Revelation Part 1: Introduction to the Revelation of Jesus Christ
Revelation Lesson 1
Which translates literally as "The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ." The modern English translation of apoka¿luyiß (pronounced "apokalypsis") is better understood as the "unveiling" or the "revealing." This book is intended to help all Christians better understand the nature and ways of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The book of Revelation is not the only place in the Bible that lays out this "end game" of God's plan, the most famous alternative passage is the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25; 5th and last of the great discourses in Matthew):
Matt. 24:1 ¶ Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him.
Matt. 24:2 And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down."
Matt. 24:3 ¶ As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?"
Matt. 24:4 ¶ And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you.
Matt. 24:5 "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many.
Matt. 24:6 "You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.
Matt. 24:7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.
Matt. 24:8 "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
Matt. 24:9 ¶ "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.
Matt. 24:10 "At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.
Matt. 24:11 "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.
Matt. 24:12 "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.
Matt. 24:13 "But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
Matt. 24:14 "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Matt. 24:15 ¶ "Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),
Matt. 24:16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
Matt. 24:17 "Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house.
Matt. 24:18 "Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak.
Matt. 24:19 "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
Matt. 24:20 "But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.
Matt. 24:21 "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.
Matt. 24:22 "Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.
Matt. 24:23 "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him.
Matt. 24:24 "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
Matt. 24:25 "Behold, I have told you in advance.
Matt. 24:26 "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them.
Matt. 24:27 "For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
Matt. 24:28 "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
Matt. 24:29 ¶ "But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Matt. 24:30 "And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.
Matt. 24:31 "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
Matt. 24:32 ¶ "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near;
Matt. 24:33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Matt. 24:34 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Matt. 24:35 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Matt. 24:36 ¶ "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
Matt. 24:37 "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.
Matt. 24:38 "For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,
Matt. 24:39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.
Matt. 24:40 "Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
Matt. 24:41 "Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.
Matt. 24:42 ¶ "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.
Matt. 24:43 "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into.
Matt. 24:44 "For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.
Matt. 24:45 ¶ "Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time?
Matt. 24:46 "Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.
Matt. 24:47 "Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.
Matt. 24:48 "But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,'
Matt. 24:49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards;
Matt. 24:50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know,
Matt. 24:51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matt. 25:1 ¶ "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Matt. 25:2 "Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent.
Matt. 25:3 "For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,
Matt. 25:4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.
Matt. 25:5 "Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.
Matt. 25:6 "But at midnight there was a shout, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'
Matt. 25:7 "Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.
Matt. 25:8 "The foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'
Matt. 25:9 "But the prudent answered, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'
Matt. 25:10 "And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
Matt. 25:11 "Later the other virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.'
Matt. 25:12 "But he answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.'
Matt. 25:13 "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
Matt. 25:14 ¶ "For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
Matt. 25:15 "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
Matt. 25:16 "Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.
Matt. 25:17 "In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
Matt. 25:18 "But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
Matt. 25:19 ¶ "Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them.
Matt. 25:20 "The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.'
Matt. 25:21 "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
Matt. 25:22 ¶ "Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.'
Matt. 25:23 "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
Matt. 25:24 ¶ "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.
Matt. 25:25 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'
Matt. 25:26 ¶ "But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.
Matt. 25:27 'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
Matt. 25:28 'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.'
Matt. 25:29 ¶ "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
Matt. 25:30 "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matt. 25:31 ¶ "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
Matt. 25:32 "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
Matt. 25:33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
Matt. 25:34 ¶ "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Matt. 25:35 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
Matt. 25:36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'
Matt. 25:37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?
Matt. 25:38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
Matt. 25:39 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
Matt. 25:40 "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
Matt. 25:41 ¶ "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
Matt. 25:42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;
Matt. 25:43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'
Matt. 25:44 "Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?'
Matt. 25:45 "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'
Matt. 25:46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
See also Mark 13; Luke 21:
Mark 13:1 ¶ As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!"
Mark 13:2 And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down."
Mark 13:3 ¶ As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,
Mark 13:4 "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?"
Mark 13:5 And Jesus began to say to them, "See to it that no one misleads you.
Mark 13:6 "Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He!' and will mislead many.
Mark 13:7 "When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end.
Mark 13:8 "For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
Mark 13:9 ¶ "But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.
Mark 13:10 "The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.
Mark 13:11 "When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit.
Mark 13:12 "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
Mark 13:13 "You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
Mark 13:14 ¶ "But when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
Mark 13:15 "The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house;
Mark 13:16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat.
Mark 13:17 "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!
Mark 13:18 "But pray that it may not happen in the winter.
Mark 13:19 "For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.
Mark 13:20 "Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.
Mark 13:21 "And then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ'; or, 'Behold, He is there'; do not believe him;
Mark 13:22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
Mark 13:23 "But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.
Mark 13:24 ¶ "But in those days, after that tribulation, THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT,
Mark 13:25 AND THE STARS WILL BE FALLING from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.
Mark 13:26 "Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory.
Mark 13:27 "And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.
Mark 13:28 ¶ "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
Mark 13:29 "Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door.
Mark 13:30 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
Mark 13:31 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Mark 13:32 "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
Mark 13:33 ¶ "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.
Mark 13:34 "It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.
Mark 13:35 "Therefore, be on the alertfor you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning
Mark 13:36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.
Mark 13:37 "What I say to you I say to all, 'Be on the alert!'"
Luke 21:1 ¶ And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.
Luke 21:2 And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.
Luke 21:3 And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;
Luke 21:4 for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on."
Luke 21:5 ¶ And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said,
Luke 21:6 "As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down."
Luke 21:7 ¶ They questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?"
Luke 21:8 And He said, "See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not go after them.
Luke 21:9 "When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately."
Luke 21:10 ¶ Then He continued by saying to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom,
Luke 21:11 and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
Luke 21:12 ¶ "But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name's sake.
Luke 21:13 "It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.
Luke 21:14 "So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves;
Luke 21:15 for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.
Luke 21:16 "But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death,
Luke 21:17 and you will be hated by all because of My name.
Luke 21:18 "Yet not a hair of your head will perish.
