Revelation 1

 
The Things Which Thou Hast Seen
Revelation 1
 
 

Preface (1:1-3)

CHAPTER 1
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 Title, Subject, and Writer. 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, which will be be brought about 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; the glory of Christ, the fulfillment of promises, and the apostasy of Christianity demands it. 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 Reliability of Revelation. The origin of the book is explained: God gave it to Jesus, Jesus signified it to John via His angel, and John testified everything he saw. The chain of Divine knowledge was not broken by John. The Spirit here authenticates the entire book with the Word of God. This verse is not merely a list. The Word of God is the testimony of Jesus Christ is 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 the character of grace like the epistles. Most of what John writes is what the Lord Himself said to him; the testimony of Jesus Christ.
 
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 A Special Blessing for the Reader 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 prophecy. Perhaps the context in view is the public reading of the scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13) where one reads and others hear. 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. We are at the time of the end, and prophecy is an open book. 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 whole book is referred to as prophecy, and this shows that even the letters to the seven churches have a prophetic character.
 

Greeting (1:4-6)

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 To Seven Assemblies, from an Eternal God. The instrument God chose to write this book was “John”. The very one who lay on Jesus’ bosom, and whose ministry centered around grace and truth, was the vessel God would choose to use 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 of the spheres of Paul’s labors (2 Tim. 1:15). The number “seven” carries the thought of spiritual completeness. The seven assemblies (the number seven denoting completeness according to the mind of God) give us a complete picture of the Church’s history as a witness on earth. In fact, the number seven occurs more than thirty times in Revelation! In vv.4-5 we have the whole Godhead involved in the origin of the book. First, it is from God the Fatherin 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 the Gentile mind can apprehend. Clearly, the Father is Jehovah, but likewise the Son and Spirit are too. Here is is God the Father because of the three Persons identified with the conjunction “and”, but also because usually in Revelation it is God as Father sitting in heaven, as Son coming down in judgment, and as Spirit searching out evil on earth (Rev. 5:7; 5:13; 7:10; 19:4).
 
4b and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; v.4b From Seven Spirits. 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 of the Spirit of God compared with what we know presently, His work in uniting the body of Christ, indwelling believers, and occupying our hearts with Christ. Nevertheless, it is the same Holy Spirit; the intelligent power by which God acts, in creation, salvation, and government.
 
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 From Jesus Christ. Finally, the book with grace and peace is addressed from God the Son in three ways. Past, He is (1) “the faithful witness” of everything that was in God’s heart toward man, which He fully declared when He was here below. Present, He is (2) “the first begotten of the dead”, the One who conquered death, and had become the “firstborn” (or first in rank) of those who possess resurrection life. Future, He is (3) “the prince of the kings of the earth”, which is what He will be in the Millennium, though we have assurance even now that He will reign. We are associated with Him in (2) resurrection, and in (3) as co-heirs, but the Church has failed to be a faithful witness (1). It is interesting that all three of these titles are connected with Christ on earth: in testimony, in resurrection, and official kingdom glory.
 
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.
 
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 Song of Praise from the Redeemed: 1st Utterance. 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:
  1. The Love of Christ. The Lord Jesus is identified here as “him who loves us”. What a simple, yet magnificent phrase! The scriptures are abundant with mentions of the Father’s love for us, whereas references to Christ’s love are less common, making them even more profoundly precious (Rom. 8:35; 2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 3:19; Gal. 2:20). 
  2. 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 blood of Christ is the foundation of every blessing.
  3. The Place of Christ. Not only did He love us and shed His blood for us, but He has brought is into association with Himself as the King and Priest; “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 to make them a kingdom of priests, which could be realized if they would obey His voice and keep His law. The thought of a kingdom of priests was that Israel would represent and pattern the character of Jehovah to teach the other nations His ways, and then as the nations came up to worship Jehovah, Israel would conduct the worship of the nations. Israel never achieved this, because they put themselves on the ground of the law. Christ Himself is the true King and Priest after the order of Melchisedec, and we find here that the redeemed share His place, and become a “kingdom of priests” on the basis of the blood of Christ, in total contrast with the works of the law! 
This song of praise culminates in a doxology that 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 (1:7-8)

¶ 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 A Judicial Cry from the Hosts of Heaven: 2nd Utterance. 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 (the song of praise) is often linked with responsibilities toward others (the judicial cry). The order is important for us to observe. When He returns, Christ will come with “clouds”, 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, but 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).2
 
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 A Divine Statement from the Son: 3rd Utterance. Finally, we are given a divine statement from “the Lord God” that seals these things. He gives 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” (c.p. with v.4 where it was God the Father, here it is the Son! Both are ever-existing, see John 1:1), and (3) as “the Almighty” He is the One who holds sway over all things.
 

John on Patmos (1:9-11)

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.9 John on Patmos. Now John personally introduces himself to the reader. The inspired writer did not hold himself aloof from those he wrote to. He writes, not as an apostle, but as their brother; part of the family of God. He writes as a saint in the kingdom. He was a fellow-partaker in three things:
  1. Tribulation. This refers to persecution, which is the common portion of all God’s servants. John himself was exiled for the truth’s sake, etc.
  2. Kingdom. This refers to the kingdom of God, which is the sphere of those who own the authority of Christ in this world. The kingdom is distinct from the world, who rejected Christ and cast Him out.
  3. Patience. This refers to the hope of every believer, the expectation of the coming manifestation of Christ, which we are waiting for (c.p. 1 Thess. 2:12).
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 a specific 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 one stands on the island looking north, he would face the land of Gog and Magog. If one looked west, he would face Rome. If one looked east, he would face Palestine and the lands of the “kings from the east”. In one looked south, he 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 The Voice. 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 our Lord Jesus rose from the dead, and the day the disciples gathered together to break bread (Acts 20). We may not be used as a vessel of inspiration, but we can maintain ourselves in a state in which the Spirit of God is at liberty to occupy us with whatever He will. Perhaps John was going about his normal routine. We ought to not 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, like John, looks “forward”, but this voice was “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 in the 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 The Intended Recipients. Who is it addressed to? The seven assemblies of Asia Minor. 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, the glory of Christ which ought to purify us (1 John 3:3), and the accomplishment of God’s purpose which ought to encourage us.
 

The Vision of the Son of Man (1:12-16)

¶ 12 And I turned back to see the voice which spoke with me; and having turned, I saw seven golden lamps, v.12 Seven Golden Lamps. 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 golden candlesticks. The Church is here to represent Christ: a light-bearing testimony. There are “seven”, just as the Church is complete and perfect in the mind of God as to its public position as established by Him. The candlesticks are “golden”, just as the saints are viewed in a righteous standing before God. But, though their standing is secure, 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 The Son of Man. The identity of the judge is made plain: it is “one son-of-man like”. Notice that 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 judgment. Christ adopted the title “Son of man” after His rejection. See John 5:25, 27 for the use of the two titles. 
 
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 Three Personal Glories The Lord is girded in this vision, a detail that suggests that His affections are guarded. He is viewed in the character of judge. This is consistent with how the Lord is viewed here, as Son of man; the Father has committed all judgment to the Son of man (John 5:27). This may seem a a strange view of Christ, but then we must understand that judgment is God’s strange/foreign work (Isaiah 28:21). He will also make it a short work (Roman 9:28) as His preference is for 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.
  1. 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.
  2. The girdle is made of gold, which speaks of divine righteousness. This righteousness guards the affections (His strange work). As an application of this, those who are in a position of assembly oversight can learn from this; to wear the girdle to the care meeting, but loosen it at the Lord’s Supper.
  3. 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.
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 Three Relative Glories. These next three articles (the eyes, the feet, and the voice) speak of three relative glories of Christ; i.e. the way He will act as a judge; searching, unyielding, and unstoppable.
  1. The eyes are described in words that portray searching, penetrating, consuming judgment (read Amos 9:2-3).
  2. The feet are described in words that portray unyielding faithfulness to principles of divine righteousness. Metal shoes are inflexible; and so is 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 “as glowing in a furnace”, which tells us that His judgment will be unsparing. 
  3. 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.
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 Three Official Glories. 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).
  1. 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 in number, which indicated that the administration is set up by God.
  2. 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).
  3. The shining of His countenance speaks of His supreme authority, power, and strength.

John’s Response (1:17-18)

¶ 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 Fear and Confidence. John’s immediate reaction was to fall at the Lord’s feet. This is similar to others’ reactions; Ezek. 1:28, Isa. 6:5, Dan. 7:15; 10:8-10. 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 we also might be surprised by this. 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:
  1. The One Who is Above Time. He calls Himself the “first and the last”. His existence is outside the bounds of time! To know that such a One is acting on our behalf dispels all fear (1 John 4:18).
  2. The One Who has conquered Death.
    1. He is “the Living One”. This is not talking about the incarnation, rather it is a title, similar to “I AM” (see Luke 24:5). Throughout all time, the Son is the source of all physical and spiritual life; “in Him was life” (John 1:4).
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
  3. The One Who is in Full Control of the Believer’s Life. Our Lord Jesus holds “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 aspects of separation. He is the custodian of (1) the body, and (2) the soul/spirit. This gives the believer tremendous comfort! For the believer who dies, scripture says they are “fallen asleep through Jesus” or “put to sleep by Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:14). Death and hades have become the valets of our risen Lord!
The posture in which we find John is very instructive. He is 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, and especially as we learn the history of the seven churches.
 

The Message (1:19-20)

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 Introduction to the Book. 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 is important, because the seven letters describe a history that began in the first century but continues to the rapture. The “things that are” when John wrote are still in existence today, although we are living in a phase characterized by “Laodicea” while John lived just prior to that characterized by “Ephesus”.
 
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 Key Terms Defined. 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… 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. 
 
  1. Excerpt from “A New Song”, by Henry Suso
  2. Not now chosen witnesses, but “every eye” shall see Him then, and especially the Jews, characterized as having pierced Him (compare Zech. 12:10 with John 19:37), and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. The words will equally bear the sense of “the land;” in which case the clause would take in not the Jews only but the whole δωδεκάφυλον or twelve-tribed nationality of Israel. Let the reader judge which best suits the context, as well as the enumeration of the verse. It is certainly not the twelve tribes in those who pierced Him, but of Israel distinguished from the more direct guilt of Judah, unless it be still wider. – W. Kelly, Lectures on Revelation.