Read the Passage: Revelation 1
Author and Date: Four times in the book of Revelation the author is identified as “John” (Rev. 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). Church history is nearly unanimous in affirming this “John” as the apostle John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Note that John also authored the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. This book was likely written around AD 95. John writes from the island of Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea, southwest of Ephesus (cf. Rev. 1:9). John had been exiled by the Roman authorities on account of his preaching of the gospel. Of course, the divine author of this book is Jesus Christ (cf. Rev. 1:1). Observe that contextually, Emperor Dominion (AD 81–96) was the ruler during the time of the writing of this book.
Theme and Purpose: John writes the book of Revelation to the seven churches of Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicia. Most of these churches had likely been founded by the apostle Paul decades prior to John’s writing, although some could have been started by those present at Pentecost. John’s reason for writing, which is the same for all apocalyptic literature in the Bible, is to comfort and to encourage the seven churches—and believers of all ages—in the midst of their trials, troubles, and persecutions of the world. The theme of the book of Revelation is the victory of Christ and the church over sin and evil (cf. Rev. 17:14). This epistle reveals the plan of God for the history of the world, especially the church.
Structure and Outline: There is much debate about the proper interpretation of the book of Revelation, as well as the structure of the book. I personally prefer an amillennial, idealist interpretation of the book. This view understands the book to have been originally written for believers in John’s day, but holds that it describes no particular event; rather, it reveals general principles related to the ongoing cosmic battle between Satan and God. Thus, the book of Revelation is relevant for believers of all ages, not just Christians living in a prior or future period of time. Structurally, I understand the book of Revelation to contain seven parallel sections, each describing the time between Jesus’ first and second comings, with each parallel section becoming more progressively eschatological in emphasis. A structural outline of this book, which also shows the seven cycles or parallel sections, is as follows:
- Seven Lampstands (1–3)
- Seven Seals (4–7)
- Seven Trumpets (8–11)
- The Woman, Child, and Dragon (12–14)
- Seven Bowls (15–16)
- Fall of the Harlot and Beasts (17–19)
- New Heavens and Earth (20–22)
Introduction of the Letter (1:1–3)
This book begins with the phrase, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:1). The term “revelation” means to uncover or to reveal, which is exactly what this book accomplishes. Whereas the Gospels reveal Jesus’ first coming, the book of Revelation reveals His second coming. This record was given by God the Father to God the Son in order “to show His servants” (Rev. 1:1). Jesus, then, sent this revelation to His beloved apostle John via an angel. Note that twice in the prologue it is recorded that the events of this book are imminent, as John writes they “must shortly take place. . . . for the time is near” (Rev. 1:1, 3). It is significant that this is the only book in the Bible that promises a blessing upon those who read and keep its contents. John writes, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (1:3). Note that other similar beatitudes are given at Rev. 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14).
Greeting of John (1:4–8)
After the prologue, John gives a greeting to the recipients of his letter. It is clear that John sent this letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. We’ll revisit these churches in Rev. 2–3 and see that while they were literal congregations of people, they are also paradigmatic for seven types of churches that have existed throughout history. Observe that John makes a Trinitarian reference at Rev. 1:4–5 and describes Jesus as a faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the sovereign ruler over all rulers, the one who loves the church, and the one who made atonement for believers. As Jesus had taught in the so-called Olivet Discourse at Matt. 24:4–5, 30, so here John writes, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Rev. 1:7). In other words, Jesus’ second coming is imminent and soon. Christ’s arrival will be unmistakable, as every eye will see Him.
Vision of Jesus (1:9–20)
In Rev. 1:9–20 John narrates how he came to receive the revelation that was to follow. Here we read that as John was worshiping on a Sunday, while in exile on the island of Patmos, he received this revelation from Jesus and was commanded to pass it along to the churches. John’s description of Christ—the one on whose breast he had lain at the Last Supper—is quite striking and very similar to Daniel’s description of God as is recorded in Dan. 7:9–10. Observe that when John saw Jesus, he “fell at His feet as dead” (Rev. 1:17). This is the same reaction to God’s presence as was demonstrated by Abram (cf. Gen. 17:3), Moses and Aaron (cf. Num. 16:22), Ezekiel (cf. Ezek. 1:28), Daniel (cf. Dan. 8:17), Isaiah (cf. Isa. 6:1–8), Paul (cf. Acts 9:4), among others. Here John is told the seven stars that he saw represent the pastors of the churches in Asia Minor, and that the seven lampstands represent the seven churches to which he was instructed to write.
- What do you know about the book of Revelation? Does this book frighten you, encourage you, or confuse you?
- What things cause people to doubt that Jesus’ return is will take place soon (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3–4)?
- What value is there in having a revelation of Jesus’ second coming such as we read in the book of Revelation?
- How can we explain John’s reaction to seeing Jesus, which was to fall down, given that John knew Jesus well?
- What have there be so many different ways in which believers have interpreted this book throughout history?