This study comments upon the Apostle John’s vision of the glorified Jesus Christ dressed as a priest-judge: the Son of Man, the divine-human Messiah first revealed in the Older Testament book of Daniel.
The author, the apostle John, introduces this prophetic book by designating it “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 1a). [One may construe the prepositional phrase “of Jesus Christ” as either an objective or a subjective genitive (or both). That is, either Christ gave the revelation from God, or John recorded divine revelation about Jesus, or both.] God gave it to Christ so that He would show His servants certain events that would transpire quickly once they had begun to happen (“shortly”); Jesus sent His angel to communicate it to the apostle John (v. 1b). [Who is “His angel”?] John testifies to the truth of everything he heard and saw (v. 2), and pronounces spiritual benefits upon two groups: the reader and the hearers who obey the truth. He asserts that the “fulfillment” of this prophecy may come to pass in a short period of time (v. 3).
In his address to seven local churches in Asia Minor, John prays that the Father (“Him who is and who was and who is to come”), the Holy Spirit (“the seven Spirits who are before His throne”), and the Son, Jesus Christ, would bestow grace and peace upon them (vv. 4-5a). [Ryrie associates the number seven with “completion, fulfillment and perfection,” and delineates the numerous times John uses it in this book (Ryrie Study Bible: The New Testament 457).] The apostle describes Jesus as (1) “the faithful witness”; that is, He testified to the truth of God with perfect loyalty; (2) “the firstborn from the dead,” meaning that He was the first person to receive an immortal resurrection body; and (3) “the ruler over the kings of the earth,” which shows His earthly sovereignty (v. 5b).
John ascribes eternal honor and kingship to Him for loving sinners, for cleansing them from their iniquity by shedding His blood as a sacrifice on their behalf, and also for making them a kingdom of people (“priests”) who minister on behalf of others before the Father (vv. 5c-6). He directs their eyes of faith to Christ’s return to the Earth when everyone living will see Him, even the Romans (“they who pierced Him”); His parousia will cause universal mourning. John understands their reaction as the way it should be (v. 7; cf. Matt. 24:30; Zech. 12:10). [Since Jesus did not return in the first century, only the descendants of those who put Him to death see Him. Will fear of punishment cause the tribes to mourn, or will they cry because they are sorry for sinning against Him?] Now the apostle records words from the Lord God, which declare His eternality and omnipotence (v. 8; cf. 1:4 where John affirms the Father’s eternality, and 22:13 where he cites Jesus calling Himself by these titles).
Having completed his greeting to the seven churches, John commences an autobiographical account of how he came to write this book, describing his banishment to the isle of Patmos for preaching the gospel and his ecstatic encounter with the risen, glorified Savior (vv. 9-20). He calls himself “your brother” (a member of God’s family) and “a fellow-partaker” in three things related to Christ: (1) the tribulation (trouble, not the Great Tribulation period); (2) the kingdom (Jesus’ reign on earth); and (3) patience (“perseverance”) [v. 9a], and then locates himself on the isle of Patmos (“A small island in the Aegean Sea, SW of Ephesus,” 457). John recounts that he experienced a Spirit-generated vision on “the day of the Lord”—“an extended period of time in which God deals in judgment and sovereign rule over the earth” (Walvoord 42)—in which he heard a trumpet-like voice identifying Himself (according to NU) as the eternal God and telling him to write what he sees to seven specific local churches in Asia Minor (vv. 10-11).
Having turned around to see who was speaking to him, John beholds “One like the Son of Man” standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands (vv. 12-13a). [The designation “One like the Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13-14) points to the Messiah, the One to whom the Ancient of Days would give absolute rule on the earth.] He proceeds to describe a Man who is dressed in the clothes of a priest-judge (“a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band”) [v. 13b], and who looks like Daniel’s “Ancient of Days” because of His exceedingly white hair (v. 14a; cf. Dan. 7:9). [Note that both the One like the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days have white hair.] John’s Jesus has fiery eyes (v. 14b), but Daniel’s Ancient of Days sits on a fiery throne; the latter writes nothing about His eyes. [Later, however, the prophet describes a Person whose eyes burned “like torches of fire” (Dan. 10:6); this One appears to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.] Jesus’ brass-like feet signify One who stands in judgment, and His voice indicates that His word is powerful (v. 15; cf. Dan. 10:6). John sees Jesus holding the seven “stars” (messengers, human leaders) of the seven “lampstands” (churches) in His right hand, signifying His control (v. 16; cf. 20 for John’s interpretation). The Lord wields a sharp two-edged “sword” that juts from His mouth (symbolic “both of the truth and severity of the Word of God [Heb. 4:12]” , and a brilliant radiance emanates from His face (v. 16; cf. Dan. 10:6).
Once he observes this awesome Being, the apostle collapses, overcome by fear, and behaves as though he were dead (v. 17). Christ, however, gently touches John, and assures him that he has no need to fear. He identifies Himself as the eternal God (cf. 1:8, 11 [NKJV]): the One who lives (a permanent state of being), and became dead, yet who now lives eternally because He has authority over physical death and over Hades (the place which the soul/spirit of unbelievers inhabits between physical death and the second death) [v. 18].
Jesus commands John to write “the things which you have seen” (chapter one), and “the things which are” (chapters two and three), and “the things which will take place after this” (chapters four to twenty-two) [v. 19]. [With these directions, Christ gives John a basic outline of Revelation. The words meta tauta (“after these things”) appear at the beginning of chapter four (4:1), logically suggesting the start of the third section of the prophecy.] In verse 20 John provides Jesus’ interpretation of the symbols of the seven stars and the seven lampstands.