For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
When the Vision Is Lost
The vision of the apostle John in days of decline.
Reading: Revelation 1:9-20.
In the Word of the Lord we find that the heavenly vision is a predominant matter. When we read the Bible, we find that many men had heavenly visions. But the heavenly vision is just one. It is the vision that comes from on-high of God himself. This vision is Jesus Christ, and it is also his church.
But we are not going to speak about the vision in itself, but rather of what happens when it is lost.
In the Old Testament, in Proverbs, it says: "When there is no vision, the people cast off restraint". But it literally means, "perish". In other words, when the heavenly vision is lost, the church dies: how we must treasure the heavenly vision! And also, if we have lost this vision: how dedicated we must become to recover it!
The time of John and the loss of the vision
When we read the first chapters of Revelation we find a situation in which the heavenly vision had been lost. The historical context places us at the end of the first century.
The church at the end of the first century was very different from the church of the first years, which was born at Pentecost and then grew and developed in different cities and provinces of the Roman Empire. The church of the book of Acts is full of the heavenly vision. It is walking, advancing and growing in Christ. But at the end of the first century the situation is different.
When Peter and Paul died in the year 67 DC, during the persecution of the emperor Nero, a dark curtain fell upon the history of the church. Approximately 25 or 30 years went by, and we know absolutely nothing about what happened to the church up to the moment when John appears writing Revelation. When the curtain is raised, at the end of the first century, the scene has changed and the church is different.
Evil has got into the church. It begins to fall into apostasy and into spiritual ruin. And God, at this precise moment of history, is going to use a man to speak to the church, not only to those of that time, but to the whole church, for all time.
Therefore, what the apostle John is going to say to us is a fundamental message, a calling from God's throne itself so that the church might recover the heavenly vision, because it shows us how it is to be recovered, and also in what ways the church has to be restored.
The one who writes is the apostle John. John was one of twelve disciples of the Lord, the one who had the privilege of being called a friend of the Lord, that disciple whom Jesus loved. This does not mean to say that The Lord Jesus did not love others; but it means that there was a greater intimacy between the Lord and John than among that which existed between him and the other disciples.
It was John who had rested in the bosom of the Lord on the night in which the Lord was betrayed. It was John who was at the foot of the cross. No apostle was there, only John. He saw Jesus nailed to the cross; he listened to the words of the Lord on the cross.
This is John, a witness of Jesus Christ, the most faithful of the Lord's disciples, who followed Jesus Christ wherever he was going. Peter was more hurried; quicker to act and to speak. But John had a greater understanding. Further on, during the time in which the church grew and developed in Jerusalem, the Scripture says that John became one of the columns of the church in Jerusalem. But we do not know anything else about John, except that he had a very important service there.
As time passed by, the apostles died, and only John remained, who was already an elder. The church in Jerusalem was dispersed, because the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and set on fire by the Romans in the year 70 DC. The apostle John moved to the city of Ephesus, and settled in the area where Paul and his co-workers had worked for so many years.
But the years went by, and the apostle John was a witness of how Satan began to attack the church, and the evil began to enter in. This evil was disguising itself in different ways and was taking different forms; because we need to know that the church is here on the earth, but it is not of this earth; it is in the world, but it is not of the world. And we also need to know that the prince of this world detests the church in the same way that he detested the Lord of the church.
Satan's attack against the vision
Satan does not want the church to be present in the world; he wants the church to be removed from this world. If he could erase it, if he could annihilate it completely, he would; but he cannot. So, all his power and astuteness is thrown upon it to attack and destroy it.
John was in these churches and he started observing how Satan was subtlely working to destroy them. And he writes his letters and his gospel for the same reason, because the church has begun to lose the vision of Christ.
You remember that he says in his first letter: "...as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last hour". It is true that Paul had taught the churches that the day was coming in which the man of sin was going to be revealed, the son of perdition, and that's why John says to them: "...as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have there arisen many antichrists", that is to say, "...not only in the end time, but right now this mystery of lawlessness is working to destroy the saints". This was the church in the time of John. A church where the brothers are mixed in with those who are not brothers, where there are wolves disguised in sheep's clothing.
John says: "They went out from us"; they did not come from the world. This is the work of the spirit of the antichrist, and we are not immune to it. Throughout the history of the church, the mystery of the iniquity has always been acting in the churches of Christ. And we need to know that, we must be prepared, as John said to us.
Satan was working within the churches through this spirit of the antichrist in two aspects. First, distorting God's word, inventing doctrines, creating false teachings, introducing heresies, false details and subtleties about Christ, his person and his work.
But secondly, simultaneously, he began to develop a type of official organization of the authority and meetings in the church. Official positions started arising: people who were presiding and who were not conforming to the principle of the life and the functioning of Christ's body. In many parts there were men who liked having the first place. Such a thing had never happened earlier; but now John was alone, and: what could he do against the whole tide of evil that rushed forth against the church?
Sometimes we say: "Ah, if we had Paul among us, or John, How different things would be!". We place our eyes on the servants of God, as if they could solve the problems of the church. But here we have John, and he cannot stop the tide that comes. With all his knowledge of Christ, with the whole light that he has about the Lord, he cannot stop what comes upon the church.
Moreover, in the year 90 or 95 another evil was introduced: the Roman Empire. Till then, the empire had remained rather indifferent to the existence of the church. Nero persecuted the brothers in Rome, but it was an isolated incident, and only in Rome in the year 67. But now an emperor called Domitian arose, and it occurred to him - you already know who put this idea in his mind - that he was to be worshipped as a god, to contribute to the unity of the empire. And those who would not adore him were traitors to the empire and were to die. Thus persecution began. The brothers, of course, refuse to worship him, and are handed over by the thousands to die.
Therefore, in addition to the internal weakness which is in the church, this terrible attack comes from outside. No kingdom of this world could have resisted the Roman legions, and now Rome is going to overturn all its power in order to annihilate the church of Jesus Christ. You see the condition of the church at the end of the first century. Everything is different. In his time, Paul was able to say "I am a Roman citizen" and was saved from the Greeks and from the Jews. But now Rome persecutes the saints, and kills them.
John's situation and his suffering for the vision
At this time, John is taken captivate and sent to Patmos, a small island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, between Greece and Asia Minor. It is a rocky, dry foreland, an island of exile. Now, brothers: you will realize what the heart of the apostle is feeling; his powerlessness upon seeing what is happening to the church, knowing the evil that is attacking it, and knowing that the brothers are persecuted and given over to be killed. He is locked up there; his hands and feet were tied. Ah, if he could at least be with the brothers and to comfort them and to cheer them up with his word and his example!
This is a lesson for us. Why do you believe that the Lord allows his servant John to be on an island alone and without being able to do anything? Because the servants of God are truly used by God to bless the church; but they are simultaneously impotent to do anything for it.
John's imprisonment on Patmos represents, on the one hand, this powerlessness, even of the greatest servants, to do anything for the church. But, on the other hand, God has his servant John on the earth. Think about John's condition: with all this burden, thinking that his "little children" are being martyred, thinking that his brothers are going to lose the faith, that another brother is going to be confused...
And in that moment, in his absolute helplessness, he does the only thing that a man can do in this situation: he turns his eyes to the Lord because, although he cannot do anything: the Lord can! So John, once again, turns his eyes to He who reigns over all the kings and is Lord of all lords and prays. "I was in the Spirit...". He is praying!
Sometimes we think that if we are not doing things, we are not serving God. But his servant John is fulfilling the highest of the ministries that a man can fulfill on the earth; and it is neither to preach nor to teach: it is to pray! God needs John on the island so that on the one hand he does nothing, and on the other, so that he does everything ... pray.
And John says: "I John, your brother". He does not put himself in a position different from ours. "I am like all of you, and you are like me, partaker with you in tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus". So we can do what John does, and obtain the response that he obtains, because he is our brother, like all those who endure tribulation in their heart; not a tribulation in itself, or simply circumstances of life, but rather tribulation for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Now, dear brothers, perhaps we are able to go further, and imagine how John was praying. Perhaps he was praying with his sight turned towards Asia Minor. His prayer was carrying the burden of a heart that knows, understands and suffers for the churches of God. That's why he was praying, and that's why the Lord answers him.
The Lord's answer and the restoration of the vision
So he says: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet saying, I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last. Also, What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea".
This is the Lord's answer to John. He prays for the churches of Asia, and the Lord answers him: "I am the First and the Last". Why does the Lord say this? Because John is looking forwards, toward the future. A man with discernment, with vision of the Lord, can see what is going to happen. And he is afflicted, thinking what is going to happen, since he knows that he is going to die soon, and so: what will be of the church when all the power of Rome is given to destroy it, and when the spirit of the antichrist introduces more and more heresies in it? How is it going to survive? Who is going to save it?
And the Lord says to him: "John, I am the first and the last. All the empires of this world are going to perish, all the heresies are going to end, but I live forever. When everything has ended, there I will be. Because I am the last, I have the last word. Nobody is before me, nobody is after me. I am the first; I the last; I, myself who was at the beginning, I also am at the end".
This is how the recovery of the heavenly vision begins. Let's look to heaven and let us look to Him who is our Lord, who is not subject to time; time crashes against the Lord like a river against a rock, but it does not perturb it. The entire history of the world cannot move the Lord; he is the first and he is the last. Things can change on the earth, but they never change the Lord who is in the heavens.
"And I turned back to see the voice which spoke with me". "I turned". What happens, brothers, when we are in tribulation, is that our eyes are so fixed on the situation that it overwhelms us and we cannot see anything beyond it. And John was there with his fixed eyes on the churches. So, the Lord speaks to him. But the Lord is not where the problem is; the Lord is outside the problem, he is behind John.
Why does he speak to him from behind? Because he needs John to get out of the problem, to remove his attention from this and to turn to the Lord. The secret is to take our eyes off what afflicts us, and to turn to look to him.
Then he says: "And I turned back to see the voice which spoke with me; and having turned, I saw seven golden lamps; and in the midst of the seven lamps one like the Son of man". You remember that we said that nobody had been so intimate with the Lord as John. But now, the one who appears before John's eyes, being the same, is different, because he has been resurrected and glorified. And now he appears to John with all the glory that he has received from God. He is no longer the carpenter from Nazareth, now he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
In his gospel, John summarizes the experience of his three years with the Lord with these words: "...and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth". The Lord revealed his glory in those years; but the glory of the Lord in those years was hidden under the veil of his humanity. The humanity of the Lord made it possible for them to touch him. But, now, his glory is manifest in all its fullness.
"...one like unto a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle; And his head and his hair were white as white wool...". The white hair represents an attribute of God. When we read Daniel chapter 7, we find the Ancient of days, who is the Father, whose hairs are white as white wool. That means eternity. An ancient without beginning, a duration without end. Only God is eternal; and our Lord is God, and is eternal.
"...and his eyes were as a flame of fire...". When one approached the Lord during his days on the earth, his eyes were tender and sweet. But now his eyes are like a flame of fire. If you look at his eyes - and we have to look - they penetrate the most intimate thoughts of your heart, they see through you like crystal. He knows everything, he sees everything.
Remember, it is the answer to the church that is full of confusion and appearances... but the Lord has eyes like a flame of fire. There are some who appear to be brothers, and they are not brothers; there are others who, being brothers, live secret lives of sin; but remember: the Lord has eyes like a flame of fire.
"...and his feet like unto burnished brass...". Brass, in the Scriptures, represents God's judgment. The feet tread, judge, crush. But the feet of the Lord are not there to trample the church; they are to trample Satan and his hosts of wickedness; to trample sin, the world, the flesh underfoot. They are feet of brass, which defend us and judge our enemies, because he treads on the press of God's wrath.
"...and his voice as the voice of many waters...". When the Lord was on the earth, his words had authority; but they were words that sounded as words. Nevertheless, now they are like the voice of many waters. Who can hear this voice that thunders from the heavens? This means authority and the power to move all things. By his word the heavens and the earth were made, and one day, by his word, the heavens and the earth will be undone. It is the almighty God's eternal word!
"And he had in his right hand seven stars...". The stars, we are immediately told, represent the angels of the seven churches. This means to say that the ministry of the ministers of the word is in the hands of the Lord. It is He who gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to the church.
This means that whatever the time be that the church is living, God's word will never be absent; since these are the gifts of Christ for the church. Even in the times of greatest darkness in the history of the church, there were men who arose and said: "This is what the Lord has said...". He has the stars in his right hand. In his right hand are the ministries that edify the church. Thanks be to the Lord for this!
"...and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword...". It is God's word that proceeds out of his mouth. With this word, the Lord edifies his church. That's why the stars and the sword are together. The stars are the means; the sword is that which is going to be communicated by means of the stars. It is not God's word in terms of ' The bible '. The Scriptures are the inspired record of the word that went out of the mouth of the Lord. But this is a living word that must be working in the church, dividing the soul and the spirit, separating the straw from the wheat, putting to one side the things of Christ and to another side the things of man; dividing that which is of the soul from that which is of the spirit, to plan the course of God's work in the church. It is God's word governing the church.
"...and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength". As the sun in all its strength. The sun's shine changes in intensity as it rises in the sky, and when it comes to the summit, it shines in its strength. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ is like. The cherubs and the seraphs place their wings in front of their face to hide themselves from the face of He who sits on the throne. It is the glory of the face the resurrected Lord, the star that lights the eternal city, the source of all light for ever and ever!
Do you want light? The light is in him! When the darkness has come, and all the lights have gone out, remember: the face of the Lord never goes out!
And John says: " And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead". Nobody knew the Lord so intimately as him. But now, when he sees the Lord in his heavenly and eternal glory manifested in all his power, he falls down as one dead. Because when the glory of the Lord is revealed, it brings death to everything that is merely human and earthly.
Some brothers say: "I saw the Lord", and that's ok. But, if you ask them: "Brother: what happened?", they answer: "I was filled with joy, it was something exciting". It is true; when we see the Lord, we are filled with joy. But when we see his glory, the first thing that comes to us is not joy; it is the death because the glory of the Lord reveals our condition. When we are seen in his light, our weakness of clay and dust is revealed. That's why we become blind, naked and fall down as though dead.
Do we want to see the Lord? This is the price! Sometimes we speak so superficially about seeing the Lord; but those who have seen him have fallen down as one dead at his feet. But, the Lord put his right hand on John. I imagine that when John felt the hand of the Lord, he remembered that same hand that had been placed on his head so many times before. Because the Lord has not changed. Although he is full of glory, he is also full of love toward those who are his. That's why the Lord bent down, took John from the ground, and tenderly raised him up onto his feet again.
Then, when the Lord placed his hand on John, he says to him: "Fear not; I am the first and the last; and the Living one; and I was dead, - as you are dead now, John, I was also dead - and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades". He not is only the Lord of glory; he is also the resurrected Lord. The life that the Lord has is a life that has overcome death. One day he was on the cross, he faced the power of death and was dead, but now he lives. And he has an indestructible life.
Dear brothers, the greatest of powers that threatens the church is the power of death. If there is a word that can sum up the whole work that Satan produces against the church, it is the word "death". Spiritual death, physical death, death in all its forms and senses. But the Lord is the resurrection and the life! "...the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore" - that is to say, "because I live, my church also lives; death cannot overcome it, because I have the keys of death and of Hades".
No, the church will not be defeated either by death, or by Satan, because the One who lives in the church lives forever! This is the Lord of the church. How blessed He is! He said: "whoever believes in me, though he is dead, he will live".
The churches are restored if they are conformed to the vision
That's why he says to the Church in Sardis "You have name that you live, but you are dead. There was a time in which you were alive, but today there are only memories of your life. One day you were a work of God". But what does the Lord say to the church in Sardis? "These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars". That is to say, he who is full of the life of God's Spirit to give life to the dead. "You are dead, but I live".
And he says to Ephesus: "...thou didst leave thy first love". That is the truth of the matter. "But I am the one who walks amid the candlesticks; I am the center, the beloved, the heart of the church. Turn to me, and you will find your first love".
He says to Pergamum: "...he that hath the sharp two-edged sword". Pergamum is full of false doctrines, of erroneous teachings. But the answer for those teachings are neither doctrines nor any more teachings, but the sharp sword that comes out of the Lord's mouth, the sword that can break all the lies of the evil one.
To Thyatira: "...who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like unto burnished brass". Thyatira had secret sins. They were living secret lives, were appearing to be one thing, but were living another. A woman, Jezebel, was teaching them to eat things sacrificed to the idols. They were doing it secretly, and nobody knew about it; nobody, except the one who has eyes like a flame of fire. And he says: "I am he who judges and punishes the churches". Not us, brothers. Ah, but he can change everything, because he is the Lord of the church.
Finally, to Laodicea, the Son of God says: "...the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God". Laodicea was claiming to have the testimony, and to be full of the knowledge of the Lord. It pretended to be full of wealth and knowledge of God and of spiritual light. But it wasn't. It was full of itself, of vanity, and of an exterior and vain knowledge; there was no reality within. That's why he addresses them as, "the Son of God, the faithful and true witness", that is to say, the one in whom there is no separation between what he says and what he does, what he speaks and what he is.
What the Lord shows to the churches is the fact that the solution for their situation - whatever it may be-, is the vision of himself. Because Christ is the life and the all of the church. God had revealed to the apostle Paul that the church is Christ on the earth. If it loses the heavenly vision, it loses the vision of Christ. And, then, after losing the vision of Christ, the church is deformed; it loses his content and its essence ... and it dies.
So: what is the solution? A renewed vision of everything that Christ the Lord is, because what John saw - the vision of Christ - is then applies to every church in all his different aspects. One aspect of Christ is what is needed to solve the problem of Laodicea, and another aspect of Christ solves the problem of Pergamum, and yet another for the problem of Ephesus. Do you see? It is Christ who solves the problem of the churches.
And, finally, remember: "I am he who walks in the midst of the churches". It is not men who govern, edify, take care of, sustain, support and lead the churches forward: it is the Lord. It is the Lord and only the Lord, and no one but the Lord! John may be far away, Peter may die, Paul may be absent; but the Lord of the church will never be absent! And because he lives, the church will live also.