In the prologue, the author, the apostle John, tells us a number of important things.
First, he tells us about the nature of the book. It is a unique combination of 3 literary forms. It is a letter, it is a prophecy, and it is apocalyptic. As a letter it was written to real people living in the real world in real history. Remembering this will keep us from losing touch with its original audience and purpose. As prophecy it comes to us and makes demands of us. When most people think of prophecy they think of predicting the future. While there is often "forth-telling" in prophecy, it is primarily God making known his will to us. God never does this for our intellectual entertainment. His will is something that he expects us to obey. As apocalyptic, we have a kind of "digitally enhanced prophecy." It is like a book of prophecy with striking and powerful illustrations. This unique combination of literary forms must be kept in mind if we are going to understand the message of Revelation.
Second, John tells us about the ultimate origin of the book. It is a revelation of 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 (verse 1). All of this means that John did not dream up the book of Revelation on his own. It was revealed to him by God. It is a message from God communicated by Jesus through an angel to John with the intention that it be passed on to the church of his day. Because it is a message from God that has been perserved in the Bible, it is a message for us as well. In the book of Revelation we have information that is more reliable than the CBC or the BBC or CNN or the government or big business, or even our own hearts. God has spoken and told us what he wants us to know.
Third, John tells us about the subject matter of the book of Revelation. It is given to Jesus to show his servants, "what must soon take place." Yes, that is right. Jesus did not get it wrong as some arrogantly suggest. "What must soon take place" refers to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy regarding the "latter days." This fulfillment does not take place overnight or in a short period of time. It was just beginning to take place in John's day and it continues to take place till today and will continue till Jesus comes a final time at the end of the age. The subject matter of Revelation is further spoken about in verse 2: "the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." The parallelism of the last phrase indicating that the book is primarily about Jesus. It is all about what God has done and will do in Jesus to accomplish his purposes in history and salvation.
Fourth, John tells us the purpose of the book of Revelation. In verse 3 he says that there is a blessing for those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. Revelation is not written to merely stimulate our imaginations or fuel eschatological speculation. It has something to say. Something about the perspective of heaven. It has a blessing to convey that is wrapped up with the understanding that God is the Lord of history. In the end he will have the victory. It does not always appear like that now on earth. Many times things in the church and the world seem our of control. But they are not. God knows what he is doing. And he wants us to know that. This is where the blessing is to be found.