Dr. Andy Woods
7-1-18 Revelation 1:17-20 Lesson 5
The title of our message this morning is “Fear Not.” As you all know we’ve been moving through the book of Revelation, sort of taking out time, at least with chapter 1, laying the foundation of the book, looking at the introduction of the book, verses 1-8, and finally moving into the first major section of the book where John is told to write down the things which you have seen. That section is there in chapter 1, which we’re working our way out of.
John is told to write down the things that he has seen. So what has he seen? He has seen a portrait of the glorified Christ and consequently John, in verses 9-11 gives the circumstances of the vision. He’s on the Island of Patmos, he probably doesn’t know what in the world he’s doing out there, what purpose God has for him. Well, the purpose is to record the final revelation. He was on the Island of Patmos because he stood up for Jesus in the reign of Domitian. He gives, verses 12-16, the content of the vision. The vision of the Book of Revelation is all about Jesus Christ. He gives an amazing portrait of Jesus, not in His humiliation but in His glorification, as Jesus stands amongst the seven lampstands and holds the seven stars in his right hand.
We’ve had a description of His robe and His sash; we’ve had an amazing description of what Christ’s body looked like in this glorification, verses 12-16. And finally, the verses we’re going to look at this morning, verses 17-20, concludes with some brief communication between Jesus Christ and John. There’s a brief scene here of interaction and many people just sort of skip over these verses but we dare not do that because these verses reveal some tremendous truths, not only about who Jesus Christ is but things that we need to know as we go through our own fears and storms and difficulties.
You’ll notice there in verse 17 John’s reaction to Jesus Christ. I think this is very important. What is the reaction of John to all of these things on the Island of Patmos, a little tiny island that’s so small it doesn’t even appear on most maps back in the first century? Look at verse 17, the beginning, John says, “When I saw Him,” now “Him” is the portrait of the glorified Christ he has just seen and described. “When I saw Him I fell at His feet like a dead man.” That, to me, is an astounding statement because this is the same John who was part of the inner circle in Christ’s earthly ministry. The inner circle consisted of Peter, James, and John. And I believe that of all of the disciples it was John that was perhaps most intimate with our Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation, in His first coming, about sixty years earlier.
In fact, you might remember that it was John in John 13:23 who reclined and leaned against the chest of Christ in the Upper Room. [John 13:23, “There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”] This is John who would write the Gospel of John, he would write the three epistles of John, he is in the process of writing the Book of Revelation. This is of Christ’s closest friends, associates, and even John himself, in the presence of this glorified Christ drops to the ground as if he were dead.
One of the things that has happened that’s very disturbing to watch in modern day evangelicalism is the loss of the holiness of God. We have become so acquainted and accustomed to the grace of God, which is a wonderful thing by the way, so accustomed or acquainted to the idea that God is a God of love (which He is), but what about the passages like this which reveal His holiness? In fact, we are somewhat uncomfortable with passages like this. Why would John the apostle drop to the ground at the revelation of the glorified Christ on Patmos? Why would he fall to the ground as if he were dead? Well, let’s put it this way: if a police officer walks into this building, walks into this sanctuary, walks into this room, generally speaking, the police officer is a comfort to those of us present. But what if you just stole something on the way here? What if you were coming in and instead of 55 miles an hour, 85 miles an hour, all of a sudden the police officer walks in and you’re not comfortable with the presence of that police officer. His presence bothers you.
And this is why I believe John, the apostle, drops to the ground as if he were a dead person because he understands that he is “a sinner” to quote the great sermon, “in the hands of an angry God.” That is our natural posture before a holy God. It is the same type of thing that Isaiah, our greatest writing prophet, the prophet Isaiah, experienced in Isaiah 6:3, where he saw in a glimpse, in a vision, the holiness of God. [Isaiah 6:3, “And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.”‘] And in Isaiah 6:5 what does he do? He has almost the same reaction that John the Apostle has, “Woe to me for I am ruined!” Isaiah said, “Because I am a man of unclean lips.” Now the lips were the holiest part of a prophet’s body because it gave him the ability to declare the oracles of God. Even in the presence of holy God Isaiah says my lips are unclean and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King of Kings, and the LORD of hosts.”
