Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Glory of Jesus (Revelation 1)

Revelation has an unmistakable air of both urgency and timelessness to it. Everything mentioned is said to be immanent. John is writing about “the things that must soon take place” and we are exhorted to heed his words “for the time is near.” The reader gets this sense that he will hardly have time to hear the message before it all comes to pass. And yet the message is as timeless and all encompassing as its source. The alpha and omega, the one who was, is, and is to come, tells John to “write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.”

This must surely challenge some common evangelical attitudes towards Revelation. On the one hand, the book is thought to be written for people a long time ago – these seven churches in the early days. On the other hand, the book is thought to be about the things that will happen at the end of time, and of use largely in preparing us in the event that we are living in the last days. Yet the book itself seems to make very little distinction between what was, what is, and what is to come. It is, after all, the same Jesus who is the center of all these things.

The book begins with a stunning vision of Jesus himself, speaking to John:
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from 300 to 600 specific Old Testament allusions in the 403 verses of Revelation. Let’s see what looking for some does for our understanding of the passage above.

A loud voice like a trumpet
Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.

I saw seven golden lampstands,
And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth. These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

And in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man
Behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him

Clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest
I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.

The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire
As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; His throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace
His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude.

His voice was like the roar of many waters
Ah, the thunder of many peoples; they thunder like the thundering of the sea! Ah, the roar of nations; they roar like the roaring of mighty waters!

From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

His face was like the sun shining in full strength
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not”
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”

I am the first and the last
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

The living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore
But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King.

I have the keys of Death and Hades
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?

OK, so they’re not all Old Testament. But it does amaze me how so much is evoked by symbols which first seemed merely strange. John looks at the man Jesus, and sees the fulfillment of all of Israel’s hopes.

It is Jesus who declares to Jacob the message of the prophets. It is him who holds together the faithful of Israel in his hands. He is the one worthy to be presented to the ancient of days. In his authority he holds Jerusalem in his hands like a father. When we look on his face, we see nothing less than the ineffable glory of the invisible God. He is the shining man Daniel saw crossing the river, while in captivity in Babylon. His voice drowns out the clamor of nations who assert their own power to rule the Earth. From his mouth comes the very word of God, piercing the heart and soul of man. In him the fullness of the glory of God lives, and shines brighter than we can look at. And yet he is compassionate, and elevates us with him in his glory. Jesus is to be seen as nothing less than the God who was and is – by his resurrection he proves that he has life in himself, and will endure forever just as we know God does. He is the conqueror of Death, and the plunderer of Hades who have hitherto held his people in captivity.

Behold, the man.

...and in our midst!!

What's your take on v. 5:

"5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth."

In particular, the "firstborn from the dead"?

Do you think it's saying Jesus was the first to be resurrected, or the less literal, the most important of those resurrected?

Hmmm - can I take both? ;-) I don't think temporal sequence is as important as ontological precedence, I guess...or, in other words, the key is that Jesus' resurrection is the wellspring of all other resurrections, rather than the fact that he happened to be first.

Why do you ask?

It jumped out at me when I read it. In part, I felt overwhelmed by the imagery and the symbolism and that part grounded me a bit. But as well, I ponder the nature of the afterlife and different resurrection/ heaven-hell theories.

I guess I've gotten used to the title. We use an African prayer at the end of church each Sunday:

Almighty God, Eternal Father, we have sat at your feet, learned from your word, and eaten from your table. We give you thanks and praise for accepting us into your family. Send us out with your blessing, to live and to witness for you in the power of your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, the First Born from the dead. Amen.

This bit in Colossians uses the same language:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Like all red letter verses in scripture (even the ones in the OT) v.5 is there to be tasted, lived and shared.

Through Christ (or the Adonai in the OT) we are given a fragment of the immensity of God, as befits our lives and circumstance, to overcome the legacy of the fall as we experience it in the totality of our existence.

V.5 places no limits on how we may experience the "temporal sequence" because to God, all are alive.

In the revelation given to John, the Living One walks amidst the seven golden lampstands, beckoning us to follow, and He holds the key of David. It is also the means through which God creates a new heaven and a new earth.

Why, we may ask? Because God's Love for mankind is eternal. had to be Adonai in the "Old" Testament because before the time of Jesus, only the Jews knew the Fullness of God...hence the golden "lampstands" today.

The lampstands are big in the text. What do you think they symbolize?

The menorah & the Church of course!

OK, the menorah and the Church...on what basis can you say that? What's your evidence?

Good question. I saw the Adonai in the Glory of the Father and His angels. I didn't take any photos, sorry!

The text in Revelation specifically says that the lamp stands are the churches. So that, at least, is an easy symbol to decipher.

My point was that John didn't need to be placed in a Jewish context, he was already there. There is a specific purpose in the detail.

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