The Revelation of Jesus Christ
The reason and context
The book of Revelation, which is also known as the Apocalypse, is one of the most intriguing and sought after religious books in our society. Even the lost world that mocks and questions the validity of the claims of Christ are drawn to the visions of the future portrayed in this book. There are television specials that are constantly airing discussing the coming antichrist, the opening of the seals, the one world system, the famines, and the desolation. Rarely do they even touch on the main point of which is the pre-imminence and glory of the coming Christ. There is a general angst that exists in the western mind, if not in all minds, that is both scared and drawn to thoughts of the end. Like the roller coaster or the horror film that both scares and thrills we are drawn to the literature and ideas that predict and describe the end. Even when I was lost and without Christ, I was interested in the apocalyptic vision of the book of Revelation. The recent hype over the book of Revelation is also accompanied by alternate prophecies from Nostradamus, super computers, Mayan calendars, and other sources that point to some of the same events. December 21, 2012 is marked by the world as the potential end of this world. Even Christians are swallowed up with this popular angst. But Jesus Christ who is the greatest prophet, and many of the ones that the world has turned to are proven false prophets who have already shown us false visions, has warned us not to take part in this sadistic angst. We have no reason to fear the end or be troubled by people who say that it will occur at such and such a time. Jesus told us this: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36). We do not know the day nor the hour therefore we can be assured of one thing, it will not be when and how the false prophets say. Every date setter in history has been proven to be false because they have failed to simply believe Christ. So when we look at the book of Revelation we will not look at it as the world looks at. Are there some fearful things in this book? Yes! But the fearful things of this book belong to those who oppose Christ. For us who love Jesus Christ this is not a book of fear but one of hope and longing. Our hope and longing is not for the destruction of this world but the bringing in of the one where there are no more tears and pain and sorrow. We do not desire the lost man’s damnation, for we work to give the lost man the message of salvation through Christ but we do desire the saint’s glorification. And most of all we do not desire the destruction of this world’s kingdoms but we do desire the glory of Christ and for Him to be the King of this world. We sum up the hope of this book with the words of the apostle Paul: “[We are] looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13). And this great desire is mirrored by the final prayer of this book by the apostle John: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
There are in the interest of the world with this book some points that stand out to our evangelistic advantage. The angst of this world concerning the end shows that people realize that there is something seriously wrong with this world. Such an idea can lead us to discuss with the reality of sin. And also the angst over the end tells us that the idea of judgment has not left the conscience of the people. They have twisted the idea of judgment to make it more palatable and less scary for the individual. But there still exists the idea that all the world must be judged. This can help us enter a discussion about where they fit into the picture of judgment. There is also in this angst the belief that there is indeed a God who knows the end from the beginning. This God has not left us in the dark about what shall be but has told us of the end of this world, judgment, heaven, and hell. This ultimately allows us to discuss with men their need to seek this God for help and not to their own imaginations. So we should always be mindful of the use of this precious book in reaching the lost.
The word Apocalypse, for which we have the word Revelation, is an unveiling or revealing of a truth. It is the unveiling of the present glory of Christ and the events that will bring Him to this earth to rule and reign according to the promises of the Old Testament. “Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel. Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Ps. 2:6-12). The key to this whole revealing is found in the words of Christ Himself in this first chapter: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [hades] and of death. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (Rev. 1:18, 19). We should not doubt the importance of the book of revelation as the very consummation of the Scriptures. It is indeed the end of the cannon. It was written by the last surviving apostle around the year 90 A.D. and with the penning of this book all the teachings and traditions of the apostles is complete. We believe in apostolic authority (remember that an apostle is a witness of the risen Savior) and we reject the idea that apostolic authority has continued in any institution. There is no continuing evolution of apostolic tradition that carries equal weight with the Bible. When John penned these words he finished the cannon and sealed it with a warning not to add or take away for it. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18, 19). Therefore we reject all supposedly new revelations, or new traditions the contradict the word, ex cathedra declarations, and cultic additions. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is the consummation of all that God will reveal to men until the day that Christ literally steps foot on this earth. Before this moment the church had prophets who foretold the future and men that could stand and speak special revelations from God but now such gifts are gone. You will either believe the words God has given us in this complete cannon or you will believe the authority of men that contradict it. But you must do one or the other. Jamison said this: “In this book all the other books of the Bible end and meet: in it is the consummation of all previous prophecy.” It is the only book of prophecy book in the New Testament. Other books had touched on prophecy but this is prophecy from start to finish. When the world speaks about the end they speak of something that is horrific and violent and they see therefore in Revelation something that is horrific and violent. When the Christian speaks of the end they speak of the realization of the purposes of the whole story; the final cause, the end purpose. The violence in this book is not needless cruelty but needed fire that consumes the harmful dross. The end of the fire is the purity of the gold and the end of the violence of this book is pure honor for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The end of all things and the purpose of all things is the pleasure of God and so we see the elders sing in this book these words: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). This book is a description of the end in that it is a description of the events that will bring all glory and honor and power to Christ. McGee commented this: “John, the writer, reaches farther back into eternity past than any other writer in Scripture (John 1:1-3). He reaches farther on into eternity future in the Book of Revelation…. This book is like a great Union Station where the great trunk lines of prophecy come in from other portions of Scripture. Revelation does not originate but consummates. It is imperative to a right understanding of the book to be able to trace each great subject of prophecy from the first reference to the terminal. There are at least 10 great subjects of prophecy which find their consummation here: 1. The Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 3:15), 2. The church (Matthew 16:18), 3. The resurrection and translation of saints (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52), 4. The Great Tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30-31), 5. Satan and evil (Ezekiel 28:11-18), 6. The "man of sin" (Ezekiel 28:1-10), 7. The course and end of apostate Christendom (Daniel 2:31-45; Matthew 13), 8. The beginning, course, and end of the "times of the Gentiles" (Daniel 2:37; Luke 21:24), 9. The second coming of Christ (Jude 14-15), and 10. Israel's covenants (Genesis 12:1-3), five things promised Israel.” That is the nature of the end in which this book is dedicated to revealing.
Before we get into the book itself it would be proper to give two warnings. The first warning is that we should not remove this book from the futuristic context in which it aims. It aims as at a description of the literal and future coming of Christ to this earth to rule and reign. There are too many that interpret this book in such a way that the main focus of the book becomes utter nonsense. We must look at this book and interpret it, in its given context, with an eye toward the literal and future fulfillment of its tenants. Some take an a-millennial view of the scripture which may take many different forms. Generally, this view says that the book of revelation is mostly a description of things that have passed or are occurring in this present age. There is no literal millennial reign of Christ but the book does describe a general judgment at the coming of Christ and heavenly imagery of the saint’s future inheritance. But as a whole the book is not to be taken literally but is written in parable form. Many of the old Puritans of old took this view. It is the popular view of some mainline denominations. This view is useful for reminding us of the present struggle with the spirit of antichrist. There is much that we could learn from the old Puritans in this aspect. But, this view is destructive in that it tends to teach men to read into to the scripture what is not really explicitly said and to view things in the scripture in a non-literal way. If we explain away almost an entire book as something that is not to be taken literally, without any warrant in the context of that book to do so (in fact the book gives us warrant to take it literally), then we will find it hard to defend the literal meaning of other texts. This view in and of itself should not be looked down on for many of our heroes of the faith have held it and have stood strongly for Christ in their times. But we should recognize that it has some serious hermeneutical problems. We should take the Bible as literal (barring obvious metaphoric language that we all use when we are trying to describe things that are not perceived by the senses) unless the context of a given text demands that it should be taken as a parable or a simile. Our hermeneutic should be one of contextualism and not one of two extremes; absolute literalism or absolute mysticism. Here the book of revelation declares that it is telling us things that “must … come to pass.” McGee described well some of these a-millennial views: “Preterist Theory: All of Revelation has been fulfilled in the past. It had to do with local references in John's day. It had to do with the days of either Nero or Domitian…. Historical-Spiritual Theory: This theory is a refinement of the historical theory and was advanced by Sir William Ramsay. It states that the two beasts are Imperial and Provincial Rome. The point of the book is to encourage Christians. According to this theory, Revelation has been largely fulfilled and there are spiritual lessons for the church today. Amillennialism, for the most part, has adopted this view. It dissipates and defeats the purpose of the book.” While there are some correlations to our present day in this book let us not make the mistake of removing it from its literal fulfillment. Consider also post-millennial views, these look at the book of Revelation is the process of history by which the “church” as the body of Christ conquers the earth and sets up the kingdom. McGee again summed this up for us: “Historical Theory: Fulfillment of Revelation is going on in history, and Revelation is the prophetic history of the church, according to this theory.” But to believe either of these is to turn the book into an unintelligible mess. In Matthew we saw four periods; the beginning of sorrows, the end, the great tribulation, and the coming of the Son of man. In Daniel we have the seventieth week (affectionately known as the Tribulation period) which was to occur after the Messiah was cut off. There is no rational reason to believe that the last week has already been fulfilled. It still waits for its fulfillment. Since the first 69 weeks of Daniel were literally fulfilled, we must wait for the literal fulfillment of the last week or seven years. That is why we hold tenaciously to the pre-millennial view. Christ will literally come and literally reign on this earth and we with Him. And the events described in this book are the future events that will precede His coming.
The other warning which we should heed is the danger of keeping the applications of this book to some vague future time. This book is written for our edification in the last days. And many of the elements of this book will offer correlations for us to learn from today. McGee again commented that “Revelation is not a sealed book (Revelation 22:10). Contrast Daniel 12:9. It is a revelation (apocalypse), which is an unveiling.” Since McGee invoked Daniel let us consider the difference between the sealing of his book and the writing of Revelation. “And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” The revealing of what was sealed by God in the days of Daniel is revealed by Christ to John in the last days. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…” (Heb. 1:1, 2). Brethren, we are living in the last days. The time of the fulfillment of these things is ready and has been ready every since these words were pinned. They are therefore relevant to us in the respect that we can look at the things that are written and we can see those things in germ form now. We can see that these things are just over the horizon. We can see the man of sin that is coming and we can see his forerunners in the popes and other men who claim to stand in the stead of God and Christ. We see the depravity of man in its fullness in the prophecy but we see the depravity of man restrained for now. We see correlations between the present suffering of the people of God and the suffering of those who will go through those days. And when we read this book we find the hope of heaven more real to us. This book is real to us now as well as being an outline for the future. Daniel told about four present kingdoms that exist until the time the kingdom of Christ is set up. These kingdoms are still here today. The time is at hand.
I. The preface of the Revelation (Rev. 1:1-3).
The first thing that we see in this first chapter is the preface which John wrote to explain the purposes of the book. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” As mentioned above this is the preface of the grand conclusion of the Scriptures. Many men of God have mentioned the comparison of this book which is a description of the end with the book of beginnings, Genesis. In Genesis we do indeed see the beginning of the universe, of the human race, of nations, of Israel, and of other institutions and ideals. In the book of Revelation we have the final destiny of things. It was summed up by Jim Combs summed it up like this: “In Genesis, paradise is lost; in Revelation paradise is regained.” This is the spirit in which this preface of John is written. But moving past the things that have already been mentioned in our introduction let us note the following five points in this preface.
First we see the substance of the book in the words “the revelation of Jesus Christ….” What we learn from the title is that this unveiling has the Lord Jesus Christ as its central figure. We can take the title of the book here given in several ways. First, we can take it as Jesus Christ Himself being the revelation itself. It is Christ that is being revealed in this book this makes sense because it is ultimately His coming and His role as Savior and Judge of the earth that is the ultimate end of the book. In this book we have a treasury of names and titles that are given to Christ; the first, the last, the Alpha, the Omega, the one which is, was, and ever more shall be, etc. We see Christ as the “spirit of prophecy” in this book which agrees with all of the Scripture that declares that “the volume of the book is written of Him.” The whole of the Bible is dedicated to revealing Christ and the last book of the Bible does not swerve from that end and purpose. The title of the book also leads us to believe that Christ is also the Revealer of truth. It is this very idea that proceeds in the rest of this verse. All revelation itself comes from Christ. This is and always has been role of the second person in the Godhead. He is called the word for He is the full expression of the invisible God just as a word is the full expression of an invisible thought. It is said of the Son that “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). This is what is meant in this first verse here when it says that the revelation was given to Him. He is the only mediator between God and men. He is the first revealer and all the angels and men that receive and pass on the word receive it first from Him. But the title goes further than showing Christ to be the substance and the ultimate means of what is written in this book for the title is zeroing in on the specific things or events that are revealed, of must shortly come to pass.” We should take this seriously. All of the things and events of this book are given to us by Christ. They are translated to us by John but Christ is the giver of this book. That is the claim of this book. Those who would reject the message of this book must also reject the ultimate giver of the message which is Christ Jesus Himself. These things were and are not cunningly devised fables given to us by fallible, blood thirsty, and vengeful men. These things are description given to us by Christ. And that is the only reason that they are important and the only reason that they have such a blessing connected to them.
Secondly, we see in the preface the means of translating the book which is described in the following words: “which God gave unto him [Jesus Christ], to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John….” So we have the origin of the message in the title, the revelation of Jesus Christ. And we have the receivers of the message in the term “his servants.” It is interesting to note hear that the word “servants” is in plural here when it is in the singular when speaking about John at the end of this verse. The receiver of this message was not John the individual but all of the servants of Christ. Let those who claim that the Revelation should not be included in the cannon deal with the fact that the apostle John said that it was meant for all of the servants of Christ to read. This word was meant for you and me. It was meant to be our resource for those things which must shortly or quickly come to pass. This book is all of ours and belongs in our Bible. God wanted to show all of us what would be. This should excite us to study this book even more. But the words here in the preface that we see are not meant to focus on the origin or the end but the means of these truths being translated from one to the other. How did we receive this book? The description given here is that it was first God given (given to Christ), it was secondly Christ sent (given by Christ), and it was lastly apostle written (written by an apostle). Consider quickly these three. The word of God as a whole is God breathed or inspired of God. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (II Tim. 3:16). All Scripture is given of God and the claim of the book of Revelation is that it is also. Do not let men try to convince you that the apostles never claimed that their writings were given of God. Peter claimed the writings of Paul were. And John here boldly claims that His book is. We have here, if we so choose to believe, a “thus saith the Lord” in contained in this book. And the word that is God given is given by the mediation of Christ as we have already seen in the above point. The revelation is given by God to Christ. Grace and truth comes from Christ alone. Secondly, the revelation is given by Christ. It was given by His angel to the one that wrote these words. Now we can take this word angel in many ways here. Jesus Christ is the Angel of the Lord and here in the first three chapters of this book it is Jesus Himself that is speaking to John. An angel may also be a simple messenger such as the pastors of the seven churches in chapter two and three. In the fourth chapter and beyond it is one of the elders that speaks and shows things to John. Or the word could be speaking of an actual angel which in the last few chapters of this book shows things unto John. Whichever means Christ used to give the word to John to write this book, Christ was the one that ultimately gave it. All of the New Testament is things that are given to us by Christ (John 16). Lastly, it is written by an apostle, John the servant of Christ. By the way this being a servant of Christ is the only title which John here gives of himself. Paul like John considered serving Christ his greatest calling and the one thing or chief thing that he wanted to be known as. But the point being is this, this is apostolic authority. The ultimate goal for Christ in our age is for us to have a book that was written by His chosen witnesses. This book, which later becomes known as the New Testament, would be the final authority for the Christian. This is our apostolic authority. And since we have the book in our hand we can add this one truth to this and that is that the book has been preserved by God as well; “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my [Christ] words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24). We as the servants of Christ still have what Christ wanted us to have through the means He decided to use.
The third thing that we see in this preface is the use of the book by John as described in these words: “Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” The visions of John were indeed mysterious. Harry Ironside pointed out the word “signified” used in the first verse goes further than just to show something but to show it with the use of symbols and signs. He said that it is indeed “a book of symbols” and that it takes diligence to handle and study these visions. These words come with a heavy burden to find the points of reference for the symbols used therein “somewhere else in the Bible.” The diligent job of comparing spiritual things with spiritual and studying line upon line comes with these words. The burden upon the hearer of these words, which is us, we will deal with momentarily. But let us consider the burden upon the apostle that penned them. How he responded to these words is an example to us. It is this that he speaks of in these words. Our text said that he bore record. He stood as a witness to these things. The term “bare record” offer us a great word picture of bearing a burden. John bore the burden of being a witness for Christ. He took up the cross and followed Christ. In this text there are three distinct areas in which he bore record first of the word of God. He bore record to divine revelation. John stood up and said that boldly that the revelation came directly from God. In this John bore the burden of a prophet. He also bore record of the testimony of Jesus Christ. The word of God was that which he bore record from without but the testimony of Jesus Christ was something from within him. In the Old Testament the testimony was that which was within the tabernacle and within the ark. It was indeed known as the ark of the testimony for within it was carried the law and the manna and the rod that budded. Here it is all that Christ did that John believed and received by faith. “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true” (John 3:33). It is described by Paul as something that is in the Christian: “Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you… (I Cor. 1:6). It is the testimony of the gospel itself where Christ suffered and died for our sins and rose again the third day. And it is particularly connected with us working that testimony out before the eyes of men. Paul said this in his last letter: “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God… (II Tim. 1:8). It is interesting that the word testimony as it is used in the rest of this book is connected with suffering and martyrdom and the word testimony itself, as it is translated, is the word marturian from which we get the word martyr. This is the cross which he willing bore and willingly took up. And it is later described as the reason which he was exiled to Patmos; the testimony of Christ. Therefore here he bore record as a Christian. And lastly he bore witness of the things that he saw; the things that he himself had experience from God. He is sharing with us what God has shown to him. He like Paul held back nothing that was profitable for us. He shared all things with us that he saw. In this he bore record as a minister to men.
The fourth point in the preface concerns the blessing connected with the book as seen in these words: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein….” This is one of many beatitudes in the Scripture that belong to people who belong to the Lord. Happiness and blessedness belong to those who attend to the word of God. Gill gave this comment: “Now, though eternal happiness does not depend upon, nor is procured by any of these means, as reading, hearing, and observing; yet there is a real happiness, a true pleasure, that does attend these things, which may stir up to a regard unto them….”This same blessing could well be stated of all books in the Bible and so is connected with this one. The blessing belongs to those who give attendance to reading, even when your understanding is not as fruitful as you would hope. The blessing belongs to those who not only read but hear. Faith comes by hearing and the continued line of reasoning in this book is that he that has ears let him hear. I am afraid that there are many that who call themselves Christians who sit under preaching but never hear it. And the blessing does not only belong to those who read and hear the words given by God, specifically here in this book, but to those who keep, possess, or do the word of God. Henry said this: “It is not sufficient to our blessedness that we read and hear the scriptures, but we must keep the things that are written; we must keep them in our memories, in our minds, in our affections, and in practice, and we shall be blessed in the deed.” The blessing is not for those who merely hear the word but those who act on the word; those who receive it and make it their own, hence the word “keep.” Hearing stimulates our faith for the blessed hope. Wesley offered some wonderful thoughts on this passage that are worth here quoting. “Happy is he that readeth, and they that hear, the words of this prophecy - Some have miserably handled this book. Hence others are afraid to touch it; and, while they desire to know all things else, reject only the knowledge of those which God hath shown. They inquire after anything rather than this; as if it were written, "Happy is he that doth not read this prophecy." Nay, but happy is he that readeth, and they that hear, and keep the words thereof - Especially at this time, when so considerable a part of them is on the point of being fulfilled.”
And that brings us to the importance of the book which is captured in these words: “… for the time is at hand.” The importance of the words which we see in this particular book is that they are close to where we are. Some of the words find us right where we are in this age as we will see in the second and third chapters to the seven churches and in the suffering of persecution mentioned throughout this book. The unrestrained wrath of sin is ready to pour out over this world. The return of Christ is and always has been immanent. There is little if anything that stands in the way of the things which are written in this book from coming to pass. Christ preached that the kingdom of God is at hand when He was on this earth. And that coming is just as close today as it ever has been. And in this lies the importance of this book; to encourage the saints, to provoke the saints to good works, to warn the unruly to walk uprightly, and to insight our hope. Lift up your heads, the redemption draws nigh.
II. The introduction of the Revelation (Rev. 1:4-8).
The next section of this first chapter deals with the general introduction of the book. “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” As with any letter or book the basic dimensions need to be known; who wrote the letter, why they wrote the letter, what is the context in which they wrote, and to whom is the letter written? This first chapter is devoted to these questions. The main topic in this section is the recipients of this letter from John. In this section we will see the following: the ones who received this letter, the grace which is commended to those who receive it, the special attention of the heavenly Father on those who receive it, the operations of the Holy Spirit on those who receive it, and lastly the blessings of Christ on those who receive it.
First, who are the recipients of this letter? This is explained to us in these words: “John to the seven churches which are in Asia….” John here is very personal with those to whom he wrote. He refers to himself merely as John. He does not flaunt his position as an apostle or as an original disciple. He is known as the apostle of love and in the personal way that he introduces himself in this letter he shows his love to his audience. No pastor or man in authority among God’s children should ever see himself as being above the people that he ministers to. The minister of God does not lord over the heritage of God but humbles himself under the mighty hand of God. John is writing specifically to the seven churches that were in Asia. This may be a source of embarrassment to the Roman Catholic for the final book of the Bible which was written at least twenty years after the destruction of Jerusalem states that the center of Christianity was not in Rome but in Asia Minor. Paul did indeed correspond with Christians in Rome but Christianity thrived and found its first century home in Asia. Rome did not replace Jerusalem in any theological way (the local New Testament church did in some semblance). And when we study history we will not find the full expression of Christianity in Rome even though there they were martyred in masses. And you will not in your study of history find the full expression of Christianity in the Gnosticism and mysticism of Africa as so many would have us believe today. The manuscripts and traditions found in Asia Minor in earlier Christian history will prove to be closer to apostolic Christianity than Rome or Alexandria. But passing on from that point we find that the main recipients of this book were churches; real, visible, local churches. There were seven churches that Christ particularly directed John to write to. These were all real local churches of that first century. This is not written to a universal invisible church that has no impact on the real world but rather to real visible churches that affect the real world. Some say that since there are seven churches that these seven churches represent what they call “the real Church” in its totality (whether they believe that they represent the universal church in differing of periods of the so called “church age” or they represent different manifestations that the so called “true church” may take). I reject that idea simply because it denies the nature of the churches that John wrote to and changes them into something completely different. Instead we should look at the number seven as giving a complete picture of all circumstances and natures which local churches may take. Combs said this: “[These are] seven local congregations, especially selected as illustrative of conditions in contemporary churches of those times….” This will be explored at length in the second and third chapter when we deal with these seven churches in particular. But the point is this. Christ was ever a lover of local churches as seen by this book. And the apostles were as well as seen by the writings of John and Paul. And this therefore puts the message of this book write in our lap tonight. These things are intended and relevant to local church members.
The next thing that we note is the grace which is commended to those who receive it. John said this: “Grace be unto you, and peace….” This is indeed a popular benediction of the apostles as seen by the New Testament books. But let us not over look this benediction because it is so often used. The main reason that this book and the Bible as a whole exist is to impart grace to believers and to give them peace. The book of Revelation is not written to condemn men but to impart grace to men. It is not written to cause us anxiety but to give us peace. It also tells as what should be the main desire of all ministers of Christ to impart grace from God to the hearer and to impart peace from God to the believer. But, the most important point which is seen in the rest of these select verses is the source of grace and peace which is the Trinity, the Godhead. We see that both grace and peace come from all three; the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other source from which they come. Let us consider each person of the Godhead one by one.
We see now the special attention of the heavenly Father on the churches. John said this: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come….” Grace and peace flow from the Godhead and the first person of the Godhead is here seen. He is the I AM that includes all possible tenses of speech. He is immutable and changes not. He is self existent; He is the God that is there. He is the one that first and foremost “is.” The Bible simply tells us that “he that cometh to God must believe that he is… (Heb. 11:6). There is no other way to describe the one that is beyond time and space; the first cause of all time and space. Not only does it say that He is but that He was. No matter how far into the past you go you find God. “The portion of Jacob is not like them; for he is the former of all things… (Jer. 51:19). Before there was anything there was God and this is the clear teaching of the most famous words of the Scripture: “In the beginning God….” Not only does it describe God as one that is, and was, but also that He is to come. Fools may shout that God is dead and declare that we have outgrown the idea of God but no matter how much time we traverse God will always be there. He is not the disappearing “god of the gaps” but He is the God over all. There will be a time (if you will forgive the phrase) when there will be no time but there will never be a time when God is not there. So this phrase is a description of the eternal nature of the Godhead of which the Father in particular reveals. It is a description that belongs to the Father who is the first person of the Godhead; not first in order of importance or nature, for all three share the same nature and are all important, but first in order of Revelation. He is the God nature which is above all and the God of the law which must judge sin, and He is the God of the gospel where God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. It is the Father that is understood in the second most famous words of the Scripture when it says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son….” John Gill agreed in this commentary: “…this is to be understood of the first Person, of God the Father; and the phrases are expressive both of his eternity, he being God from everlasting to everlasting; and of his immutability, he being now what he always was, and will be what he now is, and ever was, without any variableness, or shadow of turning: they are a periphrasis, and an explanation of the word "Jehovah," which includes all tenses, past, present, and to come.” In almost every benediction given by the apostles in the New Testament we find the same thing that we find here, grace and peace flowing from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ first (see Eph. 1:2, Titus 1:4, Phil. 1:3, etc.). The words of Peter are good to ponder on at this point: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (I Pet. 1:3). The grace and peace which is extended to us comes first from the Father. We are recipients of that which comes from the eternal God. “Praise God from who all blessings flow….”
Next, we see that this grace and peace flow from us from the operations of the Holy Spirit. “Grace be unto you, and peace…, from the seven Spirits which are before his throne….” We find all three persons of the Trinity in this section of Scripture all of which are seen as equally involved in administering grace and peace to the people of God. Here it is the Spirit that is highlighted. The Geneva Bible notes that “he is placed between the Father and the Son, as set in the same degree of dignity and operation with them…, he is before the throne, as of the same substance with the Father and the Son….” There are indeed “three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one” (I John 5:7). And all three persons of the Trinity are involved in the blessing of the church as seen by the words of Paul: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” II Cor. 13:14). That is part of the reason that we baptize in the name (one name) of all three (Matt. 28:19). There are two specific points of interest in the description of the Holy Spirit of God as to His relationship to the churches. First, it is interesting that He is spoken of in a plurality; seven Spirits. Many mystics in the past have taken this to mean that the seven Spirits are actually seven chief angels that guarded the throne of God. They even gave these angels names in some of the Apocryphal literature; names such as Raphael. They do not mind doing violence to the picture of the Godhead in our text nor do they care to blasphemously attribute angels as being direct sources of grace and peace, a role that belongs only to divinity (This is usually the same crowd that wishes to put Mary and the saints in such a role along side of God).
There is no doubt in my mind that this is speaking the Holy Spirit. I believe there are several key Scriptural thoughts that give us a clue as to the reason for the plurality of the Holy Spirit. First, the number connected with the Spirit here is directly related to the number of churches that He is related to in the text. Seven is the number of perfection and completion and the seven here represents the fullness of the manifestation of the Spirit to the churches. Gill commented this: “but by these seven spirits are intended the Holy Spirit of God, who is one in his person, but his gifts and graces are various; and therefore he is signified by this number, because of the fulness and perfection of them, and with respect to the seven churches, over whom he presided, whom he influenced, and sanctified, and filled, and enriched with his gifts and graces.” Secondly, we find that one Spirit according to the apostle Paul that “… there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all” (I Cor. 12:4-6, note again the full representation of the Trinity in these verses). The Holy Spirit does not do the same work in every individual nor does He in every church. The way He manifests Himself in one church may be slightly different than the way that He is manifest in another. That is why we should be careful not to make ourselves mirror images of other churches but to be sensitive to the way the Spirit is dealing with us. We can only be sure of this concerning the Spirit’s dealings; He will always deal with us according to the Scripture and He will always glorify Christ. Thirdly, the prophet Isaiah specifically outlined distinct manifestations of the Spirit. “And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD…” (Isa. 11:2). The Spirit will supply the particular need whether that need is wisdom, might, or fear. This lastly brings to our mind the picture of the Spirit found in ceremonial law. The golden candlestick in the temple and tabernacle is a picture of the illuminating nature of the Spirit in mans worship of God. “And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same” (Ex. 25:31, please note the personal masculine pronouns that are used in the King James to speak of the candlestick). The candlestick with its seven burning lamps is a perfect picture of the unity of the Spirit and is a perfect description of both our text and the text in Isaiah. There is one lamp stand known as the Spirit of the Lord and six distinct branches in various manifestations. And this picture of the candlestick is the exact picture of the temple in heaven, of which the pattern of the earthly tabernacle was taken, given here in Revelation: “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (Rev. 4:5). And the Seven Spirits of God find their fullness in the person of Christ of whom all fullness dwells (Rev. 3:1, 5:6). So whatever spiritual need we have as a church we may have in the distinct operations of the Holy Spirit. Again we note with the Geneva Bible notes: “This Spirit is one in person according to his subsistence: but in communication of his power, and in demonstration of his divine works in those seven churches, perfectly manifests himself as if there were many spirits, every one perfectly working in his own church.”
But even more important than the operations of the Spirit is the position of the Spirit. The Spirit is before the throne for the churches. Not only is salvation a work shared by all three persons of the Trinity but so is the strengthening and helping of the church. We pray to the Father in the name of the Son through the intercessory work of the Spirit. We may indeed go boldly before the throne of God knowing that the Father will receive us through Christ and that the Spirit is there to help us. O! How much help is there for the churches of our Lord! We have a vast supply! To this we may quote the words of Paul: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26, 27).
Finally we see the blessings of Christ that belong to the church. So the picture of the work of the persons of the Trinity is completed with the second person of God, God the Son. “[Grace and peace unto you from the Father and the Spirit] and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindred’s of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” He is in fact the focal point of all the work of the Trinity and that is why the most is said about Him. The blessings of the Father and the Spirit could not come to us but through the Son who is the revealer of God and who is the only mediator between God and Man. We see all through this the deity of Jesus Christ. John Philips mentioned that through Christ as God we have triumph and we see the attributes of His deity here: His omniscience in being the Alpha and Omega, His omnipresence in being the beginning and the end, and His omnipotence in being the Almighty. We saw already that the fullness of the Spirit (the seven Spirits of God) find their fullness in Him. And Christ said to Philip that he that had seen Him had seen the Father. All fullness of the Godhead bodily is in Christ, as Paul has said. So we see all, we as a church and we as Christians, really need in Christ. He is according to His name Jesus, our Savior from sin, and Christ, the God sent King of kings. Consider then the following points of John concerning what we have in Christ.
First, we have grace and peace in Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness for His church. Solomon rightly asked this: “a faithful man who can find?” Christ is the answer! The Bible says that “faithful are the wounds of a friend” and those words are no truer than they are in Christ. He is wholly faithful in that which He was sent to do. He was sent to reveal God to men and He did. He was sent to show mankind salvation, and He did. But our text is not so much about what Christ had did but what He presently is. He is the faithful witness right now. To understand this we must consider what Christ is presently and bodily. He has forever taken upon Himself the nature of man. He was born a man. He lived a man. He died a man. He was raised and ascended a man. And now as a man has forever set down at the right hand of God. There He is the Intercessor, Mediator, and Advocate for the people of God. Consider the prophecy of the Son of David, the promised seed. “His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah” (Ps. 89:36, 37). So here when we speak of Christ being the faithful witness He is the faithful witness in heaven before the eyes of the Father before whom He intercedes for us. Just as the rainbow was a faithful witness before the eyes of God that He would not again destroy the world with water so Christ is before the eyes of God for us to forever secure our salvation. He is a witness for us that the law has been removed and that grace has been secured. We may never be lost again for Christ has taken up our case. But it is also a sign for us to see, again as the rainbow reminds us of the covenant of God. We can see Christ through the eyes of faith and know that His witness is true. Christ is the proof of God’s grace to us. He is shown to us, the church, in this very book as He that is faithful and true (Rev. 3:14, 19:11). And we have found Him to be true in all aspects of grace (I John 1:9). Henry said this: “he was from eternity a witness to all the counsels of God (Jn. 1:18), and he was in time a faithful witness to the revealed will of God, who has now spoken to us by his Son; upon his testimony we may safely depend, for he is a faithful witness, cannot be deceived and cannot deceive us.” But in the context of this book His faithfulness concerns the things that are written in this book. Going back to the preface we see that this Revelation was given to Him to give to us. We, as we have already seen, can be assured that things written in this book are true because Christ the faithful witness told us. Christ is known as faithful and true and therefore the words that are written in this book are called faithful and true as well (Rev. 21:5, 22:6). What is written will come to pass. He speaks to the church as the one that is faithful and true and brings a message of grace (Rev. 3:14). He comes in judgment upon the lost world as he that is faithful and true (Rev. 19:11).
The next thing that we have in Christ is the fact that we have the one who led the way from the grave. He is the first begotten of the dead. As the faithful witness He is the truth; here He is the way and the life. He said to the sister of Lazarus that He is the resurrection and the life and that if we will believe on Him we shall never die (John 11). In His resurrection we are justified and therefore have been raised from spiritual death. Now though Him we live unto God and are no more dead in our sins. But the resurrection of Christ did more than give us spiritual life; He secured for us our own resurrection. Because He lives we shall live also. The Old Testament looked forward to God providing a pattern for the resurrection of the just. “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Ps. 17:15). There were many that were raised from the dead but returned again to the grave for there was no change. Christ therefore become this patter of being raised again to die no more (Rom. 6:1-8). Christ was the first to be raised beyond the dominion of death. And there will be many that will do the same through Him. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). Paul agreed with John as Christ being the pattern of the resurrection when he said this: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20, 21). He is according to Paul “the firstborn from the dead…” by which we will all follow who live and believe in Him (Col. 1:18). Christ is the second man, the last Adam, for He is the beginning of a new race of men (I Cor. 15). And when we awake we will awake in the pattern of this Man. So not only is Christ the sure witness but He is also a blessed hope for the church.
Thirdly the church has in Christ the one who rules over this earth. He is “the prince of the kings of the earth.” The church worships and believes on the one that rules over all. As Solomon surpassed the kings of the earth in his wisdom in glory, so much more does our Lord surpass them (I Kings 10:23)! This phrase in that light tells us of the glory of Christ. Jesus said that He was greater than Solomon and therefore we should seek Him. But this phrase is also very exlcusive. He is not a prince among the kings of the earth but He is the prince of the kings. He is the singular authority among the nations of men. Many nations and many kings have set themselves up as the ultimate authority in their striving against God. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Ps. 2:2, 3). But God has laughed at them and set up His king. The sway of power belongs to God who holds in His hand the destiny of the nations and to Christ before whom all nations must stand. These words also are the result of the promise to the seed of David. “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth” (Ps. 89:27). And I would say that the one of the main messages of the book of Revelation is to show how this world will come to see Christ as the prince of the kings of the earth (Rev. 6:15, 16:14, 19:19, 21:24). The world needs the events of Revelation to come to the place where every knee shall bow to Christ. But the good news is that we as the people God can bow before the prince now. We can give ourselves to His authority and rest in the fact that He is ultimately in control even if the kings of this earth have yet to recognize it.
The next thing that we note is that the church has the one who demonstrated His love to us. John said of Christ this: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood….” The word “unto” in our text points us to the glory which belongs to Christ at the end of this whole statement. We will get to that shortly. In these words we have the expression of love, the establishment of love, and the expenditure of love. The expression of love is vocal, it is expressed by words. Remember that it is Jesus Himself that revealed this truth to John. Christ in essence has told us here, “I love you!” It is important in human relationships for us to express our love in words. That is what Christ has done not only in this text but in the whole of Scriptures. Some have said that the Bible is a love letter from God to man and that is true. The love has a source which is “him.” The love has an object which is “us.” And the love which He has declared is permanent in that it is expressed in the past tense as being once and for all declared. He has told us that He loved us even though we were unworthy as seen by the picture of Hosea. The establishment of love is not heard in words but is seen and experienced in action. It is not enough for one to say “I love you” but they should demonstrate that love to you in the things that they do. “God commendeth [proves] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Christ did not just say that He loved us but He showed it in washing us from our sins. He girded Himself with the clothing of a servant and washed us, once and for all. Love covers a multitude of sin. Christ willingly demonstrated His love by washing us. He found us in our filth and loved us anyway. He did not leave us in our filth. He did not say to us that were so needy, “be warmed and filled” and then go His way. He in His holiness spotted Himself with our filth in order to make us clean. This is the grandest demonstration of love especially when we think of the condescension of the one that is holy, harmless, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. The expenditure of love is the ultimate price that it cost. Love is giving of ourselves to the one you love and that was demonstrated by Christ. He was made of no reputation and was obedient to the death of the cross. The price of love was His blood. Love is stronger than death. Many grand love stories have tried to show us a love that was worth dying for but they have failed to see the greatest love story of all; God made flesh and dying on a cross for the ones that He loved. It was always blood that atoned for sin. But Christ would not redeem us with the blood of bulls and goats but with that which was His own. He gave us a salvation that He Himself paid for. That is who we have in Christ. And it is Christ that stands with the Spirit and the Father and gives us grace and peace.
The next point we see is that we have the one who exalts us with Him. John told us that Christ “hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” We note that the fact that we are made kings and priests is in the context that all glory and all dominion belongs to Christ. Whatever glory we receive is borrowed glory and what dominion we have is borrowed dominion. They all belong to Him. He had all glory with God before the foundation of the world. And all power belongs to Him. And therefore when it says that that “to” Him be glory and dominion forever it means that from now to eternity we must and gladly will attribute all that we have to Him. And an Amen is gladly added here on behalf of the churches for there is no truer and firmer truth. This truth will be seen in a fuller extent later in this book. What grace then is in this statement! We who were separated from God through sin have in Christ been made priests and kings unto God. The grace of God through Christ has made something wonderful out of us. What does it mean to be made kings and priests? We are made kings that we may rule and reign with Him. We are made priests to offer up acceptable sacrifices unto God; to go though Christ unto God to offer sacrifices to God. It has been the desire of God to exalt humanity and to receive genuine worship from humanity. It has always been the desire of God to have a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). Outside of the redemption of Christ this could not be. But now through Christ the words of Peter are found to be the reality. “ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9). Just as Christ is the king and priest after the order of Melchesedic so we are to be conformed to His likeness (Ps. 110). We note that the royal priesthood of believers is the reality right now and will only be more fully manifest in ages to come. We do not need a priest for we are priests and we may boldly go ourselves before the throne of grace. Johnson pointed out this fact from these words: “No disciple needeth a priest to offer incense or sacrifice for him, for he can go directly to the Father through Jesus Christ.” As kings we are no longer under the dominion of sin. As kings we have power with God. As priests we do not need someone else to go before God for us for we may go ourselves. We may stand in the gap for others as well in prayer. And we may present sacrifices of praise unto God and the living sacrifices of our own selves. Matthew Henry summed it up like this: “As kings, they govern their own spirits, conquer Satan, have power and prevalence with God in prayer, and shall judge the world. He hath made them priests, given them access to God, enabled them to enter into the holiest and to offer spiritual and acceptable sacrifices, and has given them an unction suitable to this character; and for these high honors and favors they are bound to ascribe to him dominion and glory forever.”
Next we have in Christ the one who is coming again. “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindred’s of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” We are told to behold this with expectation and with the eyes of faith, especially as we read about these events in this particular book. And we are to do so prayerfully adding our “even so” unto it. And we again add a wonderful Amen to these words as well. Christ is coming and we do indeed look for it. Now let us remind ourselves of the time in which this letter was written, A.D. 90 or later. This puts the death knell in the idea that the coming of the Lord was a spiritualized description of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or any other early spiritualization (such as the day of Pentecost). While many New Testament prophecies foretold the destruction of Jerusalem as a mountain peak over the full range of prophecy concerning the coming of Christ, the whole of Revelation still looks for a literal second coming as described by these words. There are four distinct points concerning His coming in these words. First, the manner of His coming is described. He is coming in the clouds. Daniel wrote this: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him…” (Dan. 7:13). We may continually lift up our heads for redemption is coming. He is coming in the exact manner in which it was promised that He would come. The words of the angels again ring in our ears: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Secondly, He will come in a manner in which every eye shall see. It will be an obvious coming. Years ago this was mocked as impossibility but for us who can see events as they happen on the other side of the world it no longer seems impossible. It will also be a coming of grace, especially for the nation of Israel. They will look on the one that they pierced and they will be all saved that day. The coming of Christ will finish His purposes of grace. And lastly, it will be a coming of judgment upon lost mankind. I think it is amazing that the amoral supermen of Nietzsche were described as those who are faithful to the earth, or faithful only to the pleasures of the here and now. Here the kindred’s of the earth are made to wail or violently cry and gnash their teeth in pain because of the coming of Christ. This fact will be seen more fully later in this book. But, we see plainly that the coming of Christ will accompany a rod of iron and a throne of judgment. This is what we must tearfully warn this world of. The words of Christ agree here with the assessment of John. “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).
And lastly the churches have in Christ a source of grace and peace because it is He who is the eternal God and one with the Father. Here Christ as the subject of all that has just been said speaks with this profound “I am” statement (to show His divinity and sameness with the I AM of the Old Testament): “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Show this statement to the next Unitarian or Jehovah’s Witness you see that wish to say that Christ never claimed to be God in the flesh. Who else could be speaking here but the one described above that loved us, washed us by His blood, and is coming again in the clouds? Compare Scripture with Scripture here and see that the God of the Old Testament is here described as the Christ in the New (Isa. 41:4). These are almost the exact words of that are used to describe the Father above. We have in Christ the one that is one with the Father. He said that He and the Father are one (John 10). In fact if you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father. And whoever wants to honor the Father must first honor the Son. The Geneva Bible notes these words as descriptive of the eternal nature of the Son. “I am he before whom there was nothing, indeed, by whom everything that is made, was made: and I shall remain though everything else should perish.” And He adds the unmistakable title of the Almighty here just to make it plain to us (one needs only do a simple concordance search of this word to find that it is a title for God alone). He has just said that He is God (John 1:1). Gill summed this up at length in the following quote: “So Christ, he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last, the chief, the whole of things; as of the covenant of grace, he is the first and last of it, he is the Mediator, surety, and messenger of it, and the ratifier and confirmer of it, he is the covenant itself, all its blessings and promises are in him; he is the sum and substance of the Scriptures, both of the law and of the Gospel; he is the fulfilling end of the law, and he is the subject matter of the Gospel; he stands in the first verse in Genesis, and in the last of the Revelation; he is the Alpha and Omega, the first and last, the whole and all in the business of salvation, in the affair of justification before God, in the sanctification of his people, in their adoption, and eternal glorification; he stands first and last in the book of God's purposes and decrees, in the book of the covenant, in the book of the creatures, or creation, being the first cause, and last end of all things, in the book of Providence, and in the book of the Scriptures: likewise, as these two letters include all the rest, this phrase may be expressive of the perfection of Christ, who as God has the fulness of the Godhead, all the perfections of the divine nature in him; and, as man, is in all things made like unto his brethren; and, as Mediator, has all fulness of power, wisdom, grace, and righteousness in him, in whom all the saints are complete; and this may also denote his eternity, he having none before him, nor any after him.” This is the source of the grace and peace of the churches, from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
III. The context of Revelation (Rev. 1:9-20).
The last heading that we will examine in this book is the context itself which is given to us though John directly from Christ. Here the where, when, how, and why questions of this book are answered. Here John has had a awesome vision of Jesus Christ. And in this vision he heard from Christ. And the combination of what he saw and heard laid the foundation of for the book. The theme is clear; the pre-eminence of Christ.
First, we see where John was. “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” John is emphatic that it was indeed himself that wrote this letter as seen by the word “I.” Even though it was questioned by some during the Council of Nicaea almost 300 years later the early church fathers who were not far removed from John were convinced that John the apostle wrote these words which establishes its apostolic authority. Here again he is careful to assert his equality with the churches and believers that he addresses. He is not the apostle and elder that is over them but he is their brother and their companion. There is of truth an unparallel equality that belongs exclusively to the Christian. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). True equality by which the world speaks of only occurs in Christ. These words also tell us of the communion of the saints. Now by communion of the saints I do not mean the idolatry that the Vatican has peddled. Christ and the apostles have only directed us to pray to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. To pray to Mary or to pray to supposed saints is idolatry. We can make intercessory prayers for one another and that is why we often ask one another to pray for us. That is the true meaning of the communion of the saints. But we do not pray to one another. And we surely do not pray to saints who have died in Christ. That is worse than idolatry: that is necromancy which is strictly forbidden in the Law of Moses; it is nothing less than witchcraft. No doubt the ministry of prayer will continue beyond the grave (as we shall expressly see later in this very book) but it is nothing less than sin to communicate with those who have died and it is nothing less than idolatry to pray to anyone but God. But in the words of John here we have the communion of the saints defined and described. It was the context of where John was physically and spiritually. He described himself as equal to every believer. He described himself as related to every believer. And he described himself as standing with every believer. John speaks to us as an equal with us. He is simply John, our familiar friend and confidant. But he is also John our brother. Yes, there is a family of God into which we are all born. There is no such thing as a universal brotherhood of man and a universal Fatherhood of God. Many are known in the Bible by their relationship to sin, disobedience, and the devil himself. But Jesus has many brethren which He has brought to righteousness; who through Him have laid hold of eternal life. Every one that trusts Christ as their Savior has John for a brother. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. But John also calls himself our companion; he is a companion “in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” There is a fellowship of suffering that exists among the children of God. We in this nation know very little about physical suffering but we shall soon rejoin this fellowship again. Paul said that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). And he said this also: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). So when we suffer for the cause of the gospel we find companionship with all the saints, including those like John who have gone before us. We have companionship in the kingdom of the Son. We are citizens together and we fight together for the kingdom of God. And we are companions together in the patience of Christ. This is the patience endurance and glory in tribulation that results in real hope and the patient waiting for Christ (Rom. 5:3-5, 8:26, 27). How wonderful it is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the saints! Gill said this: “… many are the afflictions and tribulations of the saints; these lie in the way to the kingdom; and they are companions and partners with one another in them, both by enduring the same, and by their sympathy and compassion with each other; and as they go sharers in the troubles of this life, so they do, and shall in the kingdom…. where they shall reign together to all eternity; and in the mean while, they join in the exercise of the grace of patience, of which Christ is the author, exemplar, and object; they are directed by the Spirit of God into a patient waiting for Christ, or a patient expectation of his coming, kingdom, and glory….”
The question of one’s location is always answered in relation to other things. The above description is the relational description of where John was relative to us, the church. In the following verse we will see the spiritual whereabouts of John in relation to God, in that he was in the Spirit on the Lords day. But before we go on to that separate but connected point we also see the physical whereabouts of John in relation to this lost world. He was “in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” He was in a small island in the Aegean Sea. He was exiled or banished there for his faithfulness to the word of God and the testimony of Christ within him. Ignatius says that John "was banished to Patmos" by Domitian emperor of Rome, at the latter end of his reign, about the year 95 or 96. He was there for believing and expressing the word of God. His faithfulness had brought him to a place where he could be used of God. Most modern Christians will do all that they can do to keep from suffering even to the point where they are not proclaiming the word of God or being a testimony for the truth of Christ. That is not John and we would do well to follow his example. We cannot be used in a greater capacity for God until we are where we are supposed to be both relationally with Christians, in relation to the world physically in our ministry, and in the following verse in relation to God spiritually in communion with God. So where are you? Before John was in the right place to hear from God he was first in the right place relative to the church, to the world, and to God. Are you in the right place relationally to hear from God? That is definitely a question that we should meditate on.
