Summary: As the Revelation opens John sees a vision of Jesus standing among the churches of Asia and the vision is of one who shows the glory of God shining from his face
Today we begin a series on the book of Revelation. You may be aware that this is not an easy book to follow so let me give you a short introduction. The first thing to understand is that this is not a work of history, though it is firmly rooted in the history of the Church since Jesus Christ. It’s not wisdom literature like the psalms or proverbs. It is a letter, but not like any of the other letters you may be familiar with. It’s what’s called Apocalyptic. If you’d lived in the first century when John was writing this you’d understand exactly what that meant, but since you don’t, let me try to explain. Apocalyptic writing uses strange, often fantastic, imagery to describe what might happen in the future. The closest thing we have to it today would be science fiction/fantasy literature. But even that doesn’t really explain it because what we find here isn’t a linear story. It uses picture language, but the picture is moving. Someone has described it as mobile metaphor. Sometimes it’s like we’re looking at the same scene from multiple vantage points - the same characters and events pop up but the picture is different each time.
But let’s look at how the letter begins. He writes: “This is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” This is a message from God via Jesus Christ who sends an angel to John so he can pass the message on to us. And it’s a revelation. That is, it’s the unveiling of something that was previously hidden.
This revelation has its focus in Jesus Christ but it tells what’s about to happen to Christians in the time to come.
John says an interesting thing in v2. He says he testifies “to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ ... that he saw.” Did you get that? This is the word of God that he saw. Not that he heard or read. This is a vision. A vision that contains, encapsulates, God’s word. And it’s as we look at the pictures, the mobile metaphors, that we find God’s word for us. But because it’s God’s word in a vision we won’t find the nice neat connections that we would if we were reading the letter to the Romans or the Ephesians. This is moving imagery that needs to be seen as a whole, not in individual frames.
So why is this letter written to the churches in Asia? Well, it’s written to encourage and strengthen the church. We’re going to skip over the letters to the 7 churches because we looked at them a few years ago, but if you read them you’ll see that although each message is directed to a particular situation the thrust is the same in each case. God knows their situation, he encourages them to persevere and he promises that if they conquer, that is, if they get through to the end without losing their faith in Jesus Christ, they will receive a reward.
Jesus sends them this message to remind them that the God they worship is the one and only God and he has history under control, even if the present circumstances make them wonder whether that’s true.
And notice it’s written as a prophecy - to show his servants what must soon take place. This is a word from God, telling them how he wants them to live through the things that must take place. That is, those things that must happen as history moves towards its inevitable conclusion. What must happen if justice is to be brought about and God’s rule finally established.
Well let’s think about how he begins the letter.
The Person of Jesus Christ
Who he is
He says this letter is from Jesus Christ, and then he gives 7 descriptors of Jesus:
He’s the faithful witness. The word used is the word martyr. Jesus is the first Christian martyr. He’s the first to shed his blood as a sign of his faith in and allegiance to the living God. If the context of this message is persecution, then Jesus is the ultimate example of one who stood firm, who persevered in his obedience to God in the face of suffering and death.
He’s the firstborn from the dead. The ultimate answer to those who threaten us with suffering and death is the resurrection from the dead. Do you wonder whether our hope of eternal life is for real? Do you need some evidence that there’s something after this life? Just look at Jesus Christ; see his risen body; see those hands and side that he showed to Thomas in the upper room. The assurance that Jesus will save us in the end is his own risen body.