God the Exalted said: "We have sent it down on the Night of the Decree" (97:1). It means that the Qur'an descended as a whole in one single time from the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfuz) to the Nearest Heaven (al-sama' al-dunya) and then placed in the House of Glory (bayt al-`izza), after which Gabriel would descend with its diverse parts over a duration of twenty-three years. The first verse revealed from it was: "Recite in the name of thy Lord Who createth" (96:1) and the last was: "And guard yourselves against a day in which ye will be brought back to God, then every soul will be paid in full that which it hath earned, and ye will not be wronged" (2:281) - Qurtubi said it.
I read in Ibn al-Subki's Tabaqat (Transmission-Layers of the Shafi`i scholars) on the authority of Imam Ahmad ibn Isma`il al-Qazwini that the Prophet (s) lived for seven days after this verse was revealed. Al-Rafi`i* said: "And the same Imam Ahmad died seven days after saying this." I read in Ibn Abu Jamra's commentary on Bukhari that some of the scholars said the first verses revealed were those of "Recite" while others said they were those of "The Cloaked One" ("al-Muddaththir," sura 74). What reconciles them is that "Recite" is the first revelation to descend was "Recite," while the first order to warn was "The Cloaked One".**
If it is asked: "Why did he say: "Arise and warn, and he did not mention the glad tidings, although the Prophet (s) is both a warner and a bringer of glad tidings?" The answer is that the glad tidings are for those who enter into the fold of submission, and at the time that this sura was revealed, no-one had yet entered Islam, and God knows best...
*The chief legal authority in the late Shafi`i school, followed by Nawawi.
** "O thou enveloped in thy cloak, arise and warn! thy Lord magnify, thy raiment purify, pollution shun!"
Ibn al-`Imad said: "We have sent it down on the Night of the Decree" indicates that the night is better than the day. The scholars differed in the meaning of its excelling a thousand months ("The Night of the Decree is better than a thousand months" 97:3) which adds up to 83 years and four months, or 30,000 days and 30,000 nights. Ibn `Abd al-Salam said in his Qawa`id (Rules): "The good deed (al-hasana) on that night is better than 30,000 good deeds on another." Ibn Mas`ud said: "It is incumbant upon the believer to intend spending it in prayer from the very first night of the month of Muharram (the first month of the year) to the end of the year, so that he will most certainly chance upon it." Nawawi said: "None is granted the benefit of its excellence except he to whom God shows its exact occurrence." Mawardi said: "And it is desirable for him who knows it, not to reveal it."
Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions