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The Seven Churches of Revelation - Introduction

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Intro: The book of Revelation is one of only two books in the Word of God that has encoded within it a divine outline of its contents. It’s found in verse nineteen of chapter one: “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. Revelation 1:19 (NASB95)

The things “which you have seen” are what John saw in chapter one (our text today). The things “which are” are Christ’s words to the local churches in chapters two and three. And the things “which will take place” comprise the remaining chapters, four through twenty-two.

Let me start right from the get go and inform you that we will not be studying the third division. So you won’t find out who the anti-Christ is going to be, nor will you learn how Russia fits in to the end-times scenario, and you can forget about discovering just what is the mark of the beast?

That is for another time. Today we will breakdown and dissect the first division: the things John saw, something every good preacher must do if he’s going to preach the second!

Let’s start with verses 9-10 where John gives us the background of the text…

 

I.        The background

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day… Revelation 1:9-10 (NASB95)

 

Who the author was… the apostle John, writer of the gospel and the letters, the closest  disciple to Jesus. Also the one Jesus said would remain until He came.

Where he was… the island of Patmos: a rocky and isolated island off the coast of modern day Turkey. It was used during Roman times as a kind of Alcatraz.

Why he was there… his faith: John most likely had been banished there by Emperor Domitian as a wave of persecution against Christians swept the Roman Empire.

MacArthur comments: “The apostle John had been banished to the island of Patmos, and at least one person, a pastor, had already been martyred (Rev. 2:13). The persecuted, beleaguered, discouraged believers in Asia Minor to whom John addressed the book of Revelation desperately needed encouragement. It had been years since Jesus ascended. Jerusalem had been destroyed and Israel ravaged. The church was losing its first love, compromising, tolerating sin, becoming powerless, and distasteful to the Lord Himself (this is described in Revelation 2 and 3). The other apostles were dead, and John had been exiled. The whole picture looked very bleak. That is why the first vision John received from the inspiring Holy Spirit is of Christ’s present ministry in the church.”[1]

When it took place… John was “in the Spirit” - which means he was in a state of fervent prayer and meditation – on the Lord’s Day. This term is peculiar to the book of Revelation. It means it took place on a Sunday: the day our Lord rose from the dead, it was the day Christians gathered for worship and the breaking of bread. Sunday is the Lord’s Day for the Christian. John, though exiled and alone, was doing what all Christians should on Sunday: worshipping God.

 

Next we hear what John heard…

II.      The Voice

… and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, 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.” Revelation 1:10-11 (NASB95)

 

John hears a voice that is so clear, has such volume and tone, that it can only be compared to a trumpet. The voice gives John a command to write what he sees and then send it to a particular audience: the seven churches (if some of you have some extra words in your translation, don’t panic). These seven real local churches, located in what was then known as Asia Minor and today is modern Turkey, are the focus of our series.

The listing follows the postal route of ancient times. A courier would carry the letter to *** advance the map slide now *** Ephesus, then Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and the finish at Laodicea. These are the seven churches of our study. You’ll get the scoop on each one, good and bad.

 

Now we see what John saw…

 

III.   The Vision

There are three elements of this vision. First John saw…

 

A.      The seven golden lampstands

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; Revelation 1:12 (NASB95)

 

Some of your translations may have “candlesticks.” Even our graphic shows them as such. But actually these are stands or a base upon which an oil lamp would sit.

Second and most important, John saw…

B.      The Lord Jesus Christ

and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man… Rev 1:13 (NASB)

 

If all John wrote was this, we might have some concerns about identifying exactly who it was. But as we look at the details we’ll realize it is our Lord Jesus. This figure was…

 

1.)     Dressed as a priest

… clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. Revelation 1:13 (NASB95)

 

This describes someone dressed in priestly garb. We know that Jesus is the High Priest above all others…

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; Hebrews 3:1 (NASB95)

 

Thankfully, we don’t have to sneak into some little box with a priest to confess our sins. We can go straight to God. But to get to Him we do have to go through a priest…

 

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NASB95)

 

He was dressed like a priest He…

 

2.)     Looked like a judge

His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. Revelation 1:14-15 (NASB95)

 

All of these things are found in OT descriptions of God and they all have to do with judgment. The white head and hair symbolized His purity in judgment. The eyes of fire symbolized His ability to burn through deception and façade. The glowing hot feet of bronze symbolized His kingly authority. Jesus is perfectly suited to be the judge of all the earth!

 

 

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 (NASB95)

 

This is exactly what the seven churches is about: Jesus Christ judging His church looking for impurities. He was dressed like a priest, looked like a judge, and…

 

3.)     Armed like a warrior

… out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. Revelation 1:16 (NASB95)

 

Nothing can stand against the Word of God and Jesus is the Word of God!

 

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NASB95)

 

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17 (NASB95)

 

Is there any doubt as to whom this? If there are, there won’t be in a minute.

 

John saw the lampstands, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he saw…

 

C.      The seven stars

In His right hand He held seven stars... Revelation 1:16 (NASB95)

 

But look at the…

 

IV.    The reaction

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.” Revelation 1:17-19 (NASB95)

 

If you watch TBN long enough, you’ll get the impression that these guys – and gals – see Jesus face-to-face all the time. He’s their buddy. You don’t meet the risen and glorified Lord and call Him “Buddy,” you fall to the ground in fear!

One commentator noted: “This vision of Christ was totally different in appearance from the Saviour that John knew “in the flesh” when He was ministering on earth. He was not the “gentle Jewish carpenter” that sentimentalists like to sing about. He is the risen, glorified, exalted Son of God, the Priest-King who has the authority to judge all men, beginning with His own people (1 Peter 4:17).”[2]

The same John who rested his head on the breast of Jesus now cowers in fear at the sight of Jesus. John knew Him as the gentle Savior, but here he sees Him as the terrible and mighty Priest-King. If the beloved disciple was terrified in His presence, imagine how you’ll be one day if you stand before Him in your sin!

Oh, but look: He comforted John.

Finally, in this vision Jesus unfolds…

V.      The mystery

“As for the mystery of the seven stars which 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. Revelation 1:20 (NASB95)

 

Jesus explained what the images symbolize.

 

A.      The stars = the angels of the seven churches

There is some debate as to exactly what is in view here. Dome think it refers to…

1.)     Angelic beings

2.)     Human messengers

3.)     Church pastors

 

Don’t get caught up in this, though. The important thing, for the purpose of this series, is the next revelation. It’s where we’ll spend the next seven weeks or so. The stars are the angels of the churches and…

 

B.      The lampstands = the seven churches

There is also some debate about the significance of the seven churches. Is more in view? The number seven represents totality and completion. The book of Revelation is prophetic. The seven churches must be representative of all local churches of all times. So Christ’s words to the seven churches are words to us.

John’s vision exposes three truths concerning the local church, three truths we must keep in mind and take heart during this series…

 

1.)     The local church is of great value

Precious stones are not set in tin or steel, they are set in gold, a precious metal. The local church is represented by a valuable commodity.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27 (NASB95)

 

2.)     The local church has a lofty purpose

Lampstands have one purpose: to illuminate their surroundings. Churches are to be lights for Christ, shining forth in darkness!

 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 (NASB95)

 

3.)     The local church has an awesome owner

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:28 (NASB95)

Christ is the head of the church, a church He bought with a price. It belongs to Him. And He is seen in the MIDDLE of the lampstands, the representation of all local churches.

The vision of John demonstrates that Christ is intimately involved in the local churches. He is keenly interested in the local churches. He is completely knowledgeable of the local churches. It’s not just the mega churches that He observes. Small churches can’t hide! This should bring us comfort but it should also scare us to death. It does me.

Conclusion:  The seven churches is a series that will reveal much about the condition of the local church today. It will speak to us both as a local church and as individual Christians. As we will come across in the words of Christ to every church…

 

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


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[1] MacArthur, John. Revelation 1-11, 39. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999.

[2] Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt., Re 1:9. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989.

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