Revelation 1:12-20

We pass from the Vision of the Lord Jesus, to a brief consideration of its accompaniments or accessories. These are threefold—The seven Golden Candlesticks: the Stars He holds in His right Hand: and the Keys of Hell (Hades) and of Death.

THE GOLDEN CANDLESTICKS. This is the first of the many golden emblems we shall meet with in this Book. It unquestionably denotes the Church of Christ. The purest and rarest of the precious metals is taken to symbolize that, whose preciousness can best be estimated by the price paid for its redemption—"Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it." The figure takes us at once back in thought, to the sacred furniture of a now waning, or rather, abrogated dispensation—to the one candlestick, with its branches or lamps, in the Tabernacle of the wilderness and the Holy place of the Temple—reminding us also of the similar beautiful and suggestive vision of the Prophet Zechariah, when he saw the candlestick "all of gold," with its seven lamps fed from the upper bowl (or reservoir) of olive oil.

There is a remarkable and most notable difference, however, in this vision of John, from these Old Testament figurations. It is not the one candlestick, the solid central shaft of gold, with its six dependent lamps, which is here represented; but it is among seven distinct and separate candlesticks, the Divine Personage is seen walking. Who can fail to discern and appreciate the beauty and appropriateness of the distinction? The Jewish Tabernacle and Temple-lamp which rose before the Prophet's eye, were symbolic of the Church of God in its relation to the kingdom and economy of Israel. That ancient Church for ages stood alone in the earth as the Divine 'light giver.' But no sooner did the Jewish dispensation cease, than the Temple-lamps were separated.

The Christian Church, though one in essence and spirit, is no longer one in outward or visible unity, but constituted of many parts; these, it may be, widely removed from each other. Jesus Himself, the alone Illuminator, is represented as moving in their midst, their common bond of union. It is no longer one planet, but a system, of which He is the glorious sun and center. John had in his opening Gospel, declared, "In Him was life, and the Life was the light of men." No candlestick, no church shines of its own light—from Him its light emanates. And the Church in Heaven, as already noted, is in this respect only the grander complement and counterpart of the Church on earth. In her magnificent Temple, the same Divine Illumination is perpetuated through eternal ages, "The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the light thereof."

But as no church can live by its own light—by sparks of its own kindling, so neither can it maintain its existence if it fails to scatter and diffuse its derived glory all around. Woe to any such, which professes to walk in the light of its Divine Head, and yet absorbs the God given rays—keeps with niggard hand that which was given it to disperse and radiate to earth's circumference. The parable which condemns the faithless servant who hid his master's money, condemns also by implication the traitor-church which refuses to be evangelistic—caring only for its own well-being, not for others. The absorber of spiritual light becomes in its turn the receptacle of darkness, and serves itself heir to the most solemn warning its rejected Lord ever uttered—"If, therefore, the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!"

But, further, the Christ of Patmos is seen in the vision having SEVEN STARS in His right hand: ''And He had in His right hand seven stars"—holding them, as has been supposed, as a wreath or garland. These stars are the emblems of ecclesiastical and civil rulers. Christ holding these, and holding them in His right hand—the seat of power and strength—the hand which grasps the reins of empire, tells far more powerfully than words, that all the subsequent actors in this prophetic scroll are under His supervision and control—as much so as the stars and planets in the material heavens. In a spiritual and figurative sense it may be said, that He "binds the sweet influences of the Pleiades, looses the bands of Orion, and guides Arcturus with his sons."

Walking among the candlesticks and having the stars in His hand, together assure us that no church faithful to Him need fear destruction—no lamp can be extinguished, nor star plucked from that gemmed garland, which has the hand of Omnipotence to protect it. If one unfaithful star falls from its setting, He will have another ready to take its place. Seven—"the number of mystical completeness"—can suffer no diminution. Individual churches may cease to shine and cease to be; but the Church itself is imperishable. God's Old Testament promise to His spiritual Zion is a motto for all time—"Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, and your walls are continually before me."

