ReMAP: Jesus said: “I AM the First and Last”

Revelation 1:9-18

First and Last (1 of 3)

Jesus said: “I AM the Living One, First and Last” – Revelation 1:18 (Part 1)

Covenant connection: Yahweh Nissi – The Lord my banner, my victory,
Exodus 17:15

Revelation 1:9-19 NLT

9  I [John] was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.

10-11  It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshipping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12  When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.

13-15  And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves.

16  He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

17  When I saw him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last.

18  “I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

19  “Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.”

Read, and re-read

Patmos was a small rocky island 40 miles south-west of Ephesus with a Roman fortress and a penal colony where John had been exiled. The 3rd-4th century church historian Eusebius reported that he was eventually pardoned and released.

The Lord’s Day was the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead. The earliest Christians worshipped on the last day of the week following the Jewish custom, but by this time they had been excluded from the synagogues and wanted to meet and take collections on the Lord’s Day.

John had been excluded from more than the synagogues – he had been excluded from normal life and exiled to a rather small volcanic island when, in a time of worship, the Lord appeared to Him, and spoke of what he must share with the churches on the mainland and things that were to come. This is the book of the Bible called the revelation of John which starts with the letters to the seven churches. But these are not John’s opinions – far from it. He had an encounter with the Lord Himself and it seems a greater and more profound encounter than even the Transfiguration experience on the mountain top with Jesus.

This final “I AM” saying of Jesus, that he is First and Last, before all things and at the finality of all things, is linked to a very early conflict that is a type of every attack on believers and the church. This is the battle against the Amalekites, ancient and evil enemy of the nation of Israel, where Moses took a position of praise at the top of the hill with the battle against the Amalekites going on below. You know the story… as long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites prevailed, but when he grew tired, the Amalekites gained ground. The commemoration of that place and event was called Yahweh Nissi, the Lord my Banner, or putting it more plainly, the Lord my Victory.

It’s all about how we pray, how we praise, how we trust God – not our defeat or victory, but His.

John was an exile rather than a prisoner, on the small, rocky Roman fortress island of Patmos, about 40 miles south-west of Ephesus – not too far to be visited, and for letters to be passed around on the circular route from and to Ephesus.

He was worshipping “in the Spirit”, meaning he was focusing on God’s majesty and fully submitted, when he became aware of an intensity of the presence of the Holy Spirit in which he saw the vision. It signals to the reader that this was not a dream, not his imagination, not even putting words to an impression, but a prophetic vision of the Holy Spirit.

The “loud voice, like a trumpet blast” draws attention to a solemn announcement from the Lord. The trumpet blast , sometimes with the loud voice, are seen on other ‘announcement’ occasions. See Isaiah 27:13; Joel 2:1; Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16; Hebrews 12:18-19.

As the vision develops, we see it is centred on Christ Himself and the postal directions become the seven lights, with Jesus standing in the middle of them. Seven particular congregations of His church. Whose church? The symbolism is clear – the churches are about showing Jesus as the Light of the World and are about Him, central to everything. He is holding those churches like seven shining stars in His hand, and He is speaking to them with the sharpness and penetration of a long Thracian sword.

His appearance, as John says, was as the Son of Man, a description Jesus often used of Himself. The disciples knew Him as a human being like them, who got hungry, cold, tired and on occasions showed his frustration and anger at people’s unbelief and lack of spiritual awareness. The Son of Man is also a reference to Daniel’s vision – see Dan. 7.13; Matt. 26:64; John 1:51. The long robe with the golden sash combines a king’s authority with a high priest’s purity, Isaiah 22:21; Exodus 28:4; 29:5-9.

John, who was better prepared than most for such a vision, was nonetheless overwhelmed and prostrate until Jesus held Him by His right hand and said: “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One…” and told John to write down everything that he saw.

continued

Jesus said: “I AM the Living One, First and Last” – Revelation 1:18 (Part 2)

Read, and re-read again – Revelation 1:9-19 NLT

9  I [John] was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.

10-11  It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshipping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12  When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.

13-15  And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves.

16  He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

17  When I saw him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last.

18  “I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

19  “Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.”

Meditate

Consider the sheer majesty of the Lord Jesus, Great High Priest, King of kings and Lord of lords, having the ‘white-haired’ perfect wisdom of the Ancient of Days with the ‘blazing eyes’ of penetrating insight. But His first words to John are tender and reassuring – “Don’t be afraid”. He goes on to say, in effect, “You know Me…”.

All authority and power is His, symbolised by the crushing feet of polished, hardened bronze, yet He appears to His trusted friend, John, revealing things of the moment (where the churches need to repent and re-set), the workings of the heavenly realm and their connection with us (receiving the prayers of the saints like incense) and the things that are associated with the end-times.

There is much in Scripture which helps us to be reminded of Jesus’ compassion, the way He went beyond the conventional boundaries and touched those ‘outside the faith’, His making a way to the Father for us – not to mention His love for us demonstrated in blood and torment, at the hands of the religious leaders and on the Cross. Without taking anything away from that perspective, we need to be reminded of His might, majesty, dominion and power. There is a particular dimension of this that comes from being outside time as we know it. Jesus is First – before anything else in the created universe. He is also the Last – presiding over the completion of all things. So we bring the situation or problem which to us is so big, intractable, and enduring, to a friend who is exercising dominion on a scale, space and chronology that is unimaginable to us. When we ask Him to be praying with us in our intercession for somebody or something, this is who we are asking. This is who is with us.

We may not have John’s experience, or the disciples on the mountain top, or Paul’s blinding light of glory and audible voice, but Jesus comes close to us as we come close to Him – Immanuel, God with us but also Yahweh Nissi, the Lord our victory, the Ancient of Days.

The life we live, we live in Him. Dare we become casual about His lordship of our lives? And our church – should we even use that phrase? The church of Jesus Christ cannot be man’s church, but as the messages to the churches given to John later show us, what started in the middle of God’s will and holy to Him can so easily swerve into the muddy verges.

continued

Jesus said: I AM the Living One, First and Last – Revelation 1:18 (Part 3)

Read, and re-read again – Revelation 1:9-19 NLT

9  I [John] was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.

10-11  It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshipping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12  When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.

13-15  And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves.

16  He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

17  When I saw him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last.

18  “I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

19  “Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.”

Apply

John was “in the Spirit” and worshipping. And Jesus appeared and talked to Him. Do we want a word from the Lord? Do we need a word from the Lord? Would He trust us with a revelation to share with those around us? Not everyone would define being “in the Spirit” in exactly the same way, but we know what it is and what it isn’t. Patmos in the first century had few attractions and even fewer distractions. We can carve out our distraction-free time and space.

John was also in exile. Think about that – disconnected, not part of a fellowship, his apostolic call and opportunities closed down. And he was of an age now, not so agile, not so resilient physically. But spiritually? At the top of his game, and keeping in training. We go through bereavement experiences in life, the literal ones and other situations of loss that affect us in the same way. And sometimes we find ourselves ‘exiled’ for whatever reason, or for no reason. John wasn’t sitting on a rock saying ‘poor old me’ or wondering what the point of it was, to end in failure. He was honouring Jesus as Lord and praising Him for who He is. Surely any definition of being “in the Spirit” would point to this? And as he loved and worshipped and gave glory to His Lord, His Lord appeared and told him to take notes which have impacted many more than two billion people in this age alone. We may not be recollection-perfect on all of Revelation, but the appearance of Jesus and the letters to the churches are part of the conversation of every believer.

We can go further than the giant of faith and spirituality we know as the apostle John. He saw Jesus’ agony and witnessed his death. He saw Jesus after the Resurrection. Now one of the first things Jesus makes clear to him, in this private tutorial on a volcanic island, is that He has conquered death. “I AM the living One… I hold the keys of death and the grave.” John was already way over the normal life expectancy of that time, and he was not to see many more changes of season before he would go to be with the Lord. That didn’t change. But Jesus is lifegiving, in a way that reverses the decay of all things that we are used to. Everything in Christian life and church life decays, without Jesus (and too much carries on, slowly running down, without us letting Jesus have much to do with it). As the evangelist Laurence Singlehurst puts it, “Everything swerves to rot”. However, we now know there is an antidote to this inevitability of decline and calcification of every idea, system, plan and programme that we are trying to maintain. When we allow Jesus, the Living One, to be Lord He holds the keys to what dies to be reborn, or what is revived, perhaps to be re-ordered in His way, by His lifegiving presence. The best we can do is to manage decline. The ‘worst’ that Jesus can do, on our most casual and faith-light prayer, is to bring His life and His order to bear again. When He repeats the First and Last saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, He also declares “I AM making everything new”! Understanding this intention is a big step to being able to join Him in it.

Experiences intended to break us, can make us – so says John’s encounter with the Lord. He is always revealing and speaking and going before us – and for us to be in an attitude – or put ourselves in an attitude – of high trust and low distraction, makes room for Him to be heard and experienced in new life and new purpose.

Pray

Lord, we repent of our constant tendency to see You in terms of our size, situation and human limitations, rather than exercising faith to see You in the majesty of Your appearance to John. Surely You were before all that has been created, and will rule over the end of all things. Meanwhile, we humble ourselves, and our thoughts and opinions and aspirations, and ask You once again to show Yourself as Lord, in and around our lives, families, fellowship and mission – the great Lord of victory, Yahweh Nissi, seated in heavenly places with all things under Your feet. Amen.

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