The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1-20)


Revelation 1:1-20; Key Verse: 1:1a, 5b-6

"The revelation from (of) Jesus Christ...To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen."

Suffering in life is often unbearable. Suffering as a Christian is often not any easier. Where and how can we truly find comfort when we suffer? Rev 1:1-20 gives us the ultimate answer. (Since this is an extremely long post, just skip to the last paragraph before the references to get a short 1 sentence answer! Then when you have some time, study and meditate on what is in between.)


Meaning. Apokalypsis (Revelation) (Rev 1:1) means laying bare, making naked, a disclosure of truth, instruction concerning things before unknown (Strong's concordance), the unveiling or uncovering of something previously hidden, the making known of what we could not find out for ourselves. It is not a book of human wisdom. It is a revelation. It is a setting forth of what God has made known.

Mine! "There is not a single inch of the whole terrain of our human existence over which Christ…does not proclaim, ‘Mine!'’’ This is one of Abraham Kuyper's (1837-1920) best known sayings. (Kuyper was a Dutch reformed pastor, theologian and churchman, who founded 2 Christian newspapers which he edited, a Calvinist university, a Christian political party, and became prime minister of the Netherlands.) This expresses the perspective of the last book of the Bible. Revelation is about the triumph of God over the forces of evil. It humbles us with a vision of the absolute sovereignty of God over history: past, present and future. There is nothing outside of God’s control. Every power, every evil-power is subject to the rule of God. The declarative exclamation point of Revelation is that God wins decisively in the end with a slam dunk!

Jesus. Revelation is about Christ’s victory over Satan and all his allies culminating in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). "The revelation of Jesus Christ" means that it is from him, belongs to him, and about him (Rev 1:1a). Revelation is the climax of the Christo-centric theme of the Bible. It is about the gospel (Rev 1:5-6). In 1985, Graham Goldsworthy wrote The Lion and the Lamb: The Gospel in Revelation.

Author. John the author (Rev 1:1) probably wrote this book around A.D. 96, at the end of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). He banished John to the isle of Patmos because of his Christian stand (Rev 1:9).

Pastoral. No book of the Bible has captured people’s imaginations–both positively and negatively–as has Revelation. Some find it frightening, some confusing, some avoid it. Many see this book with fanciful wild speculation. But Revelation is a comforting and pastoral book, especially in a time of uncertainty such as ours.

Apocalyptic. Revelation is prophetic in character and apocalyptic in form. Major features of apocalyptic literature are:

  1. mainly eschatological (eschatos: last times)
  2. written during times of persecution
  3. visions abound
  4. style generally figurative with an abundance of symbols.

“Apocalyptic” is a literary genre utilizing visions and highly symbolic language to depict the cosmic struggle between God and Satan. In apocalyptic literature the symbols are never intended to be taken literally–a mistake many interpreters make. Instead, they are to be interpreted through the lens of both the OT and John’s own age (late 1st century) and historical situation (the increasing persecution of the church in Asia Minor).

OT: The primary key to interpreting the symbols in Revelation correctly is the OT. Revelation is like the prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Isaiah, which make use of similar apocalyptic symbols. Most who heard Revelation when it was read in the churches were probably able to immediately connect the symbols and images John uses to those OT passages from which they are drawn. But we are 2,000 years removed from the original context, and not Jews steeped in the Torah and Jewish apocalyptic writings. So we have work to do to keep such a background in mind. In many ways Revelation is a divinely-inspired commentary on those OT themes which were not completely fulfilled by the 1st Advent of Christ. To interpret this book correctly, then, look to the OT to find the meaning of the symbols used by John. It is John who explains what the OT prophets meant in the greater light of the coming of Christ and the messianic age.

Misc. Genesis is the book of beginnings (Gen 1:1). Revelation is the book of consummation (Rev 22:5). The gospels unveil Christ at his 1st coming in humiliation; Revelation reveals him in his exaltation. Jesus is the key, the first, the last, the beginning, the end (Rev 1:8,17-18; 22:13).

Views. I will not explain the 4 main schools of interpretation (Idealist, Preterist, Historical, Futurist) or the 3 millennial views (Premillennialism, Amillennialism, Postmillennialism), for they can be easily googled, and because I am still unable to decide which position to take! (An explanation of the 4 views by Riddlebarger is after the references.)

Rev 1:1-20, the prologue, can be divided into 3 parts (Leon Morris):

  1. Introduction (Rev 1:1-3)
  2. Salutation (Rev 1:4-8)
  3. The First Vision (Rev 1:9-20)
    • The command to write (Rev 1:9-11)
    • The vision of the glorious Lord (Rev 1:12-20)

In this sermon on Rev 1:1-20, let us consider 5 points regarding Jesus, the Son of Man (Rev 1:13) (Irving L. Jensen):

  1. Jesus reveals himself to us (Rev 1:1-3)
  2. Jesus gives himself to us (Rev 1:4-8)
  3. Jesus commissions us (Rev 1:9-11)
  4. Jesus stands with us (Rev 1:12-16)
  5. Jesus consoles and inspires us (Rev 1:17-20)
I. Jesus Reveals Himself to Us (Rev 1:1-3)

Rev 1:1 contain a general summary of the whole book as well as identifying the nature of what follows.

