Vision of Glory and Grace
Passage: Revelation 1:9-20
We finished 1 Timothy 2 weeks ago, and I am planning to preach through Esther next; however, I didn’t want to try to start a new series coming off a trip. This morning, we will take a one-week trip into Revelation and into a marvelous passage about the glory of Christ (Read).
When I began studying theology in college, I learned pretty quickly that theological students love to debate. One question they love to debate is what attribute of God governs the others? Typically there are two sides to the argument. Some argue that God is fundamentally holy, and others argue that he is fundamentally love. And oftentimes people come to this debate with an agenda. Conservatives want God to be fundamentally holy, so that he looks like them, and more liberal people want God to be fundamentally love, so that he is not so concerned about sin.
I always felt like it was a rather silly debate because it didn’t matter enough to God to tell us the answer, so it probably shouldn’t matter all that much to us. But my bigger concern is that this debate generally assumes that there is conflict between God’s attributes. It’s like God has holiness on one shoulder and love on the other, and they are wrestling for control of God. And that’s absurd. There is perfect unity in God, and he never has to compromise part of his character in order to exercise another part.
This may be hard for us to comprehend, but that’s because we are fallen sinners. God, on the other hand, is perfect holiness, love, justice, mercy. And our passage for today does a beautiful job of bringing together some of these attributes into a beautiful, united picture of Christ. In particular it tells us that Jesus is the sovereign judge and Savior of the church.
I pray that by studying this passage we will gain a fuller picture of who Jesus is, that we will respond in worship, and that we will do a better job of living in light of his full character.
I want to spend the majority of our time today in vv. 12–18 where John sees the living Christ and learns of his glory, but let’s begin in vv. 9–11 by looking at the context of the vision.
The Context (vv. 9–11)
These verses tell us a couple of things that are significant to understanding the vision. First…
John is in exile for years of faithful service to Christ.
John tells us that he is on the island of Patmos because of the “word of God” and the “testimony of Jesus Christ.” Eusebius, an ancient church historian, says that John was exiled to Patmos in the 14th year of the Emperor Domitian, which would be 95 A.D. Other church tradition says that he was then forced to work in the mines on Patmos, which would have been very hard for an older man like John.
Yet that’s where John was because of his faithful proclamation of the gospel. Even as a very elderly man, he was still preaching Christ and suffering for it.
And this fact is very significant in context because Revelation is written to the 7 churches mentioned in v. 11, and we learn in chapters 2–3 that many of these churches were suffering for their faith. And so John begins with a note of compassion by saying that he is right there with them suffering for the sake of the gospel.
John heard a powerful voice and received a sacred mission.
The Lord’s Day has to be a reference to Sunday, which I do think is worth emphasizing since more and more Christians don’t see any special significance to Sunday. It’s just another day of the week, and many go to church on Saturday so that they can go to the lake on Sunday. The NT never says that Sunday is the new Sabbath, but it does assume that Sunday is a significant day that we should view differently from the other six days.
And on one particular Sunday John was worshipping when he heard an unusual voice. It was a “loud voice, as of a trumpet.” And it gives an authoritative message. John is to write the message he is given and send it to the seven churches listed.
Verses 12–16 follow with the first major section of the vision, which I am going to call…
The Vision of Glory (vv. 12–16)
Verse 10 said that John heard a loud voice with the royal tone of a trumpet. This was obviously no normal voice, and so John turned to see who was speaking with him. When he turned, he saw a glorious figure, and John did the best he could within the limits of human language to describe the glory of what he saw.
I’d like to summarize these five verses with 10 statements about the nature of Christ. First…
Jesus is the Lord of the church (vv. 12–13a).
It’s interesting that the first sight John describes is not Jesus but seven golden lampstands. Verse 20 tells us that the 7 lampstands represent the 7 churches to whom the letter was originally written, and these churches represent every church in every time. In a very real sense, the lamps point to Life Point Baptist Church.
