Letters from Jesus #3

Letters from Jesus #3

Revelation 2:12-17

Title: The Compromising Church: Passive Pergamon.

Background of City

Pergamon is about 55-60 miles northeast of Smyrna. This city was renowned and had an illustrious history. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon under the Attalid dynasty from 281-133 BC. The city was adorned with beautiful buildings and structures.

image from freebibleimages.org

Art and literature were encouraged in the city. Have you ever heard of parchment? Parchment was originally created in the city of Pergamon to continue the city’s library project (that rivaled the library of Alexandria) and the word parchment is derived from Pergamon. Apparently one of the Ptolemies was so concerned about the library in Alexandria that he ordered the stopping of exporting papyrus to Pergamon. The Pergamon library boasted 200,000 volumes. 

In 133 BC the kingdom was turned over to Roman rule, and the kingdom became the province of Asia, not the greater region of Asia Minor, but a senatorial province. Pergamon remained the capital city of the province.

 The city held temples to four of the major gods worshiped at the time, Zeus, Dionysus, Athena, and Asclepius. The city was known for its temple to Zeus. The shrine to Asclepius was also a favorite as he was a god of healing. Despite these religions, Pergamon was enthralled with the cult of the Emperors. In fact it was the first city to build a temple to Augustus and Rome in 29 BC. The city would later receive the term “thrice neokoros” after two more Caesars had temples built there, the city was a “temple warden” for Caesar-worship. In other cities, the danger toward Christians not worshiping Caesar was annual, in Pergamon it was daily.

Let’s look to see how the church in this city did.

Commendation 2:12-13

Christ begins this letter by identifying Himself as the One with has the sharp two-edged sword.

This immediately draws our attention back to 1:16 with John’s description. This is not a comforting greeting, this impression strikes warning and fear. We see Christ’s judicial authority. This sword denotes the combining of a warrior defeating his enemies and pronouncing judgement on them. 

In Revelation 19:15, John describes how Christ comes in judgement against the unrepentant. “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” This is the same Christ addressing the church of Pergamon. How’d you like to get a letter from Christ that started that way?

Though the letter begins with a sense of warning and judgement, it quickly turns to a note of commendation.

Christ begins by telling them He knows where they live. He says, “I know where you dwell”. The idea of “dwell” here is your permanent residence.  [no mention of work here or in Smyrna] Christ knows that Satan’s throne is located in this city. What do we mean by this? Well, Satan’s throne is thought to refer to a couple of things.

One of the sites that was excavated is called the Pergamon Altar, or Zeus’ Altar. This huge temple had a colonnade that measured 120 by 112 feet. The podium of the altar was about 18 feet high. Running the base of the structure for 446 feet was a frieze that depicted the mythical battle between the Olympian gods and the giants. This structure looks throne like.

Another thought is the shrine to Asclepius. This god was depicted as a snake and pilgrims would travel to Pergamon to worship here seeking healing. Since Satan is depicted as a snake or serpent in Revelation (3x Chap 12; 1x Chap 20), this might be an early reference to that image.

Another thought is that “Satan’s throne” may be the dominating cult of the emperors and Rome in Pergamon. This religion possessed the most threat to the Christians in the city, and “Satan’s throne” could refer to the ultimate power behind this cult.

Any one or combination of these suggestions may be the reference to “Satan’s throne”. Remember there were multiple temples and shrines in this city, and this gives us further understanding to Christ’s claim that Pergamon was “where Satan dwells”. Again it is the idea of dwelling at a permanent residence.

Though this church was in the pagan religious center of the provence, Christ commended them for holding fast to His name.

The church would not deny Christ. They held fast to Christ’s name and faith.

Christ says, “even in the days of which Antipas My faithful witness, who was killed among you”. Scripture doesn’t tell us any more about this witness of Jesus, but that church would have recognized the name instantly. 

Tradition says that he was killed during an intense time of persecution under the Emperor Domitian. Though how Antipas was killed isn’t the point. Christ singles him out for commendation of his faithfulness. The church was faithful even during that time.

Though Christ commends them for their faithfulness, His complaint is serious.

Complaint 2:14-15

First He tells them that there are those holding to the teaching of Balaam.

The name Balaam comes from two words creating a meaning of “people swallower”. The reference here goes back to Number 24 and 25. Where Balak king of Moab pays Balaam a supposed prophet to curse Israel though the Lord would only allow Balaam to bless Israel. Though we do read that Israel was seduced to immoral and idolatrous behavior, though Balaam isn’t mentioned in Numbers 25, in chapter 31 he is indicated as having given advice to Balak on how to cause Israel to fall.

So what was the issue in the church? In this time religious and civic life were so intertwined that it was nearly impossible to separate the two. Balaam taught Balak to place a stumbling block of seduction and idolatry before Israel. It appears that there were some in the church doing the same thing. These Balaamites were calling for the church to relax its standard and slip back into their old habits of paganism. It is possible that since sexual immorality was linked to pagan worship and feasts that some of the church did fall into these sins.

The language of the verse is that while the entire congregation was commended for its faithfulness, the entire congregation is being condemned for tolerating those in the congregation that held to Balaam’s teaching. The church was at fault for their indifference to those sympathetic to this dangerous teaching and compromising their faith.

In verse 15 Christ tells them that they are also tolerating those holding to the teachings of the Nicolaitans.

The identity and teaching of the Nicolaitans are somewhat mysterious. There are three major thoughts on them.

The first comes from the church father Irenaeus claiming that the Nicolaitans were the followers of Nicolaus of Antioch, one of the seven in Acts 6 who later apostatized.

Second, this sect began through a misinterpretation of a statement by Nicolaus, and that this group lived a life indulging in fleshly living and were an early sect of Gnostics.

The third though is that since the word nicolaitan is a Greek compound word meaning “conqueror of the people” (and the Hebrew counterpart is Balaam, “people swallower/devourer) they were forerunners of some sort of clergy/laity distinction or hierarchy.

So what is the answer? I don’t know. I’m not sold on any of these three arguments at this time.

Whatever the Nicolaitans taught, it seems that is was similar to the Balaamites teachings. It appears that they taught a blending of Christian life and the Greco-Roman society. Some try to link this to Paul’s teaching, but this is a perversion of Paul’s teaching of liberty. Paul taught to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols to not offend a weaker brother and the link between idols and demons.

This church was strong in its faith before persecution, but compromised its holiness by tolerating pagan, worldly teaching within its membership.

Transition:

Now that Christ has brought His complaint against the church, what are they supposed to do? [state point 3, read 16-17]

Correction 2:16-17

First Christ tells them to repent.

The church needed to repent of its toleration and leniency toward those accepting the corrupting and heretical teachings. The call to repentance is also for those corrupting the church. 

Repentance is a change in action and thought. “It is an appeal to begin at this moment a complete change” (Thomas, Robert L., Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, © 1992, p143).

John MacArthur puts it this way, “ The church must not accommodate the sins of professing believers who insist on living as close as possible to the corrupt culture. ‘A little leaven leavens the whole lump’ (1 Cor 5:6). We must confront such worldliness (a term mostly absent from church vocabulary today)” (MacArthur, John, Christ’s Call to Reform the Church, © 2018, p 100).

Christ calls for repentance, but issues a warning as well. He tells the church that if they don’t repent He would come and use the “sword of My mouth”. The picture is that of a warrior coming in force. This is the same picture that we see later in the book at Christ’s second coming (19:11-21).  The language here seems to demonstrate the imminent return of the Lord and shows that if the church did not repent before that time, Christ would come in judgement against them.

The church was called to repentance to show its genuine faith and its devotion to the holiness and purity of the church. The failure to genuinely repent would have “dreadful consequences for them (Thomas, p197)”.

After the call to repentance, Christ issues His call to listen and His promise. This statement of “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” is a call to the wider audience. Yes these letters had specific churches in mind, but these letters have lessons that every church and Christian needs to hear.

The first promise Christ gives the overcomer (or true believer) is the “hidden manna”. Manna of course was the bread given to Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness. Like many things in Israel’s history, this pointed to a future, greater, heavenly something.

