VII. THE LORD’S COMMISSION
"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead; and He placed His right hand on me, saying, Do not fear; I am the First and the Last and the living One; and I became dead, and behold, I am living forever and ever; and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Write therefore the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which are about to take place after these things. The mystery of the seven stars which you saw upon My right hand and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."
Whenever the Lord appears to someone, He has a commission for them, and His appearance here was no exception.
A. Revelation 1:17a
"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead." Because John saw the glory of Christ, he was as a dead man. This was not only true of John, but Isaiah (Isa. 6:1-5), Job (Job 42:5-6), and Daniel (Dan. 10:8-9), all reacted in the same way. Not only was John saved, but he was very intimate with the Lord. Yet when he saw the Lord’s glory, even he fell as dead. If an unsaved person or a saved yet fleshly person were to see the Lord, I really do not know what would happen. This is why the Bible says that fleshly persons cannot inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21) nor can the unregenerated see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This is very meaningful! A filthy, fleshly person is truly unworthy to see the glorious Lord. When Christ comes again, His glory will be even greater than it is today. No wonder men will be so frightened that they will lose heart and cry out to the mountains to cover them (Rev. 6:16).
B. Revelation 1:17b
"And He placed His right hand on me, saying, Do not fear." Oh, how loving this is! Although He is in glory, His love has not diminished. If the glory in the future is not mingled with love, it is hard to see how that glory will be of any great benefit to us. When He was on the earth, He laid His hands on many sick ones, and with His words He comforted many brokenhearted ones. He is still doing the same today. His hand and His word not only comforted John, but they also strengthened him. This meaning can be realized by referring to Daniel 8:17-18 and 10:9-10, 18-19. The hand was to strengthen him, and the word was to cause him to realize the strength. When John realized that the Lord’s love was the same as before, spontaneously, the fear was removed and strength was brought forth.
C. Revelation 1:17c-18
"I am the First and the Last and the living One; and I became dead, and behold, I am living forever and ever; and I have the keys of death and of Hades." Here we see that the Lord used two ways to reveal Himself. First, He revealed Himself through His glory. John recognized this immediately. Second, He revealed Himself through His word. This was something inward which John could not see with his eyes. The Lord had to use words to reveal Himself. From this passage we can see that the Lord revealed Himself in three aspects:
(1) In His position: "I am the First and the Last." This is the Old Testament way of addressing Jehovah (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12), indicating that He is the eternally unchanging God.
(2) In His life: "And the living One; and I became dead, and behold, I am living forever and ever." This indicates that He has eternal life. Although He died for man’s sins, He is now resurrected. Moreover, He will never die again since He is living forever and ever.
(3) In His authority: "And I have the keys of death and of Hades." We have to look at this point in detail. "Death" concerns the body. "Hades" concerns the soul. Once a man dies, his soul enters Hades, which means the world below, that is, the center of the globe (Matt. 12:40; Num. 16:30-33). Hades is divided into two sections. One is the place of suffering, where the unbelievers go; the other is the place of rest, where the saved ones go (Luke 16:19-31). However, this is only temporary; the eternal separation is between the new heaven and the new earth on one side and the lake of fire on the other. "Keys" are for opening doors. This shows that both death and Hades have doors which may be locked (Matt. 16:19; Acts 2:24). Whoever holds these keys in his hand has the authority. This authority over death and Hades was originally in the hand of Satan (Heb. 2:14), but ever since the Lord was resurrected from the dead, death and Hades have lost their power. Moreover, the keys of death and of Hades have been put into the Lord’s hand. Oh, what a victory this is! Because of this, at the coming of the millennial kingdom, the Lord will be able to release those who belong to Him.
D. Revelation 1:19
"Write therefore the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which are about to take place after these things." The word "therefore" shows that this continues the foregoing passage. The Lord has won the victory; therefore, we should write it down. This verse lays the sections of this book clearly before us: (1) "the things which you have seen" (past), (2) "the things which are" (present), and (3) "the things which are about to take place after these things" (future). The word for "have seen" in the original language is in the perfect tense, which means that John had already seen something. This refers to the vision which John saw in chapter one. "The things which are" refer to the things which are now occurring, that is, the things happening in the church age as recorded in chapters two and three. "The things which are about to take place after these things" are those things that will continue after the church age. Everything from chapter four through chapter nineteen is a record of the things which are about to take place.
E. Revelation 1:20
"The mystery of the seven stars which you saw upon My right hand and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." Although the book of Revelation has many mysteries, these mysteries become a clear revelation once they are explained. We all have to admit that the lampstands are the churches. The seven stars, however, are said to be the seven messengers. Who then are these messengers? Some have said that these messengers refer to pastors or overseers or bishops. If this is so, that is, if the messengers refer to something else, then what do the churches refer to? Since the churches are simply the churches (and do not refer to something else), then the messengers should simply be messengers. There is one more point. We know that the messengers explain the mystery of the stars, but if the messengers themselves require further explanation, are we not trying to explain the mystery with another mystery? We know that the Lord would not do this. How then should the messengers be explained? The most accurate answer is that the messengers are messengers just as the churches are simply the churches.
The messengers are the messengers, yet what kind of messengers are they? According to the Bible, there are two kinds of messengers: the angels in heaven (Matt. 22:30) and human messengers (Hag. 1:13). The messengers here definitely do not refer to the messengers of heaven because: (1) the messengers of heaven, though they serve the church, cannot bear the responsibility of the church; (2) the messengers of heaven are spiritual, and therefore, they cannot receive a physical letter; (3) since this book is revealed to John by the Lord through His angel, it cannot be that the angel writes letters through John to other angels; and (4) the Lord asks the messenger of the church in Smyrna to be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10). If this is an angel, how could he fulfill what is described here?
Since the messengers are not of heaven, they must be human messengers. The Bible gives examples concerning this in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Philippians 2:25. We must pay attention to one more point concerning the position of the messengers. In the sense that the messengers are representatives, they represent the churches, they bear substantial responsibility in the church, and they must be persons who have influence in the church. This is the position of the messengers with respect to the church. At the same time, with respect to the Lord, these messengers are represented by the stars. Stars are able to shine; this speaks of their condition in life. They are also in the hand of the Lord, which implies that they are used by the Lord and that they have authority.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 16: Study on Revelation, Chapter 2, by Watchman Nee)