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The Vision of the Son of Man
Summary —Preface. John to the Seven Churches. In the Spirit on the Lord's Day. The Revelation of the Son of Man. The Seven Stars and Seven Candlesticks.
1–3. The Revelation. Apocalypse, or uncovering, so the Greek word means. The curtain of the future is lifted. Of Jesus Christ. The revelation is made by Jesus Christ. See chapter 5. God gave him to shew. See chapter 5. He who sits on the throne gave to the Son the sealed book of the future to open it. Shortly come to pass. The series of events began to unfold in a few years after John wrote, and has rolled on through all the centuries. Lange renders the Greek translated “shortly” by the phrase “in quick succession,” which is nearly its meaning. It implies successive order. He sent and signified. The things “which must shortly come to pass.” By his angel. Here, and throughout the Apocalypse the office of unveiling the different scenes appears to be assigned to a particular angel. See 4:1; 21:9; 22:1; 22:8, etc. To his servant John. A usual designation of the prophets. See Isa. 49:5; Amos 3:7; Rev. 19:10. 2. Who bare record. John is meant, who made the record of all he saw and heard. 3. Blessed is he that readeth. There is a reference to the custom that had already grown up, at the close of the first century, of reading the apostolic writings publicly in the churches. The benediction is pronounced on the public reader; on those that hear, and lastly upon those that keep the words contained in this prophecy. The time is at hand. The period to which the prophecy relates is near.
4–8. John to the seven churches which are in Asia. The churches are named in verse 11. The term “Asia” did not mean in the first century what it does now, but only the Roman province called Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital. All the seven churches are in that province. It is supposed that SEVEN, the perfect and sacred number, were chosen, because the seven were to symbolize the whole Church of Christ. There were in the province of Asia more than seven churches at this time, as we know, Colosse, Miletus (Acts 20:17) and Hierapolis (Col. 4:13) being named in the New Testament. Grace be to you. The benediction, like that in the apostolic epistles, shows that Revelation is an epistle also, addressed directly to seven churches and through them to all the church. From him which is. The I AM. See Exod. 3:14. From the seven Spirits. The Holy Spirit. The numeral seven indicates fulness, perfection. It is the sacred number. The sevens are constantly repeated through Revelation. There are seven churches, seven spirits, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven vials, etc. 5. And from Jesus Christ. Some of the glories of Christ, the third whose grace is invoked, are named. The faithful witness. Because all that he says is faithful and true. The first born of the dead. See notes on Col. 1:18. Through Christ's resurrection from the dead life and immortality were brought to light for us all. Hence he is called the “first born.” The prince. The rightful ruler of all the rulers of the earth. Unto him that loveth us. The tense is present, as in the Revision. His love never ceases. Washed us. Rather, as in the Revision, “loosed us.” This was done by the shedding of his blood. 6. And he made us. Here the Revision must be followed. He made us to be a kingdom; to be priests unto his God. His disciples are constituted a kingdom; a kingdom in which each one is a priest. No disciple needeth a priest to offer incense or sacrifice for him, for he can go directly to the Father through Jesus Christ. See notes on 1 Pet. 2:9. Christians are called priests, but are never called kings in a correct translation of the New Testament. 7. Behold, he cometh. Christ. With clouds. See Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:9, 11. The clouds denote the glory and terrors of his coming. Every eye shall see him. He will then come to meet all mortals. They which pierced him. Israel, the nation which rejected and crucified him is meant. See Zech. 12:10, which is here quoted. All the tribes of earth shall mourn over him. In consternation because he is coming to judge the world. 8. I am the Alpha and the Omega. The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; hence “the beginning and the end.” All begins with God and he closes the drama of earthly history.
9–11. I John. He here names himself for the third time. The fourth and fifth times are in 21:2 and 22:8. Companion in tribulation. A partaker of the sufferings of the church like you. Kingdom and patience. In the kingdom they were called to patient endurance. Was in the isle that is called Patmos. For description of this island see Introduction. “It appears to be the certain result of historical evidence that the Apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos during the reign of Domitian (a.d. 81–96) and in the fourteenth year of that reign, and was recalled from Patmos to Ephesus by the Emperor Nerva in a.d. 96.”—Bible Commentary (Speaker's) on Revelation. For the word of God. Banished on account of preaching the word of God. 10. I was in the Spirit. Was lifted to that spiritual exaltation in which revelations are given. On the Lord's day. The day of the Lord's Resurrection, the first day of the week. In the earlier apostolic writings the day was called “the first day of the week,” but by the close of the century it began to be called “the Lord's day,” as here. Epistles of Barnabas, Ignatius and Dionysius, written near this time, so style it, and the name is of common occurrence from this time onward, and is confined to Sunday. It is not confounded with the “Sabbath day” of many centuries. See Dr. Wm. Smith's Unabridged Dictionary of the Bible, article “Lord's Day.” Heard behind me a great voice. Heard but did not see the speaker. 11. I am Alpha and Omega. These words are omitted in the Revision, as not found in the best MS. What thou seest. In all the visions of the Book of Revelation. Write in a book. The Greek says “in a roll,” which was the form of books in the East at that time. Unto Ephesus. The seven churches are now named. For notes on these churches and the cities where they were located, see the chapters 2 and 3. Two of the churches named had received epistles from the Apostle Paul.
12–16. I saw seven golden candlesticks. The first things seen when he turned to see whence the voice came were the seven golden candlesticks, which symbolized the churches (verse 20). 13. And in the midst. It is a beautiful thought that he who said “I will be with you always” is represented as moving in the midst of the church. Like unto the Son of man. A term used in Dan. 7:13 and applied by the Savior to Himself, but never applied to him by the New Testament writers except here, Rev. 14:14 and Acts 7:56. A garment down to the foot. The long robe of a high priest girt about with the golden girdle of a king. 14. His head and his hair were white. White is the color of purity and of triumph. The idea here is not age but heavenly glory. His eyes were as a flame of fire. Bright, piercing, all seeing, flashing light, and also a consuming fire of the wicked. 15. Feet like unto fine brass. Shedding forth splendor like burnished brass heated in a furnace. His voice. His voice was mighty like the sound of surging waters. 16. In his right hand seven stars. “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches” (verse 20). And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. This two-edged sword is a symbol of the word by which Christ's conquests are won. See Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12, and compare Rev. 19:15. His countenance. The glory of his countenance is the same that was manifested at the Transfiguration.
17–20. I fell at his feet as dead. Overcome with awe. No sinful man can stand before God and live; hence the impression made by the appearance of the Lord is that of terror. Fear not. But when the Lord spoke to the disciple it was with the old love. How often before had Jesus said “Fear not.” I am the first and the last. See verse 8. The attributes claimed for Jehovah are also claimed for Christ. 18. He that liveth, and was dead. Put to death but living. Have the keys of death and of Hades. Not only a victor over death, but the very gates of death and Hades are under his control. Hence he can deliver from the dead whom he will. 19. Write. Not only the vision just seen, but the things which are, viz., the description of the state of the churches given in chapters 2 and 3; and also the things which shall be, viz., the revelation of future history recorded in chapters 6–20. 20. The mystery of the seven stars. The Lord himself at once explains what the seven stars and seven candlesticks symbolize. The seven candlesticks represent the churches, or organizations appointed to “let their light shine” and become “the light of the world.” And the seven stars are the angels of the churches. These were, I think, the evangelists of the churches. See note below.
The Appearance of Christ. He was arrayed in a priestly robe and girt with a kingly girdle of gold. Heavenly purity was indicated by the dazzling whiteness of his head and hair, and the splendor that shone from his countenance was like that of the unclouded sun. Every manifestation of the divine glory is accompanied with brilliancy and splendor. “In him is no darkness at all.” The burning bush of Horeb, the glory of Sinai, the Shekinah of the tabernacle, the City of which God and the Lamb are the light, the transfigured Savior of Hermon, the Son of Man of Patmos, and all the visions of the prophets of both covenants, indicate that whenever the Deity manifests itself, there is a revelation of heavenly splendor. The Son of Man, the Man of Sorrows, the Lamb of God, is also the Bright and Morning Star, and the Sun of Righteousness. It is thus, crowned with majesty, garbed in light, and shining as the sun, that John beholds the Son of Man walking amid the golden candlesticks and holding the seven stars in his hands.
The Seven Stars. I shall not take up space to discuss the various views as to the nature of the angels of the churches. It has been held that they were heavenly angels, were diocesan bishops of the cities, were pastors or elders, or were messengers sent from the churches to visit John in Patmos. The word angel means a messenger, and is equally applicable to the messengers of God and those of men. John the Baptist is called in Mark 1:2, angel, or messenger, and the term is often applied to human beings. It is certain that it is in this passage. John is told to write to these angels, and certainly the letters were not sent to the angels of heaven. Nor does this language suggest the idea of messengers sent to visit John in Patmos. In that case the letters might be sent by them to the churches, but would certainly not be written to them. It becomes evident, therefore, that the angels were men filling some office in connection with the churches. There is not the slightest evidence that diocesan bishops existed until much later than this age, and hence I do not think that they are meant. The term can hardly apply to an elder, for there seems to have been a plurality of elders in all the churches, and it is not likely that one would be singled out. It is my judgment that the angels were the preachers or evangelists of the churches. As these evangelists not only labored at home, but were often sent out, and were messengers to carry the good tidings, there is a fitness in applying the term to them. We know from the epistles of Paul and from church tradition, that Timothy was long the evangelist at Ephesus, and it is possible that he may have lived and labored until the time of John's banishment. If so, he was the angel to whom the epistle to the church at Ephesus was directed. Then we conclude that the seven stars held in the hand of the Lord, supported and strengthened by him, shining with his light, are the seven preachers of the churches of Asia.
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