I grew up thinking the church was a joke because what I saw didn’t match the what the Bible said God wanted. The longer COVID-19 goes on, the more I realize that the majority church really is a joke. Just the other day, I saw an evangelist calling people to give their stimulus checks to the church. I am doubtful that is the proper response when the world is in peril. When did the church become about taking things from people rather than working for their good? Some Bibles are discolored by the people carrying them. If I wasn’t known by Christ, I’d probably leave the organized church like the rest of my generation.
There are many reasons people claim to doubt the Bible or Christianity. For instance, they claim that the Bible is simply wrong about its predictions. In the first three verses of John’s Revelation, John claims to reveal what must soon take place. John was writing either in the late 60s or late 90s AD. Many Christians today teach the book of Revelation as if most of its predictions are still future. It is 2020, almost 2000 years after John wrote his Revelation. If what John predicted has not yet come to pass, it seems he was wrong. If John, being an apostle, was wrong, then we have reason to believe the other apostles could have also been wrong about what they wrote. Thus, we have reason to believe the entire New Testament is a sham. What do you think? Does the New Testament err?
Let’s look at the foundational statements in John’s Revelation together.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
God’s Revelation (v. 1)
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John…
The first three verses of John’s Revelation are foundational for how we read the entire book. First, we read that the Revelation is of Jesus Christ, not John. The Father gave the Revelation to Jesus so that Jesus might show His bondservants, true Christians, what must soon take place.
From the outset, John claims to be writing Jesus’s message and not his own. Jesus explicitly disclosed “what must soon take place” in Matthew 24 and 25. I will simply read Matthew 24:1-41:
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”
As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”
And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will afall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole cworld as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.”
When Jesus taught about the things that would soon take place, He claimed explicitly, “… this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Matthew 24:34). If John is writing about the events that the Father ordained and the Son revealed, like he claims, what must soon take place must take place within his own generation because he is teaching what Jesus taught concerning the things that must soon take place. This severely incapacitates any strictly futuristic or historic reading of the Revelation and is the preeminent detail that caused me to reject a futuristic or historic reading of John’s Revelation. It’s the detail that caused R. C. Sproul to argue in favor of an early date before he passed away, and I don’t know which view he supports now. I want the Bible to drive my doctrine, not my doctrine to bleed all over God’s holy pages.
Jesus communicated His Revelation to John by His angel, or messenger. John could be referring to the Holy Spirit, to whom, if we accept the later date, he has recently referred as the truth and the one who testifies about Christ to each believer (1 John 5:6). So, a late date indicates John is describing God’s trinitarian nature, which is a valid interpretation considering John’s earlier writings. John mentions the Father’s ordaining work, the Son’s revealing work, and the Holy Spirit’s effectual work from the outset.
In the first verse, we sense a rhythm. Voddie Baucham Jr. refers to this rhythm as a waltz. If we listen to any composition in ¾ time, we can imagine the rhythm of Revelation. God gave His revelation to Christ who revealed it through His angel. The Father ordains, the Son reveals, the Spirit enlightens. Throughout Revelation, John uses this rhythm of 3s, the number of holiness and divinity in apocalyptic literature. Previously, we saw that Revelation is the Sistine Chapel of the New Testament. Here, we sense that Revelation is also the Master’s great composition of the New Testament. It is a book of musical worship declaring God’s glory and holiness, filled with symbols of lights, smoke, choreography, dancing, bowing, drama, poetry, singing, shouting, silence, preaching, and deliverance. Revelation is doctrinally deep and aesthetically stimulating.
God’s word (v. 2)
…who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
John explains his content. He has testified to God’s word and to the testimony about Jesus Christ to everyone he has seen. John’s goal has been and is to teach God’s word especially as it applies to Jesus—as Jesus has revealed it and as the Holy Spirit has enabled him to hear. The Revelation is not a mystical work. John is intentional; Revelation is the Law, Writings, Prophets, Gospels, and Epistles in the apocalyptic genre.
So, we have people out there teaching that John is receiving a brand new revelation and is writing about stuff that has never been revealed before. John disagrees with those teachers—those teachers who assume prophecy necessarily means foretelling some new thing. Prophecy means “to profess.” Foretell means to tell in advance. Sometimes prophecy includes a foretelling component, but most often it does not. John asserts his content is the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ. That is what John has dedicated his life to. God’s word is what people must hear, and John must preach to everyone who will lend their ears.
God’s time (v. 3)
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
John blesses those who read and hear the words of Christ’s prophecy, John’s profession of Christ’s teachings (v. 1), and heed the things written in it. The time is near. Whether John is writing in AD 68 or AD 98, the time must be near because Christ taught that these things will come to pass before the generation standing before Him passes away—before approximately AD 130 at the latest. The time has to be near for John because that is what Jesus taught during His bodily ministry on this earth. John’s words have immanent importance for those who read and hear his prophecy. If we experience the same things, John’s words have immanent importance for us. So, we look upon the New Testament’s Sistine Chapel and hear her cadence. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3…
I predict three types of reaction to the first three verses of John’s Revelation. One, some will hate what the Bible teaches, here, because it does not agree with their personal eschatologies. Two, some will willingly rethink their views about end-times and Christ because of these three opening verses. Three, some will begin to hate their religious backgrounds because they were not taught the Scriptures well. Whatever your response or temptation, I beg you to consider God’s word. Sincerely listen as we walk through this masterful composition. People all around us are ignoring God as if He bears no immanent meaning. If John is correct, God’s judgment is immanent along with His many mercies. Please do not trade in the most important investment you can possibly make for something temporal. Blessed are those who read, listen, and heed. The time is near. Please don’t put this off. Christ’s kingdom is at hand.