The Perfect Power Of Christ – In Me
Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation
The concluding book of the New Testament begins in the following fashion: “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show to his servants.” (1:1a).
One of the intriguing questions discussed by scholars is the phrase “of Jesus Christ” (Iesou Christou [genitive case]).
The genitive frequently is expressed in English by the preposition “of,” as in this text—thus, “of Jesus Christ.”
The genitive is the most versatile case in koine Greek (the language of the original New Testament).
The interpretation of the genitive in a particular situation depends upon context—either in association with the immediate text or elsewhere within the larger document body. The sense may be subjective, i.e.
, the revelation belonging to Christ and conveyed by him. Or the force could be objective—a revelation about Christ.
In some situations, if the larger context justifies it, the genitive may carry both subjective and objective senses, in which case it is called a plenary genitive.In his Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Professor Daniel Wallace suggests this most ly is the sense in Revelation 1:1.
It certainly is clear that the messages of this inspired book issue from our Lord (22:16); and yet the narrative also is “supremely and ultimately about Christ” (1996, 120-121; emphasis added).
In this article we will address some of the rewarding truths about our Lord set forth in this book.
Christ, Eternal Deity
The divine nature of Christ is amply illustrated in Revelation. For instance the Lord exclaims: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (22:13).
This significantly replicates the descriptive of the “Lord God,” the “Almighty” in chapter one (v. 8; cf. 21:6; also Isaiah 44:6; 48:12). Without question this is an affirmation of deity as expressed in eternal terms.
Is Christ’s claim a reflection of reality, or is it merely a vain boast that discredits him? How blighted is the one who contends for the latter.
Christ, the Creator
In his letter to the lukewarm Laodicean church, Jesus identified himself as the “faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God” (3:14; cf. 22:13). Several important expressions strike the reader. First, there is the Lord’s affirmation of his integrity.
He is faithful in character and true in his teaching. Second, Christ did not subscribe to the theories that the universe is eternal, or that it is a self-caused accident; it is a creation in time. Third, the preincarnate Word affirmed his active role in the creation process (cf.
John 1:3; Colossians 1:15, 18; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2).
The term “beginning” is a rendition of the Greek arche (found fifty-five times in the New Testament), used in several senses in the New Testament. In this context it denotes the cause or source by which something was begun (Thayer 1958, 77; Balz and Scheider 1990, 162).
It is one of the tragedies of theological history that some cultists (e.g., the ancient Arians) misappropriated this text to suggest that Christ did not exist eternally, but was created by God as the “first” of his creations. This is the false position of the modern Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Even the liberal scholar William Barclay repudiated such a view. He declared that arche signifies that Jesus “was the moving cause of all creation.” He was the one who “began the process of creation and who initiated the work of creation” (1960, 177).
Jesus, Messiah of Old Testament Prophecy
John describes the Lord as “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5). Jacob prophetically declared: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come. And unto him shall the gathering of the peoples be” (Genesis 49:10).
Additionally, the prophets of the Old Testament indicated that the Messiah would descend from David.
Nathan informed Israel’s king: “When your days are fulfilled, and you will sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, that shall proceed from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:12). That the context has an ultimate reference to Christ is confirmed by the book of Hebrews (1:5).In Revelation, Jesus also describes himself as the “root and the offspring of David” (22:16b). This is a very significant descriptive. The root is the source from which a plant springs. The term is used metaphorically for the fact that the preincarnate Word (John 1:1, 14) was the “origin and strength of the Messianic line” (Hiebert 1975, 172).
Or, as another expressed it, in his divine capacity Christ was David’s “root”; in his human role, he was David’s “offspring” (McClintock and Strong 1970, 124; cf. Matthew 22:43).
Jesus’ lineage from David is established both legally (Matthew 1:1ff) and biologically (Luke 3:23ff) by means of the New Testament genealogical records.
Christ, the Sacrificed Lamb
In Revelation 5 there is a fitting description of Jesus as a sacrificial Lamb. The Lamb had been “slain,” but, amazingly, in John’s vision it was “standing” (v. 6).
Both verbs are perfect tense forms, suggesting the abiding effects of the actions. In other words, the efficacy of Jesus’ death was permanent; it never needed repeating (cf.
Hebrews 9:28)—contrary to the Roman Catholic dogma of the repetitious “sacrifice of the Mass.”
Moreover, the permanent standing aspect in the second verb indicates that following his resurrection Jesus never died again (cf. Romans 6:9). This is expressed vividly by Paul in his verbal “shift of gears” in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.
Christ “died” (aorist tense; a one-time act), was “buried” (aorist), and “has been raised” (perfect), i.e., he was raised and remained raised! He is the “firstborn of the dead” (1:5) and is alive “forever more” (1:18).
“Lamb” is a common symbol in Revelation. Twenty-eight times in this document Jesus is portrayed as a lamb. In 5:6 the Savior is described as a slain Lamb, which involved the shedding of his blood.
The “four living creatures” and the “twenty-four elders” sang, praising him “who was slain, and did purchase unto God with your blood” a host of peoples over the earth (5:9).
Elsewhere those purchased with his blood are designated as the church (Acts 20:28).The Lamb’s blood cleansed the guilty from their sins. This is symbolized by robes made white in the blood of the sacrifice (7:14).
The cleansing is effected when one obeys the gospel plan of salvation; specifically when one is united with Christ in water baptism (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26).
As a result of their redemption through that blood, they are promised ultimate victory (see “overcame” in 12:11).
Appropriate Object of Worship
Because of the happy combination of both the Lord’s divine and human natures, and his redemptive mission at Calvary, Jesus is supremely worthy of the worshipful adoration of both angels and men.
The songs recorded in 5:9-10, 12, 13b clearly reveal that Christ is worthy of the worship that is due only to one who is divine.
Note the following facts: (a) Christ was deemed qualified to take the prophetic scroll that foretold events to come; his sovereignty would be exercised in the future orchestration of historical events. (b) His worthiness was grounded in his sacrificial death.
(c) His reign and priestly service was to be potentially universal. (d) He was characterized by power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.
Finally, observe that the worship addressed to the Father is identical to that offered to the Lamb—“Unto him who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever” (v. 13b). How utterly baseless is the misguided theory that Christ may not be directly worshipped either by prayer or song!
The Victorious Commander
One of the concluding visions of the Apocalypse pictures the victorious “King of kings, and Lord of Lords.” He is riding triumphantly on a white horse—a symbol of conquest (19:11-16).
He is faithful and true and, consistent with his holy character, he will “judge” and “make war.
” The judging discriminates between the godly and the ungodly; the war signifies the punishment to be inflicted upon the rebellious.
His garment is red with the blood of his enemies (cf. Isaiah 63 from which the imagery is borrowed).Those who have served faithfully under his leadership wise are on white horses and are clothed in white garments, signifying their purity and/or victory.
By his word he smites the rebel nations and breaks them with his rod of iron (cf. Psalm 2:9). His enemies will feel the fierceness of his wrath and find no relief ever after (cf. 14:9-11).
Clearly this final book of the New Testament is very much about Christ, as well as being conveyed by him. Study it and be rewarded by it.
Christ’s Power Is Made Perfect in Weakness
One of the reasons biblical Christianity has to be so drastically distorted in order to sell it to mass markets is that the market wants power to escape weakness in leisure, but Christianity offers power to endure weakness in love.
Verse 9 just doesn’t sell: “Jesus said [in response to Paul’s prayer], ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
’” In weakness? What the market wants is escape from weakness, not power in weakness. But to meet that felt need in the market the message must be distorted — and often is.
But by distorting the message to make it more immediately appealing, two things are lost:
The truth of the message is lost.
The chance to meet the really deep need that we all have in the midst of adversity is lost.
So what I want to do — for the sake of God’s truth and for the sake of meeting your deepest need — is lay open this text with as little distortion as possible. You have it in front of you. You be the judge.
Three Questions About Christian Weakness
We are going to talk about the Christian experience of weakness. There are three questions to answer in the time we have:
“The grace and power of Jesus makes affliction livable.”
What are the weaknesses that Paul has in mind here when he says, “The power of Christ is made perfect in weakness”?
What is the source of such weaknesses? Do they come from Satan or from God? Or both?
What is the purpose of such weaknesses? Is there a goal or an aim for why the weaknesses come?
I ask these three questions not only because they are the ones answered in the text, but because knowing these things and being reminded of them in our hearts as God’s truth will give us the strength to live and endure and often even to thrive in the midst ofmany weaknesses.
Bringing the Questions Closer to Home
Just to bring it closer to home, on Wednesday we had a really good all church strategy meeting. One of the songs we sang has a chorus that goes this:
Since Jesus came into my heart, Floods of joy o’er my soul the sea billows roll
Since Jesus came into my heart.
As we sang it, I wondered how everyone in the chapel was processing that statement in the light of real life experience when sea billows of joy do not roll over the soul.
Here’s how I fit it in my own experience: Yes, since knowing Jesus, joy has rolled over me the waves of the sea, but not always. There are times when the tide goes out.
God is still God; joy is still joy; but I am baking in the seaweed on the beach waiting for the tide to come in.
What makes days and months and years that livable is the grace and power of Jesus described in our text.
1. What Weaknesses?
What are the weaknesses Paul has in mind here when he quotes Jesus as saying in verse 9, “My power is made perfect in weakness”? And then says, “I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses”? And then again in verse 10 says, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses”?
Four Other Words to Fill Out the Meaning
I think the safest way to answer is to let the four other words in verse 10 fill out what he has in mind. What he summarizes as weaknesses in verse 9 he spells out in four other words in verse 10: insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
Insults — when people think of clever ways of making your faith or your lifestyle or your words look stupid or weird or inconsistent. When we were giving out “Finding Your Field of Dreams” at the stadium, I heard one man say mockingly, “And the Lord said, Play ball.” And all his friends laughed.
Hardships — circumstances forced upon you, reversals of fortune against your will. This could refer to any situation where you feel trapped. You didn’t plan it or think it would be this way, but there you are, and it’s hard.
Persecutions — wounds or abuses or painful circumstances or acts of prejudice or exploitation from people because of your Christian faith or your Christian moral commitments. It’s when you are not treated fairly. You get a raw deal.
Calamities (or distresses or difficulties or troubles) — the idea is one of pressure or crushing or being weighed down; circumstances that tend to overcome you with stress and tension.
Not Sin or Imperfect Behaviors
So you can see that what Paul has in mind here is not sin. He is not talking about a kind of behavior — we might say he has a weakness for lust; or she has a weakness for overeating.
Paul is not talking about bad choices that we make. He is not saying the power of Christ is perfected in my bad choices. Or, I will all the more gladly boast of my bad choices.
Weaknesses here are not imperfect behaviors.
What These Weaknesses Are
They are circumstances and situations and experiences and wounds that make us look weak; things we would probably get rid of if we had the human strength.
If we were “strong,” we might return the insult with such an effective put down that the opponent would wither and everyone would admire our wit and cleverness.
If we were “strong,” we might take charge of our own fortune and turn back the emerging hardship and change circumstances so that they go the way we want them to and not force us into discomfort.
If we were “strong,” we might turn back the persecution so quickly and so decisively that no one would mess with us again.
If we were “strong,” we might use our resources to get the calamity or distress as fast as possible, or take charge of the situation and marshal our own resources so masterfully as to minimize its pressure.
“God does not delight in your suffering. Satan does, and he must be resisted.”
But in reality, we don’t usually have that kind of human strength, and even when we may have it, Christians don’t use it the way the world does. Jesus tells us not to return evil for evil (Matthew 5:38–42).
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:12–13, “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate.” And then he added, “We have become the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things.” In other words, this kind of lifestyle, this kind of response to abuse, looks weak and beggarly and feeble and anemic and inept — at least it looks that way to those who thrive on pride and equate power with the best come back.
So the answer to our first question is that weaknesses are not sins, but experiences and situations and circumstances and wounds that are hard to bear and that we can’t remove either because they are beyond our control or because love dictates that we not return evil for evil.
2. Where Do They Come From?
What is the source of such weaknesses? Do they come from Satan or from God? Or both?
Paul’s ‘Thorn in the Flesh’
Let’s take Paul’s thorn in the flesh as an example and see what his answer is. In verses 1–4, Paul describes what amazing revelations of God’s glory he had been given — he was caught up into paradise and heard things that cannot be told on earth.
How easy it would have been for Paul to think that he was already rising above the ordinary hardships and troubles of earthly life because he was given such a privilege.
But verse 7 shows what actually happened: “To keep me from being too elated [RSV; a bettertranslation would be: “to keep me from exalting myself,” NASB, or: “to keep me from becoming conceited,” NIV] by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from exalting myself.”
Now this thorn in the flesh (whether it was some physical problem or some relentless enemies) is one of the weaknesses he is talking about. We know this because when he prays that God would take it away in verse 8 (“three times I besought the Lord”), the Lord answers in verse 9, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” So the thorn in the flesh is one of the weaknesses we are talking about.
