Summary: Published February 2023: Everything found in Scripture has meaning and purpose, even things that at first glance seem odd and inexplicable. Prophecy is a bible topic that often presents symbols and types that demand a proper interpretation. Even certain events or actions recorded in prophetic passages can have a future fulfillment and end-time result. It is best to leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of the appropriate spiritual understandings of God’s word.
In the first chapter of the Revelation, we find the last living apostle exiled by the Roman Empire to the isle of Patmos because of his preaching God’s word and the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:9). While there, on a particular Sunday, John was “in the Spirit” and began to experience the various and diverse visions that make up the content of the book. The Revelation is a prophecy (Rev. 1:3). The Lord would direct John to write in a book everything he saw and send it to the seven churches in Asia (today the area of western Turkey): to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea (Rev. 1:11).
The Lord’s instructions were the beginning of John’s first vision to be recorded for the book. We can observe the oddity immediately. The words came from the Lord standing somewhere behind John – “…I heard behind me a loud voice…” (Rev. 1:10). After this, John says, “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned…” (Rev. 1:12). Quite peculiar, wouldn’t you say? You may have read past this many times previously without giving it a thought. But now I want you to consider it. Three different times the Holy Spirit has John imply that the Lord’s voice at first came from behind him. He was already “in the Spirit,” spiritually prepared for these communications. But the first vision from God starts behind him, making him turn around.
We know the vision behind him and his turning around has an explanation. Everything in Scripture has significance. You aren’t the type of believer who would say this doesn’t mean anything. And you’re not going to be so incredulous to say God made a mistake by starting the vision behind John. No, there is an explanation and if we are taught by the Spirit, He will give us understanding.
First some facts. This first vision takes place on the earth and concerns the church. More accurately, the vision concerns Christendom, the larger corporate body responsible for the Christian profession/testimony. You didn’t naively reason that the Lord was only interested in seven local churches in Asia Minor? This vision and the Lord’s judgments contained in it (Rev. 2 and 3) deal with the whole Christian profession (Christendom) during the time of the whole Christian dispensation.
This in itself is an oddity. Why? Prophecy, in general, isn’t about the church. It isn’t about Christianity, or Christendom, or the Christian dispensation. All these New Testament things are part of the “mystery” that God kept hidden from the O. T. prophets and their prophecies. The established character of bible prophecy is that it concerns Israel, the earth, and God’s government of the world. Knowing the Revelation is a book of prophecy, it then is a bit odd to see in chapter two and three the Lord judging Christendom in what is essentially the remaining extent of the Christian dispensation starting in John’s final years.
The individual Christian and the body of Christ (church) have a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1) They have a heavenly citizenship. They are not of this world (John 17:14, 16) Prophecy, as a general topic, is always about this world. Further, heaven is a timeless place. Time isn’t a factor in dealing with heavenly things. But we do count time on the earth; many prophecies contain time measurements that do this very thing. Prophecy is often about God’s judgment of man’s works done on the earth and in this world. Although the true church has a heavenly destiny, at this time she is still on the earth and in this world. Jesus says, “…I will build My church…” (Matt. 16:18) – God alone is responsible for this work. An established biblical principle is that God will never judge His own work. But Christendom is the work of man and is responsible for centuries of works done in this world. Will God judge Christendom, even though it includes His own work, the true church? In principle we can see the difficulty the first few chapters of the Revelation present us with.
But Peter says something that applies to these unusual circumstances, something we need always keep in mind (1 Pet. 4:17) – “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God…” The biblical principle here is that God always judges His own house first before He turns to judge the world. This was notably true in God’s dealings with His people Israel. But now the church is His chosen house of habitation on the earth (Eph 2:19-22). Under man’s responsibility, the Christian profession (Christendom) has grown into a great house with vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor (2 Tim. 2:19-21). Jesus Himself predicted Christendom would become a ruined crop of wheat and tares growing in the world (Matt. 13:24-30, 13:36-43), with it having no possible remedy the whole duration of time it took to get to the end of the age – it sits in ruin for the entire Christian dispensation.
Again, Peter says, “For the time has come…” For what? For the judgment of God’s house. In the second epistle ever written by Paul, he says to the Thessalonians, “…the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is become out of the way.” (1 Thess. 2:7) Instead of writing to Christians about our common salvation, Jude must sound the alarm to them to earnestly contend for their faith. He was aware that evil men had already crept in unnoticed in their gatherings (Jude 3, 4). His epistle is almost entirely about how to recognize the evil in Christendom and God’s coming judgment upon it. Then John says in his first epistle, “Little children, it is the last hour…even now many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us…” These sober warnings are just a sampling of what can be found in the Christian epistles of the New Testament; all these testimonies of the evil in Christendom were sounded by these various apostles in the 1st century. Is it not the last hour? Will God judge His own house? What is the Holy Spirit telling us?
When we get to the last book of the New Testament, what should we be expecting? What would be the general character of the book’s message? Let’s just look at all the various clues we can find in the book’s early chapters:
- We are told this is a book of prophecy (Rev. 1:3). Prophecy is about God’s government of the world. When God’s longsuffering is exhausted, He judges the evil. God is a holy God. His righteousness demands His judgment and condemnation of sin, corruption, and unbelief. We can easily say that God’s judgment is a significant part of His government of the world.
- God is seen as Jehovah, the eternal One, and the Holy Spirit as seven Spirits before God’s throne (Rev. 1:4). This is not the Christian relationship – it is not God as our Father or the Spirit as our Comforter/Teacher. Jehovah is God’s name as revealed in His relationship with Israel when He delivered them out of Egypt and gave them His law (Ex. 6:2-4). Seven Spirits refers to the fullness of the Spirit in governmental power. This all infers the topic will be God’s government over the world.
The three subjects mentioned above are each described in greater detail when John is caught up to heaven at the start of chapter four – this begins the revelation of “the things which will take place after these,” the truly prophetic part of the book (Rev. 4:1). Here God is worshiped as “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” (Rev. 4:8) – The triple holy speaks of the prophet Isaiah’s vision (Isa. 6:3); Lord God Almighty is how God revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israel’s forefathers; “Who was and is and is to come” reminds us of Moses and the burning bush. All very Jewish and having association with the Jewish dispensation. Also, the Holy Spirit is now described as seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, while the throne itself is one with lightnings, thunderings, and (loud) voices proceeding forth from it (Rev. 4:5) – not a throne of grace, but a throne of government exercising all God’s divine power in judgment. This is a very prophetic environment where judgment will take center stage.
- When Jesus is first seen by John in chapter one, He is standing in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (Rev. 1:12). His overall appearance is the merging of two personalities that were seen as separate in Daniel’s Old Testament prophecy (Dan. 7: 9-10, 13-14) – the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days (Rev. 1:13-18). In the Revelation He takes on the characteristics of both. In Daniel these two characters spoke of judgment. Let’s consider whether they stand for the same thing here in the Revelation.
“For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:26-27) Because the Son of God humbled Himself to become the Son of Man, and was rejected by this world as well as His own people, He has been given the right to eventually judge everything in this created world. He is seen clothed in a garment down to His feet and girded about the chest with a golden band (Rev. 1:13). This description is in purposeful contrast to how He was seen when He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:4). John thirteen is for service, the Revelation for judgment.
The judgmental character of the Ancient of Days is easier to see. In Daniel He is seated on a throne that is a fiery flame. His garment is white as snow and His hair like pure wool (Dan. 10:9-10). This description is expanded on in the Revelation (Rev. 1:14-16). The two-edged sword is a notable addition.
The Revelation is a book of prophecy; a big part of its character is judgment; starting with chapter four God is preparing to judge Israel and the world. But in chapter one Jesus is standing among the golden lampstands in an obvious judgmental character. God will not judge the true church, but He will judge Christendom and its works on the earth. This is what we have in Revelation 2 and 3. The seven churches prophetically represent Christendom progressing through seven distinct epochs, in the time remaining in the Christian dispensation. In every message Jesus mentions their works (Rev. 2:2, 9, 13, 19, 3:1, 8, 15).
Why does the first vision of the book begin behind John, making him turn around to see it? The reason is the oddity of the circumstances. Prophecy and the prophet would be looking out to the world as its characteristic subject. It normally would not be looking at the church and the Christian dispensation. The true prophetic part of the book begins in chapter four with future things (things which must take place after these – Rev. 4:1). What isn’t truly prophetic are present things (the things which are – Rev. 1:19) – this is Christendom and the judgment of its works (Rev. 2 & 3). Judgment begins with the house of God and Christendom is His house. John is made to turn around to see and record God’s judgment of these present things (the works of Christendom).