Cecil N. Wright

1. Revelation (v.1).

The Geek word is apokalupsis, from apo, from, and kalupto, to cover, cover up, or hide; hence, removal of the cover from, or uncovering, and therefore the revealing or revelation of something. In this case, it is a revelation that God gave to Christ for earthly recipients (v.11).

The verb form, apokalupto, always translated "reveal," occurs a total of 26 times in the New Testament. The noun form, apokalupsis, anglicized as apocalypse, occurs 18 times, variously translated, as "revelation" (Romans 2:5; 16:25; 1 Corinthians 14:6,26; 2 Corinthians 12:1,7; Galatians 1:12; 2:2; Ephesians 1:7; 3:3; l Peter 1:13; Revelation 1:1); "be revealed" (2 Thessalonians 1:7; l Peter 4:13); "to lighten" (Luke 2:32); "manifestation" (Romans 8:19); "coming" (1 Corinthians 1:7); and "appearing" (1 Peter 1:7).

The words apokalupto and apokalupsis are therefore common in the New Testament vocabulary, without any specialized meaning unless possibly in Revelation 1:1. But between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200 a type of literature styled apocalyptic became fairly common. It was modeled more or less after the highly figurative and symbolical writings of Ezekiel and Daniel, and elements of Isaiah, Joel, and Zechariah, and occurring mostly in times of severe trial and apprehension, to comfort and encourage with assurances that God is in control and will give ultimate victory to their/his cause.


The Book of Revelation is the only inspired apocalypse of that period. Its exact date is disputed. The majority of scholars place it some time in the latter part of the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, or between 90 and 96 A.D., but a minority have argued for the latter part of the reign of Nero, and not later than A.D. 68. This is done principally to be able to interpret a major portion of it as a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state. But if the later date is correct, obviously such an interpretation is inadmissible.

Not only various internal considerations, but early external testimony favors the later date.

According to Eusebius (A.D. 263-339), the father of church history, the tradition handed down was that during the persecution under Domitian the apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos but permitted to return to Ephesus under the reign of his successor, Nerva. He quotes Clement of Alexandria (who died A.D. 215) as speaking of John as, "after the tyrant was dead, coming from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus." He also quotes Irenaeus (A.D. 125-202) as speaking of John, "who saw the revelation, for it is not long since it was seen, but almost in our own generation, at the close of Domitian’s reign." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapters 17-18,20,23). This testimony of early antiquity would seem to be decisive, and gainsaid not for objective but for subjective reasons.

2. Shortly (v.1).

The Greek word is tachos, which also occurs in 22:6 and is there likewise translated "shortly". Elsewhere it is translated "quickly" (Acts 12:7; 22:18) and "speedily" (Luke 18:8). Obviously the word is a relative term and subject to a great deal of latitude, depending on the perspective of the speaker or writer.

In Revelation 22:6, "shortly" seems to cover the accomplishment of all the predictions of the book up to that point, which includes more than a thousand year segment of time after Chapter 19 and carries the readers to the consummation – to the end of all things of this earth and transition into eternity.

Also, in Luke 18:7-8, the text reads: "And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry unto him day and night, and yet he is longsuffering over them (or, as the margin renders it, slow to punish on their behalf)? I say unto you, that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" The implication is that the avenging will be when the Son of man comes, presumably at the end of time on earth. Yet the word tachos, which in Revelation 1:1 and 22:6 is translated ‘shortly," is used also in this text and translated "speedily".

Again, in 2 Peter 3:8-9, we are admonished: "But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to youward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." These words were spoken in regard to the coming of "the day of the Lord", when Jesus comes and "the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (verses 10-13). From the Lord’s perspective, is not slack concerning his promises to be fulfilled "shortly" (tachos) – even if it seems so to men.

On the other hand, however, even from human perspective, the chain of events depicted in Revelation did begin "shortly", regardless of how long the consummation may take.

