1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw - that is, the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
4 John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father - to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 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.”
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. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19 Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
Today we begin a new series on the letters to the seven Churches in Revelation 2 and 3. In this series we’ll be looking at both the commendation and condemnation of each of the seven Churches that the apostle John was inspired to write to, and we will also be asking how these things still apply to the Church of Christ today, and to our congregation in particular.
This morning, by way of introduction, we will look at Revelation chapter 1, which sets the scene for the 7 letters in the next two chapters, and of course, for the rest of the final book of Scripture.
The book of Revelation was written by John, the last surviving apostle, towards the end of the 1st century. He was by now an old man who was exiled on the island of Patmos.
In verse 9 he tells his readers why he was there: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
The Roman authorities had banished him there because of his faithful preaching of the Gospel. It was while he was on Patmos that John received a series of visions that laid out the future history of the world.
The book of Revelation is steeped in mystery, but its message is a lot simpler than we might think. The NIV Study Bible describes the purpose of Revelation as follows: “John writes to encourage the faithful to resist staunchly the demands of emperor worship. He informs his readers that the final showdown between God and satan is imminent. satan will increase his persecution of believers, but they must stand fast, even to death. They are sealed against any spiritual harm and will soon be vindicated when Christ returns, when the wicked are forever destroyed, and when God’s people enter an eternity of glory and blessedness.”
It’s easy to become confused by all of the symbolism in Revelation, and there have been countless books written over the years, putting forward all kinds of weird and wonderful interpretations, but we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture.
2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
This is so important for us when reading the Bible. Allow the text to speak for itself. God speaks through His written Word. The Bible remains God’s primary means of communicating with His people today, so we need to guard against looking for things in the text which are just not there.
And so John is told to write about this vision he is given by God.
There are three main divisions in Revelation - the things which John saw, the things which are, and the things which are to come. In verse 19 Jesus says to him, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” This verse provides a simple outline for the entire book. “What you have seen” refers to the vision John has just seen in chapter 1, “what is now” refers to the letters to the Churches in the next two chapters, and “what will take place later” refers to the revelation of future history in the rest of the book of Revelation.
Our focus today is on chapter 1 - the things which John saw. In this chapter, Jesus speaks of who He is and reaffirms His authority and Lordship over all things.
In verses 4-6 there is a doxology of praise in which John proclaims Jesus as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. At the end of verse 5 he writes, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood.”
John 3:16 speaks of the love of God. It is this love which took Jesus to the Cross of Calvary where His blood was shed as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Remember, whenever you doubt the love of Christ, just look at the cross. You were bought at an immeasurable price, and your worth and value is measured by who you are in Him.
In a world where there is so much confusion about who we are, and about who God is, just remember the Cross of Calvary, the glory of God and the victory that it proclaims for those who put their faith in Him.
Each day this world gets darker and darker as the truth of Jesus Christ is suppressed by the wickedness of the ungodly, but John, inspired by the Spirit of God, encourages Christians to stand firm.
Every day the Word of God and His truth is mocked. 2 Peter 3:3-7 says, “You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this coming He promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
Make no mistake - God remains true to His Word, and one day Jesus will return for His elect, and as Revelation 1:7 says, on that day, “Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him.” When Jesus returns, everyone will know that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. There will be no doubt as to just who Jesus Christ is.
The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
What we need to remember is that Jesus, the eternal God of creation, remains in control of all things, and we, as His bride - the Church - are the ones He continues to protect and guide, even in the midst of persecution and hatred of those who despise Him.
He is the Alpha and the Omega. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This reminds us that Christ had no beginning and He will have no ending. He is the eternal God.
This is who appeared to John on the island of Patmos.
So what did John see, and how does all of this relate to us today?
The vision that John saw was that of Jesus standing in the midst of the Churches. Don’t miss the significance of this. In verse 12 John turns to see whose voice he had heard, and what he saw was seven golden lampstands and Christ standing among them. Verse 20 tells us what those lampstands are (This is a simple example of using Scripture to interpret Scripture).
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven Churches.”
The vision of Jesus that John receives is of Him standing among the Churches. He is not merely over the Churches. He is not distant from the Churches, but in the middle of them.
Jesus, by His Spirit, remains active and involved in His Church today, and as His disciples we are His ambassadors.
2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
How do we reflect His glory? When God uses us for His purposes and His glory. If the Church is a lampstand, we are all to shine for Him. A simpler way of explaining this is the song we all learned many years ago: “Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light, like a little candle burning in the night. In this world of darkness so we must shine, you in your small corner, and I in mine.” It’s a simple song, but there is some good, old fashioned, solid theology in those words!
Jesus is active in and through His Church. He is not far away in time or space, leaving us to figure everything out for ourselves. He moves among His lampstands - His Church - trimming the candlewicks and breathing life back into flickering flames.
In verse 13 John says he saw someone “like a son of man.” This was a title that Jesus often used for Himself in the Gospels, but it speaks of much more than His human nature. If we go to the Old Testament and see how the prophet Daniel uses this title, we are given a much deeper picture of the might and power of Christ.
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
So when John says that he saw “one like a son of man” standing in the middle of the lampstands, he means that he saw someone with dominion and glory; someone with supreme power and authority over all the nations and over all people; someone who would rule the world forever and ever because His kingdom would never be destroyed.
The one who stands among the Churches today and trims our wicks and fans our flames is the same God that John saw in his vision.
We need to understand that this same Jesus rules and reigns over His Church today. It is the Son of Man, Jesus Himself, who walks among the lampstands.
Whenever you’re feeling discouraged, remember who Christ is, who you are in Him, and just who it is that remains the King and the Head of the Church.
This is why it is a great sadness to see so many who claim to be born again believers in Christ cutting themselves off from the fellowship and teaching of the Church.
They are missing out, and so is the Body of Christ as they choose to not use their God-given gifts for the building up of the body.
We need to get this idea out of our heads that the Church is there first and foremost to serve us, and if it doesn’t, and we don’t like the people in it or the worship style, then I’m just not going. We are the Bride of Christ, and our purpose is to serve Him and bring glory to Him.
The next thing John saw was that this son of man was “dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.”
This garment He was wearing refers to the robes worn in the Old Testament by the high priest.
Jesus is not only the Son of Man from Daniel 7 who receives everlasting dominion over all nations, but He is also the final high priest who brings all the priestly work of the Old Testament temple to an end.
Hebrews 10:11-14 says, “Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
Here, and in Revelation 1 we are reminded that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, there is no need for further animal sacrifices. Verse 5 tells us that Jesus has freed us from our sins by His blood.
This Great High Priest gave His own blood once for all. He is not only the priest who provides the sacrifice, but is Himself, the sacrifice. It is only Jesus Christ who is sufficient for the payment of your sin debt. No amount of good works or effort on your part is enough to satisfy the wrath of God at your sin. You are saved by the atoning work of Christ, and Christ alone.
It is this Great High Priest who stands among the lampstands in Revelation 1, and who stands among us today as the one who has all authority and everlasting dominion.
In verse 14 John describes Jesus as having eyes like a blazing fire. As we work our way through the letters to the seven Churches in the coming weeks, we will see just how piercing the eyes of Jesus are. In verse 16 John says that out of the mouth of Jesus came a sharp double-edged sword.
These images take us straight to Hebrews 4. “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Nothing is hidden from Him. The Church is not perfect, because it contains sinners like us, yet Jesus loves His bride and gave His life for her. He remains among the lampstands today, bring reproach where necessary, but always loving those for whom He gave His life.
No doubt we will have to ask some searching questions of ourselves in the weeks to come, as the challenges to the seven Churches in Asia Minor are as valid for us today, but there is one thing we must remember: All of this is for the glory of God.
What did John do when He was given this vision of Christ?
Verse 17 has the answer: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.”
John fell at His feet with great respect and awe as he realised just who this was.
But have a look at how Jesus comforted him. “He placed His right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’”
Remember that Jesus has paid the price for your sin. If you are in Christ, then there is no more condemnation. You have been set free from the penalty of your sin, and you have no need to be afraid.
So in the weeks to come, as we spend time in the book of Revelation, the main point is that we want to be reminded that Jesus is revealed and proclaimed as not only the King and Head of the Church, but also as the one who continues to minister to His Church today.
His name is to be lifted up as the Lord and Head of the Church not only in the past, but in the present and future too.
John MacArthur has said that the book of Revelation exalts Christ more than any other book in the Bible, and I believe he has a point. He says, “I am convinced that the book that exalts Christ to the greatest extent is the book of Revelation, and in the Revelation we see a beautiful picture of Christ in His commitment to His Church; what He is doing for His Church; what He has promised to His Church.”
This is what I hope we will learn in the weeks ahead. The purpose in spending time looking at the letters to the seven Churches is not merely to see what happened in the past, but to see the Jesus is still actively and intimately involved in the life, work and witness of the Church that He loves.
Next Sunday we begin with the letter written to the Church in Ephesus. The apostle Paul also wrote a letter to that same Church some 35 years earlier. In his opening greeting he prayed for the Ephesian Church, and it is a prayer which is for the Christian Church throughout the ages: “Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:15-23)
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Revelation 1
Verses 4-6 in particular are rich with a number of the attributes of Jesus. Discuss these qualities in your group.
Pay particular attention to “Him who is, who was and who is to come.”
How does this describe the eternal nature of God?
(See also vv 8 and 17-18)
Read Hebrews 4:12-13
How do these verses help us in understanding the imagery that John uses in Revelation 1:12-16?
The book of Revelation has been the source of much debate and interpretation throughout the ages, yet its theme is relatively simple. Discuss how this introduction in the Zondervan NIV Study Bible might help us, and how relevant these words are in our world today:
“John writes to encourage the faithful to resist staunchly the demands of emperor worship. He informs his readers that the final showdown between God and satan is imminent. satan will increase his persecution of believers, but they must stand fast, even to death. They are sealed against any spiritual harm and will soon be vindicated when Christ returns, when the wicked are forever destroyed, and when God’s people enter an eternity of glory and blessedness.”
Discuss how Revelation chapter 1 reaffirms and proclaims the total authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ over His Church and creation.