Monday, September 10, 2012

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

1The 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,
I wish to report a theft!  Someone has stolen one of the Bible's books; we only have 65 books now.  I was told that it was only "lost," not stolen.  They say it's only lost, because it isn't taught by most preachers, or read by most Christians.  Well, I know better, It isn't lost; Revelation has been stolen.  
And I know who stole it; it was stolen by the Enemy, Satan!  How did he do it?  How did Satan steal Revelation?  He has convinced the average believer of two lies:

LIE #1 -- Revelation is too complex to understand

Revelation is a book filled with symbolism (e.g., weird beasts and images).  There are wings, horns, and multi-headed creatures everywhere.  We assume that it is too difficult to understand what each symbol represents.  Who can know it?  Lie #1 -- It's too complex.

LIE #2 -- Confusion over interpretation can't be avoided

Frankly, we are afraid to be confused; we don't want to be like the people who set dates for the Lord's return; God alone knows when that will be.  In a casual reading, even with a strong understanding of the other 65 books of the Bible, one is apt to become confused, so we avoid reading Revelation.
Too complex and too confusing; I wish to report the theft this morning, and expose the lie.  Revelation is not complex; it's comprehensive; Revelation is not confusing; it's clear.
The Book does just what the name says – it is a revelation, an unveiling of Jesus Christ.  The Greek word apocalypse (apocalypsis) means to take away a veil, or covering.  In this Revelation, the veil which hides the future, and a clear picture of the Lord Jesus' plan for mankind, is stripped away; Jesus is clearly seen.  Frankly, anything that helps me see Jesus clearer is worth studying! 
There are at least two reasons that is true:

1.  Revelation is a positive message of hope

Revelation is a book of victory.  In it we see the reign of God; He puts an end to stress!  It is such a blessing and comfort to know our future is secure in Christ.  One preacher said that Revelation is " a great union station where the great trunk lines of prophecy have come in from other portions of Scripture."  Imagine that – all the prophecies, all the plans of God converging and emerging in a great unveiling of what God wants to do with us.
Have you ever wondered where it all is going?  Have you ever wondered what it all means?  Revelation is the unveiling of our hope; it is the picture on our four-color, fold-out travel brochure, showing us the reasonable way through this foreign land called life. 
Revelation gives us our destination.  It is a positive message of hope, and I cannot wait to unfold it together!

2.  Revelation is a book with a promise of blessing

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it; for the time is near.  Revelation 1.3 (NRSV)
The promise of blessing is to those who engage in the public reading – in other words – a worship service.  G. Campbell Morgan put it this way:  The picture presented then is that of a reader reading aloud to a group of listening people; and the beatitude is for that reader and for those who are listening.  It must be observed, however, that the blessing is not only upon the reading and the hearing, but upon the keeping of the words.[1] 
We will gather to read aloud the Revelation of Jesus Christ and hear the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and then keep the words – or do what the Revelation of Jesus Christ says to do.
And so, let's go on to the main thrust or key to the hearing, understanding, and keeping of the words of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

How do we interpret Revelation?

There is a principle that we must always keep in mind when considering Revelation – the book was written to real people like you and me who love God.  It was written in time, and for all times.  It is relevant and timely, never out of date.  It all ties together, or you have the wrong interpretation.  It is just like all the rest of the Word of God – consistent! 
For instance -- you cannot build a doctrine or theology of stewardship on one verse that speaks about "prosperity" for God's people; otherwise you'd have to rip out the verse that records the words of Jesus, that we'd always have the poor with us.  You cannot maintain that God will always heal in every situation, so if God doesn't heal, our faith is weak.  Otherwise Paul would not have gone to his grave with a thorn in the side.
God is certainly consistent, and He doesn't put that aside in the Book of the Revelation.  It is consistent with history, and it is consistent with the rest of Holy Scripture.
 One writer has it, Prophecy maintains a cordial relationship with history and keeps the future related to the present.[2]
Our text is the first verse of The Revelation of Jesus Christ:
1The 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,  Revelation 1.1  (NRSV)

The Style -- A secret code

The style of Revelation is a secret code.  The main thrust of our text is to help us understand the why, what, how and who of that code.

Why a secret code?

Why is Revelation written in code?  The answer may seem simple, and less than deeply spiritual.  The reason for the code was to avoid persecution.  In John's day the Roman emperor was Domitian.  The emperor was a vile, wicked man, who started the second great persecution of the Church around AD 90.  Domitian sent John into exile on the isle of Patmos.  This little island was one big rock in the Mediterranean Sea.  It was an "Alcatraz-like" prison quarry in the hillside caves.  John was an old man, a Pastor, and he missed his church family at Ephesus.  His only connection was writing to them, and receiving their letters.  It was here God unfolded to John in a vision, that which would be the future of mankind. 
John could not very well write to the churches, and say, I need to tell you what a completely vile, wicked and Godless man the emperor, Domitian is turning out to be.  John had more sense than that.  He was an old man, but his brain was still working!  John used a symbol of a multi-headed beast to represent a ruler who controlled many kingdoms.  The code was to avoid persecution back then.
The world was in an awful state then.  We seem to have returned to that condition.  It has been building since the end of World War II, and the 1947 return of the Jews to Palestine.  Consider what three men of note have said about the climate of our day:
"This world is at the end of its tether.  The end of everything we call life is close at hand."—H.G. Wells
"We have had our last chance."—General Douglas Macarthur
"Without a moral regeneration throughout the world there is no hope for us as we are going to disappear one day in the dust of an atomic explosion"—Dwight D. Eisenhower

What is the key to the code?

Codes are as old as drawings on cave walls; as old as brands on cattle.  Picturesque codes are used on everything.  Everyone knows you're watching the NBC network when you see that colorful peacock.  Kids don't buy shoes without the wing (Nike logo).  Symbols stick in our minds.  John used several symbolic methods.  Three are important keys:
a. Numbers represent attributes...7=holy   6=imperfection   5=penalty   10=completeness   12=wholeness
b. Colors represent actions/characteristics
                 black=famine   red=war   gold=value     white=conqueror
c. Animals represent people
                 7 headed beast = Domitian    Lamb = Christ

How is the Revelation unfolded

Revelation is a drama of 7 acts, with 7 scenes in each act.  One of the reasons I can say that Revelation is not confusing or complex, is that it is laid-out in such an orderly manner, it outlines itself and explains itself more than any other book in Scripture. 
·        Act 1 - Seven church letters  Ch 1-3
·        Act 2 - Seven seals  Ch 4 - 8.1
·        Act 3 - Seven angels with trumpets  Ch 8.2 - 10
·        Act 4 - Conflict of Satan & Christ  Ch 11 - 14
·        Act 5 - Seven angels  Ch 15
·        Act 6 - Seven judgments (bowls of wrath) Ch 16 - 19
·        Act 7 - New Jerusalem  Ch 20 - 22
G. Campbell Morgan suggested only three divisions,
·        Chapter 1          Jesus' glory unveiled (The person)
·        Chapters 2-3    Jesus' grace unveiled (His church)
·        Chapters 4-22  Jesus' government unveiled (His kingdom)
However you choose to see the main divisions of the Revelation, please remember that it is not an unknowable thing which God has given to confuse the saints.  Our text declares that God gave it so Jesus could show it to us.  God doesn't want us to be ignorant of His plan for our future.

Who is revealed?

Dr. J. Vernon McGee says it plainly:  The major theme of the entire Bible is the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Scriptures are both theocentric and Christocentric.  Since Christ is God, He is the One who fills the horizon of the total Word of God.  This needs to be kept in mind in the Book of Revelation more than in any other book of the Bible, even more than in the Gospels.[3]
This simply means Jesus is the message, as well as the One who gives the message to John.  He delivers to us a message of hope and promise and power.
The challenge issued by this book of judgment and hope is to live victoriously in the present, knowing that Christ has the future in hand.  The closing words of this book (of all inspired Scripture) include the natural response to this book:
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.  Revelation 22.20b
John Calvin said, Scripture uniformly enjoins us to look with expectation for the advent of Christ.[4]
Clement, Bishop of Rome in AD 96, said, Let us every hour expect the kingdom of God...we know not the day.
Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch, and the successor to Peter said, Consider the times and expect Him.
When we celebrate holy communion there is a "veil" covering the table.  When lifted, the symbols of the death of our Lord are unveiled.  We see clearly the bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood of our Lord. 
This is more code – an encoded message only the initiated can understand:  God loves you. 
This is mystery – a mystery that God loves sinners like us enough to die for such as me.
This is revelation – as I bow in His presence, accept His grace and love it is His nature growing in me which I see more clearly.
You see, Jesus came to die, to be raised, to reveal Himself – not to the media, not to the creation at large – Jesus came to reveal Himself to human hearts – my heart, yours.  We are reading the words of this book…the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Alpha and Omega

