Introductory Verses Rev. 1:1-8.
The first words give us the title of the book — "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." The first three verses are a kind of preface. We are reminded that the ascended Jesus, though invested with all power in heaven and in earth, is still Jehovah's righteous servant, and as such receives this book from God. John, not simply by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit, as was usual, but by the guidance of an angel, receives the particulars of the book to communicate to the churches. We are told that the object of the Revelation is to show unto His servants the things which must shortly come to pass. (They are not called, as in John's other writings, the friends of Jesus, or sons of God, but servants.) To show the shortness of time in the mind of God, and the speedy fulfilment of the prophetic word, it is added in the third verse, "The time is at hand."
John writes with authority, being conscious that he is recording God's truth, and that the various scenes and actions he was about to relate were the testimony of Jesus Christ — things which he had heard and seen in vision. (Ver. 2.)
An especial blessing is promised to those who read this book, and also to those who hear (even if unable to read.) (Ver. 3.) How encouraging! How different are man's thoughts to God's! Man says, Do not read the book of Revelation, it is so difficult; or do not listen to any who may read it to you. God says, Whether you read or hear you shall find blessing.
By keeping "those things which are written therein," we have not the thought of obeying commands, like the law of Moses, as much as keeping in the heart the solemn instruction which the prophetic word conveys. In this book, the future passes before the mind's eye like a panorama, shedding its light upon everything of the present, and pointing out the course of all the principles at work around us. All who keep these things in their hearts will find present blessing. We are told that Mary kept the sayings of Jesus in her heart. Jesus also spoke of this as a special mark of those who loved Him: "If a man love me, he will keep my words. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings." (John 14:23, 24.) Surely this is a searching word for the conscience of any who have neglected the sayings of Jesus contained in "The Revelation."
Verses 4 to 8 may be looked at as introductory to the great subjects of the book.
Seven churches in Asia are selected for John to address. He salutes them in the usual apostolic manner with, "Grace unto you, and peace." Observe the order, — not peace and grace, but "Grace unto you, and peace;" because peace always flows from grace, and our enjoyment of peace is entirely dependent on our apprehension of Divine grace. But it is not, as in other epistles, added, from God the Father, but "from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come;" that is, from the eternal I AM; for this book is rather the dealings of God with man in the earth, than of the Father with His sons. Then we get, "From the seven Spirits which are before His throne." As seven is a symbol of perfection, we have the Eternal Spirit in fulness in His various actings, rather than the indwelling and actings of the "one Spirit" in the Church, as in Ephesians. (Ver. 4.)
Lastly, it is from "Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness;" for every other witness has proved more or less unfaithful: "the first-begotten from the dead," for He is the Son begotten in resurrection; the first who rose from the dead, never more to die; and He is also presented as "the Prince of the kings of the earth," because the book largely treats of kings, and other things of earth; hence His title and power are asserted. Immediately the glory, triumph, and dominion of Christ are spoken of, the Church seems at once exultingly to respond with, "Unto Him that loved [loveth] us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." Notice in this song —
1st. They have the joy of present redemption.
2nd. That all true believers are priests — a royal priesthood; and
3rd. That all is traced to Divine love, and flows to us through the blood-shedding and death of the Son of God.
This fills the heart with joy, and the lips with praise. (Ver. 5, 6.)
In verse 7, the Lord's coming is presented to us according to the subject of the book in relation to the earth. His saints (of course) are with Him, having been previously caught up to meet Him in the air. The scene is Christ manifested in glory as the only Potentate. The last time the world saw Christ was on the Cross; the next time they see Him will be coming in the clouds of heaven. Then, in His own glory, the glory of the Father and of the holy angels, with all His saints changed and fashioned into His glorious likeness, with a dazzling brightness that is inconceivable, "every eye shall see Him." The Jews, too, shall "look upon Him whom they pierced, and mourn;" while all the tribes of the earth in bitterest anguish wail, because Jesus is come to take vengeance, and put all enemies under His feet.
"Bright with all His crowns of glory,
See the royal Victor's brow;
Once for sinners marred and gory —
See the Lamb exalted now;
While before Him
Every knee on earth must bow.
King of kings! let earth adore Him
High on His exalted throne;
Fall, ye nations, fall before Him,
And His righteous sceptre own;
All the glory
Be to Him and Him alone!"
Happy those who can peacefully contemplate that day, and truly say, "Even so. Amen."
After we are thus instructed about the manifestation of Christ in glory, the announcement of His eternal Godhead closes the introduction. (Ver. 8.)
The Things which John Saw Rev. 1:9-20.
We now come, strictly speaking, to The Revelation. It is divided into three parts "The things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter," or "after these things." (Ver. 19.) The first division occupies the first chapter, from the twelfth to the seventeenth verses. These are the things which John had just seen.
John addresses himself, not as one in apostolic office, or as a member of the "one body," the Church, but as a brother of all the servants of God, and their companion in the kingdom, now characterized by tribulation and by exercise of patience. The kingdom predicted by prophets promised peace and blessing, as will be known in millennial times; but the kingdom has hitherto been, and in the action of this book is, marked with tribulation and evil by Satan's power, although also by God's blessing to His people, and will end in judgment, as we learn from Matthew 13:11, 42, 50, and other Scriptures. It is the kingdom of heaven in mystery. There is, therefore, need of patience until Jesus comes. "In the world ye shall have tribulation," said Jesus; "but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
The Lord's aged and honoured servant was banished to Patmos, a desolate island in the Grecian Archipelago, for the word of God and the testimony of Christ. Little, perhaps, did he think that the solitary and barren island would be a place for his being favoured by God with such deep communion and astounding revelations. But so it was. Again the apostle proved that "before honour is humility," and that God's way of preparing us for special blessing is to bring low; as we sometimes say,
"The way to exaltation is the dust;"
and the thought is full of comfort to God's tried and humbled children. Those who are exercised before God will usually find that the longer and deeper the time of trial, the richer the blessing that follows.
The apostle tells us that he "was in the Spirit." (Ver. 10.) While all believers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, we are not always "in the Spirit." To be "in the Spirit" implies that the faculties of the soul are so under the power and unction of the Holy Ghost, as to enable us to discern and enter into the mind of God, and to be occupied with His things. This is an important practical point. It is to be feared that we often set about attending to spiritual matters in a carnal frame, and are content to know that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, without being careful to be "in the Spirit." We need the anointed eye, and a spiritual frame of soul, if we would profit others or enjoy the truth of God ourselves. By "the Lord's day" we are not to understand "the day of the Lord," but the first day of the week; the day which reminds us of the resurrection of Christ from the dead, of rest in a finished work, and triumph in a risen Head.
The first thing that arrested the attention of the apostle was the sound behind him of "a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches," etc. Thus the person speaking is announced, and the apostle's service clearly marked out. This trumpet-like sound induced John to turn round to see what it was, when the glorious vision of "one like unto the Son of man," "in the midst of seven golden candlesticks," was immediately brought before him.
With regard to the candlesticks, we are told, "The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches" (Ver. 20); thus we do not get here the doctrine of "the Church," the body of Christ, "one body," "one new man," and such-like expressions, but "seven churches;" because the vision has regard to those who bear the name of Christ in earthly circumstances, and in responsibility to Christ, rather than the one body, or as seated in heavenly places in Christ, as we find treated of in Ephesians. The Lord is therefore seen "in the midst." This is His promised place. "Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." The thought, however, of the one body of Christ is in a certain sense included, inasmuch as there was but one candlestick in one city — no division. In fact, the idea of different churches in one city is nowhere found in Scripture, while division, or a sectarian position, is most solemnly condemned. The Church, therefore, composed of all the believers in a city, as in Ephesus for instance, was a golden candlestick, — costly, precious, and valuable as gold, and a fit vessel for bearing light. Such is the Church of God. It has no light in itself — nothing but what is bestowed by the ascended Jesus.
Christ is seen in the midst of the "golden candlesticks," and that, too, in the character of a discerner and judge of His own house, the only time we have Him in such a character, with readiness to bless and encourage, as well as to correct. And I cannot exclude the thought, that His first being presented as "like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle," is to remind us that He is also a merciful, compassionate, and sympathizing High Priest. By "His head and hairs white like wool, as white as snow," we are taught that He not only bears the marks of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7), but is infinitely pure and holy; while "His eyes, as a flame of fire," are all-searching, from whose notice nothing can escape. His almighty power to put all enemies under His feet, and trample them in His fury, may be brought out by "His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace;" and "His voice, as the sound of many waters," may teach us that His mighty voice may be heard far and wide as the thunders of the fall of Niagara; for unto-Him is given all power in heaven and in earth.
Nor are the assemblies to forget that "out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword," by which He can execute judgments. (Chap. 2:16.) His countenance, the bright effulgence of glory and untreated light, was "as the sun shineth in his strength." By "the seven stars in His right hand," we are taught not only that He is the Source, but the Sustainer of all ministry to the Church. "He gave gifts unto men," and in His power alone they can be exercised for true profit. Christ is presented to us as judging the churches, as Peter tells us "judgment must begin at the house of God." It is quite unscriptural to call a building of brick and stone a "sanctuary," or "house of God." God's people, the members of Christ, now are God's house; it is composed of living stones, and Christ judges both individually and corporately. Blessed it is to know that the Master's rule is, "If we judge ourselves, we should not be judged;" but it is very solemn, that "when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." (1 Cor. 11:31, 32.) Like the true antitype of Aaron, Christ trims the lamps, removes the hindrances to the bright burning of the light, pours in oil, and never extinguishes the feeble glimmer of little faith. Christ must have realities.
Such is Christ's present place among the churches. Though, strictly speaking, no company of Christians can now lay claim to be the candlestick in any place, because of our sinful divisions and sects, yet we can always count upon His presence, if really "gathered together in His name." (Matt. 18:20.) But while we are assured of His presence, we should never forget our responsibility to Him as the Head of the body, and Master of His own house. (Heb. 3:6.)
Verse 17. The effect of this glorious vision of Christ on the beloved apostle he then describes: "When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead." Overpowered with this glimpse of the glorified Son of man, the mortal powers gave way; but it was only to bring out the grace and tenderness of Him who was so precious to the apostle's heart. The "right hand" of Jesus was soon laid on His servant, now fallen prostrate at His feet, and the comforting words fell from His gracious lips, "Fear not; I am the first and the last. 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." Thus, by the eye and heart being again fixed on the triumphant Saviour, who had conquered death and hell for him, and by the Lord's tender assurance that He was his loving Saviour, and that there was no ground for fear, John was comforted, and then instructed to write what he had just seen.