But what is especially significant is not the lampstands, but who is in the middle of them. The glorious Son of man is in the midst of the lampstands. He is pictured as among his churches. We are part of his glory, and he is very concerned for us.
How comforting is it to think that Jesus is intimately involved with his church? He is among us. He is in our service today, and he cares very deeply about what we are doing.
In light of the persecution these churches were facing, he particularly cares about our suffering. He has been there himself, and he is with his church as we struggle through this hostile world.
And so Jesus is not just a glorious God; he is the Lord and Shepherd of his church. Second…
Jesus is the promised Messiah (v. 13).
The one John saw was “like a Son of Man.” “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title to use for himself during his time on earth. For him it was a statement of humility, but John is probably thinking of a vision that Daniel experienced in Daniel 7:9–15. This passage talks about both the “Ancient of Days,” who is God the Father and the “Son of Man,” who is the Messiah. And Messiah appears as a mighty king ready to deliver Israel. Notice in particular v. 14, which describes the kingdom that God would give to the Son of Man.
And so when John uses the title “Son of Man,” he is saying that Jesus is the one who appeared in Daniel’s vision. He looked like a mighty king, ready to conquer every enemy and reign over the world.
What a blessing it is to know that Jesus is not just an innocent lamb who died for us. He is a mighty king, and someday he is going to destroy every evil power. Our world is so corrupt, and it seems like it’s getting worse all the time. It’s so discouraging to watch the news and see the decay. But we know that evil will not reign forever. Jesus is coming, and he will establish a great kingdom.
The third statement about Christ is…
Jesus possesses glory and authority (v. 13b).
In the ancient world, a long robe is a symbol of dignity and authority and of course a golden sash would also indicate great glory. John again references Daniel, this time from chapter 10, which tells us that a heavenly messenger appeared to Daniel wearing a golden sash and announced that God was about to judge Israel’s enemies.
The sash is also a symbol of judgment here. Later in Revelation 15, 7 angels wearing golden sashes go out to judge the world. And so again, Jesus is pictured as a powerful judge.
It’s very important in our day that we not forget this side of Jesus’ character. So often we emphasize the compassionate, human side of Jesus, and we make him out to be little more than my sidekick to help me fulfill my desires. But Jesus is no sidekick. He is the judge of all the earth. He is the Lord, and I must submit my will to his, not the other way around. Fourth…
Jesus possesses eternal wisdom and insight (v. 14a).
White hair is a symbol of age and maturity, which the ancient world valued much more than we tend to. They highly respected old age and especially the wisdom that comes with experience. Therefore white hair was a symbol of honor.
Earlier we read in Daniel 7 that the “Ancient of Days” or God the Father had white hair, and of course God is not just old, he is eternal. And he is infinitely wise. And our text states that Jesus possesses the same eternal wisdom.
What a blessing it is to know that our Savior is wise. He knows us, and he understands the world far better than we ever could. And his commands come from his perfect understanding of us and of our world. Because of that, we can trust him that he will always do what is right and that his commands are always good even when they are hard.
But we must also not fail to give him the honor that is due the aged and the wise. We must revere and obey our wise Lord. Fifth…
Jesus is the all-seeing judge (v. 14b).
Of course the eyes speak of vision or sight. This picture reminds us that Jesus sees everything. He sees every deed, and he even sees our hearts. We cannot hide anything from him.
And in this context, John especially means that there is nothing we can hide from his judgment. Notice what Jesus says in Revelation 2:18–20. Jesus goes on to say that he knows both the good and evil deeds of the church, and he will judge accordingly.
It is very sobering to consider the fact that Jesus knows everything about us. He knows every motive and every deed. He sees when we do something for show, and he also sees when we work in the shadows with love and humility.
And he knows our church perfectly. He knows where we are truly strong, and where we are putting on a good front but not honoring him from the heart. We may be able to hide lots of things from people, but let’s never deceive ourselves into thinking we can hide from God. And let’s also be encouraged that even when others don’t notice our faithful service, God does, and he will faithfully reward it. Sixth…
Jesus is the glorious, pure judge (v. 15a).
