A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Christ the King

Christ Enthroned, Book of Kells

Rev. Doug Floyd
Daniel 7:9-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:1-8, John 18:33-37

This is Christ the King Sunday. I’m just going to meditate on our text, right out of Revelation. And it’s quite a delightful book. And just this passage verses 1:8 is more than we could talk about right now. But John writes this, it’s not exactly a letter, but it’s kind of like a letter. And the tradition was that this would’ve probably been read aloud each year in the church. Takes about an hour and a half to read. Some churches still do it today. You may have been in a service where somebody’s recited the Book of Revelation. I don’t know if anybody has. Because you’re supposed to hear it. The whole book is about sound, about a booming sound. It’s got all kinds of sounds in it. If you think of Psalm 150, there are clanging sounds, loud noises. The same with Revelation, all sorts of noises.

It’s a book that we have to hear. And it is part of our tradition, the Anglican pattern of worship to hear the Word. And it’s considered as important as preaching because the preacher may not be that good, but the scripture never fails. The Lord will address us in his word. And so here, John is addressing us. And he says, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to show his servants.” That word “servant” refers to slaves, but it has a nicer effect to call us the servants of God. But as we read the passage, it actually makes more sense to see that we’re slaves of God. We’ve been set free from slavery to the evil one. We are slaves of God. And we gather each Sunday to hear what the Lord says to us, and we gather to speak to the Lord.

So in one sense, it’s more important that we hear what he says and then to speak and to respond to him, than to talk about him. So even what I say now is an attempt to focus us on what’s central, and that is hearing the Lord. So John calls the slaves and Joseph Mangina, who I have referenced in the past when we did Revelation, because I happen to like what he writes about Revelation, here is a wonderful little thing he says about the slaves of God, “To be a slave of God is to be a member of the ekklēsia, in the front lines of a resistance movement called to hold out until the ages fully turn. Happily the church does not have to engage in this service on its own. Positioned at the beachhead, it is in constant communication with headquarters, where its Messiah-general prepares for his advent at the front lines.”[1]

So that’s what we’re doing each Sunday. In one sense, it’s a covenant renewal service, but we’re listening to our Commander-in-Chief. We’re coming to hear what he has to say to us. He’s addressing us. And so John says, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, blessed are those who hear and those who are keep what is written for the time is near.” Now John goes into a greeting, which if we were reading a Pauline letter, Paul would offer a greeting and he would say, “Grace to you.” And it would be from Paul. Paul is writing. But in this address, John is making the claim that the Triune God is addressing the congregation, which is a pretty bold claim.

He says, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia, grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come.” That’s the description of the Father. I’ll read this verse and then we’re going to meditate briefly on that. “And from the seven spirits who are before his throne,” it’s the Holy Spirit, “and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth.” This address is from the Triune God to people of God. We hear the Father who “is, and was, and is to come.” And there’s a variety of aspects to the meaning of this, but we might focus just on, it is in one sense, it has a similar ring to God’s address to Abraham. “I am that I am,” or “I am and remain present.” It is the God you cannot summon. This is the God who was present before we existed and is present after we die.

He is present whether we call upon him or not, He’s present and He is addressing us. He is the Creator that is beyond all space and time. It is an awesome address. He is present and it opens by saying, “who is,” so first he’s addressing himself as the Father who is always present. And he always was and he is to come and that he is unchanging. But he is the God who is, as Jesus says, “I am. Before Abraham was, I am.” It is the God who is present. And then he says, “From the seven spirits who are before the throne.” Years ago, I was in college reading William Blake, he was talking about the seven eyes of God and I was kind of freaked out that I was reading some heresy. But actually, William Blake, who was rather strange and might have been a heretic, he was actually referencing John as referencing Zechariah.

Zechariah is prophesying about sort of the end and he’s in the temple. So here’s a picture of the temple. “The angel who talked with me, came again and woke me, like a man who’s woke out of his sleep, and he said, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see and behold a lampstand, all of gold.”“ So there’s a lampstand, that’s a clue he’s inside the temple, okay? ““A lampstand all of gold with a bowl on top of it. And the seven lamps are lit. And the seven lips on each of the lamps are on top of that. There are two olive trees followed by one on the right bowl, one on my left.” And I said to the angel, “What are these, my lord?” And the angel said, “Do you not know what these are?” “No, my lord.” He said, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, not by might, not by power, but by My Spirits says the Lord of Hosts.” (Zechariah 4:1-6)

These seven lampstands are images of the Holy Spirit. And it’s not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit of God. Seven has the idea of being perfection or completion. The Spirit sees all, knows all. In this letter, the Father’s addressing us, simultaneously, the Holy Spirit’s addressing us, and simultaneously the Son is addressing us.

We hear, “From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Now the gospel writers, as they summarized the gospel, the focal point of the gospel is Jesus Christ and him alone. Focal point of the gospel is not on us. Jesus has come to redeem us and John will even mention that, but the focus of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. He is the one. He is the faithful witness. If not for him, we would have no idea who the Father is. Jesus images the Father perfectly. To see Jesus is to see the Father. John is using the word martyr. The faithful witness fully reveals the image of the Father on the cross. If we want to know what the Father looks like, we look at the cross and what we see is God’s life poured out on our behalf. His whole life is poured out for us.

