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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 1

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Verse 1

1. Title of the book, Revelation 1:1-3.

1. The In modern style the first three verses would have been printed on a first title-page, with Revelation 1:3 for the author’s motto, and with names of publishers at bottom. Revelation 1:4-8 are the dedication, namely, to the seven Churches. At Revelation 1:9 begins the Apocalypse proper. Like most title-pages, this was apparently written after the book was finished, and it informs us how the writer came by its contents.

Revelation, or Apocalypse, means, literally, an unveiling or uncovering, namely, of some hitherto hidden or unseen object. The conception is, that St. John’s perceptions were so super-naturalized that the hidden things of God’s administration could be made bare before his eyes, as in a moving panoramic representation. It was a revelation of, that is, by, Jesus Christ as its immediate bestower. And that not only from his self-revelation in the Christophany of 9-20, but also from his conquering, (v, 5, where see note,) as Mediator, to open the seven seals, without which no disclosure could be made.

God gave The theophany of chaps, iv and v explains this gave by showing God upon the throne, with the whole apparatus of revelation, yet not allowing the seals to be opened except to the adored and all-meriting Lamb. God, therefore, gave this revelation unto him as part of his winnings through his death and mediation.

To show To exhibit; for as John saw the unveiling, (Revelation 1:3,) so it was Christ’s purpose through him to have it exhibited to all.

His servants The seven Churches and the universal Church by them represented. For as Christ gave through John, so John gives through his apostolic seven the unveiling to the ecumenical Church. So this revelation comes from God, through Christ, through the angel, through John, through the seven, down even to us.

Shortly come to pass Shortly, by the arithmetic of eternity. See note on 2 Peter 3:8. The same note of immediateness at close of Revelation 1:3, and in Revelation 22:20. Dusterdieck decides that “the evasion that the shortly should be reckoned the divine mode of computation, according to St. Peter’s words, is contrary to the context,” but gives no reason. Hengstenberg gives for the same decision the reason that when God speaks to man, he must speak in a human manner. Therein he contradicts St. Peter, who, on this very point, declares that God does speak to man according to a divine arithmetic.

Alford here fairly breaks down. Through his whole commentary he stiffly maintains that all such expressions mean that the New Testament writers thought and said that the second advent would be in their own day. With this view we have taken issue at passage after passage. At last, when he comes to the Apocalypse, he happily turns about and takes precisely our own grounds. Pity he could not have sponged out his previous notes.

By his angel Doubtless the interpreting angel of Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:7; Revelation 17:15, who appears also at Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:1; Revelation 22:6. This last text nearly repeats the words here, and adequately explains them. The idea of some commentators that there was an attendant exhibiting angel from the beginning to end is not implied in the words.

Verse 2

2. Bare record An obsolete phrase used elsewhere in translating John for testified.

Word of God… testimony of Jesus The Apocalypse (as affirmed by the first words of Revelation 1:1) comes first from God as his revealing word; it is then the testimony of Christ, as to the character and final results (eschatology) of his Messianic age.

All things Literally, whatsoever things.

Saw The unveiling and exhibition of the predictive moving panorama was what John saw. And hence repeatedly verbs of seeing are used in regard to it both by John and the earliest Christian writers.

Verse 3

3. Blessed A beautiful and solemn warning to his readers, both of his own and subsequent ages. At the same time, it expresses his own solemn reverence for his own work. Blessing and woe are dependent on the spirit in which the truths of this book are read and reduced to practice. [See malediction at Revelation 22:18, with note.] Similar benedictions, with a blessed, recur in our Apocalypse, Revelation 19:9; Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:14. The nature of that blessedness to the apocalyptic conqueror appears by anticipation in Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 3:21.

He that readeth… they that hear One public reader and a congregation of hearers. See our vol. iii, p. 5. For beyond question our John expected that his apocalypsis would be received as a divine authority by his sevenfold circle of Churches, would be publicly read in the public congregation, would be deposited in their archives, and would be a thing of perpetuity until the great white throne of chap. 20 should appear. And so these seven Churches did receive it. They received it as the work of no other John in existence would be received.

Keep those things Square their lives according to their requirements. Awful is the weight with which our Seer presses his work upon the spirit and heart of his audience. No woe is, indeed, here announced; but the blessed is pronounced with a solemn implication that acceptance before the white throne is fearfully conditioned upon a deep obedience to the requisitions of the book that predicts its future appearance.

Verse 4

2. The dedication to the Seven Churches, Revelation 1:4-8.

4. John Adverse, and we may add, perverse criticism asks, If this were truly St. John, why does he nowhere style himself apostle? We reply that he does not write himself apostle just because he was St. John. There may have been, in the seven Churches, many Johns, but everybody knew that to the Churches there was but one John in Asia. Had any other John than he attempted thus to address, admonish, rebuke, command, and threaten these seven Churches, he would have gained no audience.

