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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

God gave this Revelation to Jesus Christ so that He might, as the Son of Man, communicate this to His servants. It is He who has been entrusted with the restitution of all things, and is therefore given this revelation to show to His servants the things soon to take place. Only as servants will we be shown these things. Although all believers are servants of Jesus Christ, yet we must be servants in practice if we are to properly understand Revelation. A servant above all is obedient. Thus, the measure of our obedience will be the measure of our understanding.

An angel instead of the Lord Himself is used to communicate (or signify) this to John (v. 1). This implies that there is some distance between the Lord and the people, for He is seen as judging every action, every principle according to pure truth. A judge while on the bench is not free to show his affections even to his family. The angel communicated or signified this by signs (as indicated by the Greek word). Revelation is largely a book of signs (illustrative picture language). This does not mean that we can interpret them as we please, for a sign means what God intends by it and the meaning of the signs is virtually always explained elsewhere in scripture, though not every time the sign is used.

In verse 2 John bears witness to the Word of God (the vital spring from which everything must flow) and to the testimony of Jesus Christ (the manifestation of God's will in this once humbled but now exalted Man). As to these things John testified of what he saw: there was absolute certainty of its truth. Verse 3 pronounces a special blessing on those who hear, read and keep the words of this prophecy-special because the time of its fulfillment is near. As the time nears we should be more concerned to know better what God reveals as to the near future, so that it might have a proper effect in our present conduct. Prophecy is not merely for our entertainment, but for our solid, practical benefit in deeper appreciation of Christ and living for Him.

The Seven Churches in Asia Addressed

In verse 4 John begins writing to the seven churches (or assemblies) in the Roman province of Asia Minor (present day Turkey). They were literal assemblies at the time, but chosen by God as representing the entire Church of God in all its history on earth. This will be more clearly seen in chapters 2 and 3. He addresses them with a greeting of grace and peace from the eternal God who fills the present, the past and the future; and also from the seven spirits before His throne. Compare Isaiah 11:2 where the Spirit of the Lord is said to be "the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord." The lampstand in the tabernacle represents this, the central stem being "the Spirit of the Lord" and the other six stemming from this. Compare Revelation 4:5.

"And from Jesus Christ." He is the unique Man who is God's fellow, the one faithful witness of God and for God in the world, the firstborn from the dead. As such He is the supreme Head of a new creation. Adam was head of the first creation (Genesis 1:28), but his sin ruined it. Christ has come into it, has died to make atonement for sin and has risen again as the Head of a new creation, and every believer already shares in the blessing of this (2 Corinthians 5:17). "And the ruler over the kings of the earth." He has a dignity and honor above all the administrative rule of earth's kings. Then His love and sacrifice for us are spoken of, the means by which we have ourselves become a kingdom, priests to God and His Father. The kingdom speaks of public testimony; priesthood of nearness to God. Well might this blessed Man of God's counsels be given "glory and dominion forever and ever."

Verse 7 refers to Christ's coming in great power and glory at the end of the Tribulation Period. This is not the rapture of the Church, which takes place at least seven years previously (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), yet the Church bears witness to the world about this great coming of the Lord in power that all the world will have to face. Enoch bore witness to the Lord's coming in great glory (Judges 1:14), yet he himself was taken to heaven without dying before the flood of Noah came (Genesis 5:23-24). The flood of Noah is typical of the coming Tribulation. At the end of this awesome Tribulation period the Lord Jesus will be manifested and His saints manifested with Him (Colossians 3:4; Revelation 19:11-16). Every eye will see Him. Gentiles will be awestruck, many with abject terror because of their callous unbelief. Those also who pierced Him, the tribe of Judah (Zechariah 12:10-11), and all the tribes of the land of Israel will wail in broken humiliation because of their former unbelief toward Him. The book of Revelation centers around the truth of verse 7, but the blessing of the Church, of ourselves, is established (vv. 5-6) before this great event is mentioned.

In verse 8, this blessed Man Christ Jesus affirms Himself to be the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He had no beginning, for He is the beginning: He has no end, for He is the end. He is the Almighty from eternity to eternity. Some have claimed that this must refer only to God, not to Christ, but Revelation 22:12-13; Revelation 22:16 proves that this refers positively to Jesus the Son of God and adds its absolute seal to the truth of the great Godhead glory of the Lord Jesus.

John's Vision of One Like Unto the Son of Man

John, though over ninety years old and suffering banishment in the Isle of Patmos for Christ's sake and for the Word of God, speaks only of his tribulations as making him a companion of other saints of God (verse 9). There is no suggestion here either of self-exaltation or of self-pity. "The kingdom and patience of Jesus" beautifully describes the character of the kingdom at present in contrast to the manifested glory of His kingdom in the millennium. The Lord Jesus will have a kingdom of great magnificence for 1000 years when Israel and the nations bow to Him in full subjection after the Great Tribulation. Meanwhile He has a kingdom in an inconspicuous form composed of all who on earth today acknowledge Him as Lord. This is at a time when He is publicly rejected and is waiting patiently for the day of His public coronation. His present kingdom therefore is connected with His admirable patience, and every believer is privileged to share in this, as John was sharing in suffering for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus.

John was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day (v. 10). This is not the same expression as "the day of the Lord," but refers to the literal Lord's Day, the first day of the week. Being an exile, he would greatly miss the gathering of the Lord's people to the name of the Lord (Matthew 18:20) and specially so on the Lord's Day. The Lord graciously gave him something to compensate for this: he heard a loud voice as of a trumpet behind him. This implies a clear public declaration.

The voice tells him to write in a book what he now sees and send it to the seven assemblies in Asia (v. 11) which were literal local assemblies, but which also represent the history of the entire Church from its inception until the coming of the Lord. Asia means "the miry land," a significant suggestion of the Church's entanglement in the mire of the world. These addresses to the assemblies seek to liberate God's people from these unscriptural entanglements. The reason for the order of names will be seen in Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22.

The great voice causes John to turn to see seven golden lampstands (v. 12) and One like the Son of Man standing in the midst of the lampstands (v. 13). The word "like" implies the fact that He is greater than merely "the Son of Man," though He is certainly this also. The seven churches formed roughly a circle in Asia Minor, and the Lord Jesus is seen in the midst, the only Center whom God allows for His Church worldwide. There follows a nine-fold description of His glory. His long garment speaks of His priestly character. As Priest He is not interceding, but judging, just as the priest was to discern and judge in regard to leprosy (Leviticus 13:1-59). His breasts bound with a golden girdle intimate that His affections are not free to be expressed, but are restrained by the greater consideration of the glory and righteousness of God of which gold speaks. This is the motive of the solemn service that engages Him.

His head and His hair being white like wool, as white as snow (v. 14), speak of Him as "the ancient of days" (Daniel 7:22) who has the wisdom of eternal experience, wisdom that acts in perfect purity. His eyes as a flame of fire denotes the penetrating holiness of His discernment: nothing is hid from those eyes of pure truth. Proverbs 20:8 refers specially to Him: "A king who sits on the throne of judgment scatters all evil with His eyes."

Copper and fire are often united in scripture, as in verse 15), both speaking of the holiness of God, for copper is the fiery color. In burning holiness He will subdue all things under His feet. The tremendous power of His voice is likened to many waters, with its irresistible, awe-inspiring resonance. It is no longer a voice of gentle grace heard only by His own sheep (John 10:27), but that which will be heard by every ear in the whole universe.

In His capable right hand are seven stars (the angels of the seven churches) which speak of the reality of heavenly character in those who take a responsible place in those seven assemblies, in contrast to earthly mindedness. This speaks therefore of His power to sustain such reality in spite of every contrary thing. The sharp two-edged sword proceeding from His mouth (v. 16) symbolizes His ability to precisely distinguish between every matter that must be judged. His Word carries out the judgment in perfect consistency with the moral principles involved, not sparing evil in one direction or another. The final characteristic is the most absolute testimony to His deity. His countenance shines as the sun at the peak of its radiance. The full glory of God shines in His face so brilliantly that no human eye can endure looking directly at it.

Little wonder that John falls at His feet as though dead (v. 17). It is a vision utterly subduing even to one who had reclined on His breast sixty years earlier (John 13:23). Such prostration of the creature is due only to God, his Creator. The Lord does not refuse it, as does a mere angel (Revelation 22:8-9). Yet with tender compassion the Lord lays His right hand of power on John, bidding him not to fear. Still He affirms the greatness of His divine glory. He is the first and the last (cf. vv. 8, 11) and the living One. In Him life is seen in its perfection and fulness: He is the very source of life.

Yet as He says, He became dead (v.18), for in manhood He assumed a body capable of dying, in which He bore our sins. None could take His life from Him: He laid it down of Himself (John 10:17-18). But He is alive forevermore. Of course as God He could never die: now also as glorified Man He can never again die. In fact He Himself has the keys of hades and of death. He has total authority in regard to hades, the "unseen" state of the spirit and soul when the death of the body has taken place, and the same authority over death, the condition or state of the body when the spirit and soul have departed. This is a divine prerogative: He is able to change these conditions according to His own will.

The Key to Dividing Revelation

How worthy is He to command John as He does, to write of "the things which you have seen"-a reference to Revelation 1:1-20 -and also of "the things which are" which is a clear reference to the present dispensation of the Church. Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22, the addresses to the seven churches, embrace this important second division of Revelation. "The things which will take place after this" form the third division and plainly refer to the remainder of the book, as Revelation 4:1 affirms. From that point the Church is never again seen on earth, for that verse symbolizes her removal to the heavenly presence of her Lord.

The Mystery of the Seven Stars

Verse 20 declares the mystery of the seven stars and the seven golden lampstands. Such inspired explanations in this book provide keys by which the truth may be fully opened and understood. The seven lampstands speak of the seven churches or local assemblies, the vessels of public testimony intended for the glory of God (gold). The stars are the angels of the seven churches, to whom the messages are directly addressed in Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22. It is not said that a literal angel has charge of each local assembly, but the stars indicate a heavenly character, as do the angels, and this points to the reality of faith and spiritual exercise seen in those who accept responsibility in the assembly, those of whom we read at the end of each address: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Since he is the one who is to hear, it must follow that it is he who is addressed as "the angel." Let each of us be concerned to have such a character of heavenly-mindedness as to be deeply exercised by these things.

Though this book is signified by a literal angel to John, yet at the beginning John is directly given this great vision of the glory of the Lord, with the Lord speaking directly to him. Though an angel is used of God in what follows, there is to be no doubt remaining that he is communicating the word of the Lord.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Revelation 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/revelation-1.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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