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The Mandate

 

 

And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. 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 which you saw are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:16–20).

 

We perhaps cannot comprehend the physical and emotional stress the Apostle John was under when he experienced this powerful vision of the Glorified Christ. He had been used to the “meek and mild” Jesus he experienced in the days of his youth. He had seen and undoubtedly touched the resurrected Christ but received no overwhelming shock in doing so.

He had labored for about 60 years doing the work of an apostle. He had been given the responsibility to take care of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We can assume he did that faithfully and carefully until the day of her death. We have no reliable record of that history. He probably remained in Judea until the death of Mary, after which we have no historical record of his whereabouts until he lived in Ephesus. We can assume that he was not living in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s last visit to that city in about 60 a.d. as mentioned in the twentieth chapter of Acts. There is a legend that John was shipwrecked off the coast of Ephesus and arrived in the city just in time to counteract the progress of some heresies that sprang up after the earlier departure of Paul. John outlived the original Apostles and apparently died a natural death at an advanced age, possibly in the year 106 a.d.

Just prior to receiving the Book of Revelation, John had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos during the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Domitian in 81 a.d. Being close to 80 years old and living under difficult conditions of the penal colony, it is not difficult to imagine that John was exhausted, enduring the aches and pains of advanced age, and mentally and emotionally worn-out.

 

John Faints When He Sees The Glorified Christ

 

With that background we find John in private devotion on the Lord’s Day as he had undoubtedly done most of his life. With the revere of worship on his heart he suddenly hears a loud voice behind him like a trumpet blast. He turns to see the voice and he sees the glorified Christ. With his physical and mental constitution weakened by age and deprivation, he is overwhelmed. In his own words, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead” This suggests that John experienced a sudden shock brought about by the sudden loud sound and the awesome appearance of the person he saw. John was not the first person to collapse in the presence of the glorified Christ.

Daniel experienced a similar thing in Daniel 8:17, 27, “So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face . . .  And I, Daniel, fainted and was sick for days”.

Ezekiel had a similar experience as recorded in Ezekiel 1:28, “Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking”.

Some critics would have us believe that John was merely copying what these ancient prophets wrote to give himself credibility as having had this similar supernatural experience. The critics can say what they like, but that does not make it so. The evidence of his advanced age and situation and the suddenness and uniqueness of his experience are sufficient evidence, along with what follows, that John had indeed encountered the Glorified Christ.

Jesus reached out and touched John with His right hand. Daniel had another fainting episode in chapter 10 of the book of Daniel. He describes it as a deep sleep on his face. What aroused him was the touch of a hand, which made him tremble on his knees and on the palms of his hands. Following the touch, the Lord said, “Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong”. And the Voice proceeded to tell him why He had come to him. John’s experience is similar. The Voice also says to him, “Do not be afraid”, and then proceeds to tell him why He had come to him.

It must be noticed that Jesus reached out and touched John with His right hand. This is notable because Jesus was holding seven stars in His right hand. A moment later Jesus explains that the seven stars are the angels, or the ministry, of the seven churches. Jesus shows us at the very beginning of the Revelation that He ministers to people directly through the work of His church. In John’s experience here we see a symbolic picture of Jesus raising people from spiritual sleep through the ministry of His church preaching the gospel of salvation from sin.

 

The First and the Last With Power over Hades and Death

 

As John awakens from his collapse, he hears Christ identify Himself for the third time: I am the First and the Last. As said earlier, this is a declaration by Christ the all that is included in the Godhead is included in Him. The same declaration is found in Isaiah 44:6,

 

 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.

 

In being the First, He declares that He is the Creator. Recall what He said in Isaiah 48:12–13,

 

Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, And My right hand has stretched out the heavens.

 

In being the Last, He is always the same and He endures for all time and beyond. The Psalmist captures the essence of Christ’s eternal existence in Psalm 102:25–27,

 

 Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will have no end.

 

Christ also asserts His supreme authority over Hades and death. The word Hades appears in the King James Version as the word hell, which most people associate with the place of eternal damnation. Hades is the correct rendering of the word as it is a transliteration of the Greek word, which means the abode of the dead, the grave. The word death is the Greek word thanatos, which means death, as in dying or ceasing to live. Does the Glorified Christ have power over the grave and death? Look at what Jesus said in John 5:28–29,

 

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

 

Yes, Christ does have power over the grave! The power of Christ is absolute and universal as declared in Matthew 28:18, “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority (power) has been given to Me in heaven and on earth”. Heaven and earth encompass everything that exists and Christ has all power, all authority, over everything that exists.

With all power and authority, Christ will inevitably have the last word in all things, the final judgment as written by the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:10, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ . . . So then each of us shall give account of himself to God”.

 

The Mandate

 

After reviving John, Christ gives John the mandate to write the Book of Revelation. The mandate is given in Revelation 1:19, “Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this”. John is to write down three things: what he has seen, the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. At this point, the mandate seems to be somewhat ambiguous and needs clarification. I will call upon several commentators to help us on this point.

Adam Clarke makes a brief comment on the meaning of the mandate:

 

These visions and prophecies are for general instruction, and therefore every circumstance must be faithfully recorded. What he had seen was to be written; what he was about to see, relative to the seven Churches, must be also written; and what he was to see afterwards, concerning other Churches and states, to be recorded likewise.

 

In short, what he has seen is the vision of the Glorified Christ. What he was about to see concerned the seven specific churches of Asia. And, what he was to see afterward concerns other churches.

Albert Barnes essentially agrees with Clarke but expands on the meaning of that which will take place after this:

 

The more natural interpretation, however, would seem to be, that it would stretch far into future years, and that it was designed to give at least an outline of what would be the character of the future in general.

 

Uriah Smith writes concerning this mandate:

 

A more definite command is given in this verse [verse 19] to John to write the entire Revelation, which would relate chiefly to things which were then in the future. In some few instances, events that in the past or then transpiring were referred to; but these references were simply for the purpose of introducing events to be fulfilled after that time, and so that no link in the chain might be lacking.

 

In fewer words, he was to write about some events in the past and some things that were then present as they would impact some future events.

F. G. Smith perhaps makes a clearer statement about the mandate:

 

Here John received a special commission to write the things of the future that were to be given, the things that were then taking place, and also certain events which had come under his personal observation during his life-time, and which were also included in the symbolic visions, thus covering the entire gospel dispensation.

 

Perhaps the clearest statement about the mandate is found in The Revelation with Gospel and Prophecy by J. F. Lawson, P. D. Turnbow, and D. W. Rogers:

 

In this vision John saw things that happened back at Pentecost, things that were taking place while he lived, and also the things that would happen in the future.

 

In summary, we can say that what John was about to see and record would be symbolic pictures of some events in the Kingdom he personally experienced, such as the Day of Pentecost; some events that were currently happening at the time he was living; and, some events that would happen in the future, beyond his life-time.

 

The Stars and Lampstands Defined

 

Jesus then reinforces the symbolic nature of the things John was about to see as He personally defines two symbols already seen by John. The seven stars in the right hand of Christ are the angels of the seven churches. The lampstands in the menorah are the seven churches. Uriah Smith comments concerning the seven churches.

 

Again, John, looking into the Christian dispensation, saw only seven candlesticks, representing seven churches, in the midst of which stood the Son of man. The position of the Son of man in their midst must denote his presence with them, his watchcare over them, and his searching scrutiny of all their works. But does he thus take cognizance of only seven individual churches in this dispensation? May we not rather that this scene represents his position in reference to all his churches during the gospel age?

 

That the lampstands represent the church was discussed earlier when we looked at verse 12. There are differences of opinion as to the meaning of the seven churches. One is to limit the scope of the Revelation only to these seven churches. Another view as promoted by Uriah Smith along with most of the teaching of the Church of God on the Revelation is that the seven churches represent seven church ages throughout the gospel dispensation.

The idea that each church represents a prominent condition in each of the seven church ages is somewhat of an overreach in my opinion. First, in the letters to the churches, Christ addresses specific conditions that then existed individually in each of the churches mentioned. Second, any or all of these same conditions can exist in any individual church or congregation at any given time. For example, the charge of leaving the first love addressed to the church in Ephesus not only existed there in the first century, and perhaps in the church at large in that century, it has shown itself in churches throughout the gospel dispensation, and we see it ever so prominent in our time.

Going forward in our study, it is my opinion that all of the conditions represented by the letters to the seven churches are common conditions the church has had to battle throughout the church age. It behooves us to learn about these conditions and where a good condition exists, let us support and encourage it; and, where a wrong or bad condition exits, let us recognize it, be honest about it and follow the instruction of the Holy Spirit concerning that condition.