Some of the most important writings in the church of Christ have been occasioned by the persecutions of its enemies. The Psalms of David, in which a good man will find all the devout feelings of his heart portrayed, were mostly occasioned by the oppositions of the wicked. Many of Paul’s Epistles were written from prison; and this book, which contains a system of prophecy from the ascension of Christ to the end of time, was communicated to the beloved disciple when in a state of banishment. Thus it is that the wrath of man is made to praise God; so much of it as would not answer this end is restrained.
Some of the most distinguished prophets under the Old Testament were introduced to their work by an extraordinary and impressive vision. It was thus with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; and thus it was with the writer of this book. They beheld the glory of Jehovah in a manner suitable to the dispensation under which they lived: he, being under a new dispensation, of which Christ was exalted to be the Head, saw his glory both Divine and human; as the Alpha and Omega, the first and last, and as the Son of man walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
On seeing him, the apostle fell at his feet as dead. He on whose bosom he could formerly lean with all the familiarity of a friend, is now possessed of a glory too great to be sustained by a mortal man. But yet how sweetly is this awful grandeur tempered with gentleness and goodness! “He laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not, I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for ever more, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”
The force and beauty of the passage will appear to advantage, if we observe the circumstances of the church and of the apostle at the time. It is supposed to be about the year 95, under the persecution of Domitian. The church, at that time, was under a dark cloud. Great numbers of the first Christians and the first ministers would now have finished their course; many would be cut off by the persecution; all the apostles were dead, excepting John, and he was banished. To an eye of sense it would appear as if the cause must be crushed. How cheering, in such circumstances, must it have been to be told, “I am he that liveth!” The Assyrian invasion, in the time of Hezekiah, filled the breadth of Immanuel’s land; but, while Jerusalem was preserved, the head was above water, and the body politic, though overflowed even to the neck, would yet live. Much more would the church in the midst of persecution. While Christ her Head lived, she could not die.
It was on the Lord’s day that the apostle was favoured with this extraordinary vision, the day in which he had risen from the dead; which circumstance would add force to what he said of himself as having been dead, but as being now alive. It was the day also in which, as far as their persecuted state would admit, the churches were assembled for Christian worship; and while they, doubtless, remembered the venerable apostle in their prayers, the Lord, by him, remembered and provided for them.
There is a charming circumlocution in the passage, which surprises and overwhelms the mind. The Lord might have said, as on a former occasion, “Be not afraid, it is I;” but he describes himself in language full of the richest consolation: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death!”
Excerpt from: “The Life of Christ and the Security and Felicity of the His Church.” Sermon XXIII in Sermons and Sketches.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 316–317). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.