John’s Vision of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:10-20)
The first vision in the book of Revelation is one of Jesus Christ. In previous studies we have learned that the purpose for the symbolic wording is to communicate with the Christians in a way they could understand while masking the meaning from their enemies. To we who are Christians this description of Jesus is not difficult at all. Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of man on numerous occasions. All Christians know that Jesus was dead and then resurrected never to die again. This is not a difficult vision for a Christian to understand because we are familiar with the imagery. But someone who knew little to nothing at all about Jesus Christ would look at this text and read about the sharp two edged sword coming from His mouth and His pure white raiment, flaming eyes and feet like fired brass and instantly develop a mental image of something bearing the literal features described in the vision. I still remember the outrageous mental images I had of this when I was a young boy reading the Revelation for the first time. I didn’t visualize Jesus Christ. I visualized a white clothed, fire eyed, brass shod man with a real sword coming out of his mouth and I remember thinking to myself that it had to hurt to hold a sword like that.
I cannot count how many times I have picked up a book, started reading it, only to set it down after reading a few minutes, never to look at it again. The book lost my interest so quickly that based on the first impression, I was unwilling to devote any more time to it. Someone utterly unfamiliar with Jesus Christ and the word of God would likely read to the first vision and instantly conclude that Christians are a bunch of superstitious nuts following after a nonsensical God and pay little to no attention to the rest of the letter. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Once again the genius of God is apparent in His actions. It would have been easy to have just identified Jesus Christ by name at this time rather than go into a detailed description of the savior of mankind in figurative terms. But He did not, choosing to distract unbelievers with the figurative language at the beginning. It is no accident that unbelievers consider Christianity to be foolish. This has been designed into God’s plan since the beginning and God wasted no time whatsoever in implementing this in what was the most important letter the persecuted Christians would ever receive except for previous inspired writings. Jesus had some specific things to say to the individual congregations and this first vision of Jesus would both prepare the Christians for the message to come while causing instant confusion and distraction to those who have no knowledge of Jesus, thereby weeding out all but the most determined adversaries of the Christians.
For the Christians, this first vision sets the tone for what is to be expected later on in the Revelation. God starts with a relatively easy vision that any Christian would be able to understand before moving on to some direct and serious instruction to each specific congregation. As the book progresses through the first vision and the specific instruction to each church, we see the imagery growing progressively more difficult. The Christians are going to recognize this for what it is, realize that the key to understanding it is going to be found in the rest of scripture and prepare themselves as the book progresses. The unbelievers that make it past the first vision are only going to get more and more confused as they struggle with distractions brought on by their natural tendency to try and understand these visions literally. I like to think of this first vision as a primer for what is to follow.
With that said, we will now look at the particular elements of John’s vision of Jesus Christ.
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, ” which obviously means that John was directly under the influence of the Holy Spirit who was in the process of telling John what to write. We learn elsewhere that “all scripture is given by inspiration” which in the original language meaning “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and this declaration by John affirmed to the readers the means by which these visions were being communicated to John. “The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2).
“The Lord’s day” This day would be the day set forth each week set aside for the worship of God. Jesus was resurrected on the “first day of the week” (Mark 16:1-6). The resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples on the “first day of the week” (John 20:19). The church of Christ was established on Pentecost which was the first day of the week (Acts 2). The first century Christians met to “break bread” on the “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7). Paul commanded the Corinthian Christians to “lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him” on the “first day of the week“. When the first readers read of the Lord’s Day in the Revelation they knew instantly this meant the first day of the week, Sunday. They followed a pattern of worship which involved meeting on every Sunday. We being the Lord’s church today follow that same pattern. Of significance is that the first day of the week was referred to as the “Lord’s day.” The Greek word used here is kuriakos (koo-ree-ak-os’) meaning belonging to the Lord (Jehovah or Jesus). This is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 11:20 in reference to the “Lord’s Supper.” The Lord’s day here is described as being the day belonging to the Lord.
“and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,”
John did not hear a trumpet. He heard a voice that was compared to the sound of a trumpet meaning it was loud and clear. The Romans used trumpets to signal an important announcement or a call to attention prior to an event. This is the use of a metaphor and occurs often throughout scripture, notably in the parables of Jesus where the kingdom of God was described as being “like” something. Like a trumpet, Jesus voice came through loud and clear.
saying, What thou seest, write in a book and send (it) to the seven churches: unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
John is being shown these things in visions and he is commanded to write what he sees. As we saw earlier, all scripture is God breathed, so we know John wrote down exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted him to say. But it is worthy of note that John was told to write what he saw in the visions. The revelation is written as a description of spiritual visions in in first century man’s terms and addressed to first century mankind, specifically to the seven churches of Asia which we understand to be to them in particular but with application to Christ’s church universally.
“And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks“
These candlesticks are representative of the traditional Jewish seven-branched lampstand called the menorah. Jesus tells exactly what these candlesticks represented in verse 20, “and the seven candlesticks are seven churches.” In the tabernacle, God required a candlestick to be made of gold and placed on the table with the showbread. This candlestick was required to hold seven candles. Exodus 25:33-37. Zechariah saw a candlestick in a vision with 7 candles as recorded in Zechariah 4:2. Candlesticks are an image the first century Jewish Christians would be very familiar with.
“and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle.”
We are now getting into the central subject of John’s vision of Jesus Christ. John saw one who was described as being like the Son of man. Jesus frequently referred to Himself as the Son of man in his teachings; “When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (Matthew 16:13). This is the favored self-designation of Jesus in the Gospels. In Matthew it occurs over 30 times, in Mark 15 times, in Luke 25 times, and in John a dozen times. Jesus took this designation from the old testament where it occurs 108 times in the KJV. Probably the most significant Old Testament verse which could point to Jesus’ use of this designation is found in Psalms 80:17 “Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself.“ This was an appeal by the psalmist for the raising up of a hero to redeem Israel who had fallen away from God.
Jesus was described as being in the midst of the churches. The churches mentioned in Asia geographically formed a rough circle. Christ, as the head of the church, positioned in the center, is inseparable from them, being the head. He moves among the churches as the king and high priest, seeing and knowing every facet of their life and conduct as Christians. He provides counsel and leadership when necessary and comfort in times of affliction. This should give the Christians great comfort because Christ, being in their midst, was close to them, aware of their trials and tribulations and was aware of their suffering. He was also aware of their shortcomings which we will observe later in our studies of the various churches to whom the Revelation was specifically addressed.
“clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle.” This attire is a sign of high rank and office. The band being of gold and worn about the chest indicates that Jesus is dressed to rule rather than to serve. The clothing Jesus is wearing in this vision is drawn from the attire of the Jewish high priest as described in Exodus. This is fitting that Jesus would wear this attire in that He is the high priest of the Christian era.
“And his head and his hair were white as white wool, (white) as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire“
The white head and hair are symbolic of purity and holiness of which Jesus’ head is crowned. This imagery is probably borrowed from Daniel’s vision in 7:9, “I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit: his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool...”
“and his eyes were as a flame of fire” Fire was practically the only source of artificial illumination in the first century. Jesus eyes were described as being illuminating, penetrating into the hearts and souls of all Christians everywhere. “And there is no creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).
“and his feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters.“
The imagery of the burnished brass comes from Daniel 10:6 and Ezekiel 1:7. This was a mixture of metals similar to brass or bronze which is unknown today in its exact composition. But the imagery is of Jesus with feet glowing fiery hot from the furnace and able to tread out and burn His enemies to ashes. This imagery is taken from Malachi 4:3 “And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make, saith Jehovah of hosts.”
“and his voice as the voice of many waters.” This imagery also reflects the vision in Daniel 10:6 “and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” and again in Ezekiel 43:2 “and, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shined with his glory.” Jesus voice can be described as filling a double role. It can be terrifying, thunderous and powerful as we see in Revelation 14:2 and 19:6 while the same voice can also be gentle, soothing and comforting as we see in Zechariah 1:13 and Psalms 85:8. One can visualize the soothing calm of gentle waters for those in tribulation, while simultaneously visualizing the voice of roaring thunder of crashing waves on those who are His enemies.
“And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
The right hand of Jesus symbolized a position of favor in the minds of the Christians. Jesus is seated on His throne “by the right hand of God exalted” (Acts 2:33). On the great day of the Lord after the final trump, Jesus describes the lost as goats who would set on His left and the sheep who would be set on His right (Matthew 25:32-34).
The seven stars are explained in verse 20 as the angels of the churches. Angels are messengers. As we have previously studied, the message of God’s word comes from the Holy Spirit and there is only one spirit (Ephesians 4:4). Seven represents perfect completeness so it is likely the seven angels represent the perfect complete working of the Holy Spirit. Notice in Revelation 2:7 when Jesus is giving specific direction to the church in Ephesus, He says “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” Here is the demonstration of the singularity of the Holy Spirit we see represented in scripture elsewhere.
“and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword”
Jesus is the word of God (John 1:1) and the “word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This is some New Testament imagery having its origins in Old Testament writings.
(Let) the high praises of God (be) in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand;
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
“and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
Jesus is in heaven reigning as our King. Jesus is God the Son and in the presence of God the Father, seated at His right hand. When Moses had been in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai his face glowed white when he returned to the camp of the Israelites. The glowing face in the vision is something the Jewish Christians would be familiar with and something the Gentile Christians could find in old testament scripture to relate to it.
29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of the testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses knew not that the skin of his face shone by reason of his speaking with him.
30 And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last,”
John was not the only prophet to exhibit a dramatic response when he saw the glory of God. When Ezekiel saw the vision of God in His chariot he fell upon his face (Ezekiel 1:28). When Isaiah saw his vision of God’s throne he cried “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Daniel fell on his face when Gabriel was told to explain a vision to him (Daniel 8:17) and after this Daniel was “sick certain days” (V 27). It is obvious that seeing God’s glory in a vision has quite a physical impact on people. When Moses was on Mt Sinai God allowed him a glimpse of His glory as He passed by, but did not allow Moses to see His face. God shielded His face from Moses’ view as He passed by. Exodus 33:20 “And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” No fleshly man could ever look upon the face of Jehovah and survive the event.
There is a time coming in the lives of all who ever lived when they will come face to face with God in His glory. For those who have not lived faithfully, this will be a terrible event. For those who have, it will be a glorious one. In either case, it is going to be a shocking experience to say the least.
“And he laid his right hand upon me”
It is interesting to note that it was Jesus’ right hand that was laid upon the shoulder of John. That is where Jesus was holding the seven stars. Again, this usage of the right hand is representative of a favored position or approval in the minds of the first readers. When Paul converted to Christianity, many of the Christians did not trust him, but when they realized he had genuinely converted, Paul was given their “right hands of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9). John was overcome with the glory of Jesus in this vision and was unable to stand. But the placement of Jesus’ right hand on Him, assured John that he was going to be ok and the first readers would see this as a sign of comfort, assurance and fellowship.
saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last,”
After having placed His right hand on John, Jesus told him to “Fear not” Do not be afraid. Imagine how horrific an experience this would be to be lying at the feet of Jesus Christ in His glory and not feel the comfort of His hand nor hear the assurance in His voice. Only His enemies are to feel terror at His presence. Those who belong to Him need have no fear and are to find peace and comfort before Him.
The expression “first and the last” is found three times in Isaiah:
“Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I, Jehovah, the first, and with the last, I am he.”
“Thus saith Jehovah, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, Jehovah of hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.“
“Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called: I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.“
Jesus often identified Himself to John through figurative expressions that described His characteristics. We see this here and all through the rest of the Revelation when Jesus is the subject of the visions. Any Christian familiar with the imagery of these characteristics and qualities of Jesus would be able to easily identify who this is. Those who are unfamiliar with these types of descriptions would be unable to understand who the subject of the vision is.
“and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
All Christians know that Jesus died and was resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), never to die again (Hebrews 7:16; 24-25). This is another identification of Jesus by His characteristics. He is alive, He was dead, but he’s alive now forever.
“and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
Keys are always used figuratively in the New Testament. Jesus gave Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19); Jesus accused lawyers of taking away the “key of knowledge” in Luke 11:52. The key or keys in scripture imply power and authority, either with the subject individual or delegated by another. Each time keys are claimed or used, they imply the exercise of power from without, or may be used to open from the outside. Jesus has the keys (power), to unlock (overcome) death and Hades. Hades is Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word “Sheol“. These words represent the abode of the dead where both the saved and the unsaved await the final judgment of Christ. This is where Jesus went after His death (Acts 2:27, which was a quote from David in Psalms 16:10 where he used the word “Sheol“).
Both death and Hades will be delivered up for Christ’s judgment and those who are not found in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-15), forever (Revelation 14:11).
“Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter“
John is commanded to Jesus to write down what he sees in the visions. He is to record the things which are happening now which indicates the events described are in progress at the time and will come to pass afterwards. Jesus had earlier indicated the timeframe of this is going to be relatively short (Revelation 1:1) and will repeat it toward the end of the prophecy (Revelation 22:6), so we know the events that shall “come to pass” hereafter will be in a relatively short timeframe.
“the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches.”
Jesus explains to John what seven stars and the seven candlesticks in His right hand represented. Scholars are divided to this day on just what the seven angles represented. Some believe it was the elders or the ministers of the specific churches or men sent by the apostle to carry the letter to them. This is entirely possible and there is no reason why any of these could not be true. However, it is this teachers belief that the seven angels collectively represent the complete work of the one perfect and complete Holy Spirit represented in the words of the prophecy delivered to the churches. Ultimately, it was the Holy Spirit that was the primary active agent in the deliverance of all scripture to the inspired writers (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). Disagreement over precisely what these seven angels represent does not alter the primary message to the Christians in any way. They were to persevere and remain faithful until death regardless of whether the seven stars were literally seven messengers, one for each church, or the one complete messenger from which all divine messages derived.
Of significance is the fact that Jesus acknowledged the fact that it was indeed a mystery. This supports the fact that this book is purposefully written in figurative language for the express purpose of it being a mystery. It is the intent of God that it be this way and as we have discussed previously, the reason for this is to mask the message from the enemies of Christianity while revealing it in ways possible to understand to those for whom it was intended.
Summary of John’s Vision
When John turned to see the vision of Jesus, he saw a figure clothed in royal attire, standing in the midst of the congregations of His people, with them, close to them and among them. He was Holy and pure, but strong and authoritative and commanded great reverence in His presence. He is able to deal harshly with His foes, but tenderly with His saints. His word was strong and true and trustworthy, being a comfort for His faithful children, but a fearful weapon towards His enemies. He had been slain, but death could not defeat Him. He overcame death and is alive and will remain alive forever.
Nothing is said in this vision about what would happen to the enemies of righteousness. It was not time yet to reveal their fate, being too early in the Revelation. To reveal the fate of the enemies of the Christians at this time would most certainly have been noticed and their persecutors would have paid a lot more attention to the details of the letter. Before the fate of the enemies of the Christians was revealed there first was numerous reprimands given to the Christians in the various congregations addressed after this vision. Those who would look at the Revelation with the intent of incriminating the Christians because of it would have to wade through a considerable amount of figurative language before perceiving any threat at all to themselves.
Jesus great power and authority is evident in the imagery. The Christians to whom this letter was addressed were watching cruel Roman emperors rise to power and die. These emperors did not have the ability to overcome death. Their words were not trustworthy, their practices were not pure and Holy. The Christians had a worthy champion in comparison to what the Unbelievers had. The cruel emperors, as vicious as they were, would not live forever. The champion of the Christians was just and merciful and would never die and the first readers of the Revelation were given this assurance from the beginning of the letter.