The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass…
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him. The very word belongs to the Holy Scriptures, and is peculiar to them. None of the Greek writers use it in the sacred sense which we always associate with it. And this is not to be wondered at, for they had naught to tell with any authority on those profound questions with which it is the province of revelation to deal, and upon which the mind of man yearns for light. But when that light first flashed upon men, no wonder that they spoke of its manifestation as an unveiling, as an apocalypse, as a revelation. And the record of that revelation is our Bible. The word has become so familiar to us that we are apt to forget that the unveiling implies a previous veiling, and that both the one and the other fact suggest questions, not merely of great interest, but of much and practical importance to every one of us. Therefore let us consider -
I. THE VEILING IN THE PAST. The writer of the Book of Proverbs affirms that "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing;" and undoubtedly God did see fit for long ages to hide from the knowledge of men not a little of that which he afterwards was pleased to reveal. So that those dark days of old St. Paul called "the times of ignorance," and adds the too much forgotten and most blessed fact that "God winked at" those times; i.e. he did not hold men accountable for them, and would not bring men into judgment because of them.
1. This ignorance hung like a pall over vast regions of human thought.
(1) God. Some denied his existence altogether. Yet more, forced to believe that the universe and themselves could not have come into being by chance, multiplied gods many and lords many, and invested them, not with the noblest, but the basest characteristics of humanity, so that they worshipped devils rather than gods - monsters of might and maligmity, of lust and lies. So was it with the mass of men.
(2) Man. They knew not themselves more than the true God. They knew that they were miserable, but how or why, or how to remedy their condition, they knew not. Of sin as the virulent venom that poisoned all the veins and arteries of their life they were ignorant, and of holiness as the alone road to happiness they knew still less; the very idea of holiness had not dawned upon them.
(3) And of immortality, the life eternal, they knew nothing, Nothing could be more dim or vague, more uncertain or unsatisfying, than their views as to what awaited them when this life was done. They beheld the sun and stars set and rise, but they bitterly complained that for man there was the setting, but no rising again. Over all these topics and those related to them the veil of ignorance hung down, and no light penetrated through its thick folds.
2. But why was all this? is the question that irresistibly rises in our minds as we contemplate this most mournful fact. A complete answer no man can give; we can only suggest some considerations supplied to us from the Word of God, and from our observation of God's methods of dealing with men.
(1) Man's own sin was, doubtless, one chief force that drew down this veil. This is St. Paul's contention in the opening chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. And the universal experience, so terrible but so true, that let a man will to be ignorant of God's truth, ere long it will come to pass that he is so, whether he will or no. Furthermore
(2) such times of limited knowledge serve as tests of character. The faith of the good is tried, and thereby exercised and developed. Such faith shines out radiant on the dark background of the ignorance and sin that stretch all around. Hence Abraham became the father of the faithful and the friend of God. But the evil of evil, working in surroundings congenial to it, mounts to such a height, and becomes so glaring and abominable, that the justice of God in judging it is seen and confessed by all. And yet again
(3) such times cannot be done away until the instruments and conditions requisite for the bringing in of better times have been prepared. Hence the advent of Christ was so long delayed. A people cosmopolitan - the Jews; a language universal - the Greek; an arena large, compact, organized, with free intercommunication - the Roman empire; a period when the strife and din of war were hushed, and the different nations of the world had become welded into one - the period of the Roman peace; - not till these all and yet others were had the fulness of time arrived. Till then the veil must yet hang down, and darkness cover the land,
(4) The futility of all other means of uplifting and raising mankind needed to be made manifest. Hence one after another, military force, statecraft, commerce, philosophy, art, religion, had successively or simultaneously striven to show what they could do in this great enterprise. Scope of space and time had to be given them, and not till each had been compelled to confess, "It is not in me," was the way clear for "the bringing in of the better hope." Man had to be "shut up" to God's way, or nothing could keep him from believing that he could find, or from attempting to find, some better way of his own. It has always been so; it is so still. We will not turn to God until we are made to see that it is the best and the only thing to be done. And man takes a long time to see that. Some light is surely shed on this protracted ignorance, this long-continued veiling, by such considerations as these, and we may well wait, therefore, for the larger light in which we shall rejoice hereafter.
II. THE UNVEILING - the revelation that has been given to us. Note:
1. Its nature. It has shown to us God. In Christ he is made known to us. Atonement, how to obtain acceptance with him; regeneration, how to be made like unto him; immortality, our destined dwelling with him; - all this has been unveiled for us on whom the true light has now shined.
2. Its necessity. The darkness of which we have told above on all these great questions so momentous to our present and eternal well being.
3. Its probability. God having constituted us as he has, with religious capacities and yearnings, and being himself what he is, it was likely that he would interpose for our good, and not let the whole race of man die in darkness and despair. Granted that God is, and that he is what the nature he has given us leads us to believe he is, so far from there being any antecedent objection to the idea that he should have interposed to save us out of our sin and misery, the great probability is that he would do just that which we believe he has done, and give us such revelation of himself and his will as we possess in his Word. He who has planted in us the instincts of mercy and compassion, who has given us yearnings after a purer and nobler life, who prompts us to rescue and to save whenever we have opportunity, - is it likely that in him there would be nothing akin to all this? The probability is all the other way, so that a revelation from him whereby our evil condition may be remedied and man may be saved, comes to us with this claim on our acceptance, that it is in keeping with his nature and what that nature leads us to expect.
4. And when we examine the revelation itself, it is commended to us by the fact that we find in it the full setting forth of those truths which men had been for long ages feeling after, but had never yet found. Take these three amongst the chief of them.
(1) The Incarnation. Man has never been content that the gulf between him and God should remain unbridged and impassable, and hence, in all manner of ways, he has striven to link together his own nature and the Divine (cf. on this subject Archbishop Trench's Hulsean Lectures, 'The Unconscious Prophecies of Heathendom'). Reason cannot discover the doctrine of the Incarnation, but the history of man's efforts after a religion give ample proof that this is a felt necessity of the human spirit; "For where is the religion of human device, where mythology, that has not sought to bridge over the awful chasm between the finite and the Infinite, between man and God, by the supposition of a union of some sort between the human and Divine? Sometimes by supposing God to be a Spirit dwelling in men as in the material universe; sometimes by filling heaven with deities possessed of bodies, and having passions little differing from our own; sometimes by supposing actual descents of the Deity in human form upon the earth; and sometimes by celebrating the rise of great heroes and eminent men by an apotheosis unto gods, the heathen have sought to alleviate the difficulty which men must ever feel in seeking to have intercourse and relations with the Infinite and Eternal. How can the weak and sinful come nigh to the All Perfect? How can the finite enter into relations with the Infinite? He cries out for a living, a personal, an incarnate God;" and this his great need is met by the revelation of God in Christ, and because so met the revelation is thereby commended powerfully both to our hearts and minds.
(2) The atonement. This, too, has been a felt necessity of the human spirit. To answer the question - How can man be just with God? what have not men done? what do they not do even now? Scoffers think to make an easy conquest over the gospel by calling its doctrine of atonement "the religion of the shambles;" and by that sneer to dismiss the whole question of the truth of revelation to the region of ridicule and contempt. But at once there confronts them the whole force of human conviction as to the necessity and craving for atonement, which has found and yet finds expression in ten thousand forms, some of them, without doubt, horrible enough. No religion has ever found acceptance amongst any people in any age that ventured to ignore, much more to scoff at, this ineradicable demand of the human heart. "Be the origin of sacrifice what it may, its universal prevalence amongst men, and its perpetuation amongst peoples the most widely separated from each other, and in spite of changes of manners and customs and usages, in other respects of the most radical kinds, incontestably show that it has a firm root in man's deepest convictions, and lies embedded in his religious consciousness, to be parted with only as he ceases" to care for religion at all. Our revelation, therefore, coming to us as it does with blessed light on this great theme, and showing us how God in Christ has provided the perfect Sacrifice, of which all others were but vain attempts or dim types, commends itself thereby to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
(3) And so, too, with the doctrine of immortality. "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die," has been the practical outcome for the mass of mankind of the darkness in which they dwelt in regard to this great truth. "Without God, and without, hope:" what blessedness above that of the mere sensual life was possible to them? What can keep men, taken as a whole, from living like the brutes if you tell them that they are to perish like the brutes? Down to that dread level they have gravitated more and more, and must. But a revelation which "brings life and immortality to light cannot but be welcome to the hearts of men, uplifting, strengthening, regenerating them, so that if any man embrace it he shall, he must, become "a new creature." Thus does the revelation given us of God draw us to itself and to him; and our duty and delight should be to receive, believe, and commend it to all men everywhere, that they, too, may become partakers of the like precious faith. If in virtue of this revelation we can any of us say, and do say of the Lord, "He is my Refuge and my Fortress; my God, in whom I will trust," our next duty surely is to turn to our brother, who as yet knows not what we know, and say to him, "Surely he will deliver thee." - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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:
WEB: This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things which must happen soon, which he sent and made known by his angel to his servant, John,