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INTRODUCTION, Revelation 1:1-8 ;
AND GLORIOUS VISION OF CHRIST, Revelation 1:9-20 .
CHARACTER OF THE BOOK.
In this intensely interesting and only prophetic book of the New Testament the veil is rolled aside, and the future disclosed in a series of panoramic visions beheld by the apocalyptic Seer. Light and darkness, good and evil, are the moral forces in opposition. God, Christ, and Satan; men, saved and unsaved; and angels, holy and unholy, are the actors in this marvelous book of plan and purpose. The scenes shift and change, now time, then eternity. Heaven, earth, and abyss, and lake of fire form the platform and theatre of display. The song of the victor and the wail of the vanquished both gladden and sadden. In result, God triumphs, and the millennial and eternal glories of Christ shine forth in undimmed and undying splendour. Then shall be brought to pass the saying of the Hebrew prophet, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.”
The new-made Heaven and earth (Revelation 22:1 ) become the respective and eternal abodes of all that is holy and good, while the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8 ) shall have gathered into it all that is unholy and contrary to God.
Grace is the key-note of the previous epistolary communications. The public government of God in dealing with evil and in the exaltation of good is the characteristic burden of this profoundly interesting book.
The sacred writers did not title their respective books, and all the titles of the sacred books in our Bibles, save one or two, are destitute of divine authority. The title given to the Apocalypse in the Authorised Version and retained in the Revision of 1881 is faulty and misleading. It is not “The Revelation of St. John,” *The book is sometimes spoken of as “ The Revelations .” But the revelations contained in the book are essentially one, and were communicated in vision in one day, viz., the Lord’s day (Revelation 1:10 ). The unity of the whole is expressed in the title “ The Revelation .” but as in the text, “THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST.” Whether the epithet, “the Divine,” was added as an expression of the writer’s supposed superlative sanctity, and to distinguish him from John the Apostle, are matters of unimportant controversy. We are at perfect liberty to reject the title as a whole. The Church tradition that John the Apostle was the writer dates from A.D. 170, or a little earlier. The John of the fourth Gospel, and of the three epistles to which his name is prefixed, is, we doubt not, the inspired writer of this book; there , however, he is described, here he is expressly named.
PREFACE (Revelation 1:1-3 ).
The introduction contains a preface (vv. l-3), a salutation (vv. 4-6), a prophetic testimony (v. 7), and a divine announcement (v. 8).
1. “ The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Here Jesus Christ is viewed as Man, not in essential Deity as in John 1:1-2 . The divine and human natures of our Lord, both absolutely perfect, are distinguished in office and action, but must not be separated. There is but one Saviour and one Mediator, Who is very God and very Man, and on this fundamental truth reposes the whole system of Christianity. Faith believes and grasps it firmly, while not pretending to solve the mystery of the Godhead. Our own complex being is a mystery, much more so the Being of our adorable Lord.
The Revelation is embodied in the visions beheld by the Seer of Patmos. The word “Revelation ” gives unity to the many and diversified communications, whether in word or vision, contained in the book. Revelations there were, but these form one compact whole, and this belongs to Jesus Christ. Not only, however, is the Revelation Jesus Christ’s as given Him by God, but He is the central object in these as in all prophecy. The rays of the prophetic lamp are directed onward to the millennial glory of Christ, no matter whether the lamp be held in the hands of Isaiah the Grand or John the Beloved.
1. “ Which God gave unto Him. ” The kingdom is Christ’s by right in virtue of what He is, yet as Man He receives it from God (Luke 19:15 ), and shall deliver it up to God (1 Corinthians 15:24 ). So the Revelation, which mainly concerns the kingdom, is here given by God to Christ as Man.
1. “ To show unto His servants ( bondmen ) things which must shortly come to pass. ” The term “bondmen” is applied in a narrow and restricted sense in both Testaments. The prophets of old were so designated (Amos 3:7 ; Daniel 9:6 ; 2 Kings 17:13 ), as also the apostles and others of reputation in the Church (Philippians 1:1 ; Colossians 1:7 , see Greek). On the other hand, the word is employed in the New Testament to embrace all believers (Romans 6:19-22 ). It is, we judge, this wide and general application of the term which is to be understood here (compare with Revelation 2:20 ; Revelation 7:3 ; Revelation 22:3 ).
The object, then, of the Revelation is to show Christ’s servants or bondmen the near future. Servant is a more distant character of relation than that of son ( position ), or child ( relationship ), or friend ( intimacy ), and best suits the general character of the book which addresses itself to every individual Christian, and not by any means exclusively to an official class.
To ignore this book, therefore, to regard it as a profitless study, to consider its visions as day-dreams, and its symbols as inexplicable is to incur serious loss, dishonour God by Whom the book is inspired, and rob the soul of special promised blessing (v. 3). This warning applies to every servant of Jesus Christ, i.e. , every Christian.
1. “ Shortly ” arrests our attention. The imminence of the fulfilment of the events herein foretold, as also the near Return of the Lord, the culminating point in the prophecies, are stated in precise terms both in the beginning and end of the book (Revelation 1:1 ; Revelation 22:7 ; Revelation 22:12 ; Revelation 22:20 ), thus forming an insuperable difficulty to its interpretation on the historical basis. A general application of the prophecies to certain past and present events is frankly admitted, for history is ever repeating itself. The facts may be new, but the underlying principles, as pride, love of money, love of power, are the same in all ages, and have ever produced a harvest which has gone to make up history. Thus while fully admitting a partial fulfilment of the strictly prophetic part of the book, i.e. , Revelation 6:1-17 22: 5, yet we are forced to the conclusion that a yet future and brief crisis must be looked for under the Seals, the Trumpets, and the Vials, after the Translation of Old and New Testament saints to Heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ). We look for a successive series of judgments during the time that the saints of past and present ages are at home in the heavens. Before these begin (Revelation 4:1-11 ), during their continuance (Revelation 12:1-17 ), and after they have run their course (Revelation 19:1-21 ), God’s heavenly people are seen in their home above. The futurist application therefore is the basis of our interpretation. If prophetic Scripture as a whole and in detail is to be interpreted soberly and fully, then we must discard the prevalent and pernicious error that history is its interpreter. We hold that the teacher of all Scripture is the Holy Ghost: “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13 ). The full and precise fulfilment of the prophetic portion of the Apocalypse is yet future; and cannot possibly be shown as fulfilled. Take one central fact, the Beast or empire of Rome. Prophecy shows the Latin power in the last phase of its history, previous to its destruction, and in a condition in which it has never yet appeared. It is represented as a great blaspheming, persecuting power, distributed into ten kingdoms under ten vassal kings, subservient to one energetic chief or head, all reigning in willing subordination to their supreme lord (Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ), and in league with apostate Judah in Palestine. Neither under the imperial sway, nor since, has Rome appeared in this new form one essential to the prophetic future; moreover, Rome destroyed the Jewish commonwealth instead of seeking to preserve it. Nor was Judah apostate when Rome was in the ascendant.
1. It will be observed that the medium of communication between Christ and John is an unnamed angel, no doubt a spiritual being of prominence in the hierarchy of Heaven “ His angel. ” How unlike in character and mode the unfolding of the Lord’s mind during His sojourn on earth. Then John was taught the Lord’s will as he reposed in the Master’s bosom (John 13:23 , R.V.). Now all is distant and in a way mysterious, but in exact keeping with the character of these communications. God is not here regarded as “ our Father,” but five times Christ’s relation to His Father is affirmed (Revelation 1:6 ; Revelation 2:27 ; Revelation 3:5 ; Revelation 3:21 ; Revelation 14:1 ). We have only one recorded instance of our Lord, when on earth, directly addressing His Father as “My God” (Matthew 27:46 ), but in this book we hear Him say both “My Father” and “My God,” the former as Son, the latter as Man. The unfolding of certain governmental glories and titles in no wise enfeebles the blessed truth of Christ’s more intimate relations as Son and Man.
The order of the Revelation, therefore, is from God to Christ, then by Christ’s angel, whoever that may be, to John, and then on to us, i.e. , all Christ’s servants or bondmen.
1. “ Unto His servant John. ” The beloved apostle always writes in the third person in the four inspired records bearing his name. Here he writes in the first person, naming himself three times in the introductory part (Revelation 1:1 ; Revelation 1:4 ; Revelation 1:9 ) and twice in the closing portion of the book (Revelation 21:2 ; Revelation 22:8 ).
Revelation 1:2 . “ The Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ ” formed the sum of the visions beheld by the Seer. Omit the second “and” in the verse, and thus, “ all things that he saw ” constitute in brief the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. The third member of the text is really a summary of the preceding two. “The Word of God” is limited to the communications contained in this book, while “the testimony of Jesus Christ” is here of a prophetic character (see Revelation 19:10 ). “The Word of God” in the Gospels is one of grace, whilst “the testimony of Jesus Christ ” has as its burden the revelation of the name and character of the Father. But as the Apocalypse treats mainly of the public government of God, both the “word” and “testimony” refer especially to the display of divine authority and rule over the earth. We regard the Word of God as that which He directly or mediately expresses, and the testimony of Jesus Christ that which He Himself, or by His angel, announces.
Revelation 1:3 . In this verse, which completes the preface, the divine benediction, “ Blessed,” is pronounced on the reader, the hearers, and on those who keep these verbally inspired communications. The fact that the blessing is repeated at the close (Revelation 22:7 ), and judgment threatened on all who tamper with the whole or part of this book of prophecy (vv. 18, 19), imparts an unusually solemn character to this hitherto much neglected portion of Scripture. None can read it or hear it read without blessing, and none dare despise it with impunity. God is ever faithful to His Word, whether in the bestowal of blessing or in the execution of judgment.
The divine beatitude, “Blessed,” occurs seven times (Revelation 1:3 ; Revelation 14:13 ; Revelation 16:15 ; Revelation 19:9 ; Revelation 20:6 ; Revelation 22:7 ; Revelation 22:14 ).
3. “ He that readeth ” probably refers to the public reading of the Scriptures in the assemblies, and no doubt Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Give attendance to reading” (1 Timothy 4:13 ), speaks of the same good old practice, and one which, we fear, is sadly neglected. Every reader of the Revelation, whether in public or private, may rest assured of the Lord’s blessing. The synagogues, authorised by Jewish law wherever ten persons could be brought together to form a congregation, had as an integral part of their service the public reading of the Word of God and exhortation (Luke 4:16-20 ; Acts 13:14 ; Acts 13:27 ; Acts 15:21 ). “They that hear” would signify the company present on these and other occasions when the prophecy was read. For the force of “keep those things,” see John 14:21-24 .
3. “ The time is at hand. ” Prophecy annihilates time, and all intervening and even opposing circumstances, and sets one down on the threshold of accomplishment. The activity of the divine will needs not, nor knows rest. But to our naturally impatient minds, weary and fretful of evil, it might seem at times as if God had let slip the reins of government and ceased to intervene in human affairs. But it is not so. Time, ways, men and their actions are in His hands and under His sole control. He is sovereign Lord and Master. “The time is at hand,” and “the effect of every vision.” God’s lengthened delay of nigh 2000 years has proved a rich season of grace to the world. In the meantime faith rests assured that the hand of God, although unseen, is working out a scheme of good (Romans 8:28 ), which will result to His eternal glory, the true end of all.
A DIVINE SALUTATION (Revelation 1:4-6 ).
We have had a brief but weighty prologue. Now we have a divine greeting. The former instructs, the latter cheers.
4. “ John to the seven churches which are in Asia. ” What is here denominated Asia is not the old and dreamy continent as a whole, nor even Asia Minor, but that part of the latter on the western side or sea-coast of which Ephesus was the renowned capital, proconsular Asia. In this limited geographical area the professing Church was to be tested, and the salient features of her history depicted in the blaze of day, as represented by those seven Asiatic churches specially chosen for the purpose. Other and important churches in the same district are omitted, whilst those seven, and those only, are named, and that, too, in the order in which a traveller would naturally visit them. The seven selected assemblies form a symbol of the Church in its universality in successive periods of its history, as also at any given moment till its final rejection as an unfaithful witness to Christ (Revelation 3:1-22 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ).
Why seven churches? That numeral is of more frequent occurrence than any other. There are seven feasts of Jehovah (Leviticus 23:1-44 ); seven kingdom parables (Matthew 13:1-58 ); seven churches, seven Seals, seven Trumpets, seven Vials noted in the Apocalypse. In each of the foregoing there is a marked division into three and four. What is divine is expressed in the former, the human element enters into the latter. Combined they express what is COMPLETE. Thus the professing Church, as God’s light-bearer on earth, is here regarded in its completeness at any given moment from its declension (Revelation 2:4 ) to its final and public repudiation by Christ (Revelation 3:16 ). In its public and responsible position it is solemnly warned. The threatened judgment, i.e. , absolute rejection, applies to the corporate body only . Believers are repeatedly assured of safety and blessing. An overcoming company of true saints is recognised in each of the first six churches. The mystic “seven” of the Apocalypse is pregnant with meaning.
John here announces himself simply by name. There is no assertion of his apostleship. No flourish of trumpets in calling attention to these sublime prophecies. There is a quiet dignity befitting the introduction and disclosure of subjects which have bowed in heartfelt adoration tens of thousands.
Then the Godhead, each in His own Person, unites in a message of grace and peace, and that, moreover, before the mutterings of the coming storm are heard. Not a Seal can be broken, not a Trumpet blown, nor a Vial poured out till the saints are divinely assured that the strength and blessing of God are for them. God for us in blessing, and in the maintenance of His own glory at all times and under all circumstances, is our mighty stronghold.
The hurricane of divine judgment could not roll over the plains of Sodom till Lot was delivered (Genesis 19:1-38 ): nor could the utter destruction of Jericho by fire take place till Rahab was saved (Joshua 6:1-27 ). But in this divine greeting, and in the place it occupies, we have far more than a guarantee of preservation from divine judgment. The salutation does not come in between threatened judgment and its execution, but before ever it is announced, and the true character of things in the Church, the world, and Israel disclosed, God’s saints are assured of the deep interest He takes in them.
4. The common and needed blessing of the redeemed is one of “ grace and peace. ” Neither things nor persons can rob them of it, because given and maintained by God Himself. Grace is the source of all blessing, and peace the rightful and happy state before God. In the apostolic salutations grace always precedes peace; whilst in the individual epistles as those to Timothy, Titus, etc., “mercy” is generally added, as this latter takes account of personal need and circumstances.
The salutation, while eminently fitted to beget and strengthen confidence in God in view of impending judgment, is yet governmental in character. It is not the Father and the children, nor God and sons, but Jehovah and saints; hence, in the naming of the Persons of the Godhead, the order differs from that contained in Matthew 28:19 there it is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; here it is Jehovah; the Spirit, and Jesus Christ. Paul only once at the close of an epistolary communication (2 Corinthians 13:14 ) greets the saints in the Name of the three divine Persons; here John does so at the commencement of the book.
4. The dread and sacred Name Jehovah signifies underived existence, the Self-Existing One . To Israel the Name was explained as “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14 ); to Gentiles as “ Him which is, and which was, and which is to come ” (Revelation 1:4 ; Revelation 4:8 ). *The heathen borrowed from the Jews. The truths of the Old Testament really lie at the root of anything good in the ancient faiths and mythology of the heathen. Thus, “Jupiter was, Jupiter is, Jupiter will be,” is evidently taken from the Biblical explanation of the national Names of the God of Israel, Jehovah. It is a Name of ineffable grandeur, and one which Israel was made fully acquainted with from the commencement of her history (Exodus 6:3 ). It is God’s memorial Name, even to generations yet unborn. “Which is ” implies independent, unchangeable existence. “Which was ” intimates Jehovah’s relation to the past. “Which is to come ” shows His connection with the future. God’s relation to the universe in its vastness and greatness, as also in its minuteness, is a grand and invigorating truth.
In Revelation 4:8 the order of the sentences is reversed; “which was ” precedes “which is .” Chapter 4 contemplates the government of the whole earth, and not that of Israel only, hence the living creatures first say “which was.” It is a question of time; whereas in Revelation 1:1-20 the eternity of Jehovah’s Being is first presented in the words “which is.” Thus, too, it is intimated in the change of the sentence “which was ” that Jehovah’s past deeds of power are an earnest and pledge that eternal existence and omnipotent might are not quiescent attributes in the divine Being, but are exercised through all ages and under all circumstances.
4. Next, the Holy Spirit is named, but not here regarded in the unity of His Being as “one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4 ). The plenitude of His power and diversified activity are expressed in the term “seven Spirits,” the fulness of spiritual activity (compare with Isaiah 11:2 ; Revelation 3:1 ; Revelation 4:5 ; Revelation 5:6 ). “Before His throne,” because the primal thought in the Apocalypse is the public government of the earth. In the history of Christianity for the first thirty years, the apostolic era, the Spirit is witnessed acting in energy and grace with individuals, as the book of Acts fully relates; whilst in the epistles, the Spirit’s presence and action in the Church is the main truth disclosed. But here, as has been already remarked, the Spirit acts governmentally from Heaven on earth.
The governmental character of the book accounts for the mention of the Spirit before Christ. Had it been simply a question of grace, pure and simple, then necessarily the mention of Christ would have preceded that of the Spirit, after the Father as sent by Him (1 John 4:14 ), and before the Spirit because sent by the Son (John 15:26 ).
Revelation 1:5 . “ Jesus Christ ” is next mentioned, uniting with Jehovah and the Spirit in saluting the saints. In the combination of Name and title is intimated the union of manhood and glory (Acts 2:36 ). “Jesus” is composed of two syllables, signifying Jehovah-saving (Matthew 1:21 ). It was a Name given Him before His birth, and one which exactly describes His Person and work. The greatest of all Names, the Name par excellence , is that of Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11 ). It occurs upwards of 600 times in the New Testament, and is never prefixed by an adjective; *We strongly deprecate the irreverent use (unwittingly, we are assured) of the most precious Name to a believer’s ear and heart. “Dear Jesus,” and such-like terms, are an offence against Him Who is our Lord and Master. His title of dignity, “Lord,” should be employed in a thousand and one instances instead of “Jesus.” This latter, when used in combination with other divine names and titles, is, of course another thing (see John 13:13-14 ). nor was the Lord ever, save by demons, directly addressed as Jesus. The Name “Jesus” occurs in the Apocalypse nine times, and in combination with Christ three times. Christ (Greek) and Messiah (Hebrew) both mean the anointed as in Psalms 2:1-12 , etc.
Thus we have God in the greatness of His Being, the Spirit in the plenitude of His power, and Jesus Christ in holy humanity now glorified, united in blessing the saints who are about to have unfolded to them the prophetic counsels of God respecting the earth.
Then certain distinct attributes inseparable from the Name Jesus are introduced; glories which as Man He has earned, and to which He has right. There are three titles used of Him: the first referring to a certain relation to God; the second pointing to a special connection with all the dead, saved and lost; whilst the third directs attention to His supremacy over earth’s governing authorities.
(1) “ The Faithful Witness. ” The whole life of our Lord from the manger to the Cross is embraced in this comprehensive title. The epithet “the faithful” is in marked contrast to all preceding witnesses for God. The path of human testimony is strewn with wreck and ruin. Christ alone passed through earth in His solitary and rugged path of unswerving devotedness to God, without break or flaw and in all holy separateness to God. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness *“The word witness , in its noun or verb form, is found not less than seventy-two times in the writings ascribed to John. It is pre-eminently his characteristic word.” unto the truth” (John 18:37 ).
(2) “ The First-born of the Dead. ” Christ is both “first-fruit” and “first-born” of the dead. The former title intimates that He is first in time of the coming harvest of those who sleep (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 ). The latter title signifies that He is first in rank of all who will rise from the dead. “First-born” is the expression of supremacy, of pre-eminent dignity, and not one of time or of chronological sequence (Psalms 89:27 ). No matter when, where, or how Christ entered the world, He would necessarily take the first place in virtue of what He is. We may here remark that the change which the bodies of living believers will undergo at the Coming of Christ is equivalent to the raising of the sleeping dead. Both are to be like Christ morally (1 John 3:2 ) and corporeally (Philippians 3:21 ).
(3) “ The Prince of the Kings of the Earth. ” The proud monarch of the west, the haughty despot of the east, have each their Master. Christ is “higher than the kings of the earth.” The kingdoms of the world are His by right and title, and before Him all must bow. He is “Lord of lords and King of kings.” Lord of all who exercise authority, and King of all who reign. He has not yet put forth His power. His sovereign rights are yet in abeyance. But they will be asserted when the Father’s time has come, and public universal government will pass into His hands. He shivers every imperial sceptre, and breaks the crown of all opposing authority. Then the pride of man is brought low, and his pomp withers in the dust.
In these titles, therefore, we have a tower of strength to the Christian and Church. We can see One, now in the heavens, Who has trod the path of faith and obedience without halting (Hebrews 12:1-2 ); One Who has grappled with death, and him that had the power of it; Who overcame and is now great in His victory; One, too, Who is Lord and Master of all earth’s governing authorities. But now the salutation abruptly passes on to a doxology.
Revelation 1:6 . The preceding benediction, coupled with the Spirit’s relation of what Christ is as man, at once rouses the heart of the redeemed. The affections are stirred, and the recital of Christ’s dignities is answered by the exulting song: “ Unto Him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood ” (R.V.). He has won our hearts by His changeless love, and cleared our consciences by His precious blood. In this book, which reveals the crumbling to atoms of the consolidated power of evil established in high places, how positively refreshing to know, ere the coming judgments are announced, or the precursors of divine vengeance are seen and heard (Revelation 4:5 ; Revelation 8:5 ), that the whole redeemed company on earth can triumphantly sing of Christ’s present and changeless love, and of His precious blood which has for ever freed them from their sins.
But the themes of the song are not exhausted. Our high dignity is next celebrated, and ascribed to Him Whose love and blood are our confidence and rest. “He made us a kingdom, priests unto His God and Father.” It might be inferred from the expression, “made us a kingdom,” that we are to be governed as subjects, but such is not the thought. Sovereignty is conferred upon the heavenly saints, and in a lesser degree upon Jewish millennial saints on earth. The character in which we shall rule is next intimated as “priests.” What is meant is the union of kingly dignity and priestly grace. Zechariah 6:13 states the position exactly: “He shall be a Priest upon His throne.” But we shall reign with Christ; hence the character of His reign in part determines the nature of ours. There will be secured for the world in the coming age a thousand years’ righteous and gracious government. Let us never forget, nor in practice sink below, our exalted rank. The constant remembrance of it will impart dignity of character and preserve from the money-loving spirit of the age (1 Corinthians 6:2-3 ).
6. “ To Him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. ” The form of the ascription is nearly the same as in 1 Peter 5:11 , save that the Jewish apostle asserts that the glory and the dominion are Christ’s; whereas John intimates the desire of the redeemed that the visible glory and far-reaching dominion foretold by prophet, seen by seer, and sung of by bards should be His Who alone is worthy; and not only during the millennial era, but through the ages or definite measures of time on to eternity. Neither is the “Amen” in the two passages used as prayer that it may be so, but is added as a solemn asseveration of the truth stated.
In the course of the successive disclosures contained in the book, and as their character deepens, the doxology increases in fulness. Here it is twofold; threefold in Revelation 4:11 ; fourfold in Revelation 5:13 ; and sevenfold in Revelation 7:12 .
OUR PROPHETIC TESTIMONY (Revelation 1:7 ).
7. “ Behold He cometh with the clouds. ” The Second Advent of our Lord is a vital part of Christian testimony, and never more needed to be insisted upon than now, especially in light of the solemn reflection that both the Church and the world are about to enter on their final phases of accumulated guilt before being dealt with in sharp judgment. But it is essential to distinguish the two distinctive parts into which the Coming divides. There is a class of passages, confined to the New Testament, which directly refer to the Coming of the Lord for His saints, as John 14:3 ; Philippians 3:20 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ; and 1 Corinthians 15:23 . But there is another set of texts, common to both Testaments, which as distinctly teach the Coming with the saints, as Jude 1:14 ; Zechariah 14:5 ; Colossians 3:4 ; and Revelation 19:11-14 . Now, while both these aspects of the one Coming of our Lord should be increasingly pressed on the earnest attention of Christians as a part, and by no means the least important of the faith of God’s elect, yet the second part or stage of the Coming is the one referred to here. The former, i.e. , the Translation of all saints at the epoch of the Lord’s descent into the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ) necessarily precedes the latter, i.e. , His Coming with His saints (Jude 1:14 ) and angels (Matthew 25:31 ).
The apocalyptic testimony, “Behold He cometh with the clouds,” coalesces with that of the Hebrew prophet, “I saw in the night visions, and behold one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of Heaven” (Daniel 7:13 ); and also with the prophetic utterance of our Lord on Olivet, “They shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30 ). All refer to the same time and event. The epiphany of the Son of Man in such majesty as has never been seen by mortal eye will strike terror to the hearts of all on earth save those of His own people.
The prophets of old, each in his own way, and according to his personal characteristics, but all under the direct guidance of the Spirit, descant on the two great prophetic themes: JUDGMENT and GLORY.
Immediately before the dawn of blessing the Gentiles, no less than the Jews, will be enveloped in gross moral darkness (Isaiah 60:2 ); whilst, instead of according a loyal welcome to the Coming One, the nations will be found gathered in open and armed rebellion, either in the west against the Lamb (Revelation 19:19 ), or in the east against Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2 ). Hence the earth must be cleared of evil and evil men ere the consecrating footsteps of its Lord and ours cause it to throb with a joy beyond that experienced in the brief and sinless moment of Genesis 2:1-25 . It is the judgment aspect of the Coming to which the Seer of Patmos refers in verse 7.
Christ is nowhere said to come with the clouds to gather His own. On the contrary, they go up in the clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ). These are the royal carriages provided to convey us from earth to meet the Lord. The cloud of old was the well-known symbol of Jehovah’s presence with His people (Exodus 13:21 ; Exodus 40:34-38 ; Luke 9:35 ). But observe, Christ is not only said to come in the clouds (Mark 13:26 ), but with them (Revelation 1:7 ), and on them (Matthew 24:30 ). The clouds which attend His Coming are symbols of His majesty (Psalms 18:9-12 ). He sits on them as on His throne (Matthew 24:30 ). We are caught up in the clouds (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ). He ascended in a cloud (Acts 1:9 ), and shall come in a cloud (Luke 21:27 ). Such minute distinctions are interesting.
Here, then, we are directed to the culminating point of all prophecy the pivot of blessing for Israel, the Church, and the world. The first and last testimonies in the book are to the Coming of the Lord (Revelation 1:7 ; Revelation 22:20 ), and we may further remark that the word “quickly” applied to the Coming is alone found in this sublime prophecy.
The Coming of the Lord to break the manifested power of evil on earth, to scatter the combined forces marshalled under the leadership of Satan, to grind to atoms every hostile power, will be an event of so public and overwhelming a character that it is added, “Every eye shall see Him.” What a sight in the heavens! The descending Lord with many diadems on His head, clad in the insignia of royalty, saints and angels swelling His triumph, clouds around and beneath, will then appear in a manner befitting His majesty.
7. But while the statement, “ Every eye shall see Him ,” must be accepted in its literality need one add, not at the same moment yet one class is singled out from the mass of mankind then in open revolt against God and His Anointed (Psalms 2:1-12 ), namely, “they which pierced Him.” The Gentile spear which pierced the Saviour’s side is a fact alone recorded by “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 19:33-37 ). The weak and vacillating representative of Rome in her imperial greatness, sullied her vaunted reputation for inflexible justice by basely ordering his august Prisoner whom he thrice declared innocent to be scourged and crucified. But the Jews behaved even worse by clamouring aloud for His death, the death of their Messiah, and provoking the unhappy governor to pronounce the fatal sentence. Their children, who have inherited their guilt, and who refuse the shed blood of Christ as God’s answer to their sin, shall see Him Whom they pierced, while Zechariah 12:10 shows how grace will use it. The special class referred to as those “who pierced Him” are the Jews.
7. “ All the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him, ” more especially in the land and amongst the people where His grace has been so conspicuously displayed. The wailing, however, is not confined to the two tribes then in the land, Judah and Benjamin; nor to the ten tribes on the confines of Palestine ere entering it (Ezekiel 20:1-49 ), but embrace the Gentiles also. “ All the tribes of the earth.” The substitution of “land” for “earth” is simply a question of interpretation, and not of translation. “Kindreds” or “tribes” in Revelation 7:9 undoubtedly designates Gentiles. Compare with Matthew 24:30 , which fixes the moment of the general wail of anguish, viz., the Coming of the Son of Man.
7. The double affirmation, “ Even so, Amen, ” is the Spirit’s seal to this striking prophetic testimony. The “Even so” is Greek, the “Amen” is Hebrew. To both Gentiles and Jews His Word is unchangeable.
A DIVINE ANNOUNCEMENT (Revelation 1:8 ).
8. “ I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. ” The announcement of these divine titles forms a fitting conclusion to the introduction. The dignity of the speaker and the character of His utterances demand profound attention. We listen here not to the voice of Christ as man, but God Himself is the speaker. He announces His own titles and glories. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” first and last letters of the Greek alphabet would intimate His relationship to creation. God is the source, the beginning of all truth revealed, of all promise given, and of all testimony committed to men. In this respect He is “the Alpha.” But He is also the end. His glory is the goal. Everything finds its answer in Him. Our course, our testing lie between these points, God the Alpha and God the Omega. To Him as the end all gravitate. On our hands the threads are broken; in His hands they have never been rent. In the midst of failed and failing circumstances, and the Church ecclesiastically a ruin amidst the wrecked testimony of the ages, God’s voice is heard above the din and strife. The beginning of all testimony is in God, and the end, too, centres in Him. In Him as the Omega is finished what as the Alpha He began.
Next we are introduced to the divine greatness of the speaker, who is none other than the Lord God of the Old Testament (Genesis 2:1-25 , etc.).
Who is the Lord God? Jehovah Elohim, the God of men and of Israel, Who has been pleased to put Himself into moral relationship with both, speaks once again from Heaven. What a calm to the soul amidst the rush of life! Here the voice of the Eternal, and at once the murmur within and the din without are stilled. In the explanatory words which follow, “Which is, and which was, and which is to come,” the essential and ever-abiding nature of His Being as Jehovah is stated. The three clauses form the interpretation of the Name Jehovah. The third member of the text, “which is to come,” would at first sight seem to indicate an actual coming, but it is not so. The force of the whole is to present an eternal Is , yet not simply eternal existence, but a positive relation to the past and future.
How fitting that this truly weighty introduction should close with the title of God as the “Almighty,” a title which has been a rock of strength to His afflicted people in all ages. “The Almighty” is not simply the witness of omnipotent power, but signifies Almighty in “sustaining resources,” and it will be found in the course of this book that the circumstances of God’s people make many a demand on this strong Name; hence its frequency in the Apocalypse, found only once elsewhere in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:18 ), and then as a quotation from Isaiah. “Almighty” used singly, or in conjunction with other names, occurs about sixty times, half of these instances in the ancient book of Job. Almighty God is a title full of strength and consolation. He is Almighty in sustaining His people, yet equally Almighty in judgment on His enemies.
It is to be noted that the Authorised Version of verse eight both interpolates and omits. The words, “the beginning and the ending,” are right in the text of Revelation 21:6 and Revelation 22:13 , but wrong here. “God” after “Lord” is also an important omission. These and other blemishes are corrected in the Revised Version of 1881. It must be remembered that the excellent and, in general, godly men, who translated the Scriptures in 1611 had not the advantages of their successors in 1881. Neither the Vatican, Sinaitic (both most ancient of Biblical MSS.), nor the Alexandrian Codex were available to the translators of our noble Authorised Version.
THE GLORIOUS VISION OF CHRIST (Revelation 1:9-20 ).
9. “ I John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience in Jesus. ” Daniel, more than any other of the Hebrew prophets, deals with subjects which come within the range of the visions beheld by John. There are numerous points of similarity between the two. Thus both the Prophet and the Seer unfold the character of the last holder of the civil imperial power of Rome; both disclose the last phase of the revived empire, as also its awful end (compare Daniel 7:1-28 with Revelation 17:1-18 ).
“I John” reminds us of “I Daniel” (Daniel 7:15 , etc.). The former is not a borrowed style of announcement from the latter, but is an independent statement of quiet yet conscious dignity, befitting the character of the visions about to be disclosed.
John next intimates a common fellowship in life and suffering with God’s sorely afflicted people. The Neronian and Domitian periods of martyrdom were, perhaps, the most bitter of any of the pagan persecutions, which, with an occasional lull, lasted about 250 years. According to some, John was a sufferer under Nero; others would rank him in the noble army of martyrs under Domitian. It is unimportant which tradition is true. *The date generally assigned to “The Revelation” is as in our English Bible, A.D. 96, during the reign of Domitian. Some, however, assign a much earlier date. It has been put in the time of Claudius, A.D. 41-54, and by others in the reign of Nero, A.D. 54-68. The earlier date is extremely improbable. It should be noted that neither as an apostle nor as an elder does John here speak, but as a “brother and partaker” (or companion) with the saints in “the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience in Jesus.”
“ The tribulation” points to a definite character of trial, and not merely to the ordinary difficulties of Christian life. There are three great periods of determinate suffering: (1) Under pagan Rome; (2) under papal Rome during the Dark or Middle Ages; (3) under the joint persecution of the future civil and ecclesiastical powers (Revelation 6:13 ).
The “kingdom” is next introduced as that in which John had a common participation with those to whom he writes. There are four distinct phases in which the kingdom is presented in the Scriptures: (1) In responsibility as presented to the Jews, the king being rejected (Matthew 1:1-25 ; Matthew 2:1-23 ; Matthew 3:1-17 ; Matthew 4:1-25 ; Matthew 5:1-48 ; Matthew 6:1-34 ; Matthew 7:1-29 ; Matthew 8:1-34 ; Matthew 9:1-38 ; Matthew 10:1-42 ; Matthew 11:1-30 ; Matthew 12:1-50 ); (2) In mystery among the Gentiles as developed in Matthew 13:1-58 ; (3) in tribulation as detailed in the central part of the Apocalypse; and (4) in power at the Coming of the Lord in glory (Matthew 25:31 ), the great and grand subject of the prophets of old.
“Patience,” or endurance, follows, for evil yet reigns unchecked in the world and in the Church. The petition, “Thy kingdom come,” daily arising from the hearts and lips of thousands, is yet unanswered. Tribulation is the appointed path to the kingdom. The life of some is one of almost uninterrupted suffering, of others one of active service, while for the greater number it is one of weary routine of daily duty. Thus the need of patience by all in the hourly doing of God’s will. The dreariness and solitude of Patmos called for “ much patience,” an essential characteristic of every true minister of God (2 Corinthians 6:4 ). Press on, wearied saint, till morning breaks, when God shall openly and publicly appear on the behalf of all who, in the meantime, in weakness cling by faith to His blessed Name.
But not only have we fellowship with the aged and honoured apostle in those three things, namely, “the tribulation,” the “kingdom,” and “patience,” *“The three words, ‘tribulation,’ and ‘kingdom,’ and ‘patience,’ are intimately connected, being brought together under one head by one article in the Greek.” J. N. D. but the Lord has His part in them, and a distinguished one too. These things are “in Jesus.” The introduction of the Name of sweetest import to the ear and heart of believers is brimful of comfort and solace to suffering saints.
THE ISLE CALLED PATMOS.
9. “ Was in the island that is called Patmos, for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus. ” The place of John’s banishment was almost unknown even by name; hence we are informed that it was an “island,” and called “Patmos.” This exceedingly dreary and inhospitable isle in the Aegean sea, lying off the south coast of Asia Minor, is about fifteen miles in circumference. In the Middle Ages it was known as Palmoso, now known as Patino . Its present population is about 4000, all Greek Christians. The ignorant and lazy monks possess a valuable library which they are unable to use. Says Tischendorf, that indefatigable Bible scholar: “Silent lay the little island before me in the morning twilight. Here and there an olive breaks the monotony of the rocky waste. The sea was still as the grave. Patmos reposed in it like a dead saint. John that is the thought of the island. The island belongs to him; it is his sanctuary. The stones speak of him, and in every heart he lives.” How fitting the geographical position! John in Patmos was, as it were, in the very centre of the prophetic situation. Jerusalem lay south, Rome lay behind the Seer to the west, Babylon to the east, and the land of Magog (Russia) to the north, while on the coast in front of him lay the seven Asiatic assemblies, whose history he was about to relate.
Moral superiority in his circumstances is expressed in the simple statement: “I was in the isle called Patmos.” Not a word of reproach nor of complaint. The arrest, trial, and proceedings before the savage emperor Domitian are passed over in absolute silence as deemed unworthy of notice.
Tradition, not a safe instructor, has supplied us with interesting accounts of a legendary character, more numerous and truth-like than those related of the distinguished apostles, Peter and Paul. *“Gloag, in his ‘Introduction to the Johannine Writings’ (Nisbet & Co.) discusses these legendary accounts in a calm and reverent spirit. There may be a basis of truth in some of them, but certainty there is not.”
God made the wrath of the haughty emperor to praise Him. The circumstances were just what was needed to introduce John into the visions of God, one of which pictured the downfall of Rome’s imperial greatness, its future revival, and final doom (Revelation 17:8 ; Revelation 19:20 ), while she was still in the zenith of her glory the unchallenged mistress of the world.
The same power which gave its legal sanction to the crucifixion of our Lord branded “the disciple whom Jesus loved” as a criminal. Here, however, the real cause of offence is stated in precise terms to be “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” These will ever incur the world’s hostility.
John, although destitute of human learning (Acts 4:13 ), and speaking in the rude vernacular of Galilee, fearlessly and faithfully preached and taught in public and private the Word of God. The apostles had not learned the art a highly finished one in these days, of trimming the truth to suit the varied tastes of people. In proportion as the Word of God is made known in its fulness and integrity, and the claims of God are pressed upon the conscience, the enmity of the world is roused into action,
9. “ The testimony of Jesus ” is here especially regarded in its prophetic aspect. The birth of the King of the Jews awakened the cruel jealousy of Herod, and stirred Jerusalem to its centre (Matthew 2:1-23 ). The testimony to the royal rights of Jesus was a crime which neither the laws of Rome nor imperial greatness could brook, so Rome crucified Peter, beheaded Paul, and banished John.
Revelation 1:10 . “ I became in (the) Spirit on the Lord’s day. ” All Christians are “in Christ,” in contrast with their former state “in Adam,” and are “in the Spirit” in contrast with their previous condition “in the flesh.” No Christian can ever be found again in either “Adam” or “flesh,” both describing a past condition. In the former is signified that you are of that race of which “Adam” is head; in the latter is intimated the morally fallen condition in which the race is found. But being in the Spirit (Romans 8:1-39 ), as every Christian undoubtedly is, does not convey the force of “ I became in (the) Spirit.” The meaning is, that John was held, controlled, and characterised by an absolute subservience to the Spirit. Taken out from the consciousness of everyday life and circumstances, he found himself in another state of being. From the absence of the article before “Spirit,” it must not be inferred that the Holy Spirit is not meant. It is not the Holy Spirit as a Person, nor our own spirit that is referred to, but the omission of the article marks the phrase as indicating a characteristic state, a state characterised by the Holy Ghost, and one in which the human spirit and the whole inner being were for the time absorbed (compare Ezekiel 11:24 with 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 ). Paul in his ecstatic state was not allowed then, nor afterwards, to record what he saw and heard. John, on the contrary, was commanded to do both.
The same form of words is found in the introduction to the subsequent visions recorded in Revelation 4:1-11 ; Revelation 5:1-14 , etc. The scene of the spiritual state of ecstasy of Revelation 1:1-20 is on earth , whereas that of chapter 4 is in Heaven .
The whole contents of the book of Revelation were communicated in vision on the most interesting day of the week, “the Lord’s day.” The eight visions detailed in Zechariah were seen in one night (Zechariah 1:8 ). The visions of Daniel were also beheld in the night (Daniel 7:1-28 ).
THE LORD’S DAY.
10. “ The Lord’s day ” occurs but once in the Holy Scriptures, afterwards it became the common appellation of the Christian’s special day of rest and worship. That the first day of the week is meant seems evident from the following considerations: First, the difference of the expression used in the original from that employed to set forth the prophetic “day of the Lord,” for which see 1 Corinthians 5:5 ; 2Co 1:14 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:2 . Second, the character of the first vision (vv. 12-20), which is of present application. Christ glorified in the midst of the churches could have neither place nor meaning in the period of coming judgment, spoken of in both Testaments as the “day of the Lord,” and which is dependent upon the setting aside of the Church as a public witness for God on earth. These, and other considerations, forbid the application of the disputed term to the “day of the Lord,” yet future.
Two great facts stamp their character on the first day of the week, the resurrection of the Lord from the dead (John 20:1-31 ) and the founding of the Church at Pentecost (Leviticus 23:16 , with Acts 2:1-47 ). Thus, “the Lord’s day ” is no ordinary day, nor is “the Lord’s supper ” an ordinary meal. Both the “day” and the “supper” are distinctively His. The sacred character of the “day” and of the “supper” should be maintained in their fullest integrity. The rude hand of the spoiler would rob us of these precious heirlooms which significantly speak to the Church of His resurrection and of His death.
10. “ I heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet. ” The position of the Seer is significant. His back is to the Church and his face toward the kingdom. Ecclesiastical ruin foretold by Paul (Acts 20:28-32 ; Romans 11:1-36 ; 2 Timothy 3:1-17 ) had already set in. The polemical element in the writings of John was chiefly directed against Cerinthus (contemporary with the apostle) and others, who had commenced a vigorous and satanic crusade against Christianity. Certain Gnostic heresies, the principles of which were denounced by Paul in his Corinthian and Colossian epistles, were more fully developed in John’s day, and in the second century had their distinctive schools, all in open and flagrant opposition to the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Added to these Church dangers was the persecuting power of the world. Little wonder, therefore, that the gaze of the aged and honoured prisoner was directed onward to the glory and strength of the kingdom, when right would be vindicated and wrong punished. But the Lord was not done with the Church, if John in spirit had turned his back upon it. He was to hear and see, and so must turn round and get occupied with that which was present to the Lord.
The “great voice as of a trumpet” would intimate that a matter of public importance had to be communicated, one in which the whole Church was interested. Moreover, the vision which John was called to witness behind him is introductory to the whole series subsequently revealed, thus fixing the commencement of these revelations. How fitting that the first vision presented to the rapt gaze of the Seer should be Christ in manhood, yet in power and majesty in the midst of the churches.
THE SEVEN CHURCHES.
Revelation 1:11 . The divine titles, “ I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, ” should be rejected as forming no part of what John wrote. The first title was probably inserted from verse 8, and the second from verse 17; *Archdeacon Lee remarks: “The English version of the Apocalypse represents a Greek text which does not rest upon the same authority as that of the other books of the New Testament” (“Speaker’s Commentary”). All competent Bible critics concur in this testimony. It is based on the Greek text (fifth edition) published by Erasmus, the most distinguished scholar of the 16th century. But Erasmus had only one Greek MS., found by Delitzsch in a German library in 1861 before him, and that so defective and mutilated that he actually supplied the last six verses wanting in his copy from the Vulgate. Besides which, it was too hurriedly done. There are fewer uncial MSS., that is, the oldest Greek copies, than of any other of the books of the New Testament. But the text has in recent years been recovered to almost the state of purity in which it was originally written, so that God’s mind in the Apocalypse is a matter of absolute certainty . besides which, the speaker is not revealed, nor His titles declared till John turns round. “I turned to see the voice that spake with me.”
11. “ What thou seest write in a book, and send to the seven assemblies to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” There were other assemblies of importance in proconsular Asia besides the seven specified. But the Spirit of God had a moral end in view in the choice of those particular churches, hence the definite article, “ the seven assemblies.” The order, too, in which they are named is worthy of notice. Hengstenberg in his commentary remarks, “Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos must stand together, and be separated from the rest. For these three cities, and these alone, contended for the primacy in Asia.” In the separate addresses to the churches (Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 ) there is a marked division into three and four. Thus the call, “He that hath an ear,” seven times repeated, occurs in the addresses to the first three churches before the word to the overcomer (Revelation 2:7 ; Revelation 2:11 ; Revelation 2:17 ); whereas in the last four the call to “hear” comes after the promise to the overcomer (Revelation 2:29 ; Revelation 3:6 ; Revelation 3:13 ; Revelation 3:22 ). The assemblies are separately named. The independence of each is thus fully assured, and the responsibility of each to Christ is as distinctly taught. The vital unity of the Church as “one body,” and the mutual dependence of its members, are truths exclusively taught by Paul. In the first three chapters of the Apocalypse the Church is, on the other hand, viewed in her public position on earth as God’s light-bearer and witness. “ The seven assemblies,” without doubt, exhibited certain distinctly marked characteristics which separately stamp their character on the Church universal in successive stages of her history, while these same features collectively distinguish the Church throughout the earth at any given time, then and now.
Two of them, Smyrna and Philadelphia, are commended without a word of reproof. Suffering characterised the former, weakness the latter. Mingled praise and blame are meted out to Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis. Laodicea is the worst of “the seven.” Her state is hopeless, all is blame without one word of commendation. In Thyatira a remnant is for the first time recognised.
the renowned capital of the Asia of the Apocalypse, the “Light of Asia,” was the main seat and centre of heathen idolatry. It was the stronghold of Satan’s power, and from it idolatry spread all over the known world (Acts 19:1-41 ). The small silver shrines representing the goddess Diana were eagerly bought by strangers, and set up as household deities in their distant homes; while the huge temple of the goddess, adorned and beautified by the wealth of Asia, was counted one of the seven wonders of the world. Ephesus became the scene of a fierce conflict between the powers of light and darkness. The devoted Aquila and Priscilla laboured for some time in this idolatrous city; previously twelve of John’s disciples had helped in a small degree to break in upon the darkness, but their efforts must have been feeble owing to their own imperfect state (Acts 19:1-41 ); then the eloquent Apollos gave a further impetus to the work. Paul it was, however, who seems to have broken the power of darkness and roused to fury the devotees of idolatry and superstition, as they saw the whole system, like Dagon of old, trembling before the soul-emancipating truths of Christianity; lastly, the beloved John, after leaving his Jerusalem home, took up his residence in Ephesus, and for fully thirty years made it the centre of his work for Christ. The glory of Ephesus has departed, and the once proud heathen city is now but a miserable village known as Ayasalook .
lay about 40 miles north of Ephesus, and is now one of the most important cities of the Turkish empire; its estimated population is about 200,000. It was anciently, in some respects, the rival of Ephesus. Its natural and commercial situation, its wealth and commerce, and the splendour of its buildings caused it to be termed “the beautiful.” It was not much, if at all, behind Ephesus in idolatry. Smyrna is not named in the Acts, nor in the Pauline epistles, and we have no means of ascertaining conclusively how or when the Gospel was introduced there. The stringent imperial laws against Christianity were rigorously enforced in Smyrna, chiefly through the Jews and heathen combined, who pressed the unwilling hands of the local authorities to carry into execution the persecuting edicts. Polycarp, the friend of John, was, it is said, slain here in his ninetieth year, A.D. 168, the last disciple who had personally conversed with the apostle. The fierce persecution which raged in Asia Minor had its centre in Smyrna, and is no doubt referred to in the extended address to that assembly (Revelation 2:8-11 ).
lay still further north. This city had little or no commerce, but was remarkable for its learning, refinement, and science, especially medicine. A long succession of kings made Pergamos, or Pergamum, as the Greeks termed it, their royal residence. Its celebrated library, only second to that in Alexandria, with which it was ultimately incorporated, consisted of 200,000 books. It was here that the art of preparing skins of animals for writing upon was perfected, and from which our word parchment is derived. Thus the name of this scripturally ill-omened city (Revelation 2:12-17 ) has been handed down through the Christian ages, and no doubt many a literary pergamena MS. of value had been prepared in Pergamos. The worship of Artemis characterises Ephesus. Dionysos was the distinguishing deity of Smyrna. These two cities were evil, but Pergamos was pre-eminently so in its idolatry. The epithets, “Satan’s throne” and “where Satan dwelleth” (Revelation 2:13 ), must have had, in the first instance, a local application to Pergamos. The most conspicuous object in the celebrated temple of Æsculapius was the wreathed serpent, behind which was “Satan, that old serpent.” The noble science of medicine was thus early identified with the worship of Satan, who usurped the place, functions, and titles of Christ. The names of “Preserver” and “Saviour” were applied to Æsculapius, and the cures wrought were ascribed to this chosen deity. It was, in short, substituting Satan for Christ.
lay south-east from Pergamos. “The road from Thyatira to Pergamos……is one of the most beautiful in the world.” The three cities previously named were much more noted than Thyatira, which, however, has an interest of its own. Indirectly, it connects itself with Paul’s missionary labours in Europe. His first convert was a woman of Thyatira, engaged in selling the celebrated purple for which her city was famous (Acts 16:14 ). Inscriptions, yet extant, show that the guild of dyers formed the most important trade of the city, and to this day the brilliant scarlet cloth dyed here is largely used throughout Asia and Europe, a weekly supply being sent to Smyrna. Thyatira is at present a flourishing town with a population of nearly 20,000.
lay about 27 miles due south from Thyatira. Sardis was anciently a proud and wealthy city, and the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. This once royal city, spite of the valour of its inhabitants, fell before the conquering hero, Cyrus. With the fall of the city the Lydian monarchy came to an end. The present name of the former capital is Sart . What a commentary on human greatness is furnished in the now degraded city of the wealthy, wise, and able Croesus. “Two or three shepherds inhabited a hut, and a Turk with two servants, at the time of Mr. Arundel’s visit in 1826. In 1850 no human being was found dwelling in the once mighty and populous Sardis.” *“Imperial Bible Dictionary,” article, “Sardis.”
is derived from its founder, Attalus Philadelphus , king of Pergamos, and it is situated about 25 miles south of Sardis. Its modern name, Allah Shehr , “city of God,” is significant, although the Turks do not regard the city with any degree of veneration. The present town is large, and contains about 15,000 inhabitants, of whom a fair proportion are Greek Christians. The remains of early Christian times are more numerous here than in any of the other Asiatic cities named by John; the ruins of no less than twenty-five churches are pointed out, while several marble pillars, almost entire, remind us of the apocalyptic reference (Revelation 3:12 ), probably to these very pillars. Its freedom from blame in the message to its angel (Revelation 3:7-13 ) is worthy of note in connection with the fact that it had the longest duration of any of the seven cities named. Says the sceptic Gibbon: “Among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect; a column in a scene of ruins, a pleasing example that the paths of honour and safety may sometimes be the same.”
was situated about 40 miles east of Ephesus, and derived its name from Laodice, wife of Antiochus II., the Syrian monarch. It was an exceedingly wealthy city, so much so, that although overthrown by an earthquake in the reign of Nero, A.D. 62, it quickly recovered from the blow, and from its own resources soon assumed its pristine glory, and at the date of the Apocalypse was a magnificent city. The assembly was infected with the “gold fever,” being “rich and increased with goods” (Revelation 3:17 ). Pride, luxuriousness, and self-satisfaction characterised the general life of the population, and evidently stamped their character on the Church as well. The pride of Laodicea has been humbled, its wealth scattered amongst strangers, and its splendour laid in the dust. The site of the once opulent city is a scene of utter ruin and desolation. *Paul’s references to the Church in Laodicea (Colossians 2:1 ; Colossians 4:13-16 ) afford a fine example of Christian love and interest to saints personally unknown. “Likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (v. 16) probably refers to the epistle to the Ephesians, then going the round of the assemblies. From the fact that there are no salutations to individuals, and from the character of the epistle generally, we consider it extremely probable that the epistle to the Ephesians was a circular letter, then at Laodicea. It is certain that the epistle to the Colossians was intended by the apostle to be read to the Laodicean assembly. What more fitting than the truths contained in these epistles to rescue the saints in Laodicea from the grave perils which beset them! The cross in the Roman and Galatian epistles was the emancipating truth of the sixteenth century. The heavenly glory of Christ in the Ephesian and Colossian epistles is the grand and delivering truth of the twentieth century.
A special, but by no means exclusive, application of the first three chapters to the Asiatic assemblies named must be admitted. Thus, John greets “the seven assemblies which are in Asia” (v. 4); he has them equally in view in verse 11; while to each of “the seven” a special epistle is addressed (Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 ). But while a primary application to the seven Asiatic assemblies is undoubted, it is equally clear that they were representatives of the whole Church, not only at any given moment, but also in the successive moral stages of her history. After the third chapter we meet with no allusion to these Asiatic assemblies. “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” seven times repeated, intimates a direct application of these addresses to the individual hearer, also to every company of professed believers on the earth at any given time. The present day application is of immense value and profit.
Questions have been raised as to John’s ability, as a prisoner, to write and communicate with the assemblies. We hold that the Apocalypse as a whole was written in Patmos, and, further, that the seven assemblies had each their respective epistles sent to them from thence. We see no reason for the supposition put forth by some that the visions were seen in Patmos, and afterwards written in Ephesus on the Seer’s release from banishment under Nerva. The supernatural characterises a large portion of the book, and hence difficulties disappear like melting flakes of snow.
SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPS
Revelation 1:12 . “ I turned back to see the voice which spake with me; and having turned, I saw seven golden lamps. ” The Seer on turning round to see the voice of the speaker necessarily turned round to the east, the scene of immediate interest. The first object he beheld was “seven golden lamps.” What these signified we are informed in verse 20: “The seven lamps are seven assemblies.” The numerical value of the number seven points to what is morally complete. Gold, the most precious of metals, signifies divine righteousness. The founding and constitution of the Church, whether viewed in relation to Christ as His body, or to God as His house, is the display of divine righteousness of the character of God. It could not be otherwise. In the symbol of “seven golden lamps” we have the Church in its completeness and perfection on earth, as in the thoughts of God, in its public position as His witness. It is not what the Church has become, but viewed in its origin and character as set up by Him. While the whole Church is in view it is here regarded as separate assemblies.
The seven golden lamps evidently allude to the seven-branched golden lamp-stand which stood at the south side of the outer compartment of the sanctuary of old. Here the lamps stand in the east . There , the seven lamps had one stem and one stand, while each lamp threw its clear light on the beautifully ornamented shaft or stem, discovering its beauties during the dark hours of night (Exodus 25:31-40 ; Numbers 8:2-4 ), so only in the divine presence are fully expressed the moral glories of Jesus, God’s beloved Son. Here each lamp rests on its own base. They represent separate and independent assemblies, each one in its place responsible to cast its beams of light athwart the gloom. It is the serious and urgent responsibility of every professed company of saints to be in its own locality a witness for God, and what, of course, is true of local assemblies is equally so of the Church universal. The seven Asiatic lamps have long since been removed according to the divine threat (Revelation 2:5 ), and a similar judgment, although expressed under a different symbol, is about to overtake the professing Church as a whole (Romans 11:22 ). Where are the golden lamps to-day? This is a solemn and searching question for us all.
THE VISION OF CHRIST (Revelation 1:13-16 ).
The thing which first arrests the attention of the Seer is the seven golden lamps, not simply lamp- stands . *The “candle” is distinguished from the “candle-stick,” or, as in the Revised Version, the “lamp” from its “stand.” It is the “lamp” which gives the light (Luke 8:16 ; Luke 11:35-36 : Matthew 5:15 ). There is prominence given to the “stand” in the ancient sanctuary, as in its chaste ornamentation, under the sevenfold light of the Spirit, were set forth the beauties of Jesus to the worshippers within . But what is the Church apart from Christ? The distinguishing glory of this introductory vision is not the churches in their divine standing on earth, but the grandeur and majesty of the One Who has deigned to be in their midst. Who is He? “One like unto (the) Son of Man.” The omission of the definite article in the original, as also in Daniel 7:13 , is to be noted. Both the Prophet and the Seer beheld the Son of Man without doubt, but what morally characterised Him as bearing that Name or title is the thought presented in the omission of the article, not so much the person known as the Son of Man; but one is seen in Heaven by the Hebrew Prophet, and on earth by the Christian Seer, in the moral characteristics belonging to Him who bore that title. It is characteristic, not personal.
13. “ The Son of Man ” is a title used of Ezekiel about one hundred times, and once of Daniel (Daniel 8:17 ), the only Hebrew Prophet so spoken of. The Lord alone in the Gospels uses the title of Himself, about seventy times. John 12:34 is only an apparent exception. The title is one which expresses a wider range of dominion and glory than that of king of Israel (compare Psalms 2:1-12 ; Psalms 8:1-9 ). As Son of God He quickens the dead, spiritually (John 5:25 ) and physically (v. 28). As Son of Man He judges (v. 22), and also executes His judgment (v. 27). It is a title of peculiar delight to the Lord.
13. “ Clothed with a garment down to the foot ,” i.e. , to the feet of the glorious One, but not so low as to cover them (v. 15). Neither the material nor colour of the robe is specified. There is an evident allusion to the ephod, the pre-eminent garment of the high priest. *Exodus 28:31 in the LXX. has the same word for “ephod” as in Revelation 1:13 for “garment.” Hence we infer the sacerdotal application of the word here. But the long flowing garment is neither girded about the loins (Luke 12:35 ) nor laid aside (John 13:4 ) as the activity of service would require, “rather dignified priestly judgment” is expressed thereby.
13. “ Girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle .” The materials in the girdle of the high priest were “gold” and “linen,” in which latter the colours “blue, purple, and scarlet” were displayed (Exodus 28:8 ), thus intimating the union of divine and human righteousness in Jesus our great High Priest, while the colours set forth His heavenly character (blue), sufferings (purple), and glory (scarlet). But the girdle here is one wholly of gold, divine righteousness. Girt about at the breasts instead of the loins (Daniel 10:5 ) would intimate calm repose. The girdle in itself sets forth righteousness and faithfulness , attributes which ever characterised the Lord in all His ways (Isaiah 11:5 ). The angels of judgment (Revelation 15:6 ), like our Lord, are girded with golden girdles at their breasts. The usual order, girt about the loins, is departed from in their case, as the place of the girdle at the breasts denotes that judgment to be executed is according to what God is in His nature.
Revelation 1:14 . “ His head and His hair were white as white wool, as snow. ” “The Ancient of Days” (Daniel 7:9 ) is similarly described. There are certain characteristics common to both Son of Man and Ancient of Days. They are distinct persons, yet so identified in action and character that it is not always possible to distinguish them. The identification of Jesus with Jehovah; of the wearied Man (John 4:6 ) with the unwearied Creator (Isaiah 40:28 ) is a subject of profound interest. Divine wisdom in absolute purity seems, in the main, the thought intended by the dazzling whiteness of the head and hair. In the passage in Daniel the whiteness of the head is not mentioned. Here the head is uncovered. Personal attributes are in question, and not official or relative glories, which latter are found in verse 16.
14. “ His eyes as a flame of fire,” keen, penetrating judgment, which searches out, and exposes in all its nakedness, evil, however covered up. Who or what can escape the scrutiny of those eyes as of fire?
