Elon, North Carolina
Last week, we began a study of Revelation. We saw how different Revelation is from every other book in the NT. It is the only prophetic book in the NT. There are prophecies in other books of the NT but this is the only NT book that is called a prophecy. It is the only NT book that is an apocalypse.
It is the only NT book that has an apocalyptic style of writing. There are four Gospels, a bunch of epistles but only one apocalypse. It is also the only book of the Bible that promises a special blessing just for reading it. As Chuck Missler points out, no other book of the Bible says “Read me. I am special.”
This is a book on the surface that seems very different from the other books of the NT but in one sense it is very similar. Many of the other books of the NT were letters. Revelation is a letter as well. It doesn’t seem like a letter. It is really long but it is actually a letter. It is just as much a letter as Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth or the church at Rome.
It has the standard form of a letter. It begins and ends like a letter. It opens with a salutation. It mentions the writer (from John), reader (seven churches) and a greeting (grace and peace) in 1:4-6. It also closes with a greeting (22:21).
So this is a letter but it is a special kind of letter. It is not a letter to an individual, a personal letter like Philemon was. It is not a letter to a one church, like I Corinthians was. It is a circular letter. A circular letter is not a letter to one person or even to one church but to a group of churches.
We know from verse four that this letter was written to the seven specific churches in the province of Asia (1:4). It was intended to circulate through seven churches that were located in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea (1:11).
That is interesting. Paul also wrote epistles to seven churches. He wrote a letter to the church at Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Colossae, Philippi, and Thessalonica.
Many believe that Revelation 2-3 is a prophecy about seven stages of church history. That view is quite popular in some circles but there are several problems with it.
Are the Seven Letters Prophetic?
1) There is not a hint of that in the text
It does not claim to be a prophecy of church history. These were seven literal churches in John’s day and a literal reading of the text would be seven letters to seven first century churches. If that is the case, there would be no reason for this to be a circular letter. John could send this to just one church and predict church history.
2) It involves a selective reading of church history.
Not all church historians see an exact correspondence between church history and these seven letters. To make it fit, many look only at the western church.
3) Not all of the book deals with the future (cf. 1:19).
Some of it deals with the present (the things that are) and the future section does not start until Revelation 4:1.
Where is Asia? Asia in the NT does not refer to the continent of Asia, even though these cities were located in the continent of Asia. Nor does it refer to Asia Minor (the peninsula of western Asia between the black sea and the Mediterranean Sea). Asia in the NT refers to the Roman province of Asia which was located in the western part of Asia Minor. Which seven churches in Asia was it sent to?
Revelation was not written to one church or to two churches or even to five churches. It was written to seven churches in Asia Minor. Why was it written only these seven churches? Were these the only churches in the area?
No. John does not mention all of the Asian churches. There was a church in Hierapolis and Colossae (cf. Colossians 4:13; 1:20), both of which were in walking distance of Laodicea. These were the seven major postal cities on the big road in Asia.
Are these the only types of churches? Does every church on the planet fit into one of these types? Probably not. These were not the only types of churches that existed in John’s day or exist today.
The church at Corinth had all kinds of divisions in the church. That was a problem that none of these churches dealt with. The church of Galatia had the problem of legalism. That also was not a problem in any one of these seven churches.
There reason is that seven is a symbolic number. It is the number of perfection and completion. There are seven days in a week. The reason the number seven was chosen was to show the relevance of these letters for all Christians.
These letters were addressed to seven specific churches but apply to all churches. That is the point. It is not representative of all churches but it is applicable to all churches.
Incidentally, the number seven is very important in the Book of Revelation. I was shocked when I found out how frequently the number seven pops up in the book. It is used 54 times in the book.
Not only are there seven churches, there are seven seals, seven bows, seven trumpets, seven lamp stands, seven lamps, seven crowns, seven heads, seven plagues, seven mountains, seven kings, seven angels, seven thunders, seven spirits, seven stars, seven horns, seven eyes, seven blessings, etc.
Who is the greeting from? The blessing of grace and peace comes from three sources. The greeting is from the entire Trinity. The order is a little different. We usually think of the Trinity as the Father, Son and Spirit.
This mentions the Father, Spirit and then the Son. John changes the order because he wants to focus on the Son in verses five to seven. It is also a little strange how John refers to the Holy Spirit. John calls him “the seven spirits which are before his throne”. That’s a little strange (cf. Ephesians 4:4).
Is there one Holy Spirit or are there seven spirits? There is one spirit (like Ephesians says) but this is an apocalyptic way to symbolically refer to the fullness of the Spirit. John does not use the actual term “the Holy Spirit”.
Instead, he speaks of “the seven spirits which are before his throne”. That could refer to seven angels but since it is in a group with God the Father and God the Son, it is most likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. Seven is the number of completion or perfection.
It is an allusion to the sevenfold ministry of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2 (LXX). What this means practically is that the Holy Spirit is capable of ministering to any need in our life. He is sufficient to meet all of our needs.
In 1:5-6 we come to a doxology (which is a fancy word for “praise”). This doxology exalts Jesus Christ – “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1:6). It is the first of seven doxologies in the Book of Revelation. Each one gets bigger and bigger.
This one has two parts (1:6). Later it grows to four parts (5:13) and then seven parts (7:12). What does John tell us about Jesus? He give us three of his titles – the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. These titles are chronological.
Jesus was the faithful witness while he was one earth (prophet). He was the first to be permanently raised from the dead (priest) and in the future he will return as king of kings and lord of lords (king).
Then John mentions three things Jesus did for us (loves us, freed us from our sins and made us a kingdom of priests)
1. He loves us.
Here is the cool thing about this. Every other time in the NT God’s love is always in the past tense (John 3:16; Galatians 2:20). That’s comforting to know but this is the only time in the whole NT where it says that God loves us right now.
2. He freed us from our sins.
The KJV reads “washed us” . That is true. It is a biblical concept (cf. 7:14). That is what the oldest Greek manuscripts read and it is an allusion to Exodus 19:4-6.
3. He made us a kingdom of priests.
The KJV reads “kings and priests” but “kingdom is the better reading. Jesus didn’t die to make us kings and lord it over people. He is the king and, while it is true that one day we will reign with him, that is in the future. We are not doing that now. What we can do now is to function as priests.
I Peter picks up and develops this idea (I Peter 2:5-9). These last two are a reference to Israel. Language from Israel is taken out of the OT and applied to the church in the NT. How is the church like Israel?
Both groups are called the people of God. Both groups were redeemed by blood (one out of Egypt and one from sin). Both are a race. Both are a chosen people. Both had a temple. Both had a priesthood and the list could go on but there were some important differences.
In the OT, not everyone could be a priest. You had to be a man. Females were excluded and you had to be from the right tribe (Levi) and family (Aaron). The NT teaches that all believers are priests. Men, women and even children can be priests. You don’t even have to be Jewish. What does that mean? We all have direct access to God through Jesus Christ. We do not have to go through anyone to get to God. We are to offer sacrifices to God.
John gives us three titles of Jesus, tells us three things that he has done for us and then he gives us a prediction of one thing that Jesus will do in the future. Revelation 1:7 is an important verse. Revelation 1:7 deals with the Second Coming.
The verse starts with the word “behold” (i.e., “pay attention” or “listen carefully”). It is a combination of two OT passages. The idea that Jesus will one day come on the clouds comes from Daniel 7:13. The idea that people will mourn when Jesus return is found in Zechariah 12:10. There are two reasons why this verse is important.
The Importance of Revelation 1:7
1) It is the theme of the book.
All of human history builds up to that point in Revelation 19, which deals not with the rapture but with the Second Coming. Revelation 1:7 says that Jesus “is coming with the clouds” (cf. Daniel 7:13-14).
2) It is the very first prophecy of the book.
What is strange about is that it is in the present tense. It does not say, “He will come in the clouds” but “He is coming in the clouds.” In Greek it is called the futuristic present tense (John 4:25). We have the same thing in English.
We use the present tense in English to talk about present events (simple present) but we can also use the present tense when we are referring to future events. We say, for example, “I am meeting some people after work” or “I am taking a different class next semester”. It is called the present continuous tense. So Jesus is coming but how is he coming? The text answers that question.
How Jesus Will Return
1. His coming will be spectacular.
Jesus said that he was coming back IN GLORY (Matthew 16:27). In fact, he said that he was not only coming back in glory but in POWER AND GREAT GLORY (Matthew 24:30). Jesus is not coming back alone. He is coming back with all of the angels and saints who have died and been raptured. He will come back the armies of heaven, as Revelation 19 says. He is coming back into the clouds.
If you remember, when Jesus ascended into heaven, He was taken up into heaven right before their very eyes and he ascended into the clouds (Acts 1:9). When the disciples watched him go into heaven, what did two angels dressed in white say to them?
They said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11).
2. His coming will be visible.
Revelation 1:7 says, Jesus is coming with the clouds, “and every eye will see him”. “How will every eye see him? They may not all see him coming back to the earth. Some will not even be alive when he comes and some will not be awake when he comes. The earth is not flat. The point is that everyone will see Jesus when he returns, including the dead (because they will eventually be raised from the dead by Jesus).
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus returned in 1914 but no one saw him. Preterists believe that Jesus returned in 70 AD but no one saw him. This verse says that His return will be visible. EVERY EYE will see him.
They will not necessarily all see him return to earth simultaneously but they will all see him. One reason every eye will see him is that the earth may be covered in complete darkness just before he returns and his coming will light up the sky (Matthew 24:29-30).
Jewish and Gentile Mourning
John mentions two different groups of people in Revelation 1:7 – “those who pierced Him AND all the tribes of the earth”. This refers to both Jews and Gentiles. The ones who pierced Jesus were the Jews. That may seem a little strange to us. It was the Romans who actually crucified Jesus. They put the nails in his hands and the spear in his side.
They actually pierced him but the Bible puts most of the blame on the Jews, because Jesus was the Messiah who was sent to the Jews. They rejected him and turned him over to the Romans and asked them to crucify him (John 1:11; 19:11). In the same way, some Jews were behind the persecution of Christians in John’s day (2:9; 3:9).
Even though the Romans killed Jesus, the Jews were also responsible. The crucifixion of Jesus was a national sin. Nations can sin, as well as individuals. There is such a thing as national sin. Nazi Germany had the blood of six million Jews on their hands.
The nation of Israel in the first century had the blood of Jesus on their hands. Remember, what the crowd said to Pilate: “His blood be on us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). Not only is there such a thing as national sin, there is such a thing as corporate guilt (Daniel 9:4-5).
Daniel understood this concept. He says “we have done wickedly” and “we have rebelled” (cf. Daniel 9:3-8). Now Daniel was a godly man but he confessed the sin of his people as if it was his own sin. He understood the concept of corporate guilt.
When Peter preached to the Jews in Acts 2, he said that they were guilty of crucifying their Messiah, even though none of them were involved in the execution itself (Acts 2:22-23, 26).
In the same way, Jews in the future will feel corporate responsibility for rejecting their promised Messiah and they will mourn even though they were not alive when Jesus died. They will mourn for what they did to their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10-14).
It will lead to the conversion of the Jews (Zechariah 13). This will actually take place BEFORE Jesus returns to the earth. He doesn’t return until Zechariah 14. Zechariah 12:10 says, “They will look upon me whom they have pierced.”
What will lead to the Jews coming to Christ in the future? Two things will lead to this. First, Israel will be invaded by all of the nations of the earth (12:3; 14:2). Second, God will pour out on the nation “a spirit of grace and supplication” (12:10).
There will be an influence on the outside and on the inside of the nation which will lead to the conversion of ethnic Israel in the future. Zechariah mentions Jews mourning.
The Book of Revelation mentions another group that will mourn as well (Gentiles). The Jews will mourn BEFORE Jesus returns and it is a mourning of repentance. Zechariah 12:10 can be translated “they will look unto me” (ASV) or “they will look on me” (NASB).
The Gentiles will also be in mourning but they will not mourn until AFTER Jesus returns and it will NOT be a mourning of repentance but a mourning of fear and horror. They are weeping because they know that judgment that is to follow.
At the Second Coming, Jesus does not return as Savior but as Judge. As Paul said, Jesus will return “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (II Thessalonians 1:8).
God the Father speaks in Revelation 1:8. He is the one who gave this revelation to Jesus (1:1). He is called “the Lord God”. He is “the one who is, was and is to come.”
That was a description of the Father in 1:4 and is used four times in the book (1:4, 8; 4:8; 11:17). He is an eternal being. God is not just immortal, He is eternal. Immortal means that he has no end. Eternal means that He has no beginning and will have no end (Psalm 90:2).
We would have probably put this in chronological order (was, is and is to come). It starts with the word “is” because God is the self-existent one (Exodus 3:14 which this verse alludes to). God appeared to Moses. Moses asked God what his name was and he said “I AM”. We are contingent beings. There are certain things we need to exist (food, water).
God does not need anything to exist. He is self-existent. That is why he is symbolized by a burning bush. The bush burned but it did not burn up. The fire did not need fuel to burn. We need things to exist. God exists independently.
Skeptics sometimes ask, Who created God? How do you answer it? The question itself is a logical fallacy. God is an eternal being. He always existed. No one created him. He would not be God if he was created. Where did he come from?
If he’s always existed, he didn’t come from anywhere. How is that possible? That is hard for us to understand but you either have to believe that God is eternal (First Cause) or matter is eternal. Those are your only two options and scientists will tell you that matter is not eternal.
Scientists agree the universe had a beginning. The only way to have something created is to have someone that always existed. Does it take faith to believe that? Yes but it takes more faith to believe that everything came from nothing or that the world always existed.
He is called “the Almighty” (παντοκράτωρ) and that is a key name for God in Revelation (4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). It is John’s favorite title of God. God puts his stamp of approval on the book here. This is one of the few times that God the Father speaks in the book. The only other time is in Revelation 21:6. In both passages the Father is called “the Alpha and the Omega.”
Alpha (Α) was the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega (Ω) is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. We would say, “I am the A to Z”. It means that God controls the beginning and the end, as well as everything in between. God controls the beginning and the end. He is sovereign over history .
What is interesting is that Jesus uses that title for himself (Revelation 22:12-13). The Father is the Alpha and the Omega and Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. That is proof that Jesus is God. It is a title of both the Father and the Son.