When John addressed to the churches the record of his prophecy, he was very careful to emphasize that the words he wrote were not his own. Apostle though he was, his message could not depend on his authority alone; it had to be sent under the name of him from whom it came. It had to be signed and witnessed by Jesus Christ himself.
So, right at the beginning of his book, before he gives his name, John tells us what he is writing. The title is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.” It came from God, and it is for all of God’s servants to read and to know what is about to happen. It was conveyed by the hand of an angel and is in very truth “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” the sum of all that was revealed to John. So much the Apostle says by way of preface.
But that is not enough. He goes on and reverently brings a greeting from the Eternal and from the Spirit in heaven—and, most particularly, from Jesus Christ. It is his Revelation, after all, and he must again and again be identified as its source. It is only worthy of attention if it comes from him. So John names him: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.” Yes, the first begotten of the dead. The one who raised himself up on that morning so many years ago—six decades, was it?—still so fresh in John’s mind. The mention of the resurrection moves John first into doxology for the one who died for us and then to a vision, so many years into the future—not quite so many, now—of his return in the clouds.
Next, the voice of Jesus Christ himself comes directly into the record. He tells us, as if in confirmation of all that John has said, who he is: “the beginning and the ending,” the Eternal Lord, the Almighty.
Now, finally, John is coming to the end of his introduction. He is ready, now, to tell the churches what he saw and how it happened that he became the author of the last message from Jesus Christ.
The story of the Revelation is familiar to all Christians who have been taught from the holy scriptures. We know how John was there in Patmos on the Lord’s day—the day of the resurrection. We know of the voice which he heard and the vision which he saw of the Son of man. We know of his fear and the way in which he was comforted. We have read the instructions he was given and the letters which he sent to the churches. All of this we know.
Through it all there runs a theme. Notice how John describes his reaction: “I fell at his feet as dead.” Surely many men would die to gain a sight of the Eternal and, seeing him, must die indeed, for who can stand before his face?
But this is the word that he spoke to his fearful servant: “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” The fear that was as death to the Apostle, the fear that made our first father to hide from the face of God, the fear that holds in bondage all men everywhere because they are dying, Jesus Christ has an answer to them all. “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen.” Write that in your book, John! Send it to the seven churches of Asia, and then to all the earth. Here is life! He lives and died and lives for ever! What is death when we have such a Lord?
The Book of the Revelation is indeed the gospel of the resurrected Christ.
The Apostle wrote his letters to the churches: seven of them, each a message from the one who was victorious over death. But no sooner had John accomplished that task than he was called again, this time to look into heaven to see the throne of God.
In wonder John surveyed the celestial scene, and in awe he put his pen to paper, as other prophets before had done, to record his vision of the heavenly worship. In that place the Eternal and Almighty Creator is ceaselessly adored with all the praise that angel hosts can render. The beasts and elders serve him day and night. They sing to him; they speak of his glory. But him John could not see, for his abode is in the light into which no man can come. His throne is encircled in colour, and there in front is the sea of glass.
In all of this beauty and majesty there was, John discovered, a problem. God had a book, and that book must be opened. But there appeared, at least at first, no one to open it. Therefore John “wept much,” he tells us. Was God’s plan to be thwarted for lack of anyone able to open his book? No, it was not so. John’s attention and ours is directed to one named “the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David,” a victorious Conqueror. He answers the call for one to open the book. And who is he? John looked, and what was named a Lion was in fact a Lamb—“a Lamb as it had been slain.” He is worthy to open God’s book. He died and lives again, and now he reigns with God in his throne. Behold the Lamb! Behold the risen Christ!
Let us turn now to the end of the Apocalypse. We pass over the pages which tell of the judgments of God upon the earth and of the redemption of his people, and we come to the end of the story—the end of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which is the end of all things. And yet it is also a beginning.
Here John writes of how he saw the holy city of God, the eternal Jerusalem. He tells us of certain ones who never will come there: it is the house of God, and no sinner may enter. The evildoers, in fact, have their own place, where they will endure unutterable torment in endless fire. But there are others who will come and live in the city. They have been “saved,” John says, and he identifies them as “they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” It is the Lamb’s book because he won it in the day of his resurrection. It is a book of life because those whose names it contains shall live. And they shall dwell in that city where the river of life flows out from God’s throne to revive and refresh all who drink from it. That river never runs dry, and those who taste it never thirst. It cleanses and heals. It springs out of the life of God and pours that life into the souls of his servants. This it can do because the Lamb died and lives again.
Now, on the last page of the book, that voice which spoke at the beginning speaks again: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” He has a blessing for those “that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” He told John before that he has the keys of death and hell. Now we see that he has also the key to the holy city, whose gates he opens wide to us.
He himself speaks once more to verify that the message of the Revelation is indeed his message for the churches. And then, lest there be any doubt about the way into the life of the city, comes the invitation: Come!—Come!—“And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” And all who come may live, and that for ever, because Jesus Christ lives and died, and, behold, he is alive for evermore!
Brendon Johnson is a graduate student at Bob Jones University. He is completing a Master of Arts in Bible in a few weeks.