Luke 21:19 "By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Luke 21:20 ¶ "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.
Luke 21:21 "Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;
Luke 21:22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.
Luke 21:23 "Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people;
Luke 21:24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Luke 21:25 ¶ "There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves,
Luke 21:26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Luke 21:27 "Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory.
Luke 21:28 "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Luke 21:29 ¶ Then He told them a parable: "Behold the fig tree and all the trees;
Luke 21:30 as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near.
Luke 21:31 "So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.
Luke 21:32 "Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.
Luke 21:33 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Luke 21:34 ¶ "Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;
Luke 21:35 for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.
Luke 21:36 "But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Luke 21:37 ¶ Now during the day He was teaching in the temple, but at evening He would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet.
Luke 21:38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to Him in the temple to listen to Him.
The author identifies himself merely as "John" four times, and scholars have proposed at least five different people this could have been:
A. John the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, the disciple of Jesus
B. John the Elder
D. John Mark
E. John the Baptist
The vast majority of early church historians had no doubt whatsoever that John the Apostle was the author, with the significant exception of Dionysius, who found that there were many grammatical and thematic differences between the Johannine writings and Revelation. This view remained unchanged until the modern era.
There is a claim for a somewhat obscure, possibly fictional figure named "John the Elder" (or sometimes Presbyter John, a presbyter is an archaic name for a leader in local Christian congregations), in the now-lost work of Papias, a 2nd century bishop of Hierapolis, later quoted most prominently by Irenaeus Bishop of Lyons and Eusebius Bishop of Caesarea:
But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,--what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.
- Eusebius, History of the Church (Book III, chapter 39)
The real reason for promoting this claim is most likely that Irenaeus & Eusebius rejected both Christian premillennialism (known as Chiliasm) in specific, and the book of Revelation in general, primarily because of a literal interpretation of Rev. 20:1-6.
The only other seriously proposed author of Revelation, Cerinthus, was the leader of an heretical sect in the very earliest Christian era, and he is considered one of the inspirations of the Gnostic movement. Very little is known about him, and none of his original writings survive, but none other than John the Apostle is thought to be a contemporary of him. There is an anecdote in one of Irenaeus' writings, that claimed John was said to have so feared Cerinthus that he once fled a bathhouse when he found out Cerinthus was inside, yelling "Let us flee, lest the building fall down; for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside!" There is some suggestion in other writings that John wrote Revelation in order to counter Cerinthus' claims. The only group who seriously put forth Cerinthus as the author of Revelation were the Alogi, a 2nd & early 3rd century heretical sect in Asia Minor.
Of all these who claimed (or are claimed) authorship, the last two are exceptionally unlikely. John Mark was suggested only by Dionysus of Alexandria (according to Eusebius in his Histories), but this claim was immediately dismissed (it was largely based on his claim that "two tombs" with the name of John had been found), and a modern author named J. M. Ford is the only one to seriously suggest John the Baptist (and then only claimed authorship of part of Revelation by him!). Even during the medieval/Reformation era, only Luther and Zwingli seriously denied the author of John the Apostle, again, primarily due to their opposition to Chiliasm.
Most modern arguments against the traditional authorship of John relay on a complex, textual criticism to support a central point that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patmos were all three separate people. Most of these arguments devolve down to the fact that there are some stylistic ands thematic differences in the writings of John, 1,2 &3 John, and Revelation. In a review of the major commentaries, I have yet to see any serious, non-textual criticism arguments in favor of this view.
With all this "smoke and mirrors" brought to light, it is fairly easy to rely on the authorship of Revelation being John the Apostle.
The Book of Revelation was not written for pastors and seminary students, it was written for every Christian. While it has great depth, and is a "bottomless well of information to mine," it is perfectly understandable by even the youngest reader as to the major points and importance of the scriptures.
The problem with Revelation, in one sense, is that it is so full of troubling references and dazzling images, it is very easy to get bogged down in the details, and not see "the forest for the trees." The central message of Revelation is so straightforward that literally anyone can understand it, "God rules history and will bring it to its consummation in Christ." (Poythress 11)
Not only is this book accessible to anyone, there is a special blessing for any Christian who reads it:
Rev. 1:3 Blessed 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.
This is not a deep theological writing like that of Paul, nor a sermonic exhortation in the style of Peter, nor some sort of written future "history" in the style of Luke, it is a series of images and pictures intended to convey God's plan in a visual, sensual way. We should understand this book much better in these days than in the days of the early church fathers; don't many of us in this society prefer the TV, DVD and the movie theater to sitting down and reading thick, hard book with lots of writing?
"Some of the early church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Irenaeus, and
Victorinus) wrote that the Apostle John experienced exile on the island of Patmos during
Domitian's reign. They wrote that the government allowed John to return to Ephesus
after this emperor died. Domitian died in A.D. 96. Consequently many conservative
interpreters date the writing of this book near A.D. 95 or 96." (Constable 1)
There is one other major school of thought on the date of this writing, that it was written between 64 and 70 AD, as a response to the persecution by Nero that cumulated in the 2nd Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem.
It is entirely plausible, as suggested by some writers, that the truth may lie in both of these proposals, that some of the early chapters were written during the Neronian persecution, and the book was completed a few years later during the Domitianic persecution.
There are almost as many ways and views of interpreting Revelation as there has been writers on the subject, which are, to put it mildly, legion. Reviewing so many different writings on the topic, you soon realize that most views can be distilled into one (or more) of four major approaches, without either oversimplifying nor unnecessarily overcomplicating these views..
To understand what these approaches are, and how to evaluate them in your own walk with God, you need to understand that there are three major views on how the earthly reign of Christ will take place: (all these definitions are from the IVP Pocket Dictionaries series)
i. Premillennialist: The view that the millennium follows the return of Christ, which therefore makes his return "premillennial." In the teaching of some premillennialists the millennium will begin supernaturally and cataclysmically, preceded by signs of apostasy, worldwide preaching of the gospel, war, famine, earthquakes, the coming of the antichrist and the great tribulation. Jesus will then return and rule on the earth with his saints for one thousand years, during which time peace will reign, the natural world will no longer be cursed and evil will be suppressed. After a final rebellion, God will crush evil forever; judge the resurrected, nonbelieving dead; and establish heaven and hell.
ii. Postmillennialist: The view that Christ's second coming will follow the millennium; that is, his return is postmillennial. Postmillennialists assert that the millennium will come by the spiritual and moral influence of Christian preaching and teaching in the world. This will result in increased conversions, a more important role of the church in the world, earthly prosperity, the resolution of social ills and a general adoption of Christian values. Evil will diminish until the time of Christ's second coming, which will mark as well the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment.
iii. Amillennialist: The belief that the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 do not represent a specific period of time between Christ's first and second comings. Many amillennialists believe instead that the millennium refers to the heavenly reign of Christ and the departed saints during the Church Age. Amillennialists usually understand Revelation 20 to mean that the return of Christ will occur at the end of history and that the church presently lives in the final era of history.
Very closely associated with these three views are their counterparts as to the rapture:
(IVP Pocket Dictionary) From the Latin rapio (caught up), the belief that the church will be caught up (Greek aJrpa¿zw (harpazo), 1 Thess 4:17) and united with Christ at his second coming. One point of contention among theologians is the time of the rapture, especially in relation to the great tribulation period associated with the end of the age. The views regarding the related timing of these events lead to the designations pre-, mid- and post-tribulationists for the views that the rapture occurs prior to, during or at the end of the tribulation. Some theologians view the rapture as a biblical image referring to the church's greeting the returning Christ.
Just for the record, aJrpaghso/meqa is the specific word used in 1 Thess 4:17, a first plural future passive indicative verb, and it's root aJrpa¿zw is usually translated as "to snatch away" indicating a quick, physical action.
There are others who challenge the idea that there will be a physical rapturing of the Church at all; these usually can be noted by their references to a "secret rapture of the Church." Their stand is based on the fact that the word "rapture" is not specifically used anywhere in Scripture. I must claim ignorance as to any thing else about this viewpoint, and how they handle 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Then, of course, there are these four major views:
Interestingly enough, most serious modern commentators make the case that the true view of Revelation probably encompasses at least some elements of all four of these views.
There are 16 sets of alternating scenes between heaven and earth throughout the 22 chapters of Revelation, followed by a final scene of the dissolution of old earth. This series of alternating scenes is the full accumulation of what is spoken of in the Lord's Prayer:
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
(From Constable 2-5):
I . The preparation of the prophet ch. 1
A. The prologue of the book 1:1-8
1. The preface 1:1-3
2. The address and doxology 1:4-6
3. The theme 1:7-8
B. The commission of the prophet 1:9-20
1. The first commission to write 1:9-11
2. The source of the commission 1:12-16
3. The amplification of the commission 1:17-20
I I. The letters to the seven churches chs. 23
A. The letter to the church in Ephesus 2:1-7
1. Destination and description of Christ 2:1
2. Commendation 2:2-3
3. Rebuke 2:4
4. Exhortation 2:5-6
5. Promise 2:7
B. The letter to the church in Smyrna 2:8-11
1. Destination and description of Christ 2:8
2. Commendation 2:9
3. Exhortation 2:10a
4. Promise 2:10b-11
C. The letter to the church in Pergamum 2:12-17
1. Destination and description of Christ 2:12
2. Commendation 2:13
3. Rebuke 2:14-15
4. Exhortation 2:16
5. Promise 2:17
D. The letter to the church in Thyatira 2:18-29
1. Destination and description of Christ 2:18
2. Commendation 2:19
3. Rebuke 2:20-23
4. Exhortation 2:24-25
5. Promise 2:26-29
E. The letter to the church in Sardis 3:1-6
1. Destination and description of Christ 3:1a-b
2. Commendation and rebuke 3:1c, 2b
3. Exhortation 3:2a, 3
4. Promise 3:4-6
F. The letter to the church in Philadelphia 3:7-13
1. Destination and description of Christ 3:7
2. Commendation 3:8
3. Promise 3:9-11a, 12
4. Exhortation 3:11b, 13
G. The letter to the church in Laodicea 3:14-22
1. Destination and description of Christ 3:14
2. Rebuke 3:15-17
3. Exhortation 3:18-19
4. Promise 3:20-22
III. The revelation of the future 4:122:5
A. Introduction to the judgments of the Tribulation chs. 45
1. The throne in heaven ch. 4
2. The Lamb on the throne ch. 5
B. The first six seal judgments ch. 6
1. The first seal 6:1-2
2. The second seal 6:3-4
3. The third seal 6:5-6
4. The fourth seal 6:7-8
5. The fifth seal 6:9-11
6. The sixth seal 6:12-17
C. Supplementary revelation of salvation in the Great Tribulation ch. 7
1. The sealing of 144,000 Israelites 7:1-8
2. The salvation of the great multitude 7:9-17
D. The first six trumpet judgments chs. 89
1. The first four trumpet judgments ch. 8
2. The fifth and sixth trumpet judgments ch. 9
E. Supplementary revelation of John's preparation for recording the
remaining judgments in the Great Tribulation ch. 10
1. The appearance of the mighty angel 10:1-4
2. The announcement of the mighty angel 10:5-7
3. The instruction of the mighty angel 10:8-11
F. Supplementary revelation of the two witnesses in the Great Tribulation
1. The temple in Jerusalem 11:1-2
2. The ministry of the two witnesses 11:3-6
3. The death of the two witnesses 11:7-10
4. The resurrection of the two witnesses 11:11-13
5. The end of the second woe 11:14
G. The seventh trumpet judgment 11:15-19
H. Supplementary revelation of Satan's activity in the Great Tribulation chs.
1. The activity of Satan himself ch. 12
2. The activity of Satan's agents ch. 13
I. Supplementary revelation of preparations for the final judgments in the
Great Tribulation chs. 1415
1. Judgment at the end of the Great Tribulation ch. 14
2. Preparation for the bowl judgments ch. 15
J. The seven bowl judgments ch. 16
1. The commencement of the bowl judgments 16:1
2. The first bowl 16:2
3. The second bowl 16:3
4. The third bowl 16:4
5. Ascriptions of angelic and martyr praise 16:5-7
6. The fourth bowl 16:8-9
7. The fifth bowl 16:10-11
8. The sixth bowl 16:12-16
9. The seventh bowl 16:17-21
K. Supplementary revelation of the judgment of ungodly systems in the Great
Tribulation chs. 1718
1. Religion in the Great Tribulation ch. 17
2. Commerce in the Great Tribulation ch. 18
L. The Second Coming of Christ ch. 19
1. The praise of God in heaven 19:1-10
2. The return of Christ to earth 19:11-16
3. The destruction of the wicked on earth 19:17-21
M. The millennial reign of Christ ch. 20
1. The binding of Satan 20:1-3
2. The resurrection of tribulation martyrs 20:4-6
3. The final judgment of Satan 20:7-10
4. The judgment of the wicked 20:11-15
N. The eternal state 21:122:5
1. The vision of the new heaven and earth 21:1
2. John's first vision of the New Jerusalem 21:2-8
3. John's second vision of the New Jerusalem 21:922:5
IV. The epilogue to the book 22:6-21
A. The testimony of the angel 22:6-7
B. The testimony of John 22:8-11
C. The testimony of Jesus and John's response 22:12-20
D. The final benediction 22:21
IVP-New Bible Commentary
Just as the prologue to the Gospel of John serves as a kind of overture to the book, announcing its chief themes and setting the reader in a position to understand the story of Jesus, so the prologue to Revelation serves a like purpose. It, too, declares its chief themes and provides a vantage point from which the reader may rightly interpret the vision that follows.
A revelation may relate to an act of uncovering, or an object uncovered; so here the revelation of Jesus Christ may denote the process of the Lord's revealing the issues of history, or the truth that is revealed. The latter will be primarily in mind, without excluding the former. The revelation has been given to Jesus from God, just as in the gospel the Son speaks only what the Father has given him (Jn 3:34; 8:26). The mediation of an angel is in keeping with the visions of prophets and apocalyptists (cf. Ezk. 8; Dn. 10). The announcement of Christ, God and angel as the source of the revelation entails an extraordinary authority for the teaching of the book. The thought is further emphasized in v 2: Revelation is John's witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, i.e. the message from God and witness borne by Christ.
Authorship. Many scholars today argue that different authors wrote the Fourth Gospel and Revelation; some do not even entertain the possibility that both were written by the same person. The style of Revelation is undeniably quite different from that of the Fourth Gospel, so some scholars as early as several centuries after their writing denied that they could have been written by the same author.
But a close examination of the works indicates that much of the vocabulary is the same, though used in different ways; one can account for most of the stylistic variations on the basis of the different genres of the two works: gospel and apocalypse (Revelation's style borrows heavily from Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, etc.). That a single community could produce and embrace both a gospel (even one emphasizing the present experience of future glory) and an apocalypse is not difficult to believe; the Dead Sea Scrolls contain similarly diverse documents. That a single writer could embrace multiple genres is no less possible (compare, e.g., Plutarch's Lives and his Moralia, though their differences in genre and style are less pronounced than those of the Fourth Gospel and Revelation).
That one writer would use the same vocabulary but write two entirely different kinds of works from different perspectives seems more probable (at least to this modern author who does the same) than that two allied writers would differ in perspectives but share vocabulary. Theological communities and schools (see the introduction to 1 John) usually share perspectives more than vocabulary, whereas authors may adapt their style to the genre in which they write and emphasize perspectives according to the situation they address, while reusing much of the same vocabulary.
While the arguments against unity of authorship are not decisive, arguments in favor of Johannine authorship of both deserve more attention than they usually receive in modern scholarship. Most of early church tradition attributes both documents to John the apostle; the argument that Revelation was written by him is certainly strong (see comment on 1:1; for the Fourth Gospel's authorship, see the introduction to John).
Date. Some scholars have dated Revelation in the late 60s, shortly after Nero's death, as several emperors in a row quickly met violent deaths (cf. 17:10). In the book of Revelation, however, the emperor's power seems to be stable, and this situation does not fit the 60s. Similarly, the imperial cult in Asia (western Turkey) appears to be gaining in power and directly threatens the readers of the book; this situation fits the period of the 90s better. The church also seems to be entrenched in the major cities of Asia; thus a date in Domitian's reign in the 90s of the first century, reported in early church tradition and still preferred by most scholars, is most likely.
Genre. Revelation mixes elements of Old Testament prophecy with a heavy dose of the apocalyptic genre, a style of writing that grew out of elements of Old Testament prophecy. Although nearly all its images have parallels in the biblical prophets, the images most relevant to late-first-century readers, which were prominent in popular Jewish revelations about the end time, are stressed most heavily. Chapters 2-3 are "oracular letters," a kind of letter occurring especially in the Old Testament (e.g., Jer 29:1-23, 29-32) but also attested on some Greek pottery fragments.
Although the literary structure of such documents may have been added later, scholars are increasingly recognizing that many Jewish mystics and other ancient mantics believed that they were having visionary or trance experiences. Like the Old Testament prophets he most resembles, John may have experienced real visions and need not use them only as a literary device. (The apocalypses are usually pseudonymous, thus it is difficult to be certain to what extent they reflect religious experience. But other accounts of Jewish mystics seeking to invade heaven in visionary ascentssee comment on 2 Cor 12:1-4 -and anthropologists' reports on the commonness of ecstatic trance states in a variety of cultures around the world today suggest that many such experiences were genuine. Early Christians generally accepted the reality of pagan inspiration as a phenomenon but attributed it to the demonic realm, while viewing their own inspiration as continuous with that of the Old Testament prophets. They held that there are many spirits in the world, but not all of them are good- 1 Jn 4:1-6.)
Structure. After the introduction (chaps. 1-3), the book is dominated by three series of judgments (seals, trumpets, bowls), probably concurrent (they all culminate in the end of the age), and snapshots of worship in heaven (chaps. 4-16), then oracles against Rome (chaps. 17-18) and prophecies of the end (chaps. 19-22). The judgments may cover the (probably symbolic, but possibly deferred) period of 1,260 days to which the book repeatedly alludes (see especially comment on 12:6 -if symbolic, this period may span history between Christ's first and second comings). The book is in logical rather than chronological sequence; John undoubtedly reports the visions in the sequence in which he has them, but every time he notes "And I saw/heard," he is receiving a new image. The new image, while connected with what preceded, does not always report an event that follows it chronologically.
Interpretations. There are several major categories of interpretation of this book: (1) Revelation predicts in detail the course of human history till the Second Coming, (2) Revelation reflects the general principles of history, (3) Revelation addresses only what was happening in John's day, (4) Revelation addresses only the end time, and (5) combinations of the above approaches (e.g., John addresses the principles of history in view of the ever-impending end time until it arrives, and originally articulated these principles to speak to the situation of his late-first-century readers).
Many interpreters of John's day (especially interpreters in the Dead Sea Scrolls) reread Old Testament prophecies as symbols describing the interpreters' own generation, and the book of Revelation has similarly been reinterpreted by modern prophecy teachers in every decade of the past century. (For a sober rehearsal of the continual modification of prophecy teachers' predictions with each new series of events in the past century, see Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1977]; for a longer historical perspective in less detail, see Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992], pp. 37-63.)
Some prophecy teachers have interpreted and reinterpreted Revelation according to the whims of changing news headlines. But John's images would have meant something in particular to their first readers, and this commentary therefore investigates that sense, following the same procedure for interpretation that it follows elsewhere in the New Testament. Thus it directly addresses the third category of interpretation mentioned above, although this data can be combined with the second category (as it often is for preaching) and, in a sense that becomes clear in the course of the commentary, the fourth category.
Method of Interpretation. John wrote in Greek and used Old Testament, Jewish and sometimes Greco-Roman figures of speech and images; he explicitly claims that he writes to first-century churches in Asia Minor (1:4, 11), as explicitly as Paul writes to first-century churches. Whatever else his words may indicate, therefore, they must have been intelligible to his first-century readers (see comment on 1:3; 22:10). Ancient readers had no access to modern newspapers, the basis for some popular methods of interpretation; but subsequent generations have been able to examine the Old Testament and first-century history while studying the book. Historical perspective therefore makes the book available to all generations.
This perspective does not deny Revelation's relevance for readers today; to the contrary, it affirms that its message is relevant to every generation, although it uses the symbolism familiar to the generation of its first readers. (Thus, for example, future opponents of the church might be described through the image of a new Nero, a figure more relevant to the original readers than to modern ones. But Christians oppressed in all times can take both warningthat such figures existand encouragementthat his end is prophesiedfrom this image, once they understand it.) By shedding light on the original point of the symbols, this commentary provides modern readers better access to the message of the book when they seek to apply it today.
Symbolism. As in the Old Testament prophets, much of John's symbolic language is meant as evocative imagery, to elicit particular responses, rather than as a detailed literal picture of events. Readers steeped in the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic literature would have understood this method of interpretation; sometimes older symbols could be reapplied to new situations but were meant to evoke the same sort of response. Sometimes John simply explains what the symbols mean (e.g., 1:20); in other cases the first readers would have understood from other clues in his book or because of cultural information or knowledge of how these symbols were used in antiquity, which he and his readers both understood. John plainly expected his readers to understand his points (1:3; 22:10).
Situation: The Imperial Cult. The line between human and divine had always been thin in Greek religion, and consequently peoples of the Greek East had built temples to Roman emperors from the first emperor on; the first shrines were in Ephesus and Smyrna. In Rome itself the imperial cult was viewed as a symbol of loyalty to the Roman state, and emperors were deified only after they died. But several emperorsall cursed instead of deified after deathclaimed to be gods while still alive (Gaius Caligula, Nero and Domitian). The emperor at the time Revelation was written was the widely hated Domitian, who demanded worship while he was alive. In the eastern part of the Empire, worshiping the image of the emperor in his temple could be a test of loyalty to the state. Anyone refusing to participate in the worship of the state was considered subversive, and Rome was always brutally paranoid about subversive religions.
Domitian repressed the aristocracy, expelled astrologers from Rome (lest they predict his demise) and persecuted philosophers and religions that he perceived as hostile to himself. The sources also show that he repressed Judaism and Christianity, although they were not singled out. Evidence on the imperial cult in Asia and outright persecution of Christians in Asia on the provincial level in the early second century (pre-Trajanic repression continuing in Trajan's time) suggest that Domitian's own claims and behavior stimulated the environment in which provincial persecution of Christians in Asia Minor occurred.
Situation: Inevitable Conflict. Jewish people were unofficially exempted from emperor worship, but well-off Asian Jews, repressed by Domitian and embarrassed by the relatively recent revolt of Palestinian Jewry (A.D. 66-70), were paranoid about associations with potentially subversive groups. Many Asian synagogues thus expelled Jewish Christians (2:9; 3:7-9), who would face Roman persecution if their Jewishness were in question.
The Romans repressed any groups whose prophets denounced Rome, but John stands well in the Old Testament tradition of uttering oracles against oppressive nations and empires, especially those that oppressed God's people. Some other Jewish writers did pronounce judgment against Rome (often with cryptic names like Babylon, Edom or the Kittim), and many still wanted to revolt (this revolutionary fervor materialized in Egypt and Cyrene shortly thereafter); but Revelation is among the most explicit oracles of judgment against Rome's rebellion against God.
Message. Revelation provides an eternal perspective, by emphasizing such themes as the antagonism of the world in rebellion against God toward a church obedient to God's will; the unity of the church's worship with heaven's worship; that victory depends on Christ's finished work, not on human circumstances; that Christians must be ready to face death for Christ's honor; that representatives of every people will ultimately stand before his throne; that the imminent hope of his return is worth more than all this world's goods; and so forth. From the beginning, the Old Testament covenant and promise had implied a hope for the future of God's people. When Israel was confronted with the question of individuals' future, the Old Testament doctrines of justice and hope led them to views like the resurrection (Is 26:19; Dan 12:2). The future hope is further developed and embroidered with the imagery of Revelation.
