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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Revelation 1

Verses 4-5


‘Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful Witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.’

Revelation 1:4-Deuteronomy :

It is in entire accordance with all the arrangements of God, that the Revelation should open with a recognition and a display of the Holy Trinity: for God has never introduced any great thing to this earth but the doctrine of the Trinity stood at the threshold.

There is not an instance upon record in which the Three persons stand together without an intention of grace. And it is a magnificent thought that the completeness of Deity, in all His essence and all His operation, is never mentioned but for mercy. It is the separations of God that are His severities; but the whole and perfect Being is ‘love.’ So that creation, redemption, resurrection, adoption, benediction—all lie in Trinity.

I. It is interesting to trace how every great pronunciation of blessing, in the Bible, has in it, either intimated or declared, the Threefold Personages of Deity. From Aaron’s blessing, ‘The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace,’ to the usual apostolic form, ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,’ etc.—to this solemn aspiration, standing at the foot of the Apocalypse. And not only this, not only in the direct formulas of benediction, but in every stirring appeal, in all the most animating passages of the Bible, we shall find the same. As, for example, in that conclusion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that glowing passage, ‘Now the God of peace,’ etc., or that earnest appeal of Jude, ‘But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith,’ etc.

II. From these considerations I draw one plain conclusion, that whoever would be very happy in his religion, whoever wishes to be very holy in his religion, must have large views of the Holy Trinity: not so much allowing his mind to rest, as we are wont to do, on one or other particular attribute or work of either of the Divine Persons, as endeavouring to take in, in all its wonderful harmony and proportion, the whole compass of that cardinal doctrine, the Trinity. I am persuaded that this is the truest wisdom, and that this is the nearest path to all comfort and all peace.

( a) The Father, by Himself, is an eternal, invisible Spirit. Man has heard His voice; but ‘no man hath seen God at any time.’ Yet it was necessary for God’s purposes of holiness and peace, and for His own glory, that God should be known to man. And thus He did it. One Who shared His being, ‘the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person,’ came. In His character, in His conversation, in His work, in His glorified person, He showed all that is communicable, all that mortal man can receive, of Godhead.

( b) As the light which mantles this earth is the sun, so was Christ the Father. He came from Him—He was one in essence with Him—He manifested Him—He was only just not so glorious here in His humanity but that man could look upon Him, and man did look upon Him; and when man looked upon the Lord Jesus Christ, he ‘beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth’—for ‘no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, Which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him’; and ‘He that hath seen Me,’ saith Christ, ‘hath seen the Father.’ Or, take it in another way. As a word represents the thought in utterance, so Christ, the Living Word, manifested the invisible Father. This Living Word was declared in the written word.

( c) Then the Holy Spirit worked. He makes us to understand the Bible, that the Bible may make us understand Christ, that Christ may make us understand God. To this end, the Spirit ‘takes of the things of Christ and shews them to us’; and the end of all is the knowledge; that from the knowledge there may be the love; and that from the love there may be the likeness of God the Father. And that is effected by Trinity.

Rev. James Vaughan.

Verse 7


‘Behold, He cometh.’

Revelation 1:7

These words give us an Advent message. ‘Back to Christ,’ that is the motto of to-day. We commemorate in the Advent season that the Lord has come, that the Lord will come, that the Lord is here. Many have been His comings since He came a child to Nazareth, many they will be before He comes in that last wonderful way of which we know not how to speak, except in such parables as He Himself has given.

I. Imparting gifts.—The message of Advent links itself with the message of St. Andrew’s Day, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ So spoke St. Andrew to his brother Peter; and that, again, is linked with that other saying that follows it so closely of Philip, ‘Come and see’ (the Christ). For why do we wish that Christian missions should go out? Is it not because we have something so precious that it must be given away? It is the nature of all the precious things upon earth that they must not be kept, but given away. Nothing is too precious to give away. That which you want to have for yourself, that which you cannot enjoy with another, is not precious. Think what are the most valuable things. Take two only:—

( a) The gift of knowledge. What do you want to do when you know? To impart. And why? Because in teaching you know that you know much better than you thought, and because you have the sympathy of another who knows; but best of all because knowledge is too good a thing to keep to yourself.

