The following study on Revelation 1 was prepared for our group’s weekly Bible study. This post can also be found here, where all of our chapter-by-chapter studies on Revelation will be posted in the coming months: http://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/revelation/.
Adam Maarschalk: June 25, 2009
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 1:1-20
[New notes were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. They are based in part on Steve Gregg's book "Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary)."]
A. Prologue (1:1-3)
Verse 1: The purpose for the giving of the “revelation of Jesus Christ” is stated in the first verse. His servants were to be shown “the things that must soon take place.” This revelation was delivered to John, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, through an angel. A good exegetical question is this: How would John’s first century readers have understood and interpreted the phrase “things that must soon take place“? This will be discussed shortly.
Steve Gregg (p. 52) notes that the Greek language behind the expression “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” could either indicate that Jesus is  the subject being revealed or  the One doing the revealing. The first option certainly resonates with the reader when John vividly describes Jesus in chapters 1, 5, 14, and 19. Gregg says the second alternative “seems to agree with the rest of the verse, which suggests that the material of the visions was revealed first to Christ by God (the Father), then by Christ to an angel, who passed it along to John [who then bore witness to the visions].”
Verses 2-3: “Forty-four times in this book John wrote ‘I saw’ (1:12-13; 4:1, 4; 5:1, 2, 6, 11; 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12; 7:1, 2, 9; 8:2, 13; 9:1, 17; 10:1; 13:1, 3, 11; 14:1, 6, 14; 15:1, 2, 5; 16:13; 17:3; 18:1; 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11, 12; 21:1, 2, 8).” [Source: Dr. Thomas Constable]
Q: When verse 2 says that John bore witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ, is this referring to the vision He received as recorded in this book, or does it refer to the things Jesus taught during His incarnation? Or both?
John states that what he is about to record are “things that must soon take place” (verse 1), and that “the time is near” (verse 3). There are two ways this is commonly interpreted:  that these things were going to take place soon after they were written, i.e. during the first century  that once these events would commence all would be finished quickly. Interestingly, Daniel, who received some similar revelations, was told to seal his book (Daniel 12:4, 12:9) because what he saw was still far off (Daniel 8:26, 10:14), but John was told that what he saw was about to take place and thus he should not seal his book (cf. Revelation 22:10). This makes a case for the first interpretation being the correct one. If the fulfillment of these visions has still not come in our day, how do we account for these different instructions, when one set of prophecies was given about 2550 years ago (to Daniel) and the other set about 1950 years ago (to John)? As Kenneth Gentry likes to ask, “If these phrases ['soon' and 'near'] don’t truly indicate nearness in time, because they are spoken from God’s perspective and not ours, what other words would God possibly use to communicate such concepts to us?” As I wrote elsewhere,
John wrote the book of Revelation in such a way that the subject matter of the entire book, not just his letters to the churches, was urgent for and relevant for those churches. At the end of the book, Jesus said, “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). God, speaking in terms that man would understand, spoke through John saying, “The Revelation of Jesus, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place…Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:1-4). We see that the seven churches who received this writing were encouraged to read the entire book aloud in their assemblies, and to keep what was written in it. We can also note that the Greek word used for “soon” here is the same one Jesus used when He said His time to be crucified was “at hand” (Matthew 26:18), and when John said “the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand” (John 7:2), events that no doubt were literally near. Four times Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). In some translations, “soon” is used instead of “quickly.”
John’s words in verse 3 seem to express urgency. The original recipients of this book (the seven churches in Asia) were to receive a blessing if they read the words of this prophecy aloud as they assembled together, and also if they would hear and keep what was written.
B. Greeting to the Seven Churches (1:4-8)
Verse 4: Steve Gregg reminds us that Asia in John’s time “was not, as now, the name of a continent, but of a Roman province, identified with modern Turkey” (p. 54). Dr. Thomas Constable remarks, “The phrase ‘seven Spirits’ may refer to seven principle angelic messengers (cf. v. 20; 8:2, 6; 15:1; 1 Kings 22:19-21; Heb. 1:14). Another possible view is that the phrase refers to the Holy Spirit in His fullness (cf. Isa. 11:2-3; Zech. 4:2-7).”
Verses 5-6: Jesus is called [a] the faithful witness [b] the firstborn of the dead (cf. Colossians 1:18) [c] the ruler of kings on earth. He [a] loves us [b] freed us [c] made us a kingdom (corporately) [d] made us priests (individually), and all glory and dominion belongs to Him forever. Steve Gregg adds (p. 56), “The reference to Christ’s God and Father (v. 6) calls to mind the words of Christ recorded elsewhere by the same apostle: ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’ (John 20:17).” Regarding the expression “kings and priests,” also found in Rev. 5:10 (and echoed in Rev. 20:6), Gregg comments (pp. 55-56), “This is one of the many New Testament verses that give to the church titles originally applied to Israel (cf. I Peter 2:9-10), suggesting that God’s kingdom is now to be associated with the church rather than Israel.”
