A harsh gale blasted the rocky ledges of the beleaguered volcanic island. With thunderous breakers and salty gusts, a black Mediterranean maelstrom laid a stormy siege against lonely Patmos. The pervasive darkness ceded its dominion only to the ever-increasing flashes of erupting lightning. This ominous and violent array of illumination assaulted the senses with a mixture of light, chaos and fury. Somewhere on that rocky expanse stood a single man. He stood oblivious to the tumult raging about his humble shelter. Hands raised to heaven, the beloved Apostle John prayed silently in the Spirit as the storm howled its protest.
Suddenly, a sound more terrifying than any tempest shattered his silent supplications. A trumpet — no, a voice — reverberated with a commanding authority … yet also with a strange sense of familiarity. “Write in a book what you see!” announced the Voice from behind him. Whirling to face the source of the mysterious sound, the Apostle found himself far from Patmos’ pandemonium and standing amid seven golden lampstands. The lanterns’ glares of gold and fire arrested him with stunning beauty. Yet, the Apostle’s eyes soon beheld a brilliance far more riveting and more terrifying. Before him, a vision of a man — no, the Son of Man — towered.
A robe, far finer than any king’s, adorned His majestic frame and partially covered a golden breastplate. Hair as wool and feet of burnished, radiant bronze emerged from the extremities of the garment. His right hand lifted high seven stars triumphantly. But, the stars’ brightness paled in comparison to the light radiating from the vision. The Apostle’s gaze drifted to the face — but soon turned away as a child’s eyes might avert the midday sun escaping from the clouds. He dared another glance, only to have his attention claimed by the Son of Man’s mouth, emitting words as rushing waters. The utterances cut and crafted as a sword with dual edges. But, those eyes … kind and knowing, yet piercing, noble, awe-inspiring, beautiful. As flames of fire, they bore straight through the Apostle’s very being. John’s spirit faded. Knees foundered in response. Before the radiant and fearful and holy vision he collapsed as one struck dead. Instantly, a calming and caring hand dropped to the Apostle’s shoulder. Words, softer and yet stronger than any that man has ever uttered, accompanied the touch. “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, and the living One. And I was dead. And behold, I am alive forevermore. And I have the keys of death and Hades.”
Alpha and Omega, the living One, sovereign, almighty, conquering, loving, King. Revelation 1 gives us an astonishing vision of our resurrected Lord through the eyes of the Apostle John. We are now months removed from Resurrection day, the day that the world calls Easter. That day is so wonderful because it grants us an opportunity to cast our eyes on Jesus, to wonder in His work, to glory in our Redeemer. Yet, we would be remiss to restrict this type of reflection to one day. So the purpose of this brief meditation on Revelation 1 is to focus again our eyes on our Savior… to dwell on the picture of our King as presented by the Apostle John. As we begin our look at this text, it’s perhaps most helpful and even necessary to look at the context. Revelation 1:9-20 serves as part of the introduction to the Revelation to John. And as with any opening chapter, it introduces the theme of the book. But really, we only need look to verse 1 to learn this theme — Jesus Christ. In fact, the book probably could more appropriately be titled “the Revelation of Jesus Christ,” for that is what John himself titled it. As a side note, a recognition of this theme has important implications for today in the study of Revelation. These days, many people, influenced the barrage of end times books and TV doomsayers, think that Revelation serves one purpose — to tell us how we are going to be raptured, to tell us what will happen to Israel, to tell us when Armageddon will occur. Yes, Revelation does tell us something about the future. But how it will transpire is not so much the point for John. Topics like the Rapture and 666 sell books, but they don’t describe what our inspired author was doing with his Apocalypse. God, through John, wasn’t wanting to tell us something about us (who is the beast, who is the antichrist, etc.). He wanted to tell us something about Christ. John didn’t want so much to tell us about the end times. John wanted to tell us about who reigns over time. John didn’t want to tell us so much the identity of the antichrist. He wanted to tell us who has the power to defeat all evil and death. In short, God in Revelation wanted to “reveal” Christ. He wanted to show the resurrected Christ in all His glory. He wanted to show how the reigning Lord would be victorious in the end.
OK, but why? What is the reason for the revealing? This question leads to the purpose of the book as found in the passage in question. Why would God want to reveal Jesus Christ to John? Verse 9 gives a hint. The answer: For His church. His church was being persecuted. Christians were suffering for Christ. They were even dying for Christ. This was the time of the emperor Domitian — “a man of Nero’s type of cruelty,” says one historian. John himself suffered in exile on Patmos because of this tyranny. So, in Revelation 1, Jesus revealed Himself as the beautiful, victorious, sovereign Christ to a suffering, dying, persecuted people of God.
You see the purpose! Christ revealed Himself so that His church would be comforted and gain strength for the mighty tests to come. And, though the letter was written to first century believers, I believe this same gift of the Revelation to John is for us today as well. Christ has given a picture of Himself to enable us to gain strength for a radical life given to Him today. Nothing will comfort us, nothing will give more hope, nothing will enable us to live entirely devoted Christian lives more than keeping a picture of the sovereign and triumphant Christ before us.
One could spend hours and pages delving into the richness of the picture of the reigning Christ that is presented in Revelation 1. I do not have the space. But I encourage you to take that time. Grab a good commentary. Study the text. Look at the significance of the Old Testament background. Study the chapter in comparison to the vision of the Son of Man in Daniel 7. Read in Daniel 7:14, where it says, “And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” Meditate on what this would have meant for a first century church afflicted by the powerful, persecuting Roman government. Meditate on the significance of a reigning Christ for you. Look at the significance of Christ standing in the midst of the lampstands — which symbolize His church. Meditate on the fact that Jesus is with His bride. Christ is standing among His people — even as they are persecuted, burned, crucified. As John Piper states, “He moves among His lamp stands, trimming the wicks and carving wax, breathing life back into flickering flames.” Look at the significance and symbolism of Christ’s appearance — His clothing, His hair, His feet, the sword in His mouth. Finally, end by looking at His face. Meditate on the glory shining therein. The glory of Christ. Our great King. Our Lion of Judah. Contemplate His power over time, His authority over death, His defeat of sin, His holiness.
It’s all there in Revelation 1. And when you do look at Him, as John did, be ready. We might and should cry out our helplessness. We might and should fall flat like John and like Isaiah and Ezekiel. Indeed, when God reveals Himself, we will realize our inadequacy, our sin, our powerlessness. Yet, that is exactly where God wants us. He wants us to look on Christ. Depend on Him. Trust in Him. Lean on Him. Gain strength from Him for the radical life to which He has called us. …
Never lose sight of Him.
A native of Austell, Ga., Bryan Cribb came to Anderson University following a five-year tenure at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga. Dr. Cribb holds a BA in political science and a BS in mathematics from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After being called into the ministry, he received his master of divinity in biblical and theological studies and his doctor of philosophy from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His primary emphasis in PhD work was Old Testament theology, with minor areas of study in New Testament theology and Old Testament languages.
Dr. Cribb is married to Elizabeth, and they have three sons—Daniel Luther, Josiah John, and Nathanael Bryan. Elizabeth is an RN and a stay-at-home mom, who also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary.