In order to best comprehend the book of Revelation it is imperative that you have your Bible open and read each section before reading the following comments.
Revelation proclaims, "Your God Reigns!" It exalts Jesus Christ as Lord. Its theme is Christs triumph over Satan and evil. With prophetic vision, poetic imagination and symbolic language John evokes strong emotional faith that God is in complete control of the world situation. In a real sense the book of Revelation fulfills Jesus words, ". . . In the world you have tribulation; but be of good courage, I have overcome the world," John 16:33. Revelation is a prophetic letter cast as an apocalyptic drama.
A young man attends a seminary that does not have a gymnasium. In order to practice basketball the students go to a nearby high school. The school custodian volunteers to open the gym. While the students played ball the custodian, a rather old Afro-American, sits at the side reading his Bible. The young man asks him, "What are you reading?" "The Book of Revelation," he answers. The young man inquires further, "What does it say?" The old man looks him eyeball to eyeball and with great gusto exclaims, "Well son, it says God is going to win!"
Jesus Christ is the supreme hero of Revelation. He designates him: "the first and the last," 1:17; "the living one," 1:18; "the Son of God," 2:18; "the Lion of the tribe of Judah," 5:5; and "the lamb." The title "Lamb is used 28 times in the book. The lamb motif begins when John is told that "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" has opened the sealed scroll. John looks for the lion and instead sees the lamb. John connects the victory of the lamb with the sacrificial shedding of blood, 5:6-12; 13:8. (Leon Morris, New Testament Theology [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1990] pp.293-294.) J. P. Love says, "This is perhaps the most important figure of the book of Revelation. . . . When earth-bound men want symbols of power they conjure up mighty beasts and birds of prey. Russia elevates the bear, Britain the lion, France the tiger, the United States the spread eagle - all of them ravenous. It is only the Kingdom of Heaven that would dare to use as its symbol of might, not the Lion for which John was looking, but the helpless Lamb, and at that, a slain Lamb." (J. P. Love, John, Jude, Revelation [London, 1960] p. 65. Quoted in Leon Morris, op. cit. p. 294.) Revelation is written to seven churches in Asia Minor. By concealing his message in apocalyptic terms it is possible for John to write in a code language understood by the church but not comprehended by her enemies. Apocalyptic literature had existed many years before Revelation. The book of Daniel in the Old Testament is apocalyptic. Since John uses many of the same images to express his ideas, Daniel is a very valuable aid in under- standing Revelation. John even identifies his writing as apocalyptic, 1:1. Apocalyptic literature is generally written in times of persecution. Its purpose is to give encouragement to its readers. Revelation is written at a time in history when the Roman emperor claims to be God and demands worship from his subjects. Christians are having to choose between the worship of Caesar and the worship of Christ.
Apocalyptic literature uses numbers, symbols and figurative language to express its truths. It is extremely important to remember that it is not picture writing. It is idea writing. For example, the skull and crossbones on a bottle of medicine is a symbol of poison, not a picture of poison. The various figures described in Revelation are not pictures to be looked at but rather figures to give ideas meaning. The meaning of these symbols and numbers were known to the readers, but not generally known to others.
In Scripture it is obvious that numbers have symbolic significance. They are often used to symbolize ideas. The common meanings of various numbers in Scripture are as follows: One stands for unity and purpose. It means independence and uniqueness. Two means double strength and courage. Two men are stronger than one. Three is the divine number. It is the number of the Trinity. Four is the number of man. There are four directions on the earth. Four is the cosmic number. Five stands for grace. In the Old Testament the dimensions of the tabernacle are multiples of five. Six has sinister significance. It is the number of imperfection and incompleteness, because it falls short of the perfect number seven. It is the number of defeat. Seven is the symbol of perfection and completeness. Three, Gods number, plus four, mans number, equals seven. The number seven is used 45 times in Revelation in very interesting and significant ways. Ten signifies representative completeness. It still does. We draw a continuum 1 through 10. The 10 plagues of Egypt mean Gods complete judgment on the gods of Egypt. The 10 commandments mean Gods complete social guidance for his people. According to Jewish notion 10 composed a congregation. Twelve is the number of organized religion. Three, Gods number, multiplied by four, mans number, equals twelve. In the Old Testament there are 12 tribes of Israel. In the New Testament there are 12 apostles. The writer of Revelation uses the number 12 more than any other number except 7. The number 3 1/2 stands for imperfection, because it is half the perfect number 7. Multiplies of the various numbers also have symbolic meaning. Numbers do not occur in Scripture by accident.
The book of Revelation is very Jewish, perhaps even more than the epistles of James, I Peter and Hebrews. All through Revelation John uses imagery from the temple. He also has some 150 references to the Old Testament.
Revelation has many similarities between other Jewish apocalyptic writings; however, the differences are very significant. The chief difference is Johns marriage of prophecy and apocalypse. John is a prophet choosing to give his prophecy in apocalyptic terms.
Revelation is also a great drama. In this drama the actors parade briefly across the stage of time trying to dominate history. The drama intensifies as the anti-Christ, the world ruler and incarnation of the devil himself, attempts to set up his own kingdom and deifies himself so mankind will worship him. Then the hero Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, utterly defeats Satan and his forces. Following this we hear, "Behold, I make all things new!," Rev. 21:4-5.
In times of persecution Revelation becomes very precious. In times of ease, when Christianity is popular, the epistle often becomes entertainment for those who like to play with literary devices or prophecy.
THE HISTORICAL SETTING
In order to understand the book of Revelation it is necessary to examine its historical background and setting. Revelation was probably written between 94 and 96 A.D. during the reign of Domitian, from 81-96 A.D. Romes power overwhelmed the world. Their empire stretched from the Atlantic to the Euphrates and from the British Isles into Africa. Its wealth was incomprehensible. The emperor Caligula spent a half million dollars on one banquet. Extreme poverty also haunted the empire. And moral degradation was unbelievably low in all classes.
The first martyrs of Christianity were Stephen and James the brother of John. These men were put to death by the Jewish leaders not by the Roman government. At first the Roman empire considered Christianity a sect of Judaism, but as time marched on it became evident that it was largely Gentile. Rome, therefore, no longer regarded it as a Jewish sect. This deprived Christianity of legal protection. The problems for the church really began when Nero was emperor, 54-68 A.D. During his reign a terrible fire partly destroyed the city of Rome. The gossip was that since Nero wanted to rebuild the city he must have started the fire. Nero trying to divert the blame from himself accused the Christians of starting the fire. He had many Christians condemned and killed in extremely vicious ways. There is strong tradition that Paul and Peter were both martyred during Neros reign.
The most fierce persecution, however, probably came during the reign of Domitian, 81-96 A.D. With Domitian came the increase demand for the people to worship the Roman emperors, both living and dead. Domitian confused himself with God and demanded worship from his subjects, even from his own family. Roma, the goddess of the city of Rome, was also considered part of the cult. This worship helped to unify the Empire. The Jews were the only people exempt from the law requiring worship of the emperors. Since Christianity was by this time largely Gentile it was no longer considered a sect of Judaism. As a new religion, its adherents were required to give allegiance to the emperor by worshiping him as God. The Christians refused. Their refusal quickly drew hostility and a confrontation with Rome. During persecution in Asia Minor John was exiled. He wrote Revelation to encourage his people during the time of persecution and possible martyrdom.
In earliest Christian history the book of Revelation was considered apostolic and had no problem getting into the New Testament canon. As far as we know, its authorship was first questioned by Dionysius who noted the differences between the Gospel of John, the epistles of John and the Revelation. He questioned the authorship of these documents on grounds of different concepts, symbolism, Greek grammar and style. There is no doubt that there are some differences. However, R. H. Charles, one of the great authorities on apocalyptic literature considered the poor grammar in Revelation as intentional, designed for the purpose of getting closer to a Hebrew style of the Old Testament. (R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, The International Critical Commentary [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1920] vol. I, pp. cxvii-clix.) Whether this is true we do not know. It is more likely that Revelation is Johns natural style since he is in exile and cannot dictate the book to anyone as he probably did his Gospel and the other three epistles. Dictating to an amanuensis was a common practice and probably accounts for the better grammar and style of the other Johannine literature.
In more recent times, Johns authorship has also been questioned because of so called differences between theological terms and concepts and the variation in the tone of the writings. These objections can be answered adequately. It is, however, very important to note that the validity of this book does not depend on its human writer, but rather on its divine author. Three times the writer calls himself John, but he does not say that he is the Apostle. He knows his readers know him. It is also strange that in the Gospel and in the Epistles the author does not give his name; in fact, he seems to conceal it. The difference in historical circumstances may account for this. John knows the seven churches of Asia Minor will know him and receive his message as from God. It is evident that he knows their history and their spiritual condition.
The date usually given for the writing of Revelation, and probably the best date, is sometime between 94- 96 A.D. during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. Another date that has been given by some scholars is 54-68 A.D. during the reign of Nero. Most scholars today place the date as 94-96 A.D. in order to allow for persecution and the conditions of the seven churches to develop. One of the problems is that chapter 9 implies that the temple was still in existence or that it had been rebuilt. If the temple was still in existence then it would place the writing of Revelation before 70 A.D.
John writes to affirm that Jesus Christ controls history and eternity. No physical or spiritual person or power can defeat him. Writing in apocalyptic language conceals his meaning from those who are not Christians and reveals the meaning to those who are.
METHODS OF INTERPRETATION
The methods used in interpreting the book of Revelation can generally be divided into four categories, and each of these can be subdivided. The subdivisions under a division are sometimes very different from each other. The four methods of interpreting the book of Revelation are: the Preteristic, the Continuous Historical, the Symbolic and the Futuristic.
The Preterist method interprets the events of Revelation as occurring in history during and soon after the book was written. According to this inter- pretation John is writing to encourage the Christians in Asia Minor who were going through a terrible period of persecution. The book is, therefore, fulfilled in the time of the Roman Empire. This means that its message was only for the people of Johns time. The strength of this interpretation is that it makes the book very relevant for those to whom it was written. The weakness is that it has little application for the church today.
The Continuous-Historical view presents Revelation as a prophetic history of the church through the ages. This method makes each section of Revelation correspond to actual periods of history. For example, Ephesus is a picture of the churchs condition at the close of the first century when vital Christianity declined. Smyrna represents the period of martyrdom during the first three centuries. Pergamos is the period when the church and state united under Constantine. Thyatira is the period of the corrupt Roman Churchs domination over Christianity. Sardis is the Reformation when the true message was again brought to the world. Philadelphia is the period of time during Wesley and Whitefield when the world was an open door for the gospel. Laodicea is the end of time and the last days for the church. This interpretations strongest point is that it understands Revelation as picturing the defeat of evil. The weakness of this method is that it would not have been relevant for those to whom it was written. There are also churches like each one of these present in every age.
The Symbolic method thinks that John wrote to encourage his contemporaries in the faith but that the principles of God against Satan and good against evil will continue in every age until the end of time. Since this was a dangerous time to be a Christian, he wrote his message in symbolic terms that would be understood by those in the church and not understood by their enemies. The proponents of this view think that the symbols picture Gods triumph over Satan in all history. The strength of this interpretation is that it gives the book meaning for both the past and the present. One weakness is that it assigns the church all the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament. There is no time when Gods promises to Israel will be fulfilled historically. The Futurist method believes that most of Revelation is an eschatological prophecy of the worlds historical events. Most of those who hold this view believe that chapters four through nineteen record the events of the great tribulation which will be at the end of time and will last seven years. This period corresponds to the seventieth week recorded in Daniel 9:24-27. Most futurists interpret the book literally. Most are millennial, but not all. This method does take seriously the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament. It also takes seriously the covenants God made in the Old Testament and explains how they are fulfilled.
Each interpretation has had the support of great scholars and devout followers of Christ. Also strong and weak points can be assigned to each interpretation.
In interpreting Revelation we must always keep in mind that John wrote his message to encourage his fellow Christians not divide them. We must also remember that John cast his message in apocalyptic literature which conveys its message in highly symbolic language. The most literal interpretations of Revelation must admit that some things in Revelation are symbolic, and the most symbolic interpretation must admit that some things in Revelation are literal. We must also be true to Johns own emphasis that he is writing prophecy. An interpretation of Revelation that is symbolic and futuristic seems balanced, appropriate and true to the Scripture.
DESIGN OF THE BOOK
John designs Revelation in the form of a drama. There are seven visions or acts. Each vision has seven events or scenes. Since this is also a letter John has a prologue and an epilogue.
VISION I - Vision of Christ in the Midst of the Seven Churches 1:9-3:22 Seven messages:
Letters to the seven churches
VISION II - Vision of God in Heaven on the Throne 4:1-8:1 Seven seals: Opening of the seven seals
VISION III - Vision of the Seven Angels 8:2-11:18 Seven trumpets: The seven trumpet judgments
VISION IV - Vision of Gods Salvation 11:19-15:2-4 Seven events: The seven scenes
VISION V - Vision of Gods Wrath 15:1,4-16:21 Seven vials: Pouring out the seven vials
VISION VI - Vision of Gods Judgment on Babylon 17:1-20:3 Seven judgments: Seven events of judgment
VISION VII - Vision of the Millennium 20:4-22:5 Seven events: God fulfills the scroll
In the first vision there are seven letters to seven churches. In the second vision there are seven seals which only the lamb can open. In the third vision there are seven angels who blow seven trumpets. In the fourth vision there are seven events. John prefaces each event with a literary technique: "I saw," "there was seen" or "I looked," 12:1, 13:1, 13:11, 14:1, 14:6, 14:14 and 15:2. In the fifth vision there are seven vials poured out by seven angels. In the sixth vision there are seven judgments. Each division begins with: "I saw," 17:3, 17:6, 18:1, 19:11, 19:17, 19:19 and 20:1. In the seventh vision there are seven events. Each event begins with: "I saw," or "He showed me," 20:4, 20:11, 21:1, 21:2, 21:9, 21:22 and 22:1.
TEXT (w/ Scofield Notes)
Revelation: Author: John
Date of writing: c. A.D. 95
REVELATION, the concluding book of the Scriptures, unfolds the great events bringing history to consummation, including the revelation of Jesus Christ at His second advent. The word "revelation," used as the title of the book, is from the late Latin <revelatio,> which means (as does the Gk. <apokalupsis,> from which the English word "apocalypse" is derived) <disclosure of that which was previously hidden or unknown.>
In the unfolding of this central theme, Jesus Christ is revealed in glory in contrast with His presentation, in the four Gospels, in His humiliation. In Revelation Christ is seen in relationship to time as He "who was, and who is to come" (1:4). He is related to the Church (1:9 - 3:22), the tribulation (4:1 - 19:21), the millennial kingdom (20:1 - 10), and the eternal state (20:11 - 22:21).
Christ is presented in this book as the Ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), the Bridegroom and Head of the Church (2:1 - 3:22; 19:7 - 9), the Lion of the tribe of Judah (5:5), the Lamb that was slain (5:6,12, etc.), the High Priest (8:3 - 6), and the King and Judge (19:11 - 20:15).
The book is a record of what the Apostle John saw and heard. Constant use is made of symbols. References to O.T. events and prophecies abound. Frequent shifts of locale from earth to heaven and back to earth may be observed. It is an account of divine judgment and conflict which sweeps the whole world.
Three major divisions of Revelation must be recognized. John was commanded in 1:19 to write concerning (1) things past, "what you have seen," i.e. the Patmos vision (1:1 - 20); (2) things present, "what is now," i.e. the existing churches (2:1 - 3:22); and (3) things future, "what will take place later [lit. <after these things>]," i.e. events after the Church Age ends (4:1 - 22:5). It is important to observe that, beginning in ch. 4, the book presents future events.
The third major division of Revelation (4:1 - 22:21) is characterized by series of sevens: seven seals (4:1 - 8:1), seven trumpets (8:2 - 11:19), seven bowls (15:1 - 16:21), seven dooms (17:1 - 20:15), and seven new things (21:1 - 22:21). Important passages which are parenthetical, supplemental, or corrective may be observed, such as the Jewish remnant and the tribulation saints (7:1 - 17); the angel, the little scroll, and the two witnesses (10:1 - 11:14); the Lamb, the remnant, and the proclamation of the everlasting Gospel (14:1 - 13); the gathering of the kings of the earth in preparation for Armageddon (16:13 - 16); and the four hallelujahs in heaven (19:1 - 6). These passages do not advance the prophetic narration but, looking backward and forward, sum up the past and anticipate the future. The order of the narrative is therefore not consistently chronological. The major continuity is provided by the events symbolized in the seals, trumpets, and bowls.
The main purpose of the book is to provide the setting for the revelation of Jesus Christ. Principal attention is given to the time of the tribulation (chs. 4 - 19), which is believed to coincide with Daniel's seventieth week ("seven") (Dan 9:24 - 27). The great tribulation, the latter half of that "week," is especially in view. The climax of the book begins with the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ in ch. 19.
Interpreters of Revelation should bear in mind two passages of Scripture: 1 Pet 1:12; 2 Pet 1:20 - 21. Much that is now obscure will become clear to those for whom it was written, as the time approaches.
The book may be divided as follows: Introduction, 1:1 - 3. I. The Messages of the Ascended Lord to the Seven Churches, 1:4 - 3:22. II. The Opening of the Seven-sealed Scroll, 4 - 6; 8:1. III. Parenthetic: Jews and Gentiles Saved during the Tribulation, 7. IV. The Seven Trumpet Judgments, 8:2 - 9:21; 11:15 - 19. V. Parenthetic, 10:1 - 11:14. VI. Prominent Personages, 12. VII. The Rise and Reign of the Beast and False Prophet, 13. VIII. Parenthetic, 14. IX. The Seven Bowl Judgments, 15 - 16. X. The Doom of Babylon, 17 - 18. XI. The Battle of Armageddon and the Millennium that Follows, 19:1 - 20:6. XII. The Final Judgment and the Holy City, 20:7 - 22:5. XIII. The Last Message of the Bible, 22:6 - 19. Conclusion, 22:20 - 21.
(Rev 1:1 KJV) The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
1 "REVELATION": <Inspiration:> v. 1; Rev 1:19. (Exo 4:15; 2 Tim 3:16, note)
2 "SENT": Rev 22:6
3 "ANGEL": See Heb 1:4, note
(Rev 1:2 KJV) Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
(Rev 1:3 KJV) Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
1 "READETH": Cp. 1 Th 5:27
2 "THINGS": Rev 22:7
3 "HAND": Rev 22:10; see Mat 4:17, note
(Rev 1:4 KJV) John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;
1 "CHURCHES": <Churches> (local): v. 4; Rev 1:11. (Acts 8:3; Phil 1:1, note)
2 "GRACE": <Grace:> v. 4; Rev 22:21. (John 1:14; John 1:17, note)
3 "IS": Exo 3:14
4 "SPIRITS": Isa 11:2; Rev 3:1; 4:5; 5:6
(Rev 1:5 KJV) And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
1 "FAITHFUL": Prov 14:5
2 "WITNESS": Isa 55:4
3 "SINS": See Rom 3:23, note
4 "BLOOD": <Sacrifice> (of Christ): vv. 5 - 6; Rev 5:9. (Gen 3:15; Heb 10:18, note)
(Rev 1:6 KJV) And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
1 "PRIESTS": 1 Pet 2:5,9
(Rev 1:7 KJV) Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
1 "COMETH": <Christ> (second advent): v. 7; Rev 2:25. (Deu 30:3; Acts 1:11, note)
2 "CLOUDS": Mat 24:30
3 "WAIL": Zech 12:10
(Rev 1:8 KJV) I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
1 "OMEGA": Alpha and Omega, mentioned also in Rev 21:6 and 22:13, are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.
