By Simon ManchesterSunday 20 Sep 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
We have all heard of the Book of Revelation. It is just ‘the Revelation’ or the unveiling of Jesus. Listen to this very helpful quote;
‘I do not read the Revelation to get additional information about Christ. I have read it all before in law and prophet, in Gospel and epistle. Everything in Revelation can be found in the previous 65 books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know. There is nothing new to say on the subject. But, there is a new way to say it. I read the Revelation to revive my imagination. John takes the truth, that has been eroded to platitude by careless usage, and sets it in motion before us’.
When we preached through the Book of Revelation some years ago, it was my conviction too that Revelation was not saying anything new. It was saying things we knew, freshly.
How brilliant of God to give us a finish to His Book with a little book which underlines the truths we have read so far, in a kind of a Technicolor pen. You see when you get to the end of the Bible, and you read Revelation, you can’t snore or snooze in the Book of Revelation. You can be bewildered by it. You can be humbled by it. You could be gripped by it, but you can’t be bored by the Book of Revelation.
We’re going to take a little section for our few minutes this morning. This is the last of a series of Biblical visions. Today is the vision that was given to the disciple John. He was allowed to see something of the risen Jesus Christ. You will notice if you look at Verse 9, that he writes as one who belongs to Jesus and therefore experiences: suffering, kingdom and endurance.
Jesus and Suffering
I want to look at those three with you. First of all, suffering. It is straightforward, if you look at Verse 9, to see why John the disciple suffers. He has been exiled to the island of Patmos. He has been banished, he tells us, because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. He is exiled for being a Christian. Now people today, in this service, have stood up and testified that they follow Jesus Christ. And there is no great danger for them in this building. It’s quite a safe place to testify to being a follower, isn’t it; in fact, it’s quite an encouraging place to testify. But John the disciple testified to Jesus Christ in public, and He was taken by the Roman government and sent off to a prison called the island of Patmos. According to tradition, he was there for three years, from 94-96AD. A prisoner would be first whipped, then chained, would be given little food, no bed except the ground, and would be expected to work hard in the quarries of the island of Patmos.
Now it would be nice, at this point, to stop and say a little bit about general suffering, but there isn’t time this morning. I just want you to think of John’s suffering.
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He is exiled for being faithful. That is always discouraging. He has no prospect of getting off Patmos. He’s a very old man. He is cut off from the churches that he loves and the churches that love him. He can’t travel and preach any more. He is the last Apostle. He seems to be abandoned by his Lord. The risen Christ seems helpless to save him, and the Roman empire seems to be unstoppable and unbeatable. And suddenly, without any change in his circumstances whatsoever, God gives him a vision of Jesus Christ. And He commands him to write it for the Church, and that is what we have here in our book.
It’s a very strong medicine. This Book of Revelation has been appreciated by believers who suffer, more, perhaps than any other book in the Bible, because it takes such a great perspective. This revelation which John experiences, this vision, tells us of Jesus Christ, who is in Heaven, completely controlling the details of the world for His good, for His purposes.
I will give you two quick examples of this, how Jesus controls things for His own purposes. It is estimated that when John was on the island of Patmos, which about 100AD, that there was one Gospel believer for every 360 unbelievers. By the time it turned 1000AD, there was one for every 220 unbelievers. By 1900, there was one for every 27 unbelievers. And by 1989, there was one Gospel believer for every seven believers. So you see, the Lord Jesus Christ, far from being irrelevant, as many in our own city and country would think, is building His Church extremely ably.
I will give you another example. When Chairman Mao in conducted his cultural revolution, they guess many as 20 million Chinese lost their lives. The missionaries were expelled or killed, the Church was attacked viciously, it was assumed that the Chinese Church would die. When the doors were opened, the watching world suddenly realised that there was unparalleled growth in China of the Church, unique in human history. Fifty to ninety million Christians (a conservative estimate) in China and the Church has been purified, indigenised, motivated, and has become one of the great sending Churches in the world today. Two-thirds of Gospel believers today are in the third-world countries, and we are going to be a shrinking white minority, as Churches like China, Africa and others, do the sending.
So, God, you see, knows how to guard and build His Church, even when somebody like John is sidelined. That’s the suffering.
Jesus and the Kingdom
Second, the Kingdom. He is given a vision, or an unveiling, of Jesus Christ. He sees the King of kings in His glory. If you look at Verse 13, it says among the lampstands (that’s the Churches; they are not the light, they are the stand) and amongst the Churches was someone like a Son of man. We know from a couple of weeks ago that Daniel, in the Old Testament, spoke of the Son of man as someone who would come who would be worshipped.
Jesus took the title, Son of Man, for Himself, borrowed it from the Book of Daniel, so that everybody who was in the know of the Scriptures, would know that He was the Messiah. To many, of course, it sounded like nothing more than a humble name. And it was very confusing, for the people of Jesus’ day, that He took the title ‘Son of Man’ and then did not produce lightning bolts and thunder.
So, here He was, walking around the world, taking the title of a cosmic King and acting like a very humble servant. It was challenging for people to grasp that He was God and man in the one person, which of course He is.
John, the disciple, the Apostle, was in the band of twelve. He had to work out for himself that this person, Jesus, who looked like an ordinary person, was the King of kings behind the disguise.
But he was given one excellent example of this when Jesus took John, James and Peter to the top of a mountain (you can read about it in Mark Chapter 9) and He showed him a little preview of Jesus in Heaven, just a short, sharp preview of Jesus in Heaven. But now Jesus is in Heaven, and John is being given a vision of the risen Jesus Christ. And he describes it, in Verses 14-16, and he doesn’t do it with doctrinal sentences, which the rest of the New Testament does. He does it with powerful pictures.
Friends, I honestly don’t know how to unpack a picture for you properly. It’s a tough thing for the preacher to take a picture and do justice to it to you today. It’s a little bit like me taking a famous painting, and you asking me to explain it. All I am really going to do is perhaps ruin the picture by talking. But just so you get the rough idea, let’s take a few minutes to think about the picture.
First of all, Verse 13, the Son of Man is dressed in a robe to His feet. He had a gold sash around His chest. Who dresses like this? The answer, according to the Bible, is that it’s the priest. The priest was a robed man, and he had the role of communicating the needs of the world to God and God’s mercy to the world. Jesus, we are told in the Bible, is the perfect and final High Priest. You don’t need any other priest but Jesus.
The prophets were also robed. They brought the message of God to people. Here is Jesus, the absolute Prophet, the best, the most famous, the most able Prophet the world has ever seen. And the king was robed. The king was robed, of course, to rule. Here is Jesus, King of kings, ruling. So although the verse doesn’t say what Jesus’ role is, it says He was robed, and the people who were robed were prophet, priest and king. That’s what Jesus is.
His character is then set out in Verse 14-16. First, we are told in Verse 14 that His head and hair are white. If you were here a few weeks ago, you would remember that in Daniel, we read that God has hair and head that are white, in the picture. Now we are told that Jesus has hair and head that is white. Everything that is said about God is said about Jesus.
The human race is a dirty race, it’s a dark race, sinfully. And God said in the Book of Isaiah that our sins are like scarlet. If we, therefore, go near to God, it will be very exposing and shameful, which is of course why people try to avoid Jesus Christ as much as they can. He shows them up. He is perfect.
There isn’t a tinge of evil in Him. There isn’t a tinge of darkness or dirt in His character. He is a holy King. But the wonderful thing is, that He came to carry our dirt away, as we have been hearing and singing. He came to leave people spotless and white. And the way to take advantage of what He came to do, is to admit your need humbly and to kneel down before Him and to ask His forgiveness.
Now proud people, unfortunately, never do this. They won’t admit the dirt, and they won’t accept the Good News. But in Jesus’ day, and in every day, prostitutes, criminals, pub-keepers, tax-collectors, all sorts of people. Sophisticated doctors, lawyers, clergy, husbands, housewives, children, truck drivers, teachers.
Every single person who is willing to admit their need, their dirt, before Christ, and kneels down and asks for His forgiveness, receives this very wonderful washing that He came to bring.
We are then told that His eyes were like blazing fire. They are like blazing fire, and eyes that are blazing fire see everything. They penetrate every corner, and they get into every heart. That is why it is very foolish to think that He can’t see what is going on, and it’s much wiser to kneel before Him and bring everything to Him.
We are told in Verse 15 that His feet are like bronze, and I did a little bit of thinking about this. What does it mean that He has bronze feet? I was reminded that in Daniel, the idol has clay feet. That’s where the little phrase ‘clay feet’ comes from.
The kingdoms of this world are built, as you know, on feet that crumble. Every government that comes in does its best, and then it gets pushed out, and another one comes in, and it does its best, and it gets pushed out.
They keep getting rolled around because every human kingdom crumbles. But God’s Kingdom is built on an immovable base and these bronze feet, we are told in Verse 15, are in a furnace, and so they are also holy, clean, purified, and they are able to trample down evil.
We are then told that His voice is like the sound of rushing waters, in Verse 15. I don’t know what to make of a voice like rushing waters, except that it’s obviously not a wimpy voice. It’s a very commanding, impressive voice.
Rushing waters mean that you have the ability to overpower. It also means that you have the ability to bring refreshment. So, rushing waters voice means that you have a voice of power – you could be frightening – but you also bring life-giving sustenance. And this is a voice which is not able to be ignored.
Then we see, in Verse 16, that in His right hand are the seven stars. We don’t need to guess what the seven stars are. We are told in Verse 20 that they are angels or messengers. And so in this picture of Jesus, He is standing there with the seven messengers, or angels, in His hands.
I don’t know whether this means the messengers that Heaven sends down to the earth, or whether it means the earthly witnesses that God gives to His church and to the world, but what is important is that in His hand, He has the communicators of the Good News.
We are not surprised, in Verse 16, to see that His message is like a sword which comes out of His mouth. It’s a grotesque picture, isn’t it, a sharp sword, coming out of a mouth but we are told in the Scriptures that His Word is like a sword. It comes out of His mouth, it cuts, it wins against evil, and it is victorious for those who align themselves with Him. And then finally, in Verse 16, we are told that His face is like the sun. It is too brilliant to look at.
When you put all this together, John the disciple sees Jesus, the risen King, with the role of Prophet, Priest and King. His character is Holy and perfect. His vision is searching and penetrating. His feet are sturdy and stable. His voice is majestic. He holds the stars. He speaks a word that can’t be beaten, and He is absolutely overwhelming in His brilliance and no wonder John falls down at His feet, as if dead. This vision of Jesus Christ, risen, absolutely flattens him. And the same Jesus, who is so powerful and so over-powering, puts His hand on John’s shoulder. The same hand that holds the stars touches this frightened disciple, and He comforts him. And He comforts him with the news that He is no longer dead, as John knew, but He is living, and He holds the keys to death and to hell.
Many years ago, I was invited to go and speak at the Wollongong High-School, in the days when the Wollongong High-School was a dangerous place to be. And I was told that nobody listened to talks from visiting ministers, and so I went in like a real coward, and I stepped up on the platform, in front of this co-ed school.
I read Revelation Chapter 1:18, Jesus said, ‘I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am life forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and hell.’
And then I shook my car-keys, and I jumped off the platform and left the hall. They applauded, not because it was a good talk, but because it was so quick. It’s a great thing to say, briefly, isn’t it, if you have just a minute, in front of an uncooperative crowd. Why not stand up and say, ‘Jesus Christ is the Living One and holds the keys of death and hell.’ That’s what John is privileged to see.
Now the critical thing to say this morning, friends, if you want to do justice to Jesus Christ, if you want to know Him as He is, be sure that you face up to Revelation Chapter 1.
Let me read again from Eugene Peterson, whom I read at the beginning of the sermon. He says, ‘There are tendencies within us, and forces outside us, that reduce God, to what can be measured, used, weighed, gathered, controlled or felt. Our lives become bored, depressed or mean, as a result.
We live like stunted acorns in a terrarium. And so it is of great importance to have a reasonable, sane and mature person stand up, every now and again, in our midst, and say, “God is…” and then complete the sentence Biblically and intelligently.’ Very shrewd. Very wise, isn’t it.
It is of crucial importance to realise what Jesus is like in Revelation Chapter 1, because all the domesticated versions of Jesus are just insulting to Him, and dangerous to us.
We are going to meet the Jesus of Revelation Chapter 1, one day. To meet Him, as an enemy, will be a terrifying experience.
To meet Him, as a friend, is the most wonderful experience in eternity.
To suddenly live with somebody like the Jesus of Revelation 1, as His disciple, as one who is greatly loved by Him, as one who will be welcomed by Him, is the most wonderful thing in the world. We are talking, you see, about Somebody who is the character of Prophet, Priest and King, who is perfect, sees everything, controls everything, has a word which is the final word, and is able to bring power and comfort, in exactly the right proportion, to His people.
Jesus and Endurance
That’s why endurance, the last thing this morning, is so important. John is suffering, sees the King, and is prepared to endure. The suffering is not taken away. He experiences the suffering and the King and is prepared to endure. He is away from his churches, but he knows that Jesus is in the midst of the church. He is not himself there to preach, but he knows the living Word of God is going to be there because God controls the messengers. He can’t see what is going on, but Jesus can see what is going on. Jesus cannot be replaced. He cannot be toppled. His voice brings comfort, and His sword has the final say.
Old John is nearing the end of his days, and Jesus says to him, ‘I have the keys to the door that are now open to you, so that you will go forward, and not be stopped or blocked.’
Revelation unpacks the great facts of the New Testament for us, in a very colourful way. If you want to study the Book of Revelation, I would recommend getting the little commentary, in The Bible Speaks Today, by Michael Wilcock, and seeing a great power and the lofty truths of this wonderful book.
The secret of the Christian life is not hoping that you can avoid suffering. We are in a very fallen world, and if you are going to follow Jesus, it brings its own cost. So don’t hope that you will get away from suffering. But do put your mind on the truth that we have been given of Jesus, and as you experience suffering, and put your mind on the truth of Jesus, you will be given the help to endure one day at a time. When Paul prayed for the Colossians in Chapter 1, he prayed a remarkable thing. He said ‘I am praying that you will have power…’ and what do you think he said after that?
You might think that he said, ‘I am praying that you will have power to escape suffering.’ He didn’t say that.
You might think he is saying, ‘I am praying that you will have power to have such a vision, that you won’t have any worries or difficulties.’ He didn’t say that.
He said I am praying that you will stick. I am praying that you will endure. I am praying that you will go ahead today, and follow Christ. I am praying that you will follow Christ tomorrow. I am praying that you will follow Christ every day, because there is the suffering, and there is the Kingdom, and there is the endurance.
Let’s pray together. Our Heavenly Father, thank You for this wonderful window that we have been given. We pray, that as we put our human eyes onto the difficulties that we are going through, that you would help us to put our spiritual eyes onto the Word that You have given us, and to keep following, and to keep honouring You and to keep trusting You and to keep obeying You. And we pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.