Lesson Number 2
THE GLORIFIED CHRIST SPEAKS
"I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, and, What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea. Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 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. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 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. 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. 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. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. 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." (Rev 1:9-20, NKJV)
The book before us is "the revelation of Jesus Christ," sent to His churches by the hands of John the beloved. It reflects the heart of the Lord, Who is the "Head over all things for the church" (Eph 1:22). This is not a book of novelties, written to awaken the curiosity of men, or to entertain those enamored of fantasy. Rather, in this volume we are exposed to the manner in which the Lord of all is reigning. His is not a coercive reign, although He is fully able to forcibly subdue His enemies in an instant. Indeed, He will do this in the "last day." Now, however, He rules to ensure the salvation of all living by faith. According to the "eternal purpose" of the Father, He is working "all things" together for the good of those who love God, and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
The rule of the Lord Jesus is "in the midst of His enemies" (Psa 110:2). Although, from the fleshly point of view, things may appear chaotic and out of control, that is not at all the case. The enemies of the Lord and His people do not have free reign, although it often appears as though they do. When the blood of the saints is shed, the approach to God corrupted, and a false church dominates, things can seem hopeless-- but they are not. The reign of Jesus is being meticulously executed for the glory of God. It is currently seen in the preservation of all who put their trust in Him. It will ultimately be displayed in the complete overthrow of His enemies with a mere word--"the spirit of His mouth" (2 Thess 2:8).
Until His enemies are openly made His "footstool" (Heb 1:13; 10:13), the Lord Jesus informs His churches He knows their condition. They are to engage in zealous and consistent efforts to maintain their faith, resist the encroachments of the devil, and keep what they have received from Him. As wicked as the devil and his false prophets are, Jesus will not tolerate the rise of wickedness in His church. Though weak, they are to hold on their way, standing in the midst of adversity and corruption. To assist them in this effort, the Lord will unveil the future to His people. He will show them the nature of Satan's opposition, its seeming effectiveness, and the sure outcome of it all.
In this revelation, the saints will be apprized of the futility of trying to understand the future apart from the Lord Jesus. He, and He alone, can unlock the mysteries of Divine purpose, and clarify the execution of God's will. It is He who has "prevailed," and, consequently, Who sits upon the throne. He has not, nor will He ever, yield to our adversary, or abdicate His place of universal authority. From on high, He will lead His people all the way to glory, bringing "many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10). The path will lead through treacherous terrain, through deserts, and through fiery trials. But we are to believe and understand that He will "cause us to triumph" in every circumstance and difficulty (2 Cor 2:14).
Those who imagine earthly prosperity and well being are the pinnacle of blessing do greatly err. This was the state of the rich man, son of Abraham, whom, Jesus said, went to hell when he died (Luke 16:19,22). Of old time, there were saints, living by faith, who "were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy." It is said of these holy ones, "They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb 11:37-38). Who would dare to declare those believers deficient in faith!
Yet, some will affirm that, because these lived prior to the "day of salvation," they did not have access to the blessings of prosperity and dominance. This, again, betrays a fundamental ignorance of the nature of both the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant is the one that promised physical blessing and prosperity (Deut 28:1-13). Exclusion from these promises was declared as the result of disobedience (Deut 28:14-68). Yet, we are told the grievous circumstances of those who lived by faith, and were not disobedient to the Word of the Lord. Job not only prospered and enjoyed the blessing of God, he also lost all that he had, and endured great grief and pain. Joseph not only sat upon the throne, but also languished in prison. Moses not only received the Law and led the people of God, but lived in solitude on the back side of the desert. The Almighty God was Ruler in all the extremes of human experience!
Those in Christ Jesus also experience the extremities of both hardship and blessing. They pass through things that, because of the reigning Christ, are incapable of separating them from the love of God. As it is written, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'or Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom 8:35-37). This perspective would be meaningless were there no tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword! The Sovereign Christ is bringing His people to glory through these experiences, not in exclusion of them. That is the manner of His reign. This is the truth that will be portrayed in this book!
The true nature of spiritual life is scarcely known in the professed church. The common views of salvation are grossly deficient, leading people to the conclusion that the elimination of trouble and hardship in this world is primary. This is not the truth. Rather, it is in sharp conflict with the truth of the matter. Because we are being oriented for another world, we ought not expect freedom from difficulties in this one. Jesus will take us through floods and fire on the way to glory.
WRITING AS A COMPANION
When John addresses the church, he does not do so as an Apostle--although he was one of the primary ones. Nor, indeed, does he speak as one placed over them in the Lord--although he was a heavenly prince. He does not remind that he was the "disciple whom Jesus loved"--although he was precisely that (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7,20). The capacity in which he addresses the churches confirms the nature of the Kingdom of God! If the Holy Spirit Himself is known as a "Helper" (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7; Rom 8:26, NKJV), what more notable work than that of giving advantage to the people of God!
"I, John, both your brother and companion . . . " There is no closer relationship in Christ Jesus, than that of a "brother and companion." It transcends that of a teacher and a disciple. It is greater than an earthly king and his subjects. This puts the writer along the side of those engaged in the good fight of faith. He does not speak to them as one dwelling high above them, or as one buried beneath them. No! He is by their side! John is a "brother" by virtue of his identity with Christ! He is a "companion" because he is under the yoke with them. The holy Apostle places himself in the category of those identified as Christ's "brethren" (Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11-12,17). He addresses them as one being brought to glory, and being conformed to the image of God's Son!
Tribulation of Jesus Christ
" . . . and companion in the tribulation . . . " It is one thing to talk about tribulation, it is quite another to be in it! John does not write from a flowery bed of ease to those in the crucible of conflict! He writes as one entering into the Kingdom "through much tribulation" (Acts 14:22). With the suffering ones, like a camel going through the eye of a needle, he too was entering into the glorious reign of Jesus! As it is written, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all" (Psa 34:19). There are no troubles from which the elect are not delivered.
Still, they are more than mere afflictions, or unusual difficulties. These are a residue of sufferings, left behind by the Lord Jesus for His church. As it is written, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister . . . " (Col 1:24-25). These are not meritorious sufferings, nor an appointed means for the expiation of sins. This is a suffering of fellowship--one in which unparalleled intimacy with the Lord Jesus is realized. In Christ, we participate in the good will of God, experiencing Divine acceptance, as did the Son Himself. Yet that is not all. We also experience the rejection of this world--obtaining a first- hand knowledge of the other-worldly nature of Kingdom life.
John is writing from the perspective of a sufferer: one who has "suffered for righteousness sake" (Matt 5:10-12). God has given him a word for oppressed believers, and he will declare it with power. He will see suffering as transient, and the activity of our opponents as temporary. Ultimate blessing will be affirmed for the faithful, and final separation for the fearful and unbelieving. He writes as a fellow-sufferer!
Kingdom of Jesus Christ
" . . . companion in the . . . kingdom . . . " The flesh cannot conceive of being a companion in a Kingdom, while experiencing persecution and rejection on a barren Isle in the Aegean Sea. But such is the "Kingdom of Jesus Christ." Like all saints, John had been "translated into the Kingdom of" God's "dear Son" (Col 1:13). John will write like a Kingdom-man. He will see things from a heavenly perspective, and address the difficulties of the saints from Christ's vantage point. He will not look at the flaws of the church as a mere critic, but as a member of the Kingdom of God. Nor, indeed, will he look at the ravages of Satan as a natural man. He writes as a companion in the Kingdom and one in the tribulation. He will see Satan as an enemy fighting a losing battle. He will declare the church as ultimately triumphant, and will summon the saints to drink of the water of life.
Patience of Jesus Christ
" . . . companion in the . . . patience of Jesus Christ . . . " This is "patience endurance," and not mere tolerance. It is keeping the faith under duress, and making progress in difficulty. This is the nature of spiritual life--life in Christ Jesus. Those who "eat" Christ's flesh and "drink" His blood (John 6:53-57) become capable of enduring the world's worst, and receiving heaven's best. As Christ "endured" even the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:2), so those who walk with Him are empowered to keep the faith while enduring a "great fight of afflictions" (Heb 10:32). John writes as one experiencing this sustaining power, urging the saints to participate in the same.
It is interesting to note that this book has been a great consolation to those in the crucible of suffering. Historians tell us believers in tribulation especially love this book. By way of comparison, the church of Asia, particularly after the prosperous time of Constantine, had a low opinion of this volume. The African church, by comparison, which was more subject to persecution, highly esteemed it. Ah, effective work of tribulation, that ushers the saint into the blessed room of consolation and good hope. Here is something of which those who brag of their well being, have very little knowledge! Tribulation has a Divinely assigned objective, and is governed by Christ Jesus Himself.
John does not hide his circumstance from us. Indeed, he has no cause for shame. Admittedly, this is not a book to be written by someone in the lap of prosperity, experiencing popularity and well being! Of course, we have very few books of Scripture give under such circumstances. That condition alone should alert us to the danger of embracing a frothy and surface view of salvation which has God's people publically dominating every circumstance.
On the Island
" . . . I, John . . . was on the island that is called Patmos . . . " Patmos has become significant to us because of this book. However, it was not so with those of John's day. Note, he does not say "in Patmos," as Luke would say "to Cyprus"Acts 13:4). He says "in the isle that is called Patmos." Those knowing of this location tell us it was a small island, mountainous and almost barren. The whole island was about 30 miles in circumference, and was a politically suitable place for banishment from society--a practice common in that day.
How blessed to know that heaven was brought nearer to John as the world was thrust farther from him. To the degree, because of our faith, the world rejects us, we are drawn more close to the bosom of the Father. Those who live in the wake of human acceptance, do not ordinarily receive unusual benefits from God. That accounts for the revelation given to John on Patmos, the insights granted Paul in Arabia, and the writing of a number of the Pauline epistles from prison. The Law was given in the wilderness of Sinai, Moses received his commission at a burning bush on a mountain of separation, and John the Baptist prepared for his unique ministry in the wilderness. A lack of social contact by no means restricts one from hearing from God! It was in exile that Jacob encountered God at Bethel (Gen 35:6-15). In exile Moses confronted God at the burning bush (Ex 3:2-5). Elijah was in exile when he heard God's "still small voice" (1 Kgs 19:11-13). And, in exile by the river Chebar, Ezekiel saw "the likeness of the glory of God" (Ezek 1:1-28). Who but God can bring such blessed things to those in such unpleasant circumstances!
On Account of the Word Of God and Testimony of Jesus
" . . . I, John . . . was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." John does not hide from us the reason for his presence on the desolate isle of Patmos. He was there because of what he had said--"on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (RSV). Here we see the basic enmity of this world against God. John was not exiled because of abusing his fellow man, crusading against the government, or refusing to pay his taxes. Rather, it was because he had conveyed to men the words of Almighty God. He had openly proclaimed the Person and accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ in behalf of lost humanity.
Some have concluded John meant he was on Patmos TO RECEIVE the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. While I do not question there is a sense in which this was true, the fact that he was a companion in tribulation seems to point to his exile as the cause to which John points. From the higher view, God now turns this curse into a blessing. The Sovereignty of God and His Christ are seen in the ease with which this message is communicated to John. The worst that the world can heap upon the saints cannot stop the flood-tide of heaven! If men are thrust from society, and placed in a desolate place, still they can receive gracious ministrations from the Lord. Many of us can confirm that such occasions have often proved superior in both content and benefit to things learned in relatively peaceful times.
Prior to this, what John had received, he had faithfully proclaimed. Now, the world takes his freedom from him, showing their enmity against the King of kings. Because of his faithfulness, and in fulfillment of His Word, the Lord now gives John "more." As it is written, "For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance . . . " (Matt 13:12). As the eyes of the Lord scanned "throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His" (2 Chron 16:9), they found faithful John. Here was a trustworthy servant to whom the vision of the ages could be committed! He was not young, nor was he free but he could be trusted with the message! It was with John as with Abraham. "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing," declared the Lord (Gen 18:17). Just as Jesus divulged to John who would betray Him (John 13:23-26), now He opens to the same Apostle His message for the churches, the nature of His reign, and the outcome of human history.
In the Spirit
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day . . . " This is a marvelous expression, showing the power of faith, and the recognition of godly recollection in heaven. Because I am taking the position that the phrase "Lord's Day" refers to the first day of the week, the following review has been developed. It is not intended to be the cause of variance, but to show that the view is not a strange one, but has been the commonly accepted view throughout history. I will show that there is good reason for this conclusion.
Although the perception of this passage, from the first century, has been that it is a reference to the first day of the week, some have chosen to view this from a different perspective. Certain interpreters of the text believe this means John was "in the Spirit" on the day the Lord spoke to him. "The Lord's day" would, in this case, mean the day the Lord made the revelation known to John. The difficulty with this view is that it does not recognize John as being "in the Spirit" PRIOR to the revelation, as the text plainly states. The voice of the Lord did not speak to him until AFTER John was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day."
