Son of Man Vision

September 22, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Book of Revelation

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Son of Man Vision

Revelation 1:4-20

         As you remember from last week, verses 1-3 of this first chapter of the Book of Revelation was the first introduction of this letter in apocalyptic style. Now in verses 4-8, we have the second introduction to this letter. In it, the author tells us his name, John.

         Volumes have been written on who wrote Revelation. Much of church tradition attributes the authorship to John, the Apostle of Jesus, who wrote the Gospel of John and at least the Book of First John. But the style of writing and the Greek vocabulary of Revelation are very different from that of John the Apostle. So, many scholars believe that a man named John the Elder, a disciple of John the Apostle may have written the book. There is some evidence of him living in Ephesus at the time and being a leader in the Church.

         Even though the exact authorship is not known at this time, this person John must have been known to the churches in Asia Minor to which he writes. It is obvious that he is a person of some authority, for he expects the people in the churches to heed his challenges and directives. Further, it appears that he does not consider himself to be an apostle, which would be strange if indeed he had been. What he does appear to do is to link himself to the church as a prophet.

         John is writing his letter to the seven churches in the Roman Province of Asia Minor. Remember, the number 7 is a holy number which means completeness and so the seven churches represent all the churches in Asia Minor and there were many.

         John also gives us greetings from the trinity. God, “who is and who was and who is to come.” And “from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,” (these seven spirits represent the completeness of the Holy Spirit, and are mentioned in Isaiah 11:2 as the Spirit of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and fear of the Lord, all attributes of the Holy Spirit), and then finally Jesus Christ, who John describes as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Even though Rome may appear to be in control, John reminds his readers that God is actually in control and that Jesus is the ruler of the earthly kings.

         John also tells us that Jesus loves us, that he released us or saved us from our sins, and that he has made Christ believers a kingdom of priests or ministers who have access to our God and Father. As John closes out this introduction to the Book of Revelation and exalts the Trinity, he reminds us that God is the beginning and the end of all things. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, referring to the first letter of the Greek alphabet “Alpha” and the last letter of the Greek alphabet, “Omega.”

         This introduction had to be reassuring to the churches of Asia Minor and their congregations. All of these things, packed into this opening, prepares us to meet Jesus face to face. We’ll continue in a moment, but first, would you pray with me.

PRAYER

         In verse 9, John introduces himself as one who is also enduring the persecution along with his brothers and sisters in Christ. He knows that the way from suffering to God’s kingdom is through patient endurance or perseverance. He makes it known that he is on Patmos, a small island, ten miles long and five miles wide, about forty miles to the west of Ephesus. “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation…was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Since John seems to have some Christian authority in this territory of Asia Minor, and since he was spreading the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it would not be unusual for the Romans to banish and exile a religious person they deemed troublesome. Usually, people like John, would not be executed for religious zeal, since their crime was not worthy of the death penalty and because executing them would have caused greater turmoil than simply removing them from the area.

         As John is entranced in his first vision, “in the Spirit”  on the Lord’s day, a Sunday and the Christian Sabbath, he hears a voice telling him to write what he sees in the visions that are about to take place and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

         Now here is what is interesting about these churches and the way they are listed. The Romans were prolific builders of their time. We all know about their great cities, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the aqueducts, the great seaports, and so on. They also were exeptional road builders. Each of these major cities in Asia Minor was about 25-50 miles apart, as you can see on the map in your bulletin. The order in which the cities are given in the Bible is the postal route and districts for messages traveling around Asia Minor. One could enter the port by sea in Ephesus and then travel around to the other cities. But there were many other small communities with churches around these major cities in which this letter would be read. Remember, seven is completeness or inclusiveness, so these seven churches represented all churches in Asia Minor affected by the persecution.

         Now remember, John is seeing all this in his mind as a vision. As he turns around to see who is speaking with him, he sees the Son of Man, the Risen Christ standing among seven golden lampstands. The author of this letter, John, must have been very familiar with the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament, since there are over five hundred Old Testament references in the Book of Revelation. The lampstand was used as a symbol for the church, the light of Christ among the people. The Jews new it as the menorah, the seven-branched light. These seven lampstands represent the seven churches. In fact, the writer tells us that in verse 20.

         Also, in apocalyptic thought, it was believed that every community having to do with God was under control of a guardian angel, who are represented later in our scripture as the seven stars in Christ’s right hand. If the community was committed to God and Christ, it was sent a special agent of God for protection. Remember, apocalyptic literature is a message of hope. Amid despair in the persecution of the Christians at this time, John wanted them to know that God will soon intervene.

         John assured his readers that they were not alone in the Emperor’s persecution of the Christians. Jesus was with them, standing among his churches. After all, Jesus had experienced similar persecution and had triumphed over it and was alive and well and in their midst. And so, to establish the authority and superiority of the one speaking to John, John describes the Son of Man in great detail.

         “I saw one like the son of man clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.” Here we see Jesus in his three-fold eternal office as prophet, priest, and king. The long robe was not only worn by royalty but by the high priest of the temple as well. The fine linen and the girded sash define Jesus as a messenger of God, a prophet.

         John continues in verse 14, “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.” This was reminiscent of the Ancient One described in the Book of Daniel. Jesus was of great age and eternal existence. In Isaiah 1:18 is written: “Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Jesus was of divine purity. And his eyes, like a blazing fire, allows Jesus to see with piercing clarity and judges what he sees according to his holiness. He can see everything concerning the seven churches.

         In verse 15, we see Jesus’ strength and stability. “His feet were like burnished bronze…” His voice sounds like many waters, in other words, like a multitude of people as described in the Book of Ezekiel. Verse 16, “In His right hand he held seven stars,” meaning the seven angels of the churches and reminiscent of Jesus holding the heavens from the Book of Job.

         “Out of his mouth came a sharp two-edge sword,” reminding us that Jesus speaks the Word of God, which is penetrating, and lays bare our sin before him which leads to pardon. “His face was like the sun shining in its strength,” reminding us about Matthew 17 as we see the transfigured and risen Christ in all his glory. Folks, you must visualize this in your mind, just as John did, as Christ stood before him. It was the miraculous and overpowering presence of Christ. Just like John, probably all we can do when we meet the risen Christ is to fall down before him, because Jesus requires our reverence in the presence of his holiness.

         But Jesus, the calming shepherd, tells John not to be afraid. After all, Jesus was there at the beginning of all things and will be there at the end of all things. Jesus continues, “I am the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” The ancient Rabbis taught that God held three keys which he would not share with any other being: the keys of birth, rain, and raising the dead. There is an ancient church belief that after Jesus was crucified, he descended into Hades and unlocked its doors and brought with him at his resurrection Abraham and all God’s people who had lived and died in generations before him.

         As John regains his composure before the Risen Christ, our Lord asks him to write these things which he is about to tell John. These three things outline the Book of Revelation that is to come. “Therefore write the things which you have seen (that is, chapter 1 of Revelation), and the things which are (chapters 2-3), and the things which will take place after these things (chapters 4-22).”

         Brothers and sisters in Christ, John’s first vision was to overwhelm the hearer or reader with the majesty and the magnitude of the Holy One described in this opening to the letter. This vision was not intended to be seen with the physical eye, but its purpose was to impress the spiritual dimension of those who heard and read this letter.

         The Christian communities in Asia Minor can now take heart because the real guarantor of life, Jesus Christ, is in their midst and has already won the ultimate battle of death versus life. Jesus wanted the Christian community to know that there is no need to fear the worst that the powers and forces of evil have to offer, and which will be described in the remaining chapters of this book. The Risen One to whom Christians have committed their loyalty is with them in these difficult times and beyond!

         This is the same for you and me. When we feel like we are going through life’s trials, misfortunes, and evil, know that Jesus is in our midst and is with you. If we commit our loyalty to him, and declare him as our Lord and Savior, then he will see us through our troubled times. Jesus wanted John to be his mouthpiece to the Christians in that troubled time. Jesus knew the outcome of this persecution, this time of Christian suffering and turmoil. Jesus knew what we should know today, that in the end, God wins!

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