Today we embark upon a study of the seven individual churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Some of the questions I hope to address during this series are:
1. Why were these churches chosen as recipients of these letters?
The Book of Revelation is probably one of the least read books in the Bible. Many avoid it because they think it is nigh impossible to really understand it. Oh, some of its passages are well-known, like:
2. Does the instructions given to these churches 1900 years ago have implication for the church today?
3. Isn't the book of Revelation too hard to understand?
4. What does all that imagery mean to us today?
5. Who wrote these letters?
6. Where was the place they were penned?
7. Why was its author there?
8. When were the letters written?
9. Are the images meant to hide the message of the book?
"I am the Alpha and the Omega."
"Worthy is the Lamb."
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock."
"He will wipe all tears from their eyes."
Perhaps people are skeptical of the fanciful interpretations they have heard.
It is true that to start reading the book of Revelation is a step into a strange, maybe unfamiliar worlds of angels and demons, of lambs, lions, horses and dragons. Seals are broken, trumpets blown and the contents of 7 bowls are poured out upon the earth. Two evil and malicious men appear: one emerging out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads, and another rising from the earth with a lamb's horn and a dragon's voice. There is thunder, lightning, hail, fire, blood and smoke. The whole book appears at first sight to contain a chaotic profusion of weird and mysterious visions. But, we cannot leave the matter there. The Book claims, in the very first verse, to be a divine revelation, given by God to his servant.
2 Timothy 3:16, says,
"All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable..."
This, of course, includes the book of Revelation.
Admittedly, Revelation is one of the more difficult-to-understand books in the Bible. But, the book of Revelation is not written in such a way as to hide its meaning. The very first word written by the apostle John is "Apokalupsis." This Greek word "apokalupsis," is translated "revelation." It is from this word that we get the English word "Apocalypse". And when we think of this word, we usually have in mind some total destruction or devastation of something. It speak of a catastrophe.
But that is not at all what the original meaning was. When the Greek word "Apokalupsis" is translated into Latin, it become "Revelatio." And in English it becomes "Revelation." The word "Apokalupsis" literally means:
o an "unveiling," a "disclosure" of what had previously been concealed.
o to make the meaning plain, not to hide it.
o to unravel the mystery, not to make it mysterious.
Some people give you the impression that you need a Ph.D. or a working knowledge of Hebrew and Greek in order to understand the Bible - even more so the book of Revelation. But, while such credentials might be helpful, they are certainly not essential. The Bible is meant for everyone, not just a select group.
SO HOW SHOULD WE INTERPRET THE EVENTS AND MESSAGE DESCRIBED IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION?
Now, before we get too far along, I need to say that I do not claim to totally understand all the Book of Revelation. But, I think I can give you some insights that will be useful. This, I believe, is a crucial issue. Any person reading the book of Revelation for the first time is immediately aware of the presence of symbolic language. How should we interpret these things?
Let me say here that the best way to understand what the Bible is saying in any passage, is to locate other passages within the Bible addressing the same or similar issue. While there are many good commentaries written by people on the Bible, the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. As to specifically the Book of Revelation, both the Old and New Testaments contain information that will help us understand it. Often, you can find the same or similar symbols used elsewhere. Their context can help us understand what is written in the book of Revelation. Also, in many cases, the Book of Revelation itself gives us the interpretation of the symbols used. Much insight can be gained by merely studying the many cross-references in the Bible. So the first help in understanding the Book of Revelation is the rest of Scripture itself.
Here is one more possible help for understanding this Book. I think I could argue that the Book of Revelation should be read somewhat like you read any book. Apply the same principles of context, language, culture, and history that you would use with any other historical document.
A simple axiom for all Bible study is that if the words don't mean what they say, then no one can say what they mean. I like what Dr. David L. Cooper said:
"If the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense.; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate text, studied in the light of related passages clearly indicate otherwise."
We should take the words of the Scripture literally unless there is a clear indication in the text that the words are symbolic or figurative. A common clue in the book of Revelation that something is to be taken symbolically is the appearance of the words, "as" or "like." Such expressions help us to understand that the words are expressing likeness or similarity in external form or appearance, but are not to be taken literally.
I would like to contrast the Book of Revelation with a couple of books in the Old Testament. The books of Genesis and Daniel. I think it will help us understand the setting of Revelation and how it can apply to us today.
Contrasting Revelation with Genesis
The book of Genesis and the book of Revelation are like two bookends that hold the entire Bible together. The parallels between these two books are many. So it might be of help to compare the people and events in Revelation with those in Genesis. These worlds are not quite the same, of course. In the beginning we find mankind sinless, but yet untested. In the final world, man has experienced sin and failure but he has also experienced redemption and renewal.
In Genesis, we have the division of light and darkness (Gen. 1:4)
In Revelation, in the eternal world, there is no night there (Rev. 21:25).
In Genesis we find the division of the land and sea (1:10)
In Revelation, there is no more sea (21:1).
In Genesis, we find the rule of the sun and moon (1:16).
In Revelation, there is no need of the sun or moon (21:23)
In Genesis, man is placed in a prepared garden - a paradise (2:8-9).
In Revelation, man is placed in a prepared city - the wonderful paradise to come (21:2).
In Genesis, the river is seen flowing from Eden (2:10).
In Revelation, the river is flowing from God's throne (22:1).
In Genesis, there is gold in the land (2:12).
In Revelation, there is gold in the city (21:21)
In Genesis, the Tree of Life is in the midst of the garden (2:9).
In Revelation, the Tree of Life is throughout the city (22:2).
In Genesis, we find the Bdellium and the onyx stone (2:12).
In Revelation, there is all manner of precious stones (21:19).
In Genesis, we find God walking in the garden (3:8).
In Revelation, we find God dwelling with His people (21:3).
In Genesis, we find the curse being meted out (3:17).
In Revelation, there is no more curse (22:3)
,In Genesis, we see the origin of daily sorrow (3:17).
In Revelation, there is no more sorrow (21:4).
In Genesis, there is sweat on the face of the worker (3:19).
In Revelation, all tears are wiped away (21:4).
In Genesis, man is seen eating the herbs of the field (3:18).
In Revelation, there is twelve manner of fruits (22:2).
In Genesis, mankind is seen returning to the dust at death (3:19).
In Revelation, there is no more death (21:4).
In Genesis, man is seen as being evil continually (6:5).
In Revelation, nothing that defiles will enter the city (21:27).
In Genesis, man is dressed by God in coats of skins (3:21).
In Revelation, God dresses us in fine linen, clean and white (19:14).
In Genesis, Satan is found opposing God and his creation (3:15).
In Revelation, Satan is banished (20:10).
In Genesis, we find the first murderer, drunkard, and rebel.
In Revelation, nothing impure will ever enter the city of our eternal residence (21:27).
In Genesis, man is kept from the Tree of life (3:24).
In Revelation, we are given access to the tree of life (22:14) and eat of that tree (22:2).
In Genesis, man is banished from the garden (3:23).
In Revelation, we have free entry to the city (22:14).
In Genesis, Satan utters the first lie ever heard: "ye shall not surely die." (3:4)
In Revelation, we inhabit a city where liars will never enter (21:8).
In Genesis, the redeemer is promised (3:15).
In Revelation, redemption is accomplished (5:9-10).
In Genesis, a bride, Eve is presented to her husband, Adam.
In Revelation, the church is presented as a bride to her husband, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many other similar contrasts could be noted. It is amazing how directly connected are the Books of Genesis and Revelation. Many of the personages mentioned in Genesis also reappear in Revelation. For instance, the rainbow associated with the covenant between God and Noah, in Gen. 9:16 is seen as the crown on the head of the mighty angel, (probably Christ Himself) in 10:1. The witnesses of Revelation 7 are made up of 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem are inscribed with the names of the 12 sons of Israel and the redeemed in heaven are seen as singing the songs of Moses (Rev. 15:3).
Contrasting Revelation with Daniel
Like the book of Revelation, the book of Daniel was a revelation by God. Daniel dutifully records what he is shown. But when all is done and we come to the last 6 verses of the book of Daniel, we find the prophet asking a question. He didn't understand what he had written, and wanted someone to explain it to him. Let's read it.
Daniel 12:8-10 NIV
8 I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, "My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?"
9 He replied, "Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.
10 Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.
The Book of Daniel was to be closed and sealed until the end time. Contrast that with Revelation.
Revelation 22:10 NIV
10 Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.
Unlike Daniel, this book is not to be sealed. This again is a reminder that the Book of Revelation is not given to hide prophetic events.
In Daniel, the words are sealed:
In Revelation, they are opened for all to see and understand.
In Daniel, they are not sealed forever, but until the "time of the end."
In Revelation, "the TIME is at hand."
With each passing day, we draw that much closer to the events described in the marvelous book of Revelation. John was told to get the word out. These events are not hidden from us.
There is one more passage in Revelation which indicates that what is written in this book is to be understood clearly by its readers.
Revelation 1:3 NIV
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
The book of Revelation may be difficult and demanding to read, yet, it is the only Bible book whose author promises a blessing to those who read it and keep its sayings. Would God have told us about this blessing, if indeed the meaning and understanding of its words were to be hidden from us? God would not have expected us to keep the words of this Book if its words were written to hide things from our understanding.
So, now let's dive into the book of Revelation. Let's uncover some great nuggets of truth. Let me begin by asking a few questions.
WHO WAS THE WRITER OF THIS BOOK?
It is written by the apostle John. Here are some pictures of paintings and sculptures done over the past 500 years. The apostle John wrote 5 of the 27 books in the New Testament.
o The gospel of John
o The 3 epistles - 1st, 2nd and 3rd John
o The book of Revelation
The question I posed a moment ago was "Who was the writer of this book?" I didn't ask, "Who was its author?" This book had its origin not in the mind of John, but in the mind of God.
HOW DID GOD CONVEY HIS MESSAGE TO THE APOSTLE JOHN?
Revelation 1:1 NIV
1. The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
This verse says it was conveyed through an angel. That certainly was the primary way, but there were times when a different method was used. In 1:10-11, we find it being spoken by Christ Himself to John. Sometimes it was a elder, as in Revelation 7:13. Other times it was a "voice from heaven" telling John what to say and do, as in Revelation 10:4. But most of the time it came through an angel (17:1; 19:9-10). No matter what the various means of communication were, it was all given by God and inspired by the Holy Spirit to John.
WHERE WAS JOHN WHEN HE WROTE THIS BOOK?
He was on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9).
DO YOU KNOW WHERE PATMOS IS LOCATED?
Let me take you to Patmos on the map. It is located off the western coast of Asia Minor (now called Turkey) in the Aegean Sea……just a few miles from the coastal city of Miletus…..which is a few miles south of Ephesus.
It is a rather small island, approximately ten miles long and six miles wide. Though it is a small island, there are 3 cities today, each with a school. There is a total population of 3,000, including about 300 children. The city in this picture is the port city of Skala. And, yes, that is our cruise ship. When we were there, we saw some vegetation/greenery near the Monastery of St. John. But most of the island is quite rocky. The island was formed as the remnant of a volcano.
Let me show you some pictures I took of the Monastery of St. John. These first two pictures make it look more like a fortress than a monastery. Most of you know I am a stamp collector. Here is a Greek stamp with the Monastery shown on it. The next three pictures of from within the monastery. He are a couple of pictures showing some of the wonderful frescos and paintings. Here are some more.
Tradition says that John lived in a cave on the island. Whether true or not, there is no way to really tell. The cave thought to be John's has been turned into the Holy Grotto of John. Some call it the Cave of the Revelation. Here is a picture of the pathway down to the entrance of the Cave of the Revelation. They have constructed a building around the entrance to the cave. Here is the entrance. We couldn't take flash pictures inside, so here is a picture taken without a flash.
