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Easter [2016]: When You See the Risen Lord (Revelation 1:9-20)

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March 27, 2016

Special Easter Message

Someday soon, you will see the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Either when He comes again in power and glory or when you die, you will see Him. Do you ever wonder what that experience will be like?

We often hear about people seeing Jesus through dreams or visions. When these experiences occur among Muslims who subsequently leave Islam and come to faith in Jesus as a result, the visions seem to be legitimate (although sometimes kind of strange). But when some Christians claim to have gone to heaven and returned or to have frequent visions of Jesus, their claims are much more suspect. I’ve told you before about John MacArthur’s pastor friend, who told John that he sees Jesus every morning while he shaves. John’s incredulous reply was, “And you keep shaving?”

The Bible doesn’t leave us to wonder what it will be like to see the risen Lord Jesus. The apostle John was exiled on the island of Patmos because of his witness about the risen Savior. One “Lord’s day” (probably Sunday), John was “in the Spirit,” which implies “being transported into the world of prophetic visions by the Spirit of God” (Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], 12:424). In this unusual state, he heard a loud voice like a trumpet telling him to write down what he saw and to send it to seven churches in Asia Minor, which probably represent the church as a whole. John wrote this vision, along with the entire Book of Revelation, to give these persecuted churches both comfort and correction.

Turning to see who was speaking to him, John saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ. John, who had been close enough with Jesus to lay his head on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper, on this occasion fell at Jesus’ feet like a dead man. He was terrified! The only experience that was perhaps comparable was when John, along with Peter and James, had seen Jesus in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). In our text John describes Jesus’ appearance in detail. By studying this encounter, we can know what to expect when we see the risen Lord:

Seeing the risen Lord Jesus Christ will first be terrifying and convicting, but then comforting, if we have believed in Him.

John’s reaction was not unique. On other occasions recorded in the Bible when people saw either the preincarnate Lord or even an angel of God, the normal response was to fall on their faces in fear and often to wonder whether they would die (Josh. 5:14; Judges 13:20, 22; Isa. 6:5; Ezek. 1:28; 3:23; Dan. 10:8-9). Even so, …

1. When we see the risen Lord, we will first be terrified and convicted.

To see the Lord in His glory will be frightening because He is so different than we are and it will convict us because in the blazing light of His presence, we will be acutely aware of our own sin.

A. We will be terrified and convicted because of who Jesus is.

John’s vision reveals seven characteristics of the risen Lord:

1) Jesus is the rightful high priest of His people.

Since six of seven uses of this word in the Old Testament refer to the attire of the high priest in Israel (Robert Thomas, Revelation 1-7, An Exegetical Commentary [Moody Press], p. 99, citing Mounce), most scholars interpret Jesus’ robe and golden sash to allude to His role as our high priest. The high priest’s garments were distinctive and set him apart as holy (Exod. 28:4). If the average person saw the high priest in his garb, he would be reminded, first that the priest was holy in a sense that he was not; and, second, that he needed the priest to go into the holy of holies on his behalf and offer atonement for his sins.

In the same way, when we see Jesus as our high priest, we are reminded that we cannot approach the holy God in our own common clothes, tainted by sin. We can only come to Him through the robes of righteousness of our high priest and the atonement that He made for our sins.

2) Jesus is the eternal Holy One, the Ancient of Days.

Jesus’ head and hair were like white wool, like snow (Rev. 1:14). This imagery comes from Daniel 7:9:

“I kept looking
Until thrones were set up,
And the Ancient of Days took His seat;
His vesture was like white snow
And the hair of His head like pure wool.
His throne was ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire.

Jesus shares the attributes of the eternal God. The white hair speaks of His wisdom and the respect due to Him as the omniscient Sovereign of the universe. White also symbolizes holiness. Jesus is just as eternal as the Father and He shares His perfect holiness. That terrifies and convicts us because we realize that we are mere creatures, subject to death because of our sins.

3) Jesus is the one from whom nothing is hidden.

John reports that Jesus’ “eyes were like a flame of fire.” The same description is repeated in Revelation 2:18, where the context emphasizes that Jesus “searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 2:23) and He knows all of the deeds that we do (Rev. 2:19). After reminding us that the word of God is able “to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), the author of Hebrews reminds us (Heb. 4:13), “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” That’s a rather terrifying thought—that you can’t hide anything, including your thoughts and motives, from the risen Lord!

4) Jesus is the holy judge of all.

Revelation 1:15: “His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace ….” In the Old Testament, bronze is often the symbol for judgment. The fact that His feet were glowing as if they had been in a furnace points to the Lord’s purity. He will judge all by the standard of His absolute purity, again a cause for terror and conviction.

5) Jesus is the Lord of majesty and power.

Revelation 1:15b: “His voice was like the sound of many waters.” (The same description is also in Rev. 14:2 & 19:6.) In Ezekiel 43:2, the prophet relates, “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory.” If you’ve ever been near pounding breakers during heavy surf or the thunder of a powerful waterfall, you can’t help but be in awe of the majesty and power of the God who spoke creation into existence. When He speaks, we dare not ignore His word or we risk being swept away, as if by powerful waves on the shore.

6) Jesus is the Lord who judges all by His Word.

Revelation 1:16: “out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.” The Greek word refers to a large sword that the Romans used in battle. Revelation 2:12 & 16 threaten the church in Pergamum that the Lord may use this sword from His mouth against them if they do not repent. In Revelation 19:15, the sword from His mouth will strike down the nations when He returns so that He will rule them with a rod of iron. God’s word is the standard by which He judges both His church and the entire world. To the extent that we are ignorant of it or fall short of obeying it, we will be terrified and convicted when He comes in judgment.

7) Jesus is the sovereign, glorious Lord of heaven and earth.

Revelation 1:16: “In His right hand He held seven stars … and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” As verse 20 explains, the seven stars are the seven angels of the churches (more on that in a moment). His right hand is the place both of power and of safety. The main idea is that He is the sovereign over the churches. The shining brilliance of His face, compared to the brightness of the sun, conveys His glory. Just as we can’t look directly at the sun without our eyes being permanently damaged, so no one who has sinned can look at the glory of the risen Lord without some sort of protection and not be consumed.

Thus we all will be terrified and convicted when we see the risen, glorious Lord because of who He is. But, also,

B. We will be terrified and convicted because of who we are.

You can be the most righteous person on earth, as Job was, and yet if you get a glimpse of the Holy One, like Job (42:6), you will repent in dust and ashes. Romans 3:10-12 indicts us all:

“There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”

To plead your good deeds as the basis for getting into heaven would be like a mass murderer trying to get acquitted because he had helped out at a local charity. In Romans 3:19-20, Paul goes on to show that even the Jews who sought to keep God’s law would be condemned by that law: “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”

So when you see the risen Lord Jesus Christ (and you will!), it’s going to be terrifying and convicting—unless …

2. When we see the risen Lord, we will be comforted, if we have believed in Him.

After John fell at Jesus’ feet as a dead man, he reports (Rev. 1:17) that Jesus “placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.’” That’s incredibly good news, not just for John, but for all who have believed in Jesus! From John’s vision, as well as from Jesus’ comforting words, we learn four truths that deliver us from the fear of judgment and give us comfort and hope:

A. The Lord Jesus Christ is God in human flesh.

John reports (Rev. 1:13-14) seeing “one like a son of man.” The prophecy behind this is Daniel 7:13-14:

“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.

Jesus connected that prophecy to Himself at His trial when He replied to the high priest’s question of whether He was the Christ, the Son of God, (Matt. 26:64), “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

“Son of Man” was one of Jesus’ favorite titles to refer to Himself. It has overtones both of deity and humanity. The entire Gospel of John makes the point that Jesus is God in human flesh. After stating that Jesus, the Word, is the eternal creator (John 1:1), John 1:14 adds, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In John 5:27, Jesus claims that the Father gave to Him (the Son), “authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.” At the climax of John, Thomas sees the risen Lord, who knew Thomas’ words of unbelief that he had spoken, he thought, in private. Thomas proclaims (John 20:28), “My Lord and My God!” And Jesus affirmed Thomas’ confession.

The deity of Jesus is further emphasized in John’s vision, where Jesus says (Rev. 1:17), “I am the first and the last.” In Revelation 1:8, the Lord God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In Revelation 22:13, Jesus claims, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” It’s a direct claim to His deity and it gives us hope and comfort if we have believed in Him because we can trust that what He has promised, He will do. Jesus’ humanity gives us comfort because we know that He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).

B. The Lord Jesus Christ died for our sins.

He tells John (Rev. 1:18), “I was dead ….” Each of the four Gospels gives extended attention to the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins. In Revelation 1:5, John states that Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead,” and that He “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood.”

Before Adam and Eve sinned, God warned that if they sinned, the penalty would be death (Gen. 2:17). As the holy Sovereign of the universe, God has the right to declare the penalty for our sins. That penalty includes not only physical death, but also eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

But because He is not only holy and just, but also loving and merciful, God instituted the sacrificial system to provide the death of an acceptable substitute in place of the sinner. The Jewish sacrificial system pointed ahead to Jesus Christ, the perfect and final Lamb of God, who alone can take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Every sinner who trusts in Jesus’ shed blood can know that God has forgiven all of his sins (Heb. 10:10, 18). As Paul writes (Rom. 4:4-5), “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” But Jesus not only died for our sins; also,

C. The Lord Jesus Christ is risen, alive forevermore, the sovereign over death and Hades.

Jesus says (Rev. 1:18), I am “the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” In spite of Jesus’ repeated prophecies that He would die and be resurrected (Matt. 16:21; 17:9), none of the disciples was expecting His resurrection. But seeing the risen Lord on many occasions over the forty days between His resurrection and His ascension transformed these fearful men into bold witnesses, most of whom died martyr’s deaths because they proclaimed His resurrection. The apostle Paul, a persecutor of the church who was converted to one of its boldest witnesses, went so far as to rest the entire Christian faith on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection when he wrote (1 Cor. 15:17), “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

Jesus’ claim to hold the keys of death and of Hades means that He controls who dies and when you die. If your trust is in Him, you do not need to fear death. As Paul said (Phil. 1:21), “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” It’s gain to die because to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord, forever free from all sorrow and suffering (2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 21:4). So the resurrection of Jesus is of great comfort for all believers. But…

D. The risen Lord Jesus comforts us, not so that we will be comfortable, but so that we will be His witnesses, even if it results in persecution.

In verse 12, John says that he saw “seven golden lampstands,” and in verse 16 he adds that in the risen Lord’s right hand were seven stars. In verse 20 the Lord explains these symbols: “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.”

It’s difficult to decide whether the seven angels are human messengers (the literal meaning of the Greek word) or pastors; or literal angels (there are strong arguments on both sides). I lean toward the view that they are angels, since this word refers to angels about 60 times in Revelation, but never to human messengers.

The picture of the churches as lampstands with the Lord in the midst shows that we are to be witnesses of the risen Lord. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), but since He is now in heaven, we are to be that light to the nations (Matt. 5:14) as we proclaim the good news of His saving death and resurrection.

But, bearing witness of that good news is often costly. The letters to the seven churches that follow show that many will suffer, some unto death, because of their witness (Rev. 2:10, 13). Throughout history, including right now, countless numbers have suffered reproach, rejection, the loss of property, and the loss of life, because they have testified to the truth about Jesus Christ. But, our comfort is that He is the Lord of history. He knew the things that would take place after these things (Rev. 1:19). He knows and has ordained the complete number of those who will be killed because of their testimony about Him (Rev. 6:9-11).

Thus seeing the risen Lord Jesus Christ will be terrifying and convicting, but then comforting, for all who have believed in Him. But the Book of Revelation also reveals some horrible news for those who refuse to repent and believe in the risen Lord:

3. Those who do not repent and believe will be terrified but not comforted when the risen Lord comes to judge the living and the dead.

Although the glorious, sovereign, powerful risen Lord is a comfort to believers, He is a terror to the unrepentant. They will call for the rocks and hills to fall on them to protect them from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev. 6:16). Dying physically is not the final death. The final death is called the second death, when all the living and the dead whose names are not written in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Jesus repeatedly described it as a place of outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). You don’t want to go there!

Conclusion

And the good news is, you don’t have to go there! No matter how badly or how many times you have sinned against God, He offers eternal life to you as His free gift. John 3:16 promises, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Why face God’s judgment when today you can receive His gift of complete forgiveness and eternal life?

The apostle Paul proclaimed to the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:30-31), “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Jesus’ resurrection is proof that the day of judgment is fixed. But if you repent and put your trust in Jesus, you don’t have to fear that judgment. But remember: You will see the risen Lord Jesus someday soon! Make sure that that meeting will be the source of eternal comfort, not of eternal terror!

Application Questions

  1. Some might argue that believers will not be frightened or convicted at all when we see the Lord. Agree/disagree?
  2. What does it mean to fear the Lord right now? Where is the balance between fearing Him and confidently drawing near?
  3. Some would say that fear of judgment is not a legitimate motive for trusting in Christ. Are they right? Give biblical support.
  4. How can we properly evaluate modern claims of visions of Jesus?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Resurrection