Revelation Chapters 1-3
Imagine what it would have been like, to live at the end of the first century. Your city is a part of the *Roman *Empire. You are a Christian. You are a member of a local church. There is only one church in your city. Your nearest church neighbour is over 40 miles away. There are good *Roman roads. You could travel on your horse. You might reach your nearest neighbour in less than a day. Your leader is John the *apostle. But the rulers have sent him away to another country. The reason was that he was a Christian. There are no large meetings where Christians *worship together. There are no Christian books to encourage you. There is no *New Testament to give you hope.
There have been many *earthquakes in your country. There have been many local wars. You are afraid about many things. You wonder what will happen next.
Your neighbours do not like you. You are different from them. You have a different religion. Every day you are in danger. You turn to other *religious groups for help. But there is no help from them. They do not agree with your religion. They even report you to the authorities. They say that you do not believe in God.
The rulers of the nations do not feel confident. They think that other people want to become leaders. They fear that another will take their place. They are jealous of any new religion. They see other people as a danger to their authority. They bring in new laws. The nation has become their religion. Their leader has become their god. Moreover he is the only one that you may *worship. You ask yourself whether you may one day bow down to a strange god. It would be easy to do this. Some of your Christian brothers and sisters have already given up. They have turned away from Jesus Christ, their *Lord.
This is how it was with the 7 churches in Asia. The description of their situation is in the book of Revelation chapters 1 to 3. There was then a period of much *persecution of Christians. The period was at the end of the first century.
Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. This request appears 7 times. It is in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. These letters went to 7 churches in Asia. The period is in the first century. Maybe the Spirit speaks to Christians in churches today about other matters. But the church in the 21st century still has the same problems. So these three chapters are still very important today.
There is an extra blessing. Those who read these letters will be happy people (Revelation 1:3). Those who hear them will be even happier. They will be even happier if they obey the words in the letters. There is a warning at the end of the book. It warns about anyone who might change the message. They must not add to it or take anything away from it (22:18-19).
There is a description of John’s work in the first five verses in this chapter. He uses three different words. The first is *revelation (apocalypse). It takes the cover off what was secret earlier. The second word is *prophecy. This is in verse 3. Then, in verse 4, he refers to his work as a letter. We find all three descriptions in the book of Revelation
The early chapters help the reader to understand the *prophecies that follow. In them we have the *revelation of Jesus Christ. This could mean the *revelation that Jesus Christ made. It could mean the *revelation that God made about him. It could mean the *revelation that belongs to Jesus Christ. In one way or another, all three are true. The *revelation came from God the Father. It did not come from *angels. It is not a human *revelation. It looks at the questions of history. It brings God’s truth to these questions. Men and women do not create truth. God is the source of all truth. Any truth that we receive comes from God.
God did not make the *revelation directly to John. He sent it through his *angel. This gives the teaching of this book an extraordinary authority. John told everything that he saw. Jesus Christ told him the truth. This truth is the word of God. This means that it is the message from God (verse 2). It is a witness to the truth from Jesus Christ.
Verses 1-3 This book is the *revelation of Jesus Christ. It takes the cover off God’s truth. Otherwise, it would have remained hidden. God gave Jesus these *revelations. He gave them to show his servants what must happen soon. Christ sent this message through his *angel. He sent him to show these *revelations to his servant (slave) John.
God sends his *angel to show the *revelation to John. It is the *revelation of the person of Jesus Christ. He is the one who rose from the dead. The *revelation is that Jesus Christ is *Lord of all. It is a *revelation of God’s *glory and power. John must show God’s servants what must happen soon. ‘Soon’ could mean that it will happen in the very near future. It could mean that it is sure to happen. God has said that it will happen. It could happen quickly. But God’s time is different from ours. One day to God is like a thousand years. A thousand years are like one day to God (2 Peter 3:8).
The blessing in verse 3 is the first of 7 in this book. The message is from God. God will bless (make happy) the person who reads the words of this message. The reader here is not just any person. An official would read a part of the *Old Testament aloud in the *Jewish *synagogue. They did this in the first churches too. A man would read a message to the *congregation. It became part of Christian *worship. A reader became an official in the church.
Next, the people who hear this message will also be happy.
Then there are those who do these things. They practise the things that they hear. They will be happy also. To hear God’s word is a blessing. To obey it is a duty. Here is a warning to anyone that hears but then forgets. It is also a warning to those who take no notice of the message.
John warns that there is not much time left. The first Christians expected the early coming of Jesus Christ. They lived in times of great trouble. So this promise gave them great hope. One day God will take each one of us from the earth. No one knows when this will be. If we have obeyed, we will meet God with confidence.
Verse 4 John sends the message to the 7 churches. They are in the region called Asia (verse 4). He prays for God’s *grace and peace. God is the only God. He is the God who is. He is the God who always was. He is the God who is coming. This refers to the coming of Jesus at the end of the age.
*Grace and peace
The *apostle Paul often starts his letters with a prayer for *grace and peace. He changes the common *Greek word for ‘greetings’ to another word, ‘grace’. The common *Hebrew greeting was ‘*shalom’ or ‘peace’. Paul brings the two greetings together. They form a blessing and a prayer. He prays that his readers may know God’s free help. We do not need to earn this. He also prays that they may know God’s peace. The peace (*shalom) of God is more than just no trouble. ‘Shalom’ has many meanings. It means to be well. It means to have enough for your needs. It means safety and health. Life may be difficult. But we can still know God’s peace.
The message also comes from the 7 *spirits in front of God’s *throne. The 7 *spirits might refer to a group of *angels. There are references here, however, to Father and Son. The words ‘7 *spirits’ appear between these two names. So this probably refers to the Holy Spirit. Seven is a sign of something perfect or complete.
Verse 5 Jesus has three grand titles:
1. He is the *faithful witness. He witnessed to the truth (John 18:37). It was because of his witness that people killed him.
2. He was the first one that God raised from death. He rose from death and is alive for ever and ever. He has won the *victory over death. He is the first person in the *kingdom of God. This is an important truth for Christians who suffer *persecution. They need to know this.
3. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Christians who are having *persecution need to know this. The kings of this earth may work against us. But Christ is the King of kings. He controls the history of nations. He rules the kings of earth. His *empire is larger than the *Roman *empire. He rules over the whole world.
Then follow words that praise Jesus. He is the one who loves us. We love Christ because he first loved us. More than that, he has made us free. He has made us free from our *sin. He did this through his blood (death). He died for us on the *cross. The wages for *sin is death. But God gives his people a free gift. It is life for ever in Christ Jesus our *Lord (Romans 6:23). He has also made us free from *sin’s power over us.
Verse 6 There is more. He has made us to be a *kingdom and priests. The *kingdom of God belongs to the people of God. They are the people of the *kingdom. It is not like the *kingdoms of the earth. The people of the *kingdom are those whom God has made free. He has made them free from their *sins. He did this through Jesus Christ. Their purpose is to serve ‘his God and Father’ (verse 6). They are kings. They should rule over *sin. The people of the *kingdom are also priests. This means ordinary Christians. A priest speaks to God on behalf of men. He speaks also to men on behalf of God. Priests pray to God for the world. They tell the world what God has done. They help sad people in the world. They introduce people to God. They pray to the Father for them. To him be *glory and power for ever and ever! *Amen.
Verse 7 Jesus is coming again to this earth. Every eye will see him. This reference comes from the *Old Testament. It is in the book of Zechariah. People will look upon the one whom they have pierced (Jesus). To pierce means to make a hole in something with a pointed object. They will be very sad. It will be like one who cries about the death of a first son. This refers to *David’s family and the people living in *Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:10-13:1). Now all the peoples of the earth will be sad because of Jesus. We are all responsible for the death of Christ. Our *sin has made us responsible.
This is how it will be! ‘So shall it be!’ ‘*Amen’ puts together *Greek and *Hebrew words of agreement. *Amen is a word of agreement. It is not glad about the defeat of the people of the world. The wicked will suffer defeat. The *Amen is glad about the *victory of goodness over evilness. There will be final *victory for Christians who have suffered so much.