What would our reaction be if all of a sudden God revealed Himself in His holiness in this room? I can guarantee you this much, it wouldn’t be a cozy experience, it would be absolute fear because we are sinners in the hands of a God who has, by way of character, the right to destroy us as sinners.
Why is it that Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:8, used to stroll with God in the cool of the Garden. [Genesis 3:8, “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.”] But then when sin entered the picture, Genesis 3:8, they are hiding from God. The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God. It’s the same example with the police officer, they don’t like God around. They don’t like the presence of God because now they’re seeing God in His holiness.
Why is it that the Apostle Peter, at a particular point in Christ’s ministry, in Luke 5:8 said to Jesus, “Go away from me Lord,” depart from me, “for I am a sinful man.” [Luke 5:8, “But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”] We just sort of gloss over passages like this and the reason we gloss over passages like this is because we really don’t understand who we are in sin, depraved human beings, and we really don’t understand the holiness of God. Those are the two doctrines that are in decline today in our world, in our churches. There’s not a lot of talk about the depravity, not a lot of talk about holiness, and yet if we can’t come to grips with what those doctrines are biblically, we don’t even understand our need for salvation.
Why do I need salvation—so I can have my best life now? Do I need salvation because I need some kind of motivation on the workforce? Do I need salvation to experience fulfillment? I’m not denying that Christ brings us those things but our ultimate need for salvation has to do with the fact that we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” And how badly we need to be clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Unless we understand our depravity and God’s holiness, our need for transferred righteousness, which the theologians call imputed righteousness, will remain a mystery to us until our dying day.
And yet Paul writes this in Philippians 3:9, “And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own as derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Why do I even need such a thing? Because of God’s holiness and my sin. This is why the world is not seeking God. Romans 3:11 says, “There is none that understands, there is none who seeks God.” Why is it that people don’t naturally gravitate towards God? Why don’t they seek God? Because the closer they get to God the more uncomfortable they feel because they’re in the presence of unapproachable light. And what does light do? Light exposes.
I don’t know about you, I don’t know where you stand, but I don’t plan on the day of judgment to stand in the presence of God through my own human works which God says are “filthy rags.” I plan to stand in the presence of God on the day of judgment with one form of righteousness and one form of righteousness only, the transferred righteousness that comes from Christ by way of faith. Without that we don’t have a prayer. Just like Isaiah himself didn’t have a prayer, John the apostle didn’t have a prayer; there is abject shock and fear like electricity moving through John’s body, I believe, as he sees exactly who Jesus Christ is in His fullness, in His glory. We’re no longer dealing with the lamb, we’re not dealing with the lion. We’re no longer dealing with the suffering Savior but with the reigning King. And may God help us understand this and help us to understand our need for what Jesus has done for us.
So you’ll notice John’s reaction, and that’s a pretty heavy subject, isn’t it? But you’ll also notice in the second half of verse 17 and into verse 18 Christ’s comfort to John. It’s interesting that whenever man has a problem, God has an answer. Have you noticed that? Man’s problems—God’s solution! Even to this core problem that we have of our depravity in comparison to God’s holiness you see Jesus in such grace, reaching out to John and comforting him with five phrases. And I believe these are phrases that we need to understand today because some of you are going through very difficult times. I know that because I read the prayer requests that are submitted to this church and I can’t believe the things people are facing today, from this flock. Some of you are actually looking at death right in the eye because of negative doctor’s reports and health issues, family problems, family crisis, job problems, economic upheavals, we just go on and on with problems. And how we need to face those problems with the comfort that Jesus provides.
Five words of comfort; number one, Jesus touches John with His right hand. Look at the second part of verse 17, “And he placed His right hand on me,” you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t touch John with His left hand, He touches John with His right hand. You say why is that significant? The right hand is the place of honor. After all, when Jesus ascended He went back to the Father’s what? Right hand!. The sheep are on the right, the goats are on the left. And John, in the midst of this collision course with his own sin and God’s holiness probably developed what we might call a worm theology, I’m just a worm, God doesn’t care about me, God is unconcerned about me. What do I have to offer God?
