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. Ramon Antonio

    So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

    Interestingly, in Torah at the begining of the biblical account, when mankind sinned and were evicted from Paradise, God placed cherubim and a “flaming sword which turned every way…” to guard and prevent humans to re enter. Now, near the end, another (?) sword comes but from the mouth of the One who will judge.

    Does a sword that turns every way resemble a two edged sword? That is, does it perform the same function?

    Cherubim are the angelic dragons which guard God presence and Seraphim are the angelic flames that praise eternally God. Both only are seen within an epiphany. Thus, may the One who judges with the sword coming from His Own mouth be an epiphany of God a Himself?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Very good observations, Ramon.

  2. David CY Fung

    Jesus was revealing to John and future readers of Revelation that the weapon for His church to overcome Satan’s attack throughout the ages is and will be His Word. We can see in Revelation 12:15-16, Satan symbolized by the serpent which spewed water (Satan’s adherants) like a flooding river out of its mouth as it persued the woman (Jesus’ church)…
    The vision that John saw in Chapter 1 is truly foretelling what is to come. The battle between good and evil will rage on even after Jesus’ ascension to heaven but Jesus will have the final and eternal victory.

  3. Harold Watson

    Dr. Eli,

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! You are the only writer I have read who has identified where Satan was able to introduce the idea that Christianity was a religion. My first real prayer to God was to request that He would “show me the Truth.” Little did I know that when the Truth showed up, it would be a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. All through the New Testament, it refers to itself as the Truth. I have given up referring to myself as a Christian. If necessary, I say, “I am a Bible Christian.” When visiting the many Roman Catholic art galleries in Rome, Florence, etc., we got a good visual representation of Christianity as a religion. No thanks.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Look… its not just the Catholics, or Orthodox, or anyone else for that matter. My point is that in the first century the religion as we define it today (as separate category) did not yet exist.

  4. Kaye Anderson

    Dr. Eli, I am very thankful you are so generous with your time and expertise. I’d like to share Rick Renner’s perspective on the two-edged sword from His book,Sparkling Gems from the Greek (February 22, pg.109). The phrase “two-edged” is taken from the Greek word “distomos”: “di” meaning two, and “stomos”, the Greek word for ones mouth. He asks why the Bible would refer to the Word of God repeatedly as a “two-edged sword” or literally, a “two-mouthed sword”. He presents the idea that the Word comes out of the mouth of God first, and next it comes out of a believer’s mouth. Hmmm, It’s very enlightening to me to see how he goes on to explain how the quickened Word of God (sharper than a “two-edged sword”) makes demons start to tremble. Gratefully a fellow pilgrim…

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      not sure I find this convincing, but it is certainly interesting and should also be considered as interpretive possibility. Thanks for taking an active role in our study, Kaye.

  5. Teresa Anthony

    Dr. Eli, throughly enjoyed the insights on the two-edged sword! I felt it to be very informative. I love receiving these articles. What a blessing.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      It is my pleasure Teresa. Thanks for the feedback.

  6. jane z. mazzola

    The website/blog has helped considerable, Dr. Eli. The discussion of ultimate reality issues is truly the pearl of great price. Thank you again. Jane Mazzola

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for kind words sbout the blog. I am very happy to hear about ut.

  7. Fiseha

    Dear fellow believers (seekers if you are not). there are many interesting and thought provoking exchanges here. I’m glad to be part of it. Thanks to Dr. Eli for leading the conversation. I have some questions. [1] having lost of divergence over matters of details of the faith, if we accept (arguably) the disciples of Christ as Christians and their system as Christianity why can’t we call the various groups of 1st C Jewish beliefs Judaism (with all its qualifiers of the sects). [2] if the Torah is the Word of God then Jesus is its incarnation. The double edged sword is the message that imparts from both the Torah and the incarnated Jesus. what did I miss? [3] Dr. Eli hinted that Jews have a national system and Christians don’t. I would like to think that Jews no longer have the same national system as it was before Jesus. In Jesus Jews share the commonwealth with gentiles and therefore Christians are included in the new nationhood. So I don’t think where we are from makes what we are in Christ. It is what we have become. Agreeable, I hope. Fiseha

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Fiseha, thanks for being so organized with your comments.

      1) We can chose to call things as we wish today, that does not mean that ancient followers of Jesus or Jews who practiced their lifestyle saw themselves that way. In doing so we project advanced ideas of doctrine and practice on generations that have no relation to such things. That is not understanding, that is simply making things fit our worldview. Perhaps I can share this article from our blog library to shed further light on the issue.

      2) I do not think you are missing anything, Idiomatic language is broad here.

      3) Here my personal perspective differs from yours considerably and I see things from the opposite side. Take it for what it is worth but according to Zech 8:23 the nations join Israel through Jesus and not the other way around. The commonwealth of the nations is with Israel as the head entity and Israel is not incorporated into some universal Jesus commonwealth. This is what the prophets saw when Israel will come into maturity and full restoration (Jer 3:15-18). I read passages like Mic 4:1-8 and know that this day is coming and Israel will take her place one day as the prophets predicted. And the national aspects of the covenant that may apply to the nations today can apply only as the nations recognize the inseparable bond by whist hey are bout to Israel and her God. The Son of Man is naturally a part of this prophetic plan and he makes it possible. This may sound a bit ethnocentric, but such is the message of the prophets in my opinion.

  8. catherine

    I noted that you used the book of Enoch as a resource. I don’t know much about it except that it is discounted by the all the Christian traditions I have been exposed to. I would be interested in knowing your perspective on the book.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Since we study here not from theological perspective we use all kinds of relevant literature, apocryphal books, all kinds of non-canonical texts, Dead Sea scrolls, early midrash… anything that helps us capture the conceptual world and mindset of the that day. We seek the understanding of what the text meant to the writer himself and to his original audience and other documents close to his day are helpful despite their status of sanctity.

  9. jane z. mazzola

    My fervor to understand is only exceeded by my age, not to be contentious!My teen hero was young Solomon who asked God for wisdom & understanding; modern models, Edith Stein & Golda Meir. I understand,Dr.Eli,that later NT writers “put words on the lips” of Jesus that may not be 1stc,(JDCrossin,JReed,others),but Jesus was hanged, Jewish followers of His were ostracized/persecuted. 1st c. & Patristic periods.
    More than “hair splitting” differences. As you & Daniel discussed:what was definition of “grace” that caused the “schism”, (Catherine’s term)? What am I missing in understanding for which I search? Is it His identification as “Son of God”?Thank you & blessings to all, Jane

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Jane, I am not sure I fully understand your comment and what you are asking about and thus I am at a loss how I can help here.

  10. Linda Simmons

    Greetings, Dr. Eli, and thank you for the privilege to learn from your insights. Could you further elaborate a little on your comment about “the so-called Epistle to the Hebrews”, please, or perhaps direct me to an article you have written about this? Blessings.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Linda, I am not sure I can point you to a good article right now, but I do not think it is a secret that Hebrews is not an epistle. Unlike letters it lists no recipients and does not state who wrote it. The “Hebrews” name is only hypothetical and traditional. Thus my remark…