John tells his audience that he is on Patmos, suffering for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. It is the first day of the week, Sunday, which John calls the Lord’s day and John is seeing a vision. John hears a loud voice behind him and the voice sounds like trumpets. Imagine the sound of the trumpet in your mind. Hear that powerful sound in your mind. The voice instructs John to write the things he sees in a book and send it to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. As we read what John sees, I ask you to visualize and imagine the descriptions given. The book of Revelation is a picture book. The images are intended to teach and to spark an emotion upon seeing the things John sees.
What John Saw (1:12-16)
John turns to see who is speaking. When he turns, John sees seven golden lampstands. Recall that we learned in verse 1 that these images represent something. This is a book that is written in symbols and we must understand what the symbols mean. In verse 20 we are told what this symbol means. The seven lampstands represent the seven churches who were to receive this letter. In the middle of the seven lampstands is one like the son of man. We mentioned in our last lesson that the voice of trumpets reminds us of Exodus 19 when there was a loud sound like trumpets as God came to Mount Sinai to give the ten commandments. We know the divine is speaking. With the additional statement that John sees one like the son of man, we know what John sees the Messiah, Jesus. Recall in Daniel 7:13-14 we read about the Messiah, called “one like the son of man,” who comes in the clouds to the Father, called “the Ancient of Days.” The one like the son of man, Jesus, is standing in the middle of the seven lampstands, wearing a long robe with a golden sash around his chest. This is clothing that is similar to the description of the clothing for the son of man in Daniel 7. However, it is also the same description of the clothing of angels when they appear in a vision (Daniel 10:5-6; Ezekiel 9:2). This clothing is also similar to the priestly attire of the old covenant. This makes for an interesting combination since these clothes were worn by the high priest, but also worn by dignitaries, rulers, and heavenly beings. This is an image of authority in all cases. Jesus is pictured with authority in the midst of these seven churches. Christ is not absent, but stands in the middle of the churches. He knows what they are going through (as will be specifically stated in chapters 2-3) and he is with them in their tribulation.
The description of Christ continues. Continue to visualize the imagery of Jesus. The one like the son of man is seen with white hair on his head, eyes like a flame of fire, his feet like burnished bronze, and his voice like the roar of many waters. These descriptions continue to copy the imagery found in Daniel 7:13-14 and Daniel 10:5-6. His eternal nature is revealed with the white hair, just as it is symbolized in Daniel 7. The eyes like a flame of fire and feet like burnished bronze emphasize the coming of judgment (see Revelation 2:18). Fire pictures his righteous wrath and his feet as having been fired in a furnace are ready to trample the enemies. His voice as the roar of many waters reflects the power Christ possesses. Christ is seen with power, rule, authority, and ready for judgment has he stands in the middle of the seven churches.
The powerful image continues in verse 16. In Christ’s right hand are seven stars. Coming from Christ’s mouth is a sharp, two-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining at full strength. We will examine these descriptions in reverse order. You know what it is like to look into the sun at full strength. The sun is immediately blinding and causes us to look away. We cannot stand the heat nor the brightness of the sun at its full strength. This is why we are so fascinated with an eclipse. It is the only way to get a glimpse of the sun because some much of it is covered. Yet even though covered by the moon, we can still be blinded during the eclipse because the sun is so strong. John sees Jesus and his face is shining in the full strength of his divinity and it is blinding.
Out of Christ’s mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword. The sword symbolizes the power and the force of his message. His words of judgment are as sharp as any sword. The word of God searches the hearts and it is the word of God that carries judgment (Hebrews 4:12). Isaiah prophesied this characteristic of the Messiah.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. (Isaiah 11:3–4 ESV)
Christ is also pictured as holding seven stars in his right hand. In verse 20 we are told, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches….” The right hand is a common symbol that depicts might and power. The right hand is the strong hand. Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. (Exodus 15:6 ESV) The seven stars are in his right hand and we are told that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. Who are these angels?
There are two main ways to take this reading. The word translated “angels” is the Greek word aggelos which has two meanings, according to the BDAG lexicon. The first meaning is, “A human messenger serving as an envoy, an envoy, one who is sent.” The second meaning is, “A transcendent power who carries out various missions or tasks, messenger, angel.” Are the seven stars representing human messengers for these seven churches or do these stars represent spiritual beings (angels) who act for these seven churches?
There are a number of difficulties with understanding the seven stars to be seven angels. First, why is Christ holding these seven angels in his right hand? It is hard to determine the meaning of this symbol if seven angels are in view. Second, why would these seven angels be instructed to write a letter to each church? This is not an action that we see in the scriptures. Third, there is no evidence in the scriptures that every local church has an angel watching over it.
