Revelation 1:1-10: An Exegetical Paper NE567: REVELATION (ENGLISH TEXT)
Rev. Dr. Yongbom Lee, Fuller Theological Seminary, Submitted by: Mark L. Lastimoso
Literary and historical Context:
The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic literature. Its literary genre is similar to the Old Testament book of Daniel and is greatly emphasizing the “unveiling” of the end of all things in the future. Many scholars believe Revelation reveals “the truth about the future.” Grant R. Osborne concurs that Revelation is universally accepted as “apocalyptic, prophecy, and letter.” Both prophecy and apocalypse deals with “judgment and hope,” “with sin and deliverance.”
There are four important features of Revelation. Primarily, the divine origin and canonicity of Revelation is undisputed. Secondly, the role of the old testament language, as alluded into revelation is “crucial in understanding” its message. Thirdly, the symbolic language used is interspersed throughout the book, and few instances where it can perceived as literal when read according to its context. Lastly, Revelation is an ancient apocalypse that visualize the great cosmic conflict between the forces of the good and evil. There is a strong indication that Revelation was meant to be read in the churches of Western Asia Minor, specifically the seven churches. During the final year reign of Domitian (AD 81-96), about AD 95, many scholars believe that John was given the apocalyptic vision to comfort the persecuted saints who are suffering under emperor Domitian.
Revelation 1:1 begins “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,” Most modern translations seem to correctly assign the preposition “of” in the phrase ‘Apokalypsis Iesou Christou’, except for some who argues that it was shown “ to Jesus Christ.” Osborne favors the “subjective genitive” rendering of the reading in context of 1:1. Which means that the source of Revelation belongs to Jesus Christ from God and Jesus is the Revelation. Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch point to this fact that indeed the Revelation comes from the “God of Israel.” Ben Witherington, III surmises that the source of Revelation “could be both ‘of’ and ‘about’ Jesus Christ.” Interestingly, Blount describes 1:1 in terms of “witness” and as “proclaimed by Jesus Christ.” Clearly 1:1 speaks about truthfulness and reliability of the origin and source who is Jesus Christ. As alluded to in Daniel 2:28, 45, the message for His people in urgency “sent” and signified” by God’s angel to a John, a human agent, to provide human touch and feel to this important message of hope and victory. Blount correctly puts it regarding the rendering of “what must soon take place” when he writes, “God’s sovereign control of the future, of how he is to bring an end to the seeming success of the forces of evil in the present age.”
1:2, “who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” Modern translations renders to John as the “witness” of Christ’s revelation. Witherington ascribes a “witness” as someone who is a “guarantor of the truth” and is willing to lay his/her life for it. Using astrological language (Zodiac) and ancient pagan parallels of the apocalypse, Malina and Pilch exposes that John’s “experiences” attested to this revelation. Blount sees “witness’ in 1:2 as a “language pre-occupied not with dying, but declaration.” The greek word ‘μαρτυρέω’ or ‘martyreō’ can be translated as “witness, to give testimony, conjure and implore” refers to Jesus Christ’s passion as he witness to Pontius Pilate. Also to Christ’s lordship and reign. John witness to the witness of Jesus Christ in a truthful and authentic manner, thus, was given to the privilege to received the gift of prophecy.
1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.” CEB, NRSV, TNIV mention the word “aloud” while CEB exchanges “blessed” for “favored” the meaning is essentially the same. The Message though did not emphasize the loudness of its reading. Malina and Pilch provided seven beatitudes in Revelation (14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14) and seem to translate “blessed” with “honorable.” They are in agreement that John’s prophecy “have much in common” with the OT prophets. On the other hand, Witherington argues for the function of prophecy as “hortatory” and a “call to action” in the present time (John’s era) and not looking forward to it in the future. While Blount is trying to assign “blessed” to that of “wisdom” and “happy” he also emphasized the “keeping” of the words in the prophecy. Whereas, Osborne focuses not “just on eschatology but on ethics” because the “time is near” similarly we are indeed called “to live decisively and completely for God.” Which to mean that even in our present time this verse is applicable.
