“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:19-20, NIV).
In Revelation 1:4 John identifies who he is writing his Revelation to–the seven (primary) churches in the province of Asia (often called Asia Minor). Today, this region comprises much of modern Turkey.
What’s significant about this region is that it would be key to the expansion of Christianity in the Roman empire.
Again, in Revelation 1:11 John identifies his target audience and this time names the the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
After identifying Jesus as/with Daniel’s “Ancient of Days” in Chapter 1 John is then commanded to write down “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Some interpret this command to mean: (1) what has taken place in the historical past; (2) what is taking place in the present; and (3) what will take place in the future.
“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ but dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 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” (Revelation 1:12-16, NIV).
The Christians of the first century knew (or knew of) Jesus as a 30-year old man who was unjustly executed by the Roman government with the complicity of the Jewish religious leadership. Perhaps it was quite out of the ordinary for John and other first-century Christians to imagine Jesus, whom they had known as a compassionate human being, as the God of the Old Testament wielding divine judgment over His Creation.
The language describing the Son of Man figure in John’s vision in the first chapter of Revelation is suggestive of the Ancient of Days figure in one of Daniel’s visions described in Daniel 7, who confers divine authority, power and glory upon “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:13). Daniel’s vision is considered to be a messianic prophecy in which the “Ancient of Days” represents God the Father and the “one like a Son of Man” represents God the Son, the Messiah Jesus Christ.
“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Revelation 1:3, NIV).
The book of Revelation is perhaps the one book in the New Testament that I’ve read and studied the least. That’s probably because it’s the one I least understand.
There’s so much imagery and symbolism that I don’t get. There’s so many interpretations and I don’t know who and what to believe.
Have its prophecies been fulfilled or are they yet to be fulfilled? Will Christians be raptured before the Second Coming of Christ? Is the millennial reign of Christ on Earth literal or symbolic?
These are some of the questions I carry into my reading of Revelation because I have relied on the interpretations of others I consider more knowledgeable than myself to help me understand its prophetic discourse.
But, the book of Revelation shouldn’t be neglected or ignored in our personal Bible study. It shouldn’t be left to Bible scholars to explain it’s meaning to us.
Revelation has much to offer the diligent and conscientious reader. We know this because it begins by promising a blessing to those who read it. It declares that those who read it and take it to heart (apply it to their faith) will be blessed!