Jesus, the eternal King

Title:Jesus, the eternal King

Aim: To recognize that Jesus is the eternal King of heaven and earth.

Scripture: Revelation 1:1–20


The apostle’s opening greeting, Revelation 1:1–8


John began his book by stating that it is a “revelation” (Rev. 1:1). The apostle used the Greek noun, apokalypsis, to describe the nature of what he was about to convey. For this reason, scholars have also called his work the Apocalypse, that is, an unveiling or disclosure of truths about God’s universal judgment and the introduction of a new era. 


John stated that God the Father gave the message to His Son, and Jesus the Messiah in turn used an angel to make it known to John. Because the message comes from the Creator, it carries His full and sovereign authority. 


The Lord is sure to fulfill the prophetic oracle, for it “must soon take place.” This does not necessarily mean all the contents of Revelation would occur in John’s near future. He was stressing that when God began to fulfill what was written, it was certain to take place swiftly.


About six decades had passed since John saw Jesus crucified, buried, and ascended into heaven. After all those years, while John was exiled on the island of Patmos, he suddenly once more saw the Savior.


This time, however, Jesus did not look the same as He had when John leaned against Him at the Last Supper. Once more, here was John’s closest friend—but now exalted and honored as the glorified Son of God. 


The apostle stressed his role as a humble servant and faithful witness in declaring the message from the Father and the truths revealed by the Son. The Savior, of course, is the preeminent witness, and He calls all of us who are believers to testify concerning Him (vv. 2, 5; see 3:14). 


“Blessed” translates the Greek adjective, makarios(1:3). The term refers to more than superficial, transient feelings of happiness. It conveys the idea of being the privileged recipient of God’s favor. 


Verse 3 is the first of seven statements of blessing (or beatitudes) recorded in Revelation (14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14; see also Ps 1:1; Matt 5:3–11). The book is unique in that it pronounces not only judgment on the wicked, but also the Lord’s approval on those who read and heed what is written in the prophetic oracle.


Many ancient letters began with the name of the author, the name of the recipients, and a salutation. This was followed by the main body of the letter and then a closing greeting. In Revelation, we find these same conventional literary elements.


The sender was John and his recipients were the seven churches located in the Roman province of Asia (the western portion of modern-day Turkey). The traditional greeting of grace and peace is expanded into a confession about the Father’s reign and the lordship of the Son (v. 4). The main portion of the book (1:9–22:19) is considered the body of the work, while 22:20-22 is the apostle’s farewell.


In John’s greeting, he referred to all three members of the Godhead, saying that the apostle’s words came from the Father, the Spirit, and the Son. In referring to God the Father, John stressed the Creator’s eternal existence. God sovereignly governs all time, including the past, the present, and the future (1:4). 


The reference to God is a form of the divine name recorded in Exodus 3:14-15. The passage reveals that the Creator is not an impersonal, cosmic force. Instead, He is eternal in His preexistence, as well as continually and actively present in the lives of His chosen people.


The mention of the “seven spirits” (Rev. 1:4) could be a reference to seven angels who stand before the throne of God (8:2). However, John may have been symbolically referring to the perfection and completion of the Holy Spirit and His ministry (Isa. 11:2; Rev. 4:5).


Jesus is the one who bore witness to the Father right up until the end of the Son’s earthly ministry (1 Tim 6:13). Even during His atoning sacrifice on the cross, He never compromised the truth about the Father. In turn, the Father raised the Son from the dead, and for this reason, He will never die again. 


As the sovereign Lord, the Son is exalted as ruler over all. Appropriately, John praised the Savior for His eternal glory and power (Rev. 1:5-6).


John followed his doxology with a description of the second coming of the Messiah, which is a major theme in Apocalypse (1:7). In this verse, the apostle echoed two prophetic passages from the Old Testament. 


In a vision, Daniel saw “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13). Later, Zechariah recorded the Lord’s words: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him” (Zech. 12:10).


At Jesus’ second coming, none will doubt that He is Lord. People will mourn either because of the judgment that is about to fall on them or because of the sins they have committed (Rev. 1:7; see Matt. 24:30; 25:31-33). 


The Lord declared that He is the “Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8). Alphaand omegaare the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. 


The Creator’s declaration is an example of a merism. This term denotes a figure of speech that rhetorically places together two extreme opposites to refer to an entire spectrum. 


In the above case, verse 8 reveals that the triune God is the beginning and the end of all things. Indeed, His lordship encompasses the past, the present, and the future.


The apostle’s vision of the risen Messiah, Revelation 1:9–16


John wrote the Apocalypse during a period of exile and suffering on the island of Patmos (1:9). At that moment in history, Rome persecuted Christians, demanded that they renounce their faith, and pressured them to worship the emperor. 


It is quite possible that the elderly apostle was sentenced to hard labor in the rock quarries on this island for refusing to deny the Lord. Some experts think John wrote the book during the persecution that occurred under the reign of Nero (A.D. 64–68), while other experts maintain John authored Revelation during the reign of Vespasian (A.D. 69–79). 


Though there are symbolic images in Revelation that may refer to either Nero or Vespasian, the evidence suggests that the apostle penned the book later, during the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81–96). Throughout this period, emperor worship was prevalent all over the empire—a problem that was addressed in Revelation. For this reason, many scholars think John wrote Revelation around A.D. 95.


While the second coming of the Messiah is a major focus of the Apocalypse, the suffering of believers is also an important concern. John said the authorities had exiled him to Patmos because he had preached the gospel and witnessed for Jesus. Just as John’s readers were enduring mistreatment for their faith, he was also suffering for identifying with the Messiah (1:9). 


Patmos is a small, volcanic, and mostly treeless island about 35 miles off the coast of Asia Minor and about 70 miles southwest of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea. Patmos is 10 miles long from north to south and six miles wide along the northern coast. The island was an ideal spot for a Roman prison colony. The government routinely banished dissidents there to work in the mines.


The writings of Irenaeus and Eusebius state that the authorities exiled John to Patmos in A.D. 95, which was during the reign of Domitian (A.D. 81–96). The government then released the apostle from the island and returned him to Ephesus in A.D. 96, when Nerva became emperor (A.D. 96–98). Irenaeus wrote that John lived into the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98–117) and served as the leader of the church at Ephesus.


John said he was in the Spirit “on the Lord’s Day” (v. 10). Some think the apostle was referring to the end-time day of the Lord, when God would bring judgment on the wicked. Most likely, John was referring to Sunday, the first day of the week. Early within church history, believers gathered on Sunday to worship the Lord and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). 


The phrase “in the Spirit” (Rev. 1:10) refers to John’s exalted, visionary state. He was under the control of the Spirit in a special way. He enabled the apostle to see the unfolding events of Revelation from distinctive vantage points (4:2; 17:3; 21:10). 


John remembered hearing a loud voice that sounded like a trumpet. Most likely, he heard the intense, penetrating voice of the risen Savior, who was about to commission His bondservant for his upcoming, prophetic task. 


Jesus commanded John to write on a scroll what he was about to see. This document was probably a roll of papyrus or leather (1:11). The Savior directed the apostle to send the message he received to seven churches in Asia Minor.


The cities listed in verse 11 were about 50 miles apart from each other and formed a rough semicircle, starting with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea. It is unclear why Jesus chose these seven congregations, for there were others in the region of at least equal importance—for example, Troas, Colossae, and Hierapolis. 


Some think the seven cities were part of a transportation network, while others maintain they were postal centers for seven different regions. Although John addressed his book to seven particular churches, his message is still applicable to believers today.


When John turned around to see who was speaking to him, he saw seven golden lampstands (v. 12). The apostle also saw the Messiah standing among the lampstands, which verse 20 says represented the seven churches. Jesus was there to walk among His followers in times of hardship, to guide them in times of uncertainty, and to discipline them in times of moral laxity.


In language reminiscent of Daniel 7:13, John referred to Jesus as being “like a son of man” (v. 13). “Son of Man” is the title Jesus most often used to refer to Himself. It emphasizes His deity, messiahship, suffering, redemptive work, and humanity (Matt. 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 26:64; Mark 2:10; 8:31; 10:45; John 1:51).


John saw the Messiah wearing the full-length robe of a high priest (Exod. 28:4; 29:5). A sash was fastened to His robe and made from gold, which was appropriate for the exalted Lord. 


The Savior’s white head and hair symbolized His purity, majesty, and divine authority (Rev. 1:14; see Isa. 1:18; Dan. 7:9). His eyes radiating like fire may denote His penetrating insight.


Jesus’ feet glowing like red-hot bronze highlighted His stability and strength, while His booming voice reflected His awe-inspiring power (Rev. 1:15). These were suitable symbols for the one who judges all evil and who goes into the presence of the Father on behalf of those who have believed in Son (John 5:26-27; Heb. 9:11-14).


John said that the Messiah held seven stars in His right hand (Rev. 1:16), which verse 20 says are the angels of the seven churches. In ancient times the right hand was a symbol of authority and blessing. Also, in Roman times, stars appeared on coins as a symbol of imperial power. The imagery of verse 16 suggests that the Son, not the Roman emperor or any other evil entity (such as Satan), had absolute control over His people, as well as their temporal and eternal destinies.


John noted that a long, sharp, two-edged sword came out of the Savior’s mouth. This is a symbol of both the Word of God and divine judgment(Isa. 11:4; 49:2; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 19:15). The majestic splendor of the risen Lord is evident from the appearance of His face, which beamed like the sun at its brightest time in the day (usually noon). In fact, the light of His glory is so brilliant that no one can approach it (1 Tim. 6:16).


The Messiah’s instructions to John, Revelation 1:17–20


As John stood before the Savior, the apostle was so overcome with fear and reverence that he dropped to his knees as if he were a dead person (Rev. 1:17). Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel had similar responses when suddenly exposed to the glorified presence of the eternal Creator (Isa. 6:5; Ezek. 1:28; Dan. 8:17). 


The risen and exalted Savior touched John, both to strengthen him physically and comfort him emotionally. Jesus told John not to be afraid, for the Son is the “First and the Last” (Rev. 1:17). This divine title (another example of a merism) appears elsewhere in Scripture in reference to the Lord (Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). It means the same thing as the title, “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8).


At the time John wrote Revelation, the Roman government was pressuring believers to renounce the Messiah and declare the emperor to be their lord. Jesus’ words to John emphasized why it was wrong to do so. 


All human authorities were mortal and limited, whereas the Savior is immortal and infinite in power. The pagan deities of Rome were lifeless, whereas Jesus is the “Living One” (v. 18). This means His essential nature is characterized by life.


Not even the grave could hold the Savior. Though He died on the cross and was buried in a tomb, the Messiah rose from the dead and now lives forevermore. His victory through the Resurrection enabled Him to control the keys of death and Hades (the abode of the dead). 


In ancient times, keys were symbols for authority. Also, death and Hades were considered places where people were bound and held captive. Jesus wanted His followers to know that He alone had the power and the authority to free them from the shackles of death and give them eternal life.


The Messiah gave John specific instructions. The apostle was to write what he had seen, what was now taking place, and would take place later (v. 19). 


Whether the preceding verse contains a basic outline of the Apocalypse remains a matter of debate. What is clear is that each portion of Revelation deals with issues relating to the past, the present, and the future. 


Some consider verse 19 to be a possible threefold division of the whole book. The promises and vision of the risen Messiah recorded in chapter 1 would be what John had seen. Jesus’ letters to the seven churches, which are recorded in chapters 2 and 3, could be what is taking place now. Also, all that is recorded in chapters 4 through 22 would be what will take place in the future. 


Another possibility is that the clause “write . . . what you have seen” (1:19) is the Savior’s main directive and reiterates what He had commanded in verse 11. The remaining portion of verse 19, therefore, would give further details. In other words, as John wrote what he had seen, he was to comment on what now was taking place and what would take place later.


For thought and application


Our English word, praise,comes from the old French term, preisier, which means “to prize.” When we think about it, we can see the relationship between the two. Before we can praise anything, we must first come to know and place a high value on it. We can only praise what we prize. 


How perfectly the above observation relates to praising Jesus. Without first knowing Him intimately and personally, we cannot adequately respect and worship Him.


Since the Messiah has died for our sins and has changed our lives, we should say so. If we have found Him to be the one who hears our prayers, let us report it. 


Let us also joyfully recount every good and perfect deed that the Lord Jesus has done. To an age that has lost its way, despairs of finding truth, and seeks to discover life worth living, let us prize and praise the Messiah for what He has done for us.


We may tend to minimize the despair and darkness of those who saw Jesus’ death because we know that He rose from the dead. Yet, when Jesus was crucified, the first-century disciples did not yet know the rest of the account. 


At times, our position is like our spiritual predecessors. This side of heaven we see only death and despair, when in reality God has rescued us from both and is preparing a place for us with Him in heaven (John 14:1-2).


Jesus’ victory over death is the foundation for our faith and the source of our hope. Paul stressed that we can stand on these two unshakable historical facts: Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4). 


Also, if preceding victory over death had not occurred, our faith would be in vain and those who die would be truly lost (vv. 17-18). Thankfully, Jesus rose from the dead, and His resurrection is just the first, for all believers will follow in His path (v. 20).


Through the Son’s resurrection, the Father has rewritten the presumed ending of our life accounts. Death is just the beginning of a new chapter in our walk with Him. 


The resurrection hope should shine in our moments of darkness, reminding us that the tomb that temporarily held Jesus’ body was empty. Moreover, we can join all believers in giving thanks to the Father for the victory we have through faith in the Son (v. 57).

Professor Dan Lioy (PhD, North-West University) holds several faculty appointments. He is the Senior Research Manager at South African Theological Seminary (in South Africa). Also, he is a professor of biblical theology at the Institute of Lutheran Theology (in South Dakota). Moreover, he is a dissertation advisor in the Leadership and Global Perspectives DMIN program at Portland Seminary (part of George Fox University in Oregon). Finally, he is a professor in the School of Continuing Theological Studies at North-West University (in South Africa). Professor Lioy is active in local church ministry, being dual rostered with the Evangelical Church Alliance and the North American Lutheran Church. He is widely published, including a number of academic monographs, peer-reviewed journal articles, and church resource products.