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(Revelation 1:9-20) What a Sunday

(Revelation 1:9-20) What a Sunday

Ref: Revelation 1:9–20

The Apostle John had every right to be prideful: he was the author of five books of the Bible, he was the beloved apostle of Jesus, and he was given personal custody of Mary, our Lord's mother. Yet he didn't let it get to his head. Why? Because, as Stephen shows us in this message, when you are captivated by Christ, who you are is not nearly as important as who He is.

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What a Sunday!

Revelation 1:9-20

Author Eugene Peterson wrote these thought provoking words a few years ago, “God’s revelation of himself is rejected far more often than it is accepted.  It is dismissed by far more people than embrace it and has been either attacked or ignored by every major civilization in which it has given its witness: magnificent Egypt, fierce Assyria, beautiful Babylon, artistic Greece, political Rome, enlightened France, Nazi Germany, Renaissance Italy, Marxist Russia, Maoist China, in pursuit-of-happiness America.  The community of God’s people has survived in all of these cultures and civilizations but always as a minority, always marginal to the mainstream, and never statistically significant.

Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (Eerdmans, 2005), p. 288

The Apostle Paul made this very clear to the early church when this new revelation of the gospel was revealed through Christ.  Paul said it would provoke spiritual warfare like you can’t imagine and you’d better suit up for the right kind of battle with the right kind of weapons and the right kind of attitude (Ephesians 6).  He said that the gospel would be offensive to the unbeliever.  (I Corinthians 1:18) 

I mean you can believe that after people die they come back reincarnated as bugs and cows and that will be alright.  But if you believe that after death you give an account to the creator of bugs and cows, suddenly you are a problem.

And all around the world today the blood of martyrs is flowing like never before from those who will not deny the singularity of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. 

Because of the Satanic underpinnings of false religion, the religions of the world can tolerate anything and everything but true gospel-believing, Christ exalting Christianity.

Why?  Because the cross of Christ strikes at the root of mankind’s guilty conscience; the gospel reveals the utter futility of self-made religion; it exposes mankind’s intuitive God-created  truth about sin; it condemns self-confidence and self-help; it requires humility, for it demands that self abdicate the throne room of the heart and offer it willingly to a crucified carpenter who is none other we believe than the ascended, one day returning true and living, deity-embodied Lord.

The world desperately wants to believe anything but that.

I came across an article in USA Today, dated April, 2007, about a children’s camp designed for children of agnostics, atheists and humanists.  Imagine being a counselor in that camp . . . you thought church camp was tough!

The camp director said, “The mission of our camp is to promote respect for others with different viewpoints, values, and beliefs.”  That’s all coded language today, isn’t it.  What he really means is he wants to promote respect for everyone but Christians.  He tipped his hand later in the interview when he said, “We deplore efforts that seek to explain the world in supernatural terms and to look for salvation in something other than nature.”

Richard Chin, “Camps Sign Up Free Thinkers”, 4/11/2007

What he means is, ‘we deplore any viewpoint that demands salvation from sin.’

It’s interesting that this camp ends with an exercise where every child invents their own religion with the specific direction of creating a religion that will not be offensive to anyone.

Reminds me of that humorous quip that, “God created man in His own image and man returned the favor.”

Listen, much of the church in the world today is not only deplored, but openly hated and persecuted. 

And it started early.  In fact, no sooner had the church been born in Acts 2 that the seeds of persecution were planted in the soil of the Roman Empire.

By the time John writes the Revelation of Jesus Christ, persecution has begun with demonically inspired hatred.

Pliny, the Romans Governor living around the close of the First Century, wrote that “Christians are a depraved and extravagant superstition; their contagious superstitions have spread not only in the cities, but in the villages as well.”

John Macarthur, Revelation: Volume 1(Moody Press, 1999), p. 38

Another Roman author from the First Century wrote that “many thousands of Christians are being put to death, of which none of them did anything contrary to the Roman laws worthy of persecution.

Israel My Glory, January/February 2008 , p. 19

Near the end of the first century, Domitian took the emperor’s throne from Titus, his brother, whom he murdered by poisoning his fish dinner. 

Domitian ratcheted up the persecution against Christians even further.  He was as wicked as Nero and nearly all the Roman emperors before him, most of whom were openly homosexual or bisexual. 

