The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that 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.
Scripture: Revelation 1:1-20
Sermon Title: “Coming Soon”
Some people get really excited to dive into the book of Revelation. Some people cringe at it. Others fit somewhere in between. It’s a bit mysterious and so maybe it isn’t looked to very often. Trust me when I say preachers can have all those feelings mixed together because we want to be right and accurate, we want to point to what matters most, and yet we also want to have an answer when people ask us about the confusing parts. Here’s a secret: I don’t have all the answers.
Here we are, though, launching into a new series with this book through the end of December. So, we’re not going through every verse like we did with Acts. We’re just going to hit some of the highlights. We’re doing this with Advent in mind. The Worship Sourcebook, a resource I regularly draw from says: “The season of Advent, a season of waiting, is designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future…Advent highlights for us the larger story of God’s redemptive plan. A deliberate tension must be built into our practice…Christ has come, and yet not all things have reached their completion…Worship on these Sundays should be designed to help people see the tension between celebrating and hoping…”
We’re going to frequent the prophets in our wreath readings, drawing our attention to the birth of Jesus and his first coming. Then our messages will be meant to draw us to the waiting we’re doing. We are waiting and hoping and yearning for Christ’s return.
So, with that in mind, we’re going to begin this vision that God, through Jesus, gave to John. This is believed to have been the apostle John, one of the Twelve disciples. He tells us he had been exiled to the island of Patmos, that’s the purple star, and what the first three chapters of Revelation are really known for is the letters to the seven churches, and each of the yellow stars represents where those churches or cities were. We’re not going to look at the specific letters in this series, but I encourage you to do that in the Wednesday Sunday School At-Home practice.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the words “coming soon” always bring me back to watching movies as a kid. My family didn’t go to movie theaters very often; even back in the 90s the prices seemed high and we were fine waiting for movies to come out on VHS and eventually DVD. I remember when we did go to the theater, though, that they had posters outside and inside the building with movies they’d be showing in the coming months, and they always had those words, “coming soon” above them. But it didn’t end there—you went inside at the time the movie was supposed to start, and then there’s another 10 to 15 minutes of “coming soon” trailers and previews you had to watch. We still don’t frequently go to theaters, but I know some things haven’t changed.
Instead of theaters, my family often rented movies, and on a Friday night we might watch them together. Back then, you couldn’t just pull a movie up on your smart TV and have it start instantly, you couldn’t even just insert the disc and hit menu and then play on your remote. No, you had previews on the video tape, too. Yes, we could have fast-forwarded through all those, but watching them and hearing what was “coming soon” to own or rent got us excited about future movies or heightened our anticipation about what we were about to watch.
Coming soon meant in the next few weeks or a month or so away. The new movie would be released, and something else would be coming soon. Yet jump to today, and we’re told peoples’ attention spans, their interest and willingness to wait for things has gotten even shorter. If you have a product you want people to be excited about and consider purchasing or using, you’ve either got to do heavy promoting for a short period time or you’ve really got to hype up the anticipation and keep people wanting while they wait; otherwise they’ll move on to something else. You’ll lose your window of opportunity.
What’s described in the book of Revelation, this vision God gave to John to be shared with believers, has been coming soon for a very, very, very long time. Our first point this morning is that Christians are waiting people. Notice, in our passage, we’re not really told what is coming. We have to keep reading this book to find out. But as we’re being introduced to this revelation, our minds are to recognize something is coming. We see it in verse 1, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place.” Verse 3, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” Verse 19, “‘Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Back to verses 4 and 8, what might this future be about? God reveals himself as, “…Him who is, and who was, and who is to come.”
Christianity is not simply a moral religion, a religion in which God has rules for what is right and wrong, what is good and what is sinful, and if you seek to please him in this life, you’ll have everything go right, but if you’re more rebellious than good, then you’re life will be painful. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t pursue righteousness, but simply our actions are not the key. Christianity’s primary end is not self-improvement, it’s not nirvana or anything like that. We aren’t just trying to figure out how to live our best lives now. So too, we must know that our mortality is not our greatest priority. In the Thanksgiving service, we heard the point that we are to be thankful but not attached to temporary blessings—our identity should not be in things we have.
Our religion is not fixed on us; instead, the Christian’s hope is fixed on God and what he’s done, is doing, and is yet to do. The Christian mindset isn’t just on our years here, because we know there is more to come. We’re waiting for that. If you don’t know, Revelation will describe what takes place around the second coming, the final coming of Jesus Christ. It points us to the new heavens and new earth where Jesus lives with all his redeemed and sin has been banished. Because of the salvation he has accomplished, because of God’s providence, this is our hope.
But we, as Christians, ought not just know that this is coming; we are commanded to wait for it. Waiting implies readiness, anticipation; it implies that you’ve accepted and believe that this will surely come about. It’s not a fairy tale or myth; Christ will come again and will fully bring about his eternal reign. As we heard in The Worship Sourcebook summary earlier, we live in this tension of celebration and hope. Our hope for the future doesn’t mean we quit doing anything with our earthly existence, that we only think about the future and ignore the present. No, we’re hoping, with certainty, for what we can’t yet see or fully comprehend. Our view of a sinless, painless, deathless, hatred-less, anger-less world can’t even come to close to what God has in store.
We live lives for the glory of God. We live lives that should be seeking his righteousness. We live using the gifts and talents and callings that God gives us, and by which we can love him and love our neighbor. But only Christ can truly establish his kingdom in its fullness. Question and answer 123 of the Heidelberg Catechism looks at the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come.” “What does [your kingdom come] mean? …Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you. Preserve your church and make it grow. Destroy the devil’s work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your holy Word. Do this until your kingdom fully comes, when you will be all in all.” We are waiting people, not in idleness or laziness, but actively hoping for the future, seeking God to bring his kingdom on earth—but we know the fullness will not come until he comes.
