“The One Who Promises”
January 31, 2010
The one who rose to reign makes the future sure.
I. The Vision of one who Reigns (Revelation 1:11-16)
II. The Word of one who Rose (Revelation 1:17-18)
III. He Holds the Future (Revelation 1:19-20)
In July of 2003 Trinity put together a search committee for an associate pastor – a need we recognized then, and a need we recognize again now. The first thing the committee did was talk to Bob Rowley, our district superintendent. Bob is one of the best church planting people in the country, and very experienced at assessing and selecting church planters and also church staff.
So the committee asked Bob, how do we select an associate pastor? And he said something he’s said hundreds of times: “Past behavior is generally the best predictor of future performance.” Figure out what you want this person to do, then interview him to see if he’s done it in the past. If he has, there is a good chance he will do it in the future. So the committee said, well, we need someone to do outreach, and assimilation and discipleship.
Their key interview questions became ‘tell us about a time you successfully did outreach, assimilation or discipleship. Tell us about a time you organized others for these goals.” Among the candidates was a guy named Mike Bauer, who showed pretty convincingly that his heart for outreach and discipleship had been lived out in practice. And Mike was the one we ended up calling.
Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. As we spend a second week in Revelation 1, this practical truth can make a huge difference to our approach to this book. Last week we saw that in Revelation God is revealing how the story turns out. It’s a blessing to know what only God can reveal.
This week I want to go a step further. I think we not only want to know the end of the story, but we want to be sure that what we’ve been told is real. And in our day to day lives we tend to evaluate the trustworthiness of a promise or even a story based on the ‘past behavior’ principle. Think of the story of the boy who cried wolf. As long as the villagers were pretty sure the boy was trustworthy, then his word was taken seriously. But after his word was shown to be false, he could cry wolf all he wanted and no one believed him.
The opposite is true of the word of Jesus revealed here in Revelation. When he walked with his disciples he made outrageous promises – and all of them proved true. Specifically, he predicted and promised his resurrection, an utterly awesome, humanly impossible event. Then, by the power of God he pulled it off. So if past performance is the best predictor of future performance, we ought to be very sure that something Jesus reveals and promises will happen. His track record is perfect.
As we look at the last half of Revelation 1 I believe this kind of thinking is the exact intent of the text. Revelation reveals Jesus in his power and glory. He claims to be the incarnate one who fulfilled his own prophetic promise of resurrection. And because he kept that promise we can trust the utterly awesome humanly impossible promises he will now make about our present and future circumstances. The one who rose to reign makes the future sure.
I. The Vision of one who Reigns (Revelation 1:11-16)
We begin at verse 12, but I want to back up a bit for context. Revelation 1:9-16: 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."
12I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
Verses 9 to 11, which we looked at last week, tell us that John the Apostle, in exile on the island of Patmos, while worshiping on the Lord’s day, heard a voice, sounding in some way like a trumpet, telling him to write down the things he sees and send them to seven churches in Asia Minor.
Verse 12 begins to tell us what he saw, a vision that came to him as he turned toward the voice: “I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man"’ That phrase, ‘the son of man,’ uniquely and wonderfully identifies the person John sees as Jesus. Over eighty times in the Gospels Jesus calls himself the Son of Man.
Let me give just one important example from John’s gospel: In John 5:25-27 Jesus says “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” The Son of God, the Son of the Father is also the Son of Man. He has lived among us without sin and is therefore qualified to judge our hearts.
But Jesus did not originate this ‘Son of Man’ talk. He undoubtedly chose it because of its use in Daniel 7. Daniel says “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. 14He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
Daniel 7 is critical to our understanding of Jesus, both in Revelation and in the Gospels, because it tells us who Jesus knew himself to be. In Matthew 26 the high priest says to Jesus “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." 64"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Jesus identifies himself as this Daniel 7 Son of Man who will be given authority, glory and sovereign power, an everlasting dominion and kingdom.
And everything else we see in this Revelation 1 vision of Jesus supports the idea of his dominion. He’s dressed in a long white robe, probably a sign of both sinlessness and priestly authority. He has a golden sash around his chest. In Daniel 10 God’s messenger is a man similarly clothed, and who seems to have more authority than the angels. That may be another image of Jesus.
The white of the Son of Man’s beard and hair is one of those images that belongs to God the Father in the Old Testament. In Daniel 7 the one who sits on the throne, the Ancient of Days, is clothed in white and his hair is pure white. So there the Father and here the Son are characterized by purity, symbolized by the white robe, and by maturity, symbolized by the white hair and head.
