These questions are really answered for us by John in the final two elements of his description of Jesus: “From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:16). Clearly, John is teaching that from the mouth of Jesus comes the sharp, judging Word of God in the spirit of what we read in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Even more certainly, when John writes that His face was shining like the sun in full strength, he shows that his description goes beyond the literal appearance of Jesus in heaven in order to communicate its meaning. If the face of Jesus was literally shining like the sun, then John could not have seen His hair or His eyes or His mouth. John writes of the shining of the face of Jesus to show His glory and the fullness and purity of light that is in Him.
Why has John chosen to write with these word pictures? One reason is that they communicate very powerfully the meaning that he wants us to understand. To write that Jesus’ face was shining like the sun is a very effective way of telling us about Him. A second reason is that this style will slow us down, will draw us in, and will make us think. We must not try to speed-read this book but must meditate carefully on its images.
Think, for example, of the Trinitarian blessing pronounced on the churches by John (Rev. 1:4) where the Holy Spirit is presented as “the seven spirits who are before his throne.” Is John teaching that there are seven Holy Spirits rather than one? Is he teaching that the Holy Spirit has seven parts? No. He is using the number seven symbolically to indicate the fullness and perfection of the Spirit in all that He does. This interpretation is supported by Revelation 4:5: “From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.” Just as the seven torches stand for the seven spirits, so the seven spirits stand for the Holy Spirit. Indeed, most of the time in this book numbers are meant symbolically.
We see this use of word pictures in Revelation 5:5, where the victor who can open the scroll is described as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” Here again, John is clearly referring not to a literal lion but to the strength and sovereign power of Jesus. John dramatically changes the image, when he sees not a lion but a lamb: “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (v. 6). Jesus is the powerful Lion and at the same time the sacrificial Lamb who has horns of power as well as the fullness of the Spirit of God.