The opening: orienting the audience. This section contains the basic markers to allow the reader to place this writing: It is first of all a revelation (a message
from God), but also a letter (a message from a known person). See sidebar, “The Meaning of Apocalypse,” p.
As v. 3
indicates, the work is to be read aloud, thus the first voice one hears is that of the public reader. This voice announces
that the revelation is of Jesus Christ, meaning that it both belongs to him and is about him. The revelation descends through the orders: God, Jesus, angel, John,
Suddenly the revelation genre
is forced into the letter genre, as John speaks in his own voice. This is a standard letter opening, comparable to any of
The grace has three sources: God, Jesus, and the Spirit, each described symbolically. God is described in a terse (and awkward) expression,
literally: the being, the was, and the coming. One expects, but does not find, a future tense. The Spirit is symbolized as
sevenfold, meaning perfect and complete. Jesus has three symbolic tags, referring respectively to his death, resurrection,
and present reign.
This short doxology emphasizes two major themes of Revelation: kingdom (politics) and priests (religion); they are thoroughly intermixed in John's vision.
announcement places Jesus' coming in the present tense, surrounded by his past suffering and future revelation.
The voice of the Lord speaks next; God's title here echoes the Exodus story (Ex 3.14
). John carefully avoids a future tense, instead describing God as “coming,” a major theme (for example,
1.7; 3.11; 16.15; 21.2; 22.1, 7, 20
Voices on Patmos. John's choice of the title brother probably indicates a community that does not emphasize hierarchy. Persecution, kingdom, endurance is a very odd triad, since in ordinary understanding the time of persecution precedes the time of the kingdom; they do not
overlap. Endurance is an active, not a passive quality; some would translate it “resistance.” Patmos was a sparsely settled island in John's day, not a penal colony as is often said. John's presence there could be the result
of banishment (forced relocation by the government) or it could be voluntary, either to carry his testimony there or to use
the relative isolation of Patmos to collect and edit his visions.
In the spirit probably indicates a trance-like state, but more importantly it is a claim that the vision is inspired. The Lord's day is, prosaically, Sunday, but poetically it refers to the day of Jesus' resurrection (past) and coming (future; compare the
expression “day of the Lord” in Isa 13, Joel 2, or Zeph 1
). John's particular expression could also be understood as the Imperial day, pointing to a contrast between Jesus and the
emperor that will become increasingly pointed (see ch. 13
The vision of Jesus. This relies heavily on the descriptions of heavenly realities in Dan 7–10
, especially the Ancient One (Dan 7.9–10
), together with elements from Zechariah (
), Ezekiel (
), and Isaiah (
). The Son of Man figure is complex, with the basic meaning of human (contrasted with the beasts; see Dan 7.13
). The description of the robe and sash mark the figure as royal or priestly. Holding the seven stars is a sign of control over destiny. The stars above correspond to the lampstands below, as the heavenly corresponds to the earthly. The sword is not in his hand (power, coercion) but in his mouth (word, testimony).
The commission from Jesus; see Dan 10.9
John clearly explains the meaning of many of his symbols. The worldview is dualistic,
with a correspondence between what is above (stars and angels) and what is below (lamps and churches). In modern terms we
might think of the inner spiritual reality of the everyday world.
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