Please read the first chapter of Revelation.
It is altogether fitting that the Bible should conclude with the Book of Revelation. History had a beginning, and the Scriptures are clear that history is going to have an end. According to the Book of Genesis, God spoke the first word; and according to the Revelation, God is going to speak the last word.
The first book of the Bible would not be complete if it were not for the last book. Genesis tells about the commencement of the heavens and earth; Revelation tells about the consummation of the heavens and earth. Genesis tells about the entrance of sin and the curse; Revelation tells about the end of sin and the curse. Genesis tells about the tree of life and how man was driven from it; Revelation tells about the tree of life and how man is invited back to it. In Genesis, sorrow begins; in Revelation, sorrow is banished. The Revelation is a fitting conclusion to the whole account of redemption.
The word “Revelation” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word “apocalypse”—which simply means “to unveil.” The Book of Revelation is not a puzzle book, but an unveiling. It is the unveiling of a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, as He brings human history to a close here on the earth. The Book is not a Revelation of the four horsemen, nor of the woman clothed with the sun, nor of the fall of Babylon, nor of the new Jerusalem. The last book of the Bible is a revelation of Jesus Christ.
There have been several methods of interpreting the Book of Revelation. Some say the book is merely a picture of the unending struggle between good and evil, and that it has no instructions concerning the future; it only teaches spiritual principles. Others say that John was describing only events that took place in the Roman Empire—historical events that took place during his own time. Still others say that the Revelation is a picture of the progress of history from the first century on down to modern times. They find symbols to represent Constantine, the Reformation, the French Revolution, etc. But anyone who looks at the Revelation as he would any other book of the Bible, is soon convinced that the Revelation is a presentation of God’s plan for the future. It is called a “Prophecy” (1:3). It is true that some chapters have historical value, and there are some great spiritual principles taught here—but for the most part, the Revelation is a study of future events.
1. The Introduction To the Book (Revelation 1:1-6)
Verse 1 gives a clue to our understanding of the Book. It says, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Book is not merely a succession of future events, but the unveiling of a Person. In chapters two and three, Christ is Lord of the churches. In chapters four through twenty, Christ is the Lion over the nations. In the last two chapters, Christ is the Lamb among the redeemed. The Book of Revelation centers around Jesus Christ.
Verse 1 continues, “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave . . . unto his servant John.” The Revelation is not something that John thought up himself. He received it from God, and therefore it is authoritative and it demands our attention.
The purpose of the Book is also stated in verse 1. The Revelation was given not to hide truth from God’s people (to mystify them or to puzzle them), but to show (to make known and to unveil). The word “shortly” is translated from a Greek word that means “quickly” or “suddenly.” The idea is not so much that the events may occur soon, but when they do occur, they will take place rapidly.
Verse 2 says that John wrote down what the angel told him. He recorded what he heard and saw. And then in verse 3, we learn of a trinity of blessings—a blessing upon those who read and hear and keep the words of this Book. John doesn’t say we will be blessed if we understand, but we will be blessed if we will just read the message of this Book. But we must not only read; we must keep the words. If it calls for repentance, we must repent. If it calls for confession, we must confess. If we sense that we’re growing cold, we must acknowledge it. Just as—if we jump in a lake, we’ll get wet; or if we touch a hot stove, we’ll get burned—just so, if we read and keep the sayings of this Book, we’ll get blessed.
Verse 4 says that John was the writer and seven churches in the Roman province of Asia (a part of present-day Turkey) were the recipients of the message. And then he says, “Grace be unto you, and peace.” As we read the Revelation, we learn that some sobering things are going to happen. The earth will quake and mountains will be moved out of place—but to you, John says, “grace and peace.” The grace (unmerited favor) and peace (harmony between the soul and God) come from the triune God. The phrase “him who is and who was and who is to come” refers to God the Father, and speaks of the eternity of God who is without beginning and without ending. The words “and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne” set forth the Holy Spirit in His many-faceted work. The seven facets of the work of the Spirit of God are described in Isaiah 11:2. The phrase (verse 5) “and from Jesus Christ” completes the reference to the Trinity. Jesus is described as “a faithful witness” (one who tells everything that needs to be known without omitting any essential truth). Also, He is “the first begotten of the dead” (the first to rise from the dead with a new resurrection body). Jesus is further described as “the prince of the kings of the earth” (the King of the ages who will someday return and take command of the rebellious world). Finally Jesus is described as the One who “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (set us free from our sins and paid the price of our redemption, and then gathered us into His Kingdom and assigned us the responsibility of interceding for others). No wonder he concludes verse 6 with the words, “unto him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”
2. The Prophecy of the Book (Revelation 1:7-8)
The Revelation begins and ends with a reminder that Jesus is coming to the earth a second time. Here in the first chapter, we read, “Behold he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him.” At the very end of chapter twenty-two, we read, “Surely, I come quickly.” The age in which we now live is an age of grace. It will end with a time of great judgment. Our Lord will return from Heaven and call out His true disciples and take them into the presence of the Father. And then Jesus will come in great majesty and power and set up His kingdom on earth. We don’t know all the details and the exact time-pattern for all these events, but we do know that they will take place.
