April 13, 2014


Revelation 1:14—19 (contd)

There was coming forth from his mouth a sharp, two-edged sword.

THE sword referred to was not long and narrow like a fencer’s blade; it was a short, tongue-shaped sword for close fighting. Again, the seer has searched the Old Testament for his picture. Isaiah says of God: ‘He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth’ (Isaiah 11:4); and of himself: ‘He made my mouth like a sharp sword’ (Isaiah 49:2). The symbolism tells us of the penetrating quality of the word of God. If we listen to it, no shield of self-deception can withstand it; it strips away our self-deludings, lays bare our sin and leads to pardon. ‘The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword’ (Hebrews 4:12). ‘And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

His face was as the sun shining in its strength.

In Judges, there is a great picture which may well have been in John’s mind. The enemies of God shall perish, ‘But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might’ (Judges 5:31). If that is true of those who love God, how much truer it must be of God’s beloved Son. Swete sees something even lovelier here–nothing less than a memory of the transfiguration. On that occasion, Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, ‘and his face shone like the sun’ (Matthew 17:2). No one who had seen that sight could ever forget the glow; and, if the writer of this book is that same John, perhaps he saw again on the face of the risen Christ the glory he had glimpsed on the Mount of Transfiguration.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man.

This was the experience of Ezekiel when God spoke to him (Ezekiel 1:28, 3:23, 43:3). But surely we can again find a memory of the gospel story. On that day in Galilee, when there was the great catch of fish and Peter glimpsed who Jesus was, he fell to his knees, conscious only that he was a sinful man (Luke 5:1—11). To the end of the day, there can be nothing but reverence in the presence of the holiness and the glory of the risen Christ.

Stop being afraid.

Surely here, too, we have a reminiscence of the gospel story, for these were words which the disciples had heard more than once from the lips of Jesus. It was in this way that he spoke to them when he came to them across the water (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50); and it was above all in this way that he spoke to them on the Mount of Transfiguration, when they were terrified at the sound of the divine voice (Matthew 17:7). Even in heaven, when we come near the unapproachable glory, Jesus is saying: ‘I am here; do not be afraid.’

I am the first and the last.

In the Old Testament, this is nothing other than the self-description of God (Isaiah 44:6, 48:12). It is the promise of Jesus that he is there at the beginning and the end. He is there in the moment of birth and at the time of death. He is there when we set out upon the Christian way and when we finish our course. As F. W. H. Myers, in his poem ‘Saint Paul’, makes Paul say:

Yea thro’ life, death, thro’ sorrow and thro’ sinning
He shall suffice me, for he hath sufficed:
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.

I am the living one, although I was dead and I am alive forever and forever.

Here is at once the claim and the promise of Christ, the claim of one who conquered death and the promise of one who is alive for evermore to be with his people.

I have the keys of death and Hades.

Death has its gates (Psalm 9:13, 107:18; Isaiah 38:10); and Christ has the keys of these gates. There were those who took this claim–and some still do–as a reference to the descent into hell (1 Peter 3:18—20). There was a belief in the ancient Church that, when Jesus descended into Hades, he unlocked the doors and brought out Abraham and all God’s faithful people who had lived and died in the generations before. But we may take it in an even wider sense; for we who are Christians believe that Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10), that because he lives we too shall live (John 14:19), and that, therefore, for us and for those whom we love, the bitterness of death is forever past.

Barclay, W. (2004). The Revelation of John (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated., Vol. 1, pp. 59—61). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

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