7 Stars and 7 Lampstands audio (4MB)
Today we begin a series on the book of Revelation. You may be aware that this is not an easy book to follow so let me give you a short introduction. The first thing to understand is that this is not a work of history, though it is firmly rooted in the history of the Church since Jesus Christ. It’s not wisdom literature like the psalms or proverbs. It is a letter, but not like any of the other letters you may be familiar with. It’s what’s called Apocalyptic. If you’d lived in the first century when John was writing this you’d understand exactly what that meant, but since you don’t, let me try to explain. Apocalyptic writing uses strange, often fantastic, imagery to describe what might happen in the future. The closest thing we have to it today would be science fiction/fantasy literature. But even that doesn’t really explain it because what we find here isn’t a linear story. It uses picture language, but the picture is moving. Someone has described it as mobile metaphor. Sometimes it’s like we’re looking at the same scene from multiple vantage points - the same characters and events pop up but the picture is different each time.
But let’s look at how the letter begins. He writes: “This is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” This is a message from God via Jesus Christ who sends an angel to John so he can pass the message on to us. And it’s a revelation. That is, it’s the unveiling of something that was previously hidden.
This revelation has its focus in Jesus Christ but it tells what’s about to happen to Christians in the time to come.
John says an interesting thing in v2. He says he testifies “to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ ... that he saw.” Did you get that? This is the word of God that he saw. Not that he heard or read. This is a vision. A vision that contains, encapsulates, God’s word. And it’s as we look at the pictures, the mobile metaphors, that we find God’s word for us. But because it’s God’s word in a vision we won’t find the nice neat connections that we would if we were reading the letter to the Romans or the Ephesians. This is moving imagery that needs to be seen as a whole, not in individual frames.
So why is this letter written to the churches in Asia? Well, it’s written to encourage and strengthen the church. We’re going to skip over the letters to the 7 churches because we looked at them a few years ago, but if you read them you’ll see that although each message is directed to a particular situation the thrust is the same in each case. God knows their situation, he encourages them to persevere and he promises that if they conquer, that is, if they get through to the end without losing their faith in Jesus Christ, they will receive a reward.
Jesus sends them this message to remind them that the God they worship is the one and only God and he has history under control, even if the present circumstances make them wonder whether that’s true.
And notice it’s written as a prophecy - to show his servants what must soon take place. This is a word from God, telling them how he wants them to live through the things that must take place. That is, those things that must happen as history moves towards its inevitable conclusion. What must happen if justice is to be brought about and God’s rule finally established.
Well let’s think about how he begins the letter.
The Person of Jesus Christ
Who he is
He says this letter is from Jesus Christ, and then he gives 7 descriptors of Jesus:
He’s the faithful witness. The word used is the word martyr. Jesus is the first Christian martyr. He’s the first to shed his blood as a sign of his faith in and allegiance to the living God. If the context of this message is persecution, then Jesus is the ultimate example of one who stood firm, who persevered in his obedience to God in the face of suffering and death.
He’s the firstborn from the dead. The ultimate answer to those who threaten us with suffering and death is the resurrection from the dead. Do you wonder whether our hope of eternal life is for real? Do you need some evidence that there’s something after this life? Just look at Jesus Christ; see his risen body; see those hands and side that he showed to Thomas in the upper room. The assurance that Jesus will save us in the end is his own risen body.
He’s the ruler of the kings of earth. Not only has he risen from the dead, but God has exalted him to his right hand of power. When we get to Revelation 21 we’ll see that on the last day the kings of the earth will come into the city of God bringing their tributes to the king, to the Lord God the Almighty and the lamb. And on that last day every knee will bow and every tongue confess him to be Lord. On that day all the power systems of our world will be overturned.
He loves us. That’s an encouraging reminder to people who are under pressure for their faith, isn’t it? He rules over all the kings of the earth, all the earthly rulers of our world will bow to him, yet he has a personal interest in us. He loves you and me. In fact Jesus’ statement is in the continuous present tense, if that means anything to you. As we’ll see in the next clause he loved us when he came to earth and he is loving us still. If you need encouragement for your Christian life meditate on the love that Jesus continues to hold for you.
He freed us from our sins by his blood. One of Satan’s prime methods of attack is to accuse us of failure to obey God. But we’ve been freed by Jesus blood. Satan’s accusations are emptied of their effect by Jesus saving death on the cross.
He’s made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father. That’s a two stage process. First we’re made a kingdom. Jesus is our king and he draws us into his kingdom as we become part of his Church. But then he gives us a task as his people. We’re to be priests serving his God and Father. What do priests do? They offer sacrifices to God. They lead the people in worship. They bring God’s word to the people and bring the prayers of the people to God. But now we’re all priests in this kingdom. So our collective task is to represent God before the world. We’re to bring God’s word to those who don’t know him. We’re to show the world that God is worth our worship and we’re to model that worship.
Finally, he’s coming in the clouds and every eye will see him. Jesus not only loves us and died for us; he not only rose from the dead; but he’s coming again. And Jesus is coming in the clouds in such a spectacular way that every eye will be turned to see him. Some will welcome him as the long awaited king, but others will weep and wail: “7every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” This message is important because Jesus is coming back again and those who aren’t prepared for his return are in big trouble!
Next we discover:
What he’s like
As John turns around to see who it is who’s speaking to him you can imagine his mouth falling open and him standing there breathless.
First he sees seven Lampstands. Later we’re told these lampstands represent the seven churches of Asia. For our purpose they represent the church here on earth.
Then he sees one like the Son of Man standing in their midst. Jesus Christ is standing in the centre of the churches. If you were to go back to the Exodus and read Numbers 1 you’d see that the Tabernacle was set up in the middle of the camp and then the various tribes were allocated positions around the Tabernacle. It was always in the centre of their camp to signify the fact that God was the centre of their life together. And here John sees Jesus Christ standing in the midst of the 7 lampstands as a sign that Christ is always in our midst.
He’s clothed with a long robe and a golden sash. The long robe is probably a priestly garment. Jesus is our great high priest who entered the Holy of Holies once for all. His golden sash may reflect his kingly status. He’s the original Royal Priest.
His head and hair are as white as wool, as white as snow. This is the way God is described in the Old Testament. Here is the Ancient of Days in the person of Jesus Christ.
He has eyes like flames of fire, another image of a divine being. Maybe also eyes that search out and remove impurities from any they behold.
Feet like burnished bronze implies divine power and stability.
A voice like the sound of many waters is reminiscent of Ezekiel’s vision, in Ezek 43, of God returning to fill the Temple with his glory once again. Have you ever been to a huge waterfall and heard the roar of the water. I remember being at Niagara Falls and the sound of the falls was deafening. Again it’s an image of immense power that fills the space around it.
In his hands are seven stars. These we discover are the angels of the 7 churches. Jesus is seen holding the church in the safety of his hand.
He also has a sharp 2-edged sword coming from his mouth. The sword is a common image for God’s word coming in judgement and a 2-edged sword is the most effective of all. So this Son of Man comes with God’s word ready to judge and defeat his enemies.
Finally his face was shining like the full force of the sun. Remember John is writing this from an island in the Mediterranean so he knows how bright the full force of the sun can be. And this vision is such that it can only be the glory of God shining from his face. So much so that, when he sees him, John falls down as if dead.
This Son of Man is everything that Daniel wrote about in his prophecy and more. He is the first and the last, 18and the living one. He was dead, but see, he is alive forever and ever.
The Message of Revelation
As we finish up let’s think briefly about what this introduction has to do with the rest of the book. John tells them that he shares with them in the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance. Here is the key to understanding the purpose of this letter. The church is experiencing and will continue to experience persecution. As we read through the book we discover that suffering in the name of Christ happens because Satan is doing his best to oppose God’s work in the world. And this is a timeless experience that will go on until the last day when Satan and his servants are totally destroyed.
But at the same time we share in the Kingdom of God. This is a kingdom that’s spread throughout a world in rebellion against the king, so generally we find ourselves in the minority. But ours is God’s minority, ours is the kingdom of the one who is coming in the clouds to rule the kings of all the earth. So we can have confidence in who we are and in the Church we’re part of.
And finally we are those who are persevering because we trust the one who has called us. We trust the one who was dead but now lives forever, whose resurrection has opened the way for us to be freed from our sins and who holds the keys to death and Hades.
So this letter is an encouragement to them and to us to keep the faith, persevere to the end, because we’re already part of his eternal kingdom, already one of his priests able to come into his presence to worship him and to serve him.
I hope as we work our way through this book of Revelation over the next few months that we’ll be encouraged to remain faithful, to resist the opposition we come up against as Christians and to serve the living God with all our energy and enthusiasm.