The Glorified Christ on Patmos -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 122:487 (Jul 1965)
Article: The Glorified Christ on Patmos
Author: Robert L. Thomas

The Glorified Christ on Patmos

Robert L. Thomas

[Robert L. Thomas, Professor, New Testament Language and Literature, Talbot Theological Seminary, La Mirada, California.]

The significance of symbolic language in the Apocalypse has been the subject of debate in the Christian church almost since its inception. Differences of opinion have arisen because of different hermeneutical principles, with some commentators prone to press the symbols of the book to unreasonable extremes while others incline to be unnecessarily literal in their interpretation.

Another common error is to overlook the relationship between John’s language and the Old Testament source of his terminology. A highly significant passage where this tendency can be seen is the writer’s description of the glorified Christ found in 1:13–16. The various aspects of the Lord’s appearance are, for the most part, derived from the Jewish Scriptures; yet there exists a great diversity of opinion regarding the significance of each part, a difference which is due largely to a lack of attention to this relationship.

Beckwith’s remarks are to the point here: “Christ appears, portrayed in traits taken chiefly from descriptions of God and an angelic being given in the Old Testament, which are meant to picture him in dazzling glory and majesty, vv. 13–16. A symbolic meaning is not to be sought in the details, except so far as they form traits in a picture of resplendent glory, and contain current terms used in expressing divine activities.”1 “It is important to determine the meaning which the author attached to the symbols used and to avoid fancifulness to which they easily lend themselves—a most common source of misinterpretation.”2

To illustrate, one might survey several commentaries and find that “His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow” (1:14) means anything from “beauty” to “suffering,” with various other alternatives such as “sinlessness,” “authority,” “maturity,” or “wisdom.”3 If a sane approach to exegesis be followed, the interpreter understands that the Lord wished to convey to John one major idea, and not six, by this particular feature of the vision.

A careful examination of the vision, therefore, should disclose in what character the risen Christ wished to reveal Himself to the apostle, and hence to the churches, for the purpo...

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