Who's in Charge of This Church? (Revelation 1:9-20)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 1:9–1:20
Happy Ever After
Who's in Charge of This Church?
(One Body: You Shall Be My People)
September 21st, 2014
I. Question and Answer
If someone were to walk in here just a few minutes from now, disrupt our gathering, and ask the question, “Okay, who's in charge here?”...if that were to happen, the answer would not be as simple as it might seem.
Sure, I'm a pastor, an elder, and along with the other elders, we have a responsibility to care for this church family. And if this disruptive guest was, let's say, looking for someone to blame because a gust of wind blew our church banner onto his windshield, which caused him to veer off and run his Camaro into the side of Walmart, then yes, I and the other elders would be the ones to talk with.
But as we will see from our passage this morning, God always wants to remind us that the answer to that question is never complete until we are talking about Jesus.
Turn with me to the Book of the Revelation, and let's look together at 1:9-20.
II. The Passage: “In the Midst of the Lampstands” (1:9-20)
Instead of reading through all of these verses at the beginning, let's work a little more slowly through this passage. I've broken it down for us into five different parts, so let's look together at the first verse in this section, verse 9.
A. Scribe to the Lampstands (1:9)
Look at what we learn about the writer here from verse 9...
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Now let's stop there because I want to point out two things we discover about the writer of this letter or book.
First, even though this is the third time we read the name, it's important to note that the writer refers to himself only as “John”. And at the time this was written, we're aware of only one “John” who would be known by only his first name; that would be John the Apostle. And writers from the early church, beginning in the second century, also attribute the book to the Apostle John.
But second, what is interesting is that he never plays the 'apostle card' (which is not a bad thing). In fact, as you can see from this verse, he identifies himself simply as a “brother” in Christ, as a “partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance” in Jesus.
But notice John also tells us about the original setting for this letter. John was on a thirteen square mile island called Patmos, which was about 60 miles southwest of Ephesus, of the west coast of what is today Turkey. He indicates in verse 9 that he was there on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Now this could mean he was for the sake of evangelism, but taken together with mention of “the tribulation”, he was probably banished there for some period of time because of his preaching.
B. Mystery of the Lampstands (1:10-13a, 20)
Look at what he goes on to reveal in verses 10-13. While on Patmos, he writes...
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet  saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”  Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,  and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man...
The “Lord's day” was most likely Sunday, the first day of the week. And on that day, even though he could not worship with fellow believers, John tells us he was in the Spirit. Paul had told the Ephesians to “pray in the Spirit” in Ephesians 6:18, and that may be what John is referring to here. Or he may be describing the fact he was experiencing a spiritual vision.
But the spiritual vision began with some spiritual audio. John heard (v. 10) “a loud voice like a trumpet”, and the voice instructed him to write the very letter the churches were about the read, the very letter we're studying. Notice that the “book” John is to write is primarily a record (v. 11) of what John would “see”. This record was then to be sent to the seven churches listed here. As I mentioned in the first message, these seven churches were all located in western Asia Minor, and beginning with Ephesus, they are listed here in the same order in which a messenger would travel to deliver this letter.
But I really want to focus on the very first thing John actually does “see” in this spiritual vision. Look again at verse 12: “on turning I saw seven golden lampstands”. Now a lampstand is simply a pole or column on top of which an oil lamp was placed in order to give light to a room. And John may have had a lampstand in the room where he was staying, but a real lampstand isn't what he's seeing.
As one of our “five firm footholds” reminds us, the majority of the Revelation was conveyed through symbolic images and numbers. We find both of those here. How do we know John is seeing symbolic imagery? Because the voice explains the symbolism. Skip down to v. 20...
As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The first thing John saw in His vision was seven lampstands, and as we just heard, these lampstands represented the seven churches to whom this letter was addressed. And if we were to 'click on' that word lampstand, we would understand why this symbolism was used. Listen to these words, spoken by the same very same voice...
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a [luchnia] stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
So the image here was meant to remind the seven churches of their calling to be “the light of the world” for the One who truly is “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
C. Lord of the Lampstands (1:13b-16)
And He's the very One we read about in the rest of verse 13. Look again at that verse...
...on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,  and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire,  his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
Even though this doesn't correspond with how He looked in the last Bible movie released or in any classic Bible illustrations, we know from the context here that this is Jesus. But remember, this is Jesus revealing himself to John through a symbolic lens. And that means each of the details highlighted by John, as well as their combined effect, was intended to tell the churches, to tell us, something important about the One who is speaking.
For example, his robe and golden sash convey His other-worldly importance, His white hair points to the depths of His wisdom, His flaming eyes are reminders of His perfect knowledge and insight, His bronze feet may speak of the firmness of His position, and His voice, described in verse 15 as being like “the roar of many waters”, and in verse 10 as being “like a trumpet”, and in verse 16 as being like a “sword”, conveys the sense of power and authority when He speaks. We also read about His face shining like “the sun...in full strength”, which reminds of the transfiguration of Jesus during His earthly ministry and how his glory was revealed to His disciples.
So while the individual descriptions of this symbolic revelation are important, like I mentioned, we also don't want to miss the combined effect that this vision would have on the seven churches for whom this vision was given. And we know that seeing Jesus rightly is directly tied to hearing Jesus rightly because when we get into the short letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3, every letter begins with a reference back to a description of Jesus from chapter 1.
The theologian Leon Morris expressed it this way in regard to this vision and its connection to the letters and to the rest of the book: “...It is only as Christ is seen for what he really is that anything else can be seen for what it really is.”
D. Assurance for the Lampstands (1:17, 18)
But it's also important that we look at John's response to this vision of Jesus in verses 17 and 18. Look at what we read...
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
So John's response is the kind of response we see throughout the Bible when sinful men and women realize they are in the presence of God. As creatures and mortals they are frightened. As sinners they are undone.
But Jesus gently reassures John with both touch and word: “Fear not”. “Don't be afraid, John.”. And the encouragement of Christ here is not only for John, but also for the seven churches who were or would be battling fear in light of both persecutions and the reality of their own sins. Jesus reminds them, “Because of my victory, I am Lord over both you life and death, over both your beginning and end. Fear not.”
E. Light for the Lampstands (1:19)
But there's one more piece of this initial revelation that we haven't talked about. Look at v. 19:
Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
We already know from verse 11 that John was going to be writing to the seven churches. But here, Jesus gives a kind of breakdown in terms of what is to be included in this letter.
And we see this very structure in the rest of the book: the “things that you have seen” are most likely referring to this initial vision of Christ, “those that are” probably refers to the short, individual letters we find in chapters 2 and 3, and “those are to take place after this” points us to the visions that begin in chapter 4. In fact, in 4:1, we hear John being given this invitation, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
So taking verse 19 into the mix, I think we can summarize what we've seen in this way:
Jesus Christ is the “Lord of the Lampstands”! And in order to convict, correct, and comfort His church, He is revealing both Himself and His word through this revelation to John.
Just as Jesus is the head of the body (Ephesians 4:15), and “the great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20), He is “Lord of the Lampstands”. He walks among, He stands in the midst of His churches in order to guide and sustain. Isn't that a beautiful picture. Even the stars in his right hand speak of His loving guidance. The word we translate angels is the common word “messenger”. These messengers were most likely the readers, or sometimes called lectors of the churches, those who would be reading the Revelation with their specific church family. Even they are in Jesus' hands to communicate His word to the churches.
III. What Would He Say to Us?
So in the same way this vision revealed Jesus to the seven churches, it also answers our initial question this morning; our initial question about Way of Grace: “Who's in charge in of this church?” Clearly, Jesus is in charge. We are one of the lampstands that Christ walks among. Does that encourage you to know Jesus stands with us and over us? That He watches over His churches?
But remember the position of this vision in the letter. This vision precedes and is explicitly tied to the letters of chapters 2 and 3, and as we will see, in those letters Christ speaks directly to the healthiness or unhealthiness of these particular churches. Therefore, as God has revealed Jesus to us in this way this morning, we also have to ask, “What would He say to us?” If He commissioned a letter to be sent to us, what would the Lord of the Lampstands say to Way of Grace?
To challenge each of you individually, I want to direct you back to who we are collectively. I suspect there are times when you think about how you are doing spiritually. But how often do you think about how WE are doing spiritually? About the healthiness or unhealthiness of the Way of Grace family? And then as you prayerfully consider the condition of this church, how do you discern what the “Lord of the Lampstands” is saying to us?
Well if we are the kind of people who are asking those questions, then we must be the kind of people who are regularly going back to His word. You can't assess the healthiness of this church unless you know what a healthy church should look like. And we can't grow healthier unless we hear from the Great Physician, the One who walks among the lampstands.
So as we explore each of the seven letters to these churches, we will also be hearing the risen, the glorified, the exalted Jesus speaking to us as a church family. And, of course, the entire book of the Revelation, and the entire Bible is a message to us from the “Lord of the Lampstands”.
And what can you individually do in light of God's word to us collectively? You can humbly, prayerfully, and faithfully live out the change you know God wants to bring to this lampstand, that our flame might burn more brightly. But it is just as true for you individually as it was for the seven churches, as it is for this church: clear change is preceded by a clear vision of Jesus Christ. Spend time meditating on the symbolism of how He has revealed himself. Let the power of that vision convict, correct, and comfort you.
And I believe as God does that with us individually, including with those who are leaders, we will see Him convicting, correcting, and comforting us as a church family.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)