Series on Revelation, I The Vision, C The Person, Text: 1:9-20, Title: Lift the Gates for the King of Glory

Introduction

The main body of this text is in verses 12-20 where John describes his vision of Jesus. I hope you remember that this is the beloved apostle. This is the lad that laid his head on Jesus’ breast. This is one who saw, and heard, and touched the Word of Life. In contrast to that intimacy we have this awe inspiring  vision that literally floors the apostle John.  The vision occurs when John is older and suffering for Jesus. He is exiled to the rocky volcanic Isle of Patmos, off the coast of modern Turkey, Nero’s Siberia for traitors and exiles. We see the description in verses 9-11, 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. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 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.” John, a revered elder in the churches of Asia Minor addressed his readers as a fellow servant and sufferer. All those in the kingdom of Christ must suffer and they must persevere. It is the Christian sabbath, the first day of the week on which Jesus rose, and the day the ancient church called the Lord’s day. He makes clear that the Lord has appeared and the Lord has spoken in no uncertain terms. John is “in the Spirit.” The phrase “in the Spirit” occurs also in 4:2 where John is invited to look into heaven, in 17:3 where an angel carries him into the desert, and in 21:10 where the angel brought him to a high mountain to see the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. These passages point to the close relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit in transmitting to John the content of the Apocalypse. John  often heard the gentle earthly voice of Jesus, but now he hears a voice unquestionably from heaven. He will discover this is the voice of the exalted Savior and he will be overcome with the dread of what he sees. Before we look at that, we note finally that John is given a commission here. Like the prophets of old he is told to write down and transmit whatever he is shown.  This is Jesus’ command.The vision which follows in verses 12-20 contains a two-fold description and a demand. The first description is the abode of Jesus and the second is His appearance.

i The Description

A The Abode

The abode is disclosed in verses 12 and 13 and verse 17, I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands, and among the lamp-stands was someone “like a son of man,” 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. If someone asks you where Jesus is, almost reflexively you will probably say, "In heaven." After all, he taught his disciples that he was going away and would come again, and we affirm in our creeds that he ascended to heaven. We must not fall into the trap of applying the restrictions of the time-space continuum to Jesus. He is human but he is also fully divine. He is in heaven but as the second member of the trinity He is also with us. We should not permit our finite minds to stagger at this mystery of godliness. John clearly sees Jesus representing Himself as being in the midst of the churches. The implication is surely that He is not only with those seven churches in Asia minor that are mentioned in verse 11. He is with all His churches. When we later read the letters to the seven churches we can clearly detect His presence in what He has seen and heard. Being in the midst of the churches which are the seven gold lamp stands obviously points to His spiritual presence with each one. However he is also physically present enough for John to say in verse 17 that Jesus touched him. He can be out of the everywhere and into the here.

B The Appearance

The description of the appearance of Jesus in this vision is found in verses 12-16, 18 and 20,  I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands, and among the lamp-stands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 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... 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...The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lamp-stands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven churches. This description comes mainly from the Old Testament. Maybe the most important thing is that he is described as “a son of man.” Jesus often used this term of Himself, not to describe his lowly humanity, but to describe His exalted office as divine Messiah. It comes from Daniel 7:13 and 14,  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 worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. This describes Jesus’ royal authority. He is the King of Kings. A. J. Gordon writes, “There is some One, other than man, and more than man, possessing this man. The divine fills the human. It is this sense of the glory filling the man that is so overpowering to John. A glorious presence overshadows the man and shines out of Him, but never obliterates nor makes the man less. That indescribable glory within shining out through the man magnifies every part of His human being.” The lamp-stand in the tabernacle and temple became an iconic symbol for the Savior and the Holy Spirit who bring light to the world. Here, according to verse 20, they represent the churches of Christ who bear the light in this dark world.The apparel of Jesus in the vision is that of a high priest and he is our great high priest who offered up Himself. The white hair proclaims His deity as it describes the Ancient of days in Daniel 7. In Daniel 10:4-6 we have a description reminiscent of this. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. The fiery eyes and feet bespeak His purity in judgment. He is like a refiner’s fire and these same attributes can be found in the Old Testament describing the God of Israel. He is a king, a priest and a prophet as well, for we read in the description that a sharp double edged sword proceeds from His mouth. This is a typical Roman army sword and it proceeds from the mouth because the word of God is a spiritual sword. A weapon in the mouth describes the Messiah in prophecy as in Isaiah 11:4, He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. And Again in Isaiah 49:2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. All together John sees the Savior’s almighty, absolute, all sufficient, abiding ability to save to the uttermost all those who come unto God by him and he is in the midst of the lamp-stands  or churches. He is also reminding us that he has all power in heaven and earth for He is the Living One; who was dead, and behold He is alive for ever and ever and holds the keys of death and Hades. One final observation of importance is that Jesus says that he has the seven stars in His right hand and he tells us these are the angels of the churches. The debate has gone on for centuries as to whether the Greek word translated angels here is referring to pure spirits or to messengers. In the Greek language “angel” is the word for messenger and it is often used to mean exactly that. We take correctly from Scripture that cherubim and seraphim have a wild and radiant power that takes men by surprise. They are frequently not gentle. They bar the entrance to Paradise so that we cannot return home on our own. They send plagues upon the Egyptians and men in general in Revelation, they are winds, and they are flames of fire. They execute whole armies in one night. But here they are in the right hand of Jesus. That is the place of His power. Thus it would appear likely to me that these are the human leaders of the churches whom Christ is empowering and directing. And if you look at the letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 you will see that they are addressed in every instance to the angel or messenger of the church and it seems unlikely that Christ would be sending letters to the angelic beings of the spiritual world. To sum up Hendriksen reminds us, “The entire picture, taken as a whole, is symbolical of Christ, the Holy One, coming to purge His churches, and to punish those who are persecuting His elect.”

II The Demand

In the concluding verses 17-19 we have the demands made of John, the apostle. Jesus speaks and says, 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. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The Lord Jesus proclaims His sovereignty over all when he announces that He is the conqueror of death, for death is the last enemy. So the first order John receives is to be confident and courageous, “Do not be afraid.” The beloved apostle is a prisoner of the most despicable and bloodthirsty emperor of Rome, Nero. He is fragile and alone, and receiving a startling vision and the prospects for the future are very dim. But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” A.J.Gordon wrote, “Here He is not only crowned, but stepping directly and decisively into the action of the earth in the full exercise of His crowned rights and power. It is peculiarly the book of the Crown, the royal book, the enthroned Christ exercising fully and freely at will His crown rights.” This message is also for the seven churches addressed in the book and for us too. The second and last thing John is commanded here is to write, that is to correspond. He is to write “What he has seen (the risen Christ), what is now and what will take place later,” and transmit it. This is a clue to what we will read hereafter in this last book of the Bible. Some have such a futuristic interpretation of Revelation that they make virtually the whole book about our future. They say everything after the beginning of chapter 4 is future to us. Sometimes they even interpret chapters 2 and 3 as describing the church in the latter days.  However, what John sees is as important as what will come after. And what is now to John  is also now to us in terms of its relevance. The book is written for all times: for Christians in the first and twenty-first centuries. There is indeed a reigning of Christ that is future and to that we all look forward. However there is a reigning of Christ now that is equally important and that too is taught in Revelation. He is not yet reigning as He will, but He is presently ruling. All things are not yet subject to Him, but Christ is actually ruling now over this domain of His, and over all the affairs of earth. Let us lift the gates for the King of Glory.