John compares Jesus’ feet to “fine brass” that is still white-hot from the crucible. The heat has destroyed all impurities, so it is pure, and it is shining with incredible glory.
But you may wonder why he chooses to glorify his feet. I certainly never try to show off my feet. Notice that Jesus repeats this same image in 2:18 before going on to talk about how he knows and will judge the sins of the church.
Therefore, Jesus’ bright feet represent how he moves among the churches to judge them righteously, and this is clearly played out in chapters 2 and 3 where Jesus critiques each church and pronounces judgments and blessings.
And so we ought imagine Jesus walking quietly through Life Point. He is watching everything we do as individuals and as a body. He sees every priority that is out of whack. He sees every false motive. He also sees every prayer closet and every unnoticed act of love. He is watching how we worship and how we come alongside those who are struggling. And he is keeping an account of every deed, and he is ready to judge.
As I said earlier, this vision absolutely destroys the notion that Jesus is merely my side-kick or my buddy to help me pursue my agenda. He is a holy judge, and we are accountable to him. And we must be willing to set aside our own agenda and humbly submit to him. Seventh…
Jesus has all power (v. 15b).
Have you ever tried to carry on a conversation near intense waves or by a waterfall? It’s pretty difficult because fast moving water is incredibly powerful and loud. And John says that when he heard Jesus speak, his voice had this kind of power.
What a blessing it is to know that when Jesus speaks, no one can stand against him. So many people today shake their fist in his face, but there is coming a day when Jesus will speak, and his enemies will fall on their faces. Evil will stand no more. We serve a mighty Savior and deliverer. Eighth…
Jesus is sovereign over the church (v. 16a).
Verse 20 says that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches. There’s a lot of debate over whether this is a reference to a guardian angel who is over each church or if it is a pastor or some other human representative.
We don’t have time to deal with that debate, but everyone agrees that these angels are closely associates with the churches. Therefore, the fact that Jesus holds these stars in his right hand speaks of his control over the church.
We better never forget that Life Point is not ultimately my church or your church. This isn’t our kingdom to build for our glory. We belong to Christ and that is an awesome privilege but also an awesome responsibility. Ninth…
Jesus’ words convict and judge (v. 16b).
The word for sword describes a large sword that would be used in war, particularly a cavalry charge. Isaiah 11:4, says of Messiah, “With righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.”
And so the fact that Jesus is pictured as having a large sword proceeding from his mouth means that his words will bring justice both to the nations and to the church. His Word as revealed in Scripture cuts to the wickedness of our hearts. If you know Christ, you’ve experienced this cutting power. It can really heart when God’s Word convicts. And one day he will judge us according to his word.
Therefore we need to submit our lives to God’s Word. And we need to make sure that we are ready to stand before Christ and give an account of how we have lived it out. Tenth…
Jesus is full of glory (v. 16c).
We all know that the sun is very bright. If you look at it for long, it can seriously damage your eyes. And John sees the face of Jesus shining with this kind of overwhelming brightness. Folks, our Savior is full of glory. There is no one else like him in the universe.
And so vv. 12–16 present what John saw when he turned and looked at the one speaking to him. He saw Jesus in great glory. He saw him as sovereign over his church and the world, and he saw him as ready to judge by ready condemning evil and blessing righteousness. It was an awesome sight. Verses 17–20 follow by describing John’s response and Jesus’ response to him. I’d like to call this section…
The Vision of Grace (vv. 17–20)
Imagine what it must have been like for John to see this vision. John spent three years following Jesus all over Israel. He says in 1 John 1 that he heard him, looked at him, and touched him. John was as close to Jesus as any man has ever been. He even saw Jesus’ glory on the Mt. of Transfiguration. But this vision was on an entirely different scale.
And so v. 17 tells us that…
John fell like a dead man.
John was absolutely overwhelmed by what he saw. It was too much glory and too much holiness for a broken sinner to bear. All he could do was fall on his face. But…
Jesus responds to John’s fear with grace and assurance.
As John is lying on the ground cowering in fear, Jesus lovingly puts his hand on him. And he tells John not to be afraid. What a remarkable picture of God’s compassion.
Jesus then goes on to remind us though that this grace is not without cost.
Grace has a costly basis.
Jesus begins by reminding John that he is the “First and the last.” In other words, he is infinite God who possesses eternal life.
And it took the infinite price of Christ’s life to provide grace. The reason we don’t need to fear is because infinite God died for us. He paid the price we could never pay. But he didn’t stay dead. He is “alive forevermore.” Jesus did much more than take our punishment; he secured eternal life.
As a result, he holds the keys to “Hades and Death.” In other words because of his death and resurrection, Jesus has power over where people will spend eternity. He has power to raise us from the dead and to bring us to heaven. That’s incredible because death is man’s great enemy and one that we can never defeat. But death has no power over Christians. Because of the grace of Christ, we truly have no reason to fear.
What a wonderful picture of the grace of God! This passage is a powerful reminder that God is holy and that we are sinners who can never approach him in ourselves, so God reaches out to us through the redemption that Jesus purchased on the cross. And he says to the sinner who stands in his grace that there is no longer any reason to fear. We should all marvel at the grace of God, and we should glory in our great Redeemer.
But maybe you have never received this grace. Maybe for the first time today you see the true distance between you and God. You see that Jesus is more than a crutch to help you through the hard times. You see that he is not apathetic toward how you choose to live. You see instead that he is the Lord, that he will judge, and that you will never meet his standard. But you also see that there is hope to escape his wrath in Christ’s death and resurrection, and you want to receive the benefits of his work. The Scriptures teach that all you must do is repent and believe. Confess your sin to God and call to him for salvation, and he promises that he will save. If you have never done that, I hope you will do it today because God will not turn away any who come to him with a broken heart for grace.
We have covered a lot of ground today, and we have kind of jumped around, so I’d like to conclude with four takeaways that we must go home and live.
We must worship Christ as the promised Messiah and the perfect God-man.
If we’ve done nothing else today, I hope that we have been reminded that we serve a great Savior and that he deserves passionate worship and praise. Even as we sing our closing hymn in a couple of minutes, I hope that we will praise Christ for his great glory.
We must walk in fear understanding our coming accountability to Christ.
We shouldn’t walk in dreadful fear, but we should have a reverent sobriety about how we live. And I do want to emphasize the significance this has for our church, since local churches are the focus of Revelation 1–3. If anything is clear in Revelation 1–3, it is that Jesus knows his churches, and he will hold them accountable. Therefore what matters most is not how big we are or how much money or programs we have. The most important thing is not how much fun we have together or how being here makes us feel, even though those things matter. No what matters most is that Christ is pleased. Therefore when we look at our church or any church, the most important thing must always be that we obey Scripture, because Jesus is not the servant of the church. The church is the servant of Jesus. Let’s make sure that this is what we really value and then let’s work and pray toward being a church that receives his approval.
We must rest in God’s grace and not entertain an ungodly fear.
Maybe you really struggle with guilt. You did something in the past that you are very ashamed of, or you are having a very hard time overcoming a particular struggle. And you are having a very difficult time resting in God’s grace. I want to urge you to believe what God’s Word says about the character of Christ. The fact is that all of us, whether you have done some really bad things or you are the Apostle John, fall infinitely short of the grace of God. And yet there is Jesus putting his hand on you and saying, “Do not fear. Rest in my grace.”
We must take courage through hardship knowing that Christ is with us.
Most of the 7 churches in Revelation were suffering and so was John. And a major focus of this vision is to say that Jesus sees our every struggle. He knows every sacrifice. And he is right there with us. And one day, he will be faithful to make all things right. Maybe you are in the fire today. You are trying to serve Christ and be faithful to his will, but nothing is coming easy and no one seems to notice. Even if that is so, Jesus sees, Jesus has been there, and Jesus cares.
It will be a great day when we see him as John did. And so let’s pray and let’s look for the return of our Savior.