Max Phillips is one of my favorite people. I have never met anyone like him. He joined Park Baptist Church in 1936 when he was 14 years old. He has been a member of Park Baptist Church for 81 years. Max never pays for food at Red’s Grill (Rock Hill’s longest continuous restaurant) because the owner saw Max’s love and tender care for his wife, Molly and decided his money was no good there. Max goes out to eat regularly with his Dentist. He visits the Bank simply to talk to all the young ladies who work the counters. Max is never slow with encouragement, but he is also never slow with his opinion. Max is 95 years old and does his best to get to church as much as he is able given his ailing back. Max has seen this church through many different seasons and different pastors. Park Baptist Church celebrates its 110 year anniversary today and Max has experienced almost 75% of the church’s total ministry.
God has been incredibly kind to Max. At 95 years old, his mind is as sharp as ever. My relationship with Max has helped me understand John’s relationship to the seven churches in Asia. Max is the elder statesman of our congregation. He knows the history of this congregation better than almost anyone. He has lived through tremendous change in our country, but has remained faithful to Jesus Christ. The greatest thing about Max Phillips is his love for and his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Max knows his time on earth is near an end, but he does not fear death. He knows Jesus Christ. His faith in the Lord Jesus, like many others throughout the last 110 years in this church, is the reason this church has kept her faithful witness. We come to celebrate today what God has done in our church over the last 110 years. We come to give Jesus Christ praise, honor and glory for he loves this church and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom and priests to his God and Father.
The church in John’s day was beginning to face growing persecution so God sent a vision through his 90 plus year old servant to remain steadfast to the faith in Jesus once and for all delivered to the saints. God has sustained this church for 110 years and as persecution and hostility grow toward the church in America, I pray that you will hear this word and remain steadfast in the hope of our great and glorious Savior.
The Setting of the Vision
John was a well-respected leader in the church. He was the last living apostle who walked with Jesus. He writes, Revelation 1:9-11,
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. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 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.”
John identifies with the churches as a brother and a partner. Of course, being a brother is connecting him to the Christian faith in general. He is a brother in the faith, but it is far more than a mere connection to the larger big “C” Church. John is intimately connected to these churches as a member of their family.
One of the most consistent and clearest pictures of the Christian life in the New Testament is being part of a family. When one comes to Christ, they become part of a new family, the family of God, and are called to live out their faith in Jesus in that family. There may be some of you here who have not officially stepped out in obedience to Jesus and joined the family by becoming a member of the church. Can I challenge you to consider identifying yourself as Christians have identified themselves for 2,000 years as brothers and sisters of the family of God? Do not be a spiritual orphan, but in obedience God and his Word tether yourself to his church.
It was the obedience to God’s Word that led John to his exile on the island of Patmos. Patmos was a small island off what is modern day Greece in the Aegean Sea. John was sent there instead of being killed probably because of the respect he had among Christians and his death may have caused outrage among the people. John’s exile was on account of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. John was in exile because of the gospel of Christ. Therefore, he could not only identify himself as a brother but a partner in tribulation, the kingdom and the patient endurance that is in Jesus.
John was experiencing the same kind of persecution of the churches. There is something that binds people together who share common trials. When Ken Tedder was battling his cancer, he often shared how much comfort he received by talking to others who were facing his same battle. Shared common experience helps to deepen friendship and trust. I say often to those walking through trial in our congregation, I may not know what you are dealing but I do know there are people in our body who have walked that same road. Share your burdens with the body.
John also is a partner in the kingdom of God. He desires the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ is fill the earth. He wants people to come to King Jesus and serve him as Lord. Brothers and sisters, we have been made a kingdom of priests by the Lord Jesus. Let us faithfully exercise the keys of the kingdom by testifying to the gospel and inviting people to receive Jesus as Lord. Praise be to God in how our congregation is growing in evangelistic zeal. I am grateful that God has brought us Grant Hinson and his family. They model a consistent and faithful kingdom witness in the neighborhood and our city. If you want to grow in your own evangelism, may I encourage you to spend time with Hinsons.
One of the exhortations that fills the pages of this prophecy is to patiently endure with Jesus Christ. If you desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will face persecution. You will face weariness in obedience. You will have opposition to the gospel. You will be afflicted in every way, but not crushed. You will be perplexed, but not driven to despair. You will be persecuted, but not forsaken. You will be struck down but not destroyed. Jesus Christ will hold you fast. When the tempter would prevail, He will hold you fast. When your love is often cold, Christ will hold you fast. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is to encourage you to patiently endure with Jesus. If your interpretation of this book does not lead you to persevere with Jesus, then you may have missed its main point.
John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day most likely referring to Sunday, the first day of the week, which Christian set aside to worship God. Long before Christians received Sunday off for worship, Christians would rise early in the morning to gather before they had to work remember the resurrection of Christ. Christians set aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day; to gather with the saints, to hear the Word of God and to sing the praise of the Savior. God has given us the Lord’s Day to help us patiently endure a fallen world in the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We may have a lot of frustrated discouraged drifting Christians in the West, because of their neglect of the Lord’s Day.
As John was in worship, he was commanded to write down what he saw and share it with the churches in Asia. These seven churches were probably seven cities on a postal route making distribution of the “book” easy, but these seven churches are also representative of all churches throughout the ages. The number seven is used strategically in Revelation to communicate wholeness and completeness. This vision was to be given to and for the whole church.
The Son of the Vision
After understanding more of the setting, let us turn our attention to the actual vision. It is important to note that although John saw the vision, we are simply hearing it. We do not live in the age of the eye, but the age of the ear. We are commanded to hear and obey. Blessed is the one who hears the words of this prophecy and who keeps what is written in it. Revelation 1:12-16,
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 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. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 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.
It is hard for us to fully appreciate and understand this vision as it is full of Old Testament imagery. The first century church would have heard this vision in light of the prophecy of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah. It is not meant to be taken literally as if Jesus physically appears like this now, but rather it is meant to communicate who Jesus is in his character and his role in our redemption and judgment.
First, Jesus is in the church’s midst. The voice of the one speaking was in the midst of the lampstand. Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us. Jesus promised that he will be with us always even to the end of the age. Jesus has not abandoned his church, but he is in our midst. How comforting would it be for the early persecuted, marginalized church to know that Jesus is in the midst? How about you? Are you comforted to know that Jesus is in your midst? He has not left you. He has not left his church. We will prevail.
Second, he is in our midst as our Messiah. Jesus is one like a son of man. John is clearly drawing on the Daniel’s well-known prophecy that the Messiah would be one like a son of man. He is not communicating that Jesus is merely like us as a human, but is the long-awaited Messiah who would become like us to free us from our sin with his blood. This would not have been lost on the first-century audience.
Third, this Messianic, Son of Man, was clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The long robe and sash is properly communicating two specific ideas. First, that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth. We see the kingship of Jesus established early in Revelation 1. The vision is to show that Jesus is ruler above all earthly powers. Caesar is not God. There is only One God. Second, Jesus is our high priest. The high priest was identified in Exodus as wearing a sash around his chest (Exodus 39:39). Jesus is both our king and our high priest. (He is in the order of Melchizedek; Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 7-9). Hebrews 2:17-18,
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus is in our midst as our high priest. He suffered and died to pay for the sins of the church, to all who would repent and believe in Him. There cannot be a more encouraging picture. The Elder John and our elder Max do not fear death because One has paid for their sins. We do not have to fear because our debt is paid because our high priest is in our midst interceding for us. And because of his intercession we can patiently endure the tribulation of this world. Pope Francis recently stated, “The Lord does not leave us orphans: we have a Mother, the same one as Jesus. Mary takes care of us and always defends us.” The Bible does not show Mary as the one who cares for us and defends us, but the faithful witness Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Advocate who ever lives to intercede for us.
Fourth, Jesus is pure. His hair being white like wool, like snow should draw our minds back to Daniel 7:9 and Isaiah 1:18. Jesus is pure. His purity should encourage us in two ways. His purity should cause us to rejoice because his sacrifice pure meaning that we can be freed from our sins. The righteous, pure One paid the penalty for the unrighteous and impure ones; Jesus for us. His purity should also resolve us to fight sin. We now belong to the pure one so we should fight for purity.
Fifth, his eyes were like a flame of fire. His gaze is penetrating. He sees and knows all; nothing is hidden from his sight. Jesus is the only Sovereign who sees and knows all. He knows all history and he knows all your history. There is a Latin term, coram deo, which means before the face of God. We always live before the face of God. He sees what is done in secret. He sees who you pray tireless of others. He sees how you labor in your Word to know Him. He knows your burden for the lost in your family. He also sees your lust and greed, impatience and bitterness, your indifference and discontent. When we stand before the face of God at the end of history, his judgment will be perfect. Let us live, coram deo, now; before his face as we know that one day we will stand face to face and the secrets of men will be exposed by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16).