So the next thing that we note is what John heard. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.” We learn here first the simple fact that John was prepared to hear the Revelation from Christ. Above we saw where John was relative to us as believers and relative to this world. Here is this that especially, along with the other two points, prepared him to hear from God. He was prepared to hear because of where he was in relation to God. There are two elements of this fact given in John’s account. John was “in the Spirit” and was such “on the Lord’s day.” First, what does it mean to be in the Spirit? The popular answer in even some of the most respectable commentaries is that John was in some form of transcendental meditation. I must emphatically disagree. He, like Peter in the tenth chapter of Acts, was not in an unconscious state empty of all deliberative conscious thought. Such a state is dangerous and demonic and must be avoided by all serious Christians (there is no agreement with Christianity and yoga, eastern meditation, or any other form of transcendental meditation just as there is no agreement between light and darkness and between Christ and Belial). God created us as conscious, thinking, feeling, and acting individuals and whatever relationship we have with God utilizes these faculties and does not empty ourselves of them. These faculties are the only means of knowing God that we have. To turn off these faculties and try to relate to God (which is usually a means of relating to a non-personal deity) is nothing short than to worship a false God and to have another God before you. So when it says that John was in the Spirit it does not mean mindless meditation. When it says he was in the Spirit it means simply that he was in a state of real communion with God through the Holy Spirit. This is so far removed from any Buddhist and eastern idea that can possibly be. It is not the loss of self but the experience of true liberty (II Cor. 3:17). It is not empty of content but full of content even crying “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). It is not a mindless melding of oneness but a real fellowship and walking with a personal God (Gal. 5:16, 25). It is not the denial of the reality of others but a real burden for others that translates into supplications and prayers to God for them (Eph. 6:18). It is not loveless but an experience of love (Col. 2:5). It is not the absence of worship but the fullness of worship (Phil. 3:3). And Jesus has told us that there is no other means of worshipping God: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23). So John was in the spirit of engagement with God and worship of God through the Holy Spirit of God. We would do well to imitate this. Being in the Spirit is not some false work that can be manufactured by mindless mantras (as is popular in the modern tongues movement) but a statement of a relationship in which God is brought into intimate fellowship with the believer.
And there was a specific time also that John had set aside for this communion; it was the Lord’s Day. Now what is the Lord’s Day? John Gill had had a thorough note which I will share in full here. “[The Lord’s Day is] not on the Jewish Sabbath, which was now abolished, nor was that ever called the Lord's day, and had John meant that, he would have said on the Sabbath day; much less the Jewish Passover, but the first day of the week is designed; so the Ethiopic version renders it "on the first day"; and is so called just as the ordinance of the supper is called the Lord's supper, being instituted by the Lord, and the Lord's table, 1 Corinthians 10:21, and that because it was the day in which our Lord rose from the dead, Mark 16:9; and in which he appeared at different times to his disciples, John 20:19, and which the primitive churches set apart for his worship and service, and on which they met together to hear the word, and attend on ordinances, Acts 20:7; and Justin Martyr tells us, who lived within about fifty years after this time, that on the day called "Sunday," (by the Greeks,) the Christians met together in one place, and read the Scriptures, and prayed together, and administered the ordinance of the supper; and this, he adds, was the first day in which God created the World, and our Savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead; yea, Barnabas, the companion of the Apostle Paul, calls this day the eighth day, in distinction from the seventh day Sabbath of the Jews, and which he says is the beginning of another world; and therefore we keep the eighth day, adds he, joyfully, in which Jesus rose from the dead, and being manifested, ascended unto heaven: and this day was known by the ancients by the name of "the Lord's day"; as by Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and others; for it must be some day that was known by this name, otherwise it is mentioned to no purpose, because it would not be distinctive from others; for which reason it cannot merely design the day in which John saw this vision, because the Lord appeared on it to him, for this would not distinguish it from any other day.” Do not ever let anyone tell you that the first day of the week is without significance to the Christian. The first day of the week is not an invention of the popery but what the apostles taught and what the early churches practiced to celebrate the resurrection of Christ who made all things new. John was banished and alone on the isle of Patmos. But he would still be faithful in keeping the Lord’s Day. He could not meet with other Christians but he could still meet with the Lord. Matthew Henry said that “those who would enjoy communion with God on the Lord's Day must endeavor to abstract their thoughts and affections from flesh and fleshly things, and be wholly taken up with things of a spiritual nature.” John showed to us the spirit of faithfulness in his relationship with God by being in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. John was in prison but he was still free to worship God. Today men who call themselves Christians are physically free but do not worship God at all, on the Lord’s Day or on any other day for that matter. This is because they are in spiritual bondage to sin and therefore do not use their freedom to worship. John was kept back from the people of God but he could not be kept back from God Himself. As Combs had said “God can take a prison cell and make it a gateway into vistas of glory.” So John’s heart was prepared to hear from God because of where he was in relationship with the church, the work, and God. And the sad reason why so few Christians are used by God and hear from God today is because they are not where they are supposed to be especially in their relationship with God.
So being where he was he heard from heaven. He heard “behind” him “a great voice, as of a trumpet….” His heart was prepared to hear the voice of God. This is the main goal of all worship. And even though we may the Revelation is complete and we in this age and time will not hear the audible voice of God we may yet experience the presence of God if we are equally prepared. It is the aim of public and private worship to lay hold upon God and to hear from Him. This is attainable for all who will seek Him. Seek and you shall find. It was always the voice of God that sought the fellowship of mankind. It was the voice of God that walked in the cool of the day (the Son, the second person of the Godhead) to meet with man in the garden (Gen. 3). But since man has fallen it was the voice of God that thundered the law on Mount Sinai. “And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice” (Deut. 4:12). There the voice thundered and sounded long as a trumpet. And there the voice that appeared in the law to fallen men provoked fear for it is only the love revealed by grace that removes fear. As long as man is fallen the voice as a trumpet speaks only from the context of Sinai; “… the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:6, the voice of the law separates men from God, Heb. 12:19). And thus preaching of the law is necessary to showing men their sin and their need of a Savior. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isa. 58:1). But the voice that walked with man in innocence and drove men away in the law is reconciled to them in grace. In the Old Covenant it was hidden. There was much made of the earthquake, wind, and fire but the trained ear could discern the voice of grace in that still small voice where God was (I Kings 19:12). But now Christ the Word of God, that very same voice is revealed (John 1:1). Here in our text the voice that sounded as a trumpet was not the terror of Sinai but the presence of the Savior. Notice in our text it is the voice as a trumpet that speaks. That is Christ. He speaks as a trumpet still as He did on Sinai but instead of it being the sounding of terror it now rings in jubilation as can be seen by the words that John heard.
“I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.” The particular churches here spoken of will be dealt with in the next two chapters. Let us deal with just three main things that we hear with John from Christ. First, the message of Christ reveals His person. We have seen these words already in John’s introduction which shows how pivotal they are to our understanding of this book. In order not to be redundant we will not again note the meaning of the words but we will note the purpose. Christ reveals Himself to us as the very God of the Scriptures. He reveals Himself to us as the all in all. He reveals Himself to us as such that He may have the preeminence in all things. All things to us begin and end in Him. He is our ultimate reality. Secondly, He not only reveals to us His person but He gives to us a word. His message to John was to write the things that He revealed in a book. Brethren, the words that we have here before us in this book are the words that Christ wanted written and preserved. He said that His words will never pass away and we see the proactive Christ showing us the means by which the will be kept. They will always remain in written form in a book. The Bible itself is an expression of the will of God, something men can hold, read, hear, and believe. Therefore we believe not only in the inspiration of the Scriptures but in the preservation of the Scriptures. Lastly in the words that John heard Christ revealed, not only His person and His means, but, His end. He revealed His love for the church. His person and His book is revealed and given to the churches, the assemblies of His people. The end purpose of all that Christ reveals of His person in His book is the edification of the church.
That leads us to another level of this context and that is what John saw. “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” We are dealing with this voice. It was the voice as a trumpet that John heard in the previous verses but here the voice is personified; it is “the voice that spake….” This is a person. This is the Son of God to which John is about to turn around and see. This is the Word of God, God Himself expressed to man. This is the voice that walked in the garden to seek fallen man. It is the voice that spoke from the burning bush to deliver man. It is voice of the trumpet that sounded in terror from Sinai to convict man. It is the still small voice that spoke throughout the Old Testament prophets to teach man. And here it is the exalted voice of grace found in the Lord Jesus Christ. We see here that the voice of our text was seen, it spoke, and it held communion. Does it not excite you to know that one day our eyes will see the full expression of God which is Christ? He also spoke. One day we will not only see Christ but we will hear Him as well, audibly. We will know Him as we are known. Here John had a foretaste of this. He saw the glorified Lord and He heard Him. And the important part is the communion. The voice was “with me.” Unlike the voice in the garden this voice did not speak apart from us but with us. Unlike the voice at Sinai this voice did not speak against us but with us. The voice here is in full communion with the believer. The Israelites stood afar off when the voice was on the mount but here the believer stands side by side with the voice. This account deals with what John turned and saw. We sing the song “Turn your eyes upon Jesus” and that is what I desire for us to do tonight. Let us join John in looking to Christ as the voice that speaks to us and stand with us. The important point that we should note is that John did not just see Jesus but he saw Christ exalted; Christ high and lifted up. This is the way we want to look at Christ.
