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Revelation 1-11 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary
By John MacArthur
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1999 John MacArthur
All rights reserved.
Back to the Future (Revelation 1:1–6)
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. 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 the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood–and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father–to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1:1–6)
Many people are fascinated, even obsessed with the future. They faithfully read their horoscopes, seek out Tarot card readers, have their palms read, feed on futuristic science fiction material, or call one of the many "psychic hot lines" advertised on TV. Some people delve more deeply into the occult, seeking out mediums (as did King Saul), futilely and sinfully attempting to obtain information about what is to come by "consult[ing] the dead on behalf of the living"(Isa. 8:19). The dead cannot, of course, respond to such efforts at contact, but demons do, masquerading as the dead and propagating lies.
All such attempts to discern the future, however, are in vain. There is only One who knows and declares the future: God (Isa. 44:7; 45:21; 46:9–10). Only in Scripture can truth about the future be found. The Old Testament prophets, particularly Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, provide glimpses of the future. So did our Lord in His Olivet Discourse, along with Peter and Paul in their inspired writings. But the book of Revelation provides the most detailed look into the future in all of Scripture. The fitting capstone of God's revelation to man in the Bible, the book of Revelation unveils the future history of the world, all the way to history's climax in the return of Christ and the setting up of His glorious earthly and eternal kingdom.
By way of introduction, John lists eleven characteristics of this marvelous book: its essential nature, central theme, divine source, human recipients, prophetic character, supernatural delivery, human author, promised blessing, compelling urgency, Trinitarian benediction, and exalted doxology.
Its Essential Nature
The Revelation (1:1a)
These two words are essential to understanding this book. Many people are confused by the book of Revelation, viewing it as a mysterious, bizarre, indecipherable mystery. But nothing could be further from the truth. Far from hiding the truth, the book of Revelation reveals it. This is the last chapter in God's story of redemption. It tells how it all ends. As the account of the Creation in the beginning was not vague or obscure, but clear, so God has given a detailed and lucid record of the ending. It is unthinkable to believe that God would speak with precision and clarity from Genesis to Jude, and then when it comes to the end abandon all precision and clarity. Yet, many theologians today think Revelation is not the precise record of the end in spite of what it says. They also are convinced that its mysteries are so vague that the end is left in confusion. As we shall see in this commentary, this is a serious error that strips the saga of redemption of its climax as given by God.
Apokalupsis(Revelation) appears eighteen times in the New Testament, always, when used of a person, with the meaning "to become visible." In Luke 2:32, Simeon praised God for the infant Jesus, describing Him as "a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel." Simeon exulted that the Messiah had been made visible to men. Paul spoke in Romans 8:19 of the manifest transformation of believers in glory as "the revealing of the sons of God." Both Paul (1 Cor. 1:7) and Peter (1 Pet. 1:7) used apokalupsis to refer to the revelation of Christ at His second coming.
The book of Revelation contains truths that had been concealed, but have now been revealed. Though it nowhere directly quotes the Old Testament, 278 of its 404 verses refer or allude to Old Testament prophetic truth, and it amplifies what was only initially suggested in the Old Testament.
The Apocalypse reveals a great many divine truths. It warns the church of the danger of sin and instructs it about the need for holiness. It reveals the strength Christ and believers have to overcome Satan. It reveals the glory and majesty of God and depicts the reverent worship that constantly attends His throne. The book of Revelation reveals the end of human history, including the final political setup of the world, the career of Antichrist, and the climactic Battle of Armageddon. It reveals the coming glory of Christ's earthly reign during the millennial kingdom, the Great White Throne judgment, and depicts the eternal bliss of the new heaven and the new earth. It reveals the ultimate victory of Jesus Christ over all human and demonic opposition. The book of Revelation describes the ultimate defeat of Satan and sin, and the final state of the wicked (eternal torment in hell) and the righteous (eternal joy in heaven). In short, it is a front-page story of the future of the world written by someone who has seen it all.
But supremely, overarching all those features, the book of Revelation reveals the majesty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It describes in detail the events associated with His second coming, revealing His glory that will one day blaze forth as strikingly and unmistakably as lightning flashing in a darkened sky (Matt. 24:27).
Its Central Theme
of Jesus Christ, (1:1b)
While all Scripture is revelation from God (2 Tim. 3:16), in a unique way the book of Revelation is the revelation–the revelation of Jesus Christ. While this book is certainly revelation from Jesus Christ (cf. 22:16), it is also the revelation about Him. The other New Testament uses of the phrase apokalupsis Iesou Christou(Revelation of Jesus Christ) suggest that John's statement in this verse is best understood in the sense of revelation about Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 1:12; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7). The Gospels are also about Jesus Christ, but present Him in His first coming in humiliation; the book of Revelation presents Him in His second coming in exaltation. Every vision and description of Him in Revelation is one of majesty, power, and glory.
Christ's unveiling begins in 1:5–20, where He is revealed in His ascended majesty. Those verses also provide a preview of His second coming glory. In chapters 2 and 3, as exalted Lord of the church, He reproves and encourages His church. Finally, chapters 4–22 provide a detailed look at His second coming; the establishing of His millennial kingdom, during which He will personally reign on earth; and the ushering in of the eternal state.
W. A. Criswell, long-time pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, gave the following explanation as to why Christ must yet be revealed in glory:
The first time our Lord came into this world, He came in the veil of our flesh. His deity was covered over with His manhood. His Godhead was hidden by His humanity. Just once in a while did His deity shine through, as on the Mount of Transfiguration, or as in His miraculous works. But most of the time the glory, the majesty, the deity, the wonder and the marvel of the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, were veiled. These attributes were covered over in flesh, in our humanity. He was born in a stable. He grew up in poverty. He knew what it was to hunger and to thirst. He was buffeted and beaten and bruised. He was crucified and raised up as a felon before the scoffing gaze of the whole earth. The last time that this world saw Jesus was when it saw Him hanging in shame, misery and anguish upon the cross. He later appeared to a few of His believing disciples, but the last time that this unbelieving world ever saw Jesus was when it saw Him die as a malefactor, as a criminal, crucified on a Roman cross. That was a part of the plan of God, a part of the immeasurable, illimitable grace and love of our Lord. "By His stripes we are healed."
But then is that all the world is ever to see of our Saviour–dying in shame on a cross? No! It is also a part of the plan of God that some day this unbelieving, this blaspheming, this godless world shall see the Son of God in His full character, in glory, in majesty, in the full-orbed wonder and marvel of His Godhead. Then all men shall look upon Him as He really is. They shall see Him holding in His hands the title-deed to the Universe, holding in His hands the authority of all creation in the universe above us, in the universe around us, and in the universe beneath us; holding this world and its destiny in His pierced and loving hands. (Expository Sermons on Revelation [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969], 1:16–17)
Even a cursory glance through the book of Revelation reveals that Jesus Christ is its main theme. He is "the faithful witness" (1:5); "the firstborn of the dead" (1:5); "the ruler of the kings of the earth" (1:5); "the Alpha and the Omega"(1:8; 21:6); the one "who is and who was and who is to come"(1:8); "the Almighty"(1:8); "the first and the last"(1:17); "the living One"(1:18); "the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands" (2:1); "the One who has the sharp two-edged sword" (2:12); "the Son of God" (2:18); the One "who has eyes like a flame of fire, and ... feet ... like burnished bronze" (2:18); the One "who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars" (3:1); the One "who is holy, who is true" (3:7); the holder of "the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens" (3:7); "the Amen, the faithful and true Witness."(3:14); "the Beginning of the creation of God" (3:14); "the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah" (5:5); "the Root of David" (5:5); the Lamb of God (e. g., 5:6; 6:1; 7:9–10; 8:1; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7; 21:9; 22:1); the "Lord, holy and true" (6:10); the One who "is called Faithful and True" (19:11); "The Word of God"(19:13); the "King of kings, and Lord of lords"(19:16); Christ (Messiah), ruling on earth with His glorified saints (20:6); and "Jesus ... the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star" (22:16). The book of Revelation reveals the majesty and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ in song, poetry, symbolism, and prophecy. In it the heavens are opened and its readers see, as did Stephen (Acts 7:56), visions of the risen, glorified Son of God.
Its Divine Source
which God gave Him (1:1c)
In what sense is the book of Revelation a gift from the Father to Jesus Christ? Some interpret the phrase which God gave Him in connection with Jesus' words in Mark 13:32: "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." In the humiliation of His incarnation, when He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant" (Phil. 2:7), Jesus restricted the independent use of His divine attributes. In the book of Revelation, those holding this view argue, the Father finally gave Jesus the information He lacked in His incarnation and humiliation.
There are two insurmountable difficulties with that view, however. The most obvious one is that the book of Revelation nowhere gives the day or hour of Christ's return. Thus, it does not contain the very information the Father was supposedly revealing to the Son. Further, the glorified, ascended Son resumed the full use of His divine attributes more than half a century before the book of Revelation was written. Being fully God and omniscient, He had no need for anyone to give Him any information.
In reality, the book of Revelation is the Father's gift to the Son in a far deeper, more marvelous sense. As a reward for His perfect, humble, faithful, holy service, the Father promised to exalt the Son. Paul explains,
Christ Jesus, ... although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5–11)
Christ's exaltation, promised in the last three verses (9–11) of that passage, is described in detail in the book of Revelation. It thus contains the full disclosure of the glory that will be Christ's at His return–His ultimate reward from the Father for His faithfulness during His humiliation. The first token of the Father's pleasure with the obedient Son was His resurrection; the second was His ascension; the third was the sending of the Holy Spirit; and the last was the gift of the book of Revelation, which promises and reveals the glory that will be Christ's at His second coming.
The book of Revelation, then, details the Son's inheritance from the Father. Unlike most human wills, however, this document can be read because it is not a sealed, private document. But not everyone has the privilege of understanding it, only those to whom God unveils it by His Spirit.
Its Human Recipients
to show to His bond-servants, (1:1d)
To further exalt and glorify His Son, the Father has graciously granted to a special group of people the privilege of understanding the truths found in this book. John describes those people as His [Christ's] bondservants.Doulois(bond-servants) literally means "slaves" (cf. Matt. 22:8; Mark 13:34). The doulos (bond-servant), however, was a special type of slave–one who served out of love and devotion to his master. Exodus 21:5–6 describes such slaves: "But if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,' then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently."
This is why unbelievers find the book of Revelation incomprehensible; it was not intended for them. It was given by the Father to the Son to show to those who willingly serve Him. Those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord cannot expect to comprehend this book. "A natural man," explains Paul, "does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor. 2:14). To His disciples, when on earth, Jesus said, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.... Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (Matt. 13:11, 13). Unbelievers couldn't grasp what Jesus meant when He was teaching about present spiritual realities. Neither can they grasp the future realities. Divine truth is hidden from the worldly-wise. The unbelieving skeptic finds in the book of Revelation nothing but chaos and confusion. But to the loving, willing bond-servants of Jesus Christ, this book is the understandable unveiling of prophetic truth about the future of the world.
Its Prophetic Character
the things which must soon take place; (1:1e)
The book of Revelation's emphasis on future events sets it apart from all other New Testament books. While they contain references to the future, the Gospels primarily focus on the life and earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts chronicles the history of the church from its beginnings on the day of Pentecost until the imprisonment at Rome of the apostle Paul. The New Testament epistles, like the Gospels, contain glimpses of the future. Their primary emphasis, however, is explaining the meaning of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and applying it to the life of the church in the present. Thus, the first five books of the New Testament are about the past, and the next twenty-one about the present. The last book, though it contains some information about the past (chap. 1) and the present (the seven churches in chaps. 2–3; although actual historical churches of John's day, they depict the types of churches found throughout the church age), focuses on the future (chaps. 4–22).
Excerpted from Revelation 1-11 The MacArthur New Testament Commentary by John MacArthur. Copyright © 1999 John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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