When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. 19 Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (V.17-20)
After seeing this glorious vision of the Son of Man, John’s reaction was to succumb to the overwhelming presence of the glorified Lord by falling “at His feel like a dead man”. This would not have been far removed from Daniel’s reaction when living the same experience. (Daniel 10:5-20) We truly see the full definition of “the fear of the Lord” in these passages[i] and the beauty of the glory of Christ. What is most incredible in regards to this verse is that the fear that had overcome him was soon lifted by the glorious one whom he fell down before. The Lord places His hand upon John and comforts His servant with the words “Do not be afraid”. We can only envision with our human minds what exactly John saw and the feeling he experience before the Lord of the Church. This feeling of comfort granted to Him by these words would have been a sweet sound indeed.
In the preceding verses, John had explained to us in this revelation what exactly he had seen when gazing at the Son of Man. Now, the one whom he saw is going to offer a description of Himself. The very first words to John were “I am the first and the last”. There is no question that this is a reference to the Son’s identification as YHWH if we examine the parallels in the Old Testament. (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12)Could the Lord Jesus have been more explicit in this equivalence?[ii] We will see this expression used throughout the book as the one who is the Divine king who has authority over all of History.
In v.18, the Lord begins by stressing that the one whom John identifies is the one whom he had known as His Lord previously. He is “the living one…who was dead but is alive forevermore”[iii]. John had been a part of this historical event and these words would certainly have comforted him tremendously. The Lord with whom he had walked for all those years and whom he saw resurrected was with him. The one who was dead but now is living speaks of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was the demonstration of His conquering over death and Hades.[iv] It is because He raised from the dead that He is sovereign over life and death holding the power of both.
The commission for John to write down what he was about to see if repeated and expanded upon in v.19. John is commanded to write down the following:
- The things he had seen
- The things which are
- The things which will take place after these things.
There has been much controversy over how to interpret the words of the Lord depending on your school of thought. I will deal with these expressions in greater detail in chapter 4.
The final section in chapter one presents to us the interpretation of the stars and the lampstand. They are both referred to as a “mystery” (musterion). A mystery is something that needs to be make known or it cannot be comprehended. (Daniel 2:28-29) Even though an interpretation of the other symbolic language would have been profitable, John is only revealed the identification of two symbols. The first symbol to be construed is the stars which are explicitly identified as “angels”. The relationship and identity of these “angels” (angelos) has gone through some extensive debate. I have understood the term angels here as being messengers sent to minister to the churches. (Heb. 1:14) Angels are not only known as messengers in scripture but also as guardians (Matt. 18:10; Daniel 10:21)[v] There are those who feel that the angels should be taken as heavenly beings while others would argue that these are actually “ministers” in these churches. The argument has some valid points. One would be that it would be illogical to “write” the things to the angels of the church if they were invisible beings and for the angels of God to be representatives for the sins of these churches. The lampstand is identified, once again, as being the churches themselves.[vi]
[i] See Gen. 17:3; Exodus 3:6; Isaiah 6:5;
[ii] The three phrases- the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end- are clearly treated as equivalent phrases…and are claimed both by God (1:8; 21:6) and by Christ (1:17;22:13), in declarations of unique divine identity stragetically located in the opening and closing sections of the book. These declarations are modelled on those of YHWH in Deutero-Isaiah (44:6;48:12; cf.41:4)- Jesus and the God of Israel, R. Bauckham, William Eerdman publishing company, page 38-39
[iii] The term “forevermore” is a translation of the phrase (tous aionas ton aionon) which could be translated “from the age of the ages.
[iv] Hades (adou) has several different meanings, especially in the LXX but has at its root here in 1:18 that which is not seen. Hades is the unseen world to which death is the portal (Robertson) For a more in depth look at “Hades”, see Robert Morey’s “Death and the afterlife” PP81-87
[vi] We must her call to mind a caution that has been already given, namely, that in this book are found symbols not only of things visible, but of things invisible…not only of things that were to happen on earth in the time then future, but also of things existing and going on in heaven. (of the things which must soon come to pass, P. Mauro, Reiner, Page 81) The understanding of this text varies on whether you are a preterist, idealist, historicist or futurist. The futurist will argue that “the things that thou hast seen” is speaking of what John had already seen, the phrase “the things which are” speaks of the things that are existing and detailed in vs. 2-3 while “the things which shall be hereafter” is speaking of everything after ch.4. The reasoning is that John is told he will see the things that will happen “hereafter” hence everything from chapter 4 on is in the future.