#1. Christ in the Midst of the Lampstands (Revelation 1)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (31:51)

Note: This lesson has study sections where you can write in your notes and answers. It also has numbered discussion sections where you can post your answers to specific questions on the Joyful Heart Bible Study Forum and read others' answers. Why don't you print out this lesson?

Revelation is the most difficult book in the New Testament to understand, so it's best to begin your study with prayer and humility. "Lord, help me understand what you are saying to me in the Book of Revelation. And help my life to be more faithful to you as a result. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen."

The first chapter introduces several of the key themes of Revelation:

  • Faithful testimony and witness (1:2)
  • Grace offered to us in Jesus' death for our sins (1:5-6)
  • Judgment to those who reject Christ (1:7)
  • Christ's return (1:7)
  • The eternal nature of the Father and Son (1:4, 8, 17-18)
  • The glory of the exalted Christ (1:12-16)
  • Christ's concern for local congregations (1:20)

There's more, of course, but that's just the first chapter. 

Now I invite you to study the text carefully and look up the Scripture references.  Revelation, the last book in the Bible, draws together strings from all the main themes from Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and many New Testament books as it weaves a striking and fantastic tapestry of the End Times. I encourage you to answer the questions that are in the boxes numbered Q1, Q2, etc. The URL after each of these questions allows you to post your answer in our online Forum and to read others' answers to the questions. Enjoy -- and may God bless you as you study. -- Pastor Ralph

Prologue (1:1-3)

1:1 The word "revelation" is Greek apocalypsis, literally "uncovering." Here it means "making fully known, revelation, disclosure" (BDAG 112). We see here a statement of purpose for the book.

1:2 "Testify," "testimony," and "witness" are key ideas in this book. Greek martureo means "to confirm or attest something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness" (BDAG 617-620). The related word marturia, "testimony," can also refer to sworn testimony in court. Our English word "martyr," "one who testifies at the cost of life" comes from this Greek word group. This word group appears many times in Revelation: 1:2, 5, 9; 2:13; 3:14; 6:9; 11:3, 7; 12:11, 17; 17:6; 19:10; 20:4; 22:16; 22:18, 20. See also 15:5.

Q1. Revelation is written to encourage and strengthen a church facing intense persecution. Why is the theme of testimony and witness so important to that purpose? How is Jesus as the "faithful witness" (1:5) supposed to encourage us? Why are we afraid to be clear witnesses in a culture where we aren't persecuted?



1:3 Revelation is called a "prophecy" (also 22:7, 10, 18, 19. Compare 19:10). Prophecy in the OT included exhortation to godly living as well as occasional predictions of the future.

"Blessed." This is the first of seven blessings pronounced in Revelation. Others are found in 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14.

"Keep what is written therein." Indicates that the work was considered as moral instruction and not only prediction.

Greetings (1:4-5a)

Revelation is a circular letter sent to the seven churches in Asia Minor addressed in chapters 2 and 3.

"Is and was and is to come." Look up God's self-revelation in Exodus 3:14 showing His eternal nature. See also Hebrews 13:8. Then list the ways this concept is taught in Revelation 1:

verse 4


verse 8


verses 17-18


1:4-5 Write how each Person of the Trinity is described:





Holy Spirit
(see 3:1; 4:5; 5:6)


Numbers in the Bible

Numbers in the Bible and other ancient literature often have symbolic or cultic meaning, sometimes used with literal and symbolic meanings simultaneously. These aren't "magic" numbers, but symbolic with sacred implications to the ancient Semitic culture.

Seven is the sacred number of completeness, perfection, fullness. Jesus told Peter to forgive 70 x 7 -- that is, completely, without end. The number seven is particularly predominant in Revelation: churches (1:4, 11, 20), lampstands (1:12, 13; 2:1); stars (1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1); torches (4:5); horns, eyes (5:6); seals (5:1; 6:1); angels (8:2, 6; 15:1, 6-8; 17:1; 21:9); trumpets (8:2, 6); thunders (10:3); heads (12:3; 31:1; 17:3, 7, 9); crowns (12:3); bowls (15:7; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9); heads of state (17:9, see verse 11); plagues (15:1, 6, 8; 21:9); mountains (17:9); seven thousand (11:13).

1:4 The "seven spirits" probably refer to the completeness and universality of the working of God's Holy Spirit (Beasley-Murray), as the seven churches typify and indicate the whole church (Alford).

1:5b-7 Doxology and Response

1:5 "Faithful witness." As such, He is the model for persecuted Christians to follow (see John 3:32; 18:37).

"Firstborn" refers to "sovereignty, first place, heir," due to Christ being the first to be resurrected to glory (Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:18; Psalm 89:27).

"Ruler of the kings of the earth." This title was vindicated by his resurrection (Philippians 2:10-11). The usurper had claimed this honor (Matthew 4:8-10; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), but it rightfully belongs to the One who created it and will be revealed as King of kings (17:14; 19:16). He is sovereign and will ultimately prevail.

"Loosed us by his blood" is probably the earliest text rather than KJV "washed us in his blood." The difference between the two is probably a copyist's error: lousanti is mistakenly written for lusanti. In any case the image of being washed in Christ's blood is seen in 7:14. What continuing (present tense) love this suggests!

"A kingdom, priests," not "kings and priests" as in KJV, which is also likely a copyist's error. However, in a parallel passage (5:10) this kingdom of priests "shall reign on the earth" on behalf of the Messiah (see 1 Peter 2:9 and Exodus 19:6).

"Coming with the clouds." This is central to Jesus understanding of himself as the heavenly Son of Man figure of Daniel (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:9, 11).

"Every eye shall see him who pierced him." Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 24:30.

1:8 "Alpha and Omega." First and last letters of the Greek alphabet (Hebrews 12:2).

Q2. What does 1:8 tell us about the Father? The Father is the speaker here in 1:8 and in 21:6. But Jesus is the speaker in 1:17 and 22:12-13. What is the significance of this for our understanding of who Jesus is?



Tribulation (1:9)

1:9 "Share with you in Jesus the tribulation." "Tribulation" is Greek thlipsis (verses 21, 29), "trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation" (BDAG 457). "Tribulation" refers here to the suffering which accompanies faithfulness to Christian principles (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12), but extends to include the final period of intensified affliction which precedes the establishment of the kingdom (Mounce). Ladd writes that tribulation here is "especially the great tribulation at the end, which will be only the intensification of what the church has suffered throughout all history" (p. 30).

Q3. In what countries are Christians presently experiencing tribulation or persecution for the faith? How can the Book of Revelation be a comfort and encouragement to them?



A great object of (sometimes foolish) debate is whether the Church will go through the "great tribulation," by which some mean God's judgment upon the sinful world at the end time. We won't resolve this issue here, but let's distinguish two concepts. You'll find a lot of clarity when you distinguish between (1) God's wrath in righteous judgment of sin and (2) Satan's wrath against Christians resulting in persecution. Record your observations on the following verses, but don't share your observations in the Forum. We won't debate chronologies of the tribulation there, since it serves little spiritual purpose.

Matthew 24:9, 21-22, 29. "Tribulation" is the Greek word thlipsis.


1 Thessalonians 5:9 "Wrath" is the Greek noun orge, "strong indignation directed at wrongdoing, with focus on retribution, wrath, of God's future judgment" (BDAG 720-721)


Revelation 2:9, 22 NIV afflictions, suffering = tribulation, Greek thlipsis.


Revelation 6:9-11
with 7:9-14
. In 7:14 tribulation, Greek thlipsis.


2 Thessalonians 1:4-10
NIV trials = tribulations, Greek thlipsis


Geography (1:9-11)

1:10 "In the Spirit," a state of spiritual exultation and acuity in the spiritual realm (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 and Revelation 4:1-2).

"On the Lord's day," that is, the day of Jesus' resurrection, Sunday, the first day of the week, when Christians met for worship and the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7-11, 1 Corinthians 16:2). The term "Lord's Day" was used in early Christian writings such as the Didache 14:1 and the Letter of Ignatius to the Magnesians 9:1 (Here the "Lord's Day" is distinguished from the Sabbath day. See "Paul K. Jewett, "Lord's Day," ISBE 3:158-160.)

"Patmos" is an island just off the coast of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) when John had been exiled for his Christian faith, and where he received this revelation.

1:11 "Seven churches" are all found in the western part of Asia Minor, perhaps churches for which John had apostolic responsibility. Revelation is sent as a circular letter to these churches, which are discussed more fully in lesson 2.

1:12-20 Symbolic Representation of Christ

It's easy to over-interpret symbols. Some of the creatures depicted in Revelation are bizarre when their characteristics are depicted graphically. John's allusions are sometimes given for their symbolic meaning, but are often "for their evocative and emotive power ... to set the echoes of memory and association ringing" (Caird). For example, the symbolic representation of Christ in this passage has several characteristics in common with the angelic character who appeared to Daniel in Daniel 10:6.

1:12 "Golden lampstands" = churches. See Matthew 5:14-16 to understand the relationship between lampstands and faithful witness.

1:13a "Son of man." This was Jesus' self-designation during his ministry. "Son of man" probably is a Hebrew way of saying "human being." But when "Son of man" is identified with the figure from Daniel 7:13, who comes on the clouds, it is an exalted title indeed.

1:13b "Feet like bronze," -- glowing!

1:14 "White as white wool," used to describe the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9. Purity and glory.

"Eyes like a flame of fire." Penetrating insight (2:18; 19:12; Daniel 10:6). 

1:15 "Voice like the sound of many waters," like the deafening sound one hears standing at the base of Niagara or Yosemite Falls in springtime (Ezekiel 43:2; Revelation 14:2; 19:6).

1:16 "Seven stars" = angels of the seven churches, 1:20

"A sharp, two-edged sword." The short Roman sword was tongue-like in shape (Morris). It symbolizes irresistible words (2:16; 19:15, 21; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17). 

1:17-18 "First ... last ... living one." Christ shares the divine attributes (1:4, 8). 

"Keys of Death and Hades." Because of Jesus' resurrection, he has now conquered death. He holds the keys, that is, he has authority over it (Matthew 16:19; Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7; 9:1; 20:1).

"Hades" (KJV "hell") is the Greek equivalent of Hebrew "Sheol" and stands for the abode of departed spirits. Here it is not equivalent to Gehenna, the place of torment (Mounce).

Q4. The vision of Christ among the lampstands (1:12-20) is much different than the Carpenter-Teacher who walked the roads of Galilee and Judea. Why? What overall emotions is this vision of Jesus among the lampstands designed to evoke in the reader? Why is this understanding of Jesus important to a balanced faith?



Q5. What is the significance of the exalted Jesus walking among the lampstands? What does this teach us about the church? What does it teach us about Jesus?


Lord Jesus, sometimes I find myself taking you for granted. Sometimes I think about you more as a buddy than the awesome, exalted King of the Universe. Please adjust my thinking -- not that I would withdraw from you in fear, but that I might be filled with the awe that is appropriate to a revelation of your full glory. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.

References and abbreviations and Reprint Guidelines

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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