Three foundational truths
We begin our journey through the Book of Revelation.
Every hiker who sets out on a trek must be properly equipped. They need warm, weatherproof clothes, sturdy comfortable boots, adequate food and drink, and a compass. Without these, they face disaster.
In a similar way, the first chapter of Revelation equips us for our journey through this book, and for our journey through life. It does so by giving us three foundational truths:
►Who God is. We’re given the most amazing depiction of the Triune God. It especially focuses on Jesus Christ―for example, the magnificent vision of Him in 1:12-16.
►What God does. We see all that God in Christ has done for us, all He’s doing for us now, and the glorious destiny He has in store for us.
►Who we are. We see our new identity in Christ.
These are foundational truths. Accordingly, we see them right here in the first chapter of the book. God wants these truths to sink deep into our minds and hearts. They’ll strengthen us to endure tribulation and trial. They’ll shield us from Satan’s lies. They’ll protect us from compromise with the world around us.
Who God is
In 1:4-5, we read, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”
And in 1:8 we read, “’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
Here in these verses we see who the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are:
►God the Father is described as “him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4 repeated in 1:8). This echoes what we read in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’. . . . ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” Through this Name “I AM” God revealed Himself as the living, personal God Who is present with His people and actively working to save and bless them. We might translate this Name “I am He Who is here for you”. He is with us, watching over us, enabling us to stand firm for Him through all the tribulation and trials we may experience in this world. Notice, too, that it says, not “. . . who will be” as we might have expected, but “. . . who is to come”. Here is the heartbeat of Revelation: God is coming! He’s bringing His plan of redemption to completion. He will come to save and to judge.
►And God is “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8). Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet; omega is the last. God was before all things, and He created all things. He governs all history, and He’ll complete His wonderful plan of redemption for us and our world―as we see in Revelation 21:1-22:5.
►The Holy Spirit is referred to as “the seven spirits who are before” God’s throne. This phrase “the seven spirits” can also be translated as “the sevenfold Spirit”. The number ‘seven’ is a symbol of completion or perfection. And it seems to focus specially on what God is doing in this world (we’ll see why this is later in this series). All that we see God doing here in the Book of Revelation―redeeming His people and restoring His creation―is through the Holy Spirit.
►Jesus is ”the faithful witness” (picking up the theme of witness, which we mentioned earlier).
►And Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead” (1:5): He’s the first to rise from the dead (see also Acts 26:23 and Colossians 1:18). His resurrection demonstrates His complete victory over Satan and all the forces of evil, and over death. And we’re assured of our own victory. Later in the book, we’ll read about God’s people suffering, even being killed. But death is no defeat for us. Jesus’s resurrection guarantees that we will be resurrected from death (1 Corinthians 15:20)!
►Finally, Jesus is “the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5). Jesus is the Lord. That’s the key message of the whole book, as we’ll see.
What God does
In 1:5 we read that Jesus “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood“. On the Cross, Jesus endured the penalty for our sins. Our penalty is paid; and God has forgiven us! And Jesus has released us from bondage to sin; we believers are no longer slaves to sin.
And Jesus has “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:6). One commentator translates this as: “he has made us sharers in his royal rule, and priests to minister to His God and Father”.
Who we are
As ”sharers in” Jesus’s “royal rule”, and as “priests”, Jesus has given us a completely new identity.
►As priests, we worship and serve Him.
►And we share in His royal dominion. Christ is seated “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, . . . .” (Ephesians 1:20-21, see also 1 Peter 3:22). We’re seated there with Him (Ephesians 2:6). So we share His dominion. As we read Revelation, we’ll see God’s people suffering, even being killed. But, in fact, we share His dominion over all the forces of evil that seek to harm and kill us! We need to remember this as we continue reading through this book.
A vision of Jesus
John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, . . . .’” (1:10-11). He turns to see whose voice it is. He sees Jesus.
John was one of Jesus’s disciples. He saw a foretaste of Jesus’s glory at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8 and parallels). And he saw the resurrected Lord. But now he sees Jesus as he had never seen Him before. He sees Jesus in all His exalted glory. John tells us: “I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’” (1:12–18).
Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to His Father in Heaven. He’s now seated at His Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33)―the place of supreme authority. That’s how we see Jesus in this vision.
This is the very first vision we see in Revelation. Before anything else we read in this book, Jesus wants us to see Himself as He is. He wants us to see Him in His exalted glory at His Father’s right hand. Everything else we read in Revelation needs to be read in the light of this glorious vision of Christ.
Jesus appears to John here in symbolic form. The vision doesn’t reveal what He literally looks like; it reveals His identity and His character.
