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Lord of the Ages
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Revelation, chapter 1 and follow along as I read verses 4-8. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.
8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Good Old Days
"The good old days"depending on your perspective, that phrase could mean virtually anything. As time refuses to do us any favors and relentlessly marches on, it creates new "good old days" out of what we thought at the time were the "worst of times".
For example, it took the political and social radicalism of the 60s to turn the 30s and the 40sthe years of a Great Depression and a World Warinto the "good old days" for the Booster Generation. It took the unharnessed greed and lust for status and success of the 80s to turn the 60sthe years of Viet Nam and the Cold War fear of nuclear holocaustinto the "good old days" for the Boomer Generation. It took the social insecurity and technological audacity of the 90s to make the 70sthe years of economic stagnation at home and terrorism abroadinto the "good old days" for the Buster Generation. The same principle applies to the way we romanticize the cowboys and Indians of the old West and forget the benefits of modern medical science, which were unavailable in the "good old days."
Instead of wishing for some mythical, never-were, "good old days," Christians should be celebrating the fact that we are living in precisely that moment in history in which God has chosen us to live and love and act. We can know this and proclaim it boldly because of the reminder we hear today from John's Revelation: "'I am the Alpha and the Omega,' says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty" (v.8).
When it comes to the book of Revelation, no one agrees about much of anything. Even the authorship is something of a mystery. Vs 1 and 4 indicate that John is our authorbut which John. No clear evidence establishes that the writer was John the apostle, the son of Zebedee. Nor does internal evidence clearly suggest when the book was written. While most scholars place it about A.D. 94, still others argue for an earlier date.
There is equal disagreement about the content of Revelation. The bizarre images and cryptic pronouncements appear to be both eschatological and historical. That is, they appear to be about the end of time and about the events of the first century. One thing is for certain. However we interpret Revelation, the book inspires us to seriously consider the ongoing activity of God in this world. Whether we think the beast is the Emperor Nero, or the Emperor Domitian, or Saddam Hussain, or a global computer network, however we interpret Revelation, the central message of the book is clear: God has been active, God is active, God will be active,
Verse 4 begins with a formulaic Greek greeting, practically identical in style to the greetings the Apostle Paul used in his correspondence. The writer identifies himself only with his name ("John") and then identifies those to whom he is writingthe "seven churches." The number seven is symbolic in Revelation. Most of the numbers are. Seven is the number of completion or perfection. There were more than seven churches in the Roman Province of Asia. John's use of the number seven indicates that he intended all the churches of the region as the recipients of his message.
The "seven spirits" surrounding God's throne is another use of the perfect number seven to express completeness. The "seven spirits" are the Holy Spirit which is completely and perfectly God.
The Trinity of Christ
In v5, John describes Christ as a Trinity within a Trinity. He is The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn from the dead, The Ruler of the Kings of the earth. Let us look at these titles. They relate to the three times of Christs life:
"Faithful witness" refers to his earthly life.
"Firstborn from the dead" points to his death and resurrection.
"Ruler of the Kings of the earth" refers to his present and future reign over all things.
1. He is a Faithful witness. We find a similar phrase in Revelation 3:14: "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of Gods creation."
Being a faithful witness is an important theme in Revelation. Those Christians undergoing persecution at the hands of Roman officials are called upon to be faithful to Christ. Christ is set before them as the supreme model for them to follow. Since Christ faithfully and truthfully bore witness to God even when persecuted, Christians follow his example.
A faithful witness is, by definition one who is to be believed, one who is credible and trustworthy. The basic prerequisite for witnesses is that they can be trusted, that they can be believed. Revelation says Jesus is such a witness.
Jesus had this innate quality of believableness. People trusted him, they were drawn to him, they responded to him. Certainly many rejected Jesus and his message, but even they seldom questioned his integrity. Nicodemus, who was a recognized leader of the Jewish Sanhedren, said to Jesus, speaking on behalf of Jewish leaders, "We - note the plural - we know that you are a teacher sent from God for no man could do the things that you are doing if God were not with him." The Roman soldier at the foot of the cross said of Jesus: "Surely this man was the Son of God". He drew this remarkable conclusion merely by watching the way in which Jesus died.
The reason the Bible calls on us to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior is because he is trustworthy. We believe in Christ because Christ can be believed. He is the faithful witness. Isnt it comforting to know that in a world full of untrustworthy people, of unreliable, unfaithful, and irresponsible people, that we can put our full trust and confidence in Jesus, the faithful witness of God? In a time of war and uncertainty, we can say, Jesus is the Amen, the one whom we can finally and completely trust.
2. He is the Firstborn of the Dead. This is another unusual title for Christ, found elsewhere only in Colossians 1:18:"He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent."
This is obviously a reference to the resurrection of Jesus. The choice of words, however, is stark. We have two contradictory ideas put together. English teachers call it an oxymoron, but if you are as thick as an ox and as stupid like a moron - like me - you need an explanation. An oxymoron is when you have two contradictory ideas placed next to each other. For example, Jumbo shrimp, taped live, pretty ugly.
In Revelation 1:5, we have two ideas placed together that do not really go together, namely, birth and death. Jesus is called the first born of the dead. We do not expect people to be born when they die. The text literally says that Jesus is the first to be born out of the corpses, out of the realm of death.
A similar idea is found in Acts 2.24 where we read: "And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power." Death, instead of defeating Christ, did not have the power to contain Christ. Death could not hold Christ in the grave.
The title firstborn does not mean that Jesus was the first to have been raised from the dead - Lazarus and others were also raised. What separates Jesus' resurrection from theirs is that Jesus was never to die again. He is the first to conquer the power of death.
Our modern culture is terrified of death. People see death as the ultimate evil. One needs only look at the news, or to read the newspapers to see the manner in which we view death. Modern medicine tries to prolong the life of a person indefinitely - through life support machines, drugs, surgery - even when it is painfully obvious that all quality of life, all reason for life, is gone. I appreciate the heroic efforts of doctors and nurses and paramedics to save lives, but sometimes you have to ask why they are doing this. I suspect the answer is that most people regard death as the end. Thus, it is the ultimate horror to be avoided at all costs.
Perhaps you have heard of cryogenics, which is the astonishing attempt to freeze a body at the time of death so that at some time in the future it might be resuscitated by a more advanced science. Of course, we have no idea that cryogenics works. We do not know that freezing a body will enable us to resuscitate it later.
The Christian perspective is different. Death is merely a gate through which we pass to be with Christ. Death has been defeated through Christ. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
3. The last title given to Christ is Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. The first, faithful witness, refers to Jesus earthly life. The firstborn from the dead refers to his death and resurrection. The ruler of the Kings of the earth refers to his present reign and future glory.
Kingship is a concept that is strange to most people today. We no longer rule through Kings, but through Presidents, Prime Ministers, Parliaments, and Senates. The only Kings we know are puppet figures who are rich and self-indulgent. Prince Charles may be King of Great Britain some day, but aside from the glamour and publicity, no one will be effected by his rule. His coronation will be a TV spectacular. It will not matter.
In the time of Jesus though, Kings had absolute authority. That is why Julius Caesar was assassinated. The senate thought he wanted to be King. That is why the Romans crucified Jesus. Remember that the charge was political: Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews.
We look forward as Christians to a time when Christ will return to establish his kingdom on earth. Then all the powers that threaten our world and existence now will be subject to his authority. Death, disease, poverty, war, famine--all these powers, will be eradicated when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords brings in his Kingdom.
