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Deeper Commentary

REVELATION

CHAPTER 1

The Nature of Revelation
Revelation is full of visual images, borrowed from the Old Testament. But it presents them as a kaleidoscope of images, overlaying each other, relying upon other images for the final picture presented. As such, it simply cannot be read as a chronological prediction of historical events. The images presented of the new Jerusalem and God's ways are intended to deconstruct the images of Babylon and her ways. In earlier application, Christians living within the 'Babylon' of the Roman empire were subject to her images, worldviews etc., and Revelation enabled them to re-imagine life from God's perspective, thinking according to His images of the world, seeing Babylon and the beast for who they are, and seeing ourselves and God's people for who they are. This is of supreme practical value today, as it has been in every age. But it will be of ultimate value for those living under the domination of the beast entity in the land / earth under the beast's domination in the brief period of tribulation before Christ's return. A major theme of Revelation is of martyrdom and witness. It is not God's pleasure to destroy the beast, and He expects His people to make His final appeal and witness to the beast, even at the cost of their lives, physically, economically and socially. The radical nature of that call comes to each of His people over history, but it will be at its most intense and acute in the last days. Another theme of Revelation is the Lordship of Jesus; exalted titles are given to Him, and things stated about God are stated about Him. This is not to say that He is God; rather the intention and necessity of this message is that as strongly as the beast insists that he is Lord, so we are to insist and proclaim that Jesus is our Lord. The image of the slain lamb, the crucified Jesus, hangs as a watermark image over the book of Revelation; and again, that makes sense. For the community of the last days, under intense physical and / or psychological oppression from the beast, will have the image ever before them of Him in His time of suffering and dying.

A Futurist Approach
I submit that in the last days, all God's prophetic word will come true. All previous historical fulfilments of it were true and valid, but they will be seen as but incipient fulfilments of the final and ultimate fulfilling of God's word in the events of the last hour, and the final triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ in His return to earth to judge the enemies of His people. Rev. 1:1 opens Revelation by saying that the things revealed or apocalypsed are to "shortly" come to pass, and the book ends with the same statement (Rev. 22:6). The Greek can just as well mean that these things will happen quickly, suddenly- rather than requiring that the entire book had a fulfilment shortly after the time it was first given. For clearly the events described in the book did not all happen 'shortly' after John's time in the first century. That is a fact, and I would argue that it leaves us little leeway in interpreting tachos as therefore meaning that they will happen quickly, suddenly. The ultimate thrust of their fulfilment, therefore, is not over an extended period of time from John's time over the two millennia to the time of Christ's coming. The same phrase is used by the Lord to the believers in Rev. 2:5,16 where He warns them that He will come unto them “quickly”- the idea is that His coming in judgment will be sudden unless they repent. The quickness or suddenness of His coming is related to His wrath in judgment; if they repent, then the coming will not be ‘sudden’ or ‘short’. He surely doesn’t mean ‘If you don’t repent, then I will come back soon. If you do repent, then I won’t come back soon’. He uses the same concept of suddenness and unexpectedness, although without using tachos, in Rev. 3:3: “If you shall not watch, I will come as a thief, and you shall not know what time I will come upon you”.
Attention must be paid to Revelation especially in the last days because “the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3); but eggos means literally ‘squeezed’ or ‘throttled’- creating the idea that things are going to happen very quickly at the end. The fulfilment of God’s word in this sense will be ‘hastened’ (Is. 60:22; Jer. 1:12). And the world situation we are in enables this to be the case as no other generation. The student of Revelation, therefore, will not be caught by surprise by the speed of events in the last days- that seems to be the idea.

This is not to say that the prophecies did not have relevance to the historical experience of God's people. The continual theme of persecution and comfort of ultimate victory against the world was, of course, a powerful and relevant message to God's persecuted people throughout history. But those fulfilments were but shadow fulfilments of the final triumph and events which the book describes. These are to happen quickly, suddenly, in a short time space. This explains why each of the various visions, of seals, trumpets, bowls etc. all end with the final victory of Christ's coming and the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. They can all be read as having specific reference to the last days- whatever historical fulfilment they may have had. To argue otherwise requires that these events had their main fulfilment at some time in the last 2000 years, and then there is a gap until their fulfilment in the coming of Christ. But the nature of the language and arguments used hardly allows for that. At best it could be that after each of those historical incidents there was the possibility of Christ's return, but that didn't happen because other preconditions weren't met. Therefore the prophecies were rescheduled and reapplied for their main fulfilment in the events of the last days. This would explain why some of the historical fulfilments suggested by expositors of the continuous historical school appear to 'fit' better than others. But at best, these were only incipient fulfilments- the final reality for each of God's prophetic words must come in the last days, just as the image of Daniel 2 had some continuous historical application, but the image must stand erect and complete in the last days- and that is the main fulfilment of the prophecy, whatever application it may have had in history.

 

1:1- see on Dan. 10:21.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ- The Lord's second coming is called His "revelation" (s.w. 1 Pet. 1:7,13; 4:13 etc.), and so there is a play on ideas here. The things revealed by the Lord in this book ultimately concern His second coming, whatever other relevance they have had throughout history.

Which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must shortly come to pass- A great theme of Revelation is that "the time is near"- these things were about to happen. This is a major theme (1:1,3; 2:16; 3:10,11; 22:6,7,10,12,20). The relationship between the letters to the churches and the rest of Revelation cannot be overlooked; what was to happen to them in judgment was bound up with what was to come upon the land of Palestine in AD70. Mt. 21:40 parallels the coming of the Lord with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. This is exactly the sequence of events we expect in the last days, according to Zech. 14. There are many links between the trumpets, seals and the Olivet prophecy; and also many links with Josephus' descriptions of what came upon Palestine in AD66-70- e.g. 9:5 "inwardly tormented" Gk. ebasanizonto is used in Josephus (Wars 5.1.5).


image001Revelation

The Olivet Prophecy

6:1,2

Mt. 24:14

6:14

Mt. 24:35

6:3,4

Mt. 24:6,7

6:16

Lk. 23:30

6:5,6

Mt. 24:7

6:17

Lk. 21:36

6:7,8

Mt. 24:7

7:1

Mt. 24:31

6:9

Mt. 24:12

7:3

Lk. 21:18,28

6:11

Mt. 24:14

7:14

Mt. 24:19,21

6:12

Mt. 24:7

8:3

Lk. 21:36

6:13

Mt. 24:32

8:5

Mt. 24:27

 

It is clear enough that the Olivet Prophecy has application both to the "last days" of AD70 and also to our last days. Revelation is the Lord's expansion upon His words on Olivet- and therefore we should use this as a framework for interpreting the book. It applies to both AD70 and also our last days. The following notes trace some leading features of the AD70 interpretation. The most powerful proof is in private reading of Josephus' Wars of The Jews- it reads like a running commentary on the seal and trumpet judgments upon Israel.

Which he sent and put into sign by his Angel to his servant John- This message was passed from the Father to the Son to the Son's "angel" or messenger and thence to His servant John. The "angel" may be a human messenger, but the Divine "Angel" with whom John interrelates throughout the book is surely the "Angel" referenced here. In this case, the Lord has a personal Angel who represents Him, perhaps Gabriel.

 
1:2 Who testified of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw- The aorist suggests the testimony was made once in the past; and John uses this idea of his testimony about the Lord in explaining that his Gospel record is his testimony about Him. In addition to that, he is testifying of the Lord's testimony, which consists in all things he saw in the visions he is now going to describe. This is in line with how the testimony of the Comforter, the spirit of Christ, was the testimony of the believers who had received that Spirit (Jn. 15:26,27). Here as a parade example of that, John testifies of the Lord's testimony.

