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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Verse 2

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

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

All things—Literally, whatsoever things.

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


Verse 3

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

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

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


Verse 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Verse 5

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

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

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

Prince—Leader or ruler.

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

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

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


Verse 6

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

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


Verse 7

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

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

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

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

Shall see—Declares the visibility of his real living person.

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

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


Verse 8

8. I… the LordGod should be added as the true reading.

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

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

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

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Verse 9

PART FIRST.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christ.

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

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

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

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


Verse 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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