The next accompanying symbols are THE KEYS OF HELL (or rather of Hades) AND DEATH, suspended by His side. Christ having Himself endured the sharpness of death, not only has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers; but as that kingdom is entered through the dark gateway (with its gloomy portal) of dissolution and the grave, He is described here as the Keeper of these also. The whole region of Hades and the invisible spirit-land is under His sway. That 'undiscovered country' many a traveler has entered. Since our different lives began, millions on millions have passed through the mysterious shadows into darkness, and not so much as a single person of these has come back to throw one ray of light on the silent regions. No warrior, like David's three men of might, has burst through the interposing barriers and returned to tell the wished-for tale.

But the Lord of life has stormed the domain and citadel of Death—the 'Stronger than the strong' has assailed the otherwise impregnable ramparts—plucked the crown from the King of Terrors—taken from him the Keys—the badges of possession and power—and converted that somber portico into an arch of triumph, bearing the inscription, "Who has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light!"

The Apostle, overwhelmed with the magnificence and glory of the Divine vision, had fallen at the feet of his Lord 'as though dead.' Yes! despite of all his old confidential communion and favored familiarity, he cowers like a terror-stricken child, beneath the unveiled majesty of the great Heart-Searcher—just as the loftiest archangel is said to feel profoundest humility, because permitted to be nearest the glorious Being before whom he casts his crown. But John listens to the brief reassuring words, "Fear not!"—words which may have recalled other occasions besides the Mount of Transfiguration and the night on the Sea of Tiberias.

And on what grounds is he told to dismiss his fears? Is the exhortation, 'Fear not: for you are in the presence of the same Lord who called you at Bethsaida—who sat by you at the Last Supper—who confided to you the sacred charge from the cross—who met you at early morn on the lake shore, and left you with hands extended in blessing?' No! He quiets His servant's misgivings by a double revelation of Himself, as the Conqueror of Death, and as a living, Life-giving Redeemer: "I am the Living One; I was dead." "I am living" (as the words may be rendered) "unto the ages of the ages!" It is enough—the Apostle asks no more. Moreover, feeling the touch of the magnificent Personage (for He laid His right hand upon him), he rises from his posture of prostration and crouching awe. Death is divested of its fearfulness. The vision and its great words have nerved him for the task that is now to be assigned to him, of transcribing what is about to be unfolded. He seems to say, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord!"

"Write," says the Divine voice to His now reassured servant, "write what you have now seen," as well as "the things that are, and the things that shall be." For behalf of my Church universal, record that which has now passed before your eyes, that all men may have some feeble apprehension of the glories of my Divine Person within the veil: what I have done—and what I am still doing, as the Great High Priest, the Vanquisher of death, the Ruler of the invisible world. "Write," not for yourself, but for the ages. Unknown to you, you will thereby soothe many a sorrow and dry many a tear!

The Reader cannot fail to observe the peculiar appropriateness and adaptation of the vision with its accompaniments, for the time at which it was given. John, as we have already noted, was now the sole remaining representative of the Apostolic Church. He alone had lived to see on the political horizon, wrathful storms brooding against the Christian name; and if he himself were soon to be permitted to close his eyes in death, and thank God that he was taken from the evil to come, well he knew that those on whom his mantle and spirit were to fall, would have a legacy of suffering bequeathed to them—that they would be called upon to bear, in its heaviest severity, the martyr's cross, before they obtained the martyr's crown!

If, then, the Apocalyptic Roll about to be unfolded to him, like that of Ezekiel, was to be written in characters of 'lamentation and mourning and woe,' what more comforting vision could be given, than the Church's King and Head appearing in the midst of the Church itself, which was to be the theater of suffering—in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks and with the stars in His right hand; wearing the garb of glorified humanity; and yet with all the symbols of regal might—the avenger of His saints, the conqueror of their foes?

The Vision speaks to us! The Lord has the same motto and watchword to give His Church too, in her collective capacity, in fighting her battles, as He had just given His servant personally. It is that HE IS HER LIVING REDEEMER! "Fear not; I am He that lives! Behold! I am alive forevermore!" The Children of Zion may well be joyful in their King: the thunders may awake the fury of the ungodly, the vials may descend, the tempests may sweep—for she can listen to the living voice of her living Head—"I am He that lives!" And because He lives, she shall live also. Yes, beautiful vision! Christ with the "stars in His right hand"—Christ with His ministers! Christ with His earthly potentates! Christ King of Zion! Yes, Christ King of nations! Christ retaining faithful watchmen on the Church's battlements, who, in times of deepest rebuke, and apostasy, and blasphemy, will not hold their peace day nor night! Christ declaring that the shields of the earth are His alone!—controlling the schemes of other haughty potentates, alike for the chastisement and prosperity of His people! And then, when they have done their work, scattering them as chaff before the whirlwind!

Oh! when John had the first startling intimation of this Divine apparition in Patmos—when he heard the trumpet heralding his Lord's approach, saw the bright blaze of glory projected from His path, and listened to the announcement in whose presence he was—"I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last,"—he might have expected, on turning around, to gaze on some dazzling throne gleaming with the coruscations of Truth, and Holiness, and Righteousness; with tiers of attendant angels and burning seraphim lining the celestial pathway! But more comforting far is it to the exiled Prophet, and to the Church of Christ to the end of time, to behold a simpler and less imposing vision—the Lord holding merely a cluster of stars in His hand, and encircled with seven golden candlesticks, proclaiming the perpetuity of His mediatorial sway. "Fear not! I am He that lives." "God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; the Lord shall help her, and that right early."

Church of the living God! how wondrous your privileges! In a succeeding chapter, we have a sublime glimpse given us of Heaven, where Christ is represented in the midst of His redeemed, summoning forth, as 'the Lamb that was slain'—a loud anthem from ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands. But here we have Him in gracious love, moving in the midst of the Church-militant—feeding each candlestick with the oil of His grace and keeping every star in its sphere in the firmament.

And the beauty of the vision is, that it is not Christ dealing only with His Church universal—keeping the oil from decaying, and the gold from tarnishing, and the stars from abandoning their orbits and drifting uncontrollably into outer darkness—but we have in this exquisitely tender dealing with John, an assurance of what He is, and is willing to be, to every individual believer—the poorest, the humblest, the lowest, the most obscure—though his heart be a Patmos—lonely and desolate; and his home be a desert rock, or a dungeon of captivity, or a hut of poverty, or a chamber of disease, or a bed of death—there He is, to lay His right hand of love on the trembling one, and say, "FEAR NOT."

Fear not! poor sinner, trembling under the load of your guilt: 'I am He who was dead;' My death is your life, My blood your plea, My cross the passport to your crown! Fear not! you weak and fainthearted, borne down under your corruptions, the strength of your temptations, the weakness of your graces, the lukewarmness of your love—'I am alive for evermore!' My grace will be sufficient for you. Fear not! suffering one—you are contending with a great fight of afflictions—trial after trial, like wave after wave, rolling in upon you—your house has been swept, ties have been broken, graves opened, the tear scarcely dry when made to flow again. Fear not! 'I have the keys of the grave and of death.' Not one deathbed has been ordered, not one grave dug, not one tear permitted, without My bidding.

Are you not satisfied when a Living Redeemer has the Keys of Death suspended from His sash? in whose keeping could they be better than in His? Are you afraid to die? Is the thought of death, of your coming dissolution, fearful to you? 'Fear not! I was dead!' I have sanctified that grave and that dark valley, by traversing it all before you—I am the abolisher of Death, and to all My people I have made the gate of Death and the gate of Heaven one!

Reader, do you know this ever-living, never-dying Savior? With the triumphant faith of a saint who lived thousands of years antecedent to the Apostle of Patmos, can you say—"I know that my Redeemer lives?" Jesus lives! then perish every desponding thought. Jesus lives! then though heart and flesh faint and fail, He will be the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Jesus lives! the Living among the dead—Faithful among the faithless—Changeless among the changeable—the only unfailing, unvarying Friend in a failing, varying world! Jesus lives! then when Christ who is our life shall appear, we shall also appear with Him in glory! Like John, we will fall down at His feet and exclaim, "this God shall be our God forever and ever!"