Today we continue our study of "The Seven Churches of Revelation". Last week we began our series on this subject. Today we continue on our quest to understand God's message to the churches.
2 Timothy 3:16, says,
"All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable….."
This, of course, includes the book of Revelation.
Admittedly, Revelation is one of the more difficult-to-understand books in the Bible. But, the book of Revelation is not written in such a way as to hide its meaning. The very first word written by the apostle John is "Apokalupsis." This Greek word "apokalupsis," is translated "revelation." The word "Apokalupsis" literally means:
o an "unveiling," a "disclosure" of what had previously been concealed.
o to make the meaning plain, not to hide it.
o to unravel the mystery, not to make it mysterious.
Let's review by my asking a few questions.
WHO WAS THE WRITER OF THIS BOOK?
It is written by the apostle John.
WHERE WAS JOHN WHEN HE WROTE THIS BOOK?
He was on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9).
DO YOU KNOW WHERE PATMOS IS LOCATED?
Let me take you to Patmos on the map. It is located off the western coast of Asia Minor (now called Turkey) in the Aegean Sea, just a few miles from the coastal city of Miletus which is a few miles south of Ephesus. It is a rather small island, approximately ten miles long and six miles wide. Last week I showed you some pictures I took when I visited this island.
WHY WAS JOHN ON THIS ISLAND?
He was a political prisoner of Rome, and was banished to the small island of Patmos. It was the Alcatraz of that day.
WHAT WAS HIS CRIME AGAINST ROME?
Revelation 1:9 NKJV
9 I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
He would not stop preaching the gospel.
TO WHOM WAS THIS BOOK WRITTEN?
Revelation 1:4 NIV
4 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and pece to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come,…
CAN YOU NAME THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF ASIA?
Revelation 1:11 NIV
11 …"Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
HOW MANY LETTERS DID PAUL WRITE TO CHURCHES?
The same as John - seven.
o Galatia - A province with several churches.
o Ephesus - The only church written to by both John and Paul.
I will say more about this comparison in a later lesson.>
HOW MANY INDIVIDUALS DID PAUL WRITE TO?
Three - Titus, Philemon, Timothy.
HOW MANY BOOKS DID JOHN WRITE TO INDIVIDUALS?
Also the same as Paul.
o 1st John
o 2nd John
o 3rd John
The Book of Revelation contains both a "key phrase" and a "key verse." I will get to the "key verse" later. The "key phrase" of the entire Book is found in the very first verse of Revelation.
Revelation 1:1 NKJV
1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants - things which must quickly take place.
The first 5 word - The Revelation of Jesus Christ - come from only 3 Greek words: Apokálupsis Ieesoú Christoú. The book begins by describing itself as "the revelation of Jesus Christ." If your Bible is like mine, the title page of the Book says "The Revelation of St. John the Divine." That really is a misnomer. The revelation was indeed given to John, but it is a revelation - an unveiling - of Jesus Christ. He is himself its grand theme.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
First, notice the word is singular -- Revelation. Though there are many parts to this final Book in the New Testament, this book is woven into one continuous revelation of Jesus Christ. It is really incorrect to call this book, Revelations (plural).
As you study the book of Revelation….keep this Key Phrase in mind. Jesus is the central person of the Book of Revelation - not John. This is a revelation of Jesus as told to John. And if we study the book of Revelation and don't learn anything about Christ, then we have misread the book of Revelation. As one studies the book of Revelation, it is very easy to become focused on trying to decipher and understand the prophecy details. However, our main focus is to be on the One whose coming is prophesied. We want to be aware and understand the Coming of Christ, but not at the expense of understanding the Person of Christ.
26 times in Revelation, He is shown to be the sacrificial Lamb. Let me give you just a couple of examples of this.
Revelation 5:12 NKJV
12 "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!"
According to 1 Corinthians 5:7, Christ became our Passover Lamb.
Revelation 12:11 NKJV
11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
Revelation 19:9 NKJV
9 Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb !'" And he said to me," These are the true sayings of God."
The book is full of Him. Just like the rest of the Bible, this book points to Christ as the Messiah - the Savior. Whether it is the study of Prophecy or any other Doctrine of the Scripture, it can be seen that Christ is the central Theme of it all. He is the essence of history. As one person put it: "History is His-Story"
Begin with the writings of Moses and go all the way through the Bible to the Book of Revelation, you will continuously be confronted with this central Figure of all history. All of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament were a type or a foreshadow of Christ. He was the Sacrificial Lamb that would come to take away the sin of the world, once-for-all. (Exodus 12 cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, John 1:29).
Again, like the rest of the Bible, the Book of Revelation is full of Jesus Christ. To emphasize why I believe this book is an unveiling of the Person of Jesus Christ like no other book in the Bible consider all the various titles and descriptive phrases given to Him in this book. We have already mentioned "Sacrificial Lamb."
1. The faithful witness (1:5)
2. The firstborn from the dead (1:5)
3. The ruler over the kings of the earth (1:8)
4. The Alpha and the Omega (1:8)
5. The Beginning and the end (1:8)
6. The One who is and who was and who is to come (1:8)
7. The Almighty (1:8)
8. The First and the Last (1:11, 17)
9. The Son of Man (1:13)
10. He who lives (1:18)
11. He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands (2:1)
12. He who has the sharp two-edged sword (2:12)
13. Son of God (2:18)
14. He who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass (2:18)
15. He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars (3:1)
16. He who is holy (3:7)
17. He who is true (3:7)
18. He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens (3:7)
19. The Amen (3:14)
20. The Faithful and True Witness (3:14)
21. The Beginning of the creation of God (3:14)
22. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah (5:5)
23. The Root of David (5:5, 22:16)
24. Lord, holy and true (6:10)
25. Lord God Almighty (15:3)
26. King of the saints (15:3)
27. The Word of God (19:13)
28. King of kings and Lord of lords (19:16)
29. The Bright and Morning Star (22:16)
30. Lord Jesus (22:20)
31. Lord Jesus Christ (22:21)
What a testimony to the person and work of Jesus Christ. If one does not see Jesus in this book, they must be blind. He is the focus of it all:
-- the centerpiece of its pages,
-- the reason for its message,
-- the glory of its words.
A few years ago Paula and I were in Munich, Germany. While there, we visited a number of museums. One was a large art museum. I leaned close to look at the brass name-tag next to one paints, and recognized the name of Rembrandt or Renoir. I looked up at the painting. Standing just inches away, the painting seemed to be nothing more than globs of paint splattered incoherently across the canvas. I remember thinking to myself….."I thought this artist was supposed to be good." Then something inside me said, "Step back a little." Only then did I realize the beauty of it all. I had stepped too close to the masterpiece and each oil splotch, each brush mark kept me from enjoying the whole. But when I stood back, the mysterious puzzle disappeared and the beautiful scene came into view.
When it comes to the Book of Revelation, the details are not just splotches, but have been given to us for a purpose. But, sometimes it is easy to get stuck there, and lose the grand design of the prophet's vision. It is easy to turn this great masterpiece into a series of splotches and brush marks. As events in our world occur, students of prophecy try to outguess each other as to the modern meaning of every star, every dragon and every number. When that happens, we will lose the grand design of the prophet's vision and maybe miss the urgency of his warnings.
So we need to keep the book's introductory verse in mind and not lose sight of its overall theme. This book is a revelation of Jesus Christ. That is the key phrase of the book of Revelation.
Let me pose a question that at first might seem to be unrelated to what has been said thus far. Actually, I would like to borrow from Augustine who lived from 354 - 430 A.D. He posed the following experiment.
Imagine God saying to you, "I'll make a deal with you if you wish. "I'll give you anything and everything you ask: pleasure, power, honor, wealth, freedom, even peace of mind and a good conscience. Nothing will be a sin; nothing will be forbidden; and nothing will be impossible to you. You will never be bored and you will never die." He pauses and says, "I have only one more phrase to this experiment. How do you feel about it so far?" The first part of the proposition is very appealing - anything I want and nothing is a sin, and I will live forever. Isn't there a part of us, a pleasure-loving part of us, that perks up at the thought of guiltless, endless delight? But then, just as we are about to raise our hands and volunteer, we hear the final phrase. "You can have all that - only you will never see my face."
And we pause. Never? Never know the image of God? Never ever behold the presence of Christ? At this point, doesn't the bargain begin to lose some of its appeal? Hopefully, for most it will. For others, the exercise may raise an awkward question. "What's the big deal?" someone may ask. "No disrespect intended. Of course I want to see Jesus. But see him forever? Will He be that amazing?"
According to Paul, he will. He writes, "On the day when the Lord Jesus comes, all the people who have believed will be amazed at Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:10)
Look at those last 3 words - "amazed at Jesus!" He doesn't say, amazed at angels
…or amazed at our mansions
…or amazed at our new bodies.
…or amazed at encountering the 12 apostles or Paul.
…or amazed at embracing our loved ones.
If we will be amazed by these things - and certainly we will - he does not say here. What he does say is that we will be amazed at Jesus. What will be so amazing? Of course, I have no way of answering that question from personal experience. But I can lead you to someone who can.
One Sunday morning many Sundays ago, a man named John saw Jesus. And what he saw, he recorded, and what he recorded has tantalized seekers of Christ for two thousand years. Picture the scene with me. John is getting rather elderly - maybe 90+ years old. He is the last of the original 12 apostles still living. Out on the craggy island, he is probably brown by the sun. His feet and hands are rough and callused. John wasn't just sitting around, writing the book of Revelation. As a political prisoner, he was part of a work crew. He was laboring in the mines and quarries of Patmos.
Watch John as he carries granite chips from the cliffs above to a dock on the beach beneath. I can imagine John, stumbling under the loaded straw basket strapped to his forehead, hanging down his back. He balances it there, and uses both hands to grasp his staff and pick his way down the trail.
Imagine John on this Sunday at the beach. He has come here to worship. The wind stirs the cattails and waves slap against the sand. John sees nothing but water. It may be only a number of miles to the coast of the mainland, but, for John, it might as well be an ocean, for it separates him from his home. But no amount of water could separate him from Christ. Chapter 1, verses 10-11, record these words:
Revelation 1:10-11 NIV
10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,
11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
Notice the voice has come from behind him. John is about to turn and see Jesus. Of course this isn't his first time to see his Savior. You and I only read about hands that fed the thousands. Not John - he saw them - knuckled fingers, callused palms. He saw them.
You and I only read about the feet that was able to walk a path through the waves. Not John! John saw them - sandaled, ten-toed, and sometimes dirty.
You and I only read about his eyes - his piercing eyes, his fiery eyes, his weeping eyes. Not so with John. John saw them -- gazing on the crowds, dancing with laughter, searching for souls. John had seen Jesus.
For more that three years he had followed Christ. But this encounter was far different from any in Galilee. This time the image is so vivid - the impression is so powerful, that shortly after her turns, what he sees causes John to fall at his feet as dead. Let's read the entire encounter.
Revelation 1:12-17 NIV
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.
14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.
15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.
It is interesting to notice the stages through which John passed in receiving this revelation. In Revelation 1:10, he says "I heard." In 1:12, "I turned." Also in 1:12, "I saw." And in 1:17, "I fell."
When I read this passage again in the last couple of weeks, several thoughts grabbed my attention. If anyone knew what Jesus looked like, it was John. He had spent years with him, almost every moment for more than 3 years.
Again, the Book of Revelation is full of Jesus Christ. Just like the rest of the Bible, this book points to Christ as the Messiah and the Lamb of God. He is the focus of it all.
o He is the centerpiece of its pages,
o He is the reason for its message,
o And He is the glory of its words.
While John falls at the feet of Jesus as though he were dead, this does not mean that he did not recognize Jesus. He calls Jesus the "Son of Man." This is a phrase used 88 times in the New Testament, all of them speaking about Christ. Of those 88 times the "Son of Man" phrase is used in the New Testament, 84 come from the lips of Jesus Himself. Let me give you an example.
Luke 12:40 KJV (Jesus speaking about his return)
40 Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.
So, there is no doubt that John recognized his Lord. Why would seeing Jesus this time cause him to collapse as dead before the Lord. Was there something different about Jesus. John gives us a vision of Christ to ponder - a vision that comes at you from all angles. Swords and bronze feet….and white hair, like wool…..and sunlight. What are we to make of these images? And why was John so affected? And will we be affected similarly if we see what John saw?
I believe a vision of the glorified Christ will always drive us to our knees. Let me put it this way. When we compare ourselves with others, we can always seem respectable. But when we see ourselves in comparison to Him - we are shaken to our roots. The closer we get to the light, the more the dirt of our own heart is exposed.
Earlier, when we read verses 10 & 11, John is told to write what he sees, and send it to the 7 churches of Asia. But did you notice that what John wrote here was not what he saw. You heard me correctly - What John wrote is not what he saw. What he wrote is like what he saw (used in Revelation 69 times). What he saw was so otherworldly, that he had no words to describe it. Consequently, he pulls from his vocabulary a set of metaphors and returns with an armload of word pictures.
Did you notice how often John used the word like? He describes hair like wool….eyes like fire….feet like bronze and a voice like the noise of rushing waters. Then he says Jesus looked like the sun shining at its brightest time. By the way, John's strategy should not be strange to us. We do the same today. If you open your newspaper to an editorial page and see a donkey talking to an elephant, you know the meaning. This isn't a cartoon about a zoo, it is a cartoon about politics. On second thought, maybe it is a cartoon about a zoo. But you know the symbolism behind the images.
In order to understand John's vision, we must do the same. And as we begin to interpret the pictures, we gain glimpses of what we will see when we personally see Christ. Let's give it a go. In the words of John, what do we see in Jesus?
Christ - the perfect priest
Verse 13 speaks of Jesus as being……"dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and a golden sash around his chest."
WHAT DOES THAT IMAGE SIGNIFY?
The initial readers - members of the 7 churches - knew the significance of the robe and the sash. Jesus is wearing the clothing of a priest. Like Aaron's robe, it was designed for glory and beauty (Exodus 28:2). But, unlike Aaron's robe which had a sash with golden thread running through it, Christ's sash is all gold.
As I pondered the words used here, it told me two things about Christ.
1. The completely golden sash shows that Christ's priesthood is above that of Aaron's.
2. The golden sash also speaks of royalty - One with absolute authority.
These images point to the two aspects of Christ today:
1. He is our Great High Priest.
2. His royalty and authority is seen in the words of Revelation 19:16, which also speaks of what He is wearing.
Revelation 19:16 NKJV
16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Christ is our High Priest and our King.
Earlier, we read in Revelation 1:10, that Jesus spoke to John on that Sunday long ago with a loud voice.
IN RELATIONSHIP TO JOHN, WHERE WAS THE VOICE COMING FROM?
The voice came from behind him.
In verse 12, John says "I turned to see the voice that spoke with me." I find the words used here very fascinating. One does not normally "see" a voice - we "hear" a voice. He is probably using this metaphor to say that he turns to see the one who is speaking. But, as John continues his description of what Jesus looked like, we are told that he actually saw something proceeding from the Lord's mouth.
WHAT WAS IT THAT JOHN SAW COMING FROM THE MOUTH OF HIS LORD?
Verse 16 says "out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword."
We will say more about the "two-edged sword" when we get to the 3rd of the 7 churches - Pergamum. It is seen there once again.
Let's go back to where John turns to see his Lord.
WHEN HE TURNS, WHERE DOES HE SAY CHRIST IS LOCATED?
Verse 13 says that Christ is located "in the midst of the seven lamp stands."
I will come back to this. But first, another question. Jesus is described as having something in his hand.
WHAT DOES JOHN SEE IN THE HAND OF JESUS?
Verse 16 says, "He had in his right hand seven stars."
I have chosen these two of the many images given in Chapter One to show you something. Last week, we learned that one of the ways to interpret the images in the Book of Revelation was to find similar images elsewhere in the Bible, and let the Bible itself interpret the meanings. I also mentioned that sometimes, the Book of Revelation gives us an image, and then somewhere later, that image is interpreted right in the Book of Revelation. These two images - the "7 lamp stand" and the "7 stars" illustrate this. Look at the last verse in the first chapter of Revelation.
Revelation 1:20 NKJV
20 The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.
This verse interprets for us the mysterious images of the 7 stars and 7 lamp stands. Christ tells us, "the seven stars are the angels of the 7 churches." And He also says, "the seven lamp stands are the seven churches." The second of these is easy for us to grasp. When He speaks of the 7 lamp stands, He is referring to the seven churches, which, back in verse 11, are named. And in chapters 2 & 3, He addresses these seven churches, with comments and instructions tailored for each individual church. So, understanding what the lampstands represent should not be a problem.
But what about the seven stars? He tells us that "the seven stars are the angels of the 7 churches."
NOW, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
The interpretation given here is not as easy to understand. Is Christ talking about 7 literal angels each having oversight of one church? Maybe. I think we have to do a little more searching. Let's start by defining what the Greek word for "Angel" means.
WHAT DOES THE WORD "AGGELOS" (pronounced Angelos) MEAN?
It means "messenger." That is true whether it is a literal angel or a human messenger. All angels are "messengers" who are sent to do the bidding of God. To help us understand what the seven stars represent, let me ask you another question.
TO WHOM ARE THE SEVEN LETTERS IN CHAPTERS 2 & 3 SENT"
ARE THE RECIPIENTS HUMAN OR CELESTIAL BEINGS?
They are sent to 7 literal churches, among many, that did exist at that time. In other words, they were sent to a human audience. Then notice the very first phrase that begins each letter to these churches.
In Revelation 2:1, it says, "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write:…"
In Revelation 2:8, it reads, "To the angel of the church of Smyrna write:…"
In Revelation 2:12, it reads, "To the angel of the church of Pergamum write:…"
And so it goes through all seven churches. Each letter is addressed to the angel - or messenger - of that specific church. Since the recipient of these letters were human, most commentaries state that these words are describing the pastor of each church, and that each pastor was under the oversight of Christ as He walked among the churches. These pastors were the "messengers" of God to these congregations.