Revelation starts out with a man in exile, and God reveals himself to that man in that situation. With this text, we find out that God doesn’t just reveal himself; he also has a message for us. That message is the book of Revelation, but the first steps of that are his messages to the churches in chapters 2 and 3. His message here is primarily, “I’m here to help you” (vv. 17-18; see also Isa. 1.25-27), but it comes with a warning: if you’re not following me, there will be consequences. It’s much like the discipline of a parent: the plan and design is to help you, but it may be accompanied by something unpleasant (Heb. 12.6-13).
God holds us all accountable. We are accountable as individuals (2 Cor. 5.10); Israel was accountable as a nation; and the church is accountable as a corporate entity (Rev. 2-3). So the point is this: God is here to help us, but he is also coming to judge. The point here is more the church than the individual, though it’s also true of individuals. If you are doing what is right, there is help and strength. If you are doing what is wrong, there are urgings to repent and warnings of judgment.
God doesn’t just always help people no matter how sinful they’re being, nor does he just show himself and say, “OK, you take it from here. I’m out.” He has a message of help. A definitive voice from heaven comes to let John know that Jesus is still in the church (v. 13). He hasn’t deserted them. This is an important message for (1) the faithful ones who are getting beat up by the culture, and (2) for the unfaithful ones who have been making a big mess of the faith and Jesus’ reputation in the city.
The writing depicts a scene of a man. Despite its rich visual imagery, it’s not really suitable for a painting. These are spiritual ideas to convey character traits. All of the images of vv. 13-16 convey the sense of Jesus being a righteous judge with authority and truth, who will judge, in this case, the church as well as the surrounding world. He is filling his role as mediator between God and man. He has the authority to either bless or judge; he has the knowledge to discern which is appropriate, and he has the purity to not make a mistake in the process.
The long robe symbolizes dignity; honor; a king or a priest or both
The golden sash signifies either a priest or a judge. Symbol of righteousness.
The white hair shows us he is eternal; deity; wisdom; dignity. The same image is in Dan. 7.9: eternity, purity, and judgment.
The blazing eyes? Omniscient judge. He sees all, knows all, and brings fire with him.
The glowing feet symbolize strength, victory, judgment, and conquest.
The thunderous voice speaks of power and judgment.
The stars in right hand show sovereignty and safe-keeping.
The two-edged sword out of mouth is a sword of judgment.
The shining face shows glory, splendor, majesty: He is God.
Jesus will never leave the church. It is his plan for the ages. But that doesn’t guarantee that everything the church is doing is from Jesus. The question is which churches will leave Jesus by following their own plan for the ages. That He won’t put up with for too long.
John’s response is that he fell down as though dead. It’s an unintentional fall, as if the vision blew him down with its power. Did you ever watch AFV? People who are holding the camera lose their balance when something dramatic happens. It’s that times 100.
But then he has a series of messages for his people, before hitting chapters 2 & 3, and the rest of the book. Message 2: Don’t be afraid. Those who belong to God never need to be afraid of their contact with him. Those who don’t truly belong to God need to run to the caves and beg the mountains to fall on them.
Message 3: I am the First and the Last. This was to comfort his people. I am God, and I am sovereign. Nothing gets past me, and nothing surprises me. But again, it’s a mixed message: I am first through creation, and I am last through retribution. I was the first man standing, and I will be the last.
Message 4: I am the Living One: Dead and Risen. This was a message of comfort from those who felt the sentence of death (2 Cor. 1.9). I have conquered death and risen with power. Make sure you take your stand with me.
Message 5: I hold the keys of Death and Hades. This was another message of comfort. Jesus entered death, and walked away with the keys.
And then he ends with a summary (v. 20): “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” This isn’t all about you. I’m talking about the church. They are under God’s protection, but also being evaluated for what they are doing.