Revelation 1:15 . “ His feet like fine brass, as burning in a furnace. ” An emblem of the most awful unyielding strength in judicial judgment (compare with Revelation 10:1 ).
15. “ His voice as the voice of many waters ” (compare with Ezekiel 43:2 ). The grandeur, the majesty of His voice is beyond the ceaseless roar of many cataracts. “The LORD on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea” (Psalms 93:4 ). The sign of His supreme sovereignty and majesty over all the waves of human passion, over the circumstances of a wrecked world and a ruined Church, is declared to be “ His voice as the voice of many waters.” It was His voice “God said” ten times repeated, which brought order out of chaos, light out of darkness, and life out of death (Genesis 1:1-31 ). It was His voice which stilled the angry Galilean sea, and hushed its boisterous winds and waves into the calm of a sleeping child (Matthew 8:23-27 ).
Revelation 1:16 . “ Having in His right hand seven stars. ” The stars are declared to be the angels or representatives of the churches (v. 20). The “stars” as a symbol are the expression, first, of countless multitudes (Genesis 15:5 ); second, eminent persons in authority, civil and ecclesiastical (Daniel 8:10 ; Revelation 6:13 ; Revelation 12:4 ); third, lesser or subordinate powers in general (Genesis 37:9 ; Revelation 12:1 ). All Church authority, all ministry, and all spiritual rule in every assembly are vested in Christ. His competency to give or withhold, to preserve and sustain every true minister of God is the fundamental idea in the stars being held in His right hand. When the eternal security of believers is in question they are said to be in His hand, and in the Father’s hand, from whence no power can pluck them (John 10:28-29 ). But they are not said to be in His “ right hand,” as here. Spiritual rulers we do not say official ones, for all such have not been set in the Church of God are held and maintained in the right hand of the Son of Man. “The right hand” betokens supreme authority and honour (Psalms 110:1-7 : l; Ephesians 1:20 ; Revelation 5:1 ; Revelation 5:7 ). What a responsible, yet withal honourable position every ruler in the Church occupies! Daniel 12:3 points to a future class of Jewish ministers or rulers. Jude 1:13 refers to a class of Christian apostates.
The responsibility of a star is to shine. During the night of the Lord’s absence the assemblies are God’s light bearers through the darkness, and are collectively the light of the world. But each Christian ruler or guide is also to shine in his appointed sphere. The darker the night the greater need to shine, and to reflect the light of Heaven upon the increasing darkness around.
16. “ Out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. ” The execution of divine judgment by the simple force of His Word judgment, too, which cannot be warded off for the sword as two-edged is the force of the figure. We never read of our Lord personally putting His hand on His enemies. He speaks, and it is done. His personal word is the point here, as the written Word in Hebrews 4:12 . The ungodly in the Church are the first to be threatened with judgment, which it is hopeless to escape unless they repent (Revelation 2:16 ). At the commencement of the millennial reign we witness one of the saddest sights on earth, the congregated nations of the west, etc., under their leaders in open defiance of the Lamb of God (Revelation 19:19-21 ). The sword of the Almighty Victor, the resistless energy of His Word, finds out His enemies, and the universal slaughter of the multitudinous hosts of Gentiles glorifies His righteousness “in taking vengeance” on those who refuse to own His sceptre.
16. “ His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. ” Once the vile spittle of men rested on His patient face (Matthew 26:67 ), now divine glory, more brilliant far, more resplendent than the midday tropical sun, is here seen in the face of the Lord. “The sun in his strength,” on which no mortal eye can gaze, images forth the supreme glory of Jesus, Son of Man. We may remark that Christ is spoken of as the Light of the World (John 8:12 ), as the Sun of Righteousness to Israel (Malachi 4:2 ), and as the Bright and Morning Star to the Church (Revelation 22:16 ). Hengstenberg draws a contrast between the glory of the sun and that of the stars (1 Corinthians 15:41 ), applying the lesson to the transcendent glory of Christ (the sun), to that of His ministers (the stars). The stars are mere reflectors. They have no independent light of their own. In the matchless yet simple story of creation (Genesis 1:1-31 ) the distinguishing orbs for day and night are appointed their place in relation to this earth, and then it is added as a matter of small import, “the stars also” (v. 16). Would that every servant would lay it to heart. Is there not in this a lesson to every minister? We are but of trifling importance save as held in the right hand of Christ. It is the servant’s connection with the Lord which alone imparts dignity.
What a glorious vision of Christ we have had, so totally unlike the Christ of the Gospels. There , His attributes are those of tenderness, holiness, and love; here , He is seen clothed in majesty and power. There , the Man of Sorrows; here , in combined deity as the Ancient of Days, and humanity as Son of Man. He was, of course, ever Divine, always God, but on earth He veiled His eternal glory, or as Paul expresses it, “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7 , R.V.). Here His glory shines in the midst of the churches, a strength and consolation to every true heart, a terror to all morally opposed to it.
HUMAN WEAKNESS AND DIVINE CONSOLATION (Revelation 1:17-18 ).
17. “ When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead; and He laid His right hand upon me, saying, Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I became dead; and behold, I am living to the ages of ages, and have the keys of death and of hades.”
The effect of the glorious vision of Christ was over-powering. The same John who had pillowed his head on his Master’s bosom (John 13:23 ), outran Peter in the race to the sepulchre (John 20:4 ), worshipped Him risen from the dead (Matthew 28:17 ), witnessed with rapt gaze His ascending Lord (Acts 1:9-10 ), now fell at His feet as dead. Christ transfigured on the holy mount was an object of fear to the favoured three of the apostolic band (Matthew 17:6-7 ). Isaiah, who above all the Hebrew prophets revelled in the glorious future, was broken down in the presence of the glory of Christ; while seraphim covered face and feet, the glory too bright to look upon, and the place too holy to tread upon (Isaiah 6:1-13 with John 12:41 ). Ezekiel fell on his face before that same glory (Ezekiel 1:28 ), and Daniel more than once did the same (Daniel 8:17-18 ; Daniel 10:7-10 ). But Christ is here beheld, not in the native region of glory, His palace-home in the heavens, but in the midst of the churches in the full display of attributes betokening power and majesty. Here we behold the incarnate Son of Man glorified. Hence, as answering to this representation of Christ, the effect is more marked than that hitherto produced. John fell at His feet as dead. Probably the most loving and loved of the disciples was John, but what avails even the strength of human affection in light of the overwhelming glory of Jesus, Son of Man! But human weakness is answered by divine consolation. The glorified Saviour and High Priest is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” His grace and tenderness are equal to His majesty and greatness.
17. “ He laid His right hand upon me, ” relates the Seer. The hand of power. On the mount the touch of the hand and the voice of Jesus instantly dispelled the fear of the disciples (Matthew 17:6-7 ). Here, too, the hand and voice of the glorious One restores the disciple from his death-like swoon. It was more than a touch, “He laid His right hand upon me.” How the pressure of that hand in its life-giving energy and strength would thrill “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the very same Jesus in time and eternity, in earth and in Heaven.
17. “ Fear not ” was the glorified Saviour’s reassuring word as an accompaniment to His right hand. Both were needed. The “fear not,” so often repeated on earth amidst its dreads and circumstances, again breaks on the ear of the apostle, for Jesus is unchanged . His circumstances are totally altered, but the heart that beat in Galilee is the same that now throbs in tenderest love toward His own.
17. “ I am the first and the last. ” This is essentially a divine title. Jehovah claims it three times exclusively for Himself in the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 41:4 ; Isaiah 44:6 ; Isaiah 48:12 ), and Christ correspondingly three times in this book (Revelation 1:17 ; Revelation 2:8 ; Revelation 22:13 ). The application of this Jehovah title to the Son of Man is an absolute proof of His Deity. Eternal Self-Existence, with its necessary correlative, Absolute Supremacy, is thus intimated. As the “FIRST,” He is before all, and above all, and from whom all proceed. As the “LAST,” He is after all, and in Him all things centre. He is the source and sum of universal creation. What cause for fear then? In the calm contemplation of this magnificent title, claimed and borne by Jesus of Nazareth glorified in the heavens, fear disappears like mist before the rising sun. Here is a rock of strength for wearied feet and for life’s heaviest burdens.
Revelation 1:18 . “ The Living One ” is the next divine title. He was, is, and ever shall be the source of life. He is the Living One independently of the creature. The incarnation of the Lord did not originate life, but manifested what previously existed (1 John 1:2 ). “ The Living One in particular was the designation used by the Hebrews to distinguish the true God from all false ones.” The eternal life of believers, the eternal existence of unbelievers, and the immortality of angels have each their source in Christ, “the Living One.” What is predicated of God in the Old and New Testament Scriptures (Jeremiah 10:10 ; 1 Timothy 3:15 ) is equally true of Christ.
18. “ I became dead. ” Even as man, death, the wages of sin, had no claim upon Him. But in grace to us He voluntarily “became dead,” not merely died, but became truly and really dead. He laid down His life. Matthew writes, He “yielded up His spirit” (Matthew 27:50 , R.V.); Mark, “He gave up the ghost” (Mark 15:37 ); Luke, He committed His spirit to His Father and “gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46 ); John, He bowed His head and “gave up His spirit” (John 19:30 , R.V.). The moral grandeur of the statement, “I became dead,” is enhanced as we reflect on the divine glory of the speaker. He, “the First and the Last,” stooped from the glory of eternal existence to become a man, whose brief life here was measured by little over thirty years; and “the Living One,” the life and originator of all intelligence, stoops down into death, that thereby He might annul him that had the might of death, the devil, and deliver his captives (Hebrews 2:14-15 ). This victory over death is complete. Death’s bands are broken. “He tore the bars away.” The angels, though not seen at the cross, were witnesses, both outside and inside the tomb, of Christ’s victory over death (Matthew 28:2-7 ; John 20:11-13 ). Our translation to the heavens will be announced by the shout of triumph, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55 , R.V.).
18. “ Behold, I am living to the ages of ages. ” The Victor over death calls attention to the fact that He ever lives, He will die no more. He has emerged from the domain of death, and announces to His saints and Church for their everlasting strength and consolation that He lives, no more to die. The “Amen” in the Authorised Version is unanimously rejected by the critics.
