Revelation 1:4-18


This passage of Scripture was evidently chosen for this particular Sunday because of what Jesus says of Himself in verse 18. Though He was dead, now He lives into all eternity and has absolute authority and power over death and hell. He alone can deliver from death and hell. He alone can condemn a person to suffer eternally in hell.

Revelation 1:4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,

John already mentioned himself in verse 1. And he will mention himself again in verse 9. For many years there has been an attempt to discredit the Apostle John as the author of the Book of Revelation. We accept the Apostle John as the author.

This verse contains the features of an apostolic letter:

  1. The name of the author

  2. The name of the recipients

  3. The well-know greeting.

The seven churches of Asia Minor are representative of all Christian Churches through the New Testament. God's grace, His saving kindness, is enunciated. From that flows peace, (shalom) as stated in Romans 5:1. " We are at peace with God in Christ.

"The One Who is and was and is coming" denotes the Father. He is eternal and changeless. He comes often to man throughout history and will surely come on the last day. Secondly John mentions the Holy Spirit. The seven-fold gifts of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2ff might be the reference here. In any case our text is plainly speaking of the Holy Spirit, in all His fullness, Who is before God's throne. This evidently means that the Spirit comes from God's throne, His very presence to teach, guide and comfort, see John chapters 14 through 16.

Revelation 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,

In verse 4 the word "from" appeared twice, once for the Father and again for the Spirit. Here we have it the third time. Grace and peace come to us from all three members of the Trinity.

The name of Jesus is qualified with four nouns. Jesus Christ stands in the center of the Book of Revelation just as He stands in the center of the Churches.

Franzmann: He went into death as faithful witness for the truth of God, John 18:37, and so conquered death. He rose from the dead to become 'the firstborn among many brethren' Romans 8:29.
He is known as "the Faithful" for He always is true to His Word. As in Colossians 1:18 He is called "the firstborn from the dead," the One Who holds absolute preeminence because He came back from death and thus conquered death and Satan, Hebrews 2:14.

He is called "Ruler of the Kings of the earth." He is the Ruler over all earthly powers and has the destiny of nations and people firmly in hand. All power in heaven and earth is given also to His human nature, Matthew 28:18.

And now comes a marvelous doxology. Eternal glory and dominion are given to this One. Amen follows. Verily, it is true. Why is He so praiseworthy? He loves us. By means of his blood He freed us from our sins. See 1 John 1:7.

By the way, several items in verse 5 have caused commentators to call the Greek of the Book of Revelation inferior. We deny that this Greek is inferior, we must bear the reproach of Christ by insisting that we are dealing with the Word of God which is not inferior.

Revelation 1:6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father -- to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Here is a result. What we have in this verse results from the atonement. Again the critics claim that the Greek is imperfect. But the Holy Spirit speaks the language of the people. That is not inferior.

"He made us a kingdom." Note Exodus 19:6 which reads: "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nations." Also 1 Peter 2:9. The redeemed of God have direct access to God and offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Who are these kings and priests? Us, addressed directly and with great comfort. Beck translates: "And has made us a kingdom and priests serving His God and Father."

"His God and His Father." This implies the humanity of Jesus. God is His God according to the human nature. And God is His Father according to the divine nature. A sermon could be preached on these words which involve us in the two natures in Christ and what our relationship to God is through Jesus. "Doxa" here means "praise" or "acknowledgement." And "power" which is almost always used only of God, denotes His particular power, His dominion over all. This praise and dominion are eternal and changeless. Verily, He (amen) is true God and a loving and caring Savior.

Revelation 1:7 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him" and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

"Look" calls our attention to an astounding fact. Here we have a clear reference to Daniel 7:13-14, and also to Zechariah 12:10ff. Jesus spoke of this same occasion at Matthew 24:30. The point is the majestic second coming of Christ. Every eye will see Him.

John 19:34 refers to the piercing foretold in Zechariah 12:10, quoted here from the LXX. "All the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him." The versions translate either "over" or "because of." That leads us to a question. Does the verse speak both of the remorse of the unbelievers throughout history or does it speak both of the remorse of unbelievers and the repentance of the believers? Because the Scriptures seem to deny the possibility of repentance at the second coming, we are of the opinion that the verse speaks only of remorse. In other words, verse 7 is Law in its entirety.

Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

Jesus Christ here speaks of Himself. It is plainly the Christ in the state of exaltation. This sentence reminds us immediately of the great "I AM" passages in John's Gospel.

The expression "the Alpha and the Omega" is found again in Revelation 21:6 and 22:13, used only of the exalted Christ. From those passages we know that it means "the beginning and the end" and "the first and the last.

The "Lord God" is used in the Old Testament with reference to the Covenant God and here is applied to Jesus. He is truly God. Note that in this verse the same is said of Jesus as had been said of God in general in verse 4. "The One Who is, Who was and He Who is coming," the eternal, changeless God.

And then He is also called "the Almighty." We could translate the "All-Ruler." The word appears nine times in Revelation and means "He who has all might."

Rienecker: 'Almighty' refers more to God's supremacy over all things than to the related idea of divine omnipotence.
Jesus Christ is the all-powerful ruler of all history. This is very comforting for us who must enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation.

Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Verse 9 through 11 might be a separate paragraph. Kretzmann captions this paragraph "John's commission to write." This is John's third mention of himself. He calls himself "your brother and your sharer." John does not consider himself above his hearers. He is one of them. They are brothers in affliction and the kingdom and the endurance." That is possible and true "in Jesus."

Kretzmann: All believers are partakers of the tribulations which come upon Christ. They know that they can expect nothing else in this world. But at the same time John and all believers are partakers in the kingdom of God, at once the most miserable in the sight of men and the most blessed in the sight of God. And therefore we share also in the patience of Christ, for tribulation, endured for the sake of Christ, works patience, Romans 15:5; Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 12:1. Thus we are enabled to persevere, to be steadfast in the midst of all the misery and distress and affliction of this life.
Lenski: When the affliction sets in, the kingdom produces the endurance. Were it not for the kingdom, which the world opposes, there would be no affliction for the partakers of the kingdom were it not for the powers of the kingdom, its partakers could not endure.
This assumes that "kingdom" refers to the power of the Gospel in this life and we consider that correct. Others take "kingdom" as primarily eschatological, as in Acts 14:22. It may be that the text means both the kingdom now and in heaven.

Note that we have three "in" in this verse. The first that in which we share, the second is soteriological and the third is locative.

John now tells us where he was and under what circumstance when he had the vision of the Book of Revelation. The island of Patmos was a penal settlement to which the Roman authorities sent offenders. It is found off the coast of Asia Minor, not far from Miletus.

Lenski: The island we know was used as a place of exile for the better class of offenders and suspects, especially under the black regime of Domitian and again under Diocletian.
What was John's crime? "On account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus." John was exiled in particular for his steadfast preaching of Christ and the Gospel. The authorities thought they were banishing John to a place where he could no longer testify to Christ and the Gospel. But God used that very martyrdom to reveal Himself to John, not just for his own sake but for the Church throughout the New Testament. They meant evil to John. God meant it unto good. Verily, all things work together for good to those who love God.

Revelation 1:10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,

"In the Spirit" is translated "by inspiration" in Matthew 22:43. Perhaps TEV is a bit strong: "The Spirit took control of me." Beck translates: "I came under the Spirit's power." To avoid the idea of ecstasy Lenski insists that "spirit" denotes John's spirit, not the Holy Spirit. He may be right about the ecstasy but we think "Spirit" should be capitalized.

For the first time in the New Testament Sunday is here called the Lord's Day. It was the day of Resurrection. There might be also the idea of the consummation of all of history. In any case, a very fitting day for the last revelation to the last prophet of the New Testament.

The point of a "loud" voice is that it is the arresting, remarkable voice of the Lord Himself.

Franzmann: He was privileged to behold a vision, as the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had been before him, see Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1; Ezekiel 1.
Swete: The voice comes with startling suddenness as from one who, approaching from behind, is unobserved until he speaks.
Kretzmann: John found himself in the spirit, in that peculiar ecstasy which detached the mind from the body, as it commonly attended special prophetic revelation, Ezekiel 37:1; Daniel 10; 2 Corinthians 12:17.
Lenski denies this. He says that it is plain that John was in complete control of his senses and yet wonderful things are revealed to him. We shall not try to reconcile this difference in exegesis.

Revelation 1:11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."

"What you see" means "what is revealed to you."

It could be that the scroll for the Book of Revelation would have been about fifteen feet long. John is told to send the scroll to the seven churches of Asia Minor. "Seven" is the number of completeness, and marks these seven churches as representative of the whole church. The vision is not for John's personal benefit only, but for transmission to the Church. These prophecies are intended for the churches of all ages.

Revelation 1:12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lamp stands,

Verses 12-16 give us a description of the exalted Son of Man whose human nature now enjoys the full use of all of His divine attributes. It gives us an idea of the majesty of His exalted human nature.

The exalted Christ speaks to us not in heavenly language which ordinary mortals cannot understand but in ordinary human language. (Charismatics take note!) It is remarkable that when John turned, what he first saw was not the Son of Man but the seven golden lamp stands, which represent the seven churches.

Franzmann: Jesus has kept His promise that He would be with His disciples always, Matthew 28:20. The symbolism of the lamp stand indicates that the churches are what Jesus had promised His disciples, they are 'the light of the world,' Matthew 5:14, and also that the light they give is not their own but is derived from Him who is 'the light of the world,' John 8:12 and Matthew 4:16." We may behold the present lordship of Christ in His body, the church.

Revelation 1:13 and among the lamp stands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.

Christ stands in the midst of his churches in all generations of the New Testament. That implies that we consider "son of man" with capital letters, as "Son of Man." The Lutheran Church has always insisted that Jesus derived His title "The Son of Man" from Daniel 7:13. Note the remarkable similarity of Daniel 7:13-14 to our passage and also Mark 13:26. The title means "he is man and yet more than man."

Kretzmann: In the midst of the cressets stood He that was like a Son of Man, Daniel 7:13. The congregations are inseparable from their Head and Center, Jesus. This is indicated by the long robe reaching to the feet, which was a mark of dignity in the Orient, Isaiah 6:1, as well as by the gold girdle about the breast, which showed the flowing garment to the best advantage and added to the majesty of the wearer. He possesses a true human nature, but with this is combined the majesty of His eternal Godhead. He is both our High Priest and our King.

The adjective "golden" occurs both in verse 13 and 14. It, or course, denotes preciousness. The churches are precious. What Christ is and does for the churches is precious.

The Apostle John is speaking about the magnificent majesty of the exalted human nature of the Son of Man.

Revelation 1:14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.

Here we have a brief description of His head, His hair and His eyes.

Rienecker: The hoary head was worthy of honor and conveyed the idea of wisdom and dignity, Leviticus 19:32 and Proverbs 16:31. The 'eyes as a flame of fire' indicated the penetrating glance which flashed with quick intelligence and when need arose with righteous wrath.
Franzmann: The whiteness of His head and hair also mark Him as divine, for in Daniel 7:9 whiteness characterizes God, the Ancient of Days.
Swete: Ancient expositors find in the hair white as snow a symbol of the eternal preexistence of the Son. Our writer's Christology leads him frequently to assign to the glorified Christ attributes and titles which belong to the Father.
Lenski: Here it is the snowy whiteness of the hair crowing the head of Jesus, the holiness of his very person as he appears in the midst of his church which is gold and shining with the light of his holy truth and Word. 'His eyes as flame of fire' describes their all-penetrating power before which absolutely nothing is hidden.

Revelation 1:15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.

Franzmann: His 'feet like burnished bronze,' splendidly inescapable. The voice 'like the sound of many waters' recalls Ezekiel's vision of the glory of the Lord, Ezekiel 1:24 and 43:2.
Swete: Feet of brass represent strength and stability.
Lenski: Jesus is the One Coming in judgement. 'As a voice of many water' i.e. full of elemental, resistless, overwhelming power like the sound of a roaring cataract or the crashing of ocean breakers.
Kretzmann: His voice was like the might rushing of many waters, Daniel 10:6, which threatens the enemies of the Church and hinders them in their design against the saints of the Lord.
Beck translates: "And his voice sound like a mighty waterfall."

Revelation 1:16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

Kretzmann: The seven stars are the angels, or ministers, of the seven congregations, verse 20." These He holds in His right hand, to indicate that they belong to Him, that He hold and protects them by His almighty power, John 10:28. The sharp, two-edged sword going froth from the mouth, Hebrews 4:12, powerful to overcome all the godless and adversaries, Isaiah 49:2; 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8. The strongest sun-light, emanating a splendor greater than that of the sun at midday, penetrating through fog and clouds.
Lenski: These 'seven stars' are the pastors of the seven churches. Both the lamp stands and the stars belong to the Lord, both shine with the light of faith and of confession kindled by the Word, both have a beauty and a glory from above. The right hand symbolizes majestic authority, the Lord's will, purpose, intent, and the power back of them. He is their authority, his purpose they serve, his will they execute, his Word they speak, his power is back of all that they rightly do in his name.
Franzmann: The seven stars in Christ's right hand are a symbol of world dominion and are a hint of the dominant theme of the book, the eternal dominion is Christ's. The appearance of the Son of Man means holy war against all opposing human demonic, and satanic powers, and there can be no doubt about the victory.
Very well said. Read Romans 8:37. Note the remarkable similarity between the last part of this verse and the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-15.

Lutherans should thank God on bended knee for their rich understanding of the two natures in Christ and the communication of attributes. Non-Lutherans often stumble and fumble when it comes to the Transfiguration and matters pertaining thereto.

The final words of this verse are interesting. NIV says "in all its brilliance." TEV: "As bright as the midday sun." Beck: "When it shines very brightly."

The reader will note that good, reliable, Biblical exegetes sometimes differ when it comes to symbolism. Do not let that disturb you. The whole point of verses 12-16 is the wonderful majesty of the exalted Jesus, Whose human nature now fully uses all the attributes of the divine nature. All His attributes are a threat and terror to the unbeliever. All His attributes are a comfort to the believer.

Revelation 1:17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.

For obvious reasons a new paragraph begins here.

Franzmann: The prophet was dismayed in the presence of the Son of Man as Gideon once was dismayed in the presence of the Angel of the Lord and as Isaiah cried out when he beheld the King, the Lord of hosts, Judges 6:22; Isaiah 6:5, he collapsed before Him as Daniel collapsed and as Ezekiel fell unconscious. It was the same feeling of sinful inadequacy that moved Peter to cry out in Luke 5:8. But the prophet need not collapse in terror before Christ. 'Fear not,' those words so often used to introduce a promise of deliverance in the Old Testament, see Isaiah 4:10, 13-14, words which the disciples had heard from Jesus' lips when they grew afraid, Luke 5:10; John 6:20.

Though the Apostle John was under the Holy Spirit's impulse, verse 10, to write the inerrant Word of God, he was still a sinner who became frightened when Christ appeared in all His glory. Even inestimable blessings of God do not annihilate the sinful flesh. It will be with us til death. Again note the similarity to the Transfiguration account, also Mark 6:50.

Swete: The Hand which sustains Nature and the Churches at the same time quickens and raises individual lives." Both 'do not be afraid' and 'I am' are familiar sounds to the ear of an Apostle.
Lenski: The present imperative forbids a continuation of fearing. This is the word that is almost regularly spoken to poor mortals when heavenly being come into contact with them.
Kretzmann: The precious Gospel-call 'fear not' was intended to take all the fear out of his heart and to fill him with trust and confidence. What is true of the Lord Jehovah, Isaiah 44:6, is true also of Christ, He is the First and the Last, His is from everlasting to everlasting, the Refuge and the Strength of all believers until the end of time. He is the Living One, John 5:21-26.

Revelation 1:18 I am the Living One, I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

Because the exalted human nature of Christ is true God it is the very essence of life. Though Jesus was a corpse, He is now eternally alive and, as a result, has absolute power to save or to destroy. Compare the remarkable similarity at John 11:25-26.

To possess the keys means to have utter power over what is to be locked and opened. We think immediately of Hebrews 2:14 where we are told that Jesus became a human being to conquer death and the devil. And we think of 2 Timothy 1:10.

"Death" obviously means both temporal and eternal death. But what does "Hades" mean? TEV translates: "World of the dead." "Hades" is meaningless to the reader. "The world of the dead" is the same as "death." Lutheran commentators rightly interpret it of "hell." Jesus opens hell to the unbeliever and closes it for the believer. Compare Matthew 10:28 where the Greek word "gehenna" is used. Matthew 25:41 informs us that God has prepared hell as a place of punishment for the devil, his angels and all unbelievers.

Kretzmann: By his victory over death and hell Christ is the Living One from eternity to eternity, also according to His human nature. And He has the keys of death and hell, unlimited power to save and the condemn.


Adapted from"Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 99-106. Used with permission.

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