The eternity of the Son - Revelation 1
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Back in 1988 amidst an avalanche of criticism, Universal studios decided to make a film version of Nicos Kazantzakis’s novel, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ One Christian businessman was so outraged by the script that he offered the studio $10 million not to make the film. Still, it went ahead and Martin Scorsese produced a Christ who, to put it mildly, hardly measured up to the Christ of the Bible. Here was a Christ tormented over questions of his divine calling, who admits to personal sin, saying, ‘I am a liar, I am a hypocrite, I am afraid of everything….Lucifer is inside me.’ And he barely resists his last temptation to leave the cross to pursue personal sexual satisfaction. Now the big give away as to where the film is coming from, is when Jesus proclaims, ‘everything is part of God.’ Handling some dirt and stones he then pronounces, "This is my body too." This led one reviewer to speak of this Jesus as "a recent graduate of the Shirley MacLaine School of Theology." In other word, this is pure New Age and is a million light years from the actual world of the real Jesus of first century Palestine.
In a cover story entitled, "Who was Jesus?" Time magazine observed that "if the furore surrounding Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ proves one thing, it is that in any era, seismic emotions are involved when people probe the nature of the man who is worshipped as God by over a billion souls."
Now there is the shocking thing. Not the remaking of Jesus into some New Age guru which anyone would happily believe in-harmless and ineffective, but the plain fact that there are billions of people who worship this man as God! How else do you account for the influence of one man who lived 2,000 years ago, grew up in a village in the backwaters of the mightiest and brutal Empire the world has ever known, never wrote a book, only taught for three years and ended up impaled on a Roman gallows as had thousands of thieves and revolutionaries before him?
This is what the historian Jaroslav Pelikan has to say: ‘Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of supermagnet, to pull out of that history every scarp of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left? It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his name millions curse and in his name that millions pray.’ Now tell me: how can a mere man have such an effect- a seismic effect? Well, of course a mere man can’t. But the astounding claim of the Bible is that this is no mere man- this is one who is also God.
Now tonight I want us to turn to a book in the Bible which in the most breathtaking way imaginable presents the Lord Jesus Christ as the God of the universe- and that is the Book of Revelation. Here we encounter a figure clothed in the resplendent robes of divinity, who speaks with all the authority of deity and who commands not only the worship of men, but evokes the adoring devotion of angels. So let’s be prepared to have our minds stretched, our imaginations stirred and our hearts warmed as we come before the man who is God.
Now let me ask: how is the President of the United States identified as the President? It is not just that someone claims to be President is it? You can tell who the President is because he has the presidential seal- the mark of office. When he arrives in town he comes with his usual entourage- a bullet proof limo, the stars and stripes fluttering on the bonnet, secret service men who, for some reason all seem to have sensitive eyes and bad hearing. There is a whole cluster of things which together point to the fact that this man is President. Well, so it is with Jesus in the Book of Revelation, there is a whole host of things which clearly indicate that this is the divine ruler.
The first thing we notice is that Jesus receives the titles of God. Notice how John’s vision begins when he is on what in effect, is a slave island, possibly working the mines; it is with the risen Christ appearing as a glorious heavenly being. There we have it in 1: 13: He was ‘"like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.’ Now I tell you that is no mere human. It is no angel either as we shall see. But what is so mind blowing is how he identifies himself in v 17 ‘I am the First and the Last. 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.’ He doesn’t explicitly say he is God, but then again he doesn’t explicitly identify himself as Jesus either- but both are clearly implicit by what he does say. Who else was dead but is now alive for ever but Jesus? Who else has the keys to death- Hades, but Jesus who has conquered death so death holds no terror for those who trust him?
But it is that other little phrase which takes us to the very heart of who Jesus is when he says, ‘I am the first and the last.’ What is that all about? Well, here we have Christ’s self-declaration which matches God’s divine declaration. In 1:8 God says, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ –in 1: 17 Christ says, ‘I am the first and the last.’ In 21: 6 God says, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’ – in 22:13 Christ says, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ Do you see the equation? God is the alpha and the omega, Jesus is the alpha and the omega. God is the beginning and the end, Jesus is the beginning and the end.
You may say, ‘So what?’ The ‘so what’ is that those phrases are packed with dynamite about who Jesus is and what he has done. You see, alpha is the first letter which stands at the beginning of the Greek alphabet and omega is the final letter marking its end. So this speaks of God’s eternal relation to the world. He precedes all things, he originates all things and he is steering all things to their ultimate goal. The entire universe comes from God, belongs to God and is being ruled by God –that is why he is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Well, if that is what those titles mean when applied to God the Father, they can’t mean any less when they are applied to Jesus, God the Son.
But there is more to it than that which would have caused a first century Jew to fall of his chair and reach for the valium. In two of the loftiest passages in the OT which magnify the uncompromising truth that there is only one God, the LORD – Yahweh, who is not only the creator God but the rescuing God, we read: ‘This is what the LORD says- Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty; I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God.’- Is 44:6 and then again in Is 48:12 ‘Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called; I am he, I am the first and the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth and my right hand spread out the heavens.’ John, are you sure you heard it right? John are you certain that you hadn’t had too much sun? You must have been working too hard in the mines! Are you honestly saying that the one whose hand’s crafted the wood in Nazareth in time also crafted the world at the beginning of time? That the carpenter who hung doors also hung stars? That the man who said he had no home in which to lay his head is the one that the whole universe cannot contain for it is too small for him? That is precisely what I am saying, says John. He is the first and the last; he shares the eternal livingness of God. There never was a time when the Son did not exist, but there was a time when his eternal livingness was interrupted by the experience of human death as he the sinless one died for sinners.
As the alpha, the beginning he is the one through whom the universe came into being in all its awesome vastness, its mind numbing complexity and breathtaking beauty, but as the omega - the end- he is the one who moment by moment not only consciously enables every single atom to spin in the far flung worlds on the outer reaches of the galaxies, he is also the one who is providentially directing every event in this world for the sake of the people he came to save –you and me.
Now remember that this book is written to those who are being impaled on stakes, heated on grid irons, and torn apart by lions because they declare that it is Jesus, not Caesar, who is Lord. How then, do you think they received this teaching? That the one who died for them is also the one who rules the universe for them. That he will ensure that nothing; no man, no demon, not even death itself will prevent him getting them home to share in his glory for ever. And as you look out on the world with all its disasters, its wars and terrorism, the steady build up of anti-Christian sentiment in our own society, what is it that is going to keep you going and willing to speak to your friends about your faith, if it is not the solid unchanging fact that Jesus is divine?
But secondly, Jesus receives the worship of God. Let me tell you something. From the very beginning the Bible is dead against idolatry. The second of the Ten Commandments states, ‘You shall not make for yourself any idol’. You know, special money had to be obtained to be used in the temple because Roman money with the image of the Emperor was considered idolatrous, that is how sensitive the Jews were. From their mothers’ milk they were brought up with the uncompromising belief that worship was only to be directed towards God the creator and no man who was created. If necessary they were willing to die for that belief as thousands in fact did a few centuries before Christ in the great Maccabean revolt. Even angels, which if they were to appear would naturally cause people to fall down in homage, were not to be objects of worship as you see here in chapter 19:9 where John writes, ‘Then the angel said to me, "Write: `Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' " And he added, "These are the true words of God." At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! That is pretty clear isn’t it? Angels stand on the created side of things not the divine. But when it comes to Jesus you find something quite extraordinary. What is it that John sees as the door of heaven is opened to him in 4:1? He sees the throne upon which is seated the one who cannot be described directly, namely, God, ‘The one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.’ And what is happened around him? Worship, the four living creatures which represent the created world and the angelic 24 elders lay their crowns before the throne and say , 11"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." That is what is happening in heaven even now as we speak; God is endlessly adored as Creator. And if that is happening in heaven, then surely it should be happening on earth which is one reason why we meet like this, to mirror the activity of heaven. But then glance over the page and see what happens in chapter 5. Who is on the throne now in v 6 ? It is Jesus the Lamb of God. And the very same creatures that worshipped God as creator in chapter 4 now worship Jesus as redeemer in chapter 5. Look at v 12 ‘In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" And just to offset any impression that Jesus is an alternative object of worship to God, someone who stands alongside God, John says in v 13 ‘Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and- worshipped.’ There are not two gods on the throne. Jesus shares the very being of God and so receives the worship which is due to God for he is God.
Sure, subtle distinctions are made, sure this stretches the mind to the limit- but what was it that compelled monotheistic Jews like John who resolutely believed that God was wholly transcendent, unapproachable, invisible to the human eye, go on to worship Jesus in exactly the same terms that for centuries Jews worshipped Yahweh? Well, because no other explanation would do to account for this remarkable person who while on earth stilled the waves as only God would, forgive sins as only God could and be raised from the dead as the head of a new race- the race called Christians.
Let me say it again: Christians worship Jesus. If he is not God we dare not worship him. If he is only Michael the archangel as the JW’s claim, we dare not worship him. If he is not God, then what we are doing tonight is idolatry. No one has put this better than C.S. Lewis: ‘There is no half way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him: ‘Are you the son of Brahma? He would have said, ‘My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.’ If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked. ‘Are you Allah?’ he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off.’ But what does John do together with the whole host of heaven? They bow in worship to Jesus.
Which brings us to the third amazing feature about Christ in this great vision of John, Jesus functions as God. Now we have touched on this already in terms of the way Jesus exercised the divine prerogatives while on earth in terms of him displaying God’s authority over demons, nature and people, causing his followers to ask ‘Who is this that does such things?’ when they well knew from their Old Testament that it was God who did such things. But here the message of Revelation is clear: what God is said to do, Christ is said to do, namely, act in salvation and judgement. Notice how in 1:8 God is described in three tenses; The Lord God ‘who is, and who was and who is to come.’ But then earlier in v 7 we read; ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.’ Do you see what is being said? God is going to come- Jesus is going to come. Now you don’t have to be a MENSA candidate to balance that equation do you?
God is on his throne, transcendent in unapproachable light. How then does he make contact with the world he has made, working to restore sinful people to himself? He does it through the other on the throne, God the Son, the Lamb of God who absorbed divine judgement on the cross, dying the death we all deserve so those who put their trust in him might share his life. How does God bring judgement upon the earth, punishing the sin and wickedness which mar his wonderful creation? Again he does it through God the Son, so chapters 6-11 are the unleashing of the wrath of the lamb upon the earth, culminating in the return of the King in chapter 19 11I 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. 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. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 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. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. That is where history is heading friends. We are all going to meet Jesus one day-either with tears of joy as we welcome him as our Saviour or with tears of horror as we face him as our judge, but it will be one or the other and we need to be ready.
Now do you see the implications of all of this? To truly worship God you must worship Jesus. All other worship of other gods is false worship. To truly have meaning and purpose in this life you must come to Jesus who made you and for whom you were made. You are the lock, he is the key. To truly know forgiveness and experience a fresh start you must come to Jesus for he is the only one who died for you-not Moses, not Buddha, not Mohammed not even Shirley Maclean- but Jesus, he loves you that much. One man who saw this for himself was the Russian novelist Dostoevsky. In a letter to a woman who was experiencing a time of deep rejection he spoke of how his Credo, statement of belief, helped him in his moments of trial. And this is how he described it: ‘to believe that nothing is more beautiful, profound, sympathetic, reasonable, manly, and more perfect than Christ; and I tell myself with a jealous love not only that there is nothing but that there cannot be anything.’ You see, in Jesus we have God with a human face.
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