Fear Not: Jesus and John

Fear Not: Jesus and John

Fear Not: Jesus and John.

“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, ‘Fear not! Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.'” (Revelation 1: 17-18).

Later in life, St. John found himself in solitary imprisonment, exiled on the lonely island of Patmos. This small, rocky island was a Roman penal colony during the persecution of Christians led by emperor Domitian. The island was fifty miles offshore from John’s home and center of  ministry in Ephesus. John was banished to Patmos because he wouldn’t stop preaching the Good News and leading many new Christian churches in that area. In John’s words, “I was exiled on the island of Patmos because of the ministry of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Rev. 1:9).

John was privately “worshiping in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day, and it seemed he was in some type of supernatural trance with a clear vision into God’s world. Other translations report that John was in the spiritual realm, or that he became in union with the Spirit. In any case, John was primed to receive a special vision of the heavenly Jesus and whatever would follow from that unique revelation. While worshiping, John heard a voice behind him, and when he turned to see whose voice it was, he saw the glory and splendor of the risen Christ. It seems true sometimes that we have to turn around, we have to turn our heads and redirect our attention to see Jesus and His message for us. Sometimes we move too fast and need to turn around to see what’s behind us. John’s vision was unforgettable and shocking, and later he wrote it down in detail. We tend to think that the book of Revelation is merely about the Apocalypse, about future events and prophetic messages. But first this book is a revealing of Jesus. Jesus revealed Himself before He revealed anything else. That should be the first thing we want to see, the person of Christ, before anything else.

First in John’s vision was seven golden menorahs, seven golden lampstands, and standing in the middle of the lampstands was the Son of Man. John is saying something profound here. He is noting that Jesus was the fulfillment of Daniel’s ancient vison during which Daniel saw, “the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool.” (Dan. 7:9). Daniel’s vision continued with Daniel seeing “someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence. He was given authority, honor and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey Him. His rule is eternal – it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:13-14).

Because Hebrew scholars believe that Daniel’s son of man vision refers to the Messiah, Jesus loved to use that term in his self-descriptions. When He calls Himself Son of Man, He is identifying with all humanity, while also claiming to be the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophetic vision, the true Messiah. Jesus even described His ultimate return in glory in words that refer directly to Daniel 7, “And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens , and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matt. 24:30).

John’s vision of Jesus is strikingly similar to Daniel’s vision of the special Messenger from Heaven, a pre-incarnate Christophany, in Daniel 10: “I looked up and saw a man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people.” (Daniel 10:5-6).

John sees a Jesus that is fearsome and practically unexplainable.. “He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across His chest. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came forth from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.” (Rev. 1:13-16). John reacted to his other-worldly vision the same way that Daniel reacted to his… he fainted dead away, flat on his face. Who wouldn’t?

John’s vision of Jesus brought to the surface many symbols of Christ’s attributes. John’s description in many ways represents eternal truths about the glorified person of Christ, who seems to reveal Himself best in metaphor and symbol and imagery. Christ’s white hair represents His eternal wisdom and purity, His status as the divine Elder who commands universal respect. His robe that reached to His feet points out His priesthood, as does His gold sash. Jesus appears, then, as the High Priest who boldly walks into God’s presence and obtains forgiveness for His people. Christ’s eyes of flame symbolize His eternal knowledge, able to judge rightly, able to probe and peer into the hearts and minds of each person. His blazing eyes know impurity when He sees it. In noting Christ’s voice, John was trying to describe the indescribable. His voice was so pervasive and continuous and unrelenting, it was like the sound of a waterfall, or maybe ocean waves, which signify in Scripture the sound of multitudes of voices speaking at the same time. The voice of Jesus was a sublime mystery… somehow His voice was understandable, yet it was in heavenly surround-sound. Christ’s feet were like polished and refined bronze, representing His ability to stand firm beautifully and permanently. The face of Christ has absorbed the uncreated Light of glory for all eternity, and so, like in His transfiguration, Jesus’ brilliant countenance shot forth dazzling sunbeams, too bright to stare at, like the pulsing brightness of the noonday sun at its height. His right hand held seven stars, representing the seven pastors or shepherds of the churches in question, and they stand for the human messengers of each church as shining lights. Jesus is seen by John as standing, perhaps walking, in the midst of seven golden menorahs, seven lampstands. They represent the seven churches in Asia that will soon be addressed by Jesus. Each lampstand is kept lit by oil, by the Holy Spirit, in order to bring light to a dark world. And there is Jesus, then as now, in the midst of the churches, present wherever believers gather in His name. Immanuel, God-with-us.

The two-edged sword coming out of the mouth of Jesus represents the Word of God and the power of His message, a sword that can do heart surgery when skillfully wielded by the soul’s surgeon, Jesus Christ. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12).

After witnessing this mind-boggling appearance of the risen Christ, this is the moment when John fainted, and Jesus’ right hand helped John regain his consciousness. The first words Jesus says to John are, Don’t be afraid.
Fear not. This is me, John, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Living One who has conquered death and is alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys to the unseen realm and to death. I hold all authority and have the power to release souls from judgment. And as John observed later in Revelation when thinking about the keys in Christ’s hand, “What He opens, no one can shut; what He shuts, no one can open.” (Rev. 3:7). Christ’s brief self-description here was certainly an encouragement and eye-opener, and provided all the reassurance John needed to focus on the task at hand… to write down all the prophetic messages and visions revealed by the Living Word. John, the saintly secretary of the Lord, taking dictation for all posterity. Thanks be to God.

Another Thought: Fear of Impurity. “The Son of Man is not only pure, He is purifying, with “eyes pouring fire-blaze” (verse 14). The important thing about fire is that it penetrates and transforms. The holiness of Christ gets inside us, and when it does, it changes us. Christ’s gaze penetrates and purifies. He doesn’t look at us, He looks into us. When He does, we’re changed. That’s the hope of our exposure to him in the pages of Revelation. And it will be a transforming hope if only we will keep from shielding our eyes from His gaze.” (Eugene Peterson,  Reversed Thunder).

One Reply to “Fear Not: Jesus and John”

  1. It’s interesting God always tells us “Fear not” when there are very frightening things happening. Are we supposed to override our natural response or is He saying to increase our faith and trust so that we can see His plan in what at first appears overwhelming?