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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC Evening service, 2014-04-27

Text: Revelation 1:4-6

The first thing we notice in this passage is that it was originally written to the seven churches in Asia. This does not refer to the continent that is called Asia today, but to the Roman province of Asia which was on the western part of present-day Turkey. These seven churches were located along a road which begins at Ephesus on the coast, moved north through Smyrna and Pergamum turning east through Thyatira, then south to Sardis, southeast to Philadelphia and finally ending at Laodicea. One question that is often asked is, “Why was the Book of Revelation addressed only to these seven churches?” Various answers have been given, e.g. some think that these seven churches represent seven ages of church history. Others think that seven is the number of completeness, and since this number is used 54 times in the book as a symbol of perfection, the number of churches addressed in it is limited to seven just to follow the same pattern.

The best explanation comes from understanding the unique relationship of John the Apostle with these seven churches, and what was happening to them when this book was written. Although these churches were established mainly through Paul’s ministry, they came under the care of John the Apostle after Paul died in AD 67. John took up residence at Ephesus and there he wrote his Gospel and his epistles which are 1, 2 and 3 John. From there he visited these churches regularly and exercised good pastoral care over them, even protecting them against false teachers like Cerinthus and false doctrines like Gnosticism.

Things became extremely difficult for Christians when Domitian became the emperor of the Roman Empire in 81 AD. Domitian was a cruel tyrant who wanted everyone to acknowledge him as Lord and God. When the Christians refused to do this, he persecuted them severely and turned everyone against them by blaming them for famines, earthquakes and plagues that affected any province in the empire. Many Christians were forced to renounce their faith in Christ. Some were killed, and many like John, were imprisoned or exiled. Let us read verse 9 to see where John was exiled: “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

Patmos was a small island (about the same size as Jurong island) located off the west coast of Turkey. During his exile there, John was most concerned for all the Christians in the seven churches of Asia since they were directly under his care. He knew what they were going through – their problems, their trials and their need for strength and encouragement in the midst of persecution. During his exile John must have prayed fervently that God would help and protect them. Then one day, the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to John on the island of Patmos and gave him messages for the seven churches. These messages, which revealed the glorious future they should all look forward to, became the Book of Revelation in our Bible.

And what an awesome revelation it turned out to be, even to John! Through it, John was assured that in the midst of the most severe trials of life, the Christian’s greatest encouragement is always to be found in Jesus Christ and in the glorious work that He is doing in the lives of His people. This is reflected in the preface of the book which is the passage we read a while ago. Here in verses 4-6, we find three wonderful truths that we must focus on, in order to persevere as followers of Christ:

I. The Supreme Excellence of Christ’s Person (vv.4,5a)

A. As God the Son

You will notice that in John’s greeting to the seven churches in v.4, grace and peace is bestowed upon them from three sources. The first source is ‘Him which is, and which was and which is to come.’ This refers to God the Father. The second source is ‘the seven Spirits which are before His throne.’ This refers to the God the Holy Spirit. And in v.5 the third source is Jesus Christ, who is God the Son. I am sure you can recognise that together, these three are the Holy Trinity – One God in three persons! You will also notice that much more is mentioned about the Son than about the Father and the Spirit – He is the subject of vv.5 and 6, and continuing beyond that into vv.7 and 8. This does not make Him greater than the other two persons in the Trinity. All three persons in the Trinity are of equal essence, rank, honour and power.

But what John wanted to do here is to present Jesus within the context of the Trinity. He wanted his readers to see that Jesus Christ is none other than God the Son, of the very same essence as God the Father and God the Spirit from all eternity! This would convince them never to acknowledge Emperor Domitian as Lord and God and to renounce their faith in Christ. And we likewise, ought to persevere faithfully as followers of Christ, because He is none other than the Almighty God Himself. God is supreme. He is infinitely greater than any human king or government in authority. Instead of fearing what the most powerful men can do to us, we should fear what Christ can do to us. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 – “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

B. As the Faithful Witness

Besides being God the Son, Jesus is the faithful witness. This title describes His function of revealing God to man. It is similar to what John wrote at the beginning of his Gospel when he designated Jesus as ‘theWord’ – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He is the divine logos, the living Word who is the express image of God’s person. John clearly wanted his readers to take Jesus as their only reliable source of revelation from God. This would counsel them never to accept other sources of revelation, and particularly the many false teachers who troubled the seven churches. We likewise must take Jesus as our only authoritative source of truth from God, since He is the Faithful Witness. In today’s world religious pluralism is widely accepted and upheld, and those like us who claim that Jesus is the only way to God are despised as bigoted extremists. Every view about God and salvation is held as valid truth.

