(10) I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
To be “in the Spirit” is common language for a prophet who is about to see, do, or speak according to God (Numbers 11:25; Ezekiel 2:1-2, 3:12-14, 24). John, being in the Spirit, is about to hear things, see things, and do things (1:11; 4:1).
“On the Lord’s day.” Some believe this statement is in reference to a time of judgment, as the phase “Day of the Lord” is used throughout the scriptures to refer to the judgments of God (Isaiah 13:6, 46:10; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15, 2:1; Amos 5:18; Zephaniah 1:14; Malachi 4:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). But that’s the problem, the scriptures consistently uses “the day of the Lord” to speak of judgment; in no place do we find “the Lord’s day,” except here. While Revelation certainly deals with judgment, the statement “the Lord’s day” does not seem to be connected to a day of judgment. Instead, it may be interpreted that John is speaking of the first day of the week, which was the day the Lord was resurrected (Matthew 28:1), and the day the saints gather for the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7). Although the same argument can be used against that interpretation, because nowhere is the term “the Lord’s day” used for the first day of the week.
“I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet.” This is loud, alerting, and alarming! This voice suggests one of great power. This is certainly not a human talking to John, for no man has the power to sound like a loud trumpet. The trumpet has stood as a figure of warning in the Bible, and this figure will continue to be used in Revelation (4:1; 8:2).
(11) 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.”
The seven churches in Asia were discussed in verse four, but here, for the first time, they are named by the city where each congregation is located. I will spend a little time on each of these cities when we get to the individual letters in chapters two and three.
(12) Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,
John will now see the one who was speaking to him. The speaker is Jesus, which I think everyone agrees with that. What is so fantastic about this event is that John is seeing the resurrected Lord again, which he himself saw ascend into the heavens nearly forty years before this. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was there through the years of the public ministry of Jesus, he saw the most critical moments in the life of Jesus (the transfiguration, the betrayal in Gethsemane, the Lord hanging on the cross, and his resurrection). I can only imagine the longing which John had to see the Lord again, and here he is!
“I saw seven golden lampstands.” The first thing that John records is the surroundings, which are seven lampstands of gold. There can be no doubt as to what these lampstands represent, for Jesus will explain that they are the seven churches (1:20). The figure of the lampstands is taken from the pattern of the old tabernacle: “You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it.” (Exodus 25:37). Those lamps, along with everything else about the tabernacle were “a copy and shadow” (Hebrews 8:5) of the realities in Christ (Colossians 2:17). As the lamps filled the house of God with light, so it is the responsibility of the Christian to let their light so shine (Matthew 5:14-17; 2 Corinthians 4:6).
(13) 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 Lord is “in the midst of the seven,” and what a wonderful thought! In 2:1, the Lord will say that he “walks among the seven golden lampstands.” For these brethren, who were going through great tribulation, seeing the picture of Jesus in their midst is so precious. And for the true church today, the same applies! The Lord is very near, he knows exactly what is going on for it is right before him. He is the good shepherd who takes care of his sheep (John 10). God has always been there for his faithful people; he is “a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.” (Psalm 46:5).
“Clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.” This figure is closely related to garments of Aaron, the high priest (Exodus 39:1-7). Christ is seen as high priest (by the garments which he wears) in the temple (by the figure of the seven lamps), as an intercessor for the people (as he is in their midst).
(14) The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire,
His white hair is described like that of the “Ancient of Days” in Daniels vision, “and the hair of his head like pure wool” (Daniel 7:9). The white hair is a figure of his length of years, being eternal from of old. White hair is a picture of wisdom; and white is also a symbol of purity, which he is all of the above.
“His eyes were like a flame of fire.” The fiery eyes coupled with the white hair is a great picture of his justice! He can see all things clearly and purely. “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13).
(15) his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.
The polished, brilliant feet like bronze are a part of the figure of his shining glory. His feet are clean and polished for now, but they will soon be treading the winepress of the wrath of God (14:19-20), and the Lord will later be seen with his robe dipped in blood (19:13-15). This is a prophetic theme in scripture (Isaiah 63:2-3; Lamentations 1:15; Malachi 4:3).
“His voice was like the roar of many waters.” He was described first as having a voice like a trumpet (1:10), a figure that he is giving a warning blast in this book. Now, he is described with a voice like the roar of many waters. That is a deafening thunderous sound; a judgment type of sound; like the judgement spoken of earlier (1:7).
(16) 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.
I will give a full exposition on the seven stars in 1:20, because that is where John is given the essential details to properly understand the symbol.
“A sharp two-edged sword.” This symbol is recognizable by the words of Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” John describes the sharp two-edged sword as originating from the Lord’s mouth, thus harmonizing with the description in Hebrews (also John 1) that Jesus is the Word. The statement in Hebrews gives us the fullest comprehension of this theme; he is like a sharp two-edged sword because he can see a division between soul and spirit (I don’t know what that means, only the Lord can know), he can even see between joints are marrow (so his knowledge of us, his creation, is both spiritual and physical); and lastly, Hebrews tells us that he can see all the thoughts and intentions of one’s heart. This establishes the purpose of the sword figure. He, like a master surgeon with a sharp knife, can precisely slice and divide and observe every aspect of our physical and spiritual life.
“His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” All of the details in this picture of the Lord are a full survey of the brightness of his glory. First, he is surrounded by light (the churches), then he described with a golden band around his chest, flashing with the reflection of the surrounding light. Then there is his bright white hair; his eyes of fire; and the glistening pure metal of his feet and the polished sharpened sword out of his mouth. To top off the image, his appearance was “like the sun shining in its strength.” While this is a vision which John is able to see, it paints a picture of the reality of Jesus, being one who dwells in unapproachable light, who no one can look upon.
“The blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:15-16).
(17) 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,
John describing his fall at the feet of the Lord, “as though dead,” is more than understandable. I could not imagine my physical body to have any strength left after seeing this Lord of lords. And John only saw him by way of a vision. If this were the real thing, his body certainly could not survive that (1 Timothy 6:16; Exodus 33:20). Similar circumstances happened to the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel (Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 8:18, 10:8-9).
(18) and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
This is similar to “him who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4, 8). The emphasis for this threefold statement is that he lives. This is important to consider because he confessed that he had died, but now lives. The fact that he lives again after he died demands that he could not die again but would be alive forevermore.
“And I have the keys of Death and Hades.” This statement is connected to the threefold truth (living, died, alive forever) by the conjunction “and.” This truth completes the picture. He has the keys of death and hades. The figure of the keys stands for his authority and power over death and the grave. By his resurrection he overcame the power of the grave, and by his power we can overcome too.
(19) Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
The natural sense of this command of the Lord to John is that John is to make a written record of what he has seen and what he will see next. The Greek is accurately translated here, however, the statement “those that are” can also be accurately translated as “what they are,” according to the relative pronoun. Considering the pronoun that way, the command is for John to write what he saw, to explain what they are (which he will write out in the following verse) and to record the visions that will follow. Either way is in harmony with the text. Problems arise when men force this text into their idea of the book. Some say the first part of this verse is talking about things that would happen in John’s day, while the last part is about things still in our future. Some take “those that are to take place after this” and apply chapter 4-22 to our present day and near future; others take chapters 20-22 to be the future judgment and a description of heaven. We must be careful to treat the words of Christ with honor. We know that this verse cannot be taking about our future, for it must remain in harmony with the rest of the book. The book began by explaining that these things “must soon take place” (1:1), and that the “time is near” (1:3). The message of the book is bound by these time restraints; and so there could be no doubt, we are reminded again afterward (you know, after all that futurey sounding stuff) that these things “must soon take place” (22:6) and “I am coming soon” (22:7) and “the time is near (22:10). The book never ventures away from its purpose; God is not trying to confuse us! He wants us to understand. So why would God say one thing at the beginning of chapter one, repeat it at the close of the book, but say the opposite in 1:19? I don’t have to answer that question, for I don’t think he has said anything in disharmony with the purpose of the book, but anyone who interprets any part of this book to be still unfulfilled must answer that question. For me, I see it as very unnatural to understand Jesus’ words in 1:19 to speak of our future. The natural and harmonious rendering would require us to simply take his words at face-value, and therefore, he is commanding John to write down what he has seen, what he is seeing, and what he will see in the following visions.
(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.
Jesus now reveals the mystery. The vision of the Lord was not very mysterious, rather, it was revealing. The details of the figure in the vision were unveiling the identity and nature of the living Savior, there was nothing mysterious about it! However, there were two things about the vision which were not readily recognizable, they are the stars in his hand and the lampstands. The lampstands could have been anything which is on fire with the glory of Christ, whether angels, or spirits, or Christians; or they could even be just a figure of God’s glory in a sevenfold (complete) display. But Jesus tells us that the lampstands represent the seven churches in Asia. On the details of the lampstands, see comments on verse twelve.
“The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” It is important to remember that this verse is one of the rare occasions in the book where symbolic figures are interpreted for us. Whenever this happens, we will know it, for the book makes it very clear about what’s going on. This is one of those occasions, as is evident from the words of the verse: “as for the mystery of… the seven stars are… and the seven lampstands are….” So what is the interpretation of the seven stars, according to Jesus? They are the seven angels of the seven churches. It is fascinating to me that commentators will still go to work interpreting the seven angels when Jesus already gave the interpretation. There is no mystery here anymore, the Lord revealed it! The seven stars are the seven angels; that’s the interpretation. The Lord handed us the answer. But that’s not good enough for some, now they must interpret the angels into some human element, like a letter deliverer, or the preachers of the seven churches. But that’s not what the Lord said; he said that the figure of the seven stars symbolize the seven angels of the seven churches. So then, they are angels; they are not humans, or preachers, or mailmen, or any other thing that man can come up with.
Why are there seven angels of the seven churches? Because Angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). It does not come as a surprise to see angels serving the churches in the visions of Revelation, for this is precisely what the writer of Hebrews was talking about. Angels are ministering beings whom God has sent out to attend to and help the brethren. Jesus even said a little about this in Matthew 18:10, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (the “little ones” in the context are his disciples). So, it is natural to see angels attending to the churches in the book of Revelation.