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May 31, 2005
An Exegesis of the Book of Revelation: Chapter 1: verses 9-20
Filed in: Biblical Studies, Current Affairs, The Revelation of Jesus Christ


One like a Son of Man

    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.

    19"Write, 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.

The Views:

John identifies himself again and his circumstances. Patmos is a small island about 40 miles from the southwest coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) - the area in which the churches that this Book was written to were located.

Most commentors are of the view that John was exiled on Patmos.

Most interpreters understand "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" to mean that John was in communion with God's Spirit on the first day of the week - i.e. Sunday - which has been celebrated as the "Lord's day" since the first century. A few Futurist interpreters take an alternate translation which is "I was carried in the Spirit to the Day of the Lord" - meaning the day of the Second coming of Christ, but they differ with the majority of expositors - including most Futurists.

John tells us that a loud voice like a trumpet speaks to him while he is in the middle of his reverie. (Some manuscripts include another reference to Alpha and Omega - the First and the Last at this point.) John is commanded to write what he sees on a scroll and send it to the seven churches - though they have been referenced earlier they are now named.

When John turns and is confronted by the living Christ, he first notices seven golden lampstands - and in the midst of those the risen Christ. His physical appearance was overwhelming to John. John notices as well that he holds seven stars in his right hand.

Scholars are divided on whether John was observing a purely symbolic representation of Jesus - or whether what he was seeing was real, yet in some spiritual plane.

Some interpreters relate symbolic meaning to the physical characteristics described here such as the golden band as an emblem of high rank, the overall garment is likely priestly, his hair denotes age, honor, and wisdom, his eyes the idea of piercing vision, his bronze feet his irresistable judgment, and the two-edged sword can only be his Word.

There is not much in terms of disagreement among the views related to the lampstands and the stars in this passage. Some scholars say that the lampstands are reminiscient of the seven branched lamp that was used by the priests offered their incense in the tabernacle. Since Christ is in the midst of the lampstands it is seen as significant by some that his presence is associated with them.

We still confront the conflict in interpretation of the meaning of the seven churches. Since the seven churches are named in this passage, some interpreters of the spiritual/idealist school begin to contemplate that the seven churches the book is written to are just these specific churches - and that the major gleaning that anyone can draw from the message is for application. Historicists and Futurists for the most part see the seven churches as representative of church history or types of churches during church history. Some scholars point out that there were at least 10 churches in Asia Minor during the time of John's writing and suggest that since seven were specifically referenced that the number seven is what is of importance - that it therefore represents all churches.

John is commanded to write what he has seen, the things which are and the things which will take place after this. There is contention among the views about what timing is suggested by this command. Futurists take the view that "things which will take place after this" are in the future - and from our viewpoint our future. Historicists and Spiritual/Idealists are of the view that fulfillment begins at this point in Revelation and is continuously filled throughout history - Historicists are of the view that specific events in history fulfill the prophecies and Spritual/Idealists are of the view that there are no specific events - there is just an overall sense spread throughout history of general fulfillment of the principle suggested by each prophecy.

That the lampstands are the seven churches and that this represents a mystery is taken at face value by most scholars. There is considerably more discussion in the literature about the meaning of the seven stars being the 'angels' of the seven churches. It seems that without too much regard to prophetic viewpoint it has been disputed as to whether this means heavenly beings or the pastor or bishop of the churches. Some have pointed out that the communication between God and his angels is perhaps a bit more direct than letters from an apostle.

References to scripture:

There is no quoted passage in verses 9-20. Some scholars see an allusion to Daniel's vision in chapter 10 of the book of Daniel when Daniel saw a man in a vision much like - but with some differences - John's vision of Jesus here. Jesus having the keys of death and Hades reminds some scholars of Ephesians 4:8-10.

Call for unity:

Again, it seems to me that on the issues that have caused some division to this point - namely the historical meaning of the seven churches - we are still able, should we choose, to take each view at its value. It is possible to take the view that the seven churches are the specific churches in Asia Minor that they were sent to - that they are seven kinds of churches throughout history - and that history provides us with identifiable examples of characteristic trends that can be identified with these seven churches. There is an enrichment in taking this view that I do not believe negatively impacts the particular point of view that we may hold as we contemplate this idea.

As to whether John's vision of Jesus in this passage is purely symbolic or some other explanation better explains it - I would again suggest that, again, a synthesis of those views is enriching. Clearly the lampstands and the stars are symbolic - the extent of the symbolism is a matter of detail and perhaps of interest on the part of the student, but we can all agree on that point. Jesus' appearance could be something that mere words just cannot approach and the symbolic meaning of his characteristics do provide an enhancement of understanding him. At the same time, a look into what objective reality that John observes may provide a greater understanding as well - there really is no compromise to integrate these ideas together.

My thoughts:

As has been the custom, I will share my thoughs about this passage in the next post in the series. I can say that it will be another very long one.

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