It's about seventy years after Christ ascended back to the Father. Most of those who had had personal contact with him are now dead. And the Roman Empire is ratcheting up its persecution of Christ's followers. Something about not giving Caesar deity status. Wonder how I would have fared in that generation. This is the setting for the book of Revelation. God's people need to refocus, to see their plight in the light of God's grand purpose, to live and die with confidence and joy. How to get them there!
The Apostle John, now old and frail, is exiled on a lonely island called Patmos. The visions recorded in Revelation come to him on the Lord's day while in the Spirit. I take that to mean that he's worshiping God and enjoying His company. He heard a loud voice commanding him to write what he saw and send his book to seven churches in Asia. These were, no doubt, churches he'd overseen as he served one of them, Ephesus, as pastor. He prepares to write, but not before seeing a magnificent vision of his risen Lord.
What does Jesus look like?
Regardless of what you think of these images of Christ they all have one thing in common. They say more about the human artist than about Jesus Christ. They reflect the cultures and the times in which they were painted. None inspire courage. In fact, I have yet to see an image of Christ that didn't detract from how He's presented in Scripture.
In Revelation 1:12-16 God himself presents us with an image of his Son. This one is not painted with brushes but engraved on our hearts with words. It's a vision of the Savior that kindles hope and generates courage in his followers no matter what their circumstances. Before this Christ, every human power will bow some day, either willingly or not so willingly.
So let's ponder His features
John spots the risen Lord among seven candlesticks which we learn later (vs.20) represent the seven churches who will receive the letter. That in itself is bracing. The Lord of the church is not far away but close by and fully aware. Not only is He present but displays human features. That's the clue that we are looking at the 2nd Person of the Trinity who took on human flesh and walked among us. Around 700 years earlier, Ezekiel had a similar vision. (Ezek.1:26) Get this. In his risen glory Jesus is still able to "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb.4:15) because, though glorified, He is still very human.
Now we get to those features that speak of his majesty. He's clothed with a robe and golden sash around his chest, garments of royalty. His hair is white as wool or snow, marks of his eternal age. His eyes are fiery and his feet glow like burnished bronze. His voice is like the roar of many waters. These features suggest that Christ is active seeing, going, speaking in such a way that He accomplishes his purposes. Jesus holds in his right hand seven stars which later (vs.20) we learn represent the leader of each of the seven churches. Every godly pastor, elder or priest can take huge comfort in this. Out of his mouth comes a two-edged sword representing God's Word. His face shown like the sun.
If there's any doubt left about the identity of this figure listen now to what John hears. Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
More Than Conquerors
When I need my car repaired I find a machanic that I trust and leave it in his shop. When my tooth aches I search for a reputable dentist. When my life is threatened and the world seems to be self-destructing it's good to know that there is a living powerful Lord who remains active and in control. Some of his actions I don't understand and may even hurt. But I don't understand what my mechanic does either and my dentist hurts me from time to time. First century followers of Jesus needed an accurate vision of their Lord. They got it. Twenty-first century followers need the same. We have it. Now if we could only get those humanly conceived pictures of Jesus off our minds!