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Revelation: The Commission of John

John’s Relationship With His Audience

John writes in Rev. 1:9, “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island of Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  John identifies with his audience in three important aspects of Christian living:  tribulation, kingdom, and patience.  John spoke as one who shared in the sufferings of Jesus Christ.  He was not immune from the tribulation facing his audience; he shared in it.  D.S. Clark writes, “He stood with them on common ground.  Every hardship they bore, he endured.  Every prospect of martyrdom they faced, he had already contemplated.  He was even in the vanguard bearing the first baptism of fire and blood.  They would listen to the words of one who suffered in their sufferings, and stood in the forefront of their dangers.”

It is important to notice that John’s worldview does not involve tribulation only, but he is a partaker along with his audience of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  From John’s vantage point, the kingdom of Christ is not a future event waiting to happen; it is a present reality that God’s people currently enjoy.  The kingdom of Christ was inaugurated at His ascension (Acts 2:30ff and Rev. 12:5) and was in place in the first century when John wrote.  While he sat exiled on Patmos, John was a partaker of a glorious kingdom!  The church today needs to recover the vision promised in the prophets (see for example Is. 9:6-7 and Dan. 7:13-14), celebrated in the Psalter (see Pss. 2, 22, 45, 72, and 110 for a sampling), and fulfilled at the first advent of Jesus Christ (see Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:29-36; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; 1 Thess. 2:12; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:13).  The Lord Christ bestowed a kingdom upon His disciples (Lk. 22:29) and we ought to proceed as loyal subjects.

A fitting summary statement of the book of Revelation is Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Revelation addresses the tribulation Christians face in the world.  God does not lie.  He tells it like it is.  He does not hide the difficulties associated with following Christ in a hostile world.  The Christian life can be a life punctuated by suffering and trial and tribulation and torture and persecution and imprisonment and death.  But Revelation always directs us back to the throne of Christ who has overcome the world and therefore bids us to “be of good cheer.”

This participation in tribulation and kingdom produces patience.  John says he is a brother and companion in the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience of Jesus Christ.  The patience John refers to means “patient endurance; bearing up under pressure” and is translated “perseverance” in Rev. 3:10 (cf. also Rom. 5:3-4).  Is this not God’s way?  He gives us a kingdom but we dwell in a hostile land.  This promotes perseverance on the part of His children as they strive to be faithful and imitate their Master who was tried while a King.  G.K. Beale writes, “This is a formula for kingship:  faithful endurance through tribulation is the means by which one reigns in the present with Jesus.  Believers are not mere subjects in Christ’s kingdom.  ‘Fellow partaker’ underscores the active involvement of saints not only in enduring tribulation, but also in reigning in the midst of tribulation.”

John’s Commission

While John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” the glorified Christ commissioned him to write the book of Revelation.  Commenting on the phrase “in the Spirit,” D.S. Clark writes, “We cannot describe this psychological state other than to suppose that all the channels of his being were open toward God, ready for the reception of any divine communication.”   The reference to the “Lord’s Day” is commonly understood to be a reference to Sunday, the Christian day of worship.  As James Durham noted, “As the Lord’s Supper is for the remembrance of His death till He come again; so is this day for remembering the work of redemption, and His resurrection, till He come again.”

The nature of John’s commission is consistent with much of what occurred in the Old Testament when a man of God was called to proclaim the message of God.  G.K. Beale and Sean McDonough state, “The introduction of John’s commission is coined in the language of the prophet Ezekiel’s repeated rapture in the Spirit, thus identifying John’s revelation with that of the OT prophets (cf. Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 11:1; 43:5).  His prophetic authority is enforced by the description of the voice that he heard as “a great voice as a trumpet,” evoking the same voice that Moses heard when Yahweh revealed Himself to him on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:16, 19-20).”

The commissioning of John was enjoined with a vision of the Commissioner, as was the case in the OT.  John is given a vision of the glorified Christ who has come to use John to set forth His word to the tried and troubled churches in Asia Minor.  John’s message is relevant for us today as we are still called to tribulation, kingdom loyalty, and perseverance to the end.

Revelation: A Theological Greeting to the Churches

The Apostle John begins the book of Revelation with a theologically rich greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor.  In many ways, the greeting sets the foundation for the remainder of the book.  The people of God are experiencing trials and they need to be reminded of the source of their comfort:  the triune God who dwells in heaven and rules the nations.

John begins with a statement concerning the triune God.  In a time of tribulation and suffering, God’s people stand in need of grace and peace.  John highlights the source of all grace and peace:  the triune God.    The glory of our eternal Father is referenced in the words, “from Him who is and who was and who is to come.”  The Holy Spirit in His manifold glory is referred to:  “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”  John then describes Jesus in a biblically familiar manner:  His threefold office as prophet, priest, and king.  We learn from this greeting that the doctrine of the Trinity is not an abstraction for infrequent consideration, but it is “the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him” (LBCF 2:3). May the church imbibe something of Gregory Nazianzen’s trinitarianism,

“No sooner do I conceive of the one that I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one.  When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me.  I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest.  When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”

John proceeds to the threefold office of Christ.  The Apostle communicates the fullness of our divine Savior.  He satisfies every demand of His Father and every need of sinful man.  His prophetic office is in view with the words “the faithful witness.”  Christ identifies Himself in like manner when speaking to the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14).  The people of God are to be faithful in the midst of all things as is their Savior.  In Rev. 2:13 the church in Pergamos is commended for holding fast “My name” and in Rev. 6:9 the martyrs are described as those who “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.”  In Rev. 12:11, the people of God are those who “overcame him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

John describes Christ’s role as priest with the statement “the firstborn from the dead.”  The word “firstborn” does not mean that Christ is a creature; it means He is the preeminent One.  The word is used in the Septuagint in Ex. 4:22 and refers to the preeminence of Israel over the nations of the earth.  It is used by Paul in Col. 1:15-18 where he sets forth the supremacy of Christ in all things.  The primary background the use here is Ps. 89, especially verse 27:  “Also, I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”  This is the “majestic covenant Psalm” according to C.H. Spurgeon and all three descriptions of Christ used in Rev. 1 are found in Ps. 89.  G.K. Beale comments, “John views Jesus as the ideal Davidic king on an escalated eschatological level, whose death and resurrection have resulted in His eternal kingship of his ‘beloved’ children (cf.v.5b), and this idea is developed in v.6.”  David was not the first king of Israel in terms of chronology, but rather he was the first king in terms of preeminence; this is John’s point regarding Jesus.  The fact that He is the firstborn from the “dead” points to His priestly role:  Christ was both priest and victim in the sacrifice at Calvary.

John further describes Jesus as “the ruler over the kings of the earth.”  Sometimes the church operates as if Christ is waiting to reign or as if He is an absentee king.  John says that Jesus currently possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.  He has sovereign control over all earthly rulers.  This perspective is foundational for the book.  Throughout Revelation, John shifts from the earthly perspective to the heavenly and his instruction is clear:  we must learn to interpret the earthly by the heavenly and not the other way around.  While people rage against the church (chapters 2-3), Christ sits in the heavens and holds them in derision (chapters 4-5).

John moves from who God is to how we should respond:  worship.  The doctrine of God should lead to doxological praise.  In Rev. 1:5b-6, John praises Christ for who He is and what He has done in saving His people from their sins.  John addresses His praise “to Him who loved us.”  This is one characteristic of our Lord Jesus, He loves sinners!  John indicates this in his gospel at Jn. 13:1.  Jesus exhorts His disciples to love one another in the Upper Room discourse and uses His love for them as the standard (Jn. 15:12).  Paul prays for believers to comprehend the love of Christ that “passes knowledge” in Eph. 3:18-19.  We learn from John that Christ’s love should be a means of promoting praise, worship, and adoration.

John moves from Christ’s love for His people to the grand demonstration of that love for His people:  redemption through His blood.  John praises Jesus because He “washed us from our sins in His own blood.”  The book of Revelation refers to Christ as the “Lamb of God” twenty-nine times.  This is consistent with John’s Gospel wherein the Lord Jesus is identified as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29).  The point is clear:  we are to worship, praise, and adore the One who died for us in order to cleanse us from our sins.  The atonement produces worshipers!

John continues in his praise for Christ for His role in the new creation, “and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father.”  Ex. 19:6 is the background for this assertion and indicates that the church is the new or true Israel because of her Redeemer.  What Israel of old failed to accomplish, Christ accomplished perfectly and in Him, believers share that blessed privilege of being a kingdom of priests.  G.K. Beale comments, “Christ’s death and resurrection (v.5) established a twofold office, not only for Himself (cf. also vv.13-18) but also for believers.  Their identification with His resurrection and kingship (v.5a) means that they too are considered to be resurrected and exercising rule with Him as a result of His exaltation.”

John closes this greeting with the words of praise, “to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”  May the wonderful description of Christ given in these verses cause the church to worship Him in like manner.