“Covenant Presence” – Revelation 1:10-13

by Roger McCay
21 February 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 1:10-13
Link to Audio Version

You may have noticed in the outline in your bulletin that the Fallen Condition Focus of the sermon is summed up as “Battered faith.” Battered faith. Now, “battered” here isn’t referring to “battered” like a chicken you’re about to fry up. It’s more along the lines of “battered” like a car that’s hit a lot of guardrails

Perhaps you know the feeling. You’re moving on down the path of faith, following Jesus, and wham! The world side-swipes you, you swerve and hit the guardrail, and bound back into traffic. Bam, some kid just dropped a brick off a bridge and hit your windshield, and you swerve and hit a guardrail. A text message distracts you, and wham, you’ve swerved and hit that guardrail again. Or, you’re going too fast, and you lose control, and what? Yeah, you swerve and hit a guardrail. So, “battered”—battered by the world and our own distractions and sin, but kept out of the ravine by the guardrails. Praise the Lord for the guardrails!—guardrails like his worship and his Word.

When we are struggling and hurting, suffering various trials, including our own sin, there can be times when we wonder: Is the Lord still with me? Does he really love me? Is my faith really real? What’s the point of being a Christian? Is patiently enduring really worth it? It is in those times that the Lord’s worship and Word bolster our battered faith and help us to patiently endure, as we continue along, following Jesus.

In worship and Word, God’s covenant presence is experienced and revealed; Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always” resonates within us, as we sense him and know him; and we are encouraged by the words “I have overcome the world.” It is in the Lord’s worship and Word that our relationship with him is felt and understood, renewed and strengthened; we go from acquaintance to intimate, from milk to meat. In worship and Word, as we engage with our loving Lord, our faith and faithfulness are bolstered; we are enabled to continue along focused on our eternal destination in and with the Lord.

Worship and Word is how so many persecuted Christians could die singing his praises, and in joy. It is how they could stay on the narrow path to heaven when the highway to hell would have been a much more comfortable ride. It is how they could overcome, patiently enduring tribulation, staying on the path of righteousness; battered, sure, but kept on the path by the Lord’s presence, grace, provision, commands, and discipline. In Jesus, they were enabled to make it through to the end. In Jesus, we too can make it through whatever we face on this road of life.

In the mid-60s AD, the Apostle John was going through a hard time. He was exiled to Patmos, in his shared tribulation with the church, suffering for Jesus. Yet, John patiently endured. Grounded in the Lord’s Word, having an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus, we find him in v. 10 engaged in worship. He writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.”

John says he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” His emphasis that he was “in the Spirit,” indicates a deep communion with the Lord. He was together with the Lord, in the Lord’s presence, covenantally secure in the blood of Christ. The term, “in the Spirit,” is a Biblical indicator that can refer to inspiration of the OT authors (like David in Matt. 22:43) and refer to prophetic utterance (like with Simeon in Luke 2:27). Numerous OT texts also carry this theme of the Spirit’s inspiration, and it is a common theme in Ezekiel.[1] Hence, John’s being “in the Spirit” sets the stage for the prophetic visions to follow.

That John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day indicates it was a time of worship. Most think that John was worshipping on the first day of the week (the day of the Lord’s resurrection), in sync with the practice of the early Christians (John 20:19, Acts 20:7, & 1 Cor. 16:2). And this is the first time the term, in the Scriptures, “the Lord’s Day” is used to refer to Sunday.[2]

So, there was John, battered and exiled on Patmos, worshipping in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and he heard “a loud voice like a trumpet.” This “voice like a trumpet” hearkens to the sound, the voice, of the trumpet, announcing the Lord’s presence at Sinai, as God manifested his presence to his people in order to communicate his will (Ex. 19: vv. 16, 19; 20:18). The Lord had manifested himself to John, and he had Words to say.

John’s experience here gives the impression he was alone in his worship on the Lord’s Day. He might have been gathered with some of his fellow Christians, exiled with him, but there is no hint of it. Perhaps it just wasn’t possible where he was. Or, perhaps, he was just worshipping in his “prayer closet,” so to speak. Tradition has him in a cave.

Considering events over the past year, we know a little about having to worship away from the body of Christ, and sometimes this is necessary. We take comfort in the fact that we can fellowship with one-another in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, even when we cannot gather in person. The radio and internet have made that a lot easier for us, and we’ve taken full advantage of those technological advances. Praise God we know we can worship him in Spirit and truth, covenantally secure in the blood of Christ, wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we are in. Even in our daily lives this is true, as we worship the Lord as part-and-parcel of following him.

