Revelation is the only book of the Bible where we are promised a blessing for reading it. (Revelation 1:3) This is the blessing that comes from knowing Jesus more intimately, more personally, day by day. The full extent of God’s blessing comes not from just reading the book or hearing it, but from "taking to heart" what is written here - in other words, acting on it! "Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book." (Revelation 22:7)

Revelation is also the only book in the Bible where there is a dire warning about the consequences of corrupting the message of the book: "I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19)

So what God wants to tell us must be important for us to know and understand. The message itself was given by God the Father to Jesus so that He could make His followers aware of what was about to happen. (Revelation 1:1) Jesus wants us to know what is happening. We are joint heirs with Him of the kingdom of heaven and His co-workers. We are servants, to the extent that we are so committed to working with Him that we will do whatever He asks and not question His direction. He also calls us friends and He wants us to be able to identify events as they happen. That is why He spoke to John and asked him to write this book of Revelation. "You are My friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my Name. This is my command: 'Love each other'." (John 15:14-17)

A privileged time

We can feel honoured and excited that Jesus should want to be intimately involved with us and for us to be so with Him. This is the most exciting time to be alive: in the "last days" before Jesus’ return, at the climax of the ages - the time when the redemption of mankind is coming to its fulfilment. Why are you and I alive at this time? Why, out of all the billions of people that have ever lived, is it our turn to be here on earth? God did not make a mistake when He breathed the breath of physical life into us and chose us to be part of this last generation. He chose us because He knew what we would be like and the part that we could play in this final act of His work on earth. We are living in the days when a great harvest of souls is being brought into His Kingdom. He knew us before we were created in our mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13-16) He approved every single part of us and delights in His own handiwork. We are the apple of His eye. (Zechariah 2:8) We are perfect in His sight and called to be His friends. (John 15:15)

One God - one message

Whatever Jesus speaks is always exactly what God the Father has told Him to say. Equally, whatever the Holy Spirit says is what God the Father has said. God is one and yet He is three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. A useful, but fairly simplistic, analogy is that water is a single substance and yet it may be present in three forms or states – ice, water and steam. We also need to remember that God is spirit and comparisons with our primarily physical world cannot be pushed too far. The concept of God as one being, yet three "persons" - what Christians call "The Trinity" - is a difficult concept to grasp, but it's an attempt to make sense of the different ways in which God has chosen to communicate to us His message about who He is and how much He loves us. As we go through this book, we shall see the different persons of the "Godhead" at work and, hopefully, will come to appreciate the beauty and grace of the different ways in which God touches our lives and speaks to us: body, mind and spirit.

The message that God wants to give us through Jesus, via His servant John, is a "revelation". This is a translation of the Greek word "apokalupto" meaning to uncover or reveal something that has been hidden; to take the lid off – not a re-hash of something we already knew. In this context, it speaks of "end times", of God’s plan for the unveiling of Satan’s defeat and demise and of the victory that He will win.

Seven churches - one letter

The seven churches in AsiaThe first part of this book of Revelation takes the form of a letter written to seven different churches. These churches were in what was then the Roman province of Asia - in the western part of modern-day Turkey. The letters were written by the apostle, John, the son of Zebedee, who would have been well known to them all. (Matthew 10:2) John was Jewish and had been brought up to know and understand the Jewish scriptures (our "Old Testament"), especially the sections dealing with the law of Moses and the writings of the prophets. He was well able to relate his understanding of these things to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, because John had been one of Jesus' closest friends and disciples. By the time John penned the book of Revelation, all the other books and letters of the "New Testament" had been written. As an apostle and leader of the church, John almost certainly had access to at least some of them, especially the "gospels".

Revelation was written towards the very end of the first century and most researchers consider that it was probably written around 95 AD, during the latter part of the reign of the Roman Emperor, Domitian. This was a particularly brutal period when Christians were going through a time of great persecution. Domitian had instigated what is now known as a "personality cult", whereby he was effectively worshipped as a god. John was standing firm and encouraging believers to adhere to the Christian truth that Jesus was the only one to be worshipped, because He was not only the "Son of Man" but also the "Son of God": the second person of "The Trinity" and one with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

Tradition has it that John was sent to the island of Patmos because of his activities as a Christian missionary. The authorities had supposedly tried to do away with him by putting him in a vat of boiling oil but, when that failed to have any effect on him, they exiled him to Patmos instead. It was here that Jesus came and revealed Himself to John. At Jesus' bidding, John then wrote a letter to seven churches in the province of Asia. The entire letter appears to have been sent to all seven churches, as was customary with many of the letters sent by the apostle, Paul. (The same letter would be carried by a messenger to each church and read aloud to the congregation.)
We shall now look at what John has to say to the churches, which would have been close to his heart and where he had worked hard for their freedom and future. (Revelation 1:4-8)

Dual blessing - one God

John’s greeting was heartfelt and warm. He expressed his deep desire for these believers in the form of a blessing - grace and peace - from God Himself. Firstly, John describes the one who is everlasting, who was before all things, upholds all things and will continue to be the centre of all things until the end of time and for all eternity. Then he specifically includes Jesus, "the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings on earth". Elsewhere, the apostle, Paul, described Jesus as the executive creator of the universe, the one who spoke worlds into being and in whom everything holds together. (Colossians 1:17) In other words, where Jesus is not, all things are chaos and fly apart! If we want to make sense of the world and its events, we need to look at them through Jesus! He is the witness to the truth, the one who died on the cross, went down to hell, took the keys of death and hell from Satan (who had stolen them) but then was raised from the dead. No longer does Satan have the power to imprison people against their wishes.

