The most important Old Testament background
to visionary prophecy
is in Numbers 12.
This passage records God’s
displeasure with Aaron and Miriam when they
undermine Moses because they
agents of revelation
“Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses?
Has he not spoken through us also?” (Num. 12:2)
. But the Lord rebukes Aaron and Miriam and contrasts
the way he speaks normally
through prophets with his revelation to Moses:
And he said,
“Hear my words:
If there is a prophet among you,
I the Lord
make myself known to him in a vision;
I speak with him in a dream.
Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly,
and not in riddles,
and he beholds the form of the Lord.”
1. Visions and dreams are the normal mode of prophetic revelation.
The clear implication from Numbers 12:6–8 is
visions and dreams
are the normal
This is confirmed elsewhere when
visions are said to characterize a prophet
counsel characterizes the activity of an elder
and teaching of the law characterizes the
ministry of a priest
(Ezek. 7:26; cf. 1 Sam. 3:1; 2 Chr. 32:32; Zech. 13:4).
Prophets have visions and dreams.
This is how they normally
receive a communication
from the Lord.
2. Prophecies are called "riddles."
What is important to note about prophetic visions from
Num 12:6–8 is that they
are called “riddles
Reoccurring Themes-and unveilings
Apple Falling from a
” (Num. 12:8; cf. Judg. 14:12–19; 1 Kgs. 10:1; Dan. 8:23; Ezek. 17:2; Prov. 1:6)—which the NASB vividly translates as “dark sayings.
” I like that rendering.
The visions which characterize normal prophecy
straightforward, clear communication
full of riddles, mystery, and symbolism--
dark sayings. Therefore,
expect the book of Revelation,
John himself calls prophecy,
full of mysterious symbolism
since it is
3. A true prophet is invested with the
Another feature of prophecy is that a
true biblical prophet
is invested with the Holy Spirit
(Neh. 9:30; Zech. 7:12; 2 Pet. 1:20–21)
which is true of John in the book of Revelation
(Rev. 1:10; 4:1–2; 19:10; 22:6).
Furthermore, true prophets
council of the Lord”
although in a visionary
through the Spirit
“to see and hear his
(Jer. 23:18; cf. 1 Kgs. 22:19; Amos 3:7; Rev. 1:12).
In contrast, false prophets have
not stood in the Lord’s council;
“They speak visions of their own minds”
(Jer. 23:16–18; emphasis added).
We should keep this latter point in mind when
we turn to Revelation 4,
since this chapter records
experience in the divine council chamber
to confirm his commission
as a true prophet of the Lord.
4. Visionary prophecy is marked by symbolism.
Yes, Symbolism!!! everywhere!
As I mentioned, visionary prophecy is marked by symbolism
which is part of what makes it “dark sayings” or
This seems rather obvious, but it is remarkable how
people interpreting Revelation seem to forget this at times.
Symbolism is especially obvious
in the places where we are explicitly told this.
John sees a fearfully divine-human person
(the risen Lord Jesus)
walking amid seven golden lampstands and
holding seven stars in his right hand (Rev. 1:12–13, 16).
The Lord tells John outright that these lampstands
and stars are symbols for the seven churches being
addressed in the book and their “angels”
(who are themselves symbolic) (Rev. 1:20).
It may not always be easy to figure out what Revelation’s symbols mean (see Rev. 7:13–14), but with careful study of the Old Testament and contemporary New Testament background,
nearly all of Revelation can be understood
sufficiently enough to discern the
Lord’s message to us.
Revelation 1:9-17 brings us face-to-face with Jesus.
Through John’s eyes and ears we see and hear him.
And by the Holy Spirit
this vision becomes immediate and alive.
Here we do not just read about someone who once came face-to-face with Christ. Instead, the Holy Spirit brings us here and now into his actual presence.
Why is this “better” than what the disciples had two thousand years ago?
It is better because the disciples saw Jesus
death, resurrection, and ascension,
before he had shown them
all that he is and all that he had done.
In this vision
we see Jesus in his complete
power and glory.
Nothing is missing. Are you ready?
your brother and partner
in the tribulation and the kingdom
and the patient endurance that
are in Jesus,
was on the island called Patmos on
word of God
testimony of Jesus.
They say that John was the only disciple not to die a violent death.
Yet he was forced
to “patiently endure” for Jesus.
He was exiled by the authorities to Patmos, a rugged little volcanic island in the Dodecanese, two hours by ferry from the coast of Turkey.
The Sea is a major character in Revelation,
appearing in twenty-one verses.
John was certainly in the midst of it on that rocky crag.
The NIV version of Revelation 1:9 describes John as
'a companion in the suffering...that are ours
in Jesus' Suffering
also means pressure. Jesus said,
“‘A servant is not greater than his master.’
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you”
Persecution and pressure are integral
to the Christian life.
was intended to get John
"out of the way.”
God used John’s exile, however,
record this apocalyptic vision,
help and strengthen Christians for millennia
I was in the Spirit on
the Lord’s day,
and I heard behind me a
loud voice like a trumpet saying,
Write what you see
in a book
send it to the seven churches,
to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum
and to Thyatira and to Sardis and
to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
This is the -only-
“Lord’s Day” -reference- in
the New Testament.
Most think that it is Sunday, the first day of the week,
day of Jesus’ resurrection, and of Pentecost.
Two other passages describe Christians gathering
on “the first day of the week” (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:12)
, so it is no surprise that from the very beginning the church called Sunday “the Lord’s Day” and
gathered that day to worship Christ.
This is what John was doing.
He was “in the Spirit,”
and the Holy Spirit gave him the extraordinary vision
which we are about to read.
A “loud voice like a trumpet”
seizes John’s attention like the priestly trumpets that
called Israel to assemble
That is exactly where John finds himself
and where he is
commanded to write
sees on a scroll
Only a select few in the ancient world
trained to write and read,
John’s ability was a rare
How wonderfully he used that skill
The seven churches that John writes to are all in
and form a roughly clockwise circle
Seven letters were written into one large letter that was
to be passed
from church to church and read out loud.
No doubt it was also copied
Then I turned to
voice that was speaking to me,
and on turning I
saw seven golden lampstands,
and in the
midst of the lampstands
one like a
son of man
John turned to see the same Son of Man
that Daniel 7:13-14 describes,
coming “with the clouds of heaven”
Note that he is “among” the lampstands. We will come back to that.
Look now at how Jesus, the Son of Man, is
portrayed to us with eight symbols.
Each of them is very important.
1. Jesus’ Priestly Robe and Sash“ [He was] clothed
with a long robe and with a golden sash around
Moses had clothed Aaron with a tunic and sash
It was the basic uniform of an Old Testament priest.
His robe and golden sash
Jesus also as a priest and mediator
He speaks to us
God’s behalf and prays to God
He stands before God interceding and pleading
for the salvation and welfare
of his people
Be encouraged, for he is most certainly heard:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable
to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who in
every respect has been tempted as we are,
yet without sin.
2. Jesus’ White Hair“ The hairs of his head
were white, like white wool,
As we age the pigment cells in our hair follicles die. With less melanin our hair becomes more transparent, appearing grey, silver, or white.
This is not a disaster.
In the Bible
"snow on the roof”
advertises wisdom, the experience
comes with having travelled
'around the sun'
a few more times than one’s
So, “Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life”
(Prov. 16:31), and
"The glory of young men is their strength,
but the splendor of old men is their gray hair”
God the Father, the Ancient of Days,
appeared to Daniel with hair that “was white like wool”
This symbolized God’s perfect wisdom
In John’s vision
Jesus has that same “white as wool” hair.
How vital that the
persecuted and suffering church knows this,
that the one who rules our circumstances
rules with perfect wisdom and
incapable of mistakes.
3. Jesus’ Blazing Eyes
“His eyes were like a flame of fire”
We often describe unusually clear and brightly colored
eyes as “piercing.”
We have all sat under the steady gaze of a person who
seems to be able to look
beyond our outward appearance into our
inner thoughts and desires.
It seems our faces are quite hopeless at keeping secrets.
They are wired deeply to our souls and involuntarily
betray our deepest thoughts, inclinations, and feelings.
Interested and observant people can see all of these things.
That is rarely comfortable.
Jesus has eyes “like blazing fire.”
He sees everything.
Philip told him about
“Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”
Later, Jesus showed Nathaniel that
though he had
not been physically present, he had seen everything
Jesus always knew exactly what people were thinking
(Mark 2:8, Luke 5:22, John 2:24-25).
The suffering church must know that he
has “eyes like blazing fire.”
He knows everything that is happening to us, and he
responds with perfect wisdom.
4. Jesus’ Burnished Feet “His feet were like burnished bronze,
refined in a furnace”
Remember the five-part statue Nebuchadnezzar saw in Daniel 2?
The golden head represented Babylon.
The silver chest and arms was perhaps the Medo-Persian empire,
and the bronze belly and thighs Greece.
The iron legs might have been
Rome, or all
earthly empires to come
The feet were an iron and clay composite--for all
earthly kingdoms are poised upon a
Though human empires dazzle and awe with their size and might, they are all fragile. Brash Babylon was swept away overnight by Persia (Dan. 5:30-31). Potent Persia was prostrated by Alexander the Great’s phalanxes. But Alexander died at 33, and within two centuries Rome had taken over. So it went, and so it goes.
by contrast, has feet
"like bronze glowing in a furnace.”
meaning, refined through suffering,
polished through the furnace of affliction,
perfected through overcoming trials and tribulations
There can be no admixture of clay in that furnace;
his feet are perfectly solid and sound. If earthly empires come and go,
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:14)
Christians are tempted to bow before the dazzling might
of the empires, rulers, and cultures that persecute them.
But these powers are as frail as daisies and will, like all before them,
soon be swept away.
We choose to bow only to
Jesus Christ, for
only his Kingdom is eternal and good.
5. Jesus’ Thundering Voice
“And his voice was like the roar of many waters”
The Gap is near Albany, Western Australia.
It is a monstrous gouge in the granite coastal cliffs of that region.
You can stand on a viewing platform overhanging the edge and watch the waves surging and spraying in and out some forty meters below.
But be warned!
The Southern Ocean is a wild and treacherous beast.
Without any warning it will hurl a King Wave at you,
ten times the average size.
Many, standing on the edge and feeling high, dry, and safe, have been stunned and drenched by those terrifying monsters. The Gap itself was blasted by the force of such waves.
The Bible likens
power of God’s words
to such surging
The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!
Your decrees are very trustworthy;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, forevermore
. (Ps. 93:3-5; see also Rev. 14:2, 19:6)
Though Christians may feel frightened and
overwhelmed by hostile powers and circumstances,
Jesus’ voice is “like the sound of rushing waters.”
His laws are unbreakable.
His teaching is eternal. His Word made and shapes the universe.
His promises are invincible,
with you always,
very end of the age”
6. The Stars in Jesus’ Hand“In his right hand he held seven stars”
For the ancients,
as for us, the stars marked the times and seasons.
But they are impossibly distant.
Empires come and go, but the
stars shine on, serene and untouchable.
Yet Jesus is so much greater than the stars that
he picks them up
seashells on the beach
But there’s much more to the stars than that, which
Jesus reveals at the end of the chapter
7. Jesus’ Sharp Sword
“From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword”
This strange symbol banishes any idea that
John was seeing Jesus in a natural, physical way.
This is apocalyptic;
the curtain is parted so that we can
see the spiritual truth
Jesus represented by powerful symbols
symbol is understood in a moment
only grasped over a lifetime
The words of Jesus are like a sharp,
For the word of God is
living and active, sharper than
any two-edged sword,
piercing to the division of soul and of
spirit, of joints and of marrow,
and discerning the thoughts and intentions
of the heart
. (Heb. 4:12)
Jesus’ words will slay his enemies.
pressure of persecution,
we must know that the
Word of Christ is no dead letter.
strengthens our thoughts and hearts.
And, like Saul the Pharisee, it can
turn persecutors to worshipers, and even
8. Jesus’ Brilliant Face“And his face was
like the sun
shining in full strength” (Rev. 1:16b).
Our parents always said,
"Don’t look at the sun; it will damage your eyes.”
You can’t really look at the sun anyway, not for long. It is unbearable.
shines brighter than the sun.
He is brilliant, he is the
source of the light of truth,
he is impeccable and holy,
and like the sun,
his face sheds life-giving light and
John had already seen this on the
mountain when Jesus was transfigured:
And his clothes became radiant, intensely white,
as no one on earth could bleach them
. (Mark 9:3)
Under trial and persecution things seem dark and cold.
Turn to Christ
and be flooded with the warmth and light
of his holiness and
Stop and dwell on this.
"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as
When a frail, mortal, sinful creature comes
face-to-face with Jesus,
and when they
see his glory, power, and holiness,
there is only one response.
"All the peoples on earth will mourn because of him”
“Every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:10).
that all that infinite holiness, power, and glory,
that sharp two-edged sword,
should have come crushing down upon his godless head,
slaying him for eternity.
Submerged, paralyzed, terrified, John fell at Jesus’ feet as though dead.
If and when we see Jesus for all that he is,
we will do the same.
“But he laid his right hand on me,
"Fear not, I am the first and the last”
An intimate gesture of reassurance and
we bow and submit to what we fear.
Do not fear earthly powers; don’t bow to their pressure.
John shows us the way,
Jesus is truly the only one we need fear.
Worldly powers are soap bubbles beside Him.
Bow and submit only to Jesus; yet,
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever
fears has not been perfected in love
. (1 John 4:18)
We must not fear the fearsome Christ,
“loves us and has
freed us from our sins by his blood”