Jesus said, “I Am the Bread of Life”, He provides His people with spiritual food. That Christ is the true manna, is at least one of the suggestions for the “hidden manna”.  Other thoughts are that the manna alludes to a future reward and that believers being satisfied with spiritual food now is a foretaste of future fulfillment.

It should  be noted that this church was charged with worldliness and the eating of unholy food sacrificed to idols, and then Christ promises heavenly food to the true believers.

The second promise is a white stone. 

There are many, many suggestions about what the white stone symbolizes. The one I think is best refers back to a custom of the time where a white stone was given as a ticket into a special event or was given to a victor of the games to enter a special feast.

It is then suggested that the hidden manna my refer to the Messianc feast, and this stone being inscribed with a person’s name serves as an individualized guarantee of admission to the feast.

There is a third promised that is directly linked to the “white stone”, that is a “new name”.

There are a number of suggestions for this as well, but only one makes sense to me.  It is thought that this new names is individualized to the believer and somehow shows the uniqueness of how God worked with this person and the honor and affection God has for him. 

John MacArthur said it this way, “Whenever I have preached on this passage, someone will invariably ask what I think the secret name is. The whole point is that ‘no one knows.’ It is no doubt a name of personal affection and honor—a name that marks out God’s triumphant overcomers and reflects His love for His adopted children (MacArthur, p102)”.

Conclusion:

So what are we supposed to take away from this?

1. Christ centered, gospel centered churches need to be vigilant in their teachings and doctrine.

We need to be careful not to let worldly teachings and philosophies enter the church. I was speaking with one of you this week, and the concern this person had for their grandchildren and children that are attending a church of a different denomination in a nearby town. Their granddaughter was told by a pastor at this church that John 3:16 isn’t true and that there is more than way to God. Within the last month two different “celebrity” mainline Christians have renounced their faith and are now looking for answers.

2. The Church of Pergamon should be a warning to every church and christian.

This is why we have saved church membership and candidates meet with myself and the deacons; this is why we have a statement of faith, this is why we have church discipline and restoration as a part of our constitution. These are ways we can protect our churches from worldliness and false doctrine. But just because we have these things in place is not enough. Affirming sound doctrine and practicing it are different. James 1:22 tells us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers.

3. Worldliness has been a threat to corporate and personal holiness since the OT.

See to what God Israel in Leviticus 18:1-5:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.”

Letters from Jesus #2

Copy of 7 churches

Letters from Jesus #2

Revelation 2:8-11

The Sweet Smelling Church: 

Suffering Smyrna

“O Lord. Show me yourself within your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me.”

Introduction:

Smyrna is the only city of these seven that is still in existence. Today, it is the Turkish city of Izmir.

Smyrna comes from the word “myrrh”. We recognize that from the gifts of the wiseman to the Christ Child, but this perfume was primarily used to in the burial process of the dead.

This city was located about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus on the coast of the Aegean Sea with well-planned port harbor. 

This city was ancient even at John’s writing of Revelation.

The city is thought to be originally founded in 1000 BC. In the 600s BC this city was destroyed by the king of Lydia. It remained like that until 290 BC when two Alexander the Great’s successors made good on his plan to rebuild the city.

The rebuilt city was known for architecture. It held a group of buildings that was called the “crown of Smyrna”. The city was also known for its science, medicine, and academics. The poet Homer was supposedly from Smyrna.

008-seven-churches-maps
image from freebibleimages.org

The city was religious to a fault. It held temples to Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Asclepius and Cybele. When the city became an ally of Rome, it erected a temple to Rome, deification of the city was the goddess Roma. Later the city would beat other cities out of the right to build a temple to Tiberius.

However, there was a church in the city as well. We don’t know for sure when this church began, but most believe it was started during Paul’s time in Ephesus in Acts 19. In fact we don’t have any other Scriptural reference to this church other than here in Revelation. This church would see persecution for many years, and when Christ had John send a letter to them, His message was one of comfort and encouragement, Smyrna is one of two churches that doesn’t receive a word of condemnation.

What is happening v 8-9

Christ begins by calling Himself, “the First and the Last, the one who was dead and came to life”. Christ reminds this church that He was before the beginning and will be after the end. Christ reminds this church in a city that thrived, was destroyed and received new life that He suffered and died and was raised to life. This letter is one of encouragement and promise.

