Jesus: God the Son
As we approach this Christmas season, the focus of most people, both Christian and non-Christian, will be on the babe in a manger, the human Jesus. Sadly, however, Christians have often failed to acknowledge that Jesus is truly human while non-Christians have insisted that he is only human. I’ll address the evangelical failure at another time, but I want to draw our attention today to the full and unqualified deity of Jesus of Nazareth and the immensely practical benefit that comes from meditating on his divinity.
There is no better place for this than the book of Revelation. In particular, chapter 1, verses 12-18, present us with an unparalleled portrait of the glory and power of the risen Christ. There then follows in chapters 2-3 an interesting application of these verses. Each of the seven letters to the seven churches, with one exception, is prefaced with a description of Jesus taken from 1:12-18. Furthermore, in most cases the description is especially relevant to the circumstances of the church being addressed.
Two initial observations:
First, many are surprised by the perspective taken toward the person of Christ in the book of Revelation. It is almost exclusively concerned with him as exalted and glorified, not humbled and oppressed. What little is said of his life pertains almost exclusively to his death on the cross.
The book of Revelation is largely concerned with encouraging believers who are persecuted and oppressed. Whereas it would certainly be appropriate to speak of Jesus' humiliation and suffering as a man in order to comfort those who themselves are suffering, we have instead a vivid description of his deity, his triumph, and the glories of his exalted status at the right hand of the Father. The point is this: we should be encouraged and strengthened in our struggle with persecution and pain by reflecting on the triumphant exaltation of the God-man, Jesus. His resurrection and exaltation remind us that no matter how intense the battle may be, in the end we win because he won.
Second, we must be careful not to become overly obsessed with the particulars of this portrait of Jesus. Whereas each element in this portrait has theological significance, G. B. Caird warns us not "to unweave the rainbow" (25). In other words,
"John uses his allusions not as a code in which each symbol requires separate and exact translation, but rather for their evocative and emotive power. This is not photographic art. His aim is to set the echoes of memory and association ringing. The humbling sense of the sublime and the majestic which men experience at the sight of a roaring cataract [waterfall] or the midday sun is the nearest equivalent to the awe evoked by a vision of the divine. John has seen the risen Christ, clothed in all the attributes of deity, and he wishes to call forth from his readers the same response of overwhelming and annihilating wonder which he experienced in his prophetic trance" (25-26).
A. The Exalted Christ - 1:12-18
I want to comment briefly on selected parts of this vision:
1. Son of Man (cf. Dan. 7:13-14) - This description not only points to our Lord's humanity, but even more to his role as messianic king through whom God's dominion and power are exercised over all creation.
2. The robe and girdle evoke images of the high priest under the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 28:4; 39:29) and thus point to Christ's function as he who has obtained for us immediate access into God's presence.
3. The white hair reminds us of the Ancient of Days in Dan. 7:9 and thus points again to his deity, his essential oneness with the Father in the eternal Godhead.
4. His eyes were like a flame of fire - Seiss writes:
"Here is intelligence; burning, all-penetrating intelligence. Here is power to read secrets, to bring hidden things to light, to warm and search all hearts at a single glance. . . . But his sharp look is one of inspiring warmth to the good, as well as discomfiting and consuming terror to the hypocritical and the godless. Will you believe it, my friends, that this is the look which is upon you, and which is to try you in the great day! Well may we pray the prayer of David: 'Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thought; and see if there be any evil way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting'" (40).
5. His feet were like burnished bronze
6. His voice was like the sound of many waters
7. The sword is not in his hand, but proceeds from his mouth, indicating that his spoken word is in view. A sword that cuts two ways points to the gospel as that which both brings either life or judgment.
8. His face was like the sun shining in its strength - Again Seiss explains:
"Something of this was seen in the mount of transfiguration, when 'his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.' Something of the same was manifest when he appeared to Saul of Tarsus in 'a light above the brightness of the sun.' And so glorious and pervading is this light which issues from his face, that in the New Jerusalem there will be neither sun, nor moon, nor lamp, nor any other light, and yet rendered so luminous by his presence, that even the nations on the earth walk in the light of it. And so the lightning brilliancy, which is to flash from one end of heaven to the other at the time of his coming, and the glory which is then to invest him and the whole firmament, is simply the uncovering or revelation of that blessed light which streams from his sublime person" (43).
B. The Exalted Christ among the Churches - Rev. 2-3
Note the advance made from the description in 1:13,16 to that of 2:1. He not only "has" the stars, he "holds" (lit., grasps) them. He not only "stands" in the midst of the lampstands, he "walks" among them! Our Lord patrols the churches with an intense and ever present awareness of all thoughts, deeds, and activities. Thus it is no surprise that each letter begins with the ominous, "I know thy works." Jesus is not an absentee overseer who withdrew from earth at his ascension to exercise his authority by remote control! He is always and ever present with us.
Here we see how the description of Jesus is perfectly suited to the needs of the church in Smyrna. This was a persecuted church, on the verge of martyrdom. "To a congregation, faced with the prospect of renewed persecution and the death of some of its members, the reminder that Jesus is the lord of Easter serves as a welcome consolation" (Beasley-Murray, 81). Believers living in the shadow of impending death are reminded that an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal God is in control. To those who will lose their lives, Jesus says: "I have conquered sin and death!"
This statement anticipates 2:16 which speaks of Christ as the administrator of divine justice. Cf. 19:15,21. Pergamum was the imperial city, the residence of the Roman proconsul who possessed the power of life and death, whose symbol was the sword. The point is that although these believers live under the authority of him who holds the sword of imperial justice, they are citizens of a greater empire whose king needs no other weapon than the sword of his spoken Word.
Here we find the only occurrence of the title, "Son of God." Mounce explains its significance. This title
"stands in strong contrast to the local cultic worship of Apollo Tyrimnos, which was merged with that of the emperor (identified as Apollo incarnate) so that both were acclaimed as sons of Zeus. Thus it is not the emperor or the guardian deity of Thyatira, but the resurrected Christ, who is the true son of God. He is described as having eyes like flames of fire and feet like burnished brass. . . . In Daniel's great vision of the last days (chaps. 10-12) the celestial being appearing to him as 'eyes like flaming torches' and 'legs like the gleam of burnished bronze' (Dan. 10:6). The flaming eyes suggest the penetrating power of Christ's ability to see through the seductive arguments of Jezebel and those who were being led astray by her pernicious teaching. Feet . . . like burnished brass convey the idea of strength and splendor."
In Isa. 40:25 and Rev. 6:10, "the holy one" is a title for God. The "true" or "genuine" one portrays Jesus as faithful and trustworthy; one deserving of our confidence; dependable; reliable; consistent and steadfast. Cf. Ps. 146:5-6; Lam. 3:22-23. He has "the key of David," an allusion to Isa. 22:22 where Eliakim is to replace the worthless steward Shebna, and will exercise undisputed authority over the house of David. In like manner, authority over the kingdom of God has been entrusted to the risen Christ. It is he who determines who enters the New Jerusalem. He opens and closes the door into his kingdom.
"While the Jews, whose hostility is prominently in view, denied that Jesus was the Messiah, and claimed that they alone, and not his followers, could have part in the final kingdom of David, these opening words on the contrary declare the Lord's true Messiahship, and his power in the coming reign of glory to open the door to his own and to close it to the self-styled 'children of the kingdom'" (Beckwith, 479).
This may also be "an intentional contrast with the practice of the local synagogue in excommunicating Christian Jews" (Mounce, 116).
I leave you with this exhortation from Jonathan Edwards:
"What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? Are you afraid that he cannot save you; that he is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one stronger than the 'mighty God' as Christ is called in Isa. 9:6? Is there need of greater than infinite strength? Are you afraid that he will not be willing to stoop so low as to take any gracious notice of you? But then, look on him, as he stood in the ring of soldiers, exposing his blessed face to be buffeted and spit upon by them! Behold him bound with his back uncovered to those that smote him! And behold him hanging on the cross! Do you think that he that had condescension enough to stoop to these things, and that for his crucifiers, will be unwilling to accept of you if you come to him? Or, are you afraid that if he does accept of you, that God the Father will not accept of him for you? But consider, will God reject his own Son, in whom his infinite delight is, and has been, from all eternity, and who is so united to him, that if he should reject him he would reject himself?
What is there that you can desire should be in a Savior that is not in Christ? Or, in what way would you desire a Savior to be otherwise than Christ is? What excellency is there lacking? What is there that is great or good; what is there that is venerable or winning; what is there that is adorable or endearing; or what can you think of that would be encouraging, which is not to be found in the person of Christ?
Would you have your Savior to be great and honorable, because you are not willing to be beholden to a mean person? And, is not Christ a person honorable enough to be worthy that you should be dependent on him; is he not a person high enough to be appointed to so honorable a work as your salvation? Would you not only have a Savior of high degree, but would you have him, notwithstanding his exaltation and dignity, to be made also of low degree, that he might have experience of afflictions and trials, that he might learn by the things that he has suffered, to pity them that suffer and are tempted? And has not Christ been made low enough for you and has he not suffered enough?
Would you not only have him possess experience of the afflictions you now suffer, but also of that amazing wrath that you fear hereafter, that he may know how to pity those that are in danger, and are afraid of it? This Christ has had . . . a greater sense of it, a thousand times, than you have, or any man living has.
Would you have your Savior to be one who is near to God, so that his mediation might be prevalent with him? And can you desire him to be nearer to God than Christ is, who is his only-begotten Son, of the same essence with the Father? And would you not only have him near to God, but also near to you, that you may have free access to him? And would you have him nearer to you than to be in the same nature, united to you by a spiritual union, so close as to be fitly represented by the union of the wife to the husband, of the branch to the vine, of the member to the head; yea, so as to be one spirit? For so he will be united to you, if you accept of him. Would you have a Savior that has given some great and extraordinary testimony of mercy and love to sinners, by something that he has done, as well as by what he says? And can you think or conceive of greater things than Christ has done? Was it not a great thing for him, who was God, to take upon him human nature; to be not only God, but man thenceforward to all eternity? But would you look upon suffering for sinners to be a yet greater testimony of love to sinners, than merely doing, though it be ever so extraordinary a thing that he has done? And would you desire that a Savior should suffer more than Christ has suffered for sinners? What is there lacking, or what would you add if you could, to make him more fit to be your Savior?"