Revelation 1

Every Christian of spiritual intelligence must have felt more or less fully the peculiar character of the book on the study of which we now enter. It is a “revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him.” It is evident that the Lord Jesus is viewed here, not in His place of intimacy as the only begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, but in one of comparative distance. It is His revelation, but, moreover, the revelation which God gave Him. Somewhat similar is the remarkable expression which has perplexed so many in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 13:32), “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man: no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” He is the servant Son of God all through that Gospel; and it is the perfection of a servant not to know what his lord does — to know, if we may so say, only what he is told. Here Christ receives a revelation from God; for, however exalted, it is the position He took as man which comes out conspicuously in the Revelation. And what makes this the more striking is that, of all the inspired writers of the New Testament, none dwells with such fulness upon His supreme and divine glory as John in his Gospel. In the Revelation, on the other hand, it is the same John who brings out with the greatest detail His human glory, but without hiding that He is God.

In keeping with this, the Revelation is “to show his servants things which must shortly come to pass.” How very different is the tone of John 15:15 “Henceforth I call you not servants;” and also of John 16 speaking of the Spirit, “He shall glorify me, for He shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I that He shall take of mine and shall show it unto you.” So we see through the Gospel from first to last, that the design of the Spirit is to give the disciples the title and consciousness of their sonship with and through Jesus, the Son of God in the highest sense. Thus in John 1:11, 12, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God.” And again, after His death and resurrection, the Lord says, John 20, “Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God.” Of course they were servants also, and there is not a shade of incongruity. Still the difference of the relationships is immense, and the Revelation clearly is addressed to the lower of these relations. The reason, I presume, is, partly because God is therein making known a certain course of earthly events with which the lower position is most in harmony (the higher one of sons being more suitable to communion with the Father and with His Son); and partly because God seems here to prepare the way for dealing with His people in the latter day, when their position as His servants will be more or less manifested, but not the enjoyment of nearness as sons — I allude to the interval after the removal of the church.

The next words greatly confirm this; for the Lord.” sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.” That is, the prophetic communication is made, not directly, but through the intervention of an angel; and John is no longer spoken of as “the disciple whom Jesus loved, which also leaned upon his breast at supper,” but as “his servant,” “who testified the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever things he saw.”‘ It has to be remarked here, that the last If and” ought to disappear, which makes no small difference in the sense. For whatever things he saw” must not be regarded as a third and additional division, but rather as explaining or limiting the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. The visions of John compose “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” here intended. How many have slighted them! Let them learn how they are characterised by the Lord here, and tremble lest their blind depreciation come into collision with His sentence. It is the word of God who gives the revelation; it is the testimony of Jesus (not to but of Jesus) who testified the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever things he saw. (Compare Rev. 22:8.)

Very different indeed is the revelation of God here, and the testimony which Jesus bears in this book, from what we find in John’s Gospel. The Word of God there is the Lord Jesus Himself, who in the beginning was with God and was God; the full and personal expression of God, and that not merely as the Creator of all things, but in perfect grace. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory (the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.” In the Revelation, on the contrary, even when He is spoken of as the Word of God, it is as the expression of divine judgment, because the whole book is eminently judicial. “He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and his name is called the Word of God.” (Rev. 19:13.) So too in the Gospel the testimony that Jesus Christ renders is to the Father, as it is throughout the Father’s joy to bear witness of the Son. Indeed the Son Himself, towards the close of His ministry, sums up the pith and character of the testimony there in these few words: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” (John 14:9.)

All this makes the distinctive features of the Revelation to stand out in broader contrast. For throughout the book the very name of the Father occurs but rarely, and even where it does, the object is in no way the revelation of His love as Father to His family. In Rev. 1:1, Rev. 3:21, and Rev. 14:2, He is spoken of as such in relation to Jesus only, The grand subject is God manifested in His judgments, as well as the beneficent power of His kingdom here below at the appearing of the Lord Jesus, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Even when the churches are in question, it is even about them to another, not to themselves directly.

“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy and keep the things therein written: for the time is at hand.” What a serious mistake in the face of such words as these for Christians to think that this book or any part of it is unprofitable, and that it may be safely set aside either as too difficult to understand, or, if understood, as having no practical bearing upon the soul! It is remarkable indeed with what special care the Lord has commended it, not only here at the commencement but at the close, where we read, “These sayings are faithful and true; and the Lord God of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to show his servants the things which must shortly come to pass. Behold, I come quickly; blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book.” It would seem that the Lord’s prescient eye anticipated in such warnings the neglect with which the Apocalypse would be treated by His servants, and that He was thus solemnly guarding them against it by commending the book emphatically to their study and use. It is a little remarkable, by the way, that a somewhat similar admonition occurs in the close of 1 Thessalonians, which was the first of Paul’s epistles, and the one which above all others develops the grand truth of the coming of the Lord. In Rev. 1:3 the Lord takes pains to encourage every possible class of people who might come in contact with the book. Not only the individual who reads is pronounced blessed, but those who hear its words and keep (or observe) what is written therein. And certain I all! that the Lord does not fail to encourage His saints who count on His assured faithfulness and blessing. He has never turned aside from using it for good, and especially in times of danger, spite of all contempt or perversion.

The objection to the study of prophecy arises from a root of unbelief, sometimes deeply hidden, which supposes all blessing to depend on the measure in which a subject bears immediately on one’s self or one’s circumstances. Thus when some cry out, That is not essential, I would ask, Essential to what? If they mean essential to salvation, we agree. But then on what a ground do such objectors stand! The anxiety to examine only what they deem indispensable to salvation shows that they have no consciousness of salvation themselves, and that this need of their souls is the only thing they are alive to. Now all hold that not prophecy but the gospel should be put before the unconverted. The coming of Christ in glory, which is the centre of unfulfilled prophecy, ought to be terror to their hearts, instead of a mere question for interesting discussion. To the believer indeed His coming is “that blessed hope.” We wait for the Son of God from heaven, and we await Him not only without anxiety but with joy, because we know Him to be “Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come.” But for any man, who has not, peace by faith in Him dead and risen, to occupy his mind either with this, the church’s hope, or with the events of which prophecy treats, is but a diversion of which the enemy can make fearful use, if it be not a proof of litter deadness of conscience as to his own condition before God, — though I am far from saying, that God may not make use of that truth to arouse it. On the other hand prophecy is essential to our due appreciation of Christ’s glory and of the glory that is to be revealed. To slight prophecy therefore is to despise unwittingly that glory and the grace which has made it known to us. It is the plainest evidence of the selfishness of our hearts, which wants every word of God to be directly about ourselves.

God takes for granted that His children love to hear whatever will exalt the Lord Jesus. The result too is striking and serious: where Christ is the object of our hearts, all is peace; where our own happiness is the first thought, there is wont to be disappointment and uncertainty.

Another form in which this egotism works, and must be watched against, even among those who do hear the words of this prophecy, is the assumption that its visions are about the church — that the seals, trumpets, and vials, for instance, are of chief value and interest, because they concern ourselves (i.e., the church) either in the past or in the future. But this is a fundamental mistake, as we may gather from the very words of the verse before us. The divine ground alleged for the importance of taking heed to this book lies not in the time being come or our being in the circumstances described, but in their being near; “for the time is at hand.” How far it contemplates those on Christian or church ground, when we see a wholly different state come in before this age closes, then in the millennium and finally in eternity, is a question for investigation as we proceed in the study of the book. But even from the opening it seems clearly as unfounded to assume from our possession of the book that we must be in the predicted circumstances, as to reason from God’s confidential announcement to Abraham, that he necessarily in his own person was concerned in the doomed cities of the plain. The principle is erroneous, overlooks the grace in which the Christian stands, and ignores the fact that there are to be in the latter day servants of God in a different position from ours, and more immediately mixed up with its horrors, though warned and saved, as just Lot was in time to escape the worst. If nevertheless the book in the apostle’s days could profit saints of God who were not personally concerned in the judgments, equally at least may it avail for us. The Lord grant that we may increasingly value the place in which He has set us, peacefully “knowing these things before.”

Ver. 1-6. “John to the seven churches which are in Asia.”9 Even the three verses already looked at give us a certain measure of insight into the peculiar features of this book, which are obviously distinct from the other parts of the New Testament. God reverts a great deal to the principles on which He had acted in Old Testament times. One can see that the positive edification of the church is not the subject, nor the unfolding of God’s special dealings in mercy. We have here to do with His judgment of evil, whether in the churches or in the world. In perfect harmony with this, God introduces Himself to His people by a style and title that differs from the rest of the apostolic addresses. “Grace to you and peace from him that is, and that was, and that is to come.” It is generally what answers in the New Testament to Jehovah in the Old. There is this peculiarity, that He is here revealed as first He that is in His absolute ever-present being, then He that was, and He that is to come. The “I am” takes precedence, but He was before, and is the coming One. God of old revealed Himself to Israel as the unchangeable One, “the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” But now He speaks in the language of the Gentiles, and by these words — “Him that is, and that was, and that is to come,” translates as it were that name of Jehovah, never before so communicated to them. He is going to return to His ancient people Israel; but before He does so, there must necessarily be a sweeping judgment upon the professing mass that calls itself by the name of the church. Thus, when God has set Christendom aside, He will bring in Israel again — no longer on the ground of law but of grace. The law executed death on sinful man, but the grace of God substituted the person of the Son of God, as in Heb. 2:9 it is written, “that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” But God, in the death of the Lord Jesus, also gave a stronger expression of His hatred of sin than in any other dealing. So in witness of, and as an answer to, His death does grace now flow out to the very worst. In that day Israel will know this for themselves; but they will know better what Jehovah means. And of what mighty import it will prove to them that His personal name in the government of this world is the precious token given to them nationally the title of relationship in which they have Him revealed as their God! This book then is the transition from a morally judged Christendom to “that day.”

Again, the style in which the Holy Ghost is here introduced is as strikingly characteristic of the book as what we have just traced; and so too is the way in which the Lord Jesus Himself is spoken of after that. “Grace be to you and peace . . . . from the seven Spirits who are before his throne.” Of course, the same Holy Ghost, known as the “One Spirit” in the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, is here mentioned as “the seven Spirits which are before his throne.” He is spoken of as the “One Spirit,” where it is a question of the one body, the church, as in Eph. 4:4. But here it is the “seven Spirits;” because, when God shall have finished His present work in the church, He will infallibly exit off the faithless (Jewish or Gentile), and will no longer gather Jews and Gentiles into one body on the earth. On the contrary, in the millennial kingdom on earth, Israel is to be put above the Gentiles. (Compare Isaiah 2:2-4, 11, 12, 24, 35, 49, 54, 55, 59, 65, and the prophets generally.) It will be a different state of things altogether; and the Holy Ghost therefore is regarded in His various fulness of operations (as He is in connection with Messiah in Isaiah 11), and not in His heavenly unity. It is added, “who are before his throne,” because the main subject of this book is the government of God; first providentially and preparatorily in the seals trumpets and vials; next personally at our Lord’s appearing till the kingdom be given up and God be all in all.

In general, when we have “grace be to you and peace,” it is from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” But in this place the order is as different as the style: first it is “from him that is, and that was, and that is to come,” i.e., from Jehovah; then “from the seven Spirits,” etc.; and lastly “from Jesus Christ.” I think this departure from the usual order is because Jesus is here spoken of, not so much as related to the believer nor in His divine glory as Son of God, but in special reference to the earth and His rightful claims over the world.

The Lord is first viewed as “the faithful witness.” All other witnesses Lad more or less failed. He alone had been the faithful witness of God and for God on the earth. But this was at all cost to Himself. But though put to death, it was the defeat of this world’s prince, not of Christ; and hence in resurrection He stands “the first-begotten of the dead.” He is the first who entered into resurrection-life in this wondrous may which defied corruption to touch it. “Being raised from the dead, he dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.” But much more than this is conveyed. He is the heir and chief of the new estate, according to divine righteousness and counsels, of man beyond death and the grave, Lord not only of the living but of the dead, and this proved and displayed in the power of His resurrection. This He is, as faithful witness He was. So moreover He will prove to be at His coming in glory “the Prince of the kings of the earth,” when it is a question of the government of the world. All these things are connected with what He was, is, and will be, as man. It is Jesus viewed in His earthly connections, or at least without speaking of what He is in heaven. His intermediate relation to the church (as its Head, and as the “great High-priest”) disappears, as not falling in with the design of the divine government here.

But mark the beauty of what follows. The moment Jesus is presented to the churches, and announced as “the faithful witness, the first-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth,” the answer of joy and praise can be withheld no longer. The saints interrupt, if one may so say, the message of John, and break forth into a song of thanksgiving — “To him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us a kingdom 10 — priests to his God and Father.” He satisfies the affections by His love, He has cleared the conscience by His blood, and has put us in such glorious relationships as He stands in Himself to God and the Father. Yet even here it is not the distinctively Christian relationship. It is not sonship known by the Spirit of His Son in our hearts, nor is it our membership of Christ’s body. It is blessed to have access as priests, glorious to reign with Him; but in both we share with the Apocalyptic sufferers at the end of the age. (See Rev. 5:10, and especially Rev. 20:4.) What is common will be true for all; but this does not hinder distinction of privilege.

There is a little alteration that should be made on excellent authority in this verse, which greatly adds to its sweetness and force. In the correct text it is “To him that loveth us,” not “that loved us.” It is quite true that “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” Eph. 5 shows us this; — equally true, that He “loved me and gave himself for me,” as in Gal. 2. But the first of Revelation shows us the present love of Jesus. It is not that He is always washing us from our sins: He washed us with His own blood once for all, and does not require so to wash us again. There is however the practical cleansing day by day — the washing of water by the word; but this is not what is spoken of here, but in His blood, a finished work, and one that lasts all through to His praise. But how blessed it is to know, while listening to the very book which most unfolds the ways and means by which God is about to put aside unfaithful Christendom, and to judge the evil of the world, that in presence of all this we can look up in the full confidence of His present abiding love, and say — “To him that loveth us, and washed11 us from our sins in his blood . . . to him be the glory and the might unto the ages of the ages. Amen.”

After the salutation, “Grace be to you and peace,” etc., we had an interruption. It was the voice of the heavenly saints breaking forth into a strain of praise. Now we have (verse 7) those solemn but blessed words, “Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye see him, and those who pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so (or “Yea”), Amen.” This is not a part of the song, but a testimony quite distinct from it. And we often find these two things: that which forms the communion of a saint of God, and then that which is or should be his testimony.

The communion with each other is a great element of Christian happiness. Now it is the presentation of Christ and the knowledge of Him and of our portion in Him which produces the sense of fellowship and calls out worship. Besides this, the believer is acquainted by God with what is coming upon the world. And this is a part of our testimony, but not the theme with which the heart should be most filled. With a person who merely dwells on prophecy you may find interesting and grave topics, but not much fellowship of heart. For, however true may be his judgment of passing events, however sound his expectation of the future, grace in Christ alone leads to communion. It would be quite wrong to despise prophecy, and he who does will be sure to fall into some snare or other. But if the Christian is always occupied with the details of prophecy, there never will be power for heavenly worship; nor does it necessarily deliver a man from the ways of the world. A person may have impressions correct enough about the Jews, the judgments on Babylon and the beast, etc., who may not yet walk in separation from the world. But when the heart is set upon Christ, and these predicted things come in as a sort of background then they all find their level. The Holy Spirit leads us into all the truth, glorifying Christ, and also showing us “things to come.”

So in 2 Peter 1:19 it is said, speaking of the word of prophecy, “whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.” It is important that I should see what is coming and that I should not indulge myself in an easy path here below. To know that the Lord is coming to judge the habitable world ought never to be a comfort to those who are swimming with its current. But there is something else that may well be the delight of the soul — day-dawning and the day-star arising in the heart. Peter does not here speak of the day arriving for the world, but affirms that the word of prophecy is an admirable lamp until you get heavenly light, and the day-star arises in your heart. It is the heart awakening to better hopes than Israel’s, and of Christ Himself coming for us as its own proper portion. How many still as then, and naturally most of all among Jewish Christians, do not rise above a hope, formed by Old Testament prophecy, which is true and important, but not the heavenly hope given to us? This is never presented in scripture as a bare prophetic event. Christ waited for and known as One who may come at any time to gather us together to Himself — such is the form taken by our blessed hope. It is the apostle Paul who, while fully presenting the appearing and the kingdom, specially brings out the hope of the church. John too looks at Christ as the Bridegroom, at what He is for the heart, after he has closed the general testimony of the Revelation to His judicial dealings and government.

When the Lord comes to receive us, He is not said to come “with the clouds.” When He ascended, a cloud received Him. Even so will it be with us: we shall be caught up together in clouds to meet Him. But here He is manifested for judgment of the world, and especially of the Jews. “Behold, he cometh with the clouds.” This is a revelation known and testified by the heavenly saints, who cannot but love His appearing as that which will break the yoke of evil for the world, and secure God’s glory and blessing to all creation here below; but it is not their own peculiar joy in communion. “Even so, Amen.”

In Colossians the association of the saints with Christ is very fully brought out in Colossians 2, 3. He is my life, and I am identified with Him. Thus, inasmuch as Christ my Saviour is dead to the world, with Him I also have died to the world. Hence not only is my treasure there, but the very religion of the world is judged, because Christ was cast out by the world’s religion. And when He our life shall be manifested, then shall we too be manifested with Him in glory. So here, when He comes with the clouds, every eye shall see Him. But this will not be the case when He comes to gather His own to Himself on high. (2 Thess. 2: l.) God is gathering the friends of Christ round the name of Christ now. The church is a body that is called while Christ is not seen, and the Christian, having his portion in Him now, is hidden with Him. “Your life is hid with Christ, in God.” Next we are caught up to meet Him. After that (how lone, after we may seek to learn) God brings us with Him at His revelation from heaven. Not now chosen witnesses, but “every eye” shall see Him then, and especially the Jews, characterized as having pierced Him (compare Zech. 12:10 with John 19:37), and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him. The words will equally bear the sense of “the land;” in which case the clause would take in not the Jews only but the whole δωδεκάφυλον or twelve-tribed nationality of Israel. Let the reader judge which best suits the context, as well as the enumeration of the verse. It is certainly not the twelve tribes in those who pierced Him, but of Israel distinguished from the more direct guilt of Judah, unless it be still wider.

In this verse then it is not the Lord coming to meet His own and gather them to Himself in the air; but “every eye shall see him . . . . . and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” When the Lord comes to translate the church, it will be far otherwise. God has joined us even now by the Spirit to Christ in heaven, according to all the efficacy of His death and resurrection. As far as the spirit is concerned this is true nosy, and it will be true of the body itself when Christ comes. The resurrection of Christ calls me to live thoroughly to God, as the death of Christ makes me as truly dead in principle to the world as if I were already buried. In practice, alas! we have to own sad falling short. Still, says the apostle, “your life is hid,” etc. It is the life of Christ you have received. As long as Christ is hidden, you are hidden also. But the time is at hand when this will no longer be the case. “When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” When Christ comes to receive the church, no eye will see Him but those for whom Christ comes. When the world sees Christ, it will be when He comes in glory, bringing His saints with Him — revealed from heaven with the angels of His power, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God (the Gentiles), and on them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Jews). If the world were to see Christ coming alone in glory before the church is caught up to Him, the inseparable association of which the apostle Paul made so much to the Colossians, would cease to be true. But scripture cannot be broken. The world can never see Christ, coming to receive the saints, because then they must have seen Him without them and before them; whereas the same moment of His appearing is to be the epoch of our appearing with Him. He will come for us; and we subsequently come along with Him. And this does not merely rest on a word here and there: it is the doctrine of the whole passage. The same truth is shown and confirmed by other proofs throughout the New Testament.

With Christ, by His death we are dead to the world; united to Him risen we are risen, and are therefore to have our hearts set upon heavenly things before we see them. And more than that: Christ, is not always to be hidden. He is about to be manifested; and when He is, we too shall be manifested along with Him. It is plain that Christ and the church must have been together before they are manifested to the world, if they are to appear together. In Rev. 19:11 we have this taught beyond all doubt. “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True. . . . . And the armies that are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clad in fine linen, white, pure.” The horse is an emblem of aggressive power; the white horse, of this power prospering or victorious. Here it is the Lord Jesus coming in judgment, substantially the same time when He comes with the clouds. These armies that were seen in the prophetic vision following Him out of heaven, clad in fine linen, are not angels. The text says that the fine linen ( βύσσινον) is the righteousnesses of saints. Now it is to be remarked that, although angels are described in Revelation 15 as being “clad in pure bright linen,” a different word ( λίνον) is used. Thus the heavenly saints are those described in Revelation 19 as the armies of heaven, etc. They were in heaven therefore before the way was opened for Christ to come out in judgment; they had been caught up to meet Him before; and now they follow Him from heaven when He comes. I doubt not that angels are in His train also, as appears from other texts; but they do not seem spoken of here.

There are thus two important and different stages of the Lord’s second coming. First of all He will come to receive His people to Himself, and the church ought always to be waiting for this. In the next place He will come to judge the world, when He has already taken up the heavenly saints, and wickedness rises to its head apace. Then suddenly the heavens will open, and the Lord Jesus Christ will come and the church with Him, appearing together in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Is it asked how? Israel was not told how they were to be delivered out of Egypt. Jehovah was going to deliver them; but He did not explain the method before it came to pass. And the Lord is going to take the church to heaven by His coming. Besides this, He will judge the wickedness of the world; but then the church will come along with Him from heaven.

Verse 8. Here, it seems to me, that we have God as such, though as always not to the exclusion of Christ,12 uttering the titles of His various but divine glory, as a sort of seal of the foregoing and an introductory basis for what follows: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, He that is, and that was, and that is to come, the Almighty.” The first (the ἄλφα and the ) is evidently a name most suited to the book which so admirably closes the written communications of God. He is the God of Israel, the ever subsisting Eternal, who had sustained the fathers, and thus attests the truth, not of the solemn warning alone just given, but of all here revealed to the end of time. Assuredly all His names here announced, it would be wholesome for the saints to remember, whether for us before the trial, or for those who shall be called on to pass through it. It is to be observed however that the special revelation to the Christian is precisely what is omitted here. He does not call Himself our Father in this prophecy. This, and the reason for it, readers have too often forgotten. Our hope and prophecy differ, as heaven does from the earth.

Verse 9 is not quite correctly given in the ordinary text. “I John, your brother and companion in tribulation.” The word “also” is left out in the best copies. And what follows should be read thus: “your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Christ [Jesus].” The trouble, reign and patience all go together. He purposely speaks of himself, not as a member of the body of Christ, but as their brother and companion in tribulation (perhaps because, after the church is taken away, there will still be saints on earth and our brethren, John puts himself along with them. The Holy Ghost loves us, whatever specialities of privilege may come in, as much as possible to take our place along with the saints of God at all times. The book of Revelation was written for the church, just when it was drifting into a state of ruin. In Rev. 6 we have some of these companions in tribulation; but what they say proves that they do not belong to the church. “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood . . . . . We find a proper Christian appeal to God in the case of Stephen — “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” The Christian is always called to suffer in the world. These Apocalyptic saints will understand that the Lord is about to judge, and they will ask Him to do so. It would be wrong now to ask this, for it is the day of grace still. Faith habitually takes its language from what God is doing, and He is dealing in race and not in judgment now. We are called to retire from the way of the world, and to attach our hearts simply to all that is glorious and heavenly, for this is the present object of Christ. The white robes given to these sufferers in Revelation 6 are an evident mark of God’s approbation. They were to rest till their brethren who should be killed as they were should be fulfilled. Judgment must then take its course.

“In the tribulation and kingdom and patience.” It will be the kingdom of Christ, in power when the tribulation and patience are all over. But now the circumstances of that kingdom involve tribulation. The kingdom of heaven as presented in the prophecy of Daniel is no mystery. It means the reign of heaven on (or over) the earth. But Christ, instead of getting His rightful place as Messiah when He came, was rejected, and went up to heaven; and thus it is that the mysteries of the kingdom come in while He is there unseen, save to faith. Hence it is that there “lust now be suffering and endurance in the kingdom is it actually is for the Christian. When Christ appears in glory, all this will be at an end. Then will come the kingdom and power. (See Rev. 12) It is the kingdom and patience in Christ now. That word “patience,” or endurance, is to be weighed well. We have communion with Jesus in this patient expectation; we wait for what He waits. A man that is born anew now is not in the kingdom and power, but in the kingdom and patience in Christ. Hence suffering here below naturally follows. So here the apostle John was thrown into the isle of Patmos “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus.” It was, I presume, for his faithful work as an apostle in the gospel and in the church, ministering Christ, in both. But he was inspired to speak of it in the tone of this book for reasons already suggested.

Thus the ground on which John addresses the churches is not expressly as an apostle, but as their brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Christ Jesus One remarkable trait which Christianity has brought out is, that God has opened to us another kingdom of an order differing from the earthly or Jewish one — a kingdom in which for the present there is tribulation, as far as our circumstances are concerned, and patient hope the corresponding and distinguishing grace; for Christ’s love has made us kings, and we shall reign with Him.

But the church has slipped out of its place of suffering and endurance; it has sought and taken the place of power in the world — the place that had belonged only to the Jews of right, and to the Gentile empires in divine sovereignty because of Israel’s sins. In the presence of general failure it becomes no one to be high-minded; where there is real separation from evil, may there be humility! Wherever it is a question of ceasing to do evil, there is great need of looking to the Lord, lest one should say, “This is what I have done, and what others have not done.” Say rather it is all the Lord’s grace. But those Christians who desire to stand aloof from the evil around them are in evident danger of giving themselves somewhat of credit for doing something that others are not doing. In the presence of evil that we may have done and left, the effects of which we have still to judge in ourselves, it is not a time to indulge in high thoughts of ourselves.

When God executes His purposes towards the earth, His people will have fellowship with what He is doing, as of old in the land of Egypt, in the wilderness, and in Canaan. But when we look at Christianity, it is not a question of earthly purposes, but of Jesus crucified through weakness, and of power put forth to raise Him again from the dead. There will be again a most solemn dealing on God’s part when Christ will judge not only the living but the dead. But for us the fire of God’s wrath has fallen upon Christ; His judgment was borne in grace by His beloved Son. And now God is imprinting on the hearts of His people heavenly glory. He is forming their character by these two great facts which meet in Christ; the one is the cross, and the other is the glory into which He ascended. What God has thus done in Christ is what He wants us to have communion with. As the Israelites had the law engraven on stones, so by the Spirit should Christ be written on our hearts and ways. The life of a creature may be lost, but what the believer has is the life of Christ; and can the life of Christ ever perish? Christ went through death in order that He might give a character of life which death could not touch. When the Lord God made man, He made him out of the dust of the field, but He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and therefore is it that the soul is immortal. Adam had this life direct from the breath of the Lord God. Sin, however, may touch it, and the second death — eternal misery in the lake of fire for soul and body. But that which Christ breathed after He rose from the dead John 20:22) was a life which death never could conquer, nor even assail more, over which nothing had a claim; and such is the life of every believer.

And yet there are those who fancy that the life of a believer may be lost! I can only say that God does not deal with those who so think according to their thoughts of Him. The life is as strong in the Arminian as in the Calvinist, because it is the life of Christ. When a man is conscious that he has gravely failed against God, he is in danger of yielding to the fear that his blessing is gone. But no; you have sinned against that life, and against Him who is the source of it; but the life itself is there still, and cannot be touched; it is eternal. Again, where a person is occupied in looking at the spiritual life within him, he will never have comfort. The proof that he is a Christian is that he has received the testimony of God’s love in Jesus.

Verse 10. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” John does not merely intimate that he had the Spirit as every Christian has, nor that he was filled with the Spirit as the Christian should be, but that he became as completely characterized by His power for the divine purpose of seeing and writing these visions, as he is for evil who is possessed of an unclean spirit. It was on the Lord’s day or first day of the week. For the Lord’s day” is not at all the same thing as the “day of the Lord ( ἡμέρα Κυρίου).” The same expression ( κυριακός) was used with regard to the Lord’s supper, because it was not a common meal, but a holy and divinely instituted memorial of the Lord. So the Lord’s day is not a common day, but one specially set apart, not as a command, but as the expression of the highest privilege, for the worship of the Lord. The sabbath was the last day which Jehovah claimed out of man’s week; the Lord’s day is the first day of God’s week, and in a sense, we may say, of His eternity. The Christian begins with the Lord’s day, that this may as it were give a character to all the days of the week. In spirit the Christian is risen, and every day belongs to the Lord. Therefore is he to bring up the standard of each day that follows in the week to that blessed beginning — the Lord’s day. To bring down the Lord’s day to the level of another day only shows how gladly the heart drinks in anything that takes away somewhat from Christ. The man who only obeys Christ because he must do so has not the spirit of obedience at all. We are sanctified not only to the blood of sprinkling, but to the obedience of Jesus Christ — to the obedience of sons under grace, not to that of mere servants under law. The lawlessness which despises the Lord’s day is hateful; but that is no reason why Christians should destroy its character by confounding the Lord’s day, the new creation-day, with the sabbath of nature or of the law.

On that day then, specially dear to the Christian, bright visions of glory passed before the prophet’s eye. First, John tells us what he saw on that occasion: this is what we have in the rest of the first chapter (Rev. 1:12-20). It was the vision of the glory of Christ’s person in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. “The things which are” (ver. 19) we have in Revelation 2, 3, which describe the condition of the churches at that time. The third division of the Revelation consists of “the things which shall be after these.” The version “hereafter” is vague, for it might mean thousands of years after. “After these” expresses the sense of the phrase much better. It means what was about to happen immediately after “the things which are” now — i.e. after the church-condition. Those we have from Rev. 4 to the end of the book. The “things which are” continue still (in the most important application of the book). And what next? “What is about to happen after these things,” when the church has ceased to subsist on earth.

Let us look a little at what the apostle saw. First of all, he hears behind him “a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying,13 What thou seest write in a book (or roll), and send to the seven churches: unto Ephesus,” etc. (ver. 11) “And I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And, being turned I saw seven “golden lamp-stands.” These were evidently derived from the light of the tabernacle. Only in this case the lamp-stands were separate, so that the Lord could stand between them. They were golden, as in divine righteousness set here to give light. Such was their responsibility. But another object fixes the attention of the prophet: Christ was in their midst as a judge. In the midst of the seven candlesticks he sees not exactly the Son of man, but “one like [the or a] Son of man.” He is really God, but He is not so presented in the first instance here. From John 5 we may learn the force of this, and why it is in this instance Son of man, and not Son of God. As Son of God He is one who quickens, because He is a divine person; He quickens in communion with the Father. Thus giving life He is called the Son of God; but as Son of man He executes judgment, because God will have Him honoured in the very nature in which man outraged Him. This at once shows us the bearing of what we have in the Revelation. It is as Son of Man on the earth that Christ is here presented; and as such He is about to execute judgment upon the seven churches, as well as by and by upon the world. For thus it is He will inherit all things, though otherwise also.

The “garment down to the foot,” with which He was clothed, indicates not activity of work, but rather dignified priestly judgment. “Gold,” as here in the girdle, is the symbol of divine righteousness; linen is explained to be what is saintly and displayed before men. “His head and his hairs were white as white wool, as snow.” Thus, besides being Son of man, and being seen in the garb and place of priestly discrimination there are the emblems too of divine glory, as appears by comparing this passage with Daniel 7. What is said of the Ancient of days by Daniel is applied to the Son of man by John,14 the Ancient of days being the eternal God. John sees here that the Son of man is Himself the Ancient of days; as indeed Daniel shows Him coming as such (7:22). The same who wrote “The Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and “the Word was made flesh,” beholds now in prophetic vision the combination of humanity with the emblems they appropriated to Deity in the person of the Son of man. The head and hairs being “white as white wool, as snow,” show fulness of divine wisdom. There is no mitre as if He were acting as high priest in gracious intercession; He is judging. Still less do we see the crown or diadem. The time for His reign is not yet come. He is set down on the Father’s throne; not yet on His own.

“His eyes like a flame of fire” set forth the penetration that marked Him in judgment. “His feet like fine brass,15 as if burned in a furnace” — they could not contract any defilement, and are unbending in judicial strength, as dealing with responsible man according to God. “His voice as the voice of many waters” expressed resistless power and majesty outside the control of men (verses 12-15). Such He is personally and relatively.

Official description follows in verse 16. “And he had in his right hand seven stars,” the emblem of the angels, or representative rulers, of the seven churches. “A sharp two-edged sword,” the word of judgment, not morally alone, but to death where needed, and this even against the apostles at the end, went out of His mouth; because in the Lord Jesus Christ to speak the word is at once to strike the blow. “He spake, and it was done.” “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” Supreme authority in government was His as man. Such He was officially. The churches angels were represented as “stars” only, as being of course subordinate to the Lord as instruments of heavenly light. Clearly then we have in the Lord sovereign authority, and universal in its range, as the stars are His administrative lights in the churches, which He maintains by His power. He judges by His word those who have it or refuse it.

When John sees this wonderful vision of the Son of man, he falls at His feet as dead. But the Lord puts His right hand of sustaining power upon His servant who lay trembling, nay as dead, before Him, and says, “Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I became dead, and, behold, I am alive unto the ages of ages.”16 Here is no deprecating the more than homage of His servant, but the re-assuring him whose nature was as it were withered up before Him. He is Jehovah yet man; but if He had not died, we should not have known Him in the blessed character and energy of life that He has proved now — life more abundantly. Who then could say, “Fear not” as He? Christianity presents Christ as having passed through death, and as risen in triumph for God and His people. John is going to hear about judgments, and the wiles, power, and wrath of Satan beyond the previous experience of men; but the knowledge that the right hand of Him who was alive for evermore had been upon him, and the words of His mouth, would give him strength and courage for everything to come. And as this is the spirit in which the book was written, so it should be read.

“Behold, I am alive unto the ages of ages, and have the keys of death and of hades.” The succession of these words in the common text is a mistake. Hades follows death, and does not go before it. (Rev. 6) See also Rev. 20 where we have “death and hades” mentioned several times in their regular order. And so in the best authorities it is here. When the Lord says that He has the keys of death and of hades, He intimates that He is the absolute master of all that might threaten man whether for the body or the soul. Satan’s power in this respect is annulled; Christ has it all.

Accordingly also, in verse 19, there ought on the best authority to be read a little word which adds somewhat to the force and connection. “Write therefore what thou hast seen:” because I am risen from the dead and am alive for evermore, and the sole ruler of death and hades, write therefore. He who bade John write (verses 11, 19) was the Son of man, with the characteristics of the Ancient of days; but He was also the living victorious Lord, the security against terror and death, the strengthener of His servants in presence of glory. “Write therefore what thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which are about to be after these.” Human nature might well be confounded by the sight; but He who was revealed to John characterised Himself both as God and as the man who had passed through death and destroyed Satan’s title and held the power for His own. And this was to be written, this revelation of Jesus as seen of John, as well as the existing church-state, and the things which should follow (17-19).

Verse 20 explains the mystery of the stars and lamp-stands, as already indicated. It is the connecting link between the vision of Christ and the judgment of the church, or house of God on earth (Rev. 2, 3), as long as its existence there is recognized as the object of His government. After that it is the judgment of the world from God’s throne in heaven, and Jews and Gentiles are variously dealt with, but churches never in that part of the book. All this, and the reasons for it, will appear more distinctly as we proceed.

It is plain, from Revelation 1:4, 11, and from what follows, that seven actually existing churches of provincial Asia were primarily meant. But while it is true that there were special reasons for addressing those particular churches, it does not to my own mind admit of a doubt, that they were selected with the further and larger design of presenting successive pictures of the church in general from the apostolic days to the close of its existence on earth. Hence it is that there were seven golden lamp-stands, seven being the well-known symbol of spiritual completeness. There might have been other churches as well or better known, and one of these seven had been already addressed formally by the great apostle of the Gentiles. But Ephesus is again taken up, and six other churches are associated, so as to make up a mystical and perfect sketch of the more important moral features which then existed, and which at the same time would successively be developed in the after history of the professing body upon the earth.17 Many things which might seem most important in the eyes of men and even of Christians are passed by, for the Lord sees not as man sees.

Another striking feature claims our notice and admiration. It might have seemed impossible to reconcile prophetic light, as to the successive phases the church might assume from the apostolic time as long as it is found here below, with the continual expectation of Christ. But divine wisdom solved the difficulty even here, as the same end is secured in the Gospels and Epistles. The Lord was pleased to address seven contemporaneous and actually existing assemblies; but, in dealing with existing facts, He knew how to select and shape His instruction, so as to suit the states which should follow till He comes. What a comment on the Lord’s answer to Peter’s query, “Lord, what shall this man [John] do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” In this part of the book mere literal time is excluded. It is not future but present, however protracted — “the things which are.”

But it will be found, I think, that He has here given prominence to those features, whether good or bad, which should reappear, and most aptly set forth what He foresaw to be of the deepest moment for him who might have an ear to hear till He comes again. And this extensive application seems to be strongly confirmed by that clause of the threefold division in Revelation 1:19, which bears on these churches. They are characterized as “the things which are.” No doubt they existed then in the time of John; but if they continued to exist, and if seeds that were then sown germinated yet more in after days, and thus imparted a graver significance to the words and warnings of our Lord, that subsisting state of the church on earth would still be fitly designated “the things which are.”

Thus Ephesus is the first great sample of decline through a relaxation or abandonment of first love. But was not this the notorious fact in Christendom generally before the last apostle departed to be with the Lord? If in those days and yet more in the times much followed, there was a similar moral state, what more apt and natural than to treat the moral circumstances so as to convey the general lesson? Again, without questioning that the message to Smyrna fully applied at that time, it is easy to see that the great and repeated persecutions which broke out upon Christians from the heathen are admirably set forth by it. So again the Balaam element would naturally come into neat distinctness, when the world patronised instead of persecuting. Then further Jezebel is an immense advance in evil; and though no doubt there was that which furnished occasion for these references at the time when the Apocalypse was given, can it be denied that the outline was filled up in a most striking way, after the throne of the world established Christianity by its edicts, and when at a later epoch still the professing church formed a guilty union with virtual heathenism and enmity to the truth of God

This glance, rapid as it is, over Revelation 2, 3, will show, on the one hand, why I conceive that the Apocalyptic churches are to be viewed as having a real, if indirect, prophetic bearing upon the subsequent states of the church as they presented themselves to the Lord’s all-searching judgment. On the other hand it is clear, that to have made this bearing so marked as to be apparent from the first — to have given a distinct chronological history, if one may so say — would have falsified the true posture of the church in habitually waiting for the Lord from heaven. For the Lord has nowhere else so spoken to or about the church as to keep it necessarily waiting for ages upon the earth. Of course the Lord knew that it would be so; but He revealed nothing that would interfere with the full enjoyment of the blessed hope of the Lord’s return as an immediate thing. In the parables of the Gospels which set forth His return, while space is left for delay, room is left for His coming, if so it pleased God, in their lifetime whom He then addressed. And so it is here. Thou — in the seven churches the full course of the church on earth is comprised in such varying and at last concurrent phases as it seemed fit to the Lord to notice, He took care to found all on facts then present before His divinely piercing gaze, so as to maintain the balance of truth undisturbed.

Some have taken advantage of this indistinctness to deny that these seven churches have the successive and protracted character which I have alluded to; but the evidence will appear more fully as we look at each church severally. Another consideration which ought to weigh much is, that after these two chapters (Rev. 2, 3) churches are nowhere referred to as existing longer on the earth. In the concluding remarks of the book (Rev. 22:16) the Lord says that he has sent His angel to testify these things in the churches. But throughout the entire course of the visions, and in all that is intimated of the condition of men here below, after Rev. 3 right onward, there is the most unaccountable silence as to the church on earth, if the church be really there; while nothing is more simple, if that state of things be closed. And this quite agrees with Revelation 1:19 The things which are, and the things which shall come to pass after these.” After the churches are done with, and no longer seen as such upon the earth, the directly prophetic portion of the book begins to have its course.

Further it seems that the introduction of a new phase in the succession of the churches does not necessarily imply the disappearance of what had been before it. In a word, after the new condition appears, there may be still the co-existence of older ones, and each may run on in its own sphere. This appears to be distinctly true of the last four, being marked thenceforth by a distinct reference to the Lord’s coming, as may be seen in Thyatira and the churches which follow.

