Unless you know Greek, you may not realize the Bible’s final book could also be titled “Apocalypse.” Far from conjuring up warm, fuzzy feelings, the word is equated with the doom and gloom of ultimate judgment. But that’s not the full picture. In exile, the apostle John comes face-to-face with the glorified Jesus and discovers apocalypse is more revelation than destruction.
To get the most out of this study, read Revelation 1. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this chapter. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passage: Revelation 1:10-19
During the time of the early church, Roman authorities banished those they considered troublemakers—including the apostle John and other Christians. On islands like Patmos, such prisoners faced a life of exile or hard labor.
Remember that John was known as the disciple Jesus loved and he, along with Peter and James, enjoyed a special intimacy with the Savior during His earthly ministry.
With that in mind, imagine how the beloved apostle must have felt seeing his Lord once again after so many years of hardship. Can you recall experiencing a similar emotionally charged moment with a long-lost loved one? What words would you use to describe what that was like?
Patmos, where John had been exiled for his faith, was a desolate, rocky little island not particularly conducive to life. Yet this inhospitable environment was where John had a remarkable vision that elucidated the divine plan through eternity. Imagine how being entrusted with such a revelation would affect the disciple’s ability to face his remaining years of exile. In what way does this give new meaning to Jesus’ words in the parable of the sower: “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15)? How does this challenge any presumptions about external conditions influencing the state of your internal world?
Look back at the way John identifies himself in Revelation 1:9, and list three things believers can expect to find in Jesus. Have you experienced the tribulation that comes with following the Lord? What about the perseverance to endure it?
Imagine how the beloved apostle must have felt seeing his Lord once again after so many years of hardship.
Continuing the Story
Turning to face the booming voice behind him, John beholds an unforgettable scene.
Reread Revelation 1:13-16. Which description of Jesus’ appearance is most striking to you? Why do you think that is? What emotions does it stir up?
Consider how several of the descriptors in this section rely on images that have an element of danger—fire, sharp sword, etc. What do you think God is conveying to us with such imagery? How does this relate to Jesus later being called the Lion and the Lamb (Revelation 5:5-6)?
Put yourself in John’s shoes: He spent years witnessing Jesus’ humanity up close and personal—in other words, he’s used to a warm familiarity with the Savior. But here, the divinity of Jesus is on display as never before. How does this particular passage inspire reverence for the glory and holiness of God’s Son?
Now, think about the way you approach Jesus. How do you keep reverence and intimacy in balance? Jesus doesn’t want fans; He wants friends. Nonetheless, He is also God, and we must revere Him as such.
Seeing Jesus in all His glory must be a profound experience for John—so much so that it’s nearly heart-stopping.
Jesus doesn’t want fans; He wants friends. Nonetheless, He is also God, and we must revere Him as such.
Look at Revelation 1:17, paying particular attention to the phrase “like a dead man.” What kind of posture does that suggest—simply slumped or fully prostrate? With this in mind, consider that the Lord responds by placing a hand on John. How would Jesus, who is standing, put His hand on John? What does that tell you about His humility?
Keep in mind that John’s human frailty (v. 17) interrupts Jesus’ dramatic commissioning of him to write down all he sees (Revelation 1:11; Revelation 1:19). Yet instead of reprimanding the disciple, Jesus gets down on John’s level to reassure him. How does this small interaction illustrate Hebrews 4:15—“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses”? In what way does it impact your understanding of how Jesus relates to us?
Encountering Jesus—whether face-to-face like John or in a more veiled way—is an awe-inspiring, life-altering experience. But even when our humanity intrudes on the moment, we can count on Jesus responding with the same tender touch that He used with the beloved disciple.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
The passage of time is one of the few universal givens that define human experience. We all move from past, to present, to future in the same linear fashion. It’s so intuitive that just about no one questions it. Except Albert Einstein.
God’s presence not only permeates but also bookends all time.
The famous physicist once said, “The distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent.” To anyone but a quantum mechanics expert, the phrase seems like utter nonsense. But is it? Though this new paradigm of time may not make sense from our limited perspective, how about from God’s? What could this strange framework teach us about His divine redemption?
Reread Revelation 1:1-20, counting references to timelessness. Whom do they describe?
In Revelation 1:8, pay particular attention to the way God identifies Himself. How does the phrase “who is and who was and who is to come” align with Einstein’s comment about the distinction between past, present, and future?
“Alpha and Omega” refers to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet—how does knowing that God’s presence not only permeates but also bookends all time affect your trust in Him to work all things together for your good (Rom. 8:28)?
Notice how Jesus comforts John (Revelation 1:17). What is the connection between fear and awareness of God’s eternal nature? Do you ever feel anxious about the way life will play out? How would your emotional state be affected by meditating on the fact that Jesus is the first and last—meaning nothing exists outside of Him?
Though we may not be able to grasp it, the reality is that God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11 NIV). And we likely won’t see every loose end or injustice tied up in our lifetime, but the truth remains: He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Illustration by Adam Cruft