“The Blessing of Revelation”
January 24, 2010
There is blessing in knowing what only God can reveal.
I. Blessing Anticipated (Revelation 1:1-3)
II. Blessing Embodied (Revelation 1:4-8)
III. Blessing Communicated (Revelation 1:9-11)
Ok, admit it, you’ve done it too! You’re reading a book, and you realize it’s a really good story, and then you want to know how it ends. Maybe you resist that temptation, or maybe at you flip to the back of the book to see how it comes out. Sometimes you can’t really figure it out from the last page, so you end up reading the whole last chapter. And a really good book will leave you saying ‘wow, I’m looking forward to seeing how we get here.’
I think all of us want to know how things end, how the story comes out. When I worked for Exxon, I was in a central engineering group, and we’d consult to Exxon chemical plants all over the world. Someone would call with a problem, so you’d do some research, estimate the engineering, get approval, do the work as well and creatively as possible, write it up and send it off. And then you’d hear? Nothing. I’d go to my boss and say ‘Well, did they do it? Did it work?’ and my boss always had to say to me ‘you know Bob, if you can’t stand not knowing, you’re in the wrong end of this business.’
We were created as part of a story that was supposed to have a ‘happily ever after’ with God. We live in a fallen world where ‘happily ever after’ is constantly thwarted and distorted. Deep down we still want to know how things are going to come out. We probably even know where to go to find that answer: the last pages of the Bible; the book of Revelation. I’ve mentioned often the wonderful verses of Revelation 21 ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Yet, despite the beauty of the ending, I’ve known many people over the years who have been reluctant to read the last chapters, to study how God gets us from here to there. People find the book of Revelation hard, the story complicated. I’m here to tell you this morning that it’s worth the effort, that there is blessing in knowing the end of the story, which only God can reveal. There is blessing in investing our thoughts and hearts in this book of Revelation.
Our series in Revelation will last through this spring, yet we’ll only reach chapter seven. We’ll have to come back to this each spring for several years to get the whole story. But the investment will be worth it because it will be a blessing to know what only God can reveal.
I. Blessing Anticipated (Revelation 1:1-3)
That blessing is promised from the very first verses of the book. Revelation 1:1-3 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testifies to everything he saw--that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
The word revelation, in Greek, is apocalypsis, from which we get ‘apocalypse’ and ‘apocalyptic.’ In English, because of the book we’re studying, it’s come to mean universal or widespread destruction or disaster, a cataclysmic event.
But the original meaning was simply to uncover or reveal; that’s the sense in which it’s used in Scripture. Simeon says of Jesus that he’s ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles.’ Paul teaches of a coming day of wrath when God’s ‘righteous judgment will be revealed,’ but also that ‘creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.’ Peter says that your sufferings and your faith ‘will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.’
That’s what’s happening here. Jesus is the one revealed. We’ll see him as the Son of Man, Lion of Judah, Lamb, the Word of God. But he’s also the one revealing this message: God transmits the unveiled truth to Jesus, and his angel conveys it to John, for God’s servants in the churches.
According to verse 1 what is revealed ‘must soon take place.’ This is actually one of the hardest, most important phrases in Revelation. It’s said in different ways seven times, mostly near the beginning and end. The word used can mean that something is going to happen soon, as some translations have it, or it can mean that when something does happen it will happen quickly, over a short time period. Those who see most of Revelation fulfilled in our future prefer ‘quickly.’ They are called ‘futurists’. Those who see Revelation almost entirely fulfilled shortly after its writing prefer ‘soon,’ and they point out rightly that the original readers would have expected soon to be soon.
There are, in fact, four main views of Revelation that spring out of this phrase. The early fulfillment school is called ‘preterist,’ which means looking to the past. The second school is ‘historicist.’ They see Revelation as gradually fulfilled over the course of thousands of years. They see the letters to the seven churches as addressing Christ’s church in seven time periods. The spiritualizers see Revelation not literally fulfilled, but as providing principles for every age. Finally, the futurists see Revelation as almost entirely fulfilled in some short future period that could start any time now.
Now as we study Revelation together, you don’t need to know all these theories or their implications. But you are probably already interested in what my view is going to be. Well, naturally, I’m not all of one thing or another. I do see the primary fulfillment of all these prophecies as future to us: I’m a futurist.
But I’ve studied enough Old Testament prophecies to know that many have both immediate and ultimate fulfillments, and also, sometimes intermediate fulfillments. So there are parts of Revelation I’m going to see as being fulfilled near the time of its writing. These contribute to the ‘soon’ John talks about. Furthermore, I believe even the prophecies yet to be fulfilled have spiritual lessons to teach us now. So I’ll be seeking spiritual principles in this book, in order to apply it. My conviction is that Revelation is about the future, but with enough immediate fulfillment and application that both John’s readers and we will be blessed by what it reveals.
One thing we can be sure of is that everything John saw and heard was the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. In a very real sense, it’s all about Jesus. That word testimony is the root from which we get the word martyr – someone who gives their life. We can’t forget that Jesus, his death and resurrection is at the center of all that was and is and is to come.
This is where the blessing comes from to those who read the words of this book, and who hear those words and take them to heart. God will reveal the end of the story, the victory of his Son and the eternal destiny of his people to all who have ears to hear. these worlds are the first of several, in fact seven blessings that are recorded in this book, and perhaps the most important. The verse promises in plain terms that you and I will be blessed if we take Revelation seriously. You may never have taken this part of the Bible seriously before in your life – but the Scripture itself calls you to do so now.
II. Blessing Embodied (Revelation 1:4-8)
The rest of the opening section reveals the context of this blessing. Verses 4-8: John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. 7Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. 8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
John is mentioned for the second time, but we’re going to put off talking about him a few more minutes. For now, notice that after the general introduction we just looked at, John makes it clear this whole book is a letter to the churches. In that sense it’s just like any of the letters in the New Testament that were written to multiple churches, like James or Galatians or 1st Peter. To some extent we have to read this like any other New Testament letter, having application to the specific situation of a church, but also to us.
The opening of a Greek letter had ‘from,’ ‘to,’ and ‘greeting’. John writes to the seven churches in Asia Minor, but he extends the typical ‘grace and peace’ greeting: ‘from him who is, and who was, and who shall be.’ This probably refers to God the Father; it echoes Old Testament truth about God: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. 27But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
It’s revelation from God the Father and from ‘the seven spirits before his throne.’ This is another phrase that has raised questions: is there one Holy Spirit or seven? Why is the spirit referred to as ‘seven-fold’ throughout this book? The key is that in Scripture seven is the number of perfection or completion, beginning with the fact that the world was completed in seven days. So the Spirit is perfect or complete, yet present in every place, and thus with each of the seven churches. I believe seven-ness shows his omnipresence.
So God is the eternal father, God is the omnipresent Spirit, and in Jesus God is “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus is ‘the faithful witness’ or ‘martyr.’ His life, words, suffering and sacrifice are his testimony. Furthermore he is ‘firstborn from the dead,’ that is he is alive now through his resurrection. And Jesus is the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth.’ This speaks of his present and future reign. Notice that he too ‘was and is and is to come:’ was incarnate, is resurrected, will reign.
This greeting is followed by a word of praise, a doxology to Jesus: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father--to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” If you had any doubt who John was talking about, it is utterly dispelled by this verse: Only Jesus loved us with a self sacrificing love; only he freed us from our sins by his blood. That phrase, in addition to being a perfectly accurate description, is also one of many strong echoes from the book of Exodus in Revelation. Jesus’ blood is like that of the Passover lamb which freed the people of Israel from their slavery.
So it is to this one who has freed us, and who promises us the honor of being his kingdom, his servant-priests, that John says ‘to him be glory and power forever and ever. This is the first of the doxologies or praise songs in Revelation, and I encourage you to make them part of your vocabulary of worship. The album that I mentioned on my blog last week, Unveiled Hope, contains Michael Card’s settings of many of these moments of worship
John next introduces one of Revelation’s key themes. Verse 7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” The images in this promise of his coming are based on things John will see later in this revelation, but also on Old Testament Scriptures. Daniel 7 talks about the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven. In Zechariah 12 God says “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
Finally, verse 8 puts some of this truth in God’s own words “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." The speaker here could be the Father, could be the Son. Toward the end of the book it will clearly be Jesus who says this. Revelation consistently attributes to Jesus Christ qualities and titles that were associated with ‘The Lord’ in the Old Testament. As one commentary said ‘This data is death to any theology that withholds full deity from Jesus Christ.”
So Jesus embodies the blessing that is offered to us who read and hear these words. He is the faithful witness, the first born from among the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth. He is the eternal and almighty God, yet he loves us and has freed us by his blood. Jesus is the blessing this book reveals to us. And he is the end of the story, the Alpha and the Omega. ‘Alpha’ is the first letter of the Greek ‘alphabet,’ and ‘Omega’ is the last. So when Jesus says ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ he’s saying that he himself is the beginning, the middle and the end. He is the hero of this last chapter we’re turning to today.
III. Blessing Communicated (Revelation 1:9-11)
The last few verses show us that this blessing was communicated through John: I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
Finally, we can ask ourselves ‘who is John?’ He’s already been mentioned twice, as the recipient of this revelation and the author of this letter. Now he identifies himself as the brother of those to whom he writes, their companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are shared in Jesus. He goes on to say that he was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He could, I suppose have gone to that little island off the coast of Asia as a missionary, but church tradition and the sense of this passage agree that he was probably sent there in exile, punished for his continual testimony to Jesus and preaching of God’s word.
That’s as much as the passage tells us, but it’s not hard to learn more from the rest of the New Testament. There were only two Johns in the Gospels. John the Baptist was beheaded pretty thoroughly, so this would seem to be the John who was a disciple of Christ and one of his inner circle of three disciples. I suppose this could be someone else named John, but if so you would think he would distinguish himself from that other more famous John.
If this is that disciple, he’s also the author of the Gospel which bears his name, and of three short letters. In none of these is he named as the author, but he strongly implies it in the Gospel, and the subject matter of the letters makes it almost certain. Each of those other documents has certain resemblances to this book, though distinguished by very different subject matter.
So this was John the disciple, brother of James. A couple of Gospel incidents show that these sons of Zebedee were young and headstrong; they asked to be seated in glory at the right hand of Jesus in Mark 10; they wanted to call down fire on an unresponsive town in Luke 9. But they also saw Jesus transfigured, witnessed his raising of the little girl, saw his agony in the Garden. And if the clues in the Gospel are right, this John knew himself to be the one whom Jesus loved. He was the one who reclined closest to Jesus at the table in the upper room, who followed Jesus into the High Priest’s courtyard and did not deny, who ran faster to the tomb and arrived there before Peter. In fact, except for Peter, there is no one in Scripture we’d identify as closer to Jesus than John the beloved disciple.
After the resurrection we know that John ministered in Jerusalem next to Peter, that he was one of the pillars of the early church. Early church documents assert that John eventually became a pastor to the churches in Asia and spent many years in Ephesus after Paul was there. There is some debate as to when the book of Revelation was written, but the best evidence seems to me to be on the side of a date relatively late in John’s life, possibly in the early ‘90’s a.d., the last of all the New Testament writings.
Again, church tradition supports the idea that John was an old man on Patmos, living the final years of a life of faithfulness to his Lord, and himself waiting for the promise of Jesus’ return, when this revelation came. He says that he was in the Spirit, which I take to mean in focused, Spirit enabled worship, and that it was on the Lord’s day, that is, Sunday. Early in the life of the church worship shifted from the traditional seventh day Sabbath to Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection and thus the Lord’s day.
As he is meditating and worshipping he hears a voice, that he says sounds like a trumpet. I don’t know how that works, but I do know that the voice uses words: “"Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
These are the seven churches, real first century churches, located in the province of Asia Minor, now Turkey. In fact, if you look at a map, you’ll see that they’re listed in the order a circular letter would probably be carried to them, first north up the coast and then down along the inland route. We will find that Jesus has detailed knowledge of the circumstances of each of these churches, and speaks to them directly about their own weaknesses and needs.
But we’ll also find that these churches have things in common with many churches in many ages. A historicist would say they represent different phases of the church through time, but I think it more likely that they reveal strengths and weaknesses that churches exhibit in any age. Furthermore, because these are not all the churches of Asia Minor, this choice of seven is probably significant, and may represent completeness, so that just as the one Holy Spirit is omnipresent with the seven churches, so also the seven churches represent the universal church to whom the Spirit comes.
So what have we seen? This is a wonderful introduction to this book. You may be the kind of person who has spent countless hours fascinated by Revelation, or you may be the kind who has more or less avoided it. Either way, you’re probably a person who wants to know the end of the story. And that’s what Revelation reveals. From the beginning it promises to reward your attention with blessing: Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.
And this promised blessing will comes through the Lord Jesus: he is the faithful witness to these things; he is the firstborn from the dead; he is the sovereign ruler of the universe; he is the one who loves us, you and me individually – and because he loves us he promises us this blessing through his word. He is the one who showed that love through sacrifice: he freed us by his blood.
And he is the eternal one, the Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end, the one who was; who is, and who is coming again. The book of revelation will reward your attention because it reveals Jesus. He is the beginning and the end of God’s story and of ours.