Verse 8 God introduces himself as ‘the *Alpha and *Omega’. *Alpha is the first letter of the *Greek alphabet. ‘*Omega’ is the last letter. In English it would be, ‘I am A and Z’. God created all things. He is the one who will end everything. He is the beginning of history. He is the end of history. He is the *Lord of all that comes in between. He is the *Lord King of all the ages. No person, no ruler, no country can oppose the *Lord King. A person who opposes him will never win. Nine times in this book, God has the name ‘Almighty’. This means that nobody can oppose God’s power. His power is very great. He can use his power in any way that he chooses.
The next chapters tell us what Christ thinks about his church. First, he has a right to do this. It is his church. He started it. He set it upon a rock. He promised that the powers of death would not win against it (Matthew 16:8). Second, he knows his church very well. Each of the 7 letters starts with the words ‘I know’.
· the things that they do
· about their hard work
· that they suffer
· that they are patient
· that they will continue in the *faith to the end
· about their troubles and that they are poor
· where they live
· about their love and *faith
· about their service and that they will continue to the end.
We shall discover in the next chapters what Christ does think about his church. Sometimes he praises it. Sometimes he blames it. In these letters, we see what an ideal church should be like.
1:9-20 God tells John to *prophesy
The writer of Revelation describes himself just as ‘John’. Some people ask who this might be. The usual view is that he is John the *apostle. He is the son of Zebedee and brother of James. Probably he lived longer than the other *apostles. He was a leader of the church at Ephesus. The authorities had put him in prison on the island called Patmos. He had relations with the 7 churches in Asia. He knew the Christians in these churches.
Verse 9 John says, ‘I was on the island called Patmos’. This means ‘I came to be on the island called Patmos’. He would probably be there for the rest of his life. He was there because of the word of God. He had been a brave *preacher. He was also there for the witness to Jesus. He had been *faithful in *preaching God’s message. He had been *faithful about the truth about Jesus. He suffered for his *faith. The authorities would see him as a poor Christian *preacher. They would make him do very hard and heavy work.
John encourages the Christians in Asia. He describes himself as their brother and companion in suffering. He writes, ‘I am your brother in Christ. We are together in Jesus. We suffer together as members of Christ’s *kingdom.’ Here are three things that we share. We share suffering. We share the *kingdom. We share patience. We mean to carry on until the end.
Verse 10 John was in the Spirit on the *Lord’s Day (verse 10). ‘In the Spirit’ appears several times in the *New Testament. In Revelation, it is in chapter 4 verse 2, chapter 17 verse 3 and chapter 21 verse 10. It may mean some kind of dream. John is especially open to the Holy Spirit. He is prepared to have dreams and to see *visions.
The *vision took place on the *Lord’s Day. This is the only time that this expression appears in the *New Testament. John does not explain it. The *Lord’s Day has its origin in *Caesar’s Day. This might have happened once a week. It was a special day to honour the *emperor. To Christians, however, this day belonged to the *Lord. Jesus is their *Lord. He is the *Lord of this world. He rose from the dead on the first day of the week. So Christians considered this day as the *Lord’s Day. It was right for them to do this.
As John prayed, he had a *vision. First, he heard a voice. It came from behind him. It was a loud voice like a *trumpet. The word ‘*trumpet’ appears quite often in Revelation. It appears more often there than in all the other books in the *New Testament. Usually we associate *trumpets with events that happen in the last days.
Verse 11 The voice said, ‘Write in a book all these things that you see. Send it to the 7 churches. They are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’ If a postman had gone to these churches, he would have gone to them in that order. There was a road that connected the 7 churches. It started at Ephesus. It went north to Smyrna and Pergamum. Then it went south through Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
Verses 12-13 The voice came from behind John. So he turned to see who was there. When he turned, he saw 7 *golden *lampstands. There are descriptions of *lampstands in the *Old Testament. John would know about these. They are:
1. The *lampstand of pure gold in the Tabernacle. (The Tabernacle was the special tent that the *Jews moved from place to place in the desert. They used it as a *temple.) The *lampstand had 6 parts, like the branches of a tree. There were 3 on one side and 3 on the other. There were 7 lamps (including one in the centre) to give light (Exodus 25:31-37).
2. The *lampstands in Solomon’s *Temple. There were 10 *lampstands of pure gold. There were 5 on the right and 5 on the left (1 Kings 7:49).
