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We began the service by reading from Mary’s song. When God visited Mary, he visited Mary as that baby thing that she held in her arms, that she wrapped with strips of cloth, and that she nursed. But when God came to announce the birth of the baby, when the Angel of the Lord came to announce the birth of the baby, she was terrified and had to be comforted by the words “Fear not.”  

The vision of Jesus that John has is completely different from what Mary saw. He has a vision; you notice that the vision as we’ve read it this morning is made up of images that have been utilized by John under the Holy Spirit’s governance. He talks about stars, and sun, and gold, and bronze, a robe, and a sash, a voice like a trumpet, a mouth with a sharp two-edged sword, a face like the sun shining in its strength. Wherever in the Bible you find somebody trying to describe God, they have to utilize language taken from the creation, from the universe that God has made. Because God has made it, you can utilize any material, the smallest atom, you can utilize it in describing who God is. You’ll never actually describe God because God is invisible, but you will have a picture of what God is in terms of the all-inclusiveness of his being. And that that’s put on display in the things that have been made. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that you look at the universe, you see a display of the eternal power and divine nature of God that can be clearly perceived even by fallen men and women. 

The human form that John saw, of course, was Mary’s little Lamb. The Mary, the same Jesus that Mary held. But John did not see him the way Mary saw him just in the flesh, John sees this Jesus now glorified, and in the vision it’s his deity, it’s his Godhead that is foregrounded. And it’s his Godhead that John finds so overwhelming in this vision.  

Now this is not a new thing in the Bible, when you go to Song of Songs which is one of the most theological books in the Bible, that describes the relationship between Christ and the Church, and God and Israel. The woman in the story represents the people of God – the church — as the woman does, in fact, throughout all of Scripture. The bride of Christ, the wife of Jehovah, and very often the daughters of Jerusalem are a description of the church, the people of God, who are loved by God, sought by Christ, married into the royal family, and we become part of God’s eternal purpose. Now when she is describing to her friends this beloved one about whom she’s been speaking, this beloved one whom she’s been avoiding at points in the story, when she describes him, you realize immediately that she has never seen him. Her description of him is very similar to the description of the Lord Jesus we have here in Revelation chapter 1. She utilizes images of metal and bronze and so on, these material images to describe God. You find the same thing in the book of Ezekiel. When Ezekiel has a vision of God – I’m going to take a snapshot out of what Ezekiel says. In Ezekiel chapter 1, he says that he saw 

“the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of the throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him…. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”  

Ezekiel 1:26-28

What is Ezekiel saying? What is the woman saying in Song of Songs? What is John saying here? He is saying when you see God in his glory you cannot really put it into – you cannot describe it, it’s indescribable! All you can do is utilize the images that God has left in creation which speak forth his power, and his strength, and his being, and that’s what John does here. And he adds this little bit, he adds that this one that he saw had a human form, he was one like the son of man. Because he’s describing God in the flesh, he’s describing God. The God who visited Mary as the little baby thing that she held in her hands. Ezekiel tells us that when he saw his vision he was overwhelmed, and he sat like that for seven days and his friends watched him just overwhelmed with what he’d seen. When Isaiah had a vision of God, when he saw the Lord high and exalted in the temple, we’re told that immediately he felt as if he was coming apart.  

“Woe is me,” he said, “for I am undone.”  

Isaiah 6:5

I’m coming apart, my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. When Daniel had a vision of God, we’re told that he was frightened and fell on his face. And here John now tells us that when he has this vision of the glory of Jesus, 

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.”  

Revelation 1:17

Now what was it, what was it that literally floored John in the presence of the glory of Jesus. What was it? Well, it was simply this – he had a vision of the glory of God in Jesus. Now like all Jews and Christians, we have a view of what God is like. We know that God is invisible, we know that God transcends all reality, that he’s inside and outside of all reality. We know that God cannot be localized. Sometimes he chooses to localize himself, he says, “I’ll come visit you at the temple. I’ll come visit you at the tabernacle. I’ll come visit you especially when you gather as God’s people, Lord’s day by Lord’s day. I’ll come and meet you there.” He chooses to do that, but he is everywhere all the time, and everything has its existence, in God. You know the polytheist says, “God is in everything.” The Christian says, “God is in everything, outside of everything, and everything is in God, because God is everywhere. 

He is spirit, pure spirit, and he sustains everything. John has a vision here, and as Austin Fowler says,  

“The Jesus whom John sets before us here is not the man of Nazareth transfigured.”  

When Jesus was alive, you remember, James, and John and Peter saw Jesus transfigured before their eyes. This is not that experience. Fowler says,  

“He sees not the man of Nazareth transfigured, but the Divine glory personified.” 

You know God used to reveal himself to people and they called it, they talked about the glory of God – something that God had created in order to give people a sense that he was there. Moses saw it when he saw a flame burning – self-fueling flame burning – it looked as if a bush was burning but the bush wasn’t burning, the flame fueled itself, and out of the flame God speaks to him. When Israel was being led through the wilderness, you remember, they were led through the wilderness by a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, and when they stopped that pillar parked itself right in the center of the camp of Israel. It was called the glory of Israel. When they consecrated the temple, the glory came and landed on the Holy of Holies in the temple as a signal that God was there in his glory. And when Jesus came in his human nature, when he arrived, John says, “We saw his glory.” “We saw his glory.” Glory then is something created that tells you that God is present. 

And when Jesus came in is in his human flesh – his human flesh is a created thing like ours – and in human flesh and that created stuff, he showed us the presence and the power of God. So John knows then that he’s in the presence of God and his divine glory. He knows also that no one can see God and live, and so he fell at his feet as though dead. Now he had a similar experience when Jesus the man of Nazareth was transfigured. The story is told in the Gospels, in Matthew chapter 17 that when Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured his physical form, his human form shot through with the splendor of God. When they saw that, they tell us that they fell on their faces and were terrified. And back then and in the past of his experience, Jesus had come and touched them and said “Rise, and have no fear.” But here it’s not Jesus transfigured John sees; this is God personified that he sees. But it’s the same God that he knew while Jesus was there in the flesh. He remembers this is the Jesus on whose shoulder that he leaned when he leaned over to ask him a question of the Last Supper. This was the same Jesus, it’s the same Jesus, who responds to John as he waits before him in utter fear. Fear because Jesus had said only “the pure in heart shall see God,” and he’s filled with a sense of his own impurity, just as Isaiah was.  

And Jesus comes to him, and here’s how you survive being in the presence of God, Jesus comes to you. And Jesus says to John,  

“Fear not, I am.” 

Revelation 1:17

Using the very language that God had taught to Moses, when Moses asked, “who shall I say sent me?” God had replied, “I am that I am”, and then he’d explained that his name meant “I am.” What is the feature of God that we learn from this? It is that God is self-existent, that God is not dependent on anything other than himself, that he is self-fueling like the flame was, that he does not need us, he has no need of anything we may give to him. Because God is God and God belongs to a different category than creaturely existence.  

Jesus says “Fear not, I am.” There was once when they were in the sea, and their little boat was being tossed hither and thither by the wind and the waves, and they saw what they thought was a mirage. They thought they saw a hallucination, something was coming towards them, and they realized that here was Jesus walking on the water out to them, and they thought wind and water and waves and storm – who walks on the storm? And they were good Jews, they knew their Psalms, they sang them every, every Sabbath day, and they remembered the Psalms. It said that the Lord walks upon the storm, and the Lord rides upon the waves, and the Lord stills the storm. They were terrified when they saw this. And Jesus comes to them and he says to them, 

“mê phobou egô eimi” 
“Fear not, I am.” 

And here in the sense of desperation that he had that he was in the presence of deity, the Lord Jesus comes to him and comforts him. “Fear not, I am.” John had heard him say,  

“Before Abraham was, I am.”  

John 8:58

He’s being reminded of the unchanging, the unchanging, the immutable Christ. But he goes on, Christ goes on: 

“I am the first and the last, and the living one.” 

Revelation 1:17

We’ve already seen the use of this in verse eight:  

“I’m the Alpha and the Omega,” 

Revelation 1:8

the first and last letters of the Hebrew, of the of the Greek alphabet, says the Lord God,  

“who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” 

Revelation 1:8

It’s used seven times, this phrase is used seven times in the book of Revelation, to mark the wholeness, the completeness, and the perfection of this description.  

“I am the first and the last.” 

Revelation 1:17

These words derive from the book of Isaiah. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord God of Israel says,  

“I, Yahweh, the Lord, the first and with the last I am.” 

Isaiah 41:4

God remains above everything, outside of everything, he is. He is the Lord. “I am,” God says. He’s talking to Israel with its history, ups and downs, defeats, and victories, and he says, “I am. I write over history. I raise up some power, I raise up some potentate, and then I bring them crashing down, all in accordance with my will. But I, the Lord, don’t have a beginning and I don’t have an end. I, the Lord, have no genealogy. I am the first, that is, I am the first cause of all causes. I am the first, God says, and at the end there will be nothing after me. I am the great goal, the great purpose, the great end towards which everything is moving inexorably within time. I am the first and the last.”  

This is what distinguishes God from the idols of the nations. Isaiah again in chapter 44,  

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and Israel’s Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no god.'”  

Isaiah 44:6

The sovereign Lord, the sole Creator, the self-existent God, the King and Redeemer of his people, the one who does not derive his life or his divine nature from anywhere, unlike the idols who have to be made, forged in a furnace, or chipped away at with wood instruments. He is the first because he is the originator of everything, and he is the last, he is the great and supreme goal of all that has been made. The first of all causalities, the origin and the goal of history.  

“I am the first and I am the last, my hand laid the foundations of the earth, my right hand spread out the sky and, when I call to them they all stand forth.” 

Isaiah 48:13

This is the one who comes to John and says, “Fear not, I am the first and I am the last.” You can depend on me. There’s nothing gets out from between my purposes, of who I am. Not only that, Jesus says,  

“I am the living one.” 

Revelation 1:18

He is claiming here to be the living God, to have life, life in itself. This is how Israel referred to God.  

“The living God is among you,”

Joshua 3:10

In the Psalms, for example, the Psalmist says,  

“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I see and appear before God? My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” 

Psalm 42:2

Jesus says, “I am the living one.” In John’s gospel Jesus says,  

“For the Father has life in himself, and he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”  

John 5:26

What that’s saying is that God is living by nature, by essence. He is a living God, and all that God the Father is as the living God, God the Son has as the living God. The Father has life in himself, and eternally he gives life in himselfness to his Son. And the Son and the Father give life in itselfness to the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Life. Life, livingness, is what it means to be the very essence of God. And Jesus says that he is the living God. As Son, he’s eternally, he eternally receives his divine nature as life from the Father. That’s not to say there was a time when he didn’t have life, for he existed eternally as living, produced by the Father as living with all the life of God. If it is the nature of the Father to have life, and if it is of the nature of the Son to have life, then it is clear that the Son has life in himself. By his very origin, he has a nature indivisible from that of the Father. So that’s what Jesus is claiming when he says, “I am the life.” 

As the living one who is the first and the last, Jesus is placing himself within the God of Israel. Now here’s the shocking thing. He goes on to say immediately, having said,  

“I am the living one”, he says, “I became dead.” 

Revelation 1:18

The translation we’re using, the ESV, says, “I died.” They miss out a word here in the Greek, the word “became” is used; “I became dead.” This timelessly eternal, ever-living One who possesses life by nature as God is saying, “I became dead.” In the flow of the grammar here, the word “became” is opposed to that, is opposed in the text to that statement, “I am.” That statement embraces everything to do with existing and being and living. “I am.” It has everything to do with unchangingness. “I am.” Then we find this word “became.” Jesus had said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Then the other word “dead” is opposed to the word “living”. “I am the living one,” but here he’s saying, “I became dead.” The Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter 2, he brings this juxtaposition together like this, he says,  

“He who was in the form of God, became obedient to death.”  

Philippians 2:6

How did he do that? By becoming a servant, by becoming a human being. He became a servant, and as a human being he became obedient to death, even death on the cross. Scott Swain puts it like this,  

“Here is the wonder of Christmas: that the God who is God without us, the living God, wills to be God for us, with us, and in us.” 

Scott Swain

Now I want to pick out this word that’s omitted in the ESV here. I want to pick out this word because this word is used in by John elsewhere, and it’s significant for us at Christmas time, because we use it at Christmas time. We often read from John chapter 1 in the Gospel. There in John chapter 1 we read this, 

“The Word became flesh.”  

John 1:14

And what this passage in Revelation is teaching us is this, The Word became flesh so that the Son could become dead. God can’t die. God can’t suffer. The Word became flesh so that he in our flesh could experience what we experience in a human way, as a human being, and as a human being living a human life he suffered. He suffered all the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that you and I endure, and he suffered ultimately crucifixion and death.  

I have to say this though, when he says that he became flesh and became dead, it’s the same one who can say “I am,” and that “I am the first and the last,” and “I am the living one.” The same person who becomes a son of man, a human being, earlier on in this chapter, and it’s this human being, the same one who is as a human being says, “I became dead.”  

Why did he become dead? Because he’d come alongside us so that he could tell us “I know how you feel”? I mean that’s… I sometimes wear a kilt, and on a windy day kilts don’t afford much protection for your bare legs. On a windy day I can say to a woman who wears a dress or a skirt – few men can do this, by the way — I can say, “I know how you feel.” But that doesn’t really help anything. Jesus taking on our flesh and just living our human life could, and saying to us, “Uh, I, I know how you guys feel, because I’ve been human, and I’ve lived a human life like you have.” He didn’t just come just to identify with us, he came to die for us. He came to die for us, he came to take our punishment on himself. He came to the life of obedience so that his obedience could be credited to us who are disobedient. But he came to die in order that you and I could be reconciled to God. 

Well, Jesus says, “I became dead.” And then he says, and I’m going to, I’m going to just tell you what it says literally in the Greek here without using the Greek. He then says, 

“Behold, living I am.” That’s the order of the words in the Greek: “Behold, living I am unto the ages of ages.” 

I want you to notice there’s a very clear difference between the end of that sentence and the beginning. This is not now him speaking as the living One, that is, as God. No, this is talking now about his restored human life that had died. He has now been raised from the dead. This is, the second livingness, is not his essential deity, his essential Godhood. No, this is resurrected life, and he tells us that in his risen life he has entered into that divine life. It is a sharing in the divine life that was his without any break in it throughout his earthly life, throughout his death, his period of death. That divine life of the Son of God was never altered, touched, tainted in any way. He continued on, upholding the universe by the word of his power. He’d be filling the universe by his very invisible presence, even as his human nature was killed on the cross. And what he’s saying now is in my human nature now living, I have entered as a human into the divine life, that is, from the ages to the ages. That phrase “unto the ages of the ages” is only ever used of God in the Bible and later on in chapter 4, it’s used of the Father, him who is seated on the throne, who lives from the ages to the ages. But here Christ in his human nature shares in that eternal life of God. And here’s the thing, everybody who is in Christ shares what Jesus shares. 

So when he says that he is now living again, “Behold, living I am. I was dead. Behold, living I am, John, this has implications for you, this has implications for everybody who’s going to read this chapter, this is implications for everybody in Tenth Presbyterian in December of 2020. Living I am.” And as the Apostle Paul says, 

“Because he lives, we shall live also.”  

And how long are we going to live? We’re going to live as long as God lives – from the ages to the ages. Well, “this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus goes on to say,  

“I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  

Revelation 1:18

When he died, his soul descended into Hades, the abode of the dead, like every other believer in the Old Covenant who, when they died, their spirit went to be with God in a place, as the Jews believed, where they enjoyed paradise in the presence of God. Well, Jesus goes where every soul goes; he was a believer. On the cross we learned that that even on the cross in his human nature, in spite of what he’s going through, he believes in God. He draws our attention to Psalm 22. And in Psalm 22, it’s the voice of the believer that’s speaking. He was a believer, and when he dismissed his spirit, his soul, his human soul went where human souls go. And in that place where human souls go after death, Jesus showed himself. He showed himself to those who had believed in him throughout the Old Testament period, wherever they in the world had to put their trust in him, he showed himself to them, he declared himself to them, he led captivity captive, he broke the gates of bronze and the bars of iron asunder. He ascended up in high and he took captivity captive and gave gifts to men.  

This One who became flesh and became dead, came alive again. And he says to John, “Behold, I live. John, I’ve overcome death. I live forever in the power of an endless life. John, I’ve come to you to say, “Fear not.’ You have no need to fear me. It’s a good thing that I’ve been glorified. It’s a good thing that you’re seeing me now as God, because that’s your destiny.”  

It’s your destiny that one day you will see him, you will see the King in his beauty. One day you will see God face to face in the face of the One that John saw in his vision. This is your destiny – it is to be glorified, beatified. It is to have that beatific vision of God that comes to those that that believe in him, and that is a great reward the pure in heart shall see God. “As eternal God I was living; as a human in your nature, John, I who was living became dead. I did not become dead as God, I became dead as man, but it was me – the same one who’s the Living One, who in my human nature suffered and died for you.”  

That person that is God died for you, not as God, but in his human nature. In his human nature he could be hurt, he could be sad, he could be just like you and me, and he could suffer, and he could die. Mary’s little baby is now the glorified and exalted Lord, and his exaltation is the basis for our hope, that by union to him he will share with us the glory that he now has. What does it say about the believer? It says the believer will be glorified. That’s the language of Godhood.  

Now the Western Church has shied away from the early, the early Christians who talked about deification, that is, having God qualities and so on. Wrongly so. What is eternal life except an attribute of God which he promises as a gift to those who believe in Jesus? When it says we’re going to be glorified and have bodies like Jesus’ glorious body, here is Jesus, God in the flesh. We are to share in the glory of Jesus. You will be like him when you see him as he is. This is mind-blowing stuff. One day he’s going to bring us away from the land of the dying where we live just now, and to the land of the living where we share with him that eternal life that belongs to God.  

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