Remember how Revelation begins, “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” That has a double meaning. Revelation is by Jesus and it’s about Jesus. Jesus is both the content of the revelation and the agent through whom that content comes. Everything about the past, present and future points to Jesus. We will never understand Revelation if we don’t understand this. It will be hard for us to sustain this focus because of all the mind-blowing images and symbols, but we must keep everything else in subordination to the central truth, that this is all about Jesus. But then that’s how we are to read the whole Bible right? Take Jesus out of the Bible and none of it makes any sense. Put Him at the center and it all becomes clear. The end will not be about Buddha, not about Confucius, or Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama, or Mohammed or Allah; not about politics, world powers, science or technology. The end will be about Jesus. So as we turn the page to the last book of the Bible all that has been anticipated, all that has been prophesied and preached and proclaimed and taught is now revealed. Christ has the last word. The curtain rises and the drama begins with John’s first stunningly glorious vision. Our text has three parts, John’s commission to write down a great vision, John’s description of the risen Jesus in all His glory, and the authority of Jesus given to John to write what he sees.
As we come to the book of James this morning, please be clear, what we read here is God’s personal voice speaking to us. He has something to say to us. Come hungry. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church and to you. God is always speaking through His book to His people. Let him who has ears to hear, hear. Introduction to the Letter of James. James is a great book, a unique book in the NT. Just as there is no other book like Revelation which we are just starting on Sunday evenings, so there is no other book in the NT like James. It’s probably the first book written in the NT. It’s called the Proverbs of the NT. It’s a lively book, intensely practical. This is a down to earth book, with no use for speculation and talk. James is not a book of ideas or theories. This is down and dirty real religion. As a book of practical wisdom it calls for action. This is a do this, don’t do that sort of book. It’s a book about putting our faith into practice every day and becoming godly, mature men and women. James is not a hard book to understand, it’s a hard book to put into practice. This book is a gift from God to us to help us, or in the words of Peter, “keep us from being ineffective and unfruitful in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:8).
Revelation obviously is the last book of the NT and the last book of the Bible. Some have called it the capstone of the Bible, that last stone that completes the structure. This is Jesus’ final word to His Church. Believe it or not this is a very practical book written to Christians in churches like ours going through hard times like many Christians all over the world today. This book holds out the hope that despite the ups and downs of human history, Jesus Christ is in control and His church will triumph in the end. This book is to be taken to heart. Not just to tickle our interests but to change our hearts. We began last week with a general introduction to apocalyptic writing. Tonight we will address specific introductory questions such as who wrote the book, to whom was it written and why?
The Revelation to John of Jesus Christ. There is nothing else like it in all the Bible. Why are we so curious about it and yet so afraid of it? Why do people read it and say they can’t understand a word of it but then go back to have another go at it? There are obvious reasons why the book is neglected, after all it’s full of mystery and confusion. We feel very inadequate and ignorant when we read Revelation. We are out of our depth and above our pay grade here. There is a sense that when we read Revelation we feel like we are in a foreign country and they are speaking a foreign language. Plus there are so many conflicting interpretations, no less than five major schools of interpretation, and if the scholars are conflicted and confused, then what hope is there for us. John Calvin wrote great commentaries on every book of the NT except Revelation. If he wouldn’t tackle it why should we? Some neglect the book because of the mistaken assumption that one has to be a great scholar to figure it out and this book beyond the reach of the average Christian reader. But even the simplest Christian, even a child with the Holy Spirit can gain much hope and help from every part of God’s Word. All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for training in truth and righteousness. This is the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. Yet the mystery is part of Revelation’s appeal and beauty. We are talking about things here too glorious for normal prose. We are going to see crowns and thrones, gold and silver, exquisite jewels and precious stones. We are going to hear angelic choruses and mighty trumpet blasts. We will tremble as we feel the violent clashes of great armies and giant beasts. The sizes and numbers of everything will stagger our imaginations. We will encounter an explosion of symbols and graphic imagery to dazzle the eyes, a virtual cornucopia of music, color, texture, along with tastes and smells enough to engage all our senses. How fitting that the final book of the Bible that tells of final things yet to be revealed should stir and capture our imaginations and carry us into another dimension, well beyond our secular time-space existence. This isn’t the never-never land of Peter Pan and countless other fantasy stories, this is the ever-ever land of our majestic and sovereign God and His kingdom and realm, the great throne room in the great celestial city of the new Jerusalem. This is a picture of heavenly glory, of things yet to come. No other book in the Bible has a verse like verse three:
Two of our senior saints are turning 80 this week. And by God’s grace they are able to still serve the Lord actively in our church and in our community. Many people in Scripture served well past 80. Abraham was 75 when he started out for the promised land; Moses was 80 when he lead the children of Israel out of Egypt; Joshua was 80 when he took over from Moses; Caleb was going strong at 85; Daniel lived past 100, Simeon and Anna (84 or 91) were worshiping and praying in the temple in their retirement years. God used them in their old age, He can certainly use us in our old age. But not all of us end like Moses. “Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated” (Deuteronomy 34:7). Moses was an exception to the rule. Most of us wear down and wear out and find we just can’t do all we did anymore. With this come some dangers and temptations.