PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*
|Introduction and Salutation||Introduction and Benediction||The Prologue||Introduction||Prologue|
|Greeting the Seven Churches||Introductory Salutation||Greeting to the Seven Churches||Address and Greeting|
|A Vision of Christ||Vision of the Son of Man||Preparatory Vision||A Vision of Christ||Preliminary Vision|
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical Structure, Textual Criticism, and Glossary.
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 1:1-3:22
A. Verses 1-8 form a prologue to the entire prophecy. The first three verses introduce the author, the time, the genre, and the blessing.
1. The author is John (a common Jewish name).
2. The time is soon (1b; 3c).
3. The message is communication in visions and by angelic mediation and is called a prophecy (v. 3). The first three chapters are very similar to the normal style for letters of the first century.
4. The blessing is for those who hear its reading and obey its exhortation to faithfulness amidst persecution.
B. The next four verses (4-7) address the recipients in the form of the seven churches (1:11) and their seven spirits (cf. 1:4,20; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). This section is marked by
1. YHWH being characterized (v. 4)
2. Jesus being characterized (vv. 5,6b,7)
3. Believers being characterized (v. 6a)
4. YHWH speaking (v. 8)
C. Verses 1:9-3:22 are Jesus' last words to His Church(es). In 1:9-20 and at the beginning of the address to each of the seven Churches, Jesus is characterized by the OT titles used for YHWH.
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:1-3
1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
1:1 "The Revelation" This Greek term apocalypsis is found only here in the book. It came from two Greek terms which meant "from a hiding place" or "to reveal or unveil something." It was used in several senses (BAGD p. 92).
1. the revelation of truth – Luke 2:32; Rom. 16:25; I Cor. 14:6,26; Gal. 1:12; Eph. 1:17
2. a secret made known – Eph. 2:11-3:13
3. a revelation by vision/dream – II Cor. 12:1,7; Gal. 2:2
4. secrets related to the end-times – Luke 17:30; I Cor. 1:7; II Thess. 1:7; I Pet. 1:7,13; 4:13; 5:1
In this book it means truth from God through Jesus Christ mediated by visions and angelic interpretation. It focuses on the evil present and the coming victory of righteousness through God's supernatural intervening. God will set things straight!
▣ "of Jesus Christ" This is either an objective genitive relating the message about Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 1:12), or subjective genitive, relating the message given by Jesus Christ.
▣ "Jesus" This Hebrew name meant "YHWH saves," "YHWH is salvation," "YHWH brings salvation." It is the same as the OT name "Joshua." "Jesus" is derived from the Hebrew word for salvation, "hosea," suffixed to the covenant name for God, "YHWH" (see Special Topic: Names for Deity at Col. 1:3). It was the name designated by God through an angel of the Lord (cf. Matt. 1:21).
▣ "Christ" This was the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term "messiah," which meant "an anointed one." It implied "one called and equipped by God for a specific task." In the OT three groups of leaders: priests, kings, and prophets, were anointed. Jesus fulfilled all three of these anointed offices (cf. Heb. 1:2-3).
▣ "which God gave Him" Jesus neither taught nor did anything without revelation or permission from the Father (cf. John 3:11-13, 31-36; 4:34; 5:19-23,30; 6:38; 7:16; 8:26,28-29,40; 12:49-50; 14:10,24; 15:15). Theologically this is characteristic of John's writings.
▣ "to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place" Notice how this opening paragraph is mirrored in 22:6-21. This was a literary technique of the first century.
NASB, NKJV"the things which must shortly take place"
NRSV"what must soon take place"
TEV"what must happen very soon"
NJB"what is now to take place very soon"
The time element is very important for interpretation of the whole book because it specifically states that John's message had a relevance for his day as well as the future. The term "must" (dei) meant "that which is binding, which is morally necessary, which is proper, or inevitable" (cf. Rev. 22:6).
▣ "communicated it" This is literally "signified" (semainō) (cf. NKJV). "Signs" are one of the literary structures that John uses to communicate his message in his Gospel (semeion, cf. 12:33; 18:32; 21:19). This may have an OT link to the OT prophets (cf. Isa. 7:11,14; 8:18; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7,22; 55:13; 66:19; Jer. 10:2; 32:20-21; 44:29 and Ezek. 4:3; 14:8; 20:12,20). The fact that this book is called "a revelation" through "signs" and "prophecy" gives us a clue to the literary genre of this book. The modern literary term "apocalyptic" used to describe a genre was unknown to John.
▣ "to His bond-servant" In this introductory verse, this phrase refers to the book's Apostolic author. Other places in the book the plural is used of God's prophets/messengers/preachers (cf. 10:7; 11:18; 22:6).
However, in other places in the book the title is used of all believers (cf. 7:3; 19:2,5; 22:3), which implies all believers should be witnesses (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Col. 4:6; II Tim. 2:24-25; I Pet. 3:15). Jesus is the model to follow (cf. 1:5; 3:14; John 20:21)! Many will be killed, as Jesus was (cf. 6:9; 12:17; 17:6; 18:24; 20:4). Remember the theme of the book is be faithful unto death! I (Jesus) have overcome!
▣ "John" Unlike most apocalyptic authors, John identified himself and structured the opening of his prophetic witness in the form of seven letters (chapters 1-3). Some have denied John the Apostle's authorship of the book of the Revelation because he is anonymous in his other writings (he calls himself "the beloved disciple" in his Gospel and "elder" in II and III John), but names himself in Rev. 1:4, 9; 22:8.
1:2 "the testimony of Jesus Christ" Like v. 1, this can be either an objective, the testimony about Jesus, or subjective genitive, the testimony given by Jesus. Sometimes in John's writings there is purposeful ambiguity which combines both connotations.
1:3 "Blessed" This is the first of seven blessings in this book (cf. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14). The fact that those who read it were blessed shows not only its inspired nature but also its relevance to the people of that day and every day.
▣ "he who reads" The NRSV adds "aloud," implying a public reading (cf. I Tim. 4:13). Congregational reading of the Scripture was done originally by specially trained members of the Church as in the synagogue (cantor). The Church adopted the worship forms of the early synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15; Col. 4:16; I Thess. 5:27). We have a historical confirmation of the public reading of Scripture from Justin Martyr, a.d. 167, who mentioned that the Church read a portion from the Gospels and a portion from the Prophets.
▣ "who hear. . . and heed it" This hearing and doing (both present active participles) are the essence of the Hebrew term "Shema" (cf. Deut. 5:1; 6:4-6; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9-10; Luke 11:28). Notice the conditional nature of the blessing. Those who hear must respond. This "if. . .then" covenantal pattern is both OT and NT. Blessing is connected not only to knowledge but also to lifestyle.
▣ "of this prophecy" This term addresses both the divine content of this book and the literary genre. This book is a combination of a letter (chapters 1-3), an apocalyptic presentation (seals, trumpets, bowls), and a prophecy (cf. 22:7,10,18,19). It is important to remember that "prophecy" had two connotations: (1) to address the current hearers with God's message and (2) to show how current faith effected future events. It is both proclamation and prediction. See Introductory Article.
▣ "for the time is near" This again shows the relevancy of the prophecy to its own day (cf. 22:10, another example is in Rom. 16:20). See Special Topic: Soon Return at v. 1
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:4-7
4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father— to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
1:4 "to the seven churches" Exactly why only seven churches were addressed is uncertain. There are several theories:
1. some have asserted that these were the churches that John had a special ministering relationship with
2. others have asserted that they form a postal route in the Roman Province of Asia
3. the number seven had great significance to the Jews, especially in inter-biblical apocalyptic literature
It was the number of perfection from its use of the days in Genesis 1. Therefore, it was probably used in both a literal sense—John did write to several churches which formed a Roman postal route in Asia Minor—and symbolically as a way of referring to all churches of all days.
