THE INTRODUCTION . Most writers agree that the first three chapters are introductory. They may be thus subdivided:
Revelation 1:1-3 , the superscription;
Revelation 1:4-8 , the address and greeting;
Revelation 1:9-20 , the introductory vision;
Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 , the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia.
The earliest systematic commentator on the Apocalypse in the Greek Church, Andreas of Caesarea, in Cappadocia (A.D). 450-500), divides it into twenty-four λόγοι , or narratives, to correspond with the twenty-four elders; and each of these into three κεφάλαια , or chapters, to correspond with body, soul, and spirit, making seventy-two chapters in all.
The introductory vision. This section is introductory, not merely to the epistles to the Churches, but to the whole book. In it the seer narrates how he received his commission; and with it should be compared Isaiah 6:1-13 ; Jeremiah 1:1-10 ; Ezekiel 1:1-3 ; Daniel 10:1-21 , especially Daniel 10:2 , Daniel 10:7 , where "I Daniel" is exactly parallel to "I John" here. The Revised Version is again much to be preferred to the Authorized Version.
Fine brass . This may stand as a translation of χαλκολίβανος , a word which occurs here and in Revelation 2:18 only, and the second half of which has never been satisfactorily explained. It may have been a local technical term in use among the metalworkers of Ephesus ( Acts 19:24 ; 2 Timothy 4:14 ). The Rhemish Version renders it "latten." In what follows, the Revised Version is to be preferred: "as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters." It is tempting to think that "the roar of the sea is in the ears of the lonely man in Patmos;" but the image seems rather to be that of the sound of many cataracts (comp. Ezekiel 1:24 ; Ezekiel 43:2 ; Daniel 10:6 ). There is singularly little of the scenery of Patmos in the Apocalypse.
The Saviour's revelation of himself.
We may divide our Saviour's teaching about himself into three parts, in chronological order. There are
As stage succeeded stage, the words became richer in glory. During the forty days after the Resurrection, the teachings concerning himself were in advance of those which preceded it (cf. Luke 24:46 , Luke 24:47 ). And those on "the Lord's day" to the exile were greater than all the rest. What a Lord's day that was for the prisoner! Many would gladly share John's banishment if then heaven were brought so near. Let us reverently study the paragraph before us. In it we have a vision, a touch, a word:
I. A VISION . "I saw … one like unto the Son of man." Where? "In the midst of the seven candlesticks." In accordance with Old Testament symbolism, and the use of the figure here, the meaning is "that the Saviour was beheld in the midst of the Churches." His countenance was familiar, although it gleamed with a splendour which was concealed on earth, save when to the favoured three he was transfigured on the mount. His face did shine as the sun (verse 16). He had about the breasts a golden girdle—the mark of royal state, and the emblem of dignified repose. His head and his hairs were white as white wool, signifying his prerogatives of majesty and glory. His eyes were as a flame of fire, piercing men through and through, burning up all hypocritical pretence. His feet like unto burnished brass, symbolizing firmness, might, and splendour. His voice was of unutterable majesty, as the sound of many waters. In his right hand seven stars, holding those who have the place of responsibility in his Church, in the place of security, honour, and renown. The overseers of the Churches are Christ's special care. Out of his mouth went a sharp sword. The sword of the living Word, which, with its diacritic power, is two-edged. It would not accord with the reverence due to our glorified Lord to attempt to transfer to canvas the symbols here employed. Rather is it for us to apprehend, spiritually, the meaning of each, and transfer that to our heart and conscience. And if this be done wisely and reverently, our eyes will see "the King in his beauty."
II. A TOUCH . Although there is no reason to suppose that the Lord appeared in the fulness of his glory to John, yet the vision was more than he could bear. "I fell at his feet as one dead." It is in mercy to us that so much of the glory of the Saviour is concealed from us. We could no more bear to see it in its fulness than our eyes could bear to gaze on the splendours of the noonday sun. Hence it is a necessity for us that as yet we should see only as through a glass, darkly. But in the case of the apostle, the fact of his being so overpowered by the disclosure was the occasion for a fresh display of Divine tenderness in a touch of love. "He laid his right hand upon me," etc. There was in this touch an assurance of Divine regard, in spite of the apostle's sense of his own unworthiness. There was an expression of love. There was an impartation of power, which revived and recruited the drooping and exhausted frame. If Jesus is apart from us, we are soon overpowered. But if he comes with a vivifying touch, making us feel how truly we belong to him, and how closely we are bound up with the dearest interests of his heart,—this revives us. We live again. We can look up anew, and wait joyfully for the sound of his voice.
III. A WORD . This is twofold.
1 . Of commission. (Verses 11, 19.) For remarks on the seven Churches, see homilies on Revelation 2:1-29 . and 3.
2. Of revelation. This is a marvellously comprehensive revealing of the glory of our Lord. It includes five disclosures.
3 . Of cheer. "Fear not." Christ demands reverence; but he would not have us dread him. He would not terrify us. But that sublime and transcendent greatness which would crush us if wielded by power alone, becomes, in the sway of his tender love, a refuge and pavilion in which we can hide! What can we not entrust to such a Redeemer? We can run no risk when we are in his keeping. We know whom we have believed, and we are persuaded that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him against that day.
The vision of the Lord.
That St. John should have been favoured with this glorious vision is but in keeping with what was often granted to the prophets of the Lord—to Moses, at the burning bush; to Isaiah, in the temple; to Jeremiah, at his consecration to his prophetic office, and likewise to Ezekiel; and to the three chief apostles, SS . Peter, James, and John, at the Transfiguration; St. John, at Patmos; and St. Paul, at Damascus and when caught up to heaven. All these visions were designed the better to fit and qualify them to speak for Christ to his people, and they teach us that those who are successfully to speak for Christ must have exalted ideas concerning him. In some form or other they must see his glory, or they will have but little to say, and that little they will not say as they should. "I beseech thee show me thy glory" may well be the prayer of all those who are to speak in the Lord's name. Such was—
I. THE PURPOSE OF THIS VISION as regarded St. John himself. But it had a far more general one— to bless the Church of God. They were dark days for the Church, days of fierce persecution, whether by command of Nero, or Domitian, who followed him twenty-five years after, we cannot say. But in those days, whichever they were, Christianity had not become a religio licita, and, therefore, was not as other religions, under the protection of the laws. It was looked upon as a branch of Judaism, which of all religions was the most hateful to the paganism of the day. And Christianity, in the popular estimation, was the most hateful form of Judaism. It would be certain, therefore, that if the chief authorities at Rome set the example of persecuting the Christians, the pagans of the provinces would not be long in copying it. Hence we can well understand what a fiery trial was now afflicting the Church of Christ. They were suffering, and needed consolation; fearful and fainting, and needed courage; in some cases, sad and shameful heresies had sprung up, and they needed to be rooted out; and in others, so-called Christians were leading careless, impure, and ungodly lives, and they needed solemn warning of Christ's displeasure. Now, this vision, the letters that follow, and this entire book, were all designed to meet their great necessities. What need have the people of God ever known but what he has made provision to meet it, and has met it abundantly? And this, let us be well assured, he ever will do.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE VISION . We are told:
1 . Of the beholder. John. There may be doubt as to what John, and it does not much matter, for we know that we have here the Word of God, and that it was written by one of the most honoured servants of God. See how humble his tone. He does not "lord it over God's heritage," but speaks of himself as "your brother and companion in tribulation." He was so at that very hour. And "in the kingdom of Jesus Christ." For that he and they were to look forward with eager hope and confident expectation. And "in patience." This was the posture of the believer at such a time, the mind he needed to possess. We can bear tribulation if, as St. John was, we are cheered by the hope of the kingdom of our Lord, and are enabled to be patient unto the coming of the Lord.
2 . Where he was. In Patmos; a dismal rock, lonely, barren, almost uninhabited save by the miserable exiles that were doomed to wear out their lives there. But there John had this glorious vision, and it teaches us that dreary places may become as heaven to us if we are given to see the glory of Christ.
3 . When he saw this. "On the Lord's day." There can be little doubt but that "the first day of the week," the Christian Sunday, is meant, and what we are told of here as having taken place on this Sunday is but an early instance of what in substance and reality has taken place for many faithful worshippers in all parts of Christ's Church on every Sunday since. What wonder that the Sunday is precious to Christian hearts, and that all attempts to secularize it or in any ways lessen its sanctity are both resented and resisted by those who know what a priceless boon for heart, for home, for health, for heaven, the Lord's day is?
4 . He tells us the frame of mind in which he was. "I was in the Spirit." His heart was much uplifted towards God; there had been a rush of holy feeling amounting to religious rapture and ecstasy, and then it was that this glorious vision burst upon him. Neither holy days nor holy places will avail us unless our hearts be in harmony with both day and place. But if they be, then the Lord often "brings all heaven before our eyes." What might not our Sundays be to us if our hearts, instead of being so earthbound, as they too often are, were in the mood for drawing near unto God?
5 . Next he tells how his attention was called to the vision. "I heard a great voice as of a trumpet" (verse 10). The trumpet was an especially sacred instrument. It was associated with the giving of the Law ( Exodus 19:6 ), with the inauguration of festivals ( Numbers 10:10 ), with the ascension of the Lord: "God is gone up with a noise, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet" ( Psalms 47:5 ). And so shall it be at the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the dead ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ; 1 Corinthians 15:52 ). The voice he heard was, therefore, not alone loud, clear, startling, like a trumpet, but also admonitory of the sacredness and importance of what he was about to hear and see.
6 . What the voice said . "I am Alpha," etc. (verse 11). Many manuscripts omit this sublime statement, but it seems in keeping with the trumpet voice, and with what comes both before and after. The "great voice," simply commanding the apostle to write in a book what he saw, appears incongruous, but not with the august announcement, "I am Alpha," etc. The Church had believed this of "the Almighty" (verse 8), but now it was to be thrilled with the assurance that this was true of their Lord. He, too, was Alpha, etc. (cf. for meaning, homily on verse 11). Then, as Moses ( Exodus 3:3 ), turning to see whence the voice came, he beheld—
III. THE VISION ITSELF . He saw:
1 . The whole Church of Christ represented by the seven lamps of gold. Seven, the specially sacred number, the number of completeness. These seven are mentioned because their names were familiar to those to whom he was writing.
2 . He beheld the Lord Jesus Christ. These verses tell:
"O God of mercy, God of might,
How should weak sinners bear the sight,
If, as thy power is surely here,
Thine open glory should appear?"
St. Peter cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" though there was nothing in the appearance of Jesus to alarm and terrify. How much more when such a vision as this was seen, and such a voice was heard! "Fear was far more in the ascendant than holy joy. I will not say that John was unhappy, but certainly it was not delight which prostrated him at the Saviour's feet. And I gather from this that if we, in our present embodied state, were favoured with an unveiled vision of Christ, it would not make a heaven for us; we may think it would, but we know not what spirit we are of. Such new wine, if put into these old bottles, would cause them to burst." But
"The cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And silently steal away."
And this was not all. He gave him most comforting instruction. He told him who he was—the incarnate Jehovah; the Saviour "who became dead," not who merely died, but, as the word denotes, "voluntarily underwent death." Surely John knew him, and would not be afraid of him. But now he was alive forevermore—he, the same in heart and will, though not in form. And possessed of universal authority. He had the keys, the insignia of authority, over the unseen world. Therefore, should any of them be hurried thither by their persecutors' rage, he would be there, and Lord there, so they need not fear. But he had the keys of death also. Hence none could open its gates unless he pleased; and none could be put to death whom he chose to keep alive. He "openeth, and no man shutteth, and shutteth, and no man openeth." Entrance there was governed, not by the will of man, but by his will. And finally, he explains part of the vision, and directs it to be written and sent to the seven Churches. The stars, they are, such as St. John himself was, the angels, the chief pastors of the Churches; and see, Christ has hold of them, grasped in his right hand, and who shall be able to pluck them thence, or separate them from his love? What comfort this for the fearful but faithful heart of the minister of Christ! And see again, he is in the midst of the seven lamps which represent the seven Churches. He is there as their sure Defence. Christ is in the midst of his Churches chiefly to protect, but also to rule and to inspect, and if needs be to judge and to punish. Even now he is walking amid his Churches. Let us remember this, and consider "what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness." The voice of this vision says to us all, "Be of good comfort, but watch and pray."—S.C.
The vision of the Son of man.
The vision granted for the comfort of the suffering Church was made:
1 . To a "brother and partaker" in all "the tribulation and kingdom and patience," sharing at the very hour, "in the isle that is called Patmos," the consequences of faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and bearing his testimony to Jesus.
2 . He was in an exalted spiritual state: "in the Spirit"—under the control of the Spirit; sensitively alive to the teachings of the Spirit; filled with the Spirit.
3 . On the Lord's day.
4 . A great voice arrests his attention, and commands him to write and proclaim to the seven named Churches the vision which should be granted to him. The vision embraced—
I. A SYMBOLICAL VIEW OF THE CHURCH . "Seven golden candlesticks." A single seven-branched lamp stand, representing the Church in its essential unity and sevenfold diversity. "And the seven candlesticks are seven Churches." The purity and glory of the Church may be symbolized in its being "golden."
II. A VIEW OF THE LORD DWELLING IN AND RULING OVER THE CHURCHES .
1 . The presence of the Lord in the midst of the Churches is the one essential and abiding source of consolation to all believers, especially in the times of danger, persecution, and sorrow. The attention of the seer now confined to the vision of him who, though like a Son of man, is "the First and the Last, and the Living One."
2 . Testimony to the Divine nature of our Lord. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God;" "I am the First and the Last," saith the "one like unto a son of man." Truly God was manifested in the flesh! The descriptive view of the Lord is not to be imagined or delineated as a picture. It is grotesque; its symbolical meaning only to be regarded.
3 . The dress indicates his high priestly office; the head, hair, eyes, feet, and voice are symbolical representations.
4 . The Lord's care and control over the messengers of the Churches symbolized by, "And he had in his right hard seven stars;" "The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches."
5 . The Lord the Source of truth, and the truth the one weapon of the Lord's might: "Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword."
6 . The human humble awe in presence of the Divine Lord: "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead."
7 . The consolation of the Divine Lord to his affrighted, humble servant: "Fear not;" confirmed by the glorious assurance, "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and have the keys of death and of Hades." From this, the manifested Lord, the sacred seer receives command to "write the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter."—R.G.
Voices and visions from eternity.
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day," etc. Concerning this vision, and, indeed, nearly all the visions recorded in this Apocalypse, there are three facts to be predicated at the outset.
1 . It is mental. What is here reported as heard and seen by John was not seen by his bodily eye or heard by his bodily ear. It was, I consider, a purely mental vision. It is one of the characteristic attributes and distinctions of man that he can see and hear objects that come not within the range of his senses. Though the eagle is reported to have a keen and far-reaching eye, and has borne its pinions into the region of sunny azure, it has no glimpse of the spirit domain; whereas a man who may be even sightless and deaf has the power of seeing wonderful things and hearing wonderful things. The sightless bard of England lived in a bright world; his genius bore him aloft into regions where there was no cloud. These mental visions are of two classes—the voluntary and the involuntary. The former are the productions of creative genius, the latter are those dreams of the night when deep sleep falls on man. Mental visions are not necessarily illusions. They are often more real than those of the physical; they come further into the depths of our being, and convey to us impressions of things of which material phenomena are but the effects and expressions.
