The Revelation: Letters to Seven Churches

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaI’m not going to attempt a verse-by-verse exposition of the introduction or seven letters that begin the Revelation. The territory is familiar, and there are many helpful resources, including Tim Archer’s and Steve Ridgell’s Letters from the Lamb.

(Tim often comments here, and I have a copy of his book right here. I’m a fan.)

Gorman makes some keen observations regarding the introduction and the letters in general.

Regarding the introductory section of chapter 1, he observes and offers details for how similarly Jesus and God are described. Similar language is used of both here and throughout Revelation, clearly intending to show the God-ness of Jesus.

Moreover, Jesus is described both as the “son of man” and as similar to the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel’s prophecies, in a sense, identifying him as both human and God — filling both places in the prophecies.

The opening vision (1:9–20) draws on Daniel 7:9–14 to depict Christ as a powerful, priestly, and present (to the churches) figure. But by attributing to Jesus the features of both the human one (“one like a human being” or “son of man”; Rev 1:13; Dan 7:9) and the Ancient One (Rev 1:14; Dan 7:9) in Daniel 7, John tells us that Jesus partakes of God’s identity and reign. Thus both the prologue of Revelation (1:1–8) and its opening vision tell us that Jesus really is Lord.

Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 2103-2107). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

starry starry nightImmediately, we should realize that Revelation is book more for poets than logicians. When we dissect it like a proof in geometry class, we destroy what’s there. It’s rather like trying to appreciate Van Gogh one pointillist pixel at a time. It’s how it all fits together that creates the picture and the beauty.

It’s not that we’re supposed to understand exactly how Jesus can be both the Ancient of Days and the son of man in Daniel’s prophecies. Rather, we are to celebrate this fact. Church councils are welcome to wrestle with the philosophical implications and search for language to reconcile the paradox. The Revelation wasn’t written to answer the metaphysical questions. It was written to declare the true nature of the Savior and to glory in it.

(Rev. 1:12-19 ESV) 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,  13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.  14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire,  15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.  16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.  17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,  18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.  19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 

Now, like everyone else, I have Google Images, and I’ve seen artists try to portray a two-edged sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus — with all the other characteristics listed here. Nothing wrong with the effort, but it never quite works as a painting. Too literal. But if you linger over the words, savoring the images as they flow through your mind, you come to see Jesus in a different way. Not literal. Not a single picture, but a series of images that flow by, each revealing a different facet of who he is.

Take the time to check cross references. Or do word searches for phrases and see what the OT allusions add to the picture. John assumes that we’re already familiar with the imagery from Daniel, Isaiah, etc. — but we’re not.

Just a couple of thoughts to share. “One like a son of man” is from Dan 7 — which you should read. It pictures the Ancient of Days (God, but not just God the Father; it’s all of God); the one like a son of man (surely Jesus); and “the saints” or “holy ones” (Christians, the true Israel); and a kingdom. This language was highly influential in the words of Jesus found in the Gospels, as well as the Revelation. And there is yet another apparent contradiction, in that “dominion” is given both to the son of man and to the people of the Kingdom — but by now, I’ve surely covered that point often enough that the resolution of the paradox is obvious. We sit on the throne with Jesus — Eph 2:6.

Language such as “I am the first and the last,” referring to Jesus, obviously parallels the declaration where God says the same about himself at the end of the book (Rev 22:13), but also —

(Isa. 44:6 ESV)  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.”

And we could spend gazillions of posts digging out the cool OT references and ponder the depths of their meaning — which would be time very well spent. But we’re trying to search out the big picture — the one that so often gets lost in the details.

The Seven Letters

When we read these seven messages, we are struck by two major problems that the churches are confronting: the reality of various kinds of persecution, and the strong temptation to accommodate, with accommodation perhaps being seen by some as the way to avoid or stop persecution. The seven messages tell us that there is a wide spectrum within the churches, from the highly accommodating to those who are persecuted—undoubtedly for not accommodating.

(Kindle Locations 2238-2240).

After briefly reviewing each letter, Gorman concludes as to the seven letters together,

While each church receives a message reflecting its own situation, there is one overarching issue: whether or not to compromise. Specifically, will these churches be faithful witnesses both to Jesus and like Jesus (and John!) by refraining from participation in the cultural norm of pagan religion, including the imperial cult, even if it entails serious consequences: social, economic, and political? Will they join the Nicolaitans, Balaamites, followers of Jezebel, and Laodiceans who are participating in various forms of compromise and accommodation, which John labels idolatry, or will they abstain—“come out” (18:4)—and be willing to suffer like John, like Antipas of Pergamum (2:13), and like Jesus himself?

These assemblies of believers are participating in a struggle, even in a war—the war of the Lamb. The Lamb is there with them, as their shepherd and example, calling them to renewed devotion. They will be victorious in this war, not by wielding swords, but by following Jesus in “uncivil” worship [that is, worship not tied to the civil government] and faithful witness. But some of them, at least, are at risk of losing the cosmic battle, and of course John wants them to win. They all need to be faithful witnesses, which may mean actual martyrdom for some.

(Kindle Locations 2321-2331).

Now, viewed this way, rather than microscopically, the letters present a serious challenge to today’s church. We may not need to worry about meat sacrificed to idols, but what about other contemporary forms of idolatry? Do we idolize our country? Our political party? Our candidate? Do we idolize the military might of the American people? Our soldiers? Would we sooner give our lives for our commander in chief than for our Savior? For an American war rather than the Lamb’s war against the beast of Babylon? Would you rather your child grow up to be soldier in the nation’s army or the Lord’s army?

Why let your child go to Syria as a soldier but not as a missionary? I mean, if the Revelation tells us anything, it’s that we’re part of a cosmic battle that may cost our lives.

When I was in the Fourth Grade, after she taught the Five Steps of Salvation I asked my Bible class teacher, “What next?” After baptism, are we done? Or is there another step to get to heaven? After all, we might live for a very long time afterwards. She was flummoxed. She said she’d get back with an answer the next week.

True to her word, she did. She said she’d talked to the preacher, and step 6 was found in Revelation:

(Rev. 2:10b KJV) … be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

She explained that this meant we should obey Jesus for the rest of our lives. Which is not wrong but also not complete.

Many years later, I read the NIV version —

(Rev. 2:10b NIV) Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Well, this was quite another thing!

The church is to continue faithful even though it may lead to death (cf. Rev 12:11; Heb 12:4)

Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 76. Compare the NET Bible translation and Robert W. Wall, UBCS commentary.

Well, martyrdom has rarely been preached in the last 200 years, and certainly not as part of the Plan of Salvation. We don’t see what we don’t expect. But if this verse (and many very similar ones) were more often preached, we might have a much more vigorous missionary effort — because I believe our biggest barrier to saving the world is not money but fear.

[This Don McLean tune keeps popping into my head. Maybe because I can’t help but see the images in Revelation as though painted by Van Gogh. He didn’t, but he should have — because he brilliantly created paintings that weren’t quite literal but also weren’t truly abstract. Like the Apocalypse.]

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to The Revelation: Letters to Seven Churches

  1. Tim Archer says:

    Hey, thanks for the shout out. I’m really enjoying this series. Just not sure if I’ll even need to read Gorman after this in-depth analysis.

  2. John F says:

    “John assumes that we’re already familiar with the imagery from Daniel, Isaiah, etc. — but we’re not.”

    As we are not (familiar as we should be with Daniel), I would think 1st century Asain, largely Gentile churches would not be familiar as well.

    Reading your quote from Gorman, I am reminded of LaGard Smith’s “Cultural Church” writing.

    We American churches, almost w/o exception, have adapted to our culture, mostly to our loss.

  3. laymond says:

    “This Don McLean tune keeps popping into my head. Maybe because I can’t help but see the images in Revelation as though painted by Van Gogh.”

    Jay, if you are saying reading Revelation, is a depressing adventure, I certainly agree most depressed book in the bible. I see Van Gogh as the most depressed painter .
    And we can add Don McLean in the depressed list of artist as well. the list you have mentioned here give credence to the notion that the illness called “depression” has existed through out man’s existence, and has nothing to do with the situation one finds their self in. If environment was the main reason for depression, Jesus would have been depressed all the time, but instead he was a hopeful looking forward person. I try to follow that example . look forward. I don’t spend a lot of time reading Revelation. I wish the bible had more about Jesus’ personality , but my own impression will have to do , I imagine him as a happy go lucky guy with a bent to pull pranks on the guys. serious when he had to be, but fun mixed in. no depression.

  4. Alabama John says:

    Sounds just like you describing yourself laymond!!!!

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Tim,

    You are quite right. I’ve been lazy. Once we get past Rev 5, I’ll be less reliant on Gorman. I might even say something original — although it’s very hard to do when speaking of the Revelation.

  6. laymond says:

    Like I said John, I try to be like what I believe Jesus to have been. no time for depression, just happy and hopeful thoughts. serious when the occasion warrants, but I try to never give a person a reason to be depressed. I love to be around people and I love for people to like to be around me. I don’t mind speaking up when I think someone is doing wrong, especially if my speaking up might help someone.

  7. Dwight says:

    Since Revelation isn’t gospel, but revelation of what has been/will be in figurative language, there is no wrong except trying to codify it and make it law. It is certainly graphic and visceral, but not depressing.

  8. laymond says:

    Do you think not Dwight. I can’t think of anything more depressing than to open the door to hell.

    Rev 9:1 ¶ And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
    Rev 9:2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
    Rev 9:3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
    Rev 9:4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.
    Rev 9:5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
    Rev 9:6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
    Rev 9:7 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
    Rev 9:8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
    Rev 9:9 And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.
    Rev 9:10 And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.
    Rev 9:11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.
    Rev 9:12 One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.

  9. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    You mentioned, “Language such as “I am the first and the last,” referring to Jesus, obviously parallels the declaration where God says the same about himself at the end of the book (Rev 22:13), but also”.

    I cannot see how the text changes from Jesus in verse 12 to God in Rev 22:13. The identification
    (I am) in both 12 and 13 appears to be Jesus. I have never seen the phrase (I am coming) in Revelation to refer to anyone except Jesus.
    (Rev 3:11 ESV) I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
    (Rev 16:15 ESV) (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”)
    (Rev 22:7 ESV) “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
    (Rev 22:12 ESV) “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.
    (Rev 22:20 ESV) He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
    If we read this text like we have been discussing (a story) then it appears to me that Jesus was speaking this complete section of text from verse 12-19 and verse 20-21 is a commentary by the writer John.
    Rev 22:12-21 ESV “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. (13) I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (14) Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (15) Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (16) “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (17) The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (18) I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, (19) and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. (20) He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (21) The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

    In these two places it seems to be God speaking, but; “who is and who was” sounds like was, was not and now is, Jesus fits that as well as who is to come.
    Rev 1:8 ESV “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

    Rev 21:5-7 ESV And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (6) And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (7) The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

  10. laymond says:

    Reading Revelation

    Rev 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
    Rev 1:2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
    ( we need to bare in mind these three vs. when we read everything written between them, context, a good book brings the beginning, and the end together)
    Rev 22:20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

    Jesus is the witness in the beginning, and also in the end. Just like the book of John the book is not about Jesus, it is about God, and God’s word. when we read the bible as a story about Jesus , we ignore the teachings of Jesus. The two edged sword coming from the mouth of Jesus is the “word of God” Just as in the Gospel of John, the words Jesus spoke came to him from God, we ignore this at our own peril . Just as Jesus said man will be judged by the “word of God” not by the Son of man.

  11. laymond says:

    Rev 22:12- 13 ESV “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. (13) I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

    Jhn 12:47 And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
    Jhn 12:48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
    Jhn 12:49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
    Jhn 12:50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

    So Larry do you think we will be judged by God, or Jesus.

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond,
    There seems to be many different applications as to who is judging. We can easily look at what Jesus has said about judging. Sometimes he has said he does not judge but it is his Word which will judge. Then there are times when he says that God or The Father judges (but notice it says through the man he has appointed, could that be anyone except Jesus) and times when he says that we judge ourselves. It is very apparent that God judges all who are not named in The Book of Life. It is my understanding that Jesus paid the price for the sins of all who become his disciples and each of their names are written in The book of Life, if your name is in The Book of Life you will not be judged. If you were judged then, would not the concept be that Jesus was not able to fully cleanse you from your sins, in another thought if your name was written in The Book of Life by The Lamb, who would God judge you or The Lamb?

    So to answer your question. If you have become a Christian you will not be judged, but if you did not then Jesus’ Words have judged you and God will administer the judgment.

    Joh 8:15-16 ESV You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. (16) Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.
    Joh 8:26 ESV I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.”
    Joh 12:47-48 ESV If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (48) The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

    Act 17:30-31 ESV The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (31) because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

    Rom 2:15-16 ESV They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (16) on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

    1Co 5:12-13 ESV For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (13) God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    1Co 11:31-32 ESV But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. (32) But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

    2Ti 4:1 ESV I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:

    Rev 20:12 ESV And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

  13. Dwight says:

    Laymond, That is why I intend not to be on the wrong side of God and have become a saint. For the saved hope creates joy.
    True Larry, there are many ways to be judged. God will be the final judge, but since Jesus is the Son of God, on the same level he could save and forgive, he could condemn.

  14. Ray Downen says:

    God is Creator. Yet all things were made THROUGH the Word of God who later became flesh and lived as Jesus of Nazareth. God will judge. Yet it’s JESUS, God’s Word, who will sit in judgment!

  15. laymond says:

    Ray, as you indicate “the word of God” was not Jesus at the time of creation.( ” the Word of God who later became flesh and lived as Jesus of Nazareth.” ) Actually I believe “the word” lived in Jesus. until his death. and he gave up the spirit. or ghost as the KJV prefers. I doubt that Jesus remains “the word of God” today. as we know Jesus said he had finished that Job, before he was sacrificed. and as I remember Jesus asked while on the cross “why have you forsaken me” or left me. What was he referring to? If we believe what is written, Jesus went to his father and set on God’s right hand, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. As I see it when Jesus sat on the right hand of God he returned all power to God the Father, making God whole again. And Jesus will return with angels to gather the wheat, when God tells him to do so.

  16. As to the letters to the seven churches, Watchman Nee presents them in a prophetic light in “The Orthodoxy of the Church”, which is an interesting and worthwhile read.

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