February 28, 2009 on 6:11 pm | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on JESUS–JUDGE OR SAVIOR? (1:12, 13)

Does that question in the title sound like a contradiction in terms? Is Jesus one or the other? Or both? Is the concept of Jesus as judge biblical or unbiblical? The next section in Revelation chapter 1 (verses 12-16) give us a portrait of Jesus that is quite different to that seen in the gospels. The only similar description is in chapter 10 of the book of Daniel. Why is this included here—what is its significance? And what does it have to do with our title? Let’s take a closer look.
Remember, John is in exile on the island of Patmos for his faith. He apparently is somewhere there meditating on “the Lord’s day,” and he turns around to see this “voice” he has just heard speaking to him. The first thing to catch his eye is seven golden lampstands. Immediately we think of the 7-branched lampstand made for the original tent tabernacle in the book of Exodus. Later, in Solomon’s time, they had 10 such lampstands for the permanent tabernacle. But Jesus explains the symbolic meaning of these in verse 20 when He says they stand for the seven churches we have already referred to in the previous posting. I have noticed that when the original sanctuary (tabernacle) was made (with one lampstand), all of God’s people (His “church” as it were) were located in one geographical location, camped around that sanctuary. But by New Testament times, circumstances have changed, and God’s people are much more scattered. We can perhaps see that symbolically illustrated by the fact that there are now 7 lampstands representing 7 congregations which are no longer in one literal geographical location but rather somewhat scattered. The literal congregations were not in the country of Israel, but what is today western Turkey.

The implication is that the emphasis is shifting from literal, ethnic Israel, to a more spiritual Israel in God’s plans. I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 3:29: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” That suggests that if you are a follower of Christ, then you become an heir to all the promises made to Abraham. That doesn’t mean Jews are excluded. It simply means that their ethnicity does not make them heirs of the promises—it is their acceptance of Jesus the Messiah, the same condition as everyone else. In his letter to the Romans, Paul further elaborated on this concept: “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.” Romans 9:6-8. And explaining further, in chapter 2:28, 29 he states: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” To put it in a different way, our “Jewishness” is not determined by our earthly birth, but by our second birth, what the Bible calls being “born again.” That was the same thing Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3, 5. We could add Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” So for anyone to inherit the promises made to Abraham and his descendents, they must first become a follower of Jesus, be “born again.”

Having taken that “detour,” let’s come back to our text. Where do we see Jesus in all this? Verse 13 of Revelation 1 shows Him surrounded by the seven churches (lampstands). Since these lampstands allude to the sanctuary in the Old Testament, I am reminded of God’s original stated purpose for having Israel make a sanctuary in the first place: “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Exodus 25:8. At a more personal level, God states in Isaiah 57:15: “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” It has always been the desire of God to dwell with His people. He loves them and wants to be around them. In Matthew 1:23 Isaiah is quoted as saying, “they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’” The ultimate end of all this is described in Revelation 21:3: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”

By now you may be wondering if I am ever going to get around to the topic listed in the title—is Jesus judge or savior? Does it have to be either/or? Can it be both? Why do I bring up this topic in this text? Let’s check it out. I believe this text introduces a section that sees Jesus as both judge and savior and that this is a portrayal that holds true throughout the book of Revelation. I see it hinted at in the clothing He is wearing—a garment girded about the chest with a golden band. The only other time that exact description is mentioned, it is in connection with the seven angels having the seven last plagues to be poured out in judgment upon the earth. (see Revelation 15:6)

If you want an even more explicit reference to Jesus as judge, note John 5:22: “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” But doesn’t this seem to be in conflict with the idea of the gospel? How can He be our judge and savior at the same time? For one thing, in the Jewish legal system, the judge was actually to be an advocate for the defendant and to try and find a way to acquit him. Only after all options had been exhausted would the judge then have to condemn the prisoner. As far as the judgment being against the gospel, Paul comments in Romans 2:16 that “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” Jesus’ primary purpose is to free us from condemnation and death, but if we refuse, if we insist on our own way and reject His plans and purposes for us, then He has no choice but to respect our choice and pronounce sentence upon us.

There is a tendency sometimes to go to extremes—either Jesus is so loving He would never condemn, judge, or destroy. Or He is so just He could never love or forgive. The truth is He is a blend of both mercy and justice. In a self-revelation of His own character, He described Himself as follows: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty…” Note that His mercy does not mean He can’t also exercise justice (“by no means clearing the guilty”—those who reject His offers). In Revelation He is also depicted as both a lion and a lamb. He is a balanced person, not an extremist.

Remember also that judgment is not always a negative experience. Let’s say you bring a lawsuit into court and the judge decides in your favor—wouldn’t that aspect be positive for you? Note that in the judgment as Daniel 7:22 puts it, “judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” In fact, in Revelation 6:10 the cry goes out, “How long, O lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” That cry also shows up in several of the Psalms. It is as if God’s saints can’t wait for God to judge, for finally things will be set right. Things may be corrupt here and now and sometimes life is unfair, but the time is coming when all will be made right.

Perhaps another way to look at this judgment theme in Revelation 1 is more like an interim judgment at this point in time, like an check-up to see if everything is shipshape, checking to see if any adjustments need to be made before the final “inspection”. Schools often do a self-evaluation before the accrediting committee comes, to be sure they have covered all the bases and are ready for the final evaluation. I believe God wants us to “pass” the final judgment successfully, so He does all He can to get us ready. While it true that there is a serious and sober side to the judgment, the way it is often presented it only scares people to death. I sometimes think of it like going through security at the airport. We might be somewhat annoyed by the process, but we like to think that as a result there will be no “terrorists” on board with us. God assures us through the judgment process there will be no “spiritual terrorists” in heaven–no one who will start the whole sin problem all over again. It will be secure for eternity.

Finally, it seems fitting that Jesus should have the final say, since our eternal life hangs on whether we accept or reject Him. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36. Jesus longs for us to be with Him eternally. He has promised to come back for His people (John 14:1-3), and remember, to make this all possible was not an easy task. Hebrews 12:2 speaks of Jesus as “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right and of the throne of God.” His joy was the idea of many people who would be eternally saved to live with Him if He went through the cross experience. Let’s not disappoint Him.

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