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Saturday, 23 April 2016 18:02

10. The keys to where?! * Revelation 1:12-20 , Part 3

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17 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.

18 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.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later".


PART 3 - Revelation 1:17-19
*** Background ***: In the last two studies, we saw many wonderful details about Jesus. Jesus presented himself to John in such a striking way!  It looks like this encounter with Jesus became engraved in John's mind for the rest of his life.  This memorable effect seems to be the goal that Jesus has in mind for those who are reading this part of the text, not just for John.
Jesus appeared to John in this vision in a way that John could identify not only Jesus' activities in heaven, but also what Jesus means to humanity.  Jesus looks like a human being, but He is so much more.  He is divine.  He looks like God the Father.
In this description of Revelation 1:12-20, Jesus showed people that He is the King and Priest.  As a Priest, He presents His sacrifice on the cross as a means of cleansing us from our sins.  He takes care of each one of us individually and offers us a way to win the spiritual battle that we face here on earth.  He offers us the sword of His truth.
*** When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead ***: This whole scene of Jesus, with all His glory, with so much brilliance, with Him walking among the seven lampstands and with the seven stars in his hand, must have been an impressive scene to leave anyone a little shaken.  John said that when he saw this scene, he fell at Jesus' feet as though dead. Very often in the Bible, we see people falling at the feet of Jesus after having a special encounter with the Son of God. For example, Peter at the boat (Luke 5:8), the Samaritan leper who was cured (Luke 17:15-16), the sick woman who touched Jesus (Luke 8:47), and many others. Ezekiel also fell with his face to the ground when he had a vision about the glory of God (Ezekiel 1:26-28). Saul, on the road to Damascus, is another example (Acts 9:3-6). One significant moment was when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus' Transfiguration. After hearing God speaking from the cloud covering Jesus, “they fell facedown to the ground, terrified” (Matthew 17:1-8). During their vision, both Daniel and John had a similar experience to the one described in the Transfiguration. We read in Daniel 8:18 and in Daniel 10:8-9 that Daniel fell with his face to the ground, trembling with fear. The scene of the Transfiguration, and John's and Daniel's vision of the messenger from God were no ordinary encounters with Christ. Those men saw Jesus as Heaven sees Him, covered with the Glory of God. A tremendous feeling of overwhelming fear must have taken over them, and caused them to fall down.
*** Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid” ***: In all three instances that we mentioned earlier (Daniel’s vision, the Transfiguration, and John’s vision), the men hear the words: “do not be afraid”, and they hear that right after they fall to the ground. Jesus Himself tells them that. In all three scenes, Jesus touches them and restores their strength. God had already promised this special care to the people who experience this powerful encounter with Him. We read this promise in Isaiah 41:10: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." This verse takes on an even greater dimension when we remember that Jesus had in His right hand the people who are transmitting the message of God, right?  The seven stars we talked about in the last episode.  The same right hand that holds the stars is the hand that reaches down to touch John. This is the care that Jesus has for His followers. Jesus is demonstrating here in this moment, not only His transforming power, represented here by His right hand, but also His compassion, and His love for human beings.
Jesus' extraordinary touch is enough to restore John, but Jesus did something more.  He comforted John with the words "Don't be afraid".  Jesus knew that the whole scene perplexed John.  It was a lot of information all at once.  But Jesus is sending this message with the exact purpose of protecting people, so they can prepare to meet Him on the last day.  This message serves exactly to inform people that they don't need to 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!” ***: Once again, Jesus is identifying Himself. He is presenting His credentials, which are the reasons why we do not need to be afraid when we fall at His feet. He is "the First and the Last". He always existed, and He will always exist. He is Life itself. He is the one who died, but has resurrected and now lives for all eternity. Jesus' victory on the cross guaranteed the defeat of sin.  Jesus is basically telling us the end of the message of Revelation here.  He's already a winner.  Evil has no chance of defeating Jesus.  Jesus' death and resurrection guaranteed the opportunity of eternal life for all who believe in Him.
*** “And I hold the keys of death and Hades” ***: Before we get into the death and Hades part, let's think about what a key represents.  The keys to my house are very important.  They give access to my family, to my things.  My keys to my house represent my safety. If someone has the keys to my house, they have also control over the house. So I don't give my keys to just anyone. In the case of these keys here in Revelation, they give access to two apparently strange things: death and Hades.  We need to look at this text carefully, so we can understand exactly what Jesus was communicating at that time.
Some Bible versions translate the word Hades as hell. Hades is the Greek word hadēs, and in the Greek culture, hadēs can be a place or a person. In other words, this expression refers to the place of the dead, or to the one who rules over the dead. Christians in the first century were familiar with the pagan concepts of Hades and its mythology. But most importantly, we (as did the first century Christians) need to see this concept of "death and Hades" under the light of the Scriptures, in order for us not to be misled by false pagan teachings. We have to find out what the Bible has to say about this concept. The word in Hebrew that corresponds to Hades is Sheol. So let's now see what the Bible says about death and Hades/Sheol.