And it’s interesting that in Christ we receive the honor of God with the touch, not from the left hand but from the right hand. And how John, I think, needed to understand this. Here is this guy at the end of his life stuck out on an island in the middle of nowhere, probably wondering where is God in all of this. Is this how my life is going to end? Not understanding the privilege that was about to come to him, the privilege of recording the Book of Revelation, wondering where is God in the storms of life, it’s not supposed to work out this way, I’m not supposed to go out this way. And how Jesus needed to remind John that he was honored, he was respected to the touch of the right hand because “in Christ” we have all of the heavenly resources and riches.
God looks us not as we are (thank God for that), but as He sees us through the lens of the righteousness of Christ and John, you’re a man of valor, you’re a man of honor. The same kind of thing that the Lord said to Daniel when we were in the Book of Daniel 10:11, Daniel was called a man of high esteem. Daniel 10:19, again he was called a man of high esteem. [Daniel 10:11, “He said to me, ‘O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.’ And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.” Daniel 10:19, “He said, ‘O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!’ Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”]
He probably needed to hear that being in captivity all of those years, working under pagan kings. And how we need to understand this as God’s people because we go through problems and we go through storms and so easily our eyes are taken off of Christ and we need to be reminded that in Jesus Christ we are of high esteem, we are honored. Yes, we need to be mindful of our need for the transferred righteousness of Christ but once we are in it we are honored unto God, just a gracious gentle reminder by Christ to John in his moment of fear as he sees himself accurately as a sinner in the hands of an angry God. That’s comfort number one.
There’s a second word of comfort that he was given; how we need to hear this today. He is told, number two, “Do not be afraid.” “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last.’” Isn’t that something we need to understand today? Looking at health scares, family scares, economic scares, isn’t that something we need to hear from the Lord, “Do not be afraid”? In fact, the way this reads in the Greek it is not a suggestion, it’s a command. The posture of the child of God is not fear. You don’t have to fear the future if you know who holds the future. And if you are living in fear, if you are living in anxiety you are living beneath your privileges in God, because the command from God is “Be anxious for nothing!.” [Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”]
In fact, fear is not the normal posture of the Christian; it’s the normal posture of the pagan who doesn’t know God. What do you have to be afraid of after all? Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 10 the very hairs on your head are numbered? [Matthew 10:20, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”] Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but be fearful of the one who can cast body and soul into hell itself.
Revelation 21:8, describing the pagans, says, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” It’s a description of people in the Lake of Fire and they’re described by various adjectives or attributes and the first thing that’s mentioned here is they’re afraid. It not the godly leaders they need to be afraid of; it’s the ungodly.
Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing them, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Is that you? Are you running, fearful when no one is pursuing, or are you standing your ground in God, looking at the future of your life with confidence and certainty, not because of yourself of your own resources but in whose hands you’re in.
You know, it’s interesting; I just googled this last night. Some of you may be aware of this, but to me it was a first-time revelation. I know that Jesus in the Gospels says “Fear not” over and over again. And I was just sort of curious to discover how many times the Bible says “Fear not.” The answer is 365 times. The Bible says “Fear not,” or a comparative phrase. Now the last time I checked that’s one for every day of the year! Every single day of your life as the year unfolds what is God saying? Don’t be afraid. “Fear not,” “Be anxious for nothing.” So John in a moment of fear is not only given honor from Jesus Christ with the right-hand touch but he is told not to be afraid.
And what else did Jesus say? Jesus says a third thing to him there in verse 17. He reminds John that he is the first, Jesus Christ, “I am the first,” protos in Greek, “beginning, and the last,” eschatos. “I am the first and the last,” it’s sort of similar to what Jesus told John back in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” [Revelation 1:8, “”I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”] Alpha, of course, is the first letter in the Greek alphabet; Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet. I am the whole package from A to Z, putting it into modern day vernacular. I am the point of history.
