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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Revelation 1

 

 

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Introduction

CHAP. I.

John writeth the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the seven churches of Asia, signified by the seven golden candlesticks. The appearance of Christ: his glorious power and majesty.

Anno Domini 96.


Verse 1

Revelation 1:1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, The book opens with the title, or inscription, the scope and design of it; to foretel things, which should shortly begin to be fulfilled, andsucceed in their due season and order, till all were accomplished; and with the blessing pronounced on him who should read and explain it, and on them who shall hear and attend to it. The distinction is remarkable, of him that readeth, and of them that hear: for books being then in manuscripts, were in much fewer hands; and it was a much readier way to publish a prophecy, or any thing, by public reading, than by transcribing copies. It was the custom too of that age to read all the apostolic writings in the congregations of the faithful; but now this excellent book of the Revelation is seldom read, or only some few parts of it, in the congregations. Instead of and he sent and signified it, &c. the Greek might be better rendered which he signified, sending by his angel. In the stile of prophecy, whence the expressions of this book are chiefly taken, every thing is called an angel that notifies a message from God, or executes his will; a prophetic dream is an angel; the pillar of fire, which went before the Israelites, is called God's angel. The winds, and flames of fire, are angels to us, when used by God as voices to teach, or rods to punish us: so that God is properly said to reveal by his angel, what he makes known either by voice, by dream, by vision, or any other manner of true prophetic revelation. BishopBossuet has finely observed, in the preface to his Exposition of the Revelation, "that in the Gospel of St. John we read the life of Christ on earth as a man conversing with men, humble, poor, weak, and suffering; we behold a sacrifice ready to be offered, and one appointed to sorrows and death: but in the Revelation of St. John we have the gospel of Christ, who was now raised from the dead. He speaks and acts as having conquered the grave, and triumphed over death and hell; as entered into the place of his glory, angels, principalities, and powers being made subject unto him; and exercising the supreme universal power which he has received from the Father over all things in heaven and earth, as our Saviour, for the protection of his church, and for the sure happiness of his faithful servants in the end." All this he is as Mediator, being at the same time, in respect to Deity, "God over all, blessed for ever."


Verse 2

Revelation 1:2. Who bare record "Who, being honoured with so important a message, failed not faithfully to declare it, but testified the word of God, which, in those prophetic visions, came unto him; and the testimony of Jesus Christ, (whose messenger the angel was,) exactly reporting whatever he saw."


Verse 4

Revelation 1:4. John to the seven churches The apostle dedicates his book, Revelation 1:4-6 to the seven churches of the Lydian or Proconsular Asia, wishing them grace and peace from God the Father, as the author and giver; from the seven spirits, the representatives of the Holy Ghost, as the instruments; and from Jesus Christ the Mediator,whoismentioned last, because the subsequent discourse more immediately relates to him. To the dedication he subjoins a short and solemn preface, Revelation 1:7-8 to shew the great authority of the divinePerson who had commissioned him to write the Revelation. Grotius is of opinion, that the nominative case not being varied in the clause rendered from him which is, and which was, &c. into the genitive, as the common rules of grammar require, is designed to represent the everlasting veracity and invariableness of God, and the unchangeable majesty of Christ, in the testimony of his gospel, and the glory of his kingdom. The Holy Spirit, as is above hinted, is meant by the seven spirits which are before the throne. Seven, in the language of prophesy, often expresses perfection, and may better be understood of the most perfect Spirit of God, the Author of all spiritual blessings, than of seven angels, as a more natural interpretation of the expression in prophesy, as well as much more agreeable to the manner of the gospel blessing, from Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

This too is most consistent with the prohibition of prayer to the angels; and, if we do not take this for the true interpretation, it will be a great difficulty to account for the omission of the Spirit, whose dignity must be allowed infinitely superior to that of the highest created angel.


Verse 5

Revelation 1:5. The faithful witness, In the original the nominative case is again used by St. John, contrary to the analogy of grammar, to signify, that, as he had intimated the immortality of the Deity, so likewise Christ was no less immutable in his kingdom and in his testimony. Christ is called the Prince of the kings of the earth, to encourage them in the profession of Christianity, notwithstandingthe opposition made by kings, whom he could easily defeat and destroy in a moment. See John 13:34; John 15:9. 1 John 1:7.


Verse 7

Revelation 1:7. Behold, he cometh with clouds, &c.— This verse contains the great moral which the whole book is designed to illustrate; namely, that, though there should be great opposition made against the cause and kingdom of Christ, yet it should be utterlyin vain, and his kingdom should triumph in the most illustrious manner; so that all who had opposed him, should have the greatest reason to mourn; to lament that fatal opposition, by which, instead of prevailing in the least against him, they have only effected their own destruction: and as this series of divine prophecy begins, so it ends with this sentiment, and with the joyful consent of his faithful servants to this glorious truth, which should fill the enemies of Christ with such terror and dismay. Comp. ch. Revelation 22:20. The last clause, Even so, Amen, may be thus interpreted, "Yea, Lord, we repeat our joyful assent; be it so; Come, Lord Jesus, in the clouds of heaven; take to thyself thy great power, and reign: thy faithful people shall lift up their heads with joy and triumph, being assured that their complete redemption is approaching."


Verse 8

Revelation 1:8. I am Alpha and Omega, "I was before all worlds, and shall continue the same, when all the revolutions of this world are over, and the final scenes relating to it shall be concluded." This verse affords us a glorious attestation to the Divinity of our great Lord and Saviour; and, though some have endeavoured to weaken its force by interpreting the words as spoken by the Father, every unprejudiced reader must discern that nothing can be more inconsistent with the context. Besides, most of the phrases which are here used, are afterwards applied to our Lord Jesus Christ. See Colossians 1:17. Hebrews 1:3.


Verse 9

Revelation 1:9. I John, The apostle, in this and the subsequent verses, mentions the place where the Revelation was given, and describes the manner and circumstances of the first vision: the place was Patmos. Ecclesiastical history tells us, that St. John was here employed in digging in a mine, being banished hither by Domitian the emperor, after he had come unhurt out of a cauldron of boiling oil; but the historical evidence produced for this latter event is very uncertain. Bishop Newton is of opinion, that St. John was banished by Nero.


Verse 10

Revelation 1:10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, That is, the day which we in general call Sunday; denominated the Lord's day, in memory of his resurrection from the dead. That the primitive Christians set this day apart for religious worship, appears both from St. Paul's Epistles, and from Justin Martyr's Apology, Ignatius, Tertullian, &c. It should be observed, that this Revelation was given on the Lord's day, when the apostle's heart and affections, as we may reasonably suppose, were peculiarly sublimed by the meditations and devotions of the day, and rendered more capable of receiving divine inspiration. The heavenly visions were vouchsafed to St. John, as they were before to Daniel, (ch. Revelation 9:20.) after supplication and prayer; and there being two kinds of prophetic revelation, in a vision, and a dream, the Jews accounted a vision superior to a dream, as representing things more perfectly, and to the life; so that this book is represented as the highest degree of prophetic revelation.


Verse 11

Revelation 1:11. Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, Dr. Doddridge's note here deserves to be particularly remarked: "That these titles (says he) should be repeated so soon, in a connection which demonstrates that they are given to Christ, will appear very remarkable, whatever sense be given to the 8th verse; and I cannot forbear recording it, that this text hath done more than anyother in the Bible toward preventing me from giving into that scheme, which would make our Lord Jesus Christ no more than a deified creature." Whether these seven were the only Asiatic churches, we do not presume to inquire; doubtless they were the principal. See on ch. Revelation 2:1. It is certain, the epistles to these churches contain many things of universal concern; and as there is plainly an intention to represent the regard of Christ to ministers and churches, by his walking among golden candlesticks, and holding stars in his right hand, the number seven may be mentioned as it seems best to harmonize with some other parts of this book; namely, with the seven spirits, seven seals, seven trumpets, &c. See on Revelation 1:4.


Verse 12

Revelation 1:12. Seven golden candlesticks; The original word here used for candlesticks, answers almost constantly to the Hebrew one used for the golden candlesticks, or chandeliers, in the tabernacle and temple.


Verse 13

Revelation 1:13. One like unto the Son of man, clothed, &c.— The clothing here mentioned, is something like the Jewish high-priest's; and Christ is described much in the same manner as the divine appearance in Daniel's vision; Daniel 7:9. The girdles were a kind of sash, which went over the neck like a tippet, were crossed on the breast, and then went round the lower part of it two or three times, like a modern circingle, and from hence they fell down almost to the feet. They were sometimes embroidered, and at other times fringed with gold. The priests were required, for coolness and decency, to wear linen garments, and gird themselves higher than others; (see Ezekiel 44:17-18.) And this is one of the many allusions to the temple, and its forms and customs, with which we shall find this book so greatly to abound. See Exodus 39:5.


Verse 14

Revelation 1:14. His head and his hairs were white like wool, The hairs of his head, &c. The word Λευκος, which we translate white, properly signifies "of great lustre." Thus ch. Revelation 20:11. I saw a great white throne, that is, "a throne with glorious lustre." This being an appearance of the Shechinah, is to be considered, as that always was, a representation of the divine Presence, Majesty, and Glory. Therefore the glory in which the Shechinah appeared in ancient prophecy, is very properly applicable to it.


Verse 15

Revelation 1:15. Unto fine brass, The original word χαλκολιβανον, signifies some kind of fine copper or brass; the inferior kind of auri chalcum, in use among the Romans. See Daniel 10:6 and Parkhurst on the word.


Verse 16

Revelation 1:16. He had in his right hand seven stars: The candlesticks, or churches, were round about him: he, in the midst of them, held in his right hand the stars; that is, the angels or bishops of the churches: stars are the hieroglyphics used to express both rulers and teachers. They may therefore, with great propriety, be used symbolically, for the bishops or pastors of the church. See on Jude, Revelation 1:13.


Verse 17

Revelation 1:17. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet, &c.— "I have just been describing the appearance of Jesus Christ to me, with which I was favoured on the Lord's day, while I was engaged in such devout sentiments as were suitable to the time and occasion: and I now add, that when I saw him in this awful, this glorious and resplendent form, I was perfectly overwhelmed with the majesty of his appearance, so that I fell down at his feet dead; and he immediately condescended to raise me up, with great indulgence; for he laid his right hand upon me, and said to me, Fear not, John, for I appear to thee for purposes of mercy; I am, indeed, as I have proclaimed myself, the First and the Last, possessed of divine perfections and glories, from eternity to eternity the same."


Verse 18

Revelation 1:18. Amen; This seems to have been the exclamation of St. John, testifying his joyful assent to the nobletruths which precede; after which the discourse is continued in the person of Christ. We have often observed that the word Αδης, here rendered hell, signifies, "The unseen world." Our English, or rather Saxon word, hell, in its original signification, though it is now understood in a more limited sense, exactly answers to the Greek word, as it denotes a concealed, or unseen place; and this sense of the word is still retained in the eastern, and especially in the western counties of England: to hellover a thing, is to cover it.

Inferences.—With what sublimity does this wonderful book open! which, though pregnant with inexplicable mysteries, is, at the same time, pregnant with instruction; which the weakest of Christ's humble disciples may peruse with sacred complacency and delight. For surely we are not to imagine that divine book to be unfit for our perusal, and undeserving our regard, concerning which its divine Author expressly declares, Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy! Thanks be to our Heavenly Father, that he gave it to his Son Jesus Christ: Thanks to the Son of God, that he gave it to his servant John, to be transmitted down to future generations.

Let us attentively view the divine glory of the Father, and of his only-begotten Son, who is the brightness of that glory, and the express image of his person, and of the Holy Ghost, who is here represented by the seven spirits before the throne. From us, and from all created nature, let there be glory to him that is, and that was, and that is to come, and to the First-born from the dead, who is superior to all the kings of the earth, and to all the angels of heaven, who is so intimately united with the Father in divine perfections and glories, that he also is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End: that he also is Almighty; able, by his mighty power, to subdue all things to himself; and is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Never let us be unmindful of the condescension of the Son of God, in becoming for our redemption and salvation, the Son of man. Let the great things that he has done for us, and the great things he has taught us to expect from him, be ever familiar to our minds. How astonishing was that love, which engaged him to wash from their sins in his own Blood all persevering believers! How glorious is that exaltation to which he is raising them! rendering them, even in the present world, kings and priests to God, and inspiring them with the ardent hope of an immutable kingdom, and an everlasting priesthood in the temple of their God above. This is the sublime and transcendent happiness of all who perseveringly with lively faith look for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. This illustrious Personage is coming in the clouds, and our eyes shall see him: too often already have we pierced him; let us mourn over our sins at present, that we may not pour forth floods of unprofitable tears in that awful day, as all the tribes of the earth shall do, who have dared to set themselves against the kingdom of Christ; a kingdom which shall then be triumphant over all opposition, the last of its enemies being vanquished and destroyed.

In the mean time, what unspeakable happiness can our blessed Redeemer confer on his faithful servants, while suffering in his cause! How wretched was Caesar on his imperial throne, compared with this despised and persecuted disciple of Christ, in his old age banished to the desolate island of Patmos! There his Lord condescended to visit him, opened his eyes to prophetic visions, and diffused around him celestial glories. May we in no case be ashamed of the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, a zeal for which was so graciously acknowledged, so gloriously rewarded.

It was on the Lord's day that the apostle was in the Spirit: how often has the Spirit of God visited his people at that sacred season, visited them as well in their secret retirements as in the public assembly; when the hand of Providence, as in the instance before us, and not their own negligence, and indifference to divine ordinances, occasioned their absence from them!

Let our souls again bend, in humble veneration, to Him who is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega. And if we have heard in effect his awful voice proclaiming himself by these illustrious and divine titles, let us turn, as it were, to behold him; and by these marvellous visions in which he manifested himself to St. John, let us endeavour to form some imperfect ideas of our blessed Lord, and the magnificence and glory with which he appears to the inhabitants of the heavenly regions. Every circumstance, not excepting the minutest and most inconsiderable, attending this appearance of Christ to his beloved apostle, seems designed to convey some divine truth, some important lesson, for the contemplation and instruction of future ages. It was, in general, beyond all question, intended to impress us with the highest reverence of our glorified Redeemer, that we may pay him our humble and devout adoration, and thus, in some degree, anticipate the pleasure with which we hope to appear in his immediate presence above.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The book opens,

1. With a preface, declaring its sacred contents. The revelation of Jesus Christ, which comes from him, as the great Prophet of his church, and which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; some of them to be quickly accomplished, and the rest in order till the end of time: and he sent and signified it by his angel, whom he employed on this errand, unto his servant John, who bare record of the word of God, and had before, in his gospel and epistles, spoken of the glory and offices of the incarnate Word, and was one of the faithful witnesses of the testimony of Jesus Christ, of his gospel, and of all things that he saw; the miracles, life, death, and resurrection of the great Redeemer, and those amazing visions which are here recorded.

2. A blessing is pronounced on the hearers, readers, and observers of this book. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, attentively marking the prophecies here revealed, and inquiring into the mind of the Spirit; and keep those things which are written therein; retaining them in their memory, and directed by them in their practice: for the time is at hand, when their fulfilment will begin. Note; (1.) They who diligently study the scriptures, will find the happy fruit of their labours. (2.) The shorter the period of time allotted to us is, the greater diligence should we give to improve it.

2nd, The apostle,

1. Addresses the seven churches which are in Asia; and adds his benediction, Grace be unto you in all its fulness of blessings, and peace in your consciences from a sense of redeeming love, flowing from him which is, and which was, and which is to come, from the eternal Father, in his nature and perfections unchangeably the same for ever and ever: and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, even that Holy Ghost whose gifts and graces are various and perfect; and from Jesus Christ, through whom, as Mediator, all the blessings of the triune God descend upon his faithful people; who is the faithful Witness, the anointed Prophet to declare the Father's will; and the First-be gotten of the dead, who rose, as our glorious High-priest, with his own blood to appear in the presence of God for us; and the Prince of the kings of the earth, exalted to the mediatorial throne, and become the Head of all principalities and powers, as the universal King, to protect his faithful people, and subdue their enemies.

2. He ascribes glory to the incarnate Jesus. Unto him that loved us with the most unparalleled affection, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, which he shed to redeem us from all iniquity; and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, invested us with dominion over all the power of evil, and consecrated us for his blessed service, to offer those spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ; to him, even to this most amiable and adorable Jesus, be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Note; (1.) Jesus by his blood hath atoned for our sins; and this blood alone can cleanse our guilty souls from all sin. (2.) Every child of God is now consecrated to the highest office and dignity; is heir to a throne of glory, and has access with boldness into the holiest of all through the atoning blood. (3.) They who know the divine Redeemer, and are interested in his love, will be ceaseless in their habitual adorations of him.

3. With rapture the apostle looks forward to the glorious coming of Jesus as the eternal Judge; and, as seeing him present for the comfort and joy of his people, cries out, Behold, with wonder and delight, he cometh with clouds in awful majesty, surrounded with angels and archangels, ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; and every eye shall see him, seated on the throne of judgment; and they also which pierced him, with impious and bloody cruelty nailed him to the tree; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him, whose guilt unpardoned now shall stare them in the face, and horrors unutterable seize upon their consciences; while with transport the faithful shall welcome his arrival, approving and applauding all his righteous decisions; and are now wishing for the day of his appearing; even so, Amen! come quickly. Note; (1.) A day of judgment will spread terror through the wicked world. Woe then to those who have pierced the Redeemer, whether in his own person, or in the insults shewn to his people: they shall receive a fearful recompense. (2.) Blessed and happy are they who, in the prospect of this day, can comfortably say, Even so, Amen!

4. The great Judge describes his own transcendent honour. I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, saith the Lord, the sum and substance of the scriptures, possessing all perfections, and accomplishing all my pleasure; which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty, the self-existent and incomprehensible Jehovah, able to save or destroy to the uttermost.

3rdly, We have the glorious vision which appeared to the divine penman of this book.

1. He calls himself John, your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ; for all his servants follow him with their cross to glory, and must expect, and be content patiently to suffer for his great name's sake. He was now in banishment in the isle of Patmos, for his fidelity to his blessed Master; and, though removed far from earthly comforters, still he found that presence of God, which made his lonely abode a paradise of delights. He was in the Spirit on the Lord's day; whilst on that holy day, observed by the Christian church, in memory of the Saviour's resurrection, he was employed in sacred meditation and prayer, he felt the descending power of the Holy One, and was filled with prophetic inspiration. Note; They who on the Lord's day employ in spiritual exercises their time and thoughts, retiring from the world and all its cares and avocations, will find a blessed intercourse with heaven, and experience that communion with God, which is a foretaste of eternal blessedness.

2. He declares what he heard and saw. A great voice, as of a trumpet behind him, awakened his attention, and he heard distinctly the voice of Jesus, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last; and commanding him to write what in vision he was about to see and hear, and send it to the seven churches of Asia, whose names are specified. Turning to see whence the voice proceeded, a glorious Personage meets his astonished sight, whose majesty he describes. I saw seven golden candlesticks, seven branches springing from the same item, like that which stood in the tabernacle of old, the emblems of that light of truth and fire of love which Jesus sends into the midst of his churches and people, and which they in their conversation hold forth to the world. And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one stood, as the priest when he came to trim the lamps, like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, not unlike the priestly vestment; and girt about the paps with a golden girdle, far surpassing the costly girdle of the ephod, and intimating how ready and able he is to discharge his sacerdotal office on the behalf of his believing people: his head and his hairs were white like wool, as the Ancient of days, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire, piercing and penetrating into the inmost secrets of men's souls, and darting lightning against his foes; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, mighty to support the concerns of his church and people, and to tread down their enemies; and his voice as the sound of many waters, spreading to the distant corners of the earth his blessed gospel word, and terrible in his providences and judgments as the roaring waves. And he had in his right hand seven stars, the faithful bishops and pastors of his Church, whom he upholds and preserves, and who shine bright in the lustre of his grace; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, even the word of his law and gospel, pricking sinners to the heart, and hewing down all opposition; and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength, reviving as the light and warmth of its invigorating beams. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead, overcome with the brightness of his glory. And he laid his right hand upon me, to revive my intimidated mind by his mighty grace, saying unto me, Fear not, I am the First and the Last, the great Origin, and ultimate End of all things. I am he that liveth, essentially possessed of life in and of myself; and was dead, in that human nature which I assumed; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen! so it is, infallibly certain and true: and have the keys of hell and of death, to save or to destroy, according to his sacred pleasure and divine perfections,—to unlock the gates of the grave to my faithful people, and shut up the wicked in the prison of eternal darkness. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter, until the end of time; and the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels, or messengers, of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest, are the seven churches. May we by faith behold the same Jesus, and feel the enlivening influence of his presence with our souls!

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Revelation 1:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/revelation-1.html. 1801-1803.

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Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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