Throughout history there have been times of incredible pressure placed upon the Church, God’s people. Persecution, pressure, and perilous times have been created by tyrants and enemies of God who sought to silence the work of God in the lives of His people. What do you do if you are living under the oppressive hand of Pharaoh in Egypt for four hundred years? If we are talking about four months of oppression then maybe you can tighten your grip and pray to wait out the storm. Four years? The opposition and persecution would surely take its toll upon the minds and spirits of God’s people, but if we are talking about four hundred years of slavery then you had better come up with a better plan.
There have been others besides Pharaoh who have sought to squeeze the life out of God’s people. If you will remember King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon applied pressure to young Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for refusing to bow down to an idol made with human hands? The King told them that they could either bow down to his golden image or he would throw them into a blazing fire. The three Hebrews responded to King Nebuchadnezzar.
16Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18 NIV)
Jump forward to the first century and the land of the Roman Empire. Emperor Domitian’s “god complex” was beginning to make life difficult for those living under his dominance. What was the Church to do? Were the people of God to go underground and keep quiet so that they could avoid any unnecessary conflict with civil authorities? Were they to pay homage to the many “gods” of their community so they wouldn’t cause a fuss? Were they to rise up and seek to overthrow the tyrant? Were they to lose all hope and cave in to the pressure to conform? These are questions that many Christians living under godless regimes have had to pray for answers for while they faced persecution.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Hitler’s Germany, joined with other pastors and prayed for guidance as to how they should respond to their out-of-control leader. Cardinal Jaime Sin, and followers of Jesus in the Philippines, joined together to seek God’s heart as they witnessed the assassination of Benigno Aquino by Ferdinand Marcos’ henchmen in the 80s. Christians are still praying, still seeking guidance from the Father about what they are to do in lands like China, Nigeria, Syria, and Burma.
The Church has been called to be salt and light in a dark and tasteless world and yet when the pressure is applied our natural reaction is to shrink back or try and figure a way out from under the pressure. What are the people of God to do when times get tough and society no longer desires salt or light? Our lesson from Revelation 1:9-20 today gives us insight into God’s counsel to His people who are living in situations such as these. Turn to Revelation 1:9-20 with me and let’s read together.
9I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” 12I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:9-20 NIV)
This section of Revelation describes for us John’s vision of the exalted Jesus and His place among the “lampstands,” which we learn in verse 20 are the churches who will receive the letter. It is a glorious vision, and in the vision John is commissioned to write everything he sees and hears and send it to the churches. John’s commissioning and the awesome vision he experiences reminds me of the commissioning of Isaiah and Ezekiel. Turn with me to Isaiah 6 and let’s read together.
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5″Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-5 NIV)
Isn’t it interesting how we read in God’s Word about men like Moses, John, Isaiah and others who came into the presence of the Lord and they were overwhelmed by God’s glory, majesty, and holiness? In Revelation 1, John says that when he saw the vision of Jesus he was so overwhelmed that he fell at Jesus’ feet. Isaiah experiences the glory of God and cries out, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” These were godly men. They were strong men who have left their mark on history and affected the lives of countless people. How did they do it? I believe with all of my heart that these men were animated, inspired, and moved because of their understanding of the glory, majesty, and purposes of Almighty God. They knew that in the midst of suffering, God was at work. They knew that when hard times came God would show up. They knew that the Message had to get out even if it cost them their lives. This perspective shaped them to their core.
This section of Revelation that we are looking at today can be divided into three different sections. First, in verses 9-11, we read about John’s situation prior to the vision. Secondly, in verses 12-16 we read about John’s glorious vision of Jesus. Last of all, in verses 17-20 we read about John’s response to the vision, Jesus’ response to John, and Jesus’ explanation of the “seven stars” and the “seven golden lampstands.” Let’s read together verses 9-11 and find out what’s happening in John’s life prior to his vision. John writes,
9I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:9-11 NIV)
When John received his vision from the Lord he was exiled on the island of Patmos. Patmos is a rocky, barren island in the Aegean Sea. The island is about ten miles long and five to six miles wide. There were many prisoners exiled on the island and conditions were harsh, especially for a 90 year old man like the Apostle John.
John’s letter was going to be sent to the seven churches and he says that he is their “brother” and “companion” in the “suffering, kingdom, and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” John wants his readers to know that he is not an outsider writing to them. He knows what it is like to have to bear up under the weight of oppression and suffering. John is their companion in the suffering. The Greek word used for “suffering” is “thlipsis” and it means, “pressing together, pressure, or oppression.” The word appears 45 times in the Greek New Testament. The writer to the Hebrews used the same word when he wrote Hebrews 10:32-34.
32Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. (Hebrews 10:32-34 NIV)
John also says that he is a companion in the “patient endurance.” The Greek word “hupomone” means “steadfastness, perseverance, or to bear up under.” This word appears 32 times in the New Testament. James, the brother of Jesus, sought to give perspective to those suffering in his day when he wrote,
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)
Suffering and patient endurance are much needed, not just in the face of Domitian’s dominance, but also in order to resist the false teaching that was running rampant throughout the land. There is a great need for the followers of Jesus today to join hand-in-hand in suffering with one another and patiently endure the pressures that society exerts upon us to compromise our commitment to Jesus as King of our lives. We are not familiar with the kind of suffering experienced by those in the Roman Empire. I’m unaware of any Americans who have been fed to the lions or burned at the stake, but we need patient endurance to bear up under the pressure to compromise our faith.
Like our brothers and sisters in the first century we live in a land that is overflowing with all kinds of ideologies, philosophies, and religious ideas. It would be easier for us to water down the teaching of Scripture and blend in with the crowd, but we are to take our stand and not compromise the Word of God simply so we can fit in with society at large. The writer of Hebrews said, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)
It’s interesting to notice that wedged between these two words is the Kingdom. John wants those in Asia to know that they are part of a larger empire than the Roman Empire. John is not only their companion in suffering, but he is a fellow citizen of the same Kingdom they belong to God’s Kingdom.
John says that he was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day.” It was Sunday when John received his vision from Jesus. Before he ever saw a vision he heard a voice that sounded like a trumpet. This is a great opportunity to point out something very important to our understanding of Revelation. Over and over again we will read, “I heard what sounded like,” or “I saw someone like” or “something like.” Forty-nine times in the book of Revelation “like” is used to try and describe something that is beyond the understanding of the human mind. John heard a loud voice that sounded like a trumpet and it told him to write down everything he was about to see and to send it to the seven churches scattered throughout Asia. Let’s turn to our next section. Read along with me from Revelation 1:12-16.
12I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:12-16 NIV)
John sees Jesus walking among His churches. He’s not a distant dictator or an uninterested observer, but He is our ever-present help in our time of need. Jesus walks among His churches, His people. He cares for them, He empowers them, He sustains them in their trials, and He corrects them when they get off track. Jesus told His followers in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Take courage this morning Britton Christian Church! Your Savior is here! He is present in the midst of our trials! He will never abandon us no matter how difficult the days ahead may be! He walks with us!
In verses 13-16 we read a description of Jesus. He was wearing a robe with a golden sash around His chest. His hair was brilliantly white like wool. His eyes were like a blazing fire. His feet were like bronze. His voice sounded like rushing waters. He was holding seven stars in His right hand and there was a sharp double-edged sword coming out of His mouth. G.K. Beale says,
An analysis of OT allusions in vv 13-15 shows that the predominant features of the Son of man are drawn from Daniel 7 and especially Daniel 10, with other texts contributing secondarily to the depiction. Most commentators agree that the significance of this is that Christ is portrayed as a kingly and priestly figure, since the figure in the two Daniel texts has the same features. Part of Christ’s priestly role is to tend the lampstands. The OT priest would trim the lamps, remove the wick and old oil, refill the lamps with fresh oil, and relight those that had gone out. Likewise, Christ tends the ecclesial lampstands by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning in order to secure the churches fitness for service as lightbearers in a dark world. (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, p. 208-209.)
As G.K. Beale has pointed out, much of John’s description of Jesus closely resembles descriptions that we find in the book of the prophet Daniel. Let me give you a couple of examples. In Daniel 7:9 we read,
9As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. (Daniel 7:9 NIV)
Daniel says that His clothing and hair were “white as snow, white like wool.” Another example we find is in Daniel 10:4-6.
4On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. (Daniel 10:4-6 NIV)
The description that John gives us in Revelation is full of meaning and significance for us today. The robe that John describes is the robe of the priest. The Greek word used for the robe is found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) seven times and each time it refers to the attire of the high priest. John’s description of Jesus’ hair as being white like wool, or as white as snow, can refer to Jesus’ wisdom or His purity. John describes Jesus’ eyes as looking “like blazing fire.” Oftentimes in God’s Word the fire is meant to burn away impurities. John MacArthur writes in his commentary.
His searching, revealing, infallible gaze penetrates to the very depths of His church, revealing to Him with piercing clarity the reality of everything there is to know. Jesus declared, “There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Matt. 10:26). In the words of the author of Hebrews, “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Heb. 4:13). The omniscient Lord of the church will not fail to recognize and deal with sin in His church. (John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11, pg. 46)
John also describes Jesus’ feet by saying they looked like bronze glowing in a furnace. This is meant to teach the readers of Revelation about the strength and stability of their risen Savior. Jesus voice sounded with authority and out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. In the letter to the church in Pergamum, Jesus says, 16Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:16 NIV) There are two other places where Jesus is described as having a sword coming out of His mouth. (Rev. 19:15, 21.) The “sword” is His Word. It is a Word of judgment. His Word stands against the fraud of Domitian’s claim to deity, His Word stands in judgment of those who would dishonor His name, and His Word comes to judge the nations with righteousness and holiness. In verses 17-20 John writes,
17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” 19Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:17-20 NIV)
After John fell at Jesus’ feet, Jesus reached down and laid His right hand on John and said, “Do not be afraid.” Let me ask you something. How comforting are the words, “Do not be afraid,” if they are spoken by someone who can’t do anything about your predicament? They are empty of the power to console aren’t they? Each and every one of us have been in situations where we have been afraid and yet comfort only comes when Someone who can do something about our situation shows up to help us out. The One who spoke these words to John was not just anyone, He was Jesus, the One who described Himself as the First and the Last, the Living One, the One who was dead, but when He spoke He said that He would be alive forever more. He is also the one who holds the keys of death and Hades.
While Jesus was walking with His disciples He had to comfort them on occasion and reassure them that they didn’t need to be afraid. In Matthew 14, the disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking on the water. Read along with me beginning in verse 25.
25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:25-27 NIV)
In John 14, Jesus was preparing His disciples for His death. They couldn’t believe their ears. Their whole lives revolved around following Jesus. They had given up everything to follow Him and now He said He was leaving. The disciples were horrified, terrified, and petrified. In the midst of their anxiety Jesus spoke.
27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)
I want to reassure you this morning that Jesus continues to walk among His churches today. He walks with His people to comfort them in the midst of their suffering, He walks among the churches to convict them with His Word when they get off track, and He walks among His people to remind them that He is the Living Savior who rules and reigns over all of the kingdoms of the world.
Some of you here this morning feel like you are living under the dominating hand of Domitian. You may be working in an environment where it is almost intolerable. You are mocked and laughed at because of your faith and you wonder how long you can endure it all. You may be in a family that thinks your faith is absurd. They look down on you as some kind of Jesus freak and you don’t let them know it, but it breaks your heart. How can you endure? What are you to do? I came by to tell you this morning that you don’t walk alone–Jesus walks with you. Bear up. Cry out. Your Lord and Savior will never leave you alone–He walks with you.