1:4, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,” The Message Bible translates it thus, “I, John, am writing this to the seven churches in Asia province: All the best to you from The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive, and from the Seven Spirits assembled before his throne,” the little difference is in the greeting part. It is customary in the first century letter writing to identify the sender, greet, and to its recipient(s). However, Osborne sees a trinitarian formula and in the doxology a “case for soteriology and ecclesiology” builds upon the core of the book. Meanwhile, Blount conjectures about the “seven spirits” as “very much a political spirit” to overthrow Rome. Whereby, Witherington expresses the “persuasive” use of John’s salutation and he emphasizes the “closeness of heaven and earth” that assures John’s seven churches of God’s power to defeat their enemy. Malina and Pilch does believe that the “spirits” mentioned herein are “wind” or “breath” that is part of the “sky powers” of God that stand ready at the “throne of God.” Most commentators label this verse as a formal Hellenistic letter whose main function is to encourage the readers of the higher power that they can call upon in times of need.
1:5-6, “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed[d] us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” There is an almost unanimity in formally translating this particular verse among modern translations. Here John displays the exalted view of Jesus Christ or in theological parlance the high Christology view. Malina & Pilch again, brought the readers attention, to the restoration of “honor” of Jesus’ death and thereby provided a new status to the believers as priest. Witherington stresses the death and resurrection of Jesus as to be aspired by his followers for this is real and attainable in the face of persecution. Osborne writes that believers of Jesus “are to persevere in their service to God and thus to participate anew [italics mine] in Jesus priestly work.” Blount introduces the “Exodus imagery” as the third reason for praise. He further states that “Christ’s establishes believers as a reign of priests to God.” “Jesus qualifications to rule us: His death, resurrection, and heavenly reign.” Commenting on this verse it continues, “He loves us, died for us, and raised us to the highest possible status.” “The concluding ‘amen’ affirms that what has been declared in the doxology about Christ is true and valid.”
1:7, “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.” The Message added “riding the clouds” instead of “coming with the clouds.” Osborne mentions the signaling of the “highly liturgical” and “even hymnic” prophetic annunciation regarding verses 7 and 8. Old Testament prophets e.g. Daniel, Zechariah, were alluded to in the parousia “motto” of this verse. He further writes, “John himself provides the introductory ‘Iδού ) (Idou, Behold), a term used twenty-six times in the book to highlight critical prophetic oracles. As elsewhere it means ‘pay attention’ or ‘listen carefully.’” Blount understands that “even those who pierced Christ will witness and acknowledge his vindicating lordship (cf. 1:5; 5:9)” as John’s political cultic claim. Which leads Blount to suggest that “repentance” (Zech 12:10) as a theme that John emphasized “throughout the narrative.” He concurred with Beale that the “repentant Gentiles” fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah at “the second coming of Christ (197).” “To this suggestion, John shouts ‘Amen!’” Witherington points out that this verse alluded to Daniel 7:13 and he surmises that the “mourning of the nations” is due to their “regret” rather than “repentance.” On the other hand, Malina and Pilch interprets rather interestingly that, “Mourning refers to protesting the presence of evil (see I Cor 5:2), usually by means of a ritual involving prayer, fasting, wearing sackcloth and ashes, and nonsleeping, [sic] called ‘keeping vigil.’” The fact that all will mourn indicates that Jesus’ death was an evil act.” “Even those who pierced him” suggests “a special resurrection of a select individuals just before Jesus’ return.” The manner of which Christ’s coming is depicted here clearly portrays universal, visible, audible event, and in fact alerted the reader to reminisce that he ascended (Acts 1:9) with the clouds and will descend with the clouds only this time to present God’s judgement to all the earth.
1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” The Message Bible’s informal rendering, “The Master declares, “I’m A to Z. I’m The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive. I’m the Sovereign-Strong.” Osborne declares, “In a sense all of Rev 1:8 looks to God as ruler over all history , in control of this world and the next. with full authority over earthly and cosmic forces. It provides a fitting climax to the prologue of 1:1-8.” Malina and Pilch soundly conjecture, “The hidden meaning of the series of letters meant to serve as a revelation of God (‘am = the Alpha and the Omega’) is part and parcel of the real meaning of God’s name. For God’s name really tells us who God really is; God’s name is a full disclosure of God’s essence. Hence, God’s name remains hidden and mysterious, since a person who knows that name would have power over God.” Judaism is a rigidly monotheistic faith, Witherington, however, asserts the idea that Christ’s divinity is compatible with this thought of one God. He states, “The claim is being made that Christ shares in the eternal being of God, but not only so. Notice that in Isa. 44.6 it is Yahweh declaring, “I am the first and last, and besides me there is no god;’ making it all the more remarkable that Jesus uses [italics supplied] this phrase to identify himself. He shares in the work of both creation and new creation that God brought about precisely because he shares in the divine being.’? It is not a surprise then that Christ is the proper object of worship in Revelation.” Similarly, Blount explains, “This title [Alpha and Omega], applied in the epilogue also to Christ (22:13), implies that the one who presides at the start and close of time is rightly recognized as the lord of everything that occurs through time.” Blount is right on target, “In the final adjustment, God is the pantokratōr (Almighty One).”
1:9, “I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” The Message Bible added, “The passion of patience in Jesus” instead of the “patient endurance” as translated by other versions. John identifies himself with his readers as sharers in sufferings. There are three areas that they share namely: persecution. kingdom, and endurance. He also identifies the place of his exile as Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea. It was believed that Domitian banished him there around AD 95. Osborne differentiates John’s banishment from Paul’s imprisonment by stating that the former is able to move around the island while the latter is confined to a dungeon or under house arrest. Commenting on 1:9, Blount observes, “He [John] was ordering them to declare that they were now nonaccomodating [sic] Christ-believers who could no longer participate in a world that had not previously noticed them since they had heretofore been accommodating to it.” John was banished as a “direct result of his preaching the Word of God” that is also the “testimony of Jesus. Witherington offers his hypothesis about the distribution of the letter to the seven churches, “The use of the aorist verb ‘was’ here possibly indicates John was no longer on the island when he wrote this document. Could he have returned to the mainland to compile the document after the reign of Domitian ended? This is not impossible, for those banished by one emperor might get amnesty after his demise.” This assumption remains as such, a hypothesis. Malina and Pilch conclude that “loyalty” to Jesus as the cause of their persecution.
1:10, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” Other versions amplified “in the spirit” as “Spirit-inspired trance,” “praying” in the spirit. “While later Christians came to associate the Lord’s day as Sunday,” the Bible speaks about the Lord’s day as the Sabbath. Osbourne offers three options on interpreting the Lord’s day” or “hēmera,” 1) eschatological day 2) easter-Sunday 3) resurrection as day of worship. Blount writes, “The ambitious reference to the ‘Lord’s Day’ applies to Sunday, the first day of the week.” Witherington, Malina, and Pilch (also the Message Bible) favors the interpretation of Sunday as the Lord’s day and on the use of “trumpet” as “loud” and “thunder.” However the Bible never suggested Sunday, the first day of the week, as the day of rest, worship, and fellowship. The vague reference to 1 Corinthians 16:1 (as the only other two verses that speaks about Sunday) is not a command to observe Sunday as holy day. The prophet Isaiah in chapter 58:13 clearly states, If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From [empahsis supplied] doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the Lord [emphasis mine] honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure.” Also in Mark 2:27-28 confirms, “And He [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath. [emphasis mine].” Matthew 12:8 echoes this assertion, “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus even reminded his disciples in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” The Lord’s day is the Sabbath as authenticated in Scriptures and is still being practiced even today by God’s faithful people.
1. Brian K. Blount, Revelation: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville: WJK, 2009).
2. Andrews University Study Bible of the New King James Version [NKJV] (Berrien Springs; MI: AUP, 2010).
3.Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002).
4. Julian Price Love, The Layman’s Bible Commentary: 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation Vol 25 (Atlanta, GA: WJK, 1982).
6. Bruce J. Malina and John J. Pilch, Social-Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000).
7.Ben Witherington III, Revelation (NCBC; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
9. NRSV, CEB, TNIV, The Message Versions