Unveiling Christ in History
The first five chapters of the book of Revelation are not primarily historical, but introductory. Neither are the two final chapters historical, but form the conclusion. This does not mean that they have no historical foundation, or that the scenes pictured are unreal, but rather that they are visionary.
Further, the second and third chapters, which are the messages to the seven churches of Asia, are prophetic of church ages. As such they form an outline of church history from the first century to the present time. However, after these chapters, and before the history is set forth, the narrative is interrupted by the great vision of the throne, where John sees the end from the beginning.
Unveiling Takes Time
Revelation 1:1, 2 says,
1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant, John, 2 who testified [bore witness] to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
As we noted earlier, this is the revelation (or unveiling) of Jesus Christ. It has a double meaning. Jesus Christ Himself is being unveiled, and also Jesus Christ is unveiling prophetic truth to His people. The historical events to be unveiled provide us with the progressive unveiling of Jesus Himself until the whole earth is full of His glory.
On the personal level, the flesh is a veil that must be torn in order to expose the glory that is within the believer. Heb. 10:20 tells us that Jesus entered the holy place “through the veil, that is, His flesh.” His flesh veiled the inner glory throughout His entire ministry on earth, except for a brief moment at the Mount of Transfiguration, where His glory was revealed. So also is it with us. Our flesh must be overcome (“torn”) in order to unveil the glory of Christ in us.
Such unveiling takes time. No believer becomes an overcomer instantly. The flesh is put off piece by piece over a period of time, as God works in us to overthrow all idols of the heart. This is the purpose of Pentecost, our time in the wilderness, which leads us in the end to experience Tabernacles and to inherit our portion of the Promised Land.
So also is it with the fleshly nations. The nations are not instantly subdued under the feet of Christ. Heb. 2:8 says,
8 You have put all things in subjection under His feet. For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing that is not subject to Him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.
Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension guaranteed that all things would be subjected to His rule—with no exceptions except the Father Himself (1 Cor. 15:28). Even so, this was to take time. Time is History. History is the outworking of prophecy. Therefore, the unveiling of Jesus Christ in men and nations is not instantaneous, but works out through time in a historical growth and progression.
Unveiling TO US and IN US
The purpose of the book of Revelation, then, is twofold. First, it is to unveil Christ Himself to us and to the nations of the world. Secondly, it is to unveil Christ in us and in the nations. As Christ is unveiled to us in history, He emerges from within us as well, culminating in the manifestation (revelation, unveiling) of the sons of God to the rest of the world.
These two aspects of His coming are stated plainly in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. He speaks first of Christ’s coming on the historical level, where He is unveiled to the world, in 2 Thess. 1:7,
7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted; and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed [apokalupsis, “unveiled”] from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.
Then Paul speaks of the unveiling in us in 2 Thess. 1:10,
10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.
This pictures the unveiling of the sons of God, when Christ is glorified “in His saints…to be marveled at” by all. Hence, the two events, one historical and the other personal, are said to occur at the same time, i.e., “on that day.” There are many who have not been taught how the sons of God will be unveiled to the world, for this truth has been hidden largely by the doctrine of the Rapture.
The Rapture theory, which was developed with no knowledge of the feast of Tabernacles, pictures the saints being caught away to heaven, rather than showing them being manifested on the earth. If they had understood the feast of Tabernacles, they would have seen that the catching away occurs on the eighth day of Tabernacles, when the sons of God are glorified. They return the same day to be “manifested” and admired (“marveled at”) by all who see them.
For a more detailed study of the feast of Tabernacles, see my book, The Rapture in the Light of Tabernacles.
Rev. 1:1 identifies John as a “bond-servant” and also says that the message was to be shown to “His bond-servants.” The idea of the bond-servant (slave) should not be viewed through Greek lenses, but with a Hebrew perspective. Paul, too, called himself a bond-servant in Rom. 1:1. Why did Paul and John favor this position? Why would they not call themselves “sons” or even “friends” of Christ? Jesus said in John 15:15,
15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
Further, we read in John 8:34-36,
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
A slave-master always had the authority to set a slave free, if he chose to do so. In other words, being a bond-servant, or slave, was not necessarily a permanent position. But the divine law goes beyond the act of setting a slave free. The freed slave had the option of returning to the property of his family inheritance or of returning to his master as a perpetual bond-servant. Exodus 21:5, 6 says,
5 But if the slave plainly says, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out as a free man,” 6 then his master shall bring him to God; then he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.
No slave would wish to become a permanent bond-slave apart from loving his master. It is plain that biblical slavery is not a license to mistreat slaves (Exodus 21:26, 27). The Bible does not give masters the power of life and death over any slave (Exodus 21:20). Hence, the Bible contemplates the unthinkable—insofar as men’s views of slavery are concerned—that a slave would so love his master that he would want to remain with him as a permanent slave.
Such slaves were to have their ears “opened” by piercing their earlobes with an awl. This prophesied spiritually that the slave “heard” the word of his master and was in agreement with that word. Whereas he may have started out as an unwilling slave, forced by the law to serve his master on account of some debt (sin), he later learned to love his master and came to serve him out of love, rather than by compulsion.
David mentioned this as well about himself, for he considered himself to be a bond-servant who loved his Master. In Psalm 40:6-8 he writes,
6 Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. 7 Then I said, “Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me; 8 I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.”
This pictures a slave freely returning to his master, not out of the Law’s compulsion, but because “Thy Law is within my heart.” He came because his spiritual ears had been opened to hear the voice of his Master. In Heb. 10:5-9 this passage is applied to Jesus Himself, who took that position, even though He was called the Son of God.
In other words, this type of bond-servant is the legal equivalent of a “son” as well as a “friend” who loves his master. Such a position is attained when one graduates from obedience to agreement and from fear to love. When a bond-servant is in agreement with the Master, he becomes the Master’s double witness. The bond-servant speaks only what he hears his Master say. He does only what he sees his Master do. Such is the unity of agreement, and this is why John calls himself “His bond-servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Both John and Paul had overcome the flesh to the point where they were voluntary bond-slaves of Jesus Christ. They loved Him, and they agreed with His law. Hence, Paul says in Rom. 7:16, “I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.” He says further in Rom. 7:25, “I myself with my [spiritual] mind am serving the Law of God.”
Paul’s testimony applies equally to John, the bond-servant. John was the disciple who loved Jesus more deeply than the others. Legally speaking, he was a voluntary bond-slave of Jesus Christ, but because of shared love and agreement, John had been raised to the position as “friend” and “son.”
The Number 14
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 (Rev. 1:1 [twice], 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 loved. They returned 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 also understand 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 my book, Dr. Luke, Healing the Breaches, Book 1. 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
Rev. 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 Matt. 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 (Rom. 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. Rev. 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.
Things Which Must Soon Take Place
John says in the first verse that he was shown things that would “soon” take place. This is a reference to the historical events that are revealed in the book itself. The Greek word is takhos, which means “quickness, speed.” James 1:19 uses the same term when he says we should be “quick to hear.”
The word implies that the message in the book of Revelation was something that would come to pass sooner, rather than later. The word fits the Historicist view of Revelation better than the Futurist view, which puts the events off to the far future. However, the time is indefinite, and God’s “soon” does not necessarily conform to our mortal perspective of time. So we cannot press the issue too much. Nevertheless, in order for the term to have any meaning at all to those who hear John’s testimony, it seems to support the idea that these events were to begin in John’s day or shortly thereafter.