On an Island Alone with God
- Revelation Chapter One
The first seven chapters of the Book of Revelation are introductory chapters that introduce and lay the foundation for the remainder of the book. Chapter one is the introduction that explains how and why the visions were received.
The primary focus of these first seven chapters is the church. From God’s communion with the individual believer represented by the apostle John in chapters one, four and five, to the Lord’s instructions to His church in chapters two and three, to the vision of His martyrs in chapter six, to the spectacular vision of the overcoming church in chapter seven; we are shown that God’s primary concern is the spiritual welfare of His people, His church: the bride of Christ.
The book of Revelation was written to prepare His church to face persecution and to encourage her through it. It is vitally important that we understand this principle and to receive and value what this book has been designed to communicate to us, in order to help us through our own journey into the future described in Revelation’s pages.
While Chapter One is the introduction to the book, the first three verses serve as the introduction to the introduction. –
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him, to show to His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John: (verse 1).
Here we see the Divine relay of the Message; God gives the prophecy to His Son, and Jesus transfers it to the angel who delivers it to the apostle. As Jesus is the image of the Father, (11 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15) so Jesus’ angel is His representative to John.
John is establishing the fact that the book’s origin is inspired. He has received it from God and it is His Word.
The apostle assures us that what we are about to read is the testimony of an eyewitness; John, -
...who bore record of the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all the things that he saw (verse 2).
John is assuring us that the Word of God, the testimony of Jesus and all the things he saw and recorded are a true eyewitness account. He continues. –
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 (verse 3).
John tells us in verse three that those who hear and keep the things which are written in the book are blessed. Some may read it and not “hear” it. To hear in the Biblical sense is to receive and understand it. Seeing many things but you observe not; opening the ears, but he hears not – Isaiah 42:20. There are those who can see, but cannot observe, and those who can listen, but do not hear. When we can “hear” then we will value what we have received, “keep” and treasure it, “because the time is at hand.”
The apostle is conveying a sense of urgency. The first century church lived as if Jesus was going to return at any time and there was much work to be done in that short period. As we observe what is going on in the world around us in our current generation and as we realize that many things that are prophesied in Revelation are being fulfilled, the church in this hour must also live with that first century expectation and also work zealously as if the” time is at hand” – because it is.
The apostle has established for us the origin of the work, now he continues his testimony of the things that he saw in verse four. –
John to the seven churches which are in Asia:….
John is recording the book he has been given as a letter to the church, particularly the seven churches that were in Asia at the time. The entire prophecy is addressed to these churches, and as we shall see, the spiritual conditions of these churches represent the state of the entire church through all the ages, which means he is addressing the book of Revelation to you.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne;
In verses four and five, John is conveying a greeting of grace and peace from the “Three;” God the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus.
The Father is described here as the One who “is” and inhabits the present in every generation, and always “was;” the Eternal One who has no beginning and has no end, Whose eternity fills the past as He dwells in the present and rules the future. He “is to come” again in His Son, as He lived in Him in Jesus’ earthly ministry. – God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (11 Corinthians 5:19).
The Holy Spirit is represented by the seven Spirits before the throne. These Spirits are described as “lamps of fire burning before the throne” in Rev. 4:5. Fire is used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3, 4). Lamps are used as symbols of eyes (Zechariah 4:2, 10), thus the Holy Spirit is represented as seven spirits or eyes. The plural “eyes” are symbolic of God’s omnipresent Spirit. One eye can see in one place, plural eyes can see all over the place! God the Father is one omnipresent Spirit that can operate in the plural because nothing is impossible to Him.
John is an evangelist and here in verse five he continues the greeting from the Three and imparts the Gospel which is the foundation of all foundations. –
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten from the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth, Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.
Jesus rose from the dead, we are cleansed from our sins by His atonement, His death on the cross; the final sacrifice that makes us holy and acceptable to God. He is the Prince and ruler over all earthy kings whether they realize it or not. And John wants us to know beyond the shadow of all doubt that we are loved. -
And has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father;…
Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead and made unworthy, trembling, sin soiled creatures into kings and priests unto God, and here we pause and sing the first recorded praise in the book of Revelation –
to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (verse 6).
