Please open your Bibles with me to Revelation, chapter 1. I’m very excited this morning, and also somewhat reverently fearful and humbled this morning to open up to this important and often neglected or misused book of the Bible as we begin a sixteen week walkthrough.
This book is perhaps one of the hardest to understand in the entire Bible, and there is certainly a lot of debate surrounding it, and a variety of opinions about its meaning. Yesterday morning, I gave a seminar surveying the major historic takes on this book. I’d recommend you take some time soon and watch the recording of it if you didn’t have a chance to.
I wanted to thank the 116 of you who responded to the survey we sent out at the end of last year in preparation for this. Your responses and questions and comments were very helpful in our preparation, and will continue to be as we move along, seeking to serve you well by bringing this book into the light as we read and preach through it.
This series has been some time in the making now. We first started discussing it several years ago, and then our preparation began. I believe each of us pastors have put in well over 100 hours into study and reading in preparation over the last 2 years. And we continue to add to that number each week as we put in time in sermon preparation and further discussion.
With that I did want to make a few notes about the series as we begin. The first is that we will probably disappoint you. We will not be able to scratch every itch of every question, and we will not be able to cover every single possible detail contained in this book.
What we are hoping to do is what we do every Sunday morning, and that is faithfully minister the Word of God to you, using the same hermeneutic approach we’ve always used, with the same reverence for God’s Holy Word, the same concern that we help you understand and apply it to your life, and the same goal of glorying The Lord Jesus Christ in our preaching.
I’d ask that over the next sixteen weeks that you extend to us your trust; not that we have all the correct specific viewpoints and answers to every mystery contained here. We don’t. We have a pretty good idea, I think, of what is going on, and we are also very well apprised of the possibilities. I’d just ask that, whether you are brand new to this book, or feel like a seasoned veteran that you are patient with us, and trust us that we are going to major on the majors. If your specific question isn’t answered, it may be because the emphasis and focus of the text is not quite what you assume it to be. Or it may be that we simply didn’t have time to fit everything in.
We do hope to provide you with a number of resources to accompany this sermon, including yesterday’s seminar, a list of recommended reading and listening on our website, as well as the opportunity to respond to your questions. Take a look at the scripture journal we are giving out as a tool for following along in the study. On the inside cover you will see our currently planned schedule, and notice that we will be having several panels throughout the series. That will be a good time to go back over and hit topics and questions that we’ve missed along the way.
With that, I think the best way to get started with the book is to jump right in, because chapter one tells us what this book is all about. So please read with me.
The Revelation of Jesus
1 The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever he saw.
3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it, because the time is near.Revelation 1:1-3 (CSB)
When we think of the word “Apocalypse” what comes to mind? Probably some cataclysmic event like a giant meteor crashing into the earth, plunging society into chaos, disorder, and war, bringing about the end of civilization as we know it. At least that’s what the movies would have us believe. The dictionary definition is: “The complete and final destruction of the world, as described in the biblical book of Revelation.” We get our modern definition of the word “apocalypse” from some of the events described in this book. But that’s not what the word means.
The first five words: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” give us the title of the book. In Greek the very first word is “Apocalypse.” The word apocalypse, means “revelation” or “uncovering” its verb form would be “to reveal” or “to uncover”. Apo “un” Kaluptein “cover”. And don’t worry, that’s probably as much greek as I’m going to do this whole series as far as I can see it.
And that’s what this whole book is: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This book reveals Jesus to us.
There’s some ambiguity in the wording in the Greek that we can also see in the English.
The phrase “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” can mean either “The Revelation ABOUT Jesus” or “The Revelation FROM Jesus.” The Greek has one other possibility, its most literal rendering: “Jesus’s Revelation” So which is it? The answer is “all of the above.” It’s nonspecific, intentionally. As we go we will see that this book is Revelation ABOUT Jesus, and it is Jesus who is doing the revealing.
And He’s revealing himself, as verse three says, to bless, encourage, and strengthen the church! He’s blessing and encouraging the original audience of the church in the first century, and he’s blessing and encouraging the church in the second century, and the third century, and the sixth century and the sixteenth century, and the twenty-first century, and possibly will still be encouraging the church in the twenty-sixth century, all the way until He returns.
Blessing and encouragement is the purpose of this book.
Next notice is that it is The Revelation (singular) of Jesus, not The Revelations of Jesus. That’s significant. What we find is this book is one whole thing. Not tiny fragmented pieces we’re meant to pick up and piece together. It is one Revelation.
It is a Revelation, not an obscuration. It is an uncovering, not a cover-up. It is meant to clarify, not to encode. It is meant to show, not to hide. It is a picture book, not a puzzle book.
And the interpretive key to it all, as we will see in a minute, is the Old Testament. All the imagery and symbolism that seems so confusing here can be found and understood not by looking at a Newspaper, but by looking at the Old Testament.
4 John: To the seven churches in Asia.Revelation 1:4a (CSB)
There’s a variety of explanations as to the significance of the seven churches here, but I believe the clearest is that these were the seven most influential churches in Asia Minor (modern day Western Turkey), which were in John’s care. He could speak to these seven churches and ensure that the rest of the churches in Asia would hear about it. As indeed they did, as has every Christian Church throughout history ever since. Why seven? Why not three or ten? Seven is a very significant number in Revelation. John uses it everywhere. Of all the numbers that are on repeat in Revelation, seven is the most common.
A very common understanding of the number seven is that it represents “completeness” or “fullness”, echoing the “finished work” of the seven days of creation. So, John was writing to a “complete number” of churches, indicating the universal applicability of the book. This was too those seven churches, yes. But also to all the others.
4. Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.Revelation 1:4b-6 (CSB)
He begins his letter in the standard way an apostle writes letters to churches, they would have been familiar with Paul’s formula. “Grace and peace to you from God The Father, the Sevenfold Holy Spirit, and from Jesus Christ.” Along with an expression of praise.
And then it gets interesting. He starts linking back to the prophets. Combining phrases from Isaiah, Daniel, and Zechariah.
7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him. So it is to be. Amen.Revelation 1:7 (CSB)
And finishing the greeting reminding us, speaking for God in the first person, that God was, is, and is to come. He is NOT dead, He is reigning over all creation!
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”Revelation 1:8 (CSB)
Ands then we’re off.
John, a partner in the tribulation
9 I, John, your brother and partner in the affliction, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.Revelation 1:9 (CSB)
Tribulation, Kingdom, Endurance, that are in Jesus.
“Faithful endurance through tribulation is the means by which one reigns in the present with Jesus.”
Question for reflection: We should expect trials because of our identity in Jesus and our speaking up for him. Is our marginalization in the culture because of our speaking about Jesus, or for other reasons?
What are we looking at here?
Think about what the first century church was experiencing at the time. Can you imagine being one of those churches? Under pressure and persecution. Wavering through the hardship of life and of ministry to stay encouraged. Jesus has been gone now for 60 years, and he was supposed to be back “soon”. And your main connection to his teachings, John, is exiled to Patmos.
And then you get a letter from him!
Think about who John is and what he experienced. Met Jesus, learned from him, walked with him. Found the joy, peace, faith, hope he had always wanted – in and from this man. He was called the beloved disciple. At the foot of the cross – Jesus said “take care of mom”.
Three days later – he’s back. “Feed my sheep, spread the news”. Started and nurtured and cared for churches. Persecuted, tortured, imprisoned, exiled for this ministry.
All he had was letters
One day while in prayer – Jesus shows up. “Write this down.”
The one who was – everything you read about in the OT, and remember from his ministry.
Who is – he is not dead, he is still with you just like he promised
Who is to come – returning in power to fix everything
The Vision of The Son of Man, The Ancient of Days
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. 14 The hair of his head was white as wool—white as snow—and his eyes like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. 16 He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. He laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, 18 and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19 Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. 20 The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.Revelation 1:10-17 (CSB)
- Son of Man = Daniel 7 & 10, among lampstands, imagery of the temple = The King and the Priest = Jesus
- Write on a scroll (they didn’t have books yet) – John identifying himself as Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah
John sets the tone and expectations for the book
How is he writing this?
- Intense and symbolic imagery, rooted in and linked to the Old Testament.
- Some of the imagery, the stuff that needs to be, will be explicitly clarified.
- Some is such an obvious Old Testament link that we’re meant to call it to mind.
- What about the rest? Remember, this is a picture book, and John is painting pictures and setting moods. Perhaps we’re not supposed to get so specific about what the blazing eyes mean, and what the significance of his voice sounding like ‘cascading waters’ is. Maybe we’re just mean to get a picture in our mind.
What / Who is this about?
This is all about Jesus. Keep your eyes on him through the book. What is he doing, what is he saying? What is it revealing about Jesus.
What is the main message?
I’m keying off of verse 9, and many other verses throughout the book which highlight these themes:
Tribulation, Kingdom, and Endurance, all because of Jesus.
One commentator we read together in our studies put it well.
“Its central message is that believers can overcome the tribulations of life, even persecution and martyrdom, because of the victory won by the Lamb of God.”
That’s where we’re headed with this series. I’m looking forward to it.
Pray with me.
- Where else in the Bible (including elsewhere in Revelation) do can we find this imagery? What is the connection between the passages?
- What problem or issue is addressed in this passage? In what ways (if any) do we need similar instructions?
- What is the main point and/or purpose of this section?
- What does this passage teach us about God (his attributes, ways)?
- What does this passage teach us about mankind (i.e., us)?
- What symbology is or is not clearly explained in this passage?
- What names or descriptions are given about Christ? What does that mean for us?
- How does this passage fit into the overall purpose for the book of Revelation?