This is our second post in our journey through Revelation.
Never before in recorded history have people been so aware of the fragility of our existence, of human life. My newsfeed informs me of natural disasters, plague-like diseases, terrorizing wars, economic depression, political instability, brutal kidnappings and drug syndicates as they occur. These updates and images are on every screen that catches my eye.
Knowledge of these threats leaves us uncertain and afraid. We feel angry at the loss of innocence, the (illusion of) peace that we once enjoyed. We live in a pandemic of panic, in a world longing for peace, stability and security. We wall up, save up, or pack up in the hope of keeping the evil outside – but we learn that the spores of terror have landed on every continent, every community, every child. Is This The End? Is this THAT END?
Awareness of the destruction of our Father’s world brings believers down to our knees, looking up, praying our fears with tears. “How long, Lord?” “Lord, do you see? Do you care?” “Are you in control?” “When will you act?”
There were the cries and concerns of John and the believers during the tyrannical, egocentric reign of Domitian, Emperor of Rome AD 90-92 who banished the old disciple to Patmos. But John’s prayers were answered when this island prison became his inner chamber with his Beloved Lord, containing a window into the throne room of God revealing the cosmic conquest of Christ’s victory over evil, culminating in the glorious restoration of all creation.
This letter of Revelation was a message of hope and comfort, to help and correct the early church in its struggle with evil – to endure both trials and temptation in faithful witness of Christ’s coming kingdom. Although this prophecy was written for them, it is preserved for us. Therefore, everyone who reads these holy words today and hears its invitation to “behold!” will also see how Christ is near to us, is moving in us, through us and for us his Church to accomplish the culmination of his glorious kingdom. This revelation of Christ’s victory over evil in this world brings comfort and strength to endure until The End.
A note on my approach towards Revelation: In this discovery through Revelation, I will not write scholarly or critical, but rather devotional and encouraging. The posts will be like all my other posts: an attempt to read the text from the view of the first readers. How did these seven congregations make sense of this apocalyptic prophecy from their imprisoned apostle? What was the message of hope to them? For this I will keep to the explicit nature of the book: Revelation is an apostolic letter to seven congregations in Asia Minor (1:4,11), which contained a prophecy from the Lord (1:3), in the apocalyptic genre (1:1) which is rich in symbolic images and numbers, rooted in (a) their first-century geopolitical context, and (b) Old Testament literature. If we stick with these principles, the symbolism in this remarkable book becomes alive and life-giving. (I expounded more on this in the first post in this series).
Greeting and blessing (Revelation 1:4-8)
This short greeting by John is a masterful introduction and succinct overview of the book’s message. He blesses his readers (and hearers) with grace (divine help) and peace (wellness) from the Triune God. His name for the Father “(He) who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4) takes the readers back to God’s self-revelation to Moses (Exodus 3:14) before His great deliverance from Egypt. The Spirit is titled “Seven Spirits” (1:4) from Isaiah 11:2 in that great chapter that speaks of the Messiah’s divine wisdom and righteousness by which he will destroy the oppressive nations and restore all of creation in peace. Here John says “God had delivered his people before from the tyranny you suffer, and He has promised to end this violence once for all!“
Next, John answers the question “Can Jesus save us?” with a loud “Yes, he can, and he will!” Jesus is first introduced as the “Christ” (1:5) – the long-awaited Messiah who will restore the righteous rule of God on earth. Then Jesus is hailed “the faithful witness” to a church struggling to maintain their faithful witness under brutal persecution and the seduction of a perverse society. He is held as their example who faithfully proclaimed and demonstrated God’s kingdom and eventually accomplished it by His vicarious death and resurrection: the ultimate witness of God’s Kingdom coming to earth is Jesus’ rank “Firstborn from (or over) death” (1:5). Not only does Jesus have authority over every spirit, even death, he is also “Ruler over the kings of the earth” (1:5) – good news to the readers oppressed by Emperor Domitian! These titles stirred flickers of hope to those battered congregations wondering whether Jesus is indeed the Christ who will bring righteousness and peace to the earth.
The next portion answers the question in the heart of every suffering believer: “Does God care about me?” John writes YES HE DOES! Jesus is called “Him who loved us and loves us and frees us from our sin by His own blood” (1:5). This phrase, a reference to the Cross, is a clear allusion to the Passover lambs slaughtered to deliver God’s covenant people from Egypt by judging the oppressors and preserving the Israelites (Exodus 12:21 ff). And as God adopted and honoured the delivered Hebrew slaves, these battered believers were called “kings and priests to God” (1:6, compare Exodus 19:6), sharing in his eternal reign.
“But does God not see how we suffer by the hand of our oppressors?” Yes, he does, and his Day of Judgment will come! Alluding to Zechariah 12:8-10, John writes how the Christ will defend and deliver his covenant people from their oppressors, and how he will reveal Himself in glory to those oppressors so that they will weep at his fierce judgment (1:8).
As the nature of the letter is prophecy, the greeting ends with Jesus introducing himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End who is and who was and who is to come” (1:8). For the contemporary reader of the day, the Greek alphabet was known to have each letter attributed to a major Greek god. Thus, Jesus’ self-revelation comforted his hopeless church “I am the All-powerful, Ever-living One – your covenant God and Saviour. Do not despair!”
Section 1: Christ among the Lampstands (Revelation 1:4-3:22)
Like prophets of old John describes how and where he received this prophetic message to these churches (1:9-10). Imprisoned on the island Patmos, John was “In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” – meaning in fellowship with the Holy Spirit in prayer and worship on resurrection day – what we call Sunday.
This is significant. Although this beloved disciple was isolated, shamed and cruelly treated, his suffering did not lead him away from Christ to self-pity; instead, it drew him to Christ as he drew near to the Lord in Spirit. And his cries and concerns in Spirit gave birth to one of the most excellent messages of hope the church had ever received.
A question every suffering believer asks is “Lord, where are you when I suffer?” This is the question the Lord clearly answers in the first section of Revelation (Ch 1-3).
John hears Jesus declaring with a loud voice with the clarity and urgency “like a trumpet”: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last”, followed by the instruction to write what he sees in a letter to seven specified churches (1:10-11). (Throughout Revelation, what John hears and what John sees is very revealing, because things are not always what they seem to be at first).
John turns and sees Jesus walking among seven golden lampstands – the precious, sanctified churches of Jesus, the recipients of the letters (1:12-13, 20). Where is Jesus, while these churches are suffering? “I am among you,” he says, “and I am intimately aware of what you are enduring for my name’s sake.” (Ch 2-3).
Then John describes how he sees Jesus, a vision that makes him collapse with awestruck terror (1:17). John sees the Son of Man as described in Daniel: One who has received eternal dominion (Daniel 7:9-14; compare 10:4-9). The white hair, long robe and golden sash reveal Christ’s dignity and honour. His burnished feet portray the strength of his kingdom. The force of his voice cannot be ignored. His fiery eyes see everything – open and hidden. The sword represents judgment from his mouth which brings both justice to the oppressors and mercy to the oppressed (1:13-16). This is Christ in his ascended glory.
“Do not be afraid – I’ve got this”
The first message of comfort this exalted King Jesus speaks to his suffering churches is “Do not be afraid” (1:17). Why not be afraid? Because this exalted, glorified, All-mighty King Jesus is with you, and for you. He is not distant or disinterested. He is with you, knows what you face, and cares for you. What’s more comforting is that he has met with the worst this world can throw at you (death), and conquered the grave, holding “the keys to death and Hades in (his) hands” as eternal comfort to his followers.
Christ’s message of comfort ends with the declaration that He holds the angels (messengers/ leaders) of these seven churches in his hand (1:16, 20). Thus, Christ directs the world rulers and affairs towards his eternal reign (1:5) while protecting and leading his church in service of his unfolding reign, holding the leaders in the palm of his hand. What great comfort this must have brought to these struggling churches!
“Sounds great, but I don’t see it (yet)”
For a church in an uncertain, harsh world, these introductory words brought so much peace. The All-powerful, Ever-living Lord, is among his people, promising to fulfil his long-awaited prophecy to eradicate evil from the earth and establish his reign of eternal peace – as it was in Eden.
But how is Christ working out his Great Restoration if it seems that this world is ruled by evil through violence, seduction and deception? For that answer, we are invited to look from God’s perspective, to “Come up here” (4:1). But first, the Lord will encourage and exhort each congregation (unpacking the church’s battle against evil), thus revealing Jesus’ intimate knowledge and care for each community of believers (Chapters 2-3).
Quick links to full THE END Revelation Series posts