I John, who 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.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 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.
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 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.
His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
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: 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. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; 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.
Revelation (Greek: apocalypse) is the removing of a cover. In this wonderful book Jesus Christ removes the cover so that His servant John might see the truth. The Roman Empire, a type of the beast from the sea, and apostate Judaism, a type of the beast from the earth, raged against the church of Jesus Christ. The aged apostle John, the last of the apostles, was exiled to Patmos and suffered “tribulation…for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (v. 9). The world seemed to be on the brink of swallowing up the church of Jesus Christ, and each congregation faced serious issues (some persecution, some the beginning of apostasy, and some spiritual lethargy) that threatened their very existence in the world. In this book awesome characters are introduced and astounding visions relayed to the apostle: the four horsemen of the apocalypse, infernal locusts, the two beasts, the great red dragon, to name but a few. But before John sees any of those things, he must behold the most awesome person of all, the Lord Jesus Christ, for it is on Him that we must focus our attention in this book. We have here the revelation not of the beast, nor of the great red dragon, nor even of the church, but the revelation of Jesus Christ.
What John heard
The apostle was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (v. 10), engaged in the worship of his Savior—praying, meditating, remembering. Banished to Patmos, he was alone, cut off from communal worship, his heart aching for the fellowship of the church. The nearest congregation, Ephesus, was about 65 miles from the coast of Patmos. Perhaps John could see the faint outline of land in the distance as he mused upon holy things. His meditations were interrupted when a voice spoke to him: a person was standing behind him, the first human contact in many days. The voice made a deep impression upon him: a “great voice,” not a quiet, mousy voice, but one reverberating with majesty, power, and authority. In verse 10 John likens the voice to a trumpet, while in verse 15 it is “as the sound of many waters.”
This was no ordinary voice and the person standing behind John was no ordinary person. A trumpet makes a loud, clear, penetrating sound, for it is the magnification or the amplification of the voice. When a trumpeter makes a loud, long, clear blast with his trumpet, the listener must stand to attention. The trumpet symbolizes the voice of God: “when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice” (Ex. 19:13). A trumpet is not a harp or a lyre: it does not soothe the ears, but it warns and gives direction. Israel employed the trumpet to issue commands on the battlefield: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Cor. 14:8). This voice gave no uncertain sound.
A voice “as of many waters” is one louder than the waves that crashed on the rocky coast of Patmos. This, too, is a supernatural, even a divine voice. “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters” (Ps. 93:4). “And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory” (Ezek. 43:2).
Whose voice, then, is this, a voice of divine majesty, as of the surging of the waves of the sea, as of the trumpet sounding long?
Whom John saw
Did John perhaps recognize the voice before he turned around, as Mary Magdalene did when the risen Lord addressed her by name? If he did, he does not inform the reader. Indeed, the person is already identified in verse 11: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.” Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the alphabet familiar to John and his readers, are the equivalent of the “A” and the “Z.” The person standing behind John, therefore, is not a mere man. A man has a beginning (this one is the beginning) and an ending (this one is the ending), but the voice belongs to Him who is the first and the last, the Almighty (v. 8). Let the reader compare Revelation 1:8, 1:11, 21:6, and 22:13 with Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12 for unmistakable proof that the person who addresses John is divine: the eternal, infinite, almighty God.
As John turns around, his eyes first light upon seven golden candlesticks. A candlestick is not a lamp, but the pedestal on which the lamp is held aloft. We might say lampstands. In Matthew 5:15 Jesus says, “Neither do men light a candle (lamp), and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick (lampstand); and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” These lamps were illuminated through a constant supply of olive oil and then elevated so that their light shone round about. John’s eyes then look upwards to a majestic figure standing tall in the midst of the seven lampstands, having power and authority over them, so much so that he can remove them at will. These seven lampstands are seven churches called to shine with the light of Jesus Christ in a dark world. In his right hand this majestic figure held seven stars: quite a man who can hold seven stars in his right hand, as he walks among his seven golden lampstands!
In verses 13-16 John describes this majestic figure, beginning with His clothing: “clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle” (v. 13). Long flowing vestments, golden girdle: this is a person of distinction. John’s eyes dare to gaze upon the person’s face: “his head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes as a flame of fire” (v. 14). Moreover, “out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (v. 16). John had seen such a face before, but only a glimpse of the true glory, on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29). The apostle was now in the presence of the Holy One. In Daniel 7:9 pure whiteness depicts the absolute holiness and eternal majesty of the Ancient of Days, which shows us that, although the Messiah is personally distinct from Jehovah, He is of the same essence and has the same attributes. Eyes flaming as fire belong to Him who in His omniscience searches the hearts of men, so that everything is naked and opened before Him (Jer. 17:10; Heb. 4:13; Rev. 2:23). The sword proceeding from His mouth, a long, heavy broadsword, not a small dagger, shows that this majestic figure judges by the words of His mouth, which are the words of the living God (Heb. 4:12). Finally, John describes the feet, at which he will soon fall down as a dead man. They were “like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace” (v. 15; Dan. 10:6). Feet burning, as if made with brass glowing red hot in a furnace, belong to one who comes in omnipotent wrath against the wicked oppressors of His church and against the hypocrites who defile His beloved bride with their false doctrine, their ungodly lifestyle, and their stubborn impenitence.
In summary, then, John saw “one like unto the Son of man” (v. 13), which is the Messiah’s name, as He enters His kingdom at His ascension (Dan. 7:13-14). This person possesses the kingdom, the power, and the glory. His own self-designation is “Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” (vv. 11, 17), the eternal One. This eternal One was, however, once mortal: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore” (v. 18). This majestic person has passed through death, for He suffered and died for John and for all of God’s people, who belong to Him in the decree of election and are united to Him by saving faith. Death could not hold Him, for He is alive forevermore, having been raised from death, to which doleful state He shall never return, and possessing “the keys of hell and of death” (v. 18).
John knew this majestic figure, but how different He was from the man John had once known! The apostle had lain in His bosom, enjoying intimacy and familiarity with Him, but now, afraid to draw nigh to Him, John falls at His feet “as dead” (v. 17). John had witnessed the lifeblood drip from His crucified body, he had seen the empty tomb, he had seen the resurrected Lord, and he had been commissioned by Him to preach and baptize in His name. Now Jesus stands before him in all the fullness of His glory, as He really is, as the Judge of all, the Lord of glory, and the King of the church. This One, John must understand, is the sovereign over the nations. This One, John must proclaim, will return in judgment upon the wicked world. Therefore, the words of this glorious one are most fitting: “Fear not” (v. 17). Awe is appropriate; terror is not. Worship is obligatory; cowardice is forbidden.
His commission to John
John’s commission was not to go, for, exiled on the island of Patmos, he could not go; but to write, and then to send: “What thou seest, write in a book, and send” (v. 9). “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (v. 19). John’s message is to the seven churches—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea— seven true churches, contemporary with the apostle, then located in Asia Minor (present day Turkey), and yet seven churches representative of the church of all ages. Each church had an angel, a messenger, or a preacher, and to each church the exalted Lord gave a particular message. For some the message was encouragement, for some it was warning, and for some it was rebuke. The message was tailored to each congregation, for the Lord, whose eyes are as a flaming fire and whose feet are like burning brass, knows the strengthens, weaknesses, sins, and needs of every assembly that calls upon His name. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
If the exalted Jesus stands in the midst of the golden lampstands, which are the seven churches, and He holds the seven stars, which are the angels, the messengers, or the pastors, of the seven churches, in His right hand, why should the church fear the beast, the false prophet, the great whore, or the great red dragon? The majestic, omnipotent, omniscient Lord will destroy the wicked and He will gather, defend, and preserve His church from all her foes. That is the message that the aged, exiled John needs to hear. That is the message that the church of every age must take to heart and to which every congregation must submit in humble obedience. And that is the message that we must hear: Jesus is Lord; therefore, all is well. Let us, then, listen to what the Lord of glory says to us in His seven letters to His seven churches.