George Washington was not only “the father of our country” and one of the greatest men in American history, he also LOOKED the part. Historian Ron Chernow writes: “People were transfixed by Washington’s lean, virile presence. … Washington had the inestimable advantage of fully looking the part of a military leader. As Benjamin Rush stated, ‘He has so much martial dignity in his deportment that you would distinguish him to be a general and a soldier from among ten thousand people. There is not a king in Europe that would not look like a (chamber servant) by his side.” (Washington: A Life, p. 183)
People were awed and inspired by the presence of George Washington. On the battlefield, men were almost supernaturally calmed by his presence. Few men in history have had the powerful impact of his presence, as George Washington had. But as Christians, we serve a far greater King! Revelation 1 unveils a picture of Jesus that is unmatched by anyone in all history. No wonder Jesus’ earthly brother James called Him, “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ”! The picture we see here of Jesus is glorious! One Bible scholar (B. Witherington III) writes: “John cannot find words big enough to describe the awesome reality he saw, and so he was reduced to saying, ‘it was like,’ over and over again”! Reading John’s description of this vision, I feel that way about what he wrote; I can’t imagine trying to describe it having SEEN it in person! So, knowing the limitations of our words, and trusting the Holy Spirit to show us by faith, how does John describe the vision God gave Him of Jesus here?
I. His Characteristics
A. HIs Majesty
:13 “clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash”
The particular kind of garment John described here, in ancient times, signified a person of importance, a ruler. A king would have a full-length garment, and a golden sash across his chest.
Sometimes you can tell by what somebody has on, that is is “someone important.” We mentioned George Washington earlier; at one of the first meetings of the Continental Congress, all the delegates wore their typical civilian garments — but Washington showed up in a striking military uniform. It wasn’t hard to tell who the General was! One quick look showed you: this is the guy with the uniform!
That’s something like the picture John gives us here. Jesus is the King, and you can tell it immediately by what He has on! This is what this is communicating: the full-length garment and the golden sash Jesus was wearing immediately proclaimed: “This is the King!”
B. His Eternity and Purity
:14 “His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow.”
What does it mean that His head and hair were white?
The first Christian commentary on Revelation we know of, was written by Victorinus of Petovium (between what is now Italy and Bulgaria). Victorinus writes that the whiteness of His hair signifies his “antiquity and immortality.” He is “the Ancient of Days” as Daniel says; as Psalm 90 teaches: “From everlasting, to everlasting (He is) God”!
Whiteness in scripture often also represents purity, showing that Jesus is perfectly pure and holy. In Mark 9:2-3, “Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” That experience showed Jesus’ disciples that He was so holy – no one on earth could make something as white as Jesus’ garments.
NO other righteousness or holiness compares to the holiness of Jesus. Any earthly righteousness fades in comparison to Jesus’ perfect holiness.
When Cheryl & I were serving in our first church in Oklahoma City, it snowed that winter. There were a bunch of birds in the yard, looking for food so Cheryl was making some popcorn to put out there for them. I was studying and looking out the big picture window in the living room, when all of the sudden I looked up, and I asked Cheryl: “You didn’t BUTTER that popcorn for the birds did you?” She said “Of course I didn’t!” The reason I asked, was that the popcorn looked so YELLOW on that snow. When I saw it in the bowl, it looked pretty white. But compared to the pure, newfallen snow, it looked totally yellow.
In the same way, every other righteousness is dingy in comparison to the holiness of Jesus. He, and He alone, is pure, perfect, holy; “white like white wool, like snow.” This is why none of us can stand before Him in heaven on our own righteousness; like Isaiah 64:6 says “All our righteousness is filthy rags” compared to Him.
But the good news is, the Bible says that Jesus perfect, snow-white righteousness is the righteousness He GIVES US when we ask Him to save us. II Corinthians 5:21 says “He who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus takes our sin on Himself, and He gives us His righteousness. Just like Isaiah 1:18 says, though our sins are red as scarlet, they will be as white as snow! But only HE has that righteousness, pure and holy and white as snow.
C. His Vision
:14 “His eyes were like a flame of fire” Have you ever known anyone with “fiery eyes”?
I had to laugh last Sunday morning — some of you know Cheryl & I teach the younger adults Sunday School class at 9:00. Last week I said something about how I was never a big Jimmy Carter fan but that I was reading a very interesting biography of Carter now … and Cheryl “chipped in” and says: “Shawn, remember, these class members weren’t even BORN when Jimmy Carter was President!” (Man, talk about a shocker!)
But in the book, the author Jonathan Alter talks about how President Jimmy Carter had that trademark smile that he was known for. But he also wrote that those who worked with Carter said that there was another side to him: that if you said something foolish, or if you suggested that he do something for politics and not for the merit of the case — that Carter had a glare with a look in his eye that would almost cut you in half! He didn’t need to say a word; his LOOK said enough!
In the same way John says here that Jesus’ eyes were like a flame of fire! Fire burns; it consumes; it pierces; it searches. Jesus has eyes a flame of fire. I’m sure some of the Pharisees who encountered Jesus got a sample of those eyes, like in Matthew 9, when He told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, and “some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘this fellow blasphemes,” and :4 says “And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, ‘Why are you thinking evil in your hearts?’’ “He knew their thoughts”! His eyes looked right through them! His eyes are a flame of fire!
Jesus sees through our hypocrisies; He sees through our lies; He sees through our excuses; He sees through all the things we try to cover up; He sees when we try to make ourselves appear better than we are — you can’t cover anything up in the presence of Jesus. He knows you; He sees right through you. You’d better be totally honest with Him; “His eyes are flame of fire!”
D. His Trials
:15 “His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace.”
This Bible word (Pepuromenes) “to set on fire, glow, to be pure.” Just as metal which is refined in the furnace is purified and strengthened, so Jesus came to earth and He went through the furnace of affliction. He was tempted by the devil — “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He went through the “fire” of every kind of trial and persecution and experience. And He emerged from the fire of trials, perfect and pure and holy and strong. He is not a King who stayed behind while His troops went out to battle; no, He Himself went to the battle; He went through the fire, and He came out glowing and strong and perfect.
You never have to wonder if Jesus knows what you are going through. He has been through it. And just like Hananiah, Meschach, and Azariah, He will be “the fourth man in the fire” together WITH you; He will walk with you through the fire of YOUR trials. He Himself has been through the fire, and He came out glowing — and He will help YOU to do the same!
E. His Weapon
:15b “His voice was like the sound of many waters
:16 “and out of His mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword”
Both of these verses refer to His word. If it sounds odd that :16 says “out of His mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword,” we need to remember that historians tell us that the short, Roman sword was tongue-like in its shape. The tongue-shaped sword was the Romans’ weapon.
And the Bible says here that Jesus’ word is His weapon.
– Ephesians 6:17 says “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God”
– Hebrews 4:12 “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any TWO-EDGED SWORD, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”
So Jesus’ WORD is His weapon. We see this in a number of places in scripture. He doesn’t need to “do” anything, but just speak a WORD:
— In the very beginning He said “Let there be light,” and there was light! He just SPOKE everything into being.
— Matthew 8 says when the centurion met Jesus, asking Him to heal his servant. He said, “just speak the word and it will be done” — and it was!
— In Mark 4:39, when Jesus is taking a nap during a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, they wake Him and He says, “Hush, be still” — and it was!
The power in His word! We see that over and over again in the Gospels.
— II Thessalonians 2 says when the Antichrist appears, the Lord will slay him “with the breath of His mouth, and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.”
— Revelation 19 says when Jesus returns “From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron.”
Jesus will triumph with the word of His mouth. His word is His weapon; His sword. And we need to remember that His word is OUR sword, too! Use it to witness to others; use it to fight off the attacks of the enemy. Use the sword!
F. His Glory
:16b “His face was like the sun, shining in its strength”
Like one of our favorite worship songs, “Days of Elijah,” says: “Behold He comes, riding on the clouds, shining like the SUN”! This refers to Jesus’ glory. He shines like the sun!
The sun is our source of life. We need the sun to live. Many of us know the feeling of walking in the sunlight and how good those rays feel — or of laying out in the beach and just basking in the rays of the sun. You can see why many ancient peoples would worship the sun. The sun is actually a very good picture of our relationship with God. You & I were created to bask in the glory of God like a sunbather basks in the sun! We were made to soak in His glory and receive pleasure and joy from it.
But our sins cut us off from His glory. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” Our sin makes it to where we cannot even stand in the presence of His glory. We’d be consumed, like a leave would be instantly vaporized on the surface of the sun. That’s what it means when it says we’ve “fallen short of the glory of God.”
But Jesus “emptied Himself” of that glory, Philippians 2 says, and came to earth as a humble man we could look upon. He died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that as II Thessalonians 2:14 says, we could “gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So now, when these sinful bodies have been put away, we will be able to go to heaven and stand in His presence, and “see Him face to face,” as I John 3:2 says, and BASK in the glory of His face once again, shining like the sun!
Taken all together, those show us that Jesus is the Messiah, and He is GOD! All these characteristics John described give us hints as to who Jesus is:
— John says in :12 “I saw one like a Son of Man.” A few weeks ago, we saw that “The Son of Man” is the title Daniel gave the Messiah in 7:13-14, “One like a Son of Man was coming … and to Him was given dominion, glory, and a Kingdom … and his Kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.” This is a prophecy of the Messiah. The Son of Man is the ruler of the Kingdom. We saw a couple of weeks ago that the title “Son of Man” that Jesus used was NOT a title of humility; He was NOT trying to somehow “camouflage” who He was by using it. The Biblically literate Jews knew exactly that He was saying that He was the Messiah when He called Himself “The Son of Man.”
For example, in Matthew 26:63, “the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself. Nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The next verse says the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed!” Why? Because they all knew Jesus had just claimed to be the “Son of Man,” the Messiah.
So John says, “I saw one like “A Son of Man,” meaning He’s the Messiah.
But not only that; several of these characteristics we looked at a minute ago are RIGHT out of an earlier part of Daniel 7, where it describes the Ancient of Days, GOD HIMSELF, to whom the “Son of Man” was presented.
— :9 “His vesture (clothing) was like white snow”
— :9b “the hair of His head like pure wool”
That’s just how Jesus appears here in Revelation: His clothing and His hair are white as snow.
— Ezekiel 43:2 “And behold the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the way of the east. And His voice was LIKE THE SOUND OF MANY WATERS.” The SAME THING John saw in Jesus here! What’s it saying? That JESUS IS “the Ancient of Days;” He is fully God (God the Son as many of us saw in our Sunday School lesson in John 14 this morning.)
All these things are another way of saying this is not just “some angel” who appeared to John. This is “the Son of Man,” the Messiah God promised in Daniel to send to save us. And He is also “the Ancient of Days,” GOD Himself! As Colossians 2:9 says, “in Him (Jesus) the fullness of Deity dwells.” You can’t get any more “God” than Jesus! At the end of the Book of John, Thomas, who had been doubting, fell before Jesus and called Him, “My Lord and my GOD”! And as we shall see, that is exactly what John did when he saw Jesus — and that is exactly what WE should do before Him, too!
II. The Servant’s Response
:17 “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man”
THIS is how you respond when you see the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. We see this all through scripture: when a person truly encounters Jesus, it is awesome; it is convicting; it puts them on their face before Him.
- In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees the vision of God in the temple, “holy, holy, holy,” and what is his response? “Woe is me, for I am undone”! He falls in conviction before the thrice-holy God!
- In Luke 5:8, when Peter first saw Jesus work the miracle after they had caught nothing all night, but when they obeyed Him and let down the net one more time and it was full of fish, Peter cried out: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
When we truly encounter the glorious Lord Jesus, it will put us on our face before Him in humility and awe. If we are not on our face before Himright in awe, it is safe to say, we have not truly encountered Him.
John MacArthur tells the story of a charismatic evangelist (Roberts Liardon) who claimed to have had a vision of Jesus. He said it happened while he was watching the tv comedy “Laverne and Shirley,” He said all the sudden, Jesus supposedly walked into the room and told him all these things. Someone saiUd, then what did you do? He said, “I resumed watching Laverne & Shirley.”
No. I’m sorry; you don’t encounter Jesus, and then go back to watching Laverne & Shirley! When you see Jesus, you fall at His feet like a dead man! You fall before Him in humility and awe.
And the thing here is, this is not just “anyone” who falls down before Jesus. This is JOHN the Apostle. John KNEW Jesus. John was one of the “inner ring” of Peter, James, and John, whom Jesus took with Him places He didn’t take the others. It was John whose Gospel says he was reclining on Jesus’ chest during the Lord’s Supper. John KNEW Jesus. He was CLOSE to Jesus, like perhaps no other person on earth was.
And YET, when John saw Jesus in His glory, what did he do? He says “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.” THAT is what you do when you truly encounter Jesus. The glory of His face dazzles you. The fire of His eyes burns right through you. And you humbly fall down before Him in holy awe, to worship. Do you want to know if you’ve really encountered Jesus? How did you respond? If it didn’t humble you; if it didn’t leave you in holy awe, you did not meeet Jesus. Even JOHN, the Bible says, who knew Him so well, fell at His feet like a dead man.
But we also need to see that Jesus doesn’t leave it there …
III. HIS COMFORTING RIGHT HAND!
There is something else here that perhaps speaks to us even more powerfully about who He is, and what He does for us — and that is what this shows us about His right hand. His “right hand” is mentioned TWO times in this passage, once in :16, and once in :17.
— :16 ’In His right hand He held seven stars”
— :17 “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on ME.”
Now next week, Lord willing, we’ll look, among other things, at the lampstands and the stars. But let’s just say for today, that :16 says “In His right hand He held seven stars.” We’ll see later how these verses refer to how Jesus walks in the church, and He holds the pastors, His messengers to His churches, in His hand. That’s a comforting promise: He holds them in His hand!
But then notice what :17 says: after John fell down before the glory of Jesus as a dead man, it says “And He placed His right hand on ME, saying, “Do not be afraid …” and then Jesus describes Himself even more. We’ll look at these things some more next week.
But someone might say, I thought it said He had the seven stars in His right hand; now He puts His right hand on John! Did He drop the stars, or what? Of course that’s foolish talk. Everything in Revelation is very symbolic. God is giving John — and US here — a picture of what Jesus does. And what He shows us here is that Jesus not only holds the stars in His hand, but that He will also reach down and touch YOU in your need!
That is the message of the Gospel: not only that there is this Glorious Lord — glorious beyond our imagination — but that He is a Lord who cares for YOU, personally!
— Psalm 136 says: “Who remembered US in OUR low estate.” Not only that He did all these great miracles for people in the past, but that He cares for US, TODAY, in OUR times of need too.
— Galatians 2:20 says “He loved ME, and gave Himself for ME.” He cares for YOU, personally. The Bible says our God is a God who sees YOU when you fall, or when you faint, or when you shake with fear, or when need Him in a thousand different ways. And in those times He will reach down and touch YOU with His right hand! That’s a most amazing thought.
In April of 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt died, and Harry Truman became President. Almost immediately, the staff at the White House discovered that Truman cared for them in a way they had never experienced before.
Historian David McCullough writes: “In time (Truman) knew everyone’s name and all about their families and years of service in the house. If there were guests, he would introduce each of the servants, something none of them had ever known a President to do before. A White House press correspondent wrote; “(Truman) knew when a stenographer’s baby caught a cold; when a White House servant lost a relative.” (Truman, p. 387)
How amazing that a President of the United States might know your name, or thank you for your service, or know when your baby caught a cold, or when you lost a loved one.
But we actually have something far greater than that, don’t we? The Glorious Lord Jesus Christ of Revelation 1: His eyes a flame of fire, His face shining like the sun, knows YOU by name, and He reaches down to YOU, and He places His right hand on YOU, and He cares for YOU, whenever you may faint or fall or need Him.
It’s beyond our comprehension. May God’s Spirit help us to grasp it. Jesus is the most glorious King — but this glorious King knows and loves and cares for YOU, and with His powerful right hand, He will reach down, to comfort YOU! What a glorious, powerful, merciful, loving King!
— Many of us need this picture of Jesus that John gives us here. Many of us have been taking Jesus far too lightly. We need to see Him not as we “think” He is; or “want” Him to be; but for who He really is. And God shows us here Who He really is. We need to ask God’s Spirit to impress upon us a true vision of Him, and then …
— Many of us need to evaluate our lives in light of who He is. We need to fall down before Him and say like Peter did: “Lord, I am a sinful man.”
— Many of us today have sins that we need to confess. Don’t just mindlessly sing the invitation song today; spend time confess your sins to God— and ask Him to help you turn away from them, and change them.
— Others of us might say, I’m really down right now. I need Jesus to reach down and help ME, and touch ME. If you will ask Him, He WILL do it! That is who He is. He hold the stars in His hand — but He’ll reach down and touch YOU when you need Him. Ask Him right now to help you.
— Or maybe you’d say you’ve never really had Jesus touch you before. You’ve never asked Him to be the Lord & Savior of YOUR life. Do that TODAY!
Pastor Thomas may I ask what kind of sickness that you had for two years?