* Source. It came from God the Father (Rev 1:1b). It is not the result of a deranged, hallucinating mind. It is not of human origin. These are "visions of God" (Eze 1:1). Jesus is the mediator of the revelation/visions. In one way or another, Jesus is the focus of our attention in Revelation. In the opening 5 verses, the intimate name "Jesus" is heightened to the full dignified "Jesus Christ" 3 times.

* Recipients. There are 2: John and his servants. It will "show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John" (Rev 1:1c). Servant (doulos) is a slave or bond-servant, one who served out of love and devotion to his master. Unbelievers cannot understand Revelation because it was not intended for them, for the natural man (1 Cor 2:14), but for those who willingly serve God.

* Content. John "testifies to everything he saw--that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:2). Revelation is a record of what God has said to John through his angel and of what Jesus said to him. As John testified to the 1st coming of Christ (Jn 19:35, 21:24; 1 Jn 1:2, 4:14), so John proclaims all that he saw concerning the 2nd Coming. The word of God expressed in Revelation is the testimony about the coming glory of Christ given to His chruch and recorded by John, his faithful witness.

* Promise. "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it" (Rev 1:3a). This is the only biblical book that comes with a blessing to the one who listens to it being read and explained and then responds in obedience. This is the first of 7 beatitudes (Rev 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14). There is great blessing promised to those who read and study Revelation. The Bible never tires of repeating that mere study is not enough; we have to "take to heart" (keep, guard, attend to carefully) what is written.

* Urgency. "...what must soon take place." (Rev 1:1; 2:5,16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:12; 2 Tim 4:9). "...because the time is near." (Rev 1:3b). God has determined the time and he will speedily bring them to pass. But this refers to his time, not ours, to the quality of time rather than the quantity (Ps 90:4; 2 Pet 3:8). It may mean "suddenly" (1 Th 5:2-3), as "without delay when the time comes." Behind this urgency lies the idea that a Sovereign hand is in charge of the future: that history is His-story. What happens to God’s servants is not chance, but decree. God orders and fulfills His plan for His people, even in the face of terrible and terrifying events. No matter how bad it may seem, God never abdicates His rule.

II. Jesus Gives Himself to Us (Rev 1:4-8)

Revelation is cast into the form of a letter with the customary 3 fold opening of author (John), recipient (7 churches in the province of Asia), and blessing (grace and peace). 7 is symbolic, representative of all the churches, for there were more than 7 churches in Asia Minor (Ac 20:5ff; Col 1:2; 4:13), which is modern day Turkey. These 7 churches (Rev 1:11) traverse a rough circle. This is a figure of completeness (Ex 25:31, 37-40; Zech 4:2), and 7 is the number of perfection.

All 3 persons of the Trinity are mentioned as givers of "grace and peace" in the greeting: The Father (Rev 1:4a, 8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5; Exo 3:14-15); the Spirit (Rev 1:4b); the Son (Rev 1:5-7). The Father is described as "who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:4). He is "the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (Rev 1:8), who was before all things and who outlasts all things. There is nothing outside His knowledge, so that there are no unknown factors that can sabotage his plan or the 2nd Coming. Both the Father and the Spirit (Rev 1:4b) affirm the certainty and truth about Jesus--who he is, what he did, and what will happen. Jesus is:

