Revelation 1:9-20 The Glorious Jesus

Sun, 24/07/2016 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

“Who do you think you are to speak to me like that?”

I’m sure you find yourself thinking that from time to time. Someone asks you to do something, offers you some advice. It’s not entirely welcome. And then you start to think: “Who is this person who’s talking to me? Why should I do what they say? Do they even know me well enough to give me this advice, or to boss me around?” “Who do you think you are?”

Sometimes, we can feel like that as we read the Bible. Bits of it aren’t particularly welcome. Most of us don’t like to have our beliefs challenged. Even more, we don’t like to have our behaviour challenged. And we find ourselves thinking, “Bible: Who do you think you are to talk to me like that?”

The book of Revelation can make us feel like that too. It was a letter, written by the apostle John. John didn’t make up what he wrote. Two weeks ago we learnt that Jesus sent his angel to John, to show him some visions and to dictate some messages.

We get that again in verse 10: “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

The number seven represents totality. The letter was intended for every church to read, in every age. The seven listed were probably where the biggest post offices were on the route the letter would have travelled.

Well, like us, John’s curious. “Who is this who is speaking to me?” And the seven churches would have been curious: “Who is this who is talking to us?”

John’s curiosity gets the better of him. Verse 12: “I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me.”

And this is what he sees. He doesn’t see a person at all. He sees seven golden lampstands. And then he sees a person, walking among the lampstands. What he sees is so brilliant and so frightening that he collapses on the ground, as though dead. But this individual gently puts his right hand on him, speaks to him and puts him back on his feet, before repeating the instruction. Verse 19: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.”

So, who does this person think he is, to speak to us like this? Maybe you ask that as you hear any part of the Bible being read. John got to see the answer, and by recording his vision, we can know the answer too.

3 headings for us.

The glorious Jesus who terrifies

First, he is the glorious Jesus who terrifies. The glorious Jesus who terrifies.

Let me read again the description of the man among the lampstands. He was dressed like a high priest from the Old Testament. “Among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest.”

Then here’s what he looked like. No surprise, we get exactly seven details described: “The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”

At one level, what John saw was highly symbolic. This is not what Jesus actually looks like, it’s just what he looks like in this vision. When we meet the risen Jesus in the gospels, he eats fish, and still looks fully human. Those details are there to tell us something about Jesus.

It’s rich symbolism. I’m not going to interpret each detail. We meet them again in chapters 2 and 3, one at a time, so we’ll look at them then. What we get is a wonderful tapestry of lots of characters from the Old Testament. Take the Son of Man in Daniel 7, the Ancient of Days in the same chapters. Add Ezekiel 1 and Isaiah 6 where those two prophets had visions as God called them. Then mix in the angel from Daniel chapter 10.

And all those characters are here, woven together, in one glorious figure.

I don’t know if you saw the drama that the BBC put out early this year called “Dickensian”. I don’t doubt the hard-core Dickens fans hated it. Tony Jordan who wrote it is a massive Dickens fan, so he meant no disrespect. Take lots of well-known Dickens characters, and write a storyline with them all in together, each in the character that Dickens gave them. What would happen if the Cratchits met the Bumbles who also met the Havishams?

The vision here is a bit like that. He’s a beautiful and imaginative tapestry of lots of characters from the Old Testament, all woven together. John does that a lot. He pulls together allusions to lots of different Old Testament passages and brings them together to get his own message across.

It’s symbolic, not what he actually looks like. And yet I don’t want to overstate this.

You’ll remember the account of the transfiguration. It’s recorded in three of the four gospels. Peter has just twigged that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus then explains that he has come in order to suffer and die. Does that mean he’s any less the Lord and God that Peter’s just figured out?

To answer that, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain. There he’s transfigured before them. His clothes and his face become dazzling white. God draws back the curtain and gives them a little glimpse of Jesus in all his glory, in all his splendour.

That’s what’s happening here. This is John’s second sight of this. These details may be symbolic, but they’re not made up and they won’t mislead us. Jesus is alive today, and he really is this glorious. This vision is 100% accurate. In some ways, if you saw Jesus alive today, he would look just like this.

Just feel what it must have been like to be John, seeing this character. His hair as white as wool, or as white as snow. If you go skiing, you need goggles, because the snow is too bright to look at. So white. Take a brand new white shirt, and hold it up against fresh snow, and the shirt looks filthy. His voice like the sound of rushing waters. Have you ever stood close to a great waterfall, Niagara, Victoria, take your pick, and tried to have a conversation with that roar in the background? The sheer power of that sound. Take a piece of metal, put it in a furnace to soften it and shape it. Leave it there until it’s glowing with heat, red hot. Bring it out and look at it. Touch it. Don’t. Feet like that. We all know you should never look at the sun directly. And so on.

Absolutely awesome. No wonder John fell down at his feet as though dead. It’s terrifying. It almost kills him.

Next time you’re listening to the Bible and you’re tempted to ask: “Who is this, who thinks he can speak to me like that?”, remember this vision. This is who is speaking to you. We domesticate Jesus in our thinking today. We imagine him to be much smaller, more tame, more ordinary than he ever is.

If Jesus walked in here, in person, in body, one Sunday morning to join in with our service, we would be absolutely terrified. We’d probably do what John did, and just collapse.

One day you will get to meet him. When he returns, he will come back in his glory with the holy angels. If you’re a Christian, I hope you’re looking forward to that day like you’ve never looked forward to anything else. But I hope there’s a little bit of you that is absolutely terrified at the thought of meeting him. Otherwise it’s not the real Jesus you’re contemplating meeting.

That’s the first heading. Who is this? He is the glorious Jesus who terrifies.

The risen Jesus who lives forever

Second, he’s the risen Jesus who lives forever. The risen Jesus who lives forever.

Jesus doesn’t leave John on the floor. Verse 17 is wonderfully tender. “Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid.’”

It doesn’t say that Jesus set him back on his feet, but the implication is that he has no need to be afraid, no need to be on the floor. There are a few times when Old Testament prophets had visions that wiped them out, and they’re always put back on their feet. Jesus gently picks John up. “Don’t be afraid”.

Why not? Firstly, he’s “the First and the Last.” But then look at verse 18: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

So John need not fear. Let’s draw out the logic here. There are three steps to this.

Firstly, Jesus died and is alive. He’s alive forever and ever. He will never die again.

Second, that means he holds the keys of death and Hades. Hades is where the Old Testament said you went immediately after you died. Jesus has defeated death, so he’s now in charge of death. He’s conquered.

Third, death no longer needs to frighten us. Because Jesus rules. Jesus rules over death .He’s in charge there just as much as anywhere else.

Imagine a Western politician wants to visit part of Iraq that’s been occupied by the group calling itself Islamic State. They’d never be allowed to go there while Islamic State are still around. Far too risky. They could be kidnapped, killed, anything could happen. But they could, just about, go to an area that’s been cleared. The Iraqi forces are fully in charge. They’ve driven out all insurgents. They’re in control there now. Not just in theory but in practice.

That’s what Jesus has done to death. He’s now in charge. So it poses no fear for us at all.

Jesus lives. Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades. So death need not frighten us.

There’s one last step, and then we’ll see why John does not need to be frightened of Jesus. Why is death frightening? Is it not this: We know we’re all guilty before God. God is perfectly good and holy, and we are not. That’s why John collapsed before the risen Jesus. He hadn’t got a leg to stand on before the perfectly radiant, holy, awesome God.

Which means, what we deserve is for God to lock us up in the prison called death, and he’d throw away the key. We’d be locked up there forever. We could be trapped in death forever.

But Jesus is risen. He’s conquered death. So the fear of death is gone. Which means it’s no longer a death sentence for us to see God in all his beautiful perfection.

“Don’t be afraid, John. I am the Living One… I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Who is this who speaks to us? It’s Jesus, the Living One.

Why would we listen to him? Not only because he’s so glorious that we’d melt if he came into the room. But also because he’s so gracious and so powerful that he’s the one who draws our hearts to him, who has earnt our loyalty and devotion, who has taken away the fear of death

The risen Jesus who lives forever.

The nearby Jesus who knows us

Why listen to Jesus? He’s the glorious Jesus who terrifies. He’s the risen Jesus who lives forever. Third, he’s the nearby Jesus who knows us. The nearby Jesus who knows us.

He appears among seven golden lampstands He holds in his right hand seven golden stars. You’re wondering what these represent. There’s no need – the answer’s right here.

Verse 20: “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

The lampstands represent the churches.

The stars represent the angels of the churches. The word “angel” also means “messenger”, so some people think that the angels of the churches are their leaders, who are to pass on the message of this letter to their congregation.

That’s possible, but the rest of Revelation uses “angel” in the same way we think of the word. Heavenly beings. Elsewhere in the Bible, we meet the idea that individuals have an angel whose job is to look out for them. We also meet the idea that nations have their own guardian angel, who represents that nation in the heavenly court.

So it’s not too hard to believe that churches do, too. That means that of all the billions and billions of angels, one of them is the angel of St Mary’s Kemsing, and one of them is the angel of St Mary’s Woodlands. God symbolically addresses the 7 churches by addressing their angels.

But here’s the important thing. Jesus is pictured among the lampstands. Indeed, John sees the lampstands first, and only then sees Jesus walking among them. Christian churches are lights. The world is often a dark place. It rejects God and his rule. Churches are meant to shine God’s light into the darkness.

And as we represent God in the world, Jesus is here with us. He’s not distant, far-off, clueless what goes on. He’s right here.

You know the saying: “When the cat’s away, the mice can play.” The attempted coup in Turkey began when the president was out of the country. And ended when he returned to the country. There was 30 minutes the week before last when we had no prime minister. The old one had resigned, and the new one was not in post. One friend of mine remembered what it was like to be at school, and tweeted: “Yay. There’s no prime minister for the next half hour. Let’s all muck about!”

When it comes to Christian churches, the cat is not away, and so the mice cannot play. There can be no coup. There may be a great deal of fun and laughter in the life of our church – we’re a family after all – but there’s no mucking about in the sense of pretending nobody’s watching us.

I said earlier that if Jesus were to walk into this church one Sunday, we’d all be absolutely terrified if he came in his full glory. I was careful to qualify that. I said, “If he walked in here in person, in body”. Because actually he’s here every week. He’s never far away. He knows everything that goes on.

Who is this speaking to me? Why should I listen? This is the nearby Jesus who knows us. As we hear his word being read, as we plan how we will respond, as we have that thought that wonders who is addressing us: He’s right here.


“Who does he think he is, to talk to me like that?”

If it’s the book of Revelation, the Bible we’re talking about, Jesus is the one speaking to us.

The glorified Jesus who terrifies. The risen Jesus who lives forever. The nearby Jesus who knows us. So we’d better pay attention to him.

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