Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 02
(“The Vision of the Son of Man Among the Seven Churches – 01”)
1. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.1:9-20 (ESV) ~ “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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 are the seven churches.
Our passage for today starts off with a third (1:9) introduction in which the author again identifies himself as “John” (1:1; 1:4), it adds further significant information about where and when the vision took place together with its divinely appointed destination. John stresses his intimate identification with the Asian Christian’s and the reason for his presence on Patmos.
Patmos lies about 60 km. west-southwest of Mellitus, in the Icarian see. Consisting mainly of volcanic hills. Patmos is about 16 km. long and 10 km. wide at the north end. It was an island used for Roman penal purposes. John was banished to the island by the Emperor Domitian in A.D. 95 and released 18 months later by Nerva.
John describes his vision of “someone, like a son of man,” walking among seven golden lampstands (1:12-16). The person identifies Himself as the exalted Lord, Jesus Christ (1:17-18) and then explains the meaning of the symbolic vision (1:19-20). Finally, the Lord’s address is a rather detailed and specific message to each of the seven churches in Asia (2:1-3:22). However, we will only look at vss.9-20 today. Next week (D.V.), we will start looking at the seven letters which we find in chapters 2 and 3.
Our exegetical outline for today can be summed up as follow:
1. THE SETTING OF THE VISION (vs.9). In other words, we will look at where the receiver of the vision was at the moment he received the vision; what the circumstances were, etc.
2. THE MODE OF THE VISION (vs.10a). Here we will look at how the revelation was conveyed to the receiver.
3. THE VOICE OF THE VISION (vss.10b-11). We will give a description of “the voice” that communicated the revelation.
4. THE SIGHTS OF THE VISION (vss.12-20). Here we will look at the contents of the revelation, which will include a look at “The Lampstands” and “The Son of Man.”
3. THE SETTING OF THE VISION (vs.9):
In vs.9 John stresses his intimate identification with the Asian Christian’s and the reason for his presence on Patmos. John and the Asian believers share with Christ and one another this suffering or agony that comes because of faithfulness to Christ as the only true Lord and God. It reminds us of his words in his Gospel where he says ~ “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Joh.16:33) or Luke’s words in Acts 14:22 when he said why Paul and Barnabas went back to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, because they wanted to… ~ “…(strengthen) the souls of the disciples, (and encourage) them to continue in the faith, and… saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
John also stresses that they share with Christ in His kingdom (power and rule). In one sense they already reign (1:6), because they share in Christ’s suffering and in another sense, they will reign with Christ in the eschatological manifestation of his kingdom (Afrikaans: “in die toekomstige ewige Koninkryk van Christus Jesus”) ~ “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4, 6; 22:5).
Finally, as they look beyond their immediate distresses and put their full confidence in Christ, they share now in His royal dignity and power. Whether those distresses were imprisonment, ostracism, slander, poverty, economic discrimination, hostility, destruction of the churches by false prophets, or the constant threat of death from mob violence or judicial action, believers are to manifest their present kingship with Christ in their patient endurance. R.H. Charles once said, “Endurance is the spiritual alchemy (transformation) which transmutes (change or transform) suffering into royal dignity” (Afrikaans: “Volharding is die geestelike proses om lyding, beproewing en swaarkry in koninklike waardigheid te verander”).
The Christians’ witness and their radical love in all spheres of life produce the conflict with the powers of the world. Long-suffering is the mark of Christ’s kinship in their lives. Present, Christ’s royal power does not crush opposition but use this suffering to test and purify the loyalty of the servants (Afrikaans: “Christus vernietig nie Sy opponente nie, maar Hy gebruik lyding om die mensdom te toets en Sy diensknegte se lojaliteit te reining en te skaaf”). His strength is revealed in their weakness – that is why Paul said in 2 Cor.12:9 ~ “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Christians are called, as was John, to reign now with Christ by willingly entering into suffering conflict with the powers of this age.
4. THE MODE OF THE VISION (vs.10a):
In vs.10a John says… ~ “I was in the Spirit.” This describes John’s experience of transport into the world of prophetic vision, by the Spirit of God (Ezek.3:12) (Afrikaans: “Hierdie uitdrukking word gebruik om Johannes se ervaring te beskryf waar hy ’n oorgang van ’n fisiese toetstand na ’n geestelike toestand ervaar ten einde ’n profetiese visioen van die Heilige Gees te kan ontvang”). At least the first vision – if not the whole book of Revelation – was revealed on the Lord’s day. Since this is the only place in the New Testament where this expression is used, its identification is difficult.
5. THE VOICE OF THE VISION (vss.10b-11):
Nearly everything in this vision is unusual. Rather than see visual objects, as would be expected, in vs.10b-11. John first hears a voice loud as a trumpet. The significance is obvious. Serious attention was being called for. This is the function of the trumpet. Attention was firstly being drawn to view Christ as author of the vision, being the eternal One by whom and for whom all things were created, “the Alpha and Omega.” This would prepare the apostle for the awesome image of the glorified Christ.
Secondly, John was being counselled on what he needed to do with the vision he was about to see – it was to write the vision in a book, and then send it to specified churches. The survival of a church depends on its unflinching dependence (Afrikaans: “onwrikbare afhanklikeid”) on the written Word of God. What food is to the physical body the written word is to the body of Christ. This was not a vision concerning which John was to be silent (2 Cor.12:4). The very existence of this epistle to this day, is proof that the apostle obeyed the Divine order or instruction.
6. THE SIGHTS OF THE VISION (vss.12-20):
After John heard the Lord’s voice, he now sees the vision and this vision had a profound impact on the apostle.
The Lampstands (vs.12): For the Old Testament Tabernacle, Moses constructed a seven branched lampstand (Ex.25:31). Later this lampstand came to symbolize Israel. Zechariah had a vision of a seven-branched golden lampstand fed by seven pipes, which was explained to him as the ~ “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth” (Zech.4:10). Zechariah’s lampstand thus relates directly to the Lord Himself. We see however in Rev.1:20, that the lampstands are the seven churches. We will also see 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 ~ “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt.5:14). As with the first church in Acts, we, as people of God, are light bearers only because of our intimate connection with Christ, the source of the light, through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:4b; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6).
The lampstands that John saw, were gold in colour signifying their worth in God’s sight. They are seven in number because they represent the perfect or complete whole. These churches are alive and vibrant. They form a perfect picture of the precious One’s church – Jesus Christ’s church.
The Son of Man (vss.13-20): In vss.13-20 John now sees that the One whose voice he heard, was that of his Lord. Jesus Christ was standing in the midst of the lampstands.
• His Appearance to John (vss. 13-16): The words in vs.13 that says ~ “one like a son of man” are to be understood in connection with Dan.7:13 as a reference to the heavenly Messiah who is also a human. Jesus preferred the title “Son of Man” for Himself throughout His earthly ministry, although on occasion He did not deny the appropriate use of “Son of God” (Joh.10:36; Mark 14:61). Both titles are nearly identical terms for the Messiah. The early church, however, refrain from using “Son of Man” for Jesus, except when there was some special connection between the suffering of believers and Christ’s suffering and glory (Acts 7:56; Rev.14:14) (Afrikaans: “Die vroeë kerk het slegs die naam ‘Seun van God’ gebruik wanneer daar verwys was na die spesiale verbintenis wat bestaan het tussen vervolgde gelowiges en Jesus Christus se lyding en veheerliking”) .
In vs.13 we see that John saw that Christ was “dressed in a robe and with a golden sash around his chest.” This begins the sevenfold description of the Son of Man. To be “dressed in a robe and with a golden sash” indicates that He is no longer the humiliated and suffering servant but the glorified Lord, having received the kingdom and an everlasting dominion from the Father. It also speaks of His high-priestly character both past and present – the finished sacrificial work at Calvary along with the present intercessory ministry in glory.
The fact that Jesus’ head and hair are white like wool and as white as snow as indicated in vs.14, shows His inherent and incommunicable holiness. John also saw Christ’s eyes which were “like a flame of fire,” this signified God’s omniscient and righteous character – He is the omniscient Judge. We find a similar vision in Dan.10:6 ~ “His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.”
Vs.15 speaks of Christ’s feet which were like “burnished bronze, refined in a furnace.” In both Ezekiel and Daniel (Ezek.1:13; Dan.10:6) the fire, like brightness of shining metal, is one of the symbols connected with the appearance of the glory of God. Rev.2:18 may imply that this simile (Afrikaans: “gelykenis/vergelyking”) of feet “like burnished bronze” represents triumphant judgement on those who are unbelieving or unfaithful to the Truth of Christ.
The glory and majesty of God are described in a way, similar to that in Ezek.1:24 and 43:2, namely “His voice was like the roar of many waters.”
Vs.16 is a beautiful description of Christ’s care and protection of His ministers. The right hand is the side of protection and power and safety, and the seven stars Christ held in it are identified with the seven angels of the seven churches in Asia Minor (1:20; Job 38:7). John also sees a sword – the sword is a symbol of a weapon and symbol of war, oppression, anguish, and political authority. John however, seems to intend a startling difference in the function of this sword. The sword proceeds from the mouth of Christ rather than being wielded in His hand. This sharp two-edged sword, coming out of Christ’s mouth, is a symbol of His powerful Word ~ “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph.6:17). Yes, Christ strikes down the rebellious at His coming with such a sword (19:15, 21) and the figure points definitely to divine judgement, but not to the type of power wielded by the nations. Christ conquers the world through His death and resurrection, and the sword is this 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 reminds us of Jesus’ face when He was transfigured (Afrikaans: “verheerliking”) ~ “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt.17:2; Rev.10:1). The first point was a description of Jesus’ appearance, now we will look at His impact on John.
• His Impact on John (vss.17-18): The vision that John had, was too awesome for him to bear. It simply overwhelmed him. As if dead, he fell at Jesus’ feet. He seems to have fainted until the loving touch of his Lord resuscitated him. How reassuring must have been the words, “do not be afraid,” for he really was afraid notwithstanding his being in the spiritual realm (Afrikaans: “nieteenstaande die feit dat hy in ’n geestelike toestand verkeer het”). How encouraging the words, “I am the first and last” (i.e. “I am the ever-living God”) must have been to him. John was encouraged by being reminded that Christ has power over death and the dead, i.e. even over the devil’s sphere. Since Christ alone has conquered death, He alone can determine who will enter death and Hades, and who will come out of them – He has the “keys.” The Christian can only see death as the servant of Christ.
First, we saw what Jesus looked like (His appearance). Secondly, His impact on John. Let us now look at Christ’s instructions to John.
• His Instructions to John (vs.19): We see in vs.19 that John was instructed to write three things:
– First the things he recently was privileged to see, such as the glorified Christ.
– Second, he was to write about things as they existed in his time, such as the conditions in the seven churches.
– Third, he was expected to write everything that will occur before Christ’s return and thereafter into eternity.
Christ in His glory is a common picture, so is the picture of the church, from the first to the last chapter. The same applies to the things occurring during and after John’s days. Hence, to say “write the things seen, things present and things future,” is really the same as saying, “write the entire vision. Not all things pertaining to this vision are historical, not all things are extant (Afrikaans: “huidiglik/bestaande”) and not all things are eschatological” (Afrikaans: “toekomstig”).
In order to understand this vision received by John form Christ, we must understand the meaning of each symbol.
• His Interpretations of the Symbols (vs.20): When we look at vs.20, it is clear that much of what John is to expect in the visions is to be seen in figurative language, hence the language of “seven stars” and “lampstands.”
The seven lampstands represent the seven churches in Asia Minor. It is an appropriate symbol, for the church, being the corporate fellowship of the people of God, who is to be the light of the world, shining and witnessing for Christ who is Himself the light of the world. If a church is not doing this (“shining”) it is not a church. Do you remember the apostle Paul’s vivid call to the Philippian Christians to be… ~ “…blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain” (Phil.2:15-16).
It is not the church’s business to make truth, alter truth or improve truth, but rather to receive it, stand firm upon it, contend earnestly for it, preach it, adorn it with holy living, and – if necessary – die for it.
That the lampstands are golden, sets forth the lovely truth of the preciousness to Christ of His church, which he purchased with His own blood, not to mention the dazzling purity and holiness He desires to see in us.
The stars represent the “angels of the seven churches.” Who are these angels? There is no satisfactory answer to this question. Some theologians say that this refers to the seven ministers or pastors of the seven churches, whilst others say that these angels refer to real angel. The word for “angels” occurs sixty-seven times in Revelation and in every other instance refers to heavenly messengers, although occasionally in the New Testament it can mean a human messenger ~ “When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John…” (Luke 7:24), here the word “messenger” is in the Greek, ἄγγελος (“aggelos”) which means angel.
These angels are not, on this occasion, to be taken as heavenly beings but as the ministers (pastors, elders, overseers) of the different local churches. If they are to be identified as real angels it is difficult to make sense of how you write a letter to an angelic being and how that letter could end up being read out to a congregation. It is far clearer to take them as addressed to those whose responsibility before God and men was to give themselves to preaching, teaching, pastoring and ruling in the local churches, and this would have made the best sense for the original Christians who were in those churches. Each of the seven letters begins with… “to the angel of the church in… write.”
7. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
We learn from this, that the church is Christ’s own church. He actually walks among (in the midst of) His church and that is a shattering truth which should make us thrill and tremble all at once. Yet this is one of the most exalted keynotes of the whole book – the living, glorious Lord Jesus Christ present in His church, however small, despised or persecuted the church may be. It is obviously a spiritual and invisible presence, but it is no less real for that!
Furthermore, we learn from this is that the church is Christ’s own church. Jesus is the Head and the church is His possession. The church is ~ “His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” (Eph.1:23). Christ has an absolute right over us, to deal with His church as He will. This becomes evident very practically as the letters to the churches unfold, and as Christ commends whatever He finds that pleases Him. He rebukes the sins and weaknesses of His people, calls us to repentance and even, where extreme measures are called for, threatens us with His judgement and the removal of His life-giving presence.