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April 26, 2009
Back To The Future – Part 1
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Revelation 1:1-3

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This series provides insight into Jesus' master plan for the church today. We cannot afford to ignore what Jesus thinks of the church. You've Got Mail will help deepen your understanding of the church and the essential elements necessary to remain healthy, holy, and faithful in today's society.

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This morning, we’re going to begin a series of studies on the seven churches of the Book of the Revelation. I’ve entitled the series You’ve Got Meal, and I want to begin the series this morning by looking at the first three verses of Revelation 1. There’s a context to those letters and we want to begin to explore that this morning under the subject back to the future.
God wants us as believers to always be going back to the future, to live in the light of the soon return of the Lord Jesus Christ and to allow the imminence of that event to ship our lives and direct our decisions. Revelation 1:1, we’re going to only make a start this morning on the subject back to the future within this series, You’ve Got Meal.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God give Him to show His servants things which must shortly take place and He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep those things which are written in it for the time is near.
When I was at school in Northern Ireland many months ago, I loved it when the teacher passed out those books that had the answers in the back. Next to the bell sounding to end the school day, it was the best thing that could happen. Although the teacher told us that the answers were there to help us not to take the place of learning. Although it was good to know nevertheless that the answers could be find in the back of the book, especially if your homework got in the way of a good game of football that afternoon. That’s soccer for the uneducated. To be honest about it, I know that you would not believe this of me, I find myself more than often beginning with the answer at the back of the book and then tackling the question at the front.
That may not be the best way to learn, but the Bible instructs us that it’s a good way to live. When it comes to life, when it comes to living, God wants the Christian to turn to the back of the book. He wants us to live, to borrow Luther’s words, “This day for that day.”
God wants us always to be going back to the future. When it comes to the Bible, the back of the book is a panoramic prophecy of future events. Look at how John describes the book before us this morning, verse 3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy.” That idea is repeated in chapter 22 and verse 7, where again the book is described as a word of prophecy. “‘Behold on coming quickly,’ says Christ, ‘Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.'”
The Book of the Revelation takes the wrapper off tomorrow and it gives us a guided tour of the last days on planet earth. The balance of the book is futuristic. It shows us the beginning of the end. In fact, let me reinforce that by taking you to Revelation 1:19 because in this verse, John scopes out the book for us and divides the apocalypse into three sections, one past, one present, one future.
Look at verse 19. Jesus says to John through the angel, “Write the things which you have seen and the things which are and the things which will take place after this.” The things which you have seen, we believe refers to the vision of the one’s crucified, now glorified Lord Jesus. That’s chapter 1.
The things which are denotes the royal letters from the risen Christ to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Now, when we come to look at those letters, we’re going to see that the number seven speaks of completion, perfection. And we take from that that these seven churches are simply a sampling of the whole body of Christ and this is letters to the church worldwide in John’s day and in succeeding ages.
John says he’s also to write down those things which will take place after this. That speaks of the events of the end times that will bring about the end of the city of man and a more visible expression of the city of God in the millennial kingdom as Jesus reigns where’er the sun does its successive journeys run. That’s chapters 4 through 22.
The Book of the Revelation, in balance is all about the future. Ed Hindson in his book, Approaching Armageddon, a commentary on Revelation tells us that in chapter 1, we have the Christ. In chapters 2 and 3, we have the church. In chapters 4 through 22, we have the consummation. That’s harder to understand the Book of the Revelation. He puts it another way. In chapters 1 through 3, we have the church age. In chapters 4 through 19, we have the tribulation period. In chapters 20, we have the kingdom age and in chapter 21 and 22, we have indeed the eternal state.
The Book of Revelation will keep bringing us back to the future and that’s a good thing. In fact, we’re told in chapter 1 in verse 3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy.” You and I have got to read, understand and obey the Book of the Revelation. It’s not a book to be ignored, it’s a book to be understood and undertaken.