Sixth, his feet were burnished bronze, refined in a furnace. This is to communicate strength and power. In the ancient world, one’s feet were a sign of strength especially in regard to battle. Good footwear was essential for success in battle due to long marches over vast terrain. The army with the best shoes was often victorious. The enemies that stand against God and His people will face his strength and power.
Seventh, his voice was like the roar of many waters showing the power of his Word. We see his word being a like a trumpet and hear like the roar of many waters. When God speaks, He commands attention. His Word will pierce and disclose all like a sharp, two-edged sword. Hebrews 4:12-13,
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
This same image is used again in Revelation 19 when his Word will strike down the nations. We remember 2 Thessalonians where it says the breath of the Lord will destroy the Anti-Christ. There is power in his Word.
Eighth, he holds seven stars in his right hand. He will look at the stars more next week, but merely see that he is the one who is in control. The right hand of God is to communicate power and control. He is the only Sovereign.
Lastly, his face was like the sun shining in full strength. He was brilliant and majestic and powerful. This should bring back the transfiguration when the inner three saw Jesus dazzling white. It is impossible to stare at the sun in full strength, we must look away.
The vision would have been easily understood by its first-century audience and it was meant to show the power and majesty of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, above and over all earthly powers. There would have been an emotive effect when they heard this vision. Sometimes in our efforts to understand the prophecy of Revelation, we miss the emotion and the purpose to our hearts. Jesus is in our midst. Our King and High Priest is in our midst with purity, power and piercing perception. Who can stand before him?
The Sentiment of the Vision
There is no casualness in John’s approach to Jesus here. He sees God and falls down before him as though dead. Like Isaiah, Joshua, and Ezekiel before him, when John is face to face with the awesomeness of God, he falls as though dead. I believe it is instructive for us in how saints approached God. There is a casualty in our day that obscures the reality of the holy and awesome nature of God almighty. God is in our midst, but he is also God and should be honored as such. And yet, this awesome God is a kind and gracious God. Revelation 1:17-20,
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, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Jesus laid his right hand on John in a loving, tender touch saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last.” This is a direct quote from Isaiah 41:4, “I, the Lord, the first and with the last; I am he.” Isaiah continues with great verse which is the favorite of many here, Isaiah 41:10;13-14,
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…For I, the Lord you God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel, I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
He with us and we are in his right hand. The God of the Universe, then only one who can condemn says, “Fear not.” You no longer have to fear death, because Jesus is the Living One. He died and Behold he is alive forevermore and holds the keys to Death and Hades.”
Christian, does it give you hope that our Jesus died you and rose for you? He is alive forevermore and as he is so you shall be. Oh beloved, let the gospel of Jesus give your heart courage to patiently endure with him. Yes, life can be challenging. We will face many trials and tribulations to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:23). And yet, we have a faithful high priest who died for us to pay our debt. We have a Sovereign King that commands us to, “Fear Not.” Jesus lives. He lives forevermore. We can face tomorrow because we know he lives today.
Non-Christian, please know that the tender touch of God and his kind words of acceptance that are spoken here are only for those who trust in Christ. They are offered to you freely and without charge. Jesus died for whosoever would believe, but only for those who would believe. If the Bible is true, one day you will stand before this awesome God and fall on your face as though dead and one of two things will happen: He will either reach out his hand and say, “Fear not. Welcome home,” or he will say, “As you have denied me, so I deny you. Depart from me.” Friend, this vision was given to you as a warning. When you stand before the face of God, where will you place your hope? Turn to Jesus Christ. He is the Living One. There is no other God. He is our only hope. He is a kind Savior and a fierce Judge. I pray that you embrace him as Savior so you will not experience him as Judge.
Park Baptist Church has held out the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ for 110 years. This church has helped many find Jesus Christ. Max Phillips heard the gospel and believed and has been patiently enduring with Jesus for over 76 years (joining at 14 but truly repenting and believing at 18). There have been scores and scores of people who have heard and believed in the gospel through the ministry of this church. As our church, like the first century church, continues to face growing hostility to the gospel, I pray that we would partner together in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus for we belong to the first and the last, the living one. We have an awesome and glorious Savior who is in our midst. Beloved, fear not our Savior has prepared a place for you and he is coming with clouds to bring us home. One day the trump will resound and the Lord will descend, even so, it is well with our souls.