Now as you know, last Sunday we began to look at the book of Revelation, and the reason I felt urgency to do this is because there seems to be so much confusion in our world about the future, and it seems to be so ominous. The powers that be in our country, and I think elsewhere in the world, are trying to do everything they can to frighten people about the future so they can exercise certain control over them, and I think that’ll continue to escalate. They are not in charge of the future, by any stretch of the imagination. The environmentalists are not in charge of the future, nor are the polluters in charge of the future. No human being is in charge of the future; that belongs to God and God alone. And to have that perspective—that is, the divine perspective—you have to go to the Word of God; and no better place than the book of Revelation.
Now, as we come to the second part of chapter 1, just to kind of introduce it in the framework of what we’ve been doing over the last couple of months, I did some sermons on the life of the church. We talked about that in church membership. We talked about the role that the people of God have in the life of the church. And then also, I addressed the responsibility of the pastors and shepherds of the church and what it is that the Word of God calls us to do. But I want this morning, as you look at this first chapter of Revelation with me, to show you what Christ is doing in His church. It’s important what you do; it’s important what I do. But it’s far more important what He’s doing. And there’s no mystery about that; it’s not hidden. It may not be visible on the outside, but you have a full explanation of what the Lord is currently doing in His church in this amazing chapter.
At the same time, you have the vision of what I call the glorified Son. This is the transcendent vision of Christ in His glory; and that’s a dramatic change from the rest of the Bible. In the Old Testament, you had prophecies about the Messiah’s coming, and occasionally He appeared as the angel of the Lord, and the prophets spoke about His future reign and glory. But when Christ came, He came in humiliation, He came in the incarnation, and He lived in this world in a lowly way and eventually died and rose again; and that was the end of human history as He ascended into heaven—the end of human history seeing Him. People on earth haven’t seen Him since then, except with a few visions through the apostles. So the last view of the world, the last view that humanity has of Jesus is basically that of His incarnation. And for many people, it appeared as though whatever He was trying to do, to bring peace and love and truth and wisdom to the world, He failed and ended up on a cross, and that was it.
But this is the vision that we all need, in chapter 1 of Revelation. This is Christ now. This is Christ now in His glory. And obviously, we can’t see that with our human eyes, but we can see it through the revelation of Scripture. John saw what He’s doing, in His church now in His glory, in a vision, and he captured that vision under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote it down so that we can share in that vision and be instructed as to what the Lord is doing in His church. And when I talk about His church, I’m talking about the true church. I’m not talking about denominations, I’m not talking about buildings, I’m talking about the true church, those people who belong to Him.
And we all know that there are many false forms of the church and many false believers in the church. So we’re talking about the true church, the church that the Lord redeems, that the Lord brings to glory as His bride. This is what the Lord is doing in His church. And it’s a very important perspective for us to have because, frankly, there is so much discouragement about the condition of the church, so much discouragement and disillusionment about spiritual leadership or the lack thereof. You can get depressed if you look long enough at the failures of the church and its weakness. We would all love to think of the church as the beautiful bride of Christ without spot and without blemish. We would love to see the church the way Paul referred to it: as the pure, chaste virgin. But we would like a beautiful bride, but instead, we get a ragged Cinderella, who seems to have suffered the stroke of the clock at midnight and is the worse for it.
We who preach and teach and are called to lead the church are continually burdened with the care of the church. Paul said, over all the other issues in his life, 2 Corinthians 11, the most suffering and pain that he experienced had to do with the care of the church because, he said, “Who sins and I don’t feel the pain?” It is the weakness and failure of the church that makes it a different burden than, maybe, many other burdens, because the church, you’re dealing with people you never see perfected until you get to glory. And so it always seems as though we’re climbing a hill and never able to see the fulfillment of what we would wish for the Lord—well, both for our own lives, as leaders, and for the people we serve.
I suppose we could say it this way. We would long that people have a deep fellowship with Christ, that those who know Christ would have a cultivated communion with Him that is deep and profound and rich and expresses itself in true worship, pure worship. And we desire for people in the church to have power over temptation. We know the power is available, but we wish that they were able to access that power over temptation and power over their trials and, certainly, power over sin. We pray for strength for all of you. We pray for victory in the spiritual struggle and battle. That’s what we desire.
We desire that you would be holy, that you would be marked by righteousness and virtue and purity. We desire that you would come fully under the authority of the living and abiding Word of God, so that you could walk in obedience to His Word and know the fullness of blessing. We long for godly leaders to set a holy example for God’s people and how they are to live. We desire for the church to be protected from unholy, satanic deception, which is constantly assaulting the church. And we are also concerned that the church reflect the glory of God, that the church be a light shining in the world for the gospel.
All of these things are what we desire for the church. And yet all of us understand that we never seem to get there; we are always falling short. Every genuine shepherd carries a heavy burden with regard to that, and it’s one of the reasons why sometimes people drop out of the ministry, because they become discouraged or depressed about the absence of what they would hope would be in the church, or the patterns of success or the maturity that’s lacking. It can and it does discourage many people to see the church fall short of what the Lord would want it to be.
But I’m here for this morning to give you some good news. You can be encouraged. I’ve seen about all you could see in over half a century of shepherding this church, and I can tell you, I’ve never for one second been discouraged by the church. I’ve been discouraged by my own weakness and failure, I’ve been discouraged by the weakness and failure of others, but I’ve never been discouraged by the Lord, because He never fails, and He is strong.
And what matters to me is what He’s doing in the church. And He gets around our frailties; and you can be confident of what He’s doing in the church. In fact, John gives us a picture of it right here in this amazing vision.
You have reason to have great confidence in the future. People keep asking me in the last couple of days, “What about the war in Israel?” and I’m just reminded of Matthew 24, there’ll be wars and rumors of wars, and when does that all stop? And powerful nations rise and fall, and conflict exists. And everything you’re seeing in the world has always been in the world to some degree or another; and the solution is never there. It’s never in the world because the world is the world, and it’s part of the evil system.
But we in the church have a triumphant Savior. And Paul says to the Corinthians, “We always triumph in Christ.” The church will triumph. Christ said, “I’ll build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
And the reason for this is not the skill of pastors or even the faithfulness of parishioners. The reason for the success of the church is the work of Christ on earth. And I know the first thought you have about Christ in this age is that He’s in heaven, that He left the earth and went to heaven on the Mount of Olives, said goodbye, and said, “I’m coming back,” in His ascension. But we think of Him as in heaven. That, however, is not the way this vision presents Him. This vision presents Christ in His church, in His church, in all His beauty, majesty, magnificence, and glory. So this is a vision that we all need desperately. We need to see the triumph of Christ in His church and the means by which He is triumphing; and we’ll see that in a moment.
Just a note to say about poor John the apostle. If you look at verse 9, where we left off last Sunday, John is writing, and he says, “I, John.” He says that, “I, John,” several times in this passage because it just seems impossible to him that he would be chosen for such privilege.
“I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, and was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” So that sets the scene. John is on the isle of Patmos, about forty miles or so from Miletus, which was a port connected to Ephesus. Patmos is small island, about five miles by ten miles. It’s really a piece of rock jutting out of the Mediterranean. I’ve been there a few times. And it was a penal colony. It basically was a prison. You were taken there to die; bad food, bad clothing, bad company, hard labor, defined it.
So this is John’s condition. He is a prisoner in a penal colony of the worst riffraff that society has to offer. And he is the last living apostle; all the rest are gone. For the most part, they have been systematically terminated by Christ-haters. This is a pattern that John, I don’t think, really expected; I don’t think any of the disciples expected, that when Jesus said, “I’m going to come back and set up My kingdom,” I don’t think that they thought necessarily it would even be beyond their lifetimes. They might have thought He would be coming back very soon, even when they were still alive. But that has all faded away.
All his fellow apostles, as I said, have been martyred, and Jerusalem at this point, by the time you get into 90 AD, Jerusalem has been sacked and totally destroyed. Back in the 70s, the Romans came and slaughtered the Jews, massacred hundreds of thousands of them; then went through the land of Israel and basically terrorized and tortured people in 985 towns and villages. So the hope for the future of the kingdom at its capital Jerusalem was gone, from a human perspective. The nation Israel was the subject of a massacre by pagans. The apostles are all gone. John is a prisoner. It really doesn’t look like this is the path to the kingdom. It doesn’t look like this could possibly be what the Lord wanted. And he’s basically unable to carry on his own ministry because they have isolated him to a penal colony, because they don’t want him spouting off about the Word of God and the testimony of Christ. So faithfulness got him there.
It’s really hard to think about that. He knew God had plans for Jerusalem. He knew that. Jesus had said that Jerusalem would be destroyed. But he knew from the Old Testament that Jerusalem would have a golden era and rise again, and that seemed really remote. And what about the apostles? They didn’t seem successful. They all ended up as martyrs. And now look at his own condition—an old man all alone in a penal colony, most likely sleeping on the ground in a cave. And I’ve had the privilege of wandering through some of those caves.
And he had this to deal with as well: He had had a ministry in Asia Minor, and he had full, firsthand knowledge of the churches that had developed there—and you can see them listed in verse 11: the church at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia, and Laodicea—seven churches in Asia Minor. But things weren’t going well for the churches. You might have thought you could look at the churches and say, “Well, even though all is gone in Israel as far as we can tell, and the apostles are gone, the churches are flourishing.”
But that wasn’t the case. The church at Ephesus had left its first love; it had abandoned its affections for the Savior. And the Lord threatened to close it down, and eventually did. The church at Pergamos was idolatrous and immoral, and the Lord was about to fight against it, and He tells them that, and He did. The church at Thyatira was compromised by sin and worldliness and also faced divine judgment. The church at Sardis that once was alive is now completely dead, and the church at Laodicea is nauseatingly hypocritical. So that’s five out of the seven churches that, really, are threatened by the Lord of the church with judgment because they had defected from their love for Him and the truth.
So it’s a bleak picture for this beleaguered prisoner. And it’s not unlike today. As you look at the church, and you see liberalism and legalism and division and racism and compromise and immorality and heresy and carnality and apostacy and materialism and unsound doctrine, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, you wonder how the church is going to survive all of this. And sometimes the folks proclaiming the truth and being faithful seem like a small minority rejected by the world, and even rejected by many in the “church.”
So we’re like John, in a sense. We need a vision of the future. So many people worried about the future, when the Bible tells us exactly what the future is going to be. And anything and everything that’s happening to us in this hour and this moment fits perfectly in the divine revelation that God has planned for this planet. But we need to know what the future of the church is going to be like, and that’s why we’re given this vision. We need to be taken to see the Lord in His church, and that’s what we have starting in verse 9.
John is on the isle of Patmos. And in the 10th verse, he says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” That simply means he was in tune with the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. That’s a Sunday. It happened to be a Sunday. There wouldn’t be any church services there. There probably weren’t very many believers, if John had found any. He was “in the Spirit,” meaning he was in tune with the Spirit of God on a Sunday. And that may be he was meditating on the Old Testament, or meditating on some words that the apostle Paul had written or one of the other apostles. But he was sensitive to the Holy Spirit on that day.
And verse 10 says, “I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet.” All of a sudden in that little cave—they show you a cave when you’re there that tradition goes back a long ways to say at some point John might have been in. And a trumpet blast in a cave would deafen you. And so John is literally shattered out of whatever kind of meditation he was in.
And this is a voice. This is not a trumpet, but this is a voice that sounds like a trumpet, and the voice speaks directly, in verse 11, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and Philadelphia and Laodicea.” That’s a postal route, in sequence, for Asia Minor.
So, “You’re going to write down what you see”—this series of visions—“and you’re going to make six copies, and you’re going to hand those seven copies to seven people”—seven messengers, seven representatives of those churches—“who will take the book of Revelation with the seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor, so that each church will get a copy of the book of Revelation. And in each of the seven there will be a message to each church.”
So that’s the setting. He is in the Spirit, which means he is beyond the normal human preoccupation. He is sensitive to the Lord in a sense that he’s about to have a vision, a vision. It is spiritual reality, transmitted somehow, through imagery, to the mind and the soul. And this is what he sees: “I turned”—verse 12—“to see the voice that was speaking with me.” And it was, of course, the Lord. This is the Lord speaking to John, and He’s going to tell him what He’s doing in the church in spite of what it looks like.
“I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands.” The setting is the lampstands. Those would be oil lamps. There would be seven of them, representing the seven churches; and the seven churches, because seven is the number of completion, represent the church in full. So what he sees here is seven golden lampstands—golden because the church is valuable, lampstands because the church is the light of the gospel shining in the world. And so the vision is of the churches as lampstands. And “in the middle of [these] lampstands,” verse 13, “I saw one like a son of man.” Now, that has to be Christ.
The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches. Go down to verse 20: “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand”—and we’ll comment on that later—“and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches”—or the messengers of the seven churches, representatives of those churches—“and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” So he’s seeing the seven churches. Those lampstands are sort of symbolic of these seven churches, which are symbolic of the whole church in the vision. They would be lit with oil; and that’s what John sees in a visionary way.
But more importantly, “In the middle of the lampstands”—in verse 13—“I saw one like a son of man.” This language, “son of man,” comes from Daniel chapter 7, verses 13 and 14, where the prophet says concerning the coming Messiah, “One like a Son of Man was . . . given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all people and nations and men of every language might serve Him.” And this is an everlasting kingdom that will never be destroyed. So “the Son of Man” was a title for Messiah. This, then, is Christ, and John is seeing Christ in the middle of the churches. He’s identified with His church.
So this is a place I want to start. I’ll give you a few points to unfold this scene. One, he sees the ministry of Christ to His church from within His church. He inhabits His church. He inhabits His church. This is a marvelous reality. He is not just in heaven sending down orders, He is in His church. He lives in His church. “Christ lives in me,” says the apostle, “the hope of glory. I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” Romans 8, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he’s none of His.”
You are the temple of the Spirit of God. God the Father and the Son have taken up residence in you. This is the wonder of the true church of Jesus Christ, that the Lord inhabits the church—individually to start with, and then collectively as well. When we gather, He gathers with us. He inhabits our praise. He is in us individually and collectively. So this morning, as every time we gather, He’s here; but He’s always here in the life of a believer.
That’s why in the Great Commission, Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always.” John 14:18, “I will not leave you; I will come to you,” He promised the disciples. John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me”—and here’s the key—“I’ll make My abode with him.” If you love Him, He lives in you. Paul says in Colossians 3, “Christ is all and in all.” Colossians 3 again, verse 4, “Christ, who is our life.” No matter how the church struggles, no matter how difficult it is, the Son of Man is alive in His people, individually, and collective in their gathering. This is the reality of the Christian gospel, and the gift is not just salvation, it is Christ Himself who takes up residence in His people.
So our future is in His hands, and He is in our midst. He does not forsake us; He does not abandon us; He will never leave us. That is impossible, because He is in us. The fellowship never stops. The communion stops, never has a break. There’s never a moment when His presence and power are not in His church.
The second thing John sees is that He intercedes for His church. And this is a dramatic picture. As he looks at the Son of Man, he sees Him “clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.” This robe is—podērēs is the word, and it’s a familiar word. It’s used in the Old Testament Greek, which is the Septuagint, and when it’s used, it’s used of a king or a prophet, and most importantly, of a priest. Six out of seven times that word appears in the Old Testament, it’s a priest.
So is this presenting Christ as King? Well, it certainly could be. He is King. Is it presenting Him as a prophet? Kings wore robes; prophets wore robes. It could be. He certainly is the ultimate Prophet. But the second part of His clothing identifies it more specifically: “And girded across His chest [was] a golden sash,” a golden sash, or belt. This was worn by the high priest. Go back to the Old Testament. You can go back to Exodus 28, 29, Exodus 39, Leviticus chapter 16, I think it is, and you find the high priest with that golden sash.
So what are we seeing here? Christ is in His church, interceding for His church. That’s what a priest did. Priests interceded between men and God. He’s acting on behalf of His church as our High Priest. Hebrews 2:17, He is “a merciful and faithful high priest . . . able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” Hebrews 3:6, Jesus, the high priest of our confession, “faithful . . . over His house—whose house we are.” Hebrews 4:15, “A high priest who [can] sympathize with our weaknesses.” And then Hebrews 9:11 and 12 gives a specific function of this High Priest: “When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come”—that’s our future—“He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation”—not like a high priest; didn’t go into a tent or a temple. And He “[didn’t go] through the blood of [bulls] and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.”
He comes as the “high priest . . . [who has] obtained eternal redemption.” What is that saying? You remember that the high priest, before he went into the Holy of Holies, had to offer a sacrifice—a sacrifice for the sins of the people and a sacrifice for his own sins. And then he could, on Yom Kippur, go into the presence of God.
Well, our High Priest has entered into the presence of God not by blood from bulls and goats; but by His own blood, He has purchased our redemption and entered into the presence of God. And He is there now, to advocate for us. He’s there to defend us against all accusations. He is there to defend us against all enemies. He is there to take up our cause. He intercedes for us. He’s the lawyer for our defense. He knows we’re weak. He sympathizes with our weakness. He in all points was tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Perhaps the most wonderful picture of this high priestly work is found in Romans 8. This is familiar, but I think a glimpse of it will be an encouragement to you. Romans chapter 8, verse 31, says this: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”
Paul has been talking about the gospel, and in the previous verse, he said you were predestined by God, you were called to salvation; and if you were called, you were justified; and if you were justified, you will also be glorified. The elect will be glorified. Nobody gets lost. As Jesus said in John 6, “All that the Father gives will come to Me, and I will lose none of them.”
So in response to that secure salvation, Paul poses the question, “What . . . shall we say to these things?” Well, we say this: “If God is for us, who is against us?” There’s no higher court. There’s no one more powerful. There’s no one more wise who could circumvent this. If God is for us, that settles our eternity. And because He “did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
You can’t imagine that God would give up His Son to die for us and then His Son would lose us somehow. No. If He gave up His Son to deliver us, He will give us anything and everything else to secure that deliverance.
What about somebody coming along and bringing a charge against God’s elect, an accusation, like Satan did with Job? God is the one who justifies. God has declared you righteous. There is no higher court. There’s no more righteous being.
Verse 34, who’s going to condemn? “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” No charge against us will stand. No condemnation against us will stand because Christ is our High Priest, who paid for our redemption by His own blood, entered into the Holy of Holies, and intercedes for us.
“Somebody might come along and separate us from the love of Christ?” verse 35. No. “Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No, none of those will. Verse 37, “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” We conquer because He loved us enough to be certain that we could never be conquered.
“[So] I am convinced,” says Paul, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Father loves us, and the Father gave His Son; the Son paid the sacrifice, the Son intercedes, the Son secures our eternity.
The church is the church, and the church that was elect and called and justified will be glorified. The Lord is moving in His church in undiminished devotion, sympathy, and love, to secure His people forever, through all their dangers, sorrows, trials, and temptations. He knows what they are because He was exposed to them Himself.
And as John continues to look, he looks from, first of all, looking at clothing, in verse 13, to the person, the Son of Man, and he sees this in verse 14: “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow.” The word “white” there is leukon, not a flat kind of white but a blazing white like the glory of God. He sees this blazing glory. “And His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace.” So the vision shows him Christ in the church, Christ interceding for the church as its High Priest, and here He is purifying His church.
“His head and his hair [being] white like white wool, like snow,” is drawn from Daniel chapter 7, verse 9, which describes the Almighty God in the same way. So it’s obvious that the Lord is God. It’s a symbol of eternality, glory, holiness, purity of life, purity of truth, wisdom. So he sees the all-wise, all-holy, all-pure Son of Man; and He is doing what He can to maintain the purity of the church.
What does He do? Well, “His eyes [are] like a flame of fire,” like two lasers—like flaming torches, as it’s referred to in Daniel 10. He sees. He sees everything. Nobody escapes. Hebrews 4:13, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are laid bare to [His eyes].”
He sees everything in His church. Nothing is hidden. There are no secrets. His assessment of His church and every individual in it is an accurate one. And though He intercedes for the church and will not allow them to be lost—He will never stop loving them; He will never stop securing them—that does not mean that He is indifferent to their sin, because here you have the penetrating eyes of omniscience and divine wisdom and purity, searching out sin in the church.
And how does He react when He finds it? Verse 15, “His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace.” That’s very threatening. Those who ruled were always in elevated thrones, and the people below them were below their feet. The Lord is present in His church to fellowship with His church, to intercede for His church. But He’s also present in His church to discipline His church. He wants that chaste virgin. He wants that clean, sanctified church without spot, without blemish or wrinkle, holy and blameless, and so He works in His church to that end.
He unmasks sin, and He gives us pattern to follow, Matthew 18: Anybody who’s in sin, go to them, call them to repentance. If they don’t repent, take two or three witnesses. If they still don’t repent, tell the whole church. If they still don’t repent, put them out. The Lord wants the purity in His church. And it may mean that some people had to be put out of the church because they are like leaven that leavens the lump. They’re a bad influence.
It is also true that there are occasions when He literally takes a believer to heaven because that believer is doing damage to the church. And Paul said to the Corinthians, “Because of how you come to the Lord’s Table, some of you are weak and sick, and others of you are dead.” Sometimes it can be fatal—the Lord just removes someone.
