A prologue is an introduction to a literary work. It explains what the work is about. Here, John tells us some things about this letter.
First, this is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The word translated as “revelation” is the Greek word “apocalypsis”. It means the removal of a veil or other covering to disclose what lies behind it. Consider Matthew 10:26, which says “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known”. The word “revealed” is a translation of the Greek word “apocalypsis". There may also be an allusion here to Daniel 2:28. There Daniel said “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries and he had made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days”. Nebuchadnezzar was shown things that would happen in the “latter days”, the distant future to Daniel. But John will be shown things that will happen soon for John and the churches in Asia. Although some of the visions will stretch out over human history, some of the events will happen near to the time of John’s writing. In verse 3, John says “the time is near”. At the end of the letter, John says he saw things we must take place soon. (22:6-7)
So, we see that the purpose of this letter is to reveal Jesus Christ to his servants. (v.1) His servants were the people in the churches in Asia. We can benefit from this revealing also, of course. It is important to note that the purpose of the letter is not to hide the truth about Jesus, but to reveal it, to make it known. Much will be shown in symbols, but they were understandable to John and the Asian Christians. The thing we are going to see is that Jesus is no longer the suffering servant, but the reigning king who will destroy all of his enemies
Second, this prologue tells us how the revelation came to be. God the Father gave it to Jesus Christ the son. Jesus made it know to his servants by sending it to his servant, John. John bore witness to all he saw. The reason John refers to what he saw rather than what he was told, is that this revealing will come to him in a vision. He will see things and relate them to his readers.
Third, there is a blessing. This letter was to be circulated among the churches. It would be read aloud. Therefore, John says blessed is he who reads aloud and blessed are those who hear and keep it. They are blessed, at least in part, because it will prepare them for things that will happen soon. John says the words of the letter are a prophecy. A prophecy is a vision of the future with an exhortation to faithfulness. This letter will show hard times to come upon the church and show the need for faithfulness to endure it. Persecution may be martyrdom. Christians need to prepare for that so that they may endure it in faithfulness. Seduction leads to defilement. Christians need to prepare to resist it. Satan works through both. He did in John’s day and he does in ours.
John will see the devil behind the events of Revelation. The devil is the ultimate enemy of the church. John calls him the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan. You recognize the allusion to the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), who enticed Adam to sin. In chapters 12-19, we will see the beast from the sea bring a physical assault on the church, and we will see the beast from the land bring spiritual deception and the harlot who brings material seduction.
This greeting follows the form of letters of the time. First, the author identifies himself. Paul’s letters typically start with the word “Paul”. The greeting of this letter starts with the word “John”. Later, in verse 9, he says he is a brother and a partner in the tribulation and the kingdom. He identifies with them as a believer who is also suffering tribulation. Tradition has it that the writer is John the disciple of Jesus. But, in a greater since, since John is relating what he saw and was given, this is a letter from Jesus to churches in first century Asia.
John addressed the letter specifically to the seven churches in Asia. Jesus will address all seven churches. By Asia, John means western Turkey. He will name them in verse 9. The churches are identified by their cities: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadephia and Laodicea. These are real cities and had real churches with real people who were members.
The greeting extended comes through John from God. Specifically, it comes from the triune God. I have heard people tell me there is no specific reference to the trinity in the New Testament. Well, here is one. First is God the Father. He is the “him who was and who is to come”. (4) This is a statement of the eternal nature of God.
The greeting is also from the seven spirits who are before the throne. (4) This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The number 7 represents fullness. The Holy Spirit is sufficient to guide and strengthen believers to endure temptation and persecution.
And finally, the greeting comes from God the Son. He is identified as Jesus Christ, Jesus who is the anointed one, the messiah. He is the faithful witness also. When he was personally persecuted, he was faithful to the gospel. He will be faithful to strengthen us as we go through tribulation. He is also the firstborn from the dead. This is a reference to his resurrection and to our future resurrection. This is a reflection of Psalm 89:26 in which the Messiah cries out to God and God says “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of heaven”. The New Testament picked up the concept as well. 1 Corinthians 15:20 calls Jesus the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. First fruits were the first of many to come in the harvest. Jesus was the first of many to be resurrected. Colossians 1:18 also calls him the “firstborn of the dead”. Persecutors may kill our bodies, but Jesus will raise them and glorify them for eternity. He proved this in his own resurrection. This is our hope!
Lastly, Jesus is referred to as the ruler of the kings on earth. No matter how powerful a ruler lives on earth, including the devil, Jesus rules him. There are some who say the kingdom does not come until the millennium. But Revelation says Jesus even now is king. The writer of Hebrews said “But of the son he says, your throne of God, is forever and ever, and the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom”. (Hebrews 1:8)
At the mention of the greatness of Jesus, John broke into praise. This is verses 5-7. Praise and worship will be a continual theme in the letter.
John gave two more descriptions of Jesus. He is the one who freed us from our sins by his blood. Jesus’ death on the cross brought our salvation and our freedom from sin. Lastly, Jesus is the one who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father. Again, we have a kingdom now. We also have a role as priests to God. Believers enjoy access to God. Once that was reserved for the Jewish priests, but now all who believe have this great privilege.
John’s praise is to ascribe eternal glory and dominion to Jesus. He will reign for all eternity. He will also have glory for all eternity. Jesus will also return to earth. He will come on the clouds, a symbol of his diety. Everyone will see him on the earth. Those who have not believed in him will wail, for he will come in judgment. This is an allusion to Daniel 7:13-14:
“I saw in the night vision
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away.”
Zechariah 12:10 says:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.
The very last statement of the greeting is from God himself. He declared his eternity by calling himself the alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. He is presently, he in the past and he will be forever. And through all eternity, he is the Almighty. No one is stronger than he. He will live forever to consummate his plans for us and has the power to do so. This was a good reminder for first century Asian Christians and it is a good reminder for us.