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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Gazing Intently at Jesus


“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18

If we could reflect accurately and dispassionately on the past week, what would we have mostly feasted our eyes on this week? If we added up the minutes of intentional looking, what would have commanded the attention of our eyes most?

The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 tells us that we become increasingly like the things we gaze upon. In other words, we look increasingly like what we look at.

When I was in my early 20s I had friends whose main focus at that age was cars. And I had one particular friend who owned and drove a Ford Focus, but who aspired to own and drive a BMW.

He used to spend significant amounts of time looking at the BMW website. And then one day he told me he had been to the BMW garage to look at the cars and organise a test drive (even though any BMW model was well outside his means). And then, a few days after his test drive, with great pride, he showed me his Ford Focus keyset complete with accompanying BMW key ring (a freebie from his test drive). He was slowly becoming what he had so intently been looking at. The transformation was happening.

Here’s how Paul puts it:

And we all with unveiled faces looking at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory’ (v.18).

In other words, a steady gaze at the glory of Jesus, day in and out, serves to create transformation in us into the image of Jesus. And that transformation simply must happen in our lives because of what John says in 1 John 4:17, ‘This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus’.

Transformation into the likeness of Jesus is the ground of our confidence as we approach the day of judgment because in our being like Jesus, love is completed.

Here’s what I think that doesn’t mean: I think that doesn’t mean that Jesus’ atoning death on the cross isn’t our steadfast hope for the day of judgment – it is. What it does mean is that, at the day of judgment, the Father is going to be looking for the evidence of Jesus in our lives. The love he poured out on us in His Son will surely be visible in his blood bought people. And John is saying, our confidence that He will find that evidence in us on Judgment day is this: we look like Jesus.

So, this side of Judgment day it is blood-earnest that we are being transformed increasingly into the likeness of Jesus. Our confidence for the day of Judgment depends on it!

And how do we become more like Jesus day by day? 2 Corinthians 3 says, by looking at him in all of his glory and splendour. If we look at Jesus long enough and intently enough, we will become more and more like him.

How do we look at Jesus? We see him in his Word. We see his character; we see his purity; we discern his qualities; we appreciate his radicalholiness and goodness – all through his Word. Which means that wherewe feast our eyes with the time we’re given in a week, really matters. Transformation into the image of Christ will not happen watching movies, even though some movie watching might not be altogether bad.

Transformation into the image of Jesus will not happen scrolling through Facebook, even though some Facebook might not be altogether bad.

But transformation is guaranteed to happen by gazing steadily at Jesus in the Bible.

So that’s a stimulus to us this morning, to moderate and discipline the use of our eyes. Spend as much time as you can gazing at Jesus, because your eternal life depends on it. On Sunday morning push your faces into the pages of the book, but it’s not enough. Transformation will not happen if that’s all you get of Jesus in a week. You need to gaze upon him daily.

Young Christians choose your friends wisely. Choose friends who love to gaze more at Jesus and less at Instagram; more at Jesus and less at video games; more at Jesus and less at online shopping.

All of that is by way of introduction, because last time I spoke we were in the gospel of John staring hard at Jesus washing his disciples’ feet – even though he knew the Father had put everything under him.

This week I want us to stare hard at Jesus again, through John again, but this time not in his gospel but in his revelation.

Exiled for Jesus

Revelation is John’s record of a vision that he received whilst he was exiled on the island of Patmos. Patmos is about 60km south-west of Miletus. And heading north from Miletus in a sort of horse-shoe configuration were, in John’s day, seven churches.

The revelation John gets is addressed to those seven churches, and therefore the account we read in our bibles, is the written version of John’s vision which he sent to those seven churches.

Here’s how John starts his letter to them: Chapter 1 verse 9: ‘I John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’.

The same John who watched Jesus wash his own feet and the feet of all the other disciples was probably an old man by the time he wrote this revelation down, and he found himself alone on the island of Patmos - a prisoner because of ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’.

We might ask the question, ‘what did John spend his time gazing at?’ And we’d be able to answer pretty confidently, ‘Jesus’, because the cause of his being exiled to the island is his testimony about Jesus.

Even down to old age, John counts the testimony about Jesus more precious and valuable than his freedom; more precious than his family (perhaps grand-children by this time), even than his life. That steady gaze at Jesus got him in mighty trouble, but John loved Jesus enough to count himself a companion of the seven churches (v.9) in three ways.

He counted himself a companion with them in suffering. He counted himself a companion with them in the Kingdom. And he counted himself a companion with them in patient endurance.

And, no sooner has he said these three things, than he launches into a vision of Jesus. So, what is he telling us? I think he’s telling us, that he and the seven churches are united in suffering because of Jesus, they’re united in the Kingdom because of Jesus and they’re united in patient endurance because of Jesus.

Riverside, we are church like one of the seven churches and we should expect to find ourselves united in suffering, united in the kingdom and united in patient endurance on account of Jesus this side of glory. And in the midst of this suffering and this kingdom and this patient endurance, this revelation of John will be a blessing to us, verse 3, if we ‘take it to heart’.

How do we know it’s Jesus?

So here we have John’s revelation of Jesus. We know that John’s revelation was ‘prophetic’ because of what he says in verse 3 and we know that it contains ‘mystery’ because of what he says in verse 20. We know that at least some of the things in this revelation need explaining, because in verse 20 it’s revealed to John that the seven stars he saw actually represent angels, and the seven lampstands he saw actually represent the seven churches.

So, when John tells us in verse 10 that he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day and he heard behind him a loud voice like a trumpet. We are meant to understand something more than he heard a trumpet blast. In actual fact he heard a loud voice that had a trumpet-like quality about it.

In Exodus 19 when Moses went up the mountain to meet God and receive the tablets of the Covenant – the ten commandments, we read, there was a trumpet blast and the trumpet grew louder and louder, then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

The trumpet announced with gravitas and awesome noise the momentof God’s speaking.

Here in Revelation we have the same thing. The point is: get ready here comes God’s revelation.

Next, John turns around to see who it is who is speaking – where the voice is coming from and, verse 13, the one he sees is described in ten ways.

First - and foremost - he was someone like a ‘son of man’ (v.13). Second, he was dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet. Third, he wore a sash around his chest. Fourth, the hair on his head was white like wool and like snow.

Fifth, he had eyes like blazing fire. Sixth, his feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace. Seventh, his voice was like the roar of rushing waters. Eighth, in his right hand he held seven stars. Ninth, coming out of his mouth was a double-edged sword. And tenth, his face was like the brilliance of the sun at midday.

Now, based on the trumpet in verse 10 we expect to see the Lord God Almighty of verse 8; the God of verse 1 who gave the revelation to Jesus; the Alpha and Omega of verse 8; the one who met with Moses on Mount Sinai. But instead, we find someone different.

We find someone ‘like a son of man’. That could be John’s phraseology for what he saw…unless we have good reason to think he borrowed ‘like a son of man’ from somewhere else – which he did. Daniel 7:13, ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence’.

John uses Daniel’s phrase about the man Daniel saw in his vison, for the man John saw in his own vision. So, who was the man Daniel saw? He wasn’t the Lord God Almighty because Daniel saw him being led into the presence of the ‘Ancient of Days’. So who was he? Daniel says the man was ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’. John records in verse 7, ‘Look, he is coming with the clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples on earth will mourn because of him’.

There’s no doubt who John is seeing in the Spirit, he’s seeing ‘the pierced one’ – he’s seeing Jesus. This is Jesus who is coming with the clouds of heaven and every eye is going to see him and the peoples of the earth are going to mourn because of him. This is the same Jesus who washed John’s feet.

There are nine other descriptors of Jesus – what do they tell us about him?

The robe speaks of his priestly office. Exodus 28:4, ‘These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests’. Hebrews 7 says, Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizadek. Jesus always lives to intercede on our behalf before the throne of God. His robe goes down to the ground because there is no shortage - no lack - in his priestly work.

The sash speaks of his authority and rule. Isaiah 22:21, ‘I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him…I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no onecan open’. Someone might say well that’s talking about Eliakim son Hilkiah – true. But Jesus says in Revelation 3:7 that these very words are my words.

