This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 11th, 2009. To listen to the audio, just click this link – Rev 1A.
Revelation 1:1-8 — HE IS COMING
We want to look at the introduction to the book of Revelation this morning. This prophecy begins with a purpose statement that tells us that God is revealing these things to his servants. So as we begin, to look at this prophecy, we need to understand that God is not trying to hide – but to reveal. Revelation was not written for experts with their charts so that they could try to predict when Jesus would return. Revelation is not a secret code to be broken, rather was written to the servants of God.
Not only was the Revelation of Jesus Christ given for the regular servants of God, but it was intended to be a blessing to the church. Notice vs.3 – “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.”
This morning, we want to begin to think about the book of Revelation as it was intended to be thought about and understood – not as a book of mysterious predictions, only understood by experts – (and I am no expert) – but as a pastoral prophecy that calls followers of Jesus to believe and follow.
Because You are Bond Servants: John refers to the believers in the churches of Asia as bondservants. A bondservant is simply one who binds himself to serve a master – or willingly gives himself or herself in service to a master.
Right from the start, John is using a terms that spells out what it means to be a follower of Jesus: it is a covenant agreement in which we bind ourselves to Jesus Christ as servants – and in which he binds himself to us as our master and God – to provide us with the blessings and benefits of salvation.
That sounds technical, but the Bible uses marriage as a picture of that relationship – (e.g. the story of Ruth, where Boaz binds himself to Ruth in marriage because he loves her – but in binding himself to her, he becomes a kind of savior to her in her poverty – to provide for her and her family. And of course, she also binds herself to him in faithfulness).
We are bondservants. We have bound ourselves as followers of Jesus – as servants to God (not just the professional ministers – but all of us). We serve God in the context of the lives we have – as parents, in families, in our workplaces, etc. We have bound ourselves as servants to Jesus Christ – and he has bound himself to us.
As bondservants, this book is given to us to be ready, to prepare ourselves for the things that must soon take place.
Because the Time is Near: What can this possibly mean? It has been nearly 2,000 years since John wrote this warning that the time is near. Why should we continue to pay any attention to Revelation, when, after all this time, Christ has not appeared?
Look at Exodus 4:29-31 – Moses and Aaron come to the elders of Israel who are in Egypt and they say, basically, the same kind of thing that John is writing in Rev.1 – that God is coming to deliver his people. But did the Exodus deliverance happen that day? No! Rather, the coming of Moses and Aaron with this announcement began a process that lasted for over 40 years. In fact, it was the precursor of the Exodus Journey.
If we think of Revelation as more of an Exodus-like event – then rather than focusing on the date of the return of Jesus, we can begin to think about how – as in the Exodus – God is walking with us through these days which will eventually lead us to the return of Christ. In other words, the who focus of Revelation changes from an unhelpful prediction mentality to an understanding that God is calling us – his bondservants, to a journey which will involve spiritual battles, suffering, blessing and perseverance.
This prophecy will unfold for us what the journey of faith is supposed to look like – what faithfulness and perseverance will look like.
As bondservants we are called to be ready – God is preparing us for the struggle of faith. But at the same time John gives us reason to be filled with confidence. God, to whom we have bound ourselves, is not like a drill sergeant, demanding we get ourselves in order – but more like a loving parent. The idea of the Day of the Lord’s return is a little frightening – and some of the images in Revelation are overwhelming – but God begins by being reassuring to us.
God begins by offering grace – or favor, and peace – or rest, to us. This is his desire towards us – favor and rest (although we often accuse God of threatening us with the opposite – displeasure and demand that we work to make ourselves acceptable to him).
Favor and Rest from the Father Who is Working out His Plan: “…from him who was and who is and who is to come” . This formula is used twice in reference to God the Father. Basically, God is saying, I made it all and I am the God of wonders from the OT – I am the God who is sustaining your life now and who is with you – and I am the God who will wrap it all up in the end. In other words, the God who has been working out his plan in history to rescue us from sin and death – whom we rebelled against at the beginning – who sent his Son to save us as his plan of salvation – and who is wrapping up history soon – wants to give us Favor and Rest.
