A verse-by-verse study of the prologue to the Revelation in chapter one.
The first chapter of the Revelation serves as the prologue wherein the apostle John explains the location, occasion, commission and objective of his committing what he saw into writing. Some interpreters refer only to the first nine verses of the first chapter as the prologue, and identify verses nine through twenty as introductory to the first vision concerning the seven churches. This study will treat the entire first chapter as the prologue since John explains throughout the chapter the initial setting wherein he viewed the entire revelation.
A phrase-by-phrase commentary style will be employed for the study of this first chapter, in order to explain the setting and the use of imagery with more precision. Thereafter we will utilize a less formal literary style in order to grasp the larger perspective of the vision that John saw.
(1) The revelation - singular, not plural "revelations." (preterist and futurist interpretations tend to disjoin and make into "revelations.") Greek word, apokalupsis, from apo - "from" and kalupto - "to cover or hide." Uncovering, disclosure, unveiling, that which releases from concealment, revelation. Some get caught up in seeing a certain type of literature, a genre of Jewish literature, called "apocalyptic." Such is a limited and "forced" understanding. Some think of violent destruction and doom and gloom, like in the movie "Apocalypse Now." It simply means "a revealing of..." A friend of mine inadvertently transferred the vowel sounds and referred to "apocalyptic" as "a-pickle-optic." The Revelation has been a "pickle of an optic" to interpret, but it is meant to reveal and disclose Jesus Christ.
...of Jesus Christ - The genitive can mean "by Jesus Christ" meaning that Jesus is the instrument by means of which the revelation was given; the conduit or channel or vehicle. Or it can mean "about Jesus Christ" meaning that Jesus is the subject or the content of the revelation. Jesus is more than just the impersonal object of the information in the Revelation. He is personally the One revealed. The genitive can mean "which belongs to Jesus Christ" meaning that Jesus is the possessor of the revelation, and can thus "show" or give it to John. Or it can mean "which is comprised of Jesus Christ" meaning that Jesus is the reality of the revelation. The being and essence of the life of Jesus Christ is the reality of the revelation. The latter interpretation maintains the ontological connection of Jesus Christ as the revelator and revelation, the subject and the object of the revelation, but there is a sense in which we can recognize that the phrase pertains to "all of the above."
Notice, it is not the "revelation of past history," nor the "revelation of the future," nor the "revelation of the second coming," but the "revelation of Jesus Christ." Jesus is the one who is revealed. (The polemic revelation of the defeat of "religion" is only secondary.) We must always recognize the Christocentric or Christological focus of this revelation. We want to see Jesus!
Jesus is the One who makes all things new! (21:5). "Old things pass away, behold all things become new" (II Cor. 5:17). The "new wine" cannot be put in the old wineskins of "religion" (Judaism) - Matt. 9:17; Mark 2:22). There is a "new creation" (II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Rev. 21:1).
..which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants. Jesus is always the revelator of God, the one who reveals Him. He takes the things of God and reveals them to man. Matt. 11:27 - "no one knows the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." John 1:18 - "He has explained Him". (cf. John 5:19-23; 12:49; 17:8). Jesus is the "mediator" between God and man. (I Tim. 2:5)
Notice the sequence: God the Father, Jesus Christ, angels, bond-servant John, bond-servants. Some think the final "bond-servants" are other Christian prophets who would in turn proclaim Jesus; "faithful men who will teach others also" (II Tim. 2:2). More likely, the final "bond-servants" refers to all Christians who have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, "bondslaves of God" (I Peter 2:16).
As the subject and the object of the revelation, Jesus "shows" it to His bond-servants, first of all to John. What a "show!" the great "movie in the round." Glimpses of glory that are beyond human expression, "glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18); "glory far beyond all comparison" (II Cor. 4:17); even "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
...the things which must shortly take place; - Does this mean an "imminence" that must be narrowly defined as the immediate near future of the first century? Preterists seem to think so, yet they decry such when the futurists speak of such "imminence" in reference to the second coming. Some have seen an allusion here to Daniel 2:28, "what will take place in the latter days." (This will depend on how you understand "latter days.")
The most probable meaning of "shortly take place," is not so much to a specific chronological time, but to emphasize the impending crisis and ordeal and tribulations that are foreseen. There should be a sense of urgency and watchfulness among Christians, for such things will "come to pass" without delay. There is a certainty of such, an inevitability; they are "bound to happen." Indeed they have happened to the Christians of the first century and to every time period thereafter. Luke 18:7,8 - "Now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" Romans 16:20 - "the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." There is obviously an "already" and a "not yet" understanding to the "shortly take place" expression. Such should be retained throughout.
..and He sent and communicated by His angel - God sent and signified the revelation. The Greek word for "communicated" is semaino which is best translated "signified" (John 18:32), for it is the basis of the word semeion, which is the word John uses for "sign" through his gospel, indicating the "significance" of that which is seen (John 20:30,31). The "sign" or the "symbol" is not the focus, but that which is "signified." The revelation is full of symbolic significance.
Angels are sometimes to be understood as "messengers." Throughout the Revelation they are often the "scene-shifters" on the stage of this cosmic drama.
...to His bond-servant John. - The author identifies himself merely as "John." He does so four times in this book - 1:1,4,9; 22:8. There has been much speculation as to whether this is the apostle John who was one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, or whether it is another man named John. The traditional understanding has been that this is the apostle John. John was probably one of the youngest of the disciples, the "kid," and by this time was an old man.
(2) who bore witness to the the word of God - John is fond of the word "witness;" the Greek word is used twice in this verse, for both "witness" and "testimony". The Greek word is martureo, -ia and is the word from which we get the English word "martyr." To be a Christian and a witness for Christ was "to lay down one's life" for Jesus, to invest it entirely for Him. John may have had a premonition that he would indeed be doing so as a physical martyr, as historical tradition indicates he did.
John also likes to refer to the "word of God." The Greek word is logos, and it is used in John 1:1 - "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:14 - "the Word became flesh." I John 1:1 - what we beheld concerning the Word of life." Rev. 19:13 - "His (Jesus) name is the Word of God." The "word of God" can be understood as the message of the gospel, but what is the message of the gospel, but Jesus Christ, so it is best to recognize the ontological reality of Jesus Christ whenever the "word of God" is referred to, and to thereby retain a Christocentric emphasis. It is not a reference to the book called the "Bible."
...and to the testimony of Jesus Christ - Again, the genitive can interpreted as "by, about, of." The Greek has a double usage of the same word - "John martureod of the marturia of Jesus Christ. We could say "John testified of the testimony of Jesus Christ," but John is referring to more than a verbal proclamation about Jesus. John had "laid down his life" for the One who "had laid down His life" for mankind. It is more than just an epistemological "message" that John proclaimed. In the Christian gospel, the Man is the message! The ontological connection must be maintained.
Early Christians were very aware that to receive Jesus Christ in them, was to receive the martyr-Man. They would be "hated on account of His name", His presence in them (Matt. 10:22; John 15:18). Their own lives would likely be "laid down" even in physical death. Rev. 12:11 - "the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death." Also 12:17. Rev. 20:4 - "those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God."
...to all that he saw. - He certainly "saw" a cosmic panorama! John is sometimes referred to as "the Seer," in light of "all that he saw." Numbers 12:6 - "if there is a prophet among you, I shall make Myself known in a vision...." I Samuel 9:9 - "a prophet was formerly called a seer."
(3) Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, - This is the first of seven beatitudes in the Revelation. (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14). This does not mean that one will be "blessed" because they know history better or know the future better because of the way they interpret the Revelation. Such would be a gnostic "blessing" of knowledge. Christians are only "blessed" because they know Jesus! We are "blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3). Those who hear and heed the Revelation will be "blessed" with Christ, having chosen Christ over "religion."
This Revelation was sent as a letter to the churches. "He who reads" is probably a reference to the "reader" who would read the letter aloud in the assembly of the church. Many of the early Christians were illiterate. It was the custom to "read aloud" in the early Christian gatherings, as it was in the Jewish synagogues. Nehemiah "read from" the Law (Neh. 8:2,3), and the Thessalonians were told to "have the letter read to all the brethren" (I Thess. 5:27). Modern Christians misunderstand what John wrote if they think that they are "blessed" because they read their Bibles, or more particularly the last book.
The Revelation is referred to as a "prophecy." Prophecy means "to speak before," but this can mean both "...before the time," or "before people"; it can be both predictive and proclamatory; it can mean both to "foretell" or "forth-tell." In the new covenant literature of the New Testament, the word "prophecy" is used primarily of proclamation rather than prediction. It conveys the sense of "thus saith the Lord," implying that it is a divine revelation, not just human information. Consistent with this primary purpose of prophecy in the New Testament, the prophecy of the Revelation is more of a proclamation of Jesus Christ than a prediction of the future; a fact not understood by many interpreters.
...and heed the things which are written in it, - This is not just a Revelation to ponder on, or argue about the interpretation of. It must be acted upon. We are "blessed" with the life of Jesus Christ, as the activity of His life is lived out in our behavior. Luke 11:28 - "Blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it." The gospel, the only "good news" is the ontological life of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
How can Christians heed what is written in the Revelation? They must recognize and be discerning about the spiritual conflict of God and Satan, avoid the diabolical techniques of religion, and live by the life of Jesus Christ expressing His character. It would be difficult to "heed" warnings about Romans emperors (preterist interpretation), or references to the invasion of the Turks (historicist interpretation), or even that which will likely not take place in your lifetime (futurist interpretation).