  • "The faithful witness" (Rev 2:13; 3:14; Ps 89:37). He accurately relates his Father's character and plans, one who always speaks and represents the truth.
  • "The firstborn from the dead" (Col 1:18). Of all who have been or will be raised from the dead, Jesus is the preeminent one, the only one who is the rightful heir (Rev 3:14; Ps 89:27; Col 1:15).
  • "The ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev 19:16; Ps 89:29). Jesus is Lord (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3). According to the Father's plan and the Spirit's work, Jesus grants believers His royal blessing of grace and peace.
  • He "who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Zech 12:10). This is the gospel. Jesus loves believers with an unbreakable love (Rom 8:35-39). His love is to redeem us by his atoning death on the cross on our behalf (2 Cor 5:21). From the outset, Jesus' death is central to the message of Revelation.
  • He who "has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father" (Rev 5:10; Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:5,9). We learn who Jesus is (Rev 1:5a), what he has done for us (Rev 1:5b), and as a result become members of his kingdom (Rev 1:6). The order is important. 1st, the gospel. 2nd, we live meaningfully to serve him as priests. 3rd, a doxology of praise is the only proper response in light of the magnitude of blessings Jesus has given believers: "to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen" (Rev 1:6b). We are saved to serve. It is ordinary Christians who are called "priests," not some privileged hierarchy. A priest is a mediator. He speaks to God on behalf of men and to men on behalf of God. Believers are assigned this responsible task by their God. They are to pray to God for the world and to witness to the world of what God has done. In God's name they are to speak the message of reconciliation to the world (2 Cor 5:20). Priests are to make the sacrifice of themselves (Rom 12:1).
  • He "who is coming with the clouds" (Rev 22:20; Mk 13:26; Mt 24:30; 26:64; Lk 21:27). "Look" or "Behold" is the first of its 25 uses in Revelation--a book filled with startling truths that demand careful attention. Revelation is about the certainty of the 2nd Coming, despite the scoffers (2 Pet 3:3-4). That Jesus will return appears in > 500 verses in the Bible. 1 out of 25 verses in the NT (estimated) refers to the 2nd Coming. Jesus repeatedly spoke of his return (Mt 16:27, 24-25; 26:64; Mk 8:38; Lk 9:26) and warned believers to be ready for it (Mt 24:42, 25:13; Lk 12:40, 21:34-36). The 2nd Coming of Christ to this earth is a central theme in the Bible. This provides hope and comfort to those who know him (Jn 14:1-3; 1 Th 4:17-18). This describes how God will bring history to its culmination. This echoes the promise of Daniel: The Son of Man will come with the clouds of heaven (Dan 7:13). Clouds in Scripture symbolize God's presence (Ex 13:21-22, 16:10, 19:16, 33:9, 40:34-38; Num 10:34; 1 Ki 8:10-12). History attests that Christians suffer persecution, God is reviled, and their cause is despised. But this is not final. John records in vivid symbol the overthrow of the wicked and the vindication of God and of good. On that day "all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him" (Rev 1:7). It is the result of guilt for sin and fear of punishment (Rev 6:16; cf Gen 3:8-10). The overthrow of the wicked means the triumph of good and the vindication of Christians who had suffered so much. The challenge of Revelation makes to every person is to be ready for His return. Only those "who have longed for his appearing" (2 Tim 4:8) will enjoy the blessings of his kingdom.

III. Jesus Commissions Us (Rev 1:9-11)

John was imprisoned on Patmos (Rev 1:9), a barren volcanic island in the Aegean Sea, 10 miles by 6 miles, located 40 miles off modern day Turkey. This punishment for his faith took a heavy toll on a 90 y/o man. Under these brutal conditions, he was very much alive, being in the Spirit (Rev 1:10), receiving the most extensive revelation of the future ever given, and commissioned to write (Rev 1:11, 19). This is the 1st of 12 commands in Revelation for John to write what he saw; once he was forbidden to write (Rev 10:4). John was astounded that despite his unworthiness, he had the incomparable privilege of receiving this monumental vision. He did not write to impress or because he is a superior person, but did so as an eyewitness. John identified himself entirely with his suffering brothers and sisters as "your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance" (Rev 1:9), or perseverance.

IV. Jesus Stands with Us (Rev 1:12-16)

Upon hearing the voice, John turned and "saw seven golden lampstands" (Rev 1:12), which are the 7 churches (Rev 1:20). They symbolize churches/Christians as lights in a dark world (Mt 5:14-15; Phil 2:15). Whenever it fails to be a luminary, God threatens judgement (cf. Rev 2:5). Gold is the most previous metal. The church is God's most beautiful entity on earth. "...and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man" (Rev 1:13; Dan 7:13)--the glorified Jesus, who promised to be with his people to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20), was in their very midst.

What might ‘son of man’ mean? The response often suggest it refers to Jesus’ humanity, his solidarity with our human existence, his incarnation. Most of the early church Fathers understood it this way. But its meaning is the very opposite! Daniel's vision describes one who "was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed" (Dan 7:14). When Jesus asked, ‘"Who do people say the Son of Man is?"’ (Mt 16:13), Peter did not draw attention to his humanity but to his deity: "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). The Bible uses the title, ‘Son of Man’ to reflect Jesus’ transcendent majesty. The vision John saw displays Christ's divine glory both visually and audibly, setting the scene for his royal edits to the 7 churches. What did John see?

King: authority. A person of royal distinction who was "dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest" (Rev 1:13). His robe may be characteristic of prophets, priests and kings. Though some dispute it, other commentators regard this imagery to be that of a priest who thus makes intercession for his people (Rom 8:33-34; Heb 2:18, 4:15).

