INDUCTIVE STUDIES ON REVELATION

Historical Situation

Christ Appears to the Suffering Churches of Asia Minor
(Rev. 1:9-20)

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THE SCRIPTURES (1:9-20)

9 I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11 saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."

12 And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; 13 and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. 14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. 15 And His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. 17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19 "Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. 20 "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.


INTRODUCTION

Because there are some events in Revelation which have absolutely NOT occurred, it is so easy to place all the events in Revelation in the future. For example, no matter what your view of Revelation is, Rev. 21-22 have NOT occurred. The problem, though, is that there is so much in Revelation that links it to the past, to the situation John and the Christian churches Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) were experiencing at the end of the first century A.D. Although it would not be for another 200+ years that Christianity would dominate the Roman Empire, it nevertheless was on the rise by the end of the first century AD, a mere 60-70 years after the death of Christ. Because Christianity insisted that Jesus was Lord of lords and King of kings, many in the Roman government thought that Christianity threatened its claim that the state was supreme (which it does). With the Jews being willing accomplices in persecuting Christians, the Romans towards the end of the first century A.D. began a systematic persecution of the Christian church.

The persecution at the end of the first century differed from the conflagration of 64 A.D. when Nero persecuted Christians in Rome after he set the city on fire and then blamed Christians for the fire. Although Nero crucified and burned Christians at the stake (the Vatican is actually built upon the site of Nero's garden where he burned Christians at the stake in order to provide light for his parties), this persecution was localized, mainly restricted to Christians in Rome (including Paul and Peter). The persecution at the end of the 1st century was more widespread, targeting the largest center of the Christian population, eastern Turkey (Asia Minor), churches founded by Paul and later developed further by Timothy and the apostle John, author of Revelation. This appears to be the situation Revelation is addressing.

If what I have said above is true, then how does Revelation relate to us? Remember that Paul claimed that the spirit of antichrist was already working. In fact, we saw that his spirit has been working throughout history, at least from the time of Sodom and Gomorrah (1 John 2:18). Although so much of Revelation relates to what happened 2,000 years ago, it gives us a real taste, a real preview of what is to come. After we finish looking specifically at Revelation, we will see how it specifically relates to us and the future.


DESCRIPTION OF THE AUTHOR AND HIS CIRCUMSTANCES (1:9)

(Because so much of verses 1-8 form a standard first-century greeting, we are going to skip to v. 9). According to verse 9, who is writing the Book of Revelation?

Notice how the author goes on to describe himself (the first part is the most important part for our purposes): "your brother and ____________ ___________ in the ______________ and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus."

We already saw in 1 John 2:18 that he believed the last hour had come because of the rise of antichrists. Here in Rev. 1:9 John repeats that he is living during that time of great stress for the people of God.

Where was John at the time he wrote Revelation (1:9)?

One thing about the place where he was located. It was situated off the coast of Asia Minor, having a view of Ephesus, the major city where John had ministered for about 20 years after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Now John was not there as a part of a cruise package. He is in exile because of his commitment to Jesus Christ. By this time (end of the first century) John is an old man. Exile would have been great punishment for him..


A MESSAGE FOR SEVEN CHURCHES IN ASIA MINOAR (1:10-11)

John claims that he was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day. (Sunday quickly became the day of worship for Christians because of Jesus' resurrection on a Sunday. No one should really feel guilty for attending Bible study and worship on a Sunday.) After writing in a book what he sees, John is supposed to send this book to whom (1:11)?


Now these were important churches in the western part of Asia Minor, Turkey. In fact, if you look at a map of 1st-century Asia Minor, you will see that these churches form a circle in the way John lists them. You start with Ephesus and work your way up through Smyrna and then to Pergamum; then you turn east and south going through Thyatira, and then through Sardis, Philadelphia, and finally to Laodicea.

An interesting interpretation of these churches arose out of a movement called "Dispensationalism." This particular view claimed that each of the 7 churches in Rev. 1-3 actually represent seven different ages of the church. The church of Revelation and the church age it is supposed to represent (along with its primary messenger) is as follows:

THE CHURCH OF REVELATION CHURCH AGE MESSENGER
Ephesus 53-170 Paul
Smyrna 170-312 Irenaeus
Pergamum 312-606 Martin
Thyatira 606-1520 Columba
Sardis 1520-1750 Martin Luther
Philadelphia 1750-1906 John Wesley
Laodicea 1906-??? William Branham


If ever an interpretation was forced upon the Bible, this one definitely was. There is no way that the church of Ephesus in Rev. 1 and 2 represents the age of the apostles, while the church at Smyrna represents the period of time after the apostles until the rise of Constantine in 325 AD, etc. If this is what the 7 churches of Revelation mean, then we can safely claim that we can never again be confident about any of our interpretations of the Bible. (You need to understand that until about the 1990's this view dominated conservative Christian theology in the south.)

Why is ths interpretation so illegitimate? First, this interpretation does NOT come out of these verses. There is no way in the world you would ever read these verses and come away with this interpretation unless someone told you about it. Second, this interpretation has nothing to do with the purpose of the Book of Revelation. This book was meant to encourage these 1st-century Christians. Talking about the church age of Laodicea which did not occur for another 1900 years has zero relevance for those Christians going through the fires of persecution at the end of the first century, AD. Third, notice the priority of Protestantism, at least from the time of Martin Luther. To neglect the role of the Greek Orthodox Church, the churches of the Middle East, the Russian Orthodox Church, etc., and built a system purely upon Protestantism seems highly dubious.


DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST (1:12-20)

John turns towards the direction of the voice. What does he see at first (1:12)?

According to v.20 what do these 7 things represent?

Next, John claims that he saw in the middle of these lampstands one like who (1:13)?

How is Jesus dressed according to v. 13?

The garment and ornament He is wearing presents Jesus as both a king and a priest. Although Christians suffer, they should always remember whom they are suffering for. Because of who He is, their sufferings will not only be temporary, they will be worth it.

How does John describe the different parts of Jesus' body (1:14-16)?

  1. His head and hair (describing purity):
  2. His eyes (signifying piercing gaze like a laser):
  3. His feet (signifying strength): burnished brass
  4. His voice (signifying authority):
  5. His right hand (His concern for the angels of the churches*):
  6. His mouth (signifying the power of Christ's word):
  7. His face (signifying His majesty):
*According to v. 20 these 7 stars represent the 7 angels of the 7 churches.

Just a side question. Do these 7 angels represent LITERAL angels or do they represent the pastors of the churches since the word "angel" can also mean messenger?" I think that they refer to literal angels. Why? Because there is a good word for pastor (poimen) if John had meant pastor. Moreover, if we claim that an angel is the symbol of the pastor of then church, then we have just interpreted John's interpretation of the 7 stars.

How did John respond when He saw this vision of Christ (1:17)?

According to Jesus, why shouldn't John be afraid (1:17b-18)?

Some people in fact SHOULD be afraid if they ever see this vision of Christ because they are in a hostile relationship with Him; however, His followers should not fear because THIS particular Christ is working on behalf of His people.

What is John supposed to write down (1:19)?

Some try to divide Revelation up into 3 categories: (1) chapter 1, (2) chapters 2-3, the situation of John's day, and (3) chapters 4-22, events which will occur right before Jesus returns, at least 2,000 years after John wrote Revelation. Again, this interpretation has NOTHING to do with the purpose of this book, to encourage those first-century Christians who were going through a period of great persecution.

Before leaving this chapter, I want to point out something very important in it. Christ walking among the 7 golden lampstands and holding the 7 stars in His hand shows us how much He is concerned about His people. He has not abandoned us, even during times of great persecution. He walks among the churches. He holds their angels (pastors?) in His hand.

I loved the episode in The Magician's Nephew when Digory tells Aslan about his mother who is extremely sick. The little boy is so upset about his mom possibly dying. When he looks up at Aslan, Aslan does not say a word. Instead, Digory sees big tears in Aslan's eyes. Aslan is even more concerned for Digory's mom than Digory was. Lewis--AND JOHN--are trying to assure us that as concerned as we are about our situation, Jesus is even more concerned. Our persecutions NEVER indicate that Christ doesn't love us. His death for us on the cross is the truest indicator of how Jesus feels about us.