Revelation – The Introductory Vision
The introductory vision is the first scene in the great prophetic drama of Jesus Christ and is found in Revelation 1:9-20. This vision is introductory not only to the messages of Christ to the seven churches but also the entire book. All its following visions depend for their significance upon what these letters disclose. They give a picture of the Universal Church, with the trials and triumphs of which the rest of the book is concerned. . . . It is for this reason that the letters are preceded and the whole book is opened by an introductory vision in which Christ is pictured as abiding in the midst of the Church.
The Revelation is the last installment of God’s love letter to man. It is the final revelation, which crowns the Scriptures with a crown of glory and seals divine inspiration with the seal of the living God. Not only is the Revelation one of the most brilliant gems among the sacred writings, it is the crown jewel.
The Revelation completes and crowns the biblical canon; and it is also the summary of the entire Bible. Almost everything in the Apocalypse can be traced to some other part of the Bible. Of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, twenty-six are directly quoted from in the Revelation, and of the four hundred and four verses in this last book, two hundred and seventy-eight are either quoted from or colored by Old Testament passages.
Christ was the Man of prayer.
He was praying when the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove and the voice of the Father claimed Him as His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. He was also in prayer when He was transfigured with heavenly glory. John was in prayer when he was given the wonderful visions of the Apocalypse. The book of Revelation was not given without prayer; nor without prayer can it be appreciated and understood.
It is the only book of the New Testament that bears the name of Jesus Christ as its author. It is prefaced with Seven Epistles addressed to seven of the many churches of Asia Minor. Consider that seven times the command is repeated to hear the instruction contained therein, and yet no other portion of the Bible receives so little study. Although they are of equal importance with the other epistles of the New Testament, they have not received a tithe of the attention.
Hundreds of books have been written on the discourses of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, whereas there are scarcely tens devoted to His seven epistles, even though they were written under His direct dictation, and their truths attested to by His own signature. Every Christian is urged by a sevenfold admonition to hear and give serious consideration to the revelations they contain, for in each letter Jesus warns of His use of judgments to discipline rebellion. Thankfully, judgments constitute the Lord’s last resort in attempting to turn men from sin to righteousness; such is His love for mankind. Isaiah 26:9.
Before proceeding to write what had been shown him in vision, John reveals the circumstances under which the Apocalypse was given him. He was sharing with Christians everywhere the baptism of blood that was their lot under the bitter persecutions of Domitian. He reminded the members of the seven churches that he was a partner with them in their afflictions. John also tells his brethren that Christ is also identified with them in their tribulations.
Patience as used here has the meaning of endurance or steadfast endurance. Christ’s followers were entering into the “fellowship of His sufferings.” We are told that “tribulation worketh patience” and produces perfection, and that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” The remnant of the church will pass through “great tribulation” just before they enter the kingdom of glory. Matthew 24:21.
Through the pagan Roman persecutions Satan attempted to destroy Christianity, but all his efforts resulted only in its advancement. Judaism was hated by the pagans above all other religions, and Christianity was looked upon as the most hateful form of the Jewish religion, because it was the most active and fruitful. Domitian thought he had forever silenced the testimony of John, but during his banishment the apostle accomplished far more for the church than would have otherwise been possible.
That this Introductory Vision was given to John on the Sabbath is evident from the statement, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.” Let me explain, as this text has been greatly misused and misunderstood. It has often been used as evidence of the observance of Sunday in the apostolic church. Such claims, however, are without the authority of Scripture. “The Lord’s day” could not possibly have been Sunday, for the first day of the week was never observed as the Sabbath until several centuries after the ascension of Christ. In the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, the seventh day is called “the Sabbath of the Lord thy God” and the day that is the Sabbath of the Lord must be the Lord’s day. In Isaiah 58:13 God calls the Sabbath, “My holy day,” and in Mark 2:28 is recorded the statement of Jesus, “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” Of course, the day He is Lord of is the Lord’s day.
In this Introductory Vision given John on the Lord’s day, we have the first view of Christ after His ascension, and it indicates that His prayer (“. . . Oh Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” John 17:5) to the Father had been fully answered. The glorified Son of God is still “like unto the Son of man.” Though glorified, He is still the God-man, Emmanuel, forever linked with humanity as our “Elder Brother.” He ministers in our behalf in the Heavenly Sanctuary as “the Son of Man,” doing a work that He could not do when only the Son of God. Because of this new relationship to the human family, Jesus requested the Father that He never be separated from His earthly brethren. (John 17:24) For this reason, He will take with Him wherever He goes the 144,000 servants (Revelation 7:3,4) of the redeemed out of the last and most wicked generation. Revelation 14:1-5.
A Crown of Glory. John then goes on to describe what Jesus looks like: “His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow,” representing His age, beauty, glory and wisdom. He is the Alpha and Omega of wisdom. In this first vision of the Apocalypse, the One whom the book reveals is pictured as crowned with the immaculate wisdom and glory of eternity. It was thus that Jesus appeared during His brief glorification on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the three disciples saw Him in His glorified state as His divinity flashed through His humanity.
His Flashing Eyes. “His eyes were as a flame of fire,” or like “lamps of fire,” as described in Daniel’s vision. Later Jesus said, “I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts.” (Revelation 2:23) The penetrating gaze of Jesus discerns the thoughts and motives that give birth to words and deeds. He knows all men and what is in man. Christ’s eyes flash fire as He beholds iniquity in the churches for whom He ministers. They burn with holy indignation against all wrong. “There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” (Job 34:21,22) His eyes also light up with pleasure as He beholds the development of godly character: “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9.
His Glowing Feet. “And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” “Like polished brass,” is Daniel’s description. Brass is considered the most enduring of all metals. Brass or Bronze is used here to denote unwearied endurance and stability–irresistible strength and power. Christ is able to uphold all who put their trust in Him. His faithfulness endures forever. The feet of Jesus were doubtless bare, as were the feet of the priest as they ministered in the sanctuary.
The original Greek word for brass as used in our text, according to Suidas, refers to the famous metal made by the Greeks and Romans from a mixture of gold, silver, and copper. It is spoken of in Ezra 8:27 as “yellow, or shining brass” which was as “desirable” or “precious as gold.” It is said that during the refining process of this metal, the furnace threw off flames of indescribable glory. It is now an unknown metal.
This vision of Christ makes more meaningful the description of the messengers of God in Isaiah 52:7; this description of the feet of those who preach the gospel must have special application to Christ, “the Messenger of the covenant.” How beautiful are His feet as He walks about among the churches, ministering to the spiritual needs of His people. They are beautiful to those who love Him, but terrible and consuming to those who are to be trampled underfoot. The altar of burnt offering in the court of the tabernacle was made of brass. At that altar the wrath of God was appeased, the guilt of man expiated, and the judgments against sin were executed.
His Majestic Voice. “And His voice as the sound of many waters.” Daniel spoke of His words as “the voice of a multitude,” and Ezekiel as “the voice of an host” and “a noise of many waters.” (Ezekiel 1:24; 43:2.) The symbol represents volume, majesty, and musical harmony. It is “voice,” and not “voices.”
Jesus is the Spokesman not only of the Godhead but also of the hosts of heaven. When He speaks, it is the Voice of the Universe. When the Son of God speaks, His messages have the beauty, harmony, and majesty of the united notes of an orchestra, the harmonious voices of a well-trained choir, or the symphonic melody of the waves of the sea or a mighty waterfall. On Patmos, John was accustomed to the melody of the waves of the Aegean Sea. These roaring waves and foaming billows spoke with a united voice. The voice of Jesus is multitudinous in its majesty, comprehensive in its fullness, far reaching in its effects, with a message that is deep, beautiful, and harmonious.
The Seven Stars. “And He had in His right hand seven stars,” which are interpreted in Revelation 1:20 as symbolic of “the angels of the seven churches.” Here is a wonderful lesson as to the holiness of the office and solemnity of the responsibility of the ministers of Christ. The figure indicates that the power and authority to minister to the spiritual needs of God’s people have their origin not with the church but with Christ, the Head of the church.
Jesus upholds the ministers who, as His spokesmen, preach His Word. The right hand is the symbol of power, authority, and honor. The stars in the right hand of Christ indicate the high honor bestowed upon His ambassadors as well as His absolute control over them. It also indicates their safety amid the dangers that surround them because of the continuous attacks of the enemy. Christ is their Possessor, Upholder, and Protector. The symbolic picture demands unswerving fidelity and unquestioned loyalty on the part of the ministers of Christ in their service in His stead among the churches.
His Cutting Messages. “And out of His mouth went a sharp twoedged sword.” It is a “broad sword” (Emphatic Diaglott), or “a sharp sword with a double edge” (Moffatt). The illustration is doubtless taken from the Greek Thracian broadsword or the Roman double-bladed sword. It represents “the sword of the Spirit” that cuts its way even to the “thoughts and intents of the heart.”
The Word of God in the hands of the Holy Spirit does a double service. It convicts and converts the righteous, and it condemns and destroys the wicked. In Revelation 19:15 is a description of Christ at His Second Advent, when “out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations.”
The symbol is an appropriate representation of the all-penetrating Word of Christ by which the secrets of the heart are revealed. He goes about among His churches speaking His Word, and His messages are cutting and penetrating. He smites to wound that He may bind up and heal, as on the day of Pentecost. How appropriate is the appeal: “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up.” Hosea 6:1.
His Brilliant Countenance. “And His countenance was as the sun shineth in His strength.” In Daniel’s vision of Michael, he said that His face had “the appearance of lightning.” The sun is the symbol of divine majesty. It is the best illustration of glory and brightness known to man: The church as symbolized by the lamps, the ministers of Christ by stars, but Christ by the glory of the sun shining in the fullness of its noonday power. Such was the appearance of Christ at His trans-figuration, and when Paul saw Him near the gate of Damascus, he was blinded by the light that shined “above the brightness of the sun.”
Although the sun is so bright it is terrible to look upon, it is nevertheless the source of life and light and power. Christ declared that He was “the Light of the world,” and the prophet Malachi called Him “the sun of Righteousness” because He is the supreme Life-giver and Light-giver of the spiritual world. No man in his sinful state can behold the face of the glorified Christ and live. Only those who behold His character and become like Him now, can look upon His countenance and live when He returns. Then the wicked will call for the rocks and mountains to fall upon and hide them “from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” Revelation 6:16.
Two recent writers thus sum up in a beautiful way the vision of the glorified Christ we have just been considering: “His eyes emit shafts of spiritual intelligence, love and omniscience; His countenance radiates beams of spiritual power like the midday sun; His voice is resonant with the majesty of many distant Niagaras, and out of His mouth proceedeth utterance penetrating and dividing like a two-edged sword.” (Stevens, J. A. Revelation, the Crown-Jewel of Biblical Prophecy, p. 53.)
“The white hair, like sunlight gleaming on snow, pictures divine purity. The eyes flashing with fire picture divine knowledge piercing to the innermost secrets of the heart. The feet of burnished brass represent the ability to tread down all opposition. The Voice was, to John, like the sound of the surf roaring on the shore of his rocky isle, a symbol of irresistible power. The right hand holding the seven stars shows the angels of the churches to be under the absolute control of Christ and under His protecting care. The sharp sword proceeding out of His mouth is an image of His Word of judgment which can punish and destroy, which none can resist or escape. The coun-tenance like the unclouded sun symbolizes the heavenly glory and majesty of Him upon whom, with unveiled face, none could dare to gaze.” (Erdman, Charles R. The Revelation of John. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, p. 41, 1936.)
Effect on the Prophet. “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: . . .’” This was the same effect the vision of Michael had on the prophet Daniel. (Daniel 10:7-12) Moses, Job, Isaiah, Paul, and the Roman guard at the tomb of Christ all had similar experiences when they beheld the glory of God or of the angel Gabriel. This glory will slay the wicked at the Second Advent. If we do not permit the two-edged sword of the Spirit to destroy sin in us now, it will slay us then.
When one contemplates this beautiful portraiture of the great High Priest of the Heavenly Sanctuary walking majestically amid the symbolic blazing lamps, clothed and girded for mediatorial ministry, crowned with snow-white locks, and reflecting the light and purity of His character, treading as conqueror on feet glowing like silver-bronze, a voice so majestic and terrible that it shakes the heavens and Earth, His right hand holding fast His shining messenger jewels, His mouth uttering words that penetrate and divide, and His countenance blazing with the light of the sun in the meridian of His power, he is almost overwhelmed with the supernal splendor of the scene and gladly bends the knee in humble submission to His sovereign will, or falls prostrate at the feet of Him who has been exalted “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.”
Jesus tenderly placed His right hand, the hand of power with which He upholds His ministers, upon the stricken apostle, and reminded him that He is the One who is vested with the attributes of eternity, the One whose existence is not temporary even though He had died on the cross. As the First and the Last, He upholds all things through the endless interval between the eternity of the past and the eternity of the future. With a beginningless past and an endless future, the temporary break of Joseph’s tomb does not interfere with His eternal purpose but rather confirms and assures its complete fulfillment.
“Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth.” (KJV) All mere creatures in this rebel world are dying ones. Christ’s announcement to John indicated that since His resurrection, He again is vested with the fullness of His pre-existing glory. John was nearing the century mark in age and must soon die and enter the prison house of the tomb. Christ’s words brought a comforting assurance that the power of the grave had been broken by His resurrection victory.
Because I live, you also shall live, was His message. Christ reminded the exiled prophet that He too had been condemned by a Roman court and sentenced by a Roman judge. He had been placed in a tomb secured by a Roman seal and guarded by Roman soldiers. But all the power of the iron monarchy of Rome could not hold Him captive. Moreover, He brought with Him from the tomb the keys of death and the grave. The keys that unlock the prison house of death were in the keeping of a friend.
“The keys of the gates of death” is the Weymouth translation. The key is the symbol of authority to open and shut. (Isa. 22:22; Matt. 16:19.) In the Targums and Talmud the key to the grave is declared to be one of the four keys which God does not entrust to a ministering angel but reserves for His own use. Jesus tells John that He possesses supreme authority over the dominion of death and the grave. In the Scriptures, death is reckoned as a prison house. (Job 3:18) Satan claims the dead as his captives, but does not have the power to release them. Isaiah 14:17.
Death is a mighty power which locks up and holds fast all who come under its cruel sway. The Earth is a vast cemetery, and everywhere death’s victims lie in fetters of silence and darkness, awaiting the call of the Life-giver, into whose keeping has been delivered the keys of death and the grave. Because of His resurrection victory, the power over death is now in the exclusive and permanent possession of Him who is “the Resurrection and the Life.”
Christ’s words brought a comforting assurance that the power of the grave had been broken by His resurrection victory. “Because I live, you also shall live,” was His message. The importance of the first vision is emphasized by the fact that in it the entire Apocalypse is wrapped up in embryo, for the whole Plan of Redemption centers on the mediatorial work of Christ.