Tuesday, November 24, 2015
"Ruler of Kings" Sermon: Revelation 1:4-8
“Ruler of Kings”
November 22, 2015 Second Reformed Church
On this Christ the King Sunday, as we look at a bit of the book of Revelation, we need to remind ourselves that the popular understanding of the book of Revelation – a very new understanding of the book of Revelation – which has only been around for the past hundred years or so with any popularity – this view of the book being that of a horror story – we do not believe is correct – the Church historically has not held to this view.
The churches I was raised up in led me to understand – more from the youth leaders than the pastors – that the world was going to get worse and worse until one day we get zapped up into the sky for seven years while all hell breaks loose – literally – giving the unbelievers one last time to repent – and then we will come back to earth with Jesus and chop everyone into tiny little pieces who doesn’t believe and reign with Jesus for a thousand years on earth, after which, well, we’ll be too old to care what happens after that.
This is the view of the “left behind” people – and it does not make sense.
The book of Revelation was written to Christians suffering under the persecution of Nero, and it was written to encourage and comfort the Christians as then endured suffering for the sake of the Gospel. And, it was written in symbols that first century believers would have understood. So, as we read the book, we need to interpret it by understandimg what they would have understood in the first century – who and what these symbols would have clearly indicated to believers in the first century.
This morning, we are looking at John’s greeting. And we see, first, this book is for the Church:
“John to the seven churches that are in Asia:”
John is the John who is the author of the Gospel of John and the three letters of John. He wrote down “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1a, ESV) in his old age while in exile on the Isle of Patmos.
The seven churches in Asia – what we now call Turkey – were well-known and are identified in the text that follows: the church in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
While these seven churches are specifically addressed in the first three chapters, we must keep in mind that numbers had a symbolic significance, and the number seven was understood to stand to “completeness” or “fullness,” which makes sense as we read from chapter four on and see that the message is directed to the entire – the complete – the full – Christian Church.
Although there are specific greetings to the seven churches in Asia, this letter is for all believers – the whole Christian Church – and that includes you and me.
Second, the Triune God gives us grace and peace through tribulation.
“Grace to you and peace”
John begins his greeting with these words of comfort and assurance – that God will give His grace and peace to the Church – to all we who believe – as we suffer for the sake of the Gospel – which is the Tribulation.
What does that mean?
We receive grace from God – that is, we receive everything we need to be God’s people – in a number of ways, but especially as we hear the Word of God read and preached and as we receive the Sacraments. God enables us for whatever we would go through for His sake as we meet with Him and commune with Him in these ways. And we receive His peace – we are settled and joyful because we know that God is Sovereign over all things, and as Paul tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
So, whether we lead a quiet and “unremarkable” life – so to speak, or whether we are captured by ISIS and blown up or tortured or beheaded for the sake of the Gospel – for our belief in Who Jesus is and what He has done – as Paul said, “I can do all thing through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV) – I can live a life filled with the grace of God, being at peace with whatever may come to pass, whether plenty or need – because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true and certain and unchangeable. If we live, we live to serve Christ and spread the Gospel; if we die, we go to be with Christ in person and be in everlasting joy in worship before Him.
This grace and peace comes from God – the Triune God – the One God Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
“from him who is and who was and who is to come,”
From God the Father, Who is not merely eternal – as are humans – but He is timeless. He is before anything was. He is now. He is forever and ever and ever. Nothing exists that He did not create and all things are under His control.
“and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,”
Remember, we said that the number seven is symbolic of completeness or wholeness. The phrase, “the seven spirits,” is symbolic of God the Holy Spirit. He is the One Who applies the work of Jesus to us to complete us and make us whole before the Father.
“and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of kings on the earth.”
And, God the Son, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, Whom is given three titles here:
“The faithful witness”
This expression comes from a Psalm where we find God’s promise about the child of David:
“His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies” (Psalm 89:36-37, ESV).
The Son of David is the Eternal Son, Who is the Faithful Witness – to God, to His Holiness, to the One Way of Salvation that God has made through Him – Jesus Christ. A witness is one who recounts the truth of something; Jesus recounts the Truth of God and is the Truth of Salvation.
“the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of kings on the earth.”
The second and third title, “firstborn from the dead” and “the rulers of kings” come from the same Psalm:
“And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27, ESV).
The Jehovah’s witnesses and other like groups who see Jesus referred to as the “firstborn” argue that Jesus must be less than God. But they are mistaken in thinking that “firstborn” refers to time; “firstborn” can also – and does here – refer to authority – Jesus is the “firstborn” in the sense that He is the highest authority, because He is God.
Paul explains, “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” (Colossians 1:18, ESV).
Likewise, He is “the ruler of kings” – Jesus is the King of kings – all other rulers and leaders throughout time and space are subject to Jesus. All of them must bow before Him and submit to Him – either in worship, or by force.
