In my last post I attempted to give you the ‘big picture’: a panoramic overview of Revelation. Now I am neither an artist nor a photographer but I do know that every good picture needs a focal point… and the centre of attention in the book of Revelation is Jesus. It is the revelation of Jesus, and the testimony of Jesus.
The salutations are given in Chapter One verses four to six as coming from ‘him who is, and who is was, and who is to come.’ The origin of this ascription goes all the way back to the burning bush incident recorded in Exodus. Moses asks who it is who is sending him back into Egypt, and God answers “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). The Prophet Isaiah expanded this to “I am he; I am the first and I am the last” (Isaiah 48:12) and much later Jewish scholars interpreted Exodus 3:14 with: “I am now what I always was and always will be” (Midrash Raggah). So, the greetings in the book of Revelation are from the Eternal Almighty God. In verse eight this Eternal One describes himself with the words: “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, yet Jesus applies this to himself in verse 17 where he is recorded as saying: “I am the first and the last”. I am certain most readers have picked up that Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega; I am the first and the last”
John records in his gospel several instances where Jesus used the words “I am” to describe himself – “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35): “I am the light of the world” (8:12): “I am the gate” (10:9): “I am the true vine” (15:1). Now I guess we could simply understand this as picturesque forms of speech were it not for two other “I am” statements recorded in John’s gospel. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Surely this is claiming divinity? Then comes the clincher in John 8:58: “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am” (HCSB). Surely there can be little doubt that right at the beginning of Revelation the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed as the divine author and central focus.
This divine Jesus speaks to John the revelator in a loud voice and what John sees when he turns around to see who is speaking to him is recorded in Revelation 1:13-16. In a previous post I have already described the key interpretive principle of Revelation as: ‘the book of Revelation is to be understood as an unveiling both of Jesus himself and of principles, events, and characters, both heavenly and earthly, by means of appropriate symbols’. So the description of Jesus must be understood as a SYMBOLIC presentation of his divine attributes. Anyone who attempts to literalise this description will wind up with a cartoon-like parody.
The representation of Jesus that John records is described as ‘someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance’. It is best not to pick apart this description because then the overall meaning and impact tends to be lost. The phrase ‘like a son of man’ gives us the clue that John is drawing on the imagery of Daniel chapters seven and ten. These chapters read in part: ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow: the hair of his head was white like wool’: and ‘a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude’.
He holds the stars in His hands
In Revelation John is using the visions of Daniel to convey to his readers that this Jesus who he portrays is none other than the God of the ancient prophets of Israel. While the context of Daniel ten could indicate an angelic messenger, chapter seven makes it clear that the subject is God, the Ancient of Days.
Please avoid leaping to the wrong conclusion that this Jesus of Revelation is different to the Jesus of the Gospels: Whereas Jesus was meek, mild, loving, and kind while on earth, now he is fierce and wrathful. No, as Hebrews puts it, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (13:8). It is true that Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Timothy 4:1 & 1 Peter 4:5) but his judgement is an outworking of his grace and righteousness and tempered by the same compassion and mercy he displayed while on earth. The Jesus we came to know and love through the Gospels has not changed in nature or character and we can safely base our lives on what he said and did. However, it is equally mistaken to think that the Lord Jesus Christ will not judge and ultimately act against all who destroy his creation, persecute his people, and tarnish his glorious image.
In my next post I intend summarising the letters Jesus wrote to seven churches. This will not just be a history lesson because these letters are relevant to us today and we need to take them very seriously. I love Jesus’ letters to the church and I am looking forward to exploring them with you.