The Book of Revelation is feared by many Christians, and completely understood by others. But it is a book the promises to bless and enrich the life of every believer who reads, hears and obeys this revelation of Jesus Christ.
Revelation: Jesus the Conqueror
Revelation: a word that conjures up many different ideas and notions in many different people’s minds. For many, they think of the Left Behind series and how Kirk Cameron did an awesome acting job. I still don’t know why he didn’t win an Oscar for that. Others have fear struck into their hearts when they hear the word. All they can think of is wrath, and how Revelation is where we see the wrath of God show up in the New Testament. Others think they have the book figured out because they have watched Jack Van-Impe and they own the Ryrie Study Bible. Others just flat out don’t care because they do not even see how this book will affect their lives in the here and now.
And so, we begin a study on the book of Revelation. Hopefully this will not be something we will soon forget and simply think, “That was nice, but I still have no use for the book of Revelation. ” Revelation has an impact on the here and now, not just the future. This book is meant for ALL believers, not just the seven churches of Asia. Many of us have ideas already formed when we come to this book. Before we get too deep in the study, here are a few things I want us all, including myself, to keep in mind.
- First any preconceived notions we have about the book of Revelation must be thrown out the window.
Revelation is not only about the future but it is also about the present. And most importantly it is about Jesus. This may seem a little Sunday school, but this is what John states from the very beginning of this book. In verse one he says, “It is the Revelation of JESUS CHRIST. ” Revelation is not merely about judgment, wrath, or the millennium. It is about Jesus. If we keep this in focus, this book will make sense to us. That is not to say we will understand all of it, but we will get more from Revelation when we look at it from a Christ-centered viewpoint.
- The text of Revelation encompasses three literary genres.
We will not spend too much time here but it is important to note. Revelation first is apocalyptic. This was a common Jewish way of writing. Verse one talks about the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The English word Revelation comes from the Greek word from which we get the word Apocalypse. This word means to uncover. Secondly, we see that Revelation is also prophecy. Verse three says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy. ” And thirdly Revelation is an Epistle, it is a circular letter. It has the typical greeting of an Epistle in verses 4-8. This is one reason Revelation is confusing to many. You cannot pigeon hole Revelation into one genre because all of the genres are intertwined throughout the whole book. We must bear this in mind as we study, which is the second thing to remember.
- Thirdly, we need to remember the theme of Revelation.
“The theme is the victory of Christ and of His Church over the dragon (Satan) and his helpers,” This theme is the one William Hendricksen uses in his commentary and which we will use for our study. Revelation is all about the Victory that Jesus won for His disciples with His death and resurrection. Because of this victory the church, the followers of Jesus, are victorious over Satan and his helpers here on this Earth. None of this is possible without Jesus. We are powerless without Him.
- Fourthly, a quick word about the structure of Revelation.
The book is divided into seven different sections. Revelation is not meant to be interpreted or looked at from a chronological standpoint. If we view Revelation as a time line we will get bogged down and confused. We must view the book from what some call progressive parallelism. Long story short on this, there are seven different sections which run parallel to each other but the picture gets fuller as we go along in the book. John writes this way as well in the book of First John in many ways. In First John we see that he writes in circles, if you will. Chapter one is a little circle, then chapter two expounds on chapter one, there is an even bigger circle now, and so forth. Another way we could explain this is that the seven sections are all dealing with the same time period and each section looks at each time period from a different camera angle. This will help us put together the book and alleviate some confusion because we will understand why some things seem to be happening twice in the book.
- Lastly, we must remember that this is a book that our Heavenly Father wants us to understand.
All of scripture is profitable and, to the dismay of many, Revelation is included in this as well. The fact that God wants us to understand this book is in the word Revelation itself. Literally it means to uncover. We also see where this same word is used to mean to bring to light. Listen to Luke 2:29-32 “Lord now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” In verse 32, Simeon says that Jesus is a light for revelation. Here the word has the meaning of shining a light upon to uncover or unveil. It is the same word here in Revelation. Revelation is an unveiling of Jesus, an uncovering of Jesus, and the victory HE has won for His people.
1:1-3 REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST
This is the revelation of Jesus Christ. The word “of” is twofold here. It seems odd but what John is saying is that this book is a revealing of Jesus and this revealing is also from Jesus. This revelation was given to Him by God the Father. God has given to Jesus his plans for this world. Jesus in turn gives this revelation to his angel – the identification of the angel is non-essential, it is just an angel that Jesus has sent to John to reveal the Father’s plan for this world. The John we see is the Apostle John who bore witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ and to all that he saw.
As we study Revelation, it is important to note the circumstances in which John was writing this book. He wrote this book at a time of persecution for many Christians. John himself was exiled to the Island of Patmos because of his preaching of the Gospel, but more on that later. If we can we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the Christians who would have first read this letter. Many were being put to death, others were losing their livelihood, and some were not able to make money because they would not engage in the emperor worship of the age. Those who were faithful were being persecuted. It was into this setting God, in His mercy, sends the Revelation of their Savior Jesus Christ. Christ is the one who has conquered and will keep conquering throughout history. We could summarize and say that even though life was tough and, for some, life was ending God is saying, “Look what I have done through my Son. I have sent Him. He has killed sin and death. ” Essentially God is saying, “I got this. No matter what happens I am still in control and my Son has His divine hand in everything that is happening around you. ”
Revelation brings about blessing as we study it. In verse three there is a twofold blessing. The first blessing is to the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy. This would have been originally read aloud. There were no Lifeways around at this time to buy the latest Christian best seller, or to even buy a Bible. The one who read aloud this prophecy was blessed and also the one who heard and who keep what is written are blessed. Obedience to what the Bible says will always bring blessing. The blessing may be spiritual or physical, but an obedient life will be a blessed life. It is stunning to me that we find this promise right from the beginning. John is going to write some tough stuff in this book but the one who obeys, even to the point of death, will be blessed in his doing.
The phrase “the time is near: has confused many people. Put simply, it signifies urgency. Be obedient for the time is near. The great Day when Jesus comes again will be here soon. It would not be wise to say that all of these events, for instance, occurred by AD 70 as some teach. Revelation is the unfolding of God’s plan through Jesus Christ in the time in which John wrote and the time in which we live.
It is important to note before we move on that we MUST understand the first three chapters in order to understand the rest of Revelation. Revelation, more than any other book in the Bible perhaps, is a whole book. It is a unified book. What I mean by this is we need all parts of the book in order for it to make any sense. Many of the things we see in these first three chapters will occur in other parts of the book, which goes back to the progressive parallelism, but we will see more of this parallelism as we get deeper into the book.
THE RECIPIENTS OF REVELATION 1:4-8
John is writing this letter to the seven churches that are in Asia. There are seven of them and we find the listing in verse 11. He sends them grace and peace from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come. This is God the Father. He gives us, as believers, grace and peace through Jesus Christ. This phrase teaches us that God is eternal. He has always been his, is now, and He will always be. Once again think of it from the first century mindset. Persecuted believers most likely needed the reminder that God still exists. Times may be tough but God is still there.
Secondly, this peace is from the seven spirits that are before the throne of God the Father. The phrase seven spirits is a common theme in the book of Revelation. We will see this phrase in 3:1; 4:5; and 5:6. We could waste time and go through endless debate but, simply, this refers to the Holy Spirit. The seven spirits are symbolic of His perfect and multifaceted work He does in the lives of every true believer. These believers continue to receive grace and peace from the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Life may be tough but the Spirit is still working. Many times, we see the Spirit work even more in our lives because it is the trials and persecutions in life that make us want to give up on the cause of Christ and walk away.
God the Father and the Holy Spirit send us peace and, thirdly, Jesus sends us peace. Jesus is the faithful witness, which refers to Jesus clearly and faithfully relaying the Word of God and the plans He has for this world. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead, which means he has conquered death and the grave. Some of these believers may die but they can have grace and peace knowing that Jesus, their Lord and Savior, has already conquered death and the grave. Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth. No matter what circumstances these believers, and believers today, may be facing from rulers Jesus is in control of them. There is nothing they can do without Jesus first allowing it to happen. As we look around today our culture, and many times the Christian culture, seems to be questioning what is going on around us. Many times we do not see any hope. Things seem to keep getting worse and worse. We are not sure how any of this fits into God’s plan or if God is even in control. John says here strike the thought from your mind. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the ruler of kings on the earth. Do you have an unruly boss? Jesus is His ruler! Government forcing things on you? Jesus is their ruler! EVERYTHING falls under the rule of Jesus. For these believers Jesus was sovereign over their persecutors. Jesus was still in control. He has a plan and we see that plan working itself out every day.
Jesus is the one who has freed us from our sins by His blood. It is unique here that John would say freed us from our sin, as opposed to washed us from our sin. We are freed from sin. The sovereign rule of Jesus has been triumphant over sin through His blood. Since this is the case we no longer have to sin. Sin does not have sway over us. Jesus has made us a kingdom. We are a part of the kingdom of God. The kingdom is now, but not yet. The kingdom came when Jesus first came to earth. We are priests to God the Father. These two phrases teach us that the churches, Christians, are the true Israel. As believers, to use a phrase by John Piper, we are “true Jews.” This is what John is saying here: anyone, no matter what ethnicity, who has been freed from sin by the blood of Jesus, is part of the Kingdom of God and they are priests to God. To Jesus belongs all glory and dominion for all of eternity.
As John writes about Jesus, his close friend, it causes him to burst forth in praise. Jesus is worthy of Glory and Dominion. John, of all people perhaps, would have had a reason to complain about his state in life. What would we be like if we were in John’s shoes? I can imagine some Christians being exiled to a forsaken island and having this glorious vision of Jesus, and I am afraid that their response would not be worship. Can you imagine? I can hear some people now saying, “I am your servant get me out of here, there is no way this can be a part of your plan. Jesus this is silly you have all power get me out of here. ” I can imagine some would be bitter. Not John, John burst forth into praise when he thought upon what Jesus had done for him. John did not complain. I do not think John particularly enjoyed being exiled, but he did not let his circumstances affect his praise of Jesus. I wish I were like this. If I have a rough week at work, the last thing I want to do is pray or read my Bible sometimes. I for sure do not want to praise Jesus often in what I view as tough or awful circumstances, but this is what John does.
Jesus is coming again. He will come with the clouds, He will come with glory. His coming will be a visible one. All people everywhere will know when Jesus will come back. There is not going to be a secret rapture where people are on a plane and all of the sudden they will be gone and all that will be left of them is their clothes, shoes, watches, and dentures. It will be visible. Jesus will be coming with the clouds. Every eye will see him. Those who pierced him will see him. All tribes will wail or mourn on account of Him. The cause for the wailing is that time has run out. People who have constantly rejected Christ will say, “UH-OH. I was wrong. ” There will be no more time for repentance at this point. To which John says, “Even so Amen. ” Which means: this will happen and this is God’s plan.
Verse 8 is a reference to Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega. These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all History. Everything is about Him. Everything is his plan. Jesus is eternal. He is, and He was, and He is to come.
JESUS THE MAJESTIC 1:9-20
After the opening we come to verse 9. John calls himself the brother of these believers to whom he is writing, which are the seven churches. John is also their partner in tribulation, in the kingdom, and the patient endurance that are in Jesus. John was on the island of Patmos on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. These believers were not alone, John was also affected by this persecution.
John is their partner in three things. First, he is their partner in tribulation. This tribulation is not a set apart time in history but is simply life. Jesus said in John 16:33 that in this life we will have many tribulations. In this life we have trials. This is a fact. John is also their partner in the kingdom and thirdly, he is their partner in patience endurance. Derek Thomas calls this patient endurance “stickability”. Simply, through the tribulations of life we need to stick to Christ. Those who endure to the end will be saved.
The vision John has of Jesus in this section happens on the Lord’s Day, which is the first day of the week, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. John is in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. John hears behind him a loud voice like a trumpet telling him to write what he sees in a book and send it to the seven churches of Asia. He is to send the book to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergammum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodecia. Upon hearing the voice John turns to see the voice that is speaking to him.
When John turns he sees seven golden lamp stands and in the midst of the lamp stands one like a Son of Man who is clothed in a long robe with a golden sash around his chest. This one like a Son of Man had hair that was white like wool, like snow, his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze refined in a fire. His voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp two edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When John saw it he immediately fell at this one’s feet, as though John were dead. This one like a Son of Man John sees lay his right hand on him, a sign of comfort, and the man says, “Fear not I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and Hades. ” This one like a Son of Man is Jesus. John falls down in worship and fear of the majesty of this vision. We need not get entangled with the individual aspects of the vision. The vision is to be taken as a whole. Jesus, this majestic one, is coming to purge his church and to punish the enemies of his church. John was scared to death of what he saw. The vision was majestic! Jesus looks terrifying in this vision. Just thinking about it kind of shakes me up. This is a big Jesus, this is a strong Jesus. This Jesus has feet like burnished bronze so he can crush the enemies of his church; Jesus has his foot on the throat of the enemy. He is strong and mighty. Any view of Jesus as a peace loving hippie has now been thrown out the window. But the awful, terrifying looking Jesus loves his people. He gives John comfort and identifies Himself. He is the living one. He died but is alive forevermore.
The commission to write comes from Jesus himself. John is to write things he has seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. Once again showing that Revelation is concerned with all of time not just the future.
Jesus then explains the vision John has just seen. First the seven stars that are in Jesus’ hand are the angels of the seven churches. This naturally leads to the question: what does John mean by the word angel? The Greek word for angel can take on many different meanings. The most simple, of course, would just be angel such as a Gabriel or Michael type of angel – a heavenly being around the throne of God. Angels do play a prominent role in Revelation, but this is not the meaning. Angel can also take on the meaning of minister. This meaning should be used here. First off, we see nowhere else in all of Scripture where individual churches had an individual angel. Second, we will see soon that the letters in chapters 2-3 are addressed to the angel of such and such church. It would not make sense for John to write to them if they would not be reading it. Jesus has the ministers of the seven churches in His hands. He is watching over them and protecting them. No matter what they may face they will always be in Jesus’ hand.
The seven churches, it must be noted, refer to the church as a whole, the church of all history, so what is written to them applies to us as well. This saying applies to today’s ministers as well. The ministers of the Gospel are held tightly in the hand of Jesus.
The seven lamp-stands refer to the seven churches. The vision, then, is of Jesus walking in the midst of His church. It may seem at times like Jesus may not be a part of His church, but He is never far away. We may feel or even think at times that Jesus has left our congregation, but Jesus is with His true churches, those who preach His gospel. He is in the midst of them. And the Jesus that is in the midst of them is the Jesus we see in the vision. He is merciful and terrifying all at the same time. He is purging His church while protecting it all at the same time.
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER ONE
If we take nothing else from chapter one, my desire is that we all will keep our focus on Jesus. Revelation is ALL ABOUT JESUS. He is the one who is working time to its desired end. He holds the plans that were given to Him by God the Father. Keep your eye on Jesus. The Jesus we see here in chapter one is merciful and terrifying all at the same time. He cares for His church and He cares for His us. Jesus is and always has been and always will be.
Meditate on these truths. When life seems too much to handle, know that Jesus is the ruler of all things in your life. Some of this may seem elementary, but this reminder is what we need at times. Compared to the original readers of this book, our lives are pretty good. Sure at points things could be better, but I did not lose my job this week because I was a follower of Christ. I did not lose my life this week because I was a follower of Christ.
Second, how evident is it that we are followers of Christ? When we look at John we see in verse 9 that his preaching of the Gospel was so evident that he was imprisoned for it. This may sound odd, but when was the last time we put ourselves in danger for preaching the Gospel? Have we ever felt in danger because we have been preaching the Gospel? I do not want to be dramatic, but think about it. The true Gospel offends people. It offended people so bad in John’s day that he was exiled for it. People do not like the Gospel. They do not like the Jesus that the Bible offers, the Jesus who came to free us from our sins through His blood. Has preaching or presenting the Gospel every cost me my job? Has it caused me to be beaten? Have I ever been close to feeling like I was going to die because of the Gospel? Answer the same questions for yourself. I can answer and say I have never been even close to that point. We must be faithful, just as Jesus is the faithful witness, and present the truth of God clearly and without shame.
Third, as a church what kind of view do we have about the church? We have talked a lot lately about the church. The church is more important than most people think. The church derives its value from the one who cares for it. Jesus is in the midst of the church. He holds its ministers in His hands. Do we think the church has value? Is it merely something we do because we think we should? The church is important not because I say it or anyone else, but because Jesus is ultimately involved in the church. He is the protector and purger of the church. We will see this more next time, know that Jesus is intimately involved in the life of the church.
And last, once again, keep your eyes on Jesus. As believers there is nothing else in life to hold on to. John knew this well. John exiled was thinking on Jesus was worshiping Jesus despite what he was facing. Jesus is all. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is, and always has been, and always will be. AMEN!
You can read the second lesson Jesus the Victor here.[/sws_author_bio_ui]