The Greek word - apokalypsis - literally means “unveiling” or disclosure of something hidden. The word often appears in the New Testament in reference to Christian prophecy (1 Cor 14:6, 26; 2 Cor 12:1), the disclosure of God’s previously hidden plan (Luke 2:32; Rom 16:25), or the manifestation of a new order at the second coming (Rom 2:5; 8:19; 1 Cor 1:7).
This revelation originated with God, who gave it to Jesus Christ for us, and Jesus conveyed this message through his angel to his servant John.
The angel who mediates the revelation of this book seem to appear and speaks in Rev 10:8–9 and in Rev 22:1, 6–10.
John identifies himself as the one who gives witness that what he reports is the word of God and Jesus’ testimony.
By saying “soon”, John contrasts the urgency of his prophecy with the book of Daniel, where Daniel is told that his message is for the distant future (Dan 2:28–29; 12:4; compare also Rev 22:10 - Dan 12:9).
The “soon” can either refer to the seven messages directed to the churches (Rev 2–3) or it should be viewed from the perspective of God’s calendar, whose timetable is different from human calculation (Ps 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8–9).
Three important theological themes appear in Daniel 2 that are mirrored in John’s prologue and throughout Revelation.
First, God is the only one who can reveal the mysteries of the future (Dan 2:18–19, 28–29, 47). This is the point of Revelation 1:1a: God is the origin of this revelation from Jesus Christ.
Second, God has predetermined all the events of earthly history, and he is the one who “changes times and seasons and deposes some kings and establishes others” (Dan 2:21). This is the significance of the verb translated “must” in this phrase (δεῖ, “it is necessary”). Certain events “must happen” because they are set out by God in his sovereign plan for this world and its inhabitants.
Third, the seemingly invincible kingdoms of this world will be swept away by God’s kingdom that will be established forever (Dan 2:44, 47). John alludes to these points in the prologue (Rev 1:5–8), and it is a recurring theme throughout (11:15, 17; 12:10; 19:6, 16; 20:4, 6; 22:5).
This prophecy is intended to be read in the liturgical gathering of the Christian community. John pronounces a blessing on the reader and the listeners - a lector and the members of the congregation who listen and keep its teaching.
They are blessed (Matt 5:3–8; Luke 6:20–22). This is the first of seven beatitudes in the book of revelation, each focusing on the conduct that characterizes a faithful disciple awaiting Jesus’ glorious return.
Reading and listening is not enough, obedience is necessary. Revelation is about ethics as well as eschatology. The goal of this book is not merely to communicate information or arouse curiosity but to transform Christian’s behavior and strengthen their resolve to live in God’s way despite adversity.
“The time is near” - these things can happen at any time, without delay. To know this and live accordingly brings blessing from God.
Grace and peace are common in the letters of Paul (Rom 1:7). But in Paul’s letters “grace and peace” comes from God the Father and Jesus Christ, here they come from God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ.
Moreover John speaks of the Father and the Spirit in a very distinctive manner. He refers to the Father as the one who is and who was and who is to come (see Ex 3:14 LXX).
By saying that God “is to come”, John expresses a major theme of the book - that God is coming to save his people and to judge the wicked.
The Holy Spirit is described in a very unusual way as the seven spirits before God’s throne. This description probably derives from two Old Testament texts: Is 11:2–3 LXX and Zech 4:6, 10.
In Is 11:2–3 - the Spirit of the Lord bestows on the Messiah seven ‘gifts’.
In Zech 4:6 - despite the opposition, God is building his temple - the church - through the action of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:21–22; Rev 3:12; 11:1). The Spirit’s activity will attain its goal in the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:3,16,22).
Jesus is mentioned in third place, rather than in usual Trinitarian order - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John has singled Jesus out for a longer description, followed by a doxology focused uniquely on him, anticipating his central role in this book.
Jesus is an identified by four titles: the title of Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
The title Christ refers to God’s anointed king descended from David.
“The faithful witness”. This title refers to Jesus’ earthly life, his death on the cross in fidelity to God’s calling (cf. 1:1; 3:14). He was faithful to the very end in revealing God’s righteousness and redemptive love to the world, and Christians likewise are called to the same costly witness (see 2:13 - Antipas; 6:9; 12:11; 17:6; 19:10; 20:4; Acts 22:20 - Stephen).
Next Jesus is called “the firstborn of the dead”, a title also mentioned in Col 1:18, to indicate that he is the first member of the human race to pass from death to eternal life (see 1 Cor 15:20).
In Psalm 89:27 (LXX 88:28) God declares that he will make the king in David’s line the “firstborn, highest of the kings of the earth”.
Ever since his resurrection, he is “the ruler of the kings of the earth”, holding supreme authority over every other power (Eph 1:20–23), including the Roman emperor (see Ps 89:27; Ps 2:2, 6–7).
The world’s rulers will resist his reign, but his triumph is sure (Rev 11:15; 17:14; 19:16, 19). This will appear as a central theme in the book from Revelation from chapter 11 onwards.
1:5b - 6
It is the only doxology in the New Testament addressed solely to Jesus. Like some memorable texts from Paul’s Letters (Rom 8:34; Gal 2:20; Eph 5:2, 25), it focuses on Jesus’ personal love expressed in his death on the cross for our sake.
The proof of his love is what he has already done: he has freed us from our sins by his blood.
Christ has “freed us” (literally, “loosed us”) from our sins by his death, obtaining forgiveness through his atoning sacrifice and liberating us from sin’s power. Having dealt thus with the evil root that afflicts the human race, Christ is in the process of eradicating all its bitter fruit. How he will do this provides the overarching story line of Revelation.
God’s promise to make Israel “a kingdom of priests” in Exod 19:6 has been fulfilled in a new and greater way as a result of Jesus’ death on the cross. Christ has made us into a kingdom - a royal people who already reign with Christ and who have access in the Spirit to his God and Father.
The doxology ends with two attributes - glory and power - ascribed to Christ forever (see Rom 11:36; Phil 4:20; 1 Pet 4:11).
The doxology form is a way of acknowledging not only that Christ possesses these attributes but that he is truly deserving them and will exercise them “forever and ever.”
This first prophetic message announces the principal theme of the book, the glorious return of Christ at the end of history. The fact that he is coming amid the clouds recalls Daniel’s vision of “one like a son of man” (7:13) and various New Testament texts promising that Jesus will return with the clouds (Mark 14:62; Acts 1:11).
His return will be public: “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”. This prophecy echoes Zech 12:10 (cited in John 19:37). It foretells Jerusalem’s mourning in repentance over the one they have pierced that is followed by a complete purification from sin (Zech 13:1).
Here, however, it is not only Jerusalem but also “all the tribes of the earth” (NRSV) who lament him (see Matt 24:30). This phrase comes from God’s promise to Abraham: “in you all the tribes of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3 LXX).
When Jesus returns, he will be greeted not only by a repentant Israel but also by many other repentant peoples, whose contrition results in purification from sin.
The certainty of his glorious return is indicated by the double affirmation, “Yes. Amen”.
In the second prophetic message, the Lord God himself speaks in the first person: “I am” (see Ex 3:14). “I am” declarations appear four times in Revelation, twice spoken by God the Father (here and Rev 21:6) and twice by Jesus (Rev 1:17–18; 22:16).
God identifies himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, indicating his authority over all of history from beginning to end and echoing his claim in Isaiah to be the first and the last (Is 41:4; 44:6; see Rev 1:17).
He also identifies himself by the same title as in 1:4, and by the title “the Almighty”, (ὁ παντοκράτωρ). This title occurs nine times in the book and only once elsewhere in the New Testament (in an OT quotation in 2 Cor 6:18).
It is rooted in the Old Testament, being used frequently in the LXX to translate the phrase “Lord of hosts/Lord Sabaoth,” a title that indicates complete dominion and victory over all enemies (cf. 2 Sam 7:8; Amos 4:13; 9:5; Hag 2:6–9).
God speaks similar words directly once more, near the end of the book (Rev 21:5–6).
By revealing his identity and presence at the beginning and the end, God certifies the message of this book.
John is “your brother” - a brother to the reader and hearer of the book.
All Christians are united to Christ and in him to one another through faith and baptism (Gal 3:27–28).
“Partner” - emphasizes a shared relationship, a mutual participation joining people together in some reality or experience. In this case, the shared experience is “the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance” that we have in Jesus.
“The distress or tribulation”. As Christians living in a world that is hostile to Christ this has to be expected (see Mk 10:30; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 These 3:3–4).
“The kingdom” - we are a “kingdom” of Christ (Rev 1:6), ruled by Christ. But at the same time we are on the way toward the kingdom of God and we await the fulness of God’s kingdom (see Acts 14:22; Rom 8:18–25).
“The endurance, perseverance” - patient endurance in the midst of adversity. Experiencing tribulations while expecting the arrival of Christ’s kingdom, Christian must exercise endurance.
All of these ends with a statement “in Jesus.”
Christian identity is rooted in a connection with Christ, but such a union inevitably means participation in his suffering (Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 1:5; 4:10–11; 12:9–10; Phil 3:10; Col 1:24; 1 Pet 4:13). The ability to persevere comes from this life-giving connection with Christ.
John’s vision took place when he was exiled to Patmos, an island in the Aegean Sea about 65 km from Ephesus, because he proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus.
Exile was a common punishment in the Roman Empire. However, John may not have remained long on Patmos. If he was exiled in the mid–90s, he would have been released when the emperor Domitian died in AD 96, since his successor, Nerva (96–98), gave a general amnesty to the exiles.
“In spirit”. Four times John uses the phrase “in spirit” to indicate that the Holy Spirit is the source of his visions (Rev 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10).
John’s prophetic experience may have occurred in the context of the liturgy, since it happened on the Lord’s day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. This is the first and only use of this expression in the New Testament, and it refers to Sunday, the Christian day of worship (see Acts 20:7).
John hears behind him a voice as loud as a trumpet (see Ezek 3:12; 2:2). Here the risen Christ is speaking.
The voice commands: write and send. The command “write” is repeated in many places in Revelation (Rev 1:19; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5; plus 7x in Rev 2–3).
The command “send” is expanded and included the addressee of Christ’s message - the seven churches located in the seven cities in the Roman province of Asia.
They are listed in the order that the bearer of the letter would likely carry them, starting with Ephesus, the chief city of the province, then making a circuit in a clockwise direction. Each city lies two or three days’ walk from the previous one.
We know there were churches at this time in other Asian cities not named here—for instance, in Colossae and Hierapolis, just a few miles from Laodicea (Col 4:13).
The seven churches were probably selected as centers of communication for the churches nearby. From early on, Christian interpreters of Revelation have pointed out that “seven” symbolizes completeness, suggesting that this book was intended by the Holy Spirit for the whole Church, not only in Asia but also in the whole world.