1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
2. Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
3. 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.
Verses 1—3.—Here, our divine Mediator appears in the continued exercise of his prophetical office "in his estate of exaltation." While present with his disciples on earth, he told them he had many things to say to them, but they could not hear them then. (John xvi. 12) Upon his ascension he fulfilled his own and his Father's promise in sending the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth—bring all things to their remembrance, and show them things to come. (v. 13.) The fulfilment of this promise we have in the whole of the New Testament,—doctrines, facts and predictions.
Jesus said,—"Of mine own—self I can do nothing." (v. 30.) The same is true of his teachings as of his works—"The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself," (xiv. 10.) In all that "Jesus began both to do and to teach," (Acts i. 1,) he was instructed by his Father. These things are all plainly implied in the first verse. Indeed, the official actings of the three Persons in the Godhead had been frequently taught by Christ during the time of his personal ministry; and they are more fully and frequently recorded by the beloved disciple than by any other evangelist, in that gospel which still bears this apostle's name. Thus, it appears that although this book is called a "Revelation of Jesus Christ," he is not the ultimate author. It is a revelation "which God gave unto him." By God here, we are to understand the person of the Father. The reader is thus conducted to the divine origin of all supernatural revelation,—the eternal purpose of God. (Heb. i. 1, 2.) The object of the whole Bible, in the evolvement of the divine economy of man's redemption, appears to be the unfolding of the ineffable mystery of the Trinity, and displaying the perfections of the Godhead, to his own glory as the highest and last end.
The channel through which the divine will comes to the church, is exhibited in the beginning of this book. Originating with God the Father, passing to the Mediator, communicated to a holy angel; by his ministry it is made known to John, who reveals it to the church! How beautiful the order here! How wonderful and condescending on the part of God!
Although we commonly and justly designate the whole Bible by the name "Revelation;" yet we are to consider that this book is so called by way of eminence. Doubtless it is so styled by its divine Author because it reveals events which were then future, and which could not be discovered by human sagacity. But this holds equally true of other parts of the Scriptures, especially those parts which are prophetical. It may be that this book is called "Apocalypse" because of the opposition which it was to encounter from Antichrist, as also because of its singular and intended use to a peculiar portion of professing Christians. As on the one hand the Romish church, and too many who protest against her encroachments, prohibit or discourage the disciples of Christ from reading this book; so, on the other hand, it has been of singular use to others in strengthening their faith and ministering to their comfort.
John "bare record of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all things that he saw." A question arises here,—What is the difference, if any, between the "word of God" and the "testimony of Jesus Christ?" Or is there any distinction intended by the Holy Spirit? Most readers as well as expositors view these expressions as identical. We shall meet with them, or their equivalent, frequently hereafter; and it may be proper at the outset to inquire a little into this familiar phraseology. (See chapters i. 9; vi. 9; xii. 11, 17; xx. 4, etc.)
Recognising the inspired rule of interpretation,—"comparing spiritual things with spiritual," we refer to Psalm lxxviii. 5, where "testimony and law" are obviously distinguished. The same distinction will be found in Isa. viii. 16, 20. The prophet refers the reader to two tests of doctrine and practice: first the "law." But as the spouse of Christ is unable, in her perplexity, to apply the law to the present case in a manner satisfactory to herself, she is directed by her Lord, (Song i. 8,) to "go forth by the footsteps of the flock." That is, search and ascertain how the disciples applied the law in similar circumstances, and imitate their approved example. This is a rule recognised and often inculcated in the New Testament. (Heb. vi. 12.)
The inspired penman in Psalm lxxviii. 5, refers to the covenant transaction at Mount Sinai, where the "law" was exhibited as an appendix to the covenant of grace—"added to the promise." (Gal. iii. 19.) The reader will find this whole matter set before him, perhaps to his surprise and delight in Exod. xx. 1—17. The Lord (Jehovah) is the God (Elohim) of his people. How shall they know that he is their God? By the law?—No, for that is a rule to all men. They know by the testimony as distinct from the law. Testimony consists of facts. God's people knew that he was their God, because he "brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." This was "the doing of the Lord,"—"the testimony of Jesus Christ." And so it is an important and precious truth to us at the present day.—"The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that God is the Lord (Jehovah) and our God."—This great historical fact is the controlling motive to acceptable obedience to the moral law. To this, among other truths of the gospel, every faithful minister will "bear witness" with the apostle John.
John also bore witness to "all things that he saw," as presented to him in a succession of visions to the end of this book, in view of some of which, he "wondered with great admiration." (xvii. 6.)
In the third verse there is a "blessing" pronounced on all such as "hear, read and keep those things which are written in the words of this prophecy." A mere reading and hearing of the Apocalypse will not secure the blessing. It is suspended on the keeping. "Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book." (Ch. xxii. 7.) The divine and compassionate Author of this prophecy, who "knoweth the end from the beginning," foresaw the violent and ignorant opposition even to the reading of it, which would be encountered by those for whose special direction and comfort it was given. While the "man of sin" would attempt to deprive the church of the light of the Bible in general, the great "Antichrist" would join him in special hostility to this book. The judgment of the former is, that the Bible in the hands of the people will generate heresies; of the latter,—the Apocalypse is so "hard to be understood" as to be unintelligible. A revelation, and yet unintelligible! This is very nearly a contradiction. Such sentiments betray rebellion against the authority, and a reflection upon the wisdom and beneficence of God. All Christians acknowledge, as Peter says of the writings of Paul, that in this book are "some things dark and hard to be understood:" but there have been always and now are, some disciples who do not subscribe to the teaching of most expositors of this book,—that their actual fulfilment, alone, will interpret these predictions.— Doubtless it was in view of such discouragements that our Lord prefixed and repeated the special blessing. And this promised blessing of the Master himself is sufficient to countervail all the discouragements and hostility of the adversaries, thrown in the way of the reader and expositor. Moses "endured as having respect unto the recompense of the reward." Let us copy his example. "He is faithful that promised." Let the pious reader, therefore, disregard the counsel to" omit the reading of this book in family worship," as we have sometimes heard; whether it be tendered by Papist, Prelate or Presbyterian, because it is directly contrary to the express command of Christ, (John v. 39,) and because by following such counsel, he would forfeit the special blessing here promised.
4. 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;
5. 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,
6. And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to whom be glow and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Vs. 4—6.—Here we have the customary salutation, addressed to the churches of Asia Minor. Many other churches had been organized in other parts of the earth at this date; (A.D. 96) but the special reason why John saluted these seven, and addressed an epistle to each, would seem to be his vicinity to them in the place of his present sojourning, and probably his personal acquaintance with them in the exercise of his ministry among them, (v. 11.) His prayer for these churches is substantially the same as that prefixed to most of Paul's epistles. Grace and peace are inseparable in the divine arrangement. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked. (Isa. lvii. 21.)
The solitary pilgrim in his place of banishment, contemplating the Abrahamic covenant, and realizing that grace and that peace in which he desires his fellow disciples to share, sets before us the threefold source whence these divine influences flow. First, "from him which is, and which was, and which is to come;" a description of God the Father, whose personal subsistence has priority in the Godhead, and who occupies the like priority in voluntary relationship and economic standing. From the Father personally, as the representative of Trinity, we have seen (in verse 1,) this book emanated; and now from the same we are taught that "grace and peace" come to fallen man. Second, John's prayer here, differs from Paul's usual form in the beginning of his epistles; for Paul omits the Holy Spirit, commonly saying,—"Grace be to you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ," (as in Gal. i. 3.) In this last book of Scripture we have the co—equal Three introduced as co—operating in the work of man's redemption. Thus our attention is directed to the "seven Spirits which are before the throne;" by which we are to understand the Holy Ghost, in his essential equality with God the Father, but in the place of official subordination. The Holy Spirit is one personally, but seven in his manifold gifts and graces, with special reference to the "seven churches." And whereas the divine Spirit, in the order of his personal subsistence and operation is third, here he occupies the second place in the order of revelation. Third, The special reason for reserving the notice of our Saviour to the last place, is doubtless that the "beloved disciple" may take occasion to leave on record an expression of his admiration of the Mediator's person, one of whose names is "Wonderful," (Isa. ix. 6;) and that he might exemplify the ruling principle of his own heart,—"We love him, because he first loved us." (I John iv. 19.) The apostle dwells upon the personal glory of Immanuel, contemplating him in his threefold office of prophet, priest and king.—He is "the faithful witness" in his prophetical office. "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John i. 18;) "who, before Pontius Pilate, witnessed a good confession." (John xviii. 37 ) He is "the first—begotten of the dead." He "died unto sin once," as an expiatory sacrifice to atone for the guilt of an elect world. Being a "priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek," "he ever liveth to make intercession,"—"death hath no more dominion over him," as it had over Lazarus and many others who "came out of the graves after his resurrection." (Matt. xxvii. 52, 53.) Among all, he has the preeminence. (Col. i. 18.) He is "the Prince of the kings of the earth." There is not in the sacred volume a title of our Redeemer more full or expressive than this, on his headship or royal office. A prince is of royal parentage. Such is the understanding of mankind in all civilized nations. Joseph in Egypt typified, in part, the kingly office of Christ; and Solomon on the throne of, Israel partially typified him in his dominion: but as Balaam foretold that he should be "higher than Agag," (Num. xxiv. 7,) so we may say he is higher than Joseph,—" A greater than Solomon is here." "Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou." When the Father says to the Son, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever," (Ps. xlv. 6,) this is consistent with" excepting him that did put all things under him." (1 Cor. xv. 27.) Although we are not warranted to say with some, "The Father is the fountain of the Godhead, we may warrantably and boldly say, the Father is the fountain of authority. (John vi. 38.) The dominion of the Mediator is universal, reaching "from the roofless heaven to the bottomless hell." It is comfortable to the disciples to know this in anticipation of the rise and reign of Antichrist. He is, by the appointment of the Father "head over all things," (Eph. i. 22,)—"able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him," to "consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming, that Wicked, the Man of Sin." (2 Thess. ii. 8.)
In view of the personal dignity and mediatorial dominion of Christ, the apostle gives expression to his admiration and wonder at the amazing love and condescension displayed by him on behalf of himself and all others, on whom that love was fixed from everlasting, and whose guilt and pollution were taken away by the atoning and cleansing blood of the Lamb. To these saving benefits is to be added the honour to which the redeemed are advanced as "kings and priests,—a royal priesthood." The living Head is "a priest upon his throne," (Zech. vi. 13,) and all the members are assimilated to him. (1 Pet. ii,. 5, 9.)
7. 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.
Verse 7.—How animated the language, sublime the conception, and awe—inspiring the sentiment here! Time is annihilated! The end is seen from the be, ginning, and all eyes are directed to the sovereign Judge of the world, as he comes in majesty to fix the final destiny of all the children of Adam! These have constituted only two classes since the world began. "Every eye shall see him," but the eye will affect the heart very differently. The hearts of some, with holy Job, will be filled with joy unspeakable, (Job xix. 26, 27;) but others, with mercenary Balaam, will be inspired with terror and dismay. (Num. xxiv. 17.) Of "them that pierced him," who shall be able to abide his indignation? Judas, Caiaphas, Herod and his men of war; Pontius Pilate, and all who have consented to the counsel and deed of them, "must appear before his judgment seat." "All kindreds of the earth," covering all the combinations of" Antichrist" during the definite period of twelve hundred and sixty years, "shall wail because of him," (Rev. xiv. 10, 11.) Assured of the equity of Messiah's judgment, the apostle, in the exercise of "like precious faith with all them that believe," subjoins Iris hearty assent,—" Even So, Amen:" "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord." Doubtless the design of the Holy Spirit in this verse is to furnish ground of encouragement to those who were to be engaged in the protracted conflict with the powers of darkness foreshadowed in the prophecy of this book.
8. 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.
Ver. 8.—The same divine person, to whom the apostle directs the doxology in the 6th verse, is introduced in the 8th: that is, the Lord Christ. He claims eternity and omnipotence. He describes himself here in the very words which in the 4th verse are descriptive of the eternal subsistence of the person of the Father. "Alpha and Omega," the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, are explained in the words,—" the beginning and the ending." This language is not to be understood as expressing or defining the duration of the Godhead only; but it points also to the divine purpose and providence. To the same purpose speaks our Redeemer under the name of Wisdom—"The Lord (the Father) possessed me in the beginning (head, purpose) of his way, before his works of old" (Prov. viii. 22.) In joint counsel with the Father, ere the wheels of time began to move, and being "almighty" to execute the purposes of God, he is perfectly qualified to act as the final Judge of the world. And in the great and last day "every tongue must confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. fl. 11.) "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living." (Rom. xiv. 9.).—" God is judge himself." (Ps. l. 6.)
9. 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.
Ver. 9.—Again, the inspired writer addresses the Christians in Asia,, acquainting them very briefly and simply with his present local situation; not so much to move their sympathy with him, as to express his unabated affection for them:—"I am your brother, and companion in tribulation." Although the "like afflictions were accomplished in his brethren," the Devil was permitted to "east" only "some of them into prison? But it is remarkable that John utters not a word, much less manifests any resentment, against the persecutor. He was "in the isle that is called Patmos:"—but he does not say who sent him there. Historians tell us that he was banished by Domitian, the Roman emperor; others say, by Nero; but the former is more probable. This island is proverbially barren. It is situated among a number of islands in the Ægean sea, a point of the Mediterranean running northward between Europe and Asia, and not very remote from most of the churches here addressed.
The ground of controversy between John and his persecutors was "the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ." Of these he "bare record." (v. 2.) "This," say most expositors, "was the cause of John's banishment." This unguarded language confounds the difference between a cause and an occasion. John had given no cause of banishment to his enemies. The true cause of their hostility was their hatred of the "word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." For these John contended earnestly, as Jude enjoined; (ver. 3:) just as Paul and others were "bold in their God to speak the gospel of God with much contention." (1 Thes. ii. 2.) We have here the standing ground of strife between the believer and the infidel; between Christ and Belial, between the church and the world. There is a divine hand interposed all along in this warfare, and the conflict will terminate only in the extermination of one of the parties. (Gen. iii. 15; Rev. xx. 10.)
10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
Ver 10—The beloved disciple had often "tasted the good word of God," while the bosom companion of Christ in the time of his ministry on earth His "heart burned within him" (Luke xxiv 32 ) Especially had this been his happy experience on the holy Sabbath Now that his condition is solitary, being by violence "driven out from the inheritance of the Lord," (1 Sam xxvi 19,) his gracious Master favours him with a special visit. Did he not say to his disciples while he was yet with them,—"I will not leave you comfortless? I will come to you" (John xiv 18) The Comforter was promised to supply the want of the Saviour's bodily presence, (v 16,) and now John is "in the Spirit," and it is "the Lord's day,"—the Christian Sabbath. We may well suppose this disciple never was happier, no, not when he was "leaning on Jesus' bosom" He would not now envy the emperor or any of his persecutors in all their outward peace and prosperity He was in an ecstasy,—"whether in the body or out of the body he could not tell" but his soul was susceptible of the impressions of Christ's love, and of the intimations of his sovereign will "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I do?" (Gen xviii 17) "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he re—vealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos iii 7). John does not boast as Balaam,—"falling into a trance, but having his eyes open" yet he heard and saw as distinctly and clearly as if his perceptions had come through the medium of his bodily ears and eyes "He heard behind him a great voice as of a trumpet," not to alarm, but to engage attention.
11 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.
V. 11.—Christ speaks, asserting his eternity, and consequently his equality with the Father. This book being written in the Greek language, our Saviour names and appropriates to himself the first and last letters of the alphabet in that language, and gives the interpretation,—"the first and the last," as in v. 8. John is directed to write and send to the seven churches all that is contained in this last book of the Bible. The churches are named here, and in the second and third chapters they are addressed severally in a letter to each. It may be noted that besides the general commission to preach the gospel to every creature, apostles had a special call to write; and sometimes a prohibition,—"write not," (ch. x. 4.) Many of the most learned and godly divines whom we would consider best qualified, have never left any writings for the instruction of posterity; whilst others less qualified, either in respect of literature or piety, or not at all qualified, have filled the world with books without a special call from Christ. (John xx. 30, 81; xxi. 25.)
12. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And, being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
13. 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.
14. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
15. And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
16. And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two—edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
Vs. 12—16.—His attention being arrested, the apostle "turned to see the voice,"—that is, the person from whom the voice came. A glorious vision was presented to his view,—"seven golden candlesticks" or lamp bearers, in allusion to the golden candlestick with the seven lamps as placed in the tabernacle (Exod xxv 31—40.) "In the midst of the candlesticks appeared one like unto the Son of man," the Mediator, clothed in sacerdotal garments, supplying off for the light, after the example of Aaron and his sons (Exod xxvii 20, 21.) The "garment" may signify his mediatorial righteousness,—the "golden girdle" the preciousness of his love,—"his head and his hairs white like wool," his pretty and eternity,—"his eyes as a flame of fire," his omniscience, by which he searches the veins and hearts, and sees the end from the beginning, "his feet like unto fine brass," the stability of his appointments and the excellency of his providential dispensations,—"his voice," the irresistible energy of his word to quicken, terrify or destroy at his pleasure (John v 25, Heb xii 26.) "The sharp two edged sword" will represent his awful justice against the impenitent who resist his righteous authority "With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" (Is xi 4, Luke xix 27.) "His countenance as the sun shining in his strength," disclosed to the beloved disciple such splendor as to overwhelm him. The like display of divine majesty was insupportable to Saul of Tarsus when on his way to Damascus (Acts xxvi 13). To the workers of iniquity, "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb xii 29). It is a certain truth,—"The vengeance of the gospel is weightier than the vengeance of the law" (Heb x 28, 31) "Let us therefore fear".
17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his light hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not, I am the first and the last.
18 I am he that haveth, and was dead, and, behold, I am have for evermore, Amen, and have the keys of hell and of death.
19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter,
20 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.
Vs 17—20—We have the effect of the vision upon the beloved disciple He who had leaned on Christ's bosom at supper, and who had seen his Master transfigured on the holy mount, was now utterly overwhelmed with the effulgence of his glory John "fell at his feet as dead" So it was with Daniel, "a man greatly beloved" (Daniel x 4—8.) But the compassionate Saviour dispelled his fears, as in all similar cases, making known to his astonished servant his supreme deity and real humanity, as "the first and the last," who died for the sins, and was raised again for the justification of his people (Rom iv; 25.) He is "alive for evermore,"—become "the first fruits of them that slept" (1 Cor xv 20.) He "dieth no more Death hath no more dominion over him." (Rom vi 9.) And so complete is his victory over the king of terrors, the last enemy of the believer, that he hath "the keys of hell and of death" He has the "key of the bottomless pit," (xx 1,) having triumphed over principalities and powers, making a show of them openly (Col ii 15) Whether Christ used the word, "amen," to ratify the truth of his immortality, or whether this is an expression by John of his joyful acquiescence in that truth, is not material we know on satisfactory evidence, that our Lord is a prophet and king, as well as a priest, "after the power of an endless life" (Heb vii 16, Rom xiv 9.)
John is next commanded to write,—First, "the things which he had seen," that is, the description of the foregoing; vision—Second, "the things which are," that is, the actual condition of the church, as delineated in the diverse characters of the seven churches addressed, as in the next two chapters—Third, "the things which shall be hereafter" that is, the prophetical part of the book, from the beginning of the fourth chapter to the close, as containing the prospective history of the church and of the nations, as she was to be affected by them, or they by her, till the consummation of all things. This is the division of the book made by the divine Author him self, and it is a natural and intelligible one. All attempts of learned and pious men by other divisions to lender this mysterious part of the Bible more clear to the unlearned reader, tend only to display the ingenuity of the writers, not to say their temerity, while they "darken counsel by words without knowledge." Such artificial divisions are as unfounded, in the apprehension of sober expositors, as the attempts of impious Arians and others, to turn the historical narrative of the creation and fall of man into an allegory.
The meaning of the "seven stars and seven candlesticks" is then explained to John. The word, "are" is used in a figurative sense, and not to be taken literally. It means here, symbolize, represent or signify. It is to be interpreted in the same sense as in the following places of sacred Scripture—"It is the Lord's passover." (Exod xii 11.) "That rock was Christ." (1 Cor x 4.) "This is my body" (Matt xxvi 26) None but a Papist will have any difficulty here or perhaps—a Lutheran!