Revelation 1:4-18 John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 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. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
What do general Napoleon Bonaparte, author Victor Hugo, actress Marlene Dietrich, and the Apostle John all have in common? They all spent a portion of their lives in exile. Napoleon was forced to the Mediterranean island of Elba in 1813. Victor Hugo fled to the British channel islands when the French government did not like what he had written and said. Marlene Dietrich left Germany to work in the United States and never found it safe to return home after the Nazis came to power. The Apostle John? He found himself on the island of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
Patmos is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, measuring only 13 square miles. John was driven there because of his Christian teaching and preaching. There he “suffered” and “patiently endured,” as he says.
You can imagine that John’s life in exile would have been a sad and lonely existence. He could not go where he wanted to go. He could not see people he wanted to see. He could not spread the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. His life would be in danger if he tried to leave this island. He was suffering just like he said. He needed comfort—and He was comforted in a very unique way.
He was comforted by a great vision—a revelation—a revelation which he then wrote down and it is part of our Bibles today, part of God’s own revealed word to us.
At first, it doesn’t seem like John’s vision would have been all that comforting to him. He “turned around…and saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a son of man,’ dressed in a white robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
Does that sound comforting? It doesn’t to me either. It sounds scary. At first, John fell down when he saw it—like he was dead. But it soon became clear that this was not a vision to be afraid of. This was Jesus who had chosen to appear before him in just this way, not to scare John, but to comfort him.
Jesus had risen from the dead, and now he made Himself visible to John in a special manner. Dressed in a long robe, head and hair white like wool, as white as snow. What does the color white remind us of? In painting, white is an absence of color. It is the canvas that has not yet been touched. It is the color of holiness, purity, and perfection. Jesus is exactly that. He is holiness, purity, and perfection. It is significant that Jesus was in white when He showed Himself to John at just this time, because this was after He had come back to life from the dead.
On the cross, Jesus had not been holiness, purity, and perfection. He had been anything but that. He had been unholy, impure, and sinful, because on the cross He carried the sins of the whole world. On the cross, He was made to be sin. He became the world’s worst murderer, adulterer, thief, and blasphemer. On the cross, God the Father pronounced judgment against Jesus by turning His back on Him by forsaking Him and leaving Him alone. The Father would have nothing to do with the Son in those hours of darkness on Good Friday, because the Son was suffering for every evil of every age. On the cross, the wrath of God came down on Christ.
But now when John sees Jesus, he sees white around that gracious head. What can that mean? Only that the living Son of God has regained His holiness and purity. It means that Jesus is no longer carrying the sin and evil He once carried—our sin and our evil.
The sight of Jesus alive in white speaks comfort to every Christian soul. It says, “Your sin I once carried is gone. I paid the price for it. I took it away. What once nailed me to the cross burdens me no longer.” So John, comforted by what he saw, wrote of “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.” Jesus has done just that—He has freed us from our sins. He has freed us from the suffering we deserved on account of our sins. Jesus has made us “to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.” Now we can go to the Father, free from sin and guilt. Now we can serve God with thanksgiving and without fear. This was real comfort for John in exile!
What so often happens when we in the middle of suffering; when things are hard in our lives and we feel like we are in exile ourselves? Don’t we so easily wonder: “What did I do to make God angry? Is He saying ‘no’ to my prayers because of something I have done to displease Him?” Aren’t we so quick to think that God must be against us? Perhaps John thought some of these things in his moments of weakness too.
But we are comforted by the risen Christ as John was. The risen Christ who shows us His purity, shows us that the sins He once carried He carries no longer—they are gone.
What Jesus’ powerful voice said to John was an important comfort too. A voice like the sound of rushing waters. Jesus said “I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
You’ve probably seen those western shows or movies where the convicted criminal is in jail. He looks out through the bars and sees the keys to the cell hanging on a hook across the room. The sheriff holds the keys and the crook desperately tries to reach over and get them. The one who holds the key to the cell is the one who is able to set the prisoner free.
It’s easy to understand then what Jesus means when He says, “I hold the keys of death and Hades.” We might also translate the Greek word “Hades” as “the grave.” Jesus holds the keys of death and the grave.
We are prisoners of death and Hades, aren’t we? After all, who can avoid it? We try to keep it away with doctors and medicines and hospitals, but no matter what we do death eventually comes. “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” God said to Adam way back in the garden.
Enter the living Jesus Christ who changes all this. To you who are prisoners of death Jesus says, “I have the key.” He unlocks this prison cell and sets us free. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians in chapter fifteen: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. … So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power… Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable.”
Jesus holds the keys. He swings the door open and frees us from the bondage of death. He does this by His own resurrection from the dead. He is “the firstborn from the dead.” He broke out of death’s prison, took the jailer’s keys in His hand, and He opens that prison for you and for me.
How many times while exiled on Patmos did John think his life was over, that he was trapped by death? We don’t know for sure, but we know that it crosses our minds. Sometimes we feel death hanging over us like a cloud. We see time slipping away from us and know that every day brings us closer to it. We suffer and endure earthly troubles that cause us to think about death.
But Jesus comforts you in the valley of the shadow. He says to you, “I hold the key. I am one who unlocks this prison called death. I am alive and I will come again to raise you and take you to be with me.” Jesus will come again “with the clouds, and every eye will see him,” John wrote. So shall it be. We will live again even as Jesus lives—triumphant from the grave!
The Lord stood before John in the vision as the Savior who was alive forevermore. Several times in this Scripture text from Revelation it is made clear that Christ was raised never to die again. John calls Jesus “him who is, and who was, and who is to come.” And the Lord says the same: “I am the first and the last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”
There is no more death for Jesus. He will not suffer on the cross again. His tomb is empty forever. Into eternity He is alive, and those He raises from the dead will experience the same. You and I—we will be alive forever and ever. We will not be eternal in the same way that Jesus is eternal, existing through all time and space, but we will be like Him in that once raised we will never die again.
He is alive forever and ever. We will live forever and ever.
Think of that! No more death forever. What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
Long ago on the tiny island of Patmos, John was comforted by a vision of the risen Christ. Here too, we are privileged to see the same vision in the pages of our Bibles, and to receive the same comfort.
COMFORT from the Holy One has done away with our sin.
COMFORT from He holds the keys to death and Hades.
COMFORT from He who is alive forever and so we shall be too. Amen.