Pastor Scott Andrews | May 22, 2022
Last week, we were given a vision of the resurrected, glorified Christ that I suggested should inform our view of Christ. That when we see a mental image of Jesus, that perhaps our views should be a bit more exalted. Yes, of course, at the incarnation when Jesus took on flesh, He looked like any other man – and true His glory was veiled in human flesh. But there were those times when even the disciples who became apostles were given a glimpse that Jesus was something other.
It started at the very beginning. In Luke 5, when Peter, Andrew, James and John had been fishing all night and caught nothing. After teaching the people from Peter’s boat, Jesus said to Peter, let’s go out to the deep water and let your nets down for a catch. Peter said, but we’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing. But okay, we’ll do as you say. When they let down their nets, they caught so many fish the nets began to break. Peter had to call for his partners, James and John, to come help. And we read:
“But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ For amazement had seized him and all his companions…also [who] were James and John… And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’ When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.”
These were professional fishermen – they knew what they had just experienced was miraculous. Interesting – even while veiled in human flesh, Peter fell down at Jesus’ feet in fear – why? Because he got of glimpse of who Jesus was, and he knew who he himself was – a sinful man.
There was the time, again, when Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, and such a huge storm came that the waves were breaking over the boat, swamping it. I wonder who brought the storm, so they would get a bigger picture of Jesus? Just thinking out loud here – is it possible that some storms in our lives are so great that we get a greater reliance on and picture of Jesus?
You remember, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat, so they woke Him up, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” So Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” Literally, put a muzzle on it. And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And Jesus said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” At that point, we read the disciples became very much afraid – Mark says they feared a great fear – and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” In other words, they were more fearful of this Man in the boat then the storm outside the boat. They got a glimpse, you see, and said, who is this?
There are so many other stories, but let’s stay with this boat theme. Later, Jesus sent the disciples across the sea while He stayed behind to pray. Again, the disciples were caught in a huge storm and were rowing against the wind and the waves, making little progress. You remember this story – Jesus came walking to them in the middle of the sea – like He was taking a midnight stroll. We read that when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and cried out in fear [have you ever thought walking with Jesus would bring such terror?]. And Jesus said, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” And they were utterly astonished.
Are you seeing a pattern here? Even in His humanity, the disciples were beginning to realize Jesus was something other – and it scared them to death. We talked briefly about this one last week – the Transfiguration, found in all three synoptic Gospels. After Peter’s confession of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God, up in Caesarea Philippi, the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus tells them three times He will be put to death.
Along the way – Jesus took His inner circle – Peter, James and John – up to a high mountain by themselves. You know this story – He was transfigured before them – the flesh veiling His glory was peeled back just a bit – His face shone like the sun, and His clothing became white as light. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus. A voice came from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” Peter, James and John fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
Here’s the point – even in His humanity, the disciples began to realize Jesus was something other – the very Son of God – and it terrified them. Over and over, they fell to their faces before Him. After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the women in the garden at the empty tomb, we read they took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. And He said, “Do not be afraid.” When He appeared to the disciples behind the locked doors, we read the words again – they were terrified. I’m suggesting we should adjust our mental image of Jesus – yes, He was human, but He was infinitely more.
Then we looked at Revelation 1 last week. The author – the apostle John – who was present at most of those stories I just told – has finished His introduction to this book called the Revelation of Jesus Christ. He tells us, while on the island of Patmos, I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day when I heard a voice behind me like a trumpet. A trumpet in Scripture announces something important. And I turned, and saw Jesus not in His humanity necessarily, but in His glorified state. I won’t take the time to review the image, because John will do so in chapters 2 and 3 when he writes to the seven churches.
I will remind us, the vision is apocalyptic and image-driven – we are supposed to see it as a whole and be, like John, overwhelmed with the picture of Christ. Now think about that. John – who had spent three years with Jesus as He walked on the earth. John, who had written the Gospel of John by this time and the three epistles of John. John, who had been a leader in the church for six decades now. We’re told the church is build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets – John was both.
John, the one whom Jesus loved, who leaned back on Jesus’ breast at the last supper. John, who realizes who Jesus is when they are fishing after the resurrection and Jesus appears to them and, like déjà vu, gives them another miraculous catch of fish. John, who was called by Jesus, knew Jesus, was known by Jesus, loved Jesus, was loved by Jesus, wrote five books of the NT – who was more familiar with Jesus than about anyone – this John, when he was given a vision of the exalted, glorified Christ – fell at His feet as though dead. I’m suggesting we might just be too familiar with flannel graph Jesus or movie Jesus and we should adjust our mental image of Jesus and worship Him as the Son of God, with fearful respect and reverence.
Just Friday, the Gospel Coalition published an article by Michael Horton titled, “Encountering God Should Make You Afraid.” He suggested that most sermons you hear addressing a fear of God turns the word fear into respect or awe. He writes the Hebrew and Greek words for fear include those concepts, but the words mean dread or a sort of panic. Hence, the word terror. It is indeed a disorienting awe. A fear-filled awe. The Greek word for fear is phobos, from which get our word phobia, as in xenophobia, which is a fear of strangers. Horton suggests a fear of God is a form of xenophobia, because it is a fear, a phobia, a dread of the One who is utterly strange to us and altogether different – there is not anyone like God. To whom can you compare Him; to whom can you liken Him?
Horton concludes, “God is not our buddy, an indulgent grandfather, a life coach, or a golf partner. He is the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth, demanding an account from each of us for our sins—first of all against him, but also against our neighbors and the rest of the creation he has made.” Encountering God should make you afraid.
Yes, of course it is true, as a result of the right conception of God and fear, when we fall at His feet in worship, He will reach out His hand and give words of comfort, do not be afraid. He said it over and over to His disciples – to those whom He loves. Hear Him say it to you right now. I want you to have an accurate view of Christ, but also know that He, incredibly, loves you. Hold these glorious truths in tension.
Well now, having been given an exalted vision of Jesus, we hear the voice of Jesus. John is recommissioned – perhaps now that he is in a proper place to be commissioned. Let that sink in for a moment – perhaps we need a proper vision of Christ to hear the voice of Christ. In a sense, Jesus tells John and us why we need not fear Him as His followers. Read about with me – Revelation 1:17-20.
And the vision continues in chapters 2 and 3 where the exalted Jesus addresses the seven churches – finishing each one with, he who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Just as impressive as the vision of Christ is the voice of Christ which makes divine claims – claims of deity. Last week, we called this the Recommission of John, but let’s break it down more: here’s the outline for this week:
- Jesus’ Self-Description (17b-18)
- Jesus’ Recommission of John (19)
- Jesus’ Mystery Revealed (20) – remember, a mystery in Scripture is something previously hidden but now revealed. Without God revealing it, we never would have known it.
John has just fallen at the feet of Jesus like a dead man, meaning, all energy had been drained from him. He fell at the feet of such a view of Christ, with no power to stand on his own. He lay there like a dead man. It’s interesting to note that’s the way Paul describes all of humanity – dead in trespasses and sins, until touched by Jesus.
Jesus placed His right hand on John. Don’t miss that either – Jesus, who walks among the churches, who holds the churches in His powerful hand, still has time for the individual. I love this – people get all up in arms about that statement. Wait a minute, they say – Jesus had seven stars in His right hand – how did He touch John with a hand full of stars. Oh my stars – pun intended – don’t you think the God of the universe could figure out how to reach out and touch John with a star-filled hand?
We’ve seen Jesus touched John and said to him, do not be afraid. Again, people throughout Scripture do this – and His consistent message to them and you is, don’t be afraid. Then Jesus gives a self-description – we’re talking about a picture of Jesus – think of it as a self-portrait.
He starts with, I am the first and the last. That’s very much like earlier in the chapter when God the Father said, I am the Alpha and the Omega – the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. We saw it didn’t just include those letters – it included everything in between, like we say from A to Z. It speaks of God’s sovereignty over all things – He is in control of all things. Further, it speaks of His eternality. Here, Jesus says, I am the first and the last – the first before all things having created all things, and the last of all things – that is, the last to which all things point.
By the way, in chapter 22, Jesus will say of Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” – don’t miss He takes on Himself the same title and sovereignty as the Father. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Which again, points to His being the source of all things, and the end to which all things are headed. Further, we read in Isaiah 44 – this is amazing – 44:6, God says, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts [it seems we’re supposed to know who is speaking here]: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.’” Do you see? First, God says I’m it – I am before all so-called gods, and I will be the only true God left standing. Besides me, there is no other. And second, Jesus takes that description upon Himself. Should we bow before Him?
He goes on in verse 18, “and the living One” – stop right there. That, too, is a significant statement – it is one used all over the Bible to refer to God. In Joshua, in the Psalms, in this book of Revelation, the Father is called the living God who lives forever and ever. Again, Jesus has no qualms taking the title upon Himself. He once said, the Father has life in Himself, and has given the same to Me – to have life in Myself. I am the resurrection and the life. Do you see?
Again, this reference throughout Scripture of God being the living One is in juxtaposition to those pagan idols and lifeless gods which have no life nor power. We are studying the book of I Samuel in our men’s bible study, and we recently talked about how the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant from the Israelites. They put the ark – a golden box which symbolized the presence of the living God of the Israelites – make no mistake about that – the ark was not God – it was kept in the Holy of Holies with a lid as the mercy seat (box had the Ten Commandments, high priest sprinkled the blood once a year…). God’s presence was symbolized by the presence of the glory cloud.
But they captured the ark, and put it in the temple of their god Dagon. The next morning, their carved stone or wooden idol Dagon was face down before the ark. The Philistines found their god that way and said, aw there, our god has fallen over – let’s pick him back up. The next day, his head and hands were cut off and laying on the threshold at the entrance to their temple. God, the true and living God, then struck them with tumors, so they returned the ark to the Israelites. By the way, since the head and hands of Dagon were on the threshold of the door, the priests of Dagon no longer stepped on the threshold on their way into the temple. Think about that – the living God had just demonstrated His superiority over this false, pagan lifeless god, and their response – well, let’s not step on the entrance to the doorway again. Brilliant.
Doesn’t our culture, our world, do the same thing? They worship everything that is not God, everything except the true and living God – to whom one day they will give an account.
He’s the living One, the rest are pagan fakes, but notice – He was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore. This is, of course, referring to His death and resurrection – and we get the first clear indication that this image is Jesus. You see, the image was clearly divine with its OT allusions – especially from Daniel 7, but we don’t know who it was until now.
He was dead, literally, I came to be dead – I became in the state of death. Not mostly dead – fully dead, experiencing the consequences of sin – not His own, but ours. He, the just, died for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. May we never grow tired of this truth – He bore our sins in His body on the cross, that through faith in Him – the fact that He was dead because of our sins but is now alive forevermore – through faith in the gospel, we can be saved. Remember the words of Romans 10, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord (that’s what John is telling us, Jesus is telling us – He is Lord, God – if you confess Jesus as Lord), and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
I was dead – buried for three days. Again, not swooned, not passed out from loss of blood, not body stolen and hidden elsewhere, not wrong tomb – I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Which means, death no longer has dominion or power or authority over Him. Romans 6:9 says, “knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” He willingly laid down His life and took it up again. This is the gospel – He was dead according to the Scripture, buried, and raised again the third, according to the Scripture. And He was seen by many witnesses – to include John in the upper room. But He is alive forevermore – John now sees Him in this glorified state some sixty years later. Because He is alive forevermore. You say, I wish I could see Him – you will. In the meantime, Jesus says, blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.
So, He was alive, then dead, and is now alive forevermore, because next, He said, “I have the keys of death and Hades.” Hades was the place or abode of the dead, and many times they are used interchangeably or synonymously. But here, since both appear, one likely refers to the state of death, the other place of death. To have the keys expresses ownership and authority. He is the owner of death and Hades. He is sovereign over death – all death, to include His own – and the place of their abode. Later in Revelation 20, we will find death and Hades thrown into the lake of fire. Death had been conquered by the death and resurrection of Christ. We sing, for example, of the death of death. It will be no more, because Christ has conquered it – it is the last enemy to be destroyed. And since He has the keys, He is the one who determines death – who dies, and when you die. And He determines your place of death – and Hs the authority to deliver you from death.
