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The Revelation of Jesus Christ 

Angels often appear in Scripture as the media of revelation, not only directly when they proclaim the Word of God, as at the incarnation and at the resurrection of the Lord, but also indirectly. We know that the law of Sinai was given by the disposition of angels, Acts 7:53, and that it was ordained by angels in the hand of Moses, Gal. 3:19. And that in some such capacity an angel also mediated in the communication of this revelation to John is reaffirmed in Rev. 22:6. Somehow, therefore, an angel was employed as agent to bring the visions of this book before the eye of the seer. 

This seer is simply called “his servant John.” As was stated before, we believe that this was John, the apostle, although this is often disputed. We do not consider the question of importance for the interpretation of this book. Of many parts of Holy Scripture we do not know the human authors. But it seems to us, apart from all other considerations, that in the light of Scripture there can be no doubt that this “servant John” is the apostle of that name. Who else could thus designate himself without further qualifications and expect that his readers would know who was meant? Surely, one that is acquainted with Scripture can think of no other. That he is not called “the apostle of Jesus Christ” in this passage does not alter the matter. In his first epistle the apostle John does not introduce himself at all, while in his second and third letters he merely calls himself “the elder.” Besides, even Paul does not always introduce himself in his epistles as “the apostle” (cf. I Thess. 1:1II Thess. 1:1;Phil. 1:1), and also designates himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1Titus 1:1). And on the isle of Patmos, as the recipient of this revelation of Jesus Christ, John is not so much an apostle (one that is sent) as simply the servant of Christ. Although, therefore, we consider the question one of minor importance, we hold that this “servant John” is none other than the apostle “whom Jesus loved,” especially on the ground that there was no one that was so well known as the apostle, that he could afford to announce himself simply as “his servant John,” or “John” (vs. 4), or “I John” (vs. 9). 

Through John, therefore, this revelation of Jesus Christ is given to the Church, “the servants” of Christ. For he “bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” These words if taken by themselves might refer to John’s work and calling as an apostle in general. Always it was his calling to witness of the Word of God and of the testimony of Jesus. Yet, it is more natural to interpret them as referring to his recording the specific Word of God and testimony of Jesus in this book. And this is certainly demanded by the last part of this second verse: “all things that he saw.” “The testimony of Jesus Christ” may be understood either in the objective sense (the testimony concerning Jesus Christ), or in the subjective sense (the testimony by Jesus Christ). In the light of the context the former is to be considered as the correct interpretation. It was Jesus Christ who received this revelation from God, and who communicated it to, John. He, therefore, is the prime witness of it. He it is that bears testimony concerning this revelation, which the Word of God. And in vs. 5 He is called “the faithful witness.” Of this Word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ John bare record. The original word for “bare record” does not in itself signify the act of recording the visions in a book. It merely means “testified.” We know, however, that John was commissioned to write them in a book, vs. 19, and that, therefore, this is the form in which he communicated the things he saw to the churches. 

Finally, the book of Revelation is commended to the recipients by the promise of a blessing: “Blessed is he that readeth, and are they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein: for the time is at hand.” The blessing here spoken of, no doubt, in the ultimate sense of the word is the inheritance of the glory of the eternal kingdom in the day of Jesus Christ, the “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away,” that is reserved in heaven for the believers, “the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” I Pet. 1:4, 5. It is the blessedness of the New Jerusalem, coming clown from God out of heaven, of the new creation, wherein righteousness shall dwell and where the tabernacle of God will be with men forever. To this ultimate state of blessedness the whole book of Revelation looks forward. Yet, this does not necessarily exclude a blessing for the present time. On the contrary, it rather includes such a present blessing for them that receive and keep the words of this prophecy. As long as we contemplate the things of this present time, the things that come to pass in this world, from a mere earthly, human, historic viewpoint, there is nothing but darkness and hopeless misery. For “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” is true of the whole of present existence. And we lie in the midst of death. There is no way out. In spite of the optimistic outlook and predictions of the prophets and leaders of this world, things grow more hopeless as time goes on. And serious men of the world begin to ask the question anxiously, whether our whole civilization will not totter into ruins. The world is not improving though it is, developing in a cultural sense. It is plainly getting worse. In times like the present we are strongly reminded of this, not because we are witnesses the horrors of merely another war, but because every war is worse than the former, and this in the face of all mere humanitarian efforts to establish a lasting peace. Besides, the people of God also partake of the “sufferings of this present time,” and when they are faithful and keep the “word of Christ’s patience” they will be called upon also to suffer with Him. But “blessed are they that hear and keep the words of this prophecy” even now, even in the midst of this present darkness and death and hopelessness. For, if we may look at these same things in the light of this “revelation of Jesus Christ,” and live in the expectation of His coming, there is peace, and hope, and joy. Then we will be of good cheer, for we know that He has overcome the world!

This blessing is not for all, however. It is not general but particular, as are all the promises of God: God’s blessing is upon His people. His mercy is upon them that fear Him. Hence, this blessing is for him “that readeth,” and for them “that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein.” The words “he that readeth, and they that hear” probably refer to the public reader of this book in the church and the listening congregation. We may thus paraphrase them according to their true meaning: “all that receive and understand the words of this prophecy.” But this is not sufficient. The mere hearing and natural understanding of this prophecy do not yield for us the promised blessing. We must also keep the things that are written therein. This surely signifies that’ we hear spiritually and receive the word of this prophecy in our heart. But it also signifies more. To keep the Word of God also means to obey it, to be doers’ of the Word. This is also applicable to this last book of Scripture in general, and to many of its special exhortations in particular. Always we are exhorted to keep the word of Christ’s patience, to deny ourselves, to separate ourselves from Babylon, to be faithful unto death, to hold fast that which we have, that no one take our crown, to consider it grace in the cause of Christ, not only that we may believe on Him, but also that we may suffer with Him. These things we must keep! If we seek the things that are below and try to serve God and mammon, if we receive the mark of the beast on our right hand or forehead, we certainly are excluded from this blessing. He that is seeking to save his life shall surely lose it, but he that is willing to lose it for Christ’s sake, shall save it unto life eternal! His is the promise and the blessing, now and forever! 

The matter is urgent, and the promise is about to be realized! 

For, “the time is at hand!” 

CHAPTER II Salutation and BlessingRev. 1:4-8

Most of the epistles of the New Testament begin with a salutation of the writer to the readers, a salutation that always assumes the form of a benediction. Such blessings or salutations are not mere pious wishes, but they are the Word of God in Christ actually blessing the people of God that hear and believe them. The blessings they express and confer on them that so receive them by faith are always spiritual blessings of grace. They are merited by Christ and bestowed by Him, or rather by the triune God through Christ, by His, Spirit upon the Church. This is also true of the book of Revelation. The passage we hope to discuss in this chapter may be considered John’s dedication of or introduction to the entire book. By it the book of Revelation is addressed to the “seven churches which are in Asia.” About these we shall have something to say in a later connection. Further, our passage contains a most significant salutation or blessing in vss. 4 and 5a; an ascription of praise by the Church to Christ in vss. 5b and 6; and, finally, a solemn assurance of Christ’s coming, corroborated by a direct Word of the Lord, designating Himself as the Alpha and Omega, the Almighty. These three elements will be the subject material of the present chapter. 

The blessing is expressed in the following words: “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; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first-begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.” The contents of this blessing are “grace and peace.” Grace, as we know, has a variety of connotations in Scripture. It may refer to a virtue of God: God is gracious. Or it may signify and attitude God assumes toward the creature, an attitude of favor; or more specifically it may denote that same attitude of favor with respect to the guilty sinner, so that for him it is favor that is forfeited. This last attitude of God is based upon the righteousness of Christ attained through His perfect obedience even unto the death of the cross.” But the word grace also frequently denotes a power, an operation of the Spirit of Christ within the elect whereby they become partakers of all the benefits of salvation, and the fruits of this operation or blessings of salvation themselves. It is in this last sense that the word is used in this passage, so that we may paraphrase the meaning as follows: “may God through Christ by the Spirit operate with His grace in your hearts, so that the gifts of grace, the benefits of salvation may become yours.” Of this grace the Church is continually in need. For, grace is not a blessing that is bestowed upon the believers once for all, so that having received it they possess it in themselves. On the contrary, they live only through a constant influx of grace, that blesses them as an ever refreshing stream out of God, through Christ, in the fellowship of the Spirit. And on their part, they receive this grace of God by faith and through prayer. One of the chief and first fruits of this grace is peace. Peace is peace with God. It always is: Apart from peace with God there is no peace. This is the fundamental reason why the quest of the ungodly world, outside of Christ, for peace on earth, is a vain dream that must ever end in a cruel awakening in the reality of a world of war and unrest. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Isa. 57:21. But “being justified out of faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”Rom. 5:1. This peace is, first of all the blessed tranquility of heart and mind that results from the consciousness that God is at peace with us, because our sins are blotted out and we are justified. And secondly, it is also the experience that in principle there is peace in our heart toward God: we are no longer motivated by enmity against Him. And, therefore, they that have this peace are also at peace with one another; they are peacemakers. And, finally, having peace with God, they have peace with all things, for they know that if God is for them, nothing can be against them: “all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to his purpose.”Rom. 8:28. This peace, then, is not another blessing in addition to grace, but is the fruit of the latter. It is the peace of grace. 