▣ "in Asia" This refers to the western end of the modern country of Turkey, which was, in large part, the old country of Phrygia, which became the Roman province of "Asia Minor."
▣ "Grace to you and peace" This was a traditional form of greeting which is seen so often in Paul's writings. Many assert that the Christians changed the traditional Greek literary greeting from "charein" (cf. James 1:1) to the similar sounding Christian greeting of charis, which meant "grace." "Peace" may have referred to the Hebrew term "shalom," thereby combining the Greek and Hebrew greetings so as to relate to both groups in the churches. However, this is simply speculation.
▣ "from Him who is and who was and who is to come" This is obviously a title for the unchanging Covenant God (cf. Ps. 102:7; Mal. 3:6; James1:17). Its grammatical form is awkward in Greek but may reflect an Aramaic background. The literal phrase is "from the One who is, from the One who was, and the One coming" (cf. 4:8). This phrase reflects the OT covenant title "I Am" (YHWH, cf. Exod. 3:14, see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:8). This phrase is used for God the Father in vv. 4 and 8, and of Jesus Christ in vv. 17 and 18 (cf. Heb. 13:8). The purposeful transfer of titles from YHWH to Jesus was one way the NT authors asserted the Deity of Jesus.
This threefold phrase of God as past, present, and future is modified in 11:17 and 16:5, which is the Second Coming at the end of the trumpets, to just the present and past because the future (end-time) has dawned.
▣ "and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne" See Special Topic below.
1:5 "and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness" This is the first of three phrases which describe Jesus the Messiah. These opening verses are paralleled in 20:6-21. "Faithful" had an OT connotation of one who is loyal, true, and dependable (cf. Isa. 55:3-5). As God's written Word (the Bible) is trustworthy, so is His ultimate revelation, the Living Word, Jesus (cf. 3:14). The gospel is a message to be believed, a person to be received, and a life emulating that person to be lived.
The Greek phrase, "the faithful witness," can mean
1. "My witness, My faithful One" – as two phrases, see 2:13 (with the addition of the personal pronoun)
2. "the faithful and true Witness," see 3:14 (with the addition of "and true")
▣ "the firstborn of the dead"
▣ "and the ruler of the kings of the earth" This phrase, like the previous one, is an allusion to Ps. 89:27 (cf. Ps. 72:11; Isa. 48:23), which speaks of Jesus as the promised Messiah. It also reflects John's reaction to
1. the emperor worship of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire
2. the use of the royal Mesopotamian phrase "King of kings" (cf. Rev. 11:15; 17:14; 19:16)
▣ "To Him who loves us" This is a present active participle, meaning "Jesus continues to love us." This affirmation is very important in light of the weaknesses and failures of five of the seven churches (cf. chapters 2-3).
▣ "and released us from our sins" This is an aorist active participle. The Vulgate and Coptic versions, as well as some minuscule Greek manuscripts, and the King James Version have the verb "washed" (louō) which was pronounced exactly like the word "released" (luō). The ancient scribes produced texts of the NT by one person reading the text aloud while others wrote it down.
The term "released" (with additions) appears in the ancient Greek manuscripts P18, א* (with preposition), א2, A, and C while "washed" is found only in later uncial manuscripts, P (sixth century) and 046, as well as in several later minuscule (running Greek script) manuscripts. Hence, "released" or "freed" is the preferred reading. The UBS4 gives "released" a "certain" rating. See Appendix Two: Textual Criticism.
▣ "by His blood" This is an obvious allusion to the sacrificial (cf. Leviticus 1-7), vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ (cf. 5:9; 7:14; 12:11; Mark 10:45; II Cor 5:21; Isa. 52:13-53:12). "By His blood" is a recurrent gospel truth (cf. Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; I Pet. 1:18-19. Somehow in the mystery of God, His justice and mercy for all fallen humans met in the substitutionary death of Jesus (cf. Heb. 9:11-28).
1:6 "He has made us" This is an aorist active indicative. As Jesus has released us from our sins (v. 5), He has also made us a kingdom of priests to represent Him!
