An Open Book (Part Two) – Revelation 1:1-4a

by Roger McCay
14 February 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 1:1-4a
Link to Audio Version

Is studying the book or Revelation worth our time? Leon Morris comments:

The Revelation … is by common consent one of the most difficult of all the books of the Bible. It is full of strange symbolism. There are curious beasts with unusual numbers of heads and horns. There are extraordinary phenomena, like the turning of one-third of the sea into blood (8:8), which are impossible to envisage. Modern readers find it strange. They are moreover not usually attracted by the fantastic schemes of prophecy which some exegetes find in it, and whose ingenuity is matched only by their improbability. The result is that for many Revelation remains a closed book.[1]

It’s easy and understandable to be intimidated into giving up on the Book of Revelation. There is a lot more of the Bible that is more easily comprehended, even enough to be worth a lifetime of study.

Yet, as we began studying John’s Apocalypse last week, we saw we can have confidence that we will understand and be blessed by Revelation. The Lord communicated the message of the book through the Apostle John with the intent for it to reveal something of great importance, to show, not obscure. The Lord promised blessing for those who read, hear with understanding, and keep the Words of the book. So, the book is from the Lord. The book is a revelation. And the book is meant to show and bless. Thus, the “From Whom,” “What,” and “Why.”

Today we’re going to look at the invitational statements in the first four verses, answering “To Whom,” “Where,” and “When.” In this portion of the letter (our passage today), John is speaking in what is called didactic—straightforward teaching, imparting needed information for proper comprehension of the whole (in other words, talking straight to help our understanding of the whole book) John lays out a framework for understanding Revelation, not only giving us anchors to latch on to, but also giving us a feel for the flavor of what is to come. With this intelligible framework, we are enabled to embrace Revelation with anticipation: anticipation of learning and discovery, anticipation of what is to come based on what has already come, anticipation of contemporary application, and anticipation of blessing.

So, let’s look at these invitational questions. To whom is Revelation addressed and where? John provides the answer to this in vv. 1, 3, and 4. Concerning his addressees, John moves from general to specific. He tells us this message was for Christ’s servants, then he mentions “those who” read, hear, and keep. To address Christ’s servants is to designate Christians in general (Col. 3:24), as we are all Christ’s servants, a term that means “bond-servant,” sometimes translated “slave,” purchased with his blood (Gal. 3:13). Those who read, hear, and keep are thus any Christian who presents or receives God’s Word with understanding and humble obedience.

Moving from the general recipients, John then hones in on specific congregations to whom he is sending the letter, in v. 4—“the seven churches in Asia.” As we move on into the book, John continues this narrowing and broadening of perspectives. Verse 11 names the specific seven churches in Asia. Then, in chapters 2-3, he gives messages to each named church, addressing specific situations to each church and even a specific individual, in the case of Antipas (a martyr in the church of Pergamum). Yet there are statements like in 2:7, which occur seven total times in chapters 2-3: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”[2] This is a general statement (as seen with the plural “churches”), indicating the message to an individual church was not meant for them alone. In the immediate vicinity of the initial recipients of the letter, this would have included other churches in the region of Asia, and to whom the letter reached as it expanded in circulation from there.

Thus, John is moving the lens of address from big picture to narrow focus back to big picture and so forth. He has opened the door to the near and far in both region and time, as the specific addressees are actual individual, first-century churches located in a specific region, and the general addressees would include Christians at all times and places. And this makes sense, otherwise what good would the book be to us if it was any other way? What John is doing is grounding his message in a historic real, a foundation for the truths of the book.