Agonizomai: Rev 1:17-20 - Condescension and Deference

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rev 1:17-20 - Condescension and Deference

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17-20 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. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lamp stands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches."

Oh yes! I’ve been waiting for this. Here we see the disciple "whom Jesus loved," the one who laid his head on Jesus’ breast at supper, one of the intimate inner circle that got the inside scoop on everything Jesus taught and who witnessed the daily limitations of Jesus’ incarnate manhood - THAT John - now falling down petrified with awe and fear at the vision of Christ in glory.

He doesn’t boldly waltz up to Jesus and call him "buddy" or "pal" or "dude." He doesn’t grab hold of him and shake his hand like an equal or hug him like a long lost brother. What had changed?

The answer is that everything had changed. John had changed (or had been changed). Jesus had changed. From John’s perspective Jesus was glorified Son of God - eternal God - very God of very God - pure, holy and a consuming fire. In this moment John caught a glimpse that had largely eluded him in Jesus’ earthly ministry, even though he believed what Jesus said. John saw the glory. On the mount of transfiguration he had seen something of it, but now he saw the full deity of Christ in the man Jesus, full of the glory he had with the Father as the Eternal Son, before the world began.

John could do no other than fall down as if dead. John was not yet glorified himself. The Jews used to say "See God and die" and even though this was a vision John understood perfectly that, seeing God as he was doing was potentially a consuming experience.

So it was not John’s to presume upon Omnipotent Holiness, but it was Jesus’ to display benevolent grace and to extend the right hand of power, just as Ahasuerus extended the royal symbol of power to Queen Esther, by which she was spared the death that invariably fell upon those who entered the King’s presence uninvited or unbidden. {Es 4:11,5:1-3}

I cannot emphasize enough the principles of condescension and deference at work here. To be sure it is a willing and gracious condescension on Christ’s part in not holding back anything from his (still) beloved disciple. But what about John’s part? Isn’t there also a willing and full deference to Christ as God and as Redeemer? Isn’t there a principle to be seen here that is never eradicated that God is always God and we are not? Why else would John fall down as if dead, if it wasn’t a natural fruit of the way he viewed himself in the presence of God?

So don’t give me all this familiarity stuff, making Jesus your buddy and your pal and just another "dude." Take a leaf out of John’s book and humble yourself that he might exalt you. Take a lower seat when you enter so that, if the host says, "Go up higher" you will be honored and not look foolish. {Lu 14:10}

He is, after all, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, as He states here. And it is His and His alone to say "Fear not" and then to dissolve that fear by graciously extending the hand of power and friendship that actually effects that dissolution. And He can do so because He is the Living One that died and is now alive forevermore. He can be gracious because of the work that He did that He completed. Because of Him then death will be swallowed up in victory, and the wrath of the God that He also brings upon the wicked, is satisfied for his church by the love that bore our sin.

All things are His as they ever were - but now they are declared, proven, manifested to be His to all of creation in a final and complete way. Death and hell are His to do as He pleases. As we shall see, it is His right to condemn and His right to save as He sees fit, for he is worthy to receive blessings and honor and glory an power, as the Lamb that was slain, and Who now sits upon the throne.

This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, forever fully human and fully divine, revealing to His Apostle the things to come that are not just foreseen, but foreordained concerning Himself. John is commanded to write these things down, which is an indication that God intends to preserve these things for His church in posterity. And this starts with letters to the seven churches in Asia, as we shall see.


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