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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

IT IS, “THE Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him,” that is, the unveiling of things to come, for the simple meaning of revelation or apocalypse is unveiling. It is of course true that the unveiling of these future things all hinges on the unveiling or revelation of Jesus Christ in His glory, but the primary meaning is that God gave to Jesus this revelation of things to come that He might show it to His servants. Every clause of this first verse is worthy of careful notice.

It is remarkable, in the first place, that the revelation should be spoken of as given to Jesus, rather than as originated by Him. He is presented then as the servant of God’s will and purpose just as He is in the Gospel of Mark, and it is in that Gospel that we find the passage in which He disowns knowledge of the day and hour of His advent. Here, too, He is the Servant of God to make known things to come as they had been given to Him. Moreover John, who received from Him the revelation, speaks of himself not as an Apostle but as a servant, and those to whom it is conveyed are not spoken of as saints but as servants. It was a day when defection was becoming pronounced, so while there are messages to churches—which reveal the defection—the revelation is given to those who really are servants of God, and who therefore will appreciate it. It is a fact that remains to this day that men who are but unconverted professors of Christ universally decry, if they do not ridicule it; and worldly-minded believers make nothing of it.

Another remarkable feature is the indirectness of the revelation. God gave it to Jesus, and Jesus signified it to John, not directly but by mediation of His angel. Moreover He did not declare it: He “signified” it. In the Gospel John uses the word “sign” for miracle. Here it is a verb formed from the same root. He signed these things to John; and this exactly gives us the character of the book. The prophecy is conveyed not in plain literal speech as elsewhere, but in symbols or signs. Now all this is surely intended to make us feel that there is reserve and distance in the method of revelation, suited to the sad defection that-had already begun in the church. How different the method of those revelations made earlier to Paul, as for instance Acts 26:16-18; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.

The things signified are such as “must shortly come to pass.” This expression helps to establish the fact that the messages to the churches in Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22 have a prophetic bearing. What was signified by the church at Ephesus was beginning to come to pass when John received the prophecy, which carries us right on to the coming of the Lord, and even to the eternal state. The reader is also admonished by this expression that he must not adopt the attitude taken by the Jews when they received the prophecies of Ezekiel. Then they said, “The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off” (Ezekiel 12:27). It is an inveterate tendency of our hearts to avoid the force of the Word of God, not by denying it but by relegating it to so distant a future that it can conveniently be ignored.

Having received the revelation John bare record of it, and he describes it in a threefold way. It is “the word of God,” and this fact at once invests the book with full authority and puts it on a par with the other Holy Writings. Then it is “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” and later we are told that this testimony is “the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). This testimony declares that the Jesus, who suffered and was set at nought here, is the coming Lord of all things in heaven and on earth, and that all might and dominion, power and glory is in His hands. He will execute judgment and bring to pass all the counsel of God. Now this is the spirit of prophecy. As we survey the prophetic field a great drama unfolds before our eyes, and we see beasts and Babylon and other anti-christian forces, but if we do not see them in relation to the testimony of Jesus we shall miss their real instruction and power. In the third place he speaks of “all things that he saw.” for the revelation reached him in the form of visions. The words, “And I saw,” or “And I looked,” occur very frequently in the book.

Then a special blessing is pronounced on the reader, the hearer and the keeper of the words of the prophecy. Let us particularly note that we are to keep—that is, observe—these things. This indicates that the prophecy is to exert a powerful influence upon us. It is to enlighten our minds and guide our footsteps. The main point is not that we should be able to explain with accuracy every symbol used, or identify with certainty every “beast” or

“locust,” but that we should realize how all these actors in the sad drama of man’s rebellion and judgment are like a dark background for the glory of the coming Lord, and that all is to lead to the separation of our hearts from this present evil age. In this way we shall “keep” the things that are written.

John addresses the book to the seven churches in Asia, as verse Revelation 1:4 says. In these seven churches all church history was portrayed, as Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22 show; we may therefore accept the book as addressed to the whole church during the centuries of its sojourn in this world, and appropriate to the whole church the grace and peace of this opening salutation.

The grace and peace proceed from the three Persons of the Godhead, but each of the three is presented in a way that differs from the rest of the New Testament. First we have God in His unchanging greatness; eternally and immutably He IS, and therefore as regards the past, He was, and as regards the future, He is to come. He sits therefore above the storms that in this book we are to see raging on the earth, and even in the Heavens.

The second Person named here is the Holy Spirit. He is not presented as the one Spirit of the Epistles but as “the seven Spirits,” an allusion, we suppose, to Isaiah 11:2. In our verse they are “before His throne,” as being ready to act in the government of the earth. The Spirit is one as to His Person, and this fact is greatly emphasized in connection with the formation of the church, and his activities therein, as we see in 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. Yet in His governmental activities He is viewed in a sevenfold way, and the final actions of Divine government are contemplated in this last book of the Bible.

In the third place grace and peace proceed from Jesus Christ, who is presented in a threefold way. He is the faithful Witness in contrast to all others who have borne witness of God. They have each and all failed somewhere. In Him God himself has been perfectly declared, and all truth maintained in full integrity. In considering Him thus, our thoughts have mainly to travel into the past.

But He is also the First Begotten of the dead, and it is this that characterizes Him at the present moment. The church is based upon Him as risen from the dead. Indeed, it was not until He was risen and ascended that the Holy Ghost was shed forth so that the church might be formed.

Then thirdly, He is the Prince of the kings of the earth. He is this in title at the present moment, but He will not publicly assume that place until His second advent, so that considering Him thus our thoughts travel to the future. How comprehensively then—past, present and future—is He set before us. All this He is, and all this He would be, even if no soul of man had received salvation through Him.

But we have received eternal blessing through Him, and hence we know Him in a very intimate way which calls forth an outburst of praise. He loves us and has declared that abiding fact firstly in a work of purification, washing us from our sins in His own blood, and then in a work of exaltation, making us kings and priests to His God and Father. Only as washed from our sins could we be introduced into such a place as that, and it is worthy of note that directly we have Christian blessings mentioned we have God presented in the light in which we know Him—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—rather than as the eternal I AM, as in verse Revelation 1:4.

To such an One as this, known through grace, we heartily ascribe the glory and dominion for ever and ever. Glory and domination have ever been pursued by fallen men. Not one of them has been worthy to receive it, and if in any measure they have attained to it, nothing but oppression has resulted for the masses, and ultimately disaster for themselves. Here at last is One worthy to have it, and wield it to the glory of God and the blessing of men—worthy by reason of who He is as well as what He has done. It is remarkable that we have exactly the same words in 1 Peter 5:11. What is there ascribed to “the God of all grace” is here ascribed to Jesus Christ: pretty clear proof, this, of WHO He really is.

Verse Revelation 1:7 gives us in very small compass the main theme of the book. The consummation is announced before we see the steps that lead up to it. The same feature characterizes many of the Psalms in the Old Testament. The public and glorious appearing of Christ will bring everything to a head. Every eye shall see Him in surroundings that indicate His Deity, for it is Jehovah, “who maketh the clouds His chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind” (Psalms 104:3). Zechariah had declared, “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10), and this shall be fulfilled. He had also declared that there should be those of Israel who should see then the enormity of their national sin in His rejection, and mourn for it in deep repentance. Our verse here announces that all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him; not in repentance evidently, but because it seals their doom, and they realize it. Plain proof, this that the world is not going to be converted as the preparation for His coming.

The correct reading in verse Revelation 1:8 appears to be “Lord God,” and not “Lord” only. This being so, we hear in the verse the voice of the Lord God Almighty, the eternally existent One, who guarantees the fulfilment of the Advent in its appointed time. Jesus Christ is viewed, as we have pointed out, as the holy and perfect Servant of His glory; the exalted Man, by whom He will administer the world in righteousness. Nothing can possibly defeat One who is the Beginning and the End of all things.

Thus far we have had what we may call the preface. From verse Revelation 1:9 to the end of the chapter we have John’s account of the vision of the Lord that was granted to him, out of which sprang the writing of this book. In recounting it, he does not present himself as an Apostle, but as a brother of those to whom he wrote and as a sharer in their present trials and future prospects. This is the time marked by tribulation for the saints below, and of patience for Christ glorified on high. He waits in patience for the hour to strike when the Kingdom will be His. We are called to enter into that same patience, as we shall see when we read Revelation 3:10, and as the Apostle Paul indicated in 2 Thessalonians 3:5.

At that time John was suffering the tribulation that is involved in isolation. Banished to Patmos, he was cut off from his fellow-believers, yet he was in no way isolated from His Lord. On a certain first day of the week, which is the Lord’s Day, he was carried outside himself by the special energy of the Holy Spirit of God, and so he was brought into a condition in which he was enabled to see and hear heavenly things. It is well for us to remember that though we have never needed, and therefore never come under such a special action of the Spirit, yet it is only by the ordinary action and energy of the Spirit that we discern and apprehend anything of the things of God.

He tells us first what he heard. A powerful voice of authority bade him write the things he was about to see in a book, and send it to seven selected churches in the Province of Asia. John was thus constituted a Seer. He was also told that it was the Divine intention that the revelation he was now to receive should be enshrined in a Book. In their eagerness to get rid of a written revelation from God, men decry the Scriptures and accuse of “Bibliolatry” those of us who accept the Bible and reverence it as the Word of God. They would like us to regard a book revelation as something quite beneath the Divine dignity. We, on the contrary, regard it as exactly suitable to His dealings with men whom He has endowed with powers of reading and writing, and who have learned to hand on knowledge from one generation to another by means of books. The seven churches were to have the book, and that which they symbolized—the whole church throughout the centuries until the Lord comes—was to have it too.

The seven churches, whether we view them historically or prophetically, differed widely in their character and state, yet the same revelation of things to come would be salutary for each. Let those who decry the study of prophecy note this! Whatever our spiritual state as individuals may be, it will be for our health and blessing if we gain a clear understanding of the solemn scenes of judgment by which God is going to bring earth’s sad story to a triumphant conclusion.

