Introduction to Revelation
Section 1. The Writer of the Book of Revelation
Much has been written on the question who was the author of this book. To enter into an extended investigation of this would greatly exceed the limits which I have, and would not comport with my design in these notes. For a full examination of the question I must refer to others, and would mention particularly, Prof. Stuart, Com. i.-283-427; Lardner, Works, vi. 318-327; Hug, Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 650-673, Andover, 1836; Michaelis, Introduction to the New Testament, iv. 457-544; and the article "Revelation," in Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature. I propose to exhibit, briefly, the evidence that the apostle John was the author, according to the opinion which has been commonly entertained in the church; the proof of which seems to me to be satisfactory. This may be considered under these divisions: the direct historical evidence, and the insufficiency of the reason for doubting it.
I. The Direct Historical Evidence
The sum of all that is to be said on this point is, that to the latter half of the third century it was not doubted that the apostle John was the author. Why it was ever doubted after that, and what is the force and value of the doubt, will be considered in another part of this Introduction.
There may be some convenience in dividing the early historical testimony into three periods of half a century each, extending from the death of John, about 98 a.d., to the middle of the third century.
1. From the Death of JOHN, about 98 a.d. to 150 a.d.
This period embraces the last of those men who conversed, or who might have conversed, with the apostles; that is, who were, for a part of their lives, the contemporaries of John. The testimony of the writers who lived then would, of course, be very important. Those embraced in this period are Hermas, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias. The evidence of this period is not indeed very direct, but it is such as it would be on the supposition that John was the author, and there is nothing contradictory to that supposition.
Hermas, about 100 ad - In the "Shepherd" or "Pastor," ascribed to this writer, there are several allusions which are supposed to refer to this book, and which resemble it so much as to make it probable that the author was acquainted with it. Dr. Lardner thus expresses the result of his examination of this point: "It is probable that Hermas had read the Book of Revelation, and imitated it. He has many things resembling it" (vol. ii. pp. 69-72). There is no "direct" testimony, however, in this writer that is of importance.
Ignatius - He was Bishop of Antioch, and flourished 70-107 a.d. In the latter year he suffered martyrdom, in the time of Trajan. Little, however, can be derived from him in regard to the Apocalypse. He was a contemporary of John, and it is not a little remarkable that he has not more directly alluded to him. In the course of a forced and hurried journey to Rome, the scene of his martyrdom, he wrote several epistles to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrneans, and to Polycarp. There has been much controversy respecting the authenticity of these epistles, and it is generally admitted that those which we now possess have been greatly corrupted. There is no direct mention of the Apocalypse in these epistles, and Michaelis makes this one of the strong grounds of his disbelief of its genuineness. His argument is, that the silence of Ignatius shows, either that he did not know of the existence of this book, or did not recognize it as a part of the sacred Scriptures. Little, however, can be ever inferred. from the mere silence of an author; for there may have been many reasons why, though the book may have been in existence, and recognized as the writing of John, Ignatius did not refer to it.
The whole matter of the residence of John at Ephesus, of his banishment to Patmos, and of his death, is unnoticed by him. There are, however, two or three "allusions" in the epistles of Ignatius which have been supposed to refer to the Apocalypse, or to prove that he was familiar with that work - though it must be admitted that the language is so general, that it furnishes no certain proof that he designed to quote it. They are these: Epistle to the Romans - "In the patience of Jesus Christ," compare Revelation 1:9; and the Epistle to the Ephesians - "Stones of the temple of the Father prepared for the building of God," compare Revelation 21:2-19. To these Mr. John Collyer Knight, of the British Museum, in a recent publication (Two New Arguments in Vindication of the Genuineness and Authenticity of the Revelation of John, London, 1842), has added a third: Epistle to the Philadelphians - "If they do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are but sepulchral pillars, and upon them are written only the names of men." Compare Revelation 3:12, "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God; and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God." It must be admitted, however, that this coincidence of language does not furnish any certain proof that Ignatius had seen the Apocalypse, though this is such language as he might have used if he had seen it. There was no known necessity, however, for his referring to this book if he was acquainted with it, and nothing can be inferred from his silence.
Polycarp - He was Bishop of Smyrna, and suffered martyrdom, though at what time is not certain. The "Chronicon Paschale" names 163 a.d.; Eusebius, 167; Usher, 169; and Pearson, 148. He died at the age of eighty-six, and consequently was contemporary with John, who died about 98 a.d. There is but one relic of his writings extant - his Epistle to the Philippians. There is in Eusebius (iv. 15), an epistle from the church in Smyrna to the churches in Pontus, giving an account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. It is admitted that in neither of these is there any express mention, or any certain allusion, to the Book of Revelation. But from this circumstance nothing can be inferred respecting the Apocalypse, either for or against it, since there may have been no occasion for Polycarp or his friends, in the writings now extant, to speak of this book; and from their silence nothing more should be inferred against this book than against the epistles of Paul, or the Gospel by John. There is, however, what may, without impropriety, be regarded as an important testimony of Polycarp in regard to this book. Polycarp was, as there is every reason to suppose, the personal friend of John, and Irenaeus was the personal friend of Polycarp (Lardner, ii.-94-96). Now Irenaeus, as we shall see, on all occasions, and in the most positive manner, gives his clear testimony that the Apocalypse was written by the apostle John. It is impossible to suppose that he would do this if Polycarp had not believed it to be true; and certainly he would not have been likely to hold this opinion if one who was his own friend, and the friend of John, had doubted or denied it. This is not indeed absolute proof, but it furnishes strong presumptive evidence in favor of the opinion that the Book of Revelation was written by the apostle John. The whole history of Polycarp, and his testimony to the books of the New Testament, may be seen in Lardner, ii.-94-114.
Papias - He was Bishop of Hierapolis, near Colosse, and flourished, according to Cave, about 110 a.d.; according to others, about the year 115 a.d. or 116 a.d. How long he lived is uncertain. Irenaeus asserts that he was the intimate friend - ἑτᾶίρος hetairos - of Polycarp, and this is also admitted by Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. iii. 39). He was the contemporary of John, and was probably acquainted with him. Eusebius expressly says that he was "a hearer of John" (Lardner, ii. 117). Of his writings there remain only a few fragments preserved by Eusebius, by Jerome, and in the Commentary of Andrew, Bishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia. He was a warm defender of the Millennarian doctrines. In his writings preserved to us (see Lardner, ii.-120-125), there is no express mention of the Apocalypse, or direct reference to it; but the commentator Andrew of Caesarea reckons him among the explicit witnesses in its favor. In the Preface to his Commentary on the Apocalypse, Andrew says, "In regard now to the inspiration of the book, we think it superfluous to extend our discourse, inasmuch as the blessed Gregory, and Cyril, and moreover the ancient (writers) "Papias, Irenaeus, Methodius, and Hippolytus" bear testimony to its credibility." See the passage in Hug, Introduction, p. 652; and Prof. Stuart, i. 305. And in nearly the same words does Arethas, the successor of Andrew, bear the like testimony. The evidence, therefore, in this case is the same as in the case of Polycarp, and it cannot be supposed that Papias would have been thus referred to unless it was uniformly understood that he regarded the book as the production of the apostle John.
These are all the testimonies that properly belong to the first half century after the death of John, and though not absolutely "positive and conclusive" in themselves, yet the following points may be regarded as established:
(a) The book was known;
(b) so far as the testimony goes, it is in favor of its having been composed by John;
(c) the fact that he was the author is not called in question or doubted;
(d) it was generally ascribed to him;
(e) it was "probably" the foundation of the Millennarian views entertained by Papias - that is, it is easier to account for his holding these views by supposing that the book was known, and that he founded them on this book, than in any other way. See Prof. Stuart, i.304.
2. The Second Half Century after the Death of John, from 150 to 200 a.d.
This will include the names of Justin Martyr, the Narrator of the Martyrs of Lyons, Irenaeus, Melito, Theophilus, Apollonius, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian.
Justin Martyr - He was a Christian philosopher, born at Flavia Neapolis, anciently called Sichem, a city of Samaria, it is supposed about a.d. 103; was converted to Christianity about 133 a.d., and suffered martyrdom about 165 a.d. (Lardner, ii.-125-140). He was partly contemporary with Polycarp and Papias. He traveled in Egypt, Italy, and Asia Minor, and resided some time at Ephesus. He was endowed with a bold and inquiring mind, and was a man eminent for integrity and virtue. Tatian calls him an "admirable man." Methodius says, that he was a man "not far removed from the apostles in time or in virtue." Photius says, that he was "well acquainted with the Christian philosophy, and especially with the heathen; rich in the knowledge of history, and all other parts of learning" (Lardner). He was, therefore, well qualified to ascertain the truth about the origin of the Book of Revelation, and his testimony must be of great value.
He was an advocate of the doctrine of "Chiliasm" - or, the doctrine that Christ would reign a thousand years on the earth - and in defense of this he uses the following language: "And a man from among us, by name John, one of the Apostles of Christ, in a Revelation made to him - ἐν Ἀποκάλυψει γενομένη αὐτῷ en Apokalupsei genomenē autō - has prophesied that the believers in one Christ shall live a thousand years in Jerusalem; and after that shall be the general, and, in a word, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men together." There can be no doubt whatever that there is an allusion here to the Book of "Revelation" - for the very name Revelation - Ἀποκάλυψις Apokalupsis - is used; that Justin believed that it was written by the apostle John; and that there is express reference to what is now John 20. The book was, therefore, in existence in the time of Justin - that is, in about 50 years after the death of John; was believed to be the work of the apostle John; was quoted as such, and by one who had lived in the very region where John 54ed, and by a man whose character is unimpeached, and who, in a point like this, could not have been mistaken. The testimony of Justin Martyr, therefore, is very important. It is positive; it is given where there was every opportunity for knowing the truth, and where there was no motive for a false testimony; and it is the testimony of one whose character for truthfulness is unimpeached.
The Narrative of the Martyrs of Vienne and Lyons - Lardner, ii.-160-165. In the reign of Marcus Antoninus, Christians suffered much from persecution. This persecution was particularly violent at Lyons, and the country round about. The churches of Lyons and Vienne sent an account of their sufferings, in an epistle, to the churches of Asia and Phrygia. This, according to Lardner, was about 177 a.d. The epistle has been preserved by Eusebius. In this epistle, among other undoubted allusions to the New Testament, the following occurs. Speaking of Vettius Epigathus, they say - "For he was indeed a genuine disciple of Christ, following the Lamb whithersoever he goes." Compare Revelation 14:2; "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." There can be no doubt that this passage in Revelation was referred to; and it proves that the book was then known, and that the writers were accustomed to regard it as on a level with the other sacred writings.
Irenaeus - The testimony of this father has already been referred to when speaking of Polycarp. He was Bishop of Lyons, in Gaul. His country is not certainly known, but Lardner supposes that he was a Greek, and, from his early acquaintance with Polycarp, that he was from Asia. When a youth, he was a hearer of Polycarp, and also a disciple of Papias. He was born about the beginning of the second century, and it is commonly supposed that he suffered martyrdom in extreme old age. He became Bishop of Lyons after he was 70 years of age, and wrote his principal work, "Contra Haereses," after this. His testimony is particularly valuable, as he was in early life acquainted with Polycarp, who was a contemporary and friend of the apostle John (Lardner, ii.-165-192). Of his reference to the Book of Revelation, Lardner says: "The Apocalypse, or Revelation, is often quoted by him as the Revelation of John, the disciple of the Lord." In one place he says: "It was seen no long time ago, but almost in our age, at the end of the reign of Domitian." And again, he spoke of the exact and ancient copies of the book, as if it was important to ascertain the true reading, and as if it were then possible to do this.
Thus, Eusebius (Lardner, ii. 167) says of him: "In his fifth book he thus discourses of the Revelation of John, and the computation of the name of antichrist: 'These things being thus, and this number being in all the exact and ancient copies, and they who saw John attesting to the same things, and reason teaching us that the number of the name of the beast, according to the acceptation of the Greeks, is expressed by the letters contained in it.' "Here is an undoubted reference to Revelation Rev
This chapter, Revelation 1, contains a general introduction to the whole book, and comprises the following parts:
I. The announcement that the object of the book is to record a revelation which the Lord Jesus Christ had made of important events which were shortly to occur, and which were signified by an angel to the author, John, Revelation 1:1-3. A blessing is pronounced on him who should read and understand the book, and special attention is directed to it because the time was at hand when the predicted events would occur.
II. Salutation to the seven churches of Asia, Revelation 1:4-8. To those churches, it would seem from this, the book was originally dedicated or addressed, and two of the chapters Revelation 2-3 refer exclusively to them. Among them evidently the author had resided Revelation 1:9, and the whole book was doubtless sent to them, and committed to their keeping. In this salutation, the author wishes for them grace, mercy, and peace from "him which is, and which was, and which is to come" - the original fountain of all light and truth - referring to the Father; "from the seven Spirits which are before the throne" - referring to the Holy Spirit (see the note on Revelation 1:4), by whom all grace is communicated to people; and from the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the revelation is imparted. As it is his revelation, as it is designed especially to glorify him, and as it predicts the final triumph of his religion, the author appends to this reference to him a special ascription of praise, Revelation 1:5-8. He refers to the great work which he had done for his people in redeeming them, and making them kings and priests to God; he assures those to whom he wrote that he would come in glory to the world again, and that all eyes would see him; and he represents the Redeemer himself as applying to his own person a title - "Alpha and Omega," "the beginning and the ending" - which indicates his exalted nature, and his supreme authority.
III. The commission of the writer, or his authority for thus addressing the churches of Asia, Revelation 1:9-20. His authority to do this is derived from the fact that the Lord Jesus had appeared to him personally in his exile, and had directed him to reveal what he saw in vision, and to send it to those churches. The statement of this commission is made as impressive as it well could be:
(a) The writer was an exile - banished to a lonely island on account of the common faith, Revelation 1:9.
(b) On the day of Christian rest - the day set apart to the memory of the Saviour, and which he sacredly observed in his solitude as holy time - when in the spirit of calm contemplation on the truths appropriate to this day, he suddenly heard the voice of his Redeemer, like a trumpet, commanding him to record what he saw, and to send it to the seven churches of Asia, Revelation 1:10-11.
(c) Then follows Revelation 1:12-18 a magnificent description of the appearance of the Saviour, as he appeared in his glory. He is seen standing in the midst of seven golden candlesticks, clothed in a long white robe, girded with a girdle of gold, his hair white, his eyes like a flame of fire, his feet like brass, and his voice like the roaring of mighty waters. In his hand are seven stars, and from his mouth goes a sharp sword, and his countenance is like the sun in the full splendor of its shining. John falls at his feet as if he were dead; and the Saviour lays his right hand upon him, and animates him with the assurance that though he had himself been dead he is now alive, and would forever live, and that he has the keys of hell and death.
(d) Then follows the commission itself, Revelation 1:19-20. He was to make a record of the things which he saw. He was especially to unfold the meaning of the seven stars which he saw in the right hand of the Saviour, and of the seven golden candlesticks, as referring to the seven churches of Asia Minor; and was then to describe the series of visions which pertained to the future history and destiny of the church at large.
In the scene represented in this chapter, there is some imagery which would be suggested by the arrangements in the temple at Jerusalem, and it has been supposed (Elliott, i., 72, 73) that the vision was laid there, and that Christ is represented as walking among the seven lamps "habited as the ancient high priest." But the vision is not such an one as would have been presented in I the holy place in the temple. In that place there was but one lampstand, with seven sconces; here, there were seven separate lampstands; there were there no "stars," and the vestments of the Jewish high priest were not those in which the Saviour is represented as appearing. He had no mitre, no ephod, no breastplate, and no censer. The object was not to represent Christ as a priest, or as superseding the Jewish high priest, but to represent him with costume appropriate to the Son of God - as having been raised from the dead, and received to the glory of heaven.
His vestments are neither those of a prophet, a king, nor a priest; not with such garments as the ancient prophets wore, nor with crown and scepter such as monarchs bear, nor yet with the usual habiliments of a priest. He appears as the Son of God, irrespective of the offices that he bears, and comes as the glorified Head of the Church to declare his will in regard to the seven churches of Asia, and to disclose the future for the guidance and comfort of his church at large. The scene appears to be laid at Patmos, and the apostle in the vision of the Saviour does not appear to have regarded himself as transferred to any other place. The view which is to be kept before the mind in the description of "the things that are" Revelation 2-3, is that of seven burning lamps, and the Son of God standing among them. Thus, amidst these lamps, representing the churches, he dictates to the apostle what he shall write to the churches; thus, with seven stars in his hand, representing the angels of the churches, he dictates what shall be said to them. Is it unnatural to suppose that the position of those lamps might have been arranged in the vision in a manner resembling the geographical position of the churches themselves? If so, the scene would be more significant, and more sublime.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:The Revelation of Jesus Christ - This is evidently a title or caption of the whole book, and is designed to comprise the substance of the whole; for all that the book contains would be embraced in the general declaration that it is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The word rendered "Revelation" - Ἀποκάλυψις Apokalupsis, whence we have derived our word "Apocalypse" - means properly an that is, nakedness; from ἀποκαλύπτω apokaluptō, to uncover. It would apply to anything which had been covered up so as to be bidden from the view, as by a veil, a darkness, in an ark or chest, and then made manifest by removing the covering. It comes then to be used in the sense of disclosing or revealing, by removing the veil of darkness or ignorance. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed." It may be applied to the disclosing or manifesting of anything which was before obscure or unknown. This may be done:
(a) by instruction in regard to what was before obscure; that is, by statements of what was unknown before the statements were made; as in Luke 2:32, where it is said that Christ would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles" - φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν phōs eis apokalupsin ethnōn; or when it is applied to the divine mysteries, purposes, or doctrines, before obscure or unknown, but made clear by light revealed in the gospel, Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 14:6; Ephesians 3:5.
(b) by the event itself; as the manifestation of the wrath of God at the day of judgment will disclose the true nature of his wrath. "After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and "revelation" of the righteous judgment of God," Revelation 2:5. "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation (Greek revelation) of the sons of God," Romans 8:19; that is until it shall be manifest by the event what they who are the children of God are to be. In this sense the word is frequently applied to the second advent or appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, as disclosing him in his glory, or showing what he truly is; "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed," 2 Thessalonians 1:7 - ἐν τῇ ἀποκαλυψει en tēn apokalupsei - in the revelation of Jesus Christ; "Waiting for the coming (the revelation - την ἀποκάλυψιν tēn apokalupsin of our Lord Jesus Christ," 1 Corinthians 1:7; "At the appearing (Greek revelation) of Jesus Christ," 1 Peter 1:7; "When his glory shall be revealed," 1 Peter 4:13.
(c) It is used in the sense of making known what is to come, whether by words, signs, or symbols, as if a veil were lifted from what is hidden from human vision, or which is covered by the darkness of the unknown future. This is called a revelation, because the knowledge of the event is in fact made known to the world by Him who alone can see it, and in such a manner as he pleases to employ; though many of the terms or the symbols may be, from the necessity of the case, obscure, and though their full meaning may be disclosed only by the event. It is in this sense, evidently, that the word is used here: and in this sense that it is more commonly employed when we speak of a revelation. Thus, the word גּלה gaalaah is used in Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants." So Job 33:16, "Then he openeth (margin, revealeth or uncovereth; Heb. יגלה yigleh the ears of men"; that is, in a dream, he discloses to their ears his truth before concealed or unknown. Compare Daniel 2:22, Daniel 2:28-29; Daniel 10:1; Deuteronomy 29:29. These ideas enter into the word as used in the passage before us. The idea is that of a disclosure of an extraordinary character, beyond the mere ability of man, by a special communication from heaven. This is manifest, not only from the usual meaning of this word, but by the word "prophecy," in Revelation 1:3, and by all the arrangements by which these things were made known. The ideas which would be naturally conveyed by the use of this word in this connection are two:
(1) that there was something which was before hidden, obscure, or unknown; and,
(2) that this was so disclosed by these communications as to be seen or known.
The things hidden or unknown were those which pertained to the future; the method of disclosing them was mainly by symbols. In the Greek, in this passage, the article is missing - ἀποκάλυψις apokalupsis - a Revelation, not ἡ hē, the Revelation. This is omitted because it is the title of a book, and because the use of the article might imply that this was the only revelation, excluding other books claiming to be a revelation; or it might imply some previous mention of the book, or knowledge of it in the reader. The simple meaning is, that this was "a Revelation"; it was only a part of the revelation which God has given to mankind.
The phrase, "the Revelation of Jesus Christ," might, so far as the construction of the language is concerned, refer either to Christ as the subject or object. It might either mean that Christ is the object revealed in this book, and that its great purpose is to make him known, and so the phrase is understood in the commentary called Hyponoia (New York, 1844); or it may mean that this is a revelation which Christ makes to mankind, that is, it is his in the sense that he communicates it to the world. That this latter is the meaning here is clear:
(1) because it is expressly said in this verse that it was a revelation which God gave to him;
(2) because it is said that it pertains to things which must shortly come to pass; and,
(3) because, in fact, the revelation is a disclosure of eyelets which were to happen, and not of the person or work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Which God gave unto him - Which God imparted or communicated to Jesus Christ. This is in accordance with the representations everywhere made in the Scriptures, that God is the original fountain of truth and knowledge, and that, whatever was the original dignity of the Son of God, there was a mediatorial dependence on the Father. See John 5:19-20, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for whatsoever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him (δεικνυσιν αὐτῷ deiknusin autō) all things that himself doeth." "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me," John 7:16. "As my Father hath taught me ἐδιδάξεν με edidaxen me, I speak these things," John 8:28. "For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak," John 12:49. See also John 14:10; John 17:7-8; Matthew 11:27; Mark 13:32. The same mediatorial dependence the apostle teaches us still subsists in heaven in his glorified state, and will continue until he has subdued all things 1 Corinthians 15:24-28; and hence, even in that state, he is represented as receiving the Revelation from the Father to communicate it to people.
To show unto his servants - That is, to his people, to Christians, often represented as the servants of God or of Christ, 1 Peter 2:16; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 7:3; Revelation 19:2; Revelation 22:3. It is true that the word is sometimes applied, by way of eminence, to the prophets 1 Chronicles 6:49; Daniel 6:20, and to the apostles Rom 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; but it is also applied to the mass of Christians, and there is no reason why it should not be so understood here. The book was sent to the churches of Asia, and was clearly designed for general use; and the contents of the book were evidently intended for the churches of the Redeemer in all ages and lands. Compare Revelation 1:3. The word rendered "to show" (δεῖξαι deixai) commonly denotes to point out, to cause to see, to present to the sight, and is a word eminently appropriate here, as what was to be revealed was, in general, to be presented to the sight by sensible tokens or symbols.
Things which must shortly come to pass - Not all the things that will occur, but such as it was deemed of importance for his people to be made acquainted with. Nor is it certainly implied that all the things that are communicated would shortly come to pass, or would soon occur. Some of them might perhaps he in the distant future, and still it might be true that there were those which were revealed in connection with them, which soon would occur. The word rendered "things" (ἅ ha) is a pronoun, and might be rendered "what"; "he showed to his servants what things were about to occur," not implying that he showed all the things that would happen, but such as he judged to be needful that his people should know. The word would naturally embrace those things which, in the circumstances, were most desirable to be known. The phrase rendered "must come to pass" (δεῖ γενέσθαι dei genesthai), would imply more than mere futurity; The word used (δεῖ dei) means "it needs, there is need of," and implies that there is some kind of necessity that the event should occur.
That necessity may either arise from the felt waist of anything, as where it is absent or missing, Xen. Cyr. iv., 10; ib. Revelation 7:5, Revelation 7:9; or from the nature of the case, or from a sense of duty, as Matthew 16:21, "Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go (δεῖ ἀπελθεῖν dei apelthein) to Jerusalem" (compare Matthew 26:35; Mark 14:31; Luke 2:49); or the necessity may exist, because a thing is right and just, meaning that it ought to be done, as Luke 13:14, "There are six days in which men ought to work" δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι dei ergazesthai. And ought not this woman οὐκ ἔδει ouk edei, whom Satan hath bound, etc., be loosed from this bond," Luke 13:16 (compare Mark 13:14; John 4:20; Acts 5:11, Acts 5:29; 2 Timothy 2:6; Matthew 18:33; Matthew 25:27); or the necessity may be that it is conformable to the divine arrangement, or is made necessary by divine appointment, as in John 3:14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must (δεῖ dei) the Son of man be lifted up." "For as yet they knew not the Scriptures, that he must (δεῖ dei) rise again from the dead," John 20:9; compare Acts 4:12; Acts 14:22, et al.
In the passage before us, it is implied that there was some necessity that the things referred to should occur. They were not the result of chance, they were not fortuitous. It is not, however, stated what was the ground of the necessity; whether because there was a want of something to complete a great arrangement, or because it was fight and proper in existing circumstances, or because such was the divine appointment. They were events which, on some account, must certainly occur, and which, therefore, it was important should be made known. The real ground of the necessity, probably, was founded in the design of God in redemption. He intended to carry out his great plans in reference to his church, and the things revealed here must necessarily occur in the completion of that design. The phrase rendered "shortly" (ἐν τάχει en tachei) is one whose meaning has been much controverted, and on which much has been made to depend in the interpretation of the whole book.
The question has been whether the phrase necessarily implies that the events referred to were soon to occur, or whether it may have such an extent of meaning as to admit the supposition that the events referred to, though beginning soon, would embrace in their development far distant years, and would reach the end of all things. Those who maintain, as Prof. Stuart, that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the portion in Revelation 4-11 has special reference to Jerusalem and Judea, and the portion in Revelation 12-19 refers to persecution and pagan Rome, maintain the former opinion; those who suppose that Revelation 4-11 refers to the irruption of Northern barbarians in the Roman empire, and Revelation 12ff., to the rise and the persecutions of the papal power, embrace the latter opinion. All that is proper in this place is, without reference to any theory of interpretation, to inquire into the proper meaning of the language, or to ascertain what idea it would naturally convey:
(a) The phrase properly and literally means, "with quickness, swiftness, speed; that is, speedily, quickly, shortly" (Robinson's Lexicon; Stuart, in loco). It is the same in meaning as ταχέως tacheōs. Compare 1 Corinthians 4:19, "But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will." "Go out quickly into the streets," Luke 14:21. "Sit down quickly, and write fifty," Luke 16:6. "She rose up hastily (ταχέως tacheōs) and went out," John 11:31. "That ye are so soon removed (ταχέως tacheōs) from him that called you," Galatians 1:6. "Lay hands suddenly on no man," 1 Timothy 5:22. See also Philippians 2:19, Philippians 2:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 4:9. The phrase used here ἐν τάχει en tachei occurs in Luke 18:8, "He will avenge them speedily" (literally with speed). "Arise up quickly," Acts 12:7. "Get time quickly out of Jerusalem," Acts 22:18. "Would depart shortly," Acts 25:4. "Bruise Satan under your feet shortly," Romans 16:20; and Revelation 1:1; Revelation 22:6. The essential idea is, that the thing which is spoken of was soon to occur, or it was not a remote and distant event. There is the notion of rapidity, of haste, of suddenness. It is such a phrase as is used when the thing is on the point of happening, and could not be applied to an event which was in the remote future, considered as an independent event standing by itself. The same idea is expressed, in regard to the same thing, in Revelation 1:3, "The time is at hand" - ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς ho gar kairos engus; that is, it is near, it is soon to occur. Yet.