We have just been shown what Jesus has done for us, now we are going to see what He is yet to accomplish.
Behold, He comes with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen (verse 7).
In verse seven John encourages the persecuted church by reminding us that help is on the way; Jesus is coming again. John is quoting from the prophecy recorded in Zephaniah, Chapter Twelve. -
And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me (The Father) whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for Him (The Son) as one mourns for his only Son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his first born (Zechariah 12:,9,10).
Let’s not miss this; in Zechariah, God is speaking through the prophet and He says that they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced – and shall mourn for Him.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself –II Corinthians 5:19.
I and My Father are One – John 10:30.
The Father is in Me – John 10:38
In Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead bodily – Colossians 2:9.
He who has seen Me has seen the Father - John 14:9.
In Daniel 7:13 we see God the Father, who is described as “The Ancient of Days” on His throne and Jesus, the Son of Man is brought to Him; two distinct “persons” or souls.
And I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.
In this same chapter we are shown a glimpse of Revelation’s illustrations of the persecutions which would prevail against God’s people until – get this –Until the Ancient of Days came – and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom (Daniel 7:21,22).
Until the Ancient of Days came – The Father Himself in the Son by His Spirit - God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself – And they shall look upon Me- and mourn for Him.
Zechariah describes Jesus’ second coming in the fourteenth chapter of his prophecy as “the day of the LORD (Yahweh). Yahweh descends upon the Mount of Olives (verse 4) and;
The LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and His name one (Zechariah 14:9).
We need to understand that Jesus was with God (the Father) and was God (the Father) -John 1:1,- because God was in Christ (II Corinthians 5:19), and they are inseparably One. When Jesus speaks in the book of Revelation, it is the Father speaking also as John records. –
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty – (verse 8) - The Ancient of Days.
And behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give to every man according as His work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Revelation 22:12,13, 1:8).
And He that sat on the throne (the Ancient of Days) said, I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son (Revelation 21:6,7).
Jesus said, “God is Spirit” (singular) – John 4:24. God is one Spirit. Jesus and the Father are the same Living Spirit - As the Father has life in Himself, so He has given to the Son to have life in Himself (John 5:26). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10:20), therefore, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Eternal Life.
The person of the Father operates through His Spirit in His Son; and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One - One God, One Lord, One Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6) - One Voice.
This is the Biblical trinity. The word trinity comes from the Latin word, trinitas, which means a tri-unity, or union of three. All three are distinct from each other, all three operate simultaneously; and because they are One spirit, we can never have one without the other.
The Apostle John establishes for us the Divinity of Jesus in this beginning of beginnings to help us understand that His voice is God’s voice we are listening to. Are we hearing it?
Let us continue. John says, -
I John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation…(verse 9).
Here John is speaking about generic tribulation. The Scriptures make a distinction between “tribulation” that we’ve all been subject to since Adam disobeyed God and was cast out of the garden, and the “great tribulation,” the unprecedented time of trouble that is to come upon all the earth. Jesus refers to generic tribulation in John 16:33 – In this life you will have tribulation. Then He calls the time preceding His second coming as “The Great Tribulation” – for then shall be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be (Matthew 24:2,1).
Jesus is referring to the time of trouble described by the prophet Daniel. –
And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who stands for the children of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book (Daniel 12:1).
This is the horrific prelude to the first resurrection which occurs at Jesus’ second coming. –
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).
Some have mistakenly concluded that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD is the Great Tribulation, but Daniel’s prophecy clearly places the event at the time of the end, just preceding the first resurrection and the second coming (Matthew 24:21, I Thessalonians 4:16,17) as we have just been shown. The destruction of Jerusalem was a localized event. The great Tribulation comes upon the entire world as the result of the emergence of the fourth kingdom, the one world empire illustrated in the Scriptures as the red seven headed beast of Revelation Chapter Thirteen. We can study the devastation that came upon Jerusalem in 70 AD, and then picture that entire scene of horrendous, barbaric violence and destruction with its corresponding famine and pestilence, superimposed upon the entire world. Then we may begin to comprehend the enormity of the nightmare to come.
Jesus tells us to pray that we are worthy to escape (Luke 21:36). This why the instructions to His church in the second and third chapters of Revelation are so important, because contained within those instructions are the keys to make us qualified for the escape that the Lord is referring to. If we heed those instructions, and if we are in Christ, we do not have to fear this time. We don’t have to be afraid of anything and we can endure everything, because there is hope.
John continues his testimony. –
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ (verse 9).
The Apostle John was enduring his tribulation, his persecution on the Isle of Patmos. It was not a luxury resort. It was a prison Island. We have to remember that John was suffering, yet in the midst of His trial, He tells us; -
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,… (verse 10).
John had been praying, worshiping and seeking God on the Sunday that Christians designate to weekly celebrate their resurrected Lord, the day after the Sabbath. There was more than one Sabbath in the Old Testament. According to Barnabus’ epistle, which was originally part of the canon, the early Christians saw the “eighth day,” which was also a Sabbath (Leviticus 23:36,39, Numbers 29:35) as symbolic of the Sabbath rest of our salvation provided by Jesus’ atonement. Jesus rose from the dead on the eighth day, thus the early church celebrated the new covenant on “The Lord’s Day.”
John’s time of communion with God invited the Spirit’s presence to bloom within him to a greater degree and he was “in the Spirit.” He was connected to another world where his heart and his faith kept him anchored and this same hope, belongs to us through the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter what are our circumstances. - I am with you always even to the end of the world (Matthew 28:20).
Tradition says that during this persecution of the church by Domitian, John was thrown into a vat of boiling oil. The apostle supernaturally popped out unscathed. When it was realized that this Christian could not be killed, John was banished to Patmos. This says much about the sovereignty of God. The Lord was not finished with John yet, he had much work to do, for there in the solitude of Patmos, the Apostle had the time alone with God that was necessary to receive the prophetic visions that comprise the book called Revelation.
On this barren, rocky island, John was hemmed in by the waters of his circumstances. He was held captive by a designated solitude that enabled an enhanced communication with his God. He did not choose to be there, yet we see from his time of captivity, the benefits of his isolation.
His time on an island alone with God produced a period of intimacy with the Lord that every Christian should desire to experience. Regular isolated communion with God should be a natural part of the Christian life, yet many are caught up with the frenzied activity of daily living and even hyper-church activity. As a result, we can become spiritually drained. There is no other remedy for this condition other than time alone with God in prayer and His Word. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).
We return to the remainder of verse ten, -
…And heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.
John’s quiet time with the Lord was rewarded by an unexpected, very audible response to their communion.-
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what you see, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea (verse 11).
There were more churches at the time than these seven. Why did the Lord select these particular churches as the objects of His instructions? It is my belief that that these churches were harboring the spiritual conditions that can be present in every church in every age. They were selected as specific examples to use in the book John is being instructed to record, and all but two of them harbored errors that contribute to apostasy.
John continues. –
And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; (verse 12).
The candlesticks, as we are told in verse twenty, are the seven churches. These churches in turn represent the entire church in every age.
A candlestick was first used as a representative of the entirety of God’s church in Zechariah 4:2. The prophet is shown one candlestick with seven lamps. In verse ten he is told that those seven lamps are “the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.”
We have been shown that the seven lamps before God’s throne in verse four represent God’s omnipresent Holy Spirit. In Zechariah’s vision we see that the lamps are within the candlestick. We return to John’s vison in verse thirteen, and what do we see in the midst of them there?
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man,….
The Spirit of God indwells His church “in the midst of the seven candlesticks” through His Son. And as the Son is the express image of the Father, John continues to describe the glory of that Image. –
…clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps (chest) with a golden girdle (verse 13).
