In the previous lessons we learned that apocalyptic writing is in a code language. The writer uses words to paint a picture of images which have special meanings. The ordinary reader, like the enemy censors, sees only a stupid letter. To the faithful who know the code, the letter is full of hope and encouragement. John is in a Roman prison on the island of Patmos. He gets his letter past the Roman guards to his flock and tells them that God is still in control, even while they are being persecuted and sometimes killed.
Numbers are a part of the code. The special numbers are 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, and 1000, and their combinations. To the Jew and early Christians they had special meanings.
Heaven ... How many persons are there in our God, known as a Trinity?
In the sky the most impressive shining objects one can usually see are the sun, moon, and stars (which include the star-like planets, comets, and meteors). Notice that these are of three types. The number three is associated with heavenly things.
Earth ... How many seasons are there in the year?
The Greeks wrongly thought that all things on earth were made up of one or more of these substances: fire, water, air, and soil.
How many are these?
Somehow we got the expression "the ____ corners of the earth".
How many corners?
When we describe a direction we use one or more of the following words: north, east, south, west.
How many different directions are these?
So we get the idea that the number four is associated with earthly things.
All ... Perfect ... When we combine heaven and earth we have everything there is. (Hell is associated with earth.) So the numbers 3 and 4 add to 7. Seven is considered to be the perfect number. As a code number it represents completion, perfection. It represents everything; there is no more. Something else is perfect:
WRITE Matthew 5:48.
How many days are there in the week?
Notice also that God made a perfect creation, including his rest, during 7 days. Also the number of visible objects that have regular movements that God placed in the sky is also 7: sun, moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. You will find that the number 7 may often be replaced by the word "all" in apocalyptic literature.
Complete ... The numbers 3 and 4 may be combined by multiplication for a spiritually complete number.
How many tribes of Israel were there originally?
How many apostles did Jesus choose?
The number 12 also appears in the number of months in the year, but in apocalyptic literature it has the other associations. The Jews used a lunar calendar in which there were 12 or 13 months in the year, so the number of months was not special.
Large ... To emphasize that something is large, the Jews multiplied its number by ten. Jesus tells Peter (Matt. 18:21-22) to forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven. He is not telling Peter to count out 490 forgivenesses and then get even on the 491st time. He is telling Peter to always be forgiving. Squaring seven makes it a large number; by then multiplying it by ten Jesus is making it difficult to count. So where we see the number ten used symbolically we can usually substitute the words "many, large".
Infinite ... Forever ... When a number is multiplied by ten three times it is ordinarily a thousand times larger. Symbolically, however, the Jews don't mean just 1000 but rather a huge number, approaching infinity. A thousand objects are therefore "uncountable", like the stars in the sky and the sand grains on the seashore. A thousand years are therefore nearly "forever" or almost for eternity.
WRITE Romans 3:23.
Incomplete ... Corrupt ... Sinful ... The number 7 represents completion and perfection. To fall short of that number is to be imperfect, corrupt, defective. God requires that we be perfect (Matt. 5:48), but we "fall short" (Romans 3:23) of that standard by a drastic amount; we sin. In archery, when an arrow falls short of the target, the term used is "sin". The number 6 is used in apocalyptic literature to represent the same imperfection. In Revelation the number 6 is combined three times in the number 666 to be a possible code word for absolute corruption and sinfulness. It is used to name a counterfeit of God, someone who tries to appear great like God but falls short.
Word equations ... "Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other." says a law in mathematics. John makes use of this concept. He may initially say that A = B, where A and B are some words or phrases, usually describing someone, like Jesus. Later he says that B = C, where C is another word or phrase. The logic then says that A = C. By this way John frequently says that Jesus Christ is God himself. Watch for the many examples in Revelation.
These are the approximate code meanings for the numbers in Revelation. There may have been additional meanings unknown to us today.
READ Revelation 1:1-3.
Who is the revelation about (verse 1)?
To whom did the angel reveal it (verse 1)?
What are the three ways to receive a blessing from this book (verse 3)?
The key verbs are read aloud, hear, and keep. Revelation is an artistic painting of words. To get the benefit of an ordinary painting, or a picture printed in a newspaper or book, one stands back and looks at it with one's eyes. To look at the flecks of paint or printer dots with a microscope is to miss the meaning of the painting or picture. The same applies here. John is advising that one should hear the picture that he is painting with words, not analyze the words themselves. He therefore says "read aloud" and "hear". The message is then not to be ignored. One is to "keep" it. Keep means always to know it, to obey it, and to do it. (It does not mean here to hide it and make sure that no one else gets it.) A response is necessary to prove that the message was understood.
If you are working with others in this class you may therefore read aloud these reading assignments in Revelation to each other. (Quietly!) Or you may quietly read them aloud to yourself if you wish. Listen to the "music" or poetry of the words; visualize the pictures they are painting. You'll maximize your understanding and enjoyment of John's message this way.
READ Revelation 1:4-8. (aloud if you wish)
The seven churches will be named in verse 11. The term "Asia" refers only to the Roman province of Asia, the western part of present-day Turkey (see map). But 7 is a code word meaning "all"! John is therefore writing to all of the churches in this region, not just to seven of them.
"Him" in verse 4 is identified by the phrase "who is and who was and who is to come". The cross-reference in some Bibles is to Exodus 3:14. To get the context, READ Exodus 3:13-14.
What does God give as his name (The name is usually in capital letters)?
Some footnotes may give variations on that name at the bottom of the page or in the margins. This is the meaning of the personal name of God: Yahweh = Jehovah means "I AM". God is! God always was. God always will be.
Therefore, who is the "him" of Rev. 1:4?
The end of this verse 4 mentions seven spirits, possibly meaning all of the spiritual beings serving God (or else the sevenfold Spirit, which is the perfect Holy Spirit). The benediction may therefore mean, "Grace and peace to you from God and all his loyal angels."
Who else sends grace and peace (verse 5)?
Later word equations will show that Jesus is God. "Him" is therefore also Jesus.
Jesus was faithful to the mission God gave him: to die on the cross to pay the penalty for the sin of everyone, so that all of us can go to be with God in heaven. John now quotes from many places in the Bible to describe Jesus.
In Psalm 89:27 God says to David, "I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth." John is seeing the fulfillment of this promise in Jesus, the first to rise permanently from the dead, the ultimate ruler of everyone on earth. Jesus loved us so much that he shed his own blood to pay the penalty for our sins. We are therefore free. We have our own kingdom and in it we are priests to God (verses 5 and 6).
In verse 7, "he" is Jesus. John quotes from Daniel 7:13, Matthew 24:30, Mark 14:62, and Acts 1:9,11 when he says, "he is coming with the clouds". Though it was one soldier's spear (John 19:34) that went into the side of Jesus, everyone who has sinned (all of us) was behind that spear; we have pierced him. The last half of verse 7 is from Zechariah 12:10, where God says, "they will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn..." Through this description John, though using the obscure pronouns he and him, leaves no doubt that he is talking about Jesus, who is God himself.
Who is speaking in verse 8?
The title Lord refers to God's right to rule. Almighty refers to God's power. "Who is" refers to God's eternal existence. God says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega". Alpha is the name of the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last letter. It is like saying, "I am everything form A to Z", I started everything and I will end everything", "I am the beginning and the end of all that there is." Later Jesus also says, "I am the first and the last", and "I am the Alpha and the Omega". Therefore Jesus is God, as declared by one of John's word equations.
Patmos (from Google Earth). The inserted yellow line is 2 kilometers long.
READ Revelation 1:9-11.
In verse 9 John says that he is on Patmos (see satellite photo) because of his loyalty to Jesus. He is sharing in the persecutions being experienced by the people he writes to. The Lord's day is Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. John was praying in the Spirit at the time, in an ecstatic state of joyous communication with God through the special power of the Holy Spirit. Later word equations show that it is Jesus who speaks to John in the "loud voice like a trumpet". John is told to write this book now called Revelation. It is to be sent to the 7 (=all) churches. The seven representative churches are listed in an order that the letter would logically take in being passed from one church to the next (see map). Later John shows that he knows these churches in detail.
READ Revelation 1:12-20.
What do the seven golden lampstands represent (verses 12 and 20)?
Christians and their churches are to be the light of the world (lampstands) (Matt 5:14-16).
What are the seven stars (verses 16 and 20)?
Who did the things described in verse 18?
Hades is the Greek word for Hell. Since Jesus died and came back to life again, he has proven that he has the power over death and hell. In John 5:24-29 Jesus says he has this power. He says that those who believed in him will be resurrected to eternal life with God. Those who do not believe and who do evil will be resurrected to judgment. In Matthew 16:19 Jesus gives the "keys of heaven" to Peter and thus to the Church.
In Revelation 1:17 Jesus says to John, "I am the first and the last", meaning Alpha and Omega and thus God. Jesus is therefore saying, "Don't be afraid; I, Jesus, am also God."
Jesus appears to John in the glorified body that he has in heaven. John saw Jesus this way once before: When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured (Matthew 17:1-9) "his face shown like the sun, and his garments became white as light." In Rev. 1:14-16 Jesus' head and hair are bright white, his eyes and face are as bright as fire and the sun, his feet are glowing like red-hot molten bronze. In John 8:12, Jesus says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." At the end of Revelation (21:23) John says that in heaven there is no darkness and yet no need for the sun, moon, or lights, because "the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb [Jesus] is its lamp." The brightness of Jesus will illuminate heaven. This is the best description of what Jesus will look like in heaven: a pure and intensely bright light.
The word of Jesus is the sword that comes from his mouth. "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword..." (Hebrews 4:12. see also Eph. 6:17)
But Jesus is not far away in heaven! Look carefully at Revelation 1:13 and watch the symbols. This "son of man" (=Jesus) is standing in the midst of the "lampstands" (= the churches). Jesus is always present in his Church, as he promised (Matt. 18:20 and 28:20), even if we can't see him through our spiritually blind eyes.
We can now see in just chapter 1 the complexity of the picture that John is painting with his words. The words he chooses he pulls from elsewhere in the Bible, dragging with them the former meanings of those words. He then weaves those words very carefully into the fabric of his word picture. (No wonder he warns people in Rev. 22:18,19 not to change any of the words!) In this way the person who knows best the rest of the Bible will understand the richness of John's illustrations best. Those who do not yet know the rest of the Bible can keep on learning more about Revelation as they read the Bible over and over again.
Background, Introduction, Lesson 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11