Historical Trends; Israel and the Church Age; Rev. 1:1
In Revelation chapter one we are introduced to the fact that there is this angelic involvement in the communication of Scripture. That is not always evident to us but apparently it is always true that even though we have God the Father and God the Holy Spirit communicating directly to a human being, or in this case we have the Lord Jesus Christ communicating directly to John on the island of Patmos, there is also angelic involvement. We see a parallel of this in Galatians 3:19 where Paul is talking about the giving of the Mosaic law to Moses on Mount Sinai: "Why the law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made." When we look at that verse we have to identify who the mediator is and who the seed is. The seed is the Lord Jesus Christ, so the seed is not the same person as the mediator. We know that there is only one mediator between God and man, the Lord, Christ Jesus—1 Timothy 2. Here in Galatians this is talking about the mediation at the time the law was given, so the mediator here is referring to Moses. So the law is given through angels by the agency of a mediator. If we go back and look at the Exodus account of the giving of the Mosaic law on Mount Sinai we will look in vain for an reference to angels. That doesn't mean that they weren't there, it means that the writer of Exodus was not commenting on the presence of angels or their involvement in the giving of the law. But they were involved as witnesses to the giving of the law. This ties the whole thing into the angelic conflict.
This is crucial for our understanding of things that will happen in the apocalypse. As we go through Revelation we will discover that 67 times the word AGGELOS [a)ggeloj] is used. The root semantic meaning is messenger, which describes the basic role of these supernatural beings. But let's plug this into our understanding of two things. One is the ancient Near Eastern covenant background. There are two different kinds of covenant in the Old Testament. One was called a royal grant covenant; the other was called a suzerain vassal treaty. Suzerain refers to a lord or a master or a king. In the ancient world in the Hittite empire, at roughly the time the Mosaic law was given, about 1440 BC, this was a particular contract form that was standard between a great king of an empire and subordinate client nations or vassal states. Under this kind of a contract the great king would stipulate certain things that he would do for the benefit of this client nation or vassal state. So it was called the suzerain vassal treaty, and in the course of that treaty there is a history of what the suzerain or the sovereign had done for the vassal state. In essence, all of the format of the Pentateuch is written according to this format. There is the preamble which is Genesis, which describes everything that God has done for Israel up to the point of the deliverance from Exodus. Then there are the stipulations of how the behavior of the vassal is to be in relation to the suzerain. That is the Mosaic law. Then at the end of the treaty there are stipulations as to what will happens if there is a good vassal and how the sovereign will additionally bless them if they are obedient to the treaty, and then there will be a list of curses of what the suzerain will do to them if they were disobedient or unfaithful to their sovereign king. That is what we have in terms of the blessings and cursings in Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28 where God spells out the cycles of discipline for Israel as well as the blessings that will come to Israel. And in that prophecy there is a clear statement that they would go out of the land if they became disobedient, and then there was the promise that God would ultimately restore them to the land. It is on that basis, among may other passages, that we know that there is a future for Israel.
So God gives the law, and just like in the ancient world when the king would set forth this contract or treaty with the vassal state there would be members of the aristocracy, noblemen, in the court who would witness this document. So when God gives the Mosaic law to Israel and establishes this contractual, legal basis for their relationship, there are covenant witnesses. Those covenant witnesses are the angels that are there through whom the law in given, according to Galatians 3:19.
All of this has to be plugged into the broader understanding of the angelic conflict. We know that Satan led a rebellion against God, that one third of the angels were seduced by him and they, too, rebelled against God. God convened a courtroom meeting and sentenced the angels to eternity in the lake of fire, according to Matthew 25:41, but they are not there. Why aren't they there? Apparently Satan raised some point of legal debate and challenged God's sentence: How can God really be just in sentencing His creatures to such a horrific penalty as eternity in the lake of fire? So God is demonstrating His integrity in human history, and He is also demonstrating a number of other things. He is demonstrating that sin, no matter how innocuous it may appear to be, no matter how trivial, breaches the fabric of reality. It is such a horrendous event that it affects everything in creation. When Adam disobeyed God in the garden not only did it cause the spiritual death of Adam and the woman, but it so corrupted their ability to procreate that this sin nature would be passed on to all of their descendants, and it also has reverberating consequences in all of creation. Both the spiritual world and the physical world are affected by their sin, so that physical laws in the universe have changed. What God is showing is that no matter how innocuous that disobedience may seem to us in our own eyes it has incredible consequences that are unseen, unexpected by us. There are unintended consequences that are far greater than we could possibly imagine whenever the creature operates independently of the creator. So there are certain things that God is teaching the angels by virtue of this experiment of human history, and we are the prime elements in that experiment. He is demonstrating through human beings the importance of volition, responsibility and what the consequences for sin are as well as the consequences of obedience in terms of blessing.
So all of this is part of this whole scenario, and we understand that human history is designed to teach this before the angels. When we come to revelation what we are looking at here is God's explanation of how it is all going to be brought to a final conclusion. In doing that it is doing what? Concluding the angelic conflict. It is being brought to a resolution. So we will see the angels participating in all of these events in ways that we have never seen them participate in human history before. That doesn't mean they are not involved in certain ways in nature, in weather and other factors, it is just not revealed to us in Scripture. But it is as if the curtain is drawn back in Revelation and we are able to see what is going on behind the scenes in terms of the angelic revolt and, furthermore, by the mid point of the Tribulation when Satan and the angels are permanently ejected from heaven and cast down to the earth, that from that point on the angels will be visible to the human race, the demons will be visible to the human race, Satan will be visible to the human race, and this will be a time that will reflect to some degree what it was like before the flood. So it will be a bizarre time in human history by our standards because we don't see these things now. Throughout the book of Revelation there is this emphasis on angels, angels, angels. Every time we turn around there is an angel doing this, an angel doing that, and this is all part of understanding the angelic conflict and how it is going to come to an end.
And so we have an angel here in Revelation chapter one who is, just as in Galatians 3:19, the means of communicating this document, this revelation. APOCALUPSIS [a)pokaluyij] is a single word, and that indicates that even though it is comprised of seven visions it is one revelation. It is "the revelation," not "revelations." We also see that in the latter part of this chapter that Jesus Christ physically appears before John. He is not simply off in heaven using an angel as some sort of intermediate. The Lord is speaking directly to John but He is also mediating this revelation through an angel. Without being dogmatic on the point it is very likely that what we are seeing here is that just as you have angelic witnesses in the giving of the covenant to Israel we also have this involvement with the angels as part of their witnessing God's fulfillment of all of His covenant promises to Israel.
Now we have to ask the question: Which John is this? There is John the Baptist, the apostle John, John Mark. John was a common name in the ancient world and there are some who suggest that might even have been another John who had a responsibility in the Ephesian church and they refer to him as John the Elder. On the basis of both external evidence (historical references) and internal evidence. What do we know about John the apostle? John was the brother of James. They were called the sons of Zebedee, and Jesus in Mark 3:17 calls them the sons of thunder, reflecting their personality. Apparently they were a little short tempered and quick to step to the defense of the Lord Jesus Christ, to defend His honor, and they operated on a bit of a short fuse. They were a family that was related to the high priest. They were probably from some lower aristocracy or nobility in Judea and were fairly wealthy. We know that they had servants in their home from several references made in Scripture. John as a young man seemed to be very positive to doctrine. We don't know how old he was but some writings say that he died during the reign of Trajan who was Roman emperor from 98 to 115 AD. So he lived perhaps into the next century. He was quite a bit younger than the other disciples and younger than our Lord, and it is possible that he was no more than eighteen or nineteen years of age when he was first called as a disciple. So when he writes Revelation he was at least 85 years of age, an older man who had experience and has lived 65 or 70 years beyond the death of our Lord. He has seen all of the other apostles go to be with the Lord and was the last living apostle by the time that he writes Revelation.
When he was a disciple he began with an interesting John the Baptist and was a follower of John the Baptist when Jesus came to be baptized by John the Baptist, John 1:35-39. When John learns from John the Baptist that Jesus is the Messiah he then leaves John the Baptist and begins to follow the Lord. So we see a high level of positive volition. He is not unfamiliar with our Lord apparently. If we compare several verses of Scripture it appears that John was a first cousin of the Lord. For example, in Matthew 27:56 we have a reference which included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee—three women. If we compare that with a parallel passage in Mark 15:40 we see Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less, and Joseph, and Salome. So the mother of the sons of Zebedee is Salome. Then compare that with John 19:25, "Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene." In the other two verses three people are mentioned—Salome, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, and in this passage that other unnamed person that is mentioned is his mother's sister. So when these passages are put together we discover that Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee is Mary's sister. That makes James and John Jesus' first cousins. Remember that John the Baptist is a cousin on the other side, related to his mother's cousin Elizabeth. So what we have here is a real family affair going on.
