Revelation 1:17-18, 20
17 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,
18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
At this point in our study, it is a good idea to consider our response to Jesus Christ. We do not have a direct vision of Him. We have a mediated vision of Him through His word.
I have often meditated on Matthew 6:6 — But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus tells us to engage in prayer in secret. He adds, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” The KJV adds “will reward you [openly].” I believe the reward is in secret like the act of prayer. What could this secret reward be? “God’s Presence is found in secret, He sees what is in secret, and He rewards those who meet Him in that place.” (see In Secret below) As we meet with our Lord Jesus Christ in secret reading and praying over His Word, He imparts to us His conscious presence!
Encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ always leads to Fear.
I know this is contrary to “Barney-Christianity” — “I love you; you love me… .” John has the regular response recorded in the Bible to encounter with Deity—prostration and terror. See Daniel 8:16-19; and Daniel 10:7-12. (click on links to read.) Daniel’s passages are clearly the models for John’s written record here in Rev. 1.
John’s Response to the Theophany vs 17
John prostrates himself and is struck with fear (terror). Here we have the negative plus the present imperative of phobeomai (English = phobia). This indicates that the action is already in progress and is commanded to cease (literally, “Stop being afraid!”)
Is fear always a bad thing? No! It is our starting place in an encounter with Christ. We finish up like John strengthened by God.
The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. (Psalm 111:10).
Note that there are different aspects of “fear.”
1. Sense of Terror — this is the realization of a sinful person in the presence of a Holy God. Compare Isaiah 6:1-4 Click on the link to read it in a new window.
During the Welsh revival of 1905, a coal minor noticed that lights were on in the village chapel. He opened the door and exclaimed, “Oh! God is here,” as he backed out and closed the door. Those who experience revival witness the manifest presence of God. It is overwhelming. Terror strikes the witnesses. This leads to other forms of fear outlined below. (I read this incident in an old magazine, the name of which I have forgotten.)
2. Feeling of sheer Dread
This sense of fear takes two forms: (1) an immature form and (2) a mature form.
a. Fear of punishment — This is an immature response to God from a young child’s experience of doing wrong. He is afraid of being punished. Should a believer revert to sinful behavior and not repent, there is fear of discipline from the Lord, Hebrews 12:5-11 [Click on the link to read this in a new window].
b. Fear of marring a relationship — This is a mature response of a child grown to adulthood. I no longer fear my parent’s punishment when I do wrong. We never “get over” this in our relationship with the Lord. We shrink back from sinful behavior because we do not want to mar our relationship with our God.
3. Overwhelming impression of Awe — Bowing in reverence, respect, and wonder. This attends us every time we read God’s Word and seek his face.
Christ strengthens us as believers through our encounter with Him.
Jesus stretched forth his right hand and touched John tenderly. The right hand that held the stars is what touched him. This is the protective hand. The one that possesses all authority.
The words, “the first and the last,” link Jesus’ saying to the “Alpha and Omega” of 1:8. He is saying that Christ is Deity. In Isaiah 44:6 Jehovah says this of himself. (Click on the link to read Isaiah passage in a new window).
John connects Jesus to Jehovah in his Christology. The phrase has been described as “the Divine self-designation.” It is the divine signature, so to speak. John has no reason to fear since he is in the presence of God who stoops to touch him in a grace-way. Do we not want that touch!
The Speaker Identified Clearly vs. 18
Christ is living in contrast to the pagan deities who were made of wood and stone or just conjured up in the mind. He experienced death once, but was raised to live forever and ever.
The Risen Christ holds the Keys — to death and hades. The risen Christ has the authority over death and beyond. We truly need not fear if we serve the one who controls the time and circumstances of our death. This is what John is saying.
Gordon Fee relates the sermon of a black pastor preaching on Easter morn
After setting up the scene of the Devil and his minions finding the empty tomb, the pastor [voicing Satan’s conclusion] exclaimed, “He’s got away! He’s got away!”
Fear immediately grips the demonic hordes whoa re disturbed by Satan’s fear.
“And, He’s got the keys!,” Satan concluded.
Sheer terror spreads throughout the dark world.
Our Lord Jesus Christ lives unlike the idols of men
We lose the impact of Christ’s resurrection often. He now holds the keys to death and hades since he entered its world and emerged victorious and alive!
Most surely, hades here refers to the fact that Jesus actually died. His soul was separated from his body. He fully experienced death for his people.
For John that is the “key” to everything that follows; having experienced death, Christ through his resurrection has stripped Satan of his means of power—death and Hades—and thus “holds the keys” for loosing from Satan’s grip those who are his own. (see Fee, p. 20, below).
Hebrews 2:14-15 reveals the impact of freedom from fear of death on those who are enslaved to sin.
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Christ] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
We are indeed blessed to have images interpreted for us in the text. vs 20
vs. 20 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.
Our Lord Jesus Christ understands all mysteries of the universe and beyond and unfolds them to us if we need it.
vs. 20: The Meaning of “Mystery” — A mysterion in the N.T. sense of the word is something that can only be known by revelation. It is not accessible to the physical senses of a person.
The Meaning of “Angels” Here
Remember that this is a visionary world John sees. So the implication is not that churches have guardian angels. In the vision, angels deliver the messages to the seven churches.
What John seems most likely to have intended is not that each church had its own angel, as it were, but in keeping with the apocalyptic genre, that a different (perhaps angelic) messenger was appointed to deliver Christ’s message to each of the churches [in the vision], while at the same time each church becomes privy to the others’ mail! (see Fee below p. 21).
Next time a general introduction to the Oracles to the 7 Churches and into Chapter Two.
Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
In Secret. (2011). Devotional Blog of Anne Restler for September 2, 2011 accessed May 5, 2019 from https://anneresler.com/2011/09/02/in-secret/#_edn1
Williams, William C. (1996). “Theophany” in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Accessed January 23, 2019 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/theophany.html
WLC. (1647-8). Westminster Larger Catechism. Accessed January 25, 2019 from https://reformed.org/documents/wlc_w_proofs/
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