Title and purpose (1:1-2)
Blessing to the reader (1:3)
God the Alpha and the Omega (1:8)
The first three verses were probably added by people who knew John, perhaps elders in the church in Ephesus. They are written about John, while the rest of the book is written by John in the first person. Similarly, the last few verses of John’s Gospel were added by people who knew John, to confirm the truth of his testimony to Jesus (Jn 21:24-25).
The title of the book is, “The revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). This book is about Jesus. He is the focus of the book, and He should be the central figure in our interpretation of the book. The
book is a 'revelation', an uncovering or unveiling of something previously hidden from us. The
readers of this book are given a revelation of the nature of the risen exalted Lord Jesus, who has
conquered evil and taken his place in glory.
The purpose of this revelation is to show his servants what must soon take place (1:1). The
question is what is soon taking place for John’s readers. It could be referring to the second coming.
Through all the NT, there is a sense of imminence, that Jesus could come any time (22:20). However
we are still living here on earth nearly 2000 years later and Jesus has not come yet. Otherwise it may
be referring to the persecution resulting from the demand to worship the emperor. This had already
begun during the reign of Domitian, but would shortly increase in intensity. Persecution from Rome
became a particular challenge in the early part of the second century under Emperor Trajan, and
continued spasmodically for the next 200 years, with several periods of intense persecution over the
whole Roman empire. This revelation came to John through the angel sent by Jesus, and John had to
pass on this revelation to his readers in the seven churches (v2).
This is the first of seven blessings through the book (1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7,14).
These are blessings to the saints, the believers. The blessing is firstly to the one reading aloud the
words. This would originally have been the person giving the public reading of the book in the church
meeting. Secondly the blessing is for those who hear and keep what is written, to those who listen
and obey the words of the prophecy. The message of this book has practical application, and is
something readers need to respond to in obedience.
It has been noted that the seven blessings form a chiastic structure (ABC CBA), with the first blessing acting as a summary,
"Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who
hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near". (1:3).
A1 - second blessing
"Blessed are the dead who from now die in the Lord. ‘Yes’, says the Spirit, ‘they will rest
from their labours for their deeds follow them’." (14:13)
B1 - third blessing
"See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not
going about naked and exposed to shame" (16:15)
C1 - fourth blessing
"Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb". (19:9)
C2 - fifth blessing
"Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection". (20:6)
B2 - sixth blessing
"See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." (22:7)
A2 - seventh blessing
"Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life
and may enter the city by the gates." (22:14)
A1 and A2 emphasise the death of a believer and their eternal destiny, resting from their labours and having access to the tree of life and the heavenly city.
B1 and B2 are both a call to vigilance for the coming of Jesus.
C1 and C2 both declare a promised blessing for the believer, being invited to the marriage supper of the lamb, and enjoying the first resurrection.
This is the first time the Book of Revelation is called a prophecy (also 22:7,10,18,19). A prophecy is a word from God which demands a response in the here and now, but which also speaks about the
future. The readers will be challenged to respond in worship of the Lamb and maintain their faithful
witness to him, patiently enduring the persecution. The future destiny of the readers (including us)
depends on how they respond to this book.
This is where John begins his letter to the seven churches. The grammar changes from being
about John to John writing in the first person. John starts his letter with a similar greeting to those
used by Paul in his letters. Here it says, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia”, similar words to those Paul wrote, for example, “Paul ... to the church of God that is in Corinth ...” (1 Cor 1:1).
John addresses his letter to seven churches in Asia which are listed in 1:11. Letters to each
are recorded in chapter 2 and 3. These were real historic churches in cities in the Roman province of
Asia. At that time Asia was a small area of what is now western Turkey, not the whole continent of
Asia. The map below shows the location of the Roman province of Asia, and the seven cities.
In all of Paul’s letters the greeting is followed by a blessing, “Grace to you and peace from
God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:3). Here, John gives a blessing from all three
persons in the Trinity: the Father, the Holy Spirit and the Son. God the Father is described as “him
who is and was and who is to come”, a description which is used a number of times through the book,
and is later applied to Jesus as well. God is the God of the past, present and future, who is not limited
by time. This description is drawn from the revelation of God’s personal name 'I am who I am'
when Moses stood before the burning bush (Ex 3:14).
