Verse 1 opens the book with the words, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." This is the book's real title, not what the Greeks titled it, Apokalypsis Ioannou?"The Revelation of John." In a sense, the apostle John is merely a witness or observer of the visions and sayings that we find within these twenty-two chapters, one who faithfully wrote them down for the instruction, preparation, and edification of the church (verse 2).
Apokalypsis means "unveiling," "disclosure," or "revelation," which is just the opposite of what most people suppose it means. The book is not intended to be a collection of arcane prophecies, mysteries, symbols, and warnings, but an uncovering of knowledge about "things which must shortly take place." As verse 1 maintains, the Father gave the contents of Revelation to Jesus Christ, who as Head of the church passed them on to His disciples through John, so that they would have all the facts that God allowed about the imminent future. God does not desire the book of Revelation to be a frustrating, impenetrable enigma, but as a gift of His grace, a sharing of privileged information.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The All-Important Introduction to Revelation
The book itself tells us, right at the beginning, what it is about, but because of the way it is translated into English, we can read right over it and miss the book's own declaration of its contents. We are immediately told that this book contains the revelation of Jesus Christ. This phrase is the title of the book. But what does "revelation" mean? It is the Greek noun apocalypsis, which is why this book is often called the "book of the Apocalypse." This noun comes from the verb apocalupto, which literally means "to take away the veil," such as when a painting or statue has its covering taken away. Even though apocalypsis is most often translated "revelation," the best equivalent word in English is "unveiling."
In common usage, when someone refers to the "Apocalypse," or describes an event as being "apocalyptic," he is usually talking about widespread devastation or ultimate doom. Mel Gibson recently produced and directed a movie entitled Apocalypto, which portrayed the end of the Mayan civilization—and it was a very bloody end.
Using "apocalypse" this way derives from the content of the book of Revelation, not from the word's Greek meaning. Simply, apocalypsis and apocalupto refer to "taking away a veil" or "unveiling" rather than to cataclysmic events. However, in this specific instance of apocalypse, of a veil being taken away (when Jesus Christ returns), widespread devastation will in fact occur as this present age closes with wars and disasters.
In the Greek New Testament, apocalypsis appears in two senses. When used figuratively, it has the sense of "bringing someone to knowledge," as in the English phrase "remove the veil of ignorance." For example, when we say that a mystery is unveiled, we mean that the veil of ignorance is lifted so that the matter can be plainly understood. In terms of the book of Revelation, this is the sense that most interpreters and readers recognize in it. They see it as the unveiling of prophetic events to understanding.
However, when apocalypsis is used in a literal sense, it refers to "the visible appearance of one previously unseen," as a woman shrouded by a veil is revealed when her covering is removed. In Revelation's case, as the book of the Unveiling, apocalypsis literally refers to the visible appearance of One who is now hidden from human sight, and that One is, of course, Jesus Christ.
The New Testament consistently supports the literal sense of apocalypsis rather than the figurative, and that the "revelation of Jesus Christ" is not limited to His testimony or to His unlocking of prophecy. Instead, the "revelation of Jesus Christ" is, in fact, an advance record of His visible appearance in glory, to overthrow the spirit and human rulers of this world and to establish His Kingdom on earth.
A key to effective Bible study is to let the Bible interpret itself. Another key is to let the Bible's usage of a word determine its meaning rather than to rely solely on what it means in secular Greek or Hebrew. Apocalypsis appears in eighteen places in the New Testament, and in ten of those places—including Revelation 1:1—it is used literally, referring to a person or a thing. In every case, it denotes the "visible appearance" or "unveiling" of that person or thing, confirming how it should be understood in Revelation 1:1.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Book of Revelation?
Jesus Christ is the Revelator. He wants us to be informed so we might be motivated to keep His Word. God does not intend prophecy to be just an intriguing bit of information or knowledge that we might glory in but do nothing about. "Doing His Word" means to overcome and grow in character, in wisdom, in understanding, and in our effectiveness of revealing God in our lives—living by every Word of God (Matthew 4:4).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
The margin says shortly means "quickly" or "swiftly." This must be understood in terms of what the book of Revelation was designed to reveal. Verse 10 tells us that the book was designed for the Day of the Lord. "Shortly" has to be seen in light of verse 10.
When was the apostle John on the island of Patmos? All indications are that he received this vision somewhere in the AD 90s—somewhere between AD 90 and 100. The Temple in Jerusalem had already been destroyed by the Romans under Titus.
Think about this word "shortly" in reference to the time in which the prophecy was given. Did Jesus Christ mean shortly after He gave it? What happened historically quickly or shortly after Christ gave this prophecy to the apostle John? Nothing. Nothing happened. By and large, almost 20 centuries later, very little in Revelation has yet happened.
What does this say about the design of the book of Revelation? It says that its primary intent is for the time we are living in right now! When Christ said that these things must shortly come to pass, what He meant was that once the things in Revelation begin to occur, they will happen very quickly in historical terms. They will begin unfolding so fast, it will take our breath away!
To whom was this book written? Verse 11 says that it was written to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. If the book was written to the end-time people, then we have to conclude that the message as delivered to the actual churches in Asia Minor was only secondary. The attitudes, the conduct, the events occuring in those seven congregations were only models of what was going to happen later.
However, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are somewhere extant on earth today. Not just in the form of attitudes, but maybe also in the form of true-church organizations. All seven churches must be in existence at the end. This only makes sense because the book is concerned primarily with the end-time.
Does it not seem reasonable and logical that, if Christ wanted to get a message to each of the churches, and He only had a moment to spend with each one, He would be extremely selective in what He had to say? He would carefully design His message to contain the nucleus of what He wanted to get across. It would be quick, concise, and hit the nail right on the head. What He said would be of the utmost importance to them in regard to their responsibilities at the end time.
If His church were to be in existence at the end—and surely it is because He says that the gates of the grave would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)—then He would give His church what it needed most of all to survive and endure that period of time. He would not waste His opportunity speaking on trivial matters!
He would get to things that are essential to His people to get them through the trouble and into the Kingdom with as much growth as possible! This is the essence of those seven messages. It is the reason why they were written.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
The apostle John identifies himself as the human author and witness of the Revelation three times in the first nine verses (verses 1-2, 4, 9). He humbly calls himself God's "servant" (doulos, "bond-slave"), not even titling himself an apostle. In verse 9, he adds that he is "both your brother and companion in tribulation and the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ." He claims no special prominence or distinction; in his own mind, he is just a "regular guy" enduring the same trials in his walk to God's Kingdom as any other Christian. These few details are surprisingly more information than John normally includes about himself in either his gospel or his three epistles.
Traditionally, the book of Revelation has been ascribed to the apostle John, son of Zebedee (Matthew 4:21), "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:20; 13:23; 20:2), and no creditable argument has been put forward to dispute his authorship. When it was written about AD 95, he would certainly have been a very old man, but by all accounts, the apostle John lived to be nearly 100 years old, dying a peaceful death in the area of Ephesus sometime during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (AD 98-117).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The All-Important Introduction to Revelation
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 1:1: