Revelation 1 Commentary

v.4 “The seven churches refer to seven historical churches in Asia, but the number ‘seven’ can hardly have arisen by chance.  This is the favorite number of the Apocalypse […] In the OT seven was used to denote ‘fullness,’ that is, the time necessary for something to be done effectively, or a general designation of thoroughness or completeness […] The idea of completeness originates from the creation account in Genesis 1, where six days of creation are followed by the consummate seventh day of God’s rest […] But what kind of fullness is in mind?  The number is an instance of synecdoche, a figure of speech in which the part is put in the whole: the seven historical churches are viewed as representative of all the churches in Asia Minor and probably, by extension, the church universal.”[1]

“Asia was a common designation for the Roman province of western Asia Minor (modern western Turkey), where Christianity was flourishing by the end of the first century.  A governor of Bithynia (in northern Turkey) early in the second century even complained to the emperor that the pagan temples were being forsaken because Christians were spreading so quickly.  But other strengths of the churches did not exempt them from the need for a message from God, whether warning them of further suffering or summoning them to deeper holiness.  Churches had spread throughout the province of Asia and were not limited to the cities mentioned in Revelation (Acts 19:10).  But John writes to the most prominent and strategic seven cities in the region, from which word would quickly spread to outlying areas.”[2]

“[The seven spirits are] likely a figurative designation of the effective working of the Holy Spirit, since this is the characteristic identification of [Spirit] in the NT when found in conjunction with or as part of an apparent formula with God and Christ.  […] The Spirit is the means by which God effects ‘grace and peace’ and by which the church is encouraged to obedience and witness (cf. v. 3).  Indeed, the wording ‘seven spirits’ is part of a paraphrased allusion to Zech. 4:2-7 (as is evident from Rev. 4:5 and 5:6), which identifies the ‘seven lamps’ as God’s one Sprit, whose role is to bring about God’s grace (cf. Zech. 4:7:‘Grace, Grace’) in Israel through the successful completion of the rebuilding of the temple (see further on 1:12; 4:5; 5:6).  That the sevenfold Spirit is ‘before the throne’ highlights its role as an emissary to carry out the bidding of God (4:5) and Christ (5:6) on behalf of their subjects” [3]

v.5 “the unique mention of Christ as ‘the faithful witness’ suits the particular situation of these Asian churches.   The following chapters reveal that they were tempted to compromise their witness because of threatening persecution (even to death).  They needed further ‘grace and peace’ to overcome this temptation by modeling their lives on that of Christ”[4]
“The titles given Jesus by John are not speculative but appropriate to the particular situation of his hearer-readers.  For faith, the identity of Jesus is never an abstract question; it is always ‘Who is for us?’ The three new titles directly address the situation of John’s readers. […] The word ‘witness’ here, martus in John’s Greek, is already on the way to becoming the technical term ‘martyr.’ Jesus as the first-born of the dead is likewise not speculative or abstract; it is directed to the situation of John’s readers, who were being asked to witness to the lordship of Christ by giving their own lives.  What future did such a one have? Christ as the ‘first-born of the dead’ is revealed as the one who gives the Christian martyr a future even beyond death […] The phrase ‘ruler of kings on earth’ attributes to Jesus the title claimed by the Roman Caesars, whose claim to sovereignty John wants his readers to see as a false caricature of the real lordship of Christ.[5]

vv.7-8 “John’s introductory words climax in a promise before concluding with another affirmation of God’s eternality: Jesus is coming.  That Jesus would return in the clouds reflects Daniel 7:13; that those who pierced him would see him and mourn reflects Zechariah 12:10 […] No assurance could better encourage suffering believers than the knowledge that Jesus will come to set matters right, and the church’s oppressors will have to acknowledge the wrong they have done to God’s servants.”[6]

v.8 “Alpha” and “Omega” are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, respectively.  This statement is a merism (a merism states polar opposites in order to highlight everything between the opposites.  ‘Similar merisms are […] ‘the Beginning and the End,’ 21:6; 22:13) and […] ‘the First and the last,’ 22:13; cf. 1:17).  These merisms express God’s control of all history, especially by bringing it to an end in salvation and judgment.  The use of the first and last letters of the alphabet was typical of the ancients in expressing merisms […]  The God who transcends time guides the entire course of history because he stands as sovereign over its beginning and its end.”[7]

“God not only is Lord over time, but he rules the entire universe: he is ‘Almighty’, a common title for God in this book (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7; 14; 19:6; 15; 21:22; elsewhere in the N.T. only at 2 Cor 6:18) […] For Christians suffering under Caesar, the emperor, knowing that they served the ‘Almighty’ must have provided strength.  Caesar might rule citizens of an empire in limited ways, but God rules the cosmos; and God, who is the beginning and the end, will guide the course of history long after Caesar’s death.”[8]

v.10 “The introduction of the commission uses the language of the prophet Ezekiel’s repeated rapture in the Spirit, thus giving John’s revelation prophetic authority like that of the OT prophets (cf. Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 11:1; 43:5).  This identification with prophetic authority is enforced by the description of the voice that John hears as ‘a great voice as a trumpet,’ evoking the voice that Moses heard when Yahweh revealed himself on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:16, 19-20; the voice in Rev. 1:11 could be that of an angel who functions to introduce the Son of man vision.  And this idea is emphasized further by the command to ‘write in a book’ which likewise reflects the charge given by Yahweh to his prophetic servants to communicate to Israel the revelation they receive.”[9]

vv.12-13 “One of Revelation’s most important declarations is that Jesus appears among the lamp stands (1:12;2:1), which represent the seven churches (1:20).  One need only skim the letters to these churches in chapters 2 and 3 to realize that five of them needed serious correction.  Nonetheless, until a church has gone so far as to be withdrawn from its place (2:5), it remains in the place where Christ’s presence is found.”[10]

“the church is pictured as having a mission, to be the bearer of God’s light to the nations (cf. Matt. 5:14-16).  The church is not abandoned to carry out this mission alone; Christ walks among the lamp stands.”[11]

“An analysis of OT allusions in vv 13-15 shows that the predominant features of the Son of man are drawn from Daniel 7 and especially Daniel 10, with other texts contributing secondarily to the depiction.  Most commentators agree that the significance of this is that Christ is portrayed as a kingly and priestly figure, since the figure in the two Daniel texts has the same features.  Part of Christ’s priestly role is to tend the lamp stands.  The OT priest would trim the lamps, remove the wick and old oil, refill the lamps with fresh oil, and relight those that had gone out.  Likewise, Christ tends the ecclesial lamp stands by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning (see chs. 2-3) in order to secure the churches’ fitness for service as light bearers in a dark world.”[12]

“‘Dressed in a robe’ begins the sevenfold description of the Son of Man. The vision creates an impression of the whole rather than of particular abstract concepts. John saw Christ as the divine Son of God in the fullest sense of that term. He also saw him as fulfilling the OT descriptions of the coming Messiah by using terms drawn from the OT imagery of divine wisdom, power, steadfastness, and penetrating vision. The long robe and golden sash were worn by the priests in the OT (Exod 28:4) and may here signify Christ as the great High Priest to the churches in fulfillment of the OT Aaronic priesthood or, less specifically, may indicate his dignity and divine authority (Ezek 9:2, 11). In Ecclesiastes 45:8, Aaron is mentioned as having the symbols of authority: ‘the linen breeches, the long robe, and the ephod.’”[13]

“In an apparent allusion to Daniel, Christ’s head and hair are described as ‘white like wool, as white as snow’ (Dan 7:9; cf. 10:5). For John, the same functions of ruler and judge ascribed to the ‘Ancient of Days’ in Daniel’s vision relate to Jesus. In Eastern countries, white hair commands respect and indicates the wisdom of years. This part of the vision may have shown John something of the deity and wisdom of Christ (cf. Col 2:3). Christ’s eyes were like a ‘blazing fire,’ a detail not found in Daniel s vision of the Son of man (Dan 7) but occurring in Daniel 10:6. This simile is repeated in the letter to Thyatira (2:18) and in the vision of Christ’s triumphant return and defeat of his enemies (19:12). It may portray either his penetrating scrutiny or fierce judgment.”[14]

“Christ’s feet are described ‘like bronze as having been fired in a furnace,’ which suggests his moral purity and will become the basis for his demand that those among whom he walks must reflect this purity in the midst of moral turpitude (cf. 3:18, where ‘fired’ is used in this manner.)”[15]

vv.14-18 “It is easy to miss seeing how carefully wrought the Revelation is. It is not a book which was flung together in a hurry; it is a closely integrated and artistic literary whole. In this passage we have a whole series of descriptions of the Risen Christ; and the interesting thing is that each of the letters to the seven Churches, which follow in the next two chapters, with the exception of the letter to Laodicea, opens with a description of the Risen Christ taken from this chapter. It is as if this chapter sounded a series of themes which were later to become the texts for the letters to the Churches.”[16]

v.16 “‘In his right hand he held seven stars.’ The right hand is the place of power and safety, and the ‘seven stars’ Christ held in it are identified with the seven angels of the seven churches in Asia (v. 20). This is the only detail in the vision that is identified. Why the symbolism of stars? This probably relates to the use of ‘angels’ as those to whom the letters to the seven churches are addressed (chs. 2-3). Stars are associated in the OT and in Revelation with angels (Job 38:7, Rev 9:1) or faithful witnesses to God (Dan 12:3). The first letter (that to Ephesus) includes in its introduction a reference to the seven stars (2:1), and in 3:1 they are associated closely with the ‘seven spirits of God.’” [17]

“The sword referred to was not long and narrow like a fencer’s blade; it was a short, tongue-shaped sword for close fighting. Again the seer has gone here and there in the Old Testament for his picture. Isaiah says of God: ‘He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth’ (Isaiah 11:4); and of himself: ‘He made my mouth like a sharp sword’ (Isaiah 49:2). The symbolism tells us of the penetrating quality of the word of God. If we listen to it, no shield of self-deception can withstand it; it strips away our self-deludings, lays bare our sin and leads to pardon. ‘The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword’ (Hebrews 4:12). ‘The Lord will slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:8).”[18]

v.18 “The One who calls them to be faithful even at the cost of their lives (2:10) is the one who embraces all, who will be there at the End to vindicate and receive them […] Christians are not promised that if they are faithful they will be acquitted in the Roman courts and spared from the injustice of death; in and through death they are met by the One who has conquered death and abides as the living one.”[19]

The Rabbis had a saying that there were three keys which belonged to God and which he would share with no other—of birth, rain and raising the dead.

“Nothing could better show the reverence in which John holds Jesus Christ. He holds him so high that he can give him nothing less than the titles which in the Old Testament belong to God.”[20]


[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 186.

[2] Craig Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 67.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 189.

[4] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 190.

[5] Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989) 76.

[6] Craig Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 72-73.

[7] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 199.

[8] Craig Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000) 73-74.

[9] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 203.

[10] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 92.

[11] M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 1989) 85.

[12] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 208-9.

[13] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 1:13.

[14] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 1:14.

[15] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 209-210.

[16] William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1, Daily Study Bible Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000)  47.

[17] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 1:16.

[18] William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1, Daily Study Bible Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000)  50-51.

[19] M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching (Louisville, KT: John Knox Press, 1989) 84.

[20] William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1, Daily Study Bible Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000)  48.

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