The opening vision of the Book of Revelation is the Lord Jesus walking amongst the lampstands of the seven churches of Asia Minor. The prophetic letters to the churches are well-known and regularly preached on. But we’re going to focus on what this section tells us about Jesus who does the speaking.
The greeting starting at verse four introduces the heavenly trinity: first, the one who was is and is to come – the eternal God who will arrive one day, who will come – as the prophets expected and Revelation affirms. Second: the seven spirits is not the announcement of an expansion to the Holy Trinity from three to nine but a reference to Zechariah 4 where the Holy Spirit is imaged as a seven branched menorah – one of those Jewish branched lamps – represents one the Spirit: ‘not by might nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord’. Then comes a triple attribution of titles to Jesus: ‘faithful witness, firstborn from the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth’. The fact that the word ‘witness’ is martyr in Greek makes it clear that this is an organised sequence reminding us of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension to heavenly rule. Unusually for the NT, it is the third of these that is focal point of the book of Revelation. The book is the story of how the crucified, risen Lord Jesus is now worthy to bring to the final judgement and sovereign rule of God on earth.
Each of these three titles is also about us: we too are called to be faithful witnesses and we are promised both final resurrection and a share in Jesus’ kingdom rule. This is who John says Jesus is. When Jesus speaks in 1.17f he repeats basically the same things: he was dead, he is alive, he has power over death and Hades. Hades is the place where the dead wait before they are given up to God at the final resurrection.
John also sees a vision of Jesus. Jesus is described in ways that are partly like the figures of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man in Daniel chapter 7. This is Jesus as God bringing the judgement and kingdom of God on the earth. He is also described as wearing the clothing of the High Priest Aaron – a long linen robe – and he has a sword coming from his mouth. This last image reminds us that it is not physical strength or military power that Jesus exercises but righteous judgment by the words of his mouth. He speaks God’s justice for the righteous, for the faithful and for the oppressed.
When Jesus speaks and tells what will take place (1.19) he is Jesus the prophet, when he reveals God to us and stands for us before God he is Jesus the priest and in his authority to bring God’s ultimate just rule he is Jesus the king. Prophet, Priest and King in one overpowering vision of the glory of the person and work of Jesus.
What strikes me about this is just how comprehensive a vision of the Lord and his ministry this is. I can’t think of anything that I need Jesus to be that isn’t included here. When I need my sins forgiven: ‘he freed us from our sins by his blood’’ When I am weak, sick and worry about dying: he has the keys of death. When I worry about the future: he has the future in his hands – he is the first and the last. This is the Jesus who walks amongst the lampstands – he really sees the life of his churches and knows us fully. He is the one to calm our fears, challenge our apathy and give hope in the darkness. We meet him in all the joy and power of who he is and what he has done for us.
In a fit of desperation in 1897 the French post-impressionist artist Gaugin wrote three classic questions of life on the corner of one of his paintings of a scene of Tahitian women: The questions were in French but they translate as: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? The history of trying to answer these questions is long and involved. But Holy Scripture says that the answers all centre around God’s comprehensive work in Christ. Where do we come from? From the maker of all things: we owe him our very breath; What are we? creatures made in his image for his pleasure and glory, broken by sin and redeemed in the cross; Where are we going? The answer to this third question is Revelation’s specialist subject: we are called into Jesus’ kingdom and called to share in his glory.
Lord Jesus, you are everything to us. Help us to stand back a little farther today and wonder a little more at the fulness of who you are and the comprehensiveness of what you have done for us.