The Revelation of John


Division 1. (Rev. 1 – 3.)

The Things that are.

The scope of this first division has already been sufficiently considered. The way is open for us to take it up in detail.

There are here two subdivisions, the first chapter being plainly introductory to the two following. In the first of these we have what the Lord refers to as "the things which thou hast seen." The second gives us the addresses to the churches.

Subdivision 1. (Rev. 1.)

The Faithful and True, in oversight of the Assemblies.

In the first subdivision we have Him as the Faithful and True, seen in His oversight of the seven assemblies representing the Church or assembly of God in its character as light-bearer for Him upon earth. The details alone can give us what is really before us here, so that there is no profit in seeking first of all to outline this. It is not as yet prophecy, of course, but an introduction to the prophecy, one which is of the greatest importance for true intelligence as to the prophecy itself. But let us proceed in an orderly way through it.

Section 1. (Rev. 1:1-3.)

Title and Introduction.

The book has, in accordance in general with other prophetic books, but in contradistinction from all the other books of Scripture, a title of its own, a title which is clearly meant to mark its importance for us. This, too, is emphasized with a distinct announcement of the blessedness both of the reader and hearer of it — if they hear practically; that is, keep the things which are written in it: It is "A Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him to show unto His servants the things which must shortly come to pass." It is astonishing that some who even have a view of the book beyond most others should take this "revelation of Jesus Christ" to be His own appearing, as in the nineteenth chapter. It is quite true, of course, that this is called His revelation (1 Cor. 1:7; 2 Thess. 7). The heavens that now conceal Him, except to faith, are to give Him back to human sight at last. Nevertheless, the revelation spoken of here is plainly such because it is meant, to show "things which must shortly come to pass." It is a revelation which He receives as Man for men, and the style is here what has been referred to but a moment since, as where the Lord says to His disciples, "All things that I have heard from My Father I have made known unto you." Christ is always in this way leading us to the Father, making us realize that He Himself is the gift of the Father's love to us, and bidding us see the Giver in the Gift. The Father is also He who reveals Christ to souls, as we see in the Lord's words to Simon Peter: "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." Here it is God putting honor upon the One who has taken this place with men and for men; and we may notice at once that it is not merely an inspiration, but a revelation. It is not a mere assistance, as one may say, to human thoughts. It is a communication of divine thoughts. It is a lifting of the veil from things, which only God could accomplish. It is not a diviner, divining from things before him in history or otherwise. The apostle is, so to speak, the passive recipient (not, of course, that by this is meant the uninterested recipient) of things which are entirely beyond himself. There need be no question that we are here, thus far, upon ground on which, not the prophets of the Old Testament alone, but those of the New Testament also, stood when predicting the future. They spoke better than they knew. One can easily understand how John himself would look with wonder and delight into what his own hand had written concerning these things. Only there was not for him that word which the Old Testament prophets had to hear, that not unto himself, but to others, he was ministering. He himself, by the power of the Spirit of God which was in him, was just the one of whom we would naturally say that he was better fitted to understand than any other what he had written down here. It is remarkable and instructive in this connection that, whatever John's own apprehension might be of the meaning of what is evidently put forth in mysterious terms, (though free for faith to penetrate as it may,) yet tradition, with all the inventive character which belongs to it, has never pretended to furnish us with a single word of explanation as to the visions to which we are coming; we find nothing beyond what John himself by inspiration has given us here. We are shut up absolutely to the inspired words themselves. Nothing has been committed to us by tradition. The break is absolute. Who can doubt that there were apostolic comments upon many of these things? But not a word has come to us with this apostolic signature to give it authority. We must gather from the Word, and from the Word alone. It is a "revelation," then, of Jesus Christ; that is, a revelation made by Him, which God gave Him, "to show unto His servants the things which must shortly come to pass." We have to mark that the book is distinctly a servant's book. One may say all Christ's own are His servants. That is true, of course, in a certain. way. We would not question this, but emphasize it. Nevertheless, it is of importance we should understand that we must be with a spirit of service in our hearts in order to have title to apprehend the things that are here. They have to do with our service. They are not merely things to inform the intellect, or even to illumine the soul with glory; but they are specially and distinctively things which have practically to do with the path of service. They are the revelation of the whole field, as one may say, through which the path leads; and thus they are things not only to be heard, as men speak of hearing, but to be kept — things that are to keep us, in fact — keep our feet as we go through the world. Instead of Revelation being a book of dreams, there is nothing more practical than what we find in it.

Although we are in responsibility always, and in heart, it is to be trusted, servants of Christ, yet we may find, when we look at what is contained in Revelation, at the things which are given as necessary for the servant's service, that it supposes a heart exercised by the things around, such as few servants, it may be feared, attain unto. If we were to ask ourselves honestly, how much need do we realize of such a revelation, it might give us a good deal of practical searching of heart. Each servant of course has his own path, his own special line of service; yet it is evident from what we have here that no one is intended to be in such a way outside the general course of things in the Church or in the world as to be unaffected by them. In fact, the less we contemplate them, the less we are exercised by them, the more we shall be affected, but not for good. God means us to have our eyes open, our consciences on the alert: and not only that, but that the concerns of Christ at large should be our concerns; that we should feel them so; should seek to serve Him, not without the apprehension of how much the individual course acts upon the general condition of things. We may think of this influence as almost infinitesimal; scarcely to be taken into account; and humility, no doubt, may say this. Nevertheless, with any one who is truly a servant of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of service, it is impossible to say how much may be the result, under God, of that which, looked at in itself, may well be counted infinitesimal. God's way is to work His wonders oftentimes by the smallest agencies and instrumentalities, that the work may be seen to be of Him, and not of man. And the heart that is for Him is what He values. If there be this, and we have learnt to identify ourselves with the Master we serve, with all His interests, the life resulting must necessarily be fruitful; more fruitful it may be, far, than we can ever be permitted to know. It is evident that to all of us here, to all Christians, these things are given, and that "blessed are they who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein."

"The things," too, are explained as "things which must shortly come to pass." This is, of course, to have effect upon us. They are things in the current of which we are, not things that are merely coming to pass at some indefinite future time beyond us. We are somewhere in the current of them; just exactly where, we may have to determine for ourselves; although, even so, if we cannot put our foot exactly upon the spot where we really are, it will not be of less importance to look at the things which are behind us, as well as the things that are before us still. All is connected together. The present is the issue of the past, and contains in itself the seed of the future; and if we would be wise indeed we must trace the beginning of things, and follow them to their end. The means of doing this is in the book before us. How immensely valuable and how intensely interesting, therefore, it must be!

This, then, is what the revelation means. The mode of communication is not to be passed over. "He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who testified the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatsoever things he saw." Notice the person to whom the revelation is made, who speaks of himself very soon afterwards as the brother of and joint partaker with all Christians in "the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus." John is one of ourselves, and he wants to be understood to be one of ourselves. He is a sample of those to whom this testimony is committed. He is one ready to testify, and to take, also, through grace, the consequences of faithful testimony. Such an ear, as it is always open, will never lack hearing words which sound in the ears of other men, yet at the same time are not discerned in the same way by others.

Yet here, notice, there is an apparent reserve. One would not expect it, quite. One would think of Christ as in His grace Himself speaking directly to His servant, as He spoke to him upon earth. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He was the one who, lying upon His breast at supper, could put his personal questions to the Lord who loved him, and get direct answer. Yet here an angel is the means of communication. That always, in things of this nature, seems to imply a certain measure of distance; not, of course, that it is meant that angelic service does this. The angels are all, as we know, ministers "to those who shall be heirs of salvation;" but their ministry in this way is not in general shown in revealing things, as far as we have Scripture with regard to it. The Spirit of God reveals, and on earth human voices take up the testimony. God may send His angel to Cornelius, but it is not by the angel whom He sends that the testimony is to be given. Peter is the one who is to give this — an instrumentality far less competent, as we should naturally think; nevertheless, it is the instrumentality which the Lord Jesus, the human Head of the Church, speaking on earth through His members, makes use of. Yet here it is by His angel that He speaks to His servant John; and this reminds us that in the book itself we have in a certain place the Angel-Priest who puts His incense to the prayers of the saints. The action there declares the Lord Himself. None but Himself could add anything to prayers offered, as He does there. Yet He is spoken of as an angel rather than as a man, and, as we shall see, the whole connection here suggests a mystery — the Lord Himself as One more distant than He loves to be. We are quite sure He would not affect distance merely, as He would not desire to take such a place. He must be constrained to it in some way. The place He takes here, through the ministry that He is pleased to use, seems to have the same intimation in a kind of distance in the way of communicating things which, nevertheless, display the fulness of His love in communicating them. What constrains Him to such distance? We are not to imagine, of course, anything like a lack of intimacy between John himself and the Lord. Nothing here speaks of that. He is singled out of all men as the one capable of receiving these communications. He is the one, of all men, most in the Lord's mind. The distance, whatever it is, is more, as we should say, official than personal. Is it not the state of things in general which affects the character of that which is, as we know, not for John simply, but for the whole Church? a Church, alas, which in general, as too plainly shown us here, is declining, or declined, from its first love. Thus there is a sort of distance in the method of communication. In it love itself speaks, for Christ is God manifest, and God is Love; but it is a love that is grieved and saddened, rather than able to show itself as it fain would do.

If we recall what is so peculiar in the book of Daniel, a book so intimately linked as it is with Revelation, we cannot but realize how there also there is everywhere angelic ministry; angels move, as one would say, continually before us. There is no such opening elsewhere in Scripture to see the service which angels perform amongst men. The revelation given to Daniel is to one "greatly beloved," as is manifest also in his being the repository of things such as these; yet Israel has ceased to be nationally the people of God, and it is "the times of the Gentiles" that have come in. The distance therefore is unmistakable; and while it only brings in the Lord in special ways to minister to those that are true to Him, and to provide through them for His people at large, yet at the same time it is suited that there should be the testimony to the general condition. It is suitable also that the parabolic style should be employed which the Lord Himself employed, (although this is by no means the whole reason here,) when revealing things hitherto hidden amongst a people that had turned in heart away from Him. The parable enshrines the truth while it puts a veil over it, a veil which itself may attract, and should attract, the hearts of His people, to learn what is hidden behind it — a veil which is meant to invite research, not discourage it, but which at the same time requires true exercise before God, and earnestness of spirit on the part of those who would penetrate it.

So it is here. "He sent and signified it" — made it known by signs, and in things which John saw. Revelation is essentially, in this way, a vision; and a vision, moreover, of things in themselves meant to be enigmatical. This need not daunt us when we realize the question which the Lord puts to His disciples when as yet they do not understand the parable that He has spoken to them: "Do ye not know this parable?" He says, "and how, then, will ye know all parables?" — a wonderful word, indeed, which should make us begin to realize how many things there may be around us with deep, deep meaning, such as we should love to have unfolded to us, and which yet only remain hidden from us by our lack of simple earnestness of faith. The parabolic style is so much the style of Revelation that it is hard to understand how any expositor should so fail to realize this as to insist upon absolute literality anywhere. In heaven itself, and in the central Object there, we find "a Lamb as it had been slain." You say, we know at once who is meant by that. Yes, but nevertheless, what is the style of speech here? Is it literal? Need we expect to go out from where we have heard heaven itself speaking in this way, and find things that are going on upon earth revealed with absolute plainness and literality? There is no congruity in this; and, moreover, it is not according to the general style in which the future is set before us in the prophets. In our own city, "the new Jerusalem," what mean these foundations of precious stones, these rivers and this tree of life, these gates of pearl and this street of gold like transparent glass? We know, indeed, while it does not lessen our wonder, that there are those who take all these things according to the simple letter of what we read; but surely it is plain that here also, here in some sense in a special way, the apostle's words are true, that "we see yet through a glass darkly," or, as the word really means, "in a riddle," "an enigma." We see not yet "face to face." Only in this way have the things spoken their proper dignity, their spirituality and fulness of blessing for us. We may wish, perhaps, that they were somewhat plainer. God, on the other hand, would rather invite us by these apparent difficulties, and make us seek with only the more energy to possess ourselves of what, through grace, is written for us, and therefore given to us, yet left for us to be exercised about, and to learn in proportion as we are really subject to that blessed Spirit who in the saints "searches the deep things of God."

Alas, how gladly we would have no "deep things" to search into, but everything so simple and clear that no child could mistake the import. That is not God's way. The very confusion of Christendom is witness that it is not God's way. Scripture, written by inspiration of God, as it declares for itself, "that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished," intimates thus the moral character necessary that there may be this furnishing. Is it not right that it should be so? Do we not need the stir or impetus that such admonitions should give us? This surely is what He who is infinitely wise has ordained for us everywhere, whether in nature or in Scripture — deeper things than we have ever fathomed, mysteries which reveal no secrets to the slothful-hearted, while to the one who longs, and longs, to realize something of the fulness of the gift which God has given, the words arch over him as a bow of promise, with their tender inquiry: Do ye not understand this parable? and how, then, will ye know all parables?" Think of our destiny; think of the hope that our Lord would raise in us when He puts questions of such a character! And yet they are questions for our souls to settle with Him. We shall find everywhere in Revelation that we are not to be saved from that; that God deals with us as those who ought to have understanding, and who have, whatever they may be themselves, an all-wise, a perfect Interpreter of divine things. Must we not grasp this in some measure, in order to understand and realize how blessed is he that readeth and they who hear the words of this prophecy? Not the world alone, but the masses of Christians say — how little certain is any interpretation of the book of Revelation! Why do they still call it Revelation, then? Or how is it that the title given here does not place it in awful reproof to them as they look at it — "A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass"? Has He shown them, or has He not shown them? Has He shown them only in such a way as to produce confusion in the minds of those to whom they are shown? Has He written them down so poorly that men may, without blame on their part, be in continual collision with one another as to their meaning? Are we going to take the shame of this ourselves? Or are we going to impute it to the One who, out of the fulness of His love, has given us such a prophecy? Is there not the blessedness of him who reads? Do not those who read as before God find it? And if the things are to be "kept" that are written therein, can they be kept without the certain knowledge of what is written? Suppose we have not actually what is written, how far and painfully may we be misled by our very effort to keep what is here! Is there no hand that we can firmly grasp, or that will firmly grasp ours, and lead us through? Assuredly there is. Only we must be, as James says, not merely "hearers," but "doers of the work." We must be in earnest desire to do the will of God. For such, all Scripture is written; for such, in a special way, the book of Revelation is written. And what we need to ask ourselves, as we take up the closing book, — the book which completes all Scripture, — is, have we the faith that can count upon God to give us these things? Have we in our hearts the purpose to keep what is written therein? Are we those who, adding to their faith virtue, learn in this way to add to virtue, knowledge? This is God's way, and there is no other.

Section 2. (Rev. 1:4-8).

The address and response.

We have read now the inscription over the doorway, and we may enter the building itself. What we have first here is the character of Revelation as a writing by John to the seven assemblies in Asia; and we have, as it were, awakened by the first words of this the response of the Church to Him who speaks to them through John, to Him to whose constant love they owe this Book — to Him who is coming, as they now testify, to the earth once more, exchanging His invisible for visible glory, so that "every eye shall see Him," Israel, who pierced Him," and all the tribes of the earth awake to their true condition as they realize His presence. The seal of God is put to this testimony. God it is, in fact, who is giving testimony to His Son, and who is now about openly to glorify Him.

(1) John is writing, then, to the seven assemblies which are in Asia; and, writing by the Spirit, whatever is written is with a benediction. So here, the "grace" "and peace from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ."

But let us notice, first, those to whom the writing is given. It is to all of us, is it not? That has been declared. It is given to show His servants, Christ's servants, things which must shortly come to pass. No one will dream that that meant only seven assemblies in Asia now passed away, and yet it is to the seven assemblies that the writing is. They are, therefore, in some sense plainly representative assemblies, and, as we see them presently, seven lamps, amid which the Son of Man walks, to see how that which He has kindled is giving light. We must surely understand that it is not simply in Asia that He is walking, or amid seven assemblies there, but that it is the Church as a whole that is addressed; while, nevertheless, it is the Church, in character as such, these seven assemblies present to us. That we shall more and more realize as we go on to what is written, but even upon the face of it one would say it should be evident. Was the epistle to Corinth for the church at Corinth simply? or Paul's epistle to Ephesus merely to the church at Ephesus? Or has any other epistle in Scripture been written simply for the blessing of those who are formally addressed in it? The seven assemblies in question are long since passed away. Has the instruction passed? or, rather, has it not gained for us a vividness and power such as those to whom it was addressed could hardly realize? The Spirit of God is addressing it today, with fuller application than ever, to the Church at large. He is making it known to those to whom it is really addressed, and the various calls which we find in it to him that hath an ear to hear are decisive as to our part in it. But why, then, is it not directly given to the Church at large, instead of to seven assemblies that are in Asia? There must be a reason for this, as there is a reason for everything in Scripture. The reason is, as already said, that the seven assemblies are, in fact, representative assemblies; that they give us conditions which are found in the Church at large, and which, even by the very uncertainty of where exactly they may be found, appeal to us the more to examine them — the more to exercise ourselves with regard to all that is written here.

