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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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‘Αποκαλυψις , signifies revelation. It is, however, particularly applied to the Revelations which St. John had in the isle of Patmos, whither he had been banished. The testimonies in favour of the book of the Revelation being a genuine work of St. John the Evangelist are very full and satisfactory. Andrew, bishop of Caesarea in Capadocia, in the fifth century, assures us that Papias acknowledged the Revelation to be inspired. But the earliest author now extant who mentions this book is Justin Martyr, who lived about sixty years after it was written, and he ascribes it to St. John. So does Iraeneus, whose evidence is alone sufficient upon this point; for he was the disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of John himself; and he expressly tells us that he had the explanation of a certain passage in this book from those who had conversed with St. John the author. These two fathers are followed by Clement of Alexandria, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, Origen, Cyprian, Lactantius, Jerome, Athanasius, and many other ecclesiastical writers, all of whom concur in considering the Apostle John as the author of the Revelation. Some few persons, however, doubted the genuineness of this book in the third and fourth centuries; but since that time it has been very generally acknowledged to be canonical; and, indeed, as Mr. Lowman observes, "hardly any one book has received more early, more authentic, and more satisfactory attestations." The omission of this book in some of the early catalogues of the Scriptures, was probably not owing to any suspicion concerning its authenticity or genuineness, but because its obscurity and mysteriousness were thought to render it less fit to be read publicly and generally. It is called the Revelation of John the Divine; and this appellation was first given to St. John by Eusebius, not to distinguish him from any other person of the same name, but as an honourable title, intimating that to him was more fully revealed the system of divine counsels than to any other prophet of the Christian dispensation.

St. John was banished to Patmos in the latter part of the reign of Domitian, and he returned to Ephesus immediately after the death of that emperor, which happened in the year 96; and as the Apostle states, that these visions appeared to him while he was in that island, we may consider this book as written in the year 95 or 96.

In the first chapter, St. John asserts the divine authority of the predictions which he is about to deliver; addresses himself to the churches of the Proconsular Asia; and describes the first vision, in which he is commanded to write the things then revealed to him. The second and third chapters contain seven epistles to the seven churches in Asia; namely, of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, which relate chiefly to their then respective circumstances and situation. At the fourth chapter the prophetic visions begin, and reach to the end of the book. They contain a prediction of all the most remarkable revolutions and events in the Christian church from the time of the Apostle to the final consummation of all things. An attempt to explain these prophecies does not fall within the design of this work; and therefore those who are disposed to study this sublime and mysterious book are referred to Mede, Daubuz, Sir Isaac Newton, Lowman, Bishop Newton, Bishop Hurd, and many other excellent commentators. These learned men agree in their general principles concerning the interpretation of this book, although they differ in some particular points; and it is not to be expected that there should be a perfect coincidence of opinion in the explanation of those predictions which relate to still future times; for, as the incomparable Sir Isaac Newton observes, "God gave these and the prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men's curiosity, by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own prescience, not that of the interpreters, be then manifested thereby to the world." "To explain this book perfectly," says Bishop Newton, "is not the work of one man, or of one age; but probably it never will be clearly understood, till it is all fulfilled." It is graciously designed, that the gradual accomplishment of these predictions should afford, in every succeeding period of time, additional testimony to the divine origin of our holy religion.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Apocalypse'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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