1:1 Revelation. The last book of the Bible gets its name from this first word (Greek apokalupsis), which means literally an “unveiling” of something previously concealed. The same word is translated “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 1:7), “the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:7), and “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven” (II Thessalonians 1:7). This book is not about certain things Christ has revealed, but about the revelation—that is, the unveiling, the appearing—of Christ Himself.
1:1 shortly. “Shortly” (Greek en tachei) means literally “in speed.” It can be understood in either of two ways, or both: (1) the coming of Christ is always imminent; (2) when He does come, the events described in this book will all take place in a short period of time.
1:1 signified. Although some writers take this word to mean that the book is composed largely of “signs,” or symbols, it is always used in the New Testament in the sense of “indicated.” It is related to the Greek word for “sign,” However, “sign” means “miracle” as used in the New Testament, not merely a symbol of something else. Its use here possibly suggests that these events, which are about to come to pass, are being revealed to John in a special, miraculous way.
1:1 angel. Note that the message was mediated to John not by Christ Himself but by a certain designated angel (note also Revelation 22:6-9).
1:1 John. The writer claims a number of times to be John, obviously the same John who was the beloved disciple and who wrote the Gospel of John and the three epistles of John. The vocabulary and general perspective of the five books, as well as uniform tradition, all agree on this.
1:2 record. The Book of Revelation is John’s record of what he saw and heard taking place in the future. The same, or related, Greek word (all derived from martios), is used frequently in the book of Revelation, as well as in John’s other writings. In Revelation, it is translated “witness” four times, “testimony” or “testify” nine times, and “martyr” twice.
1:3 Blessed. This is the only book of the Bible where “blessing” is promised to all who either read it or hear it read. This fact indicates that its meaning and message are clear. A book that could not be understood could hardly be a blessing to anybody. This in turn means that it should be taken literally.
1:4 seven. This is the first occurrence of the number “seven” with which Revelation abounds. The word itself (Greek hepta) occurs fifty-four times in Revelation, more than in all the rest of the New Testament combined. The reason for this pervasive “seven-ness” of Revelation is undoubtedly to emphasize that this book completes God’s written revelation to man. Ever since God completed His creation of the world in six days and rested on the seventh, “seven” has been regarded in all times and places as indicating fullness or completion.
1:4 Asia. These churches were seven real local churches, but they represent all churches with their various merits and problems. Christ’s messages to them surely are also directed to all churches of all times and all places. It is significant that the Apostle Paul also wrote inspired messages to seven different local churches—the churches at Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse and Thessalonica. The church at Ephesus was included in both sets of epistles. This church was founded by Paul, then eventually pastored by John at the time the New Testament was completed by him.
1:4 to come. The message of grace and peace is sent through John by the three that bear witness in heaven (note I John 5:7): the Eternal One, the sevenfold Spirit, and the faithful Witness.
1:4 Spirits. The seven spirits are not seven angels at the throne. If they were angels, the text would say so. Since they join with the Father and with Christ in sending the message, they must be one with God and should be recognized as the seven-fold Holy Spirit. This sevenfold nature of the Spirit presumably speaks of His ministry in the whole world (note John 16:8; also II Chronicles 16:9). There is also a possible reference to Isaiah 11:2, which speaks of “the Spirit of the LORD” resting on the coming Messiah. He is there called “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.”
1:5 kings of the earth. Jesus Christ is anointed Prophet, Priest and King. As the “faithful witness,” or “martyr,” He shed His blood for our sins; as “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), He is our great “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec” (Hebrews 6:20); and as the prince of earthly kings, He is “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14).
1:6 kings and priests. See I Peter 2:9; Revelation 2:26,27; 20:4.
1:7 see him. See Matthew 24:30.
1:7 pierced him. John had actually seen Jesus “pierced” on the cross. He recalled the great prophecy of Zechariah 12:10, which, almost five hundred years in advance of its fulfillment, amazingly revealed that God’s chosen people would not only reject their Messiah when He came, but would even pierce Him unto death.
1:8 Alpha and Omega. There are the first words actually spoken to John by the Lord on this great occasion. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the Lord thereby claiming that He embodies all language and, in fact, all reality. He is “the Word” (John 1:1), embodying “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). He also claims to be the Eternal One and the Omnipotent One. A more definitive claim to absolute deity, made by the glorified Lord Jesus in reference to Himself, could hardly be imagined.
1:9 Patmos. Patmos is a small barren rocky island in the Aegean Sea off the southwest coast of modern Turkey. It more or less faces the city of Ephesus, where John had been serving as pastor/bishop of the church, until the cruel Emperor Domitian had him banished because of his testimony.
1:10 the Lord’s Day. “The Lord’s Day” most likely refers to the first day of the week, our modern Sunday. Christian congregations evidently had been worshipping on the first day of the week for many years by this time (note Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2), presumably because they had been excluded from any influence in the synagogue worship on the last day of the week.
