The Apostle John was one of the most blessed and privileged Christians in history. Getting to know Jesus during Jesus’ first coming, John had an intimate up close and personal relationship with the Lord that is rivaled by very few. He ate with Jesus, walked with Jesus, learned from Jesus and even reclined his head on Jesus during the last supper, which is both super cool and challenging to self reliant me, by the way. John was one of the closest followers of Jesus even earning the title of the beloved disciple.
This close relationship was and is encouraged by Jesus with John and with all of those who Jesus has redeemed throughout history. He is a personal loving Savior and this aspect of Jesus, particularly in a world filled with works based religions should never be under emphasized. John reclines his head on Jesus during the Last Supper, the creation leaning on the Creator. Yet, in our desire to be close to Jesus and understand Jesus there is a temptation to turn Him into just a hopped up version of ourselves, to ignore the reality of the risen, glorified Jesus in favor of Jesus as a man alone. Jesus is downgraded to a really good guy who provides companionship and comfort and approves of everything we do — He is here to save not judge after all. If we look at Revelation 1 and John encounter with Jesus therein it provides a clear example of why treating Jesus as just a buddy is a mistake. John sees Jesus face to face and it is nothing like John’s previous interactions. It is this picture that should challenge our expectations of Jesus, not our own limitations.
You will recall that in Revelation 1, John is in exile on Patmos towards the end of his life and he is taken to heaven in order to act as the messenger for the words of the Book. He is in prayer and hears a voice behind him like a trumpet speaking to him. John turns toward the voice and his world is rocked and doors blown off, Revelation 1:
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
18 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.
When John comes face to face with the living, risen Jesus in all of his glory, John’s immediate reaction as a fallen creation is to fall on his face as if dead. This is not an equal meeting an equal or not two college buddies meeting. There is initially no reclining here, no running up and hugging Jesus, no talking about the old days (remember when my mom asked you to put me at your right hand – nevermind), just pure shock and awe.
Now John was a faithful , loving, awesome disciple of Jesus who continued to serve Him after the Lord’s ascension even being severely persecuted for his faith in Jesus. It is not a criticism of John intended by pointing out his reaction as I wish I could serve like John. John was on the A-team of Christianity and did deeds that we still read about today. But when he sees Jesus as Jesus truly is with all of Jesus’ holiness, righteousness, power and glory shining through the familiarity and comfort that John had that lead him to recline on Jesus is no where to be found. Sinful man meeting sinless God naturally results in awe, wonder, a realization of sinfulness and yes, fear. Jesus does not say to not fear for no reason.
A similar encounter is recorded in the Book of Isaiah when Isaiah sees the Lord seated on the throne, Isaiah’s reaction is in Isaiah 6:5:
Then I said,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts
Isaiah is a prophet of God and serves Him faithfully through his life before being killed on God’s behalf so again it is not a reflection on Isaiah personally. Perfect, sinless, holy God is just so much beyond us as limited, fallen servants that seeing Him results in seeing our clear depravity. It is like holding a favorite white shirt that we have had for years up against a brand new one — suddenly we realize just how ratty and dirty that old shirt looks. Even thinking about God’s holiness should result in the conclusion that I am a man of unclean lips, just as Isaiah was and just as you are. Without Jesus, our nature and the huge amount of sin on our accounts as a result of every day life as a person in this world would result in bad, bad, things if we tried to go into the presence of the Lord on our own. His holiness alone would make it impossible.
Thankfully, Jesus paid the price for our sins and even now encourages us in Hebrews to go boldly to God, to His throne of grace, and to become familiar with Him, to love Him and be loved by Him every moment of every day. We are compared to Jesus’ Bride and His very Body as a church, it is amazing that the maker of the universe allows such a relationship. Notice the amazing moment in the Revelation passage above, in response to well deserved awe and fear from John, what does Jesus do? He reaches down to John and comforts him, telling him to fear not — do not be afraid of me is Jesus message. John is correct to fall down before Him in fear, Isaiah is correct to despair and fear if it were just up to us, but because of the greatness of Jesus we can get up and face the Lord. Jesus already took the punishment that John fears. We have nothing to fear because of Him despite us.
In accepting God’s great grace and mercy, we should never lose sight of the fact that all of the holiness, greatness, power, glory and might are still there and still just as much part of Jesus as His grace and mercy. He is not just our buddy, He is God. He is not us projected out onto a bearded guy, He is God. God’s holiness would have consumed us without Jesus. When we seek to be conformed to His image, it is the whole image to be conformed to not one we create that is easier or more comfortable. So go boldly to the throne of grace. But go aware of and rejoicing all the more so because of the great disparity between God and man, a huge chasm that could only be bridged by Jesus Himself.