Others, perceive no distinction in days whatsoever, basing their opinion on Romans 14:5-6. "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it." However, this particular text is speaking of distinctions specified under the Law, not of a general perception of days. A discrimination of meats and days belonged to the Old Covenant. Still, many converted Jews continued to honor those days, and maintained the view of meats specified in the Law (Lev 11:1-17; 20:25; Acts 10:14; Gal 4:9-20; Col 2:16-17). The point of this text is not the recognition of the first day of the week.
The "First day of the week" is frequently mentioned in Scripture, and always with a note of approval. This is specifically said to be the time when Jesus rose from the dead. "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week . . ." (Mark 16:9). This is also the day on which Jesus, following His resurrection, first appeared to His disciples. "Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, 'Peace be with you'" (John 20:19). It is also the day on which He appeared the second time to His disciples. John refers to it as eight days following the first appearance, which would put it on the first day of the week. "And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, 'Peace to you!'" (John 20:26).
In addition, the day of Pentecost occurred on the first day of the week. This feast took place 50 days after the high Sabbath of the paschal week (Lev 23:15-16). The Sabbath from which the count was made occurred the day after Jesus was crucified, and was the reason why His body was taken down from the cross (John 19:31; Mark 15:42). It was also the Sabbath honored by the women who came to anoint Jesus' body (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:54-56). Fifty days from that Sabbath day was the first day of the week--the Day of Pentecost, on which the Spirit was poured forth.
We are categorically told that the early disciples came together to break bread "on the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7). When instructing the Corinthians on setting aside special monies for the poor saints in Jerusalem, Paul specified that it be done on "the first day of the week" (1 Cor 16:2). As the church progressed, from Ignatius (A.D. 30-107) onwards, we "have a complete chain of evidence that The Lord's Day became the regular Christian name for the first day of the week."
Suffice it to say, there is solid ground for perceiving as "the Lord's Day" the first day of the week. This was the day on which natural light was created (Gen 1:3-5). It was the day on which Christ Jesus arose from the dead (Mark 16:9). His two recorded appearances to His disciples occurred on this day (John 20:19,26). The day of Pentecost took place on this day (Lev 23:15-16), and the early church is said to have gathered together on the "first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). This is not simply another day! The events that took place on the first day of the week are conducive to godly recollections that sanctify the soul.
Though exiled from society, and away from his brethren, John was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day." The day was too laden with sacred memories for him to be otherwise. If David, in his exile, could recall the house of God with joy (Psa 84:3-4), how much more could John recall the blessed of the events associated with the first day of the week. He was in a state of spiritual ecstasy, or spiritual elation. His heart and mind were filled with the good things of God, the flesh was subdued, and he was dominated by the consideration of heavenly things. He was in a frame of spirit to receive from God!
A word is in order concerning the advantage of being in the proper frame of mind on the Lord's day. Over the years, I have observed a pitiful lack of this in the churches. Too many people come to the assembly "in the flesh" instead of "in the Spirit." Their minds are not obsessed with the consideration of the things of God. Their attention too often seems to be fixed on the passing things of "this present evil world." The highest that some people appear able to get, is to think of someone sick that needs our prayers. But they are not thinking of God, Christ, the benefits of the New covenant, or the glories of the world to come. The "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Pet 1:4) are not prominent in their thinking. The consideration of Christ's return does not seem to have a place. Their speech is too earthy, and their ears are too dull. Is it any wonder they are not able to receive from God? Until this general condition is changed, church meetings will yield little benefit to anyone. Until our spirits are tuned to hear, communication from Him will seem little more than thunder (John 12:29).
But it was not so with John! His heart was filled with considerations of a resurrected, ascended, and enthroned Savior. He knew the world had been reconciled to God, and the door of heaven had been opened! He was banished from men, but had access to God. He was on a desolate island, yet companied with a vast assembly in heavenly places. The rocky isle of Patmos did not restrict his spirit! Though surrounded by a murky sea, he was free to drink from the river of the water of life freely. He was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. His sufferings were great, but his blessings were greater! Domitian had passed judgment against him, but God was for him! He was in the Spirit on the Lord's day!
I Heard a Loud Voice Behind Me, Like A Trumpet
While John is in deep meditation, his cogitations are suddenly interrupted! He hears a "loud voice," like the blast of a mighty trumpet! Every wandering thought is summoned to the center of his consideration, as he is ushered into the realm of Divine contemplation. There is a solemnity on this occasion that transcends all purely earthly experience. The crashing waves of the sea can be heard no longer. The circumstances in which he finds himself recede into the background as though absolutely insignificant. He again hears the voice that once stilled the tempest and quieted the raging sea--but now it has greater power than was ever heard on the sea or shores of Galilee!
It is no low muttering voice that John hears, but one that is "loud." It is a voice like that described by the Psalmist. "The voice of the LORD is over the waters; The God of glory thunders; The LORD is over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; The voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars, Yes, the LORD splinters the cedars of Lebanon. He makes them also skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD divides the flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; The LORD shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth, And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everyone says, "Glory!" (Psa 29:1-9). Nature bows prostrate before the "Voice," as the Sovereign of the universe speaks to the exiled Apostle and prophet.
The voice was "as a trumpet," laden with significance, relevance, and supremacy. Of old time, the trumpet had often been connected with the Lord. It was associated with the giving of the Law at Sinai (Ex 19:6). Festivals instituted under the Old Covenant were inaugurated with trumpets (Num 10:10). The Davidic prophecy of the ascension of the Lord Jesus into heaven mentions "the sound of a trumpet" (Psa 47:5). Also, the Lord shall descend from heaven accompanied by the sound of a trumpet (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). What John heard was not merely a piercing sound, but a heavenly alert to what he was about to hear! The message would be more significant than the giving of the Sinaitic Law. It would have more gravity than the feasts observed by the ancient people. He was about to hear words that would be the objects of contemplation for centuries to come! These words would define the real King, the real enemy, the real battle, and the real outcome.
THE COMMISSION IS GIVEN
The words uttered to John are those of the King! They are arresting words, drawing attention to the Person and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not take for granted that John knows Him, but draws immediate attention to His Person and position in the Divine economy.
Alpha, Omega, First, and Last
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last . . . " Jesus introduced Himself earlier by saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End" (verse 8). The point of the reference is to define the locus, or center, of Kingdom activity. Everything is managed from the Throne of all power. Absolutely nothing is initiated or concluded without the direct involvement of the King of kings and Lord of lords! Nothing can begin independently of Him! Because of this situation, in the end, ALL "glory and honor and power" will go to Him (Rev 4:11; 5:13).
