Revelation 1 – Introduction; A Vision of Jesus
A. The introduction and prologue to the Book of Revelation.
1. (1-2) The writer of the Book of Revelation.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants; things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.
a. The Revelation of Jesus Christ: The ancient Greek word translated Revelation is apokalupsis (apocalypse). The word simply means “a revealing, an unveiling.” The Book of Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ in the sense that it belongs to Him, He is the one doing the revealing. It is also Jesus’ Revelation in the sense that He is the object revealed; Jesus is the person revealed by the book.
i. From the outset, we are given the most important truth about the Book of Revelation. This book shows us the Antichrist, it shows us God’s judgment, it shows us calamity on the earth, and it shows us Mystery Babylon in vivid detail. Most of all, it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ to us. If we catch everything else, but miss Jesus in the book, we miss the Book of Revelation.
ii. How we need a revelation of Jesus! “The great fault of many professors is that Christ is to them a character upon paper; certainly more than a myth, but yet a person of the dim past, an historical personage who lived many years ago, and did most admirable deeds, by the which we are saved, but who is far from being a living, present, bright reality.” (Spurgeon)
b. Which God gave Him to show His servants: This is an important reason why God gave this Revelation of Jesus Christ. He gave it to show His servants. God gave this revelation that it might be shown, not hidden. This is an apocalypse – a revelation, not apocrypha (something hidden).
c. Things which must shortly take place: This describes when the events of this book will take place – they will happen shortly, and they must happen shortly. This means that the Book of Revelation is a book of predictive prophecy. It speaks of things that will happen in the future – at least future from the time of its writing.
i. Not all prophecy is predictive, but this prophetic book clearly is predictive. It describes things that must shortly take place. The time is near (Revelation 1:3) for the fulfillment of these things, but the time was not present at the time of writing.
ii. Some would say that we should not be concerned with prophecy, that it is a frivolous exercise – but if God was concerned enough to talk about it, we should be concerned enough to listen. “Some tell us that what is yet future ought not to be examined into till after it has come to pass. I can hardly realize that this is seriously meant.” (Seiss)
d. Shortly take place: Short and near are relative terms, and this is God’s timetable, not man’s. Yet for 2000 years, history has been on the brink of the consummation of all things, running parallel to the edge, not running towards a distant brink.
i. Shortly is the ancient Greek phrase en tachei, which means “‘quickly or suddenly coming to pass,’ indicating rapidity of execution after the beginning takes place. The idea is not that the event may occur soon, but that when it does, it will be sudden.” (Walvoord)
e. He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John: This describes how the message is delivered in the Book of Revelation. It is a book of signs: the angel sign-ified this message to John. It is a book that communicates in signs.
i. It is true that the signs used in Revelation have been a source of confusion or controversy for some readers. Yet the signs are necessary because John expresses things of heaven, which Paul said he heard with inexpressible words (2 Corinthians 12:4). John described things he saw, so he could only use symbolic images to explain it. To us, this book is prophecy, but John simply recorded history unfolding before him, as he saw it. “John had visions from heaven; but he described them in his own language and manner.” (Clarke)
ii. The signs are also necessary because there is tremendous power in symbolic language. It is one thing to call someone or something evil or bad, but it is far more vivid to describe the image of a woman drunk with the blood of the saints (Revelation 17:6).
iii. Though it is filled with signs, the Book of Revelation is accessible to those who have an understanding of the first 65 books of the Bible, and especially an understanding of the first 39 books of the Bible, the Old Testament. The Book of Revelation is rooted in the Old Testament. It contains more than 500 allusions to the Old Testament, and 278 of the 404 verses in Revelation (that is almost 70%) make some reference to the Old Testament.
f. By His angel to His servant John: This tells us who wrote the Book of Revelation. It was His servant John, and the best evidence points to this being the Apostle John, the same writer of the Gospel of John and the books of 1, 2, and 3 John.
i. By His angel: Many of the signs and visions of the Book of Revelation came to John through the supervision of an angel (Revelation 5:2, 7:2, 10:8 to 11:1, and 17:7 are some examples).
g. Who bore witness to the word of God: In this prologue, we see John knew this book was Holy Scripture, the word of God. We sometimes wonder if the apostlic authors of the New Testament knew they wrote Holy Scripture. At least in this case, John knew.
i. He knew it was Holy Scripture because he called it a revelation from God. He knew it came from the Father through Jesus, and not from any mere human.
ii. He knew it was the Holy Scripture because he called it the word of God, as an Old Testament prophet would say. He also called it the testimony of Jesus Christ.
