Summary: The portrait of Jesus walking in the midst of His churches pictures the works that His followers are to be doing.
How many of you have ever seen a portrait of Jesus? [Pause for response]. For those of you who raised your hands, I’m assuming that you’re referring to a depiction of Jesus that might look something like this. [Show painting of Jesus]. Would you be surprised to find that in the first sixty-five books of the
Bible, we actually have no description of the physical appearance of Jesus whatsoever. About the closest we get are these words from the prophet Isaiah:
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
Isaiah 53:2 (ESV)
That doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what Jesus looks like does it? Not even the gospel accounts reveal anything about the physical appearance of Jesus. So all the portraits we have of Jesus are merely the artist’s guess of what He might have looked like. And not surprisingly, most of those portraits portray Jesus in a way that fits the cultural and ethnic background of the artist.
But as I pointed out last week, the Book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus, and for the first time in the Bible, we are given a portrait of Jesus. In fact, Revelation is bookended with portraits of Jesus – the one we’ll look at this morning in chapter 1 and then the one we’ll see in Revelation 19. So let’s go ahead and read our passage for this morning:
9 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. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 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.”
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 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. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 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.
THE SETTING (vv. 9-11)
If you wanted to paint or photograph a portrait of a person or a family, one of the most important aspects of that portrait would be to establish the proper setting. So before we examine the portrait of Jesus this morning, we need to take a step back and look at the setting for this portrait.
• The artist – John ?
It is really interesting how John identifies himself here. He doesn’t depict himself as an apostle, or as an eyewitness of Jesus, but merely as a brother and a partner with all of the other believers. This really puts to rest the notion of some kind of clergy/laity hierarchy in the church. Although Dana and I may have a different role than the rest of you, we too, are merely your brothers and partners.
John uses another triplet to describe the nature of his partnership with his brothers and sisters in Christ:
o The tribulation
Since the article, “the”, is included here, John is referring to some specific tribulation. Most likely it is the persecution that the church is experiencing under the Roman emperor Domitian.
o The kingdom
As we’ve discussed before, the kingdom of God has both a present and a future aspect to it. John is obviously writing here of the present aspect of the kingdom which he is currently experiencing along with his brothers and sisters in Christ.
o The patient endurance
This Greek word literally means to “remain under” or to “abide under”. It conveys the idea of bearing up under pressure, regardless of the length or intensity.
Together, those three characteristics described what it meant to be part of the body of those who had committed their lives to Jesus. And it remains an accurate picture of what we can expect to face as followers of Jesus. Jesus promised His followers that they would face tribulation in this world, but he also promised them that they are part of His kingdom and that He will provide the patient endurance that is required. Once again, we are reminded of the box art for our journey through Revelation: