Introduction to Revelation
The Book of Revelation has always held more mystery than revelation for me.
In fact, for years I chose to concentrate on parts of the Bible that unfold their secrets more readily than does the Book of Revelation.
But then I became convicted. I read, in Revelation 1:3, that those “who read the words of this prophecy” will be blessed—provided they “hear it and take it to heart.”
So I decided to read it and take it to heart. I’ll admit I haven’t gone beyond the first three chapters, and that the greater mysteries are still ahead; but already I’ve found great blessing and revelation in those three chapters. Let me share what I have found.
I found, in the very first verse, that the Book is a revelation of Jesus Christ. It is not a revelation of seven churches nor of four beasts. It is not a revelation of seven seals, or seven trumpets, or seven vials. Neither is it a revelation of the Beast and the False Prophet. It is a revelation of Jesus, the Son of God.
Revealed in Chapter 1
I found Him revealed and described in chapter 1. I found Him in chapters 2 and 3. And I expect to find Him in all the remaining chapters of the Revelation.
The next thing that blessed me was what John saw when he turned to hear the voice that spoke to him. He said, “I saw seven golden lamp stands, and among the lamp stands was someone ‘like a son of man.’ ”
When I attended Bible school, we made a thorough study of the seven golden lamp stands.
What we saw was tarnished gold. There wasn’t much to commend the seven churches. One had lost its first love. Another was persecuted and downtrodden. Another embraced false doctrine. Another was carnal. Still another was dead. One was just barely holding its own; and the seventh was materialistic.
What we saw was tarnished gold.There wasn’t much to shout about in the seven churches of John’s day, and today’s churches aren’t much different. As I travel through America and Africa, I see a large amount of corrosion on the gold! Sometimes it can be very depressing looking at the candlesticks.But what turns me on is that there is more than the candlesticks to look at.
John saw One like unto a “son of man” among the lamp stands.
Think of it! In the midst of misdirected zeal, in the midst of great suffering, in the midst of false doctrine, in the midst of carnality, there He was! In a church where life barely flickered, in a church where the lifestyle and value systems were worldly and warped, there was Jesus, the Son of man walking!
You may abandon your church. You may turn your back on fellow believers because of their frailties and failures. But if you’ll look over your shoulder as you pass out the door, you’ll find, still inside the church, One like unto the Son of man who hasn’t given up hope.
He still believes the gold can glisten! Hallelujah!
What will make a tarnished lampstand a thing of beauty? Shall we set up committees to study corrosion? Will rules and regulations remove rust? To what, or to whom, shall we look for a solution?
John turned his eyes from the lamp stands to the One who walked among them.
What he saw was the eternal, ever-present One; the One who was, who is, and who is to come! He saw the all-wise One with hair like snow and eyes like fire. He saw the all-powerful One with a voice of authority and words of power and judgment. And what he saw reassured him. The One who walked among the candlesticks had all the endowments necessary to cause tarnished gold to glitter!
Having seen the Son of man, John had the courage to look at the seven churches.
Without a revelation of Jesus, the seven lamp stands would have presented a hopeless situation. But Jesus among us makes the difference! If you can look beyond the lampstand and see the Son of man in your church, you will find that the solution to a hopeless situation is the ever-present Savior.
Let us now look at the seven churches, and, in each of them, watch closely for the Son of man who walks among them.
The first thing John saw when he looked at the church in Ephesus was Jesus.
Wonderful! The prophet saw the Solution before he saw the problem! Too often we concentrate on corrosion and forget to look beyond it to Christ.
John saw Jesus with seven stars in His right hand. He saw Him walking in the Ephesian church. What could be more assuring? If Christ holds the pastor in His right hand, and if He hasn’t abandoned the believers, then His presence will make the church’s gold glow!
When John looked at Smyrna, the “persecuted church,” it was the same story. The first thing he saw was Jesus. He saw “the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” No wonder he could say, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” If you want to comfort those who are facing death, bring them face to face with the One who has overcome death!
The same was true in Pergamos. Before he saw their false doctrine, he saw the One who is the Truth, out of whose mouth goes a sharp, two-edged sword. He who walks among the churches is equipped to deal with deviations in doctrine. If our eyes are on Jesus, we are less likely to err from the Truth.
When considering “carnal” Thyatira, our attention is focused first on Jesus’ eyes and feet, and then on the carnality of the church. People only want to talk of love these days. They think of Jesus as being soft on sin. They should think again. He is the ever-present holy One with unfailing discernment and just judgment. His eyes are like blazing fire, and His feet are as burnished brass!
To the “dead” church of Sardis, Jesus is introduced as the Life-Giver who holds the sevenfold Spirit of God. Jesus is not only the Way and the Truth. He also is the Life. Raising the dead is His specialty!
To the indigenous, self-supporting, self-administrating, and self-propagating church of Philadelphia—the “no fault church”—He is the One who presents believers with new dimensions and opportunities, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens.
And, finally, to the “smug and affluent” church of Laodicea, He is introduced as the True Witness who isn’t impressed by appearances—the Ruler of God’s creation who isn’t awed by bank accounts, by Cadillacs, or by cattle ranches. After all, He made the Grand Canyon, the majestic Alps, and the blue Caribbean. As He walks among rich and proud Laodiceans, He says, “Yours are not the true riches!”
So to each of the seven churches, Jesus is introduced as the great “I AM”—the ever present One. To each He is introduced in that aspect of His character and person that best fits its particular need.
There is a second attribute of our Lord that is revealed to the seven churches.
The Omniscient One
Not only is He the great “I AM,” the omnipresent One who walks among the tarnished lamp stands; He is also the omniscient One, the all-knowing and wise. Nothing escapes Him. Nothing is hidden from Him. He is not only where I am; He also knows what I am!
Let us now go back through the churches and look for the All-knowing One.
To the Ephesians, the “good works” church, he says, in effect, “I know. I know how hard you have worked. I know how you love good and hate evil. I know how reliable, how predictable, how steadfast, and how industrious you are. But I also know that, in your preoccupation with working, you have forgotten that I am among you. I stand among you unnoticed. I shout, ‘Look, I’m right here—this way, over here!’ But you are so busy you have no time for fellowship and communion.”
To the believers at Smyrna, the “suffering” church, He says, in essence, “I know that you are suffering. I know some of you will die. Now I want you to know what I know. The first death cannot hurt you. It is the second death that hurts. But be of good courage; it hurts only those who fail to overcome. If you overcome, the second death cannot hurt you!”
To the “church in error” at Pergamos, the all-knowing One says, “I know where you live.” That’s a sobering thought. He knows your street. He knows your house number. He not only knows where you live; He also knows how you live where you live!
He knows your love for the truth, but He also knows your doubts and your questions. He knows what you say you believe, but He also knows what you really believe! In Chichewa we say, “Simungathe kummata pula,” which means you can’t pull the wool over the eyes of God.
It is the same with Thyatirans, the “carnal” people. He knows what we tolerate. He knows our permissiveness. He knows the shows we watch on television. He knows the jokes we tell. He knows the language we use at the shop. He knows our carnality and cowardice.
And because He knows our inner longing for goodness and holiness, He constantly seeks to bring out the latent good in us. He knows we can be good if we will to be good—and let Him help.
The believers at Sardis had a reputation. They were known as the “lively” church. They had activities every night of the week. They had a program that wouldn’t quit. They had a name that they were alive. But what they didn’t know was that they were almost ready for a postmortem. He who walks among the churches pronounced them as good as dead—but He didn’t give up on them. Why? Because He knows the power of resurrection! He knows that the breath of God can make dead men live!
The omniscient Christ knew the potential of the Philadelphia church. He didn’t want them to rest on their laurels. He knew what He could do with their “little strength” if they would commit it to Him. Our Lord knows we haven’t reached saturation in giving. He knows the untapped resources in our churches. He knows what total commitment can accomplish. He has set before us an open door, and He knows what He will do if we will enter it!
The Laodiceans said, “We do not need a thing.” But the One who knows said, “You are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”
Faith Tested in Fire
What a commentary on value systems! The Laodiceans had yet to learn that godliness with contentment is great gain; that true gold is “faith tested in fire;” that righteousness can overcome covetousness; that the Holy Spirit’s anointing takes away spiritual blindness! Oh, that we knew what the One who walks among the churches knows! Such knowledge would make us rich, and would add no sorrow.
In conclusion, we look again at the Son of man who walks among the tarnished lamp stands. He is ever-present. He knows all things. But, praise God, He also is able to do all things! He is omnipotent! He has the power to do something about what He knows!
So after introducing himself as the great “I AM”—and after revealing His omniscience by saying, “I know”—He now declares to every church, “I will!”
To the “good works” church of Ephesus He says, “If you do not repent, I will… remove your lamp stand.” You see, it is not works that makes believers. It is the presence of Christ among us. Therefore, a church that ignores the Source of light ceases to be a witness of that Light. Its lamp is removed.
To the “suffering” church of Smyrna He says, in essence, “The devil wills to make you suffer. Some of you will die.” Note that Jesus did not promise to deliver them. Sometimes it is His will to deliver. Sometimes it is not. However, what He does promise is this: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life!” What He wills to do, He can do. He is omnipotent.
To the “false doctrine” church of Pergamos He declares that He will fight against heresy with the sword of His mouth. But to those who overcome in Pergamos, He wills to give hidden manna, the forgiveness of sins, and a new name written down in glory!
And what judgment is forecast for the “carnal” church of Thyatira! “I will cast her (Jezebel) on a bed of suffering.” “I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely. I will strike her children dead. I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
But what comfort is forecast for those who refuse to compromise! “I will not impose any other burden on you. I will give authority over the nations. I will also give him the morning star.”
And the omnipotent One says to the “dead” church at Sardis, “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief.”
But to those who awaken and strengthen what remains, He says, “They will walk with me, dressed in white. I will never erase his name from the book of life. I will acknowledge his name before my Father.”
And what about the indigenous church at Philadelphia?
Hear the promise of the All-powerful One:
“I will make (liars) …fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. I will also keep you from the hour of trial. I will make (you) a pillar in the temple of my God. I will write on him the name of my God. I will also write on him my new name.”
“I will, I will, I will, I will!” Praise God, He will because He wants to and because He is more than able!
And even for the soft, indulgent, and complacent Laodiceans, there was hope—if they would repent. He was about to spit them out of His mouth; yet despite all their selfishness and self-complacency, He loved them. Can you imagine it? He still loved them!
His rebukes and His disciplines are always administered in love with the hope that we will repent.
He says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock If anyone hears my voice and opens the door… “Anyone! Think of it! Anyone—workaholics, the oppressed, those in error, carnal men, cautious men, indulgent men—anyone! If they will hear His voice and open the door, He says: “I will go in and eat with him, and he with me. I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I have overcome and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
What a revelation of Jesus Christ—the omnipresent, the omniscient, and the omnipotent One!
To each of us He says, “I am, I know, and I will.”
He is there beside you. He knows all about you. And He has the power to restore the radiance of your tarnished gold!