Sunday School Notes: Revelation 1:13-16
13 And in the midst of the lampstands, [one] like a son of man having been clothed with a long robe and a golden belt wrapped around [his] chest. 14 And his head, even the hairs [were] white as wool, white as snow, and his eyes [were] as a flame of fire. 15 And his feet [were] like fine bronze as having been heated in a furnace, and his voice as the noise of many waters, 16 and having in his right hand seven stars, and coming out from his mouth a sharp, double-edged broadsword, and his aspect [was] shining as the sun in its power.
Having turned to see who’s talking to him, John describes the figure he sees. In the following section, this “son of man” will identify himself (albeit indirectly) as Jesus, so I don’t think there’s any question as to who this is. However, the various elements of John’s description tell us something about Jesus, and his role with regard to the church. The language of this passage draws heavily from Daniel 7:9-14 and Daniel 10:5-6. Indeed, I think John intends us to understand more than just common vocabulary between this passage and Daniel; we’re talking about the same person.
Last time we noted that the seven lampstands are more than likely a representation of the Temple menorah that in the Old Testament was used as a symbol of Israel. Here, each lampstand is a branch of the menorah, and the “son of man” stands in the midst of them. As the seven-stem menorah stood for Israel, so the seven lampstands represent the church (see 1:20). This is not to say the church has replaced Israel, but rather the church is a continuation and fulfillment of believing Israel. The fact that Jesus stands in the midst of the church, and not outside the church, is, I think, significant. As we will see, in Revelation, Jesus comes not only to give comfort and encouragement to the church, but also judgment, both to the church and the world. Among the duties of the Temple priest was keeping the menorah filled with oil and trimming the candle wicks. We can see these as analogous to Christ, our high priest, coming into the church, filling us with encouragement by the Spirit, and also chastising, “trimming” us to make us pure and help us burn brighter. That John sees Jesus here as priest is evident from his garments. The long robe, or podêrês in the Greek, could apply to either a priestly robe or a royal robe. The word is used in the Greek OT to translate various Hebrew words, among them those words for a priestly robe. The context, coupled with the “golden belt/sash,” seems to point to priestly attire. It’s interesting that the belt/sash is worn around the chest, not the waist. This might suggest a shoulder belt suitable for carrying a sword, which would be consistent with Christ’s role as judge. There is a connection between swords and judgment in the OT that will come into play when we get to verse 16.
A lot of academic papers and articles have been published on the meaning and significance of the term “son of man.” It’s a term we find in both the Old and New Testaments, and a close examination of its usage doesn’t present us with a consistent meaning. Sometimes it’s used as another way of referring to a person, as, for example, when God addresses Ezekiel and says “Son of man, stand on your feet” (Ezekiel 2:1), or Psalm 8:4, where the psalmist proclaims, “What is man that You are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?” clearly referring to human beings. In the Gospels, Jesus uses the term of himself, seemingly as another way of saying “I” (e.g., “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”–Matthew 8:20). But there are occasions when the term carries a lot more weight, as in John 5:27: “Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has also granted to the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority even to carry out judgment, because he is [the] Son of Man.” Here, the use of the phrase “son of man” in the context of executing judgment brings to mind the very context I think we have here in Revelation 1, and the context of the “son of man” passage in Daniel 7. The “son of man” in Daniel 7 is presented as one coming on the clouds, and being granted eternal power and authority–so he’s not just an ordinary guy. I think Daniel uses the term “son of man” to indicate to us that the vision he sees is of something that is, at least in appearance, humanoid. It looks like a person with two arms, two legs, a head, eyes, nose, mouth, etc. But there’s more to him than that. John seems to be using the term in the same way: he sees a man… but not just an ordinary man. And the way John describes this man is meant to make us think of Daniel’s “son of man,” so we understand that they are the same person. And just to be absolutely sure we see the connection between John’s “son of man” and Daniel’s, John throws in a grammatical “error”–the form of the word “son” (huion) is incorrect (for the Greek geeks, John writes homoion huion, but a dative should follow homoion, not an accusative). As we’ve noted before where John has made similar “mistakes,” while it’s possible this is a legitimate slip of the pen, given John uses the correct form elsewhere, and given the significance of the term with regard to Daniel 7, it’s more likely John is using bad grammar to alert us to the Daniel reference.
In verse 14, John describes the son of man’s hair, saying it’s white as wool and white as snow. This language comes straight from Daniel 7:9, but there it’s describing the Ancient of Days’ clothing (white as snow) and hair (like pure wool). We can say that John is not intending to quote Daniel exactly here, so it’s okay that he uses descriptions of the hair and attire of the Ancient of Days and ascribe them to the hair of the son of man. However, a grammatical anomaly may suggest that John intends a reference to the Ancient of Days. Without going into the details of the Greek, if we insert the phrase “and his garment” from Daniel 7:9 between “even the hairs of his head [were] white as wool” and “white as snow,” not only would Revelation 1:14 more closely match Daniel 7:9, but this would also clear up the grammatical anomaly–in other words, the sentence would be grammatically correct. The manuscript evidence suggests that what we have in verse 14 is what John originally wrote, so if he is dropping words from Daniel 7:9, he’s doing so deliberately. I suggest this is another case of John introducing a grammatical error to draw our attention, this time to the fact that he is using a description of the Ancient of Days to describe the son of man. In Daniel 7, the Ancient of Days is a separate person from the son of man, and indeed, in 7:13-14, the son of man goes to the Ancient of Days and receives eternal power and rule from him. These verses bring to mind Paul’s description of Christ’s humility and exaltation in Philippians 2:5-11. To sum up, John is saying that the son of man and the Ancient of Days are the same being, and both are represented here in this vision of Christ.
The throne upon which the Ancient of Days sits in Daniel 7:9 is described as “a flame of fire,” which is the same term used to describe the eyes of the son of man in Revelation 1:14. Fire is mentioned again in Daniel 10:6 with regard to the man with the gold sash around his waist, speaking of his eyes, but this time saying they were like “a lamp of fire.” John’s mention of the son of man’s fiery eyes in Revelation 2:18 leads us to believe that the fire here has judicial significance (as it does in Daniel 10). Once again, Christ has come as judge.
The description of the son of man’s feet in verse 15 parallels the description of the vision’s feet in Daniel 10:6, again making sure we understand that the same person is in mind here in Revelation. The son of man has feet of “purified” or “burnished bronze”–these are feet free from moral corruption, symbolizing the purity of this person. We also noted that the son of man is barefoot, as would the Israelite be as he officiated in the Temple or the Tabernacle. The voice of “many waters” is sort-of paralleled in Daniel 10:6, where the Greek OT describes the voice of the vision as “like the sound of a crowd.” It’s true that the noise of rushing waters, as with a waterfall, can sound like a crowd of people, so it’s possible that John and Daniel hear the same noise, but describe it in different ways.
John’s purpose in these verses is not simply to describe what he saw, but to show us how this vision was the same as the son of man that appeared to Daniel, emphasizing the continuity between Daniel and Revelation. But John does more than simply demonstrate that he saw the same son of man; he helps us understand the relationship between Daniel’s son of man and his Ancient of Days. Although Daniel saw them as two separate persons, John shows us that they are, in fact, the same being–one of numerous clear affirmations of the deity of Christ in Revelation.
We didn’t actually get to verse 16 this week, so I’ll save the notes for that until next time.