I was raised in a traditional Southern Baptist Church, and by that I mean I attended an SBC church nine months before I was born. One of my most vivid memories is walking the hall of the children’s area, and seeing a painting. It was a beautiful painting of Jesus with dozens of children all around him. I’ve also seen a picture of Jesus in the garden as he was being tempted, praying to his Father with a halo around his head and with an irenic face. And the third picture I have in mind is one of the most famous paintings of all time, The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci.
What do these paintings all have in common? Well, they’re all stunning in the talent on display in them. Each of them is incredibly beautiful and shows a degree of exactitude that I can’t even imagine. But there’s something else about them, something that really bothers me. In each of them, Jesus is presented as being Caucasian/white. Not that there’s anything wrong with pale skin per se (as you can see from my profile picture, I’m pretty pale myself). The problem is that’s not accurate. Jesus was a Jew in the 1st century. If you traveled back in time and visited that time period, Jews of that time tended to have a skin pigmentation several shades darker than your average white guy. He probably didn’t have blond hair either.
Believe it or not, I actually have a point here. What does Jesus look like? Right now? Well, apparently right after the Resurrection he looked enough like his old self that his friends were able to recognize him when he allowed them to. So there was no radical change there.
After the Gospels, we’re never given even a hint of what he looks like. Until today’s reading in Revelation chapter one. John turned his head when a voice called him, and what he saw literally brought him to his face on the ground.
Now, we need to try to think clearly on this. Jesus is God. He can make himself look like anything or anyone he wants. So he chose to appear like this to his beloved apostle, and allow him to record what he saw. Why?
Well, however you interpret this book, there’s one main message you've absolutely got to (figuratively) tattoo on your forehead: The Lord Jesus is in charge, no matter how it looks right now. And in the end, he’s going to win. Decisively. Maybe that would be a bit much to tattoo on your forehead, but you get the idea. If you get the message stated above, you’ve got the main point of the book of Revelation. Yes, there are other details that we can debate about, but that’s all they are: Details.
Now with all that lead in, what do all these things mean?
· Like a son of man. I’m quite aware that Jesus’ favorite self-designation while on earth was “Son of man.” There’s a decent argument that this was a title he gave himself to identify with us in his humanity. But that’s not what John is meaning here. He’s referring to Daniel chapter seven, when the Ancient of Days sat on his Throne, and one “like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” approaches him. This Person is given full “authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
· Dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. This was the garment of the High Priest who served in the temple, who stood between God and sinful humanity.
· The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow. Now we’re back to Daniel 7, where the description of God himself on the throne is said to have hair “white like wool.”
· His eyes were like blazing fire. This is the one that strikes me the hardest. Since I’m diabetic, I try to get an eye exam once a year, when they check my eyes for any damage from my disease. The part I hate the most is when they dilate my eyes (thus making them more vulnerable), make me put my eye against this eyepiece, and then shine the brightest light I’ve ever seen into it. I feel like they’re piercing my skull. Whenever I get that exam, I think of this passage.
Remember back in 1 Cor. 3, where our works are judged by the Lord Jesus? The works we've (supposedly) done for him are passed through fire, and what reward we have is based on what survives. He’s going to look at your works, my friend, and there’ll be no pretense then. Any excuses or deceit or doing anything for impressing men will be consumed by his all-piercing gaze. And this will be the same gaze that judges those who aren’t covered by his blood. It’ll pierce to the heart of hearts and soul of souls, to strip one naked before his gaze. You think Adam and Eve were embarrassed to be naked in his presence? That will be nothing compared to being on his wrong side on that Day.
· His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace. MacArthur: "The altar of burnt offering was covered with brass and its utensils were made of the same material (cf. Ex 38:1-7). Glowing hot, brass feet are a clear reference to divine judgment. Jesus Christ with feet of judgment is moving through His church to exercise His chastening authority upon sin."
· His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. You ever been to Niagara Falls or in the middle of a sea in a heart-stopping storm? EXTREMELY LOUD AND INTIMIDATING, RIGHT? One word: Authority.
· In his right hand he held seven stars. These represent the seven churches (and thus the Church as a whole), which we’ll get to tomorrow.
· Coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. This is his word, which is as deadly as any double-edged sword, but more precise and finer than the sharpest surgeon’s scalpel.
· His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. This is the One whom angels dare not look upon face to face, covering their own faces with their wings.
My friend, if you needed any corrective to this picture of the Meek and Mild Jesus, the slightly anorexic Jesus you’ve often seen in paintings--the one who looks like there was no need to arrest and crucify him since he looks like he’s about to starve to death anyway--this is a good one. If you feel any doubts about handing any of your problems over to him, if you ever for one second thought there's a problem he can’t handle, this is the corrective for that.
When John was confronted with this Jesus, he planted his face to the ground. It was only the words “Don’t be afraid” which raised his eyes from the dirt after seeing that.
But don’t miss the important point here. Jesus told him “Don’t be afraid” because of the authority he has. It’s nice that he cares about us and wants an intimate, personal relationship with us. But when the world’s falling apart, I need something more than a Best Friend. I want to be able to hand any problems I have over to the Jesus of Revelation One. He’s the First and the Last, the Living One; he was dead, and now look, he’s alive for ever and ever! And he holds the keys of death and Hades. Let’s camp out on that for a moment, shall we? He’s holding the keys of Death and Hades. No one goes into the realm of death without his say-so. The great fear of mankind, the scourge of humanity since the Fall? Since his Resurrection, he literally owns it, to do with as he pleases.
So what do I have to be afraid of, exactly?
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.”
“If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most, or else just silly.” C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Lord Jesus, please forgive me when I give into fears. You’re bigger than they are, to say the least. Please help me to trust and obey. If I fear you, then I have absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
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