2 . It is credible. Had it been reported that John saw with the outward eye, and heard with the outward ear, the things here reported, the report could not have been believed. The objects are so unique, so incongruous with all that is natural, so grotesque, and, we may say, so monstrous and unaesthetic, that we could not believe a man who said he saw them with his outward eye or heard them with his outward ear. A Being "clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." Who could believe a man who said he beheld these with his bodily eye? But as a mental vision it is credible enough. What grotesque shapes appear to us in dreams! What strange monstrosities rise to our mental eye! The deities that arose out of the imagination of Nineveh, Greece, and India, and throughout the whole domain of heathendom, were as unnatural and incoherent in their forms as the aspects of the Son of man before us. The reports of mental visions, however extraordinary, are credible; men believe in them.
3 . It is symbolic. It has a deep spiritual meaning, it adumbrates mighty lessons, it is a picture of eternal realities. What are the great truths here symbolized? That a wonderful voice from eternity comes to man; a wonderful personage from eternity appears to man; and wonderful impressions from eternity are made upon man. Notice—
I. THAT A WONDERFUL VOICE FROM ETERNITY COMES TO MAN . "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet." We are told also that the voice that came to John was "as the sound of many waters." The spiritual condition of John when the voice came is worthy of note. He was "in the Spirit." This means, I trow, something more than being in the spirit in a moral sense—in the spirit of heavenly loyalty and devotion. In this condition all true men are; they are led by the Spirit; they walk by the Spirit. It is being in an elevated state of mind, a kind of ecstasy in which a man is lifted out of himself, in which, like Paul, he is taken up to heaven, and sees and hears things unutterable. He was in such a condition as this at a certain period here called "the Lord's day." All men who are in the Spirit in the moral sense—in the sense of vital godliness—feel and regard all days as "the Lord's day." But the days of spiritual ecstasies and transports are ever special. Perhaps the first day of the week is here referred to—the day of our Saviour's resurrection from the dead. Probably the association of that wonderful day served to raise his soul into this ecstatic state. Concerning the voice that came to him when in this state, it was marked by two things.
1. The voice was marked by clearness. "A great voice, as of a trumpet." The voice was clear, loud, strong, as a trumpet. It was a voice to which he could not close his ears if he wished to; its clarion notes rang into him.
2. The voice was marked by fulness. "As the sound of many waters." "Daniel described the voice of the Ancient of Days as the voice of a multitude ( Daniel 10:6 ); but the voice of the multitude was in earlier Hebrew writings compared to the sound of the waves of the sea, which the voice of the Lord could alone subdue ( Psalms 65:7 ; Psalms 93:4 ). This image the evangelist adopts to describe the voice of Christ, strong and majestic amid the Babel sounds of earth. That voice whose word stilled the sea sounds as the waves of the sea which St. John heard him rebuke." Is there any voice in nature equal to the voice of the old ocean—majestic, full, continuous, drowning all other sounds? The clamour and the din of a thousand armies on the shore are lost amidst the roar of the incoming waves. Such was the voice that came to John from eternity, and such a voice comes to all men in every condition and in every age, clear and full, bearing messages to the soul from the great Father of spirits. True, clear, full, and continuous though that voice be, it is only heard by those who, like John, are "in the Spirit"—whose spirits are alive and elevated with the real and the Divine.
II. THAT A WONDERFUL PERSONAGE FROM ETERNITY APPEARS TO MAN . "Like unto the Son of man." Christ was indeed the Son of man, not the son of a tribe or of a class, but the Son of humanity, free from all national peculiarities, tribal idiosyncrasies, or ecclesiastical predilections. Observe here two things.
