The Book of Revelation has been heralded by some as a “mystery” or a “coded riddle”, only made known as it unfolds in real time. But by its very title, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ”, it denotes that the book is something already revealed. It is no marvel that so much confusion and speculation has surrounded the book, much like Genesis, because these two books are the covers of the entire Bible. If the enemy can get people to not believe Genesis, then we have denied Creation and called God a liar, or even denied His existence. If Satan can get us to dismiss the Book of Revelation then he has convinced us against his own existence, the Sovereignty of God, and the existence of Hell and judgment. Anything that the enemy exerts so much energy to distort is a big red flag that it is something that God wills and desires us to know.
So what is the Book of Revelation? What is to be taken literally and what is merely symbolic? What is the core intent of the book and to whom is it written? What are all these seals and candlesticks, bowls of wrath and white robes, stars and voices of thundering, living creatures and colored horses?? Who is this lady clothed with the sun? This man with a wounded head? These 144,000 Jewish virgin men? These kings of the east? Just what is it with all this strange imagery that makes up the Book of Revelation? Well, if you are like me, you’ve heard a million explanations, suppositions, and guesses as to what it is all about. And, again, if you’re like me, having heard rebuttals to the pressing questions at hand, those guesses left you with 10 more questions for every vague answer you received. Through it all, what I have learned is that if you want to understand the Bible in general, let alone the apocalyptic literature, you must:
1) Have a foundation knowledge of the Old Testament imagery
2) Let your foundation for study rest upon the Ancient Near Eastern worldview of those who actually wrote the Bible
3) discard ALL your denominational allegiances and biases and submit to what the scripture actually teaches within the confines of the culture, language, and context in which it was given.
The ONLY “church fathers” there are in reality are the Apostles. Tertullian, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus of Lyons, etc. are deemed church fathers by men historically in the last several centuries. They were not chosen of God as biblical authors or church founders. I am not saying there is nothing to learn there from them at all, but what I am saying is that their words, doctrines, and views are not authoritative in any way on scripture. Ever! If your foundation is off, the entire course of your study will be as well. This was a painful, frustrating reality for me, but one of great value and wealth, once I awoke to it.
The Book of Revelation has been interpreted many times by modern prophecy teachers and preachers, and they have honestly just made an entire mess of it, what it is truly about, and why and to whom it was written. With that said, let’s look into…
Revelation 1:1-3: The Apocalyptic Introduction
•Revelation 1:1- “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him (Jesus), to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:”
All of my life I have heard it preached in church that “No man knows the day nor hour when Christ will return, not the angels in heaven, nor the Son” from Mark 13:32, speaking of Jesus’ second advent, or coming. The importance of context can be seen here in the use of this passage. Jesus was all God in spirit, but also a human being, like us, with limited info, running on faith in His earthly ministry, at the time of this saying. He was here to function as man, overcoming the world by the Spirit of Christ in Him, to break the hold of sin and deliver humanity, through enabling us to repeat His example. But according to Revelation 1:1 God changed that “no man knows the day” aspect. Verse 1 clearly reveals that Jesus was exalted to Lord and said, “All power is given to Me in both heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18), which He said after His resurrection. God the Father imparts to God the Son, in this verse, not only the knowledge of His coming, but the power of declaring when. The most peculiar thing to note in verse one is the term translated “signified it.” This Greek term, semaino, means to “symbolize the message.” In other words, shroud the message of the Book of Revelation in symbolism, or symbolic language that believers in his day would fully perceive. And that is exactly what John has done. The book is infused with a lot of idiomatic language and Hebraisms that point to Old Testament imagery. Things, which without them, you cannot rightly divide the New Testament, or this Book. The Book of Revelation is filled with Old Testament scriptures, references, or allusions that an early, first century Christian would well be familiar with, and understand the message John was portraying through it. So when they saw the symbolism John was communicating, they would have immediately recognized the point being made. John has written this book from his time of imprisonment on the island of Patmos for his allegiance to Christ. Revelation was written to the seven churches of Asia Minor who were being persecuted and slain for their testimonies of Jesus Christ. In that day and time, that culture, from every angle of society and religion, even from Judaism, these believers were being persecuted. There was persecution against Christ’s church and their stances for the moral law and standards of God they adhered to, and for their commitment to advancing the gospel and taking the Great Commission seriously.
•Revelation 1:2-“Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.”
This verse denotes that John didn’t just hear the angel speak, but that he also saw visions.
•Revelation 1:3- “Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
Question? If this book is a mystery that we couldn’t understand, until it began to unfold, then how could we be expected to keep the things written in it? Poor exegesis and irresponsible handling of the scripture by men has made this book harder to understand than it should have ever been, by failing to look at it from a proper perspective. The reason is, again, lack of understanding of the culture, language, and context of the day to whom it was written.
“He that reads and they who hear” is referring to how that there was but one set of scrolls in the synagogue. One reader and many hearers. The ancient near east was an oratory culture. Most were illiterate in reading and writing. So readers were few, and writers were an even smaller population. The Word of God was passed down in spoken word. So, the blessing here is one for each. A blessing to the reader, and a blessing to the hearers. In the context of this verse, “hear” means to “heed.” To heed requires more than listening. It requires action. Action is true faith, because faith without works is dead.
Revelation 1:4-8 The Epistolary Introduction
•Revelation 1:4- “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”
Here John points to seven literal churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) existing in the day of his writing of the book, to whom this entire book was written. Seven is a number that repeats a lot in the book. Seven is the biblical number of divine completion/ perfection/ fulfillment. There is an element of fulfillment being presented in the book that is leading up to the entire point of the Book of Revelation: Jesus is coming back.
Notice “grace” is mentioned here. Why? Because Grace is the divine empowerment of the Holy Spirit that enables men to overcome their sin issues in life. What Grace is not is an excuse for the human condition and the sin nature that allows us to merely declare that “Jesus Paid it All” and remain in bondage to it. That thinking is heretical and damning and was unheard of until Augustine the heretic began to suggest it, and it really took hold in the Reformation, another new doctrine, born fifteen hundred years after Christ, and steeped in the ideologies of Calvinism.
“Him who is, who was, and who is to come” is another statement that repeats throughout this book. In it’s deepest implication, it is attesting that Jesus is indeed Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What is in the name of Yahweh? Grammatically, the name Yahweh in Hebrew states this very phrase when looking at its verbal forms. The root of Yahweh is the Hebrew verb, hayah היה, a past tense form meaning “He was.” The present tense form (participle) of the verb is hoveh הוה, meaning “He is.” Then the future tense form of the verb is yihyeh יהיה, meaning “He will be.” So the very name of God means, He was, He is, and He will be. So when Jesus says, “I Am He who is, and was, and is to come,” He is saying, “I Am Yahweh.” After all, the Book is called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” It is Jesus revealed as the Creator of all things and Lord of all beings. Yahweh became flesh and that flesh dwelt among men and was given a name, Yeshua, meaning salvation. The God of salvation, the same salvation that the Old Testament saints received by their living in faithfulness, stepped into our world to settle the debt of sin that kept His people from being able to ascend to where He was, and in overcoming sin by becoming a pure sacrifice without sin of His own, He raised to life, bringing His captive people up from Sheol’s captivity with Him, and in so doing was able to give His Spirit to those hereafter who would walk according to how He demonstrated, empowering them to overcome the desires of their flesh, and live holy.
“The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” – Matthew 27:52-53
The seven spirits in the final clause of verse 4 refer to Isaiah 11:1-2, which denotes the seven attributes of the Holy Spirit of Christ: 1) The Spirit of the Lord 2) the Spirit of Wisdom 3) the Spirit of Understanding 4) the Spirit of Counsel 5) the Spirit of Might 6) the Spirit of Knowledge 7) the Fear of the Lord
•Revelation 1:5- “and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the Prince of kings on earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”
What authorizes Jesus to be called “the Faithful Witness?” Because He died faithful to God as a martyr. The Greek word translated “witness” is martyr. He gave His life in obedient service, even to the cross for the will of the Father, but He was also the first-fruits from the dead and defeated death, hell, and the grave. The message John is portraying to these churches is that some of them are facing death because of their faith in Christ, and that they will follow the footsteps of their Faithful witness to their own physical death, but just as He rose and conquered, so will He raise them in victory before all their enemies and executioners. They will not remain dead, but be joint heirs with Him to the Kingdom.
“Prince” in scripture means “chief ruler.” This is first in position, over all kings. The language here comes from Psalm 89:27. Notice how different this is from a worldly view of authority?? You know why Jesus had a name above every other name? It’s not just because He was the son of God. Being the Son of God does not qualify Him for these titles. A name must be earned. To be called faithful, one must show faithfulness. To be called martyr, one must be martyred. To have a name above every name, one must accomplish something that no one else could. He has a name above every name because He defeated Hell and Death. None but Jesus did. None but Jesus could.
These kings of the earth are those of us who are found faithful until death, or at His appearing. Why are we called kings of the earth? Because we are going to rule this earth with Him for eternity as kings. This earth is where it started and is where it remains. Solomon said it like this: “That which has been is that which shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun.”
•Revelation 1:6- “And made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Here John speaks of an “already, but not yet” Kingdom. The kingdom of God is already here within us, but not fully here physically.
The language spoken here of glory and dominion… etc…. is heavily embedded in the Exodus 19 account where the children of Israel are headed to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah (teaching/instruction) and God told them they would be kings and priests unto Him.
•Revelation 1:7- “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
This verse is the depiction of the consummation of the Kingdom of God on earth that the faithful believers have been placed in, and are ruling in, and that we will see the fullness of when Christ returns. This book is a crescendo of events and judgments leading up to the return of the Lord.
Something that throws many off track when reading this book is not understanding how Hebrew narrative and syntax flow. I, like most in modern Christianity, used to look at the events of Revelation in linear fashion, as if the book was in chronological order. Though it is true that the timetable outline of the book is in sequence, (things you have seen, things which are, and things which will shortly be), the distinct events in fact are not. It does not flow as if you have Seven Seals, and once they are opened then you have seven bowls (or vials) of anger, and once they are poured out then you have seven trumpets to be sounded. That error and thinking comes from our western background of English writing. But Hebrew narrative does not flow in sequence ever. Hebrew scribes would write to capture and obtain the principal thought. A good example that comes to mind is Mark 5 in the story of the demonized man in the tombs of Gadara. When reading the flow of events, it appears that the man ran to Jesus and spoke first, as follows: “Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”-Mark 5:5-7
But verse 8 tells us that it was Jesus who approached and spoke first…. “For He was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” So, we see here the flow is to capture the thought and not to order the events. So is it with the entire Bible because it was written by Hebraic people.
And beyond that, I would wonder what the four horsemen actually were, the locust-like entities, the sea of glass, and and how these things would play out…and so on and so forth. I imagined it chronologically, but what I began to notice is that there were seven seals, seven thunders, seven vials, and seven trumpets, and that all these things ended with the same thing: The return of Jesus. I also noticed that they all had distinct events associated with one another that matched, such as there is a seal with an earthquake, a vial (bowl) with an earthquake, and a trumpet with an earthquake. I thought, “There is only one earthquake in this narrative and it levels mountains and all things.” So I pondered, “Are these all the same one?” And understanding this, you begin to see that no matter what imagery is being portrayed, that everything comes full circle back to one central point: Jesus is returning.
He said “Behold He comes with the clouds and every eye will see it…”…. so it won’t be some secret, mysterious thing….or some mass disappearance without any explanation. There will be no guessing. Jesus said in Matthew 24 that as the lightning shines from one side of the Heavens to the other, so shall the coming of the son of man be…. the heavens will be illuminated, they will roll back like a scroll, and the King of Glory will appear in His fullness. And those who are alive in that moment will be changed in the twinkling of an eye, those who died faithful will resurrect and be caught up to the clouds and be standing at His side (1 Corinthians 15) while the rest of the world who denied Him look on in fear and mourning, “for the great day of His Wrath has come and who shall be able to stand?”.
In that moment we will be like Him, immortal with redeemed bodies, and enter into the physical Kingdom of God on earth as “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8) as we descend upon the Earth together with him, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
•Revelation 1:8- “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Verse 8 is Jesus actually speaking to John. And it’s important to understand that Jesus did not speak to John in 16th century King James version English. I wish to God that people would understand that when this book was written there wasn’t even an English language on the earth. It’s surprising how many people, even in church don’t get that, and they fuss and fight, declaring themselves “KING JAMES ONLY” people. Little do they know of the error and bias of all translations. In 1611, the KJV was a very accurate translation, but still ridden with prejudice. It is what I know and have to memory, but it is not the superior English translation for the day in which we live. Elizabethan English words do not carry the same meaning today as they did in the 16th century, thus breeding confusion in their meanings. But anyway….
When you read the Bible, you must understand that John was the closest disciple to Jesus. Scripture shows this clearly. Which disciple did Jesus commend his mother to from the cross? John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Of course, Jesus loved them all. But John writes this of himself in his gospel. He knew Jesus personally while Jesus was on this Earth, in the flesh, and they had a close relationship. John was a teenager at that time: a youth. Jesus was a Jew, obviously, and Jews speak Hebrew. Paul confirmed this speaking to the Roman rulers when he spoke of his own conversion and how he heard a man in a bright light speaking to him in the Hebrew tongue, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
John would have written this in the Hebrew language, and because of the churches it was intended for, it would have been translated into Greek. But through that process there would have been a lot of things they would have missed. So many details get lost in translation. When you read it in the Hebrew it becomes way more alive and more detailed than is possible in any other language.
He speaks of the Beginning and the End in this verse. We know there’s no beginning or ending to God so he is trying to articulate something else here. He doesn’t just say words that have no meaning or value, and that are not applicable to the subject at hand.
He said, “I am Alpha and Omega…” Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. So when they translated it from the original into the Greek language they would have used something that would have matched or been relative to the original words. Alpha and Omega would have come from the Alef א and the Tav ת, the first and last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the earliest form of writing they were written as pictograph letters, as the two intertwined symbols in the image below. The Alef is the bull head shape and the Tav is the shape of a cross.
What is being portrayed in the “Bull” (alef) and the Cross (tav) is that Jesus was declaring that ancient sacrifices were a type and shadow of Him and that the Cross would be the final propitiation for sin, for He was the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”
In the above image, reading right to left, you see that there is a conjoined Alef א and Tav ת letter appearing like this את, which I’ve circled. This is not an actual word in Hebrew. It is a “definite object marker” that precedes a definite object in the grammar rules of the language. I believe they didn’t know what to make of it, so they settled upon this idea. Some rabbinical scholars simply refer to it as meaning: “The Word.” The verse reads as: b’reshit (In beginning) bara (created) elohim (God) …and then there appears את, spoken as “et” in position 4 of the 7 “words.” Word 5 is ha’shamayim (the heavens) v’et (ואת) (and) ha’erets (the earth). It should be noted that the alef/tav marker appearing at position 4 and 6 of a 7 word sentence in Genesis 1:1 marks the perceived positions of Christ’s advents in a symbolically depicted 7000 year period of mankind, denoting fullness. In this idea, after 4000 years Jesus was born and His return is after 6000, leaving an allegorical 1000 years of His reign on earth, or “day of the Lord.” Unlike evangelical dispensationalism, I perceive these kinds of time-tables as purely symbolism, and not literal. The one-thousand year reign, for example, is symbolic of ‘the Day of the Lord.’ Is it a literal one-thousand years? No.
The word “owt” אות in Hebrew, means “sign.” Jesus said in Revelation 1:8 “I Am the beginning and the end…”. Translated from the Greek New Testament back to Hebrew, what Jesus would have actually said is,
“אני אות הבראשית והסוף.”
He was pointing to Himself, in essence saying, “I Am the sign, the beginning and the end.”
What did the Jewish religious leaders constantly ask Jesus for? A sign. As if miracles of raising dead people, healing the blind, healing lepers, crippled people, etc. wasn’t a big enough sign. It is pretty clear here in the Hebrew text that He is saying, “I Am the sign.”
The Word used for “Lord” here is the Greek word, kyrios. In the Septuagint, which is the Old Testament translated to Greek, every time you find the word kyrios, it was translated from the original Hebrew word Yahweh. This is important because Jesus is declaring himself as Yahweh in this verse. Yahweh is Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
As a close scholar friend pointed out, the reason the Jews don’t believe that God can become a human being is because that would mean in their eyes that they have to believe in polytheism, or multiple gods, and that flies in the face of the “shema” that says, “The Lord our God is One”, which denotes monotheism to them, or one individual god. They find this idea of Christ as a man as dualism, and that is why they reject Jesus as the Messiah.
John goes on to write what Jesus says here, “which is, which was, and which is to come.” This is the same language we saw earlier in the name of Yahweh, grammatically. This same language is found in the story of the burning bush with Moses and when Moses asked, “Who am I to say who sent me?” The King James Bible says to tell them that “I Am that I Am” sent you. But in the Hebrew Bible it says tell them “I will be who I will be” sends you. Yahweh actually speaks future tense, not the present tense. So an ancient person would have immediately associated this with the name of Yahweh, the God of Israel. So Jesus saying, “I Am He who is, He who was, and He who will be” to an ancient Israelite would have been the same as Him telling them that He is indeed Yahweh. This declaration provoked murderous rage in the hearts of the blind religious leaders. In their eyes, Jesus was blaspheming.
Revelation 1:9-20 The Narrative Introduction
Revelation 1:9- “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
In verses 9-12, the scene is presented for the Revelation of Jesus Christ. John says he is a Brother and companion in Tribulation. The people to which he was writing were facing Great Tribulation and he was writing to them from his exile to the Isle of Patmos. John was the only Apostle remaining who had not been martyred, though they had tried to kill him by boiling him in oil alive, but he survived. Ouch!! They couldn’t kill him so they put him on the Isle of Patmos, which was basically like an ancient Alcatraz, but further off shore, and imprisoned him to attempt to keep him from preaching Jesus and winning people to the Kingdom of God.
So why does he mention tribulation here? Because tribulation has always been, and is not a word referring to some seven year thing coming in the end times. As long as there has been an enemy there has been tribulation for the people of God.
John goes on to explain why they were all suffering persecution and tribulation. Because of the declaration of the Word of God that they were preaching and for the testimony they shared of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the world hated Him first, and to know this, that they will hate you also for His name’s sake.
Revelation 1:10- “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.”
This is a revelatory event such as seen in Ezekiel chapters 2, 3, and 11, when the Spirit came into Ezekiel and stood him up on his feet and he heard a voice speak to him. The Lord’s Day here refers to the first day of the week, and is also symbolic of the day the Lord returns, aka ‘the thousand year reign.’ John says he heard a great voice of a “trumpet.” The imagery of the trumpet was often used in ancient literature to describe something that was very loud, like a shrill cry….Imagery that you will find in the Exodus account and also in the book of Ezekiel, which was written in a time just like this. Both Daniel and Ezekiel were written by exiles. They were both a part of Judah, hence where we derived the term, “Jews.” They were both living in Jerusalem and were exiled into captivity. So they both received visions that parallel what we see here in the book of Revelation, while living in a time of persecution. These are the times when God shows up most because He wants to remind us that we live in a cursed world, but that He will redeem it, and that the truly faithful will rule and reign with Him, IF they remain faithful until the end, whether through death, or His imminent return.
Revelation 1:11- “saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
Jesus tells John here who the book is intended for: Seven literal churches in Asia Minor named by name. One of the biggest errors of modern Christianity is that it tends to view the Bible as if it is written to “me.” The Bible was “written for our learning”, but it was not written to us. Ever hear false teachers read a text and imply for you to put “your name here?” Narcissism!
The number seven again is present here, denoting fullness. These churches, though distinct, still represent attributes of fallen human nature that Jesus will address. They each have spiritual significance that overlap that we will see to be relevant in our own day and time. So these behavioral issues apply to all church ages and in our individual behaviors. These seven churches referenced are not buildings, per se, as we would tend to perceive through modern understanding. He is addressing corporately and individually, the believers of each given city. These seven locations were not the only church communities, in what is now modern day Turkey, but these cities were the most influential hubs of the region, and the ideal places for this message to be spread throughout the country.
This menorah was built with over $2 million dollars in gold and is on display in Jerusalem near the Temple Institute.
Revelation 1:12-13 “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lamp-stands, and in the midst of the lamp-stands, One like a Son of man, clothed with a long robe, and with a golden belt around his chest.
John said, “I saw…”, which is typical language for visionary events, such as Ezekiel 1:1, “The heavens were opened and I SAW visions of God.” This appears also in Ezekiel 23, Daniel 8, and 1 Enoch, etc…
He also saw a seven branched lamp-stand, (known as the Menorah) [see image above], which was the most notable image representing Israel in the day of John’s writing of this book. It was used symbolically to represent Israel and the Jewish faith even in Asia Minor. It was also used by Samaritans, who considered themselves the “true heirs” of Israel……but…
John sees seven lamp-stands, and while he is witnessing this vision he sees a vision of Jesus standing in the midst of them, representing the universal church… Jesus in the midst of the church. What is the message here? “Jesus is with you, no matter what you face and are suffering. He will never leave nor forsake His faithful.” These churches were suffering persecution and many were being killed.
Jesus is portrayed here in the descriptive wording the same way Daniel portrays an angel in Daniel chapter 10. So is Jesus being called an angel? Not at all. He is actually being represented as greater than. He is seen as the Son of man, a term used for many prophets, the human messengers of God, but then Jesus now divine, having been exalted. Son of man is used to distinguish a human being from other beings. Jesus was born of a woman. Angels were not. Jesus is seen in the parallel as the conquering King, seated on the throne.
Jesus is wearing a robe and a golden breastplate, which is imagery alluding to the high priest of the Old Testament descriptions. But the exact source for most of this imagery comes from the book of Daniel. You see an angel in Daniel 10:5-6…“I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.”
And in Daniel 7:13-14 you see the reining Son of man…“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
There is also the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9…“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.”
These things are symbolism of majesty. The Jesus here is portrayed by the writer, not only as majesty, but divine.
Revelation 1:14-16- “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”
What is this imagery depicting? When Jesus was resurrected He did not have white hair like wool. So what is actually being presented here to the first century believers? John is seeing Jesus as the Ancient of Days, Yahweh. The images of the vision is presenting the parallel again that Jesus is Yahweh. In all of this imagery describing Jesus we can see it as descriptive language of Yahweh presented in the Old Testament repeatedly. Remember Revelation 1:1? “Symbolize it, John, and write it in a book!!!” “Eyes like fire” is descriptive terminology used for gods in many ancient texts. Feet like copper is seen in Ezekiel 1:7. Glowing metal can depict God’s glory as seen in Ezekiel 1:27. The “voice of many waters” is similar to what we see in Daniel 10:6 where His voice is depicted as a sound of a multitude, but is more like we find in Ezekiel 1:24 and 43:2, where His voice is like “many waters.” The “shining like the sun” reference is seen throughout many ancient writings as well, whether in Greek religious writings denoting idol deities, or Jewish writings referring to angels, or even Yahweh. The “sword” is seen in antiquity as with other deities, but this especially alludes to Isaiah 11:4, where the Messiah slays the wicked with the sword of His mouth, which is the Word of God. Also this is seen in the Wisdom of Solomon writings, which was a work that was highly popular during this time, where you have a depiction and imagery of the Word of God appearing as a warrior with a sword. The dual edges represent the dual judgment of God: Blessing and Cursing.
Revelation 1:17-20-“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lamp-stands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.”
Here we find Yahweh saying, “Fear not!” as you do in any theophany throughout the Old Testament writing where God appears. We see John in a typical biblical response to experiencing divine glory, in that he falls prostrate before the Lord. This parallels Daniel 10:9 and Ezekiel 1:28, where Ezekiel saw God’s glory and fell face down to the ground. We also have the “Revealer” touching these individuals in these accounts and telling them not to fear. We see this again in the New Testament in Matthew during the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Hermon.
The title, “First and the Last”, is Jesus affirming again that He is indeed Yahweh, the God of History as declared in Isaiah 44:6…“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”
“I Am the living One. I died and behold I Am alive forevermore..” Why does He make this point to tell these people this? They were facing death for their faith in Him and He is reminding them that it is He who has the power of resurrection, the keys to death and to Hell, and that everything is gonna be okay if they will remain faithful and trust Him. He had demonstrated a faithful walk before His Father, even unto the cross, and He went into Hell and shook things up. He reminds them that it was He that rose and brought those held in Paradise out, immortal with Him, and that He will also raise them immortal when He comes. He is saying that the worst that these men can do to them is take their mortal lives, but it is He who can give them life eternal.
“The keys” represent power and authority. In an ancient palace there was only one set of keys, and the person who held them was a very high ranking official. If someone took control of the keys to the palace then that denoted that they were now running the show in that palace.
