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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 1

 

 

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Verse 1

‘And he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John.’

The meaning is ‘signified, revealed through signs’. The book constantly uses symbolism to get over its message. We are left to interpret that symbolism carefully and thoughtfully recognising that it is a message from Christ Himself.

‘By his angel’. The message was considered so important that it was committed to a special angelic messenger. ‘His angel’ means simply the messenger whom God chose.

‘To his servant John’. The early church accepted that this was John the Apostle which was why the book was accepted. He is described as Christ’s ‘servant’. We can compare this with Paul’s constant claim to be ‘the servant of Jesus Christ’ (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1) and a ‘servant of God’ (Titus 1:1). James says that he is ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (James 1:1), as do Peter (2 Peter 1:1) and Jude (Jude 1:1). Revelation similarly uses this title of Christians as a title of honour.


Verse 2

‘Who bore witness of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw.’

John regularly begins his writings with reference to Him Who is the Word of God (John 1:1-14; 1 John 1:1-4) and Who is Himself the fullest expression of the word of God to man. We are therefore justified here in giving it its twofold meaning. He bore testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Word from God, and he bore testimony to the revelation proceeding from Him, especially this particular revelation. In Revelation Jesus is revealed as the Word from God (Revelation 19:13) and reveals and bears testimony to what is to be.

‘The word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ Jesus spoke of Scripture as ‘the word of God’ (Mark 7:13). All other preaching of the word of God was to be on the basis of that word and thus became, in as far as it was true to it, ‘the word of God’ (Acts 4:31 and often). This book is saturated with references taken from that ‘word of God’ and thus it proclaims it, along with further revelation. The testimony of Jesus Christ includes that testimony of His life and teaching which we now have in the Gospels, as more fully expressed in the glorious figure to Whom we are shortly to be introduced.

‘Of all things that he saw’. The revelation was ‘seen’. These were not just ideas that flowed through his mind. He had ‘visions of God’, visions which brought out a new dimension on Jesus Christ and on the future. And that is what he is testifying to. He is testifying to what he ‘saw’. What he had to say was what God had revealed. Yet as the recorder of those visions he had to select and interpret. Thus we have what came from outside him as interpreted by the Spirit of God within him.


Verse 3

‘Blessed is he who reads, and they who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written in it, for the time is at hand.’

The book was intended to be read to churches and a special blessing is promised to the one who does the reading and to those who receive its message and respond to it. Books to be read in church were those which were seen as the inspired word of God (later a clear distinction would certainly be made between books to be read in the churches because they were accepted as the word of God and those which could be read as spiritually useful but not the word of God). Thus John is claiming that this is the inspired word of God.

‘For the time is at hand.’ It is not a book just about the distant future. It is writing about something of imminent concern for the churches. It has present relevance for them, and its events will apply to their times and their lives.

John begins by describing the source of his revelation.


Verse 4-5

‘John to the seven churches who are in Asia: Grace to you, and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the rulers of the earth.’

This greeting is so full of significance that it requires careful examination.

The book is written to ‘the seven churches who are in Asia’. These were individual churches probably selected because they illustrated the conditions John wants to draw out, but their number as seven, the number of divine perfection, points to the fact that they are seen as representing the whole church. This is confirmed in that they are seven lampstands (Revelation 1:20) which parallel the sevenfold lampstand in the Tabernacle. They are God’s witness and His light shines out through them to the world.

1) ‘From him who is and who was and who is to come.’ In this description of God, the order is significant. While He is saying that past, present and future are in His hands because He is personally present in all three, He is also placing the stress on the fact that He is the ‘One Who is’. He Who was responsible for the past and Who controls the future, is the Ever Existing One Who is present with them in whatever present situation that they face so that they need have no fear. As at the Exodus, when, as the ‘I am’, He guaranteed to deliver His people from their great tribulation (Exodus 3:14), so here as the ‘I am’ He will again deliver His people from the tribulation that is coming. They can therefore rest assured that in all their tribulations He is ‘the One Who is there’.

2) ‘And from the seven spirits who are before his throne’. In the light of the content of the book this must refer to the seven angels who blow the seven trumpets, ‘the seven angels who stand before God’ (Revelation 4:5; Revelation 8:2), for we know that angels are also called ‘ministering spirits’ (Hebrews 1:14). We can compare the usage here with 1 Timothy 5:21 where God, Christ Jesus and the ‘elect angels’ are also mentioned together, and how the angels are brought in in Revelation 3:5 along with the Father. These seven angels are the ones who will issue in the judgments of God, and they are here shown to be on the side of His people. Because of their special and central part in what lies ahead they are included in the greeting to show their special concern for God’s people.