The Book of Romans centers the gospel on Jesus. In the the opening verses, Paul writes, “Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures.” He’s going to tell us the whole witness to Jesus has already been promised by the prophets. In this sense, the whole Old Testament becomes prophecy. It’s all looking toward, anticipating the coming of the Son, okay? “Through the prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning the Son, who is descended from David, according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all nations.”[2]

So Jesus has come. He has fulfilled the prophecies. He has come, and Paul is not totally explaining, but he is giving us an allusion of Christ as fully God and fully man, because he is in the line of David, he’s descended of David as a man. Simultaneously, he is declared to be the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by his resurrection from the dead. Here we have the image of the Triune God resurrecting the Son, the Spirit that has raised the Son. The Son is the exact image of the Father. And this is the gospel, it’s to behold the Son. If we behold anything else, we are distracted. What happens in the Bible? When we read the Old Testament, we’re reading ancient stories, song, prophecies and proverbs.

There are so many different streams going on in the Old Testament, we would never be able to connect them. But once Christ comes, suddenly we see they’re all moving in the same direction.[3] It’s clear when we get to the New Testament, the gospel writers are clearly trying to show that Jesus is the fulfillment. Each gospel writer writes a slightly different way. They’re trying to show that Jesus has fulfilled. Jesus is the true king. Matthew, “He’s the true king.” Mark, “He’s the true prophet. He’s come to prophesy.” Luke, “Jesus is not only gone to Jerusalem. His disciples are gone to Rome to win the world for Christ.” So that’s awesome. And then of course, John, “Jesus is inherent in the creation, all things are created through him.”

John takes us through the feast of Israel and says, “Jesus is the fulfillment of every feast. Everything that Israel does, Jesus is the fulfillment.” Now this helps us remember and reminds us that every ritual we do is pointing us to Jesus and nothing else. It’s not about our own inherent righteousness. It’s not about doing some form that makes us seem more right than others. It’s always looking towards Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Why I originally fell in love with liturgical world was the calendar. The calendar is telling us that everything we celebrate through the year is pointing to Christ. Our identity is bound up in this God who has revealed himself to us.

Now, if we followed the calendar of our culture, we would define ourselves primarily as consumers. Every calendar event is about buying. Christmas is about buying things for people. Valentine’s Day is buying for people, Easter, buying things, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. These aren’t bad days, but they are consumer-based. 4th of July sale. Everything is about our identity being in our ability to be a purchaser and keep the consumer engine running. And so the church calendar says, “No, that’s not primarily what we are. We are children of God. He has created us and he’s poured out his life for us. He’s given us his life.” Christ the King reminds us that all through the year we are looking to Christ. We are coming to behold him in his glory. And then the next phrase John uses is, he says, “the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead.”

Here we have the promise of resurrection. Christ is the firstborn, and we are following him in this path of resurrection. No matter how weak we feel, and John is writing to people who feel very weak, feel very defeated. He’s saying you have the promise of resurrection in front of you. He is the firstborn, and he has taken hold of you, and he will not forsake you. And then he says, “And the ruler of the kings of the earth,” which is pretty awesome.

It sometimes seems like our political systems, our governmental systems, our cultures run in a completely opposite direction. But at the end of the day, every ruler, every human will acknowledge that Christ is the Lord. He is the true Lord. It’s not all about the end of the world. Sometimes it happens in less than satisfactory ways, when people suddenly are brought to justice, either in culture or their lives brought to an end, all of us stand before the King who is over all kings. No king is absent from his rule. And so we recognize that as the church, so that makes this a prophetic day, a day to acknowledge that we serve a King. And it is his path that we follow, not the path of expedience or whatever the particular god of the age is, because we have all sorts of gods in America, practical gods, financial gods. Every gift God’s given us, the gods of the age pervert.

So Eros becomes some kind of sexual perversion when actually it’s about our ability to desire and create and love.We live in a world that corrupts all gifts of God. We look to him as our King, who restores all things. And we ourselves, as John will continue, are slaves made priests. That’s why it’s important we know this. He’s addressing slaves, he says, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, he has made us a kingdom, priest to his God and Father—to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever!” We have been made priests to God. And then we have this stunning ending, this opening passage.

First he says, “Behold, he’s coming. Behold, he’s coming with the clouds. Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so, Amen.” This is awesome and should be almost terrifying. John is giving us what appears to be the resounding voice of God. ““I am the Alpha and Omega,” says the Lord God.” The Father is putting his stamp on this whole world. “I am the Alpha and Omega who is, and who was, and who is to come.” The Almighty, he is coming.” And this is how our year ends. He is coming. God’s resounding voice is echoing over us. He is coming. Next Sunday, our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, and we begin by watching for his coming. He is coming. Advent comes like an alarm clock, tells us to wake up and watch, because he is coming.


[1] Joseph L. Mangina, Revelation, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010), 39.

[2] See Graeme Goldsworthy, According to the Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” IVPress, 1991.

[3] See Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Truth is Symphonic, Ignatius Press, 1987.

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