The Revelation to John:
The Symphony of the Lamb

1:1 - 1:3

Editorial Preface

This preface was added to introduce the book and to affirm its importance. This is not merely another apocalypse, but the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him. Unlike the typical apocalypses, which often purported to be secret or hidden books from long ago, this revelation is meant to be made known. This book is prophecy — that is, the word from God — and therefore a blessing is given to those who spread its mesage, both speakers and hearers.

(John's report or witness, like the testimony of Jesus, is a martyrion. This play on martyr and witness, on martyrdom and testimony, is used throughout Revelation. It cannot be reproduced adequately in English; the reader must take the responsibility to remember martyrs whenever witness is used and to think of giving testimony whenever martyr is used.)

1:4 - 3

Letters to the Churches

1:4 - 1:8


The entire book of Revelation is given the form of a letter. It is addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor. John uses the salutation to introduce the main characters: the eternal, unique, and all-powerful God and the faithful martyr Jesus.

1:9 - 1:20

Introductory vision

John now introduces himself. John's claim to authority is three-fold: (a) He is a brother, a fellow believer; (b) he has given testimony publicly and has paid the price; and (c) he received this message in the Spirit of God.

The images of Christ are adapted from the Old Testament. They serve to emphasize Christ's identity with God. Describing all these images together sets in our minds a picture of Christ's glory which will be evoked over again as the various symbols reappear in the seven messages.

2 - 3

Messages to the seven churches

Although addressed to seven specific churches, tehse messages are really intended for the whole church. The number seven, which reminds us of the seven days of creation, is a symbol of completeness or wholeness. The letters are each written in a general style, allowing any congregation or person to read them and say, We are Sardis, or, I am Laodicea.

Each letter opens with an image of Christ borrowed from the introductory vision, lists the church's successes and failures, and ends with a promise for those who overcome. The pictures and promises in these messages set the stage for the cosmic drama which is to be unfolded for us in the rest of the book.

2;1 - 2:7 To Ephesus: Jesus, who is present with you,
appreciates your endurance,
desires your love,
and promises life.
2:8 - 2:11 To Smyrna: Jesus, who has overcome death,
knows that you suffer,
warns of troubles to come,
and promises immunity from final death.
2:12 - 2:17 To Pergamum: Jesus, whose word defeats all opposition,
appreciates your loyalty,
desires full loyalty from all,
and promises spiritual nourishment.
2:18 - 2:28 To Thyatira: Jesus, who burns with zeal,
knows your love and work,
will no longer tolerate divided allegiance,
and promises power.
3:1 - 3:6 To Sardis: Jesus, who has the wisdom of God,
sees that you are dead inside,
wants you to take up life,
and promises acceptence into his kingdom.
3:7 - 3:13 To Philadelphia: Jesus, who has power to open and close,
opens an opportunity for the faithful,
asks you to hold on to what you already have,
and promises to build the future on you.
3:14 - 3:22 To Laodicea: Jesus, the Truth, the source of what is,
knows that you will not take a stand,
wants you to purchase true riches,
and promises a seat of honor.
4 - 11

The Scroll of Judgement


The heavenly court

John describes the Creator sitting in heaven and the worship which is given to God there. God is described in terms of light — gemstones and rainbows — rather than any human images. As the scene unfolds, our attention is drawn from the throne itself to the heavenly court, and then to the four creatures who seem to see the four corners of the world, and finally to the whole of the universe which God has made.


Delegating power to the lamb

The scroll passes from God to Christ. At once the heavenly court turns its worship to the lamb. A new song is sung; first by the elders, then by the angels, and then also by every living being in the universe.

The lamb (or lion, in the fluid imagery of Revelation) has seven horns and seven eyes, representing the whole power and knowledge of God, and he stands in the center of God's own throne. Thus Jesus is presented as the equal of God.

6 - 8:5

Breaking the seven seals

Breaking each of the first four seals releases one of the famous horsemen of the apocalypse: conquest, war, famine, and pestilence. Together these represent the suffering the we humans impose on each other. (6:1-8)

When the fifth seal is broken, the souls of the martyrs pray for the judgement to be rendered. Nevertheless, judgement is delayed in accordance with the original plan. (6:9-11)

At the breaking of the sixth seal, the natural world is shaken and fear falls on all the people. We have now passed beyond merely natural disasters; the good order of nature is disturbed. (6:12-17)

Before the breaking of the final seal, the course of judgement is interrupted so that God's own people can be marked. Their number is 12 times 12 times 1000. Since twelve is a symbol of wholeness or holiness (corresponding to both the twelve tribes of Israel and to the twelve months of the year), we may interpret this count as being the full number, and the whole people, and a great many. Lest this image of completeness be interpreted too narrowly, a great multitude from all nations is seen worshiping and serving the shepherd-lamb. Together, these two scenes are a hopeful portrayal of the inclusiveness of salvation. (7)

The final unsealing of the scroll inspires such awe that all heaven pauses in silence for half an hour. The trumpets foretell the great events which are to follow. The prayers of God's people are not only heard, they are amplified; in response to these prayers, fire from the altar is thrown down on the earth as a token of the judgement which has begun. (8:1-5)

8:6 - 11

The trumpet plagues

8:6 - 8:13
The first four trumpets

Now that the seals have been broken, God's judgement comes to the earth. Heavenly fire destroys one third of plant life, one third of the marine life, and one third of the waters suitable for drinking. Then one third of life-giving light is darkened. Yet the eagle's voice warns us that more horrible disasters are yet to come.

9:1 - 9:12
The fifth trumpet

The first plagues were against the natural world, but the warrior locusts are sent as a torture for human beings. They are like, or perhaps they actually are, an invading army.

9:13 - 9:21
The sixth trumpet

Another invasion is now released against humankind. Bearing arms of red, blue, and yellow (for fire, smoke, and sulphur), these invaders both torture and kill. Now is the time for one third of the people to die. Even so, the remaining people continue to go whoring after false gods: the literal idol of the emperor cult, or the metaphorical idols of lust and greed.

10 - 11:14
The little scroll and the two witnesses

Before the seventh trumpet sounds, an angel brings down the notice of God's judgement to the whole earth: land, sea, and air. The prophecy of doom is sweet in the mouth, as it is pronounced, but its reality turns the stomach. Truly, as Amos said, the day of the Lord is darkness and not light.

At this time there are still people on earth who worship God. God's two witnesses are sent to proclaim God's word. Who these two are is not specified, but their powerful words (like fire out of their mouths) and the signs they perform remind us of Moses and Elijah.

11:15 - 11:19
The seventh trumpet

At the seventh trumpet, God's full power breaks through. No longer is earth in pain and torment, but instead we are returned to the songs of praise in heaven. God's presence is no longer hidden, but now it is clearly seen.

12 - 16

Mythic Visions

In this portion of Revelation, a series of rather fantastic characters are used to explain the experience of evil and persecution in the world. These visions are similar to the myths that every civilization has developed to explain the world. But myths usually explain the world in terms of its origins (a point of view which can be seen in Genesis). Revelation consistently looks forward and explains the world in terms of God's final triumph.


The woman and the dragon

This Cosmic Mother personifies the highest and purest of the created universe. In the natural course of events, the good creation gives birth to salvation. But the dragon, the slanderer, is able to disrupt this good order. The dragon pursues the woman in heaven but is driven out by the angels. By this battle, salvation is begun, but also the struggle between good and evil is moved from heaven to the earth.

On earth, the woman becomes the personification of the Church which is the representative of God's good order on earth. The dragon continues the pursuit, but now is thwarted by earth. The dragon therefore turns for help to the sea.

The time of the woman's hiding, which is the same as the time of the two witnesses and of the beast (below), is taken from the book of Daniel. It is variously written and three and a half years, 42 months, or 1260 days (all considered to be equivalent), but it may best be understood in the mystical formulation in 12:14, "a time, and [two] times, and half a time."


The anti-trinity

The dragon challenged the good of God's creation. Now a beast rises from the sea which mocks the lamb. This beast has its own horn (that is, its power) and fatal wound. The beast is invested with the place and glory of the dragon, just as the lamb received the glory of God. Then another beast rises out of the earth with the power of the first beast. This beast does amazing things which inspire loyalty and it causes prophecy to be spoken, making itself like the Spirit. But the beast's prophecy is false and it promotes worship of the first beast by force and by the regulation of commerce rather than through truth.


Worshippers of God and of the beast

Those who have remained pure sing God's praise. Despite their number, these are only the first of the harvest. The three angels draw our attention to the contrast between these worshippers of God and those who worship the beast. All are subject to the harvest, the judgement of God. God's own are gathered in by the one who is like a human being (that is, by Christ himself), but the others are gathered to be trampled in the winepress of God's anger.

15 - 16

The seven last plagues

Seven angels are given the last plagues. They are commissioned to carry God's anger to the earth. These plagues are like the plagues against Egypt at the time of the Exodus or like the plagues listed earlier in Revelation, but now they are applied with finality. Only a third of the sea creatures died in the previous plague of the second trumpet; now all sea life ends. Only the Nile was turned to blood at the time of Moses; now every river and spring flows with blood.

These plagues include an element of poetic justice: Those who were marked by the beast are now marked with boils. Those who spilled blood are given blood to drink. Those who were blinded by the dragon's lies are plagued with darkness. The great city which lorded over God's people by force is beaten into ruin by God's hail.

17 - 20

The Triumph


The harlot city

This the most historical chapter in Revelation. The whore is unmistakably identified with Rome and the imperial government. To persecuted Christians at the end of the first century, the forced worship of the Roman emperors was the visible face of evil and so imperial Rome was a fitting personification of evil itself.


Babylon's destruction

The arrogant lust for power, for glory, for luxury has ended in destruction. Babylon, convinced that she is immune from suffering, will end up suffering. The powerful leaders of the earth, the businessmen who accepted evil in order to get rich, and shipmen who made their living by pandering to gluttonous luxury — these will mourn he loss of their protectors and their market. But heaven rejoices, and so do all of God's people who are freed from persecution.


The feasting

The crowd of people in heaven praises God for this triumph. The celebration quickly turns into the marriage feast honoring the joining of Christ with the Church.

God's champion now appears, though not as a bridegoom but as a conqueror. This is the same Christ we saw in the first vision of heaven. Now his clothes are spattered with the blood of battle and he rides at the head of a victorious army. The battle provides another feast, this one for the crows and the vultures.


Judgement rendered

Victory over Satan gives the martyrs a reward of power and blessedness for a long time. yet when all people are raised to life, the devil also must be released again. When final triumph is achieved, all people must answer to God for their deeds.

21 - 22:5
21:1 - 21:8

The New Creation

The final victory won, the old and war-torn universe is erased. In its place is a new creation and a new order of life.

21:9 - 21:27

The new Jerusalem

This new order is represented by a city, the new Jerusalem. This city seems to be made of light, its jewelled appearence like that of God as we first saw God enthroned in heaven. The city is made of gold as clear as glass; both gold and transparency are signs of its purity. There is no temple because God fills the city. The cubic shape suggests that the whole city is the replacement for the Holy of Holies in the old temples.

The gates of this city never close and the peoples of the word are guided by city's light. That there are kings and peoples in the world helps to put perspective on the previous visions. The new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, is the Church in its perfection. Even now it already exists; the Eternal One does this now, saying, It is done.

21:9 - 22:5

The river of life

Life from God flows through the city. Life bears fruit continuously, in all twelve months, and is freely available to all. Not only those within the city benefit, but all the peoples of the earth are to be healed.

22:6 - 22:21


22:6 - 22:17

Promises and certification

The promise of Jesus' coming is the theme of the entire book. This promise is sealed with the words of the angel, of John as the witness, of Jesus himself. We who hear the words of promise are asked to join the Spirit and the Church in affirming Jesus' coming: Come, Lord Jesus.

22:18 - 22:21


This book is not to be perverted or turned to private purposes; it is God's own word. John himself ends with the affirmation to which he has invited us, then closes his letter with a blessing for us all.

January, 1989
September, 1998
August 2002
(minor corrections January 2016)


Pivot Rock Ensign