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Revelation 1

D.S. Clark's Commentary on RevelationClark on Revelation

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We conclude with a brief resume of the contents of The Revelation.

Chapter I is the introduction, fixing the circumstances, human writer, and divine Revealer.

Chapter II and III are addressed to the seven churches of Asia; simple plain messages, and not allegorical or symbolical prophecies.

Chapters IV to XI inclusive are visions of events and judgments that lead up to and culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish state, the first great persecutor of the Christian church.

Chapters XII to XIX inclusive are visions of events and judgments that culminate in the overthrow of pagan Rome, the second great persecutor, and the triumph of Christ and his cause over the hostile forces of a wicked world.

Chapter XX embraces the binding of Satan, the millennium, the post-millennial period, and the universal resurrection and the final judgment of the human race, with the destiny of the wicked in the lake of fire.

Chapter XXI and five verses of Chapter XXII present the destiny and blessedness of the righteous in the new heavens and new earth, in which the new Jerusalem is particularly described.

Chapter XXII:6-21, is the conclusion of the book, reverting to the historical standpoint at the beginning of The Revelation.

Verses 1-2

V. 1. In the opening clause we are told what the book is, A Revelation. It is not derived from natural sources, from history, from nature, from intuition, from the ratiocination of man, from any human or natural spring. But it is a revelation from God through Christ. The words "of Jesus Christ" refer to the source rather than to the object of the revelation. Those who make the purpose of the book to be a prophecy of the premillennial coming construe this genitive in accordance with their theory. But the plain and obvious sense is well expressed by Marvin R. Vincent; "Not the manifestation or disclosure of Jesus Christ, but the revelation given by him."

Connecting the clause with the verb "to show" confirms the idea of source. "Which God gave unto him" this is a divine book, and a part of the Holy Scripture. The revelation given to Jesus Christ shows the office of Christ as revealer of the Godhead. "Christ executeth the office of a prophet by revealing to us by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation."

"To show things which must shortly come to pass." Some endeavor to limit this expression to chapters two and three. But since the same expression occurs in the last chapter of the book it is evident that it must refer to the bulk of the message. "Shortly" can mean nothing else but close at hand or very soon. With all allowance for linguistic flexibility and comparative lengths of periods, it would be stretching language to the breaking point to make shortly mean several thousands of years. Such interpretations are only trifling with words, and the word of God. The force of these words is decisive. The things that were to be shown in the visions were close at hand; they were to begin with the people to whom the book was written and not thousands of years in the future. God is his own interpreter and must be allowed to say what He means, and what God says in explanation of his own prophecies must be taken in its obvious meaning and regarded as authoritative.

Origen introduced into the church an allegorical method of interpretation which is somewhat in vogue today. He taught that the Scriptures admit of a threefold interpretation, the literal, the ethical or spiritual, and the allegorical or mystical. The danger of allegorizing the Scriptures is evident. They are made to mean anything on the slightest pretext. This is the great danger today. Men read into the Scripture what is not there; and the imagery of Revelation affords them scope. Sound principles of interpretation were never more needed than now, and especially in the Apocalypse.

Verse 3

V. 3. "Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear." Some would read and some would hear. Of printed Bibles there was none, and manuscripts were scarce. It was customary to have manuscripts read to the churches and frequently to circulate them among a group of churches; so that there would be many more hearers than readers. This manuscript was evidently sent to the churches to be read in their hearing.

"Blessed is he that keepeth" etc. Obedience is the ground of blessing. "For the time is at hand." Again the writer stresses the nearness of the events foretold. He says in effect: "Read and circulate this book quickly. Give serious heed to its warnings and admonitions. Get its courage and strength, for the times of judgment and martyrdom herein depicted are already at your doors." Those to whom this book was addressed were being forewarned that they might be forearmed.

Verses 4-8

Vs. 4-8. These verses must be held together, and grasped comprehensively to get the proper view-point. "John to the seven churches which are in Asia." What he writes, he writes to those seven churches; and this includes the whole book rather than the two chapters of special messages. In the closing passage of the book, Rev_22:16 , he writes: "I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches," thus embracing the whole book in his message to these churches. The rest of this passage to the end of the eighth verse is a characterization of Jesus Christ in his outstanding features as God and Saviour.

It is to show who is giving this revelation; what authority and power belong to him. It is holding before the minds of the readers and hearers Jesus Christ as our God, our Saviour, our Judge, and as the one in whose hands repose our welfare on earth and our destiny in eternity. Here in the beginning Jesus Christ is stressed with every exalted characteristic and prerogative; just as in subsequent verses 13-16, his peculiar relation to the church is set forth in the most striking terms.

Observe the range and significance of this characterization. "He was" before all worlds; "He is" living and reigning now; "He is to come" the judge of all the earth. Then follow his witness, his resurrection, his kingship, his atoning death, his power to reward, his everlasting glory and dominion, his coming again, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending, which is and was, and is to come, the Almighty. Here is the grand panegyric setting forth Jesus Christ as the source and authority in this revelation.

Now it is quite unscientific to take just one feature of this encomium and exalt it into the dominant note and specific purpose of the book of Revelation. A recent writer says, 'The salutation strikes at the outset the dominant note of the book. It is the note of Christ and his coming. Here is the theme of the Revelation in a nutshell. The book has to do preeminently with the end of this present age, and with the coming again of Jesus Christ as the supreme and tremendous climax of the age."

All this is superficial and misguided, and misses the point of the whole book. It lacks comprehensiveness of grasp and confuses a detail with the main purpose. It makes an item of paraphernalia the guide and goal of interpretation. The coming is one feature of the exaltation of the Revealer, not a snapshot of the contents of the book. In Rev_1:7 we read, "Behold he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him; and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth (or tribes of the land) shall wail because of him."

What coming is here referred to? There are some who will refer this entirely to his coming to judge and destroy Jerusalem. And it is certain that the destruction of Jerusalem bulks more largely in the prophecies of the New Testament than our premillennial friends are wont to admit. The bulk of Mat_24:1-51 , Mar_13:1-37 , and Luk_21:1-38 concerns the destruction of Jerusalem. Moreover Christ said; "There are some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom," and "This generation (Christ's generation not some future one) shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." All this shows that Christ used this language to describe some near event which he called a "coming of the Son of Man." It may be so in this verse seven, "And they also which pierced him;" very probably many of his crucifiers lived to see the judgment executed upon Jerusalem. But while the New Testament recognizes these nearer comings, it also contemplates a final coming when the Son of Man shall "come in his glory" and judge all "nations" or people, and appoint their "eternal" destiny.

There are some trustworthy expositors who regard these verses as referring to both, the near and the final comings; the one suggesting the other as seems altogether probable in Mat_24:1-51 . In such case the imagery of the verse is borrowed from both. But if we concede that Rev_1:7 refers to the final coming, and it may well be so, then it is just in line with the rest of this passage, showing Christ's great power and exalted character, and that he who will judge the world at the last day will judge the persecuting powers in that or any other age. This reference to the coming is therefore one element in the exaltation of the Revealer, but not "the theme of the Revelation in a nutshell." It matters not whether Rev_1:7 refers to judgment on Jerusalem or to the final coming, its purpose is descriptive of Jesus Christ and not indicative of the purpose of the book to teach a pre-millennial coming.

"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending." Christ was the beginning as Creator. He is the ending as Judge. This is more than antedating all created beings and outliving them all as the Arians afterward taught. It is exalting Jesus Christ as Lord. As the first chapter of Genesis sets God before and above all creation, so this first chapter is particularly employed in setting up Jesus Christ as omnipotent and Lord of all.

These Christians, many of whom lived in Christ's day, were not to think of him as once they had seen him, in hunger, and thirst, and weariness and weakness, arrested, fainting under the cross, crucified and buried; but as Lord of heaven and earth with all power in his hand, able to overthrow their enemies, able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, and exalt them to the throne of God. The day was not far distant if not already begun when they should face persecution and martyrdom. In such scenes they must not forget that this Jesus whom they professed was their Creator and Judge; and that their destiny and the world's destiny were at his supreme command.

Verse 9

V. 9. "I, John, your brother and companion in tribulation," that was a winsome address. He stood with them on common ground. Every hardship they bore, he endured. Every prospect of martyrdom they faced, he had already contemplated. He was even in the vanguard bearing the first baptism of fire and blood. They would listen to the words of one who suffered in their sufferings, and stood in the forefront of their dangers.

Patmos--a small rocky island off the coast from Ephesus, eight miles by one, fit place for meditation, with the sound of many waters ever murmuring on the rock bound shore.

Verse 10

V. 10. "In the spirit." We cannot describe this psychological state other than to suppose that all the channels of his being were open toward God, ready for the reception of any divine communication. Had he not been "in the spirit," but spending the holy day after the modern fashion, it is needless to say no voice or vision would have come to him. The man who is in the spirit on the Lord's day is the one who hears God speak and gets his message.

"The Lord's day," evidently the Christian Sabbath or the first day of the week, indicating what day the apostles observed.

Verse 11

V. 11. "What thou seest," evidently the visions which were about to be disclosed, "write in a book", this book we are now considering. "And send unto the seven churches," and here the specific seven churches of Asia Minor are given by name.

The book had some special application to the churches named, and to the conditions and circumstances in which they lived, and to those circumstances which they were soon to face. The book as a whole, not merely two chapters of it, was addressed to these seven churches.

Verse 12

V. 12. "Seven golden candlesticks." We are told in plain language that these are symbols of the seven churches. Zec_4:1-14 gives us the same symbolism; and Christ declared: "Ye are the light of the world."

Verse 13

V. 13. "In the midst one like unto the Son of Man." Christ is in the midst of his church. He is its life and power. He is not an absentee Lord. He is an abiding presence and personality. "Lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world." Unless Christ is in the midst, the church is dead and shorn of power. This vision was of special significance and comfort to those churches in the scenes of blood thru which they were called to pass. In the burning fiery furnace into which they were soon to be thrown, there was One who would walk with them, whose appearance was like to the Son of Man.

Verse 14

V. 14. "His head as white as snow." Not age with its weakness and senility; but maturity and wisdom, purity and goodness. "Be ye holy for I am holy."

"His eyes as a flame of fire." No night so dark as to dim his vision. No path so tortuous and crooked that he cannot follow it. No secret so hidden that it does not blaze before him. No heart that he does not read like an open page. No deed so buried that it does not stand out before him. Nothing so forgotten that it will not come to light. That eye sees through everything.

Verse 15

V. 15. "Feet like molten brass." Strength and majesty are in his going forth. Feet swift to girdle the earth; tireless to stride down the centuries; strong to trample down all his enemies.

"His voice as the sound of many waters," Sweet and low as the brook that sings its way through the meadow, or filled with majesty and grandeur as it speaks the language of judgment and fear, as the roar of the angry surf as it thunders upon the shore. For those who hear not the one, Christ reserves the other. There are such contrasts in Christ because there are such contrasts in men.

Verse 16

V. 16. "In his hand seven stars." We are told what they mean; the messengers or ministers to the churches.

"Out of his mouth went a sharp two edged sword." Observe that the sword was in his mouth, not in his hand. Christ's weapons, by which he conquers the world, are spiritual; not carnal. Christ conquers by his word, not by armies with guns. This imagery corresponds with Paul's who says: "The sword of the Spirit which is the word of God." We find this sword again in the nineteenth chapter proceeding out of his mouth by which he subdues and conquers his enemies. When Christ leads armies with a sword in his mouth, it is the triumph of the gospel.

"His countenance as the sun shineth in his strength." Let the churches know that their Redeemer is mighty and glorious; that his rule is from sea to sea and from pole to pole, and therefore they need not fear the conflict, nor doubt the final outcome.

Verses 17-18

Vs. 17-18. John fell at his feet as dead; and Christ said: "Fear not I am the first and the last, he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore." I was dead; but I am dead no more. I have "the keys of hell and of death." Nothing can happen without me. Splendid encouragement! Who would not be under such a captain and follow such a leader?

Verse 20

V. 20. "The mystery." This introduces the explanation of the mystery. Rev_17:7 says, "I will tell thee the mystery." Scattered through the book are hints as to the meaning of its symbolism. We need not be in much doubt where divine guide-boards are given. It is well to observe them. Better indeed than to resort to conjecture and impose self-made or preconceived theories. These land marks are God's own guide-posts; they are therefore trustworthy and authoritative. He has blazed the trail through this wilderness of type and symbol. If we observe the marks we can follow the path.

"The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches." Angels no doubt in the sense of messengers or ministers; not angels in the ordinary sense of that word. Their office determines their nature. Since they are intermediary, not between God and John, but between John and the churches, we infer that they are natural and not supernatural beings. They were simply seven men through whom John communicated with the churches above mentioned.

"And the seven candlesticks are the seven churches." Plain language this. No room for doubt or speculation. This is divine commentary. Due observance of such explanatory helps scattered through the book, will assist us to a sensible interpretation of The Revelation.

Thus the first chapter ends having given us the source and authority of the revelation, the glory and power of the revealer, and the help and hope of the church in all her fiery trials. Thus the stage is set for the scenes that are to follow.