In Acts 2:29-33, we read that Jesus actually went to Hades, or as some translations say, the "realm of the dead". Meaning, Jesus died. But it also says that He was not abandoned there in Hades (which means He did not stay dead). He was resurrected to life, and is now exalted by the right side of the Father. This passage of Acts 2:29-33 gives us the explanation to Psalm 16, written by David centuries earlier. Now, let's look further at Hades/Sheol as a place. What does the Bible say this place is? In order to answer this question, we need to look at Psalms 88:3. David says in the original language: "For my soul is full of troubles, and draws near to Sheol". Different versions translate Sheol as death or grave. Many versions leave the original word Sheol. In Genesis 37:35, we read about how devastated Jacob was when he thought Joseph was dead. He said he would mourn Joseph's death until he went to the grave (or Sheol) himself. So we can see here that Sheol is not a place where only the bad people go to. According to the Bible, good people go there too. Jesus, David, Jacob, and Joseph expected to go to Sheol when they died.
Psalms 49:14 tells us that Sheol is the place where our forms decay and are consumed. So the translation "grave" is a very appropriate translation for Hades/Sheol, as the place that holds the dead. 2 Timothy 1:10 tells us that Jesus "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light". He overcame death. He is larger than death. Jesus has dominion over death. He judges the dead. He is in control, meaning, He holds the keys to death and the grave.
After Christ's death and resurrection, God's people can enjoy eternal life and not worry about the second death. Revelation 20:6 says that the second death has no power over the sealed people of God. The passages in Revelation 20:10, 13-15 are very clear, and tell us that the devil, the two beasts, death and Hades, along with the people whose names were not written in the book of life will all be "thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death." And that is HOW there will be no more death, or graves, or sinful beings, or pain and tears (Revelation 21:4): death itself and the grave, Satan and the beasts, and the lost people will be forever destroyed. So, Jesus is saying here in this text in Revelation 1, that He has control over the final destiny of everything, including death.  So even if your Bible version has the word hell instead of the word Hades, it is important to keep in mind the biblical meaning of what that means, and the meaning is grave.
*** “What is now and what will take place later” ***: Jesus told John that he should write down everything he was seeing, "what is now and what will take place later". As we saw in Revelation 1:1, about the “things that must soon take place”, the events relating to the time of the end started when Christ died, resurrected and ascended to Heaven. The message John was writing to the seven churches was relevant to them. They needed serious help. As we will see when we go into detail on each of the churches, things were happening at that time already. But the message was not just about the "things that are now". They were also important for the following generations since there were important things that would still take place at a later date. This is why a historical approach is essential when studying the book of Revelation. We need to look at the events from the start of humanity. We cannot understand the end if we do not understand how it all began. So, with this phrase, Jesus is telling John that the message that He is sending includes things that were already happening and also things that were yet to happen.
*** Overview ***: We often read in the Bible that people fell at Jesus’ feet when they had a special encounter with Christ. At that moment, Jesus's hand was always quick to lift those people up, encourage and strengthen them. He wanted to assure His people that He is the one who conquered death. Jesus is the one in control, and one day the opposing forces will be destroyed forever, including death itself. He is the Living One, who is telling John to write this message about the things that were happening at that time, and also about the things that would "soon take place". Jesus gave John all this historical background, with references to the times of the prophets and Moses so we, who are now reading this message, can all understand that He is still the same God, who was so present in the past; and that He has been giving His people the same message throughout history. We cannot separate the beginning from the end of the world, because the problem tormenting humanity at the end of the world will still be the same that afflicted Adam and Eve initially: sin. The events that "will take place later" on Earth are the things that will happen as a consequence of what happened in the past. These future events will lead to the resolution of the sin problem once and for all. But we don't need to be afraid of this process because Jesus is in control.  He holds His faithful people with His right hand of victory.  He wants to restore our strength, and give us eternal life.

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