Revelation Series (Chapter 1, verse 1)

To be thorough, you can go back and read the earlier post on context, so you will be caught up. You can find it here.

Chapters 1-3 should be read as a unit, and the introduction here is deeply evocative of the way the Hebrew Bible prophets were introduced in their own books, particularly how they were read as part of the religious liturgical readings. It appears Revelation was meant to function in a similar way to the prophetic books, as far as it was meant to be read aloud to Christian communities, who borrowed much in the way of religious practice from Judaism, much of which was because they were often the same communities.

1:1 – “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,”

What is being revealed is the behind-the-scenes narrative of the present world, to encourage the saints. This was given to Jesus by God, who is the central figure of the Book. The purpose of this revelation is to show his servants (presumably Christian faithful) what will soon happen. This verse sounds like it is a callback to Daniel (the first of many), particular 2:28, where it talks about God revealing what will happen at the end of days to Nebuchadnezzar. The end in this case, is soon (v.1) and near (v.3). In Revelation, the end refers not to the end of time itself, but rather to the end of the age, a common Hebrew expression meaning “the end of the current age.” In particular, the start of the age to come, in which God will be made king once more. This is, in effect, happening all around the Anatolian (ancient Asia Minor) believers as Christianity expands from Israel outward in the Roman empire.

Jesus, in turn, delivers this message to John by an angel. At no point should we get too caught up in the strange beings of Revelation and assume they are shedding some sort of cosmic light on what this or that angel is really like. Angels in Revelation function only as means to an end in Rev. In fact, the world angel in Greek is “angelou” (any Maya fans out there?), which means “messenger.” It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word for messenger is mal’akh, which is also translated “Angel” in the Hebrew Bible. All of this to say is that there is no need to think supernaturally whenever the Bible says “angel.” Quite possibly, all that is meant is that there is someone who is being a messenger, usually from God, telling people what God wants them to hear. That isn’t to say that these aren’t supernatural beings, but we shouldn’t automatically assume winged creatures of light, harps, and cherubic faces when we see this word. Furthermore, that image of angels exists nowhere in scripture. This could very well read, “he made it known by sending his MESSENGER to his servant John,” and it would be a better translation.

 

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