(b) it is not necessary to suppose that the meaning is that all that there is in the book was soon to happen. It may mean that the series of events which were to follow on in their proper order was soon to commence, though it might be that the sequel would be remote. The first in the series of events was soon to begin, and the others would follow on in their train, though a portion of them, in the regular order, might be in a remote futurity. If we suppose that there was such an order, that a series of transactions was about to commence, involving along train of momentous developments, and that the beginning of this was to occur soon, the language used by John would be what would be naturally employed to express it. Thus, in case of a revolution in a government, when a reigning prince should be driven from his kingdom, to be succeeded by a new dynasty, which would long occupy the throne, and involving, as the consequence of the revolution, important events extending far into the future, we would naturally say that these things were shortly to occur, or that the time was near. It is customary to speak of a succession of events or periods as near, however vast or interminable the series may be, when the commencement is at hand. Thus, we say that the great events of the eternal world are near; that is, the beginning of them is soon to occur. So Christians now speak often of the millennium as near, or as about to occur, though it is the belief of many that it will be protracted for many ages.
(c) That this is the true idea hem is clear, whatever general view of interpretation in regard to the book is adopted. Even Prof. Stuart, who contends that the greater portion of the book refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the persecutions of pagan Rome, admits that "the closing part of the Revelation relates beyond all doubt to a distant period, and some of it to a future eternity" (ii., p. 5); and, if this be so, then there is no impropriety in supposing that a part of the series of predictions preceding this may lie also in a somewhat remote futurity. The true idea seems to be that the writer contemplated a series of events that were to occur, and that this series was about to commence. How far into the future it was to extend, is to be learned by the proper interpretation of all the parts of the series.
And he sent - Greek: "Sending by his angel, signified it to his servant John." The idea is not precisely that he sent his angel to communicate the message, but that he sent by him, or employed him as an agent in doing it. The thing sent was rather the message than the angel.
And signified it - Ἐσήμανεν Esēmanen. He indicated it by signs and symbols. The word occurs in the New Testament only in John 12:33; John 18:32; John 21:19; Acts 11:28; Acts 25:27, and in the passage before us, in all which places it is rendered "signify, signifying, or signified." It properly refers to some sign, signal, or token by which anything is made known (compare Matthew 26:28; Romans 4:11; Genesis 9:12-13; Genesis 17:11; Luke 2:12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 14:22), and is a word most happily chosen to denote the manner in which the events referred to were to be communicated to John, for nearly the whole book is made up of signs and symbols. If it be asked what was signified to John, it may be replied that either the word "it" may be understood, as in our translation, to refer to the Apocalypse (Revelation), or refer to what he saw (ὅσα εἶδε hosa eide), as Prof. Stuart supposes; or it may be absolute, without any object following, as Prof. Robinson (Lexicon) supposes. The general sense is, that, sending by his angel, he made to John a communication by expressive signs or symbols.
By his angel - That is, an angel was employed to cause these scenic representations to pass before the mind of the apostle. The communication was not made directly to him, but was through the medium of a heavenly messenger employed for this purpose. Thus, in Revelation 22:6, it is said, "And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done." Compare Revelation 1:8-9 of that chapter. There is frequent allusion in the Scriptures to the fact that angels have been employed as agents in making known the divine will, or in the revelations which have been made to people. Thus, in Acts 7:53, it is said, "Who have received the law by the disposition of angels." "For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast," etc., Hebrews 2:2; "and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator," Galatians 3:19. Compare the notes on Acts 7:38, Acts 7:53. There is almost no further reference to the agency of the angel employed for this service in the book, and there is no distinct specification of what he did, or of his great agency in the case.
John is everywhere represented as seeing the symbols himself, and it would seem that the agency of the angel was, either to cause those symbols to pass before the apostle, or to convey their meaning to his mind. How far John himself understood the meaning of these symbols, we have not the means of knowing with certainty. The most probable supposition is, that the angel was employed to cause these visions or symbols to pass before his mind, rather than to interpret them. If an interpretation had been given, it is inconceivable that it should not have been recorded, and there is no more probability that their meaning should have been disclosed to John himself, for his private use, than that it should have been disclosed and recorded for the use of others. It would seem probable, therefore, that John had only that view of the meaning of what he saw which anyone else might obtain from the record of the visions. Compare the notes on 1 Peter 1:10-12.
Unto his servant John - Nothing could be learned from this expression as to what John was the author of the book, whether the apostle of that name or some other. Compare the introduction, section 1. It cannot be inferred from the use of the word "servant," rather than apostle, that the apostle John was not the author, for it was not uncommon for the apostles to designate themselves merely by the words "servants," or "servants of God." Compare the notes on Romans 1:1.
Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.Who bare record of the word of God - Who bore witness to, or testified of ἐμαρτύρησεν emarturēsen the Word of God. He regarded himself merely as a "witness" of what he had seen, and claimed only to make a fair and faithful "record" of it. "This is the disciple which "testifieth" (ὁ μαρτυρῶν ho marturōn) of these things, and wrote these things," John 21:24. "And he that saw it bare record" - μεμαρτύρηκε memarturēke John 19:35. Compare also the following places, where the apostle uses the same word of himself: 1 John 1:2; 1 John 4:14. The expression here, "the word of God," is one the meaning of which has been much controverted, and is important in its bearing on the question who was the author of the Book of Revelation. The main inquiry is, whether the writer refers to the "testimony" which he bears in this book respecting the "word of God"; or whether he refers to some testimony on that subject in some other book with which those to whom he wrote were so familiar that they would at once recognize him as the author; or whether he refers to the fact that he had borne his testimony to the great truths of religion, and especially respecting Jesus Christ, as a preacher who was well known, and who would be characterized by this expression.
The phrase "the word of God" - τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ ton logon tou Theou - occurs frequently in the New Testament (compare John 10:35; Acts 4:31; Acts 6:2, Acts 6:7; Acts 11:1; Acts 12:24); and may either mean the Word or doctrine respecting God - that which teaches what God is - or what he speaks or teaches. It is more commonly used in the latter sense (compare the passages referred to above), and especially refers to what God speaks or commands in the gospel. The fair meaning of this expression would be, that John had borne faithful witness to, or testimony of, the truth which God had spoken to man in the gospel of Christ. So far as the "language" used here is concerned, this might apply either to a written or an oral testimony; either to a treatise like that of his gospel, to his preaching, or to the record which he was then making. Vitringa and others suppose that the reference here is to the gospel which he had published, and which now bears his name; Lucke and others, to the revelation made to him in Patmos, the record of which he now makes in this book; Prof. Stuart and others, to the fact that he was a teacher or preacher of the gospel, and that (compare Revelation 1:9) the allusion is to the testimony which he had borne to the gospel, and for which he was an exile in Patmos. Is it not possible that these conflicting opinions may be to some extent harmonized, by supposing that in the use of the aorist tense - ἐμαρτύρησε emarturēse - the writer meant to refer to a characteristic of himself, to wit, that he was a faithful witness of the Word of God and of Jesus Christ whenever and however made known to him?
With an eye, perhaps, to the record which he was about to make in this book, and intending to include that may he not also refer to what had been and was his well-known character as a witness of what God communicated to him? He had always borne this testimony. He always regarded himself as such a witness. He had been an eyewitness of what had occurred in the life and at the death of the Saviour (see the notes on 2 Peter 1:17-18), and had, in all his writings and public administrations, horne witness to what he had seen and heard; for that Revelation 1:9 he had been banished to Patmos: and he was now about to carry out the same characteristic of himself by bearing witness to what he saw in these new revelations. This would be much in the manner of John, who often refers to this characteristic of himself (compare John 19:35; John 21:24; 1 John 1:2), as well as harmonize the different opinions. The meaning, then, of the expression, "who bare record of the word of God," as I understand it, is, that it was a characteristic of the writer to bear simple but faithful testimony to the truth which God communicated to people in the gospel. If this be the correct interpretation, it may be remarked:
(a) that this is such language as John the apostle would be likely to use, and yet
(b) that it is not such language as an author would be likely to adopt if there was an attempt to forge a book in his name.
The artifice would be too refined to occur probably to anyone, for although perfectly natural for John, it would not be so natural for a forger of a book to select this circumstance and weave it thus unostentatiously into his narrative.
And of the testimony of Jesus Christ - That is, in accordance with the interpretation above, of the testimony "which Jesus Christ bore for the truth"; not of a testimony "respecting" Jesus Christ. The idea is, that Jesus Christ was himself "a witness" to the truth, and that the writer of this book was a witness merely of the testimony which Christ had borne. Whether the testimony of Jesus Christ was borne in his preaching when in the flesh, or whether made known to the writer by him at any subsequent period, it was his office to make a faithful record of that testimony. As he had always before done that, so he was about to do it now in the new revelation made to him in Patmos, which he regarded as a new testimony of Jesus Christ to the truth, Revelation 1:1. It is remarkable that, in confirmation of this view, John so often describes the Lord Jesus as a witness, or represents him as having come to hear his faithful testimony to the truth. Thus, in Revelation 1:5; "And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful and true witness." "I am one that bear witness - ὁ μαρτυρῶν ho marturōn - of myself," John 8:18. "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness - ἵνα μαρτυρήσω hina marturēsō - to the truth," John 18:37. "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness" - ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστὸς ho martus ho pistos, ... Revelation 3:14. Of this testimony which the Lord Jesus came to bring to man respecting eternal realities, the writer of this book says that he regarded himself as a witness. To the office of bearing such testimony he had been dedicated; that testimony he was now to bear, as he had always done.
And of all things that he saw - Ὅσα τε εἰδεν Hosa te eiden. This is the common reading in the Greek, and according to this reading it would properly mean, "and whatsoever he saw"; that is, it would imply that he bore witness to "the Word of God," and to "the testimony of Jesus Christ," and to "whatever he saw" - meaning that the things which he saw, and to which he refers, were things additional to those to which he had referred by "the Word of God," and the "testimony of Christ." From this it has been supposed that in the former part of the verse he refers to some testimony which he had formerly borne, as in his gospel or in his preaching, and that here he refers to what he "saw" in the visions of the Revelation as additional to the former. But it should be remembered that the word rendered "and" - τε te - is missing in a large number of manuscripts (see Wetstein), and that it is now omitted in the best editions of the Greek Testament - as by Griesbach, Tittmann and Hahn. The evidence is clear that it should be omitted; and if so omitted, the reference is to whatever he had at any time borne his testimony to, and not particularly to what passed before him in the visions of this book.
It is a general affirmation that he had always borne a faithful testimony to whatever he had seen respecting the Word of God and the testimony of Christ. The correct rendering of the whole passage then would be, "And sending by his angel, he signifies it to his servant John, who bare record of" (that is, whose character and office it was to bear his testimony to) "the word of God" (the message which God has sent to me), "and the testimony of Jesus Christ" (the testimony which Christ bore to the truth), "whatsoever he saw." He concealed nothing; he held nothing back; he made it known precisely as it was seen by him. Thus interpreted, the passage refers to what was a general characteristic of the writer, and is designed to embrace all that was made known to him, and to affirm that he was a faithful witness to it. There were doubtless special reasons why John was employed as the medium through which this communication was to be made to the church and the world. Among these reasons may have been the following:
(a) That he was the "beloved disciple."
(b) That he was the only surviving apostle.
(d) It may be that his mind was better suited to be the medium of these communications than that of any other of the apostles - even if they had been then alive.
There is almost no one whose mental characteristics are less correctly understood than those of the apostle John. Among the most gentle and amiable of people; with a heart so suited for love as to be known as "the beloved disciple" - he yet had mental characteristics which made it proper that he should be called "a son of thunder" Mark 3:17; a mind suited to preserve and record the profound thoughts in his gospel; a mind of high poetic order, suited for the magnificent conceptions in this book.
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.Blessed is he that readeth - That is, it is to be regarded as a privilege attended with many blessings, to be permitted to mark the disclosures to be made in this book; the important revelations respecting future times. Prof. Stuart supposes that this refers to a public reading, and that the phrase "those who hear the words of this prophecy," refers to those who listened to the public reader, and that both the reader and hearer should regard themselves as highly favored. It is, however, more in accordance with the usual meaning of the word rendered "read," to suppose that it refers to the act of one's reading for himself; to learn by reading. So Robinson (Lexicon) understands it. The Greek word, indeed, would bear the other interpretation (see Luke 4:16; Acts 13:27; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:15); but as this book was sent abroad to be read by Christians, and not merely to be in the hands of the ministers of religion to be read by them to others, it is more natural to interpret the word in the usual sense.
And hear the words of this prophecy - As they shall be declared or repeated by others; or perhaps the word "hear" is used in a sense that is not uncommon, that of giving attention to; taking heed to. The general sense is, that they were to be regarded as highly favored who became acquainted in any way with what is here communicated. The writer does not say that they were blessed who understood it, or that they who read or heard it would fully understand it; but it is clearly implied, that there would be so far an understanding of its meaning as to make it a felicitous condition to have been made acquainted with it. An author could not be supposed to say that one should regard his condition as a favored one who merely heard words that he could not understand, or who had placed before him magnificent symbols that had to him no meaning. The word "prophecy" is used here in its more strict sense as denoting the disclosure of future events - a large portion of the book being of this nature. It is here synonymous with "Revelation" in Revelation 1:1.
And keep those things which are written therein - Keep in mind those things which relate to the future; and obey those things which arc required as truth and duty. The blessing which results from having in possession the revealed truth of God is not merely in reading it, or in hearing it: it results from the fact that the truth is properly regarded, and exerts a suitable influence over our lives. Compare Psalm 19:11; "And in keeping of them there is great reward."
For the time is at hand - See Revelation 1:1. The word used here - ἐγγύς engus - has the same signification substantially as the word "shortly" in Revelation 1:1. It would apply to any event whose beginning was soon to occur, though the end might be remote, for the series of events might stretch far into the future. It cannot be doubted, however, that the writer meant to press upon them the importance of attending to these things, from the fact that either entirely or in part these things were soon to happen. It may be inferred from this verse, that it is possible so to "understand" this book, as that it may convey useful instruction. This is the only book in the Bible of which a special blessing is pronounced on him who reads it; but assuredly a blessing would not be pronounced on the perusal of a book which is entirely unintelligible. While, therefore, there may be many obscurities in this book, it is also to be assumed that it may be so far understood as to be useful to Christians, in supporting their faith, and giving them elevated views of the final triumph of religion, and of the glory of the world to come. Anything is a blessing which enables us with well-founded hope and joy to look forward to the heavenly world.
John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;John to the seven churches which are in Asia - The word "Asia" is used in quite different senses by different writers. It is used:
(1) as referring to the whole eastern continent now known by that name;
(2) either Asia or Asia Minor;
(3) that part of Asia which Attalus III, king of Pergamos, gave to the Romans, namely, Mysia, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Lydia, Carla, Pisidia, and the southern coast - that is, all in the western, southwestern, and southern parts of Asia Minor; and,
(4) in the New Testament, usually the southwestern part of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital. See the notes at Acts 2:9.
The word "Asia" is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it occurs often in the Books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament. In the New Testament it is not used in the large sense in which it is now, as applied to the whole continent, but in its largest signification it would include only Asia Minor. It is also used, especially by Luke, as denoting the country that was called "Ionia," or what embraced the provinces of Caria and Lydia. Of this region Ephesus was the principal city, and it was in this region that the "seven churches" were situated. Whether there were more than seven churches in this region is not intimated by the writer of this book, and on that point we have no certain knowledge. it is evident that these seven were the principal churches, even if there were more, and that there was some reason why they should be particularly addressed.
There is mention of some other churches in the neighborhood of these. Colosse was near to Laodicea; and from Colossians 4:13, it would seem not improbable that there was a church also at Hierapolis. But there may have been nothing in their circumstances that demanded particular instruction or admonition, and they may have been on that account omitted. There is also some reason to suppose that, though there had been other churches in that vicinity besides the seven mentioned by John, they had become extinct at the time when he wrote the Book of Revelation. It appears from Tacitus (History, xiv, 27; compare also Pliny, N. H., v. 29), that in the time of Nero, 61 a.d., the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake, in which earthquake, according to Eusebius, the adjacent cities of Colosse and Hierapolis were involved. Laodicea was, indeed, immediately rebuilt, but there is no evidence of the re-establishment of the church there before the time when John wrote this book.
The earliest mention we have of a church there, after the one referred to in the New Testament by Paul Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:13, Colossians 4:15-16, is in the time of Trajan, when Papias was bishop there, sometime between 98 a.d. and 117 a.d. It would appear, then, to be not improbable that at the time when the Apocalypse was written, there were in fact but seven churches in the vicinity. Prof. Stuart (i., 219) supposes that "seven, and only so many, may have been named, because the sevenfold divisions and groups of various objects constitute a conspicuous feature in the Apocalypse throughout." But this reason seems too artificial; and it can hardly be supposed that it would influence the mind of John, in the specification by name of the churches to which the book was sent. If no names had been mentioned, and if the statement had occurred in glowing poetic description, it is not inconceivable that the number seven might have been selected for some such purpose.
Grace be unto you, and peace - The usual form of salutation in addressing a church. See the notes on Romans 1:7.
From him which is, and which was, and which is to come - From him who is everlasting - embracing all duration, past, present, and to come. No expression could more strikingly denote eternity than this. He now exists; he has existed in the past; he will exist in the future. There is an evident allusion here to the name Yahweh, the name by which the true God is appropriately designated in the Scriptures. That name יהוה Yahweh, from היה haayah, to be, to exist, seems to have been adopted because it denotes existence, or being, and as denoting simply one who exists; and has reference merely to the fact of existence. The word has no variation of form, and has no reference to time, and would embrace all time: that is, it is as true at one time as another that he exists. Such a word would not be inappropriately paraphrased by the phrase "who is, and who was, and who is to come," or who is to be; and there can be no doubt that John referred to him here as being himself the eternal and uncreated existence, and as the great and original fountain of all being.
They who desire to find a full discussion in regard to the origin of the name Yahweh, may consult an article by Prof. Tholuck, in the "Biblical Repository," vol. iv., pp. 89-108. It is remarkable that there are some passages in pagan inscriptions and writings which bear a very strong resemblance to the language used here by John respecting God. Thus, Plutarch (De Isa. et Osir., p. 354.), speaking of a temple of Isis, at Sais, in Egypt, says, "It bore this inscription - 'I am all that was, and is, and shall be, and my vail no mortal can remove'" - Ἐγώ εἰμι πᾶν τὸ γεγονός, καὶ ὅν, καὶ ἐσόμενον καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν πέπλον οὐδείς τω θνητὸς ἀνεκάλυψεν Egō eimi pan to gegonos, kai hon, kai esomenon kai ton emon peplon oudeis tō thnētos anekalupsen. So Orpheus (in Auctor. Lib. de Mundo), "Jupiter is the head, Jupiter is the middle, and all things are made by Jupiter." So in Pausanias (Phocic. 12), "Jupiter was; Jupiter is; Jupiter shall be." The reference in the phrase before us is to God as such, or to God considered as the Father.
And from the seven Spirits which are before his throne - After all that has been written on this very difficult expression, it is still impossible to determine with certainty its meaning. The principal opinions which have been held in regard to it are the following:
I. That it refers to God, as such. This opinion is held by Eichhorn, and is favored by Ewald. No arguments derived from any parallel passages are urged for this opinion, nor can any such be found, where God is himself spoken of under the representation of a sevenfold Spirit. But the objections to this view are so obvious as to be insuperable:
(1) If it refers to God as such, then it would be mere tautology, for the writer had just referred to him in the phrase "from him who was," etc.
(2) it is difficult to perceive in what sense "seven spirits" could be ascribed to God, or how he could be described as a being of "Seven Spirits." At least, if he could be spoken of as such, there would be no objection to applying the phrase to the Holy Spirit.
(3) how could it be said of God himself that he was "before the throne?" He is everywhere represented as sitting on the throne, not as before it. It is easy to conceive of angels as standing before the throne; and of the Holy Spirit it is more easy to conceive as being represented thus as ready to go forth and convey a heavenly influence from that throne, but it is impossible to conceive in what sense this could be applied to God as such.
II. The opinion held by Grotius, and by John Henry Heinrichs, that it refers to "the multiform providence of God," or to God considered as operating in seven or many different ways. In support of this Grotius appeals to Revelation 5:12; Revelation 7:12. But this opinion is so far-fetched, and it is so destitute of support, as to have found, it is believed, no other advocates, and to need no further notice. It cannot be supposed that John meant to personify the attributes of the Deity, and then to unite them with God himself, and with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to represent them as real subsistences from which important blessings descend to people. It is clear that as by the phrase, "who is, and who was, and who is to come," and by "Jesus Christ, the faithful and true witness," he refers to real subsistences, so he must here. Besides, if the attributes of God, or the modes of divine operation, are denoted why is the number seven chosen? And why are they represented as standing before the throne?
III. A third opinion is, that the reference is to seven attending and ministering presence-angels - angels represented as standing before the throne of God, or in his presence. This opinion was adopted among the ancients by Clemens of Alexandria Andreas of Cesarea, and others; among the moderns by Beza, Drusius, Hammond, Wetstein, Rosenmuller, Clarke, Prof. Stuart, and others. This opinion, however, has been held in somewhat different forms; some maintaining that the seven angels are referred to because it was a received opinion among the Hebrews that there were seven angels standing in the presence of God as seven princes stood in the Persian court before the king; others, that the angels of the seven churches are particularly referred to, represented now as standing in the presence of God; others, that seven angels, represented as the principal angels employed in the government of the world, are referred to; and others, that seven archangels are particularly designated. Compare Poole, Synoptists in loco. The arguments which are relied on by those who suppose that seven angels are here referred to are briefly these:
(1) The nature of the expression used here. The expression, it is said, is such as would naturally denote beings who were before his throne - beings who were different from him who was on the throne - and beings more than one in number. That it could not refer to one on the throne, but must mean those distinct and separate from one on the throne, is argued from the use of the phrases "before the throne," and "before God," in Revelation 4:5; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:15; Revelation 8:2; Revelation 11:4, Revelation 11:16; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 20:12; in all which places the representation denotes those who were in the presence of God, and standing before him.
(2) it is argued from other passages in the Book of Revelation which, it is said (Prof. Stuart), go directly to confirm this opinion. Thus, in Revelation 8:2; "And I saw the seven angels which stood before God." So Revelation 4:5; the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, are said to be "the seven Spirits of God." In these passages, it is alleged that the article "the" designates the well-known angels; or those which had been before specified, and that this is the first mention of any such angels after the designation in the passage before us.
(3) it is said that this is in accordance with what was usual among the Hebrews, who were accustomed to speak of seven presence-angels, or angels standing in the presence of Yahweh. Thus, in the Book of Tobit (12:15), Raphael is introduced as using this language: "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." The apocryphal Book of Enoch (chapter 20) gives the names of the seven angels who watch; that is, of the watchers (compare the notes on Daniel 4:13, Daniel 4:17) who stand in the presence of God waiting for the divine commands, or who watch over the affairs of people. So in the Zendavesta of Zoroaster, seven amshaspends, or archangels, are mentioned. See Prof. Stuart, in loco.
To these views, however, there are objections of great weight, if they are not in fact quite insuperable. They are such as the following:
(1) That the same rank should be given to them as to God, as the source of blessings. According to the view which represents this expression as referring to angels, they are placed on the same level, so far as the matter before us is concerned, with "him who was, and is, and is to come," and with the Lord Jesus Christ - a doctrine which does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures, and which we cannot suppose the writer designed to teach.
(2) that blessings should be invoked from angels - as if they could impart "grace and peace." It is evident that, whoever is referred to here by the phrase "the seven Spirits," he is placed on the same level with the others mentioned as the source of "grace and peace." But it cannot be supposed that an inspired writer would invoke that grace and peace from any but a divine being.
(3) that as two persons of the Trinity are mentioned here, it is to be presumed that the third would not be omitted; or to put this argument in a stronger form, it cannot be supposed that an inspired writer would mention two of the persons of the Trinity in this connection, and then not only not mention the third, but refer to angels - to creatures - as bestowing what would be appropriately sought from the Holy Spirit. The incongruity would be not merely in omitting all reference to the Spirit - which might indeed occur, as it often does in the Scriptures - but in putting in the place which that Spirit would naturally occupy an allusion to angels as conferring blessings.
(4) if this refer to angels, it is impossible to avoid the inference that angel-worship, or invocation of angels, is proper. To all intents and purposes, this is an act of worship; for it is an act of solemn invocation. It is an acknowledgment of the "seven Spirits," as the source of "grace and peace." It would be impossible to resist this impression on the popular mind; it would not be possible to meet it if urged as an argument in favor of the propriety of angel-invocation, or angel-worship. And yet, if there is anything clear in the Scriptures, it is that God alone is to he worshipped. For these reasons, it seems to me that this interpretation cannot be well founded.
IV. There remains a fourth opinion, that it refers to the Holy Spirit, and in favor of that opinion it may be urged:
(1) That it is most natural to suppose that the Holy Spirit would be invoked on such an occasion, in connection with him "who was, and is, and is to come," and with "Jesus Christ." If two of the persons of the Trinity were addressed on such an occasion, it would be properly supposed that the Holy Spirit would not be omitted, as one of the persons from whom the blessing was to descend. Compare 2 Corinthians 13:14; "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."
(2) it would be unnatural and improper, in such an invocation, to unite angels with God as imparting blessings, or as participating with God and with Christ in communicating blessings to man. An invocation to God to send his angels, or to impart grace and favor through angelic help, would be in entire accordance with the usage in Scripture, but it is not in accordance with such usage to invoke such blessings from angels.
(3) it cannot be denied that an invocation of grace from "him who is, and was, and is to come," is of the nature of worship. The address to him is as God, and the attitude of the mind in such an address is that of one who is engaged in an act of devotion. The effect of uniting any other being with him in such a case, would be to lead to the worship of one thus associated with him. In regard to the Lord Jesus, "the faithful and true witness," it is from such expressions as these that we are led to the belief that he is divine, and that it is proper to worship him as such. The same effect must be produced in reference to what is here called "the seven Spirits before the throne." We cannot well resist the impression that someone with divine attributes is intended; or, if it refer to angels, we cannot easily show that it is not proper to render divine worship to them. If they were thus invoked by an apostle, can it be improper to worship them now?
(4) the word used here is not "angels," but "spirits"; and though it is true that angels are spirits, and that the word "spirit" is applied to them Hebrews 1:7, yet it is also true that that is not a word which would be understood to refer to them without designating that angels were meant. If angels had been intended here, that word would naturally have been used, as is the case elsewhere in this book.
