The Glorious Unveiling of Christ (Revelation Sermon 1 of 49)
March 05, 2017 | Andrew Davis
Glory of God, Second Coming of Christ
I. Walking Wisely by an Unveiled Light
This morning we are going to begin, as I just prayed a moment ago, an incredible journey through what I believe is the hardest book in the Bible to interpret properly with a high level of certainty. But I also think it is a book that will reward careful study, and as you heard D’Arcey read, there is a promise of blessing to anyone who reads aloud and studies and takes to heart the messages of the book of Revelation. So, it is with some excitement and trepidation that we begin this study. Someone asked me this morning how many weeks, or months, or years that we would be in this. I have absolutely no idea, nor do I have any idea what I will do with this or that or the other specific passage in Revelation. I am counting on God to give me time and insight, but I do not have to worry about that this morning, just Revelation chapter 1.
A few weeks ago, in our study in the book of Isaiah, we came across an incredible passage, in Isaiah 64:1. In verse 1 of Isaiah 64, Isaiah the prophet cries aloud and says, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” And I remember when I preached that passage to you, that word “rend” is very powerful to me; it gives a sense of some kind of a veil or a curtain or something around us all the time.
And there is some kind of reality on the other side of that. Different people deal with that idea in different ways. Buddhists, for example, who are seeking enlightenment, believe that this physical world is not even real; it is an illusion, and all that really matters is the world of enlightenment and moving on. We Christians do not say that. We believe that this physical world is real and really matters. Yet, we believe that there is a world beyond this veil, beyond the curtain. Atheistic scientists, philosophical materialists, people like Carl Sagan, would say something like this: “The Cosmos is all there ever has been, is now, or ever will be.” We Christians do not believe that. We believe that there is an invisible spiritual world. We are instructed in the book of Hebrews: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command so that what is seen is not made out of what was visible.” So the invisible realm preceded the visible realm, but we know that only by faith. Science will not tell us that. We are not like the occult, looking to mediums and spiritists who are seeking contact with the spirit world, the world of the dead in an unhealthy and sick way. We are not that either.
But we believe, instructed by Scripture, that there is a universe, a world of reality, beyond what we can see with our eyes. Isaiah said, “Oh, that you rend the heavens…”: “that You would create a kind of tear.” When I preached that text, I talked about, in the New Testament, indications of that which we saw in the life of Jesus. It says in Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus was baptized, the heavens were “torn open” — that is the actual verb used — and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove. Or again, when Jesus ascended and went higher and higher and a cloud hid Him from their sight, and He passed over — in the book of Hebrews, it says He “passed through the heavens” — and sits at the right hand of Almighty God, far above all heavenly realms. Or again, when Stephen was being martyred at the end of Acts 7, just before they threw stones at him, he said, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” All of these give us an indication; so also this book of Revelation.
We are going to have a revelation of an invisible world as we study this. It is a vision of the present, surrounding spiritual world, and it is a vision of the coming future world, as planned by the sovereign power of God, that will certainly come. It is a vision that we would not have in this way in any other book of the Bible or by any other means. It is up to us to walk wisely by this unveiled light. In 2 Peter 3:10-11, Peter tells us that the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire: the elements will melt in the heat, and everything will be laid bare. He says, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” There is an ethical side to this. This is what it means to walk wisely based on this unveiled light.
“…what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” “You ought to live holy and godly [and upright] lives” — that is the internal journey — “as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” by evangelism and missions — that is the external journey. That is the kind of life we should live as a result of the study we are about to do.
II. The Origin and Blessing of the Book of Revelation (verses 1-3)
We come, then, to the beginning, Revelation 1, chapter 1. And right from the start, we have this word "Revelation," and it fits into the comments that I've making from the beginning of this message.
The word "revelation," is very closely related in the English to the Greek word “apocalupsis”, which means unveiling. It is the sense of pulling back a veil or curtain to show something that would not have been seen any other way. Fundamental to our Christian faith is the idea that secrets — invisible, spiritual things — are revealed to us by Almighty God and that we would not know them any other way. Christianity is not something we make up; its origin is not in the will of man, but is revealed through men who spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We would not know anything about the spiritual realm if God hadn't revealed them. Moreover, we can know nothing for certain, nothing about the future, except that God reveals it. Nothing. But God is a God who does in fact reveal the future. He does tell us things to come.
What is Revealed?
This unveiling — this pulling back, this apokalupsis — shows us two things. First and foremost, it shows us Christ. Look at Revelation 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ…” In other words, we can never fully know Christ as God wants us to know Him apart from this Book of Revelation. There are some aspects to Him, to His person, to His ministry, and to His future that we would never know except through this Book of Revelation.
Second, what is revealed is the future. “He gave him this revelation to show His servants what must soon take place.” The word “must” means this absolutely, certainly will happen. Nothing can change the plans of God. “And it must soon take place.”
What does the word “soon” mean in this context? Jesus says, in Revelation 3:11,“I am coming soon. Hold fast to what you have…” He uses the word three times in the final chapter: Revelation 22:7, “Behold I am coming soon. Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”; Revelation 22:12, “Behold I am coming soon. My reward is with me and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”; Revelation 22:20, “He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Four times Jesus says he is coming soon, and yet we all know it has been 2000 years since Christ ascended from Earth. It has been 20 centuries, approximately, since this Book of Revelation was written. We must know that God’s time and our time are different. 2 Peter 3:8-9 says, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.” If we look at it in light of eternity, the “soon” will make perfect sense to us. But relative to us living in space and time now, it does not make sense. It seems like the days go by so slowly, but they really don't.
Who Does the Revealing?
Who does the revealing of Christ and of the future? Look again at verse one, it says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him, to show his servants what must soon take place.” Thus, God, meaning God the Father, gave the book of Revelation — He gave it to Jesus, and He gave it about Jesus. Jesus, by the will of the Father, is revealing Himself to us. God the Father reveals God the Son to us. Jesus said this was true. In Matthew 11:27, He says, “No one knows the Son except the Father.” In John 12:49, Jesus said, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” Everything Jesus said on earth, everything that He communicated through the apostles, He has communicated under the authority of his Father. It was His father who told Him what to say and how to say it.
The Heavenly Chain of Command
A heavenly chain of command is represented here. Look at verses 1-2 with me: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him, to show His servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to His servant John, who testifies to everything he saw — that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” God gave this Book of Revelation, the contents of these 22 chapters, to Jesus. Jesus committed it, it seems, to an angel. The angel carried it in some way to John, and then John wrote it down for God's servants to read. That is us. That is the relay race of Revelation.
The Angel Carries a Prophetic Message
Now the Book of Revelation, as I have said, unveils an invisible spiritual world. The present invisible spiritual world contains spiritual beings that we would know nothing about except that the Bible tells us about them. Angels — spiritual beings — will play a huge role in the Book of Revelation. Angels are mentioned 81 times in the book of Revelation. The book of Hebrews tells us what their role is to us. Hebrews 1:14: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” The angels are here to serve us, the redeemed who are going to inherit salvation.
And angels carry prophetic messages to the human messengers, the mouthpieces, who will tell them to the world. A fact that we would not know except that the New Testament teaches it to us is that the laws of Moses were entrusted to Moses by angelic messengers. It is taught twice in the New Testament: in Acts 7:53 Stephen said, “The law was put into effect through angels.”; and in Galatians 3:19, Paul says, “The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.” Angels, in some mysterious way, carry messages down from heaven to earth. We see this openly acted out in the Book of Daniel. The angels carry messages to the prophets and to the apostles.
In the Book of Revelation, angels will take a very active role in bringing the decrees of heaven down to planet earth: Angels will sound trumpets that initiate judgments on earth, pour out bowls that result in judgments on earth, swing sickles that harvest the earth, hand John a scroll that he will eat, observe and celebrate the unfolding events on earth, saying, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" — they are intensely interested in what is unfolding in this drama of redemptive history — and sometimes be John's tour guide through these prophetic visions. We see in Revelation 17 that an angel carried John away in the spirit to show him the great whore of Babylon; and later, in Revelation 21, that an angel carried him away in the spirit to show him the beautiful bride of Christ, “the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.” Angels are actively involved in events on earth.
We should stand in awe and marvel at this invisible spiritual world that surrounds us, which we would not know existed. If we were scientific, atheistic, materialistic people, we would deny the reality of this invisible spiritual world. But as believers in Christ, we know it is real.
The Humility of John
We also John’s humility right from the beginning of the book. He calls himself a bond slave of Christ, and he calls all the people of God, who are the intended recipients of this Book of Revelation, bond slaves or servants of Christ. It is a very humbling thing. If you read the Book of Revelation rightly, it will humble you; you will be put in your place. You will realize that at best, you are part of a multitude greater than anyone can count from every tribe, language, people and nation, redeemed by the blood of Christ.
You will, in a very healthy way, shrink in your own estimation. You will realize you are part of a vast work of salvation that God is doing. That is a very good thing, isn't it? And you will see the incredible powers of the demonic world, the satanic world, and realize, as Luther said, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.” There is no way we could fight Satan, no way we are strong enough to fight the beast, the anti-Christ. If we were left to our own devices, we would be destroyed. And even more, we will have a sense of the greatness of the majesty of God, of His infinite power, of the majesty and glory of His throne through this Book of Revelation. It is very humbling.
Blessings on the Book of Revelation
There are blessings on the Book of Revelation. Look again at verse 3: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy.” D’Arcy, I don't know where you are, but you have a blessing because you read aloud the words of this prophecy. If anyone wants a blessing from God today, go home and read aloud the words of Revelation 1.
God promises a blessing on his servants if they will read the words of this prophecy, but even more, “…blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it because, the time is near.” We are not to know the words of the Book of Revelation only to read them, but we are to take to heart what is written; we are to be obedient. “All scripture is God-breathed and useful,” 2 Timothy 3:16, but not all scripture has the same powerful impact on the human soul.
This Book of Revelation is a special, unique book among all the books of the Bible. God has assigned to it a role that He has given to no other book. It gives us insights into the glories of Christ and into the present, invisible, spiritual realms of angels and demons and departed saints who are worshiping God in heaven. And of course, it gives us insights into the future — the coming wrath and the coming glory of the new Jerusalem and the new universe — like no other book does. God calls on us His servants to read the words of this book and take to heart and obey its message. And if we do, He will bless us even today.
And notice again that he says, “the time is near.” The time is near. We are deceived into thinking that we will be in this state forever, that life will go on as it always has. It will not. The time is near; the time for the end is coming. It says in James 4:14, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for little while and then vanishes.”
III. Greetings and Doxology (verses 4-8)
Now let us consider verses 4-8, the greeting and the doxology. I have already laid out the origin of this Book of Revelation, coming from God the Father, through God the Son, through the angel, through John to us. We have the blessing of this majestic and mysterious Book of Revelation, and now he gives us a greeting and gives God a doxology — the word of greeting is to us and the word of praise is going back up to God.
Greetings from John (the Apostle) and from the Triune God
First, the greetings from John and from the Trinity, the Triune God. Verse 4: “John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you.” I believe this is the Apostle John, one of the 12. Others disagree, but I think this is the best way to read this. According to Church history and tradition, all the other apostles were martyred, died an untimely, early death: Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. James was the first martyr in the Book of Acts, beheaded by Herod. Andrew preached in modern day Russia and Turkey, and ended up being crucified in Greece. Thomas died in India, pierced through with several spears of soldiers who attacked him. Philip converted the wife of a Roman proconsul in Asia minor and in retaliation, the Roman had him slowly tortured to death. According to church history, The Apostle John is the only one of the 12 not to die a martyr's death.
However, John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Verse 9 says, “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” He wrote at the end of the first century, probably in the mid ‘90s. At that point, the emperor was Domitian, who had initiated a level of persecution that would become characteristic of the Roman emperors until Constantine — a rhythm and cycle of persecution and then relaxation. But persecution is very much the backdrop of the whole Book of Revelation: the attack of Satan and his henchmen, his marionettes, his ruling elite, who do not know Satan’s authority over them, but are used by Satan to attack the church.
John was exiled to this tiny island of Patmos. It is a little rocky, deserted island off the coast of modern day Turkey. It is about 17 square miles in size — that is about one eighth the size of the county of Durham — a very small place, and deserted. John says in verse 9 he was exiled there “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” A regular theme, as the external journey goes on, as the gospel is being preached and proclaimed, is the backlash of persecution. He is there on the island because of that. John says that persecution and “suffering and… patient endurance” are our lot in Christ; that belongs to us in Jesus — but also a kingdom and a priestly ministry belong to us! He calls himself a “brother and companion” in this: this suffering is ours in Christ; this kingdom is ours in Christ; this patient endurance is ours in Christ.
Twice in the Book of Revelation, John says the phrase, “I, John.” I think that is amazing. He does it here in verse 9, and then at the end of the book, in Revelation 22:8: “I John, I'm the one who heard and saw these things.” It sounds as though he cannot believe it, saying, “I’m just John, it's just me, I'm just an ordinary individual and God showed me this. I'm just like you, I'm a man just like you, I have a nature just like you do. And yet, God poured out all of these things to me.”
To Whom the Letter was First Addressed
Verse 4 tells us that this letter was addressed first to these seven churches in the province of Asia: “…to the seven churches in the province of Asia” which is modern-day Turkey. These are listed in verses 10-11: “On the Lord's Day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’” Archaeologists have settled with great certainty where these were located. They were on what John Stott calls a circular postal route, shaped a bit like a fish hook, starting at the coastline of Turkey in Asia Minor and going inland and curving around, in geographical order as John listed them. These were seven real communities, seven real cities or towns, where there were real local churches. They really existed in space and time.
John says he was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, which, I would think, would have been Sunday, the first day of the week — called the Lord's Day because on that day, we honor Jesus, who was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. This points toward the new covenant pattern of worship, where we no longer worship on the Sabbath, the seventh day, but have transitioned over to worship on the first day.
John was probably alone — we do not know that for sure but assume it to be so — and wanted to join in spirit at least with his brothers and sisters throughout the world who were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. He was in the Spirit, meaning controlled by the Spirit or in the power of the Spirit, on the Lord's day. He was filled with the Spirit and had the fruit of the Spirit, but he also would have had spiritual visions because he is an apostle.
He was commanded by a loud voice behind him to write what he had seen and send it to the churches. Therefore, this entire Book of Revelation comes because of his obedience to that command to write. “Write down on a scroll what you have seen, and send it.” He begins this epistle, this incredible letter, in the usual way: “Grace and peace to you.” Paul starts his letters the same way. I love that idea: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”; we get the same sense with John’s greeting. We need a river of grace because our salvation is not finished yet. We need God to give us more grace; as James says: “He gives us more grace.” Reading this Book of Revelation, as with all of Paul's epistles, will give us more grace for this salvation race that we are running. “Grace and peace to you” — peace comes as a result.
Greetings from the Trinity
Next we have a greeting from the Trinity. The promise of grace and peace is not from John but from Almighty God, the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Spirit, though here, the order is the Father and the Spirit and the Son. He says in verses 4-5, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits, [or perhaps the seven-fold Spirit] before his throne; [verse 5] and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
God the Father is listed first, described as “him who is and who was and who is to come.” This speaks of the eternality of God. It speaks of the immutability, the unchanging nature of God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, as is said of Jesus. He never changes. He is the one who was, who is, who is to come. He is the eternal being.
God the spirit is mentioned next. Interestingly, He is called “the seven spirits before the throne,” or perhaps it could be translated as “seven-fold spirit.” Now this image will come back in Revelation 4. There is a throne depicted with Almighty God seated on it, and there is this “seven spirits before the throne.” The only way we can know for certain this is the Holy Spirit is because of this Trinitarian greeting. I cannot imagine that some inanimate object would be mentioned in this pattern here. A greeting from the Father, and from Jesus, and in between the seven spirits. It is definitely referring to the Holy Spirit, giving us the Trinitarian picture in these verses. Why seven spirits? I don't really know, except that the number seven seems to be the number of completion or perfection, as many commentators have pointed out. Thus, we have the sense of the perfect seven fold spirit of God.
Finally, “from Jesus Christ.” He is described as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” First, Jesus Christ is the faithful witness. He was faithful to God the Father who sent him. He was faithful to do everything the Father told him to do. He was faithful to witness to an unbelieving world who killed Him because of His witness. He was faithful to stand in front of the Jewish authorities, before Annas and Caiaphas, and when charged under oath by the living God to tell the truth, “Are you the Christ, the son of God?” he said, “I am.” He is the faithful witness; He told the truth.
Second, He is the firstborn from the dead. We think of firstborn in terms of first in pre-eminence: He has the top role in the household of God; He is the firstborn in rank or role. He is also called by Paul, “firstfruits,” implying that others will be raised from the dead. Also, we would think first in sequence. He is the first who was ever resurrected from the dead, in a resurrection body that would never die again. No one else has ever received that resurrection body before Jesus. He is the firstborn from the dead. This idea will be powerful for us as we go forward, as the church is suffering and being persecuted; it was key for the church in Smyrna, who was told to be faithful unto death, and that the devil would put them in prison. We are reminded that He is firstborn from the dead because we have Him who is the victor over death.
Third, He is the ruler of the kings of the Earth. He is the King over all kings, and He is the Lord over all lords. We give Him the preeminence. He ruled over the Roman Empire. He rules over every potentate and dictator and prime minister and president, over all human governments. He is the ruler of the kings of the Earth.
And so the letter is from the Triune God, through John, to all the local churches in all history, in all places and all, for all time.
Doxology from John to Jesus
Then comes this beautiful doxology. In verse 5-6 John, in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, was celebrating his Savior, whom he loved more at that time than he loved when he first met Him. Next week, God willing, we will look at the church at Ephesus that forsook their first love. But John was not like that; he loved Jesus more now than he did the day before, the year before — there was an ever-growing love. We see it in what he says: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and father — to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” John wrote in his epistle, “We love [Jesus] because He first loved us.” He is ascribing this whole letter in dedication to Jesus — do you see it? — “To Him who loves us.”
Not only does He love us infinitely, but He has also, for all time, freed us from our sins by His blood. This is the centerpiece of the gospel. By His blood atonement, by shedding His blood on the cross, He has set us free from sin and death and hell and Satan’s kingdom. He has broken the chains. He has set us free from our sins by His blood.
All these many years later, John still melts in love for and worship of Jesus. He was there when Jesus died. In John 19:34-35, he tells us that after Jesus was dead, he (John) watched a Roman soldier who was part of His execution shove a spear up into Jesus’ side and pull it out, “bringing a sudden flow of blood and water,” which was absolute proof that His heart had failed and that He was dead. “The man who saw it has given testimony…” He shed His blood for us to death that we might be forgiven of our sins. John dedicates this book “[t]o Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood…”
Now that we are free, we are enabled to serve our God and Father. We are a kingdom and we are priests to serve Him. First, we are the kingdom of God. The kingdom is made up not of territories — Jesus is not seeking to conquer North Africa from the Muslims; He is not trying to conquer territory in China from the Communists; He is going after people. We are the kingdom, the elect. In every tribe, language, people, and nation and every generation, we are the kingdom. Second, not He has made us to be both a kingdom and priests to serve our God. We have a priestly ministry — not in the pattern of the Levitical priesthood in the Old Testament, offering up animal sacrifices and shedding blood — that time is finished, obsolete. We now offer sacrifices of praise and worship; we offer ourselves to God as a fragrant offering. We present our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. We are a kingdom and priests, or perhaps even a kingdom of priests, to serve our God and Father.
The Second Coming Predicted
In verse 7, John transitions to begin telling us what will happen: “Behold, 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 love the word “Behold.” You cannot behold it with your eyes, but by faith, with eyes of faith, you can picture Him coming with the clouds. “Behold He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and [all the tribes], all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen.”
This is the Second Coming of Christ, which is essential to the whole book and it's going to come. The Second Coming of Christ is established again and again throughout the New Testament. My favorite reference to it is in Acts Chapter 1, to which I already alluded. Jesus took the disciples out of Jerusalem and they go to the Mount of Olives. In Acts 1:8, Jesus says His final words to His disciples, right before His ascension: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.”
In Acts 1:9-11, it says, “After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee’, they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.’” That refers to the second coming of Christ.
John is referring here in Revelation to the same event. He is coming back with the clouds just as He left, and “every eye will see Him.” The same clouds that covered Him in His ascension will peel back and reveal Him in His coming, and “every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.” That coming will not be secret. It will not be hidden: “as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:7) “Every eye will see Him.” There will be no faith needed, no faith required at that time. Right now faith is needed: to believe that what I am saying will happen, you need faith now, today. But you will not need faith on that day, because you will look up to the clouds and you will see it happening with your own eyes.
And it says, “…every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him.” That refers to His enemies who slaughtered Him. Those who would kill Him still, even in their hearts, will see Him. That means everybody living on the face of the earth at that time: every atheist who denies and does not believe in any spiritual thing — they will not have a choice, they will see Him in the clouds. They can definitely be scientists at that point and use their empirical evidence to see Jesus; no faith will be required. The Buddhists will cease their search for enlightenment — it will be finished at that moment. It will be finished for all of the secular humanists, for all of the materialistic businessmen whose God is their stomach. It will be finished for all the Muslims, both the domesticated western intellectual peace-loving type Muslims, and the fire-breathing Jihadists who are in caves in Afghanistan — they will all see Him with their own eyes.
All the peoples, the tribes of the earth, will mourn because of Him. Why is that? Because the end has come, the wrath has come, Judgement Day is here. We will see this again with the breaking open of the the sixth seal.
In Revelation 6:15-17, it says, “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” Every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. John adds these words: “So shall it be, Amen!” “I assent to it; I want it to happen; I am yearning for it because God wills that it happen.”
God the Father Declares Himself
In verse 8, God the Father declares Himself: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, The Almighty.’” This is the Lord God, the Almighty One, God the Father. The Alpha and the Omega means history was His idea from beginning to end. He wrote it with His own mind and He initiated it on the Alpha day. He has controlled every letter of history, and He will do so until the Omega day, the final day. God the Father is history, and He is ruling over all things. He is the eternal, unchanging God, and He is omnipotent, ruling over all things.
IV. The Unveiling of Christ, Our Glorious High Priest (verses 9-20)
The rest of the chapter depicts John’s encounter with the resurrected, glorified Christ in a very powerful vision. Look at verses 9-11; these are John's circumstances: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day, I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”
He is on Patmos in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and he hears a mighty voice behind him like a trumpet. A trumpet is loud and clear. In the Old Testament, it was used for calling warriors to battle. Paul says that “if the trumpet sounds an uncertain call, who will follow it in to battle?” It was used to assemble the nation of Israel together at the Feast of Trumpets; they would come together when they heard it. It came with the sound of Sinai — the first trumpet blast in the Bible is at Mount Sinai — when a very loud trumpet blast coming, it seemed, from the heavenly realms assembled the nation of Israel. And God descended in fire on Mount Sinai and the ground beneath their feet shook. The Second Coming will occur when Jesus descends in Second-Coming glory: “He will come with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” It is a loud, terrifying voice like a trumpet that John hears.
Why was the voice behind him? I am not sure but I have an idea. John is facing one way and God is the other way. To some degree, John must in humility recognize, “I need to turn to where God is and what Christ is doing.” We are all off to some degree. The idea he is conveying seems to be, “I had to turn around to get a look at Jesus.” That is a picture of repentance. Let’s put it this way: all of us need to be adjusted in our perspective. The Book of Revelation will adjust everyone’s perspective, even the one who wrote it. That is how I interpret the need for John to turn around to see what was happening.
What John Saw When He Turned Around
What did John see when he turned around? Verses 12-16: “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. The hair on his head was 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 coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
First, in this prophetic visionary image, he saw seven golden lampstands. These were most likely free-standing lampstands, perhaps the height of an average man. We assume they were standing independently, separated from each other rather than together like a menorah because it says that Jesus was “among the lampstands,” in the midst of them. These lampstands were made of gold, signifying incredible worth and value; the implication is that they are valuable to Jesus, to God. They were giving off light to the surrounding world; thus, they are a picture of the seven churches mentioned in the previous verses. This reminds me of what Jesus said to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We are to be, in Jesus, the light of the world.
Walking in the midst of these seven golden lampstands was “one like a son of man.” This is directly connected with the awesome vision of Daniel in Daniel 7. Daniel saw Almighty God with a head and hair white like wool, sitting on a throne, from which flowed a river of fire, and surrounded by 100 million angels. And suddenly into the presence of the Ancient of Days, which is God the Father, came “one like a son of man.” He was human — “one like a son of man” — but it says in Daniel 7:13-14, “He [this son of man] approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He [the son of man] was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” This is Jesus, this “son of man.” Daniel tells us that He received from his Father the world. All power and authority was given to him by God the Father, and all peoples, nations and men of every language will worship him.
Look how He was dressed in John’s vision: He was dressed as a priest. He was being depicted to John as fully human — “son of man” — and fully divine. He was walking through the seven golden lampstands wearing a robe reaching down to his feet and a golden sash around his chest. This is a picture of the priestly ministry of Jesus, moving through the local churches.
In addition, his appearance is amazing. We do not typically picture Jesus this way, but look at verse 14: “The hair on his head was 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.” It is as though Daniel’s image of God the Father with white hair has been given over to Jesus, implying the wisdom of age coupled with the vigor and power of youth. He is the “Ancient of Days,” possessing infinite age and infinite wisdom, but He is also vigorous to act. All of those God-like attributes are ascribed to Jesus. He has perfect holiness and limitless energy; he is old, vastly older than you can possibly imagine, but he is also young in terms of vigor and energy — more energetic than you can possibly imagine.
Out of his mouth, John says, came a voice “like the sound of rushing waters.” Think of Niagara Falls — if you have ever stood in its presence, you know you can barely hear yourself think. His voice presents with awesome power that is “like the sound of rushing waters.” Also out of his mouth comes “a sharp, double-edged sword.” Hebrews 4:12 says “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Jesus’ sharp, double-edged sword has a healing effect on the church and a slaughtering effect on his enemies. By His word, the church is purified of evil, like a scalpel cutting a tumor out of the heart of the church, out of the heart of the people. He is purifying. He is the great physician, and he is cleansing his churches of sin. But we will see at the end of the book that when He comes again, with the same sword coming out of His mouth, He will slaughter His enemies. This is the power of the Word of Christ.
John also saw Jesus holding seven stars in His right hand. The seven stars represent the angels or messengers of the seven churches. There are many different interpretations regarding the stars — that they are the preachers or pastors or elders, perhaps — but in some ways there is an intimate connection between the star and the lampstand. He is holding the stars in His right hand, which gives us a picture of His ownership, His authority. He has the right to hold them and to command them. They are his servants so he is holding onto them, but it is also a beautiful picture of power and protection. In John 10:28, Jesus says, “No one can snatch them out of my hand” — security, protection, ownership. Isaiah 49:16 says “Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand.” The right hand also gives a sense of intimacy and access for the church as well; we can get close to Jesus.
John’s Overwhelmed Reaction
Look at John’s reaction in verse 17: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” This is almost the same as Daniel's reaction every time one of these angels showed up and gave him some kind of revelation. He fell down as though he were dead. It was also John’s reaction when Jesus took him with Peter and James up on the Mount of Transfiguration — when Jesus became a little more glorious, a little more radiant and his face was shining like the sun, the three of them fell down as though they were dead.
Christ’s Comforting Words
But what happened next on the Mount of Transfiguration? Jesus came and touched the three of them with His right hand. He did the same thing here with John: “…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 forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” We have the tenderness of Jesus’ touch. He often healed people by touching them — He touched the leper; He touched Peter's mother-in-law and the fever left her. Jesus touches people and they get healed.
He says “I am the first and the last.” This echoes God’s words: “I am the Alpha and Omega.” Just like the Father, Jesus is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, First and Last. He is God; he controls history.
He says “I was dead.” The Father cannot say that, nor can the Spirit; that is unique to Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. “I was dead. John you saw that water and blood mingled, flowed out of my side, I was dead. But behold” —don’t you love that? — “I am alive and I am alive forever and ever, I can never die again.” Romans 6:9 says, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.” And Jesus said in John 14, “Because I live, you also will live.” There will come a day when we will be able to say, “I was dead and behold, I am alive forever and ever in Christ.”
He says, “I hold the keys of death and Hades.” “I hold the keys... I am in charge of death. I rule over death, death does not rule over me. I rule over death and Hades (the underworld, the grave), I am able to rule over those things.” Hold on to that as we see death running amok in this book. (One angel pours out his bowl on the fresh water and a third of humanity dies... Billions of people.) Jesus is in charge of death and Hades.
In verse 19 John was given his mission: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” One commentator likened this to a three-part outline for the whole Book of Revelation: What you have seen is the picture of Jesus; what is now are the seven churches (we will begin looking at them next week, God willing); and what is yet to come, the future, will be spelled out in the rest of the book.
In this vision of John, we have revealed to us by God the Father the greatness of Jesus Christ, in His resurrection glory walking among the local churches, ministering to each one, trimming the wicks, protecting and keeping the fire of each of these churches burning as they witness to their surrounding community, rebuking them, correcting them, speaking to them, ministering to them. Jesus, our great high priest, is caring directly for every local church in the world.
Stand in Awe of the Greatness of God and of Christ!
First, stand in awe at the greatness of God and of Christ. If you do not have a feeling of awe and wonder, even here at the beginning in Revelation 1, ask God to soften your heart. It is amazing how hard our hearts can get. We need to melt. We need to tremble at God’s Word. We need to be willing to fall down, as John did, reading these things. By this amazing book, we will see into an invisible spiritual world, and the light that illuminates it will be amazing for us to experience.
Realize the Greatness of Christ’s Triumph over Death
Second, realize the greatness of Christ’s triumph over death. Meditate on Jesus’ statement, “I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Do not fear death. Paul says, “For me, it's better by far to die and be with Christ.” We are still too afraid of what will happen to us in this world. Jesus holds the key of death; He has triumphed over it.
Tremble Before Him in His Power and Holiness
Third, tremble before Him in his power, in his holiness. He is radiant and shining and holy, and we should be trembling before Him and yearning to walk wisely in light of this.
Come to Christ!! He Alone is the Refuge from the Coming Judgment on the Earth
Fourth, as I have already said, to any of you who are unregenerate, come to Christ. Jesus has freed us from our sins by his blood. This is the atoning sacrifice, the only hope that you or any of us have. Repent and trust in Christ while there is still time. Every eye will see Him in Second-Coming glory. See Him now by faith, and He will forgive you of all your sins.
Be Willing to Suffer for Christ… It is Our Share in Christ
As a church, we need to be more faithful in witnessing and taking this message; again and again he will call on us to witness and to share these things. We will see as we look at these seven churches that each one of them is called on to shine in its community for Christ. So we have to be willing to suffer for Christ. It is our lot to share in Christ's sufferings.
Increase Your Expectancy in the Second Coming of Christ
Finally increase your expectancy in the second coming of Christ. Jesus said, “Amen, come Lord Jesus.” Even so, come!
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the things that we have learned in Revelation 1. What an incredible book this is, what an incredible vision it gives us of God and of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. Father I pray that you would please work in us a strong sense of the presence of God. I pray that we would realize that the future is bright, but we have a lot of sufferings still to go through as a planet and as individuals. Oh Lord, I pray that you give us courage for the facing of that hour. Help us to be willing even this week to speak up. I pray that tomorrow at workplaces when someone asks, “What did you do this weekend?” that some witnesses here would speak up and say, “Well I went to church yesterday and we heard a great message from the Book of Revelation. Have you ever heard about the Book of Revelation?” and that they would get into a conversation. I pray that it would lead toward someone hearing the gospel and having a chance to repent and believe. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.