************ Sermon on Revelation 1:9-16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 16, 2007
"One Like a Son of Man"
A couple of years ago we went to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. We saw paintings by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Monet, Cιzanne, and other famous painters. What struck me was the great number of paintings of Mary and Jesus. In just about every picture Mary and Jesus looked European and were dressed in the clothing that Europeans wore in the Middle Ages. Then I came to a picture of a black Jesus. It made we wonder what Jesus really looks like.
Did you know you won't find an answer to that question in the Gospels? No where in the Gospels are we given a physical description of Jesus. Most, if not all, authors give you a description of the main characters in their book. But not the four Gospel writers. Nowhere do they tell us Jesus' height, shape, hair color, eye color, skin color, and so on. The Gospel writers and all of the New Testament emphasize that Jesus is fully human, like us in every way, but nowhere do they describe Him for us. There is a reason for this: to keep us from any form of idolatry.
Do you know what John is showing us in our Scripture reading? He is showing us a picture of the ascended Christ. He is giving us a description of the glorified Jesus. He is painting a portrait so we may see what Jesus looks like.
As John gives us this picture he uses a key word. Without this word we would badly misunderstand what John says to us. The word is "like." In our Scripture reading this word is used 7 times: like a trumpet, like a son of man, like white wool, like blazing fire, like bronze, like the sound of rushing waters, like the sun. This is also a key word in Revelation: it is used 66 times in the entire book.
What does "like" mean? It means John is not giving us an actual physical description of Jesus. Rather, it means John is telling us what the resurrected Lord of the church is like. More specifically, John is telling us something of Christ's glory and honor and majesty and power.
I Tribulation, Kingdom, Endurance
A At the beginning of our Bible reading John mentions his reason for giving us a description of Christ:
(Rev 1:9) I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.John describes the glorified Christ because Christians share suffering, kingdom, and patient endurance.
The first thing Christians share in is "suffering" we can use the word "tribulation" here. Jesus says the church can expect tribulation because the world hates believers in the same way as it hates Christ (Jn 15:19; 16:1-4). Paul says "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:12). Tribulation is something normal and it is to be expected.
Don't forget, "The revelation of Jesus Christ" is written to a church under attack. If this church looks to the big, hostile, powerful Romans then everything looks so hopeless. If this church looks at herself small, weak, persecuted, divided, sinful, and compromising then again everything looks so hopeless. But if this church looks to her resurrected and ascended Lord, if this church looks at the glory and power of Jesus, then things looks completely different. Next to the glory of Jesus the hostility of Rome is not so frightening anymore. Next to the power of Jesus the weakness of the church just doesn't matter anymore. The church of Jesus Christ is comforted and strengthened when she looks to the resurrected Lord of the church.
The second thing Christians share in is "kingdom." Remember what John said in verse 6? Christ "has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father" (Rev 1:6). We are subjects of Jesus' Kingdom and under His authority (Col 1:13). But there is more. Someday we will reign with Christ (Rev 5:10) and will be seated with Him at God's right hand (Eph 2:6). But right now the churches' participation in Jesus' royal power is hard to see, veiled behind affliction, poverty, and little power (Rev 2:9; 3:8).
The third thing Christians share in is "patient endurance." Christians need patient endurance as they are caught between the present tribulation and the future kingdom. If they do not endure or overcome or persevere, they cannot have eternal life (Rev 2:7,11) or have a place in the future kingdom (Rev 2:26).
Christians share tribulation, kingdom, and patient endurance "in Jesus." This means because of Jesus and for the sake of Jesus and like Jesus. Apart from Jesus none of this would happen.
B Now, John identifies himself as a "brother and companion" (Rev 1:9) of the Christians of Asia Minor. He shares with them. He partakes with them. He is connected to them. He is one with them in tribulation, kingdom and endurance.
John, for instance, shares with the Christians of Asia Minor in their tribulation. He mentions he was on Patmos (Rev 1:9). Patmos was a small island in the Aegean Sea. Don't think a Catalina type island. Don't think a Carribean island with beautiful beaches, warm water, coconut trees, and ocean breezes. Think of Alcatraz instead. Patmos was made of volcanic rock, had high towering cliffs, and was used as a prison colony where prisoners worked in a stone quarry. Patmos was a place of punishment. On Patmos John shared in the tribulation suffered by the churches of Asia Minor.
John also says why he was sent to Patmos: "because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev 1:9). The "word of God" means the Gospel message. The "testimony of Jesus" is the Gospel message about Jesus and from Jesus that John preached. This means John was on Patmos because he dared to declare to a Roman Empire that worshiped Caesar that Jesus is Lord. John dared to preach Christ in a Roman Empire that had outlawed the Christian faith. John was a "faithful witness" to Christ just like Antipas (Rev 2:13) and suffered tribulation because of this.
C On the Lord's Day the Spirit brought John into a state of prophetic vision. John's first sensation is not a sight but a sound: "I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet" (Rev 1:10).
A voice like a trumpet blast signals something important is about to happen. In the Old Testament the trumpet blast signaled the Lord's descent to meet Moses at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16,19; 20:18). The psalmist pictures the Lord entering the Temple amid the sounding of trumpets (Ps 47:5). Trumpets called the troops to battle and the congregation to worship. The sound of the ram's horn on the Day of Atonement signaled the start of the Year of Jubilee when God's people and land were set free.
In this instance, the voice like a trumpet blast signals that the Spirit was giving John a message to send to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. We know that there were more than 7 churches in Asia Minor. John mentions "seven churches" because the number "seven" since the time of creation signifies wholeness and completeness. The seven churches represent all the churches of Asia Minor and all churches of all times and all places.
Why were those seven churches selected and not one of the other churches? The seven cities of the seven churches were each the center of one of the seven Roman postal districts in Asia Minor. Any letter John sends to those churches is sure to arrive quickly and is able to be passed on.
D John was commanded, "Write on a scroll what you see and send it ..." Over and over again in the Old Testament when a prophet was commanded to write something down the message usually concerned judgment and salvation. Judgment was coming. The judgment of enemies. The judgment of those among God's people who were not faithful, who did not overcome or persevere. And, salvation for the people of God was coming. Deliverance. Redemption.
"Write on a scroll what you see ..." John's audience is being told to expect a message of judgment and salvation.
It is within this context that John presents to us a picture, a portrait, of the Lord of the church.
II Among the Lampstands
A John heard a loud voice like a trumpet. John turns "to see the voice" (Rev 1:12). Isn't this a strange way to talk? You don't see voices. You hear voices. What is John telling us?
I know someone I have nicknamed "the mouth" don't worry, it is no one here. But "the mouth" is so big, so loud, so never-ending, so shrill, so bossy that you can't think of this person without thinking of their mouth. In the same way, the voice that John turns to see must have made a deep impression on John. It must have been louder, bigger, lower, and deeper then any other voice he has ever heard. So John turned around "to see the voice" he wanted to see who the voice belonged to.
B "And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands" (Rev 1:12). John tells us at the end of the chapter that "the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (Rev 1:20). This image, as we said a few weeks ago, comes from Zechariah 4. The prophet Zechariah, however, saw one golden lampstand with seven branches. To this day the seven-branched lampstand is recognized as a symbol of the nation of Israel. It is called a "menorah" and most Jewish families have one in their home.
John, however, saw seven golden lampstands not one golden lampstand with seven branches. Here we see progress in God's plan of salvation. In the Old Testament God's people were represented by one lampstand a reminder that God's people were Jews. In the New Testament God's people are represented by seven lampstands a reminder that God's people now come, as John puts it in a later chapter, "from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9; cf 7:9).
John "saw seven golden lampstands." Seven is the number of fullness and completeness. John saw the church in all her fullness. John saw a church that was red and yellow and black and white. John saw a church that was universal of all times and all places.
C But John saw more: "among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man"" (Rev 1:13). "Son of man" comes from Daniel's vision. Daniel saw four beasts rising from the sea, one like a lion, one like a bear, one like a leopard, and one dreadful beyond description. The four beasts represent mighty world empires that arrogantly resist God and oppress His people. Then Daniel saw this:
(Dan 7:13-14) In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. (14) He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.John tells us that Daniel's "son of man" with authority and glory and power and an everlasting dominion is the resurrected and ascended and glorified Christ.
Notice, Christ is "among the lampstands." Christ is in the middle of the churches. Christ is in the midst of the churches.
This means Christ is the center of His church. The people of God are no longer centered on bloodlines or gene pools or ethnicity as in the Old Testament. Rather, God's people are centered on Jesus Christ. Christ, among the lampstands, is the now the basis of unity.
D John sees one "like a son of man." John sees Christ. It has been twenty years or more since John last saw Christ. It has been twenty years since Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked room and showed Himself to John and the other disciples on Easter Sunday (Jn 20:19ff). It has been twenty years since Jesus appeared on the beach of the Sea of Galilee and showed Himself to John and the other disciples (Jn 21:1ff). It has been twenty years since John and the other disciples saw Jesus ascend into heaven.
Think of everything that has happened since John last saw Christ. All the apostles except for John have died for Jesus' sake. The Apostle Paul, the founder of the churches of Asia Minor, has been beheaded. John has been exiled to Patmos. A great persecution has broken out against Christians. The Jews continue to hate and oppose the Christian faith. But John sees Jesus "among the lampstands." John sees Jesus in the midst of the church. Christ is there. Christ is with His church. Christ is with His church in her tribulation, kingdom, and endurance. What comfort and hope and encouragement this gives Jesus is with His church, His people, in all their troubles and trials. We see the truth of Christ's promise to never leave or forsake His people (Heb 13:5).
Keep in mind the church we are talking about. It is the church of Asia Minor. When we look ahead in Revelation 2 & 3 we see this church which represents all churches has problems. The church is weak, full of sin, disunified; the church has fights, poor doctrine, imperfect leaders; the church tends to be man-centered, selfish, self-centered; the church is quick to compromise and slow to stop sin; the church doesn't always show love and quite often does not forgive. Yet, Jesus is in the midst of her. Isn't that amazing?! Isn't this wonderful!
III What Jesus Looks Like
A Now we want to know, what does Jesus look like? This Jesus Who is the center of the church, this Jesus Who is with the church in her tribulation and kingdom and endurance, what does He look like? In his portrait of Christ, John gives us eight details.
First, Christ was "dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest" (Rev 1:13). Do you know who else was dressed this way? The high priest was dressed this way in the tabernacle and temple as he represented the people before God, prayed for them, and offered sacrifices for them (Ex 28:4; 29:9).
But we can say more. The figure that Daniel sees on the banks of the Tigris River was dressed this way:
(Dan 10:5-6) I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. (6) His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.He is the one who defeats the kings of this earth and the spiritual forces of evil who oppose God.
The angels of Revelation 15 who pour out God's bowls of wrath upon the earth are similarly dressed:
(Rev 15:6) Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes around their chests.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" a priest Who offered Himself for the sins of the people and a conquering king Who defeats His enemies.
B The second detail: "His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow" (Rev 1:14). In Daniel 7 this is a description of the Ancient of Days, of God the Father. John applies this description to Jesus. Jesus, in other words, is being recognized as God's equal.
Now, what does white hair represent? White hair represents age. In God it represents eternity. God is the great "I AM." God is "him who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:4). God is "the Alpha and the Omega," "the First and the Last," the beginning and the end.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" Who is eternal, never ending, always there.
C The third detail: "his eyes were like blazing fire" (Rev 1:14). We read a similar description in later chapters (Rev 2:18; 19:12). It speaks of the all-seeing and all-knowing eyes of Jesus. Eyes like lasers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, escapes His attention. Listen to what this means for the church in Thyatira:
(Rev 2:18-19) These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (19) I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.Jesus sees and knows everything. Nothing in all of creation is hidden from His sight. Before Him everything is uncovered and laid bare. He knows our hypocrisy, our deceit, our shame, our deception. He also knows our faith, our hope, and our love. Jesus sees inside people the same way a CAT scan or MRI can look inside people and detect what none of us can see.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" Who sees and knows all sin and evil and faith and love and judges accordingly.
D The fourth detail: "his feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace" (Rev 1:15). Nebuchadnezzar, if you remember, dreamt of a statue whose feet was partly of iron and partly of baked clay (Dan 2:33). This made for weakness. This made for a statue that was fragile and could easily be toppled. But John sees no weakness in the feet of the "Son of Man." "His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace." This means strong feet, mighty feet, feet that tramples the enemy underfoot. This reminds me of Psalm 110:
(Ps 110:1) The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."The book of Hebrews applies these words to the rule of King Jesus. Jesus is a mighty King and He places His feet on the neck of all His enemies who are on the ground before Him; before Him they are completely vanquished.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" Whose enemies are as nothing before Him.
E The fifth detail: "his voice was like the sound of rushing waters" (Rev 1:15). There is nothing more soothing than the sound of gently falling water in the canal beside our house; it sounds so peaceful. But John does not have in mind the sound of a peaceful stream or fountain. From 1983-1988 we lived about 25 miles from Niagara Falls. We often hiked to the bottom of the Falls what a mighty thunder you hear when you stand there. This is what John hears a powerful sound, a fearful sound, a deafening sound. It inspires fear and awe and dread.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" Whose voice causes fear and awe and dread.
F The sixth detail: "In his right hand he held seven stars" (Rev 1:16). The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (Rev 1:20). Like the lampstands, they represent the church itself. Notice, they are in the right hand of the "Son of Man." Throughout Scripture the right hand symbolizes favor, protection, ownership.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" holding the church. She is favored by Christ, protected by Christ, and belongs to Christ.
G The seventh detail: "out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword" (Rev 1:16). Listen to how John describes this in Revelation 19:
(Rev 19:11-15) I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. (12) His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. (13) He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (14) The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (15) Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.The book of Hebrews tells us even more:
(Heb 4:12-13) For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (13) Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.It is a Word of judgment.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" Whose Word brings judgment.
H The eighth detail: "His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Rev 1:16). This must have reminded John of what he saw on the Mount of Transfiguration. At that time, as Jesus was praying, "the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning" (Lk 9:29). One of the things that Ruth and I miss about living in California is thunder and lightning. When we were on vacation in the mid-west this Summer we spent an evening watching a lightning show in the sky. The flashes were so bright they hurt the eyes.
What does John see? In the midst of the church John sees the "Son of Man" Who is an "unapproachable light" (1 Tim 6:16). He is so brilliant, so awesome, so glorious, it hurts the eyes to be in His very presence.
What does Jesus look like? What does John all see? This is what He sees:
(Rev 1:13-16) someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. (14) His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. (15) His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (16) In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.Jesus is so awesome, so glorious, so great, beyond all words and thoughts and imaginings, so powerful and majestic and holy.
Now get this: this Jesus is in the midst of the church in her tribulation, kingdom, endurance guarding, protecting, holding, loving, comforting.
Our response to this portrait of Jesus can only be like John's response: "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17).
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