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Special Series: The seven churches of Revelation

The timeless message of Jesus Christ to his Church

By James K. Bridges

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of eight articles that will be run weekly, except for World Missions Editions.

Every follower of Jesus Christ should have a compelling interest in the Book of Revelation. It was written specifically to the church of Jesus Christ. Its messages to the seven churches are both anchored in history and applicable to the church today.

The revelation of the glorified Son of Man
As a prisoner of the Roman government, John had been exiled to the small island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea just off the coast of present-day Turkey. Though banished on earth, John was not banished from heaven. On this lonely and desolate island, through the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus was revealed to John in His glory.

It was while John was caught up in the Holy Spirit on the Lord’s Day that the Lord revealed to him the future events that would usher in the kingdom of God. The Lord has made provision for His church to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), and it is in this anointing that we may know the experience which John described as being “in the Spirit” (Revelation 1:10, NKJV).

Closely observe the Christ that John now beheld:

1. “Clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band” (1:13). Christ is no longer wearing the simple garb of a carpenter. During the last view the world had of Him, He had been stripped of all His clothes and nailed to a cross. Now He is clothed in regal garments that depict His heavenly ministry.

2. “His head and His hair were white like wool” (Revelation 1:14). This description of Christ is similar to the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7. His deity, eternity, wisdom and knowledge, symbolized by His white hair, are the same attributes as God the Father.

3. “His eyes [were] like a flame of fire” (Revelation 1:14). John had seen the look of compassion in the eyes of Jesus on many occasions, but now he sees his Master’s penetrating gaze that searches the depths of His church. “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).

4. “His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace” (Revelation 1:15). Jesus’ feet gave evidence that He had trod the furnace of affliction with His children. He moves among His church to exercise authority and to walk with His people through all the vicissitudes of life. (See Isaiah 43:2,3.)

5. “His voice [was] as the sound of many waters” (Revelation 1:15). In his Gospel, John declared that when the Son of God speaks to the spiritually dead, those who hear live (John 5:25). The time will come when the Son of God will speak to all who are dead physically, and they will come forth from the grave to be judged (John 5:28). Today, Christ is speaking to His church through the Holy Spirit: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).

6. “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16; see 19:15 and Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God can cut to wound or cut to heal. With this sword Christ will destroy His enemies, and with it He will protect His church.

7. “His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:16). Here is Christ in His heavenly estate “ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10). From this exalted position the Lord Jesus governs His vast universe and oversees His church on this earth.

The revelation of Christ in the midst of His church
“Having turned I saw seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 1:12).

John clarifies for us the symbolism of the seven lampstands when he records Jesus’ statement that “the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). Christ chose to use the symbol of a golden lampstand to depict the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Gold is a very precious metal, and it represents the worth that only Christ can put in His church. Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we do have value. It was with precious blood (of incalculable price) that we were redeemed. Like the lampstand, the church does not produce light. It is only a container, a place where the light is set. Christ is the light and His church is a lampstand on which His light is to shine through us. In this sense we can “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). The church can properly be called a light bearer for it bears the light of Christ who is the “light of the world” (John 8:12).

The seven churches are obviously representative of other churches. These were not the only churches in Asia. We know of others such as Colossae, Hierapolis, Troas, Miletus, Magnesia and Tralles. Seven is the number that stands for completeness, and these were selected because they represent the conditions that can be found among all churches throughout church history from the first century until now.

“In the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man” (Revelation 1:13).

Many believers today, like the disciples before Christ’s resurrection, do not understand the reason why Jesus had to return to heaven. He said to the early disciples, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). How is it that the glorified Christ can be found in the midst of the seven representative churches? It is because of the coming of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Christ. How was it possible for the Holy Spirit to be sent to us? It was through the heavenly ministry of the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. Had Christ remained in His earthly ministry, He would not be able to minister to the church universal.

The revelation of Christ and the leadership of His church
“The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).

Some teach that the seven stars are literal angels, but we do not find angels in the leadership of the church anywhere in the Scriptures. And, Christ would not be using John to send His Word to angels to in turn be relayed by the angels back to the churches.

These angels, or messengers, represent the pastoral leadership of the church. Christ’s message is addressed directly to the pastor, who is responsible to see that the congregation receives the blessing that belongs to those who read, hear and obey the Word of the God (Revelation 1:3). A true shepherd of Christ will see that the sheep continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). A Spirit-filled pastor will teach the people to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

“He had in His right hand seven stars” (Revelation 1:16).

John took notice that the ministers were being held in the Lord’s right hand. Here the Master can examine, encourage, discipline and give special attention to those whom He has called into ministry. It is in this close relationship that Christ can communicate to the pastors of the churches their responsibility to obey Him in carrying out His heavenly ministry of empowering His church for end-time harvest.

Christ refers to His ministers as stars because they are illuminated by the Spirit of Christ who has anointed them for the ministry to which they are called. There is a great accountability for the work of God as Paul reminded the Ephesian elders: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

The Revelation of Jesus Christ began with an awesome unveiling of the exalted Christ poised in the midst of His church with His ministers in His right hand. His sovereign appearance revealed that Christ had been glorified and ordained to guide His church and govern the universe from the throne of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Next Christ addresses His special message to each of His churches through their pastors.

James K. Bridges is general treasurer of the Assemblies of God.

This series will be expanded in a forthcoming book from Gospel Publishing House.

Next week: “Ephesus: The church in danger of extinction.”

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