Be Faithful Unto Death: Christ’s Word to a Suffering Church – Revelation 2:8-11


The text for the sermon today is Revelation 2:8-11. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

“ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’ (ESV


Smyrna, the modern-day Turkish city of Izmir, was a wealthy harbor town in the Aegean Sea, north of Ephesus. The church was likely planted by Paul at the end of his third missionary journey.

Christ, who will shortly tell them to be faithful unto death, has already blazed that trail for them. (v. 8) The Smyrnean Christians suffered economic hardship as their former friends who were Jewish informed on them to the Roman authorities, yet they were richer than they appeared. By lying about Christians, these Jews have joined the church of Satan, who is the accuser of the brothers. (v. 9; 12:10)

During the early to mid-first century, the Christian church enjoyed a degree of protection under the umbrella of Judaism, but in the aftermath of the Neronian persecution which targeted Christians, Jewish synagogues actively distanced themselves from Christianity.

There were other reasons for Jews to inform on Christians. Ignatius tells us there was jealousy that Jews were converting to Christianity and Justin, in his Dialogue tells us that the Jews considered the Christian worship of a crucified criminal as the Messiah a blasphemy.

Though the economic suffering was painful, Christ warned that intensified persecution was coming. The state will soon sponsor direct attacks on Christian congregations and members to throw them into prison. They will follow the model set by Christians like Daniel and his friends in Babylon. (Dan. 1:12-15) Faithfulness to death will receive the victor’s crown. (v. 10)

The passage ends by calling every church to heed the words of Christ. Tribulations rise in every age. The church conquers through faithful obedience will not be condemned (v. 11)


Several forms of persecution are mentioned by the Lord Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount. First, there is the persecution of the righteous by the wicked.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The wicked take God’s good gifts such as power and wealth and misuse them against the the righteous who are weak and poor. The Psalter is full of this kind of persecution, and it’s always happening. In a sense, all of human history since Genesis 3 is a history of persecution.

The second form of persecution Christ mentions is that which targets Christians for being Christians.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Formal persecution of Christians by the state, or by outsiders waxes and wanes throughout history (Domitian, Soviet Purges), and we ought not be surprised when it rears its ugly head. Though Satan cannot stop the advance of the gospel into all the nations, he may still inflict persecution to try to hamper the church’s mission.


Amazingly, Christ never tells Smyrna to pray that the tribulation might come to a close. When we read the book of Acts, a record of the earliest persecutions, the disciples never once asked God to remove the persecution. Instead, the prayer is for boldness and faithfulness in the face of persecution. This is because those first disciples understood that the same God who sent Daniel into the lion’s den, and his own Son to the cross, is the same sovereign God who has allowed persecution to come to them.

While it isn’t wrong to ask God for mercy, if “getting out of persecution,” is a higher priority than faithfulness to Christ in persecution, then the persecution won’t have done you any good.

Jesus tells the Smyrnean church that even though the devil meant to destroy them, he, Christ, meant to vindicate them as true believers through their faithfulness. In other words, every single persecution is a trial, a test of the genuineness of your faith in Christ.

The time of testing is in his hands. Some of us are looking at the trajectory of our nation. We see parental rights being stripped. We see churches being forced to not meet. And we wonder, what is happening? But Revelation 2 tells us what is happening: you are being tested. Your faith is being tried. And you don’t conquer by changing the culture. You conquer by being faithful to Jesus Christ regardless of the consequences.


Christ gives the Smyrnean church two commands: first, they are not to fear. This cannot mean that God is prohibiting the natural fear of starvation, poverty, or even death. Those are good fears, given to us by God to keep us in our creaturely place. Rather, those fears are not to overwhelm us. They are not to grow to such a size that we believe God has been rendered impotent to save us.

Second, they are to be faithful unto death.

Polycarp, one of the best-known ancient Christian martyrs, was a member of the Smyrnian church. According to the ancient church fathers Tertullian and Irenaeus, Polycarp became the senior minister of the church after he was ordained by the apostle John. No doubt this letter from Christ via John to Smyrna was a great encouragement to Polycarp.

Polycarp was in his twenties when this letter came to the church of Smyrna, and he died when he was eighty-six. On February 22, AD 156, this venerable bishop, who had fled from Smyrna at the urging of his local church, was tracked down in a hiding place twenty miles from Smyrna. He made no attempt to flee but instead offered food and drink to his captors. When they asked him if he had any special requests before being martyred, he asked for two hours for prayer. The officers granted his request, then bound him and brought him back to Smyrna for trial.

Two weeks later, Polycarp was led into the amphitheater, where he would be put to death before thousands of people. The proconsul said: “Polycarp, I will have respect for your old age. Swear just once by the genius of Caesar,2 and I will immediately release you.” Polycarp replied: “Eighty-six years have I served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” The proconsul persisted, saying: “The wild beasts are ready. If you refuse to swear by Caesar, you will be thrown to them.” Polycarp answered, “Bid them be brought.” Infuriated, the proconsul responded: “As you despise beasts, I give you one last opportunity to change your mind. Else I shall destroy you by fire.” But Polycarp refused to recant.

Polycarp was brought to the stake. Before he was fastened with cords, he said, “I have one request; leave me unfastened, for I will die voluntarily for my Master’s sake.” The captors left him unfastened as they kindled the fire. Wind drove the flames away, prolonging Polycarp’s agony, but also giving him more time to confess Christ. Over the flames and wind, Polycarp cried out, “O Lord, Almighty God, the Father of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of Thee, I thank Thee that Thou hast thought me worthy this day, this hour to share the cup of Thy Christ among the number of Thy witnesses.” That so angered one soldier that he took his sword and pierced the old man who refused to run from the flames of death.

And at that moment, a crown was set on Polycarp’s head. It was the crown that Jesus had already won for him, and for you.

Do You Know Rousseau?


Continuing our plod through the three governments that God instituted, we come now to the state or civil government. We, as a culture, have forgotten that it is God himself, not humans, who instituted civil government to uphold to rule of law and to punish lawbreakers.

The only hope for the future of civil governments is to remember to Biblical origin of civil governments. The state only possesses the authority that God has granted the state. The state is not above the law but beneath it. But, before we can define the Biblical origin of the civil government, it’s crucial that you understand the modern myth our culture has embraced concerning the beginnings of human societies.


If you took a political science course at university, you would not doubt have been exposed to Jean Jacques Rousseau and his (in)famous Social Contract. If not, here’s the basic idea. Before modern societies and states existed, human beings lived as what he termed “noble savages.” They were “savage” because they were not in society, but they were “noble” because they had complete and total freedom. Rousseau taught that humans, in some pre-historical age, agreed to give up some of their freedoms in order to cooperate for social benefits and protection. Thus, the term social contract. This theory of the origin of human government is not unique to Rousseau. You can find social contract theory in Thomas Hobbes as well as John Locke.

Here’s the problem: it’s all fiction. There never was a “noble savage.” Man has always existed in relationship to his Maker and his Maker’s law. Man has never been totally free. Even Adam, before the Fall, did not possess full autonomy. Civil governments didn’t begin in some pre-historic past but began after recorded history. And, because God, not men instituted civil government, God, not men defines its sphere of authority.


The origins of the civil government are found in the first chapters of Genesis.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. (Genesis 6:11)

Between Genesis 3 (the Fall) and Genesis 7:11 (the flood waters of judgment cover the earth) we see that fallen humans have managed to fill the earth, not with ordered governments, but evil. God’s judgment poured out, quite literally, cleanses the earth. Noah’s family, who are saved by God’s mercy, receive the same cultural mandate that Adam and Eve received in the garden.

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth… (Genesis 9:1)

But to that cultural mandate, God adds the command that civil government be established in order to protect human life and restrain evil.

“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6)

In this single verse, God has given to civil government the power to wield the sword against those who break the law. Criminals are to be held to account. We often refer to the contents of Genesis 9 as the Noahic Covenant. It’s a covenant that God has ratified with the entire earth (not just an ethnic people) and he has ratified it for all of human history (not simply a single generation or civilization.)