Commentaries. See especially G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of Saint John the Divine, HNTC (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1966); G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, NCB, 2nd ed. (1978; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981); Gerhard Krodel, Revelation (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989). The reader may also find W. G. Morrice, "John the Seer: Narrative Exegesis of the Book of Revelation," Expository Times 97 (November 1985): 43-46, helpful in teaching the book. Many other works are useful for different points, including André Feuillet, The Apocalypse, trans. Thomas E. Crane (Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, 1965); Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977); Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985); Robert W. Wall, Revelation, NIBC (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991); and James Moffatt, "The Revelation of St. John the Divine," in The Expositor's Greek Testament, 5 vols. (reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), 5:281-494. Apart from its eccentric view of Revelation's authorship, J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, AB 38 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975), is quite useful and has been unduly criticized on account of that one point.
ANALYSIS OF CHAPTER I
THIS chapter contains a general introduction to the whole book, and comprises the following parts:
I. The announcement that the object of the book is to record a revelation which the Lord Jesus Christ had made of important events which were shortly to occur, and which were signified by an angel to the author, John, Rev. 1:1-3. A blessing is pronounced on him who should read and understand the book, and special attention is directed to it because the time was st hand when the predicted events would occur.
II. Salutation to the seven churches of Asia, Rev. 1:4-8. To those churches, it. would seem from this, the book was originally dedicated or addressed, and two of the chapters (2 and 3) refer exclusively to them. Among them evidently the author had resided, (Rev. 1:9,) and the whole book was doubtless sent to them, and committed to their keeping. In this salutation, the author wishes for them grace, mercy, and peace from "him which is, and which was, and which is to come"the original fountain of all light and truthreferring to more sublime.
1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This is evidently a title or caption of the whole book, and is designed to comprise the substance of the whole; for all that the book contains would be embraced in the general declaration that it is a Revelation of Jesus Christ. The word rendered Revelationapokaluptw, whence we have derived our word Apocalypsemeans properly an uncovering; that is, nakednessfrom apokaluptwto uncover. It would apply to anything which had been covered up so as to be hidden from the viewas by a veil; by darkness; in an ark or chestand then made manifest by removing the covering. It comes then to be used in the sense of disclosing or revealing by removing the veil of darkness or ignorance. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed." It may be applied to the disclosing or manifesting of anything which was before obscure or unknown. This may be done:
(a) by instruction in regard to that which was before obscurethat is, by statements of what was unknown before the statements were made; as in Luke 2:32, where it is said that Christ would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles"fwß eiß apokaluqin eqnwnor when it is applied to the Divine mysteries, purposes, or doctrines, before obscure or unknown, but made clear by light revealed in the gospel, Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:10; 14:6; Eph. 3:5
(b) By the event itself; as the manifestation of the wrath of God at the day of judgment will disclose the true nature of his wrath. "After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God," Rom. 2:5 "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation (Gr., revelation) of the sons of God," Rom. 8:19; that is, till it shall be manifest by the event what they who are the children of God are to be. In this sense the word is frequently applied to the second advent or appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, as disclosing him in his glory, or showing what he truly is: 2 Thess. 1:7, "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed"en th apokaluqeiin the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 1:7, "Waiting for the coming" (the revelationthn apokaluqin) of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Pet. 1:7, "At the appearing" (Gr., revelation) "of Jesus Christ." See also 1 Pet. 4:13, "When his glory shall be revealed."
(c) It is used in the sense of making known what is to comewhether by words, signs, or symbolsas if a veil were lifted from that which is hidden from human vision, or which is covered by the darkness of the unknown future. This is called a revelation, because the knowledge of the event is in fact made known to the world by Him who alone can see it, and in such a manner as he pleases to employ, though many of the terms or the symbols may be, from the necessity of the case, obscure; and though their full meaning may be disclosed only by the event. It is in this sense, evidently, that the word is used here; and in this sense that it is more commonly employed when we speak of a revelation. Thus the word ,(hDlÎg) (gala) is used in Amos 3:7: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants." So Job 33:16, "Then he openeth (marg., revealeth or uncovereth, hRl×gy the ears of men;" that is, in a dream, he discloses to their ears his truth before concealed or unknown.) Compare Dan. 2:22, 28-29; 10:1
Deut. 29:29; These ideas enter into the word as used in the passage before us. The idea is that of a disclosure of an extraordinary character, beyond the mere ability of man, by a special communication from heaven. This is manifest, not only from the usual meaning of this word, but by the word prophecy, in Rev. 1:3, and by all the arrangements by which these things, were made known. The ideas which would be naturally conveyed by the use of this word in this connexion are two:
(1) that there was something which was before hidden, obscure, or unknown, and
(2) that this was so disclosed by these communications as to be seen or known.
The things hidden or unknown were those which pertained to the future; the method of disclosing them was mainly by symbols. In the Greek, in this passage, the article is wantingapokaluqißa Revelation, not h, the Revelation. This is omitted because it is the title of a book, and because the use of the article might imply that this was the only revelation, excluding other books claiming to be a revelation; or it might imply some previous mention of the book, or knowledge of it in the reader. The simple meaning is, that this was "a Revelation;" it was only a part of the Revelation which God has given to mankind. The phrase, "the Revelation of Jesus Christ," might, so far as the construction of the language is concerned, refer either to Christ as the subject or object . It might either mean that Christ is the object revealed in this book, and that its great purpose is to make him knownand so the phrase is understood in the commentary called Hyponoia, (New York, 1844;) or it may mean that this is a revelation which Christ makes to mankindthat is, it is his in the sense that he communicates it to the world. That this latter is the meaning here is clear,
(1) because it is expressly said in this verse that it was a revelation which God gave to him;
(2) because it is said that it pertains to things which must shortly come to pass; and
(3) because, in fact, the revelation is a disclosure of events which were to happen, and not of the person or work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Which God gave unto him. Which God imparted or communicated to Jesus Christ. This is in accordance with the representations everywhere made in the Scriptures, that God is the original fountain of truth and knowledge, and that, whatever was the original dignity of the Son of God, there was a mediatorial dependence on the Father. See John 5:19-20: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for whatsoever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him (deiknusin autw) all things that himself doeth." John 7:16 "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me." John 8:28: "As my Father hath taught me, (edidaxe me) I speak these things." John 12:49: "For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak." See also John 14:10; 17:7-8; Matt. 11:27; Mark 13:32.
The same mediatorial dependence the apostle teaches us still subsists in heaven in his glorified state, and will continue until he has subdued all things, (1 Cor. 15:24-28;) and hence, even in that state, he is represented as receiving the Revelation from the Father to communicate it to men.
To show unto his servants. That is, to his people; to Christians, often represented as the servants of God or of Christ, 1 Pet. 2:16; Rev. 2:20; 7:3; 19:2; 22:3.
It is true that the word is sometimes applied by way of eminence to the prophets, (1 Chron. 6:49; Dan. 6:20) and to the apostles, Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1
Tit. 1:1; James 1:1 but it is also applied to the mass of Christians, and there is no reason why it should not be so understood here. The book was sent to the churches of Asia, and was clearly designed for general use; and the contents of the book were evidently intended for the churches of the Redeemer in all ages and lands. Compare Rev. 1:3. The word rendered to showdeixaicommonly denotes to point out; to cause to see; to present to the sight; and is a word eminently appropriate here, as what was to be revealed was, in general, to be presented to the sight by sensible tokens or symbols.
Things which must shortly come to pass. Not all the things that will occur, but such as it was deemed of importance for his people to be made acquainted with. Nor is it certainly implied that all the things that are communicated would shortly come to pass, or would soon occur. Some of them might perhaps lie in the distant future, and still it might be true that there were those which were revealed in connexion with them, which soon would occur. The word rendered "things "ais a pronoun, and might be rendered what: "he showed to his servants what things were about to occur;" not implying that he showed all the things that would happen, but such as he judged to be needful that his people should know. The word would naturally embrace those things which, in the circumstances, were most desirable to be known. The phrase rendered "must come to pass"dei genesqaiwould imply more than mere futurity. The word used (dei) means it needs, there is need of, and implies that there is some kind of necessity that the event should occur. That necessity may either arise from the felt want of anything, as where it is absent or wanting, Xen. Cyr. 4, 10, ib. 7, 5, 9; or from the nature of the case, or from a sense of dutyas Matt. 16:21, "Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go (dei apelqein) to Jerusalem," Compare Matt. 26:35; Mark 14:31; Luke 2:49 or the necessity may exist, because a thing is right and just, meaning that it ought to be doneas Luke 13:14, "There are six days in which men ought to work"dei ergazesqai; Luke 13:16, "And ought not this woman (ouk edei) whom Satan hath bound, etc., be loosed from this bond;" compare Mark 13:14; John 4:20; Acts 5:11, 29; 2 Tim. 2:6; Matt. 18:33; 25:27, or the necessity may be that it is conformable to the Divine arrangement, or is made necessary by Divine appointmentas in John 3:14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must (dei) the Son of man be lifted up;" John 20:9, "For as yet they knew not the Scriptures, that he must (dei) rise again from the dead." Compare Acts 4:12; 14:22 et al . In the passage before us, it is implied that there was some necessity that the things referred to should occur. They were not the result of chance; they were not fortuitous. It is not, however, stated what was the ground of the necessitywhether because there was a want of something to complete a great arrangement; or because it was right and proper in existing circumstances; or because such was the Divine appointment.
They were events which, on some account, must certainly occur, and which therefore it was important should be made known. The real ground of the necessity probably was founded in the design of God in redemption. He intended to carry out his great plans in reference to his church, and the things revealed here must necessarily occur in the completion of that design. The phrase rendered shortlyen taceiis one whose meaning has been much controverted, and on which much has been made to depend in the interpretation of the whole book. The question has been whether the phrase necessarily implies that the events referred to were soon to occur, or whether it may have such an extent of meaning as to admit the supposition that the events referred to, though beginning soon, would embrace in their development far distant years, and would reach the end of all things. Those who maintain (as Professor Stuart) that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the portion in chapters 4-11, has special reference to Jerusalem and Judaea, and the portion in chapters 12-19, to persecuting and heathen Rome, maintain the former opinion; those who suppose that chapters 4-11, refers to the irruption of Northern barbarians in the Roman empire, and chapter 12 seq. to the rise and the persecutions of the Papal power, embrace the latter opinion. All that is proper in this place is, without reference to any theory of interpretation, to inquire into the proper meaning of the language; or to ascertain what idea it would naturally convey.
(a) The phrase properly and literally means, with quickness, swiftness, speed; that is, speedily, quickly, shortly .Rob. Lex.; Stuart in loc. It is the same in meaning as tacewß. Compare 1 Cor. 4:19, "But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will." Luke 14:21, "Go out quickly into the streets." Luke 16:6, "Sit down quickly, and write fifty." John 11:31, "She rose up hastily (tacewß) and went out." Gal. 1:6, "That ye are so soon removed (tacewß) from him that called you." 1 Tim. 5:22, "Lay hands suddenly on no man." See also Phil. 2:19, 24; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:9.
The phrase used hereen taceioccurs in Luke 18:8, "he will avenge them speedily," (literally with speed;) Acts 12:7, "arise up quickly;" Acts 22:18, "get thee quickly out of Jerusalem;" Acts 25:4, "would depart shortly;" Rom. 16:20, "bruise Satan under your feet shortly;" and Rev. 1:1; 22:6. The essential idea is, that the thing which is spoken of was soon to occur, or it was not a remote and distant event. There is the notion of rapidity, of haste, of suddenness. It is such a phrase as is used when the thing is on the point of happening, and could not be applied to an event which was in the remote future, considered as an independent event standing by itself. The same idea is expressed, in regard to the same thing, in Rev. 1:3: "the time is at hand"o gar kairoß egguß; that is, it is near; it is soon to occur. Yet
(b) it is not necessary to suppose that the meaning is that all that there is in the book was soon to happen. It may mean that the series of events which were to follow on in their proper order was soon to commence, though it might be that the sequel would be remote. The first in the series of events was soon to begin, and the others would follow on in their train, though a portion of them, in the regular order, might be in a remote futurity. If we suppose that there was such an order; that a series of transactions was about to commence involving a long train of momentous developments, and that the beginning of this was to occur soon, the language used by John would be that which would be naturally employed to express it. Thus, in case of a revolution in a government, when a reigning prince should be driven from his kingdom, to be succeeded by a new dynasty which would long occupy the throne, and involving as the consequence of the revolution important events extending far into the future, we would naturally say that these things were shortly to occur, or that the time was near. It is customary to speak of a succession of events or periods as near, however vast or interminable the series may be, when the commencement is at hand. Thus we say, that the great events of the eternal world are near; that is, the beginning of them is soon to occur. So Christians now speak often of the millennium as near, or as about to occur, though it is the belief of many that it will be protracted for many ages.
(c) That this is the true idea here is clear, whatever general view of interpretation in regard to the book is adopted. Even Professor Stuart, who contends that the greater portion of the book refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the persecutions of heathen Rome, admits that "the closing part of the Revelation relates beyond all doubt to a distant period, and some of it to a future eternity," (II.p.5;) and if this be so then there is no impropriety in supposing that a part of the series of predictions preceding this may lie also in a somewhat remote futurity. The true idea seems to be that the writer contemplated a series of events that were to occur; and that this series was about to commence. How far into the future it was to extend is to be learned by the proper interpretation of all the parts of the series.
And he sent. Gr., "Sending by his angel, signified it to his servant John." The idea is not precisely that he sent his angel to communicate the message, but that he sent by him, or employed him as an agent in doing it. The thing sent was rather the message than the angel.
And signified it. eshmanen. He indicated it by signs and symbols. The word occurs in the New Testament only in John 12:33; John 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27, and in the passage before us, in all which places it rendered signify, signifying or signified. It properly refers to some sign, signal, or token by which anything is made known, (compare Matt. 26:28; Rom. 4:11; Gen. 9:12-13; 17:11
Luke 2:12; 2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Cor. 14:22) and is a word most happily chosen to denote the manner in which the events referred to were to by communicated to Johnfor nearly the whole book is made up of signs and symbols. If it be asked what was signified to John, it may be replied that either the word "it" may be understood, as in our translation, to refer to the Apocalypse or Revelation, or what he sawosa eideas Professor Stuart supposes; or it may be absolute, without any object following, as Professor Robinson (Lex.) supposes. The general sense is that, sending by his angel, he made to John a communication by expressive signs or symbols.
By his angel. That is, an angel was employed to cause these scenic representations to pass before the mind of the apostle. The communication was not made directly to him but was through the medium of a heavenly messenger employed for this purpose. Thus in Rev. 22:6, it is said, "And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done." Compare Rev. 22:8-9.
There is frequent allusion in the Scriptures to the fact that angels have been employed as agents in making known the Divine will, or in the revelations which have been made to men. Thus in Acts 7:53, it is said, "Who have received the law by the disposition of angels." Heb. 2:2, "For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast," etc. Gal. 3:19, "And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator."
Compare Notes on Acts 7:38, Acts 7:53.
There is almost no further reference to the agency of the angel employed for this service, in the book, and there is no distinct specifications of what he did, or of his great agency in the case. John is everywhere represented as seeing the symbols himself, and it would seem that the agency of the angel was, either to cause those symbols to pass before the apostle, or to convey their meaning to his mind. How far John himself understood the meaning of these symbols we have not the means of knowing with certainty. The most probable supposition is, that the angel was employed to cause these vision or symbols to pass before his mind, rather than to interpret them. If an interpretation had been given, it is inconceivable that it should not have been recorded, and there is no more probability that their meaning should have been disclosed to John himself for his private use, than that it should have been disclosed and recorded for the use of others. It would seem probable, therefore, that John had only that view of the meaning of what he saw which any one else might obtain from the record of the visions. Compare Note on 1 Pet. 1:10-12.
Unto his servant John. Nothing could be learned from this expression as to what John was the author of the book, whether the apostle of that name or some other. It cannot be inferred from the use of the word servant, rather than apostle, that the apostle John was not the author, for it was not uncommon for the apostles to designate themselves merely by the words servants, or servants of God. Compare Note on Rom. 1:1.
 mantic wisdom. A type of wisdom akin to divination and associated with royal courts and temples in the ancient world. The wise men, or counselors, worked on the principle that the things of the earth and those of the heavens correspond, and that one can learn to interpret "signs" (various phenomena such as entrails, heavenly bodies, and the like) to predict events or plot a course of action. While the Bible prohibits most of these practices (e.g., astrology), Joseph and Daniel are sometimes associated with this type of wisdom because they interpreted dreams for the pharaoh and king respectively. (IVP-PD)
Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 52a: Revelation 1-5, Volume 52b: Revelation 6-16 & Volume 52c: Revelation 17-22, David E. Aune
Barnes' Notes on the New Testament: Revelation of St. John the Divine, Albert Barnes
The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 and The Book of Ezekiel: Chapter 25-48: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Damiel I. Block
An Introduction to the New Testament, D. A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo
Dr. Constable's Notes on Revelation, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Dallas Theological Seminary (his class notes)
Revelation: Four Views. A Parallel Commentary, Steve Gregg
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 1871 Edition, Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, Dennis E. Johnson
Macarthur New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation 1-11, Revelation 12-22, John MacArthur
The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Robert H. Mounce
The Preacher's Commentary: 1,2 & 3 John/Revelation, Earl F. Palmer
Exploring Revelation: An Expository Commentary, John Phillips
The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, Vern S. Poythress
"Behold, He Cometh": A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Revelation, John R. Rice
The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Revelation, Michael Wilcock
Shepherd's Notes: Revelation
IVP Pocket Dictionaries:
- Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzke and Cherith Fee Nordling
- Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies, Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta
- Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion, Stephen Evans
- Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek, Matthew S. DeMoss
Intervarsity Press' New Testament Commentary
Intervarsity Press' New Bible Commentary
Intervarsity Press' Hard Sayings of the Bible
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