Bible Notes Online - Revelation 1 - ESV

This book stands on its own in the N.T. Revelation is written in a very different style to John's other writings, although its authorship is unmistakable. The book is devoted to prophecy, but, more accurately, to apocalyptic style, containing much imagery and symbolism. This has led to problems of interpretation. Apocalyptic literature was produced under conditions of persecution. John had been exiled on the island of Patmos because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Revelation alludes to the O.T. in over 400 places, but there is no specific quotation from the O.T. The book contains the number 7 throughout. This suggests a thought in its design; seven churches, seven spirits of God, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven bowls, seven major characters.

There are also seven blessings; 1.3; 14.13; 16.15; 19.9; 20.6; 22.7, 14.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable. Whilst some enter into debate and dispute, that is not the intention here, but to help us all learn more about Jesus Christ, the central character of this book, and grow in our knowledge of Him.

One helpful phrase has become popular:

  • Praise the Lord.
  • Cheer for the saints.
  • Detest the enemy.
  • Long for the final victory.

v1-8: Introduction; God draws back the veil covering things in Heaven and things in the future.

v1: God has spoken certain things, He has revealed them, "to show His servants", see 22.6 There is therefore a relevance and application into our lives today; it is always true that "His servants shall serve Him" (22.3).

God gave these messages through His servant John. He sent an angel, such was the importance of the messages. This is the messenger of God, often occurring in scripture, and more than 60 times in this book.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is centred on Him, declaring his power and glory. Important subjects, such as Israel, and the church, cannot usurp His place. John thus follows his own theme in John 1.1-18; 1 John 1.1-4, placing Christ at the centre of all things.

v2: Compare John 19.35; John was the faithful witness, Acts 4.20.

v3: Read and obey; the proper perspective;

  • to serve rather than to speculate;
  • to be committed, rather than to be confused.

There is urgency, because the time is near. And there is a blessing; but we need ears to hear, and hearts to believe. The letter to the seven churches would have been read aloud in them, reflecting these words. The person who reads, as well as his listeners, would be blessed; but there is also a challenge to obedience.

v4: The Glory of Father and Son; before there are any details of those things which "must soon take place" there is the vision of Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God. Here is the one who gives grace and peace to His people.

It is significant that Christ writes to churches, rather than to individual Christians. This is a theme in the book, right to 22.16. It reflects the importance in God's plan of the local church.

v5: Jesus Christ;

  • the faithful witness, the only true one, the only one who is the truth;
  • the first born from among the dead, our forerunner and pioneer;
  • the ruler over all the kings of the earth, having ultimate authority. As such, He has a crown (6.2), a sword (Ps 45.3), a sceptre (Ps 45.6; Heb 1.8). See Prov 8.15; by Him all kings reign (Rom 13.1).

He is the one who has loved us and given Himself for us.

v6: We have entered a privileged relationship with God. We are kings and priests or, a kingdom of priests. In the OT, some were kings (from Judah) and some were priests (from Levi); only in Christ are these two roles brought together.

v7: He is coming, not here for the church alone, for every eye will see Him. The word used here is inclusive, indicating His coming to the earth; there are implications for "every" person.

Those who pierced Him, even the Jews; and all the tribes of the earth, being unbelievers, will mourn at His coming. Those who are unbelieving are held responsible for their unbelief.

v8: Jesus shares His Father's eternal nature, see also v11, 17. The Greek here reads, 'the one being, the one who was, the one who is to come;' Jesus Christ is rightly the 'eternal one.' There is nothing outside of Him, the Beginning and the End, Alpha and Omega. He is the Almighty One, in total control of all things. To Christians in difficult circumstances, such words bring comfort and reassurance.

v9: John had been a faithful man, and suffered for his testimony. He was exiled on the island of Patmos. As he wrote to the seven churches, he described himself as their "companion in the suffering," for he understood their trials, see 2.10; 31, and was able to identify with them.

v10: John also experienced a closeness with God by His Spirit. See also 4.2; the phrase "in the Spirit," seems to refer to an ecstatic state. His willingness to identify with Christ brings both the power of His Spirit, and the suffering of mistreatment by human hands.

v11: John had to send a scroll, or book, to the seven churches. Each one was different, with different things to commend, and different things to rebuke; the Lord knows His sheep.

v12: This was John's vision, "I heard … I turned … I saw … I fell." There was no spirit in him, as in 1 Kings 10.5; the Queen of Sheba was impressed with Solomon and his glory; John was utterly impressed with Jesus Christ and His glory.

John first saw the seven golden lampstands, which, we learn, are the seven churches. The Lord had already named the churches, and John doubtless knew the churches also.

The number "seven" recurs throughout Revelation; it speaks of completeness and perfection; this is right, as the Lord declares the completion of world history.

v13-16: Among the lampstands, because He loves His church. His churches have a responsibility to welcome Him; Do our attitudes please Him? What might He say to us today?

John's vision is dramatic; one like a son of man; He identified the glorified Jesus Christ. The vision is awe-inspiring; He is perfect in purity, excelling in glory, and having absolute authority. Paul's "mystery of godliness" (1 Tim 3.16) is here revealed; God has highly exalted Him, and John witnessed His glory.

John's description of Christ here is the only one in the N.T. The gospel writers make scant reference to His appearance; 2 Cor 5.16, we no longer regard Him physically.

The stars are pictures both of the church and of the individual Christian; they denote our spiritual character, which cannot be lost, even if the lamp is removed, the star remains.

v17: It is no wonder that John was utterly overcome by the vision of Christ; even the experience of the transfiguration was not like this. In Matt 17.2, His face became like the sun, and His clothes white; in Mark 9.3, where dazzling white, in Luke 9.29, as bright as a flash of lightning; how much greater intensity did John see, or have to turn His eyes away from?

This is a vision of authority and glory; Heb 2.9, He is crowned with glory and honour, having suffered death for us.

v18: Jesus' words brought comfort, "Do not be afraid." He did not come to terrify, or to destroy His servant. Note Jesus' own declarations about Himself;

  • I am the First and the Last, i.e: the eternal one;
  • I am the Living One;
  • I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever; again identifying this vision with the crucified Saviour;
  • I hold the keys of death and Hades; see Heb 2.14-15; here is victory over the devil. This theme recurs in the letters to the churches, chapters 2-3, and later in the book also.

v19: Three things to write;

  • what you have seen, the vision of Christ;
  • what is now; the letters to the churches, speaking of current circumstances, and spiritual realities in each;
  • what will take place later, future events, which John describes.

All things are known to Christ; He knows the future as well as the present; and He reveals what we need to know.

v20: The mystery, or parable, is explained. The seven stars are the seven angels, or messengers of the churches; each is subject to Christ, for they were in His hand; they are "a flame of fire" (Heb 1.7).

There is a view that the first century was some sort of spiritual high-place, yet the letters sent to the churches expose something very different. Here were churches with serious issues to face, earning the rebuke of the Lord Jesus. He does not address all the churches the same, for He knows each one. There is a Jewish flavour to some of what is said, perhaps reflecting strongly Jewish thinking within the churches.