1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show his servants what must happen soon. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who gives witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ by reporting what he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near.
4 John, to the seven churches in Asia: grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever (and ever). Amen.
7 Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen. 8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty."
9 I, John, your brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus, found myself on the island called Patmos because I proclaimed God's word and gave testimony to Jesus. 10 I was caught up in spirit on the Lord's day and heard behind me a voice as loud as a trumpet, 11 which said, "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea."
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and when I turned, I saw seven gold lampstands 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest. 14 The hair of his head was as white as white wool or as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like polished brass refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing water. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars. A sharp two-edged sword came out of his mouth, and his face shone like the sun at its brightest.
17 When I caught sight of him, I fell down at his feet as though dead. He touched me with his right hand and said, "Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, 18 the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld [Hades]. 19 Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards. 20 This is the secret meaning of the seven stars you saw in my right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Version: New American Bible.
- Although the Apocalypse may not be easy to understand, we need this book; a blessing is attached (v.3). Serious study will pay off.
- The message is from Jesus Christ himself (v.1).
- It will benefit both reader and listener alike. Remember that in ancient times books were read aloud. Moreover, most church members did not own biblical books; they only heard them read when the congregation met.
- There are in fact seven blessings (beatitudes) in Revelation: 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14.
- Jesus is communicating through the apostle John to churches in Asia Minor (v.11).
- In fact, the seven churches are in the province of Asia, which is the westernmost region of Asia Minor (also called Anatolia, and equivalent to modern Turkey).
- There were many other churches in Asia Minor (such as Colossae, Hierapolis, Troas, and perhaps Miletus, Tralles, and Magnesia), so it seems wisest to interpret the seven as symbolically representing the church universal.
- The seven cities very roughly form an arc, and it has been suggested that this was the route on which the letters of chapters 2-3 would have been delivered by a courier.
- Asia Minor, and especially Asia (the province) was the center of persecution during the enforcement of emperor worship in the late first century.
- John received the vision (v.11) on the island of Patmos, a few hours off the coast of Asia. He had been exiled for being a Christian leader. It is thought that the churches of Asia were all part of his sphere of influence (ministry).
- The vision will be fulfilled soon.
- For those who see in Revelation only the end of the world, this presents a problem, since vv.1,3 (and many others) state that the time is near. This is the interpretation of the Futurists.
- Some see the fulfillment of the prophecy only in the downfall of the Roman Empire, the persecutors of the church. While they have correctly determined the historical context, they are in danger of relegating the entire book to the past. These are the Preterists.
- Another school of thought makes no attempt to interpret the book in light of the past or see in it future events. The Idealists seek spiritual principles, ignoring history and prophecy.
- A better interpretation (I think) is that while the prophecies of Revelation have been fulfilled in God's judgment on Rome, the book also points to the end of time. The punishment of Rome and vindication of the saints is a model for what God will do at the Judgment: punish the wicked and reward the righteous.
- As Jim McGuiggan well puts it (Revelation, 14): "Apocalyptic speech is lurid in its colors and very often violent in its tone. It strikes the imagination and grabs hold of the mind. Who, having read of it, can forget the seven-headed sea beast or the scarlet prostitute on its back? Whose mind does not boggle over the falling of the stars and the rolling up of the heavens? Apocalyptic speech is vivid and easily remembered. It appeals to our imagination. It is the language of conflict and victory. It is the language used when God smites the oppressor and vindicates his people. It is the language of crisis if not of persecution."
- In reading straight prose, the rule of interpretation is: Take it literally, unless forced to do otherwise. (E.g. when figures of speech are used.)
- In reading apocalyptic: Take it figuratively, unless forced to do otherwise.
- Jesus is the sovereign Lord of history (v.5), elsewhere called King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
- He, not Caesar, is supreme; he, not Caesar, rightly claims our unique loyalty and obedience.
- John has a vision of Jesus (vv.12-16), with imagery found in the book of Ezekiel.
- This is a symbolic, not physical, description of the ascended Lord.
- Jesus is all-seeing ("eyes of fire," v.14).
- His voice is thunderous, like the voice of God at Sinai (Exodus 20).
- Jesus encourages him to faithfully relay the message (vv.17-20).
The issues Jesus addresses in this book—problems afflicting the 7 churches--include false teaching, idolatry, sexual immorality, materialism, and complacency—afflict the modern church as well. This is a highly relevant book!
- Revelation combines three literary genres: prophecy, apocalyptic (these first two literary types are blended), and letter (chapters 2-3). J. J. Collins defines apocalypse: "'Apocalypse' is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world." (J. J. Collins, "Introduction: Toward a Morphology of a Genre," Semeia 14  1-20; 9.
- The “Apocalypse” (literally, unveiling) was written to fortify Christians who would suffer under the persecution of “the Beast.” This individual would be like Nero (one of the first seven “kings,” or emperors, of Rome), who persecuted Christians in the capital city. Nero died in 68 AD; “Nero Redivivus” (Nero alive again) was Domitian, the “eighth king,” who reigned 81-96 AD. Domitian demanded worship, even having gold and silver statues erected representing himself (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: Domitian, 13)! In other words, Jesus revealed this special message to John to help Christians who would suffer at the end of the century in the first imperial (Empire-wide) persecution of followers of Christ.
- Irenaeus (130-202) wrote, "The apocalyptic vision... was seen not long ago, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian's reign" (Against Heresies, 5.30.3). If he is correct, this would place the Apocalypse around 95 AD.
Revelation is unique in the New Testament. After all, no other document is a book of prophecy written in apocalyptic language. The best preparation for reading Revelation is to read the Old Testament, since the 404 verses of Revelation contain hundreds of Old Testament allusions. Not to discourage the newcomer to the Bible from reading the final book!—but to gain any real depth of appreciation for this book a solid grounding in the O.T. is indispensable. Here are some suggestions:
Since Revelation is very short, it is best to read the entire book at one sitting. Try to get the “big picture.” Don’t worry about the specific meaning of each verse on this first reading. Revelation utilizes pictorial language. Just as we step back from a large oil painting to take in a broad view, so we must approach Revelation. Standing too close, in fact—zeroing in on individual brush strokes—is likely to yield trivial observations or theologically errant conclusions.
Look for recurrent themes and symbols.
Be sure to focus on chapter 12, which contains the message of the entire Apocalypse in miniature.
Once again, the O.T. is the real key to making sense of Revelation—especially the apocalyptic portions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah.
The 7 spirits (v.4) represent the 7 churches in the presence of God. That is, all churches (7 being the number of totality) are remembered by God; they have representation. We have a direct link. There is no need to fear!
Kingdom and priests (v.6) is redolent of Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9-10.
- All will have to give an account to God, whether for their rejection of Christ or their persecution of his followers.
- The piercing is a reference to the Messianic passages Isaiah 53:5 and Zechariah 12:10.
- Only Deity rides in the clouds (Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalm 68:5; 104:3; Daniel 7:13).
- Another implicit claim to divinity for Christ is found in verse 8: "Alpha and Omega." These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and point to Isaiah 41:4 and 44:6.
- V.7ff. set the apocalypse in the context of final judgment. And yet often when scriptures speak of God coming in the clouds, they are not referring to the end of the world (e.g. Isaiah 19:1).
- Patmos today is a Greek island a few hours (by boat) off the Turkish coast. Small islands in the Aegean were often used as places of banishment (Juvenal, Satire 1.73; 10.170; Plutarch, Moralia 603b; Tacitus, Annals 3.68; 4.30; 15.71).
- The Lord's Day (v.10) is Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
- Jesus has power over death and the underworld (v.18). He has vanquished death, and at the last day, even the underworld (Hades) will yield up all the dead for judgment.
- There are three keys for understanding the Apocalypse:
- You must know a little history (church history and Roman history).
- You need to become familiar with apocalyptic.
- You need to know a lot of Old Testament!
How many times have you completely read the Old Testament? Do you understand that a familiarity with the O.T., esp. the historical and prophetic sections, is integral for a correct understanding of Revelation?
Are you unhinged by the fact that our world is spinning out of control, or do you rest assured in the sovereign Lordship of Jesus Christ?
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