John’s Vision of Christ among the Lamp stands
June 14, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
We now come to a new section in the first chapter of the book of Revelation, Rev 1:9-20. In this section John tells us about his vision of Christ while he exiled on the island of Patmos. This is the formal introduction to the letters to the seven churches that we will read about in chapters 2 and 3.
In this section we will see:
- The Circumstances of the Vision (1:9-11)
- The Content of the Vision (1:12-16)
- The Consequences of the Vision (1:17-20)
Before we look into this section, let me give you a picture of the trouble that Christians experienced during this period. Allow me to read to you from John MacArthur’s book, Because the Time is Near
In the early second century, Pliny [who was governor of Bithynia, in the north of Asia Minor, wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan and in this letter he] called Christianity a “depraved and extravagant superstition” and complained that “the contagion of this superstition [Christianity] has spread not only in the cities but in the villages and rural districts as well.” The Roman historian Tacitus, a contemporary of Pliny, described Christians as “a class hated for their abominations.”
Politically, Romans viewed Christians as disloyal because they refused to acknowledge Caesar as the supreme authority. Religiously, Christians were denounced as atheists because they rejected the Roman gods and worshiped an invisible God instead of idols. Socially, Christians were often despised, since many came from the lower classes of society (c.f. 1C0 1:26). The Christian teaching that all people are equal (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11) threatened to undermine the cultural structure of the affluent Romans and initiated concerns of a slave revolt.
In that superstitious age many Romans feared that natural disasters resulted from the neglect of the pagan gods. The third-century church leader Tertullian noted, “If the Tiber reaches the walls, if the Nile does not rise to the fields, if the sky doesn't move and the earth does, if there is famine, if there is plague, the cry is at once, “Christians to the lion!”
During the first few decades after the death of Christ, the Roman government considered Christianity as a sect of Judaism (Ac 18:12-16). Eventually, Christianity was recognized by the Romans as a religion distinct from Judaism. That identified Christians as worshipers of an illegal religion (Judaism being a religio licita,
or legal religion). Yet there was not official persecution by the Roman authorities until the time of Nero. Seeking to divert public suspicion that he had caused the great fire in Rome (July 19, A.D. 64), Nero blamed the Christians for it. As a result, many Christians were executed at Rome, soon followed by empire-wide persecution.
Thirty years later, Domitian instigated an official persecution of Christians. It extended to the province of Asia (modern Turkey) during the time the apostle John had been exiled to the island of Patmos. The persecuted believers John wrote to in Revelation desperately needed encouragement. The other apostles were dead, and John had been banished to Patmos.
John’s readers took comfort in the fact that Christ will one day return to glory to defeat His enemies. Yet the vision of Jesus Christ that begins the book does not describe Jesus in His future glory, but depicts Him in the present as the glorified Lord of the church. In spite of all disappointment, the Lord had not abandoned His people or His promises. This powerful vision of Christ’s present ministry to them must have provided great hope to the wondering and suffering churches to whom John wrote.
Now let’s look at John’s formal introduction to the letters to the seven churches. John begins by describing his situation or circumstances when he received the vision of Christ when he was on the island of Patmos.
I. The Circumstances of the Vision (1:9-11)
John began with the words “I, John”
to avoid any misunderstanding of his identity, and to affirm the authenticity and authority of his message.
Instead of calling himself an apostle, he chose to call himself “your brother.”
Although he was a representative of Jesus being an apostle and although he had great privilege having received great revelation and instruction from Christ, he placed himself on the same level as his readers. What an example of humility. This should remind church leaders and Christians of high stature in society that they are not higher spiritually than other Christians.
In addition to being a brother to his readers, John adds that he too is a “partner”
with them in three things: “in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.”
There are three characteristics that John and his believing readers have in common:
- First, he was a their partner “in the tribulation.” The “tribulation” refers to the difficulties and afflictions of everyday life that result from faithfulness to Christian principles. John regarded it as being part of God’s will.
- John 16:33 … In the world you will have tribulation. …
- Jn 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. ’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
- Acts 14:22 … through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God
- 2Ti 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But the tribulation also includes that final period of intense affliction, which precedes the establishment of the millennial kingdom.
Rev 7:13-14 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
- Secondly, John was also their “partner in … the kingdom.” Like the rest of the Christians, John was also part of the present and the future kingdom over which Christ is Lord and King.
- The Lord Jesus and the apostles talked about the kingdom of God in its present aspect. They taught that by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, people enter into God’s kingdom today and experience the new age blessings such as repentance that leads to life (Act 11:18) eternal life (John 5:24–25), forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13; 2:13), the gift of righteousness and joy (Ro 14:17), deliverance from Satan’s power and rule (1Jn 5:19), baptism of the Holy Spirit (Ac 11:15), reigning with Christ (Eph 2:5-7), and many others.
- But Jesus and the apostles also taught that the kingdom is future. They taught that the coming of God’s kingdom is an eschatological event when the kingly reign of God will be manifested on earth. The book of Revelation is presents to us the eschatological consummation of the kingdom. It pictures the conflict between satanic power and the power of God, and the final triumph of God in the destruction of Satan and all his allies, the salvation of the righteous, and the redemption of fallen creation from all curse and evil.
John says that he as well as the other believers share with Christ in His kingdom both in its present and future aspects.
- Thirdly, John was also their “partner in … the patient endurance.” Like them, John also shares in endurance and perseverance in spite of difficult times.
“Patient endurance” refers to “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”
The Bible shows that patient endurance is one of the characteristic features of one who follows Christ.
- Heb 10:35-39 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls
The phrase “that are in Jesus”
marks the three characteristics as being distinctly connected to Christ and faithfulness to Him.
Next, John says that when he received his vision of Christ he “was on the island called Patmos.”
Patmos is a small rocky island (7 by 14 km) in the Aegean Sea some 80 km southwest of Ephesus, off the coast of modern Turkey. Patmos may have served as a penal settlement to which the Roman authorities sent offenders and banished exiles.
John says that he was on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
This means that he was sent to Patmos because of persecution for his faithful proclamation of the gospel and perhaps for his writing of the gospel about Jesus. Christians experienced official persecution during the reign of Emperor Domitian because they did not acknowledge Caesar but Jesus as Lord. This persecution extended to Asia Minor where the seven churches were located. Apparently the Asian authorities had interpreted John’s preaching and writings as seditious and removed him from the mainland in an attempt to inhibit the growth of what the Romans considered to be an illegal religion.
John wrote, “I was in the Spirit”
(v.10), to describe his supernatural experience on Patmos. It was similar to the experience of Paul, which he wrote about in 2Co 12:1-4. Paul mentioned having visions and revelations of the Lord. He says that he was caught up to the third heaven and he heard things, which man may not utter. But he acknowledged that he was not sure whether it was in the body or out of the body when he experienced those things.
The vision of John took place “on the Lord’s day,”
which simply means Sunday. The Christians referred to Sunday as the “the Lord’s day” because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday.
While in the Spirit John says, “And I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, saying “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
Although at this point, the one who speaks in a loud voice is not identified, we know from vv. 17-19 that this Jesus who commands John to write what he sees in his vision. He was not only to write the vision that is mentioned in chapter 1 but all the visions that we read about from chapter 1 to 22.
John was to write what he saw in a book which is actually a scroll made of parchment formed from papyrus, a reed that grows plentifully along the Nile. After completion, the Apocalypse was a single scroll, the length of which must have been about 16 feet.
The message of Revelation was to be delivered to the “seven churches”
that were located in Asia Minor. These were real churches. They were autonomous local churches that John ministered to before he was exiled to Patmos. The seven churches do not portray seven successive periods of church history.
These cities were situated on a great circular road that tied together the most populous, wealthy, and influential part of the Romans province of Asia. (like Digos, Davao City, Panabo, Tagum)
A messenger from each city would present the scroll to his own church who would read the entire scroll including all seven letters and the rest of the contents of the book. And probably each church would make a copy of the book before the messenger(s) moved on with the original to the next city.
Although the letters are written to real churches of the first century, they are relevant to the church universal, for the strengths and weaknesses of the seven are characteristic of individual churches throughout history.
II. The Content of the Vision (1:12-16)
What John saw in his first vision was not a literal but a symbolic picture of the church and the glorified Christ. John first describes the churches and then their Lord
, who is in their midst.
Verse 12: Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,
- First John describes the churches.
From Rev 1:20 we learn that the lampstands signify the seven churches to whom the letters were addressed. They were actual churches in real places. These were “seven”
in number, the number of completeness, so these seven lampstands are symbolize all the kinds of churches that exist through all of church history.
The lampstands were golden,
which means that the churches were precious in God’s sight.
The seven churches were pictured as seven “lampstands.”
Apparently these were individual portable oil lamps placed on lampstands that were used to light rooms at night. The lampstands did not refer to one menorah, a large seven-branched candlestick that holds seven lamps, which was one of the pieces of furniture in the tabernacle and the temple.
The picture of churches as lampstands reminds us of Christ’s words to His disciples in Mt 5:14 where He said, “You are the light of the world.” They are to shine forth the glory and revelation of God through the preaching of the gospel and living good works in the midst of this evil dark world. When a local church fails in this, then its reason for existence is gone and the Lord will remove its presence in the community. This we will see when we come to Rev 2:5 about the church of Ephesus.
- Next, John describes Jesus.
After John described the churches, which are represented as lampstands, he describes what he saw about the glorified Jesus.
It was impossible for John to express the glorious appearance of Christ in exact human terms and so he used the comparative term “like”
six times. For example John said that Jesus was like a son of man, the hairs of his head were like white wool and like snow, his eyes like a flame of fire, his feet like burnished bronze, his voice like many waters, and his face like the sun shining in full strength. And of course, the two-edged sword coming out of his mouth cannot be literal.
John says in verse 13
that Jesus was “like a son of man … in the midst of the lampstands.”
In 2:1 He says that He “walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
By saying “like a son of man”
John is alluding to Daniel 7:13–14, where this title describes the Messiah who approaches the Ancient of Days (God the Father). The Son of Man is divine, dwells in eternity, possesses ultimate authority, and is the sovereign over an indestructible kingdom. Here, then, is the majestic Lord walking among the churches to reprove and encourage, and to command and commend them. This is both a comfort and a great warning to the churches.
Jesus is clothed with a long robe with a golden sash around his chest.”
which is a picture of Christ in His role as the Great High Priest of His people. The high priest in the OT wore a long robe and such a sash (cf. Ex 28:4; Lev 8:7).
MacArthur: As our High Priest, Christ offered the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sins and now permanently, faithfully intercedes for us (Ro 8:33-34). He has an unequaled capacity to sympathize with us in all our sorrows and temptations (Heb 2:18; 4:15). The knowledge that their High Priest was moving sympathetically in their midst to care for His own provided great comfort and hope to the persecuted churches.
“The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.”
This is a clear reference to Daniel 7:9, where similar language describes the Ancient of Days (God the Father).
Dan 7:9 And the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. …
The snow-white hair conveyed the idea of wisdom of years and dignity which made a person was worthy of respect and honor (Lev 19:32; Prov 16:31). Christ possesses the same attribute of eternity, knowledge, wisdom and dignity as the Father.
“His eyes were like a flame of fire.”
This could mean that nothing escapes the penetrating eyes of Jesus. His searching gaze penetrates even the minds and the hearts. The eyes of Jesus sees with piercing clarity the reality of everything there is to know.
In verse 15
John says that “his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace.”
The Son of Man's feet appeared like shining bronze. In both Ezekiel and Daniel the brightness of shining metal like fire is one of the symbols connected with the appearance of the glory of God.
In Ps 68:30 and Is 14:24-25 God’s destruction of His enemies is represented by the trampling of them with His feet and so the image may represent Christ's triumphant judgment of unbelievers.
John adds, “and his voice was like the roar of many waters,”
suggesting the awe-inspiring power and sound of a great waterfall.
John says in verse 16,
that “In his right hand he held seven stars
.” This picture should again be understood not literally but symbolically. In Rev 1:20 we are told that “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.”
However, the Greek word anggelos
rendered angels in that verse can also be translated as messengers as in Lk 7:24 When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John. (c.f. Lk 9:52; Jas 2:25)
And so it would be best to understand the “angels” in Rev 1:20 as “messengers.”
MacArthur: These messengers may be the leading elders and pastors, one from each of the seven churches. These seven men demonstrate the function of spiritual leaders in the church. They are to be instruments through which Christ mediates His rule. That is why the standards for leadership in the New Testament are so high (cf. 1Ti 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-9).
These messengers are held by “His right hand
.” In Ps 44:3 the right hand of God refers to his power to protect and deliver. In Jn 10:28: “no one will snatch them out of my hand.” The expression, then, symbolizes Christ’s ever-present protection and deliverance. Jesus Christ never forsakes his own, even when they go through the valley of death as in times of severe persecution (This was Stephen’s experience. When he was being stoned to death, Jesus was with him. Acts 7:55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.).
from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword,
The sword symbolically represents Christ’s spoken word.
- Eph 6:17 says that “the sword of the Spirit … is the word of God.”
- And according to Heb. 4:12, For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
I think this is a picture of the power of the Word to convict a person so that he is absolutely silenced and will not be able to resist the power of God’s judgment.
One example of this in Acts 5:3-5:
But Peter said, “ Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.
John’s vision of the glorified Lord of the church culminated in this description of “his face”
which “was like the sun shining in full strength.”
This is a picture of Christ's deity and divine glory.
III. The Consequence of the Vision (1:17-20)
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”
- How John responded to the overwhelming vision of Christ (1:17a)
Seeing Jesus in glorified appearance proved to be too much for John. John fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, totally terrified and as though dead. Similar responses are found in both the Old and New Testaments when the saints are permitted to be in the God’s awesome presence (e.g., Ezek 1:28; Matt 17:6).
