I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 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. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 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. – Revelation 1:12-16
This passage begins our journey into the sometimes confusing imagery and symbolic meaning in Revelations. The first murky metaphor is the seven golden lampstands. Certainly the number seven seems to have special meaning in both the old and new testaments. This numerology is still alive and well in the idea of “lucky 7” and Vegas slots. Standing among these seven lampstands is someone important, “someone like a son of man”. This sounds like a reference to Jesus, although other details make me wonder if this is some sort of composite description.
The details provided about what this “man” was wearing are interesting. He is dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and He has a gold sash around His chest. It is almost as if the author is going out of his way to describe this person in His presence as not so different than any other king a person we might encounter here on earth.
The description then takes on a more mystical and metaphysical tone. The hair on his head is described as being white like wool, “as white as snow” and his eyes were like blazing fire. I do not remember any descriptions of Jesus including white hair or blazing eyes, but I could be wrong. It is almost as if this description is a composite of Moses, Jesus, and perhaps other angelic beings. I do not know.
His feet were like glowing bronze and his voice was like “rushing waters”. This reminds me of the language used in Ezekiel to describe heavenly beings that spoke to Ezekiel through wheels and rushing waters. Ezekiel 1:15-28 contains this description “high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.” These descriptions are so similar that it seems to me that they were either describing the same thing or the author of revelations was referencing the earlier description in Ezekiel.
The reference to a voice like “rushing waters” deserves a second look as it is such powerful imagery about the voice of God. In a post back in December of 2018 I wondered whether imagery like this was an attempt to describe the indescribable, “to do something that is perhaps not really possible – describe God in human terms.” Maybe something similar is happening here. The author is seeing something that it is really not possible to see with our earthly eyes and trying his best to describe something that does not fit into our physical paradigm.
This spiritual being also “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.” This sounds like the way angelic beings are often described in most of the new testament – a combination of awe inspiring brilliance and scary judgement. This is consistent with my earlier pondering that this description is some sort of composite describing several spiritual beings at the same time. Maybe our sense of individuality does not apply to the spiritual realm in the same sense that we inhabit our bodies as individual spirits. This passage is deep water to be sure.
I am not sure if there is a take home message here but it seems that there is a spiritual realm that we can gain glimpses of while we are here on earth, but our ability to see and understand that realm may be limited by our earthly understanding and senses. Perhaps this provides some grace in our attempts to understand a book like revelations. It may be attempting to describe the indescribable.
Prayer: God these water passages in revelations are confusing and complex. Please grant us the understanding and grace to make sense of them.