Friday, April 29, 2011

J.C. Ryle On The Atoning Death Of Christ

"The truth is, that our Lord would have us regard the crucifixion as the central truth of Christianity. Right views of His vicarious death, and the benefits resulting from it, lie at the foundation of [Christianity]. Never forget this. On matters of church government, and the form of worship, men may differ from us, and yet reach heaven in safety. On the matter of Christ's atoning death, as the way of peace, truth is only one. If we are wrong here we are ruined forever. Error on may points is only a skin disease. Error about Christ's death is a disease at the heart. Let nothing move us from this ground. The sum of all our hopes must be, that 'Christ has died for us' (1Thessalonians 5:10). Give up that doctrine, and we have no solid hope at all."
Expository Thoughts On The Gospels, Vol 1, Pg 200-201

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What Is The Gospel?

Here is the next sermon in Voddie Baucham's series on Romans, this time covering verses 30-33 of chapter 9.

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Romans 9:30-33

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are You A Christian?

From Grace Gems today:

Are you a Christian?

This is a very important inquiry, because many profess to be so--who are not so in reality. And yet no one can be saved--unless he is a Christian.

If anyone is in Christ--he is a new creature:
he is convinced of sin--and mourns over it;
he hates sin--and departs from it;
he reads the Word of God--and loves it;
he hears the gospel of Christ--and believes it.

He becomes a disciple of Christ, . . .
learning His doctrines,
trusting His promises,
and doing His will.

He receives the Spirit of Christ, which is a spirit of meekness, love, and holiness.

He would rather suffer for Christ--than sin against Christ! He . . .
loves the person of Christ,
imitates the example of Christ, and
observes the ordinances of Christ.

He commits his soul into the hands of Jesus . . .
to be pardoned through His blood,
to be justified by His righteousness,
to be sanctified by His Spirit,
to be preserved by His power,
to be used for His glory, and
to be presented faultless by Him to the Father at last.

He looks for the second coming of Christ with joy--because then he will be like Him, for he will see Him as He is!

Such is a Christian, according to the New Testament.

Reader, are you a Christian?

Can you live without prayer?

Can you be happy without Christ?

Can you neglect or despise the Word of God?

If so--then you are not a Christian!

Every Christian finds . . .
prayer to be the breath of his soul,
Christ to be the food of his soul,
the Bible to be the comfort of his soul, and
the Lord's people to be the beloved companions of his soul.

Examine yourself, for thousands bear the Christian name--who know nothing of Christian experience. Multitudes live and die under a delusion--and will say to Jesus at last, "Lord, Lord, we were Christians!" Then He will say unto them, "I never knew you! Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!" This will be dreadful--most dreadful!
James Smith
Good Seed For The Lord's Field (1856)
Take some time today to prayerfully consider what was written here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Resurrection Day

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Luke 24:1-7

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Demons In Disguise

Here is something a little different; in these podcasts Pastor Trevor Hammack looks at the Urban Legend of Black Eyed Kids (BEK's) from a Biblical perspective. This is not the kind of thing that I would normally post here, but I really like Pastor Hammack and I found this series fascinating. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are

Here is the followup to the last sermon I posted; this is Voddie Baucham preaching on Romans 9:19-29.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Word Of God Has Not Failed

Here is a great sermon from Voddie Baucham on Romans 9:6-13 that asks, and answers the question, has the word of God failed in regard to the nation of Israel?

A Warning Against Unbelief

As I was reading  this morning I found this quote by J.C. Ryle and thought was worth sharing. The passage that I was reading was Matthew 13:51-58, which says:
“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:51-58

Notice that in this last verse Jesus talks about the unbelief of those who lived in His home town, and that He said it was because of their unbelief that He did not perform many mighty works there. Of this verse Ryle wrote:
The last thing which we ought to notice in these verses is the ruinous nature of unbelief. The chapter ends with the fearful words, "He didn't do many miraculous works there, because of their unbelief."

 Behold in this single word the secret of the everlasting ruin of multitudes of souls! They perish forever, because they will not believe. There is nothing beside in earth or heaven that prevents their salvation. Their sins, however many, might all be forgiven. The Father's love is ready to receive them. The blood of Christ is ready to cleanse them. The power of the Spirit is ready to renew them. But a great barrier interposes - they will not believe. "You will not come unto me," says Jesus, "that you might have life." (John 5:40.)

May we all be on our guard against this accursed sin. It is the old root-sin, which caused the fall of man. Cut down in the true child of God by the power of the Spirit, it is ever ready to bud and sprout again. There are three great enemies against which God's children should daily pray - pride, worldliness, and unbelief. Of these three, none is greater than unbelief.

J.C. Ryle
Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume 1 (2007 Baker Books Reprint) Pg. 157

How often do we actually think about unbelief being an issue in our lives? But just as we need to fight against pride and worldliness in our lives, we need to also be fighting against unbelief. The truth is that every time we sin - every time - there is an element of unbelief present; what we are saying, in essence, when we sin is "God, I don't believe what You said about ________."

Remember, Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23). And I don't know about you, but I think if God tells us something 4 times it must be important.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Even More On Charles Finney

Here is an article written by Dr. Michael Horton of the White Horse Inn on the theology of Charles Finney, a man who had great influence on the Christianity of today; but was what he taught Biblical? I'll let you read the article and you can decide for yourself:

The Disturbing Legacy of Charles Finney
by Dr. Michael Horton

Jerry Falwell calls him "one of my heroes and a hero to many evangelicals, including Billy Graham." I recall wandering through the Billy Graham Center some years ago, observing the place of honor given to Charles Finney in the evangelical tradition, reinforced by the first class in theology I had at a Christian college, where Finney’s work was required reading. The New York revivalist was the oft-quoted and celebrated champion of the Christian singer Keith Green and the Youth With A Mission organization. He is particularly esteemed among the leaders of the Christian Right and the Christian Left, by both Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis (Sojourners’ magazine), and his imprint can be seen in movements that appear to be diverse, but in reality are merely heirs to Finney’s legacy. From the Vineyard movement and the Church Growth Movement to the political and social crusades, televangelism, and the Promise Keepers movement, as a former Wheaton College president rather glowingly cheered, "Finney, lives on!"

That is because Finney’s moralistic impulse envisioned a church that was in large measure an agency of personal and social reform rather than the institution in which the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, are made available to believers who then take the Gospel to the world. In the nineteenth century, the evangelical movement became increasingly identified with political causes-from abolition of slavery and child labor legislation to women’s rights and the prohibition of alcohol. In a desperate effort at regaining this institutional power and the glory of "Christian America" (a vision that is always powerful in the imagination, but, after the disintegration of Puritan New England, elusive), the turn-of-the century Protestant establishment launched moral campaigns to "Americanize" immigrants, enforce moral instruction and "character education." Evangelists pitched their American gospel in terms of its practical usefulness to the individual and the nation.

That is why Finney is so popular. He is the tallest marker in the shift from Reformation orthodoxy, evident in the Great Awakening (under Edwards and Whitefield) to Arminian (indeed, even Pelagian) revivalism. Evident from the Second Great Awakening to the present. To demonstrate the debt of modern evangelicalism to Finney, we must first notice his theological departures. From these departures, Finney became the father of the antecedents to some of today’s greatest challenges within evangelical churches, namely, the church growth movement, Pentecostalism and political revivalism.

Who is Finney?

Reacting against the pervasive Calvinism of the Great Awakening, the successors of that great movement of God’s Spirit turned from God to humans, from the preaching of objective content (namely, Christ and him crucified) to the emphasis on getting a person to "make a decision."

Charles Finney (1792-1875) ministered in the wake of the "Second Awakening," as it has been called. A Presbyterian layover, Finney one day experienced "a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost" which "like a wave of electricity going through and through me ... seemed to come in waves of liquid love." The next morning, he informed his first client of the day, "I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and I cannot plead yours. "Refusing to attend Princeton Seminary (or any seminary, for that matter). Finney began conducting revivals in upstate New York. One of his most popular sermons was "Sinners Bound to Change Their Own Hearts."

Finney’s one question for any given teaching was, "Is it fit to convert sinners with?" One result of Finney’s revivalism was the division of Presbyterians in Philadelphia and New York into Arminian and Calvinistic factions. His "New Measures" included the "anxious bench" (precursor to today’s altar call), emotional tactics that led to fainting and weeping, and other "excitements," as Finney and his followers called them.

Finney’s Theology?

One need go no further than the table of contents of his Systematic Theology to learn that Finney’s entire theology revolved around human morality. Chapters one through five are on moral government, obligation, and the unity of moral action; chapters six and seven are "Obedience Entire," as chapters eight through fourteen discuss attributes of love, selfishness, and virtues and vice in general. Not until the twenty-first chapter does one read anything that is especially Christian in its interest, on the atonement. This is followed by a discussion of regeneration, repentance, and faith. There is one chapter on justification followed by six on sanctification. In other words, Finney did not really write a Systematic Theology, but a collection of essays on ethics.

But that is not to say that Finney’s Systematic Theology does not contain some significant statements of theology.

First, in answer to the question, "Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?", Finney answers:
 "Whenever he sins, he must, for the time being, cease to be holy. This is self-evident. Whenever he sins, he must be condemned; he must incur the penalty of the law of God ... If it be said that the precept is still binding upon him, but that with respect to the Christian, the penalty is forever set aside, or abrogated, I reply, that to abrogate the penalty is to repeal the precept, for a precept without penalty is no law. It is only counsel or advice. The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys or Antinomianism is true ... In these respects, then, the sinning Christian and the unconverted sinner are upon precisely the same ground (p. 46)."
 Finney believed that God demanded absolute perfection, but instead of that leading him to seek his perfect righteousness in Christ, he concluded that "... full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed ... But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not" (p. 57).

Finney declares of the Reformation’s formula simul justus et peccator or "simultaneously justified and sinful," "This error has slain more souls, I fear, than all the Universalism that ever cursed the world." For, "Whenever a Christian sins he comes under condemnation, and must repent and do his first works, or be lost" (p.60).

Finney’s doctrine of justification rests upon a denial of the doctrine of original sin. Held by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, this biblical teaching insists that we are all born into this world inheriting Adam’s guilt and corruption. We are, therefore, in bondage to a sinful nature. As someone has said, "We sin because we’re sinners": the condition of sin determines the acts of sin, rather than vice versa. But Finney followed Pelagius, the fifth-century heretic, who was condemned by more church councils than any other person in church history, in denying this doctrine.

Finney believed that human beings were capable of choosing whether they would be corrupt by nature or redeemed, referring to original sin as an "anti-scriptural and nonsensical dogma" (p.179). In clear terms, Finney denied the notion that human beings possess a sinful nature (ibid.). Therefore, if Adam leads us into sin, not by our inheriting his guilt and corruption, but by following his poor example, this leads logically to the view of Christ, the Second Adam, as saving by example. This is precisely where Finney takes it, in his explanation of the atonement.

The first thing we must note about the atonement, Finney says, is that Christ could not have died for anyone else’s sins than his own. His obedience to the law and his perfect righteousness were sufficient to save him, but could not legally be accepted on behalf of others. That Finney’s whole theology is driven by a passion for moral improvement is seen on this very point: "If he [Christ] had obeyed the Law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as a sine qua non of our salvation" (p.206)? In other words, why would God insist that we save ourselves by our own obedience if Christ’s work was sufficient? The reader should recall the words of St. Paul in this regard, "I do not nullify the grace of God’, for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing." It would seem that Finney’s reply is one of agreement. The difference is, he has no difficulty believing both of those premises.

That is not entirely fair, of course, because Finney did believe that Christ died for something—not for someone, but for something. In other words, he died for a purpose, but not for people. The purpose of that death was to reassert God’s moral government and to lead us to eternal life by example, as Adam’s example excited us to sin. Why did Christ die? God knew that "The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted ... If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless" (p.209). Therefore, we are not helpless sinners who need to,’ be redeemed, but wayward sinners who need a demonstration of selflessness so moving that we will be excited to leave off selfishness. Not only did Finney believe that the "moral influence" theory of the atonement was the chief way of understanding the cross; he explicitly denied the substitutionary atonement, which "assumes that the atonement was a literal payment of a debt, which we have seen does not consist with the nature of the atonement ... It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one" (p.217). 
Then there is the matter of applying redemption. Throwing off Reformation orthodoxy, Finney argued strenuously against the belief that the new birth is a divine gift, insisting that "regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice, intention, preference; or in changing from selfishness to love or benevolence," as moved by the moral influence of Christ’s moving example (p.224). "Original sin, physical regeneration, and all their kindred and resulting dogmas, are alike subversive of the gospel, and repulsive to the human intelligence" (p.236).

Having nothing to do with original sin, a substitutionary atonement, and the supernatural character of the new birth, Finney proceeds to attack "the article by which the church stands or falls"— justification by grace alone through faith alone.

Distorting the Cardinal Doctrine of Justification

The Reformers insisted, on the basis of clear biblical texts, that justification (in the Greek, "to declare righteous," rather than "to make righteous") was a forensic (i.e., legal) verdict. In other words, whereas Rome maintained that justification was a process of making a bad person better, the Reformers argued that it was a declaration or pronouncement that had someone else’s righteousness (i.e., Christ’s) as its basis. Therefore, it was a perfect, once and-for-all verdict of right standing.

This declaration was to be pronounced at the beginning of the Christian life, not in the middle or at the end. The key words in the evangelical doctrine are "forensic" (legal) and "imputation" (crediting one’s account, as opposed to the idea of "infusion" of a righteousness within a person’s soul). Knowing all of this, Finney declares,
 "But for sinners to be forensically pronounced just, is impossible and absurd... As we shall see, there are many conditions, while there is but one ground, of the justification of sinners ... As has already been said, there can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that he obeyed for us."  
To this, Finney replies: "The doctrine of imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption." After all, Christ’s righteousness "could do no more than justify himself. It can never be imputed to us ... it was naturally impossible, then, for him to obey in our behalf " This "representing of the atonement as the ground of the sinner’s justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many" (pp.320-2).

The view that faith is the sole condition of justification is "the antinomian view," Finney asserts. "We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. But this we shall see is an erroneous view of the subject." (pp.326-7).

Finney Today

As the noted Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield pointed out so eloquently, there are throughout history only two religions: heathenism, of which Pelagianism is a religious expression, and a supernatural redemption.

With Warfield and those who so seriously warned their brothers and sisters of these errors among Finney and his successors, we too must come to terms with the wildly heterodox strain in American Protestantism. With roots in Finney’s revivalism, perhaps evangelical and liberal Protestantism are not that far apart after all. His "New Measures," like today’s Church Growth Movement, made human choices and emotions the center of the church’s ministry, ridiculed theology, and replaced the preaching of Christ with the preaching of conversion.

It is upon Finney’s naturalistic moralism that the Christian political and social crusades build their faith in humanity and its resources in self-salvation. Sounding not a little like a deist, Finney declared, "There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature. It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. It is just that, and nothing else. When mankind becomes truly religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth. They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God." As the new birth is a natural phenomenon for Finney, so too a revival: "A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means."

The belief that the new birth and revival depend necessarily on divine activity is pernicious. "No doctrine," he says, "is more dangerous than this to the prosperity of the Church, and nothing more absurd" (Revivals of Religion [Revell], pp.4-5).

When the leaders of the Church Growth Movement claim that theology gets in the way of growth and insist that it does not matter what a particular church believes: growth is a matter of following the proper principles, they are displaying their debt to Finney.

When leaders of the Vineyard movement praise this sub-Christian enterprise and the barking, roaring, screaming, laughing, and other strange phenomena on the basis that "it works" and one must judge its truth by its fruit, they are following Finney as well as the father of American pragmatism, William James, who declared that truth must be judged on the basis of "its cash-value in experiential terms."

Thus, in Finney’s theology, God is not sovereign, man is not a sinner by nature, the atonement is not a true payment for sin, justification by imputation is insulting to reason and morality, the new birth is simply the effect of successful techniques, and revival is a natural result of clever campaigns. In his fresh introduction to the bicentennial edition of Finney’s Systematic Theology, Harry Conn commends Finney’s pragmatism: "Many servants of our Lord should be diligently searching for a gospel that ‘works’, and I am happy to state they can find it in this volume."

As Whitney R. Cross has carefully documented, the stretch of territory in which Finney’s revivals were most frequent was also the cradle of the perfectionistic cults that plagued that century. A gospel that "works" for zealous perfectionists one moment merely creates tomorrow’s disillusioned and spent supersaints. Needless to say, Finney’s message is radically different from the evangelical faith, as is the basic orientation of the movements we see around us today that bear his imprint such as: revivalism (or its modern label. the Church Growth Movement), or Pentecostal perfectionism and emotionalism, or political triumphalism based on the ideal of "Christian America," or the anti-intellectual, and antidoctrinal tendencies of many American evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Not only did the revivalist abandon the doctrine of justification, making him a renegade against evangelical Christianity; he repudiated doctrines, such as original sin and the substitutionary atonement, that have been embraced by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike. Therefore, Finney is not merely an Arminian’, but a Pelagian. He is not only an enemy of evangelical Protestantism, but of historic Christianity of the broadest sort.

Of one thing Finney was absolutely correct: The Gospel held by the Reformers whom he attacked directly, and indeed held by the whole company of evangelicals, is "another gospel" in distinction from the one proclaimed by Charles Finney. The question of our moment is, With which gospel will we side?

(Reprinted from Modern Reformation)
Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from Charles G. Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology (Bethany, 1976).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Revelation Chapter 1, Part 3 - John's Vision Of Jesus

It has been over a year since I posted anything from my study of Revelation, but here is the next installment in that series that began in October, 2008 with a series on the Messages to the Seven Churches found in chapters 2 & 3. After I finished that study I just continued on with studies in chapters 4 & 5 and then I decided that I needed to go back and pick up chapter 1 before going any further, but I never did the final post in chapter one, so here is that post, and a list of all of the other posts in the series so far for those of you who may have missed some or want to go back and re-read any of them:

From here I will jump to chapter 6 and then continue the series from there.

So after almost 16 months here is Revelation Chapter 1, Part 3 - John's Vision of Jesus

John’s Vision of Jesus (Verses 9-20)
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. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
Revelation 1:9-10
This section begins with John reminding us that he has undergone persecution along with his readers. During this time in history Christians were a hated group, and they were widely persecuted by the Roman government. John was himself, at the time he was writing this, a prisoner on the island of Patmos, a 4 x 8 mile island off the coast of modern Turkey. Earl F. Palmer tells us:
Scholars of the first-century period have found evidences that the Roman government maintained rock quarries on Patmos to which prisoners and banished troublemakers were sent to live out their lives. 1
John was viewed as a troublemaker by the authorities and was exiled to this rocky island. But he tells us that the reason for his banishment was “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” He was not being persecuted because of disobedience; he was being persecuted because he was being faithful to God. This should be a lesson to all of us – as a Christian if you are not being persecuted you need to see where in your life you are compromising. Jesus tells us that the world will hate us (Matthew 10:22) and Paul adds that:

In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:12 (HCSB)

The phrase that John uses here, “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ” shows us that these two things are linked; the word of God is the testimony of Jesus Christ. John’s only crime was his faithfulness to the word of God. John MacArthur adds:
John suffered exile for his faithful, unequivocal, uncompromising preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.2
Next, John tells us that he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” I want to take a few minutes here to look at each of these separately as there has been a disagreement as to the meaning of each of these.