WHY WAS JOHN ON THIS ISLAND?
He was a political prisoner of Rome, and was banished to the small island of Patmos. It was the Alcatraz of that day.
WHAT WAS HIS CRIME AGAINST ROME?
Revelation 1:9 NKJV
9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Persecutions of Christians was occurring with increasing frequency during this era, and John was banished to this island for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus Christ. And, like so much of the evil that Satan thrusts on the people of God, what he meant for evil, God turns around for our good - and to God's glory. The devil wanted to shut the mouth of God's messengers. God takes what Satan attempts to do and turns it around for our good - and today we have the Book of Revelation.
Let me spend a little time listing some of the Roman emperors.
Caesar Augustus -- 27 BC to 14 AD -- He was emperor when Christ was born.
Tiberius -- 14 AD to 37 AD -- Emperor when Christ was crucified.
Nero -- 54 to 68 -- Began the attack on Jerusalem.
Vespasian -- 69 to 79 -- Destroyed the Jewish temple in 70 AD,and conquered Masada in 73 AD.
Domitian -- 81 to 96 -- Emperor when John was sent to Patmos.
Trajan -- 98 to 117 -- Probably the emperor when John died.
For a few minutes, I want to focus on Domitian. He is the one responsible for putting John on the island of Patmos. When I showed you my pictures of Ephesus, I showed you this aerial shot. I pointed out and discuss each of these identified places. I also showed you where the Temple of Domitian was located, but I did not speak about it at all. Let me put another map of the area beside this photo.
Let me point out again where the Temple of Domitian is located. Before leaving this slide, here is where the Odeon is located. Let's step into the Odeon and look at its surroundings. Here is the location of the Temple of Domitian in this picture. There is an arch just under the point of the arrow in this picture. That is part of the Temple of Domitian.
Let's look at some closer pictures. The arch I pointed out in the previous picture is on the far left in this picture. And there is a square at the Temple of Domitian Here is another picture, and the inset is thought to be a sculpted statue of Domitian. Here is another picture from behind the Temple. The columns are about 30 - 35 feet high.
This temple would not have been here during the time the apostle Paul was in Ephesus. But it would have been during the time of John. From the south-west end of the State Agora one enters the Square of Domitian through the arch that I pointed out to you. The Temple was also known as the 'Flavian Sebastoi' which means, 'Divine Flavians' It was Domitian who initiated emperor worship. It became law under him that no Christian would escape punishment who failed to worship Caesar and to renounce their allegiance to Christ.
When John was brought before the tribunal, he would not deny his Lord. For that, John was here for about 18 months on Patmos, beginning in about 95 AD until shortly after the death of Domitian (96 AD). That means the Book of Revelation was written during this window. Most say it was completed in AD 96. This would make it some 65+ years since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
TO WHOM WAS THIS BOOK WRITTEN?
Revelation 1:4 NIV
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come,…
CAN YOU NAME THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF ASIA?
Revelation 1:11 NIV
11 ..."Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
WHERE WAS THE PROVINCE OF ASIA IN THE FIRST CENTURY?
It was located in the western half of what today is called Turkey.
WHO ELSE WROTE BOOKS TO CHURCHES?
The Apostle Paul
HOW MANY LETTERS DID PAUL WRITE TO CHURCHES?
The same as John - seven.
o Ephesus - The only church written to by both John and Paul.
I will say more about this comparison in a later lesson.
HOW MANY INDIVIDUALS DID PAUL WRITE TO?
Three - Titus, Philemon, Timothy.
HOW MANY BOOKS DID JOHN WRITE TO INDIVIDUALS?
Also - the same as Paul.
o 1st John
o 2nd John
o 3rd John
I might add, 2nd John was written to a woman, the only book in the Bible to be so addressed.
The Book of Revelation contains both a "key phrase" and a "key verse." We will get to these in our following lessons.