(Note: A related Greek work, tachu, occurs in other chapters of Revelation – 2:5 (KJV), 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7,12,20 –each time translated "quickly". It is also employed elsewhere – in Matthew 5:25; 28:7,8; Mark 6:8; and John 11:39, and translated the same way. In Revelation it always refers to the coming of Christ, but not always to a personal coming, though likely in Chapter 22 it does.)

3. Signified (v.1).

This suggests a communication by means of signs and symbols – that it is sign-i-fied. That is predominately what the Book of Revelation is. In 12:1 and 15:1, what John saw is specifically referred to in each instance as a "sign". (The word also occurs in the plural in 13:13, but does not refer to what John saw.) In 12:1 and 13:13, the King James Version has "wonder" and "wonders". Such, however, is an inexact translation, though in many instances signs were wonders. But there are other words more properly translated "wonder".

4. Prophecy (v.3).

The word "prophecy" denotes properly a divinely inspired communication, which the Book of Revelation is. It occurs also in Chapter 22:7, 10, 18, 19. In it are matters to be "kept" or observed – which would be exhortations or commands. Because prophecy oftentimes involved predictions, it has come to be popularly used almost exclusively of such. But that is not its basic meaning in the Bible. However, the Book of Revelation is itself primarily, though not exclusively, a predictive prophecy – namely, of things which "must shortly come to pass".

5. Cometh (v.7).

The Greek word here is erchatai, "futuristic present indicative of erchommai," to come, in the sense of arriving. In this text it is described as a visible coming, and a coming with clouds. It is as though Acts 1:9-11 was in mind, promising that Christ would come again in the same manner that he went away when ascending back to heaven, and a cloud received him out of the sight of his gazing disciples – which would make it a personal and visible return, with or upon a cloud or clouds. That there will be such a return at the end of time, is indicated in l Thessalonians 4:13-18, where the saints are described as being "caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air".

A few have applied the "coming" of Revelation 1:7 to the destruction of Jerusalem, or to the overthrow of Rome – in either case a non-personal coming. That the "coming" of Christ is sometimes referred to in an invisible sense is evident from Ephesians 1:17, where it is stated that Christ "came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh" – that is, to Gentiles and Jews – a preaching done by his disciples, but at this direction. Also, in Matthew 16:28, we have Jesus saying, "verily I say unto you, there are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" – evidently referring to Pentecost after his ascension back to heaven, when he came representatively in the person of the Holy Spirit and in the events of that day. Moreover, in Revelation 2:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 10, 20 it is evident that impersonal comings are intended – some of them stated as being conditional, whereas the personal coming of Christ at the end of the world will be unconditional.

It is not unlikely that all the comings of our Lord on, in, or with clouds, are references to his coming at the end of the world. His disciples asked him when the destruction of the temple would be and "what shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world (Matthew 24:1-3) – thinking that those three events would be simultaneous or nearly so. Then he desabused their minds of the thought that his coming at the end of the world would be associated with the destruction of Jerusalem (vs. 4-14), which would occur before that generation had passed away (vs. 32-34). It would be "after" the tribulation of those days that the Son of man would be seen "coming with the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (vs. 29-30); Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28). He specifically excepted that occasion from "all these things" which were to occur within the lifetime of that generation, when Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed.

That seems to make all references to our Lord’s coming with the clouds to be of his coming at the end of the world, unless that of Revelation 1:7 is an exception – for which there seems no compelling reason to conclude. At the end of the world, there will be the general resurrection and judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) – when surely "every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him" (1:7). It would seem most appropriate to refer to that consummation at the outset, toward which all else to be mentioned would be moving.

6. Alpha and Omega (v.8).

These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and are equivalent to our A and Z. In this text, they are used by God to describe himself as "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" – similar to the description John uses of him in v.4 – to indicate the external nature of his Being.

In 22:13, Jesus likewise says of himself, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end". And in 1:17-18, he testifies: "I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades".

These references remind us of the Gospel of John, 1:1-2, in which Christ is referred to as "the Word", as follows: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God". And v.14 states: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father)". It was "in the flesh" that he was put to death (1 Peter 2:18), but he did not remain dead.

Deity inhabits all eternity. And both the Father and Son are Deity, as is also the Holy Spirit. All three are associated in John’s invocation, in 1:4-5.

7. Kingdom (vs.6,9).

In v.6, it is said that Christ "made us to be a kingdom". And in v.9, John said: "I am your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus". John’s concept of the kingdom was not premillennial. Instead of not to be established till the second coming of Christ, Christ had already made his saints to be a "kingdom" and John and his fellow Christians were in it. This accords with Colossians 1:13. And with the fact that both John the Baptist and Jesus, during his personal ministry, preached that the kingdom was "at hand" (Matthew 3:1; 4:17; etc.) It is ironic, therefore, to use John’s language in Revelation 20:1-6 to teach to the contrary.

This kingdom is referred to variously as the kingdom of heaven, kingdom of God, kingdom of Christ, "the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph. 5:5), and sometimes simply as "the kingdom" as in Luke 12:32.

Though all these are one and the same kingdom, there are two dominions or administrations – that of the Son, during time, and that of the Father, in eternity. The former had its formal beginning on Pentecost following the ascension of Christ. He had said, "There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1). After his own death and resurrection, he requested his apostles to "tarry ye in the city (of Jerusalem), until ye be clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). Likewise, he promised them, "But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you" (Acts 1:8). The kingdom was to come with power, power was to come with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit came on Pentecost, clothing them with supernatural power. So the kingdom was formally established that day, and ceased to be preached as "at hand" – and never was preached as postponed.

On Pentecost day the apostle Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit, testified: "This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we are all witnesses. Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear. For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord <God> said unto my Lord <Jesus Christ, yet to be born>, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet". Then he concluded, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified". (Acts 2:32-36).

At the right hand of God, "angels and authorities and powers (are) being made subject unto him" (1 Peter 3:22). But at his "coming", when he raises the dead, "Then cometh the end, when he shall DELIVER UP the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have ABOLISHED all rule and all authority and power. For he must REIGN, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be abolished is death. . . . And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that GOD may be ALL IN ALL" (1 Corinthians 15:23-28).

So, the administration of the kingdom was Christ’s from Pentecost and will continue till he comes again at the end of the world. But in eternity the administration will be the Father’s. Christ’s administration is temporal, the Father’s will be eternal. When it is said to disciples of Christ that "through many tribulations we must enter into the KINGDOM OF GOD" (Acts 14:22), and when it is said unto the faithful, "for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the EXTERNAL KINGDOM of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:11), reference is to the eternal phase of it, after the consummation of things temporal. While Christ will be co-regent, as it were, he will be subordinate to the Father

An understanding of these facts is necessary to prevent confusion over the kingdom being spoken of as presently existing, on one hand, and as being yet future, on the other hand.

 In no case do the scriptures support the concept that the establishment of Christ’s kingdom was postponed till his second coming, then to last only a thousand years and end before the end of the world. Revelation 20:1-6 has nothing to do with the BEGINNING of Christ’s reign, but with only a SEGMENT of its ONGOING existence.

 8. In the Spirit (v.10).

 This expression obviously means that John was under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and inspired by it, on the occasion of receiving the Revelation on Patmos. It is repeated in 4:2, 17:3; and 21:10, then in vision he changed locations – to heaven, to a wilderness, and to a great and high mountain, respectively – each with a distinctive series of visions.

 9. The Lord’s day (v.10).

 Early Christians understood this as referring to the first day of the week, in honor of the Lord Jesus Christ on the day of his resurrection. (See Didache 14; Ignatius, in Magnesians 9.)

 The Greek word kuriakos, here translated "Lord’s" was in common use in the sense of "imperial" and relating to the emperor of the Roman empire. This is significant, and sets the tone for depicting the escalating conflict between Caesar as Lord (in the pagan world) and Christ as Lord (among Christians).

