Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be preaching a series in my local church on the book of Revelation. Having already preached the first two sermons, I’ve quickly realized just what a mammoth task this will be – though in that same vein, have thought that perhaps these studies might be of benefit to those who are interested in identifying the period of history that we currently find ourselves in (the Church Age), and particularly the period of history that we are rapidly approaching (the Tribulation, or time of “Jacob’s trouble”).
So, if you’re reading this, understand the intent – that we might know, understand, and be prepared for what is coming on the earth. Make no mistake, Jesus Christ is coming soon, and far sooner than many of us may realize.
Let’s start by looking at the passage we’ll be dealing with today. For the sake of this study, I’ll be including all of the Scripture in-text, so that you don’t have to look it up. I’ll be quoting from the NKJV, so if you have a preferred translation, you’ll need to have your own Bible with you.
Revelation 1:1-20 The Revelation of the King
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signifieditby His angel to His servant John,who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.Blessedishe who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the timeisnear.
John, to the seven churches which 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,and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Himbeglory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,theBeginning andtheEnd,’ says the Lord,who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
I, John, bothyour brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet,saying,‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,’and, ‘What you see, write in a book and senditto the seven churches which are in Asia:to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.’
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 lampstandsOnelike the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band.His head and hairwerewhite like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire;His feetwere 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 countenancewaslike the sun shining in its strength.
And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me,‘Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.IamHe who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
Writethe things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saware the seven churches.’”
If you do have your Bible with you, keep it open to this passage, as the study that follows will be looking at it closely.
Revelation is one of the few books in Scripture that has the added benefit of adding a complete summary in the first verse. This is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants, to show them what must soon take place.” If you were to walk away from this sermon today with nothing more than that concept firmly implanted in your minds, I’ll be happy.
This book was given to, was written about and was expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ, given to His servants and He is coming soon. That really is a perfect summary of the book of Revelation.
Let’s break it down a little further, though. What we are dealing with, what the apostle John is describing to those who hear the words of this book, is a revelation – the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The term used here in the Greek is “apocalupsis” and it refers to the literal process of removing a veil, so that an object that has previously been hidden, may be revealed.
So, what can we learn about this unveiling from the text?
First, that this is a literal physical revelation. Let’s look at verse 7. Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him. It is Jesus Christ Himself who will appear (verse 7), “coming with the clouds” and every eye will see Him.
Of course, we now know from experience that the Lord Himself has been hidden – veiled in the heavens and seated at the right hand of God the Father for the better part of 2,000 years. It is also true that Revelation outlines in explicit detail the unveiling of the Messiah, and His glorious return to earth, to take, in emphatic fashion, the throne promised to Him by His Father – but there’s something here in this passage, a very distinct, and a very new revelation, that took even John by surprise.
What we’ll see today, through this Revelation of Jesus Christ, given to John through the angels, is not merely a practical, literal revelation of the arrival of the Messiah, but also a very real unveiling of the person and of the power of the King of kings.
What I’d like to do today is to break down this passage into two parts, followed by the practical implication demonstrating what this passage means for us, and how we’re to respond to what the Lord has written here. We’ll look first at the Jesus that John knew, followed by the Jesus that John saw – and then we’ll look at the manner in which everything in heaven and on earth responds to this; the Revelation of the King.
Let’s start with the Jesus that John knew.
Look with me at verses 1 and 2.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants – things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the Word of God.”
I’m going to stop that reading there, and highlight something that even my Bible’s commentary has missed. John has begun the Revelation in the same place, and the same manner, as he began his gospel, in that he “bore witness to the Word of God.”
Whenever you hear or see phrases like this, it should cause your ears to prick up. On this occasion, this reference to “The Word of God” isn’t talking about a text, or about Scripture, it’s talking about the fact that John Himself bore witness to the Son of God— the Word made flesh—the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the One whom John describes in the opening of His gospel, the Jesus Christ who was in the beginning… “In the beginning was the Word – and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1). What John is doing here, what he is highlighting in the opening verses of this passage, is the fact that he is writing about someone he knew intimately. Remember, John was “the disciple Jesus loved” in John 13:23, the “blessed apostle.”
If anyone knew Jesus, it was John. John knew Jesus so well in fact, that when he and Peter had been arrested for preaching about this same Jesus, and His resurrection for the dead, the Sanhedrin found themselves powerless to contradict them. Acts 4 tells us that ”when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled… and they took note that they had been with Jesus.”
You see, the apostle John had been so changed by his interaction with Jesus Christ that it literally left him a changed man. This is no ordinary acquaintance, no mere biographer – not even merely an apostle. John wasn’t just part of the twelve, but he was part of that select group of three, along with Peter and James, that were always by Jesus’ side – part of that key group that saw the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus, that amazing flash-forward of sorts we read about in the gospels where Jesus appeared prefigured in all His glory while still here in the flesh.
John has identified this Jesus for us. He is “the One who was, and is, and is to come,” verse 4. He is eternal, unchanging. He is “the faithful witness” both the witness to and the power of the gospel, the One whose sinless perfection made Him uniquely qualified to testify to the truth. He is the “ruler over the kings of the earth” as echoed in Psalm 2 and Psalm 110. John knows this Jesus – so well, in fact, that he almost seems to lose control of his own text and breaks out in a gushing and somewhat premature doxology – beautiful as it is – verses 5b and 6…
“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Doesn’t that sound like one of the closing statements from Paul’s epistles? A triumphant and eloquent extolling of the glory of God?
Do you see what John is doing here?
He’s introducing us to His Messiah – a Jesus he knows and loves intimately. By the time John writes this book, he is an old man – possibly as old as 92… but he has clearly not lost sight of His King.
If I were to end this sermon here, you’d be justified in thinking that you have a pretty complete picture of who this King of kings is, wouldn’t you? The Faithful Witness. The Firstborn from the dead. The Ruler of the kings of the earth. The Alpha. The Omega. The beginning and the End… who is, and was, and is to come. The Almighty.
I tell you what, I think John might have thought so, too. But what he encountered next… shook him to his very core, and left him on the ground as though dead.
Let’s look at Jesus John saw:
Turn with me to verse 12.
“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…and when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”
No doubt you can see the shift here. In the previous verses, John has introduced the Jesus that he knew. In these verses, however, Jesus Christ reveals Himself. …but He doesn’t just pull back the curtain here – it flings it wide, throwing into full display the glory and majesty of the King.
His eyes BLAZE with fire.
His head and hair are white and pure like snow .
His feet as brass, refined in a furnace.
His voice like the sound of many waters.
THIS is the Revelation of Jesus Christ – THIS is the unveiling of the Messiah.
Let me ask you – where is this image of Jesus Christ in our churches? Where is the glorious and terrifying judge of all the earth? The world can live with “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” they can deal with the teacher who brought wisdom and peace, they can even tolerate the idea that a good man died upon a cross, but where is this Christ? Where is this radiant and all-consuming God?
This is no mere prophet, no mere priest. This is the thundering King of kings, come in glory and in judgment, and the man who knew him, loved Him best of all is TERRIFIED! …and he falls at his feet as though dead.
So immense, so powerful, so majestic and pure and glorious and perfect is He, so utterly holy and righteous in all of His radiance, that John literally falls upon His face as though dead. THIS is the Revelation… the great and glorious Apocalypse of the One who will judge the living and the dead.
Keep a finger in the book of Revelation, but turn with me for a moment to the book of Daniel. Chapter 7… beginning at 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. 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. You see the parallel, don’t you. This is Jesus Christ, not as intercessor, not as sacrifice, not as servant, but as judge… and He is terrifying in His holiness.”
Brothers and sisters, listen to the Word of the Lord.
This is Jesus Christ, the righteous judge of all the earth, and He is coming soon. And when He does come, all the people of earth will mourn because of Him.
Let’s look more closely at these descriptions. Turn back to Revelation 1, and verse 13.
Who is this Jesus?
He is One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. This Jesus is dressed in regalia, with the golden sash of Kingship. He is glorious, regal – the true King of kings. We saw earlier on, in verse 5, that Jesus Christ is the “ruler over the kings of the earth.”
Now He comes to claim those kingdoms. His head and hair white like wool, as white as snow. He is pure, as every righteous judge must be – with a purity both symbolized and literally realized in radiant white. We see this picture elsewhere, don’t we?
“Though your sins be as scarlet, yet they shall be white as snow”… and His eyes…. His eyes were like a flame of fire. If you weren’t terrified before, you should be now. As if it weren’t enough that Jesus Christ is impossibly pure, impossibly glorious, impossibly regal, His eyes are like tongues of fire, piercing and holy and righteous.
Hebrews 4:13 says there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked, and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Do you know who this is? This is the righteous judge before whom no secret can be kept hidden: “and will not the judge of all the earth do right?”
Look again at verse 15, His feet were like brass, as if refined in a furnace… brass, of course, was the symbol in the Old Testament of the judgment of God against sin.
We’ve seen, then, that this judge WILL come, but now Scripture explains, through symbols, why He must come – in judgment against sin.
Scripture is so very clear on this. Our sin – our rebellion, our inability to live up to God’s perfect, holy standards means that God must judge. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” I hope you caught that, because Scripture doesn’t use words lightly. It’s incredibly precise: “The glory of God.” That’s the standard.
That’s the requirement. If you think you live up to that standard… that you’re good enough for God… then frankly you need the kind of help that I’m not qualified to offer you. But don’t take my word for that, let’s see what God’s Word has to say on the issue.
Psalm 51 and verse 5 says “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Do you understand this? From the day you were born, you were a sinner by nature. It’s your default setting. You’ll live a sinner, and you’ll die a sinner, and you’re utterly powerless to change that.
But you know, there’s a phrase in the Bible that occurs many, many times… and it always brings me hope: “But God.”
It’s there hundreds of times, and every time it’s used, it has a powerful, powerful truth to convey. Listen to it here. Romans 5, beginning at verse 8. “But God demonstrates His love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then, having now been justified by His blood, shall we be saved from wrath through Him.
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.And not onlythat,but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
There’s another side to this image of Jesus’ feet, though. We’ve seen in this passage that Jesus Christ is a terrifying judge… and that His judgment is against sin. But Scripture will never, ever let us forget who Jesus Christ is. Even in the middle of one of the most confronting passages in the Bible, the Holy Spirit reminds us that the Jesus John knew, and the Jesus He saw, are one and the same. Look again at verse 15.
His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace.
What is fire, in Scripture? What does it represent?
Let me answer my own question with a verse from the book of Hebrews. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). Fire is a symbol for the righteous wrath of God. Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, has not entered into eternity unscarred. His feet walked through the fire of the wrath of God, that the punishment for our sins might be upon Him, that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Turn with me briefly to Revelation 5 and verse 6.
And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne, and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb… as though it had been slain.
You can see it here, can’t you?
The same God who will be your judge… took the punishment due for your sin and mine, and He bears those scars forever.
Look with me again at verse 15.
…and His voice was 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.
…and when I saw Him, I fell at his feet as dead.
It’s little wonder, isn’t it, that John responded as he did. With a voice thundering like many waters, and the Word of God proceeding from His lips, piercing, living, active, able to divide even between soul and spirit… who could stand against such a righteous, holy judge?
Two Types, Two Reactions
Just as there are two distinctly different visions of the King here in this chapter, there are two distinctly different types of people. Identifying which of these two groups you belong to is key to not only understanding, but responding to this passage.
Their reactions to the Revelation of the King are actually quite similar, but their reasons are very different. The first of these groups is typified by the apostle John and His response in this passage. They know the Lord Jesus Christ, and are identified in verse 6, by that incredible doxology we read earlier.
They are those who have been “loved” and “washed in His own blood” who have been “made Kings and priests to God.” But that’s not all, and it’s not the only place they appear in this passage.
Look at verse 7.
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.”
One of the amazing aspects of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit is an incredibly creative Author. Words that might otherwise be glossed over run deep in God’s Word. Look at this: “Behold, He is coming with clouds.”
Listen now to the opening verse of Hebrews chapter 12.
“Therefore we also, wince we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Do you see the link here? What are the clouds of Revelation 1? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you can take this passage entirely literally. It’s my conviction that when this passage says that Jesus Christ comes with clouds that it is stating that when Jesus Christ comes as Judge, that the redeemed will be coming with Him.
Now, there’s an obvious question in that: How is it possible for the saints to return with Christ, if they haven’t first been called to Christ? Well, I’m getting ahead of myself a little here. I’m not going to preach a sermon on the Rapture today, but when we reach Revelation 4, we’ll see and understand that timing a little better. Suffice it to say, the catching-up of believers precedes the coming of believers, at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ (Second Coming).
His return, accompanied by the saints, is stated even more explicitly in Scripture’s oldest prophecy voiced by Enoch, the seventh man from Adam. Enoch is quoted in Jude, verse 14, as saying:
“Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
For the Christian, this revelation is a message of hope. We see these things coming upon the earth, we see that the time is near, and hallelujah, we see that Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, will snatch us away from this earth. And more than that, that we will return with Him when He comes to claim His throne and establish His Kingdom, in righteousness and with justice.
But for the sinner, His coming is the judgment of a righteous, holy King… both terrible and beautiful to behold. Look at verse 7 again.
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him.”
What’s important to note here is that these people aren’t mourning because they’ve seen their Savior. They’re mourning because they rejected Him as Savior… and now He comes as Judge.
So the question, then – looking at these two groups of people; those who come with the Lord Jesus, and those who mourn because Him, is a simple one.
Where do you stand?
We’ve seen from this passage two very different aspects of the person of Jesus Christ. We’ve seen the Lord Jesus as John knew Him: the Alpha, and the Omega, the spotless Lamb of God… and as John saw Him – the terrifying, holy Judge of all the earth. But even there, we’ve seen the reminder that nothing separates Christ the Savior from Christ the Judge.
When it comes to the people in this passage, though, there is a great separation, and we need to understand what that is, and more important, we need to act and call upon the One who is mighty to save.
What we’ve seen in this passage today is both a warning and a foretaste of what is to come. Jesus Christ will come as judge, and He will sit down, and open the books, and the judge of all the earth will do what is right… and He will condemn sin in sinful man… and only those who are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ will be safe from His righteous anger.
Where do you stand?
If you’ve never laid your life down at His feet, if you’ve never fallen on your face before Him in total recognition of your own sinfulness and His great glory and cried, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” If you’ve never felt the power of the Holy Spirit working within you to transform you, to conform you to His likeness, to produce good fruit and present you blameless on the day of Christ…What are you waiting for?
Look with me – in closing – at verses 17 and 18.
“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First, and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.’”
If you’ve never committed your life to Jesus Christ…If you’re never been washed in the blood of the Lamb, made clean from every spot and stain and sin, never been made right before the God of all the universe…Would you do that today? Would you do that now? For this same Jesus Christ, while He is a righteous Judge… is an even greater Savior… and He will lift you up.
Look with me to verse 3.
“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
Time is short. The hour is late. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off. Don’t delay. The King is coming.