Revelation (Part 38): Back to Purpose
We have viewed the entire book from the time John was called through the door of Heaven in the first verse of chapter 4 through the last chapter. We have seen the sun darkened, colored horses coming forth, a serpent, a prostitute, a beast from the sea, 10 horns on a beast’s head, a lake of fire, and a new heaven and earth. In other words, we have viewed an incredible amount of imagery, and yet nothing compelled us to leave the support of the rest of Scripture to choose interpretations of new, yet-unheard-of fulfillment. The Old Testament is filled with the same kind of imagery. We see the same prophetic darkening of the sun in Joel, horses coming forth in Zechariah, a serpent in Genesis, a prostitute in Hosea, beasts from the sea in Psalms, 10 horns of a beast in Daniel, and a lake of fire and new heaven and earth in Isaiah. And we found that holding closely to our understanding of both Old and New Testaments, Revelation does indeed make sense in its coalescence of the entire redemption story.
Redemption is the key subject matter of the book, held together by the scroll images of chapters 5, 10, and 20. That framework serves to lead us from need for a Redeemer, through redemption accomplished, and on to inheritance in redemption. But the largest section of this book regards the environment of evil, especially in the era from redemption’s accomplishment at the atonement to redemption’s fully realized victory with the eradication of sin at the second coming. It is that era in which we live. And it is for us in this era that the book of Revelation was written.
This book is not meant merely to provide knowledge of what’s going on in this age and what’s to be expected. There is purpose intended in the giving of this knowledge. This interadvental period is one of struggle. The human-focused, spurred on by a host of spiritual evil, react violently to God as he gathers his own through this age. And his own, living here and now, can be overwhelmed in spirit. But God urges the faithful to continue being faithful. “Here is the story,” God declares. “Victory is assured. Meaning is wrapped up in redemption. Hold fast. Continue on. The suffering will be short-lived. The glory of love relationship for all eternity will be ours. But hold fast.” That encouragement is the purpose of the book. And that encouragement comes initially and in highlighted form in the part of the book we put off to view last—the chapter 2 and 3 messages to the churches.
Although the messages to the churches begin in chapter 2, the introduction to the messages begins in chapter 1. Beginning in verse 9, John names himself as the author of this account—the one who has seen the visions. We talked of other views of who this John may be—John the Evangelist and John of Patmos (creations of some scholars to distinguish John the Apostle from the writers of Revelation and his Gospel). But I think, for those of us who believe in the superintendence of Scripture by God, we can safely assume that the author is indeed John the Apostle. John takes for granted that his readers know who he is. Of course, an author who wanted to pretend the book was written by John the Apostle would do the same thing—write as if everyone should presume this is the apostle. But that contrivance fails to carry weight if we believe that God was motivating the author. God, who is particular in showing the vision, would not leave us to presume this is John the Apostle unless (1) God didn’t superintend this book or (2) who wrote the book was not an important point. I would reject both those ideas. The first is rejected because of my view of Scripture, which would take a separate series to discuss. I reject the second idea because I think understanding John as author is important in understanding the strong connection between the Gospel of John and Revelation. Jesus’s discussion from John 14 through 17 is the core of Redemption’s purpose. Those shared ideas are intentionally there in both books, and God names John in verse 9 precisely so we see and settle on that intended connection.
John tells further in verse 9 that he is our partner in tribulation, the kingdom, and in endurance that are in Jesus. Notice the mini chiasmus of tribulation, kingdom, and endurance. The first idea—tribulation (persecution)—ties with the last idea of endurance in tribulation. Both these outer ideas point to the central purpose for both—the kingdom (a kingdom different from this world’s kingdom as we see Jesus insist on in John 18:36 and describe throughout the Gospels).
John then relates that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day when he heard a loud voice like a trumpet. The Lord’s day is Sunday. It was called that even way back then (earliest record is from the 2nd century AD). Being in the Spirit, however, is not such a familiar phrase. Was he in a trance? Or is he merely saying he was worshipping? The point, I believe, is not so much to emphasize what he was doing but rather to connect what is about to happen to a heavenly message from God. John is giving the same kind of introduction that OT prophets often gave before they wrote. We see this construct repeated often especially in Ezekiel—the Spirit enters and a voice like waters or other loud sound appears. By this introduction, then, John is telling his readers this is not his message; he is acting merely as messenger—prophet—to bring a message from God.
The voice (which we discover, after he turns, is Jesus) tells him to write what he sees. Immediately John “turned to see” (1:12). Thus, the vision of Jesus is just as much part of what God wanted to reveal as are the rest of the visions we have already studied from chapter 4 on. And what he sees is to be sent to “the seven churches.” So the verse not only connects the image of Jesus (the Redeemer) with the whole of the redemption imagery of chapters 4 through 22, but also connects the messages to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 with the whole of the rest of the book. This is important. Often we study chapters 2 and 3, putting them off into a separate category (because we can understand them a bit better), separating them from the fantastic images of the rest of the book. That kind of separation makes it easier to interpret the rest of the book as events in the far distant future—events that would have nothing to do with those seven literal churches of chapters 2 and 3. But those messages in chapters 2 and 3 are but brief introductory notes very much connected with the rest of the book. Of course, the seven churches represent all Christians of this interadvental period. But those literal churches themselves were also of this interadvental period. Therefore the message is included for them as well as every generation to follow until Christ returned. And it is so because the purpose is for all of us to remain faithful, trusting, and hoping as we are in this gathering period of the redemption story amid a sin environment intent on spewing evil on God and his followers (12:15–17).
Significantly, as John turns, the first things he sees (true in the Greed as well) are the seven gold lampstands. We learn a few verses later that the lampstands are the churches. Seven means complete. So the fact that there are seven lampstands for seven churches indicates the completeness of the Church as a whole. These lampstands are of gold—a valuable commodity—indicating that they are of value to their owner. And it is Jesus that John sees in the midst of these lampstand churches. Jesus, who was called Immanuel—God with us—associates himself with these churches that he values.
Jesus is described a one like the Son of Man—a phrase borrowed from Daniel 7:13. Notably in Daniel, the Son of Man is escorted before God. So, although son of man could mean merely that he is like a man, the connection gives us a more specific intent that the awe of a divine image that is like a man. Even in the picture here, then, we sense the Bible’s continuing revelation that Jesus was God and man.
He appears in mostly priestly (but some kingly) description. He has a long robe and sash (Lev 16:4). His head and hair are white (Dan 7:9). His eyes are like a fiery flame (putting us in mind of the fire constantly burning before the God in Lev 6:13). And his feet are like bronze. This word translated bronze is the Greek chalkolibanon. It is used only here in Revelation. It appears to be an alloy of the two root words put together to make this word: chalkos (brass) and libanos (frankincense). Both these words are used in priestly function—the brass in Ex 30:18 of the laver in the tabernacle, and the frankincense in Ex 30:7, Lev 21:1 involved with burning incense before the Lord in worship. So, both these ideas are of priestly function that stand between the unrighteous congregation and God. Just so does Jesus stand between God and us in becoming Redeemer, bringing us to God (as this entire book emphasizes).
The descriptions of Jesus as a whole in this section put us in mind of the description of the heavenly messenger in Daniel 10:4–6. And the idea, again, is to verify that these are not John’s words but rather God’s.