Have you ever sat back and watched people? Maybe you have found yourself among a group of friends, but really watching one. Perhaps you came to some conclusions about one of them. “That was really kind of her,” went your thoughts while she met an obvious and potentially unpleasant need. “That was nice of him to encourage that fellow,” noticed your mind. Look back in your memories and find some moments where you have seen these kinds of things.
I have had a tendency to sterilize these kinds of scriptures. My exercise has been to delve into the Greek meaning of the word John used for love. Then I traipse back here sketching for my own mind pictures of glory and dominion, then finally try to weave all these things into a mesh for living. That approach has given me a fine and truthful doctrinal basis, but doctrine can be like an operating room: important but sterile.
Those words are in the middle of Revelation 1:5, and they are not filler. They are not obligatory things like an address with its full 10-digit zip code. Neither are they idle. John did not get out quill and parchment, say to himself, “Ok, what traits does Jesus have and how can I put them in this introduction,” and make a list. John wrote as witness from his own experiences, his watchings, his observations. “To him who loves us” is a phrase fraught with personal meaning. Rather than leave it at that let us wander off and see some of the these meaningful things in John’s life.
The passage in the box is from the raising of Lazarus from the dead. John was there the day Lazarus was raised from the dead experiencing Jesus. He was not participating, but he was present. He was watching. The tears of Christ further molded his grasp of Christ’s love. Some of the Jews observed the love of Christ that day for the first time, but that was not a new idea for John. He had been learning this all along the way.
Now, let your mind drift to the woman caught in adultery1. The interest Jesus had in her soul was stacked against the interest others had in her judgment. Jesus loved her, a woman with visible sins.
The boat of Jesus and the disciples also bumped to a stop on the Eastern shore of Galilee in a region known as the Gadarenes2. Down from the hills ran a man named Legion possessed of many demons, naked, loud and uncontrollable. Was he lovable? Not by the standards of his day (or ours). Jesus took interest in him. Jesus loved him, and John watched.
Think next of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus said that to send these people home would cause them to faint on the way, and so he fed them. These are but a few examples quickly drawn from the Holy Scripture. A good exercise for you would be to think of other times where Jesus loved those around him.
…Back to the book of Revelation
When John wrote these few introductory words they were nostalgic linkages into the very fabric of his life. One of his intrinsic connections was the love the man from heaven had for people. John bore witness to this at the very outset this book. What is important to me, to us is to recognize that John did not write these things so we can but speculate on what might have been his thoughts. Rather we are to be made aware of the character of Christ from the experiences of John with Jesus. Since Christ does not walk on earth right now faith is the vehicle to grasp his love of us. We have been given enough in what has been written of Christ to accept it. Then we are to recall our own fabric of life, those things, memories, circumstances, events that are intrinsic to us, and write those on the wall of our hearts, our private spaces. There should be the words “Yes, God has loved me.”
“…to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
That is the last part of verse 6 which commenced with the phrase about Jesus loving people, loving us. John was not giving some idle, flowery introduction, but connecting real world experiences to statements of worship.
John was not painting with sterile strokes when writing Revelation. His strokes were those of experiences in his mind. He was not looking to words of doctrinal or intellectual building blocks, but palpable memories. In his mind’s eye he was seeing love acted out and that is what he was writing about. It is far more practicable to espouse glory and power to God forever and ever when one sees, by faith or otherwise, the loving actions of Jesus. John did and as Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” We have to be in this category, but it is a good one, a blessed one.