Monday, March 15, 2010

The Death of the Living One

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades."
Revelation 1:12-18

I love this passage. When I read it and take the time to really think on it, to meditate on it, it sends shivers down my spine. Easter is coming up, and churches are going to be focusing on the gospel narrative, and that's totally cool and awesome, but I think this verse, specifically the words of Christ in 17-18, really gets to the heart of one of the most amazing aspects of Easter, the greatest contradiction of all time, the "stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles"–the death of the Living One.

So, I'm trying to picture what's going through John's mind right now. He's just chilling on Patmos, probably meditating, "in the Spirit," and suddenly he starts having this vision, and a voice tells him to grab his notepad and write stuff down. He turns to see who is speaking to him and he sees something he has only seen once before, when Christ was transfigured in Matthew 17 (Note: I'm not totally sure about this, but there are some interesting correlations, so I don't think it's too much of a stretch). He sees this person who, from the description, was probably shining so brightly that it hurt to look at him and, as he did the last time he saw Christ like this, falls down on his face "as though dead." This is not a surprising reaction. It would, for example, be much more surprising if he stayed standing, said, "Hey, Jesus, long time no see," maybe stepped in for a man-hug. But I digress.

So, he falls down on his face as though dead, probably under the impression that he is, or soon will be, literally dead, because of the glory that he is beholding. Then something amazing happens–this shining, burning, gloriously holy "one like a son of man" places his hand on John and says "Do not be afraid." This is crazy. Here is John, prostrating himself before the Son of God, and Christ places his right hand on him, possibly drawing him back up, but at any case demonstrating an astonishing familiarity and intimacy never before seen between God, in His glory, and man. The first and the last, the living one (referencing the multiple times God is called "the Living God."), is intimate with his people.

I apologize. I meant for this post to be solely about this next section, but I got caught up. I hope you don't mind. Anyway, on to the next bit.

"I... am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore." Amazing. Just... mind-blowing. Is he serious? This person, with a voice like the roar of many waters and a face like the sun shining in full strength, couldn't really have died, right? And that's the amazing bit. He did die. The living one, the Living God of Israel, died. That is half of what we remember when we celebrate Easter. We remember this great contradiction in terms, the high humility of the Son of God as he reconciles a sinful world to his holy self. But, as I said, this is only half of what we remember.

Yes, the living one died. But wait! Look! Behold! He is alive forevermore. The Living God of Israel died, and that is what the Jew stumbles over, what the Gentile sees as folly. But they forget the other part of it–that in dying, Christ defeated death, and is now alive forever. Not only is he alive, but he holds the keys to Death and Hades. He has been through death, and death has not overcome him. Hades cannot stand against him. He is first, before death, and he is last. He is the living one, who died but is alive forevermore.

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