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08.11.2017

Who’s in Charge around Here? | Revelation 1/4

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Revelation 1:4-8

It’s a natural question to ask in any new situation – when we enter a room where others are present, when we start work at a new company, when we visit a family. Who is the one with influence, the one who makes decisions, the one whose good opinion we need to court?

It’s a question that sharply confronted the followers of Jesus living in the province of Asia (western Turkey) at the end of the first century. The early Christian movement was emerging from Judaism, which the Roman powers had allowed as a ‘permitted religion’. But gentile followers of Jesus enjoyed no such privilege. They had learnt that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9) but were under constant pressure to confess that ‘Caesar is Lord’.

It is to such people that John wrote his revelatory-prophetic letter that we now call the Book of Revelation. He has been commissioned to write by the ‘Lord God Almighty’, the one who is the origin and the goal of the whole cosmos, displacing every god in the Roman pantheon.

God’s redemption has been effected by Jesus Christ (who has ‘freed us from our sins’). He not only ushers in the promised age to come (as ‘firstborn of the dead’) but is the rightful ruler of the present age (as ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’) though many do not yet acknowledge this. He refused to buckle under pressure, even to the point of death, and so as the ‘faithful witness’ offers an example for John’s readers to follow.

Between the Father and Jesus, John sends greetings from ‘the seven spirits’, the Holy Spirit who is not only ‘before the throne’ in God’s presence, but is also the ‘eyes of the lamb’ seeing all that is happening on earth (5:6) and speaking to us the voice of Jesus (‘These are the words… hear what the Spirit says…’, 2:1, 7).

Despite appearances to the contrary, John has a vision of the one who is really in charge. This trinitarian God knows us, knows the joys we experience and the challenges we face. This is a God who has given himself for us, and continues to speak to us and empower us with his presence. Whether in our families or our workplaces, he is the one we are called, above all others and in all circumstances, to be faithful to – just as he has promised to be faithful to us.

Ian Paul
Ian is a biblical scholar and theologian. He is Associate Minister at St Nic’s, Nottingham, and writes the widely-read blog psephizo.com. His commentary on Revelation will be published by IVP in April 2018.

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