What is the #1 intellectual stumbling block to evangelism today? Of course the first hindrance to evangelism is the average Christian’s lack of interest in evangelism. But what is the first argument heard when someone is trying to speak about Christ? I suppose it depends on the society in which you are working. In the Pantanal marshes of Brazil it would be one problem, but in Montreal it would be another. In some areas, the #1 hindrance to the gospel might be the Book of Mormon. In another it would be the doctrine of the deity of Christ or perhaps atheism. Evolution is certainly a hindrance to evangelism, as is the New Age movement and Christian hypocrisy. Another in our day is the proliferation of false and corrupt Bibles – “Yea, hath God really said?”
Among the Jews, in the first years of Christianity, the chief stumbling block was Jesus’ resurrection. The Book of Acts contains twelve public sermons by the apostles with a total of 159 verses. I have read that 92 of those verses (60%) touch on the resurrection in one fashion or another. The gist of those sermons is that Christ’s resurrection is a fact. And walking hand-in-hand with the resurrection of CHRIST is the resurrection of Christ’s DISCIPLES. Peter and John were thrown in jail for preaching Jesus’ resurrection – and our resurrection in Acts 4. “And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”
Peter and John “preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” Christ Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” – He is “the way, the truth and life” itself. He is the Master and King of the resurrection. This was the theme of the Apostolic preaching – the theme of the New Testament – it is Bible doctrine. And it is the doctrine which I’d like to reiterate and magnify this morning.
In looking at this scripture, I would LIKE to say that John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, because he was in church, but I’d be overstepping my authority and these verses. But I will say that it is highly unlikely that anyone today will be significantly blessed by the Holy Spirit on the Lord’s Day if he is not in the House of God. According to Ephesians 3:21 the place of the Lord’s glory is in His authorized assembly, until such time as He returns. Revelation 1 tells us that John was in the raptures of the Spirit on the Lord’s day when He was given a glimpse of the resurrected Christ. After describing Who he saw and heard, it was as if life drained from his body, and “I fell at his feet as dead.” Immediately, Christ, who is the resurrection and life, laid his right hand on him saying, “Fear not; I am the first and the last,” and John revived. I don’t know if we can say that John was “resurrected” as such, but his experience was something very close to it. And in reviving or resurrecting John, the Lord Jesus said three things about Himself, all which relate to His resurrection power. It is those three things that I’d like us to consider this morning. And these are important, because one day WE shall all need the Person described in this chapter.
Christ Jesus called Himself THE FIRST and LAST.
What is He talking about? Just as I referred to “beginnings” in last week’s message, we must understand the context of “first.” And in this case, we must first see that this came when John fell at Jesus’ feet as dead. Also “the first and the last” statement followed Jesus’ words “Fear not.” If I was surrounded by six husky thugs, each carrying a knife or a bat, I might have a reason to fear. If I fell off an overpass and was headed toward the pavement on I-90 at rush hour, I might be fearful. If I was camping with my family and a huge grizzly bear was preparing to attack, we all might fear. Humanly speaking, we should only fear an antagonist who is greater than ourselves. We might fear the charging bear, but I don’t fear the charging mosquito, unless I’ve been warned that it is carrying some deadly disease. Christ is indeed greater than we are; and we have never seen Him as John has just described Him. But Christ Jesus is not an antagonist towards those whom He came to save. Here Christ was telling John, “You have no reason to fear, because nothing is greater than I?”
He said, “I am the first and the last.” Earlier in verse 11 He said, “I am Alpha and Omega (as well as), the first and the last.” And in the last chapter of the Bible He adds yet another similar pair of ideas – “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” The reference to “Alpha and Omega” speak of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It would be similar to saying, “I am ‘a’ and I am ‘z.’” But thinking about our own alphabet, what could that mean? Isn’t it almost nothing, unless we include all the rest of alphabet? “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” suggests that Christ encompasses all things. He is all that is important between the beginning and the end; between the first and the last. You could say, He is every important word created by all the letters of the alphabet of God.
This “first and last” is not the first time or the last time that phrase is found in the Bible. The first time is in Isaiah 44:6 – “Thus said the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last, and beside me there is no God.” That verse is a nugget of gold so pure that its value is hard to measure or spend. Jehovah is the King of Israel; and Jehovah is His redeemer; and together there is no God. Whoever this is in Revelation 1, He is claiming to be Jehovah. And just before that verse in Isaiah, we read – “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee, Fear not….” Then the second time we read this title in the Bible, it is put this way – “Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens…” Who is this one whose right hand restored the fallen Apostle? He is the Creator of the Universe and the Redeemer of the saints.
John had no reason to fear, and he was restored to life, because Christ is the first and the last. Before there was an earth or any life on the earth – first there was the eternal, triune God. “In the (very) beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Old Testament prophet Micah gave ancient Israel an important statement about the birthplace of the coming Messiah. He said, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Christ could lawfully say – and He did say – “Before Abraham was I am.” He could properly pray to His Father – “Glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” Christ is the first and also the first cause – “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
With the word “first” on the Lord’s resume, we aren’t surprised that He is also the last of all things. Christ is the unavoidable one. You, and everyone, else must one day stand before Him. Christ is the first and the last.
But then the Lord went on – He WAS DEAD yet NOW HE LIVES, and He will LIVE FOREVER MORE.
How is it that the one who had existed from before time and will exist for ever, was also dead for a while? The explanation is made in Philippians 2:5-8. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The eternal Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, took upon Him human flesh, very much like our sinful flesh. For thirty-three years He walked among us ministering to our needs like a good neighbor. But He had His eye set toward a small hill outside of Jerusalem, where He knew from before the day He was born that He would be crucified. And “He died for our sins according to the scriptures.” “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
What I just shared with you is the standard Christian doctrine for the life and death of Christ. But to be precise, that is not what the Lord said in verses 17 and 18. Consider those words, “I am he that liveth.” Think about how foolish it would be for me to approach you and say, “I am alive.” John knew that the Lord Jesus was alive, because he was one of the five hundred brethren who saw him, spoke with him, and even dined with him after His death and resurrection. Perhaps “I am alive” might not be foolish if LAZARUS said that to you, after you witnessed his funeral. But pay attention to the arrangement of Jesus’ words – “I am he that liveth” – “I am alive and I WAS dead.” It would make more sense, if He had reversed those words, saying, “I was dead, but now I am alive.” No, what the Son of man said to John was, “Fear not; I am the first and the last; I am the living one.” The idea is not that He had been raised from death, but that He IS life. As John Gill explains this verse, Christ is “the eternal God, who has life in himself, originally, essentially, and inderivatively, and is the fountain and author of life to others.”
John, “Fear not, I am before all things and I will conclude all things. I am life itself, even though for a time I was dead.” Joseph and Nicodemus arranged for the body of Christ to be laid in an empty, borrowed tomb. It was with divine permission that Joseph’s personal tomb was to be used. Christ accepted a borrowed tomb, because He knew He’d need it for only a short time.
Christ died – He experienced death in its most cruel and painful form. And think about it – what is death? It is a separation – the separation of the soul from the body; the separation of life from its bodily container. And death in its more important form is the separation of that departed soul from the source of life – Jehovah. In Revelation 20:14 – “Death and hell (along with the souls therein) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” When Christ died on the cross of Calvary, God, His Father, withdrew from the Son. Without exactly doing so, Jesus in essence, died the second death – separation from His Father.
Then three days later “up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph over all his foes.” When Satan thought that He had defeated the Son of God and taken the sword of death from His hand… Christ exited that tomb, walked up to the dumbfounded Devil, snatching both life and death out of his hands. “And behold, He is alive for evermore.” “Behold” – Look at this! Here is something surprising – not just surprising, it is amazing, astounding!
Once again, “I am alive for evermore” does not merely say “I will live forever.” It is a declaration that Christ is the living one, who cannot die because in Him is life. As I read the other day, “To Him belongs absolute being, as contrasted with the relative being of the creature; others may share, He only hath immortality: being in essence, not by mere participation, immortal.” Not that it makes any difference to the truth, but I agree with those experts who say that I Timothy 1:17 speaks about Christ – “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
When Christ came out of His grave it was the greatest miracle ever accomplished. A nearly universal and unavoidable human experience became enslaved. It was put onto the key ring of the Lord Jesus and dropped into His pocket. Man’s worst and most stubborn enemy was made a slave to Christ our Saviour. Death has become powerless without the permission of the Lord Jesus.
Fear not, John, because Christ possesses the keys of hell and of death.
A moment ago, I tried to define death, the #1 most feared thing in human existence. The first death is the separation of the soul from the body. The second death is the eternal separation of the soul from God. “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of HELL and of death.”
What about this “hell?” It is the place where souls reside after their earthly life is over. It was the place of Lazarus before his resurrection and the rich man of Luke 16. It is now the storehouse where unredeemed souls remain until they are cast into the Lake of Fire.
One of these days Christ Jesus is going to reach for the key, slipping it into the will of God, and turning it to release the dead. Graves will be opened around the world; and the seas will boil – with reformed and resurrected bodies shooting up out of the depths. Yes, I know that the world laughs at such a thought – but let them laugh. They laughed when Jesus said of Jairus’ daughter – “She sleepeth.” Christ then raised the dead body of that little girl to full life once again. The snickered and then shuttered when Christ said, “Open Lazarus’ tomb.” They laughed at Jesus doctrines as they nailed Him to the cross. But they did not laugh when they found His tomb open and empty. Snicker if you like lost world, but every son of God shall live again as John lived after his “death” or near death in Revelation 1.
But this resurrection will not be for Christians only. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
What will be the purpose of this part of the resurrection? “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” John 5:22-29 Christ is the king of life, including resurrection life – “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Unless the Lord snatches you away from earth while you are still alive, you will be resurrected from death. For what purpose will you be resurrected? Will it be to hear the words, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Or will it be to hear “enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Prepare yourself for that upcoming day, by repenting before God. Acknowledge and confess your wickedness in the sight of God’s holiness. And put your faith in the One who is the resurrection and the life. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” – delivered from the second death.