John may well have in mind the seven ‘angels of the Presence’ of Judaism but if so he is concerned not to name them. (Later they would be known as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, Remiel, but these are in the main traditional not Scriptural names). One of these was ‘Michael the archangel’ (Jude 1:9 compare Revelation 12:7), ‘one of the chief princes’ (Daniel 10:13), and the special prince of Israel (Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1), and another was ‘Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God’ (Luke 1:19). (The apocryphal book of Tobit mentions Raphael as ‘one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the holy ones and go in before the glory of the Holy One’ (Tobit 12:15), giving us an indication of certain Jewish beliefs at that time). The point of these words is to remind the churches that all the forces of Heaven are behind them, as they were behind Elisha (1 Kings 6:17).

These seven spirits of God are described as ‘seven lamps of fire burning before the throne of God’ (Revelation 4:5). We can compare this with Hebrews 1:7 where the writer says ‘he makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire’ (Hebrews 1:7). This fire is representative of purity and fiery purpose.

They are also ‘sent out into all the earth’ (Revelation 5:6). It is not necessary to assume that they are the same as the seven angels of the seven churches described as stars in Christ’s right hand (Revelation 1:20), for this latter indicates that every church has an angel watching over it, and seven angels are mentioned because there are seven churches (compare Matthew 18:10). The guardian angels were not limited to seven.

That it is not the Holy Spirit Who is referred to comes out in that:

a) The Holy Spirit is never linked with God the Father and Jesus Christ in a greeting elsewhere.

b) The Holy Spirit would not be ‘before the throne’ which is the position of servants (compare the seven angels who stand before God (Revelation 8:2) whoareservants of God).

c) Angels are regularly called ‘spirits’ (Hebrews 1:7; Hebrews 1:14; Psalms 104:4; 1 Kings 22:21; Revelation 5:6).

d) Even given the meaning of the term seven as signifying divine perfection and completeness, it is difficult to see how the Holy Spirit could be called ‘seven spirits’, especially when they are described as seven lamps of fire before the throne of God (Revelation 4:5) and ‘seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth’ (Revelation 5:6). This compares with the ‘seven eyes of YHWH which run to and fro through the whole earth’ of Zechariah 4:10, compare Zechariah 3:9 where it is extremely unlikely that it refers to ‘the Spirit of YHWH’.

This is especially true in that in Revelation 3:1 the seven spirits are active along with, and parallel, (or possibly are the same as by translating ‘the seven spirits of God, even the seven stars’) the seven stars which are the seven angels of the churches. There clearly are seven angels of the churches, which suggests that there are also seven spirits.

e) The seven spirits are mentioned after the twenty four elders and before the four living creatures in Revelation chapter 4, which does not accord with them signifying the Holy Spirit. What the verse is saying is that God is depicted as being there, along with His seven chief assistants who will have a major part in what is to come, in a book full of God’s use of assistants, ready for action. It then centres in on Jesus Christ as the great Mediator, the other important figure in the book.

f). In contrast the Holy Spirit is revealed as speaking to each of the churches (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:29; etc) as an individual. He also speaks in Revelation 22:18. Compare how John is ‘in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10), and John was in the Spirit when he was taken up into heaven (Revelation 4:2; compare also Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10). So in these cases the Spirit is seen as one Spirit.

3) ‘And from Jesus Christ who is the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth.’ This phrase sums up the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ, and encourages His people.

He is ‘the faithful witness’, the One Who fully made God known to men and Who witnessed faithfully even to death. He is uniquely God’s witness and the prime example of what all who serve God are called to be. There is almost certainly in the phrase an emphasis on His faithful witness through His great suffering and death. He was to be seen as an example to all martyrs.

He was the first to rise again as ‘the firstborn from the dead’. This was ‘the first resurrection’. He led the way from death to life, and because He lives we shall live as well (John 14:19). And others rose with Him as a result of His resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53). He is thus the guarantee that all His people too will rise when all is over. But Scripture emphasises that just as those Old Testament saints did, we already live and share in His resurrection life (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:7; Colossians 3:1-2; Galatians 2:20). Thus do we partake in the ‘first resurrection’, His resurrection, in which we partake when we become Christians, raised into heavenly places in Christ to share His throne (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1), and in which the martyrs have their full share (Revelation 20:5). Later we will partake in a resurrection in a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44) which is the consummation of what we already have in Christ. He was the firstfruits of all those who sleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).

