New Defender's Study Bible Notes
Introduction to Revelation
This final book of the Bible—final in time of writing, final in standard canonical order, and final in terms of both historical record and promised fulfillment—is the most exciting of all! It records the restoration of all things to God’s created perfection in the beginning, and the consummation of all His purposes in creation.
At the same time, because of its pervasively prophetic nature, its interpretation has been extremely controversial, and many Christians simply ignore it because of this fact. This is a grave mistake, for prophetic revelation becomes more and more important as the time of prophetic fulfillment nears. Even though we cannot know when Christ will return, we do know that the time gets closer with every passing day, so our concern with prophecy should likewise grow day by day.
The author of the “Revelation” (Greek apokalypsis, meaning “unveiling of something heretofore hidden”) is the Apostle John, the same as the author of the Gospel of John and the three epistles of John. There have been many who have disputed this fact, but the arguments for Johanine authorship are compelling.
The author of Revelation identifies himself simply as John, no less than four times (Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; 21:2; 22:8). It is unreasonable to think that some other person of the same name would do this, knowing the reputation of the Apostle John among the very churches among whom his book would be circulated. He would surely call himself “John the Younger” or some other name to distinguish himself from the venerable “John.” Otherwise he would be involved in deliberate deception, and the book of Revelation should never have been included in the canon of Scripture at all. But the fact is that it was so included from the earliest times. It was accepted by all the main church fathers (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Papias, Tertullian, etc.) as authentically Johannine.
Furthermore, the vocabulary and concepts of Revelation are very compatible with those of the Gospel of John, and the first epistle of John, despite the vast differences in purpose and scope (John being history, I John exhortation, and Revelation prophecy). The author writes from exile on the Isle of Patmos, which is directly off the coast of Asia Minor opposite Ephesus, the city and church where early church history uniformly agrees John the Apostle ministered during his later years. Several early writers report that John was exiled during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Domitian, and that he was allowed to return to Ephesus following Domitian’s death in A.D. 96. Evidently, he wrote the book while on Patmos, finishing it and circulating it among the “seven churches of Asia” immediately after his return.
The purpose of the book was “to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1) and to complete the canon of Scripture. There had been many prophecies given before, in both Old and New Testaments, but Revelation pulls them all together, filling in all the gaps and adding all the new revelation that would be needed to guide the church from then until the return of Christ. The Lord had promised that the Holy Spirit would “shew you things to come” (John 16:13), and He finally fulfilled that promise through John in the book of Revelation.
The Old Testament Scriptures had been completed through the prophet Malachi, and now the New Testament Scriptures, which were to be given through Christ’s “apostles and prophets” (note Ephesians 2:19–3:5) would be completed through the last of the apostles and prophets, the Apostle John who had been allowed to live to a very old age, in effect as it were, to “tarry till I come” (John 21:22). And now Jesus had come, “to shew unto His servants the things which must shortly be done” (Revelation 22:6) to bring to completion God’s great plan of the ages and finally to usher in His eternal kingdom in the new heavens and new earth.
Then, when Christ’s revelation to and through His beloved disciple John was complete, He issued this sober warning: “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18). Therefore, let no man after John, the last of God’s holy apostles and prophets, presume to add any revelation to “these things.” No longer does anyone have a legitimate gift of prophetic revelation, nor have there been any apostles after John. God’s revelation to man has been completed with the Book of Revelation, and there is no need for any further revelation until Christ comes. God, through Paul, had said that “prophecies…shall fail” when they are no longer needed, “when that which is perfect [i.e., complete] shall come” (I Corinthians 13:8,10).
The problem with reading this book is that there have been so many interpretations of Revelation that most people believe it is impossible to understand, and so do not read it at all. They, thereby, miss a great blessing. The book of Revelation is the only book of the Bible which promises a special blessing to those who read it, or even to those who hear it read (Revelation 1:3). But how could any book be a blessing if it cannot be understood?
Perhaps the problem is not that it is hard to understand, but rather that it is hard to believe! The reason there have been so many interpretations is that expositors believe it cannot possibly mean what it says, so they attempt alternate explanations.
For example, many advocate the “historical” interpretation, attempting to match the symbols of Revelation with the various events of church history. Such correlations vary widely with the individual expositor. Others favor the “preterist” interpretation, which seeks to explain all the symbols in terms of current events of the first two or three centuries during the time of terrible persecutions of the church under the Roman Empire. Still others advocate an “idealist” interpretation, which in effect abandons all attempts to relate the symbols of Revelation to real events of any kind, assuming that all are simply various ways of picturing the ultimate triumph of good over evil.
These and other non-literal interpretations of Revelation vary widely in detail, testifying more to the relative ingenuity of the interpreters than anything else. Even the various “literalist” expositors often rely on their own interpretation of many of the different symbols in the book, and therefore come up with different schemes of literal interpretation (pre-millennial, post-millennial, a-millennial, sequential, cyclic, pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, mid-tribulation, partial rapture, pre-wrath rapture, etc.). It can, indeed, be confusing to an unsophisticated Bible student.
It would seem, based on the stated purpose of the book, that the best interpretation is no interpretation! That is, since its purpose was to be a blessing to its readers and to unveil the future to them, it would be written as simply and understandably as possible. Thus it would mean precisely what it says, with no interpretation necessary at all. When symbols or figures of speech are used, their purpose is not to confuse or mystify the reader, but to clarify and emphasize the truth being discussed. If such symbols are not so obvious as to be self-explanatory, they are explained in the immediate context or in the broader context of Scripture as a whole (with which the reader presumably already should be familiar). Because these coming judgments are to be so severe and so global, scholarly interpreters find them hard to believe, not hard to understand.
Therefore the explanatory footnotes in this Defender’s Bible seek to defend the statements of the Apostle John as meaning exactly what they say, no matter how difficult to believe they may seem to the modern mind. The book of Revelation was written to reveal, to unveil, to bless, and, above all, to be understood, as God’s final revelation to man before Christ’s return to fulfill all its prophecies.
John is simply reporting what he saw and heard, as he was translated—in time as well as space (God being Creator of both!)—to be an actual eye-witness of these great future events. It is significant that he used the words “I heard” exactly twenty-eight times in the book (i.e., 4 x 7), and the words “I saw” (or “looked,” or “beheld”—same Greek word) forty-nine times (i.e., 7 x 7). Thus, he asserted that “I saw” or “I heard” seventy-seven times (11 x 7) throughout the book’s twenty-two chapters. He is merely reporting, as a direct eyewitness and ear-hearer, of these things to come. He means to tell us they will occur exactly as written, because he was there, and saw them happen!
This pervasive “seven-ness” of Revelation is noteworthy. The word “seven” occurs in Revelation more often than in all the rest of the New Testament put together. There are seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven scrolls, seven thunders, etc. The number “seven” has always been considered to represent fullness, or completion, the reason being that God’s creation of the universe was completed on the seventh day of the primeval creation week.
Ever since creation, mankind has been keeping time in terms of seven-day weeks, commemorating God’s complete creation. In the book of Revelation, the “seal of the seven” throughout the book is thus subtly reminding us that His work of redemption and restoration of His creation is likewise about to be completed.
The great judgments that are to be unleashed on the Christ-rejecting world are not only punitive, but also restorative. The primeval “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31) is to be restored to its original perfection in the “new earth” (or better, “earth made new again”), with all effects of the Edenic curse removed (Revelation 22:3). There will be no more death, crying, sorrow, or pain (Revelation 21:4). Christ the Creator/Redeemer will “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Once again there will be “the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7), and all the redeemed of all the ages from all the nations will be there with their Lord, and with Him “they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).
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.