John's Introduction to
Revelation is a letter of great importance to a
readership of people John loved and was concerned
for. It was a period of great uncertainty for those
in the church because of the severe persecution
coming at them from all sides. The Jews who
rejected Jesus Christ and the Roman empire were
violently opposed to Christianity. They were facing
the hatred of the unbelievers and faced physical
persecution and death no matter where they turned.
To the Christians it must have seemed God had
abandoned them to the evil forces and they were
doomed to perish at the hands of their enemies
because of their faith in one true and living God.
It was under these
circumstances that John wrote the Revelation. The
first readers of John's letter needed a divine
message of hope and perseverance to encourage them
to keep the faith and to let them know that God was
still in charge of the affairs on earth and they
needed to know that God was worth dieing for.
The first thing such a
letter needed to say would be to identify who it was
coming from, by what authority and to who it is
addressed. The first readers needed to know
immediately that this letter, no matter who it was
written by, is coming from God Himself. The first
sentence of the Revelation is loaded with
information and worthy of a study all to itself.
When we break the first sentence down into its
individual thoughts we learn that:
"The Revelation of Jesus
Christ", The message John is writing is coming
from Jesus Christ, the one who came down here and
died for all. The head of the church, the ruler of
the kingdom of God. This is further reinforced in
"which God gave him"
The message coming from Jesus was given to Him by
God the Father. This message originated and came
from the highest authority.
"to show unto his
servants" This letter is specifically for the
servants of Jesus Christ. In our previous study of
the opposition forces, we identified the good side
as the Christians. God did that for the first
readers of this letter in his first sentence.
"(even) the things which
must shortly come to pass" The events described
in this letter are going to take place in a
relatively short time frame. Certainly not over a
period of thousands of years. This letter is in
reference to immediate concerns, not the concerns of
future generations of people living millennia
later. Notice this reinforced in verse three with
the words "for the time is at hand".
Christians of the day were being oppressed and
killed for being Christians. People tend to
associate messages addressed to them as being
applicable to their immediate conditions. People
2000 years removed from the Revelation read it and
try to associate it with current conditions. They
see an earthquake or the heinous actions of an evil
leader and they instantly try and draw a connection
between it and the Revelation. We see this all the
time. In this respect, people today are no
different than they were in first century. The
first century Christians would read the Revelation
and draw comparisons between it and the conditions
surrounding them at that particular time. And for
good reason because the letter is addressed directly
to them, not to Christians living today. And this
is how we must look at this letter if we are to ever
"and he sent and
signified (it)" And Jesus sent and
"signified" it. This word in the Greek is
semaino (say-mah'-ee-no), which means to express
one's thoughts by signs. The Revelation is not the
only place in scripture where this word is used.
John 12:32-33 "And I, if
I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men
unto me. This he said, signifying what death he
Jesus expressed his
thoughts to his disciples on how he would die by
using the words "lifted up". He never used
the word "crucified". Jesus "signified" what death
he would die without ever revealing literally how it
would be done. We see this again in almost the
exact form in John 18:32 when Jesus was standing
before Pilate and again in John 21:19. So we see
from the first sentence of the Revelation, by divine
inspiration from God, that the message being given
was done so in signs and figurative language. This
message was "signified" or "symbolized". Therefore
the rules of Biblical interpretation which say that
the Bible must be generally interpreted in the
simplest literal terms unless cause can be shown
otherwise, are reversed for the Revelation. The
visions, creatures, time periods and scenes of
Revelation must be understood to be figurative
unless cause can be shown otherwise. As discussed
in previous studies, the reasoning behind this is so
that people ignorant of the scriptures would be
incapable of understanding the real message and not
perceive it to be any threat to them. And of course
what better key to unraveling the mysteries could
there be than with knowledge only a Christian
familiar with the word of God would possess. What
genius we see at work here in the plans of God.
Only those who are familiar with the word of God can
understand a message from God. God was
communicating to His people in forms of speech,
signs and symbols only they would be able to
comprehend, thus concealing it from outsiders.
"who bare witness of the
word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ,
(even) of all things that he saw." John himself
wrote in the first chapter of his Gospel account
that Jesus Christ was the word of God. He
identified himself here as the apostle who was there
to witness the life of Jesus and his testimony, and
in the last part declared that he had seen these
things with his own eyes. There were many people
named John in the first century. But this John was
special and the Christians knew it. These people
knew John was an apostle and that when he said he
had a message from God, it was genuine and God made
sure the first readers knew it was being delivered
through a reliable and trustworthy source.
"Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear
the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that
are written therein: for the time is at hand."
Now that God has
established who is the authority behind the letter,
He then goes on to say that those who read and keep
the the things written therein would be blessed.
Much could be written about this statement but the
key thing to bear in mind here is that for the most
part religious groups today teach a salvation by
faith only and some teach that once one enters into
a saved state, they can do nothing to lose their
salvation. The recipients of this letter were told
they would be blessed if they did the things written
in the letter. The letter tells them that those who
persevere and keep the commandments of God will
inherit life (Revelation 22:14), and those who
worship false Gods will suffer eternal damnation
This declaration of a
blessing on those who keep the things in this
prophecy is not only stated at the beginning of the
Revelation but also at the end. This book from God
is opened and closed with the same exhortation:
"And he said unto me, These words are faithful
and true: and the Lord, the God of the spirits of
the prophets, sent his angels to show unto his
servants the things which must shortly come to
pass. And behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he
that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this
The Revelation is written
to Christians. Many in the religious world today
disagree about which Christians in what age it is
referring to, but everyone agrees that they are
Christians. Taking into consideration that the
Revelation was specifically written to the
Christians in the latter half of the first century
and bearing in mind that they are going to make the
immediate application of it to their circumstances,
they were being told they had to do something which
is contained in the book. They are being told they
have to persevere and resist worshipping a false God
or suffer eternal consequences. If these Christians
were told they had to do something and had to
persevere in order to inherit eternal life, what
makes any Christian living at any other time in
history think they don't have to as well? Does this
sound like salvation by faith only? Can the
Christian today never lose their salvation but the
Christians in the first century could? Is God then
a respecter of persons after having said he wasn't
(Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, 1 Peter 1:17)?
The Christians of all ages
need to take a long and thoughtful look at the
situation the first readers of the Revelation were
living under. Christianity was illegal, the Jews
were reporting Christians to the authorities,
Christians were being slaughtered for being
Christians by the thousands. History is full of the
records of the faithful who died for Christ. But
the worst organized persecution of all time happened
in the first century. The core message of the
Revelation, written for "His servants", from
"God", through "Jesus Christ" and to "John"
(Revelation 1:1), is to keep on being faithful unto
death no matter what (Revelation 2:7; 10-11; 17; 26;
3:5; 12; 21; 12:11; 21:7). The Christians of the
first century were required to keep the commandments
of God, keep living faithfully and resist bowing
down to the forces of evil, unto death if need be.
What makes anyone think Christians of today are any
less obligated than they were?
If faith alone was
sufficient for the first century Christians there
would have been no need for them to die for their
faith. There would have been no need for the
Revelation to be revealed in the first place.
Revelation teaches us today, just like it taught
Christians 2000 years ago how to die faithfully in
Christ if necessary, to receive eternal life. The
Revelation was written to first century Christians
with an application for Christians of all ages.
"John to the seven churches which are in
Asia:" Here is the first usage of the
number 7 in a figurative way. The Revelation was
addressed to 7 churches, but the message was for all
the servants of God as we saw in verse 1. There
were more than 7 congregations worshipping in this
area two of them being the Colossian and the
"Grace be unto you, and
peace, from him which is, and which was, and which
is to come;" This is a reference to the eternal
God who exists now, always has existed and is going
to come again.
"and from the seven
Spirits which are before his throne" There were
seven spirits mentioned one for each congregation.
When Jesus addresses each individual congregation
directly he used the words "unto the angel of the
church" The word angel in the Greek means
messenger' This is the second use of the number 7
in a symbolic way. It balanced out the churches and
the spirits in the text, but there is only one
spirit, (Ephesians 4:4). The number 7 here is denoting
the sevenfold perfection and completeness of the
Holy Spirit's working.
"and from Jesus Christ, (who is) the faithful
witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of
the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and
loosed us from our sins by his blood;"
Several key characteristics
of Jesus Christ are illustrated here. He is
described as a prophet, priest and king. Jesus as
the faithful witness, "...Thou sayest that I am a
king. To this end was I born, and for this cause
came I into the world, that I should bear witness
unto the truth..." (John 18:37). "...I bear
witness of myself, my witness is true..." (John
8:14). Jesus who was "the firstborn from the
dead" (Colossians 1:18), and was the "firstfruits
of them that are asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20),
thereby qualifying Himself to be our "merciful and
faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to
make propitiation for the sins of the people."
(Hebrews 2:17). Is now our "King of kings and
Lord of lords" (1 Timothy 6:15).
What comfort this must have
been to the oppressed saints to be assured that
Jesus Christ was the ruler of those who crucified
Him, having triumphed over death and risen to reign
in heaven beside God the Father thereby guaranteeing
victory to the faithful in Him.
"and he made us (to be) a kingdom, (to be)
priests unto his God and Father; to him (be) the
glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
"and he made us
(to be) a kingdom,"
This is a statement here that the
religious world advocating millennialism would do
well to consider. Millennialists teach that Jesus
is going to return to earth and literally reign an
earthly kingdom from Jerusalem for a thousand
years. They fail to realize that the Kingdom of God
is a spiritual kingdom made up of God's children.
Jesus told Pilate at his trial that His kingdom was
not of this world (John 18:36). When answering the
Pharisees who asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God
would come, Jesus answered: "The kingdom of God
cometh not with observation: neither shall they say,
Lo, here! or, there! for lo, the kingdom of God is
within you." (Luke 17:20-21). So we learn from
Jesus own words that the Kingdom of God is an
intangible spiritual thing that is located within
each Christian. It is the spiritual kingdom of
God's children which is also known as the "Ekklesia"
or the "called out" which is translated "church"
in the Bible.
Jesus prophesied the coming
of the kingdom of God within the lifetimes of some
of His disciples: "And he said unto them, Verily
I say unto you, There are some here of them that
stand (by), who shall in no wise taste of death,
till they see the kingdom of God come with power"
(Mark 9:1). Paul wrote that they had been
translated "into the kingdom of his dear Son"
(Colossians 1:13) and we should walk worthy of God,
who hath called us into "his kingdom" (1
Thessalonians 2:12). Peter wrote that those who
added to their faith the things necessary would have
an entrance ministered to them into the
"everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus
Christ" (2 Peter 1:5-11 ). God referred to the
Kingdom of Jesus Christ in
Hebrews 1:8 and called
Him God. Later in the Revelation John wrote that he
was their "brother, and companion in tribulation,
and in the kingdom" (Revelation 1:9). One cannot
be added to, enter into, be called into, or be in a
kingdom that does not presently exist.
When Jesus came, lived,
died, was resurrected and ascended, he established
something that was not here previously. He told
Peter he was going to build something and he called
it a church in Matthew 16:18. The church is made up
of the children of God. It is the universal
collection of Christians across the earth living
faithfully in a spiritual kingdom that belongs to
Christ, built, paid for and ruled by Him today. The
church of the first century all the way up until
today is the spiritual kingdom of God's children.
It is noteworthy to
consider the KJV translates this verse as "kings"
instead of "kingdom". The Greek word used
here is "basileia" which literally means "kingdom"
or "realm". Nevertheless, one cannot
have kings without a kingdom. Those who believe
and teach millennialism need to realize God
presently has a spiritual kingdom He is reigning
over from Heaven.
"(to be) priests unto
his God and Father"
John later wrote in Jesus made the saints to be
"a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon earth"
(Revelation 5:10). Peter wrote, "But ye are a
elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a
people for (God's) own possession, that ye may show
forth the excellencies of him who called you out of
darkness into his marvelous light:" (1 Peter
2:9). Under Jewish law, only the Levites
could be priests. Under the "law of Christ"
(Galatians 6:2), all Christians are priests with
Jesus as our true king.
"to him (be) the glory
and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
This identifies God's eternal nature to the
readers. All Glory goes to God (Isaiah 48:11).
This is in stark contrast to the emperors of
Rome who's reign ended with their mortal death. The
King of the Christians rules forever and the
oppressed Christians were reminded of this.
"Behold, he cometh with the
clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that
pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall
mourn over him. Even so, Amen."
Jesus ascended in a "cloud"
(Acts 1:9), His return was said to be in "like
manner" (Acts 1:11). Every Christian on earth had
to know He had been pierced. The Jews and Gentiles
both were equally responsible for this. The Jews
requested it of the Roman authority because under
law they could not put Jesus to death by
crucifixion. They were so adamant about it that
they declared to accept the responsibility of the
blood of Jesus to be on them and their their
children (Matthew 27:25). The Romans were the
actual agents involved in the driving of the spikes
through Jesus' hands and feet, and it was a Roman
soldier that "pierced His side" with a spear
to determine if He was dead (John 19:34).
Paul wrote that Jesus'
return would be "from heaven with a shout, with
the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of
God:" This is not going to be a quiet peaceful
event in any way shape or form. All the nations on
earth are going to mourn His return, They are going
to know what is happening and for the vast majority
of the people on earth it is going to be a great day
of sorrow. "Sudden destruction" will come
upon them and "they shall not escape" (1
Thessalonians 5:3) This is in contrast to
millennial teachings that say the unfaithful will
remain behind on earth.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord
God, who is and who was and who is to come, the
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters in
the Greek Alphabet. They symbolize the beginning
and the end. Jesus was the active agent in the
creation of the universe, (Ephesians 3:9, Colossians
Hebrews 1:2). Jesus literally was the
beginning of what we on earth can perceive as the
It is significant that
Jesus here referred to Himself as the "Lord God"
and the "Almighty." The words "Lord God"
are translated from the words "kurios" which means
supreme authority and is used like a title such as
"Lord" or "Sir", and "theos" which is the word for
God. Jesus is therefore one of the distinct
personages of the Godhead, thereby sharing the
attributes of God the Father. God, the Father,
referred to "the Son" Jesus as "God" in
Hebrews 1:8. When Moses asked God what he should be
called, God answered: "I AM THAT I AM"
(Exodus 3:14). In John 8:58 Jesus said to the Jews
"Before Abraham was born, I am." In verse 8
Jesus referred to Himself as the one "who is"
meaning in existence now, "who was" meaning
in existence prior and "who is to come"
meaning He plans to return which implies He will
continue to exist into the future. Jesus shares the
nature of Godhood thereby making Him Deity. He has
always existed and in
John 1:1 is described as being
the word of God, existing before the beginning as
God. Those in the religious world today who believe
and teach that Jesus is a created being need to
re-evaluate that belief and bring it into harmony
with what the word of God teaches.
"I John, your brother and partaker with you in
tribulation and kingdom and patience (which are) in
Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for
the word of God and the testimony of Jesus."
John identifies himself
again and this time he gives his readership some
things they can relate to on a personal level. He
is being persecuted, himself being banished to the
island of Patmos. Patmos is a rugged barren rocky
island about 24 miles west of the coast of Asia
Minor. In John's day it was used as forced labor
prison island by the Roman Empire where the
prisoners worked in the mines. History records that
John was sent to Patmos by Domitian. However the
internal evidence within the Revelation places the
writing during the reign of Vespasian. If this is
accurate, John found himself on Patmos twice in his
life. Much disagreement among scholars has arisen
over this and prevents the absolute dating of the
writing of the book of Revelation. John, by
inspiration, placed himself on the Island of Patmos
and that much is certain.
It has been speculated that
John was sent to Patmos prior to Domitian's reign as
a result of his battling the doctrine of the
Nicolaitans. This sect was especially prevalent in
Asia Minor and caused a lot of trouble to the
faithful Christians. Briefly the Nicolaitans
disobeyed the command issued to the gentile
churches, by the apostles to refrain from the
eating of "things sacrificed to idols" (Acts 15:29).
Such a restriction prevented the Christian
communities from joining in public festivals where
meat that had been sacrificed in idolatrous
practices was eaten. This brought upon them
suspicion and dislike, but was necessary to prevent
a return to pagan worship which was prevalent all
around them at the time. Eventually the Nicolaitans
did return to the more base practices of pagan
worship and they incorporated all kinds of
adulterous and idolatrous actions into their
As mentioned earlier, John
also referred to himself as being in the Kingdom
with his readership. Jesus Christ is the king of
this kingdom and ruling it from heaven. If the
first century Christians were in the Kingdom of God,
then Christians today are no less in the same
John's introduction of the
Revelation is marked with some very significant
characteristics all of which one would find in any
letter of this degree of importance written out of
concern to loved ones. First, it came at a time of
intense persecution of which John was a fellow
sufferer (V9). It was addressed specifically to a
particular group of Christians at a particular time
in history (V4), which means the message must be
understood as being to them specifically with an
application for all Christians. This fact is
brought out in great detail in later writings on the
vision of Jesus Christ and the individual messages
to the separate congregations.
The message originated at
the highest source, given to Jesus by God the
Father, to relay on to John (V1). The first readers
would recognize that, coming from the beloved
apostle John, who said it came from God, meant that
this message was of great importance and from a
The timeframe of the events
in Revelation was said to be "at hand" (V3)
and were going to "shortly come to pass"
(V1). The events depicted within were claimed by
the writer to be imminent, not projected 2000 years
or more into the future.
The message was symbolized
so that it is communicated in signs and visions
(V1). Such a message would look like nonsense to
anybody unfamiliar with Christianity and the way God
communicated with His people in previous writings.
The enemies of the Christians under their present
tribulation would look at the Revelation and be
utterly confused as it its content. This is vital
in that the message had to be circulated among the
known world in the Roman Empire and if the
authorities knew and realized the revelation was a
message of perseverance and ultimate triumph over
them, it would have been collected and denied to the
Christians. What better way to encode a message
than to do so with language only a Christian well
versed in scripture would be able to understand? To
those outside Christianity, it was nothing more than
a superstition of which they knew almost nothing.
specifically to the Christians in the first century,
we today must recognize that the first readers will
see to whom the letter is directed, see that it says
the timeframe for the prophecy is at hand, and make
immediate associations to the things written in the
Revelation to their current circumstances. The
entire template for understanding this letter is to
do so through the eyes of those to whom it was
addressed. What it meant to them then is what it
must mean to us today. The precepts and conditions
that the first readers were obligated to adhere to
apply to all Christians for all time. The
Revelation, from God, to Jesus, through the hand of
the apostle John was written to them with an
application for all.