I. Prologue and John’s Vision of Jesus (Revelation 1:1-20)
I. Prologue and John’s Vision of Jesus (1:1-20)
Revelation is one of the most difficult biblical books to interpret. The subject matter and widespread symbolism can make it hard to determine what to take literally and what to take figuratively. But even though it’s a challenge, it can’t be ignored. The warning near the end of the book (22:18) makes it clear that God expects us to take it seriously.
1:1-2 The theme and title of the book are displayed in its opening phrase: The revelation of Jesus Christ refers to Christ’s unveiling or disclosure of matters related to his second coming to earth. The recipient of this disclosure is his servant John (1:1). The apostles regularly refer to themselves as servants of God because being dependent upon and yielded to God is the best way to hear his voice. Indeed, as the Lord’s servant, John received the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ (1:2).
1:3 Blessing comes from hearing and reading this book and then heeding the commands written in it. Knowing and obeying God’s words in Revelation is particularly impor-tant because the time is near. That is, the return of Christ is imminent. It could happen at any time.
1:4-7 Speaking of the seven churches in Asia is a way of speaking of all churches because the number seven represents completion or fullness. These churches are representative of all Christian churches throughout history. Though written by John, the content of Revelation is from the one who is, who was, and who is to come; and from the seven spirits (that is, from the completeness or fullness of the Holy Spirit; the number seven is the number of completeness); and from Jesus Christ (1:4-5). The Trinitarian reference here is clear, with the rule of God being linked to all three persons of the Godhead.
Jesus, John says, is the firstborn from the dead, the first of a whole company of people who will one day rise from the grave because they are set free from [their] sins by his blood. Jesus also is the ruler of the kings of the earth, though his personal earthly kingdom rule is not yet visible in history (1:5). It will become so at his second coming. As priests of God’s kingdom, believers are to represent men to God and God to men (1:6). The long-term goal of this plan is to bring God glory and to establish his kingdom rule and agenda forever. When Christ returns, it is going to be a spectacle because every eye will see him (1:7) as he rotates around the sun at his return.
1:8 Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, signifying that God is the beginning and the end. He’s the Creator of all things, and he’ll bring history to its conclusion. He is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. God is yesterday, today, and tomorrow because he exists eternally. But later in the letter, it’s Jesus who calls himself the “Alpha and Omega” (22:13), and clearly he is the coming one (22:7, 12, 20). This is not surprising, though, because Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity and coequal with the Father (see John 1:1; Col 1:15).
1:9-11 John had been exiled to the island called Patmos in the Aegean Sea because of his Christian faith and his refusal to compromise the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (1:9). John was in the Spirit—that is, he was thinking and functioning spiritually, engulfed in a spiritual framework on the Lord’s day (the first day of the week)—when he heard a loud voice . . . like a trumpet (1:10). The voice told him to write down what he saw and send it to the seven churches (1:11), a group representative of all churches (see 1:4).
1:12 The seven churches are represented by seven golden lampstands to signify the expression of divine life that should radiate through all churches. Indeed, churches are to illuminate their communities.
1:13-16 These verses present a picture of Jesus that contrasts with much of what we see in the four Gospels. He is no longer a baby in a manger with nowhere to lay his head. Instead, he is mighty and majestic as he will certainly be at his second coming as Judge and King of the earth. His eyes are like a fiery flame, his feet like fine bronze . . . and his voice is like the sound of cascading waters. There is a sword coming from his mouth, and his face is shining like the sun at full strength (1:14-15). This image assures us that when Christ returns, the rulership he has always possessed by virtue of his position as God’s Son will be realized in practice.
Notably, Jesus in his might and power is situated among the lampstands to signify his visible rulership of the church as Judge and King, even before his second coming to personally and directly rule the entire world (1:13; see 1:20). In other words, before he returns to rule the world, he wants to rule the church. The church, then, cannot view Jesus merely as a gentle figure with long hair and a loving gaze. Christians must view him as a ruler, for there is a judgment side of Jesus along with the blessing side we love to talk about. He is the might and strength at the center of the church.
1:17-18 When John saw Jesus as the church’s Judge and Ruler, he fell at his feet like a dead man, and the Lord had to raise him up with the admonition, Don’t be afraid (1:17). The keys Jesus spoke of represent access to death and Hades, and by extension, access to heaven (1:18).
1:19 This verse presents an outline of the book of Revelation. John was commanded to write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. After writing the vision he had just seen (chapter 1), John was to share about the present state of the seven churches (chapters 2–3), and then the future tribulation and eternal state (chapters 4–22).
1:20 The chapter closes with an explanation of the vision’s symbolism. The seven stars (see 1:16) represent the seven angels of the seven churches. The Greek word translated “angel” in the CSB, angelos, means “messenger,” and that’s the intended sense here. The pastors who declare God’s Word, then, are God’s messengers to the churches. The seven lampstands represent the churches themselves, specifically the spiritual light they are to emit.