Seven The best treatise in English on the apocalyptic numbers is in Stuart’s first volume, largely taken, with due credit, from Bahr, a condensation of which we have given at the end of our notes on Luke 6:0.

It has been argued that the Apocalypse was written at an early date, because this address shows that there were as yet but seven Churches in Asia. It might as well be assumed that but “seven trumpets” were sounded because but seven were within reach. Seven Churches, like numerous other apocalyptic sevens, are selected under the symbolic seven-form law that rules in the book. Says Stuart: “Whether the Churches of that day, in Asia, were limited to that number is a question easily solved; for in Colossians 4:13 the Church at Hierapolis is mentioned in connexion with that at Laodicea, and the former is in the neighbourhood of the latter. Colosse also was in the immediate neighbourhood of Laodicea. So, in a few years later than when the Apocalypse was written, we know there were large and flourishing Churches in Tralles, where Ignatius lived, and at Magnesia in its neighbourhood, both in Lydia, and but a moderate distance from Ephesus.” Stuart, be it remembered, maintained the Neronian date of the Apocalypse, but he here fully refutes those who maintain that early date on the ground that there were as yet but seven Churches in Asia when the book was written.

Asia Proconsular Asia, so called because ruled by a Roman proconsul at Ephesus. Matthew Arnold, in a note to one of his poems, says: “The name Europe ( Ευρωπη , the wide prospect) probably describes the appearance of the European coast to the Greeks on the coast of Asia Minor, opposite. The name of Asia, derived from ( ασιος , fatal, again comes, it has been thought, from the muddy fens of the rivers of Asia Minor, such as the Cayster or Maeander, which struck the imagination of the Greeks living near them.” Proconsular Asia, as may be seen upon our map, embraces the three provinces of Mysia, Lydia, and Caria, bordering upon the Hellespont. The seven Churches were mostly in Lydia. The different extensions of territory covered by the term Asia are thus well defined by Elliott: “The word Asia was used by the Romans in four senses:

1 . For the whole Asiatic continent, as opposed to Europe and Africa; 2. For Asia Minor in its largest sense, including Cilicia and other districts beyond the Taurus; 3. For the same in its smaller sense, embracing only the provinces within the Taurus; 4. For Lydian Asia, or, as it was called towards the end of the first century, Proconsular Asia, extending along the coast from Pergamos to Caria, and inland to the Phrygian frontier, or a little beyond it.

Grace… peace This Pauline form of benediction was familiar both to Ephesus and the other Asiatic Churches from the epistles of that great apostle, and John’s adoption of it clearly indicates that there was no antagonism between the two apostles and their friends, as was imagined by such writers as Baur and Renan. Is…

was… to come The threefold divisions under which our minds are obliged to think all time, and so used to express the eternity of Him. The threefold phrase expresses the import of the word JEHOVAH. The elevation of the prophetic style induces the seer to refer to this name for God; and from the reverence with which the utterance of the divine name was avoided by the Jews, he gives the import, and not the name itself. The phrase, though dependent on the preposition from, is sacredly preserved by John as a nominative, thus attaining an expressive emphasis above the ordinary rules of grammar.

The seven spirits Stuart and others maintain that these are “the seven presence angels,” in regard to which see our note on Revelation 8:2. But it seems inadmissible to make grace and peace proceed from mere creatures, and that in position between two of the persons of the Trinity.

As seven is the number of completeness, the one spirit is styled seven in allusion to the perfect manifoldness of his operations. The one Spirit is the seven spirits, as the one atmosphere is “the four winds.” These spirits do not “stand” before Him, like serving waiters or watchers, as Revelation 8:2: they are before his throne, as also is the Lamb.

Verse 5

5. The faithful witness Through whom, and attested by whom, all revelation comes from God to man, especially this apocalypse, whose seals are opened by his conquering power. This witness is faithful to give us truth alone. The word witness is a favourite term both in the Apocalypse and John’s Gospel and Epistles. It implies, not merely revelation, narrative, but as in a permanent contrast with unbelief a testimony, a strong, sure, reliable attestation.

First begotten of the dead As the firstborn was the chief among his brethren, so this might mean that Christ was chief of all risen from the dead, and leader of the resurrection. So Romans 8:29, “firstborn” or chief “among many brethren.” It implies, also, priority of time; for though Lazarus was raised from the dead, yet he died again, and his rising was no part of the one great organic resurrection to immortal life. So that he was truly “the firstfruits of them that slept,” in order of time.

The conception that the grave is the earth’s womb, (as Alford,) from which the dead are born into life, is in the very dim background, as in all such expressions as used by the Hebrews. Note on Ephesians 2:2-3. On the difference between the phrases “from the dead,” and of the dead, see note on Luke 20:35.

Prince Leader or ruler.

Of the kings Lord of the resurrection in the world to come; Lord of all authority in the present world.

Unto him To this double Lord of both worlds, who, supremely King himself, has made us to be a kingdom.

That loved us True reading, and more expressive, that loveth us; for his love is an ever present and perpetual thing; whereas the washed was a past and transient deed. For λουσαντι , washed, another reading is λυσαντι , released, redeemed. The former is both the better supported and the more expressive term; and corresponds most strikingly with blood. The powerful image of washing the soul in blood, gives a vivid idea of the power of the atonement as working both our justification immediately, and our sanctification mediately, by the Spirit purchased for us at the price of the blood.

Verse 6

6. Kings True reading, a kingdom. We are already a kingdom in this world, by an unseen realm, to become a fuller kingdom in the revelation of a future and more real world. So Exodus 19:6, “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” And by the present passage, the saints are a kingdom by being priests unto God. Their rule is the supremacy of holiness. Their priesthood consists in their direct access to God by the sacrifice of the heart. They need no human mediator, no other offering than the affections of the soul.

To him This ascription of glory and dominion for ever presupposes true deity. Be Implying both affirmation of the attributes, that they are, and consent and will, that they shall belong to him, both ratified by a solemn Amen, signifying both so it is, and so be it.

Verse 7

7. Behold Even while he speaks the advent is for a moment visible to his raptured eye.

He cometh The immediate present; he comes this moment. In prophetic conception our seer brings the coming before his own eyes, and depicts its circumstantials. For a moment the far-distant event, so often spoken of as nigh at hand, is visibly present. Compare Matthew 24:30.

With clouds In clouds would simply describe his high locality; with clouds implies that the clouds are part of his attendant pomp.

Every eye Carries the visible fact to every single individual of the human race.

Shall see Declares the visibility of his real living person.

And Rather, even. Even the very men whose thorns, nails, and spear, pierced him on the cross, shall now behold him on the throne. The nature of this striking climax, that objectively the worst sinners of the race his crucifiers must now face him, requires a literal interpretation. His physical crucifiers, and not only those who spiritually crucify him by their sins, (which would include all sinners,) must be meant. John watched the piercing of the Saviour’s side by the soldier, and recognised the piercing of Jehovah in Zechariah 12:10 as finding a fulfilment in this piercing of Jehovah-Jesus. It would be such a fulfilment as could be used as illustration for a believer, but not as evidence to convince a sceptic. See our notes of John 19:34-37. Zechariah makes the Jews look in penitence upon him they have pierced; John gives the severe weeping, equally true, of the impenitent meeting the Judge when penitence is too late. The passage is a clear proof that the Gospel and Apocalypse are by the same John. In confirmation of this, Alford notes, that the Greek word for pierced is the same in both Gospel and here, though not in the Septuagint. Dusterdieck replies that other translations into the Greek than the Septuagint, as those of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, use John’s word. But neither of these was, like the Septuagint, in common use; and the plain fact that this passage amplifies the passage in the Gospel with marked peculiarities, still remains. Kindreds (tribes) of the earth Of the earth, is usually an adverse phrase in this book, and doubtless here means the tribes of the earthy. Dusterdieck refers they which pierced him to the Jews, and these kindreds to the Gentiles.

Even so, Amen Yes, so be it. The even so translates the Greek, and Amen transfers the Hebrew form of the same word. Solemn assent is given by both even to the tears and terrors of the guilty.

Verse 8

8. I… the Lord God should be added as the true reading.

The Almighty Who speaks here, God or Christ? The words seem to mean the former, the close connexion with the preceding verse suggests the latter. Most certainly there is no other utterer than he that cometh, in Revelation 1:7. We must, therefore, find that it is Christ who speaks: yet Christ reinforced by, identified with, and speaking for, the whole Trinity. See note on Revelation 20:12. Stuart cautions us against adducing this as a proof text in favour of the divinity of Christ. We think it one of the most trinitarian texts in the New Testament.

Alpha and Omega The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and so expressing the literal thought “the beginning and the ending,” which by a false reading is wrongly found in this verse, transferred from Revelation 21:6, where it rightly belongs.

So the rabbinical Jalkut Rub., fol. 147, says, “Adam transgressed the whole law, from Aleph to Tov.”

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Verse 9


THE CHRISTOPHANIC APOCALYPSE, Revelation 1:9 to Revelation 3:22.

The Christophany, and first prophetic commission, Revelation 1:9-20.

