Lord of Glory
Please turn in the pew Bibles to the book of Revelation, chapter 1 and follow along as I read verse 12-16.
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest.
14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire,
15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.
16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Back in 1973 I saw the movie “Papillon.” [pap ee yon] Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman played the roles of prisoners on Devil’s Island. They did a great job, and it was a great movie. I still remember scenes from the movie. But there was one scene in which the director made a rather funny goof. McQueen and Hoffman were supposed to grab this alligator—a very dangerous moment in the movie, but if you look closely, the alligator has its mouth tied shut. Papillon is a fictional account of prisoners in exile on an Island.
The book of Revelation was written by a real prisoner in exile on an island. The author of the book is John who is, as Rev. 1:1 tells us, an exile on the island of Patmos for “the testimony of Jesus.” In other words, he is in exile because he is a Christian. He obviously is a leader in the Christian church who has caused the Empire some problems and they have exiled him to this Island to get rid of him. The Island of Patmos is in the Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Turkey. It is a small island, measuring only about six by ten miles. Apparently it was the practice of the Roman Empire to exile troublemakers to this and other small Islands. Empires seem to like to do this sort of thing. At one time, it was the practice of the British Empire to exile troublemakers to Georgia, which is why that state was formerly known as the “convict colony.”
But returning to Revelation, a valid question to ask about any book in the Bible is: Why was it written? Revelation is a book of visions. Why were the visions given to John in that place in that time. The simple answer appears to be—because the church needed it. Most scholars date the Revelation to about A.D. 95, the last year of the reign of the Emperor Domitian. Now there is some argument today as to how much or how little the Emperor Domitian persecuted Christians, but certainly some persecution was going on. The administration of Domitian was hostile to Christianity. Thus, Christians were apprehensive about the future. The church had already had one horrible experience with an emperor.
Back in A.D. 64, the emperor Nero blamed Christians for the great fire in Rome, and killed men, women, and children. Christians were torn apart by wild beasts in the arena. Christians were crucified, Christians were wrapped in tar-soaked robes and set aflame as living torches.
When John writes of the Beast of Revelation, Christians in his time know very well whom he is writing about. The previous generation of Christians had faced the beast, the emperor Nero, and now under Domitian it seems to be starting all over again and they have got to be asking: Why is this kind of thing happening to us because we believe in Jesus? The book of Revelation is the answer to that question. The answer is that bad things may happen, but in the end, God will straighten everything out. Christ will return. There will be a new Jerusalem and peace at last for the people of God.
So, Christ is the end of Revelation. Christ is also the beginning of Revelation. In fact, the proper name for this book is given in the opening phrase of the Book, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). It is not the revelation of John. John was the human author who wrote down the visions he was given, but Jesus is the real author. John tells us this in the opening vision, which begins in v10.
John says he was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, and he heard a loud voice behind him like a trumpet. Naturally he turned to see the source of this voice, and he saw the exalted Christ.
Remember this is a vision for people in trouble, for people in need of reassurance. So this is not a vision of the meek and gentle Jesus who walked the fields of Galilee. This is a symbolic vision of the Lord of Glory, the lord of space and time. John saw seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands stood one like the “Son of Man.” The lampstands represent churches. The number seven is the biblical number of perfection or completion. So, the seven lampstands represent not just seven churches but all churches, the complete body of Christ. The term “Son of Man” is obviously a designation for Jesus. Jesus is in his church. In a time of trouble, we might ask, where is Jesus? The answer is Jesus is with his people; Jesus is with us.
John tells us symbolically about this Jesus who is with us. First of all, we should note that the title “Son of Man” was a title Jesus used of himself in the gospels. The title originates in the book of Daniel. We read in Daniel 7:13-14:
13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
So, in Daniel, the Son of Man rules as God over all that exists. Revelation continues this image. Revelation describes the Son of Man as having a long robe with a golden sash indicating his royalty. His hair is as white as wool indicating his eternity. His eyes are like flame indicating that he sees all that can be seen. His feet are like burnished bronze indicating that he is present everywhere. Jesus is present in every event. Nothing happens that Jesus does not know about. In his right hand, he carries seven stars. Again, the seven stars represent the church. Jesus has the church in his right hand. For most people, the right hand is the best hand. Jesus carries his people in his best hand. Again, the theme is reassurance. No matter what happens, Jesus has us in his hand to care for us.
In the vision, John tells us that from the mouth of the Son of Man comes a “sharp, two-edged sword.” This represents the word of God pronounced in judgment upon the wicked, and lastly we are told that his face was like the sun. Just as we cannot look straight at the sun on a clear day, so we cannot bear to look upon the glory of the Lord.
Now if we take this vision literally and try to paint a picture of the resurrected Lord--with hair like wool and eyes like flame, feet of bronze, carrying stars in his hand, a sword coming out of his mouth, and a face that cannot be imagined, if we try to picture this incredible image, we miss the point of the vision. These are symbols that tell us what the Lord of glory is like. The Lord of Glory is Daniel’s Son of Man who rules the universe from its beginning to its end. The Lord of Glory is our king who knows all and is present everywhere. He pronounces the righteous judgment of God, but more importantly, he takes care of us. He is in the midst of his church, he has us in his right hand.
This then is the figure that John sees at the beginning of his book, and this figure then introduces more visions. The first series of visions consists of seven letters to seven churches. Again, note that the use of the number seven indicates that these letters are to all churches. The letters are addressed to and apply to all churches of all time. Then, beginning in chapter 4 and going to the end of the book, we have another set of visions. This second set of visions begins with a door opening into heaven and describes the end of this world, the return of Christ, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.
So, as we read through these visions and symbols, we ask, how does this apply to us? It says to us that Jesus is with us even in our troubles, even in our sorrows.
Many people today are concerned about world events. The war in Iraq continues to bumble on, Israel has invaded Lebanon again. Iran seems bent on obtaining nuclear weapons. People ask are the disturbances in and around the holy land a sign of the end of time. We don’t know. War in and around the holy land has been an ongoing condition ever since recorded history began.
But aside from that, aside from wars and rumors of wars, the book of Revelation certainly still does have an application for us—because we as individuals face our own hard times. And we need to be reassured that Jesus has us in his hands.
A psychologist would say that human beings are relational animals. We live and die in relationships. This begins even before we are born. The unborn child has a relationship with the mother. After birth, the child develops relationships with others, with the father, grandparents, friends, and relatives. As the child grows the network of relationships around that child tend to increase and intensify. As adults we have all kinds of relationships--with neighbors, with people at work, with family, with the church.
If you do much reading of newspapers, it is amazing how much space is given to articles about relationships. There will be a whole slew of articles on how to handle divorce and how to handle separation, how to handle friendships, how to handle jealousy, how to handle infidelity, how to handle difficult friends. The list goes on and on. These articles detail what I have said already, life is about relationships. We find most of our happiness in our relationships.
To state this is more biblical terms, we find our happiness in our love for each other. We find fulfillment in loving relationships. But there is a downside to this, when these relationships are broken, we are wounded, we are hurt, we grieve. Moreover, it is a bleak truth that all relationships we have with people on this earth, inevitably end. Our loved ones die. If we did not love them, it would not matter, but because we love them, their death causes us a grief that seems too hard to bear.
It is not wrong to grieve. Grief is a natural reaction to losing a loved one. Grief is a mixture of anger and sorrow and denial and loss. First century Christians grieved for their lost loved ones. Their loved ones had been chained in dungeons, fed to lions; beheaded, speared and beaten, Banished and exiled.
But Christ revealed himself to his people to assure them that he was with them. He was in their midst of his church, holding them in his hands.
Even so Christ comes to us in our own tough times, in our own times of grief and sorrow, of anxiety and worry. He is still the Lord of Glory. He still is in the midst of his church. He now carries us in his hands. That is a message we need to hear. In our down times, in our grief, in our depression, the Lord of Glory is with us. In your hour of deepest need, Jesus is with you. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last modified 08/27/07