In this post I am going to look at Revelation 1:4-20. If you are new to reading this blog I am currently going through the book of Revelation and simply blogging as a means to share my study, my questions, my thoughts and hopefully create discussion.
In verse 4, John says that he is writing to the 7 churches of Asia. We read about these 7 churches in chapters 2 and 3. Real quick, here is a little background on these churches. The Asia minor of John’s day had become quite oppressive for Christians to live. No longer did they enjoy the protection of being considered an offshoot of Judaism, which was tolerated by Rome. Jews were often the ones accusing christians before the Roman government. Life was full of persecution and suffering. We must keep in mind that the audience John was writing was to was largely under persecution.
Now then, the number 7 is used many times in the book: 7 seals, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls. In apocalyptic literature numbers are largely used symbolically. So while this letter is written to 7 specific churches it would seem that this message would also be for all churches, as the number 7 refers to wholeness or completeness. To give to support to this is the fact that at end of each letter, we read “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
John now wants his readers to know that as they read this letter they are receiving grace from God. But John is not content with just writing the word God. No, he wants to unpack who this God is. Therefore, he speak of the Father (“from him who is and who was and who is to come”) the Spirit (“the seven spirits who are before His throne”), and Jesus Christ (“the faithful witness of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth”). John make sure his readers know that grace is coming from the entire Godhead. And then as if his heart has been moved greatly by mentioning the triune God he breaks out into doxology in verses 5b-7.
Isn’t that amazing that John so easily breaks out into absolute praise by simply mentioning the Father, the Spirit, and the Son? I am convicted that my heart is not so easily moved to praise.
Two more things to mention here.
First, the description of Jesus’ return. Jesus’ return will be full of praise for those who know Him and love Him but it will be full of judgment for those who have rejected him (“all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him”).
Secondly, John begins and ends this section with mentioning the eternality of the Father (v.4, 8). John is drawing specific attention to the fact that God is the eternal and invincible Ruler of all history. This is the God who has been present at all points of history, past, present and future.
In verses 9-20 we have the vision of Jesus. This is an amazing vision full of rich O.T. imagery from passages like Ezekiel 8 and Daniel 7,8,10, and Zechariah 4.
In verses 9-10, John reminds his readers who he is and let’s them know what he was doing when he received this vision.
Interestingly, John does not refer to himself as an apostle but rather emphasizes his solidarity with his readers. He is a fellow brother and partner in the tribulation. He is a member of the Kingdom of God and he, just like his readers is patiently enduring until Jesus returns. He has been exiled because of his faith. So He is writing from exile to a people (the 7 churches) that might feel like they are in exile.
Next, he lets us know what he was doing when he received this vision. On a Sunday (“on the Lord’s day”) he was in the Spirit. Surely we are to take this to mean He was worshipping God. Possibly he was worshipping God through the written word or merely praising His name in song. It is at this moment, while worshipping God, that he hears a voice like a trumpet announcing to him that he is to write all that that he sees.
Side note: Trumpets often sound judgment (Ex. 19:16, 19-20; Joshua 6:4-5,16-17). Is this vision going to be one of judgment? In the book of Joshua, the trumpet signaled the victory of the Israelites and the defeat of Jericho. Could that be similar here? Does this trumpet signal to us the victory the church has in God and the destruction of those who do not follow Him? Something to thing about as we progress through the book.
In verses 12-18, we are given a description of Jesus. I am not going to go much into the description right now because we will look at it again as we move through the chapter 2 and 3. Parts of Jesus’ description is given to each of the 7 churches in chapter 2 and 3.
Here is a brief synopsis:
The Son of Man clothed with a long robe and a golden sash around his chest (v.13)
He hair on head is white like wool, like snow and His eyes were like flames of fire (v.14).
His feet are like burnished bronze, His voice like the roar of many waters (v. 15). I wonder if His voice is like standing next to Niagara falls.
In His right hand He holds 7 stars. His tongue is a sharp two-edged sword, and His face like the sun shining in full strength (v.16). Here we have a picture of immense holiness, brilliance, and strength.
