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, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 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.
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, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 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.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
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. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 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.”
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 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. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 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.
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, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 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.
Understanding And Applying the Text
The book opens with a declaration about what it is. It is not a secret code we need to break. It is “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Greek allows us to interpret it in three ways. We can interpret as, “the revelation about Jesus Christ.” Or we can interpret it as “the revelation from Jesus Christ.” Or we understand it as both.
Jesus sent a messenger (angel) to proclaim the message to John. Thus it is a message from Jesus Christ. On a broader scale, the revelation is about Christ. So I take the position it is both.
This revelation is to Christ’s servants. John used the word doulos. Doulos is also translated, slave. Paul used the same word in the same way. The connotation is a bondservant. That is one who sells himself into slavery. In short, the word does not imply someone who is free. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ.
This is a revelation of things that must happen soon. “Soon” is an idea that occurs over and over in the book. What are we to make of this? Here the futurists have a problem. Over two thousand years is not soon by anyone’s standard. How do they answer?
The most common answer is 2 Peter 3:8. “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” But that does not answer the question. In fact, it makes it worse. Using 2 Peter voids the promise of God. It says God is timeless. Time has no meaning to God. It says God’s promises about time are meaningless.
Let’s apply that answer to other promises in this book. What about the binding of Satan for a thousand years? And the reign of Christ of a thousand years. (Revelation 20). Using 2 Peter would mean the millennium may only be a day. Or it could be 365,000 days.
It also makes the promise that God loosening Satan for a little while meaningless. (Revelation 20:7) What is a little while? It could be minutes or thousands of years. Rather than comfort, this answer throws us into chaos.
Using 2 Peter to answer the question of “soon” makes God a liar. One principle of good biblical interpretation is asking, “What was the original author’s intent to the original audience?” In other words, how did the original audience understand “soon”? They understood it as a chronologically short period of time. We should do the same.
We cannot get out of the first verse before Christ challenges us on how we understand His revelation. To understand the book, we need to understand the historical setting. We need to come out of our 21st-century mindset. We need to try and think as those in the first-century thought.
In this case, soon means soon. It does not represent anything else. It is not a symbol. I take the position soon means soon chronologically.
Prophesies may have dual applications. The prophecies in the Old Testament prove this. They had an immediate application and a future application.
So too the prophecies of the Revelation. The fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD fulfilled them. That should comfort us. It assures us God knows the end for the beginning. It proves God is God. But that is not the end. There are future and continuing fulfillment of the prophecy.
We also need to understand the genre. This is apocalyptic literature. This is a book filled with symbolism. In fact, Jesus tells us that in the first chapter. Seven stars are not seven literal stars. Seven lampstands are not seven literal lampstands. Sometimes John points out the symbols. Sometimes John tells us their meaning. Here Christ said the lampstands were the seven churches.
When John tells us what a symbol represents that is what it represents. We need to be careful and not make it mean something else. When we are not told what they mean, there is a guideline we can use. How is the same word, phrase, or concept or symbol used elsewhere in scripture? The hierarchy of interpretation is this. how is it used in the same book, by the same author, in the reset of scripture, and finally the culture of the time?
We are not to make the symbols literal. That would be an abuse of the revelation. What is weird is many take the revelation, a vision, and dream more literally than they do the rest of scripture. Weird!
Even when John tells us what a symbol represents, things are not simple. In verse 20 we the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. The letter addresses the seven churches and the angels of the seven churches. Jesus tells John to write “To the angel of the church…” for each of the churches. Angel means messenger. Was John writing to a spiritual being i.e. guardian angel of the church? Or was John writing to the pastor of the church? There are scholars on both sides. The problem with saying angel here means the pastor is this. Everywhere else in the book angel refers to a spiritual being. So angel meaning angel is sound hermeneutics. While “pastor” makes sense to me. It violates good hermeneutical rules. So I am forced into the view that angel as a spiritual being.
As we go through the book, let us remember this is a letter. It is a letter to seven churches in Asia minor. These churches were in western Turkey. John wrote to a specific group of people. True it is has a message for the church for all time. But its original audience was seven first-century churches in Asia minor.
Revelation is organized in sevens, the biblical number symbolic of completeness. The choice of seven churches expresses this theme. It hints at the wider relevance of the message to all churches.
John starts with a blessing. Revelation is a pronouncement of judgment on the faithless. But it is also a blessing on the faithful. Blessed are the ones who read and those who hear and obey the prophecy. Most translations add the word, “aloud” This supports the historical context. Not everyone could read. And letters were read aloud to the congregation.
Again in verse 3, there is another time reference, “the time is near.” This is like John the baptist’s message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) This again supports the immense of the events.
In verse 4 John tells us to whom he is addressing the letter. It is to the seven churches in Asia. He then gives a standard Christian greeting. He greets them with grace and peace from God. He does not use Paul’s standard greeting “…Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7b)
John does give a triune blessing, Father, Holy Spirit, and Son. But John goes on to describe God the Father. “Him who is and who was and who is to come.” This is a standard rabbinic exposition of Exodus 3:14. There God tells Moses “I AM WHO I AM.” John then moves to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is described as seven spirits. Again this is symbolic. I don’t know of anyone who believes there are seven Holy Spirits. The number seven appears throughout the book. Seven is the number of completion. It is the number of perfection. The Holy Spirit is perfect.
John elaborates on Jesus. The idea is that Jesus is the King of the Universe. He is the Lord God Himself. Jesus Christ is the faithful witness. He is the firstborn of the dead. He is the ruler of kings on earth. He loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.
John addresses the threefold office of Jesus. Prophet, Priest, and King. As prophet, Jesus is the faithful witness. As a priest, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice. He is born again for the dead. He is the first fruit of them that sleep. As king, He rules a kingdom. He rules over the kings of the earth.
John bookends the description of God restating the timelessness of God. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
What a glorious pronouncement!
In verse nine John introduces himself and his vision.
“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus…”
John is a partner in tribulation and the kingdom. Notice the tense is the present tense. John is a partner in the tribulation and the kingdom at the same time. This challenges the way many Christians think. There is a tendency to think we must suffer first before we inherit the kingdom. That is not what John said. John indicated the kingdom and tribulation come together. Tribulation occurs until Jesus comes in glory. Once Jesus comes then suffering ends. Remember John was the beloved disciple. Even as the beloved disciple he suffered. He was a partner in tribulation. John received the word of God and for that, he landed in prison. (v9)
John’s introduction grounds the book in history. It gives us a historical, sociological, and geographical context. John never quotes from the Old Testament but he alludes to it constantly. There are more allusions to the Old Testament (over 500) then there are verses in the Book of the Revelation(404).
John received the vision on the Lord’s day. He heard behind him a loud voice. This was not a still small voice. This was a voice yelling at him, “Hey John! Write down what you see and send it to the seven churches.” Jesus names the churches. There was no confusion, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” The voice was as loud as a trumpet blast.
John turned to see who was yelling. He sees Jesus. Here is an allusion to Daniel, “one like a son of man.” Daniel makes a distinction between a son of man and the ancient of days. But John described the son of man as the first and the last. This is a term referring to God. The two begin to blur the two become one.
John described Jesus in his glory. This is the only physical description we have of Jesus. Even when we have a description of the physical glory of Christ we cannot imagine it. How would you draw or paint this image? You can not. The face shining as bright as the sun. Yet you can see His eyes. The glory of God is beyond us. Even when we have it described to us in detail we can not understand it.
The hair is white. I think John was saying. “His hair was white. I mean really white. It was white like white wool. No, no, no, it was white like snow. It was a white white. I can’t tell you how white it was. Do you remember the mount of transfiguration? It was white like that. Oh, wait you weren’t there. Trust me, it was really really white.”
His feet were burnished bronze. The Greek word used here is not found elsewhere in scripture or Greek literature. So the exact meaning is uncertain. But it is without a doubt some sort of metal. The implication is fine brass or bronze. The word refers to particularly valuable or fine bronze. But note that the emphasis here and 2:18. It is more about the lustrous quality of the metal. It was “refined in a furnace.” Wesley and The NET commentaries point out can be ” It means it was heated in a furnace until it glows.”
And he held in his right hand he held seven stars. This is a token of his favor and came protection. And out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword. This represents His justice and righteous anger. The sword of God comes from His mouth. And his face was like the sun. Even when we have Christ’s glory described to us we do not comprehend it.
John’s reaction was the same as everyone else who experienced the glory of God. He fell to the ground as if he were dead. But Jesus showed compassion. He reached down and touched John and told him not to be afraid. Jesus identified himself as the first and the last. This is the same as the Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. He always was and always will be.
Jesus is standing in the middle of the seven lampstands. The imagery is clear. Jesus is in the midst of the churches. Even though there was great persecution, Jesus is there with them.
Jesus is with us as well. He is with us today as He was with the seven churches.