Why John Didn’t Go Quietly Into Exile (Rev 1:12-20)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In a recent post on Rev 1:9-11, we said that the Apostle John did not go quietly into exile, and neither should we. He fulfilled his prophetic commission from Christ and wrote Revelation, inspiring our courage by highlighting not only the condition of Christ’s churches but also the position of Christ Himself. Having looked at the condition of Christ’s churches in Rev 1:9-11, John looks also at the position of Christ in Rev 1:12-20. In brief, the Apostle John bears witness that the resurrected and ascended Christ is in the glory of heaven, ruling and tending the congregations of His church. You need courage, church? Look no further than to Christ in glory.

John bears witness in Rev 1:12-16 to the glorious Christ he had heard and seen. The Apostle had heard a loud voice like a trumpet, as Moses did at Mt Sinai, and he had seen seven golden lampstands and one like a Son of Man among them. The lampstands show us the churches positioned in the heavenly temple as bearers of light, but John wants our attention drawn to Christ Jesus, as his was. Even as one like a Son of Man, the Christ John had seen is more than a mere human. He is the Messianic King with all authority in heaven and on earth, in this world and in the world to come, and He is the Head over all things to His church. Clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest, He is dressed as the High Priest of heaven in holiness, beauty, and majesty. With the hairs of His head … white, like white wool, like snow, Christ is one with the Ancient of Days in Daniel’s prophecy, crowned with purity and wisdom. With His eyes … like a flame of fire, He is the Judge who dispenses rewards and penalties with all holy justice. With His feet … like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, Christ glorified possesses incorruptible, unchanging moral spotlessness and splendor. With His voice … like the roar of many waters, He speaks with awe-inspiring power and majesty. In His right hand Christ holds seven stars, exercising complete control over even the heavenly host of angels. From His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, declaring His invincible word of judgment. With a countenance of radiant majesty, His face was like the sun shining in full strength. This is the glorious Christ whom John had heard and seen.

No wonder, like the OT prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, John was literally laid out on the floor, overwhelmed with reverence and awe (Rev 1:17a). And how did Christ respond to him (Rev 1:17b-20)? He comforted John with a touch of His hand, with words of comfort, with words about Himself, reminding John of who He is. He declared, “I am the first and the last, transcendent over time, God Eternal who governs history from beginning to end and brings world affairs to their climax in salvation and judgment.[1] And I am the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore. Not even death can frustrate My purposes. I’ve even made My own death the way to new life for My believing people. On top of that, though Death did hold Me in its grip for a short time, I now have the keys of Death and Hades. You see, not only could Death not hold Me forever, I now exercise power and control over Death and Hades, over body and soul, for joy or for anguish.”

Now we know why John didn’t go quietly into exile: he knew Jesus Christ glorified. Do we? We have to ask because the Jesus John had seen and heard was not the Jesus of so many self-identified evangelicals today. He was not the first and greatest being created by God. He was not merely a great teacher. No, the Jesus John had come to know was and is God Incarnate, resurrected and ascended, the One in whom all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. This God-man is now in glory, ruling and tending the congregations of His church as He commends and corrects them, as He exhorts and warns them. Such is His ministry to ensure that His people are fit to serve as light bearers in this dark world.[2] It was none other than this Jesus who inspired John with the courage to fulfill his prophetic commission. And it is none other than this Jesus who will inspire us with the courage to fulfill our evangelistic commission.

More and more in today’s world, we who confess the historic Christian faith and moral vision are being made to look outmoded at best and hateful at worst. If we would stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by our opponents (Phil 1:27-28), we must take courage from knowing the Jesus John saw and heard: Christ in the glory of heaven, ruling and tending the congregations of His church.

[1] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (1999), 213.
[2] Beale, 211.