John, upon seeing the resplendent glory of Christ, falls down at His feet. This reminds us again of Daniel’s vision, which caused him to fall into a deep sleep with his face toward the ground (Dan. 10: 8-9). Ezekiel also, when he saw the likeness of the glory of the Lord by the river Chebar, fell upon his face (Ezekiel 1: 28). In all three instances, the prostration showed that humility which ensues whenever man is given to see visions of the divine splendor.
In each of these visions, however, the prophets, after falling down, were revived by God Himself (Ezekiel 2: 1-2; Daniel 10: 10) that they might reveal His word to the people. In the former two visions, the truths imparted to them by God involved the destiny of the nation of Israel. Here too, John receives a revelation concerning the same, only the prophetic message had a scope far beyond that of which either Ezekiel or Daniel dreamed.
John was afraid at the manifestation of Christ’s all-embracing power. And yet he was the beloved disciple who wrote, “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4: 18). No, the saints are never perfect. Oftentimes their own resolves weaken during times of trial. Elijah, even after his victory over the prophets of Baal, became discouraged, seeking death as a release from his burdens (1 Kings 19: 4). But God would not have him weak-spirited; and so He strengthened him again. Whenever God would have His servants to fulfill a special commission, grace is never wanting to ensure that they are strengthened for their task. Hence John, exiled by the cruel Domitian, and weakened with age, breaks down under fear, but then is sustained by divine grace. “Fear not,” says Christ.
(1: 18) “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”
This verse is of great doctrinal importance. And yet it is often misunderstood. It brings to mind Paul’s statement, “Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him” (Romans 6: 9). Let us remember that Christ’s death was voluntary. It was undergone entirely on our behalf. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6: 23); and yet Christ was the sinless Lamb of God. How, then, could He be made subject to death? The answer is, He endured death for our sakes, that we might have life. His victory over death is emphasized in this verse. He tells us that He is alive forever, and has the keys of death and of Hades.
These keys were obtained when Jesus Christ died on the cross. Because He knew no sin, death had no power over Him. Thus, when the time came for Him to take up His life that He laid down (John 10: 17-18), He arose as the first-fruits of the dead, bearing in victory the keys of death and of Hades. After His crucifixion, He used these keys to raise many saints out of the graves (Matt. 27: 52-53)–thus evincing that He is Lord of the dead.
When He ascended on high, to take His place at the right hand of the Father, He used these keys again, by sending forth the blessing of the Holy Spirit, whereby souls are quickened, that is, regenerated. This quickening is the first-fruits of our glorious resurrection, a token and earnest of our salvation (Eph. 1: 14). In this regard Christ shows Himself Lord of both the dead and the quick.
(1: 19) “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things that are, and the things which shall be hereafter;”
Few verses have given commentators such difficulty as this one, concerning which opinions vary widely. The verse is often understood as a set of instructions as to how the visions are to be broken down. Some suggest a threefold division, others a twofold. A third view holds that the visions which John received were entirely, or for the most part, prophetic. It is this latter view toward which I myself lean. The solution, of course, hinges upon the correct translation of this verse.
The opinions are too many to enumerate. After reading all that I could find on the matter, I tend to agree with the translation supplied by Dr. E.W. Bullinger, which is also supported by Dean Alford. Here it is: “Write therefore the things which thou sawest and what they are; even what things are about to happen hereafter.”
According to this view, the letters to the seven churches belong to the prophetic visions which Christ is about to reveal. In other words, while the seven churches are used as a symbol of the church universal, the actual state and condition of these churches is that which will be found immediately preceding the outbreak of the divine judgments which the book describes.
Naturally, some correspondence will be found between statements in the letters and those events which were current in John’s own day. However, that the epistles reveal a fuller development of the last days apostasy than can be matched by the facts of history, is a conclusion which I find irresistable. To give one example of the facts in favor of my view, there was no church in Thyratira when John wrote the Apocalypse.
Because of the mass of cumulative evidence which points to the prophetic nature of the epistles, I take my position with Bullinger that the letters belong properly to a future period. That the churches are in existence when the events described in the Apocalypse take place, is a fact settled by Scripture. We’ll find this as we study the epistles themselves, and when we come to the portions of the book which have a direct bearing on the seven assemblies.
(1: 20) “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.”
The term “mystery” does not mean that the meaning of the seven stars is beyond the comprehension of the average believer, for they are interpreteted by Christ. “Mystery” means something previously kept secret, which has now been revealed. Christ tells John that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. The term “angel” signifies the Sheliach Tzibbur, or public minister of the synagogue. Again, this fact raises the issue of whether these seven churches belong to a future period. Bullinger holds that they are Jewish assemblies which will be in existence after the church is raptured.
My own opinion is that these churches are Christian assemblies which will be in operation after the apostolic church is reconstituted. What I mean is this: that in the near future, the Lord will send the blessing of the Spirit upon His people, and will re-activate the gifts and graces of the apostolic church, sending forth prophets and apostles to instruct His people. Naturally, this will follow upon the heels of the present deterioration of Christendom, the evidences of which we see on every hand.
My view is that the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem will be the event which sets off a latter-day outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For the gifts and graces belong properly to Israel, though now, in the state of their dispersion, the charismata are in abeyance. This opinion of mine (which I feel is supported by Scripture) will be discussed more in future posts.