James and John followed the Lord Jesus Christ and the Lord calls them as disciples. Among the disciples James and John, as well as Peter, are the closest disciples to Jesus. They are the ones who are often singled out for special attention. For example, Matthew 17:1 where James and Peter and John are the three who witness the transfiguration on the Mount of Transfiguration. John is with James and Peter when Jesus raises Jairus's daughter from the dead in Mark 5:37. John again is with James and Peter when Jesus prays in Gethsemane and the Lord says stand and watch and they all fall asleep. Furthermore, he and Peter had responsibility for preparing the last Passover, so even though he was the youngest of the disciples he marked level of maturity and responsibility for the Lord to give him such a task. Then we know that he was referred to as "the disciple who Jesus loved." That doesn't mean Jesus didn't love the others, but he was particularly singled out for reference to Jesus' love. He was especially devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. John was the only one of the disciples who didn't desert Jesus and was the only disciple at the foot of the cross. Jesus gave John responsibility for taking care of His mother, Mary.
Following the resurrection John stayed in Jerusalem. Following the resurrection we learn very little about John. He is not mentioned very much in Acts. In Galatians 2:9 Peter and John are referred to by Paul as the pillars of the church. There is a very minor tradition that John was martyred when he was a young man at the same time as his brother. Brother James as the leader of the Jerusalem church is thrown into prison and beheaded by Herod. But John survived. There is a reference in the fifth century by one particular writer who claims to be quoting Papias that John died at the same time as James. However, this particular writer is not very trustworthy, and no one has been able to find this reference anywhere in Papias, so it is doubted that John died as a young man. Most early church tradition says that he moved to Ephesus at about the time of the Jewish rebellion and before Jerusalem was destroyed. Polycrates who was the Bishop of Ephesus in 190 AD records that John died in Ephesus. This is also supported by Iranaeus who flourised between 150-200 AD, and he says that John lived until the days of Trajan. Yet others, such as Polycarp and Papias were disciples or students of John. So there is strong historical/external evidence that John the apostle is the author of the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation.
The author of Revelation identifies himself as John in Revelation 1:1 and in 1:9. Tradition supports his identification. Justin Martyr, Iranaeus, and many others identify John then apostle as the author of Revelation. While some people object because there is a lot of vocabulary differences between the Gospel of John and the epistles of John. They say he doesn't write the same way. Well that is because the material, the subject matter, is different. However, there are a large number of words that are used in both the Gospel of John and Revelation that are only used by John, or used by him with particular emphasis. So internal evidence as well as external evidence supports the apostle John as the writer of the apocalypse, the one whom Jesus revealed and disclosed the events that must shortly take place.
So we are told that Jesus Communicated by sending His angel to His slave, John, and this is the apostle John. Then when we look at verse 2 we read, "Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw." We have a relative clause describing this particular John. This is the John who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. This is a strong verse. We have to look at this verse and the next one in connection because in these first three verses we have a powerful doctrine that is embedded in these verses, the doctrine of language/communication, which is the bedrock for how the book should be interpreted. John describes himself as the one who testified to the Word of God, and the word translated "testified" is the aorist active subjunctive, third person singular of MATUREO [marturew]. The word means to be a legal witness in court, to testify, to provide legal testimony. It is a word that is used many times in the Gospel of John and other Johannine writings. For example, the verb here is used 32 times in the Gospel. The noun form which is translated "testimony," MARTURIA [marturia], which also means a testimony, a witness, a legal record or document, is used 14 times in the Gospel of John . When we look at that what we realize is that the Gospel of John presents a legal case for Jesus being the Messiah. John 20:31, "But these [signs] are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you might have life through his name." John in the Gospel marshals all these witnesses, all of this evidence, in order to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah. So he is the one who testifies, and this clearly is a word associated with the apostle John. Not only is the word used frequently in the Gospel of John but in 1 John the verb is used 6 times; the noun is also used 6 times. The verb is used 4 times in 3 John and the noun is used 1 time, and then we come to Revelation where the noun is used 9 and the verb is used 4 times. It indicates that the apostle John is the one who wrote all of these documents.
The testimony here or his witness, his legal witness, is to the Word of God. This is the phrase in the Greek TON LOGON TOU THEOU [ton logon tou qeou], and the word that is translated "the Word" is the Greek word LOGOS [logoj]. This is the same word that we have in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God." So the first thing that hits us is that we remember that this is a title for the Lord Jesus Christ. But that is not the usage here. LOGOS means word as its core meaning, and as such it also has the idea of thought or thinking because what lies behind the spoken word is a thought. You can't think without words. The thoughts are formed by words. Your ability to communicate is dependent upon your vocabulary. The idea of LOGOS has as its core meaning the idea of communication, thought that is formed and then is verbally expressed in terms of communication. And here we have it linked by a genitive phrase, "to God." This is the Word which derives from God. This is not a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ here. Even though that comes to mind it is not what is being said here. The reason that can be said is because this phrase is only used by the apostle John one time, and that is by our Lord in John 10:35 where He is referring to the Scriptures by the phrase "the Word of God." It is also used in 1 John 2:14, but again is a reference to the Scripture, the Word of God. So it is not a reference or even an allusion to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a witness or testimony to the Word of God, which is the Scripture. John uses this phrase several times in Revelation—1:9, "…. For the Word of God." In other words, he is being persecuted because of his stand on the Word of God, because of his communication of God's message. Again we have the phrase in Revelation 6:9, "And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." There are those who will be martyred because of their stand for the truth of the Word of God. They will be martyred for possessing the Word of God and for their stand for the Word of God. The word "testimony" is the same as in 1:2, MARTURIA, that legal witness which they had. Revelation 17:17, "For God has put in their hearts to fulfil his purpose, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled." The "words of God' here is a reference to the prophecy related to the end times, so again it is related to Scripture. Revelation 19:13 is the only time where the phrase "the Word of God" specifically relates to the Lord Jesus Christ. "And he was clothed with a robe dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God." This is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ as he returns at the second coming. Then in Revelation 20:4, "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God …" Again we have those who were martyred for their devotion, application and utilization of Bible doctrine contained in the Bible, the Word of God.
So in 1:2 John is the one who testifies. He gave legal witness to the Word of God, i.e. the Scriptures, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ. Here we have an objective genitive, testimony about Jesus Christ. This is what the Gospel of John was, it was a testimony about Jesus Christ. The last word is "he saw," the Greek word EIDON [e)idon] which is the second aorist form of HORAO [o(raw] which means to see, and it has to do with presenting a vision and what he saw in his vision. We have this word used 56 times in the book of Revelation. He is seeing what is going to transpire at the end times, so he is recording that which he saw as a legal document, as a legal witness to what will take place at the end time. In John 19:35 John gave specific reference: "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true: and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you all must believe." He is giving accurate testimony. This is a major theme in the Gospel of John.
For a testimony to be valid is has to be understandable, you have to know what it says. It can only have one meaning. What good is it if you are having a court case and you get a witness on the stand who says something that is so vague that it could be interpreted many different ways. We have seen that happen in a few court cases where it can easily be seen how the adversarial counselor, the defense attorney, may take a prosecutor's witness an then twist their words and try to make them mean something other than what they said in order for their clients top get off. This is so often what happens with the human viewpoint of paganism. There is this attempt to distort language so that it doesn't mean what the author or speaker intended when he made the statement. We have this same kind of thing going on in Revelation.
Revelation 1:3, "Blessed is he who reads, and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it: for the time is at hand." This initial word "blessed" is the Greek word MAKARIOS [makarioj] which means to be happy, to be tranquil, to be content, privileged; but mostly the idea is to emphasize someone who is a favored recipient of divine grace. There are seven blessings given in Revelation: 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14. Te blessing here is for the one who reads and those who hear the words of prophecy and heed the things which are written in it.
In the words "he who reads" we have basically three articular participles (there are groups of threes and groups of sevens all through Revelation). This is our first triad: he who reads, he who hears, and he who heeds." He who reads is ANAGINOSKO [a)naginwskw]. This is not privately reading the Scriptures, this is the public reading of Scripture. What happened in the ancient world was when they received an epistle from Paul or John or James was they would stand up in the pulpit and read it. Today we exegete it, we teach the Word. So this is talking about a blessing for the person who teaches the book of revelation, but also for the one who hears. This isn't just having your ear drums stimulated, this is listening, paying attention to, and understanding the words of the prophecy. So there is a special blessing to the pastor who teaches and to the congregation who listens. And it goes beyond that, "to those who heed the things that are written in it." One thing we should see here is that all through these first three verses we have something that God intends to communicate to us. What is embedded here is a doctrine of language. God is communicating. Look at the words that are used here. It is called an unveiling or a disclosure. This is an apocalupsis. God is unveiling or disclosing something to us. He is not hiding something, He is bringing it out into the light. He is bringing us light, not darkness. He us unveiling something, He is not unveiling something. This is not something mysterious or difficult to understand but something that is to be clear, to be understood. It is written to show something, to display something, according to verse one. It is communication. It is called the word or the message or the language of God. It is a testimony or a legal witness. It is designed to be a blessing if it is taught and understood and applied. So if it is a mystery, how to understand it and apply it and if it is difficult to understand and apply, how can it be a blessing? The assumption in all three verses is that this is written to be understood, written to be specific about end-time events.