In the eyes of many, the book of Revelation is a strange volume of beasts and war and tribulation and pestilence. But it begins with these words:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ”—you can read that two ways in Greek. It’s either the revelation from Jesus Christ or it is the revelation concerning Jesus Christ. In fact, it’s both.
What does Revelation tell us about Jesus Christ? Let’s look at it. Let’s go through the book, starting with chapter 1, and see what the book says for itself. I’m not going to have a lot of extra commentary on these texts this morning. They speak for themselves. I’m just going to draw your attention to them, and weave them together into a portrait of Jesus. Chapter 1, verse 4:
4John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. 8I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
John begins with a blessing, from the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. John believes in the Trinity. He believes that Jesus is not just a man, not a mere heavenly being, but is one with the Father and the Spirit. Or, as the same John tells us in his Gospel, chapter 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. … And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
He tells us in chapter 3 of his Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
That’s the same good news he tells us here. Jesus loved us, and he washed us from our sins in his blood, shed on the cross. He is the faithful witness, or “martyr” as it reads literally in Greek—and he is risen from the dead. He has made us to be kings and priests with him. And he is coming again in glory, to judge the living and the dead.
This is the prologue. This sets the stage for when this same Jesus appears to John in verse 11, telling him to write to the seven churches. John sees Jesus standing in the middle of seven candlestands—they represent the seven churches, he is told. So Jesus is presented not sitting away on his throne, not far removed from these churches, and their sufferings, and their trials, but in their very midst. He writes different things to each church, but he tells each, “I know you. I know what you are going through. I know your struggles. I know your weaknesses.” He encourages each in those things they do well, he warns each in things where they are in danger. To each he gives the promise that if they overcome, they will be seated with him in glory.
And he says after each one, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” In short—John is saying, Listen! Does something here apply to you? Listen! Take counsel from Jesus, who knows your struggle. Take comfort from Jesus, who is by your side. Take courage from Jesus, who wants you to overcome, as he overcame.
We go on to chapter 4–John is called up to the throne of God in heaven. He sees strange beasts around the throne, and twenty four elders, all bowing down and worshipping him. And in chapter 5 we see that the one on the throne has a scroll, and the question is asked, “Who is worthy to open it?” No man can be found who is worthy—and John starts to weep. But then he hears a voice:
5And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain. … 7And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. 8And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. 9And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
And the angels join in the hymn,
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
This week is Holy Week. Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to the shouts of the crowds. Thursday is the night he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. Friday is the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross, as the Passover lamb whose blood sets us free. Next Sunday is Easter, the day he rose from the dead. These are the events in view in this passage.
Israel expected the Messiah to come as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, a warrior king. That’s what John hears at first—and then he turns, and he looks, and he sees a lamb that has been slain. And this is what the hosts of heaven praise—Worthy is the lamb because he was slain, because his blood redeemed us. This is the great heart of the plan of salvation. This is what we remember especially on this Sabbath, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Jesus shed his blood that our sins might be forgiven and we might have life.
We often debate what Jesus’ life meant, or how it is that his blood saves us, or how he could have been tempted like we are. John doesn’t do any of this. The elders and beasts and angels don’t either. They simply proclaim what he has done and then launch into praise: Worthy is the lamb.
And the lamb then opens those seals, and we see the struggle of the church through the ages. We see the saints persecuted, and crying out to God, “How long, O Lord, until you take vengeance on us?”
We read in chapter 7 of the promises that await the redeemed.
These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
Starting in chapter 8 we see the warnings of coming judgment, that get louder, and louder, echoing through the blasts of the seven trumpets.
In chapter 12 John gives us another telling of the Gospel story.
1And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. 3And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. 5And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
This chapter introduces us to the struggle that will meet its climax in the last days, the struggle between the dragon and the remnant—but John says we should not be surprised. The struggle we find ourselves in has been going a long time. The dragon that is after us—he stood before the woman when she was about to give birth. The woman can represent God’s faithful people Israel, or the faithful church—or, literally, Mary, in pain ready to give birth to Jesus, with the dragon, in the form of Herod, seeking to destroy her child the moment he came into the world. But the dragon’s plot was foiled. The plan of salvation was fulfilled, and Jesus, victorious, ascended into heaven.
The next time we see Jesus is in chapter 19. No longer is he the helpless baby. No longer is he the lamb, bearing the signs of its death. No longer is he walking among the churches. No longer is he sitting on a throne. Now we see him coming as a warrior, at the last day. Too many images of the second coming of Jesus show him smiling, happy, on a cloud, surrounded by pretty angels with blond hair and white skin.
Look at how John depicts the second coming of Jesus: Revelation 19:11ff
11And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
This is what John was talking about when he said back in chapter 1, “7Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” But we will not wail. No, it will be for us as Isaiah prophesied long ago, in Isaiah 25:9, “And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
The scene changes swiftly in John’s vision. On the other side of the judgment we see the Holy City coming down as a bride. John says, in chapter 21,
22And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. 23And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
And in chapter 22,
3And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 4And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.
That’s what awaits us. That’s the future Christ has promised. That’s what he will give to those who overcome.
And then the Book of Revelation ends—but with this promise: Surely I come quickly. To which we respond, with John “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
Here, in a few minutes, I’ve sketched out the heart of the book of Revelation. I’ve said nothing about timelines or dates. I’ve said little about plagues or judgments. Because those are secondary to the book.
The book is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. And in it he not only reveals the future to us, he reveals himself. We see him as the babe of Bethlehem, we see him as the lamb, slain, we see him as the eternal Son of God, we see him in the midst of the struggling churches—and we see him as the one who is soon to come in glory, to take us home with him.
That day is coming soon, he says. And when it comes, there will be a banquet.
We read of it in chapter 19.
6And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. 7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.
This morning, we share in a foretaste of that feast. This morning, we break bread and drink wine, remembering the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, our paschal lamb. This morning, we do as he commanded, eating this bread to show the Lord’s death until he comes.
This morning, let us do so in the same spirit of joy that will characterize the banquet on that day, singing alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. For he is king of kings and lord of lords.
I invite you, come to the feast.