The Apocalypse proper now commences. St. John gives a narrative of the first Christophany, or appearance of Christ to him, 9-11, describes his person, 12-18; and recites his own commission, from the Saviour received, 19, 20. This is the first of John’s three commissions; the second is at chapters 4, 5; the third at chapter x; forming the threefold Apocalypse.

9. 1 John After the “I Daniel,” of Daniel 7:28; Daniel 9:2; Daniel 10:2. So the Apocalypse is a carrying out and completion of the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. And thus he equalizes himself to the prophets of the Old Testament, assuming that his book is to take a parallel canonical stand; an assumption impossible to be successful for any one but an apostle.

Your brother For he had no need, like Paul, to thunder forth his apostolic title after his name.

Tribulation… kingdom… patience Between the two sad words tribulation and patience the joyous word kingdom bravely sparkles forth. It is a kingdom in the midst of sorrow and struggle. It is a reminder of triumph and power in the very centre of trial. The tribulation, or persecution, is in these sad days the condition of the present kingdom, and the patience, the firm persistence, is the condition of its fuller final realization, to which John’s whole Apocalypse points and at last attains. Of True reading, in Jesus

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Was in the isle Literally, became in the isle. How he became, by whom sent, he forbears to mention. Clement and Origen call the sender “the tyrant:” and all the early Christian writers named no other than Domitian. But no resentful feeling prompts John to say more than that he became there.

Called Patmos Commentators agree that the word called indicates the entire obscurity of this island-rock before this Apocalypse covered it with a solemn glory. Well known islands, like Crete and Cyprus, have no such prefix.

For the word… testimony For means, on account of; and the words unquestionably signify that John became in Patmos in consequence of his maintaining God’s word and Christ’s testimony to the world. It is true the same words in Revelation 1:2 designate this Apocalypse, just because this Apocalypse is the continuance and reproduction, in written form and in new spirit, of that same word and testimony which he had heretofore maintained at the expense of exile.

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At six leagues distance to the S.W. The Apocalyptic Monastery of St. John is seen surmounting the distant heights represented in the central part of the view.

Verse 10

10. Was Became, again; the word designates his transition.

In the Spirit Spirit-wrapt. Compare Revelation 4:2; Revelation 21:10. If the man’s own spirit were meant, we might suppose the thought to be that the consciousness had ascended from the lower ground of sense, and so mounted into the spirit as to be in communication with the spirit world.

But the divine Spirit is doubtless meant; and the thought is, that the human spirit is in the divine Spirit as in a divine atmosphere, in which things of the spirit world are seen, known, and uttered. So, “How then does David in spirit call him Lord?” Matthew 22:43. “No man speaking by (Greek in) the Spirit of God, calleth Jesus accursed.” 1 Corinthians 12:3. In that supernatural state a mental production is put forth impossible to the same man’s natural powers alone. This Apocalypse is, indeed, the product of John’s mind, yet of his mind raised into a higher spiritual atmosphere. As in a divinely inspired waking dream, he thinks through a series of divine conceptions with an immediate spontaneity. The conceptions are divinely suggested to his mind, and so are, by him, thought and recorded. Under divine stimulation the language of his narrative, save where reciting the words of others, is his own.

The Lord’s day A phrase parallel to “the Lord’s supper,” 1 Corinthians 11:20, (where see note,) and similarly indicating that the institution was established by our Lord. See our notes on Mark 2:27; John 20:26; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2.

The early Christian writers applied the word sabbath to the Jewish Saturday-sabbath, and called the Christian sabbath “the Lord’s day,” yet without thereby admitting that the Lord’s day was not the decalogue sabbath. It was of the heretical sect of Ebionites that Theodoret said, “They keep the sabbath according to Jewish law, and sanctify the Lord’s day in like manner as we do.” Says Stuart: “A party in the Christian Church adhered to this usage so long and so tenaciously that finally the Council of Laodicea (about A.D. 350) made a decree that “Christians should no longer keep the seventh day by refraining from labour.” The Church historian, Eusebius, who had all the Christian literature on the subject at command, is quoted by Stuart as saying, in his commentary on Psalm xcii: “The Word,” (that is, Christ,) “by the new covenant, translated and transferred the feast of the sabbath to the morning light, and gave as the symbol of true rest namely, the Lord’s day the first day of the light in which the Saviour… obtained the victory over death, etc. On this day… we assemble, after an interval of six days, and celebrate the holy spiritual sabbath; even all nations redeemed by him throughout the world, and do those things according to the spiritual laws which were decreed for the priests to do on the sabbath.… All things whatever that it was their duty to do on the sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s day, as more appropriate to it, because it has a precedence, and is first in rank; and more honourable than the Jewish sabbath. It is traditionally handed down to us, that we should meet together on this day; and it is ordered that we should do these things announced in the Psalm.”

And heard behind me This sublime Christophany must dawn upon St. John gradually, lest he be fatally overpowered, as in fact he was laid by it as dead. Revelation 1:17. He first only hears, and that a voice, loud, indeed, but behind him. He turns, and the candlesticks first are seen, and then the radiant person.

A great voice Not the voice of Christ, as appears by Revelation 4:1; where see note, and also Revelation 10:4.

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[REFERENCES. 1. Port of La Scala; 2. Port of Sapsila; 3. Port of Gricon; 4. Port Merica; 5. Small Western Creek; 6. Port of Diacorta; 7. Town and Monastery of Patmos; 8. Cave of the Apocalypse. Below figure 8 is traced the paved road from the harbour to the town on the hill, leaving the Apocalyptic Grotto, or cave, on the left hand.]

Verse 11

11. The words I… and inclusive, are here a spurious reading. The voice does not as yet announce who is the speaker. St. John hears his commission, but is not yet told who commissions him.

What thou seest This Christophanic commission includes only the revelations of the first three chapters.

Write in a book A volumen, or parchment or papyrus roll.

Seven Churches… in Asia When the sons of Japhet, our Aryan ancestors, first emigrated westward from the fertile regions of the Euphrates, they found no fairer clime than in this land of Ionia. Here settled the sons of Javan, the fourth son of Japheth, and in the beautiful language formed by their genius the Greek Ionia is but a varied form of Javan, just as Hellas, the name of European Greece, is but a form of Elisha, the oldest son of Javan. This was the land of Homer and Herodotus. The soft clime rendered the Ionians gentle, refined, and brilliant, but too effeminate. So when, five centuries before Christ, the great Cyrus led his conquering legions westward, all Ionia submitted for centuries to the Persian sway. But when, three centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great, from European Greece, marched to the conquest of Persia and settled forever the superiority of Europe over Asia, Ionia easily accorded with this new Greek supremacy. And when, in the first two centuries before Christ, the Roman arms from still farther west spread their power over the known world, Ionia readily accepted their government. When Christ came, and Paul came proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, and when Timothy came, and an apostle John came, flourishing Churches, among which were these seven, were, in spite of persecution, established. When Rome, under Constantine, became nominally Christian, and Constantinople was by him built, paganism gradually disappeared, and Ionia became Christian. A Christian literature sprung up, and great Christian councils were here held. But in A.D. 1453 the followers of Mohammed took Constantinople. The Turks became masters, and from that time the Christianity, the civilization, the prosperity of the land perished. It is now, with few exceptions, a scene of semi-barbarism, stagnation, and decay. A glance at our little map will show reason for the order of the names of the seven Churches. From the metropolitan Ephesus, northward some fifty miles, is Smyrna, and more than fifty miles farther northward is Pergamos, or, according to the most authorized form of the name, Pergamum. This is the northernmost point. Thence south-eastwardly in succession are the other four Churches. Hengstenberg suggests, and we adopt the suggestion, that this was the usual order of St. John’s apostolic visitations; such visitations as are indicated in 2 John 1:13 and 3 John 1:10, and also in the account of his apostolic circuits after his return from the isle of Patmos.

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Verse 12

12. See the voice An expressive solecism: not, as Hengstenberg, that the word see is used in a “larger sense;” but the voice being all he as yet knows, he turns to see into what embodiment it will shape itself.

Being turned In position to receive the Apocalypse that summons him.

Candlesticks Why does he see the candlesticks before he sees even the sun -bright face (Revelation 1:16) of the divine Person? We think the Person, at first unseen, grew gradually visible, and is traced by St. John’s words as he gleams successively into view; the radiant clearness of the countenance (Revelation 1:16) being the last fully recognised. The Son of man comes first in his trumpet -like voice, next in his visible tokens, last in his glorious Person. Happy those to whom he comes with a fear not! Revelation 1:17.

Golden Says Cocceius, (quoted in Latin by Trench,) “Gold in figures and symbolical expression signifies that which is most precious of all things; which perfects all to which it belongs, but can be perfected by nothing; which is most pure and liable to no change, and experiences no harm from time, or fire, the consumer of all things.” Hence these golden candlesticks, as well as, throughout this book, “the golden girdle,” Revelation 1:13; golden crowns,” Revelation 4:5; “golden vials,” Revelation 5:8; “golden censer,” Revelation 8:3; “golden altar,” Revelation 8:3; “golden reed,” Revelation 21:15; “city of pure gold,” Revelation 21:18; the street… “pure gold,” Revelation 21:21. This symbolism, Trench notes, rested not upon the mere costliness of that material. “Throughout all the ancient East there was a sense of sacredness attached to this metal.” Thus “golden,” in the Zend-Avesta, is throughout synonymous with heavenly and divine. So also in many Eastern lands, while silver might be degraded to profane and every-day uses, it was not permitted to employ gold in any services except only royal and divine.

Candlesticks These so-called candlesticks were lamps, with oil and a wick inserted. The candelabra of the temple had three lamps on each side and one at the centre, making seven. A lamp-vessel represents a Church, the oil the grace of God, and the blaze the light with which the Church illuminates the world. The temple candelabra represented the Jewish Church in its organic unity; but these seven separate candlesticks represent the individuality of the Churches; yet the number seven suggests completeness, uniformity, and oneness. And this accordance of the seven Churches with the sevenfold candelabra demonstrates that the number is selected for symbolical reasons, and not because there were but seven Churches in Asia.

Verse 13

13. In the midst The candlesticks were so arranged that this One could be, and (Revelation 2:1) could walk, in their midst. That would seem to imply that they stood in two rows, of three and of four, as the seven cities somewhat irregularly did, as seen upon our map.

Like… man So Daniel 7:13, with which compare John 5:27. John recognises, even in this his glorification, his identity with the man of his humiliation. So our own resurrection bodies, in all their glorified changes, will manifest their identity with our present selves. See note, 1 Corinthians 15:44. In the sublime description of the Christophanic person that follows, Hengstenberg, and still more Trench, are extreme in finding out symbols of wrath and destruction. Their points we shall notice in the progress of our notes. But surely there was no reason why the Lord, in his interview with the beloved apostle and visitation of his circle of Churches, should put on the tokens of vengeance. Nor is such St. John’s idea. His description presents the intense dazzling glory of the Lord’s celestial body, too transcendent for mortal eye to bear; but that glory, though dread, is serene and merciful.

Trench, also, acutely draws a contrast between the Grecian representations and the Oriental; to the latter of which this and other of St. John’s pictures belong. The former is predominantly aesthetic; presenting beautiful models for the artist. The latter are deeply significant, often a collection of expressive but crudely adjusted symbols, incapable of being wrought into agreeable picture. The many-breasted Diana was a personation made of symbols, and so, disagreeable to sight. And so this present figure, wrought into painting, would be unsightly. There is great truth in Trench’s distinction; but not, we think, in its application to the present description. The personation could not be painted, for the very object is to image forth a supernatural splendour and glory. The splendour consists largely of an intensity of colouring to which the materials of art are inadequate. An artist could form a distinct and splendid conception of the figure, but would at once say that it was beyond and above reducing to picture. But we hold that, viewed as a work of descriptive art, this piece is congruous and aesthetically magnificent.

Clothed… to the foot John first discerns the main person, almost completely enveloped in a priestly-royal robe flowing to the feet.

A golden girdle Again implying highest nobility, binding not the loins, as if engaged in a task of labour but the breasts, uniting the robe in a composed dignity, as he walked or stood.

Verse 14

14. As (Revelation 1:16) his face was like the sun, so this sun bore a “corona” of hairs of dazzling whiteness.

White like wool But that is not quite white enough, and so as snow. The whiteness is not indicative of age, but, like the whiteness of the priest’s robe, of purity, and of that celestial lustre characterizing the whole figure. See note, Revelation 1:16.

Eyes… fire Fire, we are told, denotes wrath, and so these eyes denote flaming wrath for which there is no demand. How often does love find fire in the eyes of its object, and admiration find fire in the eye of genius. These are celestial eyes, beaming, burning, blazing with divine brilliancy; clairvoyant to look with omniscience into and through all visible things. In reality, however, the intensity and power of the eyes are simply in keeping with the supernatural splendour of the whole figure, stature, hair, and voice.

Verse 15

15. Passing down his priestly-royal robe from his head to his feet, we are again dazzled with the splendour. They are like unto fine brass melted into a white heat in a furnace. How uncouth is Hengstenberg’s quotation from Bengel! “This has respect to his great power, with which he brings all under him, as with a bar of metal burning hot,” etc. But his feet are not said to be brass, but only like brass; and that not in solidity, being melted, but in their intensity of colouring and splendour. The apparent fusion of the brass negatives the “bar;” and may represent that molecular mobility by which the resurrection body is in every element at once indestructible and yet flexible and transformable at will. See note, 1 Corinthians 15:44. They once were flesh; they are now transfigured into an immortal nature, of which the blazing furnace can alone suggest the radiance. The Greek compound word for fine brass, used here and at Revelation 2:18, χαλκολιβανον , is thought to be a term originated by John. Of what term affixed to brass the compound consists, scholars are doubtful. Salmasius and Ewald find the compound to be furnace brass; Bochart, white brass, alluding to the white heat; but most probable of all seems Lebanon brass or fine brass, first brought from Mount Lebanon, and thence generalized in meaning to mountain brass; an explanation furnished by the old Greek commentator Arethas, and sustained by the Syriac and Ethiopic Versions.

Voice… many waters Symbol of majesty and power, referring, rather, to the flow of torrents than to the waves of the ocean. The entire imagery suggests superhuman grandeur of size, and requires a correspondent power of voice.

Verse 16

16. In his right hand In Revelation 1:20 it reads επι , upon his right hand. The in suggests the idea of retention, the upon, of support. Both together suggest the hand outspread, with the stars, of course of small diamond-like size, resting upon the palm.

Seven stars Stars are an ordinary symbol for rulers.

Mouth… two - edged sword Some commentators seem to entertain the crude conception that this sword was seen as a stiff, steel fixture projected from the Lord’s mouth! We view it as his divine and powerful breath, making itself, as it were, visible, often darting forth and brandishing in sword-like motion and form. Its active motion is described as εκπορευομενος , going forth emanating in incessant flashes. So Hebrews 4:12: “The word of God is… sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The contents of the seven epistles display this powerful searching operation of this discriminating and sword-like word. See our note on 2 Thessalonians 2:8. So in Hosea 6:5, for Ephraim’s transient goodness Jehovah says: “Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth.” And so in Isaiah 49:2: “He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword.” It is remarkable that the word for twoedged is repeatedly in the New Testament, twomouthed. This, Mr. Glasgow says, refers to its “power of cutting every way.” Perhaps it refers to its double power of destroying, either spiritually the old man, or corporeally the physical man. As a word of truth this spiritual sword corrects and converts the souls of men; as a word of retribution it destroys the bodies of the incorrigible. Note, Revelation 2:16. See Stuart’s excellent note on the passage.

His countenance As John gradually takes a full view of the glorious face, he is overwhelmed by its power. It is as the sun; not the sun beclouded and dim, but in its full strength. Compare this whole description with the scene of the transfiguration, beheld by our seer, Matthew 17:2, “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light,” which was intended, like this, to form our conceptions of the glorified body of Christ, and subordinately of the glorified saints. We have not the gentle touches of beauty, such as would picture an Apollo, but dashes of glory, in comparison with which mere beauty is forgotten. So Daniel 12:2, “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever.” Such language is above all material picture. And this same John also wrote, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2; where, see note.

Let us form a mental picture of the personality described. Before the eyes of the seer stands a colossal figure, robed entirely in white, his face and feet alone bare; the former of sun-like splendour, the latter of a white-heat brilliancy. Locks of snowy whiteness crown his head. He speaks, and his words flash like a double-edged sword from his mouth, and his voice resounds through the space like many waters. He extends his arm, and on his palm is resting a circle of seven stars, and he walks majestically between two rows of lamps blazing upon their stands.

Verse 17

17. Saw him Instantly as his sight takes in the whole person and the sun-like countenance, our seer falls as dead; just as he and his fellows fell into a stupor at the transfiguration; and just as Daniel fell into lethargy, Daniel 10:9. We all know with what tremor often the bravest man thinks of encountering even an apparition from the spirit world. The blood curdles at the idea of meeting the shade of even the dearest departed friend. Such are the dread relations in which we stand to that world into which we soon must enter. Still more dread seem to be the sensations of meeting a being in its resurrection power.

Laid his right hand upon me By gentle touch and voice the seer is wakened and brought into sympathy and communion with his heavenly visitant.

The divine person now (Revelation 1:17-20) identifies himself as Jehovah-Jesus, the ever-living, who by his death and resurrection has attained dominion over the domains of death and hades. He thereupon commissions the seer for his work, symbolized by the significance of the stars and candlesticks. This self-annunciation we translate thus: Fear not! I am the first and the last and the living one; and I became dead; and lo! living am I unto ages of ages, and I have the keys of death and of hades. Write, therefore, etc.

Fear not Same consoling address as to Isaiah, Isaiah 6:7; to Daniel 10:12; and at the transfiguration, Matthew 17:7.

I am the first and the last Jehovah’s own self-assertion in Isaiah 48:12. “Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.” Also Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6. He is first, as originating all things; he is the last, as eternal and enduring, even though all created and contingent things should fail. “First,” says St. Victor, “because no God existed before me; last, because no other shall be after me.”

Verse 18

18. He that liveth With an underived essential life, the fountain of life, from which all finite life is a stream.

Was dead Became dead. A contradiction in terms, harmonized in the real history.

Alive for evermore Death shall never come into his future history. Through death he has attained a dominion over human destiny.

Keys The symbols of possession or authority over treasures, or cities, or kingdoms.

Of hell… death This reading, which is spurious, reverses the true order, which is, death and hell, or hades, the invisible region of departed spirits. See our note on 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The words death and hades are not personifications, but designations of two realms. The realm of death includes “the pale nations of the dead,” the kingdom of material graves and corpses. To hold the keys of this realm is to be lord of life and death.

Hades is the realm of departed spirits, who wait the resurrection and judgment day. Of both these realms the dying and ever-living Christ has attained the right of lordship. Hengstenberg wishes to understand by hades, hell or gehenna; since Christ is lord of the destiny of the finally damned.

But that is included in his lordship over hades, inasmuch as he is lord of the destiny of the dwellers in hades.

Verse 19

19. Write This command naturally appears to presuppose immediate writing; precluding the notion of John’s penning the Apocalypse after leaving Patmos. He is to be a recorder of speeches made. Doubtless the authority that could command the dead was competent to enable his hand to write, if need be, with all the rapidity and accuracy of a modern stenographic reporter. Ουν therefore is found in the Greek, in all the MSS., and in all the Versions except our English. It is an important, a hinging, word. It was for this write that the Christophany takes place. Because of my personal presentation in glorious form, and my authenticating self-annunciation, therefore write.

Things… seen The Christophany, the annunciation, and the symbols of stars and candlesticks.

Things which are The present facts and conditions of the seven Churches as symbolic of the normal condition of all Churches.

Which shall be The future destinies of the Churches as dependent on their present conduct. We might, indeed, suppose from the comprehensive terms of this threefold range of topics, that the whole book is here included in the commission. But the symbols of stars and angels indicate that the things of the seven Churches, and the constituency they represent, are alone embraced.

Verse 20

20. The mystery The symbolical import; which is its hidden meaning, and is a mystery until made clear. The word is an independent nominative, having no verb; and the sentence reads like a heading over the explanations of the next sentence.

Are… angels Without the article in the Greek. What the angels are, is the problem of this verse. But,

1) We may exclude their symbolizing symbolical angels, (such as the angel over fire, Revelation 14:18; of the waters, Revelation 16:5,) for the stars would then be a symbol of a symbol. As the candlesticks symbolize concrete, literal, and living Churches, so the stars must symbolize concrete, literal, and living rulers of those Churches.

2) The uniform use of the second person singular, both of pronoun and verb, as applied to the angel, strongly negatives its being a collective body of rulers of each Church, (as Hengstenberg.)

3) The notion that the angels were seven “messengers” sent from the Churches, and present with John, is inadmissible. No such messengers are otherwise hinted at; and the writing to them an epistle, each, implies their being at a distance.

4) The legatus ecclesiae, or delegate of the Church, (held to be symbolized by Vitringa,) was the overseer of the services of the congregation, little above our sexton, but was not responsible for the piety, faith, or morality of the Church, and was too humble an officer to be represented by a star.

5) More probable than any of these is the view of Alford, that real, and not symbolical, angels of the Churches are meant. There are the child’s angel, Matthew 18:10; “it is his angel,” Acts 12:15; and the national angel-princes of Daniel 10:21. The strict responsibility to which these seven angels are held for the excellence of their Churches, each, accords with the established idea of a strong connexion between the guardian angel and his ward. But it may be doubted whether any patron or guardian angel is ever in Scripture more than either a symbol or a popular imagination, as in Acts 12:15.

6) As the candlestick is the symbol of the corporate human body of the Church, the analogy is strong for a human ruler or teacher of the Church. Thus in Malachi 2:2, the priest is “the messenger (angel) of the Lord of Hosts.” Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I send my messenger,” (angel;) the prediction of John the Baptist. Galatians 4:14: “Ye… received me as an angel of God.” That there were president-presbyters or bishops in Asia at this time, ordained by John himself, is as certain as any thing in primitive Church history. About this time Polycarp was bishop in Smyrna, and Ignatius in Antioch. Bishops were appointed, from a need of the times, as a stronghold against heresies, and as authentic preservers of the apostolic doctrines and of the sacred New Testament canon. This was specially important before the canon was completely established. And this gave, at that period, a special importance to a true succession of the bishops as a reliable chain of apostolic tradition. A successional ordination authenticated the officer to those who acknowledged the ordaining authority. But such facts fall far short of making an unbroken succession through centuries the authenticating test of a true Church. The bishop was very much “the successor of the apostles,” not by a continuation of the same line of office, but as a substitute, serving some of the same purposes. While episcopacy is thus sanctioned by apostolic authority as permissible, and perhaps always best, it is not made obligatory.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/revelation-1.html. 1874-1909.
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