Revelation 1:1-18 – The Good News of the Apocalypse – Pastor Joshua Stevens
The Sunday Morning Message for December 27, 2020.
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WHAT sort of a madman would teach from the Book of Revelation? Well, in the eyes of the world, being a preacher already makes me a madman, so why not own it? There is a general reluctance among pastors to teach from the book of Revelation, and for good reason. It is the most controversial book in all of Scripture, bar none. It’s been said that for every four commentaries on Revelation you read, you’ll find five different interpretations. So, for fear of mudding up the waters even further, most preachers will steer clear of this book. But that’s a tragedy! God intended this book to be a blessing to his church. In fact, there are seven beatitudes or blessings scattered throughout the book. So, I feel that if we steer clear of this book, then we are depriving ourselves of a tremendous blessing. And besides that, we’ll be looking only at the first chapter. Generally speaking, you’re pretty safe if you stay within the first five chapters of Revelation. When you pass chapter 5, that’s when opinions begin to diverge radically.
Let’s Not Miss the Forest for the Trees
On the other hand, many pastors who rush into teaching from the Book of Revelation, often get caught up in all the minutia of the Book, and very easily miss the forest for the trees. For instance, if you focus too much on what the toes of the beast symbolize, you can miss the bigger picture of what God is saying to us through this prophecy. My goal here is to interpret and explain the meaning as best I can; but primarily, I want you to see Jesus in all of his unveiled glory. This is, after all, The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The goal of all preaching should be to bring us to Jesus. What we encounter in Revelation chapter 1 is Jesus in unveiled glory.
1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. 4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. 8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. 9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. 12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. 19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; 20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches. Revelation 1:1-20
The Good News
I’ve entitled my message this morning, The Good News of the Apocalypse. This is the last Sunday of the year 2020. After a year like the one we’ve just had, we could all use some good news as we approach 2021. But why is the apocalypse good news? The word apocalypse originates from the Greek word translated Revelation in Revelation 1:1. So, the word simply refers to an unveiling or a revealing of something that is hidden to common sight. That’s why this book is often called the Apocalypse or John’s Apocalypse. Yet this word, in its common use, is often associated with doom and gloom, and used to describe a wide variety of end-of-the-world scenarios, most of which having nothing to do with what we find in this book. In the world’s eyes, the Apocalypse is bad news. But for the Christian, the Apocalypse is good news. Why? Because in the Apocalypse, God is pulling back the curtain, so to speak, and showing us heaven’s perspective of what is taking place on earth. More importantly, God is pulling back the curtain of heaven, and showing us himself, high and lifted up, and seated upon his throne. God is pulling back the curtain and showing us his Son, the Lamb that was slain, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who has conquered this world by his blood.
The Importance of the Date
John’s Apocalypse was written and given to the church during a time of tremendous crisis and tribulation. The early church was suffering violent persecution at the hands of both the Jews and the Roman government. John himself was banished to an island for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Isle of Patmos was a small island in the Aegean Sea off the cost of Ephesus, which served as a penal colony for political exiles, whom the Roman government wanted to separate from the general population. The common understanding among Bible teachers is that John was exiled to Patmos during the mid-90s AD, but there is actually a substantial amount of evidence that John was banished to Patmos under Nero’s persecutions in the mid-60s AD. This is an important distinction, because how you date the Book of Revelation will actually determine how you interpret most of the visions therein. I myself accept the early date of John’s banishment as taking place in the 60s, for a variety of reasons; one reason being that in Daniel’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel in Daniel chapter 9:20-27 (which is a controversial passage in its own right), Gabriel informed Daniel that vision and prophecy would be “sealed up” before the destruction of the second temple, which took place in 70 AD. I understand that to mean that God’s method of speaking to us through visions and prophets would be finished before Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed for the second time. Therefore, I firmly believe that all of the books of the New Testament were completed before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Yet another reason why I accept the early date for John’s banishment, is found in Revelation 17:9-10:
9 And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. 10 And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space. Revelation 17:9-10
In this vision John sees the great harlot Babylon riding upon the back of the seven-headed beast, and the angel informs John that the seven heads correspond with seven mountains and seven kings. I take the seven mountains to be a thinly veiled reference to Rome, the famed “city of seven hills,” and the kings to refer to the Caesars. John tells us there that five of those kings are fallen, one now is, the seventh is not yet come, and only continues for a short space. So, if you understand the beast to symbolize Rome, as I do, and the kings to symbolize the Caesars, as I also do; then beginning with Julius Caesar as the first, Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius were the five that were fallen. The sixth Caesar that then was would have been Nero. The seventh Caesar ended up being Galba, who reigned for only seven months—a relatively short tenure for a Roman emperor. Five were fallen, one now is, the seventh to come only continues for a short space. To me, the only sensible interpretation would be to say that the sixth king then reigning, was Nero.
A Time of Great Tribulation
In any case, the contents of the book indicate that John wrote during a time of great persecution and tribulation for the early church. Accepting the early date, we know that Nero was a psychopath that allegedly burned the city of Rome in order to make room for his own building projects. When Roman citizens became suspicious, Nero pinned all the blame on Christians, which opened the path to the first Roman persecution of the church. Anyone accused of being a Christian was brought before the Roman government and imprisoned or put to death. There was great incentive given for people to accuse Christians before the government, because the accuser would often be rewarded with some of the Christian’s property. The unbelieving Jews, or the Synagogue of Satan as Jesus called them, jumped on every opportunity to accuse Christians before the government and seize upon their property. Christians in Rome had it really bad. Nero would clothe Christians in animal skins and feed them to dogs. He would dress others in clothes dipped in wax, crucify them, and set them on fire to illuminate his garden parties. According to Foxe’s book of Martyrs, both Peter and Paul were martyred under Nero’s persecutions, as well as other notable church leaders mentioned in the New Testament, such as Aristarchus of Macedonia, Trophimus of Ephesus, Joseph Barsabas, and Ananias of Damascus, who Baptized Paul in Acts chapter 9.
It Could Always be Worse
So, while we’ve had our own share of troubles and even state-sanctioned setbacks this year, please keep in mind what Christians were facing when John wrote this, and what many Christians around the world are facing even today. Yet regardless of the relative intensity of our trials on this earth, we all need the good news that God gives us in this book. As we look at Revelation chapter 1, I want to show you three aspects of this good news: first of all, this Apocalypse is good news because it shows us that we have a God who reveals. Secondly, it’s good news because it shows us that we have a God who reigns and redeems. Lastly, it’s good news because we have a God who raises the dead.
I. A God Who Reveals (vv. 1-3)
1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. Revelation 1:1-3
The good news that we see in verses 1-3 is that we have a God who reveals. God does not keep his people in the dark. He reveals to his servants what’s going on in the world from heaven’s perspective. In Amos 3:7 the prophet tells us:
“Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
So, we have a God who reveals secrets to his servants. We have a God who speaks to his people and is not silent. And blessed are they who read, hear, and keep what God says. John here shows us the divine origin of this Book. The Book of Revelation is not a cunningly devised fable. The Book of Revelation is not John’s private interpretation or his personal opinion of what’s going on in the world. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to John. And John, in turn, gave it to the church. The Apostle John is God’s final prophet revealing to us his word concerning Jesus Christ, and concerning things to come. So, God does not keep us in the dark. He speaks to us. His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. His word is the light that shines in a dark place until the day dawns and the day star arises in our hearts. We do well for ourselves if we take heed to it. This is the word of the living God.
“The Time is At Hand”
Interestingly enough, John tells us plainly in verse 1, that the Book of Revelation concerns things which must shortly come to pass. In almost the same breath, in verse 3 he tells us that the time is at hand. So, if we simply accept the plain meaning of the text, then the overwhelming majority of what God is addressing in this book concerns events that took place in the first century—not in the distant future. This, of course, is where the date of writing affects interpretation. If for instance, you take a late date of writing in the 90s AD, then in many ways we are left to speculate about what exactly these visions signify and when they will be fulfilled. But if you take an early date of writing in the 60s, then things fall neatly into place. For instance, in chapter 13, when John sees the beast from the sea persecuting God’s people for three-and-a-half years, then that corresponds perfectly with Nero’s persecutions of the church, which, oddly enough, lasted three years and six months from November of 64 AD to May of 68 AD. Or in chapter 11, when John sees the fall of that great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified, then that corresponds with the fall of Jerusalem which would take place in AD 70. I don’t believe for one second that God gave us this book to mystify or to confuse us. True enough, God uses an unusual mode of communication: “He sent and signified it,” using symbolism. But we must remember that this book is a revelation of the truth, not a concealment of the truth. Therefore, we should opt for the easiest and most plain reading of the text, which indicates that God is, for the most part, revealing to his servants things which are about to happen shortly in the first century. And yet, what God says to his church in the first century through this prophecy, is a timeless message to be applied by his people throughout the ages, as we eagerly await the return of the Lord. Now of course, the book does show us a vivid picture of the last judgment. When you read chapter 20, and you see the One who is seated on the great white throne, from whose face heaven and earth flee in terror, and no place is found for them; and you see the dead, both small and great, stand before his judgment seat; that’s the last judgment. The book deals primarily with events taking place in the first century, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t also show us the end.
Regardless of interpretation however, the good news here is that we have a God who reveals. God does not keep his people in the dark about what’s going on. God speaks to us loud and clear. He warns his people of things to come. He warns the world of judgment to come. We have a God who reveals.
II. A God who Reigns and Redeems (vv. 4-8)
4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. 8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. Revelation 1:4-8
Why is this Apocalypse good news? Because it shows us also that we have a God who reigns and redeems.
John writes to the seven churches which are in Asia. Whenever you read about Asia in the New Testament, it’s not talking about the continent of Asia, but rather the Roman province of Asia, which was located in what we know today as western Turkey. And these seven churches were all situated in order along a circular highway which made it easy to pass this book from church to church. John writes to these churches specifically, because they were churches that were under his care in the latter years of his ministry. Each of them faced their own unique set of trials and challenges that Jesus addresses specifically in chapters 2 and 3. But before Jesus does so, he gives us a glorious introduction: grace and peace from the triune God: from God the Father who reigns from everlasting to everlasting, and from the Holy Spirit, who is with and within his church, and from Jesus Christ, the ruler over the kings of the earth, who redeemed his people with his own blood. This particular salutation of grace and peace is probably the richest and most vivid salutation in all of the New Testament. The overarching message in this salutation is that we have a God who reigns and redeems.
The Immutable Father
First, John sends his greetings from God the Father, who is, and who was, and who is to come. In times of great trial and tribulation, we need to be reminded that our God reigns. The good news of the Apocalypse is not that God shall reign, but that God does reign. He reigns from everlasting to everlasting. He reigns today. He always has reigned. He always will reign. This designation is also meant to remind us of God’s covenant name that he revealed to Moses at the burning bush: I AM that I AM. What that sacred name signifies is that God does not change. He is immutable. With him is no variableness neither shadow of turning. Therefore, he will always keep covenant with his people. He will always do good to his people. The times may change. Governments may change. But God does not.
The Seven-fold Spirit
Secondly, John sends his greetings from the Holy Spirit, which is uniquely described as the seven Spirits which are before God’s throne. In Revelation 4, John describes these seven Spirits as seven lamps of fire burning before the throne. This imagery is meant to reflect the layout of the temple. Within the temple, you had the seven-branched menorah, which, being joined at the bottom, symbolized the national unity of the people of Israel, and their God-given mission to be a light to the world. But in Revelation, by way of contrast, you have seven lamps atop seven individual candlesticks, symbolizing seven churches. I believe that this indicates that God’s people within the New Covenant church are no longer just one nation, but are made up of many nations scattered throughout the world, with each church having the mission to be a light where they are. Jesus also uses this illustration in the gospels, when he tells his disciples, “ye are the light of the world… let your light shine.” Yet here in the vision, the Holy Spirit is identified with these seven lamps, because of the Holy Spirit’s unique relationship with the church. The church is indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is why in chapter 22, we see the Spirit and the Bride speaking together, inviting people to come and take the water of life freely. But without the Spirit, our light goes out. Without the Spirit, our candlestick is removed. Yet the good news is that the Spirit is present with and in us to empower us for our mission.
Yet beyond the Spirit’s unique ministry in the church, in chapter 5 John also tells us that the Lamb, Jesus Christ, is the one who has the seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. Jesus has the seven spirits of God. What this refers to specifically, is the seven-fold description of the Holy Spirit upon the Messiah in Isaiah 11:1-2:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; Isaiah 11:1-2
A seven-fold Spirit. A perfect and complete fulness of the Holy Spirit, without measure. That’s what John is describing here.