Revelation is not going to be a prophecy of abandonment where God tears apart the world without a worry for the collateral damage – it is the end of the gracious plan that included Jesus Christ, and which he is bringing to completion as he brings us out of the world of death and into eternal life – out of the shame of our sin and into glory. So be Confident.
Favor and Rest from the Watchful, Empowering Spirit: “… and from the seven spirits who are before his throne…” Ok, this is a weird image – and no one we are used to. Are there seven Holy Spirits – (six we didn’t know about??)?
This picture of the Holy Spirit comes from the OT image of the Temple lamp stand, and from images in Zechariah, in chapters 3 and 4. It pictures the Spirit of God as ever-present and watchful – but also as an empowering presence with God’s people.
The Empowering and Watchful Spirit of God suggests that Revelation is not going to be a prophecy in which we are just spectators – but that God is preparing the church for action. And in that action God Will Be With Us – empowering us for what he calls us to do.
Favor and Rest from the Faithful Son: Five different things are said about the Son here…
(1) He is the Faithful Martyr – who died telling us the truth about the Father.
(2) He is the first one born from the dead to eternal life – more than reanimation – a resurrection body.
(3) He is the powerful ruler over the governments and authorities of this world.
(4) He is the one who washed us in his own blood to wash away our sins.
(5) He is the one who has given us the calling and authority to be a community/kingdom of priests for people on behalf of the Father.
(6) He is the One to whom honor and our obedience belong.
(7) He is the One who will return to judge the earth.
Each of these titles not only say something about the work of Jesus and who he is – they also say something about who we (the bondservants) are.
(1) We know the truth about God.
(2) We have been promised the gift of immortality.
(3) We belong to the one who is above every Government and Authority.
(4) We have been washed clean from sin.
(5) We have been given the authority to be a community of priests!
(6) We live to honor and obey him.
(7) We will be vindicated in all that we hope for when he returns.
All of which is to say that we have received one blessing after another from God through Jesus Christ. And Revelation is written to us – not as miserable slaves – but as favored bondservants who have authority. Consequently, we should be filled with confidence rather than being overwhelmed by fear – as we go through this prophecy and talk about these spiritual realities – because of our great position and blessing through Jesus.
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 18th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 1B.
Revelation 1:9ff & Psalm 121 — WHERE DOES MY HELP COME FROM?
Do Not Put Your Trust in What Man Can Do For You: “ I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. ”
Here is John, the Apostle, probably the last Apostle left alive at this point – the last great pastor of the church, who was with Jesus – in His inner circle of friends. John has been taken away from the church and sent into exile on the island of patmos. No doubt the church felt desperate to have lost John to exile – not to hear his teaching or to receive his help. No doubt John has felt desperate about the church he cannot get to.
And yet, as John sits down to write this astonishing prophecy to them – he does not introduce himself by saying – These are the last words of the Great Apostle – but rather – John, your brother and fellow partaker. He emphasizes the fact that he is like them – one of them…
In Tribulation: a word that means more than just suffering – it means pressure -the idea of being squeezed. Every follower of Jesus experiences the pressure of the world around us to conform – to stop talking about Jesus so much – to relax and look like the rest of the world and not to be so uptight about holiness. I feel this pressure and struggle with it just as you do, says John.
In Hope: John says, I am also a fellow partaker in the Kingdom. I also long for the Kingdom of God to come – for the only true justice there can ever be – for the final release from sin and death (which are connected to one another) – to at last be in the presence of the one whose presence will finally make us fully alive.
In Perseverance: I also continue to believe and to live under this pressure and in this hope – in spite of everything.
Where Does our help Come From? Like you, John is saying, I am a struggler – you cannot put your hope in me. Ps. 121 answers this question for us – “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? The question here is a challenge. Up on the mountains the people of Israel worshipped idols – fertility gods – rain gods – that they hoped would help them with what they wanted. The psalmist asks a question – will I put my trust in these things that others around me trust in?
John the Apostle – the disciple Jesus loved – says to the church – don’t put your hope in me – I am probably not coming back – and besides I am only a fellow struggler. Put your hope in the Lord.
Prophetic Calling! At the same time, John’s vision is, quite clearly, a prophetic call – much like the calls received by Moses (Exodus 3) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6). God appears in a vision or in a burning bush so that the prophet suddenly finds himself in the overwhelming presence of the Almighty. God commissions the prophet to speak and act on his behalf.
Here, John, the fisherman turned disciple and then apostle, is now commissioned as a prophet of God. The close friend of Jesus Christ falls to the ground, “as though dead”, when he sees Jesus revealed in his glory, and is raised up to write what he will see. This experience invests John with authority to speak this further revelation of God’s plan in human history. What John will write will be, in a sense, the very words of Jesus himself.
My Help Comes From the Lord, Jesus.
Vision – What Are We Really Seeing? John tells us that he was in the Spirit – that in some sense the Holy Spirit was on him – and that he had a vision of Jesus. The vision is strange – even disturbing. Jesus face is too brilliant to look at – he has a sword coming out of his mouth. What is John seeing here?
John is seeing a spiritual reality – not what Jesus looks like – but what he actually is. This happens several times in Rev., (e.g.. John sees Jesus as a lamb, looking as if it had been slain). This is one of the keys to the overwhelming visions of Rev. – we are being shown, symbolically, things as they really are. Here, we see Jesus – not what he looks lie to human eyes – but we are seeing who he truly is with Spiritual eyes.
Our Help is Near: First, John hears the voice like the sound of the trumpet – which in the OT called the people of God to Sinai, to worship and to war – and turning he sees someone, like a son of man, walking among the lampstands. This is very much a “Draw near to me and I will draw near to you” picture. The lampstands symbolize the churches (vs.20). The first thing John sees is Jesus, calling us to himself – as worshippers and warriors.
We tend to try and find comfort in other people against the pressures of life. We look for others to make us feel better. But the message is clear – in the struggle – the pressure we feel and the hardship of life – Jesus calls us to come to him. There is a great difference between believing God is involved and hoping he helps and actually coming to him in specific, believing prayer.
Our Help is an Adequate and Sympathetic High Priest: The robe and sash are like those of the Jewish High Priest. Jesus is our merciful high priest who has bought forgiveness for us – who brings us before the Father – made like us in human experience and suffering – knowing our weaknesses.
We tend to find absolution or justification in other people. We tell our stories to them – in very skewed ways – so that they will justify us. But our High Priest , who knows the full truth of our guilt, offers us grace and forgiveness.
Our Help Draws Us into the Light: The radiance of the head and hair – the feet – capture two things at once. First, the radiance of holiness – which is a word we have a lot of misconceptions about. Holiness means “set apart” – but not in the sense that it has nothing to do with our lives – rather, it carries the sense of being different from what is usual, the idea of being on a whole other level. Jesus is holy in that his personality is beautiful, pure, radiant, joyful. People longed to be with Jesus because he was holy.
We tend to look for beauty and joy and fulfillment in other people – we try to create, for ourselves, lives that are full and beautiful. But the radiance of life – joy and beauty – are spiritual qualities – and only Jesus can bring us into that light.
Second – the radiance of the face of Jesus, in particular, suggests that there is no lie – no falsehood, no hidden motive in him. This is important for us to see because we have a fallen distrust of God since the Garden of Eden – Gen.3 – when the serpent first called his character into question. But God has fully made himself known to us.
Our Help Sees What is – and Cuts Us Open to Heal Us: The picture of Jesus’ eyes and mouth go together…
The burning eyes of Jesus suggest a sight – an understanding that goes beyond our sight and understanding. Jesus sees our trouble and what we need – more clearly, profoundly and accurately than we do. Jesus knows how to care for us.
The sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus represents his word – the words that the church has in the Gospels and NT. These words – as Hebrews tells us – lay bare our hearts – expose our hidden motives – in order to free us from the lies and the slavery of sin.
Book stores are full of books claiming to tell us how to understand and manage our lives – counseling techniques that claim to be able to open our understanding to what is really going on in our lives. But only Jesus can see the truth about our lives and only his word can help us.
Our Help Has the Power of Life: Finally, Jesus has power of the one thing that we all really want… Life. He is the light that is the life of men (Jn.1) – life in him makes us feel that life is meaningful, full, and lovely – and He is the one who has overcome physical death and now has authority over death – The one who will raise our dead bodies back to life.