History Addict's Sunday School Lessons Series

Revelation Part 2: The Revelation of Christ and the Seven Churches of Asia

(Please note: In addition to my original lesson plans here are some of the notes, annotations and references I used to create the lesson from a variety of sources, all listed at the bottom of the page)

(New American Standard Bible, 1995):


Rev. 1:1  The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John,

Rev. 1:2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Rev. 1:3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

Rev. 1:4 ¶ John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,

Rev. 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood‹

Rev. 1:6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father‹to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Rev. 1:7 BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.

Rev. 1:8 ¶ "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."

Rev. 1:9 ¶ I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Rev. 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet,

Rev. 1:11 saying, "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."

Rev. 1:12 ¶ Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands;

Rev. 1:13 and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash.

Rev. 1:14 His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire.

Rev. 1:15 His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.

Rev. 1:16 In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

Rev. 1:17 ¶ When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last,

Rev. 1:18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

Rev. 1:19 "Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.

Rev. 1:20 "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.




Novum Testamentum Graece (New Testament in Greek)


Nestle-Aland, 27th Edition, prepared by Institut für neutestamentliche Testforschung Münster/Westfalen, Barbara and Kurt Aland (Editors). Copyright © 1898 and 1993 by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart.

Used by permission.


Morphological tagging by William D. Mounce and Rex A. Koivisto

Copyright © 2003 William D. Mounce.

Copyright © 2006 OakTree Software, Inc.

All rights reserved.


Version 3.3


(You must have the Helena font installed in order to see the Greek text rendered correctly; it can be obtained here)


Rev. 1:1 ¼ Apoka¿luyiß Ihsouv Cristouv h§n e¶dwken aujtw–× oJ qeo\ß deiˆxai toiˆß dou/loiß aujtouv a± deiˆ gene÷sqai e™n ta¿cei, kai« e™sh/manen aÓpostei÷laß dia» touv aÓgge÷lou aujtouv tw–× dou/lw– aujtouv Iwa¿nnhØ,

Rev. 1:2 o§ß e™martu/rhsen to\n lo/gon touv qeouv kai« th\n marturi÷an Ihsouv Cristouv o¢sa ei€den.

Rev. 1:3 Maka¿rioß oJ aÓnaginw¿skwn kai« oiš aÓkou/onteß tou\ß lo/gouß thvß profhtei÷aß kai« throuvnteß ta» e™n aujthØv gegramme÷na, oJ ga»r kairo\ß e™ggu/ß.


Rev. 1:4 ¼ Iwa¿nnhß taiˆß ešpta» e™kklhsi÷aiß taiˆß e™n thØv Asi÷a–: ca¿riß uJmiˆn kai« ei™rh/nh aÓpo\ oJ w·n kai« oJ hn kai« oJ e™rco/menoß kai« aÓpo\ tw×n ešpta» pneuma¿twn a± e™nw¿pion touv qro/nou aujtouv

Rev. 1:5 kai« aÓpo\ Ihsouv Cristouv, oJ ma¿rtuß, oJ pisto/ß, oJ prwto/tokoß tw×n nekrw×n kai« oJ aýrcwn tw×n basile÷wn thvß ghvß. Tw–× aÓgapw×nti hJma×ß kai« lu/santi hJma×ß e™k tw×n aJmartiw×n hJmw×n e™n tw–× aiºmati aujtouv,

Rev. 1:6 kai« e™poi÷hsen hJma×ß basilei÷an, išereiˆß tw–× qew–× kai« patri« aujtouv, aujtw–× hJ do/xa kai« to\ kra¿toß ei™ß tou\ß ai™w×naß [tw×n ai™w¿nwn]: aÓmh/n.

Rev. 1:7 ¼ Idou\ e¶rcetai meta» tw×n nefelw×n,

              kai« o¡yetai aujto\n pa×ß ojfqalmo\ß kai« oiºtineß aujto\n e™xeke÷nthsan,

              kai« ko/yontai e™p aujto\n pa×sai aiš fulai« thvß ghvß. ¼ nai÷, aÓmh/n.

Rev. 1:8 ¼ Egw¿ ei™mi to\ aýlfa kai« to\ w°, le÷gei ku/rioß oJ qeo/ß, oJ w·n kai« oJ hn kai« oJ e™rco/menoß, oJ pantokra¿twr.


Rev. 1:9 ¼ Egw» Iwa¿nnhß, oJ aÓdelfo\ß uJmw×n kai« sugkoinwno\ß e™n thØv qli÷yei kai« basilei÷a– kai« uJpomonhØv e™n Ihsouv, e™geno/mhn e™n thØv nh/sw– thØv kaloume÷nhØ Pa¿tmw– dia» to\n lo/gon touv qeouv kai« th\n marturi÷an Ihsouv.

Rev. 1:10 e™geno/mhn e™n pneu/mati e™n thØv kuriakhØv hJme÷ra– kai« h¡kousa ojpi÷sw mou fwnh\n mega¿lhn wJß sa¿lpiggoß

Rev. 1:11 legou/shß: o§ ble÷peiß gra¿yon ei™ß bibli÷on kai« pe÷myon taiˆß ešpta» e™kklhsi÷aiß, ei™ß ŽEfeson kai« ei™ß Smu/rnan kai« ei™ß Pe÷rgamon kai« ei™ß Qua¿teira kai« ei™ß Sa¿rdeiß kai« ei™ß Filade÷lfeian kai« ei™ß Laodi÷keian.

Rev. 1:12 ¼       Kai« e™pe÷streya ble÷pein th\n fwnh\n h¢tiß e™la¿lei met e™mouv, kai« e™pistre÷yaß ei€don ešpta» lucni÷aß crusa×ß

Rev. 1:13 kai« e™n me÷sw– tw×n lucniw×n o¢moion uišo\n aÓnqrw¿pou e™ndedume÷non podh/rh kai« periezwsme÷non pro\ß toiˆß mastoiˆß zw¿nhn crusa×n.

Rev. 1:14 hJ de« kefalh\ aujtouv kai« aiš tri÷ceß leukai« wJß e¶rion leuko\n wJß ciw»n kai« oiš ojfqalmoi« aujtouv wJß flo\x puro\ß

Rev. 1:15 kai« oiš po/deß aujtouv o¢moioi calkoliba¿nw– wJß e™n kami÷nw– pepurwme÷nhß kai« hJ fwnh\ aujtouv wJß fwnh\ uJda¿twn pollw×n,

Rev. 1:16 kai« e¶cwn e™n thØv dexia–× ceiri« aujtouv aÓste÷raß ešpta» kai« e™k touv sto/matoß aujtouv rJomfai÷a di÷stomoß ojxeiˆa e™kporeuome÷nh kai« hJ o¡yiß aujtouv wJß oJ h¢lioß fai÷nei e™n thØv duna¿mei aujtouv.

Rev. 1:17 ¼       Kai« o¢te ei€don aujto/n, e¶pesa pro\ß tou\ß po/daß aujtouv wJß nekro/ß, kai« e¶qhken th\n dexia»n aujtouv e™p e™me« le÷gwn: ¼        mh\ fobouv: e™gw¿ ei™mi oJ prw×toß kai« oJ e¶scatoß

Rev. 1:18 kai« oJ zw×n, kai« e™geno/mhn nekro\ß kai« i™dou\ zw×n ei™mi ei™ß tou\ß ai™w×naß tw×n ai™w¿nwn kai« e¶cw ta»ß kleiˆß touv qana¿tou kai« touv a–’dou.

Rev. 1:19 gra¿yon oun a± ei€deß kai« a± ei™si«n kai« a± me÷llei gene÷sqai meta» tauvta.

Rev. 1:20 to\ musth/rion tw×n ešpta» aÓste÷rwn ou§ß ei€deß e™pi« thvß dexia×ß mou kai« ta»ß ešpta» lucni÷aß ta»ß crusa×ß: oiš ešpta» aÓste÷reß aýggeloi tw×n ešpta» e™kklhsiw×n ei™sin kai« aiš lucni÷ai aiš ešpta» ešpta» e™kklhsi÷ai ei™si÷n.

Lesson Outline


The preparation of the prophet


A. The prologue of the book 1:1-8

1. The preface 1:1-3

2. The address and doxology 1:4-6

3. The theme 1:7-8

B. The commission of the prophet 1:9-20

1. The first commission to write 1:9-11

2. The source of the commission 1:12-16

3. The amplification of the commission 1:17-20





McKay's Notes


Verses 1-3 are an introduction and setup for the rest of the book. As Mounce mentions in his commentary, it is "a revelation mediated by Jesus Christ rather than a revelation of Christ himself," or, it is Christ showing John what events are to come rather than anything specific about the returning King Himself. The purpose is to show God as the master of history, to reveal that history is not "a haphazard sequence of unrelated events but a divinely decreed ordering of that which must come to pass." (Mounce 64)


One area many people have with this introduction is that John states, "Šheed the things which are written in it; for the time is near." (kai« throuvnteß ta» e™n aujthØv gegramme÷na: oJ ga»r kairo\ß e™ggu/ß ) (Rev. 1:3b) Since well over 1,900 years have passed since he penned this line, the natural human inclination is to assume that either John got it wrong, he was lying when he wrote this, or that there is some sort special interpretive exegesis needed here. Neither of these is the case. God is omnipotent and omnipresent; He is bound by neither space nor time!


2Pet. 3:8 ¶ But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.


Neither this passage, or any other revelatory passage in all of scripture indicates any sort of timeline based exclusively in human terms of time. The Bible as a whole consistently does just the opposite, encourage and motivate the reader to grow closer to God and understand more fully His ways, not demand that the Lord "spell things out"!


I may get in trouble for this comparison, but it is similar to a wife that is upset at her husband for doing something that displeased her, or not doing something she desired, but not saying so in explicit ways. When the man (finally!) figures out he has messed up somehow, and asks her why, she replies, "if you really loved me, you would know." What she is trying to say is that she expects her husband to love her so much, that he takes the time to learn her ways, her idiosyncrasies, and her subtleties. And so it is with God.


Verses 4-11: This book is intended in general for all Christians, and in specific to the seven named churches of Asia.


By introducing himself simply as "John," with no further identification seemingly necessary, he would have been intimately familiar with all of the churches and their membership. This lends further support to the conclusion that John the Apostle was in fact the author of Revelation.


The greeting is interesting, "Grace to you and peace." "Grace" (ca¿riß , charis) is the customary Hellenistic greeting, while "peace" (ei™rh/nh , eirene)is the Greek version of the customary Hebrew greeting, "shalom" (peace).and is the same greeting found in all the letters of Paul. Grace is the divine gift from God to man, and peace is the natural result of this accepted grace.


Verse 8. "The Alpha and the Omega" refers to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, respectively, and is a indication of not only encompassing the beginning and the end, but everything in between as well.


The "seven churches that are in Asia" refers to the former territory of the city-state of Pergamum, a long-time Roman ally and independent kingdom, that was ceded  to the Romans in 133 BC, after the fall of it's Attalid dynasty.


1.     Ephesus: The influential capital city of Asia Minor on the Aegean Sea. Ephesus is now known for its huge metropolis of ancient streets, arches and ruins.

2.     Smyrna: Located north of Ephesus in a powerful trading position on the Aegean Sea known for its harbors, commerce, and marketplaces. The primary ruins of Smyrna are located in the modern Turkish city of Izmir.

3.     Pergamum: Located on the plains and foothills along the Caicus River in Western Turkey. It was considered a major city in Asia Minor since the 3rd century BC, and became a Greek and Roman hub for temple worship.

4.     Thyatira: Located in western Asia Minor about 42 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. The ancient city was known for its textiles and dyeing trade, and is now known as the Turkish city of Akhisar.

5.     Sardis: Located on the banks of the Pactolus River in western Asia Minor, 60 miles inland from Ephesus and Smyrna.

6.     Philadelphia: Located on the Cogamis River in western Asia Minor, about 80 miles east of Smyrna.

7.     Laodicea.: Located in the Lycus River Valley of western Asia Minor, a primary trade route between the cultures of the West and East. Laodicea was known as a primary hub for the Roman aqueduct system.

At least ten churches had been established in Roman Asia by the time this letter was written, so why did John choose only seven? There are several theories (the types of problems each church was having, the to-be repeated patterns of behaviors, the fact these were all on the same "main drag" roadway, and so on), but the most likely reason was that seven was the oft-resorted to "good, round number," the number seven being a "perfect" sum in Jewish theology.


These are all actual, physical churches, confirmed through archeological research, not just symbolic names or places. They all declined and eventually shut down after the Islamic conquest of the Middle East, but their ruins and remains can still be seen today in modern Turkey.


John listed certain spiritual qualities to each of these churches, which are quite often taken as general warnings over the same behaviors and attitudes to all Christians:


1.     Ephesus - The desirable church that left its first love (Revelation 2:1-7).

2.     Smyrna - The persecuted church that suffered poverty and martyrdom (Revelation 2:8-11).

3.     Pergamum - The worldly church that mixed doctrines and needed to repent (Rev. 2:12-17).

4.     Thyatira - The false church that followed a seductive prophetess (Rev. 2:18-29).

5.     Sardis - The "dead" church that fell asleep (Revelation 3:1-6).

6.     Philadelphia - The church of brotherly love that endures patiently (Revelation 3:7-13).

7.     Laodicea - The "lukewarm" church with a faith that's neither hot nor cold (Rev. 3:14-22).



Verses 9 through 20 talk about the characteristics of the "church age," the era we all now live in, between Calvary and the Resurrection:

  1. It is to be an age of individual Christians witnesses and spreading the Word
  2. It is to be an age of believers who are moved beyond their physical bodies and presence, what John Philips calls "instinctive worship," living day to day in the spirit of God.
  3. It is to be an age of expectant waiting, for the return of the King.



Verse 12-16 Some commentators view Revelation as not a linear storyline by any means, but as a series of seven "acts," sometimes further subdivided into seven "scenes" each. Those who hold this view usually see verse 12 as the opening of the curtain on the first act.


This is the only place in the Bible of Jesus' features, but is usually assumed to be a symbolic description. It is amazingly similar in scope and details to that of the risen Messiah in Daniel 10:5-6.


John describes the feet of Christ in verse 15 as "burnished brass" (or "burnished bronze<' depending on the translation), calkoliba¿nw (chalkolibano), which better translates out to "fine bronze." This word appears no-where else aside from Revelation, and while not a typical or customary Greek word or euphemism, it clearly refers to a very strong, very refined and pure substance.


The "sharp double-edged sword" referred to in verse 16, coming out of Christ's mouth, is a reference to the Word of God, which cuts through from any direction it is given.


Christ is described dressing just like the high priest in the Temple, a vision reinforced by the presence of the seven lampstands, or menorah.




IVP-New Bible Commentary


Revelation 1:1-20: The prologue

         Just as the prologue to the Gospel of John serves as a kind of overture to the book, announcing its chief themes and setting the reader in a position to understand the story of Jesus, so the prologue to Revelation serves a like purpose. It, too, declares its chief themes and provides a vantage point from which the reader may rightly interpret the vision that follows.

            A revelation may relate to an act of uncovering, or an object uncovered; so here the revelation of Jesus Christ may denote the process of the Lord's revealing the issues of history, or the truth that is revealed. The latter will be primarily in mind, without excluding the former. The revelation has been given to Jesus from God, just as in the gospel the Son speaks only what the Father has given him (Jn 3:34; 8:26). The mediation of an angel is in keeping with the visions of prophets and apocalyptists (cf. Ezk. 8; Dn. 10). The announcement of Christ, God and angel as the source of the revelation entails an extraordinary authority for the teaching of the book. The thought is further emphasized in v 2: Revelation is John's witness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, i.e. the message from God and witness borne by Christ.

            The blessing of v 3 is the first of seven contained in the book (see 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). It declares the Œhappiness' of one who reads the Revelation to a congregation and of those who both hear it and take its message to heart. (The Hebrew behind blessed has the sense of ŒOh the happiness of!'.)

            Revelation is addressed to the seven churches in the province of Asia (4). The nature of the book as a letter is underscored by the blessing invoked on the churches (4-5). It is a prayer for grace and peace; the former is the characteristic blessing of the new era, the latter of the old covenant; the two together comprise the salvation of the kingdom of God. The blessing is trinitarian, though, like much in Revelation, it has a complex background. The first element of it reflects the name of God revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:14), but as interpreted by contemporary Jews. The Jerusalem Targum[1] on Dt. 32:29 expanded ŒI am who I am' as ŒI am he who is, and who was, and I am he who will be,' thereby setting forth God as the Lord of all time. Our text modifies that significantly: God is not only Lord of the ages, it is of his nature that he is to come and achieve his purpose. This he does, and will do, through Jesus (the hint of the coming of the Lord at the end of the age is unmistakable). In this context the seven spirits before his throne must denote the Holy Spirit; there is a reminiscence here of Zc. 4:6, 10 (cf. Rev. 5:6) and of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the seven churches and therefore of the whole church (cf. Rev. 2:7 etc.). The description of Jesus in v 5 is peculiarly apt for the believers to whom the book was first directed. Jesus was the supreme witness for God, and he died on account of his witness (cf. Mk. 14:62-63; 1 Tim. 6:13, and note that the Greek term for witness has come into English as Œmartyr'); the firstborn from the dead indicates that by his resurrection Jesus assumed the first place in the kingdom of God (firstborn = heir) and opened it for all humanity; ruler of the kings of the earth points to his supremacy over the hostile rulers of this world, whose opposition cannot prevent the victory of his kingdom.

            The doxology of vs 5-6 reflects a fundamental theme of Revelation, namely the concept of redemption as the second exodus. The first exodus brought about the deliverance of Israel from Egypt's slavery that they might become the covenant people of God at Sinai and the free people of God in the promised land. Their hope was summed up in the belief that the works of Œthe first Redeemer' (Moses) would be repeated by Œthe second Redeemer' (the Messiah). This hope God brought to pass through Jesus by his death and resurrection and will complete it through his future coming. The Redeemer loves us ‹eternally, freed us from our sins ‹once for all, and made us a kingdom and priests, i.e. kings and priests in the service of God, so bringing to fulfilment the calling of Israel at Sinai (see Ex. 19:6 and Rev. 5:10, 22:5). Jesus worshipped, loved, trusted and obeyed his God and Father, as all Christians should. Strikingly, however, God is never spoken of as the Father of believers in Revelation: the relationship of ŒFather' is reserved for Jesus alone, thereby emphasizing his unique relation to God. V 7 has been called the motto of Revelation. The first line of the sentence echoes Dn. 7:13, the rest draws on Zc. 12:10; the same connection is made in Mt. 24:30 (but not in Mk. 14:62). The Zechariah passage speaks specifically of the Œtribes' of Israel mourning (ŒThe land will mourn, each clan by itself'), and of their bitter grief as the mourning for a firstborn son, in consequence of which a fountain is opened to remove all sin and impurity (Zc. 12:10-13:1). That all the peoples (Œtribes') of earth are to mourn because of him is natural, since all are implicated in the death of Christ through their sin. The question whether the mourning of all humankind for their sin against Christ means a repentance acceptable to God, or a remorse that is too late, is uncertain. 15:3-4 suggests that the former interpretation is possible.

            The declaration that God is the Alpha and the Omega (8) is a pictorial way of affirming that God is the sovereign Lord of all ages. Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, Omega is the last; the equivalent in English would be ŒI am A and Z'. Jews were accustomed to use an equivalent mode of speech in their own language. The rabbis, for example, said that Adam transgressed the law Œfrom A to Z', whereas Abraham kept the law Œfrom A to Z'. That suggests that I am the Alpha and the Omega means, ŒI am the beginning of history and the end of history and the Lord of all that lies between.' Such is implied in the Œtranslation' of the following line: the Lord God,... the Almighty maintains his control over the world from the beginning to the end of all times, even when the powers of this world resist his will, and he intends to come and complete his good purpose for it. (Note that the simile of A and Z is applied to Jesus in 22:13.)


1:9-20 The call of John to prophesy

            The vision calls to mind experiences of OT prophets when they received their call to prophesy. It is doubtful, however, that this signifies the beginning of John's prophetic ministry; he had been banished to Patmos because he preached the word of God and the testimony of Jesus! The vision rather was the occasion of his call to receive and write Revelation. His self-description as your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus (9) is significant; that was the common lot of most Christians in the first century AD (cf. Jn. 16:33), and John anticipated an intensification of the suffering and endurance required later (cf. chs. 11-13). Tribulation and kingdom are part of the Messiah's pattern (Lk. 24:26); to be in Jesus, therefore, is to experience both now, with a view to sharing the kingdom's glory in the future. John was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day (10), i.e. in a condition of ecstasy, not by being transported to view events of Œthe day of the Lord', but to receive the vision on Œthe day that belongs to the Lord' (as in the phrase Œthe Lord's Supper'; 1 Cor. 11:20). The expression Œthe Lord's Day' was probably modelled on the comparable Sebaste, i.e. ŒCaesar's Day', which in turn imitated the action of the Egyptian Ptolomy Euergetes, who named the 25th day of each month Œthe king's day' in honour of his coronation on the 25th day of Dios. It is thought that Caesar's day was observed weekly in certain areas. Evidently an unknown Christian claimed the title Œthe Lord's Day' to celebrate the day when Jesus, God's own appointed Lord of this world, rose from death to share the throne of God.

            The list of the seven churches (11) is in the order of their occurrence on the road which led from Ephesus northwards through Smyrna to Pergamum and then southwards through Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea. C. Hemer suggested that this itinerary had existed since Paul's day and agreed with Sir William Ramsay that the seven cities had acquired Œspecial importance as organization and distributive centres for the church of the area' (The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, JSNT Supp., 11 [1986], p. 15). The cities were both postal and administrative centres. It has been reckoned that at the time of John's writing this area had the greatest concentration of Christians in the world. In addressing these churches John could reach not only others in Asia Minor, but those scattered through the world.

            The imagery of the seven golden lampstands (12) recalls the sevenbranched lampstand in the Jerusalem temple (Ex 25:31; Zc. 4:2); but the one people of God is here represented as seven lampstands, in whose midst stands the risen Lord. The whole church, thus, is represented by each congregation, and each knows fellowship with the Redeemer.

            The description of the risen Lord in vs. 13-16 echoes that of Œthe Ancient of Days' in Dn. 7:9 and of the powerful angel in Dn. 10:5-6. The intention is to show that the Lord possesses the glory of heaven and shares the likeness of God. The expression one like a son of man goes directly back to Dn. 7:13 (rather than the gospels), where he is one to whom the kingdom of the world is given, the representative alike of God and his people. That he wears a robe reaching down to his feet could indicate his priestly character (Israel's high priest wore such a robe; Ex 28:4); but since a robe of this kind was also worn by men of high rank, the point may not be pressed. That his head and hair were white like wool is a deliberate reminiscence of Dn. 7:9, where God is so described. The application to Christ of the attributes of God is a constant phenomenon in Revelation. Eyes like blazing fire (cf. Dn. 10:6) penetrate the depths of the heart, and are suitable to one who judges the world. The voice like the sound of rushing waters in Ezk. 43:2 describes the awesome voice of God. That a sharp doubleedged sword issued from his mouth again alludes to the role of the Lord as judge of humankind, the power of whose word is irresistible. It is such a Lord who held in his right hand... seven stars, i.e. the churches; he has power not only to judge evil, but to sustain those who are his (cf. v 20).

            John's reaction to the vision of the exalted Lord is similar to that of all who have had such experiences (cf. Is. 6:5; Ezk 1:28; Dn. 7:28). I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One is a virtual exposition of Alpha and Omega in v 8 (cf. also Is. 44:6; 48:12), but it is applied to the Christ in the light of his death and resurrection. The First and the Last become incarnate and died and rose, and as the Living One he has power over death and the realm of the dead, and so has opened the doors of the eternal kingdom for all humanity.

            The command to write what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later (19) is commonly thought to indicate the divisions of Revelation. On that understanding what you have seen is the vision just given; what is now denotes the letters to the churches in chs. 2-3; what will take place later comprises the visions of chs. 4-22. That is possible, but it does not apply to chs. 4-5, which describe events present, past and future (as also does ch. 12). It is best to see v 19 as a command to write the entire Revelation, rather than as an analysis of the book itself.

            The interpretation of the seven stars as the angels of the seven churches has occasioned difficulty. To understand angels in a literal sense raises the question why John was told to write to angels. In any case, the letters have in view the churches themselves and individual members. Are then the Œangels' the leaders of the churches, such as bishops or messengers (Œangel' means Œmessenger', whether heavenly or earthly)? That is possible, but it is exceptional in apocalyptic literature for angels to symbolize men, and again the letters have in view the churches, not their leaders. The most plausible view is to understand the angels of the churches as the churches in relation to their exalted Lord. Although they live on earth, their existence is determined by the fact that they are in Jesus (9), and so priests and kings with Christ. The angelic nature of the church recalls Christians to realize on earth their heavenly calling. To help them to do that is the purpose of the seven letters.




IVP-New Testament Commentary






Authorship. Many scholars today argue that different authors wrote the Fourth Gospel and Revelation; some do not even entertain the possibility that both were written by the same person. The style of Revelation is undeniably quite different from that of the Fourth Gospel, so some scholars as early as several centuries after their writing denied that they could have been written by the same author.

            But a close examination of the works indicates that much of the vocabulary is the same, though used in different ways; one can account for most of the stylistic variations on the basis of the different genres of the two works: gospel and apocalypse (Revelation's style borrows heavily from Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, etc.). That a single community could produce and embrace both a gospel (even one emphasizing the present experience of future glory) and an apocalypse is not difficult to believe; the Dead Sea Scrolls contain similarly diverse documents. That a single writer could embrace multiple genres is no less possible (compare, e.g., Plutarch's Lives and his Moralia, though their differences in genre and style are less pronounced than those of the Fourth Gospel and Revelation).

            That one writer would use the same vocabulary but write two entirely different kinds of works from different perspectives seems more probable (at least to this modern author who does the same) than that two allied writers would differ in perspectives but share vocabulary. Theological communities and schools (see the introduction to 1 John) usually share perspectives more than vocabulary, whereas authors may adapt their style to the genre in which they write and emphasize perspectives according to the situation they address, while reusing much of the same vocabulary.

            While the arguments against unity of authorship are not decisive, arguments in favor of Johannine authorship of both deserve more attention than they usually receive in modern scholarship. Most of early church tradition attributes both documents to John the apostle; the argument that Revelation was written by him is certainly strong (see comment on 1:1; for the Fourth Gospel's authorship, see the introduction to John).


Date. Some scholars have dated Revelation in the late 60s, shortly after Nero's death, as several emperors in a row quickly met violent deaths (cf. 17:10). In the book of Revelation, however, the emperor's power seems to be stable, and this situation does not fit the 60s. Similarly, the imperial cult in Asia (western Turkey) appears to be gaining in power and directly threatens the readers of the book; this situation fits the period of the 90s better. The church also seems to be entrenched in the major cities of Asia; thus a date in Domitian's reign in the 90s of the first century, reported in early church tradition and still preferred by most scholars, is most likely.


Genre. Revelation mixes elements of Old Testament prophecy with a heavy dose of the apocalyptic genre, a style of writing that grew out of elements of Old Testament prophecy. Although nearly all its images have parallels in the biblical prophets, the images most relevant to late-first-century readers, which were prominent in popular Jewish revelations about the end time, are stressed most heavily. Chapters 2-3 are "oracular letters," a kind of letter occurring especially in the Old Testament (e.g., Jer 29:1-23, 29-32) but also attested on some Greek pottery fragments.

            Although the literary structure of such documents may have been added later, scholars are increasingly recognizing that many Jewish mystics and other ancient mantics[2] believed that they were having visionary or trance experiences. Like the Old Testament prophets he most resembles, John may have experienced real visions and need not use them only as a literary device. (The apocalypses are usually pseudonymous, thus it is difficult to be certain to what extent they reflect religious experience. But other accounts of Jewish mystics seeking to invade heaven in visionary ascents‹see comment on 2 Cor 12:1-4 -and anthropologists' reports on the commonness of ecstatic trance states in a variety of cultures around the world today suggest that many such experiences were genuine. Early Christians generally accepted the reality of pagan inspiration as a phenomenon but attributed it to the demonic realm, while viewing their own inspiration as continuous with that of the Old Testament prophets. They held that there are many spirits in the world, but not all of them are good- 1 Jn 4:1-6.)


Structure. After the introduction (chaps. 1-3), the book is dominated by three series of judgments (seals, trumpets, bowls), probably concurrent (they all culminate in the end of the age), and snapshots of worship in heaven (chaps. 4-16), then oracles against Rome (chaps. 17-18) and prophecies of the end (chaps. 19-22). The judgments may cover the (probably symbolic, but possibly deferred) period of 1,260 days to which the book repeatedly alludes (see especially comment on 12:6 -if symbolic, this period may span history between Christ's first and second comings). The book is in logical rather than chronological sequence; John undoubtedly reports the visions in the sequence in which he has them, but every time he notes "And I saw/heard," he is receiving a new image. The new image, while connected with what preceded, does not always report an event that follows it chronologically.


Interpretations. There are several major categories of interpretation of this book: (1) Revelation predicts in detail the course of human history till the Second Coming, (2) Revelation reflects the general principles of history, (3) Revelation addresses only what was happening in John's day, (4) Revelation addresses only the end time, and (5) combinations of the above approaches (e.g., John addresses the principles of history in view of the ever-impending end time until it arrives, and originally articulated these principles to speak to the situation of his late-first-century readers).

            Many interpreters of John's day (especially interpreters in the Dead Sea Scrolls) reread Old Testament prophecies as symbols describing the interpreters' own generation, and the book of Revelation has similarly been reinterpreted by modern prophecy teachers in every decade of the past century. (For a sober rehearsal of the continual modification of prophecy teachers' predictions with each new series of events in the past century, see Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1977]; for a longer historical perspective in less detail, see Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992], pp. 37-63.)

Some prophecy teachers have interpreted and reinterpreted Revelation according to the whims of changing news headlines. But John's images would have meant something in particular to their first readers, and this commentary therefore investigates that sense, following the same procedure for interpretation that it follows elsewhere in the New Testament. Thus it directly addresses the third category of interpretation mentioned above, although this data can be combined with the second category (as it often is for preaching) and, in a sense that becomes clear in the course of the commentary, the fourth category.


Method of Interpretation. John wrote in Greek and used Old Testament, Jewish and sometimes Greco-Roman figures of speech and images; he explicitly claims that he writes to first-century churches in Asia Minor (1:4, 11), as explicitly as Paul writes to first-century churches. Whatever else his words may indicate, therefore, they must have been intelligible to his first-century readers (see comment on 1:3; 22:10). Ancient readers had no access to modern newspapers, the basis for some popular methods of interpretation; but subsequent generations have been able to examine the Old Testament and first-century history while studying the book. Historical perspective therefore makes the book available to all generations.

            This perspective does not deny Revelation's relevance for readers today; to the contrary, it affirms that its message is relevant to every generation, although it uses the symbolism familiar to the generation of its first readers. (Thus, for example, future opponents of the church might be described through the image of a new Nero, a figure more relevant to the original readers than to modern ones. But Christians oppressed in all times can take both warning‹that such figures exist‹and encouragement‹that his end is prophesied‹from this image, once they understand it.) By shedding light on the original point of the symbols, this commentary provides modern readers better access to the message of the book when they seek to apply it today.


Symbolism. As in the Old Testament prophets, much of John's symbolic language is meant as evocative imagery, to elicit particular responses, rather than as a detailed literal picture of events. Readers steeped in the Old Testament and Jewish apocalyptic literature would have understood this method of interpretation; sometimes older symbols could be reapplied to new situations but were meant to evoke the same sort of response. Sometimes John simply explains what the symbols mean (e.g., 1:20); in other cases the first readers would have understood from other clues in his book or because of cultural information or knowledge of how these symbols were used in antiquity, which he and his readers both understood. John plainly expected his readers to understand his points (1:3; 22:10).


Situation: The Imperial Cult. The line between human and divine had always been thin in Greek religion, and consequently peoples of the Greek East had built temples to Roman emperors from the first emperor on; the first shrines were in Ephesus and Smyrna. In Rome itself the imperial cult was viewed as a symbol of loyalty to the Roman state, and emperors were deified only after they died. But several emperors‹all cursed instead of deified after death‹claimed to be gods while still alive (Gaius Caligula, Nero and Domitian). The emperor at the time Revelation was written was the widely hated Domitian, who demanded worship while he was alive. In the eastern part of the Empire, worshiping the image of the emperor in his temple could be a test of loyalty to the state. Anyone refusing to participate in the worship of the state was considered subversive, and Rome was always brutally paranoid about subversive religions.

            Domitian repressed the aristocracy, expelled astrologers from Rome (lest they predict his demise) and persecuted philosophers and religions that he perceived as hostile to himself. The sources also show that he repressed Judaism and Christianity, although they were not singled out. Evidence on the imperial cult in Asia and outright persecution of Christians in Asia on the provincial level in the early second century (pre-Trajanic repression continuing in Trajan's time) suggest that Domitian's own claims and behavior stimulated the environment in which provincial persecution of Christians in Asia Minor occurred.


Situation: Inevitable Conflict. Jewish people were unofficially exempted from emperor worship, but well-off Asian Jews, repressed by Domitian and embarrassed by the relatively recent revolt of Palestinian Jewry (A.D. 66-70), were paranoid about associations with potentially subversive groups. Many Asian synagogues thus expelled Jewish Christians (2:9; 3:7-9), who would face Roman persecution if their Jewishness were in question.

            The Romans repressed any groups whose prophets denounced Rome, but John stands well in the Old Testament tradition of uttering oracles against oppressive nations and empires, especially those that oppressed God's people. Some other Jewish writers did pronounce judgment against Rome (often with cryptic names like Babylon, Edom or the Kittim), and many still wanted to revolt (this revolutionary fervor materialized in Egypt and Cyrene shortly thereafter); but Revelation is among the most explicit oracles of judgment against Rome's rebellion against God.


Message. Revelation provides an eternal perspective, by emphasizing such themes as the antagonism of the world in rebellion against God toward a church obedient to God's will; the unity of the church's worship with heaven's worship; that victory depends on Christ's finished work, not on human circumstances; that Christians must be ready to face death for Christ's honor; that representatives of every people will ultimately stand before his throne; that the imminent hope of his return is worth more than all this world's goods; and so forth. From the beginning, the Old Testament covenant and promise had implied a hope for the future of God's people. When Israel was confronted with the question of individuals' future, the Old Testament doctrines of justice and hope led them to views like the resurrection (Is 26:19; Dan 12:2). The future hope is further developed and embroidered with the imagery of Revelation.


Commentaries. See especially G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of Saint John the Divine, HNTC (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1966); G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation, NCB, 2nd ed. (1978; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1981); Gerhard Krodel, Revelation (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989). The reader may also find W. G. Morrice, "John the Seer: Narrative Exegesis of the Book of Revelation," Expository Times 97 (November 1985): 43-46, helpful in teaching the book. Many other works are useful for different points, including André Feuillet, The Apocalypse, trans. Thomas E. Crane (Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, 1965); Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977); Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985); Robert W. Wall, Revelation, NIBC (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991); and James Moffatt, "The Revelation of St. John the Divine," in The Expositor's Greek Testament, 5 vols. (reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), 5:281-494. Apart from its eccentric view of Revelation's authorship, J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, AB 38 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1975), is quite useful and has been unduly criticized on account of that one point.



Title and Apocalyptic Introduction


Titles of documents often consisted of a statement like "the book of the words of so-and-so" (Tobit 1:1); John's title resembles that of some Old Testament prophetic books (e.g., Is 1:1; Jer 1:1; Hos 1:1). Titles were normally affixed to the outside of a scroll, although by the mid-second century some people were using the codex, or modern form of book, and titles were put on the inside.

1:1.  Most apocalypses were attributed to meritorious Old Testament characters of the distant past; like Old Testament prophetic books, Revelation is written by a contemporary apostle who does not need such a pen name; he writes to real congregations that know him (1:4, 11). (Other apocalypses did not name specific recipients or use the epistolary form.)

Some revelations in the Old Testament (Dan 7:16; 10:5-21; cf. Ex 3:2; Judg 6:11-23) and many revelations in apocalyptic literature (e.g., 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra) were mediated through angels. Old Testament prophets were called God's "servants," a title John aptly claims for himself at the opening of his book.

1:2.  "Witness" was especially a legal term, although its sense had been widely extended beyond that. Christians were being betrayed to Roman law courts, but in the context of Revelation, "witness" is the Christian proclamation of knowledge about Jesus, providing evidence in the light of the court of God's final judgment (cf. Is 43:8-12; 44:8-9).

1:3.  Most people in antiquity could not read, and there would not at any rate be enough copies of the book (which would have to be copied by hand) for everyone to have his or her own. Thus the blessing is for the one who reads aloud to the congregation (just as there was one reader in a synagogue) and those who hear (just as the rest of the congregation listened to Scripture readings). The "blessing" form was common in the Old Testament and Jewish literature (see comment on Mt 5:1-12), and here implies that the hearers were expected to understand and obey what they heard. (Revelation contains seven such "blessings" and seven curses or "woes," probably all oracular, i.e., prophetic.) Apocalypses commonly predicted the imminent end of the age, or imminent events heralding that end (especially in the roughly contemporary work 4 Ezra).



Epistolary Introduction


Works that were not strictly epistles[3] but were being sent to readers could include epistolary introductions, for example, the historical work 2 Maccabees[4] (1:1-2:32, especially 1:1).

1:4.  "Grace and peace" adapts a standard ancient greeting; see comment on Romans 1:7. On the encyclical nature of the letter (which could not be quickly recopied by hand many times over, and thus was read by the messenger to each church in sequence), see comment on Revelation 1:11.

            The "one who is, was and is to come" is related to an occasional Greek title for an eternal deity, but especially reflects a Greek exposition of the Old Testament name "I AM " (Ex 3:14; the LXX has "he who is"), in the same form in which it was also expanded by the Targum. The "seven spirits" here might refer to the sevenfold messianic Spirit of Isaiah 11:2, but more likely refers to the seven holy archangels recognized by Judaism around the throne (Rev 8:2; see comment on 5:6). (Some Dead Sea Scrolls texts and some second-century Jewish Christians viewed the Holy Spirit as an angel, although most usually recognized the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God; we need not suppose such a confusion here, however. That the sevenfold Spirit imagery of Is 11:2 was current is suggested by 1 Enoch[5] 61:11 [though this section of 1 Enoch, the Similitudes[6], is of uncertain date]; cf. Psalms of Solomon 17:37, but see comment on Rev 5:6.)

1:5.  A "faithful" witness (2:13; 3:14) was a reliable one (Prov 14:5, 25; Is 8:2; Jer 42:5). "Firstborn" and "ruler over the earth's kings" allude to Psalm 89:27. Under Old Testament ritual law, the blood of the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement freed Israel from their sins; the Jewish people had also been freed from Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb.

1:6.  After God redeemed Israel from Egypt he called them "a kingdom of priests" (Ex 19:6), thus indicating that all of them were holy to him. The Targum of this verse renders it "a kingdom and priests," as here (cf. Jubilees 16:18).

1:7.  Like Matthew 24:30, this verse blends Daniel 7:13 (coming with clouds on the day of the Lord; cf. also, e.g., Ezek 30:3) with Zechariah 12:10 (those who pierced him, i.e., God, will mourn for him). "Tribes of earth" extends the image beyond the tribes of Israel (cf. Zech 12:12) to all peoples; citizens of cities in the Greek East were divided into tribes.

1:8.  Some Greco-Roman writers called the supreme deity the "first," but the Old Testament (Is 41:4) and Judaism (e.g., Josephus, Philo, adapting Stoic language) had already called Israel's God the "first and the last." This is the point of calling him by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega. (Some Jewish teachers similarly came to call him the }Aleph and the Tav, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They further called God " truth," Hebrew }emet, spelled }aleph-mem-tav, which they said were the first, middle and last letters of the alphabet, showing that God was eternal and ruled over all time.) Greek-speaking Jews often called God "the omnipotent," or "all-powerful," as here.



The Opening Revelation


1:9.  Governors of various provinces could exercise their own discretion as to whether those charged and found guilty should be banished to an island, executed or enslaved. Those of higher social status automatically received lighter sentences than others, but John was banished as opposed to executed (cf. 2:13) either on account of his age (as sometimes happened) or the clemency of the local governor. Banishments were of two kinds: deportatio (including confiscation of property and removal of civil rights) and relegatio (without such penalties); only the emperor could declare the former, but a provincial governor could declare the latter, as here.

            The most common places of Roman banishment were some rocky Aegean islands called the Cyclades (around Delos) and the Sporades, off the coast of Asia, which included Patmos (forty to fifty miles southwest of Ephesus). Patmos was not deserted; it included a gymnasium and temple of Artemis (the island's patron deity). Because Babylon was the major place of exile in Old Testament tradition (Ezek 1:1), John's own banishment puts him in a position to denounce Rome as the new Babylon (chaps. 17-18; see comment on 14:8).

1:10.  Because the Old Testament and ancient Judaism especially associated the Spirit of God with prophecy, "in the Spirit" here may mean that John was in charismatic worship (1 Chron 25:1-6) or a visionary state (Ezek 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 24). Nevertheless, the revelation here, as in the Old Testament but in contrast to much Jewish apocalyptic literature, is otherwise unsolicited (see comment on Rev 4:2). The "sound like a trumpet" may allude to God's revelation in Exodus 19:16, when the Lord was preparing to give forth his word.

            One day a month was dedicated to the honor of the emperor in Asia Minor, but the Christians dedicated one day‹probably each week‹to Christ's honor, perhaps in view of the coming "day of the Lord." (According to some Jewish schemes for reckoning history, the seventh and final age of history would be an age of sabbath rest [cf. Rev 20 ]; some early Christian interpreters transferred the image to an eighth age, speaking of the Lord's day as the eighth day of the week. But it may be debated how early and how relevant these ideas are to John in Revelation.) Most scholars think that "the Lord's day" refers to Sunday, as the weekday of Jesus' resurrection; the early Jewish Christians may have preferred that day to avoid conflicting with sabbath observance.

1:11.  A messenger delivering John's book would arrive first in Ephesus; the other cities are arranged in the sequence a messenger would follow on foot to reach them. The distance between them generally varies from about thirty to forty-five miles. (Those who suggest that John meant the churches symbolically for different stages of church history have to assume that churches before the final stage could not hope for Christ's imminent return; but John's letters to the churches display too much local color to represent merely church ages, and their precise geographical arrangement suggests that he means them literally.)

1:12.  On the lampstands see comment on 1:20.

1:13-15.  This passage draws on the picture of God in Daniel 7:9 (the white hair symbolizing the dignity accruing to age), features of the mighty angel in Daniel 10:5-6 and the title "one like a son of man" from Daniel 7:13 (where he would come to rule the nations). (The sound of the angel's voice "like a tumult" in Dan 10:6 is adapted by means of the divine imagery of Ezek 1:24; 43:2; later Jewish traditions also spoke of waters in the heavens.) The "robe" and "girdle" may allude to his role as high priest (Ex 28:4). Others could also wear robes and girdles, however; if the image is meant more generally, it may be significant that workmen wore their girdles around their waist while working, so a position around the breast would signify that his work is complete. But given the other biblical allusions here, it is probable that an allusion to the Old Testament high priest is also in view. "Feet of bronze" could allude to the bearers of God's throne (Ezek 1:7) as well as to the angel of Daniel 10:6.

            The cumulative impact of these images is to present the risen Jesus as the greatest conceivable figure, using biblical imagery. Apocalypses employed some of this imagery (angels that looked like lightning, etc.), although John at this point avoids postbiblical elaborations that became common in such works (angels thousands of miles tall, etc.).

1:16.  The mouth of God's spokesperson could be presented as a weapon (Is 49:2) and the Messiah's just decrees of judgment would be the weapon of his mouth (Is 11:4). Some Jewish texts described angels shining as the sun (cf. also the angel's face like lightning in Dan 10:6).

1:17.  Terror was common during visions (Gen 15:12); those who received revelations of God (Ezek 1:28; 11:13) or of angels (Dan 8:18; 10:9, 15) in the Old Testament often fell on their faces, unless the revealer touched and strengthened them (Dan 8:18; 10:10). (The image was continued in many later Jewish texts‹e.g., Tobit, 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra -as well.) God often had to assure his servants not to be afraid (e.g., Deut 3:2; Josh 8:1; Jer 1:8), sometimes when he spoke to them (e.g., Gen 26:24).

1:18.  In the Old Testament (Ps 9:13; 107:18) and Jewish literature, "the gates of Hades" referred to the realm of the dead and thus to the power of death; one who held the keys to these realms thus ruled over them. (Whoever held the keys in a royal house held a position of great authority in that house, as in Is 22:21-22; keys symbolized authority to control whatever they opened, and Jewish texts spoke of God dispensing keys to rain, etc.) Jewish literature said that God had authority over death and the gates of Hades (Wisdom of Solomon 16:13). Christ's power over death, as the one who had risen, would encourage his followers now facing possible death.

1:19.  Prophecy in the Old Testament involved speaking God's message and was not strictly limited to prediction of the future. But the Greek writer Plutarch defined prophecy as predicting the future that is caused by the present and past; the Jewish Sibyl was said to prophesy the things that were before, were present and would come about (Sibylline Oracles 1:3-4). Jewish apocalyptic writers often divided history into ages as a prelude to their prophecies about the future (though often writing under a pseudonym, ostensibly before the history occurred).

1:20.  Jewish texts often portrayed angels as stars (see comment on 12:4). Cosmic imagery was frequent; e.g., Josephus and Philo identified the "seven planets" with certain symbols in the temple, and Palestinian synagogues later sported zodiacs around Helios, the sun god, on their floors (despite Old Testament prohibitions). Pagans believed that Fate controlled the nations through the stars, which were generally deified‹an Eastern view introduced into Greco‹Roman paganism under the guise of the science of the day. Many Jewish people concurred that the nations were ruled by the stars, which they took as angels under God's dominion. But if John uses this symbolism‹and this is unclear‹he is showing only that Christ is Lord over the universe, including Lord over the angels who guide the churches as well as the nations.

            A (usually) seven-branched lampstand, or menorah, was one of the most common symbols for Judaism and synagogues in antiquity; by identifying the churches as lampstands, John claims that the Jesus movement is the true form of Judaism, no matter what many synagogue officials were claiming (2:9; 3:9). Because Revelation portrays heaven as a sanctuary (cf., e.g., comment on 4:6-8; 5:8-10; 7:9-12; 8:3), the lampstands may also allude to the spiritual representation of the churches in heaven (Ex 25:31-40).

            There are four major views on the " angels " of the churches. One is that they are "messengers" bearing the scroll to the churches; although this meaning is possible (1 Macc 1:44), it is unlikely that John would have seven separate copies of the book or would send seven different messengers (see comment on Rev 1:11). A second view is that they are public readers in each congregation, like a corresponding kind of "messenger" in the synagogues. According to second-century teaching, if such a reader slipped in his reading of the biblical text, the whole congregation was held accountable before God because he acted as their agent. Third, they may be the guardian angels of each congregation, analogous to the Jewish view (rooted in Daniel) that not only each person but each nation was assigned a guardian angel, and the angels of the evil nations would be judged together with the nations they led astray. Finally (related to the third view), they may represent heavenly counterparts to earthly realities (the churches), symbolizing the heavenly significance of the churches as the lampstands did; this view would also fit apocalyptic imagery.





Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary




1. Revelation ‹ an apocalypse or unveiling of those things which had been veiled. A manifesto of the kingdom of Christ. The travelling manual of the Church for the Gentile Christian times. Not a detailed history of the future, but a representation of the great epochs and chief powers in developing the kingdom of God in relation to the world. The "Church-historical" view goes counter to the great principle that Scripture interprets itself. Revelation is to teach us to understand the times, not the times to interpret to us the Apocalypse, although it is in the nature of the case that a reflex influence is exerted here and is understood by the prudent [AUBERLEN]. The book is in a series of parallel groups, not in chronological succession. Still there is an organic historical development of the kingdom of God. In this book all the other books of the Bible end and meet: in it is the consummation of all previous prophecy. Daniel foretells as to Christ and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and the last Antichrist. But John's Revelation fills up the intermediate period, and describes the millennium and final state beyond Antichrist. Daniel, as a godly statesman, views the history of God's people in relation to the four world kingdoms. John, as an apostle, views history from the Christian Church aspect. The term Apocalypse is applied to no Old Testament book. Daniel is the nearest approach to it; but what Daniel was told to seal and shut up till the time of the end, John, now that the time is at hand (Revelation 1:3), is directed to reveal. of Jesus Christ ‹ coming from Him. Jesus Christ, not John the writer, is the Author of the Apocalypse. Christ taught many things before His departure; but those which were unsuitable for announcement at that time He brought together into the Apocalypse [BENGEL]. Compare His promise, John 15:15, "All things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you"; also, John 16:13, "The Spirit of truth will show you things to come." The Gospels and Acts are the books, respectively, of His first advent, in the flesh, and in the Spirit; the Epistles are the inspired comment on them. The Apocalypse is the book of His second advent and the events preliminary to it. which God gave unto him ‹ The Father reveals Himself and His will in, and by, His Son. to show ‹ The word recurs in Revelation 22:6: so entirely have the parts of Revelation reference to one another. It is its peculiar excellence that it comprises in a perfect compendium future things, and these widely differing: things close at hand, far off, and between the two; great and little; destroying and saving; repeated from old prophecies and new; long and short, and these interwoven with one another, opposed and mutually agreeing; mutually involving and evolving one another; so that in no book more than in this would the addition, or taking away, of a single word or clause (Revelation 22:18, 19), have the effect of marring the sense of the context and the comparison of passages together [BENGEL]. his servants ‹ not merely to "His servant John," but to all His servants (compare Revelation 22:3). shortly ‹ Greek, "speedily"; literally, "in," or "with speed." Compare "the time is at hand," Revelation 1:3; 22:6, "shortly"; Revelation 22:7, "Behold, I come quickly." Not that the things prophesied were according to man's computation near; but this word "shortly" implies a corrective of our estimate of worldly events and periods. Though a "thousand years" (Revelation 20:1-15) at least are included, the time is declared to be at hand. Luke 18:8, "speedily." The Israelite Church hastened eagerly to the predicted end, which premature eagerness prophecy restrains (compare Daniel 9:1-27). The Gentile Church needs to be reminded of the transitoriness of the world (which it is apt to make its home) and the nearness of Christ's advent. On the one hand Revelation says, "the time is at hand"; on the other, the succession of seals, etc., show that many intermediate events must first elapse. he sent ‹ Jesus Christ sent. by his angel ‹ joined with "sent." The angel does not come forward to "signify" things to John until Revelation 17:1; 19:9, 10. Previous to that John receives information from others. Jesus Christ opens the Revelation, Revelation 1:10, 11; 4:1; in Revelation 6:1 one of the four living creatures acts as his informant; in Revelation 7:13, one of the elders; in Revelation 10:8, 9, the Lord and His angel who stood on the sea and earth. Only at the end (Revelation 17:1) does the one angel stand by Him (compare Daniel 8:16; 9:21; Zechariah 1:19).


2. bare record of ‹ "testified the word of God" in this book. Where we would say "testifies," the ancients in epistolary communications use the past tense. The word of God constitutes his testimony; Revelation 1:3, "the words of this prophecy." the testimony of Jesus ‹ "the Spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10). and of all things that, etc. ‹ The oldest manuscripts omit "and." Translate, "whatsoever things he saw," in apposition with "the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ."


3. he that readeth, and they that hear ‹ namely, the public reader in Church assemblies, and his hearers. In the first instance, he by whom John sent the book from Patmos to the seven churches, read it publicly: a usage most scriptural and profitable. A special blessing attends him who reads or hears the apocalyptic "prophecy" with a view to keeping the things therein (as there is but one article to "they that hear and keep those things," not two classes, but only one is meant: "they who not only hear, but also keep those things," Romans 2:13); even though he find not the key to its interpretation, he finds a stimulus to faith, hope, and patient waiting for Christ. Note: the term "prophecy" has relation to the human medium or prophet inspired, here John: "Revelation" to the Divine Being who reveals His will, here Jesus Christ. God gave the revelation to Jesus: He by His angel revealed it to John, who was to make it known to the Church.


4. John ‹ the apostle. For none but he (supposing the writer an honest man) would thus sign himself nakedly without addition. As sole survivor and representative of the apostles and eye-witnesses of the Lord, he needed no designation save his name, to be recognized by his readers. seven churches ‹ not that there were not more churches in that region, but the number seven is fixed on as representing totality. These seven represent the universal Church of all times and places. See TRENCH'S [Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia ] interesting note, Revelation 1:20, on the number seven. It is the covenant number, the sign of God's covenant relation to mankind, and especially to the Church. Thus, the seventh day, sabbath (Genesis 2:3; Ezekiel 20:12). Circumcision, the sign of the covenant, after seven days (Genesis 17:12). Sacrifices (Numbers 23:1, 14:29; 2 Chronicles 29:21). Compare also God's acts typical of His covenant (Joshua 6:4, 15, 16; 2 Kings 5:10). The feasts ordered by sevens of time (Deuteronomy 15:1; 16:9, 13, 15). It is a combination of three, the divine number (thus the Trinity: the thrice Holy, Isaiah 6:3; the blessing, Numbers 6:24-26), and four the number of the organized world in its extension (thus the four elements, the four seasons, the four winds, the four corners or quarters of the earth, the four living creatures, emblems of redeemed creaturely life, Revelation 4:6; Ezekiel 1:5, 6, with four faces and four wings each; the four beasts and four metals, representing the four world empires, Daniel 2:32, 33; 7:3; the four -sided Gospel designed for all quarters of the world; the sheet tied at four corners, Acts 10:11; the four horns, the sum of the world's forces against the Church, Zechariah 1:18). In the Apocalypse, where God's covenant with His Church comes to its consummation, appropriately the number seven recurs still more frequently than elsewhere in Scripture. Asia ‹ Proconsular, governed by a Roman proconsul: consisting of Phrygia, Mysia, Caria, and Lydia: the kingdom which Attalus III had bequeathed to Rome. Grace . . . peace ‹ Paul's apostolical greeting. In his Pastoral Epistles he inserts "mercy" in addition: so 2 John 1:3. him which is . . . was . . . is to come ‹ a periphrasis for the incommunicable name JEHOVAH, the self-existing One, unchangeable. In Greek the indeclinability of the designation here implies His unchangeableness. Perhaps the reason why "He which is to come" is used, instead of "He that shall be," is because the grand theme of Revelation is the Lord's coming (Revelation 1:7). Still it is THE FATHER as distinguished from "Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:5) who is here meant. But so one are the Father and Son that the designation, "which is to come," more immediately applicable to Christ, is used here of the Father. the seven Spirits which are before his throne ‹ The oldest manuscripts omit "are." before ‹ literally, "in the presence of." The Holy Spirit in His sevenfold (that is, perfect, complete, and universal) energy. Corresponding to "the seven churches." One in His own essence, manifold in His gracious influences. The seven eyes resting on the stone laid by Jehovah (Revelation 5:6). Four is the number of the creature world (compare the fourfold cherubim); seven the number of God's revelation in the world.


5. the faithful witness ‹ of the truth concerning Himself and His mission as Prophet, Priest, and King Saviour. "He was the faithful witness, because all things that He heard of the Father He faithfully made known to His disciples. Also, because He taught the way of God in truth, and cared not for man, nor regarded the persons of men. Also, because the truth which He taught in words He confirmed by miracles. Also, because the testimony to Himself on the part of the Father He denied not even in death. Lastly, because He will give true testimony of the works of good and bad at the day of judgment" [RICHARD OF ST. VICTOR in TRENCH]. The nominative in Greek standing in apposition to the genitive, "Jesus Christ," gives majestic prominence to "the faithful witness." the first-begotten of the dead ‹ (Colossians 1:18). Lazarus rose. to die again. Christ rose to die no more. The image is not as if the grave was the womb of His resurrection-birth [ALFORD]; but as Acts 13:33; Romans 1:4, treat Christ's resurrection as the epoch and event which fulfilled the Scripture, Psalms 2:7, "This day (at the resurrection) have I begotten Thee." It was then that His divine Sonship as the God-man was manifested and openly attested by the Father. So our resurrection and our manifested sonship, or generation, are connected. Hence "regeneration" is used of the resurrection-state at the restitution of all things (Matthew 19:28). the prince ‹ or Ruler. The kingship of the world which the tempter offered to Jesus on condition of doing homage to him, and so shunning the cross, He has obtained by the cross. "The kings of the earth" conspired against the Lord's Anointed (Psalms 2:2): these He shall break in pieces (Psalms 2:9). Those who are wise in time and kiss the Son shall bring their glory unto Him at His manifestation as King of kings, after He has destroyed His foes. Unto him that loved us ‹ The oldest manuscripts read the present, ". . . loveth us." It is His ever-continuing character, He loveth us, and ever shall love us. His love rests evermore on His people. washed us ‹ The two oldest manuscripts read, "freed (loosed as from a bond) us": so ANDREAS and PRIMASIUS. One very old manuscript, Vulgate, and Coptic read as English Version, perhaps drawn from Revelation 7:4. "loosed us in (virtue of) His blood," being the harder reading to understand, is less likely to have come from the transcribers. The reference is thus to Greek, "lutron," the ransom paid for our release (Matthew 20:28). In favor of English Version reading is the usage whereby the priests, before putting on the holy garments and ministering, washed themselves: so spiritually believers, as priests unto God, must first be washed in Christ's blood from every stain before they can serve God aright now, or hereafter minister as dispensers of blessing to the subject nations in the millennial kingdom, or minister before God in heaven.


6. And hath ‹ rather as Greek, "And (He) hath." made us kings ‹ The oldest manuscripts read, "a kingdom." One oldest manuscript reads the dative, "for us." Another reads "us," accusative: so Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, and ANDREAS. This seems preferable, "He made us (to be) a kingdom." So Exodus 19:6, "a kingdom of priests"; 1 Peter 2:9, "a royal priesthood." The saints shall constitute peculiarly a kingdom of God, and shall themselves be kings (Revelation 5:10). They shall share His King-Priest throne in the millennial kingdom. The emphasis thus falls more on the kingdom than on priests: whereas in English Version reading it is equally distributed between both. This book lays prominent stress on the saints' kingdom. They are kings because they are priests: the priesthood is the continuous ground and legitimization of their kingship; they are kings in relation to man, priests in relation to God, serving Him day and night in His temple (Revelation 7:15; 5:10). The priest-kings shall rule, not in an external mechanical manner, but simply in virtue of what they are, by the power of attraction and conviction overcoming the heart [AUBERLEN]. priests ‹ who have pre-eminently the privilege of near access to the king. David's sons were priests (Hebrew ), 2 Samuel 8:18. The distinction of priests and people, nearer and more remote from God, shall cease; all shall have nearest access to Him. All persons and things shall be holy to the Lord. God and his Father ‹ There is but one article to both in the Greek, therefore it means, "Unto Him who is at once God and His Father." glory and dominion ‹ Greek, "the glory and the might." The fuller threefold doxology occurs, Revelation 4:9, 11; fourfold, Revelation 5:13; Jude 1:25; sevenfold, Revelation 7:12; 1 Chronicles 29:11. Doxology occupies the prominent place above, which prayer does below. If we thought of God's glory first (as in the Lord's Prayer), and gave the secondary place to our needs, we should please God and gain our petitions better than we do. for ever and ever ‹ Greek, "unto the ages."


7. with clouds ‹ Greek, "the clouds," namely, of heaven. "A cloud received Him out of their sight" at His ascension (Acts 1:9). His ascension corresponds to the manner of His coming again (Acts 1:11). Clouds are the symbols of wrath to sinners. every eye ‹ His coming shall therefore be a personal, visible appearing. shall see ‹ It is because they do not now see Him, they will not believe. Contrast John 20:29. they also ‹ they in particular; "whosoever." Primarily, at His pre-millennial advent the Jews, who shall "look upon Him whom they have pierced," and mourn in repentance, and say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." Secondarily, and here chiefly, at the general judgment all the ungodly, not only those who actually pierced Him, but those who did so by their sins, shall look with trembling upon Him. John is the only one of the Evangelists who records the piercing of Christ's side. This allusion identifies him as the author of the Apocalypse. The reality of Christ's humanity and His death is proved by His having been pierced; and the water and blood from His side were the antitype to the Levitical waters of cleansing and blood offerings. all kindreds . . . shall wail ‹ all the unconverted at the general judgment; and especially at His pre-millennial advent, the Antichristian confederacy (Zechariah 12:3-6, 9; 14:1-4; Matthew 24:30). Greek, "all the tribes of the land," or "the earth." See the limitation to "all," Revelation 13:8. Even the godly while rejoicing in His love shall feel penitential sorrow at their sins, which shall all be manifested at the general judgment. because of ‹ Greek, "at," or "in regard to Him." Even so, Amen ‹ Gods seal of His own word; to which corresponds the believer's prayer, Revelation 22:20. The "even so" is Greek; "Amen" is Hebrew. To both Gentiles and Jews His promises and threats are unchangeable.


8. Greek, "I am the Alpha and the Omega," The first and last letters of the alphabet. God in Christ comprises all that goes between, as well as the first and last. the beginning and the ending ‹ omitted in the oldest manuscripts, though found in Vulgate and Coptic. Transcribers probably inserted the clause from Revelation 21:6. In Christ, Genesis, the Alpha of the Old Testament, and Revelation, the Omega of the New Testament, meet together: the last book presenting to us man and God reconciled in Paradise, as the first book presented man at the beginning innocent and in God's favor in Paradise. Accomplishing finally what I begin. Always the same; before the dragon, the beast, false prophet, and all foes. An anticipatory consolation to the saints under the coming trials of the Church. the Lord ‹ The oldest manuscripts read "the Lord God." Almighty ‹ Hebrew, "Shaddai," and "Jehovah Sabaoth," that is, "of hosts"; commanding all the hosts or powers in heaven and earth, so able to overcome all His Church's foes. It occurs often in Revelation, but nowhere else in the New Testament save 2 Corinthians 6:18, a quotation from Isaiah.


9. I John ‹ So "I Daniel" (Daniel 7:28; 9:2; 10:2). One of the many features of resemblance between the Old Testament and the New Testament apocalyptic seers. No other Scripture writer uses the phrase. also ‹ as well as being an apostle. The oldest manuscripts omit "also." In his Gospel and Epistles he makes no mention of his name, though describing himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Here, with similar humility, though naming himself, he does not mention his apostleship. companion ‹ Greek, "fellow partaker in the tribulation." Tribulation is the necessary precursor of the kingdom," therefore "the" is prefixed. This must be borne with "patient endurance." The oldest manuscripts omit "in the" before "kingdom." All three are inseparable: the tribulation, kingdom and endurance. patience ‹ Translate, "endurance." "Persevering, enduring continuance" (Acts 14:22); "the queen of the graces (virtues)" [CHRYSOSTOM]. of, etc. ‹ The oldest manuscripts read "IN Jesus," or "Jesus Christ." It is IN Him that believers have the right to the kingdom, and the spiritual strength to enable them to endure patiently for it. was ‹ Greek, "came to be." in . . . Patmos ‹ now Patmo or Palmosa. See Introduction, on this island, and John's exile to it under Domitian, from which he was released under Nerva. Restricted to a small spot on earth, he is permitted to penetrate the wide realms of heaven and its secrets. Thus John drank of Christ's cup, and was baptized with His baptism (Matthew 20:22). for ‹ Greek, "for the sake of," "on account of"; so, "because of the word of God and . . . testimony." Two oldest manuscripts omit the second "for"; thus "the Word of God" and "testimony of Jesus" are the more closely joined. Two oldest manuscripts omit "Christ." The Apocalypse has been always appreciated most by the Church in adversity. Thus the Asiatic Church from the flourishing times of Constantine less estimated it. The African Church being more exposed to the cross always made much of it [BENGEL].


10. I was ‹ Greek, "I came to be"; "I became." in the Spirit ‹ in a state of ecstasy; the outer world being shut out, and the inner and higher life or spirit being taken full possession of by God's Spirit, so that an immediate connection with the invisible world is established. While the prophet "speaks" in the Spirit, the apocalyptic seer is in the Spirit in his whole person. The spirit only (that which connects us with God and the invisible world) is active, or rather recipient, in the apocalyptic state. With Christ this being "in the Spirit" was not the exception, but His continual state. on the Lord's day ‹ Though forcibly detained from Church communion with the brethren in the sanctuary on the Lord's day, the weekly commemoration of the resurrection, John was holding spiritual communion with them. This is the earliest mention of the term, "the Lord's day." But the consecration of the day to worship, almsgiving, and the Lord's Supper, is implied in Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; compare John 20:19-26. The name corresponds to "the Lord's Supper," 1 Corinthians 11:20. IGNATIUS seems to allude to "the Lord's day" [Epistle to the Magnesians, 9], and IRENAEUS [Quaest ad Orthod., 115] (in JUSTIN MARTYR). JUSTIN MARTYR [Apology, 2.98], etc., "On Sunday we all hold our joint meeting; for the first day is that on which God, having removed darkness and chaos, made the world, and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead. On the day before Saturday they crucified Him; and on the day after Saturday, which is Sunday, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught these things." To the Lord's day PLINY doubtless refers [Epistles, Book X., p. 97], "The Christians on a fixed day before dawn meet and sing a hymn to Christ as God," etc. TERTULLIAN [The Chaplet, 3], "On the Lord's day we deem it wrong to fast." MELITO, bishop of Sardis (second century), wrote a book on the Lord's day [EUSEBIUS 4.26]. Also, DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH, in EUSEBIUS [Ecclesiastical History, 4.23,8]. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA [Miscellanies, 5. and 7.12]; ORIGEN [Against Celsus, 8. 22]. The theory that the day of Christ's second coming is meant, is untenable. "The day of the Lord" is different in the Greek from "the Lord's (an adjective) day," which latter in the ancient Church always designates our Sunday, though it is not impossible that the two shall coincide (at least in some parts of the earth), whence a tradition is mentioned in JEROME [Commentary on Matthew, 25], that the Lord's coming was expected especially on the Paschal Lord's day. The visions of the Apocalypse, the seals, trumpets, and vials, etc., are grouped in sevens, and naturally begin on the first day of the seven, the birthday of the Church, whose future they set forth [WORDSWORTH]. great voice ‹ summoning solemn attention; Greek order, "I heard a voice behind me great (loud) as (that) of a trumpet." The trumpet summoned to religious feasts, and accompanies God's revelations of Himself.


11. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last; and ‹ The oldest manuscripts, omit all this clause. write in a book ‹ To this book, having such an origin, and to the other books of Holy Scripture, who is there that gives the weight which their importance demands, preferring them to the many books of the world? [BENGEL]. seven churches ‹ As there were many other churches in Proconsular Asia (for example, Miletus, Magnesia, Tralles), besides the seven specified, doubtless the number seven is fixed upon because of its mystical signification, expressing totality and universality. The words, "which are in Asia" are rejected by the oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, CYPRIAN, Vulgate, and Syriac; Coptic alone supports them of old authorities. These seven are representative churches; and, as a complex whole, ideally complete, embody the chief spiritual characteristics of the Church, whether as faithful or unfaithful, in all ages. The churches selected are not taken at random, but have a many-sided completeness. Thus, on one side we have Smyrna, a Church exposed to persecutions unto death; on the other Sardis, having a high name for spiritual life and yet dead. Again, Laodicea, in its own estimate rich and having need of nothing, with ample talents, yet lukewarm in Christ's cause; on the other hand, Philadelphia, with but a little strength, yet keeping Christ's word and having an open door of usefulness set before it by Christ Himself. Again, Ephesus, intolerant of evil and of false apostles, yet having left its first love; on the other hand, Thyatira, abounding in works, love, service, and faith, yet suffering the false prophetess to seduce many. In another aspect, Ephesus in conflict with false freedom, that is fleshly licentiousness (the Nicolaitanes); so also Pergamos in conflict with Balaam-like tempters to fornication and idol-meats; and on the other side, Philadelphia in conflict with the Jewish synagogue, that is, legal bondage. Finally, Sardis and Laodicea without any active opposition to call forth their spiritual energies; a dangerous position, considering man's natural indolence. In the historic scheme of interpretation, which seems fanciful, Ephesus (meaning "the beloved" or "desired" [STIER]) represents the waning period of the apostolic age. Smyrna ("myrrh"), bitter suffering, yet sweet and costly perfume, the martyr period of the Decian and Diocletian age. Pergamos (a "castle" or "tower"), the Church possessing earthly power and decreasing spirituality from Constantine's time until the seventh century. Thyatira ("unwearied about sacrifices"), the Papal Church in the first half of the Middle Ages; like "Jezebel," keen about its so-called sacrifice of the mass, and slaying the prophets and witnesses of God. Sardis, from the close of the twelfth century to the Reformation. Philadelphia ("brotherly love"), the first century of the Reformation. Laodicea, the Reformed Church after its first zeal had become lukewarm.


12. see the voice ‹ that is, ascertain whence the voice came; to see who was it from whom the voice proceeded. that ‹ Greek, "of what kind it was which." The voice is that of God the Father, as at Christ's baptism and transfiguration, so here in presenting Christ as our High Priest. spake ‹ The oldest manuscripts, versions, and Fathers read, "was speaking." being ‹ "having turned." seven . . . candlesticks ‹ "lamp-stands" [KELLY]. The stand holding the lamp. In Exodus 25:31, 32, the seven are united in ONE candlestick or lamp-stand, that is, six arms and a central shaft; so Zechariah 4:2, 11. Here the seven are separate candlesticks, typifying, as that one, the entire Church, but now no longer as the Jewish Church (represented by the one sevenfold candlestick) restricted to one outward unity and one place; the several churches are mutually independent as to external ceremonies and government (provided all things are done to edification, and schisms or needless separations are avoided), yet one in the unity of the Spirit and the Headship of Christ. The candlestick is not light, but the bearer of light, holding it forth to give light around. The light is the Lord's, not the Church's; from Him she receives it. She is to be a light-bearer to His glory. The candlestick stood in the holy place, the type of the Church on earth, as the holiest place was type of the Church in heaven. The holy place's only light was derived from the candlestick, daylight being excluded; so the Lord God is the Church's only light; hers is the light of grace, not nature. "Golden" symbolizes at once the greatest preciousness and sacredness; so that in the Zend Avesta, "golden" is synonymous with heavenly or divine [TRENCH].


13. His glorified form as man could be recognized by John, who had seen it at the Transfiguration. in the midst ‹ implying Christ's continual presence and ceaseless activity in the midst of His people on earth. In Revelation 4:1-3, when He appears in heaven, His insignia undergo a corresponding change yet even there the rainbow reminds us of His everlasting covenant with them. seven ‹ omitted in two of the oldest manuscripts, but supported by one. Son of man ‹ The form which John had seen enduring the agony of Gethsemane, and the shame and anguish of Calvary, he now sees glorified. His glory (as Son of man, not merely Son of God ) is the result of His humiliation as Son of man. down to the foot ‹ a mark of high rank. The garment and girdle seem to be emblems of His priesthood. Compare Exodus 28:2, 4, 31; Septuagint. Aaron's robe and girdle were "for glory and beauty," and combined the insignia of royalty and priesthood, the characteristics of Christ's antitypical priesthood "after the order of Melchisedec." His being in the midst of the candlesticks (only seen in the temple ), shows that it is as a king-priest He is so attired. This priesthood He has exercised ever since His ascension; and, therefore He here wears its emblems. As Aaron wore these insignia when He came forth from the sanctuary to bless the people (Leviticus 16:4, 23, 24, the chetoneth, or holy linen coat), so when Christ shall come again, He shall appear in the similar attire of "beauty and glory" (Isaiah 4:2, Margin ). The angels are attired somewhat like their Lord (Revelation 15:6). The ordinary girding for one actively engaged, was at the loins; but JOSEPHUS [Antiquities, 3.7.2], expressly tells us that the Levitical priests were girt higher up, about the breasts or paps, appropriate to calm, majestic movement. The girdle bracing the frame together, symbolizes collected powers. Righteousness and faithfulness are Christ's girdle. The high priest's girdle was only interwoven with gold, but Christ's is all of gold; the antitype exceeds the type.


14. ‹ Greek, "But," or "And." like wool ‹ Greek, "like white wool." The color is the point of comparison; signifying purity and glory. (So in Isaiah 1:18). Not age, for hoary hairs are the sign of decay. eyes . . . as . . . flame ‹ all-searching and penetrating like fire: at the same time, also, implying consuming indignation against sin, especially at His coming "in flaming fire, taking vengeance" on all the ungodly, which is confirmed as the meaning here, by Revelation 19:11, 12.


15. fine brass ‹ Greek, "chalcolibanus," derived by some from two Greek words, "brass" and "frankincense"; derived by BOCHART from Greek, "chalcos," "brass," and Hebrew, "libbeen," "to whiten"; hence, "brass," which in the furnace has reached a white heat. Thus it answers to "burnished (flashing, or glowing) brass," Ezekiel 1:7; Revelation 10:1, "His feet as pillars of fire." Translate, "Glowing brass, as if they had been made fiery (red-hot) in a furnace." The feet of the priests were bare in ministering in the sanctuary. So our great High Priest here. voice as . . . many waters ‹ (Ezekiel 43:2); in Daniel 10:6, it is "like the voice of a multitude." As the Bridegroom's voice, so the bride's, Revelation 14:2; 19:6; Ezekiel 1:24, the cherubim, or redeemed creation. His voice, however, is here regarded in its terribleness to His foes. Contrast Song Of Songs 2:8; 5:2, with which compare Revelation 3:20.


16. he had ‹ Greek, "having." John takes up the description from time to time, irrespective of the construction, with separate strokes of the pencil [ALFORD]. in . . . right hand seven stars ‹ (Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1; 3:1). He holds them as a star-studded "crown of glory," or "royal diadem," in His hand: so Isaiah 62:3. He is their Possessor and Upholder. out of . . . mouth went ‹ Greek, "going forth"; not wielded in the hand. His WORD is omnipotent in executing His will in punishing sinners. It is the sword of His Spirit. Reproof and punishment, rather than its converting winning power, is the prominent point. Still, as He encourages the churches, as well as threatens, the former quality of the Word is not excluded. Its two edges (back and front) may allude to its double efficacy, condemning some, converting others. TERTULLIAN [Epistle against Judaizers ], takes them of the Old and the New Testaments. RICHARD OF ST. VICTOR, "the Old Testament cutting externally our carnal, the New Testament internally, our spiritual sins." sword ‹ Greek, "romphaia," the Thracian long and heavy broad sword: six times in Revelation, once only elsewhere in New Testament, namely, Luke 2:35. sun . . . in his strength ‹ in unclouded power. So shall the righteous shine, reflecting the image of the Sun of righteousness. TRENCH notices that this description, sublime as a purely mental conception, would be intolerable if we were to give it an outward form. With the Greeks, aesthecial taste was the first consideration, to which all others must give way. With the Hebrews, truth and the full representation ideally of the religious reality were the paramount consideration, that representation being designed not to be outwardly embodied, but to remain a purely mental conception. This exalting of the essence above the form marks their deeper religious earnestness.


17. So fallen is man that God's manifestation of His glorious presence overwhelms him. laid his right hand upon me ‹ So the same Lord Jesus did at the Transfiguration to the three prostrate disciples, of whom John was one, saying, Be not afraid. The "touch" of His hand, as of old, imparted strength. unto me ‹ omitted in the oldest manuscripts. the first . . . the last ‹ (Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). From eternity, and enduring to eternity: "the First by creation, the Last by retribution: the First, because before Me there was no God formed; the Last, because after Me there shall be no other: the First, because from Me are all things; the Last, because to Me all things return" [RICHARD OF ST. VICTOR].


18. Translate as Greek, "And THE LIVING ONE": connected with last sentence, Revelation 1:17. and was ‹ Greek, "and (yet) I became." alive for evermore ‹ Greek, "living unto the ages of ages": not merely "I live," but I have life, and am the source of it to My people. "To Him belongs absolute being, as contrasted with the relative being of the creature; others may share, He only hath immortality: being in essence, not by mere participation, immortal" [THEODORET in TRENCH]. One oldest manuscript, with English Version, reads Amen." Two others, and most of the oldest versions and Fathers, omit it. His having passed through death as one of us, and now living in the infinite plenitude of life, reassures His people, since through Him death is the gate of resurrection to eternal life. have . . . keys of hell ‹ Greek, "Hades"; Hebrew, "Sheol." "Hell" in the sense, the place of torment, answers to a different Greek word, namely, Gehenna. I can release from the unseen world of spirits and from DEATH whom I will. The oldest manuscripts read by transposition, "Death and Hades," or Hell." It is death (which came in by sin, robbing man of his immortal birthright, Romans 5:12) that peoples Hades, and therefore should stand first in order. Keys are emblems of authority, opening and shutting at will "the gates of Hades" (Psalms 9:13, 14; Isaiah 38:10; Matthew 16:18).


19. The oldest manuscripts read, "Write therefore" (inasmuch as I, "the First and Last," have the keys of death, and vouchsafe to thee this vision for the comfort and warning of the Church). things which are ‹ "the things which thou hast seen" are those narrated in this chapter (compare Revelation 1:11). "The things which are" imply the present state of things in the churches when John was writing, as represented in the second and third chapters. "The things which shall be hereafter," the things symbolically represented concerning the future history of the fourth through twenty-second chapters. ALFORD translates, "What things they signify "; but the antithesis of the next clause forbids this, "the things which shall be hereafter," Greek, "which are about to come to pass." The plural (Greek ) "are," instead of the usual Greek construction singular, is owing to churches and persons being meant by things" in the clause, "the things which are."


20. in ‹ Greek, "upon My right hand." the mystery . . . candlesticks ‹ in apposition to, and explaining, "the things which thou hast seen," governed by "Write." Mystery signifies the hidden truth, veiled under this symbol, and now revealed; its correlative is revelation. Stars symbolize lordship (Numbers 24:17; compare Daniel 12:3, of faithful teachers; Revelation 8:10; 12:4; Jude 1:13). angels ‹ not as ALFORD, from ORIGEN [Homily 13 on Luke, and Homily 20 on Numbers], the guardian angels of the churches, just as individuals have their guardian angels. For how could heavenly angels be charged with the delinquencies laid here to the charge of these angels? Then, if a human angel be meant (as the Old Testament analogy favors, Haggai 1:13, "the Lord's Messenger in the Lord's message"; Malachi 2:7; 3:1), the bishop, or superintendent pastor, must be the angel. For whereas there were many presbyters in each of the larger churches (as for example, Ephesus, Smyrna, etc.), there was but one angel, whom, moreover, the Chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls holds responsible for the spiritual state of the Church under him. The term angel, designating an office, is, in accordance with the enigmatic symbolism of this book, transferred from the heavenly to the earthly superior ministers of Jehovah; reminding them that, like the heavenly angels above, they below should fulfil God's mission zealously, promptly and efficiently. "Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven!"



Barnes' Notes on The New Testament




Chapter 1




THIS chapter contains a general introduction to the whole book, and comprises the following parts:‹

            I. The announcement that the object of the book is to record a revelation which the Lord Jesus Christ had made of important events which were shortly to occur, and which were signified by an angel to the author, John, Rev. 1:1-3. A blessing is pronounced on him who should read and understand the book, and special attention is directed to it because the time was st hand when the predicted events would occur.

            II. Salutation to the seven churches of Asia, Rev. 1:4-8. To those churches, it. would seem from this, the book was originally dedicated or addressed, and two of the chapters (2 and 3) refer exclusively to them. Among them evidently the author had resided, (Rev. 1:9,) and the whole book was doubtless sent to them, and committed to their keeping. In this salutation, the author wishes for them grace, mercy, and peace from "him which is, and which was, and which is to come"‹the original fountain of all light and truth‹referring to more sublime.


1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This is evidently a title or caption of the whole book, and is designed to comprise the substance of the whole; for all that the book contains would be embraced in the general declaration that it is a Revelation of Jesus Christ. The word rendered Revelation‹apokaluptw, whence we have derived our word Apocalypse‹means properly an uncovering; that is, nakedness‹from apokaluptw‹to uncover. It would apply to anything which had been covered up so as to be hidden from the view‹as by a veil; by darkness; in an ark or chest‹and then made manifest by removing the covering. It comes then to be used in the sense of disclosing or revealing by removing the veil of darkness or ignorance. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed." It may be applied to the disclosing or manifesting of anything which was before obscure or unknown. This may be done:

            (a) by instruction in regard to that which was before obscure‹that is, by statements of what was unknown before the statements were made; as in Luke 2:32, where it is said that Christ would be "a light to lighten the Gentiles"‹fwß eiß apokaluqin eqnwn‹or when it is applied to the Divine mysteries, purposes, or doctrines, before obscure or unknown, but made clear by light revealed in the gospel, Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:10; 14:6; Eph. 3:5

            (b) By the event itself; as the manifestation of the wrath of God at the day of judgment will disclose the true nature of his wrath. "After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God," Rom. 2:5 "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation (Gr., revelation) of the sons of God," Rom. 8:19; that is, till it shall be manifest by the event what they who are the children of God are to be. In this sense the word is frequently applied to the second advent or appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, as disclosing him in his glory, or showing what he truly is: 2 Thess. 1:7, "When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed"‹en th apokaluqei‹in the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 1:7, "Waiting for the coming" (the revelation‹thn apokaluqin) of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Pet. 1:7, "At the appearing" (Gr., revelation) "of Jesus Christ." See also 1 Pet. 4:13, "When his glory shall be revealed."

            (c) It is used in the sense of making known what is to come‹whether by words, signs, or symbols‹as if a veil were lifted from that which is hidden from human vision, or which is covered by the darkness of the unknown future. This is called a revelation, because the knowledge of the event is in fact made known to the world by Him who alone can see it, and in such a manner as he pleases to employ, though many of the terms or the symbols may be, from the necessity of the case, obscure; and though their full meaning may be disclosed only by the event. It is in this sense, evidently, that the word is used here; and in this sense that it is more commonly employed when we speak of a revelation. Thus the word ,(hDlΊg) (gala) is used in Amos 3:7: "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants." So Job 33:16, "Then he openeth (marg., revealeth or uncovereth, hRl×g–y the ears of men;" that is, in a dream, he discloses to their ears his truth before concealed or unknown.) Compare Dan. 2:22, 28-29; 10:1

            Deut. 29:29; These ideas enter into the word as used in the passage before us. The idea is that of a disclosure of an extraordinary character, beyond the mere ability of man, by a special communication from heaven. This is manifest, not only from the usual meaning of this word, but by the word prophecy, in Rev. 1:3, and by all the arrangements by which these things, were made known. The ideas which would be naturally conveyed by the use of this word in this connexion are two:

            (1) that there was something which was before hidden, obscure, or unknown, and

            (2) that this was so disclosed by these communications as to be seen or known.

            The things hidden or unknown were those which pertained to the future; the method of disclosing them was mainly by symbols. In the Greek, in this passage, the article is wanting‹apokaluqiߋa Revelation, not h, the Revelation. This is omitted because it is the title of a book, and because the use of the article might imply that this was the only revelation, excluding other books claiming to be a revelation; or it might imply some previous mention of the book, or knowledge of it in the reader. The simple meaning is, that this was "a Revelation;" it was only a part of the Revelation which God has given to mankind. The phrase, "the Revelation of Jesus Christ," might, so far as the construction of the language is concerned, refer either to Christ as the subject or object . It might either mean that Christ is the object revealed in this book, and that its great purpose is to make him known‹and so the phrase is understood in the commentary called Hyponoia, (New York, 1844;) or it may mean that this is a revelation which Christ makes to mankind‹that is, it is his in the sense that he communicates it to the world. That this latter is the meaning here is clear,

            (1) because it is expressly said in this verse that it was a revelation which God gave to him;

            (2) because it is said that it pertains to things which must shortly come to pass; and

            (3) because, in fact, the revelation is a disclosure of events which were to happen, and not of the person or work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Which God gave unto him. Which God imparted or communicated to Jesus Christ. This is in accordance with the representations everywhere made in the Scriptures, that God is the original fountain of truth and knowledge, and that, whatever was the original dignity of the Son of God, there was a mediatorial dependence on the Father. See John 5:19-20: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for whatsoever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him (deiknusin autw) all things that himself doeth." John 7:16 "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me." John 8:28: "As my Father hath taught me, (edidaxe me) I speak these things." John 12:49: "For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak." See also John 14:10; 17:7-8; Matt. 11:27; Mark 13:32.

            The same mediatorial dependence the apostle teaches us still subsists in heaven in his glorified state, and will continue until he has subdued all things, (1 Cor. 15:24-28;) and hence, even in that state, he is represented as receiving the Revelation from the Father to communicate it to men.

            To show unto his servants. That is, to his people; to Christians, often represented as the servants of God or of Christ, 1 Pet. 2:16; Rev. 2:20; 7:3; 19:2; 22:3.

            It is true that the word is sometimes applied by way of eminence to the prophets, (1 Chron. 6:49; Dan. 6:20) and to the apostles, Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Phil. 1:1

            Tit. 1:1; James 1:1 but it is also applied to the mass of Christians, and there is no reason why it should not be so understood here. The book was sent to the churches of Asia, and was clearly designed for general use; and the contents of the book were evidently intended for the churches of the Redeemer in all ages and lands. Compare Rev. 1:3. The word rendered to show‹deixai‹commonly denotes to point out; to cause to see; to present to the sight; and is a word eminently appropriate here, as what was to be revealed was, in general, to be presented to the sight by sensible tokens or symbols.

            Things which must shortly come to pass. Not all the things that will occur, but such as it was deemed of importance for his people to be made acquainted with. Nor is it certainly implied that all the things that are communicated would shortly come to pass, or would soon occur. Some of them might perhaps lie in the distant future, and still it might be true that there were those which were revealed in connexion with them, which soon would occur. The word rendered "thingsa‹is a pronoun, and might be rendered what: "he showed to his servants what things were about to occur;" not implying that he showed all the things that would happen, but such as he judged to be needful that his people should know. The word would naturally embrace those things which, in the circumstances, were most desirable to be known. The phrase rendered "must come to pass"‹dei genesqai‹would imply more than mere futurity. The word used (dei) means it needs, there is need of, and implies that there is some kind of necessity that the event should occur. That necessity may either arise from the felt want of anything, as where it is absent or wanting, Xen. Cyr. 4, 10, ib. 7, 5, 9; or from the nature of the case, or from a sense of duty‹as Matt. 16:21, "Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go (dei apelqein) to Jerusalem," Compare Matt. 26:35; Mark 14:31; Luke 2:49 or the necessity may exist, because a thing is right and just, meaning that it ought to be done‹as Luke 13:14, "There are six days in which men ought to work"‹dei ergazesqai; Luke 13:16, "And ought not this woman (ouk edei) whom Satan hath bound, etc., be loosed from this bond;" compare Mark 13:14; John 4:20; Acts 5:11, 29; 2 Tim. 2:6; Matt. 18:33; 25:27, or the necessity may be that it is conformable to the Divine arrangement, or is made necessary by Divine appointment‹as in John 3:14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must (dei) the Son of man be lifted up;" John 20:9, "For as yet they knew not the Scriptures, that he must (dei) rise again from the dead." Compare Acts 4:12; 14:22 et al . In the passage before us, it is implied that there was some necessity that the things referred to should occur. They were not the result of chance; they were not fortuitous. It is not, however, stated what was the ground of the necessity‹whether because there was a want of something to complete a great arrangement; or because it was right and proper in existing circumstances; or because such was the Divine appointment.

