Describing the Indescribable (Revelation 1:9-20)

Jesus will make you a criminal.

In verse 9 we see a Criminal for Christ.  John is guilty.  His fault is his faithfulness to Christ.  Jesus will make you a criminal.  John’s suffering was the direct result of his faithfulness to Christ.  How was he faithful to Christ?  He would not renounce his faith and he would not worship anyone else when threatened with torture and death.  John’s tone does not betray any hint of regret for his circumstances.  He’s not even simply stoic about it, accepting his lot dutifully.  He seems to come across as privileged, thankful, hopeful, and confident.  He’s not depressed, downtrodden or discouraged at all.  He knows suffering is part and parcel of living for Christ in this world.  

But there’s no isolation in this – suffering is a community builder.  Do you see how he is speaking to his readers as people who identify with persecution?  “I John your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”    The context is one of persecution – one persecuted man of God to the persecuted churches of God.  Think of being one of those churches.  The venerable Apostle John, the last Apostle on earth, at 90 years old still taking a beating for Christ out there on Patmos without looking for pity, without complaining, tough as ever.  What does that do to all the younger believers who are facing persecution?  Emboldens them for sure.  That’s what suffering does – it strengthens believers when they go through it together and see others standing firm.  Suffering is a bond-builder and develops Christian fellowship when believers stand together for Christ at a cost.  

Believers are called to patiently endure persecution.  Patience and endurance in the NT specifically pertain to putting up with direct, overt attacks on you for your faith in Jesus Christ. Persecution is not an interpersonal struggle between Christians. It is not a car that won’t start in the morning. It is not getting all red lights. Christian persecution is being persecuted for being a Christian.

It is not enduring sickness, wayward children, company downsizing, slow traffic, people’s little everyday irritations, consequences for unwise decisions and so forth.  It is when other people make life hard for you because they hate you for being a believer in Jesus.It is the government forcing you to worship other gods, to renounce your faith in Jesus, taking your assets specifically because your faith is outlawed, imprisoning you, torturing you, firing you, and so forth.  Patient endurance, Biblically, is not the circumstantial things in life, but, society attacking you for your faith in Jesus.  Financial, material, physical, emotional, social, economical and so on.

Application:  It may be during your hardest and darkest times in life that God uses you.

TWO:  TASKED BY CHRIST (10-11, 19-20)

John is approached by Jesus and tasked with another job.  Notice verses 10-11.  At 90 John is yet useful to the Lord.  Age is no barrier to usefulness.  Circumstances are no barrier to service.  Usefulness to Christ is entirely based on faithfulness to Christ.  Jesus will use you when you are most unusable in your own eyes, but, faithful to Him.  Sin renders a man unusable, but, never lack of talent, resources, or personal stardom when combined with faithfulness to and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Quote Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne, “a holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of the Lord.”  

John is on Patmos when he hears a loud voice speaking to him.  Was he working when this happened?  Was he sleeping?  Was he on break?  Who knows.  Whatever was going on at that moment he was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day.  What does that mean?  Was he busy having a vision on Sunday?  Was “in the Spirit” referring to his spiritual condition and readiness to serve the Lord that day?  There’s different thoughts on this, but, one thing seems evident to me:  John was focused on Jesus Christ in his circumstances.  He was worshiping Him, full of the Spirit, yielded to the Lord and patiently going through his trial.  

That must be true at least because here comes the Lord Jesus Christ with a job for John.  Jesus wants John to write out everything he was about to see and send it to seven churches.  Now two things to pay attention to here.  First of all, John was going to “see” many things.  He was supposed to write it all down so others could read about what he saw.  Now while seven churches were selected to receive this letter, it is evident to us right away that this entire book is intended for the entire church.  

Which brings us to the second thing to pay attention to:  why were these 7 churches selected?  There were many, many local churches around these 7 churches – churches in Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, Judea, Europe, Rome, and more.  Why these 7?  Many scholars agree that these 7 churches are representative of the whole Church at large.  These 7 churches when seen together in a way accurately reflect the circumstances, strengths and weaknesses of the church around the world.  So speaking to these seven churches can readily be seen as speaking through them to the whole Church.  

THREE:  PRESENTATION OF CHRIST (12-18)

John heard the voice speaking to him, and he turned to see who it was. When he turned he saw 7 golden lampstands.  Jesus says in verse 20 that these are the 7 churches that John is supposed to address.  It stood out to me that the churches are represented symbolically by the 7 lampstands.  

This symbolism isn’t random – Jesus chose lampstands specifically for John to see as symbols for local churches.  Why?  Because we are to be light-bearers to the world.  Jesus is the light of the world and He has inflamed us with the light of His truth and holiness to shine before men.  You do not put a lamp under a basket but you put it on a stand for all to see.  So all can see.  Is the light of truth and holiness beaming out from our local church so that others are able to escape the darkness?   

Here are the 10 other striking aspects in this vision of Jesus that John saw:

First, “Someone like a ‘son of man’”. This person speaking to John was human-like in appearance, not a totally foreign supernatural creature. “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself, a title used in all 4 Gospels and in Daniel 7:13.

Second, “dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet”. High priest’s wore similar clothing when ministering in the Most Holy Place. Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1).

Third, “with a golden sash around his chest”. A sash like this in ancient culture was symbolic of strength and authority. The average man wore a short, loose tunic and did not have a sash.

Fourth, “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow.” In one sense, this speaks of His antiquity. In Daniel 7 God is called “Ancient of Days.” But in another sense, white symbolizes the purity and righteousness of God – He is undefiled. (Isa 1:18; Rev. 3:4; 7:13; 19:14; 20:11)

Fifthly, “Eyes were like blazing fire”. The Greek literally says, “His eyes shot fire”. It speaks of Christ’s holy judgment and holy assessment of His Churches. This may be a connection with 1 Corinthians 3:13, where it says each believer’s works will be tested by fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ. He sees and knows the true condition of every church and every believer.

Think of this in light of chapters 2 and 3 where Jesus gives an assessment of each church. It’s almost as if Jesus were giving those churches a cheat sheet. While Christ points out praises for the good things they are doing, He also points out their shortcomings and rebukes them. These are the areas you have the opportunity to correct before you are judged. Repent!

Six, “Feet like bronze glowing in a furnace”. This symbolizes in two ways Jesus as Judge. First, the bronze reminds us of the bronze altar in the Tabernacle where sin was judged. Second, His feet are often spoken of in regards to His judgment and authority. Revelation 19:15, “He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”

If you’ve seen a “grape stomp”, then you can get the point of this symbol. A big vat piled high with grapes, and people get in barefoot and stomp on all these grapes to get the juice for making wine. Jesus will “stomp” on His enemies with the righteous fury and wrath of God, He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Battle Hymn of the Republic lyrics)

Also, Scriptures speak of the enemies of God being put under the feet of Jesus, meaning He will conquer them (1 Cor. 15:25; Ps 8:6; 110:1).

Seventh, “His voice was like the sound of rushing waters.” If you’ve ever been to the Niagara Falls, or a rapid section of a large river you know the sound is just powerful. In verse 10 it says “a loud voice”. Ryrie says this, “His voice of authority stands out above all the rest and drowns out all who try to talk back or make excuses.” No other voice will be heard when Jesus returns, only His overpowering voice.

Eighth, “In His right hand He held 7 stars”. Jesus says in verse 20 that these are the 7 “angels” of those 7 churches John was writing to. “Angels” in the Greek literally means “messengers”. It could mean the pastors of those churches, or, it could mean that each church has a guardian angel. The important thing to focus on is that they are in Jesus right hand, indicating a place of honor (Ryrie) and Jesus’ total authority over them.

Ninth, “Out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword”. Is a sword really going to come out of His mouth?  No, drop the “s” and you’re left with “word”.  The sword represents the spoken words that come from Jesus’ mouth.  Ephesians 6:17 says the word of God is the sword of the Spirit, the Spirit is the One who inspires men to write the words of God in Scripture.  Jesus when arrested was asked if He was Jesus and He said “I am He”, at which point John’s Gospel says the detachment of soldiers all fell backwards to the ground.  Revelation 19:15 and 21. Hebrews 4:12 says the Word of God pierces, penetrates, and cuts to our deepest parts of who we are. This imagery shows there will be no defense in the day of Jesus’ return against the sword that comes from His mouth.

Tenth, “His face was like the sun, shining in all its brilliance.” Reminds us of the Transfiguration. His blinding and brilliant glory shining forth. It’s effect upon John was so overpowering that he fell face-down as though he were dead.  Anyone remember Abraham?  Moses?  Gideon?  Isaiah?  Ezekiel?  Yeah, they all did the same thing when they came face to face with the Living God.  

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