Unveiling the Symbolism in Revelation
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John." (v.1)
This book is a revelation of Jesus Christ - a disclosure of His very essence, who He is, who He has always been, who He is in us, and His relationship to the church. It also shows the processings needed to change us into His image! Jesus came to bring us His life and His mind. Since the natural mind is in darkness and deception, truth has to be revealed to us. We need truth in order to be released from every form of deception presented by the lie, and from all the desires of the flesh. To achieve this goal many processings of God are needed in our lives. The visions reveal the work that He does within us. Christ is working through the anointing that He is within us! He is the Anointed One, so if we have Christ, we have the anointing. Our degree of obedience to Christ determines the measure of His anointing within us.
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him..." The word revelation means the unveiling. An unveiling is a disclosure of something that is present but still unknown to the populace. When the veil between the holy place and the most holy was torn, it revealed what was present, but had been hidden from view. It revealed the desolation or emptiness, for the ark of the covenant had been lost. Jesus said to the Jews that their place was being left to them desolate. (Matt. 2338) Now the knowledge of this desolation became available to the priesthood - not only to the high priest! Jesus Christ is now our ark of the covenant. Here, in Revelation, is a disclosure of truth, known to our High Priest, Jesus Christ, and He is now making it available to the royal priesthood - and God's children are that priesthood!
The revelation of Jesus Christ as the corporate Son of God, was given to Jesus by the Father. Jesus recognized that everything He was and is, came from the Father! He was completely dependent on Him, for He only did what the Father showed Him to do! God had revealed to Him that He had come for the purpose of dying a cruel death on the cross, but His terrible agony in the garden was a real battle for His submission to that purpose! His complete submission in the face of the greatest torture ever endured, gave Him the name that is above every name. That name gave Him all authority in heaven and on earth!
Before going to the cross, Jesus prayed, "And the glory which You have given Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, just as we are one." Everything Jesus is, He gives to His ecclesia, His called-out ones! Just as Jesus Christ, while on earth, had to receive the awareness of who He was by revelation, so we have to receive the awareness of who we are in Him by revelation! This revelation unveils the fact that Christ is not complete without His body - His called-out ones!
Jesus Christ came to bring us a revelation of the Father! In Hebrews 1:3 we read that "He (Jesus) is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature..." In the same way that Jesus came to reveal the Father, we are to reveal the nature of Christ to the world by being an exact representation of His nature! This book is a revelation of the processings of God in our lives to bring this about!
This revelation concerns what He has done - His completed great salvation - His death, resurrection and the outpouring of His Spirit into our hearts! It is a revelation of Him and His great salvation that brings us into unity with Him! It is not a revelation of a second coming. In fact, He has already come a second time in the Holy Spirit, for He is the Spirit! (2 Cor. 3:17) The scriptures say that He is coming again, and there is a big difference between that and a second coming! A second coming would specify that He has only come once. It would mean that He has never come to you and me in the Spirit, for that would be more than one coming. Saying that He is coming again does not specify a number .
Revelation reveals who Christ is now. He is the corporate Christ, the second corporate man! In Adam, the first corporate man, all die, and in Christ, the second corporate man, all are made alive. It reveals His relationship to the universe and to the world of men. It shows us all that He has in store for us. This includes His eternal reign in us, and His reign in union with us over the nations. In Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, He put away sin, He defeated the devil, and fulfilled everything that was needed to accomplish His work on earth as a human being. That work is finished! His work is now in the Spirit - changing us into His image!
God gave Jesus this revelation to show to His bondservants. A bondservant is a slave who belongs to his master because he loves him. He knows that his master will take good care of him. A bondservant does not only love his master, but his whole life is in the hands of his master, and he is dedicated to do his master's will. He could be on his own and depend on his self-effort for survival, but he has realized that it is to his advantage to belong to his master. Those who are Christ's by mental assent only, will not understand this.
God wants us to know all about the great salvation that has been accomplished! He wants us to know that the devil has been defeated, that we can trust God even as Jesus did, and that everything flows out of His great salvation! The trials and difficulties we face will demonstrate the degree of our submission to the Father - to His purpose for us!
Notice that it says these things must shortly take place, and in v. 3 it says that the time is near. These are not things that take place in history after several milleniums have passed. It is not a revelation of future historical events. We do not read of the fulfillment of these events in the daily newspapers, because they are not speaking of world events. These are things that come to pass in us. It could be termed an allegorical drama of the constant processings of God that brings change in the lives of the overcomers (firstfruit) of every generation! For the multitudes, this change will come later.
This message came to John in a series of visions. It was signified to John - the KJV has translated it correctly here. It says signified; it came to him in symbolic form. The Greek word SEMAINO means to make something known by signs and symbols. So it is not an obvious message, but one that was communicated by signs and symbols. Jerusalem, Babylon, the river Euphrates, beasts of various descriptions, a Lamb as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, horsemen, locusts, a woman sitting on a beast that lumbers across the desert carrying a cup full of blood, etc., are all symbols. They all have meaning, but they cannot be interpreted in the natural sense, for then they would not be symbols. Jerusalem does not refer to the Jerusalem in Palestine; it is not literal; it is spiritual. The same is true of the other figures mentioned. The light of Jesus Christ exposes the reality of what they truly are, not to bring fear, but to bring us into life and victory!
It was signified to John by an angel or messenger. The Greek word ANGELOS really means messenger. Here Jesus is the messenger sent by the Father to signify a message to John by the use of symbols. John was the writer, the one who described the visions that were given him. He was the secretary for a message from Jesus Christ to the churches. Christ is ever interested in the welfare of His church, and He knew His people were in need of encouragement. Just as they needed a message of grace and peace from the Holy Spirit, so do we!
John "testified (bore witness) to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw." (v.2) A witness states what he has seen, not what he thinks. If he inserts his own ideas, he is no longer a witness. The scriptures always have to be our plumb line. If we testify to our own soulish ideas and declare them to be truth, we are not being a witness to the word of God and a testimony of Jesus Christ. If Christians would understand this, there would not be so many different denominations today.
Generally speaking, Christians are not as interested in the deeper things of God that necessitate a change in their thinking, as they are in knowing the future. They are not interested in receiving revelation knowledge. Instead of wanting to learn more, they want to hear what they already believe. We have personally experienced this. When we were first told, and shown in the scriptures, that Christ's obedience is greater than Adam's disobedience, we were furious. But our love for truth caused the seed that had been planted to bear fruit. The Berean Christians wanted to learn more. When they heard new things, they searched the scriptures to see if these things agreed with the scriptures. They did not just accept everything they heard, but they were willing to change when they saw it was true. The Pharisees were not willing to receive Christ's teaching. They were established in their own doctrines. We need to hear and receive the teaching of the Holy Spirit. This requires submission to the Spirit because our natural mind is always against the Spirit.
Verse 3 contains a unique promise - "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." Since the early Christians were the first to read this message, this promise was for them and for all who follow after them! It doesn't say that this blessing is only for the first century Christians, or that it is only for those who live in the end-times. It is for all - it is an open-ended blessing! There is no blessing like that attached to any other book of the Bible. In our interpretation we must see what it meant for them, and then we will see what it means for us.
A book that blesses people at all times has to be a practical book - one that brings comfort and hope to people in every situation in life - even to those who are under persecution, whether in AD 95 or in AD 2020! For example, if you came home, bloody from the beating you had received, then found your house ransacked and your wife and children missing, you wouldn't worry about an Antichrist hundreds of years down the road. You would know that he was present now.
A prophecy is an anointed message from God. Blessed are those who pay attention to this message, for the time is at hand; the time is now! To pay attention or to heed this message means to act upon it; to listen to it, and to live accordingly!
"John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth..." (vv.4-5a) Here is a wonderful message of grace and peace from Jesus Christ! Grace and peace is ours in every difficulty! Grace cannot be merited; it doesn't come to us because we deserve it! God's divine favor and power are present for us at all times! We can draw upon His grace continually!
God wants us to have peace - even in the midst of adversity and persecution! How would we like it if our children were constantly worrying whether we cared for them, and whether we would provide the necessities of life for them, when we have the means to supply them? We'd say there was something wrong in that relationship! Yet the majority of God's children are great worriers. They have so many fears. Why? Because they are not heeding this message. They are not trusting God to provide the grace that is needed for every situation, and for the completeness of their salvation. They recognize their own limitations and do not trust God to give of His limitless resources!
We know that the Holy Spirit is one spirit, yet in this vision He is spoken of as the seven Spirits who are before God's throne. The number seven symbolizes divine completeness. It is repeated over and over again: seven visions, seven stars, seven Spirits, seven churches, seven golden lampstands, etc. Seven different colors are needed to complete a rainbow, each color adding its own beauty to the whole. Cut a pizza into seven pieces, and the seven pieces form the whole, and are needed to complete the whole. So the seven spirits are the Holy Spirit in His totality. In Is.11:2 they are listed as the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. We can trust the fullness of the Spirit to bring about the redemption and the restoration that God has purposed and promised!
Jesus Christ is the faithful witness! He is a true witness of the Father! His declarations come from the heart of the Father. He is the firstborn of the dead. His message is backed up by His experience of resurrection. He has conquered death and come forth in the fullness of life! Now He is bringing that victory into us!
He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. The word ruler is translated from the Greek ARCHON meaning first in rank and power, and we have words like archenemy, archbishop, archdeacon, derived from it. So this message comes from the elevated height where there is no power higher than His. This power can rule over every king of the earth; no king can successfully rise up against Him. There are many kings in our carnal thinking that do not want to submit to God's thinking. But He is able to rule them! When the mind of Christ rules in us, every natural thought has to bow to His mind.
From God's position of faithfulness, truth and power, He then proceeds to give us our identity! "To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood, and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father..." (5b-6a) Many today are seeking for their identity in their ancestors and/or in their beliefs and traditions. Those who are in Christ do not have their identity in their natural posterity, but in their spiritual posterity. We have become a new creation by being born of the Spirit. This means we have been born from above!
In this verse Christ is telling us that He loves us! He does not want His children to feel insecure; He wants them to know that they are loved! Have you ever wondered whether God loves you? That question no longer belongs to God's children. His life and death and words are in agreement to prove His love for us! His love is pure; it has no hidden motives, no hidden agendas and no selfish desires! We can totally trust His faithful witness!
Next He tells us that we are released from our sins through His blood. This is good news! We have received total cleansing - a loosing from all our sins! We are freed from all condemnation! If we still have condemnation, we are listening to our carnal mind. "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1) How can we still have condemnation when we have been released from all our sins? What a glorious revelation! Our guilt complex is gone! So let's think of what He has done for us! Let's look beyond our sins, our suffering and hunger pangs, and the reviling that comes our way because of our faith.
Children have their parents' nature, and God's children have His nature. We, who are His children, have been born of the Spirit; we have been born from above! The Spirit has been poured into our hearts, so we have His DNA and we have His love! We don't have to seek to obtain His love and favor - we are loved! We don't have to do things to merit his favor - we have His favor! And because we have His love and favor, we are obedient children!
Furthermore, He has made us a kingdom, priests to our God! The words "to be" are not in the Greek text. Way back in Exodus 19:6, God said to the Israelites, "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." But the Israelites worshiped the golden calf; they failed in their God-given identity, so God chose Levi to be the priestly tribe. Now, in Christ, God's desire becomes reality! He now has a kingdom of priests! We function as priests because we are priests, and corporately a kingdom of priests! We are a royal priesthood! (1 Pe. 2:9) We may be beaten, downcast and outcasts, but the reality is that individually and corporately we are a royal priesthood!
Priests are intercessors. They form a bridge between God and humanity. They are reconcilers. What a high calling we have in Christ! We are ambassadors on behalf of Christ; He has committed to us the word of reconciliation! (2 Cor. 5:18-19) This is the ministry He has given us!
Imagine a kingdom of priests - a kingdom of intercessors! This can only happen in union with Christ. This union brings transformation, and we are changed into the image of Christ. God wants to see Himself mirrored in His people, so the world can get an idea or concept of what God is like. The transformed life will bring glory to God and to His dominion to the ages of the ages! (The correct translation of the Greek AION, is age - not forever.) What a wonderful plan God has for His people!
Jesus Christ is our intercessor. "Hence, also, He is able to save forever (or completely) those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." (Heb. 7:25) Jesus shared our humanity. In fact, His identification with us was so complete that He could die for us. He did this in the knowledge that we could then share His high estate with Him! He makes this possible by giving us His life and nature! His desire for us is that we might have the same relationship with the Father that He had. Having the same relationship with the Father elevates us to being with Him where He is! (Jn. 14:3) This high calling that is ours in Christ causes us to join Him in His intercession!
"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." (v.7)
Christ comes in the midst of clouds. Clouds symbolize overcomers. Paul said, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us..." (Heb. 12:1) So Christ comes in the midst of overcomers. He comes in the transformed life of the overcomers while we are residing here on earth!
Clouds consist of little droplets of water that have left the earthly realm; they have left the dirt and residue that once muddied them and have risen to a higher realm. So overcomers have left their earthy thinking and have entered into a higher realm. They have received the mind of Christ and are functioning in it.
In the Old Testament we see that God used a pillar of cloud in which to reveal His presence when He led the Israelites out of Egypt. (Ex. 13:21) When Moses had finished building the tabernacle, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple, and Moses was unable to enter the tabernacle. Moses symbolized the law, and the law is unable to enter the presence of God.
"And every eye will see Him." How do people see Christ? After Christ's resurrection, only believers saw Him. At that time it was necessary for Him to manifest Himself as a physical person to the disciples so that they would believe He had truly been resurrected. After He appeared to them, He disappeared before them by returning to His true spirit being.
Saul of Tarsus met Christ on his way to Damascus. He did not see Him physically, but he saw Him spiritually. The light of Jesus Christ suddenly burst upon Saul's ignorance and darkness! This brought repentance (mourning) and change!
Isn't that the way Christ came to you and to me? He came to us in our darkness and ignorance and brought light! We saw Him and recognized that He is our Savior! Everyone who sees Christ becomes a believer. Since every eye will see Him, every eye will receive light, and everyone will become a believer!
Let's put away the ideas of darkness - that Jesus will suddenly emerge out of the sky as a giant man, so big that everyone can see Him physically. The Lord is the Spirit, and every eye has to see Him spiritually! When the flesh sees Him, it has to die. "No man can see God and live." Man refers to the Adamic man, not to the spiritual man. Our carnal thinking (the flesh) has to die when it sees God!
"`I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, `who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'" (v.8) Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last one. All the words we need to communicate are formed with the letters of the alphabet. In like manner, the Lord is everything we need! He is our source, our life and our supply for all our needs. He is the one Being - the One that was, and the One that is, and the One that is coming. He is always the First, the Almighty. He is God, for God is the Almighty! He is, for He never changes. He keeps coming to us, ever revealing Himself to us in greater depth! No one can upset His plans. He always remains the First, and He always comes as the Almighty. He never changes; He has the power to perform His will! God's omnipotence is the foundation on which Christ builds.
"I, John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." (v.9)
After laying a foundation, John introduced himself. Though he had been the overseer of these seven churches, he simply said he was their brother. He did not say, "John, your overseer." Our office doesn't change our relationship to one another. He did not write from a superior position, or from soliciting their sympathy. He was a companion in their tribulation.
Notice that tribulation and kingdom and perseverance are all in Jesus! We can easily understand that the kingdom and perseverance are in Jesus, but tribulation seems out of place. However, when we are suffering tribulation, we are not in the devil's kingdom. He opposed Jesus when He was on earth, and now he opposes the Jesus in us, but he does not have power over us. We may be martyred for being Christians, but the devil has no power over the real you and me. We are in Christ's kingdom and we are under His authority and power. We have His perseverance!
John wrote from a real island called Patmos - a very small rock island in the Mediterranean, a place where they dumped prisoners so they would not have to feed them. This was a forced situation - John was not there on a sightseeing tour. He had refused to bow to the emperor. It is said that they tried to kill him by boiling him in oil. When that did not work he was banished to the island of Patmos to eke out a living as best he could. This was God's doing. He set the Roman government up so John would be sent to Patmos. John had known Jesus in the flesh, but now he was to receive revelation of the spiritual Jesus. Later he would be released to take this message to the churches.
The name Patmos means our killing. Our Patmos, our death to our carnal thinking, to our ego, is also a forced situation. We do not volunteer to travel there, but God sets up the situations and causes us to be there. These places are uncomfortable, rocky and difficult. Although we have been crucified together with Christ, this death has to be worked out in our lives so we can learn to live in the Spirit and receive a revelation of Jesus Christ!
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, `Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.'" (vv.10-11)
This reference to the Lord's day has nothing to do with a particular day of the week. In the Spirit, the Lord's day is always. Day or light is always. Darkness is the result of an obstruction barring the light from getting to us. With the Lord there are no obstructions. He dwells in unapproachable light. When John was in the Spirit, he was receiving spiritual light. This light is the Lord's day. He was in the timelessness of the Spirit, communing with God, and the Spirit was giving him a revelation of the true Christ, and the triumph and victory that is ours in Him! Jesus Christ is not an individual entity; He is a corporate Man. He is the head, and the church is His body. He is the stem of the lampstand, and our identity and life are in Him! He is the corporate Son of Man!
As John worshiped, he heard a voice like the sound of a trumpet, speaking from behind him! Why from behind him? To see this voice, he had to change his focus. He had to look at his past and see that God was also the God of his past. Before we can truly comprehend the greatness of our salvation, we have to see that our past, our present and our future are in Him!
In Deuteronomy 8:2-3 God said, "You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart...He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD."
In the knowledge that all our negatives are for our good, we can leave the past and go on in our Christian walk! In this knowledge we can also know that all the negatives of the future will be for our good!
Notice that he doesn't say that the voice is a trumpet, but that it sounded like one. The symbolism continues. What does the sound of a trumpet indicate? In the Old Testament the trumpet was usually sounded in order to call people together for a definite purpose: into the presence of the Lord, before the ark of the covenant, for celebrations, to sound an alarm, to call men to war, etc.
In this passage we see a similarity to Ex. 19. Before God gave the Israelites the law covenant, they were all gathered together in order to hear what God would say to them. The awesome presence of the Lord caused Mt. Sinai to quake, and there was thick darkness and lightning and thunder. It was a magnificent, stirring sight! After the growing sound of a trumpet broke forth, God spoke! In this majestic setting God revealed Himself as an awesome, powerful and holy God making a law covenant with Israel!
In the unveiling of the new covenant, it is significant that John heard a voice calling him, and the voice sounded like a trumpet. In the Old Testament the trumpet was always used to call the people together for a definite purpose, so this tells us that this is a call to all the covenant people of the New Testament. This message is not only for John and the seven churches - Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, but also for all of us. These seven churches symbolize seven components of the one church of Jesus Christ, and in them we see the areas that need cleansing in us. Jesus Christ only has one church, and we are part of that church. Everyone is to hear the words of the covenant and understand who Jesus Christ is!
These were seven strategically placed real churches. When one church was through reading the letter, it was passed on to the next church. The order of the churches is according to the route one would take in going from Patmos to visit them. Of these seven churches, only Ephesus is well-known. Acts 16:14 mentions Thyatira as Lydia's home town. The church at Laodicea is mentioned in Colossians 4:15-16. The other churches are not mentioned in any of the other books of the New Testament.
These churches were symbolic. There were many more churches in Asia at that time, but these churches symbolize the one complete church. Their names reveal something about them. Ephesus means permitted. They had permitted themselves to go back into natural thinking, and thus lost their first love. Smyrna comes from myrrh, and that means suffering. Pergamos means fortified; they were fortified by self-effort, and that is pride. Thyatira means odor of affliction - the smell of affliction is self-pity. Sardis comes from the red sardine stone. Adam means red; the Adamic nature is showing. Philadelphia means brotherly love, and Laodicea means justice of the people - democracy. Instead of being God-centered it was man-centered.
"Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; 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, and His voice was like the sound of many waters." (vv.12-15)
As John turned to see the voice, he first saw seven golden lampstands, seven symbolizing completeness and perfection. In v. 20 we learn that these represent the seven churches - the complete church. In the tabernacle the seven-branched lampstand stood in the holy place. Although it was made of gold, symbolizing God's divine nature, it was in the holy place - not in the holy of holies. Here the churches are pictured as being in the holy place. They still had areas that were not submitted to Christ, as we see in chapters 2 and 3. They were not yet in the city where there are no shadows, where the only light is the light of Christ, and where He is all and in all! Many processings were needed before they would get to that place, as mentioned in chapter 21.
The lampstand in the temple had 7 branches with a light on the top of each branch. All the branches of the lampstand were joined to a central stem. That central stem represents Jesus Christ. All the 7 lampstands are directly connected to Jesus. They are all united with Him, but they are not directly connected to one another! They are only connected with one another in their union with Christ. He is the life of the church, for it is from Him that life is going to the churches. This tells us that the seven lampstands are really one. One yet seven; seven, yet one! Together they make up the total expression of every aspect of Christ in His body.
In the midst of these lampstands John saw someone very different from anyone he had ever seen before. He could not identify him, so he began to describe him. He is like a son of man, his head and hair are like white wool, his eyes like a flame of fire, his feet like burnished bronze, his voice like the sound of many waters, his face like bright sunlight. What does all this mean?
This is not a photographic image of the Jesus who was on earth. John was intimately acquainted with the physical person of Jesus. But that was not what he saw, because that is not who Jesus is now! He is the corporate Son of Man as symbolized by the seven-branched lampstand in the holy place. Each branch symbolized one of the seven churches, and the seven churches symbolized the complete church, just as the seven colors of the rainbow make up the rainbow. However, the lampstand is not complete without the stem, and the stem is not complete without the branches. The One who was like a son of man in the midst of the lampstands, is the Christ, the stem of the lampstand. As the seven were actually one lampstand, so Christ, the Son of Man is not complete without the church, His bride! They are one! He is like a son of man, but He is different! Let's see what He is like.
The only way John could describe what he saw, was by the symbolism in which Jesus chose to present Himself. He was wearing a robe reaching to the feet. The long flowing robe reminds us of the garment worn by priests and also by ancient judges. In fact this whole picture, as we shall see, has much to do with the priesthood that judges, because judging was one of the duties of the priesthood.
The robe was gathered together by a golden girdle or belt, around the breasts. Breasts are created for supplying sustenance to the young. The gold signifies God's pure nature. Just as the stem of the lampstand contained the perfect oil for the lamps, so Christ is the perfect divine food for the churches!
His head and hair are like white wool. His head is white and his hair is white. White symbolizes purity, and a white head symbolizes purity of thought. White hair is always associated with someone who has been around for a long time. Life has taught him many lessons; he has found answers and has become wise; he has discernment and therefore he can judge.
A symbol among judges is white hair. In England, and in some other countries, you are given a white wig with curls down to your shoulders as soon as you become a judge. An attorney gets a white toupee - a little wig. Why do they do that? Because white symbolizes wisdom.
Here we see a similarity to Daniel's vision of the Ancient of Days. It says that the hair of His head was like pure wool. This is the eternal One, the One who has ultimate wisdom and ultimate discernment! Many scriptures extol the wisdom of God as it is exemplified in creation and in our salvation! "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God...in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 2:3) The ultimate wisdom of God is focused in Jesus Christ. He is the judge of all men; He judges in truth and orders the affairs of men in absolute wisdom! In so doing He is achieving the most perfect end to the glory of God.
"His eyes were like a flame of fire" - a fire that burns through all our masks, through all our external behavior, through all our unbelief, and sees the new creation man that we are in Him. He knows that we have been made a new creation and that in Him we have His righteousness! But we are not always conscious of that. We need to discover and believe that we are who God says we are in Christ! So His eyes have to burn away all the lies, deception and unbelief that keep us from seeing how great His all-encompassing salvation is! In John 10:27 Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them..." He knows each one of us! Our facades may deceive us as well as others, but they do not fool Christ's penetrating eyes! We are better known to Him than we are to ourselves.
Paul said, "For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord." (1 Cor. 4:4) His verdict is engraved in truth! Placing ourselves under the eyes of the penetrating flame of fire can be both a glorious and a terrifying experience. When Saul of Tarsus met these eyes, he fell to the ground and said, "What shall I do, Lord?" Coming into the presence of the One who knows us perfectly, brings us a revelation of ourselves in relationship to His Omnipotence!
"And His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace..." Some translations read brass. The three words, brass, bronze and copper are often used interchangeably in various Bible translations. Bronze is a copper alloy of copper and tin. It is the material from which utensils (Lev. 6:21), altars (Ex. 38:30), and other objects were fashioned. This material could be polished or shined. Here it was very highly shined up!
Feet symbolize our walk, our lifestyle. Christ's life of obedience to the Father had matured in the fire of tribulation. Temptations pressure us to act independently of God, to reject what God has said, to trust in our own resources, and to forget about faith in God and His promises! When obedience to our God brings rejection, abuse, pain and torture, the temptation to disobey Him becomes very strong. Jesus "learned obedience from the things which he suffered." (Heb. 5:8) We mature in the same way, and every victory brings a greater gleam to our feet!
Bronze typifies judgment. Judgment is not only in our words but also in our feet, i.e., in our lifestyle. Jesus spoke truth, and His life demonstrated truth. He walked the talk! True judgment can only take place when truth is present. Truth does away with the lie even as light does away with darkness. Wherever truth walks, the lie is judged. All the enemies of truth are judged by the truth they hate.
In Numbers 10:35 we read that when the ark set out, Moses said, "Rise up, O LORD! And let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you." Psalm 68 was written on the occasion of taking the ark to Jerusalem. It begins with, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee before Him." Here we have a picture of Christ and His church marching with feet of burnished bronze. His judgment scatters His enemies; they melt like wax, they disperse like the wind! Nothing can stop the onward march of the church of Jesus Christ!
"His voice was like the sound of many waters." When we think of this sound, we think of Niagara Falls. All the water going over those falls sounds as one sound. It is a sound of perfect harmony, awesome frightening power, and a majesty that strikes wonder in the heart and inspires us to worship.
What is this saying to us? Many waters symbolize many people. This is the many-membered body of Christ in agreement, speaking with one voice by the Holy Spirit. If they were not in agreement, they would not be understood; they would only be a confused babble of voices. This great choir of many voices, old and young, black and white or whatever color, speaking the same message, is awesome and commands attention. There is no discrepancy in the message.
"In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength." (v.16) Can you form a mental image of this? A hand big enough to hold seven stars? That would be quite bizarre. Obviously, this has to be symbolic.
In v. 20 we read that the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches. The Greek word ANGELOS means messenger. The number seven in the scriptures always refers to completeness. The seven spirits of God are the Holy Spirit in His completeness, and the seven churches are the church in its completeness, and the seven stars represent the complete message needed so that the church can grow into spiritual maturity. This message is brought to the church by messengers. Who brings us messages from God? Is it not the Christ, by His Holy Spirit who leads and guides us? He speaks to His church in various ways. He may speak to us directly, through the scriptures, through prophets, visions or experiences. He is very innovative!
Stars function in the heavenly or spiritual realm. Spiritual leaders do not sit above the lampstands, nor do they lord it over any of the lampstands. They are not sitting on an elevated platform, exerting power over a group of people. They are in the Lord's right hand of power, for His right hand typifies His power and authority! They are in submission to the authority of God, hear His voice, and obey Him!
Stars bring light into darkness. Pastors and elders are to shepherd the church of God. They are under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. They are to care for the welfare of the flock, not by politics, dictatorship, denominationalism or hierarchy, but by feeding and caring. Each church and each member of each church has a vital union with Christ! Our unity and relationship is all in Christ and under His authority!
These stars do not function according to the religious systems of man. They are called by God; salary, power and prestige have no fascination for them. They do not get their messages from a religious center or from headquarters. They get their messages from God, and they speak the words God has given them! Seasons and traditions do not dictate the topic for discussion. They value spiritual advice and take it to the Lord for confirmation or rejection. Everything has to come from Christ, for He is the chief Shepherd.
Notice that every church is described as a light-bearer. When John saw Jesus, he saw Him shining as the sun; when he saw the church, he saw it as a lampstand, a small light in the darkness. The sun brings the day; lampstands provide light for those who are in darkness. The light of the lampstands has its source in the light of Jesus Christ, but it does not have the same intensity! When we look at Jesus Christ, we see Him as the sun of righteousness!
The world cannot see the face of Jesus Christ. The only light they see is the church - for we "are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness." (1 Thess. 5:5) Jesus said that we are the light of the world. (Matt. 5:14) What a profound and solemn thought!
After Christ's resurrection, Christ was only seen by believers. Unbelievers were to be convinced of the reality of the risen Christ in the life and testimony of the believers! The unbelievers saw the church in action, and asked, "By what name do you do these things?" They could only command the disciples never again to speak about Jesus and the resurrection, but they couldn't stop them; they could not extinguish the light! The world was threatened because there was light. The church had seen something the world had not seen.
The world hates the light. Those who live in darkness are blind. Years ago we visited a cave in Austria which Hitler had used to manufacture airplane parts. We were told that the horses there became blind because they never saw sunlight. The world is in darkness and it needs to receive light that it may see! We all know how hard it is on our eyes to come out of darkness into bright sunlight. When light comes to people who have been in darkness, it hurts their eyes. Many want the light dimmed or turned off!; they don't want the light of Jesus to reveal what is in their hearts. That is why Jesus said that we will be persecuted, and even put to death for His sake. Saul of Tarsus was actually persecuting Jesus when He persecuted the Christians.
"And out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword." Again, this is not a literal picture of Jesus with a sword sticking out of His mouth. That would be quite unsightly. The words that were coming from this voice were like a sword coming out of His mouth. In Hebrews 4:12 it says, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword..." His words are like a two-edged sword, one that defeats all the enemies of truth, and at the same time prunes the branches so that they may bring forth more fruit! It is able to divide asunder the soul and the spirit. It is the only word that can do this because it comes from the Christ within them. So this is the spiritual ministry that is in the words spoken by Christ's bondslaves!
"And His face was like the sun shining in its strength." The face sums up the person. When you want a photograph of a person, you don't take a picture of his midriff, his hands, or his legs. Although these parts belong to him, they do not represent him. You want the face! It is only a limited part of him, but it personifies him.
So the face of Jesus describes His being. It shone like the sun! There are many references in the scriptures depicting Christ as light. He is "the sun of righteousness" who will rise with healing in its wings. He is "the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (Mal.4:2; 2 Cor. 4:6) God lives in unapproachable light.
Jesus Christ has burst into our world of sin and darkness with the dazzling noonday light of His love and grace and mercy! As John looked into His face of brilliant light, he "fell at His feet like a dead man." (v.17). This was not the Jesus he had known in the days of his youth when he laid his head upon Christ's breast. This was the ascended glorified Christ, the wisdom of God, the sun of righteousness, the Lord of lords and King of kings, the judge of all men!
There is a big difference between the Jesus of Nazareth who walked this earth in the days of His humiliation, and the exalted Christ! When He came in the flesh as a babe, only those who had received a specific revelation from God knew that He was special. He didn't come with a halo around His head. He didn't have any unusual identification marks that caused Him to look different from other human beings. He was among us as us - completely clothed in flesh. Only when people saw Him perform miracles, did they exalt Him.
But now He is the exalted Christ! God has given Him a name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and confess HE IS LORD! And no man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit. "Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, `Jesus is accursed'; and no one can say, `Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:3) The name that is above every other name is Lord. After Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples always addressed Him as Lord! The Jesus of Nazareth is now the Lord Jesus Christ! No longer do we know Him according to the flesh. (2 Cor. 5:16)
"When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man..." This did not happen to John when he saw Jesus in the flesh and enjoyed the intimacy of resting his head on the breast of Jesus. At that time the true essence of Christ was veiled by His flesh. Now He appeared to John as the unveiled, corporate, spiritual Son of Man, and John fell at His feet as one dead! Seeing Christ in His brightness and righteousness causes the flesh to stop functioning!
In this revelation of Jesus Christ we catch a glimpse of the greatness of our Lord! Understanding the vastness of our salvation in Christ causes us to lose our taste for the many songs that only see Him from an earthly perception. We are not dealing with Jesus of Nazareth; at that time anyone, even His enemies could call Him "Jesus". But here we see the glorified, unveiled Christ who has become our Lord! Only His bondslaves can call Him Lord!
"And 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." (vv.17b-18)
"And He placed His right hand on me." The right hand symbolizes power, blessing and authority. When Jacob blessed Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, he crossed his arms so that his right hand was on the younger son. Joseph didn't like that because he thought his firstborn should get the blessing of the firstborn. But Jacob was being led by God, so Ephraim received the greater blessing - the blessing of the firstborn! Now, in Christ, this power and authority is given to those who no longer function in the desires of the flesh.
With this blessing came the identification of the speaker. A blessing cannot come into being unless the power is present to bring it about. Christ's credentials are in the omnipotence of His being, and they assure us that we can trust Him. He said, "I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore." He is the first, the One who is before all the other firsts in the world! All the other firsts came into being because He is - not because He was. He always is! He is the first and the last! He is the ever-present One! Therefore everything - past, present and future - finds its consummation in Him.
Everything began because He is the first, and He is the only meaning and purpose of all that is! There would be no meaning and purpose to life if it did not find its consummation in Jesus Christ! There is no meaning to the history of the nations of this world unless we see that Jesus Christ is the key and that all is focused in Him. He is the first; He is the last; He always is! That is the great confession of the church.
There are many philosophies in the world today, but none of them carry the hope that Christianity has. In eastern philosophy, history is an endless circle of rebirths and reincarnations - around and around and around! The existentialists say that man is alone in a meaningless world; history is the throbbing now. But in Christianity we know where we began and where we are going. Only Christianity has a living Savior! Everything is in Christ! We know that we are progressing in, and moving toward a further unveiling of Jesus Christ - of who He is in His elect.
"I am the living One." All the so-called saviors of this world have died; not one has been resurrected! Only Christ is the living One, the One who has conquered death! He was dead, but He is alive forevermore! In Him we also are alive forevermore!
He has "the keys of death and of Hades." There is no death in Christ; He is the living One! Keys are used to open and close doors. Romans 8:6 tells us that "the mind set on the flesh is death." So this is not referring to physical death, but to the natural, carnal mind. Christ has the key, the power and authority, to open our mind to spiritual realities! Hades simply refers to the grave, the place of the dead. He has the key that is able to access death and conquer it!
"Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after" (actually, in the midst of) "these things." (v.19) He is to write down what is happening in the midst of our life. To write what will happen 500 or 2000 years down the line does not help us now. We want answers to what is happening in our life today! God wants us to know what He is accomplishing in us!
God has laid a foundation, and that foundation is Christ! Since the foundation is Christ, everything that is built on that foundation has to cconsist of the very essence of His being!
"As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (v.20) This is a symbolic picture of Christ and His called-out ones. The Greek word EKKLESIA, usually translated CHURCH, means the called-out ones. So this does not refer to meeting places - buildings with steeples and stained glass windows. It is about people who have Christ's name, His nature and His character!
Here Jesus Himself gives us the interpretation of this vision. He tells us that the stars are the angels (messengers) of the seven churches. The lampstands are the seven churches. Seven symbolizes completeness and perfection. Christ only has one church, one body. The seven churches are seven aspects of the complete church. The message brought by a messenger is more important than the messenger. The spiritual word of God to the church is of utmost importance, and the seven stars symbolize this spiritual ministry to the church.
The seven stars are in Christ's right hand - in His power and authority! He is able to accomplish whatever is in the message He gives to His called-out ones. Their responses to life's situations come from a nature that is the same as Christ's nature. It is very sad that so often we see people who call themselves Christians, reacting in a way that does not glorify Christ. Sometimes their reactions are even worse than those of non-Christians.
The ascended Christ has joined Himself to the believers. Before His crucifixion, Jesus talked to the disciples about the outpouring of His Spirit. He said, "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you." (Jn. 14:20) Since that day He is always joined to His people! He is not an individual Jesus, but the corporate Christ!
So in the midst of the lampstands is the glorified ascended Christ! Vitally united with Him are the seven churches. Each local body of believers is the light of that area. Together with all the other local bodies of believers, they form the one worldwide body of Christ!
Each lampstand stands in the darkness, and the darkness does not want the light. Let's remember that the world does not like us because we are united to the central stem of the lampstand, which is none other than the Christ, shining in all His brightness! What an honor He has bestowed on us!