(5) in Revelation 4:5, where there is a reference to "the seven lamps before the throne," it is said of them that they "are," that is, they represent "the seven Spirits of God." This passage may be understood as referring to the same thing as that before us, but it cannot he well understood of angels; because:
(a) if it did, it would have been natural to use that language for the reason above mentioned;
(b) the angels are nowhere called "the spirits of God," nor would such language be proper.
The phrase, "Spirit of God" naturally implies divinity, and could not be applied to a creature. For these reasons it seems to me that the interpretation which applies the phrase to the Holy Spirit is to be preferred; and though that interpretation is not free from difficulties, yet there are fewer difficulties in that than in either of the others proposed. Though it may not be possible wholly to remove the difficulties involved in that interpretation, yet perhaps something may be done to diminish their force:
(1) First, as to the reason why the number seven should be applied to the Holy Spirit:
(a) There would be as much propriety certainly in applying it to the Holy Spirit as to God as such. And yet Grotius, Eichhorn, Ewald, and others saw no difficulty in such an application considered as representing a sevenfold mode of operation of God, or a manifold divine agency.
(b) The word "seven" often denotes a full or complete number, and may be used to denote what is full, complete, or manifold; and might thus be used in reference to an all-perfect Spirit, or to a spirit which was manifold in its operations.
(c) The number seven is evidently a favorite number in the Book of Revelation, and it might be used by the author in places, and in a sense, such as it would not be likely to be used by another writer. Thus, there are seven epistles to the seven churches; there are seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials of the wrath of God, seven last plagues; there are seven lamps, and seven Spirits of God; the Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes. In Revelation 1:16, seven stars are mentioned; in Revelation 5:12, seven attributes of God; Revelation 12:3, the dragon has seven heads; Revelation 13:1, the beast has seven heads.
(d) The number seven, therefore, may have been given to the Holy Spirit with reference to the diversity or the fulness of his operations on the souls of people, and to his manifold agency on the affairs of the world, as further developed in this book.
(2) as to his being represented as "before the throne," this may be intended to designate the fact that the Divine Spirit was, as it were, prepared to go forth, or to be sent forth, in accordance with a common representation in the Scriptures, to accomplish important purposes on human affairs. The posture does not necessarily imply inferiority of nature, anymore than the language does respecting the Son of God, when he is represented as being sent into the world to execute an important commission from the Father.
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness - See the notes on Revelation 1:2. He is faithful in the sense that he is one on whose testimony there may be entire reliance, or who is entirely worthy to be believed. From him "grace and peace" are appropriately sought, as one who hears such a testimony, and as the first-begotten from the dead, and as reigning over the kings of the earth. Thus, grace and peace are invoked from the infinite God in all his relations and operations: as the Father, the Source of all existence; as the Sacred Spirit, going forth in manifold operations upon the hearts of people; and as the Son of God, the one appointed to bear faithful testimony to the truth respecting God and future events.
And the first-begotten of the dead - The same Greek expression - πρωτότοκος prōtotokos - occurs in Colossians 1:18. See it explained in the notes on that passage. Compare the notes at 1 Corinthians 15:20.
And the prince of the kings of the earth - Who has over all the kings of the earth the pre-eminence which kings have over their subjects. He is the Ruler of rulers; King of kings. In Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16, the same thought is expressed by saying that he is the "King of kings." No language could more sublimely denote his exalted character, or his supremacy. Kings and princes sway a scepter over the million of the earth, and the exaltation of the Saviour is here expressed by supposing that all those kings and princes constitute a community over which he is the head. The exaltation of the Redeemer is elsewhere expressed in different language, but the idea is one that everywhere prevails in regard to him in the Scriptures. Compare Matthew 28:18; Matthew 11:27; John 17:2; Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-18. The word "prince" - ὁ ἄρχων ho archōn - means properly, "ruler, leader, the first in rank." We often apply the word "prince" to an heir to a throne who is not invested with absolute sovereignty. The word here, however, denotes that he actually exercises dominion over the rulers of the earth. As this is an authority which is claimed by God (compare Isaiah 10:5 ff; Isaiah 45:1 ff; Psalm 47:2; Psalm 99:1; Psalm 103:9; Daniel 4:34), and which can only pertain to God, it is clear that in ascribing this to the Lord Jesus it is implied that he is possessed of divine attributes. As much of the revelations of this book pertained to the assertion of power over the princes and rulers of this world, there was a propriety that, in the commencement, it should be asserted that he who was to exert that power was invested with the prerogative of a ruler of the nations, and that he had this right of control.
Unto him that loved us - This refers undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus, whose love for people was so strong that nothing more was necessary to characterize him than to speak of him as the one "who loved us." It is manifest that the division in the verses should have been made here, for this commences a new subject, not having any special connection with what precedes. In Revelation 1:4, and the first part of this verse, the writer had invoked grace from the Father, the Spirit, and the Saviour. In the latter clause of the verse there commences an ascription of praise to the Redeemer; an ascription to him particularly, because the whole book is regarded as a revelation from him Revelation 1:1; because he was the one who especially appeared to John in the visions of Patmos; and because he was to be the great agent in carrying into execution the purposes revealed in this book.
And washed us from our sins in his own blood - He has removed the pollution of sin from our souls by his blood; that is, his blood has been applied to cleanse us from sin. Blood can be represented as having a cleansing power only as it makes an expiation for sin, for considered literally its effect would be the reverse. The language is such as would be used only on the supposition that he had made an atonement, and that it was by the atonement that we are cleansed; for in what sense could it be said of a martyr that he "had washed us from our sins in his blood?" How could this language be used of Paul or Polycarp; of Ridley or Cranmer? The doctrine that the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin, or purifies us, is one that is common in the Scriptures. Compare 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:14. The specific idea of washing, however - representing that blood as washing sin away - is one which does not elsewhere occur. It is evidently used in the sense of "cleansing" or "purifying," as we do this by "washing," and as the blood of Christ accomplishes in respect to our souls, what washing with water does in respect to the body.
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.And hath made us kings and priests unto God - In 1 Peter 2:9 the same idea is expressed by saying of Christians that they are "a royal priesthood." See the notes on that verse. The quotation in both places is from Exodus 19:6; "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests." This idea is expressed here by saying that Christ had made us in fact kings and priests; that is, Christians are exalted to the dignity and are invested with the office, implied in these words. The word "kings," as applied to them, refers to the exalted rank and dignity which they will have; to the fact that they, in common with their Saviour, will reign triumphant over all enemies; and that, having gained a victory over sin and death and hell, they may be represented as reigning together. The word "priests" refers to the fact that they are engaged in the holy service of God, or that they offer to him acceptable worship. See the notes on 1 Peter 2:5.
And his Father - Even his Father; that is, the Saviour has redeemed them, and elevated them to this exalted rank, in order that they may thus be engaged in the service of his Father.
To him be glory - To the Redeemer; for so the construction Revelation 1:5 demands. The word "glory" here means praise, or honor, implying a wish that all honor should be shown him.
And dominion - This word means literally "strength" - κράτος kratos; but it here means the strength, power, or authority which is exercised over others, and the expression is equivalent to a wish that he may reign.
Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.Behold he cometh with clouds - That is, the Lord Jesus, when he returns, will come accompanied with clouds. This is in accordance with the uniform representation respecting the return of the Saviour. See the notes on Matthew 24:30. Compare Matthew 26:64; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Acts 1:9, Acts 1:11. Clouds are appropriate symbols of majesty, and God is often represented as appearing in that manner. See Exodus 19:18; Psalm 18:11 ff; Isaiah 19:1. So, among the pagan, it was common to represent their divinities as appearing clothed with a cloud:
"tandem venias, precamur,
Nube candentes humeros amictus.
The design of introducing this representation of the Saviour, and of the manner in which he would appear, seems to be to impress the mind with a sense of the majesty and glory. of that being from whom John received his revelations. His rank, his character, his glory were such as to demand respect; all should reverence him, and all should feel that his communications about the future were important to them, for they must soon appear before him.
And every eye shall see him - He will be made visible in his glory to all that dwell upon the earth; to all the children of men. Everyone, therefore, has an interest in what he says; everyone has this in certain prospect, that he shall see the Son of God coming as a Judge.
And they also which pierced him - When he died; that is, they who pierced his hands, his feet, and his side. There is probably an allusion here to Zechariah 12:10; "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn." The language here is so general that it may refer to any act of looking upon the pierced Saviour, and might be applied to those who would see him on the cross and to their compunctious visitings then; or to their subsequent reflections, as they might look by faith on him whom they had crucified; or to the feeling of any sinners who should reflect that their sins had been the cause of the death of the Lord Jesus; or it might be applied, as it is here, more specifically to the feelings which his murderers will have when they shall see him coming in his glory. All sinners who have pierced his heart by their crimes will then behold him and will mourn over their treatment of him; they, in a special manner, who imbrued their hands in his blood will then remember their crime and be overwhelmed with alarm. The design of what is here said seems to be, to show that the coming of the Saviour will be an event of great interest to all mankind. None can be indifferent to it, for all will see him. His friends will hail his advent (compare Revelation 22:20), but all who were engaged in putting him to death, and all who in any manner have pierced his heart by sin and ingratitude, unless they shall have repented, will have occasion of bitter lamentation when he shall come. There are none who have a more fearful doom to anticipate than the murderers of the Son of God, including those who actually put him to death, and those who would have engaged in such an act had they been present, and those who, by their conduct, have done all they could to pierce and wound him by their ingratitude.
And all kindreds of the earth - Greek, "All the tribes - φυλαὶ phulai of the earth." This language is the same which the Saviour uses in Matthew 24:30. See the notes on that passage. The word "tribes" is what is commonly applied to the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus used, it would describe the inhabitants of the Holy Land; but it may be used to denote nations and people in general, as descended from a common ancestor, and the connection requires that it should be understood in this sense here, since it is said that "every eye shall see him"; that is, all that dwell on the face of the earth.
Shall wail because of him - On account of him; on account of their treatment of him. The word rendered "wail" - κόπτω koptō - means properly to beat, to cut; then to beat or cut oneself in the breast as an expression of sorrow; and then to lament, to cry aloud in intense grief. The coming of the Saviour will be an occasion of this:
(a) because it will be an event which will call the sins of people to remembrance, and
(b) because they will be overwhelmed with the apprehension of the wrath to come.
Nothing would fill the earth with greater consternation than the coming of the Son of God in the clouds of heaven; nothing could produce so deep and universal alarm. This fact, which no one can doubt, is proof that people feel that they are guilty, since, if they were innocent, they would have nothing to dread by his appearing. It is also a proof that they believe in the doctrine of future punishment, since, if they do not, there is no reason why they should be alarmed at his coming. Surely people would not dread his appearing if they really believed that all will be saved. Who dreads the coming of a benefactor to bestow favors on him? Who dreads the appearing of a jailer to deliver him from prison; of a physician to raise him up from a bed of pain; of a deliverer to knock off the fetters of slavery? And how can it be that people should be alarmed at the coming of the Saviour, unless their consciences tell them that they have much to fear in the future? The presence of the Redeemer in the clouds of heaven would destroy all the hopes of those who believe in the doctrine of universal salvation - as the approach of death now often does. People believe that there is much to be dreaded in the future world, or they would not fear the coming of Him who shall wind up the affairs of the human race.
Even so, Amen - ναὶ, ἀμήν nai, amēn. "A double expression of "so be it, assuredly, certainly," one in Greek and the other in Hebrew" (Prof. Stuart). Compare Romans 8:16, "Abba, Father" - ἀββᾶ, ὁ πατήρ abba, ho patēr. The idea which John seems to intend to convey is, that the coming of the Lord Jesus, and the consequences which he says will follow, are events which are altogether certain. This is not the expression of a wish that it may be so, as our common translation would seem to imply, but a strong affirmation that it will be so. In some passages, how. over, the word (ναὶ nai) expresses assent to what is said, implying approbation of it as true, or as desirable. "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight," Matthew 11:26; Luke 10:21. So in Revelation 16:7, "Even so (ναὶ nai), Lord God Almighty." So in Revelation 22:20, "Even so (ναὶ nai), come, Lord Jesus." The word "Amen" here seems to determine the meaning of the phrase, and to make it the affirmation of a "certainty," rather than the expression of a "wish."
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.I am Alpha and Omega - These are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, and denote properly the first and the last. So in Revelation 22:13, where the two expressions are united, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." So in Revelation 1:17, the speaker says of himself, "I am the first and the last." Among the Jewish rabbis it was common to use the first and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet to denote the whole of anything, from beginning to end. Thus, it is said, "Adam transgressed the whole law, from 'Aleph (א) to Taw (תּ)." "Abraham kept the whole law, from 'Aleph (א) to Taw (תּ)." The language here is what would properly denote "eternity" in the being to whom it is applied, and could be used in reference to no one but the true God. It means that he is the beginning and the end of all things; that he was at the commencement, and will be at the close; and it is thus equivalent to saying that he has always existed, and that he will always exist. Compare Isaiah 41:4, "I the Lord, the first, and with the last"; Isaiah 44:6, "I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God"; Isaiah 48:12, "I am he; I am the first, I also am the last." There can be no doubt that the language here would be naturally understood as implying divinity, and it could be properly applied to no one but the true God. The obvious interpretation here would be to apply this to the Lord Jesus; for:
(a) it is he who is spoken of in the verses preceding, and
(b) there can be no doubt that the same language is applied to him in Revelation 1:11.
As there is, however, a difference of reading in this place in the Greek text, and as it can. not be absolutely certain that the writer meant to refer to the Lord Jesus specifically here, this cannot be adduced with propriety as a proof-text to demonstrate his divinity. Many mss., instead of "Lord," κυρίος kurios, read "God," Θεὸς Theos and this reading is adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, and Hahn, and is now regarded as the correct reading. There is no real incongruity in supposing, also, that the writer here meant to refer to God as such, since the introduction of a reference to him would not be inappropriate to his manifest design. Besides, a portion of the language used here, "which is, and was, and is to come," is what would more naturally suggest a reference to God as such, than to the Lord Jesus Christ. See Revelation 1:4. The object for which this passage referring to the "first and the last - to him who was, and is, and is to come," is introduced here evidently is, to show that as he was clothed with omnipotence, and would continue to exist through all ages to come as he had existed in all ages past, there could be no doubt about his ability to execute all which it is said he would execute.
Saith the Lord - Or, saith God, according to what is now regarded as the correct reading.
Which is, and which was, ... - See the notes on Revelation 1:4.
The Almighty - An appellation often applied to God, meaning that he has all power, and used here to denote that he is able to accomplish what is disclosed in this book.
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.I John, who also am your brother - Your Christian brother; who am a fellow-Christian with you. The reference here is doubtless to the members of the seven churches in Asia, to whom the epistles in the following chapters were addressed, and to whom the whole book seems to have been sent. In the previous verse, the writer had closed the salutation, and he here commences a description of the circumstances under which the vision appeared to him. He was in a lonely island, to which he had been banished on account of his attachment to religion; he was in a state of high spiritual enjoyment on the day devoted to the sacred remembrance of the Redeemer; he suddenly heard a voice behind him, and turning saw the Son of man himself, in glorious form, in the midst of seven golden lamps, and fell at his feet as dead.
And companion in tribulation - Your partner in affliction. That is, he and they were suffering substantially the same kind of trials on account of their religion. It is evident from this that some form of persecution was then raging, in which they were also sufferers, though in their case it did not lead to banishment. The leader, the apostle, the aged and influential preacher, was banished; but there were many other forms of trial which they might be called to endure who remained at home. What they were we have not the means of knowing with certainty.
And in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ - The meaning of this passage is, that he, and those whom he addressed, were not only companions in affliction, but were fellow-partners in the kingdom of the Redeemer; that is, they shared the honor and the privileges pertaining to that kingdom; and that they were fellow-partners in the "patience" of Jesus Christ, that is, in enduring with patience whatever might follow from their being his friends and followers. The general idea is, that alike in privileges and sufferings they were united. They shared alike in the results of their attachment to the Saviour.
Was in the isle that is called Patmos - Patmos is one of the cluster of islands in the Aegean Sea anciently called the "Sporades." It lies between the island of Icaria and the promontory of Miletus. It is merely mentioned by the ancient geographers (Plin. Hist. Nat., iv., 23; Strabo, x., 488). It is now called Patino or Patmoso. It is some six or eight miles in length, and not more than a mile in breadth, being about fifteen miles in circumference. It has neither trees nor rivers, nor has it any land for cultivation, except some little nooks among the ledges of rocks. On approaching the island, the coast is high, and consists of a succession of capes, which form so many ports, some of which are excellent. The only one in use, however, is a deep bay, sheltered by High mountains on every side but one, where it is protected by a projecting cape. The town attached to this port is situated upon a high rocky mountain, rising immediately from the sea, and this, with the Scala below upon the shore, consisting of some ships and houses, forms the only inhabited site of the island.
Though Patmos is deficient in trees, it abounds in flowery plants and shrubs. Walnuts and other fruit trees are raised in the orchards, and the wine of Patmos is the strongest and the best flavored in the Greek islands. Maize and barley are cultivated, but not in a quantity sufficient for the use of the inhabitants and for a supply of their own vessels, and others which often put into their good harbor for provisions. The inhabitants now do not exceed four or five thousand; many of whom are emigrants from the neighboring continent. About halfway up the mountain there is shown a natural grotto in a rock, where John is said to have seen his visions and to have written this book. Near this is a small church, connected with which is a school or college, where the Greek language is taught; and on the top of the hill, and in the center of the island, is a monastery, which, from its situation, has a very majestic appearance (Kitto's Cyclopoedia of Bib. Literally). The annexed engraving is supposed to give a good representation of the appearance of the island,
It is commonly supposed that John was banished to this island by Domitian, about 94 a.d. No place could have been selected for banishment which would accord better with such a design than this. Lonely, desolate, barren, uninhabited, seldom visited, it had all the requisites which could be desired for a place of punishment; and banishment to that place would accomplish all that a persecutor could wish in silencing an apostle, without putting him to death. It was no uncommon thing, in ancient times, to banish people from their country; either sending them forth at large, or specifying some particular place to which they were to go. The whole narrative leads us to suppose that this place was designated as that to which John was to be sent. Banishment to an island was a common mode of punishment; and there was a distinction made by this act in favor of those who were thus banished. The more base, low, and vile of criminals were commonly condemned to work in the mines; the more decent and respectable were banished to some lonely island. See the authorities quoted in Wetstein, "in loco."
For the word of God - On account of the word of God; that is, for holding and preaching the gospel. See the notes on Revelation 1:2. It cannot mean that he was sent there with a view to his "preaching" the Word of God; for it is inconceivable that he should have been sent from Ephesus to preach in such a little, lonely, desolate place, where indeed there is no evidence that there were any inhabitants; nor can it mean that he was sent there by the Spirit of God to receive and record this revelation, for it is clear that the revelation could have been made elsewhere, and such a place afforded no special advantages for this. The fair interpretation is, in accordance with all the testimony of antiquity, that he was sent there in a time of persecution, as a punishment for preaching the gospel.
And for the testimony of Jesus Christ - See the notes on Revelation 1:2. He did not go there to bear testimony to Jesus Christ on that island, either by preaching or recording the visions in this book, but he went because he had preached the doctrines which testified of Christ.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,I was in the Spirit - This cannot refer to his own spirit, for such an expression would be unintelligible. The language then must refer to some unusual state, or to some influence that had been brought to bear upon him from without, that was appropriate to such a day. The word "Spirit" may refer either to the Holy Spirit, or to some state of mind such as the Holy Spirit produces - a spirit of elevated devotion, a state of high and uncommon religious enjoyment. It is clear that John does not mean here to say that he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit in such a sense as that he was inspired, for the command to make a record, as well as the visions, came subsequently to the time referred to. The fair meaning of the passage is, that he was at that time favored, in a large measure, with the influences of the Holy Spirit - the spirit of true devotion; that he had a high state of religious enjoyment, and was in a condition not inappropriate to the remarkable communications which were made to him on that day.
The state of mind in which he was at the time here referred to, is not such as the prophets are often represented to have been in when under the prophetic inspiration (compare Ezekiel 1:1; Ezekiel 8:3; Ezekiel 40:2; Jeremiah 24:1), and which was often accompanied with an entire prostration of bodily strength (compare Numbers 24:4); 1 Samuel 19:24; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 10:8-10; Revelation 1:17), but such as any Christian may experience when in a high state of religious enjoyment. He was not yet under the prophetic ecstasy (compare Acts 10:10; Acts 11:5; Acts 22:17), but was, though in a lonely and barren island, and far away from the privileges of the sanctuary, permitted to enjoy, in a high degree, the consolations of religion - an illustration of the great truth that God can meet his people anywhere; that, when in solitude and in circumstances of outward affliction, when persecuted and cast out, when deprived of the public means of grace and the society of religious friends, He can meet them with the abundant consolations of His grace, and pour joy and peace into their souls. This state was not inappropriate to the revelations which were about to be made to John, but this itself was not that state. It was a state which seems to have resulted from the fact, that on that desert island he devoted the day to the worship of God, and, by honoring the day dedicated to the memory of the risen Saviour, found, what all will find, that it was attended with rick spiritual influences on his soul.
On the Lord's day - The word rendered here as "Lord's" (κυριακῇ kuriakē), occurs only in this place and in 1 Corinthians 11:20, where it is applied to the Lord's supper. It properly means "pertaining to the Lord"; and, so far as this word is concerned, it might mean a day "pertaining to the Lord," in any sense, or for any reason; either because he claimed it as his own, and had set it apart for his own service, or because it was designed to commemorate some important event pertaining to him, or because it was observed in honor of him. It is clear:
(1) That this refers to some day which was distinguished from all other days of the week, and which would be sufficiently designated by the use of this term.
(2) that it was a day which was for some reason regarded as especially a day of the Lord, or especially devoted to him.
(3) it would further appear that this was a day particularly devoted to the Lord Jesus; for:
(a) that is the natural meaning of the word "Lord" as used in the New Testament (compare the notes on Acts 1:24); and
(b) if the Jewish Sabbath were intended to be designated, the word "Sabbath" would have been used.
The term was used generally by the early Christians to denote the first day of the week. It occurs twice in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians (about 101 a.d.), who calls the Lord's day "the queen and prince of all days." Chrysostom (on Psalm 119) says, "It was called the Lord's day because the Lord rose from the dead on that day." Later fathers make a marked distinction between the "Sabbath" and the "Lord's day"; meaning by the former the Jewish "Sabbath," or the seventh day of the week, and by the latter the first day of the week, kept holy by Christians. So Theodoret (Fab. Haeret. ii. 1), speaking of the Ebionites, says, "They keep the Sabbath according to the Jewish law, and sanctify the Lord's day in like manner as we do" (Prof. Stuart). The strong probability is, that the name was given to this day in honor of the Lord Jesus, and because he rose on that day from the dead. No one can doubt that it was an appellation given to the first day of the week; and the passage, therefore, proves:
(1) that that day was thus early distinguished in some special manner, so that the mere mention of it would be sufficient to identify it in the minds of those to whom the apostle wrote;
(2) that it was in some sense regarded as devoted to the Lord Jesus, or was designed in some way to commemorate what he had done; and,
(3) that if this book were written by the apostle John, the observance of that day has the apostolic sanction. He had manifestly, in accordance with a prevailing custom, set apart this day in honor of the Lord Jesus. Though alone, he was engaged on that day in acts of devotion. Though far away from the sanctuary, he enjoyed what all Christians hope to enjoy on such a day of rest, and what not a few do in fact enjoy in its observance. We may remark, in view of this statement:
(a) that when away from the sanctuary, and deprived of its privileges, we should nevertheless not fail to observe the Christian Sabbath. If on a bed of sickness, if in a land of strangers, if on the deep, if in a foreign clime, if on a lonely island, as John was, where we have none of the advantages of public worship, we should yet honor the Sabbath. We should worship God alone, if we have none to unite with us; we should show to those around us, if we are with strangers, by our dress and our conversation, by a serious and devent manner, by abstinence from labor, and by a resting from travel, that we devoutly regard this day as set apart for God.
(b) We may expect, in such circumstances, and with such a devout observance of the day, that God will meet with us and bless us. It was on a lonely island, far away from the sanctuary and from the society of Christian friends, that the Saviour met "the beloved disciple," and we may trust it will be so with us. For on such a desert island, in a lonely forest, on the deep, or amid strangers in a foreign land, he can as easily meet us as in the sanctuary where we have been accustomed to worship, and when surrounded by all the privileges of a Christian land. No man, at home or abroad, among friends or strangers, enjoying the privileges of the sanctuary, or deprived of those privileges, ever kept the Christian Sabbath in a devout manner without profit to his own soul; and, when deprived of the privileges of public worship, the visitations of the Saviour to the soul may be more than a compensation for all our privations. Who would not be willing to be banished to a lonely island like Patmos, if he might enjoy such a glorious vision of the Redeemer as John was favored with there?
And heard behind me a great voice - A loud voice. This was of course sudden, and took him by surprise.
As of a trumpet - Loud as a trumpet. This is evidently the only point in the comparison. It does not mean that the tones of the voice resembled a trumpet, but only that it was clear, loud, and distinct like a trumpet. A trumpet is a well-known wind instrument, distinguished for the clearness of its sounds, and was used for calling assemblies together, for marshalling hosts for battle, etc. The Hebrew word employed commonly to denote a trumpet שׁופר showpar means "bright" and "clear," and is supposed to have been given to the instrument on account of its clear and shrill sound, as we now give the name "clarion" to a certain wind-instrument. The Hebrew trumpet is often referred to as employed, on account of its clearness, to summon people together, Exodus 19:13; Numbers 10:10; Judges 7:18, etc.; 1 Samuel 13:3; 2 Samuel 15:10.
Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.Saying - That is, literally, "the trumpet saying." It was, however, manifestly the voice that addressed these words to John, though they seemed to come through a trumpet, and hence the trumpet is represented as uttering them.
I am Alpha and Omega - Revelation 1:8.
The first and the last - An explanation of the terms Alpha and Omega. See the notes on Revelation 1:8.
And, What thou seest - The voice, in addition to the declaration, "I am Alpha and Omega," gave this direction that he should record what he saw. The phrase, "what thou seest," refers to what would pass before him in vision, what he there saw, and what he would see in the extraordinary manifestations which were to be made to him.
Write in a book - Make a fair record of it all; evidently meaning that he should describe things as they occurred, and implying that the vision would be held so long before the eye of his mind that he would be able to transfer it to the "book." The fair and obvious interpretation of this is, that he was to make the record in the island of Patmos, and then send it to the churches. Though Patmos was a lonely and barren place, and though probably here were few or no inhabitants there, yet there is no improbability in supposing that John could have found writing materials there, nor even that he may have been permitted to take such materials with him. He seems to have been banished for "preaching," not for "writing"; and there is no evidence that the materials for writing would be withheld from him. John Bunyan, in Bedford jail, found materials for writing the "Pilgrim's Progress," and there is no evidence that the apostle John was denied the means of recording his thoughts when in the island of Patmos. The word "book" here (βιβλίον biblion), would more properly mean a roll or scroll, that being the form in which books were anciently made. See the notes on Luke 4:17.
And send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia - The churches which are immediately designated, not implying that there were no other churches in Asia, but that there were particular reasons for sending it to these. He was to send all that he should "see"; to wit, all that is recorded in this volume or book of "Revelation." Part of this Revelation 2; Revelation 3 would pertain particularly to them; the remainder Revelation 4-22 would pertain to them no more than to others, but still they would have the common interest in it which all the church would have, and, in their circumstances of trial, there might be important reasons why they should see the assurance that the church would ultimately triumph over all its enemies. They were to derive from it themselves the consolation which it was suited to impart in time of trial, and to transmit it to future times, for the welfare of the church at large.
Unto Ephesus - Perhaps mentioned first as being the capital of that portion of Asia Minor; the most important city of the seven; the place where John had preached, and whence he had been banished. For a particular description of these seven churches, see the notes on the epistles addressed to them in Revelation 2-3.
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;And I turned to see the voice that spake with me - He naturally turned round to see who it was that spake to him in this solitary and desolate place, where he thought himself to be alone. To see the "voice" here means to see the "person" who spake.
And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks - These were the "first" things that met his eye. This must have been in "vision," of course, and the meaning is, that there "seemed" to be there seven such lamps or candelabras. The word rendered "candlesticks" (λυχνία luchnia) means properly a light-stand, lampstand - something to bear up a light. It would be applied to anything that was used for this purpose; and nothing is intimated, in the use of the word, in regard to the form or dimensions of the light-bearers. Lamps were more commonly used at that time than candles, and it is rather to be supposed that these were designed to be lamp-bearers, or lamp-sustainers, than candle-sticks. They were seven in number; not one branching into seven, but seven standing apart, and so far from each other that he who appeared to John could stand among them. The lamp-bearers evidently sustained each a light, and these gave a special brilliancy to the scene. It is not improbable that, as they were designed to represent the seven churches of Asia, they were arranged in an order resembling these churches. The scene is not laid in the temple, as many suppose, for there is nothing that resembles the arrangements in the temple except the mere fact of the lights. The scene as yet is in Patmos, and there is no evidence that John did not regard himself as there, or that he fancied for a moment that he was translated to the temple in Jerusalem. There can be no doubt as to the design of this representation, for it is expressly declared Revelation 1:20 that the seven lamp-bearers were intended to represent the seven churches. Light is often used in the Scriptures as an emblem of true religion; Christians are represented as "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14; compare Philippians 2:15; John 8:12), and a Christian church may be represented as a light standing in the midst of surrounding darkness.
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.And in the midst of the seven candlesticks - Standing among them, so as to be encircled with them. This shows that the representation could not have been like that of the vision of Zechariah Zechariah 4:2, where the prophet sees "a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon." In the vision as it appeared to John, there was not one lampbearer, with seven lamps or branches, but there were seven lamp-bearers, so arranged that one in the likeness of the Son of man could stand in the midst of them.
One like unto the Son of man - This was evidently the Lord Jesus Christ himself, elsewhere so often called "the Son of man." That it was the Saviour himself is apparent from Revelation 1:18. The expression rendered "like unto the Son of man," should have been "like unto a son of man"; that is, like a man, a human being, or in a human form. The reasons for so interpreting it are:
(a) that the Greek is without the article, and
(b) that, as it is rendered in our version, it seems to make the writer say that he was like himself, since the expression "the Son of man" is in the New Testament but another name for the Lord Jesus.
The phrase is often applied to him in the New Testament, and always, except in three instances Acts 7:56; Revelation 1:13; Revelation 14:14, by the Saviour himself, evidently to denote his warm interest in man, or his relationship to man; to signify that he was a man, and wished to designate himself eminently as such. See the notes on Matthew 8:20. In the use of this phrase in the New Testament, there is probably an allusion to Daniel 7:13. The idea would seem to be, that he whom he saw resembled "the Son of man" - the Lord Jesus, as he had seen him in the days of his flesh though it would appear that he did not know that it was he until he was informed of it, Revelation 1:18. Indeed, the costume in which he appeared was so unlike that in which John had been accustomed to see the Lord Jesus in the days of his flesh, that it cannot be well supposed that he would at once recognize him as the same.
Clothed with a garment down to the foot - A robe reaching down to the feet, or to the ankles, yet so as to leave the feet themselves visible. The allusion here, doubtless, is to a long, loose, flowing robe, such as was worn by kings. Compare the notes on Isaiah 6:1.
And girt about the paps - About the breast. It was common, and is still, in the East, to wear a girdle to confine the robe, as well as to form a beautiful ornament. This was commonly worn about the middle of the person, or "the loins," but it would seem also that it was sometimes worn around the breast. See the notes on Matthew 5:38-41.
With a golden girdle - Either wholly made of gold, or, more probably, richly ornamented with gold. This would naturally suggest the idea of one of rank, probably one of princely rank. The raiment here assumed was not that of a priest, but that of a king. It was very far from being that in which the Redeemer appeared when he dwelt upon the earth, and was rather designed to denote his royal state as he is exalted in heaven. He is not indeed represented with a crown and scepter here, and perhaps the leading idea is that of one of exalted rank, of unusual dignity, of one suited to inspire awe and respect. In other circumstances, in this book, this same Redeemer is represented as wearing a crown, and going forth to conquest. See Revelation 19:12-16. Here the representation seems to have been designed to impress the mind with a sense of the greatness and glory of the personage who thus suddenly made his appearance.
His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow - Exceedingly or perfectly white - the first suggestion to the mind of the apostle being that of wool, and then the thought occurring of its extreme whiteness resembling snow - the purest white of which the mind conceives. The comparison with wool and snow to denote anything especially white is not uncommon. See Isaiah 1:18. Prof. Stuart supposes that this means, not that his hairs were literally white, as if with age, which he says would be incongruous to one just risen from the dead, clothed with immortal youth and vigor, but that it means radiant, bright, resplendent - similar to what occurred on the transfiguration of the Saviour, Matthew 17:2. But to this it may be replied:
(a) That this would not accord well with that with which his hair is compared - snow and wool, particularly the latter.
(b) The usual meaning of the word is more obvious here, and not at all inappropriate.
The representation was suited to signify majesty and authority; and this would be best accomplished by the image of one who was venerable in years. Thus, in the vision that appeared to Daniel Dan 7:9, it is said of him who is there called the "Ancient of Days," that "his garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool." It is not improbable that John had that representation in his eye, and that therefore he would be impressed with the conviction that this was a manifestation of a divine person. We are not necessarily to suppose that this is the form in which the Saviour always appears now in heaven, anymore than we are to suppose that God appears always in the form in which he was manifested to Isaiah Isa 6:1, to Daniel Dan 7:9, or to Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu in the mount, Exodus 24:10-11. The representation is, that this form was assumed for the purpose of impressing the mind of the apostle with a sense of his majesty and glory.
And his eyes were as a flame of fire - Bright, sharp, penetrating; as if everything was light before them, or they would penetrate into the thoughts of people. Such a representation is not uncommon. We speak of a lightning glance, a fiery look, etc. In Daniel 10:6, it is said of the man who appeared to the prophet on the banks of the river Hiddekel, that his eyes were "as lamps of fire." Numerous instances of this comparison from the Greek and Latin Classics may be seen in Wetstein, in loco.
And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.And his feet like unto fine brass - Compare Daniel 10:6, "And his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass." See also Ezekiel 1:7, "and they" (the feet of the living creatures) "sparkled like the color of burnished brass." The word used here - χαλκολιβάνω chalkolibanō - occurs in the New Testament only here and in Revelation 2:18. It is not found in the Septuagint. The word properly means "white brass" (probably compounded of χαλκός chalkos, brass, and λίβανος libanos, whiteness, from the Hebrew לבן laban, white). Others regard it as from χαλκός chalkos, brass, and λιπαρόν liparon, clear. The metal referred to was undoubtedly a species of brass distinguished for its clearness or whiteness. Brass is a compound metal, composed of copper and zinc. The color varies much according to the different proportions of the various ingredients. The Vulgate here renders the word "aurichalcum," a mixture of gold and of brass - perhaps the same as the ἠλεκτρον ēlektron - the electrum of the ancients, composed of gold and of silver, usually in the proportion of four parts gold and one part silver, and distinguished for its brilliancy. See Robinson, Lexicon, and Wetstein, in loco. The kind of metal here referred to, however, would seem to be some compound of brass - of a whitish and brilliant color. The exact proportion of the ingredients in the metal here referred to cannot now be determined.
As if they burned in a furnace - That is, his feet were so bright that they seemed to be like a beautiful metal glowing intensely in the midst of a furnace. Anyone who has looked upon the dazzling and almost insupportable brilliancy of metal in a furnace, can form an idea of the image here presented.
And his voice as the sound of many waters - As the roar of the ocean, or of a cataract. Nothing could be a more sublime description of majesty and authority than to compare the voice of a speaker with the roar of the ocean. This comparison often occurs in the Scriptures. See Ezekiel 43:2, "And behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the east: and his voice was like the sound of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory." So Revelation 14:2; Revelation 19:6. Compare Ezekiel 1:24; Daniel 10:6.
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.And he had in his right hand seven stars - Emblematic of the angels of the seven churches. How he held them is not said. It may be that they seemed to rest on his open palm; or it may be that he seemed to hold them as if they were arranged in a certain order, and with some sort of attachment, so that they could be grasped. It is not improbable that, as in the case of the seven lamp-bearers (see the notes at Revelation 1:13), they were so arranged as to represent the relative position of the seven churches.
And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword - On the form of the ancient two-edged sword, see the notes on Ephesians 6:17. The two edges were designed to cut both ways; and such a sword is a striking emblem of the penetrating power of truth, or of words that proceed from the mouth; and this is designed undoubtedly to be the representation here - that there was some symbol which showed that his words, or his truth, had the power of cutting deep, or penetrating the soul. So in Isaiah 49:2, it is said of the same personage, "And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword." See the notes on that verse. So in Hebrews 4:12, "The Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword," etc. So it is said of Pericles by Aristophanes:
"His powerful speech.
Pierced the hearer's soul, and left behind.
Deep in his bosom its keen point infixt."
A similar figure often occurs in Arabic poetry. "As arrows his words enter into the heart." See Gesenius, Commentary zu, Isaiah 49:2. The only difficulty here is in regard to the apparently incongruous representation of a sword seeming to proceed from the mouth; but it is not perhaps necessary to suppose that John means to say that he saw such an image. He heard him speak; he felt the penetrating power of his words; and they were as if a sharp sword proceeded from his mouth. They penetrated deep into the soul, and as he looked on him it seemed as if a sword came from his mouth. Perhaps it is not necessary to suppose that there was even any visible representation of this - either of a sword or of the breath proceeding from his mouth appearing to take this form, as Prof. Stuart supposes. It may be wholly a figurative representation, as Heinrichs and Ewald suppose. Though there were visible and impressive symbols of his majesty and glory presented to the eyes, it is not necessary to suppose that there were visible symbols of his words.
And his countenance - His face. There had been before particular descriptions of some parts of his face - as of his eyes - but this is a representation of his whole aspect; of the general splendor and brightness of his countenance.
Was as the sun shineth in his strength - In his full splendor when unobscured by clouds; where his rays are in no way intercepted. Compare Judges 5:31; "But let them that love him (the Lord) be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might"; 2 Samuel 23:4, "And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds"; Psalm 19:5, "Which (the sun) is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race." There could be no more striking description of the majesty and glory of the countenance than to compare it with the overpowering splendor of the sun. This closes the description of the personage that appeared to John. The design was evidently to impress him with a sense of his majesty and glory, and to prepare the way for the authoritative nature of the communications which he was to make. It is obvious that this appearance must have been assumed.
The representation is not that of the Redeemer as he rose from the dead - a middle-aged man; nor is it clear that it was the same as on the mount of transfiguration - where, for anything that appears, he retained his usual aspect and form though temporarily invested with extraordinary brilliancy; nor is it the form in which we may suppose he ascended to heaven for there is no evidence that he was thus transformed when he ascended; nor is it that of a priest - for all the special habiliments of a Jewish priest are missing in this description. The appearance assumed is, evidently, in accordance with various representations of God as he appeared to Ezekiel, to Isaiah, and to Daniel - what was a suitable manifestation of a divine being - of one clothed in the majesty and power of God. We are not to infer from this, that this is in fact the appearance of the Redeemer now in heaven, or that this is the form in which he will appear when he comes to judge the world. Of his appearance in heaven we have no knowledge; of the aspect which he will assume when he comes to judge people we have no certain information. We are necessarily quite as ignorant of this as we are of what will be our own form and appearance after the resurrection from the dead.
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead - As if I were dead; deprived of sense and consciousness. He was overwhelmed with the suddenness of the vision; he saw that this was a divine being; but he did not as yet know that it was the Saviour. It is not probable that in this vision he would immediately recognize any of the familiar features of the Lord Jesus as he had been accustomed to see him some sixty years before; and if he did, the effect would have been quite as overpowering as is here described. But the subsequent revelations of this divine personage would rather seem to imply that John did not at once recognize him as the Lord Jesus. The effect here described is one that often occurred to those who had a vision of God. See Daniel 8:18, "Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground; but he touched me, and set me upright"; Daniel 8:27, "And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king's business." Compare Exodus 33:20; Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 43:3; Daniel 10:7-9, Daniel 10:17.
And he laid his right hand upon me - For the purpose of raising him up. Compare Daniel 8:18, "He touched me and set me upright." We usually stretch out the right hand to raise up one who has fallen.
Saying unto me, Fear not - Compare Matthew 14:27, "It is I; be not afraid." The fact that it was the Saviour, though he appeared in this form of overpowering majesty, was a reason why John should not be afraid. Why that was a reason, he immediately adds - that he was the first and the last; that though he had been dead he was now alive, and would continue ever to live, and that he had the keys of hell and of death. It is evident that John was overpowered with that awful emotion which the human mind must feel at the evidence of the presence of God. Thus, people feel when God seems to come near them by the impressive symbols of his majesty - as in the thunder, the earthquake, and the tempest. Compare Habakkuk 3:16; Luke 9:34. Yet, amidst the most awful manifestations of divine power, the simple assurance that our Redeemer is near us is enough to allay our fears, and diffuse calmness through the soul.
I am the first and the last - See the notes at Revelation 1:8. This is stated to be one of the reasons why he should not fear - that he was eternal: "I always live - have lived through all the past, and will live through all which is to come - and therefore I can accomplish all my promises, and execute all my purposes."
I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.I am he that liveth, and was dead - I was indeed once dead, but now I live, and shall continue to live forever. This would at once identify him who thus appeared as the Lord Jesus Christ, for to no one else could this apply. He had been put to death; but he had risen from the grave. This also is given as a reason why John should not fear; and nothing would allay his fears more than this. He now saw that he was in the presence of that Saviour whom more than half a century before he had so tenderly loved when in the flesh, and whom, though now long absent, he had faithfully served, and for whose cause he was now in this lonely island. His faith in his resurrection had not been a delusion; he saw the very Redeemer before him who had once been laid in the tomb.
Behold, I am alive forevermore - I am to live forever. Death is no more to cut me down, and I am never again to slumber in the grave. As he was always to live, he could accomplish all his promises, and fulfil all his purposes. The Saviour is never to die again. He can, therefore, always sustain us in our troubles; he can be with us in our death. Whoever of our friends die, he will not die; when we die, he will still be on the throne.
Amen - A word here of strong affirmation - as if he had said, it is "truly," or "certainly so." See the notes on Revelation 1:7. This expression is one that the Saviour often used when he wished to give emphasis, or to express anything strongly. Compare John 3:3; John 5:25.
And have the keys of hell and of death - The word rendered "hell" - ᾅδης Hadēs, "Hades" - refers properly to the underworld; the abode of departed spirits; the region of the dead. This was represented as dull and gloomy; as enclosed with walls; as entered through gates which were fastened with bolts and bars. For a description of the views which prevailed among the ancients on the subject, see the Luke 16:23 note, and Job 10:21-22 notes. To hold the key of this, was to hold the power over the invisible world. It was the more appropriate that the Saviour should represent himself as having this authority, as he had himself been raised from the dead by his own power (compare John 10:18), thus showing that the dominion over this dark world was entrusted to him.
And of death - A personification. Death reigns in that world. But to his wide-extended realms the Saviour holds the key, and can have access to his empire when he pleases, releasing all whom he chooses, and confining there still such as he shall please. It is probably in part from such hints as these that Milton drew his sublime description of the gates of hell in the "Paradise Lost." As Christ always lives; as he always retains this power over the regions of the dead, and the whole world of spirits, it may be further remarked that we have nothing to dread if we put our trust in him. We need not fear to enter a world which he has entered, and from which he has emerged, achieving a glorious triumph; we need not fear what the dread king that reigns there can do to us, for his power extends not beyond the permission of the Saviour, and in his own time that Saviour will call us forth to life, to die no more.
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;Write the things which thou hast seen - An account of the vision which thou hast had, Revelation 1:10-18.
And the things which are - Give an account of those things which thou hast seen as designed to represent the condition of the seven churches. He had seen not only the Saviour, but he had seen seven lampstands, and seven stars in the hand of the Saviour, and he is now commanded to record the meaning of these symbols as referring to things then actually existing in the seven churches. This interpretation is demanded by Revelation 1:20.
And the things which shall be hereafter - The Greek phrase rendered "hereafter" - μετὰ ταῦτα meta tauta - means "after these things"; that is, he was to make a correct representation of the things which then were, and then to record what would occur "after these things:" to wit, of the images, symbols, and truths, which would be disclosed to him after what he had already seen. The expression refers to future times. He does not say for how long a time; but the revelations which were to be made referred to events which were to occur beyond those which were then taking place. Nothing can be argued from the use of this language in regard to the length of time embraced in the revelation-whether it extended only for a few years or whether it embraced all coming time. The more natural interpretation, however, would seem to be, that it would stretch far into future years, and that it was designed to give at least an outline of what would be the character of the future in general.
The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.The mystery of the seven stars - On the word "mystery," see notes on Ephesians 1:9. The word means, properly, "what is hidden, obscure, unknown" - until it is disclosed by one having the ability to do it, or by the course of events. When disclosed, it may be as clear, and as capable of comprehension, as any other truth. The meaning here, as applied to the seven stars, is, that they were symbols, and that their meaning as symbols, without a suitable explanation, would remain hidden or unknown. They were designed to represent important truths, and John was directed to write down what they were intended in the circumstances to signify, and to send the explanation to the churches. It is evidently implied that the meaning of these symbols would be beyond the ordinary powers of the human mind to arrive at with certainty, and hence John was directed to explain the symbol. The general and obvious truths which they would serve to convey would be that the ministers of the churches, and the churches themselves, were designed to be lights in the world, and should burn clearly and steadily. Much important truth would be couched under these symbols, indeed, if nothing had been added in regard to their signification as employed here by the Saviour; but there were particular truths of great importance in reference to each of these "stars" and "lampbearers," which John was more fully to explain.
Which thou sawest in my right hand - Greek, "upon my right hand" - ἐπὶ τῆς δεξιᾶς μου epi tēs dexias mou: giving some support to the opinion that the stars, as they were seen, appeared to be placed on his hand - that is, on the palm of his hand as he stretched it out. The expression in Revelation 1:16 is, that they were "in (ἐν en) his right hand"; but the language used here is not decisive as to the position of the stars. They may have been held in some way by the hand, or represented as scattered on the open hand,
The seven golden candlesticks - The truth which these emblematic representations are designed to convey.
The seven stars are - That is, they represent, or they denote - in accordance with a common usage in the Scriptures. See the notes on Matthew 26:26.
The angels of the seven churches - Greek, "Angels of the seven churches:" the article being missing. This does not refer to them as a collective or associated body, for the addresses are made to them as individuals - an epistle being directed to "the angel" of each particular church, Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:12, etc. The evident meaning, however, is, that what was recorded should be directed to them, not as pertaining to them exclusively as individuals, but as presiding over or representing the churches, for what is recorded pertains to the churches, and was evidently designed to be laid before them. It was for the churches, but was committed to the "angel" as representing the church, and to be communicated to the church under his care. There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of the word "angels" here. By the advocates of Episcopacy, it has been argued that the use of this term proves that there was a presiding bishop over a circle or group of churches in Ephesus, in Smyrna, etc., since it is said that it cannot be supposed that there was but a single church in a city so large as Ephesus, or in the other cities mentioned. A full examination of this argument may be seen in my work on the Apostolic Church (pp. 191-199, London edition). The word "angel" properly means a messenger, and is thus applied to celestial beings as messengers sent forth from God to convey or to do his will. This being the common meaning of the word, it may be employed to denote anyone who is a messenger, and hence, with propriety, anyone who is employed to communicate the will of another; to transact his business, or, more remotely, to act in his place - to be a representative. In order to ascertain the meaning of the word as used in this place, and in reference to these churches, it may be remarked:
(1) That it cannot mean literally an angel, as referring to a heavenly being, for no one can suppose that such a being presided over these churches.
(2) it cannot be shown to mean, as Lord (in loco) supposes, messengers that the churches had sent to John, and that these letters were given to them to be returned by them to the churches; for:
(a) there is no evidence that any such messenger had been sent to John;
(b) there is no probability that while he was a banished exile in Patmos such a thing would be permitted;
(c) the message was not sent by them, it was sent to them "Unto the angel of the church in Ephesus write," etc.
(3) it cannot be proved that the reference is to a prelatical bishop presiding over a group or circle of churches, called a diocese; for:
(a) There is nothing in the word "angel," as used in this connection, which would be especially applicable to such a personage - it being as applicable to a pastor of a single church, as to a bishop of many churches.
(b) There is no evidence that there were any such groups of churches then as constitute an episcopal diocese.
(c) The use of the word "church" in the singular, as applied to Ephesus, Smyrna, etc., rather implies that there was but a single church in each of those cities. Compare Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:8,Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:18; see also similar language in regard to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 1:2; in Antioch, Acts 13:1; at Laodicea, Colossians 4:16; and at Ephesus, Acts 20:28.
(d) There is no evidence, as Episcopalians must suppose, that a successor to John had been appointed at Ephesus, if, as they suppose, he was "bishop" of Ephesus; and there is no probability that they would so soon after his banishment show him such a want of respect as to regard the see as vacant, and appoint a successor.
(e) There is no improbability in supposing that there was a single church in each of these cities - as at Antioch, Corinth, Rome.
(f) If John was a piclatical "bishop," it is probable that he was "bishop" of the whole group of churches embracing the seven: yet here, if the word "angel" means "bishop," we have no less than seven such bishops immediately appointed to succeed him. And,
(g) the supposition that this refers to prelatical bishops is so forced and unnatural that many Episcopalians are compelled to abandon it. Thus, Stillingfleet - than whom an abler man, or one whose praise is higher in Episcopal churches, as an advocate of prelacy, is not to be found - says of these angels: "If many things in the epistles be directed to the angels, but yet so as to concern the whole body, then, of necessity, the angel must be taken as a representative of the whole body; and then why may not the angel be taken by way of representation of the body itself, either of the whole church, or, which is far more probable, of the concessors, or order of presbyters in this church?"
(4) if the word does not mean literally "an angel"; if it does not refer to messengers sent to John in Patmos by the churches; and if it does not refer to a prelatical bishop, then it follows that it must refer to someone who presided over the church as its pastor, and through whom a message might be properly sent to the church. Thus understood, the paster or "angel" would be regarded as the representative of the church; that is, as delegated by the church to manage its affairs, and as the authorized person to whom communications should be made in matters pertaining to it - as pastors are now. A few considerations will further confirm this interpretation, and throw additional light on the meaning of the word:
(a) The word "angel" is employed in the Old Testament to denote a prophet; that is, a minister of religion as sent by God to communicate his will. Thus in Haggai 1:13 it is said, "Then spake Haggai, the Lord's messenger (Hebrew: angel, מלאך יהוה mal'ak Yahweh - Septuagint: ἄγγελος κυρίου angelos kuriou, in the Lord's message unto the people," etc.
(b) It is applied to a priest, as one sent by God to execute the functions of that office, or to act in the name of the Lord. Malachi 2:7, "for the priest's lips should keep knowledge, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" - מלאך יהוה צבאות mal'ak Yahweh tsebaa'owt - that is," angel of the Lord of hosts."
(c) The name prophet is often given in the New Testament to the ministers of religion, as being appointed by God to proclaim or communicate his will to his people, and as occupying a place resembling, in some respects, that of the prophets in the Old Testament.
(d) There was no reason why the word might not be thus employed to designate a pastor of a Christian church, as well as to designate a prophet or a priest under the Old Testament dispensation.
(e) The supposition that a pastor of a church is intended will meet all the circumstances of the case; for:
(1) it is an appropriate appellation;
(2) there is no reason to suppose that there was more than one church in each of the cities referred to;
(3) it is a term which would designate the respect in which the office was held;
(4) it would impress upon those to whom it was applied a solemn sense of their responsibility.
Further, it would be more appropriately applied to a pastor of a single church than to a prelatical bishop; to the tender, intimate, and endearing relation sustained by a pastor to his people, to the blending of sympathy, interest, and affection, where he is with them continually, meets them frequently in the sanctuary, administers to them the bread of life, goes into their abodes when they axe afflicted, and attends their kindred to the grave, than to the union subsisting between the people of an extended diocese and a prelate - the formal, infrequent, and, in many instances, stately and pompous visitations of a diocesan bishop - to the unsympathizing relation between him and a people scattered in many churches, who are visited at distant intervals by one claiming a "superiority in ministerial rights and powers," and who must be a stranger to the ten thousand ties of endearment which bind the hearts of a pastor and people together. The conclusion, then, to which we have come is, that the "angel of the church" was the pastor, or the presiding presbyter in the church; the minister who had the pastoral charge of it, and who was therefore a proper representative of it. He was a man who, in some respects, performed the functions which the angels of God do; that is, who was appointed to execute his will, to communicate his message, and to convey important intimations of his purposes to his people. To no one could the communications in this book, intended for the churches, be more properly entrusted than to such an one; for to no one now would a communication be more properly entrusted than to a pastor.
Such is the sublime vision under which this book opens; such the solemn commission which the penman of the book received. No more appropriate introduction to what is contained in the book could be imagined; no more appropriate circumstances for making such a sublime revelation could have existed. To the most beloved of the apostles, now the only surviving one of the number; to him who had been a faithful laborer for a period not far from 60 years after the death of the Lord Jesus, who had been the bosom friend of the Saviour when in the flesh, who had seen him in the mount of transfiguration, who had seen him die, and who had seen him ascend, into heaven; to him who had lived while the church was founded, and while it had spread into all lands; and to him who was now suffering persecution on account of the Saviour and his cause, it was appropriate that such communications should be made. In a lonely island; far away from the homes of people; surrounded by the ocean, and amid barron rocks; on the day consecrated to the purposes of sacred repose and the holy duties of religion - the day observed in commemoration of the resurrection of his Lord, it was most fit that the Redeemer should appear to the "beloved disciple" in the last Revelation which he was ever to make to mankind. No more appropriate time or circumstance could be conceived for disclosing, by a series of sublime visions, what would occur in future times; for sketching out the history of the church or the consummation of all things.