Tuesday, July 6, 2021

12. The Revelation: The Unfolding of the Vision (Rev. 1:12-16, 20)

After describing his circumstances on the Island of Patmos (see previous post), John related the unfolding of the vision. This revealing look at the present work of Christ discloses seven aspects of the Lord’s ongoing ministry to His church.

1. Christ Empowers His Church

"Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, … the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (1:12–13a, 20b)

John began with his back to the voice, so he “turned to see the voice that was speaking with” him. As he did, he first saw seven golden lampstands, identified in verse 20 as the seven churches. These were like the common portable oil lamps placed on lampstands that were used to light rooms at night. They symbolize churches as the lights of the world (Philippians 2:15). They are golden because gold was the most precious metal. The church is God’s most beautiful entity on earth. “Seven” is the number of completeness (Exodus 25:31–40; Zechariah 4:2). Here, the seven churches symbolize the churches in general. These were actual churches in real places, but are symbolic of the kinds of churches that exist through all of church history.

In the middle of the lampstands John saw “one like a son of man” (cf. Daniel 7:13)—the glorified Lord. Jesus promised His continued presence with His church. In Matthew 28:20 He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

2. Christ Intercedes for His Church

"...clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash." (1:13b).

The first thing John noted was that Christ was “clothed in a robe reaching to the feet” (cf. Isaiah 6:1). Such robes were worn by royalty (e.g., Judges 8:26; 1 Samuel 18:4) and prophets (1 Samuel 28:14). In the Greek Old Testament, the word translated “robe” was most frequently used to describe the robe worn by the high priest. While Christ is biblically presented as prophet and king, the robe here pictures Christ in His role as the Great High Priest of His people. The picture of Christ “girded across His chest with a golden sash” reinforces that interpretation, since the high priest in the Old Testament wore such a sash (Exodus 28:4; Leviticus 16:4).

As our High Priest, Christ once offered the perfect and complete sacrifice for our sins and now permanently, faithfully intercedes for us (Romans 8:33–34). He has an unequaled capacity to sympathize with us in all our sorrows and temptations (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). The knowledge that their High Priest was moving sympathetically in their midst to care for His own provided great comfort and hope to the persecuted churches.

3. Christ Purifies His Church

"His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace..." (1:14–15a)

John describes Christ Himself in verses 14–15; he begins by depicting Christ’s work of chastening and purifying His church. This resonates with the New Testament teachings that clearly set forth the holy standard that Christ has established for His church. “Therefore you are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

John’s description of Christ’s “head and … hair as white like white wool, like snow” is a clear reference to Daniel 7:9, where similar language describes the Ancient of Days (God the Father). The parallel descriptions affirm Christ’s deity. He possesses the same attribute of holy knowledge and wisdom as the Father. “White” includes the idea of “bright” or “brilliant.” It symbolizes Christ’s eternal, holy truthfulness.

John also notes that His eyes were “like a flame of fire” (cf. 2:18; 19:12). His searching gaze penetrates to the very depths of His church, revealing with piercing clarity the reality of everything there is to know.

That Christ’s feet were “like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace,” is a clear reference to judgment on sinners in the church. Kings in ancient times sat on elevated thrones, so those being judged would always be beneath the king’s feet. The feet of a king came to symbolize his authority. The red-hot, glowing feet of Christ picture Him moving through His church to exercise His holy scrutiny.

4. Christ Speaks Authoritatively to His Church

"...and His voice was like the sound of many waters." (1:15b)

When Christ spoke again, it was no longer with the trumpetlike sound of verse 10. His voice was now “like the sound of many waters,” a familiar analogy to the surf crashing on the rocky shores of Patmos in a storm. The voice of the eternal God was similarly described in Ezekiel 43:2, showing another parallel affirming Christ’s deity.

When Christ speaks, the church must listen. At the transfiguration God said, “This is My beloved Son, … listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5). “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,” wrote the author of Hebrews, “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1–2). Christ speaks to His church directly through the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures.