Through a series of seven “beatitudes,” Revelation summons believers to faithfulness despite hostility and persecution.
The book of Revelation is not a divination tool for deciphering future mysteries. Instead, it summons God’s people to vigilance, right living, and perseverance in testimony during trials and persecution. Its concern is not when certain events will occur, but how the churches must “overcome” and thus arrive at the city of “New Jerusalem.”
The seven “churches of Asia” were struggling with deception and false prophets, the pressure to conform to the surrounding society, and persecution by local authorities. It was a time of “great tribulation.” But rather than remove the churches from the situation, the book exposes the true nature of the attacks against God’s people and calls them to “overcome” in every trial and difficulty.
One method used to summon believers to action is the exhortations to “overcome” found at the end of each of the seven letters to the “churches in Asia.” Another is the series of “beatitudes” that appear at key junctures in the book.
The figurative use of numbers in Revelation is widely recognized, especially the numbers seven, four, ten, and twelve – (e.g., the seven seals, the four corners of the earth, and the twelve apostles of the Lamb).
Multiples of the same numbers also occur, including 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).
The seven “beatitudes” form a prominent unnumbered series with its pronouncements of “blessing” on faithful believers – “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” is plural. In the first century, books were expensive, and many individuals were barely literate, and commonly, one person would read a document aloud to a 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 walks 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 that is how the disciple “keeps the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” – (Revelation 14:13).
The third exhorts believers to be vigilant in view of the coming of Jesus. 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 and stands at the end of the book – “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” Believers prepare for the coming of the Lord and keep their garments unsoiled by heeding the words recorded in the book of Revelation – (Revelation 22:7).
CALL TO ACTION
The last beatitude pronounces “blessings” on every believer who “washes his robes.” Overcomers will eat of the “tree of life” and enter the city of “New Jerusalem” freely by its glorious gates.
The image of washing one’s robes also occurs in the vision of the “innumerable multitude.” Having come out of the “great tribulation,” these men and women “from every nation” have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” – (Revelation 7:9-17, 22:14).
Collectively, the 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 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).