What God Looks Like
Studies in the Book of Revelation
Dr. Jim Denison
John, the writer identifies himself for the second time in verse four. He addresses the revelation from Jesus to the seven churches of Asia, which at that time was Asia Minor, the western region of modern-day Turkey. The churches are named in verse 11.
“Grace to you and peace” was a common biblical greeting. “Grace” translates the typical Greek greeting; “peace” translates “shalom,” the typical Hebrew greeting. Together, they offer the reader the grace of salvation and the peace which is its result.
The God John served on Patmos was the “one who is, and who was, and who is to come”
(1:4). The Lord God makes the same claim for himself in 1:8, as does Jesus in 1:17.
Hebrews 13:8 agrees that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
This description is an extension of God’s self-designated name YHWH (generally
represented in English as Yahweh), meaning the One who is, who was, and who ever
shall be (see Exodus 3:14). The One “who is to come” is the first reference in Revelation
to the return of Christ, continuing the promise Jesus made at his ascension (Acts 1:11).
John also sees “the seven spirits before his throne” (Revelation 1:4), better translated “the sevenfold Spirit”. Seven in apocalyptic language is the number of perfection and completion. So this description refers to the perfect Spirit, complete and powerful in every way. The Spirit serves “before his throne,” a reference to the Spirit’s role in leading us in worship before the Father.
Thus two of the three members of the Trinity are identified—the Son will come next. Now Jesus is described as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (1:5). “The faithful martyr” would be another translation of the first phrase in the text.
“Firstborn” relates not to chronology but to significance and importance. The firstborn in
Hebrew culture was the most important of the children. Our text does not teach that Jesus was created (as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim), but that Jesus is the “only begotten Son” of the Father in the sense that he is the Father’s first Son in significance or importance. In fact, he is “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5) at present, whether they know it or not.
While he rules the world, Jesus also loves each and every one of us personally. He has proven his love by freeing us “from our sins by his blood,” making us priests to serve his Father (1:5-6). “Freed us from our sins” is a completed action in the Greek, a past event with present consequences (1:5). We are already set free to serve God today.
Then one day our Savior will return to our earth and make complete our victory (1:7).
The entire world will see him, from the first-century enemies who crucified him to those alive at his return. Every person, across all time, in all nations of the world.
His very nature guarantees his eternal omnipotence, for he is both “Alpha” (the first letter in the Greek alphabet) and “Omega” (the last letter). He is the “Almighty,” the one who rules over the universe with infinite power (1:8).
In Verse 9, John identifies himself again, this time as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” And identified his location as the island of Patmos. John is different from the Jewish apocalyptic writers of the interbiblical period in that he identifies himself.
Early writers stated that John was exiled to Patmos; Victorinus said that he was quite old, and that he worked in the mines of the island. This was around A.D. 95. In 96, Domitian the Roman ruler died, and tradition affirms that John then returned to Ephesus.
Affliction, which John mentions, was thlipsis, and he was looking forward to basileia, the kingdom into which he desired to enter and on which he had set his heart. There was only one way from thlipsis to basileia, from affliction to glory, and that was through hupomone, conquering endurance. Jesus said, “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13. Paul told his people, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” Acts 14:22). In 2 Timothy we read: “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2:12).
Endurance can only be found in Christ. He endured to the end and enables us to do so.
Patmos was a small, rocky island about of about16 square miles in the Aegean Sea, some 40 miles southwest of Miletus. It was a penal settlement to which the Roman authorities sent offenders. It was sparsely settled, and according to Pliny, was treeless. This probably meant hard labor in the quarries.
According to some theologians, his banishment would have been “preceded by scourging, marked by perpetual fetters, scanty clothing, insufficient food, sleep on the bare ground, a dark prison, work under the lash of the military overseer” (quoted in Barclay, 41).
He was in the Alcatraz of Patmos, worshiping “on the Lord’s Day” (1:10). This is the first reference in literature and in the New Testament to “the Lord’s Day.” While some have seen it as a reference to the future “Day of the Lord,” most interpreters identify the phrase with Sunday. The early Christians worshiped Jesus on the first day of the week, the day of his resurrection (see John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1Corinthians 16:2).
The Didache, the earliest compendium of Christian theology, identifies this phrase with Sunday as well (Didache 14). While the pagan world celebrated the first day of the week as Emperor’s Day, Christians worshiped Christ and not Caesar on the “Lord’s Day.”
Jesus in John’s vision
Then John heard a voice, like a trumpet, that told him to write what he would “see” (indicating the visionary nature of the book to follow), and send it to the seven churches (to be addressed specifically in Rev. 2—3). The seven churches are probably listed in the order in which they would be visited by a messenger with such letters.