What does this vision show us about Jesus? We see Him here both in His divinity and His humanity. We see Him here as the Divine Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. And at the same time, we see Him here as a Man―the Messiah who came to save God’s people, to judge and destroy evil, and to establish God’s Kingdom.
It’s important to realise that Jesus, the Son of God, is still incarnate. He became incarnate at His conception in Mary’s body. He’ll remain incarnate for all eternity. Jesus Christ is, and will always be, fully Human and fully Divine. What an amazing truth: God has united Himself to our human race for ever in the Person of Jesus Christ!
Most aspects of this vision of Jesus reflect Old Testament visions of God as recorded in Ezekiel 1:25-28 and Daniel 7:9-10, of the pre-incarnate Christ in Daniel 7:13-14, and of what was likely the pre-incarnate Christ in Daniel 10:5-6.
►Jesus is “one like a son of man” (1:13). This echoes Ezekiel 1:26, Daniel 7:13 and 10:5. In Daniel 7:13-14 we read: “behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, . . . .” The “one like a son of man” is a human. But He’s not simply a man. He’s the true Man―the perfect Man, the Man who is worthy to receive “dominion and glory and a kingdom”. At His ascension He received everlasting dominion over all people. And He comes “with the clouds of heaven”, which symbolise the presence and power of God. The Man Jesus Christ is also divine.
►Jesus is “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest” (1:13). This reflects Daniel 10:5. These garments may well be priestly attire. The High Priest wore a robe (Exodus 28:31–35). And Jesus is among “seven golden lampstands” (1:12-13); lampstands were part of the furnishings of the Tabernacle and Temple. They were tended by the priests. So it seems we’re seeing Jesus as our great High Priest, tending the lampstands―in other words, tending His churches. Long robes and sashes across the chest were also worn by dignitaries and rulers. Perhaps these garments picture Jesus as our great High Priest and also as our King.
► “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow” (1:14). This links back to the vision of God that Daniel saw. The hair of “the Ancient of Days” was ”like pure wool” (Daniel 7:9). Jesus’s hair is described in the same way as that of “the Ancient of Days”, who is the Father. John sees Jesus, the divine Son of God, sharing one of the attributes of the Father. The white colour of His hair suggests purity. It also suggests someone of great age―and hence great wisdom and dignity.
►Jesus’s “eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” (1:14-15). This description reflects Ezekiel 1:27-28, Daniel 7:9-10 and 10:6. The image of the burning eyes shows Jesus’s divine insight. But, this also includes His judgment. His “feet” of “burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” symbolise Christ’s mighty strength and His purity.
►Jesus’s “voice was like the roar of many waters” (1:15). This reflects Ezekiel 1:23 and Daniel 10:6. It pictures the awesome power of His voice.
►Jesus holds “seven stars” in His right hand (1:16). In Revelation 1:20, we learn that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”. We’ll explore who these angels are later in this series.
►From Jesus’s mouth “came a sharp two-edged sword” (1:16; it also echoes Isaiah 49:2). This image pictures Jesus’s word. His word is like a sharp sword: by His word He pronounces and carries out righteous judgment on the nations (19:15), and on false teaching and immorality within His churches (2:12,16).
►Jesus’s “face was like the sun shining in full strength” (1:16). This reflects Ezekiel 1:27-28, and Daniel 10:6, and pictures the glory of our exalted Lord. The image recalls Jesus’s transfiguration, when “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). In Isaiah 60:19 we read, “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” Again, an Old Testament image of God is applied to the exalted Christ. And in 21:23 we read that New Jerusalem “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (21:23, see also 22:5).
John falls “at his feet as though dead” (1:17). But Jesus lays His right hand on him and says, “Fear not” . Then He says: “I am the first and the last . . . .” (1:17). Christ is the One through Whom all things are created (Hebrews 1:2) and Who is sovereign over history. He says that He’s ”the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” (1:18). He’s our Resurrected Lord who lives for ever.
And Jesus tells John, “I have the keys of Death and Hades” (1:18). ‘Hades’ is the realm of the dead. Christ has “the keys” over Death and Hades. In other words, He has power and authority over death.
FOOTNOTES  Quoted from The Revelation of Saint John (Black’s New Testament Commentary), by Ian Boxall, page 33. Published jointly by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts, and Continuum International Publishing Group, London, England, in 2006.  See The Preacher’s Commentary: Daniel, by Sinclair B. Ferguson, pages 144-145. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, in 1988.
CREDITS ► Text copyright © 2023 Robert Gordon Betts ► Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, published by HarperCollins Publishers © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.► Scripture citations marked ‘NIV’ are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright ©1979,1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). UK trademark number 1448790.