The Mystery of the Seven Stars and the Seven Candlesticks. Rev. 1, 1-20.

The superscription: V.1. The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John; v.2. who bare record of the Word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. V.3. Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand. From the beginning the author claims for his book divine authorship: The apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him, to show His servants what is bound to happen soon; and He sent and signified it through His angel to His servant John. Ordinarily the future is hidden from the eyes of men; the knowledge of events that are yet to transpire is a matter of God’s foreknowledge. But as He did in other cases, so He here made a revelation, a disclosure; He drew aside the veil which hides the mysteries of the future from the eyes of the believers. It was a revelation on the part of Jesus Christ, which had been communicated to the Son by the Father, the only-begotten Son of God thus again acting as a messenger and prophet in making known to men the truth of God. This message was directed to the servants of the Lord, to the Christians, and its contents consisted in the relation of certain events which were bound to happen soon according to the will and knowledge of God, happenings of great importance in the history of the Church. In thus uncovering the future, the Lord sent His message through an angel, one of the spirits whose work consists in serving Him, in carrying out His commands. He signified, or revealed, it to John in visions, not in express words and exact language, but in pictures, whose significance is, to some extent, explained.

In this manner the message was to be brought to men: Who bore witness of the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, what he saw. John was the instrument or means in spreading the message which he had received. The content of his testimony was the Word of God, the Word which came from God and spoke of God, and the witness of Jesus Christ the Savior. The entire apostolic doctrine is this message of God and of His Son Jesus Christ, in whom He revealed Himself. But in this book John embodied those special truths of the Gospel which he saw in the visions which were vouchsafed to him in such a miraculous manner.

Of the readers he says in a very general manner: Blessed he that reads and they that hear the word of the prophecy and hold firmly to that which is written in it; for the time is near. This is the first of the seven beatitudes in the Book of Revelation, and is purposely set at the head of the book as a whole. Not all the Christians of those days were able to read, since many of them were slaves. Therefore both he that read the words of this message to others and they that listened to, and heeded, its contents are called blessed. For it is not enough to read and hear the prophecy, the Word of the Lord, in a mere mechanical manner, for it is not mere prediction that we are concerned with in these pages, but religious truth and instruction in the way of salvation. It requires a careful and firm keeping, an observing of its injunctions, a relying upon its comforting promises in steadfast faith, Luke 11, 28. This attitude is required all the more strongly since “the time” is near, we are living in God’s last hour of the world. As Luther says, this is no time for being slothful and sleeping. Prayerful vigilance must characterize The Christians in these last days of sore distress.

The prolog: V.4. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before His throne, v.5. and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness and the First begotten of the dead and the Prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, v.6. and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His father: to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. V.7. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen. V.8. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. This paragraph strikes the keynote of the entire book, its sentences moving forward with majestic grandeur. This is evident even in the salutation: John to the seven congregations that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him that is and that was and that is coming, and from the seven Spirits that are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the First-born of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. The effect of this greeting is overwhelming in its stateliness and beauty. John is addressing the seven congregations in the province of Asia, the seven principal stations where the Word of God had taken hold, congregations whose conditions permit us to form a picture of the circumstances of the Church of Christ until the end of time. The greeting comprises the summary of the Gospel: grace, the free favor and love which the sinner has in the message of redemption, through the mercy of the Father, through the atonement of the Son, through the sanctification of the Spirit: peace, the effect of grace, which follows the reconciliation of the sinner with God, Rom. 5, 1, the peace of God which passes all understanding. This is the blessing of Jehovah, of Him that is from everlasting to everlasting, that was before the mountains were brought forth, that is coming soon to judge the world in righteousness, Jesus Christ, the Messiah. When Christ comes for the final redemption of His own, to sit in judgment upon His enemies, He will reveal Himself as the One that was from the beginning, the same throughout the eternities. The great spiritual blessings are also from the seven Spirits before the throne of grace, from the sevenfold Spirit: the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of wisdom and of knowledge, of grace and prayer, of strength and of power, of sanctification and the fear of God, Is. 11, 2. The blessings are transmitted through the office of Jesus Christ, who is a faithful Witness, a Witness to the truth of the Gospel, John 3: 32; 1 Pet. 2, 22. He sealed His message with His blood and death, but He also conquered death and rose as the First-born from the dead, 1 Cor. 15, 23. And now that He is exalted to the right hand of the divine power, He is the Prince of the rulers of the earth, the Lord of lords and the King of kings, Ps. 2.

To this exalted Christ John now addresses a doxology: To Him that loved us and loosed us from our sins with His blood, and made us a kingdom, priests to God and His Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever, Amen. The eternal love which Christ had in His heart for us has been shown by the most indubitable proof: He delivered, or loosed, us from our sins at the cost of His own life, by giving His blood as a ransom for us. Thereby He has brought us into a relationship with Him which includes glorious privileges. He has constituted us His kingdom, we are kings before Him, Ex. 19, 6. At the same time we are priests to God and His Father: we have the privilege of intimate access to God as the result of Christ's sacrificial death. We are a royal priesthood. a chosen generation, a peculiar people, 1 Pet. 2, 9. All our enemies are conquered before us, and we are heirs of the everlasting kingdom of heaven. For this we give eternal praise, glory, and power to Him alone; that is our true priestly sacrifice.

The apostle now takes up the thought which was interrupted by the doxology: Behold, He is coming on the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those that pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will howl over Him. Yea, Amen. The mind of the prophet is here carried forward to the great day when the majesty of the Lord will appear, the great Day of Judgment. With or on the clouds He will appear, Matt. 26, 64; Dan. 7, 13. The eyes of all men mill see Him as He comes to Judgment, and those that pierced His hands and feet and sides with nails and the lance, all the godless men of the whole earth to whom this sin is imputed by virtue of their unbelief, will behold Him returning as their Judge, for then it will be too late for repentance. All that the unbelievers can do and will do on that day will be to weep and howl because of Him, gibbering in helpless terror in anticipation of the horrible fate which they see before their eyes. That is the solemn, dreadful truth.

Now the Lord Himself is introduced as speaking: I am Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, He that is and was and is coming, the Almighty. Alpha and Omega, as the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, are designations of the beginning and the end, and are fitly used of Him and by Him who is true God with the Father from eternity, Is. 41, 4; 44, 6; 45, 12. Like the Father, Christ is from everlasting to everlasting, and He is the almighty God. No enemy is too mighty for Him, not even the hosts of Satan; all things are placed under His feet. That is the great comfort of the believers, the certain foundation upon which their faith rests.

John's commission to write: V.9. I, John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. V.10. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, v.11. saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last; and, What thou seest, write a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. For the third time John, writing with solemn emphasis, mentions his name: I, John, your brother and companion in the tribulation and in the kingdom and in the patience in Jesus Christ, found myself on the island which is called Patmos on account of the Word of God and on account of the testimony of Jesus. John knows nothing of hierarchical aspirations: he does not even mention his special office. It is with a show of calm satisfaction that he calls himself the brother of the believers to whom lie is writing, and their companion in every form of Christian experience. Cp. Phil. 1, 7. All believers are partakers of the tribulations which came upon Christ; they know that they can expect nothing else in this world. But at the same time John and all believers are partakers in the kingdom of Christ, at once the most miserable in the sight of men and the most blessed in the sight of God. and therefore we share also in the patience of Christ, for tribulation, endured for the sake of Christ, works patience, Rom. 15, 5; Phil. 1, 29; Heb. 12, 1. Thus we are enabled to persevere, to be steadfast in the midst of all the misery and distress and afflictions of this life. - John says that he found himself, that he was, on the island called Patmos, banished from Ephesus by an imperial decree. But it was not as a criminal that he was suffering the due punishment of any crime. He was there for the sake of the Word of God, which he had preached so fearlessly: because of his testimony of Jesus Christ, whom he confessed so willingly. It was a form of martyrdom which John suffered in his exile.

John now describes the manner in which he first received the revelation of the Lord: I found myself in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, What thou seest write into a book, and send it to the seven congregations: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea. It was on the Lord's day, on a Sunday, that this revelation was vouchsafed to John, probably while he was busy with his special Sunday devotions. The entire book, as one commentator remarks, makes the impression that it belongs to Sunday; there is something of a holiday, something festive about it. John found himself in the spirit, in that peculiar ecstasy which detached the mind from the body, as it commonly attended special prophetic revelation, Ezek. 37, 1; Dan. 10; 2 Cor. 12. 17. While he was in this state, it seemed to him that the sound of a great trumpet came from behind him, the voice in the sound commissioning him to put the description of the visions which he would see down on paper and send the book to the seven principal congregations of proconsular Asia. Ephesus was the most important city of this district, on the Caystrian Gulf, in Lydia. Smyrna was about forty miles north of Ephesus, on the Smyrnean Gulf; it has grown in importance steadily and is now the largest city on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. Pergamos, or Pergamum, about sixty miles northeast of Smyrna, in Mysia, was the capital of a former small, but wealthy kingdom, noted for its splendid library. Thyatira was a city in Lydia, on the road from Pergamos to Sardis, a prosperous manufacturing town. Sardis, thirty miles south of Thyatira, was the ancient capital of Croesus, the wealthy king of Lydia, whose empire was overthrown by Cyrus the Great. Philadelphia, about twenty-fire miles southeast of Sardis, also in Lydia, was the center of a rich farming region. Laodicea, finally, the capital of Phrygia, some fifty miles from Philadelphia, was noted for its prosperity, a fact which caused it to be very independent. Note that the order of the names is that of a circuit, such as one would make in starting from Ephesus and traveling clockwise.1)

The vision of the Son of Man: v.12. and I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; v.13. and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. V.14. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were as a flame of fire, v.15. and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters. V.16. And He had in His right hand seven stars; and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. John records, first of all, what impression the voice made upon him: And I turned around to see the voice which spoke with me. Not from mere curiosity, but compelled by the power from above, which is apparent throughout the visions, John turned around to see whose was the voice that spoke to him. The expression is purposely given in an odd form, to concentrate the attention upon the voice, the word of Christ.

John now describes what he saw: And having turned around, I saw seven golden lamp-stands, and in the midst of the lamp-stands one similar to a Son of Man clothed in a long robe and girded across his breast with a golden belt. The prophet saw, not a single candlestick with seven lamps, Ex. 25, 37; Zech. 4, 2. 10, but seven individual cressets, or lamp-stands. The time of the Jewish Church was past, and therefore its symbol was no longer in use. Seven lamps, representing seven congregations, are mentioned, since these do not comprise the Church, but the entire Church is reflected in them. In the midst of the cressets stood He that was like a Son of Man, Dan. 7, 13. The congregations are inseparable from their Head and Center Jesus, who abides and moves among the cressets of His temple with the dignity and authority of a high priest. This is indicated by the long robe reaching to the feet, which was a mark of dignity in the Orient, cp. Is. 6, 1, as well as by the golden girdle about the breast, which showed the flowing garment to the best advantage and added to the majesty of the wearer. Note that Christ is described as being similar to a man; He possesses a true human nature, but with this is combined the majesty of His eternal Godhead, which elevates Him far above a mere human being. He is both our High Priest and our King.

The description continues: His head and hair were white as wool, white as snow, and His eyes were like a flame of fire, and His feet were like burnished bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the voice of many waters. Cp. Dan. 7, 9. Just as in the Old Testament prophecy the Ancient of Days, the Father, is pictured with white hair, so Christ here, by the same token, is shown to be the everlasting God, Is. 9, 6. The eyes like flaming fire signify the combination of burning zeal and of holy omniscience in one whose essence abhors sinfulness and impurity in every form. The word which is translated “brass” designates an alloy of metals which seems to have been very much like our bronze. His feet were like this metal as it glowed and melted in the intense heat of the furnace. Where He goes, He spreads terror in the ways of those that have rejected Him; He is like a consuming fire to the unbelievers. His voice was like the mighty rushing of many waters, Dan. 10, 6, which threatens the enemies of the Church and hinders them in their designs against the saints of the Lord.

The apostle finally writes: And having in His right hand seven stars, and a two-edged sharp sword projecting out of His mouth, and His appearance as the sun shines in his strength. The seven stars are the angels, or ministers, of the seven congregations, v.20. These He holds in His right hand, to indicate that they belong to Him, that He holds and protects them by His almighty power, John 10, 28. The sharp, two-edged sword going forth from the mouth of the Lord is His Word, the breath of His mouth, Heb. 4, 12, powerful to overcome all the godless and adversaries, Is. 49, 2; 11, 4; 2 Thess. 2, 8. His entire appearance, the impression which John received from the whole vision, was that of a form surrounded with rays of the strongest sun-light, emanating a splendor greater than that of the sun at midday, penetrating through fog and clouds. The believers receive light and power from Him, but the unbelievers shrink and shrivel and wither before the power of His holy gaze.

Christ commands John to write: V.17. and when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And he laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me. Fear not; I am the First and the Last; v.18. I am he that liveth and was dead; and. behold, I am alive forevermore, amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. V.19. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; v.20. the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches. The first and immediate effect of the vision upon John: And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet like dead, and He laid His right hand upon me, saying. Fear not. I am the First and the Last and the Living One; and I was dead, and, behold. I am alive forever and ever, and have the keys of death and of hell. That is the first effect of the majestic appearance of the Lord: deadly terror and fear. Sinful man cannot endure the splendor and the purity of the holy God, Gen. 16, 14; Is. 6, 5. But at the same time there is wonderful comfort in the appearance of the Lord in this vision, since it is impossible for His enemies to stand in His sight. For that reason the Lord laid His hand upon John with an assurance of wonderful consolation. The precious Gospel-call “Fear not” was intended to take all the fear out of his heart and to fill him with trust and confidence. What is true of the Lord Jehovah, Is. 44, 6, is true also of Christ: He is the First and the Last, He is from everlasting to everlasting, the Refuge and the Strength of all believers until the end of time. He is the Living One, John 5, 21. 26. He is the Resurrection and the Life; he that believes in Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that lives and believes in Him shall never die, John 11, 25. 26. Christ was dead, He did truly lay down His life in death for the guilt of mankind, but His last cry on the cross, with which He commended His spirit into the hands of His heavenly Father, was a cry of victory, John 10, 18; Rom. 6, 9. 10. By His victory over death and hell Christ is the Living One from eternity to eternity, also according to His human nature. And He has the keys of death and hell, unlimited power to save and to condemn. Those that accept Him in true faith as the Savior of the world will receive at His hands eternal life with all the unspeakable bliss that this implies; those that reject His atonement will receive the sentence of everlasting death and damnation. Sublime majesty and power is evident in every word spoken by the Lord.

Clothed with this authority, He now commands: Write what thou sawest, and what is and what is destined to happen after this, the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest on My right hand, and the seven golden lamp-stands. The contents of the entire series of visions concerning both the present and the future John was to embody in a book. The matters of the present time were especially those which were spoken of in the seven letters to the Asiatic churches. The Lord wanted to explain to John what He meant by the seven stars, v.16, and by the seven lamp-stands, or cressets, v.12; He had a message for His Christians at that time and for all subsequent ages. He Himself explains: The seven stars are angels of the seven congregations, and the seven lamp-stands are the seven congregations. The angels are the ministers of the Lord, the pastors of the congregations, called stars on account of their proclamation of the heavenly doctrine, Mal. 2, 7; Dan. 12, 3. And the congregations are golden cressets, or lamp-stands, through Christ, who gives them the true value and ornament, and through His Gospel, which is the light in them. This light should shine forth from the individual Christians as well as from the entire congregations, both in Christian confession and in Christian conduct, these two being the chief glory of the Church on earth.

Summary. The prophet introduces the book of his visions with a superscription, a prolog, and with an account of his commission to write, as given him by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, as the great High Priest of the New Testament.