Revelation 1 -- "He Is Firstborn of the Dead"
Last week we celebrated the beginning of Easter. Yes, I said the “beginning” of Easter because it is a season not just a day. Though we’re not entirely sure of where the word came from, I am prone to believe it comes from the Old German word—which comes from the Latin word—signifying “East” or “the morning light”. This is a 40-day celebration that culminates in Pentecost. We have spent 40 days in the season of Lent thinking about our sinfulness. BUT now the Light has come and we stare at its glory and realize that while we may sit in suffering, we are not governed by it.
Do you remember how I said it is wise and faithful to call sad things sad? To not pretend that there is no struggle in life? Well, the converse is true: It is wise and faithful to call joyful things joyful. Too often we get overwhelmed with our sin and the sin of others. With the way things are and the way things should be—or that we want them to be. And we forget that there is a bright, white, glorious Light that has dawned.
This does not negate the sadness. It’s not that we move on from the sadness. On this side of Christ’s glorious return, there will always be tears mixed into our laughter. But we must never be so overcome with the ways things appear with the way they actually are in God’s Light. We must never let the tears choke out the laughter.
Maybe you’re struggling to laugh. To be joyful. And I’m not talking about a fake joy either. I’m not talking about putting makeup on wounds and saying you’re healed. It is hard to see joy in the sadness. // This is probably the very struggle that the Apostle John had. He was exiled on the island of Patmos. His sandals worn out on the volcanic ground of a seemingly God-forsaken place. He might have wondered what happened to all his friends. He might have been given to despair. BUT God graciously reveals himself to John in the suffering to remind him who he has believed. That the one leaned his head on. The Humble Carpenter is alive and Mighty and holds him in the palm of his hand.
My hope is that this Easter season the Lord would lift up your eyes to see. To see Light. These next 6 weeks we’re walking through several passages in Revelation to see the awesome ways Jesus is portrayed in the book. Too many times the book of Revelation is seen as a prophecy manual or diviner’s tool to figure out what’s coming next. But the book is written to churches who have wavered in their faith. Or they’re undergoing persecution. // The tendency is to forget about Jesus. Or to minimize him. To think that you’re going at life by yourself. Revelation is written to give hope and to remind and to reveal the power and might and love of Jesus. The book is more about Jesus than it is about the mechanics of when he’s coming back.
In every scene between God and Satan, God wins. Every battle scene, Jesus stands over all things victoriously. Whatever you’re battling or will battle, Jesus is able to conquer it. The onus is on us to see it. To see and believe and forsake all other ways of hope.
Consider this in Verses 1-2 of our passage in Revelation 1: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him(that is, John) to show to his servants…
Many of us know things about God. We even believe things about God. But what we need is to experience the hot, burning Light of Jesus. We need to feel his nearness. We need to be convinced that he stands above all our problems in life and guides the stars and orbits of the planets. He is not an impish god waiting. He is the All-Powerful One who rules and reveals. And so I pray that these next 6 weeks, you will experience Jesus like you have never experienced him before—whether you’ve been a Christian most of your life or still have not repented of your sin and put your faith in him. // So that like we heard from Job moments ago: “5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” I pray you see that he can do all things!
And like Thomas who would not believe unless he touched the wounds of the Risen Christ, I pray with the hands of faith you would be able to see that he does not despise but offers himself to you. To touch his hands and his side and declare, “My Lord, and My God.”
(1) Firstborn of the Dead
The first thing we see about Jesus is V.5. There are three titles. Faithful witness: He was unwavering in his testimony while he ministered on earth. But it is the one in the middle that informs the other two. Firstborn of the Dead: He was faithful to the point of death even death on a cross. But he was resurrected from the dead. This resurrection wasn’t out of the blue. It was expected.
Remember last week I said that the Resurrection fulfilled the expectations of the OT. Psalm 89 speaks about King David: 27 And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. 28 My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. // But this psalm was written during the time of Solomon…after David died. And then we see in Psalm 16, David himself writing: “God will not let his holy one see corruption.” And Peter in his great sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 explains this: “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.”
The Bible speaks of a King who would live and reign forever. And it’s Jesus’ Resurrection that identifies him as the living and reigning ruler that the great King David foretold and foreshadowed. // This is why this firstborn of the dead makes the third phrase Ruler of the Kings of Earth possible. Philippians 2.9-11 makes this clear. Because Jesus was crucified BUT raised from the dead, he rules over all: 8 Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And again in Colossians 1.17-18: 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 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/over all. // Jesus existed before all things. All things continue to exist because he holds them together.
But why the Resurrection? TO HOLD THINGS TOGETHER…BUT EVEN MORE—> V. 20 of Colossians 1: Through him (Jesus) to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. // Jesus was resurrected not simply as a trick. It was so that he lives and reigns forever. What is more, his program—his kingdom priority—is to reconcile all things to himself. The world had been in rebellion and he is in the cosmic business of reconciling every atom to his rule.
How does he do this Reconciliation? Vv.5-6. The result of his resurrection. Made Us to Be: Kingdom. And Priests. Those who have repented of their sins and claimed Jesus as their King have been given the great honor of going out into the world to declare the glories of this King.
You and I too often get bogged down with our issues and we forget the great, cosmic reality we have been called to participate in! We are not called to just pray that God gives us the opportunity to talk to others. Yes, we do that. But he has called us to boldly and graciously go into the highways and byways and tell people to come to him.
When we embrace the truth that Christ has commissioned us to be a picture of his Kingdom on Earth—as it is in Heaven, then we begin to see the great and majestic marching orders we have been given! We don’t shuffle our feet in despair. We don’t pace back and forth wondering if people will bow their knee to King Jesus. We humbly and confidently go to people in love and tell them this great news! May God have mercy on us for our faithless disobedience to his call! His call to be his priests and proclaimers!
(2) What gives us hope? That he goes with us. He is always and ever going before us. // Must not forget this. There is Great Power in his Presence. This past week I was walking around our neighborhood by myself passing our fliers and I was nervous. I hadn’t met anyone in the neighborhood before. // Sense of peace as I remembered he was with me. Power in his Presence. Then I realized, there’s nothing I would not come across that Jesus was not greater than.
The second glimpse we get of Jesus comes in this incredible image of the Son of Man in vv.13-16. This goes back to the book of Daniel, ch.7: The Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. And then we read about the Son of Man: And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
And what did Jesus tell his disciples before he ascended? All authority in heaven and on earth and under the earth has been given to me…therefore go and make disciples of ALL nations. Teaching them to obey all my words I have given you. I am always with you. Until the end of time.
We are called to go out and declare that Jesus is King over all men, women, and children. He’s not a tyrant. He’s gracious and kind and all-powerful. He reigns. We don’t go quietly into the night. We carry with us a blazing torch of Light for others to see and find grace. To find purpose in their lives. To find hope. To find peace with themselves and with God.