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THE REVELATION OF THE LIVING CHRIST
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Revelation 1:1. The revelation of Jesus Christ.—This may mean, “belonging to, or proceeding from, Jesus Christ,” or it may be the revelation concerning Jesus Christ; i.e., the partial unfolding of what He, as the living one, is doing, and will do, with His Church in the world. The mystery which has to be unfolded is this: for what purpose is the redeemed Church left in the world, and made subject to the varied influences of calamities, national changes, persecutions, and temptations? The revelation of the mystery is the present relation in which Jesus Christ is standing to His Church, and the purpose concerning it which He is outworking, and for which He is using these various, and apparently strange, instrumentalities. God gave unto him.—I.e., God permitted him to reveal so much as is in his book for the comfort and encouragement of the Church. The full mystery must ever be hid in God; but revelations may be made to men within limitations which the Divine wisdom provides. Under the Old-Testament economy, faithful souls were helped and cheered by partial disclosures of the Divine plans and purposes, through the agencies of the prophets; and in the New-Testament economy the discourses concerning the last things given by our Lord, the prophecies of St. Paul and St. Peter, and the Apocalypse of St. John, are analogous to the work of the older prophets. Shortly.—There can be no doubt that the apostle’s mind was full of the coming events of his own time, but these events are properly regarded as typical of the events which recur in every age, and are used by the Living Christ for the discipline of His Church. By His angel.—The visible agent in the Divine communication (Revelation 10:8, Revelation 17:7, Revelation 22:8, etc.). John.—The reason for calling himself “servant” rather than “apostle” does not appear; but that the author of the work is the beloved apostle seems to be beyond reasonable doubt. He is the apostle of Christ’s higher nature and living relations.
Revelation 1:2. Bare record.—Or had already borne record. The expression seems to refer to St. John’s earlier work of teaching, if not to the gospel and epistles he had written. (Some regard the Apocalypse as his first work.) Prophecy.—A term used in the sense of “disclosure,” as well as “foretelling.” A prophecy may reveal a meaning; the time element is not essential to it. “Any declaration of the principles of the Divine government, with indications of their exemplification in coming history, is a prophecy. The prophecy gives us the rule, with some typical application illustrative of its method of working; after history affords us the working out of various examples.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 1:1-3
The Mission of Prophecy.—We are familiar with the fact that God never brings judgments on either nations, families, or individuals, without giving them previous warnings, and opportunities of repentance. It is equally certain, though by no means so fully recognised, that God does not give rewards and blessings to His faithful servants without first cheering them with promises and prophecies. Hope is a most inspiring and ennobling grace, and in every age God has held before His people something to hope for. The assurance and prophecies of Old-Testament Scripture were the cheer of God’s saints through long periods of depression and anxiety. For them the curtain of the future was lifted, and they saw something of the good time coming. As we apprehend the conditions of the Christian Churches, and especially the Gentile Churches, in the days of St. John, we can recognise the grace shown in thus sending them this revelation of things that “must shortly come to pass.” The commotions of that age might well seem overwhelming. The persecutions imperilled the Church’s life. What could bring cheer to fainting hearts like this assurance that the Living Lord was working amid it all in behalf of His Church? and this prophecy that, out of all the conflict, and the stress, the Church would come purified and perfected, a bride fit for the Sinless One?
I. Prohpecy dispels all idea of chance as ruling the world.—It does not matter whether by chance is meant a series of accidents, or the outworking of fixed laws—prophecy, as a forthtelling and foretelling of things to come, makes it impossible to believe in chance, or mere law. There must be intelligence—and an intelligent One—discerning the future, and making it a moral power in the present. One verified prophecy would witness for the being of God.
II. Prophecy delivers from all fear of the schemes of men.—If we could only look down, we should only see what men were doing. Those early Christians might easily become hopelessly distressed as they watched the schemes of men in their day. Prophecy delivered them, by making them look on, and see how vain men’s schemes would prove, and how certainly God was making the very wrath of men praise Him. The future, unfolded before them, showed plainly that God knew “how to deliver the godly out of (men’s) persecution.”
III. Prophecy occupies the thought and heart of men with comforting considerations.—The best relief from the strain of what is, may be found in meditating on what shall be. We must live in our to-day for the doing of our duty. We may live in God’s to-morrow for the comfort and good cheer of our souls. There are lessons to be learned from the past. There are fears to be felt in the present. But there are hopes to cheer us in the pictures of the future God graciously gives. It is not healthy to dwell on the future as a mere storehouse of good things which we are going to enjoy; but it is healthy to dwell on the future as the time of the full and manifested triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that is the prophecy of this book.
IV. Prophecy of what is to be acts as a persuasion to men to seek what must be now, if they are to share the good prophesied.—See Revelation 1:3. All God’s good things are ours—only on conditions; and those conditions are to be met now, in our present relations. There are endurances of present tribulation; steadfastnesses under present strain, witnesses amid present opposition; maintenances of loyalty, even at cost of suffering; and personal purities to keep while surrounded with defiling Paganism; and the prophecy of what is to be inspires to persistent endeavour. The prophecy that says we shall walk with Christ in white is a present incentive to getting white and keeping white. The revelation given to the Church through St. John is really a prophecy, and intended to have on the early Christians the usual moral power belonging to all Divine prophecies.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 1:1. Revelation of Christ in the Church.—The action of Christ is seen throughout the book. It is Christ who bids John write to the Seven Churches; it is Christ who opens the Seven Seals (Revelation 6:1); who reveals the sufferings of the Church (Revelation 6:9); who offers the prayers of the saints (Revelation 8:3); and delivers the little book to John (Revelation 10:1-11). Thus it is seen that, though the rise and fall of earth’s history is included in the revelation, it is a revelation also of a living person. It is not the dull, dead, onward flow of circumstances, but the lives of men and nations seen in the light of Him who is the light of every man, and the life of all history; and thus we learn that “only a living person can be the Alpha and Omega, the starting point of creation and its final rest.” The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of this prophecy as of all others.—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
The Christian Hope.—From the beginning of its history, humanity has lived in a state of expectation, of disquieting fears, and of glorious hopes. “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head”—this prophecy contains already an indication of the formidable struggles which are impending, and of the assured final victory. This expectation concentrated and purified itself in the heart of the people of Israel, which was ever attracted towards the future, and whose fervent aspirations were met on their upward way towards heaven by the prophecy which was descending from thence to meet it. Through Jesus this Divine aspiration became that of the Church; and the book of the Apocalypse is the precious vessel in which this treasure of Christian hope has been deposited for all ages of the Church, but especially for the Church under the Cross.—F. Godet, D.D.
For the life of St. John, see Introduction to his epistles.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Revelation 1:1 A Legend about John.—The following is narrated by John Cassian, a hermit of the fifth century, and it is also told by St. Anthony and others. In his old age the apostle used to find pleasure in the attachment of a bird which he had tamed—a partridge. One day, as he held it in his bosom, and was gently stroking it, a huntsman suddenly approached, and, wondering that one so illustrious should take such a trivial amusement, he asked, “Art thou that John whose singular renown has inspired even me with a great desire to know thee? How, then, canst thou occupy thyself with an employment so humble?” The apostle replied, “What is that in thy hand?” He answered, “A bow.” “And why dost thou not always carry it bent?” “Because,” he answered, “it would in that case lose its strength; and when it was necessary to shoot, it would fail, from the too continuous strain.” “Then let not this slight and brief relaxation of mine, O young man, perplex thee,” answered the apostle; “since without it the spirit would flag from the unremitted strain, and fail when the call of duty came.”—Biblical Things.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Revelation 1:4. Churches.—Or congregations. Asia.—The single province, not the whole Asia Minor. It may have been the province in which St. John had chiefly laboured. The Seven Churches are taken as types of the varieties in the churches which make up together the one Church. Seven is the perfect number. Him which is, etc.—God Himself. Note how jealously apostles guard against the possibility of being so interested in Christ as to lose the sense of God. Christ Himself never would come between souls and God, and He will not now. Seven spirits.—Or the one spirit, with differing manifestations. The Holy Ghost must be meant. It is difficult, however, to see why He should be represented as before the throne. Possibly the allusion is to the attendants about God’s throne who reverently agree in what God does.
Revelation 1:5. Jesus Christ.—This combines His human name, “Jesus,” and His human office, “Christ,” i.e., Messiah. St. John is the apostle of the veritable humanity. Faithful Witness.—Alluding to the teaching work of His human life. First begotten.—R.V. first-born, which conveys the idea of the text. Christ was the first person born into that spiritual, eternal life, into which we must be born. Prince, etc.—True ruler of mankind, because King in the spiritual sphere, which must necessarily control the material. Bishop Carpenter well says: “The disposition to dwell on the future and more visibly recognised reign of Christ hereafter has tended to obscure the truth of His present reign. He is the real King of kings.” Washed us … blood.—Clearly a strong figure. Taken literally it carries no meaning, for nothing ever is, or can be, washed in blood. It will appear again and again in this book, and, indeed, elsewhere in the New Testament, that Christ’s “blood” stands as a figure for the strenuousness of His endeavour in carrying out His redemptive mission, which mission is figured as “washing us from our sins.” The sentence giving the key to the use of the term is this: “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4).
Revelation 1:6. Kings and priests.—R.V. “to be a kingdom, to be priests”; see 1 Peter 2:5. The service which Christ’s redeemed and cleansed ones are called to render is partly represented by the service of a king, and partly by the service of a priest.
Revelation 1:7. With clouds.—Mark 14:62. Either as with a glory which must be tempered by clouds, or magnificently surrounded with clouds, or set against a background of clouds, so as to stand out most impressively. There is also the idea that, being in the sky, all eyes can be turned up to Him. But we should clearly see that Christ’s coming is figured, not described; indeed, it cannot be described in human language. Pierced.—John 19:34. Type of those who pierced Christ, in a spiritual sense, in every age.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 1:4-7
A Salutation, a Doxology, and a Prophecy.—It is important to notice distinctly to whom this book of Revelation is addressed. It is neither sent to the world in general, nor meant for the world in general; and it takes a point of view which makes it wholly incomprehensible to the world in general. It is altogether a mistake for men who have not the special illumination of the Holy Spirit, which belongs exclusively to the new, Divine life in men, to seek in the book of Revelation for any events or details of human history. The book is prepared for, and addressed exclusively to, the regenerate persons who are in the fellowship of seven particular Christian Churches, but to these Churches as representing the whole Church of Jesus Christ in that age, and so to the whole Church of Jesus Christ in every age. The book of Revelation is, strictly and exclusively, a Christian’s book. It is no disclosure of the progress of human history, even to him; it is the assurance—which is a most gracious and inspiring assurance to him—that the Living Lord Jesus is ruling, controlling, and using all the movements of men, all the calamities of nature, and even all the ills and evils brought in by men’s bad passions, for His purposes in the disciplining and perfecting of His Church. It is the book of Revelation of Christ’s triumph over all material and all human evils, in the interest of His Church. Keeping this in mind will greatly help our understanding of the book, which may properly be called “Christ in History for His Church’s sake.”
I. The salutation.—“Grace and peace” are familiar to us as the Old Hebrew salutation, “Peace be unto you!”—instinct with the new Christian feeling which recognises peace to be dependent on grace. What is peculiar in this salutation is the threefold source from which St. John expects the grace and peace to come.
1. From God, the Being who is thought of as outside of and independent of time. “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” This thought of God must be seen in precise relation to the contents of the book. Such are the commotions and the woes of the human story, that men might easily be so unduly oppressed by them as to fear that they were even beyond God’s control. So St. John starts with such an assertion concerning God as involves His absolute superiority—beyondness. All the earth-story is but a day in His eternal years. The conflicts of earth are to Him but as a play fight of children to a father. He holds it all in control, and can give peace in the power of His grace.
2. From the representatives of the Church. “The seven Spirits which are before the throne” (see “Critical Notes”; and Special Note from Moses Stuart). It would be unnatural to bring in the Holy Ghost here, because of the attitude; because of the unnatural description,—“seven Spirits”—and because St. John does not usually deal with the work of the Spirit. He is the apostle of the Person of Christ, human, and glorified. God is thought of under figure of an Eastern king, seated on His throne, surrounded by His courtiers, who cheerfully echo His wishes, and join in wishing for the Church on earth “peace through grace.”
3. From the Son of God, as the mediatorial agent for administering God’s grace to His Church, and so bringing to it peace. Christ is presented in a threefold form, as Witness, New-Born, and Prince. This description must be seen in relation to the contents of the book, and then we see Christ as the Witness for God who prepares the Church for what is coming; as the first to possess that new spiritual life which is to be subjected to the strain of all these earthly associations; and as the Prince—Immanuel commissioned by Shaddai—to do the actual ruling and over-ruling of everything in the interests of the Church.
II. The doxology.—Revelation 1:5-6. This is dealt with fully in one of the Outlines. We only notice here that praise is offered for
(1) Christ’s self-sacrificing love;
(2) for the cleansing which that self-sacrificing love effects; and
(3) for the honour which Christ brings for those whom He has cleansed. Two things are desired for Christ; present honour—that honour and glory which come from full trust and loyal service; and final triumph, the hastening of the day when everything shall be put under His feet. The doxologies grow in strength in this book. Here twofold; in Revelation 4:9-11, threefold; in Revelation 5:13, fourfold; in Revelation 7:12, sevenfold.
