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The Revelation to John

Dec 8:              Who is this Jesus?                     (Rev 1.9-20)

 

“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts:  the knowledge of God and of our selves.  But while joined by man bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.” –Calvin, Institutes Book 1.1.1.

 

Our topic today is “Who is this Jesus,” and if we are to take the quote seriously from John Calvin that I have just read, and I hope that we do, then we see that the answer to this questions hinges upon knowing two things:  Jesus and Self.  We cannot know Jesus unless we know self and we cannot know self unless we know Jesus.  The selection of the verses for today exhibit both in profound ways.  Let us turn then to knowledge of self.

 

“I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the Kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus…”  In Roman Catholic, and unfortunately some Protestant churches, it is common to refer to John as “Saint.”  Aside from the fact that Scripture clearly defines the household of confessing believers as saints (Eph 3.18), the appellation “Saint” assigned only to certain Christians has unfortunate pastoral consequences.  For one, what are the adjectives most commonly associated with a saint? Righteous, perfect, holy, innocent, sinless etc.  In other words, NOTHING LIKE YOU.  But the grace of this particular scripture is that John seeks not to differentiate himself from us with exalted titles, but he seeks to identify with us by calling us “Brother.”  John can call us “brother” because he is made from the same stuff we are.  He has the same shortcomings, the same weaknesses, the same vulnerabilities and the same fears.  He has the same need for salvation.  So he begins this section of Revelation with “I, John, your brother.”

 

But how is he our brother?  He is our brother first and foremost because he is our “partner in the tribulation.”  We read in first Peter

 

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Pet 4.12

 

Common in Evangelical Christianity today is the naïve and misleading notion that the Christian is not subject to suffering.  If you believe hard enough, and follow God sincerely enough, then he will line your pockets, keep you healthy, and prosper all your plans forever!  But of course, this is not true.  John is writing from Patmos, where he is suffering in exile.  He is our brother in tribulation, because you and I suffer as well.  We might suffer as a direct relationship to our following of King Jesus as many Christians throughout the world suffer because of their confession of Jesus Christ as Lord.  But we might also suffer indirectly as a Christian.  How do we suffer indirectly as a Christian?

 

We begin to answer this question with a Biblical view of suffering.  Romans 1.18 teaches us that God’s wrath is being revealed against all ungodliness.  This wrath is exhibited in many ways, but the experience of his wrath is always revealed in suffering Then why does the Christian suffer?  Scripture teaches that the Christian suffers under God’s discipline, not his wrath.  Jesus says to the lukewarm church of Laodicea that he “reproves and disciplines” those whom he loves (Rev 3.21).  The Christian suffers as a result of God’s good and gracious discipline, which though painful is nevertheless an effective means of sanctification (Rom 5.3).  This is the indirect suffering of the Christian, the suffering that comes with the discipline of a Heavenly Father and is even proof of our adoption (Heb 12.8). 

 

To come full circle on this point we simply say that John is our brother, that is he is like is, in our suffering.  He is also like us in his inheritance of the Kingdom.  Horatious Bonar writes:

 

A common faith, and a common hope, a common exile—and a common kingdom! One in sorrow, one in joy; one in shame, one in glory; one in tribulation, one in triumph! It is a kingdom that is before his eyes, and before theirs; a kingdom which had not yet come; the kingdom of the saints; the everlasting kingdom, the kingdom which cannot be moved.” (Bonar, The Revelation of Jesus[1])

 

John is our brother as a “fellow citizen” of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Paul writes in Phillipians:

 

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Phil 3.20-21)

 

There is much to say in the above verse about how we are citizens of the Kingdom.  The principal sign that we are citizens of the Kingdom is that we “await a savior, the King Jesus Christ.”  We are citizens of a heavenly country, but stranded on an earthly one.  Fortunately, we do not wait to go to the Kingdom, but the Kingdom is something that comes to us.  For when King Jesus returns, he will begin to exercise his “power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”  What does this mean for us?  It means that we are fully expecting the return of our King, but until he returns our expectations are unfulfilled.  Christians are a unique blend fulfilled and unfulfilled desires.  On one hand, the Christian has Jesus Christ, and thus is indescribably fulfilled.  As Spurgeon says:

 

Whether I am to live or die is no matter to me; whether I am to be the “offscouring of all things,” or “the man whom the king delighteth to honour,” matters not to me. All is alike, provided my Father doth but give it. “So he giveth his beloved sleep.” How many of you have arrived at that happy point that you have no wish of your own at all? It is a sweet thing to have but one wish; but it is a better thing to have no wish at all—to be all lost in the present enjoyment of Christ and the future anticipation of the vision of his face. O my soul! what would the future be to thee, if thou hadst not Christ? If it be a bitter and a dark future, what matters it, so long as Christ thy Lord sanctifies it, and the Holy Ghost still gives thee courage, energy, and strength? –Spurgeon, “The Peculiar Sleep of the Beloved”

 

And while the Christian is fulfilled in this way, he is deprived in another, because we still say “Come Lord Jesus,” because of course, he has not come.  So we are a satisfied people, but we are also a people of intense longing. 

 

John finally closes this portion of the letter by stating he is our brother in “patient endurance.”  That is, we patiently endure this period when we are vulnerable to suffering.  Whether it be the suffering of sin, the suffering of poverty, or illness, or persecution, or anything else, we patiently endure.  Secondly, we patiently endure as we wait for the return of our King.  This patient endurance sums up much about knowledge of self.  We patiently endure our vulnerable suffering and we patiently endure our unfulfilled expectations. 

 

We see a picture of vulnerability, unfulfilled expectation, and suffering.  This is knowledge of self.  Now let us turn to knowledge of God. 

 

John writes:

 

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying,“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches… Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Rev 1.10-17). 

 

John’s Revelation is written to a persecuted church.  These churches are marked by suffering, temptation, and at times defeat.  John, “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” turns and the first thing he sees are seven golden lampstands.  What are these lampstands?  John will eventually identify the lampstands as “the seven churches” (Rev 1.20).  Not nearly as important as what are the lampstands as who stands in their midst.  John writes that “in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man.”  That is, Jesus our King, is not removed from us but stands in our midst, in the very center of the church.  We might draw several implications from this but I would like to draw your attention to two:

 

1)  We do not worship a Jesus who is distant from us and thus removed from our suffering and temptations.  But rather we worship one who was tempted in everyway as we are yet was without sin (Heb 4.15). 

2)  Furthermore, Jesus has not left us to fend for ourselves.  He stands in our midst.  He is the good shepherd that defends the sheep (John 10.11) and leads them safely to their heavenly home (Jude 24-25).  This of course is a great comfort to a persecuted church, who wonders if they will be able to endure to the end.  They will!  Because Christ stands in their midst.

 

But who is it that stands in their midst.  John wants to draw our attention some characteristics of Jesus who stands in their midst.

 

            A King Stands in Their Midst

John says he saw someone “like a son of man.”  This of course is reference to Dan 7.1-14, and the character that is given universal rule over all the kingdoms of the world. 

 

A Priest Stands in Their Midst

Priests were clothed with a sash that was often interwoven with gold thread worn over a long robe.  Jesus stands in the midst of the church, clothed as a priest because he offers the perfect sacrifice on behalf of his people (Heb 10.11-12).  He is their only priest, because he is the only one able to offer the sacrifice God requires to make his people whole. 

 

A Man of Wisdom Stands in Their Midst

The white hair is indicative of age, and thus wisdom.  But this wisdom is greater than that accumulated with age, but it is one that is accumulated through divinity (Dan 7.9).  John compares the white hair of Jesus with that of the Ancient of Days and thus begins to introduce the theme of the divinity of Jesus to the reader. 

 

The Theme of the Divinity of Jesus

           

            I Fell at His Feet

            A common response when in the presence of God (Isa 6, Eze 1, John 17)

 

            I Have the Keys of Death and Hades

In Jewish apocalyptic literature, only God had the keys to death and hell.  Here Jesus is pictured as carrying them, because he is God. 

 

What exactly is the picture being painted here?  First and foremost we might say that Jesus is God.  He has the keys to death and hell and he commands the worship of his servants.  But what kind of God is he?  He is our wise King and Priest.  Not only does he govern us, but when we rebel against his rule he graciously gives his own life for us rather than making war against the insurrectionist.  Furthermore, he stands in our midst. 

 

So where does this leave us in terms of knowledge of God and knowledge of self?  Well, we must first paint a picture of self as vulnerable, imperfect, frightened, and unfulfilled.  God on the other hand, is powerful, perfect, without fear (1.17) and perfectly fulfilled.  What then must we do?  The two are joined together, and our weak condition addressed the moment Jesus begins to dwell in the midst of us, as indeed he already does. 


[1] Bonar, The Revelation of Jesus 1.9-11

Comments
  1. John Casella says:

    I am John and I thank you for your teachings. I know things also and I know Jesus well.

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