The Revelation to John, the last book of the New Testament, belongs to those four centuries around the birth of Christ, two before and two after, which many people experienced “an open door” in heaven. It’s the time that apocalypse, revelation was rife, that many “apocalypses” have been written. Most of them could remind us of our own dreams – pictures following each other, often without a “logical” sequence, without beginning or end. One of them stands out: this book which made it into the Bible, even when quite some people didn’t like it at all and wondered why it had been taken into the canon of the Bible. Luther, the German reformer, must have said that his spirit could not find itself at ease in it.
In the first three verses, John states that God gave this revelation to Jesus Christ, to show his servants what must soon take place. In order to give this revelation, he sent his angel to his servant John, that he would witness to the contents: to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, “even to all that he saw”. Then John adds a blessing, the first of seven “beatitudes” found in the Revelation, blessing those who read aloud, who hear and who keep what is written in this book, “for the time is near”.
As we see in the Gospel of John, the “witness” comes forward with his testimony as John the Baptist did (see for instance 1:6-8 and 10:41-42), as well as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see from chapter 11 and after 12:17: 19:35 and 21:20-24). That Gospel also knows well the importance of “keeping” the words of Christ (8:51, 14:15 and 15:10).
After having, as it were, legitimized himself as to the source and the revelation he is to be shown, in 1:4-8 John addresses his audience, the “seven churches in Asia”, in the area colonized by the Greeks where he had lived and worked for so long, giving them blessings from the One we would call God the Father (“who is and who was and who is to come”) and from the spirits before his throne, as well as from Jesus Christ in three manifestations: as faithful witness (of the Father), as first-born of the dead (himself, as the Son), ruler of kings on earth (in whom the Spirit has come into its own).
Then out of the revelation he has experienced, John breaks out in a glorification of him whom we know in three ways: the One who loves us, who has freed us by his blood from our sins, who will make us into self-reliant priests to his God and Father. And speaks of His Coming, with the clouds, so that every eye will see him, “every one who pierced him”; directly introducing the pictures of Cross and Lamb. As a kind of affirmation to what John has written, the voice of the Lord God comes through, of Him “who is and who was and who is to come”, Alpha and Omega, the Almighty.
Now John begins to speak for and out of himself (“I, John”), evoking shared martyrdom over years of “patient endurance” because of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (as he had already written). Having spent years of being exiled on the island of Patmos, lying before this part of the coast of Asia Minor, he exactly pinpoints the beginning of his revelation: the Lord’s Day – the day of divine service, when he “was in Spirit”, and received his task: to write what he sees in a book and send it to the seven churches in the seven cities named.