Opening Prayer: Father, we've gotten so buried in day-to-day problems that we've forgotten to look up. Open our hearts to see how You would reveal Jesus to us.
Revelation of Jesus, the Messiah"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things
which must shortly come to pass." Revelation 1:1
Isn't Revelation a difficult book to understand?
Yes and no. By itself, it contains some passages that are mysterious. In fact, there is no way to understand the Book of Revelation fully without understanding the whole panorama of Hebrew Scriptures. So a proper understanding of Revelation requires us to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.
Hey, I don't want to spend a lot of time at this. Just tell me what's going to happen in the next five years.
Sorry, that's not what Bible prophecy is about. If you must have a short answer, then you're very vulnerable to the cult groups. Instead, my goal is to give a concise (I promise!) summary of the key passages so you will know God's schedule for the next million years.
Let's begin with the first three verses:The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show unto His servants, the things which must shortly come to pass: and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John; 2 who bore witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand.
There are several important points in this brief passage:
- First and foremost, this book is about Jesus. We might start reading this book because we're curious about the future, or worried about the stock market, or concerned about whether a particular politician might be the antichrist. But this book reminds us to focus attention on Jesus.
- Second, God carefully crafted this book for our benefit. It contains exactly what we need to know. No more. No less.
- Jesus used an angel to convey this message to John. Sometimes the angel talks to John, person to person. At other times, the angel directly speaks the words of Jesus. The word "angel" can also be translated messenger, and is also applied as a title to the pastors of the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3.
- Notice verse 3: God promises a specific blessing to those of us who read, hear and keep the words of the prophecy.
- From God's perspective, "...the time is at hand." That's quite different from our perspective. God's point is that we MUST keep focused on God and His word, whether we have a day, a month, a year or a century between now and the beginning of the Great Tribulation period. Maybe we have another ten years. Maybe you're reading this the day AFTER the Church was taken out of the world, and now you wish you'd paid attention sooner. It doesn't matter. If you can read this, there's still hope for you... if you read and heed. There will be other trains bound for glory, but the tickets will get VERY expensive the longer you wait.
What do you mean expensive?
We'll cover that in a later lesson. For now, let me just encourage you to set aside your preconceived notions and fears and listen to what Scripture has to say. God has promised a specific blessing to those who read and heed. I sincerely want you to receive every bit of that blessing.
We'll continue reading with verses 4 through 8:4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; 5 And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him [be] glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they [also] which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen. 8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
Notice that this letter starts with twin blessings (grace and peace) from all three members of the Trinity: "Him which is, which was and which is to come", "Jesus Christ" and "the seven Spirits which are before His throne." All three members of the Trinity want you to experience grace -- blessings beyond what you can ever achieve or deserve. All three members of the Trinity want you to experience peace in your heart. If you have received your salvation through God's grace, on the merits of His Son's sacrifice at Calvary, the Holy Spirit will dwell in your heart and give you peace. If you do not have that peace in your heart, perhaps you should read (or re-read) the Durable Joy lessons on this web site.
Notice also that John just can't contain himself. Halfway through verse 5 he bursts forth into praise: "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen!"
This was not a mere emotional, ecstatic outburst: these sentences have important doctrinal content that shape our understanding of several key principles:
- First, Jesus "loved us..." in the past tense, before we were born. Unlike the pagan deities who (if they existed) would only love in response to devotion from their followers, Jesus loved us before we were born. Jesus knew we would be flawed followers at best. Jesus knew we would be unable to deserve heaven on our own merits. He knew the inappropriate things we would say and do. And somehow He loved us enough to die on Calvary to pay the price for our redemption. Such a Redeemer obviously continues to love us.
- Second, Jesus "washed us..." at that time. He paid the price exactly once, to wash away the sins of every man, woman and child to ever be born on Planet Earth. The washing was done centuries before you and I were born, before we ever had a chance to claim its benefits. If you have never humbled yourself to receive that washing, you have a great prepaid blessing awaiting you.
- Third, Jesus "hath made us kings and priests." All surviving Greek and Latin manuscripts containing the Book of Revelation agree on the wording of this phrase. Peculiar as it sounds, Jesus has a long-range plan to make all believers into kings and priests. During the Milennium, we will rule and reign with Him in a world where billions of unsaved people have survived the Great Tribulation. The unsaved billions won't have a clue. You and I will participate (to greater or lesser extents) in governing. We will also participate in leading the worship of Jesus, as He sits on the throne of David in Jerusalem.
- Fourth, this phrase is echoed verbatim by the 24 Elders in the Song of the Redeemed in Chapter 5 of Revelation. This is an important clue to the identity of the 24 Elders (hint: it's raptured Christians), and to the fact that the next rapture event will happen before the seven-year tribulation period. We will develop all these concepts in future lessons.
By verse 7, John is so excited that he's tipping off the ending of the book: "Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they [also] that pierced Him: and all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him." In later lessons, we will explain the return of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, in detail.
Hey, teacher! What's with this "Alpha and Omega" stuff?
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. Omega is the last.
This is a very important concept in understanding who Jesus is. This phrase is an echo from the Hebrew expression translated "the first and the last" in three key prophecies in the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah 41:4 says:I, the Lord, am the first and the last, I am He.
Isaiah 44:6 says:Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and His Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God but Me.
Isaiah 48:12 says:I am He, I am the first, I am also the last.
So who is speaking in these prophetic passages? When certain religious groups read these, they have no trouble saying that Jehovah/YVWH God is speaking. So if they come to your door, ask them to read these three and tell you who is speaking. Then turn to Revelation 1:8 and Revelation 1:10 and ask them who is speaking. Then turn to Revelation 22 and have them read verses 12-13:And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward [is] with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be. 13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
For those of us who already know that Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, these passages are not surprising. However, you might see a spontaneous outburst of theological tap-dancing around this issue from the person on your porch. Plain truth has that effect on people who sincerely believe lies.
Bottom line: God the Father commands that every knee should bow before His Son, Jesus. Jesus said, "He that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me." Truth doesn't get much plainer than that.
Let's continue reading with verses 9 through 11:I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
Now the author begins with just a tiny bit of background. Picture this: the last survivor of the 12 apostles is NOT retired to a castle villa near Monaco. He is NOT rich from book and movie royalties. He's in jail, exiled on a rocky little island.
Does Jesus love jailbirds?
Apparently, He does. He paid a surprise visit to John. And wait until you hear about His appearance!
Verses 12-16 tell how Jesus appeared:And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks [one] like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the chest with a golden girdle. 14 His head and hair [were] white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes [were] as a flame of fire; 15 And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and His countenance [was] as the sun shineth in his strength.
If you are familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, this description of the Lord is familiar to you. Similar word pictures can be found in the writings of Ezekiel and Daniel. Furthermore, John had been with Jesus during the Transfiguration experience and had experienced this glory before.
But teacher, what about the candlesticks and stars?
Good question. This is John's FIRST vision of Jesus in a book dedicated to revealing Jesus, so it must be important. In fact, Jesus Himself will explain the symbolism in a later verse, just to make sure we understand it. For now, let's just say that the symbolism involves you personally.
So what was John's reaction to seeing Jesus again? Was it like two old buddies getting together for coffee?
Their reunion is in verses 17-18:And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18 I [am] He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
There was nothing subtle about this. There were no theological debates. No secret fraternity passwords or handshakes. John knew he was in the presence of the living God. He did the smart thing and fell at the Lord's feet.
Notice how the Lord comforted John. He put His right hand on him, told him "Fear not," and clearly identified Himself as the Alpha and Omega, and the "I am" (the self-existent one) of Moses' day. Then He identified Himself as Jesus, who had endured the crucifixion to pay the price for our salvation. If we know Jesus and have experienced the power of His salvation, then we understand the exhortation, "Fear not."
Now the final part of chapter one:Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are are, and the things which will take place after this. 20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.
The Lord gives John (and us!) several important clues here:
- Some of what John writes concerns events of the past (things which you have seen).
- Some of this concerns our present situation (things which are).
- Some of this concerns the future (things which will take place after this).
- The stars and the lampstands pictured earlier represent the seven churches and their pastors (angels).
NOW will you explain what's so important about the star and lampstand symbolism?
It's very important, actually. Earlier, John saw a picture of Jesus walking in the midst of the stars and lampstands. The lampstands represent more than just those 7 little congregations in Turkey. They represent all church congregations in every part of the world, in every age. Jesus wants us to know that He is always in our midst, always looking to see how we are doing. And He is personally holding our pastors in His hand. Jesus does care about each of us, individually. His plan for us includes having us be part of a church body where the pastor loves Jesus with all his heart.
Wait a minute, teacher. I thought this book was about prophecy and the future. Why bother with all this detail about the churches?
Remember that this book is about Jesus. He is returning to earth very soon to establish His kingdom. But the earth will suffer greatly between now and that time.
It is important that we remember WHY the earth will suffer -- as a consequence of man's rebellion. You and I were born rebels, wanting our own way, resisting the will of God. Some of us have learned to submit to the authority of Jesus now, to receive the "new birth" and the gift of eternal life. Others are still holding out, hoping to squeeze a few more thrills and hangovers and remorse-filled mornings out of worldly pleasures. Saddest of all are those who attend congregations whose pastors do NOT know Jesus personally and where the sheep are NOT being fed with the pure Word of God -- they are not Alive.
My hope is that you have already discovered the joy of walking with Jesus. If all this sounds foreign to you, I encourage you to read some of our lessons on The Transformed Life. If you are already secure in your salvation, please click here to read the lesson on the next two chapters of Revelation, the "things which are." If you are not sure where you stand, please click on the "mail-to" address below to send an e-mail to the teacher. Express your concerns and you'll receive a personal answer soon.
Closing Prayer: Lord, I have so much to learn about You, and what You have planned for me. Please lead me and guide me as I continue this study. Amen.