Now if stop and think for a moment, this picture is very different than the nice paintings of Jesus that many people have in their homes. Those paintings make Jesus look very kind, very teddy bear like, and sometimes possibly effeminate. But this is not like that at all. Jesus’ face is so bright that it is compared to the full strength of the Sun. A doubled edged sword is coming from His mouth. Jesus is brilliant and powerful. He is no teddy bear. Surely John had to put his hand before his face so he could look at the Son of Man.
How did John respond to this vision?
In verse 17 we are told he falls down as if he died. Now just think about? What was your response when you read this passage? Did you (did I) have any emotional response at all? I am once again convicted about how easy it is to read the Bible and then put it down as if I just read some fact from the encyclopedia (or I guess I should say wikipedia). But isn’t John’s response supposed to inform us about how we are to respond?
As I have thought about this passage for about 2 weeks now I am more convinced that God is leading me to repent from areas of hardness and comfortableness in my heart. Here we have a vision of our holy King, the one who died for us, the one who hold the keys of death and hades. It is because of what Jesus has done at the cross that I do not need to fear death. Jesus has given us life, not just life now but life forevermore in Him. There is no good reason that when I read this I should not follow in John’s example and also fall down. ,
One more thing to think about. Jesus is revealed as a man. Jesus became incarnate when he was born as a baby and He has kept His earthly body. Upon rising from the dead, Jesus did not say good ridden to this body, but He has kept it. Jesus is not just our King, He is our Elder Brother, the First Born of all creation.
In verse 19 John is once again told to write the thing that He has seen.
There is much to say about verse 19 and therefore I think I will leave that for a future post.
In verse 20 we are told what the 7 stars and the 7 lamp stands represent. The 7 stars are the 7 angels associated with each church. And the 7 lamp stands are the 7 churches. Who are these angels? Each of the letters are not addressed to the churches but to the angel of the church. Some have thought these angels to be human messengers or the pastors of the churches. But elsewhere in Revelation, angels are always God’s special messengers sent from heaven.
Dennis Johnson in his commentary also added to the possibilities by saying, “Jesus is evoking in John’s mind the picture of guardians charged with protecting the people of God and bringing his messages to them, such as the angel sent to Daniel, who reports having been delayed by the prince of the kingdom of Persia for twenty-one days…” (Johnson, 62-63). The problem with this thought is that the letters are addressed to the angels and the message is a mixture of faithfulness and sin. But if these are divine angels, how is their faithfulness being questioned?
I found G.K. Beale very helpful here:
The observation that ἄγγελος (“angel”) refers without exception to heavenly beings in the visionary portion of Revelation (about 60 times) points to the same identification here. These angels could be identified with the seven archangels known to Jewish tradition (e.g., 1 En. 20:1–8; Tob. 12:15), though this is far from certain.
The ἄγγελοι (“angels”) in 1:20 include both heavenly beings and the earthly churches, according to the idea of corporate representation, which is suggested further by recognizing that angelic beings are corporately identified with Christians as their heavenly counterparts elsewhere in the book: the angel in 19:10 and 22:9 says, “I am a fellow servant of you and your brothers.” In addition, the angel in Rev. 8:3–4 seems to represent saints, since he receives their prayers and presents them before God. Consequently, the “angels” in 1:20b refer to heavenly beings who also represent the church
Perhaps, referring to the angel of each church is meant to remind the church that not only do they exist on earth but they have (at least partly) a heavenly existence also.
Understanding that the 7 lamp stands represent the 7 churches is much more straightforward. But what is incredible is that in verse 13 we saw Jesus standing in the midst of the 7 lamp stands (churches). How amazing, Jesus is in the midst of the 7 churches. He is no far from them. He is with them. He knows them. Again, if we understand these 7 churches to to be representative of all churches then we are comforted that our King, the Son of God, the one who possesses the keys of death and hades is in our midst also. He is not far from us. He is near us and extends His grace to us.
There is much to absorb and think about in this opening chapter. But the message seems to be clear. This is a message of grace and judgment coming from the full Trinity that is meant to strengthen the church that they would persevere in the tribulation.