The opening picture of Jesus in the book of Revelation is a breath taking one. It’s not the Jesus we’re used to seeing in paintings and pictures. From the way He’s described by John it’s clear it’s impressionistic and meant to convey certain truths about Christ rather than to portray His exact physical likeness. For example, His eyes are described as being “like blazing fire” (1:14). Since fire is so often associated with judgment in the Scripture, I think we’re supposed to see the fire in His eyes as His wrath toward those who are oppressing and persecuting His people (6:9-11). In the context of the book, this was Rome under the emperor Domitian.
I think the other aspects of Jesus’ description can be treated in the same manner. We can look at the Scriptures and find examples of similar usage and arrive at a sense of what is being conveyed. And that is true for everything else except one particular part of the picture. It is where Jesus is said to hold seven stars in His hand (1:16). There’s no corresponding picture of this anywhere else in Scripture.
What we do know is that Domitian had a boy who lived only a few years. Some time after his death, he had a coin minted that showed his son seated atop the world with arms outstretched, hands open, and seven stars around him. The inscription on the coin said, “The divine Caesar, son of the emperor Domitian.” Here then by Roman reckoning, was a divine son who ruled the world.
It seems quite likely that John’s description of Jesus as “ruler of the kings of the earth,” (v. 5), who holds seven stars in his hand (v. 16), is formed in response to the coin minted by Domitian. It is to say, “This is the true divine Son who rules the world.” Rome could mint their coins and make their proclamations, but it couldn’t change the fact that emperor’s son was dead, in his grave, and Domitian was powerless to do anything about it. The coin might have been real, but its message was counterfeit. Meanwhile, the One who died on a Roman cross was alive forever and ever and holding the keys to death and Hades (1:18).
What a powerful message for the struggling churches of Asia. What a timely reminder for us today. The One who holds the stars holds our hope!