The Redeemer King
But then thirdly, in verse 5, we see Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the prince of the kings of the earth. This three-fold designation describes Jesus’ death, resurrection, and his ascension. The Greek word translated witness, is a word from which we derive the English word martyr. Jesus is the faithful martyr. Like many Christians were then doing for his name’s sake, Jesus died for his own testimony. And we as faithful witnesses are to follow in his train. Secondly, Jesus was also the firstborn from the dead. In other words, Jesus was the first to rise from the dead. As the firstborn, Jesus must have the preeminence in all things. Therefore he was the firstfruits of the resurrection. Because Jesus was first, that implies more to follow. As surely as Jesus rose from the grave, so will we also partake in that grand resurrection at his return. Thirdly, after Jesus rose from the grave, he ascended into heaven, and sat down as Prince at the right hand of God, henceforth expecting until his enemies be made his footstool. As Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:20-23, God the Father, raised Jesus from the dead,
“and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Ephesians 1:20-23
In his ascension and session at God’s right hand, Jesus was set over all rule and authority–over all the kings of the earth. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to him.
And yet if that’s not good news enough, we see that this same Jesus, who reigns at God’s right hand, has also loved us, and redeemed us, and washed us from our sins in his own by his blood, and made us to be kings and priests unto his God and Father. By his grace, he has made us partakers with him in his heavenly reign. Paul also says in Ephesians 2:6-7, that God has,
“raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6-7
This God who reigns is also the God who redeems us by his blood. What can wash away our sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. And because he has washed all our sins away, he has made us fit to be partakers of his inheritance. By his grace, we partake in his heavenly reign for eternal ages to come.
“There is a Fountain”
In verse 7, John combines images from two Old Testament Passages. When John says “behold, he cometh with clouds,” he’s referencing Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel sees of the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, and coming before the Ancient Days to receive dominion, glory, and a kingdom that all people, nations, and languages should serve him. In other words, Jesus is the God who reigns. The day is coming, wherein everyone will acknowledge this. But when John says, “and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him,” he’s referencing Zechariah 12:10, where the Lord tells us that there is coming a day in which the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn, as one mourns for his only son. Yet then immediately afterward, in Zechariah 13:1, the Lord tells us also that “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.” In other words, the God who reigns, is also the God who was pierced. From his wounds, there was opened up a cleaning fountain. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” That’s the power of the blood of Jesus; and John is saying to us, Look! Behold him! Behold your God, who reigns and redeems. Behold him and mourn for him. Repent and believe the gospel. Wash yourself in that cleansing fountain!
Why is the Apocalypse good news? Because herein, God shows us that he is a God who reveals. He is a God who both reigns and redeems. Yet there is one more reason why this Apocalypse is Good news: because it shows us that we have a God who raises the dead.
III. A God who Raises the Dead (vv. 9-20)
9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, 11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. 12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; 13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. 14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. 16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: 18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death. 19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; 20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches. Revelation 1:9-20
We Aren’t Alone in Tribulation
There is so much here to unpack in this majestic vision of Jesus. John begins in verse 9 by comforting us, reminding us that we aren’t alone in our trials. He is our brother in Christ, and our companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus. As we patiently wait for Jesus to return and finish his work of making all things new, we will face our own share of tribulations in this world. John himself was banished to an island for political criminals because he preached the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And if you serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and if you seek to do what is right in his sight, then most people in this world, and oftentimes even many people in the church aren’t going to go along with you. Many people will oppose you. Nevertheless, you aren’t alone, and your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
“In the Spirit”
John goes on to say in verse 10, that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind him a great voice like a trumpet. This is the first of four times in the book of Revelation that John tells us that he was in the Spirit. Each time that John says this, he is simply indicating is that he isn’t on Patmos anymore. God has taken him somewhere else in the spirit. Each of the four times in Revelation that John tells us that he was in the spirit, he is carried away to a new place and shown a new vision. Here in chapter 1, as he is in the spirit, he turns around and sees Jesus. Later on, in chapter 4, he is in the spirit and he is carried up to God’s throne room in heaven. In chapter 17, he is carried away in the spirit to a wilderness, and is shown the harlot riding upon the back of the beast. And then in chapter 21, he is carried away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, where he is shown the new Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God. So, when John says that he is in the spirit here in verse 10, that marks the beginning of John’s first major vision in the book: the vision of the Son of man.
A Voice Like a Trumpet
First John hears the sound. He hears the trumpet blast. This is the same voice that the whole nation of Israel heard in Exodus 19,when God spoke to them from Mount Sinai and gave them the ten commandments, and all the people in the camp trembled. That’s the voice that John is hearing here—the voice of the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. When Jesus calls himself the first and the last, he is referencing Isaiah 44:6:
“Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”
And after this trumpet voice identifies himself as God, he gives John a prophetic commission to write to these seven churches in order of their location along that highway. Yet when John turns to see the voice that spoke to him, he saw the seven candlesticks or lampstands, and he saw a man—one like the Son of man (one like unto a Son of Adam). He hears the voice of God almighty, but he turns and sees a Man. This is an interesting pattern that you’ll see in other places in Revelation. John will hear about something, but when he turns to look at it, he sees something completely unexpected. Here in chapter 1, he hears the voice of God almighty, and yet he turns and sees a Son of man. Another place you’ll see this pattern is in chapter 5, when one of the twenty-four elders says to John, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” But when John turns to see the Lion, lo and behold, he sees the lamb who was slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God. Also, later on in chapter 7, John hears the number of God’s servants who are sealed: 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel. But when John turns and looks, lo and behold, he sees a great multitude which no man could number from every nation, kindred, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes. Here, John hears the voice of the First and the Last, the Alpha and Omega, and he turns and sees Jesus, vestured in high priestly robes tending to his lampstands. One of the responsibilities of the High Priest, according to Leviticus 24:1-4, was to light the candles on the golden menorah in the Temple from morning to evening. And here, we see Jesus, our Great High Priest, tending to the candlesticks of his churches.
Even though this Great High Priest is Son of man, he is also Son of God. Jesus is the God-Man, truly God and truly man, the only one qualified to be the Mediator between God and men. So as John beholds this Son of man, he sees and describes him in words that reflect the characteristics of God. Specifically, in verses 14-16, John sees and describes Jesus with seven divine characteristics.
Seven Divine Characteristics
In verse 14, we see the first two characteristics: “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.” Interestingly enough, this vivid imagery alludes the vision of God that Daniel saw in Daniel in Daniel 7:9: Daniel says:
“I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.” Daniel 7:9
What Daniel sees is a picture of God sitting upon his throne of judgment. And yet what’s ironic about this, is that a few verses later in Daniel 7:13-14, Daniel sees the Son of man coming in the clouds and coming before the throne of the Ancient of days, to receive glory, honor, and his everlasting kingdom. And yet, in this image, John is showing us that the Son of man, and the Ancient of Days are of the same nature. The Son of Man also has hair like white wool, and fire issuing from his eyes. This is some high trinitarian theology here. The Son of man is co-equal, co-eternal, and consubstantial with the Ancient of Days. He is of the same essence and nature of the Father. What we are seeing in this vision is a passing of the authority to judge, from the Father to the Son. As Jesus says in John 5:22-23, that at the resurrection at the last day, the Father will judge no man,
“but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.” John 5:22-23
As Jesus appears as the Ancient of days, John is showing us that Jesus will be that judge at the last day.
In verse 15, we see the next two characteristics: “And his feet [were] like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.” This image of Jesus’ feet as brass, symbolizes his conquest over his enemies. In Micah 4:13, the Lord said to his people,
“Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.” Micah 4:13
Yet here in Revelation, Jesus has the hooves of brass, because he is the one who will trample down his enemies, and present their substance back to his Father. Also, in Ezekiel 43:2, the prophet says,
“And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.” Ezekiel 43:2
So when John says that Jesus spoke with a voice like the sound of many waters, he’s telling us that he heard the same voice that Ezekiel heard—the voice of the God of Israel, whose glory shall fill the earth.
Then in verse 16, we see those last three characteristics: “And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” Even without interpreting what this means specifically, this picture of Jesus holding stars in his hand demonstrates his absolute sovereignty over creation. Astrology was a prevailing belief throughout the Greco-Roman world at this time, wherein people would attribute their fate and fortune to the alignment of the stars. Yet Jesus appears, holding the stars in his hand. Our destiny is in his hands, not in the hands of men or angels, or of the stars, or of any other creature. Yet specifically, Jesus tells us that these stars signify the angels of the seven churches, which I understand to be the messengers or the pastors of the churches. In any case, the simple meaning is that Jesus is sovereign. He sovereignly keeps and protects his servants and his churches.
