Revelation 1 – How To Interpret Revelation

Revelation 1


Welcome back to the BRC Podcast, my name is Aaron Ventura and today we begin a new series through the book of Revelation. And the goal of these episodes is to provide you with a chapter by chapter companion as you read through this book. There are 22 chapters in Revelation and I am going to limit myself to 22 episodes, which means I have to be very selective about what goes into each episode. So let me explain up front how I am going to make that decision.

What I have done is gone through the book and I wrote down all the questions I have or think other people will have as they read. And then I put all those questions into an enormous spreadsheet. So on the left I have a column of questions, and then to the right of each question is a row of answers/interpretations from some of the people I consider to be the best interpreters of this book. After seeing what these commentators have to say and looking at the text myself, I then formulate my own position and response to the question. And then for each episode covering each chapter of the book, I walk through as much of the material as I think can be covered in under 30 minutes. So that is the method to my madness.

Now who are my go-to guys when it comes to interpreting Revelation? There are basically two men that I believe have done the best work on the book of Revelation and they are: James Jordan and Phillip Kayser. James Jordan has 204 lectures (143 hours) of material that I have listened to going through Revelation in Detail. And Phillip Kayser has 118 sermons on Revelation along with an excellent website that has additional resources on it. I would encourage you all to check it out at James Jordan’s lectures can be purchased at

So Kayser and Jordan are the first two guys I check with because they have done a lot of the work for me already of sorting through the hundreds of commentaries that exist on revelation and separating the gold from the dross. So they help streamline my research. Once I see what they have to say, I then crosscheck with some of my written commentaries on Revelation. And I’ll just read to you my bibliography so you know who I am talking about if I mention their view in a future episode.


  • Ancient Christian Commentary on Revelation (this includes some of the earliest commentaries on Revelation covering roughly the first 500 years of church history)
  • Nicholas of Lyra’s Apocalypse Commentary (he was a medieval theologian, Franciscan Teacher)
  • Austin Farrer (Anglican, died in 1968) – A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. John’s Apocalypse
  • David Chilton (Reconstructionist, died in 1997) – The Days of Vengeance
  • RJ Rushdoony (Reconstructionist, died in 2001) – The Kingdom Come
  • G.K. Beale (Professor at RTS in Dallas, ordained in OPC, alive 72) – Revelation Commentary (NIGTC)
  • Douglas Wilson (My pastor, alive 68)– When The Man Comes Around (Canon Press)
  • Peter Leithart (Pastor, alive 62) – Revelation Commentary (T&T Clark International Commentary Series)
  • Kenneth Gentry (If it comes out soon!)

So those are all written commentaries you can check out, and I will make use of them on occasion. Alright, with that out of the way, let us dive into chapter 1.

Revelation 1:1-11 makes up what we might call the Prologue.

  • This is basically God’s divinely inspired introduction to the book. And in these 11 verses there all kinds of clues and instructions as to how we should interpret the book, and if you understand these 11 verses, it rules out a lot of the commonly held but incorrect views you will find on the book of Revelation.
  • Kayser actually has 14 sermons on just these 11 verses where he lays out 33 interpretive principles for how to approach this book. James Jordan likewise has 10 lectures introducing the book and these first 11 verses. And I want to read a quote from James Jordan that I think summarizes the kind of work we need to do in order to interpret Revelation correctly:

The book of Revelation assumes that we are thoroughly familiar with the Tabernacle of Exodus 25-40. It assumes we are thoroughly familiar with all the sacrifices of Leviticus, and especially the calendar of sacrifices and the order of sacrifices. It assumes we are thoroughly at home in the design of the Israelite encampment in Numbers. It assumes we are thoroughly familiar with how the Temple transformed the Tabernacle, and how David transformed the Levites and priests in 1 Chronicles. It assumes we are radically at home in the Restoration Temple described by Ezekiel in the last nine chapters of that book, and that we know the symbolism of Daniel and Zechariah by heart. And all that is just for starters.

The vast amount of information just described is concerned with two things: orientation in space and time. The ritual order of sacrifice, the sequence of sacrifices in more elaborate offerings, and the calendar of sacrifices through the year, all orient the Old Creation participant in time. The Tabernacle, Temple, and Restoration Temple, together with the camp of Israel around the first of these, all orient the participant in space. These orientations are consistent, congruent, overlapping, analogous to one another, both spatially and temporally. The movement of the sacrifice from Altar to Ark-throne is also the movement from priesthood to kingship, from Moses (Aaron) to David. It is a movement from east to west.

The book of Revelation also assumes we are thoroughly familiar with the heptamerous pattern of God’s activity revealed in Genesis 1, and applied repeatedly throughout Old Creation history. It assumes we have a good idea of what range of concepts “fits” with each slot in this pattern. It assumes we know that seven is four plus three, and that twelve is four times three. It assumes that we shall bring this understanding with us when we read that the fourth Trumpet and the fourth Bowl bring judgments against the sun (made on the fourth Day), and that the Seals are arranged as Four Horses plus three, and that the Trumpets are arranged as Four Trumpets plus three Woes (opposite of the three Blessings on the last three Days of Genesis 1). The book of Revelation assumes all of this, and much, much more.

(Orientation In The Book of Revelation, James Jordan)
  • So that’s a lot of information that most people are totally unfamiliar with, which is part of why we are doing the BRC and these podcasts, because Revelation is the culmination of the entire Bible and especially the symbolism that begins in Genesis, which is transformed and built upon in the Exodus, develops further under the monarchy, develops again in the Prophets, and comes to fruition in the New Testament. So Revelation is like the capstone course of biblical studies, because just about every single thing in this book is a call-back to something earlier in the Bible. Even the literary structure of the book has significance and has various sevenfold and chiastic patterns.
  • But the cool thing is is that if you take the time to work through Revelation, it will make the Old Testament click into place and make a lot more sense to you. So let me read the first 4 verses of Revelation and then pull out a few of the principles for interpretation that come from it.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.

  1. This book is revelation not a concealment. It is an unveiling not a veiling. And what it unveils is Jesus Christ and his work in history. So we should expect to see Jesus a lot in this book. That’s principle 1.
  2. This revelation was given by God to show His servants things that must take place “shortly/quickly/swiftly.” How shortly or how soon? Very soon. There is simply no way to take these words very soon to mean thousands of years in the future. So everything in this book is going to be fulfilled or begin to take place in the 1st century. And this gets explained more in verse 19 when Jesus says to John, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”
    1. So Revelation is about events soon to take place, but some things have already happened, some are currently in progress, and some are still to come after those things in progress.
    1. As we will see in future episodes, some of the things which John sees are the birth of Christ, his ascension to heaven, the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the persecution you see in the book of Acts. So what John is going to be shown in Heaven, we have already seen the earthly manifestation of in Acts and the epistles. Not everything, but some of it.
  3. This book is written in another language. And I don’t mean just mean Greek, I mean the language of biblical symbolism. It says at the end of Revelation 1:1, “And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.” And that word signified tells us that this book is not written like Romans or Luke. It’s being signed or symbolized to us and that language is biblical symbolism.

Now this is where a lot of people get mixed because they don’t understand how biblical symbolism works. Biblical symbols are living images that grow and develop through the biblical timeline. And to cite James Jordan again, “The reason the language Symbol exists is to say things that cannot readily be said in discourse languages. A symbol can indicate several things at once, if it exists in several symbol packages. For instance, the Tabernacle and Temple simultaneously symbolize (a) the cosmos, (b) the house of God, (c) the social community, (d) the individual human being, and (e) the Messiah as perfect Man.
Similarly, the altar is simultaneously (a) a miniature holy mountain, (b) God’s people as a whole, (c) the human person, and (d) Jesus. In the same way, Symbolic narratives exist at more than one level. Think of Revelation as a polyphonic musical composition, in which several melodies are moving simultaneously but with perfect harmony and interaction.”

So reading Scripture, and Revelation especially, is less like deciphering a code or solving a mathematical equation, and more like listening to a piece of music and identifying the various harmonies and melodies of the piece. And interpreters tend to go wrong when they make a single harmony into the dominant melody of the song. This means we have to retrain our ears and eyes to the symbolic patterns of Scripture and how they develop. One place to start would be with the seven days of creation. And if you read Revelation listening for the seven days of creation and how that is expanded in the Hebrew Festival calendar you’ll notice it actually follows that sevenfold structure. Another would be the architecture of the temple. Hebrews says the earthly temple is a copy of the heavenly reality, well Revelation gives us the heavenly reality.

I highly recommend going online to Google or YouTube and looking at few different examples the tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, Ezekiel’s Temple, and Herod’s Temple. And then see if you can close your eyes and walk through each of them in your mind. There’s an outer courtyard where the Gentiles can come, then an inner courtyard where the animals are sacrificed on the altar and there is a laver of cleansing. Then if you were a priest you could pass through the twin pillars of Jachin and Boaz into the holy place. Within that holy place you would find the golden lampstands like stars for light and the table of showbread. And then just in front of the Veil that separated you from the most holy place, was the altar of incense. And then if you were the high priest who was allowed to go into the most holy place on the day of atonement, you would see the ark of the covenant (with the book of the covenant inside), and two cherubim above it. And that was God’s chariot throne.

Now if you have this temple in your mind as you read Revelation, suddenly you’ll notice that just about every chapter has some reference point to what happens in the temple: altars and angels, lampstands, bowls, trumpets, the scroll of the covenant, etc.

Now those are just a couple examples of the symbolic patterns and images that you want to become familiar with for Revelation to make sense. And it really is like learning another language, but the cool thing is that this is the language of reality. God wants to train us to read narrative and symbolism so that we can read reality and history. This is part of our maturation as images of God. We ourselves are images/symbols that signify what God is like. So we must commit ourselves to this lifelong journey of becoming a better reader of this language of symbol.

  • The fourth principle for interpreting this book is something that applies to reading Scripture in general and that is that Scripture interprets Scripture and therefore all extra-biblical sources like the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, Tacitus, etc. must be subservient to Scripture. So Josephus has very helpful details about this time period that can confirm and give extra information about what is happening in Revelation, but we must not turn these fallible men into our infallible guides for finding a 1st century fulfillment.
    • So I will probably quote Josephus, Tacitus, and some of other ancient historians in future episodes to support my interpretation, but we have to be careful not to become over-dependent on them because they are not inspired. They can only provide helpful evidence to confirm what Revelation says, and if there is a disagreement between when or what Revelation says and what the historians say, we should check our work to make sure we read correctly, but I’m always going to go with what the Bible says above what fallible men say.
    • And if you want my prooftext for this principle, I would point you to the first episode of our summer season, “How to Read Scripture according to Scripture.”

So those are 4 principles for reading Revelation that I follow and that I believe Scripture itself gives us.

Now let’s get into some of the other questions you might have about chapter 1.

Q 1. Who are these seven churches in Asia? What do they signify?

  • These are seven literal-historical churches in real geographic locations that John will send letters to, as we’ll see in chapters 2-3. But there are seven of them in order to signify the fullness or totality of the church. So they are both literal in the 1st century, and symbolic of the church as a whole.
    • James Jordan also points out that what is said about each church in chapters 2-3 connects with seven periods of Old Creation history.
      • 2:7 “the tree of life” connects to (Eden)
      • 2:10 “being thrown into prison” connects to (Joseph)
      • 2:14 the mention of “Balaam” connects to {Wilderness)
      • 2:20 the threat of “Jezebel” connects to (Kingdom)
      • 3:2 “things that are ready to die” connects to (Judgment & Exile)
      • 3:7 the quote about “the key of David” comes from the Isaiah 22 and connects to the (Restoration)
      • 3:16 “lukewarmness” connects to the (Apostasy in Jesus’ Day)
    • Victorinus (bishop martyred in 304 AD) makes an interesting comment that Paul upheld this principle of seven churches in that we he wrote canonically to only 7 churches: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Thessalonica, Philippi, and Colossae. The rest were personal letters “so as not to exceed this number of seven churches.” Make of that what you will.
    • The next seven we encounter is in verse 5, where grace and peace come from “the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”

Q2. What are these seven spirits?

  • This is symbolic of the Holy Spirit and hearkens back to Isaiah 11:1-2 and Zechariah 4. I would especially suggest reading Zechariah 4 because you have the same images of lampstands, bowls, olive trees, etc. and Revelation is picking up on this symbolism.
  • So I take the seven Spirits to signify the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
  • Then in verse 7, it says, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.”

Q3. What is the coming with clouds that is mentioned hear?

  • This refers to Christ’s ascension to heaven and the judgment that comes after it. The language here comes from Daniel 7, Nahum 1, and many other places where God comes in the clouds to execute judgment.
  • So this is not talking about the “second coming” to the earth at the end of history, but his coming up to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father and then his judgments that would take place in the time leading up to AD 70. This is the fulfillment of what Jesus says to the high-priest in Matthew 26:64 right before he is crucified, “You shall see the son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
  • The ascension to heaven in AD 30 inaugurates this heavenly reign of this Son of Man, and it’s revealed in the judgments that take place and by the visible signs in heaven that took place in the wars leading up to AD 70. And when we get to future chapters, I’ll read you some of the quotes from external sources that describe these signs in thy sky of a man’s face, and fiery chariots, and so forth.
  • The last question we’ll answer from Revelation1 is, who are these seven stars in the right hand of this One Like the Son of Man?

Q4. Who are the seven stars, and what do they signify?

  • The image here is this Son of Man figure (who most commentators take to be Jesus), standing in the midst of the seven lampstands. And we are told in verse 20, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.”
  • So get that in your head. Stars = Angels, and Lampstands = Churches.
  • Now the Greek word for angel is ἄγγελος, and it simply means messenger. And it’s used to refer to both human messengers and heavenly messengers.
    • Now when we hear the word angel, we usually think heavenly spiritual being with wings. But let me read an example where angels are clearly humans. This is Luke 9:51-52, “Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, 52 and sent messengers (αγγελους) before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him.” So these are human beings, possibly his own disciples, who are sent on ahead of him and they are called angels.
    • And this is true in the Old Testament as well. The Hebrew word מַלְאָךְ refers to both heavenly messengers (what we think of as angels) and human messengers. And most bible translations simply do this interpretive work for you. They look at the context and if it’s a heavenly being, they typically translate it as angel, and if it’s a earthly human, they translate it as messenger. But it’s the same Greek or Hebrew word beneath it. And this is a lot like the interpretive decision we had to make in an earlier episode on Psalm 82 and John 10 on the Elohim. Are they angels or humans.
  • So which is it here? Are these seven stars in Jesus right hand, heavenly angels or human beings. And I agree with the majority of commentators that I consulted, Jordan, Leithart, Chilton, my own Pastor Doug Wilson, that these are human beings and they are specifically pastors or bishops over the churches in these 7 regions.
    • And I think the best argument for these seven stars being pastors is that John is told to write a letter to each of them. Revelation 2:1 begins with, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write…” and it would be weird for God to tell John to write a letter that is supposed to go back up to heaven.
    • Moreover, the content of each letter has sections that are directed specifically to this angel, and the things that are described are things that pastors are responsible for doing, not heavenly angelic beings. For example, Rev. 2:2 says, “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.”
    • And Revelation 1-3 are chapters where reading it in the KJV is actually really helpful. And that is because in all modern translations, the personal pronoun “you” can refer to a single person or a group of people. In the south they have “ya’ll” but in modern translations, the word “you” doesn’t tell you if the Greek word beneath it is singular or plural.
    • So in the KJV, if it says thy or thou, that is singular. It’s directed at one person, namely the angel or pastor of the church. And then when it shifts to “ye” it is not talking to a group of people, the Greek pronoun is plural. For example when John writes to the angel/pastor of the church in Smyrna, he begins by saying, “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty” (singular), and then shifts to the plural later on saying, “behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days.”
    • So I take these seven stars, seven angels to refer to the pastor or bishop of each church. But just as the seven churches are both literal and symbolic, so also are these seven stars.
    • In Genesis 1, stars are given as lights in the firmament for signs and season, for days and year and to give light to the earth. The lights in heaven literally rule the day and rule the night. So stars are associated with authority, government, and rule. And that’s just from Genesis 1. We could keep tracing this throughout Scripture. In Jude, false teachers are called “wandering stars.”
    • So not only are these seven stars, seven pastors who will receive this letter from John, they are also symbolic of the church’s government, together we might call the seven stars the presbytery of the universal church. Which as we will see in the next two chapters, Jesus is telling them they need to exercise church discipline and kick some people out!