For a Future People in a Future Age
As we start on the book itself, I want to reiterate that this is somewhat of a panoramic view. There are primarily two reasons for this. First, an in-depth study would require tremendous groundwork in the rest of scripture. Our short studies will hopefully enable us to put a framework to this sometimes intimidating book, allowing further study. Second, since this book is written for a future people in a future age, much of it is speculative. Mind you, it is not blind speculation, but as with those who could not understand the exact meaning of the prophecies of the Lord's first coming until he came and accomplished all, we, too, cannot see all that is depicted in this prophecy in all its clarity.
We do have the advantage of the prophets and guidance from the Lord himself in regard to "the Day of the Lord" (the tribulations and the millennial kingdom, the subjects about which much of this book concerns itself). We can try to make some sense of what we are reading based on formerly unclear passages and pictures made clear by history (their fulfillment).
But as with any book, passage, or verse, we must determine to whom it is written and why. If we come across topics previously addressed, I will try to link those studies.
What Must Soon Take Place
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near. -Rev 1:1-3
We have looked at the idea of the kingdom and the return of the Lord being called "nigh" and "at hand" and similar in a previous study. Suffice it to say here that this immediacy (also seen in the next to the last verse at the end of the book) places it in the Acts Age.
The Book of Acts starts with the enlightened and Holy-Spirit-filled disciples expecting the restoration of Israel's kingdom (Acts 1). They elect a twelfth apostle in anticipation of the promise of sitting on "twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel... in the regeneration" (Matt 19:28). The Acts Age still had Israel and "the hope of Israel" well in view.
The expectation of tribulation and the return of the Lord to rescue the remnant as promised Israel through her prophets were the conditions of that age. This anticipation of the tribulation helps us understand Paul's instructions and even the words of the Sermon on the Mount. They lived in expectation of the Antichrist, and the second coming to establish the kingdom in Israel which also frame the epistles of that age. Peter offers this kingdom in his early messages in the Acts just as the Lord had offered it in his earthly ministry was to Israel. We recall that the "gospel of the kingdom" was sent to Israel alone, as that was the Lord's ministry.
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ -Matt 10:5-7
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” -Matt 15:24
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs [fathers of Israel]. -Rom 15:8
John on Patmos for the Sake of the Vision
The writing of this book is often placed late in John's life (around AD 95), but that is based on tradition and certain ecclesiastical interpretations and extra-biblical sources. The dating of books is an entirely different subject. Having looked at various arguments, I am proceeding with the thought that the Revelation was written much earlier than AD 95 based on the above arguments (it matched the other Acts Age writings and expectations) and because of what John writes in his introduction.
No matter the witness of men, we must seek compare scripture with scripture and the witness of scripture says to us that John lines up with the Acts Age expectations and differs from the Post Acts hope and witness. We must "compare the things that differ."
Here is how Mounce translates Rev 1:9 in his interlinear Bible:
I, John, · your brother and partner in the tribulation and kingdom and patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island · called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
John was carried away to Patmos for the reception of his vision. We see the phrase "the word of God came" twice in John's gospel. Both times it refers to a special revelation from God. It is also used twice in the Old Testament in regard to prophetic utterances. The idea of being carried away is seen in the Acts Age in regard to Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch ("when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away...). The remnant of Israel is also said to be "caught away" when the Lord comes back to Israel in the clouds in the same manner he left (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess 4:17).
While John does not use the phrase "the word of God came" in its fullness in verse 9, if we look back at verse 2 we see that being a witness to the word of God is John's purpose on Patmos.
And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.
John was not banished to Patmos because of "the word of God," rather he was brought there to receive the vision ("all things that he saw"). Paul was send to Arabia (Gal 1:17) to receive his revelation as well. Paul further witnesses of one who was "caught up to the third heaven."
Paul refers to one who had a vision of God some fourteen years before he wrote 2 Corinthians.
It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
This points to John's experience and witness in the Revelation.
And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this." -Rev 4:1
Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.” -Rev 10:4
And he showed me... In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, [which is in the midst of the Paradise of God - Rev 2:7] which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. -Rev 22:2
Regardless, John, as the prophets who came before him, is clearly writing to and for a remnant of Israel. Israel was set aside at Acts 28:25 for a short while (as were the conditional expectations of the Acts Age). This prophecy will one day become alive for them during "the time of Jacob's trouble." Israel will again be "my people" after approximately two thousand years of being "not my people" (Hosea). The adulterous wife will be restored (we shall see this in John's vision). We are not the Bride.
We do ourselves a great disservice when we ignore what God has said. As with James and Peter clearly writing to "the twelve tribes scattered abroad" and "the dispersion" respectively, we cannot take for ourselves that which is not given to us. Most of Christendom seeks to rob Israel of her New Covenant in this regard.
We cannot add much more concerning the timing here, so I will quickly move onto the audience.
To the Seven Churches (A Continuation of the Acts)
John, to the seven churches which are in Asia. -Rev 1:4
We must let the word "churches" trip us up. The word "church" is applied to a number of different groups in scripture including Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7), the many churches in the Acts and Acts Age epistles, to followers of pagan Diana (Acts 19), and finally to the singular church of the one new man found in Ephesians.
John, writing before Paul's revelation of the one new man, and pointing to the prophecies which were given to Israel, place this book in a Jewish context. Paul's revelation of the one new man in Ephesians was unknown to the prophets whereas the "hope of Israel" and the "hope of the promise made by God to our fathers" to which Paul witnessed in the Acts Acts (Acts 26:6; 28:23) involved only things revealed to "Moses and the Prophets" (Acts 26:22).
We will end here by noting that this vision involves "the Day of the Lord," which points us to the prophecies which have to do with Israel's future. No matter anything else in regard to timing and audience which can be argued from various scholarly viewpoints, this internal setting erases all other options.
We dare not call Sunday "The Lord's Day." Such a thing shows an ignorance of "The Day of the Lord" and its place in scripture.
I was in the Spirit on the Day of the Lord, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see [in a vision], write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” -Rev 1:10
And as we look at Revelation 1:10, let us be reminded of the source of this vision; one who is the First and the Last, the Lord Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior! Christ above all!
This book will take us through the coming Tribulation, the coming millennium, the great war, the judgment of the Great White Throne, the new Jerusalem, the new heavens and the new earth... but not to the end! The end is found in another book!