So, authority has been handed over to Jesus and he has the key to the house of David and what he opens, no one can shut and what he shuts, no one can open. Luke talking of Jesus says, God has raised up a horn of salvation in the house of David (Luke 1:69).

His sash is golden because his authority is a royal authority.

So, Jesus is high priest and Jesus has all authority. What about his white hair? Daniel 7:9, ‘As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was a white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool’. This is the only other place in the bible this phrase is used.

So, we are to understand that Jesus is the same in nature as God Almighty. He is from everlasting to everlasting. His years are without beginning or end. He is the eternal, unmade God. And through all those endless years of existence he is spotlessly pure.

His eyes were like blazing fire. Daniel’s vision also has a man with eyes like blazing torches. God’s eyes penetrate the souls of people. He sees with the clarity of a thousand suns the ways of mortals; he knows their every step (Job 34:21). His eyes rove throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him (2 Chronicles 16:9).

His feet are like bronze glowing in a furnace because he is established, firm and immovable. No one will be able to unseat him from his authority. No one will replace him. All his ways are steadfast. All his plans will come to pass. None of his words will ever pass away. Leviticus 26:19, ‘I will break your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze’. Jeremiah 15:12, ‘Can a man break iron – iron from the north – or bronze?’ Jesus is as resolute as bronze – he will endure for ever.

His voice was like rushing waters. Ezekiel 43:2, ‘I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing water, and the land was radiant with his glory’. Jesus’ voice is a mighty, divine and authoritative voice. When he speaks nothing can drown out the sound of his voice. All his words continue from age to age; for millennium upon millennium.

The seven stars – the seven angels – were in his right hand which signifies his complete control. Daniel 5:23, ‘you did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways’. Jesus is in supreme control of the seven angels which belong to the seven churches.

And coming out of the mouth of Jesus was a sharp double-edged sword which according to Revelation 19:15, Jesus uses to ‘strike down the nations’.

Isaiah 66:16, ‘For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be slain by the Lord’.

Lastly, his face was like the sun shining in full brilliance. Revelation 21:23, ‘The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamb (Jesus) is it’s lamp’. And Isaiah 60:19, ‘The sun will no more be your light by day nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be youreverlasting light, and your God will be your glory’.

So, the vision John saw is a vision of Jesus not like John saw in the upper room when he washed their feet - that was a glorious vision of Jesus as servant. This is a glorious vision of Jesus as king and priest, in majesty and glory, with authority and insight and everlastingness; firm and fixed for ever. One who has the power to strike down the nations and be a light for his people.

Verse 17, when John saw this vision of Jesus, he fell at his feet as though dead. John falls down before awesome characters on two other occasions in Revelation and he’s rebuked for it both times, but not here. John’s response is a right response here to what he beholds. Jesus is the awesome God. And yet look at Jesus’ tenderness.

Jesus places that right hand of surety on John. And he speaks to him with that voice of rushing waters, saying ‘Don’t be afraid’.

And then he says something amazing in verse 18 (as if this wasn’t all amazing enough): ‘I was dead and now look I’m alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and hades’. Where did he get those keys from? He took control of the keys of death and hades in his right hand when he rose from the dead. Jesus is the ‘firstborn from dead’, verse 5. He controls the power of death and hades because he went and took control of them by conquering over them with his resurrection.

Listen to Hebrews 2:14, ‘by his death he broke the power of him who holds the power of death – that is the devil’. Who used to hold the keys of death and hades? Answer: the devil. Who holds them now? Jesus! Because, by his death, he snatched those keys out of the Devil’s hand.

Here’s the last thing: where does this awesome Jesus walk? Verse 12, ‘And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands (the seven churches) and among the lampstands was one like the son of man’.

Where does Jesus walk? He walks amongst his churches. The Jesus John saw in his vision is here with us this morning walking amidst Riverside. We need to behold him.

And beholding him become like him. And in becoming like him suffer for him. And in suffering for him, endure patiently with him. And in enduring patiently with him, serve to bring his kingdom in for him.

And, at last, to reign with him forever.


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