And so John tells the Church of the first century – and us – that we receive all we need to be God’s people as proclaimers of the Gospel, not shaken as we go through the Tribulation, but proceed in faith and hope – not matter what may come – knowing that our God and Savior is the Timeless, Sovereign, Saving, Completing, Self-Witnessing, Highest Authority in All of Creation, and Universal King Who gives us the assurance that through Him all things will work out for our good and to the Glory of God.
Third, Jesus loves us.
“To him who loves us”
Take note – this is the one and only verse in the Bible that says, “Jesus loves us” – that is, all we who believe.
John 3:16 tells us the God the Father loves all we who believe and sent His Son to make and secure salvation for us; Revelation 1:5 tells us that God the Son loves all we who believe. And He shows us His love in these ways:
“and has freed us from our sin by his blood”
In Jesus’ life and death, He became our Substitute – first standing before God under the Law and keeping it perfectly, and then standing before God as the One Who willingly bore all of the sins of everyone who would ever believe, receiving the full force of God’s Wrath upon Him, and then, because He is God, He physically rose from the dead and grants us the salvation that He earned on our behalf. Jesus loves us and He lived and died – shedding His blood in a most horrible way that we would be freed from sin – we are no longer under the control of sin or under the condemnation for our sin – we have been freed and forgiven.
Peter wrote, “know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a precious lamb without blemish or spot” (I Peter 1:18-19, ESV).
“and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father,”
Through the work of Jesus that He did in love for us, we are now a kingdom – the Kingdom of God – the Church. And we are priests to God – we are those God has called to proclaim His Word – His Gospel – to the whole Creation. We are His people forever, and He has given us all work to do – to let others know the Gospel and to call them to belief and repentance.
Again, Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:9-10, ESV).
And Jesus did this out of love – while we were still enemies with Him – and not for anything we had or would do, but out of love.
Is it any wonder that John breaks into praise?
“to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Can we do any less, when Jesus has loved us so much to take our place in life and death and secure for us the status of sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters with Jesus – part of the everlasting and glorious Kingdom of God – those God sends to tell the whole Creation that Jesus is the Only Savior?
“to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Fourth, Jesus is coming back.
“Behold, 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 wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascended back to the Father, where He sits enthroned on His Right Hand.
Jesus said, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30, ESV).
And Luke records:
“And when [Jesus] had said these things, as [the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold two men stood by them in while robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:9-11, ESV),
When Jesus returns to judge the world and restore the Creation, every human being who has ever lived will see Him at the same time, and all those who “pierced him” – not just those who actually crucified Him, but all those who never believed in Jesus savingly will “mourn” or “wail” – it’s the same word in both translations – and it means to “beat one's breast as a strong expression of grief or remorse” (Bible Windows), but not sorrow for disbelief, but for Jesus being the Truth.
The sorrow that unbelievers experience is not a sorrow of repentance, but a sorrow of being caught. It is not a sorrowful cry for forgiveness for sin, but a cry of hatred that Christ is Victorious.
And this cry of agony from the lost will come from “all the tribes of the earth.” Just as there will people saved of every type of person on earth, so there will be people damned from every type of person on earth.
Those who had taken their anger and wrath against God and His Savior and meted it on we who believe will be justly judged at the end of the age, even as they continue to deny our God and Savior.
Our sure hope is that no matter what the Anti-Christ and his followers – and all those who deny Jesus – do to we who believe, God has promised to give us His Grace that we would be able to do and be all He calls us to do and be, and He gives us His Peace that we can rest in Him and the assurance of salvation we have in Jesus.
God the Father loves us and Jesus loves us and They have sent God the Holy Spirit – Who love us – to be with us – to lead us in being witnesses to Jesus Christ and His Salvation – the Jesus Who bled and died for our salvation as our Substitute, Jesus Who is preeminent in authority – even over all the kings of earth.
Jesus is the Sovereign God Who has made us a kingdom and priests for Him and to His Glory, and when He returns to earth on the clouds, we will rejoice and cry out, “Hallelujah! Here comes the King!”
And so John ends his introduction by writing down God’s self-identification:
“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. The meaning is that there is nothing outside of God’s power and authority – from the beginning to the end – all is God’s and under God’s control.
And, as John opened his greeting, again, we hear that God is timeless – before time, in time, and the end of time, and beyond, God is the Sovereign God over everything – there is nothing beyond His reach and knowledge and power. He is the Almighty – He is the Source of all power and authority and He holds all power and authority and is the Sovereign King over all power and authority.
And so, to the seven churches of Asia, to the Church Universal, to everyone who ever believes throughout time and space, be comforted and at peace:
God will give us everything we need to be His people. God is in control of everything, everywhere, and throughout eternity. Jesus loves us and has made us right with God, and He has secured our salvation and brought us into His Kingdom.
And we can answer the world, like Jesus, in sure confidence and hope, “You would have no power over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Matthew 19:11b, ESV).
Let us pray:
Almighty God, be glorified in us, and may we be a strong witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we stand before the world as Your Kingdom. Keep us from fear and assure us and comfort us as we remember our salvation has been secured by the work of Jesus Christ. Help us to always trust You for our daily needs. For You are the Almighty, and it is in King Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen and Amen.