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Structure of the Book of Revelation – Part II

Is the Rapture Depicted in Revelation 14:14-16?
The Structure of the Book of Revelation – Part II
Charles Cooper

As detailed in part I, the structure of the Book of Revelation remains an unsettled matter in the minds of most scholars. Men and women have spent years studying this book only to conclude that there is little that builds towards a consensus. A possible explanation is this: confusion between the forest and the trees. Many scholars spend too much time focusing on the individual details and miss the big picture. Who or what is the book about? What does the book say about the subject? The answers to these questions give the best clues to the structure of the book.

Revelation 1:1 begins with the words: A revelation about Jesus Christ. A check of Bible translations completed during the last 20 years all begin John’s final work in the same way. Notice the chart below:


Revelation 1:1

English Standard Version The revelation of Jesus Christ
The New English Translation The revelation of Jesus Christ
The New American Standard Bible (1995 Update) The revelation of Jesus Christ
The New Revised Standard Version The revelation of Jesus Christ


With the exception of Young’s Literal Translation, which offers “A revelation of Jesus Christ” to express the sense of the Greek text, all modern translations begin the Book of Revelation the same. A check of the Greek text –?????????? ????? ??????? — reveals three Greek words that form the basis of the English translation. The first decision a translator must make concerns the term ?????????? (“revelation” or “uncovering”). It only occurs once in the Book of Revelation. However, it does not have the definite article. Thus, Young’s Literal Translation is correct in a literal sense. This is a revelation or uncovering and not the revelation or uncovering of Jesus Christ.

Apokalypsis (??????????) is a noun based on the verb apokalúpt? and is a combination of two Greek words: ???, and kalúpt?. ??? (apo) is a proposition and can mean “away from,” “out of,” “because of,” “of,” or “by.” Kalúpt? is a verb with the basic meaning of “to cover.” To cover something is to hide it from view. The combination of these two Greek words yields the metaphorical sense “to take away (the covering).” Thus, to uncover or reveal that which was buried or hidden reflects the sense of the term. In the NT, God uncovers his truth to his followers.

David E. Aune, in his commentary on the Book of Revelation, adds the phrase “this is” to his translation of the first verse because he correctly understands that “the first sentence (vv 1–2) in the Greek text is incomplete, that is, the sentence lacks a main verb.”[1] That a verb would need to be supplied to correctly convey the sense intended is not uncommon in Greek. This is particularly the case when that verb is a “be” verb. Thus, the book begins, “This is an uncovering.” The next phrase is critical because it tells us what is being uncovered—????? ???????, “Jesus Christ.” How the phrase is connected to the rest of the sentence is debated. The options are not clear. Aune suggests:

????? ???????, “of Jesus Christ,” can be either a subjective gen[itive] (the revelation is from Jesus Christ), or an obj[ective] gen[itive] (the revelation is about Jesus Christ).[2]

The overwhelming majority of scholars adopt the subjective genitive here.[3] Osborne’s defense is typical. He argues,

The context certainly makes this a subjective genitive…and hence it should be rendered “the revelation from Jesus Christ”… for it adds “God gave him [this revelation] to show his slaves.”[4]

However, a note in the NET Bible comes closer to our understanding of this issue. The NET Bible concludes,

The phrase ?????????? ?????? ??????? (ajpokalupsis I?sou Christou, “the revelation of Jesus Christ”) could be interpreted as either an objective genitive (“the revelation about Jesus Christ”), subjective genitive (“the revelation from Jesus Christ”), or both (M. Zerwick’s “general” genitive [“Biblical Greek”, §§36–39]; D. B. Wallace’s “plenary” genitive [ExSyn 119–21]). In 1:1 and 22:16 it is clear that Jesus has sent his angel to proclaim the message to John; thus the message is from Christ, and this would be a subjective genitive. On a broader scale, though, the revelation is about Christ, so this would be an objective genitive. One important point to note is that the phrase under consideration is best regarded as the title of the book and therefore refers to the whole of the work in all aspects. This fact favors considering this as a plenary genitive.[5]

It is clear that the Lord Jesus is one in a chain of revealers. In the ultimate sense, God the Father originated the message. He gave it (the revelation) to Jesus for the purpose of showing it to his servants. The Lord Jesus sends the revelation to John by his angel. Thus, the uncovering or revelation is from the Father, the Son, and the angel. In fact, the relationship between the communicators of the revelation is difficult to discern in some places. Revelation 22:6, 8, and 16 place the communication totally in the hand of the angel, i.e. it is from the angel. It is for this reason that we believe the objective genitive is primary in John’s mind—a fact borne out by the content of the book.

This is an uncovering of (about) Jesus Christ. After reading this work, one should have a significantly increased understanding about Jesus Christ in several specific areas. What specifically are the new insights we gain from this book? This fact will become clear beginning at verse 5.

Revelation 1:4 begins the salutation. As is typical in the NT, the human author is introduced by name followed by the recipients of the letter; then follows well-wishes from God. In this case, we have a Trinitarian distinctive. God the Father, Spirit, and Son wish the readers well. However, since this is not the typical order of the Godhead in the NT, some have concluded that the third member of the Trinity (i.e. the Holy Spirit) is not intended here.

However, while prominently featured throughout the book, God the Father is always spoken of in terms that maintain his mystery and majesty. God the Father is the eternal sovereign (who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty), God the Spirit is the eternal servant (the seven spirits are before his [the Father’s] throne), and God the Son is the eternal savior of mankind. Three titles identify Jesus Christ: (1) the faithful witness, (2) the firstborn over the dead, and (3) the ruler over the kings of earth. It is our contention that these are the three Christological titles of the Lord Jesus which are revealed or uncovered in this book. More specifically, Revelation 1:9-3:22 explores the significance of our Lord, the trustworthy witness. Revelation 4:1-9:21 highlights the significance of the Lord Jesus as the firstborn over the dead. The final section of the revelation about Jesus Christ concerns his role as ruler over the kings of the earth – Revelation 10:1-22:6. A defense of these conclusions will follow in this and subsequent articles in this series.

The Trustworthy Witness

All of the events detailed in the Book of Revelation were prophetically declared in the Old Testament. However, what was covered in the OT, but now revealed in the Book of Revelation is the agent who executes the events. Jesus Christ is the veiled instrument of the OT.

Consequentially, Revelation 1:9-3:22 is primarily concerned with the Lord Jesus as the Trustworthy Witness. Just as John told us back at verse 1, this is a revelation about Jesus Christ. The titles are not new. We know that the Lord was assigned, or marked out for these outcomes before the Book of Revelation was written. What is new is the extent to which these titles are appropriately fulfilled in creation. It is here that we learn what the Lord will do as He officially functions in these three capacities in connection with the eschatological consummation of the age.

Anyone the least bit familiar with the Book of Revelation is aware that the presentation of the Lord Jesus as “one like a son of man,” that appears in Revelation 1:12-18 controls the content of Revelation 2:1-3:22. There are no less than 16 explicit references to the description of “one like a son of man” in Revelation 2:1-3:22. Each church receives “the words” of the “one like a son of man,” which are unique and specific to that church.

However, what may not be as well-known is the relationship between the concept of “the trustworthy witness” and the “one like a son of man.” Literally, the Greek construction looks like this: ? ?????? ? ?????? = the witness the faithful one. The Greek reflects John’s intent to emphasize the adjective ? ??????. The majority of occurrences of Pistos in the New Testament convey the sense of dependable. Thus, Jesus is “the true [reliable or truthful] witness” (Rev. 1:5; 3:14).[6] The Lord is trustworthy. What He says is trustworthy.

The concept of a witness is not new to John’s writings. A look at the Gospel of John and his three epistles reveals no less than 62% of the usages of the “witness” word group appear in John’s writings. This suggests that witness is a prominent aspect of John’s theology. Just as in the Book of Revelation, the number seven is a critical structural marker in the Gospel of John. In his gospel, John uses seven key witnesses of which the Lord Jesus is one.

John’s concept of a witness is closely matched to the basic meaning of the Greek noun ?????? (“a witness”), which “almost always occurs in the NT in the context of (1) a legal or public declaration about something that has happened, and (2) those who are witnesses claim personal knowledge and experience of the facts that they assert.[7]

The theme of “witness” or “witnessing” is basic to John’s gospel, and carries the meaning “speak for the benefit of/in a person’s favor,” as well as “reveal who a person is.” John the Baptist is a witness, 1:7; the Samaritan woman is a witness, 4:39; Jesus’ works are a witness, 5:36, 10:25; the Old Testament is a witness, 5:39; the crowds are a witness, 12:17; God himself is a witness, 5:37; and the Holy Spirit, as well as those whom our Lord chooses, are witnesses to him, 15:26-27.

Newman and Nida add:

Though the Greek usually rendered “witness” or “testify” may frequently be rendered simply “speak” or “tell,” there are two important components in the Greek term…In the first place, there is an element of personal relation to the events mentioned, that is, one normally testifies or witnesses to something which one has personally experienced or seen. The second component involves an element of importance or significance in the content of what is said.[8]

It is our conviction that the representation of the Lord Jesus as “One like a son of man” establishes his qualification to be the trustworthy witness at the judgment of the saints. The only occasion in Scripture where the “witness” concept and the phrase “the Son of Man” are used together occurs in the Gospel of John. The chapters of that gospel are typically divided into two sections: 1-12 and 13-21. The first 12 chapters are typically labeled the book of signs. An account of the public ministry of our Lord fills chapters 1-12.

The third major movement or section of the book of signs (i.e. John 4:43-5:47) contains signs and a discourse that climaxes in John 5:45-47. This section highlights the Lord Jesus as the mediator of life and judgment. The major sign of this section involves the Lord’s healing of a man’s son who is close to death (4:46-54). Afterwards, the Lord heals another man on the Sabbath, which made the Jewish leaders very angry (5:1-16). The Lord Jesus justifies his actions by stating, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (5:17). This made the Jews even angrier because Jesus, in their eyes, was not only breaking the Sabbath, but worse – He was calling God his own Father, which meant that He claimed to be equal with God. This set their teeth on edge.

Jesus continues to explain:

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him, (5:19-23).

Based upon our Lord’s word recorded here is the requirement that those who hear him must trust him to be faithful in his witness of what he sees the Father doing since it forms the basis of the Lord Jesus’ actions. Of particular interest is the fact that much of the Lord’s discussion in this section has to do with judgment.


And he has given him authority to execute judgment,
because he is the Son of Man, (ESV).

This is a critically important verse for understanding the relationship between the names of the Lord Jesus as the trustworthy witness, the Son of Man, and the judge of the saints. Just as in Revelation 1:12-19, “one like a son of man”; and in John 5:27, Son of Man; the Lord Jesus is God’s choice to execute judgment. The reason is stated: because he is the Son of Man. The English translation of John 5:27 is a bit deceptive. “Every other occurrence of the title ‘the Son of Man’ in the New Testament uses a pair of articles, [ho] huios [tou] anthr?pou.[9] Here is it anarthrous, huios anthr?pou, which is the case also in Revelation 1:13 and 4:14.” Literally, in all three places, the text says, “Son of Man.” Scholars naturally disagree about the significance of this anomaly.

There is no doubt that Daniel 7:13 is the reason for the usage of this title. In fact, in both Greek translations of the Old Testament the title in Daniel 7:13 is without the pair of articles. It is our conviction that the Lord Jesus wanted the reader to immediately picture the fulfillment of Daniel 7. When the Father gave his Son the temporal kingdom, all rights and privileges came with it. The judgment—who lives and who dies—is the central issue. Who will be and who will not be constituents of the Son’s kingdom is the prerogative of the Prince. The Lord Jesus is unique in all of God’s creation. He is both God and man. This is the reason God the Father gave the Son of Man “authority to execute judgment.”  As the God-Man, who is better to judge creation than the Lord Jesus? He alone understands life as both God and man and will insure that neither suffer unjustly at the consummation of the age.

The Father has given the Lord Jesus complete authority in matters eschatological. The Son alone has the responsibility of judgment. The significance here is this: the reason God the Father gave God the Son “authority to execute judgment” is because “he is the Son of Man.” Jesus the Son, in his capacity as Son of Man, raises the “dead” and exercises judgment. Jesus, in John 5:30, again reiterates, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just.”

The significance of the trustworthy witness who is the Son of Man that judges the churches is highlighted in Revelation 2-3. The attributes or characteristics of the Son of Man form the basis of his judgment of the seven churches. His position of authority is exemplified by his relationship to the churches, for the He walks among them and holds their angels in his hand. All of this establishes that the Son of Man is qualified to judge the churches.

Both Revelation 1:13 and 14:14 occur in the context of judgment and record the only two occurrences of the “one like a son of man” in the Book of Revelation. These highlight the significance of our Lord as the eschatological judge of both the righteous and wicked. On the basis of this fact, believers should draw confidence and strength to live so as to be found victorious at the judgment.

[1] Aune, D. E. (2002). Vol. 52A: Word Biblical Commentary: Revelation 1-5:14. Word Biblical Commentary (6). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Pulpit Commentary: Revelation. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (1). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.; Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (52). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic; Beale, G. K. (1999). The Book of Revelation: A commentary on the Greek text (183). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press; and The apocalypse of St. John. 1907 (H. B. Swete, Ed.) (2d. ed.) (1). New York: The Macmillan company.

[4] Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (52). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

[5] Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press. See also, Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953-2001). Vol. 20: New Testament commentary: Exposition of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Commentary (76). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, for a similar conclusion.

[6] Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990- ). Vol. 2: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (394). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

[7] Alan S. Bandy, “Word and Witness: An Analysis of the Lawsuit Motif in Revelation Based on the Witness Terminology,” GJCT (May 2007).

[8] Newman, B. M., & Nida, E. A. (1993). A handbook on the Gospel of John. Helps for translators; UBS handbook series (14). New York: United Bible Societies.

[9] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (259). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

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Prewrath Resource Institute on 16 April 2012

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