Listen, Learn, Obey; Language; Rev. 1:1-3
We are going to go back and hit a couple of high points in the syntax of Revelation 1:2 because it is important to understand and it also will be a good review and bring us up to where we are in verse 3 and the conclusion to this prologue.
"Who testified to the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw." The background image here is of a courtroom. The key word is the word MARTUREO [maturew] in the verb form and MATURIA [maturia] in the noun form for "testimony" which indicates someone who is a legal witness in court who testifies or provides legal testimony. He is a legal witness. So there is a seriousness to this word, it indicates that this is not something frivolous but this is like a legal testimony in a courtroom, and we have as a backdrop to the Scriptures the appeal trial of Satan. Satan is appealing his verdict to God. And so much of Scripture is cast within legal terminology, the concept of justification, the concept of condemnation. All of these are legal concepts. In our subjective society today we want to make everything relational but the Scriptures are not talking about our relationship to God first and foremost. First they talk about a legal problem that has to be taken care of, and that is that every individual is born under the legal condemnation of sin—legal guilt because of Adam's original sin. That legal guilt has to be taken care of, and it is taken care of when Jesus Christ pays the penalty for our sins on the cross. We also have other imagery: Jesus Christ is our advocate right now. Satan is the prosecutor, the one who brings charges against us. He is the adversary, which is what Satan means. As we have pointed out, John uses this throughout the Gospel of John in terms of presenting a witness.
MARTUREO here is an aorist active indicative in the third person singular. The aorist tense indicates past action. This is an epistolary aorist. Even though this is not an epistle it has certain aspects related to an epistle. For example, there is a salutation in 1:4. In an epistolary aorist the writer who is writing in present time will use a past tense verb because by the time the reader reads what he has written his writing will already have taken place. So an epistolary aorist is when you say, "I am writing," but by the time the reader reads it the act of writing will have been in the past and you use a past tense verb. It is usually related to a word such a writing a testimony, or speaking, or some kind of verb like that. So this is an epistolary aorist where John is talking about what is happening in present time as he is witnessing this revelation, but by the time he has it written down it will have occurred in the past tense. So from the perspective of his readers it will have been in the past: "who testified to the Word of God."
What really breaks this open is an understanding the connection between the next two phrases. There are two phrases: "the Word of God" and "the testimony of Jesus." What is the relationship between these two things? The connection is the word "and," which is the Greek is the conjunction KAI [kai]. Is he talking about two different things? In the English we use the word "even" which is different from "and," but in Greek the word KAI can have that ascensive use where the second word of the two really explains and expands on the first one. This is the case that we have here. We have "the Word from God" which refers to any declaration or disclosure that comes from God. In "the testimony of Jesus Christ" it is not a testimony that comes from Jesus, although that could be the sense, it is more accurately described as a subjective genitive in that case because as we saw earlier the word "testify" is the verb form, MATUREO, which is related to the noun form MARTURIA for "testimony." A testimony is a noun of action, so when you have a noun of action followed by a genitive it can be either subjective or objective. An objective genitive would be the testimony about Jesus Christ. But as we have already seen in our analysis of the first verse the revelation of Jesus Christ is not the revelation about Jesus Christ but it is Jesus Christ's revelation. It is about what He is revealing. And we have the same thing here. This is the word from God and the testimony borne/given by Jesus. This is Jesus' testimony. So this reinforces what has gone on and what has been said in the first verse. Verse two reiterates this, that John is the one who is going to testify to this message from God which is Jesus' testimony. The way we know that this phraseology is talking about the same thing is this last phrase: "to all that he saw." He testified to all that he saw. He is not talking about his testimony previously in the Gospel of John, he is talking about all that he saw in this revelation. So in Revelation 1:2 John is saying, I am giving a legal testimony about this message, this disclosure from God, which is Jesus Christ's testimony.