What a wonderful blessing is here pronounced upon the seven churches of Asia, and upon the entire church in the world! For, the church of all ages is represented by the seven churches in the book of Revelation. To realize the full significance of this benediction we must bear in mind that, according to the viewpoint of this book of Scripture, the church in the world is always in tribulation. With the church in tribulation we must take our stand. She is in the world. And that world is in darkness. The world in the book of Revelation is not a world improved and enabled by “common grace,” a tolerably good place for the church to live in; but it is the world under judgment, whose condemnation is an accomplished fact. John 12:31Col. 2:15. It is the anti-Christian world, that sets itself against God and His Christ, persecutes His people and always would force them to adopt the mark of the beast. It is the world of the wicked, that “are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” Isa. 57:20; the world as it is full of malice and envy, strife and war and bloodshed, of terror and destruction, as we see it today, now the very foundations are shaken and the proud structure of modern civilization threatens to tumble about our heads into ruins! In that world this blessed word of God in Christ is heard and realized: “Grace be unto you, and peace!” 

Is it possible that the church in the world may really posses this peace? Indeed, it is; and the elaborate and detailed description of the source whence this peace of grace is derived, is designed to assure us of the reality of it. The author might simply have written: “Grace unto you and peace, from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” But he would assure us of the absolute certainty of this blessing. Hence, he writes: “from him which is, and which was, and, which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.” 

The words: “who is, and who was, and who is to come” refer to God, the Triune. The threefold description of the author of the blessing of grace and peace must not be interpreted as if the first part (“which is, and which was, and which is to come”) refers to the first person of the holy Trinity, the last part (“and from Jesus Christ,” etc.) to the second person, and the second part (“and from the seven Spirits,” etc.) denotes the third person. For, although it is, of course, true that Jesus Christ is the very Son of God according to His divine nature, yet here He does not appear as such, but as the Mediator; and although, as we shall see presently, “the seven Spirits, which are before his throne” certainly are the Holy Spirit of God, He does not appear here as the third person of the holy Trinity, but as the Spirit of Christ. Hence, the first part, “which is, and which was, and which is to come” does not refer to the Father as the first person, but to God, the Triune, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is revealed here as the One “which is.” This has all the emphasis, as is especially evident from the form used in the original (ho noon). It denotes God, not as existing in the present, but as the absolute being, the one who eternally is, the self-existent, the uncaused, the ground of whose being is in Himself alone, in Whom there is no change nor shadow of turning. The reference is probably to His name Jehovah. But this eternal God, whose being cannot be measured or limited by time, revealed Himself in time. To this revelation of Himself in time refer the other two expressions: “who was” and “who is to come” or “the coming one” (ho erchomenos). He was, He did come in the past. He came in creation, and, in the fullness of time, He came in Christ. He is the same God that made all things in the beginning and that revealed Himself in His Son. And when He created all things, He did so with a view to His coming in Christ. All His works are known to Him from the beginning. They all are and develop according to His determinate counsel. According to that counsel He is coming, always coming, coming ever since He first came in the beginning; and still He is the coming one, coming to us as the God of our salvation, and He will not cease to come until He is eternally present with us and His tabernacle shall be with men. This cannot fail. Whatever powers of darkness may rise against Him, the eternal one is coming in Christ Jesus our Lord. And it is He that causes His Word of blessing to proceed to His Church: “Grace be unto you, and peace!” Surely, in spite of all hell this peace is ours!