It was recently reported in the news that the Prime Minister of England was severely criticised for saying the Britain is still a Christian country. What a difference this is from the times of the Reformation and the Great Awakening when the majority of English people were not ashamed of Christ and even brought the Gospel around the world. Let us be careful not to follow the trend of religious pluralism by being reminded that Jesus is the Faithful Witness of God for us. And that’s not all. Jesus is also…

C. As the First-begotten of the Dead

This is the next thing that is mentioned in v.5 of our passage. It highlights the resurrection of Christ, the glorious event which was celebrated last Sunday. In John 14:19 Jesus told His disciples, “…because I live, ye shall live also.” This great assurance is now echoed to the seven churches through the description of Jesus as ‘the first-begotten of the dead. It would bring comfort to those who had to die for refusing to renounce Christ during Domitian’s persecution. So what if they are beheaded, fed to the lions or burned at the stake? They know that they will resurrect from the dead and have new indestructible bodies. We can likewise overcome all fear of death by looking to Jesus as the first-begotten of the dead. Unlike others, we Christians face death not with despair but with hope and joy of the better life to come.

One reason why many of us are not living as joyfully and courageously as we ought to be is that we do not focus enough on Jesus Christ. We focus instead on our own fears and failures and on the fearful situation we are in. We must change our focus. Look instead at Jesus who is God the Son, the Faithful Witness and the First-begotten of the dead and you see what a difference it makes. And besides all that you must look at Jesus…

D. As the Prince of the Kings of the Earth

This is the next description of Jesus in v.5 of our passage, and it reveals that though earthly rulers may seem to have great power right now, they cannot exert more power than what Jesus allows them to have. When they overstep the limits, He will remove them easily. This truth would compel the seven churches to submit to Christ’s greater authority rather than that of the Roman Emperor. When Domitian issued his decree for Christians to renounce their faith in Christ and to proclaim himself Lord and God, he actually decreed his own doom. In AD 96, he was assassinated and the Roman senate immediately condemned the memory of his reign to oblivion. The news of his death not only brought great relief to Christians then, but it would have reminded them that Christ is the undisputed ruler of the world, the King of kings and Lord of lords!

Perhaps some of us may be worried that the confrontation in Ukraine may soon escalate into conflict and war, or that North Korea may be become bolder under its present president. As we watch government authorities flaunting their power in the world’s affairs today, let us remember that in reality Jesus is the one who rules over all. None of them can ever do more than what He allows. So whenever we have to choose to obey men or obey the Lord Jesus, let us be careful always choose to obey Him.

And there is an even better reason for us to obey Him rather than others: No one has ever loved us like Jesus. This leads us now to the second important truth from this passage:

II. The Sacrificial Efforts of Christ’s Love (vv.5b)

We see this in v.5 – “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” This is really the highest point of the passage, where John brings out so well the full glory of the magnificent love of Jesus for us. Let us savour each part of this wonderful description. First of all, we see…

A. The Unworthy Objects of His Love

The ones whom Jesus loved were not the most lovable creatures. In our own human thinking, someone of such supreme excellence as we have just seen surely deserves to love and be loved by objects that are worthy of His excellence. And most high-ranking leaders prefer to make friends with people who are like them. When they throw lavish dinner parties their invited guests would usually be the elite members of society. The ‘rich and famous’ are the ones who get to enjoy their company and hospitality.

But who are the ones whom Jesus loved? Verse 5 tells us that it was those who needed to be washed from their sins. It was those who were deeply stained with sin, those whose hearts were rebellious and cold toward Him, those who had offended Him and grieved His holy being to the very core. We are actually the most unworthy objects of His love.  In fact it is not wrong to say that Jesus loved those He should have hated! By right He should have despised and rejected us. But the wonder of wonders is that instead of doing that, He washed us. Verse 5 tells us that His love for us moved Him to wash us. This brings us to consider…

B. The Unsurpassed Power of His Blood

Our sins were so deeply rooted in our souls that nothing could wash them away. Nothing could wash away the dark stains of guilt and the festering infection of sin that had defiled us. Nothing, except the precious blood of Jesus. Nothing can surpass the purifying power of the blood of Jesus Christ!

One of the things that Singapore has become famous for, is our recycling of sewage water into drinkable water. I am talking about NEWater. There are now four NEWater plants that produce 76,000 tons of recycled water daily. But you may remember that when NEWater was first introduced through the media about 10 years ago, we could not imagine how that dirty, smelly waste water from our bathrooms and toilets could ever go into our mouths. I think that many of us were horrified at the thought of drinking water that has been taken right out of our sewage system! But today we are drinking it every day because NEWater makes up 1% of all our drinking water. And what is really amazing is that this purified water is even cleaner than water from all other sources, and it is really very safe to drink. What a powerful purifying process this is!

But there is a purifying process that is so many times more powerful than this: It is the precious blood of Jesus that washes us whiter than snow. The Lord boldly proclaims – “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) How wonderful it is to be cleansed not just from some of our sins, or from most of our sins, but from all of our sins. And all that we need to do to be washed is to come and confess our sins to Him. As 1 John 1:9   says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This cleansing wash is freely available to all sinners who will come to receive it.

However, we must not think that since it is free to all, it must be a very cheap and common thing. People tend to think that good things are not cheap, cheap things are not good, and free things should not be considered at all. But while the blood of Christ is freely offered to all without cost, it was actually procured at the greatest cost to Christ. This brings us now to consider…

C. The Unfathomable Cost of Our Salvation

Look at the end of v.5 again, and there you will see the words, “in His own blood.” It was with His own blood that Jesus washed us – not just a few drops of it, but the entire volume of it. He had to bleed and bleed until He died in order to give all His blood to wash us. It cost Him His life. That makes His blood so much more costly than all the gold and silver in the world! It would be a terrible crime for us to underestimate the cost of our salvation, a heartless crime to regard His blood as something that we can disregard so easily when it is freely offered.

This is one reason why you must take your salvation from sin so seriously. Perhaps there may be someone here today who has never taken it seriously even until now. You have heard the Gospel many times, but your heart is not moved to respond. The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31) but you keep on delaying and postponing the commitment to believe in Him and be washed in His blood. Now that you have understood what Jesus has done to save you, can you continue to delay any more?

We have just seen the full magnificent glory of the love of Jesus for us, as revealed in the words of v.5, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” This ought to move not only those who are still unsaved, but also those who are already saved to persevere as followers of Christ. As Isaac Watts wrote, “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all!” There is however one more important truth that should move us to do this…

III. The Superb Effects of Christ’s Work (v.6)

Please look now at verse 6, which says, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Now this is a continuation from the last part of v.5 which describes what Jesus has done for the ones He loves. And so, now we learn that the love of Jesus moved Him not only to wash us in His own blood, but also to fit us for effective service to God.

A. We Serve God:

1. As Kings

Firstly, Jesus has made us kings unto God. This does not mean that we may become self-willed rulers who demand loyalty and obedience from others to satisfy our own selfish cravings for glory and honour. The biblical concept of kingship is quite different from this worldly idea of kings. Our model of kingship is none other than Jesus Himself. Jesus is a king who rules by love and by faithful obedience to the Father’s will. As a king, His mission is to subdue all things to Himself in order to harness their fullest potential to bring glory to God the Father. As a king Jesus had to conquer sin, death and Satan in order remove every hindrance to God’s purposes for His creation.

How then did Jesus make us kings? Firstly, He released us from our slavery to Sin so that we can be free to subdue ourselves. Secondly, He gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to subdue ourselves (Romans 8:1,2). Thus we are able to mortify the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13) and to develop virtues of patience and temperance or self-control (Galatians 5:22,23). Thirdly, Jesus equips us with His spiritual armour to have victory over sin and Satan and to bring sinners to Christ (Ephesians 6:10-18). This spiritual armour includes the Word of God and Prayer. Our present mission as kings is to bring everything under Christ’s rule and authority (2 Corinthians 10:5). Fourthly, Jesus will assign kingly duties to each of us when we reign with Him in His millennial kingdom on earth. As Revelation 5:10 says, “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” (cf. 20:6)

2. As Priests

Besides making us kings to God, Jesus has also made us priests unto God. Our model for priesthood is Jesus. As a priest, He has unlimited access to God and enjoys intimate fellowship with Him. There, Heintercedes for His people in order that God’s blessings may not cease to flow to them. As a priest Jesus also offered up Himself as a complete sacrifice to God.

How did Jesus make us priests? Firstly, He enables us to come boldly unto God’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19,20). There, we are to offer supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanks for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1,2). Secondly, He enables us to offer spiritual sacrificesof praise (Hebrews 13:15), good works (Hebrews 13:16), consecrated living (Romans 12:1, Philippians 2:17) and material support for God’s ministers (Philippians 4:18).

Thus we have seen how Jesus makes us kings and priests to God. When these two roles are combined into one, we become a ‘royal priesthood’, as mentioned in 1 Peter 2:9 – “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” This brings us now to the ultimate objective we ought to have for all our service to God…

B. We Glorify God

You will notice that the end of v.6 says “…to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” This is the first of many doxologies in the book of Revelation (4:11; 5:12; 7:12; 19:1). In fact, God’s glory is one of the main themes of this book. What does this teach us?

It teaches us that the greatest honour that any mortal being can ever have is to glorify God. And it is possible for us to have this honour only because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. If we had been left all to ourselves, we would have remained where we were and never be of any use to bring glory to God. But Jesus alone has loved us enough to transform us from the unworthy sinners that we once were, into a royal priesthood fit for service in God’s kingdom. What a great Saviour Jesus is! What superb effects He has wrought in us! May this closing thought fill our hearts afresh with love and gratitude to Him, and may we all be stirred up to persevere in following Christ and in glorifying Him at all times!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11