I. Prologue (1:1-3)
A. A Revelation of Jesus Christ about Jesus Christ.
Revelation stands in the stream of Apocalyptic literature and draws heavily on OT Apocalyptics (from the Greek apokalupsis; â€œunveilingâ€) like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. Thus the key to interpreting the book of Revelation isnâ€™t the newspaper but rather the OT.
Revelation depicts in images what linear, propositional statements cannot capture . â€œThere is a need for symbolism because the reality of the scenes revealed and recorded is transcendental in character. Vistas of eternity and infinity cannot be fully described by our human language which is finite and bound by time. â€
Literal interpretation of the details of the images arenâ€™t intended to be the focus; rather what God is doing in Christ to crush Satan, establish the Kingdom of His Son, and accomplish His purposes is.
Timeframe: â€œwhat must soon take placeâ€ (1:1); thus we should not understand Johnâ€™s vision as a description of things limited to that time immediately before Christ returns.â€
Biblical eschatology understands â€œthe last daysâ€ to be inaugurated by Christâ€™s incarnation. Peter identifies Pentecost â€“ some 2000 years go from our perspective â€“ as â€œthe last daysâ€ which the prophet Joel spoke of (Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28-32). From the perspective of Scripture (and thus Godâ€™s) we are indeed living in â€œthe last daysâ€ and have been for at least 2000 years. Thus Revelation â€“ in that it deals with â€œthe last daysâ€ concerns the time period between Christâ€™s Ascension and second coming.
Rather than reading Revelation as a linear procession of events moving along chronologically we should understand the visions as snapshots of the conflict between the triumphant Christ and His defeated foe Satan. Revelation provides those of us on earth something of a heavenly perspective on continuing history. Thus the scenes will sometimes repeat and overlap one another because the
B. Blessings on Those Who Read, Hear, and Keep (vs. 3)
â€œThis is the first of seven â€œbeatitudes,â€ or â€œblessingsâ€ found in this prophecyâ€¦The seven blessings in Revelation are connected to believing and hearing (chapter 1), to being faithful unto death in chapter 14, to being ready for the Lordâ€™s coming (chapter 16), to receiving rest from our labors (chapter 14), to responding to the invitation to the marriage supper (chapter 19), to participating in the first resurrection, (chapter 20), to finally being granted the right to eat from tree of life and enter the new Jerusalem (chapter 22). Therefore, anyone who hears these words of this prophecy and responds in faith to all seven of these promised blessings of God, will have the reward of eternal life and victory over death, rest from our labors, and will dwell in the city of God.â€ – Kim Riddlebarger
Many people are overly intimidated by the book of Revelation and as a result donâ€™t study. They believe that one has to be able to point to current events in the Middle East as fulfillment of the book in order to really understand Revelation. However, the earliest recipients wouldnâ€™t have access to the news of our day about Israel, Arabs, the Euro, etc. If this kind of data was necessary to understand Revelation the original audience would have been out of luck. The fact that the original audience could understand should clue us in that â€“ like them â€“ we donâ€™t have to
II. Greetings (4-5a)
A. The Author (1:4)
John gives no introduction beyond his name. The assumption is that those who receive the letter would know exactly who John was. This level of notoriety indicates that this is the Apostle John.
Note too that he addresses very real churches existing in his day. This again points to the fact that we canâ€™t find the fulfillment of the images of Revelation in the future days immediately preceding Christâ€™s return; Revelation carried meaning for the original recipients. It is our task to discern that meaning, not cast it into the distant future (at the least, from their perspective).
B. The Trinity (1:4-5)
i. God the Father â€“ â€œhim who is and who was and who is to comeâ€
God is the eternally existent One; the I AM
ii. The Holy Spirit – â€œthe seven spirits who are before his throneâ€
â€œIn chapter four of the Book of Zechariah we read: â€œI see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it . . . `This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: â€˜Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,â€™ says the LORD Almighty.â€™â€ The Lordâ€™s Spirit is depicted by Zechariah in his sevenfold fulness or perfection. This same language reappears in Revelation 4:5: â€œFrom the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.â€ In the opening chapters of Revelation, the seven spirits are connected to the seven lampstandsâ€“symbolic of Godâ€™s presence in the seven churches mentioned below.â€ – Kim Riddlebarger
iii. God the Son – â€œand from Jesus Christâ€
- â€œthe faithful witnessâ€ â€“ Christ is the most accurate revelation of God. The Greek word for witness is martyr which came to describe those who were killed for their faith. Christ is also our pattern for suffering. Although He suffered greatly in His ministry Christ remained faithful to Godâ€™s call to the point of death.
- â€œthe firstborn from the deadâ€ â€“ The apostle Paul calls Christ the â€œfirstfruitsâ€ from the dead. Both terms here indicate that Christ is the pattern and surety of those who will rise to live eternally with God in His glory.
- â€œthe ruler of the kings of the earthâ€ â€“ Revelation was written to a body of believers who were persecuted, fatigued, and endangered. Nero reigned around the time of Revelationâ€™s composition and he is most likely the historical precedent for the image of the Antichrist in Revelation. This evil ruler targeted the Christian community with horrors that boggle the mind; he used Christians dipped in wax as giant candles to light his garden parties, fed Christians to the lions in the Coliseum, and was responsible for the deaths of both Peter and Paul.
With this monster on the throne and the horrors we read about in history happening to them as a present reality the Christian community needed to be reminded that there is a power greater than the Roman emperor. The wicked ruler waging war on the Christians would himself have to face a more Sovereign ruler.
III. Doxology (5b-6)
- â€œhim who loves usâ€ â€“ Just as the Christian community needed to be reminded that Christ is the Supreme ruler of the universe they also were in need of a reminder that the trials which had come upon them did not mean that God had abandon them. The affections of Christ yet remained on His little flock.
- â€œfreed us from our sins by his bloodâ€ â€“ Even in the most distressing of situations the Christian rejoices in salvation. John, exiled as an old man, writing to a group of believers beset by all manner of evil, still pauses to rejoice in their mutual salvation.
- â€œmade us a kingdom, priests to his God and Fatherâ€ â€“ Remember that Revelation gives us Heavenâ€™s perspective on earthly events. Here we see that this harassed minority, weak and small in number, is actually the kingdom of God and priests in His service. What we see on earth is not reality, at least not all of it. Yet someday â€“ soon, according to God, reality will be seen.
- â€œto him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.â€
This closing phrase should draw in our minds, as it did the original recipients, a contrast between the glory and dominion of Caeser with that of Christ. At best Caeser enjoyed a moment on historyâ€™s stage and his glory was mere baubles. Christ, however, has won the eternal victory. All of history has, is, and will be His. The glory of His kingdom is beyond description and will never fade.
IV. Christian Vindication (1:7-8)
I. The Return of the King (1:7)
John leaves his praise to dwell on the certainty of Christâ€™s return to the earth in glory. Note that he says every eye will see him – â€œThe language John uses is universal, not localâ€¦ This certainly implies the final judgment, the resurrection from the dead, and the re-creation of the heavens and the earthâ€
This verse looks to the fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10. Johnâ€™s first canonical writing records the piercing of the side of Christ (19:34). Johnâ€™s last writing records the return of the one who was pierced in triumph.
Christ came to the earth initially in humiliation. The God of eternal glory limited Himself to a single time and place. On earth during His ministry Christ was ignored, reviled, and opposed. He was eventually arrested, beaten, mocked, harassed and crucified.
His death marked the end of His humiliation.
At the end of the age Christ will return in the glory of His power, full of majesty. So overwhelming will His appearance be that the entire world will see Him. Those who have trusted in Him will rejoice as they never have before. Those who have persisted in their rebellion against Him will be so terrified that they will see a crushing landslide as preferable to facing him (Revelation 6:16).
1:8 â€“ â€œI am the Alpha and the Omegaâ€
Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet (corresponding to the English â€œAâ€) and Omega is the last (corresponding to the English â€œZâ€). By applying this image to Himself God is declaring that He is the first and the last and, by implication, all that is in between. He is the sovereign over history, as Revelation will make abundantly clear.
Notice too how closely this description of God matches Christâ€™s testimony about Himself in vs. 17 of this same chapter.