But, you say, how can this peace from the eternal God be our possession even now? The answer is that it is instilled into our hearts by “the seven Spirits, which are before his throne.” These seven spirits must not be degraded into created spirits or angels, as is done by some, nor abstractly generalized into “seven modes” of God’s existence, as others would explain the words. Let it suffice to object against these and similar interpretations that these “seven spirits” are here presented to us as belonging, to the source of the blessings of grace and peace, and that, therefore, they are divine and denote a personal agent. They certainly refer to the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the blessed Trinity. And yet, we must say more than this. The term does not denote the Holy Spirit as He is in God. Why should He be called “the seven spirits?” The Holy Spirit in the Trinity is one. And why should it be said of these seven spirits that they are “before his throne?” The Holy Spirit as third Person of the holy Trinity is very God, co-equal with the Father and with the Son. He is not “before the throne” of God, but on the throne, the sovereign ruler of heaven and earth. The words, therefore, must be applied to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the exalted Christ and as He is poured out into the Church to make us partakers of the covenant blessings of grace and salvation. We must remember, that our Lord Jesus Christ, who was humiliated and obediently humbled Himself even to the death of the cross, and who by His perfect obedience obtained for us eternal righteousness and life, was raised from the dead, and by the power of God was made exceedingly great and glorious, being exalted to the right hand of the majesty in heaven. That glorious Lord and Mediator also, receives from the Father the power to apply all the blessings of salvation He merited to those whom the Father gave Him before the foundations of the world. This saving power He possesses through the Spirit that is given Him as, mediator and head of the Church at His exaltation, and whom He poured forth into the Church, that He may dwell in her forever. For, He the Lord Jesus Christ “being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the O Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” Acts 2:33. This Spirit is “the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you.” John 14:17. He is the Comforter, through whom the Lord Himself came again to His Church, and who abides with us forever,John 14:16, 18. He is the “Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” and the Spirit that “beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Rom. 8:15, 16. He is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, by whom we are liberated from the law of sin and death. Rom. 8:2. He is the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead, and who will also quicken our mortal bodies by that same Spirit. Rom. 8:11. He is called “the seven Spirits” for the number seven denotes the fullness of God’s covenant grace, and the fullness of the Church in which He dwells is also indicated by the same number. For, there are seven churches in Asia, and there are seven candlesticks and seven stars. Rev. 1:11, 12, 16, 20. And the Lamb; whose Spirit He is, has seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God. Rev. 5:6. He, the exalted Christ, is said to have the seven Spirits of God. Rev. 3:1. And these seven Spirits, or the Spirit of Christ as He dwells in the Church with His sevenfold fullness of life and grace, are “before the throne” as “seven lamps of fire burning” to the glory of God. Rev. 4:5. And before the throne is the Church, serving God day and night in His temple, and He that sitteth on the throne dwells among them. Rev. 7:15. There can be no question, therefore, that “the seven Spirits, which are before his throne” refers to the Holy Spirit as He is given to the exalted Christ and poured out into the Church. And it is that Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of life and of truth, the Spirit of adoption and of the fullness of His sevenfold grace, the Spirit that is given us dwells in us, never leaves us, who is the divine agent of this blessing of grace and peace. Can there be any doubt that this peace is and forever will remain ours? 

Again, you may probably complain that you are wholly unworthy of this blessing, and that, therefore, you cannot apprehend this word of benediction as addressed to you personally. You lie in the midst of death, and sin cleaves to you and marks your every step on the way you walk. How then, can this divine grace and peace be intended for you? But the text removes also this objection, when it fastens the eye of faith upon Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-begotten of the dead, prince of the kings of the earth. He is the faithful witness. Witness He is, for as the servant of Jehovah, He is God’s prophet, who always bears testimony of the truth of God. He did so during His sojourn on earth, for as He spoke before Pilate: “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” John 18:37. He still does so in the Church, for it is He that gave us the Scriptures, and that leads us into all the truth by His Spirit. And He is the Witness also in this book, whose Word is quite sufficient for your faith to trust in, when He says: “Grace to you and peace.” For, He is the faithful witness. For His doctrine is not His, but the Father’s which sent Him.John 7:16; and He speaks that which He has seen with His Father. John 8:38. He always acts and speaks in harmony with His position as witness of God, for He does nothing of Himself, but as His Father hath taught Him, He speaks in the world. John 8:28. The Lord God hath opened His ear, and given Him the tongue of the learned, that He should know how to speak a word in season. Isa. 50:4, 5. And no matter what men may do unto Him, though they smite Him and pluck out His beard in their fury, and cover Him with shame and reproach, He never changes His testimony and does not compromise the truth. Isa. 50:5, 6. He was faithful unto death, even the death of the cross. In life and in death you may rely on His Word: “Grace and peace unto you.” 

And He is the first begotten of the dead! Let this especially be the object of your contemplation, the ground of your assurance: Jesus Christ is the first begotten of the dead! The resurrection, but then emphatically the resurrection of Jesus Christ, should be the ground of your hope, the object of that faith that fills you with joy and peace. Peace, if ever it is to be ours, cannot be of this world: it must come from the other side of death. Here we lie in the midst of death. How, then, can we have peace? But hark! this voice that speaks of grace and peace is not of this world. It does not sound from somewhere among the deep death shadows in which here we grope and find no way out. It is the resurrection voice! He that speaks stands at the other side of death and the grave as the risen one! That means that He was dead and is alive again and lives forevermore. He is alive with a new life, a glorious, a victorious life. 

H.H.