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Bible Commentaries

Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 1

Introduction

3. It is Important for the reader to realize that the book deals with THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN ERA--from the Pentecost--beginning of the church in Acts chapter 2 to the climax and end of creation.

4. It is important to realize that the VISIONS of the Book ARE PARALLEL, NOT SUCCESSIVE.

One vision brings us to the verge of the final coming of Christ and so closes. Then another vision opens looking at THE SAME EVENTS from a different standpoint. The book has a message for every age, past, present and future. The book reveals principles which are in action in every age. The great purpose of the book of Revelation is to assure the church and the Christian of THE ADVENT (The Coming) of JESUS CHRIST IN VICTORY. If we had to find a different title for the book of Revelation it would be "THE BOOK OF THE COMING OF CHRIST." "HE COMES" is the central message of the book, and His coming means the victory of Christ over all evil.

To a church which was expecting the IMMEDIATE FINAL COMING OF CHRIST John gives in this book this word of caution, "NOT YET, NOT YET." Victory will come, but only in God’s good time. Christ will come in the constant daily experience of individual Christians to encourage, strengthen and sustain them in every trial. Christ does come in the daily experience of individual Christians. He fulfills His promise of Matthew 28:20 "Lo, I am with you always."

This book reminds Christians that they are never alone--that in daily experience Christ comes to help, encourage, sustain. And this book clearly describes Jesus Christ as one who comes into the midst of His church to guide, strengthen and bless.

And this book tells also that there will yet be the final coming of Christ and climax of human history.

We do not attempt to deal with every word or detail of the Revelation to John in our treatment in this book, but we can give in broad outline an idea to ordinary readers of HOW to read and interpret it so that future reading of the book of Revelation will be a rich and inspiring experience.

Whatever the fluctuations of hope and despair--whatever be the rise and fall of earthly governments, of social and political systems of society--whatever the struggles between good and evil, faith and unbelief, the reading of the book of Revelation will sustain faith even in a context of a pagan hostile world. The book is not a museum to satisfy the archaeologist in prophecy IT IS A BOOK OF LIVING PRINCIPLES AT WORK IN HUMAN SOCIETY. It tells how always CHRIST COMES healing, helping, sustaining and leading on to FINAL and ULTIMATE VICTORY. And always there are depths of truth which lie beneath the surface of a seemingly simple word or sentence of the book which will unfold greater lessons when we ourselves reach a further stage in life’s experience (when we are ready to receive it)--it is the most wonderful book in the world.

The book of Revelation, then, is ABOUT GOD’S PLAN AND PURPOSE, AND ITS MESSAGE IS FOR EACH AND EVERY GENERATION.

5. Clearly, the Book is written in SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE. It is a type of literature which was in common use in John’s day. It was used in times of persecution when it was not safe to pass on a message of Christian faith and hope in plain language as the foes of the church would have destroyed such a plain message.

It was literature composed of SYMBOLS which Christians versed in the Old Testament Scriptures would understand, but non-Christians did not understand because they did not have the KEY to the meaning of the SYMBOLS used. Christians had the KEY to the meaning of the symbols. The book of Revelation will become "the book with a blessing" to us when we find the KEY to understand the meaning of the symbols used in it.

The book of Revelation could be described as WRITING IN CODE. Like any code used by armies at war the message had no meaning to the enemy who does not possess the KEY to the code. To know the message of the book of Revelation one must KNOW the KEY, and one must USE the Key CONSISTENTLY.

At the time of John’s writing there was fierce persecution of the Christian church. Imperial Rome held sway over the world and required that all people worship the emperor of Rome as both king and God. Christians worshipped Christ as King and God. Christians refused to worship the Roman emperor.

John himself was a prisoner of Rome on the island of Patmos separated from his beloved fellow Christians. He wanted to get a message to his fellow persecuted Christians to encourage them,--to remind them that Caesar worship was wrong--that Caesar was not eternal--and that Jesus Christ will prevail. He wanted to tell Christians that Caesar worship would come to an end. John’s message would be regarded as treason by his Roman captors if they understood it. A message such as John--had to give would have been confiscated by the Roman authorities before it left Patmos if written in plain ordinary language. So John wrote his message in CODE the symbols of which were based in the Jewish Old Testament scriptures and which Christians versed in the scriptures would understand. They had the Key to the code in their understanding of the Old Testament symbols. But the pagan Roman authorities not having this KEY to the code would not understand the message. John’s Apocalypse is written in the same manner as modern armies who use codes. If the enemy lacks the KEY to the code the message is only understood by those for whom it is intended.

In 1944 a German pastor saw sitting in the front row in church the members of the Gestapo. They came because they were suspicious as to what the pastor was preaching about Hitler and the Third Reich. The pastor realized that he needed to use language and figures of speech which his congregation versed in the scriptures would understand, but which members of the Gestapo would regard as gibberish. So he used the language of Revelation chapter 13 about a strange wild beast--part Leopard, part Bear, part Lion, and of a little horn that spoke blasphemy, and of the wild beast which had already received its death wound. The pastor told of "The Ancient of Days" sitting in judgment on His throne. His hair was white as wool and His eyes flashed like fire and He destroyed the enemies with the two-edged sword of His tongue. The congregation said "Amen." The members of the congregation understood the message of their minister because they had the KEY to it. The congregation left the church meeting with courage to be loyal to Christ whose purposes would be fulfilled though earthly governments which opposed Christ would be destroyed. But the Gestapo did not understand the message. They left the church without seeing the point that the pastor was saying that Hitler would fall. They thought that the pastor was "a queer nut, "Apocalypse in that German church in 1944 was a most helpful literary device. So it was when John used it in A. D. 95.

John was saying to persecuted Christians in his and every age that however bestial human authorities may be they are not eternal. They are only human and will come to an end. God’s kingdom is eternal and will ultimately be victorious.

IN THE LAST VERSE OF CHAPTER 1 JOHN GIVES US THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE SYMBOLS USED THROUGHOUT THE BOOK OF REVELATION.

In 1:20 the first TWO symbols used are explained.

Verse 12--John saw "SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS"--and verse 20 states "THE SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPSTANDS ARE THE SEVEN CHURCHES."

In verse 16 John saw "SEVEN STARS IN CHRIST’S RIGHT HAND"--and in verse 20 Christ states "THE SEVEN STARS ARE THE ANGELS OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES." And having stated that these first two symbols have this meaning John expects his readers to be consistent and to interpret all material things, colors and numbers as symbols. Unless we are consistent in this no sensible interpretation is possible.

So, the book of Revelation is written in symbolic language and assures the church and the Christian of Christ’s coming and victory over all paganism in each and every age.

In addition to the brief study notes on chapter 1 note verse 8, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." This is repeated again in 21:6 and 22:13.

"Alpha" is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. "Beta" is the second. It is from this that we get our word "alphabet." "Alpha" is the first letter, "Omega" is the last letter of the Greek alphabet.

Jesus Christ claims here to be "THE ALPHABET OF LIFE." What the alphabet is to language Jesus Christ is to the business of daily living. He is the beginning--the creator of life--and the sustainer--and the climax of life. As the letters of the alphabet are indispensable to literature so Jesus Christ is essential to all real daily living.

We could spend a long time meditating on the significance of Christ as the "alphabet of Christian living."

Verse 1

1. The very FIRST word tells us WHAT THE BOOK OF REVELATION IS ABOUT, 1:1 "THE REVELATION" The first word is significant.

"Revelation" (in Greek ’Apocalypse’) proves that this book is not meant of be a mysterious book. The meaning of the word "Revelation" is THE UNCOVERING OF THAT WHICH HAS PREVIOUSLY BEEN COVERED--THE DRAWING BACK OF THE VEIL WHICH HAS PREVIOUSLY COVERED SOMETHING--The book is a REVELATION--THE UNVEILING OF GOD’S PLAN AND PURPOSE so that whoever reads this book will find faith and courage to meet all the trials of this present life in a strong and hopeful spirit. It is the Revelation, the drawing back of the curtain which has previously hidden the plan and purpose of God from our human eyes and understanding.

So, the very first word tells us what the book is about.

Verse 3

ONE OF THE SEVEN BEATITUDES OF REVELATION

1.

"Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near." (Revelation 1:3). I bear personal testimony to the fact that a blessing is given to the reader and hearer of John’s book of Revelation. I have been reading the book for 55 years since I found Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord. I, together with many other Christians was puzzled by most of the book because I did not understand the Apocalyptic style of literature in which it was written. Thirty years ago I found the KEY to the interpretation of John’s Apocalypse. Since finding this KEY I have found ever increasing blessing in my reading. Whenever I pick up this book I find new truths in its symbolism which I had not seen previously. It is my experience that any reader who tries to be consistent in interpretation of the symbolism of this book will be blessed in that study. This is my main reason for sharing my interpretation of this book with you.--I desire that this blessing be yours. John’s Revelation tells in unfamiliar language the eternal message of salvation which is also declared in the rest of the New Testament. It is not so much a picture of events still future as a revelation of a conflict within every man between good and evil which is going on now. This agelong conflict is going on in the world-order, between God and the devil. The thrilling revelation of this book is that it reveals the victory of Christ over all evil in every life which is fully surrendered to Him. This is a book with a rich blessing to the reader who sees in it the revelation of victory now and in the finalities in Jesus Christ.

Verse 4

Verse 4.

"John to the 7 churches"

The number "7" always symbolical of the PERFECT, THE UNIVERSAL, indicates not merely "7" churches in Asia but THE WHOLE, THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH IN ALL AGES. There were more than 7 churches in Asia in John’s day. Every congregation in every age may find its likeness here. "And from the 7 spirits" Again, God, The Holy Spirit perfect, working in and through His church.

Verse 5

Verse 5.

Jesus is described as "HIM THAT LOVED US" in the A.V. that is grand. "He loved us." But the R.S.V. is a better translation and is grander "HE LOVES US" Not only HAS Jesus loved us in the past, but His love is PRESENT still. "He loves us" now, and to the end. And not only does He love us but the verse says "He loosed us" (A.V.) "He freed us from our sins" (R.S.V.). Not only has Jesus WASHED away the GUILT of our sins, but grander still He has FREED US from the power of sin. Do we readers know this full redemption of verse 5? Do we know that Jesus loves us today? And have we found His POWER keeping us free from the domination of sin in our daily life? If we find only this one glorious truth in the book of Revelation, and fail to understand anything else in this difficult book, then we will indeed have found already a great blessing from reading this wonderful book.

Verse 9

Verse 9.

"I John, your brother, who shares with you in Jesus the tribulation . . ." The language proves that the 22 chapters of the book of Revelation is not dealing only with FUTURE events. John was sharing the tribulations described in this book when he wrote it.

At the time of John’s writing there was fierce persecution of the Christian church. Imperial Rome held sway over the world and required that all people worship the emperor of Rome as both king and God. Christians worshipped Christ as King and God. Christians refused to worship the Roman emperor.

John himself was a prisoner of Rome on the island of Patmos separated from his beloved fellow Christians. He wanted to get a message to his fellow persecuted Christians to encourage them,--to remind them that Caesar worship was wrong--that Caesar was not eternal--and that Jesus Christ will prevail. He wanted to tell Christians that Caesar worship would come to an end. John’s message would be regarded as treason by his Roman captors if they understood it. A message such as John--had to give would have been confiscated by the Roman authorities before it left Patmos if written in plain ordinary language. So John wrote his message in CODE the symbols of which were based in the Jewish Old Testament scriptures and which Christians versed in the scriptures would understand. They had the Key to the code in their understanding of the Old Testament symbols. But the pagan Roman authorities not having this KEY to the code would not understand the message. John’s Apocalypse is written in the same manner as modern armies who use codes. If the enemy lacks the KEY to the code the message is only understood by those for whom it is intended.

Verse 13

In verse 13 John saw the UNIVERSAL CHURCH AS A SEVEN BRANCHED GOLDEN LAMPSTAND. Verse 20 states "The 7 lampstands are the 7 churches" (the universal church). In verse 20 "STARS" are described as "ANGELS." There are various views as to the meaning of the word "angels" here. The simplest seems to be that they are the churches themselves in their ministry as "messengers" of the gospel.

In chapter 1 let our minds rest in Verse 13.

1. THE 7 BRANCHED LAMPSTAND.

What a picture of the universal church! A lampstand, a vessel holding oil enabling light to shine out. Such is Christ’s picture of a congregation. He intends EACH member to be a giver of light "to shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life." Is that what we are?

2. And there, "IN THE MIDST OF THE CHURCH IS CHRIST HIMSELF."

Verses 13-20 describes Christ in the midst of the universal church. We recall that in Matthew 28:20 Jesus promised "Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the world." It is His unseen, spiritual, real presence in His church that is symbolised in Revelation 1:13-20. John saw Christ clothed as the high-priest in these verses and we interpret the meaning of his symbolism like this (See next verse comment)

Verses 14-16

(1) His HOLINESS (verse 14) is indicated by His "WHITE HAIR." With what humility should we act in congregational worship when we remember the holiness of our Lord who is in our midst!

(2) His GAZE (verse 14) "His EYES were LIKE AFLAME OF FIRE." What a difference there would be sometimes if we remembered always that Christ’s "eyes like a flame of fire" search out all the hidden secrets of our hearts!

(3) His FEET (verse 15) "like burnished bronze" tell of Christ’s unwearied endurance.

(4) His VOICE (verse 15) "like the sound of many waters." Christ’s voice to be listened to above the voices of preachers, readers, singers--like the voice of ocean waves irresistible and strong on the shores of every continent.

(5) His "RIGHT HAND HOLDING THE SEVEN STARS" (verse 16)

Verse 20 explicitly explains that "the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches."

We understand this to be a reminder that by His right hand (THAT IS BY HIS POWER) Christ holds and sustains His church as she is His MESSENGER (His angel) in spreading the gospel.

(6) His WORD (verse 16) "from His mouth issued a SHARP TWO-EDGED SWORD."

The word of His mouth is TWO-EDGED--that is, if not turned to blessing and salvation by acceptance, then turning to judgment and destruction by the rejection of His word. How differently we would listen in church worship if we realized that above the words spoken by human lips are His words--the words of Christ the Lord--two-edged, by our acceptance turning to blessing and salvation, by our rejection turning the other edge of judgment and destruction!

(7) His FACE (verse 16) "was like the sun shining in full strength" The light which can drive the darkness of sin from the sinner’s heart, and can cheer the fainting Christian! We should be conscious of that face uplifted on us as we worship so that our hearts begin "to burn within us" as He makes us glad with the joy of His countenance, until the day when we shall see Him face to face without the need of any symbolism.

Verse 19

2. It is important that we realize that THE BOOK DEALS WITH WHAT IS TAKING PLACE NOW AS WELL AS WHAT WILL TAKE PLACE IN THE FUTURE. In the first verse John reminds us that he was given a revelation of "what must soon take place."

In verse 19 John is told to write "what you see, what IS, and what is to take place hereafter."

So, the book of Revelation is about things WHICH ARE NOW TAKING PLACE. "The things which are."Also "things which are to take place hereafter." Verses 1, 3 and 19 of the first chapter make plain the fact that the book of Revelation has a message for EVERY generation. For NOW as well as the events of John’s day in the past or events still future.

Verse 20

AND IN THE LAST VERSE OF THIS CHAPTER JOHN GIVES US THE KEY TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE WHOLE BOOK OF REVELATION.

Christ takes the FIRST TWO SYMBOLS AND TELLS US WHAT THEY MEAN (just as He took His first two parables and explained them).

"The 7 Lampstands are 7 churches," He stated. "and the 7 stars in His right hand are the 7 angels (the messengers) of the 7 churches."

John is told to write "the revelation" (the unveiling) of things which human minds unaided could never grasp. The whole story is in this book of the church’s struggles, in John’s day, in our own day, and in the final outcome of victory through much tribulation.

So, the first chapter teaches us what to expect in the rest of the book of Revelation--It will record the struggle of the church in this world, always within the church Christ is present. The Head of the church is not severed from the body. The book will tell of the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan, of sin beaten and Satan bound. The book will be the unfolding not of a fairy-tale but of a dream which came from God. It will tell the story of the church as she journeys through the wilderness of this world to the land of promise, encountering many foes but more than conqueror through Christ who loves her. The first chapter reminds us that we are about to study the fortunes of the church on earth which will include within it’s scope the final purposes of God for His creation.

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Bibliographical Information
Norris, Harold. "Commentary on Revelation 1". "Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/nor/revelation-1.html. 2021.