3. In the *vision of Zechariah. Zechariah saw a *lampstand all of gold. It had a bowl on top of it. It had 7 lamps on it (Zechariah 4:2).
But none of these verses describes 7 separate *lampstands. This is what John saw. Each had a lamp that had a light. Jesus Christ was among the *lampstands. Jesus explained that the 7 *lampstands represented the 7 churches (verse 20).
Christ is in the middle of his people (see Matthew 28:20; John 14:18). He is ‘like a son of man’. This refers to Daniel 7:13. Here we read about a person from heaven. He comes with the clouds. He receives great power. People from every nation and language will *worship him. His rule will last for ever. His *kingdom will last for ever. This person looks like a human person.
The Ancient of Days is a name for God. It shows that he has always been a great king. God gave power and all authority to this Son of Man. Jesus used these words about himself. It is the title of the *Messiah. John is giving Christ the most important place. He is head over all people, countries and rulers.
The Son of Man wears a coat. It reaches down to his feet. This means that he is a very important person. He wears a *golden belt. It is round the upper part of his body.
Verse 14 Jesus’ hair is white like wool. Pure wool is white and like snow. ‘The Ancient of Days’ (God) is like this in Daniel 7:9. White hair gives the idea of wisdom. It gives honour to age. It speaks about Christ who is without beginning or end. He has always been. Snow and white wool give the idea of something that is pure. These words express that Christ is *eternal. Also, he is pure. He is without *sin. You look at a person with white hair. You see him as one who is calm and at peace.
We might compare this with the next description of Jesus. ‘His eyes were like flames of fire’. Again we look at the description of God in the *vision of Daniel. It is, ‘his eyes were like flames of torches’ (Daniel 10:6). Sometimes the eyes of Jesus showed anger (Mark 3:5). Sometimes they looked at someone with love (Mark 10:21). Sometimes they looked at his friends with pain (Luke 22:61).
Verse 15 The next description of Jesus refers to a metal. No one knows what kind of metal it really is. They used to have a special kind of metal. It was a mixture of silver and gold. This would be more precious than either metal. It would shine with a very bright light. The metal is hot and shines in the fire. Here again John would see a reference to the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. ‘The man’s arms and feet shone like polished *brass’ (Daniel 10:6). ‘The animal’s feet shone like polished *brass’ (Ezekiel 1:7). It is possible to see two things here. The *brass in Daniel represents strength. God is sure and strong. The animal’s feet in Ezekiel shone with a bright light. This represents speed. God’s feet move fast. They are quick to help his people. They are quick to punish *sin.
Next John says that his voice was like the sound of rushing water. John would be near the sea. Patmos was a small island. He would always hear the sound of the rushing waves. Again, in Ezekiel, the voice was the voice of God. God’s voice was loud like the sound of the sea (Ezekiel 43:2). God’s voice can be ‘a quiet small voice’ or a gentle wind (1 Kings 19:12). But God’s voice can also be like *thunder. It shows great power and greatness. We should fear this voice.
Verses 16-17 The 7 stars are ‘the *angels of the 7 churches’ (verse 20). These churches are in Jesus’ right hand. This is a sign of God’s help and protection. In the letters that follow, Jesus has some hard things to say to his churches. But he has not left them. He still holds them in his hand.
John, in his *vision, saw Jesus. He is Jesus to whom God had given life after death. John fell at Jesus’ feet. It seemed that John was dead. It was the custom then to fall down in front of an important person. This was to show respect and honour. Here, John fell down through the power of Christ. It was the physical effect of this great *vision. The *apostle Peter had the same experience. When he realised who Jesus was, he fell down on his knees. He was aware only that he was a *sinful man (Luke 5:1-11). We often have fears. Jesus still says to us, ‘I am here; do not be afraid.’
Jesus put his hand on John. He told him not to be afraid (verse 17). At any time, Christ has the whole church in his hands. At any time, he can look after any particular person. God’s hand is strong enough to hold the heavens. It is gentle enough to wipe away our tears.