What is all of this supposed to accomplish, this discipline? I think it can be explained in 1 Peter 5:10, “After you have suffered [a while], God . . . will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” It’s going to be through suffering, and some of that suffering is discipline. “Judgment must begin at the household of God,” 1 Peter. And John 15, “Every branch . . . He purges.” So what you have is red-hot, glowing brass—blazing, molten, pure, gleaming feet of judgment. He comes down on His church, like He did when He took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira, when He brings any kind of judgment.
Just to remind you of that, the twelfth chapter of Hebrews in verse 5, “[Have you] forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons”—this is to you that are true sons of God—“‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him’”—he’s talking about sons of God who are disciplined and reproved—“‘for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” And in the next verse he said that discipline “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” So it’s not punishment, it’s discipline. As much as we want a congregation that’s pure and holy, and do what we can to work for that, the Lord of the church wants it far more.
Number four, in the features that John sees, is found at the second part of verse 15: “His voice was like the sound of many waters.” He speaks with authority to His church. He speaks with authority to His church. He moves within His church, He intercedes for His church, He purifies His church, and here, He commands His church. Just the imagery: “His voice was like the sound of many waters.” The crashing of the breakers on the rocks of Patmos would be a good illustration of that. In the Great Commission, we go out and we preach the gospel, Matthew 28, and we teach men “to observe all things I have commanded you.”
Christ speaks to His church with authority. That’s what Scripture is, and that’s why Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the word. Preach the word in season, out of season,” because that is the authoritative message from the Lord of the church. The voice of the Lord of the church thunders like the surf in a storm pounding the rocks. And there is no greater message, than from heaven, than the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, more powerful, and cutting open a man and a woman inside and revealing the truth.
So the church listens when He speaks, the true church. The church itself is the pillar and ground of the truth. Then in verse 16, He controls His church: “In His right hand He [holds] seven stars.” And if you drop down to verse 20, as I mentioned earlier, “The seven stars which you saw in My right hand”—what are they? They are “the angelos of the seven churches.” There’s nothing about angels related to the church in this way. These are seven messengers. That word can mean, does mean, messengers, and it can be applied to angels. Apparently, there was a representative from each of the seven churches available to come to John and get access to these messages and take them back. But the point that’s being made here is the Lord has His leaders. He controls His church.
This is sometimes believed to be a human enterprise. We work so hard to find the best, the most capable, most devout, faithful young men to bring to the seminary to train for pastoral ministry. We do all we can to prepare them and to shape them and trust that the Lord is going to use them; and what a privilege that is. But in the end, this is really the work of Christ Himself. Those who are the messengers in His church are held in His right hand, in His right hand. That’s a tight grip.
Know this: In any generation, in any time, the Lord has His chosen leaders in His church; He has to. That’s the whole point. He gave some apostles and prophets, evangelists and teaching pastors, for the work of the ministry, for the edification of the body of Christ, so the body of Christ can grow into Christlikeness, Ephesians 4. So He wants maturity and sanctification and Christlikeness, He has to have leaders in His hand who bring that about. And men are at all levels of faithfulness and ability with regard to that. But the Lord brings all the resources together to accomplish through His chosen leaders the building of His church.
So don’t for a moment think He’s lost sovereign control over His church; He hasn’t. And He is concerned about the purity of the church; He’s concerned about the devotion to the truth, the bowing to the authority of His word; He’s interceding for the church; and He’s constantly in fellowship with His church. And number six, in verse 16, it says, “Out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” I would say this is where He protects His church, He protects His church.
And if you want to see an illustration of that, chapter 2, verse 12: “To the . . . church [at Pergamos] write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this,” and then He goes on to talk about being where Satan’s throne is. And then He says, verse 14, “I have a few things against you, because you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam”—this would be perversion of the truth—“who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans,” which is another deviation from the truth. And then, verse 16, “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them”—not against you, but “against them”—who is “them”? All those leading the corruption described in verses 14 and 15. “I will . . . war against them with the sword of My mouth.”
