THE GLORIFIED CHRIST
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The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants; things which must shortly take place. And he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
First and foremost, Revelation is from Jesus Christ himself. The Greek word translated Revelation here is Ἀποκάλυψις (apocalupses). It means unveiling or uncovering. It is the same word that is used in Second Thessalonians 1:7b-8,
... rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, the first two words of the book of Revelation tell us what it is about. It is an unveiling ... or pulling back of the curtain from things that were previously hidden and unknown. Many new and enhanced things will be given to us from our Lord here, including a far greater understanding of His person and future work. Up to this point in the Bible, Christ Jesus has been set forth as the Lamb of God … appointed for sacrifice ... the meek and lowly one who quietly went to his cross like a sheep to the slaughter. But, what a contrast we will find here in the Revelation. In these pages, he steps forth as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), who roars over the Earth and shakes it to its foundations. Revelation reveals Jesus as he now is ... and evermore shall be ... the Son of God glorified ... King of Kings and Lord of Lords … Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Two thousand years ago, when Jesus walked among us here on Earth, his glory was veiled and hidden. But, here in the Revelation, he steps forth in all the blinding glory of the sun shining in his strength.
Second, this book is The Revelation … which God gave him. When Jesus was on Earth, he told his disciples there were things locked away in the heart of his Father that even he did not know. For example, concerning the timing of his Second Coming he said,
But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36
These words indicate that the things we are about to read are things that were previously unknown even to Christ Jesus himself. Notice the sequence of how they have come down to us. Verse one says they came from the Father to the Son ... then from the Son to his angel ... then from his angel to John. John, in turn, has passed them down to you and me, Christ's servants, via this book of Revelation. How it must have thrilled Jesus' heart when he received these things from his Father to pass on to us. This also reveals that the Father's heart is identical to that of his Son when it comes to you and me ... Christ's blood bought children. So, these words are the Father's gift to the Son for you and me, the Son's servants. Keep in mind that this function is not something new to the Son of God. Jesus has always been passing on the Father's words. He is the revealer of all that God is and has said (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:13). As he put it in John 17:6-8,
I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world. They were yours, you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they have known that all things, which you have given me, are from you. For I have given to them the words which you have given me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
Third, we are told that this book is a Revelation of things which must shortly come to pass. The word shortly may seem a bit puzzling at first. After all, it has been over nineteen hundred years since these words were first penned and they have yet to come to pass. How is it then that our Lord could say they must shortly come to pass? I believe the answer lies in the fact that the Spirit is speaking to us from God's perspective here rather than from our human perspective. From God's point of view, everything is just down the block, so to speak. As Peter so aptly put it,
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. Second Peter 3:8
In this respect, someone has said, The whole era of human experience to God is like a momentary flash of a meteor across the skies of eternity. Nevertheless, for the past two thousand years every tick of the clock has drawn our world closer and closer to the fulfillment of the things of which we are about to read.
May we step aside for a moment? I find it very intriguing that from Adam to Abraham was a period of approximately two thousand years and from Abraham to Christ was approximately two thousand years and from Christ to where you and I are sitting today has been approximately two thousand years. So, according to the Bible, approximately six thousand years of human history has expired since the Creation. If Christ were to return during our generation and begin his thousand year reign on Earth (Revelation 20:4), Earth’s full history, before it passes away, will have been an even seven thousand years. A nice round number, wouldn't you say? Going back to Peter's statement that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and considering that God’s dealings have often been in cycles of seven (the seven day creation; the institution of a seven day work week; the coming seven year Tribulation period, etc.), it seems to me to be more than probable that you and I are living on the very brink of the end of this present age and on the edge of the Millennial reign of Christ. This is not a prophecy … it is just something that, in my opinion, has a very high and biblically based probability. Whether or not this is correct, however, the things of which we are about to read will indeed shortly come to pass as far as the Lord is concerned.
Last, verse one says that this book of Revelation was sent and signified … by his [Christ's] angel to his servant John. John was the human agent at the end of the chain whom Christ chose to give us these words. There has always been a man involved in the transmission of the Word of God, by the way. Peter says,
…for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Second Peter 1:21
Now, the question arises, "Which John are we talking about here?" It was generally held by the early church fathers that the man referred to here is John, the Apostle. This is also supported by a good deal of internal evidence in the book of Revelation. The Apostle John wrote the gospel of John, First, Second, and Third John, and the book of Revelation.