As John turned to see the voice the first thing that he saw was the churches, as the end of this chapter explains the seven golden candlesticks to be. The significance of the picture of the church as golden candlesticks will be dealt with more fully at the end of the chapter and will make a perfect transition into our discussion in the second and third chapters of what the church should be as compared to what sadly often is. But to see Christ as high and lifted up we first see what He is in relationship to the church (the local New Testament churches). John said this: “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man….” Where was Christ? He was in the midst (yea rather He is in the midst) of the churches. Christ said that wherever two or three are gathered together He is in the midst (Matt. 18). He is always in the midst of churches that are His body through whom He works in this age. His power is shown there for even though they are despised and rejected of this world the gates of Hell has never annihilated the assembly of the saints. Even under the most bitter of persecutions the church is there showing the fact that Christ is ever in the midst of the church. It is in the churches that Christ sent missionaries all over the world (Acts 13:1). It is in the churches that Christ edifies and prepares the saints for battle. It is through Christ’s care for the churches that we have the New Testament written. To see the work of Christ we first and foremost see Him in the midst of the churches. It is my desire that we would again see Jesus high and lifted up; both as in the midst of the church as to its focal point and in the midst of her working. When John saw Christ in the midst of the churches he saw one like the Son of Man. This is the title that Christ most referred to Himself with. It is a title of the Messiah, the coming conquering King. “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13, 14). In the midst of the church belongs the glory of the coming King. In the midst of the church belongs the one to whom all dominion, all glory, and all majesty belongs both now and forever more. In the midst of the church belongs the one that anchors her into the kingdom that shall never be destroyed. And what follows is an odd and glorious description of our great God and Savior. Combs summed up the glory like this: “His robe – judgeship, Isa. 63:1-4. His golden girdle – Deity Isa. 9:6. His white hair – Eternality- Dan. 7:6. His fiery eyes – Omniscience. His Brassy feet – Vengeance – Isa. 63:3. His sounding voice – Majesty – Ps. 29. His right hand – Protection. His radiant countenance – see transfiguration.” We will depart from this outline but it is instructive enough to mention.
Christ, who stood in the midst of the church stood in a way that men rarely envision. This is not a picture of weakness but a picture of glory. First, He was gloriously clothed. “[He was] clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” A king is known by his royal apparel. But, this also tells us that in the midst of the church Christ is the great High Priest as well as her great King (Ex. 28:4). Henry commented thus; “a princely and priestly robe, denoting righteousness and honour…. the breast-plate of the high priest, on which the names of his people are engraved; he was ready girt to do all the work of a Redeemer.” He stands as the mediator of the church. As the high priest bore the names of the elect people of Israel upon his chest so our Lord bears the name of His elect before our God. “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” (Heb. 4:14).
Secondly, the one who stands in the midst of the churches has glory upon His head. While on earth His locks were wet with the dew of the earth, black and beautiful. When in the garden His head was dewed with sweat as it was great drops of blood. While on the cross blood streamed from those beautiful locks. But here we see something much different standing in the midst of the churches. “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow….” So standing in the midst of the church is the one that is eternal and holy. Gill stated that “now these metaphors are expressive of the antiquity of Christ, who is the everlasting Father, and whose goings forth were of old, even from everlasting; and of his senile gravity and prudence, for with the Ancient is wisdom; he is the wisdom of God, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid; and also of his glory and majesty, being the brightness of his Father's glory; and likewise of his true and proper deity, since this description is the same with that of the Ancient of days in Daniel 7:9.” We have already noted the eternality of the Father and the Son who is one with the Father in the term “which is, was, and ever more shall be.” I do think it is important for us to see the white hairs of Christ as representing one that has the eternal wisdom of God. God gives us wisdom and in the eternal hoary head of Christ we have all the wisdom and counsel and we need. Some commentators have taken issue with the view here given from Gill. Jamison and company stated this: “The color is the point of comparison; signifying purity and glory. (So in Isaiah 1:18). Not age, for hoary hairs are the sign of decay.” Barton Johnson agreed: “White is the color of purity and of triumph. The idea here is not age but heavenly glory.” I do not see the problem with seeing the white head of Christ here as an anthropomorphism, a metaphor or what cannot be seen like God in language which we can understand as human beings. Our God is ancient wisdom because He is eternal. And the best picture of wisdom among humanity is the hoary head of the elders. I believe the two different views are actually complimentary instead of being contradictory. In the midst of the church stands not only the one that is eternal but the one who is pure and holy. We have Him as our example and standard of purity that we may strive to be like the one that is in our midst. When we come to hear and learn from the one who has all wisdom we also stand before the one is purely holy. Therefore the church should take care to purify every spot, to lay aside every sin when they come before Him.
Thirdly, the church has the one in their midst that has peculiar eyes. “His eyes were as a flame of fire….” We remember when Christ showed up in the burning bush that it was as a flaming fire (Acts 7:30). Our God is in Himself a devouring fire. Here it is the eyes of Christ that are a flame of fire. Here the church has the one in the midst of her that is the Judge. His eyes are searching and penetrating for they belong to omniscience. “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is” (I Cor. 3:13). I wish the church would again see the one that is in the midst of her. He sees all that we do. He tries all that we do by His omniscient glance. And ultimately we must stand before Him with all of our works that they may be tried by His fiery glare. The eyes of Christ bring to light every hidden thing; it reveals the dross. But we must remember that to us those eyes of fire are also eyes full of love. Gill said that these eyes are “Christ's eyes of love upon his own people, which have both heat and light.” The trying of the gold is ultimately good for the gold for it makes it reflect its refiner and produces something purer.
The fourth thing we note about this vision of Christ who stood in the midst of the churches is His feet. “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace….” I think that it is interesting that the first mention of feet in the Bible occurs when the LORD Himself revealed Himself to Abraham to commune with Abraham over the promise of the coming seed and to announce the judgment upon Sodom (Gen. 18:4). Christ has always been walking about this earth; seeing all things. He walked in the cool of the Garden of Eden. And here we see Him walking upon feet of brass. It has been noted by many that brass is itself a symbol of judgment. And so also is the picture of the burning furnace (Matt. 13:42). His feet shall touch down on this earth in a holy vengeance and He shall tread the winepress in His wrath (Isa. 63:3). To the church we see that our Lord who is in our midst always walks in ways of judgment. He is ever prepared to walk in judgment upon this earth. Therefore judgment must and shall begin at the house of the Lord.
The next thing that we note is that the one that stands in the midst of the church has a voice “… as the sound of many waters.” The closer one gets to a great waterfall the more overwhelming the sound becomes. The voice of Christ therefore cannot be ignored especially those who have Him in their midst. As mentioned above, Combs saw in this the majesty of Christ in His voice (Ps. 29). This very same voice is attributed to the Messiah, the great prince, who is one with God in the book of Ezekiel (Eze. 44, compared with chapters 1 and 18). When we speak of many waters in the Scripture it is usually indicative of the nations of men, although sometimes it is indicative of trials and tribulation. Here it makes sense to see at a reference to many nations. There is no speech or language where His voice cannot be heard. On the day of Pentecost men marveled that the heard the gospel, the wonderful works of God, every man in their own tongue and language. In the midst of the churches is the voice that speaks universally. We have always maintained that the message of Christ is the most inclusive message in history among all philosophies and religions. His voice is heard in the urban cities of the western world as well as in the darkest jungles of tribal lore. His voice is and can be heard no matter what the culture or tongue. Christ speaks in a universal language. Church the voice of Christ has not lost its ability to speak to the nation of men that we live in.
A sixth point in this vision of Christ is that the one standing in the midst of the churches that His hand is ever supplying and guiding leadership for the churches. “[Christ] had in his right hand seven stars.” We deal in the end of this chapter with this picture of the stars being the pastors or voices of spiritual leadership in the churches. Christ upholds those men and guides those men by His gracious right hand. And as long as the candlestick of any given church shines Christ will always be providing and guiding men to lead it. God leads through men. Paul asked the Corinthians to follow him as he followed Christ. I believe with all my heart that God provides our preachers and our leaders and guides them. Christ has not left the church without means.
The seventh thing we note is that in the midst of the church stands with the power of conviction to all who hear the word. “Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” This same description is given of Christ in His glorious return to conquer the nations. His words will judge men. His word is quick and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword (Heb. 4:12). His word will indeed conquer. The sword from His mouth is enough to make the whole world bow before Him at His return. The word of His mouth is enough to convict men of sin now. We pray that the Lord will so speak to us with the power of conviction.
Lastly, John saw the one standing in the midst of the churches that was shining with glory. “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” He laid aside His glory that He had to come and die for our sins. But since then He has set down at the right hand of the Father. He has again the glory which He had with the Father before the foundation of the world. He is all glorious and all victorious. This glorious nature was concealed in the weakness of human frailty that brought Him to the death of the cross. We got peaks of it at the mount of the transfiguration. But now He is clothed with glory now. “Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honor and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment…” (Ps. 104:1, 2). He is the Sun of Righteousness (Ma. 4). And all of that glory and majesty stands in the midst of the churches. Gladly do we bow before Him in our assemblies!
That brings us to the next point which is what Christ revealed. The great revelation thus far is that Christ has the preeminence in all things in the church. It is amazing the connection that we see between ecclesiology and Christology. Christ is the center of all theology and the church is ever at His side. To Christ belongs the glory in the church. He has been set “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” The events of Revelation are understood in the light of this glorious connection between Christ and the local New Testament churches. But beyond this we see some specifics of the revelation. We will break this last part of the context into three separate headings that give us the fullest understanding of the context of this book: Christ speaks, Christ directs, and Christ explains.