A ‘Messenger of Satan’
And where did it come from? Paul calls it a “messenger of Satan” (v. 7) given to harass him. So one clear answer is that some weaknesses come from Satan. Satan afflicts the children of God through his angels or messengers. His aim is destruction and deathand misery.
But it is not that simple is it? Satan is not the only one at work here. God is at work. This thorn is not just the work of Satan to destroy. It is the work of God to save.
The Work of God to Save
We know this for two reasons. First, because Paul describes the purpose for the thorn in terms of preventing pride. But Satan’s whole design is to produce pride not prevent it. That’s how he kills: either with pride in what we have done, or despair over what we haven’t done.
Paul’s revelations in paradise made him vulnerable to pride and self-exaltation. So God uses the hostile intentions of Satan for Paul’s holiness. Satan wanted to make Paul miserable and turn him away from the faith and the ministry and the value of the visions he had seen. But God wanted to make Paul humble and turn him away from self-exaltation.
So God appointed the thorn of Satan for the work of salvation.The other reason we know the thorn is God’s work and not just Satan’s is that when Paul prays in verse 8 that God would take the thorn away, the Lord says, “No, because my power is made perfect in this weakness.” In other words, I have a purpose in what is happening to you. This is not ultimately Satan’s destroying work. It is ultimately my saving, sanctifying work.
Just it was with Job — God permits Satan to afflict his righteous servant, and turns the affliction for his good purposes. (See also Luke 22:31–32.)
The Truth of God’s Sovereign Grace
So the answer to our second question is that the source of our weaknesses may sometimes be Satan and his destructive designs for us; but always our weaknesses are designed by God for our good.
This is why the truth of God’s sovereign grace is so precious in the midst of hardship and calamity. God is in control of Satan. Satan does nothing to God’s children that God does not design with infinite skill and love for our good.
This brings us to the final question, which we have already answered.
3. For What Purpose?
What is the purpose of such weaknesses? Is there a goal or an aim for why the weaknesses come? Why insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, troubles? Why can’t I find a job? Why am I trapped in this awful marriage? Why does my dad have cancer? Why can’t I have children? Why do I have no friends? Why is nothing working in my life?
“God appointed the thorn of Satan for the work of salvation.”
Paul gives three brief answers about his own experience and I think they are tremendously important for us to live by.
Satan’s Purpose to Buffet You
First, he says that Satan has the purpose to buffet you or harass you (v. 7). And so it is ok to pray for relief. That’s what Paul did until he got word from the Lord. Pain is not a good thing in itself. God does not delight in your suffering. Satan does, and he must be resisted.
God’s Purpose to Humble You
Second, God’s purpose over and through Satan’s harassment is our humility. Paul was in danger of pride and self-exaltation and God took steps to keep him humble. This is an utterly strange thing in our self-saturated age. God thinks humility is more important than comfort.
Humility is more important than freedom from pain. He will give us a mountaintop experience in paradise, and then bring us through anguish of soul lest we think that we have risen above the need for total reliance on his grace.
So his purpose is our humility and lowliness and reliance on him (2 Corinthians 1:9; 4:7).
God’s Purpose to Glorify Jesus
Finally, God’s purpose in our weaknesses is to glorify the grace and power of his Son. This is the main point of verses 9–10. Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
” God’s design is to make you a showcase for Jesus’s power. But not necessarily the way the market demands: not by getting rid of all our weaknesses; but by giving strength to endure and even rejoice in tribulation.
Let God be God here. If he wills to show the perfection of his Son’s power in our weakness instead of by our escape from weakness, then he knows best; trust him. Hebrews 11 is a good guide here.
It says that by faith some escaped the edge of the sword (Hebrews 11:34) and by faith some were killed by the sword (Hebrews 11:37). By faith some stopped the mouths of lions, and by faith others were sawn asunder.
By faith some were mighty in war, and by faith others suffered chains and imprisonment (see also Philippians 4:11–13).
The ultimate purpose of God in our weakness is to glorify the kind of power that moved Christ to the cross and kept him there until the work of love was done. Paul said that Christ crucified was foolishness to the Greeks, a stumbling block to the Jews, but to those who are called it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23).
The deepest need that you and I have in weakness and adversity is not quick relief, but the well-grounded confidence that what is happening to us is part of the greatest purpose of God in the universe — the glorification of the grace and power of his Son — thegrace and power that bore him to the cross and kept him there until the work of love was done. That’s what God is building into our lives. That is the meaning of weakness, insults, hardships, persecution, and calamity.