The Holy Spirit is described as “the seven spirits who are before his throne”, which is what John later sees in the vision of the heavenly throne room (4:5). This unusual description is drawn from the seven characteristics of the Spirit that will rest upon the shoot coming from the stump of Jesse (Is 11:1-2). In the Hebrew OT, there are only six characteristics: the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. But the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT), which John was probably remembering, includes a seventh characteristic - the spirit of godliness. There may also be an allusion to the seven lips on the seven lamps on the lamp-stand through which the oil flowed, representing the spirit coming on Zerubbabel, and the eyes of the Lord ranging through the whole earth (Zech 4:2,10).
Three descriptions of Jesus are given. Firstly he is 'the faithful witness'. This is an important
theme of John’s Gospel, that Jesus brought a faithful witness or testimony to his Father. The readers
are also called to maintain a faithful witness to Jesus. Secondly, he was 'the firstborn from the
dead'. Jesus was the first person to be resurrected from the dead, never to die again, showing that
death had been defeated. He was the first fruits, a guarantee of our own future resurrection (1 Cor
15:23). This would serve as an encouragement to those facing martyrdom. Because Jesus was raised
from the dead, they too can have the confidence to face death, knowing that they have eternal life in
glory to look forward to. Thirdly, he is 'the ruler of the kings of the earth'. In Revelation, the kings
of the earth represent rulers who derive their authority from the beast and the dragon. Jesus is the real
king, who rules over all worldly rulers, however powerful they may appear. All rulers, tyrants and
persecutors will have to stand before Jesus at the final judgement and will receive punishment for
how they mistreated people.
This is the first of seven declarations of praise to God, known as a doxology (1:6, 4:9,11,
5:12,13, 7:13, 19:1). It contains some wonderful statements about the person of Jesus and what he has
achieved for believers.
'He loves us'. When believers were facing persecution and hardships, the knowledge that
they are loved by Jesus would be a real encouragement. It is a wonderful privilege and security to
know that the king of the universe loves us, and cares for us.
'He has freed us from our sins by his blood'. This is a powerful summary of the work of the
cross. The shedding of his blood on the cross has paid the penalty for our sins. So we who were
previously in bondage have been set free. As Paul writes, we are no longer slaves to sin, but are now
slaves of God and righteousness (Rom 6:15-23).
'He has made us a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father'. Israel was called to be a
kingdom of priests (Ex 19:6), a title also used to describe the believers (1 Pet 2:9). We enter the
kingdom of God through repentance and faith (Mk 1:15), and become priests of God. In the O.T. only
the descendants of Aaron could become priests, but now all believers are priests. A priest is an
intermediary between sinful mankind and a holy God. So just as Israel was called to represent God to
the world, and bring people to God, we do the same. We can bring people into the presence of God
through intercessory prayer, and bring God to people through the preaching of the Gospel.
Verse 7 is the first description of the second coming in the book. “He is coming with the
clouds”. Whenever there are descriptions of appearances of God in his glory, there are clouds. For
example, there were thick clouds on Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:16) and Jesus ascended in to clouds (Acts 1:9).
Here John is alluding to the exaltation of the glorious Son of Man to the Ancient of Days in the
clouds of heaven (Dan 7:13).
'Every eye will see him'. When Jesus comes for a second time, it will be impossible to miss
it (1 Thess 4:16). This is certainly not any secret coming. 'Even those who pierced him'. The
account of Jesus being pierced with a spear after he had died on the cross is only recorded in John’s
Gospel (Jn 19:24). He is alluding to a passage in Zechariah, “... when they look on the one whom they
have pierced, they shall mourn for him” (Zech 12:10). When Jesus appears, he will be seen by those
who crucified him, and by the people persecuting the saints. The second coming is bad news to
unbelievers, so “the tribes of the earth will wail”. When Jesus returns it will be too late for people to turn to him in repentance, so they will wail. For many, the day of Jesus’ return will be a tragedy, when they realise too late what (or who) they have missed.
God confirms the truth of the doxology, by stating that he is the Alpha and Omega. These are
the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. God is the first and the last, the beginning and end.
God is the God of the past, present and future - the one who was and is and is to come (v4). This title
is also derived from the holy personal name of God, 'I am who I am' (Ex 3:14). This name was
revealed to Moses at the burning bush, and was the name of the God of the covenant, the God who
has heard the groaning of his people, and wanted to draw close to them and rescue them from slavery
in Egypt. Later in the book, this title is taken by Jesus (1:17, 22:13). The Book of Revelation contains
many great statements of the deity of Jesus, particularly when titles of God are also used for Jesus.
God is also the Almighty, the all-powerful. In a time of persecution God can appear distant and
events can appear out of his control. The Book of Revelation brings a repeated statement of God’s
sovereign rule and control, reminding the readers of his sovereign power.