Part I: Overview
Key Text: Rev. 2:7.
Study Focus: Introduction to the messages to the seven churches (Rev. 1:9 – 2:7).
Introduction: Rev. 1:9-20 provides the backdrop for the messages to the seven churches in chapters two and three. Aspects of the glorious vision of Christ provide the unique setting for each of the seven messages. Jesus knows each of the seven churches and meets them where they are. The lesson closes with a more detailed look at the message to Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7).
Lesson Themes: The focus passage introduces the following themes (Rev. 1:9 – 2:7):
1. The Identity of the Lord’s Day in Rev. 1:10. The Sabbath is the most likely option for John’s understanding of the Lord’s Day.
2. Jesus Meets the Churches Where They Are. Jesus approaches each of the seven churches with different characteristics drawn from the introductory vision (Rev. 1:9-20).
3. John’s Basic Outline of Revelation (based on Rev. 1:19). In Rev. 1:19 John summarizes the whole vision as concerning the things which are and the things which will happen after these things. Rev. 4:1 shows that much of Rev. focuses on John’s future.
4. Interpreting the Seven Messages to the Seven Churches. The prophetic letter style of the messages to the seven churches points to a three-fold approach to interpreting them.
Life Application. Participants are invited to consider the implications of the frightening picture of Jesus in 1:12-16, John’s reaction to this picture (1:17), and Jesus’ gracious and comforting response to John (1:17-18).
Part II. Commentary
The introductory vision (Rev. 1:12-18) centers on a glorious picture of Jesus. He is the Son of Man (1:13), the one who died and is alive forevermore (1:18). Based on Daniel 10:5-6 and a number of other OT texts, this vision portrays the kind of Jesus who was seen only at the Transfiguration during His earthly ministry. The characteristics of Jesus in the vision are repeated throughout the seven messages of chapters two and three. The vision is like the stage backdrop to the first act of a play. The envelope of verses 11 and 19 make it clear that John received the vision of the entire book between those two verses.
In addition to the vision of Jesus (1:12-18) the lesson also addresses the location and time when John received the vision (1:9-11), a basic interpretation of the vision (1:19-20), and an analysis of the message to the church at Ephesus (2:1-7).
Main Themes of Lesson 2 Elaborated:
1. The Identity of the Lord’s Day in Rev. 1:10. The most popular view of Revelation 1:10 among commentators is that the “Lord’s Day” of Revelation 1:10 is Sunday, the first day of the week. The strength of this view is that later Church Fathers used the phrase with reference to Sunday, and the Latin equivalent, dominus dies, became one of the names for Sunday in the Latin Church. But all clear references to Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” are much later than Revelation and thus cannot serve as evidence for the meaning when John wrote.
The best explanation for the Lord’s Day in Rev. 1:10 is that John was referring to the seventh-day Sabbath. While the exact phrase “the Lord’s Day” (kuriakê hemêra) is never used elsewhere in the New Testament or in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, many strong equivalents refer to the seventh-day Sabbath. The seventh day is “a Sabbath to the Lord (kuriô) your God” (Exod 20:10; Deut 5:14). “The Lord” (kurios) often refers to the seventh day as “my Sabbath” (ta sabbata mou– Exod 31:12-13; Lev 19:3, 30; 26:2; Isa 56:4-6; Ezek 20:12-13, 16, 20-21, 24; 22:3-8; 23:36-38; 44:12-24). In the Hebrew of Isaiah 58:13 Yahweh calls the Sabbath “My holy day.” And finally, all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt 12:8; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5) quote Jesus as saying “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (kurios tou sabbatou). It would be strange, therefore, if John used the phrase “the Lord’s Day” for any other day of the week than the one we call Saturday.
2. Jesus Meets the Churches Where They Are. Jesus appears on the scene of Revelation in spectacular fashion (Rev. 1:12-20). The same Jesus is in close relationship with the seven churches (1:20). He knows each of them intimately (Rev. 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). And He introduces Himself to each church with one, two or three characteristics from the earlier vision.
The message to Ephesus (Rev. 2:1), for example, describes Jesus as the one who holds the seven stars in His hand (Rev. 1:20) and walks among the seven golden lampstands (1:12-13). In the message to Smyrna (2:8), Jesus is the first and the last, the one who died came to life (1:17-18). In the letter to Pergamum, He approaches with a sharp, two-edged sword (1:16). So it goes throughout the seven church letters.
Here’s the interesting thing. Jesus presents Himself differently to each of the seven churches. No individual church, therefore, has the full picture of Jesus. He is able to adapt to each church’s particular needs and circumstances. In other words, He meets each church where they are. And if no church and no Christian has the full picture of Jesus, then we all have reason to be humble. We are all learners. And we all have something to teach each other.
3. John’s Basic Outline of Revelation (Rev. 1:19). The author of Revelation often embeds clues about the organization and key ideas of the book in the transition texts. One of those transition texts is Rev. 1:19. In this text he lays out the plan of the whole book. It begins, “Write, therefore, what you have seen” (translations by author). This sentence parallels verse 11, “Write what you see.” Verse 11 is present tense and verse 19 is past tense (Greek aorist indicative). This means the entire vision of Revelation was given between the command in verse 11 and the command in verse 19. Now he is told to write it out.
What has John seen? Two things: “The things which are” and “the things which are about to happen after these things” (Rev. 1:19). So the book of Revelation will include both things current at the time of the seven churches, and things which were yet to come from their perspective. One part focuses particularly on the time in which John lives, and one part focuses on events that will follow after John’s time.
In Rev. 4:1 Jesus says to John, “Come up here, and I will show you the things which must happen after these things.” This is a nearly exact parallel to Rev. 1:19. Beginning with Rev. 4:1, the rest of Rev. focuses primarily on John’s future. While there are flashbacks to the cross (Rev 5:6; 12:11), to the enthronement of Jesus (Rev. 5:6-14), and even events before creation (Rev. 12:4), the primary focus from chapter four to the end of the book on is events future from John’s day.
What, then, are “the things which are” in Rev. 1:19? Everything between 1:19 and 4:1, namely the messages to the seven churches. While the seven messages have powerful implications for the whole Christian era, their primary focus is on the situation of those seven churches, and on the messages that Jesus brings to them. Careful attention to Rev. 1:19 shows how key texts of Revelation can help readers see the structure in John’s mind and in the mind of the One who gave him the vision.
4. Interpreting the Seven Messages to the Seven Churches. The messages to the seven churches are not apocalyptic in style, like Daniel 7 or Revelation 12. They are “prophetic letters.” They are more like the letters of Paul or like Matthew 24 than they are like Daniel 2. So their primary message was for seven actual churches in Asia Minor, the ones that originally received them (Rev 1:4, 11), and by extension for all those who read these messages (Rev 1:3; 2:7, 11, 17, 29, etc.).
There were, however, more than seven churches in Asia Minor and the spiritual conditions in those churches parallel the spiritual conditions of Christianity in different historical periods from the time of John until today. So embedded in these messages to seven historical churches was a grand survey of the major developments of Christian history. These periods are briefly discussed in the specific comments on each church in lessons two and three.
Part III: Life Application
1. Why is the gracious, forgiving Jesus, who washed the feet of His disciples, portrayed in such a spectacular and frightening way in Rev. 1:12-16? While the appearance of Jesus frightened John to his core, fear was not the response Jesus desired (Rev. 1:17-18). Like an elementary-school teacher in the classroom, God sometimes has to earn our respect before we will take His graciousness seriously. But to truly know God is to love Him. The Father is just like Jesus (John 14:9).
2. When Jesus meets people where they are, how far is He willing to go? In coming to John as the First and the Last (Rev. 1:17), Jesus assumes a title claimed by Yahweh in the Old Testament (Isa. 44:6; 48:12). He is everything the Jews of His time were looking for. But there is more. Rev. 1:17-18 presents Jesus as the fulfillment of (Gentile) pagan longings as well. In Asia Minor there was a Greek goddess named Hekate who exhibited many similarities with the picture of Jesus here in Revelation 1:17-18. She was called the first and the last, the beginning and the end. She was the goddess of revelation. She held the keys to heaven and hell. She could travel to and from these realms and report what she experienced there. She was also known as “Saviour” and used angels to mediate her messages.
Jesus, therefore, offers the reader everything that the worshipers of Hekate were looking for. This is a surprising extension of the principle that God meets people where they are (see also 1 Cor 9:19-22). Revelation teaches us that Jesus loves us and meets us just where we are. And as we come to Jesus, He will also lead us to where we need to go.