Revelation Chapter One – An Overview
This chapter marks the background and overview for the letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. This introduction and the following studies are based on the King James Bible (KJB).
Revelation 1:1-2. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Verses 1-2: God the Father gave Jesus Christ this revelation, which Jesus then gave to the Apostle John through an angel. Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, took on a human body and became a man in Bethlehem. Now as God and man, He is the perfect (and only) mediator between both. (1 Timothy 2:5) This explains why the Father would give Jesus the book of Revelation to pass on to His Apostle John. This revelation is intended for all His (Jesus’) servants, to reveal to them – and to warn and encourage them about – “things which must shortly come to pass.”
Revelation 1:3. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
Verse 3: Notice the blessing is upon “he that readeth.” “Readeth” is in present tense, implying continual reading, not just a quick skimming through of its contents. Many commentators take this to mean the person publicly reading the book of Revelation to a local gathering of believers, but I also believe it refers to any Bible-believer taking the time to diligently study it for himself. (See 2 Timothy 2:15) Contrary to popular opinion, and according to Rev. 22:10, this book was never sealed; God intended His servants to understand it. That is where the studying comes into place. Revelation is the culmination of the whole Bible, especially of Bible prophecy, concluding in the revealing (revelation) of Jesus Christ. There is a saying that the Book of Revelation is the Grand Central Station of the whole Bible, meaning that all the symbolism can be found and explained elsewhere in the Word of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:13, we are told to compare “spiritual things with spiritual”; this means comparing Scripture with Scripture. The Scriptures are the best commentary on themselves, and seeing how the Holy Spirit uses each word or phrase throughout the whole Bible is a better definition than any dictionary. The more you read and study all of Scripture, the more you will understand this book.
The blessing is also upon “they that hear… and keep those things that are written therein.” A thoughtful and prayerful reading through of this book will give you a simple overview of events and a basic understanding of how the Lord wants His children to live, though more thorough study will put those events in context with the rest of Scripture.
There are three points I want to make at this time:
1) If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour, until you do, studying this book will be a fruitless exercise for you because you will not have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you to help you understand it. This is according to what God Himself says in His Word. (1 Corinthians 2:9-14) The only way to remedy that situation is to repent of your sins and to come to Jesus Christ, accept Him as your Lord and Saviour, believing that He died for your sins, that He completely paid the penalty that you could never pay, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day in fulfilment of the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) The moment you come to Jesus in repentance and faith, the Holy Spirit will seal, indwell, and guide you, to become your permanent Comforter and teacher.
2) All Scripture testifies of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to search the Scriptures to find Him, like treasure hidden in a field. Read the following verses: Matthew 13:44; Luke 24:27, 44-48; Acts 10:43; Hebrews 10:7. Revelation 19:10 also bears this out. “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The word “testimony” here is the same word in Greek as “testify” in John 5:39. It means to be a witness of. The way the word “prophecy” is used several other places in Revelation shows that here it is a synonym for the Scriptures. See Revelation 22:18-19. So this passage is teaching that the testimony (witness) of Jesus is the heart (spirit) of the Scriptures. Jesus is also at the heart of the book of Revelation; it is the revelation of Jesus Christ after all.
3) You don’t need to understand the whole book of Revelation to obey it. There are many clear commands and admonitions in this book. In James 1:22, we are told to be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Scripture isn’t intended to be an intellectual sharpening stone, but a book that we learn from and live by. (See John 13:17) If in all your reading of God’s Word your life isn’t changed, then you are missing the point of Bible study. (2 Timothy 3:15-17) Jesus promises to give us greater understanding and wisdom if we obey what we already know, if we put into practice what the Holy Spirit teaches us. (Matthew 13:12; 7:24-25)
The word “keep” in this verse is Strong’s #5083 and means “to watch; to guard (from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon.)” Pay attention to what God is saying to you from His Word; keep it by applying it to your life, and then you will be blessed indeed!
Meditating on the Lord’s soon return ought to stir you up to greater zeal and faithfulness. Contrast 1 John 3:2-3 with Matthew 24:48-51.
This is the first of seven “blesseds” in the book of Revelation. The other six are found in: 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14. Notice that the second to last one of these seven promises is also a blessing for keeping the Word of God (notice that the word “keepeth” here is the same word as used in 1:3):
Revelation 22:7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
Revelation 1:4-8. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
Verses 4-8: Grace and peace to you from the three members of the Godhead:
“From Him which is, and which was, and which is to come” – the Father.
“the seven Spirits which are before His throne” – the Holy Spirit. I believe the seven Spirits refers to the seven-fold attributes of the Holy Spirit found in Isaiah 11:2.
The Spirit of the LORD,
the Spirit of wisdom,
of the fear of the LORD.
“and from Jesus Christ” – the Son.
In verse 5, Jesus is declared as Prophet (faithful witness), Priest (the first begotten of the dead – see Hebrews 7:27, 9:24-28 and Romans 4:25), and King (the prince of the kings of the earth. The word for “prince” here is Strong’s #758, which means “first in rank or power; ie. chief ruler”.)
Two ways that Christ has shown His love for us through His death, burial, and resurrection are: He washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God the Father. Jesus Christ is coming again and all eyes will see Him.
Verse 7 is a quote from Zechariah 12:10, and refers to the fact that Christ’s return will affect the whole world, whether mourning in repentance for sins (in the case of the remaining Jews – see Romans 11:26) or wailing in horror at the eternal judgements about to be pronounced on the nations of the world.
Jesus is (notice the seven different names or titles He has here in this first chapter of the book of Revelation):
Alpha and Omega,
the beginning and the ending,
which is, which was, and which is to come,*
the first and the last, (verse 17) (This is a direct claim to Jesus’ Deity – and there is only one true God. See Isaiah 44:6)
He that liveth and was dead… and is alive for evermore (verse 18)
*A comparison of verses 4 and 8 will reveal the Deity of Jesus Christ. In verse 4, God the Father is called “Him which is, and which was, and which is to come.” In verse 8, Jesus is called by this same name, thereby giving Jesus equality with the Father.
Revelation 1:9-11. I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
Verses 9-11: Now we come to the background on John the Apostle. He was imprisoned on the Island of Patmos for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. This, historically, was during the reign of the Roman Caesar, Domitian, in the year A.D. 96. This was the second persecution of Christians by the Roman Caesars; the first was under Nero. (Under Nero’s reign, Peter and Paul were both martyred.)
John’s vision in the book of Revelation fulfilled, in a way, Jesus’ words in John 21:22. While those words may or may not have been prophetic, it is still very interesting that John lived to see (via revelation from God) the physical return of Christ and the coming Millennial kingdom.
John is the only Apostle to have died of old age, the rest of the twelve were martyred for their faith and their testimony about Jesus Christ, beginning with John’s own brother, James, who was murdered by Herod (in Acts chapter 12).
The Greek word for “witness” and “testimony” used in the book of Revelation is ‘martus’ (Strong’s #3144, 3141, or a form thereof); from this word we get our English word “martyr”. Millions of true Christians throughout history sealed their testimony with their own lives. Three good books to read about this subject are: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe; Martyr’s Mirror by Thieleman J. van Braght (these two books can be found easily online, and downloadable in pdf format, and Foxe’s Book Of Martyrs is included for free in various Bible study programs) ; and Rome and The Bible by David Cloud. I highly recommend brother Cloud’s book which traces the history of the Roman Catholic Church and its persecution of the Bible and of Bible believers. This pdf file can be downloaded for free through Way of Life Literature.
Next, John is told to write down the visions that Jesus Christ gave him and send them to the seven churches which are in Asia. These seven are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The letters in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 depict these literal, local churches as they were in the first century, with varying degrees of faithfulness and compromise, running the whole spectrum in which any local church throughout time can fall into at any given moment. Each church (and each individual Christian) can examine itself in light of Christ’s warnings, exhortations, and praises. A careful study of these churches and a comparison of their descriptions with the eras of church history from the time of Christ until His return again will reveal a prophetic overview of the Church Age. In the Bible, the number seven symbolically represents perfection; fullness; completion. In these seven letters we have a complete overview of church history and its development throughout the centuries from God’s perspective.
These periods are as follows (these dates are approximate):
1. Ephesus: 32 – 100 A.D. The Backslidden (Loveless) Church
2. Smyrna: 100 – 312 A.D. The (Persecuted) Suffering Church
3. Pergamos: 312 – 590 A.D. The Compromising Church
4. Thyatira: 590 – 1517 A.D. The Corrupt Church
5. Sardis: 1517 – 1750 A.D. The Dead Church
6. Philadelphia: 1750 – 1881 (or 1900) A.D. The Missionary Church
7. Laodicea: 1881 (or 1900) A.D. – the Tribulation. The Lukewarm Church
Revelation 1:12-18, 20. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
Verses 12-18, 20: But before Christ gives His descriptions of the seven churches, He reveals His glorified self to His beloved Apostle. Though John was Jesus’ closest friend, during His 3 1/2 years of ministry, and had previously caught a glimpse of Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, he still fell at Jesus’ feet as though dead. To comfort John, Jesus laid His right hand on him and told him to fear not.
Notice: when a person (especially a believer) is truly given a glimpse of the utter holiness and the glory of God, they are overwhelmed by their utter unworthiness and sinfulness, they are not lighthearted and frivolous. (See also Exodus 3:6; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8; Acts 9:6.)
Here is what John saw: one like unto the Son of Man in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (which are the seven churches – see verse 20). Jesus was holding in His right hand – the place of honour – seven stars, which represent the angels of the seven churches. The Greek word for “angel” (Strong’s #32) also means “messenger”, and is so translated seven times in the KJV. An angel is a messenger, one who is sent by God. In this case, the angels (messengers) refers to the pastors of the seven churches, to which each of the letters in chapters 2 and 3 are addressed. (See also Malachi 2:7.) In other words, Jesus was in the midst of His churches, and was holding the pastors (angels) in His right hand, in the place of honour.
It is interesting to note that John calls Jesus “one like unto the Son of Man.” (See also Rev. 14:14.) Before Jesus’ incarnation, Daniel also referred to Christ in this way in Daniel 7:13. In Daniel’s time, Jesus may have revealed Himself as He would look six hundred years later when He would be incarnated in a human body. In the Old Testament (especially the book of Ezekiel), the term “son of man” was simply a reference to a human being. In His years of public ministry, Jesus referred many times to Himself as the Son of Man, giving this term the further connotation of Messiah – God’s Anointed one who would be both God and man, in fulfilment of many O.T. prophecies. In A.D. 96, over sixty years later, John saw one like unto the Son of Man. Jesus was then (and forever will be) both God and man, but now in heaven He is glorified once again, bearing a recognizable, though changed, appearance.
All symbolism used throughout the book of Revelation is found elsewhere in the Word of God. A Strong’s Concordance or good Bible program can easily help you find many other references where each item, name, and description are used elsewhere throughout the Bible. Prayerful study will reveal what God intends to convey by using each symbol in this book.
Note: I want to caution all readers against making everything in the book of Revelation into a symbol.
1st point: There is much in these 22 chapters that is plain and literal (like the New Jerusalem; the new heaven and earth; the thousand-year reign of Christ, the 144,000 sealed Jews, etc.), and even in some passages where obvious symbolism is used, there is still a literal event going on. (Like in Revelation 6:12-13 where the sun becomes black as sackcloth of hair, the moon becomes as blood, and the stars of heaven fall to the earth. This means the sun will literally turn black, but its colour will be like that of black sackcloth made of hair. In chapters 8, 9, and 16, “like” and “as” are used many times as comparisons.) By studying the rest of Scripture, you will realize that some of these events are also described elsewhere. (See Matthew 24:29 and Joel 2:31. Another example: compare Revelation 14:14-20 with Joel 3:12-15.)
One reason that I believe that the trumpet and vial judgements are real, literal events is because they are basically the same as the plagues that God (through Moses) poured out on Egypt, except now they are on a world-wide level instead of a local level. Check it out. Why would God perform literal, miraculous acts of judgement on Egypt 3500 years ago, and then use the same descriptions in regards to His end-time judgements, if He did not also mean to teach us that these plagues would also be literal? Romans 15:4 and 1 Corinthians 10:11 teach us that the Scriptures were given to us to learn from past examples and events. By seeing how God has worked in the past, we get a glimpse of how He will work in the future.
2nd point: Look how Scripture defines Scripture, how God in His own Word explains what He means by a symbol. Some examples of this can be found in Revelation 1:20 and 17:7, 9-12, 15, 18. Passages like these remove much of the guesswork out of prophecy, and help you sort out false interpretations. Because the Lord Jesus said in 1:20, that the candlesticks stand for the churches, I don’t need to search out another meaning. It would be pretty foolish of God to define a symbol by a symbol. (Please note previous comment about the word “angel.” In this case the word has a double meaning.) He meant for His children to understand His Word – how else could we keep the sayings of the prophecy of this book? (Rev. 22:6) “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance.” Matthew 13:12 “He who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Determine what the symbolism is, see how that word (or phrase) is used elsewhere in Scripture, and then see how that symbol fits into the passage you are studying. Let Scripture define and explain Scripture, and always seek the Holy Spirit’s understanding and wisdom.
Notice the following seven-fold description of Christ in this chapter, and see how other passages of the Bible itself open up this symbolism for us.
1. Girt about the paps (chest) with a golden girdle.
– Jesus was dressed like a high priest. See Exodus 28:4
– Gold many times in Scripture symbolizes Jesus’ deity, especially in reference to the tabernacle system.
2. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.
– White hair represents wisdom. Proverbs 16:31
– Also represents sinlessness, purity. Isaiah 1:18; John 14:30
3. His eyes were as a flame of fire.
– Christ’s omniscience. His ability to know, see and judge all things. Jeremiah 32:19; Hebrews 4:13
– The judging power of God’s Word. Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12
4. His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.
– Brass=judgement in reference to its use in the tabernacle, on the sacrificial altar and in the implements. Exodus 27:1-4
– Symbolic of judging and crushing Jesus’ enemies underneath His feet. Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 15:25
5. His voice as the sound of many waters.
– God’s glory. Ezekiel 43:2; 1:24 Also Revelation 17:15; Daniel 10:6 As Niagara Falls would drown out any sounds that we could make, so God’s glory thunders and drowns out everything else.
6. Out of His mouth went a sharp twoedged sword.
– The Word of God; the Sword of the Spirit. Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17
7. His countenance was as the sun shineth* in his strength.
– The brightness of Christ’s glory. 1 Timothy 6:16; Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:3; Acts 9:3-9; Revelation 21:23
– *The verb ending “eth” indicates ongoing action. Jesus’ glory was only glimpsed temporarily by Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration – shining for a time, but then veiled to man after that; however, now in Heaven, Jesus’ glory is no longer veiled or hidden; it is revealed forever (and this is the glory He had before He came down to earth to take on a human body, His glory which is now shining forevermore). See also John 17:5.
I find it so comforting to know that Christ alone holds the keys of hell and of death. My times are in His hands. Truly if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father, I know that even if I am to die for my witness of Jesus Christ, it will only be in God’s perfect timing and completely in His sovereign control. I cannot die until God wills to take me home!
Revelation 1:19. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
Verse 19: Final comment about chapter one: God even tells us how to rightly divide the book of Revelation.
The things which thou hast seen – this vision of Jesus glorified (chapter 1).
The things which are – the Church Age. (Historic and Prophetic, chapters 2-3).
The things which shall be hereafter (after the Church Age) – the Tribulation (Revelation chapters 4-19), the Millennium (chapter 20), and eternity in the new heaven and new earth (chapters 21-22).