I remember when the first Gulf War began. I'm not talking about the current fight. The one that started way back in Kuwait. I was pastor of a church near Fort Stewart, Georgia and I remember saying "Farewell" to the soldiers. And I was glad to say "Welcome home" to everyone of them. That was a wonderful blessing to that church. The fact that a war was taking place in the Middle East had much of the religious community on edge. "This is Armageddon!" "it's in the Middle East. It's got to be."
One man approached me and with great animation explained, "This is the beginning of the Apocalypse!" I said, "Really?" He did not feel very impressed with me. He did not consider me much of a student of prophecy when I disagreed that this was the beginning of the Apocalypse. "If you read the book of Revelation like I do," he replied, "you would know all about these things." He did not like it when I told him the Apocalypse had been going on for over six thousand years!
The Apocalypse began in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, GOD..." For you see, the word Apocalypse is a Greek word which simply means, "REVEAL. Uncover." The whole Bible is a revelation, an Apocalypse of who God is! The book of Revelation is simply a revelation of Jesus, an Apocalypse of Jesus to His last day church. Yes, the book is filled with colorful images of awesome happenings in the last days, but its purpose is not to reveal those things as much as it is to reveal how Jesus associates with His people during those times. And we're in those times. We need to se how Jesus is going to be with us.
Turn to Revelation 1:1. Some of your Bibles may even entitle this the Apocalypse (The Catholic Bible; Douay-Rheims Version). The unveiling, the revealing, the uncovering. Revelation. 1:1-3. The revelation of last day events. Right? No! The revelation of Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord! which God gave to Him to show His servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to His servant John, who testifies to everything he saw--that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
Notice that we are told that we are blessed if we read, hear, and apply this revelation to our lives. It takes all three. We need to hear it. We need to understand it. We need to make changes to our lives. We need to apply this revelation of Jesus to our lives. It does not say anything about being very afraid! No! It's exciting! Who needs to fear the last days when Jesus is revealed? I have studied numerous commentaries on the book of Revelation, as I'm sure many of you have. It amazes me how many of those commentaries skip the first three chapters of the book of Revelation and jump right into the "heart" of the prophecies. They start with chapter four. But the first three chapters are the chapters that introduce us as to why this book is written, Who wrote it and what it's all about. If I jumped right into chapter four, I'd be terrified. But I'm beginning with chapter one because Jesus is there. The book is meaningless without Jesus. Pastor Gettys and I are starting a series today on those first three chapters of Revelation, a study of Jesus in His seven churches.
Let's continue with verse 4. John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from Him Who is, and was, and Who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To Him Who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, This doesn't seem like bad news. He's freed us from our sins by His blood. and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father--to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
Look, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of Him. So shall it be! Amen.
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "Who is, and was, and Who is to come, the Almighty."
Hear we have descriptions of Jesus which should bring great comfort to those worried about the last days. The first is found in John's greeting which we may be tempted to pass bye without a thought. "Grace and peace be with you from him..." It sort of sound like, "Hello, how are you? Have a nice day." "Grace and peace be with you from Him." We can't underestimate the power of those words. In Jewish culture, you would greet someone with the word "Shalom," or "Peace." We greeted each other that way in the sixties, didn't we. "Peace!" "Shalom!" In Greek culture, you would greet someone with the word "Charis," or "Grace." John is letting his readers know that this revelation of Jesus is not just for one group. It is for Jew and Gentile alike. He uses both of their greetings; grace and peace. You'll find that Paul does that, too, because God's last day church is to be an inclusive church; Jew and Gentile alike. Spiritual Jews who come spiritually from Abraham.
Grace: how comforting! Unearned reward. Peace, no matter what else is happening. How can this kind of peace be? By the revelation of Jesus! This leads us to the next descriptions: "...the Alpha and the Omega....who is, and who was, and who is to come, the almighty." No situation that we encounter can take our God by surprise. Not our God. He always was, He is, and always will be. He does not go on journeys, like Baal, or have to be awaken. He knows all. No matter what we face in the last days of Earth's history, we can experience grace and peace no matter what life throws at us, no matter what Satan does to throw us down. We can keep going.
During the second world war, 1,700,000 Yugoslavian men, women, and children died in the attempt, the successful attempt, to keep their country free. During the actual days of violence, David Fredenthal, an artist reporter, drew a sketch of an elderly peasant sowing grain. What was unique about this sketch was not that he was sowing grain by hand like I saw somebody spreading fertilizing their yard yesterday. That wasn't what was unusual, but what was unusual in the sketch was that tanks and soldiers were tramping through his plowed fields while he was spreading his grain. He kept going. Even as soldiers trampled across his plowed fields on their way to a military engagement, this patient farmer calmly went about his springtime duty of sowing his farm by hand, just as he had gone about it since his youth. His steadfastness in a time of intense crisis illustrates in a small way the way we can be. No matter what's going on in this world, with our steadfast God, we can have a steadfast life. He never changes. He's the same yesterday, today, and forever, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.
Look at verse 9-18. I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 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, Thyratira, Sardis, Philadelphia and McDonald Road (Laodicea). I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone "Like the Son of Man," dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest. His head and hair were 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 out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed his right hand on me and said; "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Wow! We will not go into each of these fantastic descriptions of Jesus today. For you see, these attributes are revealed again as we discuss each of the seven churches in this series. It is interesting that each church has some of the qualities listed here of Jesus but none are a perfect reflection of Him. No church member is a perfect reflection of all these qualities of Jesus. That's why we need Jesus to make up for it. But this will be discussed more, later.
Notice how Jesus says, "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last." This is a meeting of old friends. Remember? John is the beloved disciple of Jesus. John was a young man back then but now he is old. But Jesus is still Jesus. He reintroduces Himself to His old friend by speaking of His divinity and his power over death. Jesus is still the same, only more is now revealed than John ever knew. There is always more to our friend Jesus than we realize. The more we know Him, the more there is to love!
Now read continuing with verses 19 and 20. Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 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 Greek word, "Angelos," can mean "angel," or "messenger." From the context of the passage, "messenger" seems to be the likely translation: messengers to the churches. This would be the person who was leading out in each church. You could even say, "pastor." As a pastor who knows how inadequate and unworthy he is, I am greatly comforted by these verses. We will see in the following chapters that the seven churches are in all kinds of trouble, but the faulty pastors are still being supported in the right hand of Jesus! Oh, what a great place to be! We could even personalize it more because in verse 6 of this chapter we find that we are all considered priests in God's work! Held in the right hand of God.
There is also comfort here for the churches. They are described as lampstands. Where is Jesus? Walking in their midst! He is with us even in our imperfect state bringing unity which can only be found in Him. This is one of Revelation's most important statements. Jesus appears among the lampstands. In Leviticus 26:12, God says, "I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people." We see here His faithfulness to the church. When we see the flaws in churches, in the people who make them up, our tendency is sometimes to react with disdain. But we must never give up on the spiritual life that remains in the church for the Lord of the churches who offered his blood to redeem them still loves them and walks among them. If you are looking for Jesus, He can be found with His church according to these verses! Some people say, "Well, I find Jesus better somewhere else." But according to Revelation Jesus is with His churches. Don't step outside of His church.
In the ancient temple, the seven lamps were the only source of light. The lampstand held the lamps, held the light. God has revealed that His churches, his people that make up those churches, are the lampstands to hold the light for this dark world. We are not the light, we hold the light. Jesus is the light of the world by which all darkness is banished. His light is to be what is seen in each of us. We are to be a lampstand which holds the Light high for all to see! Not for them to se us, but for them to see Jesus.
Few are attracted by our ability to argue Scripture. Many are attracted by the Light of what that Word does when it makes changes in our lives, when we internalize it. That is what our communion service symbolizes. The foot washing service serves to remind us of our imperfect service and how we are all found lacking. Then we come back to remember that Jesus' perfect, loving sacrifice has freed us from our sin. Rev. 1:5.
As I drove in to church this morning I enjoyed the colors that the spring rains revealed. The dust was washed off the flowers and the fresh leaves. It was just brilliant in color. And, that's what I think of our communion service: A chance to wash the dust off, a chance for a springtime renewal in our lives so that Jesus can shine forth from us more brightly than ever before.
At this time I invite you to separate for our foot-washing service. All are invited to participate.
Sources: God Cares 2 by C. Mervyn Maxwell Unfolding the Revelation by Roy Allan Anderson The NIV Application Commentary by Graig S. Keener The Communicator's Commentary 12 by Earl F. Palmer The Revelation of John Vol. 1 by William Barclay
Hymn of Praise: #25, Praise the Lord, His Glories Show Scripture: Revelation 1:19-20 Hymn of Response: #350, Blest Be the Tie that Binds
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last updated 3/30/2003 by Bob Beckett.