Monday, August 4, 2008

Revelation 1, John Encounters Jesus

John reveals his awesome encounter with Jesus Christ while imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos and the incredible call he received to write this book.

v.1-2 "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, and to all things he saw."

John presents five truths about the origin and dispatch of the Revelation in this opening statement.
  • 1. It is the "Revelation" (Gr. apokalupsis, "unveiling") of Jesus Christ
  • 2. It is that "which God gave Him"
  • 3. It was given so Jesus would in turn "show His servants"
  • 4. It was "signified" to John by the angel of Jesus
  • 5. John himself "bore witness" to the Revelation
God the Father gave God the Son the Revelation for Him in turn to show it to His servants (doulous, i.e., "bond slaves"). So He might make known to those whom He regards as His friends, His purposes and yet-future intentions for the consummation of our age (John 15:14,15).

Moreover, so that the Church would have a written record of these things, and the servants of Christ in every generation would be blessed in knowing what must "shortly take place" (or happen rapidly upon God's execution), Jesus sent His angel to escort John into the future to bear witness of it and to record it.

As a result, John the Apostle, from his first encounter with Jesus and entirely through his subsequent journey into the future and back again to Patmos, arduously recorded every word of God, every testimony of Jesus Christ, and every word picture and symbol (the meaning of the word "signified") just as he heard it and saw it.

v.3 "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near."

This should encourage those who haven't wanted to study Revelation because they consider it too complex, or fearful. Because the day approaches, and the "time is near", the Holy Spirit, desirous that we know the Revelation, includes a "guarantee" that both reader and hearer (those taught by hearing) will be blessed. So get ready to discover a blessing, dear ones, it's been promised.
"Your words were found, and I ate them And your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jer.15:16)

"I rejoice at your word as one who finds great treasure" (Ps.119:62)
v.4-6 "John, to the seven churches which 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, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen"

These seven churches in Asia were real congregations that existed at the time of John.

Throughout Scripture, however, the number "seven" is also taken to signify that which is "complete" and "whole". Seven days, for instance, make a complete week; seven colors create a complete rainbow; and seven notes make up a complete musical scale. Therefore, at the same time that this book was intended to instruct seven historical congregations, it is also meant to instruct the Church as a whole. So it is as relevant for you and me today as it was for those in the first century.

In this opening greeting, John introduces himself simply by name. Then he goes on and categorically and wonderfully identifies the triune God: He is God the Father ("who is and who was and who is to come"), God the Holy Spirit ("the seven Spirits who are before His throne"), and God the Son ("Jesus Christ").

Okay, but let's consider why John alludes to the Holy Spirit as "the seven Spirits" when the Bible emphatically teaches the oneness of the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:7). The best explanation seems to surround the following prophecy Isaiah gave concerning Jesus, and the seven-fold manifestation of the Holy Spirit that rested upon Him during His time on earth. See if you agree. (The brackets are included for emphasis only and are not part of the original text).
"The [Spirit of] the Lord shall rest upon Him, The [Spirit of] wisdom and [the Spirit of] understanding, The [Spirit of] counsel and [the Spirit of] might, The [Spirit of] knowledge and [the Spirit] of the fear of the Lord" (Isa.11:2)
v.7-8 "Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, and they also who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,' says the Lord, 'who is and who was and is to come, the Almighty.' "

John concludes his greeting by drawing attention to our Lord's Second Coming. This speaks of our Savior's glorious Return to this planet to establish His Kingdom on earth, however, and not the rapture of the Church.

The rapture will be a covert event. Jesus will reach into this world's kingdom sight unseen and remove His Church "as a thief in the night." In the same way a homeowner is first made aware that a thief has come and gone when things are found missing from the home, the world will know nothing more of Rapture until after it discovers the Church's disappearance.

The Second Coming on the other hand will be an event as visible and dramatic as an invasion. The whole world shall see Him (Rev.19:11). And as John points out, all of the tribes of earth will mourn because of Him, meaning that the nation Israel will mourn because of Him (see-Zech.12:10).

It's time to get ready, dear ones. "Behold, He is coming...!" The seventh from Adam prophesied it (Jude 14), Jesus openly qualified it (Matt.24:30), the angels declared it (Acts 1:11), and again here in Revelation it's not just reiterated, but affirmed with an arousing heavenly cry "Even so, Amen."

v.9 "I, John, both your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ."

The fact that John the Apostle was chosen to write the Revelation speaks volumes about God's ability to accomplish His purposes. Despite even the most adverse of circumstances, whether from natural causes, or the cunning devices of devil and man.

John, after all, was about ninety years old and therefore long past what might be considered a practical age for such an arduous task. Moreover, John's work and ministry was meant be silenced when Rome banished him to the remote island of Patmos. In other words, given the circumstances, we might regard John the Apostle as an untenable choice, and the enemy surely saw him as an altogether improbable one.

Nonetheless, because God knew all along the time, the place, and the man by which, and to whom He would reveal the Revelation, nothing prevented Him (or ever will prevent Him) from accomplishing His own wise and holy ends.

Oh, how sweet the words:
"There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord" (Prov.21:30)

"For I know that the Lord is great, And our Lord is above all Gods. Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places" (Ps.135:5,6)
v.10-11 "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as a trumpet, saying, 'I am the Alpha and the 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, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.' "

Seemingly it was Sunday morning ("the Lord's Day") while in deep meditation when John received this command to record the Revelation and particularly noteworthy because it caught John unawares and surprised him. Nothing is said to suggest that the elderly Apostle had been seeking (or even expecting) an extended ministry. He was simply worshiping God; and had been drawn into a place of spiritual joy and elation.

v.12-16 "Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength."

The spoken word of Jesus Christ aroused John. First, he worshiped to draw into an intimate closeness with God, then he heard Him, and then he beheld Him; in turn giving us the only description given of Jesus in the New Testament.

But far from the human form He embodied as a man, John sees Jesus wrapped inside symbolic images; more vividly to illustrate Him glorified, as He is today alongside the Father.

Here are nine components of the vision with a short explanation for each:

(1) "I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man..." Because Jesus Himself interprets the lampstands later to be the "seven churches" (v.20), this illustrates that Jesus stands squarely in the midst of His church

(2) "...clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band." These are the garments of the high priest (see Exodus 28:2-4); thus showing Jesus in His capacity as our great High Priest, the One who is the Intercessor between God and man (Heb.4:14-16)

(3) "His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow..." This identifies Jesus as the eternally existent Ancient of Days spoken of by the prophet Daniel (Dan.7:9)

(4) "...and His eyes like a flame of fire..." This speaks of our Lord's penetrating insight into the hearts of men, and His ability to see all things openly, exposed, and with nothing hidden from His sight (Heb.4:13)

(5) "His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace..." This symbolizes judgment. Brass was the material of the altar upon which judgment was made (Ex.27:1-8; Lev.4:1-35), and it will be the feet of Jesus that shall one day tread in judgment (Isa.63:3)

(6) "...and His voice as the sound of many waters..." This adheres to the way others have described the voice of God (see Ez.1:24; 43:2); it shows that His is the voice of authority

(7) "He had in His right hand seven stars..." The seven stars are interpreted later by Jesus to mean the "seven pastors" of the seven churches (v.20); and the right hand is used elsewhere as the symbol of power and strength (see Ex.15:6; Ps.16:11). The image, therefore, is meant to show that Jesus upholds, by His power and by His strength, the pastors; who are the messengers of His Word, and the shepherds of His sheep

(8) "...out of His mouth went a two-edged sword..." This characterizes the living power of His Word (Heb.4:12); and that by His Word, hearts and minds will be discerned, and judgment will be brought upon the nations (Rev.19:15)

(9) "...and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength." This shows Jesus covered with the garment of glory; the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (Ps.104:2; John 17:5)

v.17-18 "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, 'Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and Death."

John last saw Jesus nearly sixty years earlier. Imagine the heartthrob felt by the aged Apostle when he turned and saw Him standing just a few feet away. It's no wonder he collapsed in awe. But what Jesus had done so frequently in His humanity, He repeats in His glory: Jesus comforts. "But He laid His right hand on me," John said, "saying to me, 'Do not be afraid.' (See also Isaiah 41:13).

"'I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and Death'." Jesus, once again, as in His appearance, transcends what was His in humanity. For it's not His name, but symbols and titles associated with the sacred truth of Himself that Jesus uses to present Himself.

He is God the Almighty: "I am the First and the Last" (check-Isa.44:6). He is God the Redeemer: "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore" (check-Phil.2:5-11).

He is God the Victorious: "And I have the keys of Hades and Death." Having conquered death upon the cross, Jesus alone can redeem from death (Hosea 13:14) and sentence to death (Rev.20:2,3). Life and death answers to no other, whether in heaven or hell, than to the power and authority of Jesus Christ.

v.19 'Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.

Okay, dear ones, now we come to the virtual outline of the Revelation, and as such, the "key" to understanding the vision. John is instructed to write the Book in three sections.

  • (1) "Write the things which you have seen..."
  • (2) "Write...the things which are..."
  • (3) "Write...the things which will take place after this."
The first, "the things which you have seen" is clearly in the past tense. This concerns that which John had seen earlier as he beheld Christ. Thus corresponding with John's eyewitness account of the risen and glorified Son of God as contained here in Chapter One.

The second, "the things which are" is in the present tense. This concerns that which existed during the time of John, which is the Church. And as we will see, the next two chapters, Chapters Two and Three, surround the Church exclusively.

The third, "the things which will take place after this" is in the future tense. This concerns the yet-future events shown to John beginning in Chapter Four. It's generally accepted that these future events follow beyond the age of the Church, and thus support the rapture of the Church. Which many believe is foreshadowed by John when he is called and subsequently taken in the "Spirit" to heaven before the future events take place (Rev.4:1-2).

v.20 'The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.' "

The word "mystery" signifies a hidden truth not yet revealed. It's used here in connection with the "seven stars" and the "seven golden lampstands" because these are symbols inside the appearance of Christ that John would not have understood without an interpretation. That the "seven stars" are the "seven angels" of the seven churches, and that the "seven lampstands" are the "seven churches".

Okay, let's consider it.

The Greek word "angel" (angelos) means "messenger" and doesn't carry with it any direct application to a spirit being; it can be interpreted to mean a human messenger. The prophet Haggai, for instance, was called "the Lord's messenger, [who] spoke the Lord's message to the people" (Haggai 1:13), and from Malachi we learn that the priest of Israel was considered "the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Mal.2:7). So it's not required of us to interpret the word "angels" in this passage to mean literal angels. Given the context, it's more likely to think that Jesus is addressing the seven pastors of the seven churches.

The seven "lampstands" clearly signify the seven churches in Asia to which John was instructed to write and distribute the Revelation.

A possible explanation for the mystery or mysterious sense surrounding this passage is that Jesus intended to suggest that more than just seven pastors and seven churches are in view. That He deliberately used the imagery because this address is made to all the pastors and to all the churches, in successive ages, from the time of John to the end of the church age.

[This concludes John's account about what he had seen, and thus brings to a close the first section of Revelation. The next two chapters concern "the things which are", appropriated as the second section of Revelation, and our Lord's personal address to the Church]

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