When you think about Jesus, what picture comes to your mind?
Having just come through Christmas, a lot of people think of the Nativity. They have an image of Jesus as a tiny infant, laid carefully in a manger. The Word of God made flesh. Other people most commonly think of Jesus in His passion, hanging on a cross with a crown of thorns upon His brow. The Suffering Servant. One of the images that resonates most deeply with me was painted on the wall of the nursery in my home church. It shows an adult Jesus surrounded by sheep and children - with a lamb in one arm and a child held tightly in another. The Good Shepherd.
Each of these images of Jesus - and many others - are appropriate and teach us something important about Him. But they also have one major shortcoming: they are all pictures of the past. They picture Jesus as He was, when He walked the earth, but they do not portray Him as He is now.
Is it possible to picture Jesus today? Does the Bible give us an idea of what Jesus looks like now?
As a matter of fact, it does. In Revelation 1:12-16 the Apostle John has an encounter with the heavenly Christ. The description that emerges is wild. Jesus is pictured with eyes "like blazing fire" and feet "like bronze glowing in a furnace." He has snowy white hair, a face that shines like the sun, and a two-edged sword for a tongue. If you attempted to draw Jesus based on the description given in Revelation you'd end up with something fearsome and bizarre.
The language of Revelation is filled with metaphor and symbolism, so the image is not meant to be taken in a strictly literal sense. And yet, I think the picture of Jesus given in Revelation 1 is one of the best descriptions of Jesus as He now is. Three things stand out to me:
1. Jesus is portrayed as alive and victorious over death.
In Revelation 1:18 Jesus says: "I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."
While the image of Jesus on the cross is vivid for many, and His death is so important to our salvation, I think it is vital to remember that He did not stay dead. He defeated death and is alive to this day. If death and hell are dungeons in which all sinners belong, it's good to know that Jesus holds the keys for setting us free.
2. Jesus is portrayed as powerful and mighty.
While the descriptions of verses 12-16 are not meant to be taken literally, it is still clear that the Jesus described is no humble carpenter from Nazareth. The eyes blazing like fire imply that Jesus sees what is happening upon the earth. The sword-like tongue implies that His word is powerful and effective. His glowing face and bright-white hair indicate the indescribable glory that belongs to Him.
When Jesus walked the earth He took on human flesh and - with the exception of a few spectacular miracles - He limited himself to our weaknesses. But Jesus today, resurrected and in heaven, knows no such weaknesses. He is majestic and sovereign.
3. Jesus is portrayed as the one in control of the church.
Jesus is described as standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands. In His hand He holds seven stars. In verse 20 He explains: "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."
In other words, Jesus superintends the church. He holds it in His hand. He is responsible for keeping its flame going. The church belongs to Him and He continues to build it today.
As we enter a new year, this is something I am encouraged by: Jesus is alive and strong and caring for His church. I'm thankful that I belong to Him. I'm thankful that whatever the future holds, Jesus will be walking among us: rescuing people from death and building His Kingdom.