The sharp double-edged word proceeding out of his mouth symbolizes his power to judge and execute justice. The Roman Emperor and the governors, would say that they had the power of the sword. This meant that they had the authority to execute capital punishment. Yet here, Jesus is reminding us that this power belongs to him alone. As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, you would have no power over me, except it were given to you from above. God alone has the power of life and death. He is the one we should fear.
Jesus’ face was shining like the noonday sun. You might be able to look directly at the sun at sunrise or sunset, because of the way the sunlight is diffused through our atmosphere at that angle. But if you try looking directly at the sun at high noon, you can’t do it. Your eyes won’t let you. It’s too bright. This is a picture of Jesus dwelling in unapproachable light. This Son of man is also Son of God.
The True Scandal of the Gospel
This was a terrifying sight to behold. So much so that John fell down at Jesus’ feet like a dead man. But here’s where we see the good news: this same God-man who has all divine power and authority to judge and execute vengeance upon the wicked, is the same God-man who died for our sins, and rose again. He took that same right hand that holds the stars, and he laid it gently upon John, and said “Don’t be afraid.”
How is it that this God-man—this terrifying judge, who alone has the power of the sword, can say to us, “Fear not?”
Most people who object to the gospel say things like, “How can a God who is kind and loving, judge and send anyone to hell?” And for many people, that’s a stumbling-block. That’s a scandal. But that’s not the real scandal of the Bible. The real scandal of the Bible is the fact that a just God justifies the ungodly. Paul tells us plainly in Romans 4:5,
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5
The real scandal is that this just judge who alone has the power to condemn, is a God who justifies the wicked. And in Solomon tells us in Proverbs 17:15:
“He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.” Proverbs 17:15
In other words, any judge that perverts justice, is an abomination to the Lord. And yet according to Romans 4:5, God is the God who justifies the ungodly, and who condemned his own Son, Jesus the just. That’s the real scandal. And so again, how is it that this Jesus–this righteous judge can lay his sovereign hand upon John and say, “Fear not?”
Because that same hand that held the stars, had a nail-print in it.
Those brazen feet, which tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of almighty God–those feet at which John fell were feet that had been pierced. The only reason why this God can say to us, fear not, is because he was pierced for us.
Not only was he pierced for us; he was raised to life for us. Jesus tells John why he should not fear in verse 18:
“I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Revelation 1:18
This terrifying judge is the one who died for us, and rose again. He is the one who conquered sin, death, and the grave in our behalf. This is a terrifying figure for those who are not saved. They have every reason to be afraid at his presence. But for his sheep–those who belong to him—for those whom he has redeemed by his blood, he says to us, “Fear not. I’ve conquered your sins. I’ve conquered the grave. I have the keys of hell and death. I am alive forevermore.
Nothing to Fear
As Christians we have nothing to fear from this world. We have nothing to fear from disaster, disease, or death. We have nothing to fear from corrupt politicians or tyrannical rulers, because Jesus Christ alone is king. He’s the prince of the kings of the earth. He holds the stars in his hand. He alone has the authority to judge and execute justice. He has the power over death, hell, and the grave. To possess the keys to something signifies your power over it. You may open and lock the doors at your own pleasure. So, when Jesus has the keys of death and hell, it means that we have nothing to fear from death or hell. Those enemies are already subdued under Christ’s power. Therefore, we have nothing to fear from this world. God’s perfect love for us—his redeeming love has cast out all of our fears.
Even if the worst should happen to us in this world—even if we succumb to disaster, disease, or death—even if we end up dying a martyr’s death, the good news of the apocalypse, is that we have a God who raises the dead. Death has no dominion or power over us. Death is a defeated foe. We have nothing to fear, because we have a God who has conquered all of our enemies.
That’s truly what the book of Revelation is all about. God is pulling back the curtain in this book, and showing us that all of the enemies and trials that we face, or ever will face in this world, have already been conquered by Jesus.
Take comfort in this truth, church. Whatever the next year brings our way, Jesus is saying to us today, “Fear not.” Don’t be afraid. Let not your hearts be troubled. Because…
Our God is a God who reveals.
He is the God who reigns and redeems.
He is the God who raises the dead.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Whatever 2021 has in store for us has already been defeated by Jesus.