In verse two, John adds his own solemn witness to the authenticity of this book. Here, he unequivocally states here that the things we are about to read are the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ and are things that he saw with his own eyes. The book of Revelation is a firsthand, eyewitness account.
In verse three, a blessing is pronounced upon all who read, hear and cherish the things written in this book. No other book of the Bible pronounces such a blessing upon its readers and hearers. Are you ready to be blessed, dear reader? You surely will be if you read or just hear … and tuck away in your heart … the wonderful and amazing things that are in this book. You and I have God's word on it.
John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To him who [NU changes loved us and washed to loves us and freed] us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us [NU changes kings to a kingdom of priests] to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Although Revelation is written to all of Christ's servants of all ages, the first ones to receive it were located at seven local churches that existed in John's day. They were located in the country we know today as Turkey. They are named individually in verse eleven and each church has a personal letter from the glorified Jesus Christ recorded in chapters two and three.
Picking up with verses four through six, we have the greeting or salutation of the book. It begins with the words, Grace to you and Peace. Isn't that a wonderful greeting? You have to be a child of God to be able to grasp the full impact of these two words. That’s because we children of the living God experience these two things on a daily basis. So, with these two warm and meaningful words, three separate entities step forward on the page here to greet us.
The first to greet us with, grace and peace is He who is and who was and who is to come. This is one of the complex names of God the Father. Let's break it down. He is:
… the one who is. This emphasizes the present tense reality of God. Do you remember the name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3? When Moses asked, Who are you? God replied, I Am that I Am. The one who greets us here is that very one. He is the One who simply is ... the self-existent, God the Father ... the great I Am that I Am ... the One who, at any given point in time, simply is.
… who was. The second part of the name turns our thinking backward in time to God's past tense. As the God who was, he is the One who has always been … the One who inhabits eternity. As far back in time as you might wish to go, you will find the One who was is there. As you have it in Psalm 90:2,
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
…who is to come. The third part of his name directs our thinking forward in time out into the future. He is the God of the future tense ... the One who will always be. As far as you might want to go into the future, you will find the one who is to come is there. As you have it in Isaiah 57:15,
For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’
So, the first greeter who welcomes us with the words grace and peace is none other than the ever present … from eternity past to eternity future … God the Father. Awesome! Aye?
The second to greet us with grace and peace, is actually the combined voices of a group. We read here, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne. Now, who do you suppose they might be? That is a good question and it brings to mind an important principle of Biblical interpretation. When we don’t immediately understand something we read in God's Word, the best thing to do is to wait. Wait until the Bible sheds more light on the subject. This very important principle, simply stated, is: Always wait until you have the whole of Scripture on a subject before you draw your conclusions. Good Bible interpreters reserve judgment until they have the whole picture before they come to a conclusion about something in the Word of God. We don't have enough information yet to form an opinion as to who these spirits are who are greeting us here. All we have at this point is a very warm grace and peace from the seven spirits which are before his throne. If we are patient, we will learn, later in Revelation, a great deal more about who they are. We will encounter them more than once in the pages to follow and will learn why they play such a prominent role in the future events that Revelation will unfold to us.
The third and final greeter to welcome us with grace and peace is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. John will expound a good bit more on this greeter than he does the other two. I believe that is because the Father has decreed that in this present age in which you and I live, the Son of God is to have the preeminence. He is to occupy center stage in all things. As you have it in Colossians 1:18,
And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he may have the preeminence.
In keeping with this, the Holy Spirit, through John, will give us a very moving description of the Preeminent One who is greeting us here. He says he is:
…the faithful witness. The Lord Jesus never spoke a word that the Father didn’t give him to speak, nor did he ever do a single thing that the Father didn't direct him to do. Truly, Jesus is the faithful witness. He was and is, at all times, in perfect sync with his Father. As he himself put it in John 7:16-18,
My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone wants to do his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on my own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of the One who sent him is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.
…the firstborn from the dead. Now, there were several people who were raised from the dead before Christ. Three that come to mind are: Lazarus (John 11:43-44), Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43), and the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-15). There were also some in the Old Testament times. How then can it be said that Jesus is the firstborn from the dead? Let's answer that by asking a question. What happened to the people who were raised from the dead before Christ? They died again. They were put back into a grave. And, where are their bodies right now? They are still in their graves … but, not Jesus. He was the first to be permanently resurrected from the dead with an eternal resurrection body. At this very moment, as you are reading this, there is a Man with an eternal body seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High … a resurrected Man … the firstborn from the dead! This word firstborn, by the way, speaks of the fact that there are more to follow. That's music to my ears, how about yours? All of Christ Jesus' saints who have died are going to follow him in like resurrection to his own one day. As you have it in Romans 8:11,
But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
And again, in First Corinthians 15:20,
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
When Christ died for you and me, his blood purchased us lock, stock and barrel ... body, soul and spirit. So, our bodies belong to Christ. They were purchased with his own blood. That's why he's going to return for them one day. God's people will not truly be complete until that day arrives. As you have it in Philippians 3:20-21,
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself.
Great news, aye?
…the prince of the kings of the earth. Jesus is the Supreme Potentate of all authorities that have ever ruled or ever will rule on planet Earth. His Father has exalted him far above any and all of this world's rulers and authorities. As you have it in Philippians 2:9-10,
Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth…
Now, notice here that at the end of verse five, there is an unexpected break in John's description of Christ. Apparently, as John was writing down these stirring descriptions of his Lord and Savior, he just couldn't help but burst out in praise! Listen closely to the penned praises of our brother as he worships his Lord here. He exclaims:
…Unto him that loves us. The Greek word loves here is αγαπωντι (agapontai). It comes from the root word for God's love, αγαπη (agape). It is in the present tense, which means that Jesus’ love for you and me began at a point in time in the past and is continuing on … right now at this very moment. The thought is something like this, “unto him who loved us in eternity past, was loving us when he died for us on the cross (Romans 5:8), and is loving us right now at this very moment.” All of that is inherent in this one sublime Greek word. Isn't that a wonderful truth? Does it stir your heart like it stirred John's? To God be the glory for Jesus' deep and abiding love for you and me, brother and sister. His love is unchanging, unceasing and unquenchable. As you have it in Romans 8:38-39,
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
John’s praise continues:
…and freed us from our sins in his own blood. Now there’s a subject for ceaseless praise, is it not? As the song says, There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emanuel’s veins! And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all there guilty stains! All praise and all glory to our wonderful Lamb who so freely and lovingly poured out his blood for you and me. It has freed us from our sins, both from their penalty (Romans 6:23), and from their bondage (Romans 6:14), and it will one day free us even from their very presence. As you have it in Hebrews 9:12,
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, have obtained eternal redemption for us. (KJV)
…and has made us a kingdom of priests. Here is another great cause for praise to the people of God. How wonderfully Christ has elevated us. Think of it. First Peter 2:9, says,
But you 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…
Jesus has made us his kingdom of priests. As such, we have the great and unsurpassed honor of representing him to the world around us. John concludes:
…to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Amen, indeed!
Behold, he is coming with clouds, and every eye will see him, even they who pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. Even so, Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, [NU omits the Beginning and the End] says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’
Verse seven is a prophetic statement arising from the previous words, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. The Father himself, the Alpha and the Omega, is the one who breaks in here with these words. In spontaneous response to John’s praises of the Savior, the Father booms out this statement. It is a promise from the lips of the Father concerning his Son. It is a thumbnail description of the main event toward which all human history and all the things found in the book of Revelation are headed. Namely, the sure triumph over all peoples, principalities and spirits by God's conquering Son at his Second Coming.
Let's step aside for a moment and do a bit of defining of terms. The Bible teaches there are two comings of the Lord Jesus Christ that are yet to occur in history. The first will be when he appears in the sky to remove his Church from off the Earth … taking his people back with him to His Father's house in Heaven. Theologians call this the Rapture of the Church. It is an event that is entirely different from Christ's Second Coming. They are two separate events altogether. The Rapture could occur at any moment. When it does, Christ will suddenly appear in the skies of Earth and call his Church out of this world. At that time, believers (whether living or dead), will be caught up together into the clouds to meet their Lord and Savior in the air. As you have it in First Thessalonians 4:16-17,
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (KJV)
So the Rapture of the Church is not to be confused with the Second Coming that the Father is talking about here in verse seven. The Second Coming will occur after the Rapture at the end of the Tribulation. At that time, Christ will literally return to the earth to rule and reign here for a thousand years ... his feet literally touching down on the earth. Zechariah prophesied this very specifically saying,
And in that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Zechariah 14:4
You will remember that it was from the Mount of Olives that Jesus left the earth and ascended back into Heaven (Acts 1:11-12). It will also be to the Mount of Olives that he will return one day. What happens in between these two events is ... this present Church age in which you and I presently live ... plus the vast majority of what is about to be described to us here in the book of Revelation. All of chapters four through eighteen take up the subject of that latter time period. Here is a simple presentation of Christ's past and yet future appearances that might prove helpful in putting things into perspective.
Christ's First Coming and life on Earth
(4 or 5 BC to AD 29)
[born in Bethlehem; died on a cross at Jerusalem; rose from the dead; ascended back to Heaven from the Mount of Olives]
Christ's Next Appearance in the skies to Rapture out his Church ending the Church Age
Christ's Second Coming to Earth to rule and reign after of the seven year Tribulation
Christ's Thousand Year Reign on Earth
(AD 2022+ to 3022+)
Verse seven then, is one of many prophecies in Scripture that predict Christ's Second Coming. Let's take a closer look at its details. The Father says,
…he is coming with clouds. We need to go back to the prophet Daniel for this cloud aspect of the Lord Jesus Christ's Second Coming.
I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him. Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14
Keep in mind that the event Daniel saw in the scripture above was not the Second Coming, however. Rather, it was the yet future day when Christ will come to his Father's throne to formally receive his kingdom after the Rapture. We will see that day greatly magnified for us in Revelation 4 and 5. Daniel's prophecy does, however, give us the clouds of heaven aspect of the movements of the Son of God in his glorified state. You might say Christ is Heaven's Cloud Rider. When he is on the move, the Shekinah glory clouds of Heaven accompany him. Both at the Rapture of the Church and at Christ's Second Coming, the Bible says Jesus will be accompanied by clouds. As you have it in First Thessalonians 4:17a,
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
These glory clouds were observed several times in Old Testament as well. Ezekiel saw and described them as follows:
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire… Ezekiel 1:4 (KJV)
What a sight they must be! Doubtless, this is what Jesus had in mind when he prayed,
Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory… John 17:24a
…every eye will see him, even they that pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. At Jesus' Second Coming, every living person on Earth will see him coming, as well as they also that pierced him. The Father's words here ... they also which pierced him ... sets before us two possibilities. He might simply be speaking about his people, the Jews in a general, or he could be referring specifically to the actual Jews who were involved in the crucifixion. I take it to be the latter. At Jesus' trial, the Lord told Caiaphas that he personally would one day see him coming in the clouds. Let's look at that passage for a moment. Caiaphas said,
‘I put you under oath by the living God: tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Matthew 26:63b-64
I suspect that the first part of the Lord’s words to Caiaphas, were fulfilled when Caiaphas died. At that time, when Caiaphas’ spirit returned to God, he probably witnessed Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Power. But, what about the second part of Jesus’ statement that Caiaphas would also see him coming on the clouds of heaven? Since that clearly refers to Christ’s Second Coming, it follows that Caiaphas himself will be present at that time to see it. Zechariah, speaking many years before Christ's birth, also prophesied that the Jews who crucified Christ would be present at his Second Coming.
And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn. And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds between your arms?’ Then he will answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’ Zechariah 12:10; 13:6
These and other scriptures indicate that the resurrection of Israel will take place just prior to Christ's Second Coming. At that time, all Jews from all time, including Caiaphas and those who were involved in Jesus' crucifixion, will find themselves beholding him as he is about to descend to Earth in the glory clouds of heaven. Then, suddenly, all wicked Jews will be removed from Earth by Christ's angels. This will be developed further when we get to Revelation 14.
…all the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. The wailing aspect of Christ's Second Coming is also prophesied in Zechariah 12, above. And, the Jews will not be the only ones to mourn at his coming. That future day will cause everyone around the globe to wail and mourn as well. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 24:29-30,
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Notice, in the above scripture, that Jesus places his Second Coming after the tribulation of those days. We need to tuck that important detail away in our memory banks. The Father's prophecy of the Second Coming here ends with John’s prayerful exclamation (and, I trust, yours and mine as well) … Even so, Amen.
Immediately after John's Amen, the Father's voice was once again heard. He exclaimed I am Alpha and the Omega. Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This is like saying I am the A and the Z. With these words, he is declaring that he is everything, the beginning and the end, and everything in-between. May I say to you, very sincerely, that anyone who does not come to know the true and living God through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, has missed out on absolutely everything. The chief end of man is to know God and to enjoy and glorify him forever. He is the Alpha and the Omega, you see.
He continued ... who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. This confirms to us that the One speaking here is the same one who greeted us back in verse four, namely, God the eternal and everlasting Father.
I, John, [NU omits 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, [NU omits ‘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 [NU omits which are in Asia:] to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’
At the time that John wrote these words, the Romans had put him in exile out on the little island of Patmos. It is a small rocky island off the coast of Turkey out in the Aegean Sea. John had been the Pastor of the church at Ephesus … just across the water from Patmos which was now his island prison. He tells us here that he had been imprisoned out there for two reasons:
…for the word of God. Apparently, John had been exiled for his writings of the Word of God. He had written four books of the Bible and it seems they had gotten him into hot water with the Romans. Domitian, the Roman Caesar at that time, was a notorious persecutor of believers in Christ.
…for the testimony of Jesus Christ. John was also exiled for his mouth. He was a bold and unashamed witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Both his writings and his preaching had landed this great Apostle in the clink. Someone has asked, If it were illegal to be a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you? There was plenty of evidence to convict John. What he wrote and what he said made it abundantly clear that Christ was his life and the Romans put him away for it … way out there on Patmos.
…I was in the spirit. The most natural and consistent interpretation of this statement is that John is referring to a unique, Spirit initiated, experience. When he says he was in the spirit, I take it that he is referring to the Holy Spirit here. In chapter four, verse two, he uses this same phrase, in the spirit, to describe how he was caught up into Heaven. The Apostle Paul recounted a similar experience when he also was taken up to Heaven (2 Corinthians12:2). In that passage he says that he couldn’t tell if he was in his body or out of it. Now, mystics have often claimed such experiences as well, but they are deceived. A satanic, drug related or transcendental experience is not the same as the Spirit controlled experiences that John and Paul had. Their experiences were the real McCoy.
…on the Lord’s day. This is an idiomatic phrase which was coined by the first century Church. It was the name that first century believers chose to designate their day of worship. Today, most Christians just call it Sunday. But they called it the Lord's day because it was the day their Lord and ours arose from the dead. His resurrection was so fresh in their memories that they wanted to worship on that day, Sunday, the first day of the week (as opposed to the Jewish Sabbath, which fell on Saturday). Accordingly, it also was chosen to emphasize that the Church was no longer obligated to keep the Law and its Sabbath day requirements, but was now freely under grace.
Let's use our imagination here for a moment. Picture John. He's lean, having had to endure the hard life of a Roman exile. Picture him sitting … all alone … on the stony seashore of his island prison. He's been staring out across the sea toward Ephesus. He’s thinking and praying over his little flock over there across the water. Suddenly, he finds himself in the spirit and behind him a great voice like a trumpet spoke. It is the same voice, by the way, that you and I will hear one day, dear saint. This trumpet voiced One will cause us to forget all our troubles, aye!? His words rang in John's ears:
…what you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches.
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.
No doubt, John abruptly turned to see who had spoken with such power and authority and, when he turned, he found himself gazing upon a scene and a Person extraordinaire. He saw seven golden lampstands. The Koine Greek word here for lampstands is λυχνιας (luxnias). It is a word that means pedestals. These were stands that people sat their oil lamps on so they would yield maximum light in a room. Doubtless, each one had a lamp burning atop of it. One translation renders this word, torches. After seeing the lamp-stands, John’s eyes moved to the amazing person who was standing in their midst.
He says he saw:
…One like the Son of Man. This is one of the major prophetic titles of Messiah in the Old Testament. It comes from Daniel 7:13,
I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him near before him.
This Messianic title emphasizes Christ's humanity as well as his future reign. It is a well-recognized Jewish designation for their future King and Messiah. When the Son of Man came into our world and lived among us, he took upon himself human flesh. He became one of us. As you have it in Hebrews 2:14 and 16-17,
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared in the same, that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil…
For indeed he does not give aid to angels, but he does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things he had to be made like his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
Luke's gospel also emphasizes this aspect of the person of Jesus Christ. There, Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as the Son of Man. As you have it in Luke 19:10,
… for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
At this very moment, there is a Man seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High. He is one of us. He has been here, done that. He knows all about us. He knows our trials, our temptations, our weaknesses, our fears, our frailties and our troubles. He knows what it is to be human. As you have it in Hebrews 4:14-16,
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (KJV)
… clothed with a garment down to the feet. He was wearing the long, flowing robe of a priest. As you have it in Hebrews 5:6,
You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
And again in Hebrews 4:14,
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
You may wish to read Hebrews 5, just to refresh your thinking concerning Jesus, our great High Priest, who God has appointed a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). Melchizedek was the king/priest to whom Abraham paid tithes in Genesis 14. We learn from Hebrews that his priesthood was separate from ... and far superior to ... the old Aaronic priesthood of the Law. Also, Jesus couldn't have been an Aaronic priest because he was not from the tribe of Levi. He was from the tribe of Judah. So, God appointed him a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Now, Christ has made you and me a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6; First Peter 2:9). And, may I ask you how that came about? May I suggest it is simply by virtue of the fact that we are in Christ ... and therefore we also have been placed into the priesthood of the order of Melchizedek ... of whom our Savior is High Priest. Our priesthood, then, predates and is far superior to the Aaronic priesthood of the Law of Moses. So, if anyone ever asks what kind of priest you are ... just tell them you are of the order of Melchizedek!
… girded about the chest with a golden band. The One who stood before John wore a golden band around his chest. I believe this speaks of the fact that John was standing in the presence of a king. Few people wore such a unique and expensive thing as this unless they were a king. To be specific, the One standing before John was the King of the Jews. At his crucifixion, in mockery and jest, they nailed a sign to Jesus' cross that said in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew,
This is the King of the Jews Luke 23:38b
Standing before John was that very King. And, although I believe this was the primary emphasis, he certainly was far more than that. He was also the King of kings of Daniel 7:14,
Then to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.
… His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow. This speaks of the fact that the One standing before John was the Eternal One as well ... the very incarnation of the Ancient of Days ... the everlasting God. The prophet Micah, prophesying of Jesus' birth, said,
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. Micah 5:2
His white head and hair also emphasized this was the One who is Wisdom itself. First Corinthians 1:31, says that Jesus is the wisdom of God. That being the case, it is Jesus himself who spoke through Solomon's pen in Proverbs 8. There, Wisdom personified says,
I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion.’ ‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me. Proverbs 8:12, 17
Ruth Paxton, one of God's great saints and writers about the Holy Spirit, is said to have received Christ as her Savior when she realized that the Wisdom who was speaking in Proverbs 8, was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ himself. What an amazing Person stood before John that day. There, was standing none other than the white-haired eternal Ancient of Days ... Wisdom himself!
…his eyes were like a flame of fire. When John’s eyes met the eyes of the One standing before him … how unsettling it must have been. His eyes penetrated John like a laser, causing John to immediately look away. They were the eyes of the One who possessed both absolute knowledge and absolute holiness. They were the eyes of the Omniscient Holy One. As you have it in Jeremiah 23:24a,
Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him? says the lord.
And again, as you have it in Hebrews 4:13,
And there is no creature hidden from his sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
In Psalm 139, we read of the extent to which he is intimately acquainted with each one of us. Nothing about us escapes him. It says there that he sees our retiring at night and our getting up in the morning and that he reads all of our thoughts from afar.
So, it was no accident that John's eyes fell swiftly away to the ground from the fiery-eyed One who stood before him. I believe your eyes and mine will fall away from them as well, one day. With bowed head, John now found himself staring at the feet of the Son of Man ... and he says,
… His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace. The brassy feet that stood before John spoke of judgment. They were the hardened feet of the One who will one day tramp out the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God (Rev.19:15b). In short, it was the Judge of the whole Earth who was standing before John. As you have it in John 5:22-23,
For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
… his voice as the sound of many waters. My, what a voice. John describes it as having the same quality as cataracts of thundering waters. Doubtless, it causes a physical sensation of raw power when heard. This was the One who speaks the Word of God, you see … the Omnipotent One himself. There is a whole Psalm written about this voice, by the way. It is Psalm 29. There, we read in verses three and four,
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.
… He had in his right hand seven stars. This is the second symbol that we have encountered so far in Revelation. The first were the lamp-stands. Before we go on, let me say a word about interpreting symbols. The general rule is, when a symbol is obscure, the Bible will explain it to us (with the exception of certain things that are not for us to know but are written for our brothers and sisters in a yet future day). On the other hand, if a symbol is obvious, and clearly refers to a known thing in the Scripture, the text will not explain it. We are expected to understand those symbols from our knowledge of the Word of God. These two symbols, the lampstands and the seven stars, are obscure symbols. We are not expected to know the meaning of them. Therefore, they will be explained to us later in the chapter.
… out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. This is the third symbol in this opening chapter. However, it is an obvious one and does not need to be explained. Can you decipher it? As a student of the Word of God, we are expected to recognize this symbol. This sword represents the Word of God. In several places in the Bible, a sword is used as a metaphor for the Word of God. For example, as you have it in Hebrews 4:12,
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.
And again, in Ephesians 6:17, we read,
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…
Standing before John was the One who speaks the sharp sword of the Word of God. How amazing and powerful his words are … how irresistible, eternal, and unstoppable! By the words from those lips the universe was spoken into existence and, I might add, is presently being held together. Hebrews 11:3, says,
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
And again, in Colossians 1:16 (speaking of Christ), we read,
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him and he is before all things and by him all things consist. (KJV)
And again, in Hebrews 1:3,
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high…(KJV)
Oh, the raw power of the Word of God!
… His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. In blinding glory, the One who possesses all glory stood before John on that day. John had seen a fleeting glimpse of his glory on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew17; Mark 9), but what a difference there was on this day. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 had been answered, you see.
And now, O Father, glorify me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was. John 17:5
The Christ who stood before John that day was standing in all the fullness of the glory of God. John saw him as he is right now and as you and I will see him one day … the utterly resplendent One. Struggling to describe him, John simply says he was like the sun shining in its strength. In First Timothy 6:15-16 we read,
He will manifest in his own time, he who is 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. Amen.
So, there we have it. In Revelation 1, we are given a description of the glorified Christ as seen nowhere else in the Bible. He steps forth here, in awesome and resplendent majesty. An unveiling indeed, wouldn't you say?
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. [NU adds Therefore] 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 [NU omits which you saw] are the seven churches.’
When Christ was on earth, John had often reclined affectionately against him at meal times. We read in John 13, that he did so at the Last Supper. Now, however, he fell before his Lord like a sack of potatoes. Compassionately, Jesus reached down and touched his old friend and disciple and said, Do not be afraid. Immediately, John was strengthened. Jesus then continued:
… I am the First and the Last. With these seven words, Jesus took to himself the unmistakable title of deity from Isaiah 44:6,
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the First and I am the Last; besides me there is no God.’
