Friday, July 9, 2021

14. The Revelation: The Effects of the Vision (Revelation 1:17-19)


The overwhelming vision John witnessed transformed him. His initial response was devastating fear, which the Lord removed by assurance and then by giving John a sense of duty.

1. Fear

"When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man..." (1:17a)

In a manner similar to his experience at the transfiguration of Jesus more than six decades earlier (Matthew 17:6), John was again overwhelmed with fear upon encountering Christ’s glory. Such fear was standard for those few who experienced such unusual heavenly visions (Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; 3:23; Daniel 10:8–9).

In stark contrast to the boastful claims of many in our own day who claim to have seen God, the reaction of those in Scripture who genuinely saw God was one of fear. Those brought face-to-face with the glory of Christ are terrified, realizing their sinful unworthiness to be in His holy presence.

2. Assurance

"And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “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 of Hades.” (1:17b–18)

As He had done at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:7), Jesus placed His right hand on John and comforted him. This is a touch of comfort and reassurance. There is comfort for Christians overwhelmed by the majesty of Christ in the assurance of His gracious love and forgiveness. Jesus’ comforting words, “Do not be afraid,” reveal His compassionate assurance to the terrified apostle.

The comfort Jesus offered was based on His person and His authority. First, He identified Himself as “I am,” the covenant name of God (Exodus 3:14). Jesus next identified Himself as “the first and the last” (see also 2:8; 22:13), a title used of God in the Old Testament (Isaiah 44:6; 48:12). Third, Jesus claimed to be “the living One” (cf. John 1:4; 14:6). God is the eternal, uncreated, self-existent One. Jesus’ application of these titles to Himself are powerful proofs of His deity.

Christ’s seemingly paradoxical declaration “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” provides further grounds for assurance. The Greek text literally reads, “I became dead.” The living One, the eternal God who could never die, became man and did die (1 Peter 3:18).

“Behold” introduces a statement of amazement and wonder: “I am alive forevermore.” Christ lives forever in a union of glorified humanity and deity, “according to the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16). “Christ, having been raised from the dead,” wrote Paul, “is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him” (Romans 6:9).

Jesus also “holds the keys of death and of Hades.” Those terms are essentially synonymous, with death being the condition and Hades the place. “Hades” is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament term “Sheol” and refers to the place of the dead. “Keys” denote access and authority. Jesus Christ has the authority to decide who dies and who lives. John, like all the redeemed, had nothing to fear, since Christ had already delivered him from death and Hades by His own death.

Knowing that Christ has authority over death provides assurance, since believers need no longer fear it. Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.… because I live, you will live also” (John 11:25; 14:19). The knowledge that Christ “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood” (Revelation 1:5) provides the assurance that is the balance to the reverential fear that His glory and majesty evoke.

3. Duty

"Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things." (1:19)

Finally, John was provided a reminder of his duty. Christ’s earlier command to write is now expanded, as John is told to record three features. First, “the things which you have seen,” the vision John had just seen and recorded in verses 10–16. Next, “the things which are,” a reference to the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. Finally, John was to write “the things which will take place after these things,” the prophecies of future events unfolded in chapters 4–22. This threefold command provides an outline for the book of Revelation, encompassing the past, present, and future.

Like John, all Christians have a duty to pass on the truths they learn from the visions recorded in this book. Those visions at first may seem startling, even disturbing. But they, like all Scripture, are “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). As believers study the glory of Christ reflected in Revelation, “we all … [will be] transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).