Kindly Old Man?
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me . . . When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Revelation 1:12-17
In residency, I worked at three different hospitals, back in the days when we had to sign actual paper orders with an actual pen. I could give verbal orders over the phone, but then I had to go sign those orders within a week or they would be delinquent. It was a lot of work to run all over town every week to sign orders, so I just signed them whenever I was at that hospital next. It didn’t take very long for me to get an official delinquency warning, with the threat of a one-week suspension. I knew they weren’t going to suspend me though. Even when I inevitably got called into the chief medical officer’s office, I knew it. He was a kindly older man who would lecture me, and then let me off with another warning. Only he didn’t. He actually suspended me for a week from his hospital. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that nice man would turn into the stern enforcer, disciplining me for my bad behavior.
I’ve got to wonder if the apostle John felt something similar in today’s passage. He’d been one of the 12 disciples. He’d witnessed Jesus’ love, compassion, and healing. He even referred to himself as That disciple whom Jesus loved (John 21:7). John knew a loving, gentle Christ, yet he met a very different Jesus in today’s passage. In a vision, John heard a voice and turned to see a terrifying version of Jesus. His eyes were like a flame . . . his voice was like the roar of many waters . . . from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength (Revelation 1:14-16). John responded appropriately, fainting before this Jesus.
At our house, we’ve been watching The Chosen, a TV series based on the gospels, and I think they got Jesus right. The actor who plays him oozes love, kindness, and compassion. I like this Jesus. In my own failures, I prefer a forgiving, merciful Christ. I’m honestly not sure I want to meet the Christ in today’s passage.
John’s words though, are a necessary reminder that, like my chief medical officer in residency, Jesus’ love isn’t without truth or rules. Grace doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want and get away with it. If I engage in self-destructive behavior, I will cause myself misery and pain. There is always love and forgiveness in Christ, but he also commands that I repent, abandon myself, and follow him. If I refuse, I will eventually encounter the frightening side of Jesus.