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!