Epistle: Revelation 1:4-18 (Easter 2: Series C)
In this joyful Eastertide, we preach the highest and loftiest article of the Christian faith, namely, the person and work of Christ. Series C leads the Church through Eastertide with some key texts from the Revelation to St. John. If you wanted to do a little Easter sermon series on Revelation, now is the time to decide. During the next few weeks, I will treat these passages as a short, five-week sermon series through the book. If you decide to follow Revelation through Eastertide with me, I recommend we avoid giving a long diatribe on how Christian preachers have misused this profound book. A run through proper Biblical principles of interpretation could be helpful in a Bible Study, but they are often distracting in a sermon. A brief comment about the blessings of the Revelation for all persecuted Christians who need strength and hope from the risen and exalted Christ, will suffice. Your people will know how to take the treasures from the Revelation as you dole them out in the weeks to come.
In the first reading of this sermon series, St. John’s powerful vision of Christ is coupled with the revelation of the resurrected Christ to Thomas. Although the real parallel to John’s account is Daniel 7 and 10, the resurrection narrative concerning Christ’s merciful appearance to the ten, and then again to Thomas, is the proper setting to hear these marvelous words of Christ: Μὴ φοβοῦ· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος καὶ ὁ ζῶν, καὶ ἐγενόμην νεκρὸς καὶ ἰδοὺ ζῶν εἰμι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων καὶ ἔχω τὰς κλεῖς τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τοῦ ᾅδου” (1:17b-18; Literally translated: Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last and the living one, and I was dead and behold I am living into the ages of ages and I have the keys of death and hades). The whole Church rejoices in the victory of Christ. Death could not hold Him. The grave could not swallow Him. Hell has met its match in Him. Now the Church sees in John’s vision Christ unleashed, while Satan and hell are all leashed up. Our Brother is exalted. He has won on our behalf. And now our Brother sits on the throne of God dangling the keys of death and hell from His finger. The message is clearly of victory over His enemies, but it is also: “All-ee, all-ee in; come, free!” It means: “All is well; come out from wherever you have been hiding (behind closed doors, behind long-held, habitual sins, behind whatever fears drove us into hiding). Easter is about deliverance and salvation. And, as this first text from Revelation teaches, Jesus is doing the delivering.
John (assuming it is the evangelist) tells us he was, “in the Spirit ἐν τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ.” He was, to use Lutheran parlance, in the Divine Service on the dominical day (Resurrection Day / Sunday). And He saw the Christ who rules His church in Asia and throughout the world. Christ in glory is seen among the lamp stands, a reference to the “spirits” of the churches or the bishops. The vision reminds us how Christ is present in the Church at worship and in the midst of His body where the lamp of the body shines (consider Matthew 5:15 and 6:22 as ecclesiological references to the pastoral office). John recalls for us the words of Jesus: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28). Jesus is found in and among His preachers. This is not sacerdotalism; it is just means-of-grace language. The Easter accounts direct us to the apostolic ministry, which Christ has established to preach, baptize, absolve, and feed His people with the fruits of His passion and resurrection. He uses men to deliver the means of grace as instruments of the Holy Spirit, who creates faith where and when He wills (Augsburg Confession V). So, the context is worship with pastors and people and Christ, glorious, and in their midst.
As you prepare to preach a sermon as an introduction to the series, I would recommend latching on to one or more of the titles of Christ: Alpha and Omega, the Faithful One, the Martyr, the Firstborn from the dead, Ruler of the kings of the earth, the One who is…, etc. I leave it to you to decide on which titles to concentrate. There may be good reason to focus on John’s response and ours to Christ in glory. We ought to drop down like dead men before His resurrected body, as John did at Christ’s transfigured body. But the emphasis here is not entirely on Christ’s glory, but on His gracious presence in His Church. He places His hand on John (a reference to Holy Absolution?) and all He can talk about is the fruits of His resurrection and the keys He is holding to free us from our sins (v. 5) and hold hell captive.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Revelation 1:4-18