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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:
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ"
The Greek can be translated, "Jesus Christ's revelation." It was Jesus who appeared to John, and Jesus who sent and signified Revelation's content by His angel. It is also a revelation of Jesus. In this book Jesus Christ is revealed in His present work for us in heaven.
The book was never sealed, as was the prophecy of Daniel, for by its very title it is a revelation. It is intended to be understood, hence the blessing pronounced in verse 3 upon those who make it their study.
Revelation is sometimes called The Apocalypse, which is the Greek word for "revelation" in this verse. The word literally means "an unveiling," and in religious contexts usually indicates a revealing of the future.
"Which God gave unto him"
On earth, Jesus insistently declared that God was the source of all his teachings.
"And he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John"
The channel of communication is therefore: God to Jesus to His angel to the prophet to the churches. This is not only the channel through which the book of revelation was given, but it is the method by which all of Scripture has been transmitted to us. The prophets who wrote the Bible received their message from an angel, who was sent by Jesus, with the word of God.
The Revelation was "sign-ified," presented in symbolic language. By comparing one Scripture passage with another, we can understand what is meant by each symbol.
Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
"The word of God, and . . . the testimony of Jesus Christ"
These words are repeated in verse 9. Since God's word is always communicated through Christ, "the word of God" and "the testimony of Jesus" are the same thing.
"That he saw"
Revelation contains 73 references to things that John was shown visually, and 38 references to things he heard. The book is simply the man's report of what he saw and heard while in vision.
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.
Blessings are pronounced for three things: "reading," "hearing," and "keeping" the things written in this book. Bible prophecy is not just for academic purposes. It is designed to bring essential spiritual benefits to the lives of those who assimilate its message.
"For the time is at hand"
Anyone who would read this book at any time in the history of its existence is assured that the time of its fulfillment was "at hand." How could that be? Because the book of Revelation contains truths applicable to every era of the Christian church.
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;
This is the same disciple who wrote the Gospel of John and the three epistles of John. For supporting evidence, see The Authorship of Revelation. For the circumstances of John's writing, see comments on verse 9.
"To the seven churches which are in Asia"
To whom was the book of Revelation written? The text seems to indicate at least three intended recipient classes.
1. "To the seven churches which are in Asia." This makes it clear that the book was addressed to specific churches in seven locations in Asia Minor. Those seven cities are identified in verse 11.
2. The letter to each church ends with these words, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This seems to indicate that the messages were not written for the benefit of those churches alone. All who have ears should pay attention to the inspired counsel and apply Christ's message to themselves.
3. A third application has been understood by many commentators. In view of the fact that there were actually more than seven Christian churches in Asia Minor when Revelation was written, the question is properly asked, Why were only these seven churches selected? It is generally recognized that the number seven in Scripture often signifies a complete whole. Thus the seven messages from Jesus in chapters 2 and 3 were given to describe the complete experience of the Church from John's day until the end of the world. Historians find that Christian history naturally falls into seven identifiable phases, which are strikingly characterized by the descriptions found in these two chapters.
"Him which is, and which was, and which is to come"
This description, repeated in verse 8, is again found in Revelation 4:8, each time in specific reference to God the Father. It resembles the description of God in Daniel 7:9, 13 as "the Ancient of days." Both expressions focus on His eternity of existence.
"The seven Spirits which are before his throne"
The seven spirits are in a position of subjection to God. They are before His throne, at His service. This rules out any possible reference to the Holy Spirit. The Bible is clear that there is only one Holy Spirit, not seven (Ephesians 4:4).
By a comparison of verses, we may be quite certain that these "spirits" are seven angels who stand before God.
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.
"To him be glory and dominion for ever"
With the kingdom terminology in verses 5 and 6 the theme of the book is introduced. The Greek text uses the definite article, "the glory," implying all glory. Here at the very outset we are told that all glory and dominion belongs to Jesus Christ (Compare Matthew 28:18). This certainty, together with the story of Satan's futile challenge to it, is the subject of this book.
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.
"Behold, he cometh"
The soon return of Jesus is the "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) of the church. Jesus often spoke of His second coming.
"Every eye shall see him"
When Jesus returns, He will not come secretly. Everyone will see Him come. For more on this, see Questions concerning the rapture.
"They also which pierced him"
At His trial before Caiaphas, Jesus told the high priest, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." Matthew 26:64. But Caiaphas and the others who crucified Jesus are all dead. How will they be alive to see Him come? Daniel 12:2 speaks of a special resurrection before Jesus comes in which "many [not all] of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Evidently, the "some" who awake to shame and everlasting contempt are "they also which pierced him."
"All kindreds of the earth shall wail"
What an awful experience it will be for those who have not prepared themselves for Christ's return. With bitter anguish they wail, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." Jeremiah 8:20.
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.
This is God the Father speaking. Revelation is "the word of God" (verse 2), "which God gave unto" Jesus to be transmitted through the channel described in verse 1. The salutation in verse 4 is from the Father, whose description is repeated in this verse.
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 John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation"
We learn from early Christian sources that the writing of Revelation took place during the reign of the emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96), whose persecution of Christians was prompted by their refusal to participate in emperor worship. Tertullian (c. A.D. 150 - c. 220), wrote that "the apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile!" (Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 36; Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, p. 260). Unable to be killed, John was therefore banished to the Isle of Patmos. His words here indicate an identification with his readers who were suffering similar persecution.
A rocky, barren island in the Aegean Sea about 50 miles southwest of Ephesus. It is about 10 miles long from north to south, and 6 miles wide at its widest point. According to Pliny (A.D. 77), the island was at that time used as a penal colony.
Domitian's persecution of Christians commenced in A.D. 95. His successor, Nerva, who became emperor in 96, granted amnesty to the Christians, probably releasing John from his exile at that time. The book of Revelation was therefore written in A.D. 95 or 96.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
"The Lord's day"
It is clear from this verse that the Lord has a day, a day which is called, in a more specific sense than is any other, the Lord's. For a discussion of this, we refer you to the comments of Uriah Smith.
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.
"Write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia"
This second reference to the non-Jewish Roman province of Asia underscores the fact that the "book" of Revelation was written specifically for the Gentile Christian church.
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
"Seven golden candlesticks"
This is not a seven-branched candlestick as was found in the sanctuary, but rather seven separate lampstands, each supporting a single lamp. The focus here is not upon the lamps, but upon the stands which support them. These lampstands, translated "candlesticks" in the KJV, are identified in verse 20 as symbolizing "the seven churches."
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.
"In the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man"
Jesus here presents Himself as standing in the midst of His churches. The symbolic description of the Son of man which follows is very similar to the description of Him found in Daniel 10:5, 6. This is not a literal description of his actual physical appearance. The characteristics given to Him here are symbolic of various attributes He possesses.
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 he had in his right hand seven stars"
These are identified in verse 20.
"Out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword"
"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12.
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.
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
"Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter"
This reference to the past, the present, and the future, informs us of the content of the book of Revelation. In it John wrote of events transpiring all throughout Christian history.
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.
"The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches"
The Greek word for angel means "messenger." This word is used in Scripture for both heavenly and human messengers. In verses such as Matthew 11:10 and Luke 9:52, the Greek word translated "messenger" is angelos, and it refers to human beings.
The letters to the seven churches found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are addressed to "the angel" of each church. These are evidently the ministers of the churches. Thus Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:23 refers to his co-workers as "the messengers of the churches."
These ministers are pictured as being held in Christ's right hand, indicating His tender care for them as He walks in the midst of His church.