Fear of Judgment can Lead to Insulting God
Fear can lead us to diminish God. We can be so afraid of the pure holiness of God, we change Him into something that He is not. Taking the eternal God and turning Him into just another “bro” is a grave mistake. The Apostle John was one of the most privileged Christians in history. John had an intimate 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. John was one of the closest followers of Jesus even earning the title of the beloved disciple. He really is the “bro” of Jesus and this close relationship was encouraged by Jesus. Yet when John sees the Risen Lord towards the end of his life on Patmos, he has a markedly different reaction to his buddy. Face to face with the full extent of Jesus’ glorious majesty, John falls at His feet in worship. John loves Jesus just as much as when He is leaning on Him, he just sees all of Jesus’ attributes on display now. All of Jesus is totally overwhelming to the very human Apostles.
John reclines his head on Jesus during the Last Supper. This sort of love shown by Jesus is wonderful to contemplate. It is all teh more so if our human authority figures in life are stern and forbidding. But in our desire to relate to Jesus, there is a temptation to limit Jesus to just this aspect of His character. To strip Him of the white-hot burning holiness that defines Him just as much as His love. We can turn Him into just a super version of ourselves and 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.
John’s encounter with Jesus from Revelation provides a clear example of why treating Jesus as just a buddy is a mistake. It is nothing like John’s previous interactions. It is this picture that should challenge our expectations of Jesus.
The Power of the Risen Lord
In Revelation 1, John is in exile on Patmos towards the end of his life. He has a vision and is taken to heaven in order to act as the messenger for the words of the Book. John is in prayer and hears an amazing voice behind him that sounds like a trumpet speaking to him. This thought alone is challenging to contemplate. Jesus on earth was gentle and meek. Children loved coming to Him. Here, His voice immediately demands attention in power. Trumpets are the instruments to announce Kings. His very voice sounds like a trumpet. John turns toward the voice and his world is rocked:
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.
John knows Jesus well. He lived with Him and ate with Him in very familiar settings. Yet, what happens when John comes face to face with the living, risen Jesus in all of his glory? John’s immediate reaction is to fall on his face as if dead. This is not an equal meeting an equal. This is not two old college buddies meeting. There is 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.
John was a faithful , loving, awesome disciple of Jesus who continued to serve Him after the Lord’s ascension. He is severely persecuted for his faith in Jesus. No criticism of John intended by pointing out his reaction. Rather, it simply shows that even John is overawed when seeing Jesus as Jesus truly is. With all of Jesus’ holiness, righteousness, power, and glory shining through the familiarity and comfort that John had with Jesus are nowhere to be found. Sinful man meeting sinless God naturally results in awe, wonder, a realization of sinfulness and even fear. Jesus does not say to not fear for no reason. John is afraid of what he sees. God is just that powerful and holy.
Isaiah Sees the Lord
A similar encounter is recorded in the Book of Isaiah when Isaiah sees God on the throne:
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. It is not a reflection on Isaiah’s walk with God personally. Isaiah is a wonderful Godly man. Yet, perfect, sinless, holy God is just so much beyond us that seeing His glory 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 we are men of unclean lips. Without Jesus, our nature would result in 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. He, therefore, encourages us in Hebrews to go boldly to God, to His throne of grace. We are called 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 not just allows such a relationship but initiates it.
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 crosses the huge divide between them. God reaching out to sinful man to comfort him, to telling him to fear not and to bring man close to Him. “Do not be afraid of me despite how wonderful I am” is Jesus’ message. John is correct to fall down before Him in fear. Isaiah is correct to despair and rebukes himself. They really have no business being there based on them. But because of the greatness of Jesus we all can get up and face the Lord. Jesus already took the punishment. We have nothing to fear because of Him despite us. This is God’s grace. It is just as wonderfully awesome as His holiness. Holiness, power, and grace all go together in a glorious God. To subtract any of them is to take away from God.
Jesus is not just our buddy, He is a holy righteous God. He is also not just holy and perfectly just, He is a forgiving God. God’s holiness would have consumed us without Jesus but it is God who sent 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. Jesus is the best friend we can ever imagine. 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. We worship a many God who is complex and multifaceted in His Word. Respect and love each and every part of that awesome Creator and Savior.