"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him,
to show unto His servants that which must come to pass speedily; and He
signified [it] sending by His angel to His servant John; who attested the word
of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, what things soever he saw. Blessed
he who readeth, and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and observe the
things which are written in it: for the time [is] near." Revelation 1:1-3
The words which I have announced for our present consideration, give us the Divine Preface or superscription to this book. They are meant to advise the reader as to that with which he is about to deal, and to prepare him to appreciate what is to follow. They relate to three leading points:
I. THE SUBJECT AND CONTENTS OF THE BOOK.
II. ITS DERIVATION AND AUTHORSHIP.
III. ITS VALUE AND PRECIOUSNESS.
Let us look briefly at these several particulars.
The Subject A Revelation Of Christ
What concerns the subject and contents of this book, I find for the most part in the name that it gives itself. It is the common rule with Scripture names to express the substance of the things to which they are applied. The name of God expresses what God is; it is the same with the names of the Lord Jesus Christ and all the leading names found in the Bible. Even those that the Church has given are often wonderfully expressive and significant. Genesis is the generation of things; Exodus the going forth from bondage; The Gospel, the very heart and substance of all God's gracious communications the good news. And when God Himself designates this book The Revelation of Jesus Christ, we may rest assured that it is the very substance and kernel of the book that is expressed in this title.
What, then, are we to understand by "The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ"? There are certain books (adopted and held sacred by the Church of Rome, which we, however, receive only as human productions), that have a name somewhat similar to this in sound. You find them in some Bibles, between the Old and New Testaments, bearing the name of Apocrypha. But Apocrypha is just the opposite of Apocalypse. Apocrypha means something that is concealed, not set forth, not authentic; Apocalypse means something revealed, disclosed, manifested, shown. The verb apokalupto means to reveal, to make manifest, to uncover to view. The noun apokalupsis, means a revelation, a disclosure, an appearing, a making manifest. The Apocalypse, or Revelation of Jesus Christ, must therefore be the revealment, manifestation, appearing, of Jesus Christ.
Some accept the words as if they were meant to express the revealment of the Revelation. This I take to be a mistake, and a vital mistake, as regards any right interpretation of this book. It is not the Apocalypse that is the subject of the disclosure. This book is not the Apocalypse of the Apocalypse, but The Apocalypse of JESUS CHRIST.
This is the key to the whole book. It is a book of which Christ is the great subject and centre, particularly in that period of His administrations and glory designated as the day of His uncovering, the day of His appearing. It is not a mere prediction of divine judgments upon the wicked, and of the final triumph of the righteous, made known by Christ. It is a book of the revelation of Christ, in His own person, offices, and future administrations, when He shall be seen coming from heaven, as He was once seen going into heaven.
If "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" meant nothing more than certain communications made known by Christ, I can see no significance or propriety in affixing this title to this book, rather than to any other books of holy Scripture. Are they not all alike the revelation of Jesus Christ, in this sense? Does not Peter say of the inspired writers in general, that they were moved by the Spirit of Christ that was in them? Why then single out this particular book as " The Revelation of Jesus Christ," when it is no more the gift of Jesus than any other inspired book? Besides, it would be particularly strange, that this book should be so specially designated "The Revelation of Jesus Christ " in the sense of revelation by Christ, when the book itself declares that it was not received from Christ, but from an angel or messenger of Christ.
These considerations alone ought to satisfy us that there is something more distinctive and characteristic in this title than is embraced in its ordinary acceptation. For my own part, I am perfectly convinced, from a review of the places in which the word occurs in the New Testament, as well as from all the contents of this particular part of it, that The Apocalypse, or Revelation of Jesus Christ, means Jesus Christ revealed and uncovered to mortal view; and not merely Jesus Christ revealing, and making known hidden things to be recorded for our learning. Let me refer to passages bearing upon the case.
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:7), speaks of them as enriched in every spiritual gift, confirmed in the testimony of Christ, and "waiting for the Apocalypse, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The original word here is exactly the same as that in our text; the structure of the sentence is also much the same, but no one mistakes its meaning for a moment. All agree that it refers to Christ in His revelation from heaven, when He shall come in the clouds with power and great glory. And if such is its unmistakable meaning here, why not take it in the same sense in the text?
So in 2 Thessalonians (1:6-10) he refers his readers to a time of rest, "when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven (literally, at the Apocalypse of the Lord), with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." No one misunderstands what The Apocalypse of the Lord Jesus is in this passage. Paul himself explains it to be His coming, in just such administrations as were shown John in this book.
With the meaning of this word thus established, what can that book be, of which it is descriptive, but an account of the revelation of Christ in His personal forthcoming from His present invisible estate, to receive His Bride, judge the wicked, and set up His eternal kingdom on the earth.
With this also agrees the statement of John as to the circumstances under which he came to the knowledge of the things which he narrates. He says he "was in Spirit in the Lord's day," in which he beheld what he afterwards wrote. What is meant by this Lord's day? Some answer, Sunday the first day of the week; but I am not satisfied with this explanation. Sunday belongs indeed to the Lord, but the Scriptures nowhere call it " the Lord's day." None of the Christian writings, for 100 years after Christ, ever call it "the Lord's day." But there is a "Day of the Lord" largely treated of by prophets, apostles, and fathers, the meaning of which is abundantly clear and settled.
It is that day in which, Isaiah says, men shall hide in the rocks for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty; the day which Joel describes as the day of destruction from the Almighty, when the Lord shall roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shall shake; the day to which the closing chapter of Malachi refers as the day that shall burn as an oven, and in which the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.
It is the day which Paul proclaimed from Mars Hill as that in which God will judge the world, concerning which he so earnestly exhorted the Thessalonians, and which was not to come until after a great apostasy from the faith, and the ripening of the wicked for destruction. This is the day in which, Peter says, the heavens shall be changed, the elements melt, the earth burn, and all present orders of things give way to new heavens and a new earth.
I understand John to say that he in some sense was in that day. In the mysteries of prophetic rapport, which the Scriptures describe as "in Spirit" and which Paul declared inexplicable, John was caught out of himself and out of his proper place and time. He was stationed amid the stupendous scenes of the great day of God, and made to see the actors in them, and to look upon them transpiring before his eyes, that he might write what he saw, and give it to the Churches.
This is what I understand by his being "in Spirit in the Lord's day." And if John was thus mystically down among the scenes of the last day and has written only what he says he has written that is, "things that he saw," it cannot be otherwise but that in dealing with the contents of this book, we are dealing with what relates preeminently to the great Apocalypse and Epiphany of our Lord when He comes to judge the world in righteousness.
The Contents A Progressive Manifestation Of The Glory Of Jesus Christ
When we come to consider the actual contents of this book, we find them harmonising exactly with this understanding of its title. It takes as its chief and unmistakable themes what other portions of the Scriptures assign to the great day of the Lord. It is nothing but Apocalypse from beginning to end.
First we have the Apocalypse of Christ in His relation to the earthly Churches, and His judgment of them. Then is the Apocalypse of His relation to the glorified Church, and the marshalling of them for His coming forth to judge the world. Then there is the Apocalypse of His relation to the scenes of the judgment as they are manifested on earth under the opening of the seals, the prophesying of the witnesses, and the fall of Babylon. Next is the Apocalypse of His actual manifestation to the world in the battle of the great day of God Almighty, the es-tablishment of His kingdom, and the investiture of the saints in their future sovereignties. Finally, there is the Apocalypse of His relation to the final act of judgment the destruction of death and the grave and the introduction of the final estate of a perfected Redemption.
What is all this but just what was foretold by all the prophets, by Christ Himself, and by all His apostles, as pertaining to THE DAY OF THE LORD? Truly, this book is but the rehearsal, in an ampler manner, of what all the Scriptures tell us about the last day and the eternal judgment. It is preeminently The Apocalypse and Epiphany of Jesus Christ.
