The expression “in the Spirit” probably denotes a spiritual trance or ecstasy, which came upon John as he was in meditation or prayer. This was a common means of imparting prophetic vision to those chosen by God to reveal His word. Peter, when upon the housetop at the sixth hour, “fell into a trance” (Acts 9: 10-11) and received a revelation from God concerning access of the Gentiles to His church. So also John, who must have been in private devotion when this occurred.
There can be little doubt that by the term “The Lord’s Day” is meant our Christian Sabbath. From the earliest period of Christianity, Sunday was the day set aside for divine worship, having replaced the Jewish sabbath of the seventh day. Two passages may be cited from the New Testament. Acts 20: 7 and 1 Cor. 16: 2 both reveal that during the apostolic period the first day was deemed sacred, and was the appointed day on which the disciples came together to break bread.
Then, too, shortly after the Apocalypse was composed, Ignatius of Antioch wrote an epistle (c. 101 A.D.) in which he stated: “Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week. Looking forward to this, the prophet declared, To the end, for the eighth day, on which our life both sprang up again, and the victory over death was obtained in Christ” (Epistle to the Magnesians, ch. ix).
Thus it is likely that John, having been exiled to the rocky island of Patmos, was in private devotion on Sunday, when he (like Peter) fell into a trance. But whereas Peter saw a vessel descending to the earth, John hears a great voice which resounds like a trumpet.
(1: 11) “Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
It is the Lord Jesus Christ Who speaks. He is “Alpha and Omega,” the first and the last. The totality of God’s creative and redemptive work is thus summed up in Himself. He commands John to write the visions he is about see in a book, and to send the completed book to each of the seven churches. This is important to keep in mind, for it tells us that the main substance of the Apocalypse (chapters 2-22) was written first, followed by this introductory material (chapter 1). This chapter, while composed with the pen of inspiration, was not written while John was in a trance, but later, to explain the circumstances of how the book came to be written.
The seven churches are listed by name. The order in which they are given probably has significance. Ephesus is listed first, for it was the seat of John’s labors. A journey northward takes us to Smyrna and Pergamos. Then, moving in a southeasterly direction, we come to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and finally, Laodicea, which is almost parallel to Ephesus, but eastward of that city.
(1: 12) “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;“
Upon hearing Jesus Christ speak, John turns about. He sees seven golden candlesticks. As we’ll find (v. 20), these represent the seven churches aforementioned. There is a difference, however, between these seven candlesticks (better rendered “lampstands”) and the seven-branched candlestick of the Mosaic sanctuary (Exodus 25: 31-32, 37).
The seven-branched candlestick represented the organic unity of the Jewish religious and civil economy. But here there are seven individual candlesticks. This bespeaks the multiplicity and individuality of Gospel churches.
Under the Mosaic economy Israel was a unfied body. But under the present dispensation, unity is a work in progress (Eph. 4: 13). The true Israel is now in formation, and will be completed only when Jesus Christ returns. Thus the lampstands are seen as being what they are during the present dispensation of election. They are individual local assemblies commissioned to bear light to the rest of the world. It is on the basis of their fidelity to this commission that each of these churches is praised, censured, admonished, and encouraged, that they may be accounted worthy to enter the heavenly Kingdom when our Lord returns. We must keep in mind that these are visible churches, containing both wheat and tares. Thus, the Lord will address them as such. This fact will account for the heavy emphasis on perseverance evinced in the seven epistles.
(1: 13) “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.”
Now we begin to see what John sees. The beloved apostle is granted visions of the heavenly tabernacle in heaven. First he sees seven candlesticks. Then he sees one like unto the Son of Man, that is, Jesus Christ Himself. This vision will be found to correspond in a remarkable manner with that seen by Daniel (Dan. 10: 5-6) as he tarried by the river Hiddekel (Tigris). The purpose of that vision was to reveal to Daniel things which would befall his people in the latter days (Dan. 10: 14). John now has a similar vision, in which he is apprised of the same events, but in a more detailed and intimate manner.
Christ is seen standing in the heavenly sanctuary, arrayed in His priestly attire. “For Christ is not entered into the Holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9: 24). His office as High Priest is co-ordinate with His universal sovereignty and conjoint rule with the Father (Heb. 8: 1-2). He is “Prince of the kings of the earth” and also our Great High Priest. Both of these offices are universal in their jurisdiction over men.