The Revelation of Jesus Christ Given to John
Wouldn’t you like to know what heaven looks like, and what goes on there? What do angels and the people in heaven think? What does the glorified Christ look like? The book of Revelation opens all this up for us to see. The title we translate as Revelation is actually the Greek word for Apocalypse, which means literally the unveiling or revealing. All the worldly secular movies and novels depict the Apocalypse as the scariest thing in the Bible, but to believers it should be the most comforting and reassuring of books. The difference in perspective is that this book is all about our greatest promise from the Lord–the second coming of Christ. Christ’s coming is the climax of Revelation and the end of evil and all that’s wrong with the world. Now, we get distracted as we focus on the current events of the world today, but in our heart of hearts we live for that day and the fulfillment of the glorious promise of God. Everything we believe about Jesus will be vindicated, and all the trouble, pain, injustice, violence, and death will be over, as Revelation 21:4 says, “He shall wipe away every tear and there shall no longer be any death or mourning, crying or pain—all that will have passed away”.
The bottom line is that John got to see into the future and has reported to us the ultimate victory of Jesus over all human and demonic opposition. It is no accident that Genesis comes first and Revelation last. They act as bookends. In Genesis we have the story of the origin of human sin and the entry of evil into the world. In Revelation we have the complete and final victory over sin. In Genesis we see the beginning of God’s judgment and His program for the redemption of mankind. In Revelation we see the end result of His judgment and the triumph of His grace. This messy world we live in is coming to an end, and the Kingdom of God will replace it. Naturally we will all ask when exactly will these things happen, but there is a danger of predicting what God has chosen to conceal. Columbus wrote that God sent him to the new world to set up the Kingdom of God, Luther said the Ottoman invasion of Austria was Armageddon and the Ottoman King was the Antichrist, many Americans believed King George was the Antichrist and the Revolutionary War was Armageddon. The Jehovah’s Witnesses hold the record for false predictions with about a dozen dates for the end of the world, and in 1988 the best selling Christian book was 88 REASONS WHY THE RAPTURE WILL BE IN 1988. The next year the same author published 89 REASONS WHY THE RAPTURE WILL BE IN 1989. The truth is God alone knows the appointed time of Christ’s second coming, and it is up to us to live in anticipation of it. The joke goes that with God a thousand years is like a second and a billion dollars is like a penny. So the critic said “Give me that penny”, and the minister said “wait just a second”.
Why so much Symbolism in Revelation ?
Revelation has gotten a bad rap. One theologian said, “Revelation is a famous book in which John concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing”. That is funny, but not true at all. John is told four times to write down everything he saw and heard. John saw everything in images and word pictures–much of it is beyond this world that we know so he must describe it with similes and figures of speech, but he clearly means for us to take him literally about what he saw and what is coming upon planet earth. For instance, how could John in 95 AD describe things that might take place in the 21st century? Therefore his images transcend time and culture. These images also make strong impressions that we will remember. Everybody remembers the image of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” even if they never took the time to find out what they represented. How else could you explain heavenly things not of this world like the throne of God and the singing of the heavenly host? Also Jesus spoke in parables and symbolism to both reveal and conceal, and this has truly worked in the case of the Apocalypse. Look at what the world has done with it with all the silly Hollywood movies and novels. The world has no idea what is really going on in the book of Revelation, but the Spirit of God can reveal it to we who believe. The world’s interpretation has nothing to do with the truth revealed in the last book in the Bible.
Author, Date, Occasion, Purpose, Theme
The Apostle John, not John the Baptist, is identified in Rev. 1:1, 4, 9 and again in 22:8 as the author. Church tradition tells us John lived in Ephesus and had a close relationship with the 7 churches listed in chapters 2-3. All the second century church fathers like Justin Martyr and Irenaeus attributed Revelation to the Apostle John. The author wrote it during a time of intense persecution by the state against the church. The persecution brought by the Roman Emperor Domitian in 95-96 AD fits, and the conditions in the churches of ch.2-3 agrees with this date for the writing of Revelation. John was exiled onto the tiny island of Patmos for preaching the Gospel, so he wrote this letter to the seven churches from there. His purpose was to address moral and doctrinal errors in the churches, and also to encourage them by revealing God’s program in the end times to end evil and set up the Kingdom of Righteousness. The main themes are judgment on an evil idolatrous world, redemption of believers in Christ, and setting up the Kingdom.
In Rev. 1:1-3, John lets us know what this letter is, where the information comes from, who it is for, and the blessing intended for all who respond to it. This is the revealing directly from Jesus Christ who entrusted it to John to write down for the “bond-servants”, meaning believers in Christ. John received all this information through the agency of the angel of the Lord. The angel bore witness that it all is the Word of God. All the other writings of mankind are opinions, theories, reflections, and therefore subject to doubt, but this letter has the authority of God behind it. Here, Jesus reveals the ultimate victory of Jesus over all human and demonic opposition. In verse 3 we have a promise of a blessing to all who read and hear the words of “this prophecy” and heed or respond to them. In the first century churches, the majority of people were illiterate so one person would read these letters to the congregation and the group would “hear” them and respond. We read here that “the time is near”. The Greek word here translated as time actually is “kairos” which is used for epochs or eras, so he is saying the next great era of history is coming.
The Author and his Audience–Rev. 1:4-8
John was writing directly to the seven churches in Asia Minor, but ultimately it is for the universal church. “Grace and peace” was a typical salutation to the churches and conveyed God’s special blessing to believers of His unmerited favor through Christ and peace in our reconciliation to God through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. The seven Spirits are the angels who are messengers from God to the churches. In v.5 we read that the real author is none other than the totally awesome Jesus Christ and we are given very descriptive titles of Jesus detailing who He is and what all He has done for us. He loves us, He freed us from our sins, made us a kingdom of priests, gave us access to God, and guarantees our resurrection. Jesus repeats the prophecy of Daniel 7:13 as being fulfilled by Him, and tells us that the second coming will be so awesome that everyone will see Him coming. What is Jesus’ relationship to God? In v.8, Jesus says, “I AM the Alpha and Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty”—a beautiful expression of His deity.
In Rev. 1:9-12, we have our first vision of the glorified Christ as He speaks directly to John. The author tells us that John was in exile as a prisoner on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea about 50 miles southwest of Ephesus. On a Sunday, he was “in the Spirit” meaning under the control or influence of the Spirit of God, when he heard a loud voice like a trumpet blast commanding him to write down everything that he was going to see and hear and send it to the seven churches beginning with Ephesus. If you look at a map of these seven cities you can see that Ephesus was the largest city and a highway went out to the NE and made a large loop back to Ephesus, and the churches were all on that road. Therefore a messenger could take the letter written by John to the large church in Ephesus and it could be copied and taken to the rest of the churches. When John turned around to see the voice he saw seven golden lamp stands, which we are told in v.20 represent the seven churches. Standing among His lamp stands is the Son of Man, which is the messianic title for Jesus Christ. For John, each church is like a lamp stand that gives light to the world around it.
Seeing The Glorified Christ Through the Eyes of John
All of us have longed to personally see Jesus. Just think of the assurance that would give you if Jesus would appear to you and talk to you–what an experience that would be! Now we can see and hear Jesus through the eyes and ears of John. We will see how different Jesus seems now compared to His first coming. John spent about three years with Jesus in His humble suffering servant period of His first coming. But now John sees Him glorified in His role as High Priest, Conquering King, and Supreme Judge. The imagery that John uses to describe Him is the exact clothing, glory, and power of these important offices of Jesus. Christ’s voice was loud and powerful like the sound of a large waterfall. If you have been to Niagara Falls you know that nobody talks over that mighty resounding noise, but the sound of God’s voice is more powerful than all. Think of all your problems and how noisy and loud they are, but God’s voice speaks to us above it all.
The glorified Christ’s head and His hair were brilliantly dazzling white like the whitest wool or snow, which signifies His holiness, wisdom, and purity. His eyes were like a flame of fire piercing, penetrating as if able to see right through you in order to perfectly know and judge you. His feet were like burnished bronze, which is an image of kings in ancient times who sat on raised thrones to judge the subjects kneeling at their feet. The footwear of the King would be shined bronze. His authoritative voice drowned out all other noise, and He had a sharp sword of judgment coming out of His mouth. We will see that sword in action in Rev. 19:15 when Christ comes back as the conquering King to judge the evil world and slay the wicked. The glory of Christ is so great that John likens it to “the sun shining in its strength”. The sun is so bright you can’t look directly at it very long without being blinded, and so you can’t look at it directly. QUESTION—DOES THIS VISION FIT THE WORLD’s VIEW OF A MILK TOAST, DOOR MAT, BUDDY-BUDDY, NON JUDGMENTAL SANTA CLAUS TYPE OF CHRIST? No way, just look at John’s natural response in Rev.1:17 to the awesomeness of the vision of Christ—John “fell at His feet as if dead”. It is the same response of Joshua, Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel when they saw Him. They were all terrified, blown away, and totally in awe of His presence. We can now also see Jesus presented in all His exaltation, majesty, power, and glory by looking through John’s eyes in Revelation. We also see Him now in His rightful positions as our High Priest, Judge, and King.
If President Reagan or any other President walked in to our room we would treat him with respect, nicety, even awe. If the Queen of England walked in, or your biggest sports hero, or celebrity of any kind, your eyes might get big or your jaw might drop. Maybe you would ask for an autograph or a picture with them; but if the glorified Christ walked in here we would all fall face down on the ground as if we were dead. Why? Because of the unique unequalled power and glory of the Living God, and yet, look at what Jesus said to John in Rev.1:17, “Do not be afraid”. Jesus was telling John and us, “Do not be afraid because I am God and I died for you and now I am living. I am with you, and have the power of life and death”. Because He lives and has atoned for our sins we need have no fear of death. Notice that Jesus laid His right hand on John as a touch of reassurance and comfort as if to say, “I got this, you are with Me, and rest assured that your future with me is certain.” We as Christians are called to live by faith in the invisible God, but here through John’s eyes we get to see Jesus. Our hearts and minds are raised to attention seeing that Jesus is coming as Judge, High Priest, and King. The Lord, through the eyes of John, has lifted the veil and revealed the future history of the world so we can see the great and awesome things He will do upon the earth. Make no mistake, the author John takes everything he sees and hears literally, and Jesus’ instructions to John are to write down everything—“those things that are and are to take place after this”. Notice also that in Revelation 1:3 that Jesus calls everything that John wrote down “prophecy”. Many theologians today do not interpret this book literally, but clearly John took it literally and expected the church to do so also. John was told that everyone who took this prophecy to heart would be “blessed”, and I think part of that blessing is knowing that our Christian experience will end well with the coming of Christ. This book should give us the perspective that no matter what’s going on in the fallen world we live in, God has a bigger plan to overcome evil and redeem all that believe in Him.