We are living in surreal times, aren’t we? In recent weeks, Houston, the fourth largest city in the US is starting to recover from what’s been called a 1000-year flood. Then there was a devastating earthquake in Mexico. Hurricane Irma has wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and Florida. North Korea is threatening the world by lobbing a missile over Japan and testing a hydrogen bomb. Many of us wonder: what’s next?
Ironically, months ago I planned to preach on Revelation 1-3 at our church during September and October, not knowing all these apocalyptic events would be occurring. I recently joked to our congregation “Nothing like studying the apocalypse to make you feel better, get all warm and fuzzy inside!”
However, I’ve come to realize that Revelation is exactly what we need during times like this. Historians believe that around 95AD, the Apostle John, who was exiled on the island of Patmos, had a vision of the resurrected Jesus. And Jesus instructed John to write letters to the churches in seven cities in Asia Minor, what is now modern-day Turkey. Around this time, the Imperial Cult was growing in strength and influence. The Emperor Domitian required the empire’s subjects to call him “Lord and God” and to worship him by burning incense. In fact, every city listed in Revelation 2-3 had an imperial temple except for Thyatira. Many Christians were refusing emperor worship and so were being abused and marginalized. Yet apparently some Christians were wavering and engaging in emperor worship. So as led by the Holy Spirit, John wrote letters to the seven churches both encouraging them and warning them.
But before that, in Revelation 1, Jesus reminds the Apostle John, the Christians being persecuted, and all who would read this majestic book, that he is God and he is with his people in the midst of their crises and suffering. Jesus declares “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).
Simply put, Jesus announces he is God using three descriptors. First, he confesses to being the eternal ruler and creator. A few verses earlier, in Rev. 1:8 he said “I am the Alpha and Omega… the Almighty one.” Jesus is the eternal ruler because has no beginning or end. He existed before creation and will exist after there’s a new creation. Because he’s the eternal ruler, Jesus rules over creation and over the history that takes place within creation. That was great news for the Christians being persecuted by the Roman Empire. They needed to be reassured Jesus was still in control. And in our chaotic times, we need to be reminded Jesus is the eternal ruler and creator who’s still in control of time and history.
Second, Jesus is the crucified and resurrected one. Jesus says, “I’m the Living one, I was dead, but now I’m alive.” Throughout the book of Revelation, (i.e. chapters 5,14, 22) Jesus is referred to as “The Lamb who was slain.” Jesus suffered and died on the cross yet three days later he rose from the dead and is alive today! That means he is with us in our struggles, pain, hurts and confusion. The scriptures say he is close to the brokenhearted. And 1 Corinthians 15 reminds us that because Jesus rose from the dead, his people shall rise from the dead!
Third, Jesus Christ is judge. He states “I hold the keys of death and Hades.” In the ancient world and in the Bible (i.e. Isaiah 22), keys were a symbol of authority and control. Whoever has a house key controls access to a house. In Rev. 20, Hades refers to the departed wicked. So Jesus announces he has authority over death and hell and so he is the judge over death and Hell. And if Jesus has authority over death and hell, he has authority over all things, including a vicious emperor and the fate of Christians resisting him. It also means he has authority over hurricanes, earthquakes and unhinged dictators with nuclear weapons.
Alright, what does all this mean? The bottom line is that Jesus Christ is God: eternal ruler and creator, crucified and resurrected one and judge. Whether our circumstances are good, bad, ugly or indifferent we have a God who cares and who is in control. It might not always look or feel that way, but that is what the Christian faith teaches. He is our hope and strength in the midst of the turmoil.
Do you and I know this Jesus? Are you and I trusting him to lead our lives? Are we praying fervently to him and listening to his voice? And are we helping needy people in every possible way? If so, we can press forward with a dogged confidence come what may.