Christ In The Midst Of The Golden Candlesticks - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 3 -
9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.. and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
We are now approaching the main body of the Book of Revelation itself and the numerous visions which it presents for our consideration. In the passage we are to discuss in this chapter we have the beginning, the first part, of the first main vision, which extends to the end of Chapter 3. The whole vision may be divided into two main parts. The first part is covered by our passage, which contains the vision of the glorified Christ walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks and commissioning John to write the things which he saw. The second part includes Chapters 2 and 3, which contain the seven-fold message of the Lord which John must deliver to the churches in Asia.
The Circumstances Of The Vision
In this vision, therefore, we deal with the revelation of the exalted Christ in relation to His church, as well as in connection with the things which must shortly come to pass. It is preceded by an explanation of the circumstances under which the vision was received by John. Even as the prophets of the old dispensation were wont to give an account of their calling to the prophetic office, so John in this passage tells us how and under what circumstances he first received the revelation concerning the future contained in this book of Scripture.
He was on the lonely little island of Patmos, a forsaken little isle, rocky and bare in the midst of the sea, not far from the coast of Asia Minor. He calls himself the brother of believers, rather than the apostle, because of the circumstances in which he finds himself. And he adds that he is a companion with them in tribulation and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. We must note here that all three, tribulation, the kingdom, and patience-are of Jesus Christ. We are partakers of them only if we are in Him. Secondly, we must note that the church is presented as in tribulation. The church was in tribulation then; and, according to the viewpoint of the Book of Revelation, she is always in tribulation in the midst of the world. And if we are to be partakers of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, it is inevitable that we also partake of the tribulation that comes upon the church because of her relation to her Lord and her faithful confession of Him. And, lastly, for that very reason, it is necessary that we partake of the patience of Jesus Christ. For it is only in the power of that patience that we can bear the tribulation and persevere unto the end.
The apostle further informs us that he was on the isle of Patmos for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. This may mean that he was sent there to preach the Word of God and be witness of the name of Jesus. Or it may signify that he was there for the very purpose of receiving the Word of God as contained in this Book of Revelation. Or it may denote that he was exiled as a martyr for the sake of the Word of God which he had preached and the testimony of Jesus which he bore. The last-mentioned possibility appears to be the most probable and acceptable sense of the words. In the first place, this is the most natural significance of this phrase, "for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." Most generally these words convey the idea of true martyrdom. In the second place, this is implied in the manner in which John introduces himself, that is, as the brother and partaker with the church in tribulation. This would seem to imply that at the time of John's receiving this revelation a persecution had broken out for the church, and that John, partaking of the general tribulation and persecution of the church, had been banished to the isle of Patmos. And, in the third place, this would be in accord with the records of secular history, which inform us that about this time the power of the world, represented in the person of the emperor Domitian, raged with fury against the followers of Jesus, the despised sect of the Nazarenes. We conclude, therefore, that John was on the isle of Patmos about the year 95 or 96 A.D. as a martyr for the name and the testimony of Jesus Christ, his Lord.
But the Lord, Who is the prince of the rulers of the earth and Who causes even their counsels to work together for the good of His church, had His own purpose with the banishment of His servant John. And though the worldly power had exiled the aged apostle in order forever to silence his faithful testimony, the Lord transformed this lonely and secluded isle into a spot which served as an oracle for the revelation of one of the most beautiful and important parts of Holy Writ. Without any doubt, the abode of the apostle's exile, where nothing but wild nature surrounded him from day to day, where he was separated from the tumult and bustle of the world, where he could witness the terrible symbolism of the restless sea, listen to the monotonous roar of the powerful waves beating against the rocky shores of his abode, where, moreover, he had an unobstructed view of the heavens, and where his observation of the four corners of the earth was arrested only by the horizon where sky and water met,-this forsaken abode was undoubtedly naturally adapted to be the scene of the prophet's visions and revelations, offering as it did a natural background for them and being conducive to making the apostle spiritually capable of receiving them.
