WHAT IS THE BOOK OF REVELATION FOR? – Part 2: THE LETTERS
In the Introductory article (Part 1 of this series) I made no mention of the 1st chapter of Revelation. So, for completeness and before proceeding further, I attach (at annex A below) a review of the 1st chapter, as a necessary lead-in to the examination of the letters in Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation.
The letters to the 7 churches contain comments that can only be understood by referring to the prophetic chapters that follow them. My assessment will seek to link the most significant observations in each letter to the relevant clarification / expansion in the chapters that follow.
But first, some observations on the structure and common factors. They all start with an address to the angel of the particular church, followed by a different characteristic of Jesus for each. Five churches are complimented; two are not: Sardis and Laodicea. Five churches are reprimanded; two are not: Smyrna and Philadelphia. All are given advice, and all are encouraged to have an ear to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (note that we should listen to what is said to all the churches). Each church is told what “He who overcomes” will receive.
What do the letters promise “to him who overcomes”?
The overcomers of the Church of Ephesus are assured that they will eat from “the tree of life”. The clarification: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:14). The overcomers of the martyr Church of Smyrna are promised the crown of life and that they “will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
What is the second death, and who will suffer it? The prophecy explains: “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev 21:8). “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” (Rev 20:14).
The Church of Pergamum overcomers are promised hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it. There are no direct references in the subsequent chapters; however, hidden manna may well refer to “the bread of life”; “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:35 & 50-51). The “white stone with a new name …” has been the subject of much speculation. There are references to a new name: “ … you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow” and “… to His servants He will give another name” (Is 62:2 & Is 65:15) but the full meaning of the white stone reference has yet to be revealed.
To the Church of Thyatira: “to him who overcomes, and does My will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery …. … I will also give him the morning star.” In the subsequent prophetic chapters, the shaking of the nations is portrayed. A woman clothed with the sun, and crowned with twelve stars gives birth to a son who will rule all nations with an iron sceptre (see Rev 12). The morning star is Jesus (Rev 22:16), who will “rises in your hearts” (2 Pe 1:19).
The Church of Sardis, which had a reputation for being alive but was dead, is told to wake up and strengthen what remains. There are no good comments; even so, a few overcomers will be dressed in white and will not have their names erased from the book of life. Later, at Rev 20, we see the book of life opened and at Rev 21, that only those named in the “Lamb’s book of life” will be able to enter the New Jerusalem.
The Church of Philadelphia, receives the encouraging promise that the overcomes will be made pillars in the temple of my God; and “I will write on him the name of my God, .… and I will also write on him my new name.” At the start of Rev 14 we read: “Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (see also Rev 22:4). Two other encouraging comments are: “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut” and “I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth”. I have often heard the former used in prophetic words given to individuals, and the latter is sometimes used in support of the pre-tribulation rapture argument.
Lastly, the lukewarm Church of Laodicea, which boasts about its material wealth while not realising that in God’s eyes it is wretched and miserable and needs to repent. Even so, Jesus shows His long-suffering love: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock,” and to those who overcome: “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
In Part 3, we will look at significant aspects in the chapters that follow the letters, some of which we have commented on above.
REVELATION Chapter 1 –
Note: Revelation is in singular! ‘Apokalupsis’ – the unveiling, Greek, per Interlinear)
Rev 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
2 who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Who gave what to whom? God gave the revelation to Jesus for Him to show to His servants. John was brought to witness the events.
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. There can be no doubt it is prophecy – it says so. The only book in the Bible, which gives a blessing. In this case to both the reader and the hearer.
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, Asia was a province of the Roman Empire (now Asia Minor, part of Turkey). Lots of 7s: seven churches, 7 lampstands, 7seals, 7 trumpets, 7 bowls, 7 stars. Grace – receiving that which we do not deserve. Jesus is “him who is, and who was, and who is to come”. The seven spirits before his throne – see Isaiah 11.2. “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.”
5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, Titles for Jesus – I am told there are 250 in the Bible. By grace we are removed from the penalty of sin (salvation), by the Holy Spirit helping us we are saved every day from the power of sin (sanctification), and in due course we will be saved from the presence of sin (full redemption).
6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Kings and priests separate in the history of Israel: Melchizedek Gen 14:18, Ps 110:4, Heb 5:6. Jesus, and now us.
7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. There will be no mistaking who Jesus is!
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 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. A Penal colony
10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,
11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” 7 representative churches?
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, Light bearers – let your light shine before men
13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.
14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.
15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.
18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. John, the close friend who knows Jesus well, now sees Him in all His ascended glory – Jesus who is the first and the last – fully God. See Is 41v4, 44v6, 48v12, Rev 1v11, Rev 2v8, Rev22v13. The only way John can be raised up is by the hand of God.
19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. Immediate past, what John has just witnessed in Heaven, the risen Christ in His glory, what is now, Ch 2 & 3 letters to the then current churches, and what will be: the end times and the new heaven and the new earth Ch 4 –22. The NT is in the OT concealed the OT is in the NT revealed.
20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. No ambiguity there, then!