(Revelation 1:1-20)


Chapter 1 of the book of Revelation gives us a beautiful picture of the glorified Christ, which sets the stage for each of the letter to the seven churches. This shows us something about how Christ has dealt with martyrdom and persecution as an example for them to follow. Let’s look at verse 1, “The revelation from Jesus Christ,…” – the word Revelation or “apokalypsis” in Greek, means unveiling or revealing. Obviously, it’s not something men could discover but something that God chose to reveal to them through His Son. This later became a technical term for a type of literary genre that we find not only in intertestamental Jewish literature, but also in some examples from the Old Testament like parts of Daniel and Ezekiel. But we even find some in the New Testament like the eschatological discourse of Jesus in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. This is a special kind of literature that has a lot of numbers, a lot of colors, a lot of animals, and a lot of symbols. It’s called a prophecy down in verse 3, and it’s called a prophecy in chapter 22:7, 10, 18, and 19. You have to realize that although it’s a certain literary genre the readers in Asia were used to in the first century, it has more of an affinity to Old Testament prophecy than it does to Jewish apocalyptic literature like Enoch. But the influence of the eschatological discourses of Jesus is very evident in this type of genre. Notice in the latter part of verse 1 where it says, “…what must soon take place. We’ll deal more of this toward the end. So, it’s an ‘unveiling’ or a revelation given by Jesus. Notice if you would where it says, “…which God gave Him…” – it’s just very similar to the Gospel of John where Jesus is fully God but He is still subject to the Father. We have a series of revelations here – God shows Jesus, Jesus shows an angel, the angel show John, and John shows the Christians of the first century, and obviously shows Christians of every age. This same idea of Jesus being in a subservient relationship to God though being fully God and equal to God is found in John 3:35; 5:20ff; 7:16; 8:28; and 12:49. Now notice where it says, “…to show his servants…” – or slaves, ‘doulos’ in Greek – John calls himself a slave. “…what must…” – ‘must’ here is ‘dia’ which means moral necessity, “…soon take place.” – this phrase a couple of times in the book like in verse 19 and chapter 22:6. These things must happen soon, but that has caused commentators miseries. Does that mean John was wrong, and what he thought would happen very quickly hadn’t happened for 2000 years? Well many translators and interpreters try to change the word ‘soon’, like some have it ‘suddenly’, others say it’s ‘swiftly happen’, while some make it ‘soon begin’, some even translate it ‘it will certainly happen’. But the truth is it’s really something that’s going to happen soon. So you say, how can this happen soon and still be 2000 years late? We must remember that John is speaking as an Old Testament prophet, and quite often Old Testament prophets, as a standard practice use current historical events – their existential experience of tragedy and failure usually to foreshadow end-time events. That’s exactly what John’s doing. It’s not a matter of time here, it’s a matter of God’s control of history. He’s going to bring it on his timetable. He has not been late, trust me. But this does say that the events of the book of Revelation had a word from God for the people of the 1st century, they also have a word from God for the people in every century since then, including our own, and have an open meaning for those in the last generation. You know, there are three views of this book: is it all for the first century to describe the history of the western world?; is it all for the future?; or is it just idealistic, meaning the cosmic struggle of good and evil. I believe there are some element of all of those, and to lock that on any one is unfortunate. John obviously was not writing for something he sees thousands years out in the future; he was writing something for the people of his day who apparently are suffering persecution, as we learn in the experience of the seven churches where Emperor worship was enforced in the eastern provinces, particularly Asia. Notice as it says, “…He made it known…” – this has the idea of the word ‘signs’ which intimates to us another hint that the book is going to be given in symbolic form – a type of prophetic literature that uses a lot of numbers, colors, animals, and visions that are mostly allusions to Old Testament imagery and symbols. I think it’s very helpful for us to see that this book is of such literary genre that runs through out the entire book. Notice as it says, “…to his servant John” – John names himself here, in verse 4, in verse 9, and in chapter 22:8. I think that’s very important. These people knew him well. He had work with these churches and they knew him. “who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” – John tells us of what he bore record – the Word of God. He declares the the substance of his testimony and witness is no other than the Word of God.

Notice as it says in verse 3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” – it mentions here the idea of being ‘blessed’ which is much more than being happy. It has the ideal of God’s favor being bestowed upon a person. There are seven ‘blessings’ in this book that’s very characteristic of the author. You will find it here verse 3, 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 112:7; and 22:14. Here’s the first blessing to everyone who reads, it’s obviously ‘read aloud’. The Christian church took over the form of the synagogue, which was public reading. In fact, they even had a special person who read, everybody couldn’t read publicly. So, this is public reading of Scripture, and you might want to see Acts 13:15 for that. Now notice as it mentions, “…and blessed are those who hear it” -hearing Scripture is centered in the Jewish concept called ‘Shema’ in Deuteronomy 6:4 and following which is a word that means ‘to hear and to do’. This prophecy is not just going to bless you if you hear it, but if you act on it. That’s the idea here. You might want to see Luke 11:28 for an example of that ‘hearing and doing’. Notice as it continues, “…what is written in it, because the time is near.” – this is another indication that John saw it as relevant to his day as well as for the future, as all Scripture is like that.