( b) The gift of love. What does love consist of but giving love? And love grows by being given away. These two things, knowledge and love, they are what we have of Jesus Christ, and so the Divine call ‘Back to Christ’ is linked with the call of St. Andrew’s Day, ‘Come and see.’ So it is that we want to teach, or to cause other people to teach, because we have something so precious that we must give it away.

II. Back to Christ.—Are there any hearts here which are not stirred, are there any hearts here which do not know that Christ is so precious, that the knowledge and love of Christ are such precious things that they must needs publish them, that they must needs give them to others? Let me be a missionary to these hearts for one or two moments. Let me ask them humbly to go back to Christ.

( a) Back to Christ as He was, as you may read of Him, as you may almost follow His steps up and down the country of Galilee, as you may hear Him speak, as you may see Him die. Go back to him and see what kind of friend He was. Understand, again, what it was in Him that saved men and women, how He would never despair of any one who had despaired of themselves, of any one who would come and not place the confidence of their heart where they had so often placed it and misplaced it before, upon their own hopeless frailty, but upon His strength. ‘Believe in Me,’ He said throughout His life, ‘and thou shalt be saved.’ What is the message for men and women who despair, what is the message for men and women who are tired of their perpetual shortcomings? Not in yourself, but in the power which is outside you and yet which is so near, so near that from the outside it can come into the inside and there reanimate you. That is the message which He brought when He came to give life, namely, His own life, that men might live by it as He lived.

( b) And then again, as you come back to Christ, you see how, partly in condescension to our frailty, partly because of our Lord’s prevision of the dulness of human nature to understand mere words, partly because He knew that no language could convey what was meant as a simple symbol might, He enshrined that very truth, that very promise, that very essence of His healing power, in the simplest of symbols, the symbol, namely, of our eating and drinking, by which our bodily life is sustained. He handed down, for all those who followed Him to hand on, this great truth enshrined in the Sacrament, so much more expressive than any words, that by Him we live.

( c) Go back to Christ and learn at the altar that by Him you may live and live His life. And why? Because last of all He claimed—and He has substantiated His claim in all these thousands of years and millions of believers—He claimed that in Him dwelt the Godhead, and He was one with the Father.

Bishop E. J. Palmer.



Who are they that are looking for their Lord? Who are they that are really watching for Him and that are expecting Him?

I. They are those who are so impressed with the persuasion of their Lord’s being at hand as to keep on the look-out.—They are as faithful servants listening for their Master’s knock. Soon, they exclaim, will He be here, either to require my soul in death, or to call me with the millions of my fellow-men before His judgment throne. Their hearts, therefore, are wakeful. They are observant of the times and seasons. They are attentive to events and providences. They seem to hear His voice in almost everything which happens to them. ‘Prepare to meet thy God,’ and they hearken to that voice, spoken to them as it is both by Providence and Scripture. Christ is their Way, their Truth, and their Life, and they seek no other way of access to the Father but by Him.

II. How earnest are they for the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit; and for that new heart which He creates! Anxious are they to be filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God, and through the grace bestowed on them, their desire is not in vain. They do exercise themselves in these blessed fruits of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Their expectation of their coming Lord has an influence on their earthly dealings and transactions.

III. They who look for Christ are those who love His appearing.—We may expect things and prepare for things which we earnestly desire may never happen. It is not so with the man who looks for Christ. It is altogether otherwise; he looks for his Lord as longing for his Lord’s arrival. He is like one who is expecting the approach of him whom he dearly loves. That man, you know, will count the hours. He will think that time runs slowly till his friend is at his doors. So they who look for Christ anticipate the joyful moment of His coming, and are glad of everything which seems to promise it.

—Rev. Dr. E. J. Brewster.


‘Said the brave old Rabbi, “Bury me with my sandals on and my staff beside me, that I may be ready when Messiah comes.” ’

Verse 10


‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.’

Revelation 1:10

Our subject is the question of Sunday observance as distinct from Sabbath observance, the Christian institution of the Lord’s Day, and its place in our religious life.

I. That it was not regarded as the true successor of the old Sabbath there are clear signs in Apostolic times. In the concessions made to the Judaic Christians by the advanced party in the Apostolic Church would, we doubt not, be included the joint observance of the two days—the last and the first. The double observance was long continued in the Eastern Church. It should, moreover, not be forgotten that the application of the name ‘Sabbath’ to the Christian rest-day is of modern origin. It is true that St. Augustine uses the phrase ‘Our Sabbath’; but this is only a parallel with such a phrase as ‘Christ our Passover.’ The word first appears in a treatise issued in 1595. We owe the name to Puritanism, and in recognising our indebtedness to this source, we may seasonably reflect that the Reformers had left untouched the pre-Reformation abuses of the Lord’s day.

II. The immediate followers of our Lord had no inclination to secularise their new rest-day of evangelic freedom.—A duty that none show a disposition to neglect it is needless to enforce. If we hear so little in the Apostolic records and writings of the Christian obligation of hallowing the Lord’s day, we believe the main reason of this to be, that those early believers in the ardour and devotion of a fresh young faith, were prone rather to turn every weekday into a Sunday of holy fellowship and service than feel the slightest wish to make secular the weekly day of rest. Passing to the early testimonies subsequent to New Testament times, we have no hesitation in affirming that there is no historical fact enjoying better proof than this—that the observance of the day by intermission of toil and by special religious exercises was the constant practice of the Christian Church from the days of the Apostles.

III. On the vexed practical question of allowable or unallowable pleasure-taking on Sunday we cannot embark.—Keeping to the Apostolic principle, ‘Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind,’ we shall not stray far from the right and the true. But one prefatory reflection is offered here which may help us in settling details. Before we are capable of appreciating the true worth of the Christian’s Sunday, can it ever be a really pleasurable day? Ought we to try to make it the happiest day of the week to those whose whole lives are one long ‘grieving of the Holy Spirit of God,’ between whose souls and the Divine source of all truest happiness there stretches ‘a great gulf fixed,’ unbridged, or, being bridged, uncrossed by their reluctant feet? And may we not be deterred from the attempt to render this good gift of our Father acceptable to the Christless by reflecting that the same principle that would make it pleasurable to them, while thus, would turn heaven itself into a paradise for worldlings, and degrade its pure joys into the hollow pleasures of selfish fashion? The Church’s work is surely other than this: it is not to bring down the things of God to the level of the world, but, through her ceaseless ministries of loving suasion, to lift men up towards the altitude of the things of God.

—Bishop A. Pearson.

Verses 11-12


‘I am Alpha and Omega … What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia.… And I turned to see the Voice that spake with me.’

Revelation 1:11-2 Kings :

Christ is here brought before us as the first and last letter of the Greek alphabet. Is it not to teach us that He is the beginning and end of all things?

I. All things should be full of Him, and there should be nothing in which He is not. It is written ( Ephesians 4:10), ‘He that descended is the same also that ascended up, far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.’ Yes, everything is empty in which He is not—an empty universe, an empty world, an empty church, an empty heart, an empty life. He was exalted above all heavens that He might fill them.

II. Christ’s person and Christ’s truth must be permanent.—‘What Thou seest write in a book.’ They are not like other things, which may only have a passing effect. They must be written, written on the memory and on the heart, in the life and in the character. He is like none other, and there is no truth like His truth. Like the fragments of the loaves on the mountain, they must be all gathered up because they were of His creation, and fell from His hand. So must it be with the Person and the words of the Lord Jesus.

III. That which He makes known to us must be handed on.—‘Send it to the seven churches which are in Asia.’ It is to be world-wide. If the light is in your own soul, let it shine out to lighten others. If you know the Saviour yourself, make Him known to those around you. Live to scatter seeds of truth wherever you go. Live to win souls to Christ in every way you can. Let this be your life aim. Whatever blessings you possess from Him, ‘send it,’ send it on. Be sure the scattered seed will turn up again one day for your ‘joy and crown of rejoicing.’ God has said it, ‘My word shall not return void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.’ Yes, one thing or the other will surely turn up again—either your scattered seed ‘sown in weakness,’ for your blessed and eternal reward; or else your neglect will turn up again to your shame and everlasting confusion.

IV. That voice behind.—‘And I turned to see the voice that spake with me.’ It is striking to observe how God’s communications are so frequently said to be from behind us. The communications of God are not for the eye, but for the ear; not for curiosity, but for faith. Therefore there is so much said, both by our Lord in the Gospels, and by the beloved Apostle in this book, about hearing. ‘John turned to see the Voice that spake’ with him, but he did not see what he looked for, but what God intended him to see. We are just like him. To live by faith is no easy thing. We are always turning round to see what is in our own mind, and God is always showing us what is in His. So it was with St. John. God showed him the candlesticks and the glorious Person of the Son of God—just what He wanted St. John to see for the blessing of the Church of Christ in all ages.

—Rev. F. Whitfield.

Verse 13


‘And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man.’

Revelation 1:13

This vision of St. John in Patmos, granted to him ‘on the Lord’s day,’ brings before us—

I. A living Lord.—It is not a mere historical personage, to whose great deeds we look back with admiration, that we call Master. It is He Who is alive for evermore, Who has the keys of Hades in His own royal hand. We do not think and speak of our Divine Head as of One that was, but as of One that is.

II. A present Lord.—He is in the midst of the Churches: not removed by immeasurable space from where we are living and labouring, but in the midst of us; quite near to us, accessible at every hour, observant of every action and of all endurance.

III. A reigning Lord.—This One Who is in the midst of the golden candlesticks is He Who ‘holdeth the seven stars in His right hand’ ( Revelation 2:1). It is He Who has all power given to Him in heaven and on earth.

IV. A gracious Lord.—‘One like unto the Son of Man’; He therefore Who was once clothed in our humanity, once was partaker of our flesh and blood, once lived our human life; He Who has looked on all things through human eyes, and weighed all things by human measures; He Who has actually experienced human hopes and fears, human joys and sorrows, human gratifications and disappointments. This is a living Lord, of whose tender sympathy we may be always sure, upon whose willing strength we may always lean, on whose gracious considerateness we may always count.

V. A Lord Whose presence is the one true bond of union.—‘In the midst of the Churches’; each one of them is therefore closely and vitally related to Him. They may not be organically connected with one another, but every one of them is directly related to Him.


Verse 17


‘Fear not!’

Revelation 1:17

My purpose is to ask your attention to the seven ‘Fear nots’ of the New Testament.

I. We take our first ‘Fear not!’ from St. Luke 8:15 .—‘But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, Fear not! believe only, and she shall be made whole.’ This is a ‘Fear not!’ teaching us that we are never to give up hope. If there were ever a seemingly hopeless case, it was this of Jairus’s daughter; but when Christ is concerned, or concerns Himself about us, we need never despair.

II. Then the second ‘Fear not!’ is in St. Matthew 10:28 .—‘Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.’ This is the ‘Fear not!’ which defies persecution. How little our enemies can do to us. They cannot touch you. Suppose they even mangled and murdered your body, that is not touching you, and after they have done that, there is no more they can do. Fear not! confess Christ and He will bless thee.

III. The third ‘Fear not!’ is in St. Luke 12:32 .—‘ Fear not! little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.’ Here we have the ‘Fear not!’ that drives away anxiety with regard to our earthly supplies. No man, by worrying, can add a cubit to his stature. No man, by worrying or by growing anxious, can help lift a single burden of this life.

IV. The next ‘Fear not!’ is in the Acts of the Apostles ( Acts 27:24 ).—‘Fear not, Paul … lo! God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.’ Now this ‘Fear not!’ is a most important one. It is a ‘Fear not!’ even when almost certain failure seems to be staring us in the face. God is always better than our fears.

V. The fifth ‘Fear not!’ is in Luke 5:10 .—‘And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not! from henceforth thou shalt catch men.’ Now this is a ‘Fear not!’ for all weary Christian workers. The Master said to His disciples, ‘Work away!’ they did so, and were rewarded with a tremendous haul; and so the Master will come to every weary, discouraged Christian worker.

VI. The sixth ‘Fear not!’ is also in St. Luke’s Gospel ( Revelation 2:10). ‘And the angel said unto them, Fear not! for behold? I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.’ This is a ‘Fear not!’ for each penitent sinner. We realise that God is for us: nay, more, God is with us—our ‘Emmanuel.’

VII. And then we come to the ‘Fear not!’ of the text ( Revelation 1:17 .)—In this text our Master gives us three reasons, three solid facts why we should at once cease to fear.

( a) On account of His eternal existence.

( b) On account of his victory.

( c) On account of his power and authority.

—Rev. F. Swainson.

Verses 17-18


‘And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.’

Revelation 1:17-Job :

It is tempting to expend imagination upon the scene, to try to collect in the mind the astonishing imagery of the vision; to see the seer in his prostration, in his awe and trance, and above him the countenance that shone as the sun, and the lips from whence issued sounds as of the moving seas. But imagination fails as soon as it attempts such a misnamed realisation. It is better to fall back at once upon the spiritual essence of the scene, which is to realise it indeed.

I. We have here man seeing himself in the act of seeing God, in the act of seeing the face of the Son of God, the Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father. What to me this great passage says, and what I humbly take up and testify to before you, is that the sight of God, the sight of the Christ of God, in a light which shows us just His holiness, in a light not yet transmitted through the revelation of His redeeming work and mercy, is an awful thing. ‘At this also the heart trembleth, and is moved out of its place.’ ‘Woe is me, for I am a man unclean; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.’ Yes, and yet—suffer me to press this truth home with all the earnestness I can—and yet, awful as that sight is, it is—in measure, for we can bear it only in measure in its reality—it is a profoundly salutary thing. Deep in the heart of all genuine religion lies conviction of sin, lies the sense of sin, the having been brought in truth and fact to something of Isaiah’s cry, and Job’s abhorrence, and John’s prostration. And yet there are few elements of religion, I fear, less common in our time, less recognised as essential by the ‘religious world,’ if I may use that strange phrase, less developed and unreservedly and heartily enforced from the Christian pulpit. I do not mean a morbid introspection. Nay, what I speak of is not inlook but outlook. I do not mean an unwholesome dwelling upon the pathology, so to speak, of special sins. I mean a something at once deeper and higher; a waking up of the deep of conscience to the awfulness of sin as sin; to the dread wrong and guilt of man’s least disagreement with God; to the spiritual fact of sin’s being ‘the abominable thing that He hateth’; to the exposure of sin in the light of His law, till sin (in the magnificent tautology of the Apostle) becomes ‘exceeding sinful,’ because of discord with the will of God.

II. The view of man, contrite, broken, and laid low by the vision of the Holy One, now raised, and reassured, and blest exceedingly, in the Name and only in the Name, of Him Whom he has seen. Here is indeed a reassurance and revival. Here is strong consolation, strong indeed, for its whole material and texture is Jesus Christ. Not one word is said of reasons for peace inherent in the prostrate man. Not one word is said, in that transcendent moment, about even the sacred past of Galilee and Judea, about holy intimacies and companionship, in the cottage, in the field, on the shore, or on the waters. John is for that moment just a mortal and a sinner, cast down before the glory of the Christ of God. And the reason why of the ‘Be not afraid’ spoken to John by the Christ of God is not at all ‘It is thou.’ It is altogether ‘It is I.’ Mark well the successive terms of this supremely characteristic utterance of the Lord Christ; characteristic because it is His witness to Himself. ‘I am the First and the Last, and the living One.’ Here He attests His original eternity. From Alpha to Omega He is; He lives. It is His, in His unbeginning and necessary oneness with the Father, not to become but to be, with a being infinitely lifeful. What was thus then is thus to-day. In all things the same yesterday and for ever, Jesus Christ is in nothing more magnificently the same than in this, that He, for the pardon, for the peace, for the empowering and blessing of the sinful soul of man, is—not something, not much, but all. ‘Christ Jesus,’ writes John’s brother Apostle, Paul, ‘of God is made unto us wisdom, even righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’ The vast range of our need is responded to by the circle, the faultless sphere, of His supply. Righteousness to justify the ungodly, sanctification to separate the believer from sin to God, Redemption, ‘even the redemption of our body,’ into the final glory—Christ is all this, Christ is all. Can I for a moment forget on the other side the vastness of the range of the truth as it is in Him? The manifold aspects of even the central facts of grace? No; but neither can I forget, and may you and may I profoundly remember in life, and indeed in death, that all the while the central secret of the Christian gospel is sublimely simple. It is Jesus Christ, all things for the Christian; it is Jesus Christ, all things in Him.

Bishop H. C. G. Moule.


‘I accept these words as they stand. I read in them a true record of the actual experience of a real man. I believe that on that far-off Lord’s Day, upon the rock of Patmos, John of Galilee, venerable, saintly, full of the Spirit, full of the powers of the world to come, fell down as if dead at the feet of the really manifested Lord. I believe that he was touched, then and there, with real contact, by the Lord’s right hand, and that there fell upon his soul, then and there, the Lord’s articulated utterance. It was no mere phase of the action of John’s mind, nor evolution of his consciousness, nor transmission through his personality of a mass of previously generated human thought. It was the voice, the word, the mind of Jesus Christ; the assurance of John, given by Jesus Christ, that he need not fear, and that the reason not to fear lay altogether in the person, and the work, and the life of Jesus Christ Himself.’

Verse 18


‘I am He that liveth and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore.’

Revelation 1:18

What should be our theme as we stand beside the empty tomb? There are many aspects of the Resurrection which might well engage our attention. We will think of the great changes effected by it.

I. A change in our Lord Himself.

( a) The resurrection of the body means the rising again in some way of that which died and was buried. The dust, which was human, hath in it something which involves the development out of itself of a further life.

( b) But while the teaching of the New Testament establishes a real organic connection between that which died and that which rises again, it intimates also a mighty change. Does not the text (also 1 Corinthians 15:37-Acts :) indicate this?

( c) Hence we may learn to take another and a more blessed aspect of death itself. True, death entered into the world by sin; humanity, that is, was subjected to it as a penalty of transgression. But it has become in Christ the instrument also by which these bodies are changed so as to bear the splendour of the everlasting morning.

II. A change in our Lord’s relations with His followers.

( a) If He forbids Mary’s touch because He has not yet ascended, He thereby manifestly implies that when He had ascended then should she touch Him without rebuke. His ascension would not separate Him from, but bring Him nearer to His faithful ones.

( b) Thus Christ draws the woman on from a lower to a higher love; from a carnal to a spiritual touch; from a clinging to Him with the limbs of the body, to an embracing Him with the arms of the soul.

( c) Do you ask, ‘How can I touch my ascended Lord?’ The reply is ready. He touches Christ, who, when crushed with the felt burden of sin, conscious of a force of evil continually mastering him, after vain attempts to get rid of his slavery by mere strength of will or the maxims of worldly prudence, casts himself into the whole system of Christ’s religion, clasping unto him alike Christ’s commandments and Christ’s promises, and looking and calling on Him for health and salvation. Yea, there is a more palpable touching of the Divine Lord still. What is the blessed Sacrament but the ordinance in which He offers Himself at a given moment, by a definite act, to the spiritual touch, to draw healing virtue out of Him?

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Revelation 1". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.