February 28, 2008

Revelation study - week 2b

1:9 I, John, (your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and patient endurance that are in Jesus) was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 saying: "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches– to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea."
12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden menorahs, 13 and in the midst of the menorahs was one like a son of man (Dan. 7:13).

He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet
and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest.
14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow,
and his eyes were like a fiery flame.
15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace,
and his voice was like the roar of many waters.
16 He held seven stars in his right hand,
and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth.
His face shone like the sun shining at full strength.

John begins recounting his vision in an interesting way. He addresses himself to the readers as one who shares in the “persecution, kingdom, and patient endurance that are in Jesus.” The word translated “persecution” is the word often translated as “tribulation” (Greek: thlipsei). For John and the Christians of the first century, “the tribulation” wasn’t some far-off end-of-the-world event—it was the present reality! From the beginning, Christians have been in “tribulation/persecution.” Jesus Himself told His first followers they would experience it (Matthew 24) and John describes life “in Jesus” by bookending “kingdom” (the reigning with Christ that believers experience) with “tribulation/persecution” and “patient endurance.” This introduces another key theme in Revelation—the Christian reigns through suffering, not by avoiding it. This idea will dominate the book for the next 21 chapters!

John is commissioned to write a letter to seven churches throughout Asia Minor which contains the vision he is about to experience. The voice commissioning him to do so turns out to be the voice of “one like a Son of Man”—Jesus’ favorite title for Himself during His earthly ministry. The Son of Man figure in Daniel 7 was the one who came before God’s very presence, was given authority and honor and even worshipped(!), and then executed divine judgment on the nations (portrayed as beasts in Daniel’s vision) who were persecuting God’s people.

The lampstands that John sees (Jewish menorahs) represent the churches—as we will soon be told plainly—and 7 of them likely signify the entire Church worldwide (see the discussion in previous posts on the number 7 in Scripture). The fact that Jesus, the Son of Man, is standing in the midst of the menorahs is quite encouraging because it means that He is in the midst of His people (just as He promised He would be after giving the Great Commission).

But this Jesus whom John now sees is no “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” who comes to many peoples' minds when they picture Him! The Jesus John sees is accompanied by a litany of references from the Hebrew Bible which often referred to God Himself (long robe, fiery eyes, bronze feet, voice like many waters, etc.). What we find out is that the Son of Man is some way, somehow the God of Israel Himself! Jesus’ earthly claims to be God-With-Us (i.e. John 8:58, etc.) are now made clear in a powerful way to John—and in turn, his readers.


17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead,
but he placed his right hand on me and said:
"Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive! Forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and of Hades!
19 Therefore write what you saw,
what they are,
and what is about to happen after these things.
20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden menorahs is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven menorahs are the seven churches


This notion of Jesus being God is confirmed by His own words. He is “the first and the last”, a phrase used to denote God Himself. In addition, however, He is also human and experienced death. But death is a beaten foe, for Jesus now lives “forever and ever” and has complete control over (“holds the keys of”) death and all who are dead (“Hades” being used in Scripture to refer to the Hebrew concept of “She’ol” or “the grave.”

Because of who He now is and what He’s now accomplished, Jesus can reveal to John the true nature of the world and the powers behind it. He tells John to write “what he saw” (ha eides), “what they are” (ha eisen) and “what is about to happen after these things” (ha mellei genesthai meta tauta). So we see that Revelation is going to reveal to John visions (what he saw), the meaning of these visions (what they are) and the events that are about to take place for him and his readers (what is about to happen).
The first of these to be explained is the vision of the menorahs and stars in His right hand. The stars symbolize the “angels of the 7 churches” and the menorahs symbolize the churches themselves. This is a feature of apocalyptic literature—earthly realities or entities have heavenly or angelic representation (cf. Daniel 10). This encourages the reader by letting them know that though they may seem destitute and forsaken by God, they are always before Him via their heavenly representation and are part of His sovereign plan all of history. God's people are not forgotten, no matter how bleak the situations they find themselves undergoing may appear!

[Note: Beginning in the 1850s with individuals such as John Nelson Darby, C.I. Scofield, D.L. Moody, and others, it became common for people to interpret v.19 as a chronological outline of Revelation and the key to understanding the whole book. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” This reading translates “ha eisin” (what they are) as depicting current events and “ha mellei genesthai…” (what is about to happen…) as everything that will happen after the Rapture. Therefore “what you saw” refers to the vision of Jesus in this chapter, “what is now” refers to the current state of the church before it is raptured (chs. 2-3) and “what is about to happen after these things” refers to the remainder of the book (chs. 4-22) which depicts events that have yet to happen in history. This is sometimes referred to as a Futurist view of Revelation because it places everything after ch.3 at some still-unrealized point in the future.

However, it is worth noting that a) nothing resembling a rapture of the church out of the world takes place in Revelation, b) the events described by John to his readers have occasional historic referents in the 1st century (i.e. the allusions to Nero) and c) events that would not happen for another 2,000 years or more would certainly not be described to John as “what is about to happen…”!

1 comment:

Russ said...

This is excellent.

Rosco from Macon, GA

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