Studies In The Book of Revelation - Introduction
By Jonathan Mitchell
In this series of studies based upon the Book of Revelation — An Unveiling of Jesus Christ, I will consider the literary, historical and cultural aspects of the book, and will present both figurative eschatology, in its ongoing applications for every generation, and the preterist view that this applied to 1st century Jerusalem and what would happen in AD 70 – that what it foretold is now history – while considering what this all meant to the 1st Century church, and now how it may apply to us.
This is a book in the style of Jewish apocalyptic literature and the interpretations of the figures and cultural symbols will be based upon Old Testament (Jewish Scripture) passages. A number of scenes echo visions in the Prophets. Some consider the visions to be sequential; others see them as repetitive. The prophesies and visions were given to and for the 1st century church, and first of all applied to their situation as it related to the situation of Jerusalem and to their association with it.
The book was written around AD 68 (according to the critical analysis of John A.T. Robinson) and concerned a situation that was close at hand, or a season that was then near. Nonetheless, the blessings of reading this book are for all. The teacher Malcolm Smith described the visions as a "cosmic opera." This can be seen as a continuation of Matthew 24 in foretelling the end of the Jewish state and religion. I like Malcolm's statement about the theme of the book, "Things are not always what they seem to be: the Lamb rules!"
A Study In Revelation
Chapter One - Part One
1. An unveiling of Jesus Christ (or: A disclosure from Jesus [the] Anointed; A revelation which pertains to Jesus Christ) which God gave by Him (in Him; for Him; to Him) to point out to His slaves that which is necessary to come to be (to be birthed) in swiftness (= speedily) [note: this phrase means either the manner in which events will happen, or that it is quickly going to happen]. And sending [Him] as an emissary (or: representative), through means of His agent (or: messenger) He indicated [it] by signs (or: symbols) to (or: in; for) His slave John,
2. who witnessed (gives testimony and evidence of) the Word of God (or: God’s Logos; the thoughts and ideas of God), even the witness (testimony; evidence) pertaining to Jesus Christ (or: the martyrdom of Jesus [the] Anointed) – as many things as he saw (or: as much as he saw [of it]).
Much is often made of the phrase "of Jesus Christ" in the first clause of vs. 1. However, this can a genitive (of J; belonging to J; pertaining to J) or an ablative (from J). Furthermore, it is not His only unveiling or disclosure, but "a disclosure; an unveiling." The word Him, in the following clause, is dative in form and can be rendered "by Him," or "to Him," or "for Him." Nonetheless, we can see that its purpose was to inform His slaves (= those devoted to Him as their Lord, Master and Owner) about things that were about to happen.
It should also be noted from vs. 1 that the disclosure was to be indicated by signs and symbols. This is key to understanding this entire book. The messages and visions were "the Word of God" which John both heard and witnessed. The message of the entire book is to His people, the called-out communities in Asia (see vs. 4, below). It would involve things that needed to come into existence; they would be birthed swiftly; the literal fulfillment was for their time and generation, just as Jesus had repeatedly said, as recorded in the "gospels."
3. Happy and blessed is the person constantly reading [it] aloud (or: retrieving knowledge [in the midst of an assembly] from [it]), and those constantly hearing (or: listening and paying attention to; = observing and obeying), the words of the prophecy (or: the messages contained in the light and understanding seen beforehand) and habitually keeping watch over (guarding; observing) the things having been written within it, for the situation is close at hand (or: for the season and occasion is near).
If the situation was at that time close at hand (and which probably referred to what happened in AD 70), then we should not be looking for it to happen in the future. That season, for its literal fulfillment, was currently in progress – if Robinson's conclusion is correct on the date of when this was written. The folks who read this in the 1st century could be happy, for the message is a positive one. We, almost 2000 years later can also be happy as we see God's triumph portrayed, and we can see patterns of His dealings, and of the reality of all that is herein described. The happiness and blessing for reading this letter is open-ended, so be blessed and happy as you proceed through this study. The situation of "reading [it] aloud" is a picture of a congregation, or of a synagogue, as in Lu. 4:16, where a person stood and read the Scriptures while the rest listen.