The apostles bore witness to the Lord Jesus (e.g. Acts 26:22; 1 Cor. 15:15 s.w.), and He in turn bore witness to the [preaching of] the word of his grace (Acts 15:8). In their witness lay His witness. Revelation begins with John witnessing / testifying to the Word [made flesh, i.e. Jesus], and concludes with Jesus testifying (1:2 cp. 22:20 s.w.).
Beholding the cross and the water and blood that flowed from it, John struggled with the inadequacy of human language: “He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true” (Jn. 19:35). Years later he described himself, in allusion to this, as he “who bare record [in the past tense] of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:2). He had earlier commented that the Spirit, water and blood of the cross bore witness (1 Jn. 5:8). John seems to be saying that the Lord’s final death which he had witnessed was the word of God, the testimony of Jesus Christ. And as he had been a faithful witness to this, so now he would be of that further revelation he had now seen in the Apocalypse. Because he had beheld the Lord’s witness on the cross, he witnessed. For he was in Christ, part of Him, of His life and death. And so are each of us. Paul puts our thesis in so many words, by saying that his preaching to the Galatians had been a placarding forth of Christ crucified before their eyes (Gal. 3:1 Gk.). His witness to them had been a living out of the Lord in His time of dying.


1:3- see on Lk. 11:28.

Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein- This has been misread as meaning that blessing is related to 'correctly understanding' the Revelation. The Greek word translated "reads" doesn't have to mean 'correctly understands'. The obvious sense is to link it with those who hear the words... the message is being sent by a messenger, who was to read it out loud- as we know Paul's letters were thus read to a largely illiterate brotherhood- and it was then heard by the ecclesias. Both reader and hearer were blessed if they kept what the prophecy implied- which was and is an awareness of God's claims upon His people, their separation from this world, and an earnest readiness for Christ's return. The 'blessing' is elsewhere applied not to those who intellectually understand something but to those who are doing and living and saying the right things at the return of Jesus. The same Greek word for 'Blessed' is used of those who are ready at the Lord's return and doing the right things (Mt. 24:46; Lk. 12:37,38,43). Rev. 22:7 links back to 1:3, the epilogue interpreting the prologue: "Blessed is he who keeps the logos of the prophecy of this book" - the essence / logos / underlying idea of it all, which is that God's persecuted people will remain faithful to His word in Christ, will testify it to an unbelieving world, and will live lives always prepared for their Lord's return. The blessing is in the preparedness, not in the detailed understanding. If blessing depends upon holding the continuous historic view of Revelation, then the majority of God's servants aren't blessed- seeing that it couldn't possibly have been understood throughout most of the time from the first century until now.

For the time is near- The disciples expected the second coming within a generation of the Lord’s death (Mt. 26:18; Lk. 21:32; Phil. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:6; 1 Pet. 4:7; Rev. 1:3); and note the use of words indicating imminence: ‘shortly’, ‘immediately’, ‘a little while’. Could it not be that if Israel had accepted Jesus as Son of God, the Kingdom could have come then? Even after His death, had they believed the witness of the apostles and repented for what they had done, the Kingdom could have come then. Of course God foreknew this would not happen; but the disciples looked forward to it as a distinct reality and possibility. Revelation itself seems to read as if when "Babylon" was judged and destroyed by the day of the Lord, then the Kingdom would be established on earth. It seems that it was possible that the Roman empire be destroyed by the Lord's return; but instead the prophecy was delayed, and now "Babylon" must apply to some latter day system, which had an earlier incarnation in the Roman empire which could have been its final fulfilment but wasn't. In any case, we are to live as if the second coming is imminent.

1:4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia. Grace to you and peace, from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits that are before His throne- There were more than seven churches in Asia, so this number is chosen to represent the complete churches. Their experiences were to echo down the centuries in the various churches and groups who experienced persecution. The sources and forms may have changed, but the spiritual essence remained the same as they experienced.

Is, was and is to come recalls the essence of the Yahweh Name. The God who had ultimately preserved His Son and His disciples from their persecutions ["was"] would preserve the seven Asian churches in their current traumas ["is"]; and would ultimately preserve believers of all ages "to come". The essential characteristics of the Yahweh Name would be manifested consistently in whatever time and context. And in this consistency is the power of history, as Biblically recorded. For as He acted in history, so He shall act today and for all ages to come.

The essential will of the Father and Son is grace and peace toward the believers, despite all the twists and turns of history and current experience. That will was operationalized through the seven spirits before the throne in the court of Heaven. The seven spirits match the seven churches; the entire Spirit of God ["seven"] will work in the lives of all those in His community, represented by the seven churches.


1:5- see on Jn. 7:38.

And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him that loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood- The Lord's faithful witness unto death is to be the pattern for all the Lord's people. Although the kings of the earth persecute the Lord's people, He is their ruler. Events have not get radically out of control; all is under His rulership.

It will be observed that Revelation frequently hints that it is a message specifically addressed to those under persecution. Phrases like "Jesus Christ the faithful witness" (:5) should be read in the context of encouraging the readers to continue their witness, even on pain of death, just as Jesus did (see too 13:8). For this reason, an understanding of the book of Revelation is vital for those who will experience the latter day tribulation, in whatever form we feel it will take.

"The kings of the earth" is a phrase and idea which we will encounter later. If we enquire what they refer to, it depends upon what scale we wish to investigate at. The "earth" often refers to the land promised to Abraham, and the futurist interpretation of the later chapters in Revelation must bear that in view.

The love of the Lord Jesus is again interpreted as specifically His death on the cross, as often in the New Testament. His command to love as He loved us means that we too are to love unto the death of a cross (Jn. 13:32). That death means we are freed from our sins- despite being ruled over by the kings of the earth / land. It is freedom from sin which is the ultimate freedom rather than political freedom, which was always attractive to the Jewish readership of the first century.


1:6 And who made us kings and priests to his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen- Having spoken of the kings of the earth, who will be portrayed later as dominating God's people temporarily, we learn that in fact it is we who are freed from any domination by sin who are the king-priests. Immediately we are introduced to what shall be a major theme in the visions- that there are two spheres of things. On the earthly level, the kings of the earth dominate us. But on the spiritual, heavenly level, we are the kings, and are radically free from all domination because of the freedom won for us on the cross. This earthly-heavenly distinction is to be found throughout John's Gospel. Things as they are in secular life only appear like that. For things are radically different from God's perspective.

 The Lord "has made us kings and priests" in prospect, although we will only exercise this power in the Kingdom. Frequently we read of the saints being 'made' things which we must still strive to attain (Rom. 5:19; 6:18,22; 8:2; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:6; 2:13). God made the Lord a sin offering, that we might be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), although our Lord still had to exercise freewill effort to be that offering, as we must too. "God... saved us (in prospect)... that... we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Tit.3:5-7).

Note too that the idea may well be of king-priests, after the order of Melchizedek, seeing we are "in Christ" and all that is true of Him comes true for us. So the idea is not that some will be kings and others priests.

1:7- see on Jn. 1:14; 19:37.

Behold, he comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. So shall it be! Amen- This passage from Zechariah appears to be a prophecy of how Israel shall see the Lord at His second coming, and that is the interpretation given here. Those who crucified the Lord had this prophecy come true as they looked upon and gloated over the pierced Lord Jesus on the cross (see on Jn. 19:37). But it shall come true again, when they are resurrected to judgment at the last day, see His enthronement in glory ["he comes with the clouds" is the language of Dan. 7 about this], realize from marks in His body that this is the one whom they crucified, exclaim "Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mt. 23:39), but find they are not able to be in His Kingdom. That bitter disappointment at the future they have missed, that they now so want, with all the resulting self-anger, is described as weeping and gnashing of teeth. That will be psychological punishment enough for the rejected. "The tribes of the earth", every eye of them, shall see the Lord in that moment. "The earth" refers to the land, of Israel; all those who looked upon Him upon the cross, "every eye", shall then be resurrected to see Him and mourn bitterly over what they did. The "every eye" is I suggest unpacked and defined by "they that pierced him" and "all the tribes of the land". The "and..." does not have to mean 'in addition to'; it can be a device for defining the term which has gone before it. As if to say 'Yes, even...'.

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- The way God is outside of time as we know it, existing in past, present and future simultaneously, is mentioned in connection with the judgment upon those who pierced the Lord and who at the resurrection to condemnation will remember what they did. They will then realize that for God, what they did is actual and real as if they were doing it right then. The passage of time does not blunt His awareness of sin nor the implication of past actions. It does to us, with our fading memories and ability to re-imagine and re-create the past according to our own warped perceptions. This is why repentance at the time of sin is so important; otherwise the passing of time results in our memories often reshaping and rewriting the sin, writing down its significance.

1:9 I John, your brother and partaker with you in tribulation and the kingdom and patience of Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus- This language speaks of another King and another Kingdom existing right then. This language and implications of this sort had been enough to provide the technical reason why the Lord was crucified; for Caesar and his kingdom were the only king and kingdoms which could be spoken of within the Roman empire. John was commanded to "write" these things, which as noted on :19 was going to be a criminal act. John seems aware of this because he goes right on to mention that he was, or had been, in exile on Patmos because of his testimony about the Lord and "the word of God". This may be a reference to his being arrested and punished for writing and distributing what we know as the Gospel of John. See on :2.

John saw himself as their partner rather than the one above them, partaking with them of the same sufferings; repeatedly he describes himself and all believers as fellow-slaves (Rev. 1:1; 2:20; 6:11; 7:4; 19:2,5; 22:3,6- quite some emphasis). See on 3 Jn. 14,15.


1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying- The radical, heretical nature of the book of Revelation needs to be appreciated against this background; it's almost a polemic against the Caesars, and to speak in this way against them was punishable by death. And Revelation speaks of the capital of the beast system (Rome) as being in the wilderness, rather than as the (perceived) centre of a cosmopolitan metropolis. And of course, Rome is spoken of as a whore... the most abusive image possible! The whole vision was given "on the Lord's day" (Rev. 1:10)- and this appears to be an allusion to the way that there was "a day in the Roman calendar when all the Roman citizens had to go to the local temple and declare 'Caesar is Lord'". On that very day, when John was supposed to be worshipping Caesar as Lord, he was given a vision outlining how Caesar was not in fact 'Lord' at all. And yet the Lord's day is so often a reference to the second coming. All in Revelation is to be understood in that context, which creates a solid case for treating a futuristic interpretation as not only possible but required. Although most parts of the book have discernible application to the first century or other points in history, the essence of it all will come true fully only in the last days.

Yet the great voice he hears behind him is as of a trumpet; what he heard he was to write (:11) and distribute. It was not a quiet, personal voice; but a trumpet. His message was to be preached, and it was a radical polemic against the Roman empire, the Jewish system in Jerusalem; just as in its later applications, it was a radical polemic against every society in which the Lord's people have lived. And that message is to be preached, for the voice comes as a trumpet. The principles revealed in this book are not to be quietly kept in our hearts; by their nature, they cannot be.


1:11- see on Acts 2:46.

What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches. To Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea- For the significance of placing all this in writing, see on :9 and :19. The churches chosen are surely representative of all congregations over time. Hence the number seven, suggesting completion. For there were other churches in that area. The order of the churches is perhaps simply because that is the order in which a messenger would have travelled in delivering the letters, in a kind of circuit.

1:12 And I turned to see the voice that spoke to me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks- "To see the voice" rather than "to see the person that spoke" suggests that this personage is a word made flesh, a person totally identified with their voice. And that is of course how John has portrayed the Lord in Jn. 1:14.

Our covenant relationship with God isn't just between Him and us. It demands that we are in covenant with His people; we can't love Him that begat without loving those others begotten by Him, as John puts it (1 Jn. 4:9). When John later heard the voice of Jesus and turned to see Him, instead of seeing Jesus in person as he expected, he saw instead the seven candlesticks, symbolic of the ecclesias / body of Christ (Rev. 1:12). Perhaps this was the idea behind the way that "Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord's people: between the king also and the people" (2 Kings 11:17).

1:13 And in the midst of the candlesticks- one like a Son of Man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest- The Lord being in midst of His churches [referring of course to the people within them] is a continuation of a major Johannine theme: that the Lord Jesus abides in the hearts of His people through the Spirit. The long robe and sash could possibly frame Him as a priest, working for us all in an ongoing sense, and identified with the churches. And we note that even with Divine nature, the Lord's humanity is stressed. He is as a "son of man". John's resurrection narratives stress the continued human aspect of the exalted Lord Jesus; and He is called still "the man Christ Jesus" even in His Heavenly glory (1 Tim. 2:5).

The vision of Rev. 1 has close links with that of Dan. 10. If the Rev. 1 vision is concerning the Angel, then so is that of Dan. 10. The context of the Daniel vision is that he had been praying for the opposition to the restoration to be overcome. He was therefore given this vision of the mighty Angel who was going to answer his prayers; Daniel describes the vision as being "of a certain man" (Dan. 10:5); when the Angel comes to him to tell him that despite the opposition He was going to answer his prayers, Daniel describes him as "one like the appearance of a man" (Dan. 10:18), or as is said here, "like a son of man". So the association with Daniel 10 was a message that ultimately, the opposition would be overcome on account of the glorious "son of man" who abides amongst the believers. 

1:14 And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow, and his eyes were as a flame of fire- The similarities with the visions of Daniel signpost the basic message that opposition to God's people will be finally overcome, even though they are currently in exile and under Gentile power.

To a certain degree, the acceptance or rejection which will be shown to us in the day of judgment can be visited on us in this life, in accordance with our actions. Thus the Lord Jesus appears here as the judge of the churches, in that the description of him there being very similar to that in Dan. 7 and 10, where he is portrayed as the judge at the second coming. Asaph knew that God now judges, and therefore asks God to arise and judge openly in the earth according to those judgments (Ps. 82:1,8). His eyes are as fire right now- He sees every aspect of our tribulations.


1:15- see on Jude 14.

And his feet were like bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the voice of many waters- This voice of judgment is going forth now. The essence of judgment day is now; see on :14. The connection is also with the vision of cherubim given to Ezekiel; again, like Daniel, to encourage God's people who were temporarily under Gentile power.

Ezekiel’s cherubim refer to God's people, as well as the Angelic hosts and the hosts of Babylon; perhaps the message was simply that God was awesomely involved- as awesome as the cherubim vision- with His people on earth. The same Angelic system that brought the hosts of Babylon upon Judah also went with Judah into captivity, and would return from there with them- if they still wished to be part of that Angelic system. And yet most of Judah opted out of it, and remained in Babylon, just as we can opt out and remain in Babylon today. In this context it's interesting that the vision of Jesus as the Son of Man in Rev. 1 has similarities with the cherubim vision of Ez. 1 (feet like brass, Ez. 1:7 = Rev. 1:15; shining face, Ez. 1:13 = Rev. 1:16; voice like many waters, Ez. 1:24= Rev. 1:15). Perhaps this suggests that Israel's failure to identify with the cherubim led to a refulfilment of the prophecy in the person of the Lord Jesus, who was in person all that God intended Israel to have been. Thus the prophecies of Israel as "the servant of Yahweh", given in the context of the restoration, could have been fulfilled in the people of Israel, but were reapplied and fulfilled in the person of the Lord Jesus.

The opening vision of Rev. 1 presents the Lord in His post-resurrection glory; but elements of that description occur throughout Revelation in portraying the beasts. The point is, they are all false-Christ’s. The Lord has a voice as the sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15), but the serpent, on the surface, speaks with just the same voice (Rev. 12:15). The four empire-beasts of Dan. 7, the kingdoms of this world, are a parody of the four living creatures of the cherubim (Rev. 4:6). See on Acts 12:20. 

1:16- see on Lk. 12:49.

And he had in his right hand seven stars- Referring to the Angels of the seven churches, held protectively in the Lord's hand, whatever persecution may come upon them. See on :20.

And out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword, and his countenance was as the sun shines in its strength- That same right hand was what touched John; see on :17. The idea of the sun shining in its full strength is the picture of Divine judgment being openly manifested (Jud. 5:31). The sharp two-edged sword has similar associations (Ps. 149:6). But the Lord is presented as having those judgment characteristics right now. This is typical of what we find in Revelation; a kaleidoscope of images often paying no attention to time as we know it. The encouragement is that even under the heat of Gentile persecution, the Lord sees with eyes as of a flame of fire, and is giving judgment right now. It's not that He is as it were looking the other way, and shall open the books and review things at judgment day. See on 2:12.

1:17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead- As noted on :16, the Lord appears in the form of His latter day judgments, although that day is not yet in our kind of time. And so John goes through a symbolic death and resurrection, as Daniel did when beholding a similar vision in Daniel 10.

And he laid his right hand upon me, saying: Fear not. I am the first and the last- This is quite some striking visual image: of the Lord with the stars in His hand (:16,20) placing His hand upon John individually. The idea is that the Lord can act for both the individual and the collective churches at one and the same time. Quite how it all looked to John perhaps cannot be imagined. But the great mystery would have been expressed, of the Lord's individual and collective relationship to us at the same time.

"Fear not" coming from the Lord is language to be associated with a calming of one who feels spiritually unworthy. John writes in absolute terms of our acceptance with the Lord and abiding in Him; but even he felt the tension of his humanity when faced with the Lord.

"The first and the last", the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of the alphabet, is perhaps to get the idea over that time is not really as we see it. The Lord is portrayed in the garb of how He will be at the final judgment; but He is like that in essence right now.

1:18 The living one; and I was dead, but behold, I am alive for always, and I have the keys of Death and of Hades- As John lay 'dead' before the Lord (:17), so the Lord reminds John that He too has passed through death and is now alive.

Baptism commits us to a life of sharing His death and resurrection. When John fell at the Lord’s feet “as dead”, the Lord responded by saying: ‘I too was dead, but no more; I’m alive for evermore, and as I died with you and for you, so I live with you and for you, and you do the same for me’ (Rev. 1:17,18). The idea is 'I am living'. His ongoing living is manifest to us in the gift of the Spirit, the Comforter, which would replace His physical presence with the disciples on earth, making His presence and life just as real to us as if He were literally present. And that promised gift of the Spirit was to be with us "always" (Jn 14:16). In this sense He is "the living one" right now and always. He is not passive, divided from us by space and spirituality; He is alive and living through us.

The theme is of persecution, of living locked up in life situations we feel trapped in. But the Lord has the keys to death itself. The fact we are guaranteed to overcome even death, which is completely in His power, means that no human system or situation can ultimately trap us. And this has encouragement for those who may not be politically persecuted, but feel locked up in domestic and social situations.

1:19 Therefore write the things which you see, and the things which are, and the things which shall hereafter come to pass- This command to "write" was asking John to commit a seriously criminal offence. For within the Roman empire, such application of emperor and kingdom language to another king, the Lord Jesus, and articulating a plan for His Kingdom to come and the destruction of earth's proud empires... all this meant that the written form of the book of Revelation would have been forbidden literature, and the writing and production of it was criminal and even a capital offence. John's motivation was therefore in order to strengthen by all means the believers with the hope of the Kingdom and ultimate victory against all evil empires. He is encouraged to make this sacrifice and "write" these things because the Lord has the keys of death itself (:18). If even death itself is no barrier for us, and we are not finally under the power of it; how much less are we under the power of all structures which appear to lock us down in this life.

Unlike Hebrew, the tenses in Greek are precise and have specific reference. Here John was told to write down the things which he had seen, the things which presently are, and the things which shall be “hereafter”. I suggest the things he had seen were the things of the vision of the Son of Man; the things which are refer to the messages to the seven churches; and “the things which shall be hereafter” is a phrase developed in Rev. 4:1, where John is bidden come and see “the things which must be hereafter”. The things from then on all refer to the future, the last days and the coming of Christ. The vision of the Heavenly throne room in chapters 4 and 5 therefore refers to how things are in the Heavenly court in the last days. That is confirmed by comments on many of the verses in chapter 4.

1:20 This is the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks are seven churches- As suggested earlier, seven being the number of completeness, we are intended to understand these churches as representative of all believers, over all time and space. The same basic situations occur amongst all believers, even if the form varies.

I suggest the "angels" refer to both heavenly Angels in the throne room of God, and to the leadership of the churches on earth which they represent before God in Heaven. There appear to be guardian Angels not only for individuals but also for groups of believers- e. g. Israel, or an ecclesia. The stars of the ecclesias in Rev. 1:20 are defined as the Angels of the ecclesias. The seven lamps are the seven spirits / Angels of God before His throne (Rev. 4:5)- yet they are clearly representative of the seven churches on earth of which Revelation has earlier spoken. There seems no reason to doubt that literal Angels are being referred to, especially as elsewhere Angels are also likened to stars-e. g. Job 38:7; and the king of Babylon "exalted (himself) above the stars" (Is. 14:13- referring to Israel and their representative Angels). There seems no more symbolism attached to the phrase "Angels" in Rev. 1, seeing it is in the context of the candlestick parable being interpreted: "The seven stars are the Angels of the seven churches". The apparent rebuke of the Angels is because they are so closely associated with their charges. However, to some degree the words of Jesus in the letters may also apply personally to the Angels- e. g. "I will… remove your candlestick" (2:5) may imply God would take away the Angel's charge from his care unless the Angel repented- i.e. changed his way of dealing with the ecclesia. The frequent calls to "repent" in the letters can easily apply to the Angels changing their mind or way of dealing with the ecclesia. The word is not bound to have a moral dimension. Thus 2:16: "I will come to you... and fight against them"; or "unto you (the Angel)... I say and unto the rest" (2:24). Similarly the command to "strengthen the things (the faithful believers- strengthened spiritually by the Angel) which remain" (3:2) cannot apply to a whole church which has many apostate members.

There are so many links between the opening letters to the ecclesias, and the rest of Revelation. The wording is so similar- the themes of persecution, faithfulness, and the promised blessing of the faithful. The letters aren't just 'tacked on' to the prophecy. The dramas which the ecclesias were experiencing on earth are explained by the rest of the book, in its first century, relevant-to-its-hearers level of interpretation. Jerusalem was surrounded by her enemies, the temple was about to be destroyed. They were being persecuted by Jewish and Roman powers, and we see in the rest of the book how this looked from Heaven's perspective- the way the Angels were orchestrating and yet also resisting all this, how God perceived the Jewish and Roman authorities as dragons, whores etc., and how the traumas of AD66-70 were in fact all in His plan and part of a larger picture. It's like the book of Daniel. The book isn't just a life of Daniel with a few prophecies thrown in. It's a life of Daniel, in captivity, awaiting revival, longing for Messiah. And the prophecies give us Heaven's perspective on it. However, Revelation has more relevance than to just the first century hearers. Just as the events of AD66-70 are typical of the last days, so Revelation likewise has its ultimate fulfilment [regardless of any others it may have had over history] in the crisis of the last days, in the final showdown between Babylon and Jerusalem, between the true Christ and the anti-Christ. The book will speak to us in the final tribulation as no other book can- because it's all about the last days.