Thus much may be said of the churches as a whole. Responsibility on earth is the question: not the privileges of the church or the saints in Christ, but the obligation of the churches to represent Him, and His estimate of their state. The lightbearers are formally under His scrutiny and judgment. Paul long before (1 Tim.) had shown the church of the living God to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Nowhere else in the world is the truth so inscribed and held up as in that house of God; but even he (2 Tim. 2) lets us see that such a privilege and responsibility would in no way preserve it from ruin; for in this his last epistle he described its condition as that of a great house with vessels not to honour only but to dishonour, from which last the godly man had to purge himself. John here sets before us the solemn fact of (not the church judging, but) the Lord morally judging the churches by His word. Alas! the church pretending to be a judge, and hence becoming a murderous false prophetess, is a part of the evil that is judged in the church at Thyatira, as we shall see in Revelation 2.

Thyatira has another distinctive mark, in that it first has the Lord’s coming, not spiritually or providentially as in the message to Ephesus and Pergamos, but actually, and hence, while these may have passed away, goes down to the end, as do those states which follow — Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, remarkable for being addressed by the Lord in characteristics either in part or wholly different from His appearance in the vision of Rev. 1, the characteristics of which last were uniformly employed in the addresses of the first three churches. And if we cannot but discern Popery in the Jezebel of Thyatira, not without the faithful remnant which in its simplicity refused her abominations and bore up against her bloodiest policy, can we fail to see in Sardis the cold correctness of Protestantism verging toward the world, with whose doom it is threatened; in Philadelphia a testimony feeble but dependent on Christ, cleaving to His word and not denying His name, with “that blessed hope” full in view; and in Laodicea that finally nauseous state of self-complacent indifferentism which is more than ever rising up around us?

9 By Asia is meant not even Asia Minor, but that part of its western coast which constituted the Roman proconsular province. The kingdom of Pergamus had that title given to it, just as part of the Carthaginian territory was called the province of Libya or Africa. Some account for the absence of allusion to Colosse and Hierapolis by the circumstance that they were destroyed by an earthquake soon after St. Paul’s epistle to the former. If Eusebius and Tacitus refer to the same fact (for their dates differ), it seems that Laodicea, though involved in the catastrophe, was rebuilt before the reign of Domitian. But adopting the earlier date of the Roman historian (A.D. 61), how can this consist with the usual reference of the Colossian epistle to A.D. 64? May I also express my surprise that the strange notion of Theodoret, that St. Paul founded the churches of Colosse, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, should be held by any unbiassed person? I am aware of Lardner’s elaborate effort. But Col. 2, if rightly understood, includes the Colossians and Laodiceans among those who had not seen the apostle in the flesh.

10 It is a clear allusion to Exodus 19, and follows the Hebrew idiom in the true reading, not exactly kings and priests here, but “a kingdom, priests.” There is of course this essential difference, that there it was but an offer conditional on Israel’s legal obedience; here grace has given us the position, but the position itself is formulated Jewishly like all else, as the reader may have seen and may see yet more.

11 Another reading λύσαντι, “loosed,” is supported by the three best uncials A C, L few good cursives, the Syriac, some Slav. copies, and early writers. But ου might be easily merged in υ, and the idea of washing seems most in keeping with the style elsewhere. The common reading is supported by B P, the vast majority of the cursives, versions, and citations. Doctrinally the difference of sense is unimportant.

12 At the close of the book (Rev. 22:13) the Lord takes similar titles; for if He were the exalted man and is to come and to judge as such, He was much more, and no designation of the Eternal God could exceed the dignity of His person. But the words of the common text in verse 11 (“I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last and”) are an interpolation there, and mar the symmetry of the context. All the best MSS., versions, etc. reject them, and require “God” in verse 8.

13 It is well known that the words in the common text here, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, and” have no sufficient authority, and were evidently inserted by the mistake of some scribe. Admirable where God inserts them repeatedly in this book, they only mar the connection here when man added them wrongly.

14 The article is wanting in Greek — to indicate the character in which Christ was seen: “a son of man” therefore is too vague and not the sense. If the article Lad been inserted, it would have conveyed the idea of Him as the known person whom John loved and followed on earth, rather than the character in which He appeared now.

15 The word χαλκολβάνῳ seems compounded of χαλκός, Copper, and laban , white — a compound of Greek and Hebrew, which has been conjectured to harmonize with the book. Compare in this chapter ναὶ ἀμήν, ver. 7; also Rev. 9:11; and perhaps elsewhere.

16 The “Amen,” though read by B and most of the cursives, seems due to the copyists making the phrase a doxology, either through unconscious habit, or designedly adding ἀμήν as a correction.

17 Every believer in the inspiration of the Apocalypse of course admits the ever-living application of the moral pictures set forth in Rev. 2, 3, as is true of the Acts in the New Testament, or of the histories in the Old Testament. But the idea that the seven churches represent all churches, or the general state and character in John’s day, appears to be mere confusion. The truth is, that each represents a distinct moral state, in which the professing body, wholly or in part, might he at some given time. In a word, that the local assemblies then exhibited the special features described is true; but they could not all characterise the then existing slate of the church in general, because they set forth different and even opposed moral conditions. If we admit then, as we must, an enlarged application, beyond that to the actual assemblies or to mere individual conduct, the natural reference is to successive phases of spiritual condition, good or bad, in the history of the Christian profession. Perhaps the extreme partisans of the Protestant school of interpretation are not generally aware that their learned leader, Mede, thus expresses himself in his more mature “Short Observations on the Apocalypse” (Works, p. 905): — “If we consider their number being seven, which is a number of revolution of time, and therefore in this book the seals and trumpets and vials also are seven; and if we consider the choice of the Holy Ghost, in that He taketh neither all, no, nor the most famous church in the world, as Antioch, etc., and such no doubt had need of instruction, as well as those here named; — if these things be well considered, may it not seem that these seven churches, besides this literal respect, were intended to be as patterns and types of the several ages of the catholic church à principio ad finem, that so these seven churches should prophetically sample unto us a sevenfold successive temper and condition of the whole visible church, according to the several ages thereof, answering to the pattern of the seven churches here? And if this be granted, viz., that they were intended to be so many patterns of so many states of the church, succeeding in the like order the churches are named, then surely the first church (viz., the Ephesian state) must be first, and the last be the last,” etc.