...for the time is near. - The Greek word for "time" is kairos. This does not necessarily mean that the precise chronological time for the fulfillment of all that is symbolized in this Revelation was "imminently" soon or near. (Preterists and futurists both like to emphasize such, but with different time-lines in mind). More probably it means that there was an "impending" time of crisis and decision, wherein the life of Jesus Christ would need to be lived out in their lives. Such is true for all Christians in every age. The application of the out-lived Life of Jesus Christ in the Christian is always "at hand" and "near." Luke 1:15 - "the kingdom of God is at hand." Rom. 13:11 - "knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed." Rev. 22:10 - "the time is near." The "time" for God to work out the "saving life" of Christ in our lives is always "near." We must not try to pin-point this chronologically on an historical time-line.
(4) John, to the seven churches that are in Asia: - The author again identifies himself as John as in 1:1. He is writing an epistle, a letter, to the seven churches in Asia, listed more specifically in verse 11, and addressed individually in chapters 2 and 3. The location of these seven cities was in the Roman province of "Asia," sometimes referred to as "Asia Minor," on the western coast of what is now Turkey. Why are these seven churches selected? There were more than seven churches in the area, for there was a church in Troas (Acts 20:5), Colossae (Col. 1:2), Hierapolis (Col. 4:13) and probably elsewhere. Since the number "seven" is often used in the Revelation to refer to "completeness," it is likely that these seven churches are representative as a "cross-section" of all churches. Based on his personal knowledge of the condition of these churches in the region where he, the apostle John, had ministered, he could use them by the inspiration of the Spirit to portray how insidiously "religion" threatens the Church of Jesus Christ in different ways, and how we must "battle" against such by allowing the life of Jesus Christ to prevail. It has been suggested that the sequence of the seven churches might have been the order in which this letter was dispatched, in a big arc, which may have been the "postal circuit" of the day.
Grace to you and peace, - This is a typical salutation from Christian letters of that day, as can be seen throughout the letters of Paul. "Grace" is more than a wish for God's graciousness and mercy. In Christian usage it is God's activity by the risen Lord Jesus, in accord with His character. It is the operative dynamic of Christianity, in contrast to the human performance of "religion," with its "works" of self-effort. "Peace" is likewise more than just a "shalom" greeting. Christ is our peace, as He provides the functionality of God at work in man and among men. It is the "peace of God that surpasses all comprehension" (Phil. 4:7), in contrast to the frustration of "religion."
from Him who is and who was and who is to come; - This is a common designation throughout the Revelation (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5), referring to the eternality of God, who is the eternally present "I AM" (Exodus 3:14). Likewise, Jesus Christ as God is the same "Yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). God is changeless and immutable.
...and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne; - Who are these "seven Spirits" that John keeps referring to? (3:1; 4:5; 5:6). Jewish tradition spoke of seven angel-spirits; seven archangels. On the other hand, they referred to the seven-fold work of the Holy Spirit based on Isaiah 11:2-4 - "the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord...He will judge with righteousness." This is referring to the Spirit of the Lord in the work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. So is is likely that the numerical symbolism of the number seven is again referring to the fullness of the work of the Holy Spirit. The capitalization of the word "Spirits" in the NASB would seem to evidence that the translators understood this to be deity. A trinitarian derivation from "Father, Spirit and Son" is retained by this interpretation.
(5) and from Jesus Christ, - This completes the trinitarian derivation in the salutation of the letter. Obviously, John recognizes the presence of the risen Lord Jesus, who is both revelator and revelation.
the faithful witness, - Jesus is identified as the One who "laid down His life" in faithfulness. See also 3:14. He is the One who "has been through it." He is credible, reliable, the standard of integrity, the guarantee. Yes, He is God and thus a "faithful witness" (Ps. 89:37); the One whose "faithful mercies" (Isa. 55:3,4) can be "banked upon." But as a man He was "faithful" in subordination to the Father, "even unto death" (Phil. 2:8), in giving His own life. You can count on Jesus despite your present problems; He will not deceive you or lie to you. He is the "faithful witness" as He Himself declared as He faced crucifixion (John 18:37 - "I have come into this world to bear witness to the truth."). In His crucifixion Jesus bore witness to the faithfulness of God's ways as contrasted with the ways of "religion," inspired by the devil: strength out of weakness; glory out of shame; joy out of suffering; life out of death.
..the first-born of the dead, - Jesus had accepted death, the genuine and ultimate test of faith and obedience. Christians can appreciate that when they too are persecuted and face death. But the victory was in the resurrection when Jesus rose from the dead, the "first-born from the dead." Paul also referred to Jesus as "the first-born from the dead" (Col. 1:18). Jesus was the first man to have experienced the spiritual death of separation from God (Matt. 27:46 - "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?"), and to be restored to spiritual life with God's presence in the man. His resurrection was a "birth" - Acts 13:33 - "God fulfilled this promise..when He raised up Jesus..'Today I have begotten Thee.'" Thus Jesus became the "first fruits of those who are asleep" (I Cor. 15:20), "so that in Christ all shall be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22); Jesus is the "first-born among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29), in the "church of the first-born" (Heb. 12:23). Christians are spiritually born out of spiritual death in identification with Jesus Christ "the first-born from the dead," and born with the very resurrection-life of the "first-born of the dead." That gives Christians hope when they face physical death, that there is indeed life out of death.
...and the ruler of the kings of the earth. - The authority of Jesus is asserted in this designation. This is one of the important motifs of the Revelation; the superiority of Christ's authority and rule over the "power" of the earthly rulers. The victory of the divine kingdom over the demonic kingdom, of Christ over religion, is expressed from the very beginning. There is no dualism of equal powers with a question of who will prevail. This is the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Victor.
The sequence of identification of Christ as "first-born" and "ruler" may be an allusion to Psalm 89:27 - "I shall make him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth." The Messianic Psalm 2:7-9 refers to Jesus as "begotten" and having the "nations as thine inheritance." Psalm 110:2 refers to "ruling in the midst of enemies."
The "kings of the earth" is a phrase that is often used in the Revelation. (1:6; 6:15; 17:2; 18:3,9; 19:19; 21:24; cf. 16:14; 18:3,11,23). It might refer to any type of earthly and worldly "power-brokers," those who rule nations, organizations, religions, etc. The Pope, for example, might be seen as a royal ruler of the earth, along with other ecclesiastical hierarchical heads. "Religion" is the most subtle and insidious form of satan's lust for power and control of people.
Jesus Christ exercises the ultimate divine authority and power. He has won the victory over all satanic and earthly kingdoms. He is the "King of Kings" (17:14; 19:16; cf. Dan. 2:47). The earthly powers, of course, are not aware of Christ's victory, but the ultimate consummation of such will become evident, as the Revelation shows.
To Him who loves us, - God in Christ continually loves us all the time. That is His character (I John 4:8,16). In fact, God's power is in His love - far more powerful than all the manipulations of earthly powers. But when Christians are in tribulations and being persecuted, it is sometimes difficult to remember God's love. The visible threats loom so large, and it is then that we must recall God's invisible love.
and released us from our sins by His blood. - The recognition of God's love is best remembered when we look back to the cross and resurrection. He "loved us and gave Himself for us" (Gal. 2:20). The "blood of Christ" should not be taken as a magical fetish, but as referring to the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf, "having made peace through the blood of His cross" (Col. 1:20). From the cross Jesus exclaimed, "It is finished! - Mission Accomplished!" (John 19:30). The redeeming work of Christ was completed, and the resultant restoration of all things in Christ is set in motion toward its inevitable consummation and fulfillment. Christians who have accepted the redeeming work of Christ are "released," freed, liberated, emancipated, so as to be free to be man as God intended man to be, divinely indwelt humanity expressing the character of God. (The KJV use of "washed" instead of "released" is an apparent misunderstanding of lusanti for lousanti.)
(6) and He has made us to be a kingdom, - That Christ is the victor is clear from the beginning of the Revelation. Because of Christ's death, the victory has been won! There are still "kingdoms in conflict," but the outcome is not in doubt.
Those who have identified with Christ "have been transferred into the kingdom of the Son" (Col. 1:13). Granted, His kingdom is "not of this world" (John 18:36), but He reigns "within us" (Luke 17:21), and we "reign in life" through Him (Rom. 5:17), and we "shall reign with Him" (II Tim. 2:12) in the consummated kingdom. Even now as "citizens of heaven" (Phil. 3:20; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 12:23), we share Christ's authority by His indwelling in us (Rev. 2:26; 3:21: 5:10; 20:6).
priests to His God and Father; - Peter refers to this combined privilege of "kings" and "priests" by explaining that Christians are a "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). Later in the Revelation we are referred to as "a kingdom and priests to our God" (5:10). God's intent for His people from the beginning was that they might be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6), and the prophecy of Isaiah was that those in Christ would be "called the priests of the Lord" (Isa. 61:6). The intent of God was not to develop a "religious" hierarchical order of priests with special privileges, but that His People might be "the priesthood of all believers," with access to the presence of God, sacrificing themselves (Rom. 12:1) in praise (Heb. 13:15), and ministering to others. The "priesthood" is a "holy priesthood" (I Peter 2:15), and demands that Christians be available to God's Holy character, thus "serving Him day and night in His Temple" (Rev. 7:15).
to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. - God, by His glorious character and glorious work in Christ is to be glorified, but can only be glorified by the active expression of His character in His creatures. He does not give His glory to another (Isa. 42:8; 48:11). His "dominion" and ruling authority will indeed be expressed and exposed "unto the ages," forever and eternally. Such will be revealed pictorially throughout the Revelation. So be it! - Amen.
(7) Behold, He is coming with the clouds, - This may be an allusion to Daniel chapter 7 where the imagery of "beasts" is used and the "ancient of days" slays the beasts, and Daniel says, "Behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming,...and He was given dominion, glory and a kingdom" (Daniel 7:9-14). (Note connection of "kingdom, glory and dominion" from previous verse.) Jesus quotes these verses from Daniel in identifying Himself as the Messiah (Mark 14:62), so Daniel seems to be referring to the "coming" of Christ in the incarnation. The Greek word, erchomai, used here for "coming" is used elsewhere in the New Testament for the "coming" of the incarnation, cf. "Jesus has come in the flesh" (I John 4:2,3).; and also of Jesus' coming at Pentecost, cf. "If I go, I will come again" (John 14:3,23; 15:26; 16:7,8). The use of the present tense rather than the future tense here in 1:7 has led some to interpret this as the present experiential "coming" of the presence of God by His Spirit in Christian lives. Though such may be a viable interpretation, the predominant understanding is to interpret this "coming" as the future coming of Christ, the parousia, the second coming, which the Revelation most certainly refers to in the later chapters. At His ascension Jesus was taken into a cloud (Acts 1:9), and the angels indicated that He would "come in just the same way" (Acts 1:11), which is probably what Jesus was referring to when He seems to quote Daniel 7 in Matthew 24:30.
Christians of every age must recognize that their "hope" is in Jesus Christ (I Tim. 1:1), and expectantly look forward to the consummation of the victory that Christ has already achieved. Once again we see the "already" and the "not yet" of Christ's coming. Though the victory is achieved and complete, the consummated expression of such is yet to become evident in the ideal of God's perfect and heavenly order.
"Clouds" are often used to refer to the Divine presence. (Exod. 13:21; 16:10; Matt. 17:5).
and every eye will see Him, - They will recognize and perceive who Jesus is, the Almighty God, and they will have to "bow down and confess" (Phil 2:10,11) who He is. (cf. Rom. 14:11). The triumph of Jesus Christ will be evident to all.
even those who pierced Him; - John is the only New Testament writer who employs this Greek word, doing so in John 19:37 and in this verse. In both locations it appears to be an allusion to Zechariah 12:10 - "I will pour out on the house of David...the Spirit of grace..so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him." Those instrumental in the death of Christ will recognize that they "murdered the Righteous One" (Acts 7:52) and crucified Him who is Lord and Christ (Acts 2:23,36). In one sense, of course, we are all guilty of so doing.
and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. - All men will recognize that it was their sin that sent Jesus to the cross. This does not necessarily mean that all will "repent," but that those who did not receive Him in faith will have "remorse" over having rejected the only One who could be their Savior.
Even so. Amen. - It is expected. It is inevitable and must come to pass. It is inevitable.
(8) "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, - First we recognize the identification with the Divine "I AM" of Jehovah (Exodus 3:14). The "I AM" always conveys the ontological connection of God with His creation, to avoid the deistic detachment so often present in "religious" understandings of god.
Using the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, God identifies Himself as everything from A to Z, the first and the last and everything in between, the starter and the finisher and the sustainer of everything in between. God is the commencement and the objective, the derivation and the destiny, the Creator and the Judge. A comprehensive signature, indeed!
Isaiah often referred to God as "the first and the last" (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12), which is repeated in the Revelation (1:17; 2:8). The same thought is present in the designation "the Alpha and the Omega" (1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
who is and who was and who is to come, - The eternality of God is expressed by this phrase, as in vs. 4. and 4:8; 11:17; 16:5). The immutability of the unchangeable God is also implied, as with He who is the same "Yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8).
the Almighty. - Christians who are awaiting the consummation of Christ's victory need continually to recognize the "pantocracy" of the all-powerful God. Despite the appearances of "power" amongst the earthly and religious authorities, God is sovereign, supreme, omnipotent. Our God is victorious! Our God reigns!
(9) I, John, your brother - The author again identifies himself simply as John (1:1,4,9; 22:8). He was most likely the apostle John who was a disciple of Jesus. He identifies with the readers as "your brother." "I am one of you; we're in this together." Christian "brother" indicates that they are in the same "family;" they are related to Christ and to one another as Christians. Cf. Heb. 2:11 for sense of being "brethren" with Christ. John was probably well-acquainted with many of them, having ministered in that region for many years.
and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance - Continuing his identification of kinship with the readers, John indicates that he is a co-sharer in their spiritual privileges and what they are going through on earth. He is not "off on the sidelines" telling them what to do, coaching them from a position of immunity.
The Christians to whom he was writing were undergoing "tribulation" of some kind. (cf. 2:3,9-10,13; 3:10). Tribulation may include pressure, distress, troubles, afflictions, suffering, persecution, ostracism, slander, humiliation, threat of death, etc. Jesus told His disciples that "in the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Paul, likewise explained that "all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim. 3:12). Such "tribulation" and persecution is to be expected for those who are in the "kingdom" of God. Paul explained that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). This is obviously not a reference to the "great tribulation" expected as a special "dispensation" by the Dispensationalists.
John was a "partner" in the "kingdom" with the Christians to whom he was writing. All Christians have been "transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Col. 1:13). Previously, in vs 6, John noted that "He has made us to be a kingdom." It is the "kingdom which is not of this world...realm" (John 18:36). It is the spiritual kingdom wherein we "reign in life through Christ Jesus" (Rom. 5:17,21), while still looking forward to the consummation of "the kingdom promised" (James 2:5). In that interim where the "kingdom" is already, but not yet, John wants to encourage Christians to continue to recognize the authority of Jesus Christ as Lord and King of their lives, and to reckon upon the dynamic of His life and strength.
In other words, John encourages Christians to "persevere," and identifies with them in such "perseverance." (cf. 2:3,10,19; 3:10). The sufficiency of Christ's life will be tested: "Does it work? Is it the life that wins?" The victory of Christ is not always apparent or visible. John encourages Christians to persevere, to "abide under" (hupomone) the situations which confront them. John likes to use the word "abide" - cf. John 15:1-6; I John 2:24). While "citizens of the heavenly kingdom" (Phil 3:20), we encounter earthly tribulations, and our endurance and steadfastness and perseverance evidences that we know Who the Victor really is. Paul explained that "tribulation brings about perseverance..character..hope" (Rom. 5:3-5). We are to "persevere in tribulation" (Rom. 12:12). To the Corinthians, Paul writes of "enduring the sufferings...being burdened excessively...so that we despaired even of life...that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead...on whom we have set our hope" (II Cor. 1:6-10). Such is the thrust of John's encouragement in the Revelation. Jesus promised that "by your perseverance you will win your souls" (Luke 21:19), and Paul referred to "perseverance unto glory and honor and immortality" (Rom. 2:7).
The trilogy of "tribulation, kingdom and perseverance" is also found in II Thess. 1:3-5, where Paul writes of "your perseverance...in the midst of persecutions and afflictions...so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering."
Living in the spiritual kingdom of Christ's authority as Lord, and yet at the same time in the midst of earthly tribulations, we are to endure and persevere, refusing to give in under pressures, eager to show the credibility of how Christ's life works even when the going gets tough, always alert to deception, discerning of the temptation to fear and anxiety and doubt, the temptation to revert to "religion" and its tactics, and willing to forgive the perpetrators of our trials. The strength and dynamic for such is only derived from Jesus Christ within us, so that we experience the "upside-down" reality of strength out of weakness, joy out of suffering, life out of death.
which are in Jesus, - Those who are "in Jesus" will experience the tribulations, the kingdom and the perseverance. Jesus said, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20), and "you will be hated by all on account of My name" (Luke 21:17). Note, though, that the perseverance is also "in Jesus," who endured to the end, "even unto death" (Phil. 2:8).
was on the island called Patmos, - When John received this Revelation he was on a small island in the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Ephesus, a part of the Dodecanese islands. (See map Addendum A) It was a small outcropping of rock, approximately 8 miles long and 4 miles wide. The traditional explanation is that John was exiled or banished to the island, imprisoned in a Roman penal colony which labored in the rock quarries. The Roman historian, Tacitus, (also Juvenal) indicates that there was such a penal colony on Patmos.
Some have questioned whether John wrote the letter later after he was released from Patmos, based on the past tense usage of "was on the island," but vs. 11 seems to stress the immediacy of the occasion for writing.
because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. - John thus explains why he was on Patmos. It is doubtful that he merely traveled out there for personal worship and meditation. He was there because of his identification with Jesus Christ, "the Word of God" (John 1:1,14); his identification with the gospel, which is the person of Jesus Christ. Here, as throughout the new covenant literature, "word of God" does not refer to the Bible. John expands his explanation for his presence on Patmos by indicating that it was because of "the testimony of Jesus." Most likely this means that his witness for Jesus, his "laying down his life" for Jesus, in some way caused him to be sent to Patmos. Later John will refer to Christians who were martyred "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (6:9; 20:4), so it is likely that John was on Patmos as a punitive consequence of his Christian witness.
(10) I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, - What does it mean to be "in the Spirit"? Does it mean he was feeling spiritual? Does it mean he fell into a trance of ecstasy? Does it mean that he was open, available and receptive to the Spirit? Does it mean that he was under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit? Probably the latter. Ezekiel writes of being "lifted up" by the Spirit when he heard from God (Ezek. 3:12,14). Some commentators take the four occasions where John refers to being "in the Spirit" (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10), and use them for the structural outline of the Revelation. Such is to be questioned.
"The Lord's Day" probably does not refer to the prophetic "Day of the Lord," but rather to the Christian designation of the first day of the week as "the Lord's day," since Jesus rose from the dead on that day (Luke 24:1; John 20:19). The Christians began to meet on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2).
and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, - John may have thought of Moses and the sound of the trumpet when God was calling him to Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:16,19). The imagery may refer to a voice that was loud, piercing, and unmistakable, announcing the presence of someone important. The sound of the trumpet is also mentioned concerning yet future announcement and calling of the Lord (Matt. 24:31; I Cor. 15:52; I Thess. 4:16).
(11) saying, "Write in a book what you see, - John was commissioned to write what was revealed to him on a papyrus scroll. There were no "bound books" like we have today. It is not improper to refer to "the Book of the Revelation."
and send it to the seven churches: - As in 1:4 these "seven churches" are likely a complete representative "cross-section" of all the churches in Asia Minor and everywhere.
to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelpha and to Laodocea. - These particular seven churches in seven cities of Asia Minor were the original recipients of the Revelation. It has been speculated that the order of the seven may indicate the order of visitation by the courier of the letter. Thus the Revelation would have been an "encyclical" letter. (See map Addendum A)
(12) And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. - Obviously one cannot "see a voice," but John turned to see the one who was speaking. "No one has seen God at any time", but John saw the visionary revelation that Jesus Christ gave to him.
And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; - In the language of symbolism, the number "seven" often refers to completeness, and "golden" to a thing of value. Because of his Jewish heritage John may have thought of the Jewish menorah, a "lampstand of pure gold..with seven lamps" (Exod. 25:31-38). There is a definite similarity to the vision that Zechariah saw of "a lampstand of gold..with seven lamps" (Zech. 4:2). The Zechariah prophecy may serve as the model for the "setting" of the Revelation, for Zechariah continues to say, "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6), which is in accord with the theme of the Revelation also.
The image seems to have changed from a single lampstand with seven branches to seven lampstands or candelabra, with no reference to the number of lights. It is possible that this was designed to show that the Church of Jesus Christ is the "new Israel" (Rom. 9:6: Gal. 6:16), and that each congregation is an expression of the Church in its fullness.
(13) and in the middle of the lampstands - It is obvious that the following reference is to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is central to His Church, represented by the lampstands. Though Jesus has ascended, He is still in the midst of the churches. He is not absent or withdrawn, distant or detached, operating the church by "remote-control." His life is ontologically vital to the churches and the Christians which comprise such. The Christians in Asia Minor in the first century and Christians everywhere in every age thereafter, need to realize that Jesus Christ is present in the midst of His church, and especially so as they encounter difficulties and tribulations. He does not "leave or forsake" us (Heb. 13:5). He dwells within His temple, individually (I Cor. 6:19) and collectively (I Cor. 3:16; II Cor. 6:16).
one like a Son of man, - The images used to describe Jesus Christ here in vss. 13-16 are similar to those used to describe God in the Old Testament. They obviously attribute deity to Jesus. They are images of indescribable splendor, wonder and authority. They are not photographic descriptions. Since they are metaphors and picture-language, we should not try to "pin them down" in exact comprehension of interpretation. There is no way to make precise determination of the significance of the symbols. Attempts to do so take away the Spirit's right to bring individual personal spiritual discernment. What is obvious is that John saw God in Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of the "law and the prophets," the "Amen" of God's promises (II Cor. 1:20).
The imagery employed has a definite allusion to that employed by Daniel in his vision. Daniel 10:5,6 - "I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold...His body was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult."
"Son of man" (14:14 also), identifies Jesus as a human figure, for He was the incarnate Son of God. Luke uses "Son of Man" as a designation for the humanity of Jesus, but the designation here used is different. Old Testaments prophets had referred to one like a "Son of man" (Dan. 7:13; cf. 8:15; 10:16; Ezek. 1:26; 8:2). Matthew refers to Jesus as the "Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (16:27,28).
clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, - John might have thought of Exodus 28:4, 39, and the "robe,..and sash" of the priest. Kings and priests wore robes, so this image may indicate a person of importance, distinction and authority.
and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. - This may have been more like a scarf or sash around the shoulder and across the breast. The priest of the Old Testament wore such, Exod 28:39; 29:9. Later in Rev. 15:6, the seven angels have on such a garment.
(14) And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; - John may have remembered Isaiah 1:18 that refers to "white as snow...like wool" when he employed this double description. Daniel 7:9 also refers to "hair on His head like pure wool." The whiteness of head and hair may refer to wisdom, purity, integrity and dignity.
and His eyes were like a flame of fire; - This same description is repeated in 2:18 and 19:12. It probably describes the searching and penetrating vision and insight of Jesus Christ, from whom there is no concealment. In his gospel, John explained that Jesus "knew what was in man" (2:25). The writer of the Hebrews refers to Jesus as "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (4:12), as "all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (4:13).
(15) and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace. - This is repeated in 2:18. cf. Ezek. 1:7 and Dan. 10:6. The symbolism may refer to strength, stability, perfection, etc.
and His voice was like the sound of many waters. - One would expect God to speak with awe-inspiring authority. "More than the sounds of many waters..the Lord on high is mighty" (Ps. 93:4). Ezekiel, likewise, describes a voice "like the sound of many waters" (Ezek. 43:2). John uses similar imagery in 14:2 and 19:6.
(16) And in His right hand He held seven stars; - cf. 1:17; 2:1; 10:5; 13:16; 20:1,4. The "right hand" often pictures favor, power or protection, so this image may refer to Christ's authority and sovereignty.
and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; - cf. 2:16; 19:15,21. Isaiah pictures the one who will bring "salvation to the ends of the earth" as having a "mouth like a sharp sword" (Isa. 49:2). A two-edged sword is highly effective. Heb. 4:12 refers to the effectiveness of Christ, "sharper than any two-edged sword." Some have interpreted the "two-edged sword" as representing judgement.
and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. - God is often pictured by the "shining sun" to indicate His transcendent glory and radiance. The Psalmist said, "The Lord God is a sun" (Ps. 84:11). Remember, John was at the transfiguration event where Jesus "was transfigured..and His face shone like the sun" (Matt. 17:2); he surely had not forgotten what he saw there.
(17) And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. - Is this the prostration of reverence and respect? Or is this indicating that he was "bowled over" or "knocked down" in the sense of being overwhelmed and overcome by the majesty of Christ? The latter most likely. Ezekiel was overwhelmed (1:28; 3:23; 43:3; 44:4). Paul was overwhelmed (Acts 9:3,4; 22:6,7).
And He laid His right hand upon me, - Yes, He already had "seven stars" in His "right hand" (1:16), but this is imagery. The picture is that of protection.
saying, "Do not be afraid, - The quotation marks that begin here, do not conclude until 3:22, indicating that this is a single, unified message.
Many times God tells men who encounter Him to "not be afraid" (Isa. 44:2; Dan. 10:8-12). At the transfiguration, John heard Jesus say, "do not be afraid" (Matt. 17:7); he knew that voice! cf. Rev. 2:10; 19:10; 22:8.
I am the first and the last, - Jesus identifies Himself, first as the "I AM" in accord with Exodus 3:14. John had heard Him say, "Before Abraham was born, I AM" (John 8:58). Isaiah explains that God is "the first and the last" (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). God is eternal, before all things and after all things. cf. 2:8; 22:13.
(18) and the living One; - As God, Jesus had "life in Himself" (John 5:26), and said "I AM the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). He is one with the "Living God" (Ps. 42:2). Particularly, on the basis of the resurrection, Jesus could explain that He was the Living One, as He goes on to indicate.
and I was dead, - As a man, Jesus died on the cross by crucifixion. From that cross He exclaimed, "Tetelestai," "It is finished; Mission accomplished; the work is completed" (John 19:30; 17:4).
and behold, I am alive forevermore, - The battle is won! The victory of Jesus Christ over all forces of evil is assured and guaranteed. Jesus is alive forevermore! cf. 4:10; 10:6.
and I have the keys of death and of Hades. - "Keys" represent authority and control. "Death and Hades" are the expression of the devil's power. "Hades" was equivalent to the grave, the place of departed spirits (Acts 2:27,31). Jesus has rendered powerless the one "having the power of death, is the devil" (Heb 2:14), destroyed the works of the devil (I John 3:8). "Oh death, where is your victory?" (I Cor. 15:55). In explaining His forthcoming victory to His disciples, Jesus explained that "the gates of Hades would not overcome" the church, but that He would give to them "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:18,19). The symbol of the "keys" is also present in Rev. 3:7; 9:1; 20:1, and the defeat of "death and Hades" in 20:11-14.
(19) Write therefore the things which you have seen, - Again, John is commissioned to "write" what he has seen, the vision of the triumphant Christ, the whole of the Revelation.
and the things which are, - in order to give to the Christians who were to be the recipients of this letter, a correct appraisal of the present situation, so as not to be deceived or feel defeated. "The things which are" between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus Christ.
and the things which shall take place after these things. - the future consummation of Christ's victory, which is the confident expectation of all Christians. This does not necessarily imply an "imminent" expectation of the Second Coming of Jesus, either for the first-century Christians, or for Christians today.
Some premillennialist and Dispensationalists have taken the three-fold statement of this verse as an outline of the Revelation. Such an arbitrary structuralization is referred to by Caird as a "grotesque over-simplification."1
(20) As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: - These images are a "mystery," a symbolization that signifies something that must be made known by God Himself. On "mystery" cf. 10:7; 17:5,7.
the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, - Much speculation has been generated by the reference to the "angels" of the churches. Does each church have a "guardian angel"? Are these "angels" to be understood merely as "messengers" (Lk. 7:24; 9:52)? Are the "angels" referring to physical leaders, bishops, pastors, delegates of the churches? Is this a general reference to the Holy Spirit at work in the churches (cf 1:4). It was important that the early Christians at the end of the first-century, as well as Christians of every age, recognize that though Christ has ascended, we have not been abandoned. We have not been left to our own devices and effort. We are still in Christ's "right hand' of favor and protection, "protected by the power of God" (I Peter 1:5).
and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. - The local congregations are to be the visible manifestation of Christ, the "light of the world" (John 8:12; 12:35; Matt. 5:14; 13:43). In 2:5 Christ threatens to "remove their lampstand" in Ephesus, but such would not remove the Church of Jesus Christ from the world, for it cannot be overpowered (Matt. 16:18).
1 Caird, G.B.,
A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine.
London: Adam and Charles Clark. 1966. pg. 26.