Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the Book of Revelation and we come to Revelation 1:9-20. This deals with the setting of the book. It answers several basic questions.
Introductory Questions to Revelation
1. Who wrote the book?
John did (1:9). Notice how John describes himself. He is very humble. When he writes about himself, he does not call himself “the great apostle” or some great bishop of the church or the well-known author of four other books of the Bible (the Gospel of John and I, II & III John).
He doesn’t exalt himself above other Christians or even give himself a title. He calls himself “John…your brother”. We are members of the same family. John called himself a servant (1:1).
It is interesting to me that angels said the same thing later on in the book (19:10). Angels are greater beings that we are but even the angels do not boast or brag. They say to John that they are fellow servants like he is. John was not just a saint and a servant; he was a sufferer (a companion in tribulation) . He puts himself in the same boat as other Christians who were also persecuted for their faith in Jesus.
2. What was going on at the time Revelation was written?
Persecution was taking place. The Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos for his faith (the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ). He calls himself “a fellow sufferer”. That means other Christians in his day were suffering for their faith as well. The Roman Emperor Domitian demanded to be worshiped as “Lord and God”.
You could still worship any other god just so long as you burned incense to him as well. The average Roman citizen did not believe he was god but burned incense to him out of patriotism. Christians who refused to worship the emperor were banished.
John was one who was persecuted for his faith. It is very interesting to me that the first time we see the word “tribulation” (θλιψις) in the book of Revelation is in 1:9. Suffering and persecution was a part of the early church.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Paul said, “All who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12) and “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 ESV).
That is so far removed from American Christianity. The Bible does teach that there will be a future Tribulation period. The Book of Revelation mentions it (7:14). Many Christians spend so much time arguing about the Tribulation that we will not experience, rather than the tribulation that the Bible says that we will experience if we live godly lives.
3. Where was John at the beginning of the book?
The setting if the book is Patmos (1:9). John was there for his faith in Christ.
4. Where is the island of Patmos?
It is a small island (about ten miles long and six miles wide). It is located in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. It is about fifty miles southwest of Ephesus. Today it has become a tourist attraction, like the Bahamas. There is a church and monastery there now but in John’s day it was barren, gloomy and lonely, just a pile of rocks.
It was a penal colony, like Siberia was for the Russians. John didn’t go to Patmos to take a vacation. He was in prison. Patmos was where prisoners were sent to work in hard physical labor from day to night with little food or clothing.
They lived in caves and could not escape because they were surrounded by water. In fact, John uses the word “sea” twenty-six times in the book and was probably glad to find that on the new earth there would be no more sea (21:1), because he was probably sick of looking at it. It was on this small Greek island that John had his visions and wrote his book. It is interesting to me that this vision was given to someone who is in prison.
It goes to a Christian who is suffering, exiled, alone and perhaps very discouraged. He is the one who is given this incredible revelation. John was an old man. He probably thought his ministry was basically over at this stage in his life but God had something very important for him to do. God used him to record and write one of the most important books of the NT.
5. When did John receive this vision on Patmos?
We are told in Revelation 1:10 that this happened “on the Lord’s Day”. Some dispensationalists (e.g., MacArthur, Walvoord, Bullinger) have interpreted this as “The Day of the Lord” but that does not fit the context. It is too early in the book to be talking about the day of the Lord. The first three chapters of the book deal with the current situation of the existing churches.
This is the only time that this phrase is used in the NT but every time the phrase, “The Day of the Lord” occurs in Greek, the world “Lord” is a noun. Here it is an adjective (Κυριακή). In this setting, we find not only who wrote the book (John) and where it was written (Patmos) but when it was given to John (Sunday).
6. What was John’s frame of mind at the time?
Revelation 1:10 says that John was “in the Spirit”. That is a phrase that is used four times in the book (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). What does it mean? It means more than that John was filled with the Spirit. John uses this term a little different than Paul did. For Paul, this is the normal experience of all Christians. We are either in the flesh or in the Spirit.
John uses it to describe something that does NOT happen to all Christians. I have never been “in the Spirit” in the same way that John was, although some other people in the Bible did experience something similar. Paul was raptured, just like John was (II Corinthians 12:2; Revelation 4:1). Both went to heaven and saw some incredible things.
The difference is that Paul was specifically forbidden to tell anyone what he saw or heard. That must be pretty hard. To have a vision of heaven and to see some things that no one else on the planet has seen and you can’t tell anyone.
You have to keep it a complete secret. John was also caught up to heaven but this time he was told to write down the things that he saw and heard and to give that book to seven churches. If you believe in the Was Jesus Black?
Was Jesus Black?
John gives us a description of what Jesus looks like in this vision. He gives us an eight fold description of Jesus in Revelation 1:13-16. The historical Jesus was Jewish. He lived in Israel. He was not African. He was Middle Eastern. The Black Christ movement uses Revelation 1 to show that Jesus was a dark brown skinned man of African descent. This is the view of The Original African Heritage Study Bible. There are two reasons given for this view from Revelation 1.
1) Jesus’ hair was like wool (1:14).
What people are known for having hair of a woolly texture? People of Negro descent.
2) Jesus had feet like bronze (1:15).
His feet are like they were burnt in a furnace. The color bronze is brown, not white.
Is this view valid? There are several problems with the Afrocentric approach to Revelation 1. There are two specific problems with this approach.
1) Revelation 1 does NOT describe the historical Jesus.