2. (3) A blessing to the reader and keeper of this book.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
a. Blessed is he who reads… and keep those things which are written in it: The Book of Revelation offers a particular and unique blessing to those who read and keep the message of this book. This is the first of seven beatitudes of Revelation (Revelation 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, and 22:14).
i. Because they neglect the book Revelation, many people miss this blessing. For example, the Anglican Church virtually omits Revelation in its regular schedule of readings for both public worship and private devotions. This is a typical attitude towards the Book of Revelation. Many people believe that only fanatics want to dig deep into this book, but really, it is a book for anyone who wants to be blessed.
ii. Fortunately, John didn’t say that we had to understand everything in the Book of Revelation to be blessed. There are some difficult things in this book that may only be understood as we look back at fulfilled prophecy; but we can be blessed by reading and hearing even when we don’t understand.
b. Blessed is he who reads… and keep those things which are written in it: This promise gives more reasons to know John believed this book was Holy Scripture. First, the words he who reads and those who hear show that this book was intended to be read publicly, just as other books of accepted Scripture. Second, the promise of blessing itself shows that John regarded this book as Holy Scripture. In the Jewish world, such a blessing could never be pronounced on a merely human book.
i. All of these things together show that beyond doubt, the Book of Revelation claims to be Holy Scripture. A critic can agree or disagree with that claim, but it can’t be denied that Revelation makes the claim.
c. Keep those things which are written in it: The Book of Revelation gives us much more than information for prophetic speculation. It gives us things to keep. If we understand the Book of Revelation, it will change the way we live.
d. He who reads: This is in the singular. It speaks of one person who reads. “Those who hear” is in the plural. It speaks of many people hearing. The idea is probably from custom of the early church, where attention was given to the public reading of Scripture, which was often then explained. In our modern way of speaking John might say, “Blessed is the pastor who teaches Revelation, and blessed is the congregation who hears it.” Most of all, pastor or congregation, blessed are those who keep those things which are written in it.
i. “Neither must we only live up to the words of this prophecy, but die for it also, and be content to be burned with it, if called thereto; as that holy martyr, who when he saw the Revelation cast into the fire with him, cried out ‘O blessed Revelation, how happy am I to be burned in thy company!’” (Trapp)
3. Since so much controversy has risen over the interpretation of the Book of Revelation, it is helpful to know the four basic approaches people have used through the centuries to understand Revelation.
a. The Preterist View: This approach believes that Revelation dealt only with the church in John’s day. In the Preterist approach, Revelation doesn’t predict anything. John simply described events of his current day, but he put them in symbolic code so those outside the Christian family couldn’t understand his criticism of the Roman government. In the Preterist view, the Book of Revelation was for then.
b. The Historicist View: This approach believes that Revelation is a sweeping, disordered panorama of all church history. In the Historicist approach, Revelation predicts the future, but the future of the “church age” – not the future of end-time events. In the Historicist view, Revelation is full of symbols that describe now.
i. For example, many of the Reformers called the Pope the beast of Revelation chapter 13, but they didn’t necessarily want to believe that the end was very near. So they believed that Revelation spoke of their time, without necessarily speaking to the end times.
c. The Poetic View: This approach believes that Revelation is a book full of pictures and symbols intended to encourage and comfort persecuted Christians in John’s day. In the Poetic or allegorical view, the Book of Revelation isn’t literal or historic. Revelation is a book of personal meaning.
d. The Futurist View: This approach believes that beginning with chapter four, Revelation deals with the end times, the period directly preceding Jesus’ return. In the Futurist view, Revelation is a book that mainly describes the end times.
e. Which approach is correct? Each one is true in some regard. The Book of Revelation did speak to John’s day. It speaks to church history. And it does have meaning for our personal life. So while elements of the first three approaches have their place, we can’t deny the place of the futurist view. We can know the Book of Revelation speaks with clarity about the end times because of two central principles drawn from Revelation 1:1-3.
i. First, we believe that the Book of Revelation must mean something. This is a book that Jesus gave to show His servants something. It isn’t a book of meaningless nonsense. It has a promise of blessing, not a promise of confusion.
ii. Secondly, we believe that Revelation definitely claims to contain predictive prophecy. John made it clear: things which must shortly take place… the time is near. John wrote about events that were still future to him.
1. (4-5a) A greeting of grace and peace.
John, to the seven churches which 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, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.
a. To the seven churches which are in Asia: This letter was originally addressed to these seven selected churches of Asia. This was the Roman province of Asia, which is the western part of modern day Turkey.
b. From Him who is and who was and who is to come: John brought a greeting from God the Father, who is described with this title. Him who is and who was and who is to come speaks to the eternal nature of God. It has the idea of a timeless Being, and is connected with the name Yahweh found in the Old Testament (Exodus 2:14).
i. The construction of who is, who was and who is to come is intentionally awkward in the ancient Greek. It seems that John searched for a phrase to communicate the Old Testament idea of Yahweh.
ii. It is never enough to just say that God is, or to just say that He was, or to just say that He is to come. As Lord over eternity, He rules the past, the present, and the future.
iii. The description Him who is and who was and who is to come applies to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as much as it does to God the Father. In fact, the title Yahweh describes the Triune God, the One God in Three Persons. Yet it seems that John focused on God the Father with this title because he specifically mentioned God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in the following words of this verse.
c. From the seven Spirits who are before His throne: John brought a greeting from God the Holy Spirit, who is described with this title. The seven Spirits who are before His throne speaks to the perfection and completion of the Holy Spirit. John used an Old Testament description of the Holy Spirit.
i. The idea of the seven Spirits quotes from the Old Testament. Isaiah 11:2 describes seven aspects of the Holy Spirit: The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. It isn’t that there are seven different spirits of God, rather the Spirit of the LORD has these characteristics, and He has them all in fullness and perfection.
d. From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth: John brought a greeting from God the Son, who is described by who He is and by what He has done.
i. Jesus is the faithful witness: This speaks to Jesus’ utter reliability and faithfulness to His Father and to His people, even unto death. The ancient Greek word translated witness is also the word for a martyr.
ii. Firstborn from the dead: This speaks to Jesus’ standing as pre-eminent among all beings, that He is first in priority. Firstborn from the dead means much more than that Jesus was the first person resurrected. It also means that He is pre-eminent among all those who are or will be resurrected. Jesus is the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).
iii. The use of firstborn does not mean that Jesus had a birth date and is therefore a created being, and not God. The ancient Rabbis called Yahweh Himself “Firstborn of the World” (Rabbi Bechai cited in Lightfoot’s commentary on Colossians). Rabbis also used firstborn as a Messianic title. “God said, ‘As I made Jacob a first-born (Exodus 4:22), so also will I make king Messiah a first-born’ (Psalm 89:28).” (R. Nathan in Shemoth Rabba, cited by Lightfoot in his commentary on Colossians)
iv. Jesus is the ruler over the kings. Before the Book of Revelation is over, Jesus will take dominion over every earthly king. At the present time, Jesus rules a kingdom, but it is a kingdom that is not yet of this world.
e. In this greeting, with its systematic mention of each Person of the Trinity, we see how the New Testament presents the doctrine of the Trinity. It doesn’t present it in a carefully defined, “systematic theology” kind of way. It simply weaves the truth of the Trinity – that there is One God in Three Persons – throughout the fabric of the New Testament.
2. (5b-6) A statement of praise to Jesus.
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
a. To Him who loved us: What a beautiful title for Jesus! When loved is used, in the past tense, it points back to a particular time and place where Jesus loved us. It should be pointed out that many translations have loves us (such as NASB, NIV, and NLT), but there is something beautiful about loved us. It looks back to the cross. Every believer should be secure in God’s love, not based on their present circumstances (which may be difficult), but based on the ultimate demonstration of love at the cross. This is worth praising Jesus about.
i. Paul put it like this in Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. The work of Jesus on the cross for us is God’s ultimate proof of His love for you. He may give additional proof, but He can give no greater proof.
ii. No wonder many believers are not secure in knowing the love of Jesus towards them – they look to their present circumstances to measure His love. Instead, they need to look back to the cross, settle the issue once for all, and give praise to Jesus, to Him who loved us.
b. And washed us from our sins in His own blood: This is what happened when Jesus loved us at the cross. He washed us – cleansed us from the deep stain of sin, so that we really are clean before Him. This is worth praising Jesus about.
i. If we understand our own deep sinfulness, this seems almost too good to be true. We can stand clean before God – clean from the deepest of stains. No wonder the same Apostle John also wrote, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
ii. In His own blood: If there were any other way to wash us from our sins, God would have done it that other way. To wash us in His own blood meant the ultimate sacrifice of God the Son. God wouldn’t do it this way unless it was the only way. “The priests could only cleanse with blood of bulls and goats; but he has washed us from our sins ‘in his own blood.’ Men are willing enough to shed the blood of others. How readily they will enter upon war! But Christ was willing to shed his own blood, to pour out his soul unto death, that we might be saved.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Notice the order: first loved, then washed. It wasn’t that God washed us out of some sense of duty and then loved us because we were then clean. He loved us while we were dirty, but then He washed us.
iv. In fact, washing proves love. If you had an old pair of pants, and got them covered in paint, you would only wash them and keep them for two reasons. First, you might wash them and keep them if you were poor. You can’t or won’t spend money on another pair of pants, so you wash them and keep them. Second, you might wash them and keep them if you really loved those old pants. Money isn’t the issue. You could go down and buy a new pair of pants any time; but you love that pair so much that you spend the time and the effort to clean them, and use them again. God loves us so much that He washed us. God certainly is not poor. With merely a thought, He could obliterate every sinner and start over with brand-new creatures. But He doesn’t. He loves us so much that He washed us.
v. Some scholars believe that John wrote and loosed us from our sins. There is only one letter different between the words washed and loosed in the ancient Greek language. Both words show up in ancient manuscripts, so it’s hard to say which one John wrote. Nevertheless, both are true – we are both washed and loosedfrom our sins.
c. And has made us kings and priests to His God and Father: This is status Jesus gives to those whom He loved in His work on the cross and who are washed… in His own blood. It would have been enough just to love them and cleanse them. But He goes far beyond, and makes us kings and priests to His God and Father. This is more than Adam ever was. Even in the innocence of Eden we never read of Adam among the kings and priests of God. This is worth praising Jesus about.
i. We are kings, so we are God’s royalty – this is privilege, status, and authority. We are priests, so we are God’s special servants. We represent God to man and man to God. We offer sacrifice unto Him (Hebrews 13:15). We have privileged access to God’s presence (Romans 5:1-2).
ii. Kings and priests: In the Old Testament, it was forbidden to combine the offices of king and priest. King Uzziah of Judah is an example of a man who tried to combine the two offices, and paid the penalty for it (2 Chronicles 26:16-23). Under the New Covenant, we can be like Jesus in the sense that He is both King and High Priest (Luke 1:31-33; Hebrews 4:14).
d. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever: In light of all that Jesus did for us, it is right to praise Him. We should honor Him with all glory and dominion forever and ever. When we say this, we aren’t giving Jesus glory and dominion. We are simply recognizing that He has it, and honoring Him for it.
i. To recognize the glory of Jesus is to come out-and-out for Him. “Some of you are very like a mouse behind the wainscot. You are in the Lord’s house, but you are not known as one of the family: sometimes you give a little squeak in your hiding-place, and sometimes come out at night, as the mouse does, to pick up a crumb or two, without being seen. Is this worthy of yourself? Is it worthy of your Lord and Master?” (Spurgeon)
ii. To recognize the dominion of Jesus is to let Him truly rule over us. “Again, if we truly say, ‘To him be glory and dominion,’ then we must give him dominion over ourselves. Each man is a little empire of three kingdoms – body, soul, and spirit – and it should be a united kingdom. Make Christ king of it all. Do not allow any branch of those three kingdoms to set up for itself a distinct rule; put them all under the sway of your one King.” (Spurgeon)
e. Amen: This word – in the ancient Greek language, brought over from the Hebrew of the Old Testament – simply means “Yes.” It isn’t a wish that it may be so, but it is an affirmation that, through God, it will be so. Jesus will be praised.
i. Jesus has done all this and more for you. You have much to praise Him for – so praise Him! “Would you not wish to be in heaven when your life on earth is over? The time will come when you must die; would you not desire to have a good hope of entering then into the felicities of the perfected ones? I am sure you would; but if you are at last to be numbered amongst the redeemed host on high, you must here learn their song. You cannot be admitted into the choirs above without having practiced and rehearsed their music here below.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The Greek word amen is a transliteration of a Hebrew word of similar sound meaning ‘truth’ or ‘faithfulness,’ hence the meaning ‘be it true’ or ‘so be it.’” (Walvoord)
3. (7) An opening description of the return of Jesus.
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.
a. Behold, He is coming: This is a command to look – to check it out. John moved from praising Jesus to describing His return. He wants us to behold the coming of Jesus. Jesus said that we should watch and wait for His coming (Matthew 24:42). It is something to keep before the eye of our mind, to behold.
i. This wasn’t a supernatural vision of Jesus’ return. That supernatural vision will come later. This description is based from John’s understanding of Old Testament promises of the Messiah’s return and Jesus’ own words about His return. For example, John knew that Jesus was coming because Jesus said He was coming. Jesus said, I will come again and receive you to Myself (John 14:3).
ii. “Christ has not gone to heaven to stay there. He has gone for the church’s benefit; and for his church’s benefit he will return again.” (Seiss)
b. He is coming with clouds: When Jesus comes, He will be surrounded by clouds. This will be true literally, because when Jesus left this earth, He was taken up into a cloud and God said that He would return in the same manner (Acts 1:9-11). It will also be true figuratively, because multitudes of believers are called clouds in a figurative manner (Hebrews 12:1). Clouds are commonly associated with God’s presence and glory (Exodus 13:21-22, 16:10, 19:9, and 24:15-18), relating to the Old Testament cloud of glory called the Shekinah.
i. Understanding this connection with the glory of God, it is fitting – and wonderful – that the multitude of believers is called a cloud. God’s people are His glory. They are His “cloud,” His Shekinah.
ii. John didn’t need a special vision to know He is coming with clouds. He knew this from the Old Testament (Daniel 7:13-14) and from Jesus’ own words: I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven (Matthew 26:64).
c. And every eye will see Him: When Jesus comes, it won’t be a secret coming. Everyone will know. At His first coming, Jesus was somewhat obscure. During His earthly ministry, He never made front-page news in Rome. But when Jesus comes again, every eye will see Him. The whole world will know.
