The Apostle John messed up
One of my favorite things about Scripture is that there isn’t any white-washing of individuals or events…real, everyday life is portrayed as is. Abraham lied, David lusted, the disciples jockeyed for position. Our own tendency is to tell our life stories with a touch of gloss when we discuss our failures and shortcomings – but we don’t find that in Scripture. Instead, we find that God deals with humanity in the reality of the sinful mess that we are.
Let’s think about the Apostle John’s resume a little bit…the youngest of the twelve disciples, he was referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, part of Christ’s inner circle with Peter and James, was asked by Christ to take care of his mother Mary, wrote an evangelistic gospel and three other letters in the New Testament, a leader to the first century church, and he was persecuted for his faith.
Here’s how he starts out the book of Revelation:
I, John, your brother and partner in the affliction, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard a loud voice behind me like a trumpet…
John was expecting to spend a little Sunday time worshiping God, but he ended up being given the greatest prophetic vision ever presented to a man.
However, he messed up. John made a mistake.
In what we’re about to read, it’s actually the second time John made this mistake (the first time was in Revelation 19:10). What’s really amazing is that John includes it at all. He didn’t have to…if he left out this next scene, we’d never know. He also has a pretty strong resume…most people would be tempted to prevent others from finding out the kind of thing that he did.
Before we jump into the scene, let’s remind ourselves of what John’s been seeing and working through as God reveals to him the future of humanity.
In all his glorious splendor, Christ appears to and speaks with John. Christ then dictates letters for John to write to seven churches (imagine the pressure he felt!). John has also heard thunderous announcements from the throne of God – seemingly from God the Father, and at other times possibly proclaimed by another angel. He’s witnessed multiples scenes from within the court of Heaven. John has also witnessed the judgments that arise from each of the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowels. He watches the horrific reign of the beast and Christ’s victory over him at the battle of Armageddon. After all this (including a few other visions), God sends an angel from one the bowel judgments to give John a tour of New Jerusalem, witnessing everything we’ve been looking at.
How would you be feeling at this point? A little overwhelmed, maybe? How are your nerves?
At the end of seeing all these events unfold, John states the following:
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. When I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had shown them to me.
To worship means to pay homage, show reverence, or to kneel down before someone or something. Both times John mistakenly begins to worship the angel who guides him, it is at moments where he is witnessing the two greatest celebrations in human history – the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19) and then at the coronation of New Jerusalem (Revelation 22).
Rather than focusing on John’s mistake, take a look at the angel’s immediate response:
But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you, your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”
In both passages, the angel deflects all praise to its proper place.
This can be a gut-check for us as well. How many times do we prefer a particular pastor, or teacher, or writer…and when we’re honest with ourselves, we tend to like their stuff better than God’s stuff? And we may have started out with good reasons to follow that pastor, teacher, or writer…because they can help reveal the things of God to us in ways that we understand…
But the moment we start to worship the creature instead of the Creator, we are in serious danger. As soon as we realize that we are praising a person more than we are praising God, we need to correct course. At that moment, we need to follow the angel’s advice: