Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 5, Number 34, September 22 to September 28, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Part Two:
Jesus the Resurrected and Living King
A Study

Rev. Charles R. Biggs

In the last study (Word of Encouragement, V:33) we learned the importance of understanding the Book of Revelation as a genre known as apocalyptic. We also considered why it is important to consider the blessing that God promises in 1:3 to those who read the words of this prophecy aloud, who hear, and who keep what is written in the book. We closed our last study by considering the importance of our humility in interpretation, our continual reliance upon the Holy Spirit as our Great Teacher, and how to compare Scripture with other Scripture. Our study will proceed according to the outline below:

JESUS IS THE...

1. RESURRECTED AND LIVING KING (VV. 1-5A)
2. COMING JUDGE AND KING (VV. 5B-9)
3. SPEAKING KING (VV. 10-16; CHAPTERS 2-3)
4. "EVER-PRESENT HELP IN TIMES OF TROUBLE" KING (VV. 17-20)

We begin this study by considering how the Book of Revelation begins by revealing Jesus as Resurrected and Living King. When John wrote Revelation in the late 1st century A.D. the church was undergoing a great deal of suffering because of their faith. The Roman Empire was persecuting Christians in different places because of their unwillingness to sacrifice incense and worship Caesar. Rome wanted the Christians to do more than merely "give to Caesar what was his due" or to honor the governing authorities as Paul had taught in Romans 13. Caesar desired the worship that God's people could give to Christ alone.

This caused a great deal of tribulation and suffering. In fact, John as he wrote the Book of Revelation, was on the Island of Patmos himself, an exiled Christian because of his faith. He writes in Revelation 1:9,

Revelation 1:9: I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

God was pleased to use John and inspire him to write to other suffering congregations who were being tested and tried in their faith as the persistent Roman persecution continued. This was a time of tribulation for John and the early Christians, as has been all of the days since Jesus ascended to the right hand of God and the gospel has gone to the ends of the earth, all the way up to the present (John 14:25-31; 16:33; 1 Tim. 3:1-12; 1 Peter 4:12-18).

Because of the great pain and tribulation of the last days since Jesus ascended to the throne of God as reigning Messiah (Acts 2:16ff; 1 John 2:18-28), the Apostle John was inspired by God to write the Book of Revelation to be a comfort and a help to Christians in every age as they await the coming of their Lord and Savior. The Book of Revelation reminds all of God's people to never give up or given in as we stand firm in Christ's victory! As we study the Book of Revelation, we should always keep the purpose of John in mind.

The main purpose of John in writing the Revelation of Jesus Christ was that God wanted to encourage his people in the Last Days before Jesus comes to stand firm and strong in the Name of Jesus, and to continue to persevere through the pain and struggles of living in a world full of sin and misery. God gave to his people the Book of Revelation as a revelation of hope to unify them and solidify their witness. It is ironic that the book has become for some a source of disagreement and division because of differing interpretations, and a subject to avoid in our conversations as Christians. Despite the disunity in our understanding of the book, today in our study we shall consider the Jesus who will unify all of his people one day. Today, our study is from Revelation 1:1-5a.

Jesus is the Resurrected and Living King

Revelation 1:1-5a: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. 4 John to the seven churches that 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, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth...

John writes the Revelation of Jesus Christ in light of the fact that Jesus has accomplished his perfect work on behalf of his people. Jesus sits upon the throne at the right hand of God sovereignly ruling over the history of the world that was created by him and for his ultimate goals and purposes (Col. 1:15-20). Jesus is the Firstborn from among the dead and all those who have placed their trust in him and continue in that same grace, will be with him in the New Heaven and New Earth.

In the last study we considered verses 1-2. We learned how God had truly revealed himself to his people clearly. The Book of Revelation was not written to be a mystery that only the learned or a privileged few might understand and read. According to verse 3 all who read, that is all Christians can and should understand the Book of Revelation. Why? Because there is truly a blessing for those who read aloud, hear, and keep the words written in it. This is all to be a blessing by the Holy Spirit, our Gracious Teacher and Illuminator of all Biblical truth (1 Cor. 2:6-14).

What would be this blessing? I think one of the greatest blessing for Christians of any time period is to know and remember that Jesus Christ is the resurrected One, ruling over Heaven and Earth. To know and realize that He is indeed coming soon, and he will judge the earth and restore all things is the greatest blessing we can meditate upon. The Book of Revelation reveals the reign of Jesus, the wrath of Jesus, and the rest we have in Jesus as his people! What more of a blessing could we have on this side of things "under the sun" as we await the Son!

In verse 4, John writes using the apostolic Christian greeting: "Grace to you and peace..." In John's greeting, he wants the suffering Christians to know throughout all of church history that Jesus is the resurrected and living King over heaven and earth. John gives a Trinitarian blessing by speaking of God the Father as the One who is and who was and who is to come, the Omniscient Spirit who sees all things (cf. Isaiah 11:3-4; Rev. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6), and Jesus Christ the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

In this Trinitarian blessing, the Apostle John is encouraging Christians in every age that God our Father is the Eternal Father. He is the One God who sees all things and knows where we are and what is our present need. He knows that our greatest need was a Savior to represent us before His Holy throne. Jesus is revealed to us as the one who was resurrected to the most preeminent position in the cosmos ("first-born from the dead"). This brings encouragement to all those who believe in Jesus and who have been clothed with his perfect righteousness will also one day be resurrected to be with him and reign with him (Rev. 4-5; 21-22).

In verse 5a, John calls Jesus "the Faithful Witness". This can be translated either "witness" or "martyr". Our lives as Christians reveal Jesus because we are called to be his light-bearers and walk in His truth (Matt. 5:14; Eph. 4-5). At this time in the early church when Revelation was written some of the Christians were being killed for their witness, or "martyred" and this is where we get this word. Many throughout church history in these last days since Jesus ascended to the throne of God have suffered persecution and tribulation to the point of death.

Living in a Material World...and Suffering?

Many who receive this 'Word of Encouragement' are Americans. As Americans, we have been blessed abundantly in our country and for that we should be grateful. However, sometimes prosperity and riches make us think we have godliness and all we need, then over time we find out that our prosperity, theological laziness, and spiritual apathy has caused us to allow some of our congregations in Christ's church to become "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked", as Jesus tells the Church at Laodicia.

Revelation 3:15-17: 'I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Riches and prosperity can be a stumbling block. Paul tells us that godliness with contentment is the greatest gain (1 Tim. 6:16; cf. Phil. 4:13). We should be ever mindful of this temptation when reading the Book of Revelation. It is addressed to suffering congregations not merely in the early church, but also to all churches. It would be very sad if the very purpose for the Book of Revelation made no sense to Americans today because we were not undergoing the same kind of suffering for our faith and witness. What a horribly sad day when the witness of our congregations looks so much like the culture and the world that there is no real difference between the church and the world.

I am not saying that we should desire or look for suffering, it will find us (1 Tim. 3:12). I am merely saying that we must keep alert and sober in a culture being defined as the pax sumptuoso, the "Sumptuous Peace" or just plain "fat and happy". I realize some of us do suffer a great deal, but I am reminded that the purpose of Revelation in the midst of suffering is to bring God's people encouragement.

Many teachers in the American church believe that Revelation is functionally irrelevant apart from its ability to prognosticate precisely discernable future events. In contrast to this, we should ask ourselves: "Is Revelation relevant to me as a Christian today, or have I left the reading of it to the so-called prophecy experts and the so-called learned?" "Do I read this book or is my New Testament functionally only 26 books?" "Have I allowed my unhealthy preoccupation of the future blind me from the book's important encouragement for me as a Christian today?"

The reason I mention this warning for us all is that when I have taught this book I find that my middle class American students in my class (who I love very much) consider this book more of a mystery about the future to be unraveled. For them, Revelation is a book that is interesting and challenging, but a book that is more concerned with the future than the present. I have thought about this. Why would this be? Then I thought that perhaps it is because we do not understand the beauty of the "present tense" message because some of us are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (or, "fat and happy" if you would allow me a paraphrase translation). In other words, we aren't suffering, so the Book of Revelation holds no help for some of us. I'm not trying to be harsh, but we could do well to read and pray for our suffering and persecuted Christians throughout the world so that we do not become "fat and happy" in our Christianity.

Now, I do want to make an important clarification. I am not saying that Americans do not suffer. We do indeed suffer. Many of you who are reading this are undergoing personal persecution in your homes, workplaces, schools, and even some of your congregations. I realize many of you may be undergoing conflict with spouses, even abusive situations. I also realize that some suffer severe treatment for their stance for the gospel as they try to witness in congregations, colleges, and seminaries where the truth is being eclipsed by the pluralistic assumptions of either modernity or post modernity. However, the overall assumptions and mindset of much of our culture has been influenced by much prosperity. Now, if we were all honest, many of us do have to remind ourselves that our main goal or "chief end" in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, rather than the pursuit of health, wealth and happiness.

Just something for us all to think about. Revelation was written to encourage Christians to know that the Faithful Witness, the Great Savior Jesus, who was martyred, killed because of his faithful witness to the Living God, is the One who has died for us and the One who we are to focus upon in the midst of our trials during this time of tribulation (cf. Rev. 1:9). Jesus has been resurrected and so no matter how costly our witness, no matter how difficult the persecution, pain, and tribulation, we have a resurrection to look forward to! We have a hope of being with the Living Christ forever when he restores all things. He will wipe every tear from the eyes of his people!

No Fear for God's People

The Apostle John wants all Christians to know that there is absolutely nothing to fear. No matter how many people, family members, or kingdoms rise up against the Church, the gates of hell will not prevail. As John ends verse 5a, Jesus is the Ruler of the kings of the earth. No matter how little the kings of the earth mirror the Great King, no matter how vehemently they try to thwart God's plans, his people should know that Jesus is the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth! Jesus is sovereign, controlling each one of them and each individual history as Christ's Kingdom that will never end continues to watch other kingdoms of man fall, one by one. Notice Nebuchadnezzar's famous words concerning this Kingdom of God:

Daniel 4:34-37: 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

What have the people of God to fear? Nothing, absolutely nothing! Whether we are facing martyrdom as in the early church under the Romans; whether we are facing persecution in Islamic countries; whether we are facing day to day struggles trying to live the Christian life in a culture totally opposed to our Savior; whether we are trying to survive in countries ruled by glorified mobsters; whether we are growing older and becoming more feeble and will soon face death itself; we know surely that Christ is the Ruler of the kings of the earth, he is Lord and the conqueror of death, hell, and the devil and there is absolutely nothing that can really cause us to fear. This is the great "present-tense" hope of the Book of Revelation.

Allow your fear to be gone and rest in the Lord Jesus, the Resurrected and Living King! As the same Apostle John wrote in his first epistle to the early church, "Perfect love casts out all fear, for fear has to do with judgment." This is important! Jesus faced the judgment and wrath of God for those who believe! For his saints, Jesus has pronounced "not guilty" over their lives and is working in them to do and will according to God's good pleasure. The judgment of God will come and the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world is the only one worthy to mete out God's judgment (every other mouth must be silenced before the awesome holiness and majesty of God Almighty!).

Jesus is coming again to restore all things! Jesus' victory has been won, yet we await the full consummation, culmination, and conclusion of this victory. For now, we are to stand firm in his victory, continuing through trials, sufferings, difficulties, hardships, and persecutions with the joy and strength that comes from Jesus' Spirit, for he has not left us as orphans! He has sent for the incomparable power of the Holy Spirit for those who believe.

Bibliography/For Further Reading

(Purchase these at www.wtsbook.com- - lowest prices on the web!)

Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Bavinck, H. The Last Things: Hope for this World and the Next. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996.

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. NIGTC. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Press, 1999.

Kline, Meredith G. Images of the Spirit. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998.

Ladd, G. E. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Press, 1972.

Longman, T. and Reid, D. God is a Warrior. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 1995.

Martin, R. P. and Davids, P. H., editors. Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Poythress, V. S. The Book of Revelation: A Guide for Understanding (V. 2.0). Unpublished Manuscript, Westminster Theological Bookstore.

Russell, D. S. Divine Disclosure: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Pastor Charles R. Biggs
Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church
Post Office Box 628
Round Hill, VA 20142-0628
www.APlaceforTruth.org
crbiggsman@adelphia.net

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