29 March 2016

Revelation 1:12-18

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.’” (vv. 17-18)

Psalm: Psalm 117


This passage comes from the beginning of the vision John the Divine received, when on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. It's possible that he had been exiled there because of his Christian faith. In the vision John was given messages for seven churches. Just before this passage begins John had heard a voice commissioning him to write what he saw and send it to the seven churches.

The description of the speaker owes much to an apocalyptic vision recounted in the book of Daniel (chapter 7) in the Old Testament. "one like a human being [Son of Man]" (Daniel 7:13) represents the faithful people of Israel, who endure suffering, persecution and even death, but are ultimately vindicated and given authority to rule by God. This figure therefore clearly acts as a type for Jesus Christ, and is thought to be the reason he chooses to call himself the "Son of Man" in the Synoptic Gospels. Thus we can identify the speaker in this vision as Jesus Christ, risen, exalted and granted by God the authority to rule.

He also refers to himself by several divine titles which point to his death and resurrection and supremacy over death. In the Hellenistic world it was believed that there were doorways from this world to both heaven and the underworld, and the goddess Hecate was thought to hold the keys to them. Thus John portrays Christ as surpassing the authority of Hecate and of all other natural and supernatural powers.

Although these descriptions draw strongly on the imagery of both Jewish and Greek epiphanies, the emphasis is uniquely Christian. Both the Son of Man title and the direct statement: "I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever" make clear that the risen Christ's authority is uniquely acquired through enduring suffering and overcoming death, and is therefore an intrinsically redemptive authority.

To Ponder

  • What qualities and experiences do you feel gives people authentic authority?
  • What impact does the strange language of apocalyptic literature have on you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.