God: holiness. One like the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:9a), God himself, whose white hair (Rev 1:14a) and white clothing (Dan 7:9b) conveys both the wisdom and dignity of age, as well as God's holiness. "Eyes...like blazing fire" (Rev 1:14b) is an image of searching purity and piercing clarity. "Feet...like bronze glowing in a furnace" will crush any opponent, any unclean thing, and is an image of purification and judgment on sinners in the church. "His voice...like the sound of rushing waters" (Rev 1:15; Eze 1:24) suggests awesome authority of the Son (Heb 1:1-2), whom we should listen to (Mt 17:5).

Head: sovereignty. Christ is the head of the church (Eph 4:15, 5:23; Col 1:18), who held 7 stars in his right hand (Rev 1:16a), representing the angels or messengers/spiritual leaders of the 7 churches (Rev 1:20). All that happens in the church is under Jesus' sovereign control. He defends his church with the word of God, which is like a "sharp, double-edged sword" (Rev 1:16b; Heb 4:12; Isa 49:2), a weapon of offense to all who oppose his will.

Jesus' image is glorious and awesome to those who love him, and at the same time terrible\y terrifying for his foes. We either submit in love, or rebel in futility all our days.

V. Jesus Consoles and Inspires Us (Rev 1:17-20)

John could not stand before such a glorious and awesome vision, "fell at his feet as though dead," and was comforted by Christ who "placed his right hand" on him (Rev 1:17). Jesus, who holds the 7 stars/churches in his hand (Rev 1:20), has the whole church in his hand, and also takes action for the needs of the individual.

Overwhelmed with fear upon encountering Christ's/God's glory/presence happens with those who met God (Gen 17:3, 28:17, 32:30; Isa 6:5; Eze 1:28, 3:23; Dan 10:8-9; Lk 5:8). Those brought face-to-face with the glory of Christ are terrified, realizing their sinful unworthiness to be in God's holy presence.

The God of majesty is also the God of mercy and compassion. Jesus said, "Do not be afraid" (Rev 1:17). When we fear God, God comforts us. But when we disregard the fear of God, sin abounds. John Calvin said, "All wickedness flows from a disregard of God… Since the fear of God is the bridle by which our wickedness is held in check, its removal frees us to indulge in every kind of licentious conduct." In comforting John, Jesus said 4 things:

  1. "I am the First and the Last" (Rev 2:8, 22:13), a title used of God in the OT (Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). This is an assertion of the eternity of the Godhead. He is the God of all history, its beginning, its end, and the whole course in between, even as between the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet lies every possible form of speech. All things began with Jesus and all things will end with Jesus. He is the origin and the goal of all creation. He is first because before him there was no God, and last because after him there is no other. He is both Author and Finisher of faith. He is with us at birth; he will be with us at death. Jesus is the perfect, complete and eternal revelation of God.
  2. "I am the Living One" (Jn 1:4; 14:6). Jesus is the eternal, uncreated, self-existent God.
  3. "I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever!" (1 Pet 3:18) Christ lives forever in a union of glorified humanity and deity, "on the basis of the power of an indestructible life" (Heb 7:16). Paul said, "For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him" (Rom 6:9). Jesus having passed through death as a man and now living in the fullness of life is the basis of our confidence, since through him death is but a gateway to a fuller life. To a church facing the possibility of martyrdom, this truth was urgently needed to quell fear. The church could not live if Christ were dead, but because Christ lives, the church cannot die.
  4. "I hold the keys to death and Hades." "Hades" is the NT equivalent of the OT "Sheol" and refers to the place of the dead. "Keys" are symbolic of and denotes access and authority. The keys of the unseen world are in Christ's hand and with them the destiny of all men. We need have no fear of going to any place the keys of which are in his nail-pierced hand. No longer need we fear death, the king of all terrors (1 Cor 15:26, 55-57). Christ alone admits us to death and opens the way out on the other side. No one can wrest the keys from his control. Because he rose, we shall rise also. Jesus has the authority to decide who lives and who dies. This provides an assurance for believers to no longer fear death (Jn 11:25; 14:19).
John is commanded, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later" (Rev 1:19). Like John, all Christians have a duty to pass on the truths they learn from the visions recorded in this book. Though startling or confounding at first, they are inspired by God and profitable for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). As we study the glory of Christ reflected in Revelation, we may be transformed into his image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

How do we deal with injustice, evil and suffering that all people cringe to experience? How do we face the inevitability of death that will come to all people without exception? Only through Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, who died for us and lives forever and ever!


