“The revelation of Jesus Christ.” This phrase introduces the concluding book of the Bible and gives us the most important key to interpreting it: this book is from Jesus, and it is about Jesus. It is easy to get lost in the fantastic images, the symbolic language, and the meaning of the numbers of this book. When you come to something in Revelation that you don’t understand (and you will), remind yourself that this book is about Jesus. It is a “revelation” (v.1, literally an “unveiling”) of His true identity, His Second Coming, His plan for His Bride, His victory over sin and evil, and His future kingdom. There is much we can understand in this book, but for the things we can’t, we must keep our eyes on Jesus — His power and His plan.
The Apostle John recorded this revelation and sent it to the churches of Asia (v.4, not the continent of Asia, but the Roman province of Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey). John was the last surviving disciple of Jesus, having outlived his brother James, the other disciples, and the Apostle Paul, all of whom were martyred for their faith. John was exiled on the tiny prison island of Patmos (v.4), about 50 miles from Ephesus in the Aegean Sea. Tradition holds that he was alone and living in a cave when Jesus appeared to him.
It is important to note what John was doing when Jesus suddenly spoke to him from behind: he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (v.10). Since John was separated from his brothers and sisters in Christ and unable to participate in corporate worship with them, he was apparently having a one-man worship service on a Sunday — and he was worshiping “in the Spirit”, just the way Jesus had taught him (see John 4:23-24). Imagine John’s surprise when the very One he was worshiping interrupted his worship with a personal appearance! His voice was loud and penetrating (v.10), commanding attention like the crashing of waves or the roaring of rapids (v.15). John heard Jesus’s instruction to write what he was about to see and send it to the seven churches (v.11).
Turning in the direction of the voice, John saw Jesus as he had never seen Him before, all bright and white and shining with the brilliance of Divine glory. He wore the golden sash of royalty. His eyes were piercing. His feet, once pierced and bloody, were shining with pure holiness (v.14-15). When John realized that it was Jesus, the one he called “the ruler of kings” and the one who “freed us from our sins by His blood” (v.5), he fainted dead-away, falling down at the glowing feet of his Friend (v.17).
The “sharp two-edged sword” coming from the mouth of Jesus (v.16) is an image that indicates the force and precision of His spoken words. As Jesus laid a reassuring, nail-scarred hand on His disciple, the words John heard were words of hope and victory (v.17-20): Jesus is “alive forevermore”, He has conquered death and hell, and He commands the future!
It was Jesus Himself who interpreted the symbols of the seven lampstands around Him and the seven stars in His right hand. Both symbols referred to the recipients of the revelation John would write. The lampstands symbolized the churches of Asia Minor. (Note: in my opinion these were actual local churches, congregations in the cities listed in v.11. But I also think they are symbolic churches, representing seven kinds of churches that exist through all of church history.) Lampstands have a singular purpose: to lift up the light so that it can penetrate the darkness and be seen by as many people as possible. Is that not the mission of a church, to push back the darkness of lostness with the light of the gospel of Christ?!
The seven stars symbolized the “angels” of the churches (v.20). “Angels” translates the Greek word “angelloi”, meaning “messengers”. There was a messenger at every church who was responsible for proclaiming the message Jesus sent through John (and presumably that messenger was responsible for leading the response to what Jesus said). I believe that messenger is the pastor of the church.
For the next two days we will read those messages and consider how we will respond to them. Don’t miss it!