Revelation 5:9-13, 11:15, 19:6, 16
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By Stephen Green. (First Published in Christian Voice: December 2003)
What do the following texts from the Revelation to John have in common?:
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; Rev. 5:9
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Rev. 5:12
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. Rev. 5:13
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. Rev. 11:15
And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Rev. 19:6
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. Rev. 19:16
Before giving the answer, I must first recount an apocryphal story about some theology students. They were studying Revelation under one of those professors whose job appears to be to confuse. They came out of their lecture, heads spinning with praeterist, historicist, allegorical and futurist views, eschatologies galore, conflicting dates of writing, not knowing what to think. Just then they saw the college gardener sitting on a bench, his sandwiches by his side, reading a book. "What are you reading?" They asked. "Revelation," he answered. "Do you understand it?" They enquired. "Sure I do," he replied. “Explain it to us,” they cried. “Sure I will,” he replied, "Jesus wins."
Jesus wins. Or to be more accurate, Jesus has already won. By His obedience in following the way of the cross, He showed Himself worthy to receive all that was reserved for Him in heaven. All the words quoted above speak of His great triumph, now and to come. He has already won in the heavenlies, but we have still to pray: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." The will of God is done in heaven, and should and shall be done in earth.
To look at it another way, we can only pray for earthly things that have already been decided in heaven. It is not enough to tack "In Jesus' name, Amen" onto the end of a prayer. The Holy Spirit gives us any prayers that we genuinely pray "in Jesus' name", (John 14:14) so if we are listening to God, and praying with the mind of God, we shall indeed pray for what has been decided in heaven. And the major thing which has been decided in heaven is that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.
One thing the quoted texts have in common is that they speak of the Lord Jesus' kingdom and earthly reign. That is precisely the reason for the second thing they have in common, and what I had in mind when I began. Each of those verses provided material for Charles Jennens when he compiled the libretto for Handel's tremendous work Messiah.
From the verses in chapters 11 and 19 came the words for the final chorus of part two, "Hallelujah", whilst those from chapter 5 rounded off part three, and the whole work, in the form of "Worthy is the Lamb".
I once heard the broadcaster Margaret Howard introduce one of the choruses from Messiah on Classic FM. What she could not make out, she said, was why, in an oratorio on the subject of the coming of Jesus, there was so little about His birth. It's true. There are just four recitatives and the chorus "Glory to God" from Luke 2:8-14. By contrast, words of the prophets are used in thirty pieces, and the Psalms account for another twelve. So had she missed the point?
Yes, she had. The librettist Jennens and Handel himself had something else in mind than a baby in a manger, wonderful as that is. They wanted to tell what God Incarnate came to do, to show the infinite import of His Resurrection and Ascension, and their implications for this finite world. It is therefore rather curious that Messiah is usually sung around Christmas. It is as if everyone is thinking along Margaret Howard's lines. In fact, Messiah is for every season and for all times.
Christmas brings good cheer and good tidings, precisely because the Incarnation of God as man born of a woman is the most dramatic intervention that God ever made in the affairs of mankind since the creation of life. It is right to celebrate such an event in its own right, even whilst we place it within the context of the whole ministry of Messiah.
In truth, we worship a Creator God of such compassion that, whilst He could have stood back and watched us make what we could of fallen life on our own, He gave first His divine revelation through His prophets, foreshadowing the ultimate ministry of reconciliation, and then, at precisely the right time in history, He became part of His creation Himself, teaching, healing, preaching repentance and the nearness of the kingdom of God, and sharing our sufferings, dying a cruel death that we might live.
Did Allah or Mohammed care enough to do that? Have any of the demonic powers the pagans call 'gods' shown that amount of compassion? Was the Buddha capable of reconciling man to God by his blood? And do any of them now sit at the right hand of God, having received blessing, honour, riches, wisdom, strength, glory and power over the kingdoms of the world?
Although we do not know the date of our Saviour's return, His return is sure and settled. As the darkness gathers in Britain today and night begins to fall, the words of Revelation are a great encouragement to perseverance. But on another level, the fight of good against evil is a timeless theme in literature, and the words of the Revelation to John have inspired countless authors to believe that even though things are bad now, or bad in the story they are writing, nevertheless, there will be a day in which what is wrong will be put right.
LORD OF THE RINGS
The final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy had just been released as I was writing. It is entitled "Return of the king." The king is Aragorn, who is to return to claim his kingdom. The central character, Frodo, (who has no pretensions to kingship) is despised by many but entrusted with a task which, although it wears him down, is vital for the peace of the whole world. His task is to destroy a ring which promises riches, but which binds and corrupts. A returning king? A suffering servant? A completed work carried out at great cost? The defeat of enslaving sin? Where did Tolkein get those ideas, if not from the Gospels and the book of Revelation?
Just as an aside, Tolkein had to separate the office of king messiah from that of suffering servant. He could not combine the two into one plausible character. The rabbis had the same problem with the book of Isaiah, much quoted in Handel's oratorio. They could not understand how Messiah could suffer and die and still bring judgment. Therefore they postulated two different Messiahs. That helped to blind their eyes, so that when Jesus came, and did all that Isaiah prophesied, they still did not believe.
Someone once sent up the view that God changes from the Old Testament to the New, becoming love where once He was judgment, by saying that he much preferred the God of the Old Testament, the God of mercy and compassion, Who separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west, Who is always ready to pardon, to the God of the New Testament, Who brings fire on earth and damnation to the unbelievers, pressing out the grapes of wrath, going forth to conquer, and before Whose face the beloved Apostle John fell at His feet as dead. The point was well made. God is the same all through the Bible. He is merciful, but He demands repentance, and obedience, and submission. The day is coming when He will establish His kingdom in earth as in heaven.
In Messiah, our personal salvation is not forgotten. Part One is prophetic, concluding with His Incarnation. Part Two is triumphal, beginning with the suffering servant, and ending with "Hallelujah". But Part Three is reflective, opening with the remarkable prophetic words of Job: "I know that my redeemer liveth", and following on to many resurrection words from 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 8:31-34. Then the concluding chorus is back to Revelation: "Worthy is the Lamb."
I can think of no better way to conclude than with words from the first chapter of Revelation:
5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
8 "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending", saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.