The Deity of Jesus
Third Introduction (Revelation 1:9-20)
The first introduction established the purpose of the book of Revelation. The second introduction established that the book is from God and described what Jesus meant to Christians. Now the third introduction tells about the giving of the book and describes the majesty of Jesus as God Almighty.
Background of the Vision (Revelation 1:9-11)
John describes himself as a brother; that is, a part of God’s family (Ephesians 2:19). He shares with other Christians three things:
- The tribulation: By this, we understand that the church was facing active persecution at the time of this writing.
- The kingdom: Since John is partaking in the kingdom, the kingdom already existed at the time of this writing (Colossians 1:13). It is just another way to refer to the church (Matthew 16:18-19).
- Perseverance: Holding on to the faith is a characteristic of Christians (Hebrews 3:6).
John was on the island of Patmos when he received his vision. Patmos is a volcanic island about 13 square miles in size. It is mostly rocky and without many trees. “First-century Patmos, with its natural protective harbor, was a strategic island on the sea lane from Ephesus to Rome. A large administrative center, outlying villages, a hippodrome (for horse racing), and at least three pagan temples made Patmos hardly an isolated and desolate place!” [Gordon Franz, “The King and I: Exiled To Patmos, Part 2", Associates for Biblical Research, 28 Jan 2010]. It is believed that Patmos was under the jurisdiction of Ephesus or Miletus; thus, John, who lived in Ephesus, was likely sent there to get him out of the way. The early historian Eusebius wrote, “the sentences of Domitian were annulled, and the Roman Senate decreed the return of those who had been unjustly banished and the restoration of their property…the Apostle John, after his banishment to the island, took up his abode at Ephesus” [Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, III.XX.8-9].
John tells us that he was on the island because of the word of God and his testimony of Jesus. Therefore, we know that the reason John is here is because of his teaching as an apostle of Christ (I John 1:1-4).
The vision took place on the Lord’s day. This is the only place in the Bible where the phrase, “the Lord’s day” appears. Some wish to claim that this was some day that John had dedicated to Jesus, or that John called it the Lord’s day because it was the day he received his vision. Neither makes logical sense since John mentions the name of the day to tell the readers when he received his vision. Early Christians used the phrase “the Lord’s Day” to refer to the first day of the week. “But every Lord’s Day, gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, so that your sacrifice may be pure” [Didache c. 80-140, 7.381]. “No longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day” [Ignatius, c. 105, 1.62]. Regardless of the understanding of what day is being referred to, it doesn’t alter the understanding of the book.
John tells us he was in the spirit. There is no article before “spirit” in the Greek, which would indicate that John is not talking about the Holy Spirit as many translators seem to assume. It is used several times in Revelation when John emphasized that he experienced his vision in his spirit and not in his body (Revelation 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). This calls to mind Paul’s experience (II Corinthians 12:2-4). The phrasing is close to Ezekiel’s descriptions of his visions (Ezekiel 3:12-14; 8:3; 11:24; 37:1; 43:5).
He is startled by a loud voice behind him, that reminded John of a trumpet. In the ancient days, trumpet calls were used to herald important news. Before God appeared on Mt. Sinai, a loud trumpet was heard (Exodus 19:16-19). God proclaimed Israel’s sins with a cry that voice like a trumpet (Isaiah 58:1). This voice tells John to write his vision in a book and send it to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, listed by name. (See Figure 2.) Notice that the names are in geographical order, such as the order one might travel to each of the churches from Patmos.
The Majestic Christ (Revelation 1:12-20)
John turns to see who was speaking to him in such a loud voice. In the midst of seven golden lampstands, John sees a person like a son of man. The phrase “son of man” is used in Ezekiel over 90 times to refer to the prophet. Jesus used the same phrase to refer to himself in the Gospels over 80 times (John 12:34). The son of man, we are told, is the son of the living God (Matthew 16:13-16). Daniel, too, has a vision of the son of man ascending to meet the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13). The phrase emphasizes the humanity of the one being viewed, which strongly contrasts with the remainder of the vision which is of deity. A Christian reading Revelation would instantly realize that John is seeing the resurrected Christ.
The seven golden lampstands give allusion to the menorah – the lampstand in the tabernacle and temple which held seven lamps (Exodus 25:31-32) – but that was a single lampstand with seven lamps. What is seen are seven stands each with a lamp. We don’t have to go far for an explanation, Revelation 1:20 tells us that the lampstands represent the seven churches named earlier. But why a lampstand as a symbol for a church? Christians are to be lights in a dark world (Matthew 5:15-16; Philippians 2:15-16). The church’s duty is to uphold the truth (I Timothy 3:15). In the Old Testament, there was one lampstand to which all came to worship. In the New Testament, each church is a gathering point for God’s people. Hence there was a need to change the symbolism.
And why golden lampstands? Gold is a precious metal. Golden lampstands mean that the churches are precious and important to God.
Jesus is described as wearing a long robe belted at the breasts with a golden girdle. Workmen wore shorter tunics, so as to not interfere with their movements, but nobles and priests wore long robes. The description of Jesus’ robe is similar to the priestly garments (Exodus 28:4; 29:5). The placement of the belt also indicated social status. The higher the belt, the more important the person. Josephus mentions that the priest’s vestment was “girded to the breast a little above the elbows” [Antiquities of the Jews, III.VII.2]. The material used for the girdle indicated the person’s status and wealth.
Jesus’ hair was white, the color of wool or snow. Seeing sin as dirty, whiteness symbolized purity and freedom from sin (Isaiah 1:18). The description of Jesus is remarkably similar to the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9. White hair is usually associated with an elderly person who is wise from his experience. God, being eternal, would be very old and very wise. Notice that the same symbols applied to God the Father in the Old Testament are now being applied to God the Son in the New Testament.
His eyes are said to look like flames of fire. The description is similar to one of a chief angel in Daniel 10:5-9. The vision was so terrible that Daniel fainted, as John did in Revelation 1:17. Flaming eyes symbolizes a penetrating gaze that even darkness cannot obscure (Hebrews 4:13). Paul says that on Judgment Day each person’s works would be revealed by fire (I Corinthians 3:12-13), and we will appear before Christ at Judgment.
The feet of Jesus are described as being like polished metal still glowing from the furnace where they were forged. The actual type of metal is not known, this is the only place the word appears, but most translations refer to it as bronze. The Messiah in the Old Testament is described as a king who is able to stomp out his enemies, leaving nothing but ashes behind (Malachi 4:1-3).
The voice of Jesus sounds like the roar of many waters. I imagine it sounding like Niagra Falls or some other large waterfall. It echoes the description of God in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2). It is a voice that can be heard from a distance, holding authority and power. Once again, a description of the Father is applied to the Son.
In Jesus’ right hand he holds seven stars. Again, we need merely to go to Revelation 1:20 to find the meaning of the symbol – the seven stars are the seven angels of the churches. Stars have long been associated with angels (Job 38:7). But does this mean that every church has its own angel?
Perhaps a clue can be found in knowing that the word “angel” means messenger in Greek and Hebrew. Prophets, like Haggai, are called God’s messenger or angel (Haggai 1:13). Priests are also God’s messengers or angels (Malachi 2:7). Even John the Baptist was a messenger or angel of Jesus (Malachi 3:1; Matthew 11:10-11). There is much debate over the meaning over the “messengers of the churches” but one of the best possibilities is that it refers to the preacher. If it were actual angels, it would seem strange for Jesus to send a message through an angel to John (Revelation 1:1) to write a book that contains letters to be delivered to angels that contain instructions for the churches. It would a strange delivery method for spiritual beings. But if it were directions for the preachers at each church to teach the congregations, it would make perfect sense.
The fact that the messengers are in Jesus’ right hand is to show that Christ has control over these messengers, such as God controls the stars in heaven (Job 38:31-33). The right hand is the dominant hand for most people, so it symbolizes strength and power (Exodus 15:6; Psalms 118:15-16).
From his mouth comes a sharp, two-edged sword. This is how Isaiah described the Messiah (Isaiah 49:2). A two-edged sword is a powerful weapon in battle since it can cut in both directions, but it is also a dangerous weapon because it can cut the wielder if he is not careful. God’s words are described in terms of a sword (Hosea 6:5). It is powerful enough to destroy the servant of Satan (II Thessalonians 2:8-9). This powerful weapon is contained in our Bibles (Hebrews 4:12) and it comes straight from Jesus.
Notice how many descriptions there are of the majestic Christ. As we already noted, John’s response to this vision was to faint. Daniel (Daniel 8:17-18, 27; 10:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28-2:1; 3:23-24; 43:3-5) had similar reactions to their visions.
Jesus’ reply alludes to the encouragement he gave to his disciples when they saw him walking on the water (Matthew 14:26-27).
Jesus Is Our Living God
Jesus died on the cross and was buried in a tomb, but Christians know that Jesus is not dead, but living. He is the first and the last – the same title held by God the Father (Revelation 1:8; Isaiah 44:6; 48:12). As Paul stated, Jesus was before all things (Colossians 1:16-17). God is eternal (Deuteronomy 32:40) and both the Father and the Son are self-existing (John 5:26).
Because Jesus rose from the dead, he has the keys to death and hades; that is, he has authority, power, and control over the entrance and exit to these realms. Keys give control (Isaiah 22:22; Matthew 16:19), and Jesus gained control of death with his resurrection (John 10:17-18). Death has no control over Christ (Romans 6:9). Again, this is a power of God (Psalms 68:20).