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. Craig

    In recentish times God’s Holy Word has become an amazingly vibrant and exciting almost ‘scary’ experience to read, especially out aloud to others, where The Lord is speaking His Divine Wisdom and Instruction either Directly Himself (or through His early prophets, or Solomon or King David).
    For the Living Word to be taking on this urgency and immediacy leads me to wonder how much time there remains for people to make their decision for God, or the world.
    John 3:16

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Glad you could join us, Craig.

  2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    I am glad you discovered the blog, Elizabeth. Be sure sign up for updates on the front page.

  3. catherine hodge

    I find Jane Mazzola’s comment this morning at04:25 curious. ‘Schism’ perhaps is the word.

  4. Elizabeth Parker

    I did a study of the book of Revelation for my Bible Study group last year. I was very unsure as to whether I would be able to do it properly and read a lot of different Revelation scholars to equip me. It proved to be a wonderful time for me and I learned so much. We read in Revelation that we’ll be blessed if we study this book and that’s certainly true. It has given me and the group a greater understanding of other sections of the bible also. I feel so excited to have found this study and look forward to learning much more Thank=you

  5. Susana

    Dear Dr. Eli,

    Thank you for the article. It is very helpful for me, since, I am teaching a Sunday school class for a group of 12 years old and above, and at the moment we study on Revelation.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Wishing you the best in your teaching! The ideas we share here are a bit advanced for Sunday school, but perhaps you can adapt some material.

  6. Augustin Etienne

    Why does Gino say that the name Jesus did not exist at the time of the writing of Revelation? Did the angel not name Him to his mother Mary even before she conceived? Revelation was so much later.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think Gino has a problem with Jesus as an English name equivalent of the Greek IESOUS which is of course an equivalent of Yeshua in Hebrew. I will let him respond in his own way if he wishes. But the issue is that some people have a discomfort with this because they feel like the name used in translation is too far from the original, which they see as profoundly deep and meaningful.

  7. Fritz Brown

    Dr. Eli,

    Would it be correct to speak of the two-edged sword as the Torah? Thus, the Torah (Word of God) is what comes out of His mouth.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Why not? Torah is a broad idea for all of God’s instructions and teaching in Jewish mindset, so all of God’s word/words is Torah in that sense and thus the sword.

  8. jane z. mazzola

    U’r dialogue w/Agustin intrigues me. Why was Jesus’ response to Pharisees, Sadducees in NT often so caustic…hypocrites, vipers, since they did all share this Jewish ethnicity? Was it the arrogance of class appearances? Rather than recognizing commonality of humanness, common bond of the “creature”? Also, to note, that the Jewish leaders denied “Jewish followers of the Way” to Rome in efforts to protect the land/people/religion of Israel; hence Jewish Christians (People of the Way) became considered by Rome as heathen, because Jewish leaders didn’t claim them & they would not worship the Roman gods/emperor. Part of the reason this separation of Jewish & Christian occurred.
    Thanx 🙂 Jane

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Jane, I do not see Jesus’ interaction with various groups in NT much different then Christians of Reformed Church disagreeing with Pentecostals or Baptists vs Lutherans. This may be simplistic, but I think they agreed on a lot more than disagreed. That is my paradigm from the study from the detailed 1st century Judaisms. The sharp dichotomy in my opinion is a much later historical reality of the patristic period and should be be read into NT context. We teach this in our Jewish Background of the NT course at length.

  9. Eirene Wee

    Really appreciating again how simply and clearly, and with sharply chosen appropriate Scriptural cross-references you use to explain the richness of God’s revelation to us. Contextual understanding and literary knowledge helps so much in preventing misinterpreting Scripture. Once again, thank you!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for kind remarks. Please follow our study, more in the weeks to come.

  10. C Edward Smith

    Where, or how, do I sign-up for this Blog?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      To receive automatic updates please visit the front page
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