This letter begins with Christ’s knowledge of the church. He says, “I know”. I know what is happening, I know what you are going through.

Christ tells them that He knows the affliction or tribulation that the church is going through. Christ is commending them for persevering.

 The construction of the phrases is that the church’s poverty and the slander they face are part of the affliction or persecution.

Their poverty is tied to the affliction they are facing. It is unlikely that this poverty was from the church being made up of people from the poorer classes, or because they were a heavily Jewish church and  expelled from the synagogue losing their property and good; but as a result of the persecution. The word used here indicates that they weren’t just lacking in things, they were destitute, they had nothing. They didn’t even have the means to improve their standing.

Remember that this city was extremely devout and loyal to Rome and the cult of the Emperors. During this time, under the reign of Domitian, annual sacrifices to the Emperor at his temple were mandatory, failure to do so was a capital offense. Even failing to say “Caesar is Lord” when prompted would lead to a death sentence. This is the pagan atmosphere this church lived in, worshipped in, died in.

Christ not only told the Smyrna Church that He knew of their poverty, He reminded them that they were rich.

This parenthetical remark by Christ reminds us that material wealth is nothing compared to living a godly life and the riches of God.

This remark is in stark contrast to Christ’s condemning words to the church of Laodicea in chapter 3, “‘For you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. ” (3:17 CSB). The church in Laodicea had all the material things they wanted, but were spiritually bankrupt. They didn’t have the things that really mattered, such as “faithfulness, holiness, perseverance, and love for God (Macarthur, John. Christ’s Call to Reform the Church, © 2018, p78)”. However, the church of Smyrna may have been poor, they were spiritually rich.

Not only was their persecution affecting their livelihood, but they were being slandered by the Jewish population. 

In the 1st century there were a number of accusations that were leveled against the early church. Things like, cannibalism, immorality, breaking up homes, and political disloyalty. More than likely political disloyalty was a favorite to use in Smyrna were Rome was such a high priority.

Why would the Jews be doing this? Throughout the book of Acts the Jews have opposed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and those spreading the gospel.

Christ calls these Jews a “synagogue of Satan”. These Jews were acting no better than the pagans around them as they opposed the Church of God. Their worship was just as dead and meaningless the other pagan worship in Smyrna.

The idea behind the statement “those who say they are Jews and are not” is not that these were not natural Jews or Jewish proselytes. It’s the idea that though they were Jews by birth, spiritually they were blasphemous and enemies of God. Paul speaks to this condition in Romans 2:28-29, “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart — by the Spirit, not the letter. That person’s praise is not from people but from God. (CSB)”

What is about to happen v10

After comforting the church by telling them He knows and understands what they are going through, Christ gives the church a warning and promise.

The letter is continued with a command to not fear what is coming. 

It appears that though the church was in the midst of persecution, they were expecting more and were becoming afraid because of it. The church in Smyrna faced persecution for many years. 

In about fifty years time, Polycarp a Church Father and bishop of Smyrna was martyred by being burned at the stake. The Jewish population apparently was so opposed to the Church that they allied themselves with the pagan government and broke the Sabbath by bringing most of the wood gathered for Polycarp’s pyre.

Christ did not promise deliverance, but tells them what the coming persecution will be.

A new round of intensified persecution was about to start. This would see some of the members of the church imprisoned to test or try the church. The verb for test is passive meaning the action is happening to the subject. There are differing views on where the testing begins. Is God the originator of the test or Satan or both? I think, that it is both. Though God is not directly spoken of here as testing, ultimately God is allowing Satan to use his servants to test the Church.

The language implies that Satan is testing or trying the church to get them to  fall away, to get them to sin and renounce Christ.

But we see an element of encouragement here that this period of persecution was limited. Christ tells them this affliction will only last ten days. There are multiple views on what “ten” means. Some think this is symbolic in a number of ways. Ten specific periods of time, ten representing a large number, ten representing a small number, ten days meaning periods or years. However, I hold to the natural reading that ten days is ten days. Christ was warning them that an intense short time of ten days of persecution was coming. This fits best with the overall encouragement that this letter intends.

The last part of verse 10 holds a command and a promise.

Christ tells the church to “Be faithful”. The idea is actually keep proving their faithfulness. The idea is to continue doing what you are already doing.

This plays directly with the next phrase of “to the point of death”. The idea here is not that you can be faithful unless your life depends on it, but continue to be faithful as if your life depends on it. This doesn’t mean everyone in the church will die a martyr’s death, but that corporately, everyone would be willing to make that sacrifice.

The reward for the faithful, those true believers who through God’s strength and mercy persevere throughout this life, will receive the crown of life. This crown is not a royal crown signifying importance or standing, but the word implies the victor’s crown. The laurel wreath given to winners of the games. We see this promise in James 1:12 as well. The question of what the crown of life is, is still discussed. Is crown being used in a symbolic way or will certain believers receive a special reward beyond eternal life? Most sources I looked at, took the line that only true believers will persevere, will remain faithful, therefore the reward is eternal life that is promised to those who believe in Christ.

The Final Reward v11

Christ closes the letter to the Smyrna Church with an invitation and promised reward.

Christ then gives an invitation to all who hear the message, this makes us think back to the original blessing given in 1:3.

This invitation is given in all seven letters, but the first three letters give the invitation before the promise to the overcomer, while the last four letters hear the promise before the invitation.

We also need to see that this invitation is given to the churches, plural. This tells us that each of these invitations were first for each individual church, then all the churches in Asia Minor, and then by extension to every church worldwide.

So what is the promise to the one who conquers here?

That the overcomer will not be harmed by the second death.

The negative, never, the word used there “is the strongest negative assertion of the future of which the Greek language is capable” (Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary, © 1992, p174).

We should note that overcomer or the one who conquers or terms John uses talking about the truly born-again believers. This promise logically tells us that harm will come to those who are not overcomers. That harm being the second death. John will identify the second death later in the book (20:14 and 21:8) as the lake of fire. The place of eternal punishment away from God.

Conclusion:

Not every church or every Christian is called upon to suffer persecution like the church in Smyrna, but every Christian is called to be faithful to Christ.

Are we so faithful? What if in the next few years saying our Pledge of Allegiance is the most important thing a citizen can do, what if Americana becomes the dominating religion and freedom to worship only comes after saying “Caesar is Lord”? Will we be faithful? 

I mentioned earlier that Polycarp was bishop/pastor in Smyrna and was martyred there, he was asked to curse God and say “Caesar is Lord” or offer a sacrifice at Caesar temple to save his life. “We are told the faithful pastor responded, ‘Eighty and six years have I served Him, and HE never did me injuryl how can i blaspheme my King and my Savior?’ (MacArthur, p82)” Right now this is speculation, no one is threatening us with death or imprisonment if we don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, but if they were? Could we respond like Polycarp? Will Christ find us faithful?

Remember Smyrna is a translation of myrrh, and myrrh only gives off its sweet aroma when it is crushed. 

Letters from Jesus #1

Letters from Jesus #1

Title: Behold Our God

Text: Revelation 1:1-20

Background and Setting 1-11

Title 1-3

Verses 1-3 gives us the book’s title, author and a blessing to the obedient hearers of the book. Revelation comes from a Greek word that we get our English word apocalypse that means an unveiling, a manifestation, a showing, a revelation. Then we also see the author is the Apostle John. He calls himself a servant or slave of Jesus who testified and gave witness about Jesus and the word of God. Then John gives a blessing to the reader and hearer of this book in verse 3. Notice that the blessing isn’t just tied to hearing the Word, but doing it as well, this is like the exhortation in James 1 to be doers of the Word and not just hearers so we are not deceiving ourselves.

Greetings 4-6

In verse 4 John gives the official greeting to open the letter by addressing the seven churches in Asia. Those seven churches are later named specifically in verse 11. John prays for grace and peace for these churches from the triune Godhead. The first title, “who is, who was, and who is to come” is not a reference to Christ, but is actually being ascribed to the Father, the eternal God the I AM. 

The second title given is of “the seven spirits that are before his throne”. There is a lot of discussion on how to interpret this title, but most hold that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, but there is debate on how it relates to the Holy Spirit. The answer I am most satisfied with is tying John’s writing to Zechariah 4. In Zechariah 4, the prophet has a vision of seven lamps and there is mention of the seven eyes of the Lord seeing over the whole earth. If these references in Zechariah are also about the Spirit, then so is John’s reference here in Revelation 1, as well as chapters 3, 4, and 5.

John then names Jesus Christ as the third person giving grace and peace, but John also ascribes to Christ other titles. Theses titles and actions all point Jesus’ deity. John isn’t arguing for or proving Jesus’ deity, but he assumes its and gives honor to Christ. He also reminds his readers that we have become part of His kingdom and became like royal priests before God.

Doxology 7-8

John then goes into a doxology in verse 7 which is actually a combining of two different OT prophetic writers. He combines Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10 to create this doxology. This strengthens the link between this apocalyptic book with those prophecies from the OT. 

Then in verse 8, which has no direct connection to verse 7, we hear the voice of God telling us the He is Alpha and Omega. He is the One who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. He is from the beginning with no beginning, He will be at the end with no ending, and He is everything in between. His is the all powerful Eternal God.

Calling 9-11

John then moves into his calling to write this letter. In vers 9 he connects with the seven churches by identifying himself as their brother and partner in the work of the Gospel through the afflictions and the endurance that they were facing with the open persecution from
Rome. He tells them that he was on the Island of Patmos, an inhospitable rocky island prison, as a result of his testimony for Christ. John says that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. John was at the very least probably spending time personally worshipping when he was filled by the Holy Spirit and given this vision. The vision begins with John hearing a loud trumpet like voice from behind him telling him to write to these specific seven churches.

image from freebibleimages.org

Why would John be writing to these churches? Church tradition and history tells us that when the Jews rebelled against Rome in the late 60s AD John left Jerusalem for Asia Minor where these churches are located. There he ministered to and with these churches and developed a close relationship with them. But this book was written later, around 90-92 AD, near the end of John’s life. 

This section sets the tone for the next couple of chapters and for the rest of the book. We see eternality and power of the Godhead, the deity of Christ, and we also see that the key to the book of Revelation is not the Church, but Jesus Christ. Christ is revealed to John, Christ speaks to these churches, Christ is the center of chapter 4 and 5 and on through the book. Behold our God.

Christ in Glory 12-16

Lampstands and Son of Man 12-13

After hearing this trumpet like voice, John does the most natural thing he could do, he turned around to see Who was speaking to him. After turning around the first thing he saw was seven golden lampstands. We will see in a few verses that these lampstands symbolize individual churches in different cities as churches are supposed to show God’s light throughout the earth, there are deeper meanings as well, since Revelation is heavily dependant on the OT. The reference here is similar to the gold lampstand in Zechariah’s vision in chapter 4 of that book, and to the seven branched lampstand that was in the Tabernacle. Both of these symbolized God’s people being a light to those around them.

Among these lampstands John sees a person, and uses the phrase “one like the Son of Man”. More than likely John is meaning this phrase in the messianic sense that many of us would think of, especially John heard Jesus use this term of Himself as Jesus quoted Daniel in Mark 13:26. Then John tells us of the dress the Son of Man is wearing. A long white robe with a golden sash across his chest. Many take this to symbolize Christ’s status as our great High Priest, but priests are not the only ones who wore long robes. It is possible that the robe signifies the general  high rank or dignity of the person.

Appearance 14-16

John continues to describe the appearance of Jesus in the next few verses. In six of the letters to the seven churches, Jesus uses as titles and descriptions of Himself from here to verse 20. So His presentation is an important aspect of those letters. John first describes Jesus’ hair as white wool and white snow. In Daniel 7 the Ancient of Days on the throne is the One with hair of white wool. Tying this to Jesus, we see the connection to Jesus’ deity and holiness. Then John describes His eyes as a flaming fires. This again links back to Daniel’s vision, in chapter 10 he describes the eyes of the angelic messenger in a similar way. The general idea is of a supernatural intelect, but in John’s writing of Christ the fiery eyes represents His omniscience. That He knows all and sees all. There is nothing that is hidden from the Lord.

John then describes Jesus’ feet as “bronze as it is fired in a furnace”. Visually what we should be thinking of is pure bronze when it is still in the crucible, when the metal is in its molten state at a high temperatures. The idea is a glow so bright that you cannot look straight at it. This image should be understood to represent Christ’s purity. John then describes the sound of Christ’s voice as that of rushing or crashing waters. Throughout Scripture, wording like this tends to show a powerful force. This phrase is also found in the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 43:2 and is associated with God the Father. Again, we see the equality of the Father and the Son. This same voice was described as a trumpet a few verses ago, but it is likely that the trumpet description was used to indicate the introduction while the power force of crashing waters gives the authority behind the commision to write.

Verse 16 finishes Jesus appearance. We start by seeing in His right hand He hold seven stars. In verse 20 we are told what these stars are, angels or messengers of the seven churches. I believe that the better translation should be messengers here as they seem to be in leadership or have an authority within these churches, and angels are described as ministering spirits in Hebrews 1. Angels are not seen as having authority over the church, and why would Christ need to John to write letters to angelic beings to give them to the churches? So if we hold that these stars are messengers/leaders/pastors of the churches what is symbolic of them being Christ’s right hand? There are two views about that. One is that the right hand is viewed as authoritative and controlling, the other is the idea of protection and comfort. Both of these views can be argued from Scripture, but I am going to take the middle ground on this and say it is a mixture of both comfort/protection and authority/control.

John also describes a sharp double edged sword coming from His mouth. There is OT and NT passages that can relate to this image. More likely the one that comes to mind is Hebrew 4:12 describing the Word of God as a sword. John then describes Jesus face as the sun shining in its strength, or at high noon. This is the climax of this vision with the overwhelming power of the glory of Christ. Some sixty years previous, John, his brother James, and Peter were able to witness Jesus in His glory on the Mt of Transfiguration where Jesus face was said to shine like the sun, here John is able to see that glory again.

We see Christ here in His glory. We see Christ in His deity. We see Christ among the Churches, seeing all, knowing all. We see Christ ruling over and guarding His ministers in His Churches. We also see Christ is moving in judgement against the churches. Behold our God.

Commission to Write 17-20

John’s Response 17a

Here again, John does the natural thing, he falls down at the feet of Christ. Ezekiel did the same in his vision of God. The appearance of the Lord causes men to realize Who the are before, and in fear and shame they fall before Him in worship.

Christ’s Comfort 17b-18

Christ doesn’t leave John like this, He lays His hand upon John’s back and tells him to not be afraid and then confirms Who He is to John. Jesus gives John another “I Am” statement by calling Himself the First and the Last. The Lord continues by saying He is the Living One, The Lord is the only living god. Other “gods” are dead idols. But Jesus is the One Who conquered death. He hold the keys to death and Hades. The keys are a symbol of authority. Christ has absolute dominion over the death and the realm of the dead, hades.

Commission 19-20

Verse 19 is the commission to write. This verse is also the main outline to the book of revelation if you interpret from a futurist perspective as I do. Chapter 1 the things you saw, the vision of Christ; Chapters 2-3 the things that are, the seven churches; Chapters 4-22 the things that will be, the future events. 

Verse 20 Christ explains the meaning of the seven lampstands and the seven stars. We have already discussed the lampstands and stars earlier as we walked through this vision of Jesus.

Though Jesus was coming in judgement, coming in power and authority, He wasn’t coming for John. The faithful servant of Christ’s never has a need to fear Christ’s coming, though our natural response to fall in worship of Him and in shame and repentance of our sin. Behold our God.

Conclusion:

This morning we looked at John’s vision of Jesus. We saw Christ’s deity as a member of the Godhead. We saw Christ’s power and authority among the churches. We saw what our response should be when we are confronted by our holy God, but we also saw that Christ is compassionate on those who are faithful to Him.

It is easy to focus on Christ as the Lamb, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. It is easy to focus on Christ as our Great High Priest ever making intercession for us before the Father. But we should never forget that Christ is just as all powerful, all knowing, and eternal as the Father. Let us not forget Whom we serve and Whose church we are. Behold our God.