The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. (Revelation 1:1 NIV)
The book of Revelation begins with five wonderful words: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The first verse of this book reveals why God gave this revelation of Jesus to the Apostle John: “To show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
John, a trusted apostle of Jesus Christ, is the first of his servants who received this revelation. He received it in a series of visions that revealed the glorified, resurrected Jesus. Nothing was more important for these churches than this revelation.
What Is the Book of Revelation About?
God instructed John to write down all that he saw and send it to these churches (Revelation 1:11). Each of the visions John will receive, that he records in Revelation, is a true story. Each of these visions reveals something of how Jesus Christ will be involved with the churches of every age in all the things that will soon take place.
Some of the main characters in these visions were involved in the entire storyline of the Bible from the beginning. Some of the human and angelic beings in these stories are heroic. Others are clearly aligned with the forces of evil.
Above all, these stories have one, main, righteous, all-powerful character: the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What will the outcome of the story be? Jesus tells us at the end of Revelation 1. Jesus spoke these words so that we may know, with confidence, that our God will save us. He says,
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17b-18)
Why Did God Give Us the Book of Revelation?
The story of the Book of Revelation began in the heart and mind of God the Father. He determined that these churches’ greatest need was a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ.
Sixty years before, Jesus ascended to the right hand of his Father in Heaven. Already, “the things that must soon take place” had taken their toll on many of these churches. The “tribulation” (religious persecution) they were experiencing had resulted in some of these churches abandoning their first love, Jesus.
For many, the preaching and teaching ministry of the church had been significantly compromised. Some were spiritually dead and unresponsive to Jesus’ call to experience the enabling power of a love-filled relationship with him.
John, after receiving the revelation, did what Jesus called him to do. He “bore witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, even all that he saw” (Revelation 1:2 ESV). He wrote down what God said about his Son and the things that must soon take place, as well as things that were already taking place in these churches’ lives.
Like our churches today, what God’s people needed most was “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1 ESV). This revelation helps them to see that “the things that must soon take place” are firmly in God’s hands.
“The revelation of Jesus Christ” must be the lens through which we look at “the things that must soon take place.”
Reading Revelation Comes with a Blessing
From the very beginning of this revelation, God makes clear that each of them will be “blessed” by him as they “read aloud,” “hear,” and “keep” (Revelation 1:3 ESV) all that is revealed to them about his Son “in…the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Doesn’t that make you want to pick it up and read?!)
Following the first three verses, we heard John speak directly to the churches, reminding them of the blessedness that is already theirs from all three persons of the Godhead. According to Revelation 1:4-5, “grace” (the undeserved favor of God) and “peace” (inseparable oneness with God), are given from God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to those who belong to Jesus. Yet, while grace and peace are theirs from the Trinity, this book’s spotlight is on Jesus Christ, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5 ESV). Verses 5b-6 are a wonderful song of praise to Jesus Christ and the grace and peace that come from him.
Yet, the message about Jesus is bittersweet. We’re told that every person, both Jew and Gentile, will witness Christ’s return. For those who are believers in Jesus there will be a sweet anticipation of the glorious life that awaits them in paradise. At the same time every person, both Jew and Gentile, who has rejected Jesus will wail and mourn on account of him. The full text says:
To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. “BEHOLD HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen. (Revelation 1:5-7 NASB 1995)
Now, use the fingers of your hand to help you memorize what Jesus has done for those who have put their faith in him, and what he will do for his servant-priests in the churches of every age.
- Jesus loves us
- He has freed us from our sins by his blood
- He has made us to be a kingdom
- He has made us priests to serve his God and Father
- He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
How Revelation Changed the Apostle’s Life
The vision John received had a life-transforming, others-focused impact on him.
Revelation 1:2 says John “bore witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” John’s personal testimony was that as he communicated the Word of God, he experienced tribulation for the sake of his kingdom.
In fact, it was John’s faithful proclamation of Jesus’ testimony that resulted in his confinement on the island of Patmos. Amazingly, as John wrote to the seven churches, he was rejoicing in the sufficiency of the “patient endurance” (Revelation 1:9 ESV) that is in Jesus.
He knew the first readers of Revelation would share in his experience as they proclaimed the bitter-sweet message about Jesus. He knew that they, too, needed the patient endurance offered by Jesus to make it through what would soon take place.
If it’s right to see this connection between “the revelation of Jesus Christ” and the unfolding of “the things that must soon take place,” we should continue to see it clearly in the rest of this chapter. And that is just what we have seen.
John, though confined on Patmos, was free as he worships his God in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. On this particular Lord’s Day, John received a divine visitor and another revelation of Jesus Christ. John heard a loud, trumpet-like voice that called him to “write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches.”
But what exactly did John see?
He saw seven golden lampstands. Instantly, John noticed a person in the middle of the lampstands. It was “one like a son of man” (Revelation 1:13 ESV) who was dressed in a long robe, like a high priest, with a golden sash around his chest. The vision John saw was of Jesus being with his churches.
The lampstands symbolize these seven churches. Jesus stands among them, and we know him to be the light of the world (John 8:12). Why has he come to be with them? What was he saying to them?
Though he was dressed like a high priest, there was no temple building at the end of the first century. The armies of Rome destroyed it in 70 A.D. There were no priests making animal sacrifices. But there was Jesus Christ.
In the first 7 verses of chapter 1, God reminds these churches (and us!) that Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice, through his shed blood, for the sins of the world (Hebrews 9:12; 9:26).
On the cross, Jesus became the permanent place of mercy for the entire world. He received in his body the wrath of God that was due to every sinner for all of their sin. In doing so, Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the temple and the sacrificial system (Hebrews 9).
John saw this glorified and resurrected Jesus. Jesus was revealing himself to his churches, and also revealing what he knew about each of them.
In Revelation 1:14-16. John notices specific details about Jesus.
- Jesus’ head and hair were white, white like wool, white like snow.
Jesus’ white head and hair indicate his perfection, holiness, and righteousness.
- Jesus’ eyes were like flames of fire.
Jesus reminds us that his eyes always see what his servant-priests are thinking about what he thinks and what he has said to them.
- Jesus’ feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace.
This indicates that Jesus is always ready to deal with any hardhearted refusal to abandon their thoughts when they differ from his thoughts.
- Jesus’ voice was like the roar of a waterfall.
With this word picture, Jesus may be telling his churches that they will never be able to say, “I didn’t hear You. You should have turned up the volume.”
- Jesus’ right hand held seven stars.
Jesus is the one who sent his angel to John with this revelation of Jesus Christ for the churches. And that he would do so many more times until the remainder of this revelation about himself was complete.
- Jesus’ mouth was like a sharp two-edged sword.
Jesus told his churches that his words would always reach the very thoughts and intentions of their hearts. And, that he will know and deal with any attempts to compromise rather than embrace the bitter-sweet message about himself.
- Jesus’ face was like the sun shining full strength.
The message of this word picture may have been that every true servant-priest of God will experience the life-changing glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This revelation of Jesus Christ will transform them as it shines into every corner of their sin-darkened hearts.
The Impact Jesus Had on John
John revealed the impact this revelation of Jesus Christ had on him.
After hearing the voice that was like a sharp two-edged sword, John said, “I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:16 ESV).
John may have fallen at his feet because he was afraid of Jesus’ holiness and perfection. John may have thought, “If he knows me like he knows the seven churches, I’m a dead man.”
But Jesus hadn’t come to kill John, he came to reveal himself, and call John to be his servant-priest.
He laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” (Revelation 1:17 ESV)
It is this Jesus who will measure each of the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3. He will reveal to each church where his thoughts are not their thoughts. They will experience his words, which are like a sharp two-edged sword, revealing the very thoughts and intentions of their hearts (Hebrews 4:12).
They will see that Jesus’ face is like the sun shining into their lives, giving them ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to them. They will hear his call to trust him completely as they proclaim his bittersweet message. Each of Jesus’ servant-priests can expect Jesus’s comfort when they embrace Jesus’ revelation of himself.
The same is true for you and for me.
Won’t you prepare your heart to be measured by Jesus?
Ask Jesus Christ to give you a fresh revelation of himself.
As you see the right hand of Jesus reach out to touch John, saying “fear not”, say what you know is true about him who died on the cross in your place. From your heart cry what you know is true—“Jesus loves us!” (John 3:16).
As you hear Jesus say to John, “I died and behold, I am alive forever,” say what you know is true about the sacrifice of Jesus and the message of the empty tomb. From your heart cry out, “Jesus freed us from our sins by his blood!”
As you hear Jesus speak to John saying, “I have the keys of Death and Hell”, say what you know is true about what the crown of thorns has accomplished for you. From your heart cry out, “Jesus made us a kingdom!”
As you hear Jesus speak to John saying, “Write the things that you have seen” (Revelation 1:11 ESV) remember that “Jesus made us priests to serve his God and Father” and from your heart cry out “He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of earth will wail on account of him.”
For the rest of your life, ask God to help you live a life that says, “To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”
For the rest of your life, ask God to help you live in such a way that “the revelation of Jesus Christ” will be the testimony of your life for the rest of your life.