Setting the Scene: The Cast
Some people in Asia Minor celebrated a monthly "emperor’s day" in honour of the divine emperor. By contrast Christians, who might suffer for their refusal to worship the emperor, celebrated a different day in honour of the true and ultimate king. It was on such a day that John had a vision
The image of Jesus in this passage weaves together imagery from three sources in the book of Daniel. The first (the least important) is the angelic revelation in Daniel 10:5-6:
5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like topaz, 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.
but the two most important stem from the same passage: the reigning son of man (7:13-14)
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
and the Ancient of Days (God), before whom the son of man appears (7:9). Jesus’ face shines like the sun (1:16). Jesus’ fiery eyes, white hair, and bronze feet (1:14-15) radiates light or fire (Ezek 1-27, Dan 7:9-10).
Jesus is "the First and the Last" (1:17). This means more than simply "firstborn from the dead" (1:5) – its sense is exactly equivalent to "the Alpha and the Omega," a title appropriate only to God (1:8, 21:6)
What are the angels of the seven churches? Revelation, like other apocalypses, is full of angels. The book of Daniel (Dan. 10:13, 20-21) and most of early Judaism recognised that heavenly angels guided the activities of earthly rulers. Thus these angels most likely represent guardian angels of the congregations or the heavenly representatives of congregational leaders, again functioning like guardian angels (Matt. 18:10).
1. Revelation: A shared experience (v9)
Believers in many parts of the world as well as some ministry situations here can identify with the shame and persecution John endured for Christ. Most of us in the West, however, at the moment are tested more by materialism than by persecution, and John’s own suffering was persecution.
If John’s suffering is more serious than ours, we should reason: If God enabled John and his companions in persecution to stand, how much more should we stand firm in the face of less severe testing?
We have plenty of reminders that the world does not embrace the church as an ally (John 15:18-25). Many of us have been denied jobs or otherwise maligned on account of our obedience to Christ – some of us have even suffered "friendly fire" within the church because we sought to do God’s will.
Yet as John stood boldly as a model for believers then, he stands also as an example for us.
2. The Lord’s Day, church, and the Sabbath (v10)
The meaning of "the Lord’s Day" is important. Own traditions can lead us to read illegitimate ideas into this text.
One area of potential misinterpretation concerning the "Lord’s Day" is that some believe that Sunday is a new Sabbath! Within the New Testament itself there is no evidence that the Sabbath was "moved” from Saturday to Sunday. The custom of Sunday as a Christian "Sabbath" became widespread only in a later period, probably after A.D. 321.
Some Christians argue that no weekly day of rest remains necessary,- we should celebrate every day alike (Rom. 14:5-6)
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.
and enjoy Jesus’ Sabbath-rest continually (Heb. 4:9).
Others argue that because God built a day of rest into the nature of creation (Gen. 2:2-3), we will function in much better physical and emotional health if we take a day away from our work each week, though the particular day is less important.
Those who insist on a particular day, however, cannot insist from the authority of Scripture that the day must be Sunday. Likewise, some of those who argue that the particular day In Scripture is Saturday and was never changed insist that one should attend church on Saturday,- but Scripture does not require one to hold church on One’s day of rest.
The connections between the "Lord’s Day" and the Sabbath on the one hand and between the Sabbath and church services on the other are postbiblical, and we should be charitable for differences of practice on this point.
3. Spirit filled worship (v10)
Different churches and cultures have different understandings of what "Spirit-filled" worship is. Some preferences in worship style reflect cultural or generational differences rather than the presence or absence of the Spirit and are best tailored to those we invite to worship!
The content of the worship songs may be significant:
Do they invite us to worship our awesome God, or simply to enjoy the music (not that bad music is necessarily more conducive to good worship)?
Do they provide simply nostalgic feelings of security for traditional believers, or do they provide us the opportunity to transcend our feelings in obediently glorifying God?
In any case, we need to depend on the power of God’s Spirit to lead us deeper in our intimacy with him; we cannot achieve that by merely "fleshly" or mechanical means.
Only by depending on God’s power can we offer worship truly worthy of his honour.
Like the biblical prophets, however, John was simply spiritually prepared when Jesus came to him (Is 6.1, 5; 2 Cor. 12:2-4)
He was not trying to induce a vision. Prophets can seek God for guidance (Dan 2.18-19), but the means is always prayer, not magical manipulation, and God can even speak to those who were not seeking a revelation (Jud 6:11-12; Acts 10:9-13).
We cannot promise how God will meet his people in worship or other experiences in the Spirit. But we can promise that when we turn our eyes to him, we will find his presence, and in his presence we will begin to learn the answers we need. The answers we need are not always the answers we want (John promises greater hardship), but they are also often better than we can guess.
4. Revelation in the context of worship (v11)
If John was worshiping "in the Spirit", the passage suggests we are likely to hear from God most clearly when it is his face and glory we are seeking. Devotion to prayer and worship often opens our hearts more fully to other aspects of the Spirit’s testimony.
Throughout Revelation we see the saints in heaven engaged in w
orship (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16, 19:4), while saints are being slaughtered on earth and followers of the beast worship the beast (13:4, 8, 12, 15,- 14:9-11).
The scenes of heaven are intended as scenes of worship, for heaven’s furniture is the furniture of the Old Testament temple: the ark (11:19), the tabernacle (15:5), the altars of incense and sacrifice (6:9,- 8:3-5,- 9:13), the sea (4:6,- 15:2, cf. 1 Kings 7:23-25, 39, 44)—and, of course, the lampstands (Rev. 1:12—13; 2:1, 5).
The church on earth is never closer to heaven than when we are offering God and the Lamb the glory they deserve,- it is then that we experience "in the Spirit" a foretaste of heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-10,- 2 Cor. 5:5).
The book of Revelation is a book of worship that summons us to recognise the awesome majesty of our Lord.
5. We find Jesus among the churches! (v12-20)
One of Revelation’s most important declarations is that Jesus appears among the lampstands which represent the seven churches (1:20).
We see here in Revelation, Christ’s faithfulness to the church, including the local church – great church!
When we see the flaws in churches, our tendency is sometimes to react with disdain, but we must never give up on the spiritual life that remains in the church, for the Lord of the churches, who offered his blood to redeem them, still loves them and walks among them (1:5; 3:4).
6. Jesus’ message to the churches (v17-18)
We must hear the promise that no matter what Christ’s church faces, the future belongs to us.
Revelation addressed churches in a much harsher situation. In the Roman empire Christians were a small and persecuted minority- no one but those who tasted Christ could have imagined that we would outlive that empire!
The future of the church is bigger than any of us singly, but the future belongs to the church and to all its members, who share its hope and destiny (21:2-7).
Like Jesus’ triumph over death (v18), the fact that Jesus holds the churches in his hands (1:20) reassures us that in the end the Lamb wins!!