NASB"a kingdom, priests to His God"
NKJV"kings and priests to His God"
NRSV"a kingdom, priests serving His God"
TEV, NJB"a kingdom of priests to serve His God"
This is an allusion to the OT terms used of Israel in Exod. 19:6 and Isa. 61:6, where the nation was considered to be a kingdom of priests. God chose Abraham to choose Israel to choose a lost world (cf. Gen. 3:15; 12:3). Israel was meant to be a nation of witnesses (i.e., priests) but they failed in this assigned evangelistic task (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38). Therefore, God chose the Church to reach the world (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). The very same phrases which were used for Israel are now used for the Church (cf. Gal. 3:29; 6:16; Phil 3:3; I Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).
It is important to notice the corporate, biblical emphasis of "the priesthood of believers." Western Christianity has over- emphasized the place and role of the individual and under-emphasized biblical corporality. The NT metaphor of the body of Christ (cf. I Corinthians 12) is a similar metaphor. The OT title was never meant as an excuse for believers to assert their individual freedoms. This emphasis developed from the historical struggle between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church of his day. The focus of this context is evangelism (cf. v. 7), involving every believer, attempting to reach every lost and needy human made in God's image for whom Christ died (cf. John 3:16; I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9; I John 2:2; 4:14).
▣ "to His God and Father" This phrase may seem to depreciate the full deity of the Son (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY at 22:17), but it is really a way of asserting Jesus' subordination while incarnated. The same phrase is used by Paul in Rom. 15:6. The sense of equality can be seen in 3:21; 14:1.
▣ "to Him be the glory and the dominion" The term "glory" is an OT commercial term (using scales for purchases) that meant "to be heavy"; that which was heavy (e.g., gold) was valuable. The term came to be used of God's brightness, majesty, holiness, from the Shekinah Cloud of Glory in Exodus. Glory was often ascribed to God the Father in the NT (cf. Rom. 11:36; 16:27; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 4:20; I Tim. 1:17; II Tim. 4:18; I Pet. 4:11; 5:11; II Pet. 3:18; Jude 25; Rev. 1:6; 5:13; 7:12). See Special Topic: Glory at 15:8.
The term "dominion" addressed to God the Father, is similar theologically to the subordination of the Son (cf. John 17). Jesus is the Father's agent in all things, but the goal is the ultimate glorification of the Father (cf. I Cor. 15:27-28).
▣ "forever and ever" This is literally "into the ages of the ages." This double use of aiōnos, singular then plural, is common in Revelation (cf. 1:18; 4:9,10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10; 22:5). It is surprising that early Greek witnesses omitted the second one (MSS P18, A, P). UBS4 cannot decide which reading is original.
▣ "Amen" This is a form of the OT Hebrew term for "faith" (cf. Hab. 2:4). Its original etymology was "to be firm or sure." However, the connotation changed to that which is to be affirmed (cf. II Cor. 1:20). It was used metaphorically of someone who was faithful, loyal, steadfast, trustworthy (a title for Jesus in 3:14, cf. II Cor. 1:20).
1:7 "Behold, He is coming with the clouds" This verse may have been an exclamation by the angel of v. 1. It is an obvious reference to the Second Coming of Christ.
▣ "and every eye will see Him" This seems to imply the bodily, physical, visible, universal return of Christ, not a secret rapture of believers. In my opinion the Bible never teaches a secret rapture or coming. Those verses in the Gospels (cf. Matt. 24:37-44; Luke 17:22-37) that are often used to support a secret rapture, contextually relate to a comparison with the days of Noah. These texts denote the unexpected suddenness of His coming. In Noah's day the one taken was destroyed! Be careful of proof-texting small passages of Scripture out of the inspired original setting and using them to back up your presuppositional theological eschatological system!
▣ "even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him" This is an allusion to Zech. 12:10,12 (cf. John 19:37). This is a good example of how John reworks OT texts to fit his Roman situation (a Jewish type of reinterpretation called pesher). The text of Zechariah is a spring-board to John's new application. In Zechariah the text refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem who grieve over "one pierced," but here John used it of the Romans and Jewish leaders who crucified Christ (cf. John 19:37). The pronoun "they" in the Masoretic Hebrew text is changed to "all the tribes of the earth" (cf. Matt. 24:30, this phrase is not from the Septuagint). Also, "mourn," in the context of the Zechariah passage is often interpreted as relating to Romans 11, where the Jews repent and trust Jesus as Messiah. However, in Rev. 1:7 the mourning is not for repentance, but because the judgment of God has fallen on unbelievers from all tribes (cf. Matt. 24:30). The Zechariah context alludes to the end-time judgment of the nations by mentioning "the plain of Megiddo," in Hebrew it is called Armageddon (cf. Zech. 12:11; II Chr. 35:22 and Psalm 2; Rev. 16:16), the site of an end-time battle between God and His people and Satan and his people, the unbelieving nations.
▣ "So it is to be. Amen." This is the Greek word for affirmation (nai) and the Hebrew word for affirmation (amen) placed side by side for emphasis (cf. 22:20).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:8
8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
1:8 YHWH Himself speaks this verse, affirming the truth of the previous statements about Jesus. It combines four titles for Him with an allusion to a fifth and possibly a sixth. Apparently, v. 8 was God adding His personal affirmation to the above statement by the use of these magnificent names.
1. "I Am," which is an allusion to the Covenant name YHWH (cf. Exod. 3:14), a form of the verb "to be." Jesus used this of Himself (cf. John 8:56-59). The title "Lord" (kurios) in the NT reflects this OT title.
2. "Alpha and Omega" are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet which assume that God is the beginning and the ending, the controller of history (cf. Isa. 44:6; Rev. 21:6); this title is also used of Jesus in Rev. 1:17 and 22:13.
3. "The Lord" is the modern way of translating YHWH (se Special Topic following).
4. "God" in Gen. 2:4, YHWH, and Elohim are combined (the LORD God) as a name for deity. El is the general name for god in the Near East, from the root "to be strong."
5. "The One who is the One who was, the One coming" is the phrase used earlier in v. 4, which speaks of the unchanging, ever-living God (cf. Ps. 102:27; Mal. 3:6; James1:17). This phrase is used of God the Father, YHWH, in vv. 4 and 8 and of Jesus, God the Son, in vv. 17,18 and 22:13 (cf. Heb. 13:8).
6. "The Almighty" which was the OT term, (1) "El-Shaddai," the patriarchal name for God (cf. Exod. 6:3) or (2) "YHWH Sabaoth," from the LXX's "The Lord God Almighty. It is found often in this book (i.e., pantokratōr, cf. 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7,14; 19:6,11; 21:22), but only once in the other NT books (i.e., II Cor. 6:18).
One early Greek manuscript, aleph (א*), and several later manuscripts add the phrase "the beginning and the end" after "the Alpha and the Omega." Scribes inserted it from 21:6, but it is probably not an original part of the inspired original Greek text. The UBS4 rates its exclusion as "certain."
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:9-11
9I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."
1:9-20 This is John's vision of the resurrected, ascended, exalted Christ. These same descriptions are used to address the seven churches (chapters 2-3). John shows His identification with the readers by (1) using the term "your brother" and (2) mentioning his own experiences of suffering, the kingdom, and endurance. These key terms — tribulation, the kingdom, and perseverance — are also examples of Jesus' life which the readers, like John, are to emulate (cf. John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17).
One reason modern western interpreters do not understand the Revelation is because we have never experienced the persecution and trials of the first century Roman world. Revelation is a word to hurting, dying, frightened believers.
1:9 "fellow partaker in the tribulation" See note at 7:14.
▣ "perseverance" This word is used in 2:2,3,19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12. See SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSEVERANCE at 2:2.
▣ "on the island called Patmos" The Romans used these small islands off the coast of Asia Minor to exile political prisoners (cf. Tacitus' Annals, 3.68; 4.30; 15.71). Apparently John was exiled to this small island, 37 miles from Miletus. The island was crescent shaped, facing east, ten miles long and six miles wide.
▣ "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" There are two possible interpretations of this phrase. It can refer (1) to John's preaching the gospel or (2) to John's receiving the revelation. We have several historical references to John's political banishment.
1. Tertullian, On the Prescription of Heretics, 36
2. Origen, Homilies on Matthew
3. Clement of Alexandria, The Rich Man's Salvation, 47
4. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.20.8-9; and (4) Jerome, Concerning Illustrious Men, 9.
1:10 "I was in the Spirit" This is a special phrase that marks off the different visions that John received (cf 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). It seems to refer to a trance-like state in which a revelation was given (cf. Acts 10:10; 22:17; II Cor. 12:1ff). This is characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic literature.
▣ "on the Lord's day" This is the only reference in the Bible, referring to Sunday, which uses this phrase. Sunday was referred to as "the first day of the week" in John 20:19; Acts 20:7 and I Cor. 16:2.
▣ "like the sound of a trumpet" This phrase was used in the context of God giving the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod. 19:16). However, because of vv. 12a and 4:1, it may refer to the voice of an angel. Angelic mediation is characteristic of Jewish apocalyptic literature. Revelation speaks more about angels than any other NT book.
1:11 "in a book" This is the Greek term biblion. It was used in the sense of a booklet or scroll. It later became a technical term for a codex or book. John was commanded to write down his visions. They are the self disclosures of Deity. They are not for John's personal benefit, but for the Church. One characteristic of apocalyptic literature is that it was a highly structured written genre, not given orally, like OT prophecies. A book or scroll occurs repeatedly in Jewish apocalyptic literature as a way to pass on the message for future readers.
▣ "send it to the seven churches" The order of these churches followed a Roman postal route which began and ended in Ephesus. Paul's circular book known as "Ephesians" may have traveled this same route. God's revelation is never for an individual only, but for the people of God, the body of Christ!
▣ The King James translation adds the phrase "I am the Alpha and the Omega" again, but there is no ancient Greek manuscript support for this phrase in this verse.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:12-16
12Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.
1:12 "I saw seven golden lampstands" This does not refer to the Menorah (seven-stemmed candelabrum) which was in the Tabernacle (cf. Exod. 25:31-40) nor to the lampstand of Zech. 4:2. These separate, single lampstands were a symbolic way of referring to the seven churches (cf. 1:20; 2:1).
1:13-18 In this description of Jesus much of the imagery has two possible OT backgrounds: (1) YHWH, but also (2) the angel of Daniel 10.
NASB"one like a son of man"
NKJV"One like the Son of Man"
NRSV"one like the Son of Man"
TEV"looked like a human being"
NJB"one like a Son of Man"
Notice the variety in capitalization. The reason is the ambiguity of the term. In the OT it was a descriptive phrase for a human being (cf. Ps. 8:4; Ezek. 2:1 and many more). However, it also was used in Dan. 7:13 and possibly Ezek. 1:26 to refer to a human Messiah, whose deity (cf. 2:18, where this same personage is called "Son of God") is assumed because
1. he appears before God
2. he rides on the clouds of heaven
3. he is given the eternal kingdom.
Jesus used this term to refer to Himself because it had no rabbinical usages, no nationalistic or militaristic connotations. It combined the human and divine aspects of Jesus' person (cf. I John 4:1-3; John 1:1-2,14).
Notice that the NKJV and NRSV have "the" while NASB, TEV, and JB have "a." There is no definite article in the Greek text (cf. Dan. 7:13; Heb. 1:2; 3:6; 5:8; 7:28). However, the fact that it is a title makes it definite. The ambiguity may be purposeful (an aspect of John's writings). Jesus is a real human being and also the Divine Messiah.
▣ "clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash" This phrase has been understood in several ways.
1. as a reference to the High Priest (cf. Exod. 28:4; 29:5; Lev. 16:4 and Zech. 3:4)
2. as a reference to a royal, wealthy person (cf. I Sam. 18:24; 24:12 and Ezek. 26:16)
3. as a vision of the glorious interpreting angel of Dan. 10:5-21, which might signify Jesus as bringing God's message.
Josephus, in his book, Antiquities of the Jews III.7.2,4, said that the High Priest wore a girdle interwoven with gold. Therefore, Jesus is the High Priest (cf. Ps. 110:4-7; Zechariah 3) of the heavenly sanctuary (cf. Heb. 8:1-13; Psalm 110).
1:14 "His head and His hair were white like white wool" This is an allusion to the Ancient of Days in Dan. 7:9. This is an example of NT authors attributing titles and descriptions of YHWH to Jesus, emphasizing Jesus' deity.
▣ "His eyes were like a flame of fire" This symbolized His penetrating knowledge (cf. Dan. 10:6; Rev. 2:18; 19:12).
NASB"like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace"
NKJV"like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace"
NRSV"like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace"
TEV"like brass that has been refined and polished"
NJB"like burnished bronze when it has been refined in a furnace"
This word for bronze (chalkolibanon) is uncertain. Brass is the related term, chalkos (cf. Matt. 10:9; I Cor. 13:1; Rev. 18:22). It was used in Ezek. 1:7 for the cherubim's feet and in Dan. 10:6 for the angelic messenger. Jesus' feet are described in these same terms (cf. 1:15; 2:18) to show His heavenly origin or majestic character.
NRSV"voice was like the sound of many waters"
TEV"voice sounded like a roaring waterfall"
NJB"voice like the sound of the ocean"
This was used of
1. YHWH in Ezek. 1:24; 43:2
2. the wings of the cherubim of Ezek. 1:24
3. of the angelic messenger (possibly) in Dan. 10:6
Apparently it was a symbol of a heavenly person's authoritative voice (cf. 14:2; 19:6).
1:16 "In His right hand He held seven stars" This phrase is repeated in 1:16,20; 2:1; 3:1. This shows Jesus' personal care of His local churches.
▣ "and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword" Hromphaia refers to the large Thracian, broadsword which the Roman soldiers carried. This metaphor appears in the OT in Isa. 11:4; 49:2. It symbolizes both (1) war (cf. 2:16; 6:8) and (2) the power of the word of God, especially judgment (cf. 2:12; 19:15,21; II Thess. 2:8). Hebrews 4:12 uses another type of sword (machaira), but the same idea — the power of the word of God.
▣ "His face was like the sun shining in its strength" A similar phrase is used to describe the angelic messenger of Dan. 10:6 and Rev. 10:1. In Dan. 12:3 (cf. Matt. 13:43) it was a symbol of the resurrected righteous ones. Jesus is described in similar terms at His transfiguration (cf. Matt. 17:2).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:17-20
17When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. 20As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."
1:17 "I fell at His feet as a dead man" This type of revelation has always caused consternation to humans receiving it (cf. Dan. 8:17; 10:9; Ezek. 1:28; 3:23; II Baruch 21:26; IV Ezra 5:14). It is an awesome thing for the supernatural spiritual realm to unveil itself to a human being.
▣ "He placed His right hand on me" This gesture shows Jesus' care and attention to His people (cf. Dan. 8:18; 10:10, 18).
▣ "Do not be afraid" This is a present imperative with the negative particle, usually meaning to stop an act that is already in process. Humans are afraid of the supernatural realm (cf. Jesus' words in Matt. 14:27; 17:7; 28:10; Mark 6:50; Luke 5:10; 12:32; John 6:20 and the angel's words in Matt. 28:5; Luke 1:13,30; 2:10).
▣ "for I am the first and the last" This was usually a reference to YHWH (cf. Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12), but here it is used of the exalted Christ (cf. v. 8; 2:8; 22:13). This is an equivalent to the phrase "Alpha and Omega." See notes at vv. 4 and 8.
NASB, NRSV"the living One"
NKJV"I am He who lives"
TEV"I am the living one!"
NJB"I am the Living One"
This is an allusion to the covenant name for God, YHWH, which comes from the Hebrew verb "to be" (cf. Exod. 3:14). See Special Topic: Names for Deity at 1:8. He is the ever-living, only-living One (cf. Dan. 12:7; John 5:26). Again, this is the NT author's use of an OT title for God to describe Jesus. This is very similar to Jesus using YHWH's name for Himself in John 8:58.
▣ "I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore," The resurrection was:
1. the Father's stamp of approval (cf. Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30,33,34,37; 17:31; Rom. 4:24; 10:9; I Cor. 6:14; 15:15; Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12; Heb. 13:20; I Pet. 1:21)
2. a demonstration of the Spirit's power (cf. Rom. 8:11)
3. a demonstration of Jesus' personal power (cf. John 10:11,15,17,18)
This reference to Jesus' death may also have been a way to thwart the Gnostic false teachers who denied His humanity.
▣ "I have the keys of death and of Hades" The Jews saw death as a prison with gates (cf. Job 38:17; Ps. 9:13; 107:18; Isa. 38:10; Matt. 16:19). Keys are a metaphor for authority. This is symbolic of Jesus' authority over death for Himself and His followers (cf. 5:9-10; I Cor. 15).
TEV"the world of the dead"
The King James Version translates this as"hell," but this is an English translation confusion of the Greek words, Hades and Gehenna. Hades corresponds to the OT word Sheol (cf. 6:8; 20:13-14). In the OT humans were pictured as descending into the earth where they were gathered into families. It was a conscious but joyless existence. Slowly God began to reveal more and more (progressive revelation) about the afterlife. The rabbis asserted that there was a righteous (Paradise) and wicked (Tartarus) division in Sheol (cf. Luke 23:43). The Bible is sketchy on the details about the afterlife. It speaks in metaphors of heaven (i.e., streets of gold, city 1500 miles cubed, no closed gates, etc.) and hell (fire, darkness, worms, etc.)
1:19 This phrase has been used as the pattern for interpreting the book of the Revelation. It is seen as either a twofold or a threefold vision. The Greek phrase is a twofold description of what is current and what will occur. John was speaking to his day as well as to the future. This book combines both aspects in the traditional prophetic sense of current events foreshadowing eschatological events. This book addressed the persecution of John's day and the persecution in every age but also ultimately persecution of the end-time anti-Christ (cf. Dan. 9:24-27; II Thessalonians 2).
1:20 "mystery of the stars" This term (mustērion) is used in several senses by Paul, but all relate to the eternal, but hidden plan of God for humans' salvation, which is believing Jews and Gentiles being united into one new body in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11-3:13). Here, however, it seems to be used in connection with the seven churches Jesus is addressing in chapters 2 and 3. From verse 20 it is obvious that the seven spirits, seven stars, seven golden lampstands, and seven angels are all symbolic in some way of the seven churches. This term is used in a similar way of a hidden meaning to a symbol in 17:7. See notes and Special Topic at 10:7.
▣ "the angels" The Greek (aggelos) and Hebrew (malak) terms can be translated "messengers" or "angels." There have been several theories as to their identity.
1. Some say they were the seven spirits which are mentioned in verse 4.
2. Others say they were the pastors of these churches (cf. Mal. 2:7).
3. others say it refers to the guardian angel of these churches (cf. Dan. 10:13,20,21).
It seems best that they refer to a personification of the churches as a whole, whether symbolized in a pastor or an angel.
This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.
1. Does chapter 1 give any clues on how to interpret the book of the Revelation? If so, what are they?
2. Is the book of the Revelation primarily for its day or the last days? Why?
3. Why did John make so many allusions to the Old Testament but never directly quote from it?
4. Why are there so many different titles used for God in this chapter?
5. Why are the descriptions of vv. 12-20 used to introduce each of the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3?
6. Why is the glorified Jesus described so similarly to the angel of Dan. 10?
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