John says that he is their brother and fellow partaker in tribulation. He knew that the churches were suffering tribulation, and he himself was experiencing it. The Thessalonian church had gone through it, the church in Smyrna was going through it. Everywhere, Christians were suffering for their faith.
And we can look back over the centuries and see that the church has always been a partaker of tribulation. Whether you're reading the book of Acts from the first century, or Foxe's Book of Martyrs from the 16th century, they'll tell you about Christians who died for their faith in Jesus Christ.
But regardless of the bubble that we Americans live in, many Christians continue to suffer tribulation, persecution, and martyrdom.
In Indonesia, on June 20th of this year, more than 500 muslims attacked the village of Waab as Christians there were about to begin Sunday services. Eleven of the Christians were injured, one was killed.
Four days earlier, in China's Ho Chi Min City, communist police men broke into a house church that was about to take communion. They threw the emblems on the floor, stomped on the bread and wine and shouted, "This is illegal! These meetings cannot continue!"
The week before, in the Philippines, a hundred Christians were having a prayer rally at an elementary school. An Islamic group threw a hand grenade into the middle of the rally, killing one woman, and seriously injuring nine others.
Today, over one third of the Church in the world must operate in secrecy, under the threat of extermination. All over the world, in the 1990's, Christians have had their ears and noses cut off, they've been killed by being plunged into boiling water, been beaten to death, tortured to death, burned to death, shot to death, drowned, and crucified. And it's not just happening in some remote country that you've never heard of. Christians are dying in China, Haiti, Iran, Pakistan, Columbia, the Phillipines, the Sudan, Ecuador, and bunches of other countries. The church's tribulation continues today.
This is the cold, hard, reality. Yet we are not to fear and say, "What's happening?" Jesus told His disciples,
John 16:33 "...In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
Now don't get tribulation confused with the Great Tribulation. Yes, the church continues to endure tribulation. Paul said,
2Tim. 3:12 ...Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
But no, we won't be here for the Great Tribulation. That last seven years of earth's history is reserved exclusively for God to deal with Israel. Gabriel told Daniel that
Dan. 9:24 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people..."
And in Jeremiah, the Lord calls the Great Tribulation "the time of Jacob's trouble." Jacob is Israel, and the Tribulation is Israel's distress and dealing, not the church's. We will see that with crystal clarity as we continue to study this book.
There are so many familiar verses: Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand; the kingdom of God has come upon you; Thy kingdom come; seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness; unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
What exactly is the kingdom? This can be a loaded question, for "the kingdom of God and "the kingdom of heaven" are not exact, technical terms referring to one period or place. They can be used interchangeably to refer to either God's physical kingdom, or His spiritual kingdom; they can refer to His present kingdom, His future millennial kingdom, or His eternal kingdom. The safest definition I've found is that the kingdom of God simply refers to the kingdom that God is the king of. Wherever God has subjects, that is the kingdom of God. If you have submitted yourself to God, you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. John was a partaker in the churches' tribulation, and a partaker in God's kingdom.
As citizens of the kingdom, they were suffering tribulation, but they were persevering through it. Paul wrote in Romans 5,
Rom. 5:3-4 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character...
You'd never prove your character without perseverance, and you'd never persevere without tribulation to persevere through. But what if things get so bad that you just can't hang on any longer? What if you can't persevere another day?
Rom. 15:5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another...
God is the one who gives perseverance, you don't muster it up from inside yourself. The churches persevered, John persevered, with God's grace, we too will persevere.
The apostle John was on Patmos, which is a small island off the coast of Turkey. According to extra-biblical historians, he had been exiled as a prisoner to the marble quarries there.
It is easy and justifiable to read this and think that John is saying, "I was full of the Spirit on Sunday." But if I were to interpret this, I would probably write it "I was in spirit on the Day of the Lord." Because John is spiritually taken to see and write of the great and terrible Day of the Lord.
The first mention of a trumpet sound in the Bible is in Exodus 19. Moses brought the Israelites to camp in front of Mt. Sinai, and God told Moses, "when the ram's horn sounds a long blast, the Israelites shall come up to the mountain."
Exod. 19:16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.
In the book of Numbers, we read that
Num. 10:1-3 The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying, "Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting."
So trumpets were used for God's people to be gathered together. They were also used to sound the alarm:
Num. 10:9 "And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies.
What a perfect picture of the voice of Jesus - sounding like a trumpet that is calling His people to assemble to Him, and sounding the alarm to announce the coming battle.
John, the apostle who had traveled with Jesus for three years, now sees Jesus in His glory. No longer the tanned carpenter with the warm smile and loving eyes to the children, but now an awesome spectacle of righteousness.
There are seven descriptions of Jesus here: His hair, eyes, feet, voice, hand, mouth, and face. Each of these show us an aspect of who Jesus is and how He appears.
Jesus is walking in the middle of seven lampstands. We needn't wonder what the seven lampstands represent, for Jesus tells us plainly in verse twenty that
Rev. 1:20 "the seven lampstands are the seven churches."
Part of the temple plans that God gave to Moses included instructions for making a lampstand of pure gold. And those instructions said,
Exod. 25:37 "...make its lamps seven in number; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it."
Remember that the number seven is representative of completeness, so although these seven churches are seven actual churches, they are also a picture of the complete church. The church is represented by the lampstand in the temple of God.
Why? The temple's lampstand was its only source of light. In comparing it to the church, remember that Jesus told us,
Matt. 5:14 "You are the light of the world..."
We are the only source of light to this dark and evil world.
And Jesus is walking in the midst of these lights. He is in the midst of the churches, He is in the midst of our church. He has promised this to us:
Matt. 18:20 "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst."
The Lord is here when we gather in His name.
So why is Jesus wearing this robe and golden girdle across His breast as He walks in the midst of the lampstands? These are priestly garments, like we read of in Exodus. The book of Hebrews explains in detail that Jesus is our High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek. Part of the duty of the high priest was to
Lev. 24:4 "...keep the lamps in order on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually."
He also trimmed the lamps every morning and twilight (Ex. 30:7-8). Here we have a picture of Jesus in the midst of the church, moving among us, trimming us, pouring the oil of His Holy Spirit into us, that we might continue to shine His light to the world.
When the word white shows up in Scripture, it is usually talking about one of two things. One, cleanness from sin, as in Psalm 51:7 and Isaiah 1:18. The other references to white speak of leprosy (Leviticus 13), which is a biblical picture of sin. Though they seem to be opposite, we see them both fulfilled in Jesus Christ, for we know that while Jesus was sinless (1Pet 2:22; 1Jn 3:5), He was also made sin for us:
2Cor. 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf...
So His head and hair are white - symbolizing the sinless Savior who was made sin for us.
Remember that this is a symbolic description of Jesus, not a physical one. The seven attributes described detail seven different aspects of His character and nature. John writes that "His eyes were like a flame of fire." The Scriptures also tell us of His eyes:
Hebr. 4:13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
2Chr. 16:9 "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.
The fire of His eyes is illuminating, judging, and purifying as He looks upon man.
Bronze is typological of judgment. The altar of sacrifice was made of bronze, as was the serpent in the desert. When the feet of Jesus step down on the Mount of Olives, it will split in two - and He will be here to judge the nations.
Zech. 14:3-4 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley...
Jesus' feet will step down onto the earth in judgment.
Every time I go back to California, I try to make a priority out of getting to the beach. Not to surf or to suntan, but to listen. When I go down by the water and sit in the sand, my voice is drowned out by the huge noise. And it is neverending. It is comforting, continuous, and colossal all at once. Whenever I'm there, I think of this description of the voice of God. I listen to the roar of the the surf, the waves crashing continuously on the beach, and I think, "Such is the voice of Jesus."
This also gives us another proof text that Jesus is God Himself. Because Ezekiel wrote,
Ezek. 43:2 and behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters...
John says that Jesus' voice is like the sound of many waters, Ezekiel tells us that this is a description of God's voice. Once again, we see from His attributes that Jesus is in fact God.
He is also holding seven stars in His right hand. Again, verse twenty is a clear explanation of the mystery of the seven stars:
Rev. 1:20 "...the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches..."
That the word "angel" in Greek which is "ANG'-el-os," means "messenger." It is often used to refer to actual angels, celestial beings. But not always. For example, James uses it of human messengers.Speaking of the two spies that were sent into Jericho, he writes,
James 2:25 And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers (ANG-el-os) and sent them out by another way?
Some believe that the seven stars are angels who oversee each of these churches, but I lean toward a different explanation. Jesus said,
John 10:27-28 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.
The sheep, followers of Christ, are in His hand. In addition, Daniel writes that the angel Gabriel said,
Dan. 12:3 "And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever."
So I believe that the seven ANG-el-os of the churches are human messengers in the church - the pastors over those churches, who lead many to righteousness, who will shine like the stars forever and ever.
I don't think that God would need to dictate letters to angels through a human being. Besides, how would John deliver them?
What is this sword coming out of Jesus' mouth? This is an easy one:
Eph. 6:17 ...The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Hebr. 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The sword that comes out of Jesus' mouth is the Word of God. Paul told Timothy,
2Tim. 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.
That word translated "handling accurately" in the NAS, "rightly dividing " in King James, and "correctly handling" in the NIV, literally means, "to cut straight." The Word of God will cut, so we need to handle it accurately. It can be a razor-sharp scalpel to perform surgery on a heart, or as in this case, a huge broadsword that cuts people in half in judgment.
On the mountain, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured, His face shining like the sun (Matt. 17:2).
1John 1:5 ...God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
You can't stare at the sun without ruining your eyes. God said that you couldn't look at His unveiled glory and live.
As you go through the Bible, you will find that the friends of God - men like Abraham, Joshua, Ezekiel, and John - always fall forward onto their faces when they see Him. When they get a glimpse of His holiness, righteousness, and power, they immediately realize how sinful they truly are, and fall on their faces in fear and reverence. In the Bible, notice that it is the friends of God who fall forward - it is the enemies of God who fall backward (John 18:3-6).
Back in verse eight, the Lord called Himself the Alpha and the Omega. Here again He says He is the First and the Last. It is interesting that the Bible is so specific about who is the First and the Last, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Three times Isaiah quotes the Lord saying:
Isa. 41:4 "...I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He."
Isa. 44:6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me."
Isa. 48:12 "...I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last."
And then in Revelation:
Rev. 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God...
Rev. 21:6 And He (who sits on the throne) said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end..."
And those who say that Jesus isn't God must have missed Revelation 2:8, for He says very clearly...
Rev. 2:8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: 'The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:'"
The First and the Last was dead.
There are a couple of fascinating things hidden in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures in regards to this "first and last" title. When Jesus said in verse eight,
Rev. 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega"...
Alpha in this sentence is the word "Alpha" spelled out. But the Omega is the singular letter Omega. It is a linguistic picture, indicating that the beginning has been completed, but the ending is still yet to be.
An even more interesting thing arises in the Hebrew. In the Hebrew alphabet, the first and last letters are the Ahlef and the Tahv. Genesis 1:1 says,
Gen. 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
But as written in Hebrew, there are two untranslated letters between "God" and "created" - an ahlef and a tahv. So the Hebrew actually says, "In the beginning God, the ahlef and the tahv, created the heavens and the earth. This happens again in Zechariah 12:10 which says,
Zech. 12:10 "...They will look on Me (the ahlef and the tahv) whom they have pierced..."
Jesus Christ has always been the beginning and the end!
Between the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus took something back that had been taken - the keys of Death and Hades. You remember that while Jesus was on the cross, He promised one of the thieves,
Luke 23:43 "...today you shall be with Me in Paradise."
But we know that Jesus did not ascend to heaven that day. Romans 10:7 tells us that Christ descended into the abyss, and Ephesians 4:9 says that He descended into the lower parts of the earth. Jesus took a trip to Hades. In Luke 16, we see that Hades was separated into two parts by a great chasm, that no one could cross, but could communicate back and forth. One side was a place of flame, where people were in torment. The other side was called Abraham's Bosom, or Paradise.
Although Jesus had died and gone to Hades, it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:24-31 tell us that He was not abandoned to Hades, and His body experienced no decay during the three day stay in the tomb.
Apparently, during that time, He cruised over to the side of torment and took back the keys of death and Hades. This was in full view of those who were being comforted in Paradise on the other side of the chasm. Colossians 2:15 says,
Col. 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
Then, armed with the keys of death and Hades, Jesus led "captivity captive" (Eph 4:8-9, Ps 68:18) - all of the faithful ones who had died; from Adam to the thief on the cross. Today, according to Paul, Paradise is located above, presumably in heaven (2Cor 12:4). It's so good to know that Jesus has the keys!
This is going to be essentially the "Table of Contents" for the book of Revelation. Jesus tells John to write what he had already seen, which we've gone over for the last two weeks, the things which are, which will be the condition of the churches in chapters two and three, and the things which shall take place, which will be the prophecies of the rest of the book.