And I turned to see the voice who was talking with me. And turning beheld seven golden lamp stands, and in the midst of the lamp stands the son of man, having been clothed to the feet and girded about at the breasts with a golden sash. And his head and his hairs were white as wool, white as snow, and his eyes were a flame of fire, and his feet were burnished brass that is smelted in the furnace, and his voice was like the voice of many waters, and he was holding seven stars in his right hand, and out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword going forth, hand his face was like the sun shining in full strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.
In verse 12, we have John turning around to see the voice. Why not “he who spoke”? I think that John is having us to think about it. This voice is mentioned again in Revelation 4:1, and it appears that it is the voice of the Lord in both instances. Isaiah 58:1 tells us to raise our voices like a trumpet, but I think that what John is probably thinking is something more like when God spoke with thunder in Exodus 19:19.
What are these golden lamp stands? We learn later in verse 20 that they are the seven churches. Some have connected this with Zechariah 4:2 or Exodus 25:31 – the menorah. I think this is a mistake. In Psalm 132:17, we read about David having a lamp before the Lord. In the temple, there were ten separate lamp stands (1 Kings 7:49). However, it is true and it is obvious that there is an association with the menorah. In Leviticus 24:4, we read the description of the menorah to have seven separate lamps connected together.
When we read that between the lamp stands – or in the midst – was one like the son of man, the Greek articles are missing. That is not happenstance. This is not one like the son of man, but is the son of man. It has been noted that the LXX uses ανθρωπου to describe an angel, and so maybe this is “like an angel”. I think there are a couple things to be noted about this. First, it is indeed true that this word is used sometimes to describe angels, as in the case of Acts 6:15. Yet, I would expect that there would be no complication to say that Stephen’s face shone like the son of man, considering that the son of man is identified as Christ Jesus consistently in the New Testament. Second, according to the context of this passage, it would be extremely difficult to substantiate that this is an angel with the descriptions only associated with God.
The clothing mentioned is reminiscent of Leviticus 8:6-7, 13. We are reading of Christ Jesus our great High Priest (Hebrews 3:1, 7:23-26), who is clothed in His high priestly apparel. This same description is found in Daniel 10:5, “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist.” The Hebrew me’il is used in 1 Samuel 28:4, 29:5, and Ezekiel 26:16 for men of high rank. This linen cannot conclusively mean one of a high priest, but the external evidence would support so. In Exodus 28:4 and 29:5, ποδηρης is used for the high priest’s clothes. We already mentioned Hebrews. What can for certain be known is that John is pulling from the description found in Daniel 10:5. He might also have Isaiah 11:5 in his mind: “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist”.
For the description of his hair being white as wool, as white as snow, read Daniel 7:9. “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.” The Greek seems to come from either the LXX or Aramaic – “spotless as white wool”. Observe that what is applied to the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7 is now applied to Jesus. John is making the same claim that has been made in his Gospel: They are one. One difference to note is that in Daniel 7:9, the clothing is white as snow, and not the hair. I think it is completely acceptable, though, that John is having a vision and pulling from the language of Daniel instead of saying that he is seeing the same vision as Daniel.
His eyes are like blazing fire. See also 2:18 and 19:12. The phrase comes from Daniel 10:6, “His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.” In this we also fine the next descriptions of this son of man from verse 15: “his feet were like bronze glowing in the furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (NIV translation). As for the metal, we see it in Daniel 10:6, Ezekiel 1:4, 27, 8:2 – it is unknown.
The voice is described like God’s in Ezekiel 43:2, but not Daniel 10:6.
The seven stars mentioned here are defined later (verse 20) as the seven angels, or ministers, of the seven churches.
The double-edged sword that is being spoken of is found in Isaiah 11:4 and 49:2. A more obvious corollary is Hebrews 4:12, speaking of the word of God, that it is “sharper than any double edged sword, penetrating even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, bone and marrow.” Another rather obvious corollary would be 2 Thessalonians 2:8.
In Matthew 17:2, we find the son of man, Jesus, being transfigured. In that verse the same description is being made as what we find at the end of Revelation 1:16. “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Also see Judges 5:31 and Matthew 13:43.
This first part of verse 17 once again goes back to Daniel 10. We read in verses 7-9, “I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a coma, my face to the ground.” The Hebrew word in Daniel 10:9, typically translated as “deep sleep”, is radam. It means to fall into a slumber like death – or in modern terms, a coma. This is the exact same language that is being used in Revelations 1:17. In Daniel, we find the hand to be reached out to give the man strength. If we finish the verse here in Revelations, we find the exact same thing to happen.
So when we back up and conclude this, we find that this is a description of Jesus, but it is formed from a number of Old Testament images to help explain what it is that our author is seeing. This is the commencement of the vision of Revelations. This vision will continue forward through the rest of the book until we come to 22:6. The introduction is a vision of Jesus, and the way it finishes is a beatitude spoken by Jesus. As fascinating as it is to imagine the imagery in our mind’s eye, what we should take away from this is the symbolism of that imagery. We saw Jesus our High Priest, but we also saw that Jesus is being referred to as God. There is glory and sobriety in this vision. We shouldn’t be quick to read it without giving serious consideration of the one who walks between the candlesticks. This same Jesus says later that the consequence of not overcoming will be to completely take away the candlestick from its place (2:5).