The book of Revelation brims with symbolism from the very first chapter, as we see in Revelation 1:16, “In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” The person referred to is Jesus, appearing in a form distinct from His earthly incarnation. The seven stars in Jesus’ right hand symbolize the “angels of the seven churches” (verse 20). But what about the sharp, double-edged sword coming out of His mouth?
The answer lies in Hebrews 4:12, which states, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (cf. Ephesians 6:17). The ancient Romans employed the two-edged sword as a formidable offensive weapon, and a metaphorical sword is portrayed in both Hebrews and Revelation. This two-edged sword symbolizes Christ’s authority and judgment, holding humanity accountable, even delving into our thoughts.
Do we often imagine Jesus as a warrior wielding a two-edged sword? Unfortunately, no. Our tendency is to reshape Jesus into a less “threatening” figure, favoring a nonjudgmental being who will affirm all our actions. However, such a god would lack attributes like goodness, holiness, justice, and love. Justice is a good thing, and we should expect a good God to give His creatures responsibility and to hold us accountable. God’s Word reveals His standard, our obligations, and our shortcomings. It cuts through our veneer of virtue, exposing us as the rebels we are, and promises that we will receive a just penalty. While we welcome the thought of God’s justice when envisioning folks like Hitler, we are slower to embrace the somber thought that we will be judged, too. Against the divine standard, we inevitably fall short (Romans 3:23). That’s why we need a Savior.
Perhaps we need the image of the Living Word with the double-edged sword to better appreciate the crucified Messiah. Jesus was not a revolutionary like the Maccabee brothers, nor was He a failed Messiah like Simon bar Kokhba. Rather, the Creator came down to live among His creation, taking on an inferior nature to die a criminal’s death for our sake (Philippians 2:6–11). The gospel is made more amazing when we understand who the Son of God is, not just in His incarnation but far beyond our ability to bear. Even John, who knew Jesus on earth, fell at Jesus’ feet and became immobile at the sight of Jesus in His glory (Revelation 1:17).
The image of the two-edged sword also helps us grasp the Bible’s value. This book we carry around and even have on our devices is powerful and sharp and comes from the very mouth of our Lord. Heroes such as William Tyndale, John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus worked through much opposition for us to hold this weapon in our hands. The Word of God holds formidable power and is capable of transforming us at our core. What a privilege to have it in our possession!