Revelation Commentary, Chapter One
Blessed Ones (Rev 1:3)
If you can imagine the Queen coming to scrub your house for you, or the President of America coming to dig your garden for you, you get an idea of what blessing means as those in high position stoop to help you in your daily life, ultimately with the gift of self.
In the Bible, ‘blessing’ speaks of stooping before another person and presenting them with gifts and in Genesis we see that the first person who does this is God. He breathed life into man and placed him in a beautiful world – a place where man could know God and benefit from the provision and love of a heavenly Father; God blessed man (Gen 1:27-28). Centuries later, God would stoop low in the incarnation (Phil 2:5-11) to raise us out of the ash-heap of our own actions.
This world is our Father’s world and was created for our benefit and as a place where we could meet with God and grow in friendship with the One who is the giver of all good gifts. Due to sin, this world is now separated from God, yet God still reaches out to the lost in an amazing work of blessing, reconciliation and restoration. Something we can note at this point is that blessing is always related to covenant-relationship.
Throughout scripture, we see that God always takes the initiative in blessing - which speaks of receiving from God. For example, in Genesis we see that it was God who walked into the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve had hidden and took the initiative in reaching out to fallen man…
But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?"
God wants us all to receive blessing from Him because this is the way we were created to live – as those who receive from a loving parent (Gen 1:27-8) and in turn, we are to share what we have received with others. Through God’s grace (Eph 2:8-10), mercy (Neh 9:31) and loving-kindness, He seeks to lead us (2 Cor 2:14) out of what we have become by way of sin and separation and into who we are really called to be as His sons and daughters (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6). In all of this we see that blessing involves the presence of One who enables us to come out of what we have done and into what He has provided.
Throughout the scriptures we see this picture of ‘coming out’ and ‘coming home’, whether it be in Abram being called out of the pagan ziggurat city of Ur (Gen 12) or the people of Israel being brought out of Egyptian bondage (Ex 5:1) and into the place of blessing: God’s providential care. Our heavenly Father is the One who lifted David from the mud and mire (Ps 40:2) and reasoned with wayward Israel (Isaiah 1:16-18) in order to help her come into a place of blessing. God is here to help us and blessing is about receiving from the One who has drawn close and stooped low to lift us out of darkness and out from condemnation into blessing through Jesus (Rom 5:1, 8:1).
Through John, God tells us that those who read the words of Revelation (this prophecy), who hear it (there were many who could not read) and who take to heart what is written, will be blessed.
Blessed through reading the prophecy and taking to heart what is written (Rev 1:3).
Prophetic speech challenges a world that seeks safety and security in its own plans and actions to turn and see the Creator; the Alpha and Omega seated on the throne. Prophets would remind straying people of God’s nature and character, what He has done, is doing and will do. Prophecy assures us that God is both the Master and interpreter of all history: past, present and future, and He holds our lives in His hands. Life does not begin or continue with human ability: it begins with God who holds all things together (Gen 1:1, John 1:1). God is not an absent landlord but someone who involves Himself in life in every way (Zech 7:9-10; 2 Cor 8:9).
Prophecy is not just about what will happen; it is also about why and how things will happen and so in Revelation, as in any other book in the Bible, prophecy is more than predictions about far-distant events. It is about the God of now and what He has to say. For example in all His words to the seven churches (representative of all churches) there is encouragement now, the opportunity to repent now, the knowing of great blessing now and His presence now.
In Revelation we see the past, present and aspects of the future spoken of in a language that would engage with the minds and hearts of the people to whom it was first directed. It also speaks to us today because ‘Rome’ is present in various forms, yet so is the One who holds all things in His hands. Man is not the centre of the Universe and in a world where man seemed to dominate all things, the early church was encouraged and uplifted (there are many songs in Revelation) in not only being able to understand the bigger picture, but knowing that God was with them whether they were heading towards martyrdom or being excluded from synagogues and guilds. The only ones who did not know His presence were those walking in their own strength, yet in grace and mercy they too are given the opportunity to turn. God wants us to see Him and to know Him. In seeing the right way there is great blessing as the following story about Helen Keller (born deaf and blind) reveals. The following event in her life is written by her teacher Ann Sullivan. Helen would go on to become an author, political activist and lecturer. Please try and capture something of the wonder that Helen must have experienced at this time.
