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Revelation Index


The Book of Revelation

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John's Introduction to Revelation

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 verse 5.

"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 understand it. 

"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 should die."

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.

Revelation 1:3
"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 (Revelation 14:11). 

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:

Revelation 22:6-7
"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 book."

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. 

The Salutation

Revelation 1:4
"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 Laodicean congregations.

"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 'a 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. 

Revelation 1:5
"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. 

Revelation 1:6
"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. 

Revelation 1:7
 "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. 
Revelation 1:8
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

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 1:16, Hebrews 1:2).  Jesus literally was the beginning of what we on earth can perceive as the creation.

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. 

Revelation 1:9
"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 worship. 

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 kingdom. 

In summary

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 trustworthy source. 

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. 

Being addressed 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. 

Church of Christ Lessons on the Revelation of Jesus Christ

1.  Understanding Revelation
2.  Symbolic Objects in Revelation
3.  Understanding the Numerical Symbolism in Revelation
4.  Identifying the Opposition Characters in Revelation
John's Introduction to the Churches of Asia

6.  John's Vision of Jesus Christ
7. The Church who Left Her First Love, Ephesus
8.  Smyrna, the Suffering Church
9.  Pergamum, the church in Hell's Headquarter
10.  Thyatira, the church that Condoned Sin
11. Sardis (The Dead Church)
12. Philadelphia (The Church With Opportunity)
13.  Laodicea (The Lukewarm Church)

14.  Letter to Your Church
15.  John's Throne Vision (chapter 4)
16.  God the Redeemer Revealed  (chapter 5)
17.  God the Avenger of His Children (Chapter 6)
18.  Who Will Be Able To Stand  (Chapter 7)
19.  The First Four Trumpets
(Chapter 8)
20.  The Fifth Trumpet (Chapter 9:1-12)
21.  The Sixth Trumpet Announcement (Chapter 9:13-21)
22. The Little Book and the Unutterable Thunders (Rev 10)
23.  The Seventh Trumpet Announcement (Rev 11)
24. The Conflict (Revelation 12)
25.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the First Beast)

26.  Revelation 13 (Identification of the Second Beast)

27.  Chapter 14 (The Victorious Lamb and the Redeemed)
28.  Revelation 14 (The Turning Point)
29.  Revelation 14 (The Sickle and the Winepress)
30.  Chapter 15 (Comfort for the Saints)
31.  Chapter 16 (Bowls of Wrath)
32.  Chapter 16 (The Battle of Armageddon)
33.  Chapter 17 (The Scarlet Woman)
34.  Chapter 18 (Fallen  is Babylon)

35.  King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Chapter 19)
36.  The Fall of Satan  (Chapter 20)
37.  Heaven, the Home of the Soul  (Chapter 21)
38.  The Spirit and the Bride Say Come  (Chapter 22)
39.  The Dating of the Revelation

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Revelation 21:5-7

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.  And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.  He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.