Friday, March 6, 2009

The Exalted Prophet, Priest and King of Revelation 1 (Part 2)

In addition to portraying Jesus Christ as the divine eschatological prophet, Revelation 1 also portrays him as the divine eschatological king. In 1.13, John describes the exalted on commissioning him to write as "one like the son of man," who had hair that was white like wool. This language is an allusion back to the vision of the Ancient of Days and the son of man in Daniel 7.9-14. In Daniel 7, God provides Daniel a vision using apocalyptic imagery to encourage his exiled people that despite the way things appear because they are pilgrims outside the land of promise and enduring persecution at the hands of God's enemies, God has a purpose for these things and is moving all of history to his appointed ends, according to his appointed means. God is sovereign and in control in the midst of their affliction (sound familiar?).

In the vision of Daniel 7, world history is set forth (similar to Daniel 2 and the vision of the statue that is alluded to in Rev. 1.1-3) and shown to be under the control of the Ancient of Days. He is this great judge figure enthroned in righteousness and fire--this is a picture of God himself, ruling and reigning and who calls the kingdoms of man (his enemies) to account for their rebellion and wickedness. The kingdoms of man stand before his throne, are judged, and stripped of their dominion.

Yet, after this judgment there is another who comes and is presented before the throne of the Ancient of Days. This figure is described as a son of man who comes with the clouds of heaven. This is not any man, this is a heavenly man. And this son of man is not judged but given a kingdom--an eternal kingdom with everlasting dominion. His kingdom will rule forever and never be defeated. This is the messianic king, receiving and ruling over the eternal Kingdom of God.

In Revelation 1, John alludes to both of these visions together by describing Jesus as the son of man, but also as the Ancient of Days. Jesus Christ, then, is the divine, messianic King ruling and reigning over the Kingdom of God forever, and which will never be defeated.

And this is true of Christ now. This is not some far off distant truth that will only become reality in the future at his second coming. He is the glorified, divine, eschatological king, now. And in this role of divine eschatological king, he no longer rules as he did in his earthly ministry. Christ did not become a king, but was born a king. But his kingdom rule did not play itself out according to Jewish and even Gentile expectations. Kings were to be victorious through battle and were to subdue their enemies through superior military might. Yet, Christ overcame his enemies not through a display of military might, but through his death and crucifixion on the cross. Christ waged the warfare of humiliation, love and the cross.

But in Revelation 1, we find that this is no longer the case for the divine eschatological king, for now in his resurrection and ascension, he rules as a victorious warrior who is bringing his judgment to his enemies. Revelation 1.16 describes him as now having a sharp two-edged sword coming from his mouth and a face like the sun shining in its full strength. The imagery of the sword alludes to Isaiah 11 and 49, where one who is the royal stem of Jesse that will be full of the Spirit who will rule in the name of God in righteousness and faithfulness. He rule is characterized as striking the earth with the rod of his mouth and as having a mouth like a sharp sword. His rule has two purposes: 1) to bring salvation to his people (consisting of both Jew and Gentile) and 2) to conquer his enemies to bring victory to his persecuted people.

The imagery of his face shining like the sun alludes to a combination of Judges 5.31 and Daniel 10. The main idea behind the symbolism is that of victorious warrior. In Judges 5, the song of Deborah is recorded celebrating God's victory on behalf of his languishing people through Jael. The end of the song says, "Thus let all your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength. So the land had rest for forty years." The result of God's victory was salvation from bondage and rest in the land from all her enemies. And those who are on God's side and part of God's victory are described like the sun when it comes out in full strength--this is what the victorious Israelite warrior who rests in God's victory is described.

Later in Daniel 10 a figure comes to Daniel, to once again give him revelation from God that is supposed to encourage God's people in the midst of their affliction. And the content has to do with God's ultimate victory over his enemies. This one who comes and delivers the message is described as having a face like lightening, wearing linen girded with gold, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and body like burnished bronze and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude. At the sight of this figure, Daniel collapses and is told by him "Do not fear," (once again, sound familiar?). This one is described as being in a great cosmic battle that is raging behind the scenes of history, of which history itself is a part. And at the end of the struggle, he is ultimately victorious, and all his people will share in that victory and the salvation and they will "shine like the brightness of the firmament." The victorious warrior is described as having his face like lightening and his victorious people too are described as shinning like the firmament.

The point here is that Jesus, as the son of man whose face shines like the sun, is the victorious conquering king who is putting down his enemies and bringing his people to salvation. Christ as the divine eschatological king rules as a victorious warrior bringing history and his enemies to their appointed end, as well as, ushering in eschatological salvation for his people as he consummates the new heavens and new earth. He is the divine, eschatological king, who is a victorious warrior, who is bringing the judgment of God to his enemies and salvation to his people.

It is this conquering, divine, eschatological king and warrior-judge that speaks to us in the Book of Revelation to comfort us in the midst of the battle, to call our attentions to the heavenly perspective of our current ordeal, and to warn that his judgment is coming. What better hope can be found than in being found to be in union with this Christ by faith, for those who are shall shine like him as they share in his victory. He is presently, now, exercising his messianic rule.

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