Michael Grant, The Twelve Caesars (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975), p. 6

So you can only imagine the offensive nature of Paul’s letter to the Romans and his inspired judgment on any kind of sexual activity outside of marriage.  

Domitian revived what he called Treason Trials and informants who could turn in anyone suspected of subversive philosophies. 

He also conveniently determined he was deity and had coins stamped in honor of his divinity.  Caesar worship was encouraged was on the rise. 

Add to that the fact that he was paranoid and rather strange.

In his book “The Twelve Caesars”, Michael Grant revealed how petty Domitian had become.  He was even obsessed with losing his hair.  In fact, if he happened to overhear anyone making fun of someone going bald, Domitian would probably take the guys life.  I like that part.  Nothing wrong with that? 

Last week my assistant, Josh Wredberg actually me that he was going to give his 2 year old son, Max, a haircut.  His son is only 2 years old, mind you.  He said, “Max, I’m going to give you a haircut” and then he teased him, “And I’m gonna cut it all off.”  Max’s eyes got real big and he said, “Like Passa Davey”

I have banished him to the nursery.

Domitian revered the ancient Roman religions and eventually exiled the leading Apostle of this superstition called Christianity which refused to worship his deified status or any other Roman god.

John is the last of the Apostles . . . the others have been martyred already.

According to traditions passed down, Matthew had already been killed by the sword in Ethiopia.

Nathanael had been flayed to death by a whip in Armenia.

Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross, hanging for 2 days before finally dying.   

Thomas was stabbed to death with a spear in India during one of his missionary journey’s there.

Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, had been stoned and then beheaded.

Paul had been tortured and then beheaded by Nero.

Tradition also claims that Peter was executed by Nero a year earlier by being crucified upside down.

James, the brother of Jesus (not one of the 12) but the leading elder of the church in Jerusalem, had been thrown off the temple wall and when he survived the fall of more than 100 feet, his enemies beat him to death with a club.

And the Apostle John – the last living of the 12 Apostles – is old and exiled to an island where criminals and political prisoners were sent to work in the mines.

Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody, 1992), p. 88

Imagine what this Revelation meant to the church.  The prospects of the infant church looked bleak – what hope did they have.  Where was the risen Lord?  Did He really care?  Was this the end?

Those questions vanished after reading the opening paragraphs of this book of prophecy where Jesus Christ says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega – I am He who was and is and is to come – I am the almighty sovereign God.”

And I have not abandoned you, in fact, I know everything about you.

What hope to people dying for their faith; what encouragement to Christians in need of courage and perseverance; and what accountability for those already straying from the truth.

Now, beginning in verse 9 of Revelation chapter 1, where we left off in our last study, John makes a few personal comments.

You could call these are Biographical Snapshots of the Apostle John

The first one is one of humility.

And it would be wonderfully encouraging to the believers.

He calls himself, in verse 9, Your brother . . . your fellow-partaker in this tribulation and the kingdom . . . I am with you, persevering in Jesus. (1:9)

John had every reason to lay out his resume to get everyone’s attention. 

“I, John – the author of the gospel of our Lord’s life and ministry; the writer of three epistles, among the three closest Apostles to our Lord – sitting next to him in the upper room; the only disciple to appear at the cross of Christ, the one our Lord gave custody of Mary, the Lord’s mother.”

That’s all remarkably true.

No . . . “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the struggles of life in Christ.”

Nathan Meyer wrote in his commentary on this text that one of the endearing things about Franklin Delano Roosevelt was that even though he was a millionaire and president of the United States, having lived for a time, recovering from polio among the rural famers in Georgia, chose often to refer to himself as a farmer instead of the president.  In fact, whenever he registered to vote he registered as a farmer.

Nathan M. Meyer, From Now to Eternity (BMH, 1976), p. 29

John had every right to say, “Listen up . . . it is I, John, the beloved Apostle of Christ . . .”. 

The point I want to make is that when you are captivated by the person of Christ and you are anticipating the return of Christ, who you are is not nearly as important as who He is.

The fact that He is coming overshadows the fact that you’ve arrived.

More than likely John is referring in verse 9 to the present tribulation of the 1st century, but mindful of the coming kingdom of our Lord.

John provides another snapshot – we see a picture not just of humility, but tenacity.

He writes in verse 9b. “I’m on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

He makes it very clear.  John is suffering because of his faithful, uncompromising, tenacious, courageous preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Macarthur, Revelation Volume 1, p. 41

John writes further in verse 10.  And I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.

This is a reference to Sunday.  There is a different Greek construction to refer to the future and terrible “day of the Lord”. 

Here John refers to “the Lord’s day;” a term used only here in the New Testament, but further used in the church as a reference to the day the church specially worshiped for it was the day the Lord rose from the dead. 

It was, in a special sense, His day of triumph and by Acts chapter 20 as the church developed further and began to separate from the synagogue, they chose the Lord’s day as their day of special worship. 

You can legitimately worship on any day (Romans 14:5-6) – however the church was choosing this special day in commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection on Sunday.

Ignatius, writing just 15 years after John wrote this Revelation, said that “the Christians ceased to keep the Jewish Sabbath and lived by the Lord’s Day, on which our life shines, thanks to Him.

Pliny, an unbelieving Roman Governor I mentioned earlier, wrote around the same time – A.D. 110, and I quote, “The Christians gather on Sunday, the first day of the week, to sing praises to their Lord Jesus.”

Justin Martyr, a church leader wrote 45 years later, “We all hold this common gathering on Sunday, since it is the day when Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.”

Quotes from Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories & Illustrations (Nelson, 2000), p. 719

John writes, “On Sunday, I was in the Spirit.”

This is simply telling us that John received his first vision on the Lord’s day and the Spirit of God was the managing agent in these visions.

Adapted from Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1, p. 91

Before we get into this amazing vision, let’s stop and take a good look at what this tells us about not just John but you and me.

He is now serving what he believes to be his final round of persecution, on Patmos.  It was First Century Alcatraz.  A barren island, cut off from his family, separated from other believers, sleeping, many believe, in a cave, ill fed, ill clothed, working in the mines and nearly 90 years of age. 

Sam Gordon, Worthy is the Lamb: A Walk Through Revelation (Ambassador, 2000), p. 38

A couple in our church recently visited Patmos in their tour of that region.  They brought me back a keepsake and a book of full color pictures of the island.  Though it’s developed now and populated to some degree, I could easily imagine this rocky, barren island, far from friends and family and the church he had pastored in Ephesus.

Most believe John returned to Ephesus after Domitian died, but don’t forget here, John doesn’t know that.

As far as John is concerned, his best days of ministry are behind him.  God must be finished with his labor and love for the church and Christ, her chief Shepherd.  This is it.

Imagine, his most significant ministry will still ahead of him. 

God wasn’t finished speaking through John – He was about to give John the future of human history, a glimpse of the judgments and a tour of heaven.  On author wrote these perceptive words, “Sometimes it is out of suffering that God’s people have some of their greatest triumphs.  At times, when circumstances look their darkest, it is in moment of such loneliness and despair that God shines the brightest.”

Adapted from Gordon, p. 38

There in the bleakness and loneliness and barrenness of Patmos, God came to John and revealed His greatest mysteries.

And it began with a vision of none other, than the Chief Shepherd of the church.  Notice verse 10b.  And I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11.  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 the Philadelphia and to Laodicea.

Literal churches.  Not epochs of church history, but literal churches that represent all churches in any generation.  It’s possible in this generation to be a church of Philadelphia with great opportunity or the church of Ephesus which lost her love for the things of Christ. 

These are literal churches here with literal problems and literal struggles and a need to literally repent and follow more closely after Christ.

However, the churches are spoken of figuratively as lampstands.  

John turns, in verse 12, to see the voice that was speaking with me.  And having turned I saw seven golden lamp stands: 

That metaphor of the church’s testimony shining to the world is clearly explained in chapter 2 where the church is warned that Christ will take away their lampstand if they don’t repent.    Literally, He’ll removed their testimony as light in a dark world.  We’ll look at that more closely next Lord’s day.

Notice verse 13, And in the middle of the lamp stands I saw one like the Son of Man.

This is the unmistakable Messianic Title of Jesus Christ.

He hasn’t forgotten the church . . . He’s in the middle of them all.

I discovered that this title was used by the early church as Christ’s title whenever the suffering of believers and Christ’s suffering were in view.

Thomas, p. 98

In other words, Jesus Christ understands what it means to suffer.  And remember, He promised that those who followed Him would suffer persecution of some form (Matthew 10:34)

The Apostle Paul promised, “All that will live godly in Jesus Christ will suffer persecution.  (2 Timothy 3:12)

But take heart, Jesus Christ is moving among the candlestick – he’s in the midst of His beloved Bride as they shine for His glory.

Let’s move from the biographical snapshots of the Apostle John to the:

Brilliant Showcase of the Son of Man

John’s vision implies at least 8 characteristics of Christ:

  1. Robe and Sash             superiority

He writes in verse 13b.  He was clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.

A robe that reached to the ground was worn by royalty.  The podere (podhrh) was an emblem of high rank and dignity.

Thomas, p. 99

Full length robes were the attire of King Jehoshaphat, the Kings of Midian and Jonathan, the prince of Israel, son of King Saul.

Others point out that prophets also wore these robes.

Certainly, Jesus Christ is both prophet and King and the podere would be perfectly suitable.

However, the most common usage of this word in the Old Testament was related to the robe of the High Priest.  The word was used to speak of the formal clothing and robes of the High Priest when he served in the Temple.  The High Priest also wore the golden sash whenever he served. (Exodus 28:4).

The idea that these garments pictured Christ in His present ministry as the Great High Priest is a wonderful thought.

He hasn’t forgotten the persecuted believers.  He hasn’t abandoned His Bride, He is currently in active duty as High Priest. 

And the Writer of Hebrews pictured the superiority of the ongoing ministry of Christ when he wrote that our Great High Priest is “able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25). 

We have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses; One who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15)

The apparel of Christ clearly speaks not only of His advocacy and His superiority in gaining our access to court of Heaven.

  1. Secondly, his head and hair speak of his eternality.

Notice verse 14.  His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow.

This is a clear reference to the throne of God and the image of Daniel who saw the Ancient of Days with white hair – suggesting the glory of his longevity. 

Thomas, p. 101

That same description is now attributed to Christ, in this vision, Who is equal with the Father.

The color white translates the word leukos, which has the connotation of “bright or brilliant.”  It symbolizes the glorious, holy, pure eternal existence of God the Son.

MacArthur, p. 46

John sees Christ, physically manifesting this sense of age – one who was eternally past, present and future without beginning or end.

  1. John mentions next (14b), the eyes which were like a flame of fire.

Gabriel is also pictured similarly.  This is that spiritually savvy gaze that perceives . . . discerns.  He can cut through your very being – and see behind the mask and the facade. 

Christ will be pictured with these flaming eyes later in Revelation 2:18 and 19:12.

This is a striking picture of Christ’s perceptibility.  Or if you’d like a smaller word – His perfect savvy. 

He doesn’t miss anything.

Matthew Henry wrote, “God not only sees men, He sees through them.

Gordon, p. 45

The perceptive, discerning, Lord is walking among His candlesticks – His churches . . . and He sees everything and He sees everyone.

Imagine our Lord, right now, though invisible to our eyes, robed in the regal gown of High Priest, King and Prophet, walking up each aisle and passing through each section – looking at you with eyes of divine savvy and discernment as He passes by – seeing your heart and your thoughts; knowing your motives and your plans and your wishes.

There’s a reason when John sees the Lord he falls to the ground like a dead man!

There’s more to this vision.

  1. John refers to the Lord’s feet, verse 15. Which were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace.

This speaks of Christ’s mastery.  His Divine right to judge the church.

In ancient times, Kings sat on elevated thrones, so those being judged by them would always be beneath their feet.  The feet of kings came to refer to authority.  And here you have the red hot, glowing feet of Christ who moves through the church exercising His perfect review of their deeds and their stand and their works and their heart.

Adapted from John MacArthur, Because the Time is Near (Moody, 2007), p. 37

  1. Next John mentions in verse 15b. the voice of Christ which implies His Divine authority, “His voice was like the sound of many waters.”

One day when Christ speaks, all the world will listen, even though they now mute His gospel and mock His words.

Imagine trying to argue with Niagara Falls. 

John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux, 1991), p. 28

Try drowning out the sound of Niagara Falls with your own puny little voice.  Go ahead and ride up to the base of Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist and stand on the deck and yell and scream and stomp your feet. 

His voice will drown out the puny voice of man.  In fact, in His presence at the final judgment the world will be struck silent as they recognize in utter terror that they are before Him eternally accountable. (Romans 3:19)

  1. John refers next to Christ’s sovereignty as he speaks of His right hand (in verse 16) in which He held seven stars.

This is a reference to the leadership of the churches – which Christ’s controls by his sovereign hand. 

Look down at verse 20, where Christ explains these metaphors, 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 – the angeloi – the messengers, literally those messengers representing the seven churches.  In other words, these messengers which were responsible to deliver the message of Christ to the church represented the leading authority in the church – a reference to the office holders of the church – the presbuteroi – the elders of the church, and even more specifically, the leading elder in the church as we’ll see beginning in chapter 2. 

  1. John refers next to the mouth of Christ.

Look back up at the middle of verse 16.  And out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.


This refers to defense of the church by Christ who defeats all the threats against His bride, both outside the church and inside the church as we’ll see in the letters that follow this vision.

John MacArthur wrote on this vision, “Those who attack Christ’s church; those who sow lies, create discord, harm His people, will be personally dealt with by the Lord of the church.  His word is potent.”

MacArthur, Revelation, p. 48

Isaiah prophesied that one day our Lord will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth (Isaiah 49:2).

Paul said that the antichrist shall be defeated one day with the breath of His mouth (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

John Phillips commented on this vision of Christ’s word, “Nothing can stand against God’s word.  Whether as Creator, Comforter, or Conqueror, that mighty Word of Christ is invincible.”

Phillips, Exploring Revelation, p. 29

This is the indestructibility of the word of our Lord. 

Imagine what this meant to Christians living under Domitian.  His word could take everything away from them.  Rome was in control not the church.

Oh, but they had no need to fear for their lives were under Christ’s protection and He was sovereign.

Christ was revealed to them and us,

  • First in His superiority;
  • Secondly, in His eternality;
  • Third, in His perceptibility;
  • Fourth, in His mastery;
  • Fifth, in His authority;
  • Sixth, in His sovereignty;
  • Seventh, in His indestructibility
  1. And finally, #8, in His majesty.

John writes in verse 16b.  And His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

Like our sun?  Our sun radiates 4 million tons of heat a second.

The brilliant showcase of the risen Lord was so glorious and so terrifying and so majestic that I, verse 17, fell at His feet like a dead man.

How do you approach Him?

But there on the ground, his face buried in his arms, he hears, “Don’t be afraid.”

He’d heard those words before – terrified in the middle of a storm at sea with the other disciples and the Lord walked out on the water to them and said, “It is I, don’t be afraid.” (John 6:20)


John, don’t be afraid . . . It is I – 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 Hades. (1:18)

You ever lose your keys?  You ever get locked out of your car –your office – your house?

Jesus says, “I’ve got the keys to death and Hades” . . . Christian, they can’t lock you out . . . they can’t lock you in.

They can’t keep you out of heaven and they can’t lock you in.


Even when life is interrupted, your Lord is interceding.

Are you in some barren place?  Unsure and unsettled?  Your High Priest is moving in the middle of it all . . . whispering to the Father your needs and holding every aspect in the grip of His gracious hands.

For those who suffer injustice . . . uncertainty . . . tribulation, you are never alone.

When Jim Denison was in college he took a summer missions trip to East Malaysia.  While there he worked in a small church.  At one of the church’s worship services, a baptism had been planned for one of the teenage girls who attended.  She had announced to the pastor and the church, in their custom, that she had decided to commit her life to Christ and wanted to be baptized publicly as a statement of her faith in Christ.  During the service, Jim noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the back wall of the church building.   After the service he asked the pastor about it and the pastor pointed to this young lady that had just been baptized and said, “Her father told her that if she was ever baptized as a Christian she could never come home again.  So she brought her luggage.

Raymond McHenry, Stories for the Soul (Hendrickson, 2001), p. 48

Even when life is darkest, you can continue to follow Him with confidence.

What a Sunday this was for John.  As far as he was concerned, he would never go home again.

At this time, then for John and now for us, when Christians face their greatest times of insecurity, God reminds us of His supremacy.

God revealed it to John and here to us all, on the Lord’s day.

Beloved, Christian friend,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face (see Him here!)

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

Invite people to the front . . . sing again.

David, I’ll end by leading this . . . . a cappella . . . lyrics would be great.

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