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. (Genesis 9:8)

The Noahic Covenant is still in force today and applies to the entire kingdom of creation. God has bound all of creation, every race that would come from the sons of Noah, to obey the dictates of this covenant so that the world would not be full of unchecked evildoers.


In the coming weeks, I plan to publish several articles applying the Noahic Covenant to our civil government. In those articles, we’ll see how much the civil authorities have overstepped their prescribed boundaries and how, in many cases, they are directly opposing God’s covenant commands. But for now, consider this fact: God instituted the civil magistrate. God alone gets to define the role, authority, and purpose of the civil government.

Human beings were not noble savages who made a social contract. Human beings were depraved wretches who filled the earth with violence. Yet, God has called sinful humanity into the Noahic Covenant that evil might be restrained and his redemptive purposes might be realized in the sending of his Son.

The Governments – The Family


The nations of the West are crumbling because we’ve mistakenly believed that our national or global governing bodies are the only governments that matter. We have forgotten that God instituted three governments: the family, the state, and the church. The only hope of fixing our broken state is relearning and practicing what the Scriptures teach about all three of these governments. These governments are all essential and must be kept in their proper place. Today, we introduce the government of the family.


Our culture elevates the individual over the family as the fundamental building block of society. How have we done that? We began by making marriage covenants easy to break through no-fault divorce. Individuals may leave a marriage at any time, for any reason. We have made singleness the normative relationship status. Look at the television programming over the last 3 decades. The most popular shows have been about perpetually single and promiscuous adults who never embrace responsibility for starting and raising a family. This life of individuality is glamorized. Not only have we normalized singleness, but with the aid of contraception (which can be a good thing) we have also normalized sterility. You can now have children when it fits your plans. Within the last 15 years, we have witnessed the erosion of the very definition of marriage and even “male” and “female.” Everyone does what is right in their own eyes. (Jug. 21:25) In other words, the individual, not the family is the fundamental building block of society. The individual defines themselves.


When we read the Bible we see that families, consisting of a father, mother, and children are the fundamental building block of a society, not individuals. In the opening chapters of the Scriptures, God made an individual human man, and shortly after his creation, God declared that it was not good for man to be alone. (Gen. 2:18) God then made a woman from the man, and through their marriage and sexual union, a new generation of humanity was born. (Gen. 4:1) As a general rule, the human race is not called to a life of singleness or chosen sterility. Undoubtedly, that last sentence rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I can already hear the, “But what about…,” arising in your throat. We could make disclaimers all day long, but the Scriptural truth stands. As a general rule, the human race is not called to a life of singleness. Marriages are not to be childless. God intends godly men to actively pursue a godly wife and bear and raise godly children. The family, then, is a self-contained, God-instituted government given for the flourishing, protection, and propagation of the entire human race.

The family government has offices: husband, wife, child. These offices are not interchangeable, but rather distinct and crucial components of a healthy family unit. Husbands are not to have multiple wives or vice versa. Men may not marry men. Women may not marry women. Children are not to act as if they are parents.

The family government has rules and regulations prescribed by God. God requires husbands to take responsibility for the health of the family as they love their wives and teach their children. (Gen. 3:17, Eph. 5:23; 25, 6:4) Wives are to respect their husbands and care for the households God has given them (Eph. 5:22; 1 Tim. 5:14). Children are to obey their parents. (Eph. 6:1-3)

The family government has boundaries that partition the family from other human societies. (Eph. 5:22-33; Eph. 6:1) Another way of putting this is that families have their own sphere of authority. Fathers and mothers are responsible to correct and discipline their own children, not every child. They are to nurture and care for the needs of their own children, not every child. (1 Tim. 5:18) While a family may choose to meet the needs of another family, they are not naturally obligated to do so. The covenantal relationship between husband and wife as well as the biological relationship between parent and child create both a covenantal and biological partition that surrounds and sections-off individual families from others. They create ties of ownership, responsibility, and accountability.


