"ORDER OF SERVICE"
SERMON John’s Vision of Christ Rev 1:9-20. Introduction Many years ago I was at a church camp where we were woken quite early in the morning by the sound of reveille being played on the trumpet. And if you’ve ever experienced that, you’ll understand the trumpet’s attraction for military people who have to get their soldiers going in a hurry. A trumpet commands attention! It’s a little difficult to ignore a trumpet. And I think we listened quite well to the announcements that followed that wake-up call over the loudspeaker. In Scripture, of course, the trumpet is used very frequently. And usually it is used in that sort of a way – not so much as a musical instrument (though it is on occasion), but especially as a means to call the people to attention. When you hear the trumpet, you know that something very important and significant is about to take place. Trumpets demand our attention! In verse 10 of our reading this morning, the Apostle John says: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying…” As we saw last week, John, the last of the apostles, was exiled to the little island of Patmos towards the end of his long and eventful life, because the authorities did not want him to go on preaching the gospel. And there, on the Lord’s Day – and if you’ve ever wondered why we worship on Sunday rather than Saturday as the Jews did, give some thought to the implications of that Scriptural term – on the Lord’s Day, he was in the Spirit. That is to say, the Holy Spirit had prepared him in such a way that he was able to see and experience things in a way that went far beyond our normal human experience. John did not just dream a dream, nor did he simply see physical things with the eye of flesh; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was given a heavenly, prophetic vision. And that vision commenced with the sound of a loud voice, as of a trumpet. An announcement was being made! What John was about to see was something significant. It was something to be taken note of, something of momentous importance. It was also something that was not given only to him, but to many. We read in verse 11 that the voice said to John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last… What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” Once again we see the number seven, the number of completion, so that we understand that these messages were not only for these literal churches, they were for all churches in all times and in all places, from the New Testament times to the very end of the world. These messages were given to the whole church of God on earth! This is the significance of the vision that was about to be revealed to John. It was a message of great significance, announced with the sound of the trumpet, given to the church everywhere. It is, therefore, a message that we obviously need to hear. It is important that we take note of this vision. Last week, in commencing this series on Revelation, we noted the beauty and the wonder of the vision of Christ that is presented to us, in this last book of the Bible. And we will see some of that beauty and wonder this morning. But here I would like us to realise that it is not only a beautiful picture, it is an important picture, one that we obviously need to hear. We are called to attention with a voice like the sound of the trumpet. Let us pay careful attention, then, to the vision that John begins to reveal to us! In verse 12, John says “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me.” And the vision that he saw at that point was a vision of the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. The picture that is given here to us of Christ is a very different picture to the bearded, gentle-eyed man dressed in a white robe that is so often presented to us in Sunday School books as a representation of Christ. Let us 2. turn with John, therefore, and look through spiritual eyes at the vision of Christ that is presented to us here. 1. One like the Son of Man. Let us just read again the description that is given to us in verses 12-16: “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two- edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” Now, any Jew who knew his Old Testament well would find much of this imagery ringing a bell with him. It is very reminiscent of some things that the prophet Daniel says, in Daniel chapter 7, so let us turn there for a moment. We read there, in verses 9-10 and 13-14: “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated, and the books were opened… “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” Anyone who knew of this prophecy could not doubt that John was referring to it when describing the vision that he saw. There are so many things designed to bring that first prophecy to mind. The references to snow and wool and flames of fire show that John obviously had this passage in mind – even though there are some very intriguing differences. But especially, there is the unmistakeable title in both – One like the Son of Man. Well, what does the prophecy in Daniel say about the One like the Son of Man? It says that He is coming with the clouds of heaven! He is coming! But then it says also that He is to be given a kingdom. He is to be given glory and dominion. All peoples, nations and languages are to serve Him. He is to be king and ruler over all, and this dominion is going to be an everlasting dominion, one that will never pass away nor be destroyed. And now John says that in his vision, he sees Jesus coming as the fulfilment of all this! The picture of Christ that John sees is completely in accord with Daniel’s vision. John sees a vision of a powerful and awesome being, a picture of unbelievable glory and might that strikes the fear of death into his heart. He sees Christ coming as this mighty, glorious, all-powerful ruler and king, the One like the Son of Man that was promised by Daniel, coming to take possession of His everlasting kingdom! And as I said last week, we need to see this picture of Christ. We need this picture of Christ the all- powerful, Christ the King, Christ the One who has everlasting dominion. This is not the picture of Christ that will be presented to us as we approach Christmas. There will be plenty of nativity scenes, with Christ presented as a helpless baby. There will be plenty of representations of Christ 84c8916b-9f0f-4807-a243-1abc878ae768.doc 3. the man on earth, going about and doing good, working miracles and healing people. There will even be representations of Christ on the cross, dying to save men from their sins. But there will be very few representations of Christ as the all powerful king, the one whose power and majesty is so overwhelming that when John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, saw Him, he “fell at His feet as dead”. But we dare not ignore this aspect of the character of Christ! Let us look a little more closely now at some of the details of John’s description, and see what each points to. 2. Great High Priest. John begins his description of the One like the Son of Man: “clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.” This description is reminiscent of the long robe and the special breastplate with which the high priests of the Old Testament were clothed. It is also reminiscent of the garment white as snow that was worn by the Ancient of Days in Daniel’s vision. And so, in this vision of John’s, right away we are reminded both of our sin and God’s holiness. We are reminded that we are unworthy to approach God on our own, that we need to go to Him through someone else – that we need a High Priest and Mediator. The priests of the OT dispensation had all sorts of restrictions and requirements that applied to them alone – what they could eat, what they could wear, who they could marry. They had to be far more careful about becoming ceremonially defiled than the rest of the nation, say by touching a dead body, or something like that. There were many, many restrictions – all designed to remind the people that God is holy, and those who approach Him must therefore also be holy. And this is the importance of Christ’s garment, and the golden band around His chest, in this vision. It is to remind us of the awful holiness of God, and the fact that we can only approach God through Christ, our great High Priest. This is why we customarily pray “In Jesus’ Name”. It is not just a form of words, it is an acknowledgement of the fact that we cannot come to God without going through Christ! I trust that there is no-one here who is so foolish as to think that you can approach God on your own, without going through Christ. Do not think that you will be accepted on your own merits, as a good person, deserving of reward. King Uzziah in the OT thought that. He was a godly king, but he fell into the sin of pride, until he considered himself good enough to approach God himself, and offer his sacrifices to God himself, without going through the priest. And God judged him by striking him with leprosy, so that for the rest of his life he was an outcast from society, even though he was king. You and I, we are lepers in the sight of God, if we try to approach Him on our own. We are contaminated by sin, filthy and diseased in the sight of God. We need cleansing and purification. We need to have the guilt of our sins paid for. We need someone to make representation before God on our behalf. And Christ, the One like the Son of Man, wearing the garment of a priest, is the only One who can do that. We must put our trust in Him alone! 3. Ancient of Days. John continues his description in verse 14: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow.” Once again this is reminiscent of Daniel 7. We read in verse 9: “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool.” However, there is one very significant difference. In Daniel, it is not the Son of Man that is being spoken of here, but the Ancient of Days – that is God the Father, the eternal and everlasting God. In Daniel the Ancient of Days gives the everlasting kingdom to the Son of Man. In Revelation, however, the Son of Man appears Himself as if He is the Ancient of Days. And of course, this is because He is! Christ is God! Christ is the Ancient of Days! In Daniel’s time, however, Christ had not yet taken the form of a man. The incarnation was still to come, and so it was right and proper that the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man should be spoken of separately. 84c8916b-9f0f-4807-a243-1abc878ae768.doc 4. But now Christ has been incarnated as a man. He has been revealed as both fully man and fully God. And so we should not be surprised that in John’s vision, the two separate characters of Daniel’s vision now appear as one. By revealing Himself to John in this way, Christ shows Himself to be both truly man and truly God. Again, this also is something we must often bring to mind. Christ is truly man – but He is truly God as well! In one of the songs in the blasphemous musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, Mary Magdalene sings of Christ “He’s a man, He’s just a man.” That is not so! He is a man, able to sympathise with us in all our weakness, able to be approached by us, uniquely fitted to suffer and die on our behalf as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice. But He is also God, the Ancient of Days, seated on a throne which is a fiery flame, with ten thousand times ten thousand ministering before Him. We must always keep both Christ’s human nature and His divine nature in mind! 4. Eyes like fire, feet like brass. John goes on in verse 14: “His eyes [were] like a flame of fire.” It seems to me that this represents two things. Firstly, this indicates that He sees all things. Nothing is able to be hidden from His gaze. It is hot and pure and piercing, reaching to the very depths of our souls. In other words, what we are beginning to be reminded of here is not just the fact that Christ is the mighty king over all, but that He is also the One who is the just and righteous judge. He cannot be deceived. He sees all and knows all. And this is a terrible, terrible thing to contemplate. We have been told this so many times, but we really do not appreciate just what that means, to have every thought and intent of our heart revealed before God. At a Bible study a few weeks ago I mentioned a mental disease that I have read of, in which the sufferer is no longer able to disconnect her thoughts from what comes out of her mouth. In other words – what you think is what you say! Can you imagine how ashamed you would be, if that was how it was with you – if everything you ever thought of tumbled out of your mouth in words, before you could stop it? Yet that is how it is with Christ. Nothing at all can be hidden from Him. His eyes are truly a flame of fire, able to pierce to our innermost depths. But there is another aspect to fire as well, which is that it is representative of judgement. In Christ’s eyes like a flame of fire, we have also a picture of the brightness of His anger against sin. All that is impure and unholy will be burned up when the Son turns His eyes upon it in judgement! And this is the image that is also conveyed by the next part of the description, in verse 15: “His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace.” We have a picture of glowing, hot feet, trampling down all that is impure and unholy. It is a fearful thing to face the piercing gaze of Christ’s judgement, and to be trampled underfoot by Him! Do you fear the flame? We teach our children to fear fire from an early age, don’t we? We tell them that it is foolish to play with fire. Yet so many people do not fear the far hotter flame of the wrath of God. They play with fire, convincing themselves that there will be no reckoning, no day of accounting for their sin. God is a myth, and they themselves may decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, without fear of punishment. But the day is coming when Christ will look upon you with those eyes like a flame of fire. And if your sin remains upon you, if you have not been cleansed from it, then that fire will consume you eternally, so that your torment will be never- ending. Do not forget this picture of Christ! 5. Voice like the sound of many waters. Then we come to the “voice as the sound of many waters”. No longer does John hear Christ’s voice as the clarion call of a trumpet, calling all men everywhere to attend to His words. Now His voice is 84c8916b-9f0f-4807-a243-1abc878ae768.doc 5. heard as a crashing, tumbling, all-encompassing sound like the thunder of a great waterfall. It completely drowns out all other sound. Nothing else may be heard when Christ speaks in authority and judgement! Let us remember that the entire universe was created by the word of God’s power. God spoke, and it was done. And that is the way it will be when Christ returns. He will speak, and it will be done. He has suffered long with the wickedness of evil men, who have dared to raise their voice against His, who have dared to oppose themselves to His laws. He bides His time only in order that all His chosen people may first be called to Himself. But when all is complete, then His voice will thunder forth with all power and authority. And all the excuses and rationalisations and deceitful lies of evil men will simply be drowned out. No other voice will be able to stand against His. God will speak, and all creation will be silenced. Sometimes we might fall into the trap of speaking with false bravado. Boys especially are good at this. “Well, Johnny might have been able to beat Billy up easily enough, but if he tries anything with me he’ll be sorry!” And many people are prone to speak of God like that, openly declaring their opposition to His laws and daring Him to do His worst, as it were. But when Christ actually opens His mouth and speaks to us, the reality will be very different. There will be no bravado at the last day, no one boasting of their abilities and wisdom and superiority. All will be completely silenced before the voice of Christ, speaking in all His authority as the King of the universe. 6. In His mouth, a sharp two-edged sword. We will pass over the seven stars in Christ’s hand, since these are explained at the end of the chapter, and we will be looking at those next time. We come therefore to the second part of verse 16: “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” This immediately brings to mind Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” In the catechism this morning we saw that Christ exercises the offices of a prophet, a priest, and a king. We have been looking at His kingship in some detail, but we have also seen Him wearing the garb of a priest; and here we see Him exercising the office of a prophet. The word of God proceeds from the mouth of Christ Himself, and that word is living and powerful and very, very sharp! The word of God is able to change men’s hearts and lives! It is God’s word that is used to convict people of their sins, and cause them to seek repentance and forgiveness. The word of God is able, by God’s grace, to penetrate! No matter how hard-hearted a person might be, no matter how much they might resist God, His word is powerful enough to overcome all their resistance! And so we can be encouraged to think, as we pray for unconverted friends and relatives, and as we look for opportunities to speak to them of the things of God – we can be encouraged to think that as we speak the word of God to them, it is living and powerful, and able to bear much fruit! We need no other weapon – the word is sufficient! But there is another application here as well. Remember that here we have a vision of the Son of Man, coming to receive His everlasting kingdom. In other words, He is coming at the end of days, and His coming will signal the end of all opportunity to repent. It will be the end of all His longsuffering and patience with sinners. And so, at that day, the word of God will truly be a sharp, two-edged sword. By the word of God men will be judged. God’s word has always served a two- fold purpose. To those who are being saved, it is the means by which they are called to life. But to those who are being prepared for judgement, it serves only to condemn them. It is the sword by which they are destroyed. On the last day, Christ will wield the sword of His word with terrible effect! 84c8916b-9f0f-4807-a243-1abc878ae768.doc 6. 7. Countenance like the sun. Lastly, we read in verse 16: “…and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” I hope none of you children have ever been so foolish as to stare at the sun. It will blind you. It is too powerful for us to look at. Its light is too intense, its brightness too much for us to cope with. And this is the way Christ’s face appeared to John. He saw this vision of Christ, and the glory of it all was too much for him to look upon. He was unable to bear the glory of it. And so we read in verse 17, “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” John, the beloved apostle, the friend of Christ while on earth, was not able to look upon this glorious manifestation of his Master and Lord. Christ’s glory was too much for him! And I would like to close this morning by asking: How does this image of Christ strike you? Have you really thought about the majesty and holiness and purity and power of Christ? Have you ever really considered what it will be like to stand before Almighty God at the last day? This vision is given so that you will consider these things. This vision is given to awaken in us a proper sense of God’s glory and our unworthiness. It is given to remind us that God is not to be trifled with. He holds our lives in His hands – yours and mine. He may grant us many more years of grace on this earth, or He may call us into His presence this very day. And what a presence that is! Are you ready to face Him? What will you say when you stand before Him? Will you be able to say anything, or will your feeble excuses be drowned out by His voice, thundering like the noise of many waterfalls, saying “Depart from Me, I never knew you?” Will you be able to look upon Him, or will His eyes of fire swallow you up? John did know Christ, and so we read in verse 17, after he fell at His feet, “But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid.’” We will look at the rest of what He says here next time. But for now, just notice that John did not need to fear. The vision was a fearful vision, but not to him. Because Christ knew him and loved him. He belonged to Christ. His sins had been paid for by Christ. And so he did not need to fear. And if we trust in Christ as John did, neither will we. Listen to His word, therefore. He calls you to repent of your sins and to trust in Him. Do not delay. Today there is opportunity to repent, Tomorrow may be too late. Trust in Christ, so that you need not fear to see Him in His majesty and splendour. Amen. 84c8916b-9f0f-4807-a243-1abc878ae768.doc