III. From prophecy.—Revelation 1:7. The explanation of this verse depends on our regarding it as indicating what Christ’s coming will be to the Church, or to the world. Probably St. John is briefly declaring what it will be to all who have not been cleansed by Christ from their sins. To Christians, Christ is presented as the Living One, who has come, who is here, and who is now working for them amid world-scenes. But what is Christ to the world? Only the coming One who comes for judgment. The picture of the coming fixes attention on the manifestation of Christ in the majesty and terror of surrounding clouds. Then it bids us see the upturned eyes, and hear the hopeless wail, of unrepentant humanity. For the Saviour of moral beings must become their Judge when His saving grace toward them has been finally despised and refused. Christ coming to a world of sinners can but be an appalling revelation to them. Seeing Him, they will know what they have lost, and what they have to fear. In the righteous dealings of God the good man cannot fail to coincide. “Even so, Amen.” But this must in no way be represented as gloating over the woes of the lost. What is right for God to do, is right for God’s servants to approve. And “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Note on Revelation 1:4. “Seven Spirits”; so Revelation 3:1, Revelation 4:5, Revelation 5:6. In the second of these passages it would be possible to understand the names of seven chief angels (see Revelation 8:2); but here it would scarcely seem possible that creatures should be, not merely coupled with the Creator as sources of blessing, but actually thrust into the midst of His being, between the two Divine Persons. “The seven Spirits,” thus made co-ordinate with the Father and the Son, can scarcely be other than the Holy Ghost, who is known to us in His sevenfold operations and gifts, and who, perhaps, has some sevenfold character in Himself which we cannot and need not understand, but of which there seem to be intimations in the passages of this book referred to, and in Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:10, by which these are certainly to be illustrated.—W. H. Simcox. M.A.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 1:4. The Number Seven.—It may not be inappropriate to note that Philo speaks of the number seven in its mystical import as identical with unity, as unity developed in diversity, and yet remaining one. The after recurrence in this book of the number seven is selected to support the thought of completeness and variety; the dramatic unity is preserved, though the scenes which are unfolded are amply diversified; and the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials, are not three successive periods, but three aspects of one complete period, presided over by that one Spirit whose guidance may be seen in all ages and in diverse ways.—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
Seven Spirits.—There are three possible explanations of this term which claim our careful consideration.
(1) It may mean God, regarded as a most perfect Spirit;
(2) it may mean the Holy Spirit, endowed with a most perfect nature; or
(3) it may mean the seven archangels, or presenceangels, who stand near the throne of God, and are (so to speak) prime ministers in the execution of His will.
The Seven Spirits.—No one who has studied the mystic use of the number “seven” will wonder to find the infinitude of the power and the glories of the Holy Ghost expressed in the language, “the seven Spirits.” The Holy Ghost is described as “before the throne,” to convey, with the idea of equality, His continual procession from the Father and from the Son. There is another reason why the Holy Ghost is called “the Seven Spirits”—in that sevenfold action by which He works upon the soul of a man.
I. The office of reproving or convincing.—“He shall reprove the world of sin.” To show us what we are, to make us feel sin, is the Spirit’s first work.
II. The showing of Christ.—“He convinces of righteousness.” There is no other power that ever can, or will, reveal the Saviour to a sinner’s soul.
III. The Holy Ghost comforts.—All the Spirit’s comfortings have to do with Jesus Christ. He never uses the commonplaces of man’s consolation. He makes Christ fill the empty place, and exhibits the loveliness of Christ’s person, and the sufficiency of Christ’s work.
IV. The Holy Ghost teaches.—He admits the believer into those deeper hidden meanings which lie buried under the surface of the Word. He assists the memory and makes it retentive of holy things. There are none who teach like this Teacher, because He knows all things—not the lesson only, but the learner also.
V. The Holy Ghost sanctifies.—He prompts every good desire and right thought. He gives the taste for spiritual things, and prepares the timid for the occupations and enjoyments of a higher world.
VI. The Holy Ghost intercedes.—Not as Christ, who carries on His work without us and prays for us in heaven; but He inwardly, throwing Himself into the soul, prays. All true prayer in a man is the prayer of the Holy Spirit.
VII. The Holy Ghost seals the soul.—He lays on the believer that stamp with the name and the image of God which every power in earth, or in heaven, or in hell, shall recognise. This is “the seven Spirits which are before the throne.” I thank God the “seven” are one and the one is “seven.” Where He fulfils one of His blessed offices, there, sooner or later, He will assuredly fulfil them all.—James Vaughan, M.A.
Revelation 1:4-5. The Gifts of Christ as Witness, Risen, and Crowned.—So loftily did John, in his old age, come to think of his Lord. The words of the text are not only remarkable in themselves, and in the order in which they give these three aspects of our Lord’s character, but remarkable also in that they occur in an invocation in which the apostle is calling down blessings from heaven on the heads of his brethren.
I. How do “grace and peace” come to us from the “Faithful Witness”?—“Witness” is one of St. John’s most familiar words. He received it from Christ Himself, who claimed to be, in an eminent and special sense, the Witness to the world. Witness of what? Mainly about God. All our highest, and purest, and best knowledge of God comes from the life, and conduct, and character, of Jesus Christ. The name “Witness” indicates the characteristic and remarkable manner of our Lord’s testimony. The task of a witness is to affirm; and our Lord makes His words stand on their own evidence, or, rather, depend upon His veracity. The name bears, too, on the ground of His testimony. A faithful witness is an eye-witness. That Christ claims to be in His witness concerning God. Is there not, then, grace and peace brought to us all from that faithful Witness and from His credible testimony?
II. We have grace and peace from the Conqueror of death.—He is the “first-born from the dead,” the resurrection being looked upon as a kind of birth into a higher order of life.
1. The resurrection of Christ is the confirmation of His testimony. In it He is “declared to be the Son of God.” All the truth, and peace, and grace, and hope, which flow to us from the witness of Jesus Christ to the Father are neutralised and destroyed unless we believe in the resurrection from the dead. His words may still remain gracious and true in a measure, only all dashed with the terrible mistake that He asserted that He would rise again, and rose not. Strike away the resurrection, and you fatally damage the witness of Jesus. You cannot strike the supernatural out of Christianity and keep the natural. Moreover, faith in the resurrection gives us a living Lord to confide in. And in Him, and in His resurrection-life, we are armed for victory over that foe whom He has conquered.
III. We have grace and peace from the King of kings.—The series of aspects of Christ’s work here is ranged in order of time, in so far as the second follows the first and the third flows from both; though we are not to suppose that our Lord has ceased to be the Faithful Witness when He has ascended His sovereign throne.
1. He is “Prince of the kings of the earth” just because He is “the Faithful Witness.” That is to say, His dominion is the dominion of the truth; His dominion is a kingdom over men’s wills and spirits: such rule rests upon His witness.
2. He is “Prince of the kings of the earth” because in that witness He dies, and so becomes a “martyr” to the truth. His dominion rests on love and sacrifice. He is the King because He is the Sacrifice.
3. Because He has risen again. His resurrection has been the step mid-way, as it were, between the humiliation of earth and death, and the loftiness of the Throne. By it He has climbed to His place at the right hand of God. He is King and Prince, then, by right of truth, love, sacrifice, death, resurrection. And King to what end? That He may send grace and peace. Is there no peace for a man’s heart in feeling that the Brother that loves him and died for him rules over all the perplexities of life, the confusions of providence, the sorrows of a world, and the corruptions of his own nature? Is it not enough to drive away fears, to anodyne cares, to disentangle perplexities, to quiet disturbances, to make the coward brave, and the feeble strong, and the foolish wise, and the querulous patient, to think that Christ is King, and that the Hands which were nailed to the cross wield the sceptre, and that He who died for me rules the universe, and rules me?—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Revelation 1:4-6. The Song of the Forgiven.—Not every gift calls forth a song; but this gift of forgiveness is worthy of, and has obtained, one.
I. This gift of pardon is necessary for the Church.
II. It was purchased at a great cost.
III. Love prompted its bestowment.
IV. It is bestowed freely.
V. Like all the benefactions of love, it is bestowed promptly.
VI. It is all-inclusive.
VII. It brings with it all other blessings.—R. A. Bertram.
Revelation 1:5. Christ’s Present Love and its Great Act.—R.V. “Unto Him that loveth us, and looseth us from our sins by His blood.”
I. The ever-present, timeless love of Jesus Christ.—St. John wrote nearly half a century after Jesus Christ was buried, and he proclaims, not a past love, not a Christ that lived long ago, but a Christ that lives now; and he speaks as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is unintelligible, unless we believe Christ to be Divine. He loves us with an everlasting love, because He is God manifest in the flesh. The Divine nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is woven through the whole of the book of Revelation, like a golden thread. Christ’s love, then, is
(1) unaffected by time, for it is the love of One who is Divine. As of all His nature, so of all His love, we may be sure that time cannot bound it. And it is
(2) not disturbed or absorbed by multitudes. He loveth us. It is
(3) unexhausted by exercise, pouring itself ever out, and ever full notwithstanding. It is
(4) a love unchilled by the sovereignty and glory of His exaltation. There is a wonderful difference between the Christ of the gospels and the Christ of the Revelation: But the nature behind the differing circumstances is the same.
II. The great act in time which is the outcome and proof of this endless love.—“He looseth us.” The metaphor is that of bondage. We are held and bound by the chains of our sins. Christ looses them by “His blood.” The death of Christ has power to deliver us from the guilt and penalty of sin. His blood looses the fetters of our sins, inasmuch as His death, touching our hearts, and also bringing to us new powers through the Spirit, frees us from the power of sin, and brings into operation new powers and motives, which deliver us from our ancient slavery.
III. The praise which should be our answer to this great love.—Irrepressible gratitude bursts into a doxology from St. John’s lips as he thinks of the love of Christ, and all through the Apocalypse we hear the shout of praise from earth or heaven.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
Revelation 1:5-6. A Suggestive Doxology.—This is a doxology—a sudden outburst of praise. There are many such in Scripture, and they show that religion is a matter of emotion, and not of intellect only. St. John, in his vision of the redeemed world, saw that the mention of Christ’s name woke the heavenly song, and set the angels and the redeemed singing together His praise. In the doxology now before us, though we seem to have no more than St. John’s human feeling, we have in reality the praise of the rapt and entranced man, who seems to himself to be actually taking a place among the redeemed hosts, and only giving an earthly form and voice to the utterance of their heavenly song. The doxologies in which the redeemed Church takes part grow in fulness in the early chapters of this book of Revelation. In our text the doxology ascribes “glory and dominion.” The four and twenty elders ascribe “glory and honour and power.” All creation ascribe “blessing, and honour, and glory, and power.” And the angels, and the elders, and the four beasts, solemnly bow before the throne, offering a sevenfold, perfect adoration, and saying, “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen.” We have, in the text, the threefold marvel for which we should be ever praising Christ now, in our measure, as for this same threefold marvel the redeemed praise Him in the glory.
I. The first marvel is, that He should love us.—“Unto Him that loved us.” St. John dwells on this as if it were a most surprising thing. It is characteristic of dependent and affectionate natures that they cannot understand why it is that they have become objects of love. No one dwells on the mystery of God’s love to sinful men as St. John does. His pleased, satisfied feeling, which so often finds expression, kept the beloved disciple in right relations with his Saviour. It made him feel every day in a clinging, humble, thankful mood. And that is the kind of mood we all need to win. It is a marvel indeed that Christ should love us. If we were lovable we might feel no surprise. But what are we to His all-searching view? Who but the Father could see anything attractive in the prodigal. In view of the actual tone and temper of our daily life, is it really a surprise to us that Christ should keep His arms of everlasting love continually about us?
II. The second marvel is, that Christ should “wash us from our sins in His own blood.”—The cleansing power of the blood of Christ was one of this apostle’s most cherished ideas. The words of Jesus on the supper night, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me,” gave St. John a key-thought, which unlocked for him the mystery of the risen Christ’s continuous work, and explained the relation in which the redeemed ones must ever stand to Christ. That company of white-robed saints in heaven, is not a company of sinners, all of a sudden washed and cleansed. It is made up of sanctified sinners, whose Christian sins have been washed away by Christ, through the gracious agency of earthly tribulations. The figure of washing is a somewhat difficult one for us to apprehend, because one side—another side—of our Redeemer’s work, His justifying work, His work of setting us in a right standing with God, has been almost unduly pressed on attention. We may be helped by observing that washing is not so much an act as a process, and that it bears relation to stains on the garments, and foulness on the person. It is a prolonged business to get the foulness off, and the stains out; and several processes, and often severe ones, have to be gone through. Christ’s washing is to be distinguished from His forgiving and His justifying. “Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified.” Justified, or set in a right standing before God. Washed, or cleansed from the defilements left from the old-time of sin and self-will. Sanctified, or positively endowed, clothed upon, with the beautiful and pure spirit of Christ. We can readily see how those who had been brought over from the defilements and moral corruptions of heathenism would deeply feel the marvel of Divine grace, shown in washing them from their sins. That they would be able to get fully rid of the relics of immorality and foulness, left from their old heathen life, must have seemed to them impossible; and so, for them to be actually clean at last, and dressed in the symbolic white robes, was to them the marvel of marvels. This much is easy in explanation of the figure; but what did the apostle mean by washing “in His own blood.” We do not wash things in blood. Even in Judaism, there was sprinkling with blood, but, in our sense of washing, neither garments, nor persons, nor sacrifices, were ever washed in blood. Perhaps this was the apostle’s meaning: Christ’s blood, as referring to His earthly work, stands for His sufferings, borne in carrying out His life-mission as man’s Redeemer—sufferings which were consummated in His offering Himself unto blood-shedding and death. And so Christ’s blood, figuratively used by St. John concerning His present work in the “heavenlies,” stands for His present efforts and suffering anxieties—up, as it were, to measures of blood—borne in carrying out the heavenly mission of sanctifying that is now entrusted to Him. Christ’s blood, when it is applied to His human history, stands as a figure for His strenuous earnestness, and sacrificing endeavours as a human Saviour. Christ’s blood, if it is applied to His present continuing life in heaven, stands as a figure for the strenuous earnestness, and sacrificing endeavours of His heavenly life, as our Intercessor, High Priest, and Mediator. We are “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” then, means this: We are actually now being cleansed from our pollutions, our corruptions, our evil inclinations, our easily besetting sins, by the present gracious working of the Living Saviour, who still works in us, even as He did on earth for His disciples, up to such measures as can only be represented by the shedding of His blood. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin;” but Christ, our Lord, has so resisted, and is so resisting every day. He rolls over us, back and fro, His own great tribulum, the threshing roller of testings and sufferings, parting the chaff from the wheat. But have we watched Him at the rolling? Have we seen that the rolling is hard work to Him—straining work for Him? In His supreme concern for our washing and cleansing, He brings right over us, body and soul, the great threshing roller of tribulation, and will sacrifice Himself up to measures of blood, if He can but cleanse us from all sin, and make us pure grain, free and faultless. It is the marvel of marvels—Christ, the infinite Cleanser, is actually at work in our lives to-day; and the work is so hard that it even costs Him groans, and tears, and blood.
III. The third marvel is, that He should make us “kings and priests unto God.”—The symbol of the washing naturally leads on to the symbol of consecration. God does not merely turn citizens and subjects into kings, and common people into priests. That would be a very little thing to count a marvel of grace. In the old Jewish thought, kings and priests were God’s “anointed ones”—anointed to some special service, as Aaron and David. And it is in just this concerning themselves that redeemed souls rejoice. They are, in the higher sense, king’s and priests, consecrated to God’s service, altogether set apart as His, having every power and faculty absorbed in His work. Will not that be a marvel for us, who have been so long busied with our own things—so busied that we could scarcely find even corners of our time and life for the things of God? At last we shall be wholly Christ’s, to serve Him day and night in His temple. We shall be kings and priests unto God, and in that find an all-satisfying heaven.
Revelation 1:7. The Hope of God’s Church in all the Ages.—Sometimes we dwell on the hope of the Old-Testament saints. Christ, Messiah, was to them the coming One. To us, in that sense—perhaps also in a yet higher sense—Christ has come; that old promise has been fulfilled. And yet Christ is to-day what He has always been—the coming One. Can we profitably think of the ever-coming One?
I. The hope, in the old Church, was Messiah’s coming.—The world, everywhere and everywhere, has its “Golden Age,” and it is always somewhere ahead. Men have always been heard saying to their fellows:—
“Courage, boys, wait and see; Freedom’s ahead.”
The world would sink into helplessness and despair without that hope. A soul is not lost till it has lost hope. A nation is not lost till it has lost hope. But how did the hope of the Jewish world differ from the hope of the poetical and imaginative world? Precisely in this: that it centred in a person. And the person was its manifested God. That hope in a coming person kept up faith in the living God. More than that, better than that, the hope kept up, day by day, the sense of living relations with the living God, and the conviction of the Divine presence and Divine interest. And this helps us to understand and to realise what our hope of Christ’s coming should be to us.
II. The hope, in the modern Church, is Christ’s coming.—That is the “Good time coming” of which the Christian ever dreams and sings. But it is still true that the Christian’s hope differs from the world’s hope, just as of old. It centres in a person. Christian life is love to a person. Christian hope is being with the person we love.
1. See how the Christian’s hope keeps up faith in the living God. A faith scarcely needed in this age of “law,” and “material success.”
2. See how the Christian hope brings Christ into present relations with us. His coming is the consummation and issue of what He is now presiding over. We cannot hold the hope of Christ’s coming apart from the spiritual conviction that Christ is now with us.
III. The Christian hope was held in a formal and material way in the apostolic age.—Indeed, it could then be held in no other. Pictures always come before principles. That was the child-age of Christianity. The Christian then “understood as a child.” The apostles took Christ’s words literally. They are not to be so taken, for “they are spirit, and they are life.” Apostles expected the return of the Lord in their day, and as a bodily appearance. Were they right? Certainly Christ did not come in their day, just as they expected. Nay, this further is true, Christ has never so come yet: and that could not have been His meaning; that must have enshrined His meaning. The truth is that our Lord put His spiritual meaning into a formal setting, and we have to find His secret.
IV. The Christian hope gets a final statement in the book of Revelation.—Notice the sudden insertion of this verse, and St. John’s way of giving a thesis, or summary. He really wrote a book of illustrations of this double point. The Living Christ is always here, and yet is always coming into definite relations, for every emergency of His Church. He is ever working towards His own climax. Christ is always coming for—
1. Special help—of the faithful.
2. Special discipline—of the wayward.
3. Special judgment—of the wilful. These are illustrated in the epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia.
The Christ who is the Coming One.—The story of the human race may be read as the story of the successive comings of God in Christ unto it. There have been—
1. Comings in sign and symbol, from the first symbol of the Cherubim set watching and guarding the way to the “tree of life.”
2. Comings in vision and dream, from the first vision to Abraham, who saw the smoking furnace and burning lamp pass between the severed pieces of the victims.
3. Coming in angel manifestation, from the three men whom Abraham led on their way to make due examination of the truth concerning Sodom.
4. Comings in the flesh: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
5. Comings in the Spirit—according to the word of the Lord Jesus: “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”
6. Comings in judgment: all human calamities are Divine visitations.
7. Comings in final judgment: “Inasmuch as He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He hath ordained.” The last two of these comings seem to be more especially referred to in this text. Strange, and complex, and difficult to understand, is this book of Revelation. No real and satisfying key for the unlocking of its meaning and message, as a whole, has yet been found. We cannot so precisely recover the associations of St. John’s age as to know its excitements, controversies, and national perplexities, and set before ourselves the actual historical materials of the various visions. Indeed, we cannot be sure how much of it is historical, and how much symbolical. And we do not quite understand how Old-Testament images, such as are found in the books of Ezekiel and Daniel, can be put to New-Testament uses. There is an exaggeration and an extravagance about the forms of Eastern poetry, and even of Eastern prose, which sorely puzzles the more orderly and formal Western mind. The contents of the book appear to be a series of Divine judgments, running through the Christian ages; and the text affirms that Christ comes in all these judgments, and works His work of grace, for His people, and for His Church, by means of them. But this is a larger and more comprehensive view of Christ’s coming than is usually taken.
I. Christ coming in judgments.—Fix these points: judgments in a man’s life, or in a nation’s life, the book of Revelation teaches us to regard as Christ’s coming. Christianity stands in the closest connection with all human calamity. Read the verse in this light. Clouds: the recognised symbol of calamity, regarded as Divine judgment. (See associations in Jewish history.) Sometimes “clouds” represent “mystery,” but usually “Divine calamity.” Every eye: we are not able to conceive how this can be one localised event. But it is the fact of the ages. Christ in judgment is universal. Every eye does see him. They who pierced: this is for a class. Only one soldier actually pierced; but plainly the words represent the Jews, as a nation, who crucified the Lord. They come into Christly judgments, and, indeed, are under such now. All kindred, etc: who also now come under the Christly testings, as the gospel is preached to them. Jesus is now the World-Test, the Administrator, the Judge. Humanity now stands before God in Christ; all judgment is committed to the Son. Christ does come constantly in judgments on men and nations. No sin ever goes unnoticed. Christ visits for every sin. Bereavement, failure, plague, storm, war, are never seen aright until they are recognised as Christ’s comings. It is true of all men. We need not shift our thoughts away to some appalling day in the far future. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” “The avenging Fates are shod with wool,” but it only silences, it does not prevent, their coming.
II. Christ coming to judgment.—Once for all, to judge your life as a whole, when that life is complete. The “when,” the “where,” the “how,” of that final judgment can only be told us in figures. What we can get firm hold of is this: “Our life on the earth will be estimated by an infallible judge, and our future must depend upon the result.” We can also see, more or less perfectly:
1. That God in Christ will be the Judges 2:0. That the revelations which God has made to us will be the test.
3. That the disabilities under which men have been placed will all be righteously and graciously estimated.
4. And that all actions will be treated as revealing the will and heart from which they come. Then we ought to live in the clear sense of this twofold judgment relation of Christ. As we know Christ’s judgments, in the history of the ages, they have all been designedly corrective. And some are able to cherish the hope that even the final judgment will prove to be corrective, as all the others have been. No one may speak positively on a matter that is not clearly and fully revealed, but it is a sublime possibility that the final judgment may prove to be the judgment of the redeeming love and wrath—the “wrath of the Lamb.” Can we add “Christ the Judge” to our conception of Christ, and find that view of Him add to our confidence and our love? We have not seen the whole of Christ unless we have seen that judgment is committed to Him.
Revelation 1:7. Coming with Clouds.—See Daniel 7:13. Accompanied or surrounded by clouds; for μετά (with) frequently indicates the relation of a thing with other things which accompany or surround it. The idea here is that He will come seated on a cloud as His throne or chariot, or at least in a cloud moving or conveying these. So God is said to be surrounded, in Psalms 18:11. The clouds are His chariot (Psalms 104:3). Compare also Exodus 19:16; Exodus 40:34; Isaiah 6:4; Isaiah 19:1; Ezekiel 1:4. The object of this figurative language is to show that Christ will come in a majestic and awful manner, as enthroned upon a cloud fraught with thunder, lightning, and tempest, and thus will execute vengeance upon His enemies.—Moses Stuart.
Christ’s Return in Glory.—Did not the Lord declare, in the assembled sanhedrin, and at the very moment when His death was about to put an end to His presence upon earth, “I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven”? (Matthew 26:64). In that notable saying, Christ’s return in glory, as King and Judge—this latter is the idea implied in the symbol of the cloud—is closely connected with the fact of the Ascension. The reason is that in fact from this moment the office fulfilled by Jesus in the world’s history is that of establishing, by the instrumentality of preaching, and of the Holy Spirit, whom He sends forth from the seat of His glory, His kingdom in the earth, and of successively overthrowing all the obstacles which oppose themselves to its progress. His glorious appearance, when the close of this period of His working has been reached, will not be His coming—for that began to take place from the time of His ascension—but His advent. The coming of Christ takes place during the whole of the present age; it will only be consummated in the event which is called the Parousia, or advent. Accordingly, the sigh of the Church, and of the inspired bard, who prays in her name, is not, Come soon, but, more exactly and literally, Come quickly. This expression refers, properly speaking, not to the nearness of the arrival, but to the rapidity of the journey, though the former is the necessary result of the latter. This coming of Christ, from the time of the Ascension to the time of the Parousia, is therefore the true subject of the Apocalypse, just as His first coming, between the fall of man and the Incarnation, was the true subject of Old-Testament prophecy. “Behold, He shall come,” said the last of the prophets, at the highest summit of ancient revelation, speaking of the Messiah-Jehovah (Malachi 3:1). The history of the world, in its essential character, is summed up in these three sayings: He is coming; He has come; He will come again. It is upon this idea that the whole plan of the apocalyptic drama rests. In every journey we contemplate, as distinct from one another, the starting point, the journey itself, and the arrival.—F. Godet, D.D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Revelation 1:8. Alpha and Omega.—First and last letters of the Greek alphabet, regarded as including all the letters between. So Christ bears relation to the whole story of humanity, from its beginning to its close. Recalling Revelation 1:4, we incline to refer this verse to God rather than to Jesus. R.V. has, “saith the Lord God.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 1:8
The Eternity of God.—It is thought by many that this must be a description of the Lord Jesus, and a distinct assertion of His divinity. But it would appear more simple and natural to regard it as a solemn repetition of Revelation 1:4, especially as the words “the beginning and the ending” are of doubtful authority. Among the Rabbins the expression from א to Ω is a common one, employed to designate the whole of anything, from the beginning to the end. Stuart regards God as the speaker. But elsewhere (Revelation 1:17; Revelation 22:13) the same thing is directly asserted of Christ, whom we believe to be one with the Father in nature, but other than the Father in manifestation. We can form no proper conception of beings that had no beginning. We had; everybody with whom we have to do had; everything around us had. And it is almost as impossible for us to conceive of beings that have no ending. Everybody and everything seems to have a limited existence, and the apparently simple idea of the continuity of life our minds seem unable really to grasp. At least so far as the earth-life is concerned, everything has a beginning and an ending. See, then, what a sublime assertion of Divine superiority is made when we are required to form three conceptions of God.
1. He exists. It is all that can be said about Him. He is the “I am,” dependent on nobody and nothing, adversely affected by nobody and nothing.
2. He always did exist. Carry the story of the world back, if you will, through millions of ages, God was before the first age begun. What changes He must have seen! How little He is affected by changes that seem overwhelming to us!
3. He always will exist. To say nothing of the little story of that Christian age, the whole story of the world’s ages is as nothing in His sight. Egypt gone, Babylon gone, Rome gone, but God abides. The seemingly long history of the world—of humanity in the world—is but an episode in His eternity, and readily grasped in one vision by Him. What grounds of fear can that Church have which is His Church in the World?
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 1:8. The Eternal Life of Christ in Heaven.—One fact confers peculiar interest on the book of Revelation. Christ speaks by His Spirit in all Scripture, but here we have Him speaking in His own person to the mortal followers He left behind Him. But a change has passed over Him since the times of Capernaum and Bethany. Yet, notwithstanding all the pomp of celestial grandeur, how remarkable is the minuteness of anxiety which the messages of this wonderful Being manifest! He is represented as walking in the midst of seven golden lamps, which are Churches, to typify His indwelling presence and pervading care; and each Church is warned with a precision and particularity that evince how impossible it is to evade His scrutiny or defeat His purposes of retribution. What His present relation may be to other worlds we know not, but we do know that His relation to us is as intimate and incessant as if no other object existed to occupy His thoughts. In His highest glory we are all personally interested. All His powers and privileges of being our eternal Governor, Guide, and Friend, are founded on the great declaration, “I am alive for evermore.” Christ, who “liveth for evermore,” is set forth in two great characters, in both of which His eternal life in glory is momentous to our interests. In relation to sin He is a mediator of justification and holiness; in relation to death and pain, He is the author of endless life and glory.
1. As regards the conflict with sin, He justifies and sanctifies. Both are based upon the redemption through blood: it is the sacrifice that gives our Mediator the right, either to vindicate or purify His faithful.
(1) How, then, is the perpetuity of Christ in heaven connected with the work of our justication? In the epistle to the Hebrews we are shown the immeasurable superiority of the dispensation of Christ to the typical dispensation of Aaron. It shows us that the covenant of Christ is better, for it is a covenant of grace; the consecration of Christ better, for it was attested with the solemnity of a Divine oath; the tabernacle of Christ better, for it is the eternal heaven; the sacrifice of Christ better, for it alone can truly take away sins; the priesthood of Christ better, for it is everlasting, after the order of Melchizedek. The writer establishes the pre-eminence of the sacrifice and the priesthood, by insisting on the singleness of the sacrifice and the perpetuity of the priesthood. This priesthood of Christ, then, being perpetual, yet employing but a single sacrificial act, it must consist in a constant reference to that sacrifice of which His own blessed person stands in heaven as the undying memorial. He became human that He might save; His perpetuated humanity is, in heaven, the token and warrant of salvation, the vestment of the Divine priesthood; that we should be there recognised as blessed, it is enough that the Son of God be there recognised as a man.
(2) The eternal life of Christ in heaven is yet more directly the fountain of blessing to us, in being the immediate source, not only of justification, but also of holiness; not only of gracious acceptance into the favour of God, but of all the bright train of inward graces by which that favour effectuates itself in us. It is the perpetual lesson of Scripture that we should fix our hearts in entire dependence on Christ Jesus. He suspends us on Himself for our whole spiritual existence; He will have us trace every emotion of faith, hope, and love, to His bounty. This communication of Himself is no less necessary in heaven than on earth. If the holiness be everlasting, the source that supplies it must be everlasting too. We have no reason to suppose that the dependence on Christ shall ever cease; our very exaltation shall be but to feel that dependence more nearly, to lean on that Arm more trustingly, to look up to those Divine Eyes with more affectionate confidence. He is “alive for evermore,” that He may be to us the everlasting fountain of our holiness. The abiding sanctity of His nature is the condition of ours. In the eternal laws of the Divine reason, it is decreed that Christ shall be the authorised dispenser of spiritual blessedness to His redeemed, that every grace shall flow through this channel, or cease to flow. II. Christ is “alive for evermore” as the eternal antagonist and conqueror of physical evil, pain, and death. He is the radiant centre of life itself, and happiness, to all that truly lives. He has the “keys of death and of Hades,” that is, He possesses the power of liberating from the bonds of death those confined in the intermediate state. Human death is the result of human sin. The eternal overthrow of sin, by the eternal life of Christ, involves the overthrow of that which is but a consequence of sin, and the conquest of death is the conquest of all—pain, disquietude, disease—that disposes to it, and in it ultimately terminates. First and second death are spoken of. Christ is the destroyer of one, the ruler and restricter of the other. The first form of death results on the sin of nature, and is therefore universal as it is; the second form, which perhaps is naturally the sequel or maturity of the former, is, by the mercy of God, restricted to unpardoned guilt. There is an eternal alliance, in the primitive counsel of God, between life and happiness. Even on earth, beings are made alive in order to be happy; this is the original law, and general rule. Scripture uses the word “life” to imply “felicity,” and “eternal life” to imply “eternal felicity.” Glorious alliance. It shall be bound eternally in heaven, when He who is “alive for evermore,” shall, in the power and diffusion of that life, spread around Him happiness with it coextensive and commingled. Every blessing that belongs to our inheritance centres in this great truth, that He who “was dead” is now “alive for evermore.” In Him newly born, we in Him die, rise, and ascend; our life is the reflection of His, if, spiritually quickened by Him, we too, like Him, are even now, and hereafter are destined yet more gloriously to be, “alive for evermore.”—W. Archer Butler, M.A.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Revelation 1:8. Alpha and Omega.—It would be both more correct and expressive to render this sentence, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” In the Early Church these two letters came to be frequently used as symbols of Christ. Sometimes the letters were suspended from the upper arms of St. Andrew’s cross. Very many works of Christian antiquity were adorned with them. They were also worn on rings and seals, frequently in the form of a monogram. Shortly after the death of Constantine (A.D. 337) the letters were stamped on the current coin of the Roman Empire. The use of the symbol in the primitive Church amounted to a quotation of Revelation 22:13, and was regarded as a confession of faith in Christ’s own assertion of His infinite and Divine nature. The Arians, who denied the divinity of Christ, avoided the employment of the symbol, but after the outbreak of that heresy its use became almost universal among the orthodox. It is worthy of remark that Alpha is once used by an ancient writer in the same sense as our A1.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Revelation 1:9. Companion.—As having a full share in the experience of those who confess and serve Christ. Tribulation.—The work of the threshing roller (tribulum). The troubles and persecutions of Christ’s Church were, in the control of Christ, separating the chaff from the wheat. Kingdom.—Or recognised present rule of the Living Christ. Patience.—Or effort to bear, endure, and wait, which is becoming to those who know that Jesus lives. Patmos.—A barren island, now Palmosa, used by some Roman emperors as a place of banishment. No historic record of St. John’s exile has been found.
Revelation 1:10. In the Spirit.—This means in a rapt, contemplative, absorbed state of mind; but such a state of mind may well be thought of as wrought by the indwelling Holy Ghost. It is the mood of mind which prepares us for spiritual visions. Lord’s day.—An important statement. What put St. John into this rapt condition was his meditation on the mystery and glory of his Divine Lord, as the Risen, and Living One. Great voice.—Thinking about Christ, he suddenly seemed to hear Him, and then even to see Him, in marvellous symbolic form.
Revelation 1:11. For the Churches mentioned see notes on each epistle.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 1:9-11
A Sublime Commission.
I. To whom did it come?—John; without any reasonable doubt, John, the beloved apostle. Certainly the most fitting of the apostles to deal with the new conception of the person, and present mission, of the Living Christ. But he puts in no claim to be heard on the ground of the insight which his mystical temperament brought him. He does not even claim on the ground of his apostleship. There is a great tenderness in his simple appeal to a common experience. It is as if he said, “You are in much anxiety and distress for Christ’s sake, and so am I. You are trying to be patient and trustful under the strain, and so am I. My experiences have brought to me most comforting and reassuring visions; I will tell them to you, so that you may be comforted by them, as I have been.” It is precisely the mission of those who have much common experience, and some unusual experience, in Christian life, to cheer and help their Christian brethren. Nothing brings soul so near to soul as companionship in tribulation, and fellow-experience of the need of Divine patience.
II. Under what circumstances did the commission come?—St. John was at the time separated from his people and from his ministry. It was a time of forced seclusion, and lonely meditation, with such natural associations of sea and sky as might help to fitting moods. Take into due account St. John’s mystical temperament, meditative habits, recent trying experiences, sense of having a trust from Christ, and immediate surroundings, we can see that he was the fitting man to receive this commission, and that it came at a fitting time. Such a series of visions probably occupied the apostle for many weeks, and the series could only be maintained when he was undisturbed by immediate claims of duty. The strange times of life are often the great times of life. Illustrate Luther at the Wartburg, Bunyan in Bedford goal.
III. What form did the commission take?—A series of visions, not in any chronological order, but apparently visions of the same scenes taken from different points of view. St. John received the commission from One whose voice was as arresting as a trumpet-call. But it was no vague blare of trumpet; it spoke in intelligible language, though using strange figures and symbols.
IV. To whom was the message to be sent?—To seven particular Churches. Why to these? Possibly because they were grouped in one district, and bore one general character. Possibly because they had become the special “diocese” of St. John. Possibly because they would effectively illustrate the main varieties marking the Churches that make up the one Church of the redeemed. It is clear that our interest is not to be wholly absorbed by the particular epistles to particular Churches, since the message is to the whole Church of all the ages; and we have only to see that the various forms of strain and tribulation through which the Church passes are necessary, because the discipline must be adapted to a variety of conditions. And this variety of conditions is represented by the description of the states in which the Living Christ found these seven Churches. The Church has its own particular temptations and trials in each successive age. It may always cherish this assurance: in the hands of Christ they bear direct disciplinary relations to its particular weaknesses, or failings.
Note on Patmos.—One of the Sporades, the south-eastern group of the islands of the Ægean. According to tradition, as given by Victorinus, St. John was condemned to work in the mines—which, if trustworthy, must mean marble quarries, as there are no mines, strictly speaking, in the island. Christians were sent to the mines (Roman Christians to Sardinia) at least as early as the reign of Commodus, and this was much the commonest punishment during the Diocletian persecution, in which Victorinus himself suffered. In St. John’s time it was commoner to put Christians to death. But the tradition is probably right: “deportation,” confinement, without hard labour, on a lonely island was then and afterwards reserved for offenders of higher secular rank.—W. H. Simcox, M.A.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 1:9. The Kingdom and Patience.—What wicked men have done with Divine Revelation as a whole, good men have done with that part of it which we call by itself “the Revelation.” You commonly divide the enemies of truth into such as believe more than they ought, and such as believe less than they ought. Superstition the crime of the first, infidelity the crime of the other. These are the errors that divide the readers of the Apocalypse. One order of readers goes too far, professing to understand so as to expound and clear up the whole of it; another order almost entirely pass the book by, as if the Canon never contained it. Never give to mysteries the go-by because they are mysteries. There would be nothing left for you to love, nothing to admire, if you banished all but what you could comprehend. Learn what you can, and follow on to know the mysteries of God’s words and ways. How came these two words “kingdom” and “patience” together, as if they properly belonged to each other? And how can we be “companions “with John in these two things? The first thing we have to admire is “the patience of Jesus Christ.” Was it to the glory forsaken before His death, or the glory inherited after His death, that the word “kingdom” alluded? The latter must have been intended. St. John could be no partner in the glory that preceded the Advent. Nor could any of us be companions in that glory. So that the kingdom was the “kingdom” that followed the “patience.” But the two epochs in Messiah’s career—the earthly and the heavenly, the atoning and the triumphing—seem, in the text, as if run into one another, as it were, without a break. Nay, the “kingdom” is actually put before the “patience,” to perfect the union between the dying and the living for evermore; to illustrate the hold He had upon His reward while He was earning it; the “joy that was set before Him,” supporting and staying His spirit while enduring the cross and despising the shame. These are the very twin doctrines of our salvation: that Jesus Christ suffered, else we are yet unforgiven; and that Jesus Christ now reigns after the suffering, else we preach in vain, and believe in vain. The “patience “takes away our sins. The “kingdom” preserves us from sinning. But if Jesus was manifested to take away our sins, He was manifested also to set us an example, so that, besides being believers in His kingdom and patience,” we are, in our degree, to share in both the one and the other. How may we become companions with Christ, as well as pensioners on His sacrifice? We are not glorified as soon as justified. We must be “made perfect through suffering.” And we, too, “have need of patience,” and in experience of tribulations we become companions in the patience of Jesus Christ. But there is no “patience” where there is not also the “kingdom.” As men we suffer; as redeemed men we sit enthroned. The servants of the Saviour live a double life. “As unknown, and yet well-known; as dying, and behold we live,” etc. Take, then, the patience, lest you mount too high; and take also the kingdom, lest you sink too low.—Henry Christopherson.
John’s Banishment.—It has been beautifully said that his “banishment from his earthly home lifted him nearer a heavenly one; there he saw a glory he never witnessed in Jerusalem. So Martin Luther, during his confinement in Wartburg, translated the Scriptures, and had the enjoyment of a freedom and repose to which thousands outside were strangers” (Cumming). The banishment of John is not the only instance in which God has made the wrath of man to praise Him. “Satan is not always wise. For him it would have been better had he never persecuted Paul. He put him in prison, and there he wrote some of his beautiful epistles, which have done more for the world’s good than all his preaching. He had better, for his own interests, have never put poor John Bunyan in gaol, for there he wrote the book which has immortalised his name, and done, perhaps, more injury than any other work, save the Bible, to Satan’s kingdom.”—Thomas Jones.
The Efficiency of the Passive Virtues.—Kingdom and patience! a very singular conjunction of terms, to say the least; as if in Jesus Christ were made compatible authority and suffering, the impassive throne of a monarch and the meek subjection of a cross, the reigning power of a prince and the meek subjection of a lamb. What more striking paradox! And yet in this you have exactly that which is the prime distinction of Christianity. Christ reigns over human souls and in them, erecting there His spiritual kingdom, not by force of will exerted in any way, but through His most sublime passivity in yielding Himself to the wrong and the malice of His adversaries. It is a kind of first principle, in a good life, that the passive elements, or graces of the Christian life, well maintained, are quite as efficient and fruitful as the active. Nothing discouraging need be said concerning what are called active works in religion, when we point out the efficiency of those virtues which belong to the receiving, suffering, patient side of character. They are such as meekness, gentleness, forbearance, forgivingness, the endurance of wrong without anger or resentment, contentment, quietness, peace, and unambitious love. These are gathered up in the comprehensive term “patience.” These are never barren forces; they are, in fact, the most efficient and most operative powers that a Christian wields, inasmuch as they carry just that kind of influence which other men are least apt and least able to resist. Power is not measured by exertion. A right passivity is sometimes the greatest and most effective Christian power.
I. The passive and submissive virtues are most of all remote from the exercise or attainment of those who are out of the Christian spirit and the life of faith. All men are able to be active; but when you come to the passive, or receiving, side of life, here they fail. A true Christian man is distinguished from other men, not so much by his beneficent works as by his patience. In this he most excels and rises highest above the mere natural virtues of the world. Just here it is that he is looked upon as a peculiar and partially Divine character. Consider the immense power of principle that is necessary to establish the soul in these virtues of endurance and patience. Here is no place for ambition, no stimulus of passion. The Christian gets the power of his patience wholly from above. It is not human; it is Divine. Hence the impossibility of it, even to great men. It is chiefly by this endurance of evil that Christ, as a Redeemer, prevails against the sin of the human heart and subdues its enmity. Jesus said, “The prince of this world is judged,” as if the kingdom of evil were now to be crushed, and His own new kingdom established, by some terrible bolt of judgment falling on His adversaries. It was even so; and that bolt of judgment was the passion of the cross. We had never seen before the sublime passivities of God’s character, and His ability to endure the madness of evil. In the cross we see Him bearing wrong, receiving the shafts of human enmity, submitting Himself, in His sublime patience, to the fury of the disobedient, and so melting down by His gentleness what no terrors could intimidate, and no frowns of judgment could subdue. Men, as being under sin, are set against all active efforts to turn them, or persuade them, but never against that which implies no effort—viz., the gentle virtue of patience. We are naturally jealous of control by any method which involves a fixed design to exert control over us; therefore we are always on our guard in this direction. But we are none the less open, at all times, to the power of silent worth, and the unpretending goodness of those virtues that are included in patience. The submissive forms of excellence provoke no opposition, because they are not put forth for us, but for their own sake They move us the more because they do not attempt to move us. See how little impression is often made upon you by the most strenuous efforts to exert influence over you, and then how often you are swayed by feelings of respect, reverence, admiration, tenderness, from the simple observation of one who suffers well. How gently do these lovely powers of patience insinuate themselves into your respect and love. Notice some of the instructive and practical uses of the truth illustrated.
1. It is here that Christianity makes issue with the whole world on the question of human greatness. That is ever looked on by mankind, and spoken of, as greatness which displays some form of active power. It has never entered into human thought, unsanctified by religion, that there is or can be any such thing as greatness in the mere passive virtues, or in simply suffering well; least of all in suffering wrong and evil with a forgiving, unresentful spirit. Christianity is here alone, holding it forth as being, when required, the Divinest, sublimest, and most powerful of all virtues, to suffer well.
2. The office of the Christian martyrs is here explained. In the martyr ages we see a vast array of active genius and power, that could not be permitted to spend itself in works of benefaction to the race, but was consecrated of God to the more sacred and more fruitful grace of suffering. The design was, it would seem, to prepare a Christly past, to show whole ages of faith populated by men who were able, coming after their Master and bearing His cross, to suffer with Him, and add their human testimony to His.
3. We see how it is that so many persons are so abundantly active in religion, with so little effect, while others, who are not so conspicuous in action, accomplish so much. The reason is, that one class trust mainly to the virtues of action, while the others unite also the virtues of patience.
4. The reason why we have so many crosses, trials, wrongs, and pains, is here made evident. We have not too many occasions given us for the exercise of patience.
5. Possibly men not religious are averted from the Christian life more by their dislike of the submissive and gentle virtues than by any distaste of sacrifice and active duty.—H. Bushnell, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Revelation 1:11. The word “Church.”—St. John addresses his message to certain symbols or signs that were shown him in the vision when he was “in the spirit.” They were “seven churches.” The Greek word ecclesia is frequently translated by the English word church. It is not properly church, for church is an Anglicised term derived from a different Greek word, curiacon, which means the Lord’s place (or house). Ecclesia means originally a summoned assembly. An assembly, so called, was made up (if a quorum attended), held, and dissolved. In the New Testament, so far as affects this book, it seems to mean a body of people who have been invited, by an ordained apostle, presbyter, or householder, to worship God together in convenient places of meeting, and have accepted and acted upon the invitation. Ecclesia, not church, has a more spiritual meaning in Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18. In these passages it includes all those who form the body of which Christ is the head, such as are elsewhere described as “called by God” to various duties and graces. In the Book of Revelation this latter sense of ecclesia is never used. If referred to at all, it can only be symbolically, but the more spiritual meaning need not be introduced. The English word church means an ecclesiastical building, and, metaphorically, all its “connection”—i.e., the baptized members of the Christian body who use it for worship. The word congregation means an assembly, and cannot properly be used to mean the “connection,” as a limitation to the baptized, either metaphorically or otherwise.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
Revelation 1:12. See the voice.—“See Him whose voice I heard.” Seven golden candlesticks.—Compare Zechariah 4:2-11. Lamp-stands would be a better term. Not one candlestick with seven branches, but seven candlesticks. The independence of the Churches of Christ is consistent with the unity of the Church of Christ.
Revelation 1:13. Midst.—Middle, centre. Like unto.—So as to be immediately and distinctly recognised. “Son of Man” was Christ’s own name for Himself. It is used here because His glory might hide from view His oneness of sympathy with His people. Down to the foot.—Compare the long garments of priests. Girdle.—Put round the breasts as a sign of kingly repose, not round the loins, which would be a sign of toil. Christ is, as head of His people, the great Priest, and the great King. These—the garment and girdle—suggest His offices. Now we see His personal character and His power for fulfilling His offices. Each figure suggests absolute purity, in which lies perfect power.
Revelation 1:14. White.—Compare scene at our Lord’s transfiguration. Flame of fire.—Which is white when it is full and strong.
Revelation 1:15. Brass.—Which glows with whiteness in the furnace. Many waters.—Flowing down hill-sides, white with foam, the very sound of them in harmony with whiteness.
Revelation 1:16. Seven stars.—See Revelation 1:20. In His light these glow with willingness. Two-edged sword.—Gleaming white. Sun.—So white no eye can gaze upon it. By and these figures the lustre of holiness and righteousness is signified.
Revelation 1:17. As dead.—Compare Job 42:5-6; Isaiah 6:5. The realisation of the Divine presence, even in symbol, is profoundly humbling to the devout man.
Revelation 1:18. I am alive, etc.—In this sentence is the key-note of the book. Hell and death.—Figures of all the forms of woe that can affect the Church. They are in the absolute control of the Living One, and are used by Him for His purposes.
Revelation 1:20. Angels.—Either the ministers, or the guardian angels, of the Churches. It is, however, quite possible that they represent the angels appointed to conduct the discipline of each Church. Then what is asserted is, that the angel of discipline for each Church is absolutely held in the Living Christ’s hands, and does but work out His purpose of grace.
Note on the “Seven Spirits” by Moses Stuart.—After dismissing the suggestions that either God, or the Holy Spirit, can be meant by this figure expression, Stuart argues in favour of a third possible meaning—that of attending or ministering presence-angels. Among the ancient fathers not a few embraced this view; such as Clemens Alex. Andreas of Cæsarea, and others. So among the moderns, Valla, Beza, Drusius, Hammond, and many others. The nature of the whole expression favours this view. The seven spirits before His throne naturally means those who stand in His presence, waiting His commands in the attitude of ministering servants; see and compare Revelation 4:5; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 11:4; Revelation 11:16; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 20:12—which passages, although not all of the same tenor with the text before us, still decide that those who are before the throne are different from those on the throne.
2. Several passages in the Revelation go directly to confirm the opinion in question. E.g., Revelation 8:2, “I saw τοὺς ἑπτὰ , who stand before God.” This is the first mention of these seven angels which occurs after the introduction to the book. The article τοὺς of course designates here the well-known seven angels, i.e. archangels, or presence-angels, which the reader was expected readily to recognise. Such a meaning is unavoidable, under such circumstances. Here also, I cannot doubt, is to be ranked the passage in Revelation 4:5. where the seven lamps burning before the throne are said to be τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ Θεοῦ, i.e. the seven spirits. All the passages cited serve to show that the “seven angels” was a familiar idea with the writer; and that, in this respect, he only followed the common usus loquendi of his time. The book of Tobit introduces Raphael as saying, “I am … one of the seven angels.” The book of Enoch gives the names of the seven angels who watch. The word “watchers” is employed in the Syriac liturgies for guardian angels, or archangels. We find seven Amshaspends, or archangels, in the theosophy of Zoroaster.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 1:12-20
The Symbolic Presentation of Christ in His Church.—There are two possible conceptions of the continuity of Christ’s life and ministry from the time of His resurrection. The usual thought of Him is of One who has passed into heaven, and there acts as Mediator, Intercessor, High Priest, for His people. That idea is specially elaborated in the epistle to the Hebrews. The less usual thought, but the one which is every day gaining more interest and importance, conceives Christ as actually having come again, as He said He would, and being actively engaged in His Church, for His Church’s good; but in spiritual, not in sensible fashion. So present, this vision represents—
I. His place.—“In the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” (Revelation 1:13). In the centre, the middle, the very heart of the Church, so as to have full control, out to the circumference.
II. His office.—This appears to be indicated by His dress (Revelation 1:13). The long robe, indicating the priest; the peculiar position of the girdle indicating the King.
III. His character (Revelation 1:14-15).—The figures indicate absolute and dazzling, glistering, whiteness. Not merely a passive holiness, but an active holiness which makes holy. It shines and makes shining.
IV. His mission.—Symbolled by the two-edged sword proceeding out of His mouth. He had to search the Churches, and solemnly declare the truth concerning them, however severe and humiliating it might have to be. Symbolled, too, in a countenance like the sun, withering up all falseness and evil. St. John’s fear in the presence of this symbolled Christ represents the fear which the Church always has when it realises that the Living Christ is inspecting it, and critically searching it. The response to St. John’s fear represents the response Christ makes to the Church’s fear. It may be stated in this way. Christ—the Living, Present Christ—compasses the Christian ages even as God compasses all ages. Therefore, Christ can fully control and use all the evil influences that may be affecting His Church, making “all things work together for good.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 1:12. The Candelabrum of the Apocalypse.—This is a striking symbol of the Church. Herein we see—
I. The position of the Church—without the veil.
II. Its work.—To exhibit light—that is, Christ.
III. Its unity.—Many lamps, but one light.
IV. The source of its vitality.—Continually fed by the Holy Ghost.
V. Its beauty.—Each branch richly ornamented.
VI. Its value.—the candelabrum was gold—believers are Christ’s jewels. Application:
1. How great the honours!
2. How certain the safety, of believers!—R. A. Griffin.
Revelation 1:13. Symbols of the Living Christ.—Here our Lord appeared to St. John, clothed in all the insignia which serve as emblems of the different aspects of His glory. It is specially important to notice that it is from this general picture of the glory of the Lord that the particular emblems in which He appears to each particular Church are drawn. “These emblems represent the qualities in virtue of which He will have power to do all that He announces to them.”
The Symbolism of Numbers.—There is an alternation of praise and blame, answering to the even and odd numbers included in seven. The law according to which the Seven Churches have been disposed in the picture seems to be this: the numbers one, three, five, and seven, indicate the different degrees of the dominion of sin over the Christian life in a Church—its graduation in evil. The numbers two, four, and six, indicate, on the contrary, the different degrees of the victory gained by the work of God over sin—its progress in good.—F. Godet, D.D.
Revelation 1:17-18. Christ Risen, Living, and Life-giving.—The point of interest in these verses is this: they present St. John’s full and final impression of the person of Christ. A revelation by vision of the Risen Christ was given to St. John, because he would be specially sensitive to visions, his mystical, meditative mood of mind enabling him most effectively to deal with this mode of revelation. Compare the visions given to St. Paul, as a sufferer in Christ’s service; and to St. Peter, as a leader into the larger truth. St. John’s gospel concerns the person of Christ. He is not mainly interested in what Jesus did, but in what Jesus was, and in the things which revealed what He was. The synoptists relate what Christ said and did, without having any argumentative purpose in their narrations—or we may say, they give us history for beginners, the record of facts; but St. John gives us history for advanced students, the philosophy of the facts. The explanation of St. John’s peculiar point of view is found—
1. In his nature, which may be compared with that of Mary of Bethany.
2. In the fact that he was brought to Christ by the personal influence of Christ. That fixed his lifelong interest upon Christ Himself. For many long years he had meditated on his theme, and, through his meditations, had kept the personal influence of the Living and Spiritual Christ strong upon him. And the heretical teachings of his day made him increasingly zealous to uphold views that honoured Christ; so he became the guide and helper of advanced Christians, who are spirituallyminded, mystical, and able to grow into discernment of those spiritual and eternal truths which underlie varying forms, and can gain expression through ever-varying forms. St. John can lead all who have the insight of love. It is well for us to keep in mind that Christianity, as a system, unfolded along two distinct lines.