Verse 7: This verse begins with the phrase, “Behold He is coming with clouds…” Steve Gregg writes, “The comfort that this promise contains for the suffering believers, and the warning for the obstinate, will be elaborated upon throughout the remainder of the book” (p. 56). Constable (a Dispensationalist) believes that the phrase “every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him” either refers to Jews living in the final generation (based on Zechariah 12:10-14), or that this imagery could stand for all of Jesus’ enemies up until the Second Coming (the event which he believes is in view here). Personally, I believe that it refers to the very individuals who pierced Christ at the cross (and those who, looking on, approved), meaning that some of them would have still been alive to see this prophecy fulfilled in 70 AD. The following two quotes reflect this same position:
QUOTE: “Another theme that permeates the book is the concept of Jesus’ soon coming. But note in the passages below what ‘kind’ of coming is in view [i.e. Is it a reference to Christ’s Second Coming, or to His coming in judgment (cf. Rev. 2:5, 2:16, 3:3)?]. Again, note the similarity in the first and last chapter of the book.
Rev 1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.
Note that this [coming is] directed at ‘those who pierced’ him and that it involves his recompense, his retribution. One can stretch the meaning of those who pierced Him to be any one sinner in history metaphorically, but the most obvious and ‘literal’ rendering would be of those who physically put Him to death, which would be the Jews and Rome… There is no mistaking the ‘soon’ nature of the passages. Some have tried to argue that the phrase ‘quickly’ is in reference to when the events do start to happen, that they will happen quickly. This does nothing to answer the immediacy of the expectation and those expected to be still alive when these events take place.”
[Source: David Lowman, http://low5point.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/revealing-revelation-the-early-date-theory-part-1/]
QUOTE: “Most writers consider the theme of the book to be Revelation 1:7. This verse is very similar in context to Matthew 24:30.
Revelation 1:7, ‘Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds [Greek word #5443] of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.’
Matthew 24:30, ‘And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes [Greek word #5443] of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’
…Zechariah 12:10-14, ‘And I will pour upon the…inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son…In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem…And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.’
Obviously, this is the foundation for John’s statement that ‘every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth (or land) shall wail because of him.’ So, in essence, Zechariah was saying that the ‘tribes of the land’ would mourn for Him whom they had pierced. Who were those tribes? ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem.’ This also helps us identify the ‘earth’ in Revelation 1:7. According to Zechariah, the ‘earth’ is the land of Palestine, specifically, Jerusalem. Also, it is those tribes, i.e., the nation of Israel, who would ‘look upon Me whom they have pierced.’ And because of that, ‘the mourning in Jerusalem’ would be great. With all of this information, we can see that the ‘tribes of the earth’ in Revelation 1:7 are the nation of Israel. The ‘earth’ is Palestine. The land that would mourn is Jerusalem.
So, the main purpose of Revelation would be to reveal Jesus to the nation of Israel. The place of this revealing would be Jerusalem. Lastly, this revealing would be to those who pierced Him, i.e., the Jews.”
(Source: Richard Anthony, http://ecclesia.org/truth/revelation.html)
Steve Gregg (p. 57) articulates the position of some preterist commentators:
[They] suggest that the passage does not predict the literal Second Coming, but is a figurative description of Christ’s coming in vengeance to destroy Jerusalem, not in person, but using the Roman armies in A.D. 70… Such interpreters note the following considerations: The principal features of the prediction are (a) Christ coming, (b) His coming with clouds; (c) every eye will see Him, even they who pierced him; and (d) all the tribes of the earth [or land] mourning at His coming.
(a) The expression coming of the Lord is used in many contexts that do not appear to be referring to the Second Coming (e.g., Rev. 2:5; 3:20; cf. Deut. 33:2; Isa. 19:1; Zech. 1:16; Mal. 3:1-2; Matt. 10:23), thus leaving open the possibility of another meaning here;
(b) The specific language of the Lord coming with clouds is used in the Old Testament with reference to historic judgments not associated with the end of the world (Isa. 19:1; Ps. 104:3) and may be so understood here as well;
(c) Jesus placed the time of His “coming with the clouds” within the lifetime of some of His contemporaries (Matt. 16:28; 24:30, 34; 26:64). This would allow one to understand they who pierced Him as the actual generation that crucified Christ, which would be the natural understanding to the literalist…
(d) The judgment of Jerusalem is implied by the expression all the tribes of the earth (which can be translated, “all the tribes of the land [Israel]“) will mourn. The Old Testament passage which is alluded to is a prophecy concerning “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:10). This view finds further support in the fact that Israel is divisible into tribes, whereas the earth is generally divided into nations.
[As we continue in our study of Revelation, we will suggest that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]
Verse 8: For the second time, God is referred to as the One “who is and who was and who is to come.” The speaker here appears to be Jesus.
C. Vision of the Son of Man (1:9-20)
Verse 9: John was in Patmos, a Roman prison island off the coast of modern Turkey. It was located in the Aegean Sea southwest of Ephesus. Steve Gregg notes (p. 57) that “Patmos is a rocky, crescent-shaped island about 37 miles southwest of the mainland of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), where the seven recipient churches were located.” Only the Romans could banish their subjects to Patmos, so in what sense was John a “partner in the tribulation” with the seven churches? Until Nero’s campaign of persecution from November 64 AD – June 68 AD, the Church experienced persecution primarily from the Jews. When John wrote Revelation, though, they were apparently also under a significant Roman persecution. No Roman Imperial persecution was as intense as the one under Nero. As I wrote here,
John wrote to seven historical churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 1:4, 11) which were going through a time of great trouble and tribulation, just as he was (Rev. 1:9, 2:3, 2:9-10, 2:13, 3:10). What better candidate was there for such an intense time of trouble than the first and greatest imperial persecution of Christianity initiated by Nero from late November 64 AD until his death in early June 68 AD?
Verse 11: John was instructed to get these writings into the hands of the believers in seven locations. Each of the seven churches received not only the statements that were directed to them, but the entire book of Revelation. This means that the subject matter of the entire book of Revelation was urgent for and relevant to these churches. The same tribulation and persecution spoken of in chapter 1 is alluded to time and time again throughout the book. As Kenneth Gentry says, “Put yourself in first century sandals: Would you think John might be speaking of events occurring untold centuries after the collapse of the Empire which was presently persecuting you? Would you surmise that he was not really relating a message about Imperial Rome?” Steve Gregg notes how the seven churches are listed and then remarks:
The cities are listed in the logical order in which they would likely receive the letter. Assuming Ephesus would receive the letter first, it would travel northward then east and southward again in a horseshoe-shaped route.
Verse 12: Steve Gregg writes (p. 59),
The first thing that caught [John's] attention was the seven lampstands of gold, recalling the seven-branched lamp, by whose light the priests offered their incense in the tabernacle. As verse 20 informs us, these lampstands represent the seven churches addressed in the letter. The church is the light of the world (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15; Eph. 5:8-13). It may be significant that John’s vision of Christ was set in the midst of the churches (v. 13), suggesting that it is in the gathered assemblies of Christians that the presence of Christ resides on earth today (Matt. 18:20).
Verse 13: John Piper notes, “The word translated ‘robe reaching to the feet’ is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament it almost always refers to the robe of the high priest. And the gold band across his chest shows two things: the fact that it is high—not around the waist but around the chest—and the fact that it is gold, show that the priesthood that he holds is very great” (Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/17/822_A_YearEnd_Look_at_Jesus_Christ/).
Verse 14: “His head, even His hair, was very white, as Daniel described the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9 (i.e., God the Father). White hair often represents wisdom and the dignity of age in Scripture. John referred the images of God the Father in the Old Testament to Jesus Christ, thus granting to Jesus the attributes and titles previously reserved for the Father (cf. v. 18; 2:8; 5:12; 22:13). This is one way of stressing the equality of Jesus with the Father, here specifically His eternal pre-existence.” (Source: Dr. Thomas Constable, ibid.)
Verse 15: Steve Gregg asserts (p. 60) that the description of Jesus’ feet being “like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” is given to “suggest the irresistibility of His judgment as He will later tread the ‘great winepress of the wrath of God’ (Rev. 14:19).”
Verse 16: The image of Jesus having a “sharp two-edged sword” coming out of His mouth is depicted again in Revelation 19:15 when He goes out to war against the nations. Steve Gregg (p. 60) is of the opinion that this image “can hardly refer to anything other than His word (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17).” John sees the face of Jesus as “the sun shining in full strength.” Steve Gregg remarks (p. 60) that His shining face is “reminiscent of that which John had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration decades earlier (Matt. 17:2). As for the seven stars Jesus held in His right hand, verse 20 tells us that they were “the angels of the seven churches.”
Verse 17: John fell “as though dead” at Jesus’ feet when he saw Him. This is similar to Daniel’s experience in which he “retained no strength” and “was in a deep sleep” on His face (Dan. 10:8-9).
Verse 18: Jesus identifies Himself as “the first and the last, the living One.” He spoke of His death and resurrection, and His victory over death and the grave.
Verse 19: John is told to write about  things he had already seen  things which were presently taking place, and  things which had not yet taken place.
Verse 20: Steve Gregg comments (pp. 61-62):
Whether the “angel” of each church refers to a heavenly being, like a guardian angel, or to an earthly messenger (Gr. angelos simply means messenger), like a pastor or bishop, has been disputed. In each of the letters that follow, the angel of each church is addressed as the recipient. Since these angels are expected to pass along to the churches the information communicated to them by Christ, many commentators feel that they must be visible, human messengers in contact with the congregations. We may justly conceive of the communication between God and His heavenly angels as being somewhat more direct than to require letters posted by apostles.
Our study of Revelation 2 (Part 1) can be found here: http://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/revelation-chapter-2-ephesus-and-smyrna/.
 Regarding the topic of Jesus’ coming in judgment in 70 AD, when Jerusalem and apostate Israel were destroyed as Jesus had predicted, please see the following posts:  http://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp11-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-1/  http://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp12-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-2/.
 See this post for further details: http://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp6-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-3/.
 See here for further details: http://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp7-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-4/.