What is history about? History is “His story” isn’t it. History is about Jesus. Jesus started history. John 1:3, Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2. [John 1:3, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Hebrews 1:2, [“in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”]
Jesus redeemed history, Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:9. [Revelation 5:6, “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.” Revelation 5:9, “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”]
Jesus sustains history. Have you ever thought about this, the solar system that we’re in, how we are orbiting in our heliocentric solar system around the sun, not just the earth but all of the planets. Why is it that these planets have never collided with each other over time? Why is it that we orbit around the sun at exactly the right distance. I mean, we’re not too close where we burn to death, we’re not too far away that we freeze to death, and there we are orbiting around the sun at the perfect distance to sustain life. And the atheist says I want some evidence for God; how much more evidence do you need? Jesus is the creator, Jesus is the redeemer, Jesus is the sustainer, Colossians 1:17, Jesus is the reigning King one day on earth, Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16. Of course that last aspect we’ll be studying in more detail in the Book of Revelation.
[Colossians 1:17, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Revelation 17:14, “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 19:16, “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”]
Who is Jesus? Who exactly are you wedded to? Who exactly are you united to? You’re united to the one who is the first and the last. You are united to the one that all history revolves around—Jesus Christ. So if all of that is true what’s to be afraid of? Are you afraid of your boss? Afraid of a financial payment, a mortgage payment? Afraid of a doctor’s report? What is there to be afraid of? And you can see how these commands are interlinked with each other. Why should you not be afraid? Because you’re honored by God, verse 17. You’re connected to the One who the first and the last, verse 17. May God help us to understand these things. May God help us as people not to live beneath our privileges in God.
And the news gets even better as He reveals a fourth piece of comfort to John. He tells John, verse 18, I have conquered the grave. Look at verse 18, “And the living one and I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore.” I conquered the grave. [Revelation 1:18, “and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”] I came out of the grave. How important that is in this book because we’re going to be studying the letters to the seven churches.
And in Revelation 2:10 Jesus is very clear that there’s a church there that’s about to go into great suffering, many of which are going to lose their lives for Christ. [Revelation 2:10, “’Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”]
Do we understand this as God’s people in this blessed country that we call the United States of America, where we are upset over the slightest inconvenience? Do we understand that our brothers and sisters in Christ are dying all over the world through martyrdom? Get Voice of Martyrs and their ministry, which is a monthly tabulation and documentation of what Christians are facing all over the world in countries where there is no freedom; they are not meeting in open rooms and sanctuaries like this; they’re meeting in fear under the dark of night, fearful that someone is going to kick down the door and imprison these people for the rest of their lives. Even modern-day crucifixions happen all over the world today, some being lit on fire, some being put in cages and put on fire or drowned… on and on it goes! It’s something that we’re not very comfortable thinking about in the very cushy United States of America. What are we upset about? Well, a Christian baker is forced to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. That’s what gets us all upset. I’m upset about that too, by the way. I’m that Supreme Court case vindicated that guy, Jack Phillips.
But do we understand that that type of suffering is so minimal compared to what Christians have faced for the last 2,000 years? And when you’re looking down the barrel of a gun how important it is to remember that Jesus has conquered the grave because if He conquered the grave and you’re connected to Him by way of faith, that makes you a conqueror of the grave as well, doesn’t it. And consequently, you can look death right in the eye and not be intimidated by it in Christ.
The words of comfort continue on, not only has Christ conquered the grave but He also, verse 18, has “the keys of death and of Hades.” The key is what opens and closes. He is the one that controls death, who dies, when they die, and He controls what happens to their soul after they do die. It’s right there in verse 18. “and the living One;” by the way, we know that when we worship Jesus we’re not worshipping a dead Savior, we’re worshipping a Savior that is forever alive at the right hand of the Father. This is not some boring history book that we’re reading about here; this is the living Son of God who came out of the tomb on the third day and lives at the right hand of the Father, (Hebrews 7) to make intercession for you… the living Savior!
Verse 18, the living one, “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore,” look at the second half of verse 18, “and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” What are those keys? I mean, if you’ve got the keys to your car that’s a place of power, isn’t it? That’s the place of access, that’s the place of energy. And what does Jesus have? He’s holding in His hands the keys of death and Hades. You might recall at Christmas time, Sunday morning, we preached a sermon here on seven reasons why God became man. And one of those reasons is to remove from the human race forevermore the fear of death. Isn’t that the great bondage that encapsulates the human race….what happens after the grave, because nobody knows. Without divine revelation what happens?
Isn’t everybody afraid to die? I mean, isn’t that why we keep exercising and trying to look younger (and for some of us it’s getting harder and harder to do that). Isn’t that why there’s such an emphasis in our culture on health and youth and beauty, because we think in our own darkened understanding that we can escape the inevitable, which is death. It’s like a downward pull, it’s like a black hole cut in sections being pulled closer and closer to the grave and we just don’t want to think it’s true so we’ll change the subject and we’ll try to make our bodies look like they’re not decaying when the Bible says your body is decaying. Is that not true in Genesis 3:19? Did God not say “from dust you and to dust you shall return” as the consequence of sin. [Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”]
After all, I’ll slap makeup on it, I’ll myself in the gym, I’ll put a new set of clothes on it, I’ll take some more vitamins, whatever I have to do, anything to get my mind off the reality of death. And so we live in this perpetual bondage and fear of death. Once again, if you’re afraid to die you are living beneath your privileges. Hebrews 2:15 says that He “might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” That’s the reason, or one of the seven reasons, why God became man, to take away finally the great scourge of humanity, the great curse of humanity, this fear of death. Why would you fear death when Jesus holds the keys to death and to Hades?
You know, the Apostle Paul was a man who had a death sentence hanging over him. There are many, many examples of Paul’s ministry and how his life was precariously close to death by the enemies of God, many, many times. Just like our Founding Fathers, America’s patriots that we are celebrating this week. We trivialize the Declaration of Independence. We even say today well, put your John Hancock on here, referring to the signature on America’s founding documents completely forgetting that the moment they signed that document is the moment they signed themselves over to a death sentence. If we’re wrong and we lose, we die. And yet patriot after patriot after patriot signed that birth certificate that we call the Declaration of Independence. Why would they do that? And study what happened to these men. Study the poverty and incarceration and problems that they put themselves in. Why would you do that? Why not just take the easy way out? Because you’re dealing with people who understood what we’re talking about here in the Word of God; they had no fear of death.
Paul had a death sentence hanging over him, over and over again and yet what does Paul say? “Absent from the body is to be” what? “present with the Lord.” What does Paul say in Philippians 1:21-23? “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.  But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.” Wow, that’s how all of these patriots could sign America’s birth certificate and their own death certificate in the process. No fear of death!
It’s amazing the things you can do for God when the fear of death is removed. And this is one of the great purposes as Jesus came into the world to remove the fear of death, to remove the fear of martyrdom itself. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t just hold the keys to death but He holds the keys to Hades. You say well what is that? Hades is the place where the immaterial part of the unbeliever goes, awaiting their final resurrection unto damnation. That’s Hades. It’s where the rich man went in Luke 16:23. It says, “In Hades he” that’s the rich man, “lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” That’s a horrific place; it’s a place we need not go to if we trust in Christ for salvation.
And as horrible a place as that is Jesus Himself holds the keys to it. In fact, we’re going to learn in the Book of Revelation that Hades itself is going to be opened up and Hades itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14 says, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Why is it God, at the end of history, can open up Hades, release all of the damned for their resurrection unto damnation and take Hades itself and throw it into another local called the Lake of Fire? Because Jesus has the keys to Hades; that’s why. Jesus not only has the keys to Hades, He has the keys over death itself.
And how important it is to receive these words of comfort. Number 1, you’re honored by God. Number 2, don’t be afraid. Number 3, you united to the One who is the point of history. Number 4, you’re united to the One who has conquered the grave. Number 5, you are united to the One who holds in His hand (present tense), the keys to death and Hades itself.
And then we move into verse 19 where Jesus gives John a command. I’m not going to spend too much time on verse 19 because we’ve already talked about it. It’s the outline, if you will, to the Book of Revelation, verse 19. Just like early Acts gives you the outline of the Book of Acts, early Revelation gives you the outline of the Book of Revelation. “Therefore write,” that’s a command, same command you’ll find back in chapter 1, verse 11. “Therefore write what you have seen, the things that are, the things that will take place after these things,” there’s your outline of the book. Part 1, “the things that “you have seen,” chapter 1. We’re completing our study of that today. Part 2, write “the things that are,” which we’ll start next week, the seven letters to the seven churches, chapters 2 and 3. Part three, write down the things that will take place “after these things,” meta tauta, “after these things.” That’s Revelation 4-22, the futuristic section of the book. A very nice outline, if you will, of the Book of Revelation.
Look at verse 20, “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” You’ll notice here the word “mystery” as he begins to describe the church and the churches. “As for the mystery,” he’s going to define the seven stars as the pastors of the seven churches; the lampstand as the seven churches themselves, and you’ll notice that the church is a mystery. What is a mystery? A mystery is something that’s never been disclosed, now revealed. That’s the way Paul, in the Book of Ephesians, over and over again, describes this unique period of time that we’re living in, called the age of the church, the body of Christ. It’s something that you can’t discover reading the Old Testament. It’s hardly something that’s even hinted about, even in Christ’s earthly ministry.
But oh, the apostles, how they reveal this time period that we’re living in, this special time period which has lasted roughly 2,000 years beginning on the Day of Pentecost and continuing until the rapture of the church, something that former generations and ages would have just scratched their head in bewilderment because of the grace that is being poured out upon us in surplus, lavishness. As John’s Gospel says, “grace upon grace.” [John 1:16, “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”] Privileges that Noah, Daniel, Job, Abraham, you name it, couldn’t even fathom are ours at our fingertips because of our relationship to Christ and Christ alone.
You’ll notice that Jesus is portrayed here walking amongst these seven golden lampstands and holding in His right hand seven stars, the mystery of the church. [Revelation 1:20, “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”] If you look there at the second part of verse 20 He defines His terms. “the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches.” We’re going to get into Revelation 2 and 3 and it’s going to say things like this: “To the angel of the church at Ephesus write,” “To the angel of the church at Smyrna write,” “To the angel of the church at Sardis write.”
Now, who is this angel? Does every church have an angel? Does Sugar Land Bible Church have an angel? Maybe we do, but I don’t think that’s what it’s talking about. One of the things to understand about Bible study is when a symbol is used many times the symbol will be interpreted for us in the very same context. Dr. John Walvoord, in his commentary on the Book of Revelation tells us that this will happen 26 times. We don’t have to rely on the sanctified imagination to discover what the seven stars represent or what the seven golden lampstands represent. We’re told right here that the seven stars are the seven angels of the churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Jesus is pictured walking amongst His seven churches; that’s His focus. Of course, that would be His focus because He is the builder of the church. He is the groom of the church. His the head of the church. And thus Jesus is pictured as walking and intimate amongst these seven churches, knowing exactly what each one is experiencing, knowing exactly what’s happening within each church, the love of Christ for His church, the intimacy of Christ with His church, the fact that it’s through the blood of Christ the church has been purchased.
And isn’t it interesting that these seven golden lampstands, which according to verse 20 represent the seven churches, are in Asia, chapter 1 verse 4? And then you get to the futuristic section of the Book of Revelation and these seven lamps and these seven lampstands are no longer n Asia Minor, they’re in heaven, in the presence of God before the events of the tribulation period unfold. Don’t take my word for it, just jot down Revelation 4:5 and you’ll see it very clearly. [Revelation 4:5, “Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;”]
How in the world did they get from Asia to heaven before the events of the tribulation period? I think we have an answer to that; it’s called the doctrine of the pretribulational rapture of the church, which would be in harmony with everything that we have learned in Paul’s writings concerning the church, how we are not appointed unto wrath. Satan’s wrath, yes! The world’s wrath, yes! Man’s wrath, yes! But not God’s wrath! God is not going to beat up His bride before the marriage day. God is not a spousal abuser. Now you can receive that on faith or you can sit there and try to find a loophole. As for me and my house, I’m the path of least resistance type of guy, I’ll take God at His Word. And frankly, I can’t wait for the rapture of the church, because I was thinking about this the other day. I don’t have a single problem in my life that the rapture wouldn’t fix. Amen! It is the blessed hope that we’re looking for.
What are you looking for? Fixing this world’s system? Cleaning up the fishbowl? Or are you doing what the Lord told us to do, make fishers of men, leaving the cleaning up of the fishbowl and the establishment of God’s kingdom to God and how God is going to perform a rescue operation on the church before that horrific day of the Lord unfolds.
So Jesus is walking among these seven lampstands, looking at what’s in His right hand, these seven angels. People say well, that’s a literal angel, isn’t it, these seven stars? Notice the declining order here—from the Father to the Son as the communication chain goes, from the Son to an angel, the Father is the most preeminent, the Son is relationally under the Father although the Son and the Father share deity (as we know). And then to an angel, this was a real angel I believe, which is under the Trinity. And then from that angel to John, John as we look at the communication chain, Revelation chapter 1, is under an angel; we know that man is made under the angels. From John to a book, from a book to a preacher, an angelos, you say are preachers called angels? Yes, they are. Jot these verses down: Matthew 11:10, John is called an angelos, John the Baptist. [Matthew 11:10, “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’”]
Luke 9:52, Jesus sent out His messengers, that’s the Greek word angelos. [Luke 9:52, “and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him.”]
James 2:25, talking about the messengers that Rahab encountered in Canaan when she received the messengers, that’s the Greek word angelos. [James 2:25, “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”]
I believe that this angelos that’s spoken here in verse 20 is the pastors of these seven churches. And to make these pastors literal angels and not human messengers would disrupt, would it not, the downward communication flow, from the Father to the Son, to an angel, to John, to a book, and then it goes back up to a literal angel. The downward communication flow is disrupted.
Now there are those, some of my very good friends, who believe that every church has over it an actual angel. I won’t go to the mat with you on that, if you want to believe that, that’s fine. But as for me and my house… of course, you’d better ask my wife what her view is, as for me, I think it’s talking about the pastors to these seven churches. They are the proclaimers and the heralders of truth and as we have pointed out, these pastors are in the right hand of Jesus Christ. The right is the position of honor and respect. I’ve made a point of this in prior sermons, that your average pastor in your average evangelical church is really not treated with the honor and respect that that office deserves. That’s not been true at Sugar Land Bible Church, I’ve been treated very well but it is true with some of my fellow preachers and proclaimers of truth in different pulpits around the country and around the world.
As I’ve said before, a common analogy is the pastor today in most churches is treated like a piñata. It’s someone that you hit with a stick over and over again until it/he throws candy your direction. And many, many pastors don’t survive very long in many of their churches and quite frankly, I can’t say I blame them that much because they’ve got the elder boards stacked against them, they’ve got the congregation stacked against them, your average pastor is in that particular office, maybe two years and then has to retire because of burnout and constant antagonism with people. I’ve been blessed here at Sugar Land Bible Church, that hasn’t been my trajectory but I can tell you the horror stories amongst others. And it’s a tragic thing. That is not the design of God because here Christ is holding these seven angels (angelos, messengers) not in the left hand but in the right hand. In other words, if you’re a pastor, if you’re a preacher, if you’re a proclaimer or a messenger or a heralder of divine truth you ought to be treated according to what that office requires—honor!
I’m not saying pastors are always right either. I’m not advocating at all for some kind of totalitarian form of church government. You all know me well enough that I don’t believe that. But I am disturbed by what I see in terms of how the body of Christ treats its own shepherds. It’s amazing what little it takes to agitate people today… wearing the wrong colored clothes, parting your hair on the wrong side of your head, that will upset people, disagreeing over some doctrinal issue that may be more [can’t understand word] than essential, styles, on and on it goes. I would just invite you to look at how the Lord can use pastors, how He treats pastors. 1 Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work” and it is work to do this by the way, “hard at preaching and teaching.” You say well, you’re just up there making things up. No, I’m not, it’s in your Bible! As a matter of fact, maybe we should make that verse our theme verse of Sugar Land Bible Church. But you get the idea. Jesus is amongst the seven churches, intimate with His seven churches and giving proper honor and deference and respect to the leaders of those churches.
So the circumstances of the vision, the content of the vision, a moment of communication between Jesus and John at the end of chapter 1 and now beginning next week we’re ready to begin our journey into the second section of the Book of Revelation. He has written down faithfully the things that he has seen and now he is to write down the things that are as Jesus Himself writes seven letters to seven churches. If Jesus was to write a letter to your church what would He say? We’re going to see examples of that as we move into this very important section of Scripture next week, taking a look at Revelation 2:1-7, Christ’s remarks to the church at Ephesus.
You know, I can’t think of a more important day or time of the year to be born again than the time period when we celebrate the Declaration of Independence. America’s birth certificate gave the United States of America birth. There was no country and then a country was born once that Declaration of Independence was signed. And what a wonderful time of the year as we reflect on that, think about that, contemplate that, to receive a new birth in Christ Jesus. You have no relationship to God, you trust in the gospel and there’s a new birth, spiritual birth; not a physical birth but this time a birth from heaven itself. Jesus called it being born again. How do you become born again? How do you experience this new birth? Flesh can’t give it to you. It can’t be achieved through the work of the flesh. It’s a miracle that happens in the life of the heart of a person through spiritual birth, something called regeneration, the impartation of divine life. When does that happen? It happens the moment a person hears the gospel and trusts in the message.
You hear the gospel that Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago, He rose bodily from the grave to vindicate who He said He was. He gives us a message that all of our sins will be forgiven if we trust in that message. And then at some point the Spirit of God convicts of your need to trust in this message. I don’t know how the Spirit works, I’m just glad He does! I know He’s really good at bothering people. I know He’s really good, praise God, at making people feel a little bit uncomfortable about their eternal destiny. However, He does it He makes a person aware of their need to trust in Christ.
But let me tell you something, the Spirit of God is not going to believe for you! He will bother you all the way to the grave and if you want to go to hell you can just go right ahead if you want to. He’ll bother you about it. He’s not going to change your trajectory but He will agitate you, He will bother, He will convict, and some of you right now are under that conviction. I was under that conviction at the age of 16; I responded to the gospel by faith alone and I was birthed, born again at that point. That’s what needs to happen to people.
We’re not recruiting people here for religion, for a denomination. What we’re here recruiting people for is to become members of the family of God. And there’s only one way to become a member of this mystery body called the church; you can only get into it one way and that’s through a spiritual birth. What a great time of the year to experience spiritual birth as we celebrate our national birth.
So if the Spirit of God is at work today in your life and in your heart, even people listening online, our exhortation to you is the best you understand the gospel to trust in the gospel. You don’t have to raise a hand to do this. You don’t have to fill out a card. You don’t have to join a church. You don’t have to send in money. You don’t have to send me a copy of your New Year’s resolution which you’ve broken already. You just trust in the message in the privacy of your own mind and heart as the Spirit places you under conviction. Another way of saying it is to believe—you rely, you have confidence, in the message and then in an instant, once that happens, you’re made alive in the Holy Spirit. If it’s something that you need more explanation on I’m available after the service. But it’s something you can do right now even as I’m talking, the best you understand it. The fact of the matter is God doesn’t send people to hell; people send themselves to hell by refusing to respond to the striving of the Holy Spirit.
Shall we pray. Father, we are grateful for the Book of Revelation, for the light that it gives us, we are grateful for Your truth, grateful for the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. I pray, Father, that You will continue to be with this flock as we move through this very important Book that You have given us. Help us to develop and grow thereby. Help us to walk out these things by way of faith this week. Bless us also, Father, as we fellowship together at the fellowship meal. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen!