Vision of Christ among the Lampstands: Part 4 of 6 (series: Lessons on Revelation)
by John Lowe
The only difficulty here is in regard to the apparently bizarre depiction of a sword which seemed to come from the mouth. There have been several explanations offered in an attempt to clarify the meaning of this scene, such as (a) Perhaps it is not necessary to assume that John means to say that he saw such an image. He heard Him speak; he felt the penetrating power of His words; and it seemed to him as if a sharp sword proceeded from His mouth. (b) Perhaps it is not necessary to suppose that there was a visible representation of this—it may be entirely a figurative representation. (c) Though there were visible and impressive symbols of His majesty and glory presented to the eyes, it is not necessary to suppose that there were visible symbols of his words.
“And his countenance” is a reference to His face. There had been specific descriptions of some parts of His face before—of his eyes for example—but this is a representation of His whole face; of the general splendor and brightness of His countenance.
“Was as the sun shineth in his strength,” that is, the full splendor of His countenance was visible, like the sun when unobscured by clouds and there is nothing to block its rays. Compare the following three verses:
• Judges 5:31: “But let them that love him (the Lord) be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.”
• 2 Samuel 23:4: “And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds.”
• Psalm 19:5, “Which (the sun) is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.”
There could be no more striking description of the majesty and glory of His countenance than to compare it with the overpowering splendor of the sun. This completes the description of the personification that appeared to John. The reason for giving John this representation was evidently to impress him with a sense of His majesty and glory, and to prepare the way for the impressive nature of the communications which he was to make. It is obvious that this appearance must have been a representation of the Savior. But beyond that, we can only say with some degree of certainty what the representation is NOT:
• IT IS NOT representative of the Redeemer as he rose from the dead—a middle-aged man.
• IT IS NOT representative of the Redeemer as He appeared on the mount of transfiguration—where He retained his usual look and form though temporarily endowed with extraordinary brilliance.
• IT IS NOT the form in which the Redeemed ascended to heaven for there is no evidence that the Redeemer was transformed when he ascended
• IT IS NOT representative of a priest, for all the special habiliments of a Jewish priest are missing in this description.
The appearance assumed by the image is evidently in accordance with various representations of God as he appeared to Ezekiel, to Isaiah, and to Daniel, which was a suitable manifestation of a divine being, of one clothed in the majesty and power of God. We are not to infer from this that this is, in fact, the appearance of the Redeemer as He now looks in heaven, or that this is the form in which He will appear when He comes to judge the world. We have no knowledge of the appearance which he will assume when he comes to judge people. We are as ignorant of this as we are of our own form and appearance after the resurrection from the dead.
17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead,” that is, as if I were dead or unconscious. He was overcome by the suddenness of the vision; he saw that this was a divine being; but he did not yet know that it was the Savior. It is not to be expected that in this vision he would immediately recognize any of the familiar features of the Lord Jesus as he had been accustomed to seeing him some sixty years before; and if he did, the effect would have been just as overpowering as he described here.
The subsequent revelations of this divine person would seem to imply that John did not instantly recognize him as the Lord Jesus. The response described here is one that often occurred to those who had a vision of God. Compare:
• Daniel 8:18: “Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground; but he touched me, and set me upright.”
• Daniel 8:27: “And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king‘s business.”
• Also compare Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 43:3; Daniel 10:7-9, Daniel 10:17.
he laid his right hand upon me,” in order to raise him up. Daniel 8:18 reads, “He touched me and set me upright.” We usually stretch out the right hand to raise up one who has fallen.
“Saying unto me, Fear not”—Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 14:27, “It is I; be not afraid.” The fact that it was the Savior, though he appeared in this form of overpowering majesty, was ample reason for why John should not be afraid. Then he immediately adds that he was “the first and the last,” that though he had been dead he was now alive and would live forever, and that he had the keys of hell and of death. It is evident that John was overwhelmed by that startling emotion which the human mind must feel when there is evidence of the presence of God. This is how people feel when God seems to come near them by way of the impressive symbols of His majesty—He is in the thunder, the earthquake, and the storm. (Compare Habakkuk 3:16; Luke 9:34.) Yet, even in the midst of the most awful manifestations of divine power, the simple assurance that our Redeemer is near us is enough to dispel our fears, and diffuse calmness through the soul.
“I am the first and the last”—see the notes at Revelation 1:8. This is stated as one of the reasons why he should not fear—because He was eternal: “I have always lived—have lived through all the past, and will live through all that is to come—and therefore I can accomplish all my promises, and execute all my purposes.”
18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
“I am he that liveth, and was dead.” Jesus was dead before they took Him off the cross—but now I live, and shall continue to live forever. This would instantly identify Him as the Lord Jesus Christ, for no one else could make that claim. He had been put to death, but He had risen from the grave. This also is given as a reason for why John should not fear; and nothing would calm his fears more than this. He now saw that he was in the presence of that Savior whom more than half a century earlier he had so tenderly loved, and whom, though now long absent, he had faithfully served, and for whose cause he was now on this lonely island. His faith in His resurrection had not been a delusion; he saw the very Redeemer before him who had once been laid in the tomb.
“Behold, I am alive forevermore,” that is, I am going to live forever. Death can never again cut Me down, and I will never again sleep in the grave. Since He was going to be “alive forevermore,” He could accomplish all his promises, and fulfill all his purposes. The Savior is never going to die again. He can, therefore, always sustain us in our troubles; he can be with us in our death. Our friends will die, but He will not die; when we die, He will still be on the throne.
“Amen” is a word used here to express strong affirmation—as if he had said, it is “truly,” or “certainly so.” See the notes on Revelation 1:7. This expression is one that the Savior often used when he wished to emphasize, or to express anything strongly. (Compare John 3:3; John 5:25)
“And have the keys of hell and of death”—the word rendered “hell” is “Hades” and it refers to the underworld; the abode of departed spirits; the region of the dead. This was represented as dull and gloomy, enclosed with walls, and entered through gates which were fastened with bolts and bars. To hold the key of hell means that He had power over the invisible world. It was appropriate for the Savior to represent himself as having this authority, since He had himself been raised from the dead by His own power (compare John 10:18), thus showing that the dominion over this dark world was entrusted to Him.
“And of death” is another personification. Death reigns in the underworld, but the Savior holds the key to His wide-extended realms, and He can have access to His Empire when He pleases; he can release all whom he chooses, and confine there whoever He pleases. Because Christ will live eternally, he always retains this power over the regions of the dead, and the whole world of spirits, therefore, it may be said with certainty that we have nothing to dread if we put our trust in Him. We do not need to fear to enter a world which He has entered, and from which He has arisen, achieving a glorious triumph; we should not fear what the dreaded king that reigns there can do to us, for His power doesn’t extend beyond the permission of the Savior, and in his own time that Savior will call us forth to life, to die no more.