Before any message would go to the seven churches, Jesus presented Himself to John in a spectacular personality. The symbols He employed were encoded messages to the churches about how He would want them to perceive Him, but more importantly, to affirm His supremacy over the imperial Roman regime. Revelation 1: 11-20 sets this Christological images in motion.
1:11 I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last; and—Other old manuscripts do not have this expression. Most English Bibles, including NIV, NLT, ESV, BST, NASB, etc. omit it. The only justification for this omission may be a seemly assumption that the title is used in connection to God alone in the Book of Revelation (1: 8; 21: 6; 22: 13). Write in a book—John is not called to behold only the vision. It must be preserved in a book. The same instruction is repeated in 1: 19. The seven churches include—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. There are no clues in the book of Revelation as to why these seven selected churches. But it’s quite clear from Christ message how their spiritual deficiency needed attendance before the impending crisis.
1:12 The moment—John participates in the vision. He hears and sees things not in the ordinary world but in the spirit. Seven golden lampstands—Lange explains the “lampstands are not identical with the seven-armed candlestick (the so-called menorah) in the holy of the tabernacle or temple (Ex 25: 31-39). These are individual lampstands symbolizing the seven churches (1: 20c) and among which the son of man stands (1: 13)” (Revelation DIY2, p. 8). The vision is a preview of Chapter 2 where Christ identifies Himself with the seven Churches by the phrase, “I know your works.” But more significantly, Jesus amid the seven golden lampstands implies also how He and His churches have taken centrality of the worship system.
1:13-15 The vision of the Son of the Man—We have here a common title of Jesus, which He referred to Himself several times in the Gospels. The phrase is not necessarily exclusive to Jesus. The entire Bible is polarized with this phrase. For example, in the book of Ezekiel (perhaps most appearances of the phrase), the prophet is referred to on several occasions as “son of man”. The phrase simply means one in the form of a human or born as a human being. In both the books of Daniel and Revelation, we should not mistake the qualifying similies, “one like the/a Son of man.” The person in the vision appears to them in human form. It is not so difficult to identify the Son of Man from the book of Daniel and Revelation. Revelation contains several allusions or parallels from the book of Daniel. This is how we know both books are talking about the same person:
|“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man” (Dan 7: 13)||“among the lampstands was someone like a son of man” (Rev 1: 13)|
|“.coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan 7: 13)||“… he is coming with the clouds” (Rev 1: 7)|
|“He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Dan 7: 13)||“He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne” (Rev 5: 7)|
|“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power… ” (Dan 7: 14)||“to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5: 12)|
|“a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist” (Dan 10: 5)||“a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest” (Rev 1: 13)|
|“His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches” (Dan 10: 6a)||“The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire” (Rev 1: 14)|
|“his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (Dan 10: 6b)||“His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (Rev 1: 15)|
Further parallel allusion exists between Rev 1: 13-15 with Jewish Apocalypse of Zephaniah (apocryphal document). Werner Lange (Revelation DIY 2, p. 3) writes:
The description of the son of man in Rev 1 has, in fact, even greater parallels to the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, a Jewish apocryphal document from the first century. Its basic theme is the divine final judgment, which God will carry out through angels. There we find the description of an angel named Eremiel, which is very similar to the description in Rev 1:12-20:
Then I arose and stood and I saw a great angel standing before me with his face shining like the rays of the sun in his glory, since his face is like that which is perfected in his glory. And he was girded as if a golden girdle were upon his breast. His feet were like bronze which is melted in a fire. And when I saw him I rejoiced for I thought the Lord Almighty had come to visit me. I fell upon my face and I worshiped him. He said to me, Take heed. Do not worship me. I am not the Lord Almighty but I am the great angel Eremiel who is over the Abyss and Hades, the one in which all the souls imprisoned from the end of the flood are which came upon the earth until this day. (Apocalypse of Zephaniah 6:11-15).
It is quite explicit to realize the connection between the apocalyptic images and Jewish traditions. Every student of Revelation should not miss the contextual backgrounds to the descriptions in the vision.
1:16 In His right hand seven stars—Position of favor according to Jewish culture (Isa 41: 10). The Son of Man sat at the right hand of God (Ps 110: 1; Mk 16:19; Acts 7:56; Heb 1:3; 10:12). The seven stars—Later identified as the seven angels (messengers) of the seven churches (1: 20). Here, we find remarkable imagery from the Roman empire. A minted Roman coin from the first century (83 AD) helps us to decipher the depiction of the Son of Man and the seven stars in His hands. A gold coin depicting emperor Domitian’s son as a naked infant boy on a globe with seven stars around him. The inscription on the coin reads, DIVUS CAESARIMP DOMITIANIF, meaning, “the divine Caesar, son of the emperor Domitian.” Commentators believe,
“The globe represents world dominion and power, while stars typically bespoke the divine nature of those accompanied . . . the infant depicted on the globe was the son of (a) god and that the infant was conqueror of the world.
If he was the son of a god, then who was god? Of course, his father, Domitian! I cannot help but use my sanctified imagination and wonder if John did not have this coin in front of him when he penned “and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to His feet . . . He had in His right hand seven stars” (Rv 1:13, 16). He refers back to this vision in the letter to the church at Thyatira, when the Lord Jesus identifies Himself as the “Son of God” (Rv 2:18).” (Janzen, E. “The Jesus of the Apocalypse Wears the Emperor’s Clothes.” SBL 1994 Seminar Papers. Atlanta: Scholars)
John’s recipients would have no difficulty deciphering the messages behind the symbols. And once again, there is an obvious reason why the book was codified in symbols. For more on the seven stars, read “The King and I: The Apostle John and Emperor Domitian, Part 1” by Gordon Franz. Out of his mouth—That is proceeding out of his mouth. This expression is common in the book of Revelation. We read from Rev 16: 13, “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.” Out of the mouth of the dragon (12: 15, 16), out of the mouth of the beast (13: 5, 6), and out of the mouth of the false prophet (13: 11). A sharp, double-edged sword—The double-edged sword is given more significance in the fight against the false doctrines of the Nicolaitans in the church of Pergamos (2: 12-16). See also 19: 15, 21. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance—Quite theophanic. This recalls the glory of God in the form of the Shekinah. See 21: 23 and 22: 5.
1:17-18 I fell at his feet as though dead—John recognizes the Lordship of Christ as he falls prostrate before His feet. The text does not say the brightness of Christ caused John to fall (compare with Acts 9: 4). This act of prostration was the Jewish expression of reverence and very recurring in the book of Revelation (5: 8, 14; 7: 11; 11: 16; 19: 4, 10; 22: 8). I am the First and the Last—This statement parallels the attribute of God as the Alpha and Omega in 1: 8; 21: 6; 22: 13. It shows how the Son shares in the divinity of God. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever—The resurrected Christ reaffirms the reality of the resurrection. This, later on, becomes an assurance to the persecuted church in Smyrna (2: 8). Holds the keys of death and hades—My friend Samuel Sarpaning comments that “In the Greco-Roman mystical tradition, Hekate is believed to hold the key to the grave or Hades. This self-proclamation of Christ reveals His victory over the power over the grave and has therefore rescued the key to Hades from its bearer Hekate and also reveals that he is the beginning and the end which was another attribute of Hekate” (Revelation 1: 10-18—A commentary).
1:19 Write—John is instructed to write three things, “what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” The dimensions of the vision involve past, present, and future. The time frame for the fulfillment of the vision beyond John’s immediate context.
1: 20 The seven stars…seven golden lampstands—The prophetic interpretation is given by Jesus himself. “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” In Revelation chapter, we shall focus entirely on the seven churches.