Teaching series from Revelation


Revelation 1:1-20

Teaching t23011


This morning we start a series on the last book in the Bible – Revelation. It’s the fourth longest book in the New Testament (22 chapters), so we will spend all fall studying it. Even then, our study will be more “high altitude” than super-detailed. We will be looking for obvious themes and how to apply them practically rather than speculating over obscure details (e.g., the meaning of “666;” birthplace of the Antichrist, etc.).

In many ways, the key to understanding Revelation is chapter 1. That’s what we’ll cover today. It answers three key questions...

What is this book?

Read 1:1-3. We learn in 1:1 that Revelation is an account of visions from God to be relayed to His people. Specifically, these visions reveal who Jesus is and the things that will take place in the future. John received four visions, each of which begins with John saying that he was “in the Spirit,” along with a command/invitation by Jesus or an angel to see or write something:

The first vision (chapters 1-3) is a vision of Jesus Himself and short letters from Jesus to seven churches in western Turkey (NEXT THREE WEEKS).

The second vision (chapters 4-16) is a vision of the end of the age, the final period of human history as we know it. This long vision looks at this period from several different angles and focuses on several key figures (human and supernatural).

The third vision (chapters 17-21:8) is a vision of the return of Jesus to judge His enemies and re-establish His kingdom over all the earth.

The fourth vision (21:9-22:21) is a vision that elaborates on the culmination of Jesus’ eternal kingdom (the new heavens and new earth).

We will find that these visions contain many symbols. Many of the symbols are explained immediately in the text (e.g., 1:20). Most of the other symbols are rooted in prophetic visions given in the Old Testament, where the symbols are usually explained (e.g., beasts from Dan. 7). Some of the symbols remain unexplained; perhaps their meaning will be clear to the people who live when they are fulfilled.

We learn something else important about this book in 1:3 (read). It is given to us not for our entertainment or to stimulate our speculation (which how it has unfortunately been misused by many people over the centuries). It is given to us so that we may receive a rich blessing from Jesus as we understand and obey what it teaches. We will learn more about what this blessing is in a few minutes. But first, let’s let Rev.1 answer another important question...

What is the setting of this book?

Like the rest of the books in the Bible, Revelation isn’t random live-cam video shots of Armageddon or heaven. It is truth communicated by God to real people living real life. The setting of a book refers to the human author and his situation, and the human audience and their situation. Such information is vital to properly interpreting the book.

Read 1:1b,4,9-11; show MAP.

The human author is a man named John, who calls himself Jesus’ “bond-servant” (1:1). The evidence is compelling that this John is John of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples whom He designated as His official spokespersons, and who also wrote the gospel of John and the letters of 1,2,3 John.

John says that he received these visions while being imprisoned on the beautiful mountainous island of Patmos because of his allegiance to Jesus (which validates the integrity of his testimony). This was probably in the late 80’s or early 90’s AD – at the beginning of the Roman Emperor Domitian’s persecution of the Christian movement. The first church historian (Eusebius) tells us that John was released from exile (bringing these revelations with him) immediately after Domitian died, in 96 AD.

The human audience is seven churches in cities of western Turkey. Most of these churches were planted (directly or indirectly) by Paul (author of 1/3 of the New Testament). Late in life, John moved to Ephesus and shepherded these churches until he died.

These churches had some serious spiritual problems, and they were headed into a time of terrible persecution. Jesus gave these visions to John to provide them with counsel for their spiritual problems (chapters 2,3), and to fortify them to persevere through persecution by describing the ultimate victory of His kingdom.

You can see from this setting, then, how Revelation is helpful to all Christians. Like John and these churches, we have serious spiritual problems, and we suffer opposition for our faith in Jesus. So we need Jesus’ counsel, and we need to be fortified by the promise of Jesus’ ultimate victory when our allegiance to Him takes us into suffering. This is part of the blessing Jesus promised in 1:3. But the main blessing comes from the answer to the third question this chapter answers ...

Who is Jesus?

Above all else, Revelation is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Nothing will bless our lives like a full-orbed understanding of who Jesus actually is. And this is exactly what chapter 1 provides by portraying Jesus as both the Savior who serves us and the King whom we are to serve. John’s two descriptions of Jesus in chapter one bring these two pictures together.

John’s first description of Jesus is propositional – a series of doctrinal statements about Jesus (read 1:5-7).

Jesus is the Savior who “loves us” – and because He loves is, He has “released us from our sins by his blood” (FORGIVENESS), and has made us members of his kingdom (ETERNAL SECURITY) and given us the privilege of being priests (PERSONAL ACCESS). How amazingly wonderful that Jesus loves each one of us this much, and has served us by dying a humiliating death in order to lavish these incredible treasures upon us!

But Jesus is also the King who is “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” to whom belongs “the glory and the dominion forever and ever,” and who is “coming with the clouds...” to judge all who oppose him. How awe-inspiring that Jesus will rule the entire world and that every human ruler (including HITLER, MAO, STALIN) will one day bow and admit that he alone is the rightful King (cf.Phil.2:10,11)!

John’s second description of Jesus is visual – a series of symbols or metaphors he uses to describe Jesus’ personal appearance to him (read 1:12-18; DURER WOODCUT).

Overall, this description emphasizes Jesus as King. He is “one like a son of man” – the same term used to describe King Messiah in Dan. 7:13 (read?) who is given dominion over the whole world. He rules over and controls the angels who preside over the seven churches, and His word will be absolutely authoritative in judgment of His enemies (1:16; see 19:15). His appearance is so holy and majestic in appearance (GOLDEN BELT; SNOW-WHITE HAIR; FLAMING EYES; GLOWING FEET; THUNDEROUS WATERFALL VOICE) that John is completely overwhelmed and undone (1:17a) – like Old Testament prophets when they saw God (Gen.15:12; Ex.33:20; Isa.6:5; etc.).

But this description also portrays Jesus as Savior. This is why Jesus is clothed with a robe like that of the Old Testament High Priest (1:13a; Ex.28:2,4), who offered animal sacrifices to symbolically pay for people’s sins for the past year. Jesus is the ultimate High Priest who offers Himself up to actually pay for all of our sins. And this is why Jesus places His awesome right hand (the same hand that rules the angels) on John to comfort him (1:17a) as He tells John there is no need to be terrified in spite of Jesus’ holiness and his own frailty and sinfulness. Jesus uses His authority over death to deliver John (and us) from death and judgment (1:17b,18).

You will see this same Savior-King emphasis throughout Revelation. Jesus is the Lamb who served us by being slain in our place, but he is also the Lion of Judah whom we serve as God’s anointed King (5:5,6). Jesus is the Bridegroom who tenderly cares for his Bride, but he is also the Rider on the White Horse who makes war on those who reject His rulership (19:7-16). Jesus – His salvation and His leadership – this is the great blessing (1:3) that comes to everyone who hears and heeds Him.

So what?

If you are here as a spiritual investigator, this is the most important thing to understand: Christianity is not a religion of ritual observances or moral instructions; it is an encounter with and surrender to this living Jesus who is both Savior and King. He is personally present here this morning just as much as He was when He revealed Himself to John. And He can reveal Himself to you in way that will change your life just as much as He changed Jon’s life. The only condition is that you receive for who He really is – your Savior and King.

In other words, you need to deal with the real Jesus – not the “I like to think of Jesus as...” Jesus, not the History Channel Jesus, not the Jesus who is merely one of many religious founders. These Jesuses are not real. They were made up by people who don’t want the real Jesus, and they will leave you unforgiven and without a reliable Leader for your life. What you need and what I need is a Savior who saves us from our sins, and a King who will protect and lead us. Jesus is that Savior and King.

Ask this Jesus to reveal Himself to you. If He has revealed Himself to you this morning, then surrender to Him in your own words. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about Him by coming back next week to hear more from Him. You will probably get a lot of your questions answered if you do this.

How does Rev. 1 apply to you if you have already surrendered to Jesus? Well, like John, you need to relate to Jesus as both your Savior and your King. In reality, most Christians relate to Him either as Savior or as King. But if you want to experience the fullness of His blessing, you need to get to know Him as both, and to relate/respond to Him as both.

What happens if you relate to Jesus only as King and Judge? It’s easy to relate to him as a distant CEO or demanding boss or even abusive parent—to be afraid of and avoid and posture in front of (“God is coming—look busy”). Some of you come from a family or church background in which this corrupted picture predominated. If so, you need revelation that this same Jesus who is so powerful and holy also loves you deeply, and uses His power to serve you and free you from your fears. He wants to have a love relationship with you that is full of security and goodness.

What happens if you relate to Jesus only as Savior and Servant? It’s easy to corrupt Him into your domesticated pet who entertains you instead of a Lion who awes you, your emasculated servant who facilitates your agenda instead of a mighty Ruler who calls you to give your life to His agenda, your personal therapist who helps you manage your sin instead of an authoritative leader who calls you to healing through repentance. If your understanding of Jesus is deficient in this sense, Revelation will be great for you—because while not neglecting Jesus as the Savior who serves, it really emphasizes Jesus as the King whom we are to serve. Jesus loves you too much to let you domesticate him. There is a special kind of comfort and joy that comes from abandoning your life to Jesus as both Savior and King. There is a special kind of freedom that results from becoming a slave of this Jesus!

If you want help in learning to do this, come out to these next three weeks as we study the letters Jesus wrote to the seven churches. You will see how Jesus relates to them as both Savior and King, and you will hear Him explain to relate to Him as both Savior and King.

“Soon” (1:1) and “the time is near” (1:3) do not necessarily mean “within a few years from now.” From God’s perspective of salvation history the time is comparatively short. The New Testament authors view this entire period of time as the “end of the age” in the sense that Jesus’ coming has inaugurated the beginning of the Messianic Age (see 1Cor.10:11 and Rom.13:11,12).

The early church fathers’ testimony is unanimous that John of Zebedee was the author. Not until Dionysus of Alexandria in the 3rd century AD was this disputed. See John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Moody, 1966), pp.11,12.

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III, xx, “The Fathers of the Church,” I, 168.