The first thing to notice about John’s vision is Christ’s location. He is “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (Rev. 1:13). The lampstands are the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:20). Christ is present with His church! He is not an absentee king, ruler, head, or prophet, but He fulfills all of these functions within the context of His churches. This is not an isolated theme in the NT but is repeated for the encouragement of the people of God. In commissioning His church to make disciples, Christ promises “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). In Acts 1:1, Luke highlights that his previous book (the gospel) was a record of “all that Jesus began both to do and teach.” The implication is obvious: Acts is a record of all that Jesus continues to do and teach in His church.
When John reports Christ’s location, we 21st century readers are not to miss the significance. It is especially encouraging when we consider the makeup of the churches addressed in Rev. 2-3. Not only does Christ not de-church some of those less-than-perfect churches in Asia Minor, He is actually found among them! This should encourage us to come to church in order to meet with Christ. Secondly, we ought to see the centrality of the church in God’s redemptive plan. And thirdly, we must recognize that Jesus really is the ruler over all things and that He has a special concern for His body.
The description of Christ given in Rev. 1:13-16 is symbolic. When we compare Dan. 10:5-6, we note several things. Firstly, Daniel’s messenger had His “golden band” around His waist, whereas Jesus here has His about the chest (Rev. 1:13). Secondly, the “voice” in Daniel was like a multitude; here it is compared with the sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15). Thirdly, the “countenance” in Daniel had the appearance of “lightning” but here it is “like the sun shining in its strength” (Rev. 1:16). Absent in Daniel are references to “white head and hair” (Rev. 1:14), a sword coming from His mouth (Rev. 1:16), and “seven stars” in His right hand (Rev. 1:16). What do we make of this description? Steve Gregg writes, “The general character of the vision is one of the glory of Christ, the shining face being reminiscent of that which John had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2). According to the various expositors, the golden band worn across the chest is an emblem of high rank in the ancient world, and the long, linen garment is probably priestly. White hair is the emblem of age and honor – and possibly wisdom. The flaming eyes convey the idea of piercing vision, and the feet like fine brass suggest the irresistibility of His judgment as He will later tread the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:19).” So, we have a glory-filled Christ who possesses the highest rank who is also a priest and who is from everlasting and who is the embodiment of wisdom and who is sovereign and who will execute judgment upon His enemies – hallelujah, what a Savior!
It is important to recognize the weapon employed by Christ: “out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 1:16). He rules and reigns and saves and damns by His word. This is not surprising for students of the Bible (compare Is. 11:1, Hos 6:5, and Heb. 4:12 for illustrations). In Revelation, Jesus calls the church in Pergamos to repentance and threatens His coming to them and fighting against them “with the sword of My mouth” (Rev. 2:16) if they continue impenitently. And of course, the Rider on the white horse of Revelation 19 makes war with the sword that proceeds from His mouth (Rev. 19:15, 21). Is there not a present temptation to de-value the weapon of Christ’s warfare? We need to give heed to John’s description: Jesus reigns now and wields almighty power now and that power is wielded through His word and Spirit.
John is not novel. He is very Old-Testamentish, not only in the way he writes, but in the way he responds to God. In Rev. 1:17, he says “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” John differs from those in our generation who have claimed to see Jesus but were not moved to tremble. John is just like Ezekiel, “So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking” (Ez. 1:28). John is like Daniel, “Therefore I was left alone when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength” (Dan. 10:8). John is like Isaiah who was ushered into the throne room to behold the glory of the pre-incarnate Christ and his response was “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Is. 6:5). Whenever sinful man is given a view of the holiness of God, humility is the biblical response.
Christ’s response to John is also typical of the God who is seen. Jesus laid His right hand on John and said “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:17b-18). Is this not the Lord’s way in dealing with His servants? He comforts and equips them for service. His holiness humbles them; His mercy enables them. He comforts John with a declaration of His eternality. He comforts John with a declaration of His death and resurrection. He comforts John with a declaration of His absolute authority over all things, including Hades and Death.