The Two-edged Sword Of The Son Of Man (rev. 1:16)

16 …and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. (Rev 1:16)

As dozens of artists attempted to recreate this picture in their art works and mostly without much success, we are pointed to the awkwardness of John’s further description of the Son of Man – “from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword”. Sword is the ultimate symbol of armed strength and victory in the ancient world. There are many different kinds of swords. The swords that were two-edged were particularly deadly since they were able to cut from both side of the blade.

Understanding the genre of Revelation we know that the double-edged sword is a metaphor. The imagery is trying to convey that the mouth of the Son of Man wields great power, like that of a double-edged sword. It is able to wound and to slay the enemies. In 1 Enoch 62:2 we read:

And the Lord of Spirits seated him on the throne of His glory, and the spirit of righteousness was poured out upon him, and the word of his mouth slays all the sinners, and all the unrighteous are destroyed from before his face.”

The Second Temple literature and Bible has a number of passages showing that the mouth can be a very deadly weapon. In some places merely words slay, in other passages it is fire and sometimes it is the breath. In 4 Ezra 13:3 we read:

And I beheld, and lo! The wind caused to come up out of the heart of the seas as it were the form of a man. And I beheld, and lo! This Man flew with the clouds of heaven. And wherever he turned his countenance to look everything seen by him trembled; and with the voice that went out of his mouth, all that heard his voice melted away, as the wax melts when it feels the fire.”

The Son of Man has immense power in this depiction. Like in Daniel he comes “with the clouds of heaven”. His gaze alone makes things tremble. The sound of his voice makes things melt as if he is breathing fire. Though this is not a sword, the idea is the same. This angel-like being is powerful enough to destroy with his voice alone. Prophet Isaiah writes similar words:

“And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:3-4)

Whether it is a double-edged sword in the mouth of the Son of Man, or his voice melts all things, or he strikes the earth with the rod of his mouth the effect it of this description is very intentional. The overall idea here is that this heavenly being described by John in verse 16 is full of power as evidenced by him holding the seven starts and a potent sword preceding forth from him presumably to assure the seven assemblies of their safety.

One very important but additional detail is that the sword comes out of his mouth. If we ponder this issue a little, we will be struck by this small, but extremely significant detail. Swords are always held by the hands of the worriers. To be precise, the sword is always held in the strongest hand (usually the right hand), signifying full control over the weapon.

The point in this text is not that the hands of the Son of Man are already full, but that the powerful sword under consideration here is God’s Words. The writer of the so-called Epistle to the Hebrews, who likely wrote before the Revelation was composed, put it this way:

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb.4:12)

There seems to be a little doubt that the Book of Revelation was composed at the time of persecution of early Christ-followers by the Roman government. The letter of Revelation was a right message at the right time. This apocalyptic message is a bright hopeful future amidst difficult times. When the fate of Jesus-worshiping congregations (both newly planted among non-Jews and those who already existed among the Jews) was not at all clear, John is shown what must soon take place. Before he is able to see all of the heavenly drama prophetically enacted he is already overcome by this heavenly being that he sees.

 

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  1. Tameron Himelrick

    I would love to sign up for your blog studies. I am studying to be an ordained Chaplain.
    Thank you and God bless.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      If you are not signed up, Tameron, it is easy. Just at the top of the posts (on the main page), give us your e-mail!

  2. Augustin Etienne

    Hi,
    This is the first time I am hearing that there was no such thing as Judaism. Did the Jews have a religion? What was Christ talking about in Matthew 23:15 when He accused the Pharisees of making “proselytes?” Proselytes to what?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      We use religion as a defined category of believing certain things, subscribing to particular doctrines, rituals, practices. At that time there was another category. It was ethnic, it was familial and hereditary ways of life, tied to geography and people. Proselytes to Jewishness, to the nation, to the peoplehood of Israel could be made. And that usually meant that the person’s loyalty shifted from their family to Israel in all aspects, including worship of God, practices and etc.

  3. ruth

    Very interesting

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Glad you came by.

  4. Joafo. Eliuda

    Thank you for the text message, I am very interested. Thank you.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Enjoy the study!

