The Things Which Thou Hast Seen
What is this book about? (vv.1-2)
¶ Revelation of Jesus Christ, which (1) God gave to him, (2) to shew to his bondmen what must shortly take place; and (3) he signified it , sending by his angel, to his bondman John, v.1 The title of this book is not “the revelation of St. John”, rather it is “the revelation” (‘apokalupsis’ or, the appearing, unveiling) of Jesus Christ. The subject of the book therefore follows from its title. “Jesus Christ” is the true object of the book (see Eph. 1:10). The true subject of the book is “things which will shortly take place”; i.e. future events used to accomplish said purpose… to glorify Christ through judgments. There is something beautiful about the expression, “which God gave to him”. Though Christ is in glory, He still takes everything from the hand of God. The contents of Revelation are for “His servants”. Servanthood is not our closest relationship to God, but then relationship isn’t the subject in this book. Furthermore, while Revelation is certainly written to the Church (v.11), it will be applicable for readers during the great tribulation. These things “must” come to pass, because the apostasy of Christianity demands an answer. When it ways that Jesus Christ “signified it”, we are given a key to understanding Revelation. These are literal events, but delivered by symbolic signs. We don’t interpret symbols literally, but we don’t deny that the events alluded to are real. In 2 Peter 1:20 we find that we need the light of other scriptures to understand one particular verse (see Rev. 10:10; 1 Cor. 2:11).
2 who testified the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, all things that he saw. v.2 The Spirit of God is clear the chain of Divine knowledge was not broken by John. God gave it to Jesus, Jesus signified it to John via His angel, and John testified everything he saw. The Spirit here clearly authenticates the entire book with the Word of God. This verse is not a list. The Word of God = the testimony of Jesus Christ = what John saw and testified. This book is remarkably different from the gospels and the epistles. Yet it is still “the testimony of Jesus Christ”, although it is written in the character of judgment not grace like the epistles.
A Special Blessing for the Reader (v.3)
3 Blessed is (1) he that reads, and (2) they that hear the words of the prophecy, and (3) keep the things written in it; for the time is near. v.3 Notice the beautiful groups of three in this chapter. There are at least 17 groups of three! We need to follow through: (1) read, (2) hear or heed, and (3) keep the words of this book. To “keep” them is to treasure them in our hearts (Luke 2:19; 51). Another motivation is given; “the time is near”; i.e. the time of the fulfillment of prophecy. True blessing comes from reading, hearing, and keeping the prophecy before it is fulfilled, when it is still “at hand”, not after it “has come.” Prophecy edifies those who believe God, not those who doubt Him (2 Peter 1:19; John 15:15). This is one of seven blessings recorded in this book of judgment.
The Trinity is the Source of this Book (vv.4-5a)
¶ 4a John to the seven assemblies which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is, and who was, and who is to come; v.4a The instrument God chose to write this book was “John”. The one who lay on Jesus bosom, and whose ministry centered around grace and truth was the vessel God chose to reveal His judgments on the world. It was addressed to the seven assemblies of Asia Minor, which is in modern-day Turkey, the greatest sphere of Paul’s labors (2 Tim. 1:15). The number “seven” carries the thought of spiritual completeness. The seven assemblies give us a complete picture of the Church’s history as a witness on earth. The number seven occurs thirty-one times in Revelation! In vv.4-5 we have the whole Godhead involved in the origin of this book. First, it is from God the Father, in his eternal being “him who is, and who was, and who is to come”. This is an expansion of the Hebrew title for Jehovah (“I AM”, the self-existing One) in a way they Gentile mind can apprehend. Aren’t the Son and Spirit also Jehovah? Yes. But here is is God the Father because usually in Revelation it is God who sits on the throne (Rev. 5:7; 5:13; 7:10; 19:4).
