Christ, Our Overcomer

Revelation 1:9-20

January 21, 2024

Lead Pastor Dr. Timothy Melton

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In World War II Nazi Germany used a device called the Enigma machine. It was used to hide its secret communications, so even if a message was intercepted by the Allies, they would not be able to decipher it. The machine was so complicated that a German soldier would type in normal messages but then the Enigma machine, with its three rotors from a set of five, with 26 positions each rotor, and a plugboard with ten pairs of letters connected, would scramble the letters in a way that could result in almost 159 quintillion different settings of letters (that is 159 followed by 18 zeros). It made it impossible for the Allies to decipher the message.

That was until the winter of 1932–33, when Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski, figured out the patterns of wiring and rotating wheels that made the codes so difficult to read. Later the Germans would improve the Enigma machine and it would be decoded again, but Rejewski’s breaking of the code allowed the Allies to intercept messages and make a difference in the war. 

This morning we are going to talk about what many people see as another enigma, it is the final book of the new Testament called the book of Revelation. 

Commentator William Barclay tells of how, “The Greek word for revelation is apokalupsis. The word Apokalupsis is composed of two parts. Apo means "away from" and kalupsis means "a veiling." Apokalupsis, therefore, means an unveiling, or a revealing.”

It would be like removing a cover from something that was hidden. Like opening a curtain on the stage before a presentation. Or revealing a coded message like had been done by the Allies when they deciphered the algorithm used by the Enigma machine. In the book of Revelation Christ brought truth and knowledge that before would have been hidden. It was a new way of seeing God’s perspective of the present with the future in mind. 

Revelation is a type of writing called Apocalyptic literature. This type of literature has its own way of thinking. There is certain consistent symbolism and imagery. Often the revelation comes from an “otherworldly” figure. What do certain numbers, characters or actions mean throughout Apocalyptic literature? There is a looking towards the future that is to affect the way we live in the present. There is often a sort of prophecy that includes imminent danger, destruction or salvation. 

Adela Collins writes that Apocalypse writings is, “intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority.”

We see earlier examples of this in the Book of Daniel. It is possible that the Jews were drawn to this type of literature in the late Old Testament and inter-testamental time because it gave them hope as they were ruled over by other nations and longed for the final “coming of the Lord.”

Revelation 1:1-8

1 The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

The book of Revelation begins by stating where revelation comes from. It is truth from Christ given to Him by God. In a postmodern society that believes that absolute truth does not exist we are reminded once again that truth is from God and the Holy Spirit guides us to it. 

The purpose of this truth is to show His servants what is coming. In verse one it twice mentions the word “servant” which in its original was the word “doulos.” This word literally meant “slave.” We feel more comfortable with the term servant, but the advantage of the word slave reminds us that as Christians we are His. He is Lord of all. All that we are belongs to Him. 

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy.” We must remember that few could read and even fewer actually had a copy of God’s Word. This is a word to those who have the scriptures. These verses are not to be neglected amongst the believers. They are to be proclaimed amongst the people so that the people will take them to heart. The time is near, making the message urgent.

4 John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

7 “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen.

8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

The next verses set Jesus in His rightful place. They tell us that “He is and was and is to come. He is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of kings of the earth.”

He loves us and has freed us from our sin by His blood. Through Christ we have been made a kingdom and priests to serve God and Father. He is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty. To Him be glory and power forever and ever!

These opening verses prepare our hearts and minds to receive the words that are to follow. We are humbled as Jesus is set rightly on His throne. We now will seek to understand these verses as the original hearers would have. 

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The book of Revelation is known for being hard to understand, but there are some basic truths that are very clear. One recurring theme in the book of Revelation centers around the word “nikao.” This is the word from which comes the name of the athletic shoe company, “Nike.” It means to triumph, to conquer, to prevail and to overcome. This word appears 28 times in the New Testament. 17 of those are in the book of Revelation. This is truly a book for those who need to overcome. In it Christ comes as their High Priest who sympathizes with their struggle, persecution and temptation and gives them all that they need to overcome.

Listen to these verses in Revelation that speak of overcoming. 

(Revelation 3:5) He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 

(Revelation 2:26) He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 

(Revelation 3:21) 'He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne

(Revelation 2:11) He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death’ 

(Revelation 3:12) He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God.  

(Revelation 2:7) To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God’.  

(Revelation 21:7) He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

The book of Revelation is a book of overcoming, and when we look back at their time in history, the Christians definitely were needing to overcome all that was coming against them.

The book of Revelation was written around 96 AD. By this time most of the apostles and early Christians had died. Many had been martyred. Christianity was seen as a despised superstition across the Roman Empire that worshiped a crucified criminal. They were hated because they would not worship the emperor or submit to him as their ultimate authority. They observed the Lord’s Supper that sounded like cannibalism to the outsiders. They were seen as atheists because they rejected the many Roman gods and their God was invisible, not an idol.  In that day many believed that natural disasters occurred when the people neglected the pagan gods. Some blamed Christians for those disasters as well. 

In A.D. 64 Emperor Nero brought the first official persecution against the Christians in order to pass off the blame of the great fire in Rome. In 70 A.D Jerusalem and the temple were totally destroyed by the Romans. Hundreds of thousands of people had been killed. 25 years later Emperor Domitian instituted an even more widespread persecution against the Christians that stretched even to Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey.

That is the situation when this vision of Christ comes to John. 

Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, is where these seven churches, that we are starting to consider, were located. In the midst of their difficulties most of these churches were not overcoming. Instead, they were being overcome . . . by sin, heresy, fear, and a loss of their love for Christ. The whole situation was grim, but that is why Christ came to meet them.

In Revelation 1:9 we find these words, 

 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”

John was one of the inner circle of three of Jesus’ 12 apostles. He was the writer of a gospel and three letters in the New Testament. He was a leader in the early church but yet he humbly identified himself as merely a brother and a partner of the same tribulation, belonging to the same kingdom and desperately in need of the same patient endurance that could only be found in Christ Jesus.

This truth was not unique to John. In Acts 14:22 Paul wrote "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” In 2 Timothy 2:12 we read: "If we endure, we shall also reign with him.” In Matthew 24:13 Jesus said: "He who endures to the end will be saved.” It is in Christ that we find the patient endurance that will be required for us to overcome.

As we already discussed, the Christians of this time in history had much to be discouraged about, and John even more so. He was around 90 years of age, a very old man by that days’ standards. Because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus he had been exiled to the small, barren Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of modern-day Turkey. It was about 10 miles long and only 5 miles wide.

History accounts that during the time of the Roman empire, when prisoners were banished to islands such as this it would include a loss of all property, all possessions, and all civil rights. The prisoners often were condemned to hard labor, working in the quarries or mines, cutting rock. Historian Sir William Ramsay adds that John’s banishment likely included scourging, wearing chains, insufficient food, sleeping on the ground, and work under the constant threat of a whip across the back. Jerome, the Christian scholar and translator from the 4th century, wrote that John was banished in the fourteenth year after Nero and liberated on the death of Domitian.

Thinking back to those days with Jesus, when they had sat and talked about the kingdom and Christ’s return, John had probably imagined much more than this, but here he was. Faithfully serving his Lord in the worst of circumstances.

 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

This first phrase, “I was in the Spirit” was likely some sort of spiritual state that came over him and heightened his awareness of and his experience with the Holy Spirit. It does not clearly explain what occurred, but believers tell of times when God’s Word seemed to come alive to them, or the conviction of sin came upon them in an overwhelming manner, or how they sensed the presence of God as they prayed or as they worshipped. In some way, John was experiencing the Holy Spirit in a heightened way.

It was on the Lord’s Day. It was customary for the Christians to worship on the first day of the week instead of the traditional sabbath of Saturday. This change was primarily commemorating Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week. 

As John was worshipping in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day he heard a loud voice like a trumpet. It does not say he heard a trumpet. He heard a voice like a trumpet. This voice of Christ must have been loud, piercing and heard in such a way that it could not be ignored. It demanded one’s attention.

This voice instructed John to write down in a book everything that he would see and to send it to the seven churches. These were literal churches and the cities in which they were listed followed the postal route across Asia Minor. The route began with Ephesus and finished at Laodicea. 

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 

We now begin with the vision that John sees. To best understand the symbolism of this chapter and the rest of the book of Revelation we must view it in light of the Old Testament. The book of Revelation has over 500 references to the Old Testament. 

John turned to see the voice that was speaking to him and there before him was one like the son of man, standing in the midst of seven lampstands. 

John describes “one like a son of man.” This is a reference back to Daniel 7:13. In this verse the “son of man” is described as coming before the Ancient of Days. “To the son of man was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.” This son of man was a description of Christ, and as we see Christ’s use of the term we see that it becomes synonymous with the title of Messiah. 

In this vision Jesus is wearing a long robe with a golden sash around his chest. The NIV in this same verse describes Christ’s appearance in this way, “and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.”

D.A. Carson, in his excellent series on the book of Revelation, says, 

“That either signifies priestly status (in the Old Testament it was the priests who were dressed like that) or, conceivably, royal status.

In the Roman army, the longer your robe, the higher rank you had. So, the centurions were down to here, the tribunes were down to here, but only the emperor had robes all the way down to the feet. Then the golden sash around his chest is, again, indicating superior royal status.”

This full-length Robe expressed status, but we must also note that this word for robe, translated from the Old Testament was most often used for the robe worn by the high priest. While Christ is pictured in scripture as prophet and king, in this vision it is a clear picture of Christ coming as our high priest. The gold sash around His chest in this vision was also worn by the high priest in the Old Testament. 

The book of Hebrews uses this same imagery when talking of Christ as our great high priest. 

Hebrews 2:17-18 and 4:15 say, Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. . .For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

This is the picture of our Christ who overcomes. In the midst of the pain of John’s day and the struggles in the churches, Jesus could have presented Himself in many ways, but He didn’t. He presented Himself as their high priest. The one who invites them to come before His throne with confidence in their time of need and receive grace and mercy. The one who had known the sufferings of man and now was able to empathize fully with His people.

John goes on to describe “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.” 

In our youth-oriented society we do not cherish white hair, but in their day, like in many cultures around the world, even today, white hair was a high mark of honor. This was another expression of the Daniel 7 language referring to the Ancient of Days. 

In these descriptors of Jesus John saw purity, timelessness, purifying fire, and the authority of God.

16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

As John continued to describe what he saw he told of a sharp two-edged sword. It reminds us of the words in Hebrews 4:12. “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” In Revelations 2:16 Jesus even warns the church of Pergamum, “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” It was a sword of truth, discipline and judgment.

John then gave the description of the face of Christ like the sun shining in full strength, brilliant, unextinguishable, illuminated and revealing all. Like the sunrise that chases away the darkness and exposes all as it really is. John then continued.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

The vision is so overpowering and shocking that John collapses like a dead man. We see a similar response from Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament. Such fear was normal when those in scripture experienced visions from God. 

In response Jesus reaches out and touches him and says, “Fear not.” It might have brought back memories of John’s Mount of Transfiguration experience in Matthew 17:7. He, James and Peter had been with Christ and heard God’s voice coming from a cloud. They had fallen on their faces and were terrified. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, rise and have no fear.” We see again this picture of Immanuel, God with us, the God who draws near.

Jesus instructs John to “fear not” and then gives the reason why. When Jesus used the words “I am” he was starting out with “Yahweh” the name of God from Exodus 3:14 when Moses asks who He is and God responds “I AM.” He then refers to Himself as the first and the last. This, too, is a divine designation from the Old Testament. It is the idea of everlasting to everlasting, timelessness, when all the false gods have come and gone He will still remain. 

He is the “living one.” This, too, is a divine description from the Old Testament (Joshua 3:10Psalms 42:2Hosea 1:10) “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

We must bring all of these pieces together. Jesus is using divine titles to describe Himself. He is declaring Himself as God. There is no question. There is no other. Yes, He died, but He is now alive! He now has authority over all things, including even death and the grave. . . and He the Sovereign Lord has come for us.

As we understand the greatness of God, the nearness of God and the faithfulness of God we begin to grasp the truth that in any situation we can overcome. Because we are His and because He is with us, we have everything we need to face the struggles and tribulations that will come our way. 

This is the beginning of the book of Revelation. They are words of adoration, granting us perspective for what is to come. Christ is on His throne. Almighty, yet near. Overpowering, yet gentle. Holy, yet gracious. Because of that, may we bow our hearts in obedience, and prepare ourselves to receive the words of God in the verses to come. 

I would like to leave you with these words from Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; 

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.