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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Revelation 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

Chapter 1

GOD'S REVELATION TO MEN (Revelation 1:1-3)

1:1-3 This is the revelation revealed by Jesus Christ, the revelation which God gave to him to show to his servants, the revelation which tells of the things which must soon happen. This revelation Jesus Christ sent and explained through his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word sent to him by God and attested by the witness borne by Jesus Christ everything which he saw.

This book is called sometimes the Revelation and sometimes the Apocalypse. It begins with the words "The revelation of Jesus Christ," which mean not the revelation about Jesus Christ but the revelation given by Jesus Christ. The Greek word for revelation is apokalupsis (Greek #602) which is a word with a history.

(i) Apokalupsis (Greek #602) is composed of two parts. Apo (Greek #575) means "away from" and kalupsis (compare Greek #2572) "a veiling." Apokalupsis (Greek #602), therefore, means an unveiling, a revealing. It was not originally a specially religious word; it meant simply the disclosure of any fact. There is an interesting use of it in Plutarch (How to tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 32). Plutarch tells how once Pythagoras severely rebuked a devoted disciple of his in public and the young man went out and hanged himself. "From that time on Pythagoras never admonished anyone when anyone else was present. For error should be treated as a foul disease, and all admonition and disclosure (apokalupsis, Greek #602) should be in secret." But apokalupsis (Greek #602) became specially a Christian word.

(ii) It is used for the revealing of God's will to us for our actions. Paul says that he went up to Jerusalem by apokalupsis (Greek #602). He went because God told him he wanted him to go (Galatians 2:2).

(iii) It is used of the revelation of God's truth to men. Paul received his gospel, not from men, but by apokalupsis (Greek #602) from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). In the Christian assembly the message of the preacher is an apokalupsis (Greek #602) (1 Corinthians 14:6).

(iv) It is used of God's revealing to men of his own mysteries, especially in the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3).

(v) It is specially used of the revelation of the power and the holiness of God which is to come at the last days. That will be an unveiling of judgment (Romans 2:5); but for the Christian it will be an unveiling of praise and glory (1 Peter 1:7); of grace (1 Peter 1:13); of joy (1 Peter 4:13).

Before we remind ourselves of the more technical use of apokalupsis (Greek #602), we may note two things.

(i) This revelation is connected specially with the work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17).

(ii) We are bound to see that here we have a picture of the whole of the Christian life. There is no part of it which is not lit by the revelation of God. God reveals to us what we must do and say; in Jesus Christ he reveals himself to us, for he who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 14:9); and life moves on to the great and final revelation in which there is judgment for those who have not submitted to God but grace and glory and joy for those who are in Jesus Christ. Revelation is no technical theological idea; it is what God is offering to all who will listen.

Now we look at the technical meaning of apokalupsis (Greek #602), for that meaning is specially connected with this book.

The Jews had long since ceased to hope that they would be vindicated as the chosen people by human means. They hoped now for nothing less than the direct intervention of God. To that end they divided all time into two ages--this present age, wholly given over to evil; and the age to come, the age of God. Between the two there was to be a time of terrible trial. Between the Old and the New Testaments the Jews wrote many books which were visions of the dreadful time before the end and of the blessedness to come. These books were called Apokalypses; and that is what the Revelation is. Although there is nothing like it in the New Testament, it belongs to a class of literature which was common between the Testaments. All these books are wild and unintelligible, for they are trying to describe the indescribable. The very subject with which the Revelation deals is the reason why it is so difficult to understand.

THE MEANS OF GOD'S REVELATION (Revelation 1:1-3 continued)

This short section gives us a concise account of how revelation comes to men.

(i) Revelation begins with God, the fountain of all truth. Every truth which men discover is two things--a discovery of the human mind and a gift of God. But it must always be remembered that men never create the truth; they receive it from God. We must also remember that that reception comes in two ways. It comes from earnest seeking. God gave men minds and it is often through our minds that he speaks to us. Certainly he does not grant his truth to the man who is too lazy to think. It comes from reverent waiting. God sends his truth to the man who not only thinks strenuously, but waits quietly in prayer and in devotion. But it must be remembered that prayer and devotion are not simply passive things. They are the dedicated listening for the voice of God.

(ii) God gives this revelation to Jesus Christ. The Bible never, as it were, makes a second God of Jesus; rather it stresses his utter dependence on God. "My teaching," said Jesus, "is not mine, but his who sent me" (John 7:16). "I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me" (John 8:28). "I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak" (John 12:49). It is God's truth that Jesus brings to men; and that is precisely why his teaching is unique and final.

(iii) Jesus sends that truth to John through his angel (Revelation 1:1). Here the writer of the Revelation was a child of his day. At this time in history men were specially conscious of the transcendence of God. That is to say, they were impressed above all things with the difference between God and man. So much so that they felt direct communication between God and man was impossible and that there must always be some intermediary. In the Old Testament story Moses received the Law directly from the hands of God (Exodus 19:1-25; Exodus 20:1-26); but twice in the New Testament it is said that the Law was given by angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).

(iv) Finally, the revelation is given to John. It is most uplifting to remember the part men play in the coming of God's revelation. God must find a man to whom he can entrust his truth and whom he can use as his mouthpiece.

(v) Let us note the content of the revelation which comes to John. It is the revelation of "the things which must quickly happen" (Revelation 1:1). There are two important words here. There is must. History is not haphazard; it has purpose. There is quickly. Here is the proof that it is quite wrong to use the Revelation as a kind of mysterious timetable of what is going to happen thousands of years from now. As John sees it, the things it deals with are working themselves out immediately. The Revelation must be interpreted against the background of its own time.

SERVANTS OF GOD (Revelation 1:1-3 continued)

Twice the word servant appears in this passage. God's revelation was sent to his servants and it was sent through his servant John. In Greek the word is doulos (Greek #1401) and in Hebrew 'ebed (Hebrew #5650). Both are difficult fully to translate. The normal translation of doulos (Greek #1401) is slave. The real servant of God is, in fact, his slave. A servant can leave his service when he likes; he has stated hours of work and stated hours of freedom; he works for a wage; he has a mind of his own and can bargain as to when and for what he will give his labour. A slave can do none of these things; he is the absolute possession of his owner, with neither time nor will of his own. Doulos (Greek #1401) and 'ebed (Hebrew #5650) bring out how absolutely we must surrender life to God.

It is of the greatest interest to note to whom these words are applied in Scripture.

Abraham is the servant of God (Genesis 26:24; Psalms 105:26; Daniel 9:11). Jacob is the servant of God (Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 45:4; Ezekiel 37:25). Caleb and Joshua are the servants of God (Numbers 14:24; Joshua 24:29; Judg 6:49; 2 Chronicles 24:6; Nehemiah 1:7; Nehemiah 10:29; Psalms 105:26; Daniel 9:11). Jacob is the servant of God (Isaiah 44:1-2; Isaiah 45:4; Ezekiel 37:25). Caleb and Joshua are the servants of God (Numbers 14:24; Joshua 24:29; 2:8). David is second only to Moses as characteristically the servant of God (Psalms 132:10; Psalms 144:10; 1 Kings 8:66; 1 Kings 11:36; 2 Kings 19:34; 2 Kings 20:6; 1 Chronicles 17:4; in the titles of Psalms 18:1-50 and Psalms 36:1-12 ; Psalms 89:3; Ezekiel 34:24). Elijah is the servant of God (2 Kings 9:36; 2 Kings 10:10). Isaiah is the servant of God (Isaiah 20:3). Job is the servant of God (Job 1:8; Job 42:7). The prophets are the servants of God (2 Kings 21:10; Amos 3:7). The apostles are the servants of God (Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; Jude 1:1 ; Romans 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5). A man like Epaphras is the servant of God (Colossians 4:12). All Christians are the servants of God (Ephesians 6:6).

Two things emerge from this.

(i) The greatest men regarded as their greatest honour the fact that they were servants of God.

(ii) We must note the width of this service. Moses, the law-giver; Abraham, the adventurous pilgrim; David, shepherd boy, sweet singer of Israel, king of the nation; Caleb and Joshua, soldiers and men of action; Elijah and Isaiah, prophets and men of God; Job, faithful in misfortune; the apostles, who bore to men the story of Jesus; every Christian--all are servants of God. There is none whom God cannot use, if he will submit to his service.

THE BLESSED'S OF GOD (Revelation 1:1-3 continued)

This passage ends with a threefold blessing.

(i) The man who reads these words is blessed. The reader here mentioned is not the private reader, but the man who publicly reads the word in the presence of the congregation. The reading of Scripture was the centre of any Jewish service (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15). In the Jewish synagogue scripture was read to the congregation by seven ordinary members of the congregation, although if a priest or levite was present he took precedence. The Christian Church took much of its service from the synagogue order and the reading of scripture remained a central part of the service. Justin Martyr gives the earliest account of what a Christian service was like; and it includes the reading of "the memoirs of the apostles (i.e. the Gospels), and the writings of the prophets" (Justin Martyr 1: 67). Reader became in time an official office in the Church. One of Tertullian's complaints about the heretical sects was the way in which a man could too speedily arrive at office without any training for it. He writes: "And so it comes to pass that today one man is their bishop, and tomorrow another; today he is a deacon who tomorrow is a reader" (Tertullian, On Prescription against Heretics, 41).

(ii) The man who hears these words is blessed. We do well to remember how great a privilege it is to hear the word of God in our own tongue, a privilege which was dearly bought. Men died to give it to us; and the professional clergy sought for long to keep it to themselves. To this day the task of giving men the Scriptures in their own language goes on.

(iii) The man who keeps these words is blessed. To hear God's word is a privilege; to obey it is a duty. There is no real Christianity in the man who hears and forgets or deliberately disregards.

That is all the more true because the time is short. The time is near (Revelation 1:3). The early church lived in vivid expectation of the coming of Jesus Christ and that expectation was "the ground of hope in distress and constant heed to warning." Apart altogether from that, no man knows when the call will come to take him from this earth, and in order to meet God with confidence he must add the obedience of his life to the listening of his ear.

We may note that there are seven blesseds in the Revelation.

(i) There is the blessed we have just studied. We may call it the blessedness of reading, hearing and obeying the Word of God.

(ii) Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth (Revelation 14:13). We may call it the blessedness in heaven of Christ's friends on earth.

(iii) Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments (Revelation 16:15). We may call it the blessedness of the watchful pilgrim.

(iv) Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). We may, call it the blessedness of the invited guests of God.

(v) Blessed is he who shares in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6). We may call it the blessedness of the man whom death cannot touch.

(vi) Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book (Revelation 22:7). We may call it the blessedness of the wise reader of God's Word.

(vii) Blessed are those who do his commandments (Revelation 22:14). We may call it the blessedness of those who hear and obey.

Such blessedness is open to every Christian.

THE MESSAGE AND ITS DESTINATION (Revelation 1:4-6)

1:4-6 This is John writing to the seven Churches which are in Asia. Grace be to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the witness on whom you can rely, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and who set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood, and who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.

The Revelation is a letter, written to the seven Churches which are in Asia. In the New Testament Asia is never the continent but always the Roman province. Once the kingdom of Attalus the Third, he had willed it to the Romans at his death. It included the western sea-coast of Asia Minor, on the shores of the Mediterranean, with Phrygia, Mysia, Caria and Lycia in the hinterland; and its capital was the city of Pergamum.

The seven Churches are named in Revelation 1:11 --Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea. These were by no means the only Churches in Asia. There were Churches at Colossae (Colossians 1:2); Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13); Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12; Acts 20:5); Miletus (Acts 20:17); Magnesia and Tralles, as the letters of Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, show. Why did John single out only these seven? There can be more than one reason for his selection.

(i) These Churches might be regarded as the centres of seven postal districts, being all on a kind of ring road which circled the interior of the province. Troas was off the beaten track. But Hierapolis and Colossae were within walking distance of Laodicea; and Tralles, Magnesia and Miletus were close to Ephesus. Letters delivered to these seven cities would easily circulate in the surrounding areas; and since every letter had to be hand-written, each letter would need to be sent where it would reach most easily the greatest number of people.

(ii) Any reading of the Revelation will show John's preference for the number seven. It occurs fifty-four times. There are seven candle-sticks (Revelation 1:12), seven stars (Revelation 1:16), seven lamps (Revelation 4:5), seven seals (Revelation 5:1), seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6), seven thunders (Revelation 10:3), seven angels, plagues and bowls (Revelation 15:6-8). The ancient peoples regarded seven as the perfect number, and it runs all through the Revelation.

From this certain of the early commentators drew an interesting conclusion. Seven is the perfect number because it stands for completeness. It is, therefore, suggested that, when John wrote to seven Churches, he was, in fact, writing to the whole Church. The first list of New Testament books, called the Muratorian Canon, says of the Revelation: "For John also, though he wrote in the Revelation to seven Churches, nevertheless speaks to them all." This is all the more likely when we remember how often John says: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches" (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:29; Revelation 3:6; Revelation 3:13; Revelation 3:22).

(iii) Although the reasons we have adduced for the choice of these seven Churches may be valid, it may be still more valid that he chose them because in them he had a special authority. They were in a special sense his Churches, and by speaking to them he sent a message first to those who knew and loved him best, and then through them to every Church in every generation.

THE BLESSING AND ITS SOURCE (Revelation 1:4-6 continued)

He begins by sending them the blessing of God.

He sends them grace, and this means all the undeserved gifts of the wondrous love of God. He sends them peace, which R. C. Charles finely describes as "the harmony restored between God and man through Christ." But there are two extra-ordinary things in this greeting.

(i) John sends blessings from him who is and who was and who is to come. That is in itself a common title for God. In Exodus 3:14 the word of God to Moses is "I am who I am." The Jewish Rabbis explained that by saying that God meant: "I was; I still am; and in the future I will be." The Greeks spoke of "Zeus who was, Zeus who is, and Zeus who will be." The Orphic worshippers said: "Zeus is the first and Zeus is the last; Zeus is the head and Zeus is the middle; and from Zeus all things come." This is what in Hebrews so beautifully became: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8).

But to get the full meaning of this we must look at it in the Greek, for John bursts the bonds of grammar to show his reverence for God. We translate the first phrase from him who is; but that is not what the Greek says. A Greek noun is in the nominative case when it is the subject of a sentence, but, when it is governed by a preposition it changes its case and its form. It is so in English. He is the subject of a sentence; him is the object. When John says that the blessing comes from him who is he should have put him who is in the genitive case after the preposition; but quite ungrammatically he leaves it in the nominative. It is as if we said in English from he who is, refusing to change he into him. John has such an immense reverence for God that he refuses to alter the form of his name even when the rules of grammar demand it.

John is not finished with his amazing use of language. The second phrase is from him who was. Literally, John says from the he was. The point is that who was would be in Greek a participle. The odd thing is that the verb eimi (Greek #1510) (to be) has no past participle. Instead there is used the participle genomenos from the verb gignomai, which means not only to be but also to become. Becoming implies change and John utterly refuses to apply any word to God that will imply any change; and so he uses a Greek phrase that is grammatically impossible and that no one ever used before.

In the terrible days in which he was writing John stayed his heart on the changelessness of God and used defiance of grammar to underline his faith.

THE SEVENFOLD SPIRIT (Revelation 1:4-6 continued)

Anyone who reads this passage must be astonished at the form of the Trinity which we meet here. We speak of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here we have God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son but instead of the Holy Spirit we have the seven Spirits who are before his throne. These seven Spirits are mentioned more than once in the Revelation (Revelation 3:1; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 5:6). Three main explanations have been offered of them.

(i) The Jews talked of the seven angels of the presence, whom they beautifully called "the seven first white ones" (I Enoch 90:21). They were what we call the archangels, and "they stand and enter before the glory of the Lord" (Tobit 12:15). Their names are not always the same but they are often called Uriel, Rafael, Raguel, Michael, Gabriel, Saiquael and Jeremiel. They had the care of the elements of the world--fire, air and water--and were the guardian angels of the nations. They were the most illustrious and the most intimate servants of God. Some think that they are the seven Spirits mentioned here. But that cannot be; great as the angels were, they were still created beings.

(ii) The second explanation connects them with the famous passage in Isaiah 11:2; as the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, has it: "The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and piety; by this spirit he shall be filled with the fear of God." This passage is the basis of the great conception of the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit.

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire

And lighten with celestial fire;

Thou the anointing Spirit art,

Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

The Spirit, as Beatus said, is one in name but sevenfold in virtues. If we think of the sevenfold gift of the Spirit, it is not difficult to think of the Spirit as seven Spirits, each giving great gifts to men. So it is suggested that the conception of the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit gave rise to the idea of the seven Spirits before the throne of God.

(iii) The third explanation connects the idea of the seven Spirits with the fact of the seven Churches. In Hebrews 2:4 we read of God giving "gifts of the Holy Spirit." The word translated gifts is merismos (Greek #3311), and it really means shares, as if the idea was that God gives a share of his Spirit to every man. So the idea here would be that the seven Spirits stand for the share of the Spirit which God gave to each of the seven Churches. It would mean that no Christian fellowship is left without the presence and the power and the illumination of the Spirit.

THE TITLES OF JESUS (Revelation 1:4-6 continued)

In this passage three great titles are ascribed to Jesus Christ.

(i) He is the witness on whom we can rely. It is a favourite idea of the Fourth Gospel that Jesus is a witness of the truth of God. Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen" (John 3:11). Jesus said to Pilate: "For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). A witness is essentially a person who speaks from first-hand knowledge. That is why Jesus is God's witness. He is uniquely the person with first-hand knowledge about God.

(ii) He is the first-born of the dead. The word for first-born is prototokos (Greek #4416). It can have two meanings. (a) It can mean literally first-born. If it is used in this sense, the reference must be to the Resurrection. Through his Resurrection Jesus gained a victory over death, which all who believe in him may share. (b) Since the first-born was the son who inherited his father's honour and power, prototokos (Greek #4416) comes to mean one with power and honour, one who occupies the first place, a prince among men. When Paul speaks of Jesus as the first-born of all creation (Colossians 1:15), he means that to him the first place of honour and glory belongs. If we take the word in this sense--and probably we should--it means that Jesus is Lord of the dead as he is Lord of the living. There is no part of the universe, in this world or in the world to come, and nothing in life or in death of which Jesus Christ is not Lord.

(iii) He is the ruler of kings on earth. There are two things to note here. (a) This is a reminiscence of Psalms 89:27 "I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth." That was always taken by Jewish scholars to be a description of the coming Messiah; and, therefore, to say that Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth is to claim that he is the Messiah. (b) Swete very beautifully points out the connection between this title of Jesus and the temptation story. In that story the devil took Jesus up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth and their glory and said: "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me" (Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 4:6-7). It was the devil's claim that the kingdoms of the earth were delivered into his power (Luke 4:6); and it was his suggestion that, if Jesus would strike a bargain with him, he would give him a share in them. The amazing thing is that what the devil promised Jesus--and could never have given him--Jesus won for himself by the suffering of the Cross and the power of the Resurrection. Not compromise with evil, but the unswerving loyalty and the unfailing love which accepted the Cross brought Jesus his universal lordship.

WHAT JESUS DID FOR MEN (Revelation 1:4-6 continued)

Few passages set down with such splendour what Jesus did for men.

(i) He loves us and he set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood. The King James Version is in error here. It reads: "Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood." The words "to wash" and "to set free" are in Greek very alike. "To wash" is louein (Greek #3068); "to set free" is luein (Greek #3089); and they are pronounced exactly in the same way. But there is no doubt that the oldest and best Greek manuscripts read luein (Greek #3089). Again "in his own blood" is a mistranslation. The word translated "in" is en (Greek #1722) which, indeed, can mean "in"; but here it is a translation of the Hebrew word "be-" (the e is pronounced very short as in "the"), which means "at the price of."

What Jesus did, as John sees it, is that he freed us from our sins at the cost of his own blood. This is exactly what he says later on when he speaks of those who were ransomed for God by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9). It is exactly what Paul meant when he spoke of us being redeemed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13); and when he spoke of redeeming those who were under the Law (Galatians 4:5). In both cases the word used is exagorazein (Greek #1805), which means to buy out from, to pay the price of buying a person or a thing out of the possession of him who holds that person or thing in his power.

This is a very interesting and important correction of the King James Version. It is made in all the newer translations and it means that the well-worn phrases which speak of being "washed in the blood of the Lamb" have little scriptural authority. These phrases convey a staggering picture; and it must come to many with a certain relief to know that what John said was that we are set free from our sins at the cost of the blood, that is, at the cost of the life of Jesus Christ.

There is another very significant thing here. We must carefully note the tenses of the verbs. John says that Jesus loves us and set us free. Loves is the present tense and it means that the love of God in Christ Jesus is something which is continuous. Set us free is the past tense, the Greek aorist, which tells of one act completed in the past and it means that in the one act of the Cross our liberation from sin was achieved. That is to say, what happened on the Cross was one availing act in time which was an expression of the continuous love of God.

(ii) Jesus made us a kingdom, priests to God. That is a quotation of Exodus 19:6 "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." Jesus has done two things for us.

(a) He has given us royalty. Through him we may become the true sons of God; and, if we are sons of the King of kings, we are of lineage than which there can be none more royal.

(b) He made us priests. The point is this. Under the old way, only the priest had the right of access to God. When a Jew entered the Temple, he could pass through the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites--but there he must stop; into the Court of the Priests he could not go; no nearer the Holy of Holies could he come. In the vision of the great days to come Isaiah said: "You shall be called the priests of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:6). In that day every one of the people would be a priest and have access to God. That is what John means; because of what Jesus Christ did access to the presence of God is now open to every man. There is a priesthood of all believers. We can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), because for us there is a new and living way into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:19-22).

THE COMING GLORY (Revelation 1:7)

1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and the people who pierced him will see him; and all the tribes of the earth shall lament over him. Yea! Amen!

From now on in almost every passage, we shall have to note John's continuous use of the Old Testament. He was so soaked in the Old Testament that it was almost impossible for him to write a paragraph without quoting it. This is interesting and significant. John was living in a time when to be a Christian was an agonizing thing. He himself knew banishment and imprisonment and hard labour; and there were many who knew death in its most cruel forms. The best way to maintain courage and hope in such a situation was to remember that God had never failed in the past; and that his power was not grown less now.

In this passage John sets down the motto and the text of his whole book, his confidence in the triumphant return of Christ, which would rescue Christians in distress from the cruelty of their enemies.

(i) To Christians the return of Christ is a promise on which to feed the soul. John takes as his picture of that return Daniel's vision of the four bestial powers who have held the world in their grip (Daniel 7:1-14). There was Babylon, the power that was like a lion with eagle's wings (Daniel 7:4). There was Persia, the power that was like a savage bear (Daniel 7:5). There was Greece, the power that was like a winged leopard (Daniel 7:6). There was Rome, a beast with iron teeth, beyond description (Daniel 7:7). But the day of these bestial empires was over, and the dominion was to be given to a gentle power like a son of man. "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days, and was presented before him, and to him was given dominion, and glory, and kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him" (Daniel 7:13-14). It is from that passage in Daniel there emerges the ever-recurring picture of the Son of Man coming on the clouds (Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64). When we strip away the purely temporary imagery--we, for instance, no longer think of heaven as a localized place above the sky--we are left with the unchanging truth that the day will come when Jesus Christ will be Lord of all. In that hope have ever been the strength and the comfort of Christians for whom life was difficult and for whom faith meant death.

(ii) To the enemies of Christ, the return of Christ is a threat. To make this point John again quotes the Old Testament, from Zechariah 12:10 which contains the words: "When they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born." The story behind the Zechariah saying is this. God gave his people a good shepherd; but the people in their disobedient folly killed him and took to themselves evil and self-seeking shepherds. But the day will come when in the grace of God they will bitterly repent, and in that day they will look on the good shepherd whom they pierced and will sorrowfully lament for him and for what they have done. John takes that picture and applies it to Jesus. Men crucified him but the day will come when they will look on him again; and this time, he will not be a broken figure on a cross but a regal figure to whom universal dominion has been given.

The first reference of these words is to the Jews and the Romans who actually crucified Jesus. But in every age all who sin crucify him again. The day will come when those who disregarded and those who opposed Jesus Christ will find him the Lord of the universe and the judge of their souls.

The passage closes with the two exclamations--"Even so. Amen!" In the Greek the words are nai (Greek #3483) and amen (Greek #281). Nai (Greek #3483) is the Greek and amen (Greek #281) is the Hebrew (comapre Hebrew #539) for a solemn affirmation--"Yes, indeed! So let it be!" By using the expression both in Greek and Hebrew John underlines its awful solemnity.

THE GOD IN WHOM WE TRUST (Revelation 1:8)

1:8 I am alpha and omega, says the Lord God, he who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Here is a tremendous description of the God in whom we trust and whom we adore.

(i) He is alpha and omega. Alpha (Greek #1) is the first letter and omega (Greek #5598) the last of the Greek alphabet; and the phrase alpha (Greek #1) to omega (Greek #5598) indicates completeness. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph and the last is tau; and the Jews used the same kind of expression. The Rabbis said that Adam transgressed the Law and Abraham kept it from aleph to tau. They said that God had blessed Israel from aleph to tau. This expression indicates that God is absolutely complete: he has in himself what H. B. Swete called "the boundless life which embraces all and transcends all."

(ii) God is he who is and who was and who is to come. That is to say, he is the Eternal. He was before time began; he is now; and he will be when time ends. He has been the God of all who have trusted in him; he is the God in whom at this present moment we can put our trust; and there can be no event and no time in the future which can separate us from him.

Nor death nor life, nor earth nor hell,

nor time's destroying sway,

Can e'er efface us from his heart,

or make his love decay.

Each future period that will bless,

as it has bless'd the past;

He lov'd us from the first of time,

He loves us to the last.

(iii) God is the Almighty. The word for Almighty is pantokrator (Greek #3841) which describes the one who has dominion over all things.

The suggestive fact is that this word occurs in the New Testament seven times. Once it occurs in 2 Corinthians 6:18, in a quotation from the Old Testament, and all the six other instances are in the Revelation. This word is distinctive of John. Think of the circumstances in which he was writing. The embattled might of Rome had risen up to crush the Christian Church. No empire had ever been able to withstand Rome; what possible chance against Rome had "the panting, huddled flock whose crime was Christ"? Humanly speaking the Christian Church had none; but if men thought that, they had left the most important factor of all out of the reckoning--God the pantokrator (Greek #3841), in the grip of whose hand were all things.

It is this word which in the Greek Old Testament describes the Lord of Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts (Amos 9:5; Hosea 12:5). It is this word which John uses in the tremendous text: "The Lord our God the Almighty reigns" (Revelation 19:6). If men are in the hands of a God like that, nothing can pluck them away. If behind the Christian Church there is a God like that, so long as she the Church is true to her Lord, nothing can destroy her.

My times are in thy hand:

I'll always trust in thee;

And, after death, at thy right hand

I shall for ever be.

THROUGH TRIBULATION TO THE KINGDOM (Revelation 1:9)

1:9 I, John, your brother and partner in tribulation, in the kingdom, and in that steadfast endurance which life in Christ alone can give, was in the island which is called Patmos, for the sake of the word given by God and confirmed by Jesus Christ.

John introduces himself, not by any official title but as your brother and partner in tribulation. His right to speak was that he had come through all that those to whom he was writing were going through. Ezekiel writes in his book: "Then I came to the exiles at Telabib, who dwelt by the river Chebar, and I sat there overwhelmed among them" (Ezekiel 3:15). Men will never listen to one who preaches endurance from the comfort of an easy chair, nor to one who preaches heroic courage to others while he himself has sought a prudent safety. It is the man who has gone through it who can help others who are going through it. As the Indians have it: "No man can criticize another man until he has walked for a day in his moccasins." John and Ezekiel could speak because they had sat where their people were sitting.

John puts three words together--tribulation, kingdom, steadfast endurance. Tribulation is thlipsis (Greek #2347). Originally thlipsis meant simply pressure and could, for instance, describe the pressure of a great stone on a man's body. At first it was used quite literally, but in the New Testament it has come to describe that pressure of events which is persecution. Steadfast endurance is hupomone (Greek #5281). Hupomone (Greek #5281) does not describe the patience which simply passively submits to the tide of events; it describes the spirit of courage and conquest which leads to gallantry and transmutes even suffering into glory. The situation of the Christians was this. They were in thlipsis (Greek #2347) and, as John saw it, in the midst of the terrible events which preceded the end of the world. They were looking towards basileia (Greek #932), the kingdom, into which they desired to enter and on which they had set their hearts. There was only one way from thlipsis (Greek #2347) to basileia (Greek #932), from affliction to glory, and that was through hupomone (Greek #5281), conquering endurance. Jesus said: "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Paul told his people: "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). In Second Timothy we read: "If we endure, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12).

The way to the kingdom is the way of endurance. But before we leave this passage we must note one thing. That endurance is to be found in Christ. He himself endured to the end and he is able to enable those who walk with him to achieve the same endurance and to reach the same goal.

THE ISLAND OF BANISHMENT (Revelation 1:9 continued)

John tells us that, when the visions of the Revelation came to him, he was in Patmos. It was the unanimous tradition of the early church that he was banished to Patmos in the reign of Domitian. Jerome says that John was banished in the fourteenth year after Nero and liberated on the death of Domitian (Concerning Illustrious Men, 9). This would mean that he was banished to Patmos about A.D. 94 and liberated about A.D. 96.

Patmos, a barren rocky little island belonging to a group of islands called the Sporades, is ten miles long by five miles wide. It is crescent-shaped, with the horns Of the crescent pointing to the east. Its shape makes it a good natural harbour. It lies forty miles off the coast of Asia Minor and it was important because it was the last haven on the voyage from Rome to Ephesus and the first in the reverse direction.

Banishment to a remote island was a common form of Roman punishment. It was usually meted out to political prisoners and, as far as they were concerned, there were worse punishments. Such banishment involved the loss of civil rights and all property except enough for a bare existence. People so banished were not personally ill-treated and were not confined in prison on their island but free to move within its narrow limits. Such would be banishment for a political prisoner; but it would be very different for John. He was a leader of the Christians and Christians were criminals. The wonder is that he was not executed straight away. Banishment for him would involve hard labour in the quarries. Sir William Ramsay says his banishment would be "preceded by scourging, marked by perpetual fetters, scanty clothing, insufficient food, sleep on the bare ground, a dark prison, work under the lash of the military overseer."

Patmos left its mark on John's writing. To this day they show visitors a cave in a cliff overlooking the sea, where, they say, the Revelation was written. There are magnificent views of the sea from Patmos, and, as Strahan says, the Revelation is full of "the sights and the sounds of the infinite sea." The word thalassa (Greek #2281), sea, occurs in the Revelation no fewer than twenty-five times. Strahan writes: "Nowhere is 'the voice of many waters' more musical than in Patmos; nowhere does the rising and setting sun make a more splendid 'sea of glass mingled with fire'; yet nowhere is the longing more natural that the separating sea should be no more."

It was to all the hardships and pain and weariness of banishment and hard labour on Patmos that John went for the sake of the word given by God So far as the Greek goes, that phrase is capable of three interpretations. It could mean that John went to Patmos to preach the word of God. It could mean that he withdrew to the loneliness of Patmos to receive the word of God and the visions of the Revelation. But it is quite certain that it means that it was John's unshakeable loyalty to the word of God, and his insistence on preaching the message of Jesus Christ which brought him to banishment in Patmos.

IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD'S DAY (Revelation 1:10-11)

1:10-11 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day, and I heard behind me a great voice, like the sound of a trumpet, saying: "Write what you see in a book, and send it to the seven Churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."

Historically this is an extremely interesting passage for it is the first reference in literature to the Lord's Day.

We have often spoken of the Day of the Lord, that day of wrath and judgment when this present age with all its evil was to be shatteringly changed into the age to come. Some think that John is saying that he was transported in a vision to that Day of the Lord and saw in advance all the astonishing things which were to happen then. Those who hold that view are very few and it is not a natural meaning for the words.

It is quite certain that when John uses the expression the Lord's Day he is using it as we use it--its very first mention in literature.

How did the Christian Church cease to observe the Sabbath, Saturday, and come to observe the Lord's Day, Sunday? The Sabbath commemorated the rest of God after the creation of the world; the Lord's Day commemorates the rising of Jesus from the dead.

The three earliest references to the Lord's Day may well be the following. The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, the first manual of Christian worship and instruction, says of the Christian Church: "On the Lord's Day we meet and break bread" (Didache 14: 1). Ignatius of Antioch, writing to the Magnesians, describes the Christians as "no longer living for the Sabbath, but for the Lord's Day" (Ignatius, To the Magnesians, 9: 1). Melito of Sardis wrote a treatise Concerning the Lord's Day. By early in the second century the Sabbath had been abandoned and the Lord's Day was the accepted Christian day.

One thing seems certain. All these early references come from Asia Minor and it was there that the observance of the Lord's Day first came in. But what was it that suggested to the Christians a weekly observance of the first day of the week? In the east there was a day of the month and a day of the week called Sebaste (Greek #4575), which means The Emperor's Day; it was no doubt this which made the Christians decide that the first day of the week must be dedicated to their Lord.

John was in the Spirit. This phrase means that he was in an ecstasy in which he was lifted beyond the things of space and time into the world of eternity. "The Spirit lifted me up," said Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:12), "and I heard behind me the sound of a great earthquake." For John the voice was like the sound of a trumpet. The sound of the trumpet is woven into the language of the New Testament (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). There is no doubt that in the mind of John there is here another Old Testament picture. In the account of the giving of the Law it is said: "There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast" (Exodus 19:16). The voice of God sounds with the commanding, unmistakable clarity of a trumpet call.

John is told to write the vision which he sees. It is his duty to share the message which God gives to him. A man must first hear and then transmit, even if the price of the transmission is costly indeed. It may be that a man must withdraw to see his vision, but he must also go forth to tell it.

Two phrases go together. John was in Patmos; and John was in the Spirit. We have seen what Patmos was like, and we have seen the pain and the hardship that John was undergoing. No matter where a man is, no matter how hard his life, no matter what he is passing through, he may still be in the Spirit. And, if he is in the Spirit, even on Patmos, the glory and the message of God will come to him.

THE DIVINE MESSENGER (Revelation 1:12-13)

1:12-13 And I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me; and, when I had turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and, in the midst of the lampstands, one like a son of man, clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle.

We now begin on the first of John's visions; and we shall see that his mind is so saturated with Scripture that element after element in the picture has an Old Testament background and counterpart.

He says that he turned to see the voice. We would say: "I turned to see whose was the voice which was speaking to me."

When he turned, he saw seven golden lampstands. John does not only allude to the Old Testament; he takes items from many places in it and out of them he forms a composite picture. The picture of the seven golden lampstands has three sources.

(a) It comes from the picture of the candlestick of pure gold in the Tabernacle. It was to have six branches, three on one side and three on the other, and seven lamps to give light (Exodus 25:31-37).

(b) It comes from the picture of Solomon's Temple. In it there were to be five candlesticks of pure gold on the right hand and five on the left (1 Kings 7:49).

(c) It comes from the vision of Zechariah. Zechariah saw "a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it" (Zechariah 4:2).

When John sees a vision, he sees it in terms of scenes from the Old Testament places and occasions when God had already revealed himself to his people. Surely there is a lesson here. The best way to prepare oneself for new revelation of truth is to study the revelation which God has already given.

In the midst of the lampstands he saw one like a son of man. Here we are back to the picture of Daniel 7:13, in which the kingdom and the power and the dominion are given by the Ancient of Days to one like a son of man. As we well know from Jesus' use of it, Son of Man became nothing less than the title of the Messiah; and by using it here John makes it plain that the revelation which he is to receive is coming from Jesus Christ himself

This figure was clothed with a robe which reached down to his feet, and he was girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. Here again we have three pictures.

(a) The word which describes the robe is poderes (Greek #4158), reaching down to the feet. This is the word which the Greek Old Testament uses to describe the robe of the High Priest (Exodus 28:4; Exodus 29:5; Leviticus 16:4). Josephus also describes carefully the garments which the priests and the High Priest wore when they were serving in the Temple. They wore "a long robe reaching to the feet," and around the breast, "higher than the elbows," they wore a girdle which was loosely wound round and round the body. The girdle was embroidered with colours and flowers, with a mixture of gold interwoven (Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews, 3.7: 2, 4). All this means that the description of the robe and the girdle of the glorified Christ is almost exactly that of the dress of the priests and of the High Priest. Here, then, is the symbol of the high priestly character of the work of the Risen Lord. A priest, as the Jews saw it, was a man who himself has access to God and who opens the way for others to come to him; even in the heavenly places Jesus, the great High Priest, is still carrying on his priestly work, opening the way for all men to the presence of God.

(b) But other people besides priests wore the long robe reaching to the feet and the high girdle. It was the dress of great ones, of princes and of kings. Poderes (Greek #4158) is the description of the robe of Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:4); of Saul (1 Samuel 24:5; 1 Samuel 24:11); of the princes of the sea (Ezekiel 26:16). The robe the Risen Christ was wearing was the robe of royalty. No longer was he a criminal on a cross; he was dressed like a king.

Christ is Priest and Christ is King.

(c) There is still another part of this picture. In the vision of Daniel, the divine figure who came to tell him the truth of God was clothed in fine linen (the Greek Old Testament calls his garment poderes, Greek #4158) and girt with fine gold (Daniel 10:5). This, then, is the dress of the messenger of God. So this presents Jesus Christ as the supreme messenger of God.

Here is a tremendous picture. When we trace the origins of the thought of John, we see that by the very dress of the Risen Lord he is showing him to us in his threefold eternal office of Prophet, Priest and King, the one who brings the truth of God, the one who enables others to enter into the presence of God and the one to whom God has given the power and dominion for ever.

THE PICTURE OF THE RISEN CHRIST (Revelation 1:14-18)

1:14-18 His head and his hair were white, as white as wool, like snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet were like beaten brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice was as the voice of many waters; he had seven stars in his right hand; and out of his mouth there was coming a sharp two-edged sword; and his face was as the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. And he put his right hand on me and said: "Stop being afraid. I am the first and the last; I am the living one although I was dead, and, behold, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of death and of Hades."

Before we begin to look at this passage in detail, there are two general facts we must note.

(i) It is easy to miss seeing how carefully wrought the Revelation is. It is not a book which was flung together in a hurry; it is a closely integrated and artistic literary whole. In this passage we have a whole series of descriptions of the Risen Christ; and the interesting thing is that each of the letters to the seven Churches, which follow in the next two chapters, with the exception of the letter to Laodicea, opens with a description of the Risen Christ taken from this chapter. It is as if this chapter sounded a series of themes which were later to become the texts for the letters to the Churches. Let us set down the beginning of each of the first six letters and see how it corresponds to the description of the Risen Christ here.

To the angel of the Church in Ephesus, write: The words of him

who holds the seven stars in his right hand (Revelation 2:1).

To the angel of the Church in Smyrna, write: The words of the

first and the last, who died and came to life (Revelation 2:8).

To the angel of the Church in Pergamum, write: The words of

him who has the sharp two-edged sword (Revelation 2:12).

To the angel of the Church in Thyatira, write: The words of the

Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feel

are like burnished bronze (Revelation 2:18).

To the angel of the Church in Sardis, write: The words of him

who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars (Revelation 3:1).

To the angel of the Church in Philadelphia, write: The words of

the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens

and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens (Revelation 3:7).

This is literary craftsmanship of a very high standard.

(ii) The second thing to note is that in this passage John takes titles which in the Old Testament are descriptions of God and applies them to the Risen Christ.

His head and his hair were white, as white wool, like snow.

In Daniel 7:9 that is a description of the Ancient of Days.

His voice was as the sound of many waters.

In Ezekiel 43:2 that is a description of God's own voice.

He had the seven stars in his hand.

In the Old Testament it is God himself who controls the stars. It is God's question to Job: "Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?" (Job 38:31).

I am the first and the last.

Isaiah hears the voice of God saying: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no God" (Isaiah 44:6; compare Isaiah 48:12).

I am the living one.

In the Old Testament God is characteristically "the living God" (Joshua 3:10; Psalms 42:2; Hosea 1:10).

I have the keys of death and of Hades.

The Rabbis had a saying that there were three keys which belonged to God and which he would share with no other--of birth, rain and raising the dead.

Nothing could better show the reverence in which John holds Jesus Christ. He holds him so high that he can give him nothing less than the titles which in the Old Testament belong to God.

The highest place that heaven affords

Is his, is his by right,

The King of kings, and Lord of lords,

And heaven's eternal Light.

(1) THE TITLES OF THE RISEN LORD (Revelation 1:14-18 continued)

Let us look very briefly at each of the titles by which the Risen Lord is here called.

His head and his hair were white, as white wool, like snow.

This, taken from the description of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9, is symbolic of two things. (a) It stands for great age; and it speaks to us of the eternal existence of Jesus Christ. (b) It speaks to us of divine purity. The snow and the white wool are the emblems of stainless purity. "Though your sins are like scarlet," said Isaiah, "they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isaiah 1:18). Here we have the symbols of the preexistence and the sinlessness of Christ.

His eyes were as a flame of fire.

Daniel is always in John's mind, and this is part of the description of the divine figure who brought the vision to Daniel. "His eyes like flaming torches" (Daniel 10:6). When we read the gospel story, we get the impression that he who had once seen the eyes of Jesus could never forget them. Again and again we have the vivid picture of his eyes sweeping round a circle of people (Mark 3:34; Mark 10:23; Mark 11:11); sometimes his eyes flashed in anger (Mark 3:5); sometimes they fastened on someone in love (Mark 10:21); and sometimes they had in them all the sorrow of one whose friends had wounded him to the quick (Luke 22:61).

His feet were like beaten brass, as if it had been refined by fire

in a furnace.

The word translated beaten brass is chalkolibanos (Greek #5474). No one really knows what the metal is. Perhaps it was that fabulous compound called electrum, which the ancients believed to be an alloy of gold and silver and more precious than either. Here again it is the Old Testament which gives John his vision. In Daniel it is said of the divine messenger that "his feet were like the gleam of burnished bronze" (Daniel 10:6); in Ezekiel it is said of the angelic beings that "their feet sparkled like burnished bronze" (Ezekiel 1:7). It may be that we are to see two things in the picture. The brass stands for strength, for the steadfastness of God; and the shining rays stand for speed, for the swiftness of the feet of God to help his own or to punish sin.

His voice was as the sound of many waters.

This is the description of the voice of God in Ezekiel 43:2. But it may be that we can catch an echo of the little island of Patmos. As H. B. Swete has it: "The roar of the Aegean was in the ears of the seer." H. B. Swete goes on to say that the voice of God is not confined to one note. Here. it is like the thunder of the sea, but it can also be like a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12), or, as the Greek version of the Old Testament has it, like a gentle breeze. It can thunder a rebuke; and it can croon with the soothing comfort of a mother over her hurt child.

He had seven stars in his right hand.

Here again, we have something which was the prerogative of God alone. But there is also something lovely. When the seer fell in awed terror before the vision of the Risen Christ, the Christ stretched out his right hand and placed it on him and bade him not to be afraid. The hand of Christ is strong enough to uphold the heavens and gentle enough to wipe away our tears.

(2) THE TITLES OF THE RISEN LORD (Revelation 1:14-18 continued)

There was coming forth from his mouth a sharp, two-edged sword.

The sword referred to was not long and narrow like a fencer's blade; it was a short, tongue-shaped sword for close righting. Again the seer has gone here and there in the Old Testament for his picture. Isaiah says of God: "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth" (Isaiah 11:4); and of himself: "He made my mouth like a sharp sword" (Isaiah 49:2). The symbolism tells us of the penetrating quality of the word of God. If we listen to it, no shield of self-deception can withstand it; it strips away our self-deludings, lays bare our sin and leads to pardon. "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). "The Lord will slay the wicked with the breath of his mouth" (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

His face was as the sun shining in its strength.

In Judges there is a great picture which may well have been in John's mind, The enemies of God shall perish, "but thy friends be like the sun as he rises in his might" ( 5:31). If that is true of them that love God, how much truer it must be of God's beloved Son. Swete sees something even lovelier here, nothing less than a memory of the Transfiguration. On that occasion Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, "and his face shone like the sun" (Matthew 17:2). No one who had seen that sight could ever forget the glow and if the writer of this book is that same John perhaps he saw again on the face of the Risen Christ the glory he had glimpsed on the Mount of Transfiguration.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man.

This was the experience of Ezekiel when God spoke to him (Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 3:23; Ezekiel 43:3). But surely we can find again a memory of the Gospel story. On that day in Galilee when there was the great catch of fish and Peter glimpsed who Jesus was, he fell down at his knees, conscious only that he was a sinful man (Luke 5:1-11). To the end of the day there can be nothing but reverence in the presence of the holiness and the glory of the Risen Christ.

Stop being afraid.

Surely here, too, we have reminiscence of the Gospel story, for these were words which the disciples had heard more than once from the lips of Jesus. It was thus he spoke to them when he came to them across the water (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50); and it was thus above all that he spoke to them on the Mount of Transfiguration, when they were terrified at the sound of the divine voice (Matthew 17:7). Even in heaven, when we come near the unapproachable glory, Jesus is saying: "I am here; do not be afraid."

I am the first and the last.

In the Old Testament this is nothing other than the self-description of God (Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12). It is the promise of Jesus that he is there at the beginning and the end. He is there in the moment of birth and at the time of death. He is there when we set out upon the Christian way and when we finish our course. As F. W. H. Myers makes Paul say:

Yea thro' life, death, thro' sorrow and thro' sinning

He shall suffice me, for he hath sufficed:

Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,

Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.

I am the living one, although I was dead and I am alive for ever

and for ever.

Here is at once the claim and the promise of Christ, the claim of one who conquered death and the promise of one who is alive for evermore to be with his people.

I have the keys of death and Hades.

Death has its gates (Psalms 9:13; Psalms 107:18; Isaiah 38:10); and Christ has the keys of these gates. There were those who took this claim--and some still do--as a reference to the descent into hell (1 Peter 3:18-20). There was a conception in the ancient Church that when Jesus descended into Hades, he unlocked the doors and brought out Abraham and all God's faithful people who had lived and died in the generations before. But we may take it in an even wider sense; for we who are Christians believe that Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10), that because he lives we shall live also (John 14:19), and that, therefore, for us and for those whom we love the bitterness of death is for ever past.

THE CHURCHES AND THEIR ANGELS (Revelation 1:20)

1:20 Here is the secret meaning of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches and the seven lampstands are the seven Churches.

This passage begins with a word which throughout the New Testament is used in a very special case. The King James Version speaks of the mystery of the seven stars and of the seven golden candlesticks. The Greek, musterion (Greek #3466), does not mean a mystery in our sense of the term. It means something which is meaningless to the outsider but meaningful to the initiate who possesses the key. So here the Risen Christ goes on to give the inner meaning of the seven stars and the seven lampstands.

The seven lampstands stand for the seven Churches. One of the great titles of the Christian is that he is the light of the world (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15). But one of the old Greek commentators has a penetrating comment on this. He says that the Churches are called, not the light itself, but the lampstand on which the light is set. It is not the Churches themselves which produce the light; the giver of light is Jesus Christ; and the Churches are only the vessels within which the light shines. The Christian's light is always a borrowed light.

One of the great problems of the Revelation is to decide what John means by the angels of the Churches. More than one explanation has been offered.

(i) The word aggelos (Greek #32)--gg in Greek is pronounced ng--has two meanings. It means an angel; but far oftener it means a messenger. It is suggested that messengers of all the Churches have assembled to receive a message from John and take it back to their congregations. If that is so, each letter will begin: "To the messenger of the Church of...." As far as the Greek goes this is perfectly possible; and it gives good sense; but the difficulty is that aggelos (Greek #32) is used in the Revelation about fifty times apart from its use here and in the letters to the seven Churches, and without exception it means angel.

(ii) It is suggested that aggelos (Greek #32) means a bishop of the Churches. It is suggested, either that the bishops of the Churches have gathered to meet John or that he is directing these letters to them. In favour of this theory there is quoted the words of Malachi: "The lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 2:7). In the Greek Old Testament messenger is aggelos (Greek #32); and it is suggested that the title could very easily be transferred to the bishops of the Churches. They are the messengers of the Lord to their Churches and to them John speaks. Again this explanation gives good sense; but it suffers from the same objection as the first. It attaches aggelos (Greek #32) to a human person and that John never elsewhere does.

(iii) It is suggested that this has to do with the idea of guardian angels. In Hebrew thought every nation had its presiding angel (compare Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20-21). Michael, for instance, was held to be the guardian angel of Israel (Daniel 12:1). People, too, had their guardian angels. When Rhoda came with the news that Peter had escaped from prison, they would not believe her and said it was his angel (Acts 12:15). Jesus himself spoke of the angels who guard a little child (Matthew 18:10). If we take it in this sense, the difficulty is that then the guardian angels of the Churches are being rebuked for the sins of the Churches. In fact Origen believed that this was the case. He said that the guardian angel of a Church was like the tutor of a child. If a child went wrong, the tutor was blamed; and if a Church went wrong, God in his mercy blamed its angel. The difficulty is that, though the angel of the Church is mentioned in the address of each letter, undoubtedly it is the members of the Church who are being addressed.

(iv) Both Greeks and Jews believed that every earthly thing had a heavenly counterpart; and it is suggested that the angel is the ideal of the Church; and that the Churches are being addressed as their ideal selves to bring them back to the right way.

None of the explanations is fully satisfactory; but maybe the last is the best, for there is no doubt that in the letters the angel and the Church are one and the same.

We now go on to study the letters to the Seven Churches. In each case we shall give an outline of the history and the contemporary background of the city in which the Church was; and once we have studied the general background we will go on to study each letter in detail.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Revelation 1:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/revelation-1.html. 1956-1959.

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Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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