perspective of time is that of God and concerns the last times when prophetic predictions would come to pass. “Some interval, however, is presupposed between the vision and its fulfillment, otherwise it would be futile to write the visions down, and to arrange for their circulation throughout the churches. A certain career is anticipated for the book of Revelation.”14 Preterist interpreters generally argue that this phrase must denote fulfillment in the lifetime of John’s readers. Yet they are not consistent on this point when the phrase occurs elsewhere:

This creates a contradiction within [moderate] preterism. Since Rev. Rev. 22:6+ is a statement referring to the whole book of Revelation, it would be impossible to take tachos as a reference to A.D. 70 . . . and at the same time hold that Rev. Rev. 20:7-9+ teaches the Second Coming. [Moderate preterists] must either adopt a view similar to futurism, or shift to the extreme preterist view that understands the entire book of Revelation as past history, thus eliminating any future Second Coming and resurrection.15

A better way to understand the text, as in verse 1, is denoting the imminency of the events John records. See Imminency.

Notes

1 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness Of The Kingdom (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1959), 6.

2 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 13.

3 Contrast this with our own day which enjoys unprecedented ability to duplicate and distribute materials worldwide, but where Christian teaching and worship music suffers at the hands of restrictive copyrights (Mtt. Mat. 10:8).

4 William D. Mounce, Greek for the Rest of Us (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 30.

5 Ibid.

6 As a case in point, suppose we are studying the Scriptural teaching on Israel? We use a concordance or computer search to find all the occurrences of the word “Israel” in the NT. Using the NIV translation, we find Ephesians Eph. 3:6 among the verses listed: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”. Yet in the Greek below this verse, the word “Israel” (Ισραηλ [Israēl] ) never appears! This may seem like a fine point to some, especially since in this particular verse the idea captured by the NIV would seem correct. But over the long haul it is problematic to rely on a dynamic equivalency translation for study—you simply do not know when you are looking at a detail which is not there in the original. We suppose such translations may be suitable for devotional study—that is, if you don’t mind having flawed devotions.

7 “The Message” is one such paraphrase which distorts God’s Word to such a degree that it undermines the very Message after which it was titled! How close must we come to violating Revelation Rev. 22:18-19+ before we realize we are doing a disservice to God’s Word?

8 “One of the chief eschatological terms. ὁ καιρὸς [ho kairos] the time of crisis, the last times”—Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 394.

9 Larry Spargimino, “How Preterists Misuse History to Advance their View of Prophecy,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 142-143.

10 Ibid., 143.

11 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 61.

12 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), s.v. “Time does not translate .”

13 Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.

14 Nicoll.

15 Kenneth L. Gentry and Thomas Ice, The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999), 112.

Read Revelation 1:3