i. John didn’t need a special vision to know every eye will see Him. John heard Jesus Himself say, Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be (Matthew 24:26-27).
d. Even they who pierced Him: When Jesus comes, it will be a particularly meaningful revelation for the Jewish people. Of course, it was not the Jews alone who pierced Him. But we know John had in mind the revelation of Jesus to His own people because this is an allusion to Zechariah 12:10.
i. When Jesus reveals Himself to His own people, the Jews, it will not be in anger. By that time, the Jewish nation will have turned to Jesus, trusting in Him as their Messiah (Matthew 23:39, Romans 11:25-26). When they see Jesus and His pierced hands and feet, it will be a painful reminder of their previous rejection of Him. It will fulfill the scene of Zechariah 12:10: And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
ii. John didn’t need a special vision to know even they who pierced Him. He could read it in Zechariah 12:10.
e. All the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him: When Jesus comes, it won’t be only the Jewish people who mourn because of their previous rejection of Jesus. Since there will be people saved from all the tribes of the earth (Revelation 7:9), everyone will have a part in this mourning. We will all look at His scars and say “We did this to Him.”
i. John didn’t need a special revelation to know all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. He just needed to remember what Jesus said at Matthew 24:30: Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
4. (8) An introduction from Jesus Himself.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
a. I am the Alpha and the Omega: In many translations, and in “Red-Letter” editions, these words are in red. This shows that the translators believed that these were the words of Jesus. John was finished with his introduction, and now Jesus introduced Himself. After all, it is His revelation (the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Revelation 1:1), so it isn’t strange that He introduces it.
i. Some wonder if it is God the Father or God the Son speaking here. We suspect it is the Son, Jesus Christ, and we believe this for many reasons. First, since it is Jesus’ Revelation, it seems appropriate that He introduced it. Second, the titles Alpha and Omega and the Beginning and the End are titles claimed by Jesus (Revelation 22:13). Third, though the title who is and who was and who is to come is used of God the Father in Revelation 1:4, it is also true of God the Son, and seems to be directed to Jesus in Revelation 11:17 and 16:5.
b. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End: The idea behind these titles for Jesus is that He is before all things and will remain beyond all things. Alpha was the first letter of the ancient Greek alphabet, and Omega was the last letter. Jesus says, “I am the ‘A to Z,’ the Beginning and the End.”
i. If Jesus is both the Beginning and the End, then He also has authority over everything in-between. This means that Jesus has a plan for history, and He directs the path of human events toward His designed fulfillment. Our lives are not given over to blind fate, to random meaninglessness, or to endless cycles with no resolution. Instead, Jesus Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End directs all of human history and even our individual lives.
c. Who is and was and who is to come: As shown in the comments on Revelation 1:4, this phrase communicates the idea behind the great Old Testament name for the Triune God, Yahweh. It reflects His eternal nature and His unchanging presence. Jesus has this eternal nature just as much as God the Father does. Micah 5:2 prophetically expressed it this way: Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. Hebrews 13:8 expressed it this way: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
d. The Almighty: This word Almighty translates the ancient Greek word pantokrater, which literally means “the one who has his hand on everything.” It speaks of the great sovereign control of Jesus over everything – past, present, and future.
i. This great word Almighty is used ten times in the New Testament, and nine of the ten times are in the Book of Revelation. This book has a striking emphasis on God’s sovereignty, the understanding that He has His hand on everything.
C. John is commanded to write.
1. (9) John on the Island of Patmos.
I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
a. I, John… was on the island that is called Patmos: The island of Patmos was a like an Alcatraz Island in the Roman Empire. It was used as a prison island and functioned as a jail without bars. The island was rich in marble, and most of the prisoners were forced laborers in marble quarries. Patmos was a rocky, desolate island about 10 miles long and 6 miles wide.
i. “John was at the time in exile, upon a lonely and desolate island. But neither seas, nor Alps, nor ages, can sever the bonds by which Christians are united to each other, or to Christ, their Lord. Less than a year ago I passed that island. It is a mere mass of barren rocks, dark in colour and cheerless in form. It lies out in the open sea, near the coast of Western Asian Minor. It has neither trees nor rivers, nor any land for cultivation, except some little nooks between the ledges of rocks. There is still a dingy grotto remaining, in which the aged Apostle is said to have lived, and in which he is said to have had this vision. A chapel covers it, hung with lamps kept burning by the monks.” (Seiss)
ii. Barnes described Patmos as “Lonely, desolate, barren, uninhabited, seldom visited, it had all the requisites which could be desired for a place of punishment; and banishment to that place would accomplish all that a persecutor could wish in silencing the apostle, without putting him to death.” Yet this exile didn’t silence the Apostle John.
b. For the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ: Most scholars assume that John was on Patmos because he was arrested and imprisoned in persecution from the Romans. This is probably the case, especially because John said that he is your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. However, it is also possible that John was on Patmos as a missionary to the prisoners there.
i. The ancient Christian historian Eusebius says John was imprisoned at Patmos under the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. (Church History, III.18, 20 – from the Nicean and Post Nicean Fathers Series 2, Volume 1, pages 148-149)
ii. “According to Victorinus, John, though aged, was forced to labor in the mines located at Patmos. Early sources also indicated that about A.D. 96, at Domitian’s death, John was allowed to return to Ephesus when the Emperor Nerva was in power.” (Walvoord)
2. (10-11) John is commanded to write.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
a. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day: To be in the Spirit seems to have more meaning than simply saying John walked “in the Spirit” as opposed to being “in the flesh” in the sense Paul meant in Galatians 5:16. The idea isn’t simply that John was walking in the Spirit, but that he received unique revelation from the Holy Spirit. This was a unique spiritual experience for John, what some might call an out of body experience – though of course, without the occult or spiritism such experiences are associated with today.
i. Walvoord defined in the Spirit like this: “Carried beyond normal sense into a state where God could reveal supernaturally the contents of this book.”
ii. There are four references to John being in the Spirit in the Book of Revelation. First at Patmos (Revelation 1:10), then in heaven (Revelation 4:2), then in the wilderness (Revelation 17:3), and finally on the mountain of God (Revelation 21:10).
b. On the Lord’s Day: When is the Lord’s Day? Among the pagans of the Roman Empire, the first day of each month was called “Emperors Day” in honor of the Roman Emperor. Perhaps Christians proclaimed their allegiance to Jesus by honoring the first day of the week as their own Lord’s Day.
i. This is not the same term used for The Day of the LORD in the Old Testament, nor is it the same idea. The Book of Revelation will deal with the idea of The Day of the LORD, but it doesn’t do it here.
c. I heard behind me a loud voice: The loud voice John heard was clear and striking as the sound of a trumpet. The loud voice belongs to the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, who is the beginning and the end of all things. Since Jesus introduced Himself with these titles in Revelation 1:8, we know this was the loud voice of Jesus.
i. Clarke on the phrase as of a trumpet: “This was calculated to call in every wandering thought, to fix his attention, and solemnize his whole frame.”
ii. The First and the Last is a title that belongs to the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Israel (Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12). The title Alpha and the Omega has the same idea as First and the Last. This is one of the New Testament passages where Jesus clearly claimed to be God.
d. What you see, write in a book: Here, John was commanded to write what he saw. He would be commanded to write eleven more times in the Book of Revelation. We get the sense that unless John was commanded to write, he would have just kept it to himself. It’s always best to keep visions and revelations to one’s self unless commanded otherwise.
e. Send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: John was commanded to write to seven churches in seven cities. Each of these churches is in the region of the Roman province of Asia. But these were not the only cities with churches in this region. For example, there was a church in the city of Colosse (to which the Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Colossians), but the city of Colosse isn’t included in this list of seven churches. Why were these specific seven churches chosen?
i. Some suggest that it was because they are arranged in a roughly circular pattern. Others think it was because these were postal districts in the Roman province of Asia. Many believe seven churches were chosen because in the Bible, the number seven often represents completeness, and these letters – and all of the Book of Revelation – are written to the complete church, not only these seven churches. Seiss writes, “The churches of all time are comprehended in seven,” and quotes many modern and ancient commentators that agree with this perspective.
ii. “It is the opinion of very learned writers upon this book, that our Lord, by these seven churches, signifies all the churches of Christ to the end of the world; and by what he saith to them, designs to show what shall be the state of churches in all ages, and what their duty is.” (Poole)
iii. Interestingly, the Apostle Paul also wrote to seven churches: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Colosse, Philippi, and Thessalonika.
D. John’s vision of Jesus.
1. (12-13) Jesus in the midst of the lampstands.
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.
a. I turned to see the voice: We can only imagine what went through John’s mind as he turned. The voice he heard was probably not exactly the same sound as he remembered Jesus’ voice to be (John described it as of a trumpet, Revelation 1:10). Yet he knew from the voice’s self-description (Alpha and Omega) that it was Jesus. This was John’s opportunity to see Jesus again, after knowing Him so well during the years of His earthly ministry.
b. First, John didn’t see Jesus. He saw seven golden lampstands. These were not candlesticks, they were not menorahs, but they were free standing oil lamp stands. The lamps set on these lampstands.
i. There were seven separate lampstands. This is an image that reminds us of the golden lampstand that stood in the tabernacle and the temple (Exodus 25:31-37). Yet this is different. The Old Covenant lampstand was one lampstand with seven lamps on it. Here in the New Covenant, we see seven lampstands. “In the Jewish tabernacle there was on golden candlestick, and seven lamps, to give light… John here seeth seven. God had but one church of the Jews, but many among the Gentiles.” (Poole)
ii. The light doesn’t come from the lampstands. The light comes from the oil lamps themselves. The stands merely make the light more visible. Therefore, the lampstands are a good picture of the church. We don’t produce the light, we simply display it.
iii. “A lamp is not light in itself, it is only the instrument of dispensing light, and it must receive both oil and fire before it can dispense any; so no Church has in itself either grace or glory, it must receive all from Christ its head, else it can dispense neither light nor life.” (Clarke)
c. And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man: Jesus was there in the midst of these lampstands, as the Son of Man, a figure of glory looking back to Daniel 7:13-14. Though the title Son of Man sounds like a humble title, in light of the Daniel passage, it is not a humble title at all.
d. Clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band: The clothing of Jesus indicates that He is a person of great dignity and authority. Long garments were only worn by those who didn’t have to work much, so they were a picture of great status and authority. The golden band around the chest probably hints at the garments of the high priest (Exodus 29:5).
i. Exodus 39:1-5 says that there were golden threads in the band that went around the chest of the high priest of Israel. Jesus’ band has more than a few golden threads. It is all gold! How much greater is the eternal, heavenly priesthood of Jesus!
ii. One of the duties of the Old Testament priests was to tend the golden lampstand in the tabernacle. Every day they had to fill the oil, clean the soot, and trim the wicks. They had to closely inspect and care for the lamps so they would burn continually before the Lord. Here is Jesus, our High Priest, in the midst of the seven lampstands, carefully inspecting and caring for the lamps, helping them to always burn brightly before the Lord.
2. (14-16) John describes Jesus.
His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
a. His head and hair were white like wool: The white hair speaks of old age, and is therefore in that culture connected with the idea of great wisdom and timelessness. The phrase white as snow also emphasizes the idea of purity (Isaiah 1:18).
i. The white hair and head also connect Jesus with the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9. “The term of Ancient of Days belongs to God the Father, yet it also agreeth to Christ, who is equal with the Father as to his Divine nature.” (Poole)
ii. “When we see in the picture his head and his hair white as snow, we understand the antiquity of his reign.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “This was not only an emblem of in antiquity, but it was evidence of his glory; for the whiteness of splendour of his head and hair doubtless proceeded from the rays of light and glory which encircled his head, and darted from it in all directions.” (Clarke)
b. His eyes like a flame of fire: Fire is often associated with judgment in the Scriptures (Matthew 5:22, 2 Peter 3:7). Jesus’ eyes displayed the fire of searching, penetrating judgment.
c. His feet were like fine brass: Since fire is connected with judgment, these feet like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace speak of someone who has been through the fires of judgment and has come forth with a refined purity. Jesus has been through the “Refiner’s Fire.”
i. Brass is a metal connected with judgment and sacrifice. Israel’s altar of sacrifice was made of brass (Exodus 27:1-6), and it was called the “brazen altar.”
ii. Brass is also a strong metal, the strongest known in the ancient world. Therefore feet… like fine brass are “An emblem of his stability and permanence, brass being considered the most durable of all metallic substances or compounds.” (Clarke)
d. His voice as the sound of many waters: This means that Jesus’ voice had the power and majesty of a mighty waterfall.
e. He had in His right hand seven stars: The seven stars speak of the leaders or representatives of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 1:11 (Revelation 1:20). The stars are securely in the hand of Jesus. Since seven is the number of completion, we can say that “He’s got the whole church in His hands.”
f. Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: This is a heavy sword (the ancient Greek word rhomphaia), used to kill and destroy. Sometimes the New Testament speaks of a smaller, more tactical sword known in the ancient Greek language as the machaira. Hebrews 4:12 uses the term for this smaller, more precise sword.
i. The idea of it coming out of His mouth is not that Jesus carries a sword in His teeth. The idea is that this sword is His word. His weapon – and ours also – is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17).
ii. Barnes notes that John didn’t necessarily see a sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth. “He heard him speak; he felt the penetrating power of his words; and they were as if a sharp sword proceeded from his mouth.”
iii. It is a sharp two-edged sword: “There is no handling this weapon without cutting yourself, for it has no back to it, it is all edge. The Word of Christ, somehow or other, is all edge.” (Spurgeon)
g. His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength: The glory of Jesus is so great, so shining, that it is hard to even look upon Him. Jesus has the same glory as in His transfiguration, when His face shone like the sun (Matthew 17:2).
i. “His face was like the disk of the sun in the brightest summer’s day, when there were no clouds to abate the splendour of his rays.” (Clarke)
ii. “What do you see in Christ’s right hand? Seven stars; yet how insignificant they appear when you get a sight of his face! They are stars, and there are seven of them; but who can see seven stars, or, for the matter of that, seventy thousand stars, when the sun shineth in his strength? How sweet it is, when the Lord himself is so present in a congregation that the preacher, whoever he may be, is altogether forgotten! I pray you, dear friends, when you go to a place of worship, always try to see the Lord’s face rather than the stars in his hand; look at the sun, and you will forget the stars.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Everything in this vision speaks of strength, majesty, authority and righteousness. There is an impressive difference between this vision of Jesus and the many weak, effeminate portrayals of Jesus seen today. But the Jesus that John saw is the real Jesus, the Jesus that lives and reigns in heaven today.
iv. We should consider the fact that this is the only physical description of Jesus given to us in the Bible. The only other description that comes close is in Isaiah 53:2: He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
v. In our modern pictures of Jesus, we like to think of Him as He was, not Jesus as He is. We prefer to see and know Jesus after the flesh. But Paul said, Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer (2 Corinthians 5:16).
3. (17-18) John’s reaction and Jesus’ assurance.
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”
a. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead: John was overwhelmed by this awesome vision, even though he was an apostle who knew Jesus on this earth. Even the three years John spent with Jesus on this earth did not really prepare him to see Jesus in His heavenly glory. At this moment, John knew what a miracle it was that Jesus could shield His glory and authority while He walked this earth.
i. “Blessed position! Does the death alarm you? We are never so much alive as when we are dead at his feet.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “It matters not what aileth us if we lie at Jesus’ feet. Better be dead there than alive anywhere else.” (Spurgeon)
b. He laid His right hand on me: First, Jesus comforted John with a compassionate touch. Perhaps the touch of Jesus felt more familiar than the appearance of Jesus. Then Jesus gave John a command: “Do not be afraid.” John didn’t need to be afraid because He was in the presence of Jesus, and Jesus clearly identifies Himself to John with three titles.
i. Jesus is the First and the Last, the God of all eternity, Lord of eternity past and eternity future.
ii. Jesus is the one who lives, and was dead, and is alive forevermore. He has the credentials of resurrection, and lives to never die again. The victory that Jesus won over sin and death was a permanent victory. He didn’t rise from the dead just to die again.
iii. Jesus is the one who has the keys of Hades and of Death. Some imagine that the devil is somehow the “lord of Hell.” Some imagine that the devil has authority or power to determine life or death. Clearly, they are wrong, for only Jesus holds the keys of Hades and of Death. We can trust that Jesus never lets the devil borrow the keys.
4. (19-20) Another command to write and an explanation.
“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. The mystery of the seven stars which 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 which you saw are the seven churches.”
a. Write the things: This second command to write gives us a structure to understand the Book of Revelation. John is commanded to write regarding the past, present, and future (looking from John’s perspective).
i. The things which you have seen: This means that Jesus wanted John to write the things he had just seen in his vision of the glorious, heavenly Jesus.
ii. The things which are: This means that Jesus wanted John to write about the things of his present day, the things regarding the seven churches which are in Asia.
iii. The things which will take place after this: This means that Jesus wanted John to write about the things that would happen after the things regarding the seven churches, the things of the last days.
b. The Book of Revelation is arranged in this three-part structure.
· The things which you have seen: Revelation chapter 1.
· The things which are: Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
· The things which will take place after this: Revelation 4 through 22.
c. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches: Jesus kindly interprets His own images. The stars in His hand represent the angels of the seven churches. The lampstands represent the seven churches themselves.
i. We note that each church had its own angel, and Jesus held these angels in His hand. Some believe these angels are the pastors of these seven churches. This idea is based on a literal understanding of the ancient Greek word translated angel, aggelos. That word literally means “messenger,” and certainly pastors are “messengers” to churches. Others think the angels might be “guardian angels” over each congregation. Some suggest that the angels are not literal beings at all, but they just represent the prevailing spirit of each church. There are strengths and weaknesses to any of these interpretations, but we do know that in some way, these angels are representatives of each congregation.
ii. Adam Clarke believed the angel of each church was its pastor. “Angel of the Church here answers exactly to that officer of the synagogue among the Jews called… the messenger of the Church, whose business it was to read, pray, and teach in the synagogue.” (Clarke)
iii. It is more important to notice where the angels are: the right hand of Jesus. This is a place of safety and strength. Even the problem churches that will be described in the next chapters are in the right hand of Jesus.
d. This was a spectacular vision, and many people wish they could have a spectacular vision like John had, but we can know the very same Jesus John saw. We can know His purity, His eternal wisdom, His searching judgment, His victory, His authority and His majesty. Each of these aspects of His nature are ours to know intimately.
i. When the think of John’s spectacular vision, we should remember where John was: imprisoned on Patmos. Jesus is often known most intimately in the midst of suffering and trials. Both John and Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) saw Jesus most clearly and gloriously in the context of suffering for the cause of Jesus. “The wrath of the wicked does but bring saints the nearer to the choice favours of God.” (Seiss)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission