Lesson Number 1
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants; things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near. John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. 'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,' says the Lord, 'who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'" (Revelation 1:1-8, NKJV).
The book of the Revelation has attracted the most prodigious thinkers. It has also caused many to fear. Multitudes of professing believers neglect this book because they feel they cannot understand its message. The novel interpretations assigned to this book have caused much of this--interpretations that do not harmonize with the remainder of Scripture. In view of these conditions, a few introductory remarks are in order.
First, God has no message for humanity that is dissociated from His great salvation, or is not harmonious with the Gospel of Christ. He has spoken in these last days through His Son (Heb 1:1-2), unfolding His objective to draw everything together into one in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:10-11). The Revelation is not a departure from that objective. Nor, indeed, does it undertake to introduce things to us that are totally new.
Second, the rest of the Word of God is not to be read with the book of Revelation as its key. Rather, this book is to be read with the rest of Scripture in mind. Our approach to this book will be in light of an old aphorism: "It is through the known, and only through the known, that we come to learn of things unknown." This is the reason for the voluminous quotations from, and allusions to, other Scriptures in this book. It is also the reason for the frequent references to Christ in His redemptive capacity, and to the hope of the saints. As we are introduced to God, Jesus, the Spirit, angels, the saints, and Satan, they are to be considered in light of the rest of Scripture. The same is true of subjects that are mentioned: i.e., the resurrection (20:13), the judgment (20:11-15), the demise of Satan (20:10), and the glorification of the saints (21:1-5; 22:1-5).
The Author and Date of Writing
John declares himself to be the writer of this book (1:1,4,9; 21:2; 22:8). He received the Revelation while a prisoner on the Isle of Patmos (1:9). Herein is a marvelous testimony of the sufficiency of God's grace. Though exiled by men, John the beloved was made privy to the revelation which God gave to Christ.
Students of the text have long haggled about the date of its writing. Opinions have narrowed down to two primary dates, easy to be remembered: 69 A.D. and 96 A.D. The earlier date assumes John's exile by Nero, and sees it as being written prior to the fall of Jerusalem (70 A.D.). This view sees constant references to earthly Jerusalem in the Book, and compels a basically Jewish interpretation of the text. The latter date assumes John's exile to have been imposed by Domitian, and is considered the traditional view of the date of writing. This view allows for a broader interpretation of the Book, lifting it from a merely provincial consideration.
This study will view the book as having been written at the close of John's life in 96 A.D., after the destruction of Jerusalem. I feel this provides a more global context for the message. The destruction of Jerusalem, while a significant event, is not the foundation upon which revelation is built. That was a temporal judgment, sent upon a certain people within a specific region. This condition, in my judgment, does not justify the size or message of this great Book. In addition to this, I find it difficult to grasp how the fall of Jerusalem would obtain a great degree of importance to the churches of Asia.
Several church fathers have written commentaries on this book, thereby confirming the general perception of its importance. These fathers include Hippolytus III (160-236 A.D.), Andreas of Caesarea, Arethas, Cecumenius, Tichonius, Victorinus of Pettau, Primasius, Cassidorus (490-585 A.D.), Baeda, Ansbertus, Berengaudus, and Haymo (1244 A.D.).
Our Approach to This Book
This is a heavenly view of things, not an earthly one. It is a lofty view, portrayed in a vision of the ages. The vision itself is not the thrust of the book, but the meaning of it. Men are not to become enamored of the symbolism that is found in dreams and visions, although there is a strong tendency to do so. Imagine becoming enamored of the appearances associated with great dreams and visions throughout the ages: Jacob's ladder (Gen 28:12), Joseph's dreams of the shocks of wheat and stars (Gen 37:7,9), Ezekiel's visions of the valley of dry bones and healing waters (Ezek 37, 47), and Nechaddnezzar's dream of the stone that became a mountain and filled the whole earth (Dan 2). These dreams and visions were but containers in which Divine insight was granted. It would have been the height of absurdity for those receiving them to have been distracted by the Divinely employed figures. The message was the point!
"God" - 98 times, "Lord" - 22 times, "Almighty" - 8 times, "Jesus" - 14 times, "Son of God" - 1 time, "Son of Man" - 3 times, "Lamb" - 27 times, "The Spirit" - 15 times, "Angels" - 23 times, "Angel" - 51 times, "Throne" - 39 times, "Heaven" - 56 times, "Heavens" - 1 time
So it is with the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ. An overriding message pervades this book. It is NOT one of doom and gloom, but of triumph and glory. Both origins and endings are traced back to God Almighty. With a high note, it confirms the word spoken by Daniel: "the heavens do rule!" (Dan 4:26). While there are repeated references to trial and opposition in this book, the work of God is the emphasis. The devil cannot overthrow His purposes, even though long periods of apparent dominance are credited to him. Whatever he does is under the rule of the Almighty! If he "makes war with the saints," it is because God has "allowed him" to do so (Rev 13:7). If the Gentiles have dominated and corrupted the periphery of the kingdom by the Gentiles, which know not God, it is because of Divine allotment (Rev 11:2). You must not allow yourself to miss this perspective. It is a primary key to this book! This is not a lifeless history book, only written in advance of the events described therein. It is a proclamation of the Sovereignty of God, exercised throughout the history of the world through Jesus Christ and for the saints of the Most High God.
The dominance of Jesus Christ confirms this book relates to redemption. The ruling King of glory is declared to be the "Lamb" that was slain (Rev 5:6,12; 13:8). The "blood" of the Lamb is mentioned in three pivotal texts, It is related to our redemption (1:5; 5:9; 7:14), and the triumph of the saints over the evil one (12:11). The book is about the completion of salvation's work by the Son of God. It is finished to the glory of God in the crucible of opposition and conflict. On the canvas of illumination, John was shown events that confirmed nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:37-39). Do not look for novelties in this book!
The aggression of Satan is delineated in graphic language. He is focused in his opposition, targeting the holy "remnant" who "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (12:17). What he does is not the emphasis of the message! Rather, the futility of his efforts is declared. Although he employs subtlety, violence, and even nature, his efforts fall to the ground in deference to a Sovereign God. His time is limited, his purpose will not be accomplished, and his destiny is sure! He will eventually be banished to "everlasting fire," prepared for him and his angels Matt 25:41).
Our approach to this book will not allow for distraction. Repeatedly, we will get our bearings at the Throne of the Almighty. We will see Him orchestrating the events of this world, and fulfilling His will, even though it is met with rejection and opposition. His people, even though facing a fierce and angry opponent, will gain the victory over all of their enemies. If we lose sight of these things, we will fall into the snare of the evil one. Keep this in mind. Seventeen (17) direct references are made to Satan in this book ( 2:9, 2:10, 2:13, 2:24, 3:9, 9:11, 12:3, 12:9, 12:10, 12:11, 12:12, 20:1, 20:2, 20:3, 20:7, 20:8, 20:10). Two inimical powers termed "the Beast," through whom Satan works against the saints, are mentioned 32 times ( 11:7; 13:2; 13:3; 13:4; 13:14; 13:15; 13:17; 13:18; 14:9; 14:11; 15:2; 16:2; 16:10; 16:13; 17:7; 17:8; 17:11; 17:12; 17:13; 17:16; 17:17; 19:20; 20:4,10)
One hundred and eight references (108) are made the Jesus Christ ( 1:4; 1:5; 1:6; 1:7; 1:8; 1:10; 1:11; 1:12; 1:13; 1:14; 1:15; 1:16; 1:17; 1:18; 2:7; 2:8; 2:18; 2:23; 2:27; 3:7; 3:9; 3:11; 3:12; 3:14; 3:18; 3:19; 3:21; 4:11; 5:5; 5:6; 5:7; 5:8; 5:9; 5:10; 5:11; 5:12; 5:13; 5:14; 6:2; 6:15; 6:16; 6:17; 7:9; 7:10; 7:11; 7:12; 7:13; 7:14; 7:15; 7:16; 7:17; 8:3; 8:4; 11:15; 12:10; 12:11; 13:8; 13:11; 14:1; 14:4; 14:6; 14:14; 15:3; 15:4; 16:15; 17:14; 19:6; 19:7; 19:9; 19:11; 19:12; 19:13; 19:14; 19:15; 19:16; 19:17; 19:18; 19:19; 19:20; 19:21; 20:1; 20:2; 20:3; 20:4; 20:6; 21:9; 21:14; 21:22; 21:23; 21:27; 22:1; 22:2; 22:3; 22:4; 22:5; 22:6; 22:7; 22:8; 22:9; 22:10; 22:11; 22:12; 22:13; 22:14; 22:15; 22:16; 22:17; 22:20). Revelation contains only five (5) references to "demons" or "devils" ( 9:20; 12:7; 12:8; 12:9; 13:4). There are fifty-two allusions the saints ( 1:6; 2:7; 2:10; 2:11; 2:17; 2:26; 2:27; 2:28; 3:4; 3:5; 3:10; 3:12; 3:21; 7:3; 7:4; 7:9; 7:10; 7:11; 7:12; 7:13; 7:14; 7:15; 7:16; 7:17; 11:12; 11:18; 14:1; 14:2; 14:3; 14:4; 14:5; 14:13; 16:15; 17:14; 19:7; 19:8; 19:9; 20:4; 20:5; 20:6; 21:3; 21:4; 21:5; 21:6; 21:7; 21:9; 21:24; 22:4; 22:5; 22:7; 22:12; 22:14)!
That gives you a perspective of this message that will deliver you from much of the delusion of our time. We will not spend the burden of our study on matters not emphasized by the Spirit--however novel they may appear. This is a message to the churches about the triumph of the Lord's Christ, and the consequent victory of His saints.
The Apocalyptic Gospel
No totally new doctrine is taught in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Written in signs and figures, it confirms the nature of our salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed as exalted and reigning. The devil is represented as a struggling, but defeated, enemy. We see the saints of God as washed in the blood of Christ, engaged in the good fight of faith, and destined for glory. The earth is seen as the locus of conflict, while the heavens are represented as the peaceful headquarters from which the will of God is being executed. The Gospel is declared in symbolism (12:1-16). In vivid imagery, the "hope of glory" is affirmed (21:1-4; 22:1-5). The effects of Christ's death upon the believer are again announced (1:5-6), and also His Sovereignty over the Kingdom (5:6, 9-14). Redemption and purity are related to following the Lamb (14:4). The culmination of faith is realized in being gathered to the Lord, dwelling with Him forever (22:5). The thrust of Genesis through Jude remains the emphasis of Revelation!
Pivotal aspects of Christ's coming and accomplishments are declared in this volume. We read of His incarnation (12:5; 22:16), death (1:5-6; 5:9-10,12; 7:14-15; 13:8), resurrection (1:5,18), reign (1:5-7,18; 3:7,14,21; 5:12; 6:2,15-17; 11:15; 12:10; 14:14; 17:14; 19:11-12, 15-16; 20:4-6), and second coming (1:7; 3:11; 16:15; 22:12; 22:20). The book proclaims the effectiveness of Christ's death and rule. It affirms His ultimate triumph over every opposing force, and does so with power.
The book of Revelation is not, strictly speaking, a chronology of events. The reign of Christ in the midst of His enemies (Psa 110:2) is seen in several historical cycles. Each one shows Him to be Sovereign over people, circumstances, and the devil. Each one shows Satan's aggressive, but futile, efforts to overthrow the church Jesus has built. These are provided for the comfort of oppressed believers, and assure them of their ultimate triumph in Christ. Their faith and labor in the Lord are not vain. They will be rewarded!
In these cycles, the thoroughness of the Lord's workings is seen in the repeated use of the number "seven." While I do not intend to emphasize numerology (an unsuitable container for stabilizing and comforting truth) I cannot escape the Spirit's use of this number of completeness.
We will read of "seven churches" (1:4,11,20), "seven candlesticks" (1:13,20), "seven stars" (1:16,20; 2:1; 3:1) "seven Spirits" (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6) and "seven lamps" (4:5). There are also "seven angels" (8:2,6; 15:1,6-8; 16:1; 17:1), "seven plagues" (16:6,8), "seven kings" (17:10), "seven horns" (5:6), and "seven eyes" (5:6). The judgments of God are graphically depicted by "seven seals" (5:1,5), "seven trumpets" (8:2,6), "seven thunders" (10:3,4), and "seven golden vials" (15:7). There is a thoroughness that pervades this intriguing book!
THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:1a). First and foremost, this is "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:1). The point is, Christ has given this to us. It is a message the Lord Jesus wants His people to know--a message essential for their triumph over the wicked one. Here we read something Jesus has to say to the churches. It is a message to be taken personally, as seen in the message to "the seven churches which are in Asia" (1:4,11). However, the message is not confined to them. They are but custodians of this word from Jesus. It is for everyone who "reads" the words, "hears" them, and "keeps" them (1:3). It's promises are addressed to "whosoever wills" (Rev 22:17), thereby obtaining relevance to every generation.
Those who suppose Jesus quit speaking when He ascended back into heaven, must contend with this book. Written at least 40 years after His ascension, and more probably nearly 66 years afterward, here is a word that confirms Christ's interest in His people--today! God speaks to us today through His Son, and here is an example of that Divine manner.
Note, this is a "revelation," not a concealment. Things are opened to us in this sacred volume. Many people struggle with its contents because of the imagery contained therein. There is, however, a resounding message that can be received from this "revelation of Jesus Christ." No less than eight times, we are challenged to "hear" what Jesus is saying in this book (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; 13:9). A blessing is pronounced upon those hearing, or perceiving, its message (1:3). An invitation is given to "take of the water of life freely" (22:17). A solemn warning is also given to those taking the liberty to add to or take from its words (22:18-19). A revelation from Christ is to be heard, believed, and kept within the heart. It is given to be understood, and God's people can expect grace to do so. That understanding, however, will be of what Jesus is revealing!
The Commonality of the Phrase
What an intriguing phrase: "The revelation of Jesus Christ." Peter uses this phrase to denote the final appearing of Christ (1 Pet 1:7,13; 4:13 NKJV, RSV). Paul uses the phrase in the same manner (1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thess 1:7). He also employs the phraseology to describe his spiritual insight (Gal 1:12). In each of these occurrences, "the revelation of Jesus Christ" means the revelation He makes, not that which reveals Him. In the book before us, John is the writer, but Jesus is the Author! This is, as I see it, a view of the source of Apostolic writings.
