{2}         Prologue (Rev 1:1-20)


Part 1. Prologue (1:1-20)

1.1.      Superscription (1:1-3)

1.2.      Salutation and doxology (1:4-8)

1.3.      Commission to the writer (1:9-20)

        These verses tell how and for what purpose the revelation was given, and then pronounce a blessing on the reader who obeys.

        PICTURE: John sits on top of the hill in Patmos facing the sea. Suddenly, he feels a mystic glow around him. Someone speaks to him from behind. He turns and sees 7 giant lampstands forming a circle. In the middle is Jesus, surrounded by glorious light.


1:1       This book is an apocalypse or an unveiling. The work is a revelation from God mediated by Jesus Christ. Christ is the revealer but He does not accompany John on his visionary experiences (angels play this role). Instead, He opens the scroll of destiny (Rev 5:5,7) and discloses its contents (Rev 6:1,3,5,7,9,12; 8:1) because He alone is worthy.

History is not a haphazard sequence of unrelated events but a divinely decreed ordering of events that progress toward a divinely designed end.

“Soon take place”: yet over 1900 years of church history have passed. Solutions: [1] “soon” can be in the sense of suddenly or “without delay” once the appointed time arrives; [2] “soon”can also refer to the certainty; [3] applying the formula of 2Pe 3:8 (“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years”) even though this is difficult from a human perspective. [4] the coming crisis was not the end of history but the persecution of the church. [5] in the prophetic outlook, the end is always imminent in the light of the final events.

The term “servants” here points to the Christian prophets although elsewhere refers to all believers (Rev 7:3; 19:5; 22:3).

The message was sent to John by an angel who acts as an intermediary between Christ and John. It is the same angel who appears again in ch. 22 (Rev 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.”). In addition, there are various angels: the mighty angel in 5:2, the angel coming up from the east in 7:2, the angel standing on the sea and the land in 10:1-2, the angel with the sickle in 14:19, etc.

The revelation is described as “significed” (KJV) (Gr. semaino) with the idea of figurative representation, or a sign or a symbol. What the visions portray exists in actuality, but the vision itself is simply the medium used by God to transmit that reality.

1:2       “everything he saw”: The message of God attested by Jesus consists of everything that John saw in his vision. Although the Greek verb in the first clause (“made in known”) is in the aorist tense, the present tense translation (“testifies”) is appropriate since the prologue was probably composed after John had written down the visionary experiences.

1:3       A blessing is pronounced on the person who will read this prophecy to the church and upon those who will hear it and obey. As the vast majority of people could not read, the responsibility of some to read it in the church is stressed in the final instructions in 22:18-19.

This blessing is the first of 7 beatitudes (14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14). This one is virtually the same as Jesus’ words in Lk 11:28 “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

“take to heart” indicates that the things written here are to be moral instruction, not simply prediction. John viewed this work on the same level with the prophetic books of OT, possessing an authority that requires obedient response of all believers.

“the time is near”: The Greek for “time” (kairos) was commonly used in an eschatological sense to indicate a time of crisis or a decisive moment. (Mt 8:29; 1Co 4:5)

1:4       After each letter is the repeated exhortation “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. The plural indicates that the 7 letters as a whole are intended for the moral and spiritual progress of all 7 churches.

The Christological emphasis anticipates the centrality of the Lamb in the chapters to follow.

The authority with which John writes indicates his role as a leader in the Asian church. Asia normally refers to the Roman province for the western portion of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

It is not quite certain why Revelation was addressed to these 7 churches. Some suggest that the 7 cities were located “on the great circular road that bound together the most populous, wealthy, and influential part of the Province. Some feel that the number seven was chosen intentionally to represent completeness or perfection.

The salutation combines the normal Greek greeting and the customary Hebrew shalom, as found in Paul’s letters. The order of grace and peace may signal that God’s grace leads to peace with God.

Grace and peace proceed from a threefold source:

[1]   the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come” which refers to the divine name (YHWH) from Ex 3:14-15—all time is embarced within God’s eternal presence. An uncertain future faced by 1st century Christians calls for One who by virtue of His eternal existence exercises sovereign control over the course of history.

[2]   the 7 spirits: [a] the one Holy Spirit represented under the symbolism of a sevenfold or complete manifestation of His being: This explanation is based on the argument that it would be improper to bracket anyone less than deity with the Father and the Son. However, there is precedent in Lk 9:26 and 1Ti 5:21. [b] the 7 archangels of Jewish tradition: Their names were listed in 1 Enoch 20:1-8 (pseudipigrapha) as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. But this would represent a strange intrusion of Jewish tradition into Christian thought which recognizes only Michael and Gabriel. [c] a special order of angels: The 7 spirits are referred also in 3:1 (connected with the 7 stars that are the angels of the 7 churches in 1:20), 4:5 (identified as 7 lamps), and 5:6 (as the 7 eyes of the Lamb, based on Zec 4:2,10 where 7 lights are the 7 eyes of the Lord which range throughout the earth). But there is insufficient information to arrive at a definitive conclusion.

1:5       The second half of v.5 to v.6 is a doxology honouring Christ who has set us free from sin and made us priests to serve His God and Father.

[3]   Jesus Christ: designated by the threefold title “faithful witness” (His role in mediating the revelation He received from God, also the larger purpose of His life as the one who bore witness to the truth from God; the Greek word for “witness” [martys] means one who suffers death for allegiance to a cause, and the model of how to stand firm and never compromise the truth of God in the time of persecution), “firstborn from the dead” (Christ is declared sovereign over the church by virtue of His resurrection from the dead from Ps 89:27) and “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Christ will be universally acknowledged as supreme ruler). The title is intended to encourage and sustain believers during persecution.

This first doxology is addressed to Christ alone. He is the one “who loves us” (present tense indicating continuous) and “has freed us from our sins” (aorist tense).

“a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”: this kingdom is the true succession of Israel and the inheritors of all the blessings promised to the Israelits (1Pe 2:5,9). Corporately they are a “kingdom” but individually they are “priests”.

1:6       “Glory” is praise and honour; “dominion” is power and might; “forever and ever” means without end (the Greek takes its greatest term for time, the eon, pluralizes this, and then multiplies it by its own plural, tous aionas); “amen” is the Hebrew word meaning “so let it be”.

1:7       In Dan 7:13, Daniel saw one like a son of man coming “with the clouds of heaven”; Zec 12:10: on the Day of the Lord, the inhabitants of Jerusalem would “look on the one they have pierced” and “mourn for him”.

He comes “with” the clouds, not “on” or “in” them, thus the clouds are probably not His means of transportation. The clouds are likely not the clouds of nature but clouds associated with the divine presence (Ex 13:21; 16:10). He will be openly manifested to all, for “every eye will see Him”. “They will look on the one they have pierced”: including all those of every age (the non-Christian world) whose careless indifference to Jesus is typified in the act of piercing. The mourning in Zec 12 was that of repentance but here it is the remorse at the judgment that results from their rejection of Jesus.

“So shall it be! Amen” combines the Greek and Hebrew forms of affirmation, doubling the effect.

1:8       God only speaks here (1:8) and 21:5-8.

“the Alpha and the Omega”: the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, equivalent to the Hebrew Aleph and Tau which were regarded not simply as the first and the last letters but as including all letters in between, indicating God as the sovereign Lord over everything, from the beginning to the end. (Similar saying is found in 21:6 and 22:13, with interpretive phrase “the Beginning and the End”.)

The second part of the verse is not spoken by God but about Him. “The Almighty” occurs extensively in the OT, but only 12 times in the NT, 9 times in Revelation: meaning God’s supremacy over all things, an encouragement of Asian Christians who are facing persecution for their faith.

1:9       John has paid the price of exile for his faithfulness in proclaiming the word of God. He is a participant with them in the tribulation. “Suffering” refers to the difficulties and afflictions of everyday life that result from faithfulness to Christian principles (Jn 16:33; 2Ti 3:12).

“Kingdom” refers to the coming period of messianic blessedness; “patience” is the active endurance required of the faithful. The present is a time of suffering; the future is the kingdom of blessedness; during the interim period, believers must exercise patience.

Patmos is a small island in the Aegean Sea, 40 miles from land. It has rugged rocky terrain and mountains. It may have served as a Roman penal settlement. John was on Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” The message originated with God and was testified to by Jesus.

