Many years ago, I officiated at a funeral for an elderly woman. In that funeral, I read parts of a letter that she had written to her family about 4 years prior to her death. The letter, which was to be opened and read at the time of her death, contained beautiful words of appreciation, encouragement and love. It was a very moving and special letter because it said things that the people there may not have known or things that they needed to hear again.
One of the beautiful things about the book of Revelation is that it is a message to us from Jesus. But these are not words from someone who is dead and gone. Rather, these are words that reflect the mind and thinking of Jesus right now. As such, there is a great deal for us to learn and there is a great benefit in hearing what they say. John’s vision, which we look at this morning, shows that Jesus, as the risen and victorious Lord, is still very much a part of his church and has important messages for her... for us! Let’s read Revelation 1:9-20.
I. The setting of these messages is John’s exile on the island of Patmos.
Notice first of all how John identifies himself in verse 9. The Apostle John, one of the founding fathers of the church of Jesus Christ, says he is their brother and their companion. In fact, John says that they are co-workers and companions in three things.
Suffering is the first thing that they shared in common because of Jesus. John explains in verse 9 that he had been exiled on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He had possibly crossed paths with a Roman governor who viewed the Gospel and thus Christians as a threat to his authority. John wants to assure the churches that he is their companion in their suffering.
Moreover, John says that he is also sharing with them “in the kingdom.” He wants them to know that they are all part of God’s kingdom which is far greater and beyond anything that any Roman emperor could possibly imagine. Because of that he believes that he and his fellow believers are also companions in that they will patiently endure in their suffering for Jesus.
John says in verse 10 that it was the Lord’s day, Sunday, the first day of the week, the very special day chosen by the early church to remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. On that day, John says that he was in the Spirit, a time of quiet meditation and prayer. As such, he would be very open to God speaking to him. It was at that time that he heard a voice like a trumpet commanding him to write down what he was about to see and send it to the seven churches he lists in Asia.
It is important to understand what is happening here. This is God’s message to the seven churches and to the church of all times. It is tempting for us today to read through these descriptions of the seven churches and assign the descriptions to other churches or other Christians that we know. When we do that we overlook what should be clear messages to us.
People have a way of missing what is right in front of them. It may be tempting for us to hear the messages to these seven churches and say that we see nothing at all that applies to us. We must hear these encouraging and admonishing words as words to us first of all.
II. What was John’s vision that he saw and was told to report?
When John turns to hear the voice, he first sees seven golden lampstands. These seven individual lampstands represent the seven churches. These “lampstands” are stands specifically designed so that a light can be displayed on them, something we will come back to later on this morning. The number seven means completeness and so the whole church in a real sense is present here in this vision.
Moving among these lampstands is someone “like the Son of Man.” The term “son of man” is used in Daniel 7:13 to describe the Messiah. Jesus, of course, often referred to himself as the Son of Man in the gospels. Here he is “like” a son of man for he is considerably different from what Jesus was like when he was on earth.
The Son of Man’s eyes are alive and are like a blazing fire. These are the eyes of One who can search deeply into men’s hearts. And the Son of Man’s feet are like bronze glowing in a furnace. This is a picture of strength and power. The Son of Man’s voice is like the sound of rushing waters, like a powerful waterfall. Ezekiel 43:2 uses this picture to describe the very voice of God.
In the Son of Man’s right hand he holds seven stars. The right hand is a symbol of authority and importance. These are the seven churches which we will look at in a moment. Out of the Son of Man’s mouth comes a sword, a vivid picture of divine judgment. Finally, the Son of Man’s face is brilliant as the sun at noon-day. This is the face of God of all glory that shines brightly. There is no doubt that this person, the Son of Man, is also God.
John responds to this glorious Son of Man by being thoroughly overwhelmed. When John saw this person, he had no doubt whatsoever that he was seeing God himself. Yet, remember that John also identified this man as the Son of Man. John remembered how Jesus called himself the “Son of Man.” In spite of the overwhelming and majestic presence of God, John also knows that this is the same Jesus whom he had walked and talked with. Nonetheless, when John saw this, he fell to the ground as though dead. He fell down because he knew that he was in the presence of the living God and that is the only proper response.
Now before we look at what this means, we should look at this response of John for it is very important for us in our relationship with God. We often have a sense of awesome boredom and overwhelming apathy in God’s presence. And while we do not see the dazzling vision John saw when we gather to worship each Sunday, we must remember that we are standing in the presence of God. How do we stand? Often times with a “meh” as we endure yet another Sunday. Maybe it’s because we don’t really expect to see or meet anyone else at church besides the other people here.
Aquinas said, “I can write no more. All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing by straw compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me.” We don’t know what happened specifically but something happened in that worship that affected Aquinas in such a way that he was never the same again. Are we overwhelmed with the presence of God when we meet God in worship?
III. What is the interpretation that the risen Lord gives to John?
Notice what the awesome and glorious Lord does and says. He first of all reaches down and places his right hand on John. With the same hand that he holds all authority and power and majesty, he reaches down in love to John for the Lord of all power is also the Lord of all comfort. And then the Lord says, “Do not be afraid.” How familiar that must have sounded to John from all the times that Jesus had spoken those words to his frightened followers.
He then says, “I am the First and the Last.” God had said he was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. When Jesus says, “I am the First and the Last,” he is saying that he too is truly God, alpha and omega, the first and the last. And even more importantly, Jesus says, “I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive for ever and ever.” This is certainly Jesus, the Lord who was dead but raised again. The risen Lord is not only alive then, but still is alive and reigning today.
And because of that resurrection victory, Jesus now holds all the power and authority over death and hell for he holds the keys to death and Hades. Jesus has full authority over who will escape from death and hell and who must remain there in eternal punishment.
Then in verse 20, the exalted and risen Christ explains the mystery. The seven stars in Jesus’ hand are the angels of the seven churches. Most likely, the term “angels” is symbolic language to describe the prevailing character, spirit or personality of each individual church. The seven lampstands are the seven churches which were already listed. The churches are the stands on which Christ’s light may be placed.
That in itself is an important thing for us to consider. Are we eagerly displaying the light of Christ for all to see? Pastor George Malone tells of a time when he talked with a man who had visited his church. Malone asked, “What did you like and dislike about our service?” The man replied, “I disliked the fact that in your church, I didn’t know any of the songs. I felt like an outcast. Malone answered, “I understand that. We need to be more sensitive to that. What did you like about us?” The man replied, “I like the fact that you expect God to come. You really expect that he’s going to come!” Again, do we as a church really expect Christ to be with us and to come to us when we gather to worship?
IV. Finally then, who are these messages for?
These seven messages are to the churches in Asia but also to the church of all time. This means that the messages are for us. We will look at these over the next seven weeks to hear Christ offer words of comfort and encouragement as well as rebuke and warning.
But what can we learn about us as a church? Two things. First, let’s realize that Christ right now is with us and among us. He is here, as the light of the world, moving among the lampstands. He is with us in our struggles and in our joys.
Second, as lampstands we are to carry his light into all the world. When Robert Louis Stevenson was seven years old, he was at the window watching the lamplighter at work. One by one the lighter would light the lamps as he walked down the street. Young Robert was fascinated and silent. His nurse feared mischief since he was so quiet. She called out, asking what he was doing. Robert answered, “I am watching a man make holes in the darkness.”
This is what Jesus’ church is all about; lighting a dark world with God’s light. We must lift that light so that the world around us can see that light in us. These messages to the churches will enable us to become better lampstands. Let’s ask ourselves how we can become even better lampstands for God’s glory? What can you do this week to bear the light of Christ into the world?