by Roger McCay
7 March 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 1:4-8
Link to Audio Version
Crime pays. You may have heard that before. It was one of the first lessons we were taught in Criminology, back when I was at Auburn. There were various reasons given for why crime pays, including a very low percentage rate of arrests leading to prison sentences, but particularly because the odds of getting caught were in the criminals’ favor.
Almost 30 years later, it seems that even with our amazing advances in security technology, such is still the case. John Gramlich, writing for the Pew Research Center, reported on crime rates in the U.S. in a Nov. 2020 article. There he observed that “Fewer than half of crimes in the U.S. are reported, and fewer than half of reported crimes are solved.” In the details, what we see is that, in 2019, law enforcement did not clear about 40% of reported murders, 67% of reported rapes, and 86% of reported burglaries and auto thefts. Feel free to research how many of those closed cases actually ended up in prison. A quick internet search brought up, for me, a 2016 report in The Washington Post, showing that less than 1% of rapists end up convicted of a felony.
I stopped digging into it there, as it seemed what I learned in Criminology was holding true. From the world’s perspective, statistically, crime pays. This can be pretty discouraging, unless you’re a criminal. For if crime pays, then it seems, statistically, evil is winning. And thus, the question for the ages. Will evil go unpunished?
Along those lines, have you ever wondered whether those responsible for Jesus’ murder just got away with it, at least in this life? And not only that, did they get away with the arrests, beatings, and murders of Christians that followed their murder of the Lord? Did it end well for them? Did they live out their days fat and happy, surrounded by loving family members at the end of their life on earth?
Well, some may have (depending on when they died), and some, it seems, likely became Christians (so were forgiven). Even so, history shows us that overall, it ended badly for them. In a near sense, within that generation (in AD 70), the Lord kept his promised coming in judgment upon them in the events involving the destruction Jerusalem, the Temple, Old Covenant Judaism, and the nation of Israel (Matt. 24:30; Mark 14:62). Death and slavery and the destruction of all they held dear came upon them about 40 years after they crucified the Lord. Then, in an ongoing and “far” sense, the Lord is punishing them in death even now, in the intermediate state, with their spirits imprisoned in misery, awaiting final judgment at Jesus’ Parousia at the end of history—Judgment Day (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Pet. 2:9). Their crimes only paid them hell. And, if you think about it, this answers the question as to what crime really pays.
In our series on Revelation, we’ve examined how John wrote the epistle circa. AD 65, around five years before Jesus returned in judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. John wrote to the seven churches in Asia, concerning what was, from their perspective, to take place “soon,” as the time was “near” (vv. 1, 3). They were a persecuted church, suffering, undergoing and facing tribulation (v.9), and John was writing a message to encourage them and bolster their hope, a message which, by extension, is applicable to all Christians. Then we saw, in vv. 4-8, how the Lord’s name bookends the passage. This encapsulation of the passage, with the name of the Lord, serves as an Almighty Guarantee, similar to how the prophets of old would stamp the Lord’s seal upon their prophecies with a “Thus sayeth the Lord,” and “I am the Lord.”
Verses 4-8 also lay the groundwork for the major themes in the book, perhaps summed up as “The Exalted Christ’s Victorious Judgment and Blessing.” Christ Jesus is the focus, as John begins in v. 4 with blessings on the seven churches from the Trinity, blessings of grace and peace, with an emphasis on Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. John glorifies the Lord Jesus, as the resurrected Christ exalted to the highest rule, reigning over all, who has redeemed for himself a people, making them a kingdom.
Then, in Rev. 1:7, John lays down a central element of the exalted Christ’s work, which would be expounded upon through the book: the contemporary judgment Jesus is bringing upon those who “pierced him.” Verse 7:
7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
This passage is so crucial that some see Rev. 1:7 as the theme of the entire book (at least the main theme). Rev. 1:7 certainly describes a major theme, focusing on a central element of Christ’s work as exalted king: justice brought in the form of judgment. Verse 7 is not the whole theme of the book, however. Sure, Revelation is about Christ’s judgment upon his and his people’s enemies. But Revelation balances Christ’s promised judgment with his promised blessing. Thus my thematic summary statement: “The Exalted Christ’s Victorious Judgment and Blessing.”