Yet gathering physically, as the assembly of God’s people for corporate worship, has been the practice of God’s people from the time of his calling a people to himself. From the NT forward that practice has been on Sunday, and the Scriptures command us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves (Heb. 10:25). Only in extraordinary circumstances should we ever think it is right to not regularly meet in person (like John’s circumstances; likewise the Covid circumstances, and even then, only to a point). Otherwise, we move into frank disobedience, losing out on the guardrail of corporate worship, as the body of Christ communes with the Lord in Spirit and in truth, glorifying the Lord and receiving his blessing together—in prayer and praise, and in Word and sacrament.

Worship of the living and true God occurs again and again in Revelation—chs. 4; 5; 7; 11; 19. Revelation is a book that calls God’s covenant people to worship, as the awesome majesty of the Lord is paraded before us. And as we ponder the mysteries revealed therein, worship takes the form of a near-to-heaven experience for us, as Craig Keener depicts, saying, “The church on earth is never closer to heaven than when we are offering God and the Lamb the glory they deserve; it is then that we experience ‘in the Spirit’ a foretaste of heaven.”[3] Battered from the earthly trials of faith, we long for heaven. And in worship we draw close, in the Spirit, as heaven comes to the people of God, through the very presence of the Lord.

My friends, let our worship of the living and true God not be a distracted worship. Let us not begrudgingly come into the presence of the Almighty for half-hearted worship. Let us be all in, lovingly worshiping with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, not holding back. Let us call upon the Lord to commune with him in the Spirit. Let us seek to focus wholly upon the Lord Jesus. Let us praise and glorify his name! He stands among us; he is here with us now. Since Jesus is among his people, our faith should be bolstered in his worship.

In v. 11, John next describes the voice of the trumpet, sounding behind him, as “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.’”

The Lord is a God who explicitly communicates with his people through the written Word. Repeatedly, in Scripture, the Lord gives his servants the command to write what he has to say. Repeatedly the command to write is given in the context of covenant expectations, and promises of covenant blessings and judgments (Ex. 34:2; Isa. 30:8; Jer. 30:2 & 36:2). It’s a phrase that should capture the attention of the reader and hearer. For when the Lord says “write,” it behooves all who hear to pay attention to what is written.

The Lord’s covenant is about relationship, a covenant of grace: “I will be your God, and you will be my people” (Gen. 17:7; Jer. 30:22; Rom. 9:25). In his grace, he calls a people to himself, not the other way around. In covenant, Christ Jesus comes to us, having redeemed us in his blood. And it is in and through his written Word that Jesus makes himself, his covenant, and his covenant expectations known.

Thus, in verse 11 John is told not just to write, but to write to specific churches. He’s got some things to say to them, things that are to the benefit of the whole church. These are churches that John likely knew well. The listing order of the cities is also “significant,” as Grant Osborne points out, “for they form the circular route of a letter carrier beginning at Ephesus and moving first north to Smyrna and to Pergamum, then turning southeast to Thyatira, south to Sardis, east to Philadelphia, and finally southeast to Laodicea.”[4] You can follow the route easily on a map, and it’s been observed that they, perhaps, form, “a natural center of communication for the rest of the province.” [5]

And so, v. 12: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands.”

The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches, as revealed in v. 20. It’s fairly mind-blowing imagery. I’ll sketch it out for you. First of all, the imagery hearkens to the lampstands spoken of in the OT, like the one in the Tabernacle in Ex. 25:31, and then the ten lampstands in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kgs 7:49). The reference, in context, particularly brings to mind the lampstands of the prophecy in Zech. 4, with the parallel of Zechariah’s vision/interpretation (Zech 4:2, 10) and John’s vision/interpretation (Rev. 1:12, 20). Perhaps, as some suggest, the lampstand in Zech. 4:2 can be understood as representing OT Israel, and the lamps the Spirit of God (Zech. 4:6). In similar way, the lampstands in Rev. 1:12 represent the seven churches (who represent true Israel), with the lamps likewise representing the Spirit of God (Rev. 4:6).[6] In any case, the lampstands serve as an emphasis on the continuity of believers (both Jew and Gentile) … in other words, of the churches’ faith being grounded in “the heritage of ancient Israel” (Gal. 3:29; Rom. 11:17).[7]

As a step in God’s Covenant of Grace, the Lord, in Genesis 12:1-3, took Abram from amongst the nations. And the Lord promised to make him a great nation and to bless him and make his name great. God tells Abram in vv. 2 and 3 that he did this “so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families[8] of the earth shall be blessed.”[9] God chose Abram not just for the sake of Abram, but also for the sake of “all the families of the earth.”