The catching away of the Church will be a secret event; the second phase of His coming (described in verse 7) will be a public event. John says “Behold he cometh.” This is the great hope of all believing Christians. It was this hope that brought about the writing of the Revelation. The cry (“behold he cometh”) at some time in the future will reach to the bottom of every grave!
The word “cometh” is in the present tense. The Scripture in John 14 sets forth the certainty of Christ’s coming. Jesus says, “I will come again.” The passage in Acts 1:11 sets forth the manner of His coming. He is going to come “in like manner” as you saw Him go. But Revelation 1:7 sets forth the imminency of His coming. The verb is in the present tense. His coming may be at any time. If you are unsaved, unprepared, unconcerned, unbelieving—you had better pay heed, for behold, Jesus is coming. It may be at morn when the day is awaking; it may be at mid-day; it may be at twilight; it may be perchance that the blackness of midnight will burst into light in the blaze of His glory. John says, “Every eye shall see him.” Not only will Israel as a nation behold Him, but “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” It’s going to be an hour of remorse for those who rejected Him.
The world will be altogether unprepared to meet Jesus when He comes back a second time. The nations are going to weep in despair. Mankind will wail because of Him. Those who pierced Him will be in consternation and shame. And there is a real sense in which every one of us had a part in the crucifixion of Jesus, and thus the greatest need in every life is pardon for that awful crime. Unless we accept Him as Saviour here in this life, someday we will meet Him as Judge. There never has been a human being born, who will not somewhere, sometime, in some place, stand face to face with the Son of God. If you want to meet Him in peace, you must embrace the plan of salvation laid down in the Bible. If you want to know more about how to become rightly related with God, write and ask for the tract, “The Divine Plan of Salvation.”
3. The Person of the Book (Revelation 1:9—18:20)
In verse 9, John simply says that he is our “brother.” If your Bible has a title at the beginning of the Revelation which says, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” you must remember that the words “of St. John the Divine” were added by men. They are not in the early manuscripts. John would have been the last person to claim that title.
John says that he shared with the early Christians in their tribulations, but now he was banished on a rugged island off the coast of Ephesus. He was banished to Patmos not because he was a gangster nor because he was a drunkard, but because he refused to hush his testimony about the Word of God and about the saving and satisfying power of Jesus Christ. John was in the midst of bleak circumstances; he was shut off from his friends; but while men could limit his human activities, they could not bind the Spirit of God. Early one Sunday morning (according to verse 10) John was caught up in spirit and carried forward to the future day of the Lord—and was given a view of the events that we have recorded in the Revelation.
John heard a voice behind him that sounded like a trumpet blast, and the voice spoke to him. It was the voice of the Son of God. John was told to write down what he saw and then to send it to the seven churches of Asia (verse 11). When John looked, he saw “seven golden candlesticks” (verse 12), and verse 20 says that these are the symbols of the seven churches. The church (like a candle on a lampstand) is to be a light in a world of darkness. The business of the church is not to amuse, nor to elect men to political office, but to shine as a light in the midst of a sin-darkened world.
Beginning with verse 13, John describes his vision of Jesus Christ. He was “clothed with a garment down to the foot”; He was “girt about with a golden girdle”; His hair was “white like wool”; His eyes were as “a flame of fire”; His feet were like unto “fine brass”; His voice was “as the sound of many waters.”
The “garment down to the feet” tells of His authority and dignity. The laboring man wore a short tunic (instead of the long robe) so that there was no hindrance to his work. The public official wore a long robe as a symbol of dignity and power.
The “golden girdle” across His chest tells of His affection, understanding, sympathy, and love for His people. John saw the same Jesus who took little children into His arms and put His hands upon the blind and had compassion upon the people.
The snow-white hair tells of the eternity of His character. The flaming eyes speak of His penetrating vision. All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
The feet of Jesus (like unto fine brass) tell of His strength to overcome opposition. They symbolize His power to tread evil under foot. The writer of Hebrews says His enemies will be made his foot-stool (Hebrews 10:13).
His voice (like the sound of many waters) tells of the power with which He speaks. His voice thundered like the waves dashing against the shore. Anyone who has ever visited Niagara Falls remembers how that long before he could see the Falls, he heard the sound of the water rushing over the cliff. And when he stood right up at the Falls, the noise of the rushing water was so great that he could hardly hear others talk. John likely had often lain awake at night listening to the boom of the surf on the rocky shores of Patmos—and the voice of the Son of God thundered like those waves against the shore.
We must keep in mind that John was looking at a vision of Christ in all His glory and majesty. This world has never seen Jesus as he really is. When Jesus was here on earth the first time, His real glory was veiled in flesh (Hebrews 10:20). His deity was covered over with His manhood. Once in a while His deity shone through (as it did on the Mount of Transfiguration and when He worked miracles), but for the most part, men have never seen Jesus Christ as He really is. Many today think of Jesus Christ as a handsome, soft, easy-going, sentimental person. They go by the artists’ conception. They see a fragmented Christ. They fail to get a complete vision of Jesus Christ as the Bible describes Him. When Jesus was here the first time, He was acquainted with grief and His visage was so marred (Isaiah 52:14) that He could hardly have been the handsome person one often sees in paintings. And when He comes again, He is coming in splendor and majesty. We must not limit our understanding of Jesus Christ to the paintings of men. We must view Him as the Bible describes Him.
There are more symbols of the might and power and majesty of Jesus in verse 16, and then in verse 17, John says that when he saw this vision of the glorified Christ, he fell at his feet as dead. Isaiah and Daniel had done the same thing. But our Lord said to John, “Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth and was dead; and behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death.” Jesus is “before all things, and by him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17). He is not One who lived and then died and disappeared from the scene, but One who was resurrected and is living now! He holds the “keys of hell and of death.” Christ alone can open and shut the doors to the unseen world; nobody else can do it.
Death is an experience that eventually comes to every house. If death has not yet broken up your family circle, in just a little while it surely will. Our Scripture says that no person ever dies except by the permissive will of Jesus Christ. The key is in His hand. When you’re going to die is known to Him. How you’re going to die is known to Him. The circumstances under which you’re going to die are all known to Him. If it is not His will that a person die, then neither fever nor pestilence nor earthquake nor atomic bomb nor a plane crash, can drag that man down to the grave. Our lives are in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ. He holds the keys of death.
None of us is going to die until Christ opens the door of death, and when that time comes, we are going to die no matter what the circumstances are. We may even be at home sleeping safely and calmly in our beds. And we need not be afraid, because death for the believer is being present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). It’s true that death is an enemy. We are not saying that if the death-angel should knock on your door tonight, that you wouldn’t tremble. On the other hand, God gives us grace for this hour and for that hour; for this day and for that day; and when Christ Jesus opens the door of death, He will give us dying grace.
We have seen the greatness and the power and the majesty of Jesus Christ. He has the keys of hell and of death. Even hell trembles at His presence.
4. The Plan of the Book (Revelation 1:19)
The key to a correct understanding of the Book of Revelation lies in verse 19 of chapter one. It tells us that there’s a past and a present and a future all described in this Book.
Verse 19 speaks of things past—”the things which thou hast seen.” This is a reference to what we have just seen (the vision of Jesus Christ as given in chapter one of the Revelation).
Verse 19 speaks also of things present—”the things which are.” This, we believe, is a reference to the condition of the seven churches as we have them described in chapters two and three of the Revelation. We have in these churches a set of conditions which depict the course of the church during the present age.
Verse 19 also speaks of things future—”the things which shall be hereafter.” This is a reference to the things which will take place at the close of the age. It includes the coming of Christ, the Great Tribulation, the millennial kingdom, and the eternal state.
The Revelation is a Book for a troubled age. When the darkness deepens and the powers of evil seem to have the upper hand, the Revelation assures us that God will ultimately triumph, that the saints are going to be blessed, and that sin is going to be judged. We don’t understand all that the Revelation teaches, but we can be sure of several things that it definitely does teach. It teaches that God is in control of history. It teaches that the end of the age is going to be preceded by a time of unusual suffering and of much evil. It teaches that a glorious kingdom awaits the saints. For the children of God, the best is yet to be! Surely all believing Christians can agree to the above statements. May the Holy Spirit be our teacher as we seek to learn more in the days that may be ahead.