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:
Verse 1. - The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This phrase occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in 1 Peter 1:7, 13 (comp. 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Galatians 1:12). It means the revelation which Jesus Christ makes, not that which reveals him. John is the writer, Jesus Christ the Author, of the book. Revelation (απόκαλυψις) is a word reserved for the gospel; no Old Testament prophecy is called a revelation (contrast 1 Samuel 20:30). It means the unveiling of Divine mysteries (Ephesians 3:3), and from this it easily slips into meaning the mystery unveiled. Christ is both the Mystery and the Revealer of it. He comes to reveal himself, and in himself the Father, whose Image he is. Thus in its opening words the book takes us beyond itself. What is revealed is not secrets about the future, but a Person. And the Revealer is not man, but God; not John, but the Divine Son, commissioned by the Father. For even the unincarnate Word receives from the Father that which he reveals. Which God gave unto him. This is remarkably in harmony with the Christology of the Fourth Gospel (John 5:20; John 7:16; John 12:49; John 14:10; John 17:7, 8; comp. Mark 13:32; Acts 1:7). The simple infinitive to express a purpose after "give" is common to Gospel and Apocalypse (Revelation 3:21; Revelation 7:2; Revelation 13:14; John 4:7, 10; John 6:52). His servants. All Christians, not exclusively seers like St. John. "Even the things which" (Revised Version) makes "things which" in apposition with "the Revelation," which is probably right. Must (δεῖ); because God has so decreed. This Divine "must" is frequent in the Gospel (John 3:14, 30; John 9:4; John 10:16; John 12:34; John 20:9). Shortly. The meaning of ἐν τάχει is much disputed. But, like "firstborn" in the question about the brethren of the Lord, "shortly" ought not to be pressed in determining the scope of the Apocalypse. Calling Jesus the firstborn Son of Mary tells us nothing as to her having other children. Saying that the Apocalypse shows things which must shortly come to pass tells us nothing as to its referring to events near St. John's own day. Probably it refers to them and to much else in the Christian dispensation. In the language of the seer, past, present, and future are interwoven together as seen by God, and more truth is contained than the seer himself knows. "The whole book ought to be received as a single word uttered in a single moment" (Bengel). It does not follow, because St. John had events near to his own day in his mind, that his words are limited to those events for us (comp. Luke 18:7, 8; Matthew 24:29:2 Peter 3:4, 8; Habakkuk 2:3; see Westcott, 'Historic Faith,' pp. 74, 75, and note on 1 John 2:18 in the 'Cambridge Bible for Schools'). Signified. Jesus Christ signified, i.e. made known by symbol and figure, the things which must come to pass. "Signify" (σημαίνειν) is characteristic of St. John, to whom wonders are "signs" (σημεῖα) of Divine truths. "This he said, signifying [by means of an allegory] by what manner of death he should die" (John 12:33; comp. 18:32; 21:19). By his angel; literally, by means of his angel (διὰ τοῦ ἀγγέλου). "Angel" here probably has its, common meaning of a spiritual messenger from the unseen world; but it is the fact of his being Christ's messenger, rather than his heavenly character, that is specially indicated. Whether one and the same angel is employed throughout the Revelation is not clear. He does not come into the foreground of the narrative until Revelation 17:1, 7, 15 (comp. Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:1, 6, 9). The Revelation is begun (vers. 17-20) and ended (Revelation 22:16) by Christ himself; but the main portion is conducted "by means of his angel." Thus St. Paul says of the Law that it was "administered by means of angels in the hand of a mediator," i.e. Moses (Galatians 3:19). In this case the mediator is John, a "servant" specially selected for this work (Isaiah 49:5; Amos 3:7). Thus we have four gradations - the primary Agent, the Father; the secondary Agent, Jesus Christ; the instrument, his angel; the recipient, John.
Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Verse 2. - Who bare record. "To bear witness" (μαρτυρεῖν) and "witness," or "testimony" (μαρτυρία), are characteristic of St. John's writings, and serve to connect together his Gospel, the First Epistle, and the Apocalypse. Such words should be carefully noted, and, so far as possible, uniformly translated, in order to mark their frequency in the English Version. The Authorized Version rings the changes on "bear witness," "bear record," "give record," and "testify," for μαρτυρεῖν; and on "witness," "record," and "testimony," for μαρτυρία. The Revised Version has here made great improvements. To bear witness to the truth and the Word of God was St. John's special function throughout his long life, and to this fact he calls attention in all his chief writings (see Haupt on 1 John 5:6). The testimony of Jesus Christ, like "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" (ver. 1), means that which he gave, not that which tells about him. And of all things that he saw; better, as in the Revised Version, even of all things that he saw, taking δσα εἵδεν in apposition with what precedes. The seer is here speaking of the visions of the Apocalypse, not of the events in Christ's life. The aorists, ἐμαρτύρησεν and εἵδεν, are rightly compared to the συνέγραψε of Thucydides (1:1; 6:7, 93).
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.
Verse 3. - He that readeth this book publicly in the church, and they that hear the book read, are equally blessed. There is grace promised to both minister and congregation who live up to the spirit of the Scriptures. St. John here suggests that a usage common in the Jewish Church (Luke 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:15) may be adopted in the Christian Church. Probably this verse is the earliest authority for the public reading of the New Testament Scripture. It is very precarious to argue that "the Apocalypse, which points to this custom, cannot have been composed in the year 68," because this Christian custom is of later origin than 68. The official communications of apostles were sure to be read publicly in the churches (see Lightfoot on Colossians 4:16). Until the new lectionary came into use, the blessing here promised to the liturgical use of the Apocalypse was sadly neglected in the English Church. One might almost have supposed that a blessing had been pronounced on those who do not read and do not hear the prophecy. The words of this prophecy; literally, of the prophecy; i.e. "the prophecy of this book" (Revelation 22:7, 18). That which is a revelation in reference to Christ is a prophecy in reference to John. "Prophecy" must not be narrowed down to the vulgar meaning of foretelling future events; it is the forthtelling of the mind of God. Prophecy, in the narrow sense of prediction, cannot well be kept. It is God's call to repentance, obedience, steadfastness, and prayer that must be kept by both reader and hearers in order to bring a blessing. And if the words are to be kept, they can be understood. We have no right to set aside the Revelation as an insoluble puzzle (comp. Luke 11:28, where, however, we have φυλάσσειν, not τηρεῖν). The time is at hand. The appointed time, the season foreordained of God (καιρός, not χρόνος), is near. We may ask, with F.D. Maurice, "Did not the original writer use words in their simple, natural sense? If he told the hearers and readers of his day that the time was at hand, did he not mean them to understand that it was at hand?" No doubt. But that does not preclude us from interpreting the inspired words as referring, not only to events near St. John's time, but also to other events of which they were the foretastes and figures. To us the meaning is that the type of the end has been foretold and has come, and the end itself, which has been equally foretold, must be watched for in all seriousness.
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;
Verses 4-8. - The address and greeting. Of this section only vers. 4-6 are, strictly speaking, the salutation; vers. 7, 8 constitute a kind of summary, or prelude - ver. 7 being more closely connected with what precedes, ver. 8 with what follows. The salutation proper (vers. 4-6) should be compared with the salutations in St. Paul's Epistles. Verse 4. - John. Evidently some well-known John, otherwise some designation would be necessary. Would any but the apostle have thus written to the Churches of Asia? St. Paul had some need to insist upon his being an apostle; St. John lind none. To the seven Churches. From the earliest times it has been pointed out that the number seven here is not exact, but symbolical; it does exclude other Churches, but symbolizes all. Thus the Muratorian Fragment: "John in the Apocalypse, though he wrote to the seven Churches, yet speaks to all." Augustine: "By the seven is signified the perfection of the universal Church, and by writing to seven he shows the fulness of the one." So also Bede: "Through these seven Churches he writes to every Church; for by the number seven is denoted universality, as the whole period of the world revolves on seven days;" and he points out that St. Paul also wrote to seven Churches. Compare the seven pillars of the house of wisdom (Proverbs 9:1), the seven deacons (Acts 6:3), the seven gifts of the Spirit. The number seven appears repeatedly in the Apocalypse; and that it is arbitrary and symbolical is shown by the fact that there were other Churches besides these seven - Colossae, Hierapolis, Tralles, Magnesia, Miletus. The repeated formula, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches," proves that the praise and blame distributed among the seven are of universal application. Asia means the Roman proconsular province of Asia, i.e. the western part of Asia Minor (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:19). Grace be unto you, and peace. This combination occurs in the salutations of St. Peter and St. Paul. It unites Greek and Hebrew elements, and gives both a Christian fulness of meaning. From him which is. Why should not we be as bold as St. John, and disregard grammar for the sake of keeping the Divine Name intact? St. John writes, ἀπὸ δ ῶν, κ.τ.λ. not ἀπὸ τοῦ ὅντος, κ.τ.λ. "If in Exodus 3:14 the words may run, 'I AM hath sent me unto you,' may we not also be allowed to read here, 'from HE THAT IS, AND THAT WAS, AND THAT IS TO COME'?" (Lightfoot, 'On Revision,' p. 133). Note the ὁ ῆν to represent the nominative of the past participle of εϊναι, which does not exist, and with the whole expression compare "The same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Here every clause applies to the Father, not one to each Person; the three Persons are marked by the three prepositions, "from ... and from ... and from." It is a mistake to interpret ὁ ἐρχόμενος either of the mission of the Comforter or of the second advent. The seven Spirits. The Holy Spirit, sevenfold in his operations (Revelation 5:6). They are before his throne, ever ready for a mission from him (comp. Revelation 7:15). The number seven once more symbolizes universality, plenitude, and perfection; that unity amidst variety which marks the work of the Spirit and the sphere of it, the Church.
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,
Verse 5. - The faithful Witness. This was his function - "to bear witness unto the truth" (John 18:37). The rainbow is called "the faithful witness" (Psalm 89:37). The Firstborn of the dead. Christ was the first who was born to eternal life after the death which ends this life (see Lightfoot on Colossians 1:15, 18; and comp. Psalm 89:27). "The ruler of this world" offered Jesus the glory of the kingdoms of the world, if he would worship him. He won a higher glory by dying to conquer him, and thus the crucified Peasant became the Lord of Roman emperors, "the Ruler of the kings of the earth." The grammar of this verse is irregular; "the faithful Witness," etc., in the nominative being in apposition with "Jesus Christ" in the genitive (comp. Revelation 2:20; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 9:14; Revelation 14:12). Unto him that loved us. The true reading gives "that loveth us" unceasingly. The supreme act of dying for us did not exhaust his love. In what follows it is difficult to decide between "washed" (λούσαντι) and "loosed" (λύσαντι), both readings being very well supported; but we should certainly omit "own" before "blood." The blood of Jesus Christ cleansing us from all sin is a frequent thought with the apostle who witnessed the piercing of the side (Revelation 7:13, 14; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 5:6-8).
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Verse 6. - And hath made us kings and priests; rather, as in the Revised Version, and he made us (to be) a kingdom, (to be) priests. "Made us" is not coordinate with "loosed us;" the sentence makes a fresh start. "Kingdom," not "kings," is the right reading. Christians are nowhere said to be kings. Collectively they are a kingdom - "a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), or, as St. Peter, following the LXX., gives it, "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). Each member of Christ shares in his eternal priesthood. Unto God and his Father; more probably we should render, with the Revised Version, unto his God and Father (comp. John 20:17; Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3). Alford objects that when St. John wishes a possessive genitive to apply to more than one substantive, he commonly repeats the genitive; and he quotes John 2:12; John 6:11; John 9:21. But in these passages he repeats not only the genitive, but the article. Here the article is not repeated, and τῷ Θεῷ καὶ Πατρὶ αὐτοῦ must be taken as one phrase. To him be the glory. The construction returns to that of the opening clause, "Unto him that loveth us." St. John's doxologies increase in volume as he progresses - twofold here, threefold in Revelation 4:11, fourfold in Revelation 5:13, sevenfold in Revelation 7:12. In each case all the substantives have the article - "the glory," "the honour," "the power," etc. Forever and ever; literally, unto the ages of the ages (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, in saecula saeculorum). It occurs twelve times in the Apocalypse, besides once without the articles (Revelation 14:12). In his Gospel and Epistles St. John uses the simpler formula, "forever," literally, "unto the age" (εἰς τὸν αἰῶγα). (See Appendix E. to St. John, in the 'Cambridge Greek Testament.') An indefinite period of immense duration is meant (comp. Galatians 1:5 and Ephesians 2:2, 7, where the countless ages of the world to come seem to be contrasted with the transitory age of this world; see also Hebrews 13:21 and 1 Peter 4:11).
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.
Verses 7, 8. - It is difficult to determine the exact connexion of these verses with one another, and with what precedes and follows. It seems best to make ver. 7 a kind of appendix to the salutation, and ver. 8 a kind of prelude to the whole book. They each give us one of the fundamental thoughts of the Apocalypse; ver. 7, Christ's certain return to judgment; ver. 8, his perfect Divinity. Verse 7. - He cometh. He who loveth us and cleansed us and made us to be a kingdom will assuredly come. While interpreting the verse of the second advent, we need not exclude the coming to "those who pierced him" in the destruction of Jerusalem, and to "the tribes of the earth" in the breakup of the Roman empire. With the clouds. This probably refers to Mark 14:62, "Ye shall see the Son of man ... coming with the clouds of heaven" (comp. Daniel 7:13, "Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven"). Aquinas and other writers make the clouds symbolize the saints, "who rain by preaching, glisten by working miracles, are lifted up by refusing earthly things, fly by lofty contemplation." And they also; better, and all they who (οἵτινες) pierced him. This is strong evidence of common authorship between the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse.
(1) St. John alone mentions the piercing.
(2) Here and in John 19:37 the writer, in quoting Zechariah 12:10, deserts the LXX. and follows the Masoretic Hebrew text. The LXX. softens down "pierced" into "insulted" (κάτωρχήσατο), "piercing" appearing a violent expression to use respecting men's treatment of Jehovah.
(3) Here and in John 19:37 the writer, in translating from the Hebrew, uses the uncommon Greek word ἐκκεντᾷν. The reference here is to all those who "crucify the Son of God afresh," not merely to the Jews. In what follows the Revised Version is to be preferred: "and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him? The wording is similar to Matthew 24:30 and the LXX. of Zechariah 12:10. The mourning is that of beating the breast, not wailing, and it is "over him" (ἐπ᾿ αὐτόν). Even so, Amen. Ναί Αμήν, like "Abba, Father" (Mark 4:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), combines a Hebrew word with its Greek equivalent (comp. 2 Corinthians 1:20).
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.
Verse 8. - A prelude to the book. In the simple majesty of its solemn language it reminds us of the opening of St. John's Gospel and of his First Epistle. "I am the Alpha and the Omega" is here not followed by "the Beginning and the End," which the Vulgate and some other authorities insert from Revelation 21:6 and Revelation 22:13. Who is "the Lord," that utters these words? Surely the Christ, as seems clear from ver. 17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 22:13. To attribute them to the Father robs the words of their special appropriateness in this context, where they form a prelude to "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" as God and as the Almighty "Ruler of the kings of the earth." Yet the fact that similar language is also used of the Father (Revelation 6:6; Revelation 21:6) shows how clearly St. John teaches that Jesus Christ is "equal to the Father as touching his Godhead." These sublime attributes are applicable to each. Like the doxology (see on ver. 6), the statement of these Divine attributes increases in fulness as the writing proceeds. Here "the Alpha and the Omega;" ver. 17 and Revelation 2:8, "the First and the Last;" in Revelation 21:6, "the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End;" in Revelation 22:13, "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." Of these four, the second and fourth certainly apply to the Son, and the third certainly to the Father, the first probably to the Son. The Almighty. With the exception of 2 Corinthians 6:18, where it occurs in a quotation, this expression (ὁ Παντοκράτωρ) is in the New Testament peculiar to the Apocalypse, where it occurs nine times. In the LXX. it represents more than one Hebrew expression; e.g. Jeremiah 3:19; Job 5:17.
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.
Verses 9-20. - The introductory vision. This section is introductory, not merely to the epistles to the Churches, but to the whole book. In it the seer narrates how he received his commission; and with it should be compared Isaiah 6; Jeremiah 1:1-10; Ezekiel 1:1-3; Daniel 10, especially vers. 2, 7, where "I Daniel" is exactly parallel to "I John" here. The Revised Version is again much to be preferred to the Authorized Version. Verse 9. - In the tribulation and kingdom and patience. The order of the words is surprising; we should have expected "kingdom" to have come first or last. But "and patience" seems to be added epexegetically, to show how the tribulation leads to the kingdom (comp. Revelation 2:2, 3, 19; Revelation 3:10; Revelation 13:10; Revelation 14:12). "In your patience ye shall win your souls" (Luke 21:19). "Tribulation worketh patience" (Romans 5:3); and "through many tribulations, we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Bengel notes that it is in tribulation that believers specially love this book. The Church of Asia, particularly after the prosperous time of Constantine, had a low opinion of the Apocalypse; while the African Church, which was more subject to persecution, highly esteemed it. "Everything tends to show that the Apocalypse was acknowledged in Africa from the earliest times as canonical Scripture" (Westcott, 'On the Canon of the New Testament,' p. 238). Was in the isle. Here and in ver. 10 "was" is literally "came to be" (ἐγενόμην), implying that such was not his ordinary condition; comp. γενόμενος ἐν Ρώμη (2 Timothy 1:17). That is called Patmos. St. John does not assume that his readers know so insignificant a place. He does not say simply "in Patmos," as St. Luke says "to Rhodes" or "to Cyprus," but "in the isle that is called Patmos." Now Patmo or Patino, but in the Middle Ages Palmosa. Its small size and rugged character made it a suitable place for penal transportation. Banishment to a small island (deportatio in insulam or insulae vinculum) was common. "Aude aliquid brevibus Gyaris et carcere dignum" (Juv., 1:73). Compare the cases of Agrippa Postumus (Tac., 'Ann.,' 1:3) and of Julia (4:71). For a full account of the island, see Gudrin's 'Description de File de Patmos,' Paris: 1856. For the circumstances of St. John's banishment, see Introduction. It was in exile that Jacob saw God at Bethel; in exile that Moses saw God at the burning bush; in exile that Elijah heard the "still small voice;" in exile that Ezekiel saw "the likeness of the glory of the Lord" by the river Chebar; in exile that Daniel saw "the Ancient of days." For the Word of God, and the testimony of Jesus. No doubt the Greek (διὰ τὸν λόγον) might mean that he was in Patmos for the sake of receiving the word; but Revelation 6:9 and Revelation 20:4 are decisive against this (comp. διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου in John 16:21). These passages and "partaker in the tribulation" here prove that St. John's "coming to be in Patmos" was caused by suffering for the Word of God. The testimony of Jesus. This, as in ver. 2, probably means the testimony that he bore, rather than the testimony about him. "Christ" is a corrupt addition to the text in both places in this verse.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Verse 10. - I was in the Spirit. I came to be (see on ver. 9) in a state of ecstasy capable of receiving revelations; like γενέσθαι με ἐν ἐκστάσει (Acts 22:17; comp. 10:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). On the Lord's day. The expression occurs here only in the New Testament, and beyond all reasonable doubt it means "on Sunday." This is, therefore, the earliest use of the phrase in this sense. That it means Easter Day or Pentecost is baseless conjecture. The phrase had not yet become common in A.D. , as is shown from St. Paul writing, "on the first of the week" (1 Corinthians 16:2), the usual expression in the Gospels and Acts (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:19; Acts 20:7; comp. Mark 16:9). But from Ignatius onwards, we have a complete chain of evidence that ἡ Κυριακή became the regular Christian name for the first day of the week; and Κυριακή is still the name of Sunday in the Levant. "No longer observing sabbaths, but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day" (Ign., 'Magn.,' 9.). Melito, Bishop of Sardis (A.D. 170), wrote a treatise περί Κυριακῆς (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' IV. 26:2). Dionysius of Corinth (A.D. 175), in an epistle to the Romans, mentions that the Church of Corinth is that day keeping the Lord's holy day (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' IV. 23:11). Comp. also Clem. Alex., 'Strom.,' VII. 12:98 (p. 377, Potter); Tertull., 'De Con.,' 3. and 'De Idol.,' 14, where Dominicus dies is obviously a translation of Κυριακὴ ἡμέρα; and fragment 7 of the lost works of Irenaeus. That "the Lord's day" (ἡ Κυριακὴ ἡμέρα) in this place is the same as "the day of the Lord" (ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ Κυίου) is not at all probable. The context is quite against any such meaning as that St. John is spiritually transported to the day of judgment. Contrast Revelation 6:17; Revelation 16:14; 1 John 4:17; John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; John 11:24; John 12:48. Whereas, seeing that the visions which follow are grouped in sevens (the seven candlesticks, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials), the fact that they begin on the first day of the seven is eminently appropriate. Great voice. The voice is evidently Christ's; but throughout the Apocalypse the speaker is frequently not named. By a construction common in Hebrew, "saying" agrees with "trumpet," the nearest substantive, instead of with "voice" (comp. Ezekiel 3:12; Matthew 24:31). "Therefore it is from behind, for all the symbols and references are to be sought for in the Old Testament" (I. Williams); comp. Isaiah 30:21.
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.
Verse 11. - On ample evidence (א, A, C, and all versions), "I am Alpha ... the Last; and" must be omitted; also "which are in Asia." Write in a book; literally, into a book (εἰς βιβλίον). Over and over again, twelve times in all, St. John reminds us that he writes this book by Divine command (ver. 19; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; Revelation 3:1, 7, 14; Revelation 14:13; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:5; comp. Revelation 10:4). The seven Churches. The order is not haphazard. It is precisely that which would be natural to a person writing in Patmos or travelling from Ephesus. Ephesus comes first as metropolis; then the city on the coast, Smyrna; then the inland cities in order, working round towards Ephesus again. In short, it is just the order in which St. John would visit the Churches in making an apostolic circuit as metropolitan. With the exception of what is told us in these chapters, the history of the Churches of Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis in the apostolic or sub-apostolic age is quite unknown. It was an ancient objection to the Apocalypse that in Thyatira there was no Church (see on Revelation 2:18).
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
Verse 12. - To see the voice. As in Genesis 3:8, "the voice" is put for the speaker. This is the right method in studying the Revelation; we must, like St. John, "turn to see the voice." We must look, not to the events about which it seems to us to speak, but to him who utters it. The book is "the Revelation," not of the secrets of history, but "of Jesus Christ." Seven golden candlesticks. The word λυχνία occurs in Matthew 5:15; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33; Hebrews 9:2; and seven times in this book. In Exodus 20:37 we have seven λύχνοι on one λυχνία, seven lamps on one lamp stand. So also in Zechariah 4:2. It is by no means certain that a similar figure is not meant here; the seven-branched candlestick familiar to all who know the Arch of Titus. If the Christ stood "in the midst of the candlesticks," his form would appear as that which united the seven branches. But it is perhaps more natural to understand seven separate lamp stands, each with its own lamp; and these, in contrast with the seven-branched stand of the temple, may represent the elastic multiplicity of the Christian Churches throughout the world in contrast with the rigid unity of the Jewish Church of Jerusalem.
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.
Verse 13. - In the midst of the candlesticks. "For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20; comp. 2 Corinthians 6:16). Like unto the Son of man. Here and in Revelation 14:14 we have simply υἱὸς ἀνθωώπου, as also in John 5:27 and Daniel 7:13; not ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, as in Acts 7:56 and everywhere else in all four Gospels. It is not certain that the absence of the articles forbids us to render the phrase, "the Son of man;" but it is safer to render, "a son of man." The glorified Messiah still wears that human form by which the beloved disciple had known him before the Ascension (John 21:7). With the exception of Acts 7:56, the full form, "the Son of man," is used only by the Christ of himself. A garment down to the feet. The word ποδηρής, sc. χιτών (vestis talaris), though frequent in the LXX. (Ezekiel 9:2, 3, 11; Zechariah 3:4, etc.), occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The robe is an official one. The Rhemish renders it "a priestly garment down to the foote." Compare Joseph's "coat of many colours," which literally means a "coat reaching to the extremities." In Exodus 28:31 "the robe of the ephod" of the high priest is ὑποδύτης ποδήρης. The angel in Daniel 10:5, 6 is described in similar language: "whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz" (comp. Isaiah 22:21, "I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand"). "Enough is said to indicate that the Son of man claims and fulfils the office which was assigned to the children of Aaron; that he blesses the people in God's Name; that he stands as their Representative before his Father" (F.D. Maurice).
His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
Verse 14. - His head. From the garments of the great High Priest, St. John passes on to himself. What he had seen as a momentary foretaste of glory at the Transfiguration, he sees now as the abiding condition of the Christ. In Daniel 7:9 "the Ancient of days" has "the hair of his head like pure wool." This snowy whiteness is partly the brightness of heavenly glory, partly the majesty of the hoary head. The Christ appears to St. John as a son of man, but also as a "Divine Person invested with the attributes of eternity." As a flame of fire. "The Lord thy God is a consuming fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24). "I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins" (Jeremiah 17:10). The flame purifies the conscience and kindles the affections.
And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
Verse 15. - Fine brass. This may stand as a translation of χαλκολίβανος, a word which occurs here and in Revelation 2:18 only, and the second half of which has never been satisfactorily explained. It may have been a local technical term in use among the metalworkers of Ephesus (Acts 19:24; 2 Timothy 4:14). The Rhemish Version renders it "latten." In what follows, the Revised Version is to be preferred: "as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters." It is tempting to think that "the roar of the sea is in the ears of the lonely man in Patmos;" but the image seems rather to be that of the sound of many cataracts (comp. Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 43:2; Daniel 10:6). There is singularly little of the scenery of Patmos in the Apocalypse.
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.
Verse 16. - He holds the Churches in his hand as a precious possession, which he sustains as a glory to himself. These Churches are as planets, which shine, not with their own light, but that of the sun; which shine most brightly in the night of "tribulation," which (like him who holds them in his right hand) are a guide to the wanderer, and are ever moving, yet ever at rest. Out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword. This metaphor runs through both Old and New Testaments. It is frequent in this book (Revelation 2:12, 16; Revelation 19:15, 21; comp. Luke 2:35; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Psalm 45:3; Psalm 57:4; Psalm 59:7; Psalm 64:3; Psalm 149:6; Proverbs 12:18; Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 49:2, etc.). The sharp words of men and the searching words of God are both spoken of under this figure of the sword. Tertullian and Richard of St. Victor explain the two edges as the Law and the Gospel. Other still more fanciful explanations have been given. "Two-edged" (δίστομος) is literally "two-mouthed," and perhaps expresses no more than the thorough efficiency of the sword. It occurs in Revelation 2:12 and Hebrews 4:12; also in classical Greek as equivalent to the more common ἀμφήκης. If a double meaning be insisted on, it may be found in the double character of God's Word, which not only smites the wicked, but searches the good; which cuts sometimes to punish, sometimes to heal. Thus in these very epistles to the Churches, penetrating words both of blessing and condemnation are uttered. The word for "sword" (ῤομφαία) occurs six times in Revelation; elsewhere in the New Testament only Luke 2:35. In classical Greek it is the heavy Thracian broadsword. In the LXX. it is used of the "flaming sword" of the cherubim which kept the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:24); also of the sword of Goliath (1 Kings 17:25). His countenance was as the sun shineth. It is the "Sun of Righteousness" and "the Light of the world." The exceptional glory of the Transfiguration has become constant now.
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:
Verse 17. - I fell at his feet as dead; literally, as one dead - as a dead man. St. Peter had fallen at Jesus' feet when he became conscious of the ineffable difference between sinlessness and sinfulness (Luke 5:8). How much more, therefore, would consciousness of the glorified Christ overwhelm St. John! Long years of contemplation of the incarnate Son would not prevent that. In like manner, Joshua (Joshua 5:14), Daniel (Daniel 7:17, 27), and St. Paul (Acts 9:4) are affected by the Divine presence. Fear not. Thus Christ encouraged the terrified apostles on the lake (John 6:20) and at the Transfiguration. So also the angel cheered Daniel (Daniel 10:12), Zacharias (Luke 1:13), Mary (Luke 1:30), the shepherds (Luke 2:10), and the women at the sepulchre (Matthew 28:5).
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.
Verse 18. - I am he that liveth. This should be joined with what precedes. "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; and I became dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." "Became" or "came to be" (ἐγενόμην), as in vers. 9 and 10, indicates an exceptional condition. The "Amen" has been improperly inserted after "forevermore" (see on "forever and ever," in ver. 6) from liturgical usage. Most English versions omit it. The keys, as so often, are the sign of authority (Revelation 3:7; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 20:1; Matthew 16:19). Christ, as the absolutely Living One, who "has life in himself" and is the Source of life in others, has control, not merely over the passage from this world to the other, but over the other world itself. He can recall departed souls from their resting place. The error of rendering Αιδης "hell" has often been pointed out; it is not a place of punishment, but the temporary home of the departed, who are awaiting the day of judgment. "Death," in all the best manuscripts and versions precedes "Hades;" and this is the logical order.
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
Verse 19. - Write the things. The true reading and most English Versions give, "write therefore the things;" i.e. because thou hast seen me and received thy commission from me. The omission of "therefore" comes from the Genevan Version. The threefold division of things probably refers to past, present, and future visions, not to the past, present, and future in history. But it is possible that "the things which thou sawest" refers to the visions, and "the things which are," etc., to the realities symbolized in the visions.
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.
Verse 20. - The mystery. In construction this is the accusative after "write." A mystery is the opposite of a revealed truth; it is a sacred truth kept secret, the inner meaning of something which is perceived, but not generally understood. The angels of the seven Churches. The meaning of these "angels" has been very much disputed. The common explanation that they are the bishops of the Churches is attractive on account of its simplicity. But it has very grave difficulties, especially for those who assign the Apocalypse to the earlier date of A.D. . It is highly improbable that at that very early time the seven Churches were already so fully organized as each to possess its own bishop. And granting that they were, and that the bishops might fitly be called "angels" or "messengers," would they not be called messengers of God or of Christ, rather than messengers of the Churches"? And would not the primitive Church have preserved this title as a synonym for "bishop"? "St. John's own language gives the true key to the symbolism. 'The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches, and the seven candlesticks are the seven Churches.' This contrast between the heavenly and the earthly fires - the star shining steadily by its own inherent eternal light, and the lamp flickering and uncertain, requiring to be fed with fuel and tended with care - cannot be devoid of meaning. The star is the suprasensual counterpart, the heavenly representative; the lamp, the earthly realization, the outward embodiment. Whether the angel is here conceived as an actual person, the celestial guardian, or only as a personification, the idea or spirit of the Church, it is unnecessary for my present purpose to consider. But whatever may be the exact conception, he is identified with and made responsible for the Church to a degree wholly unsuited to any human officer. Nothing is predicated of him which may not be predicated of it. To him are imputed all its hopes, its fears, its graces, its shortcomings, he is punished with it, and he is rewarded with it ... Nor is this mode of representation new. The 'princes' in Daniel (Daniel 10:13, 20, 21) present a very near if not an exact parallel to the angels of the Revelation" (Bishop Lightfoot, 'Philippians,' p. 198). The identification of the angel of each Church with the Church itself is shown in a marked way by the fact that, although each epistle is addressed to the angel, yet the constantly recurring refrain is, "Hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches," not "to the angels of the Churches." The angel and the Church are the same under different aspects: the one is its spiritual character personified; the other is the congregation of believers who collectively possess this character.