Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Revelation Chapter One, Part 1 of 6

John, the human author of Revelation, was the final apostle alive by the time the visions of this book had been recorded. James, his brother, had been martyred early in church history (Acts 12); and the rest, including Paul, were killed for their witness of Jesus Christ and His gospel. John was on Patmos for the same reason in his old age.

I would like to briefly consider the end of John’s gospel before we proceed. Jesus had just called Peter to follow Him after their breakfast meeting. Jesus explained to Peter in what way he would die later in his life, and Peter, in his usual manner, turned back to see John following and asked, “But Lord, what about this man?” John 21:21. Jesus answered Peter, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” verse 22. The confused teaching that John would never die originated with this statement; though John clarified the confusion himself with his final few verses.

Yet in a very real sense, John did remain until Christ’s coming. John, in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, saw the glorified Jesus Christ on Patmos and received the vision of the end-times, or the Old Testament Day of the Lord. In fact, John lived to see Christ’s kingdom come in power, via this vision of future times, just as Jesus said in Matthew 16:28. It is vital to understand the literal quality of Revelation. This is God’s history book of end-times events; we just have yet to catch up with Him. There is a distinct chronological order that occurs, a definite body of people, geographical locations, and physical ramifications that alter the universe.

John was honored by receiving this vision of things to come. We will likewise receive blessing when we read and understand this book of prophecy and keep it (literally, guard it). Why must we guard it? “There will be false prophets among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction,” 2nd Peter 2:1. Many will depart from the faith, apostatize, and pervert the gospel and the entire Bible. They will, with their unbelieving and unregenerate minds, erect a false gospel and turn vital portions of Scripture (such as Genesis 1-11, Revelation, Jonah) into myths and allegories, because accepting them as literal is “unreasonable.” “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber,” 2nd Peter 2:3.

We are to have our minds renewed, conformed to God’s thinking; we are not to attempt to “reform” Scripture to our finite thinking. Such compromise results in eventual and complete apostasy, as has been witnessed very frequently by many denominations. When we jettison Scripture and doctrine, we jettison authority and the Holy Spirit’s leading. The professing body of Christ becomes mutable and adaptable to the world’s mentality; such a “church” is eager to conform to worldly mentality. John was not such an elder and apostle; he was a man who faced death preaching Christ. His contemporaries all suffered death for the word, as did thousands of their disciples. Revelation is the inspired record of Jesus our Lord ceasing His ministry of mediation, and pouring out God’s wrath upon a godless world system.

John saw all of this, and the Holy Spirit ensured that it would survive the ages to bear witness to every saint to succeed John as a priest to God. “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men,” 2nd Corinthians 5:11.

1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ
This is the true title of this book. We are informed later that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, Revelation 19:10. That being so, then prophecy’s purpose has been a long and reliable witness of the forthcoming God-man, Jesus Christ, who would come in the flesh to redeem sinners by the sacrifice of Himself. The very idea of the word “revelation” means an unveiling or revealing of things. There is no mystery here for wizened theologians to ponder over decades of study; this is an opening of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and it is twofold; the first is the revelation of the message God gave to Christ, so the living and glorified Lord might share this news with His servant. The second, and equally profound, is that the Revelation, along with the rest of the Bible, is a revealing of God’s character in the person of Jesus Christ, 2nd Corinthians 4:4-6; Hebrews 1:1-3.

1:1 and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John
The Greek word “angel” can also mean “messenger.” But so that no one is confused on the matter, the wording of this verse does not indicate that Jesus is the angel whom God has sent. If we simply look ahead in the Revelation itself, all is made clear. 22:6 states, “And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servant the things which must shortly take place.” Later, in verse 16 of the same chapter we read: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.” Clearly then, our Lord sent the angel bearing this message to John, the message of “what must shortly take place;” that is, events that are future, from chapter 4 onward; the angelic messenger John twice attempts to worship is his guide for the duration. Verses 6 and 16 combine to form a vivid testimony of our Lord’s deity, since it was the “Lord God of the holy prophets” who sent the angel; yet that angel was sent by Jesus personally. In short order we shall see the risen and glorified Son of Man appear to John to deliver the “church letters.” This is not the angelic messenger, who later becomes John’s confidant during his heavenly visions.

1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
John’s witness was what put him on Patmos to begin with, exiled during Domitian’s reign. He bore the witness of Christ, which we have already noticed from Revelation 19:10 is the spirit of all prophecy; it is the life and breath of all prophecy. John wrote of this when he said, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God,” 1st John 4:2-3. What does this mean? Jehovah’s Witnesses testify that Jesus came in the flesh; so do Mormons and Muslims. But what they do not confess is this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” John 1:1, 14. Years later John would still be saying the same thing to believers: “concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us,” 1st John 1:1-2. Interestingly, the Greek word for “bear witness” in this passage is “martyreo,” a form of the Greek word “martys” or “martur” where we, of course, derive the English word “martyr.”

1:3 Blessed is he that readeth...
Pay careful attention to this verse. God the Holy Spirit offers a special blessing for those who read and endeavor to understand this book. This is a strong testimony against turning the Revelation into an allegory or spiritual parable, as so many do. What would be the point of blessing our reading something that was little more than cosmic fiction with no pertinence to events and times in our world? Revelation, the other “book-end” of the Bible, suffers as much attack as Genesis does; and so much of this attack comes from Christians who do not believe that both Genesis and Revelation are literal. One describes our beginning as a people inhabiting a universe God created from nothing; while Revelation reveals how this present universe will perish, and an eternal, sinless universe will arrive where the saints of God will enjoy His presence forever. The events are not fictitious. To allegorize or spiritualize Revelation’s fulfillment of prophecy would do untold violence to hundreds of other passages in Scripture, which find their realization within its pages. Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah especially would lose their significance, as would numerous New Testament passages that speak of the Antichrist and the visible, bodily second coming of our Lord.

Some associate this book solely with past events. I have heard one author suggest that the great day of God’s wrath described vividly in chapter 6 of Revelation was when Constantine became Christian! This is a strange thought, and I concur with Sir Robert Anderson when he wrote that if this was so, then the language the Holy Spirit inspired John to implement truly was nothing more than stage thunder.

1:4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia
Verses 4-9 begin much like a typical epistle addressed to the churches. Despite some similarity, there are marked differences to note. The Holy Spirit is named second in the Trinity during this greeting, and He is known as the seven Spirits before God’s throne; our Lord is mentioned third, verse 5. If you hearken back to Zechariah you will find that the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the stone with seven eyes,” (3:9; 4:10), and as a lampstand with seven pipes and seven lamps distilling oil to God’s witnesses, 4:2-3. These “seven Spirits” send greetings, which ascribe both will and intellect. Seven is the number of perfection in the Bible, and it is frequently mentioned here, beginning with the seven-fold Spirit (an alternate rendering), and the seven churches. There will also be 3 sets of 7 judgments, a 7 year interval that the Tribulation will run, etc.

God’s omnipresence is described in this verse. God which is, which was, and which is to come (or is coming; the literal translation). Past, present and future hold no meaning to Him whose eyes see all. That is why God declared Himself to Moses as I Am, Exodus 3:14. God is the ultimate cause of all that is created, while being separate from His creation; meaning that time and space hold no meaning to Him. These are laws and rules created for a specific purpose, to bring order to a universe of material existence. God is our Savior, but He is also our Creator, King, and Judge. This eternal name of a self-perpetuating God invokes awe in the created mind; Yahweh is immortal in the only true sense of the word. True, God created man in His image, and therefore our souls must abide somewhere forever. But we were in fact created, we had a beginning; God alone is the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9, 13) whose goings forth are from everlasting, Micah 5:2.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post.

    As you pointed out it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not of John. Revelation 1 lays out the reason for the book, while the letters to the churches in Chapters 2 and 3 describe what Christians need to do. To often we become so involved in the prophecy as to what will happen, we neglect doing what he instructs us to do. The messages to the churches are perhaps the most important chapters in the book, at least for modern Christians, and give the best explanation of what is needed for revival of any passage in scripture.

    May God direct you especially as you study this passage.


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