************ Sermon on Revelation 1:17-20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 14, 2007
"I Fell at His Feet as Though Dead"
In Revelation 1:12-16 we are given John's description of the risen and glorified Christ. John describes for us what he sees "in the Spirit" (Rev 1:10) on the "Lord's Day" (Rev 1:10). John describes the glorified Christ in images drawn from the Old Testament. Jesus is presented as exalted (like a son of man), dignified (the robe and sash), wise (the white hair), perceptive in judgment (the eyes), glorified and omnipotent (the feet), powerful and authoritative (the voice), in complete control (holding the stars), the judge of all (the mouth), and glorious (the face). John sees that Jesus is one with God. John sees that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Old Testament longing and prophecy. Best of all, John sees this great and glorious and awesome Christ as being in the midst of the church; Christ's awesome presence is in the church and with the church and upholds the church and rules the church and protects the church.
Now, in Revelation 1:17-18, Christ describes Himself to John. If verses 12-16 is John's portrait of Christ then verses 17-18 is Christ's self-portrait. It is no longer a question of what John sees when he looks at Christ but rather a question of how Christ sees Himself.
I Christ's Self-Portrait
A How does Christ describe Himself to John? Listen to what Jesus says:
(Rev 1:17-18) I am the First and the Last. (18) I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Jesus' self-portrait starts off with "I am." Hear the echoes of what God said to Moses out of the burning bush? "I AM WHO I AM." In other words, "I am the source of life. I am the source of being. I am the beginning of life. I am the Creator. I am Him Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come. I am eternal. I am above and beyond time and space." Jesus begins His self-portrait by claiming full equality with God Himself.
B How else does Jesus portray Himself? He says, "I am the First and the Last." At the end of Revelation this title is joined with two others: "I am the Alpha and the Omega [these are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet], the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev 21:13; cf Rev 1:8; 21:6). They are all ways of saying the same thing.
"I am the First and the Last." This title comes from Isaiah. There, God says,
(Is 44:6) This is what the LORD says-- Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. (Cf Is 41:4; 48:12-13)Through Isaiah we hear God comparing Himself to the idol gods of the heathen. Unlike the idol gods of the heathen, this God is the utterly incomparable One, to whom all nations are subject, whose purposes no one can frustrate (cf Is 40:12-26). Unlike the idol gods of the heathen, this God has always existed and will always exist. The idols were not there at the beginning, nor will they last to the end. They did not give the universe its existence, nor can they control its destiny. They cannot be trusted and need not be feared. The Lord is God from start to finish. He is "the First and the Last."
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev 21:13). Jesus is saying He is eternal. Jesus is saying He is the Lord of history and over history. Jesus is again claiming equality with God, to be part of the eternal Godhead.
C How else does Jesus portray Himself? He says, "I am the Living One." This is a common designation of God throughout the Bible:
(Josh 3:10) This is how you will know that the living God is among you ...
(Ps 42:2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
(Acts 14:15) We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.
(cf Hosea 1:10; Romans 9:26; cf "the one who lives forever and ever" in Rev 4:9-10; 10:6)
"I am the Living One." In contrast to the idol gods that have no life, Jesus is alive. Of all the gods that men worship, Jesus is the only One Who lives. And, Jesus lives forever. He alone is eternal. He alone can give life.
"I am the Living One." What is the proof of this? Jesus tells John:
(Rev 1:18) I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!Jesus reminds John of what John saw 20 or 30 years earlier. John was standing at the foot of the cross and saw Jesus die. John also saw the resurrected Christ suddenly appear in the room the disciples were meeting in, he saw the resurrected Christ stand on the seashore, he saw the resurrected Christ ascend into heaven. John saw all this. Jesus reminds John that death could not keep Jesus in the tomb. Jesus reminds John that Jesus conquered death. The empty grave is all the proof John needs that Jesus is the ever Living One.
But we can go further. Because of what Jesus did – conquering death – He earned something. Jesus says, "And I hold the keys of death and Hades."
When a conquering hero returns home he or she is often presented with a key to the city. In the 1984 Olympics Steve Bauer won a silver medal in cycling; I remember this because he came from the town we were living in at that time; after the Olympics we had a parade in his honor and the mayor presented him with a key to the city. In the same way, Jesus is given the keys of death and Hades. He is the conquering Hero. He has vanquished death and the grave. He is the One Who holds the keys to death and Hades. He locks and unlocks the gates that lets you in or keeps you out. He is the gatekeeper.
II Response to the Glorified Christ
A John's portrait of Christ shows Jesus to be so great and so glorious and so awesome. Jesus' self-portrait shows Him to be so great and so glorious and so awesome. He is the risen and glorified Christ.
How does John respond when He sees Christ? "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17). Was this an act of worship? Was this a sign of adoration and submission? It can't be because notice what Jesus says. Jesus says, "Do not be afraid" (Rev 1:17). Stop being afraid. Stop being scared to death. Stop being full of overwhelming dread. Stop being paralyzed in sheer terror.
"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17). Why does John respond this way? Because the risen and glorified Christ is the King Who holds all power and is the Judge of the living and the dead. He is great and glorious and awesome and He is terrifying and scary and frightening. As Hebrews tells us, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31).
When we look through the Bible we see this is always the response of God's people when they meet God face-to-face. The Lord of glory is frightening.
B Remember Paul's first encounter with the living Christ? His name was Saul at that time. He was on the way to Damascus to persecute the Christians.
(Acts 9:3-4,7-9) As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. (4) He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" ... (7) The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. (8) Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. (9) For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.Saul "fell to the ground" and the men with him "stood there speechless." Saul was blinded and unable to eat and drink. The Lord of glory is frightening.
Remember the response of Peter and James and John to the transfigured and glorified Christ? Mark's Gospel tells us they were "so frightened" they "did not know what to say" (Mk 9:6). Matthew's Gospel tells us "they fell facedown to the ground, terrified" (Mt 17:6). The Lord of glory is frightening.
Remember the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She touched Jesus' cloak and immediately her bleeding stopped and she was healed. Jesus realized that power had gone out from Him. He wanted to know "Who touched my clothes?" The woman "came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth" (Mk 5:33). The Lord of glory is frightening.
Remember the time Jesus and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee? A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. The disciples feared for their lives while Jesus was in the stern, peacefully sleeping on a cushion. Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and the winds, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Scripture tells us the disciples "were terrified" (Mk 4:41). They were more scared of the Lord of glory inside the boat then the storm outside the boat.
Remember Daniel's vision of the pre-incarnate Christ as he stood on the bank of the Tigris River?
(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.Sounds similar to John's vision, doesn't it?! What was the reaction? Listen to what Daniel writes:
(Dan 10:7-8) I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. (8) So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless.The Lord of glory is frightening.
The prophet Ezekiel was given more than one vision of the Lord. Listen to his reaction:
(Ezek 1:28) When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.The Lord of glory is frightening.
(Ezek 3:23) So I got up and went out to the plain. And the glory of the LORD was standing there, like the glory I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown.
(Cf Ezek 43:1-3; 44:4)
Remember the time Isaiah saw the Lord? John 12:41 tells us this was a vision of the glorified Christ. How did Isaiah respond?
(Is 6:5) "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."The Lord of glory is frightening.
Do you remember the time David sinned by counting the people? He put his faith in the size of his army rather than in the power and strength of God. God sent an angel to punish Israel.
(1 Chr 21:16) David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.The Lord of glory is frightening.
Consider the response of Manoah. He was the father of Samson. The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah and his wife. Manoah invited the angel of the Lord to stay for supper. The angel refused but instead invited Manoah to prepare and offer a burnt offering to the Lord. As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Manoah realized that it was not a man but an angel of the Lord he had seen. "We are doomed to die!" he said to his wife. "We have seen God!" (Judges 13:22). The Lord of glory is frightening.
Finally, consider Abraham, the father of all believers. Genesis 17 tells us about the time he met with God:
(Gen 17:1-3) When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty ; walk before me and be blameless. (2) I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers." (3) Abram fell facedown ...The Lord of glory is frightening.
Do you see and hear the pattern? In the presence of the Lord people are terrified and afraid and silent and fall face down and they tremble and they become blind. The Lord of glory is frightening.
B Now, in this light I want you to consider a dismal statistic: 48%. This is the percentage of Protestant youth raised in the church who leave the church when they are on their own. Surveys have been done on these "lost sheep." They are asked for reasons. By and large, let me tell you the reasons they don't give. They don't say the music is not hip enough. They don't say youth group or young adults is not fun enough. They don't say the sermons are long and boring. They don't say the church is full of hypocrites. Yet, 48% have tuned out.
We have come to realize one of the reasons is that the image of Jesus we have set before our youth is NOT compelling enough. We have talked so much about the love of Jesus, Jesus as our friend, that we have lost sight of how magnificent and glorious and awesome He is. We have lost sight of how frightening Jesus really is.
What will capture the hearts and minds of our youth? What will sustain them through the trials of a lifetime? What will compel them to bring the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, even at the price of martyrdom? Why will they strive for a life of service in the church and kingdom?
The latest and coolest music does not work. Skits instead of sermons does not work. "Wacky Wednesdays" filled with fun activities instead of Bible study does not work.
What our children and youth need, what every member needs, is such an overwhelming image of Christ that they fall before Him as though dead.
C Let me also say something about worship. You know that in worship we meet with the Lord of glory, even as John met with the Lord of glory, even as Paul and the disciples met with the Lord of glory. In worship we are in the presence of the majestic and awesome and great God.
What do people do today as they meet with the Lord of glory? In some churches they meet God with a cup of coffee in one hand and a doughnut in the other – they can conveniently buy them from the Starbucks located in the church lobby. Of course, people with coffee and doughnuts cannot possibly join the congregation in singing God's praises.
About 14 years ago I was appalled to read in "Christianity Today" about the "Toronto Blessing." A church in the Third Wave Pentecostalism movement met at the Toronto airport. People flew in from all over United States, Canada, and other places to see this first hand. What was the "Toronto Blessing?" It was holy laughter. As people worshiped God they began to laugh uncontrollably. A few years later holy laughter was replaced by holy vomit. As people worshiped God they began to vomit. The Lord of glory is met with laughter and vomit.
If the glorious Christ were to physically appear before us this evening, if His coming again were to happen during our time of worship, I guarantee that none of us would be laughing, none of us would be vomiting, none of us would be watching cute skits. Jesus is holy and majestic. "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17). That's the response we would have.
D A beautiful description of the Second Coming was sent to me. Listen to this:
Topic: Second Coming Of Christ"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead" (Rev 1:17).
You are in your car driving home. Thoughts wander to the game you want to see or meal you want to eat, when suddenly a sound unlike any you've ever heard fills the air. The sound is high above you. A trumpet? A choir? A choir of trumpets? You don't know, but you want to know. So you pull over, get out of your car, and look up. As you do, you see you aren't the only curious one. The roadside has become a parking lot. Car doors are open, and people are staring at the sky. Shoppers are racing out of the grocery store. The Little League baseball game across the street has come to a halt. Players and parents are searching the clouds. And what they see, and what you see, has never before been seen.
As if the sky were a curtain, the drapes of the atmosphere part. A brilliant light spills onto the earth. There are no shadows. None.
The light is from every hue ever seen and a million more never seen. Riding on the flow is an endless fleet of angels. They pass through the curtains one myriad at a time, until they occupy every square inch of the sky.
North. South. East. West.
Thousands of silvery wings rise and fall in unison, and over the sound of the trumpets, you can hear the cherubim and seraphim chanting, Holy, holy, holy. The final flank of angels is followed by twenty-four silver-bearded elders and a multitude of souls who join the angels in worship.
Presently the movement stops and the trumpets are silent, leaving only the triumphant triplet: Holy, holy, holy. Between each word is a pause. With each word, a profound reverence. You hear your voice join in the chorus. You don't know why you say the words, but you know you must. Suddenly, the heavens are quiet. All is quiet. The angels turn, you turn, the entire world turns and there He is. Jesus.
Through waves of light you see the silhouetted figure of Christ the King. He is atop a great stallion, and the stallion is atop a billowing cloud. He opens his mouth, and you are surrounded by his declaration: "I am the Alpha and the Omega."
The angels bow their heads. The elders remove their crowns. And before you is a Figure so consuming that you know, instantly you know: Nothing else matters. Forget stock markets and school reports. Sales meetings and football games. Nothing is newsworthy. All that mattered, matters no more ... for Christ has come.
We can't end on this note because our text does not end on this note. Yes, the Lord of glory is frightening. But He is also merciful and gracious and kind and compassionate. Don't forget, after all, that He is the One Who died – Who died for us, Who died for our sins, Who shouldered our curse.
He placed His right hand on John and said, "Do not be afraid."
His right hand? Back up to verse 16. There we are told He holds seven stars – which are the angels of the seven churches – in His right hand. Now we are told He put His right hand on John. How can He do both?
This is a vision, remember? It is to be taken symbolically. Jesus is in the church and with the church. He holds up the church. And now we see that He reassures and comforts individuals within the church.
Is there a contradiction here? He is the Lord of glory and is frightening. We are afraid and should be afraid. Yet, He says, "Do not be afraid." He doesn't say this to just anyone. He says this to those for whom He died. He says this to those who believe. He says this to His children. These people know He is awesome and glorious. But they also know He is their Savior, their comfort, their strength, and their hope.
A frightening God. Yes. But also a God of comfort. That is the portrait of Christ we are to see.
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