1 . The scene of the appearance. "In the midst of the seven candlesticks." The seven Churches, viz. those of "Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea," are here represented as "golden candlesticks;" they are precious lights, they bear and diffuse the light of God. Why these seven Churches are here selected and addressed rather than other Churches, of which there were several, some more important than these, such as the Church at Corinth, Thessalonica, etc., I know not. It might have been because they had in their combination all those excellences and defects, needs and duties, which together represent the universal Church, the Church of all times and lands. It was in these Churches, these "candlesticks," that the "Son of man" now appeared to John. He who would see Christ must look for him in true Churches, the communions of holy men.
2 . The characteristics of the appearance. Mark the description. He was "clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle"—a long, ample robe of regal authority. "His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow." Does the white hair indicate decay? It frequently does so with us. Snowy locks are at once the sign and consequence of declining strength. Not so with him. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." "Fire," says Trench, "at its highest intensity is white; the red in fire is of the earth, earthy; it implies something which the fire has not yet thoroughly subdued, while the pure flame is absolutely white. This must be kept in mind whenever we read of white as the colour and livery of heaven." "His eyes were as a flame of fire"—eyes that penetrate into the deepest depth of the soul, discern moral distinctions, and burn with a holy indignation at the wrong. "His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace." This indicates strength at once enduring and resistless. "He had in his right hand seven stars." These seven stars represent, it is supposed, the chief pastors of the seven Churches. An ideal pastor is a moral star, catching and reflecting the light of the Sun of Righteousness. "Out of his mouth went [proceeded] a sharp two-edged sword." This is the Word of the truth, elsewhere called the "sword of the Spirit," quick and powerful, etc. The sword by which Christ fights his moral battles and wins his moral conquests is not the sword of steel, but the sword of truth. "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." "Of the angel by the vacant tomb it is said his countenance was like lightning ( Matthew 28:3 ); here the countenance of the Lord is compared to the sun at its brightest and clearest, in the splendour of the highest noon, no veil, no mist, no cloud obscuring its brightness." Here, then, is the wonderful Personage which has appeared to us, the children of men, from eternity. Though he is "the Son of man," thoroughly human, he has an attitude and aspect that are superhuman. His voice clear as a "trumpet" and full as an ocean, his regal robes girt with a "golden girdle," his "hair white as snow," radiating effulgent purity, his feet strong as "brass," his hand clasping "seven stars," his mouth flashing out a "two-edged sword" and his countenance luminous as the "sun in his strength." What manner of man is this? The symbolical representation here indicates:
III. THAT A WONDERFUL IMPRESSION FROM ETERNITY IS MADE UPON MAN . "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as [one] dead." It is a physiological fact that a sudden rush of strong emotions will stop the heart and arrest the current of life in its flow. What were John's emotions? Was there amazement? Was he amazed at seeing One whom he loved above all others, and with whom he had parted, some few years before, on the Mount of Olives, when a cloud received him out of sight, now in form sublimely unique and overwhelmingly majestic? Was it dread? Was he terror struck at the marvellous apparition? Was it remorse? Did the effulgence of its purity quicken within him such a sense of guilt as filled him with self loathing and horror? I know not. Perhaps all these emotions blended in a tidal rush that physically paralyzed him for a while. When Isaiah, in the temple, saw the Lord on high and lifted up, he exclaimed, "Woe is me! for I am undone." When Job heard the voice speaking out of the whirlwind, he exclaimed, "I abhor myself in dust and ashes." When Christ appeared to Peter, he cried out, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." When the Roman ruffians, in the garden of Gethsemane, saw the moral majesty on his brow, and heard his words, such emotions rushed up within them as stopped their hearts, and they "went backward and fell to the ground." Eternity is constantly making solemn impressions upon man. In most cases, perhaps, the impressions are superficial and fugitive, but frequently in certain seasons and conditions of life they are terrible beyond description. There are but few men who have not felt at times something of the moral terrors of Eliphaz: "In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake." No impressions, however, from eternity are so deep and salutary as those conveyed to the heart by profound meditations on the doctrines, the history, and the character of Christ. Such impressions are the means by which the all-loving Father renews the moral character of his children and makes them meet for his everlasting fellowship and service.—D.T.