The Blessed Ones
Nov 20, 2015
When John presents us with the Hebrew concept of a bond-servant, the importance of this idea is undergirded by numbers. The Greek word doulos (bond-servant) is used 14 times in the book of Revelation (twice in Rev. 1:1, 2:20, 6:15, 7:3, 10:7, 11:18, 13:16, 15:3, 19:2, 19:5, 19:18, 22:3, 22:6).
Fourteen is the biblical number that means “deliverance, or release.” For this reason, Israel was released from bondage in Egypt on the fourteenth day of the first month (Passover). In the book of Revelation, the bond-servants of Christ are those who were released, but who returned voluntarily to become perpetual bond-servants to the Master that they love. They return as friends and are honored as sons, for those whom the Son sets free are “free indeed” (John 8:36). When we understand the law of voluntary bond-servants, and when we see how Jesus set free His disciples into the glorious liberty of the children of God, we can then get our arms around the phrase “free indeed.”
My friend, Mark, who has studied Greek for many years, tells me that doulos literally means, “to swallow up one’s will in the will of another.” This is what happens when a voluntary bond-servant comes fully into agreement with the will of the Master. Such unity is the full outworking of divine love. At one time Mark was asked a question: “What is the perfect picture of the Father’s love?” His response was, “Agape is pictured in the bond-servant.”
Hence, John uses doulos fourteen times to tell us that these are not mere bond-servants, but voluntary bond-servants who have returned as friends and as sons of God.
The Memra of God
The book of Revelation is an extension to the book of Daniel, but it is also a sequel to the Gospel of John. The introduction to the book of Revelation, emphasizing the idea of the bond-servant, is a restatement of the introduction to John’s gospel, where he presents Christ as the Logos, translated “the Word.”
No translation adequately expresses the Hebrew concept of the Logos. It is the equivalent of the Hebrew Memra, which I described in the last chapter of Book 1: Dr. Luke, Healing the Breaches. The Memra is the top position above ordinary rabbis and even above rabbis “with authority.” It was a messianic term, describing a rabbi with authority who had become so perfected that his very life was the fulfillment of the law. He was the word made flesh, the living word, manifesting the word in all he might say and do.
The Jewish Encyclopedia tells us that the Memra is the equivalent of the Greek word Logos. It says further, “Memra has laid the foundation of the earth” (Targ. Isa. xlviii. 13). The Memra is “the consuming fire” and the Shekinah, or the manifestation of God.
Perhaps the most significant description of the Memra in The Jewish Encyclopedia, at least for our purposes, is its statement: “My Memra shall be unto you like a good plowman who takes off the yoke from the shoulder of the oxen.” The imagery presented here shows that the Memra was called to set the bond-servants free. This is what Jesus did when he set His disciples free. This is the force behind the title of “bond-servant” used by both Paul and John.
In effect, the Memra came to bless us by turning the bond-servants of God into love-slaves. These, then, are the blessed ones who read the book of Revelation with understanding, so that they are able to come into agreement with the mind of Christ.
The Blessed Ones
Revelation 1:3 is the final verse of the introduction to the book of Revelation.
3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
The word translated “blessed” is makarios. It is the word used in the Beatitudes to set forth the condition of a person who lives a blessed life. It is not the same as the act of blessing someone or something, which is eulogio, the word used in Matthew 14:19 when Jesus blessed the food.
The Septuagint shows that the Greek word makarios is the equivalent to the Hebrew word asir (or asher). Asher is the name of one of Jacob’s sons, named because when he was born, his mother considered herself “happy” or “blessed.” It is the first word of the first Psalm: “Blessed is the man…” The word describes the condition of one who walks in the joy of the Lord. It describes the state of the perpetual bond-servant.
So John uses the word makarios to show the blessed condition of those who read and hear the book of Revelation. No doubt this brings a smile of incredulity to many faces, since the book is probably the most misunderstood in Scripture. Most are discouraged when they read it, because they do not truly “hear” what they read. Apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit, the book remains sealed, even though John saw the breaking of the seals.
Read, Hear, and Heed
John’s instruction is to read, hear, and heed the contents of this book. This follows the Hebrew concept where hearing and obeying come from the same word, shema. In other words, if someone claims to have heard something, and yet failed to respond in some way, he did not really “hear.” Hearing is more than hearing with one’s ear. It includes the response as well—something that is clearly set forth in the epistle of James. He tells us in James 1:22,
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
Again, in James 2:17, 18 he says,
17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 18 But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), but the Hebrew concept of hearing includes a response. Only the dead are unresponsive. So also John sets forth the state of the blessed man, who reads, hears, and takes heed. Therefore, we ought to watch for opportunities to use what we read as instruction toward a course of positive action. Specifically, the seven churches each were given a message that called for a change of heart that should have resulted in a change in their behavior (or “works”).
In fact, even the historical prophecies of the book have the power to change our behavior. For this reason, as we will yet see, the divine judgments set forth in the book include a call to repentance. Unfortunately, in the revelation of the rise of Islam in chapter 9, we find that the church as a whole still refused to repent and did not acknowledge that God had raised up Islam to judge the church for its own sin. Revelation 9:21 tells us,
21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
It has been said that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. The book of Revelation prophesies the history of the church, so that the blessed man may read, hear, and take heed. History, indeed, is really His Story. We ought to acknowledge that God is the Author of history, and that history is the account of the progression of the Kingdom of God. If we “hear” the prophecy of history, we may either prepare for the future or learn from the past, depending on the time in which we live.
This is part 6 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.