The book of Revelation is perhaps the most feared book in the Bible. I believe that this is because it is the most misunderstood. Let me clarify that by saying that I think that the vast majority of folks have been led astray in the interpretation of this book. The name itself means to “reveal,” not to keep hidden. We speak of God’s words to us as revelation. The Bible is special revelation, and what He shows us of Himself in nature is general revelation.
The first and last chapters of the book give us a key to its timing. This is a literary device which means the whole work is governed by that which is stressed at the beginning and end. 1:1, 3; 22:6, 7, 10, 12, 20 use words which are often translated or at least explained as “quickly.” They should be understood as “soon.” The use of “quickly” shows a bias on the part of the translators to a certain theological interpretation and grossly neglects the common usage. Those “things which must shortly take place” and “the time is near” (1:1, 3) do not allow for an interval of nearly two thousand years or more. The “end” of which they speak is NOT “THE” end of all time, but the end of the Old Testament era, the end of the sacrificial system, the end of Judaism, and the end of the generation which crucified Jesus – that is the events leading up to and including the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in AD 70.
The revelation belongs to Jesus and was communicated to John by the angel (messenger) of Jesus for His slaves and is of the things which much shortly take place (1:1). We can learn from it, but it was FOR its first hearers. It is not about our future, but theirs. Their whole world was about to be turned upside down. One point one million Jews (not to mention others) were killed in and around Jerusalem during the time here prophesied (the years surrounding AD 70).
The letter was addressed to seven specific churches. No perfect explanation has been given of these churches. Some have suggested that they were the churches to which the “church” mail route would go and messages were passed from these to the rest. They may have been kind of like regional headquarters. The fact of the matter is we do not know. We can, however, learn from what is said to the churches. There is much to mine from chapters two and three. I will only point out a little.
Note the appellation given to Christ (1:4), “Him who is and who was and who is to come.” There will be other similar titles to follow (verse 8 for one). This covers present, past, and future; that is all of time. Its being tripartite is reminiscent of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Sprit. It is a reminder that not only is God here with us now, but He was present before time began and will be here after time is over. He is not bound by time.
The book was to be read to the recipients aloud. There are many word pictures used. In part it is expected that the hearers would know the Old Testament Scriptures well and therefore better understand the imagery because it draws heavily upon that of the Old Testament. Much is drawn from the Old Testament prophets. The statement in 1:7 that he is coming with the clouds should alert the hearers to the fact that the One spoken of (Christ Jesus) is coming in judgment. As in his Gospel John speaks of seeing and of hearing. Pay attention and read slowly. Do not let ANY interpretations which you have been told you interfere with your reading. Use a concordance (some Bibles have a small one in the back, they are available online and in book form) and look up pertinent phrases and see where the imagery is coming from and what the context there was! Hair like white wool (1:14) signifies wisdom (we’ve learned this in Proverbs!). The sharp two-edged sword from His mouth (1:16) is of course the word which divides even soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12). Verse twenty explains some of the other imagery.
The letters to each of the seven churches in chapters two and three have some similarities. Each one is addressed to the angel or messenger (some have said pastor) of each church. In the introduction of each is “the One” or some such appellation which is appropriate for that church. Each letter has consolation, or rebuke, or both. And somewhere in each is the statement that “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Sprit says to the churches.” In other words, the messages are to be heeded. The corrective measures stated are to be applied and Christ is to be kept first in all things. There is also a promise to each church.
In 2:17 the hidden manna speaks of Christ’s nourishment of His. The white stone is that of victory and the new name written on it known only to the holder signifies that he is Christ’s and no one else can do him harm.
3:10 has been understood by some as saying that all who are Christ’s will be “kept from” the “Great Tribulation.” First of all, this all happened in the first century AD. Secondly “Great Tribulation” only occurs at Revelation 7:14 in Scripture and the verse is not descriptive of this event but focuses on those who have come out of it. And thirdly only one of the seven churches was promised to be kept from the trouble to come shortly.
Laodicea had both hot and cold springs in the neighborhood, hence 3:15. “Spit” in 3:16 should be “puke.” There was also a famous eye salve made in the city hence the reference in 3:18. The meaning though is that they are spiritually blind and need to get their eyes open and to truly “see.”
Proverbs: Lord, please keep me honest. I prefer to be neither rich nor in poverty, but always to serve You and to serve You well. I have found verse ten to be pertinent in the churches, especially as everyone seems to be related!