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Revelation 1:1-20: The Beginning of the Blessing Print E-mail
Sunday, 12 February 2012

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Any series on the book of Revelation should begin with humility and caution.  I cannot tell you that I am going to be able to explain all of the visions and symbolism in this book.  I cannot tell you that by the end all will be clear.  But I can say this: you will be blessed.  That doesn’t sound very humble does it?  The blessing does not have anything to do with my expertise or oratory skills.  No, the blessing is the book itself.  In fact, we are promised as much in verse 3.  Look at that verse with me.  God has chosen to reveal the truths in this book to believers and that is a great blessing to us.  There is blessing in simply reading it aloud (a reference to corporate reading of the book).  And there is even more blessing in hearing it and keeping the commands that it gives us.  Thus, this morning is the beginning of such blessing.  May God grant us grace and mercy as we labor together to understand and obey His Word.

Let me begin this morning by briefly addressing some important introductory matters.  First, let me try and identify the genre of the book.  As with almost everything about Revelation, people come down in all kinds of different places on this.  But I think the best way to say it is that Revelation is a prophetic book written as an epistle with apocalyptic visions and symbolism used throughout.  You could say it this way: The book is a revelation of God about the future that is written as a letter using symbolic visions to encourage believers (the Church) to persevere to the end.  Look at verses 1-3 with me again.  These verses lay out the approach of the book and we will see this more as we look closer at the different passages.  Most argue that John, the Apostle, wrote this book and I believe that is correct.  He wrote it to seven Churches in Asia most likely during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, around 90-95 a.d., which makes it the last book written.  Much more could be said about how to interpret the visions and symbolism, but we will address that as we come to those parts of the book (some this morning).

Although several themes could be mentioned from the book, two major themes are identified in the rest of chapter 1.  Thus, I want us to consider these two themes as part of our introduction to the book.  What are these themes?

The Sovereignty of Christ and His victory at the cross (v. 4-8, 12-20)

John offers a greeting in verses 4-5a.  Look at those with me.  John wrote this book, this letter, to seven churches in Asia (for more on them see below).  As is normal with a letter, he begins with a greeting.  What does he tell us in this greeting?  First, we see the emphasis on the Father, the Spirit, and the Son.  The Father is him who is and who was and who is to come.  He is the eternal God.  The Spirit is described as the seven spirits who are before his throne.  This description alludes to Old Testament passages and the number seven, as we will see over and over again, points to the Spirit’s fullness and completeness.  The Son is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.  Christ is the One who has faithfully revealed God to us, who has defeated death by His resurrection, and is the ruler over all kings (including those that were persecuting and would continue to persecute the Church).  He is the sovereign ruler.

And what has Christ done for us?  Look at verses 5b-6.  He has freed us from our sins by his blood.  If you have turned from your sins and trusted in the blood of Christ, trusted in His death for your sins at the cross, then hear the good news: you are free.  Yes, we battle, yes, there is coming a Day when the victory will be consummated (another major idea in this book) but never forget that even now you are free.  Sin no longer has dominion over us (see Romans 6).  And not only that, Christ has welcomed us into his kingdom and made us priests to God.  We are not just freed from sin, but we are free to serve the Father and bring Him glory.  All because of the victory of Christ’s death, who is coming again to reign over all.  Look at verse 7. 

Jesus, the One who died and rose again, is going to return.  And when He does, if you remain in your sins, then you will wail and mourn at His return.  He will come to judge and we are given pictures of what that judgment will look like throughout this book.  Needless to say, all those outside of Him will wail on that Day.  The glorious good news is that anyone who trusts in Him will be freed from their sins and the coming judgment.  This message of salvation and judgment cries out for a response from you.  Will you turn and be free?  Will you repent and believe in Jesus?  Or will you continue in your sin only to weep and wail upon His return? 

The greeting section is brought to a close in verse 8.  Look at that with me.  This is probably a statement about the Father.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end and everything in between.  Since this is followed by a similar phrase that described the Father earlier, this is probably a reference to Him.  Yet, these things are true of Christ as well.  Look at verse 17.  We could also point to 22:13 where John uses the same language in reference to Christ again.  Thus, we see that John is equating the Father and the Son.  Yes, they are distinct persons in the Trinity, but they are both equally God, equally the first and the last, equally sovereign over history.  One commentator notes: “Revelation is concerned with the problems of power and this verse gives expression early in the book to the conviction that God is sovereign.”