In verse 7 John grabs our attention with the emphatic "Look." The vision he then describes is one prophetically seen by others. The vision "coming with the clouds" is first described in Daniel 7:13 as that prophet envisioned the "son of man" (KJV). That this approaching figure will be visible and recognized even by "those who pierced him" is also part of the messianic tradition (cf. Zechariah 12:10). Matthew 24:30 also used the image of the Son of Man coming on a cloud. So this is not a new vision of Christ. On the other hand, John's vision is the first to combine this return with the remorseful recognition of the pierced one by "all the tribes of the earth," stressing the universal aspect of Christs return.
Alpha and Omega
V8 is a confession of God's eternal greatness. The use of "Alpha" and "Omega," the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet emphasizes the eternal reach and power of God. Then John adds God is the one who is, who was, and who is to come. From beginning to end, from past to future, God is, and God is acting in our world.
We are called to minister in "this present age, our calling to fulfill" because the spirit of God is as vitally present today as it was in the "good old days" or as it will be in an astounding apocalyptic future.
The Hebrew version of "Alpha and Omega"though it never caught on as a popular idiomis "aleph and tav." To emphasize the middle, the here-and-nowness of God's abiding presence, pious Jewish scholars often referred to God as "truth." In Hebrew, truth ("emet") is spelled "aleph, mem, tav"a combination of the first, the middle, and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In truth, God is always with us. God was, is, and will be.
1. The God who was is the God we think we yearn for. We want that "good-old-days" God. We like to recall the God of ages past as that "on-the-spot" Deity who brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, or who helped the Israelites clear the Promised Land of Hittites, Canaanites and Philistines. This is the God who turned up the volume on Joshua's trumpets at Jericho, and who helped David whip the Israelite tribes into a proud nation.
But even those who lived in the service of this "one who was" longed for "good old days." The Israelites fleeing through wilderness longed for the security of Egypt. Job agonizing through an unexpected test and unforeseen trials cried out, "Why are times not kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his day?" (Job 24:1). Habakkuk, suffering under the abuse of the Babylonians, asked of God, "Are you not from of old, O Lord, my God, my Holy One?" (Habakkuk 1:12).
Habakkuk's times were not all that different from our own. In Hab. 1:2-4 we read:
"O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous-- therefore judgment comes forth perverted."
So Habakkuk thought about his time; yet, from a distance it is so easy for us to see "the God who was" standing beside Israel, Job, and Habakkuk. The Lord was the Lord of their age.
2. God was, God is. Paul's words to the Corinthians remind us of the Lord's continued presence, just as they buoyed up that first generation of Christians: "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Every age is equidistant from eternity, from the standpoint of a God who was, is and who is. Truly, then, now is the acceptable time for God to be acting and moving in our world and in our lives.
The question for us is: How can we claim for God this postmodern age in which we live and not be afraid of it or long for some "good old days?" Let God be present in this age by claiming each facet of this world for God, not abandoning any part of our world to the demons of greed, poverty, violence, neglect, abuse, pollution, and despair.
Let God be God ... in your world.
Let God be God ... in your job.
Let God be God ... in your neighborhood.
Let God be God ... in your church.
Let God be God ... in your family.
Let God be God ... in you.
3. God is the One who is to come. On this day, we are at war. We face the possibility of terrorist attacks within the borders of our nation, perhaps even in our area. We are concerned about the safety of our soldiers. We desperately want to avoid any catastrophe in Iraq or in America. What do we need to do? We need to affirm the messianic kingship of Christ over all persons, all nations, all times, all the universe. Christ is Lord of the ages. Through his death and resurrection, Christ assured his future kingdom. Through his blood, Christ, assured our future in the presence of God.
Because God is yet to come, today makes a difference. Because God is yet to come, all the saints who have gone before us have made a difference. Because God is yet to come, the way we "live and breathe and have our being" makes a difference.
Are you making a difference? Are you incarnating the God who is, who was, and who is to come in your life, today? God is in charge. No matter what the world looks like, God is still in charge. The question is have you given your life to God? Is God in charge of your life? Will you let go and let God be God in you? That is the question. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 4/22/03