Reading for Monday, Nov 12: Revelation 1
I think one of the foundations for a proper reading of Revelation is found in the opening verse of the letter: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.” I’m sure you’re like me…you’ve heard a few sermons or read a few books that search for modern day fulfillment of some of Revelation’s prophetic passages. And with the volatility of the Middle East and our daily reminders of the fallen state of the world we live in, who could blame us? I think we all believe that we’re living in the “end times” and to a degree, we’re right.
But at the same time, we have to remind ourselves that Revelation was originally written 2,000 years ago to a specific group of believers toward the end of the first century. And there was a specific message to these believers that spoke to THEIR times, to THEIR circumstances. Besides being a fairly self-centered way to read the Bible, the problem with reading Revelation through the lens of our nightly news is that it negates the opening line of the whole text. John shares these visions with these believers because almost all of these things are to come to pass quickly. As we’ll see, many of these visions — rather than looking ahead across the millennia to distant future events — look backward in time to what God has ALREADY DONE for us in Christ. John creates a literary masterpiece where we understand that things are not always as they seem. Even in the midst of tragedy and persecution, the believer continues to hold unswervingly to the promise of eternity, knowing that the slain Lamb has become the mighty Lion of Judah. This revelation is a revealing because it comes from outside of ourselves. God is fitting us with the lenses of heaven here as His Son, Jesus Christ, is revealed to us in glory.
John writes to these seven churches in Asia: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth,” (v4-5). A key phrase for our reading of Revelation is “faithful witness”. Jesus shows us what it means to bear witness to God faithfully in the face of adversity. This is the message these early believers need to hear; and it is a timely message for our day. We are at once reminded that Jesus bears faithful witness because of His status as “the firstborn of the dead.” The risen Christ is our reason for hope. As we see in v18, Jesus is alive and well: “I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The word “witness” is the Greek word “martys” or “martyr”. As His lifeblood drains out of His body on the cross, Jesus is bearing witness to the faithfulness of God. Our God is a faithful God, full of love even to the point of death. But in the resurrection, we find that Jesus’ complete self-sacrifice is matched by God’s complete restoration of His life. Jesus now stands over every ruler and authority (“ruler of kings on earth”, v5), even Death and Hades, those perpetual tormenters of human existence (v 18).
As the ultimate authority, only Jesus is qualified (or “worthy” to use another of John’s favorite words) to restore broken humanity to its original purposes. Only through Christ is the image of God restored to us. “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by hid blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen,” (v5-6). Amid all the other images of Jesus that John details here in ch1, we should be most impressed that Christ is the eternal One, the Living Son, the Promise of the Life that God is imparting to us through faith.