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Revelation 1:17–20

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (vv. 17–18).

Symbolic language abounds in the book of Revelation, which is one reason that interpreting it is not always straightforward. Keeping in mind the purpose of symbolic language will help us. Symbols chiefly point beyond themselves to a particular truth and are not to be taken as literal descriptions. We recognize this in texts such as John 15:1, where Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” Nobody reads this text and thinks, “Jesus is actually a vine” or “Jesus looked like a vine.” On the contrary, we recognize that Jesus is expressing a truth about Himself as the One who gives life to His people. We need to understand the symbolic language in Revelation similarly. For instance, we should not read Revelation 1:14–15 as if Jesus literally has white hair in heaven or that His feet are made of bronze. To do so would contradict other texts about Jesus’ postresurrection appearances where it is clear that He looks very human (John 20:15, 24–29). John’s symbolic description of Jesus in Revelation 1:14–15, as we have seen, gives us truth about His person and work; it is not a literal visible depiction of our Savior.

The truths about our Savior given in Revelation 1:12–16 portray His overwhelming glory. So, it is no surprise that John “fell at his feet as though dead” (v. 17). But, as the Lord ever has words of comfort for His people (see Isa. 40:1), we are also not surprised to see that Jesus spoke words of peace to John in his fear. John had no reason to fear because Jesus, the first and the last, conquered death in His resurrection and holds the “keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17–18). The people of God need not fear the presence of God—and remember, Jesus is the Son of God and therefore Himself truly God—because Jesus has defeated death. By His atonement, He paid the price of physical death and eternal death under the wrath of God, and He was raised for our justification, granting us the righteousness we need to stand in God’s presence unafraid (Rom. 3:21–4:25). Moreover, Jesus reigns sovereignly over death, possessing the keys that determine whom death can claim (Rev. 1:18).

Jesus is sovereign not only over death but also over His church. John saw Him with seven stars in His hand (v. 16). These stars are the seven angels of the churches He addresses (v. 20), and the angels most likely stand in for the churches themselves. Jesus is present with His churches, which are represented by lampstands as well as stars (vv. 12, 20), but He also holds His churches in His hands.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Remembering that Jesus is sovereign over death gives us great confidence. We know that death finally has no power over the Christian, for our Lord has conquered death, and so death, the worst anyone can do to us, cannot have the final say. If we trust in Christ, we need not fear death, for Jesus is sovereign over it and has rendered it finally powerless over His people.


For Further Study
  • Psalm 149
  • Isaiah 25
  • Ephesians 1:15–23
  • Hebrews 2:14–15

The Son of Man Amid the Lampstands

Humility, Contrition, and Trembling

Keep Reading Time

From the September 2020 Issue
Sep 2020 Issue