According to Jesus then through John, life is best lived with the end in view. Christians must live life backwards starting with the end, and that’s important because some people have this idea, the more heavenly minded you are, the less earthly you are. But that’s not true. The study of prophecy is not a form of daydreaming, but a dynamic force at work in the life of a believer calling them to greater service, greater sacrifice and greater steadfastness.
Prophecy is not a narcotic that removes us from the realm of reality. It is a stimulant to live life fully and faithfully. As Christians, don’t we believe that there’s more to life than this one? And if that’s the case, and the Book of Revelation of reinforces that, then this one is all the more important in the light of the next one.
Listen to these words by CS Lewis, the writer of The Narnia Chronicles. He says this, “Looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. If you read history, you’ll find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves who sat on foot, the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great man who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade all left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since,” he says, “Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one.”
You want to take that to heart, brothers and sisters. Prophecy is not a narcotic, it is a stimulant to live fully and faithfully for Jesus Christ. We must always be going back to the future. Now, as we begin this series on the seven churches, I want to introduce this series by unpacking the opening paragraph or prologue to the Book of the Revelation. We’re just going to make a start on it this morning and we’ll come back to it next Lord’s Day morning.
These letters mustn’t be studied in isolation. There’s a context to them. The rest of the book, there’s a background and there’s a foreground to this correspondence between Christ and His church. On the one hand, you have the vision of a risen Christ among the churches, that forms the background. Chapter 1, we find Him among the candlesticks or the lamp stands which are the church, which are pictures of the church.
Then we have Him reigning and returning among the nations in chapters 4 through 22, that forms the foreground. And both these visions call the church to get its act together. The Christ who is nigh hidden and mystically among the church through the ministry of the Holy Spirit will someday soon and suddenly be visible and physically among the nations with His church. That’s the front end and the back end to these letters.
Therefore, what’s the implication? If you study these letters in their context, chapters 2 and 3 are summaries between the picture of Christ among the church and among the nations, what’s the implication? It’s this. If they were to reign with Christ on a future day in the millennial kingdom, which is certainly what the Book of Revelation holds out as a possibility, chapter 19 verse 6, they must nigh and presently obey the words of the risen Christ, and His words to them again and again was to overcome the world and not to be overcome by the world.
One of the signature notes that’s signed within these letters is that the Christians were called to overcome, not be overcome. You’ll find it in chapter 2 verse 7, verse 11, verse 17, verse 26 through 28, chapter 3 verse 5, verse 12, verse 21. It echoes something John had said earlier in one of his epistles, chapter 5 of his first letter and verse 4, what does he say? “Overcome the world by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s the message of the prologue to the Book of the Revelation. The church of Jesus Christ on earth was to remain a colony of heaven amidst a world destined for hell. In a world gone wild, they were to live out the lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ and they were to do it because time was running out. The things that would usher in the end would shortly take place according to verse 1 and the time was near according to verse 3. Time was running out to go from good to great for Christ.
Now, I’m going to break this prologue, an opening paragraph into three ideas and we’re only going to cover one of them this morning, but if you’re taking an outline, if you were to look at chapter 1 in verses 1 through 3, I think you would find, and I hope to show you the personality in this prophetic book, the proximity of this prophetic book and the profitability to this prophetic book. Jesus is the personality, the time is near tells us this book’s proximity and we’re called to read and keep it and we’ll find a blessing. That’s the book’s profitability.
But let’s look at the personality of this prophetic book, and we’ll pick up the rest of the threads next Lord’s Day morning. I hope you’ll come back and invite others to join us on this journey into the future. The Book of the Revelation is a book about Jesus Christ. We don’t want to miss that. We do want to mistake that. Look at verse 1, the revelation of Jesus Christ. That’s how the book ends. Jesus is the central figure in the chronicle of the unfolding of the end times. The Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Now that can be taken in two ways. It could mean either the revelation made by Jesus Christ or it could be understood to speak of the revelation about Jesus Christ and you say, “Pastor, which is it?” It’s a good question and the answer is yes. The book is a book of Jesus Christ, by Jesus Christ, about Jesus Christ.
Now that says something because I know many of the sincere kindred and joy the study of prophecy and I’ve engaged with a number of you on that discussion. But here’s a point I want to remind you of and remind myself of. Listen, the Book of the Revelation is of Jesus Christ, from Jesus Christ, about Jesus Christ and that means if you and I think of the Antichrist, before we think of the Christ, we’ve missed the mark.
If you and I think of the mark of the beast and not the wounds in Christ’s hands as the Lamb who had been slain, we’ve missed the mark. If you and I think about the one world government and not Christ sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, we’ve missed the mark about the message of this book. It’s about Christ, not the Antichrist. It’s about God’s rule, not the emergence of a one world government.
While many personalities, human and demonic, are destined to walk across the stage of end time history as the Book of Revolution will show us, none are more central and none are more dominating than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Look at chapter 1 in verse 7, what do we read? “Behold, He is coming with clouds and every eye will see Him.” Every eye, He will be center stage in the end times. He’s not about to share the spotlight with another, not with Antichrist, not with the devil, not with the false prophet, not with kings and princes.
Christ will share the spotlight with no one. When He comes and this book is fulfilled, every eye will be focused on Him because He’s the personality of this book. He is the overarching object and subject of this prophecy. In Revelation 1 through 3, Christ is seen as the exalted Priest and King ministering to the church. In Revelation 4 through 5, He is seen as the once crucified, now glorified lamb of God, reigning on the throne and being worshiped by the church triumphant.
In Revelation 6 through 18, Christ is the judge of all the earth. In the Damocles sword of God’s righteous wrath falls upon a rebellious world. In Revelation 19, He returns as a conquering King of kings and sets up His kingdom, which is then swallowed up in the eternal states. It’s all about Christ. That’s why it’s amazing, by the way, to read the words of Martin Luther the Reformer. In 1522, Luther said this, “My mind cannot use itself to the book,” speaking of Revelation. And to me the fact that Christ is neither taught nor recognized in it is good and sufficient cause for my low estimation.”
Wow, Martin, where have you been? The Book of the Revelation is all about Christ and somehow he missed it. In fact, to be fair to him as time went by, he might have modified his view of the book. Although to his dying day, he always doubted the Book of the Revelations’ canonicity, which is interesting. And yet today, many people still failed to see the centrality of Christ in this volume.
Number one, because they simply don’t read the book. They’re scared off by its symbols and its signs, or if they miss him, they miss him not because they don’t read it but because they do read it, but they become preoccupied with the identification of events and the sequence of the end times and the persons involved other than our Lord.
Many seem to be more interested in the Antichrist than Jesus Christ, and that’s a mistake because the Book of the Revelation is not a curiosity shop for prophetic buffs. It’s a cathedral for Christ worshipers where we’re brought to see the Lord Jesus Christ and to some degree as we’ve never seen Him before, exalted with feet as brass and eyes as fire.
This is not the meek and lowly Jesus. This is the risen Lord walking among the candlesticks. He’s here this morning looking at us. He’s asking Himself questions about us. Are we constantly going back to the future and living in the light of His near return? Bearing this idea in mind, the centrality of Christ and the Book of the Revelation, we will find a wonderful and edifying guide to interpreting the book. And I think secondly, it will minimize fruitless debate over the complicated and controversial details.
My brother-in-law and I called the truce about seven or eight years ago when it came to debating the Book of the Revelation. He’s got one view and I have another. And for the sake of peace among our families, we decided not to do any more discussing on it. The girls were so fed up of us making a nuisance of herself in the mall and causing people’s heads to turn that we decided, “Okay, we’ll agree to disagree.” But you know what? Maybe we should have spent more time talking about the Christ that unites us than the Antichrist and who he is and when he comes and what he does.
In fact, let’s go back to verse 1. Verse 1, the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants things which must shortly take place and He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant, John. Let’s just camp here for a moment. We’ve established a personality of this prophetic book and I’ll reinforce it because it’s right there at the beginning of the book. Jesus Christ is the cover story of the Book of the Revelation.
The book begins with the revelation of Jesus Christ. That’s why Old King James in describing this book got it wrong. This is not the revelation of St. John the Divine. This is the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, the word revelation is the Greek word apocalypsis from which we get our English word, apocalypse. And it’s a word that’s used 18 times in the New Testament, 13 by Paul. Here it’s used by John and it carries the idea of something or someone that’s uncovered. It speaks of an unveiling. It speaks of a disclosure.
When used of something or someone, it speaks more than often of that which was hidden but that’s become visible. That’s the idea here. The word simply meant unveiling. It was used of lifting a cover off a box, pulling back a curtain in the theater. The word meant opening up, or more dynamically it meant breaking through. I like that last thought, dynamically. This book is about Jesus Christ breaking through in the history and tying all the threads together.
In fact, sometimes when we think about the word apocalypse, we tend to think of dread and dragons and end time trumpets and the sky falling. But that’s not how the early Christians would’ve understood the word apocalypse and it was more positive than that. It’s a book of something being unveiled. The lid was being taken off something. And for them, the Book of the Revelation, the apocalypse was about taking the lid off our understanding of Jesus Christ, and seeing Him break through into history.
The Book of the Revelation, like no other book in the canon of scripture, lifts the lid off Christ. I commend this book to you. This apocalypse is an unveiling from God about Christ to His servants by an angel, through John. And what is the disclosure? We’ve already touched on that, Christ’s presence, splendor. He’s risen, seated, and by the Spirit, He’s to be found among the church. Christ’s presence, splendor, chapters 1 through 3, and Christ’s future glory, chapter 4 through 22. As Christ sits until He has put all His enemies under His feet, then He will return and establish His kingdom.
And the purpose of this book, listen, the purpose of this book is to help us see Jesus like we’ve never seen Him before, not as the lowly carpenter, but as the lofty and fearsome King. Revelation climbs to the pinnacle of redemptive history and the crowning moment when Christ appears as we see in Revelation 19 as the Lord of lords and the King of kings. And men will cry for the rocks to hide them, to fall on them, to hide them from the face of the Lamb of God who is nigh the Lion of Judah.
The Book of the Revelation wants us to see the one before whom kings will bow, nations will fall and demons will squirm. What a glorious vision. You need to focus on it this morning. What a glorious victory. In this we find one of the great purposes of The Second Coming. There are many, but here’s the primary one. Well, you say, “Pastor, what is the primary purpose of The Second Coming of Jesus Christ?” I’ll tell you what it is. The purpose of Christ coming again is to vindicate Himself.
It’s unthinkable. It’s unthinkable to think that the last view the world had of our savior is the lasting view. What was the last view they had of Him? Crucified. His hair matted with blood and spittle, hanging naked upon a cross, mocked by the soldiers, jeered by the crowd. That’s the last view the world at large had of Jesus Christ. And it can’t be the lasting view. It can’t be. There’s going to be another view, the apocalypse, the unveiling, the disclosure.
“For had they known,” says Paul, “They would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” That was His First Coming, but there’s a second act. Amen? His humiliation is over. He had prayed to His Father and John 17, “Restore unto me the glory that I had with You.” I want to tell you something, it’s been restored. It’s been restored. He’s no longer in humiliation. He’s no longer taunted and mocked and His name and His presence is no longer taken in vain. He’s now seated, adored by the angels, worshiped by the church, loved by the Father. And someday He’s going to return. Even so come, Lord Jesus.
His glory has been restored and there’s coming a day when His glory will be revealed for all the world to see and all the saints to see it. That’s a tremendous thought. Listen to these words by Adrian Rogers. “The Second Coming of Jesus will be so different from His First Coming. When His glory was veiled, He came the first time to a crucifixion. He’s coming again to a coronation. He came the first time in shame. He’s coming again in splendor. He came the first time to a tree. He’s coming again to a throne. He came the first time and stood before Pilate. He’s coming again and Pilate will stand before Him to be judged. The triumphant return of the Lamb will be nothing like the humble birth of the baby in Bethlehem.” Amen? Jesus is coming in power and glory according to Matthew 24:30.
Listen to me. At that moment, every belittling thought of Him will evaporate. At that moment, every blaspheming mouth that has taken His name in vain will be shut. At that moment, the cross will triumph over the menorah and the crescent. At that moment, the creation will sigh in relief. At that moment, every lawyer that has fought to remove The Ten Commandments from the courthouse will stand guilty. At that moment, every minister who has failed to preach the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ will fear. At that moment, every devil and every demon will crawl back into the abyss. At that moment, Christ will be declared the winner and those without Him the loser. Amen?
You’ve heard the story of the janitor who was waiting patiently to clean up the gym at the seminary after the seminarians had finished their basketball game. There he sat with his head and his Bible studying. And as the seminarians were leaving the gym, they noticed that he indeed was pouring over the text of the Book of the Revelation. They asked him, “You know what? Do you understand this complicated book?” “Oh yes,” the janitor replied, “I understand it well. It means that Jesus is going to win.”
That’s the most accurate analysis of the Book of the Revelation. But before we leave it this morning and pick up the threads next morning, you and I need to appreciate how this message would resonate with the readers of the letters and the book itself. You see, if Jesus wins, they win. Their future and their fortune is bind up in His future and His fortune. In fact, in one of the letters, they’ll be told to be faithful if necessary unto death.
There were martyrdoms taking place during this era. A generation before Nero in AD 67, had inflicted the church of Jesus Christ with unspeakable wounds. Some were fed to the lions. Some were sewn up in skins and then molested by wild dogs. Some were saturated with oil, nailed to crosses in Nero’s back garden and burned alive. It was during this time that Peter would be martyred, and we believe, Paul.
The clock has moved on. AD 95 is when we believe the Book of the Revelation was written. There’s been a changing of the guard. Nero has gone, Domitian has come. And an emperor worship has been taken to a whole new level where Domitian, with a grandeur ideas about himself, makes it law that every citizen in Rome and every citizen in the Roman Empire must come once a year to a temple and put some pinch of incense in the altar and cry, “Caesar is lord. Caesar is kurios.”
If you don’t do that, there were those delegated in the local cities and the local communities to deal with you as they felt appropriate. During his reign, 40,000 Christians were slain. We believe Timothy, the bishop of Ephesus was beaten to death by an enraged mob during this time. And John who administered in the church at Ephesus had been banished to the Isle of Patmos.
Jesus is Lord. That’s the cry of the church, and to shout it, to believe it and to live it was to invite trouble. But that’s what this message was all about. The central figure of this prophecy is Jesus Christ. And the end story and end game of this prophecy is that He will reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and Savior, and when you get that background and backdrop, then you’ll understand the significance.
If He wins, we win and therefore, they were encouraged to stand victorious. The gospel would succeed, the church would triumph. These are words of comfort and strength to a regiment of the redeemed to a living behind enemy lines and suffering every day. If they needed to be faithful onto death, that would be worth it because they would gain a crown of life. They would reign with Christ. They would escape the second death. Those are the promises to the letters we’ll get into.
In fact, in chapter 1 verse 19, we see what I’m talking about because John says he was both a brother to them and a companion in tribulation, and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ on the island that is called Patmos. The form of this book is prophetic, but the spirit of this book is pastoral. As a companion in tribulation. John is writing to them to encourage them to hold fast. Yes, Domitian was a real threat, sitting a constant foe and their head was continually on the chopping block. But Christ invisible was the King of kings, and someday His reign and His rule would become visible.
He is presently exalted and hidden, but someday will visibly appear and every scepter of human power will be laid at His feet. And the church militant will become the church triumphant, and the crown will become a reality in place of the cross. In the end, Jesus wins and so do they. And therefore, they were to keep ministering. They were to keep meeting. They were to keep on mission.
I was interested to learn this week, when the Turks conquered Greece in the 15th century, they took over all the Byzantine churches and they turned them into Muslim mosques. In their domes were painted mosaics of Christ, looking down upon the people, keeping watch over His flock. But the Turks plastered over the images. And for 400 years, Christ was hidden until the Greeks won their independence and they returned their churches and they removed the plaster.
And for the most part, the mosaics of Christ had remained unharmed, invisible from below, but nevertheless there all the time. And that seems to be the great and comforting message of the Book of the Revelation. Although hidden and invisible, Christ still is among His people looking down over His flock. And someday, there will come an apocalypsis, an unveiling. And He will become visible and His triumph manifest.
As we close this morning, what a message, a message to the ancient church, but what a message to the modern church. I was thinking about that this morning. Today, the church in America seems to be in retreat. Today, it’s harder than ever to be a Christian. Today, the culture, it’s becoming aggressively secular.
But listen, if you and I would take the Book of the Revelation to heart, we won’t lose heart. The message of this book is an upbeat one that Christ is leading His church in triumph. That’s what we read in II Corinthians 2:14. In the end, He wins. That means we win. In the end, righteousness reigns. In the end, the bad guys get it in the neck.
That’s why we must read the Book of the Revelation, and keep coming back to the future because if you begin with the end, things will look differently. The answers are in the back of the book. It may not be a good way to learn, but it’s a great way to live. God will have the last laugh. That’s what we read in Psalm 2:4.
So, away with our long faces and our furrowed brows. Away with our chicken little thinking, the sky is falling, the sky is falling. Away with our down in the mouth attitudes. Away with our siege mentality. Away with our fear to suffer for Christ, because friends, we’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion. We’re marching to Zion, the beautiful city of God. And our faces and our feelings and our faith ought to show it.
Why all this panic? Why all this pessimism? Why all this paralysis in the church today? We need to look at the back of the book and the revelation of Christ, by Christ, and about Christ, which tells us in the end, He wins.
A man stopped to watch a little league baseball game. He asked one of the youngsters what the score was. The little fella looked at him and said, “We’re losing 18 to zip.” The man looked at him and said, “Well, you know what? You don’t look that discouraged.” “Discouraged,” the little boy added. “Why should we be discouraged? We haven’t come to bat yet.”
Listen. Listen. Why should we be discouraged? Jesus hasn’t come yet. For when He does, the score will change and the Christians will find themselves on the winning side. That’s why it’s time to take sides, to love Christ, to love His church, and to love the world for Christ’s sake until He comes. Because He says, “I come quickly.”
Let’s pray. As the team comes and we sing a closing and a triumphant old hymn, which reminds us that the roll someday will be called up yonder. Oh God, we come this morning amidst the clamor of international problems, wars and rumors of wars. We see the lifestyle of the days of [inaudible] stalking our streets and invading our cities. We see the influence of the church waning. We see apostasy among your people and the lack of true theology centered in the person of Jesus Christ.
And Lord, those things concern us. But God, we’re not discouraged, because in the end we win. Therefore, help us to be faithful. At this moment, it’s none likely we’ll have to be faithful onto death, but help us to die to ourselves in the meantime. Dear God, help us to fill this house with our presence. Help us indeed to further the work of the gospel across the world. Help us to live radically for Jesus Christ because our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
O, God, it’s time to take sides. May we be found on the right side, may we be found on the righteousness’ side, may we be found in Christ’s company, for we ask and pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.