4b and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; v.4b Secondly, the book with grace and peace is addressed from God the Holy Spirit. The “seven Spirits of God” is a reference, not to seven unique Spirits, but to God the Holy Spirit in diversity of character (Isa. 11:2), because there is only one Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:4). The seven Spirits are “before his throne” acting in the sphere of government. This is a very different activity for the Spirit of God, who presently is uniting the body of Christ and indwelling believers.
5a and from Jesus Christ, (1) the faithful witness, (2) the firstborn from the dead, and (3) the prince of the kings of the earth. v.5a Finally, the book with grace and peace is addressed from God the Son as: past, (1) “the faithful witness” of everything that was in God’s heart toward man. Present, (2) “the first begotten of the dead”, the One who conquered death. Future, (3) “the prince of the kings of the earth”, what He will be in the Millennium, and the assurance now that He will reign. We are associated with Him in (2) + (3), but the Church has failed to be a faithful witness (1). Note: none of these titles are connected with Christ in heaven… all three titles are earthly.
Three Utterances. From vv.5b-8 we have three utterances concerning the person, work, vindication, and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. First, we have a song of praise from the redeemed, then a cry from the united hosts of heaven, and finally a statement from the Lord Himself.
A Song of Praise from the Redeemed: 1st Utterance (vv.5b-6)
5b “To him who (1) loves us, and (2) has washed us from our sins in his blood, 6 and (3) made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father: to him be the glory and the might to the ages of ages. Amen.” vv.5b-6 A doxology of praise from the redeemed follows. Notice what it follows? As soon as the name of Christ is mentioned, the Christian’s heart pours out in doxology! This will always be the case. Compare this with the other worship “triggers” in Revelation (see Rev. 4:9; 5:8; 11:16; 19:4). The theme of this praise is thanksgiving for three things:
- The Love of Christ. The Lord Jesus is identified here as “him who loves us”… what a simple, yet magnificent phrase! The scriptures overflow with references to the Father’s love for us, but references to the love of Christ are more rare, yet exceedingly precious (Rom. 8:35; 2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 3:19; Gal. 2:20).
- The Blood of Christ. Never far from the thoughts of the redeemed is the price of our redemption; Christ has “washed us from our sins in his blood”.
- The Place of Christ. Not only did He love us and shed His blood for us, but He has put us into His place before God; “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father”. The thought is not so much nearness, but dignity and office. The reference is to Exodus 19:6, where Jehovah stated His intention for the nation of Israel, which could be realized if they would obey His voice and keep His law. Here we find that the redeemed are a kingdom of priests on the basis of the blood of Christ, not on our own works!
This doxology really puts into words the desire of every redeemed soul with regard to the Lord Jesus; “to him be the glory, etc.”. Contrast this song of the redeemed with the cry in v.7. We have two aspects of the cross; Christ’s death as atonement for sin (vv.5b-6), and Christ’s death as a martyr at the hands of men (v.7).
Let one in his innocence glory,
Another in works he has done:
Thy blood is my claim and my title,
Beside it, O Lord, I have none.1
Purpose and Authentication (vv.7-8)
A Judicial Cry from the Hosts of Heaven: 2nd Utterance (v.7)
¶ 7 “Behold, he comes with the clouds, and (1) every eye shall see him, and (2) they which have pierced him, and (3) all the tribes of the land shall wail because of him. Yea. Amen.” v.7 Now we get a judicial cry, apparently from the united hosts of heaven. It is a timely solemn warning to others, following the outburst of praise in vv.5b-6. In fact, communion with God is often linked with responsibilities toward others. The order is important. When He returns, Christ will come with “clouds”, which are symbols of His majesty (Song. 3:6). It is possible also that clouds are a figure of His saints coming with Him (see. Rev. 19:14, Heb. 12:1, Dan. 7:13). At the rapture, only the saints see him… at the appearing, “every eye” will see Him. How is this possible? “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt 24:27). In a sense, this verse gives us an outline of prophecy: (1) “every eye” – the whole world will be judged at His appearing, in a succession of battles, then (2) the Jews “which have pierced Him” (Zech. 12:10; John 19:37) will be restored first, and (3) the whole twelve tribes of Israel, “all the tribes of the land” will be restored to Him (Matt. 24:30).
