Vision of the Son of Man

Revelation 1

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2022

Last week, we began our study of the book of Revelation.  This book is called “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”  It is not a Revelation of John.  It is a Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Did you know that there are three visions of Jesus in the Book of Revelation?  There is a vision of Jesus in Revelation 1.  There is a vision of Jesus in Revelation 5 and there is a vision of Jesus in Revelation 19.

John sees Jesus as the resurrected, exalted and glorified Son of Man, the head of the church in Revelation 1.  He sees Jesus as the conquering lion and the crucified lamb in Revelation 5 and he sees Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords returning to the earth in Revelation 19.

Jesus of the Apocalypse

This book is a revelation of Jesus Christ.  If you want a full picture of who Jesus is, you have to read the Book of Revelation.

If you just read the Gospels, if you just read the Book of Acts, you will NOT have a full picture of who Jesus really is.  Many Christians today only have a partial picture of Jesus.  The real Jesus may not be the Jesus you think He is.

The Bible says that we will Jesus as He is, NOT as He was (I John 3:2).  Today, we often focus on who Jesus was.  People want to know what color Jesus was.  Was He white?  Was He black?  Was He brown?  John saw Jesus, not as He was but as He is.  He saw Jesus resurrected, exalted and glorified (cf. II Corinthians 5:16).

John knew Jesus of Nazareth pretty well.  He followed Him around for three years.  He heard His teaching.  He saw His miracles.  He was one of His Apostles. John was an eye-witness to the historical Jesus.  He said so.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (I John 1:1 NIV).

This Jesus looked a little different. The first century Jesus never had hair as white as snow.  His face did not shine as bright as the Sun.  He never had fire coming out of his eyes.  The historical Jesus did not have glowing bronze feet.  John heard Jesus’ voice before, and it never sounded like a trumpet.

The truth is that the Jesus of the Book of Revelation is not the Jesus you hear most preachers talk about on Sunday.  He is very different from the Jesus you see in most churches.  He is not the Jesus of many Christians.  He is radically different. Let’s look at a few passages.

Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:16 NIV).

Does Jesus fight against some Christians?  That is what this verse says.  Here, He is not fighting against pagans but against Christians.  That is strange.

I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:20-23 NIV)

Does Jesus make some Christians sick?  That is what the verse says.  You say, “I though Satan did that.”  A bed of suffering is a Hebrew idiom for a sick bed (so KJV).  If some Christians do not repent, Jesus will strike them dead.  That is a message we do not hear too often in church.

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne AND from the WRATH OF THE LAMB! 17 For the great day of THEIR WRATH has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:15-17 NIV).

Does Jesus get angry?  Many say that God is not mad at people.  They have not read the Book of Revelation.

People are absolutely terrified to face the judgement of an angry God.  There are terrified to face the judgement of an angry Jesus.  They are hiding from the wrath of God, but they are also hiding from the wrath of the Lamb.

This Lamb got angry, and people were hiding in caves and under rocks.  We get angry when we are moody or temperamental.  Jesus gets angry because He is holy.

Today, we are going to look at an incredible vision of Jesus.  John has a vision.  It is a spectacular vision.  He stands face-to-face with Jesus.  Jesus shows up.  He appears to him.  He talks to him.  He touches him.

John receives a fresh glimpse of the glorified Christ, and we need a fresh glimpse of the glorified Christ.  It changes your whole perspective.  It changes your view of life.  It changes your view of yourself.  It changes your view of Jesus.  It changes your view of the future.

This vision came to John when he was at his lowest point in life.  Jesus still comes to us and speaks to us sometimes at our lowest points.  We can learn a lot through suffering and in suffering.

John received a spectacular vision of vision while he was in a dark Roman prison, doing slave labor. John hated Patmos.  He probably thought to himself what a waste it was for him to be at Patmos.

He thought that he could be so much more effective if he was back in Ephesus with the congregation that he loved but, God ended up using John more at Patmos.  Patmos turned out to be a promotion, not a setback.

According to church history, the Roman Emperor Domitian tried to kill John, but he failed. Tertullian says that John was put in boiling oil, but he miraculously survived.[1]

The Devil figured that if he could not kill John with boiling oil, he could at least imprison him, so he put him in Patmos.  He thought he accomplished something, but that plan backfired.

Patmos was where John had his visions.  It is where he saw Jesus.  In this dark place at Patmos, Jesus shows up.  It is where an angel appeared to him.

Patmos was where John wrote the final book of the Bible.  It was where John had the greatest experience of his life.  Sometimes our greatest trials can turn into our greatest blessings. This was true in biblical times.

Ezekiel went outside, looked up and saw the heavens open.  He received an incredible vision of God when he was in exile in Babylon.

Steven saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God right before he was stoned to death by people who hated him.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego encountered a supernatural being in the fiery furnace. 

Historical Background

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9 NIV)

All of the other apostles were killed.  They died violent deaths.  John is the longest living apostle.  Peter and Paul were martyred thirty years earlier.  John is still alive.  John does not see himself as unique and special.

John does not boast about being an Apostle or even part of Jesus’ inner circle.

He does not call himself the most durable apostle, the longest lasting apostle.

He does not call him the special one that Jesus loved.  He did not say, “I don’t know if He loved the other apostles, but he really loved me.”

He called himself just a brother and a companion in suffering.  He shared the suffering that other believers in his day were experiencing.  If we live a godly life, it will happen to us as well.

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (II Timothy 3:12 NIV). “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NIV).

That does not sound like much of a prosperity message. Paul and Barnabas did NOT say that through much prosperity we must enter the kingdom.

They said that through many HARDSHIPS, through many DIFFICULTIES, we must enter the kingdom of God.  Some experience more hardship than others but all must experience some.

John was put in prison.  What crime did he commit? He did not rob a bank.  He was put in prison because of his Christian faith (the word of God and the testimony of Jesus). His crime was that he told people about Jesus.   

We would call him today a political prisoner.  John was put in prison on a Greek island in the Aegean Sea called Patmos.  Patmos is fifty miles from Ephesus.  Have you ever been to Patmos?

Today, people visit islands like this as tourists, like going to the Bahamas, although you cannot fly there, because there is no airport.  John was not there for a vacation.  He was there because he was persecuted by the state.[2]

Most people do not know what happened to John in Patmos.  How long was he there?  Did he die in prison?  We actually know the answers to these questions from church history.

John was put in Patmos by the emperor Domitian.  Domitian was the brother of the Emperor Titus.  Titus was the emperor before him.  He was the one who put a siege around the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple in 70 AD.

Romans worshipped their leaders.  We cannot imagine doing that today.  They worshipped Domitian.  He demanded it.  He thought he was a god.  He demanded that people call him “Lord and god.”  He was a dictator.  Anyone who criticized him was executed or banished.

John was put in prison around 95 AD.  He was put in prison by Domitian.  Domitian died in 96 AD.  He died soon after.  We know from history that He was assassinated.  After Domitian died, his sentences were annulled[3] and John was released.

John was on Patmos for only there a year or a year and a half and then he returned to Ephesus,[4] where he lived two or three more years and then he died.  His grave is still in Ephesus.  The Virgin Mary’s grave is there as well.

A Supernatural Experience

While he was at Patmos, John had a vision.  John is about ninety.  He is old.  He is frail.  He is weak.  He is now in prison.  His back probably hurts and something amazing happened.  Jesus showed up.  Jesus showed up in John’s trial.

He showed up one Sunday, the day that John normally would be back in Ephesus worshipping with his congregation.  John has a powerful encounter with the risen, glorified Christ on Patmos.

John gives us an eyewitness account of this vision.  He tells us where he was when it happened.  He tells us why he was there.  He tells us what he saw and what he heard.  He tells us how he responded to the vision.

This vision started with a supernatural experience.  John was “in the Spirit.”  What does that mean?   Have you ever been in the Spirit?  John has four visions in the Book of Revelation that took place when he was in the Spirit.

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:10-11 NIV)

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1 NIV)

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. (Revelation 17:3 NIV)

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (Revelation 21:10 NIV)

We have all been filled with the Spirit, but this was something different. This is what NT scholars call a vision trance or a revelatory trance.[5]  It involved some type of altered state of consciousness.

John was already in Patmos and now he was in the Spirit.  John was in two locations.  His body was in Patmos, but his spirit was taken to different places where he sees and hears things that no one else could see or hear.

In Revelation 4, his body was in Patmos, but his spirit was taken right into the throne room of God in heaven. This happens to John four times in the book.

In the last time, an angel takes him in the spirit to see the New Jerusalem.  The same thing happened to the Prophet Ezekiel in the OT.  He was in the spirit and was taken to different places.

Can Christians have trances today?  We can have them if God puts us in one but, contrary to what some teach [6], this is not the normal Christian experience.  Most Christians in John’s day (or in our day) do not have this kind of experience.

Peter was in a trance.  Paul was in a trance.  John was in a trance.  None of them prayed for one.  They fell into a trance.  You cannot choose to have a trance any more than you can choose to have God speaking to you in a dream.  This supernatural experience led to a divine encounter.

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 

14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:12-18 NIV)

What John Heard

John encounters the risen Christ in a trance but before he saw Him, he heard Him.  He heard His voice, before he saw Him.

It began with a trance.  Then John heard something.  When God appeared to Moses, it began with Moses seeing something unusual (a burning bush).  He was about the same age as John.  He was a little younger.  Moses was eighty.

Jesus appeared to John when he was ninety, but it began with him hearing something.  He heard a voice.  The voice told him to write down what he sees into a book and send it to seven churches.  This voice was behind him.  It was no ordinary voice talking to him.  John was hearing the voice of God.

It not a still small voice.  It was not a quiet voice.  It was a loud voice. It sounded like a trumpet.  There was a trumpet sound when God appeared at Mount Sinai and now John hears something that sounds loud like a trumpet.

What John Saw

John turned around to hear this loud voice.  He looked and saw two things.  He saw seven lampstands and a divine figure standing in front of Him.  The lampstands represent seven churches (Revelation 1:20).

First, he saw these lampstands.  The KJV says, “The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20) but that is a mistranslation.  This was a Jewish Menorah.

Candlesticks did not even exist in John’s day. They did not have wax candles in the ancient world. They used oil candles. Wax candles were not invented until the 1800s.

John saw lampstands.  He saw golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12).  These lampstands were valuable.  The lampstands in the Tabernacles were made of pure gold (Exodus 25:31).

John did not see one lampstand. He saw seven of them.  There was only one lampstand in the Tabernacle with seven lights on it.  There was only one nation.  John saw seven lampstands in a circle.

We know that they represent individual churches (Revelation 1:20).  Seven lampstands represent seven churches.  Some believe in just the universal church, but John did not see one lampstand, he saw seven lampstands.

They represent seven different, independent, autonomous churches.  There is no human head (no pastor or bishop or pope) over all seven.  They are not part of a denomination.

In addition to seeing the lampstands, John saw a divine figure.  This was not a vision of the Father but of the Son. It was a vision of the God-Man.

It was a vision of a real man.  He lived on earth and died.  I am the Living One; I was dead (Revelation 1:18 NIV) but this is not a vision of any man.

This was a vision of the resurrected, ascended and glorified Son of Man.  Jesus died but he is alive for ever and ever! (Revelation 1:18 NIV).  He will never die again.  John saw the glorified Son of Man.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13 NIV)

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7 NIV)

This is not just a vision of a man, even a great man.  It is a vision of God.  Revelation 1 is a theophany.  It is an appearance of God.  That is why when John sees Jesus, he does not try to hug him.  He does not say, “What’s up hommie?”  He falls over dead.

In Revelation 1, we see Jesus not only as man but as God.  How do we know from Revelation 1 that Jesus is God? Some of the descriptions of God in the OT are applied directly to Jesus in Revelation 1.

In The Book of Daniel, we have a vision of God the Father (The Ancient of Days), and we are told that “His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool” (Daniel 7:9 NIV).  In Revelation 1, Jesus has hair white like wool (Revelation 1:14).

In the Book of Ezekiel, God’s voice is said to be the sound of many waters (Ezekiel 43:2).  In Revelation 1, Jesus’ voice is like the sound of rushing waters (Revelation 1:15 NIV).

In the Book of Isaiah, God is called the First and the Last.  It means that He is eternal.

Isaiah 44:6 says, “This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.”  Jesus told John, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:17 NIV).

Life Lessons for Today

What does this vision of Jesus say to us today?  What can we learn from it?

1. We carry the light for a dark world

Jesus said the seven churches are lampstands.  Every church is a lampstand.  They are to be light holders in a dark world.  A lampstand is NOT the light, it just holds the light.  The lampstand was to always give out light day and night (Exodus 27:20-21).  It was to be always shinning.

Every church is to preach the Word of God and proclaim the gospel of Christ.  We are also to be lights in a dark world.  Each Christian is a light (Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:15). Churches should always be shining and so should individual Christians.  We do not shine our own light.  We are to shine the light of Christ.  Are we shinning?

2. Jesus is completely sovereign over our life

He is in control.  Jesus is sovereign over our life.  He is sovereign over our church.  He decided who our next pastor will be.  He holds all of the leaders in his hand.  He holds the seven stars in his right hand (Revelation 1:16).

He holds the keys of death and hades (Revelation 1:18). He is sovereign over the churches and over death itself. Are you worried about when you will die?

Jesus holds the keys to death.   Satan does not hold those keys.  Jesus does.  We will see later in the book that Jesus also has the keys to ministry.  He opens some doors and closes other doors.

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. (Revelation 3:7 NIV)

3. Jesus is actively involved in the church today

Jesus did not forget the church.  He did not leave the church.  He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NKJV).  He said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 NIV).

He is actively involved.  He knows everything that happens in the world.  He knows everything that happens in your church.  He knows everything that happens in your life.

His eyes were like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14 ESV).  His eyes were like a blazing fire.  He can see right through us.  When he looks at us, he knows our thoughts.  He searches our hearts.

He does not just stand in the middle of the seven lampstands (Revelation 1:13). He walks in the midst of these lampstands (Revelation 2:1).  He visits each one of the lampstands.  He inspects then and sees what is going on in them.

He is not just in the midst of these seven churches.  He is in the midst of our church.  “Jesus Christ is walking up and down these aisles. Jesus Christ is moving in and out of these pews.”[7] He is in every Sunday School class. We may not see him.  We may not feel him, but he is here.

4. Jesus gives us a job to do for Him

Jesus spoke to John and gave him a job to do.  Even though John was ninety, Jesus was still giving him work to do for Him.  He gave John a commission.

John’s job was to write a book.  He had already written a few other books.  Jesus says, “I want you to write one more and send it to the churches.”

John’s visions were not just for himself. That is not why Jesus gave them to John.  He gave them to help other people as well. God’s Word is to be shared with others.

Jesus still speaks to us today and gives us a job to do.  Jesus does not always talk to us audibly, but He does talk to us. We do not see him with our eyes like John did.  Our job may not be to write a book.

Jesus gave John three words. Jesus gave John a word of ENCOURAGEMENT.  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)

Christians today have a very different reaction to this vision of the Son of Man than John did.  We read it and think it is interesting.  When John saw it, he fell over and passed out.  He fainted.

John was petrified.  He was scared.  This was a terrifying vision.  Looking at Jesus’ face was like looking into the Sun.  This vision literally knocked him off his feet.

Jesus touched him and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One.”  He comforted, encouraged and strengthened John.  If you are afraid or worried, this is Jesus’ word to you as well.  “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus tells John, “Do not be afraid.  You are not going to die.  I have the keys of death and hades.”

Jesus gave John a word of EXHORTATION.  The exhortation is to write it down.  Many see the outline of the book in Revelation 1:19.  It is an inspired outline.

Write, therefore, what you have seen (past tense), what is now (present tense) and what will take place later (future tense) –  Revelation 1:19 (NIV).

What does it mean?  There are two main views.  The most popular view is that it refers to a threefold division, dealing with things past, present and future (Thomas, Charles, Swete, Walvoord).  John is told to write down the things he SAW (Revelation 1), the things that ARE (Revelation 2-3) and the things that SHALL BE in the future (Revelation 4-22).

Another view takes this as a modification of that view and makes it a twofold division of the book.  We know that John was to write down everything that he saw (Revelation 1:11), not just the vision of chapter one.

This view would read something like this: “Write, then, the things you see, both the things that are now and the things that will happen afterward” (Revelation 1:19 GNB).

One recent biblical scholar, who wrote a massive three volume, 1200 page commentary on Revelation (Word Biblical Commentary), takes this view. [8]

Finally, Jesus gave John a word of EXPLANATION (The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches). 

He interpreted the vision for John.  He did not give John a vision and leave it up to him to figure out what it meant.  He interpreted it for him.

The million-dollar question is who are the angels of the seven churches?  What does that word “angel” mean here?  If you want to find out what a word in Scripture means, you want to do two things.

To find out the meaning of a word, see how that word is used in the rest of book and see how that word is used in the context.  How is the word “angel” used in the rest of the Book of Revelation?

It is the Greek word άγγελος.  It is used 67 times in the book.  It only means a supernatural being in the Book of Revelation in all of the other passages.  Every other time in the book, it only means a literal angel.

If that is the case, these would be guardian angels.  The idea would be that churches have angels assigned to them.  Next, we look at the context.  Does that make sense in Revelation 1:19?  No.

John did not write a letter to a literal angel.  Have you ever written a letter to a real angel?  Jesus did not rebuke angels for the sins of Christians.  When the Church of Ephesus sinned,  He did not say to some heavenly angel, “I have this against you.  I am going to judge you, if you do not repent.”  That makes complete nonsense of the text.

The word άγγελος simply means messenger and it can refer to a heavenly messenger but it can also refer to a human messenger (cf. Luke 7:24, 27; 9:51).  Here, it has to refer to a human messenger or leader over the church, although some pastors are more angelic than others.

The idea here is that Jesus holds the church and all the leaders of the churches in his right hand.  He does not just protect them; they are under his authority.  Next week, we will look at Jesus’ letter to the first church, the Church of Ephesus.

[1] “Where Paul wins his crown in a death like John’s where the Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile!” (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 36).

[2] One myth that you often hear from preachers is that Patmos was like Alcatraz or Siberia, but we know from biblical archeology that other people lived there.  There were three temples there.

[3] Eusebius, Church History, III.20.10.

[4] Eusebius, Church History, III.20.11.

[5] David E. Aune, Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1997), 82.


[7] Jerry Vines, Revelation Sermon Series, “Jesus as He is” (Spoken Recording).

[8]  David Aune writes, “This sentence can therefore be understood “Write what you see, namely [taking καί as epexegetical], the events of the present and of the future.”(Revelation 1–5, vol. 52A, Word Biblical Commentary [Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1997], 106).


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