THE CHRIST ON WHOM MY HOPE IS BUILT
“Can you really believe that old book about one man Adam at the beginning, and Jonah being swallowed by a whale and all that? Did God really create the whole world in just seven 24-hour days?”
These are the kinds of questions asked by those who like to deny the relevance of the Scriptures. They want to prove that the Bible is not believable and thereby to render the claims of Christianity worthless. We know there are skeptics, but it is important to stress that if we to debate the authenticity of Christianity or its relevance in the twenty-first century, then we must begin with this central question: What do you think of Jesus Christ?
Right at the beginning of his introduction to Revelation, John proclaims to us his understanding of who Jesus is and His significance for our lives.
First, Jesus is called the faithful witness. The Greek word order stresses the point emphatically for us in English; this is not just any testifier, but “the witness, the faithful one.” We know that we can always trust all that Jesus has demonstrated to us in His life and teaching about God.
John’s declaration that Jesus is the faithful witness is the challenge that we can set before others who question Christianity’s merits. We can demonstrate from His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is who He claimed to be. We can sketch in the First Testament His fulfillment of God’s promises for the Messiah.
Second, the seer calls Jesus “the firstborn of the dead” – a monumental, crucial statement. Though the physical resurrection of Jesus is vigorously debated, the burden of proof lies with those who deny it, and we who believe can boldly question their claims to demonstrate any other way to account for the evidence of the empty tomb, the dynamism of Christianity’s spread, and the long traditions and experiences of faith.
Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Christ’s resurrection from the dead positively assures us that His work of redemption has fulfilled God’s purposes, and therefore we are set free from our sins. Furthermore, His resurrection comforts us with the hope that someday we, too, shall rise. Consequently, as we struggle with the limitations of this body and life, we can look forward with Joy to the time when those limitations will be swallowed up in death and we will receive a new body and an incorruptible existence.
Third, John tells us that Jesus is the one ruling with power and dignity over all the kings of the earth. What a substantial security that must have given the early Christians being persecuted by Roman or local powers. Similarly, this statement has tremendous implications for us who live in an age threatened by terrorists and regional wars, social and economic chaos.
The amazing thing about the reign of Jesus Christ is that it is coupled with love. When we think about the governments of the world, we would hardly think that any of its rulers love us. John describes Jesus as the one who both loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood. This is the only place in the NT where the phrase “freed us from our sin” occurs. But it is not just what he freed us from, but what he made us to be – a kingdom of priests to God. As participants in His reign, we extend its sway over the world.
John reminds us that all glory and power belong to Jesus into the ages of the ages. Once again this statement gives us a new perspective for responding to the powers of this world. If all the glory and power belong to Jesus Christ, then why do we so easily give it to other rulers?
John wrote to encourage Christians tempted to give up their faith because of the oppressive powers or selfish luxuries of the Roman state. Similarly, in our century we are constantly tempted to give undue authority to national powers and cultural idolatries. Revelation calls us back to the priority of Christ, the only true source for our values and choices.
Indeed, the power and glory belong to Jesus “forever.” The original Greek phrase is, “into the ages of the ages.” In contrast to the ages of this world – its systems of practices and the standards associated with mundane society – God’s kingdom invites us to find Christ’s Lordship in everything. Christ Himself is in charge of all ages. His reign forever opposes the world’s thinking and its cares (“The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” – Mark 4:19).
John alerts us – with a strong “Behold!” – both to the promise that Jesus is coming with the clouds and to the assurance that all eyes shall see Him, including those of the present powers, who won’t want to.
In Luke 21, Jesus declares that many things will happen, but that only one sign announces the end. First, regarding the desolation of Jerusalem, He announces that persecutions and trials before the Roman and religious governments will afflict believers, but “when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (Luke 21:20). In otherwords, they will know the end has come because it will be the end.
Similarly, there are many signs of the age, the times in which we live – such as wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, disturbances in the heavens, and so forth. All these signs of the age remind us that it is an evil age, that the reign of God has not come to total fruition.
On the other hand, the one and only sign of the end will be this: Christ coming in the clouds, which will cause every knee to bow. Until that time, Jesus warns, we are not to go chasing after those who speculate about the end (Luke 17:23 and 21:8). Instead, we are to be doing the kingdom work, remain watchful, prepared for the end so that its coming will not take us by surprise, but we are not to chase after it, for no one can know the time of its coming. No one will miss it when the time comes, however, for every eye shall see Christ coming in the clouds.
We must keep this context of Jesus’ words in mind when we consider the meaning of Revelation. One reason why the book causes great anxiety for many people is that so many theologies try to use it to pin down the calendar, to try to ascertain exactly when these things shall take place. But Jesus told us specifically not to chase after such things.
We cannot know the times or seasons for God’s purposes. Jesus declared that even He didn’t know. All that we can know about Christ’s second coming from this text is that when He comes no one will miss him. That is all we need to know. And because we know that, we don’t have to fear about the end but can be busy until it happens doing the work of the kingdom and being faithful to our priesthood.
All sorts of principalities and powers do battle against that Lordship (as we will see in other parts of Revelation), and many times the circumstances in which we find ourselves seem to indicate anything but Christ’s Lordship. That is why we need the book of Revelation – to keep reminding us of this essential perspective: Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all God has promised; in Him the witness to God’s love and power is faithfully presented; when He comes again the whole world shall recognize the truth of His claims.
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The last word did not belong to the beasts of John’s time and it does not belong to the beasts of our time – threatening economic forces, terrorism, or great world powers – but to the One whose triumph we celebrate!