Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 1
- 1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass. And he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Commentary: The opening indicates the order of the message's transmission: a) from God, b) to Jesus, c) to an angel, d) to John, e) to the servants of God. While John received the actual visions, however, we only have his descriptions of them. One senses that words are inadequate to describe what he actually saw. John is delivering this message to the servants of God. Note well the plurality of the word, servant. It was not God's intention for John to be the only one to obtain the revelation and keep it to himself. God desired that the people in the church, his "servants" would gain understanding. Those in today's churches also have a biblical right to understand the message being delivered in this book. The verse goes on to say that the things contained within the prophecy will happen "shortly." This has variously been understood as from the perspective of the audience (anything from minutes to years), in historical terms (hundreds or thousands of years), or from the point of view of an eternal Deity (for whom 10,000 years would be nothing).
The author identifies himself as John which many people have suggested is actually the John of the Gospel of John. However, scholars have shown this to be unlikely. The Gospel of John and Revelation have two very different writing styles. The authors use often use different words to express the same concept. An example is the word used for lamb. In Revelation the word arnion,whereas in the author of John uses another word for lamb. The two books also use the same word to mean different things. Examples include ethnos/ethne which refers to Gentiles or all nations in Revelation, but in The Gospel of John the same word is used to refer to the Jews. Similarly, Kosmos in Revelation is used to refer to the created world and in John it is used to refer to the world of humanity. Additional evidence that the John of Revelation is not the John of the Gospel of John is that they often spell the same word differently, Jerusalem being a prime example of this. In Revelation Jerusalem is spelled Ierosalem and in John it is spelled Ierosoluma. While there is no conclusive proof of who the John of Revelation was, it is the scholarly consensus that he was not the John of the Gospel of John.
- 3 Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, for the time is at hand.
Commentary: The blessing of Verse 3 carries a threefold condition: Read, understand (hear), and obey (keep those things). God gave prophecies to be obeyed, not simply to be discussed and debated. "The time is at hand" simply means that no further things must occur before the fulfillment of the prophecies. It does not mean the time was (or is) imminent.
The mention of reading and hearing may also be an indication that the document was intended to be read to the congregations to whom it was addressed. Early churches would read the entire book of revelation every time they met, from beginning to end, this could be because this is the only book out of the entire Bible that states a blessing will be given to those who read it, listen to it, and obey it. We are to act in one's faith about what we hear during Revelation.
- 4 John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be to you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, 5a and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.
Commentary: "Asia" was a Roman province in what is now western Turkey. This verse is evidence for the author being the Apostle John. John became the leader of the church at Ephesus after the death of Paul and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70. The other churches to whom letters were given were daughter churches established by the church at Ephesus. John would therefore have exercised pastoral influence over them, and it then makes sense that his letters were addressed to them. It also explains the absence of letters to other major churches, as John did not have leadership of them. The benediction refers to the Godhead, which is eternal in existence. The phrase "is, was, is to come" comes from the translation of the Hebrew Yahweh, which means "I am". The seven Spirits are somewhat cryptic. The number 7, in the Bible, means spirituallt complete. They probably represent the spirits of the seven churches embodied within the Holy Spirit. (Verse 5a): Jesus Christ is identified as the faithful witness who revealed the plan of God, the first to be resurrected from the dead, and the future worldwide ruler of the Millennial Kingdom. (Note "prince" of kings rather than "king" of kings).
Witherington says, "A major point of this entire book is that heaven and earth are very close indeed; in fact they are juxtaposed in such a way that heaven is already active in and for earth and will descend to it at the end in the from of the New Jerusalem." He asserts that it is very unlikely that John would have divided the holy spirit up seven different ways. Rather, he draws on early Jewish texts that refer to seven archangels before the throne of God (Tob. 12:15, 1 En.20.1-8, and 4 Qserek) that are the eyes of the great King keeping watch over the church of the lamp. This image is to ensure that Christ is not distant but very near among the lampstands (or seven congregations). (Witherington 2003)
- 5b To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Commentary: These verses are praise to Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross gave us redemption from our sins, and (Verse 6) made us acceptable to enter the Holy Presence of the Godhead. John gives Jesus eternal praise, glory, and authority. Amen in this context means "Let it be so".
- 7 Behold, He comes with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.
Commentary: Christ will come with the clouds (Daniel 7:13) in the sky. This may refer to the final return to establish His Millennial Kingdom, not to the Rapture. Everyone will see Him (Matthew 24:30). Those who pierced Him may be those who have rejected Him as their Savior. Everyone who is without His grace will be, according to one interpretation, sorry and fearful (wail). "Even so, Amen" in this context could be rendered "Let it be done, whether people are ready or not".
"πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ" is alternatively translated as "all the tribes of the earth," "all kindreds of the earth," or "all the peoples of the world." These words occur only once elsewhere in the New Testament, in Matthew 24:30 as Jesus describes his second coming. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) imagined that the despair of all the tribes on earth showed that "truth and good will be no more" either within or without the Christian church. Adam Clarke (1762-1832) on the other hand supposed that πᾶσαι αἱ φυλαὶ referred to Jews and Romans, not Christians.
- 8 “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,” says the Lord, “which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”
Commentary: John clearly demonstrates his high Christology by placing the divine name on the lips of Jesus. By claiming to be the Alpha and the Omega (or in more contemporary terms, the A and the Z), Jesus unites himself with God. This is seen both by the fact that within Revelation, Jesus and God are referred to equally by these titles and by the allusion to Isaiah 44:6 (“I am the first and last, and besides me there is no God”), with which John was surely familiar. From the onset, Christ is unified with God, which gives Christ the authority to proclaim the rest of the vision – the Omega half of history. 
John's Vision of Christ
- 9 I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Commentary: John's exile to Patmos, together with the phrase, "your brother and companion in tribulation," implies a time of persecution. This is further indicated by the mention of a martyrdom in Pergamos[2:13] and other passages in the messages to the churches.[cf. 2:3; 2:9-10] John was exiled to Patmos because of his preaching and his testimony of Jesus Christ, having irritated the Roman government by doing so. Tribulation here refers to the present sufferings of believers, not the end times. Believers live in the present (Church Age) form of God's Kingdom, waiting and enduring until His return.
- 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 saying, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,” and, “What you see, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
Commentary: "In the spirit" means John was in a state of receiving prophetic revelation from God. "The Lord's Day" refers to Sunday as the new Sabbath day for Christians, and the only other place this term (kuriakos) is used is in I Corinthians 11:20. Again, Alpha and Omega, the first and the last are applied to Jesus Christ. The seven churches introduced here are expanded upon in Chapters 2 and 3.
The seven churches were in the Roman province of "Asia," an area which is in western Turkey today. Why these seven churches were chosen to be the recipients of the Revelation, we can only guess. Yet it is clear that what Jesus says to them is meant ultimately for the Church in all times and places, for after each church’s message, seven times in all, Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
- 12 And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks.
Commentary: The seven candlesticks are said in Verse 20 to represent the seven churches. The number seven plays a prominent role in Revelation. Many scholars believe that the number seven, when given symbolic interpretation, represents completeness and perfection.
At this point the Jewish menorah (containing seven candles) was a common symbol of Judaism. In the vision John is seeing the seven lights are separated. Perhaps symbolizing a full representation of God's people in each church. (Witherington 2003).
- 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girded about the chest with a golden girdle. 14 His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were as a flame of fire, 15 And His feet like to fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.
Commentary: "Like unto the Son of Man" means the figure looked to John like Jesus Christ glorified. Son of Man is a messianic title that Jesus Himself frequently used. The garments depicted here are the robes of a judge. Christ has judgmental authority over all creation. The white hair signifies justice, purity, and glory. Fire is often associated with judgment in the Scriptures( rf. Matthew 5:22, 2 Peter 3:7). The brass and the voice symbolize power and authority.Brass is a metal that has a Biblical connection with sacrifice (e.g. the brazen altar of sacrifice in Israel: Exodus 27:1-6). Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. Brass is also known to be a very strong metal. Therefore to compare Christ's feet to that of fine brass demonstrates His power, permanence, and stability. The seven candlesticks again represent the churches, and Christ's position in the midst of them shows He is the root and leader of the churches.
- 16 And He had in His right hand seven stars, and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was as the sun shines in his strength.
Commentary: The seven stars are identified in Verse 20 as the angels of the seven churches. The sharp sword is a metaphor for the Word of God, the power of which is sharp and certain. His face shone as the sun, so that John has difficulty looking at it. Compare this to Exodus 33 and 34, in which Moses experiences much the same thing when he asks to see God. Moses returns from the mountain with his own face glowing, much to the amazement of the people.
- 17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid his right hand upon me, saying to me, “Fear not. I am the first and the last."
Commentary: At the first sight of Jesus, John’s unworthiness to the almighty one causes John to fall to his feet. This happens three times in the book of Daniel (8:17-18, 10:9-10, 10:15). John's initial reaction is fear. As He did many times with the apostles, Jesus tells John not to fear. This command to not fear is present in the Bible 365 times, give or take. Jesus again states His identity to reassure John that nothing can happen without His approval. The mentioning of Christ being the first and the last (Alpha and Omega) that is mentioned many times in the prophecy of Isaiah (41:4, 44:6, 48:12) and Repeated again in Revelation 2:8 as well as 22:13. This mentioning of the first and the last shows that God encompasses all things from beginning to end and all things in-between. God is the beginning and end of time, and the first and the last of all creation. This verse shows that God is transcendent of all things, and all time (Hebrews 13:8) and shows his sovereignty as well as his divinity.
- 18 "I am He that lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen. And I have the keys of hell and of death."
Commentary: Christ continues His affirmation, leaving absolutely no doubt that He is God. He was dead at the crucifixion, He rose from the dead, and He is alive forevermore. Amen used here means "I tell you it is so". The keys of hell and of death symbolize His authority to judge the living and the dead of all ages. At His command, death and hell will give up their captives.
- 19 "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter."
Commentary: Verse 19 is the key to the layout of Revelation. The book has three main divisions:
- "the things which you have seen": John's vision of Christ (ch 1);
- "the things which are": the messages to the churches (ch 2-3);
- "the things which shall be hereafter": the predictions for the future (ch 4-22)
The "things which shall be hereafter" are the things that will happen as the Day of the Lord approaches and arrives. These things will have a definite "buildup" sequence which the careful reader can see, and which will prevent the true believers from being taken "as by a thief in the night".
- 20 "The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.”
Commentary: The Greek word "angelos" means "messenger" and can be interpreted to refer to either a heavenly or an earthly being. This is determined by the context. The seven stars, therefore, may represent either angels assigned to the churches, or the earthly leaders of the churches. Christ holding them in His right hand signifies they have His approval. The candlesticks, as already stated, represent the churches themselves. Christ standing in the midst of them shows His leadership of the churches.
- Ben Witherington III, Revelation, Cambridge University Press: New York, 2003.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2003.