First John said that he was “in the Spirit.” Many today have taken this to mean that John was slain in the Spirit, a practice that is common in some denominations. But please note that every time John used this phrase in the book of Revelation he is taken somewhere by the Spirit of God and shown a vision (Rev 4:2, 17:3, 21:10). We can also see this same thing in the visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:2, 3:12, 14). John was fully conscious during these visions and was communicating with Jesus and/or His angel while witnessing them.

Second, he uses the phrase “on the Lord’s day.” This phrase has been translated by many to mean Sunday, the first day of the week, and by others to mean the “Day of the Lord”, the day that God pours out His wrath on the world. On the one hand, there is no indication in the New Testament of the early Christians ever calling Sunday the Lord’s day, and on the other hand the Greek phrase for the Day of the Lord is quite different than the phrase that John uses here. I personally believe that John was referring to the Day of the Lord and not Sunday, as I will show as we move through the rest of the book, but I am not dogmatic on this point.

Now John tells us what he saw and what he heard; he says “I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, 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.’” So John is on the island of Patmos, and while he is in the Spirit he hears a voice behind him, and the voice is loud, like the sound of a trumpet. John tells us further on in the chapter that this voice he heard was the voice of Jesus, but all he tells us here is that is was a voice like the sound of a trumpet.

There is significance to a trumpet in the Bible; it is often associated with the presence of God, and this is no exception. We see the first mention of a trumpet in Exodus where it is connected with the giving of the law. The Israelites were instructed:
“When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”
Exodus 19:13
Then we see in chapter 20
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off
Exodus 20:18
As we can see from these verses, the sound of the trumpet is connected to the appearance of God.

The Prophet Joel connects the trumpet with the Day of the Lord:
Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near,
Joel 2:1
The prophet Zechariah connects the trumpet with the coming of the Lord:
Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.
Zechariah 9:14
As does Paul:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
1 Thessalonians 4:14
So, John hears a loud voice, a voice like the sound of a trumpet, and the voice said, “Write in a book what you see, 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.” This is the first of twelve times in the book of Revelation that John is instructed to write what he sees. Here he is told to write in a book, or scroll, what he sees and to send it to seven specific churches. We will look at each of these churches individually when we get to chapters two and three, so we will not take the time to do that here. Just take note that these were specific instructions and that this was to be circulated to specific locations.

Next John tells us what he saw:
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.
Revelation 1:12-16
John turned to see the voice that as speaking to him, and he saw the Risen Christ. John tells us that he saw seven golden lampstands and in the middle of the lampstand he saw one like the son of man. Here we see the first symbolism in the book – the seven golden lampstands. If we keep reading we will find out in verse 20 that these lampstands represent the seven churches that John has been instructed to write to. Here we see the key to understanding the book of Revelation; when symbols are used we need to check the passage for an explanation of that symbol. Quit often we will discover the explanation right in the text; other times we will need to look throughout the rest of the Bible to see where else it may have been mentioned, but we should not interject meaning for the symbolism that is not consistent with the use of that word or picture throughout the rest of Scripture.

John tells us that as he turned he saw seven golden lampstands, and he saw “one like the son of man” in the middle of them. The phrase “son of man” is a phrase that we first encounter in the vision of Daniel:
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him."
Daniel 7:13
This is a title that the Lord Jesus used most often of Himself (81 times in the gospels), and as we will see as we move through this vision that is exactly who John is encountering here, the Risen and Glorified Lord Jesus Christ. We will look at the similarities between this vision of John and the vision of Daniel chapter seven as we move through these verses.

