The Prologue, 1-20
1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, 1:2 who then testified to everything that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ. 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!
The revelation of Jesus Christ – ‘Revelation’ = apocalypse.
How are we to understand this expression? Grammatically, it could mean:
(a) the revelation from Jesus Christ. Michaels favours this interpretation. Ian Paul suggests that the second half of the verse supports it, given that the revelation was made known to John by an angel from Jesus. Mounce agrees: ‘The work is a revelation mediated by Jesus Christ rather than a revelation of Christ himself.’
(b) the revelation about, or concerning, Jesus Christ. Ian Paul finds this supported by the wider context: John actually sees a revelation of Jesus.
(c) the revelation belonging to Jesus Christ. This is favoured by Morris, who notes the words immediately following; ‘which God gave him.’
Ian Paul thinks that both (a) and (b) might be intended: ‘John might be intending us to understand both; the revelation that Jesus offers is a renewed vision of who he is and what it means to follow him. He is both the sender and the centre of the message we need to hear.’
His servant John – ‘The author tells us that his name was John, and he describes himself as God’s ‘servant’, (Rev 1:1) as one of the ‘prophets’ (Rev 22:9) and as ‘your brother’. (Rev 1:9) Tradition has affirmed this John to be identical with John the apostle, and further, that he was the author of the Fourth Gospel and of the three Johannine Epistles. The view that the author was John the apostle goes back to Justin Martyr (c. AD 140), and is supported by Irenaeus and many others. The principal objection is the style of Revelation. The Greek is in many respects unlike that of the other Johannine writings. It is so unusual and sometimes shows such scant respect for the rules of Gk. grammar that it is felt that it cannot come from the same pen as do the Gospel and the Epistles. (Charles speaks of it as ‘unlike any Greek that was ever penned by mortal man’.)…Whereas most scholars today deny the apostolic authorship, there are some who find it best to think of all five Johannine writings as from one author, and that author the apostle John (e.g. E. Stauffer).’ (NBD)
1:4 From John, to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from “he who is,” and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 1:5 and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood 1:6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father—to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen.
1:7 (Look! He is returning with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him,
and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him.
This will certainly come to pass! Amen.)
‘Faith sees already the dawning light, the first streaks of day, on the tops of the eastern hills. Faith, not fancy, sees the Lord just on the point of leaving the right hand of the Father; and she raises her unheeded voice amid the sleeping, dreaming virgins, “Behold, he cometh with clouds!”‘ (J.H. Hewitson)
1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God—the one who is, and who was, and who is still to come—the All-Powerful!
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” – ‘This’, says Thomas Watson, ‘interprets the word Jehovah; (which is) he subsists of himself, having a pure and independent being; (which was) God only was before time; there is no searching into the records of eternity; (which is to come) his kingdom has no end; his crown has no successors, Heb 1:8′ (A Body of Divinity, 61)
1:9 I, John, your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus. 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 1:11 saying: “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches—to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
Patmos – one of a cluster of small islands off the coast of modern-day Turkey. The island is hilly, and measures just eight miles by four. It was here that John spent his final days, and here that, one Sunday, he received the prophecy that rounds off our Bible.
‘Most Christians…believe that the sabbath commandment was a part of the ceremonial law of Israel and therefore not applicable to the church. This seems to have been the position of the early church. No hint of cessation from work on Sundays is found until Tertullian. While various factors, including Scripture, (Ps 92:2) may have led to an early morning and late evening meeting schedule, one likely explanation was the need to assemble at times that would not conflict with the workday.’ (D.K. Lowery, art. ‘Lord’s Day’, EDT.)
1:12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 1:13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 1:14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 1:15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 1:16 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.
Son of man – A term with ‘both overtones of divinity and undertones of humanity’ (Bewes)
A golden sash round his chest – ‘not round his waist (like the angel in Dan. 10:5) nor round his chest (like the angels in Rev. 15:6), but round his mastoi, translated ‘breasts’ in Luke 11:27 and 23:29 and rendered as ‘paps’ in the KJV. We find similar imagery (which seems equally odd to modern ears) in Isaiah 60:16: ‘You will suck the milk of nations and suck the breasts of kings’ (AT), and 1 Peter 2:2 talks of the ‘spiritual milk’ we find in Jesus. Goddesses in the ancient world were often depicted as having a belt around their breasts; throughout Revelation Jesus is consistently depicted as taking the place of other spiritual powers and being the true source of the benefits they claim to offer.’ (Ian Paul, TNTC)
In this article, Ian Paul notes again that the word used is mastoi (breast), and not stethos (chest). Although this is not conclusive (older English has no problem in referring to a man’s ‘breast’ as the seat of intimate emotion) it is suggestive, given that the LXX always used mastoi to refer to women’s breasts.
Ian Paul adds:
‘We shouldn’t really be too worried about this flexibility of sex identity in Revelation. After all, the 144,000 apparently male martyr-warriors in chapter 14 (who were counted in chapter 7) are in fact (female) ‘virgins’ in Rev 14.4. More widely, we should remember that the NT is rather less bothered about the sex of Jesus than we often are. When Paul talks of Jesus as the first Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Cor 15, he must be referring to Jesus as the first human and not as the first male, since he clearly includes women amongst those who die because of sin and shall be made alive because of redemption. Similarly, in 2 Cor 11.3, Eve is an archetype for men as much as women of people who are deceived. (And, once more, the men as well as women are to be presented to husband Christ as a (female) virgin.) The depiction of Jesus as the personification of the woman wisdom from Proverbs 8 underlies much of the language of John 1, and we probably have an allusion to that in Rev 3.14 (‘the origin of creation’, compare Prov 8.22).’
1:17 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, 1:18 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!
I fell at his feet as though dead – ‘Should the Lord Jesus appear now to any of us in his majesty and glory, it would not be to our edification nor consolation. For we are not meet nor able, by the power of any light or grace that we have received, or can receive, to bear the immediate appearance and representation of them. His beloved apostle John had leaned on his bosom probably many a time in his life, in the intimate familiarities of love; but when he afterward appeared to him in his glory, “he fell at his feet as dead.”‘ (John Owen)
“I am alive for ever and ever!” – ‘The Jesus who was born into our world, and who lived and died in first-century Palestine, also rose from the dead, is now alive for ever, and is available and accessible to his people. Jesus Christ is not to be relegated, like other religious leaders, to history and the history books. He is not dead and gone, finished or fosslized. He is alive and active. He calls us to follow him, and he offers himself to us as our indwelling and transforming Saviour.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 66)
“I hold the keys of death and Hades” – ‘The world of the dead is pictured as having gates which are normally kept locked so that once departed spirits have passed through they have no way back to the land of the living. Jesus, however, inspires hope by letting us know that he holds the keys to those gates. He alone can unlock death’s gates, release departed spirits out of Hades and rejoin them with a physical body.’ (David Lawrence, Heaven – It’s Not The End Of The World, p 85)
1:19 Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things. 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The angels of the seven churches – These are often taken to be either guardian angels or human leaders of the churches. But it is unlikely that an angel can share responsibility for the sins of a church, and the alternative explanation is contrary to the usage of the time. Hemer (NBD) tentatively suggests that ‘the ‘angel’ is perhaps something like a heavenly counterpart of the church. In practice we may visualize this as amounting to a personification of the church, even if this does less than justice to the connotations of the original concept.’