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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 1

Verses 1-99

The Revelation


S. John the Divine

Title and description of the Revelation. Chap. 1:1 3

1. The Revelation ] Rightly so rendered in English idiom, though the definite article is not expressed in the Greek. The word, according to Jerome on Galatians 1:11 , Galatians 1:12 , is peculiar to the Scriptures, and is not used by Greek classical writers.

of Jesus Christ ] i.e. which He makes; as is explained by the words which follow: “which God gave to Him, … and He sent and signified it, &c.”

which God gave unto him ] For as the Son is of the Father as regards His essential being, so He receives from the Father all that He has or knows. Compare in St John’s Gospel 7:16, 14:10, 17:7, 8; especially the last passage. Doubtless when the Son made this revelation, He had received from the Father the knowledge which in the time of His humiliation He had not (St Mark 13:32 ), or rather had abdicated (Philippians 2:7 ).

his servants ] Probably “God’s” rather than “Jesus Christ’s:” see 22:6.

things which must ] The R. V. takes this as a further description of the “Revelation which God gave,” and renders “ even the things which must shortly come to pass,” putting the A. V. in the margin.

must ] as part of a Divine purpose, cf. Matthew 17:10 , Matthew 17:26 :54; Luke 24:26 , &c.

shortly ] So ver. 3 fin., 22:6, 7. Compare on the one hand Matthew 24:29 , Matthew 24:34 , and on the other Habakkuk 2:3 ; Luke 18:8 ; 2 Peter 3:8 , 2 Peter 3:9 . These last passages suggest, that the object of these words is to assure us of God’s practical readiness to fulfil His promises, rather than to define any limit of time for their actual fulfilment. Slackness in fulfilling a promise is a moral fault (Proverbs 3:28 ), not to be ascribed to God: forbearance in executing a threat is not so. But we are not to press what St Peter says about the nothingness of time before God, so as to argue that these words mean nothing at all to human apprehensions: our Lord’s words in St Matthew l. c. are so strong and definite as almost to necessitate the view that a fulfilment (if not necessarily the final and complete one) was really to come immediately.

he sent ] “He” may be either “God” as in 22:6, or “Jesus Christ,” as ibid. 16. It seems best to take it of the latter: the sense will be, “He, having received the Revelation from the Father, sent by His angel, and indicated it to His servant John.” The angel is the same who is mentioned in 17:1, &c., 19:9, 21:9, 22:6, 8, 16.

2. who bare record ] i.e. who bears witness in the present work. The past tense is used, as constantly in Greek e.g. in St John’s own Epistle, I. 2:14 of the act of a writer which will be past when his work comes to be read. The “witness” John is said to bear is that contained in this Book not, as some have imagined, in his Gospel.

There is, however, some evidence to the identity of authorship of the two, in the resemblance between the attestations to the authority of this Book in these three verses, and to that of the Gospel in 21:24. The two may be presumed to proceed from the same persons, probably the elders of the Church of Ephesus.

the word of God ] His word made known to man, especially as revealed to St John himself; not the personal Word of God of St John’s Gospel 1:1 and Revelation 19:13 , as He is immediately mentioned under another name.

the testimony of Jesus Christ ] See 22:16 for a similar description of the special Revelation of this book. Both ‘the word’ and ‘the testimony’ are repeated in v. 9 where they refer to the general Revelation of Christian truth for which the Seer was in exile.

3. he that readeth, and they that hear ] Plainly the author of the Book, or of this endorsement of it, contemplates its being read publicly in the Church. The apostolic Epistles were thus read, first by the Churches to which they were addressed, then by others in the neighbourhood (Colossians 4:16 ): even the sub-apostolic Epistles of Clement and Polycarp, and the decidedly post-apostolic one of Soter, Bishop of Rome, were in like manner read in the churches that originally received them, or to which their authors belonged. In the course of the second century, both the Gospels and the apostolic Epistles came to be read in churches generally, as the Law and the Prophets had been read in the synagogues. In the time of Justin Martyr (Apol. I. 67), not to insist on 1 Timothy 5:18 , 2 Peter 3:16 , it is plain that the New Testament Scriptures were thus recognised as sharing the authority and sanctity of the Old.

and keep those things ] Attend to them, mind them. He who reads and they who hear are only blessed if they do this; John 13:17 ; Matthew 7:25 sq. The word is constantly used of ‘keeping’ the Law, the Commandments, &c., throughout the N. T.: but is commoner in all St John’s writings than in any other.

Prologue, vv. 4 9

4. John ] The Apostle, the son of Zebedee, who (probably afterwards) wrote the Gospel: see Introduction.

seven churches ] The number of course is symbolical or representative: there were other churches in Asia, e.g. at Colossae and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13 ). But the Seven Churches represent “the Holy Church throughout all the world.” It was very early observed, that St Paul also wrote to seven churches the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, Ephesians (?), and Colossians.

in Asia ] The proconsular province of that name. In Acts 16:6 “Asia” seems to be used in a still narrower sense, being distinguished from the adjoining districts of Phrygia and Mysia, as well as from the provinces of Galatia and Bithynia; so that it would correspond approximately with the ancient kingdom of Lydia. But as Pergamum was in Mysia, and Laodicea in Phrygia, it seems that here the word is used to include the whole province.

Grace … and peace ] So St Paul in all his Epistles to the Seven Churches, Romans 1:7 ; 1 Corinthians 1:3 ; 2 Corinthians 1:2 ; Galatians 1:3 ; Ephesians 1:2 ; Philippians 1:2 ; Colossians 1:2 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:1 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:2 ; and so Philemon 1:3 . In his later private letters the form varies “Grace, mercy , and peace,” 1 Timothy 1:2 ; 2 Timothy 1:2 ; Titus 1:4 as in St John’s second Epistle. St James (1:1) uses the common secular salutation “greeting” (cf. Acts 15:23 ): St Peter has “grace and peace” as here, but in his first Epistle does not say from Whom they are to come.

from him ] The sacred Name is in the nominative, being treated as indeclinable: as though we should say in English “from He Who is,” &c. For general remarks on the grammatical (or ungrammatical) peculiarities of this book, see Introduction, p. xxi. Here at least it is plain, that the anomaly is not due to ignorance, but to the writer’s mode of thought being so vigorous That it must express itself in its own way, at whatever violence to the laws of language.

which is, and which was, and which is to come ] A paraphrase of the “Ineffable name” revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14 sq.), which we, after Jewish usage, write “Jehovah” and pronounce “the Lord.” Or, rather perhaps, a paraphrase of the explanation of the Name given to him l. c., “I am That I am” which is rendered by the LXX. “I am He Which Is;” by the Targum of Palestine on Exod. “I am He who is and who will be.” The same Targum on Deuteronomy 32:39 has “Behold now, I am He who Am and Was, and Will Be.”

which was ] is again ungrammatical in Greek: the only word that could be used grammatically, would mean “which was made” or “which began to be,” and is therefore avoided. Compare the opposition of the “being” of God or Christ, and the “becoming” or “being made” of creatures, in St John’s Gospel, 1:6, 8, 9, 8:58.

is to come ] Probably only used to express future time not referring to the “ Coming ” of Christ; for thus far we have a threefold name for the Father the Son is separately mentioned afterwards. Else, “He that is to come” is often used as a familiar and distinctive title of Christ: see Matthew 11:3 , Matthew 11:21 :9; John 6:14 , John 6:11 :27; Hebrews 10:37 ; John Ep. 11:7: cf. Ep. I. 2:18, where the same word is pointedly used of Antichrist . But with this more general sense we may compare “the wrath to come,” 1 Thessalonians 1:10 , “the world to come,” Mark 10:30 , and “things to come,” John 16:13 , John 18:4 .

seven Spirits ] So 3:1, 4:5, 5:6. In the second of these passages it would be possible to understand the name of seven chief Angels (see 8:2): but here it would scarcely seem possible that creatures should be, not merely coupled with the Creator as sources of blessing, but actually thrust into the midst of His being, between the two Divine Persons. “The seven Spirits” thus made coordinate with the Father and the Son can scarcely be other than the Holy Ghost, Who is known to us in His seven-fold operations and gifts, and Who perhaps has some sevenfold character in Himself; which we cannot and need not understand, but of which there seem to be intimations in the passages of this book referred to, and in Zechariah 3:9 , Zechariah 4:10 , by which these are certainly to be illustrated.

5. who is ] These words are probably inserted in the A. V. and R. V. by way of marking the fact that “the faithful Witness” is in the nominative, not in apposition to the name “Jesus Christ.” But whether this has the same object as the anacoluthon of the previous verse a sort of reverence that forbids the divine Name to be “governed” by any other word is more doubtful: the general usage of the book appears to ignore the classical rule of apposition.

the faithful witness ] See 1 Timothy 6:13 : Jesus Christ was in His Death much more than a martyr, but He was also the perfect type and example of martyrdom. Observe His own words in John 18:37 to which perhaps St Paul l. c. is referring. Here as in the next clause, see below, the language recalls Psalms 89:37 , perhaps too Isaiah 55:4 .

first begotten of the dead ] Explained by St Paul in Colossians 1:18 , where He is called “the First-born” (the word is the same) “ from the dead.” The sense of “first-born” or “first-begotten” is “first to enter life,” without any fanciful image of death as the womb of earth. The thought in Romans 1:4 is similar.

prince of the kings of the earth ] A reminiscence (hardly to be called a quotation) of Psalms 89:27 , “I will make Him My First-born , higher than the kings of the earth .”

that loved ] Read, that loveth . “It is His ever-abiding character, that He loveth His own, John 13:1 ” (Alford).

washed us ] The balance of evidence is in favour of the reading “loosed us:” the preposition “ in ” might easily, in a Hebraistic book like this, be used of an instrument , where we should say “by,” or “with.” So we should probably render “redeemed us from our sins by His own Blood” the Blood of Christ being conceived as the price of our redemption, as in 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:19 not, as in 7:14, 22:14 (according to the preferable reading), and perhaps in St John’s Ep. I. 1:7, as the cleansing fountain foretold in Zechariah 13:1 . If therefore we ask “ when Christ thus freed us,” the answer must be, at His Passion, not at our conversion or baptism.

6. and hath made ] Lit., and He made; the construction “that loveth … and that freed …” is broken off, to be resumed by “to Him” in the next clause.

kings and priests ] Read, a kingdom, priests : a phrase synonymous with the “royal priesthood” of 1 Peter 2:9 . That is an exact quotation from the LXX. version of Exodus 19:6 and a correct rendering of the Hebrew; this is not.

God and his Father ] A more natural translation is that of the R. V. His God and Father as in Romans 15:6 ; 2 Corinthians 1:3 , 2 Corinthians 1:11 :31; Ephesians 1:3 ; Colossians 1:3 (perhaps); 1 Peter 1:3 . Certainly there is nothing in this version unworthy of our Lord’s relation to His Father; cf. John 20:17 . But some, while admitting the above to be the natural sense in the passages quoted from SS. Peter and Paul, argue that here the A. V. is right; because St John, especially in this book, usually repeats a possessive pronoun with each of the substantives it belongs to, e.g. 6:11, “ their fellow servants and their brethren;” so that he would have written “ His God and His Father,” if that had been the sense intended. Perhaps “My God” in 3:12 may serve to decide which is the likelier meaning in this Book.

7. This verse, as indeed may be said of the whole Book, is founded chiefly on our Lord’s own prophecy recorded in St Matthew 24:0 , and secondly on the Old Testament prophecies which He there refers to and sums up.

with clouds ] “With the clouds,” “he clouds of heaven” of Daniel 7:13 .

and they also which pierced him ] Zechariah 12:10 ; in his Gospel, 19:37, St John translates that passage correctly, and here refers to the same translation: that of the LXX. is wrong and almost meaningless. But while the words here are taken from Zechariah, the thought is rather that of Matthew 26:64 : “they which pierced Him” are thought of, not as looking to Him by faith, and mourning for Him in penitence, but as seeing Him Whom they had not believed in, and mourning in despair.

all kindreds of the earth ] Better, all the tribes the reference is still to Zech. l. c., through the medium of Matthew 24:30 . Thus we see that the fact that the profitable and the unprofitable “mourning” (or “wailing” the Greek word is the same in St Matthew as here) are foretold in the same terms, in solemnly suggestive contrast with each other, is due not to the Apostle but to his Master: it is He that tells us that all tribes of the earth must mourn, either now for the woe our sins caused Him, or then for the woe they will cause us.

because of him ] Literally, “at him;” at sight of Him. R. V. “over Him,” which can hardly be meant here.

Even so, Amen ] Or, Yea, Amen the two words, Greek and Hebrew, being similarly coupled in 2 Corinthians 1:20 . The second, like the first, is an emphatic word of confirmation so used e.g. repeatedly by our Lord Himself, St Matthew 5:18 , &c., where it is translated “verily.” The popular tradition that “Amen” means “So be it” is only partially true: even in its liturgical use, we append it to creeds as well as prayers. It comes from the same Hebrew root as the words for “faith” and “truth;” the primary meaning being apparently “solidity.” See on 3:14.

8. Alpha and Omega ] The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet used, as in Rabbinical proverbs the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet were, as symbols of “the beginning and the end.” These latter words are not here a part of the genuine text; they come from 22:13.

Lord ] Should be followed by “God;” the group of titles represents “the Lord, Jehovah the God of Hosts” of the O. T. The word we render “Almighty” perhaps rather meaning “of all might” is the usual representative in the LXX. of the word [Lord of] Sabaoth . So in the Athanasian Creed, “Almighty” is coupled with the divine names “God” and “Lord,” not with the divine attributes “eternal, incomprehensible, uncreated.”

9. I John, who &c. ] Better and more simply, 1 John your brother and partaker with you (for the condescending choice of titles, cf. 1 Peter 5:1 ) in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus . The collocation of the latter words is peculiar, and it is not very clear why “the kingdom” should be placed between “the tribulation” and “patience.” Alford refers to Acts 14:22 for the association of the kingdom with the tribulation.

was ] Had come there, found myself there. Here and in the next verse he avoids, perhaps intentionally, the use of the word for continuous and absolute “being:” see note on v. 4.

Patmos ] One of the Sporades, the south-eastern group of the islands of the Aegean. According to the tradition, as given by Victorinus, he was condemned to work in the mines which, if trustworthy, must mean marble quarries, as there are no mines, strictly speaking, in the island. Christians were sent to the mines (Roman Christians to those of Sardinia) at least as early as the reign of Commodus (Hipp. Ref. Haer . IX. 12), and this was much the commonest punishment during the Diocletian persecution in which Victorinus suffered himself. In St John’s time it was commoner to put Christians to death; but the tradition is probably right; ‘deportation,’ confinement without hard labour on a lonely island was then and afterwards reserved for offenders of higher secular rank.

for the word, &c. ] See note on v. 2. Comparing 6:9 and 20:4, it is hardly doubtful that these words support the traditional view, that he was banished there for being a Christian; that they do not mean, as else they might, that he had gone to the island to preach the Gospel, or (by special revelation or otherwise) had withdrawn there to await this vision.

Vision of the Son of Man, vv. 10 20

10. I was in the spirit ] Was caught into a state of spiritual rapture. So 4:2 and (nearly) 17:3, 21:10; cf. 1 Kings 18:12 ; Ezekiel 3:12 , Ezekiel 3:14 , 37:1; also 2 Corinthians 12:2 , 2 Corinthians 12:3 .

the Lord’s day ] Undoubtedly here used (though for the first time) in the sense now traditional throughout Christendom. Many of the early Fathers, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, &c. use the word of the First Day of the week. A few commentators have proposed to translate, “I was, in spirit, on the day of the Lord,” i.e. was carried away in spirit to the Great Day of the Lord’s Coming; but the reference to 4:2 refutes this.

as of a trumpet ] As loud, and perhaps as clear.

11. I am … the last: and ] Not genuine in this place: we therefore cannot say positively that the voice is His Who says in ver. 17 “I am the first and the last:” but the context makes it probable.

which are in Asia ] Not genuine in this place.

unto Ephesus, &c. ] The seven cities are enumerated in the order in which a traveller on circuit might visit them, going north from Ephesus to Smyrna and Pergamos, then inland to Thyatira, and southwards to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

Pergamos ] Pergamum appears to be the correct form.

12. to see the voice ] The meaning is obvious, and the inconsequence of language characteristic.

candlesticks ] Or lamp-stands (Matthew 5:15 ). The ancients did not use candles like ours: the candela was rather a torch.

13. one like unto the Son of man ] There is no article with either noun, while in the title of our Lord “the Son of Man” in the Gospels and in Acts 7:56 it is expressed with both. The inference is, not that our Lord is not intended, but that the title is taken, not from His own use of it, but direct from the Greek of Daniel 7:13 where also the art. is absent. Whether we should translate “a son of man” is a question rather of taste than of grammar: the words of themselves mean no more than “I saw a human figure,” but their associations make it plain to anyone acquainted with the Book of Daniel, that it was a superhuman Being in human form; and to a Christian, of St John’s days as of our own, Who that Being was.

a garment down to the foot ] Certainly a garment of dignity (as Ecclus. 27:8; Daniel 10:5 ; Ezekiel 9:2 , Ezekiel 9:11 ): probably in particular of priestly dignity, as Exodus 28:31 (where the next verse suggests comparison with John 19:23 ). The same word as here is used in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas (c. 7) of the scarlet robe in which the Lord will appear when coming to judgement: some suppose that the writer had in his mind this passage, and perhaps 19:13.

girt about the paps ] So 15:6, of angels. We therefore can hardly press the distinction of this from Daniel 10:5 (and Ezekiel 9:2 , LXX.), where the angels wear the girdles of gold or gems, as men would, on the loins.

14. like wool, as white as snow ] Either these words are to be taken together, ‘like wool white as snow’ or we must punctuate “were white like white wool, like snow.” Though the Person seen is the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13 , the description is more nearly that of the Ancient of Days, ibid. 9. We need not wonder that Their union was made more plain to the later Prophet.

15. fine brass ] Decidedly the most probable sense, though the etymology of the word is obscure. It looks like a compound of the Greek words for “brass” (or more accurately bronze) and “incense” the latter being borrowed from the Hebrew name, which comes from a root meaning “white.” Perhaps the real meaning is “white brass,” i.e. the Latin orichalcum (vid. Verg. Aen. XII. 87), which was like gold (Cic. Off. III. 23:92) i.e. perhaps was our “brass” as distinct from bronze. In Ezekiel 1:4 , Ezekiel 1:27 , Ezekiel 1:8 :2 we have a word which probably (comparing ibid. 1:7, 40:3, Daniel 10:6 ) means the same, but which the LXX. translate electrum meaning perhaps by this not amber , but an alloy of gold with silver or other metal. Some think that sense suitable here, as symbolising the divine and human natures of our Lord.

as if they burned ] Read, as if it burned or rather with R. V. as if it had been refined which seems to prove that “incense” cannot be the sense of the word just discussed, as incense would be burned in a censer not a furnace.

his voice as ] Ezekiel 43:2 .

16. he had ] Lit. having , and so the sword “going” out of His mouth. Throughout the book, participles are used coordinately with finite verbs, especially in descriptions: perhaps rather by a Hebraism than a mere carelessness of construction.

out of his mouth, &c. ] The image is perhaps suggested by Isaiah 49:2 ; but the application made of it in 2:16, 19:15, 21 is more like in sense to Isaiah 11:4 ; 2 Thessalonians 2:8 . It is relevant to compare Ephesians 6:17 ; Hebrews 4:12 ; but the use of similar images by different Apostles must not be allowed to lead us into a sort of Christian mythology, as though the imagery were as absolutely and unalterably fixed as the doctrine symbolized by it. In ch. 19 we see plainly that not the sword but the Owner of it is “the Word of God:” in 2:23 we have the same sense as in Heb. l. c., but the image of the sword is not there used to illustrate it.

his countenance ] The same word is used in John 11:44 in the sense of “face,” and so it is best to take it here, though it might mean “appearance” generally. In Ezekiel 1:27 , the LXX. use the word for “colour” not for “appearance.”

17. I fell at his feet as dead ] So Daniel 8:17 sq., 10:8, 9, 15 (Ezekiel 1:28 , Ezekiel 43:3 , Ezekiel 44:4 do not necessarily imply so much): cf. Exodus 3:6 , Exodus 3:20 :19, 33:20; Judges 6:22 , Judges 6:13 :22; Isaiah 6:5 , and also Luke 24:37 ; John 21:12 . St John was in presence of both the sources of supernatural terror of God’s Presence made manifest, and of One come from the dead.

he laid his right hand, &c. ] So Daniel 10:10 , Daniel 10:16 . As in Luke 24:39 , the Lord’s touch serves to remind the Disciple of His still remaining perfect humanity. Sharing our nature, He is no longer the object of such blind terror as we should feel before an Angel or a disembodied spirit, or still more before God if revealed otherwise than in Christ.

the first and the last ] i.e. the Eternal, as Isaiah 41:4 , Isaiah 44:6 , Isaiah 48:12 .

18. I am he ] Literally, I am the First and the Last, and He that liveth; and I was dead and am alive .

l am alive ] The words “was” and “am” are emphatic contrasting His temporal and temporary death with His eternal life: see on v. 4.

Amen ] Should be omitted.

of hell and of death ] Read, of death and of hell . “Hell” is Hades, the receptacle of the dead: usually personified in this book, as indeed is death, 6:8, 20:13, 14. But here they are rather conceived as places, prisons wherein the dead are confined, and from which Christ can deliver them. We read of “the gates of death” in Psalms 9:13 ; Job 38:17 , and “the gates of hell” in Isaiah 38:10 ; Matthew 16:18 .

19. Write ] Add therefore The Lord reveals His exaltation in His Manhood as a reason why His servant is not to fear and is to write His words in faith and hope.

the things which are ] Some take these words to mean “what they (viz. the things which thou hast seen) are,” i.e. what they mean. But it is simpler to take the verse as meaning, that he is to write down the whole vision, whether of past, present, or future events. “The things which thou hast seen” are not, indeed, by any logical necessity visions of past events: but all that he had yet seen actually did symbolise the facts of Christ’s Incarnation, Resurrection, and entrance into glory. It may be observed, that the Incarnation and Ascension are actually represented in a later scene of the vision, 12:2, 5. “The things which are” will perhaps refer chiefly to the messages to the Seven Churches, “the things which shall be hereafter” beginning with ch. 4.

20. the mystery ] The use of this word in the N. T. is not very far removed from its primary meaning in classical Greek. We may paraphrase it, “the hidden divine truth, now made known, but made known to God’s favoured ones only:” see Ephesians 3:3-12 for the completest illustration of its meaning. Here the sense is, “I reveal to thee the secret and sacred meaning of …” The construction must be, “Write (among other things) the mystery of …:” for the context shews that the word “mystery” is an accusative not a nominative.

the seven golden candlesticks ] In construction (but hardly in sense) these words are coordinate with “the mystery,” not a genitive case dependent on it.

the angels of the seven churches ] For the meaning of the word “Angels” here, see Excursus I.

the seven candlesticks ] Plainly this image is suggested by the seven-branched candlestick of Exodus 25:31 sqq. still more by the mystical vision of one resembling it, in Zechariah 4:0 . But here the image of seven detached candlesticks does not exactly correspond to the description of either, nor are we to assume that the significance of those is exactly the same as of these.

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"Commentary on Revelation 1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.