The Book of Revelation Part 2: Warning the Churches

St. John the Evangelist on Patmos, 1553-55, Titian
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 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 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. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 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.
17 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, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 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 1:9-20

Verse 9: "...on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" refers to sufferings which the Apostle John endured for his faith. He was imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos for his testimony of Christ. All the martyrs were slain "for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that the Apostle shared in the sufferings of his brethren; he was "a partner in the tribulation." He was even then suffering the hardships of exile to Patmos. Some theologians take the words of John to mean that he was on the Island of Patmos for the purpose of receiving the "word of God" and to give testimony by his writing, but John doesn't use the Greek word "dia" in connection with the "word of God" to express a purpose. It always means "for the sake of" or "in consequence of." No doubt, John would also look upon his banishment as an act of divine Providence preparing him for these great revelations. Tradition tells is that toward the end of Domitian s reign, John was brought to Rome and cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. Miraculously escaping from this he was banished to the Island of Patmos about the year 95 A.D. 

Adela Yarbro Collins, a biblical scholar of Yale Divinity School wrote:

John's Cave on Patmos
Early tradition says that John was banished to Patmos by the Roman authorities. This tradition is credible because banishment was a common punishment used during the Imperial period for a number of offenses. Among such offenses were the practices of magic and astrology. Prophecy was viewed by the Romans as belonging to the same category, whether Pagan, Jewish, or Christian. Prophecy with political implications, like that expressed by John in the book of Revelation, would have been perceived as a threat to Roman political power and order. Three of the islands in the Sporades were places where political offenders were banished. (Pliny, Natural History 4.69–70; Tacitus, Annals 4.30)- Harper's Bible Dictionary, entry on Patmos (1985)

Upon the death of Domitian the following year, John returned to Ephesus where he died a peaceful death about 100 A.D. Patmos is a desolate island of volcanic rocks in the Aegean Sea, about sixty miles southwest of Ephesus. Its excellent harbor made it a stopping place for vessels on the way from Rome to Ephesus. Pliny informs us that it was used as a place of exile. A cave about half way between the shore and the modern town of Patmos is pointed out as the spot where John received his revelations. 

Verse 10-11: John received this revelation on "the Lord's day". This fact is interesting because it demonstrates that at an early date Christians dedicated the first day of the week to the service of God as indicated by the name Lord's day. Perhaps John had withdrawn from his fellow exiles on that day to devote himself to prayer. While thus engaged in prayer he heard a voice clear and piercing as a trumpet blast. It was a voice to be heard to the uttermost parts of the earth,  but which was addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor.

Verses 12-13: Turning to see where the voice had come from, John beheld a vision of seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst of them Jesus, clothed in the white robe of the priesthood. He appeared to John as the "son of man",  "ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου" (ho huios tou anthropou). This appearance confirms His Divine-Human union, and that John was reminded of the title used by Jesus during His earthly ministry to refer to himself. It is found over 100 times in the Old Testament and is also found in the Book of Enoch. Enoch is shown a vision of one who looks like a man in heaven, and is told the following regarding His identity.

"This is the son of Man who hath righteousness,
With whom dwelleth righteousness,
And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden,
Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him,
And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness for ever.
4, And this Son of Man whom thou hast seen
Shall raise up the kings and the mighty from their seats,
[And the strong from their thrones]
And shall loosen the reins of the strong,
And break the teeth of the sinners.
5. [And he shall put down the kings from their thrones and kingdoms]
Because they do not extol and praise Him,
Nor humbly acknowledge whence the kingdom was bestowed upon them.
6. And he shall put down the countenance of the strong,
And shall fill them with shame.
And darkness shall be their dwelling,
And worms shall be their bed,
And they shall have no hope of rising from their beds,
Because they do not extol the name of the Lord of Spirits.
7. And these are they who judge the stars of heaven,
[And raise their hands against the Most High],
And tread upon the earth and dwell upon it.
And all their deeds manifest unrighteousness,
And their power rests upon their riches,
And their faith is in the †gods† which they have made with their hands,
And they deny the name of the Lord of Spirits,
8. And they persecute the houses of His congregations,
And the faithful who hang upon the name of the Lord of Spirits."- Book of Enoch 46:1-8

The connections in this description to the life and ministry of Jesus is evident.

The seven candlesticks represent the seven churches of Asia. As noted in the Prologue, seven is the perfect number which denotes universality. Thus by extension the seven candlesticks represent all churches throughout the world for all time. Gold is seen by some to signify the charity of Christ which pervades and vivifies the Church. 

Verse 14: The snow-white hair is a symbol of wisdom and eternity. His eyes were as flames of fire, terrible to the wicked, but a symbol of all-consuming love for the faithful. Fire is also a purifying force, one of God's great gifts to man, yet it is also one of man's most destructive enemies. 

Verse 15: The feet of glowing brass remind us of the rigorous justice of divine judgments. The voice, like the roar of mighty waters, proclaims mercy and love to the faithful, but threatens punishment to the wicked. Water, like fire, is a great good, or a terrible evil according to circumstances. 

Verse 16: The right hand is symbolic of strength and control. The seven stars represent the seven bishops of Asia Minor and through them all bishops of the church throughout history. Christ holds the stars in His right hand to indicate that He, not them, is the leader of the church and that they are under His control. The sharp two-edged sword is the Gospel which destroys sin and heresy. 

His face, shining like the sun in full strength, reveals the glory of Christ's risen body. It is also a symbol of the enlightening power of the Gospel which leaves the wicked without excuse for their willful blindness. 

Verses 17-18: Overcome with fear and awe John fell to the ground. Our Lord then revealed His identity with words of reassurance: "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore....", assuring the Apostle that He holds the keys of death and Hades. The words of Christ must certainly have carried John back to when our Lord revealed His glory to the three Apostles some sixty-five years before. While Origen, Cyril and Jerome locate this event atop Mt. Tabor, more modern theologians, such as R.H. Fuller, J. Lightfoot, and Derek Gilbert place the event atop Mt. Hermon, which is another interesting connection to the Book of Enoch. Mt. Hermon is a viable location since it is the highest mountain in the area (Matthew 17:1) and it is closer to Caesarea Philippi where the earlier events took place.

Verses 19-20: Christ Himself explains the meaning of the candlesticks and stars.