John and his audience:
As mentioned earlier, the settings for John’s vision alternate between heaven and earth. The first vision is cast in heaven. John finally introduces himself (1:9) and his audience (1:11). As was also mentioned earlier his audience, the seven churches of Asia are representative of all the churches as the number seven symbolizes completion. Additionally this Asia is the Roman province that is modern day Turkey/Asia Minor. Metzger astutely observes that the order of these churches is not haphazard but is the order one would visit them going on a journey from Patmos to these seven churches (Metzger, 25-26). It is also important to notice that John mentions the reality of the persecution they are enduring. This is not an idea imposed on the background of the text by creativity but is mentioned and alluded to on several occasions within the letter itself.
Upon hearing the trumpet-like voice of Jesus Christ John turned and saw Christ among seven golden lampstands, which we find out later represent the seven churches (1:20). Why is this important? It is important for the Lord’s persecuted church to realize that in reality Christ is present among his churches. He is not laissez-faire in dealing with his churches but present and active (as will be seen in a moment in his comforting John by touching him and encouraging him). His clothing is that of a king. The message is that he is the ultimate king with ultimate power and authority far out weighing the Roman emperors who are persecuting them.
John’s description of Christ is heavily rooted in the Old Testament and is symbolic. This is not a description of Jesus just as he appeared on earth but is a symbolic description of his heavenly attributes. For the Old Testament background see Ezekiel 43, Daniel 2, and Daniel 7.
Notice John’s response (1:17), he falls down as though dead. Also notice Christ’s reaction, to touch him and to calm his fears with a reminder of some important attributes of who Christ is and what he is able to do. “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.” Domitian does not hold the keys to death. His minions do not hold the keys to death. I hold the keys to death and I stand among my churches. Christ is saying, I have a power that none of them possess and my words for you are “do not be afraid.”
It doesn’t stop with John. He is to write down what he has seen and what he will see (1:19). Why? In order to reveal to the churches the ultimate reality of Christ’s working in their midst and for them also to be reminded not to be afraid. Finally, Jesus explains John’s first vision to him. He explains the seven stars are seven angels or messengers of the seven churches and that the lampstands represent the seven churches with Christ right there in their midst.
Message for Today:
Christ is powerful and he is present. He has ultimate control even over death. So do not be afraid! Be encouraged by these words of Paul that speak the same sentiment, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39