The golden girdle is wrapped around the “paps.” In the Greek this word can mean male nipples, so the girdle is wrapped around the Lord’s chest; the place where John rested his head (John 13:25). This sacred place of rest and intimacy with God is adorned with gold, signifying its value. While men covet earthy gold, the believer should be coveting the treasure of this heavenly place of intimate rest in Jesus.
John’s description of the Lord continues in verses fourteen through sixteen.
His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow:…(verse 14).
The white hair is symbolic of the Father’s righteous, perfect wisdom. We see a portrait of the Father by the words of the prophet Daniel as he relates what he has been shown. –
I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days did sit, Whose garment was white as snow, and the hairs of His head like pure wool…(Daniel 7:9).
Jesus and the Father are one (John 10:30), and Jesus’ image is the image of the Father as I have previously mentioned, and this is the likeness of God that John is beholding. –
…..and His eyes were as a flame of fire (verse 14).
Daniel also witnessed those same flaming eyes in a similar heavenly visitation he recorded in the sixth verse of the tenth chapter of his prophecy. Many scholars have recognized that Daniel was not seeing an angel, but Jesus, the Messiah. We note that in John’s description of Jesus descending at His second coming, His eyes are again seen as “flames of fire” (Rev. 19:12).
Fire is used as a symbol of God’s Holy Spirit. It can represent the passion of His love for His children, and the fire of His wrath upon the wicked, just as literal fire can be a warming comfort, it can also be a consuming terror. Thus the writer of Hebrews tells us that our God is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). John the Baptist reiterates when he describes part of the Messiah’s work would be to “gather His wheat (disciples) into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).
We do not hear much about this aspect of the Lord’s ministry in this day and age of ear tickling, complacent apostate sermon-ology, do we?
And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace;…
The extremely brilliant brass John describes is symbolic of the Lord’s righteous judgment. It adorns His feet, and His judgment will trample the injustice that has afflicted the meek and persecuted His people.
…and His voice is the sound of many waters (verse 15).
Water is also used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and here we are shown that the voice of the Lord Jesus is the voice of God’s Holy Spirit.
And He had in His right hand seven stars…
We are told in verse twenty that these stars are symbolic of angels that oversee the seven churches, and as Jesus is Lord over that heavenly host, His power holds them in His hand and they do His bidding by the Father’s command. Matthew 28:18 - And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.’
…and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword…
The sword represents the Word of God, the truth that is the weapon of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).
The Lord wields His weaponry for two purposes represented by the double edged sword. To God’s people the sword of the Word is used to constructively convict and cut away those things in our lives that are displeasing to Him. In this sense, the sword acts as a surgeon’s tool to heal and restore.
The opposite edge of this same sword is used to execute God’s righteous judgments upon the wicked who refuse to repent. The Word of God is the standard by which they will eventually be judged before the throne of God at the final resurrection of the dead (Rev. 20:12). For those who have not submitted to God’s plan of salvation through the Messiah Jesus, the sword of their judgment will be more terrifying to them than any weapon mankind has managed to conceive.
…And His countenance was as the sun shining in his strength (verse 16).
Wow! What a description! The shining white countenance of the Lord, likened to the sun, represents His all-consuming righteous power. And it is before this power that no man can stand. –
And when I saw Him, I fell as His feet as dead…
John was ‘slain in the Spirit’ by the powerful presence of the Lord. This is the normal reaction when one is confronted by the immediate descent of God’s power upon the individual. Ezekiel had this same experience (Ezekiel 1:28) as well as Daniel (10:8,9). When the guards came to arrest Jesus they were blown backward (John 18:6). When God chooses to reveal His power to us, we shouldn’t be afraid to experience being overcome by the One who loves us so much.
Being brought to the dirt in humble submission is where we should all begin and, like John, we wait until we feel His gentle touch upon our souls and He lifts us up to stand before Him and face His flaming, passionate love filled eyes.
