The Opening of the Seals
The vision of chapter five continues. The Lamb, who is worthy, possesses the scroll with seven seals and in chapter six the seals are broken. The contents of the scroll are divided into two groups, the first is a group of four and the second is a group of three. The first set contains the four-horsemen of the Apocalypse. These horsemen are among most recognized symbols in the book of Revelation and are widely interpreted in a variety of ways. Most likely they represent God’s judgment, and the imagery is closely related to the vision in Zechariah Ch.1:8 -17 and 6:1- 8. In Revelation each judgment corresponds with the rider, and they symbolize conquest, violence, economic hardship, and death. In Zechariah the riders patrol the earth and in Revelation they release disaster on the earth. Professor Craig Koester writes, “These were genuine threats for people in the first century and they have remained threats for people in subsequent centuries, which is why attempts to predict the onset of the end-times on the basis of these visions have consistently failed. The dangers that they depict cannot be confined to any one period: waves of conquest, outbreaks of violence, and periods of economic hardship have occurred repeatedly in human history, and death finally comes to all.”
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The four horsemen of Revelation are meant to crush the misconception that people can find true sanctuary in national wealth, security, and physical health. This vision shows a promise that God will not permit injustice, insecurity, and sickness to continue forever.
Vs 1: The Lamb (Jesus) is the one who is worthy to open the scroll and to bring about the conclusion of human history. Upon opening the first seal one of the four creatures around the throne of God calls out to the first of four riders of the apocalypse. The call to “Come” is intended for the horsemen, but some translations may read “come and see” and this is interpreted by those who believe the invitation to come is for John.
Vs 2: First rider – Rides a white horse with a bow and a crown. Some interpret this rider as Jesus since the rider in chapter 19 is on a white horse and is described as Jesus. However, the rider of chapter 6 and the rider of chapter 19 have little in common with the exception that both are riding a white horse. The rider in this chapter carries a bow and wears a crown (a victor’s wreath) and the rider in chapter 19 wears many crowns and carries a sharp sword. The rider of chapter 6 is a conqueror, and the rider of chapter 19 is in the context of righteous reckoning or judgment.
The more prominent and common interpretation of this rider identifies him as a military conqueror. In the OT the bow often symbolizes military power. There has been some speculation that this rider represents a feared invasion from beyond the boundaries of the Roman empire. Some compare them to the Parthians as they were the most renown archers of ancient times and they were known for riding white horses. In A.D. 62 Vologeses (the king of Parthia) defeated the Roman army which caused the West to fear an all-out invasion of Parthia. Thus, the white horse and its rider most likely refers to military conquest of some sort in general.
Vs 3 – 4: Second seal contains a red (some versions read fiery red) horse and a rider who is given a great sword and is given permission to take peace from the earth and slay one another. Red corresponds with the mission of the rider which is to bring carnage and slaughter. According to theologian Robert Mounce, “His mission is to remove peace from the earth and allow people to turn their destructive instincts upon one another… The mission of the red horse would be quickly understood in John’s Day, well acquainted as it was with rebellion and civil disorder. In a single year, A.D. 68–69, Rome had been ruled by four different emperors. It is also reported that in the thirty-year period prior to the reign of Herod the Great (67–37 B.C.), more than one hundred thousand insurgents died in revolutions and rebellions in Palestine alone. Anarchy and bloodshed are harbingers of the end.”
Vs 5 – 6: Third seal unleashes a black horse and a rider holding a pair of scales. A voice amid the living creatures announces prices of scarcity or famine. These common items, wheat, and barley will sell at inflated prices.
Denarius = A Roman silver coin equivalent to a day’s wages. One must work a full day in order to pay for barely wheat or barley for himself. The price will be inflated 10 to 12 times what it should be.
The rider on the black horse commonly symbolizes famine. Famine was common in ancient times especially after warfare as invading armies would pillage cities and live off the lands they conquered.
“Don’t waste the olive oil and wine!”: There are varying interpretations of this declaration.
Vs 7 – 8: Fourth seal reveals a pale horse and its rider’s name was Death and the grave/hades followed him. Death’s utensils include violence that people execute by the sword, famines that break out, and sickness and pandemics that rob people of health and life. Death will be brought on by the four disastrous acts of Ezekiel 14:21: sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence/plague.
Mounce sums up the meaning behind the actual Four horsemen of the Apocalypse and their deeds as, “Reviewing the various interpretations assigned to the Four Horsemen tends to rob the contemporary reader of the dramatic nature of the vision itself. It is good to place oneself back in one of the seven churches and listen to the visions as they are being read. Instead of discussing the probable significance of each of the four colored horses those first listeners would undoubtedly have recoiled in terror as war, bloodshed, famine, and death galloped furiously across the stage of their imagination. Visions at best are to be experienced rather than analyzed. Those who approach Revelation with a sympathetic imagination are most apt to understand its true meaning.”
The Martyred Saints
Vs 9 – 11: This is the second division of the seals. The first division unveils the four horsemen as they are released to ride forth, so now the scene changes.
Fifth Seal – The opening of this seal reveals an altar and under the altar are the souls of those who were martyred for their faith or trust in Jesus Christ. They ask the question we all ask when faced with injustice, “How long?” The answer seems to be, things are going to get worse before they get better. In God’s time He will pour out his wrath
The altar most likely refers to both the altar of burnt offerings (sacrifice) and the altar of incense (prayer) which is a culmination of both.
In OT sacrifices the blood of the animal was poured out at the base of the altar of the burnt offering. It was believed that the blood contained life, or souls, of the flesh. The martyrs under the altar signified their premature deaths on earth. It may also suggest that the altar is the place where the martyrs receive safety.
These faithful individuals gave their lives for the glory of God. They ascended to heaven through suffering and death. This shows to us there is no guarantee that our lives will be any different. Christians are promised eternal life for their faith in Jesus Christ, but we are not promised protection from pain, suffering, and death. I hear people often say that they wish that Jesus would just take them away from troubled times to escape difficulty, suffering, pain, and even piddly inconveniences. Contrary to popular thought and teaching God is not concerned with our modern comforts and easy living. If anything, Jesus promised the opposite in life. As believers we should expect persecution, suffering, and tribulation in this life.
Vs 10: “How long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” This is not a request of revenge from a personal perspective, but out of concern for the reputation or glory of God. The martyrs do not have the attitude of many who relish in knowing that one day that those who reject Jesus will be punished in eternal hellfire. It is not based in vindictiveness, unlike early Christian author Tertullian who writes of how he will laugh and exult at the last judgment as he sees the proud monarchs groaning and weeping in the lowest abyss of darkness, and the magistrates liquifying in fiercer flames than ever kindled against Christians.
Vs 11: Each martyr is given a white robe. Some interpret this to mean spiritual or glorified bodies. However, in Revelation white robes are often symbols of blessedness and purity.
There are still others who will be joining them as the persecution continues.
The Great Earthquake
Vs 12 - 14: The opening of the sixth seal brings about an earthquake. Theologian Robert Mounce writes, “With the opening of the sixth seal the great cosmic disturbances which are to herald the last days begin.” The early readers most likely would not take this to be a literal earthquake, because they were part of an established tradition that goes back to the OT as the prophetic portrayal of the day of the Lord. The earthquake was traditionally taken as a divine visitation of the Lord is at hand. We see this over and over in the OT When God ascended Mt. Sinai, it was accompanied by an earthquake. Both Isaiah and Haggai, speak of the earth shaking and people wanting to hide in caves from the terror that was about to come.
The sun becomes dark as black cloth or some translate as hair cloth, which is a something worn for mourning, the moon becomes like blood, possibly an eclipse of the moon, and the stars fall from heaven like a fig tree sheds its winter fruit. The falling stars meant one thing to the ancient reader; judgement was coming.
The question arises, are these six seals literal or figurative. Some, biblical literalists, would say, yes these are literal happenings that will occur in the future at a pre-determined time. Others agree these are symbols of God’s ongoing and historical judgment over the influencers and adherents of evil of which are against God’s justice, goodness, and support those who embrace these evil injustices.
Vs 15 - 17: Once again, the interpretation of verses 15 - 17 does not necessarily point to a literal view, yet whatever is depicted whether literally or metaphorically it will instill fear and terror in the world. Leaders, military leaders, and the most powerful people in the world would rather die than face the wrath of the Lamb.
There are seven groups of individuals pointed out. It will affect all humanity. Seven is number of completeness and universality.
The wrath of God is a major theme throughout the NT. It is not personal revenge or vindication. It is not an impersonal retribution that will work itself out over history. It is the response of God’s holiness and unrepentant sin.
In this vision we see the Lamb who appeared to be slain is worthy to take the scroll and break the seals. There is great hope and great terror with what follows in this vision. Professor Koester writes, “What humanity sees in this vision is partially correct. The death of the Lamb confronted the dominion of sin and evil with the power of divine love (1:5–6). Those who oppose the Lamb will experience his coming as a threat. What they do not see is that the Lamb who threatens the current order can also redeem those of every tribe, people, nation, and language” As chapter six concludes, one could be left with a sense of despair and hopelessness. Why? Because the chapter concludes with the question, “who is able to stand/survive?”. One could conclude hopelessness and despair in this question because one would think the answer is nobody can survive. However, we will see in the next chapter that this is not the answer. Some will stand before God and the Lamb. There is hope. But those cannot stand in their own power and prestige they can only stand by the grace of God.
The vision of Revelation six should denote God’s holiness, justice, and grace. In the vision the horsemen represent great upheaval and shows the believer that we cannot trust the temporal power of humanity, government, and economics for our security. God alone can provide hope and security. We see that God will not take backseat to the imperial worship of false gods and practices. He alone is worthy of worship.
There are people who read Revelation from a perspective of God’s divine retribution and punishment on a disobedient people but fail to see Revelation is about redemption. God has a plan of redemption for humanity through Jesus Christ. Sure, there are instances throughout Revelation where God executes judgment on a system that is violently against him, but through it all as we continue to read, we will see that grace is extended and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, is victorious through his work on the cross of Calvary, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension to the right hand of the Father. He will return, and when he does it will be as the victorious King of all creation.
 Craig R. Koester, Revelation and the End of All Things, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 85.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 143.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 145–146.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 150.
 Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, ed. John J. Collins, vol. 38A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2014), 413.
For the past six weeks we have journeyed through the book of Revelation. At the beginning of the series I spoke about the difficulties in reading Revelation because it is full of symbolism, visions, and strange occurrences. The language of Revelation sometimes is mysterious and slick as it teases its reader to make connections and possibilities that one has never made before. Revelation is a fluid book as there are many views on the translation of this book thus it is not surprising that Revelation has been and is interpreted multiple ways. Unfortunately, this has led to some irresponsible reading and translations of Revelation. However, it’s safe to assume that the original recipients of this letter understood the central message without much difficulty.
The Scroll and the Lamb
In Chapter five the vision continues from the previous chapter but moves from centering on the angels and elders worshiping God around the throne to the Lion of the tribe of Judah who is the Lamb that is worthy to take and open the scroll. The worship of God in chapter four is focused on His role and His sovereignty in creation, but now attention is turned to the Lamb who was slain and his redemptive work. From here on out the scrolls play a primary part in what transpires in the chapters to come.
Vs. 1: “I saw a scroll (book) in the right hand…” – The scroll or book is sealed with seven seals to protect the confidentiality of the contents that are within. The contents, as we will soon see, are not definitive but some interpretations are as follows.
The right hand signifies power and the omnipotence of God.
The seven seals symbolize the complete sacredness or holiness of the scroll. The contents are complete, since 7 is number of completions, and it most likely contains the end story of God, judgment, and redemption.
The double-sided writing on the scroll indicates the wide-range of God’s judgment.
Vs 2: “A strong angel who shouted with a loud voice.” The loud voice is needed because the proclamation that he makes needs to reach all of creation. Since the proclamations are from God a strong powerful voice is required.
The call the angel makes is for someone who is worthy to perform the ultimate service of opening the scroll. Scrolls were rolled up and secured with strings to prevent them from coming unrolled. A strip of soft clay, wax, or lead was placed under the strings, then folded over the tops of the strings, and finally imprinted with a distinctive marking, often from a signet ring
“Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” The call is to all of creation.
Vs 3: Nobody in the realm of all creation (heaven, earth, or under the earth… some say the water) is worthy to take the scroll, open it, or look at the contents inside.
Vs 4: “I began to weep bitterly” - John is troubled because it appears that no one is worthy, thus potentially God’s plans could be spoiled because there is no one worthy to open the scroll that executes the judgments of God.
Vs 5: One of the twenty-four elders tells John not to weep. Why? Because there is One who is worthy; He is the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” The lion represents both power and royalty. In Gen. 49:9 – 10 Jacob gives a blessing to his twelve sons and Jacob calls Judah “the lion cub” and he is promised that the scepter will never depart from him until it comes to the one whom it belongs.
“the heir to David’s throne” – Isaiah 11:1 speaks of a king from the line of David who will judge righteously and usher in peace.
Both these titles refer to Jesus and the Elder tells John not to weep because Jesus is worthy to take and open the scrolls. Jesus has conquered death through the cross of Calvary. His death has brought forth victory.
Vs 6: One would imagine that in the next scene a lion would emerge forward and take the scroll, but that is not what happens. A lamb, appearing to have been slaughtered, emerges and that take s the scroll.
This lamb is a bit odd looking it has” seven horns and seven eyes” and has the wounds of a sacrificial offering.
The lamb is significant. Not only does the Lamb point to Jesus, the sacrificial lamb of Passover of Exodus, but also the suffering Servant of Isaiah, and it also reveals the mystery of Revelation: God is victorious not through brute force but through submission and obedience through the death of Jesus Christ. The slaughtered lamb has redeemed people from all nations.
Now, we cannot make the mistake that the picture of the slaughtered lamb means he is weak and powerless. No, just the opposite is implied through the seven horns and eyes.
The seven horns symbolize perfect power, and seven eyes symbolize perfect wisdom and knowledge.
The Lamb is the Lord of lords and King of Kings and as we will see He is the one who is worthy to open the scroll that eventually releases final judgment and salvation. The Lamb is none other than Jesus Christ who is enthroned with God and he is the victor over all forces of evil both human and demonic.
Vs 7: The action of the Lamb… He steps forward and takes the scroll from the right hand of the one holding it (God).
Vs 8: “the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.” The response of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures to the Lamb taking the scroll is worship when they witness Jesus as the worthy lamb as he is worthy to carry out God’s plan.
“Each one had a harp” The harp is the traditional instrument used in the singing of Psalms.
“they held golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”
Commentator Robert Mounce writes, “The idea of angels acting as intermediaries and presenting the prayers of saints to God is common in later Jewish thought. In Tobias 12:15 an angel says, ‘I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, who present the prayers of the saints, and who go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.’ In 3 Baruch 11 it is Michael the Archangel who descends to the fifth heaven to receive the prayers of people. It was the increasing emphasis in Jewish thought on the transcendence of God that made such intermediaries appropriate. In Revelation the twenty-four elders perform this function.”
Vs 9 – 10: “And they sang a new song” - The Lamb is worthy to open the book for three reasons:
“from every tribe and language and people and nation” - Redemption is for all tribes, tongues, and nations. This implies the universal nature of redemption. Redemption is for all who believe. The blood of Christ is sufficient for all people, not just one specific people group.
Vs 11: “I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels” Pan out - The vision worship continues but now expands to the innumerable angels lifting their voices. Worship is universal that is extended to include agents of all creation, heavenly and human.
Vs 12: There are seven merits credited to the Lamb that make Him worthy.
Vs 13: All creation worships the Lamb.
According to theologian Robert Mounce in his commentary on Revelation, “Chapter 5 has revealed a central truth that governs the entire book of Revelation. By his sacrificial death the Lamb has taken control of the course of history and guaranteed its future. He alone was worthy to break the seals and open the scroll of destiny. The hosts of heaven break out in jubilant song honoring the redemptive work of the Lion who is the Lamb. His triumphant sacrifice has transformed men and women from every part of the universe into priests in the service of God. Countless angels circle his throne and declare his power and praise. This vision of the grandeur of the triumphant Lamb prepares John to share with his readers the more solemn aspects of the judgments that lie in the future. A vivid portrayal of the one who has won the crucial battle against sin supplies the confidence that in the troubled times to come there remains a hope that is steadfast and sure.”
From here on out the slaughtered Lamb is the central figure in how we interpret the remainder of the book. God’s divine judgment and ultimately salvation and redemption must be interpreted and understood through the lens of the Lamb who was slain and is worthy of all worship.
 Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, ed. John J. Collins, vol. 38A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2014), 373.
 Craig R. Koester, Revelation: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, ed. John J. Collins, vol. 38A, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2014), 374.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 135.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 138.
The letters to the church are now complete. All seven churches in Asia Minor have received commendation, criticism, or both from Jesus Christ. The vision of John now turns from the church to a view of the throne room in heaven. This continuation of the vision should serve as a reminder to the churches that they should be encouraged because they are also under God’s sovereign rule. The letter takes a dramatic turn from a straight-forward dictation to an obscure vision. Professor Michael Gorman writes, “The book of Revelation now undergoes a dramatic shift from the kind of text we understand fairly easily, the relative straightforward record of pastoral-prophetic oracles, to the kind of text that may confuse, scare, or distress us.”
The Throne Room
Vs. 1: The vision continues and takes us to the Throne Room in the heavenlies, which is the place where God exercises his rule over the world. It is generally held that chapters 4 & 5 are future and has yet to take place.
John looks and sees “a door standing open in heaven”. This vision is like the vision in Ezekiel 1:1 where the prophet saw “The Heavens were opened I saw a vision of God.” The heavenly door is open, and this could imply that the door to heaven is limited to John alone.
“The first voice…” This is the voice from chapter 1, and he now invites John to enter through the door to heaven.
“Come up here and I will show you what must happen after this” In chapter one John is told to write down the things he saw; now in chapter three he is taken to heaven to see the things that will happen. The events must happen, they are the outworking of God’s divine will. He is in complete control. John is not writing about matters of chance, but about events that will certainly take place for they are God’s divine will.
Vs 2: “behold a throne stood in heaven” The throne is one of the chief symbols of Revelation. The author, John, speaks of the throne frequently. He uses the word “throne” over forty times in Revelation out of the sixty-two references in the New Testament overall. He speaks of it the Throne in almost every chapter of Revelation. The throne represents the supreme sovereignty of God in heaven and on earth. John locates the divine throne in heaven, where heavenly beings are engaged in continuous worship surround it.
Vs 3: “The one sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones” We are not told who is sitting on the throne (most likely it is God), but it is apparent the one sitting on the throne is not human in form and portrayed as the brilliance of light reflected from precious stones. This depiction was a conventional way of reminding the reader of the magnificence of a heavenly figure.
The three stones held a place of honor in ancient times. They are among the twelve precious stones that adorn the breastplate of the High Priest. In fact, the Jasper and Carnelian (sardius) are the first and last stones in the Breastplate.
Jasper – Represents or suggests qualities as majesty, holiness, or purity.
Carnelian or some versions say Sardius – Represents or symbolizes wrath or judgment.
“Rainbow that had the appearance of emerald” – a reminder of God’s eternal covenant.
Vs 4: “Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them”. A similar O.T. picture of the throne room is found in 1 Kings 22:19. It is uncertain who the twenty-four elders are, but it is generally believed they are heavenly beings whose sole purpose is fulfilled in worshiping God.
There is debate and speculation over who the twenty-four elders are, some are as follows.
Theologian Richard Bauckham writes about the twenty-four elders, “Their ceaseless worship at the heart of all reality, around the divine throne, represent the theocentric (God-centered) nature of all reality, which exists ultimately to glorify God.” He continues, “It is worth noticing how far from anthropocentric (human-centered) is this vision of worship. Humanity is radically displaced from the centre of things where human beings naturally tend to place themselves. At its heart and in its eschatological (concerning last things) goal the creation is theocentric, orientated in worship towards its Creator.” 
“They were clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads” The white garments represent purity and holiness, and the golden crowns represent royalty.
Vs 5: “From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder.” Lightning and thunder represent the awesome power and majesty of God. Thunder in the Old Testament is associated with the voice of God.
Before the throne are the seven torches or spirit of God. This refers to chapter one concerning the “Seven Spirits…” Some interpret this to represent the complete manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s being. Some see it as a reference to the seven archangels of Jewish Tradition which is found in the Apocryphal writings of Enoch 20:1 – 8 where these angels are named Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. However, this interpretation is unlikely since it would be a strange intrusion of Jewish tradition into Christian thought.
There is uncertainty as to what these seven spirits represent conclusively but we can deduce that they are part of a heavenly entourage that has a special ministry in connection to Christ.
Vs 6 - 8: “In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal.” John does not give an exact description but speaks symbolically. We need to remember that modern ideas about glass did not apply in the first century. In the first-century glass was dark, even opaque. Clear glass would have been extremely expensive. The text speaks only of “what looked like a sea of glass.” We are intended to understand it as a visual sensation that adds to the awesome magnificence of the throne-room vision. Its crystal surface stretches out before the throne, and reflects the flashing, multi-colored light emanating from the throne, furnishing a surface for the activity around the throne, and creating for the Seer an unspeakably heightened sense of the transcendence and majesty of God.
“Four living beings” are related to the cherubim as described in Ezekiel 1, but there are several differences. These creatures could also be like the Seraphim in Isaiah 6:2 – 3 who lift their voices to sing. It is widely held that they are an exalted order of angelic beings, who guard the throne and lead the heavenly hosts in worship. Some commentators say that the description of the creatures is to interpret them as having the strength of a lion, the ability to serve as an ox, the intelligence of man, and have swiftness of an eagle. Others say the four forms suggest what is noblest, strongest, wisest, and swiftest in animate nature.
Nevertheless, these creatures are angelic beings and do not need to be interpreted in a symbolic manner.
Four living creatures… Only one had a face, the others present the form of animals.
Vs 8: “Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out” The wings signify swiftness to carry out the will of God. The eyes in front and behind (lit. around, underneath, and inside) signifies watchfulness, and all-seeing intelligence. These creatures lead all in heaven and earth in endless praise.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty…” The praise from the creatures is directed to the characteristics of God which are essential to John’s vision. The praise suggests God is completely holy, all powerful in and over his creation, and He is eternal, he is outside of time. According to Stephen Smalley, “He acts in time and draws time and eternity together.” thus He is separate from his creation, yet he still dwells among them because of his great love for his creation. What we witness in this verse and the remaining passages of this chapter is worship in heaven. What begins as a vision of heaven now becomes a view of active worship in the throne room of heaven. With John, we can now get a glimpse and enter heaven to see the ceaseless praise of the Almighty God.
Vs 9 – 10: The twenty-four elders join in worshiping with the four living creatures. They give “glory and honor” to the one seated on the throne. They speak of God’s supreme nature and authority and they give thanks to God (the eternal one) for all he has done.
The twenty-four elders have the proper response of reverence and respect to the eternal one as they fall prostrate before the throne and worship the eternal one. They lay their crowns, which symbolizes their authority, thus implying that their power and authority is given back to the eternal and sovereign one.
Vs 11: “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” Interestingly, this worship and adoration is constant and personal. If the twenty-four elders represent or are symbolic of the Church, then this makes sense. It has been written that Emperor Domitian delighted to hear the people in the amphitheater on feast days shout out, “Good fortune attend to our Lord!” He is also known to dictate a circular letter which began, “our Master and our God bids that this be done.” Domitian is believed to be the one to introduce emperor worship, thus John is making it clear, for believers, God alone is worthy of glory, worship, and reverence.
God created everything and it exists solely because of God’s will. God is the ultimate reason for and power in creation and salvation.
In this chapter, John has unveiled for his readers in the seven churches of Asia Minor a vision, or a picture of the Holy God in his preeminence and sovereignty. He has given his readers a glimpse of what worship looks like in heaven. Worship is intended to be theocentric (God-centered) and not anthropocentric (human-centered). This glimpse of heavenly worship is not so much of an exact replica of what worship should look like here on earth, but more of a model or example of what true worship looks like in heaven. If anything, it should help us, here on earth, determine and commit to how and why we worship God. Our worship is more than a love song to our savior, or a way to help us feel good about ourselves and our church. It is a way of life. Our worship is God-central. It is giving honor, reverence, praise, and adoration to the one who is all-powerful, eternal, and sovereign. It is praising the eternal one for his perfect will in creating and redeeming all creation. It is acknowledging and showing respect (falling prostrate) to the one who is perfect, flawless, holy, and good and placing the eternal one on the throne of our church and over all of creation. On a historical level the intent of this (scene) is to remind those who are about to suffer (the church) that God is nonetheless the sovereign Lord of the universe. Thus for us today, it is the same reminder, regardless of the state of the universal church or the world in general, we can take great comfort in the truth that God is the sovereign Lord of all creation.
 Reading Revelation Responsibly (2011) Gorman, Michael J: Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. P. 102
 The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1995) Bauckham, Richard: Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
 The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (2005) Smalley, Stephen S.: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, P. 116
 The Theology of the Book of Revelation (1995) Bauckham, Richard: Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
 The Revelation to John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse (2005) Smalley, Stephen S.: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, P. 123
 Ibid p. 125
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 127.
Around the sixth century B.C the city of Sardis was one of the wealthiest and powerful cities in the ancient world. It is believed that gold and silver coins were first pressed there. It also claimed to be the first city that discovered the art of wool dyeing. It is located on top of a high mountain thus making it a fortified city with walls reaching approximately 1500 feet above the lower valley. Eventually the city grew so they developed a lower city at the bottom of the mountain. Archaeologists have discovered that the lower city had a theater, a stadium and a large temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis. The patron god of Sardis was Cybele, who is also identified with Artemis.
The Letter to the Church of Sardis
Sardis is the first of two churches that receives only criticism and no commendation.
Vs 1: The church of Sardis had a reputation, and it was not a good one. They appeared outwardly to be a church that was alive, but it was dead. From the outside one would think the church was healthy, but Jesus saw that they represented spiritual death and decay.
Vs 2: Wake up! This is significant because twice in Sardis’s history the city was defeated (546 B.C. & 218 B.C.) because of inadequate watches. Both times the enemy struck the city watchmen were not paying attention or sleeping. Jesus calls the church of Sardis to wake up from their spiritual slumber.
Vs 3: “Go back to what you first heard” Jesus instructs the church to do the same as the Ephesians and remember. They are to remember what they have heard and what they have received. This was most likely the message of salvation through faith. They lost sight of the message that was given to them and hold firmly to it and repent. Repentance is always the first step to returning to a right relationship with Jesus. The warning… If they did not wake up, then Jesus will execute imminent judgment that will come swiftly and unexpectedly (Like a thief).
Vs 4: Most of the church was not walking with God but, there were some who were faithful. They had not soiled their garments. In Asia Minor soiled clothing would disqualify one from worshiping and would bring dishonor to their god. The church was in a state of compromise and most of the individuals were living double lives. They wanted the best of both worlds. Those who did remain faithful in this pagan filled church were promised garments of white because of their faithfulness to Jesus. White garments are symbolic of victory, justification and in fellowship with Jesus.
Vs 5: The ones who remained faithful and obedient will have their name written in the book of life. Jesus assures them that they are secure because they belong to him.
Philadelphia was a prosperous city due mostly to agriculture and the industry of color dyes. Grapes were one of the main resources in the area, thus the worship of Dionysus (the god of wine) was widespread.
Around the 6th Century it was known as “Little Athens” as it had many pagan temples and religious festivals. Earthquakes have destroyed much of the historical artifacts but there are still some remains from the later centuries standing today.
Letter to The Church of Philadelphia
Every Church either wants to be or believes they are the Church of Philadelphia today and for good reason. Jesus has only good things to say to this church and many comforting. It is believed that it was a small church in a small town that didn’t really have a huge impact on society and yet, it was significant enough to Jesus to speak to them and commend them for their works.
Vs 7: This is the first letter that does not have a description of Jesus taken from John’s vision of chapter one. The whole letter is dominated by the sure and certain prospect of life in the kingdom of God. Jesus declares himself the one who is “The holy one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David.” This is his way of declaring authority, trustworthiness and power over life and death.
Vs 9: We are introduced to the term Satan’s synagogue in the letter to Smyrna. This term is believed to represent the Jews who were persecuting Christians. In their persecution of the Church, they became known as Satan’s synagogue. They were not working for the God Israel; they were doing the work of the devil.
“Bow down at your feet” According to Isaiah 60:14, the Jews believed that the Gentile nations would one day bow or bend the knee before them and humbly acknowledge them as God’s chosen people. Now, Jesus is declaring that there will be a day when the Jews will humble themselves and acknowledge Jesus as the true Messiah and declare his Church is His chosen people. They will bow not in worship but in respect to the fact that the Church is the people Jesus loves.
Vs 10: “great time of testing” Since the Church of Philadelphia has patiently endured persecution Jesus promised them protection from judgment. Many believe the “great time of testing” is a reference to the Great Tribulation some believe will occur before or after the rapture of the Church or before the second coming of Jesus Christ. The major question is whether Christ is promising deliverance from the period of trial or safekeeping through the trial? This is an argument that has been debated for years and I am not going to settle it today. However, if we use the high priestly prayer of Jesus as our guide then we can note that Jesus prays that believers would not be taken out of the world (physically taken away) but that they would be protected (preserved through judgment). One could deduce that Jesus prays for preservation and protection for believers during times of great persecution. The early church expected trials that precede the return of Jesus Christ.
Vs 11: “I am coming soon…” There is urgency in Jesus’ words (he mentions this three times in Revelation). He is coming back. When and how? Nobody knows. We can only speculate. So, what was the Church of Philadelphia to do? They were to hold on to what they have in the coming days of trials. They had the Word of God and the truth of the Gospel. They were called to remain faithful so no one can seize or snatch away their crown (N.T. describes three kinds of crowns life, glory and righteousness). This shows that the believer can have assurance that their salvation is secure if they remain faithful to Jesus Christ and obedient to His Word.
Vs 12: Jesus will make the one who conquers a pillar in the temple. A pillar is symbolic of stability and immovability thus, the believer will remain sturdy and immovable. Jesus will also write the name of God and their new name on them. What does this mean? Those who overcome will become citizens of the eternal city (the New Jerusalem) not because of their deeds but because they are children of God and belong to Jesus.
City of Laodicea
Laodicea was a prosperous city; most likely the wealthiest due in part to the banking industry which was one of the features of the city. Another contributing factor was the countryside was perfect for raising sheep and they accumulated great wealth from the soft black wool.
The city did not many natural resources, so they brought water to the city from springs about six miles away through a system of stone pipes. The summer months could be treacherous.
The Letter to the Church of Laodicea
Vs 14: “The one who is the Amen…” The word amen means, “So be it”, “trustworthy”, “firm.” It is an expression of absolute confidence and trust. When used at the beginning of a discourse AMEN means “truly, truly or of truth”. At the end of a discourse it means, “So be it, so it is, may it be fulfilled.” The word is almost identical to Hebrew word that means “believe” or “faithful”.
“The faithful and true witness” refers to Revelation 1:5 where Jesus is declared as the faithful witness.
“The beginning of God’s new creation” Colossians 1:15, 18 states that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, and He is the Beginning. We see elsewhere in Revelation where Jesus is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. Nothing existed before him, and nothing will exist after him. He is all… He is eternal.
Vs 15: “I know all the things you do…” Jesus actively watched their deeds. Unfortunately, in Laodicea’s case their works are not pleasing.
“You are neither hot nor cold…” The Church was ineffective at best.
Vs 16: Like “lukewarm water” this is water that is tepid or ineffective. Since the city received water from springs nearly six miles away the water of Laodicea was usually tepid and gross. They understood the reference of Jesus. The water was useless as it came out of the pipes and Jesus equates the church to the tepid lukewarm water.
Because they were lukewarm Jesus’ response is much like ours when we partake of something that is lukewarm (especially when you are expecting a hot or cold item).
“I will spit you out of my mouth” Can be translated as spew, vomit or throw up. Their lukewarm faith made Jesus want to vomit. This is a very harsh and graphic statement. Since they were spiritually tepid Jesus was repulsed
Vs 17: “You say, ‘I am rich, I have everything. I don’t need a thing” – Since the Church was in a prosperous city, most likely it was a wealthy church. Unfortunately, the people thought that since they were rich materially then God must be ok with them. They believed he was blessing them because of their wealth.
However, Jesus told them differently. “You don’t realize that you are wretched and poor and blind and naked.” In their prosperity they failed to see the truth… “We are not all we thought we were. We may be rich financially, but spiritually we are poor and Jesus isn’t pleased with us. In fact, we are making him sick.”
Vs 18: “I advise you to buy gold from me, gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich.” In their spiritual depravity Jesus counseled them to stop pursuing physical wealth and pursue spiritual wealth. The purchase, so to speak, is to be made from Jesus himself because only he can provide the true wealth and health they need. If they do this, then they will become truly rich.
“Buy white garments from me so you will not be ashamed of your nakedness” These white robes symbolize righteousness. Covering nakedness is symbolic of judgment. Jesus tells them to buy these garments of white so they will be clothed in righteousness and escape judgment.
“Ointment for your eyes.” This is in reference to the school of medicine and Herophilos. The Laodicean church was spiritually blind. They could not see their spiritual deficiency. Jesus counseled them to get eye ointment from him and anoint their eyes. They needed to quit trusting in the remedies of man and trust Jesus.
Vs 19: Jesus was not turning his back on the church. He loved the Church of Laodicea. Even though he is not pleased with them, he tells them, “I am telling you to do this because I love you. I am telling you this for your own good.” Jesus admonished the Church to wake up from their spiritual slumber and and seek him so they could be a church that was pleasing to Him and share in his glory.
Vs 20: “Look, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door; I will come in and we shall share a meal together as friends.” The text suggests that Jesus has been at the door for some time. It also suggests that he continually knocked patiently and waited to be invited in. He was at the threshold of their lives and church, and he called for them to open the door of repentance so that he may come in and have true fellowship with them once again.
In the Middle Eastern culture eating a meal together is a sign of intimacy and trust. The main idea behind this passage is Jesus’ desires to restore fellowship with the Laodicean believers and him. This can only happen through repentance, heeding to the call and responding to the knocking of Jesus that would ultimately lead to them being effective followers of Jesus Christ and of his Kingdom.
Vs 21, 22: The continued promise to those who conquer or are victorious as they participate with Jesus in his sovereign rule. This is the promise given to all the churches (and individuals) who heed the words of Jesus in the letters to these churches.
All seven churches received different messages. However, we need to remember this is one letter written to seven churches. It is safe to say that a common thread running through these letters is the issue of compromise. Ultimately, will these churches compromise or will they remain faithful in trying times. Each church faced the reality of imperial worship and pagan practices, and each needed to determine where their loyalties lie. Will they expose sin or tolerate it? Will they call out false teachers and doctrines or embrace them? Will they seek comfort or endurance in persecution? They are all reminded to keep the end in mind, since Christ is victorious, they will be victorious. They are overcomers because Jesus is an overcomer.
This past Wed. during Bible study someone asked, “What would Jesus say to the church of America today?” That sparked a great discussion and I think it is a question worth considering and discussing. But on a more practical level, what would Jesus say to you and to the church of Southside? Where are our loyalties? How do we view and deal with sin? Do we expose false doctrines and teachings? Lastly, how will we respond when/if persecution and trials befall us for standing for the truth of Jesus Christ? These are questions worth considering and responding in our personal quiet time and in our times together in groups. All in all, may we emerge on the side of Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord and overcomer of all.
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Re 3:7–13). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
In today’s passage Jesus addresses the churches in Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis. Throughout these messages, Jesus emphasizes the importance of remaining faithful to him and standing firm in the face of adversity.
Smyrna was a proud, prosperous, and beautiful city. Moreover, the city was friendly to Rome, so they welcomed Roman rule. In fact, in 195 B.C., the city erected a Temple to Dea Roma (goddess Roma), the earliest recorded establishment of the Roman Cult.
Smyrna – The Letter
The Church of Smyrna was formed when the Apostle Paul was in Ephesus on his third Missionary Journey. Ignatius, an Apostolic Father, wrote in the early 2nd century that the Church of Smyrna was well organized, with elders, deacons, and a Bishop named Polycarp, ordained as bishop by the Apostle John). He wrote a letter to Polycarp and to the Church of Smyrna. Polycarp is believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John. Unfortunately, at age 86, he was burned at the stake for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor.
Verse 9: Jesus acknowledges the hardships the Church is facing. They were a persecuted and poor church in a wealthy city. The Church was persecuted because they refused to bow its knee to Rome. They did not recognize Caesar as a deity and declined to offer him worship or renounce their Christian faith.
Jesus reminds them that though they are poor, they are spiritually wealthy. These are words of comfort and encouragement to the Church. Jesus reminds them that the things of this world do not make you rich. Although salvation, redemption, and future glory contributed to the Church being materially poor, they were the wealthiest people on the planet.
In contrast, Jesus speaks about the Jews who are a synagogue to Satan. The persecution of Smyrna does not just come from pagan Rome; it also comes heavily from the Jews. The Jews at this time believed Jesus was a blasphemer, and when they saw the spread of Christianity, they wanted to stop the growth. They would physically harm Christians and inform Roman rulers of Christians and their worship practices. These Jews thought they were faithful Jews, but they were, in fact, a synagogue to Satan. They were not working for the God Israel; they were doing the Devil's work.
Verse 10: Jesus tells them, "Don't be afraid" because hardships are coming. Tough times were ahead for the Church, and Jesus is comforting them. The Church is about to face some persecution. Jesus says, "The Devil will throw some of you into prison." Some suggest that "the Devil" is Rome, but the Devil himself will be the one influencing those who are persecuting.
You will suffer for ten Days could suggest a literal ten days; it could be a short time, while others suggest a long but limited time. Regardless persecution was coming.
Jesus instructs them to remain faithful to him even unto death. The faithful ones will receive a crown of life. The word for crown here refers to the garland wreath, which was given as the prize for victors in competition (the reward of righteousness).
Vs. 11: Anyone with ears must listen… The second death will not hurt the one who conquers. Jesus says in the Gospel of John, "The world will cause great persecution and trials but have courage and know I have overcome the world. The world has no power over me." Likewise, the second death has no power over those who are in Jesus.
Pergamum – The Letter
Pergamum was noted for many things, primarily having the second largest library in the Greek world with over 200,000 volumes. History tells that Marc Antony took the 200,000 volumes and gave them to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Legend is that parchment was invented in Pergamum because Egypt cutting off its supply of papyrus.
The city was also the location of four major cults with temples and altars built to Zeus, Athene, Dionysus, and Asklepios. The latter was considered the god of healing and represented by a serpent. People would travel to Pergamum from all over for medical attention. It is noted that Galen, one of the most famous physicians in the ancient world, was a native of Pergamum.
Verse 12: Jesus is represented as "the one with the sharp two-edged sword" in response to the power of the proconsul. Pergamum was the only city where the proconsul was given the "right of the sword" – which meant he had the power to execute anyone for any reason. The Proconsul had the power of life and death by sword. Jesus reminds the Church that it is He who truly wields power over life and death, not the proconsul, and not Rome.
Verse 13: "I know you live in a city where Satan has his throne" is a reference to the city of Pergamum and not the Church. Pergamum was a pagan city that was fiercely loyal to Rome. Like the city of Smyrna, it would make it very difficult to be a Christian in the city without facing persecution. The "throne of Satan" is a reference to the Imperial Cult of Roman Emperor worship OR it was a reference to the large altar dedicated to Zeus that stood atop the citadel overlooking the city of Pergamum.
Jesus commends the Church of Pergamum for staying faithful to Him. Even amid great persecution, including Antipas, the Church remained faithful. We know very little about Antipas except what is written in this letter and a couple of other references His name is mentioned in an inscription of Pergamum and early Church father Tertullian mentions him as well.
Verse 14: "But this I have a few complaints against you…" The Church still tolerated the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. The two are probably closely related if not the same.
□ The teachings of Balaam: A Quick overview– (Read Numbers 22 – 24 for the full story).
Verse 16: "Repent of your sin" – It is time for the Church and its leadership to repent of their sins. There is no indication that the whole Church practiced the works of Balaam and the Nicolaitans BUT Jesus declares the whole Church guilty of the sin because they have not acted against it. They were turning a blind eye to sin and figured they would be guiltless because they weren't involved in the sin, yet they were guilty by association. Indifference to sin is a sin.
Verse 17: The promise of receiving "manna hidden" and "a white stone with a new name written on it." "The Pergamos overcomers are promised that they will commune with Him at His feast in the kingdom, since they refuse to commune with demons at the idolatrous meals." It is suggested the white stone is an invitation or pass if to the Messianic feast. There is an ancient when an individual on trial would be given by the jurors either a black stone indicating guilt, or a white stone indicating acquittal. The white stone with a new name could represent the Christians acquittal from sin and declaration of innocence.
Thyatira – The Letter
This passage is believed to be the most difficult letter to interpret of all the churches, it is also the longest.
Verse 18: The eyes like flames of fire & feet like polished bronze point to impending judgment. Jesus' eyes pierce through our exterior and sees the heart of the individuals in the Church.
Eyes are like flames of fire penetrate and burn to the heart and Jesus judges our hearts and actions. Jesus spoke about sin not just being an outward physical act of rebellion it is a matter of the heart. Christ's penetrating eyes see the true nature of who we are, and he judges our hearts and our actions.
Feet like polished bronze represents strength and stability. Jesus is our fortress and our foundation that cannot be moved. This indicates the strength of Jesus in his judgment which is swift, and He will tread upon the wicked with God's wrath.
Verse 19: "I know all the things you do…" Jesus commends the Thyatiran Church because they practice love, faithfulness, service, and they patiently endure trials. Unlike the Church of Ephesus, they were not lacking in love; their love was great and growing in strength.
Verse 20: Also, unlike the Ephesians, the Church of Thyatira tolerated false teachings and teachers, one was leading people astray thus, causing others to commit spiritual adultery.
Jezebel is believed to a prophetess in this Church who was practicing and teaching dangerous and blasphemous deeds. She encouraged people do immoral practices that were forbidden by Jesus and the Church.
Jezebel was an O.T. Phoenician princess who was the wife of Israelite King, Ahab. She was an influential woman over her husband. She convinced him to turn his heart from the true God of Israel to worship Baal. She practiced pagan idolatry and welcomed and protected pagan priests. She persecuted the prophets of Israel (her nemesis was Elijah) and had 150 them killed one time. Her name means "Baal exalts", "Baal is husband to" or "unchaste". She represents false teachers and those who seduce people sexually.
The person in Thyatira was probably not a woman named Jezebel but was a type or symbol of Jezebel. The name symbolized a woman who was a false prophetess who taught antinomianism (The rejection of the authority of the Mosaic Law on the grounds that it has been superseded by Christian grace and freedom, based partially on Romans 3:8. Some Gnostic sects, such as the Carpocratians, interpreted this freedom as a license to sin because only the spirit, and not the body, mattered. ). According to theologian Stephen Smalley, "In early Christianity women prophesied freely; in contemporary Roman and Oriental cults in Asia Minor women often played the major roles as priestesses." It was not uncommon for such a person to rise in the Church. This prophetess taught that idolatry was ok, sexual immorality was permissible and she openly engaged in these activities with some of the members of this Church. It was probably taught that since individuals were saved by grace that Jesus was ok with his people following the ways of the world because the moral Law of Moses was no longer valid resulting in people engaging in sexual immorality. She was falsely teaching that these acts were acts that led to deeper insights and practicing the deeper things of God.
Verse 21 - 23: Jesus gave this woman time to repent of her evil ways but now her time was up. Her refusal to repent led to major consequences.
Conclusion – Three takeaways.
 Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: A parallel commentary (Re 2:12–17). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Re 2:12–17). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Kurian, G. T. (2001). Nelson’s new Christian dictionary: The authoritative resource on the Christian world. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Smalley, Stephen S. (2005). The Revelation To John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. P. 73
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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