One interesting note here. The term "revelation" uniquely applies to the Gospel of Christ. It refers to an unveiling of things "kept secret from the foundation of the world" (Matt 13:35; Rom 16:25). Here is the unveiling of Divine mysteries. As it is written, " . . . how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets" (Eph 3:3-5). The very concept of "unveiling" presumes a firm intention that has not been revealed. The idea involves infinitely more than shining a spotlight on the future. The point is not prediction, as ordinarily conceived by the world. Revelation, technically speaking, is not seeing what is going to happen, and declaring Divine intent. It is taking a Divine purpose that is obscured, and opening it up to our understanding. Our faith is anchored in Divine determination, not a mere prediction of the future. Here we are taken beyond the book of Revelation itself. Jesus is not revealing secrets about the future, but secrets about Himself. We must take care not to allow the Son of God to recede into the background of our thinking as we study this book. Be assured, there will be a temptation to do precisely that. As we progress through this sacred volume, Satan will attempt to divert us to the devil, the beast, the tribulation, or Babylon the great. We will read of Satan's binding and losing, of Babylon's rise and fall, of the beasts ascendency to power and fall to perdition. Nevertheless, these are not the point of the book. They are small clusters of insight, served up to accentuate the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. The revelation is not of their purpose, but of God's. It does not declare their triumph, but that of the Lord's Christ. These are but a temporal agitation upon the sea of Divine purpose.
Jesus, the Revealer
Jesus is the "Savior of the world" -- that is why He was sent by the Father (1 John 4:14). Once the people are reconciled to God, however, Jesus is seen as a Revealer. While it is true He shows you yourself, that is not His primary work of revelation. He can unveil to your heart the nature of Satan and his diabolical intent--but that is not the thrust of His revelatory ministry. He primarily reveals the Father! As it is written, "All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matt 11:27; Luke 10:22).
The revelation of the Father is an extensive work. Jesus elucidates the character of God. He also unveils the purpose of God regarding mankind. The Son of God reveals, through the Spirit, the things God "has prepared for them that love Him" (1 Cor 2:9-10). However, I do not want us to be diverted from the intention of Christ's revelation in this book. Suffice it to say, Jesus did not step outside the circumference of these objectives in giving the book of the Revelation! It is but an extension of His confessed objective to reveal the Father. He will not shine the light of illumination upon novelties, but upon Divine intent. If we do not approach this book with these things uppermost in our mind, we will miss its message. We will also be tempted to either accept or concoct corruptions of its contents to our own judgment.
GOD GAVE IT TO CHRIST
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him . . . " (1:1b). How perfectly this coincides with previous revelations of Christ's message! "For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel" (John 5:20). Notice, God shows the Son what HE is doing, not what man is doing or will do! When it came to the matter of what was within man, it is written, He "had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man" (John 2:25). God does not merely show the Son the history of the world in advance, but rather declares His intent and the fulfillment of the same!
Christ's teaching centers around the will of God! The secret to understanding His revelation of that will, is a readiness on the part of man to become involved in that will. As Jesus said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority" (John 7:16-17). Jesus did not step away from this principle when He gave the Revelation to John! Here is a revelation of God "working salvation in the midst of the earth" (Psa 74:12). If what we see in this book does not interface with that truth, we will have wandered into the wilderness of delusion.
The Supremacy of the Father
Even from heaven, Jesus continues to speak what the Father gives Him! As it is written, "For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak" (John 12:49-50). God has commanded "eternal life" that is His objective for us! Jesus is carrying out that objective, as is declared elsewhere in Scripture. It is also declared in this book! Here we will see that "eternal life" is being conferred in the midst of unspeakable opposition and difficulty.
The supremacy of the Father is frequently affirmed. It's declaration is not intended to diminish the Lord Jesus Christ, but to reveal the objective of His indispensable ministry. "The Head of Christ," we are apprized, "is God" (1 Cor 11:3). Again, it is affirmed, "Christ is God's" (1 Cor 3:23). He is not merely "Christ," but "the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2:26; Acts 4:26; Rev 11:15; 12:10). After "the end," we are categorically told, "the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28). In His redemptive capacity, the Lord Jesus is God's "Servant," not ours (Isa 52:13). God sent Jesus (1 John 4:14)! God raised Jesus (Acts 13:30)! God exalted Jesus (Phil 2:9)! God will send Jesus again (Acts 3:20)!
Jesus and His message are to be understood within the context of the Father! "The Word became flesh" to implement Divine intent. If God is "the Head of Christ," you may be assured He is over Satan and all his hierarchy of evil (which are themselves under the Son)! Circumstances, regardless of their severity or longevity, are under the government of God Almighty. Deceivers, however crafty and influential, are all in subjection to Him. As it is written, "The deceived and the deceiver are His" (Job 12:16). The times of their influence are strictly controlled by God. They are limited in duration and influence. God is supreme! Read this book through that spiritual template!
That principle pervades the book of the Revelation! This volume is not about what Satan is doing, but what God IS doing! It is not a delineation of what an Antichrist will do, but what the Lord will do. It does not proclaim what will happen in a world from which the Spirit and the people of God have been withdrawn, but how the Lord works in the world with both of them present. If this were not the case, repeated references to the Lord Jesus, His atoning death, and the glorification of His people would lose their significance and ministry.
For His Servants
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants . . . " (1:1c). God gave the message to Jesus for Him to give to His "servants." It is generally understood that the phrase employed here ("His servants"), refers to believers in general, and not just to officials. The term "servants" is used several times in this unique book. Jesus rebuked a false teacher for seducing His "servants" (2:20). God's servants were "sealed" for Divine acceptance (7:3). The holy prophets were called "His servants" (10:7; 11:18). Those who had suffered martyrdom because of their testimony are also called "His servants" (19:2). Everyone who fears God are referred as "His servants" (19:5). The entire body of the redeemed, safe at last in glory, are also identified as "His servants" (22:3).
"His servants" are those who are "joined to the Lord" (1 Cor 6:17). They have become involved in the Kingdom, and are participating in the "Divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). They do not live for themselves, "but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor 5:15). This book has been written for such people! God gave it to Jesus for them! It is not to be considered, therefore, as entertaining reading--like a novel or exciting fiction. This book has relevance to the life of faith. It is a Divine provision for our strength and encouragement. It has been given as an elixir to sweeten the cup of life, and cause the star of hope to rise in our hearts. What we read in the book of Revelation is something GOD wants those serving Him to know! It is something He gave to Jesus to give to His body, to give them an advantage in this present evil world!
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass . . . " Here is language addressed to faith. It provides a focus for our thinking, and allows for the de-emphasis of earth and things pertaining to it. The servants of God are to live in the light of things declared in this book. This does not mean we are to view the revelation as a sort of Divine update that makes previous words obsolete. Rather, it affirms this message is in perfect harmony with the remainder of Scripture. God's emphasis has not changed. His purpose, being "eternal," has not been altered.
There are earthly events, generally related to interpersonal relationships, that are said to take place "shortly" (1 Cor 4:19; Phil 2:19,24; 1 Tim 3:14; 2 Tim 4:9; Heb 13:23; 3 John 14). The Word of God, however, also employs this word ("shortly") in a manner accentuating perspective rather than time. "And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom 16:20). The phrase translated "shortly come to pass" is dei genesqai en tacei. The latter part of this phrase (en tacei) is translated "shortly" in this text. It means "speedily, quickly, without delay, soon, or before long." It is used in Luke 18:8, where the answer of importunate prayer is in reference. There, God is said to "bear long" with the petitioner, yet answer "speedily." This is not a term confined to time.
Two explanations of this phrase have been offered. First, that everything revealed by Jesus to John took place within a short time span. Second, that the phrase indicates the things that would BEGIN to come to pass shortly, though they would extend over a lengthy period of time. I will approach the text with the latter persuasion in mind. This, in my judgment is a Divine way of reasoning. It is the perspective of Peter, when referring to Joel's prophecy, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:30-31). It was also Christ's focus when commenting on events leading to the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 24:8; Luke 21:28). It must be remembered, the Kingdom of God is PURPOSE-driven, not event-driven! Events are certainly not inconsequential, but they occur because of Divine purpose.
The Word of God expounds the PURPOSE, while mentioning the events. Consider, for example, the view that the events in this book all occurred within a short time of its writing. We have, in that case, a considerable section of Scripture devoted to a small segment of people. Such an occasion finds Jesus speaking extensively about matters that do not have eternal relevance. It also sets the clear references to end- time events in the first or second century: i.e., Christ's return (1:7; 22:12), the resurrection (20:13-14), judgment (20:11-13), consignment of Satan and his false prophet to perdition (20:10), vindication of the martyrs (19:2), and glorification of the saints (21:1-5; 22:1-5). Such a thought is unthinkable! We will approach this book with God's "eternal purpose" in mind--a purpose that required a Savior, a redemption, and an Intercessor. I will briefly address this subject when we consider verse three.
The Involvement of An Angel
"And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John." Remarkable details are given concerning how this revelation was given to John. First, God gave it to Jesus. Next, Jesus gave it to an angel- -a heavenly messenger. You will recall, the Law also was given by angels (Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2). Throughout the Word of God, holy angels were employed to bring messages from God to men. (Gen 16:9- 11; 16:11; 21:17; 22:11; 24:40; 31:11; Num 22:32,34-35; Judg 2:1; 5:23; 6:12,20,22; 13:3,13,15-18; 1 Sam 29:9; 2 Sam 14:17; 24:16-17; 1 Kgs 13:18; 19:5,7; 2 Kgs 1:3; 1:15; 1 Chron 21:15; Dan 3:28; Zech 1:9,11- 12.14.19; 3:5; 4:5; 5:5,10; 6:4-5; Mat 28:5; Luke 1:13,18-19,28,30,34-35,38; 2:10; John 12:29; Acts 5:19; 10:22; 11:13; 12:8,11,15; Rev 10:8,9; 17:7; 22:6).
Among other things, this confirms the vastness of the gulf between God and man created by sin. Although we are reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Rom 5:10), an Intercessor is required before we can have access to Him. When dealing with redeemed humanity, there is a sense in which God cannot do so directly. We see it in this text. John was not only an Apostle, but the one "whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 20:2; ; 21:7,20). The perception of this condition will promote a degree of sobriety that is not common among professed believers.
Another thing to see here: all of heaven is involved in Divine communications with men. In this text alone, we have God, Jesus, and an angel. Later the Holy Spirit and other angels will be called into activity. The magnitude of our salvation can be more fully appreciated as we see the extent of heaven's involvement in it.
How gratifying it must have been for this angel to bring the Revelation to John! After all, angels do desire to "look into" these matters, and here was an opportunity to do so (1 Pet 1:12).
The Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus " . . . His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ . . . " (1:1-2). When John receives the Word, there is absolutely no dilution in it! Already, it has passed through two personalities, and is now coming to the third. God "gave" it to Jesus, and Jesus "sent and signified it by His angel" to John. Unlike messages passed from flesh to flesh, God's Word maintains its purity en route to mankind.
Notice, the Revelation is called "the Word of God," and "the testimony of Jesus." "The Word of God" equates with "which God gave unto Him" (1:1), and "the testimony of Jesus" equates with "Revelation of Jesus Christ." Like all Scripture, this is not John's view of what was given to Him. As Peter affirms, "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet 1:20-21). John passes along what was told him, not what he thought it meant. The power of the Kingdom is found in God's Word and Christ's testimony, not in man's explanation of the same. "The Word of God" speaks of the ORIGIN of the message, connecting is with Divine purpose. "The testimony of Jesus" relates to the relevancy of God's Word and purpose to the children of God. The "purpose" is God's. The implementation of that "purpose" is the work of the Son. Jesus testifies to what God has determined. This perspective is found throughout this book. The reigning Son of God is orchestrating history for the fulfillment of God's purpose. If we miss this, the meaning of this message will become blurred and appear irrelevant.
John Tells All
" . . . John, who bore witness . . . to all things that he saw" (1:1-2). John is faithful, the preeminent requirement for stewards (1 Cor 4:2). He does not omit things that were mystifying (17:6). He gives the Word, even when it caused personal spiritual discomfort because of its implications (Rev 10:9-10). He hid no part of the message out of fear for the churches or their leaders. He wrote "all things that he saw."
Daniel was told, "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Dan 12:4). His role was not to clarify the Word. But this is not the case with John. He received a "revelation," and passed it along. He is not providing an exposition, but conveying what he "saw." He summons the churches to consider everything he "saw," relying on Divine involvements to clarify and apply things made known in that vision. He did not pray we would also see the vision as he did, but rather declared what he saw! Suffice it to say, he is speaking about what he saw on the Isle of Patmos, not the events of Christ's life, as he did in his Gospel.
Throughout my life, I have known men who have failed the test of faithfulness. Even though they were given to see some of the things of God, they did not pass them along. They held them back in deference to an institutional emphasis. Without being diverted by this consideration, such a reaction is out of harmony with everything we know about God. It renders the steward unfaithful, and subject to the judgment of God. What God reveals is to be made known! It is never to be withheld from those to whom it is sent! John proves himself faithful in communicating what he saw.
A BLESSING TO THE READER
"Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near" (1:3). Our hearts must take hold on this promise! It tells us the message of this book can be received. It also declares it is to our advantage, because of the time, to expose our hearts and minds to this message. Do not withdraw from it, as though it were reserved for a special segment of God's people. It is written to "the churches," and those who are "His servants."
Observe that this is the pronouncement of a "blessing." It is like another beatitude! There are few blessings announced in Scripture just like this one. Specific blessings are pronounced upon the individual who lives in an orderly manner, listens, trusts, fears God, and endures temptation (Psa 1:1; 34:8; 84:12; 112:1; James 1:12). The well-known beatitudes address those who appropriate the grace of God at personal expense (Matt 5:3-11). But notice the simplicity related to this blessing: reading, hearing, and keeping the words of this book! Briefly summarized, those who expose their hearts and minds to the message.
Those Who Read
Do not shun to read what will bring a blessing! Man lives by "every Word of God" (Luke 4:4), and this is expressly called "the Word of God." Jesus talked about reading "what David did" (Matt 12:3), and what was contained in the Law (Matt 12:5). He also asked if Hs hearers had read what God said about marriage (Matt 19:4). Many times, He interrogated men concerning their Scriptural literacy (Matt 21:16,42; 22:31; Mark 12:26). It comes across to me that one of the very elementary aspects of spiritual life is simply READING the Word of God!
