John to the Seven ChurchesRevelation 1:4-5Theme: Who, what, when, where, and why.This week’s lessons teach us the various theories concerning the authorship and date of the Book of Revelation.
LessonThere is a perfectly good explanation for John’s poor grammatical construction in chapter 1, verse 4: John is drawing from Exodus 3:14, where God revealed his name to Moses as “I am who I am.” That’s all in the nominative case. John keeps the name in the nominative case in order to make clear that he’s alluding to this defining passage in Exodus. What he’s trying to show is that God lives in “the eternal present.” In other words, John’s alleged grammatical errors are intentional. William Barkley says John has such an immense reverence for God that he refuses to alter the form of the divine name even when the rules of grammar demand it.
Another reason why some scholars seek another author for Revelation rather than John the Apostle is that John nowhere identifies himself as an apostle. But that’s only a formal objection–he certainly writes as an apostle, that is, authoritatively. On the whole, identification of John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, as the author of the book, seems the best option – if for no other reason than that it’s hard to imagine somebody other than John being so well known that he could identify himself in the Book of Revelation as John, without any other identification. So we ought to side with Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and the other early church witnesses and stand on this traditional identification in the church.
One thing that points to Johannine authorship is the way John includes himself in the chain of Revelation that we find in these opening verses. It’s a fulfillment of something Jesus said to the disciples, significantly enough, recorded by John himself in his Gospel. Jesus said, “When he, the Spirit of truth [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13).
John is writing to the seven churches in Asia, but his point is that he’s not writing on his own. What he really is doing is conveying the message that has been given to him by Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. The chain of revelation goes like this: according to verse 1, God the Father gives the revelation to Jesus Christ; second, also according to verse 1, Jesus imparts the revelation to his angel who, third, makes it known to John. And now John is making known to the churches that which he has received. He calls it the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ. What John is saying is that he is the communicator, by the grace of God, of this revelation. He is conscious of being part of the chain of those God has used down through church history – the prophets in the past – to see that the people of God receive all they need to know about the gospel in living the Christian life.
Unlike most other New Testament books, Revelation doesn’t have even one direct quotation from the Old Testament. But it does contain literally hundreds of allusions to Old Testament passages or ideas. One of the commentators, Stephen Gregg, mentions that there are 79 references to Isaiah, 54 references to Daniel, 48 to Ezekiel, 43 to the Psalms, 27 to Exodus, 22 to Jeremiah, 15 to Zechariah, 9 to Amos, and 8 to Joel. Bruce Metzger reckons that of the 404 verses that comprise the 22 chapters of this Book of Revelation, 278 (that’s almost three-quarters) have one or more allusions to an Old Testament passage.
There’s one more introductory matter we have to deal with before we get on to other things, and that is the time of the writing. When did John write Revelation? Some writers hold to a late date, that is, from the late reign of the Roman emperor Domitian; that would be about a.d. 81-96. And others hold to an early date–from the reign of Nero, that is, in the time frame a.d. 54-58. The time frame in which you place the book of Revelation has bearing on how you interpret it.
What is the explanation for the supposedly poor grammar found in Revelation 1:4?
Why should we side with the early church witnesses in believing that John the Apostle is the author of Revelation?
How does the Old Testament come into play in Revelation?
Why is it important to wrestle with the dating of Revelation?