Can Change the World Again.
The Revelation of John - Chapter I
Commentaries on the Entire Bible
OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE.
The book opens with the source and the channels from which this revelation comes (vs. 1, 2); the blessing promised to the readers and the hearers (v. 3); the address proper of the book, coupled with the a apostolic benediction (vs. 4, 5), and ascriptions of glory to Jesus (vs. 5, 6); the announcement of his glorious coming (vs. 7, 8). Then the writer speaks of himself and his circumstances (v. 9); is enjoined to write what he sees and, send it to the seven churches (vs. 10, 11); and then describes at length the majestic appearance of the Son of Man (vs. 12-16), and the further instructions embraced in his prophetic commission (vs. 17-20).
1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
This revelation is here said to have been made by God to Jesus Christ, implying that in their mutual relations to each other in the scheme of redemption, the Father is supreme, the Son subordinate; and reminding us of those extraordinary, words of Jesus as given by Mark (13: 32): "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.""Things which must shortly come to pass," must be said in general of the contents of this entire book, and not, as some have supposed, of the first three chapters only. "Shortly" can have no other and no less meaning than very soon. This sense of the original Greek words is absolute and decisive. It is only serious trifling with God's words to say that "shortly" may mean a thousand years distant, or two and three thousand, according as the exigencies of some preconceived scheme of interpretation may require. Why should not God be permitted to be his own interpreter and give his own views in regard to the time of the events here foretold? The rule of fair common sense must be, that whatever God may say in explanation of his own propheciese. g., as to the time of their fulfillment, must be taken to its plain and most obvious sense. Else how does it explain any thing?Angels were largely employed in making these revelations to John, and made them chiefly (as the word "signify" indicates) by the use of signs, symbols.
2. Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
The main question here is, whether the thing said of John, that he "bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Christ," is historic, describing him as having long been an apostle and witness for Christ, or whether it should be restricted to his function as a witness to certify faithfully the things revealed to him in Patmos. The latter is most in the line of thought in the context; Jesus revealed these things by his angel to his servant John; and John faithfully reported every thing shown him, for the benefit of the churches.The last clause should be read without the word "and," which the best authorities rule out of the Greek textthe sense then being, "whatsoever things he saw;" i. e., so far forth as revelations were made to him, he wrote them.
3. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
This grouping of "him that readeth" with "those that hear" contemplates the public reading in their Christian assemblies. We should bear in mind that printed Bibles were then unknown; that manuscript copies were few and very costly, and therefore the hearers would far outnumber the readers.The blessing promised to both classes implies that these words had a great moral purpose; were designed and adapted for the spiritual good of the Christians addressed; and moreover, that John, and the inditing Spirit no less, sought by every proper consideration to press the brethren to a diligent study of this book. Let every reader to-day accept this suggestion and strive for this promised blessing!"Keep those things written therein" assumes that duty is enjoined here. Blessed are those who open their hearts to the inspiring power of this book, and are prompted thereby to the utmost fidelity in doing the duties which it reveals. These duties were preeminently, patient suffering and unswerving fidelity to Christ amid scenes of fiercest trial and persecution unto blood.Again the idea is reiterated, for the time is at hand." Read this book without delay; receive into your mind its timely revelations; take home to your souls its inspiring influencesfor these fearful scenes of blood and death are close upon you!
4. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come: and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne:
5. And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first-begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6. And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The address, "John to the seven churches," must certainly include the whole book, and not the contents of chapters second and third only. So v. 11 declares explicitly, "What thou seest"i. e., all that thou shalt see, send to those churches.The invocation follows, imploring in their behalf grace and peaceevery spiritual blessing. But from whom? This question involves some difficulty.The tenor of the apostolic benediction"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost" (2 Cor. 13: 14), naturally leads us to think here of the Trinity, the threefold personal manifestation of the one God. In accordance with this analogy we begin with applying to the Father the phrase, "Him which is, and which was, and which is to come." It is generally held by competent critics that this Greek phrase translates as to its meaning the Hebrew word Jehovah, which signifies The eternally Existent One, the Great Immutable, who is therefore the faithful Promiser (see Ex. 3: 14, and Hos. 12: 5). But we must not overlook the fact that in this context (vs. 8, 11, and elsewhere these descriptive terms are applied precisely to the Son of God, probably with special reference to his pre-existent nature. Must we not therefore say that the main purpose in this chapter is not so much to develop doctrinally the fact and the relations of the Trinity, as to set forth the true divinity as well as the glorious humanity of the Son of God, and thus give the churches of Asia the true view of his exalted character and work?
What precise idea shall we find in the second phrase"The seven Spirits which are before his throne?"The parallel and explanatory passages to be considered are onward 3: 1, and 4: 5, and 5: 6. "These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars;" "There were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God;" "There stood a lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth."Then furthermore we must inquire whether we can trace this peculiar description to any source in the Old Testament prophets, and thus obtain light in regard to its meaning. Under this inquiry we must consider Zech. 3: 9 and 4: 10: "Behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts." "They shall see the stone ['plummet'] in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth." Perhaps also Isaiah 11: 2, where the Spirit of the Lord which rested upon the Messiah is thought by some to have a seven-fold designation.This phrase"The seven spirits which are before the throne," has been interpreted variously, e. g. 1. To signify the seven archangels, ministering to Jesus and for him in his great work of redemption. 2. To denote the spiritual and providential agencies and powers with which Jesus is invested and which he employs in the realms of providence and grace. This view would include all the agencies of universal providence as well as the spiritual agencies of the Holy Ghost. Strictly speaking it does not involve distinct personalitynothing in this direction beyond poetic personification. 3. The Holy Ghost, the third person of the Trinity, in his distinct personality.Let us examine these diverse opinions.
1. That these seven spirits are seven archangels is thought by some to find support in the circumstance that they are said to be "before the throne," i. e., in the waiting attitude of servants; also, that they are associated with "the seven stars" as being in like manner in the possession and sacred to the service of the Son of God [3: 1: "Saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars"]; and that they appear again in symbol as seven lamps of fire burning before the throne (4: 5).The strong and, as I think, fatal objection to this view lies in the exigencies of this invocation of "grace and peace." Can we possibly suppose that the seven archangels are classed with the Father and the Son as being equally or even conjointly with them the source and the authors of grace and peace to the churches? Surely this is new doctrine to our Bible. It ignores the infinite distance between the true God, the Infinite One, and even the most exalted of his created subjects. Grace and peace, first from the Eternal Father; next from his seven archangels; last from the Eternal and Infinite Son! This is the next thing to praying to the seven archangels. It certainly must assume that they are, in substantially an equivalent sense, the source and the fountain of grace and peace to human souls. The Bible and reason both revolt at this!
2. The second theoryviz., that the phrase describes the jointly providential and spiritual agencies wielded by Jesus Christ in the scheme of redemption, but of course not involving any distinct personality, finds its chief support in its supposed and perhaps probable allusion to the passages quoted above (Zech. 3: 9 and 4: 10), its chief objection in the circumstance that here we naturally look for real personality. The passages in Zechariah manifestly treat of God's providential and spiritual agencies in the discipline of his people and in the care of his Zion. I think that probably John had those passages so far in his mind as to take from them the number seven, and the general idea of diverse agencies. Then, thinking also of the New Testament illustrations of the manifold workings of this "one and the same Spirit," his language took, the form we see"the seven Spirits of God." With the orientals seven is the perfect numberthat which indicates completeness; diversity, yet unity and perfection.As said above, the chief objection to this second theory is that a prayer for grace and peace should be offered to a personal agent and not to an impersonal agency. May the blessings of grace come to you (a) from God the Father; (b) from his various agencies; (c) from his Eternal Sonis incongruous. It is not so unchristian and unscriptural as the theory of seven archangels; but a better theory is at hand.
3. The only view which seems to me to meet the exigencies of this passage remains to be considered, viz., that by the seven Spirits of God is meant the Holy Ghost, as specially revealed in the gospel age. This is entirely in harmony with the tone and the nature of this invocation. Is it also in harmony with the description given in this verse and with the subsequent notices of "the seven Spirits" in this book?He is one of the three divine persons from whom Paul (2 Cor. 13: 14) invokes spiritual blessings. That he is conceived of as seven fold need not surprise us if we consider the diversity of his spiritual gifts and operations; the probable allusion to the "seven eyes" of Zechariah (as above shown) or the abundant use of the number seven in this book of Revelation. That he should be seen "before the throne" does indeed imply a readiness for service; but benevolent service is no dishonor to his heart, and is in no wise derogatory to his true
Divinity. That Jesus should say of himself (3: 1); "He that hath the seven Spirits of God," etc., means only what is implied in his own first and chief words concerning the "Comforter:'' "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter" (John 14: 16); "whom the Father will send in my name" (John 14: 26): "whom I will send unto you from the Father ......... he shall testify of me" (15: 26); "I will send him unto you" (16: 7); "He shall glorify me" (16: 14). It was obviously most fitting that in these messages to the seven churches Jesus should reveal himself in the exalted dignity of his relations as the Giver of the Holy Ghost.The seven Spirits of God are also presented in symbolic vision (4: 5) as "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne." Using the figure "lamps of fire" as only a humble stepping stone to help us to reach the sublime idea of light, brilliancy, and glory, we may suppose a special reference here to the function of the Spirit as the great Revealer of God, the Infinite Teacher, sent forth to give light concerning God and to impress all truths respecting him upon created minds.That the Lamb as seen in vision (5: 6) appears with "seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth," is an effort to present in symbol the infinite power ["horns"], and the infinite spiritual forces of light and truth ["eyes"] which are embodied in the Holy Ghost and sent forth by the Son according to his own words as above quoted) to his disciples.Thus this interpretation of the seven Spirits of God as in our passage is fully in harmony with the teaching of Christ in the New Testament respecting the work and mission of the Holy Ghost, and also with the scope of these first chapters of our book as designed to set forth the transcendant dignity and glory of Jesus Christ. This interpretation therefore fully meets the exigencies of the case and must for every reason be adopted.
The sacred Three from whom blessing are invoked is completed by naming Jesus Christ.The three descriptive points of his person should be specially noted: (a) "The faithful Witness," who "before Pontius Pilate witnessed a noble confession," as said by Paul (1 Tim. 6: 14) and as may be seen (John 18: 36); who never faltered before persecution and whose example therefore as a faithful witness [martyr] for God and his truth was eminently in point for the churches of Asia at this time. (b) "The first-born of the dead;" the first to break the bonds of death and rise to immortal life and gloryto be thought of now, therefore, not as one dead but as one livingliving in all the majesty and power of a conqueror over Death and the Grave; and (c) As Lord of all lords and King of all the kings of the earth, whose power over the mightiest and proudest of them was to be so signally manifested in these visions, for the comfort of his suffering and down-crushed people.The course of thought in the words that follow is an outgushing of the heart in grateful love and adoration. Think what Jesus hath suffered and wrought for us! Unto Him that loves [rather than "loved"], who loves us now; has loved us in all the past, and will love us in all the future, forever, and hath once for all [past] washed us from our sins in his own blood; and hath made us a kingdom (according to the corrected text, rather than "kings") and priests unto God even his Father;to Him be all glory and dominion forever! Who so worthy as He to bear the crown of the Universeto bear the glories of the heavenly world? Let our loving, grateful hearts adore him now and forever. Amen!It was well for those who were subjected to fiery trial even unto blood to think of this once suffering Jesus and of all the pains he bore for his people even unto blood and death to "wash them from their sins." So it is well for us in these latter days to think of that great man of sorrows and of his quenchless love for us what time soever temptation may try our heart and Satan would discourage or frighten our weary souls."Washed us from our sins in his own blood" bears the strongest testimony to the two-fold significance of the atonement, i. e., remission of past sins through innocent blood shed for the guilty, and moral cleansing from the spirit of sinning forevermore. For if moral cleansing were the only element, blood which is properly defiling could not have been the symbol. But blood m must come in to signify the ground of remission, pardonas the whole genius of the sacrificial system testifies. Hence we have both ideas, remission and cleansing, in this comprehensive and briefest possible language"washed us from our sins in his blood."
7. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
To what "coming" does this passage refer?The reader who shall carefully study the words of our Lord in Mat. 24: 29-31, and 16: 27, 28, and 10: 23, and in kindred passages also, will readily see that John here refers to those declarations, using the same words, and therefore doubtless in the same sense. Here we have "cometh with clouds;" there, "coming in the clouds of heaven:" here, "every eye shall see him;" there, "they ['all the tribes of the earth'] shall see the Son of man coming:" here, "all the kindreds of the earth [or land shall wail because of him;" there, "then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn." "They also who pierced him" looks definitely to the prophecy of Zechariah (12: 10); "They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him."Examining those words of our Lord in the passages above named we shall see that he seems to have before his mind both of his two great comings then future (the first suggesting the second); the first, to set up his gospel kingdom with power by sending down the Holy Ghost and by destroying Jerusalem: the second, for the final judgment of all mankind using some language that might (in itself considered) apply to his more remote coming; but also giving some definite limitations of time which compel us to say that the first coming was certainly in his mind as the primary and main thing intended. These are some of the limitations: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (Mat. 24: 34). "Verily I say unto you. There be some standing here who shall not taste of death till, they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Mat. 16: 28). "Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come" (Mat. 10: 23). "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" (John 21: 22). These limitations are entirely decisive. They compel us to admit that Jesus did use the language above quoted of his first comingthe nearer oneto establish his kingdom by the mission of his Spirit and by removing out of the way the first great obstacle to its prosperitythe rotten Judaism of that age and its representative city, Jerusalem.It may be briefly said here in passing, that according to the genius of prophecy, Jesus might pass readily by analogy from his first coming, then near, to his second. So he manifestly does in Mat. 25, giving us some of the grand events of his second coming which were so powerfully suggested by his first coming.In the passage now before us the general drift of thought in the former part of this book strongly favors its primary reference to the first great coming of Christ to establish his kingdom on earth by the gift of his Spirit and the overthrow of Judaism and Jerusalem. It may have been literally true that some of those who shouted, "Crucify him!" lived to "wail because of him" in overwhelming anguish over the ruin of their city and the wreck of all their hopes. There is sometimes a terrible significance in God's visible, present retributions!
8. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
Many of my readers will not need to be told that "Alpha" is the name of the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and "Omega" of the last, so that these words have the sense, The First and the Last; the One who is before all the created things of the universe, the Great Creator of all, and whose power and glory are to be specially manifested in the closing up, the consummation, of all that pertains to this world, including both things material and things moralthe great globe itself and the destinies of all the moral agents who shall ever have lived upon it. This is much more than simply coming into existence before any other being and outliving them all; i. e., the language used of Jesus Christ, involves and implies much more than its terms in themselves necessarily include.In the original, some of the oldest manuscripts omit"the beginning and the ending." These words may have been introduced by some copyist to explain the meaning of the Greek words "Alpha" and "Omega" for the benefit of readers not familiar with that language. Omitted or retained, the sense of the passage is the same.The point most worthy to be specially noted in the verse is that Jesus here assumes for himself the very names"The Lord, which is, and which was, and is the Coming One,"which are given to the Father, in v. 4. "All things that the Father hath" (said Jesus, John 16: 15) "are mine." It is strongly the purpose in this chapter and indeed onward through the book, to present Jesus Christ in his exalted character and relations, so that Christians then sorely tempted and tried might not think of him as once in weakness he walked the earth, often barely escaping the malice of his foes, and finally falling into their hands for torture and death; but rather, as living for evermore, the very God, all glorious, almighty to save or to destroy, the arbiter of all human destiniesdeath to his foes; salvation and infinite glory to his friends. In these views of him there must have been a marvelous power of inspiration toward the stability and endurance of the faithful martyr.
9. I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The writer introduces himself more definitely. It was genial and winning in him to say"Your brother," one who suffers in common with yourselves under sore tribulation for the sake of the kingdom and the truth of our Lord Jesus.He was in the isle of Patmos, well known to the brethren of the seven churches, for it lay only a little off the coast from Ephesus; smallbeing only some eight miles by onebarren, rocky, and rough, looking out upon the great deep seafit place for the manifestations of heavenly visions sublimely grand and magnificent, but, as to all human relationships and enjoyments, a desolate place of exile. There John was shut up because he would preach the gospel and bear his testimony for Jesus.
10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
It was on the Lord's day, the Christian Sabhath, when suddenly he passed into that peculiar prophetic state expressed by the words"in Spirit"a state in which the prophet is put in special communication with the Holy Ghost as the Revealer of prophetic truth. His ear was opened to hear the very voice of Jesus, and his eye to see (as in the present case) his sublimely glorious form.It avails little to speculate as to the psychological nature of this prophetic state. Experience only can give it.
11. Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
"What thou seest"i. e., all that is now to be shown thee in the successive visions which make up this entire book. The word "seest" refers properly to the visionsthose of chaps. 4-22, rather than to the verbal messages which appear in chaps. 2 and 3. Yet we may admit these chapters (2 and 3) as included in the command, and attribute the choice of the word "seest" before hearest, to the circumstance that by far the greater part of the book is made up of visions presented to the eye.Many. commentators have restricted this command to the messages that were simply heard (not seen at all), which occupy chapters second and third, practically if not avowedly denying its reference to the real visionsthe things seen. Such construction is utterly against the fair and necessary sense of the words. They are laboring to make out that the real visions of the book were neither written, sent, or adapted to the seven churches of Asia. It is much better to let the book speak for itself and become its own interpreter.Some geographical and historical notes upon these seven cities, from which these churches take their name will be given where their names come up in detail (chaps. 2 and 3).
12. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
"Turned to see the voice," i. e., the author of the voice, the speaker. The precise sense of the original is, to see whoever it might be whose unrecognized voice I had heard.This prophetic symbol, "candlestick," to represent a church (see the explanation in v. 20), comes obviously from Zech. 4. The essential idea is given by our Lord (Mat. 5: 14, and John 8: 12): "Ye are the light of the-world;" and by Paul (Phil. 2: 15) more closely because in the concrete form: "Ye shine as lights (luminaries, or light-bearers) in the world." What light is to the eye, that knowledge is to the mind. Hence the teachers of truth are in symbol, light-bearers.
13. And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
"In the midst," etc., to indicate the perpetual presence of Christ among his churches, with his people."One like a Son of man," rather than the Son. The Greek is without the article, the sense being, not that this personage resembled him whom I saw often in the days of his flesh; but merely that though clad with surpassing effulgence of glory, yet the form was humanthe resemblance that of man. The critical reader will note that when Jesus often spake of himself as "the Son of man" (of which cases there are said to be eighty), he always used the article"the Son of man." The expression in our verse therefore does not class itself with those.His outer garment fell to the feet, and a golden girdle was passed round at the breasts. This of course was (fitly) the oriental costume of royalty, the dress worn by kings, and associated with the highest ideas of dignity and exaltation.
14. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
In the point of whiteness this symbol is perhaps in imitation of "the Ancient of days" as shown to Daniel (7: 9), "whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool." It may blend the two ideaswhiteness as the symbol of purity, and white hairs as the crown and the glory of patriarchal age. The eyes, always the most expressive and most spiritual among the parts and organs of the human frame, are as a flame of fire. Light, brilliancy, energy, thrilling powerall combinedcan be set forth by no more pertinent symbol than this"a flame of fire." Such were his eyes.
15. And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
"Brass," one of the oriental symbols of strength, is heightened here by a glowing radiance, compared to metal burning in a furnace.His voice, deep, grand, majestic as the roar of the sea, was imagery wonderfully fresh and expressive to John, sitting often on the barren cliffs of Patmos, listening to the surging billows and breakers at his feet.
16. 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.
Think of the grandeur of this sceneseven stars held in his right hand; out of his mouth a sharp two-edged swordstrikingly significant of his piercing wordsarmed with a power of truth which none could gainsay, and with a majesty and terror of threatening before which earth and heaven flee away!And then to crown this wonderfully impressive manifestation, his countenance was as the sun in his peerless effulgence when his unclouded face pours forth such light and heat as no mortal eye can bear.The "sword from the mouth" seems violent and unnatural when thought of as seen, yet the significance is clear and the representation full of power. While all the other points in this description are at once surpassingly grand and also in harmony with nature, this seems somewhat out of such harmony. But let its surpassing energy atone for its apparent rudeness.In view of this unparalleled manifestation of the sublimest elements of grandeur, dignity and power, it were of small avail for us to inquire whether this represents the risen Jesus as he now appears upon his throne in the highest heavens. On this point let us suppress our curiosity and postpone our inquiries till the light of heaven shall burst on our eyes. It is enough here to say that this manifestation to John had a definite moral purpose, jointly for him and for those whom he, or rather Jesus through him, addressedthe seven churches. It was important that both John and his brethren of those churches should think of the risen Jesus as no longer the frail, suffering, feeble man of Nazareth, nor even merely as the risen personage who-appeared from time to time during forty days after his resurrection; but far other than either of those- forms and indefinitely more gloriousas now invested with splendor and glory higher than which no forms of matter known to us have ever attaineda voice surpassing all human range and poweran eye piercing and thrilling, far above the merely humana countenance that gathered into itself the effulgence of dazzling, overwhelming glory. The purposed moral impression of this scene can not be mistaken. Let the churches know that their risen Redeemer is mighty; is crowned with glory and honor and set over the realm of nature and the empire of the world, "King of kings and Lord of lords." Let them have no fear as to the final triumph of his cause. Let them shrink from no endurance of pain even to death for his sake. Let it be settled forever in their souls that such a Savior is strong to sustain his friends or to crush his foes; that his promised rewards are ineffably glorious, but that his wrath burns to the lowest hell, to the unutterable dismay of his proudest, mightiest enemies. Such manifestations of such a Savior were adapted with Divine wisdom to arm them for the conflict through which they were so soon to pass.
17. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last
18. I am he that liveth and was dead; and, behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death:
The view was overpowering. There is a limit to human endurance under such an effulgence of glory. Jesus kindly relieved his mind of the sense of terror, and soothed his agitated emotions with words and tones of comfort."The first and the last" only puts in simpler form what was first said (v. 8) in the words, "I am. Alpha and Omega." As to the sense, "I am the first and the last" means, not properly, the first to come into being and the last to cease to be; not, I antedate all other beings and I shall outlast them all; but thisI am the first Cause of all that have existence, the infinite Creator of all; and I am also the Arbiter of their destinies, having infinite control of all last things. This construction gives the only admissible sense of these words taken in themselves, and is also sustained by the immediate context."I am he that liveth" is put forcibly by the Greek participle: I am the living One; this is for evermore my distinctive attributethe living One, in a sense which implies both perpetual existence in himself and the source of existence to all created beings. Passing, by the most sudden transition, from the divine to the human, he says, I was indeed for a short time "dead," but mark, behold! I am now the living One for evermore. Also I have absolute power over Death and Hell. The agencies of Death upon this sinning race, and the worlds where all departed souls abide, are under my supreme control. I open or shut their gates at my will.Death and Hell (Hades) are here personified as in Rev. 6: 8, and 20: 13, 14.It would lead us too far aside from the current of thought here to discuss and present at length the precise and correlated meanings of the New Testament words Hades and Gehenna: Hades, the invisible world whither go the spirits of all the dead, some to woe and some to bliss (Luke 16: 19-26); Gehenna, exclusively the place and the doom of the lost (Mat. 5: 29, 30, and 10: 28, and Mark 9: 47, etc.). Suffice it here to say that our passage sets forth this glorious Personage as having the absolute rule over both Death himself and the destinies of all the dead who people that invisible realm of existence which lies immediately beyond this.
19. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
The middle clause, "The things which are," Prof. Stuart and some others construe to mean, what they are, i. e., what they signify. Write out the visions and their significance. This seems to me too remote from the primary and usual sense of the verb to be. I prefer this construction of the whole verse: "Therefore, since the divine Jesus who speaks to thee rules the destinies of both the living and the dead, and has the great future in his eye and in his shaping hand, write what things thou hast seen and shalt see" [the Greek aorist tense covering the recently present and the nearer future], and then, expanding the thought more fully he adds"both the things which are and the things which shall be closely after these." Some of these visions revealed things present; some, things near in the future: he is commanded to write down both.
20. The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
He explains the seven stars in his right hand to denote the seven angels to as many churches. They are angels no doubt in the usual sense of messengers. But since their mission lies not between Jesus and John, but between John and the churches, they are not superhuman, but humanso many individual men through whom John was to address those churches. What other functions they held besides that of communicating John's messages, this book does not tell us; no other document informs us; it is therefore of small avail for us to speculate about it. Their relations were not diocesan, i. e., over many churches, for the record here restricts them each to his own, and moreover gives no hint of ecclesisastical power in them beyond what is implied in conveying a written message from Johnnot to say that if those churches had any diocesan, John himself should have been the man. We must pass this much litigated question with only these brief hints.