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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Preface to the Revelation of St. John the Divine
Among the interpreters of the Apocalypse, both in ancient and modern times, we find a vast diversity of opinions, but they may be all reduced to four principal hypotheses, or modes of interpretation: -
1. The Apocalypse contains a prophetical description of the destruction of Jerusalem, of the Jewish war, and the civil wars of the Romans.
2. It contains predictions of the persecutions of the Christians under the heathen emperors of Rome, and of the happy days of the Church under the Christian emperors, from Constantine downwards.
3. It contains prophecies concerning the tyrannical and oppressive conduct of the Roman pontiffs, the true antichrist; and foretells the final destruction of popery.
4. It is a prophetic declaration of the schism and heresies of Martin Luther, those called Reformers, and their successors; and the final destruction of the Protestant religion.
The first opinion has been defended by Professor Wetstein, and other learned men on the continent.
The second is the opinion of the primitive fathers in general, both Greek and Latin.
The third was first broached by the Abb Joachim, who flourished in the thirteenth century, was espoused by most of the Franciscans; and has been and still is the general opinion of the Protestants.
The fourth seems to have been invented by popish writers, merely by way of retaliation; and has been illustrated and defended at large by a Mr. Walmsley, (I believe), titular dean of Wells, in a work called the History of the Church, under the feigned name of Signior Pastorini.
In this work he endeavors to turn every thing against Luther and the Protestants, which they interpreted of the pope and popery; and attempts to show, from a computation of the Apocalyptical numbers, that the total destruction of Protestantism in the world will take place in 1825! But this is not the first prophecy that has been invented for the sake of an event, the accomplishment of which was earnestly desired; and as a stimulus to excite general attention, and promote united exertion, when the time of the pretended prophecy was fulfilled. But 1825 is past by, and 1832 is come, and the Protestant Church is still in full vigor, while the Romish Church is fast declining.
The full title of the book which I quote is the following: -
"The General History of the Christian Church, from her birth to her final triumphant state in Heaven, chiefly deduced from the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle. By Sig. Pastorini.
'Blessed is he that readeth and heareth the words of this prophecy.' - Apocalypse, Revelation 1:3.
Printed in the year M.DCC.LXXI." 8vo. No place nor printer's name mentioned.
The place where he foretells the final destruction of Protestantism is in pp. 249 and 262.
The Catholic college of Maynooth, in Ireland, have lately published a new edition of this work! in which the author kindly predicts the approaching overthrow of the whole Protestant system, both in Church and state; and in the meantime gives them, most condescendingly, Abaddon or the devil for their king!
Who the writer of the Apocalypse was, learned men are not agreed. This was a question, as well in ancient as in modern times. We have already seen that many have attributed it to the Apostle John; others, to a person called John the presbyter, who they say was an Ephesian, and totally different from John the apostle. And lastly, some have attributed it to Cerinthus, a contemporary of John the apostle. This hypothesis, however, seems utterly unsupportable; as there is no probability that the Christian Church would have so generally received a work which came from the hands of a man at all times reputed a very dangerous heretic; nor can the doctrines it contains ever comport with a Cerinthian creed.
Whether it was written by John the apostle, John the presbyter, or some other person, is of little importance if the question of its inspiration be fully established. If written by an apostle it is canonical; and should be received, without hesitation, as a work Divinely inspired. Every apostle acted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. John was an apostle, and consequently inspired; therefore, whatever he wrote was written by Divine inspiration. If, therefore, the authenticity of the work be established, i.e., that it was written by John the apostle, all the rest necessarily follow.
As I have scarcely any opinion to give concerning this book on which I could wish any of my readers to rely, I shall not enter into any discussion relative to the author, or the meaning of his several visions and prophecies; but for general information refer to Dr. Lardner, Michaelis, and others.
Various attempts have been made by learned men to fix the plan of this work; but even in this few agree. I shall produce some of the chief of these: and first, that of Wetstein, which is the most singular of the whole.
He supposes the book of the Apocalypse to have been written a considerable time before the destruction of Jerusalem. The events described from the fourth chapter to the end he supposes to refer to the Jewish war, and to the civil commotions which took place in Italy while Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian were contending for the empire. These contentions and destructive wars occupied the space of about three years and a half, during which Professor Wetstein thinks the principal events took place which are recorded in this book. On these subjects he speaks particularly in his notes, at the end of which he subjoins what he calls his Ανακεφαλαιωσις, or synopsis of the whole work, which I proceed now to lay before the reader.
"This prophecy, which predicts the calamities which God should send on the enemies of the Gospel, is divided into two parts. The first is contained in the closed book; the second, in the open book.
I. The first concerns the earth and the third part, i.e., Judea and the Jewish nation,
II. The second concerns many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings, Revelation 10:11, i.e., the Roman empire.
1. The book written within and without, and sealed with seven seals, Revelation 5:1, is the bill of divorce sent from God to the Jewish nation.
2. The crowned conqueror on the white horse armed with a bow, Revelation 6:2, is Artabanus, king of the Parthians, who slaughtered multitudes of the Jews in Babylon.
3. The red horse, Revelation 6:4. The Sicarii and robbers in Judea, in the time of the Proconsuls Felix and Festus.
4. The black horse, Revelation 6:5. The famine under Claudius.
5. The pale horse, Revelation 6:8. The plague which followed the robberies and the famine.
6. The souls of those who were slain, Revelation 6:9. The Christians in Judea, who were persecuted, and were now about to be avenged.
7. The great earthquake, Revelation 6:12. The commotions which preceded the Jewish rebellion.
8. The servants of God from every tribe, sealed in their foreheads, Revelation 7:3. The Christians taken under the protection of God, and warned by the prophets to flee immediately from the land.
9. The silence for half an hour, Revelation 8:1. The short truce granted at the solicitation of King Agrippa. Then follows the rebellion itself.
1. The trees are burnt, Revelation 8:7. The fields and villages, and unfortified places of Judea, which first felt the bad effects of the sedition.
2. The burning mountain cast into the sea which in consequence became blood, Revelation 8:8; and,
3. The burning star falling into the rivers, and making the waters bitter, Revelation 8:10, Revelation 8:11. The slaughter of the Jews at Caesarea and Scythopolis.
4. The eclipsing of the sun, moon, and stars, Revelation 8:12. The anarchy of the Jewish commonwealth.
5. The locusts like scorpions hurting men, Revelation 9:3. The expedition of Cestius Gallus, prefect of Syria.
6. The army with arms of divers colors, Revelation 9:16, Revelation 9:17. The armies under Vespasian in Judea. About this time Nero and Galba died; after which followed the civil war, signified by the sounding of the seventh trumpet, Revelation 10:7, Revelation 10:11; Revelation 11:15.
1. The two prophetic witnesses, two olive trees, two candlesticks, Revelation 11:3, Revelation 11:4. Teachers in the Church, predicting the destruction of the Jewish temple and commonwealth.
2. The death of the witnesses, Revelation 11:7. Their flight, and the flight of the Church of Jerusalem, to Pella, in Arabia.
3. The resurrection of the witnesses, after three days and a half, Revelation 11:11. The predictions began to be fulfilled at a time in which their accomplishment was deemed impossible; and the doctrine of Christ begins to prevail over Judea, and over the whole earth.
4. The tenth part of the city fell in the same hour, and seven thousand names of men slain, Revelation 11:13. Jerusalem seized by the Idumeans; and many of the priests and nobles, with Annas, the high priest, signified by names of men, i.e. men of name, slain by the Zealots.
5. The woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head, Revelation 12:1. The Christian Church.
6. The great red dragon seen in heaven, with seven heads, seven diadems, and ten horns, Revelation 12:3. The six first Caesars, who were all made princes at Rome, governing the armies and the Roman people with great authority; especially Nero, the last of them, who, having killed his mother, cruelly vexed the Christians, and afterwards turned his wrath against the rebellious Jews.
7. The seven-headed beast from the sea, having ten horns surrounded with diadems, Revelation 13:1. Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, who were shortly to reign, and who were proclaimed emperors by the army.
8. This beast, having a mouth like a lion, the body like a leopard, the feet like a bear, Revelation 13:2. Avaricious Galba; rash, unchaste, and inconstant Otho; Vitellius, cruel and sluggish, with the German any.
9. One head, i.e., the seventh, cut off, Revelation 13:3. Galba.
10. He who leadeth into captivity shall be led into captivity; he who killeth with the sword shall be killed with the sword, Revelation 13:10. Otho, who subdued the murderers of Galba, and slew himself with a dagger, Vitellius, who bound Sabinus with chains and was himself afterwards bound.
11. Another beast rising out of the earth, with two horns, Revelation 13:11. Vespasian and his two and, Titus and Domitian, elected emperors at the same time in Judea.
12. The number of the wild beast, 666, the number of a man, Teitan, Titan or Titus: T, 300. E, 5. I, 10. T, 300. A, 1. N. 50, making in the whole 666. [But some very respectable MSS. have 616 for the number; if the N be taken away from Teitan, then the letters in Teita make exactly the sum 616].
13. A man sitting upon a cloud, unity a crown of gold upon his head, and a sickle in his hand, Revelation 14:14. Otho and his army, about to prevent supplies for the army of Vitellius.
14. An angel of fire commanding another angel to gather the vintage; the winepress trodden whence the blood flows out 1600 furlongs. The followers of Vitellius laying all waste with fire; and the Bebriaci conquering the followers of Otho with great slaughter.
Then follow the seven plagues: -
1. The grievous sore, Revelation 16:2. The diseases of the soldiers of Vitellius through intemperance.
2. The sea turned into blood, Revelation 16:3. The fleet of Vitellius beaten, and the maritime towns taken from them by the Flavii.
3. The rivers turned into blood, Revelation 16:4. The slaughter of the adherents of Vitellius, at Cremona and elsewhere, near rivers.
4. The scorching of the sun, Revelation 16:8. The diseases of the Vitellii increasing, and their exhausted bodies impatient of the heat.
5. The seat of the beast darkened, Revelation 16:10. All Rome in commotion through the torpor of Vitellius.
6. Euphrates dried up, and a way made for the kings of the east; and the three unclean spirits like frogs. The Flavii besieging Rome with a treble army; one part of which was by the bank of the Tiber.
The shame of him who is found asleep and naked. Vitellius, Revelation 16:15. Armageddon, Revelation 16:16. The praetorian camps.
7. The fall of Babylon, Revelation 16:19. The sacking of Rome.
1. The whore, Revelation 17:1. Rome.
2. The seven kings, Revelation 17:10. Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and Galba.
3. The eighth, which is of the seven, Revelation 17:11. Otho, destined by adoption to be the son and successor of Galba.
4. The ten horns, Revelation 17:12-16. The leaders of the Flavian factions.
5. The merchants of the earth, Revelation 18:11; i.e., of Rome, which was then the emporium of the whole world.
6. The beast and the false prophet, Revelation 19:20. Vespasian and his family, contrary to all expectation, becoming extinct in Domitian, as the first family of the Caesars, and of the three princes, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius.
7. The millennium, or a thousand years, Revelation 20:2. Taken from Psalm 90:4, a time appointed by God, including the space of forty years, from the death of Domitian to the Jewish war under Adrian.
8. Gog and Magog, going out over the earth, Revelation 20:8. Barchochebas, the false Messiah, with an immense army of the Jews, coming forth suddenly from their caves and dens, tormenting the Christians, and carrying on a destructive war with the Romans.
9. The New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:1, Revelation 21:2. The Jews being brought so low as to be capable of injuring no longer; the whole world resting after being expiated by wars; and the doctrine of Christ propagated and prevailing everywhere with incredible celerity.
Wetstein contends (and he is supported by very great men among the ancients and moderns) that "the book of the Revelation was written before the Jewish war, and the civil wars in Italy; that the important events which took place at that time, the greatest that ever happened since the foundation of the world, were worth enough of the Divine notice, as the affairs of his Church were so intimately connected with them; that his method of exposition proves the whole book to be a well-connected, certain series of events; but the common method of interpretation, founded on the hypothesis that the book was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, is utterly destitute of certainty, and leaves every commentator to the luxuriance of his own fancy, as is sufficiently evident from what has been done already on this book; some interpreters leading the reader now to Thebes, now to Athens, and finding in the words of the sacred penman Constantine the Great; Arius, Luther, Calvin; the Jesuits; the Albigenses; the Bohemians; Chemnitius; Elizabeth, queen of England; Cecil, her treasurer; and who not?" - See Wetstein's Gr. Test., vol. ii. p. 889.
Those who consider the Apocalypse as a prophecy and scenical exhibition of what shall happen to the Christian Church to the end of the world, lay this down as a proposition, which comprises the subject of the whole book: The contest of Christ with his enemies; and his final victory and triumph over them. See 1 Corinthians 15:25; Matthew 24:1-51; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-38. But what is but briefly hinted in the above scriptures, is detailed at large in the Apocalypse, and represented by various images nearly in the following order: -
1. The decrees of the Divine providence, concerning what is to come, are declared to John.
2. The manner in which these decrees shall be executed is painted in the most vivid colors.
3. Then follow thanksgivings to God, the ruler and governor of all things, for these manifestations of his power, wisdom and goodness.
After the exordium, and the seven epistles to the seven Churches of Asia Minor, to whose angels or bishops the book seems to be dedicated, (Revelation 1:1-3:22), the scene of the visions is opened in heaven, full of majesty; and John receives a promise of a revelation relative to the future state of the Church, Revelation 4:1-5:14.
The enemies of the Church of Christ which the Christians had then most to fear were the Jews, the heathens, and the false teachers. All these are overcome by Christ, and over them he triumphs gloriously. First of all, punishments are threatened to the enemies of the kingdom of Christ, and the preservation of his own followers in their greatest trials determined; and these determinations are accompanied with the praises and thanksgivings of all the heavenly inhabitants, and of all good men, Revelation 6:1-10:11.
The transactions of the Christian religion are next recorded, Revelation 11:1-14:5. The Christians are persecuted: -
1. By the Jews; but they were not only preserved, but they increase and prosper.
2. By the heathens; but in vain do these strive to overthrow the kingdom of Christ, which is no longer confined within the limits of Judea, but spreads among the Gentiles, and diffuses itself over the whole Roman empire, destroying idolatry, and rooting out superstition, in every quarter, Revelation 12:1-13:10.
3. False teachers and impostors of various kinds, under the name of Christians, but enemies of the cross of Christ, more intent on promoting the interests of idolatry or false worship than the cause of true religion, Revelation 13:11-18, exert their influence to corrupt and destroy the Church; but, notwithstanding, Christianity becomes more extended, and true believers more confirmed in their holy faith, Revelation 14:1-5. Then new punishments are decreed against the enemies of Christ, both Jews and heathens: the calamities coming upon the Jewish nation before its final overthrow are pointed out, Revelation 14:1-15:8. Next follows a prediction of the calamities which shall take place during the Jewish war; and the civil wars of the Romans during the contentions of Otho and Vitellius, Revelation 16:1-16, who are to suffer most grievous punishments for their cruelties against the Christians, Revelation 17:1-18. The Jewish state being now finally overthrown, Revelation 18:1-24, the heavenly inhabitants give praise to God for his justice and goodness; Christ is congratulated for his victory over his enemies, and the more extensive progress of his religion, Revelation 19:1-10.
Opposition is, however, not yet totally ended: idolatry again lifts up its head, and new errors are propagated; but over these also Christ shows himself to be conqueror, Revelation 19:11-21. Finally, Satan, who had long reigned by the worship of false gods, errors, superstitions, and wickedness, is deprived of all power and influence; and the concerns of Christianity go on gloriously, Revelation 20:1-6. But towards the end of the world new enemies arise, and threaten destruction to the followers of Christ; but in vain is their rage, God appears in behalf of his servants, and inflicts the most grievous punishments upon their adversaries, Revelation 20:6-10. The last judgment ensues, Revelation 20:11-15, all the wicked are punished, and the enemies of the truth are chained, so as to be able to injure the godly no more; the genuine Christians, who had persevered unto death, are brought to eternal glory; and, freed from all adversities, spend a life that shall never end, in blessedness that knows no bounds, Revelation 21:1-22:21. See Rosenmuller.
Eichhorn takes a different view of the plan of this book; though in substance not differing much from that above. According to this writer the whole is represented in the form of a drama, the parts of which are the following:
I. The title, Revelation 1:1-3.
II. The prologue, Revelation 1:4-3:22; in which it is stated that the argument of the drama refers to the Christians; epistles being sent to the Churches, which, in the symbolic style, are represented by the number seven.
Next follows the drama itself, the parts of which are: -
The prolusio, or prelude, Revelation 4:1-8:5; in which the scenery is prepared and adorned.
Act the first, Revelation 8:6-12:17. Jerusalem is taken, and Judaism vanquished by Christianity.
Act the second, Revelation 13:1-20:10. Rome is conquered, and heathenism destroyed by the Christian religion.
Act the third, Revelation 20:11-22:5. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven; or the happiness of the life to come, and which is to endure for ever, is particularly described, Revelation 22:6-11. Taken in this sense, Eichhorn supposes the work to be most exquisitely finished, and its author to have had a truly poetic mind, polished by the highest cultivation; to have been accurately acquainted with the history of all times and nations, and to have enriched himself with their choicest spoils.
My readers will naturally expect that I should either give a decided preference to some one of the opinions stated above, or produce one of my own; I can do neither, nor can I pretend to explain the book: I do not understand it; and in the things which concern so sublime and awful a subject, I dare not, as my predecessors, indulge in conjectures. I have read elaborate works on the subject, and each seemed right till another was examined. I am satisfied that no certain mode of interpreting the prophecies of this book has yet been found out, and I will not add another monument to the littleness or folly of the human mind by endeavoring to strike out a new course. I repeat it, I do not understand the book; and I am satisfied that not one who has written on the subject knows any thing more of it than myself. I should, perhaps, except J. E. Clarke, who has written on the number of the beast. His interpretation amounts nearly to demonstration; but that is but a small part of the difficulties of the Apocalypse: that interpretation, as the most probable ever yet offered to the public, shall be inserted in its proper place; as also his illustration of the xiith, xiiith, and xviith chapters. As to other matters, I must leave them to God, or to those events which shall point out the prophecy; and then, and probably not till then, will the sense of these visions be explained.
A conjecture concerning the design of the book may be safely indulged; thus then it has struck me, that the book of the Apocalypse may be considered as a Prophet continued in the Church of God, uttering predictions relative to all times, which have their successive fulfillment as ages roll on; and thus it stands in the Christian Church in the place of the Succession of Prophets in the Jewish Church; and by this especial economy Prophecy is Still Continued, is Always Speaking; and yet a succession of prophets rendered unnecessary. If this be so, we cannot too much admire the wisdom of the contrivance which still continues the voice and testimony of prophecy, by means of a very short book, without the assistance of any extraordinary messenger, or any succession of such messengers, whose testimony would at all times be liable to suspicion, and be the subject of infidel and malevolent criticism, howsoever unexceptionable to ingenuous minds the credentials of such might appear.
On this ground it is reasonable to suppose that several prophecies contained in this book have been already fulfilled, and that therefore it is the business of the commentator to point such out. It may be so; but as it is impossible for me to prove that my conjecture is right, I dare not enter into proceedings upon it, and must refer to Bishop Newton, and such writers as have made this their particular study.
After having lived in one of the most eventful eras of the world; after having seen a number of able pens employed in the illustration of this and other prophecies; after having carefully attended to those facts which were supposed to be the incontestable proofs of the fulfillment of such and such visions, seals, trumpets, thunders, and vials of the Apocalypse; after seeing the issue of that most terrible struggle which the French nation, the French republic, the French consulate, and the French empire, have made to regain and preserve their liberties, which, like arguing in a circle, have terminated where they began, without one political or religious advantage to them or to mankind; and after viewing how the prophecies of this book were supposed to apply almost exclusively to these events, the writers and explainers of these prophecies keeping pace in their publications with the rapid succession of military operations, and confidently promising the most glorious issue, in the final destruction of superstition, despotism, arbitrary power, and tyranny of all kinds, nothing of which has been realized; I say, viewing all these things, I feel myself at perfect liberty to state that, to my apprehension, all these prophecies have been misapplied and misapprehended; and that the Key to them is not yet intrusted to the sons of men. My readers will therefore excuse me from any exposure of my ignorance or folly by attempting to do what many, with much more wisdom and learning, have attempted, and what every man to the present day has failed in, who has preceded me in expositions of this book. I have no other mountain to heap on those already piled up; and if I had, I have not strength to lift it: those who have courage may again make the trial; already we have had a sufficiency of vain efforts.
Ter sunt conati imponere Pelio Ossam
Scilicet, atque Ossae frondosum involvere Olympum:
Ter Pater extructos disjecit fulmine montes.
Virg., G. i.281.
With mountains piled on mountains thrice they strove
To scale the steepy battlements of Jove;
And thrice his lightning and red thunder play'd,
And their demolish'd works in ruin laid.
I had resolved, for a considerable time, not to meddle with this book, because I foresaw that I could produce nothing satisfactory on it: but when I reflected that the literal sense and phraseology might be made much plainer by the addition of philological and critical notes; and that, as the diction appeared in many places to be purely rabbinical, (a circumstance to which few of its expositors have attended), it might be rendered plainer by examples from the ancient Jewish writers; and that several parts of it spoke directly of the work of God in the soul of man, and of the conflicts and consolations of the followers of Christ, particularly in the beginning of the book, I changed my resolution, and have added short notes, principally philological, where I thought I understood the meaning.
I had once thought of giving a catalogue of the writers and commentators on this book, and had begun a collection of this kind; but the question of Cui bono? What good end is this likely to serve? not meeting with a satisfactory answer in my own mind, caused me to throw this collection aside. I shall notice two only.
1. The curious and learned work entitled, "A plaine Discovery of the whole Revelation of St. John," written by Sir John Napier, inventor of the logarithms, I have particularly described in the general preface to the Holy Scriptures, prefixed to the Book of Genesis, to which the reader is requested to refer.
2. Another work, not less singular, and very rare, entitled, "The Image of both Churches, after the most wonderful and heavenly Revelation of Sainct John the Evangelist, containing a very fruitfull exposition or paraphrase upon the same: wherein it is conferred with the other scriptures, and most auctorised histories Compyled by John Bale, an exyle also in thys lyfe for the faithful testimony of Jesu." Printed at London by Thomas East, 18mo., without date.
The author was at first a Carmelite, but was afterwards converted to the Protestant religion. He has turned the whole of the Apocalypse against the Romish Church; and it is truly astonishing to see with what address he directs every image, metaphor, and description, contained in this book, against the corruptions of this Church. He was made bishop of Ossory, in Ireland; but was so persecuted by the papists that he narrowly escaped with his life, five of his domestics being murdered by them. On the accession of Mary he was obliged to take refuge in the Low Countries, where it appears he compiled this work. As he was bred up a papist, and was also a priest, he possessed many advantages in attacking the strongest holds of his adversaries. He knew all their secrets, and he uncovered the whole; he was acquainted with all their rites, ceremonies, and superstitions, and finds all distinctly marked in the Apocalypse, which he believes was written to point out the abominations, and to foretell the final destruction of this corrupt and intolerant Church. I shall make a few references to his work in the course of the following notes. In Revelation 17:1, the author shows his opinion, and speaks something of himself: Come hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great whore, etc. "Come hither, friende John, I will show thee in secretnesse the tirrible judgement of the great whore, or counterfaite Church of hypocrites. Needs must this whore be Rome, for that she is the great citie which reigneth over the kings of the earth. Evident it is both by Scriptures and Cronicles that in John's dayes Rome had dominion over all the whole world: and being infected with the abominations of all landes, rightly is shee called Babylon. or Citie of Confusion. And like as in the Scriptures ofte tymes under the name of Jerusalem is ment the whole kingdom of Juda, so under the name of Rome here may be understanded the unyversall worlde, with all their abominations and divilleshnesses, their idolatryes, witchcraftes, sectes, superstitions, papacyes, priesthoodes, relygions, shavings, anointings, blessings, sensings, processions, and the divil of all such beggeryes. For all the people since Christes assencion, hath this Rome infected with hir pestilent poisons gathered from all idolatrous nations, such time as she held over them the monarchial suppremit. At the wryting of this prophecy felt John of their cruiltie, being exiled into Pathmos for the faithfull testimony of Jesu. And so did I, poore creature, with my poore wife and children, at the gatheringe of this present commentary, flying into Germanye for the same," etc.
Shall I have the reader's pardon if I say that it is my firm opinion that the expositions of this book have done great disservice to religion: almost every commentator has become a prophet; for as soon as he began to explain he began also to prophesy. And what has been the issue? Disappointment laughed at hope's career, and superficial thinkers have been led to despise and reject prophecy itself. I shall sum up all that I wish to say farther in the words of Graserus: Mihi tota Apocalypsis valde obscura videtur; et talis, cujus explicatio citra periculum vix queat tentari. Fateor me hactenus in nullius Scripti Biblici lectione minus vroficere, quam in hoc obscurissimo Vaticinio.
The preface to this book, and the promise to them who read it, Revelation 1:1-3. John's address to the seven Churches of Asia, whose high calling he particularly mentions; and shows the speedy coming of Christ, Revelation 1:4-8. Mentions his exile to Patmos, and the appearance of the Lord Jesus to him, Revelation 1:9-11. Of whom he gives a most glorious description, Revelation 1:12-18. The command to write what he saw, and the explanation of the seven stars and seven golden candlesticks, Revelation 1:19, Revelation 1:20.
The Revelation of St. John the divine. To this book the inscriptions are various.
" - The Revelation.
- The Revelation of John.
- Of John the divine.
- Of John the divine and evangelist.
- The Revelation of John the apostle and evangelist.
- The Revelation of the holy and glorious apostle and evangelist, the beloved virgin John the divine, which he saw in the island of Patmos.
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ, given to John the divine."
These several inscriptions are worthy of little regard; the first verse contains the title of the book.
1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants 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 - The word Αποκαλυψις, from which we have our word Apocalypse, signifies literally, a revelation, or discovery of what was concealed or hidden. It is here said that this revelation, or discovery of hidden things, was given by God to Jesus Christ; that Christ gave it to his angel; that this angel showed it to John; and that John sent it to the Churches. Thus we find it came from God to Christ, from Christ to the angel, from the angel to John, and from John to the Church. It is properly, therefore, the Revelation of God, sent by these various agents to his servants at large; and this is the proper title of the book.
Things which must shortly come to pass - On the mode of interpretation devised by Wetstein, this is plain; for if the book were written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and the prophecies in it relate to that destruction, and the civil wars among the Romans, which lasted but three or four years, then it might be said the Revelation is of things which must shortly come to pass. But if we consider the book as referring to the state of the Church in all ages, the words here, and those in Revelation 1:3, must be understood of the commencement of the events predicted; as if he had said: In a short time the train of these visions will be put in motion: -
- et incipient magni procedere menses.
"And those times, pregnant with the most stupendous events, will begin to roll on."
2Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Who bare record of the word of God - Is there a reference here to the first chapter of John's gospel, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, etc.? Of this Word John did bear record. Or, does the writer mean the fidelity with which he noted and related the word - doctrines or prophecies, which he received at this time by revelation from God? This seems more consistent with the latter part of the verse.
3Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
Blessed is he that readeth - This is to be understood of the happiness or security of the persons who, reading and hearing the prophecies of those things which were to come to pass shortly, took proper measures to escape from the impending evils.
The time is at hand - Either in which they shall be all fulfilled, or begin to be fulfilled. See the note on Revelation 1:1.
These three verses contain the introduction; now the dedication to the seven Churches commences.
4John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;
John to the seven Churches - The apostle begins this much in the manner of the Jewish prophets. They often name themselves in the messages which they receive from God to deliver to the people; e.g. "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." "The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah; to whom the word of the Lord came." "The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel, the priest." "The word of the Lord that came unto Hosea, the son of Beeri." "The word of the Lord that came to Joel." "The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa." "The vision of Obadiah; thus saith the Lord." "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah." So, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which he sent and signified to his servant John." "John to the seven Churches," etc.
The Asia here mentioned was what is called Asia Minor, or the Lydian or Proconsular Asia; the seven Churches were those of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Of these as they occur. We are not to suppose that they were the only Christian Churches then in Asia Minor; there were several others then in Phrygia, Pamphylia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, etc., etc. But these seven were those which lay nearest to the apostle, and were more particularly under his care; though the message was sent to the Churches in general, and perhaps it concerns the whole Christian world. But the number seven may be used here as the number of perfection; as the Hebrews use the seven names of the heavens, the seven names of the earth, the seven patriarchs, seven suns, seven kinds, seven years, seven months, seven days, etc., etc.; in which the rabbins find a great variety of mysteries.
Grace be unto you - This form of apostolical benediction we have often seen in the preceding epistles.
From him which is, and which was, and which is to come - This phraseology is purely Jewish, and probably taken from the Tetragrammaton, יהוה Yehovah; which is supposed to include in itself all time, past, present, and future. But they often use the phrase of which the ὁ ων, και ὁ ην, και ὁ ερχομενος, of the apostle, is a literal translation. So, in Sohar Chadash, fol. 7, 1: "Rabbi Jose said, By the name Tetragrammaton, (i.e. יהוה, Yehovah), the higher and lower regions, the heavens, the earth, and all they contain, were perfected; and they are all before him reputed as nothing; והוא היה והוא הוה והוא יהיה vehu hayah, vehu hoveh, vehu yihyeh; and He Was, and He Is, and He Will Be. So, in Shemoth Rabba, sec. 3, fol. 105, 2: "The holy blessed God said to Moses, tell them: - אני שהייתי ואני הוא עכשיו ואני הוא לעתיד לבוא ani shehayithi, veani hu achshaiu, veani hu laathid labo; I Was, I Now Am, and I Will Be in Future." In Chasad Shimuel, Rab. Samuel ben David asks: "Why are we commanded to use three hours of prayer? Answer: These hours point out the holy blessed God; שהוא היה הוה ויהיה shehu hayah, hoveh, veyihyeh; he who Was, who Is, and who Shall Be. The Morning prayer points out him who Was before the foundation of the world; the Noonday prayer points out him who Is; and the Evening prayer points out him who Is to Come." This phraseology is exceedingly appropriate, and strongly expresses the eternity of God; for we have no other idea of time than as past, or now existing, or yet to exist; nor have we any idea of eternity but as that duration called by some aeternitas a parte ante, the eternity that was before time, and aeternitas a parte post, the endless duration that shall be when time is no more. That which Was, is the eternity before time; that which Is, is time itself; and that which Is to Come, is the eternity which shall be when time is no more.
The seven Spirits - before his throne - The ancient Jews, who represented the throne of God as the throne of an eastern monarch, supposed that there were seven ministering angels before this throne, as there were seven ministers attendant on the throne of a Persian monarch. We have an ample proof of this, Tobit 12:15: I am Raphael, one of the Seven Holy Angels which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. And in Jonathan ben Uzziel's Targum, on Genesis 11:7 : God said to the Seven Angels which stand before him, Come now, etc.
In Pirkey Eliezer, iv. and vii: "The angels which were first created minister before him without the veil." Sometimes they represent them as seven cohorts or troops of angels, under whom are thirty inferior orders.
That seven Angels are here meant, and not the Holy Spirit, is most evident from the place, the number, and the tradition. Those who imagine the Holy Ghost to be intended suppose the number seven is used to denote his manifold gifts and graces. That these seven spirits are angels, see Revelation 3:1; Revelation 4:5; and particularly Revelation 5:6, where they are called the seven spirits of God Sent Forth into All the Earth.
5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
The faithful witness - The true teacher, whose testimony is infallible, and whose sayings must all come to pass.
The first-begotten of the dead - See the note on Colossians 1:18.
The prince of the kings - Ὁ αρχων, The chief or head, of all earthly potentates; who has them all under his dominion and control, and can dispose of them as he will.
Unto him that loved us - This should begin a new verse, as it is the commencement of a new subject. Our salvation is attributed to the love of God, who gave his Son; and to the love of Christ, who died for us. See John 3:16.
Washed us from our sins - The redemption of the soul, with the remission of sins, and purification from unrighteousness, is here, as in all the New Testament, attributed to the blood of Christ shed on the cross for man.
6And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Kings and priests - See on 1 Peter 2:5 (note), 1 Peter 2:9 (note). But instead of βασιλεις και ἱερεις, kings and priests the most reputable MSS., versions, and fathers have βασιλειαν ἱερεις, a kingdom and priests; i.e. a kingdom of priests, or a royal priesthood. The regal and sacerdotal dignities are the two highest that can possibly exist among men; and these two are here mentioned to show the glorious prerogatives and state of the children of God.
To him be glory - That is, to Christ; for it is of him that the prophet speaks, and of none other.
For ever and ever - Εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων· To ages of ages; or rather, through all indefinite periods; through all time, and through eternity.
Amen - A word of affirmation and approbation; so it shall be, and so it ought to be.
7Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
Behold, he cometh with clouds - This relates to his coming to execute judgment on the enemies of his religion; perhaps to his coming to destroy Jerusalem, as he was to be particularly manifested to them that pierced him, which must mean the incredulous and rebellious Jews.
And all kindreds of the earth - Πασαι αἱ φυλαι της γης· All the tribes of the land. By this the Jewish people are most evidently intended, and therefore the whole verse may be understood as predicting the destruction of the Jews; and is a presumptive proof that the Apocalypse was written before the final overthrow of the Jewish state.
Even so, Amen - Ναι, αμην· Yea, Amen. It is true, so be it. Our Lord will come and execute judgment on the Jews and Gentiles. This the Jews and Romans particularly felt.
8I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
I am Alpha and Omega - I am from eternity to eternity. This mode of speech is borrowed from the Jews, who express the whole compass of things by א aleph and ת tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet; but as St. John was writing in Greek, he accommodates the whole to the Greek alphabet, of which Α alpha and Ω omega are the first and last letters. With the rabbins מא ועד ת meeleph vead tau, "from aleph to tau," expressed the whole of a matter, from the beginning to the end. So in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 17, 4: Adam transgressed the whole law from aleph to tau; i.e., from the beginning to the end.
Ibid., fol. 48, 4: Abraham observed the law, from aleph to tau; i.e., he kept it entirely, from beginning to end.
Ibid., fol. 128, 3: When the holy blessed God pronounced a blessing on the Israelites, he did it from aleph to tau; i.e., he did it perfectly.
The beginning and the ending - That is, as aleph or alpha is the beginning of the alphabet, so am I the author and cause of all things; as tau or omega is the end or last letter of the alphabet, so am I the end of all thinks, the destroyer as well as the establisher of all things. This clause is wanting in almost every MS. and version of importance. It appears to have been added first as an explanatory note, and in process of time crept into the text. Griesbach has left it out of the text. It is worthy of remark, that as the union of א aleph and ת tau in Hebrew make את eth, which the rabbins interpret of the first matter out of which all things were formed, (see on Genesis 1:1 (note)); so the union of Α alpha and Ω omega, in Greek, makes the verb αω, I breathe, and may very properly, in such a symbolical book, point out Him in whom we live, and move, and have our being; for, having formed man out of the dust of the earth, he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living soul; and it is by the inspiration or inbreathing of his Spirit that the souls of men are quickened, made alive from the dead, and fitted for life eternal. He adds also that he is the Almighty, the all-powerful framer of the universe, and the inspirer of men.
9I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Your brother - A Christian, begotten of God, and incorporated in the heavenly family.
Companion in tribulation - Suffering under the persecution in which you also suffer.
In the kingdom - For we are a kingdom of priests unto God.
And patience of Jesus - Meekly bearing all indignities, privations, and sufferings, for the sake and after the example of our Lord and Master.
The isle that is called Patmos - This island is one of the Sporades, and lies in the Aegean Sea, between the island of Icaria, and the promontory of Miletus. It is now called Pactino, Patmol, or Palmosa. It has derived all its celebrity from being the place to which St. John was banished by one of the Roman emperors; whether Domitian, Claudius, or Nero, is not agreed on, but it was most probably the latter. The island has a convent on a well fortified hill, dedicated to John the apostle; the inhabitants are said to amount to about three hundred men, and about twenty women to one man. It is very barren, producing very little grain, but abounding in partridges, quails, turtles, pigeons, snipes, and rabbits. It has many good harbours, and is much infested by pirates. Patmos, its capital and chief harbour, lies in east Long. 26 24', north Lat. 37 24'. The whole island is about thirty miles in circumference.
For the testimony of Jesus Christ - For preaching Christianity, and converting heathens to the Lord Jesus.
10I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
I was in the Spirit - That is, I received the Spirit of prophecy, and was under its influence when the first vision was exhibited.
The Lord's day - The first day of the week, observed as the Christian Sabbath, because on it Jesus Christ rose from the dead; therefore it was called the Lord's day, and has taken place of the Jewish Sabbath throughout the Christian world.
And heard behind me a great voice - This voice came unexpectedly and suddenly. He felt himself under the Divine afflatus; but did not know what scenes were to be represented.
As of a trumpet - This was calculated to call in every wandering thought, to fix his attention, and solemnize his whole frame. Thus God prepared Moses to receive the law. See Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:19, etc.
11Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and - This whole clause is wanting in ABC, thirty-one others; some editions; the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, Vulgate, Arethas, Andreas, and Primasius. Griesbach has left it out of the text.
Saying - What thou seest, write in a book - Carefully note down every thing that is represented to thee. John had the visions from heaven; but he described them in his own language and manner.
Send it unto the seven Churches - The names of which immediately follow. In Asia. This is wanting in the principal MSS. and versions. Griesbach has left it out of the text.
Ephesus - This was a city of Ionia, in Asia Minor, situated at the mouth of the river Cayster, on the shore of the Aegean Sea, about fifty miles south of Smyrna. See preface to the Epistle to the Ephesians.
Smyrna - Now called also Ismir, is the largest and richest city of Asia Minor. It is situated about one hundred and eighty-three miles west by south of Constantinople, on the shore of the Aegean Sea. It is supposed to contain about one hundred and forty thousand inhabitants, of whom there are from fifteen to twenty thousand Greeks, six thousand Armenians, five thousand Roman Catholics, one hundred and forty Protestants, eleven thousand Jews, and fifteen thousand Turks. It is a beautiful city, but often ravaged by the plague, and seldom two years together free from earthquakes. In 1758 the city was nearly desolated by the plague; scarcely a sufficient number of the inhabitants survived to gather in the fruits of the earth. In 1688 there was a terrible earthquake here, which overthrew a great number of houses; in one of the shocks, the rock on which the castle stood opened, swallowed up the castle and five thousand persons! On these accounts, nothing but the love of gain, so natural to man, could induce any person to make it his residence; though, in other respects, it can boast of many advantages. In this city the Turks have nineteen mosques; the Greeks, two churches; the Armenians, one; and the Jews, eight synagogues; and the English and Dutch factories have each a chaplain. Smyrna is one hundred miles north of the island of Rhodes, long. 27 25' E., lat. 38 28' N.
Pergamos - A town of Mysia, situated on the river Caicus. It was the royal residence of Eumenes, and the kings of the race of the Attali. It was anciently famous for its library, which contained, according to Plutarch, two hundred thousand volumes. It was here that the membranae Pergameniae, Pergamenian skins, were invented; from which we derive our word parchment. Pergamos was the birthplace of Galen; and in it P. Scipio died. It is now called Pergamo and Bergamo, and is situated in long. 27 0' E., lat. 39 13' N.
Thyatira - Now called Akissat and Ak-kissar, a city of Natolia, in Asia Minor, seated on the river Hermus, in a plain eighteen miles broad, and is about fifty miles from Pergamos; long. 27 49' E., lat. 38 16' N. The houses are chiefly built of earth, but the mosques are all of marble. Many remarkable ancient inscriptions have been discovered in this place.
Sardis - Now called Sardo and Sart, a town of Asia, in Natolia, about forty miles east from Smyrna. It is seated on the side of mount Tmolus, and was once the capital of the Lydian kings, and here Croesus reigned. It is now a poor, inconsiderable village. Long. 28 5' E., lat. 37 51' N.
Philadelphia - A city of Natolia, seated at the foot of mount Tmolus, by the river Cogamus. It was founded by Attalus Philadelphus, brother of Eumenes, from whom it derived its name. It is now called Alah-sheker, and is about forty miles ESE. of Smyrna. Long. 28 15' E., lat. 38 28' N.
Laodicea - A town of Phrygia, on the river Lycus; first called Diospolis, or the city of Jupiter. It was built by Antiochus Theos, and named after his consort Laodice. See the note on Colossians 2:1. And, for a very recent account of these seven Churches, see a letter from the Rev. Henry Lindsay, inserted at the end of Revelation 3.
12And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
And I turned For he had heard the voice behind him. To see the voice; i.e., the person from whom the voice came.
Seven golden candlesticks - Ἑπτα λυχνιας χρυσας· Seven golden lamps. It is absurd to say, a golden silver, or brazen candlestick. These seven lamps represented the seven Churches, in which the light of God was continually shining, and the love of God continually burning. And they are here represented as golden, to show how precious they were in the sight of God. This is a reference to the temple at Jerusalem, where there was a candlestick or chandelier of seven branches; or rather six branches; three springing out on either side, and one in the center. See Exodus 25:31-37. This reference to the temple seems to intimate that the temple of Jerusalem was a type of the whole Christian Church.
13And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
Like unto the Son of man - This seems a reference to Daniel 7:13. This was our blessed Lord himself, Revelation 1:18.
Clothed with a garment down to the foot - This is a description of the high priest, in his sacerdotal robes. See these described at large in the notes on Exodus 28:4, etc., Jesus is our high priest, even in heaven. He is still discharging the sacerdotal functions before the throne of God.
Golden girdle - The emblem both of regal and sacerdotal dignity.
14His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
His head and his hairs were white like wool - This was not only an emblem of his antiquity, but it was the evidence of his glory; for the whiteness or splendor of his head and hair doubtless proceeded from the rays of light and glory which encircled his head, and darted from it in all directions. The splendor around the head was termed by the Romans nimbus, and by us a glory; and was represented round the heads of gods, deified persons, and saints. It is used in the same way through almost all the nations of the earth.
His eyes were as a flame of fire - To denote his omniscience, and the all-penetrating nature of the Divine knowledge.
15And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
His feet like unto fine brass - An emblem of his stability and permanence, brass being considered the most durable of all metallic substances or compounds.
The original word, χαλκολιβανον, means the famous aurichalcum, or factitious metal, which, according to Suidas, was ειδος ηλεκτρου, τιμιωτερον χρυσου, "a kind of amber, more precious than gold." It seems to have been a composition of gold, silver, and brass, and the same with the Corinthian brass, so highly famed and valued; for when Lucius Mummius took and burnt the city of Corinth, many statues of these three metals, being melted, had run together, and formed the composition already mentioned, and which was held in as high estimation as gold. See Pliny, Hist. Nat., lib. 34, c. 2; Florus, lib. 2, c. 16. It may however mean no more than copper melted with lapis calaminaris, which converts it into brass; and the flame that proceeds from the metal during this operation is one of the most intensely and unsufferably vivid that can be imagined. I have often seen several furnaces employed in this operation, and the flames bursting up through the earth (for these furnaces are under ground) always called to remembrance this description given by St. John: His feet of fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; the propriety and accuracy of which none could doubt, and every one must feel who has viewed this most dazzling operation.
His voice as the sound of many waters - The same description we find in Ezekiel 43:2 : The glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east; and his voice was like the noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.
16And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
In his right hand seven stars - The stars are afterwards interpreted as representing the seven angels, messengers, or bishops of the seven Churches. Their being in the right hand of Christ shows that they are under his special care and most powerful protection. See below.
Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword - This is no doubt intended to point out the judgments about to be pronounced by Christ against the rebellious Jews and persecuting Romans; God's judgments were just now going to fall upon both. The sharp two-edged sword may represent the word of God in general, according to that saying of the apostle, Hebrews 4:12 : The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, etc. And the word of God is termed the sword of the Spirit, Ephesians 6:17.
And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength - His face was like the disk of the sun in the brightest summer's day, when there were no clouds to abate the splendor of his rays. A similar form of expression is found in Judges 5:31 : Let them that love him be as the sun when he Goeth Forth in His Might. And a similar description may be found, Midrash in Yalcut Simeoni, part I., fol. 55, 4: "When Moses and Aaron came and stood before Pharaoh, they appeared like the ministering angels; and their stature, like the cedars of Lebanon: - וגלגלי עיניהם דומים לגלגלי חמה vegalgilley eyneyhem domim legalgilley chammah, and the pupils of their eyes were like the wheels of the sun; and their beards were as the grape of the palm trees; וזיו פניהם כזיו חמה veziv peneyhem keziv chammah, and the Splendor of Their Faces was as the Splendor of the Sun."
17And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
I fell at his feet as dead - The appearance of the glory of the Lord had then same effect upon Ezekiel, Ezekiel 1:28 : and the appearance of Gabriel had the same effect on Daniel, Daniel 8:17. The terrible splendor of such majesty was more than the apostle could bear, and he fell down deprived of his senses, but was soon enabled to behold the vision by a communication of strength from our Lord's right hand.
18I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
I am he that liveth, and was dead - I am Jesus the Savior, who, though the fountain of life, have died for mankind; and being raised from the dead I shall die no more, the great sacrifice being consummated. And have the keys of death and the grave, so that I can destroy the living and raise the dead. The key here signifies the power and authority over life, death, and the grave. This is also a rabbinical form of speech. In the Jerusalem Targum, on Genesis 30:22, are these words: "There are four Keys in the hand of God which he never trusts to angel or seraph.
1. The key of the rain;
2. The key of provision;
3. The key of the grave; and
4. The key of the barren womb."
In Sanhedrin, fol. 113, 1, it is said: "When the son of the woman of Sarepta died, Elijah requested that to him might be given the key of the resurrection of the dead. They said to him, there are three Keys which are not given into the hand of the apostle, the key of life, the key of the rain, and the key of the resurrection of the dead." From these examples it is evident that we should understand ᾁδης, hades, here, not as hell, nor the place of separate spirits, but merely as the grave; and the key we find to be merely the emblem of power and authority. Christ can both save and destroy, can kill and make alive. Death is still under his dominion, and he can recall the dead whensoever he pleases. He is the resurrection and the life.
19Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
Write the things which thou hast seen - These visions and prophecies are for general instruction, and therefore every circumstance must be faithfully recorded. What he had seen was to be written; what he was about to see, relative to the seven Churches, must be also written; and what he was to see afterwards, concerning other Churches and states, to be recorded likewise.
20The 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 which thou sawest are the seven churches.
The mystery - That is, the allegorical explanation of the seven stars is the seven angels or ministers of the Churches; and the allegorical meaning of the seven golden lamps is the seven Churches themselves.
1. In the seven stars there may be an allusion to the seals of different offices under potentates, each of which had its own particular seal, which verified all instruments from that office; and as these seals were frequently set in rings which were worn on the fingers, there may be an allusion to those brilliants set in rings, and worn επι της δεξιας, Upon the right hand. In Jeremiah 22:24, Coniah is represented as a signet on the right hand of the Lord; and that such signets were in rings see Genesis 38:18, Genesis 38:25; Exodus 18:11; Daniel 6:17, Haggai 2:23. On close examination we shall find that all the symbols in this book have their foundation either in nature, fact, custom, or general opinion. One of the cutchery seals of the late Tippoo Saib, with which he stamped all the commissions of that office, lies now before me; it is cut on silver, in the Taaleck character, and the piece of silver is set in a large gold ring, heavy, but roughly manufactured.
2. The Churches are represented by these lamps; they hold the oil and the fire, and dispense the light. A lamp is not light in itself, it is only the instrument of dispensing light, and it must receive both oil and fire before it can dispense any; so no Church has in itself either grace or glory, it must receive all from Christ its head, else it can dispense neither light nor life.
3. The ministers of the Gospel are signets or seals of Jesus Christ; he uses them to stamp his truth, to accredit it, and give it currency. But as a seal can mark nothing of itself unless applied by a proper hand, so the ministers of Christ can do no good, seal no truth, impress no soul, unless the great owner condescend to use them.
4. How careful should the Church be that it have the oil and the light, that it continue to burn and send forth Divine knowledge! In vain does any Church pretend to be a Church of Christ if it dispense no light; if souls are not enlightened, quickened, and converted in it. If Jesus walk in it, its light will shine both clearly and strongly, and sinners will be converted unto him; and the members of that Church will be children of the light, and walk as children of the light and of the day, and there will be no occasion of stumbling in them.
5. How careful should the ministers of Christ be that they proclaim nothing as truth, and accredit nothing as truth, but what comes from their master!
They should also take heed lest, after having preached to others, themselves should be cast-aways; lest God should say unto them as he said of Coniah, As I live, saith the Lord, though Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, were the Signet Upon My Right Hand, yet would I pluck thee thence.
On the other hand, if they be faithful, their labor shall not be in vain, and their safety shall be great. He that toucheth them toucheth the apple of God's eye, and none shall be able to pluck them out of his hand. they are the angels and ambassadors of the Lord; their persons are sacred; they are the messengers of the Churches, and the glory of Christ. Should they lose their lives in the work, it will be only a speedier entrance into an eternal glory.
The rougher the way, the shorter their stay, The troubles that rise Shall gloriously hurry their souls to the skies.