As a pastor, I often have conversations with individuals outside of our congregation who are seeking financial assistance. As I counsel them, I always ask about their family. I ask if they have any family who can provide financial assistance before the church steps in to assit. I don’t ask that because I’m stingy or cold-hearted, but because their family has a natural obligation to them that the church does not, and they have an obligation to their family. If their family refuses to help them, it may be an indication of their family’s sin, or their own. It may mean that they need to go back to their family and make amends so that the family can renew its duty to the individual or vice versa.

I give this example because it highlights a major problem in our nation: we no longer see the family government as binding. Rather, we see family as optional. Families often neglect their own. Family members often mistreat their families knowing they can get a hand-out from the church or the state. This is upside down. The church and the state can genuinely assist those who are vulnerable, but they must not seek to replace the family.


As parents, my wife and I alone are ultimately responsible for what our children are being taught. This is because our children belong to us. They are our possessions. They do not belong to the state, or to the schools. One of the fiercest attacks on the family today is seen as various school systems seek to minimize or remove parental oversight in the education of their children. A simple internet search would return scores of articles on school boards or teachers who sought to hide what children were reading in the classroom, or encouraging students who struggle with gender dysphoria to outright lie to their parents about their questions regarding sex and biology.

Why is this such a flammable subject? It’s because, in many cases, the state and school boards have overstepped their God-given boundaries. They do not own children. They may be entrusted by parents with certain responsibilities, but they are to serve at the pleasure of parents and under their watch.


Christians must boldly speak up for and champion the cause of the family government. This begins by starting and maintaining our own families according to God’s design. It means we must reject and repel attacks on biblical definitions of marriage, gender, and sexuality. To do all of this, we’ll need deep connections with other faithful Christian families within the local church. None of us can make this stand on our own.


Much more can be said about the need for strong families. If you would like to dive deeper into this subject I would like to suggest a few resources. Begin by reading the Scriptures. Start by reading and studying the references in this post. Here is a list of books I have found helpful as well:

Biblical Foundations for the Family

Köstenberger, Andreas J, and David W Jones. God, Marriage, and Family Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. 2nd ed., Wheaton, Ill Crossway, 2010.

Biblical Foundations for Human Sexual Ethics

Heimbach, Daniel R. True Sexual Morality. Crossway, 9 Nov. 2004.

Biblical Foundations for Men

Phillips, Richard D. The Masculine Mandate : God’s Calling to Men. Sanford, Florida, Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016.

Biblical Foundations for Men & Women

Piper, John, and Wayne Grudem. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood : A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2012.

Natural & Political Arguments for Marriage

Sherif Girgis, et al. What Is Marriage? : Man and Woman : A Defense. New York, Encounter Books, 2020.


Remember Your First Love: Christ’s Word to a Church Whose Love is Fading – Revelation 2:1-7



The text for the sermon today is Revelation 2:1-7. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’


When was the last time you wrote a letter? Biography Arnold Dallimore tells us that during his ministry, the London Baptist pastor, Charles Spurgeon, averaged 500 pieces of correspondence every week. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus himself wrote you a letter to help you understand where you were excelling, and more importantly where you need strengthening? Revelation 2-3 is a record of 7 letters Jesus personally dictated to 7 churches.

Each of the 7 letters follows a pattern: presentation of Christ, introduction of their situation, encouragement/exhortation, a call to hear with warnings and promises. Each letter ends, “to all the churches.”

These churches are a real mixed bag. The first and the last are in danger of losing their Christian identity. The three in the central letters have maintained identity, but are compromised, and the second and sixth faithful. In other words, the Christian church as a whole is in poor condition.


The letter begins by addressing the pastor at the church in Ephesus (angelos, Rev. 1:20) A metropolitan city of the empire, Ephesus boasted 600,000 citizens and was home to the Temple of Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. This temple was 162’ w x 342’ long and made of 100 columns that were 50’ tall and 6’ in diameter. They were a wealthy, cosmopolitan, pagan city.

They were also a city of deep Christian influence. Outside of Jerusalem, one could argue Ephesus was the central city of Christianity until Rome was Christianized. They had an abundance of Godly ministers: Paul, Apollos, Timothy, & John himself (and John returned there after his exile).

Christ also mentions evidence of godly fruit. First, Christ commends their diligence. “I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance.” (v. 2) They were bearing up for the name of Christ. (v. 3)

Christ also commends their discernment. They could not bear with those who are evil. They tested those who called themselves apostles but were not and found them to be false. (v. 2) They were commendable in many ways.

But they had abandoned the love they had at the first (v. 4) Their love for Christ and witness of Christ had been neglected. And they hadn’t even realized it. Jesus had to tell them. The remedy is threefold: remember, repent, and do the works you did at the first. (v. 5)

The passage concludes with a warning: Ephesus is in danger of losing its identity as a Christian church, but if they repent they’ll eat with Christ in paradise. (v. 7)


There’s something we can learn from Ephesus: the church must be zealous for the truth. Jesus commends this church for their diligence in discerning false teaching.

We want to reach people—but we want to reach them with the truth. The prime motivation for our church isn’t growth, but spiritual health. If growth were our ultimate goal without qualification we’d do things quite differently.

Friend, what is your standard of truth? Everyone has a standard they appeal to. Is it your own wisdom? Is it science? At Lake Wylie Baptist we recognize the gifts of human wisdom and scientific discovery. We praise God for those good gifts. We also acknowledge their limitations. They are not omniscient guides.

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in his excellent Word?


While Jesus commends the Ephesian’s zeal for truth, he also points out a serious problem. It’s important to know that Jesus isn’t like a policeman, looking for someone to break the law so he can club them on the head. Rather, Jesus walks through his churches like a gardener; admiring the fruit he sees while noticing disease and weeds. So, when he points out sickness in your life, of the life of a church, he does it because he loves you and his church.

What’s the disease growing in the Ephesian garden? While they loved the truth, their love for Jesus Christ had grown cold. Friends, love of doctrine is not the same thing as loving Christ. Loving your obedience to Jesus isn’t the same thing as loving Jesus.

And here’s the scary part: the Ephesians didn’t even realize it had happened to them. Jesus has to point it out. It’s possible to know the truth, to obey commands, and yet be far from Christ.

And, if they don’t change, they’ll lose their identity as a Christian church!


How do you rekindle your first love of Christ? Remember, Repent, Do.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen (v. 5)

In his autobiography (Grace Abounding), John Bunyan writes, “It is profitable for Christians to be often calling to mind the very beginnings of grace within their souls.” We do well to remember where we were when grace found us. When you love knowing the truth more than Christ, you swell with pride. But if you love Jesus Christ above all, then the truth will actually make you humble.

As you remember, repent. What does that mean? Repentance is a gift. It softens our hard hearts. But how do we do it? Very practically:

Grieve over and hate sin.
Confess specific sins to the Lord and those you have offended.
Cry for mercy.

Here is the cry of a Christian: “I cast myself upon Mercy. Where else can I go? If Mercy must cast me away then Mercy must do it, but upon Mercy I will fall and upon Mercy I will stay. I will camp at Mercy’s feet.”

Lastly, “Do the works you did at the first.” Our culture says it’s wrong to do something you don’t feel. But our culture doesn’t understand what a human is or how a human works and grows. Indeed, you can’t summon up the feelings and emotions of love, but you can repeat and perform the duties of love—and if you do the feelings will follow.

The Governments – Intro

Decades ago, the schools of our nation taught classes like “Government/Econ.” Most of those classes taught ninth-grade students about America’s three branches of the Federal Government and, if you were lucky, the United States Constitution. Don’t worry, will not be asking anyone to define obscure legal jargon at the end of this series. Rather, during September, my “letters from the pastor” will focus on the subject of human government. In this first “letter” I will be introducing the subject, and in the three letters that will follow I will be taking a closer look at each of the governments God has established. One of the reasons our nation is swirling the drain is that we’ve mistakenly believed that national or global governing bodies are the only governments that matter. So, without further ado, let’s allow the Bible to inform our understanding of government.