Greetings and Doxology

Verse 4, “John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia:” – why just seven? There’s been a lot of discussion here; some think it’s the postman’s clockwise route starting at Ephesus going through Smyrna all the way down to Laodicea in the Roman province of Asia, which is Phrygia. Others say it’s just the seven churches whom John knew. While others say the number seven is significant if this means the number of complete churches, and i think that’s probably true. “Grace and peace to you…” – here’s that traditional greeting. This book begins like a letter and ends like a letter with prophetic content in between that is not at all like Jewish apocalyptic literature. Now notice as it mentions here, “…from him who is, and who was, and who is to come,…” – this is a very strange Greek phrase; it’s ungrammatical but it seems to really catch the essence of an Aramaic mind as it tries to use the Hebrew verb to be ‘I Am that I Am (cf. Exo. 3:14), the covenant name for God. Now, watch this phrase in its very similar forms is used in verse 4 and verse 8 for God the Father. But look it’s used in verses 17 and 18 for Jesus Christ. Verse 8 has “I Am the Alpha and the Omega”, this Alpha and Omega is used of God the Father in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12). But is Revelation 1:17 and 22:13, it’s used for Jesus Christ, as John’s common way of taking Old Testament titles for God and apply them to Christ. John the Apostle wants to say who Jesus is; Jesus is the fullness of the revelation. Now, notice as it continues, “…and from the seven spirits before His throne,” – many assume this refers to the Holy Spirit contextually speaking because first we have a statement that concerns God the Father, we have a statement saying something about seven spirits, and then we have a statement about Jesus Christ, so it would seem the Trinity is present here. I can see that, but if you look at other places where this little phrase is used which would be chapter 3:1; 4:5; and 5:6, it does not seem to fit. Unless you take it back to an Old Testament quotes from Zechariah 3:9; 4:2; 4:10 where it could be an allusion to the Holy Spirit. Some say it refers to angels; others think it goes back to Isaiah 11:2 where there’s seven-fold gifts of the Spirit are mentioned. It’s a very unusual phrase, hence we can’t be dogmatic. And in verse 5, “and from Jesus Christ,” – now three things were said about Jesus Christ; number one “…who is the faithful witness,…” – this is the word ‘pistos’ meaning He’s a loyal witness or a true witness, either one. Number two, “…the firstborn from the dead,…” – this is used several times; we see it in Colossians 1:18, Hebrews 1:6. The rabbis use this in the sense of pre-eminence. Others have said it refers to the usage in 1 Corinthians 15:20 where it seems to be connected with idea of resurrection; meaning He’s the first born of the dead. Personally i think it’s rabbinical pre-eminence myself is what ‘the first born of the dead’ connotes. “…and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” – the background here could be the ‘Emperor worship’ because that seemed to be its existential persecution setting, and some of the titles used for the emperors are used for Jesus, particularly ‘kurios’ or the word sovereign here. But i really think the background probably is Psalms 98:27 where in a messianic sense this idea of ‘Ruler of the kings of the earth’ is used. Later in Rev. 17:14 and 19:16 you will see the little phrase ‘King of kings’ which is obviously related here. Also, He is the Supreme One, the Pre-eminent One, the Trustworthy One. He’s not a peasant dying on a cross, riding on a donkey, but He is the Ultimate One that’s revealing this truth to a group of hurting Christians saying, “I’m in control, trust Me”! Now notice, “…To him who loves us…” – King James has it in the past tense, but the better Greek text has the present tense ‘loves us’. That’s so important. “…and has freed (aorist tense, once and for all) us from our sins by his blood,” – King James has ‘washed us’ but the better Greek texts have ‘released us’ from our sins by His blood. The two Greek word for washed and loosed almost sounded alike. Many believe the cause for the variance is that the early church copied these Greek manuscripts by one person reading, and several persons so we can see how it entered in. I think it should be ‘has freed us once and for all’. “…by His blood.” – it speaks of the sacrificial death of Christ that through his death we’ve been made right with God.

