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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 1 - Verse 16

Verse 16. And he had in his right hand seven stars. Emblematic of the angels of the seven churches. How he held them is not said. It may be that they seemed to rest on his open palm; or it may be that he seemed to hold them as if they were arranged in a certain order, and with some sort of attachment, so that they could be grasped. It is not improbable that, as in the case of the seven lamp-bearers, (See Barnes "Re 1:13") they were so arranged as to represent the relative position of the seven churches.

And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. On the form of the ancient two-edged sword, see Barnes on "Eph 6:17".

The two edges were designed to cut both ways; and such a sword is a striking emblem of the penetrating power of truth, or of words that proceed from the mouth; and this is designed undoubtedly to be the representation here-that there was some symbol which showed that his words, or his truth, had the power of cutting deep, or penetrating the soul. So in Isa 49:2 it is said of the same personage, "And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword." See Barnes on "Isa 49:2".

So in Heb 4:12, "The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword," etc. So it is said of Pericles by Aristophanes—

"His powerful speech

Pierced the hearer's soul, and left behind

Deep in his bosom its keen point infixt."

A similar figure often occurs in Arabic poetry. "As arrows his words enter into the heart." See Gesenius, Comm. zu Isaiah 49:2. The only difficulty here is in regard to the apparently incongruous representation of a sword seeming to proceed from the mouth; but it is not, perhaps, necessary to suppose that John means to say that he saw such an image. He heard him speak; he felt the penetrating power of his words; and they were as if a sharp sword proceeded from his mouth. They penetrated deep into the soul, and as he looked on him it seemed as if a sword came from his mouth. Perhaps it is not necessary to suppose that there was even any visible representation of this—either of a sword or of the breath proceeding from his mouth appearing to take this form, as Professor Stuart supposes. It may be wholly a figurative representation, as Henrichs and Ewald suppose. Though there were visible and impressive symbols of his majesty and glory presented to the eyes, it is not necessary to suppose that there were visible symbols of his words.

And his countenance. His face. There had been before particular descriptions of some parts of his face—as of his eyes—but this is a representation of his whole aspect; of the general splendour and brightness of his countenance.

Was as the sun shineth in his strength. In his full splendour when unobscured by clouds; where his rays are in no way intercepted. Compare Jud 5:31: "But let them that love him [the Lord] be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." 2 Sa 23:4, "And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds." Ps 19:5, "Which [the sun] is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race." There could be no more striking description of the majesty and glory of the countenance than to compare it with the overpowering splendour of the sun.—This closes the description of the personage that appeared to John. The design was evidently to impress him with a sense of his majesty and glory, and to prepare the way for the authoritative nature of the communications which he was to make. It is obvious that this appearance must have been assumed. The representation is not that of the Redeemer as he rose from the dead—a middle-aged man; nor is it clear that it was the same as on the mount of transfiguration—where, for anything that appears, he retained his usual aspect and form though temporarily invested with extraordinary brilliancy; nor is it the form in which we may suppose he ascended to heaven—for there is no evidence that he was thus transformed when he ascended; nor is it that of a priest —for all the peculiar habiliments of a Jewish priest are wanting in this description. The appearance assumed is, evidently, in accordance with various representations of God as he appeared to Ezekiel, to Isaiah, and to Daniel—that which was a suitable manifestation of a Divine being—of one clothed in the majesty and power of God. We are not to infer from this, that this is in fact the appearance of the Redeemer now in heaven, or that this is the form in which he will appear when he comes to judge the world. Of his appearance in heaven we have no knowledge; of the aspect which he will assume when he comes to judge men we have no certain information. We are necessarily quite as ignorant of this as we are of what will be our own form and appearance after the resurrection from the dead.

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