…And He laid His right hand upon me, saying to me, “Fear not; I am the first and the last (verse 17).
Jesus is repeating what He said to the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 41:4). The Lord is declaring that He is also YAHWEH, God the Father manifest in human flesh by His Holy Spirit in His Son. Lying on the ground at His feet, looking up at the splendor of His countenance, who are we to argue?
We are stunned by His supernatural appearance as His and our worlds collide, but don’t be afraid, ‘fear not.' He wants us to know that all this holy power is on every true believer’s side, because; -
I am He that lives, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death (verse 18).
Jesus is giving us and John the reason why we don’t have to be afraid of anything, especially hell and death.
Jesus is alive and the joyous proclamation of this fact is the resounding hope in the heart of every believer. Jesus’ victory over the devil has stripped the evil one of his power and those keys of hell and death are completely in the Lord’s control. The devil can no longer use them as threats against the people who have received God’s plan of salvation fulfilled by the Messiah Jesus.
‘Jesus is saying, “I’ve got those keys now and the devil can no longer use them against you. No child of Mine has to fear death or hell, ever again.”
He wants us to feel secure in Him.
I can see John joyfully rising to His feet, and he hears the voice that sounds like many waters give Him his commission to –
Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be thereafter; (verse 19).
John will write “what he has seen”…. Revelation will have application to that which is past. The book has elements which can apply to every generation and those aspects of the book can be read historically.
John will also report “the things which are.” The book is designed to encourage the persecuted church in every age, especially the newborn first century believers. There were times of persecution that were so severe that the existence of the church would be threatened. The angry face of a Caesar could be superimposed over the vicious red beast rising out of the sea in Chapter Thirteen, and the church would be encouraged by the word pictures of the evil’s demise and the Lord’s glorious return in Revelation Chapter Nineteen. At the same time John would speak of the “things which shall be hereafter.” Persecution would be repeated in the period of time before the Lord’s return.
We see that while John’s prophecy can apply to every church age, when we actually reach that segment of time before Jesus comes again, then everything contained within Revelation’s pages will apply to that generation.
In the next verse of this amazing chapter, Jesus reveals to His apostle a mystery. Can you imagine beholding hands that contain seven blazing stars and seven golden candlesticks? Could you know what they were on your own? Here we are given the key to the interpretation of the coming visions – we can’t really know what they mean unless God shows us.
The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches (verse 20).
Let’s keep this important key of understanding in our hands; we can’t understand prophecy without some Divine help, so therefore it is not wise to quench the Spirit who is there to instruct us (I Thessalonians 5:19). We are being shown that the visions recorded in Revelation have symbolic elements. Stars represent angels, candlesticks are churches. If we approach them solely with our intellect without the Spirit’s guidance, or attempt to read them literally, we will be misled, unless the meaning is revealed to us as it was for John.
Also we must understand that God reveals His secrets to children; – “I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes” (Matthew 11:25).
In other words, and this may be difficult for many to grasp – a degree in theology may be helpful, but the greatest theologians can be children.
The first century church met very early in the morning, and I assume that on this particular day, John might have arisen at dawn to commune with the Lord. As the sun was rising, the Lord’s brilliance swept over the horizon and felled John to the ground.
His faithful seeking was rewarded, and he was about to embark on a spiritual journey that would remove him far beyond the boundaries of his circumstances and his island prison. He was suddenly propelled into the reality of his faith at a time when he needed to be encouraged on that barren island, not really knowing if he would ever leave it alive. At that moment, every trouble he thought he had disappeared in the hope and the light of His risen Lord. Whenever our own troubles seem to be overwhelming and the waters of our circumstances have us imprisoned like John was at that time, let’s remember that even though our Lord may not appear to us as literally as He did to the apostle, Jesus is with us always, we are never alone, and He will never leave us or forsake us.
We await with John as the unfolding of his prophecy is about to begin. I imagine when he awoke that morning he probably thought it was going to be just another ordinary day.
copyright 2013 by H.D. Shively
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Revelation Chapters Two and Three
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