Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentRevelation 1
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ ...
Although the primary meaning of this phrase regards the source of the prophecy as having come from God through Jesus Christ, it is also true in the extended sense of being a revelation of the Son of God in his capacity as the judge appointed by the Almighty God himself and divinely commissioned to "execute judgment" (John 5:27). The word "Revelation," capitalized in the text, was so rendered in order to indicate the word as the title of the prophecy. It is translated from a Greek word [apokalupsis], from which also comes the similar English word given to the book and also applied to a whole field of similar writings. It means "an unveiling."
The things which must shortly come to pass ...
Scholars generally assume that this means: (1) either that all of Revelation was fulfilled within a very short time after John wrote, or (2) that such events as "the thousand years" and the final judgment were mistakenly believed by the apostle to lie in the near future. We simply cannot believe that either proposition is true. Caird declared that all of the events John prophesied were "expected to be accomplished quickly in their entirety." F1 Even the respected Foy E. Wallace, Jr., wrote that, "The word "shortly" denotes immediacy; the events applied to them, not to centuries after their time, and even yet to come. F2 The objection to the view in (1) is twofold: first, many of the events foretold in Revelation, notably the final judgment, did not take place "shortly"; and secondly, it is incorrect to suppose that the holy apostles of Christ erroneously "taught" that the end of all things would occur soon. It may be freely admitted that they may indeed have been mistaken in thinking such a thing; but, in fairness, it must be admitted that none of them either implied or declared the Second Advent to be an event in the immediate future. The statement before us teaches no such thing. The meaning of it is the same as when Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is at hand," meaning that the "beginning of it" was near at hand. Furthermore, the declaration of John in 4:1 that some of the things he prophesied were to "come to pass hereafter" categorically refutes such views. Regarding the view in (2), we heartily agree with McGuiggan who said:
The claim is made that the early
church believed that the second coming
was near in time; but this is just not
true. They may have lived aware of
the possibility of his coming soon,
but that they believed he was coming
soon is not at all established by the
New Testament. F3
Furthermore, such a figure as reigning with Christ "a thousand years" could not possibly have been written by one who believed the end of the world would occur in a few weeks. No matter what view of the prophecy is taken, the extensive treatment of the Second Advent and accompanying judgment of all mankind absolutely forbids the notion that all of this great prophecy has already been fulfilled. There are some who delight in attributing ignorance and misunderstanding to the New Testament writers, using their false interpretation of this verse to bolster their opinions. For a more thorough refutation of the false view that the apostles all expected the speedy return of Jesus, see in my Commentary on 1 Thessalonians, pp. 18-20.
Signified it by his angel ...
The use of angel (singular) here is strange, especially in view of the fact that a number of angels are seen in the course of the Revelation. Lenski's explanation of this has the ring of truth:
Such singulars are at times generic.
"His angel" does not necessarily mean
only one and the same angel. Any
angel, now one, now another, would be
Christ's (and God's) angel ... that
conferred the commission on John. F4
Unto his servant John ...
The only person who ever lived in the first century, speaking with the great authority evident in Revelation, who could possibly have identified himself in these words, was the holy apostle John, the son of Zebedee, and author of the fourth Gospel and the three Johanine epistles. As Hendriksen expressed it:
We are thoroughly convinced that there
was only one John who did not need to
add "the apostle", for the very reason
that he was the apostle! Besides, he
does not call himself "the apostle"
because he (in this book) wrote in his
capacity as a seer (or prophet). F5
Further comment on the authorship of this book is in the introduction.
Who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all the things that he saw.
Some interpreters of this verse have found a reference to the gospel and John's testimony there; but the final clause appears to define the testimony as that contained in this prophecy.
Of the word of God ...
This is the great affirmation here. It declares the Book of Revelation to be indeed and in truth the word of God, given by the Father to Christ, and by Christ to John, who in turn delivered it to the churches. This is the very loftiest claim that possibly could be made upon behalf of this sacred writing.
Of all things that he saw ...
The one verb saw embraces also the things which John heard in the course of his seeing the visions.
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand.
It was noted above that "shortly come to pass" cannot be applied to all that is revealed in the prophecy; but the last clause here surely indicates that some of the events foretold would soon occur, the very imminence of them leading to this double beatitude which was to be heeded by the persons who originally received the epistle. Regarding the events which were indeed imminent, the great persecution about to break forth against the Christians was most certainly one of the things in view. "There is general agreement that John expected persecution of the church by the Roman Empire." F6 Frank L. Cox noted that, "This is the first of seven beatitudes in the book, the other six being found in Rev. 14:13; Rev. 16:15; Rev. 19:9; Rev. 20:6; Rev. 22:7, and Rev. 22:14." F7 Regarding this one, Beasley-Murray wrote:
The blessing invoked is on the one
reading aloud to the congregation and
on those hearing and observing that
which is enjoined. There are two
classes here, not three, the last two
participles being governed by one
The words of this prophecy ...
Although the book is called "Revelation" in Rev. 1:1, it is here also called "this prophecy," a title for it which appears five other times in Rev. 19:10; Rev. 22:7; Rev. 22:10; Rev. 22:18; and Rev. 22:19.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits that are before his throne.
To the seven churches ...
It is evidently John's preference for the number seven that lies behind this book's being directed to only seven congregations, because the New Testament names others in the same province, namely, Troas, Colosse and Hierapolis. Among the Hebrews, this was a sacred number often used to symbolize the whole or the completeness of something. Thus, the interpretation of these seven standing for all of the congregations of Christ throughout the world would appear to be correct. "It is certain that while the book is addressed to a limited circle of Asian churches, the author's purpose was to reach beyond these to all the churches throughout the world." F9 The evidence of this universal destination of the book is found in the repeated injunction, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."
Of Asia ...
In the New Testament, Asia always means the Roman province located in the western part of what is now known as Asia Minor, with a possibly wider meaning in Acts 2:9.
Grace to you and peace ...
Greetings similar to these are found in nearly all the New Testament epistles, especially those of Paul.
From him who is and who was and who is to come ...
The Greek words from which this is translated are literally, "The BEING and the WAS and the COMING." F10 Of course, in English this is not grammatical, nor for that matter is it grammatical in the Greek; but as Moffatt said, "(This is) a deliberate violation of grammar to preserve the immutability and absoluteness of the divine name." F11 There are many examples of such awkward grammar in this prophecy; but "(They) are not due to ignorance of Greek construction, as shown by the predominantly correct uses in the book." F12 This title of God is essentially that of Exo. 3:14, "I AM who I AM." Christ also used this title of himself in Mark 6:50; Mark 13:6; Mark 14:62, and in John 6:35; John 8:12; John 10:7; John 11:25 and John 14:6.
And from the seven Spirits that are before his throne ...
Isa. 11:2 has this:
And the spirit of the Lord 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.
There are seven titles of the Holy Spirit in this passage from Isaiah, and from very early times this reference in Revelation has been associated with it. "It denotes the Holy Spirit in the plenitude of his grace and power." F13 The decisive reason for this interpretation was given by Hinds: "It is used in the salutation in direct association with God and Christ, and a blessing is invoked from the three." F14
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood.
Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness ...
There is a powerful New Testament emphasis upon the faith of Jesus Christ, as in Paul's writings, especially in Gal. 2:16,20; 3:22; Rom. 3:22,26; Eph. 3:12; Philp. 3:9; etc. There is a false impression that since Christ was deity incarnate he did not need to have faith; but in our Lord's humiliation as a man, faith in the Father was his predominate characteristic. All hope of salvation rests ultimately in the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the faithful witness in the sense of delivering accurately to mankind the word and the commandment which the Father gave him on behalf of humanity.
The firstborn from the dead ...
The New Testament records the resurrection of Dorcas, the daughter of Jairus, Eutychus, the widow's son at Nain, and that of Lazarus in addition to the resurrection of Christ. In addition, there were "many of the saints" who came out of their graves following the resurrection of Christ (seven resurrections). In what sense, then, is Christ the firstborn from the dead? He alone came back from death never to die again; and besides this, there is the inherent significance of his being the first of many to triumph over death. As Beckwith put it: "The language implies the future resurrection of the saints." F15
The ruler of the kings of the earth ...
Christ is here spoken of as the possessor of all power and authority, fully in keeping with the Saviour's words, "All authority in heaven and upon earth has been given unto me" (Matthew 28:18). It should be noted that this authority belongs to Christ in the present time and perpetually. He is not planning to start ruling at some future time; he rules now! A great deal of the misunderstanding of this prophecy, as well as of the whole New Testament, derives from a failure to take account of this tremendous truth. Many have difficulty believing that Christ rules now; because, as they say, the world is in such a dreadful mess. However, the world was in a dreadful condition in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, who had to eat grass with the beasts of the field for seven years to learn that "The Most High rules in the kingdom of men" (Daniel 4:25). As for the reason why God's rule permits such atrocious wickedness on earth, it is clear enough that God permits it because it is in keeping with his purpose. The reign of Christ now in this present time will be more extensively treated under the "thousand years" interpretation (Revelation 20:2). There is no way in which this student of the Lord's word can accept such a declaration as that of Hal Lindsey, who wrote: "Even though Christ has the right to rule the earth, he isn't exercising this authority over kings and kingdoms at this time." F16 If Christ is not exercising his authority, how can the church receive his promise that Christ will be with us "even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20)? Yes, despite the inability of some to see and recognize it, Christ is ruling now and will continue to rule until the last enemy is destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25).
Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood ...
Of significance are the present tense (loveth) and past tense (loosed), showing that Christ's love is continuous, and that the redemption mentioned is a past accomplishment. Since it is an undeniable truth that Christ keeps on saving the saved until at last they are saved eternally in heaven, it is evident that the initial salvation in conversion is the redemption that John had in view here; therefore, the KJV rendition of this as "washed us" is likewise correct. On what the scholars consider sufficient textual evidence, this was changed to "loosed us" in subsequent versions. The Greek words for these two expressions are almost identical in appearance; and, furthermore, it is immaterial exactly which is the original reading. As Hinds said:
Both words state true facts. That
Christ washes us, cleanses us, through
the merits of his blood is
unquestionably true, as stated in
Rev. 7:14. But by Christ's blood we are
loosed from our sins also. F17
The passage in Rev. 7:14, as well as the overtones of the whole context, incline us to accept the opinion of Carpenter: "The general tone of thought would lead us to prefer "washed" as the true reading." F18 The slavish following of certain preferred manuscripts is not necessarily an infallible method of determining accuracy.
And he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
And he made us ... a kingdom ... priests unto his God and Father ...
The first step in understanding this passage is to get rid of the two verbs in the future tense that have been added to the passage by the translators. (Note the italicized words in the ASV text.) There is a world of difference in the statements, "God made us a kingdom" and "God made us to be a kingdom." John was not writing of what Christians were to be, but of what they already were. Beckwith, like many others, applied these words to the future, saying that, "The reference is not to the saints as forming the kingdom which Christ now rules." F19 The teaching of the entire New Testament, however, makes it absolutely certain that Christians are now in Christ's kingdom (Colossians 1:13), the precise terminology of this verse being found in Paul's words there. This passage reflects Exo. 19:6, where it is revealed that God's purpose for Israel was that, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests." 1 Pet. 2:9 is also parallel to this. Therefore, our text means that, "Christ has made us a kingdom, each member of which is a priest unto god." F20 This is not some far-off thing that will happen in some so-called millennium; it is the status of things now in Christ's church. As Earle said, "This is not only a great privilege, but a great responsibility." F21 All the members of Christ's kingdom, which as far as we are concerned is synonymous with his church, should be constantly engaged in offering up the spiritual sacrifices appropriate for a kingdom of priests. For a list of the sacrifices, as outlined in the New Testament, see in my Commentary on James, pp. 196-198.
The glory and the dominion ...
John here breaks into a noble doxology, using words which imply the present and eternal dominion of the Son of God. The New Testament doxologies invariably ascribe the same power, honor, and glory which belong to God to his Son, Jesus Christ. See Rev. 5:12,13; Rev. 7:10; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Pet. 3:18; and Jude 1:24.
Behold he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Even so. Amen.
This is the topic-sentence of Revelation, a great deal of which relates to the final judgment, an event mentioned at least seven times in the prophecy; and these are not seven different kinds or occasions of judgment, there being only one judgment day, the final and awesome event that shall conclude the dispensation of grace, see the resurrection of the dead and the assignment of every man's destiny, and bring the redeemed into their eternal habitations. It will occur at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Behold he cometh with the clouds ...
These words apply to the Second Advent, as in Matt. 24:30; Mark 14:62; Acts 1:9-11; and Mark 13:24.
Every eye shall see him, and they that pierced him ...
There is no connection between this and the passage in Zechariah, except that the terminology is similar, the great difference being that in the Old Testament their looking upon the one who was pierced, and mourning, was grief for the pierced one, not grief for themselves, as is clearly indicated here and in Matt. 24:30, which words John evidently had in mind when this was written. To understand exactly the object of the mourning here, one should read Rev. 6:15-17. See Zech. 12:10-13:1.
All the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him ...
This clause, along with the preceding "'every eye shall see him" indicates the final judgment, that being the only occasion when all the tribes of earth and every eye (that is, every man) shall behold the Christ.
And they that pierced him ...
Even the generation that crucified Christ will not be exempt from confronting him in the final judgment. The mourning here mentioned will be due to the startling realization on the part of the wicked that the whole course of their lives has been wrong. The atheist will suddenly know that God is a reality. The proud, the arrogant, the thoughtless, the sensualist, the materialist, and all who have lived as if there were no God shall be summoned to a judgment which they have never allowed as even possible. The mourning of people in that circumstance will surpass any possible description of it. And the mourning will not be "over Christ" in the sense of their grieving for what was done nearly two thousand years ago TO HIM (how could people even imagine such an interpretation?). No, their grief will be for themselves. The Second Advent will be bad news indeed to the vast majority of mankind.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
Who is the speaker in this verse, Jesus Christ, or God the Father? In view of the eternal power and authority of Christ, already stressed, it would appear that John is here emphasizing the Deity of Christ. Earle quoted Plummer as being of that opinion and also pointed out that J. B. Smith gave extensive quotations to show that all of the ancients attributed these words to Jesus Christ. F22 In a sense, of course, it makes little difference, because the same things are true of Christ that are true of God the Father. It makes for better unity in the passage to ascribe Rev. 1:8 to Christ.
Alpha and the Omega ...
These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and are here used figuratively to stand for the entirety of anything. Such a comparison seems to have existed for ages. The Hebrews said of Abraham that, "he kept the law from Aleph to Tav (first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet). "From A to Izzard" was a colonial proverb in America with the same meaning. ("Izzard" was an early American name for the letter Z).
Plummer pointed out that the use of this figure is progressively expanded in Revelation. Note:
Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8).
The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning
and the end (Revelation 21:6)
The Alpha and the Omega, the first and
the last, the beginning and the end
Since the usage of this expression in subsequent passages of Revelation undoubtedly refers to Christ, there is no good reason why it should not be applied to him here.
Who was and is and is to come ...
See full comment on this under Rev. 1:4.
The Almighty ...
Scholars make a big point out of this word's being one of the "the Septuagint's renditions of Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts" F23 but there is no reason for not applying it also to Christ who was prophetically designated as "The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father" (Isaiah 9:6). That this is indeed a proper and appropriate title of Jesus Christ will vividly appear in subsequent chapters of this magnificent prophecy. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is often referred to as God. For more complete elaboration of this see in my Commentary on Hebrews, p. 31. Furthermore, he himself used the Old Testament "I AM" no less than eight times. See under Rev. 1:4. Also, of those eight New Testament usages of the "I AM" title for Jesus Christ, five of them are in the gospel of John; and the appearance of two more such usages here in the first chapter of Revelation emphasizes the close correspondence between it and the other Johannine works. The same mind lies behind all of them.
I John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
I John ...
See introduction for comment on the authorship of Revelation. Although an apostle, and possibly the last surviving apostle, he here identified himself with his readers as their brother and a fellow-member of Christ's kingdom. All of the sacred writers hesitated to flaunt their authority; and even Paul, who, in a sense, was compelled to do so by circumstances, proclaimed himself the chief of sinners and the least of saints.
Partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience ...
"These are a present experience and possession" F24 of John and his readers. As Lenski put it: "We (Christians) are the kingdom, in it, partakers of it, lifted to royalty in it!" F25 All theories that deny the present existence of the kingdom of Christ are contrary to the New Testament.
Which are in Jesus ...
It is surprising that Moffatt would perceive this as primarily "A Pauline concept." F26 While true enough that Paul did stress this conception, it surely antedates him. All of the New Testament authors wrote of it, and it goes right back to Christ himself who gave the analogy of the true vine in John 15. This corporate conception of Christ's kingdom as being composed of those who have been baptized into Christ dominates the New Testament. The kingdom itself, as stated in this verse is "in Jesus." Those who are "in Jesus" are the kingdom. The New Testament knows nothing of some far-off time when the kingdom will come. It is a present reality. The thousand years' reign with Christ is going on right now, and has been going on, since the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ is reigning and will continue to reign until all enemies are vanquished. His holy apostles are reigning with him (Matthew 19:28). This reign is identified in Matthew as occurring during the times of "the regeneration," that is, the times of the new birth, meaning that it is going on right now. As for the saints reigning with Christ, John includes his readers in this very passage as being fellow-partakers with himself in the kingdom of Christ. The trouble with many is that they have lost a sense of exaltation through being 'tin Christ" and have started longing for something different from the glorious salvation already available "in Christ," that is, in Christ's precious kingdom.
Was in the isle that is called Patmos ...
This is a small island, only about half the size of Manhattan Island, ten miles long, with a maximum width of six miles, and with an area of only 13 square miles. "It is an island of the Dodecanese group, Greece, in the Aegean sea about 28 miles south-southwest of Samos (37 degrees 20 minutes north latitude and 26 degrees 35 minutes east longitude). It is volcanic, bare and rocky, rising to an altitude of 800 feet with a deeply indented coast." F27 The 1951 population of Patmos is given as 2,613; but in John's day it is said to have been principally a rock quarry and used as a place of banishment for certain types of offenders.
Regarding the tradition that the apostle John was banished to Patmos, living in exile there when he received the Revelation, both the event of his banishment and the date of it are uncertain. The usual tradition that he was banished to Patmos by Domitian (c. 95 A.D.) and released 18 months later by Nerva F28 is incapable of any dogmatic proof. Even if accepted, the question of the date would still be in doubt.
The complicating factor is that Domitian was the de facto emperor for a year or so in 69-70, following his father Vespasian's elevation as Emperor, July 69 A.D. He was hailed by the army in Rome as Caesar and continued to administer the affairs of Italy until his father's return. F29 Vespasian was not pleased by the high-handed behaviour of his son. Josephus stated that he was ruler until his father returned. F30 He moved into the royal residence, signed all edicts and proclamations in his own name, being in every sense, during that period, Emperor. Vespasian returned to Rome, however, in the latter part of 70, and promptly appointed Nerva as one of his chief administrators, who moved at once to quash some of the measures taken by Domitian. Thus we have the strange fact that Nerva, in a sense, succeeded Domitian in authority both in 70 A.D. and in 96 A.D. For this reason, the tradition that John was banished by Domitian and released by Nerva does not even touch the problem of WHEN such events occurred. The events might have taken place either in 70-71 or in 95-96! Robinson preferred the early date, writing: "So, he was banished by Domitian and restored by Nerva, as the tradition says, but in 70-71 A.D.!" F31
Regarding the theory of John's having been banished to Patmos, the New Testament gives no hint of any such thing, but the mention of tribulation in the same verse certainly seems not opposed to the tradition. If indeed John was an exile, it would be in keeping with the experience of some of God's other great prophets. When Jacob saw God at Bethel, when Moses saw God in the burning bush, when Elijah heard the still small voice, when Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord by the river Chebar, and when Daniel saw the ancient of days in Babylon, all of them were exiles. Wallace, however, was of the opinion that John was not an exile, but that, "His reason for being in Patmos was no other than to receive the Revelation." F32 Certainty in the matter is impossible.
For the word of God and the testimony of Jesus ...
The language here could mean either (1) that John was in Patmos to preach the gospel or for the express purpose of receiving the Revelation or (2) that he had been banished to Patmos as punishment for his loyalty in proclaiming the word of the Lord. There is no way to tell exactly which understanding of the words is correct.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.
In the Spirit ...
Not much is known of this state of being "in the Spirit"; but, evidently, all of the Scripture writers were in such a state when they received their divine revelation. Jesus said of David, "How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord?" (Matthew 22:43). Many speculations about this have yielded little or no valuable information.
On the Lord's day ...
This expression is found only here in the New Testament, "and beyond all reasonable doubt it means on Sunday." F33 "There is every reason to believe the church used the word in protest against Caesar-worship." F34 Some have thought this means the day of judgment, indicating that John was transported by the vision to the time of the final judgment; but the judgment is invariably "the day of the Lord" in the New Testament. Here, "Lord's day" is a similar construction to "Lord's supper" (1 Corinthians 11:20). "It means `belonging to the Lord', or `consecrated to the Lord'." F35 The Greek construction rules out the interpretation that would make this mean the judgment. F36 According to Deissmann, from A.D. 30 and continuing until 98-117, one day of every month was called "Augustus Day" ([Greek: hemera Sebaste]); and it certainly could have been that the Christians started referring to the first day of the week as "the Lord's day" in opposition to the current idolatry directed toward Roman emperors. It is preposterous to suppose that "the Lord's day" is a reference to the Jewish sabbath. Saturday was a day of the week upon which Jesus spent the entire twenty-four hours of it in the tomb! On the other hand, Sunday was the day Jesus rose from the dead, the very same day the apostles met him in the upper room, and a week later on another Sunday the Lord appeared to his assembled apostles again. Sunday was the day the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost; it was the day the disciples came together to break bread (Acts 20:7); it was the day the collection was taken up (1 Corinthians 16:2); and, added to all of this, the invariable Christian tradition of more than nineteen centuries makes Sunday the day of Christian assemblies, a custom still observed all over the world. "The Lord's day" is thus an exceedingly appropriate title for the day.
