The Church takes its second reading on the Sundays of Easter from the book of Revelation in order to meditate on the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for us. This Sunday the reading is John’s vision of Jesus at the outset of the book. Here is a comment and reflection on Rev 1:17-18 from Peter S. Williamson Revelation (forthcoming, Fall 2014).
This figure who is “like a son of man” touches John, commands him not to be afraid, and then gives him a powerful reason not to fear by disclosing his identity in solemn words: I am the first and the last. He uses words that God uses to identify himself three times in Isaiah (Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). The next sentence makes his identity explicit: Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. Jesus has come back from the dead with divine authority and will never die again. The good news for us is that he has wrested control from humankind’s perennial enemy: I hold the keys to death and the netherworld (literally, “Hades,” the Greek word for the place of the dead that the Jews called “Sheol”). Jesus holds the keys! The Greco-Roman world knew itself to be ignorant and powerless in the face of death, hoping only for some shadowy continuing existence in Hades. Although Death and Hades will continue to wreak havoc in Revelation until their final judgment at the end of history (20:14), their fate is already sealed in this magnificent declaration of the Risen Lord.
I was dead, but now I am alive forever. The joy and hope these words recall a scene from the conclusion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Frodo’s friend Samwise wakes after falling unconscious when the Ring was destroyed and sees someone he thought had died months earlier: “Gandalf, you’re alive! I thought you were dead! I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
The message of Revelation, foreshadowed in these opening words of Jesus, is a definitive “Yes! Everything sad is going to come untrue!” A revelation of the Risen Lord, an inner understanding of just who this Jesus is, will enable Christians also to face whatever challenges and circumstances come their way.
Revelation provides its readers with three diverse visions of Jesus—the glorious son of man (1:13), the slaughtered Lamb (5:6), and the Divine Warrior (19:11)—each emphasizing different aspects of his person and work. As we study, meditate, and pray about Revelation we also will become more deeply aware of the awesomeness of Christ.
© 2013 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.