THE LIVING ONE Revelation 1
“I am the living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!” (Rev. 1:18)To truly understand Christmas we must see Jesus in all His glory.
Revelation is a stunning and powerful affirmation of God’s sovereignty in all things. Through John’s vision we are taken into heaven, to observe from that viewpoint as God pours out devastating judgments on a rebellious earth. Many commentators view the book as predictive prophecy, depicting events which will take place at history’s end. Others view it as a metaphorical affirmation of God’s control over all, while still others see in it veiled allusions to John’s own time, intended to encourage persecuted believers by symbolic representations of God’s spiritual warfare. While it is important to commit to a framework when one’s object is to interpret a book, this is less important when treating a book like Revelation devotionally. Believers from each interpretive school agree that Revelation is a towering affirmation of the sovereignty of God, of the primacy of Jesus, and of the certain judgment God will bring on all evil—including the evil one, Satan, himself. We can profit greatly this season of the year as we meditate on the glory of God revealed in Jesus, and the ultimate triumph of God, which Christ’s birth as a Babe portends.
John had a prophecy given him by direct revelation (1:1–3), which he sent to seven churches in Asia (vv. 4–6a) and dedicated to Christ as God (vv. 6b-8). John described the setting and his stunning vison of the resurrected Christ (vv. 9–20).
Understanding the Text
“The revelation of Jesus Christ” Rev. 1:1–3.
This is both a revelation of Jesus, and from Jesus. John was stunned as he saw the glorified Christ, still, and yet no longer, the Master that John loved so well during Christ’s years on earth. It is helpful for us too to remember. The Jesus of Bethlehem shines brighter than the most brilliant galaxy. The Babe in the manger created and sustains the world He entered. We who honor Jesus in His humility as a man must also hold fast to the conviction that He is now exalted in glory, ruling over all. John’s language also suggests that what he was about to describe is a vision from Jesus: a direct revelation from the risen Lord to all mankind. For this reason a special blessing is associated with the “words of this prophecy,” and is granted to all who take to heart the truths and images conveyed. What an exciting book then for us to read. Especially at this time of year, when we look back to Christ’s birth, and ahead to a bright new year. “The seven churches in the province of Asia” Rev. 1:4. Seven is a number with great symbolic significance in Scripture, speaking of perfection or completion. Thus many have taken the churches John wrote to as symbolic of the church universal, even as the “seven spirits” (or “sevenfold spirit”) is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Clearly John drew together the persons of the Godhead, showing that each is fully involved in what he was about to share. And that all Christians, the church universal, is intended to pay close heed. “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood” Rev. 1:5–8. Revelation is rich in the language of worship and praise. Perhaps these exalted sayings were part of the worship language of the church when John wrote. Certainly they now deserve to be woven into our prayers, and fixed securely in our minds. Jesus, in His love and sacrifice, has indeed “made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve His God and Father.” Let us dedicate ourselves to serve. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” Rev. 1:8. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega the last. Christ is the beginning and end, not only of our faith, but of history itself. The Creation owes its existence to Him, and when at last time shall be no more, Christ will be the One who brings all things to completion. It’s easier for us to conceive of a Babe in a manger than One who overflows the vastness of the universe around us. Yet Jesus truly is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the fountainhead and climax of existence itself. The seven cities to which John wrote (Rev 1:11; cf. 2–3) are sometimes taken to represent different periods in church history. What is clear is that they do represent the church universal. The messages John had for them are for us as well, and show us how to remain faithful till the glorious Lord of Revelation 1 returns triumphant. “Because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus” Rev. 1:9–11. Early church tradition suggests that John was exiled to Patmos near the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian (A.D 81–96). The church was experiencing official persecution for a refusal to worship the emperor as a god. It’s no wonder that John identified himself as a companion “in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” It’s important that we remember these three are often linked in Christian experience. We are citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. Yet here on earth we often suffer, and must commit ourselves to endure until Christ returns and His rule is established over all. It is particularly important during times of suffering that we see the Jesus that John saw in his vision, and described in this powerful New Testament book. For the Jesus of Revelation is God, exalted in power, about to triumph over every foe. Though we suffer now, when His kingdom comes, we will rule with Him. Sustained by this hope, we patiently endure. “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead” Rev. 1:12–18. At first John heard only a voice. When he turned to look, he saw a figure whose radiant appearance literally stunned him. The description John gave is filled with symbolism from the Old Testament (see DEVOTIONAL). But what is significant is the impact on John. John was that disciple whom Jesus loved. John rested his head on Jesus’ shoulder at the Last Supper. John was probably closest to Christ on a personal level. And through the last decades of John’s life he preached and wrote about love for Jesus and love for brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet John, so close to Jesus while our Lord was on earth, and so near to Him in heart for over 50 years beyond the Resurrection, was shaken to his very core when he saw Jesus in His essential splendor. We love Jesus, and feel close to Him. And this is right. But may we never become so casual in our thoughts of Him. For the Lord we love is Lord indeed, and were we to glimpse Him in His fundamental glory, we too would fall, stunned, at His feet. “Write” Rev. 1:19. This verse is viewed by many as the key to interpreting Revelation. “What you have seen” corresponds to chapter 1, “what is now” to chapters 2–3, and “what will take place later” to the rest of the book. If we take this approach the bulk of Revelation is predictive prophecy, and deals with what will happen on earth as history draws to God’s intended end. “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” Rev. 1:20. Some of the symbols in Revelation are explained in the text itself, as here. Others are clearly derived from the Old Testament, and so can be explained by reference to earlier Scriptures. But some of the most powerful symbols cannot be easily explained at all. In most cases, it’s best not to try. Linking disasters that Revelation describes to atomic holocausts, or germ warfare, is simply too speculative to help. What we need to seek is not some modern match to Revelation’s imagery, but the trust of the passage itself: the broad impact of the passage on our view of God, of judgment, and of earth’s future. The details remain open to debate. But the impact of most passages is unmistakably clear.
Picture Perfect(Rev. 1:9–18)
The famous German artist Albrecht Durer did a woodcut of Jesus as portrayed here by John. For all the artist’s skill, the figure looks awkward and stiff. Somehow none of the awe John felt is conveyed by the carved figure, with rays representing the brilliance around His head, and a literal sword protruding from His mouth. That’s one of the advantages of verbal symbolism over representational art. Somehow the images drawn by words can express with overwhelming power the most abstract ideas. That’s what we find here in Revelation 1. The utter glory of Jesus stunned John, and he struggled for words to express what he felt and saw. The robe was a common piece of clothing, and though the sash was golden, it was not unusual in itself. What stunned John was Jesus. And all he could do to describe the glorified Jesus to us was resort to Old Testament symbolism. Though human in form, His hair was “white like wool, as white as snow.” The image calls to mind Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:9; 10:5), about to exercise judgment. His eyes “like flaming torches” (cf. v. 6) indicate the fierceness of the judgment He metes out. Bronze feet, the metal heated until it glows, also represents judgment. The Old Testament image is one of treading or trampling enemies, and bronze is the metal from which the altar of burnt offering was constructed. There sins were purged by sacrificing a substitute. Now Jesus is about to judge sinners themselves. The voice is overpowering, a rushing Niagara of sound, and the “sharp doubled-edged sword” issuing from His mouth indicates both the war He will wage against sinners, and the means of His triumph. That simple spoken word by which Christ initially called all things into being will not be directed against the creation, and crush it to dust. DÃurer’s figure remains a curiosity. It is almost laughable. Not so the vision of Jesus that John had, and not the words he used to describe our Lord. Those words remind us that the One who lay in a cradle, and hung from a cross, will fill the whole universe when He comes again. And He will crush evil under His feet.
Look at the Christmas creche—but look beyond it too.
“Looking unto Jesus and thinking about Him is a better way to meet and overcome sin than any physical austerities or spiritual self-reproaches. It is by looking at Him that we are changed.”—Harriet Beecher Stowe