Lesson 19: Revelation - Part 1
Lesson 19: Revelation - Part 1
I’m Carl Laney and it’s my privilege to give you this introduction to the New Testament. Today we are I the Book of Revelation. You know Genesis begins the Bible and in Genesis God promises that there will be a person, a seed born of woman, and that promise is reiterated to Abraham and that seed that is promised is going to bring blessings to the nations of the earth. As we follow that theme through scripture we see the coming of the Jesus and his ministry on earth. Then the Book of Revelation tells us that he has come and that he is coming again. The Book of Revelation is the Book we are going to be studying this morning.
Let’s have a word of prayer as we begin. Thank you, Father, for your Word and for this great theme of the coming of Jesus and all his redemptive work that we can trace through scripture. Now as we come to the Book of Revelation, we want to focus once again on Jesus because that’s the person that this Book is all about. It’s all about Jesus and we ask you to guide us on an encounter with him, as we study the pages of this revelation together. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
I. FACTS ON REVELATION
A. Author, 1:1,4,9, 22:8
Let’s get acquainted with the basic facts on the Book, before we get into the text. The author calls himself John and the only John that would have been known to the early churches there in the area of Asia would have been John the Apostle. There’s a number of similarities with the fourth Gospel that leads us to conclude that this author was indeed John the Apostle. Early church tradition confirms this.
B. Readers, 1:4
The readers are the congregation of the seven churches that are mentioned in Chapter one, and discussed more fully in Chapters 2-3. They were leading centers of this Asian area and connected by a major travel route. The seven churches are connected by a major travel route.
C. Date of Writing
As to the date of writing Irenaeus, one of the early church fathers, says that Revelation was recorded at the close of the reign of Emperor Domitian. The weight of historical evidence then points towards the end of the reign of Domitian around AD95-96, when John wrote his revelation.
D. Historical Setting, 1:9, 2:10,13, 6:9
The revelation, was received by John while he was in exile on the Island of Patmos late in the reign of Domitian. Patmos was a small rocky island in the Aegean Sea just off the coast of Asia Minor about 35 miles southwest of Miletus. The island measured only ten by six miles and served as a place of banishment in Roman times. It may have been John’s refusal to participate in Emperor worship that lead to his being exiled on the island of Patmos. Persecution of believers is reflected throughout the message of the revelation.
E. Purpose & Theme, 19:10
As to purpose, the book was written to encourage believers under the shadow of Roman persecution showing them the ultimate victory of Christ over his enemies, and to warn the churches of the danger of spiritual lethargy and apostasy. The book brings the Old Testament promises and prophecies to completion, and presents the glorious Christ directing the churches, judging the world and ruling his Kingdom. The theme is the glory judgment and triumph of Christ, and I think that’s a theme highlighted in Chapter 19:10.
So, this is a book not so much of a prophecy but a book about Jesus. As you study the Book of Revelation keep Jesus in focus because he is what this book is all about, it’s about Jesus; coming again, coming in triumph, coming in judgment, coming in glory. It’s about Jesus.
II. INTERPRETIVE VIEWPOINTS
A. Preterist [ie. "past time"] Viewpoint
This book is noted for many different interpretations and I want to highlight these interpretations as we begin our study. The preterist view, the word preterist means past time, and the preterist view understands that the symbolism of Revelation relates to conditions of the Roman Empire in the First Century, and that the judgments were fulfilled in AD70. So, in reading the Book of Revelation it’s history, not prophecy, it’s looking back to what happened not forward to what is anticipated. Exponents of this view deny any futuristic elements of the Book. The chief problem with this view I suggest is the statement in Chapter 4:1, where John is told by the angel, “I must show you what must take place after these things.” There is something future indicated by the angelic messenger in this Book.
B. Idealist Viewpoint
The idealist view believes that Revelation represents the enduring struggle between good an evil, between Christianity and Paganism. The events and the characters are interpreted spiritually to reveal the promise of ultimate victory and that God’s righteousness will ultimately prevail over evil in this world. The chief problem we have with this idealist viewpoint is the spiritualization of the text which leads no real concrete meaning to the text and a lot of subjectivity as to what these signs and symbols mean.
C. Historicist Viewpoint
The historicists view says that the Book of Revelation is about church history. It’s about the history of the church from the time of the Apostles to the end time. This view is generally held by those of Amillennial or a post-millennial tradition. The chief problem again is the subjectivity in interpreting what part of the Revelation relates to what part of church history. Where does the Reformation fit in? Where does the Apostolic Period fit in? Where does contemporary history fit in? There’s a lot of subjectivity going in that.
D. Futurist Viewpoint, 1-3 is historical, chapters 4-22 events in the prophetic future.
The futurists viewpoint recognizes that part of the Book is historical, Chapter 1-3 is really historical. It’s looking back on what John experienced and what was happening in the churches. But when we come to Chapter 4, we move ahead and look at the rest of the chapters as future, Chapters 4-22 are future. The persecutions experienced by the early church provide the historical context for these prophecies.
Now, this futurists interpretation is the view that is taken by the Professors here at Western Seminary, and it’s based upon a consistently literal or normal interpretation of scripture. This view correlates with other prophetic works that speak of what God has in mind for the future. It also recognizes that there is a future for Israel, Israel has a future according to the promise given to Abraham and to David. Third, it recognizes simply that some of the events of the Book of Revelation haven’t taken place yet. There’s no way you can see these events from Chapters 4-22 as having taken place yet.
III. THE THINGS SEEN, 1
A. Introduction, 1:1-3
So, with that understanding in mind we’re going to look at the Book of Revelation from the futurists viewpoint. But John begins here in Chapter 1 telling of the vision that he has seen. It’s here we’re introduced to the name of the book, the Apocalypse, that’s a Greek word and it simply means revelation, unveiling or disclosure and it’s translated revelation. But that’s the name of the book. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Now Jesus Christ is the source of this revelation, but he’s also the subject of this revelation. It’s from him and it’s about him, the revelation of Jesus Christ. John tells us that what has been revealed here must soon take place. The idea there, it’s going to take place rapidly when these events begin. When these prophetic events begin they will rapidly take place, not so much soon, it’s been 2,000 years since John wrote, but when these events begin they will take place in rapid succession.
Then John tells us that, this message of the future has been communicated by signs. The expression in verse 1, communicated is a Greek word which means signified or signified. It’s communicated by signs. When you look at an octagonal sign that’s red and it’s on the street corner, you don’t even have to read the words to know what it means. That’s a sign that means stop. Every driver would recognize even from a distance that that red sign, octagonal in structure means stop. John is going to record some signs that have a message and when you see a stop sign you know what it means, you know it means stop.
So, what does this sign mean in the Book of Revelation? The harlot and the beast. Here’s this bizarre beast with all kinds of heads and horns and this woman with this cup of vile liquid in her hand and she’s identified as a harlot. What does this signify? What does this mean? What is the significance of this sign? Should we recognize that there’s a literal beast with seven heads and seven horns? Or does that mean something? Does that communicate something to the early readers and to us. So, we need to ask ourselves the question, what do these symbols in the Book of Revelation represent. They represent something we need to figure out, what they represent and often in the text itself the significance or the interpretation of the signs are given.
Verse 3 tells us that this revelation is worth reading, “Blessed is he who reads [there’s a blessing that comes to the one who reads] and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it;” so, there’s a blessings for the one who reads it, not everybody had a copy in the First Century and there’s a blessing for those who heed the prophecy. It’s great to know these teachings but there’s no real blessing, there’s no real joy or happiness apart from making practical application of this truth. In other words, the Book of Revelation is intended to be practical. Something that we can apply.
B. Salutation, 1:4-8
John gives a salutation, identifies himself as the writer and then he identifies the seven churches. He writes to the seven churches, verse 4 and he names them in verse 11, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. He gives a greeting of grace and peace, and then in verse 4 we have the first major interpretive question that arises in the book. It speaks of, “from Him who is and who was and who is to come, [that’s certainly the Savior, but then] and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,” The seven spirits, I thought there was one Holy Spirit. What are these seven spirits? Well, they are repeatedly mentioned in Chapter 3, in Chapter 4 and in Chapter 5. The number seven is the most frequently number occurring in the Book of Revelation, it occurs 54 times more than any other number and it’s associated with the idea of completion. Remember creation? God worked for six days creating the heavens and the earth, on the seventh day he rested. Why did he rest? Because the earth was complete, the heavens were complete. So, the number seven has the theological significance of completion.
So, what does this suggest about the seven spirits? Well, that’s a big question that is debated. Some say there are seven arch-angels according to Jewish tradition. Others regard this as more metaphorical speaking of the fullness of the Holy Spirit and many aspects of his ministry and an appeal is made to Isaiah 11:2 in support. Then others suggest that we can’t be specific here. We can’t go beyond what the text says, and we should simply regard these seven spirits as a heavenly entourage that have a special ministry in connection with the Lamb. As we see later on, these seven spirits are involved in the worship and adoration of the Lamb of God. Sometimes it’s better to say less than more, because if we say more mostly likely we might be speculating and maybe giving some wrong information. But what we could all agree on is the seven spirits are a heavenly entourage, and have a special ministry in connection with Jesus, the Lamb of God.
The Book is dedicated to Christ who loved us and released us from our sins and then we’re told that he has made us to be a kingdom, priests to his God. Now, the kingdom concept reflects on the fact that we are believers corporately. We are a kingdom of God’s people. We are the people of his Kingdom. The word priests, sees us more individually, sees us as believer priests which we have direct access before the throne of God as believer priests. So, we are a kingdom, a corporate unity. We are also individual believer priests.
Notice verse 7, “BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So, it is to be. Amen.” It’s here we find the theme of the Book of Revelation. Often times people read the Book of Revelation and they think it’s all about prophecy. Let me assure you that the Book of Revelation is about Jesus Christ. It’s about his coming again, that’s what John tells us. He’s coming in glory, he’s coming in judgment, he’s coming in triumph. This is a book about Jesus. It mentions that some will see him and mourn. This would be the people who rejected him at his first coming, the Jewish people who rejected him at his first coming. They will mourn the mistake they made when they see him coming again.
The father authenticates this prophecy by words of verse 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 Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end. The first letter of the Greek alphabet and the last letter of the Greek alphabet. He is the beginning and the end. He is the eternally existing one. He’s everything between A and Z.
IV. THE VISION OF CHRIST, 1:9-20
A. The Circumstances of the Vision, 1:9-11
Now, beginning in verse 9 John records his vision, the things seen. Here we see that John identifies himself, in verse 9, with the persecuted believers, “I, John your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and Kingdom.” John says, I’m in tribulation, now he’s not in the tribulation that he’s going to describe, that’s future. But he is in a general tribulation, the Greek word thlipsis, means affliction and John certainly was in affliction. He was in exile on the Island of Patmos, persecuted as many of the New Testament believers were being persecuted. So, he was in tribulation, but he was also in the Kingdom, he’s one of God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. He’s part of God’s Kingdom. He sees himself in two spheres, the sphere of persecution, the sphere of tribulation, but also in the sphere of God’s Kingdom. That’s true for us today isn’t it? We receive the hostility of the world, but we are in God’s family, we are part of his people. John tells us that he was on the Island of Patmos, this is a 6 x 10-mile island in the Aegean Sea about 35 miles off the coast of Miletus. I once spent a summer on the Island of Guam where I served as interim pastor. That Island was six miles by 30. John’s Island is just 6 x10, very small island.
John was in a trance like state, when God revealed some super natural truth to him. So, he’s commanded in verse 11 to record what he has seen, “write in a book what you have seen.” John did it and that’s what we have in the Book Revelation. “And send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. John was commanded to record the vision that he saw, and to send the message to the seven churches.
B. The Content of the Vision, 1:12-16
John describes the vision for us beginning in verse 12 through verse 16. His vision reminds me a lot of the vision we find in Dan. Chapter 7, where Daniel has a vision of the ancient of days, and one approaches the throne of God as one like a son of man, in similar words and description that we have here.
Well, Jesus is presented here as situated among the lampstands. The lampstands represent the churches, so it’s a picture of Christ among the churches. Jesus is described here by a number of similes. Notice the like and as, his feet were like burnished bronze, his voice was like the sound of many waters. John is trying to describe something that is like indescribable. He’s, saying it’s like this, it’s like that you have never experienced anything like this, but here’s what it was like. John is describing the indescribable, describing the hair, the feet, the voice of the Son of Man. Having received this vision, John was at first fearful, then he was comforted and commanded to write the vision for the benefit of these churches. The awesome vision brought John to his knees, “I fell at his feet like a dead man and he placed his right hand on me saying do not be afraid, I’m the first and the last.” Don’t be afraid and then John is given a three-fold assurance here. He’s reminded that I’m the first and the last, the living one, I was dead and behold I am alive for evermore and I have the keys of death and Hades. So, John is given this assurance that Christ is the eternal one, the first and the last, that he is the living one, he was once dead and now he’s alive and he’s the sovereign one. He has the keys and the keys speak of authority. Again, this is a vision about Christ and John is assured that the key figure in this visionary scene.
C. Consequences of the Vision, 1:17-20
Now in verse 19, John is told to write the things that he has seen, and in verse 19 we find the outline for the Book of Revelation. In verse 19 we see that John is told to write the things he has seen, that’s Chapter 1. Chapter 1 is the vision of the glorified Christ and John records Chapter 1, the vision of Christ.
V. THE THINGS WHICH ARE, 2-3
Then Chapters 2 and 3 are about the churches. These are things that are presently taking place. The things which are. And then he writes about the things that will take place after these things and those are the events that are future and that would be Chapters 4-22. The Book divides nicely into three parts; the things seen, that’s the vision of Christ, the things which are presently in the churches and the things which shall take place after these things.
The first three Chapters really are present to John’s experience. Chapters 4-22 are yet future. Now often times, in the Book of Revelation, we will find that the visions are interpreted for us, either by John or an interpreting angel. That’s what we have going on in verse 20 and the interpreting angel now explains what John has seen, “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the seven angeloi, the seven angeloi usually translated angels but what do the seven angels refer to? They could be the guardian angels of the church, some have pointed out from 1 Cor. 11:10 that there are angels often associated with the worship of God’s people. Perhaps the guardian angels of the church. It would seem to me that the angels would already know the truth that John is being told, but it would be the churches that need to know this truth, and perhaps the human messengers that came to visit John on the Island of Patmos brought him some information from the churches and now John is going to send these messengers back with the message, the Revelation. The term angeloi simply means messenger and it could be a physical messenger as a human being as a messenger, or it could be a spirit being who is a messenger. More likely in the context John is talking about human messengers. So, these seven stars are the human messengers that are to receive this message and take it to the seven churches.
Then the lampstands are identified as the seven churches, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These are the seven churches. So, John has interpreted the vision for us. Notice that he doesn’t interpret the significance of his feet being like burnished bronze, or his voice like the sound of many waters. Sometimes we speculate on the meaning of these images, and I think instead we should simply respond as John did. John fell at his feet and worshipped. And that’s how we should respond as well.
Now John proceeds in Chapters 2 and 3 to tell us the things that are currently true in the churches. This section in Chapters 2 and 3 record the letter to the seven churches. Each of these letters deals with some specific conditions in the churches that John was familiar with. These churches are commended for their good traits and corrected for their failings. As we study these letters we can find that there are similar things going on in our churches today for which we can be commended and other issues for which we can be corrected. So, there’s practical application from these letters for us.
A. To Ephesus, 2:1-7
Well the first church that John addresses is the church that he was most familiar with, the church at Ephesus, where he would later spend the rest of his life. This was on the west coast of Asia or what is now modern Turkey. We view this theater and the Arcadian Way that led in ancient times to the harbor. This was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, the residence of John both before and after his exile. It was an important commercial city and was known for the famous temple of Artemus. Ephesus is commended for her works and her perseverance and loyalty to the truth. Those are good things. But notice in verse 4 Ephesus has left it’s first love, it’s love for Christ, it’s original love for Christ. It’s allowed it’s love for Christ to grow cold. Well, they’re told to correct this situation, verse 5, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first;” they are encouraged to repent of this spiritual lethargy. Then in verse 7 there is a promise to the overcomer. Each of these letters concludes with a promise to the overcomer. This doesn’t refer to a special group of Christians, this simply refers to believers, all believers are overcomers. We overcome because of the blood of Jesus and 1 John 5:4-5 identifies the overcomers as the believers. You and I are believers, we are overcomers according to John. So, these promises are for us. What does John promise the believers? He says that we shall eat of the Tree of Life, remember the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden? Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden so that they would not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in their fallen condition. But as redeemed people we will one day partake of the Tree of Life that Adam lost as a result of sin.
B. Smyrna, 2:8-11
As we travel north we come to Smyrna. Smyrna is about 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was a port city and a major trade center. Smyrna was the center for the Imperial Cult and boasted temples dedicated to Tiberius the Emperor, to Zeus and Cybele. The believers at Smyrna are commended for their spiritual wealth in spite of their physical poverty. They didn’t have much but they had everything in Jesus.
C. Pergamum, 2:12-17
Pergamum is located about 50 miles north of Smyrna about 15 miles inland from the Sea. Pergamum had a fine library and was the place where parchment was first used. The whole concept of books began as a result of using parchment there at Pergamum. The city was a religious center with temples dedicated to Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asclepius, the god of healing. Pictured here is the altar of Zeus, which was taken from this site and you can see today in the Pergamum museum in Berlin. This church is commended for its faithfulness to Christ in spite of persecution.
D. Thyatira, 2:18-29
We come to Thyatira about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum. This was the home of Lydia who Paul met at Philippi. The dye industry and garment making industry were prominent features of the commercial life at Thyatira. The city is condemned for its toleration of a false prophetess, known as Jezebel. Jezebel is probably the nickname given to her in light of the associations with Ahab wife’s, Jezebel. Believers are exhorted to reject her false teaching and to remain to faithful to Christ.
E. Sardis, 3:1-6
Sardis is situated just 30 miles southeast of Thyatira. It’s one of the oldest and most important cities of Asia. This city was wealthy in ancient times, partly because of gold found in a stream that ran nearby the city. Sardis was noted for its immorality ,which was practiced in the worship of Cybele, one of the deities worshipped there. The temple of Artemus can also be found at the site of Sardis. The church at Sardis is condemned for its lifeless profession and incomplete works.
F. Philadelphia, 3:7-13
We move next to the church of Philadelphia, which was a wealthy trade center, and this city is located about 28 miles southeast of Sardis and it was at the center of Asia wine district. Dionysus, the god of wine was the chief deity of the city. Dionysus was worshipped through inebriation. As you became inebriated, the spirit of Dionysus would fill you and control you. We have a better Spirit filling us, that’s the Spirit of the Living God, Ephesus 5:18. There’s no condemnation for the church Philadelphia, the believers here are commended for their obedience to the Word of God and their loyalty to the name of Christ.
E. Laodicea, 3:14-22
Last, we come to Laodicea. Laodicea was located in the Lycus Valley on an important crossroads about 45 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and 90 east of Ephesus. Besides being a prosperous banking and commercial center, Laodicea was a manufacturing center for clothing made of this glossy black wool from the sheep raised in this area. Laodicea had no local water supply, so water had to be piped in from a nearby hot spring. By the time the water arrived at Laodicea it wasn’t any longer hot, but neither was it cold. We find that the water arrived at Laodicea lukewarm and this cultural background provides the basis for the comment which is said about the church at Laodicea, you’re neither hot nor cold and the Lords says, I’d rather that they be spewed out because they are neither hot nor cold. The church is challenged to become rich in Christ and to repent of their spiritual lethargy.
You know, these were letters that were written to the seven churches of Asia. I wonder what Christ would say if he wrote a letter to your church or my church here in the 21st century. What would be the focus of his letter to us today? What would he commend us for, what would he correct us about if he wrote the letter for us today? It’s an interesting question and it kind of leads to what’s the application of these seven letters for us in our churches today.