Jesus Wins – Part Three: The Hero Enters

 

Revelation 1:9-20

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 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. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 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.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. [1]

 

About 40 miles east of western Turkey in the Aegean Sea is an arid 17-square mile island called Patmos – part of modern-day Greece’s Dodecanese island group.[2] Many commentators have worked over the centuries to conjure John’s circumstances in Patmos (i.e.: it was a mining colony; it was a bleak and brutal prison island; it was deserted and exiles were dumped there to make their own way, etc.). But there is little historical evidence informing us what life on Patmos was like during John’s stay there. John does not choose to tell us what his life was like in the year or so he lived there.

 

It would be safe to imagine that Pastor John missed his congregation in Ephesus and he longed to be with them. Whether John’s time on Patmos was filled with torture and oppression or simple loneliness and loss we cannot say. This letter is not about John; it’s about the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom we receive our first stylized picture in this opening vision. The letter is the inspired, inerrant Word of God but it’s presented to us as a written description of a graphic novel or picture book. Sometimes those pictures can be confusing – especially since, like his Gospel and 1st John, the letter has a spiral style that cycles through certain themes repeatedly. It helps to break them down in the way a journalist might write a news article by asking the “five W’s” – who, what, when, where, and why.[3]

WHERE

John tells us where he was right up front: “I, John, …was on the island called Patmos….”[4] As we noted, Patmos was not a particularly large island. To this day it has a population of only 3,000 people. It’s rocky and relatively treeless. John may have fled there himself to hide or he may have been arrested and formally exiled there by local or regional Roman authorities. Either way, he was there “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus[5] making him a “partner in the tribulation….” [6]

 

Because of his significance to the Church in Roman Asia, both as the last apostle and as a local church pastor, John would have been a problem for local and regional authorities who viewed this new religion as atheistic and unpatriotic for rejecting the gods of Rome. Emperor Domitian’s persecution of believers in the city of Rome was limited to the upper classes and there was no imperial edict to wipe out Christianity in the whole empire. Persecution was selective but significant. Domitian built a temple to himself in Ephesus (complete with statue). And it appears Asia Minor’s regional and local authorities expected loyalty to the imperial cult and punished disloyalty with increasing intensity.[7]

 

WHEN

So, we have the “where” and “why” answers. As for the “when,” we’ve noted John is writing in A.D. 95 or early 96. Domitian was assassinated on September 18, 96. On that day his advisor Nerva become emperor and the Roman Senate condemned Domitian’s memory to oblivion, putting an end to the Cult of Domitian and clearing the way for John’s return to Ephesus.[8]

Another “when” we know is that this vision took place on a Sunday. John wrote in verse 10, “10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day….”[9]

 

This is one of the New Testament’s indications that Christian corporate worship took place not on the last day of the week, the Jewish Sabbath, but the first day of the week, Sunday. It represented a radical shift for the Jewish believers of early church like John. It would be like our country giving up the celebration of July 4th in favor of celebrating Bastille Day on July 14th – the day that marks the beginning of the French revolution in 1789. Sundown Friday to sundown Saturday was the day John and all his fellow countrymen grew up honoring. Sabbath was hardwired into their culture. What changed?

 

What changed was John and his fellow believers had encountered an empty tomb and a risen Messiah on Sunday. For 65 years John had gathered with his fellow Jesus followers on that day to worship the great Triune God. But on this day, John was alone – cut off from his congregation 479.6 miles away.[10] Exiled from the ministry of God’s preached word, from the love and fellowship of God’s people, from the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Jesus came to the lonely, discouraged disciple he loved.

 

This passage in Revelation 1:9-20 reminds us of John 21 where Jesus told Peter a day would come when Peter would be stretched out and led where he did not want to go. When Peter asked Jesus about young John’s future the Lord replied:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” [11]

Jesus DID return to John. At one of the lowest points of John’s life, Jesus returned to give John and all his persecuted brothers and sisters words of encouragement to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil.

 

Jesus showed up during John’s suffering and persecution with a word of encouragement that the crucified Lamb of God overcame the suffering of the cross and the silence of the grave to become the Lion of Judah. Jesus has won! That is Jesus’ word to you this morning – no matter what horrible things you have suffered, no matter what past experiences still haunt you, no matter what miseries are in store for you in this broken world, no matter how alone you may feel. Jesus has overcome and in Him, you too will overcome! You have the same Messiah Jesus who came to John. You possess the Seven-fold Spirit of God to carry you along to the true heavenly Mt. Zion.

 

John, by the power of the Holy Spirit, found himself invited to a worship service like no one had ever before experienced. And the more Jesus reveals himself and his great plan for the universe, the greater and longer and more profound grow the hymns sung in this special worship service. Remember the one other place John writes this expression in the Spirit? In John 4, the apostle records Jesus’ answer to the Samaritan woman at the well about where one should worship. Jesus says in Jn. 4:24, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” [12] John is proof that God no longer lives among the rubble of a temple in Jerusalem; he is present even on a rock in the Aegean Sea because one of his children in whom God’s spirit tabernacles is on that rock and worshipping the Father, through the Son, by means of the Spirit.

 

WHO

So, we’ve learned something of the “where” and “when” of this passage. We need to look at the “who” of this text. We’ve mentioned John, the author. But John is not the subject, is he? You know that from reading verse 1 two weeks ago. This letter has been historically titled, “The Revelation of John the Theologian.” But that’s NOT how John entitles his letter. The first three words of this letter are (literally): Revelation of Jesus Christ, meaning it is both given BY Jesus and ABOUT Jesus.

 

Did you know that not one of the four NT gospel accounts gives any kind of description of Jesus? Isaiah 53 told us Jesus would not be pretty or particularly impressive-looking in his earthly ministry and his cross work. But the only description we have of Jesus’ appearance comes from John in Revelation 1:12-16. It is not literal like a photograph, but rather stylistic like a painting out of the early 20th-century Expressionism movement. John’s description reads like a description of a Marc Chagall painting. Jesus is not so much revealing what he looks like, but what he IS like.

 

John paints Jesus using the colors of the Old Testament.[13] He writes, “I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 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.[14] Lampstands are a recurring image in both the history (Ex. 25:31, 37; 1 Ki. 7:49) and in the Prophets (Zech. 4:2). But in Revelation, the lampstands represent the seven churches (the full number) Jesus will address (1:20).

 

John’s description begins not with the person of Jesus but with Jesus’ surroundings, his context. Christ is standing in the middle of the complete number of his congregations. If John was ever tempted to think that as a pastor he was the most important thing about the church at Ephesus, this vision of Jesus proves him wrong. If John was worried about his congregation, Jesus has now appeared and, by this vision, showed himself to be completely in charge.

 

He is, John says, one like the Son of Man – a reference to Dan. 7:13-14 where Messiah is shown to be the ruler of the universe. “The Son of Man is divine, dwells in eternity, possesses ultimate authority, and is the sovereign of an indestructible kingdom. This picture expresses majesty, power, and authority that no human being can equal. During his earthly ministry, Jesus applied the name Son of Man to himself for the purpose of identifying himself with fallen humanity to redeem his people. Here, then, is the majestic Lord walking among the churches to reprove and encourage, and to command and commend them.”[15]

 

Jesus wears high priestly garments representing righteousness and purity, dignity, and high standing. John describes him using Daniel’s description (Dan. 7:9) of God the Father to point out that Messiah is one with the Father. His eyes penetrate everything like fire (Dan. 10:6) as he searches out minds and hearts (Rev. 2:23). His feet are solid and immovable by any force other than himself; his voice roars with strength, persistence, and power of the ocean waves crashing on the rocks of Patmos (Dan. 10:6). The colors of John’s pallet show One who is a prophet, a priest, and a king who stands firmly, powerfully, and immovably among his people.

 

John writes in verse 16: “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.[16] Imagine someone who can reach up into the night sky and take hold of a group of stars. These stars, Jesus says in 1:20, are the angels of the seven churches, the messengers Christ has appointed to serve him

in the seven churches (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).[17] His words are like the sharpest instrument in the arsenal of Roman weaponry, piercing soul and spirit, joint and marrow (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17). His face shines with the unbearable radiance of holy glory (Judges 5:31).

 

Jesus is prophet, priest, king, protector of his people, and he is the judge. He commands John in verse 19, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.”[18] In the Old Covenant, when a prophet was commanded to write down a prophecy it was predominantly to convey the coming judgment of God. It was to be a book containing the Lord’s evaluation of his people. That’s about to take place here as the one like the Son of Man stands among his churches with his appointed ministers in his hand. He’s is coming to assess and refine and judge the church. God’s judgment begins with his people before it falls upon the condemned world.[19]

 

The Word of Christ is about to cut through all our pretense, all our self-aggrandizement, all our rationalizations and excuses for lives that are not all about Jesus but are in fact mostly about ourselves. Jesus is present in his churches judging our hearts with his Word. He does this everywhere his word is preached in spirit and in truth. And in this letter, he is about to judge (and encourage) seven churches on the brink of severe persecution.

 

WHAT

The “what” of this text is found in John’s reaction to this vision of the Lord Jesus Christ come to judge the churches among which he stands in all his power and holy glory. John writes in 1:17, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.[20] This is no hypnotic swoon brought on by the manipulative powers of televangelist faith-healers. How do we know? Listen to how one scholar described Jesus in this passage:

…the Son of man is …pictured as clothed with power and majesty and with awe and terror. That long royal robe; that golden belt buckled at the breast; that hair so glistening white that like snow on which the sun is shining it hurts the eye; those eyes flashing fire, eyes which read every heart and penetrate every hidden corner; those feet glowing in order to trample down the wicked; that loud, reverberating voice, like the mighty breakers booming against the rocky shore of Patmos; that sharp, long, heavy great-sword with two biting edges; that entire appearance “as the sun shines in its power,” too intense for human eyes to stare at—the entire picture, taken as a whole, is symbolical of Christ, the Holy One, coming to purge His churches (2:16, 18, 23), and to punish those who are persecuting His elect (8:5ff.)[21]

 

John has not gently fainted into the arms of a “catcher” in in response to a manipulated emotional overload. John did a face plant into the ground at the feet of Messiah. Scripture repeatedly records this overwhelming response to the glorious holiness of Christ. Isaiah called down a prophetic curse upon himself when he saw Messiah seated on his holy, glorious throne:

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost [undone, unraveled]; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” [22]

 

Peter cried out in response to Jesus filling his boat with the greatest catch he had ever experienced. Falling to his knees he cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”[23] John’s gospel records the moment the temple officials came to arrest Jesus in the garden. They said they sought Jesus and he responded, “I AM.”  At the sound of God’s covenant name, John says, “they drew back and fell to the ground.[24]

 

The point of the “what,” the point of John’s falling down as though dead, is this: if the Lord Jesus Christ is reconstructing our lives to glorify him and enjoy him forever, he must first be deconstructing us. He must unravel us, make us fall to our knees, drive us down face-first on the ground at his polished and powerful feet. This is John, the apostle who knew Jesus so intimately he was part of the inner circle of disciples. This is John, the humble faithful pastor of a church he didn’t found. This is John the minister with 65 years of Christian learning and living behind him. And yet, he too must fall as though dead to learn more about Jesus.

 

WHY

Final question for our passage is “why?” The most obvious answer is that the church is in tribulation as it works to glorify Jesus in the midst of a world that absolutely hates Messiah’s holy authority. Jesus didn’t simply “slay” John; the Lord tenderly touched him as well. “But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.[25]

 

Do you see a difference between Isaiah’s unraveling and John’s falling down as dead? Isaiah’s sin required an angelic being to take a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice and fry his unclean lips. But John receives a comforting touch from the very same holy and glorified Messiah. How can the holy, glorious God reach out in love and comfort and touch a man so aware of his sinful creaturely-ness? Because he has become the sacrificial lamb upon the altar Isaiah saw. Because he has been slain for your sins. Because he is the first and the last, and the living one. He has risen from the grave and ascended to his throne in heaven. Jesus words of comfort are: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.[26]

 

This letter is from Jesus. And he wants you to know that nothing and nobody is hidden from his burning eyes. Nothing and nobody is beyond the power of his piercing Word. There is no congregation, be it a megachurch or a tiny congregation, that is outside of his sovereign love and protection. He has come HERE this morning. And by his Spirit and his Word (and through his Supper of which we are about to partake), he puts his hand on your troubled shoulder to remind you that he has died for YOU. He is alive evermore FOR YOU. He stands in this congregation and offers comfort in your tribulations because he has overcome. And because HE has overcome, all his people shall be overcomers in Him.

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:9–20.

[2] https://www.google.com/maps/place/Patmos/@37.3309829,26.54185,13860m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x14bda50db4bd8ab5:0xc4ed84fc66418137!8m2!3d37.3129763!4d26.5468773

 

[3] Ferguson, Apocalypse Now: Nothing to See on Patmos? Revelation 1:9-20. Accessed 10/4/17 at https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=fpc-060307am

 

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:9.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:9.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:9.

[7] Beale, pp. 4-27.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domitian

 

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:10.

[10] http://distancebetween2.com/patmos/ephesus

 

[11] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Jn 21:22–23.

[12] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Jn 4:24.

[13] Ferguson, op. cit.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:12–13.

[15]Kistemaker and Hendriksen, 95.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:16.

[17] Kistemaker and Hendriksen, 97.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:19.

[19] Ferguson, op. cit.

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:17.

[21] Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, pp. 56–57.[21]

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Is 6:5.

[23] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Lk 5:8.

[24] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 18:6.

[25] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:17–18.

[26] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 1:18.