  1. Morris, Leon, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987, 46-57.
  2. Jensen, Irving L, Revelation: A Self-Study Guide. Chicago: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition, 1990.
  3. MacArthur, John, Because the Time is Near: John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007.
  4. MacArthur, John, The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, updated edition, 2006.
  5. Sanders, J. Oswald, Spiritual Maturity: Principles of Spiritual Growth for Every Believer, Chap 9: The Supreme Vision of Christ "I saw one like unto the Son of man." Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1962, 1994, 83-92.
  6. Goldsworthy, Graham, The Goldsworthy Trilogy: (Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, The Gospel in Revelation). UK: Paternoster Press, 2001.
  7. The ESV Study Bible.
  8. Derek Thomas Revelation 1 The Lord of History.
  9. Kim Riddlebarger's 32 sermons on Revelation, Senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California (www.christreformed.org)
Addendum notes: The Time is Near (Rev 1:1-3; Dan 12:1-13) by Kim Riddlebarger

John Calvin, the father of modern biblical studies, is often quoted as saying that he did not write a commentary on Revelation because he did not think he understood Revelation well enough to comment in detail. Whether Calvin actually said this or not, it is a shame that more commentators did not take this advice!

Simply put, Revelation is a book about Jesus Christ’s victory over Satan and all his allies, as John describes the redemptive drama on earth from a heavenly perspective.

According to the best internal and external evidence, Revelation was written by John during his captivity on the Island of Patmos in the mid-90s A.D. It is the last book written and included in the NT. In many ways, it is the most practical book of the entire NT since it is specifically written to Christians who live in the post-apostolic age. This means that the symbols and visions we find are meant for us. Therefore, we must make every effort to interpret them correctly and apply them to our present context.

The Apocalypse of John, as it is known, contains a combination of literary forms. 1st, it is a letter (an epistle) sent to the 7 churches scattered throughout Asia Minor ( Rev 2-3). But the content of this letter is “apocalyptic,” a literary genre utilizing visions and highly symbolic language to depict the cosmic struggle between God and Satan. In apocalyptic literature the symbols are never intended to be taken literally–a mistake many interpreters make. Instead, they are to be interpreted through the lens of both the OT and John’s own age (late 1st century) and historical situation (the increasing persecution of the church in Asia Minor).

John writes against the backdrop of Rome's imperial cult (emperor worship), and massive military and political influence upon all aspects of life. The evil visage of Nero is inescapable in Revelation. Nero, who lived in the 60's, was at first ambivalent towards Christianity, but later unleashed a savage attack upon the church, burning Christians as human torches in his private garden, feeding them to lions and wild beasts in the Coliseum, as well as putting to death both Paul and Peter. For John, Nero is evil incarnate, the historical reference point for all of those enemies of Christ who come after him.

But the primary key to interpreting the symbols in Revelation correctly is the OT. Revelation is like the prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, which make use of similar apocalyptic symbols. Most who heard Revelation when it was read in the churches were probably able to immediately connect the symbols and images John uses to those OT passages from which they are drawn. But we are 2,000 years removed from the original context, and not Jews steeped in the Torah and Jewish apocalyptic writings. So we have work to do to keep such a background in mind. In many ways Revelation is a divinely-inspired commentary on those OT themes which were not completely fulfilled by the 1st Advent of Christ. To interpret this book correctly, then, look to the OT to find the meaning of the symbols used by John. It is John who explains what the OT prophets meant in the greater light of the coming of Christ and the messianic age.

As we interpret these OT symbols, let us not mistake the conflict as a struggle between 2 equal poles of good and evil fighting for supremacy. No! Satan struggles against the kingdom of God throughout Revelation as an already defeated foe (Col 2:13-15). The final outcome is never in doubt. Since Revelation was written after the 1st coming of Christ and the inauguration of his messianic kingdom, we must understand that John’s vision presupposes that Satan’s head was already crushed by Christ at Calvary and that Satan’s final defeat is rendered certain by Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

But the images of conflict depicted through the lens of apocalyptic symbols and images are that of a real conflict in which the people of God will suffer greatly at the hands of the devil. Having been defeated by Christ’s cross and empty tomb, Satan is portrayed as a wounded animal, certain to die, but utterly vicious and irrational in his anger before the end finally comes. Satan wages war upon the saints, but he cannot defeat them. When he kills them, they come to life and reign with Christ. Indeed, this is a conflict in which the final outcome is never, never, in doubt. If you take nothing else from Revelation, take this: God wins decisively in the end!

Revelation is not only filled with apocalyptic visions, it also contains predictive prophecy in which certain future events are foretold well in advance. Yet, while there are elements of predictive prophecy, it is wrong to see Revelation as though it were simply “history before it is written,” as some describe. To do this is to confuse John with Nostradamus. John is not writing this to tell us about the minute details of future events. Rather, he writes to tell us about Christ’s ultimate triumph over sin and death as the final chapters of redemptive history draw to a close. Therefore, we should view the prophetic elements of Revelation in service of redemptive history, and not just as sensational information given to titillate the curious.

There are 4 major approaches to interpreting Revelation. The most familiar is the futurist view, which holds that most of what is written remains to be fulfilled in the days before Jesus' return. People who hold this view (Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye) spend much time and energy trying to tie the symbols in Revelation to current events. Many churches/ministries devote themselves to explaining every tragedy and political crisis from Revelation. But I am not going to identify the Antichrist, predict the date of Jesus' return, or explain the roles of America and Israel in biblical prophecy. Instead, I will be talking about what John talks about–Jesus Christ’s certain victory over all of his enemies.

Another view–which is gaining acceptance among Reformed Christians–is preterism, which holds that Revelation was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and that much of what we find in Revelation was fulfilled when the Roman army sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70, destroying the temple and dispersing surviving Jews throughout the Mediterranean world. Preterists make the opposite error as do the futurists. Instead of treating this book as though it deals with future events, preterists treat Revelation as though it is largely historical and that most everything written has already taken place, with the possible exception of Christ’s 2nd coming and the resurrection, a view taken by so-called partial preterists like R. C. Sproul and Ken Gentry. This is very problematic because it reduces Revelation to a mere historical record, robbing the book of its apocalyptic character and eliminating John’s stress upon Christ’s final and eschatological victory when he returns in judgment to raise the dead and make all things new on the “last day.”

A 3rd view has been widely held by historic Protestants and is known as historicism. Though few still hold it today, this sees Revelation as a kind of historical map which plots the history of Christ’s church from the apostolic age unto the time of the Reformation. Proponents of this view usually identify the Harlot of Babylon in Revelation 18 with the papacy and the Roman church, a view which has been elevated to confessional status by the Westminster Confession. Although the papacy may indeed be a part of the anti-Christian opposition to the preaching of the Gospel, this view does not comport well with the nature of apocalyptic literature, which depicts not specific events but general patterns of a re-occurring conflict between Christ and Satan which culminates in a final eschatological battle.

A 4th view is called idealism, a view that emphasizes the apocalyptic nature of the book and understands the various visions throughout Revelation as depictions of the struggle which takes place during the entire period of time between the 1st and the 2nd coming of Christ. Each vision is describing the same period of time but from a different perspective or vantage point, each vision with a different theological theme or emphasis. As Dennis Johnson from Westminster Seminary California puts it (Triumph of the Lamb, 2001), each of these visions is like looking at the same scene from a different camera angle. This means that we must not see Revelation as depicting strictly future or historical events. Nor does Revelation exhaustively map out the history of the church age. Instead, we must see the visions and symbols in them as pictures of the on-going struggle between Christ and Satan and his agents, the beast and the dragon, a struggle which Christ will inevitably win on behalf of his people. This is the way apocalyptic literature works.

With this background, let us turn to our text. Rev 1:1, the opening words contain a general summary of the whole book as well as identifying the nature of what follows: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.” This declaration can be taken 2 ways: it reveals Christ as the main character, or else Jesus is the source of all that is about to be revealed to John through the angel. In a sense, both of these are true because the revelation is from Christ as well as being about Christ. Revelation is one of the most Christ-centered in the NT.

But the primary sense of this declaration is that although this revelation concerns Jesus, it comes from God through an angel, and is, in turn, given through the pen of John, “the servant of the Lord.” He is the one through whom Christ is revealed in the vision and symbols which follow. This revelation of Christ concerns things which “must soon take place.” This assertion creates a serious problem for futurists since it means that what John is about to reveal will concern the entire church age–these are things which must soon take place–not just events located at the end of the church age as Bible prophecy pundits often insist. That John is speaking of the entire church age in Revelation is reinforced by several other important passages in the NT. In the Pentecost sermon, Peter declares that the last days were already at hand just 50 days after Christ’s resurrection because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17). Hebrews likewise states that the coming of Christ means that Christians in the 1st century were already living in the last days (Heb 1:2). This means that the entire period of time between the 1st & 2nd coming of Christ–“this present evil age,” as Paul puts it in Gal 1:4–are also the “last days.”

Therefore, the argument from so many, that “the last days” are limited to the time immediately before the 2nd Coming of Jesus, is completely unfounded when we look at the teaching of the whole of the NT. In fact, when Jesus took on human flesh, lived a perfect life, died upon a cross, rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven, human history entered its final phase. While the duration of this period of time–the “last days”–is never revealed to us, it is certain that the last days began with the 1st coming of Christ and will end at his 2nd (Heb 1:2; Mt 13:39). Throughout his ministry, Jesus warns us not to be preoccupied with the date of his return, but instead to keep watch, eagerly anticipating his coming (Mt 25:1-30). Therefore, what John is about to reveal are things which are soon to take place, things which concern the final age of human history, an age which ends when Jesus returns in great glory, to judge the world, raise the dead and make all things new.

When John speaks of the “apocalypsis” (Revelation) of Christ, he very likely has in mind that what is about to be revealed is directly connected to earlier revelation about the last days in the OT, especially in Daniel. In his prophecy, Daniel repeatedly speaks of “the last days” in connection to the rise of great empires and the coming of the Son of Man. When John says that the things he will reveal must soon take place, he has in mind those things Daniel foretold, which were already coming to pass when John reveals his apocalyptic vision. Indeed, there is a direct connection made throughout the NT between the 1st advent of Christ, the dawn of the messianic age, and “the last days,” because these things fulfill the expectations of Israel’s prophets regarding the end of the age. In the light of the coming of Christ, John will reveal those things Daniel could reveal only through the types and shadows of the pre-messianic era.

This connection between John and Daniel can be seen in our OT. As Daniel’s prophecy came to a close, Daniel is told that his own prophecy is being sealed until a later time. In Daniel 12, we find this declaration: “At that time,” that is, at the end of the age, “Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise.” Michael is the name of the valiant angelic warrior of Christ. At the end, “there will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

Daniel is not only speaking of the end of the age and the bodily resurrection which accompanies the return of Christ, he also speaks of a time of unprecedented tribulation which precedes these events. This is the so-called “great tribulation” which Daniel connects to the resurrection, but which John reveals to be that entire period of time between the 1st and 2nd comings of Christ (Rev 7:14). While Daniel speaks in general terms of a horrible distress, John will describe the nature of this great tribulation through a series of visions and apocalyptic symbols. As we will see, it is the dragon, the beast and the harlot who bring about the distress of which Daniel foretold. John’s vision describes Satan’s final struggle before he is crushed by Christ and hurled into the lake of fire on that great and glorious day when our Lord returns with the hosts of heaven to destroy all of his enemies with a final judgment. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, which explains why Daniel connects this to the resurrection.

It is what follows which connects John’s vision directly to Daniel’s prophecy. In Dan 12:4, Daniel writes, “But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.” That prophecy which Daniel was ordered to seal up until the end, is now unsealed–after what appears to be a reference to the general advance of civilization–and revealed by the angel to John. The Lord himself says to Daniel in 12:9-10: “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” Not only will Daniel’s prophecy be sealed until the time of the end when Christ comes to fulfill all righteousness and lay down his life for his own, but these things will be intelligible only when viewed through the eyes of faith. As Jesus said, the course of this age will be very much like the days of Noah. People will go about their business all the while scoffing at the gospel. But a sure and certain judgment will come upon the world when people least expect it (Mt 24:36-42). It was also Jesus wh

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What Is Heaven Like? (Revelation 21-22)


Revelation 21:1-22:5; Key Verse: 21:5

"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

Everything new. Every human being needs to experience a real newness of life. When we do not, we become miserably unhappy like Cain, a restless wanderer (Gen 4:12-14). Many agree with Mick Jagger, and with the Rolling Stones' signature song of this age: "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." No matter what we do or do not do, we feel restless and without any deep lasting satisfaction. This is the state of all men without exception. That is why through out the Bible, God gives us promise after promise of having a new heart and a new spirit (Eze 36:26), and of being new (2 Cor 5:17), renewed (Mt 19:28), refreshed (Acts 3:19), transformed (2 Cor 3:18), etc. The culmination of our renewal and complete transformation (glorification) will happen at the end of the ages when Jesus returns, and when we see him face to face. We see this best in the last 2 chapters of Revelation, which is the last 2 chapters of the Bible.

Heaven. Revelation is about the triumph of God over the forces of evil. More specifically, Revelation is a book about Jesus Christ’s victory over Satan and all his allies culminating in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). Through out the ages the ultimate triumph and hope of God's people is heaven. Scripture refers to heaven more than 500 times. Revelation alone mentions heaven about 50 times. What is heaven like? The concluding 2 chapters of the Bible give us what may perhaps be the best description of heaven, though it is deeply symbol laden with imagery derived from the OT (though the OT is not directly quoted). We may think of heaven in 3 ways:

  1. What is New (Rev 21:1-8).
  2. What is Missing (Rev 21:9-27; 22:1-5).
  3. What is Ultimate (Rev 22:4-5).
I. What Is New (Rev 21:1-8)

  • A new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1; Gen 1:1).
    • Because of sin, our world has been cursed (Gen 3:14-19). The first heaven and the first earth, the old order was "subjected to frustration" (Rom 8:20), "in bondage to decay" (Rom 8:21) and "groaning as in the pains of childbirth" (Rom 8:22).
    • Isa 65:17-19 - See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more."
    • Isa 66:22 - “'As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,' declares the Lord, 'so will your name and descendants endure'"
    • 2 Pet 3:13 - "But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."
  • The Holy City, the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2a, 10-11) is the church redeemed by Christ. She will no longer be trampled by the nations. She is a cube city, like the Most Holy Place in the OT sanctuary (1 Ki 6:20; Eze 41:4). 12,000 stadia, or 1,500 miles, or 2,200 km (Rev 21:15-17), a city of pure gold (Rev 21:18,21). The brilliance of the new Jerusalem is like the most precious costly stones (Rev 21:11, 19-21).
  • Consummation: Union of Christ with his people
    1. A beautiful bride (Rev 21:2b), the wife of the Lamb (Rev 21:9). Through Jesus' atoning death, God regards His redeemed people as his lovely and precious bride. Isa 62:5: "As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you."
    2. God dwelling with men (Rev 21:3,7). The greatest blessing of heaven will be unhindered fellowship with God himself. The goal of God’s covenant, “God with us” (Isa 7:14; Mt 1:23), foreshadowed in the OT tabernacle and temple, will be achieved. Gen 17:7-8: "I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Lev 26:11-12: "I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people." Jer 31:33: "'This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,' declares the Lord. 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.'"
    3. Thirst quenched (5-6) from the water of life (Rev 22:1-3, 17). The "spring of the water of life" is the throne of God and the Lamb (Rev 22:1), a throne of grace (Heb 4:16) because here the thirsty drink without payment, by God’s free gift (Isa 55:1). This recalls Eden before the fall (Gen 2:8-10), and Ezekiel’s vision of a future glorious temple (Ez 47:1-12; Zech 14:8). Isa 49:10, 55:1: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost." Jn 6:35: "Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'"
    4. The ungodly banished (Rev 21:8, 22:11,15). Those who renounce faith do so because of cowardice or compromise with idolatry or sensuality. "Believers" fall away when their faith is challenged by hardship or difficulty. 1 Cor 6:9-10: "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." There is no evidence in the Bible (or in life) that there is ever any change of heart of those in hell (Rev 22:11; Lk 16:19-31).

II. What Is Absent/Missing (Rev 21:9-27; 22:1-5)

  • No sea (Rev 21:1c). This refers to the source of earthly rebellion, chaos, and danger—the sea from which the beast emerged (Rev 13:1; Dan 7:3). This symbolic (or literal) source of rebellion will no longer threaten creation’s perfection. Isa 57:20: "But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. 'There is no peace,' says my God, 'for the wicked.'”
  • No tears (Rev 7:17; Isa 65:19), no death (Isa 25:8), no mourning, no crying, no pain (Rev 21:4).
  • No temple (Rev 21:22). Jesus himself is the tent and the temple in which God lives among his people (Jn 1:14; 2:19-21).
  • No sun and moon (Rev 21:23).
  • No impurity (Rev 21:27).
  • No curse (Rev 22:3).
  • No night (Rev 22:5).

III. What Is Ultimate (Rev 22:4-5): Seeing God’s face

  • When Moses asked to see God's face, God said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exo 33:20).

Surely we long to see loved ones whom we missed after they have died. Or as we die we remember our most cherished and beloved ones. As with many men, I love the ultra violent movie 300 where 300 Spartans stood their ground against an unending multitude of Persian troops. As the King of Sparta died in a hail of arrows, he said, "My queen, my wife, my love." It is a moving and romantic scene. But it is bittersweet because of the final parting of lovers through death. So it is with Romeo and Juliet. We human beings all long for a satisfaction through a love that knows no end.

On that day those who have persevered in faith will be fulfilled. It is our dearest and deepest longing to see God face to face, and to see Him look upon us with eyes of deep love and affection. It will be the greatest blessing of the age to come, as God looks upon his people with favor and delight. This is free and without cost to us. But it was not without cost to God. To look upon us God would have to look away from His Son on the cross though he cried out in agony of soul (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; Ps 22:1). God had to forsake his Son, so that he will not forsake us. God would "hate" his Son on the cross, so that He could love us. God forsook his Son so that He could usher in for us a new heaven and a new earth, which will be forever.

  1. Carson, D.A. The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God's Story. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2010, 213-224. (Video, 2009. Home At Last: The Spectacular God at Center, 2012)
  2. Morris, Leon, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987, 235-250.
  3. MacArthur, John. Revelation: Because The Time Is Near (MacArthur Bible Studies). Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007, 313-328.
  4. ESV Study Bible (http://esvstudybible.org/).

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Salvation: Past, Present, Future


How glorious it is that though totally undeserving, God saves us by his grace (Eph 2:8-9) and mercy (Tit 3:5) alone.

Because of God's saving grace to us we can reflect with joy and thanksgiving all our days upon our salvation in manifold ways--in past, present and future tenses:

  1. Past (Tit 3:4-5; Rom 1:16, 8:24, 10:10; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 1:9; Acts 16:31).
  2. Present (Phil 2:12; 1 Cor 1:18, 15:2; Rom 5:9).
  3. Future (2 Tim 4:18; Phil 3:20; Rom 5:9; 1 Th 5:8; Heb 9:28).

The Tenses Of Salvation
Salvation 3-fold: Past, Present, Future
Salvation A Past, Present and Future Reality

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