Christ Revealed – Revelation 1 Commentary

The book of Revelation unveils Christ’s full identity and God’s plan for the end of the world, and it focuses on Jesus Christ, his second coming, his victory over evil, and the establishment of his kingdom. As you read and study Revelation, don’t focus so much on the timetable of the events or the details of John’s imagery that you miss the main message—the infinite love, power, and justice of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.NIV The word “revelation” is the Greek word apokalupsis, from which the word “apocalypse” is derived. A “revelation” exposes what was formerly hidden or secret. The revelation recorded in this book will show God’s servants (the believers) what must soon take place. That information had been formerly veiled but would now be disclosed.

A particular style of ancient literature was called “apocalyptic.” Many Jewish apocalyptic works existed at the time Revelation was written. Written to describe the end of the world and God’s final victory over evil, these works usually featured spectacular and mysterious imagery as well as hidden secrets that would be revealed. These Jewish works were largely pessimistic, for there was not much hope for the present. Such literature was often written under the name of an ancient hero.

The book of Revelation is apocalyptic but is different in several ways:

  • It names John as the author rather than an ancient hero.
  • It denounces evil and exhorts people to high Christian standards.
  • It offers hope rather than gloom.

John was not a psychic attempting to predict the future; he was a prophet of God describing what God had shown him (this book is called “the prophecy,” 1:3). Specifically, the apocalyptic literature in Scripture (Daniel 10-12; Mark 13; and the book of Revelation) includes fantastic imagery to remind the readers of their constant supernatural battle with evil.

Readers need to understand some characteristics of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. First, the Bible’s apocalyptic sections are revelations from God. Revelation is God’s giving his people a peek into the future. Second, apocalyptic literature emphasizes God’s supernatural acts. Revelation highlights God’s power by focusing on the end times, when God will interrupt human history and defeat evil once and for all. Third, apocalyptic literature is symbolic. It attempts to describe supernatural actions with graphic symbols of real events, things, or traits. For example, Christ is described in Revelation 5:6 as having “seven horns and seven eyes.” The number seven represents perfection. A horn symbolizes power. So “seven horns” speak of Jesus’ extraordinary power, and “seven eyes” speak of his ability to see all things.

This book is the revelation of (mediated by) Jesus Christ. God gave the revelation of his plan to Jesus Christ (see also John 1:18; 5:19-23; 12:49; 17:8). Jesus Christ, in turn, sent his angel, who revealed it to his servant John (see also 22:16). The angel will explain various scenes to John, acting as a guide. Angels are referred to sixty-seven times in Revelation. They are highly significant in this book; we see them worshiping God, revealing his Word, and carrying out his judgments. (For more on angels, see the commentary on 5:11-12.)

John, the servant, then passed the message along to the churches—God’s servants. God’s people are described as “servants” in Revelation (see, for example, 2:20; 7:3; 22:3). The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe believers.

The phrase “what must soon take place” means imminence—it would happen “soon.” This seems odd to today’s readers because 1,900 years have passed since the time this was proclaimed. We must remember that in apocalyptic literature the future is imminent, without concern for intervening time. Recall the words of 2 Peter 3:8, “A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day” (nlt). God is timeless. In God’s eyes the future is just around the corner, even though it may seem far away to us. No one knows when these events will happen, so believers should live at all times as though Christ will come in the next moment.

According to tradition, John, the author, was the only one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples who was still alive at this time (that is, if the date of a.d. 90-95 is accepted; see the Introduction). John wrote the Gospel of John and the letters of 1, 2, and 3 John. John’s Gospel and letters show the great God of love, while the thunder of God’s justice bursts from the pages of Revelation. John wrote Revelation in exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, sent there by the Romans as punishment for his witness about Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave his message to John in a vision, allowing him to see and record certain future events so that they could be an encouragement to all believers. The vision includes many signs and symbols that convey the essence of what is to happen. What John saw, in most cases, was indescribable, so he used illustrations to show what it was like. Readers of this symbolic language don’t have to understand every detail—John himself didn’t. Instead, we must realize that John’s imagery reveals that Christ is indeed the glorious and victorious Lord of all. Some of Revelation’s original readers were being severely persecuted because of their faith. The awesome and sometimes frightening pictures of Jesus’ ultimate victory over evil were intended to encourage them to persevere.

Jesus is the ruler of the universe! He will come to this earth in victory. For believers, this is Good News. For unbelievers, it’s a sober call to repent of their evil ways and prepare for Christ’s return. The same God who controlled the past, and who will be in control in the future, still controls the present—even if it seems as though evil is winning. This world is an illusion; the real world is the spiritual world. God is allowing evil to triumph for a time, but evil is ultimately doomed. The primary point of the book of Revelation is that God is sovereign. He has already determined the end of history. The secondary point is that Satan’s rebellion is futile. Although Satan is the ultimate foe of God and God’s people, he has already lost.

1:2 John faithfully reported the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ—everything he saw.NLT John saw the vision and then faithfully reported . . . everything he saw. He saw the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Revelation, according to John, is God’s Word—not simply John’s narration of what he saw. It is an eternal message. The testimony “of” Jesus Christ could also be translated “from” Jesus Christ. The words of this book describe the promises and actions of God that have come true through Jesus. Revelation, as difficult as it may be to understand, should not be neglected. It should be read and studied, for it is the Word of God and the testimony of Christ to all believers, from the first century to today.

1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.NRSV “Blessed” means “God blesses those who” or “God’s blessing is upon.” This promise sets John’s writing apart from other Jewish apocalyptic literature and points out that these words were inspired by God. This is the first of seven beatitudes in Revelation (see also 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). See the chart at 14:13.

Who is blessed? The one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy. The public reading of Scripture was common in Jewish heritage (see, for example, Nehemiah 8:2-3; Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15). Christians also read Scripture aloud in public because copies of the Gospels and the letters of the apostles were not available to every believer. Someone—usually a scribe or someone trained in writing and reading texts—would be chosen to read aloud portions of the text. Later, the office of “reader” became a position in the church.

Scripture reading was an important event. In addition to the reader, blessed also are those who hear and who keep what is written. This echoes Jesus’ words in Luke 11:28: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (nkjv). “Hear” and “keep” are important terms and major themes of the book. Used together, they mean “to persevere in faithful obedience.” The blessed ones are those who come to church to hear God’s Word and then keep (obey) it so that it changes their lives (Ephesians 4:13).

Revelation is a book of prophecy that is both prediction (foretelling future events) and proclamation (preaching about who God is and what he will do). Prophecy is more than telling the future. Behind the predictions are important principles about God’s character and promises. These words will bless the hearers because through them they can get to know God better and be able to trust him more completely. The words are more than just predictions of the future; they include moral instruction that the listeners were to “hear” and “keep.”

The phrase “the time is near” is like the phrase “what must soon take place” in 1:1 and refers to imminence. Believers must be ready for Christ’s second coming. The Last Judgment and the establishment of God’s kingdom are certainly near. No one knows when these events will occur, so all believers must be prepared. They will happen quickly, with no second chance to change minds or sides.

The typical news reports—filled with violence, scandal, and political haggling—are depressing, and we may wonder where the world is heading. God’s plan for the future, however, provides inspiration and encouragement because we know he will intervene in history to conquer evil. John encourages churches to read this book aloud so everyone can hear it, apply it (“keep what is written in it”), and be assured of the fact that God will triumph.


John began to address the recipients of this letter, a letter that would be sent along the roads through the various cities with the churches to whom John was writing. After this brief greeting comes a doxology of praise to God.

1:4-5a This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the commander of all the rulers of the world.NLT Jesus told John to write to seven churches that knew and trusted John and had read his earlier letters (see 1:9, 11). These were literal churches in literal cities. The letter was addressed so that it could be read and passed on in a systematic fashion, following the main Roman road clockwise around the province of Asia (now called Turkey).

These were not the only churches in Asia at the time. For example, Troas (Acts 20:5ff), Colosse (Colossians 1:2), and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) also had churches. Why did the Lord direct John to write to these seven in particular? It is possible that the number seven, as with the other sevens in the book, signifies completeness. While the seven churches were actual churches, they also represented all churches throughout the ages.

Grace and peace were standard greetings in the ancient world. “Grace” was the Greek greeting (charis); “peace” was the Hebrew greeting (shalom). The early church took these two greetings and used them together as a way of declaring that God had given these realities to his people.

The Trinity—the Father (the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come), the Holy Spirit (the sevenfold Spirit), and the Son (Jesus Christ)—is the source of all truth (John 14:6-17; 1 John 2:27; Revelation 19:11).

All of time is encompassed in the Father—he is, was, and will be. This title is used only in Revelation (see also 11:17; 16:5). God is eternally present and therefore able to help his people in any age, in any situation. Note that the present tense is first, stressing that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the future is still in control of the present, even though it doesn’t seem like it. The pressures and stresses that the early Christians faced made the truth of God’s control over all history that much more meaningful.

The “sevenfold Spirit” has been identified by some to mean the seven angelic beings or messengers for the churches (see a further discussion at 1:20). Others have interpreted this to refer to those angels that accompany Christ at his return (Luke 9:26; 1 Timothy 5:21). But the reference to the Trinity here gives more weight to the interpretation that the sevenfold Spirit is the Holy Spirit. The “sevenfold Spirit” refers to the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The number seven is used throughout Revelation to symbolize completeness and perfection (see also 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). This also pictures the sevenfold ministry of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Isaiah 11:2 and the seven lamps in Zechariah, which also describe the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:1-10).

Jesus is seen in all his sovereignty. He is the faithful witness of the truth from God, who sent him to earth to die for sins. Both Jesus and the believers are called “witnesses.” The word “martyr” comes from the Greek word for witness. Jesus was a “witness” as the first to die. This would have comforted believers who were suffering for their faith. Those who would die for their faith in Christ, the martyrs, would “witness” through their deaths. Jesus Christ is the preeminent “faithful witness” because he died and because he was the first to rise from the dead (see also Colossians 1:18). Christ’s resurrection assures the same for all the believers. He shows us all how to stand firm for the faith even when faced with persecution. Others had risen from the dead—people whom the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles had brought back to life during their ministries—but later those people had died again. Jesus was the first to rise from the dead in an imperishable body (1 Corinthians 15:20), never to die again. He is the firstborn from the dead.

Jesus is also portrayed as the commander of all the rulers of the world—an all-powerful King, victorious in battle, glorious in peace. Satan had tried to tempt Jesus with an offer of ruling all the nations of the world if Jesus would bow and worship him (Matthew 4:8-9). Jesus refused and, through obedience to God through death on the cross, gained ultimate leadership. Psalm 89:27 says, “I will make him my firstborn son, the mightiest king on earth” (nlt). Jesus was not just a humble earthly teacher; he is the glorious God. When he returns, he will be recognized for who he really is. Then, “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 nlt).

We live in a day of conflicting claims for various religions (they can’t all be true), and the desire to be tolerant of all others (if it’s true for you, it’s true). Yet how do we as Christians determine what we believe? We regard Jesus Christ as our faithful witness (1:4-5). He is the only religious leader who has risen from the dead.
So when you read John’s description of the vision, keep in mind that his words are not just good advice; they are truth from the King of kings. Don’t just read his words for their interesting and amazing portrayal of the future. Let the truth about Christ penetrate your life, deepen your faith in him, and strengthen your commitment to follow him—no matter what the cost.

1:5b-6 To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.NIV This doxology concludes the prologue to this book. John was writing to believers experiencing persecution; yet he assured them that Jesus not only continuously cared for and loved them but also had set them free, no matter how they might feel. Jesus had set them free from their sins by his blood, that is, through his death on the cross. Through that blood, he had made his people to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father. Israel had been called to be “a kingdom of priests, [a] holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 nlt). This saying describes the Christians as the continuation of the Old Testament people of God—his kingdom and priests (see also Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5, 9). Together believers make up a kingdom of which Christ is their King; individually they are priests because each has direct access to God because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Their whole purpose, of course, is to serve God.

The doxology ends with words of praise: to him be glory and power for ever and ever! “Amen” means “let it be so.”

1:7 Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him—even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the earth will weep because of him. Yes! Amen!NLT Jesus will indeed have “glory and power for ever and ever” (1:6 niv)—the

Many hesitate to witness about their faith in Christ because they don’t think the change in their lives has been spectacular enough. But you qualify as a witness for Jesus because of what he has done for you, not because of what you have done for him. Christ is seen through the whole book of Revelation as the Lamb who was slain. He demonstrated his great love by setting his people free from their sins through his death on the cross (“freed us from our sins by his blood”), guaranteeing them a place in his kingdom, and making them priests to administer God’s love to others. The fact that the all-powerful God has offered eternal life to you is nothing short of spectacular. Testify about his wonderful gift!

book of Revelation describes that day when he will return to earth. That Jesus will come with the clouds of heaven summarizes the message of Revelation. When Jesus ascended into heaven, “he was taken up into the sky . . . and he disappeared into a cloud” (Acts 1:9 nlt; see also Luke 24:50-51). An angel had told the astonished disciples, “Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven. And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return” (Acts 1:11 nlt). The imagery of coming in the clouds is probably a military picture, alluding to the clouds of dust kicked up by the war chariots, the ultimate war machines in ancient times. When Christ is pictured this way, he is coming as the ultimate Victor and conquering King (see also Daniel 7:13).

