This is a continuation of Applying Revelation: Some Background.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which Yahweh gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of Yahweh and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heeds the things which are written in it; for the time is near. (Rev. 1:1-3)
It’s about AD 96. The Gospel books focus on AD 30-33, so Jesus has been gone for a good sixty years at least. Yet all throughout the New Testament epistles and here again in Revelation, we come across comments that make it clear that all the early Christians believe Jesus will show up at any moment. Why is this? Well, one time Jesus had a long chat about the end times with the disciples Peter, James, John and Andrew. During this epic speech which you’ll find recorded in Matthew 24-25, Jesus described many frightening things taking place. He said the Temple will be utterly destroyed. That happened in AD 70. He said there would be wars. Well, Rome has been doing plenty of warring. In fact during Nero’s reign in AD 69, there was a civil war which greatly damaged the empire’s capital city. Jesus said His disciples would be persecuted and handed over to death. Yep, that’s all happened right on schedule. By now John is quite likely the last of the twelve disciples to still be living. Jesus said there would be many false prophets deceiving believers—yep, we read about that problem being addressed over and over in the New Testament epistles. So as far as John is concerned, all the signs of the end times that Jesus provided have happened. There’s no doubt in his mind that he and all other Christians are living in the last days. And they are absolutely certain that Jesus will come back any moment because that’s what Jesus promised.
“But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Mt. 24:29-35)
Who is “this generation”? The people alive at the time Jesus was saying all of this: guys like James, John, Peter and Andrew. Jesus promised that He would return before the last of that generation of folks died out…so where is He?
The truth is that Jesus boldfaced lied about the timeframe of His second coming. He has intentionally raised false hopes. But why would He do this? Because hope is powerful, and the belief that their deliverance is at the door is what is helping these new Christians make it through the day. Especially the Jewish ones.
We have to appreciate the very particular crisis Jewish Christians are in at this time. It’s traumatic to ever change what God you believe in, but the Romans were used to believing in whole pantheons of gods. Trading Jupiter, Minerva, and other gods out for Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is a whole lot easier than going from just one God to multiple Gods. Many Jewish Christians have spent their formative years viewing the belief in multiple gods (polytheism) to be the ultimate blasphemy. Now suddenly Yahweh, who spent centuries swearing to be the only God in existence, is demanding that His followers accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit as two more Gods. This is beyond uncomfortable. This would be like you spending your life quoting Jesus saying “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me,” and then having Jesus tell you that in order to get saved, you now have to start believing that some other God named Fred is the only way to the Father. You just don’t make this kind of theological leap without second guessing yourself a billion times and feeling terrified that you’ve gone terribly astray somewhere along the way.
To worship multiple gods under the Old Covenant would land you in Hell. Now Yahweh says that under the New Covenant, not worshiping multiple Gods will land you in Hell. Are you seeing the crisis? The Jewish Christians have it far worse than the non-Jewish Christians. The Jewish Christians are in a serious pickle. Oh, and plus Yahweh’s House—that glorious Temple in Jerusalem—is lying in utter ruins for only the second time in Israel’s history. How secure would you feel as an American if you saw a news helicopter taking footage of the White House lying in ruins? In a country that tries to separate religion and government, it’s hard for us to grasp how psychologically bonded the Jews were to the Temple and to Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem. Both of them have been leveled by the Romans. This is a nightmare. And now Christians are under attack. What if this is all some big statement about Yahweh being ticked off at the treachery of Jews who bought into the Divinity of Christ? The last time anyone laid eyes on Jesus, He looked like just your average Jewish man. He really is God…isn’t He?
Reassurance is what is needed in this crisis. Jesus said He’d come back and He hasn’t. Yahweh is letting the Christian Church get hammered. Is God in control or isn’t He? Adding to the problem is that the New Testament Jews were very superstitious and far too enamored with the power of Satan and his fellow demons. Pharisees like the apostle Paul taught that Satan was the ruler of the world and that demons could get in God’s way. The absolute sovereignty of God has become a lost concept, and this is greatly increasing everyone’s fear. What’s desperately needed is for Jesus to show up in some deified form and convince all the Jewish Christians that 1) they aren’t completely delusional about the reality of multiple Gods and 2) that their Gods really do have this situation under control. This is what the Jewish Christians need, and this is what Jesus does.
This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia.
Grace and peace to you from the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. (Rev. 1:4-5)
Notice how John identifies three Gods here. Yahweh is described as sitting on His throne—a classic Old Testament image. Next the Holy Spirit is identified as “the sevenfold Spirit” who is in front of Yahweh’s throne. The Jews were very into numerology and the symbolism of numbers. Seven was associated with perfection and completeness. So describing the Holy Spirit as “sevenfold” is a compliment. Next there is Jesus, who is given several lofty titles.
To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—He has made us a kingdom of priests for Yahweh His Father. All glory and power to Him forever and ever! Amen. (Rev. 1:5-6)
More exaltation of Jesus—this is very significant for an Old Covenant Jew. After being wowed by Jesus in this series of visions, John is pouring on the praise of Jesus as a glorious, Divine Being who is worthy of the same kind of praise as Yahweh. Notice the reference to Jesus making believers a “kingdom of priests.” Under the Old Covenant, priests were the only ones who could operate the sacrificial system and go up close to Yahweh’s Presence in the Temple. So by likening Christians to priests, John is thinking of the special access believers now have to Yahweh under the New Covenant. There are no more veils, no more off limit rooms. Under the New Covenant, our Gods invite us to come up close to Them.
Now under the Old Covenant there were no women priests interceding with Yahweh, so this imagery has a male bias to it. But John is a man who has grown up in a male dominated society, so for him, the image is quite satisfying. In real life, we aren’t God’s priests, nor will we be running any kind of sacrificial system in Heaven. We’re His servants and His kids. The whole concept of a priesthood has been thrown out, but Old Covenant Jews like John and Paul have a very hard time letting this concept go.
Behold, He is coming with the clouds, [Dan. 7:13] and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the nations of the world will mourn for Him. [Zech. 12:10] So it is to be. Amen. (Rev. 1:7-8)
Here are two quotations from Jewish Scriptures, which once again remind us that John is writing to Jews who would understand these famous one liners. In Daniel 7, the prophet Daniel has a vision of Jesus. This is one of the very rare glimpses of Jesus in the Old Testament. Daniel didn’t fully grasp the significance of the vision at the time—Daniel was confused by most of what God showed him. Daniel was an Old Covenant believer who knew Yahweh was the only true God, so he probably thought this second figure who resembled a human being, or who was “like a son of man” was the Messiah that Yahweh had been promising for centuries. In the Old Testament, the Jews expected the coming Messiah to be some great king, not a second Deity. Here’s the Daniel 7 line with a little more context:
As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One [Yahweh] and was led into His Presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey Him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)
Again, Daniel wouldn’t have grasped that this second figure was a second God, and when an angel explains this vision to Daniel, a clear explanation of who this “son of man” figure was is conspicuously left out, which spares Daniel the theological crisis of realizing there are multiple Gods.
Zechariah is a book with very mixed messages about Israel. In Zechariah 11, Yahweh speaks of cutting Israel off in disgust and complains of her gross devaluation of Him. In Zechariah 12, He speaks of Israelites deeply regretting their rejection of Him. Now because Yahweh refers to His people piercing (or stabbing) Him, and because Jesus was stabbed by a spear in the side after His death on a cross, John and many today try to say that Zechariah 12:10 is a Messianic passage. Well, no, it’s really not.
There’s a very inappropriate minimization of Yahweh happening in the Church today. We take many passages out of the Old Testament in which Yahweh is sharing His feelings, and we try to say He’s talking about Christ. While Yahweh certainly does speak of Christ in the Old Testament, such references are much less frequent than you are led to believe by today’s “experts.” You only need to observe how we only color Jesus’ words in red in our red letter Bibles to see how intentional this devaluing of Yahweh is. And when you hear Christians saying idiotic things like, “Christ is on every page of the Old Testament,” realize that their attitude really irks all three of our Gods. When Jesus was on earth He exalted Yahweh, He didn’t minimize Him. Our Gods love Each Other far more than They do us, and They find it very offensive when we intentionally minimize one or more of Them after They have introduced Themselves to us. In Zechariah 12, Yahweh is saying that He is the One His faithless people have stabbed, and the stabbing represents Israel’s intentional rejection of Yahweh. Indeed, Israel was very pointed in her rejection of Yahweh. Through the mouth of Jeremiah, Yahweh describes this acrid attitude that the Jews are having towards His messages:
They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Jer. 30:10-11)
No matter what kind of discipline Yahweh comes up with, the Jews refuse to repent. In Zechariah 12, Yahweh is looking centuries into the future when He will change His Covenant through Christ. In Chapter 13, He describes most of Israel being lost, but then He describes some rebellious Jews finally being driven to repentance after a lot of tribulation. It is the repentant ones who are being described as bitterly regretting their rejection of Yahweh here:
“They will look at Me, the One they have stabbed [or pierced], and they will grieve like someone crying over the death of an only child. They will be as sad as someone who has lost a firstborn son.” (Zech. 12:10)
The image of Yahweh’s own people stabbing Him is supposed to shock and disturb us. But instead, teachers today want you to think that the moment the Jews are so distressed over is when some Roman soldier rammed a spear into the side of Jesus’ already dead body. Not hardly. The image here is a far more horrific picture of the Jews viciously attacking their living God and trying to drive Him out of their midst. This is the image Yahweh chooses to describe His long history with hostile Israel, and it lines up very neatly with many other heartbreaking metaphors that He uses throughout the Old Testament prophetic books.
“Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness? Why do My people say, ‘We are free to roam; we will come to You no more’? Does a young woman forget her jewelry, a bride her wedding ornaments? Yet My people have forgotten Me, days without number.” (Jer. 2:31-32)
So then, John is not quoting this passage of Zechariah correctly, and instead of acknowledging this, the “experts” you’re taught to so admire today act like the New Testament writers couldn’t possibly be guilty of misapplying the Old Testament. This is a total crock, for the New Testament writers butcher the Old Testament and grossly misapply many passages in order to suit their own agendas. The Gospel writer Matthew ought to win an award for the way he tries to force Jesus onto so many non-Messianic passages. The book of Hebrews is another fine example of the Old Testament being grossly misapplied. You need to realize that the New Testament writers were pulling the same carnal stunts that our teachers and preachers use today: counting on your lack of knowledge to make you embrace false interpretations of Scripture.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” (Rev. 1:8)
When you hear the title “Alpha and Omega” who do you think of? Jesus, of course. And yet what is quite fascinating is that Jesus isn’t speaking here—Yahweh is. How do we know? Well, notice the title “Lord God.” This is a title which is consistently used for Yahweh by the Jews.
Now the original manuscripts of the New Testament were filled with mentions of Yahweh’s Covenant Name. The original Jews didn’t just use the generic title of God when referring to Yahweh. Go through the Old Testament in your Bible and notice how often the Lord is written the LORD. That all caps LORD is a substitution for the Covenant Name of Yahweh. Go to the very front of your Bible and you’ll find some pages that explain this substitution to you. English Bibles intentionally remove the Name Yahweh from the text in both Testaments and this is really doing us a disservice because we end up missing important distinctions that are being made between our various Creators by the early Jewish Christians.
When John originally penned Revelation, he would have peppered it with Yahweh’s Covenant Name whenever he was referring to Yahweh specifically. But later on, these references were removed and replaced with the generic title of God. So instead of the Lord Yahweh we read the Lord God, and because Christians have utterly confused themselves with this nonsense about God being three in one, they don’t know which God John is talking about. Well, John did know which One he was talking about, and he did not view Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as alternate personalities of a single Being. To John, these were three separate and distinct Gods, and we’ll be putting the Name of Yahweh back in where it should be in order to help you hear what John originally wrote. So then, Revelation 1:8 should really read:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord Yahweh. “I am the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” (Rev. 1:8)
Now wait a second—since when is Yahweh the Alpha and Omega? Since forever. Yahweh has been calling Himself the first and the last for centuries. Check out these statements Yahweh made through the mouth of Isaiah:
“Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time? It is I, Yahweh, the First and the Last. I alone am He.” (Isa. 41:4)
“Thus says Yahweh, Israel’s King and Redeemer, Yahweh of Heaven’s Armies: ‘I am the first and I am the last.” (Isa. 44:6)
“Listen to Me, Jacob, and Israel, the one called by Me: I am He; I am the first, I am also the last.” (Isa. 48:12)
Fascinating, isn’t it? Here we make posters of Jesus’ famous Names and we always include Alpha and Omega. Yet this title was really claimed by Yahweh, and it’s Yahweh who is claiming it again here in Revelation. Notice how John distinguishes our three Creators from each other here:
Grace and peace to you from:
1. [Yahweh] the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come
2. [the Holy Spirit] from the sevenfold Spirit before His [Yahweh’s] throne
3. [Jesus] and from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. (Rev. 1:4-5)
Then John records Yahweh as saying:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” (Rev. 1:8)
Notice how the repetition of titles clearly identifies Yahweh as the Speaker in verse 8 even though your modern Bible uses the generic title of “God”. Now Revelation was written in Greek. John spoke Greek, and he knew that the first letter of the Greek alphabet was alpha while the last letter was omega. To English speakers, Yahweh would have said, “I’m the A and the Z.” Yahweh is putting a modern day spin on His ancient title by referring to the Greek that was in use at this time.
Now isn’t Jesus also worthy of the title “the First and the Last”? Of course He is, and He will claim this title as well as we go through Revelation. But if we want to understand what’s being said in this letter, we need to read it from the perspective of a Jew who was raised under the Old Covenant because that’s who our Gods are talking to.
What’s fascinating about this letter is that we are going to find the microphone being passed between Yahweh, Jesus, and various angels in Heaven. There will be many songs of worship sung–some will be directed at Yahweh while others will be for Jesus. While Jesus’ main title will be “the Lamb”, Yahweh will be referred to as “the One who sits on the throne” and as “the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come”. Why is this?
Yahweh first introduced Himself to Moses as I AM WHO I AM. This title emphasizes a perpetual state of existence–God always is. In Revelation, the famous title of “the One who is, who always was, and who is still to come” functions like a synonym for I AM. Yahweh has always been, He is now, and He always will be, so at any given moment, we could say HE IS, or He could say I AM. But Jesus is eternal as well, and as Revelation progresses, Jesus’ equality with Yahweh will be emphasized in many ways while at the same time He will be portrayed as quite separate from Yahweh.
Realize that this is before the days when everyone had a Bible tucked in their back pocket. Handwritten copies of Scripture were expensive, so Yahweh and Jesus are going to use images and quotations that They know John and his fellow Jews will be readily familiar with. Today far more Christians are familiar with the stories of Noah and Jonah than they are with the stories of Phinehas and Omri. We have our well known stories and our lesser known stories. Revelation focuses on what was well known to ancient Jews, but today many of these passages are not well known by us, so we’ll have to do a lot of research as we go along. It’s worth it though, because who knew Yahweh had such a history of calling Himself the First and the Last? It’s always an exciting ride when we start studying passages in their original contexts.