MacArthur: In stark contrast to the boastful claims of many in our day who claim to have seen God, the reaction of those in Scripture who genuinely saw God was one of fear. Those brought face-to-face with the glory of Christ are terrified, realizing their sinful unworthiness to be in His holy presence.
“But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not.”
- How Christ responded to His terrified servant (1:17b-19):
Jesus placed His right hand on John and said “Fear not,” in order to comfort his terrified servant and reassure him of acceptance.
The comfort Jesus offered was based on His person and His authority. Jesus said, “I am the First and the Last.”
This is a title that God uses for Himself in Isa 44:6 and 48:12. There it means that He alone is God, the absolute Lord of history and the Creator. For Jesus to use the very same title is to claim that He too is God. Jesus is also the first as the Creator (John 1:1–3) and the author of salvation (Heb. 2:10). He is also the One who will bring all things to completion; thus He is the end. He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. What an encouragement to know that Jesus stands at the beginning and at the end of human history and that he is always with the saints.
In verse 18
Jesus continues to describe Himself as “the living one,”
which implies that in His essential nature He possesses eternal life. He Himself is the source and the giver of life (John 6:33; 1 John 5:11), and the life he gives is eternal.
Jesus is the living one but at the same time he says, “I died.”
He refers to a historical event when he died sacrificially on Calvary. But when He rose again He did it never to die again. And so He says, “behold, I am alive forevermore.”
He stresses that there is no time limit to the His life. He is immortal, indestructible, and unchangeable.
Now through Jesus 'suffering, death, and resurrection he won the right to “have the keys of death and Hades."
Keys grant the holder access to interiors and their contents. Death and Hades are essentially synonyms, but death is the condition, and Hades, equivalent to the OT Sheol, is the place of the dead. Since Christ alone has conquered death and has himself come out of Hades, he alone can determine who will enter death and Hades and who will come out of them. He has the "keys." Christ has authority and absolute power over death and He decides who lives, who dies, and when.
After Christ assures John based on His person and His authority, He commands John to “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this” (v.19).
The first clause (“Write therefore the things that you have seen”) is the main command and is parallel to the earlier command in v. 11 (“Write what you see in a book.”). The two clauses that follow (“those that are and those that are to take place after this”) refer to the visions to be unfolded in the coming chapters. They expound and make more specific what John is to write.
You can confirm this in the say other English Bibles render this verse:
- NET: "Therefore write what you have seen, both what things currently are and what is going to happen after these things."
- NLT: what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.
- NAB: Write down, therefore, whatever you see in visions—what you see now and will see in time to come
What you see now refers to 1:9—3:22 and the things that will happen in time to come are mentioned in 4:1—22:5.
In verse 20
Christ supplies the interpretation of the seven stars and seven lampstands: As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
With the awesome vision and the commission that John receives from Jesus, he is now prepared to write what he has seen. Caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s day John encountered the risen and glorified Christ, who personally commissioned him to write to the seven churches. He was to share with them not only this initial vision of the one “like a son of man” but also the subsequent visions that would reveal what was about to take place in the future.
Next week, we are going to begin to look at the letters of Jesus to the seven Churches.
Let me close with two reflections which I have thought about based on this section:
- This section gives us a deeper insight into the greatness and goodness of Christ.
The Preacher’s Commentary writes:
This is a vision of Jesus Christ that is both awesome and comforting. We must be careful to keep the two feelings together in the interpretation of this experience of John. The vision is frightening, but not devastating. He is struck down by its impact, and then quickly lifted up. He discovers both the sovereign, divine otherness of Jesus Christ, so vast that words fail to describe the wonder, and also the kindness and sensitivity of Jesus.
Some of you may have read C.S. Lewis’s classic fantasy novel entitled The Chronicles of Narnia,
which became a movie series.
In his first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
, he tells the story of four ordinary children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, who discover a wardrobe in the house they were staying that lead to the land of Narnia, a fantasy world of magic, mythical beasts, and talking animals.
In one portion of the story, two of the children were talking with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, the talking Lion who was the King of the Beasts and the Lord of Narnia.
Mrs. Beaver said to Susan: “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Actually, Aslan the lion, represents Jesus Christ. He is a mysterious, wise, compassionate, guardian and savior of Narnia from the evil white witch who placed Narnia under a curse for many years. Though Aslan is gentle and loving in nature, he is not tame. He is powerful and can be dangerous. This is also the picture of the glorious Christ that John saw in the vision in Revelation chapter 1.
- This section gives us a deeper appreciation for the church of Christ.
The church may seem to be insignificant today. What is most important and significant may seem to be the government, the educational institutions, businesses, etc. But look at Christ. He walks in the midst of the churches. The churches are his lights in the world. The church is precious and cared for by Christ. His presence is with the church.