John, take a letter
This message comes from Jesus1 This is breaking news from Jesus Christ. God gave it to him to pass along to his servants. It’s to give them a heads up about what’s going to happen soon. Jesus sent an angel to deliver this message to one of his servants, John. 2 John is testifying as a witness to everything he saw and heard. What he heard is the word of God and the message of Jesus. 3 People who read this prophecy out loud will be better off for it. So will anyone who obeys it. The time is almost here.
Hello to the seven churches4 From: John.
To: Seven churches in Asia.
I’m writing to you in kindness and peace. This is a message from the one who was and is and is to come. It’s coming, too, from seven spirits present around his throne. 5 It’s from Jesus, as well. Jesus is a witness who can testify about what martyrdom is like. He’s the first of many raised from the dead. And he’s the king over every king in the world. He’s the one who loved us enough to shed his blood for us. 6 He made us kings and priests to serve God, his Father. Jesus deserves glory and power forever and ever. What he did broke us out of sin’s prison, freeing us. And that’s the truth.
7 Look, he’s coming in the clouds. Everyone will see him. That includes the people who pierced and killed him. People all over the world will sob in grief because of him. It’s going to happen. And that’s the truth. 8 The Lord God himself says, "I'm the A and the Z —the start and the finish. I'm the one who was and is and is to come. I am the Almighty.”
Patmos: Vision Island9 I, John, am your brother and your partner in all this suffering going on. But I’m your partner in the kingdom, too, and in the staying power we get from Jesus. I was sent to the island of Patmos because I got caught telling people about Jesus. 10 The Spirit came to me on a Sunday. I heard a voice behind me, loud as a trumpet. 11 It said, “Write what you’re about to see. Then send it to the seven churches in these cities: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
12 I turned around to see who was talking. What I saw were seven lampstands made of gold. 13 There among the lampstands I saw someone who looked like the Son of Humans. He wore a long robe with a gold sash across his chest and tied high on his shoulder. 14 He had a head full of hair white as wool, or even snow. And there was fire in his eyes. 15 His feet looked like the color of polished bronze, refined in a fire. His voice had the power of a flashflood. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand. Out of his mouth came a sword, with a blade sharpened on both edges. His face glowed like the sun at noon.
17 When I saw him, I dropped to the floor at his feet and lay there like a dead man. He put his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I Am First and Last—where it started and where it’s headed. 18 I’m the Live One. Take a good look. I was dead, but I’m alive for good now. I’ve shown that I’m stronger than death and the grave. They can’t touch me. 19 Write this all down, everything you’ve just seen. And write down what you’re going to see that’s happening now and that’s yet to come. 20 I’m not going to keep you wondering about the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands. The stars are the angels of the seven churches. The lampstands are the seven churches.”
The Greek word is apoklypsis, from which we get the word “apocalypse.” The Greek word meant a revelation—a bit like breaking news, with secrets now made public. Scholars debate if the revelation is from Jesus or about Jesus. On the one hand, the message is about Jesus. On the other hand, it’s about his people, too.
It’s unclear exactly what event John is talking about. The phrase he uses is a technical term that shows up in end-time literature known as eschatological or apocalyptic. It can refer to the beginning of suffering and punishment or to the return of Jesus, or to someone’s entrance into God’s kingdom. Whatever it meant in John’s day, it was a bulletin alerting people to get ready for something dramatic about to happen.
Asia was a Roman province in what is now central and western Turkey. The seven churches John addresses are some of the most influential and strategically located in the region. Why John singled out seven is up for debate. Some have said seven symbolized completion because God rested on the seventh day after creating the universe. And because of this, “seven” was a symbolic way of referring to churches everywhere. But the number was also linked to divine power and authority, and could provide symbolic support for John’s claim that the message came from God, through Jesus.
The Greek word is charis, often translated as “grace.”
Students of the Bible often associate the spirits with seven angels—God’s top angels, often called archangels. Many other scholars, instead, link this to the “Spirit of the LORD” in Isaiah 11:2. This Spirit provides wisdom, understanding, guidance, strength, knowledge, and respect toward God. Scholars then make the jump to conclude that the Spirit John was talking about is the Holy Spirit. If scholars got this right, John’s greeting to his readers invokes the names and the authority of the entire Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
The phrase more literally says only that Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness.” “Witness” translates the Greek word martys, from which we get the English word “martyr.”
The Greek word for this is Amen.
Bible experts say this points back to a vision Daniel reported, starting in Daniel 7:13. He sees someone who looks like a human, which he calls the Son of Humans (or Son of Man). The person comes “with the clouds of heaven,” possibly a way of describing the glory of his arrival, and not necessarily describing a cloudy day.
Possibly a reference to Zechariah 12:10, which talks about the people of Jerusalem looking on the one they pierced, or somehow stabbed, or nailed to a cross.
Possibly another reference to Zechariah 12:10, which says that people will weep bitterly over him with the intensity they would experience while crying over the death of their oldest son.
Literally “Alpha” and “Omega,” the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet.
Roman historians Pliny and Tacitus said Romans often banished prisoners to islands. Patmos is a small island (13 square miles or 34 square kilometers), located about 60 miles (95 km) west of from Ephesus, a city along the western coast of Turkey.
Literally, “I was in the spirit.” It’s unclear what John meant by that phrase. He used it in three other places: 4:2, 17:3, 21:10. He doesn’t seem to be describing a vivid dream, which some call “a vision of the night” (Job 33:14 New International Version). Some say John was probably describing a wakeful trance. Whatever it was, he had a spiritual connection going on. His spirit was linked to God’s Spirit, and God’s Spirit had taken over John’s senses. The Spirit was about to direct everything John was going to see and hear.
This is apparently an angel. Jesus seems to speak in 1:17-20.
Cities in what is now western Turkey.
“Seven lampstands” may be a way of describing the seven churches as shining lights that draw sinful people to God the way a lightbulb in the darkness draws bugs.
Usually translated “Son of Man.” This is a title Jesus used a lot to describe himself. In the Jewish Bible the phrase contains hints of divinity in some passages and humanity in others—perhaps a perfect phrase for describing someone Christians would say was fully God and fully human. Hint of the divine: the prophet Daniel saw someone like a son of man coming from heaven (Daniel 7:13 New Living Translation). Hint of the human: God often described Ezekiel as a mere mortal by using the phrase “son of man” (Ezekiel 2:1 New Living Translation).
Apparently, Jesus talking. “I Am” is God’s name. When God told Moses to go to Egypt and free the Jewish people, Moses said the Jews would want to know who gave him the assignment. God told him to tell the people that “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). It’s uncertain if John of Revelation intended to link this “I am” to the name of God. But in John’s Gospel, Jesus seems to apply that name to himself in seven “I Am” phrases. I Am:
- life-giving bread (6:35)
- the light of the world (8:12)
- the gate for the sheep (10:7)
- the good shepherd (10:14)
- the resurrection (11:25)
- the way, the truth, and the life (14:6)
- the Genuine Grapevine (15:1)
It’s unclear what kind of “angels” John is writing about. The debate could start a argument among Bible scholars. Theories: guardian angels, or messengers John sends to deliver this letter to the seven churches, or local church leaders. The way he addresses each letter, to the church’s angel, could sound like he’s talking about the church’s pastor or the leading church member if the church doesn’t have a pastor.
John writes Revelation as “breaking news from Jesus Christ” (1:1). Any guesses about why Jesus hadn’t delivered the message himself, while he was on earth with his disciples?
It’s a mystery why Jesus told John to deliver personal messages to just “seven churches” (1:4), and in Turkey of all places. Why not churches closer to his home? Jerusalem, for example, where his brother James had led the church and died as a martyr in the AD 60s. That’s according to first-century Jewish historian, Josephus.
John says this isn’t just a message from God. “It’s coming, too, from seven spirits present around his throne. It’s from Jesus, as well” (1:4-5). Seven spirits? What about the Holy Spirit? What do you make of this?
At the beginning and end of this book, John quotes God saying, “I’m the A and the Z—the start and the finish. I’m the one who was and is and is to come” (1:8; 21:6). What’s the point? Why bother saying that?
John says he saw someone “who looked like the Son of Humans” (1:13). Most Bibles translate that into the more familiar Son of Man. This phrase was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to himself. Why do you think the Son of God would call himself the Son of human beings? It sounds like he’s demoting God or he’s admitting he’s just another human prophet God used. Why do you think Jesus did this?
Let’s assume John didn’t see Scary Jesus with white hair, flaming eyeballs, bronze feet, and a sword where this tongue should have been (1:14-16). What might those symbolize, if we don’t take them as a literal, physical description?
Whoever was talking with John—possibly Jesus, many scholars speculate—the individual said he wasn’t going to keep John guessing about who the seven stars and seven gold lampstands represent. “The stars are the angels of the seven churches. The lampstands are the seven churches” (1:20). Well, that might have cleared it up for John. Not for us. Did Jesus really mean angels? Or could he have meant the pastors, or generous benefactors who provided their homes as meeting places?
LIFE APPLICATION. John said he got exiled for “telling people about Jesus” (1:9). He got off easy, it seems. Bible writers report the executions of James, the brother of John. And early Christian writers say most of the original disciples of Jesus were martyred. In parts of the world today, some people still target Christians for death. How have you seen Christians treated or mistreated?