What image comes to your mind when you think of Jesus? One of the most popular images of Jesus would be a good shepherd who is holding lamb. But in the Book of Revelation the image of Jesus is a little bit different. In fact, revelation is full of symbolism – unfamiliar imagery, symbols, and numbers. Why so many confusing symbolic languages? There are at least two possible answers. The first answer is that John had to use symbolic language because it was almost impossible to describe what he saw, the heavenly vision, in limited human language.
More importantly, the second answer is that John’s use of symbols is very similar to Jesus’ use of parables. Then why did Jesus use parables? In Matthew 13:13-14 Jesus said to his disciples, “I speak to them [crowd] in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand …’” By speaking in parables, Jesus did wake up his believing listeners, but for unbelievers parables made no sense. So when they heard it, their hearts became even more hardened. In the same way, John’s powerful and shocking images and symbols open the eyes of true believers, but they leave hardened unbelievers in deeper darkness. We hear this conclusion from Jesus: “He who has an ear, let him hear” (Rev 2:7, etc.) My prayer is that the Sprit will give us humble, listening, receptive hearts, so that we may understand the symbolism in Revelation and awaken our hearts!
The Imagery of Jesus
In verse 13 John sees “one like a son of man.” Who is this man? Actually, Daniel saw a very similar vision. In Daniel 7:13-14 he said, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him [God].” Here one like a son of man refers to Jesus as a great ruler. In today’s passage John describes the imagery of Jesus in this way:
“The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like 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.” (1:14-16 ESV)
Here we need to remember that the imagery John uses is symbolic rather than pictorial or literal. For instance, if we literally visualize Jesus with a sword sticking out of his mouth, it would be a horrible picture of a weird man. But it symbolizes that the words that Jesus speaks are as sharp and piercing as a two-edged sword. So here Jesus’ appearance that John wanted to describe as a whole picture is the glorified Christ, the exalted Christ – the Christ with dominion and glory and power and authority over all the nations forever. That’s the point. In verse 17 Jesus himself said to John, “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.” Again we see the glorified Christ.
Jesus among the Churches
Then, in verse 12 John sees this vision: “I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man…” Now we know that one like a son of man is Jesus. But what are the seven lampstands? John clarifies what they are in verse 20: “… and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” We learned from last week that the seven churches represent the whole church. If we put together all this, the point is this: Jesus is among the churches. The glorified Christ is among the churches. He is not distant from the churches. He is in the middle of them. He moves among his lampstands, trimming the wicks and carving wax, keeping the light burning. Our church (Houlton and Hodgdon UMCs) is one of his lampstands. Jesus is here among us this morning. The One who died and is alive forever with everlasting dominion whose kingdom cannot be destroyed is in the middle of us today. We need to see this glorified Christ among us today and set our hearts on his kingdom.
Abiding in Christ
In today’s scripture the Christ’s churches are symbolized as the lampstands. In other words, we as a church are called to be light-bearers in the darkness of the world. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others!” (Matt 5:14, 16) But we need to remember that our light, the church’s light is a reflected light just like moonlight. Its’s not a self-luminous light. Just as the moon needs the sun to shine, we need Christ, the true light of the world (Jn 8:12). We must abide in Christ first in order to light our community, our world.
Then, what does it mean to abide in Christ? How do we abide in Christ? Probably the best image of abiding is the vine and branches metaphor. In John 15 Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (5). In this context abiding is connecting – connecting to Jesus, the source of life. Abiding is receiving – receiving the “sap” (water, minerals, and nutrients) from Jesus. Abiding is remaining. It is to stay connected, keep on trusting, keep on believing, keep on depending on Jesus. In a word, abiding is connecting, receiving, remaining. So are you abiding in Christ? Are you connected to Jesus? Are you receiving the source of life from Jesus? Are you remaining in Jesus and staying united with Jesus?
Abiding in Christ is possible only by God’s grace and by the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot make it happen with our own efforts. But that doesn’t mean that it’s ok for us to do nothing. Although abiding in Christ is all by grace, we need to do our part. We need to respond to God’s grace: “Yes Lord, I need your grace!” It’s called “means of grace.” As we read the Bible, study it, mediate on it, memorize it, we abide in Christ. As we set aside time to pray, we abide in Christ. As we come to worship, sing hymns, receive the communion, have fellowship with other fellow believers, we abide in Christ. By doing this, like a sailor we raise our sails. We cannot manufacture the wind, but we do all we can do to catch the wind. And God sends a gentle, powerful wind of the Spirit, that we may experience union with Christ.
Abiding in the Church
To abide in Christ also means to abide in the church. Some people say I like Jesus, but I don’t like the church. But it’s like saying, “I like your head, but I don’t like your body.” That doesn’t make sense. Christ and the church are inseparable. Jesus identifies himself with his church. On the way to Damascus Saul met Jesus who came as a light from heaven. Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” If fact, by that time Saul had never met Jesus in person. He was just persecuting his followers, his church. But Jesus was clearly identifying himself with the persecuted church.
To abide in Christ also means to abide in the church. It is true that Jesus died for each of us. But it is also true to say that Jesus died for his church. In Ephesians 6 Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (25) Just as husband and wife are one flesh, Christ and the church are one body. If we love Christ, we must love the church – his body, his bride. Few months ago I shared my epiphany experience while attending the conference in Georgia. At that time the word given to me was “abide.” I thought I always did abide in Christ. I thought if I had a good one-on-one relationship with Jesus, that would be sufficient. But God gently taught me this lesson: “To abide in Christ also means to abide in the church.” In that respect, I was not abiding; I was enduring.
Then I saw Jesus. He chose to abide – abide in a particular place and in particular people. He loved his people, his church to the end. In Revelation 2 and 3 we see that five out of seven churches need serious correction. Jesus rebukes them and calls for their repentance. But he still loves his churches. He is still standing in the middle of them. He moves among his lampstands (churches), trimming the wicks and carving wax, keeping the light burning. When we see the flaws in the church, we are easily disappointed and frustrated. When we face messy stuff in the church, we tend to stay away from it, or even give up. But, we are called to abide in the church. Then, how do we abide in the church? The same spiritual principle applies: connecting, receiving, remaining. Abiding in the church is connecting to the life of the church. Abiding in the church is receiving the “sap” from the church. Abiding in the church is remaining. It is to stay put, be present, and love the church to the end. St. Augustine said, “Let us love the Lord our God; let us love His Church. Let us love Him as our Father and her as our mother.” To abide in Christ also means to abide in the church.
See the Glorified Christ
It is hard to imagine what John saw in today’s passage, the vision of the glorified Christ. But when we abide in Christ, to be more precise, when we abide in Christ’s church – connecting to the church, receiving from the church, remaining in the church – we will see the glorified Christ, who is standing among us, the church. We will see his face shine like the sun in all its brilliance (16b). And we too will shine out for all to see, so that everyone will glorify our heavenly Father. Amen.