The blazing fire of His eyes and the glowing bronze of his feet are again echoes of the man Daniel saw in Daniel 10, and seem to represent God’s searching, righteous judgment. God’s eyes are frequently said to range over all the earth. The rare word translated ‘glowing or burnished bronze’ has overtones of the furnace, a frequent Old Testament symbol of judgment and testing.
His voice, John says, was like rushing waters. The man in Daniel 10 had a voice like many thunders, and John will use that image as well. He’s already used the image of a voice sounding like a trumpet. The truth is we don’t know what that voice sounded like, except that it was awesome and probably deeply reverberant. In the Old Testament the thunder of God’s voice is said to break the cedars and shake the desert.
Finally, in verse 16 we find that in the Son of Man’s right hand are seven stars, which he himself will explain in verse 20, and that “out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.” The sword is almost certainly intended to represent the word of God that goes forth from his mouth. Hebrews teaches that “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Throughout Revelation we will hear the voice of the Lord judging sin and rescuing believers.
So in these verses we’ve seen Jesus. But as you’d expect, this is much more a vision of his character than his appearance. He’s the one who is God incarnate, Son of God and Son of Man, who has authority and power and dominion; his person is pure and undefiled; his eyes and his feet bring judgment, his voice is powerful and sends forth is his effective word. Every bit of this reflects his authority and his sovereign reign which he received after his resurrection and by which he will come to judge the earth.
How can we be sure the prophecies of this book are true? We can be sure because Jesus reigns. There is no power that can stand against his dominion; no rebellion that can escape his judgment, no mercy that he can fail to perform. We see this kind of certainty all the time in daily life. A nearly perfect example of it came in my e-mail this week. When Ike hit the person on my doorstep the next day was Mark Lewis, with EFCA Crisis Relief. Mark has a remarkable gift for getting things done. So now, of course, he’s in Haiti, and the organization forwarded an e-mail from someone who went down to help.
This person writes: "After picking me up on Saturday at the airport, my colleagues said "Let's take a walk". We proceeded to walk across the tarmac at the airport - how else do you get to the other side to talk to the Army and Navy commanding officers? After working his way up the ranks we talked with the CO of one of the Army units and Mark (Lewis) told them of the orphanage they'd found - 56 kids with no food for many days, their nurse and 2 teachers dead in the rubble. He was asking for "anything" - but specifically MREs, water, formula and diapers.
The Army was low on resources but the CO was on board so he had one of his men take us to the Navy, where they had supplies and within 20 minutes we walked out with 5 cases of MREs, 6 cases of bottled water and the promise of diapers and formula which we picked up today.” The point is that Mark Lewis went to the commanding officer rather than a private, because the CO is the one who makes promises he can keep. How much more so with Jesus who has been given dominion, authority and sovereign power?
II. The Word of one who Rose (Revelation 1:17-18)
But one of the underappreciated truths of Scripture is that in the Bible an image, no matter how clear the imagery, almost never goes unexplained. In this case Jesus speaks to confirm that he is the one who rose, and therefore the one who can be trusted. Verses 17 and 18: When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
John, despite having been with Jesus three years, having seen him transfigured and even raised from the dead, is in awe, fear and wonder at this vision. Even in his earthly life when Jesus had revealed his glory, John and the others had knelt in awe and fear. How much more so in this awesome appearing?
But don’t miss the detail that Jesus places his right hand on John and says ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Jesus is no different in eternity than he was in life. The same hand that reached out to heal the lepers, and touch the eyes of the blind, and raise the little girl to life; the hand that was torn by the nail and the love that held the Savior to the cross reaches out to love and comfort his beloved disciple.
And if you and I had been in John’s place, he would have done the same. Close your eyes and imagine it a moment: this awesome frightening scene of stars and lamps and a sword and feet of burning bronze is suddenly transformed when that nail scarred hand reaches down and touches you on the shoulder and says ‘do not be afraid.’ Though it is only glimpsed in passing, our assurance that Revelation is true isn’t just based on his dominion, nor even on his resurrection, but on Jesus’ compassionate love for each of us.
Jesus goes on to say ‘I am the first and the last,’ a statement similar last week’s ‘the Alpha and Omega,’ since alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega the last. Then he says “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!” This is the heart of the passage in terms of our assurance that the promised outcome of the world’s story, of our stories, is true. We can be sure because he kept his promise to rise from the dead, and anyone who can do that can surely keep every promise.
Do you see this? Past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. Jesus often prophesied his death and promised his resurrection. Matthew 20:17-19 “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve aside and said to them, 18"We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
This is a detailed prophecy perfectly fulfilled in Jesus’ passion and resurrection. But the suffering parts, though critically important to our salvation, do not manifest themselves as miracles. Anyone would have died, anyone could have kept that part of the prophecy. But rising from the dead – that’s not so common. In fact, so that you don’t make light of this awesome truth, you should think about your knowledge of the world and admit that dead people are dead. They do not come back to life after three days in the grave.
Yet this resurrection is as verified as any event in history. Now it’s admittedly not repeatable – you can’t recreate the event. But just because it is unique does not mean it’s not true. The testimony, both intentional and unintentional to the shear deadness of Jesus is overwhelming. Every detail and every witness supports the truth of his death. Yet the same witnesses and other witnesses and more witnesses give tremendous detail affirming that he rose, that he appeared to so many people in such different circumstances that any attempt to forge a psychological explanation of this living Lord is utterly ludicrous.
I invite you to pursue the extensive literature on this, titles like ‘Who Moved the Stone’ and ‘Faith on Trial’ and ‘Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ and ‘The Case for Christ.’ Believers and non-believers alike have seen the weight of this evidence, and the non-believers have often come to faith in the process.
Because, of course, the resurrection is about more than just Jesus. Though it’s all about Jesus it’s also about you and me. It is the victory over our sins. Christ died on the cross to pay the price of sin and rose from the tomb victorious over sin and death. This is why he can say ‘I hold the keys of death and hades.’ He took the punishment for our sin so that we don’t have to pay the price in hades and in eternal hell. He won the victory over death so we don’t have to experience eternal death but we are given the gift of eternal life.
Our need for this is so obvious if we examine ourselves objectively. We have sinned by breaking God’s laws, we have lived in rebellion against God and we have brought pain and hurt to others. But God loved us so much that he sent his Son to pay the price of our sin and rise to eternal life.
Now we need to turn in faith from sin and self to the Son and salvation. We looked earlier at John chapter 5 to see the authority of Jesus as the Son of Man. The verse just before those verses says “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Beyond any promise that we will find elaborated in the book of Revelation, this is what the risen Son offers you today: forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Him.
So if the resurrection is sure, then the one who promised it is trustworthy. If he can keep the most awesome and humanly impossible promise in the world, he can keep the promises of Revelation as well. If you want to know the end of the story, read and hear this book. If you want to know that it’s true, look to the resurrected Son. The one who rose to reign makes the future sure.
III. He Holds the Future (Revelation 1:19-20)
He does so because he holds the future. We’ll see that in chapter 5. It’s implied in 19-20: "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20The mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Verse 19 is often seen as the outline of the book of Revelation. John is told to write ‘what he has seen’, this vision of Christ, and ‘what is now,’ which would include the present-tense letters to the seven churches in Asia, chapters 2 and 3, and possibly the present tense throne room scene in heaven, chapters 4 and 5. Then he is to write ‘what will take place later’, which is the rest of the book. Revelation was given so Jesus could reveal the end of the story for the sake of his servants struggling to remain faithful to him in their present circumstances. That would be not just these seven churches, but also you and me. All believers are blessed by knowing what is and what is to come.
One of the things we’ve already seen in Revelation is the abundance of symbols and symbolic language. But these give no excuse for uncontrolled allegory, making the symbols mean whatever we want, because most of the symbols are explained in Revelation, or elsewhere. Jesus makes that clear to John by explaining two of the symbols, the seven lampstands and the seven stars.
The seven lampstands, he says, are the seven churches already named in verse 11. Jesus himself will dictate letters to these church in chapters 2 and 3. But as we mentioned, seven is a number of completion or perfection or wholeness in Scripture. It’s my conviction that even as Christ addresses the specific circumstances in these seven churches he’s speaking to the church as a whole and to circumstances common to local churches throughout history.
The seven stars which Jesus holds he calls the seven messengers of the churches, the angels of the churches. There has been debate about these angels. Some say they’re heavenly beings assigned to each church, like guardian angels. Some say they’re the earthly pastors of the churches, or messengers from the churches who had come to Patmos. More general than any of these, but still in keeping with the usage of this Greek word, is the idea that these ‘angels’ personify the prevailing spirit or ethos of each church.
This makes sense of the fact that the content of each letter is not speaking to the angel or even to the pastor, but to the church community as a whole.
So what have we seen? We’ve seen Jesus: Jesus who died, Jesus who rose, Jesus who rules and reigns and holds the future. We’ve seen Jesus in awesome imagery and we’ve seen Jesus in compassionate humanity. This book of Revelation reveals the end of the story, and we can be sure it’s true because we’ve seen Jesus. The one who reigns has all authority to make these things happen and the one who rose has proven that he keeps his promises. So as we read Revelation, no matter how much we may quibble about the meaning of the details, one thing we can be sure of: this word is true.