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May 1st, 2017

God, the ultimate Sir, says, “I started everything and I will end it.”

Revelation 1:1-8

 

Call to worship

A revealing of Jesus, the Liberator.

God gave this message to make plain to his servants what absolutely must happen soon. God’s angel signed it to John who faithfully testified to everything he saw – God’s Word and the testimony of Jesus the Liberator.

Whether you are the reader or the listeners, if you hold tight to these words of prophecy, you will be very fortunate even in the midst of the mess you’re in.

The right moment is now.

I, John, am writing to every church, everywhere, with this message: God thinks of you kindly; he wants you to have peace. This God is not limited by time or space. He is there right now, always has been, and always will be. His Spirit is all you will ever need.

Jesus the Liberator swears it’s true because he experienced it first: there is life after death. Jesus rules every king on the earth. He is right now loving us, having released us from our sins by his blood.

Jesus made us into a kingdom where everyone has a direct line to God, so let’s get our eyes off the ground and lift him up high because his authority never, ever ends!

Look! He’ll break through the clouds and everyone will see him, including those who killed him. His coming is not good news for everyone. Every family group on earth will moan when he comes.

This is what God, the ultimate Sir, says:  I started everything and I will end it. I am now, I always was, and I’m still coming. I rule the universe.[1]

Revealing is a thing (Paul)

Today everything is a thing. When I asked Danielle to marry me, I got down on one knee and asked her. Today you have to have twelve different camera angles with people waiting to fly you on a Lear jet to a post-engagement party.

Teachers say to their kids, “You have been in school 99 days. Tomorrow something magical is going to happen. The hundredth day!” 100 days has become a thing.

Pregnant couples used to go in this special room, expose the big belly, see what looks like an omelet on the screen, and hear, “Do you want to know the gender?” Godly couples would respond, “No, the Holy Spirit reveal it in his own time.” The rest of us would say, “Yes, that will help us paint the nursery.” Or maybe couples would go to Applebee’s with their family and make it announcement.

Now it’s become a thing. You get a giant balloon and fill it with either pink or blue confetti. Or you spend $8,000 on a cake. You cut into it and it’s either pink or blue. It’s this huge thing because we love to reveal things and be in the know.

The book of Revelation is just that. Christ wants you to see his revealing so you can be in the know.

Revelation intimidates people. You’re trying to read through the Bible and you get past Jude into Revelation. When you get to about chapter 6, everything goes sideways. You say, “What in the world? There are dragons, a harlot, tattoos…. Why is the wording like this?”

The answer is that they’re not living in the time of television and other media. Words are all they have to engage the mind and heart. I want to encourage you to be patient with us as we open these difficult passages. We promise to walk along with you as we look at these texts.

Why I’m a 10 (Bob)

I have asked a number of people this week, and want to ask you:  When you heard we’re going to preach on Revelation for three months, what was your reaction on a scale of 1-10? Ten is, “I’m happier than a fox in the hen house after the dog died.” One is, “If you’re preaching on Revelation through July, I’ll see you in August.”

There are three main reasons I’m a 10.

First, because of who John is. The writer of Revelation identifies himself only by his name, “John,” and that was a common name in the first century. It’s precisely because that’s all he says that we’re quite confident who he is. If you received a note today on official government stationery signed by “Donald,” you probably wouldn’t spend a great deal of time researching everyone named Donald in the federal government. If he doesn’t tell you which Donald, you would assume it’s The Donald.

We’re fairly confident this John is The John, the last surviving one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples/apostles. Here’s why that’s important. Revelation was one of the last New Testament books to be affirmed as part of the Bible. Among the arguments against it was that it’s so different. Among the arguments for – the theology here is consistent with the New Testament and the book was written by an apostle. Yes, it might be a challenge to read and understand, but if The John believed his visions came from God, and if the early Christians believed him, I’m a 10.

Second, because of where John is. Revelation is the only book in the New Testament where the writer tells us where he is when he writes. So that must be important. John says he’s “on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). Patmos is located in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey, but closer to Turkey. Today it has about 3,000 permanent residents and hosts many Christian tourists because John wrote Revelation there.

In John’s day, Patmos was one of many places the Romans banished people they thought were threats – if they weren’t killed. It was not a pleasant place. It’s a volcanic island – rocky and mostly treeless. It has only about 13 square miles that break the water’s surface, 10 miles north to south and 6 miles wide at the broadest point. Tradition tells us John was banished there in the 14th year of the Emperor Domitian, or A.D. 95.

Domitian was the first emperor to insist that he be addressed as “my Lord and God.” The situation was parallel to that of North Korea today. You’ve heard all about missile tests in North Korea this week, but did you know that “worship of the ruling Kim family is mandated for all citizens, and those who don’t comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured or killed”?[2] That’s what life was like across the empire in John’s day. Domitian was such an autocratic, insecure, terrorizing ruler that he was assassinated shortly after John wrote Revelation, and his dynasty was replaced by one that was far more civilized. But if John could write words of hope and peace from Patmos when Domitian’s reign was at its worst, I’d like to study them.

Third, because I get to preach with Paul. It’s always a privilege to share the teaching ministry of Corinth with Paul Cummings, in part because we see different things, read or listen to different people as we prepare, and preach differently. That’s especially important with Revelation, because it’s a book of the Bible that appeals to your imagination. Tim Summers recommended a commentary to me that he found helpful in teaching Revelation for Bible Study Fellowship, and I loved it so much that I ordered copies for the staff and other Bible study leaders. Paul’s comment was, “This reads like a textbook.” It wasn’t a compliment. My left-brain self loves a textbook – outlines, charts, graphs, information. Paul’s right brain is dominant – stories, imagination, music. Well, guess what! Revelation is a right brain book. So I need Paul.

There’s an important way in which Paul and I are similar in approaching Revelation. Neither one of us has any desire to compare or compete with others who have spoken or written about Revelation. While we will certainly read or listen to what others have said, when you come on Sunday morning you should not expect us to tell you where we think this passage in Revelation fits into a particular timeline, framework of the end times, or the Left Behind novels. Neither will it be our purpose to correct, critique, or combat what others say. Our sole purpose is to follow John in revealing Jesus Christ.

So let’s get started.

Verses 1-3 (Bob)

Verse 1a:  The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.

If you compare translations, you’ll notice the word “from” can also be translated “of.” I prefer “of” – thus the title of this sermon, “A Revealing of Jesus Christ.” We have four books of the New Testament, the Gospels, that tell us about Jesus’ earthly life. Now that Jesus is ascended into heaven, he is hidden from us. The book of Revelation opens the curtain that veils heaven and lets his servants see what Jesus is doing now, what he says, even how he thinks. That’s so important for those facing persecution or any trial to have the veil removed so they can see Jesus. That’s what Revelation does for us.

Verses 1b-2:  He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

I try to refer to the original language sparingly, because I don’t want to communicate that you can only understand the Bible if you can read Greek and Hebrew. But sometimes it’s helpful to see something that would be otherwise easy to miss.

The verb translated “made it known” is the verb form of the noun, “sign” or “symbol,” and I think that’s important. Yes, this is about making things known, about communicating God’s message. But the way the angel communicated is by “signing.” Think deaf interpreter. Because a person can’t hear, the interpreters signs the words and letters. Revelation is a book of signs, of symbols, of visual images.

The normal rule in reading the Bible is that you assume a literal meaning unless you have cause to interpret figuratively. Take numbers, for example. If the Bible says Jesus chose twelve disciples, fed 5,000 people, or rose on the third day, you take the numbers literally. But Revelation is a symbolic book, so we’re going to do the opposite. When we run into numbers in Revelation – 3, 4, 7, 12, 1,000, or 144,000 – we assume the number is not literal but has a symbolic meaning. That will become very important.

The other important point made in verse 2 is the use of “testify” or “testimony.” It’s as if John sees Jesus on the witness stand, and he’s sword to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Jesus is a trustworthy witness to God. You can trust John to tell us what Jesus told him.

Verse 3:  Blessed is the one who reads aloud 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.

This is the first of seven blessings John pronounces in this book. He uses the same word Jesus uses in Matthew 5 with the Beatitudes – “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and so on. The word means someone who is so fortunate that they can be envied. They’re happy and probably happier than those around them.

John says there are three ways his book will bless you. He assumes that one person will read it aloud to a group. Remember, these are Christians feeling the heat of persecution. John says they will actually be enviable whether they read it or listen to it if they “keep” it – which probably means taking it to heart and doing what it says. So let’s just start this study by remembering that we’re so much better off if we tackle Revelation.

Why? Because “the time is near.” This is something we’re going to wrestle with a bit as we study Revelation. John already said in verse 1 that the things in his book “must soon take place.” It’s been 2,000+ years and some of it has obviously not yet taken place. What do we make of that?

In the book of Revelation, John constantly contrasts time and eternity. God is timeless and beyond time. We’ll come back to that. Within time, however, John wants us constantly to live with an “almost here” mentality. The older I get, the more I appreciate what he’s saying. Live life as if the coming of Jesus is near – whether that means the end of the world or the end of you in the world.

Verses 4-8 (Paul)

The end times in the Bible are not the same thing as the last period in your school day. It’s not the same as the atomic bomb that goes off to obliterate the world. The “end times” began when Jesus died, was buried, and rose again – using his own blood to put death to death.

Verse 4:  This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace to you from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne;

Remember, when you see a number in Revelation you should assume it is symbolic. In this case, there are literally seven churches John writes to, but the “seven” also implies the church universal. We still have these problems in all churches. “Seven” means fullness, completeness. This is about at the whole church.

Then John says something kind of funny, if you flip the page a few times. He says, “Grace and peace to you,” but in much of the book there doesn’t seem to be a lot of grace and peace. Here is what it’s about. This book is also about victory, now. As Paul says, this is about hypernike – “more than conquerors.”

We also see the Trinity in this verse. Critics of Christianity say the Trinity is not in the Bible, but it’s all over the text. In this verse, we have the Father – “the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come.” We also have the Holy Spirit. John writes about the “sevenfold Spirit,” but that doesn’t mean there are seven Spirits. He is the One who is omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent. He is all of that and more.

Verse 5:   and from Jesus Christ. He is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the commander of all the kings of the world. All praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us.

Here we have Jesus, the “faithful witness,” and “the firstborn from the dead.” What do you call the firstborn? If you have only one, what do you call that one? Firstborn? No, spoiled. If you have a firstborn it implies there are others to follow. We will rise from the dead as well.

Jesus “freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us.” We like to say, “When we suffer God suffers with us,” and that is absolutely true. But when we were enemies Christ suffered for us.

Verse 6:  He has made us his kingdom and his priests who serve before God his Father. Give to him everlasting glory! He rules forever and ever! Amen!

He reigns as Lord. This demands a response of worship.

Verse 7:  Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see him—even those who pierced him. And all the nations of the world will weep because of him. Yes! Amen!

Clouds are always symbolic of God’s holy presence. John is making a direct tie to Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10. Those who bet against him will know they were wrong. Those who banked on him will look upon his second coming with joy.

If you’re a child at the Kentucky Derby and bet all your money on Horse #5, there’s part of the race where you can’t see what’s happening. You strain to look at the home straightaway and here comes Horse #5 with no one else around. You know with joy your faith has been fulfilled.

Verse 8:   “I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Caesar was an autokretor, in charge of one thing. God is a pantakretor, in charge of everything, all the time. Notice the order – the God who is, then was, then is still to come. John puts the focus on his being the Almighty now.

Curious (Paul)

The women of the church had a study earlier this year on “Curious.” Are you curious now to know more about what Jesus is doing? Do you want more of Jesus? Revelation is an “unveiling.”

There are many times where we’re gathered here in the sanctuary on a Saturday with a group of women lined up on one side and a group of men on the other. One is particularly nervous. We’re getting ready for a wedding, and the doors are closed. The doors are flung open and the bride enters. Occasionally she is wearing a veil. Everyone already knows the bride is beautiful, precious, and graceful. There’s a moment where the father is standing between her and the groom, and he lifts up the veil because she has more beauty to be displayed.

Revelation is that part where you are standing before God, and God pulls back the veil for you to see how much more beauty and power and wonder he has. Don’t be satisfied with your current view of Jesus.

The other application is where I have been in my view of Revelation. Why be concerned about all the details? I’m just going to let him sort it out in the end. The problem is that’s not how the rest of creation feels around the end times.

In Romans 8:19-21, Paul writes, “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” To be in harmony with all creation is to groan inwardly and anticipate the day we will be taken home. All the rest of creation is waiting for this. Do you want to be in on the reveal?

Where Jesus is (Bob)

I want to speak a word of hope to those who are especially dealing with difficult situations right now. Earlier I said that I’m a “10” on Revelation because of where John is. Let’s remember at the beginning of this study where Jesus is and what he’s doing.

This book was written especially for a time when spiritual darkness covered the earth and believers in Jesus were oppressed like never before or since.

Unfortunately, for many people the book John wrote has become about so many things John never intended it to be about. Revelation is about unhiding Jesus for desperate, discouraged, and even disobedient Christians.

John starts his book by tethering Jesus directly to his Father who is beyond time and without a limit to his power, and to the Holy Spirit, who is everything we need wherever we are. Up in heaven Jesus is the one who rose from the dead and is in charge of every kingdom and ruler. We’ll get to what he’s doing up there, but let’s start here:  Don’t ever, ever forget in the midst of your misery that the Jesus up there is the one who loves us so much that he freed us from our sins by his blood. Amen.

 

[1] This is my paraphrase of Revelation 1:1-8.

[2] According to the “World Watch List” of Open Doors.

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