A Staggering Revelation of the Breathtaking Beauty of the Risen and Glorified Christ
Few portrayals of our risen Lord are as awe-inspiring and breathtaking as that which we find in Revelation 1. Continue reading . . .
Few portrayals of our risen Lord are as awe-inspiring and breathtaking as that which we find in Revelation 1. Here is what John saw and how he responded:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:12-18).
When John turned he saw “seven golden lampstands,” a clear allusion to Zechariah 4:2,10. Most believe that the lampstand in Zechariah with its seven lamps stands first for the temple and by extension the faithful within Israel. Here in Revelation the lampstands represent the church.
The church is to serve as a light to the world. In the middle of these lampstands is the risen Christ. “Part of Christ’s priestly role is to tend the lampstands. The OT priest would trim the lamps, remove the wick and old oil, refill the lamps with fresh oil, and relight those that had gone out. Likewise, Christ tends the ecclesial lampstands by commending, correcting, exhorting, and warning . . . in order to secure the churches’ fitness for service as light bearers in a dark world” (Beale, 208-09).
We must be careful not to become overly obsessed with the particulars of this portrait of Jesus. Whereas each element in this portrait has theological significance, G. B. Caird warns us not "to unweave the rainbow" (25). In other words,
"John uses his allusions not as a code in which each symbol requires separate and exact translation, but rather for their evocative and emotive power. This is not photographic art. His aim is to set the echoes of memory and association ringing. The humbling sense of the sublime and the majestic which men experience at the sight of a roaring cataract [waterfall] or the midday sun is the nearest equivalent to the awe evoked by a vision of the divine. John has seen the risen Christ, clothed in all the attributes of deity, and he wishes to call forth from his readers the same response of overwhelming and annihilating wonder which he experienced in his prophetic trance" (25-26).
Although I respect Caird’s warning, I want to comment briefly on selected parts of this vision.
Jesus is here called the Son of Man (cf. Dan. 7:13-14), which points not merely to his humanity but even more to his role as messianic king through whom God's dominion and power are exercised over all creation. The robe and girdle evoke images of the high priest under the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 28:4; 39:29) and thus point to Christ's function as he who has obtained for us immediate access into God's presence.
The white hair reminds us of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9 and thus points again to his deity, his essential oneness with the Father in the eternal Godhead. His eyes were like a flame of fire - Seiss writes:
"Here is intelligence; burning, all-penetrating intelligence. Here is power to read secrets, to bring hidden things to light, to warm and search all hearts at a single glance. . . . But his sharp look is one of inspiring warmth to the good, as well as discomfiting and consuming terror to the hypocritical and the godless. Will you believe it, my friends, that this is the look which is upon you, and which is to try you in the great day! Well may we pray the prayer of David: 'Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thought; and see if there be any evil way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting'" (40).
His feet were like burnished bronze, which possibly points to his moral purity and will become the basis on which he exhorts those among whom he walks to reflect this same purity of life (cf. 3:18). His voice was like the sound of many waters (cf. Ezek. 1:24; 43:2). In his right hand he held seven stars. In v. 20 the stars are angels, indicating that Jesus “is the priestly ruler not only of the church on earth but also of its heavenly counterpart (‘hand’ being metaphorical for sovereignty)” (Beale, 211).
The sword is not in his hand, but proceeds from his mouth, indicating that his spoken word is in view. A sword that cuts two ways points to the gospel as that which both brings either life or judgment (cf. Isa. 11:4; 49:2). His face was like the sun shining in its strength (cf. Judges 5:31). Again Seiss explains:
"Something of this was seen in the mount of transfiguration, when 'his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.' Something of the same was manifest when he appeared to Saul of Tarsus in 'a light above the brightness of the sun.' And so glorious and pervading is this light which issues from his face, that in the New Jerusalem there will be neither sun, nor moon, nor lamp, nor any other light, and yet rendered so luminous by his presence, that even the nations on the earth walk in the light of it. And so the lightning brilliancy, which is to flash from one end of heaven to the other at the time of his coming, and the glory which is then to invest him and the whole firmament, is simply the uncovering or revelation of that blessed light which streams from his sublime person" (43).
John was overwhelmed by his vision of the risen Lord, your risen Lord. It would do us well to meditate on the glorious sufficiency of the glorified Jesus to meet every need. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) has made an effort to do this with a series of questions. As you read, ask them of yourself.
"What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? Are you afraid that he cannot save you; that he is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one stronger than the 'mighty God' as Christ is called in Isa. 9:6? Is there need of greater than infinite strength? Are you afraid that he will not be willing to stoop so low as to take any gracious notice of you? But then, look on him, as he stood in the ring of soldiers, exposing his blessed face to be buffeted and spit upon by them! Behold him bound with his back uncovered to those that smote him! And behold him hanging on the cross! Do you think that he that had condescension enough to stoop to these things, and that for his crucifiers, will be unwilling to accept of you if you come to him? Or, are you afraid that if he does accept of you, that God the Father will not accept of him for you? But consider, will God reject his own Son, in whom his infinite delight is, and has been, from all eternity, and who is so united to him, that if he should reject him he would reject himself?
What is there that you can desire should be in a Savior that is not in Christ? Or, in what way would you desire a Savior to be otherwise than Christ is? What excellency is there lacking? What is there that is great or good; what is there that is venerable or winning; what is there that is adorable or endearing; or what can you think of that would be encouraging, which is not to be found in the person of Christ?
Would you have your Savior to be great and honorable, because you are not willing to be beholden to a mean person? And, is not Christ a person honorable enough to be worthy that you should be dependent on him; is he not a person high enough to be appointed to so honorable a work as your salvation? Would you not only have a Savior of high degree, but would you have him, notwithstanding his exaltation and dignity, to be made also of low degree, that he might have experience of afflictions and trials, that he might learn by the things that he has suffered, to pity them that suffer and are tempted? And has not Christ been made low enough for you and has he not suffered enough?
Would you not only have him possess experience of the afflictions you now suffer, but also of that amazing wrath that you fear hereafter, that he may know how to pity those that are in danger, and are afraid of it? This Christ has had . . . a greater sense of it, a thousand times, than you have, or any man living has.
Would you have your Savior to be one who is near to God, so that his mediation might be prevalent with him? And can you desire him to be nearer to God than Christ is, who is his only-begotten Son, of the same essence with the Father? And would you not only have him near to God, but also near to you, that you may have free access to him? And would you have him nearer to you than to be in the same nature, united to you by a spiritual union, so close as to be fitly represented by the union of the wife to the husband, of the branch to the vine, of the member to the head; yea, so as to be one spirit? For so he will be united to you, if you accept of him.
Would you have a Savior that has given some great and extraordinary testimony of mercy and love to sinners, by something that he has done, as well as by what he says? And can you think or conceive of greater things than Christ has done? Was it not a great thing for him, who was God, to take upon him human nature; to be not only God, but man thenceforward to all eternity? But would you look upon suffering for sinners to be a yet greater testimony of love to sinners, than merely doing, though it be ever so extraordinary a thing that he has done? And would you desire that a Savior should suffer more than Christ has suffered for sinners? What is there lacking, or what would you add if you could, to make him more fit to be your Savior?" (“The Excellency of Christ,” 1:686-87).