18. Then follows the fitting conclusion to this grand declaration of combined divine and human glory: “ And have the keys of death and of hades. ” In our English Bibles the order is reversed, hades preceding death. But clearly this is a mistake, and contrary to the general order in which the words are found in other parts of the book (Revelation 6:8 ; Revelation 20:13-14 ). Death demands the body; hades claims the soul. The Lord became subject to the one, and entered the other. Our English word “hell” should be discarded, and “hades,” signifying the unseen , substituted. Efforts have been made to fix the locality of hades. It is impossible to do so. It is rather a state than a place, and refers to that condition in which all, good and bad, are found after death and previous to the resurrection. For believers, hades is to be with Christ; for unbelievers, hades is to be in torment. Thus both the Lord and the rich man went to hades (Acts 2:27 ; Luke 16:23 ). Christ has come out of it; the rich man will do so when raised for eternal judgment. Hades as a state exists between death and resurrection. The word does not in itself signify either blessing or misery. The state is one of conscious blessedness for believers, and one of conscious misery for unbelievers. *The reader desirous of studying this and kindred subjects would do well to procure “Facts and Theories as to a Future State,” by F. W. Grant. The work contains a masterly expose of current and wide-spread errors on questions affecting the eternal destiny of the race.
The “keys” denote Christ’s complete mastery over the bodies and souls of all. The right to “open” and “shut” intimates His absolute authority over death and hades, the respective jailers of the dead, and is exercised at His sovereign pleasure. Satan has not now the power of death (Hebrews 2:14 ). For the force of “key” as a symbol of undisputed authority, see Isaiah 22:22 ; Matthew 16:19 .
A THREEFOLD DIVISION OF THE BOOK.
COMMAND TO WRITE REPEATED.
Revelation 1:19 . “ Write therefore what thou hast seen, and the things that are, and the things that are about to be after these things .”
It will be observed that between the first command to write (v. 11) and the second (v. 19), we have the glorious appearance of Christ beheld by the Seer in vision (vv. 12-16), and this he is to record. The word “therefore” (omitted in the Authorised Version) is important here, as connecting the command to write with the dignity of the speaker. Divine greatness, combined with human tenderness in the Lord, have done their mighty moral work in the soul of John; hence the introduction of the word “therefore” as linking the command with the divine consolation, conveyed in two of the most precious verses (vv. 17, 18) in the Apocalypse.
THE THREE GREAT DIVISIONS.
The great divisions of the book are here written for the instruction of the Church of God. “What thou hast seen” refers to the vision of Christ just beheld (vv. 12-16). “The things that are” refer to the several successive, broadly-defined features of the professing Church, and of Christ’s relation thereto, till its final rejection, not yet accomplished (Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 ). “The things that are about to be after these things.” In this third division the world and the Jews, and, we may add, the corrupt and apostate Church, i.e. , that which is to be “spued out,” are embraced in this strictly prophetic part of the Apocalypse (Revelation 4:1-11 22: 5).
Nothing has more contributed to throw discredit on prophetic studies than the erroneous principle on which it has been sought to understand this book. Here is the key for its interpretation hanging at the door. Take it down, use it, and enter in. There is simplicity and consistency in apportioning the main contents of the book to a past , a present , and a future . You cannot consistently lift events out of the future, or third division, and place them in the second. Each division has its own group of events, and to transpose them is to wrest Scripture. The breaking of the Seals, the blowing of the Trumpets, and the pouring out of the Vials are, with numerous other prophetic events, embraced in the third division, i.e. , are comprised within the time contemplated in Revelation 4:1-11 22: 5, and that supposes the close of the Church’s sojourn on earth.
The divisions do not overlap. The first is a complete vision by itself. The second is as distinct as either the first or third. The successive phases of Church history, traced from the close of the first century, are a full and comprehensive account by themselves. The third division is so plainly a prophetic outline that neither its details nor principles can be made to fit into the present. “The things that are” are running their course. The Church is yet publicly recognised and owned of God, and it is its history which is chronicled by the Spirit of inspiration in chapters 2 and 3, and not that of Jews and Gentiles to which the Seals, Trumpets, and Vials apply. Introduce these now and you make the Church the present subject of judicial judgment, which, in point of fact, it is not. It is the loathsome rejection of the professing Church (Revelation 3:1-22 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ) which terminates its history as God’s public witness on earth, and introduces us into the prophetic scenes of the last days. The Church fills up the gap between the break with Israel and the resumption of divine dealing with the ancient people. Ecclesiastical history forms, in brief, “the things that are,” whereas a prophetic crisis of but a few years is the period covered by the “things that are about to be after these things.” History characterises the second division. Prophecy is the distinguishing feature of the third division. Ecclesiastical history for nearly nineteen centuries is graphically and energetically sketched in chapters 2 and 3.
The great political consummation is unfolded in Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Revelation 19:1-21 . The apostate civil power, guilty and rebellious Judah, and the whore the corruptness of the earth are the special subjects of God’s providential dealings in judgment. It has been sought to distinguish between “fulfilled” and “unfulfilled” prophecy. All prophecy is concentrated in the close of the seventieth week of Daniel (Daniel 9:25-27 ), although it may have commenced centuries before. The desolation of Jerusalem by the Gentiles, foretold by the Lord thirty-seven years before its capture by Titus (Luke 21:1-38 ), culminates at that great gathering point of all prophecy, the Coming of the Son of Man (v. 27). Hence no prophecy has had an exhaustive fulfilment. The broken threads of prophecy are resumed with Israel at the close of the Church period. The principles of the coming apostasy are actively at work; the circumstances are forming, and it may be some of the main actors of the prophetic crisis are presently alive and ready for action when the devil begins to play his terrible role . But so long as the Church is recognised of God the full development of evil is hindered. The Holy Ghost in the Church is the main check to the awful outburst of evil, i.e. , the denial of all divine authority (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ). The “things that are” must necessarily terminate before any of the prophetic events embraced within the “things which shall be after these” can have their place. The character of the present forbids any application of the future save in present moral power.
MYSTERY OF THE STARS AND LAMPS.
Revelation 1:20 . “ The mystery of the seven stars which thou hast seen on My right hand, and the seven golden lamps. The seven stars are angels of the seven assemblies; and the seven lamps are the seven assemblies. ” The word “mystery” alone used in the New Testament signifies what is secret and hidden till revealed, then, of course, it ceases to be a mystery. But certain truths after their revelation are yet spoken of as mysteries, as none but those taught of God can understand them or know them. Thus the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:1-58 ) are wrapped up in parables clear as sunlight to disciples, but dark as midnight to unbelievers (vv. 11, 13). Take another instance. The mass of Christendom dream of an improved and improving world, and actually pervert the word “leaven,” which ever denotes evil (1 Corinthians 5:8 ; Galatians 5:9 ; Matthew 16:6 ), to signify its exact opposite to good . The numerous scientific, educational, and religious agencies are spoken of as “leaven,” which will in time effect the moral regeneration of the world. Yet on this the Scriptures speak with no uncertain sound: “The mystery of iniquity doth already work,” not “the mystery of good,” but “of iniquity.” The secret working of evil till it fully ripens and the “man of sin” appear its public development and living expression are to believers well-known and established truths, while the mass, who only bear the Christian name, ridicule them. “Mystery” then signifies what has been kept secret or hidden , and which those only who have the mind of Christ understand.
The seven stars are said to be in His right hand in verse 16, and on His right hand in verse 20. The thought seems to be that in the former is denoted their security and blessing, while in the latter their public relation to Christ is expressed; He upholds them.
But why are the stars termed angels? In commenting on verse 16 we saw that the stars set forth spiritual rulers in the churches, eminent persons responsible to witness for God in the present dark night of the Church’s history. But additional thoughts are suggested by the stars being termed angels. The word “angel” in itself does not denote nature , but office ; it signifies a messenger . The context and the special use of the word can alone determine its application to persons or to spiritual beings. In Luke 7:24 ; Luke 9:52 ; 2 Corinthians 12:7 ; James 2:25 the term “angel,” or its plural, is used of those sent on messages of various kinds. Service is the great characteristic of the race of spiritual beings spoken of as “angels” (Psalms 103:20-21 ; Hebrews 1:13-14 ).
But there is another sense in which the word angel is employed, namely, as a representative . Thus in Matthew 18:10 , “See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in Heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in Heaven” (R.V.). The word “angels” in this case cannot mean “messengers,” but signifies those who in Heaven represent the little ones who belong to God. Representation is the thought. “It is his angel” (Acts 12:15 ).
20. “ The stars are the angels. ” That is, not only do they witness for God in the Church as the stars do in the terrestrial heavens, but they are also angels, or messengers from God to the churches and from the churches to God, and, further, they morally represent the separate churches in their state, trials, failures, and general condition before God. The angel of the Church is “the symbolical representative of the assembly seen in those responsible in it, which indeed all really are.” Thus in the full position occupied by the stars we have combined a threefold thought: spiritual rule, channel of divine and human communication, and moral representation before God.
The seven golden lamps signify that the Church is spiritually complete before God, that its original constitution and standing is according to God’s very nature, and that its mission is to shine for Him.
20. “ The seven lamps are seven assemblies. ” There can be no doubt in the mind of the careful reader of the first three chapters of the Apocalypse that while the seven churches of Asia as a whole are representative of the Church universal, at the same time the separate assemblies are viewed as each resting on its own base, and all sufficiently apart for the Lord to walk in the midst. He is amongst them for reproof, for correction, for encouragement. Every ecclesiastical act of a high-handed character is witnessed by Him Who never slumbers nor sleeps. The arrogancy of many of the “clergy” on the one hand, and the democracy of the “laity” on the other, are rapidly destroying the Church in its outward character, so that scarce a trait of the true Church is presented to the world. Thank God that that which Christ builds is impregnable (Matthew 16:18 ) and loved (Ephesians 5:25 ).
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Scott, Walter. "Commentary on Revelation 1". "Walter Scott's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29