What is Reality?
An sermon on Revelation 1 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 2/13/2005
What is reality?
You might think, “That’s a pretty simple question. Reality is what I see:
That’s reality. What I see.”
The astronomer Carl Sagan summed up that philosophy in words he used at the beginning of his celebrated PBS TV program, Cosmos: “The cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.”
Is the cosmos reality?
The Bible tells us otherwise. Oh, the world around us is real enough. But we are to set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth (Col 3:2). We are to desire another, better country, a heavenly one (Heb 11:16) We are to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18).
The book of Revelation was written to help us remember these truths. Last week, we identified three of the major themes of this book:
Question: Can we know any of these three truths simply by looking at the things of this world? No! We cannot see any of these! These are fundamental realities that our eyes can never reveal to us!
These truths are available only through God’s revelation of truth in His Word – in His living Word, Jesus, and in His written Word, the Bible. The Bible is our authority, the source God gives us to see and understand the spiritual realities that we otherwise would never see.
Today we look at Revelation 1: What are we taught here about the fundamental nature of reality? Three answers:
We will look at those three topics in turn, and conclude by asking: Why is the nature of reality important to us?
In verses1 and 2, John is said to bear “witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ.” What does the word “of” mean in the phrase, “the testimony of Jesus Christ”? The Greek grammatical construction, like the English, is ambiguous. It could mean “the testimony FROM Jesus Christ” or it could mean “the testimony ABOUT Jesus Christ.” Certainly the first meaning holds here – as we noted last week, now first is true – but second also! In this first chapter,
there is much that is revealed about JC
So that’s why we’re asking: what can we learn about JC from this chapter?
First point: JC is God. Three reasons to say so from this text:
Why Jesus is God: Trinitarian 4-5a
First: Look at v: 4-5 again.
Grace and peace to the seven churches from whom?
First, from “him who is and who was and who is to come,”
Who is that? V8 exactly the same phrase is used,
Speaker “Lord God”
Second, from “the seven spirits who are before his throne”
Who is that? Remember, 7 is number of completeness
HS, complete HS.
Third: “and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”
One of many places in Bible where God is said to be a trinity
One Godhead, three persons, each fully and completely God
So this chapter describes JC as God thru Trinitarian offer of grace and peace
Why JC is God: Daniel 7/Rev 1 parallels
9 As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. . . .
Who is “Ancient of Days”? V13 tells us:
13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
So the Ancient of Days= God the Father,
“One like Son of Man” = JC
In v 14, Ancient of Days gives JC an everlasting Kingdom over all nations
But I want to back up to v9-10: This is description of God Father
But very similar to vision John receives of JC. See Rev 1:14-16
Hair like white wool,
Shining with great brightness,
fire before him vs eyes like flame of fire
So John’s clear allusion to Dan 7 communicating: JC is distinct person, but JC and God Father are of one godhead.
Why JC is God: v8 vs v17-18
ESV Revelation 1:8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
ESV Revelation 1:17b-18 "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Lord God says A and O – what does this mean? – first and last
But this is what JC says
Indeed, at end of book JC uses same words: Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."
JC FIRST – before anything else
LAST – knows end of history, in control of end of history
The living one – means what? Not just that he is alive now
That would be true of you and me. We live now. But we will die
Not so JC. His very nature is He is always alive. Yet He died!
As we sing: Tis mystery all: The immortal dies!
Remember what God says to Moses at burning bush
Tell Israelites “I AM” sent you.
Name, very essence, is to be.
Just so with JC: Always alive. At very essence. Control of History.
He is God.
5b-6: ESV Revelation 1:5b To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
This sentence: high point of chap 1, reason behind all else in chapter.
Few weeks ago, some of you heard Perspectives lecture:
God’s passion for His glory is motivating force behind all that He does.
Book of Revelation full of songs of praise to God, giving Him glory. This is first.
Goal of His love for us
Goal of freeing us from sins thru death on cross
Goal of exalting us, enabling us to rule with Him, to serve as priests
Goal of all this is His glory forever and ever.
Imagine you lived 100 years ago, transported to present age.
You see computer:
Want to understand.
Can you understand? Need to know purpose for which it is made
Without knowing purpose, might think just tool to teach children alphabet
Just so, If you going to understand reality, need to know purpose.
Fundamental aspect of Nature of reality that Carl Sagan missed:
All creation exists to bring glory to Jesus Christ.
So JC is God, Glory of JC is supreme end of all things
JC is in control (that is, He has authority over all people and all powers)
This theme pops up throughout the chapter:
ESV Revelation 1:5a from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
Prophet, priest, and king
Prophet: faithful witness: Authority to speak truth
Authority to TELL US nature of reality
Faithfully exercises His authority
Priest: firstborn from dead
Not only speaks of nature of reality
But acts to bring about God’s purposes for that reality
His death and resurrection key moments in God’s plan of redemption
Bringing all nations to Himself for His glory
King: Ruler of all kings of earth. Look at verse 7 for more on this point:
ESV Revelation 1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Clear allusion to Daniel 7:13 read above, “coming on clouds”
But point here: Rule extends to all mankind.
No people group, no matter how large the cultural barriers,
will resist His royal power
No country, regardless of it’s military might, can defeat His forces
No university, no research center, no bastion of intellectual achievement
will be able to scorn him
JC is in control –
even of all those who pierce Him day by day thru neglect and ridicule
Not only enemies, but JC is especially in control of His church
Picture in 12-20 both of authority and watchcare
Walks among lampstands/Seven stars in right hand.
V20: lampstands are churches, stars are angels of churches
JC pictured like priest taking care of lampstand in temple
What would priest do?
Trim burned sections of wick
Fill with oil
Polish show that shines
Ensure that lampstand fulfills purpose
Just so, JC does here: Ensures that church fulfills purpose
Commissions John to write: v11, v19
Indeed, v17 touches John, enables him to get up from floor
Gives him task.
As we will see, Praise, rebuke, exhortation, promise
Threatens even to take lampstand away (see next week, 2:5)
No Spirit in church, not true church.
So Has authority over churches, watches over them, gives whatever need
Finally, look at v18: “I have the keys of death and Hades”
What does this mean?
Why does every 16 year old want a set of keys for the car?
Keys give authority. W/out keys, you need someone else’s explicit
permission to drive
With keys, you have ability to use car whenever you want
If JC has keys of death, JC is in control even of death
If cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be, death is end of existence
But if JC holds keys to death – his people need never fear.
As we read from 1 Cor 15: 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
So JC is God. JC’s glory is supreme end of all things. JC is in control: of history, of his enemies, of his church, even of death. This is the nature of reality. This perspective is the truth.
This understanding of reality affects our lives profoundly. Let me point out 3 effects:
If understand who Jesus is and what He is doing in the world, See all parts of our life differently:
Possessions: Not things we have earned or deserve.
Not source of meaning in life.
But if JC is in control, if He is exercising watchcare over us
All possessions are gifts from God, from JC, to be used for His glory
No grounds for getting angry about our lot in life
No reason to complain about how unfair life is.
We instead will see even these trials as controlled by God, by JC.
He will use them in our lives for His good purposes
Transforming us into his likeness, comforting others through us,
And bringing glory to His Name.
Look back at v9. This is John’s introduction of Himself.
“your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus”
“Your brother and partner in tribulation”
Being in Jesus does not mean we live lives free of tribulation.
Being in Jesus does mean we will face tribulation and must receive from JC the power to endure patiently to the end
But being in Jesus also means we rule with him
The kingdom is among us.
And that kingdom will rule over all for eternity.
John 16:33 In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
Possessions, trials, temptations,
Enemies: Every person who is presently an enemy of God,
Either will remain, and thus will be judged by JC as ruler
Or to be converted by God to His glory.
Thus, Pray for, don’t hate. Know God controls.
Joseph Tson: vision of police on strings controlled by God
Have same attitude JC had to Pilate: You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. John 19:11
Why would we not be faithful witnesses? 5 reasons, of increasing severity
Might require some time and energy
Might be embarrassed
Might get fired
Might not get a promotion
Might be killed
But: JC’s glory is supreme end, not our comfort or achievement
His glory requires that we be faithful witnesses
And He holds the keys to death and hades.
John was a faithful witness – and got exiled to island of Patmos
We may well face earthly consequences of being faithful witness
At least time and energy, maybe much more severe
But this is our purpose.
God created us to glorify Him.
1:17a When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead
The point is not primarily: Make yourself small.
This is a biblical point: Rom 12:3 Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought
Humility begins by taking ourselves off the pedestal.
But the key here is not seeing that we are small.
The key is seeing that JC is big.
The key is seeing that JC is worthy of ALL glory and praise and honor.
The most important thing in all of your life
How you see JC.
It is not enuf to see him as a curiosity, as vaguely interesting
It is not enuf to see him as divinely inspired prophet who did good works
It is not enuf to see him as a moral example to us
Hear me: It is not even enuf to see him as Son of God who died on cross
Even the demons see him that way.
You must see Him as John saw Him:
Risen! Alive! Ruling! Overcoming all enemies! Governing History!
Loving His people! Freeing us from sin! Exalting us to reign w him!
You must savor Him above all else – for He IS reality
He IS the one who is worthy
He IS the summation of all power and love and authority and mercy
He IS the perfection of all justice and judgment
His glory is the supreme end of all things
And You will not glorify Him unless His perfections delight you.
So do you delight in JC above all the world has to offer?
Do you see Him this way?
Acknowledge Him as King!
Acknolwedge Him as Savior!
Acknowledge Him as the Conquerer of death.
Follow Him – and thus find your greatest joy.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 2/13/05.
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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