Rev 1:9-20 – Vision of the Son of Man

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Rev 1:9

  1. Patmos was a prison island just outside the city of Ephesus in present-day western Turkey. Many of the prisoners placed there were political prisoners who were forced to work in the island’s quarries.
  2. John states that he was on the island of Patmos for “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus”. Either John had been imprisoned by the Roman authorities because they felt that John was preaching the word of God in a way that caused political unrest, or John was there to proselytize and preach the word of God to the imprisoned.
    1. According to Eusebius Church History, the apostle John was pastor of the church in Ephesus when he was arrested by the Roman authorities in connection with Emperor Domitian’s severe persecution of the Christians. John was first thrown into boiling oil but survived without injury and was then sent to Patmos to work as a slave in the island’s quarries. After Domitian’s death in 96, John was allowed to leave the island and returned to Ephesus. (Eusebius Church History, book III, chapters 18, 20).
  3. The fact that John wrote Revelation on the prison island of Patmos shows us that we should not be discouraged by every seeming setback. Perhaps God can use our time of loneliness or suffering for something we wouldn’t be able to do if we were busy with a lot of other things?

Rev 1:10

  1. “The day of the Lord” is a recurring biblical expression that means “the day when the Lord comes and sets everything right, judges the wicked and saves his people” and is also sometimes called “the day of judgment” or “the return of Jesus” (Joel 2:18-32, Mal 4:1-2, 1 Thess 5:2).
    1. The inner-biblical interpretation of this verse is that John saw in the Spirit into the “day of the Lord” of the end times, i.e. the day when Jesus comes back, sets everything right, judges the world and saves his people.
      1. The strongest argument for this interpretation is that this is precisely what Revelation is about and what the concept has meant throughout the Bible. If the meaning of the term has suddenly changed, it should be explained somewhere in the Bible text.
    1. The church-historical interpretation of this verse is that the term “day of the Lord” in Revelation means the day of Jesus’ resurrection, i.e. Sunday.
    1. This is the most common interpretation, but to me it seems far-fetched that a concept that has consistently throughout the Bible been about the Day of Judgment without explanation changes its meaning and suddenly becomes about Sunday. There is no argument in the Bible text itself that this would be the case.
    1. The Jews worshipped on the Sabbath, i.e. on Saturday, as did the first Christians, since most of them were Jews. However, as Judaism and Christianity became increasingly separated, Christians began to worship on Sunday (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2). Sunday was the first day of the week and the day of Jesus’ resurrection, and they wanted to start the new week by celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.
  2. John not only heard the voice of God or saw a vision, he also came “in the Spirit”. This means that in a very special way, God allowed John to see and experience the revelation that was written down. Peter (Acts 10:10) and Paul (Acts 22:17) also experienced something similar.
  3. The voice John hears belongs to Jesus Christ and is clear, strong and clear as a trumpet. In the same way, the word of God is clear, strong and distinct and should be proclaimed as such.

Rev 1:11

  1. If John had not been so clearly instructed to write down what he saw, he might have kept this revelation to himself. Probably John was so taken by what he saw that he did not think to write it down and pass it on.
  2. Since the number seven in the Bible symbolizes “completeness”, “totality”, “all”, etc., we understand that the messages given to these seven churches are not only addressed to them specifically, but also generally to all churches of all times. Therefore, if we recognize our own local congregation in any of these descriptions, then we would do well to also take note of the text’s exhortation, instruction and/or promise.

Rev 1:12

  1. The apostle John had walked with Jesus for three and a half years, knew him well, and had also seen the glory of Jesus (Mark 9:1-8). Perhaps John recognized Jesus’ voice and turned around to see his beloved friend again?
  2. The seven candlesticks that John sees are reminiscent of the seven-armed candlestick (also known as the menorah) that was in the Jerusalem temple (Exodus 25:31-37).
    1. Some argue that Israel’s seven-armed candlestick symbolizes Israel and its mission to be “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6).
    1. In verse 20 we see that the seven candlesticks symbolize the seven churches (i.e. all the churches of all time). Unlike Israel’s single candlestick, here we see seven candlesticks, which shows us that God is now building his church from all the peoples of the earth, not just one people.
  3. Just as a candlestick is meaningless without fire, but with fire can spread light and warmth, so the church is meaningless without God, but with the fire of the Holy Spirit can spread the joyful and warm message of Jesus Christ to the world.

Rev 1:13

  1. Amidst the candlesticks, John sees Jesus, described by the same title, “Son of Man”, that the prophet Daniel used for the Messiah (Dan 7:13-14).
    1. From our human perspective, it is natural to describe Jesus as the Son of God, since he is the one of the Trinity who came from heaven to us. But from God’s perspective, it is natural to describe Jesus as the Son of Man, since he is the one of the Trinity who was born as a human being.
    1. That Jesus is in the midst of the “candlesticks” means that Jesus is in the midst of the churches. Jesus is not distant or far away from any of us, but is close to all his congregations, always ready to exhort, help and guide.
  2. In the verses that follow, we find the only description of Jesus’ appearance found in the Bible. It is safe to say that it differs markedly from the image of Jesus that we are used to seeing in paintings and pictures. This is because when Jesus was on earth the first time, he was here as the suffering servant (Isa 52:13-53:12), but when he comes back the second time, he comes as the eternal King (Matt 24:30)!
  3. In biblical times, only those who could afford not to work wore a foot-long garment. Jesus thus appears as a person of power and wealth.
    1. The golden belt is reminiscent of the garment worn by the high priests of Israel (Ex 28:6-8, Ex 29:5, Ex 39:1-5). In Heb 9:11 we can see that Jesus is our high priest.
      1. One of the tasks of the priests of Israel was to take care of the seven-branched lampstand in the temple. They were to make sure that the flame was always burning, replenish it with oil when necessary, etc. (Numbers 4:16). In the same way, Jesus, our High Priest, takes care of the seven candlesticks (the congregations). By listening to and heeding the messages Jesus conveys to the seven assemblies, we can become more fervent, be filled with the Holy Spirit, etc.

Rev 1:14

  1. White hair was a sign of age and wisdom in biblical times, just as it is today (Leviticus 19:32, Proverbs 16:31). Jesus is the one who has always existed and who possesses all wisdom.
  2. That Jesus is white as snow and white as wool is a reminder to us of God’s words to Isaiah: “Though your sins be red as blood, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as scarlet, they shall be white as wool.” (Isa 1:18)
  3. Fire in the Bible is often symbolic of judgment, testing and purification because fire removes what is undesirable while retaining what is pure (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 1 Peter 1:7). The expression “eyes like flames of fire” implies that Jesus both sees what is going on in all the churches and is also the one who judges and evaluates the congregations.

Rev 1:15

  1. By melting various minerals and rocks at a sufficiently high temperature, valuable metals can be obtained while removing unnecessary slag products.
    1. By exhorting and guiding his congregations, Jesus purifies and refines us. When we obey Jesus’ words, we are sanctified and purified so that we become more like Jesus (Rom 8:29).
      1. But those who are not prepared to go through the fire of purification will find it difficult to be sanctified and to develop in their discipleship.
  2. Anyone who has ever stood by a mighty waterfall knows how deafening the sound is. As the water rushes down, it’s impossible to hear anything but the waterfall.
    1. In the same way, God’s word is deafening when it speaks to us directly into our hearts. In Heb 4:12 we read that: “The word of God is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Rev 1:16

  1. In verse 20 we see that the seven stars are the “angels” of the seven churches.
    1. The Greek word “angelos” means “messenger” or “emissary” and normally refers to an angel, but it can also refer to a local church pastor, since he is a “messenger” who preaches the word of God to the congregation.
  2. The sharp two-edged sword that goes out of Jesus’ mouth is the Word of God, the Bible (Ephesians 6:17).
    1. Anyone who reads the Bible with an open heart will occasionally discover that he has sin in his life. When you compare your life to Jesus, it is impossible not to realize that you are a sinner. But when this knowledge strikes, it is not because God wants to push us down and make us feel bad, but to use God’s word, the two-edged sword, to remove sin from our lives.
  3. It is as impossible to look straight into the sun as it is to see Jesus in all his glory (Matthew 17:2, Exodus 33:20).

Rev 1:17-18

  1. Even though John had walked with Jesus for three and a half years, the sight of the risen Jesus was more than John could bear, and he fell dead at Jesus’ feet.
    1. There is a big difference between the frail body we are all born with, and the resurrection body we will receive at Jesus’ return (1 Corinthians 15:35-58)!
  2. Anyone can get nervous about meeting a celebrity or an important person, but meeting Jesus is not like meeting just anyone. Jesus is God’s Holy One and the only possible reaction to standing before God is to fall to one’s knees.
    1. Jesus lays his hand on the terrified John and comforts him. Although the encounter with Jesus is grand and powerful, we need not be afraid of Jesus.
  3. Jesus is “the first and the last”, i.e. Jesus is eternal, has always existed and will always exist.
  4. Jesus is “the living one”, that is, even though he died on the cross, he rose from the dead and will never die again.
  5. Jesus has the “keys of death and hell” and no one who believes in Jesus need ever fear going there. Despite how it is often portrayed, the devil has no power whatsoever over hell or who will or will not go there. It is Jesus who holds the keys and he is the righteous judge (John 5:22, John 8:16).

Rev 1:19

  1. Jesus tells John to write down the past, present and future. The book of Revelation addresses both the local situation of the seven churches at that time, 2000 years ago, but is also a message to all Christians of all times.
  2. The book of Revelation is not a collection of fluffy symbolic events with no basis in reality, but a prophetic account of what will actually happen. Even if we don’t always fully understand Revelation, we can still trust that what it says will happen, because Jesus is the trustworthy witness (Rev 1:5).

Rev 1:20

  1. You almost get the feeling that Jesus is helping John a little when he explains what the seven stars and the seven candlesticks symbolize.
    1. Thanks to this interpretive aid, we understand that we should not necessarily interpret the rest of Revelation literally, but rather try to understand what the different images symbolize.
  2. The Greek word “angelos” means “messenger” or “emissary” and normally refers to an angel, but it can also refer to a local church pastor, since he is a “messenger” who preaches the word of God to the congregation.
    1. Most likely, in my opinion, it is the pastor of the congregation who is being referred to. He is the leader of the congregation and also the one who receives the letter from John and also the one who reads the letter to his congregation.
  3. The seven candlesticks symbolize the seven assemblies, that is, all the assemblies of all time (see commentary on verse 12).
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