Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 1:12–16

Revelation 1:12–16
I turned to see whose voice was speaking to me, and when I did so, I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands was one like a son of man. He was dressed in a robe extending down to his feet and he wore a wide golden belt around his chest. 14 His head and hair were as white as wool, even as white as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame. 15 His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth. His face shone like the sun shining at full strength.
 (NET Bible)

“One like a son of man . . .”

Those of us who are parents have seen our small children put their hands over their eyes when the world seems a bit too threatening. But adults tend to do the same thing — in more sophisticated ways, of course. We hear the Holy Spirit’s voice calling on us to change, but do we turn toward it or try to hide?

Considering what was going on, John was brave to face the awesome voice that was speaking (1:12). Almost immediately John sees “one like a son of man” (1:13) in the midst of the lampstands. Such language is explosive because it draws the reader right back to the prophetic vision of Daniel 7:13–14. Daniel’s vision should also clarify for you why Jesus often referred to himself with the powerful phrase “Son of Man” (Matt. 9:6; 13:41).

When John describes Jesus in 1:14, it would be easy to think that Jesus’ hair and face were a stark white, but how then could his feet be “like polished bronze”? Notice the comparison to snow (Greek chi?n), which takes us in another direction. Snow is not used often in the NT, but the instances are instructive. Matt. 28:3 says of the angel near the empty tomb of Christ, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” (See also Mark 9:3.) The overall impression is one of intense radiance that dazzles the eye, and that works well with “his eyes were like a fiery flame” (Rev. 1:14). In addition, Jesus’ voice “was like the roar of many waters” (1:14).

Greg Beale points out that the clause “his eyes were like a fiery flame” (1:14) is a metaphor of judgment and points out its connection to Rev. 2:18–23, where real-time judgment of a local church is threatened by the Son of Man.[1] Soon it will become apparent that Jesus constantly monitors what is happening in the seven churches. The thundering voice of “many waters” (1:15) recalls Ezek. 43:2 and 1:24; without doubt it made an impression on the listener as anyone who has been near a great rapids may attest.

The metaphor of “seven stars in his right hand” (1:16) is partially defined in 1:20 to refer to “the angels of the seven churches.” That Jesus holds them in his right hand is a symbol of his sovereignty and power.[2]

The image of “a sharp double-edged sword extended out of his mouth” (1:16) sounds grotesque to some, but it is drawn from the description of the coming Messiah in Isa. 11:4: “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and order the wicked to be executed.” The sword in the NT and the rod in the OT represent the judging words or commands that strike down the Messiah’s enemies. These words have the same power as the words spoken to create the world (Gen. 1).

This picture shows Jesus the all-powerful Son of God returning to sweep his enemies into eternal oblivion.

Where do you turn?

When you see Jesus as he is, there is no way you can stay the same! But the sorrow of the twenty-first century is that many Christians know little about him due to lack of Bible reading. Manhattan pastor Tim Keller has said, “If you don’t trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship to God?”[3]

While we are unlikely to hear Christ’s audible voice, as John did, he speaks to us constantly from his Word and by the Spirit. Are you turning to follow him?

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 209.

[2] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)59.

[3] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) 113.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!