John sees Jesus in a vision – the seven golden lampstands (Revelation 1:9 – 1:20)
John was on the island of Patmos because of his testaments about Jesus. On the Lord’s Day, John was “in the Spirit” when he heard a loud voice behind him. The voice said, “Write on a scroll what you are about to see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
John turned around to see who was speaking to him. When he turned around, he saw a man dressed in a long robe with a wide golden sash across the chest. Around the man were seven golden lampstands. The hair on the man’s head was white as snow and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like polished bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face shone with the brilliance of the sun.
John fell to the ground. The man placed his right hand on John’s shoulder and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I was dead and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
“Write therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will happen after these things. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
What the story means to us today
God watches over Christians
John was suffering for his faith, exiled on the island of Patmos, when his revelation visions began. The verses here lay the foundation for what John is about to record. From these verses, which are revealed to be divinely delivered from Jesus, we know that what John is about to see represents “what is now and what is to come”.
To set the scene and get us started, Jesus reveals the meaning of the first symbolisms seen by John: The seven stars and seven golden lampstands represent the angels of the church and the early churches that started the ground-breaking Christianity movement that would soon spread across the world. In Jesus’ revelation to John, he shows John that God is always with us, in our midst, watching over us and our churches.
Additional thoughts and considerations
John’s state of mind when Revelation was written
At the time Jesus appeared before John (around 95 AD), John was likely an old man, in his 80’s or older (it is believed John died shortly after writing the book of Revelation). It has been sixty years or so since Jesus’ death and resurrection but of course, the memory of Jesus still burns strong in John’s mind as the early Christian church gains a foothold and begins to grow.
How to interpret the book of Revelation
Jesus’ explanation of the seven stars does more than explain the literal meaning of the symbolism. It introduces us to the method that is to be used throughout the book of Revelation. The entire series of visions will consist of symbolic “mysteries” such as this. They are not to be understood literally but rather, will require interpretation through biblical means. This gives the visions a timeless quality, capable of being understood by Christians, at any point in time.
John was “in the spirit” on the “Lord’s Day”
John says it was “on the Lord’s Day” that he was “in the spirit”. The “Lord’s day” likely refers to Sunday, the day believers celebrated Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Note that this day differs from the Sabbath, which was on Saturday.
The exact meaning of the phrase “in the spirit” is unclear. It may refer to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit but in either case, we can tell that John was in a state of spiritual exaltation, likely worshipping or praying at the time his visions began.
The “son of man”
John describes the person he saw as “like a son of man”. This phrase is an allusion to Daniel 7:13 where the vision seen was “like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven”. “Son of man” is used several times in the gospels too (e.g. Mark) as a metaphor for Jesus himself.
Jesus’ physical appearance in John’s vision
John describes Jesus having hair “white like wool, as white as snow”, “eyes like blazing fire”, feet with strength like “bronze glowing in a furnace”, with a voice like the “sound of rushing waters”. This description matches the description of God as written in Daniel.
Daniel notes that when the “Ancient of Days” took his seat, his clothing was white as snow and the “hair of his head was white like wool”. Daniel also notes that the eyes of the angelic figure were “like flaming torches” and the throne of God was “flaming with fire”. Daniel continues, noting that the angelic voice heard was “like the roar of a multitude” (John’s description of the trumpet-like quality of Jesus’ voice was not meant to describe the tone of Jesus’ voice, but rather the powerful nature of his voice).
The seven stars in Jesus’ right hand
The meaning of the seven stars is one of the visions in Revelation that can be interpreted multiple ways. The original Greek word for “angels” was sometimes used to denote human messengers (such as the members or leaders of the early church). In most cases however, the word references spiritual beings. If taken in this context, the seven stars could represent a sort of “guardian angel” watching over the church, its leaders, and its members.
The seven golden lampstands surrounding Jesus
In Johns’ vision, he saw seven golden lampstands and says that “among the lampstands was someone like a son of man.” Jesus later explains to John that the seven lampstands represent the seven churches. John mentioned the seven churches earlier in the book and scholars believe they were the earliest Christian churches, likely located on the interconnecting roads of a postal route which ensured propagation of John’s message throughout the region.
Recognize that the churches are represented by candle holders (i.e. lampstands), not the candles themselves. Jesus would be the metaphorical “light” that filled the candle holder and illuminated mankind through his lessons regarding proper Christian behavior.
Taken as a whole, we can see that the vision uses a metaphor to illustrate that Jesus is in the “midst” of the Christian churches and that the churches are his property. There is no reason to believe anything differently today. Jesus walks among his people, “in the midst” of modern-day Christian churches, and if his will is followed, lends support to the benefits of organized Christian congregations and regular church attendance.
The double-edged sword
When describing Jesus, John says that coming “out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword”. Jesus does not explain this aspect of John’s vision so we are left to interpret on our own. The sword of course, represents power. Its doubled-edge adds to the impact of the vision – extreme power. And what comes out of Jesus’ mouth? The word of God of course. The gospel, by which all Christians live by, is powerful.
What you have seen, what is, and what will take place later
Jesus tells John to write “what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later”. This is likely key to the entire book of Revelation. “What you have seen” is John’s vision of Jesus – his appearance before John. “What is now” likely reflects what is sent to the seven churches, the letters John writes to each of the churches (see the next lesson on Revelation for more information about these letters). “What will take place later” refers to what John is about to see (described in chapters 4 through 21) – the terrifying vision of history’s end.
Do not be afraid
When John saw Jesus, he fell to the ground “as though dead”. Jesus gently places his hand on John and says, “Do not be afraid.” The terrible revelations given to John can be scary. If you find yourself frightened by the visions portrayed in Revelation, remember that you are a Christian with a promise to be protected – then remind yourself that Revelation began with Jesus placing his hand on John’s shoulder and telling him to not be afraid.
The science and history behind the story
John’s isolation on the island of Patmos
Patmos (also known as Patmo or Palmosa) is a small island in the Aegean Sea about 37 miles southwest of Miletus off the coast of Asia Minor. It is now a part of Greece. The Romans used such places to keep banished political exiles. The verses suggest that John is just such a prisoner. This is confirmed by an early church father, Eusebius, who wrote that John was sent to Patmos by Emperor Titus Flavius Domitian in 95 AD and released about 1 ½ years later by the Roman emperor Nerva.
John notes that Jesus was dressed in a long robe with a belt (golden sash) around his chest. A belt worn around the chest may seem odd to modern-readers but it is an important clue to Jesus’ persona and status. Most men in ancient times wore belts around their waists, even if they were wearing a robe. This was because the robe could be tucked into the belt while they worked. The historian Josephus wrote that leaders or prominent elders in the church wore belts high on their chest. It signified authority, leadership, and importance in the society.
The importance of the number 7 (seven)
In ancient times, certain numbers held literal meaning to the people. This wasn’t a magical or mystical belief but rather, simply different from today (similar to our phrase “number one” meaning first). For instance, the number 7 represented completeness, wholeness, an entirety of something. We will find the number 7 used often in Revelation. In these verses, the number as applied to the churches (the seven churches) should be taken to represent all churches, for now until eternity.
Notes on Biblical translation
The verses describe the Jesus’ feet being like “polished bronze flowing in a furnace”. The precise meaning of the term translated as “polished bronze” (or “molten gold”) is unknown. It occurs nowhere else in Greek literature outside of the book of Revelation. It may refer to various combinations of metal compounds – gold and silver, brass, or some form of copper. Regardless, that is describes some sort of metal is without question and it may be best translated as “fine bronze” or “fine metal” with more emphasis on the lustrous quality of the metal’s surface.
The First and the Last
Jesus tells John, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” This is often translated as the well-known phrase, “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, the Greek terms for first and last. Either translation adequately explains Jesus’ claim that his is God’s one true messenger throughout eternity.
9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, u dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
9–17 I, John, with you all the way in the trial and the Kingdom and the passion of patience in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of God’s Word, the witness of Jesus. It was Sunday and I was in the Spirit, praying. I heard a loud voice behind me, trumpet-clear and piercing: “Write what you see into a book. Send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.” I turned and saw the voice.
I saw a gold menorah
with seven branches,
And in the center, the Son of Man,
in a robe and gold breastplate,
hair a blizzard of white,
Eyes pouring fire-blaze,
both feet furnace-fired bronze,
His voice a cataract,
right hand holding the Seven Stars,
His mouth a sharp-biting sword,
his face a perigee sun.
I saw this and fainted dead at his feet. His right hand pulled me upright, his voice reassured me:
17–20 “Don’t fear: I am First, I am Last, I’m Alive. I died, but I came to life, and my life is now forever. See these keys in my hand? They open and lock Death’s doors, they open and lock Hell’s gates. Now write down everything you see: things that are, things about to be. The Seven Stars you saw in my right hand and the seven-branched gold menorah—do you want to know what’s behind them? The Seven Stars are the Angels of the seven churches; the menorah’s seven branches are the seven churches.”
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
1:9 I, John, your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus. 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 1:11 saying: “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches—to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
1:12 I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 1:13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 1:14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 1:15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 1:16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. 1:17 When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 1:18 and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! 1:19 Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things. 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
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. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in 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. 12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 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 ggirt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. 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: 18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. 19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; 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 Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.