What You See, Write In A Book
"What you see, write in a book . . . " Solomon once said, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh" (Eccl 12:12). Those words, however, have no application to THIS book! Solomon spoke of the books of men--books that contained human philosophies and observations. Revelation is not such a book! John was not commissioned to write his THOUGHTS about what he saw, but what he would see! Mind you--not what He heard, but what he SAW! This places Revelation in another category! This is a message visualized!
No less than 36 times, John records, "I SAW!" (Rev 1:12; 1:17; 4:4; 5:1; 5:2; 6:1; 6:9; 7:1; 7:2; 8:2; 9:1; 9:17; 10:1; 10:5; 13:1; 13:2; 13:3; 13:11; 14:6; 15:1; 15:2; 16:13; 17:3; 17:6; 18:1; 19:11; 19:17; 19:19; 20:1; 20:4; 20:11; 20:12; 21:1; 21:22).
The extent of the vision of Divine working is staggering. John sees the glorified Christ, personalities around the Throne of God, the workings of God in a book, a strong angel, the Lamb opening the future, and the souls of those slain for their testimony.
The aged prophet is shown four angels controlling the affairs of the world, the commission to protect those with the Divine seal upon them, seven angels with seven trumpets of judgment, and the opening of the bottomless pit. John beheld horses with their riders working awesome judgments in the earth, a mighty angel loosing seven awesome thunders, and also announcing the conclusion of all things.
How extensive the vision given to John! He saw a beast rise with great authority, the nature of that beast, and its setback and resurgence. The beloved Prophet sees another beast with a less abusive appearance, a flying angel with the everlasting Gospel for all the world, and a great and marvelous sign in heaven of seven last plagues. He saw those who overcame all wicked opponents, a Satanic initiative to deceive the world, and a blasphemous woman parading as the bride of Christ. How extensive the vision!
John saw a religious entity drunk with the blood of the saints, the announcement of the fall of spiritual Babylon, and the smiting of the nations by the glorified Christ. He saw the judgment of God upon His enemies, the resistence of wicked forces, the binding of Satan, and the reign of the saints of God. John was given to see the Throne of judgment, the resurrection of the dead, the judgment of small and great, a new heaven and a new earth, and the eternal bliss of the saved!
It is difficult to imagine such an extensive vision! What is the dream of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2) to John's vision? How does Jacob's vision (Gen 28:12) compare with it? Or the "visions of God" seen by Ezekiel (1:1; 8:3; 40:2)? Holy men had received visions previous to this, including Abraham (Gen 15:1), Nathan (1 Chron 17:15), Isaiah (2 Chron 32:32; Isa 1:1), Daniel (Dan 2:19), Obadiah (Obadiah 1:1), Nahum (Nah 1:1), and Habakkuk (Hab 2:2-3). But their visions are not to be compared with that of John on the Isle of Patmos. They were shown segments of history, portions of the Divine working, and insight into a fragment of God's purpose. John, however, is caught up high, where an overview of God's "eternal purpose" is provided.
God shows John that both causes and outcomes are under the control of His Christ! This is a message that the churches must hear! John must write what he SEES! The people of God must not be deceived by circumstance, and thus led to erroneous conclusions! John must write what he SEES! Saints must see their opponents from the Divine perspective! John must write what he SEES! Believers' view of the reigning Christ must be correct! John must write what he SEES!
This book is not written for novel reading! It is not intended to be the catalyst for the development of new theologies! There is a message to be found here, and it is essential for our triumph in this world. This is a vision, not a set of laws! It is something seen, not a dialog. That means we are dealing with an overview. Specifics are involved, but they are not the point! If we comprehend what John SAW, we will begin with Christ (1:1), and end with Him (22:20). We will start with a blessing (1:3), and conclude with one also (22:21). History will not be perceived as the triumph of Satan. Rather, it will be perceived as a record of the meticulous overthrow of him and all of his wicked devices! We will see that both God and Satan use means.
The Seven Churches
" . . . send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." We see the heart of Jesus in this text! He does not send the vision to the governors to convict them, but to the churches to awaken and comfort them! The message is not sent to the enemies of the church to tell them of their soon demise, but to the churches to inform them of coming victory! Times of oppression call for a message to the churches! Periods of spiritual decline require a message for the churches! Let those who deride an emphasis upon a message for the saints bow before Jesus! He has a message for the churches! The vision He gives to John is not for the world. It is not a message of evangelism, or a mandate to influence the lost. The vision pertains to the churches . . . flawed ones, struggling ones, and commendable ones. But why is it sent to "the seven churches which are in Asia"?
A Practical Point of View
From a practical point of view, these are no doubt churches John himself had visited. The order in which they are listed reflects a circuit, starting with Ephesus, the metropolis. Then the costal city of Smyrna, followed by the inland cities (Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea), and ending at Ephesus. Church history affirms John to have been a leader at the church at Ephesus, which would have given him a personal, as well as a commissioned, interest in it and the other churches.
From the Standpoint of Need
We will find from Christ's word that these very real churches required a word from Him. As the Good Shepherd, He would not let their condition continue without a word from Him. For some, spiritually disarming conditions had formed, requiring a stern word of warning. Some were allowing the enemy to infiltrate their ranks, and needed to be awakened to vigilance. Still others were oppressed, and demanded a word of comfort from their King. While this book speaks to every generation, it spoke specifically to the needs of the "seven churches in Asia." The King is addressing His subjects.
A Spiritual Perspective
The breadth of spiritual experience reflected in these seven churches is challenging. You will find it difficult to identify a spiritual condition that is not covered in the description of these churches. Because of this, throughout the ages, this message has maintained its relevance. Think of the conditions described in these churches. (1) Punctilious approaches to life in Christ without a love for Christ (2:1-4). (2) Oppression for Christ's sake, and a lack of recognition in the world (2:9). (3) In the heart of Satanic influence and, consequently, embracing a worldly point of view (2:13-14). (4) Unusual activity for God, yet a tolerance of false and debilitating doctrine (2:19-20). (5) Appearing to be flourishing and godly, yet dead toward God (3:1-2). (6) Keeping the faith under duress, and ready to be used by Christ (3:8). (7) Spiritually indifferent, yet unusually prosperous in religion, while reprehensible to the Lord Jesus (3:15-17).
A Picture of Church Ages or Periods
Some feel as though these churches are representative of seven church ages. These are seen as consecutive, leading to the consummation of the ages. They would include Orthodoxy, Oppression, Compromise, Ungodly Tolerance, Dead Religion, Faithfulness, and Lukewarmness. Without going into this further, it is possible to show a remarkable parallel to these stages in church history.
