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I. THE INTRODUCTION
( Rev_1:1-20 : l-3)
(1) The source of the visions.
1. “The revelation of Jesus Christ”--1:1.
It was made known by Jesus Christ, that is, it was not concerning Christ himself. The language does not refer to the person of Christ, as the subject of the vision, but to the One by whom it was communicated to John--by Jesus Christ “the faithful witness,” through the agency of his angel.
2. “Which God gave unto him"--1:1.
God, the Father, was himself the source of the vision. This reverence for God was always manifested by Jesus, as he affirmed in all of the gospel records while he was on the earth, that he did not speak of, or from, himself, but from his Father who sent him. ( Joh_12:49 ) This vision was first a revelation that God sent to his Son, Jesus Christ, who, in the second place, sent it by an angel, in the third place, to John, in the fourth place of the numerical declension. The angel signified the vision to John, that is, communicated it to him in the signs directed by Jesus Christ.
(2) The object of the visions.
1. “To show unto his servants"--1: 1.
It was on the principle that to be forewarned was to be forearmed. So the things signified, or symbolized--set forth in signs--were explained to the members of the churches for their needful information concerning the immediate events which pertained to the persons and churches addressed, and which would be fulfilled in the period of their own lives and experiences; else the language addressed to them served no purpose to the people for whom “God gave it,” and to whom it was sent.
2. “Things which must shortly come to pass"--1:1.
Reference to things indicated a definite form of events then shaping, and the word must is not a speculative or conjectural term; it was factual, and the word shortly denoted immediacy. These events applied to them, not to centuries after their time, and even yet to come. The object of the entire revelation was to inform and forewarn, to comfort and encourage the church in the time of this vision --the apostolic age, the period of the churches addressed.
(3) The method of the delivery and communication.
1. “And he sent and signified it by an angel”--1:1.
The revelation was sent by an angel--that is, it was delivered by a special messenger. And it was signified, indicating how it was communicated; that it was not merely made known, but was transmitted in code by signs and symbols. It was a special message, delivered by special messengers, in the special medium of code language. It was thus dispatched unto his servant John.
2. “Unto his servant John"--1:1.
There is a difference in the meanings of the words show and signify. Jesus Christ signified the vision unto John to show unto his servants. That is, it was revealed to John in code for explanation to the churches, which could, of course, have been accomplished by the spiritually gifted teachers of that period in each church. The meaning is that as a message, it was special and not general; it was for the churches, and not for the public. As an example, the Comforter ( Joh_14:16 ; Joh_13:13 ) was a special promise to the apostles alone, and not to all of the disciples, nor for the world in general--only the apostles. So it was with the apocalypse; it was a message for the early churches, not for the Jewish world nor the Roman public--and that is why it was written in code instead of the use of literal language, as in all of the other epistles.
(4) The witness of the visions.
1. “Who bare record of the word of God"--1:2.
The word of God, to which John was to be the witness, was the message of the revelation itself, the word which God gave unto Jesus Christ (verse 1) at this time and in this apocalypse, not the word of God which had already been preached by the other apostles or that which was in the general epistles. This was the word of God in the special sense, belonging to the special message, for the special time. These were the special things which Jesus Christ signified to John, which did not belong to the revelation of the gospel contained in the other epistles. It was an apocalyptic revelation to the churches that were on the threshold of their peril--in that period called the hour of trial.
2. “And of the testimony of Jesus Christ"--1:2.
As previously intimated, this is a specific reference to the testimony of Christ to John, not John’s testimony of or concerning Christ. It was the testimony of this apocalypse, as stated in the first line of the first verse, the testimony of Jesus Christ.
3. “Even of all things that he saw"--1:2.
Thus it is that both the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ refer to the things that John saw, of which John bare record, not the past witness of the word which all the other apostles had made, nor the testimony of Christ in the sense of the gospel which they had preached. It was the word of God and the testimony of this apocalypse only of the things to which John was bearing witness and of which he was making a record.
(5) The admonitions of the visions.
1. “Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear-1:3.
This is, first, a reference to the person whose task it was to explain the visions, designated as he that readeth; and second, to the auditors assembled to receive it, as they that hear. As previously mentioned, there were specially endowed teachers, spiritually gifted men, in all of the churches ( 1Co_12:1-31 ), who could read and decode the revelation that was signified. The language of verse 3 indicates the need of the explanatory reading.
2. “The words of this prophecy"--1:3.
These words were prophetic in the sense of being visional. In this use of the word prophecy, it was apocalyptic only of things already beginning to occur. It was not the foretelling of far future events not connected with the experiences of his servants to whom and for whom the apocalypse was delivered.
3. “And keep those things which are written therein” --1:3.
The manifest meaning of this phrase is that his servants should remember the signified portents, and the monitory exhortations of the visions, for they would come within the experiences of their own time.
4. “For the time is at hand"--1:3.
There can be no reason to assign any other meaning to this phrase at hand than that which it had in the announcement of John the Baptist that the kingdom of heaven was at hand ( Mat_3:2 ), or of Jesus that the kingdom of God was at hand ( Mar_1:14-15 ). The language and the context of it can mean only one thing--that these events were imminent. The sole reason for the admonition to read and hear and keep the things signified is stated in the clause of this verse: for the time is at hand. If the things written therein pertained to the remote future rather than to the immediate future, there was no application for such a warning.
II THE SALUTATORY INTERMISSION (Chapter 1:4-8)
(1) The salutation of John to the churches.
As John was known to them all, familiar by name and person, it was not necessary to distinguish himself from others by any descriptive titles or designations, such as an apostle of Christ. The use of the word apostle as introductory to the epistles of Paul had a specific reason, to affirm his apostolic credentials which Judaizers had attempted to discredit. No such circumstances existed with John, and he simply said John to the churches. If the author of Revelation had been another John than the apostle, some descriptive appellation would have been required for identification.
(2) To the seven churches.
The claim that seven dispensations are indicated by seven letters to seven churches, covering all Christian centuries, is reversed by the factual character of the names and the events corresponding in date to the period of the apocalypse. Though addressed to the seven churches in the Asian provinces of Mysia, Lydia, Caria and Phrygia, its contents would apply to all the early churches, as did the teaching in the apostolic epistles.
The Asia of these churches is generally considered to be where John went after the martyrdom of his brother James ( Act_12:2-3 ), which was said to be “pleasing to the Jews,” and which connects with the Jewish persecutions belonging to the apocalypses of Revelation, and with John’s association with the seven churches of this Asian region. The geographical designation of the text, in Asia, does not include the continent of Asia, nor the whole of Asia Minor, but rather a small Roman province in the west coastal part of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital, and which included the lesser provinces named. A look at the map will settle this point in the minds of the reader who is geographically interested.
(3) From the eternal God and the living Christ.
1. “From him which is, and which was, and which is to come"--1:4.
This sublime statement refers to God, and the description which is, and which was affirms his eternal Being; and which is to come has reference to his predicted judgments and events.
2. “And from the seven spirits which are before his throne”--1:4.
The seven spirits are a designation of the spirit of each of the seven churches, having already been described as seven golden candlesticks, and later referred to (chapter 4:50 as seven lamps before his throne. Thus the sev en spirits before his throne are identical with the seven lamps before his throne. It is the continuation of the apocalyptic aspect of the seven-branched lamps (or candlesticks) which represented the seven churches, and being before his throne signified a unison with God and Christ in these salutations.
3. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness” --1:5.
It was Jesus Christ who had borne witness to the truth of his Sonship before Pontius Pilate, as mentioned in 1Ti_6:13 . And he was associated with God in the salutatations to his servants who were on the brink of that hour of trial, which would bring death to them, for the same confession before men that Jesus had made before Pilate.
4. “The first begotten of the dead"--1:5.
The language here does not affirm that Jesus was the first person to be raised from the dead, for several names can be mentioned who were miraculously raised up out of their graves, by the prophets of the Old Testament, and by Jesus and Peter in the New Testament, all of which were for the purposes of divine demonstration. They were not resurrected to die no more, but returned to corruption -therefore they were not begotten of the dead. To him alone, who conquered death by a resurrection to die no more, belongs the title, the first begotten of the dead.
5. “The prince of the kings of the earth"--1:5.
The four appellations together accentuate first, who he was, and second, what he was, from whom this message came.
6. “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood"--1:5.
The release from sins as the result of the shedding of his own blood, represented here as the element in which the sins of man are washed away, is the heart of the remedial plan.
7. “And hath made us kings and priests"--1:6.
The God unto whom all members of the church are priests is here affirmed to be his Father, thus ascribing deity to Jesus Christ. The offices of royalty and priesthood are united in the members of the churches, as typified in Exo_19:6 , and finds its spiritual fulfillment in 1Pe_2:9 . The allusions to the “kingdom of priests,” in the Exodus passage, was to emphasize that Christ has made us new kings and priests in contrast with what once was but is no more. The church is the kingdom of Christ, and all the members are priests unto God--hence, the church is a kingdom of priests. The Syriac New Testament reads: “And hath made us a priestly kingdom.”
8. “Unto God and his Father"--1:6.
The eternal dominion of God is here pronounced. Although it is Christ who is King, and has made us into a new kingdom and a new priesthood, it was so done unto God and his Father. This was true of the old Israel whose kingdom, though ruled by appointed heads, was unto God; and this universal dominion of God has existed from the beginning as an eternal truth.
9. “To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."--1:6.
The glory and the dominion of God is never ending. He had unlimited dominion in all things of the past; he holds dominion over all things of the present; and he will exercise dominion over all events of the future. The dispensations changed from one age to another, from the old to the new, but the dominion of God remains the same. The things of men and of angels, and of the Son himself, are and ever shall be subservient to God, the Supreme Being and Absolute Ruler of the universe.
(4) The ominous announcement.
1. “Behold he cometh with the clouds"--1:7.
The reference here is not to the second advent, or return of Christ, but to the coming events about to be delineated, as in the Lord’s reply to Caiaphas, the high priest in Mat_26:64 : “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” This high priest would live to see the event here foretold, the fulfillment of which occurred in the figurative coming of Christ in the destruction of Jerusalem, as previously foretold in Mat_24:1-51 , and centuries before by the prophet Zechariah in chapter 14. The prophet referred to the destruction of Jerusalem as “the day of the Lord,” and in Mat_24:1-51 Jesus designated it as his coming. And Jesus told Caiaphas that he would live to witness it. The words behold he cometh are an announcement of warning, a call to expectancy, an alert to the impending developments.
The added expression “ with the clouds” is not to be literally taken for a material display of his bodily presence. In the description of God’s judgment on Egypt, in Isa_19:6 , the prophet said: “Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt.” Also, in Eze_38:16 , the prophet said that the latter days God would come up against Israel “as a cloud to cover the land.” And in Mat_24:30 , Jesus describes the events in the destruction of Jerusalem as “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This is precisely what Jesus told Pilate that he should see, and it is the meaning of Rev_1:7 , pointing to the destruction of Jerusalem.
2. “And every eye shall see him"--1:7.
Both the impact and the import of the occurring events would be of universal knowledge. The siege and fall of Jerusalem would be known to the entire population of the Roman empire both Jewish and pagan.
3. “And they that pierced him"--1:7.
The act and the fact here declared refer not merely to the Romans who wielded and thrust the sword into the Lord’s body on the cross, but also to the Jews who, through the officials of their nation, had performed the deed. The truth of this statement is affirmed by the officials of the Jews themselves in Mat_27:25 , and it is confirmed by the apostle Peter in Act_2:23 .
4. “And all the kindreds (tribes) of the earth shall wail because of him"--1:7.
The families of the Jews all over the Roman world are here mentioned. The Gentiles were never referred to as tribes; the tribes belonged to the Jews, who were dispersed into every part of the earth. Yet the events foretold of what would happen to their city and their nation, in Jerusalem and Judea, would become known wherever they were scattered, and all the Jews in every part of the earth would wail over this calamity. They would all mourn over the ruin of their city Jerusalem, and for the destruction of their system of Judaism, and for the overthrow of their theocracy in the demolition of their temple, and for the termination of their Jewish state-their national distinction and existence.
And they would wail (or mourn) because of him, for it was in fulfillment of the fearful woes that he had pronounced against Jerusalem and which were figuratively ascribed to his coming.
This piercing and mourning were the subjects of the prophecy of Zec_12:9-11 ; Zec_14:1 , described as “the day of the Lord.” The quotation of the first reference is made in Joh_19:37 . These scriptural applications show that the fulfillment of the coming with the clouds in Rev_1:7 was accomplished in the events of the fall of Jerusalem. These fulfilling events, at and after the destruction of Jerusalem, have unmistakable bearing on the contents of Revelation, and the period to which it belongs.
5. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending”--1:8.
These are the first and the last letters in the Greek alphabet, and they correspond to the Yea and Amen of the Hebrew equivalent. The one in verse 7, and the other in verse 8, appear to be an affirmation and ratification of the things about to be signified as being the irrevocable testimony of Jesus Christ.
III THE PREFATORY VISION (Chapter 1:9-18)
(1) The place of the vision.
The location of the vision was “in the isle that is called Patmos.” This island has been described as a small rocky and rugged region off the barren coast of Asia Minor, approximately twenty-five miles from the mainland in the Aegean sea--a gulf of the Great Sea (the Mediterranean), which formed the coastal provinces of Mysia, Lydia, Phrygia and Caria, and in which were situated all the seven churches of Asia, mentioned in the vision. Tradition claims that John was banished by the Roman government and exiled on Patmos. There is no conclusive scriptural evidence nor verified factual history to sustain this traditional claim, and it stands somewhat on the same basis as the Petrine tradition that the apostle Peter once resided in Rome. It is not said in the text, nor necessarily implied in the contents of Revelation, that John was a prisoner on Patmos. If John was a prisoner on Patmos, as Paul was a prisoner in Rome, it is singularly strange, if not unaccountable, that no mention was made of it, and no reference was made to it, by himself or in any other New Testament epistle.
(2) The purpose of the vision.
“For the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ"--1:9.
The English preposition for in this passage is dia, which Professor Terry states that, by its established usage with the accusative, means for the sake of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. It gives the ground or the reason for John’s presence on Patmos: that the reason for being there was no other than to receive the revelation, that is, for the vision itself--for “the testimony of Jesus Christ” and “of all things that he saw,” and not because of banishment and exile. The coupling of the testimony with the vision in verse 2, supports the view that he was there to receive the things that he saw, and that these things were themselves the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, for which he was there.
A further evidence of this concept in John’s own statement, in chapter 10:11, of his intention to leave Patmos for an active itinerary among the people of many nations, to carry to them in personal evangelism the testimony of this apocalypse. If John had been prisoner in exile, no such liberty existed on which to base such an announcement, for he was imprisoned on Patmos, and his status would have been no different from Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.
Further comparisons in the context will support the purpose, not the consequence, of the determinative expression for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. It is worthy of notation here that the similar expressions “for the word of God” and “for the witness of Jesus,” in Rev_6:9 ; Rev_20:4 , are in another context and carry another connotation, therefore do not warrant the same construction as in Rev_1:2 ; Rev_1:9 . In one the testimony was being received; in the other it was being upheld.
(3) The companionship of suffering and citizenship.
1. “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation”--1:9.
The common ground of fellowship between John and the members of the Asian churches was not his apostleship. It was the brotherhood relation and the mutual participation in the sufferings existing and anticipated. He was speaking not of the incident of his presence on Patmos, or of imprisonment there, but rather to the threat of the gathering and darkening clouds of persecution, such as mentioned in the letters to Smyrna, Thyatira and Philadelphia; particularly as related to its then present and incipient stage; and as in Heb_10:31-39 , the portent of the things to come.
2. “And in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” --1:9.
The preposition in with the conjunction and-- that is, the phrase in tribulation and the kingdom and the patience of Jesus Christ--joins the three together as existing and present. It follows that if John was not in the kingdom then, and if we are not in the kingdom now--then John was not in Jesus Christ then, and we are not in Jesus Christ now. But the apostle, in Col_1:13-14 , declares that all the Colossians who were delivered from darkness had thereby been translated into the kingdom when they received redemption in Christ.
3. “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day"--1:10.
The claim that John was in the spirit means that he was in visional rapture, not in the Holy Spirit, but in the state described of Paul in 2Co_12:1-21 , and of Peter in Act_10:1-48 . As though out of the body, John was in a state in which the external objects and material surroundings were as though they did not exist--he had for the time passed out of the physical world into the spiritual state. This was not the effect of any natural cause, but rather the result of the interposition of supernatural power.
The words visions and dreams are not synonymous, and their meanings are not identical, though sometimes they are used indiscriminately in the Scriptures, as in Gen_46:2 ; Num_12:6 ; Job_20:8 ; and Dan_2:28 . In the vision, the subject may be awake, as in 2Ki_6:17 ; Act_23:11 ; Act_27:23 --in a state of supernatural ecstasy. But in the dreams through which God revealed his purposes and his will, and in the divine purpose, to him was also imparted the powers of interpretation.
The examples of such dreams were numerous, as in Gen_20:3-6 ; Gen_28:12-14 ; 1Sa_28:6 ; Dan_2:1-45 ; and Joe_2:28 . This power to interpret was, of course, supernatural and, therefore, the dreams and visions belonged only to the supernatural prophetical and apostolic ages and ceased with them.
Since the complete revelation of God’s will for the redemption of man and the edification of his church has been delivered, and its inspired documents committed to the apostolic records of the New Testament, there can be no need or reason for their existence, and no confidence can be held in the claims and pretensions of individuals and cults presuming to employ them, and such presumption can only be labelled as false and impious.
The verse under consideration states that John was in the spirit on the Lord’s day. The preposition on is the same in the Greek as in, and the context must determine the distinction. The use of it here means in the midst of the Lord’s day. It is not a reference to the first day of the week, but to the day in which the Lord accomplished these events, as used in Isa_13:9 in which Isaiah described the destruction of ancient Babylon as the day of the Lord; and in Zec_14:1 where Zechariah referred to the destruction of Jerusalem as the day of the Lord. The phrase meant the day of events connected with the judgments of the Lord. 2Ti_1:18 referred to the day of God’s mercy, meaning the time in which his mercy is extended to men. In this sense the phrase in the Lord’s day is used in Rev_1:10 ; it means in day of the rapture into which the Lord had placed John--that he had been transported into the midst of the scenes of the vision as though he was, himself, in the day of their happening.
(4) The voice of the Son of man.
1. “And heard behind me a great voice"--1:10.
This part of the scene was not occult, but auditory. John heard this voice, and it came from behind him, from a point where he was not looking. The great voice was “as a trumpet”--a signal, as if to announce the approach of a solemn epiphany, a divine presence.
2. “What thou seest, write in a book"--1:11.
The voice appointed John to be only the amanuensis of Jesus Christ--only the scribe of documents that were not his own; the mere chronicler of events of a supernatural apocalypse.
3. “And send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia"--1: 11.
This oracular command of the Addresser in this scene specified the seven churches as the addressees, and named them. Again, here is the indication of the period and date of the visions. If the seven churches were figurative, as some authors claim, why this factual designation of the actual names and locations of figurative churches. The argument for the early date of Revelation, as previously shown, is in the historical fact that there were only the seven churches in these western Asian provinces before the destruction of Jerusalem, but after that event the churches became numerous by the diffusion of Christianity over the empire, the opportunity for which was greatly enhanced by the removal of Judaism, its greatest foe, from the path of the church. It has been more than once mentioned that such eminent scholars as Schaff, Terry and MacDonald (and others) verify the historical fact that after the Great Earthquake (before the destruction of Jerusalem) the churches at Colosse and Hierapolis did not again maintain a separate existence, but consolidated with the nearby Laodicean church. Concluding his remarks on this point in The Life And Writings Of John, page 154, MacDonald says:
“There appear to have been but seven churches in Asia . . . when the book was written. It is dedicated to these seven alone by the careful mention of them one by one by name, as if there were no others. . . . The expression ‘the seven churches’ seems to imply that this constituted the whole number, and hence affords one of the most striking incidental proofs in favor of an early date. . . . Those who contend for the later date, when there must have been a greater number of churches than seven in the region designated by the apostle fail to give any sufficient reason for his mentioning no more. That they mystically or symbolically represented others is surely not such a reason.”
Again, Doctor Tilloch, in his work entitled Dissertations, says “There were but seven churches in Asia when the Revelation was written.”
The historical evidences from these, and many others, cannot be spurned or waived aside with a theoretical assertion. It is weighty evidence that the visions of Revelation were composed before the destruction of Jerusalem. The history of these cities and churches supports John’s specific statement. It is a vital point in the divergence of view on the chronology of Revelation. It involves the claim that the church at Colossae is an example of another Asian church than the seven mentioned, but as previously proven by historical data, Colossae was destroyed by the earthquake in the reign of Nero, and was not thereafter identified by that name, but merged with the Laodiceans, as was true of other cities and churches in the region. In his own one volume work titled A Dictionary Of The Bible, Philip Schaff, commenting on Laodicea, makes the following statement: “When, in the middle of the first century of our era, an earthquake destroyed Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea, the latter was rebuilt by its own inhabitants without any aid from the Roman senate.” The casual reader cannot fail to observe the significance of the statement that “the latter (Laodicea) was rebuilt,” which, mentioned in direct connection with Colossae and Hierapolis, can only mean that these two were not rebuilt. Laodicea was rebuilt, but Colosse and Hierapolis were not. This accounts for the disbanding of the two churches as separate congregations, and refutes the claim that there were more than the seven churches in the period when the Apocalypse was composed. If the facts of history mean anything at all, there is firm proof here for the pre-Destruction of Jerusalem date for John’s Patmos apocalypse.
(5) The Son of man in the midst.
1. “In the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man"--1:12-13.
When John turned to see the voice, he saw one who had the appearance of Jesus. From his own memory John knew Jesus. He could recognize the countenance of the Lord and his personal appearance by his constant association with him in the days of his flesh. And he had seen him in majesty, glory and power in his ascension. Now he beheld in the vision One who was like him--he had known his incarnate person; he saw him in ascended glory; he knew his coronated majesty; he knew his kingly power--and he recognized the Son of man!
2. “He was clothed with a garment."--1:13.
The royal garment was in keeping with appropriate royalty, a royal garment which was indicative of monarchial dignity.
3. “And girt with a golden girdle”--1:13.
It represented the source and sway of the truth, as the girdle of truth suggests in Eph_6:14 .
4. “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow"--1:14.
These figures symbolized his sinless purity and his sublime majesty, as employed in Isa_1:18 : “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
5. “And his eyes were as a flame of fire"--1:14.
The same symbols are used in the prophetic apocalypses to designate divine omniscience, that He is the penetrator and the discerner of all things.
6. “And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned it in a furnace"--1:15.
The reference here is to the method of refining metals and minerals in a crucible, and it is the emblem of untarnished and unmingled truth of which Jesus Christ is the source and the administrator.
7. “And his voice as the sound of many waters”--1:15.
In this metaphor John saw Jesus as the combination of unison and rhythm in its perfect flow, signifying the accord and harmony of divine utterance, set to the melody of divine love and grace and blessing.
8. “And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword"--1:16.
The same theophany is presented in the flaming sword of Eden. It stood for divine justice, and here it means that Jesus Christ was, and is now, the executor of righteous judgment and justice.
9. “And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength”--1: 16.
The sun of the solar system is the light of the world. As the monarch of the universe it rules the solar system as the earth and all planets revolve around it. So was the Son of man in this high point in the vision. In all his grandeur, as in the last prophetic glimpse of Malachi, he was the sun of righteousness, with all the spiritual benefits to mankind that the sun can bestow in its rays upon the earth.
10. "I am alive for evermore . . . and have the keys of hell (hades) and death"--1:17-18.
This is the awe-inspiring declaration that by his own death of the cross, he became Lord of Death, and of the hadean world, because its gates could not prevail against him. He is therefore the Lord of “both the dead and the living” ( Rom_14:9 )--by his death and resurrection, of which his appearance to John was the visible proof.
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE MYSTERY (Chapter 1:19-20.)
(1) The import of the mystery.
1. “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” --1:19.
Underlining the word things, used three times in this verse, it gives emphasis, first, to the past- -the things thou hast seen; and second, to the present-- the things which are; and third, to the future- -the things which shall be hereafter. But in each case it has reference to the revealed things of Revelation itself, not to the known events of the past, or present. The things seen were not optical or perceptive, but revealed, they were seen by Revelation. The things which are, were not the knowledge of present things, but a reference to that part of the vision, or the revelation, which involved the present. The things which should be thereafter were declared to be immediate-shortly to occur. It would not require an apocalypse to reveal the past events, but it was imperative that the churches should know the present, and those things which were immediately at hand.
2. “The mystery of the seven stars . . . and the seven golden candlesticks"--1:20.
The use of the word mystery in Revelation comports with the meaning of the word as used elsewhere in the New Testament--that is, the spiritual truths not discoverable by human reason; understandable, but hidden from human knowledge until revealed. The word has the connotation of “secret doctrine,” hence, prior to revelation it was a hidden thing; but when revealed, it was brought within human intelligence and understanding.
The gospel mystery imbedded in the old dispensation, as in Rom_16:25 ; Eph_3:3-9 ; and Col_1:26 , was hidden beneath the types and sacrifices of the law and the prophecies and promises, which were radiant with hope and joy to a guilty world, but were rather concealed than revealed, because of the metaphorical costume and figurative style they could not be discerned, and had to await revelation.
The word mystery did not mean mysterious. It meant that which could not be known until it was made known, or revealed, and in the references cited, it meant the gospel plan of salvation. The doctrine of the New Testament is in this sense called a mystery--“the mystery of the gospel,” as in Rom_11:25 ; Rom_16:25 ; 1Co_15:51 ; 1Ti_3:9 ; Eph_3:9 . The truths thus requiring revelation and elucidation are classed as mysteries, as numerous other passages could be used to exemplify. But let it be emphasized, that in all of these examples the basic meaning inherent in the word mystery is that which cannot be known by the human mind, until by superhuman source it is made known to it.
(2) The explanation of the mystery.
The seven golden candlesticks denoted, that as organized bodies, a congregation receives light and reflects it. It is a significant illustration of the functions and the ministries of the local churches. The emblem of gold underscored the evaluation Jesus Christ makes of his church, and the estimate he has placed upon it. The seven stars were representative of position, such as Christ at the right hand of God, indicating that there is something in the symbol that has this representative place in the right hand of Christ. The figure calls for pause and reflection, by all who hold position in the church, lest we should become falling stars!
The angels of the churches are not to be taken as single representatives of the respective congregations, but rather the individual spirit of each church. It is the same in meaning as the description elsewhere of “the seven spirits before his throne.” It is a symbolic angel, and it refers to the spirit of the church itself.
When Paul commanded the Corinthian church to exclude the incestuous person from their congregation, he gave the reason: “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” It seems the apostle’s reference to the spirit applied to the Corinthian church--that it might be saved from corruption, and thus to receive approval in standing before him. It is well to consider the spirit that is manifested in a congregation, and that motivates and controls all of its worship and service.
The connotation of the word angel may signify various ministries of physical and spiritual beings, both earthly and heavenly. It is used in Mat_24:31 in reference to the emissaries of the gospel; and in Heb_1:14 it refers to immaterial and spiritual but intellectual beings whom God employs to execute the orders of divine providence, as also employed in Rev_1:1 ; Rev_22:8 . The apostle Paul applied the word, in 1Co_11:8-10 , to the venerable men in the Corinthian church; and the angels (spirits) of little children are said by Jesus, in Mat_18:10 , to behold the face of the Father in heaven. In Jud_1:6 it is used as an appellation for the early representatives of the race of man in an unnamed period, who forfeited their high estates by apostasy, and were condemned to darkness and judgment, and in Mat_25:41 , and 2Co_11:14-15 , it is used to describe the devil and his demons. But in Rev_20:1 the word applies to Jesus Christ himself.
This is rather a wide classification of the word angel, but it is used in all of these senses. In the vision of the first chapter of Revelation it seems evident that the word refers to the spirit of each church.
The stars in the vision are its members, every member --all members in the body of Christ, of the true spirit, are stars in His hand. There is no teaching that exalts one class in the church to any position above all the others, as all the members of Christ stand in equal relation to Him. For one to be exalted above another would “not be so among you,” Jesus said to his disciples, in Mat_20:26 .
As each of the seven churches was individual in character and conduct, they were so in spirit also, and the letters of Jesus to these seven churches were addressed to the angel or spirit of each congregation respectively. The word angel, therefore, does not designate a representative person, but symbolically the representative spirit of each church-- the spirit of the church.
(3) The central figure.
Jesus Christ was Himself the abiding presence in the churches, directing their work, walking and dwelling in their midst, as the centrifugal and the centripetal spiritual force in each congregation. He was holding the stars in his hand; he was walking among the candlesticks; he was the guiding presence, the moving energy, the inspiring influence, the infinite indweller in every faithful churchand that is true of every true and faithful church of Christ today.
The threefold description of the church was as gold in purity and worth-- a golden candlestick; and as stars of glory in his possession, shining in his hand; and He Himself in the midst, as the sun around which the spiritual planets revolve.
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Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 1". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter