By Pastor Glenn Pease
Toscanini, the world famous conductor, worked his orchestra so hard at rehearsals. Once, after performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in concert, the first violinist said to the second violinist, "If he scolds us after that superb performance, I will jump up and push him off his platform." But Toscanini did not scold. He stood silent and then with rapture on his face and a spirit of utter contentment said, "I am nobody, you are nobody-Beethoven is everything."
This is the attitude that John conveys about Jesus right from the start of this Revelation. He is but a servant, and all Christians are servants, but Jesus is everything. He is the Faithful Witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. Many see in this three-fold description of Jesus the perfect fulfillment of the three great roles of Prophet, Priests, and King. If you classify the great men of God in the Old Testament, you discover most all of them fall into one of these three categories. Jesus became the supreme example of each, and, therefore, He is literally everything to us. As Prophet He is the source of God's Word to us; as Priest He is the mediator who alone can offer an acceptable sacrifice to God; His being the first born is proof that His sacrifice was accepted, and as King He is the Lord and Sovereign over our total life.
The point we need to stress here is that Jesus is all of these things in His humanity. It is as the second Adam that He is a faithful witness. The first Adam was unfaithful and bore witness to man's depravity by his disobedience. Jesus bore witness to our potential perfection by His perfect obedience to the Father while living in the flesh of His manhood. He was the first born from the dead as a man. Other men who were raised from the dead did not conquer death, but were only granted a temporary release from its collections. Jesus rose and conquered death permanently because it had no right to hold Him. He now, as He says in verse 18, has the keys of death and is in control. His reign as King goes even beyond that of earthly rulers. He is King also of the powers and dominions of the unseen world.
The point we are making here is, He is King, not just in His deity, but in His humanity. In His pre-human state before the incarnation, Jesus was equal with the Father and all powerful. He was already the sovereign ruler of the world. The Old Testament makes this clear. Arthur Pink in Gleanings In The Godhead gets very close to anger as he describes the weak and pathetic image so many Christians have of God. He says the God of many pulpits and Sunday Schools is an idol, for He falls so far short of the God of Scripture. He writes, "The most dishonoring conceptions of the rule and reign of the Almighty are now held almost everywhere." He goes on to quote I Chron. 29:11-12, "Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as Head above all...And Thou reignest over all." Note, he says, that God reigns now and not in some far distant future.
II Chron. 20:6 says, "Dost Thou not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In Thy hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand Thee." No power in heaven and on earth or under the earth is superior to the power of God in the Old Testament, or to the Son in the New Testament. Any theology that even hints otherwise is not consistent with the clear revelation of Scripture. The point we are getting at is that Jesus, before the incarnation, was already sovereign. What then is the big deal about emphasizing that Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father? He could not get any higher than He was before. That is true as the Son of God, but when He took the throne after His resurrection, He did so as the Son of Man.
The new thing about the New King on the throne is that He is not only deity, He is man. It is the exaltation of man to the throne of the universe that makes Him the most exciting King ever. God has always been on the throne ruling the nations, but now a man is there: The Son of David-the Son of Man. In the ascension Jesus did not just return to the throne as He was before the incarnation. In welcoming Jesus to sit at His right hand, God welcomed humanity into His family, and opened the door for all who bow to Christ to enter His kingdom and reign with Him.
Jesus is, therefore, indeed, everything to us. He is Prophet, Priest and King in His humanity, and because He is all of these in His humanity, all who follow Jesus can be prophets, priests and kings, which is what John says in verse 6 where the priestly and kingly role of the believer is noted. This three-fold description of Jesus lays emphasis on the three major events in the life of Jesus in terms of fulfilling God's plan of redemption, and openly the door for man to be one with God. The faithful witness stresses the cross; the first born of the dead stresses the resurrection, and the ruler of kings on earth stresses the ascension.
Before we look at each of these, it is of interest to note that the one thing the Prophet, Priest, and King had in common was that each of them had to be anointed to the office. Christ means Anointed One. Jesus was, in His humanity, anointed to all three of these offices, and, therefore, is the ultimate and everlasting Anointed One. He, and He only, is the Christ. In a catechism of the Eastern Orthodox Church the question is asked, "Why is Jesus called the Anointed?" The answer given is, "Because to his manhood were imparted without measure all the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and so he possesses in the highest degree the knowledge of a prophet; the holiness of a high priest, and the power of a king." Lets look at each separately.
I. THE FAITHFUL WITNESS
The Greek word for witness is martus from which we get the word martyr. A martyr is one who bears witness to his faith even to the point of death. In this sense Jesus was a martyr. He could have escaped the cross, but he went all the way as a faithful witness proclaiming his faith in God. He was convinced God would accept his sacrifice for the sin of the world, raise him from the dead, and save for ever all those who trusted in his death. Jesus bore witness, not only to his own faith and trust in the Father, but he bore witness to the love of the Father for lost men. If we want to know how God really feels about anything, we turn to Jesus, for he alone is a faithful witness. He alone is an infallible guide as to the will and plan of God.
The world has always been filled with voices telling men what is right and wise. Many of these voices have spoken truth but have not lived up to what they spoke. Others lived well but did not speak in accordance with the mercy of Jesus. Jesus alone, of all witnesses in the world, had been faithful and perfectly consistent in both doctrine and deed, in word and walk. He alone has been faithful so that we can trust and follow his example in all he said and did. a witness tells what he has seen and heard and the judge and jury make their decision on the basis of what they feel is the trustworthiness of the witness. John is telling us from the start of this Revelation that Jesus is the source of this revelation, and you can count on it. It is reliable and trustworthy. It comes from Him who is the Faithful Witness.
When Jesus said, "I am the truth," He was just using different words to describe His role as the Faithful Witness. Jesus said to Pilate in John 18:37, "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth." It was on the cross that Jesus bore the greatest witness and fulfilled His purpose for coming. We now know, because of His witness on Calvary, the truth about sin and salvation. We now know all that we need to know to be saved, because Jesus was the Faithful Witness. Secondly, John says Jesus was-
II. THE FIRST BORN OF THE DEAD.
Jesus is the first man to begin living in the state of everlasting life. He was already eternal as God before the Incarnation, but His manhood was real flesh and blood subject to death. When He rose in His body from the grave that was the beginning of man's entrance into eternal life where death is conquered forever. The first man to be totally saved was Jesus. He is both Savior and saved. The reason we stress the manhood of Christ at this point is because that is the stress of the New Testament. Listen to Paul in I Cor. 15:20-22: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."
Jesus in His manhood has reversed what Adam did. He has regained for man the control of life beyond death. He now has the keys, and He is Lord of death as well as life. Death no longer has control of the destiny of men, but man in Christ has control of the destiny of death. It is the last enemy to be destroyed, but it will be destroyed. Jesus was the first to conquer death as a man that He might be the leader and Lord of men as a man. As God He always was Lord, but He only became Lord of men as a man when He rose from the dead and ascended to the Father's right hand. Now He is the number one man in the universe. Paul stressed this in Col. 1:18, "He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent.
Nobody is first but Jesus. Nobody is number one but Jesus. In this world there are dozens of competitive battles to be number one at something, but for the Christian there is only One who always has that spot locked up, and that is Jesus. It would be good to get the pre-eminence of Christ so ingrained in our minds that we can relate all great claims to Him. Some examples would be:
Jesus is like Ford-He has a better idea.
Jesus is like Coke-He's the real thing.
Jesus is like PanAm-He makes the going great.
Jesus is like Pepsi-He's got a lot to give.
Jesus is like American oil-you expect more from Him and you get it.
Jesus is like Hallmark Cards-He cares enough to send the very best.
Jesus is like tide-He gets the stain others leave behind.
Jesus is like frosted flakes-He is grrrrrrrreat.
Keep your mind open for others, and the advertising of this world can even be a means of praising Jesus and making Him pre-eminent in our thinking. Because He is the first born from the dead, we who trust Him will be later born and rise from the womb of the tomb to live forever. As the first-fruits from the grave Jesus transformed the desert of death into a glorious garden from which new and beautiful life can spring. As the first-born son takes over the inheritance, so Jesus as the first born from the dead takes over all that death controlled, and He now, rather than death, determines the destiny of men.
Jesus is, therefore, now, the perfect High Priest, for He does not have to offer sacrifice continually. His resurrection was evidence that His once of all sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for all sin of all men for all time. Now He ever lives to make intercession for us. As a man He is our representative before God, and our Mediator who alone has power to gain our pardon and save us from the consequence of sin which is death. There is only one Mediator between God and man, and it is the Man Christ Jesus. It is also as a man, the Son of David, that He reigns as King of kings. God has made a man co-ruler with Him over this universe. God and man are not only reconciled, they reign together as One.
You can see how encouraging these titles of Jesus would be to Christians all through history who had to face persecution for His sake. What He is makes any price worth paying to follow Him faithfully. All the powers of earth and hell are nothing compared to Him who is everything. So wonderful is the theology of the titles John has given us that He does an unusual thing in the next phrase. He starts a doxology. Usually you save the doxology for the end, but John is saying things about Jesus so profound and marvelous that he cannot refrain from a doxology at the beginning. What Jesus is demands praise. There is no way we can honestly grasp who Jesus is and not have a heart that praises Him. John directs his praise to Jesus first as-
TO HIM WHO LOVES US. The KJV has the wrong tense which all of the modern versions have corrected. It is not to Him who loved us-past tense, but to Him who loves us now-present tense. This is a now book and it is from Jesus who is always the contemporary of all His people in every period of history. His love is not a once for all act. He did not just love us on the cross when He died for us. He loves us now and continuously. His love is rooted in the past, but the fruit of that past action of love is perpetual, and we must always think of Jesus as our present Lord and not just as a past hero of history.
Theodore Ferris in The Image Of God taught his students this lesson by telling them to suppose they were at a rehearsal of a play. As they watched the play they are impressed and desire to meet the author. They asked someone where the author is, and no one seems to know. They go off to the wings of the stage expecting to see him, but he is not there. They check back stage, but still no sign of him. Finally, they check the seats in the auditorium thinking he must be there as a spectator. When that fails to produce the author they conclude he is not present. People look for God and Jesus the same way, and often conclude that the author of the play called history is just not present. The problem is, they are looking in the wrong place. If you want to find the author, you look on the stage, for he is not an observer only. He has written himself into the play, and is a major actor on the stage. The greatest love story is not over, but goes on running to the end of history, and the star of the play, the greatest lover in all of history, is Jesus Christ.
The love of Jesus for His Bride, the Church, is a romance beyond anything man has ever produced on stage or screen. No TV series can boast a running of almost 2000 years with constant growth. The love of Jesus is always present to His Bride.
It is the warmth she needs in a cold world; the light she needs in a dark world; the joy she needs in a sad world. John was the one whom Jesus loved in a special way. John laid his head on the breast of Jesus. Now John is in exile on an island, and has gone through a time of tribulation he says in verse 9. But John does not speak of Christ's love as past. He does not say that he remembers the good old days. John refers to Jesus as the One who loves us. No matter how rough the way and tough life gets on this earth, Jesus is the One who loves us. The song, "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so," has for its basis this text right here. Every generation can sing it, for Jesus is the ever contemporary lover of the church, and to the church He is, and ever will be, everything.