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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Very First Thing

The apostle John is in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. I will leave the reader to work out precisely what that means.

E. W. Bullinger was sure John is telling us he saw the prophetic “Day of the Lord”, and there is no doubt John did precisely that. Others who have grown up with the expression are convinced John means to say that the things he experienced occurred on a Sunday.

I don’t know that the distinction is worth fighting over. What strikes me instead is the disconnect between what John sees and the very first thing he writes about it.

What John saw was truly spectacular and terrifying. He saw his Master and friend in his glorified state, the One who is destined to be “ruler of kings on earth”.

Sit at Your Right Hand

Now bear in mind that this is the same Jesus beside whom John famously reclined at what is referred to as the “last supper”. That may seem surprising after the unfortunate incident during which John’s mother rather ambitiously pitched the Lord on the idea of allowing her two sons to occupy the seats at his right and left hand when he comes in his kingdom. But whatever momentary embarrassment may have resulted from the Lord’s remark that this choice is among the many things he leaves to his Father’s discretion was evidently insufficient to deter John from occupying one of those very same two spots during the Passover celebration.

I would have been at the far end of the table hiding behind Simon the Zealot. John wasn’t. So I’m guessing his relationship with the Lord Jesus, while reverential, was … comfortable.

Relationship and Vision

But how do you translate that comfortable human bond with what turned out to be genuine deity into a heavenly vision of Jesus Christ AS HE IS? I have no clue, and John didn’t either. If he had, he might have remained upright. He didn’t. He fell at his feet as though dead.

The reality is much more spectacular than any mere human appearance.

I don’t know what the Lord Jesus looked like when he walked this earth. Evidently he had a beard. Evidently his appearance was generally unimpressive. I’m pretty sure he was not black. I’m almost positive his hair was short. He was a Nazarene after all, not a Nazirite.

Beyond that, I’ve got nothing.

The Flame of Fire

What I do know is that he didn’t look like what John saw:
“I saw seven golden lampstands, 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. 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 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.”
Not at all like the person beside whom John reclined at Passover, is it?

The white hair is our first clue. If the Lord Jesus had white hair in his early thirties, it is difficult to imagine that nobody in any of the gospels would have remarked on it. No, the description John gives is indeed familiar, but it is not from his three years or so as the Lord’s disciple that John knows this Person. John’s vision may have reminded him of the prophet Daniel’s description of the Ancient of Days. It may have evoked the memory of the man Daniel saw standing on the bank of the Tigris, a vision which had an effect on Daniel similar to the effect it had on John.

The First Thing

In the next 21 chapters John will go on to observe exactly how the world that has rejected the Son of Man will one day soon be brought to justice. It is a stark, frightening picture that takes in the annihilation of every human institution, the humbling of every nation, the obliteration of the enemies of God and the righteous judgment of the works of men. There is blood, sickness, plague, death and catastrophic destruction. The principalities and powers that are currently hidden from our view are revealed in all their appalling splendour. Our secular concepts of Armageddon and Apocalypse come from what follows. And in its climax, the Son of God is finally revealed to a world that rejected him.

But how does John start after all this, when he returns to write it all down? He starts with love.

The first thing — the VERY FIRST THING — he says is this:
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood ...”
If anything should make it clear that biblical love is not to be confused with distant, bemused tolerance, it is surely this statement seen in its dark, dark context. The One in whom love originates — the One through and in whom ultimate love was once displayed — is exceptionally merciful and exceptionally patient. But justice cannot and will not wait forever. Love demands it.

Love of the Son:
“The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”
Love of his people:
“Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?”
It is beyond disputing that “love wins” in the end. The discussion is really about what that means for those who obdurately refuse it.

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