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Jesus Christ Is Alive and Well! (e)
Revelation 1:1-20

James R. Davis

Imagine reading a mystery novel, as you come to the last chapter of the book you decide that you aren't going to finish reading it. So you hang in limbo as to how the book ends. That is what happens if you read the entire Bible and fail to read the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation tells us how the story ends. The Old Testament is the gospel concealed in a mystery (Isaiah 64:4) and the New Testament is the gospel mystery revealed. (Ephesians 3:1-5) It is the book of Revelation that leaves us with no doubt as to the culminating effect of God's work in redemption. God triumphs!

Contrary to popular belief Revelation can be understood. The book of Revelation is apocalyptic in nature. That already sounds mysterious. We speak of the apocalypse, but it actually means that which is revealed. It is not something that is hidden. Its message is not hidden from the reader. It is a book that pronounces a blessing upon the reader: "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near." (1:3) How can it bless us if we cannot understand it?

A Panoramic View

"Much of the New Testament is written for those who have ears to hear, but this book is written for those who have eyes to see; and for a generation whose mental eye has been starved of imagery it is in some ways the most important book in the New Testament." 1

John is not writing to convey a message that only appeals to reason. John is instructed to write what he has seen in his vision. (1:19) He conveys a message that appeals to all five senses. He uses sight, sound, feeling, taste and smell, to create an overwhelming impression of majesty, reverence and awe.

You have probably stood in front of a panoramic movie screen. You are in a room and the movie screen surrounds the entire room as the motion pictures begins you are caught up in the movement on the screen, so much so that you feel queasy as you are caught up in the action on the screen. You get so caught up in the movement that you have to close your eyes to escape the motion of the screen.

Imagine reading the book of Revelation as if you were sitting in a movie theater watching a panoramic view of each episode that John describes. After all John has had a vision that he is merely telling in words. In this vision there are episodes with intense drama. As you sit there you must yield to the majesty of the moment as Christ walks across the stage of history.

It is essential, as we watch what is taking place on center stage that we see each vision as a part of the whole. Sometimes when my wife and I watch a movie she exclaims, "Did you see that?" I usually retort, "What?" She replies, "That vase, it is just like the one I have." I usually end up asking her how she picks up on all the background details. At times she is so caught up with the scenery or the interior decorations that I wonder how she follows the plot.

The difficulty with reading such a dramatic message is that we will get so caught up in the backdrop that we miss what is happening on center stage. As we read this dramatic message we must not stop and dissect each symbol individually. We must not press each detail of the symbolic language to mean something. The details only make up the backdrop of the entire panoramic view. It is much like viewing an artist's painting of a forest. We view the picture as a whole. We don't pick out a leaf, or a twig, or a stump of a tree and begin assigning each some special hidden meaning. Although each part adds to the dramatic effect, they do not add some special meaning or message to the picture. They are just parts of the whole and viewed as a whole they make up one beautiful picture. So it is with John's Revelation. John's allusions are not as a code in which each symbol requires separate and exact translation.

This is not to say that some things about the book do not remain in obscurity. Yet, we are left with no doubt about the conclusion of the mystery because it is fully revealed. The essential message of the book can be understood without understanding every detailed part of the symbolism used to convey the message. This is the basic nature of apocalyptic literature.

The Book Meant Something to the Original Readers

We must also keep before us that John's Revelation constantly reiterates the blessing that will come from reading and understanding what is written. (Cf. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14)  John's purpose was not to hide the message of the book, but to make the message vivid and impressive through the use of signs and symbols. Therefore the book can be understood. It is best understood when we endeavor to decipher what it meant to the original recipients.

John wrote this book about 96 A. D. as he was preparing first century Christians for the martyrdom that was soon to come. He wanted the first century Christians to understand the nature of their sufferings and its place in the eternal purpose of God. John was writing to the seven churches in Asia Minor in an effort to prepare them for the difficult times ahead. It is a message of optimism and hope rather than a message of gloom and doom.

In Paul's message to the Ephesians, Paul reveals that when Christ saved us he raised us up to sit in heavenly places with him in Christ. (Ephesians 2:5-7) The basic message of the book of Revelation is that God won and now his people reign with his Son who is ruler of the kings of the earth and he has made us to be kings and priests who reign with him in heavenly places in Christ. (1:5-7)

Jesus Christ Reigns with His Saints

As John writes, it has been well over a half century since Jesus' crucifixion and his ascension to heaven. John saw Jesus on the Mt. of Transfiguration, and he had seen him ascend to heaven but now he is an old man as Jesus appears to him in a vision. As John writes about Jesus' appearance to him in a vision, there is a need for the seven churches in Asia to understand that Jesus Christ is very much alive and all is well. John speaks of Jesus as the one " . . . who is and was and is coming . . . the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of earthly kings . . . who loves us and has released us from our sins by his life-blood . . . to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. " (1:4-6) Jesus is the one to whom Caesar himself must bow. But not only will the rulers of this world bow to Jesus they bow to every saint because the saints reign with Christ. Paul tells us that the saints will judge the world. (1 Corinthians 6:2)

As the seven churches of Asia faced the second century A.D., they had many years of persecution ahead of them to endure. They needed to know that the Almighty God was in charge. John wrote, "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (1:7-8) John's message demonstrates that death will not prevail over the church of Christ, which is built upon the eternal Rock. (Matthew 16:18-19)

John writes to evoke emotion. One is led to feel the assurance of victory in spite of the seemingly insurmountable odds. You are left with the feeling that come what may, Christ reigns supreme and hell itself cannot take from Christ what is rightfully his. The book gives the reader confidence that God is in control. Throughout the book God is portrayed as the one who is in control of history. It is demonstrated that God is fully capable of bringing human beings and human events together to fulfill his eternal purpose. John says, "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen." (1:7)

It is in the book of Revelation that we see that vengeance belongs to God. Paul had written, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:19-21) It is John's vision that leaves no doubt that evil will be judged. Notice that he says that even those who pierced him will see him coming and the whole earth will mourn. (1:7)

Jesus Christ is Present with the Saints

John said, "I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." (Revelation 1:12-16)

As John turned to see who was talking to him, he saw the son of man in all his splendor. "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (1:17-20)

Christ reveals that he is present with the churches of Asia. Not only is Christ present, but the angels are with him. Christ has overcome. He has descended into the realms of death and now he has the keys of death and Hades . . . the place of the departed spirits. He is present and he is in full control of the situation. He is the Alpha and Omega . . . the first and the last. There is no other.

Then John takes the historical Jesus and literally places him in the very presence of the saints that were perhaps about to lose a sense of his presence. He not only was but he is, he rules, he walks among you, he has made you kings and priests, you rule with him. Jesus made a promise that where two or three are gathered together there he would be in their midst. John is showing how Christ is present with the saved throughout Revelation. But the message is just as real for us, because we understand that Christ reigns in this manner among us today, his dominion is an everlasting dominion and his power is almighty.

Paul prayed that we might understand the power of God that is at work in our lives. "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:18-23) It is in Revelation that John endeavors to open our eyes to the glorious splendor and power of the Firstborn from the dead.

It is here that John takes Jesus Christ out of history and places him in our midst in the present and this gives us anticipation and hope for the future. If this is the kind of vision that Paul sees when he is caught up into the third heaven, it is no small wonder why he thought that it would be far better to depart and be with Christ. (2 Corinthians 12:2; Philippians 1:22)  It is here that Jesus demonstrates to John that death is only the beginning for the child of God.

Conclusion:

What hope John's vision inspires.

What encouragement it affords.

It was the vision from John that supported the first Christians through two centuries of persecution.

It was upon faith in his words that they shed their blood as a testimony to the Word of God.

It was upon those sacrifices that God's Word was firmly established upon our planet.

It was upon these words that they determined to be faithful through death!

1. C. B. Caird, A Commentary On The Revelation of St. John The Divine, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York and Evanston. Pg. 13.
 
 
 

 

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