Jesus’ second coming will be visible and victorious. Everyone will see him arrive (Mark 13:26), and they will know it is Jesus. When Christ returns, he will conquer evil and will judge all people according to their deeds (Revelation 20:11-15).

Even those who pierced him will see him. “Those who pierced him” could refer to the Roman soldiers who pierced Jesus’ side as he hung on the cross, but it probably refers to the Jews who were responsible for his death (see Acts 2:22-23; 3:14-15). John saw Jesus’ death with his own eyes, and he never forgot the horror of it (see John 19:34-35). Zechariah had written, “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on all the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died” (Zechariah 12:10 nlt). In Zechariah the twelve tribes mourned because of their sin. Here, however, all people across the ages who have rejected Christ have themselves “pierced” him through their indifference to his sacrifice on their behalf. All the nations of the earth—both Jews and Gentiles—will weep because of him. They will mourn because they know they will be facing God and his judgment and will be destroyed.

1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”NIV Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The Lord God is the beginning and the end. God the Father is the eternal Lord and Ruler of the past, present, and future (see also 4:8; Isaiah 44:6; 48:12-15). God is sovereign over history and is in control of everything.

The one who is, and who was, and who is to come is also described in 1:4, the Lord God, who controls present, past, and future.

The phrase “the Almighty” comes out of the Old Testament and conveys military imagery, referring to God as a mighty warrior.

The military imagery helped the people in the churches to whom this book was written understand that they had the ultimate Warrior fighting on their side. God rules over all. God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

Augustine of Hippo



John again gave his name as the author of the letter and described his whereabouts and why he was there. Next he explained his commissioning to write this letter to the churches. Then he described his vision of the exalted Christ, leaving no mistake as to Christ’s true identity. The vision has much in common with Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1.

I am John, your brother. In Jesus we are partners in suffering and in the Kingdom and in patient endurance. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and speaking about Jesus.NLT John had been one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Although John was an apostle and an elder of the church, he described himself as their brother in Christ because he and the persecuted believers were partners in suffering, partners in God’s coming Kingdom, and partners in patient endurance of their suffering. They were partners in suffering for Christ, as persecution against believers began to escalate at the end of the century. They shared in God’s kingdom because, as believers, they were already its citizens. As believers faced persecution, they were awaiting the arrival of God’s coming kingdom.

The Christian church was facing severe persecution. Almost all believers were socially, politically, or economically suffering because of this Empire-wide persecution, and some were even being killed for their faith. The word “Kingdom” is surrounded by “suffering” and “patient endurance.” Although the North American churches are not facing the kind of oppression John referred to here, two-thirds of all Christians in the world face persecution today.

John had paid for his faithfulness to the message of Jesus by being exiled to the island of Patmos, a small rocky island about ten miles long and six miles wide in the Aegean Sea, about fifty miles offshore from the city of Ephesus on the Asia Minor seacoast (see map). The Romans used Patmos for banishing political prisoners. John, like Paul, was caught in a time when Rome turned against Christianity. There are two possible dates for Revelation. One is under the reign of Nero in the mid-60s, toward the time when Paul and Peter were both martyred. The other date is the mid-90s, when John was at the end of his life and the ruler was Domitian, a man who was far more anti-Christian than even Nero. Domitian issued an edict (under threat of death) demanding that all peoples in the Empire worship the reigning emperor. The date of the 90s is more likely. Eusebius wrote that John was exiled to the island by the emperor Domitian in a.d. 95 and released about eighteen months later.

John was exiled for preaching the word of God and speaking about Jesus. Although John was away from the churches and unable to travel, his exile did not stop what God would do through John, nor did it stop God’s message from getting to his churches.

John described himself as a partner in suffering (1:9). Early Christians faced imprisonment, economic injustice, slanderous accusations by Jews, and attacks from government soldiers or mobs. We may not face persecution for our faith as the early Christians did, but even with our freedom, few of us have the courage to share God’s Word with others. If we hesitate to share our faith during easy times, how will we do it during times of persecution?

1:10-11 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”NIV On the Lord’s Day (Sunday), John was in the Spirit, which refers to a visionary experience given to John by the Holy Spirit. There are four “in-the-Spirit” passages in Revelation, which probably refer to the actual visions John received (see 4:2; 17:3; 21:10; see also Ezekiel 3:12, 14; 37:1; Acts 10:10; 11:5; 22:17). This is the first.

In this vision John heard . . . a loud voice like a trumpet. The trumpet heralds the return of Christ (1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4). The voice commands John to write on a scroll everything he would see in the visions. John’s record then became this book, which he would send to the seven churches. The names of these churches are presented, as noted earlier, in a circular fashion, following the Roman road from one church to the next—starting at the church in the port city of Ephesus. Presumably, this letter was taken from John on Patmos by a messenger who crossed the water and landed at Ephesus, where he began his route. The contents of specific messages to these churches are in chapters 2 and 3.

1:12-14 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were bright like flames of fire.NLT The seven gold lampstands are the seven churches in Asia to whom this letter is addressed (Revelation 1:11, 20). (See also Zechariah 4:1-10 for his vision of seven lamps.) Jesus, the Son of Man, stands among them. No matter what the churches face, Jesus is in control and protects them with his all-encompassing love and reassuring power. Through his Spirit, Jesus is still among the churches today. When a church faces persecution, it should remember Christ’s deep love and compassion. When a church is wracked by internal strife and conflict, it should remember Christ’s concern for purity and his intolerance of sin. Jesus is sovereign over the church.

The title “Son of Man” occurs many times in the New Testament in reference to Jesus as the Messiah. John recognized Jesus because he had lived with him for three years and had seen him both as the Galilean preacher and as the glorified Son of God at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Here Jesus appears as the mighty Son of Man.

The long robe pictures Jesus as a leader. The gold sash across his chest reveals him as the high priest who goes into God’s presence to obtain forgiveness of sin for those who have believed in him. In the first century, wearing a sash, especially across the chest, indicated leadership and authority. Hebrews 2:17 identifies Jesus as the final high priest. His glowing white hair indicates his wisdom and divine nature (see also Daniel 7:9). His blazing eyes symbolize judgment of all evil (see Daniel 10:6) and deep insight, not only over the churches and the believers but over the entire course of history (see also 2:18; 19:12).

1:15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.NIV The feet like bronze picture an exalted person with great power (also from Daniel). Bronze usually symbolized the might of Rome—bronze shields and breastplates were used by the Roman army. In addition, the altar of burnt offering was covered with bronze (Exodus 38:1-7). Again, this is a picture of an all-powerful Victor. The description of glowing metal used to describe this Son of Man is also found in Ezekiel 1:13, 27; 8:2; and Daniel 10:6.

The voice like rushing waters (see also 19:6) evokes the image of a huge waterfall roaring over a high cliff. Thus, the voice is powerful and awesome. When this man speaks with authority, nothing else can be heard.

Revelation will probably challenge and change your mental picture of Jesus Christ. That is its purpose—to reveal Jesus Christ. What forms your impression of Jesus right now—famous paintings, movies, Sunday school art? To what degree do you picture Jesus with gold sash and snow white, woolly hair? Do his eyes flash fire and his feet glow like bronze? When you imagine Jesus speaking to you, does his voice sound like a trumpet or rushing waters? Reevaluate the way you think of Jesus as you read and study Revelation. Allow his awesome presence to transform your life.

1:16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was as bright as the sun in all its brilliance.NLT In his right hand, Christ holds seven stars, explained in 1:20 as “the angels of the seven churches,” referring to the seven churches, listed in 1:11, to whom this letter is addressed. That Christ is holding the stars implies his protection of these churches as he walks among them.

There are two swords in Revelation. Chapter 19 has the “great sword.” The sword here is the sharp two-edged sword. This type of sword, invented by the Romans, represents invincible might. Only two to two and a half feet long, these swords were quite possibly the greatest military invention of the ancient world. Previously, swords were about three feet long and made of an inferior metal. They could not be sharp on both edges because the metal wasn’t strong enough. The double-edged sword was lighter and sharp on both edges. With the older swords, fighting was done by drawing back and hacking, but when the Romans used their double-edged swords, they could slice and cut both ways. These swords gave such a great advantage in hand-to-hand combat that the Roman army was called “the short swords.” It made them virtually invincible.

This sharp two-edged sword is coming from Jesus’ mouth, symbolizing the power and force of his message. Jesus’ words of judgment are as sharp as swords; he is completely invincible (2:16; 19:15, 21; Isaiah 49:2; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).

His face was as bright as the sun in all its brilliance. This shining brilliance probably describes Christ’s entire being. The same sort of picture is described in the Transfiguration, an event that John himself had witnessed (10:1; Matthew 17:2).

1:17-18 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”NIV John’s response to the awesome sight of the glorious Son of Man was to fall at his feet as though dead. Most likely this was not a trance; rather, it was in response to having seen a spectacular vision. (Other such responses are recorded in Joshua 5:14; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 8:17; 10:8-9; Matthew 17:6; and Acts 26:14.)

The message given by this glorious figure—Christ—is the same one that had been given to the women at the tomb (Matthew 28:5): “Do not be afraid.” Jesus had also told his followers not to be afraid when he had walked over to them across the water (Matthew 14:27) and when the three who had witnessed his Transfiguration had fallen terrified to the ground (Matthew 17:7). For those who believe, there is no need to fear. This Christ is the First and the Last—essentially the same as the Alpha and the Omega in 1:8. In Isaiah 44:6, God says, “I am the First and the Last; there is no other God” (nlt). Christ is the Living One—not a dead idol but alive and always with his people, every moment, in control of all things. He is the same one who was resurrected. He was dead; that is, he experienced physical death on the cross. But now he is alive for ever and ever. Because Jesus rose from the dead, he can promise the same for his people.

Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades, which give him complete control over that domain. Keys open doors, thus revealing what is behind them. In ancient days the key holders had high status in the community. Christ alone has absolute authority over people’s lives and deaths—and even when they are raised from the dead. He alone can free people from the ultimate enemy, death. He alone can say who will die and who will live, because he has the keys. The word “Hades” is the Greek word for the underworld, the realm of the dead; a different word describes “hell,” the place of torment. Hades is the word used in the New Testament for “Sheol”—the Old Testament word describing the place of the dead. The word “Hades” occurs here, in 20:13-14, and in Matthew 16:18. Believers need not fear death and Hades, because Christ holds the keys to both (see Luke 16:23).

Jesus told John not to be afraid (1:17). As the Roman government stepped up its persecution of Christians, John must have wondered if the church could survive and stand against the fearful opposition. But Jesus appeared in glory and splendor, touched John with his right hand as if commissioning him, and reassured him that he and his fellow believers had access to God’s strength to face these trials. Believers and churches of any age who face difficult problems should remember that the power available to John and the early church is also available to them (see 1 John 4:4). Because Christ has such wonderful power, we need not fear death or judgment.

1:19 “Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen later.”NLT The command to write down what John had seen is repeated (see also 1:11). The phrase “what you have seen” is a general statement referring to both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen later. The vision that will unfold in the following chapters will include present and future events intertwined—events that both are and will be. Every future revelation has relevance for the present—the churches to whom this letter was written. The revelation also applies to churches and believers even today, two thousand years later.

1:20 “The mystery of the seven stars that 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.”NIV Christ first reveals to John the mystery of the seven stars that he was holding in his right hand (1:16). In the New Testament, the word “mystery” describes something formerly hidden but now revealed. Christ explains that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. But just who are the “angels of the seven churches”? Because the Greek word angeloi can mean angels or messengers, some believe that they are angels designated to guard the churches; others believe that they are elders or pastors of the churches. The case for angels as the correct interpretation comes from the fact that every other use of “angels” in Revelation refers to heavenly beings. However, because the seven letters in Revelation 2-3 contain reprimands against the messengers, and angels are not ever considered to be heads of churches, it is doubtful that these angels are heavenly messengers. If these are earthly leaders or messengers, they are accountable to God for the churches they represent.

The seven golden lampstands among which Christ had been standing (1:13) represent the seven churches to whom this letter would be circulated (1:11). The churches may have been facing difficulties and persecution, but they must never forget that Christ was standing among them, totally in control.


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Source: Bruce B. Barton et al., Life Application Bible Commentary – Revelation, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2000), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1-15.

About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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