An Exposition of Revelation 1:12-20
Last week, we were introduced to the situation that John was in. He was on a prison island called Patmos. We learned that the book of Revelation does not begin with our problems, but with Jesus. It is only after being reminded of what Jesus has done for us that the situations we find ourselves are addressed. It is just like in the Lord’s Prayer that it begins with “Our Father, which art in heaven” and not with “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We also learned that the seven churches were undergoing tribulation as well. This shows that we are not immune from the tribulations that come from the hands of men. The book of Revelation will say we are free from God’s wrath and that God will bring great tribulation upon those who tribulate us. But we again are subject to the wrath of man because we bear testimony for Jesus. Even Jesus, the captain of our Salvation suffered great tribulation at Gethsemane. In fact, the very word “Gethsemane” means “olive press” where olives were subject to tribulation to squeeze out the virgin olive oil. Jesus was pressed so hard there that he sweated great drops of sweat mixed with blood on our behalf.
Today, we will explore the remainder of the initial vision John had on Patmos of the Lord Jesus. Many of the details we will explore will reappear later in various parts of Revelation, so it will be good to study the individual parts of the vision.
Exposition of the Text
In verse 12, John turns to “see” the voice that had commanded him to write what he saw in a book. And what a shock it must have been when he did turn. The first thing he saw was seven golden candlesticks. Then his eyes fixed upon a larger than life figure in the midst of them. From his understanding of the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Daniel, he made the identification of this individual as “The Son of Man”. He was dressed in a white robe with a golden sash at the chest. Some think that this figure was dressed as a priest. We know that this figure was that of Jesus, although John had not yet put two and two together. If He is dressed here as a priest, then Jesus is presented as the prophet who brings the message, the true High Priest here, and also as the King. These correspond to the threefold office of Jesus Christ.
In verse 14, John begins a scan of this figure from head to foot. He notices the snow white hair which is also said to be like white wool, quite appropriate for the Lamb of God. Then John notices the burning eyes which represents the penetrating gaze of Jesus who can look into the heart. Then he notices the shiny appearance of his feet like refined brass. Then John describes the voice as that of a mighty waterfall. Then he notices that he has seven stars in his right hand and a two edged sword coming out of His mouth. Finally, John is overwhelmed by the overall brightness of Jesus.
The net effect on John was so severe that in verse seventeen, he records that he fell face forward as a dead man. This is similar to the effect that the appearance of God had on several Old Testament prophets. One thinks of Isaiah who saw the Lord high and lifted up whose train filled the Temple. He responded in great fear, thinking himself to be undone for having seen the LORD of Hosts. Samson’s father when seeing the Angel of the LORD ascend in the sacrifice was sure he was going to die. So did Ezekiel and Daniel. We can remember the LORD’s word to Moses when he asked to see Yahweh’s glory that no one could see His face and live, though he allowed Moses to peek after he had passed by. The glory of the LORD is absolutely overwhelming to all human senses.
We know that this figure is Jesus, and that His appearance in this manner is proof that He is Yahweh. John finds this out when Jesus touches John with his right hand, the hand that had the seven burning stars in it. I wonder if this has some relation to the burning coals on Isaiah’s lips and acted in some way to purge John so that he might live to bear witness to God’s people. It is the touch of Jesus that lets John know this is Jesus. We think of how Jesus revealed himself after his resurrection to Mary Magdalene. She knew when she heard Jesus call out her name. The disciples of Emmaus knew it was Jesus in the breaking of bread. For Saul it was Jesus’ answer to the question of Saul, “who are you Lord?” Saul, like John had had his senses overwhelmed. But it was the humanity of Jesus by sound or sight that made the identification of who the Son of Man is.
The touch of Jesus reassures John that everything is going to be all right. The magnificent person was the same one who had walked with him in Israel and had shared three years of His earthly life with. It was like Jesus telling him: Relax, it’s only me”. But Jesus now adds to the” I am the Alpha and Omega” statement John had heard earlier by saying that He was also the “First and the Last.” Many see this as referring to the beginning and ending of time. However, “First and Last” probably refers to the full Deity and full humanness of Jesus as these terms are often used to indicate social rank. He a God is first of all. He as the one who came to earth and became human did so to be the least of all servants. In this way, He is everything from great to small. He is the God of the big picture and God of the smallest detail, even of the sparrow. He is aware of the situation that John as well as the churches he has charge over are in.
Jesus reminds John about His death, resurrection, and ascension to live forevermore. And as the one who has conquered death, he has authority over death and the grave, represented by the keys. This means that even if the witness John and the churches bore of Jesus was unto death even as Jesus’ witness to Himself resulted in His, that death and the grave had no ultimate power over them. Rather, they would be raised again evermore. Therefore, this serves as encouragement to remain faithful to Jesus, no manner what.
In verse nineteen, John is again commanded to write about the vision and to include everything he saw, both the current situation as well as the things that were about to happen to the seven churches. Then in verse 20, he explains the symbol of the stars in the right hand the seven lampstands. This again shows that Revelation was meant by the recipients to be understood. It was not to remain a hidden mystery. The seven stars represent the individuals (or angels) who had authority over the congregations, and the lampstands represented the seven churches.
As a whole, the vision shows Jesus standing in the midst of the seven candlesticks. This represents that Jesus was present with the churches. Some see this as the churches representing the seven candlesticks before the presence of God in the Temple. The location of God’s Temple has left Jerusalem and was not with the church. The fact that the seven stars are in Jesus’ right hand indicates that Jesus has power over them for good or ill. The right arm was symbolic of power as most people are right handed. When Jesus is portrayed as sitting at God’s right hand, it is a symbol of God’s power. We can also think reassuringly that Jesus told His disciples in the Gospel of John that no one could pluck them out of His hand, no less the Father’s. So whatever authority the local leaders exercised in the church was subordinate to that of Jesus. This implies that these leaders were to be obeyed.
In these increasingly difficult times we live in, we, too, need to be reassured that Jesus is with us. We all know of the Bible’s awful scenes of judgment and that we are fully deserving of it. We know what should have been in store for all of us. We want to be sure that Jesus really loves us. We need to feel the reassuring touch of Jesus who tells us that we can stop trembling, that we are His. Reflecting on this, we cannot be thankful enough. We should respond in lavish praise and thanksgiving.
The second way in which we are reassured is that the enemy has no ultimate authority over us. They may trouble us to death in this life to the extent that God permits Satan to try us. But in the end, we are His forever. This should embolden our witness of Jesus to the world. We show our thanksgiving to God by sharing this good news to others.
But in addition to these promises and blessings, we are also challenged. Jesus is Lord over the church and not vice versa. He hold us and not we, Him. The natural flow from this is a life of obedience and faithfulness. Jesus was about to reveal the character of the churches seen through His flaming eyes, for good and ill. He will both praise and chasten. We must be aware that He looks upon us as individuals and as a church the same way.