November 27, 2013

One "Like a Son of Man": Reflecting on Christ the King Sunday

In my religious tradition, the church celebrates themed days on an annual basis. Almost everyone knows Christmas and Easter as two of those days, but Christ the King Sunday seems to be sadly fading into obscurity in some corners.

The revelation of Christ the King is clearly seen in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, in the New Testament. Revelation is one of those sections of Holy Scripture that frighten some away, while others focus on small and difficult to interpret details of what’s known as “end times.”

A man known as John the Revelator (possibly the “beloved apostle” John, who wrote other parts of the New Testament) describes his experience in encountering the ascended, supreme Jesus who bears almost no resemblance to the God-Man person who spent approximately thirty-three years living among regular people in Palestine and teaching about the Kingdom of God.

Here is what John says about his encounter with Christ the King:

“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man”, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” –Revelation 1:12-16 (NIV)

Depending upon how you read this, John is describing a horrible image of an unnatural being, or John is using a series of similes to describe someone whose presence challenges effective description.

If you are a student of the Book of Revelation, you may be familiar with the many ways in which writers have attempted to explain the person described here. The long robe represents honor, authority, and royalty. The golden sash suggests a unique, eternal priesthood. Snow white hair speaks to agelessness, while eyes like blazing fire suggest a penetrating, never dying insight into all that is. The glowing bronze feet imply stability, certainty, upstanding and unwavering status. A voice like the sound of rushing waters? Such a voice has no beginning or end, is irresistible and unstoppable; it is beyond ignoring and impossible to deny. The two edged sword in his mouth tells us this person speaks the word of God.

But what does it all mean and why are these words in Scripture? How do we benefit from knowing how Jesus chose to reveal himself to a lonely man who was in exile because of his testimony of and for Jesus? John says he was a “brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” (Chapter 1, verse 9)

Jesus chose to reveal himself because we need to stay clear about the Savior and Lord we are worshiping and following. Jesus chose to reveal himself because if you do not know him, you need to be clear about who he really is.

How often, when we think or speak of Jesus, do we imagine a human-looking person walking or riding a donkey in an ancient culture? Do we have crosses and crucifixes as symbols of Jesus? Do we imagine someone exiting an empty grave, or someone speaking to a crowd about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven? Do we think of a man who worked miracles, ate with sinners, and incurred the wrath of traditional religious leaders? Do we picture a dying man, tortured on a cross?

All of these would be accurate, but none of them would be complete images of who Jesus is today.

He is one “like a son of man”, but he is also the eternal God. He has complete and total authority over all that has been, is, or will come into being. He is observing, walking among, evaluating, and protecting the church (the seven stars referred to by John).  He holds the “seven stars” (the seven churches later referenced in the Book of Revelation) in his right hand, a place of honor. The church is never far away, unimportant, or absent and unaccounted for by Christ the King.

 His face, “shining like the sun in all its brilliance”, represents a Presence too powerful to resist. John says “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” In other words, John passed out. Then, John adds, “He placed his right hand on me and said ‘Do not be afraid.’”

He says the same thing today to all who will listen.

As we leave Christ the King Sunday (November 24, 2013) and head toward the beginning of the Advent season, let’s remember Jesus no longer lives as a baby, or a carpenter, or a rabbi, or a master teacher and storyteller. He is God Almighty, who decided to become like one of us for a while:  to live, to eat, to work, to cry, and to spend time living as we live, so that we can trust him when he says, “Do not be afraid.” He knows exactly how we feel because he has been one of us, but he was always more than we could ever be.

We can know him without fear, and experience all of the life and love he has for us. He is Christ the King and makes all things possible and do-able for those who follow him.

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