Its Authorship A Gift From God
Notice now its derivation and authorship. The text represents it as the gift of God to Christ. It is called "The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him." Some understand this gift in the sense of signified, made known to; and so put themselves under the necessity of explaining how this could be without compromising our Lord's Divinity. This is the first difficulty engendered by the departure from the proper scriptural meaning of the word Apocalypse. People take it as denoting a piece of information, and so represent Christ in a state of ignorance respecting the most sublime results of His role of mediator until after His ascension into heaven. The incongruities of such an acceptation should teach men better.
The Apocalypse of Christ is the future reappearance of Christ, clothed with the honours and crowned with the triumphs which are to characterise that forthcoming, and not the mere knowledge or description of these things. And it is that Apocalypse, with all its glorious concomitants and results, that God has, in covenant, given to Christ given to Him as the crowning reward of His mediatorial work, as the Scriptures everywhere teach. The promise of the victory of the woman's seed involved this gift. Hannah's song speaks of it as strength and exaltation that the Lord bestows upon His anointed. God's promise to David of a son whose kingdom is to be established forever embraces it. It is the great theme of the second Psalm where God says to His son, "I shall give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." It is in Isaiah's pictures of Messiah, in Jeremiah's prophecies, in the words of the annunciation to Mary, in Christ's own parables, and in all the writings of the Apostles.
Because Christ "made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11).
We are told that there was joy set before Christ as the reward of His sufferings and death, and that it was "for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2).
And whatever else may be included in that exaltation or that joy, highest and greatest of all is a future Apocalypse, when "the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, and He shall sit upon the throne of His glory" (Matthew 25:31). This, then, is what God "gave to Jesus Christ" in promise when He commenced His work, in its earnest when He raised Him from the dead and received Him into glory; and thus gave what constitutes the substance of this book.
But as the full manifestation of this endowment of Christ is still future, and it is important for His followers to be well informed concerning it, the blessed Saviour, after His ascension, took measures to have the facts becomingly communicated to His servants on earth.
The Channels Of Communication
"And He sent and signified [the same] by His angel." In stating who this angel was, I do not venture to be specific. His own account of himself to John, was, " I am thy fellow-servant, and of your brothers the prophets, and of those that keep the sayings of this book" (Revelation 22: 9).
From this, it has been thought that he was one of the old prophets, or some one standing in a closer relation to Christ and the Church than can be affirmed of angels proper. This view is also somewhat confirmed by the fact that, while the angels are called "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14), they are not called "God's servants," nor fellows of the prophets and apostles, as in the case before us. Let it suffice, however, for us to know that it was some heavenly messenger, commissioned by the Lord Jesus in glory to come and make known these apocalyptic wonders.
"Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14). But there is still another link in the chain of agencies through which the great things of this book have been made known to men. Given of God, sent by Christ, signified by an angel, they were finally recorded by John, and by him communicated to the Churches.
Nor need we be in doubt as to what John this is. The text describes him as that "John, who attested the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ." And who is it that the Churches from the beginning have known as the attestor of the Logos, or Word of God, and of the testimony that Christ gave, but John the Apostle, the beloved disciple?
Turn to the Gospel by John and see that it is wholly taken up with exactly these things. The first chapter gives the only full account which the Scriptures contain respecting the pre-existence of the Logos, or Word, in the Godhead, and the fact that the Word is also Him who was born of Mary, who tabernacled in the flesh, and was called Jesus of Nazareth. Was not this bearing "record of the Word of God"?
Do we not find another summary of the same testimony in the first chapter of his first epistle? What else does he mean by the account which he gives of his testimony, when he says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life, declare we unto you"? Are not both his first and second epistles but arguments against various evil spirits which were gone abroad that Jesus is the Word of God, the only Christ, the Son of God, and that all who deny this are liars and Antichrist? I conclude, therefore, upon the solid basis of God's own identification of the author of this book, that it was the Apostle John who wrote it.
Such then is the exalted source and derivation of this wonderful production. It takes its origin in God's covenant gift to Jesus Christ as the reward of triumph and glory for His humiliation and obedience unto death. It was sent by the loving Saviour from heaven, in the charge of an angelic messenger, to be shown to John. And by the hands of "that disciple whom Jesus loved," thus visited in his lonely exile emblem of that consolation in distress with which this book has ever irradiated the dark and gloomy days of the Church was traced out in the language of mortals, and delivered over as Christ's last message to His people on earth.
The Value Of This Book "Blessed Is He Who Reads It."
I would like to say a word or two now as to the value and preciousness of this book. This book is a gift that the Great God thinks a befitting honour and compensation to Christ for all His great deeds of love and condescension. It is a thing which the blessed Lord in heaven esteemed of sufficient importance to be made known by a special messenger, that holy angels considered it an honour to be permitted to communicate, and that the tenderness of the disciple of love so conscientiously recorded for the comfort and admonition of the people of God in every age. Certainly is not a thing of trifling significance.
If we are interested in the story of the manger and the cross; if we can draw strength for our prayers and hopes by invoking Christ by the mystery of His incarnation, fasting, temptation, agony, and bloody sweat; if we find it such a precious treasure to our souls to come into undoubting sympathy with the scenes of His humiliation and grief; what should be our appreciation of this book that treats of the fruits of those sufferings and tells only of that wronged Saviour's glory and triumphs? How should we value this book that shows us our Lord enthroned in majesty, riding prosperously, and scattering to His ransomed ones the crowns and regencies of governmental authority which shall never perish, and celestial blessedness without number and above all thought!
"All Scripture," indeed, "is profitable, for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but there are some portions more especially significant and precious. Proper attention to these particular sections is fraught with particular advantages. Of this sort is this book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
What does the text say? "Blessed is he that reads, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein." The same is repeated in chapter 22:7. "Blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book."
Of course, the more we learn and know of Christ, the better it will be for us if the spirit of faith and obedience be in our hearts and this book is pre-eminently the Revelation of Christ. It sets out our blessed Lord, and draws away the veil that hangs between us and Him, and lifts us up into the most sublime things of heaven. It shows us how the Son of man has been rewarded by the Father, and what works and offices are assigned unto that meek Lamb. It shows us the history of our Saviour's person, all-glorious and exalted, and His great ministrations in the Church and in the universe, until His coming again from the throne and in the power of the Father, with all the armies of heaven with Him.
Above all it dwells upon that great Apocalypse the condition in which it will find the world, what it will bring to His prepared and waiting saints, what it will inflict upon lukewarm believers, infidels, and evil-doers, and what will be the character and issues of that great day of God Almighty. It tells what the Church will be until Christ comes, what it will be in that period of dreadful trial, what Satan and his children will attempt, and how the Lord Jesus shall trample them down under the glory of His power. It shows how He will raise the dead, renew the world, and set up forever His blessed reign in it. It shows us what will be the final triumphs and rewards of the saints for their present grief and toils. It tells what will be the future of our world and how it is to be renewed, cleansed, beautified, and invested with heavenly excellencies. It also displays how the light, and knowledge and glory of God is to become its eternal possession.
Looking To The Future
It is always important for us to be forewarned with regard to the future. It is our nature to be forecasting, and it is one of the necessities of our well-being to be able to anticipate with accuracy, at least with regard to the leading things that shall concern us. He who does not shape the conduct of today with reference to some anticipated end or calculated conclusion of some other day, is a mere fool and madman, whether it be in the things of God, or in the things of the world.
In this book we are made aware beforehand of what God has determined concerning the future what the devout may hope for, what the indifferent and unbelieving have to fear, wherein the true safety and consolation of man is to be found, what tribulations are to come upon the world, and what birth pangs are yet to be passed through to reach that Golden Age of which prophets and poets of all nations and times have spoken. ("The Apocalypse completes the Canon of Scripture; and with reverence be it said, the sacred Canon would be imperfect without it." Wordsworth)
There is also a peculiar efficacy and power in the doctrine of Christ's speedy return. Like a magnet, it lifts the heart of the believer out of the world, and out of his low self, and enables him to stand with Moses on the mount, and transfigures him with the rays of blessed hope and promise which stream upon him in those sublime heights. It is the most animating and most sanctifying subject in the Bible. It is the soul's serenest light amid the darkness and trials of earth. And the great end and aim of this book is to set forth this doctrine.
The things of which it treats are things touching the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, and which it describes as "things that must shortly come to pass." The impending Advent is the theme that pervades it from its commencement to its close.
He who is awake to the great truth of the Saviour's speedy coming, and is engaged in waiting and preparing himself accordingly, is a better man, and in a safer condition, and really more happy, than the half-Christian and the lukewarm. In that same proportion is he who reads, hears and keeps the words of this prophecy blessed beyond all other people. This book, at least its subject matter, thus becomes to him an instrument of security and attainment to save him from surprise when his Lord comes. It bids him escape from the tribulations that shall try the indifferent. It also gives him a passport to admit him to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and to the highest awards of eternity. Precious book! And happy they who study it!
The Need For Study Of Prophecy
I cannot close without remarking how all this plucks up, and crushes to atoms, those erroneous and mischievous notions entertained by many that there is nothing useful in prophetic studies. This says nothing of the duty of giving heed to what God has thought it important to record, or of the folly of seeing only peril in trying to understand what the Spirit of God has inspired for our learning and consolation.
What man is he who, in the face of this text, and its outspoken benediction, will venture to denounce investigation into sacred prophecy? What if it is often dark and mysterious? The darker and more difficult, the greater the reason for earnest examination. Be the obscurity and mystery what it may, God says, "Blessed is he that reads and they that hear the words, and keep those things which are written." What if this book of Revelation is the fullest of all of dark things and perplexing mysteries? It is then a book that, above all, needs our most solemn and studious attention. No, it is concerning this book especially that God pronounces this blessedness upon the devout and obedient inquirer.
Some tell us that what is yet future ought not to be examined into until after it has come to pass. I can hardly realise that this is seriously meant. Yet I have had it argued to me, even in Jerusalem itself. Do such persons not perceive that they thus judge God, and Christ, and the sent angel of Christ, and John the beloved disciple of Christ, and join issue with the God of truth as to the correctness of His utterances?
I find also that those who so argue are prone to insist that the day of death is the same as Christ's coming. Do they then mean that a man is only to study the predictions of that coming after he is dead? Out upon such doctrine as this! Away with such presumptuous deprivation of the Church of the precious legacy left her by her ascended Lord!
I will not for a moment regard that as wrong and dangerous which the Lord Himself has pronounced blessed. Jesus knew what He was about when He sent this book to be shown to His servants. He understood His own words when He said and repeated: "Blessed is he that reads and he that keeps what is in this book."
I will also insist that it is to be studied. As Christ said to the writer of it, so he says to all his ministers, and all his people, in all time: "SEAL NOT THE SAYINGS OF THE PROPHECY OF THIS BOOK." It is an open book, and meant to be ever kept open to the view of the Church from that time forward to the end.
Woe, then, to the man who undertakes to draw away God's people from it, or to warn them against looking into it! He takes from the Church, which has now been these 2000 years among the dashing waves, the chart by which above all Christ meant she should be guided, and wherein she may best see whither she is bearing, what are her perils, and where her course of safety lies! He undertakes to seal what God has said should not be sealed! He not only "takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy," (whoever does so, "God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" 22:18) but seeks to take away the book itself!
Such a course is all the more dangerous and reprehensible now that "the time is near." Nearly 2000 years ago, it was said of the things herein written, that they must speedily come to pass. These records were from the first pressed upon the study of the Church by the solemn consideration that the period of their fulfilment was rapidly approaching. If this argument was of force then, how much more now?
Standing then as we do upon the very margin of the great Apocalypse, by all the solemnities with which it is to be accompanied, I not only invite and recommend, but conjure Christians, as they hope to be present at the marriage supper of the Lamb, not to put this precious book from them, or to forgo the faithful study of its contents. The Lord open our hearts to its teachings, and make us partakers of the blessings it foretells!
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