Revelation Session 1
The Book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation is without any question the most difficult and most controversial book in all of the Bible. Wars have actually been fought through the ages over the Book of Revelation and over differing interpretations of that particular book. It is a book that is not easy to understand. It is a book that causes us sometimes to back away because we fear what’s there. We fear being unable to understand it. We fear the message that’s being delivered. And throughout the ages, that has been true in terms of people’s approach to the Book of Revelation. It does produce a measure of fear.
Our purpose in these six weeks together will be to remove the fear. There will be, at the conclusion of this time, no fear left. We’re going to pull the sting of any fear that you might have in your mind either in approaching the book or in the message of the book. For, as a matter of fact, the book produces only one kind of fear, and that is the old English word fear which means awe or reverence or worship. You fear the Lord—that’s the way we used to say it. What that means is you hold the Lord in reverence; you worship the Lord. And so in the Book of Revelation, we are going to produce an amazing experience of awe, reverence, worship, fear. We will fear the Lord in magnificent ways.
The second thing that we intend to do is to reclaim the hope. We are living in a time that seems dreadfully troubled and troubling. We live in a time where a sense of peace is hard to come by. We live in a time when people are gripped almost by a despair and hopelessness that is palpable. Revelation is the single most hopeful book in all of the Bible. And by the time we get to the end of it, I think that your own heart and life will be singing with the hope you find there because this book does indeed give us not only hope for this life but shares with us unmistakably the hope that awaits us in the life that is to come. And so we’re going to remove the fear, and we’re going to reclaim the hope.
Now, we need to understand the name of the book itself. Some people refer to this book as “Revelations”. They put an “S” on it. That is not correct. It is only one Revelation. It is a unity from beginning to end. And it is a revelation not of John; other people refer to it as the “Book of the Revelation of John”. It is not the “Revelation of John”. It is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ to John”; and so, therefore, the correct name for the book is the “Revelation of Christ to John”. You may call it the “Revelation to John”. You may call it the “Revelation of Jesus Christ”. You may call it the “Revelation” or just simply “Revelation”. But that is in essence the message of the book. It is a profound and powerful and direct revelation from Jesus Christ to the Church, to us, to the world through the words of John. We’re going to see how that unfolds shortly.
Revelation, some people say, is a book of prophecy. And some people try to interpret it as a way of predicting what’s going to happen in the future. Well, there are some elements of prophecy within the Book of Revelation. We will look at some of those as we move through the book. But the reality is Revelation is not a book of prophecy. Revelation is instead Apocalypse. Now, you know that name from the movie some years back called Apocalypse Now. The word apocalypse literally means “unveiling”. What the “Revelation of Christ to John” does is to roll back the curtain so that we can catch a glimpse of God and the Kingdom of Heaven and the promise of eternal life that waits for us there. It is also an unveiling of the circumstances that exist in this world so that we are then better able to live for Christ in this world. And so it is Apocalypse—it is unveiling—it is opening up for us to see very clearly what it is that Jesus Christ wants us to see.
So the Book of Revelation is indeed a remarkable document, and it’s going to be, I hope, incredibly fascinating for you. And certainly, one of the goals is to give you enough tools so that you can work out your own study of the book as we move through it. And I will say to you that, in large measure, we will work our way through the Book of Revelation almost verse by verse by verse. I don’t know any other way to tackle the book than to do it that way. And so you will need, if you have a Bible—I will be using the New International Version of the Bible—so if you have that, that’s all to the good. Otherwise, just sort of follow along. So it will be helpful to you to have your Bible with you because we will be working not so much tonight—although in the latter portion of the time we will—but from here on, we will be working with extraordinary care through the Book of Revelation almost literally verse by verse.
Now, we come to setting the stage for this particular book. And in order to do that, I think it’s very important for you to gain a grasp of the geography of that particular part of the world. This is where the Book of Revelation began, in what is called Asia Minor. Now, if you look carefully at that map, you will recognize that Asia Minor is what we know today as the nation of Turkey. Asia Minor was at that point in time under the province and rule of the Roman Emperor and the Roman Empire. It was called the “Province of Asia Minor”. The key city in the Province of Asia Minor at that particular point in time was the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was a port city, a large city, a dynamic metropolitan area. And Ephesus was the key city that in essence fed everything that happened in the rest of Asia Minor—commerce, trade, politics, education, cultural activities. All of those things basically began in Ephesus and moved out all across Asia Minor.
Now, in the interior of Asia Minor, not far from Ephesus, were six other cities. And if you look at them very carefully, they are six cities together with the seventh, Ephesus, which make up the seven cities and the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. Now, what I want you to notice is that these seven cities, beginning in Ephesus up to Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, there was actually a highway that connected those seven cities together. As you can see, it’s basically circular in form. That highway was called the “Great Circular Road” or the “Great Circular Highway”.
Now, here’s something to remember. The circle has no beginning and no end. That is a symbol of eternity or wholeness or totality. That plays a role in the Book of Revelation later on. So we’re not just talking about seven little churches in seven different cities. We’re talking about something much bigger. That will become clear to you in just a short while. Off the coast of Asia Minor, in fact it was about 65 miles off the coast, the nearest land to it other than the mainland was an island that was 25 miles away. But here is the island of Patmos. That is an island, I guess the best way for me to describe it is: how many of you have ever heard of Devil’s Island, the prison island off the coast of South America? Patmos was the Devil’s Island of the Roman Empire. It was the place where the Romans placed all of the most hideous of criminals and the most subversive of political enemies. Capital criminals were always sent to the island of Patmos. And there, there was no escape. There were no walls on Patmos, no fences, no barbed wire. They didn’t need it. The water was the fence. There was no way to escape the island of Patmos and survive. And so it was a perfect place for the Romans to place their most desperate of criminals. But in essence that’s the geography in which the Book of Revelation found its beginning, and we will see how that unfolds in just a moment. It is quite clear. I don’t see how I will have to say. There are some biblical scholars who manage to suggest that Revelation was not written by the disciple John. My immediate response to them is that they have lost their intellectual marbles. There is simply no way. There is no way that one can deny that the Book of Revelation was written by John, the disciple of Jesus Christ.
You remember John, the disciple? He’s called the beloved disciple. That’s a name that he gave to himself. But that name, obviously, was used among the company of the disciples. He had a very special relationship with Jesus. And it was that beloved that in essence described Jesus’ own feelings about John. You see that so clearly, I think, in the last moments of Jesus’ life on the cross. What did Jesus say to John at that point? He said, “Please take care of my mama.” That was the word that Jesus delivered to John. Think of it. Here he is in the last moments of his life on this Earth as a human being as we understand it, and the thought that pierces his heart and his mind is to take care of his mother. It’s a tender moment, and he shares that tender moment with the tenderest of the 12 disciples, the disciple John. He knew that John would take the command seriously and that John would keep the promise. Jesus knew that.
I think Jesus also had an inkling of something else. You see, every one of the other disciples died before Mary died. John is the only one of the 12 disciples who survived Mary—the only one. And so I think it’s quite appropriate to say that Jesus singled out this disciple because he had a special relationship with him, singled out this disciple and gave him the responsibility for his mother. And John did indeed fulfill that responsibility. John began his ministry in the name of Christ in Jerusalem, worked primarily in that area for a period of years.
In the meantime, Paul had established the church in Ephesus. And Paul spent about three years in Ephesus. If you read Acts 19:10, it says that Paul planted the faith in Ephesus, knowing that from Ephesus, it would spread throughout the region of Asia Minor. That’s exactly what happened. The church at Ephesus became a critically important church in the early Christian Church, and it became a very large church. In fact, by the time John finished with it, it was about 3 to 4 thousand people. That was an enormous church in those days, and yet, it was at Ephesus that the Gospel was planted so profoundly and so securely that it spread to other places.
John then succeeded Paul. Paul went on to take his missionary journeys on from Ephesus. John then came to Ephesus, knowing how strategic the city was, and he became what I suppose we could call the dean of the cathedral at Ephesus. That is, he became the primary preacher and leader of the church at Ephesus, and he became the bishop of the church in that part of the world. He became the overseer, the inspirational force that allowed the church to spread throughout Asia Minor. And in that decision to move to Ephesus, he brought Mary with him. She spent the last years of her life in the city of Ephesus. In fact, if you go to Ephesus today, the ruins there are quite spectacular, and you can find in those ruins, among those ruins, the house where Mary lived and where Mary died.