4. John, to the seven called-out communities (congregations; summoned forth assemblies) within Asia: grace and peace to you (or: favor and harmony [= shalom] for and among you) folks, from the One continuously existing (or: unceasingly being; Who continuously IS), even the One Who was, and continued being, and the One Who is continuously (or: repeatedly; habitually; progressively) coming or going – even from the Seven Spirits (or: Breath-effects) in front of His throne –
5. and from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness (or: loyal Martyr), the First-born of (or: pertaining to; from) the dead folks: even the Ruler (or: Prince; Leader, Beginner; Originator) of the kings of the earth – by (or: in) the One continuously loving us by loosing [other MSS: washing] us from [other MSS: out of] our failures and deviations (or: sins; errors; situations and results of where we missed the target or fell short of the goal) within His blood (or: in union with the blood which is Him),
6. and made (formed; created) us [to be] a kingdom (or: sovereign reign; [other MSS: constructed of us a kingdom which bring sovereign influence]): priests in (or: by; for) His God and Father. In Him [is] the Glory (or: For Him [is] the good reputation; By Him [is] the manifestation of that which calls forth praise; With Him [is] the appearance which affects the opinion of the whole of human experience) and the Strength (or: Might), on into the ages! It is so (Count on it; Amen).
Vs. 4 confirms to whom this letter was written: the 1st century church. And note here that it comes with grace and peace to them. Also, consider that these come from "the One Who is continuously (or: repeatedly; habitually; progressively) coming or going." The Greek word "erchomai" means either to come or to go, so it speaks of God's activities among and within humanity and our environment. It's grammatical form is that it is a present participle, which in Greek means continual, repeated/habitual, periodic or even present time, if the context so calls. It is definitely not speaking of a future coming of Christ, although His repeated and habitual coming implies that He will continue to be coming. The KJV sadly translates this word as an infinitive, "to come." It is not an infinitive.
Now also note that vs. 5 says, "and from Jesus Christ..." So the "One" in vs. 4 would logically be referring to God, Yahweh, the One who lived with Israel in the wilderness for 40 years; the One who came in judgment to them in later times; the One whose home was supposed to be the temple. God habitually came to them through His words and through His actions. It is the same for us. We are now His temple, and He lives within us. Further, this book comes from One who is always here for us to count on – He constantly comes to us.
Consider that this letter is to the "church" in each of those seven cities – the picture here is of there being only one called-out community within each town or city, not many denominations. We need to recapture this viewpoint. Historically, they were seven real churches/communities; symbolically they represent the whole church, for seven in figurative literature is an idea, not a number. Literally there were more than seven churches in Asia at that time. Any time you see a number in this book, it is an idea, not a literal number. So look to the OT for the Jewish significance of that number, in order to properly understand what is being signified by it. Thus, when we see that this message is termed "grace and peace" – not the usual thing that comes to mind from traditional teaching on this book – "from the Seven Spirits in front of His throne," we can see that this favor and harmony display the entire spectrum of God's grace and peace; the fullness and completion of favor and harmonious prosperity. These are NOT seven different spirits or entities. This is a book of signs and symbols.
Vs. 5 tells us that Jesus is the faithful and loyal witness/martyr. We can count on His, as well. But what does the phrase "the First-born of (or: pertaining to; from) the dead folks" mean? Many think literally here, that it means that He was the first one that was born from out of the womb of death, thus the first one in time and place with regard to resurrection. However, Paul uses the term first-born in a familial sense in Rom. 8:29, "the first-born of many brothers (= family members or fellow believers). Also, the first-born, in the Jewish culture, held the birthright: its privileges and responsibilities, and in this case, of the rest of the dead; the first-born was the Redeemer.
