So, these are just the notes I've taken as I've gone over these passages. By no means are these exactly "comprehensive" but they're my personal notes or notes from my study bible (or various other sources) on the matter. I think that these should just be used as a guide to developing your own understanding of the text. My goal with this study of the book of Revelation isn't to instill or teach a specific theological perspective of the book, but to offer everyone a critical look at the book so you can develop your own views on the matter, and back them with support.
Revelation Chapters 1-3
We'll be starting off this study with the first three chapters of Revelation. The book of Revelation starts of decidedly different that it will appear as we read later on, but I think there is a good reason for this that we'll explore as the study progresses.
- The main version that I'm doing this study with is the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I really like this translation of the Bible as it strikes an incredibly difficult to find balance between accuracy and understandability.
- I can be a stickler about translations, and for this study I'm going to recommend that you don't use any “watered down” translations like The Message regardless of how readable they are. For a study on such a tricky book, try something a bit more reliable like the NIV or the HCSB.
- With that said, this book can be tricky and confusing to read. The Bible in general can be difficult, but the book of Revelation especially so. I would encourage everyone to read the passages over until they can at least develop some sort of familiarity with them.
- We open up in vs. 1 with two very important things: the name of the author, John, and the information that the following is a “revelation” or vision from Jesus Christ.
- Then in vs. 3 comes the blessing of the following “Blessed is the one who reads and blessed are those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep [follow, obey] what is written in it, because the time is near!”
- I think the blessing here is important because blessings were common ways to open or to start a letter. They also help to define the audience of the letter. Who is being blessed here isn't made apparent just yet, though.
- Who do you think is being directly addressed here? That's a question we'll come back to at a later point.
- At verse 4, we already hit our first encounter with the word “seven.” In this context, the number is representing a specific number of churches in the roman province of Asia. This is different from the continent of Asia as we know it. These churches were actually quite close together, so it wouldn't be that difficult for someone to have visited them all on foot.
- The number seven pops up a lot in the Bible. Does anyone know what it actually refers to? The way the Hebrew language works involves common roots and so words share meanings with related words. The word Sheva, or seven, shares a common root with the word saba which refers to “fullness or completeness.” What the number seven is actually referring to in the Bible typically isn't a literal number, but is actually talking about an embodiment of the fulness of God. This is best exemplified by Revelation 15:1 in which both the number seven and the word fullness or completeness are used together.
- Vs. 1-8 together establish a view of Christ that is commonly found in the Gospel of John as espoused by “The One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” (vs 8)
- Vs. 9 establishes the location of the author, John, on the isle of Patmos.
- He writes that he hears a voice calling to him and telling him to write on a scroll what he hears and sees to the seven churches. (vs 9, 10)
- A brief description is given of “One who is like the [a] Son of Mon” saying that he is dressed in a long robe, with a gold sash wrapped around his chest. His hair were wool that was as white as snow, and his voice had the sound of waters. The description also includes seven stars. (vs. 12-16)
- What exactly is being talked about there? Who is being described, and for what purpose?
- It is my view that what the author is talking about here is himself physically viewing Jesus as a deity. In keeping with the Jewish view of God, he is described by things of nature, and his actual “body” is left un-described. Additionally, the Jewish God was often described by things of nature—this case cascading waters—but as a more familiar example, the burning bush. The very Jewish name of God was something that wasn't intended to be spoken, but was more of a "concept" (not stating that God was solely a concept, but rather that this wasn't exactly a personal name like Andrew or John) than anything else. YHWH.
- This “Son of Man” is described as having seven stars and seven lampstands (vs 12, 16). Though this may seem strange, the meaning is elaborated later in vs 20.
- “The secret [mystery] of the seven stars you saw in My right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands, is this: the seven stars are the angels [messengers] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands [that you saw] are the seven churches” (1:20)
- So the cryptic imagery that was shown to us earlier is demystified a little bit, but we're still left wondering what exactly are these “angels.” Well, my Bible was nice enough to include the fact that a more accurate or alternate translation of the word angel is “messengers.” It has often been proposed that these angels are spiritual guardians of the churches, but another opinion is that they're more like the “pastors” or leaders of those churches. A messenger of the church, in my opinion, is perfectly valid to view as a pastor or deacon. Thus, we know that when John is writing to these seven “angels,” he is writing to the seven leaders of the churches.
- These seven churches are as follows: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia (not the city of brotherly love), and Laodicea.
- These churches are almost universally viewed as actual, physical churches found throughout the Roman province of Asia, and there is little reason to doubt these places actually existed. With that being said, though, there are some scholars who dispute the role these physical churches actually played in the writing of this letter.
- The best way to view these churches is as examples that were chosen by the author that could be applied to all other churches. He praises, commends, critiques, and criticizes the church for it's deeds and shortcomings.
- It starts off by commending the church for “your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil.” Clearly this church is a church that is prospering, doing well, and reaching out to others. (vs 2)
- Additionally, those people who are in their congregation or among them have been tested. They have sorted the true followers from those who are liars.
- The one complaint that lies with the church of Ephesus is that they have grown cold and have lost the life they once had in their spiritual lives.
- The church as Smyrna was facing a lot of suffering and imprisonment for their faith.
- A local synagogue had been giving them a lot of trouble by making false claims against them (vs. 9) which shows that there was clear religious competition in that area.
- Simply put, this church is praised for its ability to withstand trials, and was one of the two churches who had no criticisms levied against them by the “Son of Man”
- For the church at Pergamum, thing were worse than at Smyrna. They seem to have lost one of their most devout spiritual members, Antipas (vs 13), and have been crumbling under persecution.
- This church was also experiencing a lot of trouble with their doctrine as several people had been introduced who were teaching things the “Son of Man” introduced in chapter 1 is unpleased with. (vs 14)
- Additionally, a sect called the Nicolaitans (vs 15) has been found among them, and they are being called upon to repent of their errors and return to the way they once were.
- If things weren't so great at Pergamum, they're awful at the church of Thyatira. Though they were praised for “your works—your love, faithfulness [faith], service, and endurance” (vs 19), they had troubles.
- They were harboring a woman named Jezebel who claimed to be a prophetess and was apparently teaching things that were considered doctrinally incorrect and led people astray with her sexual teachings (vs. 20).
- The prophetess Jezebel is threatened with a “great tribulation” (vs 22), and many scholars have proposed that she is a parallel to the great harlot mentioned later in chapters 17 and 18. This gives some credence, though not necessarily a whole lot as the actual historicity of these churches is fairly well established, to the view that these churches were more symbolic than anything.
- The church of Sardis was the perfect example of a church that had started off great and “on fire” for God, but had essentially lost everything they once had and were now simply going through the motions.
- As far as God was concerned they were about to die (vs. 2)
- There was, however, a small remnant left within the church who still followed God's teaching, and they were called to rejuvenate the church and to wake up and change things. (vs 4)
- Other than the church at Smyrna, this church was the only church that wasn't criticized at all.
- They seemed to facing a lot of intense conflict, but hadn't denied the name of God, and were still following his teachings (vs 8).
- As a result of this, they were promised protection during future tribulations (vs 10).
- This church was highly praised for their deeds.
- This church was the church in the worst shape spiritually. There was absolutely nothing positive said about them at all.
- Their spiritual luke-warmness was condemned by God, and it was made clear it made him very unpleasant (vs 15, 16).
- They were a rich church who had forgotten their calling to take care of the poor and the destitute, not realizing that this is what they were at the core (vs 17). They had let their material wealth blind them from the mission of God.
- What significance does these churches hold for reading and viewing the rest of the book of Revelation? Answers vary, but in my opinion, they set a great example of how the rest of the book should be read.
- The book of Revelation opens with a moral condemnation of certain spiritual practices being observed in local churches, while praising the habits of other churches. Clearly, in my opinion, this sets the compass for viewing the rest of the book as a moral or spiritual lesson portrayed using stunning visual imagery and an epic storyline.
- If you're unsure how to view the churches, keep an open mind and as we progress through the study of the book of Revelation, keep coming back to them and reevaluating them with what you've recently read.
- The next readings will be a bit more difficult, and will involve some heavier reading for you guys. Keep a journal or notebook of what you've read and things that puzzled you or stuck out so you don't forget what you've read as the week progresses.
- Don't let it all build up on Tuesday night or you won't be prepared to discuss your opinions on Wednesday morning, and you also won't understand things very well.
(for those who want to read ahead)