The Judgments Of God
The Appointed Judge (Revelation Chapter One)
In commencing a series of messages based on the book of Revelation, it is important to make one or two preliminary observations. We must be careful that we don’t miss seeing the wood for the trees, and lose the great message of the book in grappling with points of interpretation.
I. Setting Of The Book.
It is the one prophetic book of the New Testament. The Bible, which began with the story of creation, soon records the fact of the Fall, and then there follows the long story of human sin into which is woven God’s pattern of salvation. This closing book gives us the vision of a triumphant conclusion to human history. It was written in an hour of great crisis in the history of the early church. Two empires were in mortal combat—the Kingdom of God (the Christian church) and the Empire of Rome. Two worlds were in collision. The writer of the book—the Apostle John—had been exiled. Christians were being martyred and a systematic attempt was being made to establish world worship of an Emperor. Christianity was threatened with extinction. Developments had taken place most rapidly in Asia Minor where the seven churches were located, and there was an urgent question of loyalties. To worship Christ meant death. Subtle attempts were made to make the Christians compromise. “Don’t cease to call yourselves Christians—only sprinkle a little incense on the altar fire.” The Christians refused and were either slain or sent to concentration camps for refusing to worship the state. To meet this situation, to comfort and strengthen Christians in their hour of trial, this book was written.
This is all very modern, and that is why I want you to get the real purpose of the book clear. It was never meant to confuse—always to comfort. The picture here of the triumph of Redemption is vividly painted on a large canvas. It is necessary to stand back and take in the whole scene if we would examine more closely the detail. If we do so we shall discover that its message is certainly appropriate for today.
II. Scope Of The Book.
There are several methods of interpretation. To mention just a few:
(a) The Historical Interpretation which had many great students and commentators as its supporters. The whole book, except the first and last chapters, is by this method regarded as providing a continuous revelation of church history, and according to this view most of the book is already fulfilled.
(b) The Futurist Interpretation, widely accepted by many Protestant writers, and followed by the Scofield Bible. By this method, the period of the church from its beginning until raptured at Christ’s coming is covered by chapters 2 and 3. The rest of the book from chapter 4 is future and will only take place after the Rapture. By this method, most of the book is yet unfulfilled.
(c) Another method is the Resumptive Method in which it is noted that a series of crises of judgment are recorded in the book which suggest that certain events are described repeatedly from differing points of view: chapter 2 and 3 form history of the church until the second advent; chapters 4 to 7, 8 to 11, 12 to 14 cover the same period, but are written from a different viewpoint. For instance, while chapter 2 and 3 give the story of the church as comforted by Christ; chapters 12 to 14 give the same story as challenged by Satan.
All of these methods agree that the book was first addressed to the seven churches, to comfort them in times of severe tribulation, and to minister comfort by a revelation of the sovereignty and glory and triumph of our God.
I just mention this so that you may be aware of these viewpoints. My concern in these messages however is not to attempt to sit with one or the other school, but to ensure that we do not miss the vital message by getting lost in prophetic detail. The hallmark of Scripture is that it speaks to all of us in every age, and this book certainly does that.
III. Signature Of The Book.
Just observe the title given to it. The King James Version calls it “the Revelation of John.” More recent translations, “The Revelation to John.” That is much better, for as verse 1 of chapter 1 says, “It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is exactly why it is—God’s Word—apocalypse—to reveal, uncover, disclose, to make manifest. It is not to be confused with “apocrypha”—concealed or not authentic. “Apocalypse—that is the key to the whole book. As Peter said in 1 Peter 1:7, “That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing (apocalypse) of Jesus Christ.”
And it is with that great event and all that surrounds it, that the book has to do. The author of it, the Beloved Disciple, no doubt an old man by now, declares (verse 10) that he “was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.” That does not mean Sunday. It does mean the day of the Lord. The day in which as Isaiah says, “man shall hide in the rocks for fear of the Lord.” The day as Malachi says, when “The sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” The day in which, as Paul says, God will judge the world by the Man whom He has ordained. Here then John “in the Spirit” is caught out of himself, out of his time and placed amidst the stupendous scenes of that great day, that he might write “The things he had seen, the things that are, and the things that should be hereafter” (verse 19) and send this tremendous message of authority and comfort to Christians of his day, stationed as a spectator amidst scenes of judgment.
IV. The Subject Of The Book.
The first great need of a heart facing persecution, despotism, cruelty is a vision of the Lord Himself. That is exactly what is given in the opening chapter. That is our need.
Look with me at this full-length portrait of the Risen Lord—the appointed Judge. Stand back and see Him—“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” This is the One who has washed us from our sins in His blood (verse 5); who holds the keys of hell and of death (verse 18); the One with whom we have to do.
When John turned to see the One who spoke to him, he saw “one like unto the Son of Man.” This was the One with whom he had walked and talked in Galilee. The Word made flesh—now on the throne. His assumption of human nature was not a temporary expedient for 33 years, but the abiding miracle of eternity. For He who was despised and rejected of men is crowned with glory and honour. A heart that is both divine and human beats in the breast of One who is on the throne in heaven. That fact is as essential to our eternal salvation as is the continuance of God’s creative power to preserve the universe.
John saw him in the midst of the seven candlesticks, which, as verse 20 says, are the seven churches. That is where He is now—in the midst “Where two or three are gathered…” Just as you say of someone “he makes his presence felt.” So that is infinitely more true of Christ.
Notice this full-length portrait:
Verse 13—“Clothed with a garment down to the feet”—indicating His perfect authority. “Girt about the breast with a golden girdle”—indicating His perfect love.
Verse 14—“His head and His hair were white, as white as wool, white as snow”—His perfect holiness. “His eyes were as a flame of fire”—His perfect knowledge. Power to read secrets, penetrate hearts at a glance, and all things are naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Verse 15—“His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace”—His perfect righteousness. It is upon these feet He walks amongst His people—beautiful to them that love Him, but terrible to those who will be trodden down by them. “His voice as the sound of many waters”—His perfect power. A voice that penetrates all ages, and one day the dead shall hear it.
Verse 16—“He had in His right hand seven stars”—the “angels” or ministers of the churches (verse 20). His perfect control.What a place for the preacher to be!—in His right hand. If true to Him, then none can touch us. If unfaithful, none can deliver. “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” His perfect truth. The Word of God is no empty utterance. It is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit,—all the time it is clearing or judging those to whom it is preached. “His countenance as the sun shineth in his strength”—His perfect glory.Heaven has no need of the sun, for He is the light of it. The churches are lamps—the ministers are stars, but He is the Sun.
That is His full-length portrait as He moves among His people, and as He pronounces judgment on the world. The God-man: clothed with royalty—girded with love—crowned with purity—shod with righteousness—with absolute knowledge, supreme power, utter control, and complete truth—altogether perfect. This is the God men ignore!
V. The Sequel
What shall we do? What did John do? Verse 17—“When I saw Him I fell at His feet as dead.” I’m not surprised. Are you? The overwhelming sense of the glory of Christ completely overcame him. This is the first and greatest need of everyone of us. A sight of the character of God in Christ which takes away all our strength and self-confidence, which strips us of our pride. If I saw Him like that, perhaps I would offer Him to others differently. We speak and sing lightly of divine things, because we have had no real conception of the majesty of Christ. We think lightly of sin, because we have never seen the glory of God. Can you face this Revelation of Christ and be the same, or do the same?
Yet, I am not forgetting that the main purpose of this vision was to bring comfort. Of course nothing can bring us comfort if we are in any doubt as to the true character of our God. But nobody who has ever seen Him as described here, and fallen at His feet can ever again fear anything.
VI. The Salvation
So Jesus put His right hand on John and said: “Fear not.” Judgment is to be pronounced, the sun to be darkened, the moon turned to blood, the stars to fall, thrones are to be set, the dead to be raised, hell to be opened—but “Fear not.” The world may say, “Cheer up, don’t be afraid,” but that is hollow and shallow. But Jesus speaks as the One who has conquered death and holds the keys of death and hell (verses 17 and 18). Therefore He says, “Fear not: I am He that liveth and was dead.”
That this One became dead,—was crucified, dead and buried, that He who is eternal life died is too much to understand. We can but bow and worship! This much we do know—He was slain from before the foundation of the world. Never get your order of thinking wrong. It is not—Creation—Sin—Incarnation—then Atonement. No! The Atonement was in the heart of God before the world was! Therefore: Fear not. To any who feared death then, or fear it now; “Fear not.” He has been that way. He is through it—alive forevermore. He has the keys of hell and of death. Surely this is the picture of authority and control. When Jesus says He has the keys of death, it means that He alone admits His people into it, and opens the way out on the other side. He controls when we enter His many mansions, as well as how we enter,—quickly slipping away or by long prolonged illness. Our destiny is not in the hands of any Caesar of modern times, but in His nail-pierced hands; not those of a cruel foe, but a kindly King.
What effect has this on you? On the church? I trust it may be in the words of the Apostle in Philippians 1:20, “In nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”