Series: The Revelation of Jesus Christ - Part Two
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 15, 2019
We are coming back to Revelation - the study we began last Sunday. Moving through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Which is about… Jesus Christ.
Put simply as much as we might be tempted to think that this revelation is about symbols and creatures and angels and thrones and cities and judgements and cataclysmic catastrophes and devastation and on and on and even someplace in all that… about us. This revelation is about… Jesus Christ. Jesus Who is central to everything God is doing in history.
Since Adam and the Fall and the Garden of Eden - God has known what He would ultimately do to redeem mankind. What we looked at when we looked at the Old Testament.
God’s plan culminated in the birth of Jesus - His ministry - His crucifixion for our sins. His resurrection and return to Heaven. What we looked at when we looked at Mark.
When we looked at Acts we saw the expansion of the Gospel into the world and even to Merced. Which is where we fit into all of what God is doing - following Jesus into the world.
God is sovereign over all of that. There is no possibility that something or someone can alter what He’s chosen to do. Or that history or creation or what must soon take place - none of that will ever spin out of His control.
God at work in His creation - redeeming mankind. Central to all of that is always Jesus.
Last Sunday - looking verse 1 to 8 - we were introduced to the centrality of Jesus Christ - the sovereignty of God - and the blessings of God’s grace and peace that He intends for believers - even in the midst of the drama and devastation that God tells us is coming.
This morning - would you stand with me as we come again before God’s word together - and read with me Revelation 1:9-20 - what is the next section of the revelation that we are looking at this morning.
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 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.”
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shinning in full strength.
Verses 9 to 11 are The When and Where of John, and [most important] Why.
“When” is the mid-90’s AD. John was the last living apostle - who had been with Jesus. When John dies - perhaps as late as 100 AD - John’s death is the end of the apostolic age. No more living on earth apostles.
“Where” is the Geek island of Patmos. Which you can see from the map is located in the Aegean Sea - just west of modern Turkey. Which this is a picture of.
Ultimately it’s not a very remarkable place. Actually it’s kind of desolate. It is a rocky, volcanic island, to which the Roman government banished exiles.
Patmos is about two thirds the size of Merced. Today, there’s about 3,000 people living there. Fishing is huge and religious tourism. People visiting The Cave of the Apocalypse - where John is suppose to have written this book - and visiting other religious sites.
“Why” John is on Patmos in the mid-90’s is significant for us to understand. Why? Answer: Persecution.
For 60 years John has been doing ministry - evangelizing - discipling - mentoring - planting churches - writing parts of the New Testament.
During those years - in the late 60’s AD - Nero persecuted Christians - executing Paul and Peter and others. 30 years later Domitian picks up where Nero left off - and his primary target is John - the last surviving apostle.
Domitian has John - who was living in Ephesus at the time - Domitian has John bound and brought to Rome - where in a public display of hatred - to cheering crowds - Domitian has John put into a caldron of oil to be boiled alive.
Which doesn’t work. To the glory of God and the confusion of the John’s executioners - John won’t boil.
So Domitian has John exiled to… Patmos. Where John is given this revelation of Jesus. While Domitian goes on persecuting Christians.
Let’s explore that.
John writes, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus,
“partner” translates the Greek word “sug-koinonos.” Do you hear “koinonia” in that? “Fellowship”
“Sug-koinonos” literally means “one who partakes jointly” - a Christian brother who fellowships together - jointly with others - in tribulation - affliction - life crushing circumstances - even persecution.
When we think about “fellowship” we tend to think about what we jointly participated in last Sunday. Dan BBQing tri-tip and chicken and the sides, salads, and desserts - and sitting around tables under canopies and hanging out together drinking coffee.
Not getting hunted down and slaughtered and boiled in oil. But that’s what John - exiled on Patmos - is talking about as he’s writing to the “being hunted down” jointly persecuted brethren of the Empire.
John also writes that he is a brother in the kingdom. Which is to remind John’s readers of where the sovereign God is going in history.
What in a spiritual reality we experience now. In Christ we are citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom.
But John is pointing forward to the establishing of God’s kingdom on earth at the return of Jesus. Focusing his readers on our common hope and destiny that we participate in together as we’re looking forward to seeing that kingdom come in its fullness and to live in the realization of that kingdom with Jesus.