JOHN SEES THE VOICE
John is "in the Spirit on the Lord's day," and thus does not faint at the sound of the "loud voice." His spirit is already tuned to the heavenly frequency. Because he is more at home with God than with men, He turned "to see the voice that spoke with" him.
John is now given a glimpse into the domain of the spirit! In beautiful language, one has said, "Though the eagle is reported to have a keen and far-reaching eye, and has borne its pinions into the region of sunny azure, it has had no glimpse of the spirit-domain; whereas a man who may be even sightless and deaf has the power of seeing wonderful things and hearing wonderful things."
Seven Golden Lamp stands
Here is an arresting sight! The first thing John sees . . . "seven golden lamp stands! (candlesticks, KJV)" Later, these will be defined by the glorified Christ Himself: "the seven lamp stands which you saw are the seven churches" (Verse 20). The "churches," as the "pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15), are the first thing John sees. He is writing a message to them, and therefore is confronted with them. From a practical point of view, if Jesus is to be seen, it will be in His people! It is there that His nature and character have been distributed, each member being "given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Eph 4:7). Although men may despise the church, yet Jesus "loved the church, and gave Himself for it" (Eph 5:25). God does not consider Jesus in separation from His church, and neither can we! The people of God have been "joined to the Lord" (1 Cor 6:17). That is why John could be confronted with such a site when he "turned to see the voice" speaking to him.. Let those who despise "the churches" take note of the vision! He has a particular interest in particular churches. In this case, seven of them in a specific geographical area!
The depiction of "the seven churches" is arresting! He does not behold candles, but lamp stands-- something that holds, or contains, the light. He does not see a single lamp stand with seven lamps, as in the tabernacle, but seven independent lamp stands--each one established to give light. And, they are not merely lamp stands, but golden lamp stands. They are a valuable source of spiritual light--an appointed conduit of illumination! Like their Lord, they shine "in the darkness" (John 1:5). These seven golden lamp stands reflect the nature of the New Covenant. There is more liberty and individuality than existed under the Old Covenant. There, the tribes (a parallel to "the churches") were sanctified by their identity with the group.
The light provided by the churches is not their own--that is why they are called lamp stands. The light they have is from the Lord, who commands the light to shine into the hearts of the regenerate (2 Cor 4:6). Churches, like individuals, are sources of spiritual illumination to those about them. To the Ephesians Paul wrote, "now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Eph 5:8). The Philippians were also told, "you shine as lights in the world" (Phil 2:15). Individual congregations, like those of Asia, are sources of spiritual light. They are part of a vast body of saints who are custodians of the truth of God.
Jesus will address the churches in their ordained capacity. He will not speak to them as social reformers, champions of the family, or those who correct political disorders. They have been chosen "out of the world" (John 15:19; 17:6,15). In a real and unique sense they "are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9). They will be measured by the Lord in association with that distinction.
One In the Midst of Seven Golden Lamp stands
"And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man . . . " John's attention does not rest upon the golden lamp stands--the churches. He is drawn to the One around Whom they are gathered. The message is to them, but the center of attention is the One Who sends the message. John is seeing the reality of the case. There is One in the "midst" of the churches! This dominating One appears as "the Son of Man." Though glorified, He retains His identity with humanity. It is necessary that He do so, for He is bringing many sons to glory (Heb 2:10). Too, we are being conformed to His image in order to eternal fellowship with Him (Rom 8:29; 1 John 3:1-3). He became one of us, that we might be joined to Him and the Father (John 17:20-21). Jesus sends a message to the churches from this perspective--as He who stands in the midst of the churches: the One to Whom they are to hearken, and into Whose image they are being conformed.
As we progress in this section of the Book, we will find some of the churches were unaware of this situation. They were not conducting themselves in an acute awareness of the One in their midst! However, the message will be given in view of the real situation, whether the churches are aware of it or not. Whatever may be said of accommodation, it must be noted that we are obliged to conform ourselves to the truth, rather than seeking to accommodate the truth to the fickle notions of men. That is how Jesus made Himself known to John. He first provided the proper perspective, then gave the message!
Under the Law, God made provision in the tabernacle to "dwell among" the people (Ex 25:8). That, however, was a typical dwelling, a mere shadow of the substantive indwelling accomplished in the New Covenant. In Christ, both the Father and the Son dwell within the sanctified (John 14:23). Here, however, the glorified Son is seen in the middle of "the churches." He is their appointed Focus, Shepherd, and Provider. He is in the "midst" of them, even as He promised He would be among those gathering together in His name (Matt 18:20). He is among the churches to feed and direct, and to even orchestrate their labors with Him. It is a tragedy of our time that this is too little known among the churches. I would venture to say that few, indeed, have taken the time to ponder Jesus dwelling in the midst the churches of our town, as He did among those of Asia. But we are obliged to consider this fact, for it is how Jesus has revealed Himself. It is how He is to be known--One who stands in the midst of His churches! He is their rallying Point, Source, and Vision. They are only as strong as their awareness of Him. The brightness of their light is in direct proportion to their cognizance of His dominating Presence!
Clothed With A Garment, Down to the Feet
" . . . clothed with a garment down to the foot. . . " We have been introduced to such a garment in Scripture. When, for example, Aaron appeared before the Lord, he was to wear "the robe of the ephod," with "pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about" (Ex 28:30-35). John is beholding the glorified Son in a High Priestly vestment, typified in the Aaronic priesthood. He appears before the Father in behalf of the redeemed, representing them and ministering to them. The glorified Christ is a regal High Priest! He is Moses the Lawgiver/prophet, Aaron the High Priest, and David the King all in One! He rules over the enemies of the churches. He speaks to the churches. He dispenses heavenly manna to them! This is the capacity in which He speaks to the churches. It is He who blesses the people in God's name, and stands as their Representative before the Father.
Girded About the Chest With A Golden Band
" . . . and girt about the paps with a golden girdle . . . " The value of Christ's indispensable ministry is seen in the golden band that encircles His High Priestly robe. Daniel saw a similar vision in his time. "I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude" (Dan 10:5-6). This is a vision of the heavenly Communicator, whose communication is more valuable than gold!
Under the law, the high priest had a girdle around the the ephod, which was made of gold, of blue, purple, scarlet, and fine twined linen (Ex 28:8). How vastly inferior to the band of GOLD worn by the Lord. This is a depiction of the superiority of His priesthood to everything before it. There is no aspect of His ministry that is not precious and valuable!
There is another facet of His High Priestly office that should be noted. While it is His current work, it is not an exhausting work like that of the old priesthood. This is seen in Ezekiel's rather vivid description of priestly attire. "They shall have linen turbans on their heads and linen trousers on their bodies; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat" (Ezek 44:18). Our Lord reigns in regal splendor, with unabated strength. There is no dissipation in any form associated with is ministry--no "sweat," so to speak! He needs no one to hold up His arms as did Moses (Ex 17:12).
Head and Hair White As Wool/Snow
" . . . His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow . . . " The vision again parallels that of Daniel: " . . . and the hair of His head like the pure wool" (Dan 7:9). These are the attributes of One who has been glorified. Peter, James, and John were introduced to this view when Jesus was transfigured before them (Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36). That occasion was but a faint glimmer of what John now sees. The glow of the transfigured Christ faded, and was never seen by the other nine disciples. But the glory John now beholds will never fade.
This is not only a picture of Christ's purity, but of the maturity of His glorified Manhood. Remember, this is the "Son of man." But it is the glorified "Man, Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5). He entered into the defiled realm, living out the prime of life amidst corruption and deterioration. However, He now glorified, retaining His spotless purity.
He is also characterized by wisdom and prudence, as depicted by the whiteness of His hair. We are apprized that the "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Him (Col 2:3). There is no aspect of the Kingdom, no promise, no directive, no resource, that is not made available in Him! It is because of His ministry that believers can be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col 1:9).
In the Lord, antiquity and glory are brought together for the support of the saints. "Antiquity" speaks of His tenure in the world, when He was tempted in all points like as we are. Thus was He qualified to carry us victoriously through temptation in our pilgrimage to glory. "Glory" speaks of the total absence of conflict and struggle, and the removal of every form of inferiority. Jesus speaks to the churches as the Resource of all wisdom and knowledge. He presents Himself in all of His purity and excellence, summoning them to come up higher, where salvation has qualified them to dwell.
Eyes Like A Flame of Fire
" . . . and His eyes were as a flame of fire . . . " Twice more in the vision, the Lord Jesus will identify Himself as the One with "eyes as a flame of fire" (2:19; 19:12). The prophet Daniel also saw a "a man" and declared "his eyes like torches of fire" (Dan 10:6). What is the meaning of the description?
Two of the unique properties of fire are heat and light, warmth and illumination. This nonpareil description declares Christ's awareness of his church in the world. Remember, this message is to the churches, making them aware of the heavenly assessment of their situation, and alerting them to the Divine manner and agenda. Christ not only sees His people, the sight is exact and thorough. The churches are to live with an acute awareness that "all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Heb 4:13). His vision is penetrating, even discerning the "thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb 4:12-13). The facade of human pretension gives way to the burning vision of Jesus! For those who are receptive and committed to Him, however, the consciousness that Christ Jesus sees all brings the warmth of consolation and comfort.
The Lord's flaming eyes of fire will threaten the indolent and lukewarm. They will strike fear into the hearts of the complacent and those tolerant of defective teaching. However, those same eyes will bolster the confidence of those involved in the good fight of faith. To saints whose strength is nearly gone, they will produce a resurgence of confidence and spiritual energy. Jesus speaks to the churches as the One who sees all, rebuking or comforting as is appropriate. He knows all of the circumstances in which His people are found. If He can get our attention, those eyes like a flame of fire will guide us safely to the heavenly harbor (Psa 32:8).
Feet Like Fine Brass
"And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace . . . " "Fine" or "burnished" (NASB, RSV) brass is highly polished and unusually precious. Authorities on the subject say it was a compound of copper and gold and silver. I cannot but comment on the difference between this description and that of Nebuchadnezzar's image. You may recall the impressive image of the king's dream had "feet partly of iron and partly of clay" (Dan 2:33). That vision denoted the weakness and vulnerability of the best of earthly kingdoms. However, King Jesus is seen from quite another perspective. His feet are characterized by beauty, permanence, and strength. His feet will finally trample all foes, openly and decisively (1 Cor 15:25-27; Psa 2:6-9; 45:3-6; Matt 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; Eph 1:22; Heb 1:13; 10:12-13).
Our Lord shall publically bring to a conclusion all of His enemies. Those who have trampled on the church will be trampled by Him! He will do so as the glorified "Man, Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5) Who has passed through the fiery trials of this world. He confronted the devil in all of his subtlety and craftiness, and put him to flight. He has grappled with unparalleled temptation and remained "without sin" (Heb 4:15). He endured the curse of God, Divine abandonment, and the drinking of the dreadful cup of man's iniquity.
Jesus speaks to the churches as One who has survived the worst and attained the best. He addresses them as the One under whose feet all enemies will be subdued. He once tread the winepress of the wrath of God alone, bearing the sins of the world (Isa 63:3). He shall yet trample "the vine of the earth" into eternal oblivion in the "great winepress of the wrath of God" (Rev 14:18-19). The churches do well to listen to Him!
Voice Like the Sound of Many Waters
" . . . and His voice as the sound of many waters . . . " John is on the Isle of Patmos, surrounded by the Aegean Sea. The term "many waters" speaks of tumultuous cataracts, or mighty waterfalls. This compares with the noise of the Aegean Sea that surrounded Patmos. Those surging waters spoke of opposition, trouble, and isolation. But they were drowned out by the voice of Jesus! The comparison of the Lord's voice to "many waters" speaks of His word dominating over all competing interests. The Psalmist spoke of it this way, "The LORD on high is mightier Than the noise of many waters, Than the mighty waves of the sea. Your testimonies are very sure; Holiness adorns Your house, O LORD, forever" (Psa 93:4-5).
This also speaks of the directness of the message--it is coming from heaven to the sons of men! Ezekiel provided the language for this expression. "And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory" ( Ezek 43:2). This is a majestic voice, wafting the heart and mind of the listener into heavenly realms. What Jesus has to say must be seen from the heavenly places, not the Isle of Patmos!
One small notation here, especially for those who deem it necessary to compare the truth of God with contemporary events. There is little of the scenery of Patmos in this book! The language employed comes from the Scriptures. The likenesses are served up in the language of Moses and the Prophets. Men should learn from this not to close their Bibles when they speak of heavenly things!
Jesus speaks to the churches with dominating tone! His voice is like that of a thunderous waterfall next to a mountain stream. If the church does not hear Him, it is not because He is not speaking! It is because they have become "dull of hearing" (Heb 5:11), or have "uncircumcised ears" (Acts 7:51).
Seven Stars In His Right Hand
"And He had in His right hand seven stars . . . " It is written, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches" (1:20). These are the messengers to whom the "book" is to be sent, who are responsible for making it known (2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,1,7,14). Here is a verse that does not easily fit into traditional views of Christ and the church. If the word "angel" is taken in the sense of a heavenly messenger, we have a most peculiar circumstance on our hands. We have God giving Jesus a message to give to an angel, to give to John, to give to another angel. We have frequent occasions in Scripture where angels brought messages to men. I do not know of any, however, where men brought messages to angels. I do not believe such an opinion can be upheld from any point of view.
It has been the stance of the church through history that these "messengers" were individual men who presided over the assemblies of reference. Some have considered them "bishops" of the churches. Others consider each "angel" to be the "leading elder" of the particular assembly.
I well know this does not constitute an infallible interpretation of the text. I am not at all inclined to trust in men for the meaning of God's Word. However, I have shared this brief excerpt to confirm the view I have taken is not strange. The message was not sent to the elders of the churches, or the church board, or some other office in a hierarchal or political structure. Each message was sent to a "messenger" one bearing a word! Those proclaiming the Word of God are set forth as preeminent in the body of Christ. This can be seen from the priority set forth in the gifts of the Spirit. "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Cor 12:28). The book of Hebrews also affirms this to be the case. "Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you . . . " (Heb 13:7). The word "angel" is used in this manner--i.e., of a human messenger. The Galatians received Paul as "an angel of God" (Gal 4:14). John the Baptist was called a "messenger" (aggelon, angelos, Matt 11:10).
The messenger's of the churches are in Christ's hand. It is He who uses them, and not them that use Him! They speak for Him. Now He gives them a word for those to whom they speak. For some, it will be a word of rebuke. For others, it will be a word of comfort. Still others will receive a word of challenge. Whatever you may think of this passage, it places a great responsibility upon those who speak to the churches. What they say must come from the Lord. It must be His message, not something contrived by mere men. Anywhere and everywhere men speak to the churches in Scripture, it is God-centered. The Lord Jesus Christ and His redemption are the dominant themes. The saints are addressed as those who are being oriented for glory. There is a perfect consistency in this matter. Whether it is James commenting on the acceptance of the Gentiles (Acts 15:13-21), Barnabas and Paul encouraging continuance in the faith (Acts 14:21-22), Apollos exhorting the disciples (Acts 18:27), or Paul addressing elders (Acts 20:17-28)--a word from the Lord was always given. All of the epistles reveal the same pattern, whether to individual congregations, clusters of them, or specific individuals like Timothy, Titus. Philemon, Gaius, or the elect lady. They were all used of Christ to bring a message to His people. That same procedure is seen in "the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Out of His Mouth, A Sharp Two Edged Sword
" . . . and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword . . . " This sword is mentioned again in the second chapter (2:12,16), and again in the nineteenth chapter (19:15,21). This is a reference to the Word of the Lord, which, like a "sharp two-wedged sword," cuts and penetrates. This perspective of the Word is necessary for "spiritual understanding." Jesus accomplishes His work with His word. "The mouth of the Lord" is to be held in utmost regard by the people of God! Spiritual life is sustained by every word that proceeds out of "the mouth of Lord" (Deut 8:3). Those who proceeded on their own wisdom are described as not seeking counsel from "the mouth of the Lord" (Josh 9:14). Disobedience was assessed as against "the mouth of the Lord" (1 Kgs 13:21). Jeremiah's words are said to have come from "the mouth of the Lord" (2 Chron 36:12). The fulfillment of prophecy is traced to the fact that it was spoken by "the mouth of the Lord" (Isa 1:20; 40:5). What the Lord says takes the precedence over everything else. There is nothing with which it can be compared.
A poignant view of the Word of the Lord is provided in Hebrews 4:12. It also associates that word with a sword. "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb 4:12). The cutting action of the Word is spiritual. It is more operative than destructive. There is no issue to which Christ cannot effectively speak; no conflict His word cannot resolve. With His word He can illuminate His people or destroy His enemies.
Why does Jesus reveal Himself in this manner to the churches? It is because He is going to pronounce judgments concerning the churches. For some, they will be stern warnings to repent. For others, they will be a gentle word of comfort and encouragement. If they do not give heed to His word, He will come quickly and "fight against them with the sword of My mouth" (2:16). Penetrating words of both blessing and condemnation will be uttered. The churches do well to take them seriously. They are not to be diagnosed academically, or critiqued by self-appointed censors of the Word. They are to be heard and believed.
Countenance Like the Sun Shining in It's Strength
" . . . and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength . . . " This was the "Sun of righteousness" prophesied by Malachi (Mal 4:2). The Lord Jesus, in His exaltation, had risen to the zenith of His glory. God, because of the Son's voluntary humiliation and obedient death, "has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9). The fact that men cannot see Him in this state has nothing whatsoever to do with the situation. The extent of Christ's exaltation cannot be overstated. God "raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His 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 age but also in that which is to come." Everything has been put under His feet, and, in that exalted capacity, He has been given "to the church" (Eph 1:20-23).
This book is not about the future exaltation of Christ. He has already been exalted. God will "show," or manifest Him openly in the last day. The Lord Jesus will, however, be manifested in the capacity He currently occupies; "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power" (1 Tim 6:15-16). John now sees Jesus as He already is, not as He shall be!
" . . . And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead . . . " The vision is too much for John. This is not the Jesus He remembered on the shores of Galilee, or even the One transfigured before his very eyes on the "holy mount." None of our Lord's post-resurrection appearances were on this wise, whether in the upper room, on the shoreline of Galilee, or the mount of ascension. Those appearances were all accommodations to the weakened disciples. On one occasion, the risen Lord "appeared in another form" to the two on the road to Emmaus "as they walked and went into the country" (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32). The Lord Jesus was then risen, yet these two did not see Him as He was. It is written, "But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him" (Lk 24:16).
But this is not the case now! John sees the glorified Christ, and his flesh is not able to bear it. Like Daniel, his natural strength dried like a potsherd and departed from him. Of Daniel it is said, "when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength" (Dan 10:8). The prophet Ezekiel had a similar experience. "So when I saw it, I fell on my face . . . "(Ezek 1:28). This is now the experience of John. The conflict of glory with flesh cannot be endured. Those who profess to have seen the glorified Christ do well to consider the experience of John. He really did encounter the exalted Christ! As he was directed, he recorded what he saw, and his reaction to the sight. It is good to ponder what he wrote.
Jesus' appearance is not a mere novelty, but an occasion for communication. What will follow is the message of the exalted Christ to the churches. John will be told to write what he sees in a book, hiding nothing from the people. He must be awakened to his task, even though his initial reaction to Christ's appearance nearly induced his death. He must stand in the presence of the King of kings, fearful though it may be.
Do Not Be Afraid
"But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, 'Do not be afraid . . . '" Although the Lord was exalted and glorified, it was the same gentle Master John had heard, seen, and handled (1 John 1:1). How often the aged Apostle had heard these words before: "Do not be afraid!" (Matt 14:27; 17:7; Mark 6:50; Luke 5:10; John 6:20). There was power in that word--power to keep fear from rising in the heart of John.
Notice, Jesus laid His "right hand" on John the same hand in which the seven stars, or messengers of the churches, were found (verse 16). This reveals the Lord's care for John, known as "the disciple whom He loved" (John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). Although the initial sight deprived John of his natural senses, a touch and word from the Master will make him able to see and write the message to the churches. When Jesus says, "Do not be afraid," there is no justifiable reason to be dominated by fear--none at all!
The First and Last
" . . . I am the First and the Last." Again, the glorified Christ draws attention to His all- encompassing ministry. Nothing is to be considered before Him--He is "THE FIRST." And, nothing is to be considered after Him--He is "THE LAST." Isaiah had also been given this revelation: that the Lord is "the First," and "the Last" (Isa 41:4 44:6 48:12). To summarize, this expression is a depiction of Christ's eternal nature, His Kingship, and His superiority. It declares that everything is wrapped up in the Lord's Christ. In creation, Divine purpose, and salvation, God does nothing without Christ. Everything was made "by Him and for Him" (Col 1:16). If the church departs from Jesus, they leave everything God has to offer. Their beginning is, under such a condition, pointless, and their end will be destruction. On the other hand, when the churches trust in the Lord Jesus, even though their lot in this world may appear base and without merit, He will finish the work begun in them, bringing them to His throne.
Lives, Was Dead, and Alive Forever More
"I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen." The eternality of the Son is unique. While He has no beginning of days, having come into the world from eternity (Micah 5:2), He also passed through the "valley of the shadow of death." Indeed, His death was not like that of any other man. No man took His life from Him. He laid it down, dismissing His spirit, and then took it up again (John 10:18; Luke 23:6). His death was a vicarious one--in the behalf of sinners. Salvation and destruction of the devil required the death of Jesus.
Note how the risen Lord states the matter. He "lives" now, "WAS dead," and forever is "alive." This is the redemptive way of saying, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8). The significance of this is found in God's "eternal purpose." It is as though Jesus said, "The reason for my current Presence before the Father, my death, and my reign is single. I am here because of the Father's intention, conceived before the world began. I died because of that purpose, and I will continue my ministry because of it."
The total reason for the condescension of "the Word" and the exaltation of the Son relates to the salvation of mankind. The message for the churches will link immediately with that salvation, and the need for human involvement in the process. No part of the Son's ministry, from His entry into this world to His enthronement in the unseen world is disassociated from that salvation. He has never, no will He ever, be moved from commitment to that "great salvation." As tragic as it may appear, that perception is not common in our day.
The Keys of Hades and Death
"And I have the keys of Hades and of Death." Of old time, a Messiah was promised Who would have keys. Isaiah prophesied, "And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Isa 22:22). Jesus reveals Himself to the church of Philadelphia in the precise language of Isaiah: "These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens" (Rev 3:7). This is an expression of Divine authority--authority that dominates over all other authority. No person on earth or dark personality from the unseen world can lock a door Jesus unlocks, or unlock one He locks. That is another way of saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matt 28:18).
A particular use of these "keys" is mentioned in this text. They relate to "hades" and "death." These are terms relating to the residence of spirits (hades), and the place where bodies are interred (death, or the grave). Before we are finished with this book, both hades and death, or the abode of spirits and the grave, will yield up their dead. As it is written, " . . . and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them" (Rev 20:13). Following the emptying of these temporary residences, both hades and death will be cast into the lake fire, as there will be no further need for them (Rev 20:14).
Not one spirit can leave hades, and not one body can leave the grave without a word from Christ Jesus. What is more, God has appointed a day when both places shall be emptied. It is then that body and soul shall be united together to stand before the Judge of all the earth. Believers live in anticipation of that day, when they shall be "clothed upon with their house which is from heaven" (2 Cor 5:1-5). For unbelievers, it will be an hour of dread and foreboding, when their unredeemed spirit will enter a redeemed body. For them, an eternity of dreadful incompatibility will begin.
Write the Things
"Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this." Now, to the work at hand! Jesus is going to pull back the curtain of the future, exposing John to the execution of eternal purpose. He is not simply to sit in awe of the vision, but to put it in a book for delivery to the churches. John will write it, but, like all Scripture, it will be writing given "by inspiration of God" (2 Tim 3:16-17).
He is to write "the things" which he has seen--i.e., the revelation of the Person of Christ Himself. He is to record the revelation he has seen of the churches and their messages, and their relation to the Lord of glory. "The things which are" include the Divine assessment of the churches--their condition before the Lord. "The things which shall take place after this" include what John will be shown--a vision of the ages. John is to hold nothing back! If the Lord Jesus criticizes the churches, John is to write it in the book. If He commends the churches, it is to be inscribed. When churches are warned, the Apostle must write.
John's job is to write what he sees. The churches job is to read it. In this book, Jesus is making provision for the encouragement of the discouraged, the warning of the lethargic, and the awakening of the dead. Jesus WILL NOT ALLOW His people to be deficient. He will show them what He is doing, and what the devil is doing as well. He well reveal the outcome of both believing and not believing. God be praised for the giving, and the writing, of the "revelation of Jesus Christ." It provides confirmation that Christ is RULING in the midst of His enemies--bringing many sons to glory through apparently impossible circumstances. His rule is effective for the accomplishment of God's purpose, and you are a part of that intent.
You have been exposed to the glorified Christ. He is a regal High Priest, viewing His churches, assessing their condition, and providing them guidance. If the eyes of your heart are open, you will see Him. If your ears are circumcised, you will hear Him. His voice will drown out all competing sounds. His appearance will overshadow all other personalities. His ministry will be excellent. The glorified Christ will not overlook your spiritual failings or progress. He will clarify the way, gladden the heart, and feed the soul. O, give Him heed! If you have an ear to hear, then hear what He is saying to the churches!