In James 1:22, the apostle admonishes us to be obedient doers, not just hearers, of the Word. In the context of this subject, it means acting and doing the commands so often embedded in the prophetic word. James' command to act, rather than just to hear, is frequently echoed in prophecy, as in Revelation 1:3: "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words [logos] of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near."
The "and" in this verse is very important. God does not say that we are blessed simply if we hear and if we read. This is not to suggest that we should not study God's prophetic word; of course, we should. All Scripture is given for our edification and our inspiration (II Timothy 3:16). It is all inspired for that purpose. However, we are to read or hear and to keep.
What do we keep? Do we keep predictions about horsemen and beasts? How does one do that? What we are to keep are those commands that are liberally sprinkled throughout the word of prophecy—in the book of Revelation and in the prophetic sections of the gospels and epistles, as well as in the prophecies of the Old Testament. For instance, the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 contain several commands to repent and repeated commands to overcome.
The prophetic word is not just a collection of mind puzzles that we are somehow supposed to unravel. God's prophecies are not that at all, but they are calls for change. They are calls for our growth. Remember, the blessing comes to those who keep, who do what God commands whether or not we understand the details of the prophecy.
God is faithful. A Christian reading this passage a thousand years ago, who had no idea of what we know of history or of the technology that we understand now, could receive the blessing through obedience, just as we can. Again, knowing is not the issue, but obedience is.
The word "keep" is a command that appears ten times in the book of Revelation. It is the same word that is translated in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." We will notice just a few of its appearances. The first three are written to three of the seven churches: Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia, respectively:
- Revelation 2:26: ". . . keeps My works until the end. . . ."
- Revelation 3:3: ". . . hold fast and repent. . . ." [Here, "hold fast" is the same Greek word as "to keep" in the other examples.]
- Revelation 3:8: ". . . have kept My word. . . ."
- Revelation 12:17: ". . . who keep the commandments of God. . . ." [This is written to the remnant of the seed, that is, to God's elect.]
As we can see, God has sprinkled this command to "keep" all over the prophecies of Revelation.
To Watch and Keep
Verse 3 pronounces a blessing on those "who [read] and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it." This verse is similar in form to the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-11, and in fact, it is the first of seven beatitudes in the book (see also Revelation 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14).
This blessing falls not on those who only read or hear what is written in the book, but on those who also "keep" or heed it. Revelation is full of exhortations to belief and action'God wants His unveiling to spur us to obedience and to a closer relationship with Him. The thrust of Revelation is not necessarily on knowing what is coming but on being prepared for it when it comes, which is accomplished by conforming to God's instructions.
The final words of the benediction convey the motivation for responding to Revelation's warning: ". . . for the time is near." In just the first three verses, then, the idea of imminence has already appeared twice (see also "shortly take place" in verse 1). Our Savior wants the reader to catch a sense of urgency immediately. Elsewhere, biblical authors use similar wording'"soon," "quickly," "at hand," "the time is short"'to give the suggestion of proximity without being precise. Evidently, God feels that the best Christians are fashioned in an atmosphere of expectancy. This is reminiscent of Jesus' almost paradoxical remark in Matthew 24:44: "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect Him."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The All-Important Introduction to 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
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 1:3: