Adam Clarke Commentary
The preface to this book, and the promise to them who read it, Revelation 1:1-3. John's address to the seven Churches of Asia, whose high calling he particularly mentions; and shows the speedy coming of Christ, Revelation 1:4-8. Mentions his exile to Patmos, and the appearance of the Lord Jesus to him, Revelation 1:9-11. Of whom he gives a most glorious description, Revelation 1:12-18. The command to write what he saw, and the explanation of the seven stars and seven golden candlesticks, Revelation 1:19, Revelation 1:20.
The Revelation of St. John the divine. To this book the inscriptions are various.
- The Revelation of John.
- Of John the divine.
- Of John the divine and evangelist.
- The Revelation of John the apostle and evangelist.
- The Revelation of the holy and glorious apostle and evangelist, the beloved virgin John the divine, which he saw in the island of Patmos.
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ, given to John the divine."
The Revelation of Jesus Christ - The word Αποκαλυψις, from which we have our word Apocalypse, signifies literally, a revelation, or discovery of what was concealed or hidden. It is here said that this revelation, or discovery of hidden things, was given by God to Jesus Christ; that Christ gave it to his angel; that this angel showed it to John; and that John sent it to the Churches. Thus we find it came from God to Christ, from Christ to the angel, from the angel to John, and from John to the Church. It is properly, therefore, the Revelation of God, sent by these various agents to his servants at large; and this is the proper title of the book.
Things which must shortly come to pass - On the mode of interpretation devised by Wetstein, this is plain; for if the book were written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and the prophecies in it relate to that destruction, and the civil wars among the Romans, which lasted but three or four years, then it might be said the Revelation is of things which must shortly come to pass. But if we consider the book as referring to the state of the Church in all ages, the words here, and those in Revelation 1:3, must be understood of the commencement of the events predicted; as if he had said: In a short time the train of these visions will be put in motion: -
- et incipient magni procedere menses.
"And those times, pregnant with the most stupendous events, will begin to roll on."
Who bare record of the word of God - Is there a reference here to the first chapter of John's gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, etc.? Of this Word John did bear record. Or, does the writer mean the fidelity with which he noted and related the word - doctrines or prophecies, which he received at this time by revelation from God? This seems more consistent with the latter part of the verse.
Blessed is he that readeth - This is to be understood of the happiness or security of the persons who, reading and hearing the prophecies of those things which were to come to pass shortly, took proper measures to escape from the impending evils.
The time is at hand - Either in which they shall be all fulfilled, or begin to be fulfilled. See the note on Revelation 1:1.
These three verses contain the introduction; now the dedication to the seven Churches commences.
John to the seven Churches - The apostle begins this much in the manner of the Jewish prophets. They often name themselves in the messages which they receive from God to deliver to the people; e.g. "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." "The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah; to whom the word of the Lord came." "The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel, the priest." "The word of the Lord that came unto Hosea, the son of Beeri." "The word of the Lord that came to Joel." "The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa." "The vision of Obadiah; thus saith the Lord." "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah." So, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which he sent and signified to his servant John." "John to the seven Churches," etc.
The Asia here mentioned was what is called Asia Minor, or the Lydian or Proconsular Asia; the seven Churches were those of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Of these as they occur. We are not to suppose that they were the only Christian Churches then in Asia Minor; there were several others then in Phrygia, Pamphylia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, etc., etc. But these seven were those which lay nearest to the apostle, and were more particularly under his care; though the message was sent to the Churches in general, and perhaps it concerns the whole Christian world. But the number seven may be used here as the number of perfection; as the Hebrews use the seven names of the heavens, the seven names of the earth, the seven patriarchs, seven suns, seven kinds, seven years, seven months, seven days, etc., etc.; in which the rabbins find a great variety of mysteries.
Grace be unto you - This form of apostolical benediction we have often seen in the preceding epistles.
From him which is, and which was, and which is to come - This phraseology is purely Jewish, and probably taken from the Tetragrammaton, יהוה Yehovah ; which is supposed to include in itself all time, past, present, and future. But they often use the phrase of which the ὁ ων, και ὁ ην, και ὁ ερχομενος, of the apostle, is a literal translation. So, in Sohar Chadash, fol. 7, 1: "Rabbi Jose said, By the name Tetragrammaton, (i.e. יהוה , Yehovah ), the higher and lower regions, the heavens, the earth, and all they contain, were perfected; and they are all before him reputed as nothing; יהיה והוא הוה והוא היה והוא vehu hayah, vehu hoveh, vehu yihyeh ; and He Was, and He Is, and He Will Be. So, in Shemoth Rabba, sec. 3, fol. 105, 2: "The holy blessed God said to Moses, tell them: - לבוא לעתיד הוא ואני עכשיו הוא ואני שהייתי אני ani shehayithi, veani hu achshaiu, veani hu laathid labo ; I Was, I Now Am, and I Will Be in Future." In Chasad Shimuel, Rab. Samuel ben David asks: "Why are we commanded to use three hours of prayer? Answer: These hours point out the holy blessed God; ויהיה הוה היה שהוא shehu hayah, hoveh, veyihyeh ; he who Was, who Is, and who Shall Be. The Morning prayer points out him who Was before the foundation of the world; the Noonday prayer points out him who Is; and the Evening prayer points out him who Is to Come." This phraseology is exceedingly appropriate, and strongly expresses the eternity of God; for we have no other idea of time than as past, or now existing, or yet to exist; nor have we any idea of eternity but as that duration called by some aeternitas a parte ante, the eternity that was before time, and aeternitas a parte post, the endless duration that shall be when time is no more. That which Was, is the eternity before time; that which Is, is time itself; and that which Is to Come, is the eternity which shall be when time is no more.
The seven Spirits - before his throne - The ancient Jews, who represented the throne of God as the throne of an eastern monarch, supposed that there were seven ministering angels before this throne, as there were seven ministers attendant on the throne of a Persian monarch. We have an ample proof of this, Tobit 12:15: I am Raphael, one of the Seven Holy Angels which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. And in Jonathan ben Uzziel's Targum, on Genesis 11:7; : God said to the Seven Angels which stand before him, Come now, etc.
In Pirkey Eliezer, iv. and vii: "The angels which were first created minister before him without the veil." Sometimes they represent them as seven cohorts or troops of angels, under whom are thirty inferior orders.
That seven Angels are here meant, and not the Holy Spirit, is most evident from the place, the number, and the tradition. Those who imagine the Holy Ghost to be intended suppose the number seven is used to denote his manifold gifts and graces. That these seven spirits are angels, see Revelation 3:1; Revelation 4:5; and particularly Revelation 5:6, where they are called the seven spirits of God Sent Forth into All the Earth.
The faithful witness - The true teacher, whose testimony is infallible, and whose sayings must all come to pass.
The first-begotten of the dead - See the note on Colossians 1:18.
The prince of the kings - Ὁ αρχων, The chief or head, of all earthly potentates; who has them all under his dominion and control, and can dispose of them as he will.
Unto him that loved us - This should begin a new verse, as it is the commencement of a new subject. Our salvation is attributed to the love of God, who gave his Son; and to the love of Christ, who died for us. See John 3:16.
Washed us from our sins - The redemption of the soul, with the remission of sins, and purification from unrighteousness, is here, as in all the New Testament, attributed to the blood of Christ shed on the cross for man.
Kings and priests - See on 1 Peter 2:5; (note), 1 Peter 2:9; (note). But instead of βασιλεις και ἱερεις, kings and priests the most reputable MSS., versions, and fathers have βασιλειαν ἱερεις, a kingdom and priests; i.e. a kingdom of priests, or a royal priesthood. The regal and sacerdotal dignities are the two highest that can possibly exist among men; and these two are here mentioned to show the glorious prerogatives and state of the children of God.
To him be glory - That is, to Christ; for it is of him that the prophet speaks, and of none other.
For ever and ever - Εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων· To ages of ages; or rather, through all indefinite periods; through all time, and through eternity.
Amen - A word of affirmation and approbation; so it shall be, and so it ought to be.
Behold, he cometh with clouds - This relates to his coming to execute judgment on the enemies of his religion; perhaps to his coming to destroy Jerusalem, as he was to be particularly manifested to them that pierced him, which must mean the incredulous and rebellious Jews.
And all kindreds of the earth - Πασαι αἱ φυλαι της γης· All the tribes of the land. By this the Jewish people are most evidently intended, and therefore the whole verse may be understood as predicting the destruction of the Jews; and is a presumptive proof that the Apocalypse was written before the final overthrow of the Jewish state.
Even so, Amen - Ναι, αμην· Yea, Amen. It is true, so be it. Our Lord will come and execute judgment on the Jews and Gentiles. This the Jews and Romans particularly felt.
I am Alpha and Omega - I am from eternity to eternity. This mode of speech is borrowed from the Jews, who express the whole compass of things by א aleph and ת tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet; but as St. John was writing in Greek, he accommodates the whole to the Greek alphabet, of which Α alpha and Ω omega are the first and last letters. With the rabbins ת ועד מא meeleph vead tau, "from aleph to tau," expressed the whole of a matter, from the beginning to the end. So in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 17, 4: Adam transgressed the whole law from aleph to tau; i.e., from the beginning to the end.
Ibid., fol. 48, 4: Abraham observed the law, from aleph to tau; i.e., he kept it entirely, from beginning to end.
Ibid., fol. 128, 3: When the holy blessed God pronounced a blessing on the Israelites, he did it from aleph to tau; i.e., he did it perfectly.
The beginning and the ending - That is, as aleph or alpha is the beginning of the alphabet, so am I the author and cause of all things; as tau or omega is the end or last letter of the alphabet, so am I the end of all thinks, the destroyer as well as the establisher of all things. This clause is wanting in almost every MS. and version of importance. It appears to have been added first as an explanatory note, and in process of time crept into the text. Griesbach has left it out of the text. It is worthy of remark, that as the union of א aleph tau in Hebrew make את eth, which the rabbins interpret of the first matter out of which all things were formed, (see on Genesis 1:1; (note)); so the union of Α alpha and Ω omega, in Greek, makes the verb αω, I breathe, and may very properly, in such a symbolical book, point out Him in whom we live, and move, and have our being; for, having formed man out of the dust of the earth, he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul; and it is by the inspiration or inbreathing of his Spirit that the souls of men are quickened, made alive from the dead, and fitted for life eternal. He adds also that he is the Almighty, the all-powerful framer of the universe, and the inspirer of men.
Your brother - A Christian, begotten of God, and incorporated in the heavenly family.
Companion in tribulation - Suffering under the persecution in which you also suffer.
In the kingdom - For we are a kingdom of priests unto God.
And patience of Jesus - Meekly bearing all indignities, privations, and sufferings, for the sake and after the example of our Lord and Master.
The isle that is called Patmos - This island is one of the Sporades, and lies in the Aegean Sea, between the island of Icaria, and the promontory of Miletus. It is now called Pactino, Patmol, or Palmosa. It has derived all its celebrity from being the place to which St. John was banished by one of the Roman emperors; whether Domitian, Claudius, or Nero, is not agreed on, but it was most probably the latter. The island has a convent on a well fortified hill, dedicated to John the apostle; the inhabitants are said to amount to about three hundred men, and about twenty women to one man. It is very barren, producing very little grain, but abounding in partridges, quails, turtles, pigeons, snipes, and rabbits. It has many good harbours, and is much infested by pirates. Patmos, its capital and chief harbour, lies in east Long. 26° 24', north Lat. 37° 24'. The whole island is about thirty miles in circumference.
For the testimony of Jesus Christ - For preaching Christianity, and converting heathens to the Lord Jesus.
I was in the Spirit - That is, I received the Spirit of prophecy, and was under its influence when the first vision was exhibited.
The Lord's day - The first day of the week, observed as the Christian Sabbath, because on it Jesus Christ rose from the dead; therefore it was called the Lord's day, and has taken place of the Jewish Sabbath throughout the Christian world.
And heard behind me a great voice - This voice came unexpectedly and suddenly. He felt himself under the Divine afflatus; but did not know what scenes were to be represented.
As of a trumpet - This was calculated to call in every wandering thought, to fix his attention, and solemnize his whole frame. Thus God prepared Moses to receive the law. See Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:19, etc.
I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and - This whole clause is wanting in ABC, thirty-one others; some editions; the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, Vulgate, Arethas, Andreas, and Primasius. Griesbach has left it out of the text.
Saying - What thou seest, write in a book - Carefully note down every thing that is represented to thee. John had the visions from heaven; but he described them in his own language and manner.
Send it unto the seven Churches - The names of which immediately follow. In Asia. This is wanting in the principal MSS. and versions. Griesbach has left it out of the text.
Ephesus - This was a city of Ionia, in Asia Minor, situated at the mouth of the river Cayster, on the shore of the Aegean Sea, about fifty miles south of Smyrna. See preface to the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Smyrna - Now called also Ismir, is the largest and richest city of Asia Minor. It is situated about one hundred and eighty-three miles west by south of Constantinople, on the shore of the Aegean Sea. It is supposed to contain about one hundred and forty thousand inhabitants, of whom there are from fifteen to twenty thousand Greeks, six thousand Armenians, five thousand Roman Catholics, one hundred and forty Protestants, eleven thousand Jews, and fifteen thousand Turks. It is a beautiful city, but often ravaged by the plague, and seldom two years together free from earthquakes. In 1758 the city was nearly desolated by the plague; scarcely a sufficient number of the inhabitants survived to gather in the fruits of the earth. In 1688 there was a terrible earthquake here, which overthrew a great number of houses; in one of the shocks, the rock on which the castle stood opened, swallowed up the castle and five thousand persons! On these accounts, nothing but the love of gain, so natural to man, could induce any person to make it his residence; though, in other respects, it can boast of many advantages. In this city the Turks have nineteen mosques; the Greeks, two churches; the Armenians, one; and the Jews, eight synagogues; and the English and Dutch factories have each a chaplain. Smyrna is one hundred miles north of the island of Rhodes, long. 27° 25' E., lat. 38° 28' N.
Pergamos - A town of Mysia, situated on the river Caicus. It was the royal residence of Eumenes, and the kings of the race of the Attali. It was anciently famous for its library, which contained, according to Plutarch, two hundred thousand volumes. It was here that the membranae Pergameniae, Pergamenian skins, were invented; from which we derive our word parchment. Pergamos was the birthplace of Galen; and in it P. Scipio died. It is now called Pergamo and Bergamo, and is situated in long. 27° 0' E., lat. 39° 13' N.
Thyatira - Now called Akissat and Ak-kissar, a city of Natolia, in Asia Minor, seated on the river Hermus, in a plain eighteen miles broad, and is about fifty miles from Pergamos; long. 27° 49' E., lat. 38° 16' N. The houses are chiefly built of earth, but the mosques are all of marble. Many remarkable ancient inscriptions have been discovered in this place.
Sardis - Now called Sardo and Sart, a town of Asia, in Natolia, about forty miles east from Smyrna. It is seated on the side of mount Tmolus, and was once the capital of the Lydian kings, and here Croesus reigned. It is now a poor, inconsiderable village. Long. 28° 5' E., lat. 37° 51' N.
Philadelphia - A city of Natolia, seated at the foot of mount Tmolus, by the river Cogamus. It was founded by Attalus Philadelphus, brother of Eumenes, from whom it derived its name. It is now called Alah-sheker, and is about forty miles ESE. of Smyrna. Long. 28° 15' E., lat. 38° 28' N.
Laodicea - A town of Phrygia, on the river Lycus; first called Diospolis, or the city of Jupiter. It was built by Antiochus Theos, and named after his consort Laodice. See the note on Colossians 2:1. And, for a very recent account of these seven Churches, see a letter from the Rev. Henry Lindsay, inserted at the end of Revelation 3.
And I turned For he had heard the voice behind him. To see the voice; i.e., the person from whom the voice came.
Seven golden candlesticks - Ἑπτα λυχνιας χρυσας· Seven golden lamps. It is absurd to say, a golden silver, or brazen candlestick. These seven lamps represented the seven Churches, in which the light of God was continually shining, and the love of God continually burning. And they are here represented as golden, to show how precious they were in the sight of God. This is a reference to the temple at Jerusalem, where there was a candlestick or chandelier of seven branches; or rather six branches; three springing out on either side, and one in the center. See Exodus 25:31-37. This reference to the temple seems to intimate that the temple of Jerusalem was a type of the whole Christian Church.
Like unto the Son of man - This seems a reference to Daniel 7:13. This was our blessed Lord himself, Revelation 1:18.
Clothed with a garment down to the foot - This is a description of the high priest, in his sacerdotal robes. See these described at large in the notes on Exodus 28:4, etc., Jesus is our high priest, even in heaven. He is still discharging the sacerdotal functions before the throne of God.
Golden girdle - The emblem both of regal and sacerdotal dignity.
His head and his hairs were white like wool - This was not only an emblem of his antiquity, but it was the evidence of his glory; for the whiteness or splendor of his head and hair doubtless proceeded from the rays of light and glory which encircled his head, and darted from it in all directions. The splendor around the head was termed by the Romans nimbus, and by us a glory; and was represented round the heads of gods, deified persons, and saints. It is used in the same way through almost all the nations of the earth.
His eyes were as a flame of fire - To denote his omniscience, and the all-penetrating nature of the Divine knowledge.
His feet like unto fine brass - An emblem of his stability and permanence, brass being considered the most durable of all metallic substances or compounds.
The original word, χαλκολιβανον, means the famous aurichalcum, or factitious metal, which, according to Suidas, was ειδος ηλεκτρου, τιμιωτερον χρυσου, "a kind of amber, more precious than gold." It seems to have been a composition of gold, silver, and brass, and the same with the Corinthian brass, so highly famed and valued; for when Lucius Mummius took and burnt the city of Corinth, many statues of these three metals, being melted, had run together, and formed the composition already mentioned, and which was held in as high estimation as gold. See Pliny, Hist. Nat., lib. 34, c. 2; Florus, lib. 2, c. 16. It may however mean no more than copper melted with lapis calaminaris, which converts it into brass; and the flame that proceeds from the metal during this operation is one of the most intensely and unsufferably vivid that can be imagined. I have often seen several furnaces employed in this operation, and the flames bursting up through the earth (for these furnaces are under ground) always called to remembrance this description given by St. John: His feet of fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; the propriety and accuracy of which none could doubt, and every one must feel who has viewed this most dazzling operation.
His voice as the sound of many waters - The same description we find in Ezekiel 43:2; : The glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east; and his voice was like the noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.
In his right hand seven stars - The stars are afterwards interpreted as representing the seven angels, messengers, or bishops of the seven Churches. Their being in the right hand of Christ shows that they are under his special care and most powerful protection. See below.
Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword - This is no doubt intended to point out the judgments about to be pronounced by Christ against the rebellious Jews and persecuting Romans; God's judgments were just now going to fall upon both. The sharp two-edged sword may represent the word of God in general, according to that saying of the apostle, Hebrews 4:12; : The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, etc. And the word of God is termed the sword of the Spirit, Ephesians 6:17.
And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength - His face was like the disk of the sun in the brightest summer's day, when there were no clouds to abate the splendor of his rays. A similar form of expression is found in Judges 5:31; : Let them that love him be as the sun when he Goeth Forth in His Might. And a similar description may be found, Midrash in Yalcut Simeoni, part I., fol. 55, 4: "When Moses and Aaron came and stood before Pharaoh, they appeared like the ministering angels; and their stature, like the cedars of Lebanon: - חמה לגלגלי דומים עיניהם וגלגלי vegalgilley eyneyhem domim legalgilley chammah, and the pupils of their eyes were like the wheels of the sun; and their beards were as the grape of the palm trees; חמה כזיו פניהם וזיו veziv peneyhem keziv chammah, and the Splendor of Their Faces was as the Splendor of the Sun."
I fell at his feet as dead - The appearance of the glory of the Lord had then same effect upon Ezekiel, Ezekiel 1:28; : and the appearance of Gabriel had the same effect on Daniel, Daniel 8:17. The terrible splendor of such majesty was more than the apostle could bear, and he fell down deprived of his senses, but was soon enabled to behold the vision by a communication of strength from our Lord's right hand.
I am he that liveth, and was dead - I am Jesus the Savior, who, though the fountain of life, have died for mankind; and being raised from the dead I shall die no more, the great sacrifice being consummated. And have the keys of death and the grave, so that I can destroy the living and raise the dead. The key here signifies the power and authority over life, death, and the grave. This is also a rabbinical form of speech. In the Jerusalem Targum, on Genesis 30:22, are these words: "There are four Keys in the hand of God which he never trusts to angel or seraph.
Write the things which thou hast seen - These visions and prophecies are for general instruction, and therefore every circumstance must be faithfully recorded. What he had seen was to be written; what he was about to see, relative to the seven Churches, must be also written; and what he was to see afterwards, concerning other Churches and states, to be recorded likewise.
The mystery - That is, the allegorical explanation of the seven stars is the seven angels or ministers of the Churches; and the allegorical meaning of the seven golden lamps is the seven Churches themselves.
On the other hand, if they be faithful, their labor shall not be in vain, and their safety shall be great. He that toucheth them toucheth the apple of God's eye, and none shall be able to pluck them out of his hand. they are the angels and ambassadors of the Lord; their persons are sacred; they are the messengers of the Churches, and the glory of Christ. Should they lose their lives in the work, it will be only a speedier entrance into an eternal glory.
The rougher the way, the shorter their stay, The troubles that rise Shall gloriously hurry their souls to the skies.
Saturday, March 25th, 2017
the Third Week of Lent
Search This Commentary