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In Bible blog I have just completed a look at Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian Assembly. You can find these and all my 1772 blogs by date on my archive, or by googling: emmock.com topic, or emmock.com bible reference. My new project is an examination of The Revelation, the final book in the Christian Bible. It’s controversial but fun, offering trumpets, angels, the four horsemen, a beast from sea and the whore of Babylon. What’s not to like? It begins on 30th July. Join me. The headlines are reminders of the world we live in:
The Revelation 1: A Vision of the Risen Lord
9 I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the oppression and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.[g] 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 in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like a son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. 19 Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is 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.
As I suggested yesterday, reading The Revelation requires the use of your imagination. Even better is to use the audio facility on many online bibles, so that you can listen to it as the author intended.
The author names himself as John, sent to Patmos by the Roman authorities because of his preaching of Jesus and his refusal to stop. He shares three things with his hearers: oppression which doubtless came from the Roman state; the kingdom, that is, living under God’s Rule here and hereafter; and the patient endurance, that is, the acceptance of suffering as part of the believer’s life on earth. All these are also shared with Jesus. Already we know a lot about this man and his fellow believers: they are different from most church members nowadays in their expectation that their faith will entail oppression and suffering. This week , however, many news media carried a report about how the active persecution of Christian believers is increasing in many predominantly Muslim states and in China. The churches in other parts of the world should be aware of this and active in exposing and opposing it.Our reverence for the courage of people who stand firm under persecution should not prevent us seeing it as an outrage.
As with the Hebrew prophets, the agent of John’s visions is the Spirit, that is, the creative power of God. Here is the only mention in the Bible of the Lord’s Day, the day of the resurrection, Sunday, the first day of the Jewish working week. (As distinct from the Sabbath, the day of rest). It was not called, as it might have been, Jesus’ day or messiah’s day, but the Lord’s Day because that linked it with all the Bible prophecies of the “Day of the Lord”. It is not the last day, but the first day of a new world.
The portrait of the “one like a son of man” is a composite of images from the Jewish scriptures, from Daniel 7 and 10, Ezekiel 1 and 9, with allusions to Isaiah 44. Daniel 7 was especially important to the developing Christian understanding of Jesus, and was probably used by Jesus himself in reference to his own ministry. The “one like a son of man” in Daniel represents the “holy ones of the most high” who form a humane kingdom ruled by God replacing the cruel kingdoms which have preceded it. Here the son of Man is the risen Jesus who walks amongst the lampstands, which, we learn, stand for the seven church assemblies in the province of Asia mentioned in verse 11. The majestic figure of Jesus speaks from amongst his people, whose life he shares. His clothing stands for kingship, his white hair for his existence from all eternity. His fiery eyes for discriminating wisdom and his bronze feet for sureness and stability are taken form Daniel 1 as images of God, whereas his voice like the sound of many waters symbolising a mingling of different powers, comes from Ezekiel 1. The two-edged sword is a common image for wisdom, while the shining face radiates divine blessing. The vision merges the risen Jesus Messiah with God himself. Jesus identifies himself to John as the one who was dead and is alive forever, the one who can open the gates of Death. Over against those who torture and kill, Jesus identifies himself as a source of eternal life. The prophet mimes death, but Jesus tells him not to be afraid.
Jesus tells John that he is to be a witness to his people of what he sees in his visions which will show what is happening now in the light of its ultimate future.(see blog 1772). As a foretaste of enlightenment Jesus reveals the meaning of the stars and the lampstands. We do not know if the angels of the seven churches are the same as the seven spirits before God’s throne, but we know they stand for God’s individual love of each assembly and his communication with it.
We can reasonably ask of all this: is this an account of a vision, or is it a careful composition designed for theological meaning and pastoral effect? I’m not sure. In all my life I’ve never had a vision. Doubtless if I did have a vision of Jesus it would use all my Bible knowledge and the connections I have made between Jesus and other aspects of my experience, so we can’t suspect this vision simply because it uses such elements. I think we may be dealing with a very passionate artist, who “sees” as he creates, as did William Blake one of his great successors.
The message of the vision is that The Risen One, the conqueror of death, is amongst his people, who are described as lampstands because they bear the lamps of truth, which in Jesus’ parable, give light to the whole house. This reminds me of the phrase John’s Gospel uses of John the Baptist, “He himself was not the light, he came to bear witness of the light”. As the church assemblies act as bearers of the light, Jesus himself is amongst them. I would want to widen this application and say that wherever human beings bear the light of truth, the Lord of Life is present.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 W.H. Auden
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.