The first three verses of the Revelation provide its readers both the “title” of this book and explain its Source (i.e., “where it came from, and how it was transmitted to them”):
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants– things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
These verses also tells us the basic “character” of this book (that it is written mostly in signs, symbols, and figures), and they show us that all the images and scenes it presents were first shown to the apostle John. Notice that vs. 3 also promises a blessing to those who read, “hear” (listen to), and “keep” (maintain, observe) the things written here. There is a similar blessing near the conclusion (ch. 22:7), and this “bookending” theme emphasizes that this is a message God wants His people to read, understand, and apply!
This letter is addressed to seven congregations in the Roman province of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), with the number “seven” emphasizing that the message here is intended for ALL Christians, not only those in the named congregations. (The book of Acts, as well as 1 Peter 1:1, shows that there were other congregations in Asia Minor at this time.) As we read the individual “letters” in chapters 2-3, we should notice that the named congregations “span the spectrum” from very faithful to badly in need of repentance (another detail that suggests that the letter is actually meant for all Christians everywhere, not “just” these congregations).
An interesting and significant statement appears in 1:6, as John concludes his opening salutation – he notes that Jesus has “…made us kings and priests to God” – a description that echoes His own status as both our High Priest and King (Zechariah 6:13 & Hebrew 8:1, cf. Matthew 25:21- 23, 2 Timothy 2:12, & Revelation 5:10). This perfectly parallels the description Peter gives in 1 Peter 2:9!
John now begins the actual message of this book with a two-part declaration about Jesus in 1:7, telling us that our Lord will return (cf. Acts 1:9), and that when He does, everyone will see Him (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). The Lord’s own words in vs. 8 describe Him as the “A” and the “Z” (the “starter and finisher,” or beginning/end of the alphabet) and then give us a definition of what it means to be Diety – He was, He is, and He is to come. These words describe the ideas of infinity and eternity, and these are qualities that distinguish God from humanity. By mentioning these essential differences between Jesus and us, the Holy Spirit is emphasizing the Lord’s authority to say the things that will follow!
The rest of chapter 1 explains that John was – like those who first received this letter – being persecuted and tested for his faith. The vision he recounts, which came to him “on the Lord’s day” (vs. 10) is meant to remind Christians that our Lord is very aware of the trials and challenges His people face for their faith, and that He is “with” us even when we are tested, just as He had promised (cf. Matthew 28:20).