The Revelation of Jesus Christ
The Book of Revelation was written by the apostle John between AD 91 and 96 during the reign of Domitian, while he was in exile on the island of Patmos, most likely for refusing to worship the Roman Emperor as god. There is confirmation of John’s authorship of Revelation in evidence provided by church fathers with close links to John, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Clement of Alexandria. It was Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the apostle John, who informs us that John wrote Revelation, “toward the end of Domitian’s reign”. Patmos is a rocky, desolate island just off the south west coast of Turkey (Asia Minor) in the Aegean Sea, the island was rich in marble, and most of the prisoners during the Roman occupation were forced labourers in the marble quarries.
The Book of Revelation is a conclusion to all things, especially the rebellion of man which started in the Garden of Eden, and now finds its end in Revelation. The Book gives us a glimpse of heaven, preparing for the final act to play out upon the world stage. The apostle John reveals the climax of the rebellion of man in the rise of the Antichrist, the consequences of that rebellion, and God’s judgements. The reader is shown the functions of angels and the final struggle of the saints of God. There is joy in the revelation that the great enemy, Satan, loses his dominion over the earth. His defeat at the hands of the returning King, results in his being bound in the abyss for 1 000 years, before being cast into the Lake of Fire. We see that after the return of the King in triumph, He establishes His Kingdom. Then the ultimate climax unfolds with the New Heaven and New Earth, and God dwelling with His precious creation in the New Jerusalem. The righteous being able to finally eat from the Tree of Life.
The word Apocalypse comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, meaning “revelation”. The word describes an uncovering of that which was previously hidden, just as a master sculpture would do when removing the cloth from his latest masterpiece, to the delight of his expectant fans. The unveiling reveals what was previously hidden, and it just so happens that John’s “revelation” includes cataclysmic judgements from God. Apocalyptic literature is characterized by rich symbolism that shows God’s control over the events of the world, and His active interference in the affairs of mankind.
While Old Testament books such as Joel, Zechariah, Ezekiel and Isaiah are considered to have apocalyptic content, Daniel stands superior to all Old Testament apocalyptic writing. Apocalyptic literature is full of symbols that are seen in dreams and visions. An important rule of thumb when interpreting these symbols, is to find where the symbol is first explained in Scripture. Therefore, a study of the Book of Daniel is essential before the study of John’s Revelation, as it is the foundation for apocalyptic prophetic writing; all other apocalyptic writing builds on Daniel, including Revelation (those interested may refer to the series on Daniel which was covered in an earlier series).
The Book of Revelation is for the Church, as the Book of Daniel was for the Jews. Daniel was written in a time when Judah was in exile in Babylon, Revelation was written for the Church under Roman persecution. Daniel gave hope and comfort, revealing that no matter what the circumstances God was still firmly in control, and the Book of Revelation re-emphasizes that for the Church. Daniel 9 reveals seventy weeks of years to a final future restoration with the Messiah, the Book of Revelation details Daniel’s last week, placing a magnifying glass over a mystery that was sealed at the time of Daniel.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ (1:1-3)
“1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw”.
The very first sentence clarifies that the Book is recorded by John, not written by Him! The Book is the “revelation of Jesus Christ,” which was from God the Father. It is John’s Gospel that reveals Jesus as the “Word of God,” who is God, and records the seven “I am” revelations of the nature of Jesus. John also records the seven miracles that framed the work of Jesus as the Son of God, so it is fitting that he should be chosen to record that which God gave Jesus to reveal to His servants.
Many theologians view John’s writing as being hidden in symbolism, and the meaning therefore being veiled, yet it is clear that John recorded what he was to reveal to the saints from God; the Book is to be shown, not hidden in obscure symbolism. I believe that there are many theologians who are totally lost when it comes to interpreting the Book of Revelation because:
- They hold to Replacement Theology, and deny the key role of the Jews and Israel in the unfolding prophecies. Israel and the Jews are the focus of all prophecy; to deny that is to become totally lost!
- When a person denies God’s covenant bond with Israel, they fall under the curse of Genesis 12:3: “I will curse those that curse you”. There is no chance that a person holding to the anti-Semitic doctrine of Replacement Theology, can be blessed with a clear revelation of End Times prophecy.
- They interpret the Book symbolically and allegorically, when it is in fact a literal explanation of “the things that must soon take place,” with the use of imagery and symbolism.
- They interpret Scripture using classical Greek hermeneutics, rather than Hebrew Midrash. So, they place a Western cultural biased on a Jewish book.
The NKJV records that God “sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John” (Rev. 1:1). The definition of signified, is the meaning or idea expressed by a sign, which implies that the Book of Revelation is communicated in signs and symbols which can be interpreted through the correct use of Scripture. For example, John is given a magnificent insight into the throne room of heaven, which can only be explained through the use of comparisons and symbolic images from his past experiences. This form of writing brings a richness to the explanation, conjuring vivid images in the mind of the reader.
Those believers who approach the Book of Revelation with a sound knowledge of the other 65 books in the Bible, and a desire to attain an understanding, which will both increase their love for Jesus, and His future plans and purposes, will be rewarded, as promised in verse 3:
“3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near”.
The Book of Revelation is the only book in the Bible that promises a blessing to those that read it with a desire to draw closer to God. There is no requirement in the statement that the reader must completely understand the Book; but rather that a person may be blessed by reading and hearing even when they don’t fully understand all of the Book. The recording of the blessing given by God to those who earnestly seek His Truth, shows that John regarded this book as Holy Scripture. John also confirms that the Book of Revelation is Scripture by his statement that it was given to Him by Jesus, and also that the Book is to be read publicly from the pulpit – the Words were to be read “aloud”!
The Book of Revelation is a book that is ignored by many people and churches because it is considered to be too difficult to understand, others ignore it because they consider the book to be divisive, which causes conflicts. These individuals and churches will lose out on the blessings of God. John clearly indicates that his record in Revelation is prophetic, writing, “things that must soon take place,” the “soon” is a relative term, and points to events in the Last Days, events that all believers should be made aware of. With this in mind let us now approach the magnificent Revelation of God the Father for His children, prayerfully, and with a desire to understand His plans and purposes with greater clarity, and how we each fit into His kingdom plan.
Jesus Christ the Faithful Witness (1:4-5a)
“4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne. 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth”.
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation contain the last written message directly from Jesus Christ to His Church; these churches existed during the first century in the geographic region of Asia Minor (Turkey). These Letters are covered in detail in the previous series, “Seven Letters to Seven Churches”.
John’s introduction involves the relaying of greetings to the seven churches from the Godhead:
- God the Father is described in His eternal nature, underlining His eternal wisdom, power and authority.
- John then describes the perfection and completeness of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 11:2 describes seven aspects of the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him (1), the Spirit of wisdom and understanding (2 & 3), the Spirit of counsel and might (4 & 5), the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord (6 & 7)”.
- John then ends the greeting by giving the curriculum vitae of God the Son. Jesus was the faithful witness to the Truth, He died for the sins of mankind, and He was pre-eminent in His resurrection (Rom. 8:29), being first to be raised from the dead, and is now King of kings and Lord of lords, who will take full dominion over the earth. John gives importance to the resurrection, because, Jesus will return to rule and reign with His resurrected Bride.
The reality of the One God in three person’s caring for the Church is highlighted in John’s greeting. All three great and powerful Beings are there to bring grace and peace to the Church.
YHWH Sabaoth (1:5b-8)
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen”.
John continues by up lifting Jesus further, he starts by looking back to the cross, reminding believers that our exalted position as priests to God, is because the price for our sin was paid for by the blood of Jesus on the cross. After being brutalised by the Romans and the corrupt religious establishment, Jesus endured six hours of the most horrendous torture invented by mankind, all because He loves us and wants every person to attain forgiveness – our sins are atoned for by His blood. A believer’s freedom comes at great cost, the book of Revelation warns that rejecting the Grace of God will also come at great cost! For His great sacrificial work Jesus deserves our praises “to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever”. For many that realisation will come too late and they will “wail” at the sight of Him, and the recognition that their eternal judgement is imminent.
The divine link John makes with Jesus returning “with the clouds,” is regularly attributed to Jesus: in Acts 1:9, Jesus ascends into a cloud, and in I Thessalonians 4:17 the rapture raises saints to the presence of Jesus in the clouds. Jesus also confirms John’s prophecy referring to His return at the end of the Tribulation as “coming on the clouds”:
“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30b; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27).
It is important not to confuse John’s description of the return of Jesus with the rapture, as this is no secret event in John’s description, that every eye will see His return as King, John is giving a short pre-view of what He will vividly describe in chapter 19. By the time of the Second Coming there will have been a national revival in Israel, John alludes to this by using Zechariah’s prophecy:
“10 And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
The result of the Gentiles of the world seeing the splendour of the Lord’s return, will be a mournful recognition of their rebellion and forthcoming Judgement; for the Jews, the recognition of their Messiah will be a painful reminder of their having rejected Him, and all the many consequences that this brought upon their people over the ages.
There seems to be a dual interpretation for John’s exclamation of “Amen,” as amen means “this is true,” so John is confirming the truth of the coming of the Lord to Judge. Then as “Amen” may also be translated as “let it be,” there is also the eager anticipation of the Son of David returning to claim His rightful place of authority on David’s throne.
