THE first chapter of Revelation is an introduction to the entire book. The first three verses are a preface to the chapter, and the first verse is the key, not only to Revelation, but to every prophetic book in the Bible, showing how all prophecy is given. In this first verse is given the title of the book, the author of the prophecy, its object, the manner in which it came, and the agent of God in making known the history of future events.
It is "The Revelation of Jesus Christ." It is not the Revelation of John, as many seem to think; for then it would cease to be prophecy, and as a history, would rank no higher than the works of many other writers. John calls himself our "brother and companion in tribulation." It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, -- an unfolding of the life of the God-man. Jesus means Saviour. "Thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.” Jesus was the name given by the angel when he talked with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Christ means anointed: Jesus Christ is the anointed Saviour; prophets of old had foretold of His mission on earth, and named Him Emmanuel, “God with us."
To John, then, was laid open, or made manifest, the mystery of Emmanuel, the union of the divine and human, the Christ. The entire book of Revelation is an explanation of the divine life which God placed in the human mold, and gave to man for all eternity. "Divinity needed humanity; for it required both the divine and the human to bring salvation to the world. Divinity needed humanity, that humanity might afford a channel of communication between God and man." Humanity was lost without divinity. Salvation came by the union of the two in Christ. The union formed in Him will never be severed, for the church to which His teachings gave birth is a child of God, and the history of the church is the history of Emmanuel, -- the mystery of godliness. Adam was made in the image of God, and was a son of God; but in sin severed the tie, and the children of Adam were born in sin. But Christ, the second Adam, was the Son of God; and the church, the only begotten of Christ, partakes of the nature of the Father, and stands before the world to perpetuate His name, -- Emmanuel. This family name will never become extinct. "I [Paul] bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named."
The continued history of Emmanuel, as read in the life of the Christian Church, is what was revealed to John by the angel Gabriel, Christ's attendant, -- that member of the heavenly host whose duty it has long been to make known the mystery of God to His servants. God desires that man should comprehend the nature of His law and the manner of His working.
Near the close of the first century, Gabriel was bidden to open to the Prophet of Patmos the signs, or symbols, by which John might understand the history of the work of God in the earth. God reveals Himself to man in various ways. "Nature is the mirror of divinity;" the Word of God is His character in human language; Christ was that Word lived in human form, and the body of Christ -- the church -- has, in addition to these methods, the providences, or leadings, of the Spirit. Thus John "bare record of the Word of God," as written and as lived in Christ; and he bare record also "of the testimony of Jesus Christ," "which is the spirit of prophecy," and he likewise bare record of the signs which Gabriel presented to his vision, -- the "all things that he saw."
A heavenly benediction is pronounced upon him "that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy," and upon those who "keep those things which are written therein." It must needs be that the things written by John can be understood, else why the blessing that is here pronounced? Since the book is a revelation of Jesus Christ to the servants of the Most High, all who are His servants will study and understand the prophecy.
Every doctrine necessary for salvation was given in the revelation of Christ, and the book becomes a compendium of the whole Bible. The blessing pronounced upon the servants to whom it is sent, is an eternal blessing; "For thou blessest, O Lord, and it shall be blessed forever."
John, while on the island, away from the work with which he had been so long and so intimately associated, away from friends and companions, often let his mind wander to the scene of his former labors. As he looked toward the shores of Asia Minor, there came up before him the picture of the companies of believers who were standing for the truth in the midst of pagan darkness. He loved those followers of his Lord, and through him, Christ sent a message to each of "the seven churches which are in Asia." The Spirit used each of those churches to represent a period in the history of the work of God on earth, the seven covering the time from the life of John to the closing events in the history of the world.
There was a peculiar significance in the location of theses even churches. Asia Minor, or more particularly the western portion of the peninsula to which the term Asia is applied in Rev. 1:4, held in the spread of Christianity, a position corresponding to that which was occupied by Palestine in the history of the Jewish nation. When God wished to make the Hebrew race the leading government of earth, He chose, for the seat of that government, a position unrivaled by any other portion of the globe. Palestine was the highway between the South and the East and between the East and the West.
When the power of God passed from this nation to the Christian Church, Asia Minor became the center of activity and the base of operation. In those seacoast towns, and in Ephesus above all others, Jew and Gentile met on equal footing. Every nationality, --Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and dwellers in Mesopotamia, representing the far North and East, met in trade, with citizens of Rome, Egypt, and Cyrene, men from the South and the West. Into these busy marts the Christian faith penetrated, and from these centers, the knowledge of the Christ was spread to all the world.
Jehovah, the Great I AM, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the Father of us all, who meets us where we are, -- He, the Ever Present, breathed His blessing on the church called by the name of His Son. And from 'the seven spirits which are before His throne," and from Jesus Christ, the visible manifestation of that Spirit, came the greeting of grace and peace to the companies who should be known by the name of the Anointed.
