I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,…
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, etc. Concerning this vision, and, indeed, nearly all the visions recorded in this Apocalypse, there are three facts to be predicated at the outset.
1. It is mental. What is here reported as heard and seen by John was not seen by his bodily eye or heard by his bodily ear. It was, I consider, a purely mental vision. It is one of the characteristic attributes and distinctions of man that he can see and hear objects that come not within the range of his senses. Though the eagle is reported to have a keen and far-reaching eye, and has borne its pinions into the region of sunny azure, it has no glimpse of the spirit domain; whereas a man who may be even sightless and deaf has the power of seeing wonderful things and hearing wonderful things. The sightless bard of England lived in a bright world; his genius bore him aloft into regions where there was no cloud. These mental visions are of two classes - the voluntary and the involuntary. The former are the productions of creative genius, the latter are those dreams of the night when deep sleep falls on man. Mental visions are not necessarily illusions. They are often more real than those of the physical; they come further into the depths of our being, and convey to us impressions of things of which material phenomena are but the effects and expressions.
2. It is credible. Had it been reported that John saw with the outward eye, and heard with the outward ear, the things here reported, the report could not have been believed. The objects are so unique, so incongruous with all that is natural, so grotesque, and, we may say, so monstrous and unaesthetic, that we could not believe a man who said he saw them with his outward eye or heard them with his outward ear. A Being "clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." Who could believe a man who said he beheld these with his bodily eye? But as a mental vision it is credible enough. What grotesque shapes appear to us in dreams! What strange monstrosities rise to our mental eye! The deities that arose out of the imagination of Nineveh, Greece, and India, and throughout the whole domain of heathendom, were as unnatural and incoherent in their forms as the aspects of the Son of man before us. The reports of mental visions, however extraordinary, are credible; men believe in them.
3. It is symbolic. It has a deep spiritual meaning, it adumbrates mighty lessons, it is a picture of eternal realities. What are the great truths here symbolized? That a wonderful voice from eternity comes to man; a wonderful personage from eternity appears to man; and wonderful impressions from eternity are made upon man. Notice -
I. THAT A WONDERFUL VOICE FROM ETERNITY COMES TO MAN. "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet." We are told also that the voice that came to John was "as the sound of many waters." The spiritual condition of John when the voice came is worthy of note. He was "in the Spirit." This means, I trow, something more than being in the spirit in a moral sense - in the spirit of heavenly loyalty and devotion. In this condition all true men are; they are led by the Spirit; they walk by the Spirit. It is being in an elevated state of mind, a kind of ecstasy in which a man is lifted out of himself, in which, like Paul, he is taken up to heaven, and sees and hears things unutterable. He was in such a condition as this at a certain period here called "the Lord's day." All men who are in the Spirit in the moral sense - in the sense of vital godliness - feel and regard all days as "the Lord's day." But the days of spiritual ecstasies and transports are ever special. Perhaps the first day of the week is here referred to - the day of our Saviour's resurrection from the dead. Probably the association of that wonderful day served to raise his soul into this ecstatic state. Concerning the voice that came to him when in this state, it was marked by two things.
1. The voice was marked by clearness. "A great voice, as of a trumpet." The voice was clear, loud, strong, as a trumpet. It was a voice to which he could not close his ears if he wished to; its clarion notes rang into him.
2. The voice was marked by fulness. "As the sound of many waters." "Daniel described the voice of the Ancient of Days as the voice of a multitude (Daniel 10:6); but the voice of the multitude was in earlier Hebrew writings compared to the sound of the waves of the sea, which the voice of the Lord could alone subdue (Psalm 65:7; Psalm 93:4). This image the evangelist adopts to describe the voice of Christ, strong and majestic amid the Babel sounds of earth. That voice whose word stilled the sea sounds as the waves of the sea which St. John heard him rebuke." Is there any voice in nature equal to the voice of the old ocean - majestic, full, continuous, drowning all other sounds? The clamour and the din of a thousand armies on the shore are lost amidst the roar of the incoming waves. Such was the voice that came to John from eternity, and such a voice comes to all men in every condition and in every age, clear and full, bearing messages to the soul from the great Father of spirits. True, clear, full, and continuous though that voice be, it is only heard by those who, like John, are "in the Spirit" - whose spirits are alive and elevated with the real and the Divine.
II. THAT A WONDERFUL PERSONAGE FROM ETERNITY APPEARS TO MAN. "Like unto the Son of man." Christ was indeed the Son of man, not the son of a tribe or of a class, but the Son of humanity, free from all national peculiarities, tribal idiosyncrasies, or ecclesiastical predilections. Observe here two things.
1. The scene of the appearance. "In the midst of the seven candlesticks." The seven Churches, viz. those of "Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea," are here represented as "golden candlesticks;" they are precious lights, they bear and diffuse the light of God. Why these seven Churches are here selected and addressed rather than other Churches, of which there were several, some more important than these, such as the Church at Corinth, Thessalonica, etc., I know not. It might have been because they had in their combination all those excellences and defects, needs and duties, which together represent the universal Church, the Church of all times and lands. It was in these Churches, these "candlesticks," that the "Son of man" now appeared to John. He who would see Christ must look for him in true Churches, the communions of holy men.
2. The characteristics of the appearance. Mark the description. He was "clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle" - a long, ample robe of regal authority. "His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow." Does the white hair indicate decay? It frequently does so with us. Snowy locks are at once the sign and consequence of declining strength. Not so with him. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." "Fire," says Trench, "at its highest intensity is white; the red in fire is of the earth, earthy; it implies something which the fire has not yet thoroughly subdued, while the pure flame is absolutely white. This must be kept in mind whenever we read of white as the colour and livery of heaven." "His eyes were as a flame of fire" - eyes that penetrate into the deepest depth of the soul, discern moral distinctions, and burn with a holy indignation at the wrong. "His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace." This indicates strength at once enduring and resistless. "He had in his right hand seven stars." These seven stars represent, it is supposed, the chief pastors of the seven Churches. An ideal pastor is a moral star, catching and reflecting the light of the Sun of Righteousness. "Out of his mouth went [proceeded] a sharp two-edged sword." This is the Word of the truth, elsewhere called the "sword of the Spirit," quick and powerful, etc. The sword by which Christ fights his moral battles and wins his moral conquests is not the sword of steel, but the sword of truth. "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." "Of the angel by the vacant tomb it is said his countenance was like lightning (Matthew 28:3); here the countenance of the Lord is compared to the sun at its brightest and clearest, in the splendour of the highest noon, no veil, no mist, no cloud obscuring its brightness." Here, then, is the wonderful Personage which has appeared to us, the children of men, from eternity. Though he is "the Son of man," thoroughly human, he has an attitude and aspect that are superhuman. His voice clear as a "trumpet" and full as an ocean, his regal robes girt with a "golden girdle," his "hair white as snow," radiating effulgent purity, his feet strong as "brass," his hand clasping "seven stars," his mouth flashing out a "two-edged sword" and his countenance luminous as the "sun in his strength." What manner of man is this? The symbolical representation here indicates:
(1) Royalty. He is robed as a king - "clothed with a garment down to the foot." Christ was a royal Man in the truest and highest sense - royal in thought, sympathy, aim, character.
(2) Purity. His brow encircled with locks white as snow. "His head and his hairs were white like wool." The only morally spotless man the race has ever known.
(3) Penetration. His eyes pierced into the deepest depths of human thought; they were "as a flame of fire."
(4) Firmness. There was no vacillation of purpose, but inflexible and invincible. "His feet like unto fine brass."
(5) Dominion. Having the brightest and purest intelligences in his possession and at his command. "He had in his right hand seven stars."
(6) Victory. His victories are bloodless. He conquers mind; he slays not existence, but its curses and its wrongs. "Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword."
(7) Brightness. No dark thoughts clouding his brow, indicating anger or sadness, but bright looks withal. "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." This Man was the greatest gift of Heaven to the race. In him dwelleth not only all the fulness of what is purest and grandest in human nature, but all "the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
III. THAT A WONDERFUL IMPRESSION FROM ETERNITY IS MADE UPON MAN. "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as [one] dead." It is a physiological fact that a sudden rush of strong emotions will stop the heart and arrest the current of life in its flow. What were John's emotions? Was there amazement? Was he amazed at seeing One whom he loved above all others, and with whom he had parted, some few years before, on the Mount of Olives, when a cloud received him out of sight, now in form sublimely unique and overwhelmingly majestic? Was it dread? Was he terror struck at the marvellous apparition? Was it remorse? Did the effulgence of its purity quicken within him such a sense of guilt as filled him with self loathing and horror? I know not. Perhaps all these emotions blended in a tidal rush that physically paralyzed him for a while. When Isaiah, in the temple, saw the Lord on high and lifted up, he exclaimed, "Woe is me! for I am undone." When Job heard the voice speaking out of the whirlwind, he exclaimed, "I abhor myself in dust and ashes." When Christ appeared to Peter, he cried out, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." When the Roman ruffians, in the garden of Gethsemane, saw the moral majesty on his brow, and heard his words, such emotions rushed up within them as stopped their hearts, and they "went backward and fell to the ground." Eternity is constantly making solemn impressions upon man. In most cases, perhaps, the impressions are superficial and fugitive, but frequently in certain seasons and conditions of life they are terrible beyond description. There are but few men who have not felt at times something of the moral terrors of Eliphaz: "In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake." No impressions, however, from eternity are so deep and salutary as those conveyed to the heart by profound meditations on the doctrines, the history, and the character of Christ. Such impressions are the means by which the all-loving Father renews the moral character of his children and makes them meet for his everlasting fellowship and service. - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,