But there is another view of the matter. These seven assemblies are all found in one little district (in fact, only the western coast) of what we call Asia Minor, or Little Asia. It was the Roman province of Asia in John's day, and it was of it that the apostle Paul, who had labored largely there, so much, indeed, that all Asia had heard the Word in some way by his means, wrote in his last epistle to Timothy (the last epistle which, we have reason to believe, he ever wrote), with the sad reminder, "This thou knowest, that all they that are in Asia have departed from me." Whoever these were, however many in fact are embraced by those words, yet it is plain that Asia was already then the scene of a revolt against the apostle himself; a revolt which he himself, in his last address to the elders of Ephesus, had not indistinctly warned them of. Why is it then, just to these that these epistles are addressed? Does not this add its voice to what we have already seen, that the manner of the communication here would speak to us of distance which has come in more or less between the Lord and His own? — on their side, of course, not really upon His, but which still gave character to His utterances. If, then, these seven assemblies in Asia are representative assemblies, as they surely are, if the Lord chose these as the very ones who were to receive this revelation, how can it fail to tell us of the condition of the Church at large, and indeed through the times through which the Revelation itself will carry us — however much there are, thank God, everywhere ears that hear and souls that overcome.

But there is now to be overcoming, not simply the overcoming of the world, as on the part of every Christian who believes that the crucified Lord of glory is the Son of God, but an overcoming in the Church itself of evil that has arisen there, and of evil which, according to the announcements already made in Scripture, would go on more and more developing until, the present restraint upon it being removed, "the mystery of iniquity," already working, would develop into full manifestation in the man of sin," to be destroyed by the breath of the Lord at His appearing.

All the more, if possible, not less, there comes to those addressed this greeting of grace and peace from the whole glorious Godhead. It is what we need first to realize before we enter upon communications of such a nature as we have here: — grace in which we stand, unconditioned grace which can never fail, therefore, in its fulness of blessing for the people of God, whatever their circumstances; and peace, that we may be able to contemplate the sorrows and the evils that are before us — waves which, the higher they are, will only the more cast us upon the Rock of refuge. Always, under all circumstances, broken to pieces as the general Church may be, confusion everywhere, the world and Church mixed up beyond hope of disentanglement, — amid discordant voices, each with a different rendering of "the things that are," contradicting each other with warnings and with promises in the face of all the unity which the Church as the temple of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God, implies, — yet unfailingly is there "grace and peace" for every one who is invited of God to listen to what His voice shall utter, after all so easy to be distinguished, one would say, from every contradictory voice of man that can be. Grace and peace are what this whole communication from Him means.

"Grace," then, "and peace" are "from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come." That is a very different title of God from that which we find in the epistles in the same connection. It is not "from our God and Father," though of course He is this, but from the unchangeable One, the ever-present, ever the same. This is but the translation of "Jehovah," as we see at once; and "Jehovah" is the covenant-God and at the same time God in government. It is not our relationship to Him of which we are reminded, but of His necessary relationship to time, and all things therefore that are in time. The One who was before all, who abides through all, is the One upon whom all created things are necessarily dependent. "Who is" is put first. That He is, is the one great fact for all of us; but then, He "who is," was. There has been no beginning for Him, and there has been no change. He "who is," "was," and He "who is" and "was" is He also "who is to come." There will still be no change, as there will be no successor to Him. Grace and peace from such a One as this, how much it means for us, perfectly revealed as He is now also in the Man Christ Jesus, known in the depths of His love by the redemption which He has accomplished for us! This is not what is spoken of here, but it is what is necessary that grace and peace should be to us from Him. Then it is "from the seven spirits which are before His throne." We see at once the style of Revelation in this. The seven spirits are but the sevenfold energy of the One, the Holy Spirit, acting in accordance with the mind of Him who is upon the throne, and in the energy implied by that throne itself. Revelation is the book of the throne; and that is what gives character to all that we have here. The seven spirits carry us on to where they are pictured as "seven lamps of fire before the throne," light-giving necessarily as God's acts are, for God's ways show forth His nature — Himself, whose ways they are. These seven spirits carry us back to the eleventh of Isaiah, where we find them in connection with the King of Israel, the Rod out of the stem of Jesse, of whom it is said, "And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord." Here we have the arrangement of the lamps in connection with the candlestick of the sanctuary, which, as we know, were in three pairs, with a central stem. This central and uniting stem bears witness that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jehovah, the covenant-God. The branches give us the character displayed; the pairs, their character as witness, three pairs bringing in the number of divine fulness and of manifestation; the whole seven, the complete display of God in these ways of His. In Isaiah the seven spirits are in connection with Christ as Man. They make Him "of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, so that He does not judge after the sight of His eyes, nor reprove after the hearing of His ears, but judges with righteousness the poor, and reproves with equity for the meek of the earth."

Grace and peace then, from these, what does it mean for us? The throne of God, with all that manifests it as His throne, power and wisdom, truth and holiness — all these manifested in fullest blessing for us. What a beginning for the study of Revelation to realize this!

And now we come to Him through whom all this is found for us — "Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the First-born from the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth." The saints are in witness-character, as we see in John here, but after all, how feeble is their witness; and if you take the Church at large, how unfaithful has often the witness been! But here is the one faithful Witness, who abides as that, whatever may be the failure of His people. A blessed thing to know how His Word speaks for Him in this, and how Christ is indeed a witness to Himself, whatever His people may be! But He has indeed borne witness to our condition naturally, to the sin from which He has come to deliver us. He has gone down into death, the fruit of this sin; and risen up from it, not for Himself alone, but as First-born or pledge of the many who through Him and in His likeness come out of death also. The righteousness of the throne has been fully maintained by Him, and the power of the throne can be safely entrusted in His hands; as the glory of God was entrusted to Him when He went down to death. Risen up from it, He is therefore worthily "the Ruler of the kings of the earth," that earth which He has purchased with all in it for Himself, by His blood shed. "The kings of the earth" are they that in a special manner have rejected Him, as we know. They are still, in the mass, rejecting Him. Nevertheless, He is the Ruler owned of God, now ruling upon the Father's throne; and, when He asks, to have His own throne given Him, and all His enemies subjected to Him, the footstool of His feet. This is the One to whose servants the Revelation is given; and how simple where faith is simply the service of such an One, whatever may be the destruction and confusion in the world around!

(2) The voice of the Church here breaks in in praise: "To Him that loveth us, and hath washed us from our sins in His own blood, to. Him be the glory and might unto the ages of ages." "Loveth us," it should be, not "loved us;" for His love abides, while it has shown itself out in the removal of our sins from before God forever, so that we can take our blessing fearlessly as in connection with this glorious throne which has subjected us first to itself, our hearts made His whose the kingdom is, while we are brought near — not servants merely, but those who have access as priests to His God and Father. It is His God and Father still, because He is the One who is the Centre of the scene here, the One from whom all the blessing flows, God acting for the Son of His love, seen as His God who has revealed Him to us as well as in unique relationship to Him as Father. "To Him be the glory and the might," not simply for the millennial age, (for the kingdom in the hands of the Son of Man which is soon to come,) but "for the ages of ages." He is "the Father of Eternity," as Isaiah speaks. He is the One who brings everything, after sin has wrought its worst dishonor and done all it could for ruin, into subjection to God.

Our common version has, "He hath made us kings and priests." That which is commonly accepted now is "a kingdom, priests," a kingdom whose subjects, as far as we are concerned, are priests, worshipers brought near to God with the spirit of praise and thanksgiving, eternally. The expression reminds us at once of what was conditionally offered to Israel, that if they would obey God's voice and keep His covenant, they should be to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They must be, first of all, a holy nation, in order to be in this way priests to God. The white linen garment of the priest was the testimony of the character which he must have who approached to God in this way; and it was here, as we know, that Israel signally failed. They had chosen a covenant of law instead of the grace that had taken them up and brought them out of Egypt; and the law for them, as for all others, was a law working wrath. They could not abide under it; and instead of a kingdom of priests, the priesthood of Aaron and his sons — merciful provision as it might be in view of their circumstances — yet bore witness to their ruin as under it. But here is a people who are all priests, as Peter has borne witness: "A holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ," and "a royal priesthood" also, "to show forth the virtues of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light." Here grace has reigned indeed unto peace, and nothing finally fails of the blessing.

Here, then, is the response of the hearts of His people to Him, the song of victory with which they are taught to go into the battlefield. Conflict is before us, as we know. The very Prince of Peace, as the necessary result of what He is, has brought the sword instead of peace; and all along the way there is now the need of overcoming; but the end is certain, and the song of triumph is raised at the beginning — the song of His triumph who has prevailed for us, and as a consequence a song which can never be silenced by the noise of combatants, by the strife which cannot disturb the ineffable peace of those to whom He gives peace.

This is the tribute of the redeemed to their Redeemer, and now we have their testimony also: "Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and such as pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of Him." This, it is plain, is not the coming of the Lord to take us to Himself. It is a coming to the earth when the heavens give back Him whom they have so long concealed, except to faith — when "every eye shall see Him." And here we are carried back at once to Zechariah to find Israel brought fully to repentance at the sight of Him who was wounded in the house of His friends. "They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem" and "in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness." Thus early the Jew takes his place in the prophecy of Revelation, while it is true that what is here may contemplate a wail wider than that of Israel's repentance. The word both in Greek and Hebrew for "earth" is the same as "land," and "all the tribes of the earth" (or land) make us necessarily find Israel here as in Zechariah. Nevertheless, the outlook in Revelation is naturally wider here, and there may be a wail, too, which is not that of repentance, but the wail of awful fear, when men cry to the rocks to fall on them and the mountains to cover them, to hide them from the face of the Lamb they have despised. Here is the Christian's testimony, and it has naturally to do not with Israel only, but with all the earth.

(3) There is now immediately another response. The "Yea, amen," that follow here are not the voice of those that have just spoken, but a greater Voice. They are the affirmation of the truth of this on the part of One who is the Alpha and Omega, the Lord God, whose speech is, as it were, thus the beginning and end of all speech. Nothing can precede, nothing can supplement it, and how blessed is this testimony given by God to Christ! It is the unrepentant, unchanging Lord who says this. It is Jehovah, "who is and who was, and who is to come," and it is the Almighty, able to bring about all that which He foretells. It is He who, as the apostle says in Hebrews, bringeth again the First-born into the world. He comes, not in His own glory only, but in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels. Thus worthily is the seal of God put upon the announcement of the coming One. In Christ Himself, as the apostle tells us, is the Yea and the Amen of all the promises of God. Suited it is that God should put His yea and amen now to this promise; and while it is of necessity, through the sin of man, an announcement of judgment also, yet it is that through which alone blessing can come for man. Through these clouds the bow of promise is manifest, and "when God's judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." "The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever." This closes the introduction to the book as a whole.

Section 3. (Rev. 1:9-20.)

The Risen Priest among the golden lamps.

We now come to the first vision, the vision of Christ Himself, and in a way suited to what we have in the first part of Revelation, the messages to the churches. The Lord is here the Priest with the golden snuffers in His hand for His lamps of testimony; and this, as we shall see, has reference to the first part of the book only — "the things that are," the time of the Church's testimony, now fast coming to an end.

(1) We have first the commission of the seer: "I John, your brother and joint partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus." John joins himself thus to those he is addressing. He is their representative, in fact already in the kingdom, but in a kingdom to be in which aright involves necessarily tribulation. It is not the kingdom and glory of Christ. It is "the kingdom and patience" — the kingdom in which the cross is still the significant emblem. It is a time which, if appreciated, will be realized as one of marvelous privilege, with all the affliction that it implies, and even just on account of that very affliction. It is the kingdom of the Sufferer, and who is initiating His people into that suffering, through which He Himself has come to the crown, and through which it is His grace to them that they should come also to the crown; for it is "if we suffer," that "we shall also reign with Him." Nothing can set this aside, however things may change here and the Christian world may imagine itself beyond the application of such things to them. The drill and discipline here are the training for glory. They are the initiation into the mind of Christ, for those who are to be with Christ when He comes. They are not to be, onlookers merely, but those who have learnt in themselves the reality of the conflict between good and evil, and have found in the God of resurrection the One who of necessity, first of all, puts His seal upon man's natural condition, in order that He may show Himself only supreme in His own grace and power beyond it. For us, the evening and the morning must always make the day, until that Sabbath comes when these things shall no more be spoken of, although their memory and their blessing shall abide forever.

John, then, is on the isle that is called Patmos,* for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus. That speaks at once for itself as to the treatment of the Word and the testimony of Jesus. He is an outcast exile. He is alone, as one for whom the world has no place or portion. He is apart from its strifes and from its glories; not indifferent to all that is going on, not self-exiled, not of his own choice a desert-dweller, not an anchorite or hermit, but one for whom the world has been what it has been to the Lord Himself, — one banished, as Christ was banished out of it. He is keeping the word of Christ's patience, and we know from his own words directly, what the Lord thinks of those who do so. Thus it is no wonder if Patmos be full of other visitants, and if heaven be opened here to the outcast of earth. It is the way to realize such revelations as we are to be introduced to, and we must not look at it as if these things for us were over, — as if we were merely reading a book which has been so furnished to us. No, we are to read it as those who are the brethren of John, and joint-partakers with him "in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus."** If we have not something of this spirit, we shall scarcely read it aright.

{*The island called Patmos is easily located as one of the Sporades in the Grecian Archipelago, settled early and with remains of a primitive civilization. It is described as a barren island and with no remainders of the palms which once gave it the name Palmosa. As usual, chapels and monkish asylums abound. Of the significance of its name the Lexicons give no mention. There is much similarity between it and the root meaning "to tread under foot," and another meaning "to suffer." Both certainly would be appropriate for one who was being trampled under the foot of Rome, and suffering with Christ. — S.R.

**The name Jesus, used without the title here and throughout the book, is significant as showing it is the person, the One who was here, the faithful One who has left His path to His people. — S.R.}

Here, then, it is that the Spirit comes upon him in power: "I became in the Spirit," he says, "on the Lord's day." It has been thought by many that this, which is in fact a unique phrase in Scripture, "the Lord's day," is only another way of putting "the day of the Lord," and that the seer here was, in spirit, carried on to that day at the time of which he speaks. But the difference of phrase has its own meaning. There is no difference of this sort which is meaningless in the word of God; and then just in this very part of the book which we are to consider here, it is manifestly not the day of the Lord that is before us. "The things that are" and "the day of the Lord" are in reality in opposition to one another. It is "the Lord's day" here, just as we have "the Lord's supper" in Corinthians, — literally "the Dominical supper," and so here, "the Dominical day." We have no word, unfortunately, in English which will convey this rightly; but "the Lord's day" as distinctly characterizes the present period, as "the day of the Lord" would say that it was ended. "The Lord's day" is the day on which we celebrate the Lord's death until He comes. It is the day in which we realize the triumph which Christ already has accomplished for us, and only in anticipation go on to the day of His full and eternal triumph. When there is to be chronicled "what the Spirit saith unto the churches," what can be more suited than to be "in the Spirit" on a day like this?

"I became in the Spirit" of course is a special thing. It is not merely what is always proper to the Christian. It is the prophet engaged with his prophecy, who speaks to us thus. The Spirit of God has laid hold of him, eyes, and ears and everything, so as to carry him, as it were, whither He would. It is not "I was in the Spirit," but "I became in the Spirit." It is not that it was constant with him, but that which for him was temporary only. We have in the fourth chapter another time in which he "became in the Spirit," and that is the introduction to the "things that shall be," — the things that are to come after the present things are ended. Here the Lord's day gives character, as one may say, to the visions of the seer. He sees the Lord in the midst of the assemblies. He sees what the Lord has to say with regard to things that are actually round about him at that very time. They are made, no doubt, the witnesses of the future, but they are still actually existing, things with which the Lord is occupied; and thus he is not transported to any future time, nor sees things that are yet to take place, but things that are, in fact, taking place already. Yet he is not, as is evident, in the spirit of worship simply. He is not called now to remember the Lord's death. He is called in a certain sense away from this. It is "behind him" that he hears a great voice which is as of a trumpet, a loud and startling call; and before he sees whence the voice proceeds, he receives his commission: "What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven assemblies — to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." Thus the character of the vision attaches, as one may say, all through, to that which he is to communicate. They are direct words uttered, a direct communication given, and yet, even so the assemblies whose condition is thus brought before him are, as is evidenced all through, but a vision of future things. These are but samples chosen with a divine purpose to put before us the state of the Church at large, and, as we cannot but realize when we look into them, successive stages of the Church's history. The seven assemblies make the completeness of the view presented here, which we find confirmed by the fact of the seven golden lamps representing these assemblies, with which the Lord is seen engaged. He is not engaged, clearly, merely with seven Asiatic churches. He is looking at them, but He is looking through them also. The eyes of fire penetrate beyond the present, as the eyes of One who sees the end from the beginning, and in the things already present on earth finds unfolding the history of that which will be, — is able to see the fruit that is to come out of the tree, and to characterize it. This alone gives worthiness, in fact, to these addresses. They are not merely in view of what was actually existent then, but of the needs of all the Lord's people at any time of the Church's existence here on earth; and thus it is that every one that hath an ear is called to hear "what the Spirit saith to the assemblies."*

{*The reasons for this application of these addresses to the seven churches to the entire history of the Church need not be fully entered into at the outset. They will appear in the addresses as we go on. It may be well however to call attention to their connection with the remainder of the book; that is world wide and final; why should these be confined to one time and place? Then too it is "what the Spirit saith unto the churches" — a term which would include the Church for all time. Notice also that the coming of the Lord is spoken of in each of the last four addresses, suggesting that the churches addressed continue on to the end. But all this will appear as we go on. — S.R.}

(2) The apostle turns to see the voice that was speaking to him, and having turned he sees the seven golden candlesticks or lampstands, answering in number to the seven lamps of fire which we find afterwards burning before the throne. These represent, as we are by and by told, the seven assemblies, and plainly in their responsibility to exhibit the light of the Spirit during the night of the Lord's absence. The reference to the golden candlestick of the sanctuary in Israel is evident; but the contrast with this should be also as evident, for the candlestick of the sanctuary was one only, its six branches connected with the central stem; and it speaks of Christ, and not the Church. The seven candlesticks are for lights, not in the sanctuary, (where Christ alone is that) but in the world; and while there is a certain unity in the character of these as representing doubtless the whole Church, yet it is the Church seen, not in its dependent connection with Christ, but historically and externally as assemblies. Each lamp stands upon its own base, that is, in its own responsibility. To speak of the Son of man in the midst as the invisible bond of union is surely a mistake. He is not represented in this manner here. He is not uniting His people together, but judging each separately. Then it is the Church at large that is represented; not the true as distinct from the false, but the general profession. Thus Sardis as a whole is dead and not alive. Christ is outside of Laodicea. In the view that we shall have to take of them, we shall find that while they were actually existing, local assemblies, yet they stand each for the professing Church of a certain epoch or for what in it characterizes the epoch. To see in them but Ephesus and its contemporary assemblies, is indeed to be blind and not see afar off; for the features given are quite unmistakable to those who, with an honest heart, will consider them. They are golden candlesticks, as set for the display of the glory of God, of which the gold speaks; but while they have the privilege and responsibility of this, they are not necessarily true to it, and, in fact, the candlestick may be removed because it is not.

But we are not occupied at present so much with the lamps as with the One who walks in the midst of them. He is "One like unto a Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle." We are reminded at once of Daniel here, but the Lord is seen in a very different relation from that in which Daniel represents Him. He is in priestly garb, although as we look upon Him we see that characters appear in Him not only of the Son of man, but of the Ancient of days also, with whom in the older prophet, the Son of man is identified. His title, the Son of man, is that which, as we know, the Lord so constantly assumed in His life on earth. It is a title which speaks, not only of humanity, but of how He has come into humanity, conforming to the conditions of it, and in a way that links Him with humanity at large. He is true Man, submitting even to the sinless infirmities of manhood. One who has learned in suffering and sorrow what it is to be tempted "in all points like as we are, sin apart." This character, no doubt, in a special way connects Him also with the Gentile Church, not simply with the Jews; but it is not a place of distance, therefore, He is taking, but of nearness to us. He is qualified by His manhood to be the priestly Intercessor for man, although it is not intercession which He is making here; but as the Intercessor He yet fills perfectly the place in which we find Him. The One who stands before God for man is the One who here turns, on the other hand, to man, to His people, to see how they answer to His thoughts and desires for them. All judgment is in this way committed to the Son of man. It is because He is the Son of man that He is just the One fitted to judge man. He will not forget the circumstances, and the weakness amid the circumstances, of those whom He judges. He will not pronounce harsh judgment, and here He is judging in the midst of that which is His own. He is in priestly service with the golden snuffers for the light; Himself girt about with that golden girdle which shows how the glory of God is the object before Him.* But the girdle is not about the loins, it is about the breasts, for which here a remarkable word is used which signifies ordinarily the woman's breasts. We are to be reminded of the tenderness of heart which is His, of a love greater than a woman's.

{*Some have thought the girdle about the breasts suggested the repression of that love which would naturally have spoken in our Lord. But it is enough to remember that the girdle is the symbol of service, concentration for effort; and secondly that nowhere does our Lord show more love than in this very judgment of the assemblies. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." — S.R.}

With all this, He is not a mere Son of man. He is more than this, as the words "One like unto a Son of man" would plainly indicate. Why "like unto," if He were indeed only this? The very form of the expression here is what we find in Daniel. He is, in fact, the divine-human Mediator as God and Man, between God and man. Yet, as already said, He is not interceding. The characters which follow show Him as when He comes to judge the world, yet these are applied in the third and fourth addresses to the judgment of the churches. To Pergamos He writes as One that hath the sharp sword with two edges, and to Thyatira as the Son of God who has His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass. This is indeed a plain intimation of how far the world and the Church have become one in what is represented in these assemblies, but we are as yet occupied with His person here.

First of all, "His head and His hair are white as white wool, as snow," — the character plainly of the Ancient of days, but where the years which should teach man wisdom only furnish the symbol for One with whom what is human attainment is perfect and original. The wisdom that is His is dazzling with its purity. It is absolute righteousness and holiness, and nothing else; and these, which in His eyes are as a flame of fire, search out everything before them, and they are in His feet like white (-hot) brass glowing in a furnace, — judgment resulting from a nature incapable of change, unmistakable, ever against evil. His voice, too, that with which He gives sentence, is as the sound of many waters, as the sound of that ocean which reduces man so easily to his native littleness and impotence. With all this, He has in His right hand, firmly held, those seven stars which we are presently told are the angels of the seven assemblies; not the candlesticks, notice, but the stars: for the candlesticks are earthly profession, but the stars are heavenly reality. Where He finds this, all the strength of His right hand is there to uphold it. But immediately we return to the character of judgment in the sharp, two-edged sword which, when He comes in judgment, proceeds out of His mouth. Yet His Word is, as we know, like a sharp, two-edged sword, "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." His countenance is radiant as the sun in its strength. The day has not yet come for earth, but here is the One who will bring in the day; and for faith already here is One in whose face all the glory of God is.

Such is the One, then, who is seen here walking among the candlesticks. There is but One who can unite all these characters. Evidently He is before us also as one who is about to come. His coming is always imminent for His saints, and they need the realization of it for all present duty, for the whole path of service, which is thus as a path which shineth with the light upon it unto the perfect day. All this exhibits the Lord as if He had in fact left the sanctuary and were clothing Himself with the cloud in which He returns; and so Scripture, when urging our responsibility upon us, carries us constantly on to the day of His appearing when the result of our conduct here will be brought out and manifested to all. There is a wide distinction recognized in Scripture between this appearing of the Lord and His coming to receive us to Himself, with which, in a beautiful manner, nothing but grace is associated. When He comes to take us it is to be with Himself; and the thought of the Father's house, of our entry into it, is that which the Lord has associated with this. In the Father's house the question is not of separate place; the Father is that to all His children; and this is the first thing which He would connect with His coming for us. There is no need of any judgment first, even of a judgment of works to give us our place in this. In fact, no judgment of works could do it. We are caught up in the likeness of Him who has come to receive us to Himself: our very bodies changed from the image of the earthly to the image of the heavenly, and all alike inasmuch as they are all like His body of glory. Yet the judgment of works comes none the less, but it is always put in a different connection. It is put in connection with the Kingdom, and thus with the appearing. We shall find, as we go on with the book before us, that while the redeemed are upon their thrones all around the throne of God in the fourth chapter, seen by the prophet as soon as he is himself caught up, yet it is only as He is about ready to come forth, that we find of the bride that it is given to her to be clothed in that fine linen which speaks of the righteousnesses of the saints; not the one righteousness, Christ Himself, which is upon them all, but that which will also be upon them in its due season, the garment which is needed to be washed in the blood of the Lamb to make it white, and which yet can thus exhibit what the saints have been for Him as His heart estimates it, when the time of recompense shall have come and love will forget nothing of what response there has been to it in the life of the saint. Thus it is that with His appearing and His kingdom is associated the recompense of works. All exhortations, warnings, encouragements contemplate this time, and so the Lord is seen in the vision here, although He is still among the assemblies. He is walking in the midst, however, not contemplated as the centre of gathering, nor are we to look here for principles of Church-order and discipline and what not, to which all this has been perverted. We are not to look in the book of the Throne and of judgment to find the order of the Church at all. Revelation is not Corinthians, and it is hazardous to take one for the other.

(3) The vision of glory overpowers the seer, beloved disciple as he is. "When I saw Him," he says, "I fell at His feet as dead." But then immediately the One whom he has known so well is manifest. "He laid His right hand upon me" (the right hand which holds the stars) "saying, fear not, I am the First, and the Last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold I am alive unto the ages of the ages, and have the keys of death and of hades." What an assurance! How tenderly He unites the invisible glory which belongs to Him as "the First, and the Last, and the Living One," with the acquired glory also of that wondrous death out of which He has come, the risen One with the keys of death and of hades at His girdle, alive for the joy and blessing of His own for evermore!* He who has been in death for us, has turned its awful shadow into morning The gates of strength have yielded to our Samson, and more, "out of the eater has come forth meat, and out of the strong, sweetness." "Write, therefore," He adds, with all the comfort of this assurance, "the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be after these; the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven assemblies, and the seven lampstands are the seven assemblies." These words give us the division of the book. "The things which are" must needs apply, as such, to the seven assemblies which were existent at that time. These things occupy the two chapters following. "The things which shall be after these" (not "hereafter," which is too vague) apply to the things which follow from the fourth chapter on. This is evident, indeed, whatever view we take of the interpretation. If we take even the historical or Church view, in that case there will be still a message to existing assemblies which must, therefore, come before all that is strictly prophetic in the book. "The things which shall be after these" will then be in the strict sense the prophecy. If we take the seven assemblies as designed to give us successive periods in the history of the Church at large until the Lord come, then it is plain that "the things which shall be after these" must show us His earthly people taken up; and the connection will be obvious, as has been already said, with the whole of the Old Testament prophecy in which the Jew is ever in the forefront, and the Jew is carrying with him the blessing of the whole world.

{*"Death and hades" would seem to suggest the two thoughts: of the grave for the body, and hades, the unseen world, for the spirit. The thought in hades is not so much a place as that it is not here. It is unseen. As a matter of fact we know that the spirit of the sleeping saint is with the Lord, and yet it is, with reference to this world, in hades. — S.R.}

It has already been sought to show that these two parts (the present things having to do with the Church still upon the earth while waiting for the Lord, and the "things that shall be after these" contemplating Israel's preparation time for the full blessing, which is surely to come to her) give us the complete and fundamental interpretation of the book. Applications may be fully admitted which are yet not the full and final application, which must first of all be sought. It is not necessary to take this up again, but if the addresses to the seven assemblies contemplate only a state of things which, while then existing, has now passed away, then they will have for us of necessity much smaller interest than it should be evident the Spirit of God would have us find in them: and these addresses are already put, by the very title of the book itself, as part of prophecy. It is here that the warning to listen to what is said is at its strongest. It is here that the keeping of the things that are written in the book has most evident application to us; and thus we have distinct warrant for holding the addresses to be prophetic, and we should require very distinct and decisive evidence for refusing them such a place.

The reason also for these addresses not distinctly assuming, as a whole, the prophetic form, can be fully accounted for. Christians have been always taught to watch for their Lord's return as something the time of which they did not know: "Watch, for ye know not when the time is." We should not, therefore, expect the long actual history of the Church's tarrying here to be put before the saints of generations past, to discourage wholly their expectation. It would be to take out of their hands what we may call the lamp of testimony as to the Lord's return, the virgins' lighted lamp, lighted to go forth to meet the Bridegroom. We may in this way also clearly recognize why this view of the seven churches should not and could not be found in earlier expositions of the book. The general exhortations implied in them remain for all, but they could not anticipate what only the Church's history has made known to us; and now, when it is, as we may surely say, becoming clear, it is blessed to see that instead of this being to us a discouragement of any near expectation of the Lord, it is precisely the reverse. Near the end we must be if with assurance we can look back and say this is the Church's history hitherto; and in fact, with the character of Laodicea all around us at the present time, the Lord's words to Philadelphia come home to us with increased power, "Behold, I come quickly." This is what we gather from such an interpretation of the two chapters following now. The Lord is indeed coming quickly. How soon, who can tell? But so far as we can see, nothing remains here certainly to be fulfilled. There may be fulfilments which shall evidence themselves as that, if the Lord leaves us but for a short time to go on, but we cannot say that such fulfilments there will be. We can indeed take up with a new emphasis the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and say: "We are come unto Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem." They are in prospect just before us — God's blessing for the earth, God's higher and more wonderful blessing for His heavenly people, — there is nothing that we know which is certainly between us and these.