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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  

Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  VICTORY

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

During the next six studies we will be discussing the victory that we have through Christ.  This week’s study will focus on the Victory we have in Jesus Christ; and the future celebration we will have with Him.


Mar. 05

Jesus, Our Victor


Mar. 12

Victorious Hope


Mar. 19

Victory Over Sin


Mar. 26

Victorious Faith


April 02

Victory Over Fear


April 09

Victory Shared


April 16

He Is Risen



Jesus Christ is the victorious Lord of all.


Revelation 1:12-20





Christ’s Glory Reflects His Victory (Rev. 1:12-16)

Christ’s Resurrection Guarantees His Victory  (Rev. 1:17-18)

Christ’s Victory Guarantees the Church’s Victory (Rev. 1:19-20)


  Late in the first century, the Roman emperor Domitian exiled the apostle John to the island of Patmos. While there, John received a revelation from the risen Lord Jesus, who told John to write down the message and send it to seven churches in Asia Minor. The Lord also gave John visions of the events at the end of the age, of Christ’s triumphant return, and of the new heaven and new earth.  The outcome of John’s commission was the Book of Revelation.  It belongs to the genre of apocalyptic literature, which reveals truths that are hidden.  For that reason, many avoid it because they find the apocalyptic writing style complex and mysterious.  Yet, this book of marvelous truth ought not be overlooked or neglected.  The Scripture portion for this study is part of the initial vision John received “while in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”  The message he recorded would be a word of hope and assurance to churches then and now.  In Christ is victory for He is the eternal Victor!             

ADAPTED  FROM: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN. and  Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.


“You win some, you lose some.” We all face many battles in life—some more important than others. Sometimes we are victorious, yet at other times we go down in defeat. But no matter what our circumstances are, we can share in the most important victory of all.  We can experience victory in life because Jesus—the Lord of all—is the Victor and has already won the victory on our behalf.  His ultimate victory was victory over sin and death!

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Christ’s Glory Reflects His Victory (Rev. 1:12-16)

12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was one like the Son of Man, dressed in a robe and with a golden sash wrapped around his chest. 14 The hair of his head was white as wool — white as snow — and his eyes like a fiery flame.  15 His feet were like fine bronze as it is fired in a furnace, and his voice like the sound of cascading waters. 16 He had seven stars in his right hand; a sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth, and his face was shining like the sun at full strength.








1.     If you knew in advance you were going to win a game, how would that impact the way you played?

2.     Why can’t people escape the “high’s” and “low’s” of life, no matter how much they know or how hard they try?

3.     What enticed John to turn to look (v. 12)?

4.     What did John mean that he saw seven golden lampstands (v. 12)?   (see Digging Deeper for definition of Lampstands—also see commentary on v. 12—Expositors and Complete; also see article: “Lampstands in Revelation.”)

5.     What image does “one like the Son of Man”  paint for you?  (see Dan. 7:9-14 in Digging Deeper.)

6.     Based on verses 13-16, how does John describe the One whose voice he heard?

7.     How do these verses compare to our typical picture of Jesus?

8.     What do the images in these verses tell you about Christ?

9.     What do you think it means that the Son of Man was among the lampstands (v. 13)?

10.  If Christ was in the midst of the lampstand, what message did this picture send to the churches?

11.  What does Zechariah 4:1-14 add to the discussion? 

12.  What do you think the images of: hair as white as wool (snow)Fiery flaming eyesFeet--Seven Stars--Double-edged sword,  symbolize (vv. 13-15)?

13.  To what does the “seven stars in his right hand”  refer (v. 16)?  (see commentary on v. 16a—Expositors and Complete.)

14.  To what does “a sharp double-edged sword “ coming from his mouth refer (v. 16b)? (see commentary on v. 16a—Expositors and Complete.)  What do you think makes this image of Jesus unique? 

15.  Which part of the images of Jesus do you think is most striking?  Why?

16.  If you saw the glorified Jesus, how might it impact the way you view yourself?

17.  In what ways has God revealed Himself to you through a worship experience?

18.  Why can we live in victory no matter where we are or what our circumstances?


Lasting Lessons in Rev. 1:12-16:

1.  You can live in victory no matter where you are or what your circumstances.

2.  The glorified Jesus is Lord of all, and He is actively guiding and correcting His church.

3.  Jesus uses the Word of God to correct and strengthen the church.



Christ’s Resurrection Guarantees His Victory  (Rev. 1:17-18)

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. He laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, 18 and the Living One. I was dead, but look — I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.

1.     Why does the resurrection of Christ guarantees His victory?

2.     Why do you think John reacted as he did when he saw Christ (v. 17)?

3.     Why do you think John “fell at his feet like a dead man.” (v. 17)?

4.     What did John’s reaction lead Christ to do and say to John (v. 17)? 

5.     Why do you think Jesus did what He did to John?

6.     What does Ezek. 1:28; Dan. 8;17; 10:9; Isa. 6:5 tell us about others who saw the Lord the same way that John did?

7.     What did Jesus mean by saying “I am the First and the Last, (v. 17)?  (see Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12; also see commentary on v. 17—Expositors and Believers.)

8.     How would you explain the significance of Jesus saying that He was “the First and the Last,” (v. 17)?

9.     How would you compare the sound of Jesus’ voice in verse 15 with the world He spoke in verse 17?

10.  What does verse 18 tell us about Jesus Christ? 

11.  What does verse 18 tell you about your salvation?

12.  How would you describe the word Hades (v. 18)?  (see Digging Deeper & articles: Sheol, Hades and Hell & Hades  A First Century Understanding.)

13.  What do you find most encouraging in the verses of this passage?

14.  Based on this passage, how would you explain, not only John’s victory, but every believer’s victory?

15.  Do you think Jesus’ victory over death frees us from the fear of dying?  Why, or why not?


Lasting Lessons in Rev. 1:17-18:

1.  Jesus inspires deep humility and true worship.

2.  Jesus dispels the fears of those who come to Him.

3.  Jesus is God, and He has power over death.



Christ’s Victory Guarantees the Church’s Victory (Rev. 1:19-20)

19 Therefore write what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this. 20 The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

1.     How would you explain Jesus’ instructions to write “what you have seen, what is, and what will take place after this.”  (v. 19)?

2.     How does Jesus explain the mystery of the seven stars John saw in Jesus’ right hand (v. 20)?

3.     How does Jesus explain the mystery of the seven golden lampstands (v. 20)?

4.     What do you think is significant about Jesus’ “right hand” (v. 20)?

5.     What is the significance of the “lampstands” (v. 20)?

6.     How would you explain the meaning of “the angles of the seven churches”  (v. 20)?

7.     If the “angles” are heavenly beings, what does it mean that Jesus holds them in His right hand?

8.     If the “angles” are earthly beings, what does it mean that Jesus holds them in His right hand?

9.     What does it mean to you that Jesus holds the churches in His hands?

10.  Why does Christ’s victory guarantees the Church’s victory?

11.  Based on the entire focal passage, why do you think the church needs this message?

12.  What do you think would help “churches” shine more “light” into the world?

13.  How does knowing that the final victory over life and death belongs to Jesus change your view of difficulties?  If so, how?

14.  How do you think we should live each day with knowing about the victory Jesus promises us?

15.  What elements in John’s vision of Jesus bring you the most comfort?  Why?


Lasting Lessons in Rev. 1:19-20:

1.  Jesus is in control of the past, the present, and the future.

2.  The church is of supreme importance in the plan of God.

3.  Like Jesus, the church will experience suffering before Glory.



  Satan continues to stalk like a ravenous lion.  Sin still works its destruction.  And, unless the Lord returns first, death is inevitable.  Such a perspective, while true, could lead us to despair and a defeatist attitude.  But when we look from the perspective of Christ, we see that Satan, sin, and death have already been defeated.  Jesus Christ is victorious over each—and anything else that threatens us as a people of faith.  His glory reflects His victory.  His resurrection guarantees victory.  Therefore, with confidence we can press forward, for no foe can defeat us.

How does knowing that “Jesus Christ is victorious over all” help you when adversity strikes in your life?  What situations have you faced but overcome because of the victorious Christ?  When it comes to sharing the victory you have experienced, where do you stand?  On a scale of 1 (sharing very little) to 10 (sharing constantly) rate your sharing experience?  Have you been victorious in sharing Christ’s victory with others?  If not, ask the Holy Spirit to help you improve your sharing experience? He will!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:  Revelation 1:12-20

Revelation 1:12-20 (KJV)

12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. 19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; 20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.


New King James Version:  Revelation 1:12-20

Revelation 1:12-20 (NKJV)

12 Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15 His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. 17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. 19 Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. 20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.


The Message:   Revelation 1:12-20

Revelation 1:12-20 (MSG)

12 I turned and saw the voice. I saw a gold menorah with seven branches, 13 And in the center, the Son of Man, in a robe and gold breastplate, 14 hair a blizzard of white, Eyes pouring fire-blaze, 15 both feet furnace-fired bronze, His voice a cataract,
16 right hand holding the Seven Stars, His mouth a sharp-biting sword, his face a perigee sun. 17 I saw this and fainted dead at his feet. His right hand pulled me upright, his voice reassured me: "Don't fear: I am First, I am Last, 18 I'm Alive. I died, but I came to life, and my life is now forever. See these keys in my hand? They open and lock Death's doors, they open and lock Hell's gates. 19 Now write down everything you see: things that are, things about to be. 20 The Seven Stars you saw in my right hand and the seven-branched gold menorah—do you want to know what's behind them? The Seven Stars are the Angels of the seven churches; the menorah's seven branches are the seven churches."


 (NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament,Believer's Bible Commentary,The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)


Lesson Outline — “Jesus, Our Victor” — Revelation 1:12-20




Christ’s Glory Reflects His Victory (Rev. 1:12-16)

Christ’s Resurrection Guarantees His Victory  (Rev. 1:17-18)

Christ’s Victory Guarantees the Church’s Victory (Rev. 1:19-20)


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament:  Revelation 1:12-20

1:12. For the OT tabernacle, Moses constructed a seven-branched lampstand (Exod 25:31 ff.). Subsequently this lampstand symbolized Israel. Zechariah had a vision of a seven-branched golden lampstand fed by seven pipes—explained to him as the “eyes of the Lord, which range through the earth” (4:10). Thus the lampstand relates directly to the Lord himself: Since other allusions to Zechariah’s vision of the lampstand appear in the Revelation—e. g., “seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God” (5:6) and the “two witnesses” that are “the two olive trees” (11:3-4)-it is logical to assume here a connection with that vision as well.

But there are problems in any strict identification. In v. 20 Christ tells John that the “seven lampstands are the seven churches” and in 2:5 that it is possible to lose one’s place as a lampstand through a failure to repent. Therefore, the imagery represents the individual churches scattered among the nations—churches that bear the light of the divine revelation of the gospel of Christ to the world (Matt 5:14). If Zechariah’s imagery was in John’s mind, it might mean that the churches, which correspond to the people of God today, are light bearers only because of their intimate connection with Christ, the source of the light, through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:4b; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6).

1:13.  Evidently the words “someone ‘like a son of man’” are to be understood in connection with Daniel 7:13 as a reference to the heavenly Messiah who is also human. Jesus preferred the title Son of Man for himself throughout his earthly ministry, though he did not deny, on occasion, the appropriate use of “Son of God” as well (John 10:36; cf. Mark 14:61). Both titles are nearly identical terms for the Messiah. The early church, however, refrained from using “Son of Man” for Jesus except rarely, such as when there was some special connection between the suffering of believers and Christ’s suffering and glory.

“Dressed in a robe” begins the sevenfold description of the Son of Man. The vision creates an impression of the whole rather than of particular abstract concepts. John saw Christ as the divine Son of God in the fullest sense of that term. He also saw him as fulfilling the OT descriptions of the coming Messiah by using terms drawn from the OT imagery of divine wisdom, power, steadfastness, and penetrating vision. The long robe and golden sash were worn by the priests in the OT (Exod 28:4) and may here signify Christ as the great High Priest to the churches in fulfillment of the OT Aaronic priesthood or, less specifically, may indicate his dignity and divine authority (Ezek 9:2, 11). In Ecclesiasticus 45:8, Aaron is mentioned as having the symbols of authority: “the linen breeches, the long robe, and the ephod.”

1:14. In an apparent allusion to Daniel, Christ’s head and hair are described as “white like wool, as white as snow” (Dan 7:9; cf. 10:5). For John, the same functions of ruler and judge ascribed to the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel’s vision relate to Jesus. In Eastern countries, white hair commands respect and indicates the wisdom of years. This part of the vision may have shown John something of the deity and wisdom of Christ (cf. Col 2:3). Christ’s eyes were like a “blazing fire,” a detail not found in Daniel s vision of the Son of man (Dan 7) but occurring in Daniel 10:6. This simile is repeated in the letter to Thyatira (2:18) and in the vision of Christ’s triumphant return and defeat of his enemies (19:12). It may portray either his penetrating scrutiny or fierce judgment.

1:15 “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace” (cf. 2:18). The Greek is difficult. His feet appeared like shining bronze, as if it were fired to white heat in a kiln. A similar figure of glowing metal is found in Ezekiel 1:13, 27; 8:2; Daniel 10:6. In both Ezekiel and Daniel the brightness of shining metal like fire is one of the symbols connected with the appearance of the glory of God. Revelation 2:18 ff. might imply that the simile of feet “like burnished bronze” represents triumphant judgment (i.e., treading or trampling down) of those who are unbelieving and unfaithful to the truth of Christ.

“His voice was like the sound of rushing [lit., ‘many’] waters” describes the glory and majesty of God in a way similar to that in Ezekiel (1:24; 43:2). Anyone who has heard the awe-inspiring sound of a Niagara or Victoria Falls cannot but appreciate this image of God’s power and sovereignty (Ps 93:4). The same figure occurs in 14:2 and 19:6 (cf. also the Apocalypse of Ezra, a late Jewish book written about the same time or slightly earlier than Revelation; it similarly refers to the voice of God [4 Ezra 6:17]).

1:16. “In his right hand he held seven stars.” The right hand is the place of power and safety, and the “seven stars” Christ held in it are identified with the seven angels of the seven churches in Asia (v. 20). This is the only detail in the vision that is identified. Why the symbolism of stars? This probably relates to the use of “angels” as those to whom the letters to the seven churches are addressed (chs. 2-3). Stars are associated in the OT and in Revelation with angels (Job 38:7, Rev 9:1) or faithful witnesses to God (Dan 12:3). The first letter (that to Ephesus) includes in its introduction a reference to the seven stars (2:1), and in 3:1 they are associated closely with the “seven spirits of God.”

John sees a “sharp double-edged sword” going forth from the mouth of Christ. Originally this was a large broad-bladed sword used by the Thracians. The metaphor of a sword coming from the mouth is important for three reasons: (1) John refers to this characteristic of Christ several times (1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21);(2) he uses a rare word for sword (rhomphaia) that is found only once outside Revelation (Luke 2:35); and (3) there is no scriptural parallel to the expression except in Isaiah 11:4, where it is said that the Messiah will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth” and “with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

The sword is both a weapon and a symbol of war, oppression, anguish, and political authority. But John seems to intend a startling difference in the function of this sword, since it proceeds from the mouth of Christ rather than being wielded in his hand. Christ will overtake the Nicolaitans at Pergamos and make war with them by the sword of his mouth (2:12, 16). He strikes down the rebellious at his coming with such a sword (19:15, 21). The figure points definitely to divine judgment but not to the type of power wielded by the nations. Christ conquers the world through his death and resurrection, and the sword is his faithful witness to God’s saving purposes. The weapons of his followers are loyalty, truthfulness, and righteousness (19:8, 14).

Finally, the face of Christ is likened to “the sun shining in all its brilliance.” This is a simile of Christ’s divine glory, preeminence, and victory (Matt 13:43; 17:2; cf. Rev 10:1; 1 Enoch 14:21).

1:17-18. These verses identify Christ to John and connect the vision of the glorified Christ (vv. 13-16) with his existence in history. The vision is seen in the light of the Eternal One who identifies himself in these verses. “I fell at his feet as though dead” indicates that in the vision John actually saw a supernatural being and was stricken with trembling and fear, as had the prophets before him (Ezek 1:28; Dan 8:17, 10:9). Immediately Christ placed his hand on John and assured him that he would not die: “Do not be afraid” (cf. 2:10; 19:10; 22:8; Matt 17:6-7). The title “the First and the Last,” which belongs to God in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12 (where it means that he alone is God, the absolute Lord of history and the Creator), shows that in John’s Christology Christ is identified with the Deity.

Christ is also “the Living One” in that he, like God, never changes. Probably this expression is a further elaboration of what it means to be “the First and the Last,” i.e., he alone of all the gods can speak and act in the world (Josh 3:10; 1Sam 17:26; Ps 42:2; Rev 7:2). These divine qualities of his person are now linked to his earthly existence in first-century Palestine—“I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” This passage is sufficient to counter the claim that John’s view of Christ does not revolve around atonement theology. On the contrary, his whole view of Jesus and his kingdom revolves around the Cross and resurrection—an interpretation that should serve to set the tone for all the visions that follow.

It was through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection that he won the right to have the “keys of death and Hades.” Keys grant the holder access to interiors and their contents, and in ancient times the wearing of large keys was a mark of status in the community (cf. 3:7; 9:1, 20:1, 21:25). “Hades” translates the Hebrew term seol (“death,” “grave”) almost everywhere in the LXX. In the NT the word has a twofold usage: in some cases it denotes the place of all the departed dead (Acts 2:27, 31); in others, it refers to the place of the departed wicked (Luke 16:23; Rev 20:13-14). Since Christ alone has conquered death and has himself come out of Hades, he alone can determine who will enter death and Hades and who will come out of these. He has the “keys.” For the Christian, death can only be seen as the servant of Christ.

1:19. John is told to “write, therefore, what you have seen.” This verse faces us with an important exegetical problem concerning the sense of the words and the relationship of the three clauses: “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Does Christ give John a chronological outline as a key to the visions in the book? Many think he does. If so, are there three divisions: “seen,” “now,” and “later”? Or are there two: “seen,” i.e., “now” and “later”? In the latter case, where does the chronological break take place in the book? For others, v. 19 simply gives a general statement of the contents of all the visions throughout the book as containing a mixture of the “now” and the “later.”

While no general agreement prevails, the key to the problem may lie in the middle term “what is now.” The Greek simply reads “which [things] are” (ha eisin). There are two possibilities. First, the verb can be taken temporally (“now”) as NIV has done. This would refer to things that were present in John’s day, e.g., matters discussed in the letters to the churches (2-3). Or second, the verb can be taken in the sense of what they mean” (Alf, 4:559). This later explanation agrees with John’s usage of the verb eisin throughout the book (cf. 1:20; 4:5; 5:6, 8; 7:14; 17:12, 15). “What they are [mean]” would immediately be given in the next verse, i.e., the explanation of the mystery of the lamps and stars. The change from the plural verb eisin in the second term to the singular mellei (“will”) in the third tends to distinguish the last two expressions from both being time references.

Again, most commentators understand the phrase “what you have seen” as referring to the first vision (1:12-16); but it may refer to the whole book as the expression “what you see” in v. 11 does. In this case the translation could be either “what you saw, both the things that are and the things that will occur afterwards,” or “what you saw, both what it means and what will occur afterwards.” “What will take place later” clearly refers to the future, but to the future of what? Some have taken the similar but not identical phrase in 4:1 (q.v.) to mean the same as here and have rendered it “what shall take place after these present things,” i.e., after the things relating to the seven churches (2-3). This results in either the historicist view of chapters 4-22 or in the futurist view of them. But if the future is simply the future visions given to John after this initial vision, then the statement has little significance in indicating chronological sequence in the book. While v. 19 may provide a helpful key to the book’s plan, on careful analysis it by no means gives us a clear key to it.

John is told to write down a description of the vision of Christ he has just seen, what it means, and what he will see afterward, i.e., not the end-time things, but the things revealed later to him—whether they are wholly future, wholly present, or both future and present depends on the content of the vision. This leaves the question open concerning the structure of the book and its chronological progression, as John may have intended.

1:20.  The first vision is called a “mystery” (mysterion). In the NT a “mystery” is something formerly secret but now revealed or identified. Thus John identifies the “mystery” of the harlot in chapter 17 by indicating that she is the “great city” that rules over the kings of the earth (vv. 7, 18; cf. 10:7). The seven stars represent the “angels of the seven churches.” Who are the angels? There is no totally satisfactory answer to this question. The Greek word for angels (angeloi ) occurs sixty-seven times in Revelation and in every other instance refers to heavenly messengers, though occasionally in the NT it can mean a human messenger (Luke 7:24; 9:52; James 2:25 [Gr.]).

A strong objection to the human messenger sense here is the fact that the word is not used that way anywhere else in apocalyptic literature. Furthermore, in early noncanonical Christian literature no historical person connected with the church is ever called an angelos. Mounce and others (Beckwith, Morris) following Swete, who claims the idea comes from the Spanish Benedictine Beatus of Liebana (c. 785) (p. 22), identify the angels as a “way of personifying the prevailing spirit of the church” (Mounce, Revelation, p. 82). Though this is an attractive approach to our Western way of thinking, it too lacks any supporting evidence in the NT use of the word angelos and especially of its use in Revelation. Therefore, this rare and difficult reference should be understood to refer to the heavenly messengers who have been entrusted by Christ with responsibility over the churches and yet who are so closely identified with them that the letters are addressed at the same time to these “messengers” and to the congregation (cf. the plural form in 2:10, 13, 23-24).

As stated in v. 16, the stars are clearly linked in 3:1 with the seven spirits of God. Whatever may be the correct identification of the angels, the emphasis rests on Christ’s immediate presence and communication through the Spirit to the churches. There is no warrant for connecting the seven stars with the seven planets or with images on Domitian s coins (Stauffer). In some sense, the reference to angels in the churches shows that the churches are more than a gathering of mere individuals or a social institution; they have a corporate and heavenly character (cf. 1Cor 11:10; Eph 3:10; Heb 1:14). That the “seven lampstands are the seven churches” not only shows that the churches are the earthly counterpart of the stars but links the vision of Christ with his authority to rule and judge his churches.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Believer's Bible Commentary: Revelation 1:12-20

Suddenly John heard behind him a voice with the clarity, volume, and tone of a trumpet.

1:11, 12.  It was Jesus, directing him to write in a book what he was about to see and to send it to the seven churches. Turning to see the Speaker, John saw seven golden lampstands, each one having a base, a single vertical stem, and an oil-burning lamp at the top.

1:13.  The Person in the midst of the seven lampstands was One like the Son of Man. There was nothing between Him and the individual lampstands, no agency, hierarchy, or organization. Each church was autonomous. In describing the Lord, says McConkey:

The Spirit ransacks the realm of nature for symbols that might convey some faint conception to our dull and finite minds of the glory, splendor, and majesty of this coming One, who is the Christ of Revelation.

His outer garment was the long robe of a judge. The band around His chest symbolizes the righteousness and faithfulness with which He judges (see Isa. 11:5).

1:14.  His head and hair were white like wool, picturing His eternity, as the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9), and also the wisdom and purity of His judgments. Eyes like a flame of fire speak of perfect knowledge, infallible insight, and inescapable scrutiny.

1:15.  The Lord's feet were like polished brass, as if refined in a furnace. Since brass is a consistent type of judgment, this supports the view that it is the judicial office that is primarily in view. His voice sounded like the waves of the sea, or a mountain cataract, majestic and awesome.

1:16.  He held in His right hand seven stars, indicating possession, power, control, and honor. Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, the word of God (Heb. 4:12). Here it refers to the keen and accurate verdicts concerning His people, as seen in the letters to the seven churches. His countenance was radiant as the sun at high noon, the dazzling splendor and transcendent glory of His deity.

Combining all these thoughts, we see Christ in all His perfections as supremely qualified to judge the seven churches. Later in the book He will judge His foes, but "judgment (must) begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17). Note, however, that it is a different kind of judgment in each case. The churches are judged with the purpose of purification and reward, the world with the purpose of punishment.

1:17. The sight of the Judge prostrated John at His feet as if dead, but the Lord revived him by revealing Himself as the First and the Last, a title of Jehovah (Isa. 44:6; 48:12).

1:18.  The Judge is the Living One who was dead but is now alive forevermore. He has the keys of Hades and of Death, having control over both and uniquely able to raise the dead. Hades here stands for the soul and Death for the body. When a person dies, the soul is in Hades, a name used to describe the disembodied state. The body goes to the grave. For the believer the disembodied state is the same as being present with the Lord. At the resurrection, the soul is reunited with the glorified body and raptured (caught up) to the Father's house.

1:19.  John must write the things which he had seen (Chap. 1); the things which are (Chaps. 2, 3); and the things which will take place after this (Chaps. 4-22). This forms the general outline of the book.

1:20.  The Lord then explained to John the hidden meaning of the seven stars and the seven golden lampstands. The stars represented the angels or messengers of the seven churches, whereas the lampstands represented the seven churches themselves.

Various explanations of the angels have been offered. Some say that they were angelic beings who represented the churches, just as angels represent nations (Dan. 10:13, 20, 21). Others say that they were the bishops (or pastors) of the churches, an explanation that lacks scriptural support. Still others say that they were human messengers who picked up the letters from John in Patmos and delivered them to the individual churches. The same Greek word (angelos) means either angel or messenger, but in this book the first meaning is very prominent.

Although the letters are addressed to angels, the contents are clearly intended for all in the churches.

The lampstands were light-bearers and were a fitting emblem of local churches, which are supposed to shine for God amid the darkness of this world.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Revelation 1:12-20

John was not only to hear but to see and to write what he saw in a book, probably meaning on a roll of writing material made from the inner bark of the papyrus reed grown in the marshes of Egypt. Once the book was complete he was to send it to each of the seven churches of Asia. The order in which they are named is geographical. On the map they appear in a sort of circular progression. Ephesus, in Lydia, was the chief city of the Roman province of Asia, and the church there was established by Paul. Smyrna was a beautiful city on the Mediterranean coast about 45 miles north of Ephesus. Pergamos, the ancient Pergamum, modern Bergama, was the most important city of Mysia and was once the ancient capital of a wealthy kingdom. It was about 70 miles north of Smyrna. Thyatira, founded by Macedonian Greeks, was about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum on the Lycus River in Lydia. It was a busy industrial city noted for the dying of purple cloth. Sardis, the ancient capital city of Lydia, was a very wealthy city because of trade and the manufacture of textiles, dyes, and jewelry. It was about 30 miles southwest of Thyatira. Philadelphia (which means "love of brothers"), in Lydia, was about 30 miles east-southeast of Sardis and was a center of Greek culture. Laodicea, in Phrygia, had a large colony of Jews and was about 50 miles southeast of Philadelphia.

1:12. When John turned to see whose voice it was that was speaking to him, the first things he saw were seven golden "lampstands" (NIV). These were seven separate lampstands, not the seven-branched lampstand made by Moses (Exodus 25:31-37). These lampstands represented the seven churches of Asia which had just been named. The gold speaks of Christ in all His deity and glory, for the Church is the body of Christ. The olive oil burning in the lamps typifies the Holy Spirit. Thus, even though persecuted, the seven churches still had the power of the Spirit and the light of Christ to give to the world.

1:13. The seven churches needed to know that Christ was still in their midst as their compassionate High Priest and conquering King. The attention here is not on the churches, however, but on Jesus in the midst. The Book of Revelation is first and foremost a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is described as "one like unto the Son of man." This is another example of the use of Old Testament language in the Book of Revelation. The phrase identifies Jesus with the One prophesied in Daniel 7:13. This Jesus, whom John saw, is the triumphant One who will come to receive "dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him" (Daniel 7:14).

His clothing indicated both priestly dignity and royal office. The garment or long tunic was like that worn by priests and kings. The belt or band of pure gold around His chest (see Daniel 10:5) was a mark of triumphant royalty in contrast to the worker or servant who wore a belt of cloth or leather about the loins. Christ, the King-Priest identified as Jesus by the Book of Hebrews, is now at the right hand of the Father interceding on the believer's behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 2:1).

1:14. The language of the descriptions given in verses 14 and 15 apply to God himself, especially as the mighty Judge and Ruler of the universe. Thus, John made it clear that all the attributes of the Father which the Old Testament visions described are also attributes of the Son. To the Son has been given all power and authority both to reign and to be the world's Judge (Matthew 28:18; John 5:22, 27).

The whiteness of the hair (see Daniel 7:9) represents absolute purity and the dazzling splendor of His holiness. The eyes like a flame of fire (see Daniel 10:6) speak of His penetrating wisdom and His righteous judgment.

1:15. The feet of the finest burnished, fire-refined, bronze (such as was used in censers for incense) speak not only of strength but of the brazen altar and thus of the sacrifice of Christ. Some believe that this bronze, instead of being the ordinary alloy of copper and tin, was an alloy of copper and gold (Ford, The Anchor Bible, 38:383).

The voice John heard was the voice of God, coming like the sound of many waters, loud and clear (see Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2). Thus, in this vision Jesus presented himself as the one Mediator between God and man as well as the One in whom dwells "the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9).

1:16. The seven stars in Jesus' right hand most probably represented the leaders or pastors of the seven churches. Being in His hand means protection and much more. The right hand is the hand of action. Thus, they were ready for Him to use them. No persecutor, no enemy of the Church, could stop them from leading the churches to do the will of the Lord and win victories for Him. In His hand—what a good place to be!

The sharp sword that came from Christ's mouth was also their sword, the sword of the Spirit, the powerful Word of God. (See Isaiah 11:4; 49:2; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:15.) It may be that the sword also speaks of reproof and punishment to the churches, judgment beginning in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). (See also 19:15 where the sword means judgment on the nations.)

Christ's face was like the sun in its strength, that is, in its full, summertime, noonday brilliance. In His resurrection appearances, though the body of Jesus was changed and was free from our limits of time and space, yet its full glory was veiled. It may be that the full restoration of that glory did not take place until after the Ascension (see John 17:5). At least, on the Damascus Road the light of His glory was enough to blind Saul who became the apostle Paul (Acts 9:3, 8). What John saw here was the fullness of the glory of God in the face of Jesus—a fullness of glory that even Moses was not permitted to see (Exodus 33:18-23, especially verse 22; compare Exodus 34:29; Judges 5:31; Matthew 13:43; 17:2).

Believers can worship Christ now, and the Holy Spirit makes them very conscious of His presence. Yet, it is not until they are changed at the resurrection and the rapture of the Church that they will be able to see Him in the fullness of the glory "as he is" (1 John 3:2; see also 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52).

1:17. John had already seen a glimpse of Christ's glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. There the face of Jesus shone like the sun, and His clothes glistened and glittered like lightning flashes from the outshining of inner glory (Matthew 17:2). But that was only a foretaste. The disciples were awed, but not struck down. John on Patmos, however, was not able to stand the full impact of the glory of God in Christ and fell into what must have been an unconscious state, a coma.

Then the same right hand that had held the seven stars was laid on John. He felt the same gentle touch and heard the same "Fear not" that had so often encouraged the disciples while Jesus ministered to them during His life on earth. What peace John must have felt, the peace that Jesus gives (John 14:27)!

Along with the "Fear not," Jesus gave John wonderful assurance. He has not changed. He is still the first and the last; the eternal, unchanging Christ; the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He wants to be the most important Person in believers' lives so they can be prepared for that day when He shall come again.

1:18. Jesus gave the further assurance that He is the same living Christ who rose from the dead and inspired new faith in His followers after the terrible ordeal of the Cross. He lives forever, and the future is in His hands.

"The Living One" ("I am he that liveth") is actually a title of God. (See Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 16; Psalms 42:2; 84:2; Isaiah 37:4, 17; Jeremiah 10:10; 23:36; Hosea 1:10; John 5:26.) As the Living One He is the source of life and healing. The armies of Israel were the armies of the Living God. As the Living God He will bring wrath on the nations that they cannot endure. But the heart and soul of the believer thirsts for Him.

He also has the keys of death and Hades. Hades (hadēs) in the New Testament is the Greek name of the place of punishment where the wicked and the unbelievers suffer in the time between death and the final Great White Throne Judgment when death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire. In the Old Testament it seems that God had the keys of death and therefore of Hades (in the Hebrew, Sheol). Satan did not have the keys; for God, not Satan, had control of what Satan could do to job (Job 2:6). Jesus now has the keys because God has given Him all power and authority in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). God has also "set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet" (Ephesians 1:20-22). This means nothing shall prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18).

1:19. Jesus touched John, not just to revive him but to commission him to write the revelation he had just received and the revelation he was about to receive. This seems to indicate a threefold division of the Book of Revelation: first, the preliminary vision in chapter 1; second, the messages to the churches in chapters 2 and 3; and third, the future events which are described beginning in chapter 4. God intended this revelation to be a means of blessing and revival for others, not only for the seven churches of Asia but also for believers throughout the Church Age.

1:20. Jesus next explained the mystery, that is, the secret meaning, the inner meaning of the symbol of the seven stars and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the angels or messengers of the seven churches. The Greek word (angelos) can mean either "angel" or "messenger." Some Bible students take these angels to be patron angels of the churches even though they are identified with the churches (Harrington, pp. 80f.; Morris, p. 45). (Compare Daniel 10:13; 12:1.) Others take them to be the pastors of the churches since John was to write the message to them (Barnhouse, p. 32). Still others take the angels to be visitors or delegates from the churches who would take the Book of Revelation back with them (Ramsey, p. 98). (See 2 Corinthians 8:23 where the messengers are delegates.)

SOURCE:  The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Revelation.  Copyright © 1998 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.



The Moody Bible Commentary: Revelation 1:12-20

John's Vision from Patmos (1:9-20)

1:9-11. John comforted the churches by recognizing them as fellow sufferers. Like them, he had paid a price for speaking the truth about Jesus (v. 9). Writing from the stark environs of Patmos (see introduction) he was in the Spirit (v. 10), referring to the divinely induced state of the prophet as he received his vision from Jesus. The phrase the Lord's day is commonly understood to mean Sunday. More likely here it refers to John being carried by vision to see "the day of the Lord" or perhaps, since the word for Lord is an adjective, it may refer to a "Lordly day" or a day characterized by being filled with the Lord's presence. Nevertheless, the vision came with instructions to record it in writing for delivery to the seven churches.

1:12-16. John's vision next focused on supreme majesty. Jesus Christ appeared in His heavenly splendor. He stood in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (v. 12), the seven churches who were to be light to their world (v. 20). The apostle recorded numerous aspects of His appearance. He was dressed in a manner worthy of royalty and priesthood as He tended the living lamps. As Messiah, He has now been glorified with the Father (Jn 17:4-5). White hair (v. 14) signifies His wisdom and commands respect, and blazing eyes suggest purity and judgment. His bronze feet (v. 15) were ready to trample His enemies should they not be devoured by the sword in His mouth (Isa 11:4).

The description of the exalted Jesus here is similar to the description of the Ancient of Days in Dn 7. Perhaps the Son is described as possessing the Father's glory here because He has been glorified in answer to His own prayer in Jn 17:4-5: "Glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was." His face shone with the glory of His perfections, and He spoke with overwhelming power. Different parts of this description are reiterated in the letters to the churches (e.g., for His flaming eyes, cf. 2:18), probably to encourage them with a different aspect of His authority and power based upon the church's needs. Most comforting was the picture of the seven stars (v. 16) in His hand. These stars were "angels" as seen in v. 20. Another permissible translation here could be "messengers." This is preferred as the word most likely refers to responsible human leaders of these churches as held in the hand of God during perilous times (Dn 12:3), rather than to spirits. These messengers appeared to have responsibility for the spiritual oversight of the church, making it unlikely that these are angels, and it is equally unlikely that God would use a human agent (John) to communicate with angelic beings. In addition, the imagery may be a polemic against the seven stars of the Imperial cult, which appeared on Domitian's coins.

1:17-18. John was momentarily paralyzed before the majestic presence. However, Christ assured him with a touch. Referring to His eternal resurrection life, He asserted His sovereignty over death and destinies.

1:19-20. Jesus gave John the outline of what He was about to reveal, along with a general interpretation of the symbols of vv. 12 through 16.

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.



Lampstands (v. 12)—A stand on which small oil lamps with wicks were placed. Such lampstands had branches to hold several lamps, much like the Jewish menorah.

Stars (v. 16)—At times stars are linked with angels. God forbade the Hebrews from worshiping the stars, frequently linked to (false) gods and thought to influence human destiny.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Lamps, Lighting, Lampstand: The system and articles used to illuminate homes in biblical times. Lamps are mentioned often in the Bible but seldom described. Archaeological excavations have provided numerous examples of these lighting implements used in ancient times, dating from before Abraham to after Christ. Lamps of the Old Testament period were made exclusively of pottery. These lamps were of the open-bowl design with a pinched spout to support the wick. Wicks were made generally of twisted flax (Isa. 42:3). Lamps burned olive oil almost exclusively (Ex. 25:6), though in later times oil from nuts, fish, and other sources were used. Lamps from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic times were made on the pottery wheel, after which molds were made for the enclosed forms of the Greek and Roman periods (about 500 B.C. onward). For outdoor lighting, the torch (KJV lantern) was used (Judg. 7:16; John 18:3).

A golden lampstand with three branches extending from either side of the central tier was placed in the tabernacle (Ex. 25:31-40). Each branch may have had a seven-spouted lamp (Zech. 4:2), as do some individual lamps found in Palestine. This seven-branched candelabra (menorah), supporting seven lamps, continued in prominence through the first and second Temple periods, and later became symbolic of the nation Israel. Surrounding nations also employed multitiered and multilegged lamps and lampstands.

Lamps (lights) were used symbolically in the Old and New Testaments. Light depicted life in abundance, divine presence or life’s direction versus death in darkness (compare Ps. 119:105; 1 John 1:5 with Job 18:5; Prov. 13:9). Jesus is depicted often in John as the light of the world (John 1:4-5,7-9; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35-36,46). Jesus’ disciples are also described as the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16).Holman Bible Dictionary.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Daniel 7:9-14—(Son of Man): In verse 9, Daniel pictures the fifth and final world empire—the glorious kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ; He will be given universal dominion. The description of the Ancient of Days here resembles that of Christ in Revelation 1. But this identification is somewhat obscured in verse 13 by One like the Son of Man coming before the Ancient of Days. Then it would read as if Christ were coming before Himself. Perhaps it is best to think of the Ancient of Days here as being God the Father. One like the Son of Man would then be the Lord Jesus, coming before the Father to be invested with the kingdom.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.

Hades (v. 18)—Used to refer both to the grave and to the abode of the dead, the underworld. The Bible makes clear Jesus has power over Hades.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Hades (hay’ deess) the abode of the dead. In the King James Version of the Bible, the Greek word is generally translated “hell.” It differs, however, from the term “Gehenna,” which more precisely refers to hell. Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term “Sheol,” which refers in general to the place of the dead.Holman Bible Dictionary.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.



1. In Old Testament: Sheol

2. In the New Testament: Hades

3. Acts 2:27,31

4. Rev. 20:13; Rev. 6:8; Rev. 1:18

5. Luke 16:23

6. Matthew 11:23

7. Matthew 16:18

8. Not a Final State


(Ἅιδης, Haídēs, ᾅδης, adēs, "not to be seen"): Hades, Greek originally Haídou, in genitive, "the house of Hades," then, as nominative, designation of the abode of the dead itself. The word occurs in the New Testament in Matthew 11:23 (parallel Luke 10:15); Matthew 16:18; Luke 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; Rev. 6:8; Rev. 20:13f. It is also found in Textus Receptus of the New Testament 1 Cor. 15:55, but here the correct reading (Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek, the Revised Version (British and American)) is probably Thánate, "O Death," instead of Háidē, "O Hades." The King James Version renders "Hades" by "hell" in all instances except 1 Cor. 15:55, where it puts "grave" (margin "hell") in dependence on Hosea 13:14. The Revised Version (British and American) everywhere has "Hades."

1. In Old Testament: Sheol:

In the Septuagint Hades is the standing equivalent for Sheol, but also translates other terms associated with death and the state after it. The Greek conception of Hades was that of a locality receiving into itself all the dead, but divided into two regions, one a place of torment, the other of blessedness. This conception should not be rashly transferred to the New Testament, for the latter stands not under the influence of Greek pagan belief, but gives a teaching and reflects a belief which model their idea of Hades upon the Old Testament through the Septuagint. The Old Testament Sheol, while formally resembling the Greek Hades in that it is the common receptacle of all the dead, differs from it, on the one hand, by the absence of a clearly defined division into two parts, and, on the other hand, by the emphasis placed on its association with death and the grave as abnormal facts following in the wake of sin. The Old Testament thus concentrates the partial light it throws on the state after death on the negative, undesirable side of the prospect apart from redemption. When in the progress of Old Testament revelation the state after death begins to assume more definite features, and becomes more sharply differentiated in dependence on the religious and moral issue of the present life this is not accomplished in the canonical writings (otherwise in the apocalyptic literature) by dividing Sheol into two compartments, but by holding forth to the righteous the promise of deliverance from Sheol, so that the latter becomes more definitely outlined as a place of evil and punishment.

2. In the New Testament: Hades:

The New Testament passages mark a distinct stage in this process, and there is, accordingly, a true basis in Scripture for the identification in a certain aspect of Sheol—Hades—with hell as reflected in the King James Version. The theory according to which Hades is still in the New Testament the undifferentiated provisional abode of all the dead until the day of judgment, with the possibility of ultimate salvation even for those of its inmates who have not been saved in this life, is neither in harmony with the above development nor borne out by the facts of New Testament usage. That dead believers abide in a local Hades cannot be proven from 1 Thes. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:23, for these passages refer to the grave and the body, not to a gathering-place of the dead. On the other hand Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:23; Rev. 6:9; Rev. 7:9ff; Rev. 15:2ff teach that the abode of believers immediately after death is with Christ and God.

3. Acts 2:27, 31:

(27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.)

(31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.)

It is, of course, a different matter, when Hades, as not infrequently already the Old Testament Sheol, designates not the place of the dead but the state of death or disembodied existence. In this sense even the soul of Jesus was in Hades according' to Peter's statement (Acts 2:27, 31—on the basis of Psalm 16:10). Here the abstract sense is determined by the parallel expression, "to see corruption" None the less from a comparatively early date this passage has been quoted in support of the doctrine of a local descent of Christ into Hades.

4. Rev. 20:13; Rev. 6:8; Rev. 1:18:

(20:13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.)

( 6:8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.)

( 1:18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.)

The same abstract meaning is indicated for Rev. 20:13. Death and Hades are here represented as delivering up the dead on the eve of the final judgment. If this is more than a poetic duplication of terms, Hades will stand for the personified state of death, Death for the personified cause of this state. The personification appears plainly from Rev. 20:14: "Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire." In the number of these "dead" delivered up by Hades, believers are included, because, even on the chiliastic interpretation of Rev. 20:4-6, not all the saints share in the first resurrection, but only those "beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God," i.e. the martyrs. A similar personifying combination of Death and Hades occurs in Rev. 6:8 ("a pale horse: and he that sat upon him his name was Death; and Hades followed with him"). In Rev. 1:18, on the other hand, Death and Hades are represented as prisons from which Christ, in virtue of His own resurrection, has the power to deliver, a representation which again implies that in some, not necessarily local, sense believers also are kept in Hades.

5. Luke 16:23: ( 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.)

In distinction from these passages when the abstract meaning prevails and the local conception is in abeyance, the remaining references are more or less locally conceived. Of these Luke 16:23 is the only one which might seem to teach that recipients of salvation enter after death into Hades as a place of abode. It has been held that Hades is here the comprehensive designation of the locality where the dead reside, and is divided into two regions, "the bosom of Abraham" and the place of torment, a representation for which Jewish parallels can be quoted, aside from its resemblance to the Greek bisection of Hades. Against this view, however, it may be urged, that if "the bosom of Abraham" were conceived as one of the two divisions of Hades, the other division would have been named with equal concreteness in connection with Dives. In point of fact, the distinction is not between "the bosom of Abraham" and another place, as both included in Hades, but between "the bosom of Abraham" and Hades as antithetical and exclusive. The very form of the description of the experience of Dives: "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments," leads us to associate Hades as such with pain and punishment. The passage, therefore, does not prove that the saved are after death in Hades. In further estimating its bearing upon the problem of the local conditions of the disembodied life after death, the parabolic character of the representation must be taken into account. The parable is certainly not intended to give us topographical information about the realm of the dead, although it presupposes that there is a distinct place of abode for the righteous and wicked respectively.

6. Matthew 11:23:  ( 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.)

The two other passages where Hades occurs in the teaching of our Lord (Matthew 11:23 parallel Luke 10:15; and Matthew 16:18) make a metaphorical use of the conception, which, however, is based on the local sense. In the former utterance it is predicted of Capernaum that it shall in punishment for its unbelief "go down unto Hades." As in the Old Testament Sheol is a figure for the greatest depths known (Deut. 32:22; Isaiah 7:11; Isaiah 57:9; Job 11:8; Job 26:6), this seems to be a figure for the extreme of humiliation to which that city was to be reduced in the course of history. It is true, Matthew 11:24, with its mention of the day of judgment, might seem to favor an eschatological reference to the ultimate doom of the unbelieving inhabitants, but the usual restriction of Hades to the punishment of the intermediate state (see below) is against this.

7. Matthew 16:18:  ( 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.)

In the other passage, Matthew 16:18, Jesus declares that the gates of Hades shall not katischuein the church He intends to build. The verb katischuein may be rendered, "to overpower" or "to surpass." If the former be adopted, the figure implied is that of Hades as a stronghold of the power of evil or death from which warriors stream forth to assail the church as the realm of life. On the other rendering there is no reference to any conflict between Hades and the church, the point of comparison being merely the strength of the church, the gates of Hades, i.e. the realm of death, serving in common parlance as a figure of the greatest conceivable strength, because they never allow to escape what has once entered through them.

The above survey of the passages tends to show that Hades, where it is locally conceived, is not a provisional receptacle for all the dead, but plainly associated with the punishment of the wicked. Where it comes under consideration for the righteous there is nothing to indicate a local sense. On 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:6 (where, however, the word "Hades" does not occur),

8. Not a Final State:

The element of truth in theory of the provisional character of Hades lies in this, that the New Testament never employs it in connection with the final state of punishment, as subsequent to the last judgment. For this GEHENNA (which see) and other terms are used. Dives is represented as being in Hades immediately after his death and while his brethren are still in this present life. Whether the implied differentiation between stages of punishment, depending obviously on the difference between the disembodied and reembodied state of the lost, also carries with itself a distinction between two places of punishment, in other words whether Hades and Gehenna are locally distinct, the evidence is scarcely sufficient to determine. The New Testament places the emphasis on the eschatological developments at the end, and leaves many things connected with the intermediate state in darkness.

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.




Sheol, Hades and Hell

By Hal Lane

Hal Lane is pastor, Westside Baptist Church, Greenwood, South Carolina.


ELL, ACCORDING TO BIBLICAL REVELATION, is the final destination of fallen angels and sinful people who suffer the eternal wrath of a holy God (Matt. 25:41).  The purpose of this article is to explain the background of the words translated and/or transliterated “hell” and “Hades” in the Old Testament.  The background of the Old Testament Hebrew word transliterated “Sheol” will serve as the basis for understanding the New Testament’s use of the Greek word “Hades,” as is in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

The word “hell” comes from a Germanic root meaning “to hide or conceal.”1 “Hell” has become familiar to Bible readers because of its use by early English translations such as Wycliffe (1382), Coverdale (15:35), and the King James Version (1611), which translate the Hebrew noun “Sheol” as “hell” in the Old Testament.  Early English translations also used “hell” to translate the Greek nouns for “Hades,” “Gehenna,” and the Greek verb tartaroo  (see 2 Pet. 2:4) in the New Testament.

A correct understanding of the use of the Greek word “Hades” in the New Testament begins with a study of the Hebrew word “Sheol” in the Old Testament.  The Hebrew noun “Sheol,” which occurs 65 times in the Old Testament,2 was translated “grave” 31 times, “hell”31 times, and “pit” 3 times in the King James Version. Complicating the modern English reader’s task of interpretation is the fact that most people primarily think of “hell” as referring solely to the final place of torment for lost angels and persons.  The Hebrew word “Sheol” did not uniquely identify the place of eternal punishment indicated by the current meaning of “hell.”

“Sheol” was a place where the dead descended (Job 11:8; Ezek31:15-17).  It referred to the realm of all the dead, righteous and unrighteous, as indicated in David’s statement, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [Sheol]; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Ps. 16:10, KJV).  Peter quoted this verse in referring to Jesus’ resurrection (see Acts 2:27) as did Luke, in quoting Paul (see 13:35).  These passages clearly indicate that “Sheol” was the equivalent of “death” or “the grave.”  The Old Testament does use “Sheol” to point toward a place of punishment for the wicked after death (Job. 24:19; Ps. 9:17).  However, a more complete revelation of a specific place assigned for the wicked awaited the revelation given through Jesus Christ and the writing of the New Testament canon.  For this reason many newer translations, such as the New International Version, do not use “hell” to translate “Sheol” or any other Hebrew for the Old Testament.

The Old Testament use of “Sheol” provides the proper background for understanding the New Testament writer’s use of the Greek word for “Hades.”  “Hades” came directly into English as a transliteration of the Greek word.  Although “Hades” has a rich association with Greek mythology, the New Testament reflects a different understanding.  Greek thought and literature do not define “Hades” in the New Testament, but Hebrew thought and the use of “Sheol” in Old Testament Scriptures do.  “Hades” translates “Sheol” most frequently in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament in the second century AD).3 The Greek “Hades” occurs 11 times in the New Testament.  The King James Version translates it “hell” 10 times and “grave” 1 time.  As in the Old Testament use of “Sheol,” it refers most often to the grave or death.  For the same reasons that modern translators have chosen not to translate “Sheol” with “hell,” many have chosen not to translate “Hades” as “hell.”  The preference of modern translations, such as the New International Version, is to transliterate the Greek word as “Hades” or to translate it as “grave” (Acts 2:27, NIV) or “depths” (Matt. 11:23).  Luke 16:23 is the one exception where NIV translators chose to translate “Hades” as “hell.”  We will examine that exception later in our study.

Before considering Jesus’ use of “Hades” in Luke 16:23, we should first understand the New Testament use of the Greek word geenna (Gehenna).  This word occurs 12 times (11 by Jesus Himself, with James 3:6 as the one exception).  Each occurrence refers to a place of punishment and torment after death.  The King James  and New International Version translate the word as “hell.”  “Gehenna” was the Greek designation of the Valley of the sons of Hinnom located south of Jerusalem (Josh. 15:8).  It was a place associated with evil, idolatrous practices in the Old Testament including child sacrifice during the reigns of Ahaz (2 Chron. 28:3) and Manasseh (33:6).  Gehenna later became a place where people threw bodies of dead animals and criminals to be burned.4 In rabbinic literature written during the intertestamental period (ca. 400 BC to AD 1), Gehenna became a designation for the place of eternal punishment and torment of the wicked.  The Mishna, reflecting rabbinic thought in the first century AD, says “How do the disciples of Abraham our father differ from the disciples of Balaam the wicked?  The disciples of Abraham our father enjoy this world and inherit the world to come …  The disciples of Balaam the wicked inherit Gehenna and go down to the pit of destruction” (Mishnah, Aboth 5:19).5 Jesus’ use of the word “Gehenna” assures us of the reality of a place of unquenchable (Mark 9:43) and eternal fire (Matt. 18:8).  Although many people currently question the reality of hell, its reality, based on biblical revelation, is undeniable.  We cannot understand God’s mercy and love without also understand His holiness and wrath toward sin and sinners.

“Gehenna” and “Hades” account for all of the New Testament occurrences of “hell” with one exception.  The New International Version translates the Greek verb tartaroo in 2 Peter 2:4 as “sent them to hell”; the King James Version, as “cast them down to hell.”  The reference is to fallen angels whom God judged and who are in chains until a future judgment.  The Greek verb literally means “to be sent to Tartarus.”  “Tartarus” was in Greek mythology a place of punishment loser than Hades.6 Peter used this vocabulary to warn of a place of punishment for fallen angels and, by implication, sinful people after death.

In considering the use of “Hades” in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:23, we see that the earthly fortunes and the eternal destinies of these two men were complete opposites.  In life the poor man, Lazarus, had few possessions and the rich man (sometimes mistakenly called “Dives” because of the Latin word for “wealth”) had great riches.  At death they were transported to two distinct realms.  The poor man went to “the side” (NIV, Greek kolpos, literally “chest”) of Abraham indicating that he was saved and in the kingdom of God (Rom. 4:11; Matt. 8:11).  The rich man went to “hell (literally “Hades”), where he was in torment” (NIV). 

As Jesus told this story, His listeners likely would have been familiar with rabbinic literature from the intertestamental period that spoke of two compartments in Sheol, one for the righteous and another for the wicked (for instance, Enoch 22:1-14).  The question is whether Jesus’ use of “Hades” referred to hell (Gehenna) or a temporary place of confinement for the wicked until the great white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).

Some Bible interpreters believe that “Hades” in Luke 16:23 refers to an intermediate state of punishment until of final, future judgment.7 According to this interpretation the wicked dead go to Hades and the righteous to Paradise at death (23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7).  Those who adopt this view stress two important aspects of Hades.  First, the punishment is irreversible and no escape is possible (Luke 16:26).  Second, it is a place of consciousness, regret, and punishment (vv. 23-24).  This interpretation states that Christ will return and rule for 1,000 years on earth.  Following that reign there will be a final judgment of the wicked dead before the great white throne when they will then be cast into hell (Rev. 20:14, “the lake of fire”).  Other Bible interpreters equate “Hades” in Luke 16:23 with “Gehenna.” 

Regardless of the interpretation though, the important facts revealed about heaven and hell are clear.  Those who put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior immediately come into the presence of the Lord at death (23:43).  Jesus brings the believer at death to a place prepared for them in the Father’s house (John 14:1-6).  The lost are transported at death to a place of torment that is eternal.  Greek vocabulary words referring to hell in the New Testament are warnings to all people to be saved before it is eternally too late.                                IB

1.   “Hell” in The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 1:1285.

2.   Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for ‘sh@ ‘ owl (Strong’s 07585)’”. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2002. 5 Apr 2004.  Available from Internet: http//www.blueletterbible.org/tmp_dir/words/7/1081170627-2626.html  

3.   D. K. Innes, “Hell” in The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 518-519.

4.   Steven Barabas, “Hinnom, Valley of” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 3:160-161.

5.   Herbert Danby, The Mishnah  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), 458.

6.   William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 813.

7.      Harry Buis “Hades” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 3:7-9.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, Winter 2004-05.


Lampstands in Revelation

By Timothy Paul Jones

Timothy Paul Jones is pastor, First Baptist Church of Rolling Hills, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

WHEN THE APOSTLE JOHN first encountered Jesus, he saw a man who appeared to be a common carpenter, meandering along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. In the years following his call, John recognized repeatedly that Jesus was no ordinary man. He saw Jesus when He taught on a hillside, was transfigured on a mountaintop, was nailed to a cross, was raised from the dead, and when He ascended into the heavens. Still, I suspect nothing could have completely prepared the apostle for the vision of Jesus that he experienced on the island of Patmos.1

John had been exiled to the island of Patmos “because of God’s word and the testimony about Jesus” (Rev. 1:9).2 He was “in the Spirit” when he heard a voice, as loud and clear as a trumpet (v. 10). He turned “to see the voice” (v. 12)—a peculiar phrase that probably means “to see the source of the voice.” What John saw first, however, was neither the voice nor its source. He saw “seven gold lampstands, and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man” (vv. 12-13).

John did not describe the lampstands in detail. The only detail about the lampstands came from Jesus Himself. According to Jesus, the lampstands stood for “the seven churches,” the initial recipients of the Book of Revelation (v. 20). Let’s take a closer look at the Greek word translated “lampstands” to discover what John’s readers envisioned when they heard this term.

What Did John See?

The term often translated “lampstands” in the first chapter of Revelation is a form of the Greek word luchnia. A luchnia was neither a candlestick (as several older versions incorrectly render the word) nor a lamp. A luchnia was a stand on which lamps—typically oil lamps, molded from metal or clay—were hung or placed.3 During the Old Testament era, lampstands could be clay, bronze, or iron, although wooden lampstands were the most common. By the first century A.D., a luchnia could describe a simple lampstand in a common laborer’s house, an elegant metal stand in a cultured Jew’s home, or a golden and ornate lamp in an Egyptian temple.4

To understand the precise image that John was describing in the Book of Revelation, let’s look at the Septuagint. Greek-speaking Jews and Christians used the Septuagint, which was an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Scriptures that many first-century Christians read in their churches came from the Septuagint; therefore, the functions of luchnia in the Septuagint probably formed the background for John’s usage of the word. In the Septuagint the word luchnia frequently described the seven-branched lampstand that had once illumined the tabernacle (see Ex. 25:31-40; 37:17-24). The term also described the lampstands that King Solomon commissioned for the first temple (1 Kings 7:49). In one of Zechariah’s visions, the prophet beheld a luchnia. This luchnia was similar to the lampstand that had once stood in the tabernacle. It was “a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it” (Zech. 4:2).

The author of Hebrews, following the usages of luchnia in the Septuagint, described the lampstand in the Israelite tabernacle as a luchnia (Heb. 9:2). In a description of the spoils that the Roman army took from the temple in A.D. 70, the Jewish historian Josephus also followed the translators of the Septuagint, describing the seven-branched lampstand as a luchnia.5 An image of this luchnia may still be seen today, engraved on the Arch of Titus in Rome.

According to John, when he turned to see the source of the voice, he saw not one luchnia but seven luchniai, surrounding a figure who looked like “the Son of Man” (Rev. 1:13). After examining the functions of luchnia in the Septuagint and in other Jewish and Christian documents, I believe John saw seven sevenbranched lampstands, each one similar to the one that had once stood in the tabernacle.

What is the meaning of this image? We can draw at least three implications from John’s vision of the seven lampstands and of “the Son of Man” among them: (1) The churches illustrated the perfect and complete fulfillment of the Jewish faith. (2) God’s purpose for His churches is to function as God’s presence in a hostile world. And (3) Jesus Christ is uniquely present in the fellowship of His people.

As Fulfillment of the Jewish Faith

In the first century A.D., the seven-branched lampstand —later known as the menorah—was a common symbol of the Jewish faith.6 In Jewish literature, especially in apocalyptic writings such as the Book of Revelation, the number seven implied completion or perfection. Identifying the churches not with one but seven seven-branched lampstands symbolized Judaism—completion multiplied by completion! Jesus was affirming the Christian faith as the perfect and complete fulfillment of the Jewish faith.

The letters to Smyrna and Philadelphia reiterated this affirmation. In both letters Jesus referred to Jewish leaders who persecuted Christians as “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (2:9; 3:9). Paul echoed the same affirmation, referring to the church as “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16; see also Rom. 9:6-8).

As the Presence of God in the World

The seven-branched lampstand functions symbolically two other times in Scripture, once in Zechariah and once in Revelation. In Zechariah’s prophecies the seven-branched lampstand symbolized the “eyes of the LORD which range to and fro throughout the earth” (4:10). The phrase “the eyes of the LORD” usually referred to God’s protective presence in the world (see for examples, Gen. 6:8; Deut. 11:12; Judges 18:6; 2 Chron. 16:9). Later in Revelation, a heavenly voice called John’s attention to “the two witnesses.” These witnesses were, according to the voice, “two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Rev. 11:3-4). Although biblical scholars do not agree on the identity of these two witnesses, clearly they functioned as God’s representatives in a hostile world (see vv. 4-13).

In both texts the lampstand imagery pointed to God’s presence in the world. Jesus’ affirmation that “the seven lampstands” are the churches (1:20) identifies God’s intention that the churches are to function as His very presence in the world. When a church no longer functions as God’s presence in the world, the church has lost its reason for existence. Perhaps that is why Jesus warned the church in Ephesus, “Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (2:5). When a church ceases to function as the presence of Jesus Christ, God no longer recognizes that church as a church.

As Jesus’ Presence Among His People

The most striking aspect of this vision, however, was probably not the lampstands. It was what—or more precisely who—John saw among the lampstands. John saw “One like the Son of Man” (1:13) moving amid the lampstands. The grammar of this verse mirrors Daniel 7:13: “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven, One like a Son of Man was coming.”7

If the similarity between these two texts is striking, the difference is even more striking: The prophet Daniel saw the Son of Man among the clouds; the Apostle John saw the Son of Man among His people. This Son of Man does not rule His subjects from a comfortable distance, unaffected by their joys and sorrows. Through the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in believers, Jesus Christ—God the Son and the Son of Man—is fully present among His people. He does not merely expect His people to function as His presence in the world; He also places His very presence among them.

The seven churches represented by the seven lampstands weren’t perfect churches. They struggled with doctrinal difficulties, sexual immorality, spiritual weakness, persecution, and complacency (Rev. 2:5,9,15,21; 3:2,15). In short, they were not that different from churches today. Yet Jesus Christ was fully present in their midst, empowering them to function as His presence in the world. The best part of it all is that 2,000 years later,He has not left—He has promised to remain in the midst of His people until we see Him face to face (Matt. 28:20).

1. I have written with the assumption that the author of Revelation is the Apostle John, the “beloved disciple” and author of the Gospel of John. For a discussion of the apostolic authorship of Revelation, see Leon Morris, Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987), 27-35.

2. Old Testament quotations are from the New American Standard Bible. New Testament quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

3. Walter Bauer, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed., rev. and ed. by F.W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000), 606; W. Michaelis, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol.

4, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1967), 324-325.

4. Hazel W. Perkin, “Lamp, Lampstand,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 1304.

5. Josephus, The Jewish Wars, vol. 487 in The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University, 1999), 7:424-65.

6. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 86.

7. In the Greek text of Revelation 1:13 and Daniel 7:13 (Septuagint), “Son of Man” appears without a definite article, in contrast to the Gospels wherein “Son of Man” always appears with the definite article. See Osborne, Revelation, 86-87.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 2004



PATMOS the Place

By Gary Hardin

Gary Hardin is pastor, First Baptist Church, Shepherdsville, Kentucky.

CHRISTIANS KNOW the island of Patmos as the place where the Apostle John’s was exiled. Domitian, the Roman emperor, banished John to Patmos about A.D. 94-95. Revelation 1:9 states the reason for John’s exile to Patmos: “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (NIV). While the Romans acknowledged Caesar as lord, John declared Jesus as Lord; a violation of Roman law that likely resulted in his exile.1 John’s banishment to Patmos silenced his verbal testimony but not his witness.

John viewed his suffering as part of the common persecution that Christians were experiencing in the first century A.D. For this reason, John identified himself as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus” (see Rev. 1:9, NIV).

While on Patmos, John received the prophecy that became the Book of Revelation. John explained that on a particular Lord’s Day, Jesus revealed to him what would ultimately comprise the Book of Revelation (see Rev. 1:10-11). The message of Revelation assured John and his fellow believers that, though they were being persecuted, Jesus was still in control, executing the will of God on earth.

John’s banishment to Patmos included the loss of his property and civil rights, and possibly some hard labor.2 Most likely John had freedom to move around on the island within certain limits, but received no visitors. John remained on the island until after the death of Domitian, around A.D. 96.3

Geography and History

Patmos, a small rocky island in the Aegean Sea, stretches 10 miles long and 6 miles wide. The formation of Patmos resulted from volcanic activity in the Dodecanese islands, a cluster of islands in the Aegean Sea near Asia Minor. The name Patmos came from the word “Latmos,” which was a mountain in Caria in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

The island, about 60 miles southwest of Ephesus, provided the last stop on a voyage from Rome to Ephesus. Patmos’s crescent shape created a natural harbor for ships.

The island, with its rocky soil and an abundance of flowering plants and shrubs, featured low hills, small plateaus, and a large number of coves. Patmos experienced a mostly mild climate. Ancient sources suggest a large quantity of trees originally covered the island. The trees were cut down, leaving Patmos bare.4

The Cariens were likely the original inhabitants of Patmos. The Doriens and Ionians, ancient Greek groups, colonized the island in the 11th century B.C. The island’s early inhabitants adored the goddess Diana, considered the patroness of the island.At the time of John’s exile, Patmos featured a Greek temple to Diana, who bore a close  resemblance to Artemis (Apollo’s twin), the goddess whom early Greeks believed protected all living things.

The Romans typically condemned lower-class criminals to work in mines or to die in combat as gladiators. Rome banished the decent criminals, though, to some lonely island. The Romans actually used 2 groups of Aegean islands—

the Cyclades and Sporades—as places of banishment. Emperors Domitian and Diocletian chose Patmos as a place of exile for the better class of offenders. Patmos was a suitable place for exile because it was desolate, barren, sparsely settled, seldom visited, and infested with snakes and scorpions. 

Patmos had no significant historical role until the Christian era. A 5th-century Jewish inscription referred to Patmos as “the Jerusalem of the Aegean.”5 During late Roman and Byzantine times, a religious aura rested on Patmos, due mainly to John’s exile. During the Middle Ages pirates attacked and depopulated Patmos and plundered

the island for its resources, including the animals.6

A New Millennium

Around 1088, a new period began for Patmos, when the Greek monk Christodoulos Latrenos built St. John’s Monastery on the site of an earlier temple to Artemis. This monastery resembled a fortress and became Patmos’s most famous landmark. The years that followed brought more change. Patmos saw the development of numerous churches and monasteries and became a place of learning for Greek Orthodox monks, who assembled a notable library on the island. Today the library of St. John’s Monastery contains one of the most important collections of items from Greek monastic history. The collection includes embroidered stoles from the 15th to the 18th centuries, rare icons, illuminated manuscripts, and church furniture from the 17th century. The monastery chapel features art that dates back to the early 1200s.7

In 1713, Makarios Kalogeras founded the Patmian School, which originally was a Greek Orthodox seminary and became famous for its emphasis on Greek history.

In the 1400s, Greek Orthodox leaders sought help from the papacy in Rome against Turkish invasions. From 1537 to 1912, Turkey ruled Patmos. Under the Turkish Sultan’s guarantee, the people of Patmos enjoyed a long era of selfadministration.8

The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 gave Patmos to Italy. After World War II, Patmos was given back to Greece in 1947. Hora and Skala serve as the 2 main population centers on Patmos. In the 13th century, Hora began to grow around a Greek Orthodox monastery. By the 15th century, numerous houses and mansions dotted the settlement of Hora.

As late as the 17th century, Skala, the main harbor of Patmos, had no buildings—only warehouses. Skala began to develop significantly in the 19th century, though, as new inhabitants arrived on the island. These new residents turned the area into a business and shipping center. During the Italian occupation from 1912 to 1948, the offices of the Italian guard, the customs office, and a post office were built in Skala.9

In 1995, the people of Patmos celebrated the 1,900th anniversary of the writing of the Book of Revelation. Thousands flocked to the island, including the Cave of the Apocalypse. Tradition teaches that this is the cave where John dwelt and received his revelation. Visitors found the cave encased within a sanctuary, which is in turn surrounded by a convent.

Believers will always remember John’s first-century banishment and exile to Patmos. Though the island is small and unassuming, its significance will always be huge because of Christ, who revealed Himself to John there.

1. See Morris Ashcraft, “Revelation” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Clifton J. Allen, vol. 12 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), 249.

2. See M. C. Tenney, “Revelation, Book of the” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, gen. ed. Merrill C. Tenney, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 92.

3. See Irving A. Sparks, “Patmos” in The InternationalStandard Bible Encyclopedia, gen. ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 690.

4. R. C. Stone, “Patmos” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, gen. ed. Merrill C. Tenney, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 619.

5. “Patmos, Dodecanese” [cited 8/13/2003]. Available from Internet: www.dilos.com/location/358.

6. “Patmos” [cited 10/26/2003]. Available from Internet: www.abrock.com/Greece-Turkey/patmos.html.

7. Ibid.

8. See R. C. Stone, “Patmos,” 620.

9. “Skala” [cited 10/26/2003]. Available from Internet: www.hri.org/infoxenios/english/dodecanese/patmos/towns.html.


Jewish Gematria and Revelation

By Glen McCoy

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED where all those numbers in the Book of Revelation originated?  They are known as Jewish Gematria (a Kabbalistic method of interpreting the Hebrew scriptures by computing the numerical value of words, based on those of their constituent letters).  Likely a corruption of the Greek word gematria (“geometry”) the practice took many forms.  A common characteristic was that the various forms found something symbolic and significant in particular numbers.  Even this took two approaches.  One approach was to consider a word, add up its numerical value, and present an interpretation based on the result.  Since Jews of the Old Testament period used letters of their alphabet in place of numbers, this was easy to do.1  As an example of this approach, Jewish exegetes discovered that the numerical value of the word “ladder” (see Gen. 28:12) in Hebrew was the same as that for “Sinai.”  Hence many of them concluded that the law revealed to Moses at Sinai was the way for people to reach heaven.2

Another form of gematria was that certain numbers came to have a symbolic significance of their own.  Ancient cultures throughout the Middle East, which predate the Old Testament period, made extensive use of numbers in a cultic and symbolic manner.s3  Israel must have picked up the practice from her neighbors, especially Babylon, and refined it to refer specifically to her religious heritage.

The Old Testament is a background illustrating the more prominent numbers and their significance.  The number 1 is undoubtedly associated with God’s uniqueness (Deut. 6:4).  The number 3 was associated with God’s being or action (Gen. 18:2) and sometimes used in a superlative sense (Isa. 6:3).  This number also played an important role in Jewish cultic practice.  Certain sacrificial animals had to be 3 years old (Gen. 15:9); there were 3 fasts pcr year (Ex. 23:14); and there were 3 times daily prayer (Dan. 6:10).

“Four” was a number of cosmic totality.  The number usually occurred in relation to the universe such as the rivers of paradise (Gen. 2:10) and the 4 corners of the earth (Isa. 11:12).  Other examples found in the Old Testament are the 4 living creatures of Ezekiel 1:5-21, the 4 kingdoms of Daniel 2:37-43, and the 4 colors of horses in Zechariah 1:8.  “Six” was associated with human endeavor (6 days to work), the best one could do but lacking the final completeness that only God could supply.  Otherwise the number had little symbolic or sacred significance.

“Seven” stood for a complete series (3 + 4).  The Babylonians and Sumerians had also given the number 7 this meaning.4   “Ten” was a round number of totality.  Old Testament examples include the 10 plagues, the Ten Commandments, the 10 patriarchs of Genesis 5, and the 10 times the Israelites put God to the test during the wilderness wanderings (Num. 14:22).  As a sacred number, 10 may have derived some of its significance from the fact that it was the sum of the two other especially sacred numbers 3 and 7.

The number 12 was a symbol of God’s people.  Examples of this number found in the Old Testament include the twelve tribes, the 12 gates of Ezekiel’s city (48:30-34), the 12 pillars set up by Moses (Ex. 24:4), the 12 jewels in the high priest’s breastplate (Ex. 28:21), and the 12 cakes of showbread (Lev. 24:5).  Once can easily see that most of the uses of this number related directly or indirectly to the twelve tribes.

“Forty” may have stood for periods of struggle with evil after which God rescued His people (Gen. 7:12,17; Deut. 8:2, 9:9).  The number 1,000 was the perfect age.5

Christian writers took over the methodology of gematria and applied it to their specific religious expressions.  The best examples of gematria in the New Testament are found in the book of Revelation.  One should approach gematria and the Book of Revelation with hesitation and humility.  We should not forget that the basic purpose of numbers was to describe things literally.  At times numbers can be used symbolically and literally at the same time.  For example, I assume the number 7 refers to 7 literal churches in Revelation 1l—3.  At the same time John likely chose 7 (not 6 or 8) churches because the number signified completeness or fullness.  We could read more symbolism into the numbers John used in Revelation than he intended; hence we must be careful.

The number 7 is by far the most frequently used number in Revelation (some 50 times).  This number was the most sacred of all others to the Hebrews.6  In Revelation, we encounter 7 churches, 7 Spirits, 7 golden lamp stands, 7 stars, 7 seals, 7 horns, 7 trumpets, 7 peals of thunder, 7 heads, 7 diadcms,  7 plagues, and 7 bowls.  In places 7 terms are used together to praise and honor God (Rev. 7:12).  If we follow the assumption that gematria is intended in these instances, each of these uses conveys a completeness of the items designated.  If 7 is the complete number, then 3 ½ or its equivalents represents incompletness or an indeterminate period of time.  In Revelation 3 ½ occurs 2 times and the equivalent periods of 42 months and 1,260 days also occur a few times.

The number 4 occurs almost 20 times in Revelation.  This was a cosmic number, most likely originally based on the 4 seasons, the 4 winds, and the 4 points of the compass.  Hence it was the earthly number.  In Revelation it designates 4 living creatures, 4 angels, 4 corners of the earth, 4 winds.  Each of these relate, to some degree or the other, to the earthly scene.

As noted previously, 12 (and its multiples) was a symbol of the people of God.  In the Old Testament there were the twelve tribes; in the New Testament there were the twelve apostles.  In Revelation we encounter 12 gates, 12 angels, twelve tribes, 12 foundation stones, the twelve apostles, and 12 kinds of fruits.  “Twenty-four” (a multiple of 12) occurs in connection with 24 thrones (4:4) and 24 elders (r:4,10; 5:8; 19:4).  The number 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000) designates those who were sealed for God’s protection (7:4; 14:1,3).

The number 5 and multiples of 10, 70, and 1,000 represent completeness.  The number 5 was chosen to represent completeness because a human being having 5 fingers of each hand or 5 toes on each foot was “complete.”  In Revelation, 5 occurs once (9:10) but multiples of 5 (10 and 1,000) occur more frequently.

The most famous (or infamous) number in Revelation is undoubtedly 666 (Rev. 12:18).  As note previously, the number 6 was associated with human accomplishment.  It signified that something was lacking.  It was similar in some respects to our number 13.  In Revelation 666 seems to symbolize extreme evil.  Efforts to make the number refer to a particular person have proven futile.

Numbers that are used infrequently or not at all in Revelation include, 1, 2, and 3.  “One” is not used at all.  “Two” was used to confirm or to give great strength.  In Revelation, John spoke of 2 witnesses (11:3), 2 olive trees and 2 lamp stands (11:4), 2 prophets (11:10), 2 beasts (13:1-18), and 2 instruments of warfare (Jesus and the sickle) to combat the beasts.  “Three” is used technically only 9 times in Revelation.  In other places one discovers a three-fold description of God (1:4) or a repetition of terms in 3 (3 “woes” in Rev. 8:13).

In summary, both Jewish and Christian writers used numbers with symbolic meaning.  However, we must not make numbers mean more than the original writer intended.  A fair rule of interpretation is to consider the numbers as literal unless there is sufficient reason not to.  Should we be convinced the writer intended a symbolic meaning, then we should apply gematria to the interpretation.

1.The first 10 letters of the Hebrew alphabet were given number values of 1-10; combinations of these 10 letters represented the numbers 11-10; the next 8 letters represented 20-90 in intervals of 10; and the final 4 letters equaled 100, 200, 300, and 400.  the letters of the Greek alphabet were used in a similar manner.

2.Encyclopedia Judaica, Cecil Roth, ed. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971), VII:371.

3.New Catholic Encyclopedia, William J. McDonald, ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967), X:567-568

4.International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, James Orr, ed. (Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), IV:2159.

5.The New Catholic Encyclopedia was the source for much of the material on the Old Testament background.

6.Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1951), 23.

SOURCE:  Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN  37234  Summer 2000.


Hades  A First Century Understanding

Steve W. Lemke

Steve W. Lemke is provost and professor of philosophy and ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana, and is both director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry and editor of The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry.


HEN JESUS TOLD SIMON PETER and his fellow disciples that God would build His church so securely that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18), what exactly did He mean by “Hades”?  How did New Testament Christians understand the concept?  Is Hades distinguishable from similar concepts such as Sheol, Gehenna, of hell?

The Abode of the Dead

Over 60 times, the Old Testament refers to the place of the dead as Sheol.  This was the shadowy dwelling place of the dead in the underworld, virtually synonymous with the gave or death itself (Gen. 37:35; pw. 16:10; Prov. 5:5; Isa. 14:9).  When scholars translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek in the Septuagint during the intertestamental period, translators rendered the Old Testament Hebrew word Sheol with the Greek word Hades.1  Thus when Peter referenced Psalm 16:10 in his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:27), the text used Hades to translate the Hebrew word Sheol.  When the New Testament uses it this way, Hades simply refers to the abode of the dead, following the Old Testament pattern.

The derivation of the Greek word Hades is unclear.  The most obvious source of the word combines a (“not”) with eidos (to see), to mean “unseen.”  Death is the passage from the visible world to the unseen world.  Other Greek scholars believe Hades may be derived from aianes (“gloomy”) or hado (“all-receiving”).  Regardless of the word’s source, the concept of Hades incorporates all of these senses.  Hades is the unseen, gloomy underworld where dead persons go.

In Greek mythology, Hades (also called Pluto) was the brother of Zeus and king of the underworld.  Mythology claimed that Hades abducted Persephone, daughter of Zeus, and forced her to live in his underworld realm.  This domain over which Hades ruled came to be called by his name, or by Tartarus.  The New Testament uses both terms, but pours new meaning into them.

In Matthew 16:18, the primary sense of the word “Hades” probably refers to death.  Death has no power over the church.  Jesus told the disciples He would be crucified in Jerusalem, and then raised on the third day (Matt. 16:21).  When He was resurrected, He became the “firstfruits” of the resurrection; His resurrection paved the way for all believers to be raised to life, for He will abolish death (1 Cor. 15:24-26).  Believers may experience death, but death is not their final destination.  Death and Hades have no more power over believers than they did over Christ Himself.  Jesus spoke of giving the church the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19).  But Jesus has another set of keys.  Because of His victory over death, He has the keys to death and Hades (Rev. 1:18).  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for believers—a place in which death, grief, crying, and pain have been abolished (John 14:1-3; Rev. 21:1-4).  Many interpreters understand the “gates” or “forces” of Hades in Matthew 16:18 to represent Satan’s constant opposition to the church.  So Jesus was assuring the disciples that Satan will never overpower the church. 

Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 evidently made a deep impression on Simon Peter.  Having professed faith in Christ at Caesarea Philippi, Simon Peter proclaimed in his Pentecost sermon that unlike David, who remained dead, God raised Jesus out of Hades on the third day (Acts 2:24-32, quoting Ps. 16:10).  In his first epistle, Peter mentioned Jesus descending to Hades and speaking to the souls imprisoned there before His resurrection (1 Pet. 3:18-22; see also Jude 6—7).

Hades as Hell

Even in the Old Testament, however, Sheol does not always refer to the final resting place for all persons.  Although all people go to Sheol, only ungodly or foolish persons remain in Sheol.  The Old Testament teaches that God will raise godly and wise persons to a new life with Him (Job 19:23-27; Ps. 49:1-19; Isa. 16:4-19; Dan. 12:2-3).  Dating to the intertestamental period, non-canonical books such as the Wisdom of Solomon portray Hades as the place of torment for the wicked, while the righteous enter paradise.2  These two senses of the word Sheol led to a theological disagreement between the Sadducees and Pharisees.  Sadducees believed that all the dead continued in Sheol, whereas Pharisees affirmed that God would resurrect the just to eternal life.  Some believed Hades was the lower region of Sheol and paradise was the top level of Sheol.

This distinction between Hades as a hellish place of torment rather than the abode of all the dead emerges more clearly in the New Testament.  Several New Testament texts draw a clear distinction between “death” and “Hades” (Rev. 1:18; 20:13-14).  Jesus’ account of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) draws one of the clearest distinctions between the two abodes.  Jesus described the righteous man Lazarus as being beside Abraham (a Jewish euphemism for being with God in paradise), while the unrighteous rich man was in a fiery torment (vv. 23-25,28).  An enormous chasm or gulf separated these two places (vv. 23,26).  Jesus painted a similar picture in His depiction of the eternal destiny of the people of Capernaum who were unrepentant even after seeing miracles performed.  Jesus said they would not “be exalted to heaven” but would “go down to Hades” (Matt. 11:23-24; Luke 10:15).  Again, Hades here is the abode of the unrighteous dead, while the righteous dead are lifted upward.  In Revelation 20:13, Hades is essentially a holding place for the unrighteous dead until judgment, after which they would be cast into the lake of fire.

The New Testament often uses words such as “Gehenna” or “Tartarus,” or descriptions such as “the bottomless pit” or “the Abyss” to describe hell.  Gehenna was originally a valley or ravine just south of the walls of Jerusalem.  Gehenna is a Greek transliteration of “Valley of Hinnom” in Hebrew.  In the Hinnom Valley, idolaters burned children as an offering to the heathen god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6).  By the time of King Josiah’s reign, people regarded the Hinnom Valley as a place of abomination (2 Kings 23:10-14).  The Jews saw the Valley of Hinnom as being polluted by dead men’s bones and filled with all of Jerusalem’s trash and filth.  In Gehenna, God imposed judgment on idolaters and those who rejected Him (Jer. 7:31-34; 32:35).   The trash outside Jerusalem’s gates in Hinnom continually burned.  Gehenna thus symbolized hell’s unending fires where the unclean and ungodly dead are continually tormented.

In the New Testament, “Gehenna” always refers to hell, a place of fiery torment, not simply death (Matt. 5:22,29-30; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:5; Jas. 3:6).  Jesus warned that sinful disobedience could lead to a fiery Gehenna (Matt. 5:22,29-30).  In Gehenna, Jesus warned, both the soul and body are destroyed (10:28).  James described uncontrolled speech as being set on fire by Gehenna (Jas. 3:6).

Another Greek word used to describe hell was Tartarus, a term Greeks used to describe a place of eternal torment.  In his second epistle, Peter described Tartarus as a place where rebellious angels were imprisoned pending final judgment (2 Pet. 2:4).  Another biblical synonym for Hades is the “abyss.”  Romans 10:6-7 (citing Deut. 30:12-14) contrasts the ascent into heaven with descending “down into the abyss” of death.  In Luke 8:31 and Revelation 9:1-3; 20:1-3, however, the abyss is the abode of demons, similar to Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4.  In Revelation 9:1-11, the abyss is opened, releasing a hoard of demons. The “angel of the abyss” named Apollyon (meaning “Destruction,” Rev. 9:11), also called the beast or antichrist, will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20). Satan, too, is chained in the abyss for a thousand years (20:1-3), until he also is thrown into the lake of fire (v. 10).

Believers need not fear death or the forces of Satan.  Christ has already defeated these threats and has won the victory (Rom. 8:36-39; 1 Cor. 15:55-57; Rev. 1:18)!         

1.  Clendenen, “Hades” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, gen. ed. Brand, rev. ed. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015). 689.

2.  Psalms of Solomon 14:1-7; Wisdom of Solomon 2:1; 3:1.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 43, No. 3; Spring 2017.




(07.135) What is the Answer To & Where in The Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found: What righteous king fired all the priests that had been appointed to serve pagan gods?  Answer Next Week:

Last Week’s Question:  What priest scolded King Uzziah for daring to offer incense to God?  Answer: Azariah; 2 Chronicles 26:17-20.