CHAPTER ONE OF REVELATION is a magnificent prologue to the rest of the book. The idiosyncratic vision of Jesus Christ sets the stage for what will follow as Christ judges His churches and the world. The titles and portrayals of Christ are amalgamated into the present and future events that were closed up and sealed until the time of the end (Daniel 12:9). Without this book, the other parts of Scripture would lose much of their significance.
It is important to keep in mind that the apocalyptist was a pessimist, for he did not believe that things as they are could ever be cured. He foresaw terrible times of travail and terror when the world will be shattered and human relationships destroyed. The last days will be a time of judgment. The Lord will come like a refiner’s fire, and who may abide on the day of His coming? (Malachi 3:1-3). It is by the fire and sword that Yahweh will come (Isaiah 66:15-16). The scattered Jews are to be regathered to the Promised Land and restored spiritually (Isaiah 27:12-13; Ezekiel 37). In addition, an essential part of the apocalyptic picture of the last days is the resurrection of the dead, where Sheol (Hades) and the grave will give back that which have been entrusted to them (Daniel 12:2-3; Enoch 51:1).
However, the Preterist and Idealist find that John had a superb confidence—that victory would be won by the Church in the life-and-death struggle and that Satan was about to unleash. Yet, the seven letters of Christ reveal that these seven representative churches of Christendom are either weak or defeated. For the most part, Christendom is overcome by the world and Satan. It is the overcomers, within these churches, who are promised the ultimate victory.
TITLE OF THE BOOK (1:1): Revelation of Jesus Christ is the unveiling both of and from Jesus Christ. The revelation is not primarily about Christ but of events surrounding His coming. He is the Communicator of these events. The curtain of the future is lifted concerning the church age as well as events in heaven and on earth during the seven-year period known as the Tribulation. This period is followed by the Millennial Kingdom, and then the new heaven and new earth.
TIME FRAMES (1:1). “What must soon [tacei, that is quickly, with speed] take place.” This phrase indicates the rapidness of the events when they begin to unfold, not the length of time until they unfold. “Tachometer,” the instrument to measure speed, comes from tacei. It has been over nineteen hundred and seventy-five years since Jesus uttered the words of Revelation 22:20:
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming suddenly [tacu ].” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Therefore, the Greek indicates suddenness. The day of the LORD and Christ’s return will come with suddenness like a thief in the night to those who are not waiting, watching and ready (Matthew 24:36-25:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). In fact, Jesus indicated in the Parable of the Talents that His return would be “after a long time” (Matthew 25:19). Additionally, Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:6-7:
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.
Possibly, Jesus now knows the exact moment when He will arise from His Father’s throne and come forth to set in motion the events that are to take place to restore the kingdom to Israel.
The present and the future are never divorced. In eschatology and apocalyptic genre, the future is always viewed as imminent without the necessity of intervening time. Therefore, “suddenness” means imminency in eschatological terms. The church in every age has always lived with the expectancy of the consummation of all things in its day.
The key periods of this book are found disclosed in verse 19:
PAST: What you have seen —> Vision of Christ, 1:9-19
PRESENT: What is now —> The Seven Churches, 2-3
FUTURE: What will take place later —> The Seven Year Tribulation, the Millennial Kingdom, The New Heaven and the New Earth, 4-22.
VISION (1:2). John saw (eiden, with his eyes) the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself is identified with “the Word of God” (Revelation 19:13; cf. John 1:1-14). Here “Word of God” refers to direct prophetic communication and “the testimony of Jesus Christ” denotes His validation of the communicated Word of God in the forthcoming visions. “Testifies” is a courtroom term, encompassing judgment.
VALUE (1:3). This is the first of seven beatitudes. Blessing is promised to those who read, hear and take to heart this prophecy. The preacher, the teacher and all readers must never forget that one of the greatest privileges in the church is to read Scripture to the assembled congregation. There is special strength to be found through the reading, understanding and obeying the prophetic messages of Scripture—a strength that will arm the church and the overcomer for conflict with the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
STEPS OF REVELATION (1:1-4). Revelation flows from God the Father to Jesus Christ to His angel to His servant to the churches, 1-4. His angel (messenger) might refer to the Holy Spirit (cf. verse 10). God the Father is speaking through His Son by the Spirit to John to us. Some identify Gabriel as Christ’s angel (messenger) because of his revelations (Daniel 8:16; 9:21-22; Luke 1:11-20, 26-37).
TRINITY (1:1-8). No other book of the Bible proclaims Jesus Christ’s deity, authority and power like Revelation does. Here the Triunity of the Godhead intermingles.
THE FIRST PERSON OF THE TRIUNITY—GOD: THE FATHER, 1:4
“Him who is, and who was, and who is to come” (cf. the name YAHWEH in Exodus 3:14). This description refers to God the Father who is spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, greatness, goodness, truth, and in whom all things have their source, support and consummation.
THE SECOND PERSON OF THE TRIUNITY—THE SON: JESUS CHRIST, 1:1-22:21
1. The Faithful Witness, 5—PROPHET; cf. Hebrews 3:6
2. The Firstborn from the Dead, 5—PRIEST, cf. Colossians 1:15
3. The Ruler of the kings of the earth, 5—KING; cf. Revelation 19:16
4. The Alpha and the Omega, 8; cf. Isaiah 44:6; 48:12; Revelation 21:6; 22:13
5. The Beginning and the Ending (Textus Receptus but not in earlier manuscripts), 1:8
6. Who is, and who was, and who is to come, 1:8; cf. Exodus 3:14 (“I AM WHO I AM”)
7. The Almighty, 8; cf. Genesis 17:1 ( ydv la-yna “I am El Shaddai”)
8. Son of Man, 13; cf. Daniel 7:13-14; see “theme” below
9. The First and the Last, 1:17
10. The Living One, 1:18
11. The Son of God, 2:18
12. The Amen, 3:14
13. The Faithful and True Witness, 3:14
14. The Ruler of God’s Creation, 3:14
15. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, 5:5
16. The Root of David, 5:5
17. The Lamb (30 times), 5:8 . . . 22:3
18. Sovereign Lord, Holy and True, 6:10
19. Lord God Almighty, 15:3
20. The King of the Ages, 15:3
21. The Word of God, 19:13
22. KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, 19:16
23. The Root and the Offspring of David, 22:16
24. The Bright Morning Star, 22:16
25. Lord Jesus, 22:20
THE THIRD PERSON OF THE TRIUNITY: THE HOLY SPIRIT, 4.
The seven spirits, which is the sevenfold Spirit, cf. Hebrews 1:14. The sevenfold Spirit is described in Isaiah 11:2:
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
The three titles of verse five relate to the general structure of Revelation.
1. The faithful witness describes Christ’s relation to the churches, whom He warns faithfully of their sins and to whom He gives some of His greatest promises.
2. The firstborn of the dead describes His role as arbiter of destiny, opening the seals and effecting redemption because He died and rose again to ascend to the heavenly throne of authority.
3. Ruler of the kings of the earth is His title as He puts all enemies under His feet and asserts His lasting reign over the world.
WRITER (1:4). The apostle John is not theoretical, but practical; not a copyist, but a creative artist; an inspired prophet communicating what he sees through apocalyptic symbolism (see introduction). The numerous employments of terms of comparison (“like” 66 times and “as” 44 times) manifest John’s creativity in picturing the visions he observed.
DESTINATION (1:4). The entire revelation is addressed to the seven churches in the province of Asia (western modern Turkey, boarding on the Aegean and Mediterranean seas). These seven churches are historical, representational, and prophetical. The local conditions in each differed, but the seven, when combined, are representative of conditions in Christendom from Pentecost to the Rapture.
The epistolary form of address distinguishes this book from all other Jewish apocalyptic works. The greeting “grace and peace to you” is distinctively Christian and occurs in the salutation of nine of Paul’s letters.
PLACE (1:9). Island of Patmos is a rugged and bare island in the Aegean Sea. The island is ten miles long and about six miles wide along the northern coast. It is for the most part rocky. The highest part is Mount Elias, which rises to a height of over 800 feet. John was exiled here in the fourteenth year of the reign of Domitian and he returned to Ephesus under Emperor Nerva in A.D. 96.
It has been said, “A man’s true environment is in his mind.” And quite obviously the cruel power of Rome has not captured the mind of John. Though John was exiled from all of like faith, and almost from the world, he was not exiled from God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, or from angels. He still had communion with his Lord. Domitian banishment of John had not put out the light of the Word of God or testimony of Jesus; the emperor just provided the circumstances for it to burn brighter. The same was true of the apostle Paul when he wrote his prison letters and John Bunyan’s imprisonment at the Bedford, England jail produced Pilgrim’s Progress.
TIME AND CIRCUMSTANCES (1:10). “On the Lord’s Day” (th kuriakh hmera) occurs only here and denotes Sunday, the first day of the week. It should not be read “the day of the LORD (h hmera kuriou, LXX), which refers to the Tribulation Period and Millennial Kingdom.
John testifies, “I was in the Spirit.” He was neither in an ecstatic condition or trance but under the Holy Spirit’s influence as the prophets before him.
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).