Then we are told that He is the Ruler of the kings of the earth. Wow! Can you accept this word? Does this give you a sense of who is really in charge of this world and its "kingdoms"? The message of this phrase is, "Jesus Christ is LORD!" This is the gospel – despite how things seem to be. This was good news to those undergoing persecution by one or more of these kings – to see that ultimately Christ controls them, and we are to see beyond the intermediary tool (be he a boss, a president, etc.).
Vs. 5 ends with an enlargement of the good news, in the phrase, "by (or: in) the One continuously loving us by loosing [other MSS: washing] us from [other MSS: out of] our failures and deviations (or: sins; errors; situations and results of where we missed the target or fell short of the goal) within His blood (or: in union with the blood which is Him)." He shows His continual love for us by loosing us OUT OF our failures and mistakes. It is His blood (= life) that does this (see 1 John 1:7). This is salvation; deliverance; restoration to health and wholeness!
Vs. 6 uses the metaphor of a kingdom, and thus securely ties the teaching of the kingdom to the called-out community (aka, the church). We are now a reign of God in the earth. Also, we are priests – folks given the ministry and service of reconciliation, bringing the estranged back into right relationship with both God and the rest of humanity. We are what Israel was called to be: a nation of priests (see Ex. 19:6), folks to show God to the world. This vs. ends by affirming that, "In Him [is] the Glory (or: For Him [is] the good reputation; By Him [is] the manifestation of that which calls forth praise; With Him [is] the appearance which affects the opinion of the whole of human experience) and the Strength (or: Might), on into the ages!" This is another expression of the good news, and our constant expectation. Nothing more needs to be said of this. And we can count on it.
7. Consider (or: Look; Behold)! He is continuously (or: presently; repeatedly; habitually; progressively) coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him, even which ever of you folks pierce (or: pierced) Him. And all the tribes (people-groups) of the Land (or: territory; earth) shall beat themselves (strike their breasts in grief, mourning or repentance) upon (= because of) Him. Yes! It is so (Amen)! [Dan. 7:13; Zech. 12:10, 12, 14]
In Nahum 1:3 we find the figure, "... the Lord's way is in the whirlwind, and A CLOUD is the DUST of His feet." If we don't see this as poetic symbolism, then we'll think that we can detect when the Lord just walked (or ran) by – He left a trail of dust in the sky! Dust is a symbol for humanity, and "His feet" speaks of a part of His body. Now let us look at another picture of clouds, in Heb. 12,:1, “Consequently and for this very reason, then, we also, continuously having such a big cloud of witnesses (spectators; folks bearing testimony; people with evidence) environing us (lying around for us and [they] themselves surrounding and encompassing us )...” Clouds are often very near us, a part of our atmosphere, sometimes enshrouding mountains. They do not come from outer space.
Here I quote from Ray Prinzing's book, "Revelation: A Positive Book," "Literally, a cloud is a visible mass of moisture suspended in the air above the ground. Spiritually, it speaks of a people who have been lifted out of the debris of earth's corruption to dwell with Him in the heavenlies – partaking of His Spirit, living and walking in the Spirit..." Kenneth Earl says, "[In Scripture] the clouds are people..." And John 14:18 tells us, "I will not leave you orphans; I am continuously, repeatedly and progressively coming to (or: toward; face to face with) you folks." In that same chapter, vs. 23 says of Him and His Father, "We will come to him, and We will make (form; construct; create) a dwelling place with him."
Now as to the phrase, "and every eye shall see Him," this is simply a promise that each in his appointed time will behold the Savior, for He is the Savior of all humanity. Then this vs. continues "even whoever of you folks pierce (stab) him." Compare Heb. 6:6 of those who are "... continuously crucifying again to (or: for; by) themselves the Son of God, and exposing [Him] to public disgrace." The verb in vs. 7, here, is second person plural. It is addressing the recipients of this letter of disclosure.
Next we see the sentence, "And all the tribes (people-groups) of the Land (or: territory; earth) shall beat themselves (strike their breasts in grief, mourning or repentance) upon (= because of) Him." The Greek word "ge" can refer to the soil, a land or territory, or to the entire earth – depending upon the context. Here I capitalized "Land" because I thing that this first of all was referring to the land of Israel who come to grief at what was done to Christ, and thus repent. But it can also refer to all those implicated in Heb. 6:6, above. No wonder John exclaims, "Yes! So be it!"
8. “I am continuously (or: repeatedly) the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord [= Christ or Yahweh] God, “the One continuously being, even the One Who was and continued being, and the One presently and continuously (or: progressively) coming and going, the Almighty.” [or: The Owner is laying out these thoughts: "I Myself exist being the Alpha and the Omega – the continuously existing God, even the One Who continued existing [as] Being, as well as the One habitually being on the go and repeatedly moving about – the All-Strong."]
He is both continuously and repeatedly the Originator (Alpha) and the Finisher (Omega) of all things and all people:
Rom. 11:36, "Because OUT of Him and THROUGH Him, and INTO Him [are] all things (everything that exists)."
Heb. 12:2, "Turning [our] eyes away from other things and fixing them into (looking off unto) Jesus, the Inaugurator (Prime Author) and Perfector (Finisher) of trust and faith ...."
Rev. 22:13, "... the First and the Last, the Beginning (Origin) and the End (Goal; Finished Product)." God is both our origin and our destiny.
Acts 17:28, "For within Him we can be continuously living, and we are repeatedly moved, and we continuously exist!" Jesus is Lord. He did not just begin creation and then let it go on its own; all is through Him and He is Almighty throughout, and all ends in Him.
Thus ends the prologue. We will next take up the first vision.
A Study In Revelation
Chapter One - Part Two
9. I, John, your brother and joint-participant within the pressure (squeezing; affliction; tribulation; oppression) and kingdom (or: reign; sovereign rule) and persistent remaining-under (steadfast, humble and supportive endurance), in union with (or: within; [Griesbach and other MSS: of; originating in; pertaining to]) Jesus Christ,
10. was within the island called Patmos because of God’s Word (or: the message which is God) and because of the testimony (witness; evidence) pertaining to and having the characteristics of Jesus Christ. I came to be (or: birthed myself) within spirit (or: in union with [the] Spirit; in the midst of a Breath-effect) within the Day which pertains to or has the characteristics of the Lord (the Lord’s Day; = the Day of Yahweh; or, = the Day of Christ; = Christ’s Day), and I heard behind me a great voice (or: = a loud sound), as of a trumpet, saying (or: = like that of a trumpet sounding a command or a message),
John here identifies himself with what the called-out communities were then going through; he relates to them on the same level as their brother (fellow believer and co-member) and point-participant. Here in vs. 9 we have three words that seem to be inter-related to Jesus Christ, and which we have in union with Him (or, with other MSS, which pertain to or originate in Him): pressure (or: squeezing [circumstances]; affliction; tribulation), kingdom (sovereign rule; reign) and supportive endurance (steadfastly remaining under [situations]).
Note what is absent among these descriptive words: financial prosperity, glorious experiences in the "supernatural," ease, happiness, personal fulfillment, etc. He was in the kingdom, but experiencing tribulation and pressure which required the fruit of the Spirit: persistent remaining-under the present situation, with supportive endurance. But the glory lay in the fact that they, along with himself, were experiencing these things "in union with Jesus Christ," – Who was Himself participating with them in those situations. Also, recall Acts 14:22 that it "through many pressures it is necessary for us to enter into God's kingdom (reign; sovereign rule)." And again, in 2 Tim. 2:12, "If we are continuously enduring (remaining under [situations]) we will also jointly reign..."
There has been, and yet remains, a popular eschatology which speaks of "the tribulation." As noted above, the word tribulation means pressure, and John said that he and the churches (called-out communities) were at that time "in the pressure (tribulation)." This corresponds to the words of Jesus in John 16:33, "In the world (ordered and controlling system) you continuously have pressure (tribulation)." We don't have to wait for this to come, just look around the world today, or study history.
