THEOLOGY IN PICTURES
I love pictures. Visual aids. To be able to see and to visualize and to understand. There is an old saying that goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words." I think that it is a true saying. Jesus seems to have thought so, too. He often preached in pictures - vivid, illustrative word pictures that we know as parables.
Over the next several weeks, I would like to take you on a tour of one of the art galleries of the Bible. We will be looking at theology in pictures. Our studies will take us to the book of the Revelation.
Think about that title - "Revelation." The title is taken from the first verse of the first chapter: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to his bond-servants..." (Revelation 1:1). What do you do with a revelation? You LOOK at it. And that is what we are going to do.
1. THE RECIPIENT OF THE REVELATION.
I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9).
There were a lot of things that John could have said about himself. You ask some people to introduce themselves and out comes their resume. Men especially tend to be like that (not that you ladies are above that sort of thing). John could have said:
"Iím one of the apostles."
"Iím not just an apostle, Iím one of the inner circle."
"I was the apostle who was known as being the one that Jesus really loved."
But he said none of these things. Notice how John does describe himself.
Your fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance.
John isnít out to elevate himself. To the contrary, he is out to show that you and he are united in a common bond. That bond is Jesus.
2. THE REALITY OF THE REVELATION.
I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
I was in the Spirit on the Lordís day, 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 to Philadelphia and to Laodicea." (Revelation 1:9-11.
The revelation which was imparted to John took place in real-time history. This is not a "once upon a time" fairy tale. John was on a real island in the Mediterranean Sea and he was given a message which was to be delivered to real churches which were extant in that day.
That tells me something about the book of Revelation. It is rooted in history. If I am to understand this book, then I must place it into the context of the world in which it was written.
People run into all sorts of problems in understanding the book of Revelation when they take it out of the context in which it was given. They start to look for computers and ICBM Missiles and thermonuclear warfare and the European Common Market and the book of Revelation is not about any of those things.
3. THE RESIDENCE OF THE REVELATION.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands;13 and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man... (Revelation 1:12-13a).
John hears a voice like a trumpet. Apparently the voice was behind him. I donít know about you, but when a loud voice like a trumpet goes off behind me, I jump with a start. I have no doubt that John did the same.
He turns and he looks as he expects to see the speaker of the voice. But first, he sees seven golden lampstands.
This is significant. You might be inclined to rush on past this phrase, but donít do it. It was significant to John, too, because he mentions these lampstands again in verse 13 and again in verse 20.
What was the significance of the lampstands? It was associated with the Temple. In the original Tabernacle, there was a lampstand shaped like a living tree with one branch in the middle and three branches going to one side and three branches going to the other side (Exodus 25:31-37). This stylized tree was of solid gold and it had blossoms and bulbs and branches and it held seven oil lamps.
A tree of light.
A tree of life.
Light and life go together. John tells us that this is the case. In John 1:5 he tells us that in Jesus was life, and the life was the light of the world.
Do you remember the first mention of a tree in the Bible? It was in the Garden of Eden. There were actually two trees in the garden.
When Adam and Eve ate from the first tree, they were removed from the second tree. The first tree brought death; the second tree brought life.
When the Lord gave instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and later for the Temple, it was not by chance that it included a lampstand in the shape of a tree. In this design was a promise of restored life - a tree that illuminated the way into the Holy Place.
This tells me something else about the book of Revelation. It is written on the foundation of the Old Testament. It is full of Temple Language. The symbols that we see throughout this book are not nearly so strange to us if we are familiar with our Old Testament. Indeed, Zechariah had seen a very similar vision of lampstands in Zechariah 4:2.
In verse 20 we are told the meaning behind this symbol.
"...the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:20).
Who are the lampstands? You are! You have been called to be the light of the world. Jesus said that.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16).
You are the light of the world. You might be thinking, "Wait a minute, John. I thought that it is Jesus who is the light of the world." That is correct. Jesus is the light of the world. But you are called to do His work. You are called to shine with His flame.
You are the light of the world. And that means that you are not fulfilling Godís purpose for you if you are not letting your light shine in a way that can be SEEN. Your job it to burn with the light of Christ so that people will see His flame within you.
Notice where Jesus is. He is in the midst of the lampstand. He is in the midst of the church. He is HERE. And knowing that allows you to burn brightly.
Do you remember the warning given to the church at Ephesus? That was the church which had lost its first love. It was a church of doctrinal strength; a church that had endured for the name of Christ and which had stood fast against wrong theology. They had only one problem. They had lost their first love.
But no love.
And as a result, they are given a very strong warning. It is a warning that is couched in the language of familiar symbolism.
"Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you, and WILL REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND out of its place unless you repent." (Revelation 2:5).
Do you see the warning? It is that if repentance does not take place, then there will be only six lampstands instead of seven.
4. THE RAIMENT OF THE REVELATION.
...and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. (Revelation 1:13).
Now John focuses upon the figure who is standing in the middle of the lampstands. Iím not giving anything away by saying that this is Jesus. He is described as being one like a son of man.
Notice that John could have called him a Son of Man - Jesus called Himself that often enough. But John does not do this. He describes the risen Lord as One who is LIKE a Son of Man. This was a special title to the Jews. It had its origins in the Old Testament.
I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14).
John saw the fulfillment of that Old Testament prophecy. He saw Jesus, the One who became flesh and who became like a Son of Man.
Now John focuses upon the raiment Jesus is wearing. It has special significance.
...clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. (Revelation 1:13).
These garments are familiar to the reader of the Old Testament. They are the apparel of the high priest.
Jesus is our high priest. You know the significance of the high priest. He was the only one permitted into the Holiest of Holies.
Only priests were permitted entry into the Temple. One would be selected by lots each morning and each evening to go into the Temple and offer incense upon the altar of incense while the people outside gathered to pray. On the right would be the altar of shewbread. On the left would be the golden lampstand of which we have spoken. In the middle would be the small altar of incense with its hot coals.
Past the altar of incense was a great curtain. It stood as a wall of separation from the innermost part of the Temple. No priest was ever permitted to go past this great veil. Except one - the High Priest. And he was only allowed to pass beyond the veil once a year. It would be on the Day of Atonement - Yom Kippur. He would pass beyond the veil to offer the blood of goats and calves as an atonement for the sins of the nation. This was all a picture of what Jesus did on our behalf.
Do you remember what happened when Jesus died upon the cross? The veil of the Temple ripped in two. From top to bottom. The veil that separated men from God. The veil that kept men from entering into the presence of God.
The death of Jesus changed that. It ripped the veil apart. He was the Great High Priest who put an end to that which separates us from God.
5. THE RADIANCE OF THE REVELATION.
His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.
His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.
In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. (Revelation 1:14-16).
This must have been an amazing sight. And yet, as strange as it may have been, I believe that it was somewhat familiar to John. He had read of such a description before.
I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. (Daniel 7:9).
The One that John sees now matches the Old Testament description of the "Ancient of Days." That is a title for God. Do you see the implications? It points to the deity of Christ. He is the "Ancient of Days." He is the One who lived from all eternity. He is the "I AM."
Verse 16 says that in His right hand He held seven stars. In verse 20 we shall see that these stars represent seven churches.
But John hasnít read that yet. As he first sees this vision, he would tend to think of the Old Testament association of seven stars. On three different occasions, the Old Testament speaks of the Lord having power over a stellar constellation known as the Pleiades. This constellation is made up of a tightly knit group of seven stars. They are known as the Seven Sisters.
"Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" (Job 38:31).
For those who turn justice into wormwood and cast righteousness down to the earth.
He who made the Pleiades and Orion and changes deep darkness into morning, who also darkens day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, The Lord is His name. (Amos 5:7-8).
The Old Testament taught the it was the Lord God who created the Pleiades and bound them. Now we see that it is Jesus who holds the seven stars in His hand.
Verse 16 says that out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword. This sounds rather gruesome at first reading. But remember that it is a symbol - a picture of a spiritual truth. It isnít as though Jesus is walking around somewhere with a literal sword hanging from His tonsils or a sharp case of halitosis. This is a living parable of a spiritual reality. The sword represents the Word of God.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).
The sword is a picture of power and strength. It is sharp and it is able to cut deeply. The Word of God does that. The preaching of the Word is able to change menís lives.
The creation account in Genesis 1 is filled with references to God speaking forth by the word of His power. Throughout that chapter, we see the continued refrain, "And God said..." In each case, He spoke and it was done.
The gospel has that kind of power. And not only when presented from a pulpit. You have that find of power when you share the gospel with a neighbor or a co-worker. The Lord promises that His word shall not return void - it will accomplish that for which it was intended.
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11).
Satan likes to fool us into thinking that the Word has no power. He is a liar and a deceiver.
It is like a robber being stopped by a police officer who points a gun at him. Imagine the robber trying to convince the police officer that the officerís gun has no bullets. Sounds silly? What would be even more silly is if the police officer believed the lie.
That is what we do when we fail to use the Word of God. It is powerful and it penetrates the hearts of men to change lives. It conquers men and women and kingdoms and worlds.
6. THE REACTION TO THE REVELATION.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18).
Johnís reaction to this revelation is striking. Literally. He falls to the ground as though shot with a 44 magnum. It swept him right off his feet.
I want you to notice something. John had lived with Jesus. He had eaten with Him and traveled with Him and talked with Him and slept with Him. He was familiar with the presence of Jesus. But now John sees the unveiled majesty of Christ and it is enough to sweep him off his feet.
John will see a great many things in the book of Revelation.
He will see the throne of God.
He will see the lampstands.
He will see the twenty four elders.
He will see the lake of fire.
He will see angels and demons and vials of wrath and trumpets of God.
But nothing will have such an effect on him as this vision of the glorified Christ.
I think that we too often lose sight of the glory and the holiness and the majesty of God. It shows in our prayers and in our worship and in our lack thereof.
Notice how the Lord identifies Himself:
a. I am the first and the last (1:17).
The emphasis here is on the eternal character of the Christ. Before anything existed, He was here. And when the universe is a burnt-out cinder, He shall still be here.
b. The living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore (1:18).
He is the Living One. Throughout the Old Testament, one of the regular titles for the Lord was Elohim Hayíim - the Living God. All of the other gods of the ancient world were dead. They were lifeless idols of wood and of stone. Likewise all of the gods of modern man are dead. Charles Darwin and Voltaire and Sigmund Freud and Carl Sagan are dead and buried. But God is the Living One.
c. I have the keys of death and of Hades (1:18).
In the ancient world keys were a symbol of authority. Do you remember when Jesus gave authority to Peter? Jesus had asked the disciples who they thought He really was. Peter answered that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16). Because of His insight, Jesus gave authority to Peter over His kingdom.
"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19).
Jesus holds the keys of the kingdom. He has authority over death. He conquered death when He rose from the dead. Death no longer has any power over Him. The gates of the grave have been unlocked so that He is able to grant eternal life to all who will come to Him.
7. THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THE REVELATION.
"Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
"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 of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:19-20).
Now we come to the meaning behind the symbols. We do not have to guess at the identity of the stars or the lampstand. They are explained to us in the context of the passage.
The Seven Stars ®
The angels of the Seven Churches
The Seven Lampstands ®
The Seven Churches
To which Seven Churches does this refer? To the Seven Churches mentioned by name in verse 11. The following two chapters will contain messages written to those churches.
Notice that each of those churches has an angel assigned to it. The word "angel" comes from the Greek word aggelos. It simply means "messenger." It is always the context that tells us whether it is a human messenger or a divine messenger. Throughout most of the book of Revelation when we see and aggelos it is a supernatural messenger - an angel. And that might be the case here. Or this might refer to human messengers within the church - the preachers and teachers of those churches.
The point is that Jesus is in the midst of His churches. And those who minister within His churches are carried in the palm of His hand - a hand that still bears the marks of His love for you.