From Family Radio’s Harold Camping to Hollywood, the end of the world is a hot topic these days. National Geographic News (November 6, 2009) reported: “The end of the world is near—December 21, 2012, to be exact—according to theories based on a purported ancient Maya prediction and fanned by the marketing machine behind the soon-to-be-released 2012 movie. But could humankind really meet its end in 2012—drowned in apocalyptic floods, walloped by a secret planet, seared by an angry sun, or thrown overboard by speeding continents?” Probably not, the article concludes. The article reassures: “The Maya calendar doesn’t end in 2012, as some have said, and the ancients never viewed that year as the time of the end of the world, archaeologists say. But December 21, 2012, (give or take a day) was nonetheless momentous to the Maya. “It’s the time when the largest grand cycle in the Mayan calendar—1,872,000 days or 5,125.37 years—overturns and a new cycle begins,” said Anthony Aveni, a Maya expert and archaeoastronomer at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.”
Here’s a question: “How does the world end?” What is the closing chapter of God’s story on earth as explained in the Bible? That journey begins in this series of teachings, as we look at the Book of Revelation in sufficient detail to help you make sense of a cryptic part of the Bible. Here is our task: we want to carefully understand coming events as they are revealed, but never lose sight of the reality that our lives need to be ready to meet the King. We dare not wander off in the theoretical and let younger Christians wade into mental exercises that do not call for constant surrender to the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Key Principle: God wants us to know what will happen, but He wants us to know more WHO He is – the One who is bringing all these things about! The purpose of human history is to tell Who God is – and no one can show that better than Jesus.
In order to see God as He is, we should look closer at the portrait of His Son, the Savior – as John reveals Him in the Book of the Revelation.
John the Man
The time was the waning years of the first century, most of the Apostles had died for their faith. Emperor Domition (81-96 CE) had exiled John to the penal colony of Patmos.
The author of the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ was none other than John the Apostle. He had been one of the twelve Disciples of Jesus, later sent out as Apostles. He was the son of Zebedee the fisherman from Bethsaida north of the Kinnereth, and his wife Salome and brother of James. Early Christian tradition maintains that he was the last surviving Apostle, and that he died of natural causes rather than being martyred.
John had an extraordinary career as a disciple. He was one of the “inner circle”. Peter, James and John were the selected sole witnesses of several important events:
- The Raising of Jairus’ daughter in Capernaum (Mk. 5:37);
- The Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1);
- Preparation for the Last Supper (Lk 22:8);
- Witness to the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane (John 18).
Called the “sons of thunder”, John and his brother desired Jesus to “call down fire from Heaven on a Samaritan town” that appeared to reject Jesus (Lk 9:51-6). He was, by most accounts, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” – a title showing his unique place in the earth ministry of Jesus.
As an Apostle, he was the author of the Gospel of John, three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation. Some believe his Gospel account may have been written, in part, to deal with Ebionite heresy (that asserted Christ did not exist before Mary gave birth to Him in the flesh). Certainly it explains the controversy with the Judean aristocracy better than any other Gospel. From the Book of Revelation we conclude that he had lived for a long time in Ephesus and greater Asia Minor until moved to the island of Patmos “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). Most scholars place the writing of Revelation near 85 CE.
As an elder in the Asian church, John discipled the early church father Polycarp – who later became Bishop of Smyrna (Izmir). Polycarp, in turn discipled Irenaeus, and passed on to him stories about John from which our traditions restore at least a shadowed image of the man. In Against Heresies, Irenaeus related how Polycarp told a humorous story of John, who went one day to bathe at a public Roman Bath in Ephesus, and rushed out of the bath-house without bathing – shouting, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within. Apparently his temper and tongue were never completely subdued!
The record indicates that John survived his contemporary apostles and lived to an extreme old age, dying naturally at Ephesus in about AD 100. According to another early church father, Tertullian (c. 200 CE; The Prescription of Heretics) John was sent to the penal colony (likely at Patmos) only after being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and suffering nothing from it. Jerome, a few hundred years after John told of a tradition that John was brought to Rome during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, and was thrown in a vat of boiling oil, but was miraculously preserved unharmed. In an obvious overstatement, tradition recalls that all in the entire Colosseum audience were converted to Christianity upon witnessing this miracle. The church of “San Giovanni a Porta Latina” has been dedicated as the traditional scene of this event. John’s tomb is recalled at Selçuk, a small town in the vicinity of Ephesus.
Revelation the Letter
Revelation is unique in all the Bible because it includes an internal outline (in Rev. 1:19) that helps us understand its message. It is further unique because it was deliberately encoded. Some of the codes are obvious (locust with the face of a man), yet others are not. For instance, a careful observation of the book will help us identify “seven sevens” in the book:
- The letter was written to seven churches of Asia Minor.
- The letter includes seven “blessed are” statements.
- The letter is organized into seven blocks of information about the earth
- These sections are divided by seven blocks of information about events in Heaven.
- There are seven identifications of those in the throne room of Heaven.
- Each judgment set (seals, trumpets, bowls) are seven in number.
- Rev. 14 identifies seven angels that aid the believers of the Tribulation Period.
This is not new to John, for he wrote The Gospel of John is in the same format – Jesus had seven “I Am” statements with seven “I Do” works to give evidence to His claim of Messiah-ship. John included only the ones he was directed to use to shed light on Jesus’ identity.
A Quick Look at Revelation One
An overview of chapter one leads us to a simple outline. John unfolds:
1. The Cause of the work (1:1-3): The book was written to show Jesus; explain the end; and bless the student.
2. The Collaboration (4-8): The book was written by John with the One on Heaven’s Throne, the Spirit of God and Jesus the King.
3. The Circumstances (9-10): John was AT Patmos IN worship.
4. The Commissioning (11-18): John was commissioned to record a message FROM Jesus TO the seven churches of Asia Minor.
5. The Contents (1:19): Jesus told John to write the work in three parts – the vision of the Risen Christ (1:1-8); letters to the seven local churches (2-3); and “things that come after” (4-22).
6. The Curiosity (1:20): God will give keys to SIGNS in many places.
That outline is informative, but STERILE. It is flat on the page – but what is exposed in Revelation 1 is NOT. It is earth shattering. It fills Heaven with light and song. It is a story of the veil torn back, and Heaven’s Master exposed.
Since the name of the work is The Revelation of Jesus Christ, we must begin where the book begins. This is not simply the story of the future – it is the story of Jesus, the holder of the future. Our study today must be about HIM – or we do not understand the whole of the point of the book. Revelation’s opening chapter offers a multitude of titles for Jesus. His description is the personality on which the plot of the book rests. Who is this Jesus? Is this the story of a broken man, an ex-builder from Nazareth, crushed by the Roman authorities at a Passover travesty of justice so long ago? Not at all!
Jesus is God’s One and Only Choice for our Rescue
Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.
We begin this book with the simplest title of our Savior. From the beginning of the book he is called Jesus Christ.
- Jesus: His name “Yeshua” or “salvation” recalls his earthly ministry when He fulfilled the call of the angelic prophecy: “He will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
- Christ: Calling Him by the Greek title “Christos” is another way of saying “Mesheach” (Messiah) or simply “God’s anointed One”.
We have said it many times and in many ways, but we dare not skip the fundamental truth that defined the Apostle’s preaching at the beginning of the church: Acts 4:8 “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people… 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead… 11 “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. 12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Revelation opens with Jesus as God’s choice to save us. All other choices: religious zeal, moral living, a passionate work ethic, or any other device is insufficient to save – since God has clearly declared what He accepts. God is not ambivalent, nor is He obscure. The idea that this book is designed to stop people from understanding God clearly doesn’t mesh with its opening – God wants you to know Jesus and what He is going to do to close the calendar. In addition, God considers this word on the subject TRUE. Look more closely at the opening verses:
- The record of this revealed truth claims to be clearly from God (1:1).
- The letter claims to be the very written “Word of God” witnessed truthfully by John (1:2).
- The letter openly calls itself “prophecy” and demands obedience to its directives (1:3).
Jesus is One with God the Father and God the Spirit
Though God the Father and God the Spirit are described, the emphasis of this chapter is clearly on God the Son and His description. Yet Scripture is not haphazard – so let us not skip over the two descriptions that precede the imagery of Jesus the Son. God is AGAIN described as ONE in ESSENCE but three in distinct personalities. This isn’t as uncommon as some would lead you to believe in the Word. The Hebrew Scriptures show God as multiple in personality:
- Genesis 1:26 records that God spoke in multiple language: “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
- At Babel, Genesis 11:7 records: “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”
- And even in the “Shma” that opens every synagogue service, the recitation of Deuteronomy 6:4 declares: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” Yet the term “one” is the same as is used in Genesis 2:24, where “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Clearly this means one in essence, and not in fact.
The Gospel accounts continue this same understanding at the record of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
- Matthew 3:13 “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Obviously three persons are all declared together in this passage, yet one God.
The description of God the Father is described in 1:4 as “the ever present One” – “He who was, is and is to come” seems to emphasize the same truth as found in Genesis 21:33 “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.” The ever-in-the-present God of Abraham keeps His promises.
The description of God the Spirit is described in 1:4 as “from the seven Spirits who are before His throne”, which many understand to be a gloss description echoing Isaiah 11:2: “2The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. If that is the relationship, God’s Spirit deserves special attention and explanation as:
- The Spirit of God’s “ever in the present completion” (Yahweh).
- The Spirit of God’s practical ability or skillfulness to demonstrate truth (wisdom: hokhmah).
- The Spirit of God’s revealed discernment (understanding: bi-naw).
- The Spirit of God’s strategies (counsel: aytsaw).
- The Spirit of God’s powerful accomplishments (strength: giborah).
- The Spirit of God’s fierce awesomeness (fear:yiraw)
There is much more in these titles, but this is not the main emphasis of the passage – the revelation of God the Son is the main purpose.
Jesus is Set Above all Creation by His Father
Observe for a few moments the next few verses that sprung from the worship of John’s worship time at Patmos. Surrendered to the Spirit and caught up in a vision – he saw Jesus as He is in Heavenly places. He knew the EARTHLY Savior. He spent years with Him. He leaned on His sweaty garment in the Last Supper. He laughed with Him, and cried with Him. He felt close to Him… yet this description of Jesus was not FAMILIAR… it was REVERENT. This was the Son as seen from God’s perspective – revealed in Heaven’s robe of glory!
Three Descriptions that Illuminate Jesus
The first description comes from Revelation 1:4-8, with special attention to the seven character traits illuminated in 1:5.
“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 who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 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. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” He is:
- The faithful witness: Probably a reference to His Davidic ruling status – He is a statement of God’s truthfulness to David as in Isaiah 55:3 “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting Covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. 4 “Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, A leader and commander for the peoples.”
- The firstborn from the dead: the “Double blessed son” (A “double portion” of the paternal property was allotted by the Mosaic law in Deuteronomy 21:16-17) and the first fruits of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15), this title reminds us that He was raised first so that He might be shown as preeminent as is Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Lazarus was raised but died again. Jesus was raised to life eternal, the first to have this distinction.
- The ruler of the kings of the earth: By His resurrection He passed to glory and dominion (as in Philippians 2:9 “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…”). His preeminence over the kings of the earth is illustrated in places like Psalm 2:2, 89:27; Isaiah 52:15; 1 Timothy 6:16; Revelation 6:15; Revelation 17:4; and Revelation 19:16.
- The one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.
- The one who has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father: This echoes the voice of Peter – “But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”
- The one to whom be glory and power for ever and ever.
- The one who is coming again in the full view of the whole world.
- The Alpha and Omega: the beginning and the consummator of human history.
Men and women, we do not exalt Christ out of some secondary need to make Him more important in a world religion. We exalt Christ because the Father in Heaven has exalted Him. We preach His Word because of what God has said.
- God has said that He is the One of whom the prophets spoke.
- He bears the mark of the faithfulness of God to supply an eternal ruler to David’s throne.
- He clearly demonstrates God’s acceptance of His sacrifice in the Resurrection from the grave.
- He stands above all as King of all Kings of the earth.
- He clearly showed His love for us in setting us free.
- He installed us as intercessors and priests for our community.
- He is worthy of GLORY, majesty and praise… and get ready… for He is COMING BACK.
- That One who started the clock of human history and communicated the very first letter will get the LAST WORD.
Yet, still there is more… A second description is revealed after John describes in 1:9-12 the meeting with Jesus and the setting of the remarkable vision of the Risen Christ, he draws us back to the One that overwhelmed him as he fell down as dead before Him:
Revelation 1:13 “…and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. He is:
- Like the Son of Man: “like a man, a human being, or in a human form.” A graphic statement about the humanity of Jesus, this title recognizes forever that Jesus is the son BORN OF A WOMAN, who took a form carried upward when he ascended into heaven, the universe is controlled by a man, the first among many brothers
- Clothed as a Priest: A robe reaching down to the feet, leaving the feet visible. The allusion to a long, loose, flowing robe, such as was worn by kings and priests should carry us back to Isaiah 6 at the commissioning of Isaiah the prophet (cp. Ex 28:33ff). His sash seems to favor the priestly garb (Ex. 28:4).
- Donned with bright, white hair: Hairs of old men, are compared to an almond tree in bloom (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Many NT scholars believe the hair color to be a metaphor for the antiquity of Christ, who Colossian 1:16-17 poses as the very “Ancient of days” (cp. Daniel 7:9), Who created all things at the beginning under the auspices of His Father.
- Bright, flaming eyes. God’s eyes are penetrating, seeing everything, knowing everything. Jeremiah 16:17 – “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes. And Hebrews 4:13 “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”
- Feet of fine bronze, still glowing: The metal that was being made in the furnace was still glowing hot. In Ezekiel 1:7, “and they” (the feet of the living creatures) “sparkled like the color of burnished brass.” The word used here – chalkolibanō – occurs in the New Testament only here and in Revelation 2:18 and means “white brass” (compound of chalkos or brass, and libanos, whiteness, from the Hebrew “lavan” or white). This is a PURIFIED state of His feet, reminiscent of the (millu’im) consecration of priests in Leviticus 8:23.
- A voice like a rushing river: He spoke with the SOUND of GOD’S VOICE, as in Ezekiel 43:2, “And behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the east: and his voice was like the sound of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.” (cp. Revelation 14:2; Revelation 19:6).
- Seven churches held in His hand – for He is the head of the church.
- A sword from His mouth: He spoke with POWER of GOD’S VOICE, as Isaiah 49:2 declared: “And he made my mouth like a sharp sword.” or in Hebrews 4:12, “The Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword,” etc.
- Face that shone brightly, like the sun: The Bible used such a description in two ways. First, it was one INTENSELY IN LOVE WITH GOD as in Judges 5:31; “But let them that love him (the Lord) be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might”; another was as ONE WHO IS REJOICING as in Psalm 19:5, “Which (the sun) is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.”
A clearer picture is offered anew, as the Lord revealed His Son.
- He looks like us – he is a PERSON.
- Though a man – He is ancient and eternal.
- He sees everything, knows everything and understands everything.
- His feet tread in purity.
- His voice is loud and powerfully effective.
- His people are held in His grasp.
- His faces shines with excitement, energy and intense love.
Oh, but we are not finished yet… there is yet a third description is given by Jesus Himself, as He describes the position His Father has given Him in the throne room of Heaven: Revelation 1:17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. He said He is:
- The First and the Last.
- The Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever.
- The One who hold the keys of death and Hades.
Jesus is Celebrated and Revealed throughout this Letter
The sight of him was enough to make John fall at his feet as though dead. Of course it did. Is there any other like Him? No, surely not. John wasn’t done with the description of Jesus in Revelation 1. There are more descriptions than this that are found as this Book reveals Who Jesus is – that is a primary purpose of the writing.
- There are descriptions of Jesus in every one of the seven churches special letters that we will study in another time together.
- There is a description of the One who moves to open the final chapter of world history in Revelation 5 – the description of “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Lamb that had been slain” (5:6).
- In Revelation 7:17 Jesus is described as the Shepherd of those who are purified in His blood.
- In Revelation 12:5 Jesus is displayed as the one “Who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter”.
- In Revelation 13:8 He is the owner of the “Book of life”.
- In Revelation 19 and 20, Jesus is the Groom for the Church – set for the Wedding feast. He is the great Victor over the evil forces of the earth:
Revelation 19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
- In Revelation 21 and 22, Jesus is the lamplight of the New Jerusalem, His throne the source of the river of life, the very “Alpha and the Omega – the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End… the Root and the Offspring of David… the bright Morning Star”.
We haven’t even really touched the “Hymns of Praise and Worship” in this book. But the point is clear enough: The purpose of human history is to tell Who God is – and no one can show that better than Jesus. God wants us to know what will happen, but He wants us to know more WHO He is – the One who is bringing all these things about! “These are true words of God.” 10Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”