1. Led by St. Paul, the doctrine of Christ’s work was gradually elaborated; and,
2. Led by St. John, the doctrine of Christ’s person. There is a Jewish way of reading the Crucifixion: there is a Pauline way, and there is a Johannine way. From this last point of view it appears as the great self-sacrifice. He laid down His life that He might take it again. St. John wants to know what the Crucifixion teaches concerning the person of Christ. There are three ways of treating our Lord’s resurrection:
1. We may collect evidences of it as an actual event in history. This is the familiar method of the ordinary ministry. The evidences include
(1) Scriptural anticipations of it;
(2) Christ’s prophetic words in relation to it;
(3) historical facts concerning it;
(4) historical results of it, in the martyr-witness of apostles, and in the founding of the Church. 2. We may endeavour to discover the doctrinal significance of it. Christian facts and truths have been shaped into systems; for the completion of every system, Christ’s resurrection is found to be absolutely essential. No Christian doctrinal system will hold together that denies it.
3. We may try to get at the spiritual significance of it, as a revelational experience through which Christ passed. Revelational, as carrying a revelation to us concerning Christ’s person. This last is St. John’s way. It is suggestive to compare the accounts of the resurrection-period in the synoptists with those given in St. John. What St. John felt had been taught him concerning the person and relations of the Risen Christ is embodied in our text, which records an immediate revelation made to the apostle, but as truly expresses the sanctified impression of more than fifty years of thought about Christ, and fellowship with Him.
I. Christ as the Living One.—He has life in Himself. That life was in a human body. That life now is in a spiritual body. He is “Christ who is our life.” In what sense are we said to live? Distinguish the derived life of the creature from the absolute life of God. Compare the terms “Living one,” and “I am.” The manifested life is this Divine, uncaused, eternal life of God, set in human conditions and limitations.
II. Christ as the Life-yielding One.—Explain that the Divine life could not be yielded. Absolute, unbroken continuity belongs to its very essence. The manifest life, the human life which was the agency of the manifestation, alone could be yielded. The heresy attributed to Cerinthus was but an imperfect, unworthy, and dangerous setting of a spiritual truth, which needs to be recovered, and worthily stated. The Divine Being, Christ, did not die, could not die; the “Man, Christ Jesus,” died. Word-settings constantly imperil spiritual verities.
III. Christ as the Life-Resuming One.—“Am alive.” The idea which the apostles were likely to take up was that Christ was dead, because Christ’s body lay in Joseph’s new tomb. They had, therefore, in some outwardly evidential way, to be shown that His body was not He. It could be changed for a spiritual body, and He remain the same. He lives. It may be said, “Christ died.” And with equal truth it may be said, “Christ never died.”
IV. Christ as the Life-Giving One.—“Keys of Death and Hades.” He who has only derived life cannot quicken life. You may pull a flower to pieces, but you cannot put it together again, and breathe life into it, though you have a derived life in you. He who has life in Himself can quicken life. Death and Hades for bodies are but types of all kinds of deaths—deaths of feeling, deaths of power, deaths of sin, deaths of backsliding, deaths of doubt; but from all deaths the Risen and Living One can quicken us. St. John saw Christ in the vision as He is, as He permanently is, the Living One who gives life; who is ever giving life; who has come that “we may have life, and have it more abundantly.” That is our Christ. That is Christ who “is our life.”
The Self-description of the Risen Christ.
I. “I am He that liveth”.—That word “liveth” is a word of continuous, perpetual life. It describes the external existence which has no beginning and no end; which, considered in its purity and perfectness, has no present, and no past, but one eternal and unbroken present—one eternal now. It is the “I am” of the Jehovah who spoke to Moses. “He that liveth” is the Living One; He whose life is The Life, complete in itself, and including all other lives within itself. If anything has come to us to make us think what a fragmentary thing our human life is, there is no greater knowledge for us to win than that the life of One who loves us as Christ loves us is an eternal life, with the continuance and unchangeableness of eternity. It is the thought of an eternal God that really gives consistency to the fragmentary lives of men, the fragmentary history of the world.
II. “I am He that liveth, and was dead.”—Into that life of lives death has come—as an episode, an incident. When death came to Him it was seen to be, not the end of life, but only an event in life. It did not close His being, but it was only an experience which that being underwent. This is the wonder of Christ’s death. It was an experience of life, not an end of life. Life goes on through it and comes out unharmed.
III. “I am alive for evermore.”—This existence after death is special and different. “Alive for evermore” is an assurance that in the continued life which has once passed through the experience of death there is something new, another sympathy, the only one which before could have been lacking, with His brethren whose lot it is to die, and so a helpfulness to them which could not otherwise have been, even in His perfect love. This new life, the life that has conquered death by tasting it—this life stretches on and out for ever. Think what that great self-description of the Saviour means, and what it is to us. What do we need, we men? Think of the certainty, yet mystery, of death. Christ’s words come to us, and at once death changes from the terrible end of life into a most mysterious, but no longer terrible, experience of life. Not merely is there a future beyond the grave, but it is inhabited by One who speaks to us, who went there by the way that we must go, who sees us and can help us as we make our way along, and will receive us when we come there. Then is not all changed?
IV. “Have the keys of hell and of death.”—Hell, of course, means Hades, that unseen place, that place of departed spirits in which our creed expresses its belief. Christ, then, having experienced death, has the keys of death to open its meaning, and to guide the way through it for those who are to die like Him. It is because He died that He holds the keys of death. Can we not understand that? Do we not know how any soul that has passed through a great experience holds the keys of that experience, so that he can help those who have to pass through it? Having the keys of death and hell, He comes to us as we are drawing near to death, and He opens the door on both sides of it, and lets us look through it, and shows us immortality. What is it to be immortal and to know it? What is it to have death broken down, so that life stretches out beyond it—the same life as this, opening, expanding, but for ever the same essentially?
1. Think of the immense and noble freedom from many of the most trying and vexatious of our temptations, which comes to a man to whom the curtain has been lifted, and the veil rent in twain.
2. The whole position of duty is elevated by the thought, the knowledge, of immortality.
3. A new life is given to friendship, to all our best relations, to one another, by the power of immortality.—Phillips Brooks.
Revelation 1:18. Christ in Glory.—
1. These are the words of our Lord, and they were spoken by Him in glory. Some have gathered together the sayings of Christ in different periods. For instance, His utterances during His Passion; His Seven Sayings from the Cross on Good Friday; His words during the great Forty Days of the Risen Life; and His words from heaven. The Church to-day does not direct our eyes to the empty tomb, but to the vision of Christ in glory.
2. The words were addressed to St. John—the disciple whom Christ had drawn near to Him, with St. Peter and St. James, in the Garden of Gethsemane; the disciple who stood, with Christ’s blessed mother, beneath the cross, and watched Him in His dying hours; who was last at the cross and early at the sepulchre; the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Differences of substance and style between the Apocalypse and the fourth gospel are certainly not sufficient to justify the conclusion that it is not the same St. John who wrote both.
3. They were words of encouragement. John had another legacy besides that blessed one, Christ’s mother; he had the legacy of tribulation. He was realising the Lord’s prophecy, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). He was partaker “in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” He was an exile in the Isle of Patmos “for the testimony of Jesus Christ”—a wretched, barren, desolate spot; and then condemned to work in the mines, if the statement of Victorinus can be relied upon; at any rate, a solitary exile in a remote island. It was there the Lord appeared to His servant, to strengthen and sustain him. What do the words of the text teach us about Christ? What about ourselves?
I. They point to Christ in Glory.—
1. They may seem in this respect to antedate the Festival of the Ascension. Christ did not enter into glory—that is, did not visibly assume a glorious condition—on Easter Day. We know this by the narrative in the gospels. The glorious Form which appeared to St. John made him fall “at His feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17); but in the Risen Life, during the Great Forty Days, we read of no such manifestation. On the contrary, Christ is taken for the gardener. He stands, unknown, upon the shore; He joins the disciples on the road to Emmaus as an ordinary wayfarer; He dines with His disciples. No rays of glory emanate from His countenance or illuminate His garments. He does not force the human will to acknowledge Him by some overwhelming manifestation. When they saw Him on the mountain in Galilee, “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). He reserved the light of glory till He entered the land of glory. He was “received up in glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). The Church seems to desire to set Christ before us in all His perfected glory in heaven, that our joy may be full; and our Lord Himself, in the same way, over leaps the interval between Easter and Ascension Day in the question to the two disciples: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26).
2. The text teaches us the sameness of Christ, the identity of His person: “I am He that liveth, and was dead.” The angels impressed the same truth upon the minds of the apostles at the Ascension: “This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Our Lord not only speaks of Himself as the Living One, but also refers to His death: “and was dead.” I am the same you watched upon the cross. The waters of Lethe do not sponge out the marks of life on earth. Though in glory, the memory of the Passion was still fresh. He who was conceived and born of Mary, dwelt in Nazareth, preached in the towns and villages of Judæa and Galilee, died upon the cross, rested in Joseph’s tomb, went to “the spirits in prison,” vanquished death, and rose from the dead on the third day, is the same who sits in glory at the Father’s right hand.
II. The text carries with it the conviction of our own identity hereafter.—
1. The truth which Easter teaches is that of our own immortality. There are many “indications” of man’s survival after death, but only one proof. The yearning for a life beyond the grave has been regarded as a witness to its existence, on the ground that nature’s desires are not futile. The consciousness that we are something more than flesh has been appealed to. The analogy of chrysalis and butterfly has been laid under contribution as suggestive. The moral argument is, that if there be a just God, the “cruel wrongs of time” must be rectified hereafter. The simplicity of the soul’s essence has been regarded as inferring its indestructibility, and the scientific doctrine that no force is ever destroyed. The goodness and purpose of God in creating man have seemed incompatible with a belief in annihilation. These and other indications of man’s immortality can be enumerated, all forming accumulative inference of great force; but the one proof is the resurrection of Christ. He rose from the dead, “the First-fruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20), and He entered into heaven “to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” The doctrine of our resurrection rests upon the historic fact of Christ’s resurrection. Life and immortality have been brought to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).
2. Further, we see that Easter teaches that our immortality is personal. The same who lived and died shall rise again and live for ever. No other immortality, of a lower kind, can satisfy us. The immortality of matter, of force, of mind, of love, of fame, are mere shadows; the substance is the survival of the personal life. The memory links us with the past; it is a ground of identification: “liveth, and was dead.” And this carries with it the truth of recognition in another life.
1. Joy in the triumph of Christ over death and hell.
2. The realisation of a present Christ, who, though in glory, can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, through His experience of trial and temptation, of suffering and death, whilst on earth.
3. To rise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, from the penitence of Lent to the new life of Easter-tide.
4. Through the grace of Easter communion to seek the virtue of perseverance, so as not to fall back into sin, but, like Christ, to be “alive for evermore.”—“The Thinker.”
The Risen Saviour.—From death to life is the greatest possible transition, and this transition, in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, is the most marvellous as well as the most perfect. It is the only true victory ever won. Warriors conquer to be conquered. Tyrants rule with a rod of iron to fall under its stroke. All men that rise, rise to fall. From the dust we came, and to the dust we must return. But the text speaks of a final victory: “I am alive for evermore.” The aged St. John was an exile in the lone island of Patmos. He had been banished thither “for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” He was not there alone. John, “the beloved disciple,” and Jesus, the loving Saviour, have again met in a strange land. The visit of the Saviour was special, and John was elevated to heights of inspiration far above that which he had experienced before. He received visions and revelations of a transcendent nature. The whole panorama of the future passed before his eyes. He saw the rise and fall of empires. The terrible conflict between good and evil was waged in his presence. He saw the rise of the kingdom of the Messiah, and the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. Patmos was the only place, and the banishment from Society the only condition, suitable to such a revelation. But the aged apostle needed the assurance that the old Master was communing with him. So he is led back to the impressive scene of the Crucifixion: “I am He that liveth, and was dead.” Some sixty years previously John stood before the cross, and for that long period he had preached Christ and Him crucified, in the cities of Asia Minor. He was drawn nearer to the Saviour than he had ever been before when he saw Him on the cursed tree. It was a time of sorrow, followed by a few days of painful suspense. But the spell was broken. The tidings came that Jesus was risen. Peter and John ran towards the sepulchre; John outran Peter, and was first at the grave. He found none there: the sepulchre was empty. Then, in the upper room, the tidings were confirmed, when His glorious form appeared, and the familiar Voice, was heard saying, “Peace be unto you!” Their hearts throbbed with that joy ever after. Finally, they saw Him ascend, and a cloud veiled Him, that they saw Him not again. There, on the road to Bethany, they knew that He was alive for evermore. John, in Patmos, felt that only one could have uttered the words of the text. To those who have afflicted their souls, and have deepened their sense of demerit in the garden and at the cross, we now say, Arise, wipe off your tears, remove the sackcloth of penitence, rejoice, and look at your Living Lord.
I. Let us contemplate the resurrection of the Lord as a great historical fact.—It is the central fact of Christianity, and the key-note of apostolic preaching. If the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, the gospel has no sun for a centre of light and heat. The sanhedrin spread the calumny that the disciples stole the body. If so, we ask, what became of the body? The disciples were a few poor fishermen from Galilee, without standing or confederates at Jerusalem. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were the only two persons of influence, in Jerusalem, who were in any way identified with Christ. Did they lend themselves to the fraud? Under the circumstances, and in such a climate, how was the removal and the re-interment of the body possible? Can you conceive of any band of men making a sacrifice of every comfort, and facing a frowning world, with its torture and death, to propagate a conscious fraud? We turn away in haste from the absurdity. Another supposition has been started: that the death of Jesus was only apparent. This incredible view received its birth from two cases of crucified persons restored to life, mentioned by the historian Josephus. Leaving aside the flat contradiction which even the sanhedrin would give to such a supposition, how was it possible to restore animation after the spear-wound in His side, and the long hours of interment? This hypothesis is a greater absurdity than the first. We mention a third supposition: that the various appearances of Christ to His disciples after His death were visions, or apparitions. In France the effort has been male to prove that Christianity owes its potency to the morbid condition of Mary Magdalene—yea, to the hallucination of a nervous woman. In Germany, Straus and others, with more apparent decency, have endeavoured to build up something like an argument on the power of vision, arising from a strong desire to see Jesus. When it is said that he appeared to the eleven, to Paul, and to more than five hundred brethren at once, we are simply to understand a mental vision, arising from the feeling of hero-worship. But we have so much supposition to make that the most elementary principles of psychology must be discarded to do so. We must suppose between five and six hundred persons to be exactly of the same temperament and expectation, so that they had precisely the same mental vision. These persons are credited with sincerity by the holders of this view; but, if so, the world would question their sanity. We have briefly stated absolutely all that has ever been advanced against the great fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How flimsy! Human credulity even rejects all such suppositions. The resurrection of Christ is a significant fact. It brings to light the truth that there is a living and personal God—that He presides over human affairs. A revelation of His will is made, in which He has promised a Saviour for mankind. That Saviour is no other than His own Son. The resurrection verified the life of Jesus. St. Peter, looking at the perfection of that life, has said of death, “It was not possible that He should be holden of it.” Life is greater than mortality, and moral law is superior to the decay of nature. The natural order of creation is that life is stronger than death, otherwise spring would never follow winter. By analogy, a life of so much purity and force as that of Christ could not be holden of death. St. Paul speaks of the priesthood of Jesus as possessing the “power of an endless life”; and again the fact of the resurrection is confirmed by the abiding vitality of the Saviour’s life as witnessed in the lives of thousands. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” The death on the cross is followed by life everlasting, both to the Holy Victim and to them that believe on Him. The miracle of the resurrection is the comment on the life which preceded it; it is the illumination of words spoken, deeds done, and sufferings borne. But, dear brethren, our thoughts run past these weighty considerations to the sacred Person Himself. We are ready to leave all prospects of life and happiness on one side, to welcome from the tomb the Friend of Sinners. “I am He that liveth.” Oh, word of joy! The raptures of our hearts know no bound—Jesus lives.
II. We further observe that henceforth the Living Christ is the object of our faith.—Having been buried with Him in death, we rise with Him into newness of life. But to rise into fellowship with the Living Christ, our faith must soar above the mere belief in historical Christianity. This sublime condition of fellowship implies association in thought with the risen Saviour. The person of Christ, not in form, but in fact, must engage our heart. Purity of thought, concentration of thought, and intensity of thought, alone can lead us to the living association with Jesus. The faith of the believer receives its strongest impetus from the fact that He who was dead is now alive. It imparts to the gospel its higher degree of life. Bodily presence we cannot have, neither do we realise each other’s love and service by presence always. Bodily presence creates mental absence. The Christ of the Resurrection became more real to the disciples than the Christ of the Crucifixion. Thomas believed because He saw, but “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” The Christian must realise more the power of faith. That faith increases in power as he lives near the Living Christ. Stand by the cross, and your faith works within a definite circle; but stand by the Risen Lord, and faith touches no circumference. The gospel, re-enacted in the heart and life, is our work. His marvellous teaching must speak to us with a living lip. We must lay hold of His hand to keep pace with His example. The power to destroy sin comes from fellowship with His sufferings. If we are compelled to go from the cross to the tomb, we need not linger there long, for He is in the upper room. Then we journey with Him to Emmaus, that He may open to us the Scriptures, and kindle the fire of His love within our breast. In Galilee also we receive our commission to work out life’s plan. Lastly, He is gone within the veil. The King of Glory has triumphantly entered, and is seated at the Father’s right hand. Will He think of us again? Hark to the sound of holy voices, singing His praise! See the golden crowns which are cast at His feet in honour of His person! Will He think of us again? Yes, oh, yes! He ever liveth to make intercession for us. The delightful life of daily and hourly communion with our living Saviour cannot be enjoyed by a mere contemplation of the fact that He is risen. The Holy Spirit is the true revealer of the Spiritual Christ. This truth was distinctly taught to the Church by the Saviour. We may have a very sincere desire to have the presence of Christ with us daily, but that blessing can only come through the Holy Ghost. The Spirit gives us the sight of the risen Lord. We cannot now hear Him speak except we have the ear circumcised by the Spirit. Heaven is far away from earth; He who fills the space between is the Spirit of God.
“Spirit of purity and grace,
Our weakness, pitying, see;
Oh, make our hearts Thy dwelling place,
And worthy Thee.”
III. And, lastly, we observe that the resurrection of Christ is the open door of immortality.—“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” These are the words with which we seek to succour the hearts of the bereaved. They are words of comfort in the deepest sorrow. The resurrection of the Lord shows that life is more than the animation of the organism of the brain. As animation moves the material form, so does life wear animation as a garment. But under it all is the living spirit. We are now unable to speak of the body that shall be: we are content with the promise that it will resemble His glorious body. The most astonishing words ever uttered by human lips are these: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Those who are in Christ are in life. The vision which was given to Hosea represents the Saviour at the gates of Hades, demanding the release of the prisoners: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction; repentance shall be hid from Mine eyes.’ ” He has taken the keys of helan from the hands of Pluto, and has opened the gates of the dark world. The first thought which engrosses our mind is the release of those who have entered from our side. To the aged there are many. Some of them are very near to our hearts. See the Risen Saviour standing at their grave, as He stood at the grave of Lazarus, saying, “Come forth.” Blessed thought: we shall see them again. Then comes the other thought, that we must soon enter the valley of death. It will not be long ere these bodies will lie in their graves, when the shades of death will hide from us everything earthly. His resurrection will throw light on the other side. Think for a moment of the glorious sight which the resurrection of Jesus suggests, when, in the last day, He will turn the key to open millions of graves. To-day the churchyard is the quiet resting place of many—the most peaceful spot on earth. But the day will come when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, incorruptible. We fear not death, for we have witnessed the death of Jesus; we dread not the grave, for we have been at the grave of Jesus. There is a resurrection into spiritual life, before the body can come up from the grave, fashioned after the body of His Glory.
“It is not death to fling
Aside this mortal dust,
And rise, on strong, exulting wing,
To live among the just.”
Easter Joy.—The Easter season is a time of great joy for all the children of God.
1. They rejoice on account of the completeness of the work of salvation. For when Christ had risen from the dead, He thereby had fully paid the wages of sin. God has accepted the death of His Son in the place of our death, and therefore has given us life.
2. All Christians rejoice on account of the excellent witnesses and testimonies concerning the resurrection of Christ. He appeared no fewer than ten different times after His resurrection, and on one occasion was seen of five hundred (1 Corinthians 15:5). He conversed and ate with His disciples alone (Acts 10:41). He permitted Himself to be touched by them (John 20:25; 1 John 1:1). Evidence of this kind admits of no contradiction. Even now He still furnishes the proof that He is alive by living in us (Galatians 2:20).
3. Christians rejoice in Easter because they have been given the seal and security of the gracious forgiveness of sins, of peace with God, so that they can, without fear, approach God, and know that He will come to them.
4. Christians rejoice because the resurrection of Christ is for them a comfort in death. Christ has sweetened death for the believers, has sanctified the grave, and they, too, shall enter into eternal life.
5. Christians, for these reasons, make it a special point to celebrate Easter-day by rejoicings of the heart, by meditation and prayer, and contemplation of the great things which God has done for them.
6. They strive daily to rise from the dead spiritually, to throw aside sin and evil deeds, and sanctify their lives to the service of God.—G. H. Schodde, Ph. D.
Symbol of the Keys.—As to keys, and the associated idea of unlocking, one need but compare Psalms 9:13; Isaiah 38:10; Matthew 16:18, in order to see that the Hebrews ascribed to the underworld or region of the dead doors or gates—imagery borrowed from the doors of sepulchres. In like manner the great Abyss has doors to be unlocked (Revelation 9:1; Revelation 20:1-3). The Rabbins say that God has reserved four keys to Himself, which He has not committed to any of the angels—viz., the key of rain, of aliment, of the sepulchre, and of parturiency. Wet-stein has many citations which show how common this sentiment was among them. If it were prevalent when the Apocalypse was written, and John had any respect to it in the passage before us, it would furnish another particular in which he ascribes to the Saviour the prerogatives of the Godhead.—Moses Stuart.
The Living Lord.—The Isle of Patmos is of undying interest to the Christian Church. Yet it is not the kind of interest that makes us want to visit the lonely place. Perhaps we should understand the book of Revelation better if we could study it among the very scenes that helped to give tone and shape to the writer’s imaginations. Patmos is a rocky and bare island of the Ægean Sea. On account of its stern and desolate character it was used under the Roman empire as a place of banishment. “As the coast is approached from the sea, it is found to be high and comprising many promontories and bays, which give to the whole a very irregular appearance. The only port that is used is a deep bay, sheltered by high mountains on every side but one, where it is protected by a projecting cape. Above the landing place is a small village, comprising about fifty habitations, and situated on the edge of a vast crater, sloping off on either side, like the roof of a tiled house.” The famous grotto, or cavern, where the apostle is said to have written the book of Revelation, is situated on the face of the hill about half-way between the town and the port. A traveller helps us to realise the scene on which the banished apostle must often have gazed. “The time when the island appears in its best position is during the rising and setting of the sun. Whether viewed in dim perspective, through grey and silvery mists, or amidst hues of liveliest purple, the isles and continent of Greece present their varied features, which neither pen nor pencil can adequately portray. Picture an evening sun, behind the towering cliffs of Patmos, gilding the battlements of the monastery of the Apocalypse with its parting rays—the island, surrounded by inexpressible brightness, seeming to float upon an abyss of fire, while the moon, in milder splendour, is rising full over the opposite expanse.” A poetic soul could not fail to be affected by the influence of such surroundings. To the lonely man came wonderful visions, weird as ever were given to the prophets of the olden time. But the first, the introductory vision, which was the key to all the rest, was the vision of the Risen, Living, Glorified, Present-working Master and Lord, whose name John loved to bear, and for whose sake John was then a banished and persecuted man. Then, and always, the key to everything is fuller apprehension of the person and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. One thing above all others we desire, even as did the apostle Paul before us: that we may “know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings.” We must know Him in the exercise of Christian thought. St. John knew Him with the aid of suggestive symbolic representations. But what he came to know we can learn from him; and it was this: Christ bears present and saving relations to men through all the progress of human history. Jesus lives. He has come again to the world. He is in the world. He is adequately endowed for the conflict with evil. He is living Saviour; Captain of salvation. The text is a part of Christ’s own explanation of the symbols in which He had presented Himself to the beloved St. John. We notice—
I. The mystery behind Christ.—“Was dead.” This is the assertion of a fact which carries the profoundest significance with it. It brings to mind the most wonderful event that ever occurred in human history. Not most wonderful, even, as the death of an innocent man by torturing crucifixion, but most wonderful as the submission to human death of one who was the Son of God, with power. It is not only an historical fact, it is a cherished memory that is full of gracious influence. Thoughtful souls are never made so gentle, so tender, as when they meditate in full view of Him who died. But why, when Christ is showing Himself as the Living One, does He recall His death? It must have been to call back to St. John’s mind His veritable humanity. Nothing stamps a man as a man more than the fact that he will have to die; “there is no discharge from that war.” We know Jesus Christ was a real brother-man, for He died. It was also necessary for Christ to qualify the glorious vision in which He appeared to St. John, or it might so absorb his attention as to keep away from his thought the competency of Christ for the work which He had to do as the Living One. He who died must have passed through a life before He died, and so He must have gained actual and full experience of our human needs and sorrows, and must be able to succour the tempted, and to redeem His Church from all evil, seeing “He was in all points tempted like as we are.” But the place taken by Christ’s death in His own representation of Himself needs our special notice. He does not put the death first. The greatest, and most important, of all truths for His Church is this: “I am He that liveth.” The second truth is: “I was dead.” The apostle Paul apprehended the same relative position of the two truths when he wrote, “It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” Only as we set these two truths in their right relations can we apprehend one of the deeper meanings of Christ’s death. It was the experience, and the obedience, through which He gained both the right and the fitness to be the “bringer-on of sons unto glory.” For that work He was “made perfect through suffering.” Gaining His fitness to be the ever-living Saviour lights up the deeper meanings of the life of Christ as well as of His death. It helps us to understand that salvation is His personal work. It is only a part of the truth to say, “He has saved us”; the rest of the truth is this: “He is saving us.” “He is able to save unto the uttermost.” His healings of the sick, and lame, and leprous, when He dwelt among men, and “wore earth about Him,” do but show what He can now do in souls. He is “alive for evermore,” and we can come to Him, soul-blind, soul-lame, and receive, direct from Him, healing and life.
II. The glory in Christ.—“He that liveth.” “Am alive for evermore.” This is no mere assertion of His resurrection from the dead. It is the declaration, “I am the living One.” As in the days of His flesh, our Lord affirmed that “He had life in Himself.” He was “the Life.” In Christ’s continuous, eternal life, that human death was only an episode. “When death came to Him, it was seen to be, not the end of life, but only an event in life. It did not close His being, but it was only an experience which that being underwent. That spiritual existence which had been going on for ever, on which the short existences of men had been strung into consistency, now came and submitted itself to that which men had always been submitting to. And lo! instead of being what men feared it was, what men had hardly dared to hope that it was not—the putting out of life—it was seen to be only the changing of the circumstances of life, without any power over the real principle of life—any more power than the cloud has over the sun that it obscures, or than the ocean has over the bubble of air that it buries fathoms deep, but whose buoyant nature it cannot destroy, nor hinder it from struggling towards, and sometimes reaching to, the surface of the watery mass that covers it. That was the wonder of Christ’s death. He passed into it for love of us. And as He came out from it, He declared its nature. It is an experience of life, not an end of life. Life goes on through it and comes out unharmed.” This is shown us in the vision of Him who “liveth, and was dead.” But to St. John’s mind that visioned Figure might seem to be an appearance only, a symbol, a picture-teaching. He must learn that it was but the garment, the setting, the manifestation of a real, living Being; only figured in this way in order to help St. John, and us, to realise what Jesus Christ still is, and what are the relations in which He still stands to His Church, and what is the work that He still has to do, in the Church, and in the world. And is not this truth, that Christ is the “Living Saviour,” a new revelation, even to us? So strangely Christian doctrine strives to gather our supreme interest about our Saviour’s death; and once a year we break loose to glory in the Risen and Living Christ of the Easter memories. Christian doubts and fears too often cling about the Saviour dead, and we cannot rise into the heaven of our hope in the Living One, and sing away our fears. And sometimes our strange Christian infirmities even make us wish Him dead; for we do not want a Saviour who is actually working now, cleansing now, finding out the sin-stains in His people, washing them away, and seeking to make His people “whiter than snow.” So it is the ever-new gospel we need to hear again to-day: Jesus lives. More than all He was to His disciples, in the days of His flesh, He is to us. His relations to them were really spiritual relations, but they were illustrated for them by actual bodily associations. His relations with us are spiritual relations, and they are illustrated for us in the records of His human life with His disciples. If we can enter into the inner mysteries, then we say, Christ has come again, even as He promised. Indeed, He never really went away. He only passed out of sense apprehensions. He is here: free from bodily limitations; His name is still “Emmanuel Jesus,” “God with us,” saving us—not “who has saved us”—“from our sins.”
III. The present mission of Christ.—“Have the keys of hell and of death.” I need not explain that “hell” here is really “Hades,” the resting place of disembodied spirits; nor need I tell you more than that the “keys” are the symbol of authority. The steward in possession goes about with the keys hanging from his shoulder, as the sign of his office. But it cannot surely be the present glory of Christ, that He has merely to open the gates of death, and rule the spirits in Hades? This is teaching by figure and symbol. Just as leprosy is taken as the type of all diseases, so “death and hell” stand as types of all the forces that resist the progress of Christian life in the individual, and the extension of Christ’s Church. “Death” stands as the representative of all the material forces; “Hades” stands as the representative of all the immaterial, unseen, spiritual forces; for we wrestle against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” When we see “death and hell” standing for all the material and spiritual oppositions to the progress of Christ’s Church, we begin to understand why Christ was figured to St. John as the “infinitely white One,” who is white, and liveth to make white. The full figure is given in the first chapter, as bearing relation to the whole Church, and its entire circle of needs. And then Christ is visioned in parts, those sides of Christ’s living power being chosen which bear direct relation to each of the Seven Churches—to the weaknesses, the sins, and the perils, of each. This is the truth shining forth from our text: the White Christ is alive, and is working to make His Church white, as He is white. Are you a seeker for salvation? See! Christ liveth, and can save you. Are you a Christian, battling with sin! See! you do not struggle alone; Christ is with you in the fight. Are you a Christian in the world of peril and temptation? See! the Hebrew youths were safe, even in the fire, when one was with them like unto the Son of God. To the Church, groaning under the burdens of her disability we say, Let her arise, shake herself from the dust, and win her victories, for her Lord lives, He “is alive for evermore.”
Resurrection in Retrospect.—The true explanation of the extreme distress and perplexity of our Lord’s disciples lies in this: the resurrection of Christ they could not understand, they could not believe. And this condition of mind continued till the event actually took place. But what a difference there is between resurrection in prospect and resurrection in retrospect! No change in any recorded history or any known biography is more startling. The whole mind of the Christian disciples, in reference to the resurrection of their Lord, is suddenly transfigured, and that which they looked forward to dimly, timidly, unwillingly, they now look back upon with undoubting and exulting confidence. It has been said—
1. That there was a fraud: Christ did not really rise, but His disciples practised a deception. But falsehood in one thing does not fit a truthful and genuine religion; and falsehood does not make men brave.
2. That the death of Christ was an imaginary death. But Christ prophesied and expected His death; and the physical conditions narrated involve actual death.
3. The belief in the resurrection was the result of a waking dream. But there is no conceivable basis for any such idea in the record. We cannot separate the thought of our own resurrection from the thought of that rising of Christ; nor ought we to separate them. At present our resurrection is in prospect, and we know not what it will be. But it will not be so always. The time will come when all will be behind us—when all the past will be clearly known and well remembered. Then it will be resurrection in retrospect. We shall look back on the life we led here. This we know as to the future, that if we are true Christians we shall then be with Him “who liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore”; and “because He liveth, we shall live also.”—Dean Howson.
The Keys of Hell and of Death.
I. The keys symbolise sovereignty.—And the sovereignty referred to is in the hands of Christ. He is the Everlasting One who was dead and is alive again for evermore. Upon Christ’s head “are many crowns”; in Him are vested many sovereignties. Nature is His, for He made it. Mind is His, for He created it. Angels are His, for they worship Him. Men are His, for He redeemed them. The Church is His, for He purchased it with His own blood. And over all is He the Supreme Ruler. There is not an atom or a force of nature; not a form or function of life; not a type or order of intelligence; not a nation or grade of moral being; not a condition or circumstance of existence;—over which His throne flings not its shadow or shelter. It is of the sovereignty of this ascended, triumphant, glorified, and enthroned Jesus that the Spirit speaks in this sublime portion of Holy Writ. Here you have the range of His Kingship; the province of His empire; the process of His government; the antagonisms with which He wrestles; the methods by which He puts down all rule and authority—curbs the rage of men, confounds the schemes of hell, rolls back the swelling billows of error and vice, conserves the truth, enshields His Church, and finally sits enthroned upon the homage, reverence, and love, of a redeemed and glorified humanity! Among the antagonisms of that humanity, death, in form most hideous; death, with its most terrific symbols and enginery; death, with its cruel mockings;—threatens to extinguish the race. Christ knows and feels all this. And that there might not be a moment’s misgiving or shadow of anxiety, He reveals Himself, clothed in attributes and belted with potencies which qualify Him for all the emergencies which await the Church of the future, till time shall be no longer. He knows her, for He ever walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks. Her members droop and die; He is alive for evermore. Her foes wield the dread sceptre of destruction, but they know not that it is under Him, and because of His permission, and subject to His control, that they waste and lay low the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts; for “He has the keys of hell and of death.”
II. Christ is sovereign of death.—“He has the keys of … death.” That death is not an outlaw we might anticipate, seeing that there is nothing around us not subject to law. Life, in all its beauties, melodies, and beatitudes, is everywhere and always under law. Shall it be that such an agency as death shall act defiant of law? When we remember the agonies which it can extract; the energies which it can paralyse; the hopes which it can blast; the homes which it can disrupt and desolate: how it can revel in ruin and banquet upon groans, and quaff the chalice filled with tears wrung from poor widows’ and orphans’ hearts; how, with dread might, it can strew earth with the wreck and spoil of noble manhood and cultured womanhood; how, in a moment, the result of long, long years of the training of character for the highest service of humanity can be frustrated;—then we ask again, “Is death an exception to the general fact that law prevails throughout God’s universe?” Can it be that such a monster is loose, with no hook in his jaw and no bridle to his power? Does not He, who guides Arcturus, wheels the comet, rides upon the whirlwind, rims in old Ocean, chains the fire-fiend, enkindles and extinguishes the volcano; who bids the seasons from their palaces in the heavens march forth to fling their treasures over the habitable earth;—does not He control and order this overshadowing hierarchy of death? Yes! thanks to His ever-blessed name, “He has the keys … of death!” He is King of kings, and the “King of Terrors” is but a vassal prince, without right of independent sovereignty, and altogether subject to Him who in His own person conquered death and the grave. He opens the gates of death and no man shuts. He shuts and no man opens. No saint or servant of His can die, but as He permits it. Not a foothold is there for Chance. Within the domain of death, unknown to Him, the grave cannot seize another victim. No march of spoliation can death steal upon the hosts of God’s elect. Their Captain is all-vigilant, and, should the unauthorised arrow fly, His shield shall turn and shiver it. “He has the keys of death.”
III. He has also the keys of Hell.—“Hell,” or Hades, here refers to the invisible world of spirits. The sovereignty of this invisible world owns Christ’s sceptre. It is within His empire. Who dare compute the myriads on myriads congregated there! And they are all there living! “All live unto Him.”—J. O. Peck, D.D.
Revelation 1:20. Holding the Stars.—The hand that holds the seven stars is as loving as the hand that was laid in blessing upon the little children. The face that is as the sun shining in its strength beams with as much love as when it drew publicans and harlots to His feet. The breast that is girt with the golden girdle is the same breast upon which John leaned his happy head.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The Angels of the Churches.—This title appears to have been borne by the ministers of the synagogues among the Jews. The business of this officer, who was always called a bishop of the congregation, was to offer prayers for the whole assembly, to which the people answered, “Amen,” and to preach, if there were no other to discharge that office. The reading of the law was not properly his business, but every Sabbath he called out seven of the synagogue, and on other days fewer, to perform that duty. The angel stood by the person that read, to correct him if he read improperly. He took care also that worship was performed without disorder and with all regularity. By a name probably borrowed from the synagogue the bishops and pastors of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor are termed the “angels” of the Churches. It is very reasonable to suppose that Paul alludes to this name when he says that women ought to be covered before the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10). Bishops, or ministers of Christian Churches, are often called “angels” by the earlier writers. It is, however, better to regard the angel of the Church as the ideal embodiment (so to speak) of the Church, rather than any particular official. “The angel of the Church would be the spiritual personification of the Church—the Church, seen in its heavenly representative, and seen, therefore, in the light of those splendid possibilities which are hers if she holds fast by Him who holds the seven stars.
The General Idea of the Picture of the Seven Churches.—It contains the portraiture of all the shades and, in a manner, the statistics of all the spiritual states, either of good or evil, in which Christianity on earth may find itself. The Lord chose, in order to characterise these seven degrees, the Churches of the country in which John lived, which embodied most perfectly these seven types. The number seven indicates here, as it always does, a totality. But the idea of the book is that of a simultaneous, not that of a successive, totality, as those think who see in these seven Churches the portraiture of the principal phases of the history of the Church. One may, doubtless, by taking up this latter standpoint, succeed in bringing out some ingeniously conceived points of harmony, but they always have a somewhat arbitrary character. Besides, the subject itself of this first part is against such an interpretation. It is the starting point of the Lord’s progress which should be here indicated; this starting point is the state of the Church at the time of the vision, and not the unrolling of its future history, which is contained rather in the subsequent visions.—F. Godet, D.D.
The Universal Church.—We are introduced, in chaps. 2, 3, to the Universal Church under the presentation given of seven Churches of Asia selected for that purpose. These Churches are so selected that they present us with a picture of the various elements that make up the Church’s life. We see her in herself and in her relation to the world; in her strength and in her weakness; in her steadfastness and in her declensions; in her prosperity and in her sufferings; in her outward poverty and in her true riches; in the distinction existing between the real and nominal followers of Christ within her borders; in the just indignation of her Supreme Head against the one, and in His leading the other to the full possession of His own triumph in the presence of His Father and their Father, of His God and their God.—W. Milligan, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
Revelation 1:18. The Classical Idea of “Hades.”—The Greek word “Hades” in the New Testament, and the Hebrew word “Sheol” in the Old Testament, are used in the most general sense to denote the state of the dead, including the grave as the residence of the body, and the world of spirits as the abode of the soul. The Hebrew idea of it is perhaps most fully given in Job 10:21-22. But it may be interesting to compare the pagan notion from which the word “Hades” is taken. The name was given by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and especially by the poets, to Pluto, the god who was supposed to preside over the infernal regions. He is represented as being the son of Chronos and Rhea, the husband of Persephone, and the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. He bore the character of being a fierce, cruel, and inexorable tyrant, dreaded by mortals, who, when they invoked him, struck the earth with their hands, sacrificed black sheep in his honour, and in offering their sacrifices stood with averted faces. The grim Hades shuts up the shades of the dead in his dark domains. His wife Persephone shared the throne of the lower world with her cruel husband. And not only did Hades rule over infernal regions; he was considered also as the author of those blessings which spring from the earth, and more especially of those rich mineral treasures which are contained in the bowels of the earth.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent