Thursday, May 22, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

The Vision of the Son of Man

"Gentle Jesus meek and mild." is a phrase I remember from childhood. There is great truth here. On earth, Jesus had a gentle and meek side to Him. It flowed out of His mercy and His having a provision for the problem of sin. Jesus came to earth to "seek and save the lost." But when He ascended to heaven, He became the rightful king. As Daniel foresaw:

I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky there was coming one like a son of man. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is an eternal authority which will not pass away. His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14, The Net Bible)

So it should come as no surprise that the Jesus that John sees is awesome and full of glory:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, saying: “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches—to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength. When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades! Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (Revelation 1:10-20)

What are we to make of this bizarre and wonderful image? I think that it would be a mistake to say that this is exactly what Jesus looks like today. Rather, the image communicates truth about Him in symbolic form. There are two bits of evidence for this. The first is that the text itself says that the lampstands symbolize churches and that the stars symbolize seven angels or messengers to those churches. It makes sense, therefore, that we should look for symbolic meanings in the rest of the details. The other bit of evidence comes from Ezekiel chapter 1. Ezekiel had seen a bizarre and magnificent vision of the throne of God transported by strange creatures. At the end, he described the substance of his vision this way:

The appearance of the brilliant light all around him was like a rainbow in the clouds after the rain. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Lord. When I saw it, I threw myself down with my face to the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking. (Ezekiel 1:28) 

The phrase "appearance of the likeness" is very interesting. If Ezekiel had just said "it was the likeness of the glory of God" what he saw would have been one step away from the real thing. It would be the same as saying that a photograph contains a likeness of you. But when Ezekiel says "appearance of the likeness," I believe that what he saw was at least two steps removed from reality. It would be like a drawing of a photograph. God is Spirit and our sense are not. By definition, what we know of Him must communicated by indirect means that touch our spirit with truth about His. Please note that I am not leading you or me towards mysticism, but that rather we discern the difference between vision and its supporting reality.

Which brings us back to this vision of Jesus in His glorified state. Here is a brief meditation on what this image tells us:

  • He walks among the seven lampstands and holds seven stars in His hand. These speaks of His oversight and concern for His churches. He is present among us and owns us. Theologically speaking this tells us that Jesus is omnipresent.
  • The white robe and golden belt speak of purity and value. There is a simple elegance here. It is not gaudy or pretentious. Jesus lived without sin and knowing Him is our highest good. 
  • The white hair and beard speak of His eternity and wisdom. Jesus is the ancient of days. He is full of years and knowledge. He is the source of wisdom.
  • The flaming eyes are eyes that shine with their own light illuminating and seeing at the same time. Jesus is able to see the hearts of men and judge them. Jesus is full of knowledge. He is omniscient.
  • Glowing bronze feet speak of His testing and sure footedness. Metal is tested by fire and Jesus passed His test by being obedient to death on the cross for our salvation. He is tested and true. The feet are also what the victor places on the neck of the vanquished. Jesus is the true and tested and victorious king. 
  • The two-edged sword means that Jesus need only speak to judge the earth and destroy His enemies. His authority comes from His word and not from His armies. He is omnipotent.
  • The face like the sun speaks of His awesome glory.

And so John saw what I believe to be the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Son. John was at first afraid, but Jesus said, "Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last, and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive—forever and ever—and I hold the keys of death and of Hades!" John did not have to fear, because the One standing before him had died for him. He is the first and the last and everything in between. He holds the keys of death and Hades.

The seven letters to the seven churches that follow provide application to Christians and Churches throughout the ages of these characteristics of Jesus communicated in this vision.

The next blog post will be Tuesday. My Dad is undergoing emergency surgery today. My second son is getting married on Saturday and my oldest son is expecting his second child any day now. A lot is going on. But on Tuesday, I will look at the seven letters. 

Tuesday: Ephesus and Thyatira

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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