Who is the ‘Chief Messenger’ of Revelation?

 

Alternative Title:

The Chiasm of Revelation 1:1–2

Flower

Who is the ‘Chief Messenger’ of Revelation?

 

Alternative Title:

The Chiasm of Revelation 1:1–2

By Graham Dull

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The Chiasm

In this article we ask the question, Who is the ‘Chief Messenger’ of Revelation? And we propose that the ‘Chiasm’ of Revelation 1:1–2 will help provide the answer.

The introduction to Revelation is indeed a chiasm. The chiastic structure is depicted below using the New International Version (2011 edition).


Revelation 1:1–2

A. . . . . . The revelation from Jesus Christ,

B. . . . . . which God gave him

C. . . . . . to show his servants what must soon take place.

D. . . . . . { He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John }

C. . . . . . who testifies to everything he saw

B. . . . . . — that is, the word of God

A. . . . . . and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

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This is a well-structured chiasm. As is typical of a chiasm, the first line parallels the last, the second line parallels the second-last line, etc.

Here is a line by line comparison.

Reference A. . . “The revelation from Jesus Christ” PARALLELS “the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Reference B. . . “which God gave” PARALLELS “the word of God.”
Reference C. . . “to show” PARALLELS “everything he saw.”

And the central line of the chiasm summarises the entire chiasm.
Reference D. . . “{ He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John }”

As is to be expected of a chiasm, the central line provides a summary of the entire chiasm. Thus ‘D.’ summarises succinctly what is to be found in the text preceding it, and also in that which follows it.

Greek Grammar — combating ambiguity

The chiasm is all the better understood in the original Greek. But regardless as to whether it is in Greek or in English, there arises a potential ambiguity because of the use of pronouns, etc.

Refer to ‘Appendix A’ for a short statement regarding Greek grammar.

Seven Pronouns

In English, there are seven (7) masculine pronouns in the chiasm, therefore we need to be careful to assign each pronoun correctly. The pronouns are underlined below.

Revelation 1:1–2
The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw — that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

To whom do the masculine pronouns refer? There are only three options available –

(1) GOD
(2) JESUS CHRIST
(3) JOHN

If this passage is not recognised as having a chiastic structure, it could be very difficult to get all the pronouns rightly assigned because of the risk of ambiguity. Therefore recognising the chiasm is vitally important for interpretation.

These are the facts which we already know.

“SOMEONE — made it known by sending — SOMEONE — to his servant John”

A structured relationship

Chiasms are based upon pattern and repetition. The clues to understanding the central statement lie in the entire chiasm. Whatever detail is relevant for this will be found in the opening part of the chiasm, and repeated again in the concluding part.

And this relationship also operates in the reverse fashion — as the central statement acts like a ‘Title’ to the whole chiasm.

So it is that (1) the entire chiasm fully explains the title, and (2) the title summarises the chiasm.

The carefully structured chiasm of Rev 1:1–2 indicates that the interpretation is that “GOD made it known by sending JESUS CHRIST to his servant JOHN.” There are no other persons identified within the chiasm from which to choose. This understanding may well be the only option if we intend to remain true to the chiastic structure.

If the chiasm is to be followed, the ‘chief messenger’ of Revelation is none other than Jesus Christ.

Can this interpretation be substantiated elsewhere within Revelation?

To answer this question, we will look at —

  • Meaning
  • Parallel Passages
  • Context

Meaning

The literal meaning of the Greek ‘Angelos’ is ‘Messenger.’ It is most generally translated as ‘angel.’ Young’s Literal Translation follows the Greek ‘most strictly’ and always translates ‘Angelos’ as ‘Messenger.’ (Of course, it is to be expected that a literal translation would strictly follow the Greek.)

Many other translations also give ‘Messenger’ as an alternative translation for ‘Angelos’ in such places as Revelation 2:1, etc.

Thus, strictly speaking, ‘Angelos’ is ‘Messenger.’

Can Jesus Christ correctly be described as a ‘Messenger from God?’ More to the point, can Jesus Christ be described as God’s messenger within the context of the book of Revelation?

I believe he can.

Therefore, we could understand Rev 1:1b to read: “GOD made it known by sending his MESSENGER to his servant John,”

Parallel Passages

Because of the ‘chiasms’ and ‘parallelisms’ in Revelation, there are further passages which may be used to clarify the situation.

I refer specifically to the ‘1:1a/22:6b Parallel.’

Rev 1:1a and 22:6b provide a structural parallel. These verses ‘define the beginning‘ of both the Prologue and the Epilogue.
Prologue
Rev 1:1a defines the beginning of the ‘Prologue‘.

Rev 1:1a
“The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.”

Epilogue
Rev 22:6 defines the beginning of the ‘Epilogue‘.

Rev 22:6b
“The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”

In the verses above, I have underlined the parallelism.

Five aspects are immediately clear in the parallelism. (1) God, (2) his messenger, (3) the act of showing, (4) his servants, and (5) the things that must soon take place.

The key thought is this –

  • God gave / him (Jesus) / to show / his servants / what must soon take place (1:1a)
  • God sent / his angel / to show / his servants / the things that must soon take place (22:6b)

Because it is a parallel, each aspect is expected to match, therefore the parallel equates ‘Jesus’ with ‘God’s angel.’

No Ambiguity

In contrast to the situation in 1:1–2; Rev 22:6 is not ambiguous concerning its masculine pronouns. God is the only one identified to which the pronouns could apply. Thus it is God’s ‘messenger’ who is sent, and God’s ‘servants’ who are shown what must soon take place.

In Rev 22:6, ‘God’s messenger’ and ‘God’s servants’ are clearly identified.

Rev 22:6 “God sent (God’s) messenger to show (God’s) servants the things that must soon take place.”

To be true to the parallel, ‘it would be expected’ that it is also God’s ‘messenger,’ and God’s ‘servants’ who are referenced in Rev 1:1.

Accordingly, in Rev 1:1, it is also ‘God’s messenger’ and ‘God’s servants.’

Rev 1:1 “… to show (God’s) servants what must soon take place. (God) made it known by sending his messenger to his servant John”

The parallel supports the view that God gave the revelation to ‘Jesus’ in Rev 1:1, who is called ‘God’s messenger’ in Rev 22:6.

The singular task of ‘showing his servants what must soon take place’ is stated in both passages. ‘Jesus’ performs the task, the ‘messenger’ performs the task. Therefore, according to the parallel, Jesus is the Messenger.

Context

What does the context have to say regarding the view that Jesus Christ is ‘God’s messenger’ having been sent by God to John?

In Rev 1:10–11; John heard a voice behind him which said, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches…”

John goes on to describe how he turned around and saw somebody whom he described in majestic terms. This was Christ, who identified himself saying: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev 1:18)

This next question is straightforward. Did Jesus come to John as a messenger? I believe he did. He certainly appears to be a messenger. Jesus said to John, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” (Rev 1:19) Jesus then went on to present the messages to the seven churches.

How would we recognise a messenger? What characteristics should we expect to see?

If someone looks like a messenger, acts like a messenger, talks like a messenger, delivers a message, and asks that the message be passed on to others, then very likely ‘that person’ is a messenger.

Who is the ‘Chief Messenger’ of Revelation?

God’s ‘messenger’ (Rev 1:1) is none other than Jesus Christ. The following three features support this view.

(1) The chiasm of Revelation 1:1–2
(2) The parallel between Rev 1:1 and 22:6
(3) The context of the first chapter of Revelation regarding the interaction between God, Jesus Christ, and John.

If these three points are allowed to stand — then God did indeed make it known by sending Jesus Christ to his servant John.

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Appendix A

Greek Grammar — combating ambiguity

The purpose of this appendix is to emphasise the importance of Greek grammar in order to clarify any ambiguity. And we must read the Greek carefully according to the meaning it had to its readers in the first century.

Chiasm (Rev 1:1–2)

The chiasm is all the better understood in the original Greek.

The central line of the chiasm ‘D’ is this. “He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Rev 1:1b)

A transliteration of the Greek of the central line ‘D’ is shown below. This is followed by Young’s Literal Translation (YLT).

(Transliteration)
‘kai esemanen aposteilas dia tou angelou autou to doulo autou Ioanne’

Note that ‘angelos/angelou’ means ‘messenger.’ Therefore ‘tou angelou’ is ‘the messenger’ or ‘his messenger.’

(Young’s Literal Translation)
‘and he did signify [it], having sent through his messenger to his servant John’

Regardless as to whether it is in the original Greek or in English, there arises the potential of ambiguity because of the use of pronouns, etc.

Those who have an adequate knowledge of the Greek will more clearly understand the chiasm.

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Appendix B

Other Messengers

The purpose of this appendix is to look at ‘other messengers’ in Revelation.

If the ‘messenger’ (Greek: angelos) highlighted in Rev 1:1 is not Jesus Christ, then who could it be?

Indeed, other suggestions are put forward, and Revelation does make mention of other messengers.

Here I note a few options. Could any one of these qualify as the messenger mentioned in Rev1:1?

  • The messenger of the church in Ephesus’ (Rev 2:1). He is one of seven such messengers associated with the seven churches — one messenger assigned to each church.
  • A mighty messenger’ who asks an important question (Rev 5:2).
  • ‘I looked and heard the voice of many messengers’ who encircled the throne, and praised the Lamb (Rev 5:11–12).
  • ‘I saw four messengers’ (Rev 7:1).
  • ‘I saw another messenger’ (Rev 7:2).
  • A third messenger followed them’ (Rev 14:9)
  • One of the seven messengers’ (Rev 17:1).
  • The messenger said to me’ (Rev 22:6).

This list is but a small sample of many references to numerous “messengers’ within Revelation. The messengers variously speak, and sing, and perform other activities. Each of these messengers do have varying roles in the book of Revelation, but not one of these stand out as being the ‘chief messenger’ of Revelation.

Scholars find themselves unable to identify and elevate any specific one of ‘these various messengers’ to hold the position and status required in Rev 1:1.

If someone, for whatever reason, would choose to exalt one of these many messengers above their peers to a highly elevated position, I ask the following question.

Why would a not-so-very-significant, unknown, or unidentifiable ‘messenger’ be elevated to hold the highest position in the ‘central theme’ of the introductory chiasm of Revelation?

The only conclusion which I can accept is this. The Messenger which God sent to John is ‘Jesus Christ.’

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Appendix C

The purpose of this appendix is to take a more in-depth look at the chiastic structure.

First Portion of the Chiasm — The Revelation is passed from one participant to another

The first portion of the chiasm concentrates on the transmission of the revelation. How exactly did it get from God to John?


Revelation 1:1

A. . . . . . The revelation from Jesus Christ,

B. . . . . . which God gave him

C. . . . . . to show his servants what must soon take place.

D. . . . . . { He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John }

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We note appropriately that the revelation is ‘from Jesus Christ,’ and we note that it is ‘God who gave it to him.’ It came from God through Jesus Christ.

The ‘central summary’ repeats and completes the facet of transmission. “God made it known by sending his messenger to his servant John.”

God >> Jesus Christ >> John

Latter Portion of the Chiasm — Each participant faithfully testifies to the Revelation

The latter portion of the chiasm concentrates on who it is that testifies to the revelation. In other words, who testified to the revelation which had its origins in God?


Revelation 1:1–2

D. . . . . . { He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John }

C. . . . . . who testifies to everything he saw

B. . . . . . — that is, the word of God

A. . . . . . and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

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We note that ‘John testified to everything he saw,’ and also note the phrase ‘the testimony of Jesus Christ.’

Testifies is a verb, testimony is a noun. A testimony is what is given when one testifies.

Jesus Christ testifies, John testifies.

The chiasm states that it is to the ‘word of God’ that Jesus and John both testify. It confirms that the Book of Revelation is indeed God’s Word, and that Jesus and John ‘faithfully‘ testify to it.

Parallel 1:2/22:20

‘The testimony of Jesus Christ’ in Revelation 1:2 finds a further parallel in Revelation 22:20 where Jesus ‘testifies.’

Revelation 22:20
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

In the second verse of Revelation, ‘The testimony of Jesus Christ’ is mentioned. In the second-last verse of Revelation, it is stated that Jesus ‘testifies to these things.’

Jesus testifies, and in doing so, he presents his testimony.

Passing the Baton — John is Jesus’ messenger

Thus far, we have talked primarily about how God sent his messenger to John.

Rev 1:1 finds a further parallel in Rev 22:16 where Jesus sent ‘his messenger’ to the wider church.

Revelation 22:16
“I, Jesus, have sent my messenger to give you this testimony for the churches.”

Jesus sent his messenger (John) to the churches.

‘You’ in 22:16 is plural, it applies to God’s servants.

Some regard the plural ‘you’ as a grammatical mistake, therefore they try to correct it. They read it in the singular form because they believe that it applies to John. But the plural is not a mistake; the Greek is plural. ‘You’ applies to God’s servants (which are plural); ‘you’ is the church.

The universal view of modern scholarship is that the ‘you” (plural) applies to ‘John’ (singular). Although this is the widely accepted view, it is recognizably wrong to apply a plural pronoun to a singular noun.

Right from the beginning (Rev 1:1) the members of the church are described as God’s ‘servants,’ while John is specifically described as God’s ‘servant.’ This distinction is clearly established in the very first verse, and it remains true throughout the book. John is the individual servant who receives the Revelation on behalf of all of God’s servants.

Revelation 1:1
“to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John”

Jesus’ messenger is John. And it is John who now takes the message of the Revelation to the wider church — just as he was advised to do in Revelation 1:11.

Revelation 1:11
“Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

Jesus told John to write what he saw, and send it to the churches. These words in 1:11 are the ‘very first words which Jesus spoke to John’ early in the Revelation.

Now, at the end of the book (Rev 22:16), Jesus confirms that John is indeed his messenger. He has assigned to John the task of passing on the message to the broader community. He confirms John’s authority to present this message. And he confirms that the revelation which John has just written is not simply John’s own work, it has come from God through Jesus Christ.

God sent his messenger (Jesus) to John. (Rev 1:1)

Jesus sent his messenger (John) to the church. (Rev 22:16)

Summary

The chiasm of Rev 1:1–2 focuses on three persons — God, Jesus Christ, and John.

It focuses in detail on how the Revelation was passed from one to the other. (Rev 1:1)

It focuses on God as being the origin of the Revelation, and Jesus Christ and John as the ones who testify to it. (Rev 1:2)

Closing Comment

Revelation 22:20
Jesus who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
John responds, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

I respond likewise, “Amen.”

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