The phrase "all that he saw" translates the Greek HOSOS [o(soj] which is a relative pronoun meaning as much as or as many as. So he is giving his testimony to everything that God disclosed to him. Unlike Daniel who did not disclose everything revealed to him, John is disclosing everything that has been revealed, and this relates to the doctrine of sufficiency. The Bible tells us everything and with the apocalypse the canon of Scripture is completed, so that we now have a sufficient revelation. We are told everything we need to know about future events. Prophecy is brought to a close here. We have all the information we need to be able to understand God's plan and purposes for the future. That doesn't mean that we are told everything that we want to know. We need to live today with the end in mind. That is the thrust of the prologue of Revelation. We need to understand where history is going, where the plan of God is going, because when we understand where things are going it is going to change the way we live today. It will transform the significance of events today, and we need to live today in the light of eternity.
Revelation 1:3, "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." This is the warning, the urgency. Just because Jesus has not come back for 2000 years doesn't change the sense of urgency here. These things will take place and when they do take place will take place quickly, and the culmination is going to be these various judgments, evaluations; and the same is true for the believer.
The concept of blessing is the Greek word MAKARIOS [makarioj], meaning to be happy, content, privileged. It has the idea predominantly of being a favored recipient of divine grace. We have been favored with divine grace because we have this knowledge, this information. John says that we are blessed if we have this. We are special recipients of divine grace by having this information because this is going to change our understanding of how we are living the Christian life today. There are three categories mentioned here. The words "he who reads" is a present active participle, and it has an article with it which indicates it is used as a substantive, but it is a nominative masculine singular so it is talking about an individual. The other two participles, "hear the words" and "heed the sayings," are plural, so they refer to a group of people; but this relates to the one who reads. The word is ANAGINOSKO [a)naginwskw], and it is not simply sitting down and reading in private, it is reading something publicly. Generally most people did not have a copy of the Scriptures at the time Revelation was written. The only way they would learn it is that the pastor would stand in the pulpit and read it like a letter. For us this is the public teaching of Revelation. So "blessed is he who reads" refers to the pastor who exegetes and teaches the book of Revelation to the congregation.
Secondly, "to those who hear." This is the Greek word AKOUO [a)kouw], a present active participle, a nominative masculine plural, and it means not simply to listen in the sense of having one's auditory sense stimulated but it means to listen intently, to concentrate, to study, to respond. Hear what? "the words of this prophecy." Here we have LOGOS [logoj] in the plural and this ties us directly back verse 2, "the words of this prophecy are the Word of God." It is not just the Word about God, it is the Word from God. So the second participle emphasizes the one who hears, the one who concentrates, the person who is studying, taking notes and focusing on the word of this prophecy. This again reinforces the idea of verbal, plenary inspiration; that we believe that every word is inspired by God, not just the ideas, not just some of the words but all of the words. The concept of verbal inspiration emphasizes the Word; the term "plenary" inspiration emphasizes the totality of each and every word being breathed out by God.
Thirdly, "those who heed the things that are written in it." This is a present active participle, TEREO [thrhw], masculine nominative plural. Again, it is to those who heed—application. This is not just an academic exercise of learning what Revelation says but there are things here that we are going to have to apply in our life. This is a concept that is parallel to James 1:22, "But prove [GENESTHAI/genesqai, aorist active imperative of GINOMAI/ginomai, meaning to become something that you are not] yourselves doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." The word there that is an aorist active infinitive of POIEO [poiew] means to be a doer, but it means to apply the Word. It is not talking about Christian service, it is talking about application of what is learned. We don't want to be simply those who fill up their doctrinal notebooks with all kinds of information, we want it in our soul so that we are applying it—changing the way we think, changing the way we live, changing to the way we relate to others. Then in verse 23 James explains this: "For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for once he has looked at himself, and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was." We understand the principle of looking in a mirror and applying that to our life that which we learn from the mirror. The Word of God is a mirror, we hold it up and it reflects back to us the way reality is and the way we are. It reveals a lot of things about us that we don't like. That is why people try to reinterpret the Scriptures; they don't like what it says about them. So the Bible is going to expose the flaws and the failures in our life, and we have to exercise our volition and do something about it. Verse 25, "But one who looks intently [PARAKUPTO/ parakuptw, the idea of concentrating on something] at the perfect law of liberty, and abides by it [does what it says], not having become a forgetful hearer, but an effectual doer [someone who applies effectively the principles of doctrine they have learned], this man will be blessed in what he does." Doesn't that relate to what John has said in Revelation 1:3!
"…. for the time is near." That is the explanation. This is the Greek word GAR [gar], translated "for," which is an explanation. Why is it important to read and hear and heed "the words of this prophecy"? It is because the time is near. This is our motivation. Jesus could come back tomorrow. If He doesn't come back tomorrow you could die tomorrow; you don't know. The time is near. This adds an element of urgency to it. It is the Greek word EGGUS [e)gguj] which has the idea of immediacy, which would relate to the idea of the imminence of the Lord's coming; it could happen at any time. We don't know when it will be but the time is near, it is imminent.
There is embedded in Revelation 1:1-3 an inherent concept of communication which will help us to define both a doctrine of language as well as a doctrine of hermeneutics or interpretation. For example, in the first verse "the revelation of Jesus Christ" uses the word APOKALUPSIS [a)pokaluyij]. It is that which is unveiled or disclosed. It is not meant to be hidden, it is meant to be revealed, disclosed. God isn't hiding something. It is written to be understood and is not something to be guessed at. It is written to be understood; it is written to show something. He communicates it, SEMAINO [shmainw], related to the word for "signs" but it means to communicate. The symbols or words represents an external reality. Then we see that this is not only an unveiling, a showing, a communication, but it is the message or Word of God. It is a legal testimony, which means it is designed to say some things and other meanings are clearly excluded. We are told that this is a blessing if it is taught, heard, and heeded. The implication there is that it can be heeded because it can be understood. When it is understood and heeded it is a blessing. The assumption is that this is designed to be a blessing, not something we have to guess at. The word of God is not something to be guessed at but it is something designed by an omnipotent and omniscient God to communicate precise, specifics in a way that can be clearly understood by the recipient so that they are accountable for the application of that message.
The doctrine of language
1) In the beginning God spoke, Genesis 1:3. God said something specific. What is embedded here is the idea that God speaks and he means something, and everything else is excluded from the meaning of that utterance.
2) From this we see that God is able to communicate a specific meaning. He is not communicating something that is mysterious and impossible. God has the ability to communicate and to be understood. God created man in His image and likeness, and as creatures in His image and likeness we have been created with a receiver that is operating at the same wave length as God so that we can hear and understand Him. In spiritual death that gets distorted because of sin, but at regeneration that wave length is restored. In the church age we have the Holy Spirit who helps us to understand that transmission even more.
3) Underlying all of creation is a linguistic structure. Everything is capable of being described and the creation of everything came as the result of a verbal utterance.
4) This counteracts the notion that meaning is fluid and that symbols are not literal. There are clear rules of interpretation for anything.
5) This counteracts the postmodern notion that all language is culturally conditioned and needs to be deconstructed.
6) If God literally speaks in Genesis 1 and His words produced creation then that provides a framework for meaning. Words become attack. What is the first attack? Genesis chapter three: "Did God really say?" Satan is attacking meaning all of a sudden. This is how Satan and Satan's world attacks the truth of Scripture. It questions its meaning.
7) We realize from Old Testament prophecies that they are to be understood literally. Jesus was born literally in Bethlehem. He was crucified. The prophecies were written at a time when crucifixion wasn't in existence but he was literally crucified. He was in the grave for three days and three nights, not a week, not one day. Even though the number three may have some symbolic significance it has a literal reality. That is what we will see in Revelation. Even though there are a lot of things said with numbers, the numbers are to be taken literally even though they may have some symbolic significance.
8) This leads to the conclusion that when God speaks He is able to do so in a way that we can understand and we are accountable for that. That is the urgency of the command "for the time is near."