Revelation 1:1–18. The Prologue.
Key Notes: Ordinary prophecy vs. apocalyptic. When will these events take place? The large scope of the inspiration of Scripture. The seven Spirits.
This is a preface to reading Revelation-- the most difficult book in the Bible. From many sources (perhaps 20), I am persuaded that much of the book is not now understood. All of us enjoy reading and studying the first three chapters which evaluate the churches of Asia-Minor, and the last three chapters describing the beginning of the New Age as well. The material in the middle is very difficult and often painful, but each lesson contains information that nourishes the soul, even though a complete explanation is impossible. Like Genesis, which takes us back to the beginning of time, shrouded in the haze of God's creative power, the Revelation takes us forward into the end of time when God's power will bring the earth and the world to His desired conclusion. Both books contain mysteries that we strain to comprehend.
Revelation was written by the Apostle John exiled on the Island of Patmos, perhaps during the reign of the Emperor Domitian. Others believe it comes from the earlier times of Nero. John was the last surviving apostle. We think this was the last book of the New Testament. Our earliest manuscript fragments date to about 90AD.
John wrote in "apocalyptic" style; "Revelation" is "Apocalypse" in Greek. Other books containing apocalyptic writing are Ezekiel, the second half of Daniel and parts of Zechariah. The many references shared by Ezekiel and Revelation l are tabulated in Lesson 21. Apocalyptic style uses strange images, overwhelming supernatural events, symbolic numbers and allegorical names to communicate large and complex concepts. The number "seven" is used frequently. The intent of John is to tell us what is ahead and to assure us that Christ, the Lamb who was slain (5:6) is the conquering Lion of Judah. 5:5
Ordinary prophecy addresses the majority living in their own land.
Apocalyptic addresses the minority under foreign domination.
Ordinary prophecy calls backsliders to repentance.
Apocalyptic exhorts the faithful to persevere against oppression.
Ordinary prophecy pronounces God’s judgment of sin at the local level.
Apocalyptic warns of a world-wide cataclysm.
Ordinary prophecy promises local restoration and future blessing.
Apocalyptic prophesies a new heaven and a new earth.
Ordinary prophecy tends to be activist, optimistic.
Apocalyptic tends to be pacifist, pessimistic--at least for the present.
Ordinary prophecy uses poetry.
Apocalyptic uses visions and symbols, sometimes mysterious and exciting.
The book begins with critiques of seven churches in Asia Minor, fixing the time in the first century. The end of the book envisions the consummation of the Age with a new Heaven and Earth. Rome is seen as guilty of slaughtering the saints with the destructive powers of Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet at work. Revelation is especially controversial for its prophecy of the Millennium which affects our view of today's world and the future.
There are four schools of thought as to when these events will come to pass.
1. All of the events have been fulfilled. This must be partially correct because the message of Revelation was appropriate to the needs of the first century Church under persecution.
2. The predictions are being fulfilled over the years. This is a corollary of #1.
3. The events are all in the future.
4. The events are not historical but convey spiritual truth.
We can see elements of truth in each of the schools of thought. The prophecy was fulfilled, is being fulfilled and will be finally fulfilled.
I would encourage the student of Scripture to read on in the Revelation until some message is given. This may require reading several chapters before finding satisfaction. A blessing is promised to the reader of this book. May you receive the blessing.
1:1. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ."
Is the revelation from Christ, or is it about Christ? Either interpretation is permitted by the term. But the sentence says "which God gave Him (Christ) to show to His servants what must soon take place and He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John." So the Revelation is prophecy--sent by God through Christ by an angel to John, to the seven churches, and eventually to us. It is first of all a revelation from Christ. Secondarily it is the revelation about Jesus Himself, as we see by the end of the first chapter, and at numerous other points in the book.
Note the chain of transmission: God -> Christ, His Angel -> John -> churches -> the world. And in the next chapter, John will be instructed to write, as if taking dictation. Although inspiration does not require dictation (and it usually does not involve dictation), the order to "write" implies just that.
The way God reveals Himself in the Word is generally called "inspiration", but that limits our view to the fact that God transmitted His Word to His servants. The scope of revelation is larger:
a. Creation. God ordained creation, human history and the redemption of mankind.
b. Incarnation. God revealed Himself to the prophets in many ways, finally sending Christ to us as His complete revelation.
c. Revelation. God interpreted history to us. For example, "Christ died" is history; but "for our sins" is His interpretation.
d. Inspiration. God inspired a written record of creation, prophecy and revelation and preserved documents so that all the record is available to us.
e. Preservation. God preserved the word in transcription and translation over 3500 years and in more than a thousand tongues.
f. Canonization. God submitted the church to those books that He inspired.
g. Illumination. God enlightens the mind of readers in all ages to understand the message and accept it.
1:4. From Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come, (God the Father; JHWH) and from the Seven Spirits Who are before His throne.
From Jesus Christ, the Faithful witness, Firstborn of the dead, Ruler of the kings of the earth.
The curious term is the "Seven Spirits"; it is repeated 3:1 and 5:6, but especially note 4:5 "before the throne burn seven torches of fire which are the Seven Spirits of God." In Ex.37:17–24 the candelabra in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle had seven lamps, with seven flames. Seven qualities endowed by the Spirit are listed in Isa.11:2.
"…and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."
We get the sense of what has been called the Seven-fold Holy Spirit symbolized by the sacred candelabra.
1:4 To Him who loves us (present tense) and loosed us (past tense) from our sins by His blood. His love is continuous; our redemption is completed.
1:7 "Behold He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, everyone who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him." An OT reference is Zech.12:10:
"I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that when they look on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child...."
Jesus expanded on this text in His prophecy of the End Times:
"...then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matt.24:30)
The piercing was fulfilled when the spear was thrust into Jesus' side. (John’:37) But when it says "all those who pierced him" all human beings are implied."Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"
Commentators wonder what the mourning will be like. Will it be contrition and regret, or anger and frustration? Zech.12:10 says "a spirit of compassion and supplication". That suggests that when Christ appears there will be widespread turning back to Him--a world-wide revival.
John's last word on the subject is "even so, Amen". In other words, O God, make it happen.
The clouds appear to be literal. At the Ascension, as a cloud took Him out of their sight, the angel said "This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven". (Acts 1:11)
1:8 "'I am the Alpha and the Omega', says the Lord God, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty."
•"Alpha and Omega" is the beginning and the end, the starter and the finisher, the one who has everything and does everything.
•"Lord God". Our assurance that God exists is that we call Him "Lord". We cannot come under the authority of that which does not exist. And no one can call Jesus "Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. (ICor.12:3)
•"Who is and Who was and Who is to come" is equivalent to JHWH, the God who is. He is not the god of our own minds. He is self- existent. And He is constant.
•Almighty. The Greek word is "Pantokrator", used only in Revelation. It means the one who has all ("pan") authority and power ("kratos").
One student prayed insightfuly at the end of this study. "Dear God, I often think of You as an accessory to my plans. Please make me an accessory to Your plans."