Vincent's Word Studies
This document has given rise to voluminous controversy as to its author, its origin, its purpose, and its interpretation. It has been held to be a forgery in the name of John; to have been composed by another writer in the apostle's name, not in order to deceive, but in order to record an oral revelation of John; or to have been the work of another John. Some who deny that John wrote the Gospel, have attributed Revelation to him, and the authenticity of the latter is maintained by some prominent rationalistic critics.
The Apostle John was banished to the Island of Patmos, probably by the Emperor Domitian, a.d. 95 or 96, and the book, composed either during his exile, or, as is more likely, after his return to Ephesus, contains the revelation given him there in a series of visions. It is directly addressed to the Seven Churches of Proconsular Asia; the number seven being representative, and not including all the Asiatic Churches. Its design was to encourage the Church during that trying period, predicted by Jesus himself, between the close of direct revelation and the second coming of the Lord. This encouragement centers in the return of Jesus to give His people eternal life and to trample down His foes. As related to the progress of doctrine in the New Testament, it represents the final consummation in the redeemed Church, the heavenly Jerusalem, which is foreshadowed in the rise and growth of the Apostolic Church.
The style is figurative and symbolical. It deals with principles rather than with particular events. To the neglect of this characteristic, and the corresponding attempt to link the symbols and prophecies with specific historical incidents or personages, are due most of the extravagances of interpretation. No satisfactory argument against its authenticity can be drawn from its contents as related to the other writings of John. It proclaims the same eternal truths which are asserted and vindicated in the Gospel and in the Epistles - the sovereignty of God, the conflict of sin with righteousness, the temporary triumph of evil, and the final, decisive victory of holiness. As in the other writings, Christ is the central figure, the conqueror of sin and death, the crowning joy of the redeemed, and the object of their adoration. It emphasizes the divine hatred of sin and the certainty of the divine judgment of the wicked and of the future bliss of believers in Jesus. The main idea of the Gospel and of Revelation is the same - that of a decisive conflict between the powers of good and evil.
The symbolism of Revelation is Jewish, and not Greek or Roman. It is pervaded with the style and imagery of the Old Testament, and is molded by its historical and prophetical books. "The book," says Professor Milligan, "is absolutely steeped in the memories, the incidents, the thoughts, and the language of the Church's past. To such an extent is this the case that it may be doubted whether it contains a single figure not drawn from the Old Testament, or a single complete sentence not more or less built up of materials brought from the same source.... It is a perfect mosaic of passages from the Old Testament, at one time quoted verbally, at another referred to by distinct allusion; now taken from one scene in Jewish history, and now again from two or three together." Thus the heresy of the Nicolaitanes is the heresy of Balaam (Revelation 2:14): the evil in the Church of Thyatira is personified in Jezebel (Revelation 2:20): the angelic captain in the war against the dragon is the Michael of Daniel (Revelation 7:7): Jerusalem, Mount Zion, Babylon, the Euphrates, Sodom, and Egypt are symbols of the holy bliss of the saints, of the transgressors against God, and of the judgment of the wicked (Revelation 21:2; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 9:14; Revelation 11:8). The battle of Har-Magedon carries us back to the great slaughters in the plain of Megiddo (Judges 5:19; Psalm 83:9; 2 Kings 23:29). The promises to the churches are given under the figure of the tree of life, the hidden manna, the white stone, the iron scepter, the pillar in the temple of God (Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:27, Revelation 2:28; Revelation 3:5, Revelation 3:12, Revelation 3:20). Heaven is described under the image of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Revelation 11:1, Revelation 11:19; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 8:3; Revelation 4:6). The plagues of Revelation 8:1-13 are the plagues of Egypt: the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Korah are blended in the representation of the deliverance of God's people (Revelation 12:15, Revelation 12:16). Of the Prophets, Haggai contributes the earthquake of chapter 6, and Joel the sun changed into the blackness of sackcloth and the moon into blood: Isaiah the falling stars, the fig tree casting her untimely fruit, and the heavens departing as a scroll: Ezekiel the scorpions of chapter 9, the description of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21, the roll in Revelation 5:1-14, and the little book in Revelation 10:1-11 : Zechariah the opening of the seals in chapter 6 and the olive trees in chapter 11. The vision of the glorified Redeemer (Revelation 1:12-20) is combined from Exodus, Zechariah Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Psalms.
Along with these coincidences there are certain contrasts, notably as respects the doctrine of Christ's coming, which, in the Gospel and Epistles lies in the background, while it is the main theme of Revelation. Revelation treats the impending judgment as external, the Gospel as spiritual. Revelation describes the triumph of Christianity under the imagery of Judaism; the consummation being an ideal Jerusalem and an ideal worship; while in the Gospel, Judaism appears in opposition to Christ, "standing without, isolated and petrified, and not taken up with it, quickened and glorified."
The symbols of the book are drawn from objects familiar to the writer - the locusts, the eagles, the millstone, the olive and palm and vine.
The principal objection urged against the common authorship of the Gospel and Revelation, is the difference in language and style. This difference must be frankly admitted. "The language," says Dr. Davidson, "departs materially from the usual Greek of the New Testament, presenting anomalies, incorrectnesses, peculiar constructions, and awkward dispositions of words, which have no parallel.... The language is so thoroughly Hebraistic as to neglect the usual rules of Greek." By many eminent critics these differences are regarded as irreconcilable on the assumption of a common authorship.
On the other hand, it may be urged that these differences are largely intentional; that the author departs from common usage under the peculiar demands of his subject, arising from the conditions under which he writes, and his intent to conform to the Old Testament style of address; and further, that his familiarity with correct usage is shown by other passages in the same book. Revelation, moreover, contains many of the words which are peculiar to the Gospel and Epistles, such as to witness, to tabernacle, to keep, to overcome, to name as the expression of character, true (ἀληθινός) in the sense of real; and the figures of hungering and thirsting, the manna, the living water, the shepherd and the sheep. It is, indeed, answered that, where the same words occur, they are used in a different sense; but many of these alleged differences disappear upon closer examination. The Hebrew character is only superficially different from that of the Gospel, which is Hebrew in spirit, though the Greek is much purer, and "the absence of solecisms arises from the avoidance of idiomatic expressions."
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 (ἀποκάλυψις)
The Greek word is transcribed in Apocalypse. The word occurs only once in the Gospels, Luke 2:32, where to lighten should be rendered for revelation. It is used there of our Lord, as a light to dispel the darkness under which the heathen were veiled. It occurs thirteen times in Paul's writings, and three times in first Peter. It is used in the following senses:
(a.) The unveiling of something hidden, which gives light and knowledge to those who behold it. See Luke 2:32 (above). Christianity itself is the revelation of a mystery (Romans 16:25). The participation of the Gentiles in the privileges of the new covenant was made known by revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul received the Gospel which he preached by revelation (Galatians 1:12), and went up to Jerusalem by revelation (Galatians 2:2).
(b.) Christian insight into spiritual truth. Paul asks for Christians the spirit of revelation (Ephesians 1:17). Peculiar manifestations of the general gift of revelation are given in Christian assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:26). Special revelations are granted to Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:7).
(c.) The second coming of the Lord (1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 1:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:7) in which His glory shall be revealed (1 Peter 4:13), His righteous judgment made known (Romans 2:5), and His children revealed in full majesty (Romans 8:19).
The kindred verb ἀποκαλύπτω is used in similar connections. Following the categories given above,
(c.) Matthew 10:26; Luke 2:35; Luke 12:2; Luke 17:30; Romans 1:17, Romans 1:18; Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1.
The word is compounded with ἀπό from, and καλύπτω to cover. Hence, to remove the cover from anything; to unveil. So of Balaam, the Lord opened or unveiled his eyes (ἀπεκάλυψεν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς: Numbers 22:31, Sept.). So Boaz to Naomi's kinsman: "I thought to advertise thee:" Rev., "disclose it unto thee" (ἀποκαλύψω τὸ οὖς σου: Ruth 4:4, Sept.). Lit., I will uncover thine ear.
The noun ἀποκάλυψις revelation, occurs only once in the Septuagint (1 Samuel 20:30), in the physical sense of uncovering. The verb is found in the Septuagint in Daniel 2:19, Daniel 2:22, Daniel 2:28.
In classical Greek, the verb is used by Herodotus (i., 119) of uncovering the head; and by Plato: thus, "reveal (ἀποκαλύψας) to me the power of Rhetoric" ("Gorgias," 460): "Uncover your chest and back" ("Protagoras," 352). Both the verb and the noun occur in Plutarch; the latter of uncovering the body, of waters, and of an error. The religious sense, however, is unknown to heathenism.
The following words should be compared with this: Ὀπτασία a vision (Luke 1:22; Acts 26:19; 2 Corinthians 12:1). Ὅραμα a vision (Matthew 17:9; Acts 9:10; Acts 16:9). Ὅρασις a vision (Acts 2:17; Revelation 9:17. Of visible form, Revelation 4:3). These three cannot be accurately distinguished. They all denote the thing seen or shown, without anything to show whether it is understood or not.
As distinguished from these, ἀποκάλυψις includes, along with the thing shown or seen, its interpretation or unveiling.
Ἐπιφάνεια appearing (hence our epiphany), is used in profane Greek of the appearance of a higher power in order to aid men. In the New Testament by Paul only, and always of the second appearing of Christ in glory, except in 2 Timothy 1:10, where it signifies His first appearing in the flesh. See 2 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:14; Titus 2:13. As distinguished from this, ἀπολάλυψις is the more comprehensive word. An apocalypse may include several ἐπιφάνειαι appearings. The appearings are the media of the revealings.
Φανέρωσις manifestation; only twice in the New Testament; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 2 Corinthians 4:2. The kindred verb φανερόω to make manifest, is of frequent occurrence. See on John 21:1. It is not easy, if possible, to show that this word has a less dignified sense than ἀποκάλυψις. The verb φανερόω is used of both the first and the second appearing of our Lord (1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 Peter 5:4). See also John 2:11; John 21:1.
Some distinguish between φανέρωσις as an external manifestation, to the senses, but single and isolated; while ἀποκάλυψις is an inward and abiding disclosure. According to these, the Apocalypse or unveiling, precedes and produces the φανέρωσις or manifestation. The Apocalypse contemplates the thing revealed; the manifestation, the persons to whom it is revealed.
The Revelation here is the unveiling of the divine mysteries.
Of Jesus Christ
Not the manifestation or disclosure of Jesus Christ, but the revelation given by Him.
To shew (δεῖξαι)
Frequent in Revelation (Revelation 4:1; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:1). Construe with ἔδωκεν gave: gave him to shew. Compare "I will give him to sit" (Revelation 3:21): "It was given to hurt" (Revelation 7:2): "It was given him to do;" (A.V. "had power to do;" Revelation 13:14).
As the decree of the absolute and infallible God.
Shortly come to pass (γενέσθαι ἐν τάχει)
For the phrase ἐν τάχει shortly, see Luke 18:8, where yet long delay is implied. Expressions like this must be understood, not according to human measurement of time, but rather as in 2 Peter 3:8. The idea is, before long, as time is computed by God. The aorist infinitive γενέσθαι is not begin to come to pass, but denotes a complete fulfilment: must shortly come to pass in their entirety.
He sent (ἀποστείλας)
From σῆμα a sign. Hence, literally, give a sign or token. The verb occurs outside of John's writings only in Acts 11:28; Acts 25:27. See John 12:33; John 18:32; John 21:19. This is its only occurrence in Revelation. The word is appropriate to the symbolic character of the revelation, and so in John 12:33, where Christ predicts the mode of His death in a figure. Compare sign, Revelation 12:1.
Strictly, a messenger. See Matthew 11:10; Luke 8:24; Luke 9:52. Compare the mediating angel in the visions of Daniel and Zechariah (Daniel 8:15, Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21; Daniel 10:10; Zechariah 1:19). See on John 1:51.
John does not name himself in the Gospel or in the Epistles. Here "we are dealing with prophecy, and prophecy requires the guarantee of the individual who is inspired to utter it" (Milligan). Compare Daniel 8:1; Daniel 9:2.
Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Bare record (ἐμαρτύρησεν)
See on John 1:7. Rev., bear witness. The reference is to the present book and not to the Gospel. The aorist tense is the epistolary aorist. See on 1 John 2:13, and compare the introduction to Thucydides' "History:" "Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote (ξυνέγραψε) the history of the war," etc.; placing himself at the reader's stand point, who will regard the writing as occurring in the past.
Word of God
Not the personal Word, but the prophetic contents of this book. See Revelation 22:6.
For the phrase to witness a witness see John 4:32. For the peculiar emphasis on the idea of witness in John, see on John 1:7. The words and the ides are characteristic of Revelation as of the Gospel and Epistles.
Omit. The clause all things that he saw is in apposition with the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, marking these as seen by him. Rev. adds even.
All things that he saw (ὅσα εἶδεν)
Lit., as many things as he saw. In the Gospel John uses the word εἶδεν saw, only twice of his own eye-witness (John 1:40; John 20:8). In Revelation it is constantly used of the seeing of visions. Compare Revelation 1:19. For the verb as denoting the immediate intuition of the seer, see on John 2:24.
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.
See on Matthew 5:3.
He that readeth (ὁ ἀναγινώσκων)
See on Luke 4:16. The Reader in the Church. See 2 Corinthians 3:14. They that hear, the congregation. The words imply a public, official reading, in full religious assembly for worship. The passage is of some weight in determining the date of this book. The stated reading of the Apostolical writings did not exist as a received form before the destruction of Jerusalem, a.d. 70.
And keep (καὶ τηροῦντες)
The absence of the article from τηροῦντες keeping (compare οἱ ἀκούντες they that hear), shows that the hearers and the keepers form one class. Τηρεῖν to keep, is a peculiarly Johannine word, and is characteristic of Revelation as of the other writings in its own peculiar sense of "keeping" in the exercise of active and strenuous care, rather than of watching over to preserve. See on reserved, 1 Peter 1:4.
See on prophet, Luke 7:26.
Which are written (τὰ γεγραμμένα)
Perfect participle, have been written, and therefore stand written.
The time (ὁ καιρὸς)
See on Matthew 12:1.
At hand (ἐγγύς)
Lit., near. See on shortly, Revelation 1:1.
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;
Note the absence of all official titles, such as are found in Paul; showing that John writes as one whose position is recognized.
Among every ancient people, especially in the East, a religious significance attaches to numbers. This grows out of the instinctive appreciation that number and proportion are necessary attributes of the created universe. This sentiment passes over from heathenism into the Old Testament. The number seven was regarded by the Hebrews as a sacred number, and it is throughout Scripture the covenant number, the sign of God's covenant relation to mankind, and especially to the Church. The evidences of this are met in the hallowing of the seventh day; in the accomplishment of circumcision, which is the sign of a covenant, after seven days; in the part played by the number in marriage covenants and treaties of peace. It is the number of purification and consecration (Leviticus 4:6, Leviticus 4:17; Leviticus 8:11, Leviticus 8:33; Numbers 19:12). "Seven is the number of every grace and benefit bestowed upon Israel; which is thus marked as flowing out of the covenant, and a consequence of it. The priests compass Jericho seven days, and on the seventh day seven times, that all Israel may know that the city is given into their hands by God, and that its conquest is a direct and immediate result of their covenant relation to Him. Naaman is to dip in Jordan seven times, that he may acknowledge the God of Israel as the author of his cure. It is the number of reward to those who are faithful in the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:7; 1 Samuel 2:5); of punishment to those who are froward in the covenant (Leviticus 26:21, Leviticus 26:24, Leviticus 26:28; Deuteronomy 28:25), or to those who injure the people in it (Genesis 4:15, Genesis 4:24; Exodus 7:25; Psalm 79:12). All the feasts are ordered by seven, or else by seven multiplied into seven, and thus made intenser still. Thus it is with the Sabbath, the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, of Tabernacles, the Sabbath-year, and the Jubilee."
Similarly the number appears in God's dealing with nations outside the covenant, showing that He is working for Israel's sake and with respect to His covenant. It is the number of the years of plenty and of famine, in sign that these are for Israel's sake rather than for Egypt's. Seven times pass over Nebuchadnezzar, that he may learn that the God of his Jewish captives is king over all the earth (partly quoted and partly condensed from Trench's "Epistles to the Seven Churches").
Seven also occurs as a sacred number in the New Testament. There are seven beatitudes, seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer; seven parables in Matthew 13; seven loaves, seven words from the cross, seven deacons, seven graces (Romans 12:6-8), seven characteristics of wisdom (James 3:17). In Revelation the prominence of the number is marked. To a remarkable extent the structure of that book is molded by the use of numbers, especially of the numbers seven, four, and three. There are seven spirits before the throne; seven churches; seven golden candlesticks; seven stars in the right hand of Him who is like unto a son of man; seven lamps of fire burning before the throne; seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb; seven seals of the book; and the thunders, the heads of the great dragon and of the beast from the sea, the angels with the trumpets, the plagues, and the mountains which are the seat of the mystic Babylon, - are all seven in number.
So there are four living creatures round about the throne, four angels at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds; the New Jerusalem is foursquare. Authority is given to Death to kill over the fourth part of the earth, and he employs four agents.
Again the use of the number three is, as Professor Milligan remarks, "so remarkable and continuous that it would require an analysis of the whole book for its perfect illustration." There are three woes, three unclean spirits like frogs, three divisions of Babylon, and three gates on each side of the heavenly city. The Trisagion, or "thrice holy," is sung to God the Almighty, to whom are ascribed three attributes of glory.
Not all the churches in Asia are meant, since the list of those addressed in Revelation does not include Colossae, Miletus, Hierapolis, or Magnesia. The seven named are chosen to symbolize the whole Church. Compare Revelation 2:7. Seven being the number of the covenant, we have in these seven a representation of the Church universal.
See on Acts 2:9.
Grace - peace
For grace (χάρις), see on Luke 1:30. Both words are used by Paul in the salutations of all his Epistles, except the three Pastorals.
From Him which is, and which was, and which is to come (ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος)
The whole salutation is given in the name of the Holy Trinity: the Father (Him which is, and was, and is to come), the Spirit (the seven spirits), the Son (Jesus Christ). See further below. This portion of the salutation has no parallel in Paul, and is distinctively characteristic of the author of Revelation. It is one of the solecisms in grammatical construction which distinguishes this book from the other writings of John. The Greek student will note that the pronoun which (ὁ) is not construed with the preposition from (ἀπό), which would require the genitive case, but stands in the nominative case.
Each of these three appellations is treated as a proper name. The Father is Him which is, and which was, and which is to come. This is a paraphrase of the unspeakable name of God (Exodus 3:14), the absolute and unchangeable. Ὁ ὢν, the One who is, is the Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:14, "I am the ὁ ὢν (I:am):" "ὁ ὢν (I am), hath sent me unto you." The One who was (ὁ ἦν). The Greek has no imperfect participle, so that the finite verb is used. Which is and which was form one clause, to be balanced against which is to come. Compare Revelation 11:17; Revelation 16:5; and "was (ἦν) in the beginning with God" (John 1:2). Which is to come (ὁ ἐρχόμενος). Lit., the One who is coming. This is not equivalent to who shall be; i.e., the author is not intending to describe the abstract existence of God as covering the future no less than the past and the present. If this had been his meaning, he would have written ὁ ἐσόμενος, which shall be. The phrase which is to come would not express the future eternity of the Divine Being. The dominant conception in the title is rather that of immutability. Further, the name does not emphasize so much God's abstract existence, as it does His permanent covenant relation to His people. Hence the phrase which is to come, is to be explained in accordance with the key-note of the book, which is the second coming of the Son (Revelation 1:7; Revelation 22:20).
The phrase which is to come, is often applied to the Son (see on 1 John 3:5), and so throughout this book. Here it is predicated of the Father, apart from whom the Son does nothing. "The Son is never alone, even as Redeemer" (Milligan). Compare "We will come unto him," John 14:23. Origen quotes our passage with the words: "But that you may perceive that the omnipotence of the Father and of the Son is one and the same, hear John speaking after this manner in Revelation, 'Who is, etc.'" Dean Plumptre cornpares the inscription over the temple of Isis at Sais in Egypt: "I am all that has come into being, and that which is, and that which shall be, and no man hath lifted my veil."
The Spirit is designated by
The seven Spirits (τῶν ἑπτὰ πνευμάτων)
Paul nowhere joins the Spirit with the Father and the Son in his opening salutations. The nearest approach is 2 Corinthians 13:13. The reference is not to the seven principal angels (Revelation 8:2). These could not be properly spoken of as the source of grace and peace; nor be associated with the Father and the Son; nor take precedence of the Son, as is the case here. Besides, angels are never called spirits in this book. With the expression compare Revelation 4:5, the seven lamps of fire, "which are the seven Spirits of God:" Revelation 3:1, where Jesus is said to have "the seven Spirits of God." Thus the seven Spirits belong to the Son as well as to the Father (see John 15:26). The prototype of John's expression is found in the vision of Zechariah, where the Messiah is prefigured as a stone with seven eyes, "the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth" (Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:10). Compare also the same prophet's vision of the seven-branched candlestick (Zechariah 4:2).
Hence the Holy Spirit is called the Seven Spirits; the perfect, mystical number seven indicating unity through diversity (1 Corinthians 12:4). Not the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit are meant, but the divine Personality who imparts them; the one Spirit under the diverse manifestations. Richard of St. Victor (cited by Trench, "Seven Churches") says: "And from the seven Spirits, that is, from the sevenfold Spirit, which indeed is simple in nature, sevenfold in grace."
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,
The Son. Placed after the Spirit because what is to follow in Revelation 1:5-8 relates to Him. This is according to John's manner of arranging his thoughts so that a new sentence shall spring out of the final thought of the preceding sentence. Compare the Prologue of the Gospel, and Revelation 1:1, Revelation 1:2, of this chapter.
The faithful witness (ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστὸς)
For the phraseology see on 1 John 4:9. For witness, see on John 1:7; see on 1 Peter 5:1. As applied to the Messiah, see Psalm 89:37; Isaiah 55:4. The construction again departs from the grammatical rule. The words witness, first-born, ruler, are in the nominative case, instead of being in the genitive, in apposition with Jesus Christ. This construction, though irregular, nevertheless gives dignity and emphasis to these titles of the Lord. See on Revelation 1:4. The word πιστὸς, faithful is used (1), of one who shows Himself faithful in the discharge of a duty or the administration of a trust (Matthew 24:45; Luke 12:42). Hence, trustworthy (1 Corinthians 7:25; 2 Timothy 2:2). Of things that can be relied upon (1 Timothy 3:1; 2 Timothy 2:11). (2), Confiding; trusting; a believer (Galatians 3:9; Acts 16:1; 2 Corinthians 6:15; 1 Timothy 5:16). See on 1 John 1:9. The word is combined with ἀληθινός, true, genuine in Revelation 3:14; Revelation 19:11; Revelation 21:5; Revelation 22:6. Richard of St. Victor (cited by Trench) says: "A faithful witness, because He gave faithful testimony concerning all things which were to be testified to by Him in the world. A faithful witness, because whatever He heard from the Father, He faithfully made known to His disciples. A faithful witness, because He taught the way of God in truth, neither did He care for any one nor regard the person of men. A faithful witness, because He announced condemnation to the reprobate and salvation to the elect. A faithful witness, because He confirmed by miracles the truth which He taught in words. A faithful witness, because He denied not, even in death, the Father's testimony to Himself. A faithful witness, because He will give testimony in the day of judgment concerning the works of the good and of the evil."
The first-begotten of the dead (ὁ πρωτότοκος ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν)
Rev., the first-born. The best texts omit ἐκ from. Compare Colossians 1:18. The risen Christ regarded in His relation to the dead in Christ. He was not the first who rose from the dead, but the first who so rose that death was thenceforth impossible for Him (Romans 6:9); rose with that resurrection-life in which He will finally bring with Him those who sleep in Him (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Some interpreters, rendering first-born, find in the phrase the metaphor of death as the womb which bare Him (see on Acts 2:24). Others, holding by the rendering first-begotten, connect the passage with Psalm 2:7, which by Paul is connected with the resurrection of Christ (Acts 13:32, Acts 13:33). Paul also says that Jesus "was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). The verb τίκτω which is one of the components of πρωτότοκος first-begotten or born, is everywhere in the New Testament used in the sense of to bear or to bring forth, and has nowhere the meaning beget, unless James 1:15 be an exception, on which see note. In classical Greek the meaning beget is common.
The Ruler of the kings of the earth (ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς)
Through resurrection He passes to glory and dominion (Philippians 2:9). The comparison with the kings of the earth is suggested by Psalm 2:2. Compare Psalm 89:27; Isaiah 52:15; 1 Timothy 6:16; and see Revelation 6:15; Revelation 17:4; Revelation 19:16.
Unto Him that loved (τῳ ἀγαπήσαντι)
The true reading is ἀγαπῶντι that loveth. So Rev. Christ's love is ever present See John 13:1.
Read λύσαντι loosed. Trench remarks on the variation of readings as having grown out of a play on the words λουτρόν, a bathing, and λύτρον a ransom, both of which express the central benefits which redound to us through the sacrifice and death of Christ. He refers to this play upon words as involved in the etymology of the name Apollo as given by Plato; viz., the washer (ὁ ἀπολούων) and the absolver (ὁ ἀπολύων) from all impurities. Either reading falls in with a beautiful circle of imagery. If washed, compare Psalm 51:2; Isaiah 1:16, Isaiah 1:18; Ezekiel 36:25; Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5. If loosed, compare Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Peter 1:18; Hebrews 9:12; Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3, Revelation 14:4.
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The correct reading is, βασιλείαν a kingdom. The term King is never applied in the New Testament to individual Christians. The reigning of the saints is emphasized in this book. See Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:4, Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:5. Compare Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:22.
Kingdom describes the body of the redeemed collectively. Priests indicates their individual position. Peter observes the same distinction (1 Peter 2:5) in the phrases living stones (individuals) and a spiritual house (the body collectively), and combines both kings and priests in another collective term, royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). The priesthood of believers grows out of the priesthood of Christ (Psalm 60:4; Zechariah 6:13; Hebrews 7-10). This dignity was promised to Israel on the condition of obedience and fidelity to God. "Ye shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). In the kingdom of Christ each individual is a priest. The priest's work is not limited to any order of the ministry. All may offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving: all have direct access to the holiest through the blood of Jesus: all Christians, as priests, are to minister to one another and to plead for one another. The consummation of this ideal appears in Revelation 21:22, where the heavenly Jerusalem is represented as without temple. It is all temple. "It is the abolition of the distinction between holy and profane (Zechariah 14:20, Zechariah 14:21) - nearer and more remote from God - through all being henceforth holy, all being brought to the nearest whereof it is capable, to Him" (Trench).
Unto God and His Father (τῷ Θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ)
Glory and dominion (ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος)
Rev., correctly, rendering the two articles, "the glory and the dominion." The articles express universality: all glory; that which everywhere and under every form represents glory and dominion. The verb be (the glory) is not in the text. We may render either as an ascription, be, or as a confession, is. The glory is His. Δόξα glory means originally opinion or judgment. In this sense it is not used in Scripture. In the sacred writers always of a good or favorable opinion, and hence praise, honor, glory (Luke 14:10; Hebrews 3:3; 1 Peter 5:4). Applied to physical objects, as light, the heavenly bodies (Acts 22:11; 1 Corinthians 15:40). The visible brightness in manifestations of God (Luke 2:9; Acts 7:55; Luke 9:32; 2 Corinthians 3:7). Magnificence, dignity (Matthew 4:8; Luke 4:6). Divine majesty or perfect excellence, especially in doxologies, either of God or Christ (1 Peter 4:11; Jde 1:25; Revelation 4:9, Revelation 4:11; Matthew 16:27; Mark 10:37; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:4). The glory or majesty of divine grace (Ephesians 1:6, Ephesians 1:12, Ephesians 1:14, Ephesians 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:11). The majesty of angels (Luke 9:26; Jde 1:8; 2 Peter 2:10). The glorious condition of Christ after accomplishing His earthly work, and of the redeemed who share His eternal glory (Luke 24:26; John 17:5; Philippians 3:21; 1 Timothy 3:16; Romans 8:18, Romans 8:21; Romans 9:23; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Colossians 1:27).
Trench remarks upon the prominence of the doxological element in the highest worship of the Church as contrasted with the very subordinate place which it often occupies in ours. "We can perhaps make our requests known unto God, and this is well, for it is prayer; but to give glory to God, quite apart from anything to be directly gotten by ourselves in return, this is better, for it is adoration." Dr. John Brown in his Memoir of his father, one of the very finest biographical sketches in English literature, records a formula used by him in closing his prayers on specially solemn occasions: "And now unto Thee, O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the one Jehovah and our God, we would - as is most meet - with the Church on earth and the Church in heaven, ascribe all honor and glory, dominion and majesty, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen" ("Horae Subsecivae"). Compare the doxologies in 1 Peter 4:11; Galatians 1:5; Revelation 4:9, Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 7:12; Jde 1:25; 1 Chronicles 29:11.
Forever and ever (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων)
Lit., unto the ages of the ages. For the phrase compare Galatians 1:5; Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 4:11. It occurs twelve times in Revelation, but not in John's Gospel or Epistles. It is the formula of eternity.
The English word is a transcription of the Greek and of the Hebrew. A verbal adjective, meaning firm, faithful. Hence ὁ ἀμὴν, the Amen, applied to Christ (Revelation 3:14). It passes into an adverbial sense by which something is asserted or confirmed. Thus often used by Christ, verily. John alone uses the double affirmation, verily, verily. See on John 1:51; see on John 10:1.
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.
He cometh with clouds (ἔρχεται μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν)
The clouds are frequently used in the descriptions of the Lord's second coming. See Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62. Compare the manifestation of God in the clouds at Sinai, in the cloudy pillar, the Shekinah, at the transfiguration, and see Psalm 97:2; Psalm 18:11; Nahum 1:3; Isaiah 19:1.
Shall see (ὄψεται)
The verb denotes the physical act, but emphasizes the mental discernment accompanying it, and points to the result rather than to the act of vision. See on John 1:18. Appropriate here as indicating the quickened spiritual discernment engendered by the Lord's appearing, in those who have rejected Him, and who now mourn for their folly and sin.
They which (οἵτινες)
See on John 19:34, and compare Zechariah 12:10; John 19:36. The expression here refers not to the Jews only, but to all who reject the Son of Man; those who "in any age have identified themselves with the Spirit of the Savior's murderers" (Milligan). The passage is justly cited as a strong evidence that the author of the Gospel is also the author of Revelation.
More correctly, tribes. The word used of the true Israel in Revelation 5:5; Revelation 7:4-8; Revelation 21:12. As the tribes of Israel are the figure by which the people of God, Jew or Gentile, are represented, so unbelievers are here represented as tribes, "the mocking counterpart of the true Israel of God." Compare Matthew 24:30, Matthew 24:31.
Shall wail because of Him (κόψονται ἐπ' αὐτὸν)
Rev., better, shall mourn over Him. Lit., shall beat their breasts. See on Matthew 11:17.
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.
Alpha and Omega (τὸ Α καὶ τὸ Ω)
Rev., rightly, gives the article, "the Alpha," etc. The words are explained by the gloss, properly omitted from the text, the beginning and the ending. The Rabbinical writers used the phrase from Aleph to Tav, to signify completely, from beginning to end. Thus one says, "Adam transgressed the whole law from Aleph even to Tav." Compare Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:6.
The Lord (ὁ Κύριος)
See on Matthew 21:3. The best texts read Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς the Lord the God. Rev., the Lord God.
Which is, etc.
See on Revelation 1:4. "God, as the old tradition declares, holding in His hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is" (Plato, "Laws," 715).
The Almighty (ὁ παντοκράτωρ)
Used only once outside of Revelation, in 2 Corinthians 6:18, where it is a quotation. Constantly in the Septuagint.
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.
Who am also your brother (ὁ καὶ ἀδελφὸς ὑμῶν)
Omit καὶ, also, and render as Rev., John your brother.
Rev., better, partaker with you. See Philippians 1:7, and note on partners, Luke 5:10. Κοινωνὸς, is a partner, associate. Σύν strengthens the term: partner along with. Compare John's favorite word in the First Epistle, κοινωνία fellowship, 1 John 1:3.
In the tribulation, etc.
Denoting the sphere or element in which the fellowship subsisted.
See on Matthew 13:21 Persecution for Christ's sake, and illustrated by John's own banishment.
The present kingdom. Trench is wrong in saying that "while the tribulation is present the kingdom is only in hope." On the contrary, it is the assurance of being now within the kingdom of Christ - under Christ's sovereignty, fighting the good fight under His leadership - which gives hope and courage and patience. The kingdom of God is a present energy, and it is a peculiality of John to treat the eternal life as already present. See John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47, John 6:54; 1 John 5:11. "In all these things we are abundantly the conquerors (Romans 8:37 sqq.). This may go to explain the peculiar order of the three words; tribulation and kingdom, two apparently antithetic ideas, being joined, with a true insight into their relation, and patience being added as the element through which the tribulation is translated into sovereignty. The reference to the future glorious consummation of the kingdom need not be rejected. It is rather involved in the present kingdom. Patience, which links the life of tribulation with the sovereignty of Christ here upon earth, likewise links it with the consummation of Christ's kingdom in heaven. Through faith and patience the subjects of that kingdom inherit the promises. "Rightly he says first 'in the tribulation' and adds afterwards 'in the kingdom,' because, if we suffer together we shall also reign together" (Richard of St. Victor, cited by Trench). Compare Acts 14:22.
Of Jesus Christ (Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ)
The best texts omit Christ and insert ἐν in; rendering, as Rev., "kingdom and patience which are in Jesus."
Lit., I came to pass, i.e., I found myself: The past tense seems to imply that John was no longer in Patmos when he wrote.
Now called Patmo and Palmosa. In the Aegean, one of the group of the Sporades, about twenty-eight miles S. S.W. of Samos. It is about ten miles long by six in breadth. The island is volcanic, and is bare and rocky throughout; the hills, of which the highest rises to nearly a thousand feet, commanding a magnificent view of the neighboring sea and islands. The bay of La Scala, running into the land on the east, divides the island into two nearly equal parts, a northern and a southern. The ancient town, remains of which are still to be seen, occupied the isthmus which separates La Scala from the bay of Merika on the western coast. The modern town is on a hill in the southern half of the island, clustered at the foot of the monastery of St. John. A grotto is shown called "the grotto of the Apocalypse," in which the apostle is said to have received the vision. "The stern, rugged barrenness of its broken promontories well suits the historical fact of the relegation of the condemned Christian to its shores, as of a convict to his prison. The view from the topmost peak, or, indeed, from any lofty elevation in the islands, unfolds an unusual sweep such as well became the Apocalypse, the unveiling of the future to the eyes of the solitary seer. Above, there was always the broad heaven of a Grecian sky; sometimes bright with its 'white cloud' (Revelation 14:14), sometimes torn with 'lightnings and thunderings,' and darkened by 'great hail,' or cheered with 'a rainbow like unto an emerald' (Revelation 4:3; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:21). Over the high tops of Icaria, Samos, and Naxos rise the mountains of Asia Minor; amongst which would lie, to the north, the circle of the Seven Churches to which his addresses were to be sent. Around him stood the mountains and islands of the Archipelago (Revelation 6:14; Revelation 16:20). When he looked round, above or below, 'the sea' would always occupy the foremost place... the voices of heaven were like the sound of the waves beating on the shore, as 'the sound of many waters' (Revelation 14:2; Revelation 19:6); the millstone was 'cast into the sea' (Revelation 18:21); the sea was to 'give up the dead which were in it' (Revelation 20:13)" (Stanley, "Sermons in the East").
For the word of God (διὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ)
For is because of: on account of. The expression is commonly explained with reference to John's banishment as a martyr for Christian truth. Some, however, especially those who desire to overthrow John's authorship of the book, explain that he was in Patmos for the sake of preaching the word there, or in order to receive a communication of the word of God. Apart, however, from the general tone of John's address, which implies a season of persecution, the phrase for the word of God occurs in two passages where the meaning cannot be doubtful; Revelation 6:9, and Revelation 20:4.
See on John 1:7.
Of Jesus Christ
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
I was (ἐγενόμην)
See on Revelation 1:9.
In the Spirit (ἐν πνεύμην)
The phrase I was in the Spirit occurs only here and Revelation 4:2 : in the Spirit, in Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10. The phrase denotes a state of trance or spiritual ecstasy. Compare Acts 10:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 2 Corinthians 12:4. "Connection with surrounding objects through the senses is suspended, and a connection with the invisible world takes place" (Ebrard). "A divine release from the ordinary ways of men" (Plato, "Phaedrus," 265).
"You ask, 'How can we know the infinite?' I answer, not by reason. It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The infinite, therefore, cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the infinite by a faculty superior to reason; by entering into a state in which you are your finite self no longer; in which the divine essence is communicated to you. This is ecstacy. It is the liberation of your mind from its finite consciousness.... But this sublime condition is not of permanent duration. It is only now and then that we can enjoy this elevation (mercifully made possible for us) above the limits of the body and the world.... All that tends to purify and elevate the mind will assist you in this attainment, and facilitate the approach and the recurrence of these happy intervals. There are then different roads by which this end may be reached. The love of beauty which exalts the poet; that devotion to the One, and that ascent of science which makes the ambition of the philosopher; and that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection. These are the great highways conducting to heights above the actual and the particular, where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite who shines out as from the deeps of the soul" (Letter of Plotinus, about A D. 260).
Richard of St. Victor (died 1173) lays down six stages of contemplation: two in the province of the imagination, two in the province of reason, and two in the province of intelligence. The third heaven is open only to the eye of intelligence - that eye whose vision is clarified by divine grace and a holy life. In the highest degrees of contemplation penitence avails more than science; sighs obtain what is impossible to reason. Some good men have been ever unable to attain the highest stage; few are fully winged with all the six pinions of contemplation. In the ecstasy he describes, there is supposed to be a dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit as by the sword of the Spirit of God. The body sleeps, and the soul and all the visible world is shut away. The spirit is joined to the Lord, and, one with Him, transcends itself and all the limitations of human thought.
Sufism is the mystical asceticism of Mohammedanism. The ecstasy of a Sufi saint is thus described:
"My tongue clave fever-dry, my blood ran fire,
My nights were sleepless with consuming lore,
Till night and day sped past - as flies a lance
Grazing a buckler's rim; a hundred faiths
Seemed there as one; a hundred thousand years
No longer than a moment. In that hour
All past eternity and all to come
Was gathered up in one stupendous Now, -
Let understanding marvel as it may.
Where men see clouds, on the ninth heaven Igaze,
And see the throne of God. All heaven and hell
Are bare to me and all men's destinies,
The heavens and earth, they vanish at my glance:
The dead rise at my look. I tear the veil
From all the world, and in the hall of heaven
I set me central, radiant as the Sun."
Vaughan, "Hours with the Mystics," ii., 19
Beatrice says to Dante:
"We from the greatest body
Have issued to the heaven that is pure light;
Light intellectual replete with love,
Love of true good replete with ecstasy,
Ecstasy that transcendeth every sweetness."
"I perceived myself
To be uplifted over my own power,
And I with vision new rekindled me,
Such that no light whatever is so pure
But that mine eyes were fortified against it."
"Paradiso," xxx., 38-60.
Again, just before the consummate beatific vision, Dante says:
"And I, who to the end of all desires
Was now approaching, even as Iought
The ardor of desire within me ended.
Bernard was beckoning unto me, and smiling,
That I should upward look; but Ialready
Was of my own accord such as he wished;
Because my sight, becoming purified,
Was entering more and more into the ray
Of the High Light which of itself is true.
From that time forward what I saw was greater
Than our discourse, that to such vision yields,
And yields the memory unto such excess."
"Paradiso," xxxiii., 46-57.
On the Lord's day (ἐν κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ)
The phrase occurs only here in the New Testament. The first day of the week, the festival of the Lord's resurrection. Not, as some, the day of judgment, which in the New Testament is expressed by ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ Κυρίου the day of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:2); or ἡμέρα Κυρίου the day of the Lord, the article being omitted (2 Peter 3:10); or ἡμέρα Χριστοῦ the day of Christ (Philippians 2:16). The usual New Testament expression for the first day of the week is ἡ μία τῶν σαββάτων (Luke 24:1; see on Acts 20:7).
The unexpected, overpowering entrance of the divine voice. Compare Ezekiel 3:12.
Of a trumpet (σάλπιγγος)
Properly, a war trumpet.
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.
I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last
Thou seest (βλέπεις)
See on John 1:29.
The aorist imperative, denoting instantaneous action. Write at once, promptly.
In a book (εἰς βιβλίον)
See on Revelation 1:4.
Which are in Asia
Five out of the seven cities here named appear in a passage in Tacitus' "Annals" (iv., 55), in which is described a contention among eleven of the cities of proconsular Asia for the privilege of erecting a statue and a temple to Tiberius. Laodicea is passed over as unequal in wealth and dignity to the task. Philadelphia and Thyatira do not appear. Pergamum is rejected as having already a temple to Augustus. Ephesus (with Miletus) has sufficient employment for its state in the ceremonies of its own deity, Diana. Thus the dispute was confined to Sardis and Smyrna; and Smyrna was preferred on the ground of its friendly offices to the Roman people.
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
To see the voice
The voice is put for the speaker.
That spake (ἥτις)
The compound relative has a qualitative force: of what sort.
With me (μετ' ἐμοῦ)
The preposition implies conversation and not mere address.
See on Matthew 5:15. We are at once reminded of the seven-branched candlestick of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31; Hebrews 9:2; compare Zechariah 4:2). Here there is not one candlestick with seven branches, but seven candlesticks, representing the Christian Church. The Jewish Church was one, as being the Church of a single people. The Christian Church, though essentially one, is a Church composed of many peoples. It is no longer outwardly one or in one place. According to the literal meaning of the word, lampstand, the several lampstands are bearers of the light (Matthew 5:14, Matthew 5:16), "holding forth the word of life" (Philippians 2:15, Philippians 2:16).
The epithet golden, so common in Revelation, indicates the preciousness of all that pertains to the Church of God. Trench observes that throughout the ancient East there was a sense of sacredness attached to this metal, which still, to a great extent, survives. Thus, golden in the Zend Avesta is throughout synonymous with heavenly or divine. Even so late as the time of David gold was not used as a standard of value, but merely as a very precious article of commerce, and was weighed. In the Scriptures it is the symbol of great value, duration, incorruptibility, strength (Isaiah 13:12; Lamentations 4:2; 2 Timothy 2:20; Job 36:19). It is used metaphorically of Christian character (Revelation 3:18). In the Earthly Paradise, Dante describes trees like gold.
"A little farther on, seven trees of gold
In semblance the long space still intervening
Between ourselves and them did counterfeit."
"Purgatorio," xxix., 43-45
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.
The Son of Man
A garment down to the foot (ποδήρη)
Compare Daniel 10:5. From πούς, the foot, and ἄρω, to fasten: hence that which connects head and foot. The word is properly an adjective, reaching to the foot, with χίτων garment, understood. Xenophon speaks of the heavy-armed soldiers of the Persians as bearing wooden shields reaching to their feet (ποδήρεσι ξυλίναις ἀσπίσιν) "Anabasis," i., 8, 9). The word occurs only here in the New Testament, but several times in the Septuagint; as Ezekiel 9:2, Ezekiel 9:3, Ezekiel 9:11, where the A.V. gives merely linen; Exodus 28:4, A.V., robe; of the High-Priest's garment, Leviticus 16:4; of Aaron's holy linen coat.
The long robe is the garment of dignity and honor. It may be either royal, or priestly, or both. Compare Isaiah 6:1.
Girt about the paps (περιεζωσμένον πρὸς τοῖς μαστοῖς)
Rev., more correctly, "girt about at (πρὸς) the breasts." Compare Revelation 15:6. The ordinary girding was at the loins. According to Josephus, the Levitical priests were girded about the breast.
A golden girdle
The girdle is an Old Testament symbol of power, righteousness, truth (Isaiah 22:21; Job 12:18; Isaiah 11:5). Compare Ephesians 6:14, where the girdle of the Christian panoply is truth, which binds together the whole array of graces as the girdle does the upper and lower parts of the armor. The girdle suits equally Christ's kingly and priestly office. The girdle of the High-Priest was not golden, but only inwrought with gold. See Exodus 28:8 : "curious girdle:" Rev., "cunningly woven band." So Exodus 29:5.
His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
Wool - snow
Flame of fire
Compare Daniel 10:6. Fire, in Scripture, is the expression of divine anger. The figure may include the thought of the clear and penetrating insight of the Son of Man; but it also expresses His indignation at the sin which His divine insight detects. Compare Revelation 19:11, Revelation 19:12. So Homer, of Agamemnon in a rage: "His eyes were like shining fire" ("Iliad," i., 104); also of Athene, when she appears to Achilles: "Her eyes appeared dreadful to him" ("Iliad," i., 200).
And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
Fine brass (χαλκολιβάνῳ)
Rev., burnished brass. Only here and Revelation 2:18. Compare Daniel 10: Ezekiel 1:7. The meaning of the word is uncertain. Some explain electrum, an alloy of gold and silver: others, brass of Lebanon (Αίβανος) others, brass of the color of frankincense (λίβανος): others again, that it is an hybrid compound of the Greek χαλκός brass, and the Hebrew laban to make white. Dean Plumptre observes: "Such technical words were likely enough to be current in a population like that of Ephesus, consisting largely of workers in metal, some of whom were no doubt Jews" ("Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia").
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.
A sharp, two-edged sword (ῥομφαία δίστομος ὀξεῖα)
The (Greek order is a sword, two-edged, sharp. For the peculiar word for sword see on Luke 2:35. Two-edged is, literally, two-mouthed. See on edge, Luke 21:24. Homer speaks of poles for sea-fighting, "clad on the tip (στόμα, mouth) with brass."
See on John 1:5.
In his strength
With the full power of the eastern sun at noonday.
This picture of the Son of Man suggests some remarks on the general character of such symbols in Revelation. It may be at once said that they are not of a character which tolerates the sharper definitions of pictorial art. They must be held in the mind, not as clearly-cut symbols which translate themselves into appeals to the eye and which have their exact correspondences in visible facts, but rather in their totality, and with a dominant sense of their inner correspondences with moral and spiritual ideas. To translate them into picture is inevitably to run at some point into a grotesqueness which impairs and degrades their solemnity. This is shown in Albrecht Drer's sixteen wood-cuts illustrative of Revelation. Professor Milligan goes too far in saying that these are only grotesque. One must be always impressed with Drer's strong individuality, "lurking" as Lord Lindsay remarks, below a mind "like a lake, stirred by every breath of wind which descends on it through the circumjacent valleys;" with the fertility of his invention, the plenitude of his thought, his simplicity and fearlessness. But his very truthfulness to nature is his enemy in his dealing with such themes as the Apocalyptic visions; investing them as it does with a realism which is foreign to their spirit and intent. Take, for example, "the four riders" (Revelation 6). The power is at once felt of the onward movement of the three horsemen with bow, sword, and balances; the intense, inexorable purpose with which they drive on over the prostrste forms at their feet; but the fourth rider, Death on the pale horse, followed by Hell, portrayed as the wide-opened jaws of a rnonster into which a crowned head is sinking, degenerates into a ghastly caricature of the most offensive German type - a harlequin, far surpassing in hideousness the traditional skeleton with seythe and hour-glass.
Similarly, the angel with his feet like pillars of fire, the one upon the sea and the other upon the earth. If we are solemnly impressed by the awful face of the angel breaking forth from the sun, the solemnity degenerates into something akin to amusement, at the feet like solid columns, ending in flame at the knees, and at the Evangelist "who kneels on a promontory with the corner of the great book presented by the angel in his mouth, apparently in danger of choking."
In short, such symbols as the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes; the four living creatures, each with six wings, and full of eyes before and behind; the beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on the horns ten diadems, - do not lend themselves to the pencil. An illustration of the sadly grotesque effect of such an attempt may be seen in Mr. Elliott's "Horae Apocalypticae," where is a picture of the locust of chapter 9, with a gold crown on the head, hair like women's, a breastplate of iron, and a tail like a scorpion's.
Archbishop Trench very aptly draws the comparison between the modes in which the Greek and the Hebrew mind respectively dealt with symbolism. With the Greek, the aesthetic element is dominant, so that the first necessity of the symbol is that it shall satisfy the sense of beauty, form, and proportion. With the Hebrew, the first necessity is "that the symbol should set forth truly and fully the religious idea of which it is intended to be the vehicle. How it would appear when it clothed itself in an outward form and shape; whether it would find favor and allowance at the bar of taste, was quite a secondary consideration; may be confidently affirmed not to have been a consideration at all."
The imagery of Revelation is Hebrew and not Greek. It is doubtful if there is any symbol taken from heathenism, so that the symbols of Revelation are to be read from the Jewish and not from the Heathen stand-point.
But to say that these symbols jar upon the aesthetic sense is not to detract from their value as symbols, nor to decry them as violations of the fitness of things. It may be fairly asked if, with all their apparent incongruity, and even monstrousness, they may not, after all, be true to a higher canon of congruity. Certain it is that the great visible divine economy, both of nature and of man, distinctly includes the grotesque, the monstrous, the ridiculous (or what we style such). We recognize the fact in the phrase "freaks of Nature." But are they freaks? Are they incongruous? Until we shall have grasped in mind the whole kosmos, it will not be safe for us to answer that question too positively. The apparent incongruity, viewed from a higher plane, may merge into beautiful congruity. Tested by a more subtle sense; brought into connection and relation with the whole region of mental and spiritual phenomena; regarded as a factor of that larger realm which embraces ideas and spiritual verities along with external phenomena; the outwardly grotesque may resolve itself into the spiritually beautiful; the superficial incongruity into essential and profound harmony.
This possibility emerges into fact in certain utterances of our Lord, notably in His parables. Long since, the absurdity has been recognized of attempting to make a parable "go on all fours;" in other words, to insist on a hard and literal correspondence between the minutest details of the symbol and the thing symbolized. Sound exposition has advanced to a broader, freer, yet deeper and more spiritual treatment of these utterances, grasping below mere correspondences of detail to that deeper, "fundamental harmony and parallelism between the two grand spheres of cosmic being - that of Nature and that of Spirit; between the three kingdoms of Nature, History, and Revelation. The selection of symbols and parables in Scripture, therefore, is not arbitrary, but is based on an insight into the essence of things" (Milligan).
Thus then, in this picture of the Son of Man, the attempt to portray to the eye the girded figure, with snow-white hair, flaming eyes, and a sword proceeding out of His mouth, - with feet like shining brass, and holding seven stars in His hand, would result as satisfactorily as the attempt to picture the mysterious combination of eyes and wheels and wings in Ezekiel's vision. If, on the other hand, we frankly admit the impossibility of this, and relegate this symbolism to a higher region, as a delineation (imperfect through the imperfection of human speech and the inevitable power of the sensuous) of deep-lying spiritual facts, priestly and royal dignity, purity, divine insight, divine indignation at sin; if we thus bring the deeper suggestions of outward humanity and nature into relation with their true correspondents in the spiritual realm - we gain something more and deeper than a pictorial appeal to the imagination. We grasp what we cannot formulate; nevertheless we grasp it. Dropping the outward correspondence, we are the freer to penetrate to the depths of the symbolism, and reach an inner correspondence no less real and no less apprehensible.
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:
Compare Exodus 23:20; Ezekiel 1:28; Daniel 8:17 sqq.; Daniel 10:7 sqq.; Luke 5:8; Revelation 19:10. The condition of the seer, in the Spirit, does not supersede existence in the body. Compare Acts 9:3-5.
The first and the last
This epithet is three times ascribed to Jehovah by Isaiah (Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12); three times in this book (here, Revelation 2:8; Revelation 22:13). Richard of St. Victor comments thus: "I am the first and the last. First through creation, last through retribution. First, because before me a God was not formed; last, because after me there shall not be another. First, because all things are from me; last, because all things are to me; from me the beginning, to me the end. First, because I am the cause of origin; last, because I am the judge and the end" (cited by Trench).
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 (καὶ ὁ ζῶν)
And l was dead (καὶ ἐγενόμην νεκρὸς)
Strictly, I became. So Rev., in margin. Compare Philippians 2:8, "became obedient unto death."
See on Revelation 1:6.
The keys of Hell and Death
Rev., correctly, of Death and of Hades. Conceived as a prison-house or a walled city. See on Matthew 16:18. The keys are the symbol of authority. See Matthew 16:19; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 20:1. The Rabbinical proverb said: "There are four keys lodged in God's hand, which He committeth neither to angel nor to seraph: the key of the rain, the key of food, the key of the tombs, and the key of a barren woman."
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
See on Revelation 1:11. Add therefore.
The things which are (ἅ εἰσιν)
Some render, what they are; i.e., what they signify; but the reference of μετὰ ταῦτα after these, hereafter to ἅ εἰσιν which are, seems to be decisive in favor of the former rendering, which besides is the more natural.
Shall be (μέλλει γίνεσθαι)
Not the future of the verb to be, but are about (μέλλει) to come to pass (γίνεσθαι). Compare Revelation 1:1, "must come to pass." Here the thought is not the prophetic necessity, but the sequence of events.
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.
See on Matthew 13:11. Depending in construction upon the verb write, and in apposition with the things which thou sawest.
The exact meaning of the term here is uncertain. The following are the principal interpretations:
1. The officials known as angels or messengers of the synagogue, transferred to the Christian Church. These were mere clerks or readers; so that their position does not answer to that of the angels presiding over the churches. There is, besides, no trace of the transfer of that office to the Christian Church.
2. Angels proper Heavenly guardians of the churches. This is urged on the ground that the word is constantly used in Revelation of a heavenly being; by reference to the angels of the little ones (Matthew 18:10), and to Peter's angel (Acts 12:15). It is urged that, if an individual may have a guardian angel, so may a Church. Reference is also made to the tutelar national angels of Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1.
But why should the seer be instructed to write to heavenly messengers, with exhortations to repentance and fidelity, and describing them as "rich," "poor," "lukewarm," etc. (Revelation 2:4; Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:16)?
3. The angels are a personification of the churches themselves: the Church being spoken of as if concentrated in its angel or messenger. But in Revelation 1:20, they are explicitly distinguished from the golden candlesticks, the churches.
4. The rulers ard teachers of the congregation. These are compared by Daniel (Daniel 12:3) to stars. See Malachi 2:7, where the priest is called the messenger (angel) of the Lord; and Malachi 3:1, where the same word is used of the prophet. See also Haggai 1:13. Under this interpretation two views are possible. (a) The angels are Bishops; the word ἄγγελος sometimes occurring in that sense (as in Jerome and Socrates). This raises the question of the existence of episcopacy towards the close of the first century. (b) The word is used of the ministry collectively; the whole board of officers, including both presbyters and deacons, who represented and were responsible for the moral condition of the churches. See Acts 20:17, Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5.
Dr. Schaff says: "This phraseology of the Apocalypse already looks towards the idea of episcopacy in its primitive form, that is, to a monarchical concentration of governmental form in one person, bearing a patriarchal relation to the congregation, and responsible in an eminent sense for the spiritual condition of the whole.... But even in this case we must insist on an important distinction between the 'angels' of the Book of Revelation and the later diocesan Bishops. For aside from the very limited extent of their charges, as compared with the large territory of most Greek, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Bishops, these angels stood below the Apostles and their legates, and were not yet invested with the great power (particularly the right to confirm and ordain) which fell to the later Bishops after the death of the Apostles.... The angels, accordingly, if we are to understand by them single individuals, must be considered as forming the transition from the presbyters of the apostolic age to the Bishops of the second century" ("History of the Apostolic Church").