The Book of Revelation has long been a playground of the fanciful and the fanatic. We must not abandon it to them: it is God’s Word for us. In fact it is a pastoral letter full of insights on practical Christian living and these introductory verses pave the way.

1. Light on the Christian Life 1 : 9

John introduces himself with a staggering description of a Christian:

He doesn’t speak of sharing in the power and the kingdom and the glory in Jesus.

He doesn’t speak of sharing in the victory and the kingdom and the joy in Jesus.

He does speak of sharing in the suffering and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.

These three are wrapped together in John’s mind and have gone together in his experience:

Suffering: because like those to whom he is writing he has suffered for his faith and been exiled because of it(1:9).

Kingdom: because as a Christian he lives under the rule of Jesus and is fully confident he will share in the triumph when the kingdom comes in all its fullness.

Patient Endurance: because that is what is produced when you mix the two together, suffering and hope!

The book is full of constant reminders of persecutions, pressures and sufferings Christians will have to face. (As I write the newspapers are full of the story of Robert Hussein, the convert from Islam, under threat of death in Kuwait. I have just been talking to a friend whose integrity at work is a threat to his employers and so to his job. The Apostle John would not have been at all surprised by either incident). It is also full of the ultimate triumph of the Kingdom of Christ.

It is written to a hard-pressed minority to produce realism not fantasy, patient endurance not despair.

2. Light on the Christ 1: 12-17

It is Jesus whom John sees in his vision , and what a Jesus! Here is an awesome King. His head and hair were ‘white like wool’ (1:14) commanding respect and signifying wisdom; ‘his eyes were like blazing fire’ (1:14) penetrating and piercing; ‘his feet were like bronze’ (1:15), secure and immovable; ‘his voice like the sound of rushing waters (1:15), powerful and irresistible.

This is the Lord, not of some dream world, but of the real, if unseen world.

A great encouragement.

He stands in the middle of the lampstands, the churches (1:13, 20) That is a powerful comfort to a suffering church. In their midst stands the One who has been through the worst they face and says: ‘Do not be afraid…I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore’ (1:17,18).

It is a great reminder that things aren’t what they seem. The church in John’s day, as in so many places today, was pitifully weak and insignificant in the world’s eyes. Yet John writes to tell us not just that we don’t see things as they will be, but we don’t even see them as they are now.

The forces of evil are immensely powerful. Why don’t totalitarian regimes destroy the Church? Why hasn’t liberalism swept it away without trace? How can tiny Christian witnesses continue? If we just use our eyes, says John, we will never see what is going on. There are unseen realities. The Son of man, the ultimate King, stand on guard over his Church.

A great warning.

Before complacency sets in, look again at the vision of Jesus. ’…out of his mouth came a sharp, double edged sword’ (1:16) This King not only cares but judges. Indeed he judges because he cares.

His warnings are for within the Church as well as for without. To rebel against this King, to ignore his commands and teaching, to refuse to share his hates and loves can be disguised…’We must live in the modern world…We have grown out of that sort of thing now’ But they are attitudes that can never fool the all-seeing King, and cannot survive in this real world.

Hugh Palmer, is one the staff team of Christ Church, Fulwood in the diocese of Sheffield.