Pastor Scott Andrews | May 15, 2022
When you think of Jesus, who or what do you see – what do you imagine? From the beginning of church history, images have been painted depicting some idea of Jesus. Of course, those paintings, especially from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, have come under much understandable criticism, with their blond-haired, blue-eyed, European-looking Jesus. Some of the most popular paintings are:
- This one of the Lord’s Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
- This one by Rembrandt, notice, without the blond hair
- This one of the Transfiguration by Rafael
One of the most popular, more recent paintings is this by Warner Sallman, painted in 1940. It was famous, I can remember this hung somewhere in our house as a kid. Well, our depictions have recently progressed from paintings to film. But then comes the challenge of selecting the actor to play Jesus – are there a lot of guys who answer the casting call to play that part? What did He look like, how did He act? Some of the recent and most popular Jesuses come from:
The Jesus Film – released in 1979 and probably the most popular, it has been translated in over 1800 languages, and counting, and viewed by an estimated 3 billion people. It’s proven to be a wonderful evangelistic tool. The movie is based on the Gospel of Luke and Jesus was played by Brian Deacon – who was thirty when he played the part.
In the movie, Son of God, the story is told, interestingly, by the Apostle John while in exile. It was released in 2014 with Jesus played by Diogo Morgado – I have to say, that is one, good-looking Jesus.
Of course, many of us are familiar with The Passion of the Christ, released in 2004. The movie focuses on the gruesome suffering of Jesus during the end of Passion Week, to include a lengthy, violent, bloody depiction of His crucifixion. Jesus was played by Jim Caviezel.
Finally, and most recently, comes the series called The Chosen. It’s a multi-year project, with the first season released in 2017, and Jesus is played by Jonathan Roumie. It’s interesting, he’s 47 – a bit old for the part.
Of course, there are many other movies and series – too many to mention – which depict the life of Christ. One thing I want you to notice is what Jesus looks like – as well as how He acts. Most of these actors chosen to play the part would not fit the description of Jesus in Isaiah 53, which says, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” Sorry guys, most of you don’t fit the part.
But hey, who wants a less-than-attractive Jesus on the big screen, right? Who would pay to see Wallace Shawn as Jesus – even though he is Jewish? But, he’s also an atheist. And further, how did Jesus act – that is, what was His personality like? The only self-description Jesus gave in the gospels is Matthew 11, I am gentle and humble. Is that the way you see Jesus?
Some things can be deduced from the NT, and many of those aforementioned actors do a pretty good job. It’s interesting to note – one movie on the life of Jesus based on the Gospel of Matthew shows Jesus smiling and laughing a lot – I called Him the laughing Jesus. And yet, not once in the NT is it recorded Jesus ever laughed – even smiled. I’m not suggesting He didn’t – of course He did – but He is called a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen – Jesus does.
So again, when you see Jesus, what do you see? We are not told in the Gospels what He looked like, physically – long flowing hair, well-manicured beard, dressed in a white robe with a blue sash, Birkenstocks, because Chocos won’t work. We don’t know, so what do you see?
We are in a study of the book of Revelation, which surprisingly, does give a rather detailed description of Jesus, but in highly symbolic, image-driven language. Meaning, it’s not what we see, per se, but what is represented by what is seen. So, it probably won’t help your paintings. In fact, if you try to paint this description, it will look weird. Some have tried – here you go. Only that’s missing some things from the description, how about this one? What?
So, I would suggest some things about this picture as we get to it today. First, it’s unhelpful to try to break it apart and analyze the description too deeply – one author suggests it would be like trying to unravel the rainbow. Meaning, second, the description is meant to be seen together, and overwhelm us with the exalted, glorious character of Christ. So perhaps the mental image you have is lacking.
Now, this image, these symbols do mean something. Which means we do learn some important things about who He is and how He acts. And in His exalted state, it’s a little different than the humble Jesus – gentle and lowly – we see on film. Finally, as we’ve seen in our study, this book was written to struggling, suffering believers, meant to encourage them. This exalted description, I believe, will do just that, even for us today. So, let’s read our text – hold onto your hats – Revelation 1:9-20.
Wow – there is a lot there, so let’s get right to it. This is the first vision John sees and records for us – most rightly suggesting it actually goes through chapter 3 since Jesus tells John in this vision what to write to each of the seven churches. Here’s the outline of the text:
- The Commission of John (9-11)
- The Vision of Jesus (12-16)
- [Which requires a] The Recommission of John (17-20)
In those first three verses, John is commissioned, by Jesus we’ll find, to write the book of Revelation – that’s what He says in verse 19. Which means the book carries divine authority. I said when we started the book, while we don’t want to be prophecy mongers engrossed only with this book – neither do we want to ignore it because of its difficult content.
We saw that in verse 1 – it is the revelation of Jesus Christ, from God the Father to the Son to an angel, to John. Now, it’s interesting to note the commission is much that same as that of Isaiah and Ezekiel, who also had visions, with much the same response. What that communicates is that John is a prophet in much the same way as Isaiah and Ezekiel – again with visions of God, and instructions to proclaim what they see and hear.
Now, we learn a little about John and his circumstances when he wrote. He begins, don’t miss it, by identifying with his readers. He’s going to have much to say to struggling believers, and he wants them to know, I’m with you, I’m not writing from an ivory palace, I understand – I’ve been there, done that. Look at what he says, I, John – now, you’d expect him to say something like, an apostle of Jesus Christ. But the authority of this book comes not necessarily from his apostleship, but from its ultimate source. Yes, that’s true of every book – every book of the Bible has God through the Holy Spirit as its ultimate source. But John has made clear – this came from the Father through Jesus and an angel to him. And I was told to write. He simply records what he hears and sees.
So it’s not I, John the apostle, but I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus. By the way, just an aside – that should be true of any preacher or teacher or pastor. It’s not, I Scott, the pastor, say… It should be I, Scott, your brother – sharing what I have seen and heard. My authority comes not from my position, but from the Word of God.
So, John first says, I’m a brother with you. I know, we’re used to that word. But from the earliest days of the church, they saw themselves as family – as brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s who we are, people. I tell kids that I meet with to talk about baptism – when you come up out of the water, the people will clap and cheer – why? Because you are declaring that you are a believer in Jesus like they are – and when they clap, they are saying, way to go, little brother, little sister – we’re with you – welcome to the family. Is that the way we feel about one another – family? Blood is thicker than water, which means family ties are tighter than any other. Yes, and His blood which binds us is thicker than any other. It matters not if we share the same physical blood – we share the blood of Christ.
But he also says I am a fellow partaker with you in three things. Now, the word for fellow partaker is the word koinonia, which we typically translate fellowship. That word is defined as a sharing in something – a bond of life that unites us. And John lists three things we share, three bonds of life that unite us: tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance. And that’s intentional – they go together, with kingdom in the middle. I would point out that being partakers together of the kingdom, is what Jesus made us through His death – verse 6. He has made us a kingdom – we are part of the kingdom of God by nature of being freed from our sins. Yes, we are saved individually, sins washed personally, but we are saved into a community – a family. We are now subjects of the kingdom, part of the family as brothers and sisters in Christ.
And since we are part of His kingdom, which is in opposition to the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Satan, we’ll find later, we will suffer tribulation. Do you see how that goes together? He’s not talking about suffering because we live in a broken world where we get flat tires and sickness and natural disasters – even unbelievers get those. No, he’s talking about tribulation by opposition because we are part of God’s kingdom. We will be opposed. And John will illustrate that by identification at the end of the verse. Tribulation is why I am where I am – because I’m part of the kingdom. Which thirdly, then, requires perseverance. That’s one of the primary purposes of this book – to encourage faithfulness, perseverance in the face of tribulation because we are the kingdom, with Jesus as our King. We give unflinching allegiance to Jesus and refuse to give give to another – only to King Jesus.
I am a fellow partaker of kingdom-caused tribulation and kingdom-caused perseverance with you. And they are ours in Jesus. Because of Jesus, we get it all – it’s a package deal.
I was on the island of Patmos – an island in the Aegean Sea about 37 miles to the southwest of Miletus. It was a small, rocky island only ten miles by six miles. There was a small settlement there – some suggest it was a penal colony. Notice, John says, I was there because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus – he said those phrases back in verse 2 – referring to the book of Revelation. But before that, his proclamation of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus cost him.
Some early church fathers tell us he was on exiled to this island because he proclaimed the word of God regarding the testimony of Jesus – the gospel of Jesus. Interesting – he was exiled because he proclaimed the word of God as it relates to the singular necessity of Jesus and His gospel, and it cost him. We will find persecution had begun against Christians because of their sole allegiance to Jesus. Aren’t we seeing that today? Because of their rejection of false gods. Because they refused to worship the emperor, because they refused to participate in pagan worship and the pagan festivals of the empire. They refused to engage in immorality. They wouldn’t love the world and all it offers. It cost John, and it will cost us.
He says further in verse 10, I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. This is the only time that term is used in the Bible, and most agree that was Sunday, the first day of the week. It became special to Christians because of the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday, and became known as the Lord’s Day. We read the church broke bread, probably communion, and took offerings, on the first day of the week. Some still call Sunday by that name today. It should be noted the Lord’s Day is the first day of the week – not the seventh day – that is, not the sabbath. You see, as the church began among the Jews, they still gathered in the synagogues on the sabbath to share the truth of the Messiah – but they would gather as Christians on the first day of the week – the Lord’s Day. This has been the practice since the inception of the church. To gather on the Lord’s Day.
I love what Michael says at our Weekender – the church is God’s idea. It’s not like we got together and said, let’s see, what can we do to get a bunch of people together – I know, how about every Sunday morning – a prime of their weekend. No – it was God’s idea – it was the Lord’s Day the church gathered in community to worship, to grow, to serve.
But notice he says he was in the Spirit. Lots of discussion about that. Was he in a Spirit-powered trance and thereby in a suitable state for prophecy and a vision; was he in a special spiritual ecstatic place; was he specially filled with Spirit in worship on the Lord’s Day? I don’t know for sure, although I opt for the first or the last. It was a special day, and he was filled with and controlled by the Spirit. I must tell you, many days over the past few weeks, I have prayed to be in such a place in such a state – filled with, especially controlled by the Spirit so as to be able to hear from the Lord through His Word. I’m not asking for extra revelation, but that I would be in special communion with God, in a place to clearly hear His Word.
While in that state, John heard a loud voice behind him – like the sound of a trumpet. The trumpet in Scripture often signals or announces something important – and will in the future when we hear the trumpet call of God when Jesus comes back in the clouds.
The voice said, write in a book what you see – that’s interesting, John will write both what he sees and what he hears – write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches. These are the seven churches of Asia Minor. They appear in order like a circuitous route you would follow while delivering a letter. Going clockwise, from Ephesus to Smyrna to Pergamum to Thyatira to Sardis to Philadelphia and to lastly to Laodicea. Why were these cities chosen by Jesus? Probably for several reasons: they might have been postal centers from which this work would spread out; they were specifically committed to emperor worship which John will address; and further, they had specific things they needed to hear from Jesus.
But please note, write a book and send it to the seven churches. All seven would get this same book, to include the specific address to each of the churches. Which is why later we will read, He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches – plural. So, these letters, while addressing specific needs in specific churches are actually for all churches throughout time and place. We noted that’s likely why there were seven addressed – it speaks of the totality of the Christian church.
Which brings us to our second point – the Vision or the Description of Jesus in verses 12-16. Now, as I suggested earlier, we aren’t going to get bogged down in the specifics of the description. Yes, we’ll try to see what they meant, but we want to see the whole together – hopefully, to be overwhelmed like John was. Maybe to mess with our mental image of Jesus.
Having heard the voice, John turned to see the voice speaking to him. The first thing he saw was seven golden lampstands. This isn’t a minora – the Jewish candlestick with seven spouts – these were seven separate lampstands. Verse 20 tells us they are the churches, which speaks of our responsibility to be light to the world as faithful witnesses. We’ll come back to that.
And in the middle of the lampstands – that is, the churches – I saw one like a son of man. We saw that last week, clearly a reference to Daniel 7:13 which speaks of one like a son of man who was presented to the Ancient of Days sitting on His throne. We noted that was a reference to the Messiah, and it was also Jesus’ favorite self-designation – He called Himself the Son of Man more than anyone else. Why son of man? Well, first it was clearly a declaration of deity, because to the Son of Man was given glory and an eternal dominion – an eternal kingdom. This is, of course, in fulfillment of the promise to David that his descendent would sit on the throne forever. As the son Mary in the line of David, Jesus the Christ, the God-man, the Divine Son of Man, would sit on the throne, at His Father’s right hand, with infinite glory and eternal dominion. Some suggest son of man also speaks to His humanity. That’s fine.
Now, what did this son of man look like? Not like any of the Jesuses you’ve seen on the screen. In fact, probably not like any Jesus you’ve imagined. But this is image-driven, apocalyptic language. Now, there are many similarities between this description and one of an angel in Daniel 10. Remember, John has lots of allusions to the OT, especially the book of Daniel. Now, while it was an angel in Daniel 10, and the Son of God here, they both speak of heavenly, other-worldly existence. So, look at it with me:
First, He is clothed in a robe reaching to the feet and girded across His chest with a golden sash. There are two possible allusions here, and scholars are divided. Some suggest this refers to the robe of the high priest since six of the seven times a long robe is referred to in the OT, it refers to the robe of the high priest. This would fit well because of the book’s high Christology – and right here in chapter 1, we see Christ as prophet, priest, and king.
Others suggest the robe is likely referring to Daniel 10:5, which speaks of the angel wearing fine linen with a golden belt. So, they suggest, this first description depicts Christ as an exalted, dignified person. The common laborer would wear a belt around his waist to tuck in his tunic while working; the person of higher rank like dignitaries or rulers wore sashes or belts around the chest, indicating high rank. It’s not much of a fashion statement today, but then it was. Neither idea does damage to the person of Christ or this picture – you decide. Either referring to Christ’s high priestly office or His high exalted position – both work.
The next one, however, clearly refers to the deity of this person – His head and His hair were white like white wool – John repeats it for emphasis – like snow. This is a reference again to Daniel 7, where the Ancient of Days took His throne, and His clothing was like white snow and His hair like pure wool. Back then, white or gray hair was a symbol of dignity, wisdom and age – it should be today, too, yet many dye their hair to cover it up because of the way we disregard, even disrespect age in our youth-driven culture.
But it was a symbol of wisdom and dignity. What is incredibly important to notice is John applies an OT description of God to Jesus. And by the way, he does it over and over through the book – the Alpha and Omega in chapter 1 referring to God is applied to Jesus in chapter 22. Again, high Christology. How can he give the descriptions of God the Father to Jesus? Because Jesus is God the Son.
Of course, this white clothing of the Ancient of Days is also a reference to the transfiguration when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. Remember, at this sight and the voice that came from heaven, this is My beloved Son, Peter, James and John fell face down to the ground and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying “Get up, and do not be afraid.” You see, when presented with such a sight, they fell down in fear. That’ll mess with your mental image of Jesus.
Back to our text: Jesus eyes became like a flame of fire. Don’t miss the number of times John writes, He was like a son of man, His hair was white like wool, like snow, His eyes were like a flame of fire. This is symbolic language. Blazing eyes refers to His penetrating, divine insight – and His ability to discern and judge rightly. Now don’t miss that, because His blazing eyes will appear again in the letter to Thyatira, as He deals with and judges the cult led by Jezebel. In fact, we’re going to see in the letters to the seven churches that His penetrating gaze is used to evaluate the condition of the churches. He sees the condition of this church, and your heart.
Next, verse 15, His feet were like burnished bronze made to glow in a furnace – this is the only place the word burnished bronze appears anywhere, although a similar description appears of the angel in Daniel 10, “his arms and his feet like the gleam of polished bronze.” Then in Ezekiel 1, we see the living beings had feet like “burnished bronze.” Most agree taken all together, it refers to the glory, stability and purity of Christ – of His ability to judge by stamping out in divine justice all falsehoods and impurities and evil. His readers were facing evil – but Jesus will take care of it.
I hope you’re seeing a little different picture than one we see in the gospels in His humanity and first coming. And what we see in our mind’s eye. He is right now ruler and judge; penetrating, divine, awesome God of the universe.
Next, we see His voice was like the sound of many waters. This fits yet another OT allusion to God – Yahweh – to show Christ is glorious, divine and powerful. In Ezekiel 1, the four living creatures’ wings are like the roar of abundant waters, like the voice of the Almighty. Later, in Ezekiel 43, we read God’s voice was like sound of many waters. The point is, once again, Jesus is described like God – this time with a powerful, awesome, commanding voice, like rushing waters.
Next we see Jesus held seven stars in His right hand. The right hand throughout Scripture symbolizes power and authority. We see in verse 20 the stars are the angels of the seven churches. I’ll come back to that. The point here is, while Jesus is in the midst of the churches, here we see He sovereignly holds the churches in His powerful hand.
Yes, this entire detailed picture is resounding with power and authority. Because next we see He has a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth. This is not the short Roman sword used in battle, but the broadsword used like a scythe for harvest and judgment. Don’t miss that – this is the image Jesus portrays for John that He wants the churches to know. Yes, He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords, Revelation19 says, with a sharp sword coming from His mouth to strike down nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. Power, authority, judgment through His Word.
Lastly, His face was like the sun, shining its strength. Again, we are reminded of the Transfiguration, when His face shone like the sun. Interestingly, such description is applied to God in the OT where He is called a sun and a shield. Later, we will learn there is no need of the sun or a lamp in the new heaven and the new earth, because the Lord will be their lamp. The picture is that of overwhelming, visible glory.
Which brings us quickly to our last point and conclusion – the need a recommission of John, because in verse 17, when he sees this image of Jesus, he falls at His feet like a dead man. We see that happen over and over in the OT – people coming into the presence of God and falling prostrate. Does your mental image of Jesus include such a glorious God that you fall prostrate before Him – in fear? When Joshua came face to face with the angel of the Lord, he fell on his face to the earth. When Isaiah saw God, he cried out woe is me, for I am ruined, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. When Ezekiel received his vision, we read, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face…” We’ve already seen that when faced with the glory of the Son in His brilliance on the mount, Peter, James and John fell down in fear.
I believe a view of the glory of God causes His creatures to fall to their faces in worship. We’ll see that in Revelation 4 and 5. Is this your response when you think of seeing God? When you think of Jesus, what do you see?
We’re out of time – I’ll comment on the rest of the verses next week. But notice the end of verse 17 – He placed His right hand on me – that right hand of power and authority – and said, do not be afraid. You see, this is the only sensible response when coming face to face with God. There will be other times John falls down before angelic beings, and they’ll tell him, don’t bow to me – worship God. Whatever your mind’s eye sees when you see Jesus, it should be a picture of awesome glory that drives to your knees. But then, He will reach out His right hand of awesome power and authority and grace and comfort, and touch you, and say, do not be afraid. What do you see when you see Jesus?