Read Revelation 1
John begins his writing by orienting his readers to what is happening and the purpose of his writing. The whole of this book is a revelation from God that is given to John to make known that which will take place soon. Remember that we talked in 2 Peter about the dimensions of time when it comes to God’s actions and history. In fact, all of what “is going to take place” is a New Testament reference to the Old Testament phrase “in the last days.” This is a phrase that is often used by the prophets to talk about the time when the Messiah would come which means that, since Jesus came to earth, we are in those “last days”.
As he begins his writing, John also directs this letter to the “Seven churches” in the province of Asia. Each of these churches is specific, however, the meaning of the number seven in Scripture is also important. Seven is associated with the number of God, perhaps meaning that this letter, while given specific destinations, is also directed to God’s Church, the Universal Church made up of all those who put their faith in Him throughout all time. Further evidence of this would be the introduction of God as being both “Alpha and Omega.” Both would seem to indicate that the scope of this letter is much greater than simply seven churches at one point in time.
The vision that John has of Jesus is pretty intense and packed with imagery. These images can seem foreign to us, especially because our study this year has only contained New Testament passages. However, Jesus is actually revealing Himself in a way that would have been familiar to both John and to readers of God’s Word (which at that time was only the Scripture there was).
John records that he saw 7 golden lampstands. This may be a reference to the menorah, the lampstand with seven arms that was made for the tabernacle and the temple of God. He then saw “someone dressed like a son of man.” Both Daniel and Ezekiel, in their visions, also describe an image of the Messiah in this way. Isaiah, in his vision of the Lord, sees God dressed in this way, perhaps reflective of the High Priest who also wore such a robe.
The golden sash that Jesus is wearing in this vision is also noted in another vision of Daniel. A head of white hair suggests wisdom, as referenced in Proverbs; Jesus is often described in the New Testament as the “Wisdom of God.” His eyes of fire suggest a “penetrating” or “refining” gaze; Daniel again sees this in his visions as well as the feet of glowing bronze.
Ezekiel hears a similar voice in one of his visions. The rushing water is perhaps a reference to the “living water” that Jesus offers. Out of His mouth, John writes, came a double-edged sword. Isaiah makes references to this several times in His writing; the author of Hebrews also makes reference to the Word of the Lord being a double-edged sword. Jesus is the Divine Word Incarnate (in the flesh).
Jesus then introduces Himself to John who has rightfully fallen down before Him in what was likely a mix of fear, reverence, and worship. He says to John, “Do not be afraid.” This too is a normal greeting for a Divine being to give to a human when a revelation is occurring. There is obvious reason to be afraid, but Jesus reassures John and us that we need not fear because of who He is and what He has done for us. This greeting becomes, for us, the basis in which we can approach the rest of the book:
“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”