John turned and saw the Son of Man (Revelation 1:13). From top to bottom his clothes were regal. His hair was bright like snow; his eyes set aflame (Revelation 1:14). He hears his voice, and it sounds like rapids (Revelation 1:15). He sees his face as it shines like the sun (Revelation 1:15). Seven lampstands surround his bronze burnished feet, the seven churches (Revelation 1:16, 12, 20). This opening scene reveals to us Christ Jesus as he rules over his church in all his splendour.
But how exactly does Jesus’ rule? Look again: John sees a sword in his mouth and the Spirit going out to his people (Revelation 1:12, 20; 2:7). He rules over his church by his Spirit-empowered words.
God’s Ruling Words in History
This is true of God’s rule right from the start. For in the beginning God spoke and his words whipped up a universe from scratch (Genesis 1:3–2:3). God’s speech is how he communicates his kingship to the world. We also see this in the covenants the LORD makes with his people. God reveals himself to Abraham and a promise-backed relationship is begun (Genesis 12:1–3). First he spoke to the stars, then makes promises with them (Genesis 15:4–5). Later, God speaks through Moses to Israel outlining the terms of their relationship in the law (Deuteronomy 6:4-12).
For the nations around Israel, their gods ruled through idols: visible manifestations of their presence. For Israel, the primary experience of the rule of the LORD was his words (Deuteronomy 4:12). In Exodus 20:22–23 God says, “I have spoken to you from heaven [therefore] do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” His voice is sufficient. Even in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle, where they placed the ark, the footstool of God’s throne, what was placed inside the ark? A tablet copy of his words (Exodus 25:22, 16). Speaking and hearing, then, is the basis of Israel’s relationship with God. As they went from the desert, as they lived each day by faith, and as they plodded towards the land—the words of God were to be Israel’s rule. Is it any wonder that Moses and Aaron were tasked with speaking on behalf of God more than anything else (Exodus 4:11–16)? And is it any wonder the crux of Israel’s sin was ignoring what God had said (Hosea 4:1–19)?
God’s Ruling Words Today
Open the contents page of your Bible and you’ll see the word “testament” describing its major division. Testament here is another word for “covenant”: “the Old Covenant” and “the New Covenant”. The Scriptures are the covenant word for God’s people yesterday and today: his witness and instruction for our relationship to him under his rule; communicating his plans, his love, his law, his justice.
But now we have God’s final word, the Word: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Jesus is the Word from “in the beginning” who has now become flesh (John 1:1, 14). Jesus is the fulfilment of all that was said before (Luke 24:25–27). Jesus himself has also spoke words. When Mark gives us the first glimpse of Jesus beginning his ministry, what does he do? He preaches: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:14–15).
Listening to God’s Word
Let’s consider some of the implications of this.
Firstly, if God is a king who speaks, then to sideline, edit or despise his words is an act of treachery. Anyone who tries to revise or redact God’s word to be more appealing to today’s generation is not doing God a favour, much less themselves (Revelation. 22:18–29). Because God is a king, his decrees carry weight; they don’t come to us as a first draft, but as his final copy. We ourselves must remember that when the Bible is read, it is always the sovereign God who speaks.
Secondly, God’s word is authoritative for his enemies, too. In revelation, the sword in Jesus mouth probably represents his coming verdict of judgement (Revelation 1:12, compare with Isaiah 11:4; 49:2). The words he will one day speak will be a comfort to struggling and persecuted Christian’s (e.g. Revelation 1:9), but they will also be terribly final for any who have ignored him. One way or another, they really are ruling words.
Thirdly, as subjects of the King, our life under his rule will only ever make sense when we have his covenant words before us. On the night before he died Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you … the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send … [he] will teach you all things” (John 14:18, 26). This is his guarantee for the words of the apostles that we read today. Jesus is not absent; he still speaks to his church (Revelation 1:12–17; 2:1–7). Like a son who lives apart from his mother, but never reads his mum’s text messages, so is the Christian who never reads God’s word. By contrast, like a tree planted by a stream are all who delight in his law (Psalm 1:1–3). We are people of the Book.
Lastly, since God rules by speaking this is still how God is establishing his kingdom today. When Jesus teaches about the kingdom in the parable of the soils he tells us that the “seed” which bears fruit is “the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Similarly, at the close of Matthew’s gospel Jesus says to all of us “go and make disciples” by teaching his “commands” (Matthew 28:16–20). Kingdom work is fundamentally “word work”. It is our great honour to say what he has said to others.
God rules through speech because that’s all he needs. It’s how he created the universe, it’s how makes himself known, it’s how he extends his rule, it’s how he will pronounce the end.