This description does not come from a historical book, like the Gospels, but from an apocalyptic book. Jesus of Nazareth didn’t walk down the streets of Galilee with a sharp sword coming out of his mouth.
He didn’t have a blazing fire coming out of his eyes or a face that was as bright as the Sun. He didn’t look like an old man with white hair and shiny feet. That sounds like a horror movie. This is a description of the glorified Christ.
2) Revelation 1 uses FIGURATIVE language.
Seven of the eight characteristics involve figurative (similes or metaphors). One of the dangers of interpreting Scripture is that people take this literally. It was not written to tell us what Jesus LOOKS like but to tell us what Jesus IS like.
White hair is a reference to old age, wisdom and moral purity, not to a particular race. Bronze feet are a reference to strength and stability. In fact, many of this same language is used in the OT to describe God the Father and He does not even have a body (Daniel 7:9). Notice the figurative language used in Revelation 1.
1. His Hair (1:14) – white LIKE wool, white AS snow (simile)
2. His Eyes (1:14) – LIKE blazing fire (simile)
3. His Feet (1:15) – LIKE bronze glowing in a furnace (simile)
4. His Voice (1:15) – LIKE the sound of rushing waters (simile). That was a description of God in the OT (Ezekiel 43:2).
5. His Right Hand (1:16) – holds seven stars (metaphor)
6. His Mouth (1:16) – a sharp double-edged sword comes out of it (metaphor).
7. His Face (1:16) – LIKE the sun shining in all its brilliance (simile)
When John sees Jesus, he falls down at Jesus’ feet. Jesus helps him up, tells him to write a book (1:19). Revelation 1:19 is a very important verse. In dispensational circles, this is seen as the outline of the book (an inspired outline). They believe that this is the key to unlock the entire book. According to this view, the book has three parts. John is to write down:
1. The things he saw (chapter 1)
2. The things that are (chapters 2-3)
3. The things that will be hereafter (Revelation 4-22).
I think view is mostly correct. I would make one minor change. John was supposed to write down everything he saw and send it to the seven churches (cf. 1:11). I believe that the first statement refers to the entire book, not just the vision of chapter one. It would be past tense by the time, he saw it.
The GNB has a good rendering of the verse: “Write, then, the things you see, both the things that are now (present events) and the things that will happen afterwards” (future events). The NLT has the same rendering.
Interpretation of the Vision
In the last verse of the chapter, we have the inspired interpretation of the vision. Two symbols are interpreted for us.
1. The seven lampstands are the seven churches.
John did not see one lampstand with seven parts (like a Jewish Menorah which was a golden lampstand with seven branches in the Temple). He saw seven separate lampstands. It is a good argument for the local autonomy of the church.
They are not related through any organizational structure. The only common element among them is that the Lord moved among them. The only thing they have in common is the Lord.
There is no debate about the first interpretation. The lampstands are the seven churches. Churches are not candles but lampstands. The KJV is a mistranslation. It says, “The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (1:20).
The problem is that candlesticks did not even exist in John’s day. They did not have wax candles in the ancient world. They used oil candles. Wax candles were not invented until the 1800s
Churches are not candles but lampstands – the thing that holds the candle. It is not a light but a holder of the light. What is the light? Churches are lampstands and the lampstands are full of Christians. Each Christian is a light (Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:15). The function of the local church is to support and hold up the light that is shed by each Christian. Each one has multiple lights in it.
The job of the church is to support each individual candle and to help each individual Christian shine as brightly as possible in the world. What is the light that I have to shine and you have to shine. The church should get behind and support each one of us. It is our job to shine. We have to know what our ministry is and what God wants us to do and it is the job of the local church to support us as we do that.
2.The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.
Who are the angels of the churches? There are two main interpretations. There are problems with both views. Some believe that the angels of the church are local pastors. That is probably the most common view.
That is the popular interpretation. Pastors like to think of themselves as angels and they like the idea that Jesus hold each pastor in his hand. Some pastors are more angelic than others.
The other view is that the angels of the churches are real angels. Each church has a guardian angel. They know the strengths and weaknesses of each church and Jesus hold these angels in his hand. Do churches have angels?
Are the Angels of the Seven Churches Pastors?
Is there an angel of your church? If churches do have angels, the angels of some of these churches must work overtime, because they are so messed up. Churches are full of sinners.
The second interpretation is most likely correct. The stars must refer to literal angels. There are several reasons why stars refer to literal angels and not to pastors of churches, as many have taught.
1) The Book of Revelation is full of angels, as are other apocalyptic books.
2) A star is used to symbolize angels elsewhere in the book (9:1; 12:4, 7; 9:1).
3) The Greek word άγγελος ONLY means “angel” in the Book of Revelation.
4) Pastors and elders are NEVER called “angels” anywhere else in Scripture.
The word άγγελος is never used of them. Can the word “star” be used to refer to people? Yes (12:1; 22:16) but nowhere in Revelation or the rest of the Bible does the word “star” refer to a pastor or even an elder. The word “angel” can refer to people.
The Greek word just means “messenger” and it can mean a human messenger (Matthew 11:10) as well as a heavenly messenger but in the Book of Revelation it always means a literal angel. Every time the word “angel” is used in the Book of Revelation, it ALWAYS means a literal angel. The word occurs 59 other times in the book.
It should not be that surprising that churches have angels. Individuals have angels responsible for them (Hebrews 1:14). Nations have angels responsible for them, some good and some bad (Daniel 10:20). If individuals and countries have angels, it is not surprising that churches would have angels.