Last time, in vv 1-8, John gave us a sort of prologue to the entire book. He set the stage for us.
Now, in vv 9-20, John goes on to give his first readers and us, a personal introduction to the book. How it came about. His understanding of what he is doing in writing it and sending it to this particular audience etc., And it is powerful.
It breaks down into 3 parts.
I. (9-10) A Patiently Enduring, Tribulating Kingdom.
II. (10-11 & 19) An Urgent Commission.
III. (12-20) A Soul-shattering Vision of Jesus.
I. (9-10) A Patiently Enduring, Tribulating Kingdom. “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet”
As John is about to send to each of these Churches Jesus’ concerns, rebukes, admonitions and encouragements – he wants his readers to know he is with them – he’s not a disinterested outsider.
He is a brother to these believers – whatever their spiritual state, and he is their partner – he shares in three things with them:
He shares in their tribulations. His and their sufferings are connected.
He shares in the kingdom – as a fellow heir and one who also reigns with Christ.
And he shares in the great need of the church in every age: Patient endurance.
Tribulation for the Church & Christians is not foreign, but common.
In John’s case here, he is experiencing tribulation in his exile to the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God” – because of preaching God’s Word.
We, like John, are part of the coming Kingdom of Christ NOW;
And so we, like John are waiting for the consummation of the Kingdom, which requires the same patient endurance.
While Christians rule and reign with Christ in some measure even now (v 6), it is only in as much as we do so by patient endurance IN our tribulations. Christianity is not escapism.
This is the counter-intuitive framework that John is writing from: “Reigning” in this life, is our continuing IN patient endurance THROUGH our tribulations.
This is NOT the kind of “reigning” the Jews were anticipating with the coming of the Messiah, and it is not the kind many who would call themselves Christians today are willing to embrace either.
Some will follow Jesus if it means they’ll get what they want.
If their desires are met.
If their happiness – as they perceive it – is fulfilled.
If their dreams and goals and ambitions are realized.
They have no idea that reigning with Christ means patiently enduring their tribulations as a cosmic testimony to being joined with the Suffering Servant of Isa. 53 – until He comes to put an end to all sin and its effects.
Tribulation here does not refer to just religious persecution, but all the trials and woes which attend us while we are still in this fallen world, living among fallen people, in fallen bodies, and in a natural order which groans under the stress of the Fall as well.
We all “tribulate” – We endure hardness and disappointment and sadness, loss, physical pain and suffering, torn families, accidents, disease, etc., etc., ad infinitum ad nauseum.
What a contrast John’s announcement is to the prosperity Gospel of our day, which promises those who follow Christ financial riches, physical health, familial bliss and situational pleasure. It is a false Gospel of the most seductive and destructive kind.
Acts 14 reminds us that when Paul and Barnabas were on their missionary trip through Lystra, Iconium and Derbe, they were: 22 “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
The question before us today will be: How do we enter into this reigning with Christ now in patiently enduring our tribulations?
We’re about to find out in this preface to the 7 letters John will write in chapters 2-3.
II. (10-11) An Urgent Commission. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
Revelation 1:19 “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.”
Little needs to be said as this is a simple recounting of how John’s vision began.
He was “in the Spirit” – whether that means in prayer or in some ecstatic state we aren’t sure and John doesn’t elaborate.
And it was on “The Lord’s Day” – an early church reference to Sunday – since Sunday morning is when Christ rose from the dead. Early on, Believers, especially Gentiles Believers gathered on Sunday because of the connection with Jesus’ resurrection.
III. (9-20) A Soul-shattering Vision of Jesus.
Then, we come to the vision proper.
The language here is largely picked up from Daniel’s vision in Chapter 7 of his book, as we just had read for us.
We won’t go back to look at that now, you can do that on your own.
The connection we need to make is that much of the language used to describe “The Ancient of Days” in Daniel. i.e. God – is now transferred without qualification to Jesus.
It is to make the reader comprehend that Jesus is not some tame, milder lesser-god of the fearful God of the Old Testament – but that they are in fact co-extensive. Jesus IS God. The same God.
So John says: 12 “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.”
The various features John notes here are not incidental. They are massively informative – and that for a specific end.
- Long robes with sashes like this are indicative of 3 ideas:
– Royalty wore long robes with sashes that showed their high standing.
– Authority: In the Roman army, the longer the robe, the higher the rank.
– The robe and sash combination is particularly reminiscent of the High Priest’s clothing in ancient Israel.
In this last regard, we remember that it was the Priest’s responsibility in the Temple to tend the 7-branched lampstand, to be sure its light never went out. Here, it’s likely that Jesus is being pictured in that very role to His Church even now. He is seen in the midst of the lampstands.
- 14 “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.”
As in Daniel 7 – This is the Ancient of Days – This Jesus ALWAYS WAS. The Son of God is eternal, and existed before His incarnation.
- “His eyes were like a flame of fire,”
He needs no outside source to see and perceive and know – He knows all from His own light. It is flaming, piercing and powerful.
- 15 “his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace,”
A picture of moral purity. Historical sources tell us this substance – burnished bronze – was of the most exceptional quality, and considered more valuable than gold.
- “and his voice was like the roar of many waters.”
Massive – and all pervading. Inescapable.
- 16 “In his right hand he held seven stars,”
We’ll see that in v 20 below
- “from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword,”
Judgment is rendered at His word. And it cuts both ways. Unsparing and sure. We’ll encounter this image again in Revelation 19:15 where its depiction as judgment is clearly defined for us: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
And one cannot help but think of Jesus’ words in John 12:48 “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
- “and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”
So glorious – so overwhelming, He cannot be directly looked upon. It would bring the one familiar with the OT back to Isaiah 6:1–3 “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
19 “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.”
“Therefore” – i.e. Based upon what you have just seen of the resurrected Jesus – WRITE!
Because I am both the King and the High Priest of my people…
Because I am the Ancient of Days…
Because I am the One who sees all by my own light so nothing can be hidden…
Because I am the thrice holy one in all moral purity…
Because it is MY voice which is informing and filling all of creation…
Because the whole of the Church is supernaturally superintended in MY hand…
Because I am the One who will personally utter judgment on everyone in creation in due time…
Because I am so glorious I cannot be fully beheld or comprehended – WRITE WHAT I SAY, TO WHOM I SAY IT! And omit NOTHING!
And I’ll give you two more reasons to write:
- 20 “As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,”
This is a controversial passage, but angels here most likely does not refer to the pastors of those churches, since there is nowhere else in the Bible that designation is ever given to pastors – whereas angels AS angels are prevalent throughout the rest of this book.
This is more than likely a reference to how God uses angelic beings to attend His churches in the world.
We’ll come back to this in more detail next time.
- “and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
We do not have time to dig into this imagery deeper this morning, but it comes from Zechariah where in a series of visions there regarding God’s ultimate restoration of the Temple – Joshua as High Priest and Zerubbabel as the installed “king” by the Babylonians stand as two olive trees, supplying oil to the 7 branched lamp of Israel – and in THIS vision – both Priest and King are wrapped up in Christ who supplies the Spirit to the Churches Himself.
What is the point of all this? So – John – Send them a vision of me that is so shattering, that it shakes them out of lethargy and compromise, and that the fear generated by the vision can only be alleviated by Me personally extending my grace to them – purchased at the cost of my own blood.
John’s great, paralyzing fear at this moment isn’t because he doesn’t know Christ – it is because he DOES!
He is seeing Jesus as He really is – in unveiled wonder.
And it is not a sight easy to bear for fallen human beings – or as we have seen – even for the most exalted holy angels.
So let me ask you – Believer or un-Believer today:
Have you heard all this “Jesus stuff” before?
Has He grown old-hat?
Is there nothing surprising in Him anymore – nothing that can still astound you or capture your imagination?
Have you grown so familiar with all this, that it almost makes you yawn, because you know it all?
Then you too – Like John & the churches need a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ.
One that takes a John, the “disciple Jesus loved” as he is styled in John 13 – and brings him to his knees in such overwhelming glory that even he – who leaned on Jesus’ chest, cannot stand, but trembles in fear.
Lenski: “This was not fear in the sense of fright or terror but fear in the sense of overmastering awe.”
We need to ask ourselves today – is there anything of such an overmastering awe of Jesus in any of us today?
Have you anything of THAT sense of Jesus? Or is He now just a distant religious figure – even tho you would claim to be redeemed by Him?
People love the Baby Jesus – soft, cuddly and cooing at Mary’s breast. No challenge, no intimidation or fear there.
People love the gentle carpenter, blessing children on His knees and turning water into wine.
People love the crucified Christ – hung on a cross – where He will not invade their lives but merely be gazed upon.
But this sight of Jesus – this is disturbing, soul-shattering. He must be reckoned with in power and glory and judgment.
This vision can’t be romanticized and doesn’t give rise to songs that sound more like we’re singing to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
This is the vision of Jesus that stops us in our tracks and makes us really think twice about continuing in the sins He suffered and died to free us from – and will return to judge without mercy.
If He no longer – or never has AWED you beloved – It is because you do not KNOW Him.
This is key to what had happened to the 7 Churches John is writing to – and it so easily happens to you and me today.
It is the reason we compromise with sin and the world so easily.
When contemplation of the glory of Christ has either faded, or virtually disappeared from our present experience at all, compromise on every front is the inevitable result.
Don’t worry about it – because the Baby/Carpenter/Crucified one just loves us and nothing else matters.
The distressing truth is, there is a right and proper fear of God that can elude even the most sincere saint.
As we’ll see, each of the 7 Churches written to needs to recover some aspect of awe at the glory of the risen Christ to meet their particular spiritual need.
And so do you and I.
To many of us, Jesus is the Lamb of God alright, but He is no longer the Lion of Judah.
We imagine that if we were to see the risen Christ today, we wouldn’t collapse in fear like John did.
But as I said before, John didn’t fall in fear because he didn’t know Jesus, or because he doubted his salvation or had no faith in the atoning work of Christ – he fell because Jesus is FEARSOME! Terrifying! So glorious and so powerful and so holy and so transcendent that no other response is appropriate.
To put it in the most plain terms I can: The primary reason we find it so easy to sin, is that we have no proper fear of God.
So David prays in Psalm 86:11 “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”
And Paul picks up on that very same theme in 2 Corinthians 7:1b “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
Did you catch that? Essential to cleansing ourselves AS CHRISTIANS from every defilement and bringing holiness to completion or maturity – is that it is done in the fear of God!
For the Christian – this is not the fear of an enemy who seeks to harm them – but the overwhelming awe of a Jesus who too is “the Ancient of Days” with the God of the OT.
Whose eyes as flames of fire search out and know every hidden thing.
Whose feet are ablaze as the burnished bronze of moral purity tolerates NO moral compromise.
Out of whose mouth comes perfect judgment cutting both ways: Judging our direct disobedience and our neglect of holiness.
But for you today if you do not know Him savingly – this is the God who WILL judge you on your own merits – and you will not stand in that day.
Given this astonishing vision of Christ Jesus then, on what possible basis then can John or WE or anyone else have any comfort at this point?
Blessedly, the text shows us Jesus giving us that relief in vs. 17:
17 “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying,
“Fear not”. Fear not? Why not? After all of this – fear is the only thing left!
Fear not because:
1 – “I am the first and the last,” Why would this phrase be of comfort to John in this moment? For John – it would be because his mind would run back to the 3 times in the OT that phrase appears.
Isa. 41; 44; and 48. And in each instance, it is God announcing the twin realities of His absolute judgment on sinners – but also the unfailing nature of His promise of redemption, preservation and restoration for His people.
The 1st one is especially poignant. God announces His intention to judge all of the nations – then says to His People: Isaiah 41:1–10 “Listen to me in silence, O coastlands; let the peoples renew their strength; let them approach, then let them speak; let us together draw near for judgment. 2 Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. 3 He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. 4 Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he. 5 The coastlands have seen and are afraid; the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. 6 Everyone helps his neighbor and says to his brother, “Be strong!” 7 The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved. 8 But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; 9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
In all of the terrible judgments John is about to reveal, and how the Church will see it and be terrified by it, perhaps in some measure go through it – nevertheless, He will still keep His people.
2 – “the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore” – I am God, who came to earth and fulfilled all the righteousness of God; who died a substitutionary death in your place at Calvary – taking all of God’s righteous wrath against sin; and who rose from the dead to justify all those who put their faith in me alone.
3 – “and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” It is an allusion back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
– And I am the One – the ONLY one, who has the authority destroy both body and soul in Hell, or, to free all those who put their trust in me from the sentence of eternal death.
A. W. Tozer: “The fear of God is … astonished reverence. I believe that the reverential fear of God mixed with love and fascination and astonishment and admiration and devotion is the most enjoyable state and the most satisfying emotion the human soul can know.”
As John fell upon his face as a dead man at the sight of the resurrected Jesus in His soul-shattering glory – Jesus extends His hand and says “Fear not: I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Jesus alone, is the only hope we have.