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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Revelation 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

(1) The Revelation of Jesus Christ.—The book is a revelation of the things which are and the things which shall be. “John is the writer, but Jesus Christ is the author,” says Grotius; and consistently with this the action of Christ is seen throughout. It is Christ who bids John write to the seven churches; it is Christ who opens the seven seals (Revelation 6:1), who reveals the sufferings of the Church (Revelation 6:9), who offers the prayers of the saints (Revelation 8:3), and delivers the little book to John (Revelation 10:1-11). Thus it is seen that though the rise and fall of earth’s history is included in the revelation, it is a revelation also of a living person; it is not the dull, dead onward flow of circumstances, but the lives of men and nations seen in the light of Him who is the light of every man and the life of all history; and thus we learn that “only a living person can be the Alpha and Omega, the starting-point of creation and its final rest.” The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of this prophecy, as of all others. The Father gives this to the Son whom He loves, and shows Him all things that Himself doeth.

Shortly.—On this word much controversy has turned. Its force, “speedily,” affords a groundwork, and, it must be admitted, a plausible one, to the præterist school of interpreters, who hold that the whole range of Apocalyptic predictions was fulfilled within a comparatively short time after the Apostle wrote. The truth, however, seems to be that the words of God are of perpetual fulfilment: they are not only to be fulfilled; they have not only been fulfilled; but they have been and they are being fulfilled; and they yet will be fulfilled; and the principles which are enunciated by the Prophet, though “shortly” fulfilled, are not exhausted in the immediate fulfilment, but carry still lessons for the succeeding generations of mankind.

John—i.e., the Apostle and Evangelist. The arguments in support of this identification are admitted even by the most captious critics to be conclusive. “The Apocalypse, if any book can be traced to him, must be ascribed to the Apostle John” (Supernatural Religion). (See Excursus A.) To many it will seem natural that John, the beloved disciple, should be the recipient of this revelation. Those who have been nearest to God learn most of His will. Such are friends, not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth; and thus, as in the Old Testament to Abraham, the friend of God, and to Daniel, a man greatly beloved, so in the New Testament to the disciple who leaned on Jesus’ bosom, are shown the things which God was about to do. “Mysteries are revealed unto the meek. The pure in heart shall see God. A pure heart penetrateth heaven and hell” (Thomas à-Kempis).

“More bounteous aspects on me beam,

Me mightier transports move and thrill;

So keep I fair through faith and prayer,

A virgin heart in work and will.”—Sir Galahad.


Verse 2

(2) Who bare record.—Elsewhere as well as here. And he tells us of what he bore record—of the Word of God. The writer declares that the substance of his testimony and witness had been this Word of God. We have here an indication of what the general character of his teaching had been. It evidently had been a teaching laying stress on that aspect of truth which is so forcibly set before us in the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles bearing the name of John. (Comp. Revelation 19:11; John 1:1; John 1:14; 1 John 1:1, et al. Note also that the words “record,” “testimony,” “witness,” found in this verse, recur in the Gospel and Epistles. Comp. John 5:31-40; John 19:35; John 21:24.)


Verse 3

(3) Blessed is he that readeth. . . . prophecy.—Any declaration of the principles of the divine government, with indications of their exemplification in coming history, is a prophecy. Sometimes the history which exemplifies these principles is immediate, sometimes more remote; in other cases (as, I venture to believe, is the case with the predictions of this book) the events are both immediate and remote. The prophecy gives us the rule, with some typical application illustrative of its method of working; after-history affords us the working out of various examples. We, then, as living actors in the world, have not only to read and hear, but to keep—keep in mind and action those principles which preside over the development of all human history (James 1:22). The word “keep” is in itself a proof to me that the whole fulfilment of the Apocalypse could not have been exhausted in the earliest times, nor reserved to the latest times of the Church’s history, but that its predictions are applicable in all eras.

The time is at hand.—In the apostolic mind this was always true, though the restless idleness of the Thessalonians was blamed (2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12). The spirit of vigilance and of ever readiness for both the providential advents and the final advent of the Christ was enjoined. (Comp. Romans 13:12; James 5:9; 2 Peter 3:8-9.)


Verse 4

(4) JOHN to the seven churches (or, congregations) which are in Asia.—It is needless to observe that the Asia here is not to be regarded as co-extensive with what we know as Asia Minor. It is the province of Asia (comp. Acts 2:9-10; Acts 16:6-7), which was under a Roman proconsul, and embraced the western portion of Asia Minor. In St. John’s time it consisted of a strip of sea-board, some 100 square miles in extent. Its boundaries varied at different periods; but roughly, and for the present purpose, they may be regarded as the Caycus on the north, the Mæander on the south, the Phrygian Hills on the east, and the Mediterranean on the west.

Seven churches.—It has been maintained by some (notably by Vitringa) that the epistles to the seven churches are prophetic, and set forth the condition of the Church in the successive epochs of its after-history. The growth of error, the development of schisms, the gloom of superstition, the darkness of mediæval times, the dawn of the Reformation, the convulsions of after-revolutions, have been discovered in these brief and forcible epistles. Such a view needs no formal refutation. The anxiety for circumstantial and limited fulfilments of prophecy has been at the root of such attempts. When we read God’s words as wider than our thoughts we stand in no need of such desperate efforts at symmetrical interpretations; for the truth then is seen to be that words addressed to one age have their fitness for all; and that these epistles are the heritage of the Church in every epoch. In this sense the churches are types and representatives of the whole family of God. Every community may find its likeness here. This much is admitted by the best commentators of all schools. “The seven churches,” says St. Chrysostom, “are all churches by reason of the seven Spirits.” “By the seven,” writes St. Augustine, “is signified the perfection of the Church universal, and by writing to the seven he shows the fulness of one.” And the words, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” ‘are, as has been well observed, a direct intimation that some universal application of their teaching was intended.

Grace be unto you, and peace.—Three apostles, St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. John, adopt the same salutation. Not only is this a kind of link of Christian fellowship between them, but its adoption by St. John, after St. Paul had first used it, is a slight token that the Apocalypse cannot be regarded (as some recent critics would have it) as an anti-Pauline treatise. As the Christian greeting, it transcends while it embraces the Greek and Hebrew salutations. There is no tinge of the sadness of separation; it is the greeting of hope and repose, grounded on the only true foundation of either, the grace of God, which is the well-spring of life and love.

From him which is, and which was, and which is to come (or, which cometh).—The phrase presents a remarkable violation of grammar; but the violation is clearly intentional. It is not the blunder of an illiterate writer; it is the deliberate putting in emphatic form the “Name of Names.” “Should not,” says Professor Lightfoot, “this remarkable feature be preserved in an English Bible? If in Exodus 3:14 the words run, ‘I AM hath sent me unto you,’ may we not also be allowed to read here, from ‘HE THAT IS, AND THAT WAS, AND THAT IS TO COME?’“ The expression must not be separated from what follows. The greeting is triple: from Him which is, and which was, and which cometh; from the seven Spirits; and from Jesus Christ—i.e., from the Triune God. The first phrase would therefore seem to designate God the Father, the self-existing, eternal One, the fount and origin of all existence. Professor Plumptre suggests that the phrase used here may be used in allusion and contrast to the inscription spoken of by Plutarch, on the Temple of Isis, at Sais: “I am all that has come into being, and that which is, and that which shall be; and no man hath lifted my vail.” The heathen inscription identifies God with the universe, making Him, not an ever-being, but an ever-becoming, from whom personality is excluded: the Christian description is of the personal, everlasting, self-revealing God—who is, who was, and who cometh. We should have expected after “is” and “was” “will be;” but there is no “will be” with an eternal God. With Him all is; so the word “cometh” is used, hinting His constant manifestations in history, and the final coming in judgment. This allusion to the Second Coming is denied by Professor Plumptre, but as he admits that the words, “He that cometh,” used in the Gospels, and applied by the Jews to the Messiah, may be designedly employed here by the Apostle, it is difficult to see how the Advent idea can be excluded. The word appears to imply that we are to be always looking for Him whose “comings” recur in all history as the earnests of the fuller and final Advent.

From the seven Spirits.—The interpretation which would understand these seven Spirits to be the seven chief angels, though supported by names of great weight, is plainly untenable. The context makes it impossible to admit any other meaning than that the greeting which comes from the Father and the Son comes also from the Holy Spirit sevenfold in His operations, whose gifts are diffused among all the churches, and who divides to every man severally as He will. For corresponding thoughts in the Old Testament, compare the seven lamps and seven eyes of Zechariah (Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 4:10), “the symbols of eternal light and all embracing knowledge.” It may not be inappropriate to note that Philo speaks of the number seven in its mystical import as identical with unity, as unity developed in diversity, and yet remaining one. This unity in diversity is the thought St. Paul seems anxious to keep before the minds of the Corinthians, lest their gifts should become the source of division. All work that one and self-same spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11). The after-recurrence in this book of the number seven is, I think, selected to support this thought of completeness and variety; the dramatic unity is preserved, though the scenes which are unfolded are amply diversified; and the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials, are not three successive periods, but three aspects of one complete period presided over by that one Spirit whose guidance may be seen in all ages, and in diverse ways. The Spirits are before the throne. This reference to the throne gives a touch of authority to the description. The Holy Spirit who pleads with men is the Spirit from God’s Throne.


Verse 5

(5) From Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten (or, firstborn) of the dead, and the prince (or, ruler) of the kings of the earth.—The triple title applied to Christ corresponds to the three ideas of this book. Christ the Revealing Prophet, the Life-giving High Priest, and the real Ruler of mankind.

The faithful witness.—There may be a reference here, it has been suggested by Prof. Plumptre, to the bow in the cloud, which is described in Psalms 89:37 as the faithful witness. The coincidence of expression is remarkable: “I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth; he shall stand fast as the sun before me, and as the faithful witness in heaven.” The idea of testimony and witness is a favourite one with St. John, who records its use by our Lord Himself. (Comp. John 3:32; John 5:36; John 18:37. See also Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:18. Comp. also the work of the Only Begotten as stated in John 1:18.)

The prince (or ruler) of the kings of the earth.—The message does not come from One who will be, but who is the true ruler of all earthly potentates. The disposition to dwell on the future and more visibly recognised reign of Christ hereafter has tended to obscure the truth of His present reign. It is instructive to notice that this book, which describes so vividly the manifestations of Christ’s kingdom (Revelation 11:15; Revelation 12:10), claims for Him at the outset the place of the real King of kings. Such was the Apostle’s faith. “Above all emperors and kings, above all armies and multitudes, he thought of the Crucified as ruling and directing the course of history, and certain in His own due time to manifest His sovereignty” (Prof. Plumptre). “What are we to see in the simple Anno Domini of our dates and superscriptions, but that for some reason the great world-history has been bending itself to the lowly person of Jesus” (Bushnell). “A handful read the philosophers; myriads would die for Christ; they in their popularity could barely found a school; Christ from His cross rules the world” (Farrar, Witness of History). Such is a real kingship.

Unto him that loved us, and washed us.—Instead of “washed us,” some MSS. read, “loosed us.” There is only one letter’s difference in the two words in Greek. The general tone of thought would lead us to prefer “washed” as the true reading. On a solemn occasion, which St. John remembered clearly, our Lord had said, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” The thought of the “cleansing blood,” intensified by the recollection of the water and blood which he had seen flowing from Christ’s pierced side, often recurred to his mind (Revelation 7:13-14; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 5:6-8).


Verse 5-6

Redeeming Love

Unto him that loveth us and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.—Revelation 1:5-6.

John is writing to the seven churches of Asia, representative of all churches in all time. He salutes them in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit, though employing unusual phraseology, coined in his own mint and very precious. While setting forth the work and glory of Christ as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth,” he can contain himself no longer. He cannot deliver his message till he has relieved his heart, and he pours forth, as from a fountain of thanksgiving aspiring heavenward, the anthem of the Church of the redeemed below—“Unto him that loveth us!”

An utterance like this gathers up so many experiences in itself; it implies so much, reminds us of so much, suggests so much. In the story of the Roman Empire we read of the banquet in which, because the rarest wines were not costly enough, the guests drank from goblets in which priceless pearls had been dissolved. But how richly filled is the chalice containing the thanksgivings of saints, forgiven, cleansed, and fitted for lofty service; and who can estimate the significance of the praises they offer to their Saviour for His redeeming grace? And best of all, such a text, while reminding us of our sins and our redemption, our trials and deliverances, our evil and its mastery, our low estate and the rank to which Christ has raised us, leads entirely away from self and fastens all our attention on another Figure—to Him be glory for ever!

Like Christian who, encountering the perils of the Valley, found there also the delivering power of the Lord of the Hill, the soul redeemed and restored cannot but sing,—

O world of wonders! (I can say no less)

That I should be preserv’d in that distress

That I have met with here! O blessed be

The Hand that from it hath delivered me!

Dangers in darkness, devils, hell, and sin

Did compass me, while I this vale was in:

Yea, snares, and pits, and traps, and nets did lie

My path about, that worthless silly I

Might have been catch’d, entangled, and cast down.

But since I live, let Jesus wear the Crown.

The text is an ascription of praise unto Him whose love is—

I. An Unceasing Love—“who loveth us.”

II. An Emancipating Love—“who loosed us from our sins.”

III. An Enfranchising Love—“who made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father.”

I

The Love that is Ever with Us

“Unto him that loveth us.”

So the true text reads. Some copyist, who was thinking more of grammar than of Christian experience, thought it must be a mistake, and altered it to “loved.” Or perhaps St. John himself first wrote “loved” and then bethought him: “Why should I say ‘loved’ when He loves us still?” At any rate, this is the conviction of the Early Church: the Jesus whom they had known not only loved them while He was their Companion on the earth, but loves them still, shares therefore in that further quality of the Godhead of which St. John writes elsewhere: “God is Love,” and gives to that quality just what each man requires to find in it—personal direction towards himself. Thus Jesus is the link between the universal God and the individual soul. What without Him would be incredible, not only becomes credible, but is actually realized through Him. God loves me: I know it by referring myself to the historical Jesus: and when that is so, He has for me the value of God.

1. Love begins with God.—That is where our hopes are born. That is the background in which we find the warrant for all our confidence and all our faith. God loves us. All effective reasoning concerning human redemption must begin here. God loves! The beginning is not to be found in us, in our inclinations and gropings and resolvings and prayers. These are essential but secondary. The primary element is the inclination of God. Omnia exeunt in mysterium, says Sir Thomas Browne; all things issue in mystery. But also all things issue from mystery; by which we mean not the incomprehensible, but the all-comprehending; not the unintelligible, but the self-sufficing and self-explaining; not the blackness of darkness, but the blaze of truth with excess of light.

We cannot get behind Divine love as a cause. In Deuteronomy (Revelation 6:7) Israel is told that Jehovah loved His people—because He loved them. The Christian hymn says the same thing. “He hath loved, He hath loved us, we cannot tell why; He hath loved, He hath loved us because He would love.” The Jews were chosen, not because of their numbers, not because of their warlike virtues, not because of their “religious instincts” or amenability to religious teaching, but because God loved them. A Syrian ready to perish was their father, but God made of them a nation to whom all the world has been, and still is, indebted. That does not mean that Divine love is irrational, arbitrary, capricious; but it does mean that for personal beings love is a primary fact, a source, a fountain, an ultimate explanation, beyond which it is well not to strive to pass—especially the unworthy, the wayward, and the evil; all they can do is to sing—

Who for me vouchsafed to die,

Loves me still—I know not why!

The fire which warms the hearthstone is not original; it is derivative, and refers us back to the sun. The candle with which we search for the lost piece of silver is not original and originating; it is borrowed flame from the great altar-fires of the sun. Earth’s broken lights, a candle here, a lamp there, a fire yonder, all index backwards, and point us to the great originating centre of solar light and heat. The lamps and candles and fires that burn in human life, everything that is bright and genial and aspiring, have reference backward to some creative and beneficent source. “We love, because he first loveth us.” “He first loveth!” That is the primary quantity, and every kindly feeling that warms the heart, every pure hope that illumines the mind, were begotten of that most gracious source.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, 237.]

2. This love never leaves us.—The past tense expresses a blessed truth, but “loveth” includes all—past, present, and future; it is a timeless word, bringing with it fresh breezes from across the ocean of eternity. It is not a single act that is here indicated, but a state abiding. For this “loveth” is the timeless present of that Divine nature, of which we cannot properly say either that it was or that it will be, but only that it for ever is; and the outgoings of His love are like the outgoings of that Divine energy of which we cannot properly say that it did or that it will do, but only that it ever does. His love, if one may use such a phrase, is lifted above all tenses, and transcends even the bounds of grammar. He did love. He does love. He will love. All three forms of speech must be combined in setting forth the ever present, because timeless and eternal, love of the Incarnate Word.

The great poems of the world have been love-poems; they have been poems of love betrayed, or unrequited, or they have been thunders wailed out over a dead and buried love. But the greatest love-story of all is of One who loves for ever because He lives for ever. The Lord Jesus Christ has awakened a passionate love in unnumbered hearts, but among them all not one sweet, dead, disappointed face—like Elaine’s confronting Lancelot at the river-gate of Arthur’s palace—upturned in mute appeal, has ever reproached the Crucified for having offered to Him in vain an unmeasured affection. The love of the living has been offered to the living, and only a living Lord could have awakened and satisfied a love which has been poured out at His feet like spikenard. It is this consciousness of being loved that gives ever deeper meaning and ever gathering volume to the great doxology, “Unto him be the dominion for ever.”

When Sir James Mackintosh lay dying, his friends by the bedside saw his lips slightly moving, and as one of them desired to catch, if possible, the last words of the great and good man, he leaned over, and applying the ear close, heard him saying, “Jesus, love, the same thing; Jesus, love, the same thing.”2 [Note: A. H. Drysdale, A Moderator’s Year, 99.]

There is a highroad which I knew full well away in the distant North, and a gladsome, shining river keeps it company. Their tracks remain in closest fellowship. They turn and wind together, and at any moment you may step from the dusty highway and drink deep draughts from the limpid stream. “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.” Here is the hard, dusty highway of the individual life, and near it there flows the gladdening river of the Eternal Love. It turns with our turnings, and winds through all the perplexing labyrinths of our intensely varied day. We may ignore the river; we cannot ignore it away. Thrice blessed are they who heed and use it. “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” The inspiring resources are always just at hand. The river of love runs just by the hard road. It never parts company with the highway.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, 239.]

3. We can set no limit to the extent of this love.—“Unto him that loveth us.” The words become especially beautiful if we remember that they come from the lips of him whose distinction it was that he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It is as if he had said, “I share my privilege with you all. I was no nearer Him than you may be. Every head may rest on the breast where mine rested. Having the sweet remembrance of that early love, these things write I unto you that ye also may have fellowship with me in that which was my great distinction. I, the disciple whom Jesus loved, speak to you as the disciples whom Jesus loves.” He is speaking of One who had been dead for half a century, and he is speaking to people none of whom had probably ever seen Jesus in His lifetime, and most of whom had not been born when He died. Yet to them all he turns with that profound and mighty present tense, and says, “He loveth us.” He was speaking to all generations, and telling all the tribes of men of a love which is in active operation towards each of them, not only at the moment when St. John spoke to Asiatic Greeks, but at the moment when we Englishmen read his words, “Christ that loveth us.”

When we extend our thoughts or our sympathies to a crowd, we lose the individual. We generalize, as logicians say, by neglecting the particular instances. That is to say, when we look at the forest we do not see the trees. But Jesus Christ sees each tree, each stem, each branch, each leaf, just as when the crowd thronged Him and pressed Him, He knew when the tremulous finger, wasted and shrunken to skin and bone, was timidly laid on the hem of His garment; as there was room for all the five thousand on the grass, and no man’s plenty was secured at the expense of another man’s penury, so each of us has a place in that heart; and my abundance will not starve you, or your feeding full diminish the supplies for me. Christ loves all, not with the vague general philanthropy with which men love the mass, but with the individualizing knowledge and special direction of affection towards the individual which demands for its fulness a Divine nature to exercise it. And so each of us may have our own rainbow, to each of us the sunbeam may come straight from the sun and strike upon our eye in a direct line, to each of us the whole warmth of the orb may be conveyed, and each of us may say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Let us now turn aside and look upon this great sight, of Love that burneth with fire, yet is not consumed; of Love that having poured out its soul unto death, yet liveth, to see of that soul’s long travail and to be satisfied with it. “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” When were Love’s arms stretched so wide as upon the Cross? When did they embrace so much as when Thou, O Christ, didst gather within Thy bosom the spears and arrows of the mighty to open us a Lane for Freedom!1 [Note: Dora Greenwell, The Patience of Hope (ed. 1894), 130.]

“He loveth us.” That covers past, present, and future. The love of our Redeemer stretches from eternity to eternity. It had no beginning, and will have no ending. It is unchanged, unmodified, untouched, either by lapse of time or variation of circumstance. Utterly inexhaustible, it flows incessantly in undiminished and undiminishable tide into the lives towards which it is directed.

Immortal Love, for ever full,

For ever flowing free,

For ever shared, for ever whole,

A never ebbing sea.2 [Note: Hector Mackiunon: A Memoir, by his Wife (1914), 181.]

II

The Love that has Made Us Free

“And loosed us from our sins by his blood.”

This work is described by two different words in A.V. and R.V.—“washed” and “loosed.” These are two figures for one fact. There is but the difference of a single letter in the Greek, and not a letter of difference in the reality, though the point of view differs. The one word regards sin as defilement, the other as bondage. The one thanksgiving rejoices in our being purified, the other in our being freed. The same Divine act accomplishes both ends; and at one time we may rejoice in the thought that the old foul self may be made clean, at another in the delightful consciousness that our chains are snapped, the dungeon walls broken down, and the slave is emancipated for ever.

1. The notion of bondage underlies the metaphor of loosing a fetter. If we would be honest with ourselves, in our account of our own inward experiences, that bondage we all know. There is the bondage of sin as guilt, the sense of responsibility, the feeling that we have to answer for what we have done, and to answer not only here but also hereafter, when we appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. Guilt is a chain. And there is the bondage of habit, which ties and holds us with the cords of our sins, so that, slight as the fetter may seem at first, it has an awful power of thickening and becoming heavier and more pressing, till at last it holds a man in a grip from which he cannot get away.

Sin finds men out in the form of Temptation. Temptation is the result of constantly yielding. A constant doing passing into a habit—it really comes to be a predisposition to do what we have done before over again, and this is temptation. We have built up the muscle-fibre of temptation by constantly using it. Some day Tennyson’s lines will be true, that our character is a part of all we have met. Look at the brain. It is made up, as you know, of countless cells and processes. If an intellectual process runs through our brain once, it leaves comparatively no effect. But say it over a hundred times, and a footpath is worn through the brain; the hundred and first time will be easy. Say it a thousand times, and lo! through all the cellular structure of the brain there is for ever laid a thoroughfare upon this one intellectual idea, and temptations and sins march to and fro in endless procession along the beaten track. Men do not commit two different kinds of sin. You have your own favourite sin, and I have mine, and as it grows the trick is intensified, the path more beaten still, and the end is Death. One thing kills a man, and if you are guilty of one sin, your doom is sealed. Therefore guard against making a thoroughfare. Decide once for all to close the thoroughfare by gates which shall last for ever. Let that evil thought never pass that way again.1 [Note: The Life of Henry Drummond, 478.]

2. But we have an Emancipator. “He loosed us from our sins.” This proclaims not a mere cleansing, but a liberation; not the remission of penalty only, but the removal also of moral bondage. Sin’s bondage is one of the strongest forces in life; for sin, like a tyrant, subjugates memory, deteriorates moral strength, and increasingly destroys a man’s power of resistance and action. And to such as are fast bound in its remorseless grip, this Evangel proclaims “liberty to the captives,” such liberty indeed as befits and enables men to serve God “in holiness and righteousness.”

I think I have never coveted happiness, but freedom of spirit I have earnestly desired, freedom from that burden which crushes joy and sorrow both—the mere dead weight of care and of remorse. And I believe God, who gave me this desire, has in some measure fulfilled it, and will fulfil it more in spite of my rebellion. The spirit of freedom, of peace, of a sound mind, is, I am sure, given to us. We are only to remember its presence and to walk in it.

The Spirit does make intercessions within us, with groanings that cannot be uttered, and if the sense of personal sins presses them out, they do extend, I trust, to the whole universe; they are groans for its redemption and not for ours only. The word redemption, all the past which it implies, all the future which it points to, has for me a wonderful charm. I cannot separate the idea of deliverance from the idea of God, or ever think of man as blessed except as he enters into God’s redeeming purpose, and labours to make others free.

The bondage of circumstances, of the world, but chiefly of self, has at times seemed to me quite intolerable; the more because it takes away all one’s energy to throw it off, and then the difficulty of escaping to God! of asking to have the weight taken away! Oh there is infinite comfort in the thought that He hears all our cries for rescue, and is Himself the Author and Finisher of it.1 [Note: Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, i. 520.]

3. “He loosed us from our sins by his blood.” Christ is the Emancipator, and the instrument by which He makes us free is His blood. The teaching of Scripture is that the death of Christ was necessary for the remission of man’s sin. The explanation of that necessity may be beyond us; a full explanation is certainly beyond our powers at present. But not only is the fact made clear in Scripture, the reasons are not obscurely shadowed forth. And we are taught that without such death God could not Himself righteously forgive sin, and that its bands could not be loosed, because the chief bondage which holds an unforgiven sinner under the wrath of a holy God cannot be relaxed by mere fiat, by the single word, Go free! It is not that the Father is angry and the Son steps in to save us from His wrath, as if there could be schism in the Godhead. It is, God so loved the world that He gave His Son to save it, and Christ so loved the world that He loosed the bands of its sins by His blood. As without shedding of blood there was no remission under the Jewish law, so without the death of the cross there is no redemption for a sinful world. A Saviour who stopped short of death would have lacked the power to loose man from sin, in relation either to God or to the powers of evil or to his own moral and spiritual constitution.

Any simple statement of the Gospel had a great attraction for him, and the simpler it was he enjoyed it the more, if it was not controversial but the genuine utterance of the heart. The account of redemption from the lips of an African woman, a slave, impressed him deeply; he liked to repeat it in conversation, and on one occasion at a meeting for prayer, he stood up and said without further remark of his own: “I have never heard the gospel better stated than it was put by a poor negress: ‘Me die, or He die; He die, me no die.’”2 [Note: A. Moody Stuart, Recollections of the late John Duncan, 193.]

Some of the great artists of the Crucifixion have painted the cross as reaching into the skies, exercising a cosmic influence for the world upon which its foot rests, whilst its top touches and moves the very heavens. There is such a painting by Luino at Lugano, and another by Guido Reni at Rome. The head of the suffering Christ in the latter is often reproduced, but the whole of the picture should be seen to understand the artist’s thought. And so the power of the Cross touches the burden of sin which we sinners carry on our shoulders at a thousand points, loosening it at every one and so causing it to fall away from our shoulders in the way Bunyan describes. Freed from condemnation in the sight of God, we are freed altogether: it is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth? We are freed from the bondage of law, from the thraldom of the devil, from the power of evil habit, from the fear of death and that which follows after death.

Neither passion nor pride

Thy cross can abide,

But melt in the fountain that streams from Thy side.1 [Note: W. T. Davison, Strength for the Way, 29.]

III

The Love that has Given Us Citizenship

“And he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father.”

1. Here the Revisers adopted, not the reading that would give the smoothest and simplest English, but the reading that had the highest support in the Greek text. And so they substituted “a kingdom” for “kings.” This substitution places the promises of the new dispensation in direct connexion with the facts of the old. The language of St. Peter and St. John was no novel coinage. It was merely an adaptation to the Israel after the spirit of the titles and distinctions accorded of old to the “Israel after the flesh.” There was a holy nation, a peculiar people, a regal priesthood, before Christianity. It was only enlarged, developed, spiritualized, under the gospel. The foundation passage in the Old Testament on which the language of both Christian Apostles alike was moulded is the promise made to the Israelites through Moses on Sinai, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people … ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” Thus the mention of the kingdom links Sinai with Zion—the old with the new.

If we lose the idea of the kingdom we lose with it the most valuable lesson of the passage. A kingdom denotes an organized, united whole. It implies consolidation and harmony. It is not enough that we should realize the individual Christian as a king; we must think of him as a member of a kingdom. The kings of this world are constantly at war one with another. Self-aggrandizement and self-assertion seem natural to their position. Solitariness, isolation, independence—these are ideas inseparable from the kingly throne. But this is not the conception of the true disciple of Christ. He is before all things a member of a body. In the Kingdom of Christ indeed all the citizens are kings, because all are associated in the kingliness of Christ. But they are citizens still. They have the duties, the responsibilities, the manifold and complex relationships of citizens. This Kingdom of God, this Church of Christ, exists for a definite end. Its citizen-kings have each their proper functions, perform each their several tasks, contribute each their special gifts to the fulfilment of this purpose.

The Kingdom of God cometh to a man when he sets up Jesus’ Cross in his heart, and begins to live what Mr. Laurence Oliphant used to call “the life.” It passes on its way when that man rises from table and girds himself and serves the person next him. Yesterday the kingdom was one man, now it is a group. From the one who washes to the one whose feet are washed the kingdom grows and multiplies. It stands around us on every side,—not in Pharisees nor in fanatics, not in noise nor tumult, but in modest and Christ-like men. One can see it in their faces, and catch it in the tone of their voices. And if one has eyes to see and ears to hear, then let him be of good cheer, for the Kingdom of God is come. It is the world-wide state, whose law is the Divine will, whose members obey the spirit of Jesus, whose strength is goodness, whose heritage is God.1 [Note: John Watson, The Mind of the Master.]

2. We were made not only a “kingdom,” but also “priests.” The two ideas are not carelessly united. Indeed they cannot be separated. The uniting bond is the words, “unto God.” One may be a king without being a priest, but not a king unto God. Human life is a Divine thing. It has no coherence, no meaning, no use or end except as it is brought under the laws of God. A man does not find himself, he does not get upon the track of true living, until along with self-culture he combines the rule and habit of service—making the most of others as well as the most of himself.

(1) The priest has direct access to God.—All of us, each of us, may pass into the secret place of the Most High, and stand there with happy hearts, unabashed and unafraid, beneath the very blaze of the light of the Shekinah. And we can do so because Jesus Christ has come to us with these words upon His lips: “I am the way; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” The path into that Divine Presence is blocked for every sinful soul by an immense black rock, its own transgressions; but He has blasted away the rock, and the path is patent for all our feet. By His death we have the way made open into the holiest of all. And so we can come, come with lowly hearts, come with childlike confidence, come with the whole burden of our weaknesses and wants and woes, and can spread them all before Him, and nestle to the great heart of God the Father Himself. We are priests to God, and our prerogative is to pass within the veil by the new and living Way which Christ is for us.

There were many Old Testament customs that were the chrysalis of some beautiful winged truth, to be set free at the touch of Christ. The shell had to be shattered, that such spiritual treasure as Judaism held might become available for the world. That was what Christ meant when He said He came not to destroy, but to fulfil. Priesthood was abolished in the narrow exclusive sense by making all believers priests.1 [Note: F. C. Hoggarth.]

(2) The priest is appointed to offer sacrifice.—In one sense the sacrifice is offered already; our High Priest offered Himself once for all upon the altar of the cross, and in that sacrifice none other may share. Yet as our deepest sufferings in His cause “fill up that which is lacking of his afflictions,” so our sacrifices are participations, such as men may make, by union with Him, in the one great act of obedience whereby He reconciled us to His Father. We “offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Even in the Old Testament there is the suggestion that God had some pleasure in the smell of the sacrifice. Gradually, through the influence of the prophet in Israel, there grew up a spiritual conception of sacrifice. Micah’s protest (chap. 6) and the Psalmist’s confession (Psalms 51) represent the final teaching of the Old Testament on the matter. This spiritual idea of sacrifice runs throughout the New Testament; e.g., “I beseech you therefore, brethren … to present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We ought then to offer our conduct as a holy sacrifice to Him. There is also in the New Testament the idea that the new altar, as Hatch says, is that of human need. We give to God in giving to our brother-man. All service that alleviates human suffering, emancipates the enslaved, saves the children, is a sacrifice. “To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

Love has only one measure—its willingness to sacrifice itself. Love’s general law is to seek to do good to others, by service, toil, suffering, both passively and actively. What does a mother endure for her child? Sleepless nights, without food, as she soothes the suffering of her little one and wins back life and health to the child by the offering and sacrifice of her own health and life. What of Father Damien, and others like him, who became lepers to save lepers? Sister Kate Marsden, too? They give themselves to remove the curse of leprosy, or at least to remove the darker curse of leprosy. It is love undertaking on another’s behalf, by means of sacrifice, to win for them some good. There is nothing great and noble and praiseworthy in the world, but this principle of love is at the root of it.1 [Note: John Brown Paton, by his Son (1914), 372.]

(3) The priest is a mediator representing God before men, and representing men before God. As our Lord Jesus Christ represents God to men, and we, being one with Him, also stand as being, in a secondary sense, God’s representatives, so He is perfect man, and in Him the whole of our race is summed up, and we, after a partial manner, may also appear in God’s sight on behalf of our fellow-men. They do not need to approach God through us, yet we can voice their wants even when they themselves do not know them. We cannot bear the burden of a world’s sin, under which our Saviour bowed, but we can by our prayer and intercession—and that, rightly understood, is no light burden—make the silence of our fellows articulate at the throne of grace.

Man is sometimes spoken of as a priest in relation to nature; as George Herbert puts it—

Man is the world’s high-priest: he doth present

The sacrifice for all; while they below

Unto the service mutter an assent,

Such as springs use that fall, and winds that blow.

But this is a poet’s graceful fancy. The truth of the text lies in the relation of the Christian to God and his fellow-men. There is no human priest in Christianity to come between God and any single human heart; the only Mediator is He who is Son of God and Son of Man, a High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Yet every Christian is to be a priest unto God, as himself offering spiritual sacrifices and helping to interpret God-in-Christ to man and to bring men to the God and Father whom he has learned to love and serve.1 [Note: W. T. Davison, Strength for the Way, 33.]

The whole function of Priesthood was, on Christmas morning, at once and for ever gathered into His Person who was born at Bethlehem; and thenceforward, all who are united with Him, and who with Him make sacrifice of themselves; that is to say, all members of the Invisible Church become, at the instant of their conversion, Priests; and are so called in 1 Peter 2:5 and Revelation 1:6; Revelation 20:6, where, observe, there is no possibility of limiting the expression to the Clergy; the conditions of Priesthood being simply having been loved by Christ, and washed in His blood.2 [Note: Ruskin, The Construction of Sheepfolds, § 15 (Works, xii. 537).]

Priests, priests,—there’s no such name!—God’s own, except

Ye take most vainly. Through heaven’s lifted gate

The priestly ephod in sole glory swept,

When Christ ascended, entered in, and sate

(With victor face sublimely overwept)

At Deity’s right hand, to mediate

He alone, He for ever. On His breast

The Urim and the Thummim, fed with fire

From the full Godhead, flicker with the unrest

Of human, pitiful heartbeats. Come up higher,

All Christians! Levi’s tribe is dispossest.3 [Note: E. B. Browning, Casa Guida Windows.]

Redeeming Love

Literature

Cunningham (W.), Sermons from 1828 to 1860, 146.

Davies (J. L1.), The Work of Christ, 72.

Davison (W. T.), Strength for the Way, 16.

Drysdale (A. H.), A Moderator’s Year, 95.

Eames (J.), The Shattered Temple, 33.

Genner (E. E.), in A Book of Lay Sermons, 91.

Griffin (E. D.), Plain Practical Sermons, ii. 20.

Haslam (W.), The Threefold Gift of God, 155.

Holden (J. S.), The Pre-Eminent Lord, 165.

Jowett (J. H.), Apostolic Optimism, 237.

Lightfoot (J. B.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 191.

McIntyre (D. M.), Life in His Name, 199.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Epistles of John to Revelation, 126.

Macpherson (W. M.), The Path of Life, 182.

Maurice (F. D.), The Doctrine of Sacrifice, 276.

Menzies (A.), in Scotch Sermons, 1880, p. 259.

Meyer (F. B.), The Present Tenses of the Blessed Life, 51.

Munger (T. T.), Character through Inspiration, 118.

Nixon (W.), in Modern Scottish Pulpit, i. 211.

Rattenbury (J. E.), Six Sermons on Social Subjects, 81.

Scott (C. A.), The Book of the Revelation, 30.

British Weekly Pulpit, iii. 481 (J. Robertson).

Christian World Pulpit, liv. 369 (J. H. Jowett); lvi. 38 (G. Littlemore); lx. 49 (C. Gore).

Church of England Magazine, lxviii. 240 (E. T. Cardale).

Homiletic Review, lv. 459 (A. Wood).

Preacher’s Magazine, xxv. 416 (F. C. Hoggarth).


Verse 6

Verse 7

(7) Behold, he cometh with clouds.—Better, with the clouds. The reference to Christ’s words (Mark 14:62) is undoubted. In the “clouds” St. Augustine sees the emblem of the saints of the Church, which is His body, who spread as a vast fertilising cloud over the whole world.

Every eye shall see him, and they also which (they were who = “whosoever”) pierced him.—Here again is a reference to the incident of the piercing of Christ’s side (John 19:34), recorded only by St. John.

Shall wail because of him.—Or, shall wail over Him. The prophecy in Zechariah 12:10, is the suggesting one of this. But the passage in Zechariah describes the mourning of grief over the dead; the passage here is the mourning towards one who was dead, and is alive. He towards whom they now direct their sorrow is the One over whom they should have wailed when He was laid in His tomb.


Verse 8

(8) The beginning and the ending.—These words are of doubtful authority; they are in all probability taken from Revelation 22:13, and interpolated here. The description of the verse applies, with little doubt, to our Lord, and the words are a strong declaration of His divinity.

The Almighty.—The word thus rendered is, with one exception (2 Corinthians 6:18), peculiar to this book in the New Testament.


Verse 9

Verse 10

(10) I was (or, I became) in the Spirit.—The mind, drawn onward by the contemplation of things spiritual, is abstracted from the immediate consciousness of outward earthly forms of life. In great natures this power is usually strong. Socrates is related to have stood rapt in thought for hours, and even days, unconscious of the midday heat, or the mocking wonder of his comrades. To high-souled men, set upon the spiritual welfare of the race, this power of detaching themselves from the influence of the outward is the result of their earnestness; the things spiritual are to them the real; the things seen are temporal. It is the Holy Spirit alone which can give the power of this spiritual abstraction; but it is through the ordinary use of means that this power is bestowed. In St. John’s case it was on the Lord’s Day that this spiritual rapture was vouchsafed.

The Lord’s day.—There is no ground whatever for the futurist interpretation that this expression refers to the “Day of the Lord,” as in 2 Thessalonians 2:2. The phrase in this latter passage is totally different. The phrase here is. en te kuriake hemera. The adjective is applied by St. Paul (perhaps coined by him for the purpose) to the Lord’s Supper: from the Supper it came to be applied to the day on which Christians met for the breaking of bread. The day is still called κυριακὴ (kuriake) in the Levant. On the Lord’s Day the vision came to the Apostle. It was the hour of sweetest, closest communion, when the memories of Christ risen, and the fellowship he had enjoyed at Ephesus, would work on his spirit, and aid in raising him in highest adoration, like St. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). When so rapt, he heard a voice, strong, clear, and resonant as a trumpet. The Apostle’s voice could not be heard among his beloved flock at Ephesus; but there was a voice which would reach from the exile at Patmos, not to Ephesus and its sister churches, but to all churches and throughout all time. The mouth which persecution closes God opens, and bids it speak to the world. So St. Paul, through the Epistles of his Captivity, still speaks. Luther, by his translation of the Bible, spoke from his confinement at Wartburg; and Bunyan, by his divine allegory, shows how feeble were the walls of his cell at Bedford to silence the voice of God. If speech be silver and silence golden, it is also true in the history of the Church that from the captivity of her teachers she has received her most abiding treasures.


Verse 11

(11) I am Alpha and Omega.—In this verse we pass from St. John to Him who was the Word, of whom St. John gave testimony. He who is the faithful witness now speaks. “What thou seest, write,” &c. The previous words, “I am Alpha,” &c., are not found in the best MSS. The words “which are in Asia,” are also omitted.

The seven churches.—There were more than seven churches in Asia Minor; but the number selected indicates completeness. Thus, though having special reference to the conditions of those churches, the epistles may be regarded as epistles conveying ever appropriate lessons to the churches of succeeding ages. The names of the seven churches are enumerated, as they would naturally be by a person writing from Patmos. “First, Ephesus is addressed, as the Asiatic metropolis, and as the nearest church to Patmos; then the other churches on the western coast of Asia; then those in the interior” (Wordsworth).


Verse 12

(12) Seven golden candlesticks.—Comp. the vision in Zechariah 4:2-11. It has been observed that there is a difference in the two visions. In Zech., as in Exodus 25:31-32, the seven branches are united, so as to form one candlestick; here there are said to be seven candlesticks; and from this supposed difference it is argued that we have a hint of the variety of the Christian churches, as distinguished from the singleness of the Jewish church. But is it not more probable that what St. John saw was the old familiar seven-branched candlestick, identical in form with that which has been rendered familiar to all by the Arch of Titus, but that as the mention of the seven churches was then fresh in his mind, his eye fell rather upon the seven limbs and seven lights than on the whole candlestand, especially if, as Prof. Plumptre suggests, the figure of the Christ concealed part of the main stem? Thus to his view the separate individuality of the churches, and their real union in Him who was the Light, would rather be symbolised. Thus, too, the external teachings of the earlier symbols are not disturbed: the new revelation illumines the types and shadows of the older. “These symbols were intended to raise them out of symbols; the truths were to throw light on the parables, rather than the parables on the truths. Men were to study the visions of an earlier day by the revelations of that day” (Maurice, Apocalypse, p. 22).


Verse 13

(13) In the midst of the seven candlesticks (the word “seven” is omitted in some of the best MSS.) one like unto the Son of man.—“He who kindled the light to be a witness of Himself and of His own presence with men was indeed present.” He was present the same as He had been known on earth, yet different—the same, for He is seen as Son of Man; the same as He had been seen on the Resurrection evening; the same as He appeared to Stephen; the same Jesus, caring for, helping and counselling His people: yet different, for He is arrayed in the apparel of kingly and priestly dignity. He is robed to the foot with the long garment of the high priest. St. John uses the same word which is used in the LXX. version of Exodus 28:31, to describe the robe of the Ephod. (Comp. Zechariah 3:4.) It has been understood by some, however, to indicate the “ample robe of judicial and kingly power.” There is in the vision a combination of both thoughts. He is the King-Priest who is seen by the Evangelist, the Melchisedec whom the Epistle to the Hebrews had so gloriously set forth (Hebrews 5:9-10; Hebrews 6:20; especially Hebrews 7:1-17). He is girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. The girdle is not around the loins, as though ready for action and toil (Luke 12:35), but it is worn as by one who rests from toil in the “repose of sovereignty.” So, according to Josephus (Ant. iii. 7, § 2), the Levitical priests were girdled. The girdle is of gold; not interwoven with gold, as was the high priest’s girdle (Exodus 28:8), but pure gold, the emblem of a royal presence. (Comp. Isaiah 11:5; Daniel 10:5; Ephesians 6:14.)


Verse 14

(14) His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.—The whiteness here is thought by some to be the token of the transfiguration in light of the glorified person of the Redeemer. “It is the glorious white which is the colour and livery of heaven.” This doubtless is true; but it appears to me a mistake to say that there is no hint here of age. It is argued that the white hair of age is a token of decay, and that no such token would have place here; but surely this is straining a point, and making a mere emblem an argument. Age and youth alike have their glories; the glory of young men is their strength; the hoary head, too, the token of experience, dignity, authority, is the glory of age. Physically, white hair may be a sign of decay; typically it never is, else the effort to produce the appearance of it in the persons of monarchs and judges would never have been made. The white head is never in public sentiment other than the venerable sign of ripe knowledge, mature judgment, and solid wisdom; and as such it well betokens that full wisdom and authority which is wielded by the Ancient of Days, who, though always the same in the fresh dew of youth, is yet from everlasting, the captain of salvation, perfect through suffering, radiant in the glorious youthhood of heaven, venerable in that eternal wisdom and glory which He had with the Father before the world. (Comp. Daniel 7:9.) “He was one,” Saadias Gaon beautifully says, “with the appearance of an old man, and like an old man full of mercies. His white hair, His white garments, indicated the pure, kind intentions He had to purify His people from their sins.”

His eyes were as a flame of fire.—Comp. Revelation 19:12; Daniel 10:6. The eyes of the Lord, which are in every place, beholding the evil and the good, are here described as like unto fire, to express not merely indignation (He had looked once on the Jewish rulers in indignation) against evil, but determination to consume it; for our God is a consuming fire, purging away sin from those who forsake sin, and consuming in their sin those who refuse to be separated from it. (See Revelation 20:9; Daniel 7:9-10; Jude 1:7.)


Verse 15

(15) His feet like unto fine brass.—The feet, like the feet of the ministering priests of Israel, were bare, and appeared like chalcolibanus (fine brass). The exact meaning of this word (used only here) is not certain. The most trustworthy authors incline to take it as a hybrid word, half Greek, half Hebrew—chalcos, brass, and labân, white, to whiten—and understand it to signify brass which has attained in the furnace a white heat. “Such technical words were likely enough to be current in a population like that of Ephesus, consisting largely of workers in metal, some of whom—if we may judge from the case of Alexander the coppersmith (Acts 19:34; 2 Timothy 4:14)—were, without doubt, Jews. I believe the word in question to have belonged to this technical vocabulary. It is at any rate used by St. John as familiar and intelligible to those for whom he wrote” (Prof. Plumptre in the Epistles to Seven Churches, in loco).

His voice as the sound (better, voice, as the same word—phoné—is used twice, and translated first “voice” and then “sound” in our English version) of many waters.—Daniel described the voice of the Ancient of Days as the voice of a multitude (Daniel 10:6); but the voice of the multitude was in earlier Hebrew writings compared to the sound of the waves of the sea, which the voice of the Lord alone could subdue (Psalms 65:7; Psalms 93:4). This image the Evangelist adopts to describe the voice of Christ—strong and majestic, amid the Babel-sounds of earth. That voice, whose word stilled the sea, sounds as the waves of the sea, which St. John heard Him rebuke.


Verse 16

(16) And he had (or, having) in his right hand seven stars.—The stars are explained later on (Revelation 1:20) to be the emblems of the angels of the seven churches; they are described as stars in His right hand; they, perhaps, appeared as a wreath, or as a royal and star-adorned diadem in His hand. (See Isaiah 62:3.) It expresses their preciousness in Christ’s sight, and the care He takes of them. A similar emblem is used of Coniah (Jeremiah 22:24), where he is compared to the signet upon God’s right hand.

And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.—There need be no doubt about the meaning here: the imagery of the Bible elsewhere is too explicit to be mistaken; it is the sword of the Spirit, even the word of God, which is here described; it is that word which is sharper than any two-edged sword, and which lays bare the thoughts and intents of the soul (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12. Comp. Isaiah 49:2). This is the weapon with which Christ will subdue His enemies; no carnal weapon is needed (2 Corinthians 10:4). Those that take any other sword in hand than this to advance His kingdom will perish with the weapon to which they have appealed (Revelation 13:10; Matthew 26:52), but those who arm themselves with this will find it mighty through God. With this weapon of His word He Himself fights against His adversaries (Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 19:15; Revelation 19:21); with this He lays bare the hidden hypocrisies of men, cuts off the diseased members, and wounds that He may heal.

“The sword wherewith Thou dost command,

Is in Thy mouth and not Thy hand.”

It is a two-edged sword; it has the double edge of the Old Testament and the New; “the Old Testament, cutting externally our carnal; the New Testament, internally our spiritual sins” (Richard of St. Victor). It has the double edge of its power to rebuke sin and self-righteousness; the evil of wrong-doing and the evil motives which wait on right-doing; the two edges of which will cut off sin from man, or else man in his sin. (Comp. Isaiah 11:4, and 2 Thessalonians 2:8.) The Greek word here rendered “sword” is used six times in this book, and only once (Luke 2:35) elsewhere in the New Testament.

His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.—It is the spiritual truth which gives the splendour to such descriptions as these. The dazzling glory of Him who is the Sun of Righteousness is intolerable to human eyes. There is no marvel in this when we remember that He is the brightness of His Father’s glory, and that the Father dwells “in that light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). It is the lustre of holiness and righteousness which is here signified, and which “the eye of sinful man may not see,” but of which saints and angel messengers may catch a faint reflection; so that the angel’s face may look like lightning (Matthew 28:3), and “the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). (Comp. the shining of Moses’ face, Exodus 34:29.)


Verse 17

(17) I fell at his feet as dead.—At the sight of Him, the Evangelist fell as one dead. “Was this He whom upon earth St. John had known so familiarly? Was this He in whose bosom He had lain at that Last Supper, and said, ‘Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee?’ When I saw Him thus transformed, thus glorified, I fell at His feet as one dead. Well might such be the effect, even upon the spirit of a just man made perfect—and St. John was still in the body—of such an open revelation of the risen glory of Christ” (Dr. Vaughan). It was pity, and the pang felt at the severity of retribution which overtook sin, which made Dante fall as a dead body falls (Inferno, v.); it is the felt consciousness of unworthiness which seems to have overcome the Evangelist. This consciousness has its witness outside the Bible as well as in it. “Semele must perish if Jupiter reveals himself to her in his glory, being consumed in the brightness of that glory.” (Comp. Exodus 33:18; Exodus 33:20, “Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me and live.”) For every man it is a dreadful thing to stand face to face with God. Yet the consciousness of this unworthiness to behold God, or to receive a near revelation of His presence, is a sign of faith, and is welcomed as such. Of him who said, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof,” Christ said, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:8-10).

He laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not.—The words “unto me” should be omitted. The gesture is designed to give the assurance of comfort; the hand which was raised up to bless (Luke 24:51), which was reached forth to heal the leper, to raise the sinking Peter (Matthew 14:31), and to touch the wounded ear of Malchus, is now stretched out to reassure His servant; and the words, like those which John had heard upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and when toiling against the waves of Galilee, bid him not to be afraid. (Comp. Daniel 10:10.)

I am the first and the last.—The “last” must not be taken here to mean the least and lowest, as though it referred to our Lord’s humiliation; the last points forwards, as the first points backwards. He was before all things, and so the first; and though all things change, folded up as a vesture, yet His years shall not fail, and so He is the last. “The first because all things are from Me; the last because to Me are all things” (Richard of St. Victor). (Comp. Colossians 1:16-18; Hebrews 1:11-12.) This pre-eminence of first and last is thrice claimed for the Lord Jehovah in Isaiah (Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12), and thrice for the Lord Jesus in this book (in this passage, in Revelation 2:8, and Revelation 22:13).


Verse 17-18

Fear Not

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.—Revelation 1:17-18.

It seems strange to us that St. John, of all men in the world, should be afraid of Jesus. He had spent with the Master so many familiar days. He had talked with Him on the highways, and listened to His voice by the seashore. He had joined with the inner circle of the disciples on the transfiguration mount, in the death chamber of Jairus’ house, and in the solemn stillness of Gethsemane by night. He had leaned on the Saviour’s breast at supper; and when the cross was upreared on Calvary, he had taken from the Lord’s dying lips the direction to receive Mary, the mother of Jesus, into his own home. And yet now, with all his experience of the Master, when the vision of the glorified Christ flashed upon him, he fell in consternation and terror at His feet.

But there was a great contrast between the vision which disclosed itself to the mind of St. John as he turned to see it and the memory which he cherished of the Lord as He was when he walked with Him in Palestine, or when he leaned on His breast at the supper table. St. John was the beloved disciple; he had been on terms of exceptional intimacy with his Master, but this was the risen and ascended Saviour; and so great was the contrast that he fell at His feet as one dead. He was overcome by the splendour of the vision; he was overwhelmed with the majesty of the Saviour. But it was the same loving Lord. “And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of death and of Hades.”

Martin Luther tells us himself that in his youth, while he was still a devout member of the Roman Catholic Church, he was walking one day at Eisleben in his priest’s robes following the procession of the Mass, when suddenly he was overcome by the thought that the Sacrament, carried by the vicar-general (Dr. Staupitz), was really Jesus Christ (as he then believed) in person. “A cold sweat,” he says, “covered my body, and I believed myself dying of terror.” Afterwards he confessed his fears to Dr. Staupitz, when the latter (one of the more enlightened of the old school) replied: “Your thoughts are not of Christ. Christ never alarms; He comforts.” “These words,” adds Luther, “filled me with joy, and were a great consolation to me.”1 [Note: J. Waddell.]

There are three great encouragements in the text—

I. Fear not to Live: “I am the Living one.”

II. Fear not to Die: “I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.”

III. Fear not what comes after Death: “I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

I

Fear not to Live

“I am the Living one.”

1. The instinct of fear is deeply rooted in our nature. The thing that is unknown, yet known to be, will always be more or less formidable. When it is known as immeasurably greater than ourselves, and as having claims and making demands upon us, the more vaguely these are apprehended, the more room is there for anxiety; and when the conscience is not clear, this anxiety may well amount to terror. According to the nature of the mind which occupies itself with the idea of the Supreme, whether regarded as Maker or Ruler, will be the kind and degree of the terror. To this terror need belong no exalted ideas of God; those fear Him most who most imagine Him like their own evil selves, only beyond them in power, easily able to work His arbitrary will with them. The same consciousness of evil and of offence as gave rise to the bloody sacrifice is still at work in the minds of some who call themselves Christians. Naturally the first emotion of man towards the Being he calls God, but of whom he knows so little, is fear.

(1) Human experience is steeped in the fears brought by a guilty conscience. In all ages men have been terror-stricken as they thought of their sin. Even the most cultured peoples of paganism found no relief from such dread in turning to their gods. They did not think so well of their deities as to conceive of their pitying, helping, and saving. The favour of these monsters was to be won by pain, by suffering, and by surrender of what they loved the most; and so they hated their gods, and in their hearts bewailed the dire necessity of religion.

The ease of a guilty conscience is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Living One. It is in the touch of His right hand, in the hearing of the voice of Jesus, in the steadfast regard of what Jesus is, of what Jesus has done, and in the apprehension of the place that Jesus fills, and of the power that Jesus wields, that St. John is to find the ground of his fearlessness and steadfast confidence. This is one of the common places of Christian experience. Not in ourselves, not in our attainments, not in our circumstances, not in anything that is ours, not even in any suffering, surrender, or sacrifice, can we find any sure ground of confidence or of deliverance. It is in Christ, and in Him alone, that peace and rest can be found. While we look at Him, while we steadfastly contemplate Him, and dwell on His perfection, on His work, on the gracious relation He condescends to bear to us, we are safe from inward perturbation and from hesitation and doubt.

(2) Men are oft overcome with fear as they face some great crisis in life. Again and again in life we are called to face emergencies, to take risks, to attempt the apparently impossible, to stand steadfast when confronted with opposition or trial or persecution. And the nobler the life is, the more numerous are the occasions on which this call comes to us. The true man, the man who feels the hand of the Almighty upon him, soon finds that life is full of episodes of this kind, often recurring with increasing frequency; that so far from becoming easier as it goes on, life often becomes more strenuous and more difficult; that the path which he is called to tread is no level highway, not even a graduated ascent to a predestined goal. It is an ascent indeed, but not always gradual or continuous. At times he finds that it is broken by obstacles that have to be surmounted, by dangerous chasms that have to be bridged over, by slippery places in which it is difficult to find a foothold, by storm and by tempest and by darkness and by false guides and by open enemies.

Man trembles as he enters into the cloud of sorrow. He would rather be let alone. He would prefer that his money-making, or his pleasure, or his sin should not be interrupted by sickness or misfortune. In prosperity he feels strong; in adversity his heart fails him. It is just then, in his hour of need, that a strong right hand is laid upon him, and a Voice whispers in his ear: “I will in no wise fail thee.” “Fear not.” Sometimes, when an electric car is mounting a steep street, the power fails, and the car sticks fast with half the height still to be climbed. But on the Hill Difficulty, or on the mountain of trial, the power of Christ will never come short. The most trying seasons of life are the seasons when His grace is most magnified and His arm strongest to save.

(3) There are those who fear to live because they can look forward to nothing day by day and year by year but the small dull round of toil, and its endless reaches of flat, straight, unchanging road oppress their souls. Every cyclist knows that the dead level is far more wearying than a road where he must climb even steep hills now and then. The same muscles are unceasingly exercised; one misses the fresh breeze and the expansive outlook of the uplands; one loses the rest that is born of change. So life on the dead level is in danger of exhaustion. Nowhere does one more plainly need to hear the Master’s voice saying: “Fear not.” In the dead monotonies Christ reveals His power. He brings blessedness into the dull round of toil—the bitter weariness of chronic pain, the wearing anxieties of unchanging years. The desert can be made to blossom like the rose. What we are in soul will determine what we are in work. St. Paul’s tent-making was never to him a monotonous desert. Let us try to catch the light of heaven, as we pursue our daily callings, whatever they may be, and we shall not fear to live through unchanging years.

To every thoughtful man life has its responsibilities, its cares, and its possibilities. Shall I be able to live worthily, to make a fit use of my opportunities? Shall I be able to live a rich, full, and gracious life, and be equal to the duties and the responsibilities which may devolve upon me? As we reflect on this, as we think out the situations and possibilities that open out to us as life proceeds and new horizons are disclosed, we feel the gracious power of this word, “Fear not to live; for I am the Living One.” It is as if the Lord said, “Fear not to live; I share your life. Through Me you will be able to grasp the opportunities of life, you will rise to the height of your calling, and when duty calls you will be able to answer all its demands. You will be able to say, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’”1 [Note: J. Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, 139.]

2. Jesus, then, would have us meet every fear with the assurance that He is the Living One. “I am the first and the last, and the Living one”; not merely “the first and the last,” not merely God at the beginning and God at the end, a Creator who put the world-machine into working order and who will step forward again into view at the last day to judge and punish and reward; but a God who is the Living One from first to last, the Giver and Sustainer of life, upholding—carrying along—all things by the word of His power. In this picture is portrayed with a lightning touch the eternal being and the eternal activity of God.

The close connexion of clauses suggests that the claim made in the expression “the Living one” means more than that He was alive. It means exactly what Jesus meant when, in the hearing of this same Apostle, He said upon earth, “As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given”—strange paradox—“so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself”—a life which, considered in contrast to all the life of creatures, is underived, independent, self-feeding, and, considered in contrast with the life of the Father with whom that Son stands in ineffable and unbroken union, is bestowed. It is a paradox, but until we assume that we have sounded all the depths and climbed all the heights, and gone round the boundless boundaries of the circumference of that Divine nature, we have no business to say that it is impossible. And this is what the great words that echoed from heaven in the Apostle’s hearing upon Patmos meant—the claim by the glorified Christ to possess absolute fontal life, and to be the Source of all creation, “in whom was life.” He was not only “the Living one,” but, as He Himself has said, He was “the Life.”

Stevenson in his essays insists upon “being vital,” as he calls it. Whatever else you are, he says, “be vital.” He is encouraging and seeking to foster a brave and cheerful optimism. Do not trouble about death, says Stevenson, make the best of life. Now there is truth in that, and wisdom in it; and in all literature there is nothing more touching than the zest with which Stevenson determined to live, though in his sickly body he carried all his days the sentence of death in himself.1 [Note: J. D. Jones, The Gospel of Grace, 132.]

II

Fear not to Die

“I was dead.”

1. Man naturally fears death. Through fear of death men are all their lifetime subject to bondage. Though, under high motives and devotion to great causes, men have often subdued the fear of death, yet this fear is really a feeling common to all men. For men do not know what it is to die. It is an experience that is strange to men, and no one returns to tell others what it is to die. No traveller returns from the other land, and the experience of death lies before each man as new and as strange as if no one had ever had that experience. No one had ever before said, “I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.”

It is said that George Morland, the painter, who killed himself by drinking, was possessed of such an unreasonable fear of darkness that, if the light happened to go out, he would creep towards the fire or the person next him, and he could never sleep without two lights in his room, lest one by some accident should be put out. That is something like the intolerable fear that most men have of death. They may reason themselves out of it, but the instinctive dread remains. Darwin used to go to the London Zoological Gardens, and, standing by the glass case that contained the cobra, put his forehead against the glass, while the cobra struck out at him. He was trying to conquer an instinctive fear; but though he knew that the glass was between, every time the creature struck out the scientist dodged. The same instinct makes most men fear the termination of earthly life. They may be firmly convinced in their minds that death is no enemy, but like Samuel Johnson they look forward with something very like terror to the “awful hour of their decease.” And yet, when the time came for Johnson, he was able to face death with calmness and Christian fortitude.1 [Note: J. Waddell.]

2. Christ does not teach us to make light of death; He says nothing to weaken a right sense of its awfulness and solemnity. Had we no shrinking from it, we should be lacking in the ordinary instincts of self-preservation and in due reverence for the sanctities of that human life which man may destroy but can never replace. Had we no native horror at the shedding of human blood, we might rush on suicide or murder, with the ferocious delight of savages or brute beasts. Yes! there is a rightful fear of death which is associated with a sense of the blessing and value of God-given life and in fullest accord with all the primary instincts of our being and well-being. We cannot suppose that this laudable fear is meant to be impaired by the gospel. No! the Lord’s words here do not mean that we are to have nothing of that natural fear of death which is one of the strong safeguards of our own life and that of others. It is only the tyrannous, embarrassing, distracting, oppressive, mischievous terror that becomes simply a curse and a snare for all who come under its sway, to which this command “Fear not” applies, and from which it is part of the gracious Saviour’s design to deliver us.

That man must be a coward or a liar who could boast of never having felt a fear of death.2 [Note: The Duke of Wellington.]

3. Christ bids us master the fear of death by remembering that He passed through its dark portals. “I was dead.” This announcement would remove all doubts from the mind of the Apostle as to the person addressing him. Whatever disparity between His present appearance and what He was when the Apostle saw and conversed with Him in the world, this declaration would remove all doubt. In the glorious One now in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and holding the seven stars in His right hand, and clothed with indescribable glory and majesty, he beholds the One whom he knew on earth as the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”—the One whom he saw arrayed in mock royal robes and the crown of thorns, the One whom he saw arraigned before an earthly tribunal and there unjustly condemned, the One whom he saw in indescribable agony in the gloomy precincts of Gethsemane, the One whom he saw nailed to the accursed tree, and whose cry of bitter agony he heard while under the hiding of His Father’s countenance, and whom at last he helped to commit to the dark and lonely grave. But what a contrast now! No longer the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”; no longer the object of the hateful scorn and derision of the wicked; no longer the suffering Jesus, crushed with the burden of sins not His own—bearing the cross on which to lay down His life a ransom for many; no longer the seemingly conquered of death and the tenant of the grave, but the mighty conqueror risen to the possession of an endless life.

The actual words are, “I became dead”—a mysterious paradox, in which a most wonderful event is inserted, incorporated, into that eternity of being. In this short phrase He intimates the whole mystery of the Incarnation; but He presents just that aspect of it which sinful man, prone at His feet, most needs. He does not articulate the thought now of His blessed birth, or of His life, His speech, His labour, His example; there is nothing said here of Bethlehem, or of the years in Nazareth, or of the fair borders of the Lake with the furrowed fields, and the floating fishing-craft, and the listening multitudes upon the flowery slopes. It is all the cross; it is only and altogether the precious death and burial. “I became dead.” We read that sentence in the light of the long Apocalypse, and what do we see within it? The shame and glory of the crucifixion, the atoning and redeeming blood, the sacrifice of the Lamb, the Lamb not of innocence only but of the altar—“as it had been slain.”

“And behold, I am alive for evermore.” This existence after death is special, and different. It is not a mere reassertion of what had been already included in His great word, “I am the Living one.” It is something added. It is an assurance that in the continued life which has once passed through the experience of death there is something new, another sympathy, the only one which before could have been lacking with His brethren whose lot it is to die, and so a helpfulness to them which could not otherwise have been, even in His perfect love. This new life—the life which has conquered death by tasting it, which has enriched itself with a before unknown sympathy with men whose lives are for ever tending towards and at last all going down into the darkness of the grave—this life stretches on and out for ever. It is to know no ending. So long as there are men living and dying, so long above them and around them there shall be the Christ, the God-man, who liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore.

Death and darkness get you packing,

Nothing now to man is lacking;

All your triumphs now are ended,

And what Adam marr’d is mended

Graves are beds now for the weary

Death a nap, to wake more merry.1 [Note: Henry Vaughan.]

4. Because Christ lives, His people must live too. They cannot die. He made Himself one with His people, so much one with them that His life was their life, His dying their dying, and His work their work. The closeness of that union is illustrated on the other side as well. Their life is His life, their dying is His dying, and their work is His work. So the Apostle of the Gentiles says to the Colossian Christians, “Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” So close is the unity between Christ and His people that St. Paul could say, “If one died for all, then were all dead.” If we trace this thought, as set forth in its fulness in Scripture, we find that the fear of death is overcome because the bitterness of death is past. It is no mere figure of speech which affirms that the Christian has died when he became a Christian. Nor is it only the case that when Christ died all His people died with Him. But the other side of the twofold experience is also true. Christ shares the death of His people. He is with them in the valley of the shadow of death. It is no lonely death that they die, when body and spirit part for the time. Christ is with them, and keeps them company in their dying hour. The sting of death has been withdrawn, and the bitterness of it has been taken away. For in virtue of the faith which has made him one with Christ, a Christian has died to sin, has passed into the state where there is no more condemnation.

It is told of Leonardo da Vinci that on his death-bed the king came to visit and cheer him. He talked to his majesty “lamenting that he had offended God and man in that he had not laboured in art as he ought to have done.” Suddenly he was seized with a paroxysm, and the king, taking him in his arms to give him comfort, the weary penitent “died in the arms of his king.” The words are a parable of that which awaits every Christian in the hour of death. He will die in the arms of his King, “the Eternal God, his refuge, and underneath the everlasting arms,” and so the pathway will not be strange.1 [Note: J. Waddell.]

III

Fear not what comes after Death

“I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

Two things in the rendering of the Authorized Version have given rise to much misapprehension. One is the order in which, following an inferior reading, it has placed the two things specified. And the other is that mistranslation, as it has come to be, of the word Hades by the word “Hell.” The true original does not read “hell and death,” but “death and Hades,” the dim unseen regions in which all the dead, whatsoever their condition may be, are gathered. The Hades of the New Testament includes the Paradise into which the penitent thief was promised entrance, as well as the Gehenna which threatened to open for the impenitent.

Here it is figured as being a great gloomy fortress, with bars and gates and locks, of which that “shadow feared of man” is the warder, and keeps the portals. But he does not keep the keys. The kingly Christ has these in His own hand.

When land on both sides of a river is held by the same farmer he also has the rights of the water. In the same manner Jesus Christ is the owner, on this side as well as the other side. Consequently He has the rights of the river which divides the two worlds.2 [Note: Richard Jones.]

1. Jesus went into death and Hades to become their Master on behalf of men. It was not necessary for Him to seek the keys of death and Hades for Himself, for He was in Himself the Lord of Life, and death and Hades were His vassals. It was humanity that had lost the keys, and was in bondage to death and Hades, and it was for humanity, and as its representative, that Jesus “became dead,” in order that He might “become alive again” and bear for us the keys of death and Hades. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Because He was the “Living one,” He broke death’s power, and Hades could not detain Him. It is a Divine paradox that the Lord of essential life should enter into death and Hades at all, but it would have been more than a paradox, it would have been the subversion of eternal truth and reason, if they had been able to detain Him. By voluntary surrender He entered into their domain, and by His will He burst their bands asunder and shattered their prison. They were compelled to admit into their stronghold One stronger than they, and they were conquered in their own citadel. They who had conquered millions were at last conquered for men by the Son of Man. With the majesty of invincible life all was measured out beforehand, not only the entrance into death’s domain, but also the rising on the third day. Conquering all the dark domain, He came forth bearing the keys of death and Hades. “I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.”

There is a well-known engraving of Monica and her son St. Augustine. They clasp hands in the twilight, and look wistfully into the open sky. They are not gazing at the stars, their eyes are turned towards the infinite; they are asking—Beyond the horizon, what? Who will read for us the everlasting riddle? There is a little poem by George MacDonald—

Traveller, what lies over the hill?

Traveller, tell to me;

I am only a child at the window-sill,

Over I cannot see.

A verse in Richard Baxter’s hymn answers it well—

My knowledge of that life is small,

The eye of faith is dim;

But ’tis enough that Christ knows all,

And I shall be with Him.1 [Note: F. Harper, A Broken Altar, 47.]

2. Jesus now carries the keys. Keys are symbols of authority and law; and the keys of death remind us that government and order prevail in the realm of mortality. Having regard to events which we constantly witness, it might seem that death is entirely lawless. Sweeter than the virgin rose, the young perish with the rose, whilst the very aged wearily grow older still; the strong are broken by sickness in a day, whilst the feeble linger on in helplessness and pain; the good cease from the land, whilst the vicious remain to torment and pollute. We know not when death will make its appearance, or whom it will strike; it seems the most fitful of agents, setting at naught all probability and prophecy. But just as the meteorologist sees, and sees ever more clearly, how law governs the wind which bloweth where it listeth, so the actuary discerns regulating principles under the apparent capriciousness of death, and bases his insurance tables upon those ascertained principles. However it may seem, the dark archer never draws his bow at a venture. The gate of the grave is not blown about by the winds of chance; it has keys, it opens and shuts by royal authority.

To have the key of any experience means to have entered into it and passed through it and endured it, and learned its secrets and made them your own.

Now Jesus knows what dying is like, and He knows what comes after. By the grace of God He tasted death for every man. He Himself felt that fear of it which makes cowards of us all. He Himself shrank from it, as we do. He Himself endured it, as we must. He suffered far more than any other man ever did or ever need, suffer. Of all men He was most solitary and forsaken. He trod the wine-press alone. He died deserted, in the dark. He Himself gave up the ghost, and went down into a human grave. He was crucified, dead and buried, and He descended into Hades. He went wherever we, in our turn, must go. He passed the mysterious gateway, and as Man He entered the unseen world, and all the secrets of that unutterable experience belong to Him.

One of the most profound and suggestive legends of ancient Greece was the legend of the Sphinx. The Sphinx, according to the old story, was a monstrous creature, half human, half animal, who had a riddle to propound to any travellers who passed her way. What exactly the riddle was does not matter to us just now. All that concerns us is that here was a creature propounding her riddle to men and exacting their lives as forfeit if they failed to answer it. Traveller after traveller, the legend says, tried and failed and perished. But at last there came one who discovered the answer, and the Sphinx, her secret discovered, destroyed herself. Whenever I think of that Greek legend I feel that from first to last it is nothing but a parable of death. Death is the Sphinx. Ever since the world began death has been in it propounding to mankind this tremendous riddle, “If a man die, shall he live again?”—challenging them to discover her own secret, saying to them, “Explain me or pay the forfeit in a life passed in fear and bondage.” And generation after generation tried to discover the secret and explain the riddle. The greatest sages and philosophers and teachers tried and failed. The psalmists and prophets of the Old Testament tried and failed. Death remained the terrible and inscrutable Sphinx. But there came One at last who “became dead” and went down into the grave, and on the morning of the third day came out of it again. And now He says to the world, “I have the Key.”1 [Note: J. D. Jones, The Gospel of Grace, 128.]

3. The keys of death and Hades are in the hand of Him who is seated on the judgment-seat. “He openeth, and no man shutteth; he shutteth, and no man openeth.” Nor is the consolation derived from the thought that all power is in the hand of Jesus Christ. That would be an untrustworthy source of comfort. For the Christian would not desire or wish that the power should be strained on his behalf, or that an unworthy verdict should be given. For on that day it will be found that those who obtain the sentence of acquittal and of reward have become worthy of their place in the Father’s Kingdom. They have become the righteousness of God in Christ. They have become like Christ, have really obtained the Spirit of adoption, and have learned the language of the Father’s family, and are really the sons of God. The final procedure recognizes all that has been done for them, and all that is accomplished in them, and the verdict is given accordingly. Justified by grace, and yet judged according to works, is the final wonder of the Christian experience.

The weary child, the long play done,

Wags slow to bed at set of sun;

Sees mother leave, fears night begun,

But by remembered kisses made

To feel, tho’ lonely, undismayed,

Glides into dreamland unafraid.

The weary man, life’s long day done,

Looks lovingly at his last sun;

Sees all friends fade, fears night begun,

But by remembered mercies made

To feel, tho’ dying, undismayed,

Glides into glory unafraid.

Fear Not

Literature

Bernard (J. H.), From Faith to Faith, 91.

Brooks (P.), Sermons, 210.

Brown (J. B.), The Higher Life, 321.

Calthrop (G.), In Christ, 385.

Campbell (R. J.), Thursday Mornings at the City Temple, 298.

Corlett (J. S.), Christ and the Churches, 9.

Darlow (T. H.), in Great Texts of the New Testament, 141.

Davies (T.), Sermons and Expositions, ii. 239.

Greer (D. H.), From Things to God, 190.

Gurney (T. A.), The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, 112.

Hadden (R. H.), Sermons and Memoir, 94.

Hort (F. J. A.), Village Sermons, ii. 139.

Howe (J.), The Redeemer’s Dominion (Works, iii. 10).

Illingworth (J. R.), Sermons Preached in a College Chapel, 1.

Inge (W. R.), Faith and Knowledge, 3.

Iverach (J.), The Other Side of Greatness, 136.

Jones (J. D.), The Gospel of Grace, 117.

Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 323.

Maclaren (A.), Creed and Conduct, 108.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Epistles of John to Revelation, 162.

Moule (H. C. G.), The Secret of the Presence, 127.

Paget (F. E.), The Living and the Dead, 209.

Raleigh (A.), Quiet Resting Places, 45.

Sowter (G. A.), Trial and Triumph, 239.

Thomas (J.), The Mysteries of Grace, 103.

Trench (R. C.), Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey, 181.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), New Ser., xiii. (1876), No. 1000.

Watkinson (W. L.), Studies in Christian Character, i. 87.

Westcott (B. F.), The Revelation of the Risen Lord, 61.

British Weekly Pulpit, iii. 49 (C. A. Berry).

Christian World Pulpit, xxix. 97 (A. M. Fairbairn); 1. 81 (W. B. Carpenter); lxvi. 8 (W. F. Adeney); lxix. 200 (A. M. Fairbairn); lxxxiv. 155 (J. Waddell).


Verse 18

Verse 19

(19) Write the things which thou hast seen (better, sawest).—It is well to notice the small connecting word “then,” which has been omitted in the English. It gives the practical thought to the whole of the previous vision. This vision is to be described for the benefit of the Church of Christ, that she may never forget Him who is the foundation on which she rests; the true fountain of her life; and in whom she will find the source of that renewing power to which the last Note alludes. In the history of the faith it will be always true that they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:28-31). Lest, then, at any time the saints of God should be tempted to cry that “their judgment was passed over from their God,” the Evangelist is bidden first to detail this vision of Him who is the Life and Captain of His people. He is also to write the things which are—those eternal principles and truths which underlie all the phenomena of human history; or the things which concern the present state of the churches—and the things which are about to be after these things—those great and wondrous scenes of the fortunes of the Church and of the world which will be unfolded.


Verse 20

(20) The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand.—Having bidden him write the meaning of this mystery, or secret, He gives to St. John an explanatory key: “The seven stars are angels of seven churches (or congregations): and the seven candlesticks” (omit the words “which thou sawest”) “are seven churches.” The angels have been understood by some to be guardian angels; but it is difficult to reconcile words of warning and reproof (as in Revelation 2:4-5), and of promise and encouragement (as in Revelation 2:10), with such a view. More probable is the view which takes the angel to be the ideal embodiment (so to speak) of the Church. The more generally adopted view is that the angel is the chief pastor or bishop of the Church. The description of them as stars favours this view. Similar imagery is applied elsewhere to teachers, true and false (Daniel 12:3; Jude 1:13. Comp. Revelation 8:10; Revelation 12:4). It is stated that the word “angel” was applied to the president in the Jewish synagogue. See, however, Excursus A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Revelation 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/revelation-1.html. 1905.

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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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