Notice how this scripture says that both the Lord, who is the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts … share the same name … the First and the Last … and that both are the one and only true God. There are several names of the Deity that are used interchangeably between the Father and the Son, by the way. In this way they declare their equality in the godhead and their oneness of essence. In Isaiah 9:6, for example, the prophet speaks specifically of Jesus Christ saying,
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
… 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. The NIV more correctly translates this, I am the Living One; I was dead. If we didn’t know who this was by now, these words make his identity crystal clear. He identifies himself as the One who was dead but behold, I am alive forevermore. The Greek literally says I am alive to the ages of the ages! This is the risen Christ. I'm so glad that you and I serve a living Savior, aren't you? All the other founders of man's bogus religions are dead as a door-nail. They are all lying in their graves at this very moment. But our Savior, Christ Jesus, is alive. He is the Living One, you see. He alone can say, I have the keys of Hades and of Death because he has conquered them both. As he put it in John 5:26-29,
For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
The Apostle Paul writes in First Corinthians 15:55-57,
O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Matters of life and death and the grave (Hades) are held exclusively in the hands of Christ Jesus our Lord. He owns them. He has the keys.
In verse nineteen, the Lord once again commissions John to be his designated writer of the book of Revelation. He tells him write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. These words form Christ's own outline of the book of Revelation. It is as follows:
1. the things which you have seen
Chapter 1 (Past things that John had just witnessed.)
2. the things which are
Chapters 2-3 (Present things that John will shortly hear about concerning the seven churches.)
3. the things which will take place after this
Chapters 4-22 (Future things, things to come.)
Last, here in verse twenty we come to the Lord's explanation of the two obscure symbols … the seven stars in His right hand … and the seven golden lampstands … in the midst of which Christ was standing. Let's consider them separately.
He says The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. The word angel, in the Greek here, is αγγελοι (angeloi). Each one of the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 begin with the words ... unto the angel of the church at (such and such) write. This Greek word is usually translated angel in the Bible. Its basic meaning, however, is messenger and is sometimes translated that way as well. It is a word that is used for men (who are sent out as messengers) as well as for God’s angels. I do not believe that our Lord is speaking here of angels. So, the translation, angels, in the KJ and NKJ is inaccurate. Nowhere in Scripture are angels said to be assigned to or have any special function in regard to a local church. Rather, an angel's function is to minister to individual believers (Hebrews 1:11). So, it doesn't make sense for Christ to address his letters in chapters 2 and 3 to angels. On the contrary, it is far more reasonable that Christ is addressing his letters to specific men who would actually receive them and read them to their congregations. The better translation then, is unto the messengers of the seven churches, write … and … To the messenger of the church at __ write. And so it is correctly translated in several other translations of the Bible.
Having said that, who are these messengers then that, symbolically, our Lord is holding in his hand? Well, they are probably the chief elders, the pastor-teachers of the seven churches. Logically, such men would receive and read to their congregation any communication that was received. Also, they were, in a very Biblical sense, Christ's messengers to his churches because they were men who Christ himself had sent to them. As you have it in Ephesians 4:11,
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…
One of the tragic things about the church culture of our day is that many do not see their pastor-teacher for what he is … gifts and messengers to them from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Take it for what it is worth, I believe this is the best translation of angeloi here. It refers to the local elder, pastor-teacher at each of the seven churches that existed in John’s day and to which Christ is about to address with specific letters.
Now, concerning the symbol of the lampstands, in the midst of which our Lord was standing, Christ says they represent the seven churches themselves. What a wonderful and appropriate symbol he chose for his churches. In Jesus' eyes, each one of these churches were pedestals upon which light was to be placed in order to dispel the darkness around them. As you have it in Matthew 5:15-16,
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (KJV)
Philippians 2:15-16a, says,
… that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…
Jesus is the Light of the World. Right now, however, he is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High and shines forth in this present dark world through his churches. Every true church is a lamp-stand for Christ.
In conclusion, you will remember that when John first turned to see the trumpet voiced One, he saw the Lord standing in the midst of the lampstands. This too is quite significant. It was the job of the High Priest in the Old Testament to tend the lamp-stands in the Holy Place. It was his responsibility to trim their wicks, replenish their oil and keep them burning brightly. Christ Jesus, standing there in the midst of the seven lampstands, was a beautiful picture of the relationship between himself, as High Priest, and his churches, the lamp-stands. As our great high priest, he is always in the midst of his churches tending to each one so that its light might shine to its maximum potential.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Proceed to chapters 2 and 3