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A Book of Symbols and Blessings



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. Revelation 1:1b–3


The apokalupsis is a mystery given to Christ by God to show His church “things which must shortly take place.” We learned that this mystery can be revealed through the use of words, signs, or symbols.

From verse one we learn there is a chain of communication through which the Revelation is given to the church. God (the Father) first gave it to Christ. Christ then sent His angel to signify the Revelation. Third, the Apostle John received the Revelation from this angel. And in verse 11 John is told to write what he sees in a book and send the book to the seven churches.

It is imperative that we understand that John actually saw the things revealed by the angel, which gives us to understand that the means of revelation were words, signs, or symbols; things that can be seen. This is made very clear in verse one as it says the angel “signified” the Revelation. The King James Version has the word “show” instead of “signified”. The Greek word for signified is dike-noo-o, meaning to show. Thayer says “to show; to produce what can be seen”. Dr. Albert Barnes explains this word for us: “The word rendered to show commonly denotes to point out; to cause to see; to present to the sight; and is a word eminently appropriate here, as what was to be revealed was, in general, to be presented to the sight by sensible tokens or symbols.”

In chapter 9:17 John says he “saw the horses in the vision.” The Greek word vision is hor-as-is, meaning the act of gazing. This word is translated twice as vision, once in sight, and once look upon. From this we understand that the angel showed John things he actually could see. When he saw horses, he saw horses; when he saw mountains, he saw mountains; when he saw earthquakes, he saw earthquakes. Some expositors on the Revelation say that John saw things such as B17 bombers but had no idea what they were, so he called them locusts. The fact is the Revelation was presented to John in the form of visible pictures he could recognize. But, the pictures represent “things which must shortly take place.”


Understanding the Symbols


It is our challenge to understand what these pictures, or symbols, mean. The symbols used in the Revelation are those used in other prophetic dreams, such as those had by Joseph, Pharaoh’s officers, Pharaoh himself, Nebuchadnezzar, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and other prophets. It is therefore imperative that we go to these sources to gain whatever understanding we can and apply that understanding to the Revelation.

Some symbols are explained in the Book of Revelation, so we need go no further to understand these particular signs. Chapter 1:20 tells us the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Chapter 17:12 tells us the ten horns on the beast of chapter 17 are ten kings. Verse 15 of this chapter tells us the waters where the harlot sits are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues (languages); and verse 18 tells us the woman that sits on the beast is that great city that reigns over the kings of the earth.

One thing we cannot do is to look for literal fulfillments of the symbols. Ships in the Revelation are merely pictures of ships and cannot be understood to be literal ships or navies. Trees, grass, hailstones, earthquakes and such like are not the literal things; they represent something other than what they appear to be. But the natures of the symbols do have something in common with the things they represent.

The symbols appear as physical things but their interpretation is not necessarily something physical; the interpretations can be in either the realm of the physical or the spiritual. Furthermore, some of the earthly things represented are not of a tangible nature but can be in the nature of political or religious developments. For example, the vision of the book, or scroll, sealed with seven seals in chapters five and six helps us to understand this. There was writing on the inside and on the back of the book suggesting that it pertains to the inner realm of the spirit and the outer realm of nature.


John, the Faithful Witness


In looking at verse 2 of chapter 1 we find that the Apostle states his credentials. First, he bore witness to the word of God. A witness is someone that observed an event and is able to give reliable evidence in court. As an original disciple of Jesus, John observed the life and Person of Jesus Christ, the Word, and as an eyewitness he was amply qualified to receive such an important communication from Christ.

He was an eye-witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ. He heard His claim to be the Son of God; he heard the public sermons and private teachings Jesus gave; he was present on the Mount of Transfiguration where he saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus and heard the voice of God speak from heaven; he was there at the crucifixion; he was one of the disciples that went to the empty grave immediately after the resurrection; he saw Christ ascend into heaven; and, he was there on the Day of Pentecost. John surely is a credible witness.

John regarded himself only as a witness of the things he had seen and he claimed to have made a fair and faithful record of those things.


John 19:35 at the crucifixion: And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.


John 21:24 at the close of his gospel: This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.


1 John 1:2 he speaks concerning the Word of life: the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.


1 John 4:14 from his own experience of salvation from sin: And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.


Now, at the beginning of the Revelation, he testifies that the credibility of his past life extends to what he has now seen in this mysterious book given to him by an angel sent from Jesus Christ.


The Blessings of the Revelation


The language of verse 3 tells us the Book of Revelation was intended to be read aloud by one person to a group of people. “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it.”

It wasn’t that Christians were mostly illiterate at the time. Some certainly were, but it is more likely that a majority of Christians, especially in the cities of Asia indicated a few verses later, were able to read. The problem was that this was to be written at a time before printing presses; books had to be handwritten, and copies of the Scriptures were scarce. It was the normal practice for the bishop (pastor) to read apostolic letters to his congregation and in the same manner he would read John’s letter aloud to the assembled church.

The blessings were to accrue to those that read the Revelation and those that would hear it read. In a sense, the attached blessings were given to assure the continued reading of the Revelation by the church and that it would not be discarded.

Of greater significance is that the blessing accrues, not just to the reader and hearers, but to those that keep the things which are written in it. Without equivocation, the Revelation can be and is to be understood; it is not ambiguous even though it is mysterious. The things written in it are to be understood and to be kept. That being understood, it is imperative that the church study this book and allow God to open our minds and hearts to its message so that we can experience the promised blessing. If we do not study the Book of Revelation we are in danger of violating the terms of this blessing. Who knows what goodness we would lose or what judgment we would incur because of our negligence? Who wants to stand before Christ at the final judgment and be held accountable for something in this wondrous Book only to plead ignorance in the face of the very fact that its contents can be understood and must be observed? Who wants Christ to pronounce the words: But you could have known.

The nature of the blessing is not stated here in verse 3. This suggests that the blessing was not limited just to the seven churches of Asia or even the first century church, but that the blessing accrues to the church throughout the rest of time, even to our day. While the nature of the blessing is not stated here, the Book of Revelation contains seven blessings that accrue to those that read, hear, and keep the sayings of this Book. Undoubtedly, these are the blessings to be obtained from reading, hearing and keeping the things written in the book. There are two general blessings and five specific blessings.


The Beatitudes of the Revelation.


Jesus gave a set of eight Blessings in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5. These blessings are available to all who obey His commandments and are true worshippers. So it is with the blessings of the Revelation.

The seven blessings or beatitudes of the Revelation are:


1:3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it. (A general blessing)


14:13 Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.


16:15 Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments.


19:9 Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.


20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.


22:7 Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (A general blessing, essentially the same as 1:3)


22:14 Blessed are those who do His commandments.


Please notice as mentioned above, there are seven blessings. The number seven is significant in the Revelation as it appears over and over in the various visions. Also, the seven blessings are significant in comparing these blessings with the attributes of the glorified Christ. Ask yourself, Why would Christ offer so many wondrous blessings if the book is totally ambiguous? That does not make sense. These blessings are yours only if you are among His servants and you observe and obey the things to be learned from the study of this great Book.

The Revelation is a mysterious book of symbols—but those symbols have meaning and represent things Christ wants us to know, and in knowing and observing those things, He promises us blessings that can come in no other way.