Over 600 years later, in Exodus, God redeemed Abraham’s descendants from slavery. He covenanted with them at Sinai, declaring, in 19:6, they were “a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation,” (something which John hearkened to in Rev. 1:5-6, in relation to the churches of Jesus Christ). As a kingdom of priests, the Israelites were, as Michael Goheen has said, “set apart in holiness, to mediate God’s presence and blessing, for the sake of others…set apart and devoted to the Lord…a mediator and channel of God’s holy presence to the [nations] through [their] own holy life and behavior” and “a model of consecration and devotion to God.”[10] As such, they were called to be like a priest among his people, in the midst of the nations.[11] They were a holy nation because they belonged to the holy God. God’s presence was among them, and they were “consecrated to God’s service.”[12] They were called to live a holy life before the nations (according to the Law God gave them), making them “a contrast people in the midst of the nations.”[13] Their missional identity was to make Israel a blessing to all the nations. And they were to be as Peter Enns explains, “the means by which God [would]…bring the nations to have knowledge of him.”[14] Like a lampstand, Israel was to bring the light of God to the nations who were shrouded in darkness. There were ups and downs (mostly downs, though there was always a remnant), but Israel repeatedly failed when it came to their covenant faithfulness, as the whole OT describes. It was Jesus, the Messiah, who would ultimately fulfil the covenant calling, and the Jews would murder him (Isa. 49:6 and Isa. 53).

With that background, lampstands holding a shining lamp is imagery used by Jesus for his people, where he says, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Like God expected Israel, in the Old Covenant, to hold forth God’s light to the nations, so we, God’s people, in the New Covenant, hold forth Christ’s light in a hostile world.[15] Thus Isaiah prophesied in Isa. 60:2-3, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”[16] Jesus reminds us, in Mark 4:21, that a lamp is not meant to be put under a basket, or under a bed, but on a stand. As the Lord’s lampstand, Christians are to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with our very lives.

How do we know all these things? Well, did you notice my continued references to God’s Word? The Lord told us of his covenant work in history and how we fit into that equation. He ensured his inspired Word was written down, so that we might know who we are and his covenant expectations for us (2 Tim. 3:16). He paints a picture with words of our identity in him, and we are thus grounded in him, our Lord, our Savior, our light. When times are dark, what a blessed bolstering to our faith we find in the light of God’s Word.

And so, we come to v. 13, which tells us that “in the midst of the lampstands” was “one like a son of man.” This is a clear reference to Jesus, who regularly referred to himself as “the son of man” (and who is the exalted King foretold in Daniel 7:13-14). Here John describes a picture of Christ’s faithfulness to his church, including the local church. As John Piper put it, “Christ is standing among the churches. He is not merely over the churches. He is not distant from the churches. He is in the middle of them.”[17]

The Apostle John then goes on to describe the “one like a son of man,” in symbolic terms, first describing, in v. 13, his clothing as “a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.” At the least, this is a description of “Christ as an exalted, dignified figure.”[18] But themes of Jesus in his offices of Prophet, Priest, and King resound through the passage, that bell having been rung in v. 5. In his command to write and the content of his words, Jesus is Prophet. In his standing among the lampstands, Jesus is both Priest and King—advocate and ruler.[19] His clothing, while dignified and fit for a king, also hearkens to that of a priest. With the temple atmosphere invoked by the lampstands in God’s presence, followed by clothing described later in the same manner worn by angels coming out of the heavenly temple (Rev. 15:5-8), Christ’s High-Priestly office is certainly brought to mind.

G.K. Beale follows up on this imagery, observing:

Part of Christ’s priestly role is to tend the lampstands. The OT priest would trim the lamps, remove the wick and old oil, refill the lamps with fresh oil, and relight those that had gone out. Likewise, Christ tends the ecclesial lampstands by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning (see chs. 2–3) in order to secure the churches’ fitness for service as lightbearers in a dark world.[20]

Brothers and sisters, Christ Jesus is in our midst. Our loving Lord is paying attention to his covenant people, whom he purchased with his blood. Our King knows what is going on with us. Our Savior knows our trials and persecutions. He knows our faithfulness, and he knows our sins. He is involved, active. He directs us as a church, shepherding his flock. He is personally involved in each and every one of our lives. His Spirit gives us new birth, indwells us, guides us, gifts us, empowers us, comforts us, encourages us, and helps us as we follow him. His Word informs us, transforms us, and provides guardrails for us along the way.

How do we know all this? We know all this because the Lord told us, in the Bible. And we know the truth of it because we know him—him whom we worship and with whom we commune, in Spirit and in truth.

My friends, let us be diligent in our studies of God’s Word. If we don’t study it, how can we know? If we don’t know, how can it bolster our faith? Many of us spend every day in the Word (to some extent). We study it; we hunger for it; we can’t get enough. You know who you are, and you know the blessing that comes from such discipline. But, if you don’t study God’s Word, you handicap yourself. You deprive yourself of an important blessing given to you by God. Don’t you love Jesus? Then read his letter to you. Since Jesus is among his people, our faith should be bolstered in his Word.

My friends, that’s a lot to think about, I know. John’s Apocalypse, Revelation, is deep, oh so deep. It’s soaked in nuance with prophecy, apocalyptic language, symbolism, OT references, historical references, gospel references, and on and on. There’s a reason some people stress that we need to read the whole Bible before we read Revelation—its position at the end of the Bible being a big hint as to the veracity that observation.

Yet, all the complexity of the book points to one end—victory. As we study the book, we’ll look at this and that. We’ll consider visions and symbols, and ponder over them. It’s going to take us some time to do this. But, as we move on along through the Apocalypse, our faith will continue to be bolstered. We are, after all, studying God’s Word in a worship context, in God’s covenant presence. Worship and Word in Spirit and in truth bolsters our faith. Just think of the potential of how much our faith will be strengthened, how we’ll be better able to patiently endure—a blessing that comes from studying Revelation! Just think how we’ll shine bright in this dark world—God’s people filled with his Spirit, confident witnesses to the victory of Christ. Worship and Word. What a journey! Since Jesus is among his people, our faith should be bolstered in him.


[1] Cf. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 83, who points out “Num. 24:2; 1 Kings 18:12; Joel 2:28; but especially in Ezek. 3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5, with his characteristic “The Spirit of the Lord lifted me up and brought me.”

[2] Cf. Daniel Hyde, “Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday?” Ligonier, pub. 24 May 2019, https://www.ligonier.org/blog/why-christians-worship-sunday/.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 92.

[4] Osborne, 85.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cf. G. K. Beale, who gives a solid rundown on this (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 206–207.

[7] Keener, 89.

[8] BDB, s.v. “מִשְׁפָּחָה,” def. 1.b. “tribe;” 1.f. “in wider sense = people, nation.”

[9] Also see Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4-5; and 28:14 for repetitions of this promise.

[10] Michael W. Goheen, A Light to the Nations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 38.

[11] Cf. Robert Martin-Achard, A Light to the Nations: A Study of the Old Testament Conception of Israel’s Mission to the World (London: Oliver and Boyd Ltd, 1962), 39.

[12] Ibid., Cf. Lev. 19:2, Ex. 33:16.

[13] Martin-Achard, 40.

[14] Peter Enns, Exodus, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 389.

[15] Osborne, 86–87.

[16] In Isaiah 49:6, the “Servant” is seen as being the “light for the nations.” Motyer (J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 388-389) comments that this refers to “the Servant…in his own person the salvation the world needs, and, in the same way, the world’s light.” He ties the reference, 389 fn.1, to Isaiah’s use of light concerning “the Messianic hope (9:2; 42:6; 49:6; 60:1, 3).”

[17] John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007); sermon, “A Year-End Look at Jesus Christ,” preached 27 December 1992.

[18] Osborne, 89.

[19] Cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ. (London: James Clarke & Co., 1959), 186-187, for an interesting description of the symbolic interaction of the shewbread and the candlestick.

[20] Beale, 208–209. For details on the trimming, care, and light of the lamps see Edersheim, 163–164; also cf. 308, 326 for high-priestly duties that include lighting the lamps.