The book of Revelation tends lay in a fog. We may only read it when we get worried about world events, or at the end of our yearly reading program, and it is almost always a frustrating book to try and figure out. It contains odd and difficult to understand visions, dreams, beasts and creatures. Much of what John sees and writes down is in a form foreign to us, and we don’t always know how to go about tackling the interpretation of the book.
This is an odd, though common, irony. From the very start of the book, it is intended to be a revelation of Jesus Christ. Though that word “revelation” is the Greek word for apocalypse, it means to have something unfolded and explained to us. And who or what is the target of that unfolding? It is Jesus Christ. The book of Revelation, for all its uniqueness, reveals Jesus Christ to us in ways the rest of the NT only hints at.
One of the keys to the revelatory nature of this book lies in an important concept John uses twice in his opening thoughts. God reveals the contents of this book to his servants in general, and reveals it specifically to his servant John (1:1). By the time John writes this book down (probably as late as 95 A.D.), the title of “servant” of Christ is loaded with meaning.
This word is a powerful indicator of a believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ. It means to be a “bond slave,” or someone who has willingly become the slave of another. For example, after Peter and John suffer persecution at the hands of the religious leaders of the day, they return to their church and pray. Part of what they say is in Acts 4:29:
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”
The early church took this title of “willing slave” upon themselves: they were not given it, they took it. And as Paul writes to the various churches, he commonly calls himself the servant, or bondservant, of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1). John also calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ. And as such he faithfully writes down all he sees and hears and compiles the book of Revelation.
It is no small thing to say John faithfully wrote down this book. He was the subject of persecution, the people he wrote to were as well, and the things contained in the book are not all roses and rainbows. John was a servant of Christ even when it meant his own (severe) discomfort, and when he probably didn’t like what he was seeing and getting from God.
As such, he stands as an example of what it means for me to be a willing slave of Jesus Christ. It means he is the most important thing to my life and my decisions. It means God is always right and good even when present circumstances are not easy or comfortable. It means I can and should fulfill my calling no matter what that means for my position and place in life. Taking the label of servant means I act as though God is Lord, not me.
And what results? Well, for one thing, God wants to reveal his Son Jesus Christ to his servants through the pages of Revelation. To encounter this Christ through the lens of the trials and difficulty of this world requires a right relationship with him: being a willing servant to a sovereign God.