The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This phrase occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in 1Pe_1:7, 1Pe_1:13. It means the revelation which Jesus Christ makes, not that which reveals him. John is the writer, Jesus Christ the Author, of the book. Revelation (απόκαλυψις) is a word reserved for the gospel; no Old Testament prophecy is called a revelation (contrast 1Sa_20:30). It means the unveiling of Divine mysteries (Eph_3:3), and from this it easily slips into meaning the mystery unveiled. Christ is both the Mystery and the Revealer of it. He comes to reveal himself, and in himself the Father, whose Image he is. Thus in its opening words the book takes us beyond itself. What is revealed is not secrets about the future, but a Person. And the Revealer is not man, but God; not John, but the Divine Son, commissioned by the Father. For even the unincarnate Word receives from the Father that which he reveals. Which God gave unto him. This is remarkably in harmony with the Christology of the Fourth Gospel. The simple infinitive to express a purpose after “give” is common to Gospel and Apocalypse (Rev_3:21; Rev_7:2; Rev_13:14; Joh_4:7, Joh_4:10; Joh_6:52). His servants. All Christians, not exclusively seers like St. John. “Even the things which” (Revised Version) makes “things which” in apposition with “the Revelation,” which is probably right. Must (δεῖ); because God has so decreed. This Divine “must” is frequent in the Gospel (Joh_3:14, Joh_3:30; Joh_9:4; Joh_10:16; Joh_12:34; Joh_20:9). Shortly. The meaning of ἐν τάχει is much disputed. But, like “firstborn” in the question about the brethren of the Lord, “shortly” ought not to be pressed in determining the scope of the Apocalypse. Calling Jesus the firstborn Son of Mary tells us nothing as to her having other children. Saying that the Apocalypse shows things which must shortly come to pass tells us nothing as to its referring to events near St. John’s own day. Probably it refers to them and to much else in the Christian dispensation. In the language of the seer, past, present, and future are interwoven together as seen by God, and more truth is contained than the seer himself knows. “The whole book ought to be received as a single word uttered in a single moment” (Bengel). It does not follow, because St. John had events near to his own day in his mind, that his words are limited to those events for us. Signified. Jesus Christ signified, i.e. made known by symbol and figure, the things which must come to pass. “Signify” (σημαίνειν) is characteristic of St. John, to whom wonders are “signs” (σημεῖα) of Divine truths. “This he said, signifying [by means of an allegory] by what manner of death he should die” (Joh_12:33; comp. Joh_18:32; Joh_21:19). By his angel; literally, by means of his angel (διὰ τοῦ ἀγγέλου). “Angel” here probably has its, common meaning of a spiritual messenger from the unseen world; but it is the fact of his being Christ’s messenger, rather than his heavenly character, that is specially indicated. Whether one and the same angel is employed throughout the Revelation is not clear. He does not come into the foreground of the narrative until Rev_17:1, Rev_17:7, Rev_17:15 (comp. Rev_19:9; Rev_21:9; Rev_22:1, Rev_22:6, Rev_22:9). The Revelation is begun (verses 17-20) and ended (Rev_22:16) by Christ himself; but the main portion is conducted “by means of his angel.” Thus St. Paul says of the Law that it was “administered by means of angels in the hand of a mediator,” i.e. Moses (Gal_3:19). In this case the mediator is John, a “servant” specially selected for this work (Isa_49:5; Amo_3:7). Thus we have four gradations—the primary Agent, the Father; the secondary Agent, Jesus Christ; the instrument, his angel; the recipient, John.
Who bare record. “To bear witness” (μαρτυρεῖν) and “witness,” or “testimony” (μαρτυρία), are characteristic of St. John’s writings, and serve to connect together his Gospel, the First Epistle, and the Apocalypse. Such words should be carefully noted, and, so far as possible, uniformly translated, in order to mark their frequency in the English Version. The Authorized Version rings the changes on “bear witness,” “bear record,” “give record,” and “testify,” for μαρτυρεῖν; and on “witness,” “record,” and “testimony,” for μαρτυρία. The Revised Version has here made great improvements. To bear witness to the truth and the Word of God was St. John’s special function throughout his long life, and to this fact he calls attention in all his chief writings (see Haupt on 1Jn_5:6). The testimony of Jesus Christ, like “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (verse 1), means that which he gave, not that which tells about him. And of all things that he saw; better, as in the Revised Version, even of all things that he saw, taking δσα εἵδεν in apposition with what precedes. The seer is here speaking of the visions of the Apocalypse, not of the events in Christ’s life. The aorists, ἐμαρτύρησεν and εἵδεν, are rightly compared to the συνέγραψε of Thucydides (1.1; 6.7, 93).
He that readeth this book publicly in the church, and they that hear the book read, are equally blessed. There is grace promised to both minister and congregation who live up to the spirit of the Scriptures. St. John here suggests that a usage common in the Jewish Church (Luk_4:16; Act_15:21; 2Co_3:15) may be adopted in the Christian Church. Probably this verse is the earliest authority for the public reading of the New Testament Scripture. It is very precarious to argue that “the Apocalypse, which points to this custom, cannot have been composed in the year 68,” because this Christian custom is of later origin than 68. The official communications of apostles were sure to be read publicly in the churches (see Lightfoot on Col_4:16). Until the new lectionary came into use, the blessing hero promised to the liturgical use of the Apocalypse was sadly neglected in the English Church. One might almost have supposed that a blessing had been pronounced on those who do not read and do not hear the prophecy. The words of this prophecy; literally, of the prophecy; i.e. “the prophecy of this book” (Rev_22:7, Rev_22:18). That which is a revelation in reference to Christ is a prophecy in reference to John. “Prophecy” must not be narrowed down to the vulgar meaning of foretelling future events; it is the forthtelling of the mind of God. Prophecy, in the narrow sense of prediction, cannot well be kept. It is God’s call to repentance, obedience, steadfastness, and prayer that must be kept by both reader and hearers in order to bring a blessing. And if the words are to be kept, they can be understood. We have no right to set aside the Revelation as an insoluble puzzle (comp. Luk_11:28, where, however, we have φυλάσσειν, not τηρεῖν). The time is at hand. The appointed time, the season foreordained of God (καιρός, not χρόνος), is near. We may ask, with F.D. Maurice, “Did not the original writer use words in their simple, natural sense? If he told the hearers and readers of his day that the time was at hand, did he not mean them to understand that it was at hand?” No doubt. But that does not preclude us from interpreting the inspired words as referring, not only to events near St. John’s time, but also to other events of which they were the foretastes and figures. To us the meaning is that the type of the end has been foretold and has come, and the end itself, which has been equally foretold, must be watched for in all seriousness.
4. John] The Apostle, the son of Zebedee, who (probably afterwards) wrote the Gospel: see Introduction.
seven churches] The number of course is symbolical or representative: there were other churches in Asia, e.g. at Colossae and Hierapolis (Col_4:13). But the Seven Churches represent “the Holy Church throughout all the world.” It was very early observed, that St Paul also wrote to seven churches—the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, Ephesians (?), and Colossians.
in Asia] The proconsular province of that name. In Act_16:6 “Asia” seems to be used in a still narrower sense, being distinguished from the adjoining districts of Phrygia and Mysia, as well as from the provinces of Galatia and Bithynia; so that it would correspond approximately with the ancient kingdom of Lydia. But as Pergamum was in Mysia, and Laodicea in Phrygia, it seems that here the word is used to include the whole province.
Grace … and peace] So St Paul in all his Epistles to the Seven Churches, Rom_1:7; 1Co_1:3; 2Co_1:2; Gal_1:3; Eph_1:2; Php_1:2; Col_1:2; 1Th_1:1; 2Th_1:2; and so Phm_1:3. In his later private letters the form varies—”Grace, mercy, and peace,” 1Ti_1:2; 2Ti_1:2; Tit_1:4—as in St John’s second Epistle. St James (Rev_1:1) uses the common secular salutation “greeting” (cf. Act_15:23): St Peter has “grace and peace” as here, but in his first Epistle does not say from Whom they are to come.
from him] The sacred Name is in the nominative, being treated as indeclinable: as though we should say in English “from He Who is,” &c. For general remarks on the grammatical (or ungrammatical) peculiarities of this book, see Introduction, p. xxi. Here at least it is plain, that the anomaly is not due to ignorance, but to the writer’s mode of thought being so vigorous That it must express itself in its own way, at whatever violence to the laws of language.
which is, and which was, and which is to come] A paraphrase of the “Ineffable name” revealed to Moses (Exo_3:14 sq.), which we, after Jewish usage, write “Jehovah” and pronounce “the Lord.” Or, rather perhaps, a paraphrase of the explanation of the Name given to him l. c., “I am That I am”—which is rendered by the LXX. “I am He Which Is;” by the Targum of Palestine on Exod. “I am He who is and who will be.” The same Targum on Deu_32:39 has “Behold now, I am He who Am and Was, and Will Be.”
which was] is again ungrammatical in Greek: the only word that could be used grammatically, would mean “which was made” or “which began to be,” and is therefore avoided. Compare the opposition of the “being” of God or Christ, and the “becoming” or “being made” of creatures, in St John’s Gospel, Joh_1:6; Joh_1:8-9, Joh_8:58.
is to come] Probably only used to express future time—not referring to the “Coming” of Christ; for thus far we have a threefold name for the Father—the Son is separately mentioned afterwards. Else, “He that is to come” is often used as a familiar and distinctive title of Christ: see Mat_11:3; Mat_21:9; Joh_6:14; Joh_11:27; Heb_10:37; John Ep. Joh_11:7: cf. 1Jn_2:18, where the same word is pointedly used of Antichrist. But with this more general sense we may compare “the wrath to come,” 1Th_1:10, “the world to come,” Mar_10:30, and “things to come,” Joh_16:13; Joh_18:4.
seven Spirits] Son_3:1; Son_4:5; Son_5:6. In the second of these passages it would be possible to understand the name of seven chief Angels (see Rev_8:2): but here it would scarcely seem possible that creatures should be, not merely coupled with the Creator as sources of blessing, but actually thrust into the midst of His being, between the two Divine Persons. “The seven Spirits” thus made coordinate with the Father and the Son can scarcely be other than the Holy Ghost, Who is known to us in His seven-fold operations and gifts, and Who perhaps has some sevenfold character in Himself; which we cannot and need not understand, but of which there seem to be intimations in the passages of this book referred to, and in Zec_3:9; Zec_4:10, by which these are certainly to be illustrated.
who is] These words are probably inserted in the A. V. and R. V. by way of marking the fact that “the faithful Witness” is in the nominative, not in apposition to the name “Jesus Christ.” But whether this has the same object as the anacoluthon of the previous verse—a sort of reverence that forbids the divine Name to be “governed” by any other word—is more doubtful: the general usage of the book appears to ignore the classical rule of apposition.
the faithful witness] See 1Ti_6:13: Jesus Christ was in His Death much more than a martyr, but He was also the perfect type and example of martyrdom. Observe His own words in Joh_18:37—to which perhaps St Paul l. c. is referring. Here as in the next clause, see below, the language recalls Psa_89:37, perhaps too Isa_55:4.
first begotten of the dead] Explained by St Paul in Col_1:18, where He is called “the First-born” (the word is the same) “from the dead.” The sense of “first-born” or “first-begotten” is “first to enter life,” without any fanciful image of death as the womb of earth. The thought in Rom_1:4 is similar.
prince of the kings of the earth] A reminiscence (hardly to be called a quotation) of Psa_89:27, “I will make Him My First-born, higher than the kings of the earth.”
that loved] Read, that loveth. “It is His ever-abiding character, that He loveth His own, Joh_13:1” (Alford).
washed us] The balance of evidence is in favour of the reading “loosed us:” the preposition “in” might easily, in a Hebraistic book like this, be used of an instrument, where we should say “by,” or “with.” So we should probably render “redeemed us from our sins by His own Blood”—the Blood of Christ being conceived as the price of our redemption, as in 1Pe_1:18-19—not, as in Rev_7:14, Rev_22:14 (according to the preferable reading), and perhaps in St John’s 1Jn_1:7, as the cleansing fountain foretold in Zec_13:1. If therefore we ask “when Christ thus freed us,” the answer must be, at His Passion, not at our conversion or baptism.
And hath made us kings and priests; rather, as in the Revised Version, and he made us (to be) a kingdom, (to be) priests. “Made us” is not coordinate with “loosed us;” the sentence makes a fresh start. “Kingdom,” not “kings,” is the right reading. Christians are nowhere said to be kings. Collectively they are a kingdom—”a kingdom of priests” (Exo_19:6), or, as St. Peter, following the LXX., gives it, “a royal priesthood” (1Pe_2:9). Each member of Christ shares in his eternal priesthood. Unto God and his Father; more probably we should render, with the Revised Version, unto his God and Father (comp. Joh_20:17; Rom_15:6; 2Co_1:3; Eph_1:3). Alford objects that when St. John wishes a possessive genitive to apply to more than one substantive, he commonly repeats the genitive; and he quotes Joh_2:12; Joh_6:11; Joh_9:21. But in these passages he repeats not only the genitive, but the article. Here the article is not repeated, and τῷ Θεῷ καὶ Πατρὶ αὐτοῦ must be taken as one phrase. To him be the glory. The construction returns to that of the opening clause, “Unto him that loveth us.” St. John’s doxologies increase in volume as he progresses—twofold here, threefold in Rev_4:11, fourfold in Rev_5:13, sevenfold in Rev_7:12. In each case all the substantives have the article—”the glory,” “the honour,” “the power,” etc. Forever and ever; literally, unto the ages of the ages (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, in saecula saeculorum). It occurs twelve times in the Apocalypse, besides once without the articles (Rev_14:12). In his Gospel and Epistles St. John uses the simpler formula, “forever,” literally, “unto the age” (εἰς τὸν αἰῶγα). (See Appendix E. to St. John, in the ‘Cambridge Greek Testament.’) An indefinite period of immense duration is meant (comp. Gal_1:5 and Eph_2:2, Eph_2:7, where the countless ages of the world to come seem to be contrasted with the transitory age of this world; see also Heb_13:21 and 1Pe_4:11).
This verse, as indeed may be said of the whole Book, is founded chiefly on our Lord’s own prophecy recorded in St Matthew 24, and secondly on the Old Testament prophecies which He there refers to and sums up.
with clouds] “With the clouds,”—”he clouds of heaven” of Dan_7:13.
and they also which pierced him] Zec_12:10; in his Gospel, Joh_19:37, St John translates that passage correctly, and here refers to the same translation: that of the LXX. is wrong and almost meaningless. But while the words here are taken from Zechariah, the thought is rather that of Mat_26:64: “they which pierced Him” are thought of, not as looking to Him by faith, and mourning for Him in penitence, but as seeing Him Whom they had not believed in, and mourning in despair.
all kindreds of the earth] Better, all the tribes—the reference is still to Zech. l. c., through the medium of Mat_24:30. Thus we see that the fact that the profitable and the unprofitable “mourning” (or “wailing”—the Greek word is the same in St Matthew as here) are foretold in the same terms, in solemnly suggestive contrast with each other, is due not to the Apostle but to his Master: it is He that tells us that all tribes of the earth must mourn, either now for the woe our sins caused Him, or then for the woe they will cause us.
because of him] Literally, “at him;” at sight of Him. R. V. “over Him,” which can hardly be meant here.
Even so, Amen] Or, Yea, Amen—the two words, Greek and Hebrew, being similarly coupled in 2Co_1:20. The second, like the first, is an emphatic word of confirmation—so used e.g. repeatedly by our Lord Himself, St Mat_5:18, &c., where it is translated “verily.” The popular tradition that “Amen” means “So be it” is only partially true: even in its liturgical use, we append it to creeds as well as prayers. It comes from the same Hebrew root as the words for “faith” and “truth;” the primary meaning being apparently “solidity.” See on Rev_3:14.
Alpha and Omega] The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet used, as in Rabbinical proverbs the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet were, as symbols of “the beginning and the end.” These latter words are not here a part of the genuine text; they come from Rev_22:13.
Lord] Should be followed by “God;” the group of titles represents “the Lord, Jehovah the God of Hosts” of the O. T. The word we render “Almighty”—perhaps rather meaning “of all might”—is the usual representative in the LXX. of the word [Lord of] Sabaoth. So in the Athanasian Creed, “Almighty” is coupled with the divine names “God” and “Lord,” not with the divine attributes “eternal, incomprehensible, uncreated.”