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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Revelation 1

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 1:1. The book is a revelation, a drawing back of the veil which, to the merely human eye, hangs over the purposes of God; and it is a revelation of Jesus Christ, that is, not a revelation of what Jesus Christ is, but a revelation which Jesus Christ gives to His Church, even as the Father had given it to Him. As in the Gospel of St. John, God the Father is here the fountain of all blessing; but whatever He has He gives to the Son (John 7:16; John 12:49; John 14:10; John 17:7-8); and whatever the Son has He in His turn makes His people share,—‘Even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us’ (John 17:21). We have thus Jesus introduced to us, not simply as He was on earth, but as He has passed through the sufferings of earth to the glory of heaven. He has been dead, but He is now the First-born of the dead; and as such He sends and signifies the revelation unto His servant John.

The object of the revelation on the part of Jesus Christ [for it is to Him that the pioneers ‘him,’ ‘his,’ and ‘he’ in this verse must in each instance be referred] is to show certain things unto his servants. These are the members of the Christian Church, of the one Body of Christ, without distinction of standing or of office. St. John is a ‘servant’ (chap. Revelation 1:1); the prophets are ‘servants’ (chap. Revelation 10:7, Revelation 11:18); and all members of the Church are designated in the same way (chaps. Revelation 2:20, Revelation 7:3, Revelation 19:2; Revelation 19:5, Revelation 22:3; Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:9).—The things to be shown are things which most quickly come to pass. And the word of the original, which can only be rendered in English by ‘come to pass,’ shows that it is not a beginning that is thought of but a full accomplishment. Nor can we fail to notice that they ‘must’ come to pass. They are the purposes of no fallible or mortal creature, but of the infallible and eternal God.—The words through his angel are to be connected with sent (comp. chap. Revelation 22:6); and the word signified must be allowed to stand in all its own absolute solemnity and force. It is by no means improbable that in this latter word there is special reference to ‘signs,’ to the figures which are to be used in the book, and which need to be interpreted. The word may indicate not only prophetic intimation (John 12:33; John 18:32; John 21:19; Acts 11:28), but the manner in which such intimation was usual among the prophets (see especially Ezekiel and Zechariah), that is, by ‘signs,’ significant acts, and parabolic words. Thus our Lord, by speaking of ‘being lifted on high’ as the brazen serpent was lifted on high, ‘signified’ by what manner of death He should die (John 12:33). On the only occasion in which the word is found in the N. T. in a more ordinary sense, it is employed by a heathen (Acts 25:27).

That St. John names himself here, while in his Gospel he only discovers himself to those who can read his name through the symbols in which he speaks, is easily explained. We are dealing with prophecy, and prophecy requires the guarantee of the individual who is inspired to utter it.


Verses 1-8

In the first paragraph of the chapter we have the Preface and the Salutation of the book, the one extending from Revelation 1:1 to Revelation 1:3, the other from Revelation 1:4 to Revelation 1:8. The Preface consists of three parts,—the person from whom the revelation came; the fidelity with which it was received and uttered by him to whom it was primarily given; and the blessedness of those who receive and keep it. The Salutation consists also of three parts,—a benediction from the Triune God, from whom grace and peace descend to the Church; a doxology to that glorified Redeemer in whom His people are delivered from sin and in their turn prepared for glory; and a brief intimation of the bright prospect, to be further unfolded in the book, of a time when the Lord Jesus Christ, now hidden from the view, shall Himself return to perfect the happiness of His redeemed, and to take vengeance upon all who in this world have persecuted and crucified them, as they once persecuted and crucified Him.

Both Preface and Salutation thus prepare us for what is to come, by impressing upon us the supreme importance of the revelation about to be made, and by conveying to the Church, even at the very outset, the joyful assurance of her ultimate and eternal triumph. Finally, both are followed by an utterance of our Lord Himself, interrupting the Seer (as God interrupted the Psalmist in Psalms 2:6), and commanding our attention by reminding us that He who sends the revelation is very and eternal God.


Verse 2

Revelation 1:2. The source of the revelation has been declared, and is now followed by a description of the spirit in which the revelation itself was received and communicated to the Church. Individually St. John is nothing: he is only a witness to the Divine, to the word of God, and to the testimony given by Jesus Christ ‘the Faithful Witness’ (comp. Revelation 1:5, Revelation 3:14). For ‘and’ in the last clause of the verse, as it is read in the Authorised Version, we must substitute ‘even;’ the clause all things that he saw being only a description from another point of view of the things contained in ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.’ The verse as a whole is thus to be understood of the revelation of this book. It has indeed been urged that the writer could not in the preamble speak of the contents of the book as past. But he does so in Revelation 1:3, in which the whole prophecy is supposed to have been already uttered. Here, in like manner, he places himself at the end of his visions, and speaks of them as things that he has already ‘seen.’ Nor is the verse, when looked at in this light, only a repetition of Revelation 1:1, for the emphasis lies upon ‘bare witness,’ upon the attitude of the Seer rather than upon the things seen. Add to all this that the verb ‘saw’ is constantly used throughout the book in the technical sense of beholding visions.


Verse 3

Revelation 1:3. The mention of the source of the revelation, and of the perfect faithfulness with which it has been recorded, are now fitly followed by a blessing pronounced upon such as receive and keep it. The allusion in he that readeth is to the public reading of books of Scripture in the congregation or in any assembly of Christians. One read, many heard; hence the change of number when we pass from the former to the latter. But the book must not only be heard, it must be ‘kept;’ that is, not simply must it be obeyed, it must be preserved or treasured in the heart, that there it may become the spirit and the rule of life. Thus, also, it follows that the things written therein are not to be limited to those exhortations to repentance, faith, patience, etc., which accompany the visions; they include all the words of the prophecy. The visions, indeed, are the main foundation and purport of the whole book. They reveal that future upon the knowledge of which the practical exhortations rest. Finally, the blessedness of thus ‘keeping’ the revelation is enforced by the thought that the time, the distinct and definite season, when all shall be accomplished, is at hand (comp. Revelation 1:1). And it was at hand, though 1800 years have passed since the words were spoken. We shall see, as we proceed, that the book deals with principles which have been exhibiting themselves throughout the whole period of the Church’s history. Thus the things written in it were ‘at hand’ in the days of the Apostle; they have always been ‘at hand’ to cheer the saints of God in the midst of their pilgrimage and warfare; they are ‘at hand’ now; for the words have never ceased to be fulfilled, ‘Lo, I am with you alway;’ ‘In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.’


Verses 4-6

Revelation 1:4-6. After the manner of the prophets of the O. T., the writer now brings himself forward by name, and directly addresses the Church. In the consciousness of his Divine commission, and of his own faithfulness to it, he is bold. It is the seven churches which are in Asia that are addressed, that is, in Proconsular Asia (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:19), a Roman province at the western extremity of what is now known as Asia Minor. Of this province Ephesus was the capital, and few early traditions of the Church seem more worthy of reliance than those which inform us that at Ephesus St. John spent the latter years of his life. The churches of that neighbourhood would thus naturally be of peculiar interest to him, and he would be more intimately acquainted with their condition than with that of others. The question may indeed be asked, why a prophecy bearing so closely as the Book of Revelation does upon the condition of the whole Church should be addressed to so limited an area. The answer will meet us at Revelation 1:11, and in the meantime it is enough to say that the number seven is to be taken, not according to its numerical but its sacred value. It is the number of the covenant, and in these seven churches we have a representation of the Church universal. To the latter, therefore, to the Church of every country and of all time, the Revelation is addressed.

The Salutation wishes grace and peace, the same blessings, and in the same order, as so often found in the writings of the other apostles,—‘grace’ first, ‘peace’ afterwards, the love of God supplying us with all needful strength, and keeping our hearts calm even amidst such troubles as those about to be recorded in this book. The Salutation is given in the name of the three Persons of the Trinity.

(1) The Father, described as He which is, and which was, and which is to come. In the original Greek of this verse we have a striking illustration of those so-called solecisms of the Revelation of which we have spoken in the Introduction, Revelation Book Comments. The pronoun ‘which’ is not grammatically construed with the preposition ‘from’ preceding it: instead of standing in one of the deflected cases, it stands in the nominative. The explanation is obvious. St. John sublimely treats the clause (which is really a paraphrase or translation of the Name of God in Exodus 3:14—I am that I AM) as an indeclinable noun, the name of Him who is absolute and unchangeable. That Name denoted God to Israel not so much in His abstract existence as in His covenant relation to His people, and it has the same sense here. Hence the use of the words ‘which is to come,’ instead of, what we might have expected, ‘which will be’ (comp. Revelation 1:8, Revelation 4:8). The change of expression does not depend upon the fact that there is no ‘will be’ with an Eternal God, but that with Him all is, because upon the same principle we ought not to have it said of Him ‘which was.’ It depends upon the fact that God is here contemplated as the redeeming God, and that as such He comes, and will come, to His people. The Son is never alone even as Redeemer. He ‘can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father doing’ (John 5:19). When He comes the Father comes, according to the promise of Jesus, ‘If a man love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make our abode with Him’ (John 14:23). As, therefore, throughout this whole book the Son is the ‘coming’ One, so the same term is here properly applied to the Father,—not ‘which is, and which was, and which will be,’ but ‘which is, and which was, and which is to come.’

(2) The Holy Spirit, described in the words the seven Spirits which are before his throne. It is impossible to understand these words of any principal angels such as those of chap. Revelation 8:2, for no creature could be spoken of as the source of ‘grace and peace,’ be associated with the Father and the Son, or be made to take precedence of the Son who is not introduced to us till the following verse. Nor can they refer to any seven gifts or graces of the Spirit, for they are obviously intended to convey the thought not of a gift but of a giver. We must learn the meaning by looking at other passages of this book. In chap. Revelation 4:5 we read of seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, ‘which are the seven Spirits of God.’ In chap. Revelation 5:6 we read that the Lamb has seven eyes, ‘which are the seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth;’ and in chap. Revelation 3:1 we are told of Jesus the Head of the Church that He ‘hath the seven Spirits of God.’ These seven Spirits, then, belong to the Son as well as to the Father (comp. note on John 15:26). What has been said will become still clearer if we turn to Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:10, in the first of which we have mention made of the stone with seven eyes, while in the second it is said of these eyes that they ‘run to and fro through the whole earth.’ This stone is the Messiah, so that putting the Old and New Testaments together, no doubt can remain on our minds that we have before us a figure for the Holy Spirit He is called ‘the seven Spirits,’ the mystical number seven being identical with unity, though unity unfolded in diversity, and denoting Him in His completeness and fulness as adapted to the seven churches or the Universal Church. By Him the whole Church is enlightened and quickened.—The idea of the words ‘before His throne’ seems to be taken from the thought of the seven-branched golden candlestick in the tabernacle.

(3) The Son. That the Salutation culminates in the Son is proved by the fact that He has three designations, and that, in Revelation 1:6, three separate parts of His work are mentioned. We might have expected the Son to be spoken of before the Spirit. But it is the manner of St. John, strikingly illustrated in the Prologue to His Gospel, so to arrange what he has to say that a new sentence shall spring out of the closing thought of that immediately preceding. Thus in this very chapter the mention of ‘John’ in Revelation 1:1 is unfolded into the long description of Revelation 1:2; and the mention of the readers and hearers of this prophecy in Revelation 1:3 into the more specific reference to the seven churches in Revelation 1:4. In like manner here the Son is not only the leading theme of the book, but He is to be dwelt upon in the large and full statement of Revelation 1:5-8. This, therefore, was the proper place to speak of Him. Three particulars regarding Him are noted. First, He is the faithful witness, the giver of the ‘testimony’ already spoken of in Revelation 1:2; and, so high and holy is the qualification, that even after the preposition the name ‘Witness’ in the original is in the nominative case. The idea of witnessing as applied to Jesus is a favourite one both in the Apocalypse and in the Gospel (Revelation 3:14; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:20; John 3:11; John 3:32; John 4:44; John 5:31-32; John 7:7; John 8:14; John 13:21; John 18:37, etc.). The designation is also found in Psalms 89:37, and in Isaiah 55:4. The combination with the word ‘true’ in chaps. Revelation 19:11, Revelation 21:5, Revelation 22:6, and especially in chap. Revelation 3:14, seems to show that the faithfulness is not simply that of One who, even unto death, bore witness to what He had heard, but that also of One who had received the truth in a manner strictly corresponding to what the truth was. Secondly, He is the first-born of the dead. The designation is to be distinguished from that in Colossians 1:18, the first-born from the dead, where our thoughts are directed rather to the Redeemer Himself than to those whom He leaves behind Him in the grave, whereas here we have the Redeemer as He has begun that resurrection-life in which He shall yet bring along with Him all the members of His Body. Thirdly, He is the prince of the kings of the earth (comp. chaps. Revelation 17:14, Revelation 19:16). The meaning is not that He is one of them, although higher than they, but that He is exalted over them, that He rules them as their Prince. The ‘earth’ is to be understood here, as always in the Apocalypse, of the earth which is alienated from God, and its ‘kings’ are its greatest powers and potentates. Yet these the exalted Redeemer rules with the rule of Psalms 2:9 and Revelation 2:27. In the exercise of their greatest might they are in His hand: He subdues them, and constrains them to serve His purposes.

It has been often imagined that in the three designations employed we have a reference to the prophetical, the priestly, and the kingly offices of Christ. The supposition is improbable; for, in the immediately following doxology with its three members, the description given of the Redeemer does not correspond with these offices in this order of succession. In the three designations of this verse, therefore, we are to see not parallel offices of Christ, but successive stages of His work,—His life on earth, His glorification when He rose from the dead, and the universal rule upon which He entered when He sat down as King at the right hand of the Father.

The thought of the glorious dignity of the Person whom he has just mentioned now leads the Seer to burst forth, in the second part of his Salutation, into a doxology of adoring praise, in which the contemplation not so much of what Jesus is in Himself as of what we experience in Him is prominent Three relations of the Lord to His people are spoken of. First, He loveth us. Not, as in the Authorised Version, He ‘loved’ us, as if the thoughts of St. John were mainly directed to Christ’s work on earth; but He ‘loveth’ us. He loveth us now; even amidst the glory of His exalted state we are partakers of His love; and His love will give us all things. Secondly, He loosed us (not ‘washed us’) from our sins in his blood. It is complete salvation that is before the writer’s eye, not simply the pardon of sin, but deliverance from its bondage. They who are ‘loosed from their sins in’ the blood of Christ are alike cleansed from the stain and defilement of sin, and are quickened and enfranchised in the participation of their Lord’s Resurrection-life; ‘being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life’ (Romans 6:22). In the great Head to whom by faith they are united, they are united also to the Father, and are consecrated to Him in the free and joyful service in which Jesus gives Himself to the Father for evermore. Thirdly, He made us a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father. The words are in a certain measure parenthetical, the doxology which follows connecting itself directly with the clause immediately preceding them; but they do not on that account less forcibly express one of the greatest of all privileges bestowed upon believers. Particular attention ought to be paid both to the word ‘kingdom’ and to the relation in which it stands to ‘priests.’ It is not said that we are made ‘kings,’ a term nowhere applied to Christians in their individual capacity. We are made ‘a kingdom,’ yet not, as some would have it, a kingdom with which Christ is invested, but ourselves a kingdom, clothed in oar corporate existence with royal dignity and honour. The regal glory is that of Him who has been set as King upon God’s holy hill, but it extends to and glorifies that Body which is one with Him. Only in her collective capacity, however, in her oneness, in the harmonious co-operation of all her parts, is the Church such a kingdom as is here described, the eternal kingdom of an eternal Lord, for ‘every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation’ (Matthew 12:25). ‘We,’ says the Seer, ‘are not kings, but a kingdom.’ The relation in which the word ‘kingdom’ stands to the word ‘priests’ is to be equally observed. From the collective word we pass to that which describes our individual position, and brings out its most distinctive and essential feature. We are ‘priests,’ to minister to one another, to plead for one another and for the world, to set forth before those less favoured than ourselves the praise and glory of God. Not for our selfish gratification, for our own personal enjoyment, has the ‘kingdom’ been bestowed on us, but that we may be God’s ministers for the world’s good. And this service belongs to every follower of Jesus. All Christians are ‘a kingdom,’ but in that kingdom, sharing its privileges each Christian is a ‘priest.’ The same thought lies at the bottom of Exodus 19:6 (comp. also 1 Peter 2:9); and the same order is exhibited in our Lord’s own ministry. The glory of His kingship upon earth consisted in His bearing perfect witness to the truth, with all that was implied in doing so (John 18:37). He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister: that was His glory; ‘and the glory,’ He says in His high-priestly prayer, ‘which Thou hast given Me I have given unto them’ (John 17:22). How Important to be reminded of this at the very beginning of a book which is to describe in such exalted strains the triumphs of God’s children, and from which they have so often gathered pleas for selfish and worldly aggrandisement!

To One in Himself so exalted in His threefold greatness; to One who has done so much for us in the threefold actings of His love, we may well ascribe the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.


Verse 7

Revelation 1:7. The third part of the Salutation follows, closely associated with that Redeemer to whom the doxology of the second part had been addressed. The thought of Jesus is not exhausted by the mention of what He had done. Another great truth is connected with Him,—that He will come again, to complete His victory, and to be acknowledged by all in His glory and His majesty.

Behold, he cometh with the clouds. May it not be that these clouds are not the mere clouds of the sky, but those clouds of Sinai, of the Shechinah, of the Transfiguration, of the Ascension, which are the recognised signs of Deity? This is the coming prophesied of in Daniel 7:13 and Mark 14:62 (also of Matthew 26:64, though a different preposition is there used); and in both cases, it ought to be strictly observed, it is a coming to judgment.

And every eye shall see him, not the eyes only of those who shall then be alive upon the earth, as it would thus be impossible to explain the mention of those who pierced Him, but the eyes of all who, in any age and of any nation, have rejected His redemption (cp. what is said below on the meaning of the word ‘see’).

Even they that pierced him. The reference is undoubtedly to John 19:34; John 19:37, and to Zechariah 12:10 (cp. note on John 19:37); and this, combined with the facts, that in the passage of the prophet the Jews are the representatives of the whole human race; that it was a Roman soldier, not a Jew, though at the instigation of the Jews, who pierced the side of Jesus as He hung upon the cross; and that the relative employed is not the simple but the compound relative—whosoever—is sufficient to show that the persons referred to are not the Jews only, but they who in any age have identified themselves with the spirit of the Saviour’s murderers. The reader ought not to pass these words without remembering that the piercing of the Saviour’s side is spoken of by St. John alone of all the Evangelists, nay, not only spoken of, but that too with an emphasis which shows how deep was the importance he attached to it (John 19:34-37). A clear trace of the importance of the fact in the writer’s mind is likewise presented to us here.

And all the tribes of the earth shall wail over him. It is important to notice the word ‘tribes,’ the same word as that applied to the true Israel in chaps, Revelation 5:5, Revelation 7:4-8, Revelation 21:12. The ‘tribes’ of Israel are the figure by which God’s believing people, whether Jew or Gentile, are represented. In like manner all unbelievers are now set before us as ‘tribes,’ the mocking counterpart of the true Israel of God. They are the tribes of the ‘earth,’ i.e not the earth in its merely neutral sense, but as opposed to heaven, as the scene of worldliness and evil. Thus in Matthew 24:30-31, ‘all the tribes of the earth’ are distinguished from the ‘elect.’ In neither of the two clauses, then, now under consideration have we any distinction between Jew and Gentile. The same persons are thought of, numerically and personally, in both. The distinction lies in this, that, according to a method of conception common in the Apocalypse, the same persons are looked at first under a Jewish, and next under a Gentile, point of view. The Yea which follows seems to be the testimony of the Lord Himself to what had just been told of Him (comp. chap. Revelation 22:20). The Amen is the answer of believers to the statement made.

We have still to ask, In what sense shall all ‘see’ and ‘wail’? The latter word must determine the interpretation of the former. Is this a wailing of penitence or of dismay? or is it both, so that the wailers embrace alike the sinful world and the triumphant Church? We cannot suppose the same word used to denote wailings of a kind so entirely distinct from and opposite to one another; and the following additional reasons appear to limit the wailing spoken of to that of the impenitent and godless:—(1) This is the proper meaning of the word, and it is so used in chap. Revelation 18:9. (2) Such is also its meaning in that prophecy of our Lord upon which the Apocalypse is moulded (Matthew 24). (3) It corresponds with the idea of the tribes of the earth, which do not include the godly. (4) Throughout this book the godly and ungodly are separated from each other. There is a gulf between them which cannot be passed. If this be the meaning of the second clause, that of the first must correspond to it, and the ‘seeing’ must be that of shame and confusion of face. The whole sentence thus corresponds with the object of the book, and the coming of Jesus is described as that of One who comes to overthrow His adversaries and to complete His triumph.


Verse 8

Revelation 1:8. This conclusion is strengthened by the words of the eighth verse, in which the emphasis lies upon the Almighty, thus bringing into prominence that all-powerful might in which Jesus goes forth to be victorious over His enemies. It is Christ, ‘the Lord,’ who speaks, and who says that He is the Alpha and the Omega; that He is God (for we are not to read the two words Lord God together); that He is he which is, and which was, and which is to come; and that all culminates in His title the Almighty. To suppose that the words are spoken by the Father is to introduce a thought not strictly corresponding to what precedes. The unity of the whole passage is only preserved by ascribing them to the exalted and glorified Redeemer. The words are thus highly important as witnessing to the true Divinity of Christ, and in particular to His possessing the same eternity as the Almighty.

Thus, in the assurance that the Lord will come in His might for the accomplishment of His plans, the Seer is prepared to enter upon a description of the visions which he had enjoyed.


Verse 9

Revelation 1:9. Again the apocalyptic writer, after the manner of the prophets, especially Daniel, names himself (comp. Daniel 7:15, Daniel 8:1; Daniel 8:15, Daniel 9:2, Daniel 10:2, Daniel 12:5). But he is not only a prophet: he is not less personally concerned than those to whom he writes in the revelation which he is to declare. He is their brother, and he is a fellow-partaker with them in the things of which he speaks. In what a touching light does St. John thus present himself to the afflicted Church! But the words which he uses are more than touching. They take for granted that all who read are feeling as acutely as himself; and such is the nature of the Apocalypse, that, unless we either are or put ourselves as far as possible into his position, we shall never understand the book. For an afflicted Church, and not for a Church in worldly prosperity and ease, it has its meaning. The things spoken of by the apostle are three in number, and they are bound together into one conception, although the first is the main particular to be dwelt on, the other two being only additional and explicative (comp. on John 14:6). The first is tribulation, ‘the tribulation’ through which the followers of the Lord in every age must pass; but the mention of it is followed by that of the kingdom, the present, not the future kingdom; and the patience, the stedfast endurance which holds out to the end amidst all sorrow, the patience of which we are so strikingly told by our Lord in Luke 21:19, that in it we shall ‘win our souls’ (later reading; comp. Revised Version). These, too, are in Jesus,—not ‘of’ Jesus as if only His spirit were made ours, nor ‘for’ Jesus as if only we were suffering and rejoicing and enduring for His sake, but ‘in’ Him, believers being one with Him, and therefore partakers of His trials, His royalty, and His heavenly strength.

Was; literally, ‘became,’ passed into, an expression, be it noted, that supports, though it could not have originated, the tradition of the writer’s banishment.

In the isle that is called Patmos, a small and barren island in the Egean Sea, such as those to which it was customary at that period to banish prisoners. To this island it is generally supposed that St. John was exiled in the time of the Roman Emperor Domitian, and the following words are in harmony with the supposition that this was the explanation of his being there.

Because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The ‘word of God’ is that which comes from God, the ‘testimony of Jesus’ that which is given by Jesus; but they cannot be limited here, as at Revelation 1:2, to the revelation of this book (comp. also chaps. Revelation 6:9, Revelation 20:4). All revelation may be so described. Revelation 1:10.

Was; literally, ‘became,’ see on Revelation 1:9. It was not his ordinary condition (comp. Ezekiel 2:2).—In the spirit. The expression occurs four times in the book, each time at a great crisis in the development of the visions (chaps. Revelation 1:10, Revelation 4:2, Revelation 17:3, Revelation 21:10). It denotes removal in thought from this material scene, elevation into the higher region of spiritual realities, transportation into the midst of the sights and sounds of the invisible world.

On the Lord’s day. Certainly not the last day, the great day of judgment, known in the New Testament by a different expression, ‘the day of the Lord,’ and before which, not on which, the events of the Apocalypse take place, but the first day of the week (comp. the expression used by St. Paul, ‘the Lord’s Supper,’ in 1 Corinthians 11:20). Yet the words are not to be regarded as a simple designation of the first day of the week in its distinction from the others. The nature and character of the day are to be kept particularly in view. It is the day of the ‘Lord,’ the risen and glorified Lord, the day of Him who, thus risen and glorified, had founded that Church against which no enemies shall prevail. Wrapt therefore in contemplation of the glory of this Lord; not simply with the peaceful influences of the day of rest diffused over his soul, but dwelling amidst the thoughts of that authority and power which are possessed by the risen Jesus at the right hand of the Father, St. John receives the revelation which is here communicated to him.

Thus, then, we have both the outward and the inward circumstances of the Seer; and it will be observed that they correspond closely to the condition of the Lord Himself. St. John is at once in a state of humiliation and of exaltation. He has the marks of suffering upon him, but he is also in possession of a glory which enables him to triumph over suffering: he is ‘in Jesus.’

The vision follows, and the first part of it is the hearing of a great voice as of a trumpet. There can be little doubt that the trumpet spoken of is that so frequently alluded to in the Old Testament, the Shophar, the trumpet of war and judgment (see more fully on chap. Revelation 8:2), not the trumpet of festal proclamation; therefore not merely (as most commentators) one with a strong and clear sound, but with a sound inspiring awe and terror, and corresponding in this respect to the distinguishing characteristic of the Lord in the further details of the vision.


Verses 9-20

We are introduced to a vision of the Saviour, in that light in which He is peculiarly presented to us in the Apocalypse—the Head of His Church, the great High Priest and King of His people. From Him the Seer receives the commission to deliver His message to the Church.


Verse 11

Revelation 1:11. The first clauses of the verse in the Authorised Version must be removed, and the words of the voice begin with what thou seest write in a roll. Under the ‘seeing’ is included all that is to be written in the roll, not merely chaps, 2 and 3; and the command to write is so given in the original as to show that it is urgent and that it must be obeyed at once (chaps. Revelation 1:19, Revelation 2:1; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:18, Revelation 3:1; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 3:14, Revelation 14:13, Revelation 19:9, Revelation 21:5).

When the roll is written it is to be sent unto the seven churches which are named. These are the seven churches already spoken of in Revelation 1:4, and no reasonable doubt can be entertained that they represent the universal Church in all countries and ages; for (1) The Apocalypse is designed for all Christians (chap. Revelation 1:3); (2) There were other churches in Asia at the time, at all events those of Magnesia and Tralles, probably those also of Colossae and Hierapolis. These two latter cities had indeed suffered from an earthquake before the Apocalypse was penned, but there is no reason to think that their churches had been wholly destroyed, or that, if destroyed for a time, they might not have been restored. Although, however, there were thus more than seven churches in Asia, this book, it will be observed, is addressed not to seven, but to ‘the’ seven (Revelation 1:4). (3) We must bear in mind the importance of the number seven, which often occurs in the Apocalypse, and apparently nowhere in its merely literal sense. Here as elsewhere, therefore, it is to be typically understood, as an emblem of the unity, amidst manifoldness, of that Church with which God makes His covenant (4) The character in which the Redeemer is presented to these seven churches consists of a summary of particulars which are afterwards applied separately to the seven churches in chaps. 2 and 3. But the summary represents Jesus as a whole; and the natural inference is, that the seven churches constitute a whole also. (5) The symbolism of the whole book is thus preserved. On any other supposition than that we have here a representation of the whole Church of Christ, chaps. 2 and 3 must be regarded as simply historical, and the harmony of the Apocalypse is destroyed.


Verse 12

Revelation 1:12. The Seer naturally turns to see; and the first thing that strikes his eyes as the outer circle of the vision is seven golden candlesticks, each of them like the golden candlestick of the Tabernacle. That we have seven candlesticks instead of one points to the richness and fulness of the New Testament Dispensation in its contrast with the Old. The idea that we have before us only one candlestick with seven branches is to be rejected as alike inconsistent with the language of St. John and with the symbolism of the book. It is, besides, wholly unnecessary to think of only one candlestick for the sake of unity. The number seven is not less expressive of unity than unity itself.


Verse 13

Revelation 1:13. We have beheld the contents of the outer circle; but there is something more glorious within. In the midst of the seven golden candlesticks is One, not walking as in chap. Revelation 2:1, but standing, who is like unto a Son of man, i.e appears in human likeness. As in chap. Revelation 14:14, and John 5:27, the article ‘the’ is awanting, and ought not to be supplied. Besides which, the whole description shows that it is the Son of man Himself, not One ‘like unto’ Him, that is seen. Yet St. John does not say, ‘I saw the Son of man,’ for it is not in reality, but in vision, that he sees the Lord.

In the description given, the first thing mentioned is the Saviour’s garb, a garment down to the foot. The description of Gabriel in Daniel 10:5 (comp. also Ezekiel 9:2-3; Ezekiel 9:11) leaves little doubt as to the nature of the robe spoken of. It was a long white linen garment reaching to the feet, and worn by priests, or (1 Samuel 15:27) by kings. It was thus not only a priestly but a royal robe.—In addition to this, the person seen was girt round at the breasts with a golden girdle. The supposition is often entertained that the place of this girdle, so much higher than the loins, indicates not action, but rest from toil. It may be greatly doubted if such a supposition is correct. The girding referred to in Luke 12:35 presents no proper analogy to that now mentioned, being the girding up at the loins of the robe itself, so as to prevent its flowing to the feet. Here the girdle has no connection with the loins; and it seems rather to have been that worn by the priests when engaged in sacrifice. We learn from Josephus (comp. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, 2 p. 702) that at such times it was their practice to wear a girdle about the body just below the arm-pits. The Son of man, therefore, is not here at rest, but is engaged in discharging the functions, what-ever they are, which belong to Him as a Priest for ever. In chap. Revelation 15:6 the angels with the seven last plagues are described as similarly girt. The priestly girdle under the Law was only of linen embroidered with gold (Exodus 28:8). Here it is ‘golden,’ that is, wholly of gold in order to indicate the high dignity of the wearer and the exceeding riches of the blessings He bestows. The important question has still to be asked, whether in this dress we are to see the emblem only of priestly or of both kingly and priestly power. If we consider (1) That the more peculiar articles of the priests’ dress, such as the mitre and the ephod, are not spoken of, hat only such as were common to both priests and kings; (2) That in Daniel 10:5 and Isaiah 22:21 we have the same specification associated with the exercise of the royal and governmental rather than the priestly office; and (3) That the idea of kingly power is embodied in those parts of the description which are yet to follow, we shall have no difficulty in answering the question. We have before us not only a Priest but a King, One who is already a Priest upon His throne, a Priest after the order of Melchizedec. But the thought of the King is prominent.


Verse 14-15

Revelation 1:14-15. From the dress the Seer now proceeds to some characteristics of the personal appearance of Him whom he beholds in vision. His head and hairs were white as white wool, as snow. The head is not the forehead, but, as appears from the omission of the personal pronoun when the hair is mentioned, simply the head, with more especial reference to the hair; and the white wool and the snow are emblems of purity and holiness (comp. Psalms 51:7; Isaiah 1:18), not of old age.

His eyes were as a flame of fire, penetrating into every dark recess of sin, not only discovering sin, but consuming it.

And his feet like unto white brass burned in a furnace. The word here used for ‘white brass’ is found elsewhere only at chap. Revelation 2:18 of this book, where the part of the description now given is again made use of. It may perhaps have been a technical word of the workers in brass employed about Ephesus; or, what is still more probable, it may have been a mystical word compounded by the Seer himself, who would express, by its partly Greek partly Hebrew com-position, that from the treading of these burning feet no ungodly of any nation shall escape.

Lastly, And his voice as a voice of many waters. The connection in chaps. Revelation 14:2, Revelation 19:6, between ‘many waters’ and ‘thunderings’ at once points out the meaning of this figure. The voice is not simply loud and clear, but of irresistible strength and power, a voice the rebuke of which no enemy shall be able to withstand. All the features of the description, it will be observed, are those of majesty, terror, and judgment,—absolute purity, penetrating and consuming fire, the white heat of brass raised to its highest temperature in the furnace, the awful sound of many waters.


Verse 16

Revelation 1:16. From the personal appearance of the Redeemer, the Seer now passes to His equipment for His work, and that in three particulars. And he had in his right hand seven stars. In the writings of St. John the verb ‘to have’ denotes possession, and the ‘right hand’ is the hand of power, so that the Lord is here represented as possessing these seven stars, for their rule, protection, and guidance: ‘No one shall pluck them out of My hand’ (John 10:28). The stars are grasped ‘in’ His hand, to denote that they are His property. When the idea is varied in Revelation 1:20, the preposition is also changed,—they sure then not ‘in’ but ‘upon’ his hand. The seven stars are further explained in Revelation 1:20 to be ‘the angels of the seven churches’ (see on that verse).—The second particular mentioned is that of the sword.

Out of his mouth a sword, two-edged, sharp, proceeding forth. The order of the words in the original, and the love of the Seer for the number three, seems to make it desirable to understand ‘proceeding forth’ as an attribute of the sword parallel to the other two, instead of connecting it directly with its noun in the sense, ‘out of his mouth proceeded forth a sharp, two-edged sword.’ The word here translated ‘sword’ occurs six times in the Apocalypse (chaps. Revelation 1:16, Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:16, Revelation 6:8, Revelation 19:15; Revelation 19:21), and only once in the rest of the New Testament (Luke 2:35), but it is very frequently used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, particularly in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 5:1 it is associated with the attribute ‘sharp.’ In Psalms 149:6 we have it connected with the epithet ‘two-edged’ or two-mouthed, the edge of the sword being considered as its mouth by which it devours (Isaiah 1:20; cp. Hebrews 11:34, where the plural ‘mouths’ of the Greek leads to the thought of the two edges). The use of this figure in Scripture justifies the idea that there is here a reference to the Word of God which proceeds out of His mouth (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12); but there is no thought of ‘comforting’ or of ‘the grace and saving power of the Word.’ Its destroying power is alone in view, that power by which it judges, convicts, and condemns the wicked. ‘He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked’ (Isaiah 11:4; cp. John 12:48). Hence, accordingly, the various epithets here applied to the sword, all calculated to emphasize its destroying power, —two-edged, sharp, proceeding forth, the latter denoting that it is not at rest, but in the act of coming forth to execute its work.

And his countenance as the sun shineth in his power. The third particular of Christ’s equipment. We might have expected this particular to be connected with the previous group describing the appearance of the Lord. Its introduction now as a part of Christ’s equipment leads directly to the conclusion that we are to dwell mainly upon the power of the sun’s rays as they proceed directly from that luminary. Hence, also, in all probability the particular Greek word used for ‘countenance,’—not so much the face as the appearance of the face, the light streaming from it. The sun is thought of not at his rising, but in his utmost strength, with the scorching, intolerable power which marks him in the East at noonday.

It thus appears that throughout the whole of this description, the ‘Son of man’ is one who comes to judgment. To Him all judgment has been committed (John 5:22; John 5:27), and the time has arrived when He shall take unto Him His great power and reign. Nor are we to ask how it is possible that this should be the prominent aspect of the Lord in a book intended to strengthen and console His Church. That God is a God of judgment is everywhere throughout the prophets of the Old Testament the comfort of the righteous. They are now oppressed, but ere long they shall be vindicated; and there shall be a recompense unto those that trouble them.


Verse 17-18

Revelation 1:17-18. The effect of the vision upon the Seer is now described. I fell, he says, at his feet as dead (cp. Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 8:17; Daniel 10:7-8; Luke 5:8). The effect upon the present occasion is, however, greater than on any of those referred to in these other passages. It corresponds to the greater glory that has been witnessed. But St. John is immediately restored both by act and word. For the act op. Daniel 8:18; Daniel 10:10; Daniel 10:18; for the word, Matthew 14:27; Luke 5:10; Luke 12:32; John 6:20; John 12:15. The right hand is the all-powerful hand in which the churches are held (Revelation 1:16); and no doubt the Seer is at the same time set upon his feet (cp. Ezekiel 1:28, Ezekiel 2:1-2).

But this was not all. The Redeemer further reveals Himself as the Lord who through humiliation and death had attained to glory and victory. In the words in which He does so, reaching to the end of Revelation 1:18, it seems to be generally allowed that we have three clauses, but commentators differ as to their arrangement. Without discussing the opinions of other., it may be enough to say that the best distribution appears to be as follows:—(1) I am the first and the last and the Living One; (2) and I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore; (3) and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (1) I am the first and the last (cp. Revelation 1:8, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 22:13). It is the Divine attribute of eternal and unchangeable existence that is spoken of; not I am the first in glory, the last in humiliation, but I am the One preceding all, embracing all, by whom all things were made, in whom all things consist, the same yesterday, today, and for ever (cp. Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12), and the Living One. He is not merely alive, but He has life in Himself, self-possessed, absolute life (John 1:4; John 5:26). Thus in these epithets we have the Divine, eternal pre-existence of the Son, what He was before the Eternal ‘Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us.’ (2) I became dead. The Divine Son emptied Himself of His glory, and stooped as man to death itself. All this is included in ‘became.’

And behold, I am alive for evermore, words which ought not to be separated from those immediately preceding them; for, according to the conception of St. John, the Resurrection and Glorification of our Lord are to be taken along with His humiliation as parts of one great whole (cp. note on John 20 under Contents). We are thus carried a step further forward than in the previous part of our Lord’s declaration of Himself. (3) and I have the keys of death and of Hades. The two words ‘death’ and ‘Hades’ are combined, as in chap. Revelation 20:13-14, and both are conceived of as a fortress or place of imprisonment. Hence the figure of the ‘keys’ (Isaiah 38:10; Matthew 16:18; cp. also chap. Revelation 9:1, Revelation 20:1). Neither ‘death’ nor ‘Hades’ is to be understood in a neutral sense. The one is not simply death, but death as a terrible power from which the righteous have escaped; the other is a region peopled, not by both the righteous and the wicked, but by those alone who have not conquered death. Both words thus describe the condition of all who are out of Christ, and are not partakers of His victory. Yet, however they may be opposed to Him, He has the keys of the prison within which they are confined; He can Keep them there, or He can deliver them at His will. The third part of the declaration thus carries us further than the second, and introduces us to the thought of Christ’s everlasting and glorious rule as King in Zion. All the three parts appropriately follow the words ‘Fear not.’ They tell of the Divine pre-existence of the Son; of death endured but conquered in His Resurrection; of irresistible power now exercised over His and the Church’s enemies. They are thus supplementary to the description which had been given of the Son of man in Revelation 1:13-16, and they include a revelation of the fact that He who is judgment to His enemies is mercy to His own.


Verse 19

Revelation 1:19. Write therefore, not simply in continuation of the ‘write’ of Revelation 1:11, or because the apostle has recovered from his fear, but ‘Write, seeing that I am what I have now revealed Myself to be.’ The following clauses of this verse are attended with great difficulty, and very various opinions have been entertained regarding them. Here it is only possible to remark that the things which thou sawest, although most naturally referred to the vision of Revelation 1:10-18, are not necessarily confined to what concerns Jesus in himself. In these verses He is described as the Head of His Church, as One who has His Church summed up in Him; and we are thus led not merely to the thought of His individuality, but to that of the fortunes of His people. This being so, the following clauses of the verse are to be regarded as a resolution of the vision into the two parts in which it finds its application to the history of the Church, so that we ought to translate both the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass after these things. ‘The things which are’ then give expression to the present condition of the Church, as she follows her Lord in humiliation and suffering in the world; ‘the things which shall come to pass after these things’ to the glory that awaits her when, all her trials over, she shall enter upon her reward in the world to come. The verse, therefore, consists of two parts rather than three, although the second part is again divided into two. There appears to be no sufficient reason for rendering the second clause of the verse ‘what they are’ instead of ‘the things which are.’ The plural verb in that clause is better accounted for by the thought of the mingled condition, partly sorrow and defeat, partly joy and triumph, of the Church on earth, while hereafter it shall be wholly joy and wholly triumph.


Verse 20

Revelation 1:20. The mystery of the stars which thou sawest upon my right hand. It is generally agreed that the word ‘mystery’ here depends on ‘write,’ and that it is in apposition with the ‘things which thou sawest’ The word denotes what man cannot know by his natural powers, or without the help of Divine revelation. It occurs again in chaps. Revelation 10:7, Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:7; and its use there, as well as its present context, forbids the supposition that it refers merely to the fact that the seven stars are angels of the seven churches, or that the seven candlesticks are seven churches. It includes the whole history and fortunes of these churches. All that concerns them is a part of the ‘mystery’ which is now to be written, and which the saints shall understand, though the world cannot. We may further notice that, in the second clause of the first half of this verse, and the seven golden candlesticks, the last word is not, as we might have expected, dependent upon ‘mystery.’ It is in the accusative not the genitive case; and would thus seem to depend upon the verb ‘sawest,’ and to be subordinate to the first clause, though closely connected with it (comp. John 2:12; John 14:6). It so, the ‘seven stars’ are the prominent part of the mystery, thus illustrating the unity of the Church with the Saviour Himself, for He is ‘the bright, the morning star’ (chap. Revelation 22:16). Further also we may notice the ‘upon’ prefixed to ‘my right hand’ instead of ‘in’ as in Revelation 1:16. Surely, in spite of the commentators, there is a difference. The Seer beholds the churches ‘in’ the hand of their Lord as His absolute property and in His safe keeping. The Lord Himself beholds them ‘upon’ His right hand, in a more upright and independent position: they are churches which He is about to send forth to struggle in His place.

An explanation of what the stars and the candlesticks are is now given. The seven stars are angels of the seven churches. It seems doubtful if stars are ‘in all the typical language of Scripture symbols of lordship and authority ecclesiastical or civil’ (Trench). They are often emblems of light (Numbers 24:17; Psalms 148:3; Jeremiah 31:35; Ezekiel 32:7; Daniel 12:3; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15; 2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 2:28; Revelation 22:16), so that it cannot at least be inferred from the use of the word that the ‘angels’ are persons in authority. What they are is more doubtful, and the most various opinions have been entertained regarding them. Several of these may be set aside without much difficulty. They are not ideal messengers of the churches, supposed to be sent on a mission to the Seer. He would then have replied by them, not to them. They are not the officials known as angels or messengers of the synagogue. Such an office is too subordinate to answer the conditions of the case, and there is no proof that it had been transferred to the Christian Church. They are not the guardian angels of the churches, for, instead of protecting, they represent the churches, and they are spoken of in the epistles which follow as chargeable with their sins. Two interpretations remain of wider currency or of higher authority. They are thought to be the Bishops or presiding ministers of the churches. But, even supposing that the Episcopal constitution of the Church at this early date could be established on other grounds, ‘it is difficult to see how a personage whose name (angel, one sent forth) implies departure from a particular locality should be identified with the resident governor of the Church’ (Saul of Tarsus, p. 143); nor could a Bishop be appropriately commended for the virtues, or condemned for the sins, of his flock. The interpretation of some of the oldest commentators on the Apocalypse is the best. Angels of a church are a method of expressing the church itself, the church being spoken of as if it were concentrated in its angel or messenger. In other words, the angel of a church is the moral image of the church as it strikes the eye of the observer, that presentation of itself which it sends up to the iew of its King and Governor. There is much in the style of thought marking the Apocalypse to favour this view, for the leading persons spoken ol in the book, and even the different departments of nature referred to in it, have each its ‘angel’ God proclaims His judgments by angels (chaps Revelation 14:6; Revelation 14:8-9, Revelation 18:1, Revelation 18:1; Revelation 18:21); He executes them by angels (chaps. Revelation 8:2, Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:6); He seals His own by angels (chap. Revelation 7:3); He even addresses the Son by an angel (chap. Revelation 14:15). The Son in like manner acts by an angel (chap. Revelation 20:1); and reveals His truth by an angel (Revelation 1:1, Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:16). Michael has his angels (chap. Revelation 12:7); the dragon has his angels (chap. Revelation 12:7; Revelation 12:9); the waters, fire, the winds, and the abyss have each its angel (chaps. Revelation 16:5, Revelation 14:18; Revelation 7:1, Revelation 9:11). In some of these instances it may be said that the angels are real beings, but in others it is hardly possible to think so. The method of expression seems to rest upon the idea that everything has its angel, its messenger by whom it communicates its feelings, and through whom it comes in contact with the external world. The angels here spoken of are, therefore, not so much ideal representatives of the churches, as a mode of thought by which the churches are conceived of when they pass out of their absolute condition into intercourse with, and action upon, others. Perhaps the same mode of speaking may be seen in Daniel 10:20-21; Daniel 12:1, where Persia and Grecia are represented by angels.

With the view now taken the equivalent designation ‘stars’ agrees much better than the supposition that these stars are persons in authority.

When it is said of the Son of man that He has the ‘seven stars upon His right hand.’ it is much more natural to think that we have here a symbol of the churches themselves than of their rulers; and in chap. Revelation 12:1 the twelve stars are not persons, the number twelve being simply the number of the Church. It may indeed be argued as an objection to the above reasoning, that it is immediately added in this verse that the candlesticks are the seven churches, and that we shall thus have two figures for the same object. But between the figures there is an instructive difference confirmatory of all that has been said; for the ‘star’ represents the Church as she gives light in the firmament of heaven, as she shines before the world for the world’s good; the candlestick represents her as having her Divine life nourished in the secret place of the tabernacle of the Most High. The one is the Church in action, the other the Church in her inner life; and hence, probably, the mention of the former before the latter, for throughout the Apocalypse it is with the working, struggling Church that we have to do. Hence also in Revelation 1:13 the Son of man is ‘in the midst of the candlesticks;’ while the stars are ‘upon His right hand’ (Revelation 1:20), the hand that is stretched out for acting and for manifesting His glory to the world.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 1:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-1.html. 1879-90.

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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
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