The greatness of Christ and His power over all is made clear in the first vision of the book.  Look at verses 12-20.  After Jesus speaks to John and tells him to write down what he sees (which we will look at in a moment), John is then given this vision of Jesus.  Before we look at it closer, let me just say a few quick words about the visions in Revelation in general.  First, it is difficult to identify all the details and exactly what they refer to.  Again, we always need humility in our interpretations of these visions.  Second, the visions are not meant for us to try and visualize what John was seeing.  Rather, they are meant to convey truth.  For example, verse 16 says that Jesus has the seven stars in his seven hands, then in verse 17 we are told that Jesus placed his right hand on John.  Does this mean that He put the stars down or shifted them to His other hand?  Neither is necessary. 

Jesus holding the stars is symbolic of His closeness to the angels of the Churches, and Him placing His right hand on John symbolizes His love and care for John.  We do not need to get so caught up in the details of a vision that we miss the intention and meaning.  So then, what does this vision mean?  Christ, our sovereign Savior and Lord is in the midst of His churches (lampstands).  He is their great Priest and King (robe).  He is majestic and powerful (white hair).  He is the judge (eyes of fire, sword in mouth).  He is firm (feet) and mighty (voice, shining face).  He is not to be trifled with.  He alone is worthy of worship and obedience and awe (not the emperor).  And He loves His people.  Oh how He loves them.  He is with them, in their midst.  He lays His great hand on John to communicate this love.  This is the One we serve: our sovereign Savior, who reigns over death and loves His people.

The book of Revelation will continue to teach us of the greatness of Christ and His glorious victory for us at the cross.  It is what the first recipients of this letter needed to know (see below) and it is what we need to remember as well.  Of course, we might ask: how are we to respond to such a Savior?  The answer to that question will also be a major theme in this book and it is the second major theme identified in Revelation 1.

The Church should trust Him, worship Him, and obey Him (v. 9-11)

We are given information about the situation surrounding the writing of this book in verses 9-11.  Look at those verses with me.  John had been exiled to Patmos, a small island off the coast of Asia Minor (where the recipients of the letter lived), on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  John was there because of persecution.  He describes himself as their brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.  He was suffering along with the churches for the sake of Christ.  Why were they suffering?  Even though there was not empire-wide persecution of Christians during the reign of Domitian, it does seem that some persecution was happening.  In particular, the book seems to be a response to emperor worship.  These churches were already struggling against this movement and it was only going to get worse.  Likewise, as we’ll see, they were also struggling against the Jewish community, who was trying to distance itself from Christians.  All of this meant that the recipients of the letter were facing suffering and persecution.  The letter is addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor.  It is hard to know exactly why these were chosen and not others, but again the number of them signifies completeness and points to the fact that they are representative of the universal church. 

So then, why was John given this vision for these churches?  Why was he told to write to them (v. 11, 19)?  John writes to them to encourage them to persevere in the faith in the face of suffering and persecution.  Jesus communicates to them through John that He is sovereign over every enemy they face.  He will bring justice through His fierce judgments.  He will right all the wrongs.  They can trust in Him for that.  Likewise, He has a great plan for those who remain faithful to the end.  They will be saved from the coming judgment.  They will have victory over their enemies.  They will dwell secure with Christ, their King, forever. 

The Lord gives John this vision to encourage the Church to persevere to the end.  Even though there are places that are hard to interpret and hard to understand, we cannot lose sight of this purpose.  The book of Revelation was given to those to Churches and to all churches to encourage their patient endurance as John calls it in verse 9.  Make no mistake about it, one way we are encouraged to persevere is by showing us what happens to those who do not, namely judgment.  We need to see that.  We need to comprehend the gravity of it.  We need for it to encourage us to faithfully follow after Christ.  Yet, this book also reveals the consummation of our salvation.  It gives us a glimpse of what is to come for those who do indeed remain faithful.  It is not just a hard book studied only by intellectuals so that they can debate what this vision means and what that vision symbolizes.  This is a book that was written for us.  It is a gift that God has given to us to read and to obey and to be blessed.  Over these next few months, may we spend time meditating and memorizing this book so that we can keep what is written here.  After all, blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.  Amen.

1 Leon Morris, Revelation TNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 56.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 February 2012 )

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