Hearing this trumpet voice of authority, John turned to see the majestic Person who uttered it, and thus was he brought face to face with his Lord, and granted a sight of the One he had once known so well on earth, but now displayed in a character and amidst circumstances that to him were entirely new.

The Lord Jesus presented Himself to John as “like unto the Son of Man.” This was not an unknown title to John, for Jesus in the days of His flesh spoke of Himself thus. What was new was the fact that the Son of Man had exchanged conditions of humiliation for surroundings of glory. John had just been instructed to write in a book what he saw, and this he faithfully carried out. In the course of this book he describes a great many things that passed before his vision, but all of them hinge on this first great vision of the Son of Man in His judicial glory. The Lord’s own words were that the Father had given Him authority to execute judgment, “because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).

The description given to us in verses Revelation 1:13-17 speaks entirely of judgment. John had once leant on Jesus’ breast at supper, now that same breast is under restraint, girt about with a girdle of gold. The sight of His head was like unto that of “The Ancient of Days” of Daniel 7:1-28, in whose presence “the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” The eye symbolizes intelligence and discernment, and His were as a flame of fire, not only discerning but also resolving all things into their first elements. So too, His feet, which contact the earth, and under which all things are put, were as fine brass glowing in a furnace, just as once the fine brass of the altar glowed beneath the fire of the sacrifices. His voice was full of authority and majesty, irresistible like the thunderous roar of the ocean.

The right hand too speaks of power. His tongue was like “a sharp two-edged sword :” that is, His verdicts had all the discerning and cutting power of the veritable word of God. Finally, His whole countenance was clothed with sun-like glory, too bright for mortal eyes. No wonder, that in the presence of such an One—the Son of Man, arising to judgment, invested with the insignia and glory of Deity—John fell at His feet as dead.

But though he was a servant, and therefore a subject of His judicial scrutiny, John was also a saint, and hence a subject of His grace. His grace is as great as His glory. His right hand, which held the seven stars, was laid upon John, so that he might be lifted up and strengthened to receive and record the visions in which the revelation was to be conveyed. “Fear not,” was the assuring word.

The judicial glory of the Lord had been conveyed in the vision; now we have His glory declared in His own words, and that in a threefold way. First, the glory of Deity. He is “the First and the Last, and the Living One.” Compare this with verse Revelation 1:8, where the Lord God, the Almighty, proclaims Himself the “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending.” No one but God can be, “the First” or “the Beginning,” but being a Person in the unity of the Godhead, Jesus is God.

Secondly, the glory of redemption, of death and resurrection. He “was” or “became” dead, but now is “alive for evermore,” or “living to the ages of ages.” He, who is revealed as the universal Judge, has Himself tasted the judgment of death, and risen above its power into resurrection life.

Then, thirdly, the glory of dominion. Death and hell (Hades) are the great foes of sinful mankind, the symbols of the curse under which sin has brought them. Holding the keys, He is the complete Master of both. Thus Jesus presented Himself in His Deity; in His risen estate, redemption having been accomplished; and as the complete Master of man’s ancient foes.

What an uplift this must have been to John! And what an uplift it should be to us! It prepared him to write as he was bidden in verse Revelation 1:19. It will prepare us to read and digest what he has written, and to face with undismayed hearts the searching unfoldings of the book.

Verse Revelation 1:19 should be carefully noted, as it contains the Lord’s own division of the book. John was to write (1) the vision he had just seen. This he did in the few verses we have just considered. Then (2) he was to write “the things that are,” and (3) “the things which shall be hereafter,” or, “the things that are about to be after these.” Now in Revelation 4:1 the voice from heaven lifts John in spirit to heaven that he may be shown “things which must be hereafter,” or, “things which must take place after these things;” so that as we pass into Revelation 4:1-11 we begin the third section of the book. Clearly therefore Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22 comprise section 2. We believe this verse Revelation 1:19 is an important key to the right unfolding of Revelation, so we ask our readers to note it carefully. We have no hesitation in saying that any explanation of the visions of this book which violates this distinction, or does not observe it, is bound to be defective, if not positively erroneous.

The last verse of chapter 1 is introductory to “the things that are,” given in chapters 2 and 3. In the vision the Son of Man was seen in the midst of seven golden candlesticks or lamps, and holding seven stars in His right hand. The meanings of these symbols are given to us. Each lamp is a “church” or “assembly.” Each star is an “angel” or “messenger” or “representative” of an assembly. We have not here, then, the whole church in its place of privilege, as presented through Paul in Ephesians, Colossians and elsewhere, but each local church in its responsibility to be a light for Christ during the time of His absence as rejected from the earth. The whole church in its oneness men cannot see, but a local church they can, and the practical state and condition of such widely differs. The angel may signify one or more in each church who are representative of it and of its state. The Lord conveys His verdict in each case not to the church as a whole but to the angel, thus again showing the reserve that marked Him in His judgment of their state, and the sense of distance that had supervened. This sense of reserve and distance characterizes the whole book, as we have already observed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 1:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/revelation-1.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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