Then John writes of “patient endurance” - perseverance - pressing forward together - by the power and working of the Holy Spirit - supporting and encouraging each other - staying focused on what God has coming for us. It’s what we do as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Perspective in the midst of persecution.
So, John is exiled to “the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” There - as he’s worshiping God - moved by the Spirit - on the Lord’s Day - which would have been Sunday.
Shortly after the resurrection the followers of Jesus began gathering for worship on the first day of the week - Sunday - to worship our risen Savior and Lord on the day of His resurrection. Which is why we gather for worship on Sunday not Shabbat - Friday to Saturday.
As John is worshiping - let by the Holy Spirit in that worship of Jesus - on Sunday - he’s told - by this loud as a trumpet voice - to write down in a book this revelation and to send it to these 7 churches.
Last Sunday we saw - in Scripture - the number 7 is used symbolically to represent... fullness - perfection - completeness. Meaning that John is not only writing down and sending off this revelation to these seven specific churches - but that these 7 churches are representative of the complete - full - list of all churches - even Creekside.
Which is an important part of the “why” to hang on to. Hope. Christians in the Roman Empire are being hunted down and slaughtered. Tribulation. Persecution.
How important is it for them to receive a revelation of God’s sovereign working in history and where God is going in history - with the centrality of Jesus in all that - and where they - as followers of Jesus - where they fit into what the sovereign God is doing? Hugely significant.
How important is it for us to grab that reality even in the minor dramas of our lives? Or in the times that we’re living in - watching evil spin seemingly out of control. As we’re living in post-Christian America?
Hugely important. Hang on to the hope - to all that God offers to us in Jesus. What He’s revealing to us here.
Verses 12 to 16 are The Vision of Jesus that was given to John.
When John hears this majestic voice speaking to him - John turns around to see who’s speaking to him. At first he sees 7 golden lampstands. Then in the midst of the lampstands - then John sees Jesus.
Jesus - Who John tells us is “one like the son of man” - which is an Old Testament description of the Messiah that comes with great depth of meaning.
The title “Son of Man” - as its used in Scripture - that title focuses on Jesus being born in the flesh and blood of our humanity. Jesus being fully man.
Our celebration of Jesus’ incarnation - Christmas - which is only 14 Sundays away. Just saying.
The title “Son of Man” also means the One who - in the end times - future history - will bring God’s kingdom to earth. It’s a title that covers a lot of territory in the hopes of God’s people.
60 years earlier John had experienced Jesus in His incarnate humanity as they’d traveled together - Jesus’ ministry of healing and exorcising and miracles and proclaiming the gospel.
But here - what John sees is more like Jesus on Mount Hermon - the transfiguration - what John witnessed with Peter and James - the brief glimpse of Christ’s divine glory. Here again - in even greater revealed glory - John sees Jesus in His divine splendor.
So as John is describing one “like the Son of man” John tries to put into words what is indescribable - giving us images as reference points for what is beyond our imagining - beyond our ability to currently process.
So, briefly - without getting lost in a bunch of symbolism - but since this description ties back to a lot of Old Testament imagery - there are a few observations that we can make with reasonable certainty - that can help us to get at what John is getting at.
The long robe and sash probably represent what a priest would wear and probably point to Jesus’ role as our priest. Jesus who atones for the sins of His people.
The white hair - like white wool - like snow - not just white but stunningly brilliantly beyond white - probably has to do with Jesus’ divinity.
Eyes like a flame of fire may have to do with Jesus’ penetrating and purifying discernment. His seeing the hearts of mankind - who’s faithful and who’s not - even in the church. Seeing and purifying the hearts of His people.
Feet “like burnished bronze” may have to do with His moral perfection and His just right and power to crush His enemies.
His voice is like the roar of many waters - which is like the voice of God - majestic, powerful - with authority that commands respect - commands honoring - obedience.
In His right hand - which is a position of power and protection - in His right hand Jesus holds seven stars - which will come to in a moment.
And from His mouth comes - meaning Jesus is continually speaking - from His mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword. Which represents the word of God. Which Jesus uses to execute judgment and destroy the work of Satan.
Finally - Jesus’ face is shining like the sun in full strength. Meaning it is humanly impossible to look directly at Jesus’ face.
What can we make of all that?
As much as we might be tempted to think that this revelation is about symbols and numbers and beasts and bowls and catastrophic catastrophes and destruction and whatever… this vision is about... Jesus.
The vision - all of those images that John gives us point to one reality: Jesus Christ is God.
Our Lord and Savior Who stands amidst these seven golden lampstands holding these seven stars in His right hand - our Lord and Savior - Jesus - is God. The Divine King of kings and Lord of lords - the sovereign potentate and judge of all of whatever He has chosen to create.
Which brings us to verse 17 and The Presence of Jesus.
John sees Jesus and John drops to Jesus’ feet like a dead man. Ever watch a dead man fall? Never have. Only in movies. But, we can imagine - pure gravity and not a lot of grace. Total face plant.
Which of us wouldn’t. Someday, we will. Amen?
And in the midst of what had brought John to fear - Jesus says, “Fear not.” Wow.
Take a moment and marinate in that. The tenderness and love of our Savior… for you. Take a moment and thank Him for that - His tenderness towards you - His love.
Out of that tenderness and love the sovereign God says to each of us - to you: “Fear not.”
“Fear not” Why? “I Am.”
Jesus goes on to describe Himself in exalted terms - which are reasons that John - and us - that we should not fear.
Jesus says of Himself: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. .
“The first and the last” is a description that refers back to Isaiah. Isaiah emphasizing that Yahweh - the God of Israel - is not like the false gods of the peoples around them. Yahweh is the everlasting One. (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12)
Jesus is the one true God who reigns sovereign over all of history. He always has been and always will be. He is the great “I Am.”
Jesus is “the living one.” Genesis to Revelation God identifies Himself as the living God. Not a god made from stone or wood or some metal that someone made to look like something to worship.
Jesus is not a god of our creation. A god limited to the scope of what we can envision that serves our needs - a god limited to our expectations. Limited to our human foibles and failures and limitations.
Jesus is not a dead god - a crucified god who remains dead.
Jesus was crucified to death. And yet, death did not have the final word. Jesus triumphed over death at His resurrection. He is deathless and will live forever as the one true ever living God.
Jesus Himself holds the “keys” of Death and Hades - the realm of death - even Satan and his minions and his angelic forces of darkness. The realm of Death and Hades and all demonic powers are under the authority of Jesus.
Jesus binds them. They cannot defeat Him. Jesus - the ever living one - has defeated - destroyed - death.
So, those who belong to Jesus - who have repented of their sin and trust in Him as their Savior - who follow and serve Him - those who belong to Jesus - we don’t need to fear any of that.
That’s what Jesus is telling John. You don’t need to fear Me. I love you. And you don’t need to fear anything. Not even death. I’ve got you. Trust Me. “Fear not. I Am.”
Faith is always the answer to... fear. When we get caught up in what seizes our hearts and overwhelms our thoughts and tears us up at the gut level - the answer is always faith in Jesus. Always.
Huge to hear - especially if one is being hunted down and slaughtered. Or in any ungodly drama we might be in - even today.
Verse 19 - Jesus goes on: Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.
It’s a command. Same command given back in verse 11. “Write” Get this down - all of it - and pass in on to the churches.
With that command is an outline for the whole book of revelation.
John recording and passing on “what you have seen” - the vision of Jesus here in chapter 1.
And those things “that are” - what are the messages to the churches that we’ll look at in chapters 2 and 3 - when we get back from Camp Creekside.
And “those that are to take place after this” - which is what comes in chapter 4 and beyond - the revelation of the future history.
Then Jesus cycles back to the mystery of the seven stars in His right and the seven golden lampstands. Thank you Jesus.
The best way to interpret symbols in Scripture is when Scripture interprets symbols in Scripture. Which God does because God wants us to get this. All of it.
Verse 20: As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
The seven stars in Jesus’ right hand are the angels of the seven churches.
“Angels” - the Greek word is “aggelos” - literal meaning “messenger”
In a special sense the word is translated “angel” - angelic messengers of God.
But specifically - as the word is used here in reference to the churches - it focuses on the messenger of God’s word to each church. Meaning the pastors of those churches. Especially those who would receive this revelation and share it with their congregations.
Jesus holds the pastors in His hand. His powerful - no one can take them out of my right hand - hand.
The seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches of Asia themselves. Ephesus, Smryna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. And seven meaning... Fullness - completeness - perfection. Meaning beyond those seven - make sure this gets written down and passed on to all of the rest of us. Because God wants us to get this as well.
Hugely and helpfully significant - let’s not miss this. Where’s Jesus? Present in the midst of the churches. Not off distant somewhere running His universe. Not taking a nap or on vacation. Jesus isn’t some distant and distracted God.
Bottom line: Jesus is the ever living - central to all of what God is doing in His work of redemption - Who is victorious over death and the worst of what this life can throw up at us - the Lord God I Am - Who is ever present with His people in the midst of whatever. He is our God who is the supreme Lord over all. Whatever “all” is.
God reveals all of that to us - to you - not so we can puff up our egos by getting lost in speculation about symbols and what future history may look like - God reveals all of that to us so that our confidence and hope will be in Him alone. The purpose of prophetic revelation is to draw us closer to God.
Processing all that…
Question: What do you fear? Let that question sit there in your mind for a moment. We’ll come back to it.
This is Cole Richards - who is the President of Voice of The Martyrs. I’d like to read an extended quote from what Cole Richards wrote in their August newsletter. Because I think it opens up the practical side of what we’re looking at here in Revelation that deals with our fears.
Cole writes: “In both military service and frontier missions work, I have felt moments of tremendous fear when I was unexpectedly caught in life-threatening circumstances.”
You need to know that Cole’s military service was focused on Muslim terrorist groups and then later he and his wife and family lived in the least evangelized and most restricted nation in the Middle East where they reached out to Muslims and supported persecuted Christians.
So, when Cole writes about life-threatening circumstances and fear, he’s not just talking theory. He’s lived it.
“This kind of fear is a normal part of our mental and physiological response to danger that heightens our awareness and prepares us for quick reaction. However, there is another, unhealthy kind of fear — an anxiety that saps our courage and leaves us unwilling to risk discomfort, pain or loss. This kind of fear limits our willingness to follow Christ and is therefore an enemy of obedience to our Lord that must be defeated, eliminated, cast out.”
“I still remember the fear I felt when considering the possibility of my wife and children being harmed while we lived on dangerous mission frontiers. Through a process of prayer with my wife, we consciously put that fear to death before moving to the Middle East many years ago. Once we had embraced our identity as living sacrifices and put our family’s safety, dreams and plans on the altar, we experienced a freedom from fear that never faltered in the face of unrest, bombings and other violence. We had been changed by God from fearful to fearless. All that remained was the joy of obedience, anchored in our eternal hope in Christ that is secure no matter what we risk or lose in this world.”
So the question: What do you fear?
For myself - if I let myself go there - I fear loss. Losing the comfortable life I’m living. What would it mean for God to take that away?
I fear what it would be like if something major ever happened to one of our kids. How would I respond to that? I fear being totally inadequate to go through what that might mean.
I fear failure. As a husband. As a father. As a pastor.
I fear where this country is going - spinning away from God - evil being more evident. As a Christian trying to follow Jesus, what will that mean? Prison? Torture? Death? Horribly?
If you let yourself go there, what do you fear? Deep down what makes you anxious? For most of us that’s not hard to get to if we let ourselves.
I like what Cole writes. The way to kill that fear - which must be killed if we are to willingly and courageously follow Jesus - to kill that fear means turning to God in faith. To pray and cry out to God. To be changed by God. To have our hope refocused by God on what is anchored by God in Jesus Christ.
And you know what happens when we do that crying out turning to God in faith?
God does what God promises to do. He really is there. And He really does remind us of His presence and He really does fill us with His peace. Maybe not immediately. Sometimes He does. Sometimes there’s a longer process and purpose. But, He will and does remind and refocus us on Him. And He will be there with us through all of it supplying everything we need.
That’s a huge part of what God is opening up to us in this revelation of Jesus Christ that we can hang on to and cry out for.
Jesus is in the midst of the midst of what we are in the midst of. Who is sovereign over it all - even death and the powers of darkness and evil. Jesus who reaches to touch us and is loving and tender and gracious and merciful towards us. Jesus who says to us, “Fear not. I Am.”
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.