Book Overview - Revelation
by John Dummelow
1. The Title. The title of the book varies in the later MSS, though all ascribe it to John. One MS of the 11th cent has 'the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to the theologian John.' The word 'divine' in AV and RV is used in the sense of 'theologian,' 'one who writes on God and the divine nature.' The title in the oldest MSS is 'the Revelation (Gk. Apocalypsis) of John.' The writer calls the book 'Apocalypse,' or 'Revelation,' only in Revelation 1:1, Elsewhere he speaks of it as' prophecy' (cp. Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:7, Revelation 22:10, Revelation 22:18; and of himself as a 'prophet' (cp. Revelation 10:11; Revelation 22:6, Revelation 22:9). Yet the form which the prophecy has taken is rightly described by the title 'Apocalypse.' 'Apocalypse' (i.e. 'uncovering,' 'unveiling') is a technical term used to denote a particular kind of writing which sprang up among the Jews mainly during the two centuries before Christ. It had its antecedents in such eschatological passages (i.e. passages foretelling the end of the present order of things) as Isaiah 24-27, Joel, and Zechariah 12-14. The thoughts and images of such passages as these were dwelt upon and developed in later times into apocalypses. The book of Daniel is an apocalypse. Other writings of an apocalyptic kind are, the 'Apocalypse of Baruch,' the Ethiopic 'Book of Enoch,' the Slavonic 'Book of Enoch,' the 'Ascension of Isaiah,' the 'Book of Jubilees,' the 'Assumption of Moses,' the 'Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,' the 'Psalms of Solomon,' the 'Sibylline Oracles.' Apocalypses were written at times when the righteous suffered oppression by a foreign power. The message of the apocalypse was that deliverance was coming, and that the righteous were to wait for it in patience. In this sense an apocalypse differed from prophecy, which, for the most part, warned unfaithful and wicked Israel of the coming of a 'Day of the Lord,' and called for repentance. Moreover, the apocalypse saw in the evil plight of the righteous a sign of the power of Satan in the world, which made it certain that God would soon intervene to overthrow the evil. Apocalypses were written when men were troubled because the promises of good made by the prophets seemed to be unfulfilled. Accordingly, the apocalyptic writer set out to justify the dealings of God. He 'sketched in outline the history of the world and of mankind, the origin of evil and its course, and the consummation of all things... The righteous as a nation should yet possess the earth, either in an eternal or in a temporary Messianic kingdom, and the destiny of the righteous individual should be finally determined according to his works. For though amid the world's disorders he might perish untimely, he would not fail to attain through the resurrection the recompense that was his due, in the Messianic kingdom, or in heaven itself' (R. H. Charles, HDB.).
Apocalypses were characterised by strange and mysterious figures, seen in visions and explained by angels. Sometimes these figures were new, and shaped to represent persons or events of the time. Sometimes they were borrowed or adapted from older apocalypses, or from the OT., or even from remote tradition. It is thought that some of these last traditionary figures may have gradually developed out of creation myths.
Apocalypses were pseudonymous, i.e. they were given forth under the name of some great person of the past, such as Enoch or Moses. It has been suggested that this was caused by the general feeling of despair with which the times were viewed. Prophecy had ceased, and perhaps no living person could hope for a hearing. But the pseudonym may have had a better justification. The figures and traditions which were used may have been so connected with those old great names, that the apocalyptic writer looked upon his writings as proceeding rather from the heroic saint he reverenced than from himself (see HDB. arts. 'Apocalyptic Literature' and 'Revelation, Book of').
But although the book we call 'the Revelation of St. John' is one of a class, it does not follow that it has no deeper value for us than the others of its class. The fact that it has been taken into the Canon of Scripture, while they have been rejected, shows that it outshines them all. In this 'the Revelation' is like other books of the Bible. The histories, the Psalms, the Wisdom books of the OT., have been distinguished from others which are left outside the Canon. And Luke 1:1 shows that our Gospels were not the only memoirs of the life of Christ which existed in the earliest Christian age. Again, the title of the book is evidence that, as regards other apocalypses, it claims to stand above them all. Other apocalypses, as has been said above, professed to come from some great man of the past, as Enoch, and we know that only in a very loose sense could such a profession be justified. Our Apocalypse does not go back to some far distant and hardly more than nominal author. It is not even, as in the title, the Apocalypse of John, for that title is of uncertain date. The true title is given in Revelation 1:1. The book is 'The Revelation of Jesus Christ.' The book claims to have Jesus Christ as the author of the revelation it contains. The place St. John assigns to himself is that of a prophet who is able to receive from Christ a revelation and to communicate it to others. Christian believers may be unable to see how there can be any true connexion between Enoch and the book which bears his name. But they do not doubt the reality of the gift of prophecy, or the fact that Christ could and did reveal Himself to His Apostles.
2. Purpose. The Christians in the western part of Asia Minor, for whom, during the latter part of the 1st cent., the book was specially written, had evidently been undergoing great trials. The purity of their Churches was sullied by teaching which condoned immoral and heathen practices, and by growing worldliness: cp. Revelation 3:2, Revelation 3:17. They had experienced persecution, both from the religious hatred of the Jews (cp. Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9) and from the Roman government. Under the Roman government, religion had become largely identified with Imperialism. Temples had been dedicated, in various places, to Rome and the emperor, and the emperor had been called 'Lord and God.' To a Christian, worship such as this was blasphemy (cp. Revelation 13:1, Revelation 13:12, Revelation 13:14.), and, rather than join in it, many had died: cp. Revelation 2:13; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 13:15; Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:20, The book was written during a lull in the persecution, which would, however, be temporary: cp. Revelation 2:10; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 11:7. Thus the times were dark and threatening for the Christian Church. Christians were not only shut out from all the splendour and glory of life, from the honours and ambitions, from the riches and festivities which they saw daily in surrounding heathen society, but which they must not taste. They were not even allowed to live their simple lives in their own way. All the power of the empire was being directed upon them in inflexible hostility, and if they would not yield it seemed as if they must be crushed. Christ had promised His perpetual Presence, but they felt no lifting of the weight of the Roman hand. Christ had promised to come again, and they yearned for His coming that He might deliver them, but it seemed as if they yearned in vain. And in this strain and stress came the seducing advice of 'Jezebels' (cp. Revelation 2:20), bade them save their lives and win security by outward conformity to heathen requirements and heathen ways.
So, to brace them to endurance, came the message of the Revelation. The things which were seen, rich and mighty though they appeared, were temporal, about to pass away; but the things which were not seen were eternal and to abide for ever. God was on His throne, and the future of the world was in the hand of Christ. The persecuting empire was inspired and supported by Satan, but God. was stronger than Satan. Satan had already been conquered, essentially, by the work of Christ, and his overthrow, and the overthrow of his instruments, would soon be seen openly on earth. Rome, the persecuting empire, the heathen worship and priesthood, and the wicked of the earth, were all to fall before the conquering Christ. Last of all would be the general judgment, and then the incomparable and eternal bliss of the New Jerusalem, In these ways Christ would come, and come quickly.
Therefore let Christians bear manfully their perils and pains. There was nothing strange in the demand that was made upon them. Christ Himself had endured before them. It was by death that He had won His victory, and their victory was to be won in the same manner. Therefore death for Christ was not defeat but overcoming, and great glory with Christ would be the reward of those who so overcame.
3. Interpretation. Our interpretation of Revelation depends upon what view we take as to the period of the Church's history to which the figures and scenes preparatory to the climax of the book refer. There have been three chief schools of interpretation. One school (called the 'Futurist') regards the book as dealing with the end of the world, and with events and persons which will immediately precede that end. The 'Historical' school sees in the book a summary of the Church's history from early days until the end. The 'Preterists' look back to the past, and interpret the book as having to do with the times in which it originated. A fourth method sees in the book symbolical representations of good and evil principles, common to every age, and to be understood spiritually. According to this last method, the New Jerusalem, e.g., would be explained as representing the blessedness, even in this earthly state, of true believers whose lives are hid with Christ in God.
The sketch of the purpose of the book will have shown that the 'Preterist' view is at the basis of the present Commentary, The probability of this view is supported by the analogy of other apocalypses. And it seems natural to suppose that the book would be meant to be intelligible by those to whom it was addressed, and would have arisen out of the circumstances of their state. Moreover, the language and the figures of the book are found to fit the condition of the early days of Christianity, and to yield, on this system, a consistent and unforced interpretation. The advocates of the other systems have differed widely among themselves, e.g. explaining the woman (Revelation 17) and the beasts, now to mean the Roman Church and the Pope, now the Turks and Mohammed, now the French Revolution and Napoleon. But while this Commentary adapts the Preterist view, it is not denied that, the principles of God's government of the world being always the same, practical use may be made of visions and figures which refer to past circumstances by applying the principles which they reveal to the events with which we ourselves have to do.
The question remains whether those predictions which have to do with the millennium, i.e. the thousand years during which Christ would reign on earth (cp. Revelation 20:4.), were meant to be understood literally or spiritually. The earliest interpretation was literal. Those who accepted the book expected a literal reign of Christ on earth. It was for this reason that many, not believing in a literal millennium, would not accept the book as canonical. It was only the spread of spiritual interpretation, by which the 'thousand years' denoted the present period of the Church, the view advocated by Jerome and Augustine, that enabled the Church as a whole to receive the book.
4. Unity. The structure of Revelation is not what might have been expected. We might have expected a prophecy which passed on in regular course, developing evenly from stage to stage until the end was reached. Instead of this we find progression indeed, but of a rough and uneven nature, and a number of dissimilar and abrupt visions and figures, often not so much flowing one out of another as piled one upon another. During the last twenty years some critics have attempted to account for these features by supposing, either that the book is composed of two or three earlier apocalypses, worked over and fitted together by a Christian editor, or else that the author drew upon various older materials, fragmentary in character, which he has used and incorporated.
The former of these theories seems to be improbable. The book certainly follows out a plan, even though it be roughly. And critics have not agreed in the results of their attempts to dissect the book and to display the joints and lines of union. But it seems more likely that the writer made some use of older materials. It is certain that he made large use of the OT., especially of Ezekiel and Daniel, e.g. cp. Revelation 1:13; Revelation 4:6.; Revelation 13:1.; Revelation 18:9. It is not, on the face of it, unlikely that some of the figures which cannot be traced to OT. sources may have been derived from lost or traditional materials, eg. Revelation 11 f. We can see, indeed, that Jewish, and even heathen, ideas and beliefs were so used by the writer, and were given a Christian meaning: cp. Revelation 2:17; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 9:14; Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:18; Revelation 16:5, Revelation 16:7; Revelation 17:16; Revelation 20:2-4. However, if this theory be true, we should suppose that the writer's use of such materials would be parallel to his use of the OT. He never slavishly copied from the OT., but employed and adapted OT. language and figures as if they were so familiar to him that he naturally expressed himself by their means. Similarly he may have pondered upon existing apocalyptic materials until they had become part of the furniture of his mind. The striking parallels of Rev. with Matthew 24 = Mark 13 = Luke 21, Luke 17:20-37; Luke 12:35-48, seem to show the dependence of the author of Rev. upon the discourse of Christ on the Mount of Olives. E.g. cp 11, 'which God gave unto Him,' with Matthew 24:36; 'shortly come to pass,' with Matthew 24:34 while Revelation 2 f. show that the situation foretold in Matthew 24:9-14 is present. Cp. also Revelation 6:1-8 with Matthew 24:3-14; Revelation 6:12-17 with Matthew 24:29-31; Revelation 8:1 with Matthew 24:21; Revelation 8:7-12 with Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:25.
5. The Visions. Supposing that some part of the theories mentioned in the last section be true, how can it be said that St. John received the contents of the book in a vision? The answer is threefold. (1) It is not necessary to understand the book as claiming to have been wholly received, as it stands, in one vision at one time. The first vision was received in Patmos. Others may have followed at subsequent times. (2) It is not necessary to suppose that the very words of the book were taken down, as if from dictation, by the writer. The writer claims to be a prophet (cp. Revelation 10:11; Revelation 22:6, Revelation 22:9), and in the exercise of his gift he may have developed afterwards the facts which were revealed to him by vision. (3) The memory of previously acquired knowledge cannot but have a large share in the apprehension of truths divinely received. Such truths must be rendered into a language previously learned; and if they are rendered into figures previously assimilated, that is only another form of the same process. And the vision itself may, perhaps, be divinely adapted to the language and figures which are already contained in the mind of the recipient of the vision.
6. Authorship. The writer of the book calls himself 'John': cp. Revelation 1:1, Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:9; Revelation 22:8. No other description or definition is given. To the early Christian Church, 'John' would signify John the Apostle. Besides this, the writer was of account among the Churches of the Roman province of Asia, and was in exile in Patmos. Early Christian tradition asserts both these things of St. John. It would seem, therefore, that the book was written either by the Apostle, or by some one who wished it to be thought the work of the Apostle.
The external evidence for the apostolic authorship is very strong, coming from Fathers in all parts of the Church. The earliest witnesses are Justin Martyr (cirRevelation 140 a.d.), and probably Melito, bishop of Sardis (cirRevelation 170), and Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (cirRevelation 180). Irens Bus, bishop of Lyons (cirRevelation 180), who had known Polycarp the disciple of St. John, distinctly says that it was written by the Apostle. The apostolic authorship is also witnessed to by the Muratorian Fragment (cirRevelation 200), Tertullian (cirRevelation 220), Hippolytus, bishop of Ostia (cirRevelation 240), Clement of Alexandria (cirRevelation 200), Origen (cirRevelation 233), and Victorinus, who wrote the earliest extant commentary on Rev., and who was martyred under Diocletian (303).
On the other hand, an Asiatic sect of the end of the 2nd cent., known as the 'Alogi,' rejected all the writings of St. John, and among them Rev. They did not appeal to any knowledge or tradition as to the authorship, but said that they found the book unprofitable, and that there was no Church at Thyatira. Their rejection of St. John's writings was probably caused by their doctrinal views. Caius, a presbyter of Rome (cirRevelation 200), ascribed the book to Cerinthus, a heretical teacher, who lived at Ephesus in the reign of Domitian, in whose system were combined elements derived from Judaism, Christianity, and Oriental speculation, and whose tenets seem to be opposed in the Gospel and Epistles of St. John. Both the Alogi and Caius opposed the Montanists, who appealed to Rev. in support of their views.
Dionysius of Alexandria (cirRevelation 250) denied the apostolic authorship, but wholly on critical grounds, arguing from the language of the book, and from its unlikeness to the Gospel and to the First Epistle. He thought it must have been written by another John, perhaps John Mark, and said that he had heard that there were two tombs at Ephesus, each called that of John. Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that Papias spoke of a 'John the Presbyter,' distinguishing him from the Apostle, and he hazards a guess that possibly this Presbyter was the John of Revelation.
It will be seen that the evidence of tradition is altogether in favour of the apostolic authorship of the book. Those who rejected it did so on grounds of internal evidence, which we are as competent to judge as they were. The internal evidence, i.e. the matter and style of the book, does at first sight make it difficult to accept the apostolic authorship. The Greek of the other writings of St. John in the NT. is smooth and free from barbarism, while that of Rev. is the reverse. But this may be accounted for by the character of the books. The Gospel and Epistles were probably written calmly and meditatively, repeating much that the Apostle had been in the habit, for years, of saying to his flock in Greek-speaking Ephesus. But St. John was a Jew, although a Greek dress had come to surround his thought. In Rev. he is borne along by the rapture of his visions, and the Jew that he was by nature and by upbringing might, not unnaturally, have burst through the Greek veneer. Besides this, it is plain that the writer's mind, at the time of writing, was filled with the Jewish Scriptures, and with Jewish apocalypses, and it may have seemed to him fitting that the style of the new Apocalypse he was producing should be in harmony with other apocalypses which both he and his first readers knew. The Hebraic style may have seemed to him to be almost as much a necessity for an apocalypse as the symbolic and figurative material. There would be nothing forced or unreal about this, for Hebrew was native to St. John, while Greek must have been to him always more or less artificial. This consideration will increase in force if, as is quite likely, eighteen or twenty years were spent by St. John in Greek-speaking Ephesus between the writing of Revelation and the writing of the Gospel and Epistles.
As to the language. It is true that characteristic words and thoughts of the Gospel do not appear in Rev. On the other hand, it is only in the Gospel and First Epistle of St. John and in Rev. that Christ is called 'the Word'(cp. John 1:1; Revelation 19:13). The title 'Lamb,' so frequently applied to Christ in Rev., reminds us of John 1:29, John 1:36, though the form of the word is slightly different; the symbol of the Shepherd applied to Christ (cp. Revelation 7:17; John 10:1, John 10:27.; John 21:16), and the figure of living water, or water of life, are common to Gospel and Rev.; and there are other striking likenesses, such as the words translated 'true' (Revelation 3:7 etc.), 'overcome,' 'keep,' 'witness,' 'testimony.' On the whole, the difference between the style of the Gospel and Rev., though great, can be accounted for, and does not seem to outweigh the very strong and early testimony to the apostolic authorship of Revelation.
The doctrinal teaching of Rev. may be regarded as that of the Fourth Gospel at an earlier stage. Westcott pointed out that' the main idea of both is the same. Both present a view of a supreme conflict between the powers of good and evil... In the Gospel the opposing forces are regarded under abstract forms, as light and darkness, love and hatred; in the Apocalypse under concrete and definite forms; God, Christ, and the Church warring with the devil, the false prophet, and the beast.' In both books history and vision lead to the victory of Christ, and His Person and work are the ground of triumph. Both books lay stress on personal 'witness.' Both present the abiding of God with man as the issue of Christ's work (John 14:23; Revelation 3:20; Revelation 21:3).
But there are important contrasts. In Rev. Christ's coming is outward; while in the Gospel it is spiritual, and judgment is self-executing. In Rev. the 'future' is historical; in the Gospel it is present and eternal. In Rev. the conception of God follows the lines of the OT in the Gospel God is revealed as the Father, and specially in connexion with the work of redemption.
The portrayal of Christ in Rev. is in harmony with that in the Gospel. His humanity and His redemptive work are recognised (Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:7; Revelation 5:5, Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 11:8; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 14:3.; Revelation 22:16), followed by His exaltation. Christ is wholly separated from creatures. He possesses divine knowledge (Revelation 2:2, Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 2:19, Revelation 2:23), and divine power (Revelation 11:15; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16), 'He receives divine honour (Revelation 5:8.; Revelation 20:6), and is joined with God (Revelation 3:2; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 6:16.; Revelation 7:10; Revelation 14:4; Revelation 21:22; Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:3), so that with God He is spoken of as one (Revelation 11:15; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:3); He shares also in part the divine titles (Revelation 1:7; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 19:11).' His pre existence is recognised in passages (Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 19:13) in which we have an earlier form of the truth unfolded in John 1:14 : see Westcott, 'Intro. St. John,' pp. lxxxivf.
7. Date. The state of the Churches at the time of writing (Revelation 2 f.) was such that we should suppose that some considerable time had elapsed since their foundation. They were infected by heresy and by worldliness. The connexion of St. Paul with Ephesus seems to have been a thing of the past, and his martyrdom is, perhaps, referred to in Revelation 18:20. Persecution had been violent, Rome was 'drunk with the blood of the saints '(Revelation 17:6); and fiercer persecution was expected (Revelation 3:10; Revelation 13:7, Revelation 13:16.). All this seems to point to a date after the persecution of Nero, 68 a.d., and before that of Domitian, 95 a.d. Professor Ramsay argues that the character of the persecution referred to in Rev., in which the Christians seem to have suffered, not under accusation of specific crimes, but 'for the Name' (cp. Revelation 2:13; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 17:6), demands that Rev. should be dated, not under Nero, but under Domitian. However, 'the testimony of Jesus' does not mean 'witness borne to Him,' but 'the revelation made by Him.' The use probably made of the popular expectation of the return of Nero from hell (Revelation 13:3; Revelation 17:8, Revelation 17:11) would imply that some years had elapsed since Nero's death.
If Revelation 11:1. is to be literally understood, the book would have to be dated before the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 a.d. But the passage, probably, should have, in its present context, another interpretation: see notes.
C. Revelation 17:7-12 (see notes) seems clearly to indicate that the book was written in the reign of Vespasian (69-79). With this most of the considerations referred to above agree. We suppose, therefore, that the book was written about 77 a.d.
On the other hand, primitive tradition asserts that the book was written towards the end of the reign of Domitian, cirRevelation 95 a.d. This tradition probably rests on the statement of Irenaeus, cirRevelation 180. Either Irenaeus was mistaken, or else in Revelation 17 St. John was making use of an earlier apocalypse, perhaps that which was the original of part of Revelation 11.
8. Canonicity. More evidence exists for the early use of Rev. than for any other book of the NT. In the section on 'authorship' early authorities have been quoted. Besides these, Papias, a friend of Polycarp the disciple of St. John, bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia in the early part of the 2nd cent., probably used the book. Andreas, a bishop of the 9th cent., who wrote a commentary on Rev., states that Papias maintained 'the divine inspiration' of Rev., and Eusebius says that Papias expected an earthly reign of Christ for 1,000 years,' not understanding correctly those matters which (the apostolic narrations) propounded mystically in their representations' (Euseb. III. 39).
The Churches in Lyons and Vienne (177) regarded Rev. as Scripture. Apollonius (cirRevelation 210), who was perhaps a bishop of Ephesus, is said by Eusebius to have made use of testimonies from Revelation.
But while the Western Church always accepted Rev., doubts about it sprung up in the Eastern Church. This attitude was probably influenced by opposition to the advocates of a literal millennium (or reign of Christ on earth for 1,000 years), and to the Montanists, all of whom were warm upholders of the book. Dionysius of Alexandria, who concluded on critical grounds that St. John was not the author of the book, has been referred to above; Eusebius was inclined to agree with Dionysius. 'The first Eastern commentary belongs to the 5th cent., the next to the 9th. Each begins with a defence against doubts as to the canonicity of the book.' It was only gradually that it came to be received generally, and, owing to the difficulty of its interpretation, its reception in modern times has not been so unqualified as that of the rest of the NT. Luther was at first strongly averse from the book, though, later, he printed it with Hebrews, James, and Jude in an appendix to his NT. Zwingli regarded it as non-biblical, and Calvin did not comment upon it.
Revelation 1:1-3. Introduction, describing the contents of the book as an apocalypse, given by God to Jesus Christ, and signified by Him to John through an angel.
Revelation 1:4-8. Salutation, in which the distressed Church is pointed to God.
Revelation 1:9-20. Account of the vision of the glorified Christ, who bade St. John write to the Seven Churches the things which he saw.
Revelation 2, 3. Letters to the Seven Churches.
Revelation 2:1-7. The Church in Ephesus is praised for her steadfastness against false teachers and heathen persecutors, but called upon to repent of the coldness of her love. Revelation 2:8-11. The Church in Smyrna is about to suffer persecution. Let her endure it boldly, for it cannot hurt her true life. Revelation 2:12-17. The Church in Pergamum has been faithful in persecution. But she has been tolerant of immoral teachers, and of this she must repent. Revelation 2:18-29. The Church in Thyatira is increasing in faith and endurance, and in love to God and man. But a party in the Church have led unfaithful lives, and they will be punished unless they repent. Let the rest of the Church continue faithful.
Revelation 3:1-6. The Church in Sardis is sternly rebuked for her lack of earnestness. Unless she repents she must endure Christ's judgment. The few in Sardis who have kept themselves unspotted from the world shall enjoy the companionship of Christ in glory.
Revelation 3:7-13. The Church in Philadelphia is small and weak. But she has been faithful in persecution, and she is promised many converts, especially from among the Jews. Christ will guard this Church from the time of trial that is coming.
Revelation 3:14-22. The Church in Laodicea is lukewarm and self-satisfied. Let her see herself as she is, and humbly seek from Christ the supply of her needs. If she does so, He will richly bless her.
Revelation 4, 5. The Lord and Ruler of all.
Revelation 4:1. Vision of the Almighty, enthroned in glory and mercy, receiving the worship of heaven.
Revelation 5:1. The course of the future, predetermined by God in His secret counsel, is represented by a book, covered with writing and close-sealed, resting on the outstretched hand of the Almighty. It has been committed to Christ to make known and to carry out God's will for the future, and this because of His death.
Revelation 6. The Seals—Judgment pictured.
Revelation 6:1-8. The first four seals are opened. The victorious spread of the gospel is shown, and then the coming of war, famine, and pestilence.
Revelation 6:9-11. The fifth seal. Judgment delayed, and the reason. The martyrs are not forgotten by God. He gives them gladness and rest. But His judgment will fall upon the wicked world that slew them, when it has fulfilled its wickedness by slaying those who are yet to die for Christ. Revelation 6:12-17, The sixth seal. Judgment at last on the point of falling, at the day of the wrath of God and of the Lamb.
Revelation 7. Parenthesis—the Church's safety.
Revelation 7:1-8. The judgments of Revelation 6:3-8, spoken of here as 'the four winds,' will not hurt God's elect, every one of whom is marked out by Him, and their full number known. Revelation 7:9-17. Neither does the great persecution hurt God's people, for death brings them to glory.
Revelation 8, 9. The Trumpets—Judgment proclaimed.
Revelation 8:1-2,; The seventh seal shows the trumpets which herald Judgment, given to seven angels.
Revelation 8:3-5. The prayers of the saints do reach God, and the Judgment about to fall on the earth is His answer.
Revelation 8:6-13. The first four trumpets announce convulsions of nature, which portend the approach of the Day of Christ.
Revelation 9:1-12. The fifth trumpet, and the first woe, by the figure of stinging locusts from the abyss, proclaims that the wicked world shall suffer the spiritual torment which follows sin.
Revelation 9:13-21. The sixth trumpet, and second woe, proclaims ravages upon the idolatrous world by devastating armies.
Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:14. Parenthesis—the Church's safety.
Revelation 10:1.; After 'seven thunders,' which St. John is bidden to keep secret, he receives a fresh revelation, signified by a little book, which probably consists of Revelation 12 f.
Revelation 11:1, Revelation 11:2. The Christian Church, represented by the Temple, is to be preserved, although Judaism, represented by the outer part of the Temple buildings, is overthrown. Revelation 11:3-14. Yet it will be by death that the people of Christ, now represented by two witnesses, will be preserved. The Roman power will persecute and dishonour them. Yet in this they will be like Christ, and will share His glorified life.
Revelation 11:15-19. The seventh trumpet, proclaiming the consummation of mercy and judgment.
Revelation 12-14. Parenthesis—the Church's enemies.
Revelation 12:1-6. Under the figure of a woman opposed by a dragon, it is shown that the great enemy of the Church is Satan, and that it is his power which impels the Roman empire to persecute. He persecuted the Church of God before the birth of Christ, he persecuted Christ, and he persecuted the young Christian Church of Palestine. But Christ and His Church were preserved by God. 127-12. By the figure of a war in heaven, the Church is assured that she need not fear Satan, for by the work of Christ he has been conquered. Revelation 12:13-17. The persecution of the Gentile Church is the natural sequence of Satan's failure against the Church in Palestine.
Revelation 13:1-10. The second great enemy of the Church is the Roman power, signified by a beast. The power and dominion of the beast come from Satan, yet men worship both. For a limited time the beast is allowed by God to triumph over the Church. Revelation 13:11-18. The third enemy of the Church, the government of the Province of Asia, both civil and religious, is figured by a second beast, who causes all who will not join in idolatrous worship to be put to death.
Revelation 14. The enemies of the Church have been shown in the true evil character which underlay the glory and power of the empire. Now the Church is bid to contrast with the false glory of the empire the true glory of Christ and His people in heaven (Revelation 1:1-5), to hearken to the good news of the approaching manifestation of God, and of the fall of wicked Rome (Revelation 1:6-8), and to beware lest any fail of steadfastness, and fall away to the beast, for great will be the misery of such, while those who die in Christ are blessed (Revelation 1:9-13). Christ will gather in His own (Revelation 1:14-16), but the wicked will perish under the wrath of God (Revelation 1:17-20).
Revelation 15, 16. The Bowls—Judgment poured out.
Revelation 15:1-5. The wrath of God is about to be manifested. During a pause before it is launched, is heard, the triumphant praise of those who have come victorious from the beast, Revelation 15:6-8. Then the seven angels file forth from the heavenly Temple and receive seven bowls, full of the wrath of God, which they are to pour out on the earth.
Revelation 16:1-9. The first four bowls. Convulsions of nature afflict the ungodly, preliminary to the overthrow of the enemies of Christ.
Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:11. The fifth bowl. The idolatrous people, instead of repenting at God's judgments, become full of blasphemous rebellion.
Revelation 16:12-16. The sixth bowl. The evil influence of the dragon and of the two beasts stirs up the rulers of the world to gather to battle against Christ.
Revelation 16:17-21. The seventh bowl. The end of the preparatory judgments is reached. All earthly powers are shaken, as the wrath of God is manifested to overwhelm the enemies of Christ, and, first among them, the city of Rome (Babylon).
Revelation 17, 18. The Overthrow of Rome.
Revelation 17:1. The city of Rome, pictured as a harlot, magnificently attired, enthroned upon the beast, and drunken with the blood of the martyrs, will be destroyed and burnt by the kings of the earth and by the beast.
Revelation 18:1-3. The Fall of Rome is announced.
Revelation 18:4-8. God's people are warned to quit her.
Revelation 18:9-19. The dirge over Babylon of those who loved her. Revelation 18:20. The exultation of those she has persecuted. Revelation 18:21-24. Renewed prediction of her Fall.
Revelation 19, 20. The overthrow of the Empire and its Asian idolatry, and of Satan, and the last Judgment of the wicked.
Revelation 19:1-10. Heaven glorifies God because of the overthrow of wicked Rome (Revelation 1:1-4), and because the marriage, of the Lamb is come (Revelation 1:5-10), Revelation 19:11-18. But before the marriage Christ comes forth to triumph over His remaining enemies, Revelation 19:17, Revelation 19:18. The completeness of Christ's coming victory signified by a cry to the vultures to gather to the prey.
Revelation 19:19-21. All the power of the Roman empire is concentrated against Christ, and the Pagan empire and its religion are overthrown, Revelation 20:1-3. The devil remains, but for a period of rest and happiness he will be prevented from inspiring a general attack upon Christianity. Revelation 20:4-6. This time of earthly rest was not for the Christians of St, John's day. Yet for them would be triumph and happiness with Christ after death, while the wicked were kept for the Last Judgment. Revelation 20:7-10, Once more, in the future, Satan's power will break forth in a final attack upon the Church. For the last time God will overthrow these enemies, and then the power of Satan will perish for ever. Revelation 20:11-15. Then will come the last Judgment of the wicked, after which there will be no more death.
Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5. The Eternal Bliss of Heaven.
Revelation 21:1-8. St. John sees, as if from a distance, the heavenly home of the Redeemed coming down upon the new earth, and hears a description of its blessedness, Revelation 21:9-27. He is brought near, by one of the seven angels, to the 'New Jerusalem,' the Bride, so that he can view her in her security and beauty and holiness as the resting-place of God's glory and the home of the Church.
Revelation 22:1-5. Finally he is shown the inner life of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Revelation 22:6-21. Closing Section.
Revelation 22:6-9. The angel affirms the truth of the visions. Revelation 22:10-15. The prophecy now completed is to be used. The time is short. Blessed are they who shall share in the glories revealed, Revelation 22:16, Revelation 22:17. Christ declares that the Revelation has been sent by Him for the use of the Church. The Spirit in the Church, hearing Christ's voice, calls for His Advent, Revelation 22:18, Revelation 22:19. St. John warns those who hear the book read in the services of the Church that it is not to be falsified. Revelation 22:20. Christ repeats the promise of His coming, and St. John prays for it, Revelation 22:21. Benedictory prayer.
the Second Week after Epiphany