Jesus is bigger than we think - Revelation 1:1-20
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
If you were asked to spend a morning in a library, what section would you pick a book from? What kind of book is your favourite type?
As soon as we ask the question we realise there is so much choice. So we could go to the fiction section and pick up a comedy, a thriller, a horror, a romance, a book of poems or whatever. The categories are huge. Or if we preferred factual books we could head down to that section and again we would be overwhelmed by choice. It might be a biography or a book of skills or a book of history or… Do you see my point? Libraries are full of lots of different types of books.
Did you know that the bible is a library? Of course it is one gloriously connected story all about Jesus Christ but it actually is made up of 66 different books written by over 40 different authors over thousands of years. There are 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
Like any other library there are many different types of books in it. For example, there are letters. There are biographies. There are historical descriptions. There are books containing God’s commandments. There are proverbs. There are poems. One of the keys to understanding any book is to understand what type of book you are reading.
This morning we start a new teaching series on the last book in the entire bible - the book of Revelation. Many Christians find this book incomprehensible and weird. And so they stay clear of it in order to prevent a severe headache developing.
I haven’t chosen this book because I want to bring you painful tension in your head. This book is marvellous! It is deeply comforting, it highly challenging, it is definitely contemporary and it is full of Christ.
However, in order to really appreciate this and so delight in it, we need to know what kind of book we are dealing with.
This is the question I want to answer this morning, what kind of book is Revelation?
The truth is that Revelation is a book that could be placed in three different categories.
First of all, it is what is called an apocalyptic book.
Now that word apocalyptic is mentioned in verse 1. Look at how the book begins. Read verse 1-2.
Where is the word is apocalyptic? In the original Greek language the word we translate as revelation is the Greek word apocalypsis.
This simply means revelation, that is, information that is disclosed by God that we could not have obtained in any other way.
In one sense every book of the bible is revelation from God. The Bible is not full of human opinions and suggestions. No, the Bible is God’s book, fully breathed out by him through human authors so that the final product is exactly as God intended it to be.
However, nowadays this word apocalyptic has been applied to books with a certain style and a certain substance. Or in other words, apocalyptic books have become a sub category of all the books that reveal God’s truth.
What is distinctive about their style and their substance?
Let’s think about style first. Apocalyptic books are full of visions, strange creatures, symbolic references and lots of coded numbers.
In terms of substance, apocalyptic books focus on the big themes of God’s power and control, his victory over evil, and the suffering of his people. They were written to strengthen God’s people through tough times that were coming their way simply because they were God's people.
Why were these types of books written? They communicate truth in a way that gets under the skin and which fires the imagination.
Revelation is clearly an apocalyptic book..
This is important to remember when we are trying to interpret what we are reading.
For example, in Revelation 1:16 we are told that Jesus has a sharp doubled edged sword coming out of his mouth. What does that mean? Remember what kind of book we are reading. It’s apocalyptic and so it will have symbolic descriptions that are not to be taken literally but which point to something true. In this case, it’s a reference to what the words of Jesus will achieve in someone’s life.
Or take the numbers we discover in Revelation. The 6’s, 7’s 12’s, 24’s and so on. How are we to interpret them? Remember what we are reading. It’s an apocalyptic book so it best not to interpret these literally. They are symbolic codes, pointing us towards a profound truth.
Secondly, Revelation is also a prophetic book.
We discover this in verse 3. Read verse 3.
A prophet was someone who had a message of God for the people around them. These message often did contain future predictions but it wasn’t exclusively about the future. Prophets spoke the word of God the people needed to hear at that moment. We mustn’t think prophecy means only the distant future, far from us. No it also includes a particular word for our immediate situation.
Prophets also had an immediate encounter with the word from God. They often received their messages in a very clear and colourful way. Think of Isaiah and Ezekiel.
This should again set our expectations for what we should read in the book of Revelation.
First, it certainly does contain predictions about the end of the world and the return of Jesus. But it had a most relevant message to the original Christians who were enduring persecution for their faith.
We will discover that the message that spurred them on will also spur us on. Or at least it will if we respond to it in the right way. Because there is a condition attached to experiencing the blessing mentioned in verse 3. Blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.
Second, we should expect the writer to have been given his message in a very clear and colourful way. That’s exactly what we do find.
Look, for example, at what we’re told in verse 9. Read verses 9-11. So far all he has done is hear something. But then in verse 12 onwards he gets to see something.
What did he see? Read verses 12-16.
This is a vision of the gloriously splendid risen Jesus Christ. Much of the descriptive phrases come from Daniel chapter 7. The one who is strong, wise, beautiful and who sees everything. He is standing in the midst of his churches.
Why is this such a necessary vision of Jesus to know about? This is the Jesus who rules his church. This is the Jesus who rules the world. This is the Jesus you can trust to rule. And this is the Jesus who spoke to John the writer in these visions.
Thirdly, Revelation is a letter.
Our letters today have a standard format. Dear…Content. Yours…
First century letters had a different format. From…To…Greetings…Content…
We see this 1st century format in the opening verses of Revelation chapter 1, where we’re told it is from John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia, following by Christian greetings.
These seven churches were located in what is now modern day Turkey. Real churches in real situations. All 22 chapters were to be given to each.
Why these 7? There were more than seven churches in this area. 7 is also a very special number. It is the number of completeness.
7 have been chosen as representative of churches everywhere.
And so it will have much relevance to us today.
The big themes of NT letters are often hinted at towards the very start. Revelation is no expectation.
Let me show you six of them
First of all, we’re told in verse 5 that Jesus is the faithful witness. Even until death.
That’s what Christians are called to be.
Second, also in verse 5, we’re told that Jesus is thh firstborn from the dead.
More resurrections to follow.
Third, also in verse 5, we’re told that Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Who is in charge of your career? Your children? Your calendar? Your country? Your continent? Jesus is your ultimate boss!
Fourth, at the end of verse 5 we’re told that Jesus is the one who has died for us.
The great victory has already happened. We need to work out the implications now. This past demonstration of love will be especially important when our current experience is filled with persecution.
Fifth, in verse 6, we're told that Jesus has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.
We are under his rule.
We are to be involved in the priestly ministry of evangelism. Jesus has offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. We offer other people to God by offering the gospel to them. Other people then offer themselves as living sacrifices.
To do this we need to remain unpolluted in our beliefs and behaviour. Two problems in the churches mentioned in Revelation are pollution by the world and false teaching.
Sixthly, in verse 7, we’re told that Jesus is coming back.
This will not be good news for everyone!
There is much to look forward to in Revelation.
To get the most out of it we need to realise what kind of book it is.
Revelation is an apocalyptic book, a prophetic book and a letter.
When we understand this it will help us interpret it properly so that we can hear it’s message. Which I assure you will be comforting, challenging, contemporary and full of Christ.
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