What is your image of Jesus?  In your mind's eye, what does He look like?  A little boy was sitting on the floor near his father one Sunday afternoon.  He was scribbling with crayons on a piece of paper.  His dad asked, What are you doing there, son?  The little boy didn't look up, but stated in an offhand way, I'm drawing a picture of Jesus.  Dad thought he'd seize the moment to teach his young son about God.  But son, he began, nobody really knows what God or Jesus looks like.  The boy didn't miss a stroke, They will when I get done with this picture!
All over the world, Christian people have their image of Jesus.  In Japan, baby Jesus in a manger has yellow skin, black hair and almond shaped eyes.  In Africa, Jesus has black skin.  In Christian Scandinavian homes Jesus dolls have snow white hair and fair skin.  (I'm afraid in the US. Jesus is increasingly seen with a $2,000 suit, a briefcase, driving a BMW 733, talking on His I-phone!) 
We all have our own created visual images of Jesus.  While it is impossible (because of our humanity and our finite minds) to totally put aside these impressions of what Jesus looks like, let us take time to remember that "graven images" is the idolatry that is forbidden by the Old Testament.  And creating God in our own image, even only in our minds, is blasphemy.  We must be extremely careful to worship the Christ of Scripture, the living Word of God.  He alone is worthy.  Let's look at Him this morning...

The "Amens" From Heaven

Jesus is Faithful

  4John to the seven churches that are in Asia:  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, Revelation 1:4-5
Jesus is the "faithful witness."  Faithful means believable, or reliable.  There is nothing about Jesus that can be doubted when it comes to what He has said about Himself.  His miracles were highly documented.  His most incredible miracle, resurrection from the dead, was the most fully documented of all the miracles. 

Jesus is Powerful

6and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.  Revelation 1:6
The resurrection of Jesus took the kind of power that is only vested in God.  With that power Jesus saves all who come to Him in faith.  He makes us righteous, justified -- fit to stand before God.  Only the powerful Christ can do that!

Jesus is LORD

7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
Coming in the clouds is a symbol of judgment and conquest.  This is a bold, undeniable affirmation of what Jesus said He would do -- come again to judge the living and the dead.   Those who crucified Jesus, both literally as well as figuratively with our sins, will see Him face to face.  Those who reject Jesus crucify Him anew.  There will be tremendous judgment when He comes.  Wailing means an extreme expression of grief!  Only the LORD God can judge!

Jesus is Eternal

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.      Revelation 1:8
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet; Omega the last.  Jesus is the beginning of all the Word -- and the end!  He is all.  He is the Almighty, eternal, everlasting God.  Don't you want to break into Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus?"  The Amens from Heaven, and...

The Instructions From Heaven

Instructions To John the Witness

9I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  
Revelation 1:9
John was imprisoned "for the Word of God" -- his faithful sharing of Christ got the apostle in trouble.  He was a companion to the church family in their tribulation.    As the under shepherd at Ephesus, John boldly led his people to proclaim Christ in that community, and it got him thrown in jail. 
It should be that way these days.  I cannot see the future, but I believe we are living in days when we shall see the beginning of the end.  If there is to be trouble for churches in the immediate future, the Pastor should be the first one arrested.  Pray for your Pastor, that I will be strong in the hour of testing, and faithful to the Word.

Instructions to John the Worshipper

10I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet       Revelation 1:10 
Notice that it was the Lord's day.  John was a worshipping person.  If the church is going to have a clear vision of Christ, and hear even His great voice in these later days, there will have to be a greater emphasis on worship in the body of Christ.  The New Testament says to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together -- "...and so much more, as ye see the day approaching."Folks, the day is approaching -- worship is vital.  John worshipped, and he saw Jesus.  We need to do that.

Instructions to John the Writer

11saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”       Revelation 1:11
Notice that there is a word to the churches here.  It is the Word to the churches -- the Word, Jesus!  If there is anything a good Pastor can do, it is not to share the latest political poll, give a cute little amusing  talk or speech.  It is not to give inspiration with perspiration, rattle the rafters with prattle and laughters -- The Pastor needs to give God's people THE WORD OF GOD -- EVEN JESUS THE LIVING CHRIST!
But, please notice that the Word is already in the churches.
12Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands      Revelation 1:12, 13a
The candlesticks are the churches (see v.20).  Jesus today stands in the middle of those churches today.  There is always one more gathered for worship than the ushers can count.  Wherever you go, church, Jesus is there.  Whatever you do, church, Jesus is in the midst.
Another translation calls them "lamps."  A lamp or a candle needs constant replenishment.  Oil (in Scripture) stands for the Holy Spirit of God.  Here, Jesus stands in the midst of the church, lit up by the flame of His righteousness, fueled by the Holy Spirit of the Living God.  We are a light unto the world.  We are His message to a lost and dying, Hell-bound generation.  In the midst of the darkness, Jesus lights the light of righteousness among his people the church, the lamp of God, and the Holy Spirit cries out Shine, Jesus, Shine!!
Amens from Heaven, Instructions from Heaven, and...

The Snapshot From Heaven

Here is where the real picture of Jesus comes into view.  There is no room for our meager imaginations in this.

The Value of Jesus

I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.       Revelation 1:13
Gold stands for value in the Scripture.  Jesus' pure garment that reaches to the floor is bound up with a belt around His middle -- a golden belt.  That signifies that anything you get from Jesus is the most valuable possession you have.  Everything from God is good, even our chastisement. 

