Whenever we study the book of Revelation, we must always begin at the beginning of the book. When we think of the book of Revelation we often think of many things, but the book declares itself first of all to be the “Revelation of Jesus.”
1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, (Revelation 1:1 ESV)
In some ways the book of Revelation is the most dramatic book in the Bible, but from the beginning God wants to make it clear to us that His primary objective in this book and in the events predicted by this book is the revelation of His Son Jesus.
He gave this book to us to give us understanding of His commitment to reveal His Son and to have understanding of some of the things that will happen as He reveals His Son. To emphasize that this book, and the entire end-time drama, is primarily about Jesus the book begins as John encounters the glory and majesty of Jesus.
12Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16In 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. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, (Revelation 1:12–17 ESV)
The scene in Revelation 1 is especially important because John was probably the disciple most familiar and most comfortable with Jesus. The Bible tells us he thought of himself as “the disciple Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). He would lean over and rest on Jesus. He was willing to ask Jesus questions when the other disciples were too intimidated (John 13:22-25), and he was the one Jesus asked to take care of His mother (John 19:25-27). John even saw Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36);
John was extremely familiar with Jesus, but in Revelation 1 John encounters Jesus in a very different way from any way he had known him before. In the gospels we see John leaning on Jesus with confidence, but in Revelation 1 John falls to his face.
17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, (Revelation 1:17 ESV)
One of the main points of John’s encounter in Revelation 1 is that there is far more to the glory and beauty of Jesus than what we have encountered so far. Just as John knew Jesus very well but was surprised when He encountered this expression of His glory, so also there is far, far more to Jesus’ glory than we know. So much of Jesus’ glory has, in a sense, been hidden from the earth. This is why the Father has so much zeal to reveal Him. He wants us to know His Son the way He knows His Son.
One of the ways the beauty of Jesus is revealed is through humans functioning as priests who minister to Him and then create a context for the people to encounter His beauty. Priests make ministry to God their priority and their decisions and actions demonstrate the great value of God. The fact that God is worthy of ministry night and day speaks volumes about Him. He is worth the sacrifices priests make to minister to Him.
The second purpose priests have is to create a context for people to encounter the glory of God. Priests facilitate a meeting between God and the people. This is the role of priests in a nation. They create a meeting place where God’s presence is stewarded so that the nation has access to the witness of His presence.
The Old Testament priesthood, though it is temporary, serves as a pattern but it is often misunderstood. Most believe the primary function of the Old Testament priest was to make atonement for sins but this was just one function of the priestly ministry. The primary function of the priesthood was the minister to God and then to create a context where the nation could come before God and minister to Him as well.
The sacrifices and the sanctifying of the tabernacle was not the end goal. It was a necessary process so that the priests could draw near to God and minister to Him. This ministry was the primary purpose and objective of the tabernacle. The priestly ministry of the tabernacle, and ultimately the priestly ministry of the church, exists primarily because God wants to dwell among His people. Sacrifices were part of the sanctuary, but the purpose of the sanctuary was so that God could dwell in the midst of His people.
8And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8 ESV)
Revelation 1 is intended to be fuel for the priestly ministry. We are called to minister to Jesus because He is so profoundly majestic and worthy of our ministry. Nothing in this earth is as beautiful as Jesus and therefore nothing is as worthy of our love, affection, time, and priority. The more the Father reveals Jesus’ beauty to us the more we will value Him, the more we will prioritize Him, the more we will want to minister to Him, the more we will miss Him, and the more we will talk about Him.
Because Jesus is this beautiful, we are called to create a context on the earth where people can encounter His glory. What the earth needs most is priestly communities on the earth where people value what heaven values. One way this value is expressed is through singing, intercession, and teaching based on what the Scripture declares about the person of Jesus.
These kinds of communities are a reflection of what is really true and what is ultimately beautiful. They are prophetic signposts pointing to true reality. God presence abides in communities where the priests of the earth intentionally minister to Him. This abiding presence is the only hope of the nations.
Revelation 1 sets the context for the book of Revelation and it sets the stage for the prediction we find in Revelation 4-5. Revelation 1 introduces the majestic idea that there is so much more to the beauty and glory of Jesus than we have so far seen. John will see more of that beauty in Revelation 5, but it is important that he first encounters the shock of Jesus’ beauty on the earth.
This is why he encounters Jesus in Revelation 1 on the earth before he goes up in Revelation 4. The book of Revelation begins and ends with the message that the glory of God is going to fill the earth. John encounters the glory of the man Jesus on the earth in Revelation 1 and the glory of His city coming to earth in Revelation 21-22. In Revelation 4-5 we see a profound revelation of the beauty of Jesus, but that revelation and the accompanying response are in context to one of the main themes of Revelation – this must all happen on the earth.
We are called to understand that He is majestic and glorious, and then to respond to that glory. Revelation 5:10 tells us that human beings are specifically called to lead the response to the beauty of Jesus.
10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10 ESV)