The first thing John tells us in this description of what he saw is that the He was wearing a robe that reached to His feet and that there was a golden sash across His chest. This represents the priestly garments worn by the high priest in the Old Testament. John MacArthur says:
Most occurrences of this word [garment, the Greek word podé̄rēs in the Septuagint refer to the garment of the High-Priest. The golden sash across His chest completes the picture of Christ serving in His priestly role.3
Dr Zodhiates says that this word used of “a long robe worn by people of rank as a mark of distinction.”4 This is a common description of God; notice what Isaiah said when he had a vision of God:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Isaiah 6:1
In ancient times the length of a persons robe indicated their rank, and is Isaiah’s vision he saw God sitting on a throne and His robe filled the temple. Here is John’s vision he sees Christ wearing a robe that reached to His feet. This robe could also signify Jesus’ role as the judge of the world, or in this case, of the church. William MacDonald says that the robe "was the long robe of a judge” and that the sash around His chest “symbolizes the righteousness and faithfulness with which He judges.”5 Isaiah tells us, speaking of the Messiah:
“Righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist”
Isaiah 11:5
John then tells us that His head and hair were white, like wool or snow, and that His eyes were like a flame of fire. The first description here, the white head and hair, is a direct reference to the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9 & 10:5, and in this passage John is ascribing to Jesus the same attributes of deity as God the Father. The Greek word that is translated here as white is the word leukós, which means bright, blazing or brilliant, and the use of this word depicts the eternality of Jesus as well as His holiness, His truthfulness, and His glory.

That His eyes were like a flame of fire speaks to His ability to judge with “perfect knowledge, infallible insight, and inescapable scrutiny.”6 This again is a direct reference to Daniels vision (Daniel 10:6) and again John is ascribing the attributes of deity to Jesus making Him equal with God the Father. Warren Wiersbe tells us that His eyes being flames of fire teach us that:
His eyes see all, and they judge what they see. In the midst of the churches, Christ sees what is going on, and He judges.7
Now moving into verse fifteen John tells us that His feet were like burnished bronze and His voice was like the sound of many waters. Bronze in the Bible always represents the judgment of sin. In the Tabernacle of the Old Testament the brazen (or bronze) alter was the place where sin was judged, and in the wilderness when the children of Israel rebelled against God and He sent the serpents to chasten them it was a bronze serpent that Moses was instructed to erect for their healing (Numbers 21:9). John MacArthur tells us:
Glowing hot, brass feet are a clear reference to divine judgment. Jesus Christ with feet of judgment is moving through His church to exercise His chastening authority upon sin.8
The voice like the sound of many waters tells us that when He speaks it is with authority. This description shows us the power of His words; Psalm 29 says:
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
Psalm 29:3-9
Verse sixteen tells us that in His right hand were seven stars, that out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and that His face shown like the sun. The seven stars will be explained in verse twenty, so we will look at them there. John tells us that coming out of the mouth of Jesus was a sharp two-edged sword. This is the picture of a broadsword that is sharp on both sides, and what this is telling us that Jesus will judge sin by the word of His mouth. Look at the description of the word of God given in the letter to the Hebrews:
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.
Hebrews 4:12-13
Notice that in these verses we are told that the word of God is living and active and that it is sharper than a two-edged sword; that it is able to discern the thoughts and the intentions of our heart; and that we are all naked and exposed before the eyes of God to whom we each must give account. This is the picture that John is painting here; when he saw Jesus in all of his glory he saw One that will judges, and he saw that the judgment comes from His mouth – the very word of God.

Lastly, John says that His face shown like the sun shining in all of its strength. This again is a picture of the glory of Jesus. Jesus in no longer a baby in Bethlehem, He is no longer the suffering servant; John now sees Him as the risen King of kings and Lord of lords, and He sees Him in all of His glory.
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. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Revelation 1:17-20
Here in verse seventeen we see John’s response to seeing this vision of the glorified Christ; he fell at His feet as a dead man. This is the only response to anyone who has genuinely encountered the Risen Christ. When you see Him you will not stand, you will not carry on a conversation, you will not even hesitate. You will fall at His feet like a dead man. This is the common reaction throughout the Bible when someone has had a vision of God. Let’s look at a few of these:
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Isaiah 6:5
Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.
Ezekiel 1:28
Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple, and I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord. And I fell on my face.
Ezekiel 44:4
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
Matthew 17:1, 2, 5, and  6
John MacArthur points out that this Biblical reaction to seeing God is:
In stark contrast to the silly, frivolous, false, and boastful claims of many in our own day who claim to have seen God.” He continues “the reaction of those in Scripture who genuinely saw God was inevitably one of fear. Those brought face-to-face with the blazing, holy glory of the Lord Jesus Christ are terrified, realizing their sinful unworthiness to be in His holy presence.9
This was the reaction of John here in Revelation 1:17. When he saw Jesus he fell at His feet as a dead man. But notice what happened next; John tells us that Jesus laid His hand on him and said, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

It was Jesus who reached out to John to calm his fear. Jesus then tells John four things to comfort him: first he says that He is the first and the last. This is a reference to Isaiah 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.” This speaks to the eternality of God and tells us that in Him we have nothing to fear because He was before all things and He will be after all things.

Second Jesus says that He is the living One; this is tied with the next title He uses where He reminds us that He was dead and is alive forevermore. This tells us that we need not fear death because the living One, who is alive forevermore, has defeated our greatest enemy – death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

And last He tells us that He holds in His hands the keys to death and Hades. John MacArthur says of this statement:
[These] terms are essentially synonymous, with death being the condition and Hades the place. Hades is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament term Sheol and refers to the place of the dead. Keys denote access and authority. Jesus Christ has the authority to decide who dies and who lives; He controls life and death. And John, like all the redeemed, had nothing to fear, since Christ had already delivered him from death and Hades by His own death.10
Now in the last two verses of this chapter Jesus gives instructions to John and explains some of the symbolism that he has just encountered. First Jesus repeats the command that He gave John in verse eleven and He tells him to write the things that he has seen, the things that are, and the things that shall take place after these things. This is the basic outline for the book of Revelation; the things that you have seen cover chapter one, the things that are covers chapters two and three, and the things that will take place after these things covers chapters four through twenty-two.

Robert Van Kampen tells us that we:
Must be careful at this point not to push the significance of this outline too far. The significance of the relationship of the church to Revelation 4-22 cannot be determined simply by recognizing the absence of the term church from these critical chapters. The absence of the term church from the Old Testament certainly does not mean that there is no applicable value for the church in the Old Testament.11
With that in mind here is another possible interpretation of the outline in verse nineteen.
More likely, Jesus is telling John to write not only the visions he will see but whatever explanations may accompany them so as to shed light on the future: “Write, therefore, the things you have seen, and what they are, and [consequently] the things that are going to take place after this.” As if to illustrate this, Jesus immediately provides just such an explanation of two details in John’s first vision: the seven stars in his right hand and the seven golden lampstands that first caught John’s eye when he turned around. 12
Either of these explanations makes sense and there is truth in both of them, so as we move through the rest of the book keep these two thoughts in mind and we will not have any trouble seeing what the Holy Spirit wants us to see.

Then in verse twenty Jesus explains the mystery of the lampstands and the stars that were in His hand. First He tells us that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. The word translated angels here is the Greek word ággelos, which can be interpreted as “A messenger, one who is sent in order to announce, teach, perform.” Or it can mean, “An angel, a celestial messenger, a being superior to man.”13 For this reason there is some disagreement among scholars as to whether this is referring to the actual angels, or to the pastors of these specific churches. Jesus then tells us that the seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches to whom John has been instructed to write. We saw these churches in verse eleven; they are: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

Whatever is the correct interpretation of the word angels in this verse there are two things that we know for sure: first that Jesus is in the midst of His church and He is aware of what is going on there, and second that He is hold the messengers of His church in His hand.

As we move into chapters two and three we will look at the specific messages that Jesus has for each of these seven churches, and we will see that the vision that John has just had of Jesus are the very descriptions that Jesus uses for Himself as He confronts these churches with either praise or condemnation.

1 Palmer, E. F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 35: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 35: 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (115). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
2 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (41). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 1:13). Nashville: Word Pub.
4 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G4158). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
5 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 1:13). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
6 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 1:14). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
7Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (797). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8 MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Re 1:15). Nashville: Word Pub.
9 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (50). Chicago: Moody Press.
10 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (51). Chicago: Moody Press.
11 Robert Van Kampen. Revelation Commentary Ch1 Pg8 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
12 Michaels, J. R. (1997). Vol. 20: Revelation. The IVP New Testament commentary series (Re 1:17). Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press.
13 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G32). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.