Revelation 1:9–11 introduces John’s vision of Jesus Christ by reporting his commission to “write what you see.” Verses 12–20 describe what John actually saw: Jesus Christ in glory (verses 12–16) standing in the midst of his churches (verses 17–20). We should pay close attention to John’s description of Jesus Christ.
- General appearance: “one like a son of man”
- Clothing: “a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest”
- Hair: “white like wool, as white as snow”
- Eyes: “like a flame of fire”
- Feet: “like burnished bronze”
- Voice: “like the roar of many waters”
Now, this is not the picture of Jesus I have always carried around in my mental wallet. For one thing, Jesus has brown hair, right? For another, in the children’s church flannel graphs I grew up with, Jesus wears a white robe with a blue sash, not gold. Yellow eyes? No, brown—possibly blue. And while I understand the well-tanned feet—Jesus wore sandals after all—I am a bit put off by the thought of Jesus being a loud mouth. This is not my Sunday school Jesus.
And it is not intended to be. John’s description is theology, not portraiture. He shows Jesus in simile—“like” this, “as” that—not realistic detail. Nor is John’s description original to him. It is built on allusions to Daniel 7:9, 13; and 10:5. The general appearance of Jesus Christ alludes to Daniel 7:13, his clothing, eyes, feet, and voice to 10:5. But his hair alludes to Daniel 7:9, which gives us a hint of who Jesus really is.
Daniel 7:9 describes God as “the Ancient of days” whose clothing “was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool.” John takes these two similes and applies them to Jesus Christ, thus likening him to God. Elsewhere in his Revelation, John applies God’s titles to Jesus Christ, for example, “the Alpha and the Omega” (1:8, 21:6, 22:13). Robert H. Mounce comments, “The ascription of the titles and attributes of God to Christ is an indication of the exalted Christology of the Apocalypse.”[i] Simply put, for John—and for all Christians—Jesus Christ is God.
God, but not the Father. In Daniel 7:13–14, “one like a son of man” comes before “the Ancient of days.” Although we should not push John’s language beyond his intention, it seems to me that through these allusions, John is hinting at the doctrine of the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is a man, but not only a man. And he is divine, but not as God the Father—as God the Son.
Of this God-man, Daniel prophesies that he will receive “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” He goes on to say of him, “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Surely this is an accurate prophecy of what Christians in fact believe about Jesus Christ: “he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
So, John’s picture of Jesus is not the Sunday school picture you and I grew up with. It is very different—and infinitely better!
[i] Mounce, Revelation, 58.