1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. 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, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 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. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 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. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 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.” 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 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. 17 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, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) One of the first things to grasp when reading Revelation is the overwhelming use of imagery, symbolism, and language of the Old Testament to explain New Testament realities about Jesus and the Church. It is an example of apocalyptic literature, a popular genre of literature from 200BC to 200AD in the Jewish/Christian community. No culture has had an equivalent genre since then, making Revelation a challenge to interpret. But the important key to grasp is to not get lost in the details but to see the bigger picture they paint. First, it’s a revelation of “Jesus Christ”. He is the primary speaker, though he often speaks through an angel, and he is the primary subject. He explained to a persecuted Church how he will preserve his Church and be victorious over his enemies in the end. And it must be interpreted within the context of the rest of Scripture, not interpreted with your modern newspaper. It is a highly symbolic book, so we must be careful what we take literally. Anyone who tries to use this book to identify the “beast” today or the timetable for Christ’s return has missed the point. Such things would not have comforted the original audience 2000 years ago. Instead we must ask how this book encouraged Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire in the first century? Then we can apply those truths to ourselves today.
2) We will only look at two main images today. First, how Jesus introduced himself in vs. 5-8. He is the “faithful witness”, the great prophet revealing God’s Word. He’s the “firstborn of the dead”, the first to conquer death for the rest of his people, and “firstborn” in the sense of rank, as the crown prince of his people. Then his is “ruler of kings on earth”. This is a hard idea to grasp because most kings do not acknowledge Christ’s authority. But Jesus is the rightful king of all. He oversees all the governments of the world, even the most blasphemous and wicked, and overrules their evil purposes to accomplish his own good purposes for his Church. What they intend for evil, God intends for good (Gen. 50:20), and he will bring the wicked to justice in the end. Further, he “loves us” and died to free us from our sins. No matter what happened here, our future eternal life and love in God’s kingdom is guaranteed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Further, we belong to his “kingdom” as his “priests”. Both images come from the OT. Israel was God’s kingdom. The priests served in God’s house. That is the position we occupy know in Christ. In Israel, the priests alone ministered in the house and presence of God. That privilege is now given to every believer in the Church. Finally, notice Jesus is introduced as the coming Judge. All will see him, and all who so boldly and brazenly attacked him and his lowly church will tremble before his glory that day. No wicked rulers or oppressors will ever “get away with it” in the end.
3) The second picture shifts from Jesus as king over all to Jesus as the caretaker of his Church (vs. 12-20). He is walks among the lampstands, his churches, probably drawing on the image of the lampstand in the holy place in the temple. Even though they may have felt forsaken by Christ because of all their troubles, Jesus was in their midst, caring for his people. He is described in the blazing hot imagery of holiness; bright shining face, white hair, fiery eyes, refined bronze feet, and a powerful deafening voice which can slay you like sword. He holds the ministers (i.e. angels) of his church in his hands. He died and rose again and he holds the keys of death. There is more we could say about that, but at the very least, we can say he holds the key to your death as well. You (or your congregation) will not die until he decides it time for you to go home, no matter how much enemies or trials may threaten us. And even after you die, you shall rise again one day as he did.