APOCALYPSE 1: INTRODUCTION
It would be very helpful to read this chapter before reading this message. The first three verses of chapter 1 make up the introduction to the book. The first verse describes this book as the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him to show to Christians some important events to take place in the not- too- distant future. Christ sent and signified it by His angel to the apostle John. The word, “signify” means to show by a sign or token. This simply means that Christ conveyed some of the knowledge in this book by means of symbols or figures of speech. This has been one of the difficulties in the study of this book. You must go through the symbol in order to get to the meaning of the Lord's words. In approaching the study of this book, it will be worthwhile to consider briefly the character of symbols. It is an accepted rule of interpretation that the Bible should always be understood literally unless it is unreasonable and impossible to do so. The Holy Spirit informs us in the very first sentence that the knowledge in this book is conveyed by means of signs and symbols. Hence, for the most part, it is not to be understood literally. Failure to heed this warning will lead to a gross misunderstanding of the book of Revelation.
The knowledge of the Bible, as a whole, is presented in two different literary forms. One form is by direct statements in the ordinary language of life. The other form is by symbolic statements and figurative terms called metaphors, hyperboles, similes, visions, parables and allegories. All great literature combines the use of these two forms of communication. At the last supper when Jesus took bread and said, “This is My body, “ He was not using ordinary language, for that piece of bread was not literally His body. The bread was to be used by Christians as a symbolic representation of His body, given for us. It was to activate our memories every time we observe The Lord's Supper. At the outset of this study, let it be emphasized that without a proper understanding of the nature of symbols it is impossible to get a proper understanding of the book of Revelation, as well as figurative statements in many other books in the Bible. The last book in the Bible is written in a code language. The secret to understanding the book is that the cod e language is the language of the Old Testament. Jewish terms in the Old Testament are used to refer to Christians and the New Testament church. You may ask, “Why was it written a code language which makes it difficult to decode?” The answer is that in discussing the future history of Christ's church, mention is made of powerful enemies of the church which could not be mentioned by name.
Of this were done, they would have destroyed this book. It was written this way so that the enemies of the church would not understand the meaning, but Christians would be able to understand it.
. J. W. McGarvey, a well recognized Bible commentator and scholar among Churches of Christ, made this informative statement about this book, “We learn from Ireneus, a noted Christian writer, who was born near the beginning of the second century and lived to the end of it, that the book of Revelation was written in the year 96 of our era; and as the apostle John was very nearly the same age with our Lord, he must have been about 96 years old at the time.” In the third verse of this opening chapter, a blessing is pronounced on those who read and keep what is written therein(Revelation 1:3, Revelation 22:7).
The first matter to be discussed in this message is the first vision John received from the glorious Person who appeared to him and said, “ I am the Alpha and the omega, the First and the Last. What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia.” Then John turned and saw Jesus standing in the midst of seven golden lamp stands or candlesticks, and He had seven stars in His right hand. Jesus interpreted this first vision for us as recorded in Revelation 1:20, “The mystery of the seven stars which 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 which you saw are the seven churches.” It is quiet evident at once that the first vision is about the New Testament church which Jesus purchased with His own blood.
Before I analyze the Lord's interpretation, I want to say a few words about the aged apostle John who was banished from Rome to a sun-scorched Island called Patmos. It was about a mile wide and eight miles long, and was situated some 70 miles southwest of Ephesus, off the coast of Asia Minor. John could see the coast of Asia from this Island. He had been working among these seven churches to whom this book was originally written. He had been banished to this Island as part of a persecution which had been visited on these seven churches, and perhaps on other congregations in Asia. The Pagan Empire of Rome under the Caesars was one of the great enemies of the Christian religion from 60 A.D. to 325 A. D.. This book says much about that Roman Empire but in symbolic language. Otherwise, it would have brought more severe persecutions on Christians. Hence, the need to write this book in a symbolic language. We can only imagine how lonely it must have been for a man of his age to be
banished from his Christian friends and from the churches he had been teaching and serving. I wonder how he must have felt when each Lord's Day on that lonely and rocky Island. there was no assembly of Christians where he could go and enjoy their fellowship in the worship of God. There was no Lord's Table spread where he could commune with Christ in remembrance of His death. But there is one thing of which we can be certain. He had never missed observing the Lord's Supper on every Sunday for the past 60 years, unless providentially hindered. How well he must have remembered one day fifty some years before when his brother James was beheaded by Herod and became the first apostle to die for Christ. His close and faithful friend Peter had been in Paradise almost 30 years, and Paul had been dead about the same length of time. With the long life he lived he had many precious memories, some pleasant and some unpleasant.
I would like to mention one more thing before I analyze the Lord's interpretation of this first vision. In Revelation 1:18,19, after identifying Himself as the risen Jesus, with the key of Hades and death in His hands the Lord said: “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” This statement contains a general outline of the entire book of Revelation. The plan of the Apocalypse indicated in chapter 1:19 is as follows:
I. Revelation 1-- “The things which you have seen.” This refers to the vision of Christ in His glorified body standing in the midst of the seven lamp stands which represented the seven Churches of Christ in Asia Minor. In writing this book, he was to start with this first vision.
II. Revelation 2 and 3-- “The things that are,”– The spiritual condition of the seven churches of Asia, representing the general condition of all Churches of Christ at the end of the first century.
