The King of Glory, is advancing. This is not darkness coming after light. This is light going after darkness. This is Heaven invading hell.
November 30, 2023
Speaker: David Mitchell
Passage: Revelation 1:4-20
We’ve been in the book of Revelation and are studying that together here at Vintage. We’ve been in it for the last few weeks, and today, I want to move through the end of chapter one.
We often think of Revelation as almost like a magic eight ball, where if we shake it enough times and look at it, we’ll be able to predict the end of the world. Yet the reality is that this letter John wrote, under the inspiration of Jesus Christ Himself, was written to a real group of people a couple of thousand years ago. It was written to a group of seven churches in Asia Minor, who, at that point, had been suffering economic persecution and were about to experience even greater physical, violent persecution.
How cruel would it have been of John to write this letter to a group of people suffering who are about to suffer even more and say, “I’ve got a letter for you. It’s not going to mean anything to you. But 2000 years from now, a couple of authors will pick up and write this series called Left Behind, and it will finally all make sense.” That would have been so cruel.
There’s a group of people who are suffering, whom John himself has pastored and ministered to. His heart is breaking for them. He wants to write a letter to them that brings them hope and fills them with courage. This is not a book that is simply about saying, “Can I turn the tarot cards over or whatever to predict the future? I can then go to a kid’s camp and stand by the campfire on the last night and tell the kids what’s going to happen.” It can feel like this is what this book is about.
This book is about a group of people facing persecution because of their faith in Jesus and the testimony of Christ. John is saying, I want you to know that what you’re about to suffer is going to be tough. But I want you to hold on to Him because He’s worth it. That’s the purpose of this book. We’re going to read in Revelation chapter one, verses nine through 20, where he’s given a vision of the King in His Kingdom.
It says, “I John, your brother and companion in the suffering and Kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s day, I was in the spirit. And I heard behind me a loud voice, like a trumpet, which said, ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.’ I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me, and when I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands. Among the lampstands was someone like a Son of Man, dressed in a robe, reaching down to His feet, and with a golden sash around His chest. The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing and a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His hand, He held seven stars. Coming out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the living one. I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Therefore, what you have seen, what is now, what will take place later, the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in My right hand, and of the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. And the seven lampstands are the seven churches.'”
Here, you have a letter written to a group of seven churches who had been living under the emperor Domitian and experienced a form of economic persecution. Many of them had been killed for their faith. Yet, it is about to get a lot worse. In the midst of that, John, in chapter two, is going to write a series of letters to the seven churches telling them the things that they need to pay attention to.
Before John gets to the persecution that they are going to face and the things that they need to deal with, he gives a picture of the King of the Universe. The first thing that John sees when he hears the voice and turns is the seven churches. It’s as if Jesus is saying, you see Me when you see my inheritance. It says, in the midst of those seven churches was Him. So you can imagine how that injected courage and hope into those who are listening for the very first time to this book being read to them.
When John hears the voice like a trumpet and turns around, He sees the seven lampstands that are like the churches, and in the midst of them, He sees the King of the Kingdom. Have you noticed how in this vision, how bright this vision is? He begins it by describing what he sees. He says there are seven golden lampstands. There is a golden sash over the front of Jesus, the King. His hair is white like wool. His eyes are blazing like fire. His feet are glowing bronze. He’s holding seven stars. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. There are seven stars. The sun is shining.
In our world, the way things work is that you can only see the stars when it’s dark. And yet, somehow, the stars are shining, and His face is shining like the sun and all of His brilliance. Not just that, but there are golden lampstands. His feet are glowing like bronze. His hair is white like wool, and all of the lights in the universe are turned on. When the King turns to him, there is no darkness; there is only light.
Colossians 1:12-13 will say of us that we have been transported into the Kingdom of Light. We have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transported into the Kingdom of the Son of His love. What John is showing us about what Jesus is showing him is that when the King returns, every light in the universe is turned on. There is no dominion of darkness. There is a picture for us, as a church, to come before the one who in Him is light, and there is no darkness.
I want to, first, encourage you as individual disciples of Jesus that wherever there is darkness in your life, whether it is self-imposed or it has been imposed upon you, I want you to say to Jesus, “Jesus come in, turn every light on.” I pray that His face would shine like the sun in all of its brilliance, that the stars would shine, even in the light that His feet–the very feet that He walks with–would be shining and glowing like bronze. Nothing in our lives is intended to rest and stay in darkness. We have to invite Him in.
Jesus turned every light on. He can bring light to any place of darkness in me, whether it’s self-imposed or whether it’s been imposed upon me.
1 Peter 2:9 will say, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His special people that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”
This group of churches in Asia Minor found themselves surrounded by a huge dominion of darkness. But the Scriptures teach us that we, as His disciples, have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transported into a kingdom of Light. He says, “into marvelous light.”
We see this vision in Revelation 1, the light of the vision. We also hear the voice of the vision. Verse 10 says that His voice is like a trumpet. Verse 15 says His voice is like the sound of rushing waters. Verse 16 says coming out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. So we not only see the light of the King, but we hear the voice of the King.
His voice is like the sound of a trumpet. What is the trumpet doing? In this culture, a trumpet is declaring the arrival of the King. A trumpet is declaring courage from Heaven. It says that His voice is like the voice of rushing waters. Rushing waters will take out the feet of anything that stands in its way. Rushing waters will penetrate and cut through whatever stands in its path.
Revelation 1 talks about a kingdom of patient endurance. That is exactly what rushing waters do. They may not cut through the rock immediately, but they will cut through the rock. They will cut through whatever is facing it. Ezekiel, back in his prophetic vision in Ezekiel 43:2 says, “His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with His glory.”
John turns and sees the light, the sun shining and all its brilliance, the stars, the lampstand, and the glowing brands. He hears the voice like a trumpet, the voice like rushing waters, and out of His mouth comes a double-edged sword. That takes us back to Hebrews chapter four when it describes that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and spirit of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
This tells us that the King has returned. The King is advancing His Kingdom through His Word. We get a picture of the king advancing his kingdom. Remember when Peter and Jesus had the conversation, and Jesus said, “who do you say that I am?” And Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus says to him, “On this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
He doesn’t say the swords of Hades will not prevail against it. He says the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. The gates are the defensive posture. In other words, we often have this picture that darkness and hell are advancing, and then they get pushed back. This says the gates of Hades, which means that He, the King of Glory, is advancing. This is not darkness coming after light. This is light going after darkness. This is Heaven invading hell. This is the King advancing with this sword like a double-edged sword coming out of His mouth.
This is the vision that John sees when he turns around. This is the vision for a group of people surrounded by a dominion of darkness to take hold of. They were about to be persecuted, killed, thrown in prison, starved, and stolen from. He says, I want you to know that the King is advancing.
This passage in Revelation 1 is also a beautiful picture for us of what it looks like to live out the fear of God in our lives. Remember, a couple of weeks ago, Greg was speaking over our church about the fear of God and what it looks like to take hold of it. Revelation 1 gives us a perfect picture of what living in the fear of God looks like. John sees this light. He hears this voice. Then it says in Revelation chapter one, “I fell down at His feet as though dead.”
Then the next line says that Jesus reached down and touched him and said, “Do not be afraid.” It says in the scriptures that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. If you and I are to choose to live in the fear of God, then we must model what John and Jesus show us it looks like in Revelation chapter one.
To live in the fear of God is that I fall down, and He reaches down–that I surrender myself at His feet. Then Jesus reaches down and says, “Do not be afraid.” Now I love this passage. Imagine placing yourself in John’s shoes at this moment. Your face down. You’ve seen this bright light, the sun shining and all its brilliance. The stars are shining. It doesn’t make sense how that’s even happening at the same time. His hair, His white light, out of His mouth is coming this double-edged sword. His voice is simultaneously like a trumpet and also like rushing waters. I don’t know about you, but I’d be down low too.
Jesus says, Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I’m the living one. I was dead. And now look, I’m alive forever and ever. I hold the keys of death and Hades. I don’t know about you. I’d be staying down low if I heard somebody say that. I love how Jesus comes to him. How do we often respond to fear when a child or someone is afraid? We often say, “Don’t be afraid,” and we minimize the things they were afraid of.
Jesus doesn’t minimize His strength; He magnifies it. Normally, when we’re afraid, or when we are with somebody who is afraid, we say hey, if they’re scared of looking at something, we cover their eyes. We tell them, “Don’t look at that thing anymore.” That isn’t what Jesus does. Jesus doesn’t say stop looking. He says look closer. I am the living one. I was dead. And now I’m alive. I hold the keys to death and Hades.
Here is this picture of what it looks like to hear the voice of Christ, to see the light of Christ, and to live in a posture of the fear of God. What he’s saying is Jesus reaches down and touches him and says, “Don’t be afraid.” Not because Jesus is less powerful or smaller or anything like that, but because He is bigger than John could possibly imagine. He says, “Don’t be afraid,” reaches down, and touches him. He does the same to us as well.
Back to this letter. This passage is written by John, and I love how he begins this passage. In Revelation 1:9, he says, “I John, your brother and companion.” It’s this word we encountered when we studied Romans together. In Romans 11:17 Paul writes, “If some branches had been broken off, and a wild olive shoot had been grafted in among the others, and now, sharing the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches.”
It’s the same idea, but in Romans chapter 11, Paul is saying that we share in, or we’re companions with, fellow partakers in the nourishing sap that comes from God. Yet in Revelation chapter one, John is writing, don’t be afraid.” We’re sharers with, fellow partakers, we’re companions in suffering and patient endurance. If you and I were in the marketing department, we might come alongside John and say, “Let’s change the language just a little bit. Can we emphasize the positive first?”
John writes boldly and says, “I am your brother and companion.” This picture for us is what it means to be disciples with one another, disciples of Jesus, that we are to respond to one another’s suffering in a way that is distinct from the way the world might respond to suffering. We are to be companions and fellow partakers in one another’s suffering.
John is writing this letter, and he knows he’s just been given this vision of Christ in all His glory. It could have been so easy to puff himself up to make himself more than right–to get himself maybe a pay raise or a promotion, something like that. Instead, having seen the glorified Christ, he says, I’m your brother and your companion, and fellow partaker.
He says, “I’m you’re your brother, companion, and your fellow partaker in the suffering and Kingdom and patient endurance.” We have to remember why John was on the island of Patmos. He tells us in verse nine, “I was on the island of Patmos.” Why? Because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. John doesn’t say, “I’m on the Isle of Patmos because I screwed up.” “I’m on the Isle of Patmos because I said something I shouldn’t have said.” “I’m on the Isle of Patmos because they didn’t pay taxes.” He says, no, no, I’m crystal clear on why I’m here. I’m here, I’ve been banished because of His word, and His testimony. John is not ashamed of that. He takes hold of that.
The historical tradition notes that John had been taken by the emperor and those in power. They tried to kill him by placing him in a pot of boiling water. Not only had it not killed him, but it did not scar him or wound him. So what do you do with a man you cannot kill? You banish him. Here, John is a man who could not be killed, looking face to face at the King who rose from the dead. John is writing to them and saying, “I’m your companion.” But this is a Kingdom that is connected to suffering. “I’m your companion in the suffering in the Kingdom and the patient endurance.”
This reality for us in Revelation chapter one that we have to take hold of, and that the seven churches in Asia Minor had to take hold of, is that, yes, they found themselves in a geographic location, but what John is reminding them is that you are made to be a Kingdom. See earlier, just a few verses earlier in Revelation 1:6, John will write, “You have been made to be a Kingdom of Priests.”
John is saying the Kingdom of God is not something you enter into. The Kingdom of God is something that you are made to be. But Jesus will say in Luke 17 that the Kingdom of God is within you. You can think of how radical this idea was and how essential it was to take hold of at this time. They are surrounded by a kingdom–a dominion of darkness. You can imagine the emperor Domitian pulling together his top-rank men and saying, can we pull out a map again? Can you show me where my kingdom is? That’s what you do when you’re an insecure ruler. You pull out maps all the time. What am I in charge of again?
You can imagine them pulling it out all the time and saying, “Well, Emperor Domitian, here’s your kingdom, here.” They probably draw the lines a little bit bigger each time because it will help make him happy and all that stuff. Then he said, “I’ve been hearing about this other kingdom. They call it the Kingdom of God. Where is that?”
“Here’s the problem. It’s all through our kingdom.”
“How do you mean it’s all in our kingdom?”
It crosses all these lines. It doesn’t have a boundary. It’s expanding. It’s getting bigger.”
“How do we get rid of this kingdom?”
“Apparently, it’s inside of those people. Maybe we should put pressure on them and make them suffer.”
But then fast forward 10, 20, 30 years, and you find out that when you put pressure on the Kingdom of God, it expands, not contracts.
So John says, you are a Kingdom, and we are companions of this Kingdom. Make no mistake, church, Revelation 1 is teaching us that we have been made to be a kingdom, not to simply observe a kingdom, not to describe a kingdom, not to point people their way to the kingdom, not to decorate the kingdom, but to be the kingdom.
Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within us. Revelation chapter one answers the question of who the King of this Kingdom is. Here, He returns with the voice of the trumpet and a face like the sun shining in all of its brilliance. He says that we are a kingdom of priests. Now again, think how radical this idea was. For thousands of years, the only priests who had been assigned by God were from one of the 12 specific tribes of Israel. The tribe of Levi.
Out of the 12 tribes, God had spoken to Aaron and said, I selected your tribe, the tribe of Levi to be the priests. In Revelation chapter one, when John tells them, “You’re a Kingdom of Priests,” he, in a sense, is taking them back to Numbers chapter 18. You could imagine that some of those in the church would be saying, wait a second, what were priests? They’re going back in the same way.
What does it say about priests in Numbers? God says to Aaron, a Levite, “I Myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the Tent of Meeting. I am giving you to the service of the priesthood as a gift. I Myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to Me.”
Numbers 18:20 says, “The Lord said to Aaron, you will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them. I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.” You have this group of people in the seven churches in Asia Minor, surrounded by the dominion of darkness, and they’re hearing that they have no inheritance in this land because their inheritance is God Himself. They are recalling again that having been made a Kingdom of Priests, they are dedicated to Him. Their job is to be sacrificial. Their job is to live in the service of the King.
When the Levitical priests first delineated and described this, of course, they said, your gift is to be able to serve within the Tent of Meeting. This was a literal tent that got packed up and moved through the desert as the people of Israel moved from Egypt into the Promised Land over the course of 40 years.
This priesthood operated in this space that was, in a sense, a Kingdom of Light in the midst of a wilderness. Similarly, those in Revelation hearing this for the first time were taken back in their minds to that picture, saying, we are to be a people, we are made to be a Kingdom who moves through the wilderness as a Kingdom of Light. What John isn’t telling the people in Revelation chapter one is that this isn’t going to work while emperor Domitian is still in power. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge of the dominion of darkness. It cannot stand against the Kingdom of Light.
It also says, “I am your brother and companion in suffering in the Kingdom and patient endurance.” Patient endurance is a hallmark of the Kingdom. It’s my least favorite hallmark. Milk and honey are great. Eternal life? Big fan. Grace, redemption, forgiveness? Love it.
We’re comfortable with endurance as long as it doesn’t have to be patient. A couple of weeks-long endurance? That’s fine. We are sometimes comfortable with patience as long as it doesn’t require endurance. We want patience like waiting for Christmas or something to that effect. He says, no, no, a hallmark of disciples of Jesus is that you and I would patiently endure; we would hold on through times of suffering.
We have been made to be a Kingdom. When we come to the book of Revelation, and when we come in terms of our relationship with God, we can get addicted to fresh revelation. I want to hear something new from God. I want to hear a new word, a new direction, or whatever it may be. But patient endurance is really, in a sense, about saying, “Stop looking for a new word and learn to patiently endure what He has already said. Be obedient to learn to be priests in the Kingdom of Light.”
Consider the suffering that this group of people were experiencing. In chapter two, he is going to tell the people in the church in Smyrna, some of you are going to be thrown in jail. He’s going to tell them, the suffering is about to get worse, but be of good courage.
Revelation 1 begins with the hero entering the story. This isn’t like a Hollywood movie where 45 minutes of disaster and destruction happens until Superman appears. This is Revelation chapter one, where John, before he is ever called to write and start putting pen to paper to the churches, is given a vision of the King of the Kingdom. It says of Him, these things that we want to take hold of that He has, He is the King of an everlasting Kingdom. He has a dominion that will not pass away. All authority, glory, and sovereign power belong to Him.
We are companions and fellow partakers in a kingdom that will never end. We are called in chapter one to live with a responsibility to be companions in suffering and to show patient endurance.
Let’s stand together and pray.
Father God, we thank You for this vision of Christ returning in all His glory with every light in the universe turned on. We pray that we will live in the light of who He is. We pray that where we feel like giving up, we will patiently endure. We pray that where we are suffering or see others suffering, we will be fellow partakers and companions. We pray that as a Kingdom of Priests, we will choose this week to be dedicated to the service of the King. We thank You for Your Word and the encouragement that comes with it. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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