This is the sword that He uses. It’s two-edged. It’s a rhomphaia, it’s a huge broadsword, cuts every way. I mean, you know me by now. You know I want to fight against unsound doctrine, false teachers and false teaching, and cults and deceivers and frauds and fakes who seek to infiltrate the church. But as much as I want that and have virtually no power to thwart it, the Lord wants it far more, and has all power to thwart it. That is why they don’t succeed with His true church. They don’t succeed with His true church. But He makes war against them, and it’s a deadly, eternally deadly war.
And then, in verse 16, He reflects His glory through the church. “His face”—as he looked at this image—“was like the sun shining in its strength.” John saw the face of the Son of Man, and it was like the blazing sun at noonday—crystal-clear day, blazing glory. Matthew 13:43 says the faces of the righteous shine like the sun. This is a picture of Christ in His church and His glory shining from His church. He shines in us, 2 Corinthians 4:6, He shines in us “to give [others] the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” It’s what Jesus said: “Let your light shine, that men may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Or what the apostle Paul said with regard to the Philippians, that, “You are lights in the world.” So He reflects His glory through His church. And Jesus is saying, “Let that light shine.”
It’s an amazing, amazing picture. We who serve the church, who live for the church and die for the church, who work tirelessly to see it be what it should be—for us, this is great comfort, because these are the things that we would desire for the church: fellowship with Christ, help and strength in temptation and trial, purity and holiness, submission to the truth, strong leadership, and effective evangelistic testimony. And He, in this church, is doing all of that. The exalted Christ is present, empowering, interceding, purging, teaching, commanding, controlling, sovereignly evangelizing by shining the glory of His person through His church. This is a magnificent picture and one of immense encouragement.
Do you see this? Let’s look at John’s reaction in verse 17: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.” Fear. That was the standard operating reaction to anyone who saw a vision of the glory of God. It happened to Manoah. It happened to Job. It happened to the disciples several times. It happened to Peter. It happened to Ezekiel. It happened to Isaiah. It happened to Daniel. It happened to Paul on the Damascus Road.
A terrifying experience. A terrifying experience. And John was terrified into a coma, temporary coma, kind of holy fright. And how wonderful it was that John writes, “[Then] He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.’” “John, you have nothing to be afraid of. You belong to Me. You belong to Me. I am the first and the last,” meaning, “I dominate history. I am alive, and I’m in charge of who dies, and I’m in charge of who lives. You have nothing to fear.”
This is the kind of reaction that someone would have if they really saw the Lord, not like some of the foolishness that you hear from fraudulent testimonies on that supposed vision. So the Lord encourages him that he’s OK. Even under this immense vision, he’s OK, he’s OK, because Jesus decides who lives and who dies. And John will live.
And more than that, verse 19 gives him his commission: “Therefore write the things which you have seen, the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” “Go to work, John. Start writing. This is just the beginning.” Amazing.
Here is another saint who literally was devastated under the vision of God, who is called and commissioned, like Isaiah was, like Ezekiel was, like Paul was. “Get up, dust yourself off, and write the things which you have seen: the past, the things which are in the present, things which will take place after these things. Get back to work.”
It’s all history that John wrote. He’s writing history before it ever happened. He’s writing the future. And for us, go back to verse 3: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” You want to be blessed? Look at the future through the book of Revelation, not through any human perspective. It’s already written. History is written. It’s written in indelible ink. It can never be changed.
And just to summarize, let me borrow verse 7: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” That’s how it ends, with the return of Christ.
Father, thank You again for revealing to us these incredible realities and giving our hearts such great confidence and hope. We have faith in what You have done. We have faith in You as the Creator. We have faith in You as the sustainer of creation, the one who upholds all things by the word of His power. We have faith in the accomplishment of Christ on the cross. We look back in history, and we trust our eternal salvation to the truth of the historic event of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. We thank You that we know the past, and we believe the past, and it is on the basis of the past that we have come to You and repented of our sin and embraced salvation.
But Lord, it isn’t just the past that You revealed to us; You have revealed to us the future. And may we believe You as firmly with regard to the future as we do with the past. May we understand that with You, it was all written in eternity before there was any creation. Before there was any time or space, You wrote the full history; it’s all laid out. Help us to live in the joy of the life of the church, the redeemed life, and to spread the gospel and the love of Christ far and wide. Help us to live without dread or fear of the future, because it’s all in Your hands. In fact, we want You to bring the future, Your future. So we say with John, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
But until then we will rejoice, because we know how it all ends to the eternal glory of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and the everlasting blessing of the saints. Thank You for such a gift. Amen.
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