The text for the sermon today is Revelation 1:9-20. Our text can be found on page 1028. These are the words of God:
9 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 the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 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.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 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. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 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.
In 1977 the IBM company produced a 9-minute video called Powers of Ten. The film showed the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of zooming out or in by the power of 10. The video fades from black revealing a couple enjoying a picnic in a lakeside park in Chicago. The scene is one meter wide viewed from one meter away. The camera zooms out to 10 meters: a field of grass surrounds the picnic. 100 meters: a freeway on one side and boat docks on the other. At one kilometer, Soldier Field comes into view. 10,000 meters: Downtown Chicago and the rounded end of Lake Michigan. 100,000 meters: Long bands of clouds, a day’s worth of weather in the Midwest of U.S. 1 million meters, North America. 10 million meters: Earth. 100 million: the orbit of the Moon. At 1 million million meters we see our Solar System. At 1016 meters, we’re one light-year from where we started, and we haven’t even reached the closest star. At 1021 meters we finally see the Milky Way… and way down below, many billions of miles is a couple having a picnic in Chicago.
For the ant on the picnic blanket, a watermelon might as well be a planet. From outside the Milky Way, the skyscrapers of Chicago are smaller than toothpicks. Your vantage point radically changes the relative size of whatever you are looking at. In the span of 19 verses, John the Apostle is transported from a tiny rock on the Aegean Sea out of this Universe and into the heavenly realms where Christ reigns over everything and cares for the church. In this vision of Jesus Christ, we see three contrasts, and if we attend to these three contrasts they will have a profound impact on our lives. They are:
Christ, Dead Yet Living Again
John: Falling Yet Lifted Up
The Church: Suffering Yet Shining
CHRIST: DEAD YET LIVING AGAIN
The very first vision John records in Revelation is a vision of Jesus Christ. John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (v. 10) Apparently, John was enjoying Sunday worship in his exile and was especially attuned to the Holy Spirit when he heard a voice behind him.
“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…”
John then “turned to see the voice…” and “on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like the son of man.” This title, “son of man” was Jesus’ favorite title for himself in the gospels. (Matt. 20:28; Mk 14:62; John 3:13; Dan. 7:13, 14) It comes from Daniel 7:13, 14, where the “son of man” is given everlasting authority, glory, and a kingdom. John is receiving a vision of the risen, exalted, and enthroned Jesus.
And we’re given a physical description of Jesus. It’s the only time we’re given a physical description of Jesus, but remember, this is all visionary and symbolic language. This description doesn’t tell us what Jesus actually looked like. So, we aren’t to read this literally. This description of Christ tells us who he is, not what he looks like.
Jesus is “clothed with a white robe… with a golden sash around his chest”; the dress of a priest. His hair is white with wisdom, and his eyes are like flames. Jesus’ feet are “like burnished bronze,” and “from his mouth came a two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” This all speaks to Jesus’ position as the cosmic and eternal judge. His eyes see every evil deed. His bronze feet crush the wicked. His judgment he speaks cuts and thunders, and no sinner can bear to look him directly in the face.
Friend, I wonder if you have given proper attention to Jesus Christ as the cosmic judge. He knows everything you’ve ever done, and every thought you have had. You may be skilled at deceiving your spouse or your parents, but you will not deceive him. His eyes are piercing flame. You may be good at talking your way out of your failures at school or work, but when you hear the judgment of his mouth, which roars like the waters, you will stand in silence.
Christian, because Christ is the judge who sees all, you are encouraged to obey him faithfully, knowing that if you are mistreated for his sake, he will not forget it. If you are unjustly persecuted, you need not fear. You will ultimately overcome in the same way as Christ: through endurance and suffering. And in the final reckoning, the eternal Judge will vindicate you.
When Jesus speaks, he says, “I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The implication is that because Jesus has overcome death and the grave, he is now appointed as a heavenly priest, ruler, and judge.
As I said in week one of our study: the central figure in Revelation is Jesus Christ. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and final letters in the Greek alphabet. The Son of God entered history as the son of man, he lived the life we ought to have lived and died the death we ought to have died as sinners. He was laid in the grave and three days later he rose.
And when he did, he took the keys which once belonged to the grave. In his sovereignty, he appoints the moment of your birth, the number of your days, and even the moment of your death. And, if you belong to him, even when you die, he will unlock the grave at the resurrection.
When the Apostle John saw Jesus revealed as the first and the last, the priest of our souls, the judge, John says, “I fell at his feet as though dead.” This brings us to the second contrast. Not only do we see Jesus as dead yet alive again. We see John: falling yet lifted up.
JOHN: FALLING YET LIFTED UP
In 8 words, John captures the right response to this vision of Jesus: “I fell at his feet as though dead.” This reminds us of nearly every Biblical encounter of the holy. In Exodus 3, Moses has to take the shoes off his feet because he’s on holy ground. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up and cries out, “Woe is me for I am undone.”
Luke records the time when Jesus first got into Peter’s boat on the Sea of Galilee. They had fished all night and caught nothing, but Jesus told them to put down their nets once more. Their nets filled. Apparently, Jesus commanded every fish in the sea to swim into their nets. And how did Peter respond?
8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
Again, when Jesus healed a demon-possessed man in the Gadarenes, Matthew tells us that, “all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” (Matt. 8:34)
John, himself, had fallen down on his face before. When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to a mountain he was transfigured and revealed in all his glory to them. His face shone like the Sun, and they heard a voice saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”
Friends, it has become popular in our age to talk about the experience of God as something that makes you feel peace and warmth; to speak of being caught up in worship as exciting or energizing. Many people say they want to experience God, or get into his presence. But when you read the Bible, the people who encounter God almost always fall to the ground and try to get out of his presence.
God’s glory reveals our shame. His power unmasks our weakness. His knowledge uncovers our secrets. His holiness highlights our sin. And so, John rightly falls down as though dead. John was a Christian. His sins had been forgiven. He knew that Christ was alive and believed. And yet, this unveiling of Christ doesn’t make John comfortable or casual. It humbles him and even causes him to cower in fear. One of the signs that you are encountering the true God is humiliation, it’s fear: a sense of awful dread in the presence of the one who made all things with just a word.
Thankfully for John, and for us, Christ does not leave believers to lie in the dust. The same words that Jesus said to Peter, James, and John at his transfiguration, he repeats now to John on Patmos: “Fear not” Fear not! For the same Jesus who is the judge, is also a savior. Fear not! The Lion is also a Lamb. He is the Alpha and the Omega—not only of all history. He is the Alpha and Omega of your personal salvation and redemption. You are lifted up out of the dust of sin and death because Christ has raised you. You are still a Christian today because Christ preserves you. You will forever be a Christian because Jesus Christ has written the story of your salvation.
THE CHURCH: SUFFERING YET SHINING
Did you notice, back in verse 9, how the author and the audience are introduced?
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation
By the time John is exiled, Emperor Domitian was beginning a systematic persecution of Christians. He demanded that they worship and say, “Caesar is lord.” Every time you read the words, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” in the New Testament you are reading an act of civil disobedience. John was on the island of Patmos, why? “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v. 9) It was illegal to preach.
Many of the Christians who received and read this Revelation were sentenced to death. They were torn apart by wild horses. Some of them were impaled alive on stakes, covered with pitch, and lit as torches. Some were fed to lions. How merciful.
They faced immense pressure to abandon Christ, to abandon other Christians, and to abandon the church. They could easily avoid death by attending worship at a pagan temple or by turning back to Judaism. Amazingly, under all this persecution, the church actually grew. They made more converts. One of the church fathers said, “The blood of the martyrs is seed.” In other words, though they were suffering, the church was not extinguished. The hotter the persecution grew, the more it refined and purified and grew the church. The church spread so much because the Roman Empire watched Christians go into the flames, go into the lion’s mouth not just with courage, but even with joy and peace.
What was it that enabled those Christians to live through tribulation? What will enable us to live through tumultuous times; times of persecution? It was this vision of Jesus in Revelation 1. Earlier I mentioned that John saw Jesus dressed in the robe of a priest. Notice where John sees Jesus standing:
“I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man”
This is a vision of Jesus Christ as a heavenly priest tending the temple of God. The seven candlesticks recall the seven branches lampstand that stood in the Tabernacle and Temple of Israel. It was the job of the priests to go into the holy place, refill the oil in the lamps, trim the wicks, and make sure the flames didn’t go out. But notice, these seven lampstands are not in the temple of Israel.
“the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (v. 20)
These churches on earth are in tribulation, suffering on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Yet, those same churches who are suffering on earth are shining in heaven, their flames tended by the risen and reigning Savior. No Roman Emperor can extinguish these lamps. No threat of death can do us in; not while the Great High Priest is walking in our midst.
Over the next 2 chapters, as we read Christ’s personal words to the 7 churches we will see him, as it were, walk among the lampstands. How does he trim the wicks and refill the oil? Church, he tends the light of the church by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning. He does all of this so that the church will be a proper light-bearer in a dark world.
Lake Wylie Baptist: We have challenging days ahead. This nation has forgotten the Lord and is running pell-mell in rebellion. That kind of rebellion hates obedience and therefore we can expect increasing pressure. In the coming years the powers that be will find ways to persecute and threaten the church. They will find ways to weed Christians out of their marketplaces. Young people, children in the room, it will not beeasy to be faithful to Jesus. Many will ignore you. Some will make fun of you and exclude you.
And when that happens… when you, like John, are a partner in tribulation on account of the testimony of Christ, turn with John to see who speaks to us.
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea;
A great High Priest, whose Name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.