Revelation 1: The Vision of Christ

Revelation 1  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The opening verses emphasize the deep importance of this portion of God's word, by reminding us that it is a revelation from God, to Jesus Christ, viewed as the Son of Man, and for His servants, concerning “things which must shortly come to pass.” The One through whom, as the lowly Man on earth, God has been revealed, is the One through whom, as the glorified Man, the things to come are now revealed.
How blessed to realize that, as to the future, we are not left to the vain and conflicting speculations of men, who seek to draw conclusions from past history or present events, as to the future course of the world. We have the veil uplifted by One who can, not only with omniscient knowledge reveal the things which must shortly come to pass but who, with omnipotent power, can accomplish every event foretold.
Further, these future events are revealed to believers viewed as servants. With such knowledge we shall be able to serve intelligently, in line with the great purposes that God is bringing to pass; we shall be warned to walk in separation from a world marked by violence and corruption, and that is about to come under judgment; above all, we shall be encouraged in our service as we learn the glory to which it leads when at last the servants of the Lamb will see Him face to face and serve Him in the heavenly sphere (Rev. 22:3-43And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 4And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. (Revelation 22:3‑4)).
Then we learn that these things were not made known by direct communication, as when the Lord was present with His disciples, but generally through a representative angel to the apostle John. Moreover, they were not only communicated, but also “signified,” a word that would include instruction by visions as well as communications by words.
This revelation to which John bore witness comes to us with all the authority of the word of God, testified by Jesus Christ, through words and visions. So at the end of the Revelation John can say, “I John saw these things, and heard them” (Rev. 22:88And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. (Revelation 22:8)).
A special blessing is pronounced upon the one who reads, and upon those who hear, the words of this prophecy, and observe the things written therein. As the Revelation opens, so it closes with again pronouncing blessing on the one that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book (Rev. 22:77Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. (Revelation 22:7)). We are thus warned against the neglect of the Revelation as if its contents were mere matters of idle curiosity and had no bearing on our practical Christian lives. We are exhorted to heed and treasure the truths of which it speaks. It is only as we do so that our spirits will be kept in calmness in the midst of the growing apostasy of Christendom, and the increasing violence and corruption that results from the breakdown of government in the hands of men.
The salutation of John follows. In addressing the seven churches in Asia, every Divine Person is presented in a way that agrees with the character of the Revelation. God is presented as the Eternal God; the Spirit is presented symbolically in the fullness of His power before the throne from which the world is governed. The Lord Jesus is seen “who is the faithful witness,” as proved in the past by His perfect life on earth; who is preeminent as risen from the dead, as seen in His present position, crowned with glory and honor; and who is the Prince over all the kings of the earth, to be made manifest in the near future.
At once the church that receives the Revelation responds to this salutation. The One who is the faithful witness to God, who has broken the power of death, and will yet reign over all the kings of the earth, is the One who loves us and has washed us from our sins. In the course of the prophecy we have a solemn view of Christ as the Judge. We hear Him passing judgment on the professing church; we learn of the tribulation that Israel will yet pass through, and the judgment that will fall upon the nations; finally there passes before us the judgment of the dead at the great white throne. But in the face of the coming judgments believers have the blessed assurance that the One who is going to judge has placed them beyond all judgment by having borne their judgment and washed them from their sins. Further, we are assured that as believers we are not only free from judgment but shall share in the glorious kingdom of Christ, for we have been made “a kingdom” to reign, and priests to offer praise to God.
The deliverance from judgment and the blessings we shall yet enjoy are not the outcome of any merit in ourselves; we owe all “to Him.” Thus, with great delight, believers ascribe all praise to Christ, as they say, “To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” The government of the world, committed to the Gentiles, broke down at the outset when the first head of the nations said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:3030The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty? (Daniel 4:30) JND). From that day onwards men, one after another, have arisen, each seeking to obtain dominion over the nations for his own glory; only to find, as with the first head of the Gentiles that, though he may be used by God in His governmental dealings with men, and thus for a time he prospers, yet in the end he is overwhelmed in humiliating defeat. At last it will be manifested that all “the glory” will be given to the One against whom “the kings of the earth set themselves,” and His “dominion” will be “forever and ever. Amen.”
There follows a statement which sums up the great subject of the Revelation—the judgment of both Jews and Gentiles by which the earth will be prepared for the glorious reign of Christ. When He comes to act in judgment it will not be as with the rapture of the church, to be seen only by those who are caught up to meet Him in the air. It will be a public coming—“every eye shall see Him.” Believers and unbelievers, Jews and Gentiles will know that He has come, and that His coming will mean judgment for all the wicked. Hence we read “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.”
The coming of Christ as the Judge, to deal with all the evil and introduce His kingdom, will establish the great truth that God is the first and the last, the eternal One, the Almighty.
We learn then from these introductory verses that in spite of all the breakdown of man in responsibility—whether the Jew, the Gentile, or the Church—with the resulting rebellion against God and violence and corruption that fills the world, God is on the throne, the Spirit is before the throne, and Christ is coming to deal with the evil and establish His glory and dominion forever and ever. Moreover, believers are presented as separated from a world under judgment by the blood that has washed them from their sins, and fitted them to share in the glory and blessings of the coming Kingdom of Christ. Seeing we look for such things we may surely say with the apostle Peter, “What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Peter 3:1111Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, (2 Peter 3:11)).
This introduction prepares us for the first division of the Revelation comprised in the remaining verses of this first chapter. In this division we have the Lord's direct commission to John, and the presentation of Himself as the Son of Man to whom all judgment is committed.
John speaks of himself as a “brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation, and kingdom and patience, in Jesus.” He does not view himself as a member of the kingdoms of this world with their passing glory, but of the coming kingdom of Christ, for which, as believers, we have to wait in patience. Moreover, his witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, which warns men of the coming judgment and overthrow of the kingdoms of this world, brought him into tribulation, which led to his banishment to the Isle of Patmos. Thus, in John, we see the true position of the church while passing through a world which has rejected Christ, and while waiting for His enemies to be made His footstool.
As so often with saints persecuted for Christ's sake, John finds that his sufferings become the occasion for special encouragement from the Lord. So on the Lord's Day—the first day of the week—in the mighty power of the Spirit, John has special visions and revelations which he is to write and send to seven representative churches.
Turning to see the One that speaks, John has a vision of the Son of Man, who is presented in the character of the Ancient of Days described by Daniel (Dan. 7:9-139I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. 10A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. 11I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. 12As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. 13I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. (Daniel 7:9‑13)). It is no longer the Son of Man in humiliation, scorned and rejected by men, but the Son of Man in glory, about to act as the Judge. It is no longer with garments laid aside and girded for the service of the saints, but with judicial robes. The affections are held in by righteousness, set forth in the golden girdle. The intense holiness of His judgments may be set forth by “His head and hairs white like wool, as white as snow.” The searching character of His judgments are surely brought before us by “His eyes as a flame of fire” from which nothing is hid. His feet “like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace,” may speak of an infinitely holy walk that stands the testing of God “as a consuming fire.” His voice as the sound of many waters overwhelms every opposing voice. In His hand He held seven stars which we learn, a little later, set forth the seven representatives of the churches, showing that all is held in His power. Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, speaking of the word which pierces “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength; speaking of the light that exposes the darkness of this world.
Is it not evident that every symbol displays the Lord in the character of the Judge? This to John, who had known the Lord in His infinite grace and love, was overwhelming. The result is that the disciple who had once sat in the presence of the Lord with his head leaning on Jesus' breast, now “fell at His feet as dead.” Nevertheless for one who is “a brother and companion in the tribulation, and kingdom and patience in Jesus” there is nothing to fear. The One who is about to judge lays His hand on the believer, and says, “Fear not.” At once the Lord tells us why the believer need have no fear in the presence of the Judge. The glory of His Person and the greatness of His work remove our fear. In His Person He is “the first and the last, the living One.” He is the eternally existing One. Nevertheless He became flesh and died, and is risen to live for evermore. For the unbeliever He is the Son of Man to whom all judgment is committed. For the believer He is also the Son of Man who has broken the power of death and the grave.
Having removed all fear from His servant, the Lord indicates the three main divisions of the Revelation. Firstly, the things which John had seen—the glory of Jesus as He walks in the midst of the seven churches. Secondly, “the things which are”—the present church period set forth by seven representative churches (chapters 2 and 3).Thirdly, “the things that are about to be after these “the events that follow when the church has been taken from the earth to be with Christ in glory (chapters 4 to 22).
Before entering upon the second division of the Revelation, the Lord explains the mystery of the seven stars and the seven golden candlesticks. Stars are subordinate heavenly lights, and as a figure would appear to signify those who, by gift or experience, are fitted under the guidance of the Lord to minister heavenly truth to God's people. Further, the stars are said to be the angels of the seven churches. In Scripture we find that the term “angel” is at times used to signify “representation” and does not always necessarily imply an angelic being. In this passage the angel would appear to signify those who were the responsible representatives of the assemblies before Christ. It has been pointed out that we can understand an angel being employed as a means of communication between the Lord and His servant John, but it would be difficult to think that John would be employed by the Lord to write a letter from Christ to a literal angelic being.
Finally, we learn that the candlesticks are symbols of the churches in their responsibility to be a light for Christ in the world from which He is absent.