“I must write you a line this morning, because something very important has happened. Helen has taken the second great step in her education. She has learned that everything has a name and that the manual alphabet is the key to everything she wants to know.
This morning, while she was washing, she wanted to know the name for ‘water’. When she wants to know the name of anything, she points to it, and pats my hand. I spelt w-a-t-e-r and thought no more about it until after breakfast… (Later on), we went to the pump house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled w-a-t-e-r in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close under the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand it seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled ‘water’ several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name, and pointed to the pump and trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled ‘teacher’. All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched, so that in a few hours she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary…and we notice her face grows more expressive each day.”
Ann Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) spent many of her own childhood in a mental asylum having been written off as severely unstable and a hopeless case. It was the love of Jesus shown through a Salvation Army woman that drew her out of herself and helped her make sense of the world.
Jesus is the Faithful Witness (Rev 1:5)
A King has given His life over death and so we are bound with eternity. For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2). At no time did His trust in the Father waver and at no time did He deviate from the leading of the Holy Spirit: whilst smashed to a cross, His love was not quenched. We are called to live likewise, in close fellowship with the Father and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are not a protest movement or an isolated group of religious fanatics divorced from life and each other. We are ordinary, everyday people who are to live in the market-place of life, standing for God as we reach out with our lives in the power of the Spirit. Such was the calling to the church in the ups and downs of the Roman Empire - an Empire which touched their lives in so many ways, yet an Empire which could not, in either its own strength or that of darkness, separate us from the love of God. The only way that can happen is through self, the greatest power we have to defeat.
“John’s chief concern is to tell the world the truth about the regime of Rome and to point it to the true ruler: God Almighty and the Lamb. In doing so he exposed himself and others to the fury of Rome. What we have to note is that the suffering described in Revelation results from witnessing to what the word of God has to say about the world.”
R. J. McKelvey in The Millennium and the Book of Revelation, p49.
The Firstborn (Rev 1:5)
Jesus is the firstborn from among the dead – the supreme Ruler – the supreme Warrior who withheld His power and went to the cross and rose as the firstborn who restores us to fellowship with God and also empowers us with the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (John 14), who comes alongside us. In doing all of this Jesus reveals His deep desire to help us grow in maturity of thought, emotional stability and God-empowered actions. Our part in all of this is initially to slow down and rest in Him so that we can receive His love, support and guidance. He is the One who encouraged a struggling Thomas, downcast men on the road to Emmaus and drew Peter out of His struggles and helped Him stand in the market-place of life and preach and heal thousands.
The title Firstborn over all creation speaks of power and position, as well as containing the idea of blessing. This is seen from Psalm 89:27 where King David is spoken of as the firstborn, whilst, in the normal run of the family, he was actually the youngest. From this, we see that the word ‘firstborn’ (prototokos) is a legal term and not a biological one and means, “First in rank, status, supreme, pre-eminent, and unique.” In Colossians, Paul speaks of the pre-eminence of Christ in writing, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15). In this he speaks of the cosmic position and dimension of God’s work - the work of One who delights in sharing His goodness with others.
The point Paul makes, as does John, is that Jesus stands in relation to creation as its supreme Head and as its mediator who reconciles earth to heaven. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “When God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Heb 1:6.
In scripture we see that, on the death of his parents, the firstborn son would receive a double portion of his father’s estate (Deut 21:17). This added blessing was not for personal gain, but because, as the firstborn, he would be responsible for ensuring the on-going well-being of the family, especially if other members ran into trouble. In light of this, we see that the firstborn is represented in a very real way; the power and ability to continue life and secure the protection and well-being of the family in every way. This shared prosperity and exercising of protective strength which ensured growth was seen as being rooted and established in and through the grace of God. Our part in all this is to be willing and open. We are His church, the church of the firstborn (Heb 12:23).
In the book, Doing Well and Doing Good (p232), Prof Oz Guinness quotes part of an interview given by Henry Ford in 1924. In it, Ford, who often gave out to people, said:
“I believe in living wages – I do not believe in charity: I believe we should all be producers. Organised charity and schools of philanthropy and the whole idea of “giving” to the poor are on the wrong track. They don’t produce anything. If a railroad had a bad piece of track that wrecked cars every day and piled them in the ditch it would cure nothing to merely build a fine repair shop. The track itself should be fixed. Charity and philanthropy are the repair shops and the efficiency, however high, does not remove the cause of the human wrecks. “
If we are to see the power of the firstborn in our lives, then we need to do more than just deal with the fruit of our problems. Christ has not come simply to rescue us but to deal with the very root of all that is wrong.
‘He made us to be a Kingdom and Priests.’ (Rev 1:6).
The Kingdom of God speaks of God’s perfect rule and reign which by its very nature cannot be limited or confined to the church or a particular geographical area; it also transcends time. The law of God’s kingdom is the Law of agape love (1 John 4:8) and in Jesus we see exactly what that love looks like. Unlike so many around Him, Jesus did not write off the tax collector (Luke 1:1-9), the adulterer (John 8:10-11) or a Centurion and his servant (Luke 7:3ff). In Jesus we see what God’s rule and reign is really like. God’s rule and reign speak of His power and authority being brought to bear on our lives with the purpose of reconciliation and restoration. We are a part of that Kingdom; we are Kingdom priests.
“Doing justice in the world is our calling; loving one another is our responsibility; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, stopping war, the glorification of violence and senseless killing, is our responsibility. Protecting the weak, aiding the needy, creating communities of love, justice and compassion, is our responsibility. Challenging the loveless powers with God’s truth is our calling. Calling the world to repentance, love and justice is our responsibility. While we are waiting on God to fulfil the promise, God is waiting on us to begin to live as if we believed the promise.”
Allan Boesak in, ‘The Fire Within.’ p165.
In Genesis, before the fall, we see a priestly living that did not require blood. Man had fellowship with God and could share the fruit of blessing that came from that developing relationship. A heavenly Father gave out to a loved one, and that loved one could then respond and grow in love. In this, we see that the priesthood is a ministry of receiving and giving. We can only give out what we have first received, as indeed we can only breathe out if we have breathed in first. In their priestly living, Adam and Eve were to mould and shape the world, revealing God’s love and care for all life. In falling into sin, man seeks to dominate his environment and control ‘his world’ as a means of finding security and overcoming the feeling of lostness that strikes at so many hearts. Due to sin, Adam and Eve were put out of God’s localised presence, yet due to God’s love, He was already ahead of them at Calvary because Christ is spoken of as ‘slain from the foundation of the world’ (Rev 13:8).
Throughout the O.T. we read of sacrifice through the blood of an animal. This sacrificial blood was not needed by God as if He were a tyrant out to torture and destroy, but was required by man who desperately needed saving. Life is in the blood (Lev 17:11) and the priesthood throughout the Old Testament brought to God what only God could provide; a blood-sacrifice. In this we see the reciprocal relationship of receiving and giving back what has been received. God provided the sacrifice which man brought to Him. Man then continued to receive from God and in this we have the true circle of life. I receive from God that which I could not provide and gain from God that which I do not deserve. Ultimately this points us to Jesus.
As the heavenly host looked on in wonder, God’s one and only Son stepped into creation and not only stood with fallen man but loved man in what religious people thought was outrageous ways. Jesus loved us and gave Himself as our sacrifice so that He could give us new life in Him. In Jesus we are called to be a kingdom of priests.
The authority of the living priesthood – not religious people in robes, but ordinary everyday people like you and I – does not come from within self but from our ministry as servants who depend on God for all things and live as the ‘global citizens’ of a heavenly kingdom in a struggling world. At the risk of sounding repetitive, let’s note again the picture of the priesthood.
The true priesthood of believers is made up of people who receive what they do not earn or deserve and out of the abundant fruit and blessing of Jesus’ presence, give out what is theirs by virtue of His work. We have access to God’s presence at all times because Jesus is the High Priest, the One who gave His own life as the sacrifice for our sins (Heb 4:14). In all that the early church was facing in the Roman Empire they needed to recognise who they were: the ‘ever-receiving ones’; a kingdom of priests.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
To Him belongs the glory (Rev 1:6)
Glory speaks of that within space and time (whether a burning bush, death of a servant or amazing healing) which clearly points to God as the author and bringer of life. Ultimately God’s glory is seen in Jesus who, whilst in the flesh, revealed the true glory of sinless man (what a perfect man should be like) and the glory of God.
The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-2), as did Eden (meaning ‘delight’), where God placed Adam and Eve; this pointing to His incredible love and generosity. The barren desert where Jesus was tormented and tempted as the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45) is a stark contrast to the beauty of Eden where Adam and Eve fell into sin, yet still Jesus came in the glory of the ‘One and Only who came from the father full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14). I wonder what we would have been like had it not been for sin; only God knows.
Just before Christmas 1914, Germany shipped 100,000 Christmas trees to the front line and on Christmas Eve singing could be heard from both the German, British and French trenches. The Germans had drafted in a famous tenor and when he sang ‘Silent Night” the Scottish contingent of the British army came out of their trenches and asked for an encore, which the German tenor promptly gave. The German and Scottish commanders then met and the result was that French, British and German troops walked into No Man’s Land and exchanged gifts. At a summit the next day, the commanders of each army allowed each army to return the dead and gather their own for a burial.
At a time of fighting, a basic understanding of peace had caused soldiers to forge a very brief but personal peace at a very difficult time. Of course it did not last, but in their actions that Christmas, and those elsewhere who played football with the Germans on Christmas Day, we see something of what the glory of man could be like; what man should be like.
God moves in space and time, through objects, events and personal engagement as a means of showing us His glory so that we can come back to our true self in Him through Jesus.
The glory of God is God’s work with man and for man; redeeming him, raising him, teaching him and helping him grow in His love. It is because of God’s glory that Paul, at one time a murdering, legalistic man who always took the moral high ground, could change. Paul became a man who walked alongside all people and stood by those who had got it wrong with an offer of love and forgiveness and reconciliation with God. In his previous life he would have judged them, avoided them or crushed them. How do we treat others? How do we show the glory of God?
The first mention of glory is found in Exodus 14:4 where God speaks of bringing glory to Himself through how He deals with the Egyptians and releases His people from captivity. Therefore, glory speaks of the One who clothes Himself with power and comes to set His people free (Isaiah 59:17).
For example Isaiah writes:
“He saw that there was no-one, he was appalled that there was no-one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.” Isaiah 59:16-17
In Revelation we see the glory of the One who is the master of all time and will bring all things to their appointed end. There will be an end to pain and suffering, to despot leaders and cruel men who break up families, to hopelessness and despair. Because of Jesus there will be a new beginning as heaven and earth unite and the Kingdom of Love triumphs for all time and beyond.
The Master of all Stands with His Church.
Scripture continually reminds us that God’s throne will last forever and ever and all power and glory is His. In generous grace, amazing mercy and loving-kindness, the power of heaven touches earth as the glory of God is revealed. In all things, God reveals Himself as the Master of all, whether speaking through a spewed up prophet in a pagan city (Jonah 2:10, 3:4) or a young girl snatched into slavery, leading to the healing of a pagan army commander (2 Kings 5). Other incidents include the glory of the Lord filling the Temple (1 Kings 8:11), chariots of fire and horses of fire separating Elijah from Elisha at the time of Elijah’s departure in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Isaiah has a vision and sees the head of the covenant seated on a throne, high and exalted (Isaiah 61:3) and decades later the King of Glory is seen by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3ff) whilst standing by the river Kebar, in the land of captivity (Babylonian Empire). When God moves, nothing ever remains the same and God is always about His business of bringing redemption to a fallen world. Every event recorded in the Bible is recorded because God is about His business of redeeming a fallen world. He is the King upon the throne and the law of His kingdom is the Law of Agape-love (1 John 4:8) and in all He does, we see the glory of the Lord; amazing acts of grace, mercy, power and love that clearly point to who He is and what He does. At the birth of Jesus, we see the glory of God shining around the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-10) as the heavenly armies proclaimed His arrival; the arrival of One who chose to dwell among us (John 1:14). Later, on what became known as the Mount of Transfiguration, we read that the appearance of Jesus’ face changed and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning (Luke 9:29-31) and Moses and Elijah also appeared with Him in glorious splendour, revealing something of our future destiny in Him. One day, He will return in all His glory (Mt 25:31, 2 Thess 1:7, Rev 1:14). His glory – His visible presence, reveals His work of redemption and his salvation-creating activity of which our response has to be repentance and an understanding that we are called to receive. God is like a shepherd who protects and nurtures the sheep and like a king who surrounds and protects his people. “But you are a shield around me, O Lord you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3).
The appearance of the glory of God, in whatever form or way in which God chooses to reveal Himself, clearly establishes the truth that God desires to be with man. God is the ‘glorious Father’ (Eph 1:17) and glory – His salvation-creating activity – begins and ends with Him. No wonder John writes, “To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen” This glory, the glory of God, is with us now by the Spirit, and so our lives (regardless of whatever has happened or wherever we are) can still point to Him.
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18
Look, He is coming on clouds (Rev 1:7)
As the heavenly man, Jesus is the Son of God incarnate who has power to forgive sins (Mark 2:10), is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) and also the One who will one day return in power and glory (Mark 21:27). Of Jesus, a small man in a big city once wrote:
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
In scripture, God is sometimes spoken of as the One who “…rides on the clouds, his name is the LORD...” (Psalm 68:4) therefore clouds can be associated with His presence. For example, the recently released Israelites were led by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night as they began their journey out of Egypt (13:21).
When the Israelites were being pursued by the Egyptians, the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel, withdrew and went behind them, as did the pillar of cloud that was accompanying them (Ex 14:19). Note that it was the cloud that brought darkness to the one side and light to the other, thus keeping the opposing armies apart by the Red Sea (Ex 14:20). We also see that it was during the last watch of the night that God looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud and threw the Egyptian army into confusion (v24). Then, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, Israel was under the cloud as she passed through the sea whilst the pursuing Egyptian army was destroyed. In this we see judgement on the enemy and blessing for those who trusted in the Lord, they being brought into a new place by the presence of the Lord. As Paul continued to say…
“…They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” 1 Cor 10:3-4
A picture of God as a ‘cloud-rider’ bringing judgement is also found in Isaiah where we read:
“See, the LORD rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him and the hearts of the Egyptians within them.” Isaiah 19:1.
“The cloud represents God’s presence but also his hiddenness (see Lam 2:2). No one can see God and live, so the cloud shields people from actually seeing the form of God. It reveals God but also preserves the mystery that surrounds him.”
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, p156.
Jesus is coming.
Jesus is coming. He is present with His church by the Spirit and He is coming in person and will be seen by all people – even those who pierced Him, as the whole of history is called to answer to Him. The Emperor Domitian will see Him, Hitler will see Him, Kim Jong il (1941-2011) known as ‘the Great Eternal Leader’ and his son Kim Jong-un (1983- ) as well as all leaders in North Korea will see Him and every knee will bow.
“It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" Romans 14:11
The power and might of the Roman Empire, though very present in the lives of many in John’s day, does not even measure up to a lit match compared to the blazing sun of God’s kingdom. At the fall of the Roman Empire the church was still standing and long after this world ends in its present form, we will still stand.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." Rev 1:8
‘Alpha’ and ‘Omega’ are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet and the term ‘Alpha and Omega’ is what is known as ‘merism.’ A ‘merism’ is a figure of speech where a phrase or statement actually refers to one single thing. So for example, “Lock, stock and barrel” which originally referred to parts of a gun is now a phrase used to speak of the whole gun. As the Alpha and Omega, God holds all history in His hands.
God is before all things and as the creator will bring all things to their true eschatological fulfillment. He is the origin and goal of all history; He spoke creation into existence and he has the last word concerning creations’ final destiny. God is the One who is beyond the horizon of the horizons and the One who is here right now in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and the sole reason we live is because this world is founded on His sacrificial love. It has a beginning and an end and the beginning and end are found in Him.
God is the God of here and now – this very second. He leads us ever more deeply into His ways and gives us the power to overcome sin and stand in His truth and the fruit of his labour. Yet in standing for the truth we may find that we are being, in one sense, ‘conquered by the world’ – such as were the Christian men and women in the Nero persecutions and as is the small child laughed at in the school for believing in Jesus. Yet each one of us belongs to Him and can overcome hardship and shine His light, because Jesus is the Overcomer.
God is the Alpha and Omega and all history belongs to Him. In the eyes of the world, His victory is not always recognised for what it is (think of Calvary). Yet one day the world will see the fullness of His victory, a victory that many believers experience in the here and now in various ways. Take, for example, the story of Terry Waite.
Terry Waite was an Anglican minister and hostage negotiator in the early 1980’s. In 1987 he travelled to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages and was himself kidnapped and held captive from 1987 to 1991. Terry spent over four years in captivity, most of it in solitary confinement. In his book, “Taken on Trust” Terry writes of the attempts of his jailers to inflict increasing difficulty on his life and yet he also speaks of how God continually sustained him in all he went through. One week after his release he wrote about some words that he remembered someone else writing. He said:
“I recall the words that were discovered written on the wall of a cellar in which a victim of Hitler’s persecution hid and died: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love where feeling is not. I believe in God even if he is silent.”
T. Waite in, ‘Taken on Trust’ p358
Jesus as the Alpha and Omega.
In Rev 22:13 we also find the divine title ‘Alpha and Omega’ being applied to Christ, underlying His divinity yet again in a world where many seek to take the place of God. He is the Messiah, the ‘Anointed One,’ the Alpha and Omega.
In Hebrew the first and last letters of the alphabet are ‘Aleph’ and ‘Tav,’ and here we would do well to remember that each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a picture attached to it. Behind the letter ‘Aleph’ we have the picture of one who is strong like an ox and with the power and authority of a shepherd. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is ‘Tav’ and is the root of the word ‘Tivah’ meaning “to make a mark or sign upon.” For example, the mark on the doors of Israelite slaves at the time of the Exodus is the Tav; the mark of blood. It is the seal of God’s creation, ultimately sealed in Jesus’ blood; the blood of the ‘ridiculed and beaten hung on the cross one.’
All across the Roman Empire the cross was an instrument of torture and used as a means of keeping the population under control. Yet through Christ this macabre piece of death was used to reveal God’s love and power, the love and power of one who freely gave His life over to death and judgement in order to breathe life into sinners who could then become saints – separated as special. Something of the power and breadth of God’s ability to reach all people is seen in a terrorist at one end of the spectrum (on a cross next to Jesus) and a trained executioner (part of the Roman death squad) who both came to recognise Jesus as the Son of God.
“The cross of messiah affects all things – there is nothing in this world that is not influenced by it. Paul wrote, “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Yeshua), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” The cross of messiah is the focal point of time. Calvary is the central event of human history and all of God’s dealings with mankind radiate from it.”
L.Grant Luton in, ‘In His Own Words,’ p235
The True Judge.
God is both the origin and goal of history; the one who allows this world to reap what it sows and yet who is the Master over all time. He is the true Judge, the One who stands by the door to life. He will bring justice to bear and is always about His work of redemption. As the church, we are called to be committed to Him and committed to one another by which others will see the greatness, goodness and love of God. In the book, ‘Planting Churches in Muslim cities’ Gary Livingstone put it like this:
“In a culture where all the loyalty and affinity goes to blood relatives, we must emphasise the will of God as articulated by the Lord Jesus (Mat 12:48-50). The new believers have a new family. Jesus, as an easterner, startled his listeners: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Repeatedly, until the new believers internalise it, we must reiterate that commitment to Christ, our head, is not genuine without accompanying commitment to Christ’s body, the other followers of Christ, as our brothers and sisters.”
G. Livingstone in, ‘Planting Churches in Muslim Cities’ p220.
Days and on the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10).
In the Roman Empire, one day of each month was dedicated to honouring the Emperor across Asia Minor. As Christians we are called to dedicate each day to the Lord since the Sabbath clearly points to Him (Col 2:16).
In the first six days of creation, God created a world for man. His purpose in doing so was to create an environment where another being could benefit from the everlasting love that is shared between Father, Son and Spirit in the Trinity. That ‘another’ refers to you and me.
On the seventh day God rested from this work of creation, yet this does not mean that He was inactive. In six days the world was created for man and on the seventh day God gave His attention to being with man. In Exodus, we read of God bringing Egypt out from under the illegitimate rule of Pharaoh and leading them into the desert. In the desert He provided food for them and here we see the seventh day being called the Sabbath for the first time in scripture (Ex 16:23). It was a day when man could benefit from the double-blessing of manna collection on the sixth day (God’s provision) in a special way. By the time of Jesus, many religious people had turned the Sabbath – the Lord’s Day - into a heavy burden. Jesus came against this and healed and set people free on the Sabbath which was a reminder of God’s great blessing. Ultimately, the Sabbath pointed to Jesus (John 2:19, 1 Cor 12:27, 1 Cor 3:16), for in Him we have the greatest blessing given – life from another. “On the Lord’s Day” reminded those from a Jewish background that God was their greatest blessing. Yet the ‘Lord’s’ Day was much wider and deeper than anyone could have seen on the B.C. side of the cross. ‘On the Lord’s Day’ was a day which pointed them to Jesus and encouraged them to remember blessing, each and every day. In John being ‘in the Spirit’ we see a much bigger picture than many of us would have imagined, yet what we see, what God reveals, is not an alternative view to life on earth – instead we have a fuller picture being given in a way that encourages, challenges and uplifts all at the same time. We are part of this bigger picture by virtue of grace and mercy alone. We are called to see the bigger picture.
“I remember a professor saying that his brother had just died in his late twenties, leaving a wife and several children. My professor asked,” how can I look at that and say that God is good?” He continued, “I can’t. But that is not all that God has given me to look at.” He went on to say that he looked not to his own limited evaluation of the fairness of history for his assurance of God’s character, but to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Everything else is seen in that light“
D. Keyes in, ‘Seeing Through Cynicism, p115.
God is the master of history and on the Lord’s Day, a day of resting, meditating, feeding and growth, John was in the Spirit and was told to write to the churches. As John turns he sees seven gold lampstands with Jesus standing in the midst of them. The one who wants His people to see, understand and be encouraged is present with His church; but why the imagery of lampstands?
The first appearance of the word ‘lampstand’ in scripture is in Exodus 25:31 when God gives detailed instructions about the golden lampstands to be placed in the Tabernacle and subsequently the Temple. The word ‘Tabernacle’ means ‘dwelling place’ and is from the root meaning ‘to entwine’. The Tabernacle, in both its’ precision and His presence, is representative of God’s creation and His desire to be with man. The word ‘Temple’ means ‘palace of God’ – God’s dwelling - which speaks of His presence with His people; bear in mind that the church is known spiritually as the ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor 3:16).
The lampstand was made of pure gold (tested by fire) and fashioned like a tree with a centre shaft (the trunk) and three “branches” on either side. On top of both shaft and branches were open almond flowers holding an oil lamp. The Almond tree was the first tree to blossom, bearing its fruit in spring. In a challenge to the priesthood, it was Aaron’s rod that supernaturally budded, clearly underlying that all the true growth of God’s people is of a supernatural origin through Him alone. The lampstand fashioned like a tree producing a first-fruit harvest reminds us of Jesus.
In Corinthians (1 Cor 15:20), Paul reminded the church at Corinth that Jesus (Heb 9:11) is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. Though others were raised from the dead during His ministry, they would return to the grave one day (e.g. Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son). Jesus is the first raised to eternal life; a clear promise of our future in Him with first fruits always being seen as a guarantee of the forthcoming harvest. This is His harvest for in Christ we are a new creation (1 Cor 5:7).
From all of this we see that the lampstand points to the light of God in the world; the guarantee of God, fulfilled in Jesus – the Word of God in the flesh. Jesus is the only true light (John 1:9) and calls us to be light in the world (Mat 5:14). In the six branches of the lampstand we have what is known as the number of man (more about this later). In the seventh branch, we have the work of Christ, also spoken of as the true vine (John 15:1), who draws from the soil of all God’s promises. Therefore all the promises are “yes” in Him (2 Cor 1:20).
Jesus clearly tells us that the lampstands represent His church (Rev 1:20), which as seen, are supernaturally ‘lit’ through the work of Christ. Note that Jesus stands “among the lampstands” – He is present with His church in all their suffering and glory; now let’s turn to the stars in Jesus’ hand.
The stars in Jesus’ hand.
In Genesis we see stars being referred to as the number of Abraham’s descendants (Gen 22:7; Deut 10:22). Stars are also employed on occasion as symbols of people in exalted stations. Note, for example, Numbers 24:17 which refers to David and the Messiah and reads, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.” In Revelation 1:20 the stars, speaking of God’s people, are referred to as the angels of the churches.
The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’ and there has been much discussion as to whether the word ‘star’ refers to actual angels or church leaders. In getting caught up in this we can miss the point; Jesus holds the stars in His hands, this speaking of heavenly provision for the church. Both angels and all those called to serve are involved in the work of His church. As believers, we are called to be His light in a fallen world as we draw from the soil of all that God has done and flourish in even the worst of situations as we testify to the grace, mercy and love of the “I will never leave you nor forsake you” One. He is the One who controls historical eras (Isaiah 40:6; 1 Pet 1:24) and He holds us in His hand.
‘Eyes like blazing fire’ Rev 1:14.
Jesus is spoken of as having hair like white wool and eyes like blazing fire; both being symbols of purity. This does not mean that Jesus will return to earth looking like the description in Rev 1:14-16 because the description is symbolic of His nature and character. However, it does point to who He is and what He is like.
Fire is a sign of His holiness and a clear sign of God’s judgement and His grace. For example, Exodus 13:21 speaks of how the Lord went before His people in the desert in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by a pillar of fire by night. Exodus 24:17-18 then speaks of the glory of the Lord, which looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then, in Heb 12:28-29, we read “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is consuming fire.”
Rather than looking at the rest of the imagery concerning Jesus in Revelation chapter one (e.g. feet like bronze and a double-edged sword), we wait until we look at how Jesus introduces Himself to the seven churches in chapters two and three. We are going to do this because part of the descriptions of chapter one are used concerning each of the seven churches.
In each introduction we will see something of His character, which relates to the church He addresses, along with the areas they are situated in and circumstances they find themselves in. In doing so, we see yet again the grace and mercy of God in communicating in specific ways that can be easily understood by His listeners.
Despite God’s incredible grace and mercy, the world still continues to seek its’ own freedom and protection, yet ultimately continues along the path to destruction. The world recoiled at the power and brutality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet soon started producing weaponry at the same level.
On July 1st 1946 before the first anniversary of the bombing (of Hiroshima), the United States had tested an atomic bomb at the Bikini Atoll (p175)…In October 1952 Great Britain conducted its first test of an atomic bomb and the United States its first of a hydrogen bomb. In August 1953, the Soviet Union also tested a hydrogen bomb (p183). On May 15th 1957, Great Britain conducted its first hydrogen bomb test on Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean. On February 13th 1960 France tested a nuclear weapon in the Sahara. On October 16th 1964, China carried out its first nuclear test, and on June 17th 1967, it exploded a hydrogen bomb (p193). On May 18th 1974 India conducted its first nuclear test (p195).
Taken from, ‘Hiroshima,’ by John Hersey.
We now live in a world that is awesomely more powerful than any atomic weaponry yet where despot regimes, suicide bombers and slavery still continue to raise their ugly heads. Our power is a corrupt power and we can become disenfranchised as we see all the suffering and hardship going on around us. Yet let us never forget that God’s power is the ultimate power. He revealed the power of His love in the weakness of the flesh at Calvary, despite being the all–powerful one who created the power in every atom and molecule.
In Revelation God speaks to His people using imagery to encourage, uplift, strengthen and enable His church to not only survive but overcome. As He does so, God shows us different aspects of what is often the same picture. We also clearly see that you and I are part of that church today. We are noticed, we are loved and we are most definitely His. Let us pray that our eyes are open to seeing the whole picture: His picture, for we are a part of His story and most definitely challenged not to drift into a story of our own making.