The sharp sword had two edges. It came out of Jesus’ mouth. The sword is a tool in war for attack. It takes strong action against its enemies. The *Roman sword was short and in the shape of a tongue. There is this description of the sword of God in the *Old Testament. ‘He made my mouth like a sharp sword’ (Isaiah 49:2). The word of God is like a sword. It cuts in deep. It shows our *sins. We cannot hide from God. ‘The word of God is alive. It is active. It is sharper than any sword with two edges’ (Hebrews 4:12). It is a word (sword) of judgement. In his right hand, however, Jesus holds the 7 stars (churches). He holds them to protect them. See verse 20.
John now speaks about the face of Jesus. It shines like the sun. This same reference is in Matthew 17:2. The appearance of the *Lord is strong. It is like a shining light. It is bright and splendid. But to his enemies it is terrible.
The words ‘the first and the last’ are very much the same as ‘*Alpha and *Omega’. In verse 8, it is another term for Jesus Christ. It is a description of God. We find it in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12. It is the promise that Jesus is there at the beginning and at the end. He is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Hebrews 7:3; 13:8). He is there the moment we are born. He is there when we die.
Verse 18 This verse emphasises the *resurrection. Christ won the *victory over death. Here is the promise that he is alive. He is alive now. He will always be alive. We have the same thoughts about the Father in Revelation 4:10 and 10:6. There is the same truth about God in Daniel 12:7. He is with his people now. He will always be with his people. This would have been a great comfort to the Christians in Asia.
*Hades is the place of souls who have left this earth. Jesus puts *Hades and death together. They are an enemy. Christians believe that Christ has beaten death. He has brought life into the open. He has achieved this through the *gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Because he lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). Death has its gates (Psalm 9:13; 107:18; Isaiah 38:10). There are keys that will open these gates. Keys represent authority. Christ holds the keys of death and *Hades. He has power to send people to death and to *Hades. He has power to rescue them. He rules over the world of *spirits. He rules over death. The *Roman *emperor has no such authority. Neither does any other ruler. This truth gave great hope to the early Christians. It gives great hope to us too.
Verse 19 Jesus repeats the command to write (verse 11). John must include:
1. what he has seen. This is the *vision of Christ.
2. what is now. The next two chapters describe the events that are now happening. In these chapters, we see the situation of the 7 churches. The letters tell us about their different situations.
3. what will take place later. This is in the *visions in chapters 4 to 22. The Christians had many troubles. They needed to have some idea about future events. This was important to them.
‘What is’ and ‘what will be’, apply to the whole book. There is a connection between past, present and future. We find this in the *visions.
Verse 20 ‘Mystery’ here means something that people could not understand. But God has now made the meaning known to them. The meaning is secret.
The 7 stars are the *angels of the 7 churches. The word *angel means ‘*messenger’. This can mean a human *messenger (Luke 7:24; 9:52). But it is more likely to be someone from heaven. He would be God’s *messenger. There are *angels who guard people or nations. They are responsible to protect a person or nation. *Israel had an *angel, Michael. He looked after the national interests (Daniel 10: 13, 20, 21). *Angels may mean the leaders or ministers of the churches. They are the *Lord’s *messengers to the churches. God would speak through them. A ‘*messenger’ may be someone whom the Christians appointed. He would represent them. They had someone like this in the *synagogue. He would be the one who led the prayers.
Each of the above explanations has its difficulty. The Christians in these churches are different from their neighbours. The Christians are God’s people. They are ‘in Christ’ (verse 9). They are God’s holy people. They are priests and kings to God with Christ. They are like lights in the world. Jesus, the true Light, shines through them. John refers to them as *angels of the churches. This is a possible explanation. Their lives on earth match what their lives will be in heaven.
The stars are in Christ’s right hand. In those days the 7 *planets were a sign for authority. The Romans believed that the *planets were gods. They had power over the lives of men and women. They represented the political power of the *Roman *emperors. They ruled the world. The 7 stars often appear on *Roman coins.
The rule over this world is not in the hands of the *Caesars of *Rome. It is Jesus who rules. He is the *Lord of the church. John says that the Christians are kings and priests to God (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). They have this position by God’s *grace. The rule of the world does not belong to men. They would only damage the Christian church. The church belongs to Christ and to God and to his people. This is probably the best way to understand the stars in Christ’s hands.
The 7 *lampstands represent the 7 churches. The 7 churches are no more important than *lampstands. The churches are just the lamps that hold the light. The light is Christ. The churches must show his light to the world.
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