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THE PROLOGUE (Ch. Revelation 1:1-3 )
The original title, which at the same time serves as an introduction, and the special object of which is to indicate the great importance of the book, runs thus: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to shew to his servants, what must shortly come to pass; and he signified it by his angel, whom he sent, to his servant John 2. Who has testified of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, what he saw. 3. Blessed is he who reads, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep what is written therein; for the time is near.
The book is called in Revelation 1:1, The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The word revelation, or disclosing, apocalypsis, which in the New Testament is chiefly used by Paul, stands in a near relation to the word mystery or secret. Mysteries are the object of revelation, and the territory of the latter extends as far as the territory of mysteries. See Daniel 2:19, Ephesians 3:3, “By revelation he has made known to me the secret,” Ephesians 3:5, Ephesians 3:9, Romans 16:25. The condition of the revelation, accordingly, is the inaccessibility of a matter to the ordinary faculties of the mind. For, this is the common idea of a mystery. Hence, the sphere of revelation comprehends also that, which has already been made objectively manifest, and has become the church’s own, in so far as it may be communicated to a particular individual. For, the Christian doctrine as such is super-rational; and of the faith in Christ it constantly holds, that flesh and blood cannot themselves produce and exercise it, Matthew 11:25, ss., Matthew 16:17, John 6:44. So we read of a revelation in Ephesians 1:17, where Paul designated as a product of it the Christian wisdom, which he sought for the Ephesians. But commonly the word is used to denote the new disclosure of truths, which hitherto had lain beyond the reach of the mind. Such can only be found in moments of holy consecration, when the soul, as the chosen instrument of God, is raised above itself and is brought into closest fellowship with God, the source of truth. Hence, the revelations in 2 Corinthians 12:1 appear in immediate connection with the visions; and the state in which Paul received the revelations is represented as that of ecstacy, during which he was raised to the third heavens, and heard unutterable words. So too in Acts 10, it was in a state of ecstacy, and by vision, that St Peter received the revelation concerning the reception of the heathen to the blessings of salvation Acts 10:10 and Acts 10:17, comp. also Ephesians 3:5.
Revelation here and prophecy, προφητεί?α , in Revelation 1:3 (comp. Revelation 22:18-19) correspond with each other, just as revelation and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:6. [Note: In respect to the internal connection of revelation and prophecy, and the limitation of the former by the latter, the passage 1 Corinthians 14:29-30, should also be compared, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge; if any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.”] The book is the revelation of Jesus Christ and the prophecy of John. The object of the revelation are the mysteries; its product is the prophecy. No revelation without prophecy and inversely. What viewed in respect to the manner of receiving it is revelation, the same, when viewed in respect to the manner of its delivery, is prophecy. Paul says in the passage referred to above, “Now, brethren, if I come to you and speak with tongues, what shall I profit you except I shall speak to you either by revelation or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?” Here we have a double pair of corresponding parts; revelation and prophecy constitute the one, knowledge and doctrine the other.” The speaker attains to his knowing either by revelation, by a supernatural communication imparted by the Spirit of God, and when he gives utterance to this, he is a prophet. Or it may be by learning, meditation, inquiry in a merely human manner, and with the common help of the Holy Spirit; and then his knowing is a gnosis, a knowledge, and the utterance of it, in a manner that should now be naturally adapted to the mode of receiving it, will be a purely intelligent one, working on the understanding.” As the condition, in which the revelation is received, differs from that in which the knowledge is matured, so the mode of deliverance in the prophet differs from that of common teaching. That which has been received in ecstacy can only be delivered in an elevated state of mind; that is, in so far as the delivery stands immediately connected with the receiving, and the receiving has not, as was usually the case with Paul, been already wrought into a sort of knowledge. All prophecy, just because it has revelation for its basis, is closely allied to poetry, though it does not properly resolve itself into this: its respect to the church, and the understanding of her members, prevents it from doing so. It must not wing its flight higher than where these can follow. The speech of the tongue may be designated the embryo of revelation and of prophecy. Secrets are the common object of both, but the speech of the tongue does not rise above a general connection with them, it does not reach even to the clear knowledge of them, and is hence incapable of coming forth to fulfil the office of teaching in the church.
No solid reason exists for the assertion of Lücke, that the word revelation, besides its general import, has also the special meaning of eschatological apocalypsis, or revelation in respect to the final development of the kingdom of God and the coming of the Lord Jesus. By the word itself nothing is indicated here as to the special object of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. But the thing to be supplied is furnished by the circumstances which occasioned the revelation. These determine the character of every revelation and prophecy. None swims in the air, none is entirely general. The object of the revelation given to the prophets is uniformly such, as in the given circumstances was adapted for counsel, for warning, or consolation. And if it is certain, that the starting-point here was the oppression of the church by the world-power, the object of the Revelation of Christ to the apostle can only be, what was fitted for the edification of the church under such circumstances, the preservation of the church amid the persecutions of the adversary, the destruction of the latter, and the final complete triumph of the church. It is a fundamental error in the older expositors, that they did not perceive how the object of the Revelation was more exactly determined by the relations of the time, and that we have here to do with a discovery of Jesus Christ, disclosing that after which every one then inquired, and the darkness of which lay like an oppressive night-mare upon all bosoms. They proceeded on the ground, that the Apocalypse must spread itself over the entire range of church history, and converted it into a simple compend of this.
Revelation, and the prophecy which springs out of it, are under the New Testament closely joined with the apostleship, and belong to its prerogatives. Acts 10 relates an important revelation granted to the apostle Peter. In regard to the revelations and prophetical states of Paul, see 2 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 3:3, Galatians 1:12, Galatians 2:2. In Ephesians 3:5-6, “Which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed into the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel,” the prophets are personally identical with the apostles. For it is a historical verity, that by no other than the apostles, namely, Peter and Paul, was the truth in question conveyed to the minds of Christians in the way of supernatural revelation. Paul says immediately before, “Through revelation did he make known to me this mystery.” Also in Revelation 18:20, which points back to Ephesians 3:5, the apostles are not personally separate from the prophets, “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her.” This is manifest from the circumstance, that history knows nothing of persecutions by the Roman world-power against prophets, except against the three among the apostles, Peter, Paul, and John. Instead of the apostles and prophets in ch. Revelation 18:20, we have in ch. Revelation 11:18, merely prophets along with the saints; so that the apostles are comprehended under them. Were it otherwise, had not prophecy culminated in them in like manner as the apostleship, the names of the twelve apostles could not with propriety have stood alone on the foundations of the New Jerusalem, ch. Revelation 21:14; elsewhere the prophets are coupled with them as occupying this position. The gift of prophecy is of all the highest. New truths could only be communicated through it, so as to obtain a place in the conscience of believers, and become thereby more widely diffused as knowledge and doctrine. The whole position of the apostles must have been changed, if this gift had not been concentrated in them. According to the measure of prophetic gifts was the place that the apostles respectively occupied; so that it was not accidental, that precisely the three, Peter, Paul, and John, who otherwise were so pre-eminent above the rest, were also the most highly distinguished by these gifts. Such as possessed no prophetical gifts might indeed have been faithful witnesses of Christ, but they could not fulfil the other design of the apostleship, that of receiving the much that the Lord had still to say to them, but which they were not able to bear during his personal sojourn on earth, John 16:12. For, there is no other organ for the recipiency of new truths, but the prophetical. “The comforter” was also, according to John 16:13, etc., to make known the future to the apostles. But instruction respecting the future is only received by revelation, and communicated to others by prophecy. What is written in the Acts of the manifestations of other prophets, serves to confirm what we have said—see Acts 11:27, Acts 13:1, Acts 15:32, Acts 21:10. All there bears a subordinate character. There is no trace of anything like a communication of new and important truths.
From what has been said, it is obvious what we are to make of Bleek’s assertion (Beitr. p. 191), “When we consider what special weight is attached in ch. Revelation 21:14 to the apostolic dignity, it becomes the more improbable that the Seer should not have been expressly designated as such in ch. Revelation 1:1, if the author really belonged to the number of the apostles, or wished to be regarded as of that class.” The author has actually done what is here desired; he has in the most emphatic manner described himself as an apostle. For, a prophecy of such a marked and important character as is contained in this book could only have proceeded from the circle of apostles; nay, more, could only have proceeded from one, who among the apostles themselves held a leading place. He, who possessed the highest apostolical gift in the highest degree, did not need to begin with assuring us that he was an apostle. This was to be understood of itself.
It admits of no doubt that the Revelation of Jesus Christ is the revelation which has Jesus Christ for its author, or which was communicated by him. This appears from the corresponding testimony of Jesus Christ in Revelation 1:2; from a comparison of the passages Revelation 1:10, ss. Revelation 4:1, Revelation 19:10, Revelation 22:16, where in like manner the matter of the Apocalypse is spoken of as derived from Christ; and from the obvious design of the prologue, which manifestly intends to indicate the high importance of the book by the circumstance of its contents having been derived from God and Christ. Entirely analogous is Galatians 1:12, “For, I have not received it of man, nor was I taught it but by the Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Of course, the fact of the contents of this book being derived from the Revelation of Jesus Christ docs not exclude a manifold human preparation, but rather demands it: especially a zealous investigation and study of Scripture, a profound reflection on the divine purposes, and an energetic and earnest desire to penetrate the divine secrets. Still, the remark of Bengel is perfectly just: “What the apostles and evangelists have written elsewhere they brought forth under the good hand of God from that treasury of wisdom and knowledge which they had constantly beside them.” For that, however, which John has written in this book, he must have been quite specially furnished. The Lord Jesus Christ is himself the author, John only holds the pen. Hence we may understand the peculiar distinction which belongs to this book, and on account of which it ought to be held especially precious. This consideration also explains how, while John has so many endearing epithets in his epistles, “my little children,” “my brethren,” “beloved,” none whatever are to be met with in the whole of this book. He writes here not as of himself, but in the name of Jesus Christ.
Of what appears in Revelation much certainly is to be found also in the old prophecies, to which reference is expressly made in ch. Revelation 10:7, but by no means the whole. For how otherwise could it be said that God had given the revelation to Jesus Christ? But in no part does the Revelation come into conflict with the Scriptures which were formerly given by God; it rather gives a summary representation of all that in ancient prophecy still remained to be fulfilled after the times of Christ and the apostles.” Another remark of Bengel we cannot so fully accord with: “The Old Testament dispensation was the time of promise, and hence there are so many prophetical books among the Old Testament Scriptures. The New Testament dispensation is the time of fulfilment, though not without intimations of what belongs to a still coming future; and therefore the greater number of books in New Testament scripture are books of history and doctrine—one only avowedly prophetical, and that in the full, clear, elevated style which befits the new dispensation.” This statement is grounded on the erroneous assumption, that the only design of prophecy was to disclose the future. It would be more correct to say that, under the New Testament, Christ has appeared as the way, the truth, and the life. The main source of higher and clearer views was thus at once laid open to the church, so that knowledge and doctrinal instruction came to occupy the foreground. Prophecy was required only for the new things that still remained to be developed.
Which God gave to him. Revelation is properly the act of communication; comp. Galatians 1:12. Here, however, it also includes its object, that which is disclosed, and to this refers the which. It is one of the pervading characteristics of John’s Gospel, that in reference to Christ it “constantly alternates between a respect to the position of dependance and the position of substantial identity” (Koestlin Lehrbegr. des John, p. 101), constantly makes statements which imply, that the Son has every thing that the Father has, and yet has nothing but what he has of the Father. In this characteristic the Revelation stands in the closest affinity with the Gospel. In particular, two passages of the Gospel should be compared with the one before us. The first is John 12:48-49, “He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” This passage so far also coincides with ours, that it ascribes the origin of Christ’s word to God, in order to impress the idea of its importance, and of the awful guilt of rejecting it. Then John 16:14-15, “All that the Father hath is mine. Therefore, said I, he will take of mine and shew it unto you.” He had said just before, “He will shew you things to come.” As in the preceding passage what Christ had spoken upon earth was ascribed to God, so here is the same done in respect to what, after his departure, was communicated through the Spirit to his apostles.
Therefore, every one who approaches this book has to do with the Most High God; and the warning is virtually sounded at the outset: Take off thy shoe, for the place is holy ground. A book which has the Almighty for its original author, must be frightful in its threatenings, and in its promises the object of unlimited confidence. He whom it assures of salvation may well rejoice in hope even in the midst of tribulation. For God is not a man, that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent; and for him nothing is impossible.
To shew to his servants. The word shewing is never used in the signification of making known, but always in that either of causing to see, or of proving. [Note: In Matthew 16:21, δεικνύ?ειν is nor, to give to know, but to prove, to make manifest from the declarations of the Old Testament. The subject has respect, not to the fact but to the necessity for the fact, “From that time forth Jesus began to shew to his disciples how that he must go into Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day,” comp. Matthew 26:64, Luke 24:44-46.] As the latter is not suitable here, we must adhere to the former. That the shewing refers to the presentation of the things communicated to the internal vision, is clear from the other passages in the book in which the verb occurs; it is the word specially appropriated in a manner to this act, comp. Revelation 4:1, Revelation 17:1, Revelation 22:1; Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:8. To the shewing, on the part of God, corresponds the seeing, on the part of the prophet; [Note: Text: Comp. the הראני in Amos 7:1 (LXX., οὕ τως ἔ?δειξέ μοι κύριος ὁ? θεό?ς ), 4:7, Jeremiah 24:1, “And the Lord made me see, and behold two baskets of figs;” LXX ἔ?δειξέ μοι κύριος δύο καλάθους σύκων , Mich.: idem est ac si diceret: monstravit mihi dominus in visione duos, etc., Ezekiel 40:1.] comp. Genesis 41:22, “And I saw in the dream, and behold seven ears.”
If the import of the shewing is thus rightly determined, by the servants of God we can only understand the prophets, for to them alone belongs the seeing. By the current interpretation, it is believers generally that are meant by these servants, who are undoubtedly so called in ch. Revelation 2:20, Revelation 7:3, Revelation 22:3. But, for understanding the expression here of the prophets, who are also in the Old Testament often named by way of eminence God’s servants ( Jeremiah 7:25, Jeremiah 26:5; Daniel 9:6; Amos 3:7; 2 Kings 17:13, 2 Kings 17:23), for understanding it of them as the persons, who had not merely for themselves to execute the will of God, but to serve him in his kingdom, and so filled in this respect the highest place, [Note: Comp. John 15:20, Matthew 24:45, ss. , Matthew 25:14, ss., and on the distinction between servants of God in a general, and in a more special sense, see Keil on Joshua, p. 3.] there are other considerations besides those just mentioned. First, the connection. The Seer descends from God to those who read and hear the book. With these latter he first begins at Revelation 1:3; and the chain would be broken if here he already speaks of believers generally. Then there is the confirmation yielded by ch. Revelation 19:10, “I am thy fellow-servant and of thy brethren, who have the testimony of Jesus;” and ch. Revelation 22:9, “I am thy fellow-servant and of thy brethren the prophets.” The comparison of these passages leaves no doubt, that the servants are here also the species of prophets; John, the servant of God, the individual, who represents the species. Equally decisive is ch. Revelation 22:6, “And the Lord God of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass.” By the servants of God here can only be understood the prophets, who are represented in John. For, the sending of the angel appears as the indication of the fact, that the Lord is the God of the spirits of the prophets. And the expression to shew, points hack to ch. Revelation 17:1, Revelation 21:9, Revelation 22:1, where the angel shows to John the Seer; comp. also Revelation 22:8, “And I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who shewed me these things.” Finally, the expression to shew is again resumed by the subsequent words: he has signified it.
What must shortly come to pass. The fulfilment of what is announced in the Revelation is here placed in the immediate future. So also in other passages. According to Revelation 1:3, and ch. Revelation 22:10, the time is near. “I come quickly,” says the Lord in Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20, Revelation 3:11, Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16. These declarations are opposed to the view of those who would convert the entire book into a history of the time of the end, and confirms the view, which treats it as our companion through the whole course of history. Neither do those do it justice who remark with Bengel, “therefore did the fulfilment begin immediately after the date of the book.” Not merely was the beginning in general ascribed to the immediate future, but such a beginning as was to be the beginning of the end. There is here a touchstone for the exposition of the book, before which that of Bengel and the old Protestant one cannot stand. For there the main burden of the book refers to relations, of which no notion could as yet be formed. “The keeper of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps,” “I am with you always to the end of the world,”—of these truths, the “shortly coming to pass,” and the “I come quickly” of this book, are the necessary consequence. The boundless energy of the divine nature admits here of no delay. There is nothing of quiescence or indolent repose in God. His appearing often to linger is merely on account of our short-sightedness. He is secretly working for salvation and destruction, when he seems to us, perhaps, to be standing aloof; and only when by the execution of his judgment we are called to enter into his salvation, do we learn consequentially what is meant by the “shortly.” At every period, when the book acquires new significance by Satan stirring up new wars against Christ and his church, the “shortly,” and “I come quickly,” also spring again into new life. Where the carcase is, there the eagles are constantly gathered together; and where the distress is the greatest, there the help is also nearest. God be praised that we are never pointed to the far-distant future; but that the retributive justice of God against sin, and his pity and compassion toward the wretched, tread closely on each other’s heels.
It is nothing but a shift to say, as numbers do here, that the measure of time we are to think of is not the human, but the divine, with which a thousand years are as one day ( Psalms 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8). The remarks made respecting this in my Christology on Haggai 2:6, “Yet once it is a little while, and I shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the dry land,” are equally applicable here: “Whoever speaks to men, must speak according to the human mode of viewing things, or give notice if he does otherwise. It is for the purpose of consoling us, that the prophet declares the shortness of the time. But for such a purpose, that only was suitable which might appear short in the eyes of men. Only in mockery or by deception could the prophet have substituted that, which was short in the reckoning of God.” We have there shewn, that the shaking spoken of began to take effect in the immediate future. The axe was already laid to the root of the Persian kingdom (as in the time of John to that of the Roman), and its subsequent visible fall was only the manifestation of a much earlier latent one. De Wette’s remark, that the shortness must not be taken too stringently, that it was used to encourage the suffering and warn the impenitent, represents the Seer’s God and the Lord himself, who in Luke 18:8 likewise promises a speedy deliverance to his faithful people, as acting like the worthless physician who feeds his patients with false hopes. That Luke 18:7 can only be quoted in support of such a view on a wrong interpretation, is manifest. And in refutation of it, as also against the notion of its being the divine measurement of time that is to be understood, there is the circumstance that in the fundamental passage, Ezekiel 12, to which the expression in Ezekiel 12:3, “the time is near,” refers, the declaration, “the days are near,” in Ezekiel 12:23, corresponds to “in your days, ye rebellious house, will I do it,” in Ezekiel 12:25, [Note: The ἐ?ν τά?χει , it appears, was felt to be difficult so early as the time of Dionysius of Alexandria. For, that in Eusebius, 7:25, he should have omitted ἁ?́? δεῖ? γενέ?σθαι , can scarcely have been accidental, but was done for the purpose of connecting the ἐ?ν τά?χει with δεῖ?ξαι . This way of dealing with the subject was quite accordant with the whole character of the man, who in his artful way would set aside that which was not agreeable to his own feelings.] On the “what must shortly come to pass,” comp. Revelation 4:1, Revelation 22:6. The best commentary is to be found in Isaiah 14:27, “For the Lord of Hosts hath purposed it, who will disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, who will turn it back?” So also the must in Matthew 24:6 is to be understood of the necessity, which has its foundation in the divine purpose. On the other hand, in Matthew 26:54, the necessity rests primarily on the prophecies: it must fall out so, because it has been so predicted. But the prophecies are of weight only in so far as they manifest the divine purpose, so that the matter still returns back to this. Here a reference to the prophecies, as the more remote one, would have been more definitely marked.
And he signified (it) by his angel, whom he sent, to his servant John. We must not explain in this manner: he signified it, the revelation; but rather: he signified it, viz., what must shortly come to pass. For the expression, “he signified,” resumes the former, “to show” again. The Revelation is given to Jesus Christ by God, that he may show to his servants what must shortly be done, and he has accordingly signified it to his servant John. [Note: The σημαί?νειν occurs also in three passages of John’s Gospel, and, as here, of the discovery of future things, 12:34, 18:32, 25:19. It is found besides only in the Acts 11:28; Acts 25:27. It means simply to signify, or inform of, and corresponds to הודיע in Exodus 18:20, and to הגיד in Esther 2:22. The exposition of Bengel: “The Lord has indicated to you things, through various marks and images, which shall be understood when they have been fully considered, and when one has been compared with another,” is without any support from the usage. Acts 25:27 is against it. That the word in New Testament Scripture is used predominantly of the announcement beforehand of future things, is to be explained from this, that it belongs to the higher and more elevated style; on which account it is also found chiefly among the Poets in classical Greek. Still more objectionable is the rendering of Züllig: and which he made to be understood. The word does not bear this meaning, nor would it be suitable here. The angel must be a member of the chain, which begins with God, and ends with the hearer, and it is not the explanation, but only the communication through the angel, which comes into notice.] Instead of: by his angel, whom he sent, several explain improperly: in that he sent a message by his angel. [Note: These persons refer to some passages of the Old Testament, in which after verbs of sending the accusative, the message, is to be supplied; Exodus 6:13, “Send by whose hand thou wilt send;” 1 Kings 2:25, 1 Samuel 16:20. But in the New Testament ἀ?ποστέ?λλειν is never so used, and πέ?μπειν only in a more than doubtful reading of Lachmann’s text in Matthew 11:2, πέμψας διὰ? τῶ?ν μαθητῶ?ν αὐ τοῦ? . More to the purpose is the application of another and more common Old Testament usage, the omission of the person after verbs of sending. Comp. for example Genesis 31:4: “And Jacob sent and called Leah;” 41:8: “And he sent and oiled the Chartummin of Egypt, Καὶ? ἀ?ποστείλας ἐ?κάλεσεν πάντας τοὺ?ς ἐ?ξηγητὰ?ς Αἰ γύπτου ; Joshua 2:3; 1 Samuel 4:4; Job 1:5. With ἀ?ποστεί?λας of the New Testament, where it is joined to a verb, the accusative of the person is always to be supplied, comp. Matthew 2:16: Mark 6:17; Acts 7:14. The only difference in regard to our passage is, that here the ἀ?ποστεί?λας follows; but this arises from the ἐ?σή?μανε resuming the δεῖ?ξαι , and hence properly opening the sentence.] It is said here, as also at the close in ch. Revelation 22:6-16, that Christ through the mediation of his angel communicated to his servant John the knowledge of the future. We might with propriety explain: through his angel, to whom he committed this business; so that the expression: by his angel, would virtually he the same as: by one of his angels. But as in the Old Testament, and especially in those prophets, with whom John has the closest affinity, a particular angel is brought into notice, who stands beside the angel of the Lord as the mediating agent of his revelations, we are naturally led to think of such being understood here. Even so early as at Exodus 32:34 we find along with the highest revealer of God, the angel of the Lord or the Logos, an angel placed in a subordinate relation to him as his inseparable attendant. In Daniel the angel of the Lord appears under the symbolical name of Michael. But as he commonly manifests himself in overwhelming majesty, the angel Gabriel acts as mediator between him and the prophet, comp. Daniel 8:16, Daniel 9:21. In Zechariah “the angel who speaks with him” is a standing figure. It is this angelic minister who conducts him from the common state to one of ecstacy, awakens in him the spiritual sense to apprehend what was presented in the vision, and explains it to him, so as to enable him to break through the shell into the kernel. It is remarkable that while here in the Prologue the agency of the angel in the business of the revelation is set forth in a quite general way, nothing is said in regard to the manner in which his agency more particularly displayed itself till we come to the two last groups, the vision of the judgment on the three enemies of God’s kingdom, where he is introduced at the very commencement ch. Revelation 17:1, comp. Revelation 5:7-14, Revelation 19:9), and the vision of the New Jerusalem. There are two ways in which this difficulty may be solved. Several suppose that the main subject of the book is concentrated in the two last groups, to which the others served only as preparatory visions, and that the mediation of the angel is here ascribed to the whole from being so specially connected with the most important part. One might also conceive that the prologue was added by John after he had finished the whole, while the action of the angel was still fresh in his mind. But we can hardly feel satisfied with this, as the angel even at first seems to form a necessary link in the chain; and we may rather suppose that the agency which belongs to the angel throughout the whole was employed so as in the first instance to raise John from the common to an ecstatic condition, and then at ch. 17 to put forth another and more special operation. If the spiritual sense in John was first opened by the angel and kept awake, then he was the mediating agent of the message for him. A revelation is of no use for one whose mind is not prepared to receive it; the indispensable condition is, that the seer be in the Spirit, Revelation 1:10, Revelation 4:2. It is in favour of this supposition that the mediating angel in the two prophets, whom John more especially followed, Daniel and Zechariah, is a pervading one, and that a leading characteristic intimation in each of them is their announcing, that it was thus they were raised into the ecstatic condition. In Daniel 10:16 Gabriel touches Daniel’s lips, and thereby inspires him with the powers of a higher life, comp. Daniel 10:10, Daniel 8:17. On Zechariah 1:9 I have already remarked in my Christology, “that the words, I will make you see what these are, refer to the opening of the spiritual eye and ear of the prophet. Only when this had been done by the angelus interpres, could the prophet apprehend the declaration of the angel of the Lord, and the report of the ministering angels.” On Zechariah 4:1, where the angel is spoken of as awaking the prophet, like a man out of sleep, it was also said, “Between this vision and the preceding one we must suppose a pause to have taken place. The angel had withdrawn for a little from the prophet, and the latter had returned from his ecstacy into the state of common life. The common and the ecstatic condition stand related to each other as sleeping and being awake.” It is not as an apostle that John is named here the servant of Christ, but as a prophet. This is evident from the relation in which “to his servant John” stands here to the preceding expression “to his servants.” We are certainly, however, conducted indirectly to the apostleship; since revelations of such high importance as those contained here, were not, as formerly stated, given beyond the limits of the apostleship, and could not have been given without shaking the foundation of the apostolic dignity. Then, only such a person as John could be meant, as one whom all would naturally think of, and who held a pre-eminent place in the churches, for which the book was primarily intended. Otherwise the special designation, which is always designed in the prophetic writings to convey through the authority of the instrument a pledge for the truth of the contents, would have failed of its object. And history knows of no other but the apostle John.
In his Gospel John has only in a gentle way indicated his name by describing himself, with reference to the import of his name (John, he to whom the Lord is gracious) as the disciple whom Jesus loved. But here he gives his name expressly. We find the same difference in the Old Testament also between the historical and the prophetical writings of the prophets. The history had its security in the joint knowledge of contemporaries; but in prophecy personality is of the greatest moment, and the anonymous is excluded. Nameless prophecies have no place in Old Testament Scripture.
In Revelation 1:2, “Who has testified of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, what he saw,” there is the same tendency apparent as in Revelation 1:1, to render manifest the high importance of the book, and signalize it as deriving its matter through Christ from the Supreme God. Hence everything of an independent nature in the author is thrown into the shade, and he presents himself throughout as merely, occupying the place of a servant, who faithfully announces his master’s charges. John does not speak from himself; he merely testifies of the word of God, as it had been certified to him through the testimony of Jesus Christ. Therefore in the threatenings, promises, and exhortations of the book we are not to look at the person of the writer, but constantly to remember, that it is the Most High God who speaks here. The blessedness pronounced in Revelation 1:3 on those who read and hear, thus becomes most appropriate. The expression: who has testified, not: who testifies, which has given rise to much misunderstanding, was first placed by Bengel in its true light: “It is the manner of the ancients in their books and writings, that they often frame their words not in respect to the time when they wrote, but to that when their writings should be read. “I Paul write it with my hand,” might have been said at Philemon Philemon 1:19, when Paul wrote at Rome; but as Philemon was to read the epistle in Asia, he put instead: “I have written it” (comp. also Romans 16:22). In like manner when John wrote in Patmos, it might have been said, he testifies; but in respect to the book being read in Asia, he preferred saying, he has testified. And in Revelation 1:3 it is not said, what is written, but what “has been written.” Compare also what has been remarked at Revelation 1:9 on the expression, “I was on the isle Patmos.”
By the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ is never of itself denoted the prophetic communication. Here it is used of this only on account of the connection with what precedes, though without implying anything as to its general import, and in reference to the earlier and different record borne to the testimony of Jesus Christ in the Gospel and Epistles of John. (See the Introduction p. 17.) Bengel remarks: “In this book the things that concern God and the things that concern Jesus Christ, are often conjoined together. Immediately before it was said, God had given the revelation to Jesus Christ, and now John bears record to the word of God, and along with that to the testimony of Jesus Christ.” In this connection, then, the testimony of Jesus Christ can only be the testimony which Jesus Christ delivers. For thus only could the object be gained, of tracing up to the Most High God the subject-matter of the book. Jesus Christ gives testimony to the word of God, and John again gives testimony to the word of Christ, and so far to the word of God. To the same result we are also led by the connection of the testimony of Jesus Christ with the word of God. As the word of God is the word which God utters, so the testimony of Jesus Christ must be the testimony which Jesus Christ delivers. Besides, more careful investigation shews that the testimony of Jesus, who in Revelation 1:5 is called the faithful witness, and who manifests himself near the close, at ch. Revelation 22:20, as the person who attests the contents of the book, is uniformly in this book, not the testimony of Jesus, but the testimony which Jesus delivers. It has this meaning also where the testimony of Jesus stands alone, and is not coupled with the word of God; comp. ch. Revelation 12:17. In the Gospel of John, likewise, John 3:32-33, the testimony of Jesus Christ is the testimony which he delivers. The testifying, moreover, is a word of which John is particularly fond, and is of frequent occurrence in all his writings. Christ testifies of what he has heard and seen, and so also do his disciples. John 15:27 is in perfect unison with the “who has testified” in the passage before us.
The words: what (comp. the ὁ?́?σα in John 21:25) he saw, determine more precisely the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. They shew that the subject here is of those higher communications which were received in vision by the internal eye. Seeing is used thus of the prophetic vision in an entire series of passages of this book, for example, Revelation 1:11-12; Revelation 1:17; Revelation 1:19-20, Revelation 5:1. By the expression: what he saw, the feeling of his own mind, the intermingling play of a luxuriant fancy, is quite excluded. “Inasmuch as ‘he saw,’” says Bengel, “we have the strongest assurance of the divine origin of this book. To see and to testify bear reference one to another. The matters successively presented to him were partly seen and partly heard. But to see is the more excellent. Hence, the prophets were anciently called seers, and this book itself has the name of a revelation.” Till Bengel’s time it was customary to refer the verse before us to the composition of the Gospel by John. But Bengel deprived this interpretation of its only support by the proper explanation of the words: “who has testified,” and understood the verse of the apostle’s “obedience, diligence, and faithfulness in describing this revelation.” It is a matter of surprise that the reference to the Gospel should still have found its defenders in the present century. One does not see for what purpose John could here refer to his Gospel. The relation in which he stood to those to whom the book was more immediately sent, leaves no room to doubt that he wished to make himself known, and so as that he might be distinguished from others of the same name. His first readers and hearers must have known what it was they were directed to. But if John had really pointed to the Gospel, he would certainly have expressed himself more plainly. He would in that case assuredly not have omitted, “also formerly.” But the reference to the Gospel is absolutely excluded by the phrase, “what he saw.” This does not serve, according to the supposition in question, as an explanatory clause added to the “word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” This latter must refer to the words of Christ, and the other, “what he saw,” to his deeds. An and would then have been indispensable, coupling the two together. [Note: The apprehension of this difficulty has given rise to the reading ὁ?́?σα τε in some critical helps, against which it is enough to say, that the light and airy τε is never found in the Revelation.] As an additional explanatory clause, the words “what he saw” are only such discourses as have been seen or received in vision. Then there is the circumstance to which Hoffmann has drawn attention, that the explanation would set aside a link in the chain that cannot easily be dispensed with. At the close of Revelation 1:1, the word of God is first represented as coming into contact with John. But we expect, before a transition is made to the hearers and readers, to have some account of his own agency in reference to the matter. “What Jesus had shewn to John must be written down and published, before any one can read what the prophet saw.” In fine, the reference to the Gospel would destroy the unity of the prologue, interrupt its regular progression, and rob Revelation 1:3 of its foundation, for which it would need to look back to Revelation 1:1.
The third verse pronounces him blessed, “who reads, and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep what is written therein.” Blessed, it is said in Revelation 22:14, are they who keep his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in by the gates into the city. Blessed, according to ch. Revelation 19:9, are those who are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb. Blessed, it is once more said, ch. Revelation 20:6, and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Accordingly, the benediction here refers mainly to what is to be found in another state of being, to the participation first in the bliss of heaven, and afterwards in the kingdom of glory upon earth. Still, we must not limit it to these. In this book also another recompense of fidelity is often discoursed of, which must not be excluded here, since the word employed is comprehensive of all the good, which is obtained as the reward of fidelity—the secret and wonderful preservation of true believers from the plagues which fall upon the world; ch. Revelation 7:1-8, Revelation 3:10. In the conclusion, which corresponds to the beginning here, ch. Revelation 22:18-19, a twofold threatening is held out against those who, after the original passages in Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, add to or take away from the book with the view of getting rid of the obligations of duty, viz. a participation in the plagues which are described in the book; and exclusion from the tree of life and the holy city. The contrast in regard to those who keep what is written, requires that the blessing pronounced on them should also have a double reference—preservation in the midst of plagues and eternal blessedness.
The description, “He who reads and they who hear,” points, as the distinction of the singular and the plural shews, not to the two classes of such as could, and such as could not read, but the reading meant is like that mentioned in Luke 4:16, the reading aloud in churches; so that the meaning is, he who reads in public and they who hear what is read. In ch. Revelation 22:17-18, it is implied that hearing is the usual way of coming to the knowledge of the book.
The book contains a word of prophecy; whence we conclude that it is not made up of mere citations from the Old Testament. These are suitably found in calm argumentative discourses, but not in such as are of a divinely raised and excited character, which carry their own guarantee along with them In the latter the references to the earlier portions of God’s word must be of a more delicate nature, by allusion merely, or immediate appropriation. [Note: Bengel: “Prophecies certify themselves by their own, and so by divine authority, in particular the Apocalypse, which therefore does not mention the ancient prophecies, except in the slump, and that only once, ch. 10:7. In other books of the New Testament, ancient prophecies are quoted, for the purpose of shewing their fulfilment; but not so in the Apocalypse. Hence, while Surenhusius could produce examples of quotations from the Old Testament in each of the evangelists, the Acts of the Apostles, and the epistles, he had none to produce from the Apocalypse.”] Such also is the relation of the prophecies of the Old Testament to the books of Moses; all pervaded and saturated with references to them, but without any formal citations. The expression of keeping the word, the command, the faith, etc. (in contrast to the thoughtless forgetting of it in James 1:25), is one much liked by the faithful and conservative John; comp. Revelation 3:8, Revelation 14:12. That the keeping is the thing principally in view, to which the blessing belongs, and that the reading and hearing is only the preliminary condition to this, is clear from ch. Revelation 22:7, where the keeping alone is mentioned, “Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” The person who has got to the close of the book has already fulfilled the condition. Comp. Romans 2:13, James 1:22, James 1:23, James 1:25. That every thing is placed in the keeping points to the practical character, which continually attaches to Scripture prophecy, never being intended to serve for the gratification of a frivolous and prying curiosity, but always for promoting the divine life. The true prophet is a counseller, comp. Numbers 24:14 (where see my Balaam), Isaiah 41:28. Bengel: “According to the diversity of the things, which are written in it, to the keeping belongs repentance, faith, patience, obedience, prayer, watching, stedfastness.” The hearing and reading of the book, however, though only as conditional to the keeping, must be held to be a matter of high importance, especially for the times, in which there is a return of the circumstances that called it forth. “But whence comes it,” says Bengel, “that the book now-a-days is so seldom read in the churches? Throughout the whole ecclesiastical year we have not a single Sunday or festival day, for which a text has been chosen out of Revelation. A wise householder will consider how he may in some other way compensate for this omission.” The words, for the time is near, provide a reason for the call to keep, indirectly contained in the preceding; the time of the fulfilment is near, and consequently the time for rewarding the faithful and punishing the slothful; comp. 1 Peter 4:7, “But the end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer,” etc., Luke 21:34, Romans 13:11.
THE SEVEN EPISTLES (Ch. Revelation 1:4 to Revelation 3:22 )
Here we have first the salutation, Revelation 1:4-6. According to the common view this does not belong to the series of epistles merely, but to the whole book. So Bengel: “The inscription of this book is in Revelation 1:4-6, which gives to the whole book the nature of an epistle, with which also the conclusion agrees.” But the following reason decides against this view. Both on the one side and the other of ch. Revelation 1:4-6, and ch. 22, we find ourselves on the wide territory of the whole Christian church. Ch. Revelation 1:3 pronounces all without distinction blessed, who hear the book read and keep what is written in it. The conclusion is just as general as the beginning. According to ch. Revelation 22:6, God had sent his angel to show to his servants what must shortly come to pass. In Revelation 1:7 all are called blessed who keep the words of the prophecy of this book. The book closes in Revelation 22:21 with the words: The grace of Jesus Christ be with all saints. In the middle portion also we everywhere meet with the entire body of the church, and not the slightest trace occurs of a special respect to the seven churches of Asia. In ch. 7 it is not the elect in Ephesus and the other Asiatic churches, but the servants of God at large, who are sealed. The twelve tribes of the children of Israel, and the 144,000 sealed ones, obviously represent the whole church. So likewise do the multitudes, whom no one could number, of every people, and tribe, and nation, and tongue, in Revelation 1:9. In ch. Revelation 11:1, the temple of God is a symbol of the church in its militant, as the New Jerusalem is of the same in its triumphant state. The sure result from these particulars is, that the inscription does not belong to the book in general, but exclusively to the series of the seven epistles. Had it been otherwise, there could not have failed to be some reference to them in the title and prologue of the book, as also in the portions subsequent to ch. 3. It is only the conclusion of the whole, indeed, which resembles an epistle, that gives any countenance to the supposition, that the inscription and the epistolary character extend to the entire contents. But the words: with all the saints, not with you all (as in Paul’s epistles), shews that here we have only an imitation of the conclusion of an epistle. How certain it is, that the seven churches in Asia were representative in their different states of the church in general, it cannot be less certain, that what is written in the epistles is only primarily addressed to them. This is clear from the circumstance, that it has not the form of an accompaniment to the book, but is an integral part of the book itself, a book that is destined to the use of all God’s servants. The special reason for the individualizing here is to be found in the subject-matter. The relation of this first series to the six following ones is generally this, that in the one is unfolded in detail the call, “Repent,” “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high-way for our God,” and in the other, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed” “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When great manifestations of the Lord for the deliverance of his church, and for the execution of judgment on the world, are ready to appear, there comes at the same time an urgent call on the Lord’s people to prepare themselves aright for such manifestations, by purging out from among them the worldly elements, and having all in readiness for the Lord’s work. Throughout the whole of this first series, the predominating element is the hortatory, or the pressing of such practical exhortations as fitly arose out of the near approach of the Lord. But in order that this might be effectively done, it must necessarily go into the special circumstances of the churches. The more pointed and particular it was, the more fully would it reach the general aim. The ample variety of the circumstances and the foundation of the general applicability of what was written, was indicated by the sevenfold number of the churches to which the epistles were addressed. Bat if thus a special reference becomes necessary in a part of the book to the churches of Asia, none could be more suitable than that actually chosen. The example of Paul already pointed in that direction, and it was due from John to his diocese as a compensation for his personal absence.
Revelation 1:4. John to the seven churches in Asia. Grace be to you and peace from Him, who is, and who was, and who comes; and from the seven spirits, who are before his throne. 5. And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins by his blood; 6, and made us a kingdom, priests to God and his Father: to Him be honour and power for ever and ever. Amen. The author of the epistles no farther indicates his person than by the simple name of John. This alone marks it to be the apostle of that name. It designates a John, who held such a high preeminence among those who bore the name, that he would readily occur to every one, for whom the epistles and the book generally were more immediately destined. One, who stood merely in “certain relations” to the churches in question, could not have remained satisfied with so general a designation, and would certainly have added something more specific as his reason for addressing them. Let only the salutation be compared in the Epistle to the Romans. There we find an extended description of what constituted the apostle’s right and obligation to write the epistle. “The Salutation,” remarks Philippi, “is more lengthened than in the other epistles of Paul. For the apostle had first to introduce himself to the church of the capital of the world, which was neither founded nor had yet been visited by him.” So and still more would a certain John have found it necessary to introduce himself. The bare John must have been received with a sort of smile.
We are also led to think of the apostle John by the seven churches of Asia. It admits of no doubt, that the Asia meant here is Proconsular Asia, and that the limitation, which some have sought to establish in favour of a narrower territory, is arbitrary. But in this region there were other churches besides the seven, which are mentioned by name in this book. There was, for example, the church at Colosse, that at Hierapolis ( Colossians 4:13), that at Tralles, which Cicero calls Gravis, locuples, ornata civitas, and that at Magnesia, which was in a flourishing state when the Ignatian epistles were written, and must certainly have existed at the date of the Apocalypse. Neither can we say that the more important churches, those which belonged to the greater cities, are the ones mentioned. For there is nothing in the description to indicate this; the cities named were not all of primary rank, especially Thyatira and Philadelphia; and others, which are not named, especially Tralles and Miletus, which last is called by Strabo next to Ephesus “the noblest and moat distinguished city in Ionia,” and by Pliny “the chief of Ionia,” and where without doubt a church already existed. It is carefully to be noted that John does not write to seven churches in Asia specified by name; had he done so, we should have been obliged to cast about with Lücke for the reasons, on account of which these should have been chosen out of a greater number. But he writes simply to the churches of Asia. We have manifestly but one of two alternatives here—either there were in Asia only seven churches, or the address to precisely seven churches had its limitation from the person of the writer, virtually importing to his seven churches. In this case it would just be as if the president of certain affiliated churches in Prussia should write to the churches there; it would at once be understood, that those only were to be thought of, which belonged to that number. As the first of those alternatives is against the history, we are shut up to the latter. But this again obliges us to think only of the apostle John as the author. History testifies respecting him, that he had a district in that particular part of Asia, which embraced quite a circle of churches, named by Tertullian “John’s nurslings.” [Note: Adv. Marcion. iv. 5: Habemus et Joannis alumnes ecclesias. Nam etsi Apocalypsin ejus Marcion respuit, ordo tamen Episcoporum ad originem recensus in Joannem stabit auctorem. “The meaning is: We too have such churches as are nurslings of John, and which must be recognized as such by Marcion himself—those, namely, to whom he sent the seven epistles in the Apocalypse. For though Marcion will not admit the fact of these apocalyptic epistles being any proof of the connection between the churches and John, because he will not own the Apocalypse to have been written by John, yet if we trace the series of bishops in these churches up to its origin, we necessarily arrive at John as the founder of them.” Rothe.] Eusebius reports from Origen, in B. III. c. 1, that when the apostles were scattered into different countries, John received for his share Asia, and continued there till he died at Ephesus. Clement of Alexandria relates, in Eusebius, B. III. c. 23, “When after the death of the tyrant he returned to Ephesus from the isle Patmos, he went also, when requested, to the neighbouring regions of the heathen; in some to appoint bishops, in some to institute entirely new churches, in others to appoint to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Holy Ghost.” In the same chapter of Eusebius Irenaeus says, that the church of Ephesus had been founded by Paul, but that John continued to abide there till the times of Trajan. He elsewhere refers to “all the elders who in Asia had conferred with John the disciple of the Lord.” Eusebius himself says, “he ruled the churches there.” Not only is such a relation testified of John respecting those particular churches, testified of him alone, but from the very nature of things such a relation toward a circle of churches could only have subsisted with an apostle. It is not necessary, however, to suppose that the other churches in Asia besides those seven had rejected the apostolical authority of John, comp. 3 John 1:9. He may not have been able to extend his agency to them; though Clement expressly states, that after his return from Patmos he organised new churches, and consequently brought them within the field of his active operations.
The result which we have thus obtained from the address: “John to the seven churches,” or from the fact that John here writes to the seven churches under his superintendence, is confirmed by the way and manner in which he writes to them. Lücke, p. 198, admits that “the author could not have ventured, without some official position in the region of those churches, to address them as he did.” It was such, indeed, as to require the whole fulness of the apostolico-prophetical authority. Without this he could never, for example, have written to Sardis, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest and art dead;” and to Laodicea, “Because thou art lukewarm, and art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my month.” And the commendations, not less than the sharpness of the reproofs, must have been hurtful, if the epistles had not proceeded from an ascertained servant of Jesus Christ. It cannot justly be objected, that it is not John who speaks in the seven epistles, but Christ. Unless the conviction had been deeply rooted in the churches, that the John, who held such communications with them, was the organ of Jesus Christ, the authority of Christ would not have covered the author. The question was sure to be asked, whether Christ had really authorized such messages to be sent, and the affirmative reply to this question could not have been expected from the churches, if they did not recognise the John, who was the medium of communication, to be the apostle. For such charges are not imparted by the Lord simply to the person, who is abstractly the first or best. They always rest upon an official basis. But the apostle John, according to the testimony of history, stood entirely toward those churches in that relation of unconditional authority, which these epistles evidently imply. Of special importance in this respect is Clement’s account of the youth, quis dives T. II. p. 958, and in Eusebius B. III. c. 23. John was called in by the churches when matters of moment were to be decided, for which the bishop was not sufficient. As here to the angels of the seven churches, so there to the bishop he gives instructions and reproofs, and shows him, for his own justification, that the authority which he claimed is an unconditional one; he speaks as a person who has absolute power and authority, and who judges by the most rigid standard. When he gives up the young man to the bishop, he says: “This person I commend to thee with all earnestness, and call Christ and the church to witness respecting it.” On his latter return he again says to the bishop, “Bestow what I and Christ confided to thee in the presence of thy church.” The bishop had done everything, as it appeared, to the youth, which could have been expected of him. “He took him into his house, instructed him, kept him in order, and shewed the greatest regard to him.” But before the judgment-seat of Christ and his servant John he does not stand the test: John, when he understood what had happened, “tore his garment, struck his head with loud lamentations, and exclaimed, I have given up the soul of a brother to a fine watchman.” The narrative there also coincides with the epistles here, in that the bishop in the one place, as the angel in the other, is made responsible for all that was proceeding in the church. Finally, it serves also to confirm the result, which we have obtained from the words: John to the seven churches, that the series of the seven epistles begins precisely with that to the church at Ephesus, the place where John usually resided according to the uniform and well-established tradition.
This address of John, however, to the seven churches of Asia, is not more important for the author of the Revelation, than for the time of its composition. It does not square with the supposition of that being in the reign of Galba. Before the martyrdom of Paul John had certainly not come to reside in Asia Minor, [Note: Lampe, in his Comm. on John Proleg. B. i. c. 3, § 12, says: “It is admitted that before the synod at Jerusalem he continued with the other apostles in Judea and its confines. Nor after this could he have lived there till the period of Paul’s first imprisonment under Nero. The history of Paul’s journeys, and the pains which he took in planting the church at Ephesus, where he remained three years, evince the contrary. Nor after the liberation of Paul (?) even to his death could John have been found at Ephesus, as he could not have omitted sending a salutation to him in his two epistles to Timothy. During the whole time that Paul traversed Asia no mention is made of John, and it is certain that Paul appointed Timothy as pastor of the church at Ephesus.”] but in all probability did so on the occasion of the Jewish war, and the interruption thereby given to the operations of John in his native region. The Jewish war first began in the year 66. If the Apocalypse had been written under Galba, it would fall into the year 68. But this would not have afforded sufficient time to form the relation we find existing here. For the authority of John appears as one firmly established throughout an extensive district of churches, with the circumstances of which he was most minutely acquainted. He must previously have adapted himself to the Grecian culture, he must have visited the particular churches, some of which stood pretty far apart from one another (Ephesus, for example, being distant three days’ journey from Sardis, according to Herodotus and Xenophon), he must have resided for a considerable time at each place in order to establish his authority, and must also have frequently returned to confirm it. No easy accomplishment, as appears from 3 John 1:9, and one that as a whole could not have been pressed through in a very short time without something of constraint. A series of years must necessarily have elapsed before John could have named the seven churches in Asia his. and written to them in the way he does here.
Bengel remarks, “From the circumstance alone of the Revelation being sent, not to Judea, but to Asia, there is good ground for drawing the conclusion, that Jerusalem must already have been destroyed, as it does not appear that John removed before that period from Judea to Asia, to say nothing of his having been sent to Patmos.” But this conclusion is rather hasty. It would only have been quite tenable if, as is still certainly supposed by Züllig, the fact of John’s addressing the seven churches in Asia affords proof of the pre-eminent place belonging to these, is a declaration that they formed the then centre of the church. But if John wrote to them, because they constituted that portion of the general church committed to his direction, which is confirmed by the fact, that in the New Testament the limitations to a definite circle of readers always have their ground in the personal relation of the writer to that circle, taken along with the additional fact, that according to the testimony of history, John stood in a special relation to these very churches—then the conclusion falls to the ground. For such being the case, John might have written to the seven churches in Asia, even though the church at Jerusalem had still been in a flourishing condition But it is another question, whether he might have left the church at Jerusalem before that catastrophe, and entered into a new relation to the churches in Asia. And it is certainly not probable that John would have left the theatre, to which his active energies had so long been devoted, without some call arising out of external circumstances. Had he been inclined to do so, he would have done it long before. Considering also the individual temperament of John, we shall scarcely deem it probable, that after the death of Paul he should have transferred the seat of his agency to Ephesus on a mere solicitation, as Dr Neander supposes (Apost. Zeitalter II. p. 615). The faithful retentive element is a fundamental feature in the character of John. Profound ardent minds are firmly rooted in their Fatherland, and with difficulty adjust themselves to new relations.
( Revelation 1:4) Grace be to you and peace, etc. Peace is always the opposite to strife and war, to hostile pressure, whether the hostility proceed from God ( Romans 5:10-11), or from the creatures. The great stress that is laid on peace in Scripture arises from this, that the life of believers is threatened by so many and diverse hostile powers. Here it is the less admissible to abandon the only certain special signification for a general one, as a violent outbreak of hostility against the church forms the starting-point, and all else in the salutation itself has some reference to it. For the same reason we must not think here of peace with God, but only of a safe position in regard to the world. Emphasis must be laid on the peace. For it was this that then drew around it all the thoughts of believers, who lived in the midst of strife. The grace, which in the Mosaic blessing also precedes peace, is the source of all the benefits belonging to believers, but peace that after which they then more especially sighed—comp. Psalms 29:11, “The Lord will bless his people with peace.” There can be no doubt, that Paul’s usual form of salutation is the foundation of that employed here by John. It was quite natural that John, when writing to churches, respecting which he had entered into the place of Paul, should have connected himself closely with that apostle by adopting his well-known and precious salutation-formula. Compare only the introduction of the epistle to the Romans, “Paul—to all that be at Rome, beloved of God—grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” With this the salutation before us entirely coincides in its leading features. The salutations of James and Jude are quite different. Peter’s salutation in his first epistle comes the nearest to Paul’s: “Peter to the elect strangers of the dispersion in Pontus, etc., grace and peace shall be multiplied unto you.” This approach in Peter to Paul’s form of salutation is in unison with the other resemblances to Paul, which occur elsewhere in Peter, as Peter also in writing that first epistle entered into the proper field of Paul’s operations. Still, he wants what is uniformly found in Paul: from God, etc. The conclusion of the Apocalypse has also the greatest similarity to the epistles of Paul. There it is: The grace of Jesus Christ be with you, here: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all saints. The deviation was required by the general purport of the book. It cannot be objected, that Paul never, like John here, prefixes his mere name, but always, even in his epistles to Timothy and Titus, sets forth his dignity. For that has already been done in Revelation 1:1. And now a simple salutation, after the manner of Paul, appears here, but somewhat amplified according to the demands of the higher prophetic style, and in conformity with the necessities of the time, which were such as to call for a powerful consolation. From the depths of the nature of God and Christ there is brought forth what might strengthen an endangered faith, and raise a bulwark against the entrance of despair.
From Him who is, and who was, and who comes. These words are a description of the name of Jehovah. I have showed in my Beitr. II. p 230, ss, that this name, properly Jahveh (for the vowels belong to Adonai, which the Jews pronounce instead of it) has the meaning of the Being, absolute existence. [Note: According to Delitzsch, in his Bibl. Proph. Theologie, p. 120, the name signifies the becoming, or going to be (der Werdende.) But this view is at once disposed of by the passage before us, as it would cut off “the who is and who was,” and leave only “the who comes.” So also by the original passage, Exodus 3:3-16, since it cannot explain the Ehjeh ascher Ehjeh and point out its essential identity with the mere Ehjeh. The name by this explanation is merely evacuated. The becoming swims in the air, if it does not rest for its basis on the being. The becoming of God, too, is a thought quite foreign to the whole of Scripture, and has passed over into theology from the modern philosophy. God comes, indeed, but he does not become.] The idea of pure, absolute, unchangeable existence, it was there remarked, as expressed of Jehovah, is a quite practical one; that which God is comes into consideration only as conditioning what he is for his people. This appears at once from Exodus 3:13-16. The people, in asking for his name, were to find in that a pledge and security for what was to be performed by God, for his wonderful help in the most distressing circumstances, not what should satisfy their metaphysical curiosity. The name Jehovah comprises in itself the fulness of all consolation, and the treasures thereof are here brought up from their depths and placed before the eyes of believers, the prophet’s companions in tribulation. On the rock of the pure, unchangeable, absolute Being of God dash all the despairing thoughts of those who can call this God their own, as also all the proud thoughts of the world which has him for its enemy. “I am a worm and no man” can be said in calm repose by such as can only look with an untroubled soul into this unfathomable mystery. As pure, and absolute, and unchangeable Being, God is; he exists in the fulness of that omnipotence which he makes subservient to the good of the church at the present time; he works, though in the depths of concealment, for her welfare, however circumstances may seem to indicate the contrary, and the world may triumph over the church lying in apparent helplessness on the ground, and bleeding with a thousand wounds He was; for he has given evidence of his being in the past by deeds of omnipotent love, as when he led the children of Israel out of the Egyptian house of bondage. He comes; for he will appear for the judgment of the world and for the salvation of his church, when the two shall be made to change places,—those ascending the throne who lay in the dust, and those who formerly occupied the throne thrust down to the ground. The stress should here be put upon the last clause, “he who comes.” [Note: The proof that the ὁ? ἐ?ρχό?μενος is not synonymous with ὁ? ἐ?σό?μενος , as has been often affirmed, and still again by De Wette, is to be found in my Beitr., p. 239. I there pointed to the relation of the former expression to the ἔ?ρχεται μετὰ? τῶ?ν νεφελῶ?ν in Revelation 1:7, to the ἔ?ρχομαι ταχύ in 22:7, 20, ii. 5, iii. 3, &c., where the view of God’s suffering and persecuted people is directed to the coming of God and Christ. Also to the dropping of the ὁ? ἐ?ρχό?μενος in ch. 11:17, after the was and is, because the future of God’s kingdom had become present, the coming had come.] In ch. Revelation 4:8 the four living creatures constantly cry out, “Holy, holy, holy, is God, the Lord, the Almighty, who was, and who is, and who comes:” as much as to say, who, as by giving matter-of-fact demonstration of his Being in the past and present, he has proved himself to be the was and is, so will he also come to establish his kingdom over the whole earth. The inversion there (who was and is, instead of, who is and was here) shews that the expression “who is” here does not indicate the whole nature of God,—does not express, like the name Jehovah, his eternal, absolute Being, but is limited to the living efficacious tokens of his Being at the present time, for which the manifestations of his Being during the past afford a pledge. To the same result, also, we are led by the simple fact that along with the “who is” we have here on either side the two expressions “who was” and “who comes.” In the original it is literally: from who is, and was, and comes. There was no room for flexion, because thereby the unconditional application of the three designations to the Lord would have been darkened, and also because the Greek has no participle preterite.
And from the seven Spirits which are before the throne. That the Spirits are the Spirits of God, appears from ch. Revelation 4:5. The Spirit comes into consideration here, not according to his transcendence, but according to his immanence—not according to his internal relation to the Father and the Son, but according to his mission. This is indicated by the words: before the throne, here and in ch. Revelation 4:5, and from ch. Revelation 5:6, where mention is made of the seven Spirits of God, that are sent forth over the whole earth. The designation of the Spirits as seven is not derived from Isaiah 11:2, where the subject discoursed of is not as here the active powers of the Spirit, but his productions or the properties he calls forth. It is taken from Zechariah 4:10, where the operations of the Spirit of the Lord appear under the image of the seven eyes of the Lord, that run to and fro throughout the earth—comp. on ch. Revelation 4:5. The sevenfoldness does no violence to the unity, but merely points to the fulness and variety of the powers, which are enclosed in the unity, with reference to the manifold powers and agencies on the part of Satan and the world, which threaten the church with destruction (comp. Revelation 12:3), as also with respect to the church’s manifold straits and necessities, and perhaps to the seven number of the churches which constituted so many fields for the Spirit’s efficacious working. The allegation of Lücke, p. 386, that there is here a contrariety to the Gospel of John, rests upon a misunderstanding: “While there all the different forms of the manifestation of Godhead are comprehended in the divine Logos, who diffuses himself as light and life in the world, and has become man in Christ, and is exhibited as oneness, here the manifestation of God is set forth in its organic variety as a sevenfold Spirit.” That the sevenfold character of the Spirits is not fatal to the oneness of the Spirit, but rests upon the basis of this—that here respect is had only to the manifold manifestations of one and the same Spirit (comp. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7) appears from ch. Revelation 2:11, Revelation 22:17, where simply the Spirit is spoken of. And that this Spirit, manifold in its unity, does not exist together with Christ, so that what is here attributed to the Spirit proceeds from Christ, is clear from this passage itself, as the seven Spirits are represented as employed in the service of the church of Christ, and still more decisively from ch. Revelation 3:1, according to which Christ has the seven Spirits of God, and on this account is almighty to punish or reward, and also from ch. Revelation 5:6, where the seven Spirits appear as the seven Spirits of the Lamb.
The Spirit is not “the Holy Spirit, who is the principle of all knowledge and enlightenment, for there is nothing said about that here. Both the starting-point and the connection lead us to consider it as mentioned rather in respect to its physical, than its moral operations. We are confirmed in this also by the parallel passages Revelation 5:6 and Revelation 4:5, where the seven torches, which are the seven Spirits of God, make up, with the lightnings, voices, and thunders, the number ten. The seven Spirits form here a mighty bulwark against despair, a compact phalanx, on which all the assaults of the world-power against the church shall break to pieces. The seven Spirits press into the service of the church delivering and helping, overthrowing and destroying, even to the remotest corner of the earth. No distress is so deep, no feebleness so great, that it may not with them be rectified. Even in Zechariah 4:6-7, (where see the Christology), the Spirit of God appears as the power, which assists the feebleness of the church, and removes all the hindrances which the world throws in her way. The Spirit of God there carries the building of the temple to its completion in spite of all adverse machinations. It is the same Spirit that moved with creative energy on the waters of the primeval world, Genesis 1:2, “the source of life, from which creation draws its renovating powers, and without which all flesh withers, all life returns to dust, Job 34:14, Psalms 104:29-30.” (Kahuis, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I. p. 14.) It is that power, by which, according to Isaiah 4:4, God executes his judgments upon the earth. In the Gospel of John the Spirit is brought into view chiefly in respect to his moral and religious operations, in accordance with the evangelist’s subject. And the same precisely is done here also in ch. Revelation 19:10, Revelation 22:17, Revelation 1:10. The Spirit appears here, not less than the God of nature and Christ, as the well-spring of grace and peace. The threefold from: from him who is, &c., and from the seven Spirits, and from Jesus Christ, is deserving of notice in this respect, as it involves a position of equality. This implies a certain independence of the Spirit, beside the Father and the Son. The derivation of grace and peace from the Spirit not less than the Father and the Son points to the adorable Trinity, and establishes a close affinity here between the Revelation and the Gospel of John. With this affinity other things concur. As here Christ is represented as having the seven Spirits of God, (ch. Revelation 3:1, and Revelation 5:6), so in the Gospel the Son possesses not only the powers and properties of the Spirit (truth, life), but also the Spirit himself, ( John 16:14-15, John 1:33, John 3:31). He is plainly subordinate, as to the Father who sends him, so also to the Son, since the latter also sends him, and since he does not speak of himself, but only what he hears (see Kostlin, p. 109-10.) There is a further point of agreement also in this, that the Spirit is predominantly viewed in respect to his operations outwards—comp. especially John 7:39, where it is said, there was still no Holy Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified Many of the older expositors, especially those belonging to the Catholic church, hold the seven Spirits here to be created angels, and identify them with the seven angels that stand before God, in ch. Revelation 8:2. But the usage in Revelation is against this opinion, as there the angels are never called spirits; also the passage, ch. Revelation 4:5, according to which the seven Spirits are the Spirits of God, ch. Revelation 5:6, where the Spirits appear as the seven eyes of the Lamb, [Note: Vitringa:—“Certainly the seven eyes of the Lamb are something in the Lamb which cannot be separated from him, by which the Lamb sees and provides for his church, and which, as is there said, is immediately sent forth by the Lamb into the earth. But that holds of the Holy Spirit, not of angels.”] the fundamental passage in Zechariah, the impossibility of angels being put on a footing of equality with the Father and the Son, [Note: Vitringa: “Who that properly considers the matter can persuade himself that John would solemnly implore grace to the churches from seven created Spirits, who could not of themselves bestow any grace, and that he would neglect to ask it from the Holy Spirit, who is the author and chief of all spirits, and verily has the power of bestowing grace; of whom mention is also made in ch. 2:11?”] and the circumstance, that Christ is first mentioned after the seven Spirits, which can only be explained on the supposition of essential equality, and that Christ was to be spoken of more at length. For otherwise the natural order would have been: Father, Son, and Spirit. Besides, there is no agreement with ch. Revelation 8:2, excepting in the number seven. The seven angels stand there before the throne as servants; here, on the other hand, the seven Spirits are before the throne.
( Revelation 1:5) And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness. A faithful witness is a credible and veracious one (comp. Isaiah 8:2), who speaks what he knows and testifies what he has seen, John 3:11. Christ is called a witness, because he does not teach at his own hand, but gives testimony to the truth that is in God, to whom all in the Revelation as in the Gospel is traced up as to its origin. (Comp. John 3:32-33). The fundamental passage is Isaiah 40:4, where it is said of Christ, “Behold for a witness of the peoples I give him, as a leader and lawgiver of the peoples.” There just as here the witnessing is connected with the supremacy. The sphere of the witnessing, which of itself embraces the whole compass of doctrine and revelation
John 18:37, “For this end was I born and have come into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth”—is here limited by the circumstance that grace and peace are sought from Jesus Christ to the church. Accordingly, the testimony of Christ comes here into consideration only in so far as it has specially to do with grace and peace. The same holds also from the connection of the two other predicates, which declare concerning Christ what is fitted to inspire the desponding church with courage in the presence of the world. Respect is had to the glorious promises, which Christ imparted to his church even during his sojourn upon earth, and some of which have been preserved by John in his last discourses; for example, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” “I am with you alway even to the end of the world,” “The gates of hell shall not prevail against my church.” Such promises are expanded in this book, which discloses the testimony of Jesus Christ; but only when much tribulation is experienced in the world will they make their due impression on the mind.
And the first-born from the dead. The first-born in the Old Testament often occurs as another name for the first; for example in Isaiah 14:30. That here the idea of priority in time and precedence in rank is what is taken into account, as in Hebrews 12:23, appears from Colossians 1:15-18. There the first-born is explained by expressions, which are put as equivalent: who is before all, the head, the beginning, who has the pre-eminence. Accordingly, precedence in time and dignity is what alone can be understood to be indicated by the expression, and the figurative term of “the first fruits of them that sleep,” in 1 Corinthians 15:20, is substantially of the same import. That the passage before us does actually rest on Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence,” is clear from the following reasons: 1. The rather strange expression, “the firstborn from the dead,” is there only brought in through the preceding expression, “the first-born of all creation.” The prefixed explanatory epithet, “the beginning,” of itself intimates, that the mode of expression was somewhat peculiar. 2. There it is “from the dead,” but here simply “of the dead” (the ἐ?κ , which is to be found in some critical helps, has only flowed from the passage in Colossians). The from, out of, points to the fact, that Christ was the first in moving out of the state of the dead. The simple, “of the dead,” would scarcely have been used but for that other explanatory passage, according to which it is to be understood as meaning, the first among the dead, who have attained to life. Indeed, we have also, in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “the first fruits of them that sleep.” But the immediately preceding words there, “but now is Christ risen from the dead,” serves as a commentary, and shews in what respect Christ was the first-fruits, or the first among them that sleep. 3. The expression in ch. Revelation 3:14, “the beginning of the creation,” points back to the same in Colossians 1:15; and indeed so, that “the beginning,” which there comes into the place of the first-born, is derived from Colossians 1:18, This reference is the more remarkable, as it occurs precisely in the epistle to the Laodiceans, who were very closely related to the Colossians.
Those who were brought to life again under the Old Testament and during the earthly ministry of Christ, were not then invested with immortal life, but only rescued for a few years from the domain of death. And even during that short period death gave continual proof of his power over them; they died daily.
He who, after the lapse of four thousand years, first actually attained to life, must have been possessed of an invincible divine power, which from him flows also to those who are his. And as he was thereby proved to be the conqueror of bodily death in the particular frame, that was united in corporeal membership with himself, so must he also be the conqueror of death to his church; this has with him for ever risen out of the grave. For death to the church, since his resurrection, is only a passage to life. This is what from the connection we are here to make account of John was not in vain in the spirit on the Lord’s day. To Christ’s life out of death he points the church, again also at Colossians 1:18, as the pledge of her salvation.
And the prince of the kings of the earth. The fundamental passage is Ps. 79:28, where it is said of the house of David, which had its culminating point in Christ, “And I will make him my first-born, the highest among the kings of the earth.” A comparison with Revelation 17:14, “These will fight with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for he is a Lord of lords and a King of kings,” shews that one is meant, who, notwithstanding their opposition, their bitter contention, reigns over the kings of the earth; one who is master of their pride, and casts their opposition to the ground. How he proves himself to be the prince of the kings of the earth, is rendered manifest to our view by the representation given of the overthrow of Rome, whose vassal king, so proud and yet so impotent, ventures to his own destruction into a foolish conflict with Him of life and death. It is still farther exhibited by the description of the battle of the ten kings and the victory over them in Revelation 19:11 ss., in which Christ appears with the name written upon his vesture and his thigh, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” If Christ is the prince of the kings of the earth, how foolish must it then be to tremble and shake, whenever these kings make an assault against his church. Their end must be destruction, but the church through the favour of the prince of the kings of the earth shall certainly reach a condition of peace. “His princely title,” says Bengel, “overtops the majesty of all earthly monarchs. The world, indeed, does not regard it; the most insignificant person will often dishonour this incomparable heavenly majesty with oaths and curses, with secure proud thoughts lessen and destroy it. But it will by and bye display its power; and the longer it withholds, the more terrible will it be to those, who would not submit themselves reverently to it.”
“Now from this God, from this Spirit, from this Lord is grace and peace imparted to us; and in the glorious designations now considered there is contained the cause why God both can and will impart to us grace and peace.”
There is now in the form of a doxology an indication given of three other sources of consolation in Christ. First, to him who loves us—his love to us, which renders it impossible, that he should look with unconcern on our distress, and should not set his omnipotence in motion to bring us help. To fear and tremble in the midst of tribulation is to doubt of his love, and so, to rob him of his highest glory—to deny him what he has certified by so great and costly a pledge. To believe in his love, is to be sure of his salvation. The reading: who has loved us, ἀ?γαπή?σαντι , which Luther follows, is the least supported, and has only come from the preceding: who has washed and made us. “Who loves us,” includes “who has loved us,” but at the same time expressly declares, what the other excludes, that the love waters the dry land of the present and the future, as it has done also of the past. Comp. John 3:35, “The Father loves the Son, and has committed all into his hand;” where the “he loves” in like manner expresses the abiding love, and comprehends the past, the present, and the future. [Note: Several suppose without foundation, that “who loves us” is put here for, “who has loved us.” If John had wished to express this meaning, it would have been more natural to put ἀ?γαπή?σαντι in unison with the following λού?σαντι .]
The second ground of consolation in Christ is the glorious proof of his love, which he has already given believers to experience. He who has washed us from our sins with his blood, cannot suffer us miserably to perish, and give us up to the hands of the uncircumcised. Those, whom he has made righteous, he will also make glorious.” He who has not spared his own Son, but given him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things!” The washing marks the taking away of our sins by forgiveness, and the sanctifying power which has its root in this. That we must not exclude the latter idea, is clear from such passages as John 13:8, John 10:10; 2 Corinthians 7:1; and also from ch. Revelation 7:14 here, where the garments, are said to have been made not pure merely, but white. The less approved reading: who has redeemed (λύ?σαντι ) has arisen perhaps from mere accident, but also perhaps from the prosaic mind of the scribe. The reading: who has washed us, is supported by the poetical mode of contemplation, by the parallel passages of the Old Testament, in which sins appear under the image of impurity, their extirpation under that of washing and sprinkling (see on Revelation 7:14), and also by a comparison of ch. Revelation 7:14, “The blood of Christ makes us pure (equal to, washes us) from all sin.”
( Revelation 1:6) And has made us a kingdom, priests to God and our Father—this points out the third source of consolation. [Note: In regard to the καὶ? ἐ?ποί?ησεν after two participles going before, there is weight in what Delitzsch remarks on Hah. p. 77, “According to the remark of Ewald, all the scattered shades of meaning in a verb resolve themselves again in the quiet progress of a discourse into the two primary colours of the perfect and imperfect. So is it also with the participle, through which the verbal idea receives a relative colouring. It is a part of the fineness of the Hebrew diction to make verba finita follow the participle that has the tone-mark, and these verbs, through the influence of the relative idea concentrated in the participle, are to be construed as conditional statements.”] Instead of: a kingdom, priests, several MSS. read: kings and priests (βασιλεῖ?ς καὶ? ἱ?ερεῖ?ς .) Besides being better authenticated, the other reading is confirmed. 1. By the greater difficulty; 2. the greater resemblance to the original passage in Exodus 19:6; Exodus , 3., the occurrence of ‘‘kings and priests” in ch. Revelation 5:10, whence it has evidently been imported here. That we are not to throw the two expressions, “a kingdom,” “priests,” into one, q.d., a kingdom of priests, appears from the “kings and priests,” in the parallel passage just referred to, which must be regarded as a commentary. Yet, that the kingdom and the priests cannot mark a double dignity, the one separate from the other, is shewn by the want of the and; on account of which the priests must be viewed as in apposition with kingdom. It also appears from ch. Revelation 5:10, where the words, “and they shall reign,” follows the “priests;” from which it is clear, that the priestly dignity and the kingly are most closely connected with each other. The corresponding word” kings” in Revelation 5:10 shews farther, that the βασιλεῖ?α , kingdom, is used in a passive, not an active signification; that it is not the realm, but the dominion, as in Revelation 17:12, John 18:36. The kingdom is likewise employed in an active sense in the fundamental passage Exodus 19:6, where the people of God are represented as a kingdom of priests, such a kingdom as is wielded by priests. The object of this ruling is the world. The people of God are, in consequence of their priestly dignity, appointed to govern the world. We have a commentary in Daniel 7:27, “And the kingdom and the dominion, and the power over the kingdom under the whole heaven, is given to the people of the saints of the Most High.” The idea of this power over the world occurs also frequently in the Books of Moses; comp. Genesis 49:10; Deuteronomy 33:26-29, concluding with the words, “And thine enemies shall feign to thee, and thou shalt tread upon their high places.” In the prophecies of Balaam also the ascendancy of the people of God, their absolute victorious power over the world, is the fundamental thought; comp. Numbers 24:8, “He will eat up the nations, his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows;” but especially Numbers 24:17, ss., and my work on Balaam there.
Even the Old Testament knows of an ideal priesthood beside the common one: comp. besides Exodus 19:6, especially Psalms 99:6 (where the obligations only of the ideal priesthood are brought into notice, but the privileges correspond to these), Jeremiah 33:18, Jeremiah 33:22. In the higher style those persons only would be called priests who possessed the essential distinction of the common priesthood, though without its external accompaniments. But the heart and kernel of the priesthood is its close and immediate connection with God. Whoever has attained to this, he has, along with the priestly dignity, the spiritual priesthood, at the same time acquired the kingly. The essential element in this is the exercising of dominion. But if nearness of relationship to God possesses dominion in God over every thing except God himself as its necessary consequence, as certainly as God is the Almighty and the faithful helper of his people, he cannot suffer them to be overcome by the world. Comp. Isaiah 61:6, where the priesthood in relation to God, and the authority to rule in respect to the world, appear as immediately and inseparably united, “But ye shall be named the priests of the Lord, men shall call you the ministers of our God; and ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye be established.”
From these distinctions the incorrectness of De Wette’s remark becomes manifest, that the kingdom here denotes “the empire of God, the perfected holy blessed fellowship with God and Christ, in which all shall be united.” Such a view, indeed, is annihilated the moment we glance at ch. Revelation 2:26-27, “And he that overcometh and keepeth my words to the end, to him will I give power over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron,” etc.; or Revelation 3:21, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne;” or, Revelation 5:10, “And hast made them to our God kings and priests, and they shall reign upon earth;” or also Revelation 20:6, Revelation 22:5. Such passages plainly shew, that the kingdom is an active one, and possesses a polemical character. And they serve, at the same time, completely to dispose of the remark of Ewald, that we must not think of dominion over others, but only of maintaining the Christian life in a quiet and independent condition. But it is not this, it is the supremacy of the world, which Christ has acquired for his people. It is further evident, from the distinctions drawn above, that Onkelos and Jonathan have not given precisely the right rendering at Exodus 19:6 by: kings and priests; and also that the accusation raised by Ewald against John, of having misunderstood that passage, recoils upon its author. A kingdom of priests is a kingdom which is governed by priests as such. Finally, in what has been said, we have an answer to the question of the older expositors, how Peter should have happened, in his first epistle, 1 Peter 2:9, to put the kingly priesthood in the room of the priestly kingdom of Moses. For, we see there is no essential difference between them. The priesthood involves the kingdom, and the kingdom the priesthood
Here, however, the emphasis rests on the kingdom, and the priesthood comes under consideration only as the necessary basis. The kingdom which Christ has acquired for his people was what, in the circumstances of the time, was fitted to console the dismayed minds of Christians. This kingdom was even then manifesting itself. Every heathen that was won over to the kingdom of God, every martyr who maintained with success the conflict with the world, was a proof of it. But, however important might be the conquests which were then in process of being made on the territory of heathenism, such were only a small pledge of the glorious realization, which should not reach its climax till the whole heathen world lay at their feet. A view of this royal priesthood and this priestly kingdom, and a spirit of fresh, undaunted courage before the persecuting heathen world, ought now to fill their bosoms. The more proudly the world lifted itself up, the nearer was it to its destruction.
To him the honour and the power for ever and ever, Amen. We can understand the words either as a wish (to him be these), or as a declaration. The latter mode of understanding it is countenanced by the parallel passage 1 Peter 4:11, “through Jesus Christ to whom is the honour and the power for ever and ever.” The Amen is not against this view; for even in simple declarations this is used as an asseveration of the truthfulness of what is said. But even viewed as a wish the words can only be regarded as expressive of the destination to what is immoveably fixed. It is not a subjective wish, which would be properly in place here, but an unquestionable fact, on which anxious minds might erect and strengthen themselves. The honour in connection with the power is not the ascription of praise, but the glory. Christ’s glory and might shall soon indeed pierce through the thin cloud, which now conceals his face from his church. As an antidote against pusillanimity and despair under suffering, Peter also points, in 1 Peter 5:11, to the honour and the person of Christ. The agreement there with the passage before us is a perfectly literal one, extending even to αὐ?τῶ? , to him, which here was not absolutely needed. And we can the less regard this as a matter of accident, since a leaning on Peter in the close of the salutation, whose doxology is imitated also in Jude 1:25, with an enlargement as here in ch. Revelation 5:13, corresponds to the leaning on Paul at its beginning. Such a leaning here was the more significant, as the epistle of Peter was also addressed to the churches in Asia. The chain-like connection of the later writings of the New Testament with the earlier, which is no more than the example of the Old Testament might have led us to expect, has hitherto received too little attention, or has even been made use of for false conclusions, as in regard to the first epistle of Peter in relation to the epistles of Paul.
After the salutation, and before he comes to the main subject, John still gives two weighty and appropriate utterances. With two torches he sends a gleam of light beforehand into the dark abyss of terror and dismay.
Revelation 1:7. Behold he comes with clouds, and all eyes shall see him, and they that pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth shall wail over him. Yea, Amen. John here looks back especially to Matthew 24:30, “And then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth wail, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and glory.” And this declaration of our Lord again rests upon the two passages, Daniel 7:13, “Behold one like the Son of Man came in the clouds of heaven,” and Zechariah 12:10, “And I pour out upon the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they look upon me whom they have pierced, and they wail over him, as the wailing over an only one, and mourn over him, as the mourning over a first born.” From the latter passage in particular is taken the expression, “They shall wail,” and also” They shall see.” That John had the declaration of our Lord more immediately in view, is clear from this, that here, as there, the two passages of Zechariah and of Daniel are united together. Still, John also reverts to the fundamental passages, and more literally adheres to them. Instead of: in the clouds of heaven, we have here, with a more exact reference to Daniel: with the clouds; and the clause derived here from Zechariah, “and they who pierced him” is omitted by Matthew. While in the declaration of our Lord both the fundamental passages are woven together, here the territory of both is still preserved distinct. The clause, “Behold he comes with the clouds,” points to Daniel, the rest to Zechariah, the clouds with which, or accompanied by which, the Lord comes, are not” the symbol of glory, of elevation above all nature” (Hävernick), but they are the shadow of the judgment. This even in the Old Testament is the regular signification of the clouds, when employed in such a connection. Isaiah says in Isaiah 19:1, “behold the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and cometh to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt are moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt melts in the midst of it.” On which Michaelis remarks: “This is to be understood of a dark stormy cloud, which is charged with thunder and lightning. Swift clouds must be particularly stormy.” On Psalms 97:2, “clouds and darkness are round about him,” I remarked in my commentary, “The Lord appears surrounded by dark clouds, which announce his anger, and beget the expectation of a tempest of thunder and lightning breaking forth.” Again on Psalms 18:10, when the Lord is represented as coming down from heaven, and having darkness under his feet, “The Lord approaches marching on the dark thunder clouds. These are to his enemies a sign of his anger, and a proclamation of his judgment.” From these thick tempest-clouds break forth lightning, thunder, and hail, Psalms 18:11, ss. In Nahum 1:3, it is said, “Behold the Lord, in storm and tempest is his way, and clouds are the dust of his feet.”
The Lord does not come once merely with clouds at the end of the world, but through all periods of the world’s history. Where the carcase is, there the eagles are gathered together. The truth, that the Lord comes with clouds, renews itself with every oppression of the church by the world. The opinion, which would confine the expression to an externally visible appearance of the Lord, is already excluded by the fundamental passages of the Old Testament. But of special importance for the right understanding of it is Matthew 26:64, where Jesus says to the high priest, “But I say unto you, from henceforth ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” There the Lord comes upon the clouds to the judgment of Jerusalem, as a manifest proof that we are not to think merely of his coming at the last day, and that the words do not point to a visible appearing. There also the Lord does not come merely to the proper catastrophe on the clouds; he comes from henceforth; so that his whole secret and concealed agency towards the destruction of Jerusalem is comprehended under his coming. But if there the coming on the clouds refers to the judgment on Jerusalem, and here primarily to the judgment on persecuting Rome, then we obtain the result, that thereby the judicial activity of the Lord in its whole compass, according to its different objects and manifestations, is indicated. [Note: The right view was long since given by Vitringa: “Nor is it necessary that the words of John should be restricted to the lust advent of Christ. For, Christ is said in Scripture style to come in the clouds of heaven, as often as he displays his glory, and shews himself us present to the church. And there are various gradations of that advent of Christ, in which he is seen by his hardened enemies, themselves with the greatest anguish and lamentation.”] The coming of the Lord with clouds is at once terrible to the world, and joyful to the church; it is the latter which here comes into view.” And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh;” it is written in Luke 21:28, after it had been said, “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
The fundamental passage of Zechariah treats properly of the penitential mourning of Jerusalem over the Messiah, who had been slain by its guilt. In respect to the relation of the passage before us, and of Matthew 24:30, to that in Zechariah, it was remarked in my Christology: “These passages are a kind of sacred parody on that of Zechariah. They shew that, beside the salutary repentance of which Zechariah speaks, there is another Judas-like repentance of despair; that besides the free looking to him who was pierced, there is another not free, which it is impossible for unbelief to escape.” The awful sublimity of this allusion must be felt by every one. Quite similar is Habakkuk 2:14 in relation to Isaiah 11:9, “For full is the earth of the knowledge of the Lord, as the water that covers the sea.” In Isaiah the knowledge of the Lord is a free, loving, joyful one; in Habakkuk it is one of constraint, terror, and howling. Bengel: “They shall wonder and be terrified, that this Jesus, formerly so despised, and even in his glory not known, should appear in such a manner. There are two kinds of looking to Christ, and wailing over him and his pierced condition. The one is penitential and tender, the other constrained and painful. They who in the day of grace exercise the former, as the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, give themselves to sincere and heartfelt lamentations for sin, which caused the death of Christ; and such shall be the case, when all the tribes of the earth mourn. So that there is no one, who shall not have mourned over the sufferings of Christ, either before the last day for his good, or at the last day (more correctly, when the time of judgment has come; with terror”
In place of “all the tribes of Israel” in the original passage, we have here, as in the declaration of the Lord, “all the tribes of the earth”—a clear proof that here, it is not, as De Wette thinks, the punishment of the Jews that is spoken of, with which also the church had little to do, when sighing under the heathen persecutions.
The expression, “who have pierced him,” refers, according to the parallel passage. John 19:37, [Note: It is an important ground for the identity of the author of Revelation and of the Gospe1, that the latter also renders the original passage by Ὄ?ψονται εἰ?ς ὃ?ν ἐ?ξεκέντησαν , while the LXX. put it quite differently, πιβλέψονται πρός με , ἀ?νθ̓? ὧ?ν κατωρχήσαντο . It was pointed out in the Christology, that they followed the common reading, but attributed to the verb דקר a figurative meaning (to pierce—to despise), because they regarded the common one as unsuitable. Inadmissible are the suppositions, by which some have tried to get rid of the consequences, that arise from the troublesome facts. Ewald’s allegation, that the LXX. had originally translated as the others, but that the text had been corrupted, can only be regarded as the result of extreme necessity. The allegation, also, that the agreement might easily have been accidental, since Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion coincide with John here and with each other, is likewise quite untenable. For the coincidence is limited there simply and alone to the ἐ?κκαντέ?ω , while here the ὀ?́?ψομαι also is common; the LXX. and Theodotion have ἐ?πιβλέ?πομαι . Theodotion, too, not uncommonly leans on Aquila, Symmachus on Aquila and Theodotion—comp. Montfuncon Praelim. in Origenis Hex. p. 57. Aquila, however, knew the sacred books of the Christians, and was guided by polemical considerations in respect to them—as, for example, at Isaiah 7:14 he intentionally shunned the word παρθέ?νος out of respect to Matthew 1:23, &c. But polemical considerations never stand alone. They always draw in their train also certain agreements. According to Epiphanius Aquila was for a long time a Christian; and an agreement with John in the rare ἐ?κ κεντεῖ?ν could scarcely be accidental.] to the piercing with the spear. “The piercing of the side,” says Bengel, “was the last and most noted injury, which the enemies of the Saviour inflicted on his sacred body.” But this piercing is considered here, not simply as the work of those, from whom in the first instance it proceeded. It appears rather as the common deed of those who are united with the proper doers of it by the common bond of a similar state of feeling, and who manifest it by what they perpetrate against Christ in his members. The immediate actors present themselves to the view of the prophet only as representatives of the multitude, who have feelings of enmity towards Christ. Over him, on account of what they have perpetrated against him, and what they have now in consequence to expect from him. The expression of affirmation in two words, Yea, Amen, serves, according to 2 Corinthians 1:20, to give it additional strength. The double Amen in the Hebrew and in John 1:52, is analogous. Such a liveliness of asseveration was here perfectly in its place. For the visible presented a strong objection against what was affirmed. Bengel: “This is just the state of the Christian, that, when he hears of the coming of the Lord Jesus, he can look for him with joy, and in delight call out yea, with all who love his appearing and wait for his manifestation.”
Revelation 1:8. There follows now in Revelation 1:8 the second introductory statement of what the prophet had to say for the consolation of the church in its faint and distressed condition. I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and comes, the Almighty.
Luther follows here a double false reading. In a few critical helps, after the Alpha and the Omega, there is introduced from the parallel passages: the beginning and the end. In some also God is wanting after the Lord; a reading which has proceeded from the idea, that the person who speaks in the verse could be no other than Christ, to whom the title, the Lord God, is not applied.
The Alpha as the first and the Omega as the last letter in the Greek alphabet, denotes the beginning and the end. Corresponding to this is “the first and the last” in ch. Revelation 1:17, Revelation 2:8. In ch. Revelation 21:6 the two expressions, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, occur together; and in the full-toned conclusion at ch. Revelation 22:13, we have the whole three, Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end. The fact that the beginning and the end never occur elsewhere but in connection with Alpha and Omega, while the latter, and the other expression also, the first and the last, are found alone, shews that “the beginning and the end” is only to be regarded as an accompaniment of Alpha and Omega. And these words are appropriated to this purpose, because they begin with the first and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and so fitly indicate in what character the Alpha and Omega here come into consideration—only in respect to their place in the alphabet. The speaker is not Christ, but neither is it God the Father in contrast to Christ (against this decides, besides the relation to Revelation 1:7, the circumstance of the Alpha and the Omega being also attributed to Christ), but God in the undivided oneness of his being, without respect to the difference of persons. It may now be asked, in what respect God is here called the Alpha and the Omega? We are not to understand it of simple existence. For, then there would be no truth in the thought, that the personal existence preserves even the enemies by whom the church is brought into distress; and there could be derived from it nothing but a very small degree of consolatory power. The great question which then agitated the minds of believers, was about the superiority—whether the world would maintain the ascendancy, which it then claimed and seemed to possess; or whether it should belong to the God of the Christians. This question is answered by the declaration, I am the Alpha and the Omega. The emphasis is to be laid upon the Omega. It is as much as: I am as the Alpha, therefore also the Omega. The beginning is the surety for the end. The unconditional supremacy of God over the world, which is placed before our eyes by the Beginning, since God made heaven and earth, since he spake and it was done, commanded and it stood fast, is also brought again into notice by the end. If any one finds the end a cause of vexation, let him only lose himself in the beginning; let him dive into the word, “Before the mountains were brought forth, etc.” and his anxiety will disappear. Let the world enlarge itself in the middle as it may, the church knows from the beginning, that the victory at the end must be God’s. The designations of God serve the purpose of tracing up to a necessity in the divine nature the declaration, that he will maintain his supremacy, as at the beginning, so also at the end. The epithet, Lord God, corresponds to the Old Testament combination, Jehovah Elohim, i.e. Jehovah the only God, the sole possessor of Godhead, Jehovah besides whom there is no God and no Saviour—comp. on Jehovah Elohim my Betir. II. p. 311, ss. The words that follow in the latter part of the verse unfold what is contained in the “Lord God;” and with a twofold respect corresponding to each: “Who is, and who was, and who comes,” the substance of the Lord; and “the Almighty,” the substance of God. The Old Testament Zabaoth, [Note: Bengel: In the books of Samuel and Kings, in Chronicles and Psalms, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and most of the minor prophets, before the Babylonish captivity and after it, very frequent mention is made of the Lord God of hosts. The LXX. render the epithet variously, but most commonly use παντοκρά?τωπ , ὁ? κύ?ριος , ὁ? θεὸ?ς , ὁ? παντοκρά?τως . The word is nowhere found in the other books of the New Testament, excepting in 2 Corinthians 6:18, with an express reference to a passage in Isaiah. In the Apocalypse alone it frequently occurs. Such being the ease, the Heb. Jehovah cannot but answer to the third member, ὁ? ὠ?͂?ν καὶ? ὁ? ἠ?͂?ν καὶ? ὁ? ἐ?ρχομενος . For the epithet ὁ? παντοκρά?τωρ is never put, without either θεὸ?ς or Jehovah immediately preceding.] which corresponds to it, serves along with Elohim to prevent all narrow views respecting Jehovah, all that would shut him up into a limited sphere. It was such a God, that belonged to the beginning, and such also must necessarily belong to the end; and the church can smile at those who would put themselves in opposition to him.
The Introductory section is followed by a narrative, Revelation 1:9-20, telling how John had received from Christ the commission to write to the seven churches, and containing an extended representation of the appearance of Christ, which was admirably fitted to prepare the minds of men for the contents of the epistles—to dispose sinners to repentance, and to kindle hope in the bosoms of the desponding. [Note: The section partakes of the character of the whole first vision, which is thus described by Vitringa: “The first vision exhibits the internal state of the universal church through all times under the emblem of the seven churches of Asia, from Revelation 1:9 to the beginning of ch. 4. Almost all the other visions have respect to the external state of the church.”] It proclaims with emphasis at once, Fear, and Fear not.
Revelation 1:9. I John, your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. The “I John” is in imitation of Daniel’s style, who alone among the prophets says, “I Daniel,” Daniel 7:28, Daniel 8:1, Daniel 9:2, Daniel 10:2. While John in this manner attaches himself to Daniel, he presents himself as having a similar position to his, and so indirectly designates himself as an apostle. For prophets standing on a footing of equality with the canonical writers of the Old Testament could only be found in the circle of the apostles It is not accidental, nor to be explained from a mere subjective predilection, that John attaches himself in so very peculiar a manner to the last more eminent prophets of the Old Testament, to Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah. This is rather to be considered as having its ground in the serial character of the sacred writings generally, and those of the prophets in particular. As certainly as Scripture is no fortuitous assemblage, but an organic whole, John had the double purpose in view of connecting what he wrote at once with his New Testament predecessors, and with the last prophets of the Old Testament, whom in a sense he immediately followed as the author of the first and only prophetical book of the New Testament. John speaks of himself as the brother of those to whom he wrote. He might also have called himself their father, as in his epistles he addresses them as his children, 1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:18, 1 John 2:28, 3 John Revelation 1:4. But it was more fitting here to bring out the point of similarity, which is made sensible to the heart by nothing more readily than a common participation in suffering. Reference had already been made in Revelation 1:1 to the distinguished dignity of John. The also, which many critical authorities shove in, has arisen from a feeling of solicitude, as if John must here have somehow indicated the distinction betwixt himself and his readers.
The tribulation could only consist in persecution. For John, the companion in tribulation, is on the island of Patmos, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus. Besides, the “Jesus Christ” belongs not merely to the patience, but to all the three, the tribulation, the kingdom, and the patience. But the question may be asked, what is to be understood by the tribulation of Jesus Christ? The answer is, that here, as in the fundamental passage of Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my body what is still wanting (to me) in the tribulations of Christ,” (John writes to the same circle of readers, and the whole verse before us is full of references to Paul’s epistles):—in both alike, the tribulation denotes what Christ suffered partly in person and partly in his members, and what he still has to suffer. We must not with Luther think merely of the first, the personal sufferings of Christ: “Paul calls his own sufferings the tribulations of Jesus Christ, because they were the same sufferings as those by which Jesus Christ was affected. John designates himself a companion of the tribulations, which Christ had formerly suffered.” In that case, Paul could not have called his sufferings tribulations of Christ without some farther explanation. And here the tribulation and the patience, or stedfastness, are manifestly the personal tribulation or stedfastness of John and of those to whom he wrote. A companion (συνκοινωνό?ς only found in Paul and here in John) is one, who partakes along with others. But one cannot partake of the tribulation, which Christ himself has suffered. Had it been Christ’s personal sufferings merely that was meant, the natural thing here would have been a mere compassion, which would not be suitable. The sufferings of Christ also in 1 Peter 4:13, are not merely the sufferings which Christ personally endured. When we have determined the tribulation of Christ, we can no longer doubt what is to be understood by the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the kingdom or empire of Jesus Christ can only be that which belongs to him, partly in person, partly in his members. In like manner, the patience of Christ is that, which he has personally manifested, and manifested in his members; and of explanations, such as Ewald’s, according to which the patience of Jesus Christ must be the patient hope respecting Christ, require no further notice. Under the patience, according to the remark of Bengel, is to be understood, “not only a good will, but a spiritual force and energy, whereby one is fortified to endure something, and bears up under it.” It is the stedfast endurance of things contrary to the faith and truth of the gospel—comp. 2 Timothy 2:12, where the patience stands in opposition to the denying, and Luke 8:15, where those who bear fruit in patience are contrasted with those, who believe for a time, and in the time of temptation fall away. The same three things as here are united also together in Acts 14:22, where it is said of Paul and Barnabas, that they confirmed the souls of the brethren, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through much tribulation they must enter into the kingdom of God; comp. also 2 Timothy 2:12, Romans 8:17. In regard to the order here, the tribulation, the state of humiliation, has placed in immediate connection with it the kingdom, the state of exaltation; and then the patience will be thought of with an emphatic N.B, because the contrast presented by it to the natural connection between the tribulation and the kingdom of Christ has been torn asunder, and the bitterly won fruits of the former reaped. The mention of the patience is at the same time a reminiscence, and an indirect though important admonition. Bengel: “The things mentioned are singularly woven together. The kingdom stands in the middle, the tribulation before, and the patience after. This is the form of Christianity in this life. Through the tribulation the kingdom is pervaded with the patience of Christ, till the tribulation shall have been overcome, and no more patience shall be required. With carnal men, who have not entered into the kingdom of Christ, tribulation brings no patience, but rather occasions impatience. A raging wild beast, if it is not irritated, may be quiet as a lamb, but when any thing has excited it, it breaks forth in its fury.” [Note: The reading ἐ?ν Ἰ?ησοῦ? has proceeded from those who could not understand the genitive, which has been munch tortured by expositors. The fundamental passage is against it, as also ch. 3:10.] From the words, “I was in the isle Patmos,” the conclusion has often been drawn, that at the time John wrote the Revelation he was no longer in Patmos. And certainly the I was, if isolated, must appear remarkable, and cannot be explained by what was stated on Revelation 1:2 in reference to the expression: who has testified. John could not take for granted that the sojourn in the isle Patmos, at the time when his book was being read, had already come to a close. But the abrupt beginning in Revelation 1:10 shews [Note: One might have expected καὶ? with the second ἐ?γενό?μην , but it is the very omission of this which serves to indicate the inseparable connection of the double ἐ?γενό?μην .] that we have here a mere Hebrew sort of connection between the clauses, which, with things that run into each other in meaning, simply puts them after one another: I was upon the isle Patmos, I was in the Spirit, for, when I was upon the isle Patmos, or during my sojourn there, I was in the Spirit. Comp. a quite similar synchronical Imperfect in Jonah 3:3. So that there remains only the second I was to be explained. But the remark already made at Revelation 1:2 is perfectly applicable here. The state of ecstacy was long since gone when the Book came to be read by the churches of Asia. That the Revelation in Patmos, besides, had not merely been received, but also written down, is evident simply from the send in Revelation 1:11. Only an arbitrary disposition and want of simplicity could have sought to separate what are most intimately associated together. How the writing was immediately joined to the hearing and seeing, may be discovered from ch. Revelation 10:4, Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:9-10.
