First Vision - Son of Man

OVERVIEW – The visions begin with an image of one “like the Son of Man” walking among the seven churches of AsiaRevelation 1:9-20.

Sun Rising - Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash
The opening vision centers on Jesus Christ and his care for the 
churches of Asia. At least one assembly was facing imminent persecution. John did not begin by holding up his apostolic credentials; instead, he identified himself with the plight of the seven churches - He was their “fellow-participant” with them in the “tribulation and the kingdom. - [Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash].

The first vision is comprised of the vision of the Risen Christ walking among “seven golden lampstands” - The churches - and the seven messages from Jesus to the “messengers” of the congregations in Asia. The vision includes the identification of John, and a description of what he saw on Patmos and its interpretation.
  • Patmos - (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother and fellow-participant with you in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus was in the isle that is called Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
The isle of Patmos was a penal colony with a large enough population to support a gymnasium, Acropolis, and shrines to Artemis and Apollo. Its isolation made it an excellent location to banish political undesirables.

John was on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” The preposition dia, rendered “on account of,” indicates either that he went to Patmos to proclaim the gospel or was banished there because of his preaching activity. The second alternative is more probable - John was a “fellow participant” in the tribulation.

By this self-identification, John aligned himself with the plight of his churches - He was a “brother and fellow-participant in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus.” “Fellow participant” or sugkoinōnos denotes joint participation - (Strong's - #G4791). It is related to the Greek term commonly translated “fellowship” - (1 Corinthians 9:23, Romans 11:17, Philippians 1:7).

The single Greek article in the clause or “the” modifies all three nouns – (Tribulation, kingdom, endurance). This means the three nouns are grammatically linked; each is part of a single whole. To be “in Jesus” is to experience tribulation, kingdom, and endurance.

Tribulation was something already experienced by the church in the city of Smyrna. In a subsequent vision, John saw the innumerable multitude “coming out of the great tribulation.” In the book, tribulation is not something God inflicts on the ungodly but what faithful Christians endure for their testimony - (Revelation 2:7ff, 7:9-14).

Already, the churches participated in the “kingdom” – For them, the reign of Jesus was a present reality. Already, believers were participating in his rule over the nation; already, the churches were a “kingdom of priests” - (Revelation 1:6, 5:10, 20:4-6).

To be “in Jesus” includes the “endurance,” a theme found often in Revelation. Jesus promised the church at Philadelphia, “Because you kept the word of my endurance, I will keep you from the hour of test.” The assault against believers by the “Beast from the sea” is labeled the “endurance and the faith of the saints” - (Revelation 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 13:10, 14:12).
  • (Revelation 1:10-11) – “I came to be in spirit on the lordly day, and I heard behind me a great voice, like a trumpet, saying, What you see, write in a scroll and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”
I came to be in spirit in the Lord’s day.” The verb ginomai means “to become, to come to be,” signifying a change of condition or state. The tense is a past action seen in its entirety - “I came to be” depicts a singular event at a specific point in time when, suddenly, John found himself “in spirit.”

This first clause is balanced with the preceding one - “I came to be on the isle called Patmos.” Both use the aorist tense form of ginomai with the preposition en (“in”). The repetition of the preposition “in marks a spatial contrast. Roman magistrates may have placed John on Patmos, but “in the spirit,” Jesus placed him “in the day of the Lord” to see things his perspective.

Whatever the “lordly day” refers to is part of this “in spirit” experience. John found himself in it after he “came to be in spirit.” There is no evidence that the church ever designated Sunday the “Lord’s Day” in the first century, a tradition not attested before the late second century A.D.

Elsewhere, the “day of the Lord” refers to a coming day of judgment on the wicked and vindication of the righteous, not the first day of the week. This is the intended sense here - (Isaiah 13:6, Joel 1:15, 2:31, Amos 5:18, Obadiah 15, Zephaniah 1:7, Malachi 4:5, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:2).

In the spirit” refers to an out-of-the-ordinary visionary experience. Revelation uses this same term twice, and the similar “carried in the spirit,” also twice, at key literary junctures - (Revelation 1:10, 4:2, 17:3, 21:10).

Thus, John was projected into “the day of the Lord.” Revelation does not use the term “day of the Lord” again; however, note the several similar clauses:
  • The great day of their wrath has come” - (Revelation 6:17).
  • The great day of God, the Almighty” - (Revelation 16:14).
  • In one day, her plagues will come” - (Revelation 18:8).
Twice John “came to be in spirit” – Once on Patmos, once before the “Throne.” And twice he was “carried in spirit,” once to the “wilderness” to see “Babylon,” and once to a “great and high mountain” to see “New Jerusalem” - (Revelation 1:8-10, 4:2, 17:3, 21:10).

Upon hearing a great voice “like a trumpet.” The clause alludes to the day when Mount Sinai was covered by a thick cloud and all of Israel heard “a loud trumpet’s voice” from the cloud – (Exodus 19:16-18).

John was commanded to record all that he saw in a “scroll” and to send it to the seven churches in the province of Asia. The order in which the cities were listed was the sequence by which a traveler from Patmos would visit each after making landfall in Ephesus. “Write what you see in a scroll.” This alludes to Habakkuk 2:2 - “Yahweh answered me and said, ‘Write the vision, make it plain on tablets that one may read it swiftly.”

The verse from Habakkuk was echoed previously in the prologue - “The one who reads” the things written in the prophecy. The passage was Yahweh’s response to the prophet’s complaint - How could a just God allow an attack against Judah by Babylon? – (Revelation 1:3).
  • (Revelation 1:12-16) – “And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and gird about at the breasts with a golden girdle. And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shining in his strength.”
Next, John saw a figure he compared to a “son of man.” The figure was walking among seven golden lampstands and holding seven stars. This image further develops the themes of suffering, kingdom, and priesthood. This “son of man” represents Jesus, now exalted and with all authority. The voice “like a trumpet” that John heard, therefore, was the voice of Jesus.

Menorah - Photo by Luis Gonzalez on Unsplash
Menorah - Photo by Luis Gonzalez on Unsplash

Language from the book of Zechariah is present. John saw “seven golden lampstands,” which refers to the stands that held ancient oil lamps. Likewise, Zechariah saw a “lampstand all of gold,” however, he saw a single lamp with seven branches just like the seven-branched lamp in the Tabernacle. Thus, the seven lampstands suggest a sanctuary setting - (
Exodus 25:31-40).

John saw the “son of man” walking among the lampstands and attending to them, just as the priests in the Tabernacle tended the seven-branched lamp, trimming its wicks and replenishing the oil.
  • (Daniel 7:13-14) - Behold, with the clouds of the heavens one like a son of man was coming, and he approached the Ancient of days and before him they brought him near; and to him were given dominion and dignity and kingship.”
In John’s vision, the figure is arrayed in a full-length robe adorned with a golden belt, all of which points to his priestly office. The description of his glorious appearance borrows heavily from the tenth chapter of the book of Daniel - (Leviticus 8:1-13):
  • (Daniel 10:5-6) - “Then lifted I up mine eyes and looked, and, behold, a man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with the bright gold of Uphaz, whose body was like Tarshish-stone and his face like the appearance of lightning, and his eyes were like torches of fire and his arms and his feet like the look of bronze burnished, and the sound of his words was like the sound of a multitude.”
In Daniel, a man “clothed in linen” revealed what would befall his people in later days. Likewise, the book of Revelation alludes to this passage because of its focus on what will happen to the saints in “latter days.” The voice “like the sound of a multitude” also echoes this vision from Daniel.

The “sword” wielded by the “son of man” is not held in either hand; instead, it flashes from his mouth. This symbol occurs several more times in Revelation and points to the authoritative word of Jesus – (Compare also - Isaiah 11:4, Isaiah 49:2 - “He made my mouth like a sharp sword.Revelation 2:12, 2:16, 19:15-21).
  • The Interpretation - (Revelation 1:17-20) – “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Write, therefore, the things which you saw, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass afterward; the mystery of the seven stars in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven lampstands are seven churches.”
John reacted by falling at his feet “as though dead,” another parallel to Daniel 10:1-14 – “Daniel fell into a deep sleep upon his face with his face to the earth.” I am the first and the last.” This clause alludes to three passages from Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 41:4) - “I, Yahweh, first, and with them who are last.
  • (Isaiah 44:5-6) - “Thus says Yahweh, I am first and I last.
  • (Isaiah 48:9-15) - “I am the same, I the first, yea, I the last.
First and last” parallels the earlier claim of God - (“I am Alpha and Omega”). Now, Jesus lays claim to this high privilege because of his obedient death - He now rules from the divine throne, and with absolute authority - (Revelation 3:21-22).

I am the living one and I became dead.” A reference to his Death and Resurrection. This statement anchors the visions of Revelation in the past death of Jesus. “I have the keys of Death and of Hades.” That is, the authority of Jesus over death. Hades was the abode of the dead and corresponded to the Hebrew concept of Sheol. In his resurrection, Jesus triumphed over death.

Write what things you saw, what they are, and what will come to pass after them.” What John “saw” refers to the visions of the book, and what they “are” refers to the provided interpretations of those visions. “Are” translates the Greek verb eimi, here, in the plural number and present tense. This understanding is demonstrated in the next verse. John saw “seven lampstands,” but, in fact, “they are” (eisin) “seven churches.” Likewise, the seven stars “are” seven “messengers” or angels.

This same verbal formula is used elsewhere for interpretations. For example, the seven "lamps of fire" ARE (eisin) the "seven Spirits of God"; the "seven horns" and "seven eyes" ARE (eisin) the "seven Spirits of God," the golden "bowls of incense" ARE (eisin) the "prayers of the saints." The Two Witnesses ARE (eisin) "two lampstands" (Revelation 4:5, 5:6-8, 11:4).

The mystery of the Seven Stars and the Seven Lampstands.” The “mystery” is that the seven stars and lampstands symbolize seven “messengers” and seven “churches.” Revelation interprets its visions symbolically, not literally.

The Greek term rendered “angel” may refer to human or angelic messengers. It is not clear which is meant. But the blessing pronounced previously on “he who reads and they who hear” may provide a clue. Did John send one messenger to read the book in each of the seven churches, or were seven men dispatched to each city with a copy for each of the seven congregations?


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