And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.
In the Old Testament, whenever the living God revealed Himself in some way to humankind, terror and amazement were the reactions. People saw themselves as guilty and unclean by comparison!
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John describes the overwhelming nature of his encounter with the Lord of glory. Although a believer and an apostle, John sank down in abject humility and fear when the risen, glorified Lord Jesus appeared before him on Patmos.
Our glorified Lord did not condemn John. He knew that John’s weakness was the reaction to revealed divine strength. He knew that John’s sense of unworthiness was the instant reaction to absolute holiness. Along with John, every redeemed human being needs the humility of spirit that can only be brought about by the manifest presence of God.
Jesus at once reassured John, stooping to place a nail-pierced hand on the prostrate apostle, and saying: “Do not be afraid. I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (see Revelation 1:17–18).
Lord, only through Your divine presence in my life do I have spiritual power to serve others in Your name. Fill me anew today, O Lord.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. (1:17a)
In a manner similar to his experience with the glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration more than six decades earlier (cf. Matt. 17:6), John was again overwhelmed with terror at the manifestation of Christ’s glory and fell at His feet like a dead man. Such fear was standard for those few who experienced such unusual heavenly visions. When an angel appeared to him, Daniel reported that “no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength. … and as soon as I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground” (Dan. 10:8–9; cf. 8:17). Overwhelmed by the vision of God that he saw in the temple, Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). Ezekiel saw several visions of the Lord’s glory and his response was always the same: he fell on his face (Ezek. 1:28; 3:23; 9:8; 43:3; 44:4). After the Angel of the Lord appeared to them and announced the birth of Samson, “Manoah [Samson’s father] said to his wife, ‘We shall surely die, for we have seen God’ ” (Judg. 13:22). Job had a similar reaction after God spoke to him: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6). On his way to Damascus to persecute Christians, Saul of Tarsus (better known as the apostle Paul) “saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me” (Acts 26:13). In response, Saul and his companions fell prostrate in the road (v. 14). After witnessing the terrifying calamities that follow the opening of the sixth seal, unbelievers during the Tribulation will cry out in terror “to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’ ” (Rev. 6:16–17).
In stark contrast to the silly, frivolous, false, and boastful claims of many in our own day who claim to have seen God, the reaction of those in Scripture who genuinely saw God was inevitably one of fear. Those brought face-to-face with the blazing, holy glory of the Lord Jesus Christ are terrified, realizing their sinful unworthiness to be in His holy presence. Summarizing the proper response to God’s holiness and majesty, the writer of Hebrews exhorts believers to “offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28–29).
- And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. And he placed his right hand on me saying: “Fear not, I am the First and the Last.”
Seeing Jesus in glorified appearance proved to be too much for John, not so much because of human frailty as because of his awareness of his utter unworthiness to see Christ’s glory. He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, which is a common posture of the saints who are permitted to be in the presence of holiness. John had seen his glory on the mount of transfiguration, and when they heard the voice from heaven, he and his companions fell face down on the ground (Matt. 17:6). Scripture reveals that saints in both and New Testament eras had similar experiences. The truth is that human beings are unable to face divine majesty: sinners prostrate themselves and acknowledge the presence of sinlessness.
Lying on the ground, John appeared to be dead. Yet his senses were alert, for he was fully aware of Jesus standing next to him. The Lord appeared to him, not to slay him, but to show him his divine power and majesty, which John should report to the churches. Both John and the churches had to become aware of Christ’s awesome appearance and to do so in preparation for the message Jesus had for them. Jesus placed his right hand on John and ordered him not to fear. The hand of the Lord touched John to establish physical contact and his voice told him not to be afraid. Daniel also was touched and raised after seeing heavenly visions, and he too was told not to fear (Dan. 8:18; 10:10, 12). By touching John, Jesus endowed him with strength to face the future; at the same time he spoke words that were an echo from the past: “Fear not.” Jesus had often commanded his disciples to stop being afraid, whether it was on the stormy lake of Galilee (Matt. 14:27); on the mount of transfiguration (Matt. 17:7); on a missionary journey (Acts 18:9); or in custody (Acts 23:11). Jesus never deserts his own people.
In the words “I am the First and the Last” John recognized Jesus, who is the “I am” (e.g., see John 8:58). Jesus is also the first as the Creator (John 1:1–3), the author of salvation (Heb. 2:10), and the firstborn from among the dead (Col. 1:18). He is the also the one who will bring all things to completion; thus by being the fulfillment of all things he is the end. He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. What an encouragement to know that Jesus stands at the beginning and at the end of human history and that he is always with the saints.
 Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (pp. 49–50). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, pp. 99–100). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.