Another thing which I want to point out is that both John and the called-out communities were at that time jointly participating in the kingdom of God, the reign pertaining to Christ. That also is present, and not some future event.
Two things had brought John to this imprisonment on Patmos: God's word, and the witness (testimony; evidence) pertaining to Jesus Christ. This message brought persecution – are we to expect less? But it was also the testimony of Jesus Christ which composes this very book, and God brought him there to see it all.
Next, John describes his condition/sphere: he was "in the midst of a Breath-effect," or, "in union with [the] Spirit." He "birthed" himself to come to be in this condition or sphere. The verb is in the middle voice, which means that the subject acts upon itself, and the result was that he was then "within the Day which pertains to or has the characteristics of the Lord (the Lord’s Day; = the Day of Yahweh; or, = the Day of Christ; = Christ’s Day)."
The term "the Lord's Day," or to use OT phrasing, "the Day of the Lord," sets the scene of these visions. It speaks symbolically of the prophetic aspects of this book and turns the thoughts of we, the readers, to its figurative use in the writings of the prophets. This book will relate to visions and prophesies written in the Jewish Scriptures. A familiarity with its use there will enlighten the use of signs and symbols in the visions which follow. Ray Prinzing has pointed out that "There are two aspects of the Day of the Lord: one of judgment, and one of glory."
So what is the significance of "a great Voice, as of (= like) a trumpet"? In Ex. 19, the sound of a trumpet called all of Israel into the presence of God – a call to come and to hear; a call to come and to understand. Trumpets were used to sound an alarm, to give battle commands, to call to feast days. In the 3rd major group of the yearly feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles (or: Booths; Ingatherings), there was a feast called the Feast of Trumpets. So here we have a further echo, calling us to look back to the types and symbols of the OT in order to understand what is to be shared.
11. “What you are presently seeing (or: observing) write into a scroll and send to the seven called-out communities (or: summoned-forth congregations): into Ephesus, and into Smyrna, and into Pergamos, and into Thyatira, and into Sardis, and into Philadelphia, and into Laodicea.”
Here we have established that the visions and messages of this are written to, and thus pertain to, the called-out, and specifically the "churches" in 1st century Asia Minor. Chapter 22:16 gives a second witness, "I, Jesus, sent (or: send) My agent to bear witness to you people [concerning] these things [being imposed] upon the called-out communities (or: to testify these things to, by or in you, over the [situation of the] summoned-forth assemblies)..."
12. And so I turned upon the Voice, to see who spoke with me. And upon fully turning around, I saw seven golden lampstands,
13. and within the midst of the lampstands, One like a Son of Man (or: a son of mankind; = [the] son of Adam; = like a human being; [or: an eschatological symbol referring to such as in Dan. 7:13 and 10:5-6]), being clothed (or: invested) [with a garment] reaching to the feet; being girded about at the breasts with a golden belt.
14. Now His head and hairs [are] white, as white wool, as snow, and His eyes as a flame of fire,
15. and His feet [are] like white brass (or: bronze; fine copper) as having been set on fire in a furnace, and His Voice [is] as a roar (or: sound; voice) of many [rushing or crashing] waters. [Ezk. 1:24; 43:2]
16. Furthermore, [He is] constantly holding (or: having; possessing) [the] seven stars within His right hand, and a sharp two-mouthed (= double-edged) broadsword is continuously (or: repeatedly) proceeding (issuing forth) from out of His mouth. And His appearance (countenance; sight) continually shines as the sun, in its power.
The voice of the Lord came from the opposite direction from which he was facing, so he had to turn to see (as did Moses, to see the bush that burned). Vs. 20 identifies the lampstands as the called-out communities. In the OT figure of the tabernacle, the lampstand was in the holy place. According to Joseph Good, the rabbinical writings and Jewish tradition called that lampstand "the light of the world." Recall that Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), but in Matt. 5:14 He said, "You folks are the light of the world." The lampstand of the tabernacle had seven branches joined to one stem – like a vine, or a tree (of light). John 15:5 says, "I am the Vine, you folks are the branches."
