Have you ever found something in a surprising place? I remember one day while I was getting ready to go to work I couldn’t find my wallet! I looked everywhere for it. I checked the usual spots like my coat pockets, my pants pockets from the day before, the cracks in our couch, inside and outside the car, or if it had fallen behind the table I usually place it on but it was nowhere to be found. By this time I was getting quite annoyed because it was making me late for work. I then decided to check the unusual places like the refrigerator, the freezer, and finally the microwave and surprise, surprise there it was! It turns out my daughter who only recently discovered how to open, close and even turn on the microwave decided to put it in there and zap it. Why I will never know but I am glad that I did find it and only ended up being marginally late for work. We have come a long ways since we started our study “Swords From Their Lips” and with this post we will bring it to a close by considering a surprising place to find a sharp double-edged sword – in Jesus mouth! Thankfully, unlike my experience with my wallet and never being able to know why my daughter decided to do this we can know why Jesus is said to have a sharp double-edged sword in his mouth.
Who is Jesus?
“Who do people say I am?” That is the question Jesus asked his disciples one day as they were en route to Caesarea Philippi. In some respects it is a bit unusual because ordinarily it was disciples who posed questions to their rabbis rather than the reverse. But Jesus is no ordinary rabbi. It is also a bit unusual because usually people ask what others do, not who they are. However in asking the question this way it is more profound and brings to the forefront what the disciples have been wondering in their heart themselves since the stilling of the storm, “’Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?’” (Mark 4:41).
The disciples’ initial answer echoes popular opinion about Jesus, “They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’” (Mark 8:28). Jesus has an illustrious standing in the popular mind because to liken Jesus to John, Elijah, or a prophet was to rank him among the stellar figures in Israel’s long history. Popular opinion of Jesus today would answer in a similar fashion saying things like, “He is the greatest teacher who ever lived” or “He is the greatest moral example who ever lived” or “He is the greatest prophet who ever lived” or even “He is the greatest political revolutionary who ever lived.” Some things never change! However, while this may seem like a compliment of great honor it is ultimately to deny Jesus uniqueness and authority as the very Son of God.
Jesus then asks a second, more intense question, “’But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am.’?” (Mark 8:29). With that brief question Jesus Christ confronted His followers with the most important issue they would ever face. He had spent much time with them and made some bold claims about His identity and authority. Now the time had come for them either to believe or deny His teachings. Jesus’ question is an invitation to take personally and seriously the necessity to stop taking refuge in the answers of others and answer for ourselves. Jesus question is also an invitation to take personally and seriously the possibility that maybe we need to see him differently or that our perception of him is inadequate or that our Jesus is not the real Jesus. In other words, Jesus question is an invitation to come and start rediscovering the true greatness and glory of the real Jesus and ruthlessly abandon the Jesus we thought was real.
A great place to discover the true greatness and glory of the real Jesus is the book of Revelation. As Revelation 1:1 says, it is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (WARNING: Technical note – read at your own risk – yes for those of you so inclined to think about the finer issues of the Greek language I am aware of the massive amount of ink spilt over whether Jesus is the source of the revelation [subjective genitive] or the object being described by the revelation [objective genitive] to which I say yes, he is the source and object of revelation [plenary genitive]).
Just in the first chapter of Revelation alone Jesus is revealed as:
- The faithful witness (v. 5)
- The firstborn from the dead (v. 5)
- The ruler of the kings of the earth (v. 5)
- Him who loves us (v. 6)
- Him who has freed us from our sins by his blood (v. 6)
- Him who has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (v. 6)
- To Him be glory and power for ever and ever (v. 6)
- The First and the Last (v. 17)
- The Living One (v. 18)
- He who holds the keys of death and Hades (v. 18)
Jesus is Judge
Is the Jesus you thought was real holding up to how the Bible actually reveals him or have you already had to smash some false idols of Jesus? But that is not all! In verses 12-16 the real Jesus is revealed through a series of eight successive images to be the exalted sovereign Judge:
- “Dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet” (v. 13)
- “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow” (v. 14)
- “His eyes were like blazing fire” (v. 14)
- “His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace” (v. 15)
- “His voice was like the sound of rushing waters” (v. 15)
- “In his right hand he seven stars” (v. 16)
- “Out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (v. 16)
- “His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (v. 16)
You see! It is primarily as Judge that Jesus Christ appears in Revelation. He judges the churches (chs. 2—3), the whole earth (chs. 4—16), Babylonianism (chs. 17—18), world rulers at Armageddon (19:19-21), and Satan (20:1-3, 10). He also judges the earth during the Millennium (20:4-6), the rebellious earth at the end of the Millennium (20:7-9), and all the unsaved dead (20:11-15). The first 20 chapters of the book deal with judgment and the last two with the new creation.
But if we are honest we will have to say that many of us don’t like this Jesus. We only like a Jesus that manifests grace, compassion, and mercy. We’re much like children going through a buffet line. We pick and choose what to include and exclude. Most children select desserts and other appetizing foods and bypass vegetables, salads, and fruits. We too can be guilty of picking and choosing what attributes of Jesus we find appetizing and neglecting the rest. The moment we do so, however, we are no longer worshiping the Jesus of the Bible but our own made up image of him and so while you may fervently say, “I love Jesus” the Jesus you love is not the real Jesus but your own self-made creation! Yikes! If you have no room in your heart for Jesus as Judge than you need to ask God to change your heart that you might know him as he really is and not how you think he really is.
What Came Out Of His Mouth?
I could go on and on about that issue for a while but this post is already turning out longer than I want it to be and I haven’t even talked about the phrase that is pertinent to this post – “out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (v. 16). What is that all about? Why does Jesus have a sword coming out of his mouth? Let me point out a few things:
First, the image is drawn from Isaiah 11:4 which says that the Messiah (the root of Jesse, the Branch on whom the Spirit of the LORD will rest) will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked (see also Isaiah 49:2).” In light of that correlation it is not difficult to understand the significance of a sword from his mouth! In fact, take a moment to read Revelation 19:11-21, especially verses 15-16, 21!
Second, the sword in view is not the Romans “short sword” but a large, broad Thracian sword used often in cavalry charges like a scythe. Again, consider Romans 19:11-21 where Christ is seated on a horse!
Third, consider the words of John 12:48, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” God’s Word will judge his enemies!
It is very plain then that the sword protruding from Jesus mouth is symbolic of his judicial power which will be in accordance with his Word. It symbolizes the irresistible authority and devastating force of the Lord’s judgment and Word. His Word is both creative (Gen. 1) and destructive (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 19).
Whom will Jesus judge by the Word/Sword from his mouth?
- He will judge the lawless one. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”
- He will judge the wicked. See Isaiah 11:4 and John 12:48 above.
- He will judge his church. Jesus has some strong words for the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:16 – “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Why such strong words of judgment? It seems the church at Pergamum was promoting some serious doctrinal errors which fell far short of the living Word of God. So much for the creed “Don’t give me doctrine, I just want to follow Jesus.” Besides the fact that such a creed IS a doctrine, Jesus himself warns of impending judgment if the Christians at Pergamum don’t repent of false doctrine! Doctrine matters! Theology matters!
So we end how we began – “Who do you say I am?” Do you believe in the Jesus whose mouth is a sword? Do you believe in Jesus as Judge? Do you need to “repent” like the Christians at Pergamum of a false Jesus? Do you know the real Jesus?