Verse 6, “and has made us to be a kingdom and priests…” – this goes back to Exodus 19:5-6 where Israel is called a ‘kingdom of priests’, that she was meant to bring all the world to God, and she did not do that. Now the church is the ‘kingdom of priests; and in 1 Peter 2:5 and 9 the same word used for Israel is now used for the church. It’s no that the church takes the place of Israel, but the church comes alongside of her as the people of God. I think national Israel still has a place in the divine plan, but so does the church as the people of God. The term ‘ekklesia’ used for the ‘congregation of Israel’ in the Septuagint is now the term the New Testament church uses for itself. “…to serve his God and Father to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” – now, the ‘glory’ i think is related to Him coming on the clouds of heaven, but in the next phrase, the word ‘Amen’ is the Old Testament word for ‘faith’ which originally meant ‘to be firm’ or ‘to be sure’. But it came to mean ‘trustworthiness’, so the word faithful witness, and the word ‘Amen’ are related in a sense that they come from the same general understanding, something that’s trustworthy, and true, and loyal which is the Person of God in Jesus and His promises. “Look, He is coming with the clouds,” – the ‘clouds’ here is a very interesting study. Originally, the Shekinah cloud of glory was a symbol of God’s presence. It was a cloud to keep God from showing Himself lest they die. It was a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. It showed God’s physical presence with Him but we later learn it’s a transportation of deity. To show God’s presence you might want to see Exodus 13:21; Numbers 11:25; Matthew 17:5. For the idea of the transportation of deity, you might want to see Isaiah 19:1. It’s used of the Messiah riding on the cloud in Daniel 7:13, which is going to be the origin of the term ‘Son of Man’ which has the implications of deity and humanity. It’s also used in Acts 1:9, 11 that caught Jesus up, and used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, that He’s coming again on the clouds of heaven; a symbol of deity and a very poignant word the first century Christians used to refer to the full deity of Christ. “…and “every eye will see him,…” – this in my opinion shows that when Jesus returns again physically and bodily, it’s going to be open. I personally don’t understand the implication of a secret ‘rapture’ that’s so important in many people’s system. This seems to be a visible open coming of Christ. “…even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of Him.” So shall it be! Amen.” – now this sounds like they’re going to repent and turn back to God. Now, this may be a quote from Zechariah 12:10 and 12. If it is, it refers to the Jews who lamented the fact that they killed the Godly Shepherd, but the fact that it has all the peoples on earth shows us that John’s not using it strictly in the Zechariah 12:10 sense. And so it seems to me ‘all the people on earth’, not those who repent and turn to God, but who the judgments of the book of the Revelation fall on, and they scream and holler because judgment has caught up with them. And besides, the reference to ‘mourn’ is sometimes understood as the response of those for whom it is too late to be saved. This seems to be the ideal here. “So shall it be! Amen.” – This is the Greek word for affirmation, and ‘Amen’ is the Hebrew word for affirmation. If i could colloquialize it, it would be, “right on, right on!”. This “right on. right on” is confirmed in verse 8 by no less than God the Father Himself who says, ‘may it be so’. Lofty titles are used for God the Father in verse 8. First we have, “I Am the Alpha and the Omega,” – now the “I Am” reflects the Hebrew verb ‘to be’ in Exodus 3:14; that is the covenant title for God ‘Yahweh’. the ‘Alpha and the Omega’ is the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. What God is saying is, I’m the One who started and I’m the One who ended; I’m the First and the Last, and everything in between belongs to Me. To a group of persecuted Christians, that’s a good word; that Jesus loves them, set them free from their sins. And the God who sent Him is a God in control of all history. Notice as it says, “…says the Lord God,…” – those are two terms used so often in the book of Genesis; Yahweh Elohim, the two major titles for God, ‘the Lord God’. Notice as it says, “who is, and who was, and who is to come,” – there’s that same title we talked about earlier that seems to reflect the Covenant name for the ever-living only living God that’s going to be used of Jesus Christ, but here it’s going to be used of God the Father. But in 1:17 and 1:18 these same titles that speak of the ever-living God in control of history will be used of Jesus Christ, Hallelujah! These Christians had trouble, but the God who has all things in His hand loved them and was bringing things to a close. Then the fourth title is “the Almighty.” – the is the term ‘El Shaddai”, it’s the patriarchal name for God. It means ‘God Almighty’, and it’s used only about 9 or 10 times in the book of the Revelation.

John’s Vision of Christ

Now, beginning in verse 9 through 20 is a series of descriptions from the Old Testament about the person of Jesus Christ. This revelation is about Jesus Christ; it’s given by Jesus Christ, and it’s a magnificent vision but it’s so symbolic. It’s a different kind of literature, and John’s trying to describe that which human language can’t describe. It’s a marvelous thing when you see it, and understand how the people of his day would have caught it completely. How do you view the glorified Christ? Well, you put the titles of God on Him from the Old Testament, and you do it in this figurative way which i think makes it wonderful and not less true. “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus,…” – John says three things: He’s with them in trouble, pressure, and suffering; He’s in them in the kingdom; and He’s with them in patient endurance. As Jesus was under pressure but still in the kingdom and endured and so they are too. I think it’s wonderful we see all these things connected right there. The perseverance of the saints as they are truly redeemed will hold out to the end. You ought to see Matthew 24:13 where those who hang in there are the ones who truly know God. I don’t say they won’t sin, but in times of persecution the believers will hang to their faith in Christ no matter what. “in Jesus” – means Jesus is the source of all believers’ strength and perseverance. “was on the island of Patmos…” – it’s an island shaped like a crescent about forty miles southwest of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea. We learn from Jewish historian Tacitus that that’s where the Romans put their political prisoners. Historical documents say John went there because he was banished for preaching the Gospel. Eusebius even says he was banished to the island of Patmos by Domitian in 94AD and released by the Emperor Nerva 18 months later. It’s a pretty strong historical witness for God’s message really. “…because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” – Only the book of the Revelation and the Gospel of John called Jesus the ‘Logos’. That’s a real key for the authorship, i think.

Continuing as it says in verse 10, “On the Lord’s Day…” – there’s been three discussions here about this; some say the Lord’s Day means the eschatological day like in the Old Testament, ‘the day of the Lord’ usually means the day of God’s judgment, and that John was caught up to that special end-time day that the vision he sees are eschatological visions of the end-time. But really, most of us see this as a reference to Sunday. Sunday the ‘Resurrection’ in the Bible is called the Lord’s day; now it’s called the first day of the week (cf. John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). The early Christians begin to worship of Sundays instead of the Sabbath or Saturday; it was a work day, and only much later during the reign of Constantine that it became a holiday. It was a work day but it was the day the Lord appeared to them in the upper room several times, and these set the precedent. Now, notice as it says, “…I was in the Spirit,…” – he’s in the Holy Spirit; it’s like a trance, a revelatory trance (cf. Acts 10:10; 22:17; 2 Cor. 12:1ff). This little phrase “in the Spirit” shows us the four-fold division, or the four movements, or the four visions that John receives by this little word ‘in the Spirit’. It’s used here in verse 9; in 4:2; 17:3; and then again in 21:10. Now notice where it mentions, “…and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,” – that’s an Old Testament idea of God (cf. Exo. 19:16). The seven churches are mentioned; i don’t agree with Dispensationalism in their history of the church. There are actual churches to represent all churches. The golden lampstands are mentioned in verse 12; not the menorah but individual ones representing the church. Down in verse 13 was someone like a son of man wearing a special robe that showed he was a high priest. That’s possible, or he was a royal person like a king, that’s also possible. This same glorious description is used of a mighty angel in Daniel chapter 10. You might want to look at that parallel. ‘Hair as white as snow’ speaks of the ‘Ancient of Days’ whose eyes were like coals of fire, feet were like bronze. It’s a very rare word here, we’re not sure, but they’re like stable steel girders that would not be moved. That’s maybe the idea. “…and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.” – Here again it’s used of God, and here used of Christ. “In his right hand he held seven stars,…” – meaning symbol of power; those churches though they’re going through times of struggle, Jesus got a hold of them, and won’t let them go. Notice here, “…coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” – here is an obvious allusion to Hebrews 4:12; and from the Old Testament, Isaiah 49:2. This has the idea of the penetrating power of His Word (cf. 2 Thess. 2:8). “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” – like it was in the mount of Transfiguration. Now in verse 17, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” – What a vision! The Resurrected Christ Himself touches him in His right hand and says, “Do not be afraid…” – what an encouragement! Notice as it says now, “I am the First and the Last.” – that’s the title used for God in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; and 48:16), not used for Jesus Christ, “I am the the Everliving One,… – “that’s the root meaning of the term Yahweh, the covenant name for God. “…I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” – Jesus got the keys of death and Hades on His belt, and we don’t have to fear them anymore because He’s got all the power, all authority, and all submissions here. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” – this prophecy relates to the then, and it relates to now, and it relates to the ultimate. And i think the last few verses speak of the open secret, the mystery in the Gospel that speaks about the uniting of Jew and Gentile in the Messiah as one new people of God. I think that’s something true here , but it seems maybe even more so is the culmination of God’s plan of the ages – the Second Coming of Christ and the events that surround His victory in time as well in the spiritual realm. Now, the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars, the seven churches and all of that, we really don’t know what that means. Some say it’s the pastor of the church; some say it’s kind of the general spirit of the church, and some say it’s the age of the church. I’m not so sure but it’s obviously speaking to seven local churches, and they’ve got some problems like all churches do, but they’ve also got a tremendous Person on their side – Him who has overcome, Him who was and is and always will be, Him who is the First and the Last, Him who has the keys of death and hell. And friends, that same Jesus knows you and loves you whatever you’re going through, and He wants to show you that all history is in His hands, and no one can pluck you out of His Father’s hand or His hand. Rejoice! Hallelujah!