1:10     John was “in the Spirit”, a state of spiritual exaltation similar to a trance (some translated as “Spirit-possessed” or described as “trance-like suspension of normal consciousness”). It is a kind of ecstasy in which a man is lifted out of himself but is also under the power or control of the Holy Spirit. Peter (Ac 10:10; 11:5 at Joppa) and Paul (Ac 22:17 at Jerusalem) had similar experiences.

This is probably the first mention of the Lord’s day in Christian literature, referring to the first day of the week when Christ rose from the grave.

The command to John was given as clear and unmistakable as the sound of a trumpet (Ex 19:16,19).

1:11     The 7 cities were chosen possibly because they were distribution centres for 7 postal districts of western-central Asia Minor. They were located roughly 30 to 50 miles apart along a circular road. The number “7” is a number symbolic of completeness. Although the letters were written to real churches of the first century, they are relevant to the universal church.

The letters are not to be read only at the appropriate location but that the entire scroll including all 7 letters was to be read at each church because each of the 7 letters contains the command: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (plural).”

1:12     The lampstands signify the 7 churches addressed by the letter. The purpose of the church is to bear the light of the divine presence in a darkened world (Mt 5:14-16). The lampstand is a portable lamp, not a candlestick which were not in use at that time.

1:13     Dan 7:13 describes the presentation of “one like a son of man” to the Ancient of Days (God). The term can mean either “a human being” or “like an angel”, a technical term in apocalyptic. He was the exalted Christ as described in v.17-18 in terms of preexistence, death, and resurrection.

Jesus Christ is: [1] prophet, as recipient of God’s revelation in 1:1, [2] king in 1:5, [3] priest as indicated by the high-priestly garment in this verse. The robe was long; the sash that gathered the long robe probably came down diagonally from one shoulder to the waist was of gold. They denote the dignity of an important office.

The standing of Christ among His churches indicates His abiding presence when the churches faced persecution.

1:14     “His head and hair” should be translated “his head, that is, his hair”. The hair “white like wool” and the clothing “white as snow” are similar to Dan 7:9 which describes the Ancient of Days, here describing Christ. The white hair conveyed the idea of wisdom and dignity (Pr 16:31).

The eyes “were like blazing fire”, expressing the penetrating insight of the one who is sovereign over the entire history.

John’s allusions are used for their evocative and emotive power, calling forth from his readers of overwhelming and annihilating wonder.

1:15     His feet appeared like “bronze”, an alloy of gold or fine brass. “Like bronze taken out of a heated furnace” indicating strength and stability. His voice is “like the sound of rushing waters”, suggesting the awe-inspiring power of a great waterfall, same description of the voice of God in Eze 43:2.

1:16     He holds all the stars in His right hand indicating His sovereign control or His protection over the churches. The double-edged sword from the mouth of Christ symbolizes the irresistible power of divine judgment.

The countenance is described as being “like the sun shining in all its brilliance”. The brilliance should not be limited to the face but surrounding His entire person, similar to that on the Mount of Transfiguration.

1:17     John’s response to the vision was to fall at the feet of Christ as though dead because to stand as an equal would be tantamount to blasphemy. It could even lead to death as the OT belief was that for sinful man to see God was to die.

The laying on of the right hand communicated power and blessing. “Do not be afraid” was something that John had heard before (like Mt 14:27). The title “the First and the Last” is essentially the same as the self-designation of God in 1:8. It emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God.

1:18     The “living” God is in sharp contrast to the dead or inanimate gods of paganism. Even though He experienced death, He is now alive forever.

He possesses “the keys of death and Hades”, meaning power and authority over their domain. Hades is always joined with death in Revelation. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol, meaning the abode of departed spirits. For Jews, power over these keys belongs to God alone.

1:19     Threefold division of the message: [1] “what you have seen”: vision of the Son of man, [2] “what is now”: the present condition of the church in ch.2—3, [3] “what will take place later: visions beginning with ch.4.

1:20     The 7 stars are the angels of the 7 churches. [1] They could be guardian angels. [2] Some take them as the ruling official of the congregation, such as the bishop. [3] However, they could also be a way of personifying the prevailing (impersonal) spirit (spiritual state) of the church.


        Jesus Christ our Lord is walking among His churches. We may not see Him physically but He is here and He observes what we do as He said many times in the 7 letters that follow: “I know your deeds.” We are serving Him through our activities at church. He, not the church or anyone in the church, is our object of service. All who read God’s message (the Bible) and obey will be blessed.