I’ve been reading commentaries on Revelation 1:12–20, learning a great deal, but getting increasingly frustrated. Even the best commentators sometimes fall into the twin faults of contemporary interpretation—atomization and abstraction.
Let’s take the “robe” that Jesus wears. Many have suggested that the robe designates Jesus as a priest, but other commentators doubt it. The reasons for doubt are several: Jesus is never called priest, other officials wear robes, the robe he wears doesn’t exactly match, in appearance or in terminology, any piece of priestly equipment from the Pentateuch.
All fine observations in themselves, but the question arises only because the robe has been isolated from John’s total vision. What John sees isn’t a man in a robe, but a man in a robe among lampstands. That is to say, this is a robed son of man in a sanctuary. What else could He be but a priest?
Atomizing the robe leads commentators to grasp the the bigger setting.
And abstraction: The robed Son of Man among the lampstands means “Jesus is with us.” Certainly true, but it’s an obvious and timid observation. The churches are pictured as lampstands, Jesus is a priest, and a priest among lampstands is there to trim the wicks and refill the oil (Leviticus 24). He’s with us, yes, but He’s with us for a particular purpose, to ensure that the light of the church keeps burning.
And when we muse over that, we remember that the lampstands are the seven persecuted and threatened churches of Asia, and we realize that Jesus is with us to make us shine precisely in the midst of our suffering, to make our light shine before men so they see our good works and worship our Father in heaven.