The term ‘firstborn’ signifies not only precedence but also pre-eminence and unique relationship. Thus He is the firstborn of all creation - Colossians 1:15. And He is now over all, exalted at God’s right hand as ruler of the rulers of the earth, as one day His people will also be, whatever men may seek to do to them.

Compare here Psalms 89:27; Psalms 89:37 where all three titles are used of the Davidic king. Their use here stresses that He is great David’s greater son, the heavenly Messiah. Important for all to recognise here is that He is therefore alive and Ruler over persecuting kings, including the Roman emperors and their successors through history.


Verse 5-6

‘To Him who loves us (present tense), and freed us from our sins by (en) His blood (aorist tense), and made us to be a Kingdom, even priests to His God and Father, to Him be the glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen.’

At the thought of what Jesus has done for us John now bursts into praise. The tenses are significant. His love is continuous, unceasing and unfailing, never ending (present tense). His work of freeing from sin was accomplished once for all (aorist tense) at the cross where He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever (Hebrews 10:12).

He has also ‘made us to be a kingdom’. He is the King we are His kingdom, we belong to Him in close connection. His kingdom are His people. ‘Even priests.’ Thus are we priests to His God and Father under our great High Priest (1 Peter 2:5), indeed we are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Compare Revelation 5:9 where the kingdom and priests are purchased from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. (We could actually translate ‘a kingdom of priests’ (compare Exodus 19:6) for the author tends to combine two nouns in this way when the second is to be treated as a genitive. Compare Revelation 1:9).


Verse 7

‘Behold He comes with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, including those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so, Amen.’

John now gives us the theme of the book. The book is centred on the Second Coming of Christ, for that is its focal point. In the end all, both believers and persecutors, will see Him in one way or another, for in His coming in glory He will be unavoidable.

But sadly for the great majority, ‘the tribes of the earth’, it will be a time of mourning. The words are based on Zechariah 12:9-10. ‘They will look to him whom they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son’.

Both these verses end in ‘Amen’, the guarantee of their fulfilment. Later the Son of Man will be declared to be ‘the Amen’ (Revelation 3:14), and thus the guarantor of their fulfilment.


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.’

At this point God is seen as dramatically stepping in to make His declaration over the whole revelation, reinforcing John’s words in Revelation 1:4.

Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Thus He is declaring Himself to be the beginning and the ending, the One Who sums up everything in Himself from start to finish. But there may also be the idea that every letter in this revelation comes directly from Him. That each letter is rooted in Him (compare Revelation 22:18-19), as is all that happens.

He is ‘the Almighty’. The word means the all-powerful One, the Omnipotent One. In the Septuagint it translates ‘the God of hosts’, the One Who is over all that is ( Hosea 12:5; Amos 3:13; Amos 4:13; Amos 5:14). He is the One Who ‘forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness and treads on the high places of the earth, the Lord, the God of hosts is his name’ (Amos 4:13).

He is also the ever existing One Who is there with His people, the One Who always was, the One Who always will be. As ‘the One Who is’ He controls history and destinies, as ‘the One Who was’ He created all things and fashioned history, as the One Who ‘is coming’ He sums up the future. And He is the Almighty (compare 2 Corinthians 6:18). All things are in His hands. So as the people of God face up to what is to come they can rest in the confidence of the overall power of their protector, the ruler of time and of history and of all that is and will be.


Verse 9

THE FIRST VISION.

‘I John, your brother, and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patient endurance in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.’

Now begins the first vision. It is written by John to the seven churches of Asia Minor. He is on the isle of Patmos, a small island in the Aegean sea. He describes himself as their brother. This is significant because it is an indication of how closely he is aligning himself with them in what is to come.

He is a ‘partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom (kingly rule) and patient endurance which are in Jesus’. Thus he aligns himself with them in what lies ahead. Tribulation and patient endurance are ever the lot of the Christian (Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3), and this is a main theme of the book. The intermission of the idea of the ‘kingdom’ (kingly rule) stresses that present experience of the kingdom is tied up with tribulation and patient endurance. What they endure for Christ’s sake is confirmation that they are in the kingdom. (We could translate ‘the tribulation of the kingdom’, for that is what is in mind).

He was there ‘for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’. This refers back to Revelation 1:2 where he was there to ‘bear witness of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, even of all things that he SAW’. So the word of God and the testimony of Jesus of which he speaks is descriptive of the things that he ‘saw’, the things that are about to be described. It refers to the coming revelation which he is there to see and receive. But that it sums up Christian testimony is seen by the fact that the people of God who have already died in persecution also did so ‘for the word of God and for the testimony that they held’ (Revelation 6:9).

But bearing witness to the word of God through his visions includes bearing witness to Him Who is the Word of God (Revelation 19:13 compare John 1:1-14; 1 John 1:1). Indeed, in view of the fact that both John’s Gospel and John’s general epistle begin with He Who is ‘the Word’, it may well be we should see ‘the word of God’ in Revelation 1:2 and here as referring to Him Who is ‘the Word of God’. Either way it includes Him for He is the central element in the word of God.

Whether John was there by choice or as a prisoner of the Roman Empire we do not know, although later external testimony suggests the latter. His reference to being a ‘partaker with you in the tribulation’ may hint at this also. But whatever brought him there he is stressing that he was essentially there in God’s purpose, that he might receive God’s revelation.


Verse 10

‘I was in Spirit on the Lord’s day.’

The phrase ‘in Spirit’ refers in Revelation to the work of the Spirit in bringing John to a specific point or place so that he may receive a vision, moving backwards and forwards in space and time (Revelation 4:2; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10). Compare also Ezekiel in Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 11:1; Ezekiel 11:24; Ezekiel 37:1; Ezekiel 43:5.

‘On the Lord’s day.’ This is the only occasion where such a phrase is connected with being ‘in the Spirit’. And this suggests that it is not just a reference to the day on which it happened, for that is never considered important anywhere else, but rather to a reference to where the Spirit took him. Thus we must question whether it means what we call ‘Sunday’.

Sunday is not called ‘the Lord’s day’ (he kyriake hemera) anywhere in Scripture, and as far as we know the term was not elsewhere used in that way until the early second century, when it was possibly by mistaken implication from this book. In fact the technical term in the New Testament for what we call Sunday was ‘the first day of the week’. This was true when 1 Corinthians was written (1 Corinthians 16:2) and also when Luke was writing (Acts 20:7).

So in view of the fact that the phrase ‘in the Spirit’ occurs three times more in Revelation (Revelation 4:2; Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10), in each case when John is introduced to particular revelations, it seems certain that this phrase here refers to such a revelation and this would suggest that the phrase ‘the Lord’s day’ parallels to some extent references to ‘the day of the Lord’, that great day when God would act to bring about His final purposes.

But the change of phraseology prevents direct connection. Had John meant ‘the day of the Lord’ he would have said so. While in Hebrew, and therefore in the Old Testament, a phrase directly parallel to ‘the Lord’s day’ is not linguistically possible, it would have been possible in the New. But when the phrase ‘the day of the Lord’ also occurs in the New Testament, as it often does, it is always in the same form as in the Old Testament. It is a technical term directly imitating the Hebrew. Thus had he meant that John would have used it here.

The fact is that in the New Testament ‘the Lord’s’ always means ‘Christ’s’. Compare for this ‘the Lord’s supper’ (1 Corinthians 11:20), and also see 1 Corinthians 7:22; 1 Corinthians 10:21; 1 Corinthians 11:26; 1 Corinthians 11:29; Galatians 1:19. So this is rather referring to ‘the Lord Christ’s day’, for which compare 1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Corinthians 5:5; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16. This is confirmed by the immediately following vision of Christ as about to act on His day.

So in this vision John is transported to ‘Christ’s day’ or, as he puts it literally, ‘the Lord’s day’, to the time when the Lord Christ is about to have His day, the day awaited from the beginning of time.

This is in contrast with the present time. At present it is ‘man’s day’ (1 Corinthians 4:3 - which is of similar construction) rather than the Lord’s day (1 Corinthians 4:5). But that is now about to pass and man will learn at Christ’s return that man has had his day. So John is brought face to face with the glorified Christ at the point when He is ready to bring this age to completion and to carry out the final judgment.

The Day of Christ differs from the Day of the Lord in that the former refers to the day in terms of Christian accountability whereas the latter refers to the time of God’s judgments on the world, although this latter signifies more than that for it culminates in the new Heavens and the new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13) connecting the two. But John’s message is specifically to Christians and he is concerned to refer the day specifically to them so that it is ‘Christ’s day’ that he refers to.

