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, 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." And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle. And His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire; and His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been caused to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. And in His right hand He held seven stars; and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as a dead man. And He laid His right hand upon 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. Write therefore the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things. 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."
One of the most important principles that guides the way I preach and what I preach comes from 2 Corinthians 3:18. It says, "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." The principle is this: true gospel change of a person's character comes from steady gazing at the glory of Jesus. "Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into his image." We become like what we treasure enough to spend time focusing on. Some say, "Seeing is believing." This text says, "Seeing is becoming." You become like what you behold.
The implication of this for preaching is that, if I aim for us as a church to be transformed from one degree of glory to another—to become more and more like Jesus—then I should hold up Jesus again and again for you to gaze at.
We Need to See Jesus
There are things about Christ that we need very much at the end of this year.
- We need the perseverance of Christ in the face of affliction.
- We need the energy and strength of Christ in the face of depleting pressures.
- We need the wisdom of Christ in the face of complexities of life and ministry.
- We need the stability of Christ in the midst of rapid social and political and personal changes all around us.
- We need the assurance of his sovereign authority in a culture sliding farther and farther from his truth.
It is no exaggeration to say that we need Christ present to our view and for our fellowship more than we need anything else. 1 John 3:2 says, "Beloved, we are God's children now. It does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is." To the degree that we can see him now, we are changed into his image. When he comes to be seen in his full glory, our transforming will be completed. And it all happens because of seeing him—gazing steadily at Him.
Our needs here at the end of 1992 are not primarily financial, but primarily spiritual. We need to be the kind of people that radiate the beauty and truth and value of Christ. We need to be like lights shining in a dark place. Which means we need to behold Jesus. We need to gaze at Christ.
So I want us to take a year-end look at Christ from Revelation 1. I want us to linger for a while with our gaze simply fixed on this Jesus.
John's Exile and John's Vision
According to verse 9b John was exiled on the island of Patmos "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." Jesus was so real and so precious to John that he would rather be exiled to a barren island than not to talk about Christ. John had gazed at Jesus long enough to become like him in this way: obedient fellowship was more important than the comforts of life.
But now on the island God gives John another remarkable chance to gaze at Jesus. He gives him a vision. And he does this not just for John but for the seven churches of Asia and for us. In verse 10 John says that he was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day. That means that on one of his Sunday's on the island he was deeply in tune with the Spirit of God. So much so that suddenly (v. 10) he "heard behind [him] a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet."
The voice says in v. 11, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches." This means that the vision John is about to get is meant not just for him but for us as well. And the point of writing it down is to transmit to us the same kind of experience of seeing Jesus that he had.
"Write What You See"
This is not easy to do—"write what you see." It is easy to write words that you hear. But it is not easy to write in words glorious things that you see with your eyes. But it is possible, because Jesus said to do it. Jesus does not intend to come to each of the seven churches the way he came to John. He could have appeared to each congregation with this same vision. But he doesn't. He appears to John and says, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches." John gets the vision. We get the book.
But this is not because Christ wants to be distant and impersonal with his churches. It is because he wants to come to us in and through his Word. He wants us to seek him in his Word, and know him by his Word, and gaze upon him steadily through his Word. And when we do, the Lord stands forth from his Word in ways beyond the merely rational and intellectual possibilities of reading.
The primary way of gazing on Christ today is through his Word. That is the clear implication of these words in verse 11, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the . . . churches." Why else write in a book what he saw except to transmit to the readers some of that same experience. That is what I want us to have this morning.
What John Saw of Jesus
So let's look at what John saw when Christ came and revealed himself.
Jesus Standing in the Midst of the Churches
Verse 12: John turns to see whose voice was like a trumpet (v. 10). And what he saw was seven golden lampstands and Christ in the midst of them. Notice verse 20 for an interpretation of the lampstands: "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."
So the vision of Jesus that John gets is him among the churches. Christ is standing among the churches. He is not merely over the churches. He is not distant from the churches. He is in the middle of them. Verses 12b–13a: "I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lamp stands one like a son of man."
Here we can see how our reading is meant to be so much more than a mere remembering of something that happened to John a long time ago. He begins the record of his vision by telling us that the Christ we are about to look at is in our midst. He is among the churches. He is not far away in time or space. He moves among his lampstands, trimming the wicks and carving wax, breathing life back into flickering flames.
Bethlehem is one of his lampstands. Jesus is here this morning. He is eager to see us burn with the light of his own countenance. And so he bids us look at what John saw.
"One Like a Son of Man"
John saw (according to v. 13) "one like a son of man." "Son of Man" was Jesus' favorite title for himself when he was on the earth. You might think it refers merely to his humanity, and so is only a title of humility. But in fact it was probably that, plus a lot more, because of its use in Daniel 7:13–14. In Daniel the term "son of man" or "one like a son of man" refers to a great ruler.
I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days [God the Father] and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
So when John says that he saw "one like a son of man" standing in the middle of the lampstands, he means that he saw someone with dominion and glory and kingly power with authority over all the nations and over all the peoples and who would rule the world forever and ever because his kingdom could not be destroyed.
The one who stands among the churches and trims our wicks and fans our flames is the one who received from the Ancient of Days dominion and glory and kingdom over all rule and power and authority in heaven and on earth. We need to see this today, just like the seven churches needed to hear it in John's day. It is "the son of man" who walks among the lampstands. And that means one with everlasting dominion whose kingdom cannot be destroyed. We must renew this eternal focus and assurance again and again in the midst of the adversities and the allurements of life.
Clothed with a Robe and Girded with a Girdle
The next thing John saw (in v. 13) was that this son of man was "clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle." The word translated "robe reaching to the feet" is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament it almost always refers to the robe of the high priest. And the gold band across his chest shows two things: the fact that it is high—not around the waist but around the chest—and the fact that it is gold, show that the priesthood that he holds is very great.
Jesus is not only the son of man from Daniel 7 who receives everlasting dominion over all nations; he is also the final high priest who brings all the priestly work of the temple to an end. There is no more need for animal sacrifices with all their priestly labors. Verse 5 says Christ "released us from our sins by his blood." This priest is so great that he gave his own blood once for all at the end of the age to put away sin once for all by the sacrifice of himself.
He stands among the lampstands—he stands here by us today—as one with authority and everlasting dominion and one with final, decisive forgiveness for our sins.
His Head and Hair Were White Like Wool and Snow
Then John sees (v. 14) that "his head and his hair were white as white wool, like snow." This is remarkable, because in that same chapter in Daniel where John gets this picture of "one like a son of man" (v. 13–14), God the Father is described like this in verse 9, "The Ancient of Days took his seat; his vesture was like white snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool." In other words John is describing the Son of Man in terms used for God himself.
I think John wants us to see something here about the age of Christ and the wisdom and dignity that come with age—everlasting age!
In American culture today, we respect the process of aging less and less. A person is admired if he can keep looking young, not if he has the dignity of age. The Bible saw it another way. Proverbs 16:31 says, "A white head is a crown of glory." So much so that in the law God commanded, "You will rise up before the white head, and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God; I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:32).
One of the reasons we don't want to grow old is that we associate age with the fading of powers that make life worth living—the capacity to see and hear and think clearly and move about and not have pain. But all of those things do not belong to aging as aging. They belong to aging in a futile and fallen world of sin. Once God does away with sin and the curse, and establishes the new heavens and the new earth, aging will not have any of these negative connotations. It will only be associated with growing wisdom and insight and maturity. All the strength will still be there. All the mental powers. All the sight and hearing and agility. Nothing that is great about youth will be left behind. There will only be added all the powers and beauties and depth of age.
This is what John saw in Jesus. He was like the Ancient of Days with all the wisdom of eternity and all the maturity and steadiness of age, but he was not weak or weary or faltering in his step.
Eyes "Like a Flame of Fire"
Put this picture together with the next thing John saw at the end of verse 14, "His eyes were like a flame of fire." The eyes of this son of man are not the clouded eye of fading glory. They are eyes of sharpest clarity. They miss nothing that happens in the universe. And they are exploding with energy.
We all know the drooping eye that is about to go to sleep or is sullen and half shut with scowl or a bad mood. And we know the eye that is alive with wonder and excitement and hope and expectancy and energy. Jesus' eyes were like a flaming fire. What we see then is hair as white as snow and eyes like fire—wisdom and maturity like the Ancient of Days together with the energy and vitality and zeal of youth—like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber with strength and hope, and yet with the depth and ripening of many, many years of life and marriage.
When you gaze upon Jesus at the end of 1992, remember he is not tired or careworn or burned out or fatigued. Instead his eyes are aflame with the flashing fire of inexhaustible energy and hope. When Jesus thinks about his plans for you and for Bethlehem and for America and for all the nations of the world in 1993, he is not hesitant or wearied or bored. His eyes are a flame of fire with utter exhilaration and passion and relish for the work he intends to do as another year's pieces are put in place for the consummation of history.
So Much More . . .
There is more. So much more to what John saw. Always more that we have not seen in Jesus. There are the bronze feet and the voice like the sound of many waters and a right hand with seven stars and a sharp sword coming out of his mouth and his face shining in like the sun in full strength. And there is John's reaction and Jesus' reaction to John's reaction.
This is what we will look at as the last act together Thursday night as we take communion and enter the new year.
Gaze upon Jesus
But this morning gaze on this: He is among the lampstands—the churches—as the son of man, the one with power over the nations and with everlasting dominion and glory. He is the great high priest that has put away the sins of his people once and for all. He is as aged and wise and mature as the great white-crowned Ancient of Days, yet with eyes that are aflame with the fire of youth and energy and hope and exhilaration for his unstoppable plans for you and for this church and for the world.
Gaze upon Jesus in the last days of 1992 and let his royal power and his priestly forgiveness and his ancient wisdom and his fiery hope fill you with confidence afresh that 1992 has not been in vain, and that 1993 will be the appointed brush-stroke on the canvas of your life and on the canvas of history till the great mosaic of God's work is done.