8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'”.
John has now finished his required introduction, so, it is the turn of Jesus to introduce Himself to the seven churches, and He starts by using the sacred name “I am”. The accurate interpretation of the name “I am” is “everything exists because I exist,” and so Jesus is confirming He is the beginning and the end, the eternal wise God, the Almighty! The Greek word that John uses for Almighty is pantokrater, which is most often used for YHWH Sabaoth “Lord of a mighty army”. Jesus is “the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come,” and when He does come, it will be with a mighty army, not of angels, but of His Saints! Now it is my turn to say Amen!
Jesus is both the Beginning and the End, and so logically He also has authority over everything in-between. The Book of Revelation is a record of events that are the culmination of the continual unfolding plans of Jesus. He was the Creator in the beginning, and directed the paths of human events towards His planned future fulfilment. He “is” the eternal Lord God, “who was” the Son of Man in earthly ministry and “who is to come” as King of kings, “The Almighty”.
“In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (1:9-11)
“9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
Ironically, it is while on the Island of Patmos, where the Emperor Domitian had banished John in order to silence him and prevent him for speaking about Jesus, that John is required by Jesus to record the Book of Revelation.
John, by saying that he “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” is confirming that the early Church worshipped on a Sunday. John was a Jew and so if he “was in the Spirit” on a Saturday, he would have said “Sabbath;” nowhere in Scripture is the Sabbath ever referred to as “the Lord’s Day”. The term Sabbath was still in use within the Jewish community in New Testament times, and is referred to as such by Jesus and the apostles (Matthew 12:5; John 7:23; Colossians 2:16). The early Church met to worship on a Sunday in remembrance of the two momentous events, the resurrection and Pentecost, as both events took place on a Sunday, and which they therefore identified as “the Lord’s Day”. So, John, while having his own church service on a Sunday, had a unique spiritual experience, which was beyond his normal state, where Jesus supernaturally provides him with seven letters for seven churches. Seven being, in this case symbolic of the complete Church, the seven letters although being addressed to seven individual churches, are a prophetic representative of the complete Church through history (c.f. the introduction to the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches).
As Jesus has already been introduced by John in verses 5-8, we are able to conclude that the voice speaking to John, that booms forth like a trumpet, is Jesus. A trumpet is a military instrument that gets soldiers’ full attention and prepares them for action; John becomes immediately focused on what is being revealed to him.
Jesus in the Midst of the Lampstands (1:12-16)
“12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength”.
What John sees on his turning to the sound of the trumpeting voice, is Jesus in the midst of the lampstands. The title John gives Jesus is very significant, it is not the Son of God, but the “Son of Man,” the title used by Jesus for Himself while in ministry, and a clear reference to Daniel 7:13-14, where the Son of Man is worshipped and takes a seat of judgement next to the Ancient of Days. The seven free standing oil lampstands represent the seven churches, which burn the oil of the Holy Spirit, which then give forth Light and Truth. The lamps are on lampstands to display the Light produced through the churches to the world. The Light displayed by these lamps, it would seem, would depend on how well they had been attended to by the High Priest, conversely the High Priest would spend more time caring for those lamps that were worthy of His attention. The source of heat and light given off by the lamps is not the Church it is God! Jesus appears dressed in a “long (linen) robe,” consistent with the dress of a High Priest, and fulfils the role of a High Priest by tending to the lamps.
Gold was used in the Tabernacle as a symbol of purity and holiness, and the value placed on the God being worshipped within. Gold was also one of the gifts from the Maggi to Jesus, in recognition that he was a King (Matt 2:11); so, the golden band around the chest of Jesus is both symbolic of His purity and holiness, and that as King, He has authority to stand in judgement.
John then gives a description of Jesus, with hair with like wool symbolising wisdom in judgement, the white hair of Jesus connects Him with “the Ancient of Days,” the everlasting, all wise God the Father, who is seated on a throne of judgement (Daniel 7:9). The eyes of Jesus are like “a flame of fire” which symbolises searching, penetrating and judgement; having feet “like burnished bronze” also represents judgment along with sacrifice. There is a very strong correlation between brass and the subject of judgment in Scripture, for example, the sacrificial alter and laver, with all the sacrificial implements on the Temple Mount being made of brass – the sacrifices were being made to atone for sins and to avoid the judgement of God. The voice of Jesus had now changed from the call of a trumpet to the “roar of many waters,” symbolising power, majesty and authority. The Lamb of God who died for the sins of mankind, is now the Lion of the tribe of Judah preparing for judgement.