The Victory of Jesus

14His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow;
Revelation 1:14a
White is a symbol of the conqueror.  The head is the ruler of the body.  Jesus is the victorious LORD over sin, death.  He is ruler of all.

The Vision of Jesus

his eyes were like a flame of fire,    Revelation 1.14b
The eyes see -- flashing eyes are a symbol of perfect vision.  This is the Christ who knows all.  He sees not only with clarity, but with perfect insight.  He discerns even the intentions of men.  The Bible says that "...the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." 
Church, we ought to be very careful about everything we do.  That thing that we think we do in private is entirely known to Jesus. 

The Valuation of Jesus

15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace,  Revelation 1:15a
Burning brass is a symbol of judgment.  The Bible declares we are to judge no one regarding his salvation.  That is the exclusive prerogative of God.  Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord...It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We ought to dwell on pleasant things, such as love, joy, peace, and the other good things of God.  However, we must remember that God will judge.  The Word of God declares that " is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."

The Voice of Jesus

and his voice was like the sound of many waters.   Revelation 1.15b
The authority of God thunders like all the Niagara's of the world.  One preacher put it this way:  "If Christ were only man, then he is irrelevant to our thought of God.  If he were only God then he is irrelevant to any experience of human life.  It is becoming devastatingly clear that you cannot have Christian principles without Christ, and the validity of Christian principles depend on Christ's authority.  His authority depends on who He is -- and that must be clear."

The Vitality of Jesus

16In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.    Revelation 1:16
In the right hand -- the hand of strength -- are the Pastors of the seven churches.  From His mouth proceeds the only weapon the church of God needs, the Word of God.  The complete picture of a victorious, radiant, omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent, omnipotent God is enough to make one faint dead away...and John does:
17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.   Revelation 1.17a
What else could John do -- What else can any mortal do in the presence of God, Almighty?  At Southern Seminary each year, they hang a class picture in the Student Union,  of the graduating class.  Under the picture they use a Bible verse that best characterizes the class.  One professor was asked what Bible verse would be best for the current class.  He took a long look at the students, remembered some of them in class, and said, "John 11.35 -- 'Jesus wept.'"[5]
We see ourselves as complete darkness next to the great light of God's shining presence; but, notice what God does:

The Assurance From Heaven

Divine Touch

But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, Revelation 1:17b
Jesus steps forward and puts the right hand of strength on the dumbfounded apostle.  Literally, the sentence says:  "And he added his hands onto me."  Wow -- What an ordination!!  How kind that a God who could simply speak whole solar systems into being would take the trouble to move towards one simple man.  Yet, that is what Jesus did -- and that is what Jesus does -- He is always moving towards us.  And the touch of the Master's hand is all that it takes to totally transform a life, an eternity!

Divine Character Means Omnipotence

18and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Revelation 1:18
Omnipotence is all the power that can be.  Jesus is alive.  We can never speak of Him in any tense but the present.  He transcends time.  His resurrection was done at a point in time from our perspective...but in Heaven it happened before the foundation of the world.  He is authority over death and Hell.  He has all power!

Divine Character Means Omniscience

19Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.      Revelation 1:19
John is getting a tour of the future.  Jesus is about to tell him what will happen, and what to write about it.  Omniscience means you know where you're going, and can lead others.  If my faith in Christ means anything, it means I serve a God who knows and holds the future.  I can trust my life to a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and

Divine Character Means Sovereignty

20As 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.
Revelation 1:20
God explains the mystery -- Seven pastors, seven churches.  They are held in the hand of our LORD.  It is little wonder that the theme throughout the history of God's dealings with man is "fear not!"  God, who is sovereign, has it all in control.  He is the safe place.  He knows our weakness.  He will get us home before the dark. 
The thing that always blows me away, is that this magnificent Jesus, crucified, risen, and now glorified -- this Jesus, magnified by the ten thousands and thousands of thousands of angels -- this Jesus, adored by heaven and all creation, lives within the heart of a sinful person like me.  And what's more, He wants me to have what He has.  The Bible says that one day this old, sinful, totally depraved Russell will be no more -- I shall behold Him, and I shall be like Him.  I tell you, only Alpha and Omega can do that.

[1] G. Campbell Morgan, Great Chapters Of the Bible, (NY, Fleming H. Revell Co, 1935), 329
[2] Morris Ashcraft, Broadman Bible Commentary,  (Nashville, Broadman, 1972), 253
[3] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol V, (Pasadena, CA, Thru the Bible Radio, 1983), 880
[4] John Calvin, Institutes, 3
[5] Lloyd Ogilvie, The Communicator's Commentary, vol on Colossians, 349

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