On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…
Though language was given us by God, human language cannot find the words to adequately describe Him. We would do better to measure the Milky Way with a yard stick than to think that our best words and phrases have captured all that there is to God. Even the inspired words of Scripture have their limitations, since they are written in human languages, and here in the first chapter of Revelation is such a case.
The book is properly called The Revelation of Jesus Christ – meaning that the central purpose of the book is to reveal or unveil to us Christ – and there are three separate places in the book where Christ is described in apocalyptic literature: The Resurrected Christ (Revelation 1:12-20); The Reigning Christ (Revelation 5:6-14); and the Returning Christ (Revelation 19:11-16).
Apocalyptic literature in the Bible used traditional symbols and sometimes bizarre imagery to communicate divine truth. This type of literature is not very much in style today, but in the days of the Bible it was very popular. God sanctioned its use in the Scripture, I believe, to convey truth in areas where our minds and our language simply cannot master the subject, where we find neither the ability to conceive nor the capacity to intelligently convey the situation. And certainly the holiness and greatness of Christ are included here.
On the small prison colony of Patmos the apostle John, an elderly man by then, the former Son of Thunder then the Apostle of Love, was caught up in an experience on one Resurrection Day, or Sunday – an experience he can only describe as being “in the Spirit.” These words describe not a state of confusion but one of extreme clarity for the loud voice he heard sounded like a trumpet, and the trumpet was an instrument of extreme clarity, used on battle grounds for its ability to send different signals across a wide area. On that day, that which was cloaked in mystery, enshrouded from our minds, misconceived by our hearts tainted with sins and superstitions through the centuries since the Fall, that which was from the beginning, from before the beginning, was made clear to John.
The condition of being “in the Spirit” was preceded by the very keen awareness of John of his own sin and of the forgiveness he had received through Christ. He had embraced his forgiveness as sincerely as he had recognized his sinfulness, and sought as well to be reconciled to all men, and to live in obedience to Christ. (See 1 John 1:5-2:5.) But the experience he described here was unusual and mirrored the experience of Ezekiel who said “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezek 1:1). But there is a significant difference between these two. Ezekiel used the language of the Old Testament and John used the language of the New Testament, for in this age we find the Spirit indwelling us, being close to our hearts and filling our lives with Himself. He did not use the distant language of Ezekiel that the heavens, way up there, opened, but that he, John, was in the Spirit, providing an image of the Spirit enveloping his heart, his mind, his soul, his spirit, and his entire being.
The word “trumpet” is significant for us, for though the vision is described for us in rich imagery, so much so that we might wonder if John had lost his mind, it did not come that way to him. The imagery is used in the telling of the story to us, not in the receiving of the revelation by John. The vision was received in the utmost clarity, and even when there is more of God revealed than we can grasp, we are well aware of that fact, that we are standing at the brink of eternity gazing off into the immeasurable greatness of Him who is above all and beyond all.
The psalmist wrote, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand (Psalm 139:17-18a). Not only is the greatness of God immeasurable, but His kindness to us is the same. Out of His eternal heart comes eternal love. Out of His creativeness that formed the tiniest creatures comes His compassion that touches us in the tiniest of ways – none of which, however, are ever insignificant. Just as a lover will put the greatest of care in the smallest part of a gift for the one he loves – adjusting the bow just so, placing the note just here – to an infinitely greater degree, God reaches out to us with compassion that is expressed in the tiniest of details.
The image of the Resurrected Christ is described as:
Standing among the lampstands: meaning that He was among His churches, with His people. He is the intimate and close Lord.
Like a son of man: His humanity is complete and full, yet without sin and now He is the first fruits of the resurrection, providing hope for those who sleep the sleep of death, the prototype of our own resurrection.
Dressed in a robe and golden sash: these are the clothes of the priest and point out to us that He is our high priest, who has paid for our salvation with His own blood.
His head and hair were like wool, white as snow: emblems of His glory, which is incomparable to any human glory, being far, far above it. (See Daniel 7:9.)
His eyes were like blazing fire: His eyes see all, imagery of His omniscience, and of the penetrating nature of His gaze. To the believer this reminds us that He knows very well the cost of our redemption, how far back from sin He has brought us and bought us. And an introduction to the judgments recorded in the book – He sees in perfect clarity what we ignore and are blind to.
His feet were like bronze: the medal here mentioned was forged and was the most durable of that day, an emblem of His permanence and victory, contrasting with the image of Daniel 2:33, whose feet were a mixture of baked iron and clay.
His voice was like the sound of many waters: the imagery is one of my favorites in all of Scripture for it depicts both the force (authority) and the gentleness of God’s voice. Ocean waves and waterfalls are some of the loudest sounds in nature but also the most endearing to our hearts.
He held seven stars: these are described in 1:20 as the angels to the churches, the number seven being symbolic of completeness. His angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).
A sharp double-edged sword: referring to the word of God (Heb. 4:12). These last three images remind us of the way that he governs His churches today: though His voice or His spirit, through the ministering angels, and through His word.
His face was like the sun: Just as we find it impossible to look at the sun, so the brilliance and glory of Christ was overwhelming to John, to the point that he had to turn away though he was drawn to it all the same. Like the sun, by Him we see everything else, even when we are unable to gaze on Him.
The vision is meant to encourage us, to uplift us, to set our thoughts and affections on a higher plane. This world is passing away with its mundane-ness and meanness. The eternal kingdom of the eternal God awaits us and He calls us in Christ to know and to follow Him. Worship Him now in the splendor of His holiness, in the light of His greatness, in the knowledge of His love and compassion for you.