10. The word of God and the testimony of Jesus (vs.2,9).

The foregoing is the reading of v.9, referring to John’s having been exiled to Patmos "for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" in the sense of being on account of his bearing witness to such prior to his exile. V.2 refers to "the word of God, and . . .the testimony of Jesus Christ" received by John on Patmos and recorded in the book he was commanded to write.

11. Tribulation (v.9).

This has reference to the increased trials and persecutions of Christians at that time, particularly in the Roman province of Asia, where emperor worship was promoted more vigorously than anywhere else in the empire. John was their "partner" (companion, KJV) in these tribulations, being exiled on Patmos.

12. Patmos (v.9).

This was a rocky, almost treeless, wind-swept, island with salt mines, in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of southwestern Asia Minor, 37 miles west-southwest of Miletus, which was 20 miles south of Ephesus as the crow files, and used as a Roman penal colony. It is 10 miles long and six miles wide at its broadest point, with an area of about 25 square miles.

According to tradition preserved by Irenaeus, Eusebius, Jerome, and others, (see The Great Harlot (Notes on Revelation A7:1 - 19:4 and Note at the end) the apostle John was banished there toward the end of the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81-96), and released 18 months later by Domitian’s successor, Nerva – making the banishment to have been about A.D.95. A cave, or grotto, near the town of Scala, is said to be pointed out to travellors as the abode of John while on the island.

Most scholars today agree that the Book of Revelation contains internal evidences supporting a date during the early 90s A.D. In fact, while previous emperors had accepted divine honors, Domitian was the first to require them – except the "mad" emperor Caligula (A.D. 37-41), who endeavored to have his statue placed in the temple at Jerusalem but died before succeeding. Even the beastly Nero (A.D. 54-68), who horribly persecuted Christians in Rome and under whom the apostle Paul was put to death, did not require divine honors but shied from them.

13. The seven churches that are in Asia (vs.4, 11).

That there were other congregations in the Roman province of Asia is almost certain. But these seven were on a somewhat circular Roman post road that would enable a messenger to deliver to each a copy of the Revelation. No doubt they also represented about all the conditions that existed among the churches of the region. And they were so situated that any other congregations of the area would soon be able to have these copies shared with them.

Beginning with EPHESUS, the nearest to Patmos, and listing the approximate distance and direction from one place to the next, we have the following: SMYRNA, slightly west of north, 40 miles; PERGAMUM, slightly east of north, 60 miles; THYATIRA, southeast, 44 miles; SARDIS, south, 36 miles (and 58 miles east of Smyrna); PHILADELPHIA, southeast, 26 miles; and LAODICEA, southeast, 50 miles (and 100 miles east of Ephesus).

Modern names are, respectively, Selcuk, Izmar, Bergama, Akisar, Alashehir, and Eski Hissar ("old castle"). The latter lies in ruins. The names are Turkish, and the area is now a part of Turkey.


14. Angels of the seven churches (v.20).

Each of the seven congregations is represented as having an angel (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). "Angel" means messenger – who may be either earthly or heavenly. In this text, a human messenger seems more likely. As such, he would have been the one ( or ones, collectively) most responsible for communicating the Lord’s message to the church – possibly "he that readeth" (v.3).

Each letter, while addressed to the angel of a particular church, was really to the congregation itself collectively and individually, and even to all the other churches and individual members as well – the admonition in each letter being: "he that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Also: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein" (1:3).

While not written to us directly, Revelation is nevertheless preserved and disseminated for us. And we can be abundantly "blessed" by familiarizing ourselves with its contents, imbibing its spirit, being encouraged by its assurances, and sharing it with others as opportunity is afforded.

15. The things which thou sawest, . . . which are, and . . . which shall come to pass hereafter v.19).

"The things which thou sawest" must be the vision which John had just seen (vs.10-20).

"The things which are" would seem to be primarily the conditions described in the letters to the seven churches (Chapters 2 and 3).

"The things which are to come to pass hereafter" would be those particularly disclosed in Chapters 6-22 – prefaced by Chapters 4 and 5, which show God to be in control of the future, with Christ associated with him on the throne of the universe.