Furthermore, it would be appropriate to call such a day “the Lord’s Day,” in view of Christ’s victory over death on that day. They thereby were commemorating both Christ’s finished work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3) and His finished work of redemption (John 19:30) by observing their Sabbath day (literally “rest day”) on the day of His resurrection. The grammatical construction does not warrant it to be interpreted as “the day of the Lord” (compare I Thessalonians 5:2; II Peter 3:10). It means “the day belonging to the Lord”; the only similar construction in the New Testament is in I Corinthians 11:20, “the Lord’s supper.” John was first called to address existing situations in the seven churches. He was not being translated to the future “day of the Lord” until the events of the fourth and following chapters. Although there is considerable disagreement on this point among commentators, the evidence favors the “Sunday” interpretation here, even though no other record of this identification has been found in early church documents prior to about A.D. 200. This is merely an argument from silence, however; it even seems reasonable that John’s adoption of the term here set the precedent for its eventual adoption in other churches.
1:11 book. Here is John’s explicit authorization for what we now know as the Book of Revelation.
1:11 Asia. These seven churches, all in southwest Asia Minor, are enumerated in clockwise order beginning with the one nearest John, his own church at Ephesus on the coast, the capital of the province of Asia.
1:13 in the midst. Jesus is always “in the midst” of His church, even when only “two or three are gathered together in my name” (Matthew 18:20).
1:13 candlesticks. Compare Exodus 25:31. The candlesticks, here represent His churches, which “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
1:13 down to the foot. Note that there is no nudity, or semi-nudity, in heaven. Both Christ and His saints are always arrayed appropriately (Revelation 19:8,14).
1:13 paps. That is, “breasts.”
1:14 white as snow. This is the only record we have in Scripture of the physical appearance of Christ. The Gospel writers give much information about His words and deeds, but not His appearance while here on earth. Thus He cannot be identified with any particular nation or stature, but merely as “the Son of Man,” representing all men before His Father. Compare the description here to that in Daniel 7:9, where He is called “the Ancient of Days” (Isaiah 9:6 calls Him “Everlasting Father”). On His burning eyes, note Hebrews 4:13.
1:17 as dead. Compare Job 42:6; Isaiah 6:5; Daniel 10:8. Both Job and Daniel were paragons of human righteousness, but were totally incompetent to stand alone in the presence of an all-holy God.
1:17 first and the last. The Lord Jesus Christ is both Creator and Consummator of all things. Compare Colossians 1:16, 20; Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.
1:18 alive for evermore. The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead guarantees the fulfillment of all God’s promises concerning our own salvation, resurrection and everlasting life. “Because I live,” He said, “ye shall live also” (John 14:19). See also Romans 6:9.
1:18 keys of hell. Philosophers and religionists are always searching for the keys to life and death, but only Christ has them! “Hell” is actually Hades, the abode of departed souls in the heart of the earth. When Christ died, His Spirit descended into Hades, proclaiming victory to the evil spirits incarcerated there, then returned with the souls of those who had died in faith. See notes on Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27; Luke 16:23-26; Hebrews 2:14-15; I Peter 3:18-20; and Ephesians 4:8-10. The unsaved dead will be delivered up from Hades for judgment at the great white throne (Revelation 20:13).
1:19 which shall be hereafter. This key verse succinctly outlines the revelations to be given in the book. “The things thou hast seen” comprise the events of the apostolic age, in which John had been a leading participant, and which he had written about in his gospel and three epistles. The “things which are” include the events of the church age, as outlined and foreseen in Revelation 2 and 3. Then, “the things which shall be hereafter” (identified by the same phrase in Revelation 4:1) refer to the great future events associated with Christ’s second coming, as described in Revelation 4–22.
1:20 seven stars. This verse beautifully illustrates the principle of literal interpretation: when symbols are used, their meaning is explained. Thus, the candlesticks (or “lampstands”) symbolize literal churches, and the stars symbolize literal angels. If Christ had meant “pastors” or “elders” of the churches, He could easily have made this clear by using the appropriate word. “Elder,” for example, is used twelve other times in Revelation, so it would be used here if Christ meant the meaning to be “elder.” Nowhere else in the Bible are pastors called angels.
The word “angel” (Greek aggelos) can mean “messenger,” but is only used very rarely of human messengers, and then only if the context requires. The context here certainly does not require any such meaning. In fact the word “angel” occurs sixty-seven other times in Revelation, always with the necessary meaning of heavenly angels. Therefore, this is bound to be Christ’s intended meaning here. The idea that angels are assigned to guide individual churches should not be so surprising in light of such Scriptures as Hebrews 1:14; Acts 12:15; I Corinthians 11:10; Ephesians 3:10; I Peter 1:12; and others. Pastors and elders may come and go, but the angel of the church can continue as long as the church lasts. Just how they manage to convey Christ’s messages to His churches may not be understood now, though “some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2), but we can be confident they have ways and means.