Instead of: on the isle, which is called Patmos, several have merely: on the isle Patmos. But the omission was made by those who had in view the renown which Patmos had acquired throughout Christendom by this very Revelation of John. That till then it was exceedingly obscure, is manifest, as Bengel has justly remarked, not only from the clause “which is called,” but even from the designation of the place as an island, while in Acts 13:4, for example, we have simply the name Cyprus. Fiction would never have laid the scene in so obscure a corner.
The proof that the words, “for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ,” refer to the martyr-sufferings of John, has already been given in the Introduction. In regard to the testimony of Jesus, comp. on ch. Revelation 1:2.
The Appearance of Christ
Revelation 1:10 . I was [Note: The ἐ?γενό?μην after the corresponding ἐ?γενό?μην in Revelation 1:9, not: I became, but I was.] (there I was) in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet. To be in the Spirit means being in the element and state of the Spirit. In a certain sense all Christians are in the Spirit, comp. Romans 8:5, Romans 8:9, Galatians 5:25. But here by being in the Spirit is meant being so in the highest sense, in a theopneustic state, in which the natural life is entirely overcome. Parallel is Paul’s being in a trance, Acts 22:17, comp. Acts 10:10, Acts 11:5. Opposed is Peter’s being again in or with himself γενό?μενος ἐ?ν ἑ?αυτῳ?͂? , in Acts 12:11, which is immediately preceded by: forthwith the angel departed from him. In vain has Züllig denied that being in the Spirit could stand for being in a state of ecstacy. His exposition: I was on the Lord’s day in a kind of transport, is at once put to flight by ch. Revelation 4:2: and immediately I was in the Spirit, where he must explain: presently was I there in a kind of transport. John also is here not in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, the day of the future judgment, but he speaks throughout from the stand-point of the actual present.
There can be no doubt that the declaration, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day,” primarily refers only to the first series, which is a whole by itself. Hence at the beginning of the second series we have the corresponding: I was in the Spirit, ch. Revelation 4:2. It is naturally to be supposed, however, that the contents of the whole book were communicated on the same day. For the day of the Lord is, at least, quite as closely connected with the contents of the following visions. No other day is ever so much as hinted at. The half-hour in ch. Revelation 8:1 is a measure of time, serving to indicate, that in the space of a limited period the whole was shut up. Zechariah also receives the entire series of his visions, which are formally independent of each other, in a single night.
The assertion, I was in the Spirit, is turned into a lie, whenever one assumes that the prophet had laboured long at his work. The word: he spake and it was done, applies also here. It is affirmed, that the book shews everywhere the marks of great art and careful preparation. But this is partly to be explained from the consideration, that in the state of ecstacy holy men were raised far above themselves, and must not be judged by a measure which is obtained from their ordinary condition. Then, much appears to us art, or even unnatural conceit, which was quite natural and easy to the sacred bards and seers, such as their arrangements according to symbolical numbers. In any other respect, the supposition of art and laborious preparation rests upon the arbitrary hypothesis of expositors, who have pressed their own conceits upon the book, in particular have substituted in place of a series of visions, formally independent of each other, a single whole arranged after a regular plan. Finally, John’s being in the Spirit was only the bursting forth for which a manifold and profound preparation paved the way.
The key to the right understanding of the day of the Lord is supplied by Revelation 1:5, where Christ is called the first-begotten from the dead, and by Revelation 1:18, where likewise reference is made to the resurrection as the pledge that he will quicken his people out of death. These passages prove,
1. That the day of the Lord is the day of the resurrection, as the day on which Christ was manifested above all others as the Lord, comp. Romans 1:4.
2. That it was so named, not because of what the church should do on that day, but because of what the Lord did on it, as a figure and pledge of what he is still going to do on it. [Note: Augustinus: Dominicus hic dies ideo dicitur, quia eo die dominus resurrexit; vel ut ipso nomine doceret, ilium diem domino consecratum esse debere.] It follows, however, from what the Lord has done on that day, that it is to be sanctified by the church, and that John so responded to this call, so yielded himself to the death-subduing power of Christ, as thereby to make himself capable and worthy of receiving the Revelation. The only point regarding which a doubt can be entertained, is whether, under the day of the Lord’s [Note: The name was certainly in John’s time not in common use, but was first introduced by him; perhaps, the Lord’s day was formed after the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:20.] the weekly or yearly celebration of the resurrection is to be understood. Both were even in the apostolic age singled out from the rest. The reasons for the weekly celebration have recently been set forth by Weitzel in his Christliche Passafeier der ersten drei Jahrhunderte. Even on the very first weekly return of the resurrection-day we find the apostles gathered together, in remembrance of that which had taken place eight days before, if haply the Lord might again appear; and the day was distinguished anew by a manifestation of the risen Lord, John 20:24-29. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, singles out the first day of the week as that on which the Corinthians were to lay past their contributions. On the first day of the week we find the Christians met at Troas to celebrate the Supper, Acts 20:7. Exactly seven days before had Paul arrived there: he would a second time observe the sacred day in the midst of them. The proof that the annual celebration of the day of the resurrection was also observed in a solemn manner from the first age, has likewise been produced by Weitzel. This follows, indeed, as a matter of course: the celebration of the weekly festival is hardly to be conceived without that of the yearly. Farther, from the connection of the oldest churches with the Jewish synagogue, there was only the choice left of keeping a Jewish or a Christian holyday. And finally, from the fully accredited tradition of an observance by John in regard to the Christian Passover, it appears on the most credible testimonies that the Passover-feast peculiar to Lesser Asia was introduced there on the authority of John. The knowledge possessed by the ancient church of the internal connection between the resurrection of Christ and his second coming, led to a particularly energetic, celebration of that yearly festival. [Note: Jerome on Matthew 25 : Dicamus alquid quod forsitan lectori utile sit. Traditio Judaeorum est Christum mediu nocte venturum in similitudine . AEgyptii temporis, quando Pascha celebratum est exterminator venit.
Unde reor et traditionem Apostolicam permansisse, ut in die vigiliarum Paschae ante noctis dimidium populos dimittire non licent, expectantes adventum Christi; et postquam illud fempus transierit, securitate praesumta festum cunctis agentibus diem.] Beyond doubt, Easter day was a very suitable one for receiving the Revelation, the fundamental idea of which is that Christ will come to deliver his church from death. However, since it is certain that the weekly commemoration of the resurrection had then begun, every one must naturally think of that, when he hears of the day of the Lord, and the yearly festival could not have been designated in this simple manner, but must have had some mark of distinction, as it is called by the Fathers the holy, the great, the splendid day of the Lord. “On the Sunday,” says Bengel, “John received the Revelation, and a spiritual meditation of this book is truly Sunday work.” It is the proper Sunday-book. Every Sunday, if spent under its influence, will awaken in us the hope of the Maranatha, which is so full of consolation especially for our times.
John hears behind him a voice. This took place because he must first hear. Had he immediately seen, he would not have been able to hear, but with a “Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips,” he would have fallen prostrate on the ground; comp. Revelation 1:17. But here the reference to the church must presently come forth.
The great voice is as of a trumpet. Allusion is made to the Old Testament use of the trumpet as the sign for calling the people together, and intimating, that the Lord had something to say to them; comp. Numbers 10:2, Exodus 19:16-19, Joel 2:1, where in the immediate prospect of the day of the Lord Israel is called by the sound of the trumpet before an angry God, Joel 2:15, Matthew 24:31, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where the trumpet calls the members of the church before the Lord at his second coming. So here also the voice of the trumpet announces that the Lord has important tidings to communicate to his church, and summons them straight to his throne, that they may there receive the word of warning and consolation.
Revelation 1:11. Which said: What thou seest write in a book, and send it to the churches in Asia, to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea. Between spake and thou seest several critical helps have introduced, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.” But Bengel has conclusively shown in his Appar. that these words have been derived from Revelation 1:8; Revelation 1:17. Züllig would still defend them as genuine; but a glance at the beginning of his defence, “These words are wanting indeed in the best manuscripts,” renders it quite unnecessary to follow him farther. Where the external grounds are so decided, it is not worth while going more deeply into the internal considerations, which might be found to show the want of genuineness. We shall make but one remark, that it is only at Revelation 1:12 that John turns round to look after the voice which spake with him, consequently he could not yet know who the speaker was. The words would weaken the impression of the appearance and the surprise it occasioned. John must write what he sees, not what he may yet sec. The seeing has already begun; for according to the Biblical usage the hearing also is comprehended in the seeing in the larger sense. On the words in a book Bengel remarks, “Therefore all here makes up but one book. Not only is the address to each particular church to be sent to the angel of it, but the whole book is also to be sent to them all.” But this remark would only be right, if we were to understand by the all what is written to the end of ch. 3. For this portion alone belonged specially to the seven churches of Asia. Ewald’s attempt to delete the “seven,” on the ground of a few unimportant manuscripts omitting it, and indeed with little advantage, since the hook still remains specially directed to the seven churches of Asia, whether they might be expressly said to be seven or not, only shows to what difficulties they reduce themselves who understand by the book here the whole book, which from ch. 4 to the end bears an entirely oecumenical character. The name of the book (βιβλί?ον , properly, little book) affords no handle to this mistake. For, in ch. Revelation 5:1, we find the book with the seven seals; in Matthew 19:7 the same word signifies the writing of divorce; in 2 Samuel 11:14, 2 Kings 19:14, it is used of letters (Suidas: βιβλί?ον ἡ? ἐ?πιστολή? ), and in Macc. 1:44 of edicts. The corresponding Hebrew ספר denotes any sort of written declaration. The law of the order of the seven churches, the seven, as is clear from ch. 2 and 3, falling into three and four, may with certainty be discovered. Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos must stand together, and be separated from the rest. For, these three cities and these alone contended for the primacy in Asia. [Note: See the Appendix in Spanheim, de usu et praestantia nomismatum I. p. 636, ss.] The order in which they are placed here is also not arbitrary. Ephesus must stand at the head as the seat of John’s labours, and as such forming the centre of the whale circle. From Ephesus it proceeds northward to Smyrna and Pergamos. Then from Pergamos as the most northerly point it goes in a regular south-easterly direction down by Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, to Laodicea, which lies almost in the same parallel of south latitude with Ephesus, but considerably farther east. [Note: In the Itinerarium Antonini the four cities follow each other in precisely the same order, comp. Cellarius Schwärtz II. p. 113.] The apostle in his spiritual visitation takes the same course which he was wont to take in his actual visits (comp 2 John 1:12, 3 John 1:10). When John wrote to the seven churches, he had in his eye the example of the seven Catholic and the fourteen Pauline epistles (including the epistle to the Hebrews, which anyhow, even if not directly, flowed from Paul as its source.) That John was instructed to send to the churches, shows, notwithstanding the objections of Lücke, p. 243, that he wrote out what he saw on the spot. That “the state of the seven churches of Asia appears as immediately present in the seven epistles,” indicates nothing to the contrary, for that belongs to the territory of the Spirit.
Revelation 1:12. And I turned round to see the voice which spake with me. And, when I turned, I saw seven golden lamps. The seeing is to be taken in the larger sense. He wished to learn more exactly about the voice, namely from whom it proceeded. That his desire lay especially upon the latter point, is evident from the turning of his head. This does not need to have been a mere visionary turning (Mark). The internal sense moves after the form of the external. John sees first the churches and then Christ. By this it is implied, that he beholds Christ here only in a special respect, in his relation to the churches. That the seven churches are indicated by the seven lamps, is expressly declared in Revelation 1:20. Among the furniture of the sanctuary there was a candlestick with seven lamps, Exodus 25:37, which already appears in Zechariah 4 as an image of the church. [Note: Comp. the Christol. on Zechariah 4. We believe we must here repeat what was said in the Beitr. III. p. 643 regarding the import of the candlestick: “As regards the candlestick, we have a sure starting point in the oil. The oil throughout both Old and New Testaments is the symbol of the Spirit of God. But when we have determined the oil, we can easily determine also the candlestick; as the bearer of the Spirit of God it can only import the church, the covenant people. So also the light; it can only indicate the operations of the Spirit of God, the spiritual light, which streams forth from the Spirit-endowed community into the surrounding darkness. The symbol in the first instance declares what the church of God is, in the event of its corresponding to its idea, but along with this, at the same time, what it ought to be. The description carries in its bosom a call. This comes distinctly out in the explanation of the symbol, which our Lord himself gives. After saying in Matthew 5:14, “Ye are the light of the world,” he adds in Revelation 1:18, “Therefore let your light shine before men.” Besides, the Saviour again has respect to the candlestick in Luke 12:35, and in the parable of the virgins. So also Paul in Php_2:15 . The seven number of the lamps points to the covenant relation. Seven is in Scripture, as the language itself bears evidence, the number of the oath, and consequently of the covenant. That the candlestick was of gold denotes the glory of the church of God. The blossoms of flowers, which were added as ornaments, were emblematic of the church’s joyful blossoming and prosperity.”] It is not accidental that here seven individual lamps are set before us. The candlestick with the seven lamps could not have been admitted here. For this since the time of Moses had been consecrated for all times as a symbol of the whole. But here the discourse is not of the whole church, but only of seven particular churches, in which the church was reflected indeed, though they still did not constitute the church—(comp. Revelation 1:20, where the seven lamps are said to be the seven churches; not the church at large, but seven individual churches selected from the whole. Without any proper right has Hoffmann (Weiss, und Erfullung, Th. II. p. 319) drawn from the passage before us the conclusion, that the seven churches of Asia must have had a symbolical character, a prophetical import, since otherwise they could not have been represented through the symbol of the whole church. But this is just what has not been done. The seer has avoided that supposed identification of the seven churches with the church at large, by not speaking of the candlestick with the seven lamps, but of seven separate lamps. But under the image of seven lamps even seven individual believers might have been represented, as may be seen from Php_2:15 , and the parable of the ten virgins. Certainly the seven churches constitute one whole, for they have Christ in their midst, but only a whole of the kind described in the words, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”—a separate section of the church, which stood under the superintendence of John, not the whole of the Christian church. Hoffmann has said, that any one who would see the matter more fully proved, will find in Vitringa all he can wish. But the reasons which have been advanced by the latter are equally untenable. He rests, first of all, upon the general contents of the entire book. According to Revelation 1:1 it contains what was shortly to come to pass. Whence the seven epistles also must be out and out prophetical, which can only be the case if the churches are understood to be types of the church of the future in its varied conditions. But what holds of the book in its general character and import, must not simpliciter be applied to every particular part. The first introductory and preparatory series must, according to the express declaration of Revelation 1:19, be occupied with “what is,” as previous to and apart from that “which was afterwards to come to pass”—with a prophetic insight into the real state of matters in the churches of Asia, which was known only in a superficial way to common observation, and still unperceived in its proper depth. In this, what is said of the contents of the book in general, receives its limitation so far as the first portion is concerned. “Must then,” continues Vitringa, “the churches alone of the Lydian Asia have lain upon the heart of Christ, and not rather the churches of all Asia, nay the churches of the whole world?”
For this reason he thinks those churches of Asia must have had a symbolical import. Unquestionably, the seven epistles addressed to them form part of a book, which is destined for the whole church. But nothing more follows from this, than that they also partake of the character attributed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, to the whole of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and without which indeed, holy Scripture cannot be conceived to exist: “All Scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished for all good works.” But our epistles bear this character, even if we give up their prophetic import in the narrower sense, and place them in the same rank with the other apostolic epistles, which likewise refer originally and primarily to special relations. In both cases alike it is the part of the church by means of its theological expositions to extract from the particular, the general, and again make application of this to the particular. The seven churches are no more representatives of all other churches, than were the churches to which the other apostles wrote. “What then,” asks Vitringa, “are the churches amongst whom Christ the Lord walks? Are they just those seven churches of Asia, or are they not rather all churches of all times and places?” But the walking of Christ among these seven churches is to be taken positively, not exclusively. One might just as well conclude, that the two or three, in the midst of whom the Lord has promised to be, must represent the whole church. When Thomas calls Christ his Lord and God, John 20:28, or when Paul says, that Christ lives in him, Galatians 2:20, no one surely will maintain, that they could only speak thus as types of the church. Finally, Vitringa still lays stress on the point, that the Lord concludes the epistles to the churches in Asia with a call that is addressed to all churches: he that has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. But this very circumstance shews, that the churches in Asia do not represent the whole church. Had they done so, the Spirit would simply have needed to address them. That there was only a special application and charge made to them of what, we are expressly told, belonged to the whole church, was purposely designed to teach, that they were only parts of this great whole. But against the strictly prophetical character of the seven epistles, there is also this very decisive fact, that they do not at all contain a full representation, even in its main features, of the state of the entire Christian church. It is especially to be noted in this respect, that of the two grand hostile forces against which the Christian church has constantly to contend, Judaism and Heathenism, standing related to each other as a false slavery and a false freedom of spirit, here it is only the latter which is brought into notice, and simply because this alone had then power and influence in the churches, to which the apostle wrote. Those persons, especially, who like Vitringa descry in the seven epistles a prophecy of the seven ages of the church, [Note: In opposition to which this alone is decisive, that, as already indicated, the order in which the seven churches stand, was determined by local considerations and others of a like outward nature.] must by this consideration be reduced to great straits. For, among these ages there sire some, in which the Judaistic element has wrought the greatest devastations in the church. But those also, who perceive in the epistles a pre-intimation of the church’s states in the last times, cannot easily dispose of this argument. For, Judaism has a very tenacious existence, and will assuredly never altogether abandon the field to heathenism.
Revelation 1:13. And in the midst of the seven lamps one who was like a. Son of man, who was clothed with a long robe, and girt about the breast with a golden girdle. Bengel: “Just as Christ in heaven has not in himself the actual form of a lamb, or of a warrior on a white horse ( Revelation 6:2, Revelation 19:11), so, though he has indeed the human form, yet he has not that precise fashion of it, in which he here presents himself with so much splendour as the head of his church.” The appearance here stands in the closest relation to the matter in hand. It presents before our view those aspects of Christ’s nature, which were adapted to the seven churches, and to all who are placed with them in similar states and circumstances, on the one hand to bring them to repentance, and on the other to fill them with consolation and encouragement. What he afterwards says to them in word, he prefigures to them in the first instance through his appearance—the regular relation of appearance and word to each other in the sacred Scriptures—so that the appearance bears throughout a onesided character. His glorious majesty, and his punitive righteousness, these are the aspects which here alone were to come distinctly into view, and these alone beam forth on us from the following description.
Christ appears in the midst of the seven lamps as the guardian and the judge of the church. The expression, “like a Son of man,” refers to Daniel 7:13, “Behold upon the clouds of heaven came one like a Son of man,” and so, immediately suggests the most elevated representations. For to that person was there given the dominion, the honour, and the kingdom, and all peoples, nations, and tongues serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which does not pass away, and his kingdom has no end. In the expression itself there is involved a superhuman elevation. For, if he was only like a Son of man, there must have been another part of his Being, which far surpassed the human. The whole succeeding description serves as an explanation of the likeness to a Son of man, for every thing in it points to a superhuman nature and glory. With Christ the designation of himself as the Son of man had an apologetical import: be not offended at my human lowliness of form, but remember that the Son of God in Daniel had the appearance of a Son of man. Some, with an unseasonable remembrance of the expression as uttered by our Lord in the days of his flesh, understand by the Son of man precisely Christ himself; and explain the like by supposing that, Christ himself did not personally appear, but as Bossuet expresses it, “an angel under his form, and sent by his command.” Expositors of the Reformed Church have made use of this exposition in support of their party views. [Note: Mark: Homo Christi linesmenta Johanni bene cognita referens. Neque enim Christus ipse quem coelos capere oportet usque ad judicii diem, descendit in terram, sed speciem sui similem exhibuit Johanni.]
A personal appearance of Christ here appeared to be dangerous to their doctrine of the Supper. But it is decisive against such a view, that here, as in ch. Revelation 14:14, it is not said, “like the,” but “like a Son of man.”
The robe, or garment, flowing down even to the feet, was not the sign merely of sacerdotal, but also of kingly dignity—comp. Isaiah 6:1, where such a garment is represented as belonging even to king Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts. The whole of the following description exhibits Christ as king and judge, as was done also by the original passage from which the expression, “like a Son of man,” was taken. “A king,” says Bengel, “is more exalted than a priest.” Hence Scripture also, and in particular the Revelation, speaks much oftener of the kingdom, than of the priesthood of Christ, even as he was not Aaron’s, but David’s Son.” Both the long robe and the golden girdle have respect to Daniel 10:5, where it is said of Michael or of the Logos (see on Daniel 12:7), “And I lifted up mine eyes and saw, and behold there was a man clothed in linen, [Note: The בדים , plural, not linen clothing generally, but a long linen garment.] and his loins were girt about with pure gold.” That the girdle is called golden in regard to its buckle, is clear from 1Ma_10:89 , 1Ma_11:58 , 1Ma_14:44 , where the bearing of a golden buckle on one’s girdle, along with being clothed in purple, appears as the mark of royal state. In respect to the phrase: about the breast, Bengel remarks, “One who is busy girds himself about the loins, Isaiah 11:5. But he who girds himself about the breast, must be in a state of dignified repose. Jesus by his sufferings and death has overcome all, and so he now presents himself in his glory as one girt about the breast. What profound reverence should fill our hearts before this incomparable majesty!” Yet we can scarcely ascribe this meaning to the being girt about the breast. It was hardly to be expected, that a material deviation from Daniel should appear in the description. Christ, besides, appears here not in a state of rest, but of full activity. According to ch. Revelation 2:1, he walks amid the seven lamps. The seven angels also in ch. Revelation 15:6, while employed in active service, are girt about the breast.
Revelation 1:14. But his head and his hair were white as white wool, as the snow, and his eyes as aflame of fire. The mentioning separately of the head and hair, while in Daniel mention is made simply of the hair of the head, is to be explained from the contrast in respect to the feet in Revelation 1:15—comp. 2 Samuel 14:25, where it is said of Absalom, that “from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.” In Revelation 1:13 we have the clothing, in Revelation 1:14-15 the uncovered parts. The fundamental passage for the first half, is Daniel 7:9, “I beheld till the thrones were placed, and the Ancient of days sat down, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head as fine wool.” The blinding whiteness of the hair (the addition, “as snow,” supplies the idea of glittering splendour), denotes not the untarnished purity of Christ, which would be out of place here, where he appears to encourage and to frighten, but his holiness, majesty, glory, to which also we are led by the connection in which it stands with eyes like a flame of fire. Comp. upon whiteness as the colour of serene splendour, the symbolical representation of glory ch. Revelation 4:4, John 17:5, “And glorify me. O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was,” corresponds as to meaning. The second half rests on Daniel 10:6, where it is said of Michael, the Logos, “His body was as Tarsis, his countenance like the lightning, and his eyes as torches of fire, and his arms and his feet like burning brass.” According to this passage, by the eyes like a flame of fire, is denoted neither the power of vision or the omniscience of Christ, nor his beauty, but only the energetic character of his punitive righteousness, in accordance with the common symbolism of Scripture, which uniformly employs fire as the image of anger. For in that passage the eyes as torches of fire appear in the midst of warlike accompaniments, between the countenance like lightning, and the arms and feet like burning brass, ready to destroy everything that comes in their way. We are led also to the same result by a comparison of the other passage in Daniel 7:9 which forms the basis of the first half. After the words already quoted, it follows there, “His throne was pure flame of fire, and its wheels burned with fire;” comp. Daniel 7:10, “A stream of fire went out from him.” The Lord appears there to execute judgment on the world. His holiness and glory, shadowed forth under the colour of his clothing and his hair, shews that no one can escape out of his hand. His punitive righteousness imaged by the flame of fire shews that he possesses the energetic will to punish his adversaries. A similar combination of holiness and anger represented under the image of fire meets us in the descriptions given by Ezekiel, Ezekiel 1:27, Ezekiel 8:2, of the Lord when appearing for judgment. The parallel passages also in the Revelation itself shew that the eye as a flame of fire is the eye sparkling with indignation; that from it streams forth the fiery zeal, which shall consume the adversaries ( Hebrews 10:27) as well within as without his church; so that there comes forth the admonition, Be afraid, and also, Be not afraid. In ch. Revelation 19:12 the words, “and his eyes are as a flame of fire,” are followed by; “and in righteousness he judges and makes war;” while in Revelation 1:15 he is represented as” having a sharp sword going out of his mouth.” In ch. Revelation 2:18, eyes as of a flame of fire, and feet like burning brass, are united together, and both appear as the ground at once of threatening and of promise to those in Thyatira. Woe to those who have against them him whose hair is white as wool and as snow, and whose eyes’ are as a flame of fire. Happy they who have him on their side. Though the whole world should be leagued together against him, he can laugh them to scorn.
Revelation 1:15. And his feet like clear brass, as if they glowed in an oven, and his voice as the sound of great waters. On the first half Bengel says: “This has respect to his great power, with which he brings all under him, as with a bar of metal, which at the same time is burning hot, one can give a very powerful thrust. Oh, how will he tread down all his enemies!” Clear brass, in the sense of heated brass, Chalkolibanos, is an enigmatical term, formed by John himself in a peculiar manner. For which reason the words, “as if they glowed in an oven,” are added by way of explanation. And hence these words, being merely of an explanatory character, are wanting in the second passage, where the Chalkolibanos occurs, Revelation 2:18. [Note: There can be no doubt that the Chalkolibanos corresponds to the Nechoshet Kalal of Ezekiel 1:7, where it is said of the Cherubim: “And they sparkle (in the feet) as the aspect of Nechoshet Kalal;’’ and in Daniel it is said of Michael: “And his arms and his feet like the aspect of Nechoshet Kalul.” In this expositors agree, only several suppose that Chalkolibanos at the same time corresponds to the Chasmal, חשמל , in Ezekiel 1:27, while they quite improperly identify this with the Nechoshet Kulal; see the proof given of the complete difference at ch. 4:3. If, therefore, we would determine the signification of Chalkolibanos, we must in the first instance settle that of Neehosbet Kalnl. This properly signifies clear or light brass. But in the two passages this is used not in the sense of shining brass, but of brass in a glow-heat, as was perceived by the old translators, the LXX. ἐ?ξαστρά?πτων , Vulg. aes candens, Chal. ses flammans, Peschito fulgurans. That we must think not of glittering brass, but of brass in a glow-heat, appears, 1. from what precedes in Daniel, “and his face was as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as flames of fire.” 2. By comparing the passages in Ezekiel, Ezekiel 1:27; Ezekiel 8:2. “From the loins and under there was seen as the appearance of fire.” 3. By the נֹ צְ צִ ים in Ezekiel 1:7, which signifies not glittering, but emitting sparks, scintillantes. With this result, which we have obtained by a comparison if Nechoshet Kalal, agrees the explanatory clause, “as if they glowed in an oven;” and also that other, “his feet are as pillars of fire,” in ch. 10:1. Having thus ascertained the sense, we shall not need to be in doubt as to the derivation. The only legitimate derivation is that from χαλκό?ς brass, and לבנה , whiteness, here used of the whitish glitter of mnch heated brass. לבן , according to Buitorf, means albare, album, candens, igninim reddere, candefacere; לבין metallorum in igne candefuctio. Examples of similar bastard-words are given by Bochart Hieroz. III. p. 900, Lips. The supposition of such a peculiar composition is here attended with the less difficulty, as the fact of the words nowhere occurring except here and in ch. 2:18, places it beyond a doubt that John had formed it, and as the appended explanation also shows, that it was of an enigmatical description. Accordingly a quite ordinary derivation, such as that of Hitzig, who has revived the old exploded opinion that χαλκολί?βανος stands for χαλκοκλί?βανος , has the presumption not for, but against it. In the formation of χαλκολί?βανος we are presented with a small image of the innermost nature of the Apocalypse. The singular manner in which the Hebrew and the Hellenic are fused together in it, proved anciently a stone of stumbling to the existing theology of the Greek church, on which many actually fell. Those whose calling it is to reveal the secrets of God, delight sometimes to stamp on their productions, even in the individual and the external, something of a mysterious, enigmatical character. In Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, not a little of this is to be found. Even the Gospel of John, and it alone among the Gospels, presents something similar to this; for example, Sychar for Sychem in ch. 4:5: see my Beitr. II. p. 25.] After the description of the more important features, there follows now what else seemed worthy of notice in the appearance—the voice, what he had in his right hand, and what proceeded out of his mouth, last of all his countenance like the sun, far transcending the splendour of the stars in his right hand. The voice, from the connection is that with which he chides his enemies whether within or without the church, and which for them utters the thundering and destructive cry, Thus far, but no farther. “The voice as the voice of many waters,” is from Daniel 10:6, “and the voice of his words like a great clamour,” coupled with Ezekiel 42:2, “And his voice was the voice of many waters.” Comp. also Psalms 92:3-4. The world-power breaks forth like a tempestuous sea; but more glorious than the sea with its swelling waves is the Lord in the height, and he loudly utters his voice.
Revelation 1:16. And had seven stars in his right hand; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his face shone as the sun in its strength. In accordance with the uniform symbolical usage of the Revelation, the stars denote rulers; comp. upon the stars as symbols of a ruler’s greatness and glory, at ch. Revelation 6:13, Revelation 12:4. By the explanation given in Revelation 1:20 the seven stars signify the overseers of the seven churches. The representations of these under this symbol certainly accords ill with the view of those, who maintain the democratic character of the Christian polity. “Pure society-officials, whose authority flowed from no other source than that of the church itself,” who “were simply the church’s presidents and nothing more,” could not possibly have been represented under the symbol of stars. This quite plainly betokens a power over the community, as does also the circumstance, that generally a double symbol is given for the rulers and the spiritual community, which strangely disagrees with the view now so much cried up; and still further, the strength and greatness of the charges, which are given in the epistles to the rulers, which necessarily imply the elevation of their office. For only to whom much is given, can much be required of them. It is equally at variance with the view now currently entertained, what Paul says, in Acts 20:28, to the elders of the church of Ephesus: “Take heed therefore to .yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God,” if only it is viewed with an unprejudiced eye, and not in the light of this present time, which is so much averse to all restraints both of law and authority. That Christ has the stars in his right hand, marks his unconditional power over them. No one can deliver them out of his hand, when he will punish; but no one can pluck them out of his hand, if they remain faithful. Comp. John 10:28-29, “And I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of my hand. My Father who gave them me is greater than all, and no one can pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” That we are not in a partial manner to lay stress merely on the protection, is clear from the two-fold respect in general that the descriptions of Christ bear. In ch. Revelation 2:1, the words, “who holds the seven stars in his right hand,” must lay the foundation for the threatening in Revelation 1:5 not less than for the promise in Revelation 1:7. But ch. Revelation 3:1 is quite decisive, as there threatening and judgment greatly preponderate.
Out of his mouth goes a sharp two-edged sword. This is an image, not of the saving efficacy, but of the destroying power of the word, which proceeds from the Almighty. It denotes the resistless energy of Christ’s power in punishing his enemies, alike internal and external. This is clear from ch. Revelation 2:12, compared with Revelation 1:16, where the two-edged sword is directed against the false seed in the church, and from Revelation 19:21, where it brings destruction to the antichristian heathen power. The proper fundamental passage is Isaiah 49:2. There, the servant of the Lord Christ says, “And he has made my mouth like a sharp sword,” q.d. he has invested me with his omnipotence, so that my word, like his, brings irresistible destruction to my enemies. Comp. Isaiah 51:16, where the Lord says to his servant, “I put my word into thy mouth” (I endow thee with my almighty word),”that thou mayest plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth (mightest bring in an entirely new state of things, a total revolution, mightest introduce a well-ordered instead of a disordered world), and say to Zion, Thou art my people” (mightest raise the church from the dust of humiliation to a state of glory). Besides this undoubted allusion to the Old Testament fundamental passages, there is also, as appears, a reference to Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than a two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and joints and marrow, and is a judge of the thoughts, and intents of the heart.” [Note: It is only in these two passages that the expression μά?χαιρα δί?στομος occurs in the New Testament, Nor is there any passage of the Old Testament which is related in thought, like Hebrews 4:12, to the one before us.] The word of God, by which he excludes sinners of the present day from salvation, and dooms them to destruction, as he once did those of former ages (comp. Hebrews 4:5) is not a dead, impotent word, a mere threatening, but such an one as immediately carries its fulfilment along with it; according to that, “He spake and it was done.” By the sword being represented as going out of the mouth of Christ, or by the destructive power being attributed to his mere word, he appears as one possessing divine power. For it belongs to God to slay with the, word of his mouth, Hosea 6:5; in the Wisdom of Solomon, God’s almighty word is described as a sharp sword, which fills all with death; and the same subject is discoursed of in Hebrews 4:12. Other expressions are used to describe Christ’s participation in this divine prerogative, in Isaiah 11:4, “And he smites the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he slays the wicked,” and in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, which refers to that passage in Isaiah. Woe to the Seven Stars, if they have against them Him out of whose month proceeds a sharp, two-edged sword! But happy if he stands on their side! They shall then no longer faint before the world, however formidable may be the attitude it assumes against them! A glance to the sharp, two edged sword, and they are filled with consolation!
The face of Christ [Note: That the ὁ?́?ψις is to be taken here in the sense of face, is plain from the parallel passage, ch. 10:1: καὶ? τὸ? πρόσωπον αὐ τοῦ? ὡ?ς ὁ? ἥ?λιος . John alone in the New Testament uses ὁ?́?ψις , and both here and in the other passages, Gospel 11:44, 7:24, only in the rare signification of face.] is as the sun shining in his strength, when no clouds, vapour, or damps, veil his splendour in the clear sky. On the sun as a symbol of the glory of the Lord, see on ch. Revelation 12:1. That the visage is here first thought of, can only have arisen from the respect had to the stars, which pervades the whole description of Christ’s appearance. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars,” 1 Corinthians 15:41; and as the splendour of the sun is to that of the stars, so does the glory of Christ immensely transcend that of his servants in his kingdom. In ch. Revelation 12:1, also, the sun and a crown of stars are put together. Bengel: “In the visible world there is no brightness like the sun’s. A person born blind, who in other respects was richly endowed, declared that he would be content to be blind, if he could only see the sun for a little, as he had heard such wonderful things of it. We are in the constant habit of seeing this glorious body, but we cannot fail to regard it as preeminently an image of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the days of humiliation and suffering, his face was spit upon, struck, treacherously kissed; but now it is full of brightness. This King shall we sometime see in his beauty, and consequently shall be like him.”
Revelation 1:17. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead, and he laid his right hand on me, and said: Fear not. John understands the twofold aspect of the appearance, recognizes that the glory of the Lord and the energy of his righteousness have the church as well as the world for the field of their operations, and, forgetting his prophetical office, penetrated by the feeling of his personal sinfulness, sinks overwhelmed to the ground. But He, who once also in the days of his flesh, when he was transfigured before his disciples, and his countenance shone as the sun, and they fell upon their face and were greatly afraid, had in so gentle and powerful a manner touched them and said, “Arise, and be not afraid” ( Matthew 17:6-7), the same here also laid hold of his servant. Bengel: “Before the sufferings of Jesus, John enjoyed such confidential intimacy with him, that he lay in his bosom during the feast of the last Supper; and now, scarcely sixty years after, was this elder, this aged apostle, so overwhelmed with a look. What a brightness must there have been in the appearance of the Lord!” How deep, we add, must the conscience of daily sin also be in the very holiest! That John, when he saw Christ, fell down at his feet as one dead, forms a practical commentary on his words, 1 John 1:8, “If we say, we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That Christ laid his right hand upon him and said, “Fear not,” in this is found a proof of the truth declared in the words that immediately follow, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and purifies us from all uurighteousness.” Had John not been free from reigning sin, and truly penitent in regard to his sins of infirmity, he could not have received the comfort of the address, bidding him not to fear. Under the Old Testament, such immediate intercourse with heavenly beings, even with angels ( Daniel 8:17-18, Luke 2:10), but most of all with the Lord and his Revealer, especially when he appeared in his glorious Majesty, filled with a profound terror the minds even of his holiest servants. The fervid appearance of the Lord’s glory which Isaiah saw, Isaiah 6 (comp. Isaiah 6:4, “And the house was full of smoke, from the fire on the golden altar), primarily had respect, not to him, but to the ungodly people to whom he was going to be sent as a messenger of wrath. Yet even he cried out on beholding it, “Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 1:28, falls upon his face when the Lord appears to him in his burning glory, although the indignation was kindled not against him, but against incorrigible sinners, comp. Ezekiel 3:23, Ezekiel 42:3. Daniel falls down, Daniel 8:17-18, when Gabriel comes to him, in utter impotence on the ground, but the angel touches him and raises him up again, so that he is able to stand. But Daniel 10:7, ss., comes nearest to the passage before us. Daniel falls on the ground when he sees Michael, the angel of the Lord, in his burning glory, “and lo! a hand touched me and set me on my knees, and on my hands.” In regard to the laying hold here with the right hand, what Hävernick has remarked on that passage of Daniel is quite applicable: “As the result and object of the touching with the hand, we have not merely to think of the raising up of Daniel, which always presupposes a strengthening that had already been experienced, but the entire agency of the angel as manifesting itself in beneficent working toward Daniel (attactus sanitatem et vires conferens, Geier), of which the outward touch is to be regarded as the symbol.” Bengel says: “In former times the Lord Jesus had healed much sickness, and strengthened much weakness by the laying on of his hand, and in the same manner he imparts here to John a plentiful supply of living energy. How gently and graciously was this done to John!”
Revelation 1:18. I am the first and the last; and the living, and I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death. After the fear had been removed from the Seer, he is directed to the consolatory and elevated import, which the appearance of the Lord of glory has for him and for the church he represents, the care and burden of which he bears upon his heart, whose microcosm he in a manner was. Fear not, but rather hope, be confident and rejoice, for, etc. Three glorious predicates meet us here, which are each fitted to inspire a joyful hope, the first and the last, the living, the possessor of the keys of death and of hell.
The expression, “I am the first and the last,” is used in Isaiah three times of Jehovah, Isaiah 41:4, Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 48:12; and three times also in this book of Christ, comp. Revelation 2:8, Revelation 22:13. That it expresses what is included in full Godhead, appears from Isaiah 44:6, “I am the first and the last, and besides me there is no God.” That his being the first refers to the creation of the world, is clear from Isaiah 48:13, where the word is explained by “I, my hand has founded the earth, and my right hand has stretched out the heaven, I call to them and they stand forth together.” I am the first—for in the beginning was the Word; all things have been made by him, and without him was nothing made that was made, John 1:1 and so I also am the last: all that has been made shall at the end lie at my feet, and no one that abides in me needs to vex himself about it; comp. on ch. Revelation 1:8.
The living is also a peculiarly divine predicate, and especially, he who lives for evermore. The latter is used in ch. Revelation 4:9-10, Revelation 10:6, of the Most High God on the ground of Deuteronomy 32:40. Purposely and intentionally, everything is in the Revelation attributed to Christ which belongs to the Supreme God, in order to exhibit the truth that he is equal to God in power and glory. The living is at the same time the life-giving; comp. on ch. Revelation 7:2. “If Christ lives, what can trouble me?” Christ himself said in John 14:19, “I live and ye shall live also.” His life is the pledge to his church that she cannot remain in death.
That Christ had been dead, so far from subverting the truth, that he is the living and the life-giving, is rather a security for it. His life has the more gloriously manifested itself by the victory over death in the resurrection. And for his church it was through his death and his resurrection that he first properly became the source of life.
Christ has the keys of death and of hell. He opens and no one shuts, he shuts and no one opens, according to ch. Revelation 3:7, and Isaiah 22:22, “And I give the key of the house of David upon his shoulder, and he opens and no one shuts, and he shuts and no one opens.” By virtue of his absolute power of the keys he shuts death and hell for his people, that they may not go thither; he opens them for Satan and his servants, and thrusts these down thither, comp. ch. Revelation 20:1, ss. From the connection, only that kind of death can be thought of which is a real evil, and the object of fear. But this bodily death in itself is not according to the New Testament point of view. We are led to the same result also by the connection of death with hell, Hades. In the Revelation, and generally, Hades is brought into notice only in respect to dead sinners; see on Revelation 6:8. This renders it manifest, that natural death is here to be thought of not simply in itself (since it may even be a great good, a passage into life), but in so far only as it is the punishment of sin and is associated with the second death. From this Christ keeps his own by keeping them stedfast amid the trials and persecutions which Satan and the world bring upon them, so that they are not tempted above measure.
Bengel: “To these descriptions, contained in Revelation 1:13-18, the titles of our Lord in the epistles to the seven churches refer, especially those in the four first. Still, there is much in the description which is not expressly repeated in the titles, and much again in the titles, especially in the four last epistles, which is not to be found in the description.”
Revelation 1:19. Write therefore what thou hast seen, and what is, and what shall be done afterwards. The therefore, which is wanting in Luther, is the connecting link with Revelation 1:11: Since therefore thy fear has been removed, do what I now enjoin thee. Bengel: “After John had been raised up, the command to write was with emphasis repeated, and the discourse of our Lord, which had been interrupted, was continued.” The execution of that command is to be understood as first taking place at the end of ch. 3, after John had fully received the commission. Bengel says: “When this was uttered, John immediately wrote what with us forms the first chapter. The second and third chapters were afterwards dictated to him.” But according to this view the description of what John saw would not be connected with the salutation. John must first write what he saw. It is this which we find written in ch. Revelation 1:11-18. He had seen the Lord as light and as fire in his surpassing glory and in the glow of his fiery indignation, rich in help for his own people, threatening destruction to the world as hostile to God and Christ, and to the unfaithful among his professing people—had seen also the seven stars in his hand, and the seven golden candlesticks, in the midst of which he walked.—he must further write what is. He must unfold the internal state of the seven angels and the seven churches, as is done in the seven epistles. This also is an important object of prophecy, with which the holy men of the Old Testament occupied themselves as much as with the unveiling of the future. The reality of things is not less concealed from the natural eye than the future. Laodicea said, “I am rich and have need of nothing, and knew not that she was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” “If you all prophecy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all. And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” ( 1 Corinthians 14:24-25).
John, finally, must write what shall be done afterwards. This is the second part of the contents of the seven epistles. Along with discoveries of the real state of the churches, these contain announcements of the coming of the Lord, threatenings against the insincere, promises to those who should overcome, all in close connection with the condition of the particular angels and their several churches.
The explanations of the verse that deviate from the one now given rest upon the supposition, already proved to be erroneous, that we have here the introduction to the whole book. They all agree in conceiving the words before us to contain the plan of the entire Apocalypse. But the groundlessness of this supposition can be easily pointed out. First, in Revelation 1:11, it is said, “What thou seest, write in a book.” Here, on the other hand, “What thou sawest, and what is, and what shall be afterwards.” The command here is a resumption of the command in Revelation 1:11, as the therefore plainly shews. So that all the three things named here must be comprehended under the description there of” What thou seest.” What was already seen were the seven lamps with the Lord in their midst, and the seven stars. The things described as being, and as going to be hereafter, cannot be referred to the indeterminate, but must be understood of the object of the seeing, and through this reference must receive their more immediate determination, and their inclusion in the “what thou seest” of Revelation 1:11. The word must point to the present state of the lamps and stars in their relation to the Lord and their future fate. Then, it is only in the view now adopted that Revelation 1:20 fits properly in to the preceding context. It drags behind in a quite unsuitable manner, if in the words, “what is and what shall be done afterwards,” the reference to the lamps and to the stars is given up. To these considerations we may still add the special reasons, which are furnished by the other explanations. Bengel and others refer the things which John saw to ch. Revelation 1:11-18; the “what is” to the seven epistles; the “what shall be hereafter,” to ch. Revelation 4:1 onwards to the end of the book. But the “what is” would very imperfectly indicate the contents of the epistles. These are taken up, in their promises and threatenings, with that also which shall be hereafter. Besides, the epistles represent “what is” not generally, but only in respect to the seven churches. But if we derive here the limitation from the preceding context, then we must also limit the import of” what shall be afterwards.” Finally, it is against the reference of this last clause to the portion Revelation 4:1 to the end, that we have there an entirely new beginning, new in respect to the state of inspiration and new in respect to the scene. Still weaker is another exposition: “what thou hast seen,” ch. Revelation 1:11-18, what (it) is, what is thereby signified, and “what shall be done afterwards,” ch. Revelation 4:1-11; Revelation 4:5. The necessity for shoving in an it is alone a proof of the arbitrariness of this mode of explanation; and then the contrast, what thou sawest, and what it is, is a strange one. John had seen nothing else than spiritual lamps, and spiritual stars. The are suits well, comp. Revelation 1:20, but not in the sense in which it is here taken. The what is, and the what shall be done afterwards, also plainly form a contrast—the present and the future that is yet to be developed out of it. Lastly, according to this exposition, the very thing would be passed over in silence, which comes out so prominently in what follows, the reference to the present state of the churches. The whole meaning of the epistles is destroyed by it. These receive the character of a non-essential intercalation, to which no respect is had in the plan.
Revelation 1:20. The mystery of the seven stars, which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden lamps. The seven stars are angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamps are seven churches. John must write the mystery of the seven stars, and what in respect to them is now and shall come to pass afterwards. For only when this should have been written, would the mystery of the seven stars be fully brought out. We should know little of them if we merely learned what is said of them in the preceding description. Ch. Revelation 2:1, ss., is but a specializing of the command, which is given here generally; not: and write further to the angel, but: write therefore. The explanation: the seven stars are, etc. by this view comes in quite naturally and easily. The words “the mystery—golden lamps,” are not put as if for the purpose of attaching thereto the explanation, so that they perform the service merely of a peg. They are necessary in order to determine more exactly the sphere of the “what thou sawest, what is and shall be done afterwards,” and cutting off for the attentive every kind of false meaning. By mystery, secret is always meant in the New Testament (see for example Matthew 13:11, Ephesians 5:32, and here ch. Revelation 10:7, Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:7), “the great secrets which only God’s Spirit can unfold”—the things and doctrines which are plainly inaccessible to the natural man, which cannot be apprehended excepting by fellowship with the Triune God and on the ground of his internal and external Revelation. It belongs to the nature of a mystery, that even after its objective revelation it should remain beyond the apprehension of those, who have not opened their heart to receive the Holy Spirit; as, in spite of the revelations given by John, the fleshly and impenitent in the seven churches still continued to grope on in darkness in regard to the stars and the lamps, entertaining concerning them the most earthly and superficial views. The mystery never consists of things, in which the difficulty is of a merely formal nature, and capable of being removed by an explanation. Such would be an enigma, but no secret. Accordingly, the mystery of the seven stars, and of the seven lamps, was not described or made known by the following explanation, but by the communications, which are contained in Revelation 2, 3—by the discovery there given of the most concealed depths of the heart, and the disclosure of the future, in regard to which mere natural knowledge is involved in the strangest illusions. The formal explanation of the stars and the lamps, which immediately follows, is only to be regarded as a sort of hasty sketch, serving to introduce and prepare the way for the more extended illustration of the secret which is given in Revelation 2, 3.
In this formal explanation the question first of all arises, whether the discourse is of angels or of messengers of the seven churches. The ἀ?́?γγελος of itself can signify both; but there can be no doubt we must render: the seven stars are angels of the seven churches. In support of this there is, first of all, the fact that this word, which so often occurs in the Revelation, is always found in the sense of angel. Then the connection, in which in the Old Testament stars and angels not rarely occur, as forming together the heavenly hosts of God—comp. for example, Psalms 103:20-21. Further, when we explain here: the angels of the churches, we have no room to doubt from whom the sending proceeds; the angels are God’s messengers, the angels of the churches could only be the angels whom God had sent to the churches, and had entrusted with the charge of them. Comp. Matthew 18:10, “See that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels do always behold the face of their Father in heaven;” according to which the angel of any one is the angel to whom the charge of him is entrusted; Acts 12:15. But, on the other hand, the messengers of the churches could only be those whom the churches themselves had sent or their commissioners. We must then, with Vitringa and those who have followed him, think of an office in the Christian church, analogous to that which had existed in the Jewish, that of שליחי צבור , deputies of the church. Bengel was drawn into this opinion, and remarks, “There was in each of the seven churches, which were doubtless planted after the Israelitish stem, a single president, who was named by the Hebrews the angel or deputy of the church, and who by virtue of his office represented the church.” But this opinion, into which Vitringa was betrayed by his zeal for making out the parallel between the Christian and the Jewish constitution of the church, appears on every account untenable. There is no trace to be found elsewhere of such an office having been transferred to the Christian church. The historically known presidents of the early churches had nothing to do with the “deputy of the churches.” The place of the latter was quite a subordinate one, that of a mere clerk to conduct the devotions of the congregation. The symbol of the stars, which indicates an authoritative power over the churches, would have been altogether unsuitable as a designation of such a person. The angels or messengers of the churches appear throughout the seven epistles as the soul of these. But this “the deputies of the churches” were not at all, at least not as distinguished from the churches themselves, which are here indeed represented under a separate symbol, that of the lamps. Contradistinguished from the churches, which were represented by them, they had next to no importance. If, then, we must not think of “the deputies of the churches,” but only of the messengers of God to the churches, we must translate: the angels of the churches. But the further question arises: Is the name of God’s heavenly messengers merely transferred to his earthly ones, or are real angels meant? Were we to adopt the former opinion, then we could understand the object of the transference to be, to bring clearly and prominently out the principle from above, to remind the president of the dignity of his office, of the responsibility of his position, and the solemnity of his account. The idea of such a transference may the more readily be adopted, as we find also in the Old Testament undoubted examples and specimens of it. In Ecclesiastes 5:6, “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin (by uttering a vow which thou hast not strength to fulfil); and say not before the angel, It is an error (think not, that thou canst undo the evil by an easy, It is an error); wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands?” There the priesthood is denoted the angel, in order to mark His high dignity and the impropriety of any thing like levity in his presence. He stands as God’s representative, comp. 2 Corinthians 5:20, and the LXX. and the Syriac have precisely: before God. We must not render: before the messenger, for one knows not then, whose messenger. The angel, implies that the sending is of God. In Malachi 3:1, “Behold I send my messenger before thee,” it is better on account of the reference there to Exodus 23:20, to translate, “Behold I send my angel,” than “Behold I send my messenger.” From the subject it is impossible that any thing but an earthly messenger can be meant, the prophet, the whole band of divine messengers who should prepare the way for the appearance of the Saviour, and herald the approach of the kingdom of grace (see Christology on Malachi 3:1). But the name of the heavenly messenger was employed to designate the earthly, that the grace of God, the supernatural origin of the provisions connected with salvation, and the dread responsibility of rejecting what was to be provided, might be more distinctly brought into view. If we must, therefore, translate, “my angel,” which is also justified by the relation of the angel there to the angel of the covenant in what immediately follows, then we must understand of the angel of the Lord what is said in Malachi 2:7-8, “For the priest’s lips must keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the angel (commonly, the messenger) of the Lord of Hosts.” For, the two passages stand closely related to each other. And if in these three passages the messenger must give way to the angel, so in Isaiah 42:19, we should also translate, “Who is blind but my servant, and deaf as the angel, whom I send? in Isaiah 44:26, “Who fulfils the word of his servant, and executes the counsel of his angel;” in Haggai 1:13, “And he spake to Haggai, the angel of the Lord, in a message of the Lord to the people”—the rather so as מלאך , in so far as it is used of divine messengers, elsewhere always denotes only angels.
The other opinion, that in the passage before us real angels are meant, has recently been defended by Züllig and De Wette. The angel must be the guardian angel of the community, “as in Daniel every nation has its ruling angel, and according to the Rabbins an angel is placed over every people.” “But always,” remarks Züllig, “are these angels in the mind of the poet himself nothing more than imaginary existences, and prosaically considered they are simply the personified communities themselves.” And De Wette also thinks that as to meaning the angel is the spiritual community, or the spiritual substance of the community, “so that one may say with Arethas, the angel is just the community or church itself.” We must, however, decide entirely for the first view, for the transference of the mere name of the angel to the overseers of the several churches. Against the view, which would understand it of real angels, and of these as figurative personifications of the churches, important considerations have been urged by Rothe (Th. I. p. 423): “There would therefore be one image or symbol used to express another, and the stars would be the symbol of a symbol. Besides, the angels and the churches would stand immediately beside each other, and of both it would be spoken in one and the same sentence, that they are to be understood under the symbols of the stars and the lamps; yet of these two symbolized objects must one only be a reality, and the other a mere symbol! And not only so, but this symbol be the symbol of the reality placed in immediate juxtaposition with it!” We add, still another consideration. No valid objection can be urged against the supposition of angels as purely ideal forms. Such ideal beings unquestionably occur in this book itself, in ch. Revelation 16:5, where mention is made of the angel of the waters in a figurative sense; in ch. Revelation 14:8, where the angel who has power over fire is spoken of; in ch. Revelation 21:12, where the idea of the Lord’s protecting guardianship over the new Jerusalem is viewed as embodied in the twelve angels that stand at its gates. To these passages may be added John 5:4 of John’s Gospel, which has proved so great a stumbling block to prosaic copyists and expositors, in which the symbolical mode of contemplation breaks forth in the midst of the simple narrative of facts, such as could only be expected with the Seer among the evangelists. But if the Seer introduced here such purely ideal angelic forms, it could only have been as embodiments and personifications of the power of God as exercised in behalf of the churches. Angels, however, as they are here considered beings of a higher sphere, to whom epistles are addressed, who are partly rich and partly poor, partly stedfast, partly lukewarm, partly admonished to be faithful, and to repent, who have a local habitation (ch. Revelation 2:13), who, as the admonition to be faithful unto death presupposes, could die—such are a nonentity for which not the least analogy is to be found in Scripture. Against the supposition that angels are personifications of the churches, it may further be stated, that the symbol of the stars is alone decisive, a symbol which does not fitly apply to the churches, but only to the presidents; as also the praise which is bestowed on the angel of the church of Ephesus on account of his contendings against false teachers—a feature which only suits those who had the charge and oversight. There are other things also tending in the same direction, such as the wife of the angel in Thyatira, Jezebel, which will come under consideration when we reach the particular parts.
There is still a third question, whether under the angels of the churches single individuals are to be understood, bishops according to a wide-spread opinion, or rather the directorship in these, so that the angel, though in each case formally but one, still denoted in reality a number of persons. We must here decide for the latter view. It has on its side the passages already quoted from the Old Testament, in which, by the ideal person of an angel, the whole body of priests and prophets is denoted. But still more decisive is the argument that, by referring it to a single individual, the bishop, one cannot be right as to the grounds on which several expositors, from Salmasius downwards, have sought to shew, that between the angels and the churches no material difference could exist. The position of an individual, however important it may be, is still not of such a kind that through his person the community might be so immediately addressed, that he might so unconditionally be considered as its soul, and their repentance or their fidelity be regarded as so dependent on his. If, on the other hand, we understand by the angels the whole church officers, all without distinction who were set apart to the service of the church, this difficulty entirely disappears. Let it only be considered how John, in the narrative formerly given, makes the bishop responsible for individual souls, how Paul, in Acts 20:28, regarded the elders of Ephesus as those on whom the spiritual state of the church entirely depended, how he calls them to lay to heart the high responsibility of their office, so that only if they watched, tended, admonished every one day and night with tears, could they be pure from the blood of all men. Let the language also be compared, in which Peter in his first epistle, 1 Peter 5:1-5, writes to the elders as “ensamples of the flock.” We must not, however, stand merely at the college of the elders, the presbytery of 1 Timothy 4:14, as Polycarp begins his epistle to the Philippians: “Polycarp and the elders that are with him, to the church of God which dwells at Philippi,” but, on the ground of what is indicated in Php_2:19 , we must also add the deaconship, as Ignatius, in the superscription of his epistle to the Philadelphians, says, “especially if you are at one with the bishop, and the presbyters and deacons that are with him.” If the angels are considered thus, the passage ch. Revelation 2:5 can easily be understood, “Repent; else I will come to thee quickly, and remove thy lamp out of its place.” If all that hold office in an organized church have become degenerate, the church itself must have sunk into a low condition, and every thing be ripe for judgment.
As to the question regarding the age of episcopacy, nothing certain can be obtained from what is said here of the angels. Whether we have to think of the state, which presents itself to us in Acts 20, as still continuing,—a college of presbyters on a footing of equality, or whether a bishop with more or less of superior power already stood at the head, we have no sufficient data for determining.
In conclusion, we must throw some light upon the view which has been set forth by Rothe, I. p. 425, “We have here, in fact, already the idea of an individual personality, in which the manifoldness of the church comes forth as in its true common expression and life-organ, as in its proper concrete oneness, and attains to its united consciousness; in short, we have the idea of the bishop though this idea had not yet found its realization—the bishop was still only a purely ideal person.” On the other hand we remark, that this connection of an idea and of a real existence, lamps or churches, would certainly be of a very rare description. Christ must then have had seven ideas in his hand.
By snatching at this idea the real church officials would be left out of account. And then what was said against the actual bishop must equally hold against the ideal one: the identification of the angel with the community would be inexplicable, if by the former a single individual were meant. Between a particular individual and the whole of the community many differences, and even entire contrasts, must exist as to praise and blame.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 1". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany