************ Sermon on Revelation 1:1-3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 24, 2007
Revelation sounds like fantasy. It is full of visions that are obscure and difficult to understand. Christians everywhere and of all times disagree on what it means. So, why should we read it? Why should we listen to sermons preached on it?
Topic: BibleIt is the same way with the Bible and the book of Revelation. Some people say "I don't get anything out of the Bible" or out of the lesson or out of the sermon. They don't realize that often they are the ones on trial, that this says more about them than about the Bible or lesson or sermon.
Subtopic: Divinely Inspired
A man once walked through a great art gallery, looking scornfully at the paintings on the wall. "Are these the masterpieces?" he asked. "I don't think much of them."
The attendant standing by responded, "These pictures are not on trial. Their worth has been proved long ago. It is you who is on trial."
I The Chain of Transmission
A John, in the opening verses of Revelation, wants to establish the authority and trustworthiness of the book as a whole. He wants us to realize we can rely on what it says, that we can trust what it says, that we can take to heart what it says. He wants us to be able to read it without apology or misgiving.
How does John do this?
John reveals to us a holy transmission. John reveals to us the various links in the chain of transmission. John tells us by what means "the revelation of Jesus Christ" goes from God to the church. It is
(Rev 1:1) The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him ... He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw.This holy transmission tells us everything we need to know so that we can read Revelation for our comfort and instruction and exhortation.
John sees five links, two of which are explained in greater detail in upcoming visions.
The first link in the chain is God. As I said in previous sermons, John makes clear that God is the author. It is "the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave ..." It comes from God in the same way as all revelation comes from God. It is part of His holy and inspired Word. It is inerrant and infallible.
This reminds me of what we read in Daniel. If you remember, King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, a dream that troubled him because he suspected it was not good news for him and his kingdom. Nebuchadnezzar summoned his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed and what it meant. In the face of this demand the astrologers answered the king,
(Dan 2:10-11) "There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. (11) What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men."According to Babylon's wisemen, only the gods can reveal what the king asked for.
Along comes Daniel and he confirms what Babylon's wisemen just said:
(Dan 2:27-28) No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, (28) but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come ...According to Daniel, God "reveals mysteries." Things that Nebuchadnezzar will never know or see on his own are revealed to him by God. God makes known the things that will come to pass for him and his kingdom.
In the book of Revelation God is the first link in the transmission chain. He is the author and revealer of mysteries – including those revealed to us in the "revelation of Jesus Christ."
B The second link is Jesus. Notice how verse 1 puts it: "The revelation of [or from and about] Jesus Christ, which God gave him ..." The holy transmission of Revelation starts with God, Who then gave it to Christ.
This link in the transmission chain is described for us in further detail in Revelation 4 & 5. Please turn there and follow along:
(Rev 4:1-2) After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." (2) At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.John somehow knows that the message he needs to hear and bear witness to is in the scroll.
(Rev 4:4) Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
(Rev 5:1-3) Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. (2) And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" (3) But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.
(Rev 5:4) I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.John wept bitterly because John knew his ministry could not continue if he did not know what was in the scroll. John knew he had nothing to write to the churches of Asia Minor facing violent attack. John knew that God's blessing would not rest upon the seven churches apart from the words of the scroll. Do you remember what happened next?
(Rev 5:5-9) Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." (6) Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (7) He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. (8) And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (9) And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.
(Rev 6:1) I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals.
Notice the holy transmission of Revelation so far? It starts off with God. God, in turn, gives it to Jesus.
C The third link is an angel. According to the end of verse 1, Jesus made known the scroll, the revelation, "by sending his angel ..." This should not surprise us. Angels are a common feature of apocalyptic literature and they play a very prominent role in the book of Revelation – they appear 81 times in 77 different verses. Over and over again in Revelation it is an angel who guides John through the images and visions and interprets key elements for him. It is an angel, for instance, who tells John that the Lamb is able to open the scroll (Rev 5:5). It is an angel who explains to John the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 17:7). It is an angel who shows John the bride, the wife of the Lamb (Rev 21:9).
When we look through the Bible we see that angels are often used to transmit or deliver God's message. Angels, quite literally, are God's messengers. They are God's messengers at strategic points in the history of redemption. In the Old Testament we see them in the establishment of the seed of Abraham (Gen 19:1; 22:11; 28:12), in Israel's exodus from Egypt and her possession of the land of Canaan, and in the return of the remnant from the Babylonian exile. In the New Testament they announce the birth (Mt 1:20; Lk 1:11f; 1:26f; 2:9f), resurrection (Mt 28:5f; Lk 24:5f), ascension (Acts 1:10f), and coming again of the Messiah.
So the "Revelation of Jesus Christ" starts with God, Who gives it to Jesus, Who sends His angel as a messenger.
D The fourth link is John. Jesus sends His angel "to his servant John" with the message of the scroll. This link in the transmission chain is described for us in further detail in Revelation 10.
(Rev 10:1-2) Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. (2) He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand.This is the same scroll we read about in Revelation 5; but now the scroll is open because the Lion of Judah has opened its seals. Notice what happens next:
(Rev 10:8-10) Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: "Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land." (9) So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey." (10) I took the little scroll from the angel's hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.The scroll is sweet and sour. This is a reminder that the Word of God is a double-edged sword. It announces life for those who hear it and it proclaims judgment upon those who ignore it.
So the "Revelation of Jesus Christ" starts with God, Who gives it to Jesus, Who sends His angel as a messenger, who gives it to John.
E The fifth link is the church – the seven churches of Asia Minor whom John wants to comfort and encourage with the Word of God as they face persecution.
What does John do? John takes the message of the angel, the message of the scroll, and (according to verse 2) he "testifies to everything he saw – that is the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ."
We need to take note of a number of items here. First, John "testifies." In the Greek it is the root of the English word "martyr." John testifies. In the face of tremendous opposition, John proclaims the Word of God. In the face of tremendous opposition, the church hears the Word of God. This testimony might cost them blood and life. It might lead to imprisonment. It might result in the confiscation of goods and property and the loss of job and position.
Second, John bears witness to what he "saw." Remember what John received from the angel? John received his message on the scroll that was opened by the Lion of Judah. So you would expect John to bear witness to what he "read" or what he "heard." Instead, John bears witness to what he "saw." Look also at verse 1 which tells us that Revelation is meant to "show" us what must soon take place. Here is a reminder, as I said in another message, that Revelation is a book to be seen, a book to be envisioned, a book to be experienced in 3-D. Revelation is a book of visions and signs that are meant to be seen and imagined.
Third, John is giving us a key to interpreting Revelation. The first two verses already tell us not to take the book literally, except for the first two verses and the rest of the introduction. The rest of the book is figurative, fulls of signs and visions, something to be seen and shown.
Fourth, John defines for us what he saw and what he shows as "the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." These phrases are repeated often in Revelation (7 times and 6 times). What did John see? John saw the word of God and the testimony from Jesus Christ. The book of Acts uses the phrase "word of God" and by it means the message of the Gospel – Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In the book of Revelation, then, John shows us the message of the Gospel, the message of the triumph of the Lamb, the message of the Lion of Judah Who has conquered.
So the "Revelation of Jesus Christ" starts with God, Who gives it to Jesus, Who sends His angel as a messenger, who gives it to John, who shows it to the churches. A holy transmission.
Do you see its divine origin? Do you see its authority? Do you see its integrity? Do you see why it should be read and heard and imagined? Do you see why Revelation ends the ways it does?
(Rev 22:18-19) I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. (19) And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.It is God's Word. You don't add to it. You don't take away from it.
II The Blessing
A The "Revelation of Jesus Christ" starts with God, Who gives it to Jesus, Who sends His angel as a messenger, who gives it to John, who shows it to the churches. Now notice the blessing that comes upon the church:
(Rev 1:3) Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.John moves from the singular pronoun (the one who reads it) to the plural pronoun (those who hear it). As I mentioned in another message, John has a public worship service in mind. In this worship service someone reads the book of Revelation and everyone else listens and imagines. [I listened to Revelation three times in my office, from beginning to end, using the CDs handed out a couple of months ago.] Now, don't forget, many people back then could not read and manuscripts were rare and quite expensive. So, how was the Word of God spread? It was spread through the public reading of Scripture!
B John pronounces a blessing. He pronounces a blessing on the one who reads Revelation and on those who hear it. Blessed is the one reading aloud. Blessed are those who hear it. But John adds something important. Blessed are those who hear it "and take to heart what is written in it."
"Take to heart." The English here is way too weak. John has obedience in mind. John has works in mind. John has ethics in mind. There is a blessing, says John, for those who are hearers and keepers of the Word. John is starting to sound a lot like James here. Remember what James said about faith without works (James 2:14ff)? Remember what James said about not merely listening to the word but also doing what it says (James 1:22)? Neither James nor John are impressed with Christians who only hear the Word but do not keep it.
"Hear it and take to heart what is written in it." Here is something that most people might find surprising about Revelation – Revelation has to do with ethics and obedience and works. Most people think Revelation has to do with the future. They draw charts and write books and make movies. They see Revelation not as a book to obey but as a book to understand and to puzzle out. But John does not allow us to think or talk that way. Revelation has to do with how we live in the present.
So, how do we obey Revelation? We obey Revelation when we persevere. We obey Revelation when we are faithfutl. We obey Revelation when we overcome. We obey Revelation when we repent.
Do you see what John is aiming for? John is aiming for life change. But isn't that the purpose of all Scripture? Remember what Paul wrote to Timothy?
(2 Tim 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (17) so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."Rebuking, correcting, and training" – that is life-change.
When we look at other parts of the Bible that talk about the last things, we see they have a similar emphasis (Mt 24:46; 1 Cor 15:58; 1 Thess 4:18; 1 Jn 3:3). The chief emphasis of last things in the Bible is not that we can argue about time-lines and dates and details. The chief emphasis of last things in the Bible is that we serve Christ Jesus more faithfully right now, that we serve one another more right now, that we love one another more right now, that we spend more time in worship and prayer and Bible reading right now, that we live a life that is more holy and pure right now.
You will know that I am on the wrong track if my messages on this book do not call you to change your life.
C And John makes clear why we are to do all of this. Because of "what must soon take place" (vs 1). Because "the time is near" (vs 3). Because the Lord Jesus can come back at any moment. Because the Kingdom of God that was inaugurated with the death and resurrection of Christ will soon be fully established.
Someday, soon, He is coming with the clouds. Someday, soon, He is coming in triumph. Will you be ready? Will you be living faithfully for the Lord? Will you be a hearer and doer of the Word? If the answer is "Yes," then you are pronounced blessed. Then you will receive "grace and peace" (vs 4). Then you will experience the joy and favor of God.
Why do we read the "revelation of Jesus Christ"? Why preach it? Because of a holy transmission – from God to Jesus to an angel to John to the churches. Because of a promised blessing – for those who hear and do the words of this book.
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