We’re still only in the introduction to the book of Revelation. In verses 1 to 3 John explained that this is the revelation which God made known to him of the things that must soon take place. And verses 4 to 8 show us that John took this revelation from God and wrote it up as a letter which he then addressed to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. And now, in verses 9 to 20, John tells us how the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus appeared to him and commanded him to record the things he saw and to send it to these seven churches. And, of course, I mentioned before that the number ‘seven’ signifies completion and fullness. And so, although John is commanded to write to these seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, this message is, in fact, for every church in every generation. It’s for the universal church.
John on Patmos
And as part of his introduction, John explains to us where he was when he received this revelation from God. Look with me at verse 9 where John tells us that he was on the island of Patmos. Now, we’ll see in a moment why he was there. But look first at how he describes himself in verse 9. He says about himself:
I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus….
So, John is writing to the members of these seven churches; and he refers to himself as their brother, because, of course, since they’re believers, then they’re all brothers and sisters in the Lord, members of God’s family here on earth. But he also describes himself as their ‘companion’. ‘Partner’ might be a better translation, because he’s conveying the idea that they hold something in common and they share together in the same experience. They’re partners. And what are they partners in? Well, in suffering. They all know what it’s like to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ in an unbelieving world. John knows what it’s like; the members of these seven churches know what it’s like. They have that in common.
But they also hold in common their membership of Christ’s kingdom. Christ the King has rescued them from the tyranny of the Devil and he’s brought them into his own kingdom of grace. But, of course, as members of Christ’s kingdom of grace on earth, they’re looking forward to entering Christ’s kingdom of glory in heaven. Right now, life in Christ’s kingdom involves suffering; but one day, life in Christ’s kingdom will mean perfect peace and rest. But in order to enter Christ’s kingdom of glory in heaven, they need to persevere, don’t they? They need to endure all kinds of trials and troubles and temptations. And that’s why John goes on to refer to another thing they hold in common: it’s their patient endurance. Even though they’re suffering for the sake of Christ, they’re prepared to endure all things, and to persevere each day, as they continue along the narrow path that leads eventually to everlasting life in the presence of our Saviour.
So, John and his readers have those three things in common: they’re suffering together for their faith in Christ; they’re members together of Christ’s kingdom of grace; and they need to endure all things and persevere each day so that, at last, they’ll come into Christ’s kingdom of glory.
And then John tells us that he was on the island of Patmos, which is a small, rocky island in the Aegean Sea, to the west of modern-day Turkey. And he says he was there because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. What he means is that he was exiled to Patmos as punishment for preaching and teaching God’s word about the Lord Jesus Christ. He wasn’t on his holidays; and he wasn’t there on a missionary journey; he was there because it was a place the Romans sent their prisoners. So, John had firsthand experience of suffering persecution for the sake of Christ.
And then, in verse 10, he tells us that it was the Lord’s Day. He’s referring to Sunday. And it’s called the Lord’s Day, because it’s the day Christians set aside their work and all the other things that have taken up our time and attention during the week, and we spend the day worshipping the Lord and giving thanks for Jesus Christ our Saviour who was raised from the dead on a Sunday. And so, on this particular Sunday, John was in the Spirit, which presumably refers to some kind of spiritual experience which made it possible for him to receive this revelation from God. And while he was in the Spirit, he heard the sound of a voice behind him. And the voice sounded like a trumpet. And it said to him:
Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches….
And so, John turned around to see who was speaking to him; and that’s when he saw the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus.
Walking among the lampstands
And the first thing John noticed about him was that he was wearing a long robe with a golden sash around his chest and he was walking among seven golden lampstands. Later on, in verse 20, we’re told that the seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches. And the long robe with a sash is the sort of thing a priest or a king might wear. And this is a marvellous image for us, because it’s a picture of the Lord Jesus, who is now in heaven as our priestly-king, but he’s walking among the churches. He’s walking among his people who are meeting for worship in different places on the Lord’s Day. And that tells us that the Lord Jesus is near us; and, because he’s near us, then he’s familiar with us and he’s familiar with all we’re going through and all we do. And, of course, when we get to the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, we’ll see how he’s so very familiar with these seven churches and all that they were going through and all the temptations they faced. And so, he was able to rebuke some who were unfaithful to him; and he was able to warn others who were in danger of going astray; and, of course, he was able to comfort others, who were suffering for their faith.
If we’re ever tempted to think that the Lord has forgotten us, or doesn’t know what we’re going through, or doesn’t care, then we have these verses to re-assure us, because God’s revelation to John shows us that, even though the Lord Jesus is now in heaven, he hasn’t forgotten his people on earth, he hasn’t abandoned us, because he’s walking among us, and he’s familiar with all our ways. He’s the Good Shepherd who is constantly watching over his people.
Like a son of man
Notice next that John refers to him as someone ‘like a son of man’. Now, in the gospels, the Lord Jesus often referred to himself as ‘the son of man’. Here the expression seems to capture the idea that in some ways he looks human; but in other ways he doesn’t look human. In some ways, he looks like a man, but in other ways he looks more than a man. When we say something is like something else, we’re saying there are similarities; and we’re saying there are differences. And that’s clearly the case here. So, he has a head of hair, but his hair is white like wool, like snow. And he has eyes, but they’re like blazing fire. He has feet, but they’re like bronze, glowing in a furnace. He has a voice, but it’s like the sound of rushing waters, like the sound of a waterfall. He has a human hand, but he’s able to hold stars. And he has a mouth, but there’s a double-edged sword coming from it. And he’s got a face like a human face, but it’s like the sun, shining in its brilliance. So, in some ways he appears like a man; but in other ways, he appears more than a man.
Of course, we should also remember that John is using picture-language here. So, we’re not to think that the Lord Jesus is standing in heaven with a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. No, the description John gives us here of the Lord Jesus is to convey to us something of his character and nature and authority. So, the white hair conveys to us the idea of his wisdom. The blazing eyes conveys to us the idea of his insight and nothing is hidden from his gaze. The feet like bronze refined in a furnace speak to us of his moral purity. The voice like the sound of rushing waters speaks to us of the power and authority of his voice. The stars, we learn from verse 20, are the angels of the seven churches. Now, it’s not clear what that means. Some commentators think it means each church has a guardian angel assigned to it. Others think it refers to the leaders of the churches, because the letters in chapters 2 and 3 are addressed to the angel of each church as if they are responsible for and have oversight over the churches. Another idea is that the stars represent the church’s heavenly existence. You know, each church is on the earth, because that’s where we are right now. But since we’ve been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms, we’re also in heaven. And so, this idea of the stars might represent our heavenly existence.
Whatever the exact meaning of the stars, the fact that Christ holds the seven stars means that the churches are in his hands and therefore under his sovereign control. And then the sharp, two-edged sword, coming from his mouth, conveys to us the idea that he is the judge who has the power and authority to strike down those who are guilty in his sight. And, of course, in what follows in the book of Revelation, we see him judging the Devil and all his demons. And we see him judging the peoples of the nations who do not believe in him and who live wicked lives. But he also has words of judgment for those in his churches who prove to be unfaithful. And then, finally, the face which is like the sun, shining in its full brilliance, speaks to us of his resplendent and majestic glory.
And when John sees the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus, he falls down as though dead. But look: the Lord is gentle with him, and tender. The Lord touches him; and says:
Don’t be afraid.
And he adds:
I’m the first and the last.
That means he’s the everlasting God who rules over all of history. And he said:
I am the Living One.
He’s the Living One, because though he died, he was raised and now lives for ever and ever. And then he said:
And I hold the keys of death and Hades [or we might say, the grave].
In other words, he has the power and the authority to unlock the grave and to set the dead free.
John is using picture-language to convey to us something of the character and nature and authority of the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus Christ. And what’s really interesting is that the description John gives of the Lord Jesus matches things we read in the book of Daniel. In Daniel 7 we read about the Ancient of Days who is seated on a throne. Who is the Ancient of Days? Well, it’s the Everlasting God. And then one ‘like a son of man’ comes in and approaches the Ancient of Days and receives from him an everlasting dominion, an everlasting kingdom. So, there’s Daniel, telling us about ‘one like a son of man’ who will rule for ever. And here’s John, who sees the same ‘one like a son of man’; and it’s the Lord Jesus, Risen and Exalted in heaven.
And then in Daniel 10, Daniel describing seeing someone who was wearing a long robe with a golden belt; his face was like lightning; his eyes were like flaming torches; his arms and legs were like burnished bronze; and his voice was like the sound of a multitude. And when Daniel saw him, he fell down before him. The person Daniel saw in Daniel 10 matches John’s description of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1.
And here’s the thing: Daniel went on in Daniel 7 to announce how the kingdoms of the world will pass away and come to nothing, but the kingdom of the ‘one like a son of man’ will be an everlasting kingdom which will endure forever. And the person Daniel saw in Daniel 10 was sent by God to reveal what would happen in the future to the nations who oppose God; and how, in the end, in the end, all of God’s people will rise to everlasting life.
And so, here’s John now. And when he sees into heaven, he sees the same person: the one who, according to Daniel 7, will rule for ever; and the one who, according to Daniel 10, will raise his people from the dead. And John is letting us know that that person is in heaven, right now. But he hasn’t forgotten about his people on the earth, because he’s walking among the churches to guide us, and to warn us, and to protect us, and to keep us, while he works out his plans for the world.
So again, we don’t need to be afraid; we don’t need to be anxious; we don’t need to worry about what the future holds for the church, because the church and the world are in the hands of the one who rules and reigns in heaven above.