A great voice, as of a trumpet ...
"This voice was presumably that of the Son of man." F37 Dake counted over sixty usages of the word "great" in the Book of Revelation. F38 Bruce, however, did not believe the great trumpet-like voice mentioned here was that of the Lord, basing his opinion on the fact that the Lord's voice is said to be like the sound of many waters (Revelation 1:15). F39 He viewed it as a herald-like prelude to the appearance of the Great Conqueror. This would appear to be the better interpretation.
Saying, What thou seest, write in a book and send it to the seven churches: unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
We shall give particular attention to each of these churches in connection with the letter addressed to each. "It is difficult not to feel that SEVEN CHURCHES are chosen because of the sacred nature of that number." F40 Full agreement with this view is felt, as noted under Rev. 1:4, above. There is, furthermore, a sense in which the seven here selected represent a diversity of conditions prevailing in congregations throughout history. We do not believe that these seven churches stand for seven successive periods of the history of the church throughout the current dispensation; but that, in any given age, there may be congregations exhibiting the same characteristics as those found in any one, or all of the seven churches mentioned here. This very day, there are "Philadelphia churches," and "Laodicean churches," and even "Sardis churches." All seven churches lay relatively close to each other in western Asia Minor; and they have the same sequence in Revelation that would normally be followed by a person visiting all seven.
Verses 12, 13
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle.
I turned to see the voice ...
"As in Genesis 3:8, the voice is put for the speaker." F41 One of the big things in Revelation is the voice so frequently mentioned. The voice from heaven is one of the principal focal points in the whole book.
Seven golden candlesticks ...
Caird has a remarkably perceptive interpretation of this, thus:
Once again John is asserting that the
church is the new Israel, the true
people of God, but with this
difference: whereas Israel was
represented by a single candelabra
with seven lamps, the churches are
represented by seven separate standing
lamps; for, according to the teaching
of the New Testament, each local
congregation of Christians is the
church universal in all its
For a discussion of the Jewish candlestick, its connection with Zech. 4, and its symbolism, see in my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 181-183.
One in the midst of the candlesticks ...
This, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ, here represented as walking amidst his congregations, only the seven here mentioned? Of course not, but amidst all the congregations of his people throughout history. This is one of the truly great messages of the whole prophecy. Christ is with his congregations! He is fulfilling the promise of Matt. 18:20; 20:28.
One like unto a son of man ...
This rendition could be greatly improved by reading it "the Son of man," for, as Beckwith pointed out, "the article before "son" is omitted"; F43 and this could be rendered "the Son of man." "That Christ is meant and not an angel is shown by Rev. 1:17f." F44
Garment down to the foot ... golden girdle ...
Most commentators see these things as symbols of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ; but, as Beckwith said, "That office of his is not mentioned in our book." F45 We believe that Christ is here presented as the Judge of all people. The sword in his mouth a moment later in the text is no part of the trappings of a priest. The garment down to the foot and the golden girdle are marks of rank and dignity. "Neither shows Christ to be represented here in his priestly character, as many commentators interpret." F46
And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire.
This description of the white hair is a "deliberate reminiscence of Dan. 7:9, where it belongs to the Ancient of Days." F47 This application to Jesus Christ of the attributes of deity is a recurring phenomenon in Revelation. There are also a number of other reflections of the Book of Daniel, not only in this passage, but throughout the book.
His eyes were a flame of fire ...
This indicates the omniscience of Christ, the ability to penetrate all disguises and to judge things as they are, not as they might pretend to be.
And his feet like unto burnished brass, as it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters.
"The sense is that the feet of Jesus
resembled gold-bronze, not as this is
when it is cold, but as it appears
when it is glowing in the intense heat
of a furnace. Where such feet tread,
they utterly blast and instantly turn
to ashes everything they touch, or
even approach. F48
Here again, we have a figure that is utterly incompatible with the priestly function of our blessed Lord. It is in his character as Judge that he appears in this introductory vision and throughout the book of Revelation.
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
Two-edged sword ...
A most unlikely symbol of any priestly function. As Wallace said:
This sword stands for divine justice,
and means that Jesus Christ was, and
is now, the executor of righteous
judgment and justice. F49
Sun shining in his strength ...
Here is a reflection of the imagery of Malachi regarding the "sun of righteousness" that shall rise with healing in his wings. Christ as the light of the world; Christ as the center around which everything else revolves; Christ the omnipresent one (who could hide from the sun?); and Christ the omnipotent one - all of these are appropriately symbolized by this glorious countenance.
Despite the fact of so much of Revelation using terminology and imagery found in the Old Testament, the essential teaching of Revelation is not derived. "It conveys a conception of the Messiah which is unique, for Christ is endowed with a splendor and authority which hitherto had been ascribed only to God." F50
Before leaving this verse, it should also be pointed out that the mouth is a very abnormal place from which a sword might appear; the symbolism, therefore, includes the meaning that the gospel which came from the mouth of Jesus is the two-edged sword. And why two-edged? As Bruce expressed it: "It proclaims grace to those who repent and put their faith in God, with the corollary of judgment upon the impenitent and disobedient." F51
Seven stars ...
For comment on this, see under Rev. 1:20 where the key to understanding them is revealed.
Verses 17, 18
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
I fell at his feet ...
Paul fell at the feet of Jesus revealed to him as a supernatural person (Acts 26:14); and the phenomenon occurs frequently throughout the Bible, especially in connection with receiving visions. See Ezek. 1:28; Dan. 8:17; 10:9; and Matt. 17:6.
Fear not ...
How fully in the character of the beloved Jesus are these blessed words to the terrified apostle. With similar words he comforted the apostles that night when they were struggling to navigate Galilee, and on the night of his betrayal, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." This is the message that heaven has often shouted to earth, but the need to hear it is perpetual. The night the shepherds beheld the angelic band speaking of "Good tidings which shall be to all people," their message began with, "Fear' not."
I am the first and the last, and the Living one, etc ...
Again, we are reminded of that holy Being who IS and WAS and SHALL BE for ever. See more on this under Rev. 1:8.
This writer has made a practice for many years of reading these two verses as the final committal at the graveside, with only one deviation from the text here, using J. B. Phillips' translation "death and the grave" instead of "death and of Hades," as here.
The Living one ...
This is particularly interesting, because it is a title of God himself. This is really the most important title in the verse, because it is as the Living one that Christ holds the keys of death and of the grave. Christ, like the Father, possesses life in his essential nature. "As the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son to have life in himself' (John 5:26).
Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter.
This is John's commission to write the vision for the benefit of the seven churches, and for all generations. Of course, the three things mentioned which John was to write have often been understood as an outline of the book, the things which he saw referring to Rev. 1, the things which are pertaining to Rev. 2 and Rev. 3, and the things that shall be "hereafter" referring to the balance of the prophecy. However, we agree with Smith who said, "This classification does not help much in interpretation." F52 Furthermore, he pointed out that the word "hereafter" is used eight other times in Rev. 4:1; 7:1; 7:9; 9:12; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1; 20:3! It is very difficult to reconcile this repeated use of "hereafter" with the theory that everything in the book was fulfilled "shortly" after it was written. Erdman also objected strongly to the "popular view" that this verse gives us a three-fold outline of Revelation. F53 Caird also thought that, "It is better to take the words "things which thou sawest" to mean the whole of John's vision." F54 It is the view of this interpreter that in each of the cycles covered by the prophecy there are things past, present, and future in all of them. For example, the judgment, mentioned over and over again, is a future event; and it is mentioned no less than seven times, each mention of it coming in a different section of the book.
The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches.
Seven stars are the angels of the seven churches ...
All kinds of efforts have been made to identify these "angels" of the seven churches as the ruling bishop, the pastor, the chief elder, or other human representative of the church; but such a view cannot be otherwise than incorrect. As Plummer said:
Whatever may be the exact conception,
"the angel" is identified with and
made responsible for the church to a
degree wholly unsuited to any human
officer ... he is punished with it; he
is rewarded with it. F55
Erdman, Earle, Plummer, and many many others have understood the angel to be a personification of the church itself; but the best explanation this student has uncovered is that of R. H. Banowsky, thus:
The angels are the symbolical
representatives of the churches ... in
toto. The angels then are all those
members of the church who are actively
engaged in carrying out God's commands
... in any or all congregations
throughout the world. Christ holds
them in the hollow of his hand and
gives them the strength and protection
that only He can give. F56
In keeping with this interpretation is the fact that in spite of the seven letters being directed in each case to "the angel" of the church, it is not an angel, but the church itself which is addressed. "Hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" is the injunction repeated no less than seven times, applying in each case to the message that was written to "the angel" of the various churches. It is clearly the members of the church who are addressed; hence, the conclusion must be that in some kind of metaphorical language, the members are individually represented under the figure of an angel, that is a star, in Christ's right hand.
The consideration should also be noted that, if any such thing as a metropolitan "bishop" had been intended by this, there can be no doubt whatever that the primitive church would have preserved this title for "bishop."
The seven candlesticks are seven churches ...
It was noted under Rev. 1:13 that in the vision, these churches are not joined in one corporate unity, as was the case with the Jewish candlestick, familiar to all as depicted on the Arch of Titus. No. They were separate and independent, indicating the autonomy and completeness of each local unit of the church of Christ. Also, there is another lesson to be received from this, when the illustration is compared with the words of Jesus who warned that a person's religious life, his spiritual life, should not be hidden under a bushel, under a bed, or under a vessel; but that it should be put "on a stand!" (Luke 8:16; 8:16 and its ). The application is that a truly spiritual life is always identified with the local congregation of the Lord's people. In plain words, this simply means that every Christian should "put his membership in the church." If he does not do so, he is not likely to have any spiritual life whatever within a very short time.
It is characteristic of Revelation that, even after it has been "explained," the mystery and uncertainty often remain. It must be admitted that the interpretation we have received concerning the "angels" of the churches still leaves many questions about it. Significantly, this is true even after the heavenly voice has itself told us what the stars in Jesus' hand represent. For those interested in a further pursuit of this, Beckwith has given a somewhat extensive review of the various solutions proposed by scholars. He concluded the review with the solution that both the lampstand and the angels represent the churches. "The lampstand represents the outward organic life of the church; the star symbolizes the angel which is the invisible spiritual life of the congregation." F57
Footnotes for Revelation 1
1: G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 12.
2: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., The Book of Revelation (Nashville: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Publications, 1966), p. 63.
3: Jim McGuiggan, The Book of Revelation (West Monroe, Louisiana: William C. Johnson, 1976), p. 32.
4: R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 31.
5: William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956).
6: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 12.
7: Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 2.
8: G. R. Beasley-Murray, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1280.
9: Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 423.
10: T. Randell, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. xxiv.
11: James Moffat, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 337.
12: Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 424.
13: F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 634.
14: John T. Hinds, A Commentary on Revelation (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 20.
15: Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 428.
16: Hal Lindsey, There's a New World Coming (California: Vision House, Publishers, 1973), p. 26.
17: John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 22.
18: W. Boyd Carpenter, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1939), p. 535.
19: Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 429.
20: R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, "International Critical Commentary" (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1920), p. 16.
21: Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 474.
22: Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 477.
23: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 19. THE GREAT INTRODUCTORY VISION
24: G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 1282.
25: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 55.
26: James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 341.
27: Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago: William Benton, Publisher, 1961), Vol. 17, p. 383.
29: Ibid., Vol 7, p. 521.
30: Flavius Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 11, 4.
31: John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 250.
32: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., op. cit., p. 74.
33: T. Randell, op. cit., p. 5.
34: Finis Jennings Dake, Revelation Expounded (Lawrenceville, Georgia: Dake, 1950), p. 32.
35: Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 479.
37: G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 1282.
38: Finis Jennings Dake, op. cit., p. 33.
39: F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 535.
40: G. R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 1282.
41: A. Plumruer, The Pulpit Commentary, Volume 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 6.
42: G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 24.
43: Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 437.
47: G.R. Beasley-Murray, op. cit., p. 1282.
48: R. C.H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 66.
49: Foy E. Wallace, Jr., op. cit., p. 80.
50: Martin Kiddie, The Revelation of St. John, "The Moffatt New Testament Commentary" (New York: Harper and Brothers, n.d.), p. 16.
51: F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 636.
52: Wilbur M. Smith, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1059.
53: Charles R. Erdman, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1936), p. 42.
54: G. R. Caird, op. cit., p. 26.
55: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 8.
56: R. H. Banowsky, The Revelation of the Holy City (Fort Worth, Texas: The J. E. Snelson Printing Company, 1967), p. 12.
57: Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 446.
58: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 150.
59: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 151.
60: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 79.
61: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 115.
62: David Smith, op. cit., p. 182.
63: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 577.
64: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
65: R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 147.
66: Michael Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered, p. 31 (As quoted by Robinson).
67: Michael Green, op. cit., p. 148.
68: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
69: James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 594.
70: David F. Payne, op. cit., p. 605.
71: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
72: Eldon R. Fuhrman, op. cit., p. 338.
73: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
74: R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 148.
75: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 578.
76: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
77: Albert E. Barnett, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 206.