The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,
(a) The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation is about Jesus. It’s about other things as well, but like the rest of scripture, its purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ.
(b) The things which must soon take place will take place in Asia (modern-day western Turkey; Rev. 1:4). These are events which will affect the seven churches (Rev. 1:11). In addition, John also records a number of prophecies for an unspecified future date pertaining to the return of the Lord and Judgment Day (see entry for Rev. 1:19).
(c) His angel. Much of John’s Revelation seems to have been communicated to him via an angelic messenger (Rom. 22:8). However, here in Chapter 1, it is Jesus that John hears and sees (Rev. 1:12).
(d) His bond-servant. John had a deep revelation of his sonship and of God as our loving Father (1 John 1:2, 2:1), so why does he introduce himself here as a servant? Like Paul, Peter, James and Jude, who also introduced themselves as a bondservants, John saw himself as a dearly-loved son who served others in the manner that Christ served. We are the sons who serve. See Rom. 1:1.
(e) John. Tradition teaches that the author of the Book of Revelation was the Apostle John, a.k.a. John the Evangelist or Saint John. But this is not universally accepted. Some speculate that the Apostle John would have been too old (in his nineties) or too dead (having been martyred) to write Revelation. Some say that Revelation was written by a different John, an Ephesian known as John the Presbyter.
However, there are compelling reasons for accepting the traditional view that Revelation was written by the Apostle John. The book bears the mark of apostolic authority (Rev. 1:4); it contains prophecies and quotes that John personally heard from the Lord (Rev. 1:7, 2:7); and it uniquely shares many phrases and symbols with John’s Gospel. For instance, in both books Jesus is referred to as the Word of God, the Lamb of God, the true Witness, the Overcomer, and the glorified Son of Man—common phrases that suggest a common author.
Once upon a time, John walked with Christ. He stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, and he saw the empty tomb. But that was a lifetime ago. Since those glory days, John had seen all his fellow apostles murdered, and he himself had been banished to a rocky island. The man who had been at the center was now at the edge. Old and all but forgotten, John had nothing to look forward to but a lonely death. Then one day Jesus gave John a heavenly vision of such splendor that we’re still talking about it 2,000 years later.
who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
(a) The Word of God is the Word of life (1 John 1:1) and the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). The word of God is not the Bible, but the Bible reveals the Word of God, which is Jesus (Rev. 19:13). Jesus is the Word or the Message or the Revelation of God. Just as we reveal ourselves by what we say, God reveals himself in Jesus (Heb. 1:3). See entry for Word of God.
(b) The testimony of Jesus Christ is synonymous with the Word of Christ or the Word of God; the gospel, in other words. See entry for Rev. 1:9.
(c) All that he saw. John was instructed to write what he saw, so he wrote a book that we know as the Book of Revelation. This book consists of a series of visions plus letters sent to the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:11).
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
(a) Blessed is he who reads. If you read Revelation and come away confused and fearful, you can be sure you missed the author’s heart. John wrote so that you would be blessed.
(b) The time is near. Biblical prophecies don’t always come with dates, but some of the prophecies in Revelation refer to events which “must shortly take place” (Rev. 1:1). John is alluding to events that will soon affect the seven churches, namely the trials and tribulations arising from Roman persecution, Jewish hostility, and pagan idolatry. The purpose of these prophecies is to encourage and strengthen the believers who are about to go through hard times.
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,
(a) John to the seven churches. Having introduced himself and his letter, John identifies his audience. John intends for his book to be circulated among the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (Rev. 1:11).
(b) That are in Asia. This is not the Asia we know, but the Roman Province of Asia that was situated on the western end of the Anatolian peninsula in modern Turkey.
(c) Grace to you and peace. Like Paul and Peter, John opens his letter with a well-known blessing.
(d) Him who is and who was and who is to come refers to the Lord God, eternal and transcendent. It is the New Testament equivalent of “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14).
(d) The seven Spirits refer to the Holy Spirit. The number seven could be a reference to the sevenfold ministry of the Holy Spirit (Is. 11:2). Or it could be a reference to the fullness of the Holy Spirit, seven being the Biblical number for completion. Or it could be a reference to the diverse work of the Spirit in relation to the seven churches.
and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—
(a) And from Jesus Christ. The letter was written by John to the seven churches (Rev. 1:4), but the message is from God the Father (who was and is and is to come), God the Holy Spirit (the seven spirits before the throne), and God the Son (Jesus Christ).
(b) The faithful witness. Jesus is the faithful and true witness you can trust (Rev. 3:10).
(b) The firstborn of the dead. Jesus was the first to pass through death into a brand new sort of creation unaffected by death and decay. Jesus was not the first to be resurrected, but he was the first to be raised into new life. John possibly heard the “firstborn of the dead” phrase from Paul (Col. 1:18).
(c) The ruler of the kings of the earth, which is to say Jesus is the King of kings (1 Tim. 6:15, Rev. 19:16).
(d) To Him who loves us and released us from our sins. God does not love us because we are free from sin. Rather, he has freed us from sin because he loves us.
(e) By his blood. It is the blood of Jesus that saves and sanctifies us (1 John 1:7, Heb. 10:10). You are not made right with God on account of anything you may do, but on account of Jesus’ sacrifice.
We are only five verses into this wonderful book, and already we have learned that God loves us, he wants to bless us (Rev. 1:3), he offers us his grace and peace (Rev. 1:4), and he has freed us from sin. This is good news! But John is just getting started.
and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(a) He has made us to be a kingdom. The word for kingdom is better translated as kings. Scholars are divided on this point but you are one with King Jesus, and as he is so are you in this world (1 John 4:17). A more literal translation would be: Jesus Christ “did make us kings and priests to his God and Father” (YLT). Heaven regards us as kings because our Father is kingly. Your born-again blood runs royal blue.
Further reading: “You are a king (so act like one)”
(b) Priests. You were a slave but Jesus has made you into a king and a priest. You have been called to serve in a priestly capacity and rule in a kingly capacity (see entry for 1 Pet. 2:9). You have a God-given mandate to rule and reign here and now (Gen. 1:26). When God told Adam to “fill the earth and subdue it,” he was saying, “This is your home. You’re in charge. Take care of it” (Gen. 1:28).
In two powerful verses John demolishes that old chestnut that says you are a sinful grub who must work to earn or reimburse God for his kindness. “You are loved! You are free! You are a priest king created to rule and reign in his Name!”
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
(a) The “coming with the clouds” phrase is a prophetic snippet from Daniel (Dan. 7:13–14), which John would’ve heard from the Lord on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:30). It’s describing the Son of Man coming on the clouds to the Ancient of Days. The ascension, in other words.
John quotes this well-known prophecy to show that Jesus is in heaven and this is a heavenly revelation that he is about to share. “Jesus the faithful witness and the firstborn from the dead sits enthroned in heaven.”
(b) Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. One day all will know that Jesus is Lord, even those who put him on the cross.
(c) All the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Again, John is repeating something he heard Jesus say on the Mount of Olives (see entry for Matt. 24:30). As the tribes (or Jews) came to realize that they had been complicit in the crucifixion of God’s Son (Acts 2:23), they would be cut to the heart with regret (Acts 2:37). This would cause some of them to repent and come to the church saying “God is with you” (see entry for Rev. 3:9).
Further reading: “What is the sign of the Son of Man in heaven?”
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
(a) I am the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The Lord God is essentially saying, “I am the A to Z, the first and last word, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13).
(b) Who is and who was and who is to come; see entry for Rev. 1:4.
(c) The Almighty. God’s got this. No matter how big your problem, God is bigger still. The word for Almighty (pantokratór) is made up of two words that mean “all” and “prevail”. Put them together and you get an omnipotent God who transcends eternity and possesses “unrestricted power exercising absolute dominion.” Nothing is too hard for him.
I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
(a) Tribulation. Like the churches he wrote to, John experienced tribulation or trouble on account of the gospel. John was exiled to Patmos, a rocky island off the southwestern coast of Asia, not far from Miletus. This happened during the reign of Domitian (81–96), and John penned the book of Revelation near the end of that time, that is, around 95/96AD. This date is not universally accepted, but it is supported by the majority of church fathers and historians.
Further reading: “When did John write his Revelation? And why does it matter?” (Patreon)
The turn of the first century was a significant time for the early church. The mother church in Jerusalem was gone; all but one of the original apostles had died; and John was stuck on a barren rock in the middle of the sea. Would the young church survive? Of course it did survive, and one of the reasons it did was because Jesus sent letters from heaven via John. In a time without Bibles, these letters were tremendously important. We can be sure the early church valued them highly. And just as well that they did, for we might not be here if they hadn’t.
(b) The word of God is the good news of Jesus. See entry for Word of God.
(c) The testimony of Jesus Christ is synonymous with the Word of Christ or the Word of God; the gospel, in other words. Like Paul, John was not imprisoned because he had been preaching old covenant law (Php. 1:14, 2 Tim. 2:9). John became a target of Jewish animosity and Roman justice because he dared to tell people about the grace of God revealed in his Son. Other Christians were persecuted for similar reasons (Rev. 12:17, 19:10, 20:4).
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet,
(a) The Lord’s Day is Sunday. While the Jews worshipped on the last day of the week (the Sabbath), the early Christians worshipped on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:1). Perhaps they did this to show they were no longer under the old covenant law, or maybe they did it because the Lord’s tomb was discovered to be empty on the first day of the week (Mark 16:2). Either way, Sunday came to be known as the Lord’s Day.
(b) Loud voice like the sound of a trumpet. John hears a voice that sounds like a trumpet. Later John will say it sounds like many waters (Rev. 1:15). It is interesting that before we learn what the voice said, we learn how the voice sounded. This is the commanding and penetrating voice of the Great King (Rev. 1:5).
saying, “Write in a book 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.”
(a) Write in a book what you see. The old apostle saw Jesus in all his glory and was told to “write what you see”. When we read Revelation, we are reading what John saw. If we see what John saw—Jesus—we are reading correctly. If we see something else, such as a projection of ourselves and our shortcomings, we are reading it wrong.
(b) Send it to the seven churches. The letters found in the opening chapters of Revelation were for the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. What did these churches have in common? John probably knew them all. Having lived in Ephesus and traveled around the region, he would have been well acquainted with the challenges facing each one.
Look at a map of the seven cities and you will see that the order of the letters begins with Ephesus, the city closest to John’s exile on Patmos. The sequence then describes an n-shaped route that follows the coast up to Smyrna and Pergamum before heading inland to Thyatira and down to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. This is the route that would’ve been taken by whoever delivered the letters.
John wrote a book and attached some letters from Jesus, and the whole package was sent from Patmos to Ephesus and from thence to the other six cities. Alternatively, John brought the package back to the mainland when he returned from exile. After settling back in his home church in Ephesus, he arranged for the delivery of the package to the other six cities.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.
(a) Seven golden lampstands; see entry for Rev. 1:20.
(b) One like a son of man. This is Jesus, but not as John remembers him for this Jesus has white hair and bronze feet (see Rev. 1:14). This Jesus is shining like the sun, holding stars and has a sword coming out of his mouth (Rev 1:16). This is the exalted Lord glowing with hard-to-describe glory. But while the imagery is divine and mysterious, there is no doubt John is looking at a man.
In John’s Revelation, emperors and empires are given beastly imagery, and these images may have come from or been inspired by Daniel’s prophecies. Similarly, the Son of Man reminds us of Daniel’s heavenly vision of “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13). John is not looking at the Risen Lord, whom he has seen before, but the ascended and exalted Lord who is in heaven. John is so overcome by what he sees that he collapses in a dead faint (Rev. 1:17).
His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.
(a) White wool. John is looking at Jesus, yet the Son of God looks like God the Father. Daniel said the Ancient of Days had hair like pure wool, a face like lightning, eyes like fire, and feet that looked like brass (Dan. 7:9, 10:6). The Father and Son are alike.
(b) His eyes were like a flame of fire. The Lord’s burning eyes search hearts and minds (Rev. 2:23). They penetrate masks and charades. No motive or agenda is concealed from Jesus. Nothing is hidden from his sight (Heb. 4:13).
(c) His feet were like burnished bronze. See entry for Rev. 2:18.
(d) His voice was like the sound of many waters. Jesus not only looks like the Ancient of Days, he sounds like him. The Ancient of Days had a voice like the sound of a tumult or a crowd of people (Dan. 10:6). The sound of a crowd is comparable to the sound of the ocean or rushing waters (Ps. 65:7, Rev. 19:6).
In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.
(a) In His right hand He held seven stars; see entry for Rev. 1:20.
(b) Out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; see Heb. 4:12.
(c) His face was like the sun shining in its strength. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ face shone like the sun (Matt. 16:2). That was a glimpse of how Christ appears now that he is radiant with glory. The Son shines, and it was more than John could bear.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
(a) When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. This will not be the last time John falls under the weight of glory (Rev. 19:10, 22:8).
(b) He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus has done this before. When John fell in terror on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus touched him and encouraged him (Matt. 17:7).
(c) “Do not be afraid.” This is not the first time Jesus has told John to not be afraid. He said the same thing when he came walking on the water (Matt. 14:27), on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:7), and when he appeared in the upper room (Matt. 28:10). In these stories Jesus was doing something supernatural that revealed his glory. So when Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” he is encouraging John to see him with the eyes of the faith. Our natural senses cannot cope with kingdom realities. We find angels terrifying and the glory of God too much to bear. But the touch of the Lord empowers us to live in his reality.
(d) I am the first and the last; see entry for Rev. 2:8.
(e) Jesus is the living One and the life (John 14:6), which is to say he is the source of eternal life (1 John 5:11) to those who believe in him (John 3:16). In the letters to the seven churches, the promise of eternal life appears as a tree of life (Rev. 2:7), a crown of life (Rev. 2:10), and a book of life (Rev. 3:5).
(f) I have the keys of death and of Hades. Jesus is saying, “I have risen from the dead and conquered the grave.”
(g) Hades is the Greek word for Sheol, the Old Testament abode of the dead. Sheol is known as an underground region (Num 16:30, Amos 9:2) and a place where both the righteous and unrighteous go (Gen 37:35, Ps 9:17, Is 38:10). Hades is sometimes translated as Hell (e.g., in the KJV), but it is not the fiery haunt of demons. Nor is it the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:14). A better translation of Hades would be “grave” or “depths.” See also the entry for Matt. 16:18.
“Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”
(a) Write the things which you have seen; see entry for Rev. 1:11.
(b) The things which are, are the things which will shortly take place (Rev. 1:1), and which are of immediate relevance to the seven churches.
(c) And the things which will take place after. John records two sets of prophecies in his book; those which will be fulfilled soon and which pertain to the persecution of the first-century church in Asia, and those which will be fulfilled at an unspecified future date, and which pertain to the glorious return of the Lord and Judgment Day.
“As for 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 are the seven churches.”
(a) The seven stars in the Lord’s right hand are the angels or leaders or pastors of the seven churches (Rev. 1:20). In scripture, those who teach the gospel of righteousness are called stars (Dan. 12:3), while false teachers are called wandering stars (Jude 1:13).
(b) The Lord’s right hand signifies his power and strength (Ex. 15:6, Ps. 17:7. 60:5, 63:8). So when Jesus tells the seven stars or angels or pastors that he is holding them in his right hand, he is saying, “Fear not, for I am holding you with my mighty right hand.” It’s a powerful word of encouragement. “No matter what may happen to you, nothing and no one can snatch you from my strong right hand” (see John 10:28).
Further reading: “What’s so special about Christ’s right hand?”
(c) The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
A lampstand, like a church, is a bearer of light. Like much else in Revelation—crowns, bowls, rods, censers, altars, streets and a city (Rev. 4:4, 5:8, 8:3, 21:15, 18, 21)—the lampstands are made of gold, meaning they are precious. In the Lord’s eyes, any church, no matter how small or dysfunctional, is highly valued. If we were to view the church through the eyes of Jesus, we would see that it is much more than a collection of ragamuffins and misfits. The church is a treasure shining bright with the love of the Lord.
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- Revelation 1:1
- Revelation 1:2
- Revelation 1:3
- Revelation 1:4
- Revelation 1:5
- Revelation 1:6
- Revelation 1:7
- Revelation 1:8
- Revelation 1:9
- Revelation 1:10
- Revelation 1:11
- Revelation 1:12-13
- Revelation 1:14-15
- Revelation 1:16
- Revelation 1:17-18
- Revelation 1:19
- Revelation 1:20