It is easier to understand these seven stars as seven human messengers operating on behalf of each local church and represent each church. Epaphroditus worked as a messenger and represented the church at Philippi (Philippians 2:25; 4:18) and Epaphras was a teacher and represented the church at Colossae (Colossians 4:12). One could certainly see messengers from these seven churches coming to John on Patmos and receiving this revelation from John and the particular message about each local congregation. Therefore, these seven human messengers are depicted as being held in the right hand of Christ. It is a picture of protection and love as Christ holds them even during the suffering that is coming upon them. Christ is protecting the people of God in his right hand while he judges the enemies with the sword of his mouth.
What John Did (1:17-20)
When John saw this image of Christ, John falls down at his feet as though dead. John is completely overwhelmed at the sight before him. This is not uncommon in the scriptures. When Ezekiel sees in vision the likeness of the glory of God, he falls down on his face (Ezekiel 1:28). When Daniel sees a powerful spiritual being he fell on his face in a deep sleep with his face on the ground (Daniel 10:9). When Gabriel comes to Daniel, Daniel was frightened and fell on his face (Daniel 8:17). It is this passage that has a strong parallel to Revelation. Gabriel touched Daniel and made him stand up and then reveals a prophecy about the things to come. John experiences the same thing as Christ lays his hand on him and begins to give John his instructions.
Christ then explains to John was he is seeing. It is the Christ. He is the first and the last and the living one. He died and is alive forever. Notice that the eternal nature of Christ is emphasized. He is the first and the last (eternal). He is the living God. He died but now is living forever and ever. Christ is the eternal Lord.
Christ also has the keys to death and Hades. Hades is the realm of the dead, the place of departed souls. Christians do not have to fear death or the grave because Christ has power and authority over both. Christ has defeated the powers of evil and has gained control over these twin powers. Do not fear death. Be assured that your perseverance in Jesus will be rewarded with victory over the grave because Christ has died and rose from the dead.
In verse 19 John is instructed by our Lord Jesus to write. Verse 19 is a very important verse because it tells us how the rest of the book is laid out for us. John is to write all the things that he has seen. This is a broad description that parallels the commission given to John in Revelation 1:11, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches….” In verse 19 we are told more about the contents of what John saw and what John will write. John will write about things that are and things that are to take place after this. There is a two part picture to the things that are to be revealed to us in this book. John is told to write the things that he has seen. There are two things that he is seeing. He is seeing the things that are currently going on and he is seeing things that will take place after that. Many take this statement to mean that the things that are refer to Jesus’ message to the seven churches and the things that will happen after that refer to chapters 4-22. However, I would advise us to consider that the letters to the seven churches are not things that John has seen. The letters to the seven churches are instructions given to the messengers of each church. There are not visions in the letters to the seven churches. The letters to the seven churches follow the form of describing how each church is doing, what they are lacking, and what is about to take place. The commission in Revelation 1:19 is looking past chapters 2-3. Christ is telling John to write down all the things he is going to see in these visions in the book. There are things that the book is describing that are happening now and will have an immediate impact. This fits why the preface to the book told us that the book of Revelation is about things that must soon take place and that the time is near (1:1,3). However, John is also going to see things to write about that will happen after the things that are currently happening. We must be prepared to observe in the book of Revelation the things that were currently happening in the first century when the book was written and observe the things that would happen after those first century events. The book is giving a linear description of the things immediate and the things after that.
We have already explained verse 20 earlier in this lesson but I will summarize its meaning as we close. The seven stars in Christ’s right hand are the human messengers that have come to John to receive this revelation. These human messengers represent the local church they are from and are pictured in the Lord’s powerful right hand, protected and safe. They are instructed to write the words of Christ about their churches. The instructions to these churches are found in chapters 2-3. The seven lampstands represent the seven churches. Christ is in their midst. He knows what they are doing. Christ is not inactive but is with them through the tribulation.
- We need to see Jesus as he is described in this chapter. He is in the midst of his churches, holding the people of God in his hand, and bringing judgment of those who harm his people. It is a visual reminder that if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
- We also need to see Jesus for his power, glory, and might. At the sight of Jesus in this vision, John falls down as dead. We must not lose that awe and respect for who Jesus is. While this picture of Jesus is a comfort, it is also a reminder how great he is and how little we are.
- When we see Jesus as the one who has the keys of death and Hades, we will have nothing to fear in this life. We will not fear tribulation or persecution because Jesus is in control. Jesus died and rose from the dead. If we die for the cause of Christ, we also will be raised from the dead. Do not fear your enemies for Christ is with you and will raise you up if anything happens to you.