Jesus Christ: High Priest; Judge; Review of Rev. 1
A lot of folks study prophecy to sort of titillate their curiosity, to find out what is going on today so that they can properly exegete the newspaper reports and figure out what is happening, where are we on the time scale of prophecy, what is happening in Israel? Etc.! All of this focuses our attention of our modern world on a very ancient problem that goes all the way back to Ishmael and Isaac. All of this lays a foundation for what the Bible teaches about the future. Not to mention the fact that we have uninformed folks in the mainstream press who throw around terms like Armageddon, evangelical Christianity, and have no clue of what they are talking about and just get everybody all confused. So we need to take some time to look at what the Scripture says in the last book of the New Testament, the book of Revelation.
In Revelation 1:3 there is a blessing that is promised to those who study this last book. It is not written for the purpose of satisfying our curiosity about the future. There are very important reasons to study Revelation as well as to study prophecy in Scripture. "Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near." There is this sense of urgency that the writer of Revelation has, that Jesus Christ could come back at any moment. This is known as the doctrine of the imminency of the Rapture. There are no signs of the times related to the Rapture, the next thing that we are looking for in God's prophetic timetable is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the air for the church, and it could happen at any moment. So we have to be ready, we have to prepare. So there is a blessing for those who read, and that doesn't simply mean sitting down and reading through the book of Revelation in your devotional time. It has to do with the exposition, the explanation of what the book of Revelation means. It refers more to the pastor and his exposition of the Word than it does individuals who read the book. So blessed are those who read, i.e. the pastors who teach the Word, and those who hears the words of this prophecy, i.e. those who study it, but as James says, it is not just a matter of hearing, it is also that we are to be doers or appliers of the Word. John echoes that and by saying that it is the one who hears the words and heeds the things that are written in it. That is, it is not just a matter of intellectual curiosity or academic investigation, it is matter of taking these things and applying them to our thinking and to our lives.
Why should we study prophecy? Just for introduction, when we look at the Bible 28 per cent of the Bible was prophetic when it was written. Some of it has already been revealed but most of the Bible was prophetic, i.e. it foretold future events, at the time that it was written. Fifteen per cent of the Bible is still unfulfilled prophecy. In the New Testament eighteen per cent of the New Testament epistles—one out of every five verses in the New Testament, is unfulfilled prophecy. This is important. God has revealed these things to us for a reason. One in twelve verses in the New Testament refers to the second coming of Christ. One in ten verses in the epistles refer to the second coming of Christ. Beyond that, sixty per cent of the verses in the New Testament are affected by eschatology issues to be properly understood. If you don't understand God's timetable for history and the future, and what is going to take place in the future, then you can't properly orient to the future in the present time. Not only that but you are going to misunderstand and misapply many of the passages in the New Testament. Furthermore, prophecy is given for the purpose of encouraging believers through times of adversity that God is in control. History is moving in a direction. There will be a day of accountability and evaluation for believers and unbelievers alike, and evil will be resolved and judged.
If we look at the Old Testament, we have these large amounts of text that are related to future events. We find them primarily in Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Minor Prophets, and when these were written part of them were a warning that the nation would go out under the fifth cycle of discipline if they didn't return to God. There would be judgment. But not only would God judge Israel, he would also judge the other nations. So there were pronouncements of future divine judgments against Babylon, against Edom, against Moab, and Tyre, etc. The purpose for that was to give real comfort and encouragement to believers like Daniel and his friends, and others who were alive during the time when the Jews were defeated by the Babylonians, so that as they asked the question whether God had forgotten them, God was saying no, this is the future plan, I have not forgotten you, but right now you are under divine discipline; I have not lost control, there is a future for Israel. So prophecy was written to encourage and strengthen believers in times of crisis and times of uncertainty.
Second, it was to inform believers about a coming evaluation, that there is judgment coming, that there is an evaluation for believers at the judgment seat of Christ in relation to our destiny with the Lord Jesus Christ in the future Millennial kingdom.
A third reason to study prophecy is to provide details about the end times for the encouragement, protection and direction of Tribulation saints. There will be those who are saved during that future time, that seven-year period that the Bible calls the time of Jacob's trouble, and it is the most horrendous time in human history.
The fourth reason to study Revelation is because it completes God's revelation to mankind with reference to the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture wouldn't be sufficient if it didn't give us an overview of God's plan for the future. So because we understand where history is going it gives us a perspective on what is happening today. That doesn't mean that we can go into current events and figure out where we are in the prophetic timetable. We are in what is called the church age and the church age is a time when there are trends that continue through history but there are no prophecies that are fulfilled during the church age. If a prophecy was necessary to occur before Jesus came back, then would you be looking for the blessed hope of the appearance of the Lord, or would you be looking for the sign of the times? You would be looking for that sign of then times. But the Scripture says that what we look for today is the blessed hope of His return. That is the next thing that happens on the prophetic timetable.
Prophecy, therefore, is designed to motivate believers, to encourage believers, in terms of their present spiritual life and spiritual growth. It is also being used by the Lord for evangelism purposes. Many believers have come to know Christ as savior through the study of prophecy.
Several passages emphasize this for believers: 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, "But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled."
Hebrews 10:24, 25 uses the same motivational technique: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
James 5:8, "You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near."
1 Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray."
Revelation 22:10, "Then he told me, 'Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.'"
The basic outline. Revelation 1:19 gives us the structure of the entire book. "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later." We have a picture of the glorified Christ in chapter one—"what you have seen"; then the seven churches of the church age and the cycles/trends of the church age symbolized by the strengths and weaknesses of these seven congregations. Chapters four through nineteen cover the Tribulation period. There is a focus on three sets of judgment that take place during that time: the seven seal judgments which contain the seven trumpet judgments and the seven trumpet judgments which contain the seven bowl judgments. Chapters 20-22 refer to the Millennial kingdom and the eternal state.
The picture we see in Revelation is not simply telling us what these future events are going to be, it is a focus on judgment, that there is a future judgment, and judgment is a major theme in the book of Revelation. In chapter one John sees this vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he appears in this bright, white light. He has hair that is white like wool, legs that are shiny like burnished bronze. He comes holding a sword used for power, for executing control, and it is a picture of Jesus as a high priest coming to judge. The first element of judgment is in Revelation chapters two and three where He is pictured as the judge, the evaluator of the churches. Then there is the Rapture that takes place in chapter four and from there to chapter nineteen there is the description of the Tribulation which is God's judgment on the earth dwellers. There is a judgment of Israel for their rejection of Messiah and their ongoing apostasy. This is a focal point of the Tribulation which is why one of the names for the Tribulation in Scripture is that it is the time of Jacob's wrath. There is a judgment of Satan, the demons, the Antichrist and the false prophet which occurs at the end of the Tribulation. There is a judgment of unsaved mankind, those who have rejected God's free offer of salvation. Then there will be a judgment of the present heavens and the present earth. So the book of Revelation is a book about judgment. There is an evaluation coming.
Chapter one sets the stage. It gives a framework for understanding what the book is all about. We have the title of the book and the purpose of the book. There is a blessing for those who study who study, read, hear and heed the words of the prophecy. We learn about the occasion of the giving of the book, the vision John had on the island of Patmos, how the vision was of Jesus Christ as high priest and judge who commissions him to write down the "things which you have seen, the things which are, and the things which are to come to pass after these things," and this sets the stage for understanding chapter two.
Revelation 1:1 gives us the orientation to the book. The first three verses are one sentence, the subject is that this is the revelation, unveiling, disclosure, of Jesus Christ. This is an unveiling, a disclosure of facts, details, information that has not been given before. What Revelation does is hold together details from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zecharaiah: Old Testament books that talk about what would happen in the future related to Israel. So to understand Revelation and the imagery and symbolism it is necessary to understand the imagery and symbolism that has been developed throughout all of the prophetic literature in the Old Testament. The book of Revelation is part of that category of literature called prophecy.
What does "the revelation of Jesus Christ" mean? Certainly it could be understood to mean revelation about Jesus Christ because there is much in this book that focuses on Him. He is the key to understanding the book. In chapter one He is the glorified, risen savior. In chapters two and three He is the Lord of the church. In chapters four through five He is pictured as the Lamb of God, which is one of the most often-used titles in the book of Revelation. In chapters six through eleven He is the judge of all mankind. This is the first stage of the Tribulation, the first seal judgments which are described as the wrath of the Lamb poured out upon the earth. In chapters twelve through thirteen He is the child of the woman who is attacked by the dragon who is Satan of old. In chapters fourteen through nineteen we have the description of the coming of the King of kings and the Lord of lords, that Jesus Christ is the one who will come back and permanently defeat evil, defeat Satan, defeat the Antichrist and the false prophet. Then in chapter twenty He is presented as the Messianic and Millennial King. In chapters twenty-one and twenty-two He is the Lord of heaven and earth. So the book is definitely about Jesus Christ but that is not how we should understand this phrase. It is not simply the revelation about Jesus Christ but this genitive phrase can also be understood as Christ's revelation or the revelation which Christ gave. That is how it should be understood because this is the revelation from Jesus Christ which God gave Him. God gives or delegates to Jesus Christ a body of information or data that is then in turn to be disclosed to mankind for a particular purpose. He is to show His servants the things which must quickly take place—they will take place in rapid succession. This is the purpose of the book of Revelation.
The idea of things that must soon take place is one of the key themes in the book of Revelation. Revelation 4:1, the Rapture is alluded to: "I will show you what must take place after these things." It is a reference to future events.
Revelation 1:2, this revelation was given to His servant John, i.e. John the apostle who was the legal witness to this book. He bore witness, or testified to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ. There is a legal dimension to this book. A legal witness to this book, and this is terminology that was used throughout the Gospel of John, that human history is part of an overall trial that is taking place with relation to Satan and the fallen angels. In this trial we play a role as we give testimony to the grace of God in our lives.
In Revelation 1:4 we shift from the prologue to the basic core greeting: "John to the seven churches which are in Asia." These seven churches that are addressed in chapters two and three are seven specific congregations that are chosen by the sovereignty of God because they exhibit the trends that will characterize churches throughout the church age. Throughout these seven short statements of evaluation is a promise to those who overcome, those who stick with it, those who hang in there in the Christian life, that there is special blessing to those who continue to grow and mature in their spiritual life.
He gives a greeting: "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." This is a reference to God the Father. He is the one who is and was and is to come, a reference to His eternality. The seven spirits before His throne is a reference to the Holy Spirit and the full dimension of His ministry, based on references in Zechariah. What helps us to understand this is the word "throne." The only throne mentioned in Revelation is the throne of God the Father. Jesus Christ is not on a throne yet, that doesn't happen until the end of the Tribulation. In Revelation 1:5, the second member of the Trinity is now addressed. The firstborn from the dead references His resurrection. Cf. Colossians 1:18. When He returns He will be the ruler of the kings of the earth and He will set up His kingdom upon the earth. Psalm 89:27, "I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth."
Revelation 1:7, "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen." The imagery comes out of Zechariah 12:10 where God said that at the end of time He would pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace—not the Holy Spirit, it is an attitude of grace and supplication—"then they will look on me whom they pierced." Notice it is the Lord Jesus Christ speaking here, not God the Father. The point is that when Jesus Christ returns Israel will realize what they did and what they lost in rejecting Christ as Messiah. Jesus Christ is said to come with the clouds, and this is what takes place at the Rapture, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Clouds are used in the imagery of the Bible to picture the presence of God.