By the way, this is the only place that speaks of the keys of death and Hades – and in the early church, it was taught that at His death, Jesus went to hell, waged some kind of underworld battle, and took the keys from Satan. We see that somewhat in the Apostles Creed when we say, He descended into hell. I don’t have the time this morning to debunk all that – the idea is largely no longer held. There is no indication in Scripture that Satan had the keys of death, nor that Jesus descended into hell, nor that He took the keys of death from Satan. Satan is not nor never has been equal to God. Yes, Hebrews 2 says Jesus destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is the devil – which simply means the satanic temptations of sin which come our way no longer have power because of the work of Christ. Jesus is simply saying, by His death and resurrection, He was given authority over the state of death and the place of death.
Therefore, Jesus recommissions John. Verse 19 is an interesting verse with lots of interpretations. Clearly, having touched and raised John, Jesus tells him again to write. Before in verse 11, Jesus told John to write to the seven churches. Now He expands on the command – write the things which you have seen – presumably talking about the vision of Christ, the things which are – presumably the condition of the churches Jesus will address in chapters 2 and 3, and the things which will take place after these things – presumably chapters 4 to 22 or 6 to 22.
This is the way many see the verse – a sort of outline of the rest of the book and perhaps the rest of time. That is, write of the exalted Christ who is reigning right now, write of the church age represented by these churches, and write of the end of all things – the eschaton – the end of this age as we enter into the eternal state. I think that’s reasonable, but we have this challenge of chapter 12, for example, which seems to refer back to the fall of Satan and the birth of Christ, or of the nation of Israel. Regardless, here’s the point – Jesus tells John to write what he sees – from then through to the end of time, whatever your eschatological position.
Which brings us to our last point – and yes, I’m almost done. I figure I’ve been taking lots of withdrawals lately, that is, preaching extra-long – so I better make a deposit or I’ll be overdrawn.
But in verse 20, Jesus tells us the mystery [remember, that which was formerly unknown but now has been made known, usually by divine revelation – the mystery] of the seven lampstands and the seven stars in His right hand. An important point here is these images represent something. This is a key to how we should be interpreting the rest of the book. We aren’t to look for the actual images, but what those images represent.
And here we are told the seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches – that is, their responsibility to be the light of the world. Yes, Jesus is the light of the world, but we represent Him to world, which is why Jesus said in Matthew 5, you are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Light represents truth, salt represents a moral preserving agent. We are to represent the light of the gospel to the world – we don’t hide it under a bushel; and we are to be the salt of the earth – which means we are to preserve the moral order. Both, by the way, in the face of stiff opposition.
Notice, Jesus walks among the lampstands. Meaning, Jesus is present with His churches – in the midst of suffering and opposition. We remember He said, go make disciples of all nations, and I am with you to the end of the age. Yes, readers of Revelation, you may be opposed, but Jesus is with us. He hasn’t forsaken us, He hasn’t forgotten us for a moment of time. We are His.
Further, the seven stars that Jesus holds in His right hand are the seven angels of the seven churches. Lots of discussion about that. I remember hearing in my Bible college class on Revelation that the angels are the pastors or the leaders of the local church. This is held by some. Others suggest it speaks of the spirit of the church – that is, the letters are written to the churches to address the spiritual condition of the church. Perhaps, even likely.
But the word angel is used throughout the book of Revelation, oddly enough, to refer to angels. Some then suggest churches have guardian angels – no real support for that. I think we are basically left with the heavenly messenger or angel of the church, which is addressed as representative of the church – and the letters then address the spirit or spiritual condition of the church. There are somehow angels of churches who represent us before God, and God to us.
Which means finally, next time, we will get to the first message of our exalted Lord Jesus to the church in Ephesus – and to us, because he who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.