However, our text does not approach such reading as an obligation, but as something of profit. It is a source of "blessing." This means God is near, or at hand, as we take these words into our hearts and minds. Our proximity to God is what brings the blessing, not our natural abilities to decipher Scripture! The point of this expression is that God blesses those who have a high regard for His Word, and freely subject themselves to it. Exposure to the Word opens a bigger door of blessing than diagnosing the Word. Do not stumble at this! To read the Word is to step within the circumference of Divine influence. This is true of all Scripture.
Those Who Hear
Hearing is also a fundamental activity in the heavenly Kingdom--hearing the Word of God! Faith, after all, "comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Rom 10:17, NASB). This is how faith came to those who had killed Jesus (Acts 2:41), the city of Samaria (Acts 8:12), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37), the house of Cornelius (Acts 11:17), and the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:34). There are heavenly influences experienced through hearing that are normally not otherwise appropriated.
Again, God draws near when we "hear" His Word, and the "testimony of Jesus." This is particularly true of the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Yet, how few people know this to be the case! Vistas of truth, and facets of Christ's reign will be opened to us as we give ear to the message of this book. God gave it all to Jesus. Jesus gave it all to the angel. The angel gave it all to John. And, John gave it all to us. Now, a blessing is pronounced upon those who hear it in its entirety! Candidly, you will have difficulty finding a less complicated blessing. Seek to obtain it!
Those Who Keep
Keeping "the things written in" this book is certainly not limited to commandments. In the first place, there are not that many commandments in this book. The ones that are there are more exhortations, calling men to recover lost ground, or give honor to the Lord (3:11,18,19; 18:4; 22:17). In this book, the word "commandments" is only used in phrases describing the faithful (12:17; 14:12; 22:14). This by no means minimizes obeying the commandments of God, a primary activity in Christ's Kingdom (Acts 5:29,32; Heb 5:9). It does accentuate the nature of this sacred volume.
Keeping "the things which are written" in this book is retaining them in your heart. It involves meditation (1 Tim 4:15), consideration (2 Tim 2:7), and pondering (Luke 2:19). Those willing to think upon these words will experience blessing from the Lord! That means the message is pregnant with meaning and relevancy, else you could not be blessed in the consideration of the same.
The Shortness of the Time
" . . . for the time is at hand." The nature of the message demands immediate attention. The purpose of this word is to enable the people of God to be ready. The Spirit is announcing a Satanic initiative. Unparalleled devastation will mark it, and many will be swept away in demonic delusion. It is important that saints recognized the "signs of the time," avoiding the devil's snare.
Again, this is language addressed to faith. There is not a child of God to whom this word of warning is not applicable. Satan is not going to delay his initiative, nor will the Lord postpone His determinations. "The time is short." What this book reveals is pertinent. It is not to be placed on the shelf of neglect, as though it pertained to another age, either past or future. Life itself, though threescore and ten, is "short" (Psa 89:47). Satan himself is aggressive in his attacks against Christ's body, because he knows "the time is short" (Rev 12:12).
Allow me to be more specific. The blessing promised to those reading, hearing, and keeping the words of this prophecy, must not be ignored! Procrastination is a thief, and delay is a murderer! The Judge is standing at the door (James 5:9). Everything is being readied for the consummation of all things! Jesus knows it! The angels know it! Even the devil and his forces of evil know it! Why should the church live as though no end were in view?
The word "at hand" (egguj) is another one that mystifies the flesh. It is used to denote those about to be cursed by God because of yielding thorns and briars (Heb 6:8). It is also employed to describe the nearness of the Lord to all believers, thereby constraining their sobriety (Phil 4:5). The Spirit uses it to affirm the nearness of salvation's fulness: "And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed" (Rom 13:11, NASB). The Divine schedule is not apparent to the flesh! Whether it is a matter of Ephesus leaving their "first love" (2:4), suffering saints at Smyrna (2:9-10), or believers like those of Pergamum, dwelling in a Satanic citadel (2:13), the end is within view! If there are those tolerating false teachers like Thyatira (2:20), supposed prosperous groups like Sardius and Laodicea (3:3,17), or faithful ones like those in Philadelphia (3:10), "the time is short!"
From the perspective of faith, it is only "a little while, and the wicked shall not be" (Psa 37:10). From the standpoint of judgments being poured out, "For yet a very little while and the indignation will cease . . . " (Isa 10:25). So far as anticipating the coming of the Lord, powerfully declared in this book, "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry" (Heb 10:37). This is how faith views the matter, even though the time is lengthy from the fleshly point of view, as unbelievers and scoffers affirm (2 Pet 3:4).
Some will object to this view, saying the events described in this book were to take place within a short period of time. The coming of a spiritual despot, the rise of Satanic delusion, a global battle, the mark of the beast, the kingdoms of this world becoming the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ etc., etc., etc., some affirm, are the point of the book. But they are wrong. They are mentioned, but they are not the point! The point is the Lord and His Christ! The point is the triumph of the Lamb! The point is the victory of the saints! Faith anticipates the revelation of Christ, not the rise of an Antichrist (3:11; 22:7,12,20). It contemplates the resurrection of the dead, not plagues leading to death (20:12-13). Godly fear ponders the judgment of the world, not the evaluation of a spiritual tyrant (20:12-13). Believers anticipate the banishment of the devil, not the persecution of saints (20:10). They are refreshed by the consideration of their entrance into rest, not the beginning of a great tribulation (7:15-17; 21:1-5; 22:1-5).
The fulfillment of these things is the object of their contemplation. The "things which must shortly come to pass" (1:1; 22:6) cannot be limited to the trials contained in this book. Nor, indeed, are they to be confined to the judgments announced. The glorious promises must also be included, else believers can derive no comfort! Life is to be approached with the danger of delusion in mind, and also the blessedness of promise! To live without this perspective is to fall into the snare of the devil.
In this book Jesus declares, "I come quickly" (3:11; 22:7,12,20). He will appear unexpectedly to the flesh, and without warning. But this will not be the case for those who lived under the spiritual influence of "shortly" and "at hand!" That is the point of this powerful announcement. The closer you get to the Lord, the more time-lines are blurred. Faith moves everything closer to the heart--even the consummation of all things. The more we believe, the less prominent time appears.
"John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ . . . " (1:4-5). The thoroughness of this introduction underscores the seriousness of the book. Heaven and earth stand up to bear witness to its relevancy.
The general introduction shows how well known the Apostle was. "John" was a common name. In Scripture, there is John the Baptist (Matt 3:1), the young man John Mark (Acts 12:12), the father of Peter and Andrew (John 1:42), and a member of the Jewish council (Acts 4:6). Yet, when John mentions his own name, there is no need for further identification. He had distinguished the name by His faith in, love for, and service of, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason for John's reputation is owing totally to his identity with the Son of God. The philosophers of this world do not recognize him as great. In fact, in the world, he was considered "unlearned and ignorant" (Acts 4:13). But among the household of faith, his name is synonymous with greatness! Even though the word was given to him by an angel, who received it from Jesus, Who received it from God, John says it is from him. He does so because he has taken the message into his heart. It is not his by origin, but by fellowship. Paul used the same reasoning when he referred to the Gospel of Christ as "my gospel" (Rom 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim 2:8). The man of God cannot divorce himself from the message he brings.