Through His death, Jesus triumphed over Satan once and for all. He stripped him of his power and "made an open show" of him – paraded him naked for all to see, demonstrating his impotence in the presence of God. Satan is a defeated foe, awaiting final sentence despite pretending that he is still in charge. The Bible says:

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)

Peter doesn't say that Satan is a roaring lion; he says that he is like one as he prowls around, seeking someone to devour. We are to resist him and stand firm in our faith. (1 Peter 5:9-10) Faith is like a muscle: it only develops as it encounters resistance. As Christians, we should welcome the opportunity to oppose Satan as an opportunity to grow stronger and firmer in Jesus. Look for the triumph in the trial! What's more, the Bible does not say, "resist the devil and he might flee from you"; on the contrary, it says clearly: "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." There is a world of difference between "might" and "will"! If God uses the word "will", we can be sure that it is what He means!

The power of sin

Our Enemy's strength derives from human sin. John says here that it is Jesus who has freed us from our sins by His blood. (Revelation 1:5) That blood was shed at Jesus' crucifixion and it was the shedding of that blood that released us from our prison of sin - the corruption of our human nature, stemming from our disobedience and rebellion against God. Our Enemy seeks to persuade us that independence and "doing it my way" are the key to finding happiness and fulfilment in our lives, but he's a liar. Jesus said this very clearly: "He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him... He is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

But, not only has Jesus set us free from our sinful nature, releasing us from the prison of sin, He has bound us together in the kingdom of heaven and made us priests to serve God for ever. Priests acted as mediators between God and mankind, offering sacrifices to God on behalf of sinners. That particular rôle has been taken over by Jesus as our new high priest, but priests were also there to teach people about God and, by example, to show that God's way of living is the best possible way to be human. Our rôle now, therefore, is to represent Jesus to a lost and dying world: to people who may never have heard the name of Jesus, except as a swear word. Unless people are "born again" and enter the kingdom of heaven, they are destined to be separated from God for ever, headed for a place where Jesus is not, where chaos reigns and regret for missed opportunities. We are ambassadors, living in a country which is not our home, representatives on earth of the King of kings; our behaviour should always show this. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

Reunion through redemption

God is the creator of the universe and everything in it. He is the creator of mankind and He has chosen to redeem us (buy us back) from the slavery of sin into which Adam sold us. He did this by paying the price Himself, coming as a man (Jesus) and giving His own, totally sinless life in payment for our sinfulness. "To Him be the glory and the power and the majesty and the dominion throughout the ages and for ever and ever." (Revelation 1:6) But God is not just going to leave us on planet Earth to get on with life for ever. His plan is that He will return with those who have given their lives to Him as the rightful "King of kings". Satan has attempted to usurp God's authority by encouraging human beings to join him in rebelling against God, but he has failed. For all those who put their trust in Jesus, God is their King and their rightful inheritance is the kingdom of heaven. The former leader of praise to God in heaven, none other than Satan himself, together with those angels who chose to follow him - "demons and wicked spirits" as they are now called - have been judged and defeated by what happened at the crucifixion. (Colossians 2:13-15)

At a Jewish wedding, the bridegroom returns from preparing a home for his bride in order to marry her. In the same way, Jesus will return for His bride - the church (those who have become Christians) - and, finally, after the marriage feast, they will return to Earth to rule and reign with Jesus for a thousand years. Literally, every eye, including those of Satan and his minions will see Him as He returns. They will see Him and recognise Him for who He is: King of kings and Lord of lords.

"Behold, He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth shall gaze upon Him and beat their breasts and mourn and lament over Him. Even so [must it be]. Amen [so be it]." (Revelation 1:7 - Amplified Version)

We shall discuss this further as we go through our study of Revelation but, for now, we shall simply thank God for what He has done for us and for the fact that, as believers, we shall see Him return – not in fear like those who refused His grace and goodness, but in excitement because the fulfilment of all that we have waited for has finally happened. He is the Beginning and the End - Alpha and Omega - and He always will be our Lord and King! How glorious is our expectation! He has the final word!

Times and seasons

It's such a great introduction to this book of Revelation. In just a few verses, we immediately begin to understand something of the triumph and glory of this culmination of the ages. This is the book in which many of the events of the final time period are described. For us now, most of these things are still in the future but, as we go through this series of studies, we shall see that, although we have no idea of times and dates, we are expected to recognise the "seasons". "He said to them: 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'" (Acts 1:7-8)

We may not know precisely when the farmer will go into his field of barley to reap the crop, but we should know from its appearance and colour that the time is getting near. When the crop turns almost white, within a couple of days the harvester will appear and gather the grain into barns, with the straw being discarded, either to be used for cattle bedding or to be burned. "Then He gave them this illustration: 'Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. In the same way, when you see the events taking place that I've described, you can be just as sure that the kingdom of God is near.'” (Luke 21:29-31)

Jesus does not want us to be "in the dark". As we have seen, we are no longer slaves, we are free. Now He calls us friends. Jeremiah penned this encouragement to us from God: "Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, [fenced in and hidden], which you do not know [do not distinguish and recognise, have knowledge of and understand]. (Jeremiah 33:3)

Click on the button below to load the QUESTIONS for this study in a new browser tab. You can opt to print the question sheet or simply follow the questions and write down your answers in a notebook or a separate file on a computing device, such as a laptop or mobile 'phone.