By William R. Newell
Part One: Judgment
The Revelation of Jesus Christ: which God gave Him. This expression is the true title to the book. It is a communication or unfolding of the details of future things by our Lord Jesus Christ. These opening statements are startling: (1) God gave Jesus Christ this apocalypse, or “revelation.” (2) It was that He might show it unto His servants (literally bondservants). (3) Jesus Christ communicated it “by his angel.” (4) It was “His servant John” to whom it was communicated (5) John faithfully “bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw.”
We have, first, God; then Jesus Christ; then, His angel; then, His servant John, and finally Christ’s servants,—to whom the Revelation comes. Furthermore, we note that John bears witness to two things:
(1) “the word of God,” and (2) “the testimony of Jesus Christ.” “The word of God” is evidently God’s word to Christ in which He communicated to Him this apocalypse, or revelation; and “the testimony of Jesus Christ” is our Lord’s faithful communication of what God gave Him to tell us.
First, there can be no doubt, that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity. The Father, in Hebrews 1:8, addresses Him as God, saying, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Our Lord claimed worship, and plainly says that “all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). And in a comparison of Revelation 1:8 with 22:13, all doubt vanishes.
But, secondly, we must remember and believe Christ’s own words in Matthew 24:36: “Of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.” Compare Mark 13:32, and also His parting words after the resurrection, in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father hath set within his own authority.”1
Again, in Hebrews 10:12, 13, “He … sat down on the right hand of God, henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.” The word here used means, “to await from the hand of another.” Taken in connection with the preceding verses, it indicates a state of constant expectancy: certain of the event, but leaving the time in the hands of the Father. When our Lord came to earth, we read (Philippians 2:7) He “emptied himself.” He left His glory, His wisdom, and His power, absolutely in the hands of the Father. This did not subtract an iota from His Deity, but placed Him where He could say to the Father (Psalm 22:9, 10), “Thou didst make me trust when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb.” So He spoke on earth, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing.” Now, of course, our Lord has entered into His glory, and all authority has been committed unto Him in heaven and on earth.
Nevertheless, these plain words are before us as we enter upon The Revelation: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him.” This revelation must have been communicated to Him after His ascension to heaven, by the Father who has “set within his own authority” times and seasons. We believe:
1. That the times and seasons are yet within the Father’s authority—of course by the glad consent of the Son.
2. That the book of The Revelation contains the details of the carrying out of the divine decree that all Christ’s enemies should be put under His feet—all things, save the Father, subjected unto Him (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
3. That the Father has not revealed “the day and the hour,” so that we are waiting and watching and expecting, along with our Lord, the Father’s giving Him His Kingdom, which He “went into a far country, to receive … and to return” (Luke 19:12).
Our Lord said in Gethsemane, “Thinkest thou that I cannot beseech my Father, and he shall even now send me more than twelve legions of angels? How then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:53, 54). He left it to the Father to grant Him, as He pleased, weakness, shame and suffering, or resurrection, power, and glory. And this was perfect obedience!
Christ will, of course, occupy the eternal throne, for He is God, yet it will be “the Throne of God and of the Lamb,” an infinitely beautiful and gracious arrangement. For our Lord will not retire from us into the Godhead, although He is and will continue to be, “God blessed forever”: but He will be a man, and as such will reign on “the Throne of God and of the Lamb” forever!
To show unto his servants (literally bondservants). This revelation is written not exclusively to the Church, but to all willing subjects of Christ. This will include the spared remnant of Israel, also those among the nations that attach themselves to them in the awful time of trouble; in fact, all companies of God’s saints. Although written “for the churches” (Revelation 22:16), the book of The Revelation is not addressed to the Church, the assembly of God, the Body of Christ, as such, as are Paul’s Epistles. The Revelation is a prophecy, testified to the churches, for their information as to “the things that are to come,” and for warning and correction.
No wonder, then, that those not subject to Christ should find difficulty with the book of The Revelation! It is a remarkable fact, that although our Lord Jesus said in the upper room, “No longer do I call you servants; … but I have called you friends”; and although Paul tells the church saints, in Galatians 4:7, “Ye are no longer bondservants, but full-age sons:”—nevertheless all the apostles in their writings call themselves bondservants of Jesus Christ! If we are having difficulty with this blessed closing book of God’s holy Word, let us surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ as His servants. The book was written to bondservants.
The things which must shortly come to pass. “The things,”—this is definite. It describes events. Do not then look for vague “symbols.” “Must come to pass”— here is certainty, necessity. Man dreams of “development,” “progress,” “achievement.” God says, “The rulers of this world are coming to nought” (1 Corinthians 2:6). Believe God; doubt man. Satan is the prince of this world and the God of this age. He deceiveth the whole world. Let us not be deceived. The things we are about to study in The Revelation “must come to pass,” and, “shortly.”
“Shortly” surely indicates imminence. We have the same Greek expression in Romans 16:20, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Greek: en tachei). He is not yet bruised, but we are expecting it! The same phrase is used in Revelation 22:6, “The things which must shortly come to pass.” This shuts out the “historical” interpretation of the book,—that is, making the seals, trumpets, vials, etc., apply to the events of the past church centuries. In fact, the strictly prophetic part of The Revelation does not begin till the churches are out of the scene,—that is, after chapter 4. I firmly believe that unless we reject utterly the idea that this part of The Revelation has been “gradually fulfilling itself” in the present age, we shall miss the meaning of the book. Remember Paul’s explanation of the doctrine of the Jewish remnant in Romans 9:27, 28, “The Lord will execute his word upon the earth, finishing it and cutting it short.” The present dispensation must not in any sense be confused with God’s future dealing with the Jewish remnant after the true Church has been taken to heaven. Strictly speaking, the true Church has nothing to do with the present age, any more than it has to do with this world. Judgment for her is past; her citi- zenship is in heaven; she is one with Christ; she is indwelt by the Holy Ghost, and may be caught up at any moment. Although she is informed in Revelation about “the things which must shortly come to pass” on earth, she will not be in them; even as Enoch was taught of the Lord’s coming and judgment (Jude 14), but yet was not to pass through it; and as Abraham was taught concerning the destruction of Sodom, while he himself dwelt on the mountain away from the place of judgment.
It is absolutely necessary for us to distinguish, as members of the Body of Christ, between what is said about us (in the epistles), and what is told to us, as friends, by our Lord, in The Revelation.
“Shortly,” moreover, not only means imminency, but also rapidity of execution when action once begins. “Things which in their entirety must soon come to pass”—in God’s speedy time, although He seems to delay; for the same Greek expression is translated “speedily” in Luke 18:7, 8.
He sent and signified (them) by his angel unto his servant John; who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw. The manner of the communication of The Revelation to John by Jesus Christ is remarkable. He “sent and signified by his angel.”2 This angelic agency of course does not refer to the title and introduction (1:l-8); nor to the great personal vision of Christ (1:9-20); nor to the messages to the seven churches (chapters 2, 3). Also the thrice repeated “I come quickly,” and the “I Jesus have sent mine angel,” are spoken directly by the Lord. Indeed chapter 22:6-10, and again 10-20 may well have been spoken by the Lord Himself; while the closing verse, like the opening of the book, is the Spirit-inspired utterance of the apostle. Like 1:4-7 it is more apostolic than seer-like in form, and so, more intimate to our hearts.
The manner of angelic communication to John, like other phases of inspiration, is beyond our faculties. Much, indeed, like John, Daniel “heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision” (Daniel 8:16).
The Revelation concerning, as it does, governmental matters on earth, which are in angelic hands until the Millennium, is committed largely to direct angelic ministry.
John speaks of “all things that he saw.” Speculation upon inspiration is vain. God tells us it was “in divers manners” (Hebrews 1:1). John, in The Revelation writes much as Daniel wrote. Both deal with God’s government of this world. We may know the whole is authoritative. We shall find here “what the Spirit saith to the churches,” and also the awful tribulation time itself, the Holy Spirit reminding us by His especial witness, that all is taking place according to God (Revelation 14:13); and, at the end, Jesus Himself speaking, attesting all (22:16), although it had been testified by His angel: “I Jesus have sent mine angel.”
Blessed is he that readeth. This is directly contrary to the attitude toward The Revelation which very many Christians have. A special blessing is pronounced on the readers of this book, also on they that hear the words of the prophecy. Living oracles give and support life (John 6:63). Note that it is the words that are to be read and heard. God is especially particular concerning this one prophetic book of the New Testament, as we shall note at its close (22, verses 7, 9, 10, 18, 19). Doubtless the public reading and hearing of this book of The Revelation to the assembled saints is especially in view. “Give heed to reading,” is Paul’s command to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:13); and this was public reading. It ought to be practiced everywhere.3
And keep the things that are written therein. Now the sense of the word “keep” is its primary one of “watching over,” “guarding as a treasure,” as well as its secondary one, “to give heed to.” We cannot “keep” a prophecy as men might “observe” a law. The prophecy will be fulfilled, whether we pay attention to it or not. But there is divine blessing if we give heed to it and jealously guard its very words!
For the time is at hand. No dates are set for this “time of patient grace,” this “day of salvation,” the “acceptable year of the Lord,” in which the Church finds herself. And although from Revelation 4 onward, the Church is to be on high, we must remember that the whole book of The Revelation is included by our Lord in 22:16: “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches.” “The time is at hand” should be in the heart of every believer, every day! “Prophecy annihilates time, and all intervening and even opposing circumstances, and sets one down on the threshold of accomplishment,” (W. Scott). The first use of the Greek word translated “at hand” should instruct us. Compare Matthew 24:32, 33, “nigh,” “near.” The words are repeated in Revelation 22:10, which see. In John 11:54, 55 you have “near,” of place; and “at hand,” of time; and note in this latter verse that the Jews were getting ready for the event! Despite all the arguments of those who have said, “My Lord delayeth his coming,” the only attitude of obedience is, to “watch”: for we know not the day nor the hour! They are no friends, but deadly foes, who put this and that “event” between the believer and his Lord’s coming.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace. First, regarding the writer of this book: it was John, the beloved disciple. There is no real doubt that John the apostle was the writer.
Fausset well says, “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 witness of the Lord, he needed no designation but his name, to be recognized by his readers.”
John writes as a Seer more than as an Apostle in Revelation. There is no speaking with personal apostolic authority (except in this salutation of 1:4-7; and the benediction of 22:21) as Paul in his epistles, and Peter, and John himself elsewhere. Instead of speaking authoritatively in the Spirit, we find John falling at the feet of the glorified Son of God in this chapter. He is hearing His voice as Judge, and seeing visions of Him as such, for the Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son, whether it be in the present house of God on earth, the churches; or toward the elect nation, Israel; or toward the earth’s peoples and nations. John in The Revelation is merely the writer. Twelve times in this book he is told to write. Therefore we need to give the more earnest heed to The Revelation. There are those who seek to evade (to their own sorrow) the authority with which Paul was invested. But there is no way of evading the direct words and actions of the divinely-appointed Judge, Christ Himself, here at the end of God’s Book.
The “seven churches” indicate representative assemblies, both as to history, and as to spiritual state. Other important assemblies (like the Colossians within a few miles of Philadelphia and Laodicea), are not mentioned, although doubtless John was familiar with all of them and had labored among them. Let us, therefore, at once take these seven churches as representing all the assemblies of the Church’s history; even as Paul writes to seven cities of the Church’s calling (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians).4
Note the blessed announcement to us, “Grace … and peace.” As our Lord so lovingly speaks at the close (22:16), “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches.” Let us see that we keep the sweet taste of grace and peace as we read of the bitter things that are coming upon the earth. If at any point throughout the terrible things which you read in these Revelation chapters, you cannot stop and look up with perfect confidence saying, “I am under grace, and God has announced peace to me,” then you are falling into unbelief. Flee to the eighth of Romans, and to the second of Ephesians, where you belong! Your Lord will have His servant John write many things for you which are not about you. Paul is your apostle. Any of you who are believers are not appointed unto wrath—any kind or degree of wrath. Israel and the nations will experience wrath; but you, who are in Christ, are already glorified (Romans 8:29, 30)!
From him who is and who was and who is to come. This is the Eternal One, the self-existent Source of all being, and the One to whom all moral beings are responsible. How different this name of God from Paul’s greetings: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father,” for Paul’s task was to set forth our sonship and its blessed privileges. Or, as John himself writes (1 John 1:3, 4): “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ: and these things we write, that our joy may be made full.”
The Revelation is not dealing with the unutterably glorious standing of the Church as the Body of Christ and of the saints as full-grown sons of God, and of our heavenly calling and walk. These things are not to be forgotten for a moment by the believer who reads The Revelation. The Revelation is “obviously distinct from the other parts of the New Testament, in that God is reverting a great deal to the principles on which He had acted in Old Testament times.”
It is at once manifest that God is spoken of here as “the Administrator of the world,”—indeed, of all creation; and the third and second Persons of the Deity are likewise connected here with government, rather than salvation. It is of the highest importance to see this.
We read, consequently, of the Holy Spirit, not as “the one Spirit” dwelling in all the members of the one body, but, from the seven Spirits that are before his throne.
There is, of course, but one blessed Spirit: yet He is spoken of here as seven-fold; for He is the executive person of the Godhead, and acting in The Revelation in a purely governmental way. In this character His place is “before the throne of God” in heaven, as we read in Revelation 4:5: “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” Now if we turn to Isaiah 11, we find that upon our Lord’s return as King, upon the throne of David, the Spirit rests upon Him in His governmental offices in exactly a seven-fold way: first, as to His Deity—“the Spirit of Jehovah”; second, of wisdom; third, of understanding; fourth, counsel; fifth, might; sixth, knowledge; seventh, “the fear of Jehovah” (begetting that fear). And also in Zechariah 3:9 and 4:6, 10, we again read of the governmental operation of the Spirit of God: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith Jehovah of hosts” … “these seven shall rejoice, … the eyes of Jehovah, which run to and fro through the whole earth.”
We find our Lord Jesus Christ, although the second person of the Trinity, mentioned last, in Revelation 1:5, for God desires immediately to emphasize certain things concerning Him; and it is He who is to rule on earth.
And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness. He was that, first, when He was on earth, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:13, “Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession;” or, as our Lord says in John 7:7, “The world … me it hateth, because I testify of it, that its works are evil.” But He is evermore the witness to the truth, as we shall see in His searching messages to the seven churches, covering the present time, as well as when He afterwards carries out faithfully what is written in the seven-sealed book of judgment on the world.5
Next He is called the firstborn of the dead. Others who were raised, like Lazarus, were brought back into this earthly life merely to die again; Christ, into “newness of life,” in eternal victory over death. The Greek word for firstborn (prototokos) is a most important one to lay to heart, indicating, as it does, the fact of His divine personal dignity and precedence. This is the explanation of the same word in Colossians 1:15, “the firstborn of all creation”; which does not for a moment mean that our Lord was a creature, but that He is the head, object and heir of all creation. The very next verse declares that “all things have been created through him, and unto him”! And inasmuch as the book of The Revelation is to reveal all things actually subjected to Him, we must connect Psalm 89:26, 27, 37, with our Lord. God the Father speaks of Christ thus: “He shall cry unto me, Thou art my Father … I also will make him my firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth”;—just as the very words, “the faithful witness” are found in verse 37 of this great Psalm!
This leads us to the third designation of Christ in Revelation 1:5: the ruler of the kings of the earth. Ruler, not prince: our Lord is not one of the princes of the earth, but the ruler of them all, as will be brought forth in The Revelation.
This characterizes the whole book of The Revelation. Our Lord Jesus Christ is not seen in His work of redemption—that is Romans; nor in His office as High Priest and Advocate on high—that is Hebrews and 1 John; but the first great question in The Revelation is, Who shall rule,—Satan and man? or God by Christ? Keep this in mind through all our study.
But ere we enter upon Christ’s stern offices of judgment, John is given to speak a most tender word to our very hearts: Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood. Remember,—do not forget!—the words of John 13:1: “having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” Jude, after a brief story of the apostasy of Christendom, stands at the portal to The Revelation and speaks, as we are about to enter this great book, “beloved … keep yourselves in the love of God.” Note in Revelation 1:5 that the loving is in the present tense, and the loosing in the past (aorist). The loosing was done once for all at Calvary; the loving goes on forever!
And he made us to be a Kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father. Notice again that John does not here speak of us as the Body of Christ, and members one of another—which of course we are—but as a kingdom. It is unfortunate that the old version here calls us “kings.” The word in the Greek is in the singular number, “kingdom.” The reference to us as a kingdom is entirely consistent with the whole book of Revelation. We must connect this passage with Revelation 5:9, 10, where the four living ones and the four and twenty elders sing a new song concerning Christ, who has just taken over the seven-sealed book: “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them … unto our God a kingdom and priests, and they reign upon the earth.” Both these passages, of course, look forward to the millennial reign of chapter 20, after which the earth will pass away.
Notice that we have been made priests unto Christ’s God and Father, for Christ is the heir, and we inherit through and in Him. It is intensely interesting, and solemnly instructive also, that we are not only a kingdom, but priests. Of course, all believers have this priestly function now, as in Ephesians 2:18: “through him (Christ) we have our access in one Spirit unto the Father”; and we are today those to whom God looks to pray “for all men; for kings and all that are in high place” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2), as well as for one another, for all saints, and for the salvation of others. We are also to be offering up “a sacrifice of praise to God continually,” through our Great High Priest in heaven (Hebrews 13:15). But The Revelation looks forward to the exercise of royal priesthood! When our Lord Jesus shall return to earth to reign, the full Melchizedek priesthood will come in: “He shall be a priest upon his throne”—and we with Him!
No wonder, then, that John utters the adoring words, to him be the glory and the dominion unto the ages of the ages. Amen. He speaks thus of Christ, who is God. Otherwise the words are blasphemy. It is deeply solemn to note that the first of the many ascriptions of praise in this wonderful book of The Revelation is given to Christ, who “loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood.” Let us be forever rejoicing in it. Also the first use of God’s great particular designation of eternity, “unto the ages of the ages,” is in thus ascribing eternal glory and dominion to Christ.6
And now we come to what we may properly call the first great TEXT of the book of The Revelation: Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so, Amen.
We call it a text, or theme, because all preceding our Lord’s glorious advent to this earth in chapter 19 leads up to that event. Next, He reigns on earth 1000 years. And, after the last judgment, the New Creation is seen, and we have in 21:5, the second great TEXT: “Behold, I make all things new.” But note that in the last chapter of The Revelation, our Lord will three times emphasize His personal coming as the object of all thought and hope: “Behold, I come quickly!” “Behold, I come quickly!” “Yea: I come quickly!” (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20).
Those who understand the place our Lord’s personal return to this earth holds in Scripture, find The Revelation unfolding itself to them. To others it is merely a “book of symbols”—vague, objectless.
Now it is not the rapture of the Church, when we shall be “caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air,” that is seen in Revelation 1:7, although doubtless that rapture is involved and included. It is rather the public revelation, or epiphany to the whole world that is referred to, because that event brings in the kingdom toward which The Revelation looks.
The Greek word, “parousia,” beginning with Matthew 24:3, is used sixteen times in the New Testament as a general term for Christ’s presence as against His absence now in heaven. “Parousia” is the opposite of “apousia,” (absence). Both Greek words appear in Philippians 2:12,—“not in my presence (parousia) only, but now much more in my absence (apousia).” Compare the same word in 2 Corinthians 7:6, 7; 10:10.
However, the term “parousia,” applied to our Lord’s coming, covers His arrival in the upper air, His taking the Church up thither, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13- 18; our each appearing before His bema, or awarding-seat there (1 Corinthians 3:12, 15; 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10), and the marriage of the Lamb of Revelation 19:6-10. During this period we are spoken of as “tabernacling in the heavens” (Revelation 13:6).
During this time we shall find chapters 6 to 16 under fulfilment, including The Great Tribulation, which will cover the last three and a half years before our Lord’s public coming spoken of in Revelation 1:7.
This public manifestation is called in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 “the manifestation of his coming”: literally, the epiphany (epiphaneia) of His parousia,—so vividly translated by Rotherham: “the forthshining of His arrival.” Our Lord arrives in the upper air first, taking up His saints; then, after the terrible events on earth culminating in The Great Tribulation, we read in Matthew 24:29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven (the revelation of Himself to the spared remnant of Israel according to Zechariah 12:10); and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This is the great, manifested coming of Revelation 19:11-16.
This public manifestation is that phase of our Lord’s coming with which The Revelation deals. The rapture of the Church is secret, instantaneous, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
Furthermore, the Lord must have come for His saints in order to come with them. For we read in Colossians 3:4, “When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested (this is public), then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.”
It is of the very first importance that we distinguish the rapture of the saints from their manifestation at Christ’s revelation. To be caught up in the clouds to meet our Lord and the joy of His presence is certainly different from “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance” (II Thessalonians 1:7, 8).
“Behold, he cometh” is the one vivid point, the common expectation. It is motion from a place to a place. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven.” He is now the Man, glorified, at the right hand of the Father. “From thence he shall come.”
Now, this advent, or arrival, of Revelation 1:7, is an exact fulfilment of the promise given the disciples in Acts 1:11: “This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him going into heaven.” There, in verse 9, “as they were looking, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.” He went up with a visible, tangible body. He went up in their sight, a cloud covered Him from vision. Exactly thus will He be manifested.
But note quickly that this coming with clouds of Revelation 1:7 is not describing the rapture of the Church essentially. We are, indeed, to be caught up into the clouds to meet the Lord, but He is the Lord from heaven, and we, “accepted in the Beloved,” being one with Him and seated with Him in the heavenlies, are not connected with clouds or earth; therefore the rapture will take us as heavenly ones into the presence of our heavenly Lord, into the midst of the clouds with which He will afterwards come, and we with Him.
Every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him—that is, the whole earth and especially the Jewish nation. Zechariah’s prophecy (12:10), and John’s words (John 19:37), prove this. See also Matthew 24:30.
“Every eye” shall see His public manifestation as Son of man, beheld from the earth’s surface. It is not the rapture of the Church, when “we shall see him even as he is,” and “be like him” (1 John 3:2). There is no mourning there! It is, however, the exact fulfilment of Matthew 24:27, 29, 30: there is the darkening of the sun, moon and stars, just before; then the sudden bursting on the scene “as lightning” of the arrival, the presence (parousia) of Christ, His holy angels, and all His saints! “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”
First, black night—the withdrawal of all creature light; next, the sudden appearance of the Son of man, but, as “the sign,” for He must be seen by the remnant of Israel and the “sign” is this vision of Himself, when “they look on him whom they pierced.” Then comes the most utter “mourning of sorrow” ever known on earth, for this nation who crucified Him.
We must remember that it is back to the Mount of Olives, whence He went away, that He will come. Just before His feet “stand upon” that mountain (Zechariah 14:4, 5), He will make Himself seen in His glory, yea, in His love, to Israel, beleaguered by the hostile nations of earth. Read Zechariah 14:1, 2. Jerusalem will be taken—half made captives, the residue spared. Then comes Christ: “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east.” “And Jehovah my God shall come, and all the holy ones with thee.” There must be, however, a little space for this mourning (Zechariah 12:10—13:1). It is at that time that “a nation shall be born in a day.” Israel, like Thomas, must see before they believe, but they shall see! So the weeping of the spared of Israel will be penitential grief over this Messiah whom in their blindness they pierced. But the fountain “for sin and for uncleanness” will at that time be opened to them (Zechariah 13:1), and they will cry, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him” (Isaiah 25:9).
But what about the tribes of the earth?7 Their mourning will be because of utter loss, despair and terror. “And men shall go into the caves of the rocks, and into the holes of the earth, from before the terror of Jehovah, and from the glory of his majesty” (Isaiah 2:19); for “the day of the Lord” shall come upon them “as a thief,” “suddenly as a snare” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; Luke 21:34, 35). That day is “the death knell of the world’s gayeties and pleasures, the turning of their confidence to consternation, the conversion of their songs to shrieks of horror and despair.”
Even so, Amen. Here we have the Greek word “nai,” which means “entire assent,” “yea!” and the Hebrew “Amen,” which means, “be it done.” Both words are found in 2 Corinthians 1:20, and also in the next to the last verse of The Revelation. In Revelation 1:7 they are in the apostle’s mouth, and should be in the mouth of every believer, Jew or Gentile, as a response to the prophecy of our Lord’s coming. In Revelation 22:20 the “nai” meaning “yes,” “yes indeed,” “truly,” is in the mouth of Christ; the response, “Amen,” meaning, “let it be so,” “I consent from my heart,” is in the mouth of His apostle, representing us all!
And now we come to Revelation 1:8, where God sets His own seal upon this book of The Revelation; and we beg deep consideration of this great verse. God as the great I AM is attesting this last book in a most unusual and solemn way.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. It is evident that God speaks here as God. Our Lord Jesus Christ takes the same titles in Revelation 22:13: for He is the second person of the deity. Yet it is fit- ting that here in chapter one, after the announcement of our Lord’s coming, and of the general contents of The Revelation (in view of the character each Person of the Trinity takes), there should be a solemn seal upon all by God as GOD. It is fitting also that this seal should cover the revelation made of Himself to men in connection with earth in all the former Scriptures.8
Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, call attention instantly away from every creature-claim—God is all! The expression “From aleph to tau” (first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet), was used by the Hebrew rabbis to signify completely, entirely. Men dream of “evolution”—that is, a beginning without God. It is Satan’s lie in toto. They also dream of “development,” that is, “progress” without God;—even prating of “eternal advancement,” though they “die like gnats.” God, the I Am, declares Himself to be the Alpha and the Omega: not a beginning and an end, but the only One: “the everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth … I, Jehovah, the first and with the last” … “I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God” … “from the time that it was, there am I.” Take a tonic for spiritual anaemia from the forties of Isaiah!
“The Lord God.” Here we have two names of God from the Old Testament. Adonai is the title of absolute authority, as “Lord of lords, the great God,” in Deuteronomy 10:17; or Micah 4:13, “the Lord of the whole earth”; or, Lord also of heaven’s hosts, Isaiah 10:33. God’s children know and acknowledge His lordship.
Then “God.” This is “El” or “Elohim”: the mighty One, beginning with Genesis 1:1.
Then we have the Jehovah name of self-existence: “who is and who was and who is to come.” See Exodus 3:13-15.9 But it is not mere self-existence that is seen here: it is God in absolute present existence,—“who is”; but looking back to His former revelations of Himself and His purposes,—“who was”; and also able, and ready, and about to, make good all in the future that He has been and spoken in the past,—“who is to come.”
It is striking that when the dispensation changes and God, after the trumpet of the seventh angel, takes His “great power,” manifestly to reign, the twenty-four elders worship God as the One “who art and who wast” (11:17): for at that moment they have entered into eternity, so to speak; they are with God, and God at last begins to rule in public righteousness, which, of course, will be forever. So the words “who is to come” are no longer needed.
“The Almighty.” There is nothing more profitable than to meditate upon the names and titles of Deity. Although the name Jehovah seems to have been known and called upon even before the flood (Genesis 4:26), even the patriarchs did not understand its meaning as Jehovah revealed it for Israel. It was by the name Almighty He asked Abram and the patriarchs to walk (Genesis 17:1): “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” Exactly the same counsel is given by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:17—7:1. All power is in God, not in the creature.10
It is necessary for us to become thoroughly acquainted with God’s introduction of Himself in this book of The Revelation, for it characterizes Him throughout the book. The little son of a presiding judge might sit in a court room, and when the judge enters, delightedly exclaim, “That’s my father!” but he would have no desire to in- terrupt the proceedings! Indeed, he would glory in the pronouncements of his father as judge; and in the judge just because he was his father.
So with the saints: they are willing, yea, they rejoice, that judgment should begin even at the house of God, as it indeed does do in the seven churches.
And now we come to the first of the three great visions of Christ in the book of The Revelation: the first is as the risen, glorified Son of God judging during the present age the spiritual state of the assemblies—“churches” —on earth, as His light-bearers. The second is as the Lamb in heaven “as it had been slain” taking the book of government and judgment from the hand of God on the throne. The third is as the King of kings and Lord of lords returning to earth in the Great Day of Wrath to establish the millennial kingdom. May God especially help us, for we are on holy ground here:
I John. These words are used in 22:8. Compare “I, Daniel,” Daniel 8:15, 9:2, 10:2. As Daniel was known throughout the Babylonian and Persian empires, among both Jews and Gentiles, and took this for granted, so John, the last of the apostles and well-known of all Christians, takes for granted the intimate knowledge of himself and affection for himself that history and tradition assert, especially in the very region to which the Church epistles were addressed.11
Your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus. Again we remark that John writes The Revelation not as an apostle exercising authority, but as a Seer, unfolding that unveiling of the future which Christ gave him. How humble and loving is his attitude. There is absolutely no “ecclesiastical dignity” here! Note the order: trouble and trial—tribulation—first; then the kingdom assured to us, and then the patient waiting for that kingdom’s manifestation. Compare Acts 14:22: “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God;” 2 Thessalonians 1:4, 5: “your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure … to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.” (Note here it is not The Great Tribulation, but the ordinary trials of Christians.) We are in Christ as to our risen life, standing and fellowship; but that life becomes the life “of Jesus” when manifested in our body; and is hated of the world; so that we are “delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:10, 11).12
Was in the isle that is called Patmos. Where The Revelation was written, we cannot say. Irenaeus says in Ephesus, but the visions were received on a small, rocky, barren island in the Aegean Sea, fifty or more miles from Ephesus, probably in the reign of the Emperor Domitian, A.D. 81-96, who had banished John thither.
For the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The “word of God” is the larger term setting forth that insisting upon God’s claims on men and warnings to them to which all the prophets bear witness. The testimony of Jesus is the gospel, John’s peculiar message being that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God”—dying, rising, interceding and about to return as Lord over all. “Art thou a king, then?” asked Pilate of Christ. For saying “yes” our Lord was crucified. For witnessing the same, His apostles and martyrs suffered. It is striking that John mentions the kingdom (“tribulation, kingdom and patience”) in verse nine. The early Church for 300 years looked for the imminent return of our Lord to reign, and they were right!
I became in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. Now, first, as to the “Lord’s day.” It was the first day of the week, in which, although banished, John had spiritual fellowship with the believers who gathered on that day to remember the Lord (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:2, John 20:19-26). The words do not mean “the day of the Lord,” in the sense of His advent and 1000 years’ reign, as some teach. First, the adjective form is the same as in the words “the Lord’s supper” in 1 Corinthians 11:20; and, second, it is too early in the book to refer to “the great and terrible day of the Lord”; and third, the church age is directly addressed in the letters to the seven churches in 1:19: “the things which are.”13
“I became in the Spirit.” The reading “was in the Spirit,” as if denoting simply a devotional state or even a conscious “communion of the Holy Ghost,” is impossible here, as also in 4:2.14
And I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet. Compare 4:1, where the same voice speaks again after the same manner. “It is important to apprehend that the general object of this book is the revelation of the relations of God, as ruler, with the world, viewed as intro- ducing into it Jesus as heir. It will be seen how much of difficulty this removes” (Darby). It is the same blessed person who said, “Come unto me,” and who took young children in His arms; upon whose loving bosom John himself leaned his head at the supper; but the circumstances are absolutely different. The trumpet accompanied divine manifestations and commands—Exodus 19:13, 16, 19. It emphasized authority, whether for solemnity, alarm, or gladness—Numbers 10:1-10; Leviticus 25:9; Zechariah 9:14; Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15: 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16. We must recognize the lordship of Christ. Note that it is Christ’s voice in Revelation 1:10, “as of a trumpet.”
Saying, What thou seest, write in a book and send it to the seven churches: unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. Note that the book is to be sent to each church individually. There was then no “synod,” “convention,” “conference,” or “diocese” of Asia! What follows, then, belongs to this church age, represented by these assemblies. The churches addressed were then existent. We have not therefore come to the part of the book which deals either with Israel or the earth or the Day of the Lord. Our Lord indeed will be speaking to these churches with trumpet authority; yet it will be “what the Spirit saith to the churches,” and it will be “as many as I love, I reprove and chasten.”
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. The Lord spake behind His servant. John was evidently wrapped in thoughts of communion, of that “fellowship … with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” which he constantly had, and desired all saints to share (1 John 1:3, 4). But the Lord has other plans for His servant on this Lord’s day! Note that it is the voice he turns to see. Our Lord is ever the Word of God.
I saw seven golden candlesticks (literally, lamp-stands). John is about to learn how the Lord judged of that which bore His name on the earth. There are seven—not seven in one, as with Israel (Exodus 25:31-40). Each church is independently responsible to the Lord although all are governed by Him and addressed by the one Spirit. “The candlestick is not light, but the bearer of light. The light is the Lord’s, not the Church’s; from Him she receives it.” Moreover, the candlesticks are of gold, which in scripture types stands for the glory of God, which the churches were set to maintain.15
In this wondrous vision of the glorified Lord in the midst of the candlesticks, the churches, mark how all the description sets forth His Judgeship, which is His character until the New Creation comes, in chapter 21.
And in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a son of man. How infinitely precious to the heart is His appearance as connected with us, although glorified with the glory which He had “with the Father before the world was!” Yet Paul never calls Christ “son of man”: He takes that name only when He claims what is due Him on earth.
Clothed with a garment down to the foot. This is the robe of the priest and of the judge. Also, it is the aspect of the priest, not in priestly services, but in judging character. It was the high priest’s business to see that the candlestick was “kept in order” in the old sanctuary through the night,—“from evening to morning” Leviticus 24:3, 4.
These candlesticks (Revelation 1:12), all bear light, for they are the churches or assemblies of saints still recognized by the Lord, and consequently still having the right to the oil of the Holy Spirit, and to Christ as light. Nevertheless, our Lord’s attitude is in the dignity of priestly judgment rather than as Intercessor, or even using the “snuffers,” with which the high priest kept bright the lamps of the Jewish candlestick. Here in The Revelation He is judging each church’s use of its light,—that is, dealing with the churches according to their responsibility to burn brightly, rather than seeing to it from His side that they do thus burn.
Girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. The correct rendering of Isaiah 11:5, is, “And righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.” Our Lord in The Revelation scene is girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle. The girdle at the loins means service. When Christ returns to reign, as in Isaiah 11, it will be both in majesty and in service: therefore the double girdle. But in The Revelation He is not serving, but stands as a priestly judge: therefore the girdle at the waist only; and it is of gold, setting forth His divine glory. Contrast John 13:4, 5. Jesus “girded … to wash the disciples’ feet.” This is the same Lord, for He keeps cleansing us yet, but in an entirely different office than portrayed in The Revelation.
And his head and his hair were white as white wool, … white as snow. Here is the Ancient of Days of Daniel 7:9, 10, 13, 22. Notice Daniel says that the Ancient of Days sat on the throne, and also that the Ancient of Days came. As we find in Revelation 5:6, 7, “in the midst of the throne … a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, … he came,” and took the book, etc. All must honor the Son even as they honor the Father.
White,—the color of deathlessness and of eternity as well as of holiness. John seems to have been given to see His head and hair and eyes at first with some withholding of the forthshining of His brightness, in order that he might distinguish them.
His eyes were as a flame of fire. Not yet a flame of fire, as in 19:12, in the great and terrible day, for it is yet the dispensation of grace; but they are none the less searching.
His feet like unto glowing brass,16 as if they had been made fiery in a furnace (literal translation). The only metal I ever looked upon which absolutely dazzled my sight was a piece of fine brass. Brass is a composite metal, produced through fire.
His voice as the voice of many waters. Here is resistlessness, the effect of the multitude of the attributes of deity! It is not the trumpet sound, calling to attention, so much as the infinitude of the voice. Read Psalm 29.
He had in his right hand seven stars. In the midst of the overwhelming glory of Christ’s presence the seven stars are thrust upon John’s attention. “In his right hand”—the place of power and authority, as well as possession.
Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. This is His word, the word of God at Christ’s mouth: living, active (Hebrews 4:12). It is peculiarly through this word, spoken by the Spirit, that He will judge and administer among the churches.
His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. Now the Seer is given to look fully upon the face of the glory of Christ, and we read, “when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead.” So also Isaiah (Isaiah 6); Moses and Aaron, often; Joshua (Joshua 5); Job (Job 42), and all to whom it was given to view God’s glory. Let all who deny the Deity of Christ behold His beloved disciple at His feet “as one dead,”— at one sight of Him glorified. It is also to be noted that having seen Christ thus, John is no more afraid,— not even of the throne in heaven!
And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not;—the same grace yesterday, today and forever! He is the One who evermore speaks to His own, “It is I; be not afraid.”
Now follows a three-fold utterance that should banish all our fears forever:
1. I am the first and the last, and the Living one. These are the words of God! Or the Jews were right, “He blasphemeth” (John 10:33-38; 8:58, 59). Again in
2. And I became dead, and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages (literal translation). Peter writes, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” For forty days after His resurrection He had been with the disciples, not yet glorified, even eating and drinking with them, again and again (Acts 10:40, 41). To know by His own word from out that glory in which He now stood that the One whom John had seen dead and pierced was alive forevermore,—“this same Jesus,”—would be comfort unutterable to His apostle’s heart! He speaks first as the deity. Secondly of His death as a divinely ordained event,—“I became dead”; and thirdly of His humanity for all eternity! “Alive” is used in the New Testament only of those in the body. It is supremely important that we hear our Lord announcing His being alive in His risen body, “unto the ages of the ages,” whether as “the Lamb” in heaven, “the King” coming in the Day of Wrath, “Christ” reigning with His saints, Him who sits on the Great White Throne (John 5:22, 27), or the Lamb “on the throne of God and of the Lamb” forevermore!
3. And I have the keys of death and of Hades. Death held the bodies and Hades the spirits of men in Old Testament times. Since Christ’s resurrection death briefly holds the bodies, though Hades17 does not hold the spirits, of God’s saints.
Christ’s words should banish fear. One who has the keys of all is speaking, commissioning “his servant John” with His tender hand still laid upon him, but in the character of the eternally Living One now alive unto all the ages, and having the keys!
Our Lord has a character, an office, to maintain, of which many Christians think lightly, or not at all. He is the One ordained of God to be the Judge of the quick and dead; for God “will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). It will not do to forget this, or we will lose that fear of God which is “the beginning of wisdom.” We have been commanded to “have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28, 29). We are indeed in a dispensation of grace, God “not reckoning trespasses,” and gladly accepting all who believe. But God has seen fit to give this revelation, this apocalypse, to Jesus Christ, that He might show it unto His servants, and if you or I neglect or slight this one great prophetic book of the New Testament, who can say where we will end? Unitarianism, Universalism, and no-hellism are rolling like tidal waves over the land. “Blessed is he that readeth” The Revelation, and keeps its every word inviolate!
Write therefore. You see it is in view of this vision of the glorified Christ, the Son of God, of Revelation 1, and of those declarations concerning Himself which we have just been considering, that John is to write: “Write therefore.” Judgment, like salvation, is connected solely with the person of Christ. I beseech you, study The Revelation with this before you: God is bringing again the firstborn into the earth, and that as the Heir (Hebrews 1:2, 6). It will be vain to become occupied with “sevens,” “hundred-forty-four-thousands,” “six-sixty-sixes,” the restoration of the Roman Empire, the person of the Antichrist, the two wild beasts, the “millennium,” or even the new Jerusalem; unless, along with God the Father, who has subjected all things unto Him, Christ is ever before our eyes! No doubt, having put down all enemies, “then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him” (1 Corinthians 15). That does not mean that the throne of God and of the Lamb will cease, for it will be forever and ever and ever!
We now have our Lord’s own outline of the book of The Revelation. Let no one misunderstand it (for it is very simple and plain); nor dare dispute it; nor think to substitute for it his own vain thoughts!
The Lord’s outline: 1. The things which thou sawest—that is, the vision which we have just beheld of Christ Himself. 2. The things which are (are on). 3. The things which shall come to pass after these things (literal translation). This last has but one possible meaning,—those things which succeed in time the things that are now on, or the Church things.
We shall have occasion to recur from time to time to this divine division of the contents of this book.18
The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. A mystery (Greek, musterion) denotes not what is beyond our understanding, but simply what must be revealed to be understood: it signifies a hitherto hidden truth, veiled perhaps, under a symbol, but now revealed. “The correlative of mystery is revelation.”
The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches. We have seen that these seven churches were chosen by the Lord to represent assemblies of the whole church age. Seven is completeness: they represent all the assemblies and they are fully in Christ’s control. Not only is He “head over all things to the church, which is his body,” the real Church, but also all local assemblies, and whether faithful or not, they lie in His direct and exclusive ownership and dominion.
There has been much discussion of the meaning of the angels of the churches. “Angel” (Greek, aggelos) signifies “a messenger”; “apostle” (Greek, apostolos), “one sent forth.” Paul (2 Corinthians 8:23) calls Titus and those travelling with him “the apostles of the churches, the glory of Christ,” (literal translation).
In the sense of our Lord’s words, “their angels do always behold the face of my Father” (Matthew 18:11), the meaning is evident. Their representatives (in this instance, actual heavenly beings) are called “angels.”
Stars in Scripture stand for those having authority and leadership; also for teachers, both faithful (Daniel 12:3), and false (Jude 13). Inasmuch as the name “angel” is our Lord’s interpretation of the symbol star, the name “angel” cannot be itself another emblem. It must be the actual name applied by the Lord to certain persons definitely responsible for the state of the churches addressed. Now the Greek word aggelos, translated “angel,” is used of men, in Luke 7:24—“the messengers (aggeloi) of John.” In 7:19 we read of these same men, “John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to the Lord … and … they said, John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying,” etc. That is, they were the representatives of John, just as in the same chapter (verse 27) the same word (aggelos) is used concerning John himself, in his relationship to Christ: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face.”
Again, in James 2:25, the word aggelos is used to describe the spies who came to Rahab: “she received the messengers” (aggeloi) etc.; just as we read of “the angels of God” meeting Jacob in Genesis 32:1; and, in the third verse, of Jacob himself sending “messengers” (the same Hebrew word both times—malahchim). Indeed, this word is used by Moses in Numbers 20:14, “And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom,” while in verse 16 of the same chapter we read, “He heard our voice, and sent an angel,” the Hebrew word being the same. Again, in Judges 6 the angel of the Lord is mentioned seven times, and the angels, or messengers, Gideon sends, twice—the same word. Sennacherib’s representatives are called “messengers” in Isaiah 37:9, 14; and in the same chapter, verse 36, we read of the “angel of the Lord”—the same word.
Now we know from Daniel 12 that Michael the archangel stands for the nation of Israel. There is no hint, however, that angelic beings bear any such relationship to or responsibility for, the assemblies of God in this dispensation. Indeed, the very contrary is implied in Colossians 2:19. Christ is the only Head of the Church, and the Holy Spirit the only Administrator of her affairs on earth. But men are held responsible. Paul (Acts 20:28) said to the Ephesian elders (and Christ begins with the Ephesus assembly in The Revelation): “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops”—(episkopoi, that is, over-watchers). Peter also: “The elders … I exhort … tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the overmatching willingly … neither as lording it over God’s heritage, but making yourselves examples to the flock” (literal translation).
We read in 2 Corinthians 8:19 and 23, of those sent forth with Titus, that they were the messengers (Greek, apostoloi, apostles) of the churches; they were “the glory of Christ,” while in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, concerning Satan and his ministers, that they fashion themselves into apostles of Christ: “for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light.”
Therefore the angels of these churches (Revelation 2 and 3), are those appointed by the Lord, and this appointment brought about by the Holy Spirit, to represent and be held responsible by Christ for the condition of each assembly. Such “angels” may or may not be recognized or appointed by men: they are often despised by men. But they deal with the Lord directly concerning the assembly which each represents. They are capable of receiving personal, spiritual communications from Christ concerning the assembly, and are responsible to Him alone to carry out His directions.
We shall see in these seven epistles that the invasion of overlording ecclesiasticism made no difference in the relationship of the “angel” of any church to Christ. He was still able to address the church through the angel, despite Balaamites and even the woman Jezebel, and all obstacles.
As Hengstenberg says, “They were called ‘angels of the churches’ because they were sent of God to the churches to be guarding them.” He compares Matthew 18:10, concerning the “little ones”: “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Thus, so long as it has its lampstand at all, the “angel,” or spiritual representative of an assembly, is a “star” in the Lord’s hand.19
Now, in this dispensation, the Church is God’s house.20 1 Timothy 3:14.
Now there are in general three forms of iniquity judged in The Revelation.
First, there are the common sins of “mankind” which take the forms of idolatry, lust and violence. They are distinctly seen in Revelation 9:20, 21 (compare the two great commandments of the law given to Israel, Mark 12:33).
Second, there is the awful atheistic blasphemy of the wild beast of Revelation 13, sustained by Satanic power.
But, third, there is that which makes possible the first, and provokes into being the second—that is, the corrupt ecclesiasticism or clerisy of an apostate church. This, of course, precedes the other two.
Man awaits the permission of religion to indulge himself in the sin he loves. There is too little consideration given this awful fact. Even in professedly Christian institutions of “learning,” a course in “comparative religions” is calmly prescribed! Now God declares that “the things the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God”; and also that Satan is “the god of this age,” and “the prince of this world”; and that we true believers “are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
That the devil hates the Church of God with a deadly enmity goes without saying, for the saints confess and serve the Lord Jesus Christ under whose feet the God of peace will shortly bruise Satan.
Real believers, moreover, have been raised up with Christ and made to sit in the heavenlies with Him, being united to the lowly One who now is “far above all power and dominion”; and whom Satan so fears that he will flee, if resisted in faith by saints subject to God. It is that bringing on the scene of the direct power of the Lord Jesus through the Holy Ghost (the Christian’s proper warfare, Ephesians 6:10-14), which the enemy so dreads and against which he is so desperately malignant.21
Therefore we will be foolish indeed not to look for the history of Satanic opposition in this account of the churches. And we may expect the professing church to be tempted along the same old lines,—first, of pride and self-assertion; secondly of fleshly indulgence, lust and license; thirdly of that hateful ruse called idolatry by which man seeks to hide from himself by “religious” rites his real spiritual state, while he indulges his evil propensities.
Let us study these seven messages in view of the several parts of each.
1 This word authority (often translated “power” in the old version) it the Greek word exousia, used first in Matthew 7:29, “He taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes”; again, Matthew 21:23, “By what authority doest thou these things?” and again, Matthew 28:18, “All authority is given unto me,” etc. It is used 21 times in The Revelation, its last occurrence being in 22:14, “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right (exousia) to come to the tree of life,” etc. “Power (exousia) means authority to do a thing” (Liddell and Scott). That seems to me to be the primary meaning of this word in Scripture.
2 Many other angels are seen besides this revealing one whom our Lord calls “mine angel”: the whole “innumerable company” in 5:11 and 7:11; four in 7:1; “another,” 7:2; the seven trumpet angels in 8:2; “another” in 8:3; “another strong angel,” 10:1; six successive special angels in chapter 14; seven angels with the seven last plagues, chapters 15, 16; another heralding Babylon’s final destruction in 18:1-3; the “strong angel” who illustrates that destruction, 18:21; the “angel standing in the sun,” who invites the birds to Armageddon, 19:17; the angel that binds Satan, 20:1-3; and the scene of 21:9.
We know that after Satan is bound and the millennial kingdom brought in, the “inhabited earth” will not be “subjected to angels” (Hebrews 2:5). Therefore we do not find angels ruling after the binding of Satan. Of course, it is by angelic operation that the kingdom of the 1000 years is cleared of all those opposing it. See Matthew 13:40-43, remembering that it is “the end of the age,” not the “world,” seen there.
It is quite astonishing to study this direct interference by the Lord of hosts through the “angels of his power,” even in the preliminary judgments which precede this public manifestation, as well as at that manifestation, 2 Thessalonians 1:7. Even evil angels, like those “bound at the great river Euphrates,” are made use of. See also 9:1, for the “star” there is evidently a fallen angel.
How little do the “wise” of this “modern” age dream, in their “grasshopper-visions,” of these marvelous beings, the “mighty in strength.” One of them slew 185,000 men in one night in Hezekiah’s day!
3 Dean Alford, himself an English churchman, says: “If the words are to be understood as above, they form at least a solemn rebuke to the practice of the Church of England, which omits with one or two exceptions the whole of this book from her public reading. Not one word of the precious messages of the Spirit to the churches is ever heard in the public service of a church never weary of appealing to her scriptural liturgies. Surely it is high time that such an omission should be supplied.”
4 The teaching of some that the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 represent Jewish assemblies in tribulation times arises from Satanic delusion. It is always coupled with other fantastic and heretical dispensational doctrines (as Bullingerism with subtle denial of eternity of punishment). Govett well says, “These seven churches were prophetic of the things which ARE, not of the things that were to be.”
5 “He was the faithful witness because all things that He heard of the Father He faithfully made known to the disciples. Also because He taught the way of God in truth and cared not for man, nor regarded the person of men. Also, 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, good and bad, at the day of judgment.”—Richard of St. Vincent, 12th century.
6 This remarkable phrase, first used by Paul in Galatians 1:5 (Greek), occurs 21 times in Scripture, 14 of these being in The Revelation (including 14:11, where the definite article is omitted, because it is there introduced as connected with eternal judgment; whereas in 20:10 it is included, as denoting what has already been introduced).
7 We must read “earth,” instead of confining the term to the land of Israel. See all the occurrences of the Greek word ge„, beginning with the first verse of the Bible (Septuagint). Of some 260 occurrences of this word in the New Testament, none, perhaps, but Luke 21:23 indicates Palestine in anything like an absolute way, and this not really so in view of “Jerusalem” in verse 20, and “Judea” in verse 21; while in the same chapter, verses 25, 33, and 35, the meaning of ge„ is evidently the whole earth. Always when indicating Palestine, the word ge„ is modified,—as, “land of Judah,” “land of Israel,” Matthew 2:6, 20; “land of Canaan,” Acts 13:19. So also we see “land of Sodom,” “land of Egypt” (Acts 13:17).
8 We do not find the name Father in this great verse, for that name was revealed to and is held by the Church, which is not connected with earthly government, but is altogether heavenly in calling, character, and destiny.
9 Scofield has an excellent note on the name Jehovah. See his comment on Genesis 2:4, in his “Bible.”
10 Scofield’s note (Genesis 17:1) on the “Almighty God” is as weak and dangerous as his note on “Jehovah” is excellent. To be the “all-sufficient” One involves, indeed, almighty power. But such verses as Job 21:20; 37:23; Psalm 63:14; Isaiah 13:6 and Joel 1:15 do not easily reconcile with so limited a definition as “all-sufficient, the nourisher and satisfier of his people.” It is significant that Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:18, calls “the living God” of Hosea 1:10 “the Lord Almighty” (Greek, panto„krator): and it is also in connection with His tender attitude to them as “a Father, toward His “sons and daughters.” It is this word panto„krator that is used eight times in The Revelation. It is too bad that so excellent a commentator as Dr. Scofield should say, “The primary name El or Elohim sufficiently signifies all-mightiness.” It plainly does not; or God would not have used the more specific and most awe-inspiring Hebrew name, El Shaddai, Almighty, or its Greek equivalent, panto„krator. The other occurrences of “Almighty” in The Revelation are 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:15; 21:22. Present limitless power, the majesty of it, and the worship it deserves, accompany this name throughout Scripture, and especially in The Revelation.
After writing this note, I found to my horror, but I confess not to my surprise, the following: “In order to corroborate the doctrine (of sex in deity) just mentioned, certain Theosophists have invented a new derivation for the Hebrew Shaddai, which in our versions is correctly rendered ‘Almighty.’ They suppose it to be connected with a word shad, which signifies a woman’s breast. But such a derivation is impossible, and, so far as we are aware, has never been proposed by an unbiased scholar. More than one Christian scholar has taken up this Theosophical derivation of Shaddai, and explained the word as meaning first ‘full-breasted,’ and then ‘bountiful.’ The irreverent use of one of the grandest titles of the Most High should have checked them.” (Pember: THE CHURCH AND THE MYSTERIES. Page 413.) The Babylonian doctrine of “the motherhood of God,” source of all abominations, is what is subtly brought in here. The true derivation of Shaddai is Hebrew, yDv from root ddv to be strong, mighty: in adjective form used only of God (Gesenius). To miss this meaning of The Almighty is to endanger the consent of our hearts to His righteous judgments.
11 “The time of John’s death lies within the region of conjecture rather than of history; and the dates that have been assigned for it range from A.D. 89 to A.D. 120.” McClintock and Strong, quoting Lampe.
12 If we “learn Christ” and hear Him, as those that are taught in Him, it will be “as truth is in Jesus,” separating us utterly from the “manner of life” of this world, and therefore incurring their hatred. See Ephesians 4:20-23. The common loose quotation, “the truth as it is in Jesus,” wholly misses the truth!
13 Alford’s trenchant note (Gr. Test., in loc.) should dispose of all objections. Whatever originates in Germany (Wetstein) with “modern interpretation” and is spread in other lands needs to be thrice inspected!
14 “Not merely ‘I was,’ but I became in the Spirit, that is, in a state of spiritual ecstasy or trance, becoming thereby receptive of the vision or revelation to follow.” (Alford)
“‘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 and spirit being taken full possession of by God’s Spirit, so that an immediate communication with the invisible world is established.” (Fausset)
“‘I became in the Spirit on the Lord’s day’: ‘in the Spirit’ is a state into which he entered.” (Darby)
See also Winer. Dean Alford protests further: “They must be bold indeed who can render it, ‘I was transported by the Spirit into the day of the Lord’s coming,’ in the face of the absence of a single precedent in the universal usage of the early Church!”
15 “The candlestick of the Jewish sanctuary was the one only—its six branches set into the central stem,—and it spoke of Christ, not of the Church. The seven candlesticks (of The Revelation) are for lights, not in the sanctuary (where Christ alone is that), but in the world. And while there is a certain unity, as representing, doubtless, the whole Church, yet it is the Church seen, not in its dependent communion with Christ, but historically and externally, as ‘churches.’ Each lampstand is set upon its own base, stands in its own responsibility.” (Grant)
16 The Greek word here rendered “glowing brass” is the despair of scholars—chalcolibanus. Alford simply transliterates it, as some others also do. Gold would stand for the glory of God, silver for redemption. “His feet like unto glowing brass” indicates wrath-judgment upon sin by the holiness of God, by which route—Calvary—our Lord overcame. He stands here among the churches on earth. He is gracious, but He must judge according to the glory which He died to secure for God.
17 Hades is literally, “the unseen”: yet it is a place, with gates. It is in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12:40. It is the Hebrew sheol; as we see by comparing Psalm 16:10 with Acts 2:27. Men went down into it—Genesis 37:35, R. V. Spirits, not bodies, went there,—except in “the new thing” that God did in the judgment of Koran, Numbers 16:30-33, R. V. There was “a great gulf” there, fixed by God, separating His own from “the pit wherein was no water”: for Christ had covenanted to shed His blood for His “prisoners,”—which made them “prisoners of hope”; and God promised Christ He would “render double” unto them,—not only delivering them from the pit,—as was Lazarus, in Abraham’s bosom as a child of faith delivered,—but also bringing them up from the “stronghold,” in which they waited. See Zechariah 9:9, 11, 12. When Christ ascended, after the three days there in “the lower parts of the earth,” He led up His “captives,”—the Old Testament saints,—in His ascension (see Ephesians 4:8-10) so that they are now “spirits of just men made perfect,” in their proper place in heaven, awaiting the Lord’s second coming and the resurrection. It is blessed, and sad, to reflect upon the countless hosts waiting with eagerness our Lord’s coming: and the prattling ones who “do not believe in it,”—and the frightful terror awaiting them!
Note that our Lord’s words in Matthew 16:18 refer to the gates of a literal region,—in this earth’s center: into which gates the saints of the Church were never even to enter.
18 We shall remark again and again that the word “hereafter” is no real translation at all of the Greek phrase met a taut a which closes verse 19 and opens and closes 4:1. The phrase means, “after these things.”
19 Note that the lampstand (Greek: luchnia) which represents the churches, is an entirely different word from the “torches,” or “lamps,” of chapter 4:5, which is in Greek, lampas. The former are to hold a light, but the Spirit is light. Furthermore the lampstands of the churches were to lighten the darkness of this world; but the throne of God needs no illumination. The seven “torches of fire” in 4:5 are for searching, judging power, “sent forth into all the earth.”
20 The Church here is the assembly of God, the people, not the building! The Most High in this dispensation “dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 7:48.) No building or location in Christendom is in itself holy above any other.
21 Satan is named eight times in The Revelation, five times in connection with the churches—six times if we include the name devil in Revelation 2:10.