Here is inscribed the name of the author of the Revelation. He, who to-day witnesses for us in the heavenly court, is the "faithful witness,' "the first begotten of the dead," "the prince of the kings of the earth;" and above all He is the one who "loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood." He, who on earth was the despised and rejected of men, was in truth the Prince of the kings of the earth. Again and again this same Christ had, by His providences, caused men to acknowledge the fact that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men."
No ruler on earth reigns independent of the Lord of heaven; for all power belongs unto God, and "the powers that be, are ordained of God." For this reason men are exhorted to pray for governors and kings, that there may be peace in the land.
Here is the position to which He calls us. He "hath made us kings," to sit on thrones and rule' "and priests" to minister "unto God and His Father." And yet, when on earth, He had said, "He that is greatest among you, let him be ... as he that doth serve." The joint-heirs with Christ rule while still on earth, but their authority here is by virtue of the "power of an endless life," and they are leaders, not in a physical sense, but in the spiritual realm. The scepter that they sway is not carnal and temporal, but eternal. The position is above earthly potentates, and the wonderful part of it is, that, in the world, which is in the hands of the prince of evil, Christ has a nation of kings and priests, -- a kingdom within a kingdom. "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
The eye of the prophet swept over the company and as he saw the power of the gospel, in ecstasy he exclaimed, "To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever." He saw, in one glance, the closing of earth's history, the coming of the Son of man with power and great glory. He saw, again, that angry crowd who gathered in the Garden of Gethsemane, and rudely bore away his Master; he saw the jeering company about the cross, and the soldier who pierced His side; but as he watches this time, he hears the bitter wail of those who rejected the Saviour of mankind. And, as he looked, he heard the words: "I am Alpha, the beginning, and Omega, the ending, 'the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.'" This expression, or its equivalent, occurs four times in this first chapter.
The Sabbath was a precious day to John, and it had been especially dear since that never to be forgotten Sabbath on which their Master rested in the tomb.
The preparation for that Sabbath was the bitter hours on Calvary; the day itself was one of utter loneliness; because the gospel of the resurrection was not comprehended. It should have been a day of joy; it was intended as such; and after the Saviour came from the grave, and the light of His countenance again rested upon His followers, they saw more clearly than ever before that the Sabbath was not only a reminder of Creation, but that it also commemorated redemption. It became the central truth in giving the life of Christ. To John on Patmos it was a day of holy joy. The Saviour came divinely near, and as John contemplated scenes in his own association with Christ, the Man of God, his heart warmed with praise. In imagination he stood by Jordan, and saw the baptism of the Holy Spirit: again he was on the Mount of Transfiguration; he saw the pained face of the Master as they sat around the table on that last night; an agony of feeling passed over him as he recalled the trial, the condemnation, and the death; but it was replaced by the joy of the resurrection, and the remembrance of those last words as the clouds caught Him from the sight of men. John's love for Christ was so strong that it seemed his Master must surely speak to him again. And he heard behind him a great voice as of a trumpet, and Christ, his own Christ, stood by his side. "I am the first, but I am also the last. 'I am Alpha and Omega.' Write what thou seest in a book and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia."
He spoke in trumpet tones, like the clearest music, and the voice was as the sound of many waters; but still, to John He was the same Jesus whom he had known in Galilee and in Jerusalem.
Not now despised, mocked, and rejected, but standing in the midst of the seven candlesticks, -- the churches, their light being the reflection of His own. He was clothed, not in the cast-off purple robe, but in a garment of righteousness of dazzling whiteness, and girt about the loins with the golden girdle of truth. The purity of God Himself encircled His brow with a halo of light, for His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow. The white hairs, which in old age are a crown of glory, even in the presence of sin and decay, are a token of salvation through a Saviour's love. The power of the life within shone through His eyes as a flame of fire, and the character is still further portrayed in the fact that His feet glowed like unto the most brilliant metal purified seven times. His footsteps were attended by light and heat, and His countenance shone above the brightness of the sun. The shining of our sun is a figure of the light of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. In human beings, the light of the eye betrays the inner life, and a man's "countenance doth witness against him." Thus in every detail of John's description is revealed the depth of spirituality, the power of the God of life.
Although this is a description of the personal appearance of Christ, it portrays His character as well. Those who continue to reveal God in the earth must, through the merits of Christ, manifest the same character as living epistles known and read of all men. The robe of His righteousness must cover the human frailties and imperfections; the truth of God must be the rule of life; cleansed by the blood of Christ, the sinner becomes as white as snow.
As He was made perfect through suffering, so the church will be purified by the fires of affliction; they will be brethren with John; "companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ."
He who spoke to John was the One who commanded, and worlds stood forth in space. Christ now stood beside John, and the prophet, looking upon His glory, fell at His feet as one dead. He had walked with Him and talked with Him, -- with this same man, Christ Jesus, -- when He was on earth. Head asked to sit by His side in His kingdom. The glory of His presence now overcame John, but Jesus laid His right hand on him, -- that hand which had so often rested there before, and in a voice which John recognized as the same with which the Master spoke to the stormy waves of Galilee,
He said, "Be not afraid, 'I am He that liveth and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore.'
You saw me in the grave, but I now have the keys of hell and of death." And so the message which John was commanded to give unto the churches is a message of triumph over sin, over death and the grave. It is the victory of truth over error.
Christ appeared, walking in the midst of the candlesticks, which symbolize the churches; and He held in His hand the seven stars or angels, which direct the work of the churches, and which are light-bearers from His throne to those who represent the work of heaven on earth. God looks upon the Christian Church as He looked upon Christ in the days of His sojourn on earth. As He was attended by an angel, so the church is guided by the Spirit of God, and by the testimony of that Spirit. In days of triumph, the angel attendants sing the song which filled the plains of Bethlehem on the night of the birth of Jesus: in days of persecution, trials, and despondency, angels lift the weary heads, as Gabriel ministered to Christ in the wilderness and in Gethsemane. The church completes the work begun by Christ in the flesh. His life studied will give the history of the church. His life as recorded in the Revelation of Jesus Christ is but a further unfolding of that same mystery of the incarnation, -- the Emmanuel. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein."
Page 28; Rev. 1:1; Co. 2:9; John 1:14; 1Tim. 2:5; John 14:11; Matt. 1:21; John 1:41 [margin.]; Dan. 9:26; Matt. 1:23.
Page 29; 1Tim. 3:16; 2Cor. 5:19, 20; Luke 19:10; Eph. 2:15, 16; Eph. 3:10, 11; Gen. 1:27; 1Cor. 15:45; Eph. 3:11-17; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 3:14, 15; Rev. 1:2; Dan. 10:21; Dan. 8:16; Hos. 8:12.
Page 30; Deut. 29:29; Hos. 12:10; Num. 12:6-8; John 1:14; Heb. 4:12-15; John 15:10; John 16:7, 8; Rev. 19:10; 1John 2:20, 27; Prov. 2:3-5; Rev. 1:3.
Page 31; 2Tim. 3:15, 16; John 5:39; 1Chron. 17:27; Psa. 31:20; Jer. 15:1518; Deut. 33:3; Rev. 1:4, 5; Rev. 12:17; Psa. 48:2; Psa. 50:2.
Page 32; Lam. 2:15; Acts 19:8-10; Acts 19:18-20; Acts 2:5-11; Matt. 28:19, 20; Ex. 3:2-6; Ex. 3:14; John 20:22; 1Cor. 1:3; 2Cor. 1:2; 2Cor. 13:14; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1Thess. 1:1; 2Thess. 1:2; 1Tim. 1:2; 2Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; Phil. 1:3; Isa. 53:3.
Page 33; Dan. 4:17; Psa. 44:5-8; Psa. 33:6, 7; Psa. 75:5-7; 1Sam. 2:10; 1Sam. 14:6; Jer. 46:16-20; Rom. 13:1; Rev. 1:6; Rev. 1:19; Rev. 1:7, 8.
Page 34; 2Cor. 10:4; Heb. 7:16; Col. 1:12, 13; Eph. 5:32; Jude 25; 2Pet. 3:10; Mark 14:39; Luke 22:32; Luke 22:47, 48; John 19:34; Luke 23:27, 28; Rev. 1:8, 11, 17, 18; Eze. 20:20.
Page 35; Luke 23:54-56; Isa. 58:13; Rev. 1:9-11; Col. 1:14-16; John 13:21-25; Luke 3:21, 22; Matt. 17:1-3; Acts 1:8-11; Sol. Song 2:14; Rev. 1:10; Eze. 42:2; Eze. 1:24; Rev. 19:5, 6.
Page 36; Rev. 1:12-14; Prov. 19:31; Dan. 7:9; Rev. 1:15, 16; Eze. 1:7; Matt. 17:2; Acts 26:13-15; 1Pet. 1:7; Psa. 4:6; Psa. 89:15; Luke 9:29; Prov. 15:30; Matt. 6:22.
Page 37; Isa. 3:9; Col. 2:6; 2Cor. 5:20; 1Pet. 2:21; 2Cor. 3:1, 2; Isa. 6:10; Rev. 19:8; Jas. 2:12; 1John 1:7; Isa. 1:18, 19; Heb. 10:35; Rev. 1:9; Prov. 16:31; Psa. 33:6-9; Rev. 1:17, 18.
Page 38; Rev. 1:19, 20; Mal. 2:7; Zeph. 3:17; Heb. 2:12; Zech. 2:5; Acts 2:17; Luke 15:10; Luke 2:7-14; Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43; Eph. 2:19-21; Col. 1:28, 29; 1Cor. 3:3, 15, 16; Rev. 1:3.