Second Reading (C): Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
The Commission of John the Elder
9 I am John, your brother in Jesus. I share your suffering, your place in God’s Kingdom, and your patient endurance. I came to a small island called Patmos because I preached God’s word and the truth of Jesus.
10 One Sunday, I felt the Holy Spirit within me. Then I heard someone behind me speak. He sounded like a loud trumpet blast. 11a “Write in a small book everything you see!”
12 I turned to see the person who spoke. Then, I saw seven gold lamp stands. 13 In the middle of the stands, I saw someone who looked like the Son of Man. He wore a long robe that reached his feet and a gold sash across his chest.
17 When I saw him, I fell flat on my face, as if I were dead. He put his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the beginning and the end of everything. 18 I am the Living One! I was dead, but now I am alive forever! I have complete power over death and those who have died. 19 Write down what you see now and what will happen after this.
9 I, John, your brother and partner in JESUS, (a partner with you) in the persecution and the Kingdom and the patient endurance, happened (to come) to the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of JESUS. 10 I happened (to be) in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and I heard behind me a loud sound like a trumpet (blast) 11 saying, “Write in a (small) book what you see and send (it) to the seven churches, to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
12 I turned to look (in the direction of) the voice (of the person) which was speaking to me, and, having turned, I saw seven gold lamp stands, 13 and, in the midst of the lamp stands, (ONE) like the SON OF MAN, having clothed (in a long vestment that reached) to his feet and, circling HIS chest, a gold sash. 14 HIS head and hair (were) like white as wool, white as snow, and HIS eyes (were) as flames of fire, 15 HIS feet (were) like a polished metal, as (after it was) refined in a furnace, HIS voice (was) like the sound of many waters (cascading in torrents), 16 having in HIS hand seven stars and coming (forth) from HIS mouth (the blade) of a two edged sword, and HIS face (was) like the sun (as it) shone in its full power.
17 When I saw HIM, I fell (prostrate) at HIS feet like the dead, and HE set his right (hand) on me, saying, “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, 18 the Living One; I was dead and Look! I am alive into the ages of ages; I have the keys to death and Hades. 19 Write what you saw, what is (now) and what is to happen after these (events). 20 The mystery concerning the seven stars which you see on my right, and the seven gold lamp stands (is this.) The seven stars are the seven messengers (i.e., angels) to the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.”
1:12 “gold lamp stands” were gold plated stands that held clay bowls filled with olive oil. The bowl had a spout at an end with a wick. The oil fed the flame at the wick. The stands evoke the seven flame menorahs of the Temple (Exodus 21:35-40), or in the vision of the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 4:1-2).
1:13 “(one) like the son of man” The phrase “son of man” had a generic sense and a particularly religious sense. In the generic sense, it meant “a common human being.” In the religious sense, it had the overtones of the heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13. Jesus slid between both senses as he used the title to refer to himself; he was like everyone else and he was God’s chosen. John seemed to use the phrase in the same way.
"gold sash” could also be “gold belt.” The sash could have been colored like gold or made from threads of gold. A metal belt made of pure gold seemed less likely.
1:15 “polished metal” The type of metal is unknown. Most translators use “bronze,” “brass,” or “precious metal.”
In the Book of Revelation, John the Elder received a commission to write. What he wrote and how he wrote has caused much controversy and confusion over the past two millennium.
The commission John received had three parts: the voice announcing the command to write, the presence of the One giving the command, and restatement of the command with a revelation.
After the opening greeting, the author John justified his message to the seven churches and his vision of the end times in three ways: empathy with fellow believers, spiritual activity, and a commission. First, John identified himself as an equal, not only in his place within the Church, but his place with those suffering persecution. Notice the tension between the three elements he shared with those in the churches; the presence of the Kingdom connected suffering in the persecution with patient endurance for the coming of the Lord in glory. It was the partial realized nature of the Kingdom that allowed the communities to suffer the wrath of the outside with anticipation of the Second Coming. [1:9a]
John’s empathy did not end when he identified with their situation. He pointed out his geography. He was on Patmos, a tiny island (five miles wide by eight miles long) in the Aegean Sea off the coast of modern-day Turkey. He was in the vicinity. While we do not know if John was somehow persecuted for his activities (“preaching God’s word and the truth of Jesus”), we can imagine John felt he walked with those in seven assemblies. (Later, about 190 A.D., Clement of Alexandria, in The Rich Man’s Salvation, wrote John was exiled on Patmos for his preaching.)
Second, John “was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” The result of the Spirit’s activity was a voice of commission [10b-11] and a vision of the Lord [12-20]. What did John mean when he said he was “in the Spirit.” Many commentators assume John was in a trance. But John did not emphasize his duty as a writer of visions but a recorder of prophecies (see 1:3). His model of prophecy was obviously Daniel. In a movement that anticipated the immanent return of the Lord, the utterance of prophecy might commonly take the shape of “apocalyptic” visions. In 1 Corinthians 12:9, Paul listed prophecy as one of the many gifts of the Spirit given to the community. Add to the mix that John might have been with the assembly at worship “on the Lord’s day.” We can just as easily speculate John recorded the prophetic utterance of the community on Patmos as he was alone in a complete trance. In the end, we do not know how John received the vision, we just have the end result. [1:10a]
Third, in the prophecy, John heard a voice from heaven that commissioned him to write what he witnessed. The loud sound of the trumpet could represent a call to worship as much as a commission. As we will see, who John saw when he turned to see the source of the voiced caused him to fall prostate in worship (see 1:17a). In the commission, the voice commanded John to write to the seven churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey), within several days journey from Patmos. While the author listed specific churches, the number seven represented the fullness of the Christian experience in community. In other words, the praises and curses found in Revelations could be applied to any group of church communities. [1:11]
After John turned to see the source of the voice, he gazed within the temple of heaven, decorated with lamp stands. In the midst stood “one like the Son of Man.” Notice the appearance of the figure projected the power of God. The man was clothed in official (even priestly) vestments accented in gold. His hair was white to denote age, wisdom, and power. His eyes were intense and his voice had a commanding projection (water in torrents) with the power of judgment (tongue like a two-edged sword). His face shone like the sun, denoting a divine presence (as in the Transfiguration; see Matthew 17:1-9). And in his hand, he held the power of the cosmos (the seven stars). Taking the lamp stands and the figure together, we have a vision of the heavenly court, where God’s chosen would pronounce his judgment on the world (see the dream in Daniel 10:5-14).
John reacted to the vision of the “Son of Man” by falling prostrate in fear and worship. Compare this scene to Matthew 28:2-3, where the angel appeared white as lightning and the guards fell prostrate as dead men (also see Daniel 8:17, 10:9-11). While the sight of the divine caused fear and trembling, in the Spirit, it also caused praise. [1;17a-b]
In response, the Son of Man comforted John (again compare with Matthew 17:9). Then he declared who he was as a prelude to the his revelation. Notice again the three part construction where the dissimilar middle element bridged two like elements on either side. In the middle, the Son of Man revealed himself as the risen Jesus (“I was dead and Look! I am alive into the ages of ages”). On either side of this element laid the announcement of his divinity. The first element echoed the words and phrasing of 1:9: the beginning and the end (the Alpha and the Omega) and the Living One. The last element stated his power; with control over death and the after-world, the Lord was almighty. [1:17c-18]
This three element construction also carried through this section. The vision-declaration of divinity (1:12-18) has two bookend command elements (“Write...”). The first command to write told John the addresses of his correspondence. Now, the Lord commanded John to write what he saw, both present and future events. [1:19]
After the vision and the declaration came the revelation: the meaning of the gold stands and the stars. The gold stands as signs of worship in the Temple were symbolized in the seven churches, the assemblies where the faithful praised God for gift of Jesus. The seven stars were the angels (i.e., power of God’s message) to the churches. In the first century A.D., the stars were commonly seen as the instruments that held the divine will. Notice the lamp stands and the stars pointed heavenward. Again, the communities worshiped as if they were in the assembly of the saved before the throne of God.
In company of angels and before the Son of Man, John was to write prophecy to the seven churches. He empathized with their condition. And he shared with their worship in “Spirit.” His words were from the Lord, to challenge the complacent and comfort the persecuted.
This is the essence of prophecy. It is our mission to prophecy in the Lord’s name and in the Lord’s words. Just as if he were here.
How do you think God has commissioned you? How have your responded to the call of God? How has his commission changed you?