There in Ephesus, Mary herself came into her own as a spiritual force. She came to be highly regarded by the Christians at Ephesus, and that reputation then began to spread throughout the Church as it existed in that day. And of course, her preeminence in that regard was the fact that she was the mother of Jesus. She had seen it all. She had experienced it all. She knew, at this point in her life, what it was all about, and she was unashamed in sharing that truth with the world around her. And so it was in Ephesus that Mary became such a powerful force in the life of the Church. She remains that today, certainly in the Roman Catholic Church, but even in our Protestant tradition, we hold her in the highest esteem.
John worked in Ephesus in a magnificent way. But he worked against the odds. We are going to have to come to understand as a part of this study the succession of Roman emperors during the days of the early Christian Church, but at this point in time, I want to focus on one of those emperors. His name was Domitian, D-O-M-I-T-I-A-N. Domitian. He was the Roman Emperor from 81 AD to 96 AD. In other words, his time overlapped the time that John was in the city of Ephesus.
Domitian regarded himself as being Nero Redivivus, Nero reincarnated, only worse than the original. He was a horrible, tyrannical, desperately brutal man in every sense of the word. Maybe of all of the horrors who were Roman emperors, Domitian may have been the worst of them all. He set out to stamp out the early Christian Church which was beginning to thrive in the Empire at that point in time and certainly was thriving in Ephesus. And one of the things that he did was to declare that all of the people were to worship him. They were to call him my Lord and my God. He’s the first Roman emperor to demand that people look to him as “Lord and God”.
You can imagine, if you stop to think for a moment, how that would have bristled the disciple John. That great appellation, “My Lord and my God”, was an appellation that the disciples cherished among themselves. John had experienced the reality of the true Lord and God, Jesus Christ. John was there in the upper room when Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God.” It was a great, great appellation of Christ and who Christ really is. And so for the Roman Emperor to take that appellation for himself, John simply couldn’t stomach that. He began to preach against the Roman Emperor. That was a very costly decision to make. It ultimately cost him arrest. He was arrested, declared to be a subversive political figure. He was then exiled to the island of Patmos.
Now Patmos, interestingly enough, so that you get an understanding here, although it wasn’t shaped like a tennis shoe, is just about the size of Hilton Head Island, just about 12 miles long and 5 miles wide. This is a paradise, this island. That was a godforsaken hell of a place. It was absolutely miserable. The only things that existed there were quarries. And so everyone who was sentenced to imprisonment on the island of Patmos was set to hard labor. Mind you, at this point in his life, John was very advanced in years. He died right around 100 AD. This is in the range of time between mid-80 and mid-90, so you can tell how old he was at that point in time. He was put to hard labor on the island of Patmos. It was a miserable place and a miserable existence, and he makes note of that at least a couple of times in the Book of Revelation, as we shall see.
However, he was given one perk, one privilege. He was permitted each Sunday to preach and lead worship to any of the prisoners on the island who wished to worship the one true God. And so every Sunday on the island of Patmos, John preached. And it was one of those Sundays while he was engaged in leading worship that, suddenly, he had this incredible vision of Christ. The Revelation was delivered to him. We’ll come back to that in just a moment. But basically, the Revelation of Christ to him was this, “Write a letter to the seven churches, the seven churches on the Great Circular Road. I will tell you what to write. You write it. I will reveal to you what I want you to see and hear, and you will then deliver that to those churches.” And so that’s exactly what John did was he wrote down what Jesus Christ revealed to him or delivered to him in that setting.
Now, remember please the circumstances in which this occurred. John was on the island of Patmos. He was out of favor, to say the least, with the Roman Emperor and the Roman authorities. Not only that, the Church was under terrible persecution and duress. And John knew that if he delivered the Revelation precisely as Jesus delivered it to him, that anyone who was caught reading that would be put to death instantaneously by the Roman authorities. John was an incredibly smart man. What did he do? He took this great Revelation of Christ and he rewrote it in code language. He delivered the message in language that would not be readily understood by the Roman authorities. But he knew that the language and the images he used would be readily understood by all of the Christians in the seven churches on the Great Circular Highway.
Why? Because he used images in developing the code. He used images from the Old Testament, from the Hebrew culture, and the history of the people of Israel. The people in Asia Minor had been schooled in the Old Testament scriptures. Most of the churches in Asia Minor developed out of synagogues, and so there was this rich, wonderful tradition of the Hebrew language, culture and scriptures that the people in Asia Minor understood completely. The Romans had no clue. They didn’t know Hebrew. They could’ve cared less about the culture of Israel, and so they could not understand the images and even the words that he was using. In addition to that, John was in Ephesus long enough because Ephesus is really just down below Greece and was one of the great centers of Greek culture, philosophy and understanding, and particularly Greek mythology. John had lived in Ephesus long enough to come to appreciate all of those elements of Greek culture and mythology. And so he took images from Greek culture and mythology and used them in the Book of Revelation.
You’re going to see how that unfolds as we move through the book, but just to give you a clue, there are more than 400 verses in the Book of Revelation. 278 of those verses make a reference or allusion to the Old Testament. 278 out of 400 are verses that make an allusion to the Hebrew scriptures or the Hebrew language. And so that’s the way that he used these amazing images, words, terms and understanding to deliver the message to the people so that they could understand it but so that the Roman authorities could not understand it. The Romans were cultural chauvinists. They had no regard for Greek culture or any other culture, for that matter. They thought only things Roman mattered. And so John played on that weakness and developed this method of communicating with the people who were in those seven churches in Asia Minor, knowing full well that the message would spread far beyond there as, most assuredly, it did.
Now, here is what is important for you to understand. You cannot understand the Book of Revelation unless you understand John’s code. What you have in front of you is a little card. I had Jenny Douglas make it in such a way that you can stick it in your Bible at the Book of Revelation, and that’s what I want you to do with it because you simply cannot read Revelation unless you know how to crack the code. John delivered it in code language. For us to understand the meaning and the message, we have to understand the code. So let’s work our way through the code, at least the highlights of it, as you have there.
Cracking the code begins with numbers.
Numbers are all the way through the Book of Revelation. You will encounter numbers time and time and time again. In fact, the first number that I have there, number 7, appears in the Book of Revelation 55 times. 7 was in the Hebrew mind and the Hebrew culture the perfect number. Why? How many days did it take for God to create the world? The Hebrew understanding was very clear—7 days. That became the number of perfection. And so 7 became the symbol for perfection, for whole, complete, total, perfect. Everything that is good is wrapped up in the symbol of that number 7. So whenever you encounter the number 7, you recognize that it is making reference to the whole of whatever it is speaking about. What are the churches in Asia Minor called? The 7 churches. So their letter was written, yes, to seven individual churches, but because it’s 7, it was also written to the whole Church, to the Church not just in that day but in this day, to the Church through the centuries beginning with those 7 little churches in Asia Minor. So 7 is a critical number, and we will encounter it repeatedly as we go.
The next number down—6—is the number of imperfection. Whenever you see 6, you recognize that that’s not perfect. That’s imperfect. It is one below the perfect number. And so we will see sixes all the way through the Book of Revelation. And in fact, there is that number that everyone gets all worked up about in Revelation, 666. Oh, we’re going to have fun with that later on. But you can see what that means is that that’s imperfection to the third power. It is really imperfect. Well, that’s the message of the numbers. And the way they are spelled out, you will see as we go, delivers a very powerful message.
The number 4 refers to the Earth. They believed the Earth was flat, a tabletop with 4 corners. And so you will find in the Book of Revelation references to the 4 corners of the Earth, to the 4 winds of the Earth, to the 4 points of the compass, north, east, south and west. Everything related to the Earth is 4. And so whenever you see the number 4 or encounter it in any way in the Book of Revelation, that refers to the Earth or the perspective of the Earth.
Then you move to the number 12—very, very critical number in the Book of Revelation. The number 12 is very important. We’re going to look at a little later in our time together tonight. But the number 12 is making reference to two great peoples of God. 12 tribes of Israel. The Old Testament speaks of the 12 tribes of Israel, and whenever the Old Testament refers to Israel, it refers to the 12 tribes. So the chosen people of God in the Old Testament are the 12 tribes of Israel. So the number 12 is in reference to the Old Testament people of God, the people of Israel. The other significance of 12—if you stop to think about it—how many disciples did Jesus have? He had 12. The 12 disciples become the symbol for the new Israel, the Church. Jesus used the 12 disciples to spread the Gospel and to build the Church in the world. And so whenever you see that number 12, it is going to refer always to the people of God, either the people of God in the Old Testament or the people of God in the New Testament and in all subsequent history.
The next number that you see there is 5. It needs to be conjoined with 10 because 5 and 10 had a double meaning. 5 miles was the journey a person could make in a half a day in those days. 10 miles was the journey a person could make in a full day. And so the number 5 has a double meaning. The number 5 can mean a short time or a short distance. The number 10 can mean a long time or a long distance. And so whenever you find 5 or 10, you will always know that it is referring to either time or distance, long or short, depending on what it is. We’ll see one of those in just a short while.
10,000. That’s a number that appears frequently in the Book of Revelation. 10,000 was the number that symboled for the Hebrew people eternity, infinity. They couldn’t think beyond the figure 10,000. If you said 10,000, that was way beyond what anyone could calculate in their own mind. What do we sing in the last verse of Amazing Grace?—when we’ve been there 10,000 years—that’s eternity. Now, John actually takes that number and adds a dimension to it. Several times in Revelation, he speaks of 10,000 times 10,000. He is pushing the limit and going way beyond what anyone in those days could’ve understood. And when he does it, he does it for a very special purpose, as we shall see.
The number 144,000 is, if you stop to think about it, a multiple of the number 12. 12 times 12—144. 144,000 is a multiple of 12. If you had gone to a person in Asia Minor or to anyone in the Hebrew tradition at that point in time and used the number 144,000, they would say to you, “Why, that’s as many sands as there are on the seashore.” That was also a number beyond their ability to calculate. And John through the Revelation declares that heaven will be peopled with a multitude numbering 144,000. That is more than anyone can possibly digest or understand, a number greater than anything any of us could understand. People from every language, every tribe, every nation, all gathered together, billions upon billions from all of human history, gathered in the Kingdom of Heaven. So the number, as you will see we go, are very, very important.
Also, colors—there are four primary colors that are used in the Book of Revelation.
White is used quite a number of times. It signifies either purity or authority. And you have to look at it where it is used and determine what is the meaning behind it. But he uses that, for example, to deliver a message about the authority or the purity of Jesus Christ in the midst of this world of ours. The next is red. Well, you know that red symbolizes war because red is the color of blood. And so wherever red appears in Revelation, it is making reference to war or conflict. Black is the symbol for famine or drought. Drought turns green plants black. And green plants turned black no longer provide nourishment. So the symbol for famine and drought is black. The symbol for death is pale green or gray. I recognize this is not terribly delicate, but if you see a corpse who has been dead for a period of time, the skin color of a corpse is very pale gray or greenish. That’s the color that is referred to. It sometimes appears as pale green or pale gray. But in every instance in the Book of Revelation, it is the symbol for death.
Then there are jewels used throughout the Book of Revelation. Every one of the jewels in Revelation are jewels that were to be found in the region of Asia Minor. And so the people there would have known exactly what those jewels were, would have known their properties, their characteristics and their value. And so the way John uses the jewels is to deliver messages about a particular characteristic or value. And you will see the jewels unfold as we go. In fact, we’ll look at three of them a little bit later.
Then you have the two very critical phrases, one, “I saw,” the other, “I heard.” If you read straight through the Book of Revelation, you will see that phrase, “I saw,” many, many times. And near the end of Revelation, it is very pronounced. It’s almost the beginning of every paragraph, “I saw. I saw. I saw.” We’ll look at that later. Whenever you see, “I saw,” that means that’s what Christ delivered to John. That is the pure, unadulterated, basic revelation that Christ has delivered. He has tried to faithfully transmit what Christ delivered to him. When he says, “I heard,” that means that’s his interpretation of what Christ delivered to him. So, “I saw,” is the pure revelation. “I heard,” is the interpreted revelation. So whenever you see those words, let your attention be pricked into alertness because what follows is going to be very significant.
Then we have the letters of the alphabet. Both the Hebrew and the Greek alphabet—they had letters, but they did not have numbers. We have Arabic numbers they did not have. And so the letters of the alphabet did double duty as both letters and numbers. The Greek alphabet is alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron, pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega. Every one of those is a letter of the Greek alphabet, and every one of them has a numerical value as well. And so you have to understand that when you see the use of the language of the Book of Revelation, there is frequently a numerical value but also a verbal value. 666 has as its underwritten value 666, but its verbal meaning is, “Caesar is God.” We’re going to see that later on.
The first 10 letters of the alphabet are numbers 1 through 10. Then you go to the next 9 letters, 20 through 100, those letters are combined with the letters from the first 10 to make the numbers that fall in between. And then the next 4 letters are 200 through 500. You combine the letters to get the numerical value. You add the value of the letters, and you come up very frequently with a verbal meaning or symbol. It’s absolutely fascinating. You’re going to have great fun when we start doing that as we go through the study.
One more thing of the code. Every element of the Revelation follows a pattern, and the pattern is basically set. The pattern is as follows. In every element of the Revelation, there will be four items. Those items deliver a message from the earthly perspective. Remember the number 4 refers to the Earth. The next two items are revelations from God’s perspective, how God sees things that are happening on the Earth. And then after that sixth element in each one of the pieces of Revelation, you have what’s called an interlude. That is a triumphant, joyous, direct word from Jesus Christ to the Church, to the Church as a whole. In every one, you will find that interlude, and it is a very powerful piece of every element of the Book of Revelation.
And then you have the seventh element which, in every instance, is simply a transition piece that moves to the next element in the Revelation. The seven seals lead to the seven trumpets. The seven trumpets lead to the seven characters. The seven characters lead to the seven bowls. You will see how all of this ties together, and that’s why you can’t see it as separate pieces. It all hangs together. And John has done it in such a way that they are tied together by that seventh element in each one of the pieces of the Revelation as a whole. All right. So that’s the cracking-the-code card. Keep that in your Bible. And certainly, bring that with you when you come each time because it is going to be important for you to be able to refer to that as we move through the verses of Revelation.
One thing more, and then we are going to dive into Revelation itself. Revelation is the last book in the Bible not by accident. Nothing is in the Bible by accident. It is there by the act of God. And if you doubt that, then I would use the first book of the Bible and the last book of the Bible as the example. Genesis has direct parallels in the Book of Revelation. You start in the Book of Genesis—the early chapters of Genesis where God creates everything that is, sets His plan in motion for all of humankind and all of His creation and then walks us through that process as year succeeds to year. And then in the last portion of the Book of Revelation, every item in the Book of Genesis is fulfilled in the final pages of the Book of Revelation—Every single one.
And what I’ve done is to put it up on the board so that you could see it very clearly. Genesis 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Revelation 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Genesis 1:5, “God called the light day and the darkness he called night.” Revelation 21:25, “The gates of heaven will never be shut by day and there will be no night there.” “God called the dry land earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called seas.” Revelation, “There was no more sea.” Genesis 1, “God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night.” Revelation 21, “The city of heaven has no need of sun or a moon to shine on it for the glory of God is its light, and the Lamb is the lamp.”
You begin to get the flavor. “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden. And from there, it divides and becomes four branches.” Revelation 22, “Then the angels showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat for the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” What begins in Genesis is fulfilled or completed in the Book of Revelation. “Cursed is the ground because of you. In toil, you shall eat of it all the days of your life.” Revelation, “Nothing accursed will be found there anymore.” Genesis, “You return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Revelation 21, “God Himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” What begins in Genesis is fulfilled in Revelation. The Bible is whole in and of itself.
Now, let’s dive into the book itself.
We have the beginning of the book, which I will not concentrate on at this point. We will come back to a piece of that later on. But it’s basically the prologue or the salutation. Remember, this is a letter, and the beginning of Revelation is basically written by a letter. But Revelation features three great visions: the vision of the risen Christ, the vision of God on the throne in heaven, and the vision of the Heavenly Kingdom. The vision of the risen Christ is in chapter 1. The vision of God on the throne is in chapter 4. And the vision of the Heavenly Kingdom is Revelation 21 and 22. Those are the three highlights of the Book of Revelation.
And I want us to look right now at the first vision, “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Here he’s referring to the hardship he endured on the isle of Patmos. He was there because he was preaching the Word of God and the faith of Jesus Christ. “On the Lord’s day, I was in the Spirit.” That is, he was in worship on Sunday. “And I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet which said, ‘Write on a scroll what you see.'” The direct revelation of God—”I see. I saw.”—”Write on a scroll what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands.”
Now, let me ask you something. A lampstand. Is the lampstand the light? No. The lampstand is not the light. The lampstand holds up the light. And so therefore he is saying that the lampstands, that’s the code word for the Church. If he had used the word Church, the Roman authorities would have known what he was talking about. So he refers to the Church as the lampstand because the Church holds up the light which is Jesus Christ. “And among the lampstands was someone like a Son of man.” This whole vision is a reference back to the Book of Daniel, Daniel chapter 7 and Daniel chapter 10. Daniel refers to the Messiah who is to come as the Son of man. John is picking up that great phrase from Daniel, and he is saying Daniel predicted that the Messiah would come, “I am telling you that Jesus Christ is that Messiah. He is the Son of man dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.”
Only kings wore golden sashes around their chest—only kings.He is declaring that the risen Christ is the King above all kings, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Another great phrase that we will see later on in the Book of Revelation. “His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow.” This is a reference back to the Book of Proverbs. In the Book of Proverbs, there is a verse which says, “White hair is a crown of glory because it indicates great wisdom.” Oh, there’s some people in here who are wearing wonderful crowns of glory, and they are indeed wise beyond their own knowing. But what I want you to understand is that white hair is the symbol of wisdom, but John actually doubles the wisdom of the risen Christ. He says, “He’s white as wool and white as snow,” doubling the effect of the wisdom of Jesus Christ.
“His eyes were like blazing fire.” I love that piece of it. When I was a kid, I used to read Superman in the comic books. And whenever Superman used his X-ray vision, there were rays—bright red rays that came right out of his eyes. You remember that? That was his X-ray vision. That’s the message here. Jesus Christ, the risen, resurrected Christ, has the power of X-ray vision to see into any place, into any person, into any circumstance, into any heart. “His eyes were blazing like fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace.” Bronze, when it was heated, became almost permanent. It was the stoutest and most permanent of all of the metals.
How many of you—they don’t do that anymore. I don’t think they do it anymore. I haven’t seen any in a long time—but back in the old days, when you had a child and your child outgrew his baby shoes, you got them bronzed, didn’t you? And you put those little bronze shoes up on the mantelpiece where everybody could see them. Well, you see, bronze was the symbol of honor and the symbol of permanence. And so anytime you talk about a bronze shoe or a bronze foot, you are talking about a permanent place or position or person of honor. Jesus Christ is the ultimate permanent honor.
“His voice was like the sound of rushing waters.” We live on the ocean here. You know, don’t you, that there is nothing that you can do to drown out the sound of the waves breaking on the shore. I don’t care what sound you use. I don’t care how you approach it. You cannot stop the sound of the waves breaking on the shore. The sound of rushing waters is a sound that cannot be silenced. “In His right hand, He held seven stars.” Seven, remember, complete. The stars are angels. Angels, we will look at later on. The seven stars. He has in his hands all of the angels. The angels are messengers. They’re not little white-robed guys strumming on harps. They’re messengers. Jesus has in His hand all of the messengers that He needs to deliver His word to the world and to us. That’s the word that John is delivering.
“Out of His mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword.” The only weapon Jesus had is the weapon of the Word, the words that He spoke, and His words always delivered either the message of judgment or the message of grace. A double-edged sword. His Word always carried that double emphasis. “His face was like the sun shining in all of its brilliance.” You remember in the story in the Gospels where the disciples, three of them, climbed up with Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration. And there we are told that Jesus was transfigured before them. And His clothing became brilliant white. And His face began to shine like the sun.
Now, who was up on top of that mountain when the transfiguration occurred? Peter, James and John. So John would have remembered. This would’ve been an instant memory for him. He would have understood the significance of that face, bright as the sun. “When I saw Him”—by the way, some people say that we don’t have a picture of Christ in the Bible. That is not true. What you have just read is the portrait of the risen, resurrected Jesus Christ. You put the meaning behind the words that are written in code. You put the meaning behind the words, and you get this incredible picture of the risen Christ. That’s the Christ we’re going to encounter when we get to heaven, not gentle Jesus, not Jesus the humble carpenter of Nazareth but the risen, resurrected Christ of Resurrection. And I can tell you I can hardly wait. I hope you feel the same.
“When I saw him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” He fainted. He’s in church, and he has this sudden experience, a voice behind him. He turns around, sees the vision of Christ. And he faints dead away. I’d probably do the same. My guess is if Jesus showed up in that form in Providence Church one Sunday, we’d all faint dead away. Here’s Jesus. Listen to this. This is so wonderful. It’s so tender. “Jesus placed His right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid—Don’t be afraid. Remove the fear. Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Write therefore what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. The seven lampstands are the seven churches.'”
And then there follows this amazing section. We’re not going to deal with that in detail. The seven letters to the seven churches. Jesus dictates a letter to each one of those seven churches. John records the letter. Each letter follows a pattern—very important for you to grasp the pattern. Every single one has a basic message. That is in the center of the letter. The letter begins with a direct reference to the first chapter to this vision of the risen Christ or to the words delivered by the risen Christ. The last phrase of each letter refers to the promise that will come at the end of Revelation. Every letter follows the same pattern. You begin with this reference back to the risen Christ. Then you have a message from Christ to the Church about one of the problems in the Church or one of the sins in the Church. And then it ends always with the phrase, “To him who overcomes,” or, “To those who overcome.” And then you get the promise, every word listed from the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation. Absolutely amazing to see the pattern as you go.
Each one has a significant message. Each one of the seven highlights one of the great sins or problems of the Church, not just in Asia Minor but the Church to this very day. Every one of those is a problem for the Church in our time. I will tell you that in my desk drawer, I have a little card, and on the card, each of the seven churches—it looks just exactly like this—with the problem beside it. Every sermon I preach, every decision I make here, every initiative I try to put into place here is designed to address one or more or all of those seven problems or sins. That is the genius of this section of the Book of Revelation. And so as you look at each one of these, you begin to see what is being delivered in the way of the message from Jesus Christ to the Church.
All right. Let me just move on at this point. We may make reference later on to those seven churches because the messages contained in each one are quite extraordinary. But if you get the pattern, you will also get the message. I want to finish with the second vision, the vision of God on his throne, “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there”—see, he can’t even call God’s name. He so reveres God that he will not refer to Him by name. That is as old as the Old Testament. Moses couldn’t refer to God by name nor can the disciple John in the Book of Revelation.
“The one who sat there had the appearance of”— here are two jewels. Remember, we talked about the jewels—jasper and carnelian. Jasper was a clear stone or a gem. It was very much like a diamond. It had enormous value. But what it did inevitably, if you held a jasper up to the light, it focused the light and magnified it so that when you looked at a jasper with light flowing into it, the light became blinding. And so he is saying that the light that shone from God on his heavenly throne was a blinding light. Carnelian is a red gem or jewel. It’s even deeper red than a ruby. And it had an unusual characteristic. When you held the carnelian in your hand, the red absorbed the light and then began to glow so that it radiated the color from the stone. And so by referring to God as looking like carnelian, he was in essence saying he is powerful. He is energy. He is radiant. Everything about Him just moves out from Him. And when you step into His presence, you feel the power.
And then he says, “Over the throne, there was a rainbow.” The rainbow from the time of Noah, remember, was the sign of God’s promise. Never again would He destroy His people. And so the sign of promise is right there. God is going to be faithful to that promise. The emerald is the jewel which was used in signing peace treaties. The warring parties exchanged emeralds. That was the symbol of peace. And so then you have the other thrones with the 24 elders seated there. And I’m going to stop right there because the 24 are the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples. And then what follows is an unbelievable picture, and we will begin with that picture next week. And we’ll move on through the Book of Revelation. Welcome to the journey.
God bless you. Go in peace.