Christ in the Midst of His Church

 

Now if you would please open your copies of God’s holy Word at Revelation chapter 1. If you are using one of our church Bibles, you can find that on page 1028; Revelation chapter 1. You will remember that we began our studies in the book of Revelation last Lord’s Day and we noted four themes in verses 1 to 11 that tell us about the book as a whole. It is, we saw last time, a word of blessing, verses 1 to 3, a word of grace, verses 4 and 5, a word of praise, verses 6 through 8, and finally in 9 to 11, a word of encouragement. And this evening we are returning to the final section of the opening chapter of John’s book and to the vision of the exalted Christ that serves to further set the scene and introduce a number of themes that will become central to the message of Revelation as it unfolds in the chapters ahead. If you think of a movie trailer for a moment you, immediately when you look at a movie trailer, a decent one at least, you immediately recognize the leading actors. In just a few short minutes of footage, you see what kind of movie it’s going to be - action or romance or comedy or drama. You’re shown some crucial details that are designed not so much to tell the story in advance but to intrigue and captivate and excite. It’s designed to make us want to see the whole movie. That’s what a good movie trailer does. And that’s what verses 12 to 20 are designed to do. John’s introductory vision flashes before our eyes a dazzling scene that is meant to make us want to keep reading and to see more and to know more of the glorious Christ that is revealed here.

 

So let’s turn our attention to the passage please! Revelation chapter 1. Our focus is going to be verses 12 through 20. I’d like to back up to verse 9 just to give a little bit of context. Before we read it together, however, would you bow your heads with me as we pray? Let’s pray!

 

O God, we would see Jesus tonight, so send us please the Holy Spirit to open blind eyes and unstop dead ears, to give us receptive hearts and to make us pliable and responsive to Your voice speaking to us in holy Scripture that all the glory and praise might be Christ’s and that in all things He may have the supremacy. For Jesus’ sake, amen.

 

Revelation chapter 1 at the ninth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:

 

“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. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 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.’

 

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 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. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 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. 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, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 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.”

 

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word. John, you will recall, has heard a heavenly voice, a voice, verse 10 says, was “like a trumpet,” commissioning him to write what he sees and hears and send it as a letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor. And now as he turns to look for the one who is speaking to him, I want you to notice the striking way that he puts it in verse 12. Look at verse 12; “I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me.” Isn’t that striking? If you were to capitalize “the Voice” with a capital “V” that would capture the force of John’s expression I think very well. The exalted Christ that John sees here is “the Voice.” He is, as John puts it in the opening verses of his gospel, “the Word.” The book of Revelation is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Long ago,” Hebrews chapter 1 and verse 1, “at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The sum of God’s message to us, the voice that He would have us hear clearly as we read Revelation, is Christ exalted and reigning over all.

 

Now if you were to skip ahead for a moment and read on into chapters 2 and 3 and you were to look at the struggles that were plaguing the seven churches to which John writes, you would see an array of tragically all too familiar spiritual diseases infesting the corporate life of the people of God. There is apathy and unbelief, there’s discouragement and compromise, there’s persecution and there’s suffering, there is heresy and there is immorality. You read the seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 and you almost wonder if John has been consulting a survey of contemporary American church life. The troubles are the same, the challenges the same, the sin is the same, the hostility of the world towards faithful witness to Christ is the same. We recognize these people, don’t we? It’s like looking in a mirror!

 

But what is so important, what I want to help us to see as we begin to read Revelation together in these weeks, is that John does not lead with a diagnosis of the problems. He doesn’t start with a litany of difficulties and struggles and sins. He leads with the treatment! He leads with the cure! He leads directing us to the Voice, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ who speaks and deals with the deepest besetting sins and struggles of our lives in His grace. He is, as we will see, not at all a tame Jesus, not a safe Jesus, easily accommodated to our worldliness, always willing to make room for whatever choices we make. That’s not actually the Jesus we so desperately need, even if it is the Jesus we rather prefer. No, John shows us the exalted, transcendent, reigning Christ who is nevertheless full of tenderness and compassion towards His people. If we are to fend off apathy and unbelief, if we are to resist moral compromise and fight theological error and find the grace to endure and the strength to press on when things get difficult, if, in other words, we are to face the same challenges the seven churches face in chapters 2 and 3, then we, like they, need the whole Christ - Christ in His glory as well as His grace; Christ in His majesty and in His mercy, both together.

 

But we should be warned! Meeting the whole Christ, the transcendent and tender, majestic and merciful Christ will have a profound effect on us. Look at verse 17 for a moment and you’ll see what I mean. What happened to John when he saw the exalted Christ? “When I saw him, I fell as his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me saying, ‘Fear not.’” John is laid low; he’s put in the dust. It’s a moment not unlike the experience of the prophet Isaiah in the sixth chapter of his prophecy. You remember how that went! He “saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” And suddenly, Isaiah is undone! “Woe is me for I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” There is a glory to the person of Christ that defies all attempts to treat Him casually. Jesus is not comfortable. And those who are shown something of His glory, in the Scriptures at least, do not generally find themselves basking in the warm haze of ecstasy. No, they tend to find themselves face down trembling in the dirt. John, like the prophet Isaiah when he was drawn into the presence of glory, responds in holy awe and yet the exalted Christ who virtually unmans John reaches out His hand not to strike him down, but to lift him up. What a moment that must have been for John! Can you imagine it? And John hears the same mighty voice speaking now in tenderness saying to him, “Fear not. Stop being scared. Don’t be afraid.”

 

Now if you’re anything like me, you will want the latter experience, you know, the tender touch of Christ saying, “Don’t be afraid.” The former experience, the exalted glory of Christ that puts me face down in the dirt - not so much. “I’ll pass on that.” But the point that our passage is making is that it’s only this kind of Jesus, the majestic and merciful Christ, the whole Christ, who can shatter fear and comfort troubled hearts. It’s only the kind of Jesus who puts us in the dust because He’s so mighty and so exalted who can ever raise us up. There is no enduring comfort, you see, in a therapeutic Jesus or a life-coach Jesus. He will never really be adequate for the needs of your soul. No, we need Jesus the great King, Jesus the sovereign God, Jesus the Lord of glory. He can satisfy like no other! He can speak quietness and confidence to our hearts when Satan assails us and the world attacks us and temptation overwhelms us because He reigns, even over the world and the flesh and the devil. He’s the one that we need - Christ, Christ the Lord of majesty and mercy. He’s the one that John sees.

 

  1. The Majesty of Christ

 

And all that I want to do this evening as we examine verses 12 through 20 together, is to look at those two themes - majesty and mercy in the person of Christ - to turn the diamond to try and see a little of what John sees for the good of our own souls. So let’s think about the majesty of Chris there first of all! In verse 13, John says when he turned to look at the voice speaking to him, that he saw “one like a son of man.” Now the phrase, “son of man,” was Jesus’ favorite self-designation in the gospels. John, we immediately recognize I hope, is talking about Jesus. But there’s more to the phrase than that. It’s a bit like a link, you know, pasted into the body of an email. John does this over and over again in the book of Revelation. He pastes these links into the body of his writing. If you click on it, it will take you to more information. The phrase, “one like a son of man,” is one of those links. If you click on it, it takes you to Daniel chapter 7, verses 13 and 14. Daniel 7:13-14, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days, and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel’s describing the Son of Man as the great King who is invested with royal dominion by the Ancient of Days, God the Father. And so straight away, simply by using that phrase, “one like a son of man,” John wants us to understand that Jesus, the Jesus John sees, is God’s ordained ruler. He is the mighty King!

 

The Ancient of Days

But there’s something unusual about this ruler. Look at verse 14. “The hairs of his head were white like wool, like snow.” Now John is still borrowing from Daniel chapter 7, only this time he’s using language that does not refer to the Son of Man; this time it refers to the Ancient of Days. Daniel 7:9, “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head was like pure wool.” John, do you see, John blends the description of the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days in Daniel chapter 7, he blends them together. And he does it to make a vital point. Jesus, God’s appointed King, is the Jesus in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. He is the God-Man! That’s why later in verse 17, if you’ll look down to verse 17, Jesus can say, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.” Now back in verse 4 and again down in verse 8, it is God the Father who has said that He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and was and is to come.” But here we see Jesus making the same claim because He is, as our catechism puts it, “the same in substance, equal in power and glory with the Father and the Spirit in the unity of the blessed Trinity.” The Man, Christ Jesus, is God the eternal Son. And that’s what John falls at his feet as though dead. Wouldn’t you, after all, before the incarnate God of glory?

 

But I hope you can see that it’s also precisely why the Jesus that John meets is able to dispel fear the way that He does and speak peace into our hearts. It means, after all, Jesus is in charge. He’s in charge! I wonder if you have, perhaps, forgotten that. He is in charge. Maybe we need to keep saying to ourselves in every circumstance, “Look at the throne. Remember the One who is seated there. Remember the Son of Man, the Lord of glory. He’s in charge! He’s got this and He’s got me.” Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus! John is saying, “Fear not. He’s got this. The God-Man reigns as Lord of all. He’s got this and He’s got you.”

 

Eyes Like Flames of Fire

But John’s description doesn’t stop there, does it? Still building on Daniel, this time Daniel chapter 10, verses 5 and 6, John says that Jesus has “eyes like flames of fire.” See that there in verse 14, “eyes like flames of fire”? The point isn’t really that hard to grasp! Simply, Jesus sees it all. One commentator, I think, puts it very helpfully. Listen to this:  “John is declaring that Jesus Christ is not only pure, like fire, He is purifying. Fire illuminates and penetrates but it also cleanses, burns away impurities. The eyes of the glorified Lord not only look at us, they look through us, penetrating the masks and veils behind which we hide our true being. That is so good to know,” he says, “very scary and painful, but so liberating. Jesus can look right through all my facades and see all the junk that is ruining my life and burn it away.” And then he does something unusual for a Bible commentator to do in the middle of his commentary. The commentator begins to pray. You see, he’s engaging for himself with the One whose eyes are like a flame of fire, who pierces his own heart and his own conscience. “O Lord,” he prays, “look at me. Look into me. Shine Your purifying light and burn off all that keeps me from You and Your wholeness.” There’s a prayer to pray in the presence of the One who has eyes like flames of fire who not only looks at you but looks through you and sees and knows. He has eyes like flames of fire.

 

Feet Like Burnished Bronze

Then verse 15, Jesus has feet “like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace.” You may remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel chapter 2. He saw a great statue. Remember the dream? The statue represents all the kingdoms of the world, the mighty empires of the world, but Daniel 2:33 tells us the statue has “feet of clay and iron.” It’s an unstable compound. It cannot possibly bear the weight of the mighty empires pressing down upon it. All the kingdoms of the world, we’re being told, are built with feet of clay. But Jesus is a King with feet of burnished bronze. His kingdom is unassailable. Daniel 7:14, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” So, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no salvation. Blessed is he whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God,” Psalm 146 verses 3 and 5. Neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz nor Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders can build an enduring kingdom, just in case you hadn’t realized that by now. When the world is shaken by bomb blasts, the bomb blasts of terrorist cells, here’s what we need to see; here’s where we need to look to find our refuge - in the Son of Man whose feet are like burnished bronze. Wherever He plants His feet, there He will stand unshakable, immovable, and He will reign and His kingdom is unassailable, no matter the vicissitudes and the wickedness of men and the rise and fall of this world’s kingdoms.

 

His Voice

His hair, His eyes, His feet, then John describes His voice. Look at verse 17. “His voice was like the roar of many waterfalls.” There is something awe-inspiring about a truly great waterfall when you see it in the flesh, as it were, isn’t there? The white water tumbling over the edge of a cliff onto the rocks with thunder. When you see and you hear this mighty waterfall, you just stand agog. You can’t say anything, though, if you tried to your voice would be drowned out by the den of it all. The drama of it captures our attention and it drowns out every other sound. That, John says, is something like the voice of Christ - arresting, captivating, compelling, all-consuming.

 

And then look down at verse 16; John changes the metaphor but he’s still talking about the voice of Christ. Verse 16, “From his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword.” Now, we’re being told here that the speech of Christ is an instrument of warfare. Like a Roman gladius, the razor-sharp sword that was such an effective instrument of conquering imperial might, the voice of Christ cuts and pierces and wounds. It is a fearsome weapon to slay sin and shatter unbelief. That is the voice of Christ - mighty and untamed like a roaring waterfall, conquering like a soldier’s sword.

 

But as you listen to that description of the voice of Christ, I want you to think for just a moment about where that voice is heard. Not on CNN or FOX News of course, not in exit polls or popularity ratings, not in the laboratory or the lecture hall. Where is His voice heard, this mighty, roaring waterfall, this sharp, double-edged sword? This voice is heard Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day when the Bible is opened and its message read and proclaimed. It might not sound like it; that’s actually part of the function of apocalyptic literature like the book of Revelation. It takes us behind the surface appearance of things to show us their true nature, their spiritual reality unseen by us. The simple exposition of Holy Scripture may seem insignificant in comparison to the relentless cacophony of the world’s noisy rebellion. There are times when it will appear to be hardly an effective response to the challenges that you are facing right now. But John invites us here to look behind the veil with him for a moment and see the unseen, unnoticed truth that defies surface appearances, to see the unstoppable power of the Word of Jesus Christ. And he is calling us to put our trust there, our confidence there. Don’t doubt it! Jesus’ Word, though it may appear weak, is mighty to save. It is mighty to save! And by it, He will conquer.

 

The Face of the Exalted Christ

His hair, His eyes, His feet, His voice, then finally as we think about the majesty of Christ, John describes Jesus’ face. Look at it in verse 16. “His face was like the sun shining in full strength.” There’s a radiance, a brilliance, a pristine purity to Jesus Christ. Looking at Jesus was like, John says, it was like trying to look directly at the sun in a cloudless sky at midday. It just can’t be done! He is dazzling in His exalted glory! No wonder John falls at his feet as though dead. It must have been simply overwhelming. His circuits are overloaded! He shuts down in the presence of ineffable majesty.

 

  1. The Mercy of Christ

 

And yet, there is a link here to the second theme that we are to see carefully in this last part of the chapter. Not just majesty, but also the mercy of Christ. Right here in the shining, blazing, brilliant face of Jesus, it is turned, albeit dazzlingly, yet nevertheless turned toward John, shines on John. You remember the words of the Aaronic blessing in Numbers chapter 6 at verse 24, don’t you? We say them often, particularly at baptisms. “The Lord bless you and keep you.” What is the central blessing offered? What is the key image of beatitude given to the people of God? “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” The essence of the blessed life - grace and peace flow from the shining face of God turned towards us, not in wrath but in mercy. And that is what John saw - the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. And the mercy of God in communion with Jesus Christ runs, you know, like a golden thread throughout this passage. Look back for a moment to verses 12 and 13 for example. When John turned at first to see Jesus, he saw Him standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands, which, according to Jesus in verse 20, are symbolic of the seven churches to which John has been commissioned to send his letter. Jesus, notice, is dressed like a priest in a white robe with a golden sash. Like the Old Testament priests ministering in the temple who maintained the great lampstand that stood in the sanctuary, here is our great High Priest tending the lampstand of His Church.

 

Christ’s Presence Amongst His Church

And notice that He is said to walk among the lampstands. We’re meant to think here not just about the temple but about the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2 verse 8 you will remember how “the Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the day” in intimate fellowship with Adam and Eve. He was present with them in the Garden. It was like a kind of temple in which our first fathers had fellowship with their Maker. And now here in Revelation 1:12 we see Jesus, our great High Priest, who has restored the broken fellowship with our great God and He is present among His people, walking in the midst of His churches. He is not an absentee landlord! He is present among His people by His Spirit. That is why the very first thing Jesus tells each of the churches when He writes to them through John in the letters in chapters 2 and 3 is, “I know.” He’s present with them. He walks among the lampstands and so He says, “I know. I know your endurance and your struggles. I know your sin and your failure. I know your hardwork. I know your love. I know your faith. I know your hypocrisy. I know your circumstances. I know Jesus is not far away, out of sight and out of mind, aloof and hard to reach. He hasn’t deserted us! He hasn’t forgotten us! He promised, didn’t He, ‘I am with you always to the end of the age`. I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

 

Brothers and sisters, He’s here! He’s here! He is with His Church, close at hand, just over there, just on the other side of the veil, the veil that was lifted for John just for a few moments, present with His people. And so He says to you, because He’s here, right up close and personal, He can say to you, “I know. I know. Maybe nobody else knows. Maybe you daren’t speak of it to anybody else, but I know.” And that may be profoundly important for someone here tonight. When you don’t know where to turn or to whom you may go, there is One who stands in the midst of His Church and says to us, “I know, and you may come to Me.”

 

A similar point is made when Jesus explains the significance of the seven stars that He holds in His right hand. Verse 20 says they are the seven angels of the seven churches. Now some people suggest the seven angels refers to the ministers of the churches since each of the letters is addressed to each angel of the church. And that’s certainly possible! “Angelos” can mean “messenger.” Much more likely, since every other reference to angels in Revelation means “angelic beings,” not “earthly messengers,” the seven angels here are the heavenly counterparts of the churches themselves. The angels stand for the churches in the presence of Christ in glory. Just as Jesus walks among the lampstands, among the churches by His Spirit, just as He is here with us, so the churches are represented before the throne of Christ in glory by their angels and He holds them in His hand. He holds the churches symbolically in His hand. He holds us in His hand. Nothing can prize open that grip, you know - “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Believer in Jesus, there never was a safer place for you than in the grip of Jesus Christ.

 

And it’s not just the church that He holds in His hand, is it? Look again at verse 17. “Fear not,” He says, “I am the living one. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” In the middle of the 1st century, Nero had been throwing Christians to the lions. In A.D. 92, Domitian murdered 40,000 believers because they refused to accept his claim to be “dominus et deus” - “lord and god.” All they needed to do was very simple really, all they needed to do was go to the temple of the imperial cult, toss a pinch of salt on the altar dedicated to the emperor, Domitian, and say, “Caesar curios” - “Caesar is lord.” But they would not, 40,000 of them would not, and were slaughtered because “Christos curios - Christ is Lord.” He had claimed exclusive rights to that great title in their hearts. That was their confession. Even in the face of death, Jesus Christ is Lord. “You can slay me, but I will never turn from submitting to the reign of the Lordship of King Jesus.”

 

Now how did they come by the courage to stand firm when their life was on the line, their life? What chased fear away for them? The same truth actually that chased fear away for John in verse 17. They knew that Jesus had already triumphed over Death and Hades! The terrible prison of the grave had closed over Him. We remember that this time of year, don’t we? He descended into death for us. He gave His life at Calvary and then He broke the bonds of death and stole the keys of that prison and rose in glorious victory on the third day. And now He holds the keys of Death and Hades. Not Nero, not Domitian, not cancer, not Islamic terror, nor any of the unknowns of today or tomorrow. “Jesus died,” as Hebrews 2:15 puts it, “that he might destroy the one who has the power death, that is, the devil, and free all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Christian, when the time comes, you can face down death and say with the Apostle Paul, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” - 1 Corinthians 15:54. We are not slaves to the fear of death because Jesus holds the keys of Death and Hades and Jesus is our King and He reigns. And so John paints for us a full picture, doesn’t  he, of the full Christ - Christ transcendent, exalted, majestic, reigning - before whom we bow in holy awe and Christ, tender and abounding in covenant love, slow to anger, full of mercy, stooping down to touch us and to say to us, “Fear not, I am the living one. I hold the keys of death. Because I am King and because my heart beats with tenderness for you, because I live and walk among the churches, because I hold the church in the palm of My hand, you are safe. Fear not. Live for My glory. Live for My glory.”

 

Let’s pray together!

 

Our God, we bow before You. Thank You that Jesus, the great King, reigns. Forgive us for losing sight of His sovereign dominion. Forgive us for those moments when, because of our circumstances or because of the world around us, because of tomorrow’s apparent uncertainties, we have given into fear and anxiety and our hands have been wrung and our brows have been furrowed. We’ve lived as if You have abdicated Your throne. So now we bow before You in repentance, we bend our knee, and we renew our submission to King Jesus praying that He would speak to each of us now the same word He spoke to John, “Fear not. Fear not.” Thank You that Jesus is the Lord of glory and walks among the lampstands and He knows. Would You help us to trust Him - not ourselves, not the world, not our politicians, not the pundits, not the polls, not our best guesses, but to trust Him. For we ask it in His name, amen!



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