First we see that Christ speaks to John. “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Before we can speak about what Christ spoke we must say a word or two about the state which Christ found John. The sight of Christ high and lifted up had an effect upon John the man, the Christian. This is understandable, for the sight of the one in the midst of the churches should affect all of us. And the reaction of John is not at all untypical. He was immobilized. He was brought to a state a fear and panic that caused him to fall. This same reaction was the reaction of the old prophets Ezekiel and Daniel when they saw Christ high and lifted up. We might even look on this in a positive thing, dying to self before Christ so you can be used of Him. But, seeing the immediate response of Christ we see this rather in the negative. There is fear here and perfect love should cast out fear. The sight of Christ can be overwhelming but we must remember that it is for a purpose that we have been given such mountain top experiences and that is not to become as lifeless beings but as lively beings. The purpose is not for us to be on our faces but on our feet. But we at least see this; John fell in the right place, at the feet of Christ. The Christian may greatly fear when they become acquainted with Christ but God has not given us that spirit of fear. We may come to the place we are as dead with fear as John in our text and we need exactly what John needed. That same right hand which holds the stars of heaven in reality and the stars of the church in figure in our text touched John. Forgive me, brothers and sisters, if I see in this a revival text here for the figure is plainly there. I see us tonight as dead in need of a touch from the Savior’s hand. What can calm our fears and restore us to a place of usefulness from our present deadness but the touch of the Master’s right hand. And we also need the gentle words “fear not” told to us again. It has been said that there are 365 “fear not’s” and “be not afraid’s” in the Bible; one for every day of the year. It is not therefore fear but confidence that God wants us to have and if we could grasp that all doubts and fears would be removed and deadness would transform into life.
So there is where we find John, a man that was previously prepared to see Christ due to his place in relation to the church, the work, and God. But when He saw Christ he was as dead until Christ touched him. And now comes the words which Christ speaks. Three specific points of knowledge are given to John. First, Christ speaks of His deity. There is no doubt left concerning the deity of Christ here as this entire chapter has highlighted (see Isa. 41:4). The fact that He is the first and the last here is what He has to say about Himself. Church if we cannot draw comfort and strength from this knowledge of Christ then we are truly deadened indeed. He is the first cause of all things and the final cause or purpose of all things. He is God manifest in the flesh for us. He is the eternal God declared to mankind. Brethren, gird up the loins of your mind for God is indeed with us through Christ. Secondly, Christ speaks of His work. “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen….” This is powerful preaching that deserves an Amen added to it. It is fully true and we should willingly consent. There are three phases to this description of the work of Christ that sums up the whole of the gospel from the perspective of Christ who did the work. We have the deity, humility, and glory. The Old Testament declares that “the Lord liveth” (Judges 8:9, I Sam. 19:6, Ps. 18:46). Such a description cannot rightly belong to man. “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah” (Ps. 89:48). A man can only live if He finds his life in God (Gal. 2:20). But God has life in Himself. “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Christ indeed is deity; the very source of all life, especially the life that is in man. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3, 4). This is who Christ was but listen to what deity did. Deity embraced humility for us. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:5-8). How far did our Lord stoop down to save us! He stooped all the way down to the grave and to the very holds of death itself. The wages of sin is death and that is what Christ who is life paid. He was separated from the very life that was in Him for us. But, alas, we cheer for it was not a permanent arrangement. It was not possible for death to hold Him. While it says that He lives in the present tense we can only speak of His death in the past tense as something that was and not something that is. Christ invites us to behold with the eyes of faith the last great phase of the gospel. He is alive forevermore. The message to the weeping women was that “He is not here, He is risen.” We cannot come and behold Him in the grave we can only take the invitation to behold the place where He once was. He is alive. Because He lives we shall live. Our life is wrapped up in His life. Those that believe in Him shall never die. He ever lives to make intercession for those who come to God by Him (Heb. 7:25). He introduces Himself here as the great hero of all ages. He is the grand defeater of death. He is ever living and eternal. He was the very same one that died in our stead, once and for all. He is the one that is risen and will forever stand as our Mediator and Advocate; one that we may behold.
So Christ spoke of His deity and His work. He then spoke about His authority. Christ said, “[I] have the keys of hell and of death.” Because of the great gospel God has highly exalted Him. He has been given a name above every name. And at His name every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that He is the Lord of all. All authority now belongs to Him. He declared after His resurrection that all power in heaven and earth is given to Him. And that is the basis for all Christian authority (Matt. 28:18). As God He created and upheld all of creation, the one that lives. As man He died. And now the God-man is crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2). He laid aside His garments of glory for a short to serve you and me by His life and death; but He has now put His garments back on and sat down at the right hand of power on high. Gill rightly explained that “keys are emblems of authority, opening and shutting at will "the gates of Hades" (Psalms 9:13, 14, Isaiah 38:10, Matthew 16:18).” Brethren! All authority belongs to Christ alone and not to any church or earthly organization. To many claim to have the authority to save or damn men, but here it is expressed by Christ Himself that that authority belongs only to Him. Johnson summed it up like this: “…. the very gates of death and Hades are under his control. Hence he can deliver from the dead whom he will.” Salvation cannot come from any other source it must come from the one who has the ability to release the soul from the prison bars of death. Damnation also is in His hands alone. All judgment belongs to the Son. He alone has the power to lock up the soul for all eternity. And he has declared plainly that men should fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul. This truth is seen only after we note His deity and the greatness of His gospel (deity, humility, glory). He alone has the power to save men or to damn them. John Wesley had this insight: “Christ hath the keys of, that is, the power over, both; killing or quickening of the body, and disposing of the soul, as it pleaseth him. He gave Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven; but not the keys of death or of hades. How comes then his supposed successor at Rome by the keys of purgatory?” The churches because of their confession of Christ have the authority of understanding and preaching the way of salvation; but the authority of salvation itself is the Lord’s. We have the authority to say that any one that will receive the gospel will be saved but we do not have the authority to save. That authority is and always has belonged to Christ. That is the difference between the keys given to Peter (Matt. 16) and all who share his same confession and the keys that are in the hand of Christ; on is the authority of understanding the other is authority itself. Here Christ has the authority over hell and death. He as God has always possessed that. The spirit returns to the God that gave it (Ecc. 12:7). Christ said before the cross that we should fear the one that has power to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). So power or authority has always been His. As God, He always had this authority. As Savior, He demonstrated His power over death by the defeat of the one that introduced sin and the wages thereof to mankind. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14, 15). Christ has the keys and has demonstrated His right to possess those keys through His work on the cross. Salvation comes only through Christ.
Not only does Christ speak in a way of self revelation but He also directs. “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter….” We have seen already the importance of the fact that this book came from God and carries the weight of the Scriptures. We have also seen the precious truth that all Scripture comes from God. It was the plan of Christ to give us a book to hold, to read, to study, to believe, and to preach. But the importance of this verse is the fact that it is the explanation of the entire context of the book of Revelation. In a real way Christ has given us the key of interpretation. He has provided John with an outline for the whole book. He has told John the whole sum of what to write. John was directed to write first the things that he had just seen and thus we have the contents of the first chapter of this book. He was to share with his audience his experience of Christ which we have just accounted. Then John was directed to write concerning the things that are and that is the state of the churches in this present age which is covered in the second and third chapters. Christ was concerned with speaking to us where we are right now as well as giving us hope for the future. And most importantly John was directed to write about the things that shall be hereafter in the future; or as it was said in the beginning of this chapter, the things that must shortly come to past. This is the meat of the rest of the book from chapter four to the end. Christ orchestrated the great unfolding of prophecy future. He has told us about our present to our farthest reaching future. So not only has God in His grace given us a book but has told us how we ought to read it. Praises be to the Lord. Christ would not have us to be ignorant or fearful about the future so He told us ultimately all things that shall come to pass. We have hope for the future for we know the one that holds the future.
Lastly, Christ explains to us the mysteries that are written in this book. Mystery is the term of our text. This book is a book of symbols but not without a key to interpret those symbols. The Bible itself interprets itself if we are willing to study it. “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” This sets the bar for the churches that we will discuss in the next two chapters. This is what churches and pastors and leaders in the churches should be, stars and candlesticks in a dark world. The term angels here are meant to mean messengers as it always does. But these are not the celestial beings here but terrestrial ones, pastors and preachers in the churches. Christ is the Sun and we are the stars. Johnson well noted this: “The word angel means a messenger, and is equally applicable to the messengers of God and those of men. John the Baptist is called in Mark 1:2, angel, or messenger, and the term is often applied to human beings. It is certain that it is in this passage. John is told to write to these angels, and certainly the letters were not sent to the angels of heaven.” Stars were created for signs to this world and so are the messengers of God (Gen. 1:16). It was a star that led the wise men of this world to the babe of Bethlehem and so do the messengers of God. The stars in their courses fought against Sisera and the stars in the right hand of our Lord take up the battle cry against the enemies of our Lord (Judges 5:20). We are among the lesser lights in this dark world until the day dawns on high. When Christ comes His glory shall excel all others just as the stars, though still present, are lost in the glory of the day. So will our glory be hid in His one day! Stars represent the eternal reward of those who will lead men to righteousness in this world. “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). It is our joy to be His messengers, the proclaimers of His gospel. The messengers of God are known of God as well. “He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names” (Ps. 147:4). Here is God’s great answer to the victory of the church. His hands are always on men to lead her. I do not fret one bit at the death of some of the great men who have gone on before for I know in the hand of Christ there will always be men to lead His churches until Christ returns. The pastors are to be stars and the churches collectively are to be candlesticks. “Let your lights so shine before men” was the message of Christ to the disciples. We have no business hiding the light under the bushel of this world but on the candlestick of the Holy Spirit that all the world may see it. So Christ leaves this introduction with the great mystery of the churches. The distinction and autonomy of local churches is maintained by the plural word “churches” and the unity of the churches is seen in the unity of the Spirit that joins the true churches. All true churches are “one in hope, and doctrine; one in charity.” Until Christ comes He stands in the midst of the seven candlesticks and holds her messengers in His own hand. This is the grand reality that makes up the context of all that is to come in this great book. I will leave you with a comment from Wesley: “How significant an emblem is this! For a candlestick, though of gold, has no light of itself; neither has any church, or child of man. But they receive from Christ the light of truth, holiness, comfort, that it may shine to all around them.” May God bless His word to us!