By J.R. Miller
Jesus appears here to John in his banishment and reveals to him many things which John was to write and send to the churches. The writer identifies himself with the Christians to whom he sends the messages, "I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus." It is remarkable that in all the Gospel of John, the writer's name is not once mentioned. He hides himself away and exalts and honors only the one Name. Here, however, he writes in his own name. The reason for this difference may be that now John is speaking as the prophet of Christ and delivering the messages which have been entrusted to him. It was proper, therefore, that he should declare who he was, that the witness might be received with the more confidence by his friends.
The words "brother" and "companion" show John's love for his fellow Christians. He was one of them. He was their companion in the tribulation of persecution--this drew him and them close together. The phrase "patient endurance" has in it the thought of suffering which is endured sweetly and victoriously.
John refers to his own sufferings, not to plead for pity or sympathy for himself--but to honor Christ. It was "for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus" that he had been banished to the Isle of Patmos. It is an honor to be a sufferer in a worthy cause. Paul spoke of the scars and other traces of trials endured as a Christian, as "marks of Jesus."
In the narrative of his vision, John begins by saying that he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day." Here we have one of the proofs that very early, the first believers began to observe the first day of the week, the day of Christ's resurrection, rather than the Jewish Sabbath. Though far away from the worshiping assemblies of his fellow Christians, John was in the Spirit on that sacred day. We should all seek to be in the Spirit on the Lord's Day. During the week our hands are full of work that must be done.
"My prayer is not that you take them out of the world--but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it!" John 17:15-16. Unless we are watchful, the world is apt then to get into our heart--and we are apt to become secularized in spirit, made worldly-minded, losing interest in spiritual realities. The trouble is not that we are in the world--but that the world too often gets into us! It is a proper enough thing for a ship to be in the sea--but when the sea gets into the ship, there is an end to sailing. Christ wants us to be in the world--but He does not want the world to get into us!
On the Lord's Day, therefore, we should run our bark just as completely as possible out of the world's troubled waters into the peaceful bay of spiritual rest and enjoyment. A well-spent Lord's day, will keep up the spiritual tone of the life, amid the most intense pressure of week-day care.
The revelation of John came in a VISION. He saw a cluster of lamps. "I saw seven golden candlesticks." Christian churches should be like candlesticks. A candlestick itself gives no light--but it holds the candle from which the light pours forth. Christ Himself is the light--but the light can shine in this world--only in the lives of His followers. Every Christian should be a light shining before men. If we live worthily--we make the world a little brighter. If we live carelessly or inconsistently, we disappoint Christ. We must notice that the light which shines in these churches--all comes from Christ, who is "the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." We can only shine--by letting Christ's light pour through us.
John describes also the vision of Christ as He appeared that day in the midst of the golden candlesticks. "His head and his hair were white as white wool, . . . his eyes were as a flame of fire!" The words describe the glorified Christ. When He was on the earth, there was no brightness in His face as men saw Him. Once only, when He was transfigured, did the glory appear for a short time. Now, however, in heaven, all the brightness shines out unrestricted. The vision of John, gives us a glimpse of Christ as we shall see Him when He comes with clouds!
One part of this vision of Christ represented His power. "He had in his right hand seven stars." The seven stars represent the ministers of Christ on the earth. "The seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches." As Christ held the stars in His hand, so He keeps in His hand the ministers who on the earth witness for Him and serve Him. He keeps them in His care, under His protection.
Another thing in this vision, suggests the power of the living Word of Christ. "Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword!" The picture seems strange at first--a sword proceeding out of Christ's mouth. The teaching is, that Christ's weapon in the conquest of the world--is His Word, "the sword of the Spirit." He sets up no kingdoms like the kingdom of this world, with pomp and pageant, with armies and navies. He rules men's lives, and the sword He wields is His Word. The sword is sharp and two-edged. It cuts deep. It reveals sin and all lust in the heart. We should learn to use the Word of God with confidence in all our conflicts with sin, and in all our efforts to advance Christ's kingdom.
The effect of this vision upon John was overwhelming. He fell at the feet of Christ as a dead man! With infinite gentleness, Jesus came then and touched him with His right hand, bidding him "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!" Here we see Jesus a way beyond death, and His life has not been harmed by dying. None of His glory was quenched by death's floods. He still lives--and has all the grace, gentleness and love that He had before. Neither does death injure our friends who die in Christ. It robs the believer of no beauty. Indeed, in this world, life at the best--is only like an opening bud; in dying, the bud opens into the full-blown rose!
Not only is Christ Himself beyond death and its power--but He is the "Living one!" That is, the only one who really lives, having life in Himself. He is the great fountain and source of all life. Besides, He has power over all the realm of death. "I have the keys of death and of Hades." Keys are the symbols of authority. Christ can open the doors of earth's prison-houses when He will--and bring out His people who are under death's power! He Himself lay in the grave and then arose and came forth. In like manner, in His own time He will call up all who sleep in Him. "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who are fallen asleep in Jesus--will God bring with him."
Another thought suggested by Christ with the keys of death in His hand is, that He is the Guide of His people now in this lonely walk through the valley of death. He knows the way by experience, and thus is prepared to conduct us over it.