Everything I Need to Know about Revelation I Learned in the First Eight Verses

Everything I Need to Know about Revelation I Learned in the First Eight Verses

You are already well equipped to productively read this wonderful book. You don’t have to understand it all to get something out of it. If you are able to immerse yourself in it and stand in awe of the Victorious Lamb, you are doing well.

There’s a saying I’m kinda fond of, though it’s not very sophisticated: “the beginning of things tells you stuff.” The idea is that writers tend to show their readers how to engage with and appropriate their work within the opening lines of their work. I’ve written about that elsewhere, and it’s true for most works, both ancient and modern, but it’s especially true of Revelation.

There is so much we learn about the book in the first few verses. Moreover, what we learn in that short space has a systemic impact on how we interpret the book. Revelation seems so difficult and confusing, but John has actually given us firm footholds in the opening of his letter. He’s guiding his readers in how Revelation is to be read.

Here’s an incomplete and “in brief” list of some of the essentials.

  • Jesus is the first recipient of Revelation, not John. Most English Bibles title the book “The Revelation to John,” but that’s only partially correct. This is actually the very first thing that John tells us. This book constitutes “the revelation” that “God gave to him” (1:1), and the “him” in that clause can’t be anyone other than “Jesus Christ.” The verse goes on to explain how this book got into John’s hands. The Father first gave it to Jesus (and you can read about that in Rev. 5), then Jesus passed it along to John via an Angel, and John in turn wrote it down and sent it to the churches (Rev. 1:2). There’s a lot to unpack here, but remember when Jesus told the disciples that “not even the Son of Man knows the day or the hour” (Mark 13:32)? Well, the obvious next question is: when will that information be disclosed? Revelation is that disclosure, and it was disclosed first to the only one accounted worthy (Rev. 5:9). Then, and marvel at this my friends, the one worthy chose to disclose all these things to us (Rev. 1:19).
  • The first form of this Revelation was seen, not imagined, written, read, or heard. We haven’t left the first two verses yet. Revelation is “shown” to Jesus, then to John, then to the church. The first and primary iteration by which the Father revealed these things is through visions.
  • By contrast, the church at large only receives Revelation in its written form (1:19 again), not its visual form. John “writes what he saw.” The writing down of that which was first seen involves a kind of “conversion” of media. We’re moving from the visual, to the verbal. This in itself has multiple implications. Here’s two:
    • First, we can note that communicating information visually and communicating information verbally require different skillsets. How do you “novelize” a movie? How do you describe the impact that a personal experience to friends without lamely concluding “you just had to be there?” It’s tough, and it requires a lot of artistic and literary and story-telling skill. John has those skills (he wrote a Gospel!), and he uses them to “show” the church what he saw.
    • Second, and equally importantly, there is a corresponding burden on the reader to now “recreate” the vision from the written word. John is supposed to write what he sees. The reader, in their turn, is supposed to “see” what is written. There’s a burden on both writer and reader here. Our burden is to visualize the word written. You have a ready tool for this, given to you by God. It’s called the “imagination.” Use it.

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