When John turns and looks behind him to see the voice (that is, to see where it was coming from), he sees seven golden lampstands (v. 12) and an extraordinary figure, apparently human, which he describes in considerable detail (vv. 13-16). The figure recalls more than anything else the "man dressed in linen" seen by Daniel "on the bank of the great river, the Tigris" according to Daniel 10:4-6. John's vision, like Daniel's, is given a precise geographical location, and the two figures have in common a golden belt or sash, a shining face, eyes like fire, feet of burnished bronze and an overwhelming voice. There are echoes of other biblical visions as well: Ezekiel's "man clothed in linen" in the Jerusalem temple (Ezek 9:2, 3, 11), Daniel's "Ancient of Days" whose "clothing was as white as snow" and "the hair of his head . . . white like wool" (Dan 7:9), and Daniel's "one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven" who "approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence" (Dan 7:13). All of these were either representatives or representations of the God of Israel.
Despite this rich background, nothing in John's account suggests that he recognized the figure that stood before him or that he identified it with any of these figures out of Daniel or Ezekiel. None of them had been holding seven stars, and none had a sharp double-edged sword sticking out of its mouth (v. 16). Nor did John at once identify the figure with Jesus, who united him with all Christians and for whose testimony he found himself on Patmos. All he could have said was that this figure, despite its human appearance, bore with it both the majesty and the terror of Almighty God. (The pronoun it is appropriate because as yet the figure has no personality for John, and no definite gender. It is for him nothing more—and nothing less—than a glorious, terrifying divine Presence). Such a figure in Jewish or Christian tradition is commonly called an angel (as, for example, in Rev 10:1), and it is a fair conjecture that an angel is what John would have called it too if words had not failed him. The reader's natural (though incorrect) assumption is that this is the "angel" mentioned in the title ("He made it known by sending his angel," 1:1).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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