A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it, and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Rev 1:1-3)
It was 95 AD, over 60 years since Jesus had walked among His people. Jerusalem and the Temple had been destroyed, leaving the Jews defeated. Paul was dead, beheaded in Rome nearly 30 years earlier. Peter had been crucified there about the same time. Of all the disciples only John was still alive. He had written his Gospel and his three letters sometime earlier and had served for a time as the Bishop of the church in Ephesus, having moved there with Mary, the Lord’s mother, about the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70 AD.
It’s not that the Romans and Jews had left John alone. Tradition has it that several times they’d tried to kill him, even throwing him live into a cauldron of boiling oil, but the Lord had prevented it, fulfilling His promise of John 21:22. (Responding to Peter’s question about what would become of John, Jesus had said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?“) Finally, the Romans had exiled him to Patmos, a prison colony off the coast of modern Turkey, thinking they had heard the last of him.
But the Lord had other plans, and appeared personally to John, commanding him to write one final letter and send it to seven churches in Asia Minor. As an old man at the end of his life, John was about to undertake one of his greatest challenges. After writing the Revelation, he died of natural causes in about 100 AD.
By the way, your Preterist friends have had to give the book an early date to get around verse one because they contend that it was all fulfilled by 70 AD, but they needn’t have bothered. In the first place, the later date is pretty well established, but the word translated soon or shortly actually means quickly or rapidly and describes the speed with which events will unfold once they begin, not their chronological nearness to John’s day.
Greeting to the Seven Churches
John, to the seven churches that 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 who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom (or kings), and priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev.1: 4-8)
Of the 404 verses in the Book of Revelation, 278 are taken from the Old Testament. In fact, Esther is the only Old Testament book not directly quoted. So it’s not surprising to find these Old Testament constructions like him who is and who was and who is to come and the seven spirits who are before his throne. The first is an approximate translation of God’s name and the second is a name for the Holy Spirit, literally the seven-fold Spirit of God. We’ll see plenty of these throughout the book, and in chapter 19 we’ll see the untranslated Hebrew word Hallelujah (it means praise the Lord) used four times. It’s the only place it appears in the New Testament. In fact, the Revelation has so many Old Testament nuances that some believe that John was actually translating from Hebrew into Greek as he wrote.
The phrase Alpha and Omega comes from the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and refers to God the Father and recalls His claim to Israel. “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. (Isaiah 43:10-11) Jesus will later use the phrase of Himself.
Vision of the Son of Man
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write on a scroll what you see 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” (Rev. 1:9-11).
By this command, it’s clear that John is going to witness some events that the Lord wants him to document and then distribute to the seven churches he has named. Some contend that John saw all this in a vision on one Sabbath Day, while others say he was transported through time to the Day of the Lord. I lean toward the latter.
I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Rev. 1:12-16).
Though the man speaking to John was clothed in light and had a distinct otherworldly appearance, John recognized Him. He had seen Him looking like this once before, on the Mount Of Transfiguration. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. (Matt. 17:2) It was the Lord!
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches (Rev. 1:17-20).
In this way, the Lord divides the Book John will write into three sections. The things John has seen, contained in chapter 1, those that are, which will fill chapters 2 and 3, and those that will take place after this, chapters 4-22.
The fact that the Lord is seen standing in the midst of the seven lampstands indicates His direct involvement with the church. Holding the seven stars in His right hand speaks of the intimate relationship He has with its leaders. Whether you see them as the pastors or as angelic overseers, He’s got them in the palm of His hand. The number seven figures prominently in the Book of Revelation. In fact, before we’re finished we’ll see it used 52 times. And isn’t it interesting that five plus two equals guess what? Seven!
The Lord’s use of first and last here recall the two most important steps in the process of product development. The Greek word translated first is protos, from which we get prototype. A prototype is the original. It sets the standard to which all subsequent copies are compared to make sure they conform. Paul wrote, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). When we’re perfected we’ll be exact copies of our prototype, the Lord, and that’s the way God already sees us (2 Cor. 5:17).
And the word for last is eschatos, the superlative, the perfect example, the highest and best that can be achieved. Though we’re destined to look like Him and act like Him, we can never be Him.
And so ends chapter one, but we’re just getting started. There’s plenty more to come. See you next time.