Rev 1:17-18 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”
This has been a favorite verse of mine for a while, but it’s fresh on my mind tonight since Richard sang it as an oracle during our Worship with the Word set. The tone of victory in this verse absolutely undoes me every time.
Taken out of context (like I did above), it might be a bit harder to feel the “zip” that’s on the verse. For myself, before this became one of my favorite verses, I had a hard time getting over the iconic picture I had of Jesus — serene, nice (but a little bland), not too fazed by the actions of the mere mortals around Him, and speaking in almost a bored sigh: “Don’t be afraid… I am the first and the last… I’m alive forever… Amen.”
If we take a moment to look at the context, however, we find a much different picture.
We have to keep in mind who’s saying this. This is the one “like the Son of Man,” whose eyes are burning like fire, whose feet are like fine brass, and who has a sharp sword coming from His mouth. This is Jesus in His dazzling, unveiled glory, speaking to John in authority and manifest power. This is the Risen Lord who is about to unveil the deep things of His heart regarding His return to earth. He is anything but stoic when He’s saying this…
I am generally loath to quote fictional stories to discuss a Biblical point, but when I read Revelation 1:18, it makes me think of one of my favorite parts of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This scene takes place right after Aslan is back from the dead after the sacrifice at the Stone Table…
They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad.
“Aren’t you dead then, dear Aslan?” said Lucy.
“Not now,” said Aslan…
“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh, children, catch me if you can!” He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beatuifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind…
“And now,” said Aslan presently, “to buisiness. I feel I am going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.” (Lewis, 94-95)
When Jesus speaks Revelation 1:18, I think of Him this way. He’s not dryly reassuring John, somewhat peeved that His disicple is so freaked out. He’s not simply reciting facts to make a deep theological statement. He’s not just going through motions, killing time until John has it together enough to start writing stuff down.
This is a Man who is alive — profoundly and gloriously alive — radiant with the glory of God, His eyes burning like fire. This is a Man who conquered death forever and taunted it, “O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave, I will be your destruction” (Hos 13:14), and “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory” (1Cor 15:55)? This is a Man who is passionately in love with human beings and has successfully delivered them from the bondage of death. This is the One who put the forces of darkness to public shame and crushed the head of the serpent.
I can almost picture the foundations of heaven shaking as He declares His victory with His voice like many waters, His eyes burning with ever greater intensity as He triumphs over the defeated foe. “I am He who lives. I was dead. And I am alive forevermore. I went to the utter depths of humiliation and death, yet death had no power over Me — it was impossible for it to hold Me! The grave was no match for the power of God in Me that raised Me from the dead. I have become the destruction of death itself. I have the power of an indestructable life. I vanquished death forever and it can never touch Me, nor those who are Mine. Death is swallowed up forever in My victory!”
And I love to take that little line from Narnia and imagine Jesus thundering at the end of this passage, “You’d better cover your ears; I feel I’m about to roar…”
Lewis, C.S., The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: HarperCollins