“Jesus Christ: Who He Is, and What He Did” (Revelation 1:5 sermon)

In 1925, Bruce Barton wrote a book on Jesus Christ entitled, The Man Nobody Knows. He said he was tired of hearing Jesus portrayed as a wimpy, “milk toast” character, and he wanted to show America a Jesus for the “Roaring 20s.” I’m not sure how successful he was; he described Jesus as an advertising executive who appealed to everyone! Is that who Jesus really is? 

I think what often happens is that we try to make “a god in our own image.” We try to make Jesus into the kind of Jesus WE want Him to be, instead of Who He really IS. Where can we find the BEST picture of Jesus? In His WORD. I read or hear of people all the time who say things like, “The Jesus I know wouldn’t say that; the Jesus I know wouldn’t do that.” But where are they getting those ideas about Jesus? Just what they “feel” about Him? What you “feel” like Jesus would do, doesn’t matter. We need to get a true understanding of Jesus from His WORD. And that is what we are going to look at this morning in Revelation 1:5, “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood”

Last week we saw that John tells us in :4 that this book of Revelation is from the Triune God: God the Father (“He who is and who was and who is to come”), God the Holy Spirit (“the seven Spirits who are before the throne”) and God the Son, “Jesus Christ.” And we noted that usually when the Trinity is mentioned, it is: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, in that order. But in this case, he mentions Jesus Christ last; NOT because He was not being emphasized, but because we IS: because he is about to elaborate on Jesus for a while, which we see in the rest of Revelation 1. So this morning we are going to follow up last week’s message by looking at :5, which tells us more about Jesus, in a very simple but clear way: “Who He Is, and What He Did.” 

I. Who He Is

A. The Faithful Witness

The Old Testament teaches the principle of having 2-3 witnesses to something, because human witnesses often lie; they be wrong; they can “think” they saw something that they didn’t; they can be bribed; or have a personal agenda. Human witnesses are not always reliable.

But the Bible says here that Jesus is “the faithful witness.” He has the absolute truth. In John 3:13 Jesus said, “No one has ascended into heaven and descended but the Son of Man from heaven.” He has the truth straight from God. In fact He said “I AM the truth”! If you want to know the truth about anything, see what JESUS said about it. He is “the faithful witness.” Whatever He says, is true. 

— What’s the truth about marriage?

Jesus said in Matthew 19:5-6, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall be one flesh … what therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

— What’s the truth about forgiveness?
Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive YOUR transgressions”!

— What’s the truth about taxes?

Jesus said in Matthew 22:21 “Render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

— What’s the truth about heaven? 

Jesus said in John 14:1 “In My Father’s house are many mansions, and I go to prepare a place for you.”

— What’s the truth about hell?

Jesus said in Mark 9:47-48 “It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

— What’s the truth about the way to escape hell and go to heaven?

Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” 

If you want the truth on anything, see what Jesus said about it. He will tell you the truth. He IS the truth! He is “the faithful witness.”

B. The Firstborn of the dead

We will see throughout Revelation the emphasis on Jesus dying, but rising from the dead. He is “the Lamb who was slain,” but He is ALIVE! Jesus was crucified by the Romans on Golgatha hill in Jerusalem, but He ROSE again on the 3rd day. He is alive! We serve a Risen Savior! 

But :5 here calls Jesus “the FIRST born of the dead.” In other words, there are many others who will follow Him. He paved the way for US to follow in His steps. 

It seems like Cheryl & I have been going to a lot of funerals lately. About three weeks ago we lost a 60-year-old lifelong friend of ours just the other side of Waco. Two weeks ago James Schneider, a long-time deacon at our church, and a widely respected man, passed away. And last weekend it was a friend of our from the church we served in Louisiana, Larry Robideaux. Larry was one of those “unique individuals” you meet in life. He was a “wild man,” in some ways: he was known in high school for doing wheelies in his motorcycle out in the street in front of the school, and gained fame by riding his motorcycle up the stairs of Lagrange High School, down the hallway, and down the other side. But Larry loved the Lord. He went with us on mission trips to India. He had a shop across the street from our parsonage in Louisiana, and he would witness to almost everyone who came in there. Cheryl & I went to his memorial service Monday, and the casket was open. When I passed by, I smiled and patted him, and said, “Larry, you’re in glory now!” 

