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. Augustin Etienne

    While I appreciate your use of the word “Jewishness” There is still the lingering question when we read about the “sect of the Pharisees” (Ac. 15:5); “sect of the Sadducees” (Ac. 5:17); “sect of the Nazarenes” (Ac. 24:5); Paul calls the sect of the Pharisees “the most straightest sect of our religion”(Ac.26:5); the Romans thought Paul’s sect was the most spoken against (Ac. 28:22). How do you have “sects” in converting to nationhood? Were these political factions?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Augustin, that is a fair question. I will share my perspective and hopefully it will make sense. The sects usually disagree on minor stuff. Sadducees did not believe in immortality of the soul, but Pharisees did. Sadducees believed in free will all the way, the Essenes believed all was predetermined by God. Pharisees believed that some things were predetermined, but others were subject to human free will. All three agreed on the Sabbath, on God, on sacrifices, on atonement and forgiveness, on guilt and sin and slew of other things. Sects are no different the Christian denominations in modern society. The difference is that they were tied by common heredity, common covenant and joint destiny. Israel is a national entity, while churches are not tied in that way, they are multi-national, so associations are different in nature. When Jews are expelled from Rome, they are all kinds of Jews, Sadducees, Scribes, Priests, Pharisees and even believers in Jesus, no distinctions. So that is the idea of peoplehood I am speaking of. When person coverts to Judaism they convert not to a set of religious dogma but to people. So if someone goes through a Reformed Jewish conversion for example they have to consider Hassidic Jews (whom they may not be personally fond of) their people. The opposite is true of Orthodox conversion, they have to accept and deal with wayward secularists (as much as they might not be happy about that) but they are also Jews…

  2. Daniel

    Arthur, just a thought. Why do you need a sharp sword to divide between joints and marrow. Any blunt instrument could accomplish this. Is it possible the Greek would allow a rendering of “spirit from sprit and soul from soul?” I’m not sure NT writers (Jewish writers) were as anti-soul (flesh) as Greek influenced bible translators have been down through the centuries.

    1. Lois

      Daniel, or others, Could dividing of soul and spirit be the ability of God’s Word to discern between behaviors and even intentions that seem very spiritual, even to one’s self, but serve the ego/self-actualization principle as opposed to the spirituality that in humility dies to self to serve God’s purposes? I think of Carl Jung’s writings which sound incredibly spiritual but actually integrate good and evil. And I also think of the heart that is so deceitful, who can know it, spoken of in the prophets. As we turn the two-edged sword towards ourselves, we allow it to discern our intentions, between what is self serving and what is truly of the Spirit.

  3. Remusp2

    Dr.Eli.
    Thank you very I a more in depth of the meaning

  4. Arthur Jackson

    For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (‭Hebrews‬ ‭4‬:‭12‬ KJV)

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, Heb 4:12 is what I thought of as well.

  5. Arthur Jackson

    Daniel, how we see ourself as a greater impact on how we see Gods plan for our life, more than how I see God. God is I am that I am. as a man thinks so is he. they saw themselves as grasshoppers compared to the sons of Anark, thus they couldn’t enter in.

  6. Arthur

    Double edge. Life and Death are in our mouth. Blessing or curses. What we say we eat. Speak life.

    Bless Israel of Lord gather her under your wings as a hen gathers her chicks, open her eyes for the salvation you have sent to her, let her enemies flee seven ways. in Jesus name I speak.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Nice analogies, Arthur.

  7. Deborah

    Thank you for the privalege to be able to take part in this blog! Very exciting and stimulating!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Deborah, grateful for your participation, share our posts with your friends!

  8. Na'ahma Golden

    Is this where I sign up? I look forward to being challenged to know why I believe what I do and to making changes if the premises of those beliefs need some adjusting. This is a great place to be!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Na’amah, our readers share your enthusiasm for study and value of being open-minded. To sign up, click click on the “home” tab and find the space to provide us your e-mail is just above the first post.

  9. Daniel

    Dr. Eli.
    1. Of course there was not just one second temple paradigm. Your site limits the characters in each post. My point is that none of the Jewish sects of the first century could see Jesus accurately because of their expectation, varied though they were. The stumbling stone was the grace, the inclusiveness and the lack of ambition for human endorsement.
    2. I think it is obvious that the rabbi Jesus told a Jewish story with an ending that was incongruent with the eschatology of the day.
    3. Not confused, I am aware that “religion” is not a first century worldview category.
    Dr. Eli, you made several assumptions about my comment. The space here limits our ability to include “back-story” .

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You are right, Daniel, the comment system limits the word count. This is by design, since these posts are supposed to be just comments. Glad that we both can see the religion as anachronistic category. Where you and I might diverge is your comment about “grace”. I am not sure all that you pack into that term, but I think few of the “1st century Judaisms” might have had that idea quite developed. I personally cannot see Torah without grace. So perhaps were are talking about different things.

      1. Daniel

        Dr. Eli. I believe as it sounds that u do that all Jesus needed to explain the kingdom that had come to his disciples were the scriptures that he had. Yes, it is all there in the Law. I do not see a second covenant in the pages of the NT but rather a completion, fulfillment of the abrahamic covenant. God’s everlasting love and his intention to raise up a people that would rule with Him has never wavered. Where I believe 1st century practices of Judaism were unable to follow this rabbi from Nazareth was how his grace worked.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I can agree with that, Daniel. The idea is there and it is typically understood in a diverse way by various groups. Christians (by the way) depending on the variety will have their own diverse theological understandings of “grace” and some of them might me not very organic with what I see as “historical understanding” that Jesus embraced. Some accept Jesus’ perspective, others have their own ideas that flow in a different direction. 1st century Jewish milieu was diverse and there is no such thing as the unified “Jewish way” or monolithic opinion of Judaism. Not then and not in out day.

          1. Daniel

            Dr. Eli, what attracted me to your site was “reading the NT as 1st century Jewish literature”. I am extremely interested in what a Messianic Jew living in Jerusalem with a Phd has to teach me in this area. I am a life long student of scripture, I pastor a church and I am completely convinced that without an anchor in Jewish culture and thought we will never understand what our Jewish brothers who wrote the NT were saying in their writings. The accepted Western narrative of a gospel of salvation is too small. This is good news about a kingdom. Your insights and perspectives concerning the NT are very valuable to me. I need conversation partners who have travelled this way as well.

  10. Mary

    thank you for this blog which is a real blessing.. cannot wait to read more…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Mary, more is coming and you can check the archives for previous post on Revelation.