Behold the King!

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Since its publication in 1954-55, J. R. R. Tolkien’s heroic romance, The Lord of the Rings, has accumulated fame, fans, and critical acclaim. No other writer of Tolkien’s century created a world as distinct and imaginary as Middle Earth. By design, The Lord of the Rings is not a Christian allegory; rather, it is an invented myth incorporating biblical truths.

The Lord of the Rings presents a biblical foundation for understanding good and evil. For instance, it emphasizes the reality of a repulsive and sinister evil, by contrasting that wickedness with characters that epitomize that which is good. The foundation of the drama is the obvious contrast between good and evil, resulting in great conflict. The story is not the type of meaningless drama that arises from obscure or unidentifiable distinctions between good and evil; rather, the narrative is meaningful as the good perseveres to ultimately triumph and eradicate great wickedness (a contrast with pagan myths, where characters merely introduce “balance” among good and evil). The themes of redemption in The Lord of the Rings are familiar and personal, thereby allowing readers to become engaged in the characters’ struggles.

The great battle between the forces of good and evil is won by the heroism of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee. Aragorn is a Christ figure, with his people anticipating his return to take his rightful place as king. Jesus, of course, is the believer’s true King, and the One whom His people await to return. Tolkien demonstrated belief that the history of humanity is truly a conflict between good and evil.

Tolkien’s heroic romance captivates readers because the quest of the characters is an emotional/spiritual one. The Lord of the Rings presents a biblical understanding of God’s power and His ultimate victory over sin and wickedness. The book of Revelation is the God-inspired disclosure of good triumphing over evil, specifically with the coming of Jesus Christ in authority, glory, and power. Revelation is truly an appropriate climax to the Bible.

BLESSED FOR READING
The book of Revelation begins with several notable propositions. What is evident is that the Apostle John sought to communicate a message that did not originate with himself: it was a revelation concerning Jesus Christ (Rev 1:1). The Lord is not only the primary theme of Revelation, but also He is the One actually communicating the message. The message originates with God, is revealed through the Lord Jesus, and is then given “by His angel to His bond-servant John,” who then communicated “the word of God” to all God’s servants; that is, each and every believer (vv. 1-3).

The message of Revelation is prophetic, because it involves “the things which must soon take place” (v. 1). The Greek word tachei, translated “soon,” does not mean immediately, because it is an adverb of manner (as opposed to being an adverb of time). When the events of Revelation occur, they will be swift and with haste. Verse two asserts the authority and inspiration of Revelation in the most unmistakable terms, by using the language of a legal witness summoned to testify in a courtroom. John’s responsibility was to give testimony “to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.”

A most unusual and unique statement is found in verse 3, which reads, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” The blessing associated with reading the book of Revelation involves more than hearing the words; one must also heed the words, which means submitting to them so that a person’s life is different than it was previously. The Greek word tereo, translated “heed,” can also be translated “keep,” and is the same verb used in John 14—15 in reference to keeping the Lord’s commandments (14:15; 15:10). The act of reading Revelation publicly is significant, because it demonstrates acceptance of the book among the church, and is thus confirmation of its authority and inspiration.

The initial message to the churches is “grace to you and peace” (Rev 1:4). The source of these blessings is the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son. God the Father is described as “Him who is and who was and who is to come” (v. 4), an appropriate parallel to “I AM WHO I AM” (Exod 3:14); that is, the eternally existing One. The Holy Spirit is also the source of divine grace and peace. Verse 4 uses a figure of speech called a pleonasm, in which more words than necessary are used to convey meaning. “The seven Spirits” depicts the perfection of the third member of the Godhead (cf. Isa 11:1-2).

Jesus Christ equally provides grace and peace. He is described in a threefold manner: (1) He is “the faithful witness,” meaning He faithfully revealed all the Father wanted Him to communicate (cf. John 1:18); (2) He is “the firstborn of the dead,” a reminder of His death and resurrection (cf. Matt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19); and, (3) He is “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” which is a reference to His kingdom and reign (cf. Rev 19:11—20:6). Believers are viewed corporately as “a kingdom, priests” (1:6; cf. 5:9-10; Exod 19:6), which anticipates union with Christ in His reign. The promise of the Lord’s coming anticipates that glorious reign (Rev 1:7).

The final word of the salutation is to confirm the truthfulness of the message, as coming from the One who is “the Alpha and the Omega” (v. 8). Revelation is conveyed by words, and since all Greek words (the original language of the New Testament) are within the bounds of the first and last letters of that alphabet, the emphasis is upon God’s message. The eternal God, “who is and who was and who is to come” is the source of the revelation.

BLESSED FOR HEEDING
John’s vision includes an introduction (Rev 1:9-11), the revelation itself (vv. 12-16), and instruction (vv. 17-20). John frequently emphasized similarities with his readers, as opposed to differences. He identified himself to his readers as “your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus” (v. 9). John wrote elsewhere, “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).

In addition to the anticipation of the millennial kingdom, the early church shared in “tribulation” (suffering) with patient endurance. Perseverance in the midst of suffering is motivated by the expectation of coming deliverance (cf. 1 Thess 1:3). The spiritual kinship between John and his readers is what transforms those who share in suffering into citizens of the coming kingdom. The realm of the mutual participation in tribulation that relates to the kingdom of God and requires perseverance is “in Jesus.”

The revelation that came to John occurred when he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10), “a lordian day” (a certain kind of day in which John was under the control of God; cf. 2 Tim 3:16-17). The vision began with sound as opposed to sight, which means it was compelling and thus difficult to ignore. When he was under the Lord’s control, John heard “a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” (Rev 1:10). The person speaking to John was the Lord Jesus (v. 17), and the trumpet-like quality of His voice stressed the importance of His words.

The voice commanded John to “write in a book what you see, and send it to” seven cities (v. 11). The arrangement of the letters to the seven churches, simply follows the order in which the churches lay on a horseshoe-shaped route along the coast that someone journeying from Patmos to Asia Minor would travel. Ephesus was somewhat the farthest south along the coast; thus, the church there was addressed first. The churches were selected because they represent the good and the bad among believers everywhere and in every age. Judgment begins “with the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17); therefore, it is appropriate for Jesus to address the church first, prior to His response to a lost world (Rev 6—19). There are wonderful insights into human behavior in these seven letters that demonstrate the Lord’s evaluation.

As he turned toward the voice he heard, John saw “seven golden lampstands” (1:12), which is symbolism conveying that each church is a lightbearer in a dark world (cf. Matt 5:14). As believers constitute local churches, each one should be a light shining in the midst of the darkness. What seized John’s attention was the One moving among the lampstands, the One who is called “a son of man” (Rev 1:13).

John witnessed Jesus Christ in His human form, with clothing like that of a priest and judge (v. 13). His head, with hair “like white wool,” testifies to the Lord’s wisdom. The fiery eyes refer to His holiness, and the fact that everything is transparent before Him (v. 14; cf. 1 Cor 3:13). His feet “like burnished bronze” refer to the trials Jesus endured in His earthly life (Rev 1:15). His voice “like the sound of many waters” indicates authority. In the Lord’s right hand were “seven stars” (v. 16), a reference to “the angels of the seven churches” (v. 20), which proves God’s care and concern for His church. From the mouth of the Lord “came a sharp two-edged sword,” since His Word is the standard for all judgment (cf. Heb 4:12).

In response to the revelation that he received, John fell on his face at the feet of the ascended, glorified, and living Christ (Rev 1:17). The visible manifestation of God demanded worship (cf. Exod 3:6), which then resulted in blessing. Placing His “right hand” upon John, the living Lord Jesus reminded John that He is the eternal, self-existent One (Rev 1:17-18). John would record the things he had seen, in addition to “the things which are” and things to occur “after these things” (v. 19). May all God’s people pray that He would cause us to shine amid the darkness, until His work for us is accomplished. Then we will be able to stand before Him without shame (cf. Rom 10:11; 1 John 2:28).

Midnight Call - 06/2019

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