Monday, December 11, 2017

Revelation 1:17-20: Fear of the Lord

KEY TEXT: Revelation 1:17-20 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,  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.  Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.  As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. 

KEY THOT: When John saw the unveiled Christ in his full glory, his first reaction was falling down as dead at his feet from fear, Jesus' "fear not" reminds us something that is missing in these days of a User-friendly Christ. Jesus calls us friends because "all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15), but it would wrong to treat him like any human friend and become over-familiar. John was presumably the one closest to Jesus and had the most intimate relationship with Christ in the days of his flesh, yet fear was his first reaction to the glorified Christ. Peter, James and John had the same reaction of fear when they encountered the transfigured Christ at the Mount of Transfiguration: "When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear" (Matthew 17:6-7).

The reason there is so little fear of God among us nowadays there is so little teaching about Christ as the Exalted and Glorified One, "the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Revelation 1:17-18). User-friendly churches tend to avoid the Book of Revelation because the images of Christ found there are too terrifying to reconcile with our easy-going and tolerant spirit of this age.

But this picture of Christ as the Glorified One is no more than what Peter, James and John saw of the transfigured Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. The lack of depth in worship in so many churches (traditional or contemporary) is simply a reflection of this lack of fear of the Lord, for worship (falling down at Jesus' feet) flows out of this revelation of the exalted Christ, resulting in a holy fear induced by his holiness, glory and majesty.

If our image of Christ is overly-familiar and user-friendly, we are likely to have a distorted image of Christ. We may need to re-adjust our focus to the real Christ as revealed in Scriptures. For any conception of Christ that is not faithful with the One revealed in Scripture is idolatry. The essence of idolatry is the corruption of God by reducing him to the level of his creation. There is nothing on earth that is like God. What John now saw was like what he, Peter and James saw at the mount of transfiguration: "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 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" (Revelation 1:14-16). This image of Christ is not just symbolic or metaphoric--it is the present reality of the unveiled Christ in His glory.

The lack of such teaching about Christ also results in the lack of concern for personal holiness as a goal of sanctification. In fact, it is almost a taboo to talk about the need to be holy in these days of super-abundant grace--God is too nice and too forgiving to demand that we repent of our sins because, after all, He knows we are still sinners. But an encounter with the unveiled Christ in his glory may change our minds about the importance holiness: "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

We deceive ourselves if we think we can still enter heaven and "see the Lord" without repentance and without holiness. Even the great champion of grace, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to strive for holiness in the fear of God: "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Wherever is a slack in teaching about the unveiled glory of Christ, especially in Revelation, there will also be a resultant lack of the fear of God among the congregation. And where there is a lack of fear of God, sinful behaviour is tolerated in the name of grace.

Abba-Father, we thank You that You are a loving God. But we also thank You that You are a holy God, awesome in glory and majesty. Help us never to become over-familiar with You and continue to fear You because You are totally unlike us. Amen.

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