            They were events which, on some account, must certainly occur, and which therefore it was important should be made known. The real ground of the necessity probably was founded in the design of God in redemption. He intended to carry out his great plans in reference to his church, and the things revealed here must necessarily occur in the completion of that design. The phrase rendered shortly‹en tacei‹is one whose meaning has been much controverted, and on which much has been made to depend in the interpretation of the whole book. The question has been whether the phrase necessarily implies that the events referred to were soon to occur, or whether it may have such an extent of meaning as to admit the supposition that the events referred to, though beginning soon, would embrace in their development far distant years, and would reach the end of all things. Those who maintain (as Professor Stuart) that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the portion in chapters 4-11, has special reference to Jerusalem and Judaea, and the portion in chapters 12-19, to persecuting and heathen Rome, maintain the former opinion; those who suppose that chapters 4-11, refers to the irruption of Northern barbarians in the Roman empire, and chapter 12 seq. to the rise and the persecutions of the Papal power, embrace the latter opinion. All that is proper in this place is, without reference to any theory of interpretation, to inquire into the proper meaning of the language; or to ascertain what idea it would naturally convey.

            (a) The phrase properly and literally means, with quickness, swiftness, speed; that is, speedily, quickly, shortly .‹Rob. Lex.; Stuart in loc. It is the same in meaning as tacewß. Compare 1 Cor. 4:19, "But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will." Luke 14:21, "Go out quickly into the streets." Luke 16:6, "Sit down quickly, and write fifty." John 11:31, "She rose up hastily (tacewß) and went out." Gal. 1:6, "That ye are so soon removed (tacewß) from him that called you." 1 Tim. 5:22, "Lay hands suddenly on no man." See also Phil. 2:19, 24; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Tim. 4:9.

            The phrase used here‹en tacei‹occurs in Luke 18:8, "he will avenge them speedily," (literally with speed;) Acts 12:7, "arise up quickly;" Acts 22:18, "get thee quickly out of Jerusalem;" Acts 25:4, "would depart shortly;" Rom. 16:20, "bruise Satan under your feet shortly;" and Rev. 1:1; 22:6. The essential idea is, that the thing which is spoken of was soon to occur, or it was not a remote and distant event. There is the notion of rapidity, of haste, of suddenness. It is such a phrase as is used when the thing is on the point of happening, and could not be applied to an event which was in the remote future, considered as an independent event standing by itself. The same idea is expressed, in regard to the same thing, in Rev. 1:3: "the time is at hando gar kairoß egguß; that is, it is near; it is soon to occur. Yet

            (b) it is not necessary to suppose that the meaning is that all that there is in the book was soon to happen. It may mean that the series of events which were to follow on in their proper order was soon to commence, though it might be that the sequel would be remote. The first in the series of events was soon to begin, and the others would follow on in their train, though a portion of them, in the regular order, might be in a remote futurity. If we suppose that there was such an order; that a series of transactions was about to commence involving a long train of momentous developments, and that the beginning of this was to occur soon, the language used by John would be that which would be naturally employed to express it. Thus, in case of a revolution in a government, when a reigning prince should be driven from his kingdom, to be succeeded by a new dynasty which would long occupy the throne, and involving as the consequence of the revolution important events extending far into the future, we would naturally say that these things were shortly to occur, or that the time was near. It is customary to speak of a succession of events or periods as near, however vast or interminable the series may be, when the commencement is at hand. Thus we say, that the great events of the eternal world are near; that is, the beginning of them is soon to occur. So Christians now speak often of the millennium as near, or as about to occur, though it is the belief of many that it will be protracted for many ages.

            (c) That this is the true idea here is clear, whatever general view of interpretation in regard to the book is adopted. Even Professor Stuart, who contends that the greater portion of the book refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the persecutions of heathen Rome, admits that "the closing part of the Revelation relates beyond all doubt to a distant period, and some of it to a future eternity," (II.p.5;) and if this be so then there is no impropriety in supposing that a part of the series of predictions preceding this may lie also in a somewhat remote futurity. The true idea seems to be that the writer contemplated a series of events that were to occur; and that this series was about to commence. How far into the future it was to extend is to be learned by the proper interpretation of all the parts of the series.

            And he sent. Gr., "Sending by his angel, signified it to his servant John." The idea is not precisely that he sent his angel to communicate the message, but that he sent by him, or employed him as an agent in doing it. The thing sent was rather the message than the angel.

            And signified it. eshmanen. He indicated it by signs and symbols. The word occurs in the New Testament only in John 12:33; John 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27, and in the passage before us, in all which places it rendered signify, signifying or signified. It properly refers to some sign, signal, or token by which anything is made known, (compare Matt. 26:28; Rom. 4:11; Gen. 9:12-13; 17:11

            Luke 2:12; 2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Cor. 14:22) and is a word most happily chosen to denote the manner in which the events referred to were to by communicated to John‹for nearly the whole book is made up of signs and symbols. If it be asked what was signified to John, it may be replied that either the word "it" may be understood, as in our translation, to refer to the Apocalypse or Revelation, or what he saw‹osa eide‹as Professor Stuart supposes; or it may be absolute, without any object following, as Professor Robinson (Lex.) supposes. The general sense is that, sending by his angel, he made to John a communication by expressive signs or symbols.

            By his angel. That is, an angel was employed to cause these scenic representations to pass before the mind of the apostle. The communication was not made directly to him but was through the medium of a heavenly messenger employed for this purpose. Thus in Rev. 22:6, it is said, "And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done." Compare Rev. 22:8-9.

            There is frequent allusion in the Scriptures to the fact that angels have been employed as agents in making known the Divine will, or in the revelations which have been made to men. Thus in Acts 7:53, it is said, "Who have received the law by the disposition of angels." Heb. 2:2, "For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast," etc. Gal. 3:19, "And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator."

            Compare Notes on Acts 7:38, Acts 7:53.

            There is almost no further reference to the agency of the angel employed for this service, in the book, and there is no distinct specifications of what he did, or of his great agency in the case. John is everywhere represented as seeing the symbols himself, and it would seem that the agency of the angel was, either to cause those symbols to pass before the apostle, or to convey their meaning to his mind. How far John himself understood the meaning of these symbols we have not the means of knowing with certainty. The most probable supposition is, that the angel was employed to cause these vision or symbols to pass before his mind, rather than to interpret them. If an interpretation had been given, it is inconceivable that it should not have been recorded, and there is no more probability that their meaning should have been disclosed to John himself for his private use, than that it should have been disclosed and recorded for the use of others. It would seem probable, therefore, that John had only that view of the meaning of what he saw which any one else might obtain from the record of the visions. Compare Note on 1 Pet. 1:10-12.

            Unto his servant John. Nothing could be learned from this expression as to what John was the author of the book, whether the apostle of that name or some other. It cannot be inferred from the use of the word servant, rather than apostle, that the apostle John was not the author, for it was not uncommon for the apostles to designate themselves merely by the words servants, or servants of God. Compare Note on Rom. 1:1.


2. Who bare record of the word of God. Who bore witness to, or testified of (emarturhse) the word of God. He regarded himself merely as a witness of what he had seen, and claimed only to make a fair and faithful record of it. John 21:24: "This is the disciple which testifieth (o marturwn) of these things, and wrote these things." John 19:35: "And he that saw it bare recordmemarturhke. Compare also the following places, where the apostle uses the same word of himself: 1 John 1:2; 4:14. The expression here, "the word of God," is one the meaning of which has been much controverted, and is important in its bearing on the question who was the author of the book of Revelation. The main inquiry is, whether the writer refers to the "testimony" which he bears in this book respecting the "word of God;" or whether he refers to some testimony on that subject in some other book with which those to whom he wrote were so familiar that they would at once recognize him as the author; or whether he refers to the fact that he had borne his testimony to the great truths of religion, and especially respecting Jesus Christ, as a preacher who was well known, and who would be characterized by this expression. The phrase "the word of God"‹ton logon tou qeou,‹occurs frequently in the New Testament, (compare John 10:35; Acts 4:31; 6:2, 7; 11:1; 12:24) and may either mean the word or doctrine respecting God‹that which teaches what God is‹or that which he speaks or teaches. It is more commonly used in the latter sense, compare the passages referred to above, and especially refers to what God speaks or commands in the gospel. The fair meaning of this expression would be, that John had borne faithful witness to, or testimony of, the truth which God had spoken to man in the gospel of Christ. So far as the language here used is concerned, this might apply either to a written or an oral testimony; either to a treatise like that of his gospel, to his preaching, or to the record which he was then making. Vitringa and others suppose that the reference here is to the gospel which he had published, and which now bears his name; Lucke and others, to the revelation made to him in Patmos, the record of which he now makes in this book; Professor Stuart and others, to the fact that he was a teacher or preacher of the gospel, and that (compare Rev. 1:9) the allusion is to the testimony which he had borne to the gospel, and for which he was an exile in Patmos. Is it not possible that these conflicting opinions may be to some extent harmonized, by supposing that in the use of the aorist tense‹emarturhse‹the writer meant to refer to a characteristic of himself, to wit, that he was a faithful witness of the word of God and of Jesus Christ, whenever and however made known to him ? With an eye, perhaps, to the record which he was about to make in this book, and intending to include that, may he not also refer to what had been and was his well-known character as a witness of what God communicated to him? He had always borne this testimony. He always regarded himself as such a witness. He had been an eye-witness of what had occurred in the life and at the death of the Saviour, (See Note on 2 Pet. 1:17-18) and had, in all his writings and public administrations, borne witness to what he had seen and heard; for that, (Rev. 1:9)he had been banished to Patmos; and he was now about to carry out the same characteristic of himself by bearing witness to what he saw in these new revelations. This would be much in the manner of John, who often refers to this characteristic of himself, (compare John 19:35; 21:24; 1 John 1:2) as well as harmonize the different opinions. The meaning then of the expression "who bare record of the word of God," as I understand it, is, that it was a characteristic of the writer to bear simple but faithful testimony to the truth which God communicated to men in the gospel. If this be the correct interpretation, it may be remarked

            (a) that this is such language as John the apostle would be likely to use, and yet

            (b) that it is not such language as an author would he likely to adopt if there was an attempt to forge a book in his name.

            The artifice would be too refined to occur probably to any one, for although perfectly natural for John, it would not be so natural for a forger of a book to select this circumstance and weave it thus unostentatiously into his narrative.

            And of the testimony of Jesus Christ. That is, in accordance with the interpretation above, of the testimony which Jesus Christ bore for the truth; not of a testimony respecting Jesus Christ. The idea is, that Jesus Christ was himself a witness to the truth, and that the writer of this book was a witness merely of the testimony which Christ had borne. Whether the testimony of Jesus Christ was borne in his preaching when in the flesh, or whether made known to the writer by him at any subsequent period, it was his office to make a faithful record of that testimony. As he had always before done that, so he was about to do it now in the new revelation made to him in Patmos, which he regarded as a new testimony of Jesus Christ to the truth, Rev. 1:1. It is remarkable that, in confirmation of this view, John so often describes the Lord Jesus as a witness, or represents him as having come to bear his faithful testimony to the truth. Thus in Rev. 1:5: "And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful and true witness." John 8:18: "I am one that bear witness‹o marturwn‹of myself." John 18:37: "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness‹ina marturhsw‹to the truth." Rev. 3:14: "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness"‹o martuß o pistoß k.t.l.. Of this testimony which the Lord Jesus came to bring to man respecting eternal realities, the writer of this book says that he regarded himself as a witness. To the office of bearing such testimony he had been dedicated; that testimony he was now to bear, as he had always done.

            And of all things that he saw . osa te eide. This is the common reading in the Greek, and according to this reading it would properly mean, "and whatsoever he saw;" that is, it would imply that he bore witness to "the word of God," and to "the testimony of Jesus Christ," and to "whatever he saw"‹meaning that the things which he saw, and to which he refers, were things additional to those to which he had referred by "the word of God," and the "testimony of Christ." From this it has been supposed that in the former part of the verse he refers to some testimony which he had formerly borne, as in his gospel or in his preaching, and that here he refers to what he "saw" in the visions of the Revelation as something additional to the former. But it should be remembered that the word rendered and‹te‹is wanting in a large number of manuscripts, (see Wetstein,) and that it is now omitted in the best editions of the Greek Testament‹as by Griesbach, Tittmann, and Hahn. The evidence is clear that it should be omitted; and if so omitted, the reference is to whatever he had at any time borne his testimony to, and not particularly to what passed before him in the visions of this book. It is a general affirmation that he had always borne a faithful testimony to whatever he had seen respecting the word of God and the testimony of Christ. The correct rendering of the whole passage then would be, "And sending by his angel, he signifies it to his servant John, who bare record of" [i.e. whose character and office it was to bear his testimony to] "the word of God," [the message which God has sent to me,] "and the testimony of Jesus Christ," [the testimony which Christ bore to the truth,] "whatsoever he saw." He concealed nothing; he held nothing back; he made it known precisely as it was seen by him. Thus interpreted, the passage refers to what was a general characteristic of the writer, and is designed to embrace all that was made known to him, and to affirm that he was a faithful witness to it. There were doubtless special reasons why John was employed as the medium through which this communication was to be made to the church and the world. Among these reasons may have been the following:

            (a) That he was the "beloved disciple."

            (b) That he was the only surviving apostle.

            (c) That his character, was such that his statements would be readily received. Compare John 19:35; 21:24; 3 John 1:12.

            (d) It may be that his mind was better fitted to be the medium of these communications than that of any other of the apostles‹even if they had been then alive. There is almost no one whose mental characteristics are less correctly understood than those of the apostle John. Among the most gentle and amiable of men‹with a heart so fitted for love as to be known as "the beloved disciple"‹he yet had mental characteristics which made it proper that he should be called "a son of thunder," (Mark 3:17) a mind fitted to preserve and record the profound thoughts in his gospel; a mind of high poetic order, fitted for the magnificent conceptions in this book.


3. Blessed is he that readeth. That is, it is to be regarded as a privilege attended with many blessings, to be permitted to mark the disclosures to be made in this book; the important revelations respecting future times. Professor Stuart supposes that this refers to a public reading, and that the phrase "those who hear the words of this prophecy" refers to those who listened to the public reader, and that both the reader and hearer should regard themselves as highly favoured. It is, however, more in accordance with the usual meaning of the word rendered "read," to suppose that it refers to the act of one's reading for himself; to learn by reading. So Robinson (Lex.) understands it. The Greek word, indeed, would bear the other interpretation, (see Luke 4:16; Acts 13:27; 15:21; 2 Cor. 3:15) but as this book was sent abroad to be read by Christians, and not merely to be in the hands of the ministers of religion to be read by them to others, it is more natural to interpret the word in the usual sense.

            And hear the words of this prophecy. As they shall be declared or repeated by others; or perhaps the word hear is used in a sense that is not uncommon, that of giving attention to; taking heed to. The general sense is, that they were to be regarded as highly favoured who became acquainted in any way with what is here communicated. The writer does not say that they were blessed who understood it, or that they who read or heard it would fully understand it; but it is clearly implied, that there would be so far an understanding of its meaning as to make it a felicitous condition to have been made acquainted with it. An author could not be supposed to say that one should regard his condition as a favoured one who merely heard words that he could not understand, or who had placed before him magnificent symbols that had to him no meaning. The word prophecy is used here in its more strict sense as denoting the disclosure of future events‹a large portion of the book being of this nature. It is here synonymous with Revelation in Rev. 1:1.

            And keep those things which are written therein. Keep in mind those things which relate to the future; and obey those things which are required as truth and duty. The blessing which results from having in possession the revealed truth of God is not merely in reading it, or in hearing it: it results from the fact that the truth is properly regarded, and exerts a suitable influence over our lives. Compare Psa. 19:11: "And in keeping of them there is great reward."

            For the time is at hand. See Rev. 1:1. The word here used‹egguߋhas the same signification substantially as the word "shortly" in Rev. 1:1 It would apply to any event whose beginning was soon to occur, though the end might be remote, for the series of events might stretch far into the future. It cannot be doubted, however, that the writer meant to press upon them the importance of attending to these things, from the fact that either entirely or in part these things were soon to happen. It may be inferred from this verse, that it is possible so to understand this book, as that it may convey useful instruction. This is the only book in the Bible of which a special blessing is pronounced on him who reads it; but assuredly a blessing would not be pronounced on the perusal of a book which is entirely unintelligible. While, therefore, there may be many obscurities in this book, it is also to be assumed that it may be so far understood as to be useful to Christians, in supporting their faith, and giving them elevated views of the final triumph of religion, and of the glory of the world to come. Anything is a blessing which enables us with well-founded hope and joy to look forward to the heavenly world.


4. John to the seven churches which are in Asia. The word Asia is used in quite different senses, by different writers. It is used

            (1) as referring to the whole eastern continent now known by that name;

            (2) Either Asia, or Asia Minor;

            (3) that part of Asia which Attlus III., king of Pergamos, gave to the Romans, viz., Mysia, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Lydia, Carla, Pisidia, and the southern coast‹that is, all in the western, south-western, and southern parts of Asia Minor; and

            (4) in the New Testament, usually, the south-western part of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital. See Note on Acts 2:9.

            The word Asia is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it occurs often in the books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament. In the New Testament it is not used in the large sense in which it is now as applied to the whole continent, but in its largest signification it would include only Asia Minor. It is also used, especially by Luke; as denoting the country that was called Ionia, or that which embraced the provinces of Carla and Lydia. Of this region Ephesus was the principal city, and it was in this region that the "seven churches" were situated. Whether there were more than seven churches in this region is not intimated by the writer of this book, and on that point we have no certain knowledge. It is evident that these seven were the principal churches, even if there were more, and that there was some reason why they should be particularly addressed. There is mention of some other churches in the neighbourhood of these. Colosse was near to Laodicea; and from Col. 4:13, it would seem not improbable that there was a church also at Hierapolis. But there may have been nothing in their circumstances that demanded particular instruction or admonition, and they may have been on that account omitted. There is also some reason to suppose, that, though there had been other churches in that vicinity besides the seven mentioned by John, they had become extinct at the time when he wrote the book of Revelation. It appears from Tacitus, (Annal. xiv. 27; compare also Pliny, N.H. v. 29,) that in the time of Nero, A. D, 61, the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake, in which earthquake, according to Eusebius, the adjacent cities of Colosse and Hierapolis were involved. Laodicea was, indeed, immediately rebuilt, but there is no evidence of the re-establishment of the church there before the time when John wrote this book. The earliest mention we have of a church there, after the one referred to in the New Testament by Paul, (Col. 2:1; 4:13, 15-16) is in the time of Trajan, when Papias was bishop there, sometime between A.D. 98 and 117. It would appear, then, to be not improbable that at the time when the Apocalypse was written, there were in fact but seven churches in the vicinity. Professor Stuart (i. 219) supposes that "seven, and only so many, may have been named, because the sevenfold divisions and groups of various objects constitute a conspicuous feature in the Apocalypse throughout." But this reason seems too artificial; and it can hardly be supposed that it would influence the mind of John, in the specification by name of the churches to which the book was sent. If no names had been mentioned, and if the statement had occurred in glowing poetic description, it is not inconceivable that the number seven might have been selected for some such purpose.

            Grace be unto you and peace. The usual form of salutation in addressing a church. See Notes on Rom. 1:7.

            From him which is, and which was, and which is to come. From him who is everlasting‹embracing all duration, past, present, and to come. No expression could more strikingly denote eternity than this. He now exists; he has existed in the past; he will exist in the future. There is an evident allusion here to the name JEHOVAH, the name by which the true God is appropriately designated in the Scriptures. That name‹ hÎwOh×y from hÎyDh to be, to exist‹seems to have been adopted because it denotes existence, or being,and as denoting simply one who exists; and has reference merely to the fact of existence. The word has no variation of form, and has no reference to time, and would embrace all time: that is, it is as true at one time as another that he exists. Such a word would not be inappropriately paraphrased by the phrase "who is, and who was, and who is to come," or who is to be; and there can be no doubt that John referred to him here as being himself the eternal and uncreated existence, and as the great and original fountain of all being. They who desire to find a full discussion in regard to the origin of the name JEHOVAH, may consult an article by Professor Tholuck, in the Biblical Repository, vol. iv. pp. 89‹108. It is remarkable that there are some passages in heathen inscriptions and writings which bear a very strong resemblance to the language here used by John respecting God. Thus Plutarch, (De Is. et Osir. p. 354,) speaking of a temple of Isis, at Sais, in Egypt, says, "It bore this inscription ŒI am all that was, and is, and shall be, and my vail no mortal can remove'"‹egw eimi pan to gegonoß, kai on, kai esomenon kai ton emon peplon oudeiß tw qnhtoß anekaluqen. So Orpheus, (in Auctor. Lib. de Mundo,) "Jupiter is the head, Jupiter is the middle, and all things are made by Jupiter." So in Pausanias, (Phocic. 12,) "Jupiter was; Jupiter is; Jupiter shall be." The reference in the phrase before us is to God as such, or to God considered as the Father.

            And from the seven spirits which are before his throne. After all that has been written on this very difficult expression, it is still impossible to determine with certainty its meaning. The principal opinions which have been held in regard to it are the following:

            I. That it refers to God, as such. This opinion is held by Eichhorn, and is favoured by Ewald. No arguments derived from any parallel passages are urged for this opinion, nor can any such be found, where God is himself spoken of under the representation of a sevenfold Spirit. But the objections to this view are so obvious as to be insuperable.

            (1.) If it refers to God as such, then it would be mere tautology, for the writer had just referred to him in the phrase "from him who was," etc.

            (2.) It is difficult to perceive in what sense "seven spirits" could be ascribed to God, or how he could be described as a being of "Seven Spirits." At least, if he could be spoken of as such, there would be no objection to applying the phrase to the Holy Spirit.

            (3.) How could it be said of God himself that he was "before the throne?" He is everywhere represented as sitting on the throne, not as before it. It is easy to conceive of angels as standing before the throne; and of the Holy Spirit it is more easy to conceive as being represented thus as ready to go forth and convey a heavenly influence from that throne, but it is impossible to conceive in what sense this could be applied to God as such.

            II. The opinion held by Grotius and by John Henry Heinrichs that it refers to "the multiform providence of God," or to God considered as operating in seven or many different ways. In support of this, Grotius appeals to Rev. 5:12; 7:12. But this opinion is so far-fetched, and it is so destitute of support, as to have found, it is believed, no other advocates, and to need no further notice. It cannot be supposed that John meant to personify the attributes of the Deity, and then to unite them with God himself, and with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to represent them as real subsistences from which important blessings descend to men. It is clear that as by the phrase "who is, and who was, and who is to come," and by "Jesus Christ, the faithful and true witness," he refers to real subsistences, so he must here. Besides, if the attributes of God, or the modes of Divine operation, are denoted, why is the number seven chosen? And why are they represented as standing before the throne?

            III. A third opinion is, that the reference is to seven attending and ministering presence-angels; angels represented as standing before the throne of God, or in his presence. This opinion was adopted among the ancients by Clemens of Alexandria; Andreas of Cesarea, and others; among the moderns by Beza, Drusius, Hammond, Wetstein, Rosenmuller, Clarke, Professor Stuart, and others. This opinion, however, has been held in somewhat different forms; some maintaining that the seven angels are referred to because it was a received opinion among the Hebrews that there were seven angels standing in the presence of God, as seven princes stood in the Persian court before the king; others, that the angels of the seven churches are particularly referred to, represented now as standing in the presence of God; others, that seven angels, represented as the principal angels employed in the government of the world, are referred to; and others, that seven archangels are particularly designated. Compare Poole, Synop. in loc. The arguments which are relied on by those who suppose that seven angels are here referred to are briefly these:

            (1.) The nature of the expression here used. The expression, it is said, is such as would naturally denote beings who were before his throne‹beings who were different from him who was on the throne‹and beings more than one in number. That it could not refer to one on the throne, but must mean those distinct and separate from one on the throne, is argued from the use of the phrases "before the throne," and "before God," in Rev. 4:5; 7:9, 15; 8:2; 11:4, 16; 12:10; 14:3; 20:12

            : in all which places the representation denotes those who were in the presence of God, and standing before him.

            (2.) It is argued from other passages in the book of Revelation which, it is said, (Professor Stuart,) go directly to confirm this opinion. Thus in Rev. 8:2: "And I saw the seven angels which stood before God." So Rev. 4:5: the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, are said to be "the seven Spirits of God." In these passages, it is alleged that the article "the" designates the well-known angels; or those which had been before specified, and that this is the first mention of any such angels after the designation in the passage before us.

            (3.) It is said that this is in accordance with what was usual among the Hebrews, who were accustomed to speak of seven presence-angels, or angels standing in the presence of Jehovah. Thus in the book of Tobit, (xii. 15,) Raphael is introduced as using this language, "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." The apocryphal book of Enoch (chapter 20) gives the names of the seven angels who watch; that is, of the watchers (compare Notes on Dan. 4:13, 17)who stand in the presence of God waiting for the Divine commands, or who watch over the affairs of men. So in the Zendavesta of Zoroaster, seven amshaspends, or archangels, are mentioned. See Professor Stuart, in loc.

            To these views, however, there are objections of great weight, if they are not in fact quite insuperable. They are such as the following:

            (1.) That the same rank should be given to them as to God, as the source of blessings. According to the view which represents this expression as referring to angels, they are placed on the same level, so far as the matter before us is concerned with "him who was, and is, and is to come," and with the Lord Jesus Christ‹a doctrine which does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures, and which we cannot suppose the writer designed to teach.

            (2.) That blessings should be invoked from angels‹as if they could impart "grace and peace." It is evident that, whoever is referred to here by the phrase "the seven spirits," he is placed on the same level with the others mentioned as the source of "grace and peace." But it cannot be supposed that an inspired writer would invoke that grace and peace from any but a Divine being.

            (3.) That as two persons of the Trinity are here mentioned, it is to be presumed that the third would not be omitted; or to put this argument in a stronger form. it cannot be supposed that an inspired writer would mention two of the persons of the Trinity in this connexion, and then not only not mention the third, but refer to angels‹to creatures‹as bestowing that which would be appropriately sought from the Holy Spirit. The incongruity would be not merely in omitting all reference to tile Spirit‹which might indeed occur, as it often does in the Scriptures‹but in putting in the place which that Spirit would naturally occupy an allusion to angels as conferring blessings.

            (4.) If this refer to angels, it is impossible to avoid the inference that angel-worship, or invocation of angels, is proper. To all intents and purposes, this is an act of worship; for it is an act of solemn invocation. It is an acknowledgment of the "seven spirits," as the source of "grace and peace." It would be impossible to resist this impression on the popular mind; it would not be possible to meet it if urged as an argument in favour of the propriety of angel-invocation, or angel-worship. And yet, if there is anything clear in the Scriptures, it is that God alone is to be worshipped. For these reasons, it seems to me that this interpretation cannot be well founded.

            IV. There remains a fourth opinion, that it refers to the Holy Spirit, and in favour of that opinion it may be urged,

            (1.) that it is most natural to suppose that the Holy Spirit would be invoked on such an occasion, in connexion with him "who was, and is, and is to come," and with "Jesus Christ." If two of the persons of the Trinity were addressed on such an occasion, it would be properly supposed that the Holy Spirit would not be omitted, as one of the persons from whom the blessing was to descend. Compare 2 Cor. 13:14: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all."

            (2.) It would be unnatural and improper, in such an invocation, to unite angels with God as imparting blessings, or as participating with God and with Christ, in communicating blessings to man. An invocation to God to send his angels, or to impart grace and favour through angelic help, would be in entire accordance with the usage in Scripture, but it is not in accordance with such usage to invoke such blessings from angels.

            (3.) It cannot be denied that an invocation of grace from "him who is, and was, and is to come," is of the nature of worship. The address to him is as God, and the attitude of the mind in such an address is that of one who is engaged in an act of devotion. The effect of uniting any other being with him in such a case, would be to lead to the worship of one thus associated with him. In regard to the Lord Jesus, "the faithful and true witness," it is from such expressions as these that we are led to the belief that he is Divine, and that it is proper to worship him as such. The same effect must be produced in reference to what is here called "the seven spirits before the throne." We cannot well resist the impression that some one with Divine attributes is intended; or, if it refer to angels, we cannot easily show that it is not proper to render Divine worship to them. If they were thus invoked by an apostle, can it be improper to worship them now?

            (4.) The word used here is not angels, but spirits; and though it is true that angels are spirits, and that the word spirit is applied to them, (Heb. 1:7) yet it is also true that is not a word which would be understood to refer to them without designating that angels were meant. If angels had been intended here, that word would naturally have been used, as is the case elsewhere in this book.

            (5.) In Rev. 4:5, where there is a reference to "the seven lamps before the throne," it is said of them that they "are," that is, they represent "the seven spirits of God." This passage may be understood as referring to the same thing as that before us, but it cannot be well understood of angels, for

            (a.) if it did, it would have been natural to use that language for the reason above mentioned;

            (b.) the angels are nowhere called "the spirits of God," nor would such language be proper. The phrase "Spirit of God" naturally implies divinity, and could not be applied to a creature. For these reasons, it seems to me that the interpretation which applies the phrase to the Holy Spirit is to be preferred; and though that interpretation is not free from difficulties, yet there are fewer difficulties in that than in either of the others proposed. Though it may not be possible wholly to remove the difficulties involved in that interpretation, yet perhaps something may be done to diminish their force.

            (1.) First, as to the reason why the number seven should be applied to the Holy Spirit.

            (a.) There would be as much propriety certainly in applying it to the Holy Spirit as to God as such. And yet Grotius, Eichhorn, Ewald, and others saw no difficulty in such an application considered as representing a sevenfold mode of operation of God, or a manifold Divine agency.

            (b.) The word seven often denotes a full or complete number, and may be used to denote that which is full, complete, or manifold; and might thus be used in reference to an all-perfect Spirit, or to a spirit which was manifold in its operations.

            (c.) The number seven is evidently a favourite number in the book of Revelation, and it might be used by the author in places, and in a sense, such as it would not be likely to be used by another writer. Thus there are seven epistles to the seven churches; there are seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials of the wrath of God, seven last plagues; there are seven lamps, and seven Spirits of God; the Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes. In Rev. 1:16, seven stars are mentioned; in Rev. 5:12, seven attributes of God; Rev. 12:3, the dragon has seven heads; Rev. 13:1, the beast has seven heads.

            (d.) The number seven, therefore, may have been given to the Holy Spirit with reference to the diversity or the fulness of his operations on the souls of men, and to his manifold agency on the affairs of the world, as further developed in this book.

            (2.) As to his being represented as "before the throne," this may be intended to designate the fact that the Divine Spirit was, as it were, prepared to go forth, or to be sent forth, in accordance with a common representation in the Scriptures, to accomplish important purposes on human affairs. The posture does not necessarily imply inferiority of nature, any more than the language does respecting the Son of God, when he is represented as being sent into the world to execute an important commission from the Father.


5. And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness. See Note on Rev. 1:2.

            He is faithful in the sense that he is one on whose testimony there may be entire reliance, or who is entirely worthy to be believed. From him "grace and peace" are appropriately sought, as one who bears such a testimony, and as the first-begotten from the dead, and as reigning over the kings of the earth. Thus grace and peace are invoked from the infinite God in all his relations and operations :‹as the Father, the Source of all existence; as the Sacred Spirit, going forth in manifold operations upon the hearts of men; and as the Son of God, the one appointed to bear faithful testimony to the truth respecting God and future events.

            And the first-begotten of the dead. The same Greek expression‹prwtotokoߋoccurs in Col. 1:18. See Note on Col. 1:18.

            Compare Note on 1 Cor. 15:20.

            And the prince of the kings of the earth. Who has over all the kings of the earth the pre-eminence which kings have over their subjects. He is the Ruler of rulers; King of kings. In Rev. 17:14; 19:16 the same thought is expressed by saying that he is the "King of kings." No language could more sublimely denote his exalted character, or his supremacy. Kings and princes sway a sceptre over the millions of the earth, and the exaltation of the Saviour is here expressed by supposing that all those kings and princes constitute a community over which he is the head. The exaltation of the Redeemer is elsewhere expressed in different language, but the idea is one that everywhere prevails in regard to him in the Scriptures. Compare Matt. 28:18; 11:27; John 17:2; Eph. 1:20-22; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:15-18

            The word prince‹o arcwn‹means properly ruler, leader, the first in rank. We often apply the word prince to an heir to a throne who is not invested with absolute sovereignty. The word here, however, denotes that he actually exercises dominion over the rulers of the earth. As this is an authority which is claimed by God, compare Isa. 10:5 seq. Isa. 45:1 seq. Psa. 47:2; 99:1; 103:19

            Dan. 4:34 and which can only appertain to God, it is clear that in ascribing this to the Lord Jesus it is implied that he is possessed of Divine attributes. As much of the revelations of this book pertained to the assertion of power over the princes and rulers of this world, there was a propriety that, in the commencement, it should be asserted that he who was to exert that power was invested with the prerogative of a ruler of the nations, and that he had this right of control.

            Unto him that loved us. This refers undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus, whose love for men was so strong that nothing more was necessary to characterize him than to speak of him as the one "who loved us." It is manifest that the division in the verses should have been made here, for this commences a new subject, not having any special connexion with that which precedes. In Rev. 1:4, and the first part of this verse, the writer had invoked grace from the Father, the Spirit, and the Saviour. In the latter clause of the verse there commences an ascription of praise to the Redeemer; an ascription to him particularly, because the whole book is regarded as a revelation from him, (Rev. 1:1) because he was the one who especially appeared to John in the visions of Patmos; and because he was to be the great agent in carrying into execution the purposes revealed in this book.

            And washed us from our sins in his own blood. He has removed the pollution of sin from our souls by his blood; that is, his blood has been applied to cleanse us from sin. Blood can be represented as having a cleansing power only as it makes an expiation for sin, for considered literally its effect would be the reverse. The language is such as would be used only on the supposition that he had made an atonement, and that it was by the atonement that we are cleansed; for in what sense could it be said of a martyr that he "had washed us from our sins in his blood?" How could this language be used of Paul or Polycarp; of Ridley or Cranmer? The doctrine that the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin, or purifies us, is one that is common in the Scriptures. Compare 1 John 1:7; Heb. 9:14. The specific idea of washing, however‹representing that blood as washing sin away‹is one which does not elsewhere occur. It is evidently used in the sense of cleansing or purifying, as we do this by washing, and, as the blood of Christ accomplishes in respect to our souls, what washing with water does in respect to the body.


6. And hath made us kings and priests unto God. In 1 Pet. 2:9 the same idea is expressed by saying of Christians that they are "a royal priesthood." See Note on 1 Pet. 2:9.

            The quotation in both places is from Exod. 19:6: "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests." This idea is expressed here by saying that Christ had made us in fact kings and priests; that is, Christians are exalted to the dignity, and are invested with the office, implied in these words. The word kings, as applied to them, refers to the exalted rank and dignity which they will have; to the fact that they, in common with their Saviour, will reign triumphant over all enemies; and that, having gained a victory over sin and death and hell, they may be represented as reigning together. The word priests refers to the fact that they are engaged in the holy service of God, or that they offer to him acceptable worship. See Note on 1 Pet. 2:5.

            And his Father. Even his Father; that is, the Saviour has redeemed them, and elevated them to this exalted rank, in order that they may thus be engaged in the service of his Father.

            To him be glory. To the Redeemer; for so the construction (Rev. 1:5) demands. The word "glory" here means praise, or honour, implying a wish that all honour should be shown him.

            And dominion. This word means literally strength‹kratoß; but it here means the strength, power, or authority which is exercised over others, and the expression is equivalent to a wish that he may reign.


7. Behold, he cometh with clouds. That is, the Lord Jesus when he returns will come accompanied with clouds. This is in accordance with the uniform representation respecting the return of the Saviour. See Note on Matt. 24:30.

            Compare Matt. 26:64; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:62; Acts 1:9, 11.

            Clouds are appropriate symbols of majesty, and God is often represented as appearing in that manner. See Exod. 19:18; Psa. 18:11; Isa. 19:1. So, among the heathen, it was common to represent their divinities as appearing clothed with a cloud:

tandem venias, precamur,

Nube candentes humeros amictus

Augur Apollo."

            The design of introducing this representation of the Saviour, and of the manner in which he would appear, seems to be to impress the mind with a sense of the majesty and glory of that being from whom John received his revelations. His rank, his character, his glory were such as to demand respect; all should reverence him, and all should feel that his communications about the future were important to them, for they must soon appear before him.

            And every eye shall see him. He will be made visible in his glory to all that dwell upon the earth; to all the children of men. Every one, therefore, has an interest in what he says; every one has this in certain prospect, that he shall see the Son of God coming as a Judge.

            And they also which pierced him. When he died; that is, they who pierced his hands, his feet, and his side. There is probably an allusion here to Zech. 12:10: "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn." The language here is so general that it may refer to any act of looking upon the pierced Saviour, and might be applied to those who would see him on the cross and to their compunctions visiting then; or to their subsequent reflections, as they might look by faith on him whom they had crucified; or to the feeling of any sinners who should reflect that their sins had been the cause of the death of the Lord Jesus; or it might be applied, as it is here, more specifically to the feelings which his murderers will have when they shall see him coming in his glory. All sinners who have pierced his heart by their crimes will then behold him, and will mourn over their treatment of him; they, in a special manner, who imbrued their hands in his blood will then remember their crime, and be overwhelmed with alarm. The design of what is here said seems to be, to show that the coming of the Saviour will be an event of great interest to all mankind. None can be indifferent to it, for all will see him. His friends will hail his advent, (compare Rev. 22:20) but all who were engaged in putting him to death, and all who in any manner have pierced his heart by sin and ingratitude, unless they shall have repented, will have occasion of bitter lamentation when he shall come. There are none who have a more fearful doom to anticipate than the murderers of the Son of God, including those who actually put him to death, and those who would have engaged in such an act had they been present, and those who, by their conduct, have done all they could to pierce and wound him by their ingratitude.

            And all kindreds of the earth. Gr., "All the tribes‹fulai‹of the earth." This language is the same which the Saviour uses in Matt. 24:30. See Note on Matt. 24:30.

            The word tribes is that which is commonly applied to the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus used, it would describe the inhabitants of the holy land; but it may be used to denote nations and people in general, as descended from a common ancestor, and the connexion requires that it should be understood in this sense here, since it is said that "every eve shall see him;" that is, all that dwell on the face of the earth.

            Shall wail because of him. On account of him; on account of their treatment of him. The word rendered wail‹koptw‹means properly to beat, to cut; then to beat or cut one's self in the breast as an expression of sorrow; and then to lament, to cry aloud in intense grief. The coming of the Saviour will be an occasion of this,

            (a) because it will be an event which will call the sins of men to remembrance, and

            (b) because they will be overwhelmed with the apprehension of the wrath to come. Nothing would fill the earth with greater consternation than the coming of the Son of God in the clouds of heaven; nothing could produce so deep and universal alarm. This fact, which no one can doubt, is proof that men feel that they are guilty, since, if they were innocent, they would have nothing to dread by his appearing. It is also a proof that they believe in the doctrine of future punishment, since, if they do not, there is no reason why they should be alarmed at his coming. Surely men would not dread his appearing if they really believed that all will be saved. Who dreads the coming of a benefactor to bestow favours on him? Who dreads the appearing of a jailer to deliver him from prison; of a physician to raise him up from a bed of pain; of a deliverer to knock off the fetters of slavery? And how can it be that men should be alarmed at the coming of the Saviour unless their consciences tell them that they have much to fear in the future? The presence of the Redeemer in the clouds of heaven would destroy all the hopes of those who believe in the doctrine of universal salvation‹as the approach of death now often does. Men believe that there is much to be dreaded in the future world, or they would not fear the coming of Him who shall wind up the affairs of the human race.

            Even so, Amen‹nai, amhn. "A double expression of so be it, assuredly, certainly, one in Greek and the other in Hebrew."‹Professor Stuart. Compare Rom. 8:16, "Abba, Father"‹abba, o pathr. The idea which John seems to intend to convey is, that the coming of the Lord Jesus, and the consequences which he says will follow, are events which are altogether certain. This is not the expression of a wish that it may be so, as our common translation would seem to imply, but a strong affirmation that it will be so. In some passages, however, the word (nai) expresses assent to what is said, implying approbation of it as true, or as desirable. Matt. 11:26, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." Luke 10:21. So in Rev. 16:7, "Even so, (nai) Lord God Almighty." So in Rev. 22:20, "Even so, (nai) come, Lord Jesus." The word Amen here seems to determine the meaning of the phrase, and to make it the affirmation of a certainty, rather than the expression of a wish.


8. I am Alpha and Omega. These are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, and denote properly the first and the last. So in Rev. 22:13, when the two expressions are united, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last." So in Rev. 1:17, the speaker says of himself, "I am the first and the last." Among the Jewish Rabbins, it was common to use the first and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet to denote the whole of anything, from beginning to end. Thus it is said, "Adam transgressed the whole law from a to ;t "‹from Aleph to Tav. "Abraham kept the whole law from a to ;t.

            " The language here is that which would properly denote eternity in the being to whom it is applied, and could be used in reference to no one but the true God. It means that he is the beginning and the end of all things; that he was at the commencement, and will be at the close; and it is thus equivalent to saying that he has always existed, and that he will always exist. Compare Isa. 41:4, "I the Lord, the first, and with the last;'‹Isa. 44:6, "I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God;"‹Isa. 48:12, "I am he; I am the first, I also am the last." There can be no doubt that the language here would be naturally understood as implying divinity, and it could be properly applied to no one but the true God. The obvious interpretation here would be to apply this to the Lord Jesus; for

            (a) it is he who is spoken of in the verses preceding, and

            (b) there can be no doubt that the same language is applied to him in Rev. 1:11. As there is, however, a difference of reading in this place in the Greek text, and as it cannot be absolutely certain that the writer meant to refer to the Lord Jesus specifically here, this cannot be adduced with propriety as a proof-text to demonstrate his divinity. Many MSS., instead of "Lord," kurioß, read "God," qeoß; and this reading is adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, and Hahn, and is now regarded as the correct reading. There is no real incongruity in supposing, also, that the writer here meant to refer to God as such, since the introduction of a reference to him would not be inappropriate to his manifest design. Besides, a portion of the language here used, "which is, and was, and is to come," is that which would more naturally suggest a reference to God as such, than to the Lord Jesus Christ. See Rev. 1:4. The object for which this passage referring to the "first and the last‹to him who was, and is, and is to come," is introduced here evidently is, to show that as he was clothed with omnipotence, and would continue to exist through all ages to come as he had existed in all ages past, there could be no doubt about his ability to execute all which it is said he would execute.

            Saith the Lord. Or, saith God, according to what is now regarded as the correct reading.

            Which is, and which was, etc. See Note on Rev. 1:4.

            The Almighty. An appellation often applied to God, meaning that he has all power, and used here to denote that he is able to accomplish what is disclosed in this book.


9. I John, who also am your brother. Your Christian brother; who am a fellow-Christian with you. The reference here is doubtless to the members of the seven churches in Asia, to whom the epistles in the following chapters were addressed, and to whom the whole book seems to have been sent. In the previous verse, the writer had closed the salutation, and he here commences a description of the Circumstances under which the vision appeared to him. He was in a lonely island, to which he had been banished on account of his attachment to religion; he was in a state of high spiritual enjoyment on the day devoted to the sacred remembrance of the Redeemer; he suddenly heard a voice behind him, and turning saw the Son of man himself in glorious form in the midst of seven golden lamps, and fell at his feet as dead.

            And companion in tribulation. Your partner in affliction. That is, he and they were suffering substantially the same kind of trials on account of their religion. It is evident from this, that some form of persecution was then raging in which they were also sufferers, though in their case it did not lead to banishment. The leader, the apostle, the aged and influential preacher, was banished; but there were many other forms of trial which they might be called to endure who remained at home. What they were we have not the means of knowing with certainty.

            And in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. The meaning of this passage is, that he, and those whom he addressed, were not only companions in affliction, but were fellow partners in the kingdom of the Redeemer‹that is, they shared the honour and the privileges pertaining to that kingdom; and that they were fellow-partners in the patience of Jesus Christ‹that is, in enduring with patience whatever might follow from their being his friends and followers. The general idea is, that alike in privileges and sufferings they were united. They shared alike in the results of their attachment to the Saviour.

            Was in the isle that is called Patmos. Patmos is one of the cluster of islands in the Aegean Sea, anciently called the Sporades. It lies between the island of Icaria and the promontory of Miletus. It is merely mentioned by the ancient geographers, Plin. His. Nat. 4, 23; Strabo, 10, 488. It is now called Patino, or Patmosa. It is some six or eight miles in length, and not more than a mile in breadth, being about fifteen miles in circumference. It has neither trees nor rivers; nor has it any land for cultivation, except some little nooks among the ledges of rocks. On approaching the island, the coast is high, and consists of a succession of capes, which form so many ports, some of which are excellent. The only one in use, however, is a deep bay, sheltered by high mountains on every side but one, where it is protected by a projecting cape. The town attached to this port is situated upon a high rocky mountain, rising immediately from the sea, and this with the Scala below upon the shore, consisting of some ships and houses, forms the only inhabited site of the island. Though Patmos is deficient in trees, it abounds in flowery plants and shrubs. Walnuts and other fruit trees are raised in the orchards, and the wine of Patmos is the strongest and the best favoured in the Greek islands. Maize and barley are cultivated, but not in a quantity sufficient for the use of the inhabitants, and for a supply of their own vessels, and others which often put into their good harbour for provisions. The inhabitants now do not exceed four or five thousand, many of whom are emigrants from the neighbouring continent. About half-way up the mountain, there is shown a natural grotto in a rock, where John is said to have seen his visions, and to have written this book. Near this is a small church, connected with which is a school or college, where the Greek language is taught; and on the top of the hill, and in the centre of the island, is a monastery, which from its situation has a very majestic appearance.‹Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature. It is commonly supposed that John was banished to this island by Domitian, about A.D. 94. No place could have been selected for banishment which would accord better with such a design than this. Lonely, desolate, barren, uninhabited, seldom visited, it had all the requisites which could be desired for a place of punishment, and banishment to that place would accomplish all that a persecutor could wish in silencing an apostle, without putting him to death. It was no uncommon thing in ancient times to banish men from their country; either sending them forth at large, or specifying some particular place to which they were to go. The whole narrative leads us to suppose that this place was designated as that to which John was to be sent. Banishment to an island was a common mode of punishment; and there was a distinction made by this act in favour of those who were thus banished. The more base, low, and vile of criminals were commonly condemned to work in the mines; the more decent and respectable were banished to some lonely island. See the authorities quoted in Wetstein, in loc. For the word of God. On account of the word of God; that is, for holding and preaching the gospel. See Note on Rev. 1:2.

            It cannot mean that he was sent there with a view to his preaching the word of God; for it is inconceivable that he should have been sent from Ephesus to preach in such a little, lonely, desolate place, where indeed there is no evidence that there were any inhabitants; nor can it mean that he was sent there by the Spirit of God to receive and record this revelation, for it is clear that the revelation could have been made elsewhere, and such a place afforded no peculiar advantages for this. The fair interpretation is, in accordance with all the testimony of antiquity, that he was sent there in a time of persecution as a punishment for preaching the gospel.

            And for the testimony of Jesus Christ. See Note on Rev. 1:2, He did not go there to bear testimony to Jesus Christ on that island, either by preaching or recording the visions in this book, but he went because he had preached the doctrines which testified of Christ.


10. I was in the Spirit. This cannot refer to his own spirit‹for such an expression would be unintelligible. The language then must refer to some unusual state, or to some influence that had been brought to bear upon him from without, that was appropriate to such a day. The word Spirit may refer either to the Holy Spirit, or to some state of mind such as the Holy Spirit produces‹a spirit of elevated devotion; a state of high and uncommon religious enjoyment. It is clear that John does not mean here to say that he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit in such a sense as that he was inspired, for the command to make a record, as well as the visions, came subsequently to the time referred to. The fair meaning of the passage is, that he was at that time favoured in a large measure with the influences of the Holy Spirit‹the spirit of true devotion; that he had a high state of religious enjoyment, and was in a condition not inappropriate to the remarkable communications which were made to him on that day. The state of mind in which he was at the time here referred to, is not such as the prophets are often represented to have been in when under the prophetic inspiration, compare Ezek. 1:1; 8:3; Ezek. 40:2; Jer. 24:1 and which was often accompanied with an entire prostration of bodily strength, compare Numb. 24:4; Ezek. 1:28; Dan. 10:8-10

            1 Sam. 19:24; Rev. 1:17 but such as any Christian may experience when in a high state of religious enjoyment. He was not yet under the prophetic ecstacy, (compare Acts 10:10; 11:5; 22:17) but was, though in a lonely and barren island, and far away from the privileges of the sanctuary, permitted to enjoy in a high degree the consolations of religion: an illustration of the great truth that God can meet his people anywhere; that, when in solitude and in circumstances of outward affliction, when persecuted and cast out, when deprived of the public means of grace and the society of religious friends, he can meet them with the abundant consolations of his grace, and pour joy and peace into their souls. This state was not inappropriate to the revelations which were about to be made to John, but this itself was not that state. It was a state which seems to have resulted from the fact, that on that desert island he devoted the day to the worship of God, and by honouring the day dedicated to the memory of the risen Saviour, found, what all will find, that it was attended with rich spiritual influences on his soul.

            On the Lord's day. The word here rendered Lord's‹kuriakh‹occurs only in this place and in 1 Cor. 11:20, where it is applied to the Lord's Supper. It properly means pertaining to the Lord; and, so far as this word is concerned, it might mean a day pertaining to the Lord, in any sense, or for any reason‹either because he claimed it as his own and had set it apart for his own service; or because it was designed to commemorate some important event pertaining to him; or because it was observed in honour of him. It is clear

            (1) that this refers to some day which was distinguished from all other days of the week, and which would be sufficiently designated by the use of this term.

            (2.) That it was a day which was for some reason regarded as peculiarly a day of the Lord, or peculiarly devoted to him.

            (3.) It would further appear that this was a day particularly devoted to the Lord Jesus, for

            (a) that is the natural meaning of the word Lord as used in the New Testament, (compare Note on Acts 1:24) and

            (b) if the Jewish Sabbath were intended to be designated, the word Sabbath would have been used. The term was used generally by the early Christians to denote the first day of the week. It occurs twice in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, (about A.D. 101,) who calls the Lord's day "the queen and prince of all days." Chrysostom (on Psalms 119) says, "It was called the Lord's day because the Lord rose from the dead on that day." Later fathers make a marked distinction between the Sabbath and the Lord's day; meaning by the former, the Jewish Sabbath, or the seventh day of the week, and by the latter, the first day of the week kept holy by Christians. So Theodoret, (Fab. Haeret. ii. 1,) speaking of the Ebionites, says, "They keep the Sabbath according to the Jewish law, and sanctify the Lord's day in like manner as we do."‹Professor Stuart. The strong probability is, that the name was given to this day in honour of the Lord Jesus, and because he rose on that day from the dead. No one can doubt that it was an appellation given to the first day of the week, and the passage therefore proves

            (1) that that day was thus early distinguished in some peculiar manner, so that the mere mention of it would be sufficient to identify it in the minds of those to whom the apostle wrote;

            (2) that it was in some sense regarded as devoted to the Lord Jesus, or was designed in some way to commemorate what he had done; and

            (3) that if this book were written by the apostle John, the observance of that day has the apostolic sanction. He had manifestly, in accordance with a prevailing custom, set apart this day in honour of the Lord Jesus. Though alone, he was engaged on that day in acts of devotion. Though far away from the sanctuary, he enjoyed what all Christians hope to enjoy on such a day of rest, and what not a few do in fact enjoy in its observance. We may remark in view of this statement,

            (a) that when away from the sanctuary, and deprived of its privileges, we should nevertheless not fail to observe the Christian Sabbath. If on a bed of sickness; if in a land of strangers; if on the deep; if in a foreign clime; if on a lonely island as John was, where we have none of the advantages of public worship, we should yet honour the Sabbath. We Should worship God alone if we have none to unite with us; we should show to those around us, if we are with strangers, by our dress and our conversation, by a serious and devout manner, by abstinence from labour, and by a resting from travel, that we devoutly regard this day as set apart for God.

            (b) We may expect, in such circumstances, and with such a devout observance of the day, that God will meet with us and bless us. It was on a lonely island, far away from the sanctuary and from the society of Christian friends, that the Saviour met "the beloved disciple," and we may trust it will be so with us. For on such a desert island; in a lonely forest; on the deep, or amid strangers in a foreign land, he can as easily meet us as in the sanctuary where we have been accustomed to worship, and when surrounded by all the privileges of a Christian land. No man‹at home or abroad; among friends or strangers; enjoying the privileges of the sanctuary, or deprived of those privileges‹ever kept the Christian Sabbath in a devout manner without profit to his own soul; and when deprived of the privileges of public worship, the visitations of the Saviour to the soul may be more than a compensation for all our privations. Who would not be willing to be banished to a lonely island like Patmos, if he might enjoy such a glorious vision of the Redeemer as John was favoured with there?

            And heard behind me a great voice. A loud voice. This was of course sudden, and took him by surprise.

            As of a trumpet. Loud as a trumpet. This is evidently the only point in the comparison. It does not mean that the tones of the voice resembled a trumpet, but only that it was clear, loud, and distinct like a trumpet. A trumpet is a well-known wind instrument distinguished for the clearness of its sounds, and was used for calling assemblies together, for marshalling hosts for battle, etc. The Hebrew word employed commonly to denote a trumpet‹ rDpwøv shophar‹means bright and clear, and is supposed to have been given to the instrument on account of its clear and shrill sound, as we now give the name "clarion" to a certain wind instrument. The Hebrew trumpet is often referred to as employed, on account of its clearness, to summon people together, Exod. 19:13; Numb. 10:10; Judg. 7:18; 1 Sam. 13:3; 2 Sam. 15:10.


11. Saying. That is, literally, "the trumpet saying." It was, however, manifestly the voice that addressed these words to John, though they seemed to come through a trumpet, and hence the trumpet is represented as uttering them.

            I am Alpha and Omega. See Note on Rev. 1:8.

            The first and the last. An explanation of the terms Alpha and Omega. See Note on Rev. 1:8.

            And, What thou seest. The voice, in addition to the declaration "I am Alpha and Omegas" gave this direction that he should record what he saw. The phrase "what thou seest" refers to what would pass before him in vision; what he there saw, and what he would see in the extraordinary manifestations which were to be made to him.

            Write in a book. Make a fair record of it all‹evidently meaning that he should describe things as they occurred, and implying that the vision would be held so long before the eye of his mind that he would be able to transfer it to the "book." The fair and obvious interpretation of this is, that he was to make the record in the island of Patmos, and then send it to the churches. Though Patmos was a lonely and barren place, and though probably there were few or no inhabitants there, yet there is no improbability in supposing that John could have found writing materials there, nor even that he may have been permitted to take such materials with him. He seems to have been banished for preaching, not for writing; and there is no evidence that the materials for writing would be withheld from him. John Bunyan in Bedford jail found materials for writing the Pilgrim's Progress; and there is no evidence that the apostle John was denied the means of recording his thoughts when in the island of Patmos. The word book here‹biblion‹would more properly mean a roll or scroll, that being the form in which books were anciently made. See Note on Luke 4:17.

            And send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia. The churches which are immediately designated, not implying that there were no other churches in Asia, but that there were particular reasons for sending it to these. He was to send all that he should "see;" to wit, all that is recorded in this volume or book of "Revelation." Part of this (chapters 2-3) would appertain particularly to them; the remainder (chapters 4-22) would appertain to them no more than to others, but still they would have the common interest in it which all the church would have, and, in their circumstances of trial, there might be important reasons why they should see the assurance that the church would ultimately triumph over all its enemies. They were to derive from it themselves the consolation which it was fitted to impart in time of trial, and to transmit it to future times for the welfare of the church at large.

            Unto Ephesus. Perhaps mentioned first as being the capital of that portion of Asia Minor; the most important city of the seven; the place where John had preached, and whence he had been banished. For a particular description of these seven churches, see Notes on the epistles addressed to them in chapters 2-3.


12. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. He naturally turned round to see who it was that spake to him in this solitary and desolate place, where he thought himself to be alone. To see the voice here means to see the person who spake.

            And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks. These were the first things that met his eye. This must have been in vision, of course; and the meaning is, that there seemed to be there seven such lamps or candelabras. The word rendered candlesticks‹lucnia‹means properly a light-stand; lamp-stand;‹something to bear up a light. It would be applied to anything that was used for this purpose; and nothing is intimated, in the use of the word, in regard to the form or dimensions of the light-bearers. Lamps were more commonly used at that time than candles, and it is rather to be supposed that these were designed to be lamp-bearers, or lamp-sustainers, than candlesticks. They were seven in number; not one branching into seven, but seven standing apart, and so far from each other that he who appeared to John could stand among them. The lamp-bearers evidently sustained each a light, and these gave a peculiar brilliancy to the scene. It is not improbable that, as they were designed to represent the seven churches of Asia, they were arranged in an order resembling these churches. The scene is not laid in the temple, as many suppose, for there is nothing that resembles the arrangements in the temple except the mere fact of the lights. The scene as yet is in Patmos, and there is no evidence that John did not regard himself as there, or that he fancied for a moment that he was translated to the temple in Jerusalem. There can be no doubt as to the design of this representation, for it is expressly declared (Rev. 1:20) that the seven lamp-bearers were intended to represent the seven churches. Light is often used in the Scriptures as an emblem of true religion; Christians are represented as "the light of the world," (Matt. 5:14) compare (Phil. 2:15 John 8:12) and a Christian church may be represented as a light standing in the midst of surrounding darkness.


13. And in the midst of the seven candlesticks. Standing among them, so as to be encircled within them. This shows that the representation could not have been like that of the vision of Zechariah, (Zech. 4:2) where the prophet sees "a candlestick all of gold with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon." In the vision as it appeared to John, there was not one lamp-bearer with seven lamps or branches, but there were seven lamp-bearers so arranged that one in the likeness of the Son of man could stand in the midst of them.

            One like unto the Son of man. This was evidently the Lord Jesus Christ himself, elsewhere so often called "the Son of man." That it was the Saviour himself is apparent from Rev. 1:18. The expression rendered "like unto the Son of man," should have been "like unto a son of man;" that is, like a man‹a human being, or in a human form. The reasons for so interpreting it are

            (a) that the Greek is without the article; and

            (b) that, as it is rendered in our version, it seems to make the writer say that he was like himself‹since the expression "the Son of man" is in the New Testament but another name for the Lord Jesus. The phrase is often applied to him in the New Testament, and always, except in three instances, (Acts 7:56; Rev. 1:13; 14:14) by the Saviour himself, evidently to denote his warm interest in man, or his relationship to man; to signify that he was a man, and wished to designate himself eminently as such. See Note on Matt. 8:20.

            In the use of this phrase in the New Testament, there is probably an allusion to Dan. 7:13. The idea would seem to be, that he whom he saw resembled "the Son of man"‹the Lord Jesus as he had seen him in the days of his flesh‹though it would appear that he did not know that it was he until he was informed of it, Rev. 1:18. Indeed, the costume in which he appeared was so unlike that in which John had been accustomed to see the Lord Jesus in the days of his flesh, that it cannot be well supposed that he would at once recognise him as the same.

            Clothed with a garment down to the foot. A robe reaching down to the feet, or to the ankles, yet so as to leave the feet themselves visible. The allusion here, doubtless, is to a long, loose, flowing robe, such as was worn by kings. Compare Notes on Isa. 6:1.

            And girt about the paps. About the breast. It was common, and is still in the East, to wear a girdle to confine the robe, as well as to form a beautiful ornament. This was commonly worn about the middle of the person, or "the loins;" but it would seem also that it was sometimes worn around the breast. See Note on Matt. 5:38-41.

            With a golden girdle. Either wholly made of gold, or more probably richly ornamented with gold. This would naturally suggest the idea of one of rank‹probably one of princely rank. The raiment here assumed was not that of a priest, but that of a king. It was very far from being that in which the Redeemer appeared when he dwelt upon the earth, and was rather designed to denote his royal state as he is exalted in heaven. He is not indeed represented with a crown and sceptre here, and perhaps the leading idea is that of one of exalted rank; of unusual dignity; of one fitted to inspire awe and respect. In other circumstances, in this book, this same Redeemer is represented as wearing a crown, and going forth to conquest. See Rev. 19:12-16. Here the representation seems to have been designed to impress the mind with a sense of the greatness and glory of the personage who thus suddenly made his appearance.


14. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow. Exceedingly or perfectly white‹the first suggestion to the mind of the apostle being that of wool, and then the thought occurring of its extreme whiteness resembling snow‹the purest white of which the mind conceives. The comparison with wool and snow to denote anything peculiarly white is not uncommon. See Isa. 1:18. Professor Stuart supposes that this means, not that his hairs were literally white, as if with age, which he says would be incongruous to one just risen from the dead, clothed with immortal youth and rigour, but that it means radiant, bright, resplendent‹similar to what occurred on the transfiguration of the Saviour, Matt. 17:2. But to this it may be replied

            (a) that this would not accord well with that with which his hair is compared‹snow and wool, particularly the latter.

            (b) The usual meaning of the word is more obvious here, and not at all inappropriate. The representation was fitted to signify majesty and authority; and this would be best accomplished by the image of one who was venerable in years. Thus in the vision that appeared to Daniel, (Dan. 7:9) it is said of him who is there called the "Ancient of Days," that his "garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool." It is not improbable that John had that representation in his eye, and that therefore he would be impressed with the conviction that this was a manifestation of a Divine person. We are not necessarily to suppose that this is the form in which the Saviour always appears now in heaven, any more than we are to suppose that God appears always in the form in which he was manifested to Isaiah, (Isa. 6:1) to Daniel, (Dan. 7:9) or to Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu in the mount, Exod. 24:10-11. The representation is, that this form was assumed for the purpose of impressing the mind of the apostle with a sense of his majesty and glory.

            And his eyes were as a flame of fire. Bright, sharp, penetrating; as if everything was light before them, or they would penetrate into the thoughts of men. Such a representation is not uncommon. We speak of a lightning glance, a fiery look, etc. In Dan. 10:6, it is said of the man who appeared to the prophet on the banks of the river Hiddekel, that his eyes were "as lamps of fire." Numerous instances of this comparison from the Greek and Latin classics may be seen in Wetstein, in loc.


15. And his feet like unto fine brass. Compare Dan. 10:6, "And his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass." See also Ezek. 1:7, "And they" [the feet of the living creatures] "sparkled like the colour of burnished brass." The word here used‹calkolibanw‹occurs in the New Testament only here and in Rev. 2:18. It is not found in the Septuagint. The word properly means white brass, (probably compounded of calkoß, brass, and libanoß, whiteness, from the NEbDl to be white.) Others regard it as from calkoß, brass, and liparon, clear. The metal referred to was undoubtedly a species of brass distinguished for its clearness or whiteness. Brass is a compound metal, composed of copper and zinc. The colour varies much according to the different proportions of the various ingredients. The Vulgate here renders the word aurichalcum, a mixture of gold and of brass‹perhaps the same as the hlektron‹the electrum of the ancients, composed of gold and of silver, usually in the proportion of four parts gold and one part silver, and distinguished for its brilliancy. See Robinson, Lex., and Wetstein, in loc. The kind of metal here referred to, however, would seem to be some compound of brass‹of a whitish and brilliant colour. The exact proportion of the ingredients in the metal here referred to cannot now be determined.

            As if they burned in a furnace. That is, his feet were so bright that they seemed to be like a beautiful metal glowing intensely in the midst of a furnace. Any one who has looked upon the dazzling and almost insupportable brilliancy of metal in a furnace, can form an idea of the image here presented.

            And his voice as the sound of many waters. As the roar of the ocean, or of a cataract. Nothing could be a more sublime description of majesty and authority than to compare the voice of a speaker with the roar of the ocean. This comparison often occurs in the Scriptures. See Ezek. 43:2, "And behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the east: and his voice was like the sound of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory." So Rev. 14:2; 19:6. Compare Ezek. 1:24; Dan. 10:6.


16. And he had in his right hand seven stars. Emblematic of the angels of the seven churches. How he held them is not said. It may be that they seemed to rest on his open palm; or it may be that he seemed to hold them as if they were arranged in a certain order, and with some sort of attachment, so that they could be grasped. It is not improbable that, as in the case of the seven lamp-bearers, (See Note on Rev. 1:13) they were so arranged as to represent the relative position of the seven churches.

            And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. On the form of the ancient two-edged sword, See Note on Eph. 6:17.

            The two edges were designed to cut both ways; and such a sword is a striking emblem of the penetrating power of truth, or of words that proceed from the mouth; and this is designed undoubtedly to be the representation here-that there was some symbol which showed that his words, or his truth, had the power of cutting deep, or penetrating the soul. So in Isa. 49:2 it is said of the same personage, "And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword." See Note on Isa. 49:2.

            So in Heb. 4:12, "The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword," etc. So it is said of Pericles by Aristophanes‹

"His powerful speech

Pierced the hearer's soul, and left behind

Deep in his bosom its keen point infixt."

            A similar figure often occurs in Arabic poetry. "As arrows his words enter into the heart." See Gesenius, Comm. zu Isaiah 49:2. The only difficulty here is in regard to the apparently incongruous representation of a sword seeming to proceed from the mouth; but it is not, perhaps, necessary to suppose that John means to say that he saw such an image. He heard him speak; he felt the penetrating power of his words; and they were as if a sharp sword proceeded from his mouth. They penetrated deep into the soul, and as he looked on him it seemed as if a sword came from his mouth. Perhaps it is not necessary to suppose that there was even any visible representation of this‹either of a sword or of the breath proceeding from his mouth appearing to take this form, as Professor Stuart supposes. It may be wholly a figurative representation, as Henrichs and Ewald suppose. Though there were visible and impressive symbols of his majesty and glory presented to the eyes, it is not necessary to suppose that there were visible symbols of his words.

            And his countenance. His face. There had been before particular descriptions of some parts of his face‹as of his eyes‹but this is a representation of his whole aspect; of the general splendour and brightness of his countenance.

            Was as the sun shineth in his strength. In his full splendour when unobscured by clouds; where his rays are in no way intercepted. Compare Judg. 5:31: "But let them that love him [the Lord] be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." 2 Sam. 23:4, "And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds." Psa. 19:5, "Which [the sun] is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race." There could be no more striking description of the majesty and glory of the countenance than to compare it with the overpowering splendour of the sun.‹This closes the description of the personage that appeared to John. The design was evidently to impress him with a sense of his majesty and glory, and to prepare the way for the authoritative nature of the communications which he was to make. It is obvious that this appearance must have been assumed. The representation is not that of the Redeemer as he rose from the dead‹a middle-aged man; nor is it clear that it was the same as on the mount of transfiguration‹where, for anything that appears, he retained his usual aspect and form though temporarily invested with extraordinary brilliancy; nor is it the form in which we may suppose he ascended to heaven‹for there is no evidence that he was thus transformed when he ascended; nor is it that of a priest‹for all the peculiar habiliments of a Jewish priest are wanting in this description. The appearance assumed is, evidently, in accordance with various representations of God as he appeared to Ezekiel, to Isaiah, and to Daniel‹that which was a suitable manifestation of a Divine being‹of one clothed in the majesty and power of God. We are not to infer from this, that this is in fact the appearance of the Redeemer now in heaven, or that this is the form in which he will appear when he comes to judge the world. Of his appearance in heaven we have no knowledge; of the aspect which he will assume when he comes to judge men we have no certain information. We are necessarily quite as ignorant of this as we are of what will be our own form and appearance after the resurrection from the dead.


17. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. As if I were dead; deprived of sense and consciousness. He was overwhelmed with the suddenness of the vision; he saw that this was a Divine being; but he did not as yet know that it was the Saviour. It is not probable that in this vision he would immediately recognise any of the familiar features of the Lord Jesus as he had been accustomed to see him some sixty years before; and if he did, the effect would have been quite as overpowering as is here described. But the subsequent revelations of this Divine personage would rather seem to imply that John did not at once recognise him as the Lord Jesus. The effect here described is one that often occurred to those who had a vision of God. See Dan. 8:18, "Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright." Dan. 8:27, "And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king's business." Compare Exod. 33:20; Isa. 6:5; Ezek. 1:28; 43:3; Dan. 10:7-9, 17.

            And he laid his right hand upon me. For the purpose of raising him up. Compare Dan. 8:18, "He touched me, and set me upright." We usually stretch out the right hand to raise up one who is fallen.

            Saying unto me, Fear not. Compare Matt. 14:27, "It is I; be not afraid." The fact that it was the Saviour, though he appeared in this form of overpowering majesty, was a reason why John should not be afraid. Why that was a reason, he immediately adds‹that he was the first and the last; that though he had been dead he was now alive, and would continue ever to live, and that he had the keys of hell and of death. It is evident that John was overpowered with that awful emotion which the human mind must feel at the evidence of the presence of God. Thus men feel when God seems to come near them by the impressive symbols of his majesty‹as in the thunder, the earthquake, and the tempest. Compare Heb. 12:21; Luke 9:34. Yet, amidst the most awful manifestations of Divine power, the simple assurance that our Redeemer is near us is enough to allay our fears, and diffuse calmness through the soul.

            I am the first and the last. See Note on Rev. 1:8.

            This is stated to be one of the reasons why he should not fear‹that he was eternal: "I always live‹have lived through all the past, and will live through all which is to come‹and therefore I can accomplish all my promises, and execute all my purposes."


18. I am he that liveth, and was dead. I was indeed once dead, but now I live, and shall continue to live for ever. This would at once identify him who thus appeared as the Lord Jesus Christ, for to no one else could this apply. He had been put to death; but he had risen from the grave. This also is given as a reason why John should not fear; and nothing would allay his fears more than this. He now saw that he was in the presence of that Saviour whom more than half a century before he had so tenderly loved when in the flesh, and whom, though now long absent, he had faithfully served, and for whose cause he was now in this lonely island. His faith in his resurrection had not been a delusion; he saw the very Redeemer before him who had once been laid in the tomb.

            Behold, I am alive for evermore. I am to live for ever. Death is no more to cut me down, and I am never again to slumber in the grave. As he was always to live, he could accomplish all his promises, and fulfil all his purposes. The Saviour is never to die again. He can, therefore, always sustain us in our troubles; he can be with us in our death. Whoever of our friends die, he will not die; when we die, he will still be on the throne.

            Amen. A word here of strong affirmation‹as if he had said, it is truly, or certainly so. See Note on Rev. 1:7.

            This expression is one that the Saviour often used when he wished to give emphasis, or to express anything strongly. Compare John 3:3; 5:25.

            And have the keys of hell and of death. The word rendered hell‹adhß, hades‹refers properly to the under world; the abode of departed spirits; the region of the dead. This was represented as dull and gloomy; as enclosed with walls; as entered through gates which were fastened with bolts and bars. For a description of the views which prevailed among the ancients on this subject, See Notes on Luke 16:23, Job 10:21, Job 10:22.

            To hold the key of this, was to hold the power over the invisible world. It was the more appropriate that the Saviour should represent himself as having this authority, as he had himself been raised from the dead by his own power, (compare John 10:18) thus showing that the dominion over this dark world was entrusted to him.

            And of death. A personification. Death reigns in that world. But to his wide-extended realms the Saviour holds the key, and can have access to his empire when he pleases, releasing all whom he chooses, and confining there still such as he shall please. It is probably in part from such hints as these that Milton drew his sublime description of the gates of hell in the Paradise Lost. As Christ always lives; as he always retains this power over the regions of the dead, and the whole world of spirits, it may be further remarked that we have nothing to dread if we put our trust in him. We need not fear to enter a world which he has entered and from which he has emerged, achieving a glorious triumph; we need not fear what the dread king that reigns there can do to us, for his power extends not beyond the permission of the Saviour, and in his own time that Saviour will call us forth to life to die no more.


19. Write the things which thou hast seen. An account of the vision which thou hast had, Rev. 1:10-18.

            And the things which are. Give an account of those things which thou hast seen as designed to represent the condition of the seven churches. He had seen not only the Saviour, but he had seen seven lamp-stands, and seven stars in the hand of the Saviour, and he is now commanded to record the meaning of these symbols as referring to things then actually existing in the seven churches. This interpretation is demanded by Rev. 1:20.

            And the things which shall be hereafter. The Greek phrase rendered hereafter‹meta tauta‹means "after these things;" that is, he was to make a correct representation of the things which then were, and then to record what would occur "after these things:" to wit, of the images, symbols, and truths, which would be disclosed to him after what he had already seen. The expression refers to future times. He does not say for how long a time; but the revelations which were to be made referred to events which were to occur beyond those which were then taking place. Nothing can be argued from the use of this language in regard to the length of time embraced in the revelation‹whether it extended only for a few years, or whether it embraced all coming time. The more natural interpretation, how- ever, would seem to be, that it would stretch far into future years, and that it was designed to give at least an outline of what would be the character of the future in general.


20. The mystery of the seven stars. On the word mystery, See Note on Eph. 1:9.

            The word means, properly, that which is hidden, obscure, unknown‹until it is disclosed by one having the ability to do it, or by the course of events. When disclosed it may be as clear, and as capable of comprehension, as any other truth. The meaning here, as applied to the seven stars, is, that they were symbols, and that their meaning as symbols, without a suitable explanation, would remain hidden or unknown. They were designed to represent important truths, and John was directed to write down what they were intended in the circumstances to signify, and to send the explanation to the churches. It is evidently implied that the meaning of these symbols would be beyond the ordinary powers of the human mind to arrive at with certainty, and hence John was directed to explain the symbol. The general and obvious truths which they would serve to convey would be that the ministers of the churches, and the churches themselves, were designed to be lights in the world, and should burn clearly and steadily. Much important truth would be couched under these symbols, indeed, if nothing had been added in regard to their signification as employed here by the Saviour; but there were particular truths of great importance in reference to each of these "stars" and "lamp-bearers," which John was more fully to explain.

            Which thou sawest in my right hand. Gr., "upon my right hand"‹epi thß dexiaß mou: giving some support to the opinion that the stars, as they were seen, appeared to be placed on his hand‹that is, on the palm of his hand as he stretched it out. The expression in Rev. 1:16 is, that they were "in (en) his right hand;" but the language here used is not decisive as to the position of the stars. They may have been held in some way by the hand, or represented as scattered on the open hand.

            The seven golden candlesticks. The truth which these emblematic representations are designed to convey.

            The seven stars are. That is, they represent, or they denote‹in accordance with a common usage in the Scriptures. See Note on Matt. 26:26.

            The angels of the seven churches. Gr., "Angels of the seven churches:" the article being wanting. This does not refer to them as a collective or associated body, for the addresses are made to them as individuals‹an epistle being directed to "the angel" of each particular church, Rev. 2:1, 12, etc. The evident meaning, however, is, that what was recorded should be directed to them not as pertaining to them exclusively as individuals, but as presiding over, or representing the churches, for what is recorded pertains to the churches, and was evidently designed to be laid before them. It was for the churches, but was committed to the "angel" as representing the church, and to be communicated to the church under his care. There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of the word angels here. By the advocates of episcopacy, it has been argued that the use of this term proves that there was a presiding bishop over a circle or group of churches in Ephesus, in Smyrna, etc., since it is said that it cannot be supposed that there was but a single church in a city so large as Ephesus, or in the other cities mentioned. A full examination of this argument may be seen in my work on the "Apostolic Church," [pp. 191-199, London ed.] The word angel properly means a messenger, and is thus applied to celestial beings as messengers sent forth from God to convey or to do his will. This being the common meaning of the word, it may be employed to denote any one who is a messenger, and hence, with propriety, any one who is employed to communicate the will of another; to transact his business, or, more remotely, to act in his place‹to be a representative. In order to ascertain the meaning of the word as used in this place, and in reference to these churches, it may be remarked,

            (1.) that it cannot mean literally an angel, as referring to a heavenly being, for no one can suppose that such a being presided over these churches.

            (2.) It cannot be shown to mean, as Lord (in loc.) supposes, messengers that the churches had sent to John, and that these letters were given to them to be returned by them to the churches, for

            (a) there is no evidence that any such messengers had been sent to John;

            (b) there is no probability that while he was a banished exile in Patmos such a thing would be permitted;

            (c) the message was not sent by them, it was sent to them‹"Unto the angel of the church in Ephesus write," etc.

            (3.) It cannot be proved that the reference is to a prelatical bishop presiding over a group or circle of churches, called a diocese, for

            (a) there is nothing in the word angel, as used in this connexion, which would be peculiarly applicable to such a personage‹it belong as applicable to a pastor of a single church as to a bishop of many churches.

            (b) There is no evidence that there were any such groups of churches then as constitute an episcopal diocese.

            (c) The use of the word "church" in the singular, as applied to Ephesus, Smyrna, etc., rather implies that there was but a single church in each of those cities. Compare Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; see also similar language in regard to the church in Corinth, 1 Cor. 1:2; in Antioch, Acts 13:1; at Laodicea, Col. 4:16; and at Ephesus, Acts 20:28.

            (d) There is no evidence, as Episcopalians must suppose, that a successor to John had been appointed at Ephesus, if, as they suppose, he was "bishop" of Ephesus; and there is no probability that they would so soon after his banishment show him such a want of respect as to regard the see as vacant, and appoint a successor.

            (e) There is no improbability in supposing that there was a single church in each of these cities‹as at Antioch, Corinth, Rome.

            (f) If John was a prelatical "bishop," it is probable that he was "bishop" of the whole group of churches embracing the seven: yet here, if the word "angel" means "bishop," we have no less than seven such bishops immediately appointed to succeed him. And

            (g) the supposition that this refers to prelatical bishops is so forced and unnatural that many Episcopalians are compelled to abandon it. Thus Stillingfleet, than whom an abler man, or one whose praise is higher in episcopal churches, as an advocate of prelacy, is not to be found, says of these angels: "If many things in the epistles be directed to the angels, but yet so as to concern the whole body, then, of necessity, the angel must be taken as a representative of the whole body; and then why may not the angel be taken by way of representation of the body itself, either of the whole church, or, which is far more probable, of the concessors, or order of presbyters in this church?"

            (4.) If the word does not mean literally an angel; if it does not refer to messengers sent to John in Patmos by the churches; and if it does not refer to a prelatical bishop, then it follows that it must refer to some one who presided over the church as its pastor, and through whom a message might be properly sent to the church. Thus understood, the pastor or "angel" would be regarded as the representative of the church; that is, as delegated by the church to manage its affairs, and as the authorized person to whom communications should be made in matters pertaining to it‹as pastors are now. A few considerations will further confirm this interpretation, and throw additional light on the meaning of the word.

            (a) The word angel is employed in the Old Testament to denote a prophet; that is, a minister of religion as sent by God to communicate his will. Thus in Haggai (Hag. 1:13) it is said, "Then spoke Haggai, the Lord's messenger, [Heb. angel‹hÎwOh×y JKAaVlAm‹Septuagint aggeloß kuriou] in the Lord's message unto the people," etc.

            (b) It is applied to a priest, as one sent by God to execute the functions of that office, or to act in the name of the Lord. Mal. 2:7, "For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hoststwøaDbVx hÎwh×y JKAaVlAm‹that is, "angel of the Lord of hosts."

            (c) The name prophet is often given in the New Testament to the ministers of religion, as being appointed by God to proclaim or communicate his will to his people, and as occupying a place resembling, in some respects, that of the prophets in the Old Testament.

            (d) There was no reason why the word might not be thus employed to designate a pastor of a Christian church, as well as to designate a prophet or a priest under the Old Testament dispensation.

            (e) The supposition that a pastor of a church is intended will meet all the circumstances of the case: for,

            (1) it is an appropriate appellation;

            (2) there is no reason to suppose that there was more than one church in each of the cities referred to;

            (3) it is a term which would designate the respect in which the office was held;

            (4) it would impress upon those to whom it was applied a solemn sense of their responsibility. Further, it would be more appropriately applied to a pastor of a single church than to a prelatical bishop; to the tender, intimate, and endearing relation sustained by a pastor to his people, to the blending of sympathy, interest, and affection, where he is with them continually, meets them frequently in the sanctuary, administers to them the bread of life, goes into their abodes when they are afflicted, and attends their kindred to the grave, than to the union subsisting between the people of an extended diocese and a prelate‹the formal, unfrequent, and, in many instances, stately and pompous visitations of a diocesan bishop‹to the unsympathising relation between him and a people scattered in many churches, who are visited at distant intervals by one claiming a "superiority in ministerial rights and powers," and who must be a stranger to the ten thousand ties of endearment which bind the hearts of a pastor and people together. The conclusion, then, to which we have come is, that the "angel of the church" was the pastor, or the presiding presbyter in the church; the minister who had the pastoral charge of it, and who was therefore a proper representative of it. He was a man who, in some respects, performed the functions which the angels of God do; that is, who was appointed to execute his will, to communicate his message, and to convey important intimations of his purposes to his people. To no one could the communications in this book, intended for the churches, be more properly entrusted than to such an one; for to no one now would a communication be more properly entrusted than to a pastor.

            Such is the sublime vision under which this book opens; such the solemn commission which the penman of the book received. No more appropriate introduction to what is contained in the book could be imagined; no more appropriate circumstances for making such a sublime revelation could have existed. To the most beloved of the apostles‹now the only surviving one of the number; to him who had been a faithful labourer for a period not far from sixty years after the death of the Lord Jesus, who had been the bosom friend of the Saviour when in the flesh, who had seen him in the mount of transfiguration, who had seen him die, and who had seen him ascend into heaven; to him who had lived while the church was founded, and while it had spread into all lands; and to him who was now suffering persecution on account of the Saviour and his cause, it was appropriate that such communications should be made. In a lonely island; far away from the abodes of men; surrounded by the ocean, and amid barren rocks; on the day consecrated to the purposes of sacred repose and the holy duties of religion‹the day observed in commemoration of the resurrection of his Lord, it was most fit that the Redeemer should appear to the "beloved disciple" in the last Revelation which he was ever to make to mankind. No more appropriate time or circumstance could be conceived for disclosing, by a series of sublime visions, what would occur in future times; for sketching out the history of the church to the consummation of all things.


[1] Oral and written Aramaic translation and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (from the Heb word meaning "paraphrase"; pl. Targumim). When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, Aramaic emerged as the common language of the people. Thus when Scripture was read in the synagogues, the reader provided paraphrases in Aramaic. These paraphrases were passed on and eventually written down beginning in the third century A.D. By the fifth century, two Targums had become standard: Targum Onqelos on the Torah, and Targum Jonathan on the Prophets. The Targums are important witnesses to the biblical text in this early period of transmission, but because of their freedom to expound the text, they are equally important for how the text was interpreted by the Jewish community. (IVP-PD)

[2] mantic wisdom. A type of wisdom akin to divination and associated with royal courts and temples in the ancient world. The wise men, or counselors, worked on the principle that the things of the earth and those of the heavens correspond, and that one can learn to interpret "signs" (various phenomena such as entrails, heavenly bodies, and the like) to predict events or plot a course of action. While the Bible prohibits most of these practices (e.g., astrology), Joseph and Daniel are sometimes associated with this type of wisdom because they interpreted dreams for the pharaoh and king respectively. (IVP-PD)

[3] A letter (e™pistolh/). The term is applied to the majority of the New Testament writings, although there are obvious differences between a conventional letter and these writings. (IVP-PD)

[4] One of the deuterocanonical books, meaning ones that are not included in the Hebrew canon but are found in the Greek Old Testament (LXX; Septuagint). These books are more commonly called the Apocrypha, and to one extent or another are part of the Catholic or Orthodox canons of Scripture. The Protestant Reformers, following Martin Luther, accepted only those books that were found in the Hebrew canon, but the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1546 declared the Apocrypha (with the exclusion of 1 and 2 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 and 4 Maccabees) to be canonical. Thus the adjective deuterocanonical, which means literally "second-canon," can be viewed as pejorative by Christian communions that include these books in their canon of Scripture. (IVP-PD)

[5] Another deuterocanonical/Apocryphal book

[6] Another term for "Parables," used mostly to indicate a deuterocanonical work

Revelation References


Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 52a: Revelation 1-5, Volume 52b: Revelation 6-16 & Volume 52c: Revelation 17-22, David E. Aune


Barnes' Notes on the New Testament: Revelation of St. John the Divine, Albert Barnes

The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 1-24 and The Book of Ezekiel: Chapter 25-48: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Damiel I. Block


An Introduction to the New Testament, D. A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo

Dr. Constable's Notes on Revelation, Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Dallas Theological Seminary (his class notes)


Revelation: Four Views. A Parallel Commentary, Steve Gregg

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, 1871 Edition, Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown

Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, Dennis E. Johnson


Revelation Unveiled, Tim LaHaye

Macarthur New Testament Commentary Series: Revelation 1-11, Revelation 12-22, John MacArthur


The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Robert H. Mounce


The Preacher's Commentary: 1,2 & 3 John/Revelation, Earl F. Palmer


Exploring Revelation: An Expository Commentary, John Phillips


The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, Vern S. Poythress


"Behold, He Cometh": A Verse-by-Verse Commentary on the Book of Revelation, John R. Rice


The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Revelation, Michael Wilcock


Shepherd's Notes: Revelation

IVP Pocket Dictionaries:

-           Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzke and Cherith Fee Nordling

-           Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies, Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta

-           Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion,  Stephen Evans

-           Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek, Matthew S. DeMoss


Intervarsity Press' New Testament Commentary


Intervarsity Press' New Bible Commentary


Intervarsity Press' Hard Sayings of the Bible



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