Studies in his Life and Writings
By W. H. Griffith Thomas
As a help to the interpretation, the following questions call for careful consideration:
1. Does 1:10 refer to the ''Lord's Day" (Sunday, the first day of the week) or to "the day of" the Lord" (the future)? Many, perhaps most, favor the former, but, on the other hand, it is urged:
(1) 1:9ff refers to John being "in the spirit," and this, with other references, seems to indicate a vision of the future (4:2; 17:3; 21:10; cf. Ezek. 11:1; 37:1; 40:2).
(2) The title, "Lord's. Day," for Sunday is not found so early as this date.
(3) The origin of the term, Lord's Day, is pagan, not Christian. In pagan Rome the first day of the week was called Dommica (the Lord's), to which was to be added Sol, the sun; or in Hebrew, Baal, Lord.
The important point which turns on this interpretation is that in the latter view the whole book, including chapters 1-3, would be future, and it is urged that this is borne out by the references to the book as prophetic (1:3; 22:19; cf. 11:6; 19:10; 22:7, 10, 18).
2. Does 1:19 really indicate a division of the book? Many writers of different schools urge this and say that it is unthinkable that there should not be something of and for the past and present in the book, even though it be only chapters 1-3.
But Alford and others render the words thus: "What thou sawest and what they are" (i.e., signify). This is urged in the light of 1:20, where "are" certainly means signify.
One proof alleged in favor of this interpretation and at the same time in support of the view that the messages to the seven churches refer to the same period as that covered by the remainder of the book is that the visions from chapter 4 onward, throw light on the spiritual history of the period from without, as the messages themselves throw light on the spiritual history of the churches from within. It is urged that there is a connection between the sevenfold series of visions and the seven churches, and the following conspectus is given:
The Ephesus Church (2:1-7). In the midst seven stars in right hand; threat to remove lampstand out of its place.
The Ephesus Period (4:1 to 7:3). In the midst seven-sealed book in right hand; seven lamps, eyes, spirits; mountains and islands ''moved" (same word as above) out of their places.
The Smyrna Church (2:8-11). Tribulation; faithful unto death; second death; hurt.
The Smyrna Period (7:9 to 11:14). The great tribulation; two witnesses slain; death; slay; hurt.
The Pergamos Church (2:12-17). Hold fast my name; Satan's throne; the hidden manna; the doctrine of Balaam.
The Pergamos Period (11:'15-19). Fear thy name; the kingdoms of this world become Christ's.
The Thyatira Church (2:18-29). The woman Jezebel; the morning star; the rod of iron; depths Of Satan; keep works; faith and patience; false prophetess; her children killed.
The. Thyatira Period (12-13). Woman clothed with sun; the twelve stars; the rod of iron; Satan; keep commandment; patience and faith; false prophet; God's children killed.
The Sardis Church (3:1-6). A few with undefiled garments; "they shall walk with me in white"; name confessed before the Father.
The Sardis Period (14). 144,000 not defiled; they follow the Lamb; without fault' before the throne of God.
The Philadelphia Church (3:7-13). Worship- be fore thee; a pillar in the temple; the name of the city of God — new Jerusalem; the trying of them that dwell on the earth; the hour; I will keep thee out of the hour.
The Philadelphia Period (15-18). Worship before thee; the temple; the great city Babylon; they that dwell on the earth; one hour; come out, my. people.
The Laodicea Church (3:14-22). White raiment; supper; faithful and true; amen; spue out of mouth; sit in my throne; stand at door.
The Laodicea Period. (19-20). Fine linen; marriage supper; faithful and true; the word of God; out of his mouth a sword; set on throne; the Judge.
There is certainly a close comparison at many points, but whether it is close enough to prove inter-relation will be a matter of opinion. Yet the view seems suggestive enough to provoke further study.
3. What is the interpretation of the messages to the seven churches (2-3)? They must have had a primary meaning for the churches addressed. See Ramsay's "Seven Churches of Asia."
Some consider that the seven sections represent seven periods of church history to the present day. But there is great difference of opinion as to the divisions of the periods, and a good deal of arbitrariness is seen in the attempt to make them harmonize with the progress of the history. If they are to- be regarded as explanatory of Church history, it is more natural to think of them as emphasizing principles which are necessary all through the age. Thus, the loss of the first love and the consequent need of repentance in the first church are certainly true of much Christianity today.
Others say that the spirit of the message is so unlike that of the Church teaching of the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians that it is impossible to think of these messages as applicable to a New Testament church. On this view, the whole book being future, the churches refer to some communities of believers, Jewish probably, which will be on the earth after the Church, the body of Christ, has been taken away.
4. Are the seals, trumpets, and vials continuous (twenty-one), or parallel (three sevens)? One thing of interest, and perhaps of importance, is that the six seals correspond very closely to the Olivet discourses of Matthew 24:4-11:
Milligan elaborates this parallel with great force and suggests that the Apocalypse is John's version of the Olivet discourses. If this is true, the seals, trumpets, and vials are coterminous and represent different aspects of the same judgment. This is the general view favored by Mr. James H. McConkey in his "The Book of Revelation," who also regards the seals as covering the entire period, the trumpet and the vials being coterminous and parallel.
Dr. Gray refers to the Biblical law of recurrence, by which an outline is first given and then details follow. He illustrates this from Isaiah 1, which he thinks covers the whole of Isaiah's work, and then the same is given in detail as in chapters 2-4. And so, on this view, the seals (4-7), trumpets (8-14), and vials (15-18) are a parallel, the sixth seal being coterminous with the seventh trumpet (11:17, 18). Then the seventh seal goes back and starts a new series of judgments in the seven trumpets and the seven vials, chapter 20 being concerned with the final judgment. Hence the rest of the Apocalypse comes under the seventh seal (8:7; 18:24). Mr. Graham Scroggie prefers to interpret these sections, not by a recurrence or doubling back, but by the principle of inclusion, the seven trumpets' being included in the seventh seal, and the seven vials in the seventh trumpet.