The seven stars in the right hand of Jesus are seven angels representing seven churches (1:20), however, as the number seven represent perfection and completion, the seven churches represent the whole Church. In Biblical times the right hand was the hand that did the work, Jesus with the seven “angels” in His right hand does the work with them to protect His Church. The two-edged sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), it is once again a symbol of accountability and judgement. The author of Hebrews writes, “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). There is a distinction made between the two swords of Revelation and Hebrews. The sword protruding from the mouth of Jesus is a rhomphaia, a heavy sword used to kill and destroy, the sword described in Hebrews is a mashaira, which is a smaller sword used with tactical precision. The imagery of Jesus then is a warning of impending judgement from the Lord Jesus, the heavy Sword of Judgement is about to fall!
The depiction of Jesus by John is the real Jesus with the power of His righteousness, holiness and glory shinning forth from His face. The light radiating from Him with such power emphasizes that He is the King, He reigns, He is in control. Now let’s compare the image of Jesus that John presents, with the images of Jesus put forward by the Church today. Our two main religious celebrations are both pagan in origin, the one representing Jesus as a baby, and the other focusing on Jesus as a tortured figure on the cross (the Catholic crucifix). To understand the importance of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus is very important, but to focus our faith on that depiction alone is to stagnate, and not to see the full picture. The permissive church of today depicts an effeminate Jesus, who cannot say “no!”, whether it is the prosperity cult demanding blessings, or the liberal church who want no accountability. For the Church to come under the protection of the Right Hand of Righteousness, we need to ensure that, that right hand belongs to the correct Jesus.
I am the first and the Last (1:17 -18)
“17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades”.
John on seeing Jesus, consumed by the majesty and glory before him, goes into a dead faint and collapses at His feet. To put this into context: John spent 3½ years as a disciple of Jesus, in constant companionship, John referred to Himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” six times in his Gospel, he is the disciple that was “leaning on Jesus’s bosom” (John 13:23-26), which means that he reclined next to Jesus at the dinner table. Yet, before the glorified Jesus he swoons like a teenybopper at a “Beatles” concert in the 70’s, but while the teenybopper was overcome with emotion, John collapses in reverent fear. Jesus immediately comforts and reassures John, raising him to his feet. Now, to the disciple that wrote the Gospel with the seven “I am” declarations by Jesus, which each identify Him as God, Jesus identifies Himself three times to John using the “I am” self-declaration:
- “I am the first and the last” (KJV): Jesus is the eternal Yahweh
- “I am he that liveth, and was dead” (KJV): Jesus is the pre-eminent resurrection.
- “I am alive for evermore” (KJV). Jesus the King of kings, is alive to rule and reign forevermore.
The truth of these three statements separates Christianity from all the religions in the world, Jesus was both fully God and fully man, who died, but was raised again to life in a perfect body, to take His place on the throne in heaven as Yahweh, the Great “I am” – in comparison, all other religions are based on a founder who has died, and remains in the grave.
There are cartoon images of Satan with a key, implying he is the jailer in charge of hell. Very likely because the Greek god of the underworld, Hades, controlled the souls of the departed, and our Western culture is heavily influence by ancient Greek thought. It is Jesus who holds the keys of Hades and of Death, not Satan, and it is He who determines who is destined for the place of the unrighteous dead in Sheol (Hades). For Believers who die their spirits are ushered into the presence of Jesus in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:51–57; 2 Corinthians 5:1–8; Philippians 1:21–232; Corinthians 5:8).
Record all you have seen, are seeing and will see (1:19-20).
“19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches”.
John receives his second command from Jesus to record events, he is told to “Write the things which you have seen”, which is his vision of Jesus (chapter 1), “the things which are,” which is the message Jesus has for the seven churches (chapters 2-3), and “the things which will take place after this” which is the revelations yet to come (chapters 4-22), starting with John being raised to heaven.
Jesus then explains to John that the seven stars in His right hand are seven angels representing seven churches. Some people interpret this as meaning that each church has a “guardian angel,” who has a duty to protect their church. I do not have a problem with the concept of a “guardian angel,” it is possible, but the explanation does not fit the context. The word “Angel” is translated from the Greek word aggelos, meaning “messenger”. As the letters that are given to John were going to be read by the lead elder of each one of the seven churches, it is therefore most likely that the lead elder is seen as Jesus’ messenger. The fact that the right hand is the working hand, and the “messengers” are held by Jesus in His right hand, implies Jesus will be working with the churches to deal with the matters raised in the letters, relating to each one of the churches. Therefore, we are able to conclude that Jesus is still working with His Church, to bring about a predicted end – His return for a Bride, in a gown without stains, prepared and expectantly waiting for her Groom!
One thought on “Revelation Chapter 1:1-20”
These guys make it really hard to post a comment. Thought this was an excellent introduction to Revelation. Blessings!
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