Jesus is our ever-present priest, powerful king, and proclaiming prophet. Dr. Michael Kruger preaches on Revelation 1:12-16 in chapel at RTS Charlotte.
Well, it’s great to be with you on the first chapel of the year. Well, as the semester begins, let’s turn our attention to what God has a say in his Word. Revelation 1 is where we’ll be just for a brief time this morning in our first chapel.
And as you’re turning there, let me just reiterate again what we all know is that this is just a critical time for us as a body, for the community and family of RTS. Not just students, but faculty and staff, to gather once a week to hear the Word preached. We believe in the preached Word here at RTS. And we don’t just learn how to preach or talk about preaching or think about it or hope to be it. We want to also be good listeners to preaching and students of preaching and those who receive preaching. And half of becoming a good preacher is receiving it and knowing how to receive it. So chapels just really form us as a body. So I encourage you, as you think about the year ahead, to really make this time a priority.
Today, though, just a brief passage. Revelation 1, I’ll be reading verses 12 through 16, a well-known passage where John sees a vision of Christ.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me. And on turning, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, white like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand, he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. Amen.
May God bless his Word. Let me pray for us as we start today.
Lord, we’re grateful for the way you reveal yourself in your Word. And Lord we’re grateful that you reveal yourself in this passage so poignantly. Help us see you afresh this semester, we pray in Christ’s name, Amen.
Jesus Always Challenges Our Understanding of Him
Have you ever thought you knew somebody, thought you understood them and had a fairly good grasp of what they were like: their characteristics, their attributes, their gifts and talents, and then have that blown into a million pieces after they do one simple thing? Maybe you thought you knew someone and they performed a deed or an act or they revealed an ability, and you looked at them and you said, “Wow, I thought I knew you. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on who you were and what you were like, and with that one thing, suddenly I realized I don’t know you near as well as I thought I did, absolutely changing my paradigm of what you’re like.”
Jesus, of course, was the kind of person that loved to do exactly that. Loved to shatter paradigms, and he liked to challenge the way people thought of him. And as we begin a new semester here at RTS, I thought it would be appropriate and right for us to start with a fresh vision of the reason we’re here. And of course, as we all know, the reason we’re here is not just that we have this idea or this concept or this philosophy that drives us. We’re here because of a person.
And of course, we’re here because of a person that we’re convinced that we know really well—in many ways we do—but also in many ways we don’t. And the passage today is one of those that shatters our conceptions of what Jesus is like. And not only do we need this, but certainly our world needs this.
Even though we, by God’s grace, know a lot about what Jesus is like, we still fall very short of fully grasping what Jesus is like.We look around the world today and everyone thinks they know who Jesus is. And you go on the street corner, ask them what they think Jesus is like, and they’ll give you their own little version of it. Most people don’t have any idea what Jesus is like. Even though we, by God’s grace, know a lot about what Jesus is like, we still fall very short of fully grasping what Jesus is like. And even in this passage today, the apostle John himself, who laid his head on the breast of Jesus, was taken back by what Jesus was really like in this vision.
Jesus, of course, had a habit of doing this in the Gospels. One of my favorite stories, of course, in the Gospels is when Jesus calmed the wind and the waves on the Sea of Galilee during the very famous story where the boat’s about to sink. What I’d always found fascinating about that story is, actually, the disciples woke Jesus up to help them, assuming he could do something, and then when he did it, they were completely blown away. I don’t know what they thought Jesus was going to do; that apparently wasn’t it. Because after Jesus calmed the wind and the waves, they looked at him like, “Who in the world is this guy?” And as we know the story very well, their fear didn’t go away, just shifted off the wind and the waves and onto this person, Jesus, whom they thought they knew. And they didn’t.
So today, as we look at this passage, it’s actually one of those passages that when you break into it, it’s complicated and simple at the same time. Here’s what’s going to happen in this text day. John, through this vision, is going to lay out the three offices of Christ that we all know so well: Christ as prophet, Christ as priest, and Christ as king. And what you get here is not just a vision of Jesus, you get a full-orbed, complete vision of the different ways that Jesus’s attributes manifest themselves. So as you walk through this, we’re going to see Christ as the present one, Christ as the powerful one, and Christ as the proclaiming one.
Christ Is Our Ever-Present Priest
Let’s just say a few quick words about each of those. First, we start with Christ as the present one, Christ as our priest. So John starts with the priestly theme here. You can see it and we read it, look down a verse 12 again: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me. And on turning, I saw seven golden lampstands.” The context of this vision is a vision of what you might see if you were to go into the Holy Place right before the Holy of Holies where the lampstands were burning in the temple.
“And in the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man clothed with a long robe with a golden sash around his chest.” It’s fascinating here that Jesus is described in terms of what he wears. It’s really an amazing thing. Jesus’s physical appearance in the Gospels is hardly ever mentioned, hardly ever brought up. And yet this whole passage is dealing with his visual appearance. Obviously, we’re dealing with a vision; Jesus doesn’t really have seven stars in his hands. As we’ll see later, he doesn’t really manifest this on on a literal level, but on a visionary level, Jesus is presented as one wearing this robe. And it doesn’t take much investigation to realize that the robe we’re discussing here is the clothing, the exact clothing, a high priest would wear in the temple. Jesus is presented here as our priest.
What’s interesting about it is that he’s walking among the lampstands. Now, later in this passage and really in the book Revelation, it’s very clear the lampstands are the churches. And what is Jesus doing? He’s being among them. He’s in the midst of them. He is caring for them. What was the priest’s job in the tabernacle with the lampstands? The job was keep the light burning. He trims the wicks, refills the oil, makes sure those lights don’t go out. That was the job of the priest in the tabernacle or the temple. And here in this vision, Jesus is doing what? He is with and among the churches. Notice the language again; I like it in verse 13, “and in the midst of the lampstands.” Among his people. In their presence.
This is a vision of the priestly role and ministry of Christ. He is with his people.This is a vision of the priestly role and ministry of Christ. He is with his people. You could say that he is close, that he is imminent, that he is among us, that there is this personalness to him. There’s this shepherding component to him that he is present among his people. What’s amazing about this vision and you’ll see this, this is a vision of contrast. You see Jesus in all his different attributes. And this first one that John starts with is his priestly role: that he’s present, he’s among us, he’s tending to us, certainly as a priest he represents the sacrifice for us, he’s interceding on our behalf.
There’s this weird relationship we have with Christ: we’re both drawn to him and also overwhelmed by him.Now, in many ways, that’s a comfort: Christ is among his people. But as we’ll see in a moment, it cannot only be a comfort, but it can be a terror. Chist is close with his people, which on one level is fantastic. John is saying this is no distant God who’s gone off and left us on our own and hopes that we do just fine. He is in our midst. But yet when you realize he’s in our midst and you realize what he’s like in the upcoming descriptions, you’re thinking, “That’s a little frightening.” Not that different than the disciples on the boat in the Sea of Galilee: “I’m kind of glad Jesus stopped the wind and the waves, but then I’m kind of terrified by it at the same time. I’m not sure I want him in the boat. I wish he was in another boat. I wish he wasn’t even around.” And there’s this weird relationship we have with Christ: we’re both drawn to him and also overwhelmed by him.
Christ Is Our Powerful King
And so let’s move on to that second feature, Christ not only as the present one here, but secondly, Christ as the powerful one. In other words, the second feature that John highlights here is not just Christ as priest, but Christ as king. He has all these different attributes that reveal his lordship and his power and his dominion and his authority, that he reigns, that he rules, that he’s Lord.
Now, I would imagine that it’s the second category that most people sort of miss when they think about Jesus. People love the priestly side. I love this idea of a God close to me and with me and present and interceding for me. But then you say, “Oh, wait, Jesus isn’t just the lamb, he’s also the lion.” And the people are like, “I’ll just take one, thank you very much.” But what John does here is says, “Oh, he is the lion in every conceivable way.”
Let’s just look at a few of the types of language he uses here, and there’s many different kinds, we won’t say a whole lot about each of these types of phrases, but just a few to take note of. First, notice in verse 13 that the sort of opening description of Jesus is one like a Son of Man. Of course, we all know this harkens back to the Daniel 7 passage of the Son of Man figure that comes before the Ancient of Days. What’s amazing about the Son of Man figure is that he is given all dominion and authority and power to rule over all things. In other words he has put up as the judge of the whole world. He is the king. He is the Lord. He is the great and mighty one. The Son of Man figure invoked here evokes Christ’s role as powerful and mighty and glorious.
Particularly interesting, though, is that is the next description, which is shocking if you’re familiar with Daniel 7, look at verse 14: “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow.” Now, here’s what’s fascinating, if you’re familiar with Daniel 7, there’s two figures in Daniel 7, there’s the Son of Man figure who’s granted all authority, dominion, and power. We already mentioned him. But you know what’s interesting in Daniel 7? There’s also the Ancient of Days figure who sits on the throne, whose hair is white like wool. Two figures in Daniel 7, both there presented in a divine way. But you know what is interesting about what John does here in Revelation 1, is he combines them both in the person of Christ. Christ is not just the Son of Man figure in Daniel 7, but when he describes his hair as white like wool, that’s the language that was used to describe the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7. Both attributes given to the one Lord, Christ.
This is an amazing statement. We read over that and think, “OK, he has white hair, moving on.” But no, don’t miss it here. To say he has white hair is a way of saying, “Look, I’m associating Jesus with Yahweh, with the Lord of the universe, the one who sits on his throne, high and lifted up. He is the Ancient of Days.”
When was the last time you were ever sort of frightened as you thought about Christ?Another feature that adds to the power here, of course, comes right after it at the end of verse 14: “his eyes were like flames of fire.” This is a scary vision. When was the last time you were ever sort of frightened as you thought about Christ? Now, of course, we’re not called to be frightened in a way that a a lost sinner is frightened in front of God because we’re redeemed. But there is a sense in which were called to be frightened still before God. And here is one where he’s not only the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days, his eyes are like fire. And throughout the Book of Revelation and really throughout the biblical witness, it’s very clear what this is getting at, that Christ is all-seeing, that he is all-piercing. It’s another way of saying that he’s the judge of all, that there’s nothing that escapes his notice. He sees everything.
Now, if you want a reason to be a little frightened, there’s a good one, right? There’s no hiding. There’s no running. There’s no escaping. There’s nowhere to go. His eyes pierce it all. This is reminiscent of the Isaiah 6 scene when you see the Lord lifted up on his throne, which you find out later is Jesus. Yet the seraphs are flying around, they’re covered in their wings with eyes. And that is a symbolic picture of the all-knowing God, always seeing, always looking, no escaping. He is the Lord. He is the king. He is the judge.
The text goes on here, verse 15, “his feet were like burnished bronze refined in a furnace.” His power, his strength, his might, he’ll trample his foes with these feet. He is a warrior. He is a ruler. He’s a king. He’ll go to battle. Now, that kind of language, of course, is anticipating what’s going to happen in the rest of the Book of Revelation, right? The Book of Revelation as we all know is a militant-type book where Jesus is our warrior off to war. And John is getting a vision of this Jesus, probably not the meek and mild lamb Jesus, but now the warrior-king-”I’ll squash my enemies” Jesus. And who’s ultimately going to be squashed under this foot? Not just the general enemies of God, but the Satan serpent himself will be squashed under this foot. The very thing that we were promised in Genesis 3, that he would crush that serpent fully under that foot.
The last thing I’ll note here about the glory of Christ is the very end of verse 16: “his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” When we ever see descriptions of God throughout the Old Testament, that is, a description of God as glorious, as bright, as shining, as effulgence, this is the Shekinah glory cloud that would settle on the tabernacle. And of course, when you read about Jesus, his face shining like the sun, it ought to harken back to the transfiguration, when he was on the mountaintop and shone like the sun. What’s interesting here is that, John, in many ways, albeit this is a vision, is actually seeing Jesus more like he really is now than when maybe he saw him when he was incarnate on Earth. Of course, Jesus is still in the flesh now, but when I say see him as he really is, I mean the symbolic representation of his glory, the transfiguration representing his glory, his magnificence, his wonder, seeing him as king.
Now, this is the kind of thing this long list—and we’ve only touched the surface of these descriptions here that remind us that Jesus is not just imminent and close, but he is grand and glorious. And here’s the trick for us in ministry. Our temptation, when we look at those two attributes, is to decide which one we like best and which one we prefer, and we’re going to go with that and make that our main theme.