God has instituted three spheres of human government: the family, the state, and the church. Because God is the one who institutes these governments, he alone gets to define them. Where do we find the institutions of these governments? The government of the family is instituted in the Garden of Eden. (Genesis 1, 2) In Genesis 9, after the flood, God institutes the government of the state by granting the power of the sword to human societies as a way of restraining evil. Finally, the church is foreshadowed in the worship of Israel and realized in the New Testament (Matt. 16:19; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9, et. al.) Underneath these three formal human governments, is the requirement that individuals be able to govern themselves (self-government).

The three main reasons our state governments are so ineffectual are: first, the government of the state has failed to recognize and submit to God, second, the governments of the family and the church have been severely weakened, and third, the government of the state has overstepped the boundaries of both the family as well as the church. We will examine these three reasons in more detail in future letters but let me summarize my thoughts on all of them in a few short lines.

(1) If a nation does not recognize a God above the state, then the state functions as “god.” This has happened in America.

(2) Families with fathers, mothers, and children (not individuals) are the fundamental building blocks of a healthy society. Without healthy families, there is no hope of having healthy nations. The families of our nation face external threats (from the government) as well as internal threats (from our own sinfulness).

(3) Finally, governments are catastrophically ill-equipped to provide for the needs that only families and churches can meet. Our government, trying to substitute itself for fathers, mothers, and pastors has become an arrogant stumblebum.

We have immense challenges facing us, but the first challenge is to wake up, read what the Bible says about each of these governments, and believe it. Elections matter. So do families. So do churches. Our nation did not get where it is today simply by voting. We sinned ourselves into the mess we’ve made. We won’t get out simply by voting (though we must vote). We get out through repentance and faith: through believing God and obeying God.

Let me be clear from the outset of this series: Our obedience to the Word of God as it regards human governments will not and cannot produce a utopia on Earth. The perfect kingdom of Christ has been inaugurated by his resurrection, but it will not arrive in its fullness until the return of Christ at the end of this age. But we have a duty before God and to our fellow man to order our homes, our nation, and our church according to the dictates of his Word. And, when we do this, it will result in a far more holy and just nation than we are inhabiting today.

So, get out your pen and paper. Grab your Bible too. Over the next several weeks we’ll take a look at the human governments God has instituted and see how this subject addresses nearly every societal ill we face.

His Face was Like the Sun: Christ in the Church – Revelation 1:9-20



The text for the sermon today is Revelation 1:9-20. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

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. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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 are the seven churches.


In 1977 the IBM company produced a 9-minute video called Powers of Ten. The film showed the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of zooming out or in by the power of 10. The video fades from black revealing a couple enjoying a picnic in a lakeside park in Chicago. The scene is one meter wide viewed from one meter away. The camera zooms out to 10 meters: a field of grass surrounds the picnic. 100 meters: a freeway on one side and boat docks on the other. At one kilometer, Soldier Field comes into view. 10,000 meters: Downtown Chicago and the rounded end of Lake Michigan. 100,000 meters: Long bands of clouds, a day’s worth of weather in the Midwest of U.S. 1 million meters, North America. 10 million meters: Earth. 100 million: the orbit of the Moon. At 1 million million meters we see our Solar System. At 1016 meters, we’re one light-year from where we started, and we haven’t even reached the closest star. At 1021 meters we finally see the Milky Way… and way down below, many billions of miles is a couple having a picnic in Chicago.

For the ant on the picnic blanket, a watermelon might as well be a planet. From outside the Milky Way, the skyscrapers of Chicago are smaller than toothpicks. Your vantage point radically changes the relative size of whatever you are looking at. In the span of 19 verses, John the Apostle is transported from a tiny rock on the Aegean Sea out of this Universe and into the heavenly realms where Christ reigns over everything and cares for the church. In this vision of Jesus Christ, we see three contrasts, and if we attend to these three contrasts they will have a profound impact on our lives. They are:

Christ, Dead Yet Living Again
John: Falling Yet Lifted Up
The Church: Suffering Yet Shining


The very first vision John records in Revelation is a vision of Jesus Christ. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (v. 10) Apparently, John was enjoying Sunday worship in his exile and was especially attuned to the Holy Spirit when he heard a voice behind him.

“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…”

John then “turned to see the voice…” and “on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like the son of man.” This title, “son of man” was Jesus’ favorite title for himself in the gospels. (Matt. 20:28; Mk 14:62; John 3:13; Dan. 7:13, 14) It comes from Daniel 7:13, 14, where the “son of man” is given everlasting authority, glory, and a kingdom. John is receiving a vision of the risen, exalted, and enthroned Jesus.

And we’re given a physical description of Jesus. It’s the only time we’re given a physical description of Jesus, but remember, this is all visionary and symbolic language. This description doesn’t tell us what Jesus actually looked like. So, we aren’t to read this literally. This description of Christ tells us who he is, not what he looks like.

Jesus is “clothed with a white robe… with a golden sash around his chest”; the dress of a priest. His hair is white with wisdom, and his eyes are like flames. Jesus’ feet are “like burnished bronze,” and “from his mouth came a two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” This all speaks to Jesus’ position as the cosmic and eternal judge. His eyes see every evil deed. His bronze feet crush the wicked. His judgment he speaks cuts and thunders, and no sinner can bear to look him directly in the face.

Friend, I wonder if you have given proper attention to Jesus Christ as the cosmic judge. He knows everything you’ve ever done, and every thought you have had. You may be skilled at deceiving your spouse or your parents, but you will not deceive him. His eyes are piercing flame. You may be good at talking your way out of your failures at school or work, but when you hear the judgment of his mouth, which roars like the waters, you will stand in silence.

Christian, because Christ is the judge who sees all, you are encouraged to obey him faithfully, knowing that if you are mistreated for his sake, he will not forget it. If you are unjustly persecuted, you need not fear. You will ultimately overcome in the same way as Christ: through endurance and suffering. And in the final reckoning, the eternal Judge will vindicate you.

When Jesus speaks, he says, “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.” The implication is that because Jesus has overcome death and the grave, he is now appointed as a heavenly priest, ruler, and judge.

As I said in week one of our study: the central figure in Revelation is Jesus Christ. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and final letters in the Greek alphabet. The Son of God entered history as the son of man, he lived the life we ought to have lived and died the death we ought to have died as sinners. He was laid in the grave and three days later he rose.

And when he did, he took the keys which once belonged to the grave. In his sovereignty, he appoints the moment of your birth, the number of your days, and even the moment of your death. And, if you belong to him, even when you die, he will unlock the grave at the resurrection.

When the Apostle John saw Jesus revealed as the first and the last, the priest of our souls, the judge, John says, “I fell at his feet as though dead.” This brings us to the second contrast. Not only do we see Jesus as dead yet alive again. We see John: falling yet lifted up.


In 8 words, John captures the right response to this vision of Jesus: “I fell at his feet as though dead.” This reminds us of nearly every Biblical encounter of the holy. In Exodus 3, Moses has to take the shoes off his feet because he’s on holy ground. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up and cries out, “Woe is me for I am undone.”

Luke records the time when Jesus first got into Peter’s boat on the Sea of Galilee. They had fished all night and caught nothing, but Jesus told them to put down their nets once more. Their nets filled. Apparently, Jesus commanded every fish in the sea to swim into their nets. And how did Peter respond?

8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

Again, when Jesus healed a demon-possessed man in the Gadarenes, Matthew tells us that, “all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” (Matt. 8:34)

John, himself, had fallen down on his face before. When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain he was transfigured and revealed in all his glory to them. His face shone like the Sun, and they heard a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”

Friends, it has become popular in our age to talk about the experience of God as something that makes you feel peace and warmth; to speak of being caught up in worship as exciting or energizing. Many people say they want to experience God, or get into his presence. But when you read the Bible, the people who encounter God almost always fall to the ground and try to get out of his presence.

God’s glory reveals our shame. His power unmasks our weakness. His knowledge uncovers our secrets. His holiness highlights our sin. And so, John rightly falls down as though dead. John was a Christian. His sins had been forgiven. He knew that Christ was alive and believed. And yet, this unveiling of Christ doesn’t make John comfortable or casual. It humbles him and even causes him to cower in fear. One of the signs that you are encountering the true God is humiliation, it’s fear: a sense of awful dread in the presence of the one who made all things with just a word.

Thankfully for John, and for us, Christ does not leave believers to lie in the dust. The same words that Jesus said to Peter, James, and John at his transfiguration, he repeats now to John on Patmos: “Fear not” Fear not! For the same Jesus who is the judge, is also a savior. Fear not! The Lion is also a Lamb. He is the Alpha and the Omega—not only of all history. He is the Alpha and Omega of your personal salvation and redemption. You are lifted up out of the dust of sin and death because Christ has raised you. You are still a Christian today because Christ preserves you. You will forever be a Christian because Jesus Christ has written the story of your salvation.


Did you notice, back in verse 9, how the author and the audience are introduced?

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation

By the time John is exiled, Emperor Domitian was beginning a systematic persecution of Christians. He demanded that they worship and say, “Caesar is lord.” Every time you read the words, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” in the New Testament you are reading an act of civil disobedience. John was on the island of Patmos, why? “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v. 9) It was illegal to preach.

Many of the Christians who received and read this Revelation were sentenced to death. They were torn apart by wild horses. Some of them were impaled alive on stakes, covered with pitch, and lit as torches. Some were fed to lions. How merciful.

They faced immense pressure to abandon Christ, to abandon other Christians, and to abandon the church. They could easily avoid death by attending worship at a pagan temple or by turning back to Judaism. Amazingly, under all this persecution, the church actually grew. They made more converts. One of the church fathers said, “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” In other words, though they were suffering, the church was not extinguished. The hotter the persecution grew, the more it refined and purified and grew the church. The church spread so much because the Roman Empire watched Christians go into the flames, go into the lion’s mouth not just with courage, but even with joy and peace.

What was it that enabled those Christians to live through tribulation? What will enable us to live through tumultuous times; times of persecution? It was this vision of Jesus in Revelation 1. Earlier I mentioned that John saw Jesus dressed in the robe of a priest. Notice where John sees Jesus standing:

“I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man”

This is a vision of Jesus Christ as a heavenly priest tending the temple of God. The seven candlesticks recall the seven branches lampstand that stood in the Tabernacle and Temple of Israel. It was the job of the priests to go into the holy place, refill the oil in the lamps, trim the wicks, and make sure the flames didn’t go out. But notice, these seven lampstands are not in the temple of Israel.

“the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (v. 20)

These churches on earth are in tribulation, suffering on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Yet, those same churches who are suffering on earth are shining in heaven, their flames tended by the risen and reigning Savior. No Roman Emperor can extinguish these lamps. No threat of death can do us in; not while the Great High Priest is walking in our midst.

Over the next 2 chapters, as we read Christ’s personal words to the 7 churches we will see him, as it were, walk among the lampstands. How does he trim the wicks and refill the oil? Church, he tends the light of the church by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning. He does all of this so that the church will be a proper light-bearer in a dark world.

Lake Wylie Baptist: We have challenging days ahead. This nation has forgotten the Lord and is running pell-mell in rebellion. That kind of rebellion hates obedience and therefore we can expect increasing pressure. In the coming years the powers that be will find ways to persecute and threaten the church. They will find ways to weed Christians out of their marketplaces. Young people, children in the room, it will not beeasy to be faithful to Jesus. Many will ignore you. Some will make fun of you and exclude you.

And when that happens… when you, like John, are a partner in tribulation on account of the testimony of Christ, turn with John to see who speaks to us.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea;
A great High Priest, whose Name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.