PICTURES OF JESUS THE CHURCH
CAN’T DO WITHOUT
November 28, 2004
The great book of Revelation communicates to us in a visual way. There are some of us who learn better visually. This is a message which the Lord gave to show to his people. We look at the great visions that are here almost like they were frames in a comic strip. As we consider each picture, we see great truths that God wants his people to embrace and to hold on to.
Revelation is written to the seven churches of Asia. In cities which formed an irregular circle in the midst of Asia Minor, there were congregations of the Lord’s people who had been there awhile and who knew what it was to have to settle down and to live that Christian life and endure over time. The excitement of the new was past, and they were now engaged in the business of living to the end with the Lord. These congregations were facing the whole scope of what Christians face in this world. There was the pressure brought on them from the world around them that sometimes threatened their very existence. There were the temptations of worldliness that led some to want to try to compromise their convictions about Christ and to indulge the wrong desires of the flesh. And then there was always the presence of false religion which would mislead people and would draw them away from the truth. So here is a book written in pictures to people who are facing pressures.
The third thing about Revelation I want you to see is that so often the pictures that are presented are pictures of Jesus. David Roper compiled a list of 29 different pictures of Jesus that are included in this great book. Some of the most striking and awe-inspiring scenes of the whole Bible are the pictures of Jesus that are included in this final book of the New Testament. It is as if the Lord is saying to us, “Here are pictures of my Son that my people simply cannot live without!”
Here are pictures of Jesus that we cannot do without as the Lord’s church in this world. And these are pictures that we need to reflect upon and then respond to. I notice that in the letters to the seven churches, for example, in chapters 2 and 3 of this book, each one begins with some characteristic or some detail that we see in a picture of Jesus. What the congregations are called upon to do is to take what they know of Jesus and to apply those pictures personally to themselves, and then to respond to those picture of Jesus in their lives together and in their daily walk in this world. Five of these are especially encouraging.
The Lion of Judah
The first picture of Jesus that the church cannot do without is the picture of Jesus as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. There is a scene in chapter 5 in which the one on the throne is so impressive that he is worshipped full time by a great myriad around the throne. All of creation is called to join in the praise that is deserved by the one on the throne. But the one on the throne has a book in his hand that someone needs to open. Someone needs to come to the one on the throne and to take the scroll that unfolds his will, and to open its seals and make its contents known. John is told that the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David has overcome and he is able to take the book and to open its seals!
The idea that he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah goes back to Genesis 49:9-10. Jacob, whom God has now renamed Israel, is old and at the end of his days. He is blessing his 12 sons. When he comes to the fourth one of these sons, Judah, he says that Judah is like a lion, and he announces that the scepter would not depart from Judah. The scepter was the king’s ruling rod. And he says that to Judah would be the obedience of all the peoples. That picture of the lion of the tribe of Judah, one with the authority and the power to rule, and one is strong and mighty in accomplishing God’s purposes or in executing God’s will in this world, is what is involved in this picture.
The promise of that one who would come dominates the entire scope of scripture. And what scripture does is to try to get us ready to recognize somebody who has the right to demand or require our obedience. The sacrifices of the Old Testament are a way of preparing us for the one who is coming. The predictions by the prophets of the Old Testament help us to understand the one who is coming. The promises made in the Old Testament are ways of telling us that someone is coming. Jesus, in other words, did not arrive in this world and just announce, “I am the Son of God. I am going to build the church. I will give you forgiveness of your sins.”
There have been religious leaders or figures that have just arrived on the scene and without any preparation or any announcement or any background have established and led movements. But Jesus is not like that. Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah promised all those centuries ago. “Jesus is the root and the offspring of David,” chapter 22:16 says, using part of the figure here from chapter 5. That is the fulfillment of the promise that was made to King David. We have the promise to Judah. We have the promise to David. And then chapter 22:16 says “he is the bright and morning star.” There is the promise that the Old Testament ends with in Malachi with the promise of the “dayspring from on high.” Think of Jesus then, first off, as the one that God was preparing to send to rule over his people in this world. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
The Lamb of God
The second picture of Jesus which Revelation stresses is a picture of Jesus as the Lamb of God. In fact, here in chapter 5 when John turns around to look at the lion from Judah, it says in verse 6 that “between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” The picture of the horns is a picture of power or authority. The picture of the seven spirits had to do with his use of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s purposes in this world. But for now, notice that he sees a lamb, as if it had been slain. A lamb who looks like he has been offered, a lamb who looks like he has been the object of violent mistreatment, in other words, is standing there. He has overcome and he is able!
The thought of the Lamb of God is the most prominent picture of Jesus in the book of Revelation. I counted in my study 21 times when Jesus is presented that way in this book. The idea that he is the lamb means that he has done something through the offering of his blood. The three things that are stressed from this picture in this book are first, that he loves us. In chapter 1:5-6 he is presented as the one who loved us. He is such a one who has been willing, even though he was a lion, to take the form of a lamb and to be willing to offer himself up for us all. What kind of love does that take?
Secondly, he loosed us or washed us from our sins by his blood. Saints are pictured in this book as people who have washed their robes white in the blood of the lamb. They are people who are forgiven or cleansed or set free from slavery to their sins by his blood. Look how he loved us; look how he has loosed us!
And then the third quality of his being the lamb that the book emphasizes is the thought that we can overcome whatever we have to overcome through his blood. In chapter 12 of this book down to about verse 11, it talks about how the saints have overcome through the blood of the lamb. They have conquered, in other words, through the blood of the lamb.
This picture of Jesus as the Lamb of God is so important that when John the Baptist introduced Jesus (John 1:29), he said, “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” This picture is so important that when the apostle Peter wrote to Christians, he reminded us that we have not been redeemed through things like silver or gold which are just perishable things. We have been bought with the precious blood of the lamb without blemish or without spot. That idea was intended to thrill Christians and to motivate them and to urge them on to holy living in this world.
The first picture we can’t do without is the picture of Jesus as the Lion of Judah. The second picture the church can’t do without is the picture of Jesus as the Lamb of God.
The Living One
The third picture in Revelation we can’t do without is the picture of Jesus as the living one, the one who always is, and the one about whom life really is. He is the whole point of our existence, the one who does not change, and the one to whom we all will answer. In Revelation 1, John sees one of these amazing visions. But his response is such fear that he falls like a dead man at the feet of Jesus, the Son of God. I don’t know if any of us have a big enough picture of Jesus that we would response to him with that kind of respect. But that is an important idea, and so is the way Jesus responded to what John did. The Bible says in 1:17 that “he laid his right hand on me, and he said, ‘fear not. I am the first and the last and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forever more, and I have the keys to Death and Hades.”
The living one! In Revelation there are always some pictures associated with this one. The first and last – the alpha and omega goes with this. The faithful and true goes with this thought that he is the living one. No matter how much things change in this world, one thing we always count on is that Jesus is there. He is the living one.
In this book the result of that is that he is at work for his people. Over in chapter 14 Jesus is pictured with the 144,000 on Mt. Zion. These are the saints, the ones who are faithful to the Lord. He is pictured as being active or at work with them. In chapter 7, we see him with this 144,000 again. Verse 17 says, “The lamb in a midst of the throne will be their shepherd and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t do without that picture of the living One at work now in my behalf. I don’t think many of you can do without it. The idea that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us is what makes him able to save us to the utmost, as Hebrews 7:25 says. In Hebrews 9, the writer makes the point that Jesus now appears before the face of God for us. The “living one” doesn’t just mean that he has power over death (although it does mean that). It means that he is at work for his people now. One implication of that is that he holds the key to the authority, the power over death and then the unseen world beyond that.
The Lord of The Church
The Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, the Living One, and then Revelation pictures Jesus as Lord of the Church. I mentioned that great image in chapter 1, beginning at verse 13. John describes it. He said, “I turned to see that voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden candlesticks (lamp stands with these impressive holders of lamps that have oil and light around). In the midst of the lamp stands, 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 wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished brass refined in a furnace. And his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he had seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” No wonder John fell before him! What a powerful, expressive figure this was!
Each detail about his face or his clothing or his hands or his feet is a figurative way of telling something about his royalty or his power or his knowledge or his authority or his presence in the world. Without taking the time to go into detail about each one, I want to just point out to you that what John stresses about this picture is really his presence among the candlesticks and his holding the stars in his hand. The candlesticks turn out to be the seven churches. Jesus walks among his people; he is present with them; he inspects the congregations that are there. And, while Domitian may have issued a coin that had a picture of his son with the constellations all spread out in his hand, it is this one who holds the life of the churches in his hand.
In the letters in chapters 2 and 3 some detail about this picture is applied to the need of each one of these congregations. For example, in chapter 2 you may notice that when he wrote to a congregation that was going through great tribulation, some of their members had already been put to death for the faith. Jesus says, “The words of the first and the last who died and has come to life.” That is the picture of him that that congregation needed to respond to. When Jesus wrote to a church where they were being excluded by the population in the city where they lived, excluded from everyday life, excluded from making a living, excluded from practicing their faith in the Lord Jesus, Jesus said, “These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.” In other words, he can judge by his word (2:12). When Jesus wrote to a church where there were some who were unfaithful and who were compromising with the immorality of the world, Jesus wrote to say, “The words of the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire.” He can see and knows, in other words. And his feet are like burnished brass. He can judge. What he is saying there is, “You need to know that I see and I will judge.”
The picture of Jesus as Lord of the Church means that the church always needs to see and to remember that Jesus looks over our work. He knows what is going on with us. Jesus then is able to bless us with what we need or to warn us and to correct us where we are wrong. The Son of Man mentioned here, the Lord of the Church, is able to remove the candlesticks of churches that are dead or unfaithful. That reminds us of our need to remember him and to be faithful and true to him.
The Leader Of The Armies of Heaven
There is one other picture that I need to leave with us this morning from Revelation, and that is the picture of Jesus as the leader of the armies of heaven. Now if you have followed, we have said that he is the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, the Living One, the Lord of the Church, and the Leader of the Armies of Heaven. It doesn’t mean here that God needs an army to accomplish his purpose. What it does mean is that Jesus leads the host of heaven. In 17:14, for example, we read that the dragon’s allies “will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” There is the statement! The lamb will overcome!
The picture of him doing so occurs in 19:11 and following. Here we read: “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems (ruler’s crowns), and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes out a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God, the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
There are two or three things you need to remember about that picture. The first is that it is written to his people who are being worn out just because of their faith. Some of them have already suffered, and they have cried out for God to respond and to judge this evil and this wrongdoing. The second thing is that we are not describing here a literal war. Notice that Jesus strikes them with the rod of his mouth - in judgment, in other words. These people following on white horses are not sent out to engage in battle. They are simply following him, and he just strikes his enemies with his word, and they fall. The third thing is that this judgment here means victory for all who are following him. We need to know that if we will follow the Lord and if we stay with him, he will provide the victory. The leader of the armies of heaven presents him truly as the judge of all the earth and completes this series of pictures that we can’t do without.
Here are the picture of Jesus the church cannot do without: the Lion who has been promised from eternity; the Lamb who has offered himself up for us; the Living One who now works in heaven in our behalf; the Lord of the Church who looks over our work and gives us what we need; and the Leader of the Armies of Heaven to whom we intend to be true.
There will come a day when all that will really matter is how we stood with the One pictured with the book of Revelation. The privilege that we have through the gospel is to offer everyone the opportunity to be walking with him. You can be the called, the chosen, and the faithful if that is your will. He offers that privilege through the gospel that says “Come to me all ye who labor and are heaven laden and I will give you rest.” How will you respond to the One we have seen in these pictures?