Through a series of seven “beatitudes,” Revelation summons believers to faithfulness despite hostility and persecution.
The Book of Revelation is not a tool of divination for peering into the future. Instead, it summons God’s people to vigilance, right living, and faithful witness, all while living in a hostile society. It is not so much about when certain events will occur, but instead, how churches must “overcome” in their present situations and, thus, arrive at the city of “New Jerusalem.”
One method used to summon believers to action is the exhortations to “overcomers” found at the end of each of the seven letters to the “churches in Asia.” Additionally, the book exhorts Christians through seven “beatitudes” that appear at key junctures of the book.
The figurative use of numbers is widely recognized, especially the numbers seven, four, ten and twelve – (e.g., the seven seals, the four corners of the earth, the twelve apostles of the Lamb). Multiples of the same numbers also occur, such as twenty-eight (4 x 7), 1,000 (10 x 10 x 10), and 144,000 (12 x 12,000). Additionally, several unnumbered series are featured; for example, the name ‘Jesus‘ occurs 14 times (2 x 7), “Christ” 7 times, and “lamb” 28 times (4 x 7).
A prominent unnumbered series is that of the seven “beatitudes,” pronouncements of “blessing” on faithful believers when certain conditions are met.
- (Revelation 1:3) – “Blessed is he who reads, and they who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep what is written in it, for the season is near.”
The first beatitude reflects the historical context. “He who reads” is singular, and “they who hear” plural. In the first century, books were expensive, and many individuals were barely literate. The common practice was for one person to read a document aloud to an assembled group. The following is a complete list of the seven beatitudes:
- (Revelation 1:3) – “Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
- (Revelation 14:13) – “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”
- (Revelation 16:15) – “Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame.”
- (Revelation 19:9) – “And he said to me, Write, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, These are true words of God.”
- (Revelation 20:6) – “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
- (Revelation 22:7) – “And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is the one who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.”
- (Revelation 22:14) – “Blessed are those who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter by the gates into the city.”
The second beatitude exhorts saints to faithful endurance in persecution and temptation. That is how the disciple “keeps the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” – (Revelation 14:13).
The third beatitude exhorts believers to vigilance in view of the coming of the Lord. Watchful Christians “keep their garments” pure because Jesus could appear at any moment, and watchfulness is necessary because no one except God knows when that day will occur, just as the homeowner cannot know when the “thief” will strike – (Revelation 16:15).
The fourth one pronounces blessings on “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The fifth declares all men who participate in the “first resurrection… blessed and holy.” The “second death” will have no authority over them. Instead, they are “priests of God and of Christ, and reign with him” – (Revelation 19:9, 20:6).
The sixth beatitude reiterates the promise of the first one: “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” It stands at the end of the book. Believers prepare for the coming of the Lord and keep their garments unsoiled by heeding the words of Revelation – (Revelation 22:7).
The seventh and final beatitude pronounces blessings on all who “wash their robes.” They will eat of the “tree of life” and enter “New Jerusalem” freely by its gates. The image of washing one’s robes occurs also in the vision of the “innumerable multitude.” Having come out of the “great tribulation,” they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” – (Revelation 7:9-17, 22:14).
Collectively, the seven beatitudes constitute a call to action for the seven “churches of Asia.” They highlight the key themes of the book, including, exhortations to bear witness, remain vigilant, keep one’s “garments” unsullied, strive to attain the “first resurrection,” keep the “words of the prophecy,” and to wash one’s robes in the “blood of the Lamb.”
Finally, this call to action is summarized best by the declaration of the saints’ victory over the “Dragon” – “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives even unto the death” – (Revelation 12:11).