Reading Revelation 1

[These are the notes prepared for the housegroups at Canley Community Church – the first in a series on the letters to the seven churches.]

 “We’ll be reading the book of Revelation for the next few weeks.”
That’s a scary thought for lots of Christians – not just because of the scary things that are written about in the book, but also because it’s so different from the other books in the New Testament, which makes it difficult to read and understand.

There seem to be two different types of response to reading Revelation. Some people seem to understand it all – “those people will be left behind, this means that person, here it’s talking about the government…” The rest just think that the whole book is impossible and just ignore it, going back to a nice story from the gospels, or a good meaty chunk of Romans.

My starting point when thinking about Revelation is that neither gets it quite right. If we understand the Bible to be a bit like a library with different types of books in it, what kind of book is it? The people who study these things call it ‘Apocalyptic writing’. It’s very different to the stories or biography of the gospels and Acts, or the pastoral and theological letters that make up the rest of the New Testament. It’s a style of writing that was popular with Jews in the first century, when the books of the New Testament were written, but one that you don’t find in contemporary Britain. It’s a type of writing that was supposed to be understood, but it was also meant to be a bit secret. It was supposed to be just a wild story to anyone who wasn’t an insider, especially the Romans. So for us to understand apocalyptic writing we need to do some decoding – and some of the codes might be so old that it’s tough to fully crack them.

Revelation is supposed to be tough to understand, it’s supposed to baffle, but it definitely has meaning that we can and should look for. But let’s not make the mistake of thinking that Revelation was written so that only you can understand it now, with the benefit of two thousand years of history. Revelation was written down for a specific audience in the late first century, an audience who were supposed to understand and be encouraged by the message in it.

Have you been scared of reading Revelation because you think you’ll never understand any of it? Have you heard people who seem to think they understand every word and verse of the book? What’s your response now – still scared, maybe you could try, still sure you’ve got it all sorted?

Read Revelation 1:1-20

Revelation starts with the vision of John as he’s in exile, under arrest, away from the churches he is a pastor to. John is old, he’s been captured, he’s not able to do the job he loves. As he prays, he is shown the most incredible vision that he’d never have seen if he wasn’t on Patmos.

John writes down what he saw in the vision and sends it as a letter to the churches in what is now Turkey – not far by today’s standards, but a very long way away for John.


The whole of chapter 1 is shot through with worship, you can feel the reverence and love in the tone that John writes in as well as the description of how he sees Jesus.

Is that your response when you’ve got difficult times?

Read through the description of Jesus in v9-20. What images stand out to you? Why? Is this the kind of picture of Jesus that you have in your mind?

The description of Jesus uses lots of symbols and metaphors, each one full of meaning to the audience John is writing to. They build up together to be very ‘out of this world’ and strange – this is Jesus in glory, not just raised back to life, but ascended to the highest place in heaven.

Yet there’s something else about this Jesus. He’s personal. He names the seven churches one by one, and as we’ll see in the coming weeks, he has a specific message to each one. The messages are as strange and cryptic as this first chapter (and all the rest of the Revelation), but they all hint at things about the cities that have been confirmed by archaeology. Jesus knows the details of life in each city – not just the general kind of ‘this is what it’s like to be a human being’, but ‘I know what it’s like for you in your location and context’.

Sometimes these two aspects of Jesus character are put as an ‘either or’ – he’s either huge and ‘out there’ or in my heart and just about the little things. I think we need to take both – even if they are in tension and difficult to fit together neatly. Jesus is God of all creation, God of every galaxy and the furthest reaches of the Universe, but he’s also right here next to us, in our street, in our living room, no matter what it feels like.

Have you sometimes picked one or the other – a little Jesus just in my heart, or a huge Jesus who’s too far away for us to relate to? What might it mean to ‘hold both in tension’ in your life?

As we read the letters in the next two chapters, we find the descriptions of Jesus in this chapter echoed. Just a little bit from v9-20 is used to describe Jesus as he speaks to each church individually, a different bit for each one. That aspect of Jesus is just what the church needs to hear, to encourage or convict them.

What aspect of Jesus’ character do you need to see? How would Jesus introduce himself to Canley Community Church?

Respond: What’s our Prayer Focus?

As we go through this series on the first four chapters of Revelation, we want to encourage a response of prayer to what we’ve read and discussed. In your housegroup, briefly discuss what you think you should pray about based on Revelation 1. Here are some ideas as a starter for you – please come up with more ideas.

  • Worship and celebration – just like John’s attitude throughout this chapter, perhaps you want to respond with prayerful worship of the great and mighty Jesus
  • I want to see you’ – maybe you, like John, are in a tough situation and just a glimpse of what Jesus is like would help you – like the song ‘Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you. To see You high and lifted up, Shining in the light of Your glory. Pour out Your power and love, As we sing holy, holy, holy. ’