  5. Cathie

    Hello, I would like to say I am so glad that I found your blog. I have recently under gone a spiritual change. A friend of mine and I have been discussing what was the true movement that Jesus Christ intended when he was here on Earth. Both her and I believe it is not what Christianity is today. First off, Jesus was Jewish and he followed the Jewish laws and holidays. I truly believe that Christians in today’s world are not truly following what Jesus wanted us to follow.
    I am looking forward to reading your blog and learning what I can from the Jewish point of view, as I believe Jesus would want us to.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I hope you will always feel welcome here. It OK to question things. We do this here quite a lot and we disagree with each other in a respectful ways at times. But we also believe that we are all growing and no one has it all figured out.

  6. Te Wairata Ketu

    KIA ORA Eli, thank you for your invitation to join this study of Revealations. This fascinates me as I read the different interpretations of particular phrases of the Scriptures. I have also come across a verse that says that “he will come like a double edged sword that will divide mother from daughter and father from son.” In our Maori culture, which is also full of metaphor and symbolism, ancestors who were depicted in carvings as having a sharpened tongue were persons that spoke honestly and with conviction, so much so that the words they spoke, not only hurt many that heard their words, but that their words had power, like that of a sword with both blades or edges, sharp. They spoke the truth and often were feared and respected because they were leaders who brought order and calm to the masses, but were deeply resented by those who knew what truth was, but jealousy was their weapon. They often sought conceited power and control of the masses. it was the one with a “forked tongue” that came to deliver a message and did not seek anything from it, but to be the messenger. I would love to be a part of this study group. thank you MAURI ORA!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Good examples… Thanks. Each culture has their own imagery and they place meanings into their own conceptual world. What you shared about Maori is really neat. Just keep in mind that this may not line up with ancient Judean views at all. That is why to discover the meaning of imagery one has to study the context and the given culture carefully. Fortunatly we have some ancient texts that help us study ancient people.

  7. Robert MacKinnon

    I’m very interested in following U

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Welcome to the forum, Robert!

  8. Daniel

    Dr. Eli, I LOVE THIS STUFF! Thanks.
    So I am following you regarding the picture language and I appreciate the Jewish context from 4 Ezra and Enoch. My question is: is it possible this sword behaves differently in its POWER under the revelation of the covenant as Jesus reveals the Father, in a way which is significantly different then a second temple Judaism paradigm that is based on a mistaken understanding of the Law of Moses? The latter seems to be judgment from the consequence of law breaking. The former, I would suggest is judgment in light of a powerful, sin removing atonement.
    Could a powerful two edged sword coming from the mouth of Jesus cut in a way that brings grace and life?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Daniel, welcome to the forum! First of all the answer to your last question is – ABSOLUTELY! But also I want to challenge your assumption :-), if you don’t mind… you are wrote “a second temple Judaism paradigm that is based on a mistaken understanding of the Law of Moses”. What’s wrong with this statement?! Well… few things: 1) There was no such thing as a second temple Judaism paradigm :-). At least NOT ONE. 2) The Jesus paradigm that we read about in the Gospels is very much a PART of the Judean package deal (culture, faith, etc. all included) AND is a PART OF WHAT MANY refer to as the second Temple Judaism. 3) Now to really confuse you…. are you ready? At the time of Jesus and not until the non-Jewish Christians self-defined their movement as a religion (and projected back this new definition (religion as a separate category) back on the Judeans and other Israelites THAT HAD NO SUCH CATEGORY TO SPEAK OF) do we have such a things JUDAISM at all. As a mater of fact that term JUDAISM is almost nowhere to be found in the “Second Temple JUDAISM” 🙂 As Daniel Boyarin along with many others posited – Christians invented Judaism (as a religion)! It will take some concentration on your part, but it would be worth for you to read Steve Mason’s article that makes it inescapably clear – http://www.stevemason.eu/resources/SMason-JSJ-2007-Jews-Judaism.pdf But hang on… we are learning together.

      Once again welcome aboard Jewish Studies for Christians! You just got to a very stimulating place, so I hope you will enjoy it! Eli

  9. justin manning

    For pray itself is twofold, as it both comprise of praises to God and requesting one needs, this corresponds to “a double edge sword in their hand” Psalms 149:6. ie. a double portion….. there is more in the commentary, I am not at home at this time to check it out…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Interesting. Perhaps, you can unpack it for us a little bit more. It sounds to me that Nachman of Breslov (whom I like a lot) is not talking about what we are talking about :-), but is doing what we are doing 🙂 -Thinking Jewishly and Biblically about important maters.

  10. Justin Manning

    You forgot what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said in Likutey Morahran 2:2

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Please enlighten us, Justin, share his words…