To better clarify the issue of whether one can “keep the words” of a prophetic book, it should be remembered that God expected Israel to obey the words of his prophets. The conviction that someone can respond, either in obedience or disobedience, to a vision, visual act (e.g., gestures), or visual message is continued in the Gospels and the preaching of the early church. Even though the Apostle Peter clearly spent some time “wondering about the meaning of the vision” (Acts 10:17) of the sheet with unclean animals (Acts 10:9-16), he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had a meaning and it was obvious to him before the end of the episode that the vision meant, “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28b). What did Peter do to “keep the words” of the vision he received at Joppa? He went into the home of the unsaved gentile, Cornelius (Acts 10:28).
Just as a person might need help with the meaning of a non-visionary text (e.g., the eunuch in Acts 8:30b-31 required help in understanding the meaning of a text), so at times people need assistance in the interpretation of visionary texts (notice the interpretations given in Dan. 7:15-17; Rev. 7:13-14). To embrace Luther’s skeptical ideas about the meaning of John’s book, “no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it,” is to put yourself on a path where you might even question whether parables can be responded to. Jesus seems to have thought that people in his audience could either obey or disobey the meaning of a parable.
What I am suggesting (contrary to the heirs of the early Luther) is that visions and images have their own grammar and lexicon with which one interprets their meanings, and following that interpretation, one can better understand the blessings that come from keeping such prophetic ideas. The blessing that John promises in this “blessing heptad” will vary depending on the content of the individual images. In light of the phantasmagory [I have been waiting for weeks to use that word] that characterizes John’s prophecy, it is not a superficial or quick task to responsibly interpret the visual content of Revelation.
I have personally chosen to accept the divine perspective on blessings offered at the beginning of Revelation; specifically, there is no blessing for me if I merely hear the words given through John. In order to receive the blessing, I myself must also “take to heart what is written in the words of this prophecy” (Rev. 1:3). Consequently, I cannot go along with the idea that Revelation is so bewildering that all I can hope to learn from it is “who wins in the end.” To state the obvious, there is a correlation between the amount of the “words of this prophecy” that can be understood and the amount of the blessings that can be given based upon “keeping the words of this prophecy.”
As we contemplate the details of biblical study and hermeneutics, John’s prophecy makes it clear that there are truths of God and values of the kingdom that believers must “keep,” whether they are stated in the Greek imperative mood or in colorful and high-decibel visions.