And the same thing is true with James Schneider, and with our friend Curtis, who loved Christian concerts: I said, “Curtis, you’re in the best concert right now!” This is our hope as Christians. Because Jesus didn’t “just” rise from the dead for Himself; He is “the FIRST-born of the dead” — many more will follow Him. As Jesus said in John 11: (that we looked at this morning in Sunday School, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” Jesus promised in John 14:19 “Because I live, YOU will live also.” Because He is the “first born” from the dead, we can know that we can follow after Him. Jesus rose from the dead to eternal life — and every one of us who trusts Him as our Lord & Savior will do the same thing: we will die — but we will rise to eternal life. He is “the first born” from the dead. But not the last. Because we are coming after Him! 

Billy Graham said a few years ago: “Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

And the thing is, YOU can say that same thing too! When you have passed from this earth, you can be more alive than you ever have been — IF you know Jesus as your Lord & Savior. He is “the first born from the dead” — and if you are His, then you will coming right behind Him! 

C. The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth

Most of us stand in awe of “the kings of the earth” — the rulers and other great men we encounter. Those of you who are doing our Simply Prayer discipleship study may have chuckled at the story of its author, Bill Elliff, who was part of a small group that was coordinating a Billy Graham crusade in Oklahoma City years ago. He went to the meeting and he was sitting drinking coffee when his wife Holly leaned over and whispered to him, “Do you want to meet Billy Graham?” And of course Bill said he did. Well, Holly  said, he is standing right behind you! Bill turned around and there was Billy Graham himself, looking at him eye to eye. Bill said he totally clammed up.  Now, Bill Elliff is a VERY outgoing person, very much a people person, but in the presence of Billy Graham, he was at a loss for words. Finally Billy Graham said, “Hello; I’m Billy Graham.” And Bill said all he could eek out was, “Hi, I’m Billy Elliff.” He was just totally intimidated in the presence of this great man. 

Now, Billy Graham was not a “king,” per se, but I can see how someone might be awed in the presence of someone well-known like that. We’ve all probably experienced that feeling of being tongue-tied, or intimidated, in the presence of one of the great people, “the kings of the earth.” 

But the Bible says our Jesus is the RULER of “the kings of the earth.” He has power and authority over them. 

As Christians, we don’t need to fear the kings and rulers and authorities and powers of this world. Jesus told us to respect them, and obey them, unless they command us to disobey Him; we are to be respectful to them — but we do not FEAR them. There is a big difference. WE FEAR OUR KING. Our King, as Revelation 19:16 says, is “the King of kings, and Lord of lords.”  Jesus is the King over all kings. He is the Lord, over all human lords. 

As Psalm 2 says; “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the LORD with reverence, and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way.” The Bible tells the kings of the earth: you better tremble before the Messiah; you’d better bow in reverence before Him; or you will perish from your kingdom. 

Yes, Jesus is “the ruler of the Kings of the earth.” 

The kings bow down to HIM!

The rulers fear and tremble before HIM!

The authorities get tongue-tied before HIM! 

The princes will all cast their crowns before HIM!

Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Jesus is “The Faithful Witness,” He is “The Firstborn of the Dead,” and He is “The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.” 

II. What He Has Done

A. He LOVES us

This is a present active participle, which means it could literally be translated: “to the One loving us.” He LOVES us. Literally he IS loving us; He continues to love us. It is amazing to think that this One that verse 5 just described as so powerful, actually LOVES US, but that is exactly what the Bible tells us here. How do we communicate this, that Jesus, “the ruler of the kings of the earth,” LOVES US? It’s beyond our words. 

One of my first pastorates was at the First Baptist Church of Beggs, Oklahoma, where there was a family we were close with, and they had a young daughter by the name of Lesley, who grew up, married a pastor, and they actually moved back to serve at FBC Beggs, where they serve today. They have 6 kids, and they are a sweet family. We keep up with them on Facebook, where one day Lesley posted about a conversation she had with her little son, Shepherd. 

“As is often the case, Shep was trying to express the depths of his love tonight: “I love you more than a hundred…”  (Long pause.)

“No, I love you more than a THOUSAND!…”. (Long pause.)

“But I actually love you MORE than that. It’s just so hard to say!…I love you to the end of the words…”

“The end of the words?” I repeated, making sure I’d heard him correctly. 

“Yeah…the end of all the words. IS there an end to words?” 

I stared at him for a long time, thinking. It’s just not a question you hear every day, you know? Before I could formulate an answer, though, he continued. 

“I guess there WOULDN’T be an end to the words…like if a guy started writing and he got married and then he died but then his SON started writing and then he got married and he died but then HIS son started writing and got married…then there would never be an end to the words…

Then he made a face (like this 😳) and said “…the words would go on forever!” All’s I know is, I think Shep loves me a LOT.”

I love that story, and I think that’s something like the way we need to understand the Lord’s love for us. Paul tells the Ephesians in Chapter 3:18-19 that he’s praying for them that they  “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE”!  He says the love that Jesus has for us, surpasses knowledge! We can’t even comprehend it! He loves you so much it goes “to the end of the words,” like Lesley’s little Shep said. 

Or as a more well-known author wrote: 

“Could we with ink the ocean fill

And were the sky of parchment made

And every stalk on earth a quill

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry!

Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky!”

Jesus loves us “to the end of the words”! And not just “us,” but He loves YOU! Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “He loved ME, and gave Himself for ME.” Maybe you’ve never really understood this, but may God’s Holy Spirit help you to truly comprehend it today for the very first time if you haven’t already. Jesus. Loves. YOU! YOU personally; whoever you are, and whatever you’ve done. He loves YOU — “to the end of the words”! 

B. He RELEASED us from our sins by His blood

Then it calls Him: “the One who released us from our sins” (this is an aorist participle; which means it happened at a past point of time. Writing to Christian people, he says “He released us from our sins by His blood.” If you are a Christian, He has done this for you already. You have been released from your sins!

This is the great blessing of being a Christian: we have been “released from our sins by His blood.” The word “released” here means to “loose, dissolve, destroy.” 

God says our sin is like a STAIN on our life. Jeremiah 2:22 says: “‘The stain of your iniquity is before Me,’ declares the Lord GOD.” Sin STAINS us before God. And there is nothing we can do to take it out. The first part of that verse says: “Although you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your iniquity is before Me.” We are powerless to get it out. 

In Shakespeare’s classic play “Macbeth,” Lady Macbeth talks her husband into killing King Duncan so that she and her husband can reign on the throne. But after they do it, she has no peace. Her subjects observe her walking at night, crying “Out, out spot” from her hands, which she knows are stained with the blood of the king. She keeps washing her hands, but then she looks at them and says; “Yet here’s a spot! … Will these hands ne’er be clean? … Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!”

What Shakespeare portrayed so dramatically in that play, is something very real in our human experience. We have all been stained by sin. Maybe not murder, like Lady Macbeth, but we have all sinned. We have all broken God’s commandments, and we all carry the stains of sin. A stain in a garment often RUINS it. In the same way, many feel like a stain in their life LIFE ruins it! Or that the stain of sin in someone else’s life has ruined that person’s life. They believe that a life that has been stained with sin should be cast aside, like you would cast aside an old stained garment. EXCEPT: that the Bible tells us here that wIth Jesus your sins can be “loosed, dissolved, destroyed”!  

Just the other day I came home from church and I noticed I had a stain on my shirt from our breakfast in Sunday school. I told Cheryl and she said; take it to the utility room and spray it with Spray and Wash; it’s in the cabinet right over the washer. So I took in there, got the Spray and Wash, sprayed it on that stain — and I could see that stain just dissolve right before my eyes! It’s an amazing thing!  

But there are SOME stains that even Spray and Wash can’t get out, aren’t there? I have several blue dress shirts that I like to wear, and one of them was probably my favorite, but I got a bad greasy stain on it, and I showed Cheryl, and she took it right into “emergency surgery” and put stain stuff on it, she did everything you could — but that stain would not come out. There is nothing for me to do now but cast that shirt into the rag pile. I can’t wear it anywhere nice with that stain right in the big middle of it! It’s just going to have to be cast aside.

And the sad thing is, that’s what happens to many PEOPLE, isn’t it: “Oh, they’ve got stains of SIN in their life; they just have to be cast aside.” And too often we DO cast PEOPLE aside the way a person would cast aside an old shirt; they’re “stained;” they’re “no good.” Or we may even think it of OURSELVES: “I’m no good; I’m stained with sin. I need to be cast aside.”

But thank God for Jesus! He sees past the stain to the PERSON. He sees past your stain to YOU!  He LOVES even the person who has been stained with sin. He loves YOU, even stained with your sin. 

But not only does He LOVE us in our sins, He does something more: He RELEASES us from our sins. And how does He do that? Not with “Spray and Wash” or some other human solution. The Bible says He did it with His own blood. 

The Bible says it is the blood of Jesus that washes us from our sins:

— I Peter 1:18-19 says “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

The Bible says you can’t buy the cleansing of the stain of your sin with silver or gold — no amount of money can do it — only the blood of Jesus, which was shed on the cross. “What can wash away my sin? NOTHING — BUT the blood of Jesus”! 

— I John 1:7b says “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin”

WHAT sin does the scripture say His blood will cleanse us from? “ALL” sin! Spray and Wash may cleanse your garments from SOME stains; but not all; it couldn’t save my blue shirt. But if you will bring your sin to the blood of Jesus, He will cleanse you from ALL sin!  There is not a single sin, committed by anyone in this room, which cannot be forgiven, if you will only bring it to the blood of Jesus. He will cleanse you from “ALL unrighteousness.” From “ALL sin”! 

The important thing is: make sure that you do bring it to Him. DON’T just sit there and think, “Well, my life is ruined; I’ve sinned; I’m stained; I just have to be cast aside now.” NO! That is where the devil wants you to keep you. He hates you; he’s the one who got you into this in the first place; he tempted you to sin — and now he accuses you once you do! 

But Jesus LOVES you. Can you grasp that this morning? JESUS. LOVES. YOU! And more than anything else, He wants to “release you from your sins by His blood.” So take heart: you say you’ve sinned? YES we all have. Every single person in this room has sinned; there is no one who has not, from this pastor on up. We have all sinned. But there is no one in this room whom Jesus does not love, and there is no one in this room whose sin Jesus will not RELEASE and wash away, if you will bring it to Him. Just bring it to Him! Don’t hold back; don’t let the devil lie to you and convince you that Jesus won’t do it for you; or that He won’t do it for YOUR sin. Believe that Jesus will do what He promised He would do, and bring it to Him. If you will, then He who loves you, will release you from your sins, by His blood! If you’ve never done it before, why don’t you bring your sins to Jesus, right now?! 


— Are you guilty of serving a Jesus of your own imagination? Do you need to get back into His word to see what it really says about Him?

— What truth about Jesus do you need to hear most today? His source of truth? His power over death? His power over the rulers and great men of earth? 

— What do you need from Jesus most today? Do you need to be reminded that He loves YOU?

— And most importantly, have you ever been “washed” of your sins by His blood? If not, you can be right now, today, if you will bring them to Him!  

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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