A vision from God to the churches
What would you rather: to know all the details of a holiday before you go on it (the events of every day right down to all the problems that will occur) or to have a guide that promises you will be fine and to just go on the journey?
We are at the very end of the bible and in a book that gets way too much attention for the wrong reasons. Being the last book of the bible, we must consider all that has gone before it! Creation, the Fall, the promise of salvation, the suffering servant-king, the gospels, the spread of the church with the message of resurrection, forgiveness of sins and persecution. The Bible, as a singular book, ends with a vision of all that is and will be. Whenever it is treated as an isolated book it is mistreated by the reader.
The scope of these notes will not be exhaustive on the book of Revelation. As we have always done, we will take each chapter at a time, each section at a time and uncover what the author wants us to see and hear and how to respond. There is no end to the amount of commentaries written on parts of the bible but there is no substitute to the bible itself for gaining understanding and good context.
A note on apocalyptic writing. Readers can get stuck in this book whenever symbols and ideas emerge that spark our imagination. While the genre of Revelation is different, it still uses the same constructs of language. Words build up sentences which build up a message which, in context, can be understood when we look for the clues. We will see in chapter one that questions are raised in the text and then resolved – in the text! We may not always know what exactly is meant but we will avoid jumping to whimsical conclusions.
So, Jesus has come to this earth and laid down his life. John 3:16 is not a prophecy but history. In this book we will remember that there is no greater truth than that Jesus is King and He’s going to take care of everything.
Read Revelation 1
Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway…
What did you see? (Observation)
- The revelation (1-3)
- Grace and peace from the Triune God (4-8)
- Write what you have seen (9-19)
- The writer to the churches (9-11)
- What he saw (12-16)
- How to respond to Revelation (17-20)
Part a (1-3)
The revelation (1-3)
“The revelation from Jesus Christ…” The bible does not waste words. These three verses and the rest of this chapter give us great insights to uncover the whole of this book. We start by reading that this book is about a revelation from Jesus Christ. A revelation is simply the uncovering of something previously unknown. Jesus is revealing something to John, the writer, and to us. The whole bible is a revelation – knowledge of God that would otherwise be unknown to us.
“…which God gave him…” So the revelation is from Jesus but it was given to Jesus from God. The doctrine of the Trinity does not simply state God is One but that God is One and Three. Throughout the book of Revelation we will be amazed at the revelation of the Trinity in action! Jesus is a servant of the Father.
“…to show his servants what must soon take place.” It is a little bit exciting to know that we read this book knowing that certain elements of it are still yet to be fulfilled. We are reading the finished bible with still hope for what God has promised. We will see, I hope, that the book is not forecast for a sequence of events that will devastate us all but that the events to take place all involve the consummation of the work on the cross. This is a book filled with hope for those who love Jesus and fair warning for those who do not.
“He made it known…” John, an angel, Jesus Christ and God are all involved in the writing of this book. John’s hand is used to give exactly what he heard from the angel/messenger sent by Christ to convey the word of God. Although there are many hands in this kitchen, the authority of God is not bent. Again, the whole bible follows this kind of pattern.
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud…and who hear it and take to heart what is written in it…” We hold in our hands a message from God that is promised to be a blessing to those who take it to heart. We may very well pray for our church right now that we will take these words to heart and do more than treat it like a toy or puzzle to solve but to love God more dearly as we hear him speak to us.
“…because the time is near.” Jesus claimed not to know the hour when he would return but told his disciples to be ready. They died before his return. Many have died before Jesus’ return. The time is still near. We must not get trapped in the popular thought that the days are getting closer now. Everyday is one day closer of course. But the day has been near even in 90AD.
So, The Revelation is new and it is more of the bible. God has spoken, Jesus has served as the Word of God and with the help of messengers and writers, the things that God wishes to reveal to us have been made known.
Grace and Peace from the Triune God (4-8)
“John…” This is John the disciple whom Jesus loved. Perhaps not that Jesus had a special relationship with John but that John, the author of the 4th gospel, loved that Jesus loves him, and chose to refer to himself by that identity rather than just his name. Tradition tells us that John was the last disciple to die and died of old age, although suffered as much as the other apostles. He wrote three epistles and is known to have been ‘imprisoned’ on Patmos for his faith.
“To the seven churches…” The churches are listed in Verse 11 and are the focus of Chapters 2 and 3. The whole letter of Revelation is addressed to these churches.
“Grace and peace to you from…and from…and from…” Like many of the letters in the New Testament, grace and peace set the tone of the greeting. This means that there is no war between the writer and the recipient. Even when Paul writes stern words to a church and when John here writes rebuking words to the seven churches, it is in the context of grace and peace. You see, we are not at war with one another. The gospel sets us free from that. There are no higher and lower orders of people but we are all servants of Christ and indebted to him for the grace received. We are at peace now with God and must be at peace with one another. The status we share is grace and peace – the reality must be matched as far as we are able.
“…from him who is, and who was, and who is to come…” This can be applied to Jesus specifically and will be done later on, but because Jesus is mentioned a few clauses later, this must refer to God – Father and Trinity. The eternal one. Probably no simpler identifier of God is that he just is. He is independent in every sense of the word. See Exodus 3:14-15.
“…from the seven spirits before his throne…” What is this? With the mention of the eternal One before and the Christ after, it is tempting to see this as somehow the Holy Spirit. And perhaps it is. The term, “seven spirits” appears in 3:1 held along with the seven stars (which are the angels of the seven churches according to 1:20); in 4:5 described as seven lamps; and in 5:6 described as seven horns and seven eyes which are sent out into all the earth. You would know that seven is a perfect number in Revelation but what do we make of all this information? We may not be able to conclude that this refers somehow to the Holy Spirit but there is a will of God behind every metaphore provided in this list. Grace and peace are sent from the seven spirits and they seem tightly bound to both God and to the church. I won’t speculate any further.
“…from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus is the promised Messiah, the one who does everything that the Father desires, the resurrection and the Lord of Lords. This is Jesus. Let’s not overlook this person. He is God’s promise. He is God’s faithful one able to represent God and man. He conquered death in a way that promises the same resurrection to us and he is the boss. Jesus is number one. In Bible study, this is not something to treat as theory but we follow Him, we praise Him and we thank Him. While He is the messenger and faithful witness here in Chapter one, He will continue to take centre stage in the story of salvation and the end of all things as we know it.
Write what you have seen (9-19)
The writer to the churches (9-11)
“… on the Lord’s day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” There is not much normal about this although it sounds normal coming from John’s mouth! The Lord’s day? Is this Sunday? Is it, like many will content, the Sabbath? In the Spirit? Was he in prayer? He pre-empty the rest of the story with the classification that he was not just sitting in a cave but he was engaged with God somehow – not with reality but with God.
“…write what you see and send it…” The vision is not intended for John to keep to himself. This vision and Revelation is not for John’s personal spiritual benefit alone. John is a messenger and scribe for the benefit of the church who are firstly the seven churches (that number seven again – why these seven and why only seven except that it represents the whole of the worldwide church) and then us.
What he saw (12-16)
“…I saw seven golden lamp stands…His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” There are two many elements to list and go through. We will hear these elements reappear. It is easy to see, however, the imagery of purity and power at the same time. There is strength but life giving – not entirely terrible. Jesus is of course standing in the middle of the churches. What John saw was a kaleidoscope of imagery mashed together to tell a story of one who upholds and speaks, he is nothing like a human and yet is one like a son of man. This is Jesus.
How to respond to Revelation (17-20)
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” One might expect John to respond in reverence and awe but he is stunned into submission – like one who is dead!
“Do not be afraid.” This is the juxtaposition of Revelation: at the same time terrifying and peaceful. When you are on the side of Jesus, you are on the side of the one who stands with his face as brilliant as the sun!
“I was dead…I am alive for ever and ever.. I hold the keys of death and Hades.” The whole New Testament teaches this. Jesus is the centre of our faith because he died and is NOW alive and wil never die BUT he holds the key to the eternal death of others. There is not rival to Jesus’ power and authority. Our God does not fight with other gods for who owns hell etc. Jesus is the king of everything. The book will talk more of death and Hades later. Who wouldn’t want to know the One who has the key to death in their hands?
“Write, therefore…” Again, this vision is not for John’s binge watching alone but news to be written down. What we find in this book, however, is not a brand new ending but the ending that the gospels and Epistles point to also.
“The mystery of the seven starts that you saw…” Here we have some clues provided. Not everything in Revelation is like this. We need to listen to the imagery, sometimes referenced elsewhere in the book, sometimes it is an Old Testament reference we need to relearn. It is helpful to know the overall story of the bible when reading this book and it is helpful to have a bible word-search tool.
“…angels of the seven churches…” It is not for us to conclude that every church gets its angel. An angel is a messenger and the whole book is metaphor, simile and apocryphal/pictorial language. The churches do not stand in isolation but are provided for by God by messengers. Jesus is at the center and He holds all the ingredients in his hands: the church which is purchased by his blood (to come later in the book), the messengers of the church who presumably bring the gospel, and the keys to death and hades. Jesus is not a spectator but the power behind what is, what was and what will be.
We respond to Revelation by avoiding mystery and fear and running to Jesus in awe and wonder. The imagery is out of this world but that is also the future that we are called to. Keep in mind that everything is picture language that point to real truths.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
Christianity will not die out with the last remaining Apostle. God has got more to say to the church of Christ to confirm that Jesus is still alive, he is the king and he holds everything in his hands. We are not to be afraid when there is someone eternal and all powerful who has already provided victory over death and Hades. We must be ready to listen properly to this book so that we can be blessed by it.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: Reflect on the person of Jesus. Take a breath and reflect on how central Jesus Christ is to all eternity. Take your eyes off your worries about tomorrow and consider that Jesus holds tomorrow in his hands. Ask yourself, is there anybody else in all the world and time and space worth knowing more than Jesus Christ? Respond to these reflections with praise and prayer.
Topic B: What questions do you have of God? As we get ready to read the rest of the book, what do you want to know from God about the future? If he were to list you a chain of events to be prepared for or give you confidence in a Person who has already defeated eternity, which would be better information to hold? Will it disappoint you to not have every question you have answered but be assured that God has already won? The image of Jesus in Verses 12-18 is of a divine man who has already won. He is to be feared but touches us gently and says, do not be afraid.
Topic C: Because the time is near. This is scary and comforting. Jesus warned his disciples while in Judea that they need to be ready. He told parables about bridesmaids and invitations to feats. He warned us that if we get distracted by this world and forget the kingdom of God then the kingdom of God may forget us. And so, Revelation instructs us to hear this word and to take it to heart. Pray that we will do just that.