Rev 21:6; 22:13
2 "ALMIGHTY": Isa 9:6
(Rev 1:9 KJV) I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Rev 1:9: In 1:1 - 20 John sees a vision of the risen Christ in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. From 2:1 - 3:22 he records the messages of our Lord to seven churches in Roman Asia. At 4:1 - 2 the apostle is pictured as caught up "in the Spirit" into heaven, from where he observes future things in heaven and upon the earth as recorded from 4:1 - 22:5.
(Rev 1:10 KJV) I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
1 "SPIRIT": <Holy Spirit> (N.T.): v. 10; Rev 2:7. (Mat 1:18; Acts 2:4, note)
(Rev 1:11 KJV) Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
1 "CHURCHES": <Churches> (local): vv. 11,20; Rev 2:1. (Acts 8:3; Phil 1:1, note)
(Rev 1:12 KJV) And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
(Rev 1:13 KJV) And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
1 "AND": vv. 13 - 15; cp. Dan 7:9 - 10; 10:5 - 6
(Rev 1:14 KJV) His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
(Rev 1:15 KJV) And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
(Rev 1:16 KJV) And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
1 "STARS": v. 20
2 "SUN": Mat 17:2
(Rev 1:17 KJV) And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
(Rev 1:18 KJV) I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
1 "HELL": See Luke 16:23, note
(Rev 1:19 KJV) Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
1 "WRITE": <Inspiration:> v. 19; Rev 2:1. (Exo 4:15; 2 Tim 3:16, note)
2 "SEEN": Rev 1:9 - 18
3 "HEREAFTER": Lit. <after these things,> i.e. <after the church.> Cp. 4:1
(Rev 1:20 KJV) The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
1 "MYSTERY": See Mat 13:11, note
2 "ANGELS": Although this is the usual word for angel (Gk. <angelos>), it is often translated "messenger." The most natural explanation in this context is that these were men sent by the seven churches to ascertain the state of the aged apostle, now in exile in Patmos; but they represent any who bear God's messages to a church.
3 "CHURCHES": <Churches> (local): vv. 11,20; Rev 2:1. (Acts 8:3; Phil 1:1, note)
4 "CHURCHES": The messages to the seven churches have a fourfold reference: (1) local, to the churches actually addressed; (2) admonitory, to all churches in all time as tests by which they may discern their true spiritual state in the sight of God; (3) personal, in the exhortations to him "who hath an ear," and in the promises "to him who overcometh"; and (4) prophetic, as disclosing in two areas the phases in the spiritual history of the church: (a) a pattern that has been repeated again and again through the centuries; and (b) the progress of its spiritual state until the end of the Church Age. It is incredible that in a prophecy covering the church period there should be no such foreview. These messages must contain that foreview if it is in the book at all, for the Church does not appear on earth after 3:22. Again, these messages by their very terms go beyond the local assemblies mentioned. It can be seen that Ephesus (2:1 - 7), though a local church in the apostle's day, is typical of the first century church as a whole; Smyrna (2:8 -11) characterizes the church under persecution, e.g. from A.D. c. 100 - 316; Pergamum (2:12 - 17), "where Satan's throne is" (2:13; cp. 2:14 - 15, and notes), is suggestive of the church mixing with the world, e.g. in the Middle Ages; Thyatira (2:18 - 29) reveals how evil progresses in the church and idolatry is practiced; Sardis (3:1 - 6) is representative of the church as dead, yet still having a minority of godly men and women, as during the Reformation; Philadelphia (3:7 - 13) shows revival and a state of spiritual advance; and Laodicea (3:14 - 19) is illustrative of the final state of apostasy which the visible church will experience.
<Churches> (local): vv. 11,20; Rev 2:1. (Acts 8:3; Phil 1:1, note)
VISION OF CHRIST IN THE MIDST OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES 1:9-3:22
SEVEN CHURCHES: LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
I. THE PROLOGUE 1:1-3
II. THE SALUTATION 1:4-6
III. THE SECOND COMING PREDICTED 1:7-8
IV. JOHNS FIRST VISION 1:9-20
In Rev. 1:19, Jesus says to John, "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which are about to take place after these things." This statement shows that the book of Revelation is related to time in three ways: past, present and future.
The opening phrase gives the title of the book, "A Revelation of Jesus Christ." The Greek word apokaluyiV translated "revelation" means to "uncover" or to "reveal." The prologue also states that this is a book of prophecy. This is the only book in the New Testament that claims to be prophecy. In verse 5, John glorifies Christ and give to him titles of honor and praise. Both Revelation and the Gospel of John have many titles for Christ. These titles show Christs character, nature, purpose and office. For example: faithful witness, 1:5; prince of the kings of the earth, 1:5; Alpha and Omega, 1:11; the first and the last, 1:11; the living one, 1:18; the Amen, 3:14; the true witness 3:14; Lion of the tribe of Judah, 5:5; Root of David, 5:5 King of nations (KJV, saints), 15:3; offspring of David 22:16; bright and morning star, 22:16, the Son of man, 1:13, 14:14; and the title the Lamb is used 28 times in the book of Revelation.
In verses 4-6 John addresses the seven churches in Asia Minor. This is a letter because it has a salutation, blessing and prayer which was the regular format of a standard letter in Johns time. A close relationship exists between John and these churches. John says, in these verses, that Jesus loves us, washes us from our sins by his blood and makes us priests and kings unto God.
Verses 7-8 predicts the second coming of Jesus Christ. This is one of Revelations main themes. This event is described in great detail in chapter 19. The major events leading up to the second coming are recorded as the 7 seals, the 7 trumpets, the 7 vials and other significant happenings. The word translated "almighty" in verse 8, occurs 9 times in Revelation. In this verse the word means "universal ruler."
The historical setting for Revelation takes place when John is banished to Patmos, a small rocky island about 50 miles southwest of Ephesus. In verse 9, John says on Patmos (dia) "because of" the word of God and (dia) "because of" the testimony of Jesus Christ. dia is in the accusative case and means "because of." The phrase in verse 9, "on the Lords day" is usually interpreted as Sun- day or the Christian Sabbath. However, John probably means it in the prophetic sense, the day when the Lord takes over the affairs of the world.
Verses 9-20 record Johns first vision. It is a vision of Christ in the middle of the seven golden lampstands. John uses the imagery of the Jewish tabernacle which was later the temple. The seven-branched candelabra stood in the tabernacle. The lampstands are symbolic of the churches, verse 20. The truth presented here is that Christ is present in his churches and that the churches depend upon the light of Christ in their midst. They can only reflect the light of Christ. In verse 13, John uses the term "the Son of man" to refer to Christ. This term is used 84 times in the gospels, 21 of which refer to Christs second coming. This term also means his capacity as a judge, John 5:22, 27 and Acts 17:31. In this section John gives ten characteristics of Christ:
1. He is in the middle of the seven lampstands signifying intimacy with them,
2. He is clothed with a garment that reached down to his feet portraying dignity,
3. He has on a golden sash or girdle focusing upon his strength,
4. His head and hair are white like wool which speak of his eternal purity and wisdom,
5. His eyes are as a flame of fire meaning they shot fire which signifies his all seeing power to search the inner realities of the heart,
6. His feet are as fine brass, calling attention to his strength and stability,
7. His voice is as the sound of many waters conveying the idea of grandeur and power,
8. He has in his right hand seven stars meaning he has authority over them,
9. His mouth delivers a sharp two-edged sword verifying the truth of the divine word,
10. His countenance or external appearance is like the sun shining in all its power, a symbol of the glory of God.
In verse 18, the word "keys" is a symbolic word denoting authority.
In verse 20, the word musthpion often translated "mystery," does not mean mysterious. It means that which is previously unknown and cannot be discovered by mere logic, but which can be known only by revelation from God. Verse 20 says, "The seven stars are angels of the seven assemblies; and the seven lampstands which you saw are seven assemblies (churches)." Who are these angels? There are two interpretations. One interpretation is that each church has a celestial being assigned to it. The other interpretation is that the Greek word for angel and messenger is the same word and here it refers to the pastor or chief elder of the church. In this verse a case could be made for real angels since in the book of Revelation angels have overseeing and controlling tasks.