To the Seven Churches
"John, to the seven churches which are in Asia . . . " These are specific churches in a specific location. They are clustered together in the Western quadrant of Asia. This was a Roman province embracing the greater part of Asia Minor. It was an area of significant size, wealth, and political influence. Yet, for all of its greatness, the Lord Jesus fastens on the churches in that area. He gives no message for the government or for the business sector. Saints are the "light of the world," and the repository for the saving truth of God (Matt 5:14; 1 Tim 3:15). He does not address leading religious dignitaries in the region, but the churches!
God looks at regions in association with the godly dwelling there. Thus we read of Job as "a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1). Jacob is described as a "man in the land of Canaan" (Gen 42:13), and Moses is said to be "very great in the land of Egypt" (Ex 11:3). When Paul saw the city of Athens given over to idolatry, he first disputed "in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons" (Acts 17:16). Thus God, through Jesus, through an angel, through the Apostle John, sends a message to those bearing His name. That is the manner of the Kingdom. O, that it was more fully known in our generation.
The message originated with God the Father (1:1). Yet, God did not divorce Himself from the message. Although John gives it, it is to be read as coming from God Himself. He gave it to Jesus, but remained imminent. The Lord Jesus gave it to the angel, yet God remained prominent. The angel gave it to John, but the centrality of God remained. Now John gives it to the churches, affirming that although he delivered it, it was really from God.
The living God has an interest in His people. When addressing the churches, the Spirit affirms "grace and peace" still come from God (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2). Peace and "love with faith" are also declared to come from God (Eph 6:23). Like the seven churches of Asia, when we read the Word of God, we are to receive it as a message "from God." That is what makes the Word both personal and relevant--it is "from God."
From the Seven Spirits
Now, the symbolism of this book is introduced: "Grace to you and peace . . . the seven Spirits who are before His throne" (1:4). This also is the first reference to the language of the prophets. The allusion is to Zechariah 4:2-10. In the text of reference, a word of encouragement comes to Zerubbabel. An angel shows Zechariah a vision of "a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps." When interrogated concerning the meaning of this vision, Zechariah acknowledged he did not know its meaning. The angel unveiled the reference, associating it with the work of the Holy Spirit. "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts." In elaborating on this matter, the angel declared a small thing was started, yet was not to be despised. He then referred to the seven lamps again, saying, "For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the LORD, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth" (Zech 4:2-10). Nothing is hidden from the eyes of the Lord.
Lest we fail to see the association of Zechariah's vision with that of John the beloved, I point out additional references to "the seven spirits." First, they are associated with the Lord Jesus Christ. "These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God" (3:1). Second, they are specifically called "seven lamps." "Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (4:5). Third, as in the book of Zechariah, they are called "eyes," possessed by the Lamb of God. " . . . stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth" (5:6).
The "eyes of the Lord" is a phrase denoting omniscience; i.e., "all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb 4:13). Repeated references are made to "the eyes of the Lord" in Scripture, each confirming that nothing is hidden from Him (Gen 6:8; Deut 11:12;13:18; 1 Sam 26:24; 2 Sam 15:25; 1 Kgs 15:5; 15:11; 16:25; 22:43; 2 Chr 14:2; 16:9; 21:6; 29:6; Psa 34:15; Prov 5:21; 15:3; 22:12; Isa 49:5; Jer 52:2; Amos 9:8; Zec 4:10; 1 Pet 3:12).
This is nothing less than a symbolic reference to the Holy Spirit. He proceeds from the Father and testifies of Christ (John 15:26). This is signified by the words, "who are before His throne." The Holy Spirit does not operate independently, but in strict accord with God's "eternal purpose" and Christ's redemptive reign. In the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus, the Spirit operates in Christ's behalf, implementing His reign among men. His ministry is universal, plenteous, and perfect--all denoted by the number "seven."
Now, John tells us this book is from the Spirit. He is the One the churches will be required to hear (2:7,11,27,29; 3:6,13,22). He is the heavenly Animator of God's witnesses (11:11), and the Proclaimer of the blessedness of those who die in the Lord (14:13). He also issues a universal invitation to partake of the great salvation prepared for all peoples (22:17). As in creation, when the Spirit brooded upon the face of a chaotic deep, He now broods over the new creation. He is the one Who convicts (John 16:8-11), enlivens (2 Cor 3:6), and illumines (1 John 2:20,27)! Blest Holy Spirit. The book is from Him! God gave it to Jesus. Jesus gave it to the angel. The angel gave it to John. The Holy Spirit enabled John to precisely recall and write everything He saw.
From Jesus Christ
"Grace to you and peace . . . from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth" (1:4-6). Jesus has something to say to the churches. He does not say it, however, until He has conferred grace and peace upon them. He has a heart for the church, having loved it and given Himself for it (Eph 5:25). Strictly speaking, this is not the Revelation of John, but the Revelation of Jesus Christ. We do well to hear it.
The Faithful Witness
A "faithful witness" is one who delivers the message he has been given. In the matter before us, this is a message "which God gave Him to show His servants" (verse 1). The Lord Jesus will deliver it in its entirety, with the proper emphasis, and with Divine objective. Later, the church at Laodicea is reminded the Savior is "the Faithful and True Witness" (3:14). Isaiah prophesied God would give the Messiah as "a witness to the people, a leader and commander for the people" (Isa 55:4). Because of this circumstance, we must hear the message of this book! We dare not withdraw from it, fearful that it is too deep for us, or that we cannot appropriate the message given in it. God gave it to Jesus to show His servants, and He delivers it with characteristic precision and passion.
The Firstborn From the Dead
Chronologically, Jesus was not the first to rise from the dead, and that is not the meaning of the phrase. The son of the widow of Zarephath was raised from the dead by Elijah (1 Kgs 17:17-26). The Shunnamite's son was raised by Elisha (2 Kgs 4:32-37). On one occasion, the body of a young man was thrown into the grave of Elisha. Upon touching the bones of the prophet's body, he stood up alive (2 Kgs 13:21). Jesus raised the widow of Nain's son (Luke 7:12-15), Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:49-55), and Lazarus (John 11:43-44). When Jesus died, some saints resurrected (Matt 27:52).
There is a sense, however, in which Jesus is "the first to rise from the dead" (Acts 13:26). He "has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20). The Spirit puts the matter in perspective for us. Jesus was the First of a new order of man--the First of the new creation. "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (1 Cor 15:23). Colossians 1:18 enlarges on this. "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence."
The point of the text is this. Jesus is speaking to His churches as the First and preeminent one. He is calling them into involvement with the new creation, and away from allegiance to the old creation. Being redeemed, the churches are His generation, destined to be conformed to His image.
The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth
This book will introduce us to conflict--fierce conflict. Much of it will come from the kings of the earth. John himself is suffering isolation through one of these kings. The book will tell us of martyrs who died at the hand of earthly kings (Rev 6:10). Fierce persecutions will be mentioned that were instigated by vile kings (17:2,12-14; 18:3,9; 19:19). However, all of these kings are under the King of heaven. He is the "King of kings, and Lord of lords" (17:14; 19:16). He rules over the "kings of the earth." The power these despots have has been given to them (13:7).
We will read of Satan's representative being given authority to overcome the saints. "It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation" (13:7). The people of God will be slain, and their blood will be shed by their enemies. It will appear as though some generations were abandoned by Christ--but that is not the case! He remains the "Ruler of the kings of the earth," even when they run roughshod over His people. That is a critical message to be gathered from this text. Although they may prosper for a season, Satan and his entire hierarchy of evil will be overturned and put under Jesus' feet! Believers are to live with this view. They are to anticipate their involvement in this glorious triumph! God will bruise Satan under their feet (Rom 16:20). We will participate in the revealed triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ.
ASCRIPTION OF PRAISE
It is the manner of holy men to give praise to God. Whether introducing an Epistle, covering key doctrines, or delivering admonitions, praise to God and Christ for their Persons and accomplishments are common. It is as though the fountain of life is uncapped, and a flow of praise and adoration erupts (i.e., Rom 11:33). The message of Christ does not obscure the Person of Christ! We are not dealing with interesting or novel presentations that draw a veil over the Lord's face. Rather, this is a book that exposes the Lord and His purpose to us. That is why praise can erupt in this manner.
He Loved Us
"To Him who loved us." Notice, he does not say "To Him who LOVES us" although He most assuredly does love us. With few exceptions, the love of God and Christ for humanity are consistently referenced in past tense, i.e., "LOVED us." We are apprized that God "LOVED the world" (John 3:16,19). The redeemed are summoned to consider how God "LOVED" them (Rom 8:37; Eph 2:4; 5:2,25; 2 Thess 2:16; 1 John 4:10-11,19). On an individual basis, Paul recalled "the Son of God, who LOVED me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20). By way of comparison, the use of the word love in the active tense ("loves") is never sentimental, but doctrinal. "God loves a cheerful giver" (1 Cor 9:7). "For whom the LORD loves He chastens" (Heb 12:6).
What is the significance of this perspective? God's love for us is found in the atonement of Jesus Christ. We are called to consider His love from that viewpoint. This is His provisional love. It is the undeniable confirmation of His interest in us. "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16). This is the "love" that is "shed abroad (poured out, NKJV) in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5). Our consideration of the love of God and of Christ is seen from the cross. There is where we get our bearings, so to speak.
This book is given from the One Who "loved us" and "gave Himself" for us. That is a spiritual template through which this book is to be read. Not a few interpretations of the Revelation fail to view the text from that vantage point. You must carefully avoid such diversions. Read this book looking at the cross. Consider it in light of the atonement. Ponder it with the vicarious atonement of Jesus uppermost in your mind. "He loved us!"
He Washed Us
"To Him who . . . washed us from our sins in His own blood." No Word from God to His churches ignores or minimizes the death of His Son, and the expiation of our sin by that means. This is a pivotal consideration. It is one of the reasons Paul "determined not to know anything . . . except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Interpretations of this book that do not give the central place to redemption are simply wrong. God has bent the history of the world and all of His communication around His provision of remission. In view of this gift, sin is utterly unreasonable. Lest we forget, "the blood of the Lamb" is mentioned in this book (7:14; 12:11). It is associated with overcoming the devil.
He Made Us Kings and Priests
The effectiveness of the death of Christ is not only seen in the removal of our past, but the transformation of our persons. Once "dead in trespasses and sins," we have now become members of a regal race. The redeemed are "kings and priests TO GOD" (1:6; 5:10). They are the Divinely designated rulers of the world to come (Heb 2:5-9; 1 Cor 6:1-2; 2 Tim 2:12; Rom 8:17).
In this volume, we will read of earthly kings, tyrants, and despots. On the surface, it will appear as though they are invincible--at least for a while. But this book is not about the kings of this world, who are ALL destined to destruction. It is about those who have been "made kings and priests" to God by the reconciliation accomplished by Jesus. Even now, the saints will be depicted as participating in the government of God through their prayers. The triumph of the saints is the point of the Revelation, not the reign of an Antichrist!
To Him Be Glory
Although Satan has extended his diabolical influence throughout the world, no glory will go to him! Even though he has raised and animated evil powers who run roughshod over the people of God, he will receive no glory! This book will show us HOW the glory will go to Christ Jesus! He will gain it by overcoming every power aligned against His people. He will frustrate the designs of those wicked powers, preserve His people at the peak of their power, and finally dash them and their structures of authority to the ground. The glory will all go to our Lord! Before Him "every knee will bow," and "every tongue confess" (Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10). We will view this book from that perspective!
To Him Be Dominion
The rightful dominion belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is exercising it. From time to time, it may appear as though beastly powers are ruling, but they are not. The dominion belongs to Christ! It may appear to some as though Satan has the upper hand, but he does not. The dominion belongs to Christ! He has been exalted to the place of absolute prominence, and has the dominion! God has placed Him "far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come" (Eph 1:21). We must ever remember that "the heavens do rule" (Dan 4:26). Spiritual beasts may rise and reign ruthlessly, but the heavens do rule! The saints of God may be slaughtered, and their blood flow like water, but the heavens do rule. The Lord Jesus Christ is bringing the purpose of God to a glorious consummation. This book is not about the dominion of the devil, the beast, or the false prophet. It is not a commentary on the reign of an Antichrist, but on the reign of THE CHRIST! The dominion BELONGS to Him, not figuratively or ideally, buy REALLY! Our Lord is presently ruling. The Kingdom is His, and He is executing the Objective determined from all eternity. The fact that men cannot see it has nothing to do with its reality. This book confirms that Christ is ruling amidst His enemies, as foretold (Psa 110:2). Nothing is out of Divine control! Neither your faith nor labor are in vain! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns (Rev 19:6)!
THE COMING OF THE LORD
At the very threshold of this book, we are reminded of the coming of the conquering King. This is a central consideration. For the people of God, it marks the conclusion of all opposition and suffering. This is when the glory of the King of kings will be made known, and the subservience of earthly kings will be revealed. As far back as David, this anticipation was articulated. "For He is coming to judge the earth" (1 Chron 16:33; Psa 96:13; 98:9). The saints are not in a hopeless state, even though from time to time it appears that way. Though Satan's representative "shall wear out the saints of the most High" (Dan 7:25), "the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" when their Savior comes again (Matt 13:43). Then will be brought to pass the saying, "Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the LORD; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Isa 25:9). This book will confirm that nothing shall cause that coming to be aborted or ineffectual! We will read of the worst Satan can do, and still "Behold, He is coming."
He Is Coming With the Clouds
"Behold, He is coming with clouds . . . " Some have supposed this to be a reference to angelic hosts. In my judgment, this is not the point of the text. When Jesus ascended from Olivet to glory, He did so with the clouds as His chariot, and the winds as His steeds, so to speak. It is written, "Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). Those beholding His ascent were told He "will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). It will be a visible coming, as surely as His ascent was visible.
The phrase "coming with the clouds" is an expression of judgment and judicial conclusion. It is an apparent coming, but a purposeful one as well. Daniel foresaw this coming, and recorded it in his prophecy. "And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed" (Dan 7:14- 15). This parallels the statement found in Revelation, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (11:15).
When standing before an earthly tribunal, the Lord Jesus bore witness of this coming. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62). Earlier, He told His disciples of His return in the same language. "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26; Matt 24:30; Luke 22:69). When reading of this, you might recall Sinai, where God descended with surrounding clouds (Deut 4:11; 2 Sam 22:12; Psa 18:11).
That this is speaking of the judgment of those who rejected Christ and opposed His saints is clear from the language of the prophet Zephaniah. "That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers" (Zeph 1:15- 16). Although Zephaniah's prophecies related to the judgment of nations who opposed Israel, his words provide a Divine nomenclature or vocabulary. This is the manner in which God speaks of judgment--"with the clouds." It is as though all nature joins with the Son of God when He comes to "judge the world in righteousness."
BEFORE we read of the drawing back of the saints, their oppression, and even the shedding of their blood, we are told of a triumphant morning when the Judge of all the earth will return. Read this book with that return in mind!
Every Eye Will See Him
"Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him . . . " This is not a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, because every eye did not see Him then. Indeed, many of the Jews made no association between that destruction and the judgment of the Almighty. But it will not be so when the Lord comes again! This phrase, "every eye shall see Him," speaks of discernment, not merely seeing a phenomenon. The words that follow confirm to us that "every eye" will know Who is returning--particularly those who have oppressed His people. All of the saints will see Him as well (Rev 22:4).
There will be a universal recognition of the Lord when He comes again. The reason for mentioning this now, is to alert the saints to the necessity of recognizing Him now--whether in the best or worst of times. Acquaintance with Him in this world, will cause us to rejoice when "every eye shall see Him." We will not read much in this marvelous bok without hearing about the Lord Jesus Christ. There are not lengthy periods when He is not mentioned. There are at least 108 references to Jesus in this book (see the section, "Our Approach to This Book"). They are calculated to acquaint us with, and endear us to, Him Whom "every eye will see."
As with Job, every person shall see the Lord for himself. This will not be a vision interpreted by the discerning to the undiscerning! "For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27). Blessed contemplation!
Those Who Pierced Him
Those who rejected the Lord's Christ, particularly those to whom He came, will ultimately confront Him, face to face! What an awesome consideration! Zechariah spoke of this. " . . . they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him" (Zech 12:10). In His Gospel, John confirms that the Lord Jesus Christ the One to Whom the prophecy referred. "They shall look on Him whom they pierced" (John 19:37). The day of reckoning is coming for those who rejected the Lord Jesus!
All the Kindreds of the Earth
"Behold, he cometh with clouds . . . and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen." This is not the wail of joy! It is the lament of those who refused to see God in nature, history, and the Gospel of His Son. In this world, they may have contented themselves to serve other gods, be caught up in the realm of the seen, and live in a state of covetousness. But that will all terminate abruptly when the Lord returns. Those who took it upon themselves to persecute the people of God will "wail because of Him.!"
A miniature picture of the event is recorded in Revelation 6:15-17. "And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" This is an awesome scene! We are to enter into this book with this in mind! Again, we will read of the apparent triumph of Satan during certain periods. The Spirit will testify to us of a false prophet and church that will dominate the world, living in the lap of carnal prosperity.
Behind all of this the eminence of the Lord's return! He will not come to be impressed by their works, but they WILL be impressed by Him! They will know Who He is, and seek to hide from Him. From every quadrant of the world, and every segment of society, all who have spurned Jesus will face Him, and know they are doing so. All who have tasted of His goodness, yet returned to the weak and beggardly elements of the world will confront the One from Whom they withdrew. People who have chosen the passing pleasures and wealth of this world will see Him, and at that instant know they have squandered their lives.
It is good to consider these things NOW. It will help to strengthen us in our determination to cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart. Such consideration will arm us to resist the devil, and avoid being caught up in his religious fabrications. How the saints long for the return of their Lord! When they "turned from idols," they did so to serve the living God, and "wait for His Son from heaven" (1 Thess 1:10). This is a Kingdom trait. His return is the "blessed hope" His church (Tit 2:13). It is both blessed and prominent.
The Tone Has Been Set
We have set the tone for this book! It is not a concealment, but a revelation! It is not a commentary on the activity of Satan, but of the reign of the Lord Jesus. The purpose of this book is not to strike fear into our hearts because of the coming of a ruthless and diabolical ruler, but to prepare us for the coming of the Lord. The "mark of the beast" is not the primary mark delineated in this book, but the sealing of the servants of God. The reign of Antichrist is not the focus, but the reign of the Lord's Christ!
Now, it is fitting for the Lord Jesus to shine the spotlight of consideration upon Himself. He is the focus of the Father, the engrossing consideration of angels, and the Objective of our faith. History revolves around Him, and He is the Ruler in the midst of it all. His purpose is being carried out, and His reign is the dominant and final one.
I Am Alpha and Omega
"I am Alpha and Omega . . . " Technically, these are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet. The expression, however, conveys a message that faith must grasp. Everything is encompassed in Jesus, the Lord's Christ! It starts with Him and ends with Him. Nothing begins without Him, and everything is concluded in His time and at His word. God has nothing to say that does not come through Him, and is doing no work that does not require Him.
He is also the "Alpha and Omega" of this book! The Revelation begins with Christ Jesus (1:5-8, 11-20), and concludes with Him (22:16-22). His words open the book (1:17-20), and His words close it (22:16,20). Before ever history is unfolded, John is focused on the Son of God (1:12-17), and after the unfolding he again is looking to Him (22:16-21).
Between these climactic revelations, we will see the Lord working out His purpose in a war zone. The saints of God will be persecuted, and even killed. Satan's false church rises to prominence, appearing invincible. However, in all of this, the Lord Jesus is maintaining His cause, Word, and people. No Divine undertaking is left unfinished, and no devilish undertaking will be ultimately successful. This is God's world, and He is the Governor among the nations. The final proof of His rule does not lie in the temporary well being of His people, but in their final triumph over all foes.
The enemies of God may scoff, pointing to their prosperity, and the seeming demise of God's people. But in the end, God will be justified in all of His sayings, and His purpose will be achieved. In that day, we will find it was completed in an orderly and deliberate manner, right under the devil's nose.
I Am Very Active
"I am . . . the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come . . . " The ungodly, whether absorbed by false religion or the passing pleasures of this age, do not see Jesus Christ as active. But He is! He is evaluating the churches! He is unfolding the future! He is monitoring and controlling the oppression of His people. Satan in all of his representations, whether earthly government or corrupt religion, is operating under the Government of Jesus!
The Lord "IS!" that is the first perspective He provides. He IS near! He IS saving! He IS ruling! Things neither begin nor end without His express approval and control! Tribulation cannot begin outside of His Sovereignty, and will conclude at His word. The reign of spiritual despots cannot commence apart from His Word, and will be brought down when His purpose has been served.
I Am the Almighty
"I am . . . the Almighty." Some read "the Revelation of Jesus Christ," and are unduly impressed by the devil, the "beast" and the "false prophet." They behold a corrupt and worldly "church" and marvel at its rise. For them, the things described in this book are bloodcurdling. Their vision is dominated by famines, pestilence, and the shedding of blood. All of these things are recorded in "the Revelation," but they are not the aim of the book. The judgment of the ungodly, overthrow of Satan, demise of the beast, and destruction of the false prophet are also declared. The entrance of the godly into the joy of the Lord is described in glorious detail.
Throughout Scripture, Jesus Christ is affirmed to be the King of kings. God has placed the government of everything upon His shoulder. The book of Revelation shows HOW that government is being executed. Amidst persecution, delusion, and tumult, the will of the Lord is being done! Nothing is out from under His control. Get that message, and you will have received what God intended by this book. Believe it, and you will be sustained by the marvelous truth it confirms to us, namely that the Lord, He is King!