It should be noted that this reference to time refers only to this particular vision. There are therefore no specific grounds for referring the phrase ‘the Lord’s day’ to any other visions in Revelation, for they move backward and forward in time.

The significance of this first vision is to remind the churches that Christ is coming, that the day of Christ is imminent, and that He is, as it were, poised on the point of returning for His people, something which will encourage them in what lies ahead. It is to remind them that they must therefore be in readiness for that Coming.

Later in Revelation 19 that coming will be described in terms which clearly connect with this vision. So in vision John is taken forward in time (he was not aware of how long it would be) so that he can report back to the churches that he has seen the glory of the Coming One for Whom they are waiting, standing as it were at the gate, ready to return, thus stressing the imminence of His return.


Verse 10-11

‘And I heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet, saying “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamum, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’

Having been thus carried forward to ‘the Lord’s day’ he is initially commanded, by ‘a great voice, as of a trumpet’, to write down what he sees in a ‘book’ and send it to seven churches.

The picture is vivid. John has arrived in the Lord’s day but at first he looks around and sees nothing. And then a voice like a trumpet comes from behind him which makes him turn round, and there before him he sees what he is told to write about, a figure of matchless splendour, whom he recognises as the glorified Jesus, standing among seven lampstands, in readiness for His return.

The voice of a trumpet echoes Exodus 19:16-19 where God spoke with the voice of a trumpet and officially adopted His people in the Lordship covenant treaty containing the ten commandments, with a view to what lay ahead. Here too the Son of Man reminds His churches in the most solemn and powerful manner of His covenant with them, again with a view to what lies ahead. This brings out the solemnity of the moment.

(We must remember here that the ten commandments were in the context of a covenant of grace, very similar in form to the suzerainty treaties of those days. The covenant begins with a description of God’s Name and His gracious acts, describing Who He is and what He has done for them. He then requires in return their response, submission and obedience. It is initially a covenant of grace not a covenant of Law. Its nature was changed by the misinterpretation of later ages).

What John has to write down is ‘what he sees’. That is that the Lord Jesus Christ is poised to return in splendour to have dealings with His people, and that they need to prepare for this occasion. Then he is told to send to the seven churches the messages delivered to him, in the context of this vision. The seven letters containing the messages follow in chapters 2 and 3 and are directly based on the vision. It is clear from this that the description of this magnificent revelation of the returning Christ was also sent with the letters. We have no grounds for denying that these letters actually were sent round the seven churches, for the churches are mentioned in a circular order suitable for visits by a messenger.


Verse 12-13

‘And I turned to see the voice which spoke with me, and having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girded about at the breasts with a golden girdle.’

The seven lampstands are reminiscent of the sevenfold golden lampstand in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-32; Exodus 25:37; Hebrews 9:2) and in the Temple (2 Chronicles 4:7), which was filled with oil and gave light in the tabernacle. It represented God as Israel’s light (compare John 8:12) and Israel as God’s light to the world (compare Matthew 5:14-16).

But just as Israel was supposed to be a light to the world, this task is now placed on the churches. This representation of the church in connection with the sevenfold lampstand of Israel confirms that John and Christ see them as the new Israel. Here however the lampstands are separate, because they represent seven individual churches.

Yet there can be little doubt that we are to see these seven churches as representative of the church as a whole, for the number seven would be seen as the number of divine perfection and completeness. Thus there is diversity in unity, and unity in diversity. The messages are to individual churches, but these seven churches also represent the whole church.

We can also compare with this the sevenfold lampstand connected to the two ‘sons of oil’, the anointed servants of God, in Zechariah 4. There too the two anointed servants of God were to further the purposes of God and, in their case, to build a Temple of God as a witness to the nations in the face of great difficulties and opposition. Here the idea is that the churches, as the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:17; Ephesians 2:21), should be a witness to the nations.

‘And in the middle of the lampstands.’ This stresses that the imminently returning Christ is in a real sense already with His people. Thus later we are told He walks among the lampstands (Revelation 2:1). He stands and walks among them in what they have to endure, loving, empowering, ever watchful, in readiness to bring this age to its conclusion. As He says elsewhere, ‘Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).

‘One like a son of man.’ The reference here is to the heavenly figure mentioned in Daniel 7:13. This is one who comes out of a background of suffering at the end of a long period of tribulation to receive the kingdom and the glory and the dominion. While on earth Jesus constantly referred to Himself as this figure in His use of the term ‘the Son of Man’, but He always referred His ‘glorious appearing’ to the world as in the future. Now by the Spirit John is carried forward to that glorious moment, to witness Christ in readiness for that glorious appearing.

So John is indicating that what he is describing is Jesus in readiness for His appearing as directly connected with the events outlined in Daniel. The ‘one like a son of man’, having received dominion, power and authority on behalf of His suffering people at the resurrection and ascension (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:33; Acts 2:36; Romans 14:9; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25; Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:2-3; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 17:14), and having established the Kingly Rule of God over His people, is now about to introduce the everlasting kingdom. In vision John, carried forward into the future, sees the day of Christ, ‘the Lord’s day’, as having arrived. (This applies only to this vision. It does not necessarily attach to future visions). This is John’s vision. And he has to declare it to the churches.

The people to whom he will write are aware that in ‘the end days’ the people of God would endure great suffering, but that eventually, through their representative, they would achieve final triumph (Daniel 7:27 with Daniel 7:13). So the presentation of a vision of Jesus as having entered the presence of the Ancient of Days, and as being in readiness to bring in the everlasting kingdom, having received everlasting dominion, great glory and a kingdom which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:14), will bolster them up in the suffering they are to face. For while His people may suffer while here on earth, they can then be sure that the Victor stands among them to enable them in their witness (compare Matthew 28:18-19) and to finally bring them to Himself to be with Him where He is (John 14:2-3), sharing His everlasting rule.

But these churches are not told that theirsisthe end of ‘the last days’ which have already begun (Acts 2:16; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Peter 3:3; Hebrews 1:1-2). What is promised is imminence not immediacy. Like Christians of every age they are to live in expectation. Thus this vision of Christ is applicable in every age, and acts constantly as a strengthening and encouragement in whatever God’s people have to face. He, as it were, still stands there like this ready to come.

The garment down to the foot (Revelation 1:13) parallels the description of the High Priestly garment in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:4; Exodus 28:39 LXX). Jesus is here depicted as the great High Priest Who acts on behalf of His people. Additionally the girdle ‘of gold’ stresses His kingship. Thus He is the royal priest, Who represents the churches before God, ever living to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25). And now, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, and having been in the Holy Place on behalf of His people, He is appearing to those who wait for Him, a second time, apart from sin, unto salvation (Hebrews 9:28).

The description that follows is partly based on Ezekiel 43:2 and Daniel 7:9; Daniel 10:6 but we are not to assume that this means that they are representative of the same person. Indeed it is clear that that is not the case. The phraseology is utilised by John because he finds it highly descriptive and fitting to describe the indescribable. (Jesus Christ would not have needed Michael’s help against the ‘prince of Persia’ (Daniel 10:13). The opposite was the case (Jude 1:9)).


Verse 14

‘And his eyes were as a flame of fire.’

Compare Daniel 10:6 where the angel has ‘eyes like flaming torches’. Fire is constantly used to depict visions of the other world, for example on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:17) and in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:27), (for its use of angels compare Hebrews 1:7), because of its unique splendour and purity. Perhaps it has within it here the idea of eyes of piercing judgment, for fire is the supreme tester (1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 2:18; Revelation 19:12).


Verse 15

‘And his voice as the voice of many waters.’

In Ezekiel 43:2 we are told that God’s voice was ‘like the sound of many waters’ as the glory of God came and the earth shone with His glory. This is clearly reflected here. Later the sound of heavenly voices is also described in these terms (Revelation 14:2; Revelation 19:6). So the voice of the ‘son of man’ is as the voice of God and as the voice of a heavenly multitude, demonstrating His supreme power (compare and contrast ‘as of a trumpet’ Revelation 1:10).


Verse 16

‘And he had in his right hand seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was as the sun shines in its strength.’

The idea of the seven stars held in the right hand may have in mind in the background the seven then known planets, the holding in the hand intending to signify the universal rule of Christ over the cosmos, or more likely the seven stars of Pleiades which, with Orion, are especially mentioned as God’s workmanship and are linked with God turning deep darkness into morning, making the day dark with night, pouring the waters of the sea on the face of the earth, and bringing sudden destruction on the strong (Amos 5:8). Thus they are connected with His creative and controlling power. Compare Job 38:31 which mentions ‘the sweet influences of the Pleiades’, thus suggesting heavenly power. These ideas could well immediately spring to the minds of his readers.

But this is immediately applied to the seven angels of the seven churches to whom the letters will be sent (Revelation 1:20). They are the seven stars and the ruler of the cosmos holds the seven angels in His right hand. This would confirm that we are to see in the seven churches the universal church. The fact that they are held in His right hand, His most powerful hand, demonstrates that they are both under His supreme control and under His protection.

The sharp two-edged sword (rompheia here in Revelation) is mentioned in Hebrews 4:12 where the word of God is sharper than a two-edged Sword (machaira), dividing soul and spirit and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. Compare Ephesians 6:17 where the sword (machaira) of the Spirit is the word of God. The different words for sword could be used interchangeably but demonstrate that if this idea is in mind we are dealing here with an idea common in the churches and not with a direct reference to those verses. Interestingly the ‘two-edged sword’ of vengeance in the Old Testament is also both romphaia and machaira in LXX (Psalms 149:6; Proverbs 5:4).

The suggestion is that the word of God proceeds from His mouth, defending and guiding the righteous and cutting through the defences of the wicked. Compare Isaiah 49:2 where the mouth of the coming Servant of God is made ‘like a sharp sword’ (LXX macheira) and Isaiah 11:4 where the coming King will ‘smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips will slay the wicked’. (For general references to the sword (rompheia) as connected with the mouth see Psalms 57:4; Psalms 64:3. In both cases the idea is of sharp words).

We may also compare Isaiah 66:16 where ‘by fire will the Lord plead, and by His sword (LXX rompheia), with all flesh, for the slain of the Lord will be many’, tying in with the eyes of fire and the sword from the mouth and stressing judgment. The lightning in Genesis 3:24 was also like a flaming sword (LXX rompheia), again symbolising judgment but including the protection of God’s holy place. But in Psalms 17:13; Psalms 35:3 LXX the psalmist looks to the sword (rompheia) of the Lord to deliver him from the wicked. So the sword delivers the righteous and judges the undeserving.

‘And his face was as the sun shines in its strength.’ This compares with the Transfiguration where Matthew says ‘His face did shine as the sun’ (Matthew 17:2). The shining of the sun is used as an indication of righteousness in Matthew 13:43. Thus it refers not only to glory but to supreme righteousness. So John draws on many sources, which are clearly known to him, to bring out the glory and divinity of this ‘son of man’.

The vision is vivid. Face shining like the sun, eyes as a flame of fire, hair of the purest whiteness, feet of burning brass, the word of God like a sharp two-edged sword issuing from His mouth, seven shining stars in His right hand, and a voice like the sound of many waters.


Verse 17

‘And when I saw him I fell at his feet as one dead.’

We can compare this with Ezekiel 1:28 where Ezekiel ‘fell on his face’ before God. Here too John is seeing the ‘appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord’, and is traumatised. If we really consider Him Who is seen in the vision we may well do the same. Here again Jesus Christ is paralleled with God.


Verse 17-18

‘And he laid his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, and the living one, I died and, see, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades”.’

Here the glorified Jesus applies to Himself the ideas previously applied to God. For ‘the first and the last’ compare the Alpha and Omega of ‘the Lord God’ in Revelation 1:8, and see Revelation 22:13 where both descriptions are applied to Christ; and the One Who is the first and the last and the living One parallels the One who was, and who is to come, and who is (Revelation 1:4). Compare also Isaiah 44:6 where God is said to be ‘the first and the last’. Jesus Christ is revealed to be on the divine side of reality.

‘The living One.’ He is the One Who had life in the beginning, the One Who has conquered death, the One Who ever lives, and the personification of life itself. Elsewhere He could say ‘I am --- the life’ (John 14:6), and as such He could give life. For even while He was on earth He could say ‘The hour --- now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live’ (John 5:25). How much more in the last day when ‘those who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and will come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done ill to the resurrection of condemnation’ (John 5:25; John 5:28-29).

‘And I have the keys of death and of the afterworld.’ It is as the Living One, Who Himself died, and burst open the gates of death and of the grave, that He has, through His eternal resurrection, received the keys of death and the afterworld so that He can release or imprison in them whom He will. Thus His people need not fear death or the grave, whatever comes, for He controls the entry and exit from both. (‘Hades’ refers to the world of the dead, depicted as ‘beneath’ the earth because it was associated closely with the grave whence bodies went (see Ezekiel 32:18-32). There was no thought of any real existence in it, only a shadowy form).


Verse 19-20

‘Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will happen hereafter, the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands.’

These words have borne a host of interpretations as they have been used as the basis for various theories. But what he is being told to do is fairly simple. He is to write what he has seen - the vision of the glorified Son of Man and the seven golden lampstands - the things that are - the present state and position of the seven churches - and the things that will be hereafter - the impact of coming events on the seven churches, and their final destiny, as will be described in the letters and the remainder of the book.

The word ‘hereafter’ means simply ‘after the present moment’. The letters to the seven churches include descriptions in the future, and things even reaching into eternity. Nothing could be after those. Thus to make ‘hereafter’ mean ‘after the time described in the letters to the seven churches’ is totally artificial. We must therefore seriously dispute the suggestion that it can be given the stressed meaning of ‘after these things’ in the sense that it relegates the happenings to the far future beyond the time span of the seven churches.

It should be noted that these words to some extent parallel the words spoken of God in Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8 but in a different order. The One Who is and Who was and Who is to come, has brought about and will bring about that ‘which you saw, and the things which are and the things that will happen hereafter’. This in itself stresses that ‘the things that are’ refers to the things in being at that time, controlled by the God Who is.

A glance at the letters to the seven churches shows quite clearly that they themselves contain elements which are eternal which will be enjoyed by the overcomers in the seven churches. What could be after those? Besides the letters include descriptions which are dealt with later in Revelation, and consistent exegesis means that we must take the two together. The truth is that the natural translation here is ‘hereafter’, ‘after this point in time’, and ‘the things that are’ means ‘are now’ i.e. the present state of the churches at that point in time. Any other meaning is forced and unnatural.


Verse 20

‘The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches. And the seven lampstands are seven churches.’

What he is to write is here summarised, ‘the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands’. And what is that mystery? That the seven stars in His right hand are the (seven) angels of the seven churches, and the lampstands are the seven churches.

In the Old Testament the sevenfold lampstand was connected with the two sons of oil, the anointed servants of God (Zechariah 4), who received spiritual power from Him. In the New the seven lampstands are connected with seven powerful angels. So the churches can go forward in confident assurance, knowing that the coming Christ is among them and that the angels responsible for their wellbeing are held in His right hand. Though other angels may fail, no one will pluck these from His hand. He has full control over them, as He has over the churches.

In all this there are no grounds for making chapters 4-19 refer to something that only occurs in the distant future. They are, with the exception of the description of the Second Coming itself, (and like Peter and Paul before them they knew that they had no guarantee of survival to that glorious event), something that the churches will themselves experience This is reinforced by what is actually said to the churches, which includes references to later chapters in Revelation.

On the other hand it is not necessary, for this reason, to state that chapter 4-19 referonlyto what will happen to the churchesat that time. That they will happen in their near experience does not exclude their happening again and again throughout the period before the Second Coming. John foresaw that the churches would face what is described in the book. He foresaw events of the future. What he did not foresee was that such events would be repeated again and again through the ages at different levels of intensity. This it was not God’s pleasure to reveal. Whenever such things do reoccur His people can be encouraged by this vision.

Jesus, and the Bible, make clear that the timing of the second coming and therefore the things intrinsically related to it are totally unknown except to God. That timing is such a secret that it was even unknown to Jesus while He was on earth (Mark 13:32). Thus there must always be a valid distinction timewise between those things and the things that occur before. There must indeed always be an unknown gap between them, the extent of which cannot be postulated. Peter can see it in terms of ‘a thousand years’ (2 Peter 3:8). Jesus certainly told men that His coming could not take place until the Temple had been utterly destroyed, for He knew that had to happen. He told them of other things that must take place. But He could give no idea of the time of His return because He specifically stated that He did not know it (Mark 13:32).

With regard to the view that the seven churches refer to stages in the consecutive condition of the church through the ages, this owes more to subtle selection from history rather than to truth, and to our conceit that the church in the Western world is mainly the one that matters. History is so diverse that any order of the seven churches could have been fitted into history. What is true, however, is that through history different parts of the church have regularly been in a similar condition to that pictured in the seven churches. At any one time all the churches described are typified somewhere. The view has truth in that the central message of Revelation did illuminate events through history.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-1.html. 2013.

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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