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Revelation 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

"The revelation of Jesus Christ" is the subject of this book. "Revelation" (from the Latin revelatio) means unveiling or disclosure and is a translation of the Greek word apokalypsis, the transliteration of which is an alternative title for the book (i.e., the Apocalypse; cf. Daniel 2:28-30; Daniel 2:45-47). The Greek word occurs only here in the book. Jesus Christ was the giver of this revelation (cf. Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; John 5:19-23; John 12:49; John 17:8), and He is its main subject. The genitive in the Greek text is probably both objective and subjective. "Communicated" (Gr. esemanen) simply means "indicated" (cf. John 12:33; Acts 11:28); it does not mean "signified" in the sense that everything that follows is symbolic, though much of what Jesus communicated is symbolic. Whereas the Gospels reveal Jesus in His humiliation, Revelation reveals Him in His glory.

"It will be vain to become occupied with ’sevens,’ ’hundred-forty-four-thousands,’ ’six-sixty-sixes,’ the restoration of the Roman Empire, the person of the antichrist, the two wild beasts, the ’millennium,’ or even the new Jerusalem; unless, along with God the Father, who has subjected all things unto Him, Christ is ever before our eyes!" [Note: William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, p. 31.]

God wanted the bond-servants of Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 22:6; Acts 2:18) to have this revelation of things that will happen soon.

"If we are having difficulty with this blessed closing book of God’s holy Word, let us surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ as His servants. The book was written to bondservants." [Note: Ibid., p. 4.]

The idea behind the Greek words translated "shortly" (en tachei) is probably that the events to be revealed will appear soon rather than speedily.

". . . the view that sees en tachei meaning ’soon’ and thereby focuses on the imminence of the predicted events is impressive. A major thrust of Revelation is its emphasis upon the shortness of time before the fulfillment. In the midst of persecution God’s people do not have long to wait for relief to come. To say that the relief will come ’suddenly’ offers no encouragement, but to say that it will come ’soon’ does. . . .

"The presence of en tachei in Revelation 1:1 shows that for the first time the events predicted by Daniel and foreseen by Christ stood in readiness to be fulfilled. Therefore, John could speak of them as imminent, but earlier prophets could not." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 55, 56. Cf. 22:6; Deuteronomy 9:3; Ezekiel 29:5 (LXX); Luke 18:8; Romans 16:20. See Mark L. Hitchcock, "A Critique of the Preterist View of ’Soon’ and ’Near’ in Revelation," Bibliotheca Sacra 163:652 (October-December 2006):467-78.]

There are many similarities between how John wrote Revelation and how Daniel wrote the book that bears his name. Both prophecies deal with God’s sovereign rule over world history.

Jesus Christ communicated this revelation to an angel (Gabriel? cf. Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21-22; Luke 1:26-31) who passed it on to the Apostle John. This is the first of some 67 references to angels (messengers) in Revelation. John used the traditional title of bond-servant (slave) to describe his relationship to Jesus Christ, as did all the other apostles (cf. Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Judges 1:1). The chain of communication was from God the Father to Jesus to an angel to John and to Christians.

Verses 1-3

1. The preface 1:1-3

The Apostle John wrote these opening verses to introduce to his readers the main subject dealt with in this book and his purpose for writing it. Similarly John explained his purposes in writing 1 John and his Gospel (1 John 1:3-4; John 20:30-31).

Verses 1-8

A. The prologue of the book 1:1-8

John’s prologue contains a preface, an address and doxology, and a statement of the book’s theme.

Verses 1-20

The first chapter contains a prologue to the book, which is similar to the one in John 1:1-18, the prologue to John’s Gospel (cf. 1 John 1:1-4). It also relates a vision that God gave John that prepared him for what follows. This presentation has the effect of showing that Jesus Christ is the culminating figure in human history (cf. Hebrews 1), and it prepares the reader for the revelation of His future acts that constitutes the bulk of this book.

Verse 2

Forty-four times in this book John wrote "I saw" (Revelation 1:12-13; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 5:1-2; Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:11; Revelation 6:1-2; Revelation 6:4-5; Revelation 6:8-9; Revelation 6:12; Revelation 7:1-2; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 9:17; Revelation 10:1; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 13:3; Revelation 13:11; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 14:6; Revelation 14:14; Revelation 15:1-2; Revelation 15:5; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 18:1; Revelation 19:11; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 19:19; Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:11-12; Revelation 21:1-2; Revelation 21:8). He saw many things and passed this revelation ("all that he saw") on to the church. By the time the original recipients of this book had read it, the visions that he had seen, which the book describes, were in the past. John regarded the book as an inspired word from God, specifically from Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 1:1).

"No other book in the Bible is so strongly supported as to its divine inspiration." [Note: J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 9.]

The "word of God" may refer to God the Father’s word to Jesus Christ. "The testimony of Jesus" probably refers to the Lord Jesus’ faithful communication of God’s word to John (mainly through angels, messengers) who passed it on to his readers.

Revelation 1:1-2 summarize the contents of the Book of Revelation and present them as testimony that Jesus Christ bore.

Verse 3

Those who read, hear, and obey this prophecy will receive a special blessing from God. John put himself on a par with the Old Testament prophets (cf. Revelation 10:8-11) and distinguished this book from Jewish apocalyptic literature. [Note: See Hall W. Harris, "A Theology of John’s Writings," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 174; and David Hill, "Prophecy and Prophets in the Revelation of St. John," New Testament Studies 18 (1971-72):401-18.] This is the first of seven blessings that John mentioned in Revelation (Revelation 14:13; Revelation 16:15; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:14; cf. Luke 11:28). John used the number seven, which commonly signified completeness and a work of God, 54 times. The Greek word translated "time" (kairos) describes a period of time rather than a point in time. The time when God will fulfill these prophecies was "near" when John wrote this book. "Near" is the translation of the Greek word eggus meaning at hand, imminent. The fulfillment could begin at any time. [Note: Mounce, p. 65; Johnson, pp. 416-17; Ladd, p. 22.]

". . . the Apocalyptist claims for his book that it shall take rank with the prophetic books of the O.T. . . ." [Note: Swete, p. 3.]

"A ’revelation’ of the end of history is given not for the satisfaction of curiosity, but to inspire living in accordance with the reality unveiled." [Note: G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, p. 52.]

Verse 4

John sent this letter (the whole book) to the seven churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, which were in the Roman province of Asia. The Apostle Paul also wrote letters to churches in seven places: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. The province of Asia lay in the geographic region of Asia Minor (modern western Turkey).

Since this book deals mainly with future events, John described the divine Author as God (the Father) who is, was, and is to come. This title occurs nowhere else in the Bible except in Revelation (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8; cf. Revelation 11:17; Revelation 16:5; Exodus 3:14-15). This description stresses the continuity of God’s sovereign dealings with humankind.

The phrase "seven Spirits" may refer to seven principal angelic messengers (cf. Revelation 1:20; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 8:6; Revelation 15:1; 1 Kings 22:19-21; Hebrews 1:14). [Note: Smith, pp. 314-19; Mounce, p. 70; Aune, p. 34; et al.] The apocryphal book of 1 Enoch (Revelation 20:2-8) named seven angels who supposedly stand before God: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. Another possible view is that the phrase refers to the Holy Spirit in His fullness (cf. Isaiah 11:2-3; Zechariah 4:2-7). [Note: Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 48; Newell, pp. 10-11; Johnson, pp. 420-21; Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 67, 68; Harris, p. 202; Beasley-Murray, p. 56; Ladd, p. 24; and Beale, p. 189.] If so, this title fills out a reference to the Trinity in this sentence (cf. Revelation 3:1, Revelation 4:5; and Revelation 5:6).

Verses 4-6

2. The address and doxology 1:4-6

As is true of New Testament epistles generally, the address of Revelation contains three elements: the writer, the addressees, and the greeting.

Thomas argued that the genre of Revelation is prophecy written in epistolary style. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 28 and 59.] Swete saw it as a prophetic vision and a letter (from Revelation 1:4 on). [Note: Swete, pp. 3, 4.] Beale viewed it as an epistle that contains apocalyptic and prophetic material. [Note: Beale, p. 1156.] Beasley-Murray, and Carson and Moo, also advocated a combination of apocalyptic, prophecy, and epistle. [Note: Beasley-Murray, pp. 12-29; Carson and Moo, p. 716.] Most scholars have classed it as apocalyptic. [Note: See Mounce, pp. 18-25, for a helpful discussion of apocalyptic.] I prefer to think of it as an epistle containing prophecy, much of which is apocalyptic.

Verse 5

John described Jesus Christ as the "faithful witness" (cf. Revelation 3:14; Psalms 89:37; Isaiah 43:10-13). This is the third and last time in the book that the double name "Jesus Christ" appears.

"Jesus Christ is of the seed of David and will sit on the Davidic throne that will endure forever as the sun (Psalms 89:36)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 69.]

"Faithful witness" is Jesus Christ’s present ministry of revealing what follows. John also called Him the "first-born from the dead" (cf. Psalms 89:27; Acts 2:29-32; Acts 4:2; Acts 26:23; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:23). This title looks at the culmination of His past ministry when God raised Him to new life at His resurrection.

"The Resurrection carried with it a potential lordship over all humanity (Rom. xiv. 9), not only over the Church (Col. l.c. [i.e., Revelation 1:18])." [Note: Swete, p. 7.]

John also referred to Jesus as the "ruler of the kings of the earth" (Psalms 89:27). That is His future ministry following His second coming (Matthew 2:6). The New Testament speaks much of believers entering into their rights as first-born sons of God and ruling with Jesus Christ in His millennial kingdom. This will be the privilege of faithful, obedient Christians (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12).

". . . the origination of all three expressions from Psalms 89 reflects a major authorial intent to direct attention to the fulfillment of the promises made to David regarding an eternal kingdom in 2 Samuel 7." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 70.]

John ascribed eternal glory and dominion to Jesus Christ who is the subject and object of this revelation. He described Him as the One who always loves us and who loosed us from the bondage of our sins by His death. Some ancient Greek manuscripts have, He washed us from the stain of our sins.

In these notes I will use the term "Christian" in its strict technical sense to refer only to believers who come to faith between Pentecost and the Rapture. There will be believers who are saved during the Tribulation, but these will be Tribulation saints, not "Christians," as I am using the term.

Verse 6

Jesus Christ also has made us a kingdom (corporately) and priests (individually; cf. Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6; Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9) to His God and Father, another evidence of His present love for us. John never spoke of God as the Father of believers in Revelation, only as the Father of Jesus (cf. Revelation 2:27; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 14:1). We are a kingdom and priests now, but in the future faithful Christians, His bond-servants, will also reign with Jesus Christ on the earth (cf. Revelation 5:10).

"Amen" means "So be it!" Here it signifies the writer’s assent to the truthfulness of these affirmations about Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 1:7; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 7:12 [twice]; Revelation 19:4; Revelation 22:20)

It is interesting that John, the apostle of love, would emphasize God’s love in this first doxology as the dominating divine emotion (cf. Deuteronomy 4:37). In view of the following revelation of much judgment to come on humanity, it is comforting to remember that God does everything because He loves us.

Verse 7

"Behold" (Gr. idou) indicates special divine intervention. This verse summarizes the main features of the revelation to follow. It is in this sense the key verse in the book.

"The theme of the book is the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ over all enemies and the establishment of His earthly kingdom." [Note: Harris, p. 175. See also Ladd, p. 14; and Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:568.]

Jesus Christ will return physically to earth as He ascended into heaven (Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8; Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 16:15; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20 [twice]); Acts 1:9-11). "Every eye" of those alive at His second coming will see Him (Matthew 24:30; cf. Numbers 11:25; Psalms 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 12:10-14). "Those who pierced Him" evidently refers to Jews particularly (Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 12:12; Zechariah 12:14; cf. John 19:37). [Note: See Kenneth G. C. Newport, "Semitic Influence in Revelation: Some Further Evidence," Andrews University Seminary Studies 25:3 (Autumn 1987):249-56.] Another possibility is that these people stand for Jesus’ enemies. [Note: Ladd, p. 28.] Representatives from all tribes on earth then will mourn (wail) because then the earth will be in rebellion against Him (cf. Matthew 24:30). These tribes represent all human beings, not just Jews. [Note: See Smith, p. 44; and Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 78-79.]

This great text announces the climactic event in Revelation, namely, the return of Jesus Christ to the earth at His second coming (Revelation 19:11-16). [Note: See Mark L. Hitchcock, "A Critique of the Preterist View of Revelation and the Jewish War," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:653 (January-March 2007):89-100, for a rebuttal of the preterist interpretation of this verse.] All that intervenes between this verse and Revelation 19:11-16 leads up to that event. This verse does not refer to the Rapture as is clear from what John said will happen when it takes place. The Second Coming is a public gradual manifestation, but the Rapture will be a secret instantaneous calling (1 Corinthians 15:52).

"The promise combines Daniel 7:13 with Zechariah 12:10 . . . Daniel 7 provides a key focus for John throughout the whole book (there are no fewer than thirty-one allusions to it)." [Note: Johnson, p. 422.]

"Even so, amen," provides firm assurance that the coming of Christ will happen as prophesied in this verse.

Verses 7-8

3. The theme 1:7-8

These verses contain the first prophetic oracle of the book. The only other one in which God speaks is in Revelation 21:5-8.

Verse 8

God confirmed the preceding forecast with a solemn affirmation of His eternity and omnipotence. Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and signify here God’s comprehensive control over all things including time. This is probably a merism, a figure of speech in which two extremes represent the whole. John strengthened this point further with present, past, and future references (cf. Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:17; Hebrews 13:8). He is the originator and terminator of all things. God is not only Lord of the future. He is also powerful enough to bring what John just predicted to pass. He is the "Almighty."

"A weighing of evidence, especially in light of the OT ’flavor’ of the expression and a recollection that the Father in the OT refers to Himself as ’I am’ (i.e., the Tetragrammaton, Exodus 3:14; cf. Isaiah 48:12), tips the balance ever so slightly to the side of concluding that God the Father speaks in Revelation 1:8. . . .

"God’s declaration in Revelation 1:8 thus ends with a note of authority. The omnipotent one will surely implement what His prophet has predicted by way of future judgment." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 80, 81. Cf. Harris, p. 182.]

John frequently used "Almighty" as a key name for God in Revelation (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:17; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 16:7; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 19:6; Revelation 19:15; Revelation 21:22).

This whole introduction points to the main event of the following revelation, the return of Jesus Christ at His second coming (Revelation 19:11-16). It also presents the triune God as Lord of time (past, present, and future), faithful to His promises, and powerful enough to bring these events to pass. In Genesis, Moses also emphasized God’s power and faithfulness more than any other of His attributes. The last Bible book stresses these qualities of God as does the first Bible book.

Verse 9

John now addressed directly the seven churches to which he sent this epistolary prophecy. He described himself to his readers as their brother in Christ and a partaker with them in three things. These were, first, the religious persecution they were presently experiencing as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ. This is a reference to the general tribulations that all Christians experience (cf. Matthew 20:22-23; John 16:33; Acts 12:2; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; 2 Timothy 3:12), not to the Tribulation yet future (cf. Revelation 2:22; Revelation 7:14). Second, they shared in the present and future kingdom of Jesus Christ (cf. ch. 20; Luke 12:32; Luke 22:29; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; James 2:5). Third, they were persevering as they remained steadfast in the midst of affliction.

"This illustrates the broad spectrum of other areas, besides afflictions, that are shared by believers, but fellowship in suffering is one of the most frequent, if not the most frequent, among the stock of primitive Christian ideas. This is an indispensable element of Christian discipleship and following the example of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 4:13; cf. also 2 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 5:1)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 85.]

John was on Patmos as a result of his witness, not primarily to receive this revelation from God (cf. Revelation 6:9). [Note: Henry Alford, The Greek Testament, 4:553.] According to the writings of several early church fathers (i.e., Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and Victorinus), the Romans sent John as a prisoner from Ephesus, where he pastored, to the island of Patmos in A.D. 95. [Note: See Beckwith, pp. 434-35; Smith, p. 49; Walvoord, p. 41; et al.] There he worked in the mines (quarries). Patmos stood in the Aegean Sea just southwest of Ephesus. It was 10 miles long and six miles wide at its widest (northern) end, and it served as a penal colony for political prisoners of Rome. John remained there until shortly after the Emperor Domitian died in A.D. 96. Domitian’s successor, Nerva, allowed John to return to Ephesus. [Note: Johnson, p. 424. See Appendix 1, "Roman Emperors in New Testament Times," at the end of these notes.]

Verses 9-11

1. The first commission to write 1:9-11

Verses 9-20

B. The commission of the prophet 1:9-20

John next explained a vision of the glorified Christ that God had given him (cf. Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1). First, he related the circumstances of his first commission to write (Revelation 1:9-11). Second, he provided a detailed description of the source of that commission (Revelation 1:12-16). Third, he explained more about his commission and the one who gave it (Revelation 1:17-20).

Verse 10

The Holy Spirit appears to have caught John up and projected him in his spirit to a future time in a vision (cf. Revelation 4:2; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10; Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:1; Ezekiel 11:24; Ezekiel 43:5). [Note: See F. J. A. Hort, The Apocalypse of St. John, p. 15.]

The "Lord’s day" probably refers to Sunday. [Note: Swete, p. 13; Morris, p. 51; Newell, p. 24; Johnson, pp. 424-25; Mounce, p. 76; Beasley-Murray, p. 65; Aune, p. 84; Ladd, p. 31; Beale, pp. 203-4; Roger T. Beckwith and Wilfred Stott, This is The Day: The Biblical Doctrine of the Christian Sabbath in its Jewish and Early Christian Setting.] But it could refer to the future day of the Lord spoken of frequently elsewhere in Scripture. [Note: E. W. Bullinger, The Apocalypse or "The Day of the Lord," p. 152; Walvoord, p. 42; Smith, p. 324.] The New Testament writers never called Sunday the Lord’s day elsewhere in Scripture. This term became common after the apostolic age. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 91.]

A loud trumpet-like voice instructed John to write down what he saw and send it to seven churches in Asia Minor. The trumpet reference probably implies that submission to its command was necessary. The voice belonged to Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:12; Revelation 1:17-18).

Verse 11

This is the first of twelve times that John wrote that he received instruction to write what he saw (cf. Revelation 1:19; Revelation 2:1; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:18; Revelation 3:1; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 14:13; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:5). The "book" in view was a roll of papyrus made from a plant that grew in Egypt. Normally papyrus scrolls were about 15 feet long. [Note: Frederic G. Kenyon, Handbook to Textual Criticism of the New Testament, p. 30.]

The cities where these churches met formed a wedge on the map pointing northwest. A messenger carrying John’s revelation would have traveled north from Ephesus to Smyrna and on to Pergamum. He would then have turned southeast to reach Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The whole Book of Revelation was to go to these churches, not just the special letter to each one contained in chapters 2 and 3.

Why did God select these churches in these particular towns? Obviously He did not do so because of their superior spirituality. Their popularity was not the criterion either since we read about only Ephesus and Laodicea elsewhere in Scripture. John knew of conditions in each of these churches, and God led him to communicate individual messages to them. Probably they were representative congregations from which this book could circulate easily. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 93-94.]

Verse 12

When John turned to see the person who spoke to him he saw a majestic figure clothed in a long robe standing among seven lampstands (cf. Exodus 25:31-40; Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 4:10; Matthew 18:20). This person would have resembled a priest in Israel ministering in the tabernacle or temple. The seven lampstands represent seven churches (Revelation 1:20; cf. Zechariah 4:2-6). [Note: See Appendix 2, "Symbols Used in the Book of Revelation That the Book Itself Interprets," at the end of these notes.]

Verses 12-16

2. The source of the commission 1:12-16

John turned to see the person who had given him his commission. These verses describe what he saw.

Verse 13

The man looked like "a son of man." This expression refers to the divine Messiah in Daniel 7:13-14 (cf. Daniel 3:25; Daniel 10:5-6; Daniel 10:18; Acts 7:56). "Son of Man" was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself according to the writers of the Gospels (cf. Mark 13:26). The person John saw looked like a human man. His clothing was that of a priest: a long robe with a golden sash around it. [Note: Cf. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 3:7:2.] Jesus Christ’s present office is that of our high priest (Hebrews 4:14). However this long robe (Gr. poderes) was also a sign of rank or dignity in those who wore it (cf. Ezekiel 9:2; Daniel 10:5). [Note: Swete, pp. 15-16; R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John , 1:26-27.]

"In Revelation 1:13, Christ is seen dressed in the type robe worn by both a priest and a judge; but the position of the girdle about the breasts rather than the waist indicates that Christ, in this passage, is exercising a judicial rather than a priestly role. A priest would be girded about the waist, signifying service; but the girdle placed about the shoulders or breasts indicates a magisterial function (cf. John 13:2-5; Revelation 15:6)." [Note: Arlen L. Chitwood, Judgment Seat of Christ, p. 15.]

"The titles of Jesus Christ found in the introductions to six of the seven messages in chapters 2 and 3 are drawn largely from this vision of Revelation 1:12-20 and its descriptive phrases. Only the message to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) is devoid of one of these. One of the titles is used in two messages (cf. Revelation 2:1 and Revelation 3:1) . . . It is apparent that the appearance of Christ in this vision is designed to emphasize the aspects of His nature that are most relevant to the needs and circumstances of the seven churches who are the primary recipients of this book." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 97.]

Verse 14

His head, even His hair, was very white, as Daniel described the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9 (i.e., God the Father). John sometimes first stated a general term and then followed it up with a more specific one, as here (i.e., head and hair). [Note: Beckwith, pp. 241-42, 438.] White hair often represents wisdom and the dignity of age in Scripture.

". . . Revelation borrows components of complex OT figures, not the figures themselves." [Note: Thomas E. McComiskey, "Alteration of OT Imagery in the Book of Revelation: Its Hermeneutical and Theological Significance," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36:3 (September 1993):310.]

Thus we should not import everything that Old Testament figures teach in their contexts into Revelation. In Daniel 7:9, for example, the person with the white hair is God, but the white hair symbolizes wisdom. It may be improper to conclude that God meant John to understand that the person with the white hair in Revelation 1:14 is God. He definitely meant him to understand that the person with the white hair was wise.

John referred the images of God the Father in the Old Testament to Jesus Christ thus granting to Jesus the attributes and titles previously reserved for the Father (cf. Revelation 1:18; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 5:12; Revelation 22:13). [Note: Swete, p. 16.] This is one way of stressing the equality of Jesus with the Father, here specifically His eternal pre-existence.

His eyes were similar to blazing fire, evidently an allusion to His piercing judgment and omniscient understanding (cf. Revelation 2:18, Revelation 19:12; Daniel 10:6; Mark 3:5; Mark 3:34; Mark 10:21; Mark 10:23; Mark 11:11; Luke 22:61).

Verse 15

His feet looked like bronze glowing in the reflection of a fire. This is probably an allusion to His purity as He moves among the churches (cf. Luke 1:79; Acts 5:9; Romans 3:15; Romans 10:15; Hebrews 12:13). [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 101-2.] Perhaps it also implies His purity as proved during His earthly walk that made Him a sympathetic high priest (Hebrews 4:15; cf. Hebrews 2:18). The figure also connotes strength and stability (cf. Daniel 2:33; Daniel 2:41).

His voice sounded like a rushing river such as the Niagara at its Falls, namely, authoritative, powerful, and irresistible (cf. Revelation 14:2; Revelation 19:6; Psalms 93:4; Isaiah 17:13; Ezekiel 43:2).

"Perhaps two ideas are suggested here: (1) Christ gathers together all the ’streams of revelation’ and is the Father’s ’last Word’ to man (Hebrews 1:1-3); (2) He speaks with power and authority and must be heard." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:569.]

John would have hardly ever been away from the sound of waves beating on the shore while he lived on Patmos.

Verse 16

In His right hand, the symbol of official honor and sovereign control, He held seven stars protectively (cf. Revelation 9:1; Revelation 12:3; Job 38:7; John 10:28), the angels or messengers of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20; cf. Revelation 2:1; Revelation 3:1).

A sharp double-edged sword (Gr. hromphaia), the type the Romans used to kill with (Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 19:15; Revelation 19:21), proceeded from His mouth. His word will judge His enemies (Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 49:2; Ephesians 6:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:13-15). This sword was tongue-shaped. [Note: See the Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hastings, s.v. "Sword," by W. Emery Barnes, 4:634, for a picture of one.]

His face shone like the unclouded sun, a picture of pure holiness and righteousness (Judges 5:31; Matthew 13:43). John saw Jesus at the Transfiguration with such a shining face (Matthew 17:2).

". . . Christ was presenting Himself to John in a character that would prepare the apostle for various aspects of the vision to follow." [Note: Robert L. Thomas, "The Glorified Christ on Patmos," Bibliotheca Sacra 122:487 (July-September 1965):246.]

"This first vision of John, then, included an indication of Jesus’ Messianic office with its associated functions: judgment of the unrighteous and comfort of the suffering righteous, His high rank that fits Him as an agent of imposing divine wrath, His activity in imposing that wrath, His preexistence along with God the Father, His penetrating intelligence that enables Him to perform righteous judgment, His movement among the churches to enforce standards of moral purity, His identification with the Father in the power of His utterance, His authority over the seven messengers and the churches they represent, His power to overcome His enemies and pronounce judgment upon them, and His return to earth to implement judgment upon mankind." [Note: Idem, Revelation 1-7, p. 105.]

It is primarily as Judge that Jesus Christ appears in Revelation (cf. Matthew 3:11). He judges the churches (chs. 2-3), the whole earth (chs. 4-16), Babylonianism (chs. 17-18), world rulers at Armageddon (Revelation 19:19-21), and Satan (Revelation 20:1-3; Revelation 20:10). He also judges the earth during the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6), the rebellious earth at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-9), and all the unsaved dead (Revelation 20:11-15). The first 20 chapters of the book deal with judgment and the last two with the new creation.

Verse 17

This revelation of Jesus Christ in His unveiled glory took all the strength out of John. He could not stand in the presence of such a One. Paul had a similar experience on the Damascus road (Acts 9:4; cf. Job 42:5-6; Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 8:17; Daniel 10:5-20). However the glorified Christ laid His comforting, powerful hand on John and encouraged him to stop fearing (cf. Jesus’ action following the Transfiguration, Matthew 17:7). He introduced Himself as the self-existent, eternal One. "I am" recalls Jesus’ claims in the Gospels (cf. Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20; John 8:58) and connects Him with Yahweh (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 48:12). The title "the first and the last" is essentially the same as "the Alpha and the Omega" (Revelation 1:8) and "the beginning and the end" (Revelation 22:13). All three titles stress the eternal sovereignty of God. The consoling words, "Do not be afraid," came from a sovereign being. [Note: Mounce, pp. 80-81.]

Verses 17-20

3. The amplification of the commission 1:17-20

John’s response to this revelation was similar to Daniel’s response to the vision God gave him (cf. Daniel 10:7-9). Jesus then proceeded to give John more information about what He wanted him to do.

Verse 18

Jesus also presented Himself as the resurrected One and the One with authority over the state of death and the place of the dead (cf. Psalms 9:13; Psalms 107:13; Isaiah 38:10; Matthew 16:18; John 5:28). He may have personified Death and Hades here (cf. Revelation 6:8). John saw his beloved teacher of Galilee, on whose chest he had laid his head, in an entirely different light than he had seen Him before, except in His transfiguration (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; cf. Revelation 4:10; Revelation 10:6).

Verse 19

Jesus Christ repeated His instruction to John to write down the things God was revealing to him (Revelation 1:11). The repetition of ’write’ from Revelation 1:11 indicates that the ’therefore’ is resuming the earlier command where it left off. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 113.] Now Jesus gave John more specific instructions.

This verse provides an inspired outline of the Book of Revelation. Some of what John was to record he had already seen, namely, the Man standing among the seven golden lampstands with the seven stars in His hand (Revelation 1:12-16). Some had to do with present conditions in the churches as exemplified by the seven churches (chs. 2-3). Some had to do with revelations about the times after conditions represented by the seven churches ended (chs. 4-22). [Note: See idem, "John’s Apocalyptic Outline," Bibliotheca Sacra 123:492 (October-December 1966):334-41.] Beale, who described himself as an "eclectic idealist," held that all three clauses refer to the entire book. [Note: Beale, pp. 48, 168.]

Verse 20

Jesus Christ then interpreted the meaning of some of the symbolic things John had seen. They were mysteries, revelations previously unclear until the Lord interpreted them for John. The seven stars represented the messengers of the seven churches. These may have been their angelic guardians. [Note: Swete, p. 22; Smith, pp. 57-58; Ladd, p. 35; Beale, p. 217.] Some interpreters have taken these angels as expressions of the prevailing spirit that characterized each church. [Note: E.g. Morris, p. 57; Mounce, p. 82.] Others view them as the human representatives or leading elders (pastors) of these churches, though "angel" is a strange term to describe an elder. These were probably men such as Epaphroditus, Tychicus, and Onesimus, who went to Rome to visit Paul in prison and carried messages from him to churches (Philippians 4:18; Colossians 4:7-9). Such representatives may have come to Patmos to visit John and could have carried Revelation back with them to their respective congregations. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 116-19. See my comments on 2:1.] The Greek word angeloi ("angels") frequently refers to human messengers (e.g., Matthew 11:10; Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52; 2 Corinthians 8:23; James 2:25).

The lampstands figuratively supported the corporate witness of the Christians in each church as they lived in a dark world (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).

God interpreted many of the symbols He used in Revelation elsewhere in Scripture. Correct interpretation of this book, therefore, depends on knowledge of the rest of God’s previously given revelation. This is also true of every other book of the Bible but to a lesser degree.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.