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Revelation 1 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Revelation 1 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

(1:1, 3) "Things which must shortly come to pass"
John believed that the things that he wrote about would happen soon, within his own lifetime. After nearly 2000 years, believers still believe that "the time is at hand" and that the events described in Revelation will "shortly come to pass."
What the Bible says about the end of the world
The reasoning of the author of the SAB is incorrect. Here is what he says:
  1. Revelations is about the end of times.
  2. John writes that what is written in Revelations must come to pass shortly.
  3. We are now 2,000 years after John has written this, therefore this prophecy is wrong.
As usual, if your premise is wrong, your conclusion does not follows. And the premise is wrong. Revelations is not just about the end of times. It describes the history of the church, and the true movers and shakers in this history. So the things written in this book were coming to pass shortly. Revelations covers the entire history of the last days, the time between Christ's ascension to heaven and his return. So John is right in writing that these things were shortly coming to pass. They have, they are, they will.
If you are interested in Revelations and wonder what would be a helpful introduction, I recommend More than conquerors by William Hendriksen.
To give a short summary, following Hendriksen and many other commentators: Revelations is not linear history starting with John in chapter 1 and ending with in chapter 22, but it contains several scenes, each repeating the entire period from John's time to the end of the world. Each scene takes a different point of view, as just one scene wouldn't suffice. Each scene is itself broken up in seven parts (seven churches, seven trumpets, etc.). For example the first scene, starting in chapter 2:1, shows the history of the church, with its low and high points. Gradually more and more the true powers of history are revealed, and we see that history is actually a spiritual battle, with Christ and his Church on one hand, and Satan and his followers on the other. So Revelations is divided into seven scenes, and in my comments I will point out where a new scene starts.

2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;

5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

(1:5-7) "Jesus ... washed us ... in his own blood."
Not literally, but figuratively: by taking the punishment we deserved, death, he cleansed us from the filth and death in which we had immersed ourselves and from which we would not be rescued, nor could do so by our own endeavours.

7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

(1:7) "Every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him."
Millions have lived and died without ever seeing him coming "with clouds."
(1:7) "He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him."
Everyone will see Jesus descend from the sky. Such an event would only be possible on a flat earth.
(1:7) "Every eye shall see him."
Will Jesus' second coming be visible to all?
Well, not according to the Jehovah's Witnesses, anyway. Even though Jesus (Matthew 24:30) says he'll return "on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory" and this verse says that "every eye shall see him," The Governing Body claims that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914 without clouds, glory, or being seen by anyone.
I see no objection to taking the phrase “every eye shall see him” as simply meaning the eyes of every man living at that time. But it could indeed mean everyone who has ever lived, if the resurrection of the death accompanies Christ's coming.
On how everyone could see Jesus coming with the clouds, I do not know. But as everyone had long known that the earth was round, the Greeks had proved that long before, this verse does not imply that at all. Does the author of the SAB really believe that people in those days believed everyone on earth could see the same clouds?
Lastly, the author of the SAB points out another clear verse that destroys a core belief of the Jehovah's Witnesses. I've said it many times already: The Jehovah's Witnesses are not Christians, they believe very little of what is written in the Bible.

8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

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.

(1:13-16) "His head and his hairs were ... white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire, ... out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword."
Jesus has white hair, eyes of fire, feet of brass, and has a sword sticking out of his mouth.
This is a book of symbols. For example the two-edged sword is the Word of God, see Heb. 4:12.

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.

(1:16) "He had in his right hand seven stars."
Jesus holds seven stars in his hand. Of course, it is possible that this is metaphorical. Perhaps. But it is clear from other verses (6:13, 8:10, 12:4) that John thought of stars as being small, perhaps even small enough for Jesus to hold in his hand.
The author of the SAB questions if the seven stars could be symbolic. “Perhaps,” he is willing to admit. But we don't have to wander in the dark, because John is telling us they are in verse 20, he calls them a mystery, i.e. they have a symbolic meaning and continues to explain the symbol: “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” On what an angel of a church is, see chapter 2:1.
As the author of the SAB displays his science symbol, let me quote how much scientists know about stars: “The origin of stars represents one of the most fundamental unsolved problems of contemporary astrophysics,” Charles J. Lada and Frank H. Shu, “The Formation of Sunlike Stars,” Science, Vol. 248, 4 May 1990, p. 564.

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:

(1:17) "I am the first and the last."
Is Jesus God?
As this verse clearly says: Jesus is God. See other verses where the author of the SAB alleges a contradiction, such as John 14:28.

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.

(1:18) "I [Jesus] ... have the keys of hell and of death."
Why is it unjust that Jesus has the keys of hell and death? Is punishment unjust? Do we really live in a universe where criminals can go to the grave in peace, and the tears of their victims are forgotten?

19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;

In recent years many books have been written about Revelations, the one more fantastic than the other. But for a correct interpretation the most critical element is surely to ask: does Revelations address the world, its history, its leaders, its wars, its political tides, or not? And that question is answered here: John is asked to write about the seven stars and the seven candlesticks, their past, present and future. These are symbols of Christ's church, and that is what Revelations is about: it is about the Church in all ages, in its low state, and in its best state. It's not about the world and its leaders, it's not about the last seven years of the world, this book covers the history of the church.

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.