Revelation 1:1-3

Sermon preached on February 27, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

This past week four Americans were murdered by Somali pirates after the pirates seized their yacht off the coast of Africa. Since 2004 Scott and Jean Adam were sailing the world to distribute Bibles to churches, schools and others in need of the Scriptures. At the time of their murder, the American Navy was trying to negotiate their release, but something went wrong and the pirates murdered the Adams and their companions, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle. Other hostages have been released unharmed and one wonders if the fact they were Christians with Bibles had anything to do with their murder. At any rate, their murders might cause others with ideas of distributing Bibles to have second thoughts. One of the ways to respond to persecution is to give in to it.

Last summer ten members of a medical team, including six Americans, were shot and killed by militants as they were returning from providing eye treatment and other health care in remote villages in northern Afghanistan. The team was part of the International Assistance Mission, a Christian medical aid group that has worked in Afghanistan for more than four decades. Among the victims was American Tom Little, an eye doctor who had spent nearly all of the last 31 years in Afghanistan, helping the impoverished people of that nation. The IAM team — six Americans, one German, one Briton and four Afghans, were on a three-week trip to Nuristan province. From Kabul, they drove to the province, then left their vehicles and hiked for hours with pack horses over mountainous terrain to reach the Parun valley in the province's northwest. On their return they were murdered.

Why would such people be killed? Again, it could be because they were Christians. It could very well be that the murders took place to warn Christians to stay out of Afghanistan. Dirk Frans, the Kabul-based director of IAM, said that it was unlikely that the mission would leave Afghanistan. Such a stand is to be commended.

In early January Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province was shot dead by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, apparently because Taseer had spoken out against the country's blasphemy laws. Pakistan has blasphemy laws to prohibit and punish blasphemy against Islam. What would you do if you lived in such a country? Would you give in to fear and be totally quiet about your faith?

The book of Revelation speaks to all such situations. The book of Revelation is a message to the seven churches of Asia. (verse 4) These churches are presented to us in detail in chapters 2 & 3 in a chiastic structure. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 32)

"The first and last [churches] are on the verge of losing their Christian identity (2:5, 3:16)… the second and sixth churches have no weaknesses, and are encouraged to continue on in their faithful witness. The third, fourth, and fifth churches, in the middle of the chiasm, are in a mixed condition. They are commended for some good things, but corrected for serious problems, which if allowed to continue will rip the churches apart. In one way or another, all the problems of the churches have to do with the challenge of witnessing in the midst of temptations to compromise with idolatry." "The significance of the chiasm here is to emphasize that the churches in Asia Minor are in serious trouble."

Some of them were compromised by idolatry, error and sexual sin. Others were experiencing persecution and we on the verge of giving in. Much of the reason John writes Revelation is to encourage Christians to be strong and resolute in the face of horrible evil. John writes to them to tell them never to compromise with evil, never to give in to it, but to always remain faithful to Jesus Christ and His teaching. John assures Christians that God's kingdom has come and is being implemented in history because God is sovereign over history. He assures them that Jesus is soon going to return to set everything right, to establish a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. Yet John tells Christians that Jesus is going to do that in spite of the great forces of evil that oppose Him and His people. These forces of evil will dominate culture and flourish and try to destroy Christianity and Christians. (Beale, p. 28) Christians must remain patient and faithful to Jesus when facing such evil.

So let's look at what the Holy Spirit tells us in our passage. We read, (Revelation 1:1–3)

"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,
who testifies to everything he saw
—that is, the word of God
and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear it
and take to heart what is written in it,
because the time is near."

The first great truth that we should see from our text is that

the book of Revelation can be understood.

Perhaps the most surprising statement in our text for Christians today is the following,

"Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear it
and take to heart what is written in it,"

That's surprising because it implies that Revelation can be understood, so well understood, in fact, that it can be a great blessing to those who read and take to heart what they read.

Throughout history many Christians have been confused by Revelation. And this is very natural. There are things in Revelation that are very difficult to understand. Revelation is so filled with symbols and allegories, and its meaning is couched in such mysterious language, that, as Herman Hoeksema writes, (Revelation, p. 1)

"one can never feel sure that he has discovered its real sense."

If you read enough commentaries on Revelation you will come to see how many divergent views on Revelation there are. Even skilled biblical expositors can't agree on the meaning of many of the things in Revelation.

Not only that, but many Christians feel so strongly about what they believe Revelation teaches, that their beliefs have become a point of division among Christians. For example, when I was attending university in St. John's, Newfoundland, I attended a church that wouldn't let you become a member unless you believed in their eschatology. You had to be premillennial. You had to believe that Jesus was going to rapture His people before the 1000 year reign or they wouldn't let you join their church. The doctrine of the last things is used to divide Christians instead of bringing them together. It's the very opposite of what Paul told us to do in his teaching about the last things. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18 Paul concluded his teaching on the last days with these words,

"Therefore encourage each other with these words."

He did that with his teaching about the last thing in 1 Thessalonians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 2 as well. In 2 Thessalonians 2, at the end of his teaching on the man of Lawlessness, he urged Christians to stand firm (verse 15). He also said to them, (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17)

"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who loved us and by his grace
gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,
encourage your hearts and strengthen you
in every good deed and word."

But instead of doing that, many Christians argue and fight about the meaning of Revelation.

Thus some Christians today don't spend a lot of time on Revelation. They think it's too complicated, too divisive. But the Holy Spirit tells us at the opening of the book that it can be understood. Those who read and take it to heart will be blessed.

But the people who think they can't understand Revelation are like those who

can't see the forest for the trees.

The main meaning of Revelation is clear. To illustrate this Vern Poythress tells the story of a group of seminary students playing basketball in a gym. When they finished, they noticed a janitor in a corner reading the Bible. They asked him what he was reading and he told them he was reading the book of Revelation. They asked him if he understood what he was reading. The janitor said, "Yes." The seminary students were astonished. They asked, "What does it mean?" The janitor replied,

"Jesus is gonna win!"

That's it exactly. Poythress also tells of a 12 year old boy who came up to him after Poythress had encouraged the children of the congregation to read the book of Revelation, telling them that they may understand it better than their parents. The boy said to him,

"I read Revelation, and I felt that I understood it… I read it just like a fantasy, except that I knew it was true."

That's absolutely correct. When you read Revelation, as Poythress says, (Revelation, p. 13)

"Don't become preoccupied with isolated details. Rather, become engrossed in the overall story."

Poythress also suggests that Revelation is a 'picture' book, not a 'puzzle' book. He tells us how to read it,

"Praise the Lord. Cheer for the saints. Detest the Beast. Long for the final victory."

Read Revelation, take it to heart. The main outline is clear.

The second thing we see from our text is that

you will be blessed if you read and take to heart what is written in Revelation.

John wrote,

"Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear it
and take to heart what is written in it,"

The idea here is that if you hear and apply these truths to your heart you'll be blest. No one should think that if they buy the Bible on audio and merely listen to the book of Revelation, that they're going to be blest just by doing that. No. No.

Jesus dismissed such an idea in Luke 11. In Luke 11:27 we read that a woman said to Jesus,

"Blessed is the mother
who gave you birth and nursed you."

Jesus replied,

"Blessed rather are those
who hear the word of God and obey it."

You'll also reacll what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21,

"Not everyone who says to me,
'Lord, Lord, ' will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only he who does the will
of my Father who is in heaven."

So it is with the book of Revelation. Revelation is meant to change your behavior so that you will be blessed. It's meant to warn you to be faithful to Jesus even to death. It urges you not to give in to persecution. It encourages us to always do good and praise God. As Beale says of Revelation, it (p. 184)

"is not an apocalyptic curiosity to tantalize the intellect but to inform Christians about how God wants them to live in the light of the recent redemptive history. The book contains information for the mind, but it is information that entails ethical obligation."

In fact, Revelation issues a challenge like Joshua challenged the people in his day. In Joshua 24:15 Joshua said to the people,

"choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,"

The main goal of Revelation, (Beale, p. 151)

"is to exhort God's people to remain faithful so that they might inherit final salvation."

Beale summarizes Revelation this way, (Beale, p. 151)

"The sovereignty of God and Christ in redeeming and judging brings Them glory, which is intended to motivate saints to worship God and reflect his glorious attributes through obedience to his word."

Thus Revelation calls Christians to be faithful to Jesus. It warns them about the mark of the beast. It warns them of the dangers of idolatry, of friendship with the world, of indulging in sin. It urges Christians to be patient under great difficulty. It urges them to look to the coming again of Jesus.

The second thing that shows us that faithfulness is required for the blessing has to do with the way Christians are referred to here. John wrote,

"The revelation of Jesus Christ,
which God gave him to show his
what must soon take place. He made it known by sending
his angel to his
servant John,"

Jesus reveals this to His 'slaves'. John describes himself as Jesus' 'slave'. Our lives are not our own. We have been bought at a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20) We cannot live to please ourselves, to indulge the flesh. We are to honor God in everything we do. It's not about you. It's about God and His kingdom. You are a slave of Jesus Christ. It's about doing, not our will, but His will.

One of the great characteristics of our age is that people claim to be Christians, they even think they are Christians, yet they don't obey what the Bible says.

To use the words of Revelation, they claim to be Christians, yet they will receive the mark of the beast.

They think that the Bible's teaching is not reliable. They think that it reflects the culture of the ages when it was written and that much of it is not relevant for us today. They say, "Lord, Lord." But they have contempt for His word. His Word is despised and berated.

To give one example of how God's Word is held in such low esteem we only have to consider how the announcement this past week in which Attorney General Eric Holder informed Congress that President Obama had ordered the Department of Justice to cease all efforts to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts. In the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. In his letter to Congress, Attorney General Holder stated,

"As you know, the Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense, a practice that accords the respect appropriately due to a coequal branch of government."

Holder then proceeded to argue that there were no reasonable arguments to be made in defense of the Defense of Marriage Act.

You see what I mean? He's implying that the Bible's position on marriage can't be defended by any reasonable arguments.

But can we dispense with the Bible's teachings? Can we just obey the parts we like and ignore the parts that we don't like? What does the Holy Spirit tell us about this 'revelation' we have before us? He tells us that

Revelation is a message from God Himself.

Our text is part of the prologue of Revelation. One of the things it stresses is the divine authority of the message. The book of Revelation is often referred to as the, "Apocalypse of John". But of course that's not quite accurate. Verse 1 says,

"The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him…"

It's the 'revelation' or 'apocalypse' of Jesus Christ. The book is 'a heightened form of prophecy'. (Beale, p. 181) The truth that is emphasized is that it comes to us from God. God gave the revelation to Jesus, Jesus gave it to an angel, the angel gave it to John, John gave it to Christians.

The divine nature of the book is impressed on us again in verse 2. John refers to what he saw as, 'the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.' Revelation is not a human book. It comes to us from God Himself.

At the end of Revelation it warns against adding or taking away anything from Revelation. If anyone does so, his share from the tree of life and from the holy city will be taken away. Those who pick and choose what parts of God's Word to obey are also placing themselves in mortal danger. If we learned anything from our series on King Saul it was that he was doomed because he didn't obey God fully. He was willing to obey 90 or 95% of what God told him to do. But God would not have partial obedience. It must be total. So too is the message of Revelation.

If you're not a Christian this means that you should turn to Jesus for salvation, for the great judgments against sin that Revelation speaks of

must surely take place.

John writes, (Revelation 1:1)

"The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place."

Notice that word, 'must'. These things are certain to take place. God's judgments against sin are sure to come to pass.

But even more than that, take note of the word, '

Of course, some will scoff at this. They will say,

"But how can the things in Revelation said to take place soon, when almost 2000 years has already passed since John wrote them?"

What's interesting about some of the phraseology of Revelation 1:1-3 is that it appears to be based on certain verses from Daniel 2. (Specifically from Daniel 2:28-29 and 45.) Beale writes that the way John phrased things, (p. 182)

"implies his expectation that the final tribulation, defeat of evil, and establishment of the kingdom, which Daniel expected to occur distantly 'in the latter days,' would begin in his own generation, and indeed, that it had already begun to happen…"

In Acts 2:16-17 we are told that the 'last days' written about in the Old Testament (Joel) were inaugurated by Christ's resurrection. The time of waiting is over, and as Poythress says, (p. 70)

"God is conducting the final phase of his victorious warfare against evil. By such reckoning, today is 'the last hour' (1 John 2:18)."

1 John 2:18 reads,

"Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard
that the antichrist is coming,
even now many antichrists have come.
This is how we know it is the last hour."

This means that you need to pay attention to what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2,

"I tell you, now is the time of God's favor,
now is the day of salvation."

Go to Jesus before it's too late.