In Greek expressions, Hades was the Greek god of death, but Hades also represented the realm of the dead. Hades ruled the house of Hades. In Greek, coming into the gate of Hades meant dying. In Hebrew you have a similar expression referring to the “Gates of Sheol”, which sometimes was referred to as the Gates of Hades. We find that expression in Isaiah 38:10, and in the book of Job as “Gates of Death”, and in Psalms. These passages are often translated as Gates of Hades in Greek. In Greek mythology it was very hard to get someone past the gates of Hades if you were trying to get them out. Again, in Greek mythology, it was Hades and Anubis, the Egyptian god of embalming the dead, who held the keys to the Gates of Hell. But in the Wisdom of Solomon writings, which was written sometime way before Revelation, Yahweh alone is said to hold the keys to life and death. So, again, in the Book of Revelation, Jesus is being portrayed and confirmed as God, the Ancient of Days. We can see the multicultural influence absorbed and used by the biblical writers, and how they drew influence from other ancient cultural texts to communicate, thru its imagery, the messages of God to His people in sayings, images, and beliefs that they knew well and understood.
“Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are, and those that are to take place after this.” Jesus commissions John here to speak of all that he has been entrusted with to reveal and write it symbolically for His people in a book. This passage outlines the layout of the book. “Write the things you have seen” is chapter 1, “those that are” are the letters to seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, which at the time of writing were the current aspect of the book, “and those that are to take place after this” are chapters 4-22, depicting the things that were to shortly take place in their lives. Many of the things being distorted today as being future, occurred with the seven churches in their day. Today they present expensive and elaborate charts in these so-called “prophecy seminars” and they express mere supposition, completely lost on ancient context of what this book is communicating. But, hey, the Truth is less profitable in this consumerist world. But the Truth is a pearl of great price in the eternal market.
As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lamp-stands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches.”
Here Jesus follows up, as He often does, and explains the meaning of certain symbols He makes reference to, and tells us what they really are. The seven stars are seven literal angels set over these churches. Many believe this to speak of pastors, but in the context I don’t believe it to be so. I believe it to be, if you will, guardian angels to the seven church communities in the seven strategic cities. In context, in verse 1, Jesus sent his angel to John. So we see Jesus has his own angel as well. The angels are most likely just that: angels. I believe these seven to be the seven archangels named in the book of 1 Enoch 20. They are: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. If you read the books of Enoch and Tobit, which were authoritative inter-testamental writings quoted by the biblical writers of the New Testament, you will see that there were these seven archangels named by name, which is undoubtedly who John is referring to as the “Seven Stars.”
Among Greeks, the Seven Stars referred to what they deemed as irregular stars, or what we call planets: The stars that didn’t move around like the other stars. Greeks thought that astrology controlled the future. Some Jewish people saw the stars as angels. Many Jews in that day believed in astrology, but also that God was sovereign over them. So here we see Jesus holding the stars in his hand, which is to say He holds the future. But the scripture goes on to say the Seven Stars are the Angels of the Seven churches. as I stated, there’s a lot of dispute over what this means and what these angels represent.
Some people argue that these refer to messengers (angelos) to the churches. Some argue that they refer to readers in the synagogue, because of the Hebrew word shaliach, that could be translated to messenger, and is sometimes referred to as, well… readers in the synagogues. More likely they refer to real angels.
Angel can mean messenger, like the Hebrew word Malak. And sometimes was used for the Greek word angelos, for Greek gods or heralds, which were messengers. So some take them to mean messengers for the congregations. However the noun is rarely ever use this way in the New Testament, and is never used this way in the Book of Revelation. And….?!? Would Messengers be judged? As we said, there are people who take this to mean readers in the congregation, because later Jewish texts speak of them as “shaliach”, or readers to the congregation. So if these readers read the Torah improperly, they can bring judgement on the whole congregation? Am I judged by another’s deeds? No. The evidence points to the seven stars as the literal angels assigned to the churches.
Then, as stated earlier, you have people who believe these stars/angels refer to church pastors. But this meaning of the term here is really a huge stretch and is not the sense of any other use of angel in the Book of Revelation. Context is king. Terminology always bows to context.
So…… this refers to literal angels. Apocalypses are full of angels. Of course they often delivered messages in the Old Testament. The use of angel in the New Testament normally just means angel. Angel in Revelation always means angel. Angels were also thought to be earthly rulers or be guardian angels of nations. We see that as early as Daniel 10 and commonly in subsequent Jewish literature. Individuals also had a guardian angel. We see that in Hebrews 1:14. So why not churches having guardian angels? Did I make that point to redundancy? Good! Now to the letters to the Seven Churches!!!