III. Revelation 4 to 22– “The things which shall be hereafter.”
These chapters contain the prophetic future of the Lord's church, and this statement proves that the book of Revelation is a book of prophecy about the Christian religion, not the Jewish religion. There can be no doubt that the remainder of this book tells of important events that will have an impact on the church, from the death of John till Christ returns. Moreover, a study of history down the succeeding centuries will reveal some of the events predicted in this book. This outline
necessarily implies that the historical approach and study is the only way this book will ever be understood. No other approach should be attempted. A careful study of the past two thousands years of church history will unlock much of the mystery in this book. History reveals that the New Testament church has been troubled, persecuted, corrupted, and misrepresented by two powerful enemies–one political and one religious. History clearly reveals what these two enemies were. To understand this book we must follow this outline that Jesus gave in Revelation 1:19.
The second part of this message is the Lord's interpretation of this vision of Jesus standing . in the midst of seven golden candlesticks or lamp stands. Jesus explained the meaning of the vision for us in Revelation 1:20. The seven stars in His hand represented the seven angels in the seven churches. The seven lamp stands were symbolic of the seven churches. These seven lamp stands represented seven Churches of Christ clustered close together, located a short distance from the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor, a county now known as the land of Turkey.. .Jesus is represented as standing in the midst of these seven churches and carefully inspecting them. Then He writes each one a personal letter (Revelation 2 and 3. . One of the lessons we learn from this first vision is that Christ continually inspects and watches over His churches, He approves of faithfulness to Him and disapproves of unfaithfulness He still walks among all His churches in all parts of the world. The wonderful person in the midst of the lamp stands is the glorified Jesus Christ, and the lamp stands represent the seven of Churches in Asia Minor.
In addition, Jesus said that the seven stars in His right hand represented the seven angels of the seven churches. The Greek word translated angel literally means, “a messenger, ” no more and no less. In the Bible we read of two different kinds of messengers. God sent angels from time to time to the earth as His messengers. So there are angelic or messengers. Furthermore, the preachers and teachers of God's word
in the Christian religion are called messengers. We deliver the message of Christ and the apostles to the lost and the saved. Thus, there are angelic and human messengers. Since Jesus sent letters to the angel in each of the seven churches, we must decide if He wrote to an angel being in each church or a human messenger in each church. I read nothing in God's word about angels being members of the New Testament church, but I do read of preachers, elders and other teachers as messengers of the churches. The best thinking on this matter is
that the angel of each church was the man who was the preacher or teacher who carried out most the religious instruction to the church. When John sent these letters to the churches, the men in charge of teaching God's word was to read the letter to each church. Someone in each church was to receive a letter from Christ, and he was to read it to the church and give any necessary instructions that seemed appropriate.
My final comment on Revelation 1 comes from Revelation 22, the last chapter in the last book of the New Testament and of the entire Bible. Revelation 22:7 Jesus says, “Behold I am coming quickly Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” I would suggest to you that this statement teaches preachers, teachers and Christians in general that this book can be understood. How could we keep the sayings of this book if it cannot be understood? There is something amiss in our attitude toward this s book. The general belief is that this book is too difficult to be understood, and consequently the brotherhood receives little teaching about this book.. When it is taught, oftentimes the teachers state there are some four entirely different interpretations of the book, and the listeners are left in the dark as to what the book is talking about.
One of the evidences that we can understand this book is expressed in Revelation 22:6, “These words are faithful and true, and the Lord... sent His angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass.” Christians should learn what they things were. The words, “to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” are a repetition of the words in Revelation 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show His servants things which must shortly take place.” We are twice informed that this book contains some important events that were take place in the immediate future and not the remote future. The natural meaning of these two expressions is that much of what is revealed in this book would soon begin to transpire. Some things in the book certainly refer to the remote future, but some things in the book refer to things in the not-too-distant future. A careful study of church history will reveal that some good things and some terrible things happened to the church by 500 A.D., which in turn produced the Dark Ages. Preachers and teachers are without excuse for not seeing these historical events in this book. of which it is said, “The time is near.” There is another statement in the last chapter of this book that verifies all these things I have affirmed. In Revelation 22:18 the apostle John said, “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to these
things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book, and if anyone takes away from the word of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the book of life.” from the holy city and from the things written in this book.” If no one knows what this book means, if it is too difficult to understand, how could God place preachers in such a danger of losing their souls? The book was written to Christians, and it has to be taught and explained to Christians. Yet, we dare not add any teaching to it or take any teaching away from it. Surely it is an awful charge to make against God that He has given us a book no one can understand, yet we are commanded to teach it to the saints. But if the common view is correct that it cannot be understood and no one understands it, it cannot be denied that all preachers and teachers are in grave danger of losing their souls. They may unintentionally add to or taking away from what it teaches. I do not believe God has done this to the church or to those who are commanded to preach the word.
What shall we say about this dilemma? There is but one answer. This book is very understandable. Well-informed gospel preachers can and should understand the important events predicted in this book. I have studied the writings of preachers who do understand this book and the important events that have impacted the church just a few hundred years from the death of John. Although symbolically predicted, they are so obvious, so clearly discernable and recognizable that no one who has any knowledge of the first 500 years of church history could have any difficulty in understanding these predictions that were to shortly take place. This warning about adding to or taking from is given because no one has a right to ignore or be willing ignorant of the tragedy that happened to the New Testament church between A..D. 33 to A.D. 500. If anyone carefully reads the first 17 chapters of this book, and compares them to the well known historical events during the first 500 years of church history, it is very obvious that the book of Revelation predicted that these very events would take place. The warning not to add to or take from is given only because of what the revelation said would happen did happen. And what happened is so clear and obvious and so understandable that it is a shame for Christians not to know about it. The danger is that we don't want to accept the obvious. It may be very painful to some people. The terrible events that would afflict the church had to be predicted secretly by symbolical language to protect Christians from persecution and to prevent the political and religious enemies of the church from destroying the book of Revelation and thereby prevent it from ever being read. Amen and Amen.