Jesus referred to John the baptist as "the burning and shining lamp." Rev. 11:4 speaks of the two witnesses as, "two olive trees and the two lampstands" (a reference to Zech. 4:11-14).
The figure here is of the called-out congregation (aka, the church), His body, being the bearer of light, disseminating it via teaching and prophecy, and being the fire of God, for the oil, which was the fuel for the fire, is a figure of the Holy Spirit, the anointing: "a burning and shining lamp."
Vs. 13 uses a figure of "One like a Son of Man," which echoes Dan. 3:25 – the person who was seen with the Hebrews in the fiery furnace. The picture is of Christ within the midst of His people, within His body. Here is also a continued relationship to us in thus identifying Himself. Joint-participation.
His clothing pictures either that of a priest. Vincent tells us that according to Josephus, the Levitical priests were "girded about the breasts." This figure could also be a reference to speak of His sufficiency and supply, and identify Him with El Shaddai (the God with breasts; Gen. 17:1). This is the place where the breastplate was girded to the high priest. Seen separately, the long robe could also signify royalty, or a judge.
In vs. 14, the head and hairs being white call to mind the picture in Dan. 7:9-10. From ancient times this was a symbol of wisdom and of a judge or an elder. The "eyes as a flame of fire" remind us that "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29), and the tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost – a manifestation of His Spirit. His gaze enlightens and purifies (Mal. 3:2). Eyes of fire is also a figure of one who is full of life, intense.
With vs. 15, the feet like hot bronze speaks of God's judging process (see Ex., Lev., Num.; the brazen altar and laver – judgment and cleansing: the first phase of forgiveness – preparation to enter into God's presence, in the temple). In this picture we see that Christ is walking through the midst of His churches, judging them (1 Pet. 4:17, judgment begins at God's house). Again, this echoes the refining process of Mal. 3:3, the called-out being the antitype of "the sons of Levi." It also would have given the churches in Asia a preview that He was present, and they would have seen in the following visions the judgment coming upon Jerusalem in AD 70.
But what about "His Voice... as a sound of many waters"? Picture crashing ocean waves or a giant waterfall – this is a figure of force, power and volume. His Voice overwhelms must as "the grace of our Lord overwhelms" (1 Tim. 1:14, CLNT). But there is another possibility here, for Rev. 17:15 tells us, "the water which you saw... are peoples and crowds and nations and languages." In Isa. 57:20 we see this figure in "But the wicked are like the troubles sea..." And Rev. 19:6, "And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, even as the voice of many waters..." See also Dan. 10:16; Ezk. 43:2; Ps. 29:3; 77:16; 144:7; 148:4. This figure could symbolize the complete glorified Christ – Jesus and His body, or, the Second Humanity of the new creation, the Last Adam.
In vs. 16 we see that he controls the "seven stars" – figuring the agents of the called-out communities. He also protects them, for the right hand indicates power and protection, as well as a place of trust. The sword continuously proceeding out of His mouth speaks of His word, and that it is constantly coming to us. Heb. 4:12, "For the spoken Word of God [is] living... more cutting above every two-mouthed sword..." See also Ps. 55:21, "... his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords." Also Ps. 59:7; 64:3. Malcolm Smith said, "His word cuts away our flesh, and defeats His enemies."
Next we see that His appearance shines as the sun – an echo of Matt. 17:2. This is a manifestation of "the glory of His Father" (Matt. 16:27). This is what Paul referred to in 2 Cor. 4:6, "... the illumination of the knowledge of God's glory within the face of Jesus Christ." And vs. 17 indicates that "if [John] knew Christ according to the flesh, nevertheless now, [he knew] Him so no longer" (2 Cor. 5:16). Here we see Him no longer the suffering servant, but the Lord of all, for,
17. And so when I saw Him, I fell toward His feet, as dead. And He placed His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be fearing (Don’t be terrified)! I am the First and the Last,
18. "even The Living One (or: the One continuously living), I also brought Myself to be (or: birthed Myself) [to be] a dead one (or: I also came by Myself to be dead), and now, Look and consider! I am living on into the ages of the ages, and I constantly hold (or: have; possess) the keys of Death and of the Unseen (Greek: hades).
19. “So then, write the things you see (or: saw), and the things presently existing (or: what they are), as well as which things are progressively about to occur (or: are now impending to be coming into existence) after these things.
20. “The secret of the seven stars which you saw upon My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are agents of (or: pertaining to; belonging to; having the qualities and characteristics of; or: folks with a message from) the seven called-out communities, and the seven lampstands are the seven communities (or: summoned-forth congregations).”
His words to John, "Do not be fearing..." echo what Jesus said to His disciples, when He came to them, walking on the lake. He said, "It's Me!" But here He says, "I am the First and the Last." In Isa. 41:4 we read, "I, Yahweh, the First and with the Last, I am He." But in Isa. 44:6 it is, "Thus said Yahweh, Israel's King and His Redeemer, Yahweh of Hosts, I am THE FIRST and THE LAST, and beside me there is not God." John here has a vision of the glorified Christ, who is the image and expression of God (Yahweh) Himself. Here we have a very high "Christology," to use a theological term.
Then vs. 18 continues, "even The Living One (or: the One continuously living)." God, or those joined to God (e.g., John 15:1-6, He the Vine; we the branches) is the only one who is really living. But He "brought [Himself [to be] a dead one," or "came by [Himself to be dead." This speaks of His death on the cross, but also to when "He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, having been born in the likeness of mankind" (Phil. 2:7). He entered by birth into the realm of death. Through death to THIS realm, via the cross, He entered into Life once more, being the First-born from the dead ones.
But what does it mean that He "constantly holds the keys of Death and the Unseen (Hades)"? Simply put, He controls the access into and out of Death. "And the Lord Yahweh has the outgoings of death (or: And to Yahweh, my Lord, belong the exits from death; CVOT)" (Ps. 68:20). In Isa. 22:20-22 we see "the One Whom God has set up" (normally transliterated, "Eliakim"), "the Son of Yah's portion" (normally trans., "Hilkiah"), clothed, strengthened, and the government committed into His hand, "and the key of the house of David will I lay upon His shoulder; so he shall open and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open." See also Rev. 3:7. In Matt 16:18-19 we see the church given the Keys of the Kingdom (sovereign reign) with the ability to bind and to loose – and the gates (which need keys) of the Unseen (Hades) unable to prevail against her. The called-out community, in partnership with this glorified Christ, has the power and ability to unlock the gates of Hades and loose the captives!
In vs. 19 John is told to write what he saw – even existing things (or: what they are) – as well as which things are about to be birthed into existence at that time. There is no hint here that all this pertained to some distant future.
Vs. 20 explains a secret for us: the seven stars are a symbol of agents which pertain to the congregations, or who are "folks with a message from the called-out communities," while the lampstands figure these symbolic (remember: the number 7 is an idea, a symbol) seven called-out communities.
That the messenger-agents were pictured as stars call to mind Dan. 12:3, "The intelligent shall warn as the warning of the atmosphere, and those turning many to righteousness will be as the stars for the eon and further" (CVOT). We see in the following chapters that Christ's messages are to be delivered to, by, for or in these agents. The lampstand (pre-figured in the tabernacle/temple scene) are a figure of the called-out. They are only one lampstand, yet 7; 7 yet one. In this figure, not one church is joined to another: each is joined to Christ, the Vine.
The oil, representing the Spirit of God, is burning in the 7 lamps – so here we have the 7 spirits of God. The holy of holies (a figure of heaven, the realm of spirit) had only God's presence for light; the holy place (figure of the darkened world that has the presence of God's called-out for light, bread and prayer) has the church for light. Outside the realm where the church hold forth the light is "outer darkness." We bear His light into the darkness (the only place a lamp is needed) – but in the darkness, if there is no light, all is UNSEEN (Hades).