Some of us are going to go with the priestly theme and think, “That’s kind of all I’m going to talk about: I’m just going to talk about how Jesus is imminent, close, and priest and shepherd and intercessor, and that’s my main thing.” And then others of us all gravitate toward the kingship side, the lion side, and go, “Man, that’s what people need to hear. That’s what I’m going to talk about, I’m just going to harp on the glory, the might, the power, and the greatness of Christ.” And our temptation in ministry is to pick one.
What’s amazing about Jesus is that he is a multi-dimensional, multifaceted God who is both imminent and transcendent at the same timeJohn’s not laying it out for us to pick one. John doesn’t give us a choice to pick one. What’s amazing about Jesus, which is also true when you think about just the divine attributes, is that he is a multi-dimensional, multifaceted God who is both imminent and transcendent at the same time. The challenge of this passage is to embrace Christ as both.
Christ Is Our Proclaiming Prophet
Here’s a thing that’s fascinating about this passage, that Jesus is a speaking God. He has a voice, and he uses it, and he proclaims things.Of course there’s a third thing here. Christ, not just as the present one, not just as the powerful one, but Christ as the proclaiming one. Here’s where you come to the last of the three. He’s not just priest, not just king, he’s also prophet. Here’s a thing that’s fascinating about this passage, that Jesus is a speaking God. He has a voice, and he uses it, and he proclaims things. And what’s not surprising when you know the Book of Revelation is that the way he proclaims here is indicative of his power and might. You saw it at the end of verse 15: “and his voice was like the roar of many waters, and out of his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword.”
You notice in Revelation how much the mouth of Jesus is a big theme, he words he speaks. He doesn’t just rule, he doesn’t just intercede, he proclaims. And when he proclaims, that’s the method, the means, and the mechanism by which he conquers.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Niagara Falls, but every time I read this passage, I think of my visit to Niagara Falls, years ago now. If you’ve ever been there, you know what I’m getting ready to say, and if you haven’t been there, you should know what to expect. The most amazing thing about Niagara Falls is not what you see, although it is amazing, the vastness of it, the scope, the size. It’s the biggest waterfall I’ve ever seen. And I imagine if you go, you’ve probably been impressed by its size. But that’s not what’s amazing. What’s amazing is the sound. When you come up to Niagara Falls, it is a roar, it is a rush, it is a rumble. It is like thunder that does not stop and just moves on. You’re standing right next to somebody shouting in their ear and it is just roaring.
And when you go down on the boat, if you’ve ever been down there on the boat at the bottom, then you really get a sense of the power of it. And whenever I hear this passage, that his voice was like the roar of many waters, don’t think of a trickling stream here. Don’t think even of a river. Think of the absolute thunderous roar of something like Niagara Falls and even that doesn’t capture it, and it’s overwhelming.
Celebrating and Honoring Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King
This is the vision of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. And there’s so much here for us as we think about a new semester in our life at RTS, not only the balance between his kingly and priestly roles, but also the commitment to the core means of grace we so believe in: the Word of God as the primary means by which conquering takes place. It’s that sword coming out of the mouth of Christ, that is the whole reason we’re here. If we didn’t believe that the Word of God is powerful from Christ to conquer the nations, then you really ought to be studying something else. And maybe as you think about the new semester, you wish you were studying something else as you think about all the challenges ahead of you. But make make no mistake about it: you’re not wasting your time studying this because this Word will conquer the world.
As you think about the end of this passage, I’m always fascinated by John’s reaction, verse 17: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” Good to see you again, Jesus. It’s been a while. This is not your big hug-type reunion. This is absolutely getting bowled over by the glory of Christ. Every once in a while, we need that ourselves. And if John experienced that as the intimate disciple of Jesus, how much more do we need that reminder, that Christ is intimate, he’s close, he’s personal, he’s glorious, and he’s transcendent and his Word crushes Satan and conquers the world. That is a vision I hope we all can take in the new semester and be encouraged by and be motivated by.
Let’s pray together. Lord, we are grateful for this Word. We’re grateful for the way you speak to us so powerfully. Lord may we be committed to the very Word that Christ spoke as the thing that will change the nations and bring the world under your dominion. So we pray that you would bless our semester and our new year, and to that end, in Christ’s name, Amen.