There, then, John was exiled; and he tells us that he was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. By the day of the Lord in this connection we must not understand the final day of judgment. For although that may be the meaning of the term, this interpretation is by no means in accord with what immediately follows. Much more natural it is to explain that by the Lord's day John refers to the day of the Lord's resurrection, the first day of the week, set aside by the church under the direction of the apostles as a day of special worship and consecration to take the place of the seventh day Sabbath of the old dispensation. The expression "in the Spirit" does not merely mean that he was profoundly meditating on spiritual things, but rather that he was in a state of prophetic, spiritual ecstasy, so that he was separated from the world of sense and experience, and prepared to receive visions of spiritual things. We believe that in the visions which the apostle is privileged to see there is, indeed, something objectively real. They were not merely subjective, so that they consisted only of the spiritual states of the seer; but the object that was presented to his view was of such a nature that the mere natural eye could not perceive it, and therefore a translation in the Spirit was necessary to prepare John to receive the visions.
In this state, then, John heard a great voice, mighty and clear as a trumpet call. And as he hears the voice behind him, and therefore turns about, he beholds the vision which is recorded in our passage: the glorified Christ in the midst of the golden candlesticks.
It will be observed immediately that in this vision there are two elements. In the first place, there is the element of the golden candlesticks, of which it is most natural to assume that they were standing in a circle around the Savior. And, in the second place, there is the appearance of the glorified Redeemer Whom John describes in detail.
The Glorified Christ
To begin with the latter, what a wonderful appearance He is! In general, He made the impression of a being overwhelming in glory and brightness of appearance: for He was as the sun shineth in his strength. It is only after John has become somewhat accustomed to the glory of this marvellous vision that he is able to note some of His details. Gradually he begins to notice that this being bears the general resemblance and appearance of a son of man, of a human being. His head and His hair, so he notices further, were white as wool, white as snow. Out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword; and in His right hand He held seven stars. His feet were like unto burnished brass. His eyes reminded one of flames of fire, while His voice was like the roar of mighty waves beating against the rocks when the storm sweeps them into fury. His garments consisted of a long robe, stately and majestic, flowing down to His feet; and about the breast He wore a golden girdle, glittering in the general brightness and glory of His appearance.
Such is the general description of the vision. And we naturally ask: what is its significance?
In order to arrive at a correct interpretation of the whole, it will be necessary, first of all, to make a careful study of the details of the vision, in order that then we may combine them into their proper synthesis and thus obtain a conception of their essential meaning. Certain it is from the outset that here we have the appearance of the Savior from a certain definite point of view. The vision has a specific meaning, purposes to present the Son of Man in a definite light; and every detail of the vision must undoubtedly serve to emphasize that one particular idea.
We may take the outstanding features as our starting-point in explaining the vision.
First of all, it draws our attention that this glorious being is described as ,lone like unto the son of man." The expression is familiar to us all: for Jesus was fond of using that name with application to Himself during His public ministry on earth. The name is most probably derived from Daniel 7:13, 14. There we read: "And behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
If we compare this passage from Daniel with the passage we are discussing, the following inferences would seem to be justified. First of all, in the phrase "one like unto the Son of man" we have a reference to the Lord in His human nature. He was truly man, and as such He is called the Son of Man. That in the vision He is not directly called by that name, but described as "one like unto the Son of man" makes no difference. The form of the expression certainly does not mean to deny His true and real manhood and only to affirm that He bore resemblance to the human form. Rather must the indefiniteness of the phrase be attributed to the impression of the overwhelming glory His appearance made upon John. In the halo of glory John beholds the form of a son of man. In this phrase, then, we have a special reference to Christ as the Son of Man, as the human Servant of Jehovah. However, He does not appear here as the suffering Servant, but as the glorified Lord. If it is correct to assume that the name Son of Man is derived from the prophecy of Daniel quoted above, it is evident that it does not refer to His humiliation only, but rather to Christ as He was destined to inherit the kingdom.. to the Son of Man in His humiliation, indeed, but only as a necessary way to His exaltation and Messianic glory. It is to this glory and dominion that the passage from Daniel refers with emphasis. There the "one like unto the Son of man" is presented as approaching the Ancient of Days, God, to receive His everlasting kingdom. Naturally, in the prophecy of the Old Testament His glory is presented as to be expected in the future. But at the time John is favored with this vision of the glorified Christ, the prophecy of Daniel was already fulfilled. The "one like unto the Son of man" had approached the Ancient of Days, through His suffering and death, His resurrection and exaltation at the right hand of God; and He had already received His everlasting dominion. And as such, as the glorified Lord Who received His kingdom and dominion from the Ancient of Days, He appears in this vision. And, thirdly, from a comparison with the text in Daniel we may draw the inference that He here appears as being authorized and empowered to function as Judge. When Daniel beholds Him, thrones are set and judgment is about to take place; it is just before the judgment is begun that the "one like unto the Son of man" receives His power and dominion. A comparison of the two passages, therefore, leads us to the general conclusion that the glorified Savior here appears as the mighty King-Judge.
As a second striking feature in the vision, we may point to the whiteness of His head and hair. Also in this detail there is an unmistakable reference to the passage from Daniel 7. In the ninth verse of that chapter we read: "I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was an Ancient of Days did sit: his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head was like pure wool." The reference is clear. The whiteness of the hair refers to the age of the Ancient of Days; and it is a symbol of His divinity, because it describes Him as the Eternal One. In our passage, therefore, the whiteness of His hair pictures the Savior in His divine nature, as very God: for only as such He is the Eternal One, "whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting," (Micah 5 . 2). In Daniel it is the hair of the Ancient of Days, not that of the "one like unto the Son of man," which is white. Here, however, it is the glorified Son of Man Who is thus described. In Daniel, therefore, the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man are two distinct persons; in our passage they are presented as one. And again, this difference is in harmony with the distinction between the two dispensations: when Daniel wrote his prophecy, the Word had not yet become flesh; when John received his vision, the incarnation had been accomplished. God and man, the divine and the human natures, had become united in the one person of Immanuel, God with us; and the Ancient of Days could therefore appear in the vision as being at the same time the "one like unto the Son of man." The glorified Christ, the Son of Man, but also the very Son of God, appears here in the vision on Patmos as the glorious King Who has entered into His inheritance from Jehovah, has received His dominion, is authorized and mighty to execute judgment and to realize the consummation of His kingdom.
Most of the rest of the symbolic details of the vision serve to strengthen this general appearance of Christ as the powerful King-Judge.
This is true, for instance, of the eyes like flames of fire. This denotes both His holy anger and His power of omniscience. The eyes of this mighty Judge penetrate into the deepest recesses of the hearts of men; they discover hidden things. Before them all things are an open book, even the secret thoughts and intents of men. Under the glare of those eyes every evil thought or deed, every wicked device, is exposed. And He comes to judge and inflict punishment upon the forces of evil, whether they be found in His church in the world, or in that world itself. Without compromise He will expose the evil, wherever it is found, in the church first (for judgment must needs begin at the house of God), and then also in the world. And having exposed it in its true character and worth, He will visit it with a just retribution. For those flaming eyes also express holiness and righteous indignation and wrath.
Somewhat the same idea is expressed in the symbolism of the feet "like unto burnished brass." They are like white hot, shining brass, burning in a furnace; and with them He will tread down the powers of darkness, all His enemies, until they are consumed.
We may notice here, too, that His voice is as the voice of many waters, that is, as the roaring tumult of the storm-swept deep, when wave after wave breaks against the rocks. It is the voice of thunder, the voice of Power, the awe-inspiring voice of the mighty King Who is come to execute judgment in righteousness.
And, lastly, this general impression of Christ as the glorious King-Judge is also corroborated by the feature of the sharp two-edged sword that proceeds out of His mouth. The sword in Scripture is symbol of authority, of power to punish evildoers. In Romans 13 the apostle Paul says of the powers that be: "But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil," (vs. 4). This sharp two-edged sword that proceeds out of the mouth of Christ is a symbol of that power to take revenge and execute wrath upon all the workers of iniquity. It proceeds out of Christ's mouth, in dicating that it is by the power of His mighty Word that He will execute wrath and vengeance. All these details, therefore, corroborate the general impression that the glorified Savior appears here to John as the great and mighty King, Who is coming to judge His church and the world, till all the powers of darkness shall be destroyed forever.
However, it is not only as King and Judge that He reveals Himself in this vision. He is also the great High Priest, Who is busy for His church in the sanctuary of God. This is indicated by His apparel: for He is clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. The high priest of Israel in the old dispensation wore a long robe, or upper coat, called the robe of the ephod. It is evidently in this long high-priestly garb that the Lord reveals Himself here to John in the vision. The fact that the garment is pictured as hanging down to the foot indicates that He is not now functioning in the offering of sacrifices of blood, for in that case the garment would have been taken up by means of the girdle. The great and final sacrifice has been offered. It is finished. On the other hand, the fact that He still wears the golden girdle shows that, although the bloody sacrifice is finished, yet this High Priest is still engaged in active ministration in the sanctuary: for the old dispensational high priest would wear this girdle only as long as he was busy in the temple, and immediately after his ministrations were accomplished would lay it aside. And thus we have here a beautiful picture of the Savior as He has finished His sacrificial work on the accursed tree of Golgotha but is still engaged as our High Priest and Intercessor with the Father in the sanctuary above. There He prays for us, and from thence He blesses us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.
Some think that there is a point of difference with the appearance of the Old Testament high priest in the fact that the Lord here wears the girdle about the breasts. But this does not seem to be based upon fact. The high priests, as well as the common priests, wore their girdles about the breasts, and not about the loins. But a real point of distinction may be seen in the fact that our High Priest in this vision wears a girdle of gold, while the ordinary girdles of the priests were of fine twined linen and purple and scarlet. This reminds us once more of the royal character and dignity of this High Priest after the order of Melchisedec.
Finally, it is evident that the Lord in this vision also reveals Himself in His prophetic office. This cannot be deduced from His appearance as such, unless it be implied in the detail of the sharp two-edged sword that proceeds out of His mouth. For although it is true that this sword denotes chiefly His authority and power to execute judgment, it may very well also refer to His power as prophet. For, as we have seen, that sword is the Word which He speaks; and that Word is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Also as prophet He speaks His efficacious Word. Besides, the offices of Christ may be distinguished, but they can never be separated. However, apart from any detail in His appearance, He reveals Himself as prophet by the Word which He speaks. First of all, He addresses John in the vision and enjoins him to write. He must write all that he sees in a book and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; and particularly he must write what he has seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter. Besides, He appears as the prophet in the consolation which He gives to John and to the church, verses 17 and 18. And in the chapters which follow He certainly functions as the Prophet of His church, addressing to the seven churches of Asia words of instruction, of consolation and encouragement, of exhortation and rebuke. We conclude, therefore, that in the vision the glorified Lord appears in His three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king. And as such He stands here in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
In The Midst Of The Golden Candlesticks
These seven candlesticks are a symbol of the church in her ideal existence and relation to her Lord, as a light shining to the glory of God in Christ. They represent the church in perfect holiness and righteousness, as she is in the counsel of God, and as she once shall be when the Lord shall present her as His perfected and glorified bride, without spot or blemish. The symbolism reminds us, of course, of the sevenarmed candlestick, or lamp, which once stood in the holy place of the temple in Jerusalem. In that sanctuary there were the altar of incense, the table of shewbread, and the golden candlestick. The last-mentioned piece of temple furniture consisted of a perpendicular shaft from each side of which three arms branched out, so curving that their tops were level with that of the central shaft. The lamps had to be kept burning continuously, and they symbolized the truth that Israel was the light of God shining in the darkness of the world to the glory of Jehovah their God. In our vision the seven candlesticks represent not Israel of the old dispensation, but the church of all ages in her ideal perfection. They convey the truth that the church is a light, even as God is a light and there is no darkness in Him. She is a light, not of herself, but, as is clearly indicated by the fact that Christ stands, or walks, in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, only through her fellowship with Christ in the Spirit. The Lord is her light, and apart from Christ she is in darkness and lies in the midst of death.
