The impact of John’s vision was powerful, even overwhelming. His senses could hardly take it all in, every aspect was at maximum capacity—flashes of fire and lightning, the thunderous roar of waterfalls, the blinding glow of white light, the heat and gleam of burnished bronze.
But now, with Jesus’s gentle touch and quiet reassurance, this kaleidoscope coalesced into discernable words.
A Prophecy Confirmed
He placed His right hand upon me, saying, “Do not be afraid: I AM the First and the Last, and the One living—and I was dead and behold, I am alive into the aeons of aeons—and I have the keys of death and of Hades,Revelation 1:17-18
Jesus in all His glory had stunned Peter, James, and John, those years ago, on Mount Hermon. They had all been terrified, and could only look on in mute wonder as Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah—representing all the Law and the Prophets. Then Peter had blurted out something about building commemorative booths. The Father’s voice from heaven had quickly silenced him. This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!
The old terror had come swiftly back, constricting John’s chest, crumpling his knees, emptying his mind.
But Jesus’s words had calmed him.
This was the risen Christ. He had died, yes, but He had also risen from the grave, and in fact ascended into heaven, John had seen it all with his own eyes. This was his own Rabbi, Lord, and Savior. And now Jesus was confirming a prophecy He had delivered at the foot of Mount Hermon.
Jesus had taken His disciples into the region of Caesarea Philippi, predominantly Gentile and ruled by the tetrarch Herod Philip, a son of Herod the Great. It was a famously beautiful area. And it seems Jesus had brought His disciples to the foot of Mount Hermon, a sheer rock cliff. At the top of the cliff was a dazzling white temple dedicated to the deity of Caesar. Then, along the cliff face was a far more ancient place, the place where the Greek god Pan was worshiped. Pan’s temple was situated on the side of a great crack in the mountain, described as being “without bottom.” It was thought that Pan, the god of nature, had been born in this cave.
It was also thought that the spring waters of the river Jordan originated in the same cave.
This cavity in the mountain was called “The Gates of Hades” by the population at that time, believing that it was the portal from which devils and spirits would come out from the land of death into the world.
Deliberately set against this backdrop of world religions, Jesus had begun to pray. When He finished, He asked His disciples to answer the question now rippling throughout Palestine.
He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist but others Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”Matthew 16:13-19 (NRSV)
There are a good number of ideas about what Jesus had meant, calling Simon “Peter,” and giving him the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” In point of fact, all the apostles had been given those keys—the authority to teach from Jesus’s teaching—and they, in turn, had taught their own disciples and passed those keys down. All those who have the anointing and gifting of the Holy Spirit to teach, shepherd, and guide have been given these keys.
But it is the Gates of Hades that Jesus now had drawn John’s attention to.
When they had all been together, those many years before, Jesus must have swept His hands up to take in the cliff, the famous temple to Pan, and the gorgeous scenery all around them. The ultimate power of Satan, the seduction of temptation into sin, the rule of death that was ushered into the world in Genesis 3, would not be able to withstand the awesome power of the resurrection.
Now, Jesus announced to John, the keys to those Gates were held by the risen Christ.
A Commission to Perform
“Therefore, write what you saw, and what things are, and what things are about to become after these things.Revelation 1:19
Three layers: Peter was to write down the visions given to him.
He was then to write down the revelation—what things truly are, unveiled. This is the apocalypse, explaining reality in both physical and spiritual terms.
But also, Peter was to convey what was about to happen.
To historians, this is understood as the awful events about to occur in 70 CE, the destruction and bloodshed of Jerusalem, the unimaginably cruel and violent persecutions that took place in those decades, and yet also the promise of God to vindicate every martyr, and to establish God’s Kingdom within God’s people, as in heaven.
To futurists, this is understood as prophecy concerning the end of earth as we know it, and the ushering in of a new physical universe as well as spiritual era.
Seven Epistles to Communicate
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the seven Angels of the seven assemblies, and the seven lampstands are the seven assemblies.”Revelation 1:20
After giving John his commission, Jesus now gave John his first concrete three-layered writing assignment:
- Write what you saw: Seven stars in Jesus’s hand, and Jesus Himself standing amid the seven lampstands.
- Write what things are: The unveiling of the stars and the lampstands—they represent angels (or messengers) and assemblies of believers.
- Write what things are about to become after these things: Jesus had a message for each of the assemblies, what Jesus had observed among them, instructions and warnings for them, encouragement, exhortation, and a prophetic promise.
There has been some hypothesizing about who the ἄγγελοι | angeloi are.
The word itself is where we get the English word “angel” from, and means “messenger.” In the Septuagint, this word is often used in a special sense to mean a spiritual, heavenly being serving God and sent as messengers by God to people. But angeloi were also understood to be human delegates, or even rulers.
If they were heavenly beings, why would Jesus have John write letters to each of them? They are already in the throne room of God. On the other hand, why use this word, so often employed to mean spiritual, heavenly beings, when other more common words for elder, overseer, or leader were available?
Christian theologians have posited these seven angeloi as bishops of each of the assemblies, or maybe the prevailing spirit of each church.
In any case, the letters were to be sent to certain envoys for each of the seven assemblies.
 Abbot-Smith Lexicon, ἄγγελος, -ου, ὁ, [in LXX chiefly for מַלְאָךְ ;]