A Divine Statement from the Son: 3rd Utterance (v.8)
¶ 8 “I am (1) the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, he (2) who is, and who was, and who is to come, (3) the Almighty.” v.8 Finally, we are given a divine statement from “the Lord God” that seal these things. He give three of His divine titles: (1) as “the Alpha and the Omega” He is the source and goal of everything; (2) as “he who is, and who was, and who is to come” He is the ever existing one, the “I AM” (Note: in v.4 it was God the Father, here it is the Son! See John 1:1); and (3) as “the Almighty” He is the One who holds sway over all things.
The Vision of the Son of Man (vv.9-20)
Setting of the Vision (vv.9-11)
¶ 9 I John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience, in Jesus, was in the island called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus. v.9a Now John personally introduces himself to the reader. The inspired writer was not removed from those he wrote to. Note that he writes as a saint in the kingdom vs. a member of the body. He was their brother… part of the family of God. He was a fellow-partaker in three things:
- Tribulation – John was exiled for the truth’s sake, etc.
- Kingdom – we belong to the kingdom of heaven, not the world
- Patience – we have to wait for the manifestation of Christ; c.p. 1 Thess. 2:12.
Remember, John is writing more as a prophet than as an apostle in the book of Revelation. He “came to be there“ not by the emperor’s will, but by God’s will… and for an express purpose. Secular history says that the Romans unsuccessfully tried to kill John by immersing him in boiling oil. Afterwards he was exiled to Patmos “on account of” his faithfulness to the Word of God. Exiled by a Roman Emperor, God used John to prophesy of the downfall of Rome in its final form. It is significant that John received such a magnificent vision in a time of great isolation and trial. Sometimes, times of social isolation become times of spiritual illumination. Patmos is roughly the center of the prophetic earth. If you stood on the island and looked north, you would face the land of Gog and Magog. If you looked west, you would face Rome. If you looked east, you would face Palestine and the lands of the “kings from the east”. In you looked south, you would face Egypt, the king of the south.
10 I became in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet, v.10 John came under the power of the Spirit in the special capacity of inspiration. This took place on “the Lord’s Day”, which is the characteristic day of the Christian, the same day Jesus rose from the dead, and the day the disciples gathered together to break bread (Acts 20). Perhaps he was going about his normal routine; don’t neglect our daily devotions (Luke 1; 2 Sam. 7). The voice was like a “trumpet”, which is used to demand attention. This “voice” continues until the end of ch. 3. The same voice is heard in ch. 4, but from a different direction. Prophesy looks “forward”, but this voice is “behind” him. What lesson can we learn from this? Before John can be shown the way God will bring about the revelation of Jesus Christ (ch. 4-22) there must be a retrospective look at the Lord’s thoughts about the history of the Church as a witness here in this world (ch. 1-3). This is a general principle: we must have God’s thoughts about the past before He will give us His thoughts about the future.
11 saying, What thou seest write in a book, and send to the seven assemblies: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Loadicea. v.11 Who is it addressed to? while believers in the tribulation may read and understand the revelation, it is primarily for the Church. It concerns the failure of the Church, which ought to humble us, and the glory of Christ, which will have a purifying effect (1 John 3:3).
The Son of Man in the Midst of the Candlesticks (vv.12-13a)
¶ 12 And I turned back to see the voice which spoke with me; and having turned, I saw seven golden lamps, v.12 John has to turn (be reoriented) to see the Lord Jesus in a different way, just as he had previously seen the Spirit in a different way (v.4). Upon turning, the first thing John sees is the candlesticks… it is because the Church is here to represent Christ. There are “seven” because the Church is complete and perfect in the mind of God as to its public position as originally set up by God. The candlesticks are “golden” because they are viewed in the righteous standing the Church has before God. But, they are now being judged as to their ways. The figure of “lampstands” is used to represent the fact that the Church is on earth as the responsible light-bearer (see 1 Tim. 3:15). It is a question of corporate testimony. The Lord is walking in the midst of the candlesticks with His all-piercing eyes, and demanding from the Church; “give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward“ (Luke 16:2). The seven addresses are the Lord’s assessment, as Son over His own house, of the Church’s conduct here in this world.
13a and in the midst of the seven lamps one like the Son of man, v.13 It is “one son-of-man like”. The definite article isn’t there. It is what John sees at a glance. He is usually called Son of God when acting in grace, but called Son of Man when acting in judgement. Christ adopted the title “Son of man” after His rejection. See John 5:25, 27 for the use of the two titles.
Three Personal Glories (vv.13b-14a)
13b (1) clothed with a garment reaching to the feet, and (2) girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle: 14a (3) his head and hair white like white wool, as snow; vv.13b-14a The Lord is girded, showing that His affections are guarded. He is viewed in the character of judge; the Father has committed judgment to the Son of man (John 5:27). This is a strange view of Christ, but then, judgment is His strange/foreign work (Isaiah 28:21). He will also make it a short work (Roman 9:28) because He wants to get back to dispensing love, etc. These three articles (the garments, the girdle, and the hair) speak of three personal glories of Christ; His dignity, righteousness, and wisdom.
- The garments are present, not laid aside in priestly grace (John 13:4), not girded about His loins in service, but instead girded about the breasts in solemn dignity.
- The girdle is made of gold, which speaks of divine righteousness. This righteousness guards the affections (His strange work). Those who are in a position of assembly oversight can learn from this; wear your girdle to the care meeting, but take it off at the Lord’s Supper.
- The hair represents fullness of divine wisdom in absolute purity (“white as snow”). He is Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9) as well as Son of man.
Three Relative Glories (vv.14b-15)
14b and (1) his eyes as a flame of fire; 15 and (2) his feet like fine brass, as burning in a furnace; and (3) his voice as the voice of many waters; vv.14b-15 These next three articles (the eyes, the feet, and the voice) speak of three relative glories of Christ; i.e. how He will behave as a judge; searching, unyielding, and unstoppable.
- The eyes are described in words that portray searching, penetrating, consuming judgment (read Amos 9:2-3).
- The feet are described in words that portray unyielding faithfulness to principles of divine righteousness. Metal shoes are inflexible; and so it the judgment of the Son of man. Brass is a symbol of God’s righteous requirements for man in responsibility (e.g. the brazen altar). The brass is “fine”, representing perfect consistency. The is no partiality with this Judge. The feet are “glowing in a furnace”, which tells us that His judgment will be unsparing.
- The voice is described in words that portray unstoppable power (Psa. 29, Ezek. 43:2). Think of the sound of a waterfall like the Niagara Falls… it is the sound of incredible power.
Three Official Glories (v.16)
16 and (1) having in his right hand seven stars; and (2) out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword going forth; and (3) his countenance as the sun shines in its power. v.16 These last three articles (the stars, the sword, and the shining) speak of three official glories of Christ; i.e. the unchanging characteristics of Divine judgment; who He will judge (the responsible ones), with what He will judge (the Word of God), and the way He will judge (in power).
- The stars in His right hand are subordinate powers (Gen. 1:16-18); in this context (v.20) they are the “angels” of the assemblies, which are the responsible element (the administration) in the assembly. There are seven because that administration is set up by God.
- The sword coming from His mouth is the Word of God which judges with unerring decision. It is sharpened on both sides (Heb. 4:12).
- The shining of His countenance speaks of His supreme authority, power, and strength.
Fear and Confidence (vv.17-18)
¶ 17 And when I saw him I fell at his feet as dead; and he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; (1) “I” am the first and the last, 18 and (2) (A) the living one: and (B) I became dead, and behold, (C) I am living to the ages of ages, and (3) have the keys of death and of hades. vv.17-18 John’s immediate reaction is to fall at the Lord’s feet stunned. This is similar to others’ reactions; Ezek. 1:28, Isa. 6:5, Dan. 7:15. If we compare the description of the Lord as a judge in Rev. 1 with the description of Him as our lover in Song. 5:9-16, it is no wonder that John was shocked. The Lord says “fear not”… the same expression the He used so many times in the gospels. It is the same Jesus that John had known, although now in a different character! The Lord identifies Himself in a threefold way:
- The One Who is Above Time. He calls Himself the “first and the last”. He is the source and goal of the universal creation. To know that such a One is acting on our behalf dispels all fear (1 John 4:18).
- The One Who has conquered Death.
- He is “the Living One”. This is not talking about the incarnation… it is a title, similar to “I AM”. From a past eternity, the Son is the source of all physical and spiritual life; “in Him was life” (John 1:4).
- He “became dead”. This is the strongest way to put it. He laid down his life and entered the state of being dead. He had to go into death in order to defeat it.
- He is “living to the ages of ages”. Having gone into death, He is risen victorious, never to die again (Rom. 6:9)! The expression “the ages of ages” refers to the eternal state. What assurance this gives us! In fact, whenever the resurrection is brought in, the effect on the believer is peace; e.g. Matt. 28:5-6, Rom. 4:25 – 5:1.
- The One Who is in Full Control of the Believer’s Life. Jesus hold “the keys” to death and hades (the intermediate state). Death is the state of the body without the soul and spirit. Hades is the state of the soul and spirit without the body. Christ has the keys (full control) over both types of separations. He is the custodian of (1) the body, and (2) the soul/spirit.
The posture in which we find John is very instructive; on his face before the Lord, with the Lord’s right hand upon him. It is with this twofold attitude that John is able to learn the truths contained in the Book of Revelation; reverential fear, and unshakable confidence. We need to have both as we approach this book.
Introduction to the Book (v.19)
19 Write therefore (1) what thou hast seen, and (2) the things that are, and (3) the things that are about to be after these. v.19 The first instruction from the glorified Son of man provides us with an introduction to the Book of Revelation in its three major divisions. The book is divided into three parts; “the things which thou hast seen” (Rev. 1; the vision of the Son of man), “the things that are” (Rev. 2-3; the letters to the seven assemblies), and “the things which shall be hereafter” (Rev. 4-22; prophetic events). The Greek word for “the things that exist” (g1526) allows for a continuation of that state to some future point. This in important, because some would like to argue that the events of Revelation have already taken place (Preterism), but the Bible teaches that “the things which are” continue to the rapture.
Key Terms Defined (v.20)
20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou hast seen on my right hand, and the seven golden lamps. –The seven stars are angels of the seven assemblies; and the seven lamps are seven assemblies. v.20 Before proceeding to the letters to the seven assemblies, the Lord defines some key terms. The subject of the seven stars is “a mystery”, because there is something far deeper than just seven literal churches in Asia Minor. Notice that the stars are in the Lord’s “right hand”, which speaks of delegated authority, honor, and great responsibility. This teaches us that those in a place of responsibility in the local assembly should be those who can be depended on. The stars represent the angels of the seven assemblies. What is the meaning of angels? Angels are mentioned in three ways in scripture, but in this case the word is used for men set in a place of authority and responsibility on earth; read more…. To repeat, it is clear that ‘angel’ in the context of Rev. 1-3 is employed in a representative sense: the element representing the assembly in administrative responsibility. There are “seven” assemblies addressed, which is significant because the number seven denotes completion; i.e. collectively, the seven assemblies give us a complete picture of the Church’s history on earth, from a testimonial standpoint.