Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Revealing Book of Revelation (Revelation 1)

Am especially fond of the Book of Revelation, because it was while reading the book that I became a Christian. (Yes, God does work even through a book supposedly so scarily difficult that even John Calvin would not write a commentary on it and certainly not the sort you would give a non-Christian. Afterall, it is God's word too.)

Even as a pagan though, I had no patience for the scare-mongering-without-evidence of the "Left Behind" series that was sweeping the churches then or the finger-pointing Christians who claimed contradictorily that their favourite evil dictator of the moment or the most recent evil technological advancement was predicted by Revelation. Sounded a lot like Chicken Little meets the Singapore Magic Stone to me. Revelation, as someone once said, is the happy hunting ground for all kinds of heretics. Its rife symbolism makes it easy to take anything out of the context of the book and use it to "prove" any harebrained conspiracy theory.

Revelation states that it is a prophecy (1:3). In the Bible, prophecy does not mean foretelling or predicting the future like astrology or Nostradamus or fortune-telling. Prophecy in Scripture means forth-telling a word from God. In this context, a word from God through his Son, through an angel (1:1).

Revelation is the unveiling, the pulling back of the curtain or lifting the lid of a tin, to reveal the truth, the facts of the situation, of reality.

The purpose of this prophecy is to show his servants what must soon take place (1:1), so that they will obey the words of the prophecy and be blessed, for the time is near (1:3).

The promised blessing for obedience isn't something magical but natural cause and effect:
if there was a bomb in the building that is set to go off in half an hour, and someone reveals/unveils to you what must soon take place (ie. the bomb will go off in half an hour) and warns you to get out of the building, then blessed is he who hears that person's words of revelation and obeys it. For the time is near.

Trustworthy Messager?
But how do we know if this revelation or prophecy is trustworthy? Look at Jesus' credentials:
  • he is the faithful witness (1:5)
  • he is the firstborn from the dead (1:5), firstborn could mean the heir (eg. Psalm 89:27, Colossians 1:15) and could also mean the one who has gone before us to be first resurrected from the dead
  • he is the ruler of the kings on earth (1:5), the promised king like David but much more (Psalm 89 is fulfilled on two levels: David himself - somewhat, but more completely in Jesus)
  • he is coming with the clouds (1:7): an allusion to the person in Daniel 7:13 who is given authority, glory and sovereign power and whom all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipeed. His dominion was to be an everlasting dominion that would not pass away, and his kingdom, one that would never be destroyed (Daniel 7:14).
  • he has been pierced and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him (1:7): an allusion to the person who is pierced and mourned for on day of judgement in Zechariah 12:10-14
  • he stands among the lampstands/churches (1:12): there were more than seven churches in Asia. Seven is the symbolic number of perfection, completion, totality. So Jesus is among the entire church.
  • he is one like the son of man (1:13): again an allusion to the ultimate kingly figure in Daniel 7:13
  • he is wearing a long robe and a golden sash (1:13): reminds us of the garments of high priests whose priesthood was an everlasting ordinance (Exodus 28, 29, 39)
  • he has really white hair, as white as wool or snow (1:14): reminds us of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7
  • 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 (1:14-15): which reminds us of the Daniel's vision of God in Daniel 10, and the description of the Almighty and the God of Israel in Ezekiel 1:24 and 43:2
  • in his right hand he held seven stars/angels (1:16)
  • from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword (1:16): sounds like the description of the appointed servant of the LORD in Isaiah 49
  • his face was like the sun shining in full strength (1:16): sounds like the Day of the LORD in Malachi 4:2 and err...Jesus transfigured in Matthew 17:2
This description of Jesus isn't really what he looks like physically (or else John wouldn't have been able to see anything on account of Jesus' really shiny face) but reminds John's readers (who would be more well-versed in OT allusions than the average modern Singaporean) of the characteristics of Jesus. The description of his appearance in the vision sounds somewhat like what we have in the OT but are different in the details; a jumble of OT allusions. Notwithstanding that, the overall picture is quite clear: in Jesus, there is overarching power, overwhelming splendour and infinite glory. He is the promised ruler of the world, the prophesised trustworthy suffering servant of God, in fact, it is suggested that he is God himself: the Ancient of Days, the Almighty, the God of Israel.

Who is talking in 1:8? The Lord God but also Jesus. For he is the first and the last (1:17). He is the living one (1:18): the description of God in Psalm 42:2, 84:2, Isaiah 37:4, 37:17, Jeremiah 10:10, 23:36 etc, who is real and who is alive and not just aware but also in control of everything in the entire universe.

Whom are we dealing with when we're dealing with Jesus? God himself. Therefore Jesus' testimony, revelation and prophecy is trustworthy. For he is God himself.

John's reaction to Jesus is utter fear (which people tend to have when they see a real angelic messanger from God or visions of God himself in the Bible: eg. Moses at burning bush (Exodus 3); Balaam, his donkey and the angel blocking his path (Numbers 22); Zechariah when sighting the angel in the temple (Luke 1:12)). He falls at Jesus' feet as though dead (1:17, see also Daniel 10).

Somehow, we seem to have lost this fear of Jesus. Hardly anyone talks about bowing down to him in great fear. Even fewer talk about his frightening, awe-some character. We like to think of Jesus as a tall, thin, pale chap with long blonde maggi-mee hair, a white nightie, snuggling fluffy cute sheep in a pastoral background (as Chappo might have put it if he spent more time in Singapore). He's all spaced-out hippie making peace-and-love-not-war in his nightgown. He's our best friend, he makes us happy when we are sad, he's our indulgent daddy. We make him in our image and imagine ourselves equal to him. We project a character onto him which gives us the warm fuzzies and makes us comfortable, ignoring the clear picture of him in the Bible. And he is no cuddly teddy bear.

Perhaps, as Phil Jensen suggests in his talk on the Book of Revelation, we have too high a view of ourselves and too low a view of Jesus who is afterall, God. And that's sin isn't it?

Q: Who is Jesus?
Q: Who are we?
Q: How do we relate to Jesus?
Q: How should we relate to Jesus?
See Him Coming
Glory and power to the One who loves us
Honor and praise Him forever
Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus
Glory and power to the One who freed us
From all our sins by His blood
Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus

See Him coming on the clouds of heaven
Every eye behold Him now
He's the living one, the first and last
Who once was dead but now He lives
Forever and ever

Glory and power to the One who made us
A kingdom and priests for God's service
Come Lord Jesus, come Lord Jesus

See Him coming on the clouds of heaven
Every eye behold Him now
He's the living one, the first and last
Who once was dead but now He lives
Forever and ever

Jesus is the living One
Who died and came alive
Jesus is our mighty Lord
Who was and is to come

See Him coming on the clouds of heaven
Every eye behold Him now
He's the living one, the first and last
Who once was dead but now He lives
See Him coming on the clouds of heaven
Every eye behold Him now
He's the living one, the first and last
Who once was dead but now He lives
Forever and ever

Mark Peterson
Heaven Now (Revelation 4-5)
Letters to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2-3)

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