November 21, 2011

Tuesday after the Sunday next before Advent

Lectionary
Morning - Ps. 129, 130, Joel 2:1-11, 2 Pet. 1:12
Evening - Ps.132, Rev. 1:9-20

Commentary
Revelation 1:9-20

The historical setting of the book of Revelation is made clear in two verses from chapter 1. In 1:4, the first recipients of the Revelation are identified as the "seven churches which are in Asia." Note that the churches are not merely identified; they are greeted in the standard form used in letter writing by the Apostles; "Grace be unto you, and peace...." These churches are facing a growing persecution by the Roman government, and, in 1:9 John identifies himself as their companion and brother in that tribulation. Tribulation, here, means the tribulation of the Church under the Roman persecution. So John is saying to the seven churches that he is suffering with them. John was not sitting in a comfortable home as he wrote Revelation. He was in a squalid prison, a place of horrible suffering and torture. Peter had already been tortured to death in Rome, Antipas had been executed in Pergamos (2:13), and John knew the same fate could be his at any moment. So cast away the idea that these churches are mere symbols. They are people of flesh and blood facing the issues of life and death because of their faith in Christ (1:9).

The power of Christ is described in verses 10-17. His voice is strong and powerful, like a trumpet blast. He is dressed in garments of spun gold. His appearance is fearful, with eyes like fire and feet like brass. His voice is like the sound of many waters (we might say, like the roar of a thousand stormy seas). A sharp, two-edged sword comes out of His mouth and His face is as bright as the sun. This is not gentle Jesus meek and mild. This is the God of all creation, terrifying in His power and fearful in His holiness. No wonder John, close as He was to the Lord, fell to the ground in a dead faint (1:17).

The Great and Majestic Lord revives John, and describes Himself as the One who died and lives again, has the keys of Heaven and hell and death, and holds the seven stars and candlesticks in His hand (1:18-20). This is One to be feared above all fears. And yet, if He is for you, who can stand against you? Certainly Rome is no menace to the power of this Jesus. Rome had already killed Him once, done its very worst against Him, yet He lives and holds power that can destroy all of Rome in an instant, or throw it into the fires of hell forever. Surely the Church can trust this One, in life and in death.

He tells us the meaning of the stars and candlesticks. The book of Revelation often interprets its own symbols, and it is important that its readers pay attention to its interpretation. The stars are the angels of the seven churches. Heavenly bodies usually represent human beings in Revelation, and here they represent the clergy, probably the bishops of the churches in the seven cities and their surrounding areas. The candles are the churches. The point made is that they are held in the right hand of Christ. He holds them in his strong hand, and He is far stronger than any persecutor on the face of this planet.

The picture given by this passage is very similar to that in the Twenty-third Psalm. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Why? "Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." As the Psalm presents, Christ's ability to keep His sheep safe, even as they pass through the shadow of death, Revelation 1 shows He is able to see His Church through the persecution of Rome.