Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reasoning Through Revelation. Day 7, Christ's Appearance To John And The Symbolism Of His Appearance, Part Two

In yesterday's study John said that when Christ appeared to him, this is what he saw: "I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest. The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and coming out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." (Revelation 1:12b-16) Although Christ did literally appear to the Apostle John, the manner in which He chose to appear to him is filled with symbolism. We are going to take each piece of information about His appearance and discuss what it may symbolize.

First, Jesus is standing among seven golden lampstands. There was a golden lampstand that stood in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the temple, but that was a single lampstand with seven branches coming up from it. But John saw seven separate lampstands. Since Jesus has just commanded John to write a letter to seven churches, the most logical explanation is that these seven lampstands represent the seven churches: the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These were seven churches in existence in John's day, but as I mentioned earlier in our study, these churches also represent the seven ages of the church as a whole. So by extension, the seven lampstands represent the church in every era.

It's important to note that Jesus is standing "among" the lampstands. This is generally taken to mean that the lampstands are standing in a circle and Jesus is in the center of them. This is where He should be. Everything the churches do should revolve around Him.

John tells us that Jesus looked like "a son of man"---like a human being. When He rose from the dead, He rose in an immortal human body. He appeared to the disciples and to his brothers and to many other followers in human form following the resurrection. He appeared to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos in human form. He will forever exist in human form because it is a badge of honor. It is a glory and a credit to Him that He---the Son of God and the heir of all things---was willing to lower Himself to become like us and to offer His life for us.

John saw Jesus wearing a long white robe. In the first century AD, extra long robes were considered a symbol of power and authority. White robes were intended to represent purity and to show that the wearer of the robe did not do manual labor but that his occupation involved the study or the teaching of the word of God. Remember how Jesus criticized the teachers of the law who were hypocrites? If they had truly been faithful to the Lord, they would have had the right to wear the long robes that marked them as people who were able to give godly advice, but instead He said they were wearing the robes only for show because in truth they were breaking the law by defrauding widows. He said they liked to make lengthy public prayers for the purpose of being admired by their fellow man. (Mark 12:38, Luke 20:46) Jesus, a righteous teacher of the law, has the right to wear the long white robe. We can go to Him in full confidence that any instruction He gives us will be perfectly in line with the word of God.

There was a golden sash tied about Jesus' chest. The high priest wore a sash around his chest that was interwoven with golden threads. But while the sash of the high priest contained only threads of gold, the sash Jesus is wearing appears to be woven entirely of golden threads. This is because His priesthood is far superior to the Levitical priesthood. The Levitical priesthood was made up of mere human beings who were as prone to making mistakes as anyone else. But Jesus lived a perfect life, and therefore His priesthood is perfect, and the sash He wears as high priest represents the perfection of His priesthood. The high priest took the blood of the atoning sacrifice (animal blood) into the Most Holy Place once a year, and this rolled the sins off the people for a year. The high priest would have to perform the same duty the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, on and on. But Jesus took the blood of His atoning sacrifice (His own blood) into the Most Holy Place in heaven, and He only had to do this once. His sacrifice is enough to cleanse forever those who put their trust in Him.

John tells us that the Lord's hair was white. There are several things this could represent, or it may represent all of these things at once. White hair comes with age. Wisdom comes with age. Both of these things are compatible with Christ who has existed forever and who wants to instruct us in wise godly living. White is associated with purity, for in the book of Isaiah we find the Lord pleading with the people to repent so He can cleanse them of their sins: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." (Isaiah 1:18) In King Solomon's day, it was considered proof of godly living to survive to an old age and to have hair that is turning white. This is because those who lived wickedly often died at a younger age, either as a result of their own foolish actions or as a result of God's judgment. Solomon said, "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness." (Proverbs 16:31) So we see that the Lord appears to John with white hair that may symbolize His eternal existence, His wisdom, His purity, His righteousness, or all these things combined.

John says, "His eyes were like blazing fire", and, "His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace". In the Bible, fire is often connected either with judgment or with a process of refining. The eyes of fire could symbolize the coming judgment. The glowing of His feet like bronze in a furnace could symbolize the refining He does in our own lives, or it could represent the refining fire He Himself walked through. For although Jesus was perfect, the author of Hebrews says of Him, "Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered." (Hebrews 5:8) This doesn't mean the Son of God was ever disobedient, but that when He took on the form of man, He learned what it's like to obey God as a man. This is why, as the author of Hebrews says, He is in the perfect position to be our great high priest who is filled with compassion, because He knows what it's like to be us.

His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. Have you ever stood near a large waterfall? Were you able to hear anything other than the sound of the water? The sound of a huge rushing waterfall drowns out all other sounds. This is how powerful and commanding the voice of our Lord is. This is the voice that spoke out of darkness, "Let there be light!", and the universe sprang into existence. He had the first word, and He will have the last word. Have you ever heard the expression that someone's "word is law"? In the case of Christ, this saying is absolutely true: His word is law.

John says He's holding seven stars in His right hand. Many reputable scholars think these seven stars represent the pastors of the seven churches to whom John will write.

As we mentioned yesterday, the double-edged sword John sees coming out of the Lord's mouth most likely refers to the word of God, about which the author of Hebrews said, "The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12) In Revelation 19, when we see the Lord returning to earth to defeat His enemies, He judges the wicked of the world with the double-edged sword coming out of His mouth, meaning that He judges them by the word of God.

Lastly, John tells us that the Lord's face was shining like the sun. This reminds us that He is "the light" that came into the world at His incarnation. (John 1:4-9) It also reminds us of the Transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John went up on the mountain with Him and saw His entire form become radiant with glory. (Matthew 17:1-7, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36) And it reminds us of what is called the "shekinah" glory of the Lord, the glory that would come down and rest on the mercy seat on the top of the Ark of the Covenant. The shekinah was also represented by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led the children of Israel through the wilderness. This glory was the visible proof of God's presence with them.

The symbolism of the Lord's appearance to John represents many of the offices the Lord holds and many of the duties He performs. I hope our study today has helped us to view Him in a new light. Join us tomorrow as we begin our look at what the Lord has to say to the churches.

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