The Glorious Christ Who Abides with Us (vv. 13-16)
Historical Savior – Daniel’s Son of Man
When John turned to look at the voice, he saw “one like unto the Son of man” standing in the midst of the lampstands. The name emphasizes his true humanity, his likeness to us. The greatest mystery is “the Word became flesh.” Nothing discovered in the depths of the heavens or earth, or in corners of man’s imagination compares to the wonder that the eternal Son of God would assume our nature in order to redeem us. “Son of Man” emphasizes that the Son of God was truly incarnate, truly died for our sins on the cross, rose again in flesh and blood, and in our nature ascended to the right hand of the Father. All our strength, hope, and life are in this “Son of Man,” which was our Lord’s favorite title for himself. He is the eternal Son of God; he is the historical, incarnate Son of Man. He is now “exalted, extolled, and very high,” reigning in our nature over all things (Ps. 8:4-5; Heb. 2:9). We have at the Father’s right hand a merciful and sympathetic high priest (Heb. 4:14-16). He knows the temptations we face, the evil one who stalks us, the trials of our soul, and the glory that awaits us.
What first century believers needed, what we need, is clearer views, trusting views of Jesus Christ the exalted one. With him before us, we can overcome the dragon and the beast, the devil and our sins. We must understand the person and work of Jesus Christ and his living, saving presence in his church. All compromises with sin, with the world, with fear and despair may be traced back ultimately to a failure to reckon with the glorious Savior who walks in the lampstands. To have low or unclear views of him or to neglect him by worldly thinking and living is the reason so many in the church are weak and half-asleep. Nothing the world can do to dishonor God compares to the dishonor his professing friends do to their living Savior by failing to adore and worship him. There is a call in “Son of Man” to have much greater reverence for Jesus Christ, as well as a much deeper sense of our strength and life in him. He cannot be overcome. He is exalted. Nothing can separate us from him or overcome us, if we abide in him.
Christ’s Royal Priesthood
So how should we think of the Christ who walks in the midst of the golden lampstands? Vague ideas about the Lord Jesus Christ do not lead to adoration, worship, self-denial, and trust. The image of a long robe and golden belt or girdle about his chest indicates royalty and priesthood. As king, he rules over all, and as priest he is our advocate at the Father’s right hand. Without his ruling over all for our sake, we are easily discouraged by personal circumstances and world events. Without his priestly intercession, every sin would overthrow our faith and sideline us from the battlefield. Instead, his reign calms our hearts and his advocacy secures our forgiveness, peace, and access (Rom. 5:2; Eph. 2:18).
Christ’s Wisdom and Omniscience
How is he worthy to do this? His white hair perhaps stresses his eternity and wisdom. His flaming eyes likely point to his knowledge of our hearts, lives, and struggles. He knows the heart of his church, her sins and strengths, her fears and her enemies. He is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). Is this the way we view and relate to the Savior in our midst? A decision must be made. Do we turn to the Lord Jesus and wait upon his guidance? Prayerfully study his word? A temptation assaults us – he knows our hearts – heaven is opened – do we pray without ceasing for deliverance and protection? The world persecutes – we know the One who rules over all things for the sake of the church (Eph. 1:20-22). Do we pray like this? Keep drawing near to the Father and “giving him no rest” for the sake of his Son’s glorious kingdom? The Son of Man in our midst does not mean instant victory or problem-free living. Yet, we have a living, present Captain with us, who directs the whole battlefield, knows us, and will help us.
Christ’s Might, Voice, Powerful Hand, and Blinding Glory
Though the ground under our feet constantly shifts, our Savior walks sure-footed through history. His heated, brass feet indicate strength and stability – that his grace is sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:9-10). We never fight his battles without his help. As he “marches and makes war” (Rev. 19:11-15), his feet pulverize his enemies – although never in the way we anticipate. He often pulverizes unto salvation! He is “meek and lowly in heart” to all that look to him for grace and mercy, and he is a roaring lion who tears down his enemies. His voice adds to the picture of his strength. “Flowing waters” are loud, strong, landscape changing, refreshing, and life-giving. This is the word of our Lord. He is strong and stable, unlike the clay and iron feet of the Roman Empire (Dan. 2:43). His voice calls the dead from their tombs (John 5:25).
He holds seven stars in his right hand, further emphasizing his sovereignty. He holds the heavens in his hand, for “all authority in heaven and earth belongs to him” (Matt. 28:18-20). Out of his mouth goes a sharp, two-edged sword (Isa. 49:2). His word heals sinners and afflicts his enemies; his word kills and it makes alive (2 Cor. 2:16). The exalted Son of Man reigns as he lived – by every word that comes from his Father’s mouth. It is a picture of total sovereignty, the church’s total safety in his hands, and the gospel’s total victory over men and nations. He is so high and luminous that to gaze upon him is to look at the sun shining in its full strength. I would not try to parse the picture too strictly; it is like trying to pull apart a rainbow or a sunbeam while standing in the eye of a hurricane.
The Glory of Christ in the Lampstands
Jesus Christ is the same as he was in that hour when he gave John this vision. When by faith we see him as he thus is, fear flees away. We do not want to be worldly but godly, when we see the glorious Christ in the lampstands. As we know Jesus more, sin will not be so attractive to us. Young believers will overcome our culture’s lie of living for lust and games and self. Young woman married to such a Savior will dress modestly or crave not the approval of men but of the glorious Son of Man. Denominations that knows Jesus like this will hold fast to sound doctrine and fight off howling wolves. And this is exactly the reason John was given this vision to give to us. So that we would know Jesus like this. His voice – his word like a rushing river washes away our fears and instill us with fresh courage. His eyes – Lord, pierce us, search and know us, and rid us of the idols that interfere with serving you. The hair – guide me by your wisdom. The sword in your mouth – help us to use the word as you did against Satan, to trust the Word of God, that it is invincible, that since Satan cannot resist it, none of his slaves can resist it. Ask the Lord Jesus to give you a true view of who he is. Ask him to imprint this picture upon your heart. Ask him to show you his glory. It will change your life, drive away your fears, settle your faith, instill you with courage, encourage obedience, empower faithfulness, discourage time wasting, and give you victory.
Christ’s Tender, Fear-Quenching Presence (v. 17)
John Struck Dead with Wonder but Touched by Christ’s Right Hand
John lived with Jesus for three years. Seeking him now in his glory, John fell down at his feet like a dead man. This is the usual response of men before the glory of God and Christ – humbled, overwhelmed, amazed, knocked to the ground. Earth fades, heaven rises when we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The more we see by faith, the more wonder and awe we shall have before Jesus Christ. The threats of men will ring hollow, seem laughable, when we “see the heavens open and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). You see, this was a vision John saw, but it was a true vision, vision of reality, the reality of Christ’s glory. Stephen was in no visionary state, and he saw the same Christ. Seeing Jesus Christ, he embraced the stoning so that he might fly to Jesus Christ. How could the Lord Jesus touch John with the same right hand in which he held the seven stars? We are not to press the particulars too hard or make every detail mesh with every other detail. This will get us into interpretive pickles that miss the main point.
It Is I; Be Not Afraid
With the old familiarity, the old tenderness, Jesus said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” You know me, John. You did not know me fully, for I had not yet entered my glory and kingdom. I am the “first and last.” I am the center of history, of redemption, of the universe. Everything originated with me; all will be consummated by me. In all things I will be preeminent. This is the way we leave the fear behind – when we see Christ’s glory. Here is the way we starve anxiety so that hope and health return – when we hear his “fear not.” Our Lord Jesus is the great fear killer. He calms the storms, rules the universe, and is near in tender love. He is the first and last. This is his story we are living, his plan and purpose, his glory and kingdom. But it does not look like we thought it would – is that surprising? We are too influenced by the city of man and its attempts to build an earthly kingdom. We know little of the fearlessness that receives a stoning with patience and mercy, seeing that our death for Christ is actually our departing to him and to everlasting joy with him. Think more on the glory of Christ, and be less moved by man’s threats, less fearful in the valley of the shadow of death. Christ is with us.
Christ’s Dominion, Commission, and Illumination (vv. 18-20)
Alive Forevermore, with Keys of Death and Hell
John also needed to be confronted with Jesus Christ as the life in ways he could not be previously. Yes, the Lord was dead – truly dead. The Son of Man died for our sins. He is now alive, the living One in an absolute sense. He exhausted death’s power because he paid death’s wages. As the Son of Man, the appointed mediator, he conquered death by his obedience unto death. He killed death. He now has the keys of death and the hell. “Hell” here is synonymous with the “place of the dead,” or the grave. Later “death and hell” will be cast into the lake of fire. The idea is that Jesus is the key-holder of everything associated with death, the grave, and hell. He is their owner – not Satan. The more clearly we see who owns death and the grave, heaven and hell, the less fear we will have of death. At the same time, the more holy reverence we will have of the One before whom we shall soon stand. Jesus Christ determines our eternal destiny. Wicked men ridicule this article of our faith, but all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10). They must stand before the key-holder. In Jesus Christ’s universe, which ours is, no one gets away with anything. No one gets away from him.
Write – Present and Future
Our Lord commissions John to write what he has seen – things that presently exist and are occurring, as in the letters to the seven churches and many other portions of the book. Other aspects are yet future. However attractive is the idea to see in this a general outline for Revelation, the things past and future are interwoven. The main point of this commission is better than if it were the outline. It is Jesus Christ’s declaration that his word defines and controls present and future. The reason our Lord directs John to write is so that the church would see his glory and sovereignty in history. The best way to walk in time is to walk in faith under the Lord and Savior whose words define reality, slay the dragon, and preserve his church in the middle of her warfare.
The First Mystery Revealed: Seven Stars and Seven Lampstands
A “mystery” in the Bible is a truth the Lord must reveal. Sometimes the “explanation” of a sign or vision opens the door to further investigation rather than giving a propositional “this is what the sign means.” Here, we are told that the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Thus, they represent these specific churches and likely the whole Church, as “seven” often symbolizes completeness. The seven stars in Jesus’ right hand are the seven angels of the seven churches. An angel is a messenger, and there is precedent for a human messenger to be called an angel (Mal. 3:1; Matt. 11:10). Angels are associated with heavenly glory and government, which I think a likely background for the image of the “seven angels of the seven churches.” The exalted Son of Man holds the government of the church in his hand, in his exalted hand, in the hand that is now in heaven. Thus, the church is not only indwelled by his glorious presence, but she is held in his invincible grip. And as the human teachers and pastors are the local servants of Christ’s government, then the reference might be secondarily to them.
By telling us what the symbols mean, the Lord would not remove our wonder. The purpose of the vision is for us to see the glory of Jesus Christ. His glory can be described, but the use of symbols is intended to lift our thoughts higher, to his person. His wisdom and power are intended to awaken our worship and our faith. When his voice and words are described as rushing water and a sword, we receive impressions of force and piercing power. We can speak of these things and describe them, and the stock of Bible symbols is used to that end. We must also feel their force in our soul; feel his force in our soul. He is the living, exalted Son of Man. He walks in our midst. He holds us in his hand. Everything else that is revealed depends upon this reality – suffering and hardship, holding fast to the end, joy in sorrow – all because the Lord Jesus holds us in his hand. He will never leave us or forsake us.