THE GOSPEL FROM PATMOS
Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 1:1.
Study Focus: The Prologue (Rev. 1:1-8) and the Book of Revelation as a whole.
Introduction: The Prologue to Rev. (Rev. 1:1-8) introduces the main themes of the book in relatively plain language. These verses contain no scary beasts, no heavenly journeys and no seven-fold sequences. Instead, they describe how the book got here (1:1-3), who sent it (1:4-6), and how everything will turn out in the end (1:7-8). The Prologue expresses the centrality of Jesus Christ to the whole book and prepares the reader for what is to come in straightforward language.
Lesson Themes: The Prologue to the Book of Revelation introduces the following themes:
1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation. This is made clear by the title of the book (Rev. 1:1), the qualities and actions of Jesus Christ (1:5-6) and His central role at the Second Coming (1:7).
2. The Book Concerns Future Events. These are not just end-time events, most were already future in John’s day (Rev 1:1).
3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. This is clear from one of the key words in Rev. 1:1 and that verse’s allusion to Daniel 2.
4. The Threeness of God. There is a “triple trinity” of persons, qualities and actions in Rev. 1:4-6.
5. The Return of Jesus. Rev. 1:7-8 addresses this.
Life Application. The concluding questions invite the participants to balance the powerful insights of a Seventh-day Adventist reading of Revelation with the centrality of Jesus Christ in the End-Time story.
Part II. Commentary
The introductory essay tells us that the entire lesson series is based on the SDA concept of inspiration, the historicist method of prophetic interpretation, the unique organizational structure of Revelation, and a Christ-centered approach to interpretation.
The historicist method is supported by the broad structure of Revelation itself. The book begins with the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 3:22), which primarily concern the situation of John’s day. The seals and the trumpets, on the other hand, each cover from the time of John to the End (4:1 – 11:18). The last half of the book (11:19 – 22:5), on the other hand, focuses almost exclusively on the last days of earth’s history and beyond. This method is also supported by the allusion to Daniel 2 in the very first verse of the book (see the elaboration on this point in theme 3 below).
Main Themes of Lesson 1 Elaborated:
1. Jesus is the Central Figure of Revelation (Rev. 1:1, 5-7). The book opens with a chain of revelation that centers in Jesus. He is the first person mentioned in the book, and the One who passes the revelation on to John (Rev. 1:1). What God gave to Jesus is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). What Jesus passed on to John is called “the testimony of Jesus” (1:2), “the things that he saw” (Greek: hosa eiden). What John passed on to his readers was “the words of this prophecy” (1:3), what John wrote.
This chain of revelation is important for Seventh-day Adventists. It indicates clearly that the “testimony of Jesus” here is not the book of Revelation itself, which is what John wrote (1:3), it is the visionary gift that John saw (1:2). The remnant of Rev. 12:17 will later also have the “testimony of Jesus,” a visionary gift similar to the one John had.
So the Prologue points to Jesus as the central figure of Rev. The book is a revelation from Jesus and about Jesus (1:1). Jesus is qualified for His special role by his death, resurrection and heavenly reign (1:5a). In the End, He will also come with the clouds (1:7).
2. The Book Concerns Future Events. Rev. 1:1 tells us that a major purpose of the book is to “show His servants what must happen soon.” These are events in the future, from John’s perspective. But what does the text mean by “soon”? The 2,000 years that have passed since Rev. was written do not seem like soon! So the word “soon” must clearly be from God’s perspective in which a day is like 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8).
But from our perspective the return of Jesus has always been soon as well. We don’t know when Jesus will actually come, but we do know that in terms of our conscious experience (Eccl. 9:5) He will seem to come an instant after we die. So the opportunity for us to get ready for His coming is now rather than sometime in the future. If Jesus’ coming were not portrayed as soon, many people would delay getting ready for His return.
3. The Vision Is Given in Symbolic Language. Generally, the best way to approach Scripture is to take everything literally, unless it is clear that a symbol is intended. In Rev. the opposite approach is indicated by the first verse. There it tells us that the entire vision was “signified” (Rev. 1:1, KJV, Greek: esêmanen) by either God or Jesus. So in Rev. the best way to approach the text is to treat everything as a symbol, unless it is clear that a literal meaning is intended (for example, “Jesus Christ” in Rev. 1:1 should be taken literally).
This insight takes even clearer shape when the reader discovers an allusion to Daniel 2 in the first verse of the book. The only other place in the Bible that combines “signified” with the unusual expression “what must take place” (Rev. 1:1, RSV, NIV, Greek: a dei genesthai) is Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great image was the place where God “signified” (2:45) to him “what must take place” (2:28) in the last days. What was to be “in the last days” in Daniel is now “soon” in Revelation.
At the very opening of the book of Revelation, therefore, one finds a powerful allusion to Daniel 2. This allusion ties the two books together, like companion volumes. While Revelation alludes to many of the prophets, there is a special bond between it and the book of Daniel. So we should expect at least some of the symbolism of Rev. to point to sequences of history that run from the prophet’s time until the End. Not all of Daniel is historical apocalyptic, but much of it is, and that is the case also with Revelation.
4. The Threeness of God. Rev. 1:4-6 opens the book with what could be called a “triple trinity.” First of all, there is a “trinity” of persons; the Father (the one who is, was, and is to come), the Holy Spirit (represented by the seven spirits), and Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is mentioned last because He is the subject of the next two “trinities.”
Next comes a trinity of qualities that ground the role Jesus plays in Rev. He is the one who died (He is the faithful witness/martyr— Greek: martus), rose (the “firstborn of the dead”), and joined the Father on His throne (“ruler of the kings of the earth”). The death and resurrection of Jesus provide the foundation of His heavenly reign.
The final “trinity” is a trinity of actions. Jesus loves us (Greek present tense), has freed or washed (two different Greek words that sound the same, but are one letter different) us from our sins by His blood, and made us a kingdom and priests to God. The ultimate outcome of Jesus’ love, as expressed in His death and resurrection, is to raise His people to the highest possible status; kings and priests.
5. The Return of Jesus. The picture of Jesus’ return in Rev. 1:7 is based on allusions to Daniel 7 and Zechariah 12. The “he” of 1:7 clearly refers to Jesus, as He has been the subject of the previous two verses. “Coming with the clouds” recalls the son of man who comes with clouds to the Ancient of Days and receives dominion over the kingdoms of the earth (Dan. 7:13-14). In Rev. Jesus’ right to rule over the earth is recognized in heaven at His ascension (Rev. 5) and on earth at the Second Coming (Rev. 1:7).
The allusion to Zechariah is particularly interesting. In Zech. 12:7-8 it is Yahweh who comes (Zech 12:7-8), in Rev. it is Jesus who comes. In Zech. 12:10, it is Yahweh who is pierced, in Rev. it is Jesus who is pierced. In Zech. it is the inhabitants of Jerusalem who see God come (Zech. 12:8-10), in Rev. it is the whole earth that sees Jesus come. In Zech. 12:11-12 it is the clans of Jerusalem that mourn, in Rev. it is the tribes of the whole earth that mourn.
In Revelation’s use of the Old Testament, therefore, there is a shift in emphasis from Yahweh to Jesus. There is a similar shift from the literal and local things of Israel to the spiritual, worldwide impact of the gospel and the church.
Part III: Life Application
1. The lesson focuses on the opening to the book of Rev., the Prologue (1:1-8). One way to begin the lesson would be to ask What is your favorite Bible story opening? Participants might answer “baby Moses in the bulrushes,” “the diet test for Daniel and his three friends in Daniel 1,” “the anointing of David, the shepherd boy,” or “angels visit the shepherds at Jesus’ birth,” as examples. How does the opening of a Bible story or book affect the way you understand the rest of the story?
2. The lesson brings out two things that participants may feel are in tension with each other: a) the centrality of Jesus Christ, and b) the value added of a Seventh-day Adventist, historicist, reading of Rev. The teacher can invite the participants to wrestle with this tension by questions such as: What value does the unique SDA approach offer in today’s world? How do you keep a balance between articulating the historical details of the SDA reading of Rev. and uplifting Jesus Christ as the center of all hope? Some answers to the first of these questions: The SDA view a) answers the three great philosophical questions; Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? b) helps us see the hand of God in history, c) gives us confidence in the midst of chaos that God is still in control of history, and d) gives us confidence that since God has been active throughout history, the hope that we have for the End is also real.