Chapter 1

Introduction

John, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, was exiled to the Island of Patmos in order to prevent him from declaring the gospel of Christ (Rev 1:9). However, while there he received a dramatic vision from God and was told to write down what he saw. The things he wrote is now known to us as Revelation, the final book of the Bible.

This first chapter is John’s own introduction to the vision that he received. This introduction includes a summary of the main subject of Revelation, which is the second coming of Christ. John goes on to discuss the authority with which he writes and the circumstances that led to the writing of this book.

Commentary

Subject and Purpose of Revelation

1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

v1 The revelation of Jesus Christ – This is the subject of the book. However, this revelation is not Christ’s first appearance on earth 2000 years ago, but another, yet future, appearance — often referred to as the “second coming of Christ” (see Why Two Comings of Christ?).

v1 which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place – This is the purpose of the book. God wants his servants to know some things about the second coming. The word “soon” used here (in this English translation) does not impose a limitation on the time frame in which these things must take place (see What Does “Soon” Mean?).

v1 He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John – The author identifies himself as John, traditionally accepted as the Apostle John, who is very likely the last remaining of Christ’s twelve disciples. He states that he was the direct recipient of divine information.

v2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw – In turn, John faithfully delivers the divine information to us, through this book.

3Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

v3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it – Unique to Revelation are the promises of blessing to those who read the book and take heed of what it says (also mentioned in Rev 22:7). This indicates that (1) God regards this book to be important for His people to read, and (2) this book is meant to be understood.

v3 for the time is near – The reason for the blessing. The implication here is that (1) some big things are on the verge of happening, (2) you will be blessed if you are ready for them, and (3) you can be ready for them by reading this book.

Greetings

4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,

v4 seven churches – These are seven actual churches of the first century (identified in verse 11 below). All of them were located in (what was called at the time) the Roman province of Asia, which in modern times is western Turkey.

v4 seven spirits – This may refer to the Holy Spirit in His fullness (based on the meaning of the number seven). This term is also used in Rev 4:5 and Rev 5:6.

5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

v5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witnessJohn’s ultimate source of information is Christ Himself. Assuming that “Him who is and who was and who is to come” is God the Father (referencing His eternal nature, per Ex 3:14), and “the seven Spirits who are before the throne” is the Holy Spirit, then this reference to Jesus Christ constitutes the fullness of the trinity as the source of this message.

v5 ruler of the kings of the earth – God is ruler of the kings of earth even now in a sovereign sense, since all governing authorities receive their authority from God (Rom 13:1). However, John may be alluding to a greater time that he foresaw in his vision. As the events of this book unfold, we shall see that God shall exert his sovereign authority as king in a new and fuller way, culminating with the return of Christ as absolute king over all the earth.

v5-6 5To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood — 6and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father – John points to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross which made it possible for us to take part in his kingdom as priests, meaning that we have been granted access to God. This is the role of God’s representatives on earth; first Israel (Ex 19:6), and then the church (1 Pet 2:5-9). John will elaborate on this kingdom, and identify Christ as its coming king, having purchased it with his blood in Rev 5:9,10.

7BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.

v7 coming with the clouds – John gives a foretaste of what is coming. This alludes to the appearance of the second coming as described by Daniel (Dan 7:13), by Jesus himself (Matt 24:30; Matt 26:64), by an angel (Acts 1:11), and finally by John himself (Rev 19:11, 16).

v7 every eye will see him – Unlike his humble appearing to Israel as a child in Bethlehem at His first coming, His second coming will be a glorious form witnessed by the entire world.

v7 even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him – This alludes to Zech 12:10 “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn“. Through the prophet Zechariah, God was specifically addressing His people Israel who rejected Christ at his first coming after their religious leaders conspired to have Him crucified (pierced) by the Roman government. The nation Israel has largely rejected Jesus since then. However, in the end times, there will be a surviving remnant of Israel which will realize that Christ was indeed their rightful king, Messiah, and Savior. They will mourn on behalf of their nation which had for so long denied Him. For more about this, see The Final Restoration of Israel.

Verse 7 goes on to say all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Christ’s glorious appearance will, for most of the world, be a time of terror and regret for those who rejected the gospel. When exposed to the light of His pure holiness, people see their own wickedness in full clarity, which must be an unbearable experience. Even the best of men have reacted mournfully in the presence of holiness (Isa 6:5, Judg 13:22, Job 42:5-6, Rev 1:17). Also see Ex 33:20; Isa 64:6.

Side note: Some commentators say that the word tribes, used here, refers solely to Israel, since that word is commonly applied to the twelve tribes of Israel. However, this reasoning is unreliable since tribes does sometimes refer to other nations (e.g. Matt 24:30, Rev 7:9, Rev 11:9). In fact, when Israel is the intended meaning, scripture will almost always specify either Israel or the number twelve. In this context, the statement that every eye will see him with the inclusion of all the tribes of the earth (without mentioning Israel or twelve), it’s best to see that the word tribes in this passage refers to the entire population of the earth at that time — not just Israel.

8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

v8 Alpha and the Omega – These things are decreed by God Almighty (Isa 41:4, Isa 44:6), appropriately emphasizing His eternal sovereign command from beginning to the end (symbolized by referencing the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet).

Circumstances

9I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

v9 John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance – John identifies with those devoted to Christ, who suffer and persevere temporarily for the sake of the eternal kingdom. This includes those who must persevere in the end times at the fulfillment of this prophecy.

v9 was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus – The island Patmos has about 13 square miles and is located in the Aegean Sea, about 20 miles off the west coast of modern Turkey. The earliest church historians attest that John was banished there by Domitian in approximately 94 AD, in order to silence John’s preaching without having to kill him (which might have created some unwanted upheaval).

v10 in the Spirit on the Lord’s day – In deep prayerful communion with God. The “Lord’s day” is most likely a reference to the first day of the week, Sunday, seen by Christians as a special day since the Lord’s resurrection.

v10 voice like the sound of a trumpet – Indicating the voice of Christ in heaven (Rev 4:1).

v11 Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches… – John begins the narrative of His encounter with Christ, beginning with a command to “write what you see” and convey it to the seven active first century churches listed in verse 11 (see map in The Messages to the Seven Churches). However, the number seven may indicate that these churches represent churches as a whole, throughout all the earth and all time (see chapters 2 and 3).

12Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

v12 seven golden lampstands – These represent the churches (as explained in 1:20). This is figurative language, and the reader should be prepared for much more of this to come (discussed in How to Interpret Revelation).

The seven lampstands are also known as a menorah, which has long been the symbol of the divine light (wisdom and knowledge of God) revealed through Israel. Here, we see this same symbol being applied to the churches. This shows the common purpose of both Israel and the Church to be God’s representatives on earth. Of course, the Church was formed by that portion of Israel which recognized Christ as their Jewish Messiah, and since then it has grown primarily among Gentiles. The relationship between Israel and the Church is discussed further in The Final Restoration of Israel.

v13-14 in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool… – Jesus in glorified form, no doubt bringing remembrance of the transfiguration (Matt 17:1,2,3) to John’s mind. In this imagery, Jesus is seen moving in the midst of His churches (note Rev 2:1), as is appropriate since the church represents the body of Christ on earth (1 Cor 12:27).

v16 In his right hand he held seven stars – The “seven stars” represent the seven angels to the corresponding seven churches (see 1:20). The word translated as “angels” means messenger, so it’s possible that a human messenger is intended here (e.g. Luke 7:24,27; Luke 9:52; James 2:25). The right hand may indicate their role as the instruments through which Christ’s purposes are carried out.

v16 out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword – Referring to the power of His words (Heb 4:12), and in the context of Revelation, His power to judge is emphasized (Rev 19:15).

17When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

v17 I fell at His feet like a dead man – Even John collapses under the holy light, like other prophets before him (Gen 17:3, Isa 6:5, Ezek 1:28).

v17 I am the first and the last – Equivalent to the “Alpha and the Omega” identifying God in verse 8, and it clearly indicates the deity of Christ.

v18 the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades – This emphasizes that this is the same Jesus who John knew, who was resurrected, and who now has power over death — hence the power to give eternal life.

John Commissioned to Write Revelation

19Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.

v19 Therefore write the things which you have seen – Christ tells John to record the things he will see in his vision, and He even breaks out those things into two parts, creating a brief “table of contents”:

  1. the things which are — Things pertaining to the present age, presented in chapters 2 and 3.
  2. the things which will take place after these things — Things that will take place at some point in the future. These are the things that will complete the fulfillment of all things revealed by God by the prophets. This refers to the main body of Revelation, from chapters 4 through 22:5 (we see the transition to “things which take place after” in Rev 4:1).

20As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

v20 As for the mystery… – Here, Christ explains the meaning of some things that John has seen so far, specifically the seven lampstands of verse 12 and the seven stars of verse 16.

This is one of the few places where Revelation explains its own imagery. Often, the imagery given in Revelation refers to things in the Old Testament. In an amazing demonstration of God’s sovereignty and providence, so many Old Testament passages convey parallel meanings to these future events.

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