Let’s turn our focus now to God, who reveals many things about himself to and for John. Our second point, we meet our eternal triune God. There are a lot of bits and pieces being put together throughout this chapter, but this is God testifying to himself in a way we as humans would understand. Looking at verses 4 and 5, a benediction is spoken over the recipients, which includes us, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
While we can’t fully wrap our minds around the Trinity, it’s vitally important. To believe God is three-in-one has been essential to orthodox Christian faith going back to the formation of the creeds. God is not three Gods, but one God in Father—that’s the first part of verse 4; in the Holy Spirit, who’s identified in these seven spirits, which may connect with going out to these seven churches or seven being a number of completeness or of perfection; and then God in the person of the Son, of Jesus. God has always been, and he has always been three in unity. The Son didn’t just come to be when Jesus was conceived in Mary. The Spirit wasn’t created only in the days of the early church or one of the other times when we read about a Spirit in the Old Testament. No, all three have always been.
They are before and over everything else. So, in verse 8, we pull out the A and the Z of the Greek alphabet, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega…the Almighty.’” It carries into verse 17, “‘…I am the First and the Last.’” What scholars identify in this kind of writing is not just bookends, that God is saying, “I started things, and I’ll finish them,” but this is God saying, “I am from the beginning and I am with through the end.” There is not a time or a part of creation and the purposes of what take place that God is not Almighty over.
The eternal, triune, almighty, sovereign God who has created every last thing in the universe—John says, from him to believers, is grace and peace. I didn’t come up with this emphasis on my own, some other CRC pastors I was reading pointed this out. As we’re anticipating and waiting for what the future holds, as people all throughout history have gone through different turmoil in their time and we’re trying to grasp the big-ness, the importance, the pure greatness and perfection of God, believers are to hear, grace and peace to you from him.
In our tradition, I speak similar words each time we gather. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. I need to be reminded as often as most of us do, those aren’t Dan’s words, those aren’t John’s words or Paul’s words, they might not show up in red in a red-letter Bible, but we are receiving the grace and peace which originate and are God’s alone to offer to all who believe in him and worship him. This is who God is and what he offers: his grace and his peace, a healing balm in a troubled and broken world and hope for what is to come.
That brings us to our final point now: we meet our exalted Savior. When Jesus was born and living on earth, it’s a fair guess to say he looked like any other man of that time of his ethnicity and that area. He was probably olive-skinned or maybe darker, not white and looking like he was from northern Europe. Assumedly he had hair; I don’t know what his style was like. He probably dressed like everyone else and wasn’t too out of the ordinary.
Yet here’s John, living several decades after Jesus has lived, died, risen, and ascended into heaven, and he meets this “someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” The impact of seeing this being on John was to fall “at his feet as though dead.”
John was told to write what he saw and what he heard. There are many intriguing images to come across in the book of Revelation. Creatures that are mixed together with lots of eyes and wings, there’s a dragon and a lamb, there are horses and riders, and there’s this, which can create a picture in our minds. How he describes the exalted Savior, the Living One, once dead but now alive forever is still not able to be captured in its fullness. This was not what Jesus looked like when he was born or throughout his earthly life. If this is the disciple John, he knew what Jesus looked like, and yet God had revealed John who this was.
The redeemed of the Lord, I pray that’s all of us, are waiting for Jesus to return and to resurrect them, having been freed from our sins, to be made servants of the Most High God forever, we are looking forward to his return, to seeing him. We will know when he’s back—whenever that is. But we can’t ignore what else is said about the Savior and his return in verse 7. “…Every eye will see him,” not just the saved. “…All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.”
Some read this with the sense that every single person will be saved. Even if you didn’t believe or repent during your lifetime, everyone will realize at the return of Christ their need for him. They’ll have godly sorrow, they won’t be able to reject him any longer, and he’ll lovingly welcome them. Yet the testimony of Scripture all throughout, speaks to the need to turn to the Lord and to seek him while he may be found. The Lord knows who he has saved since before creation. As we go further into Revelation, we know there are people whose names are excluded from the Book of Life, who are not saved for eternity with the Savior. This mourning in verse 7 ought to be understood as the realization of fault, the realization of being wrong and of not have sought out or received the hope of Jesus Christ, the hope of forgiveness and salvation and eternal life. It’s true, no one on that day will be able to deny that Jesus is Lord and that our God is only true God, but those who have not believed in him will perish.
Jesus is coming soon. We are to be waiting for him. If you have not given your life to him, if you’ve not received salvation yet, if you’re not walking in his light and worshiping at his feet, come while he may be found! Come and experience his love and freedom from sin all because he died on the cross and rose again. Join those who can confidently say they’re waiting for his return.
Brothers and sisters, maybe you went out shopping one of the last two days, and you felt like you had to wait in line forever. All of us are waiting for some sense of normalcy to completely return amidst the virus. Remember being told to stay home for 2 weeks to flatten the curve back in March—that seems like a lifetime ago. Waiting for procedures, waiting for results, waiting for a loved one to change their ways, waiting for things to get better. Everyone waits, we don’t usually like it, we don’t exactly appreciate or value the virtue of patience very often. Yet Christ continues to tell us he is coming soon, the time is near. Our waiting, as unpleasant as it may be, as difficult as it can be to understand why God allows certain things to persist, is worthwhile to continue. Always remember that the command, the encouragement, the promise is rooted in our eternal and Almighty God, who can always be trusted. Amen.