We may notice, however, that there are two points of difference between the candlestick as it stood in the temple and the seven candlesticks as they appear in this vision. First of all, it may be observed that the former consisted of one lamp whose arms all stood in a straight line, while in our vision the seven candlesticks evidently stand in a circle around the Savior: for we read that Christ stood in the midst of them, and in the first verse of the next chapter we even read that He "walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." This distinction is in harmony with the difference between the church of the old dispensation and the church in her ideal perfection, or as she is already being realized in the new dispensation. In Israel the church was confined to a single nation: the covenant line ran in the generations of Abraham according to the flesh. But the church is gathered from every nation and tongue and tribe. And already this is being realized, for the church is gathered from Jew and Gentile both. And, secondly, we may notice that the candlestick in the temple was one piece of furniture, so that there was a material and visible connection between the seven shafts, while in our vision there are seven separate lamps without any visible connection. The significance of this is plain. Among Israel the church was united by the physical bond of the nation and the theocracy; but the true and eternal connection between the church and her Lord and between believers mutually is a purely spiritual one. It is in the Spirit and through faith that we are connected as one church with Christ our Head in the communion of saints. That these candlesticks are golden denotes the perfection and purity, the incorruptibleness and the preciousness of the church of Christ, which He has purchased with His own precious blood. The church is more precious than the finest gold. She is pure and holy and more glorious than the noblest of metals. And she is incorruptible and imperishable because of her union with her Lord, the Son of God in the flesh, Who died and was raised and lives forevermore: death hath no more dominion over Him!
In the seven stars which Jesus holds in His right hand a transition is made to the church as she exists in the world, represented by the seven churches of Asia. For indirectly these seven stars also represent the church. The Savior's own interpretation is that they are the angels of the seven churches, verse 20.
Interpreters differ, however, with respect to the question just what is meant by these seven angels. Some would explain the term as denoting real angels, heavenly spirits, and think that they are the guardian angels of the several churches. But this would not seem to be a very plausible explanation: for John is commissioned to address letters to these angels, and it is rather difficult to conceive of the possibility of writing letters to such guardian angels. Others would spiritualize and idealize the term, and maintain that the expression refers to the peculiar and distinctive "spirit" of each congregation, to its individual disposition, in some such sense as even now we speak of "the spirit of the age." But also this interpretation must be rejected as impossible, in view of the fact that one could not very well address a letter to such a "spirit of the church." And still others, more correctly, have applied the words to the officebearers, or overseers, of the churches, especially to those who were busy in "the word and doctrine."
Let us bear in mind, first of all, that the symbol of the star refers to a light which is conspicuous and yet dependent and subordinate. Further, we should also remember that in the Word of God the original term for angel (malakh in the Hebrew, anggelos in the Greek) does not always refer to one of God's spiritual servants in heaven, but may also simply denote a messenger or servant from among men who is called to fulfill some important mission in God's church or kingdom. With reference to John the "Baptist, Malachi prophesied: "Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me," (Malachi M). And, finally, as we already remarked, we must remember that John is ordered to write to these seven angels of the seven churches of Asia. All these considerations establish it beyond doubt that the angel of the church in this case is a human servant of God, the overseer or elder that is busy in the Word and doctrine, the minister of the Word of God. They are called "angels" simply because they are God's servants and messengers. And they are symbolized in stars, not because the churches receive their light only and absolutely from them, but because it is the Lord's good pleasure to enlighten and instruct His church in the world through their ministry. Through them especially it pleases Christ to preach and to preserve His Word.
And yet by these stars that are held in the right hand of the glorified Lord the churches themselves are also indirectly indicated. On the one, hand, you cannot separate these "stars" from Christ. He holds them in His right hand. Without Him they are nothing. Unless Christ Himself works through them, they cannot function. Only when Christ, as the Chief Prophet, speaks His Word, can there be preaching. But, on the other hand, they cannot be separated from the churches. They represent the churches. The churches function through them. This close connection between the stars and the churches is evident from the seven letters which follow in the next two chapters. For it is evident that in these John does not merely address the angels, but through them writes to the churches which they represent and serve. The glorified Lord holds the seven stars in His right hand. This symbolizes not merely that He controls and holds in His power the angels of the seven churches, but also indirectly that the entire church is held and preserved by His power alone. No one can pluck His own out of His hand!
The Seven Churches
And thus, finally, we come to consider the church as she is represented by the seven churches of Asia.
That there is an essential connection between these and the seven candlesticks is evident from the number seven. Repeatedly this number occurs. There are seven churches to which John must write; there are seven candlesticks in the midst of which the Lord appears; there are seven stars in the right hand of the Savior; and, as we have seen before, there are also seven Spirits before the throne of God, seven lamps of fire burning before that throne, seven eyes of the Lamb, (4:5; 5:6). Seven denotes a fulness and perfection of grace. It contains the numbers three and four, and it is also the sum of six and one. In the latter sense it denotes the perfection of all that God does in time with a view to and including the eternal sabbath, the rest that remaineth for the people of God, the consummation of all things in the eternal kingdom and tabernacle of God. In the former sense it symbolizes the perfected communion of God (three) and the cosmos (four), the perfected covenant of God's friendship in Christ, God's dwelling with men. And for the same reason it denotes the fulness of the spirit that dwells in the church, the fulness of grace and spiritual blessings, and the fulness of the church itself as the body of Christ. This is the essential connection between the seven candlesticks and the seven churches in Asia. They are not the same. The former denote the church in her ideal existence and eternal perfection, her essence, as she appears in the eternal counsel of God, and as she once will appear in the eternal kingdom. The latter represent the church as she is in the world, essentially the same as the church as represented by the seven candlesticks, but an earthly manifestation of the latter, the historic church on earth with its essential holiness and actual imperfections and infirmities: the church of Christ, indeed, but as she is still in constant need of consolation and encouragement, of exhortation and rebuke, the house of God from which judgment must needs begin.
That, therefore, exactly seven churches are selected indicates that in these the whole church, as she exists in the world at any time of the present dispensation, is represented. They no doubt actually existed at the time. They are no mere fiction, but historical churches. And they are mentioned here in the order of their geographical position in Asia Minor: from Ephesus north to Pergamos, and thence south to Laodicea. However, these churches were chosen because they were prepared by God through Christ in order that they might together constitute a picture of the entire church in the world, with its perfections and defects, its strength and its weaknesses, its trials and temptations. And thus it happens that in the seven-fold message to these churches in Asia Minor we have the Word of Christ to His church in the world at any time and in all lands, even until the coming again of the Lord. These messages, therefore, concern us as directly as they concerned the first seven churches to which they are addressed.
Now let us try to view the whole significant picture. Christ, Who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, the Head of His ideal church, given Him by the Father, also is in the midst of His church in the world. He is her light and life. Without Him she is nothing and can do nothing. He is in her midst as her merciful High Priest, praying in her behalf and blessing her with all the blessings of salvation. He is with her as her mighty King, ruling over her by His grace and Spirit, protecting her in the midst of hateful enemies, and leading her unto victory and glory. He comes to her also as her righteous Judge, commending whatever good there is found in her, rebuking and admonishing her for her sins and weaknesses, calling her to repentance and threatening her with His wrath and judgments. It is because Christ is in the midst of His church in the world as her Judge that the church must ever reform, even though separation from a certain manifestation of her is the result. And He is in her midst as her only Prophet, giving her the stars, instructing her through His Word and Spirit, and causing her to know the things that must shortly come to pass. Look on Him, and be filled with that fear and trembling in which you must work out your own salvation! Behold Him, and be assured that the church can never perish; she is safe though all hell come raving against her!
A Word of Comfort
The appearance of the glorified Lord has a terrifying effect upon John. He tells us, verse 17: "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead." The sight of so much majesty and glory fills him with awe. Some understand this as indicating that John had not recognized the Lord, and that he does not know Him until the Savior addresses him in the Words that follow. But in the light of the preceding verses this is very improbable. For he had already received his commission to write, arid he had seen Him as the "one like unto the Son of man." But although he knows it is the Lord, he is filled with fear by the awe-inspiring glory of His appearance. Once he had seen a shadow of this power and glory when he and Peter and James were with Him in the holy mount; but now "in the Spirit" he beholds the reality of that awful majesty, and he is stupefied and falls at his feet as dead. All this must be understood as belonging to the vision, and it takes place "in the Spirit." This becomes the occasion for the Lord's comforting words, addressed to John, but also to the church of all ages. For also we tremble at His glory. When, like John, we stand face to face with this mighty and righteous Judge of heaven and earth, we realize the sinfulness of our own condition, and we are impelled to fall down before Him and cry out with the prophet of old: "Woe is me, for I am undone!" Even as we are discussing the vision of this glorious and majestic Judge, we realize that we would not be able to stand in His presence. We are inclined to fear at His coming, rather than hope for it. And therefore both now and in the day of His coming we have need of His comforting words: "Fear not!"
It is, of course, also in the vision and "in the Spirit" that Jesus laid His right hand upon John, and that He addressed him: "Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." This is the message of comfort in all our fears, and how perfect a comfort it conveys! Let us notice that it consists entirely in calling our attention to Christ and to what He now is. And what else could possibly be our comfort in life and in death than that Christ, our Lord, in Whom we believe, to Whom we belong with body and soul, is the first and the last, the One that liveth and He was dead, the One that holds the keys of death and of hell? He is the Alpha and the Omega (vs. 11), the first and the last (vss. 11, 17). In verse 8 this was said of God; here it is attributed by Christ unto Himself. Nor is there any conflict here. For Christ is not only very God; but also as the Mediator, the Son of God come in the flesh, the first begotten of the dead, He is the firstborn of every creature, through Whom and unto Whom all things were made. And He is the Risen One! Note the order of the words. He does not say: "I was dead and am alive again."' but, "I am he that liveth, and was dead!" He is the Living One! This clause should stand by itself. It is first. It is the cause and reason of all that follows. He is the life! He has life in Himself, for He is the eternal God come in the flesh! And He became dead! The Living One entered into death, into our death, in the human nature, in order that as the great High Priest He might finish the sacrifice for sins. But death could have no dominion over Him: for He is the Living One! And so He issued forth out of death into the glorious resurrection, and now He is alive forevermore! And the keys of death and hell are His. "Hell" here is "Hades," the abode of the dead, the grave, the place of corruption. It is presented here as a mighty fortress: the power of all death. And Jesus has the keys, the power to open and no one shutteth, and to shut and no one openeth. He has the power and authority to open the jaws of death, the gates of darkness, in order that His own may conic forth into the glory of eternal life! Fear not! Ah, the essence. the real cause of all our fears is death. But for them that trust in this glorious Lord, this fear is not only removed, but is changed into the sure hope of eternal life and glory in God's everlasting tabernacle with men! Blessed are they that put their trust in Him!
Christ's Commission To John To Write
Having thus quieted the fear of His servant John, the Lord gives him his commission: "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." These words, no doubt, characterize in general the contents of the whole Book of Revelation. John must write "the things which he has seen," that is, the vision which we have been discussing. "The things which are" refer to the things then present as a basis for the things to come, and, therefore, to the things which are always present. And "the things which shall be hereafter" are the future things as they develop according to God's counsel from "the things that are." From this it will be evident that we do not believe that any mechanical division of the Book of Revelation can properly be deduced from this passage, as if "the things that are" must be found in the next two chapters, while "the things which shall be hereafter" are recorded in all that follows Chapter 3. For, even if the "things which are" would be applied exclusively to the seven churches in Asia in the first place, it cannot be denied that those churches and the seven-fold message they receive also look toward the future of the church in the world. For those seven churches, as we have seen, represent the church in the world throughout this whole dispensation. The contents of the first three chapters deal, therefore, with both, "the things that are" and "the things which shall be hereafter." And the same holds true for the rest of the book. Throughout, until we come to the vision of New Jerusalem in the new creation, the whole book sheds light from above, the light of the coming Lord upon the things which are and upon the things which shall be hereafter in their organic historical development. We will find that in the chapters that follow there is repetition, but that in the repetition there is progress. The same forces are at work throughout the ages of this dispensation; the same events occur in the world of men, in the universe, in the church; but they increase in scope and intensity as time progresses. And always the end in view is the coming of the Lord in glory and the perfect redemption of the church, the tabernacle of God with men. All things progress from the Alpha to the Omega in a straight line, without any retrogression or restraint. For the moving force behind and in all things is the counsel of the only Potentate of potentates, Who is in the heavens and doeth all His good pleasure!