In the first place, we may call attention to the fact, that the expression “revelation of Jesus Christ” usually, if not always, has this sense in Scripture. In I Cor. 1:7 we read: “So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (R.V. The authorized version has erroneously “coming” of our Lord Jesus Christ). It is evident that the meaning here is: “waiting for the day when our Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed.” The genitive, therefore, is objective. The same is true of the expression in II Thess. 1:7: “At the revelation of the Lord Jesus.” (R.V.). The authorized version gives the sense correctly: “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed.” And s again the same expression, and in the same sense, i.e., with reference to the second coming. of the Lord, occurs in I Pet. 1:7: “unto praise and honor and glory at the revelation (the authorized version has “appearing”) of Jesus Christ.” And even inII Cor. 12:1, where the expression is somewhat different in form (the plural “revelations” is used) the objective sense is by no means impossible. And this is the meaning of the genitive in similar expressions such as “the revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” Rom. 2:15; “the revelation of the sons of God” Rom. 8:19; “the revelation of the mystery,” Rom. 16:25. In all these instances the genitive can only be understood in the objective sense. The analogy of Scripture, then, is decidedly in favor of the view that also in Rev. 1:1 the expression “revelation of Jesus Christ” must be understood as indicating that in this last book of Scripture Jesus Christ is the One that is revealed. In the second place, not Christ, but God is the Author of all revelation, even though this revelation takes place through Jesus Christ and is concentrated in Him. God is the revealer; Christ is God revealed unto us. In fact, this is even plainly stated in the words of our text: God gave this revelation unto Christ. And, in the third place, this is exactly what we have in this book: a revelation that reveals Jesus Christ to us. The revelation of Jesus Christ is the central and all important theme of this prophecy. For all these reasons, then, we understand the phrase “revelation of Jesus Christ.” in the objective sense.
Now, this is of importance with a view to the proper interpretation of the book of revelation. We should constantly bear in mind that this prophecy purposes to be a revelation of Jesus Christ. It may be said, of course, that all Scripture is a revelation of the Lord. He it is that is revealed in the protevangel of Gen. 3:15. And all through the Old Testament, in direct prophecies as well as in types and shadows, the revelation of Jesus Christ is the main theme. Centrally we have the revelation of Jesus Christ in the fullness of time; in His incarnation, public ministry, word and work, death and resurrection, ascension and exaltation at the right hand of God the revelation of Jesus Christ, to which all the prophets and shadows of the old dispensation pointed forward, is become an accomplished fact. And it is that accomplished revelation that is interpreted to us by the Spirit of Christ through the authors of the New Testament Scriptures. And yet, the revelation of Jesus Christ is not finished. He appeared from heaven, came in the flesh, died and rose and departed again to the Father. We saw Him for a while, but we see Him no more. He dwelled among us, performed His work upon the stage of this world, but He disappeared again without changing the stage on which He was revealed and accomplished His work. Although He is with us now by His grace and Spirit, yet He is hid from us. His revelation, therefore, is not finished. For, in this world we see Him not. And yet, even now, even throughout this, dispensation He is operating in this world of our present experience. For, He has all power in heaven and on earth, He is even now King of kings and Lord of lords, and He controls all things and governs them unto the perfection of His Church and His final appearance in glory. Then, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when He shall be revealed in glory never to be hid again, when He shall appear never to disappear again, shall His revelation be perfected. Of this final revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ and all that is connected with it, all that leads up to it in this dispensation, this last prophecy of Holy Writ speaks. That is its theme. How the Lord is related to the things that come to pass throughout this dispensation, how through them He is coming all the time, and how He will ultimately come in all the glory the Father hath given unto Him, is disclosed to us in this “revelation of Jesus Christ.” This we must remember in our interpretation of the book. It would show us the things that must come to pass in a new light. We can only perceive them from an earthly viewpoint, as mere “history.” And from this viewpoint the picture is rather a gloomy and hopeless one. We see wars and hear of more wars, widening ever in scope and increasing in intensity; we see vanity and death, earthquakes and destruction, a creature that is subject to vanity. But this last book of Scripture would show us these same things in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. We are asked to look at the history of this dispensation as it were from above. Bearing this in mind we will not approach this book with the purpose of satisfying our idle curiosity, to inquire just what may be the course of events in the history of this world. Why should we be anxious to know the future course of worldly events? What consolation would there be in such knowledge? Did not the Lord teach us that we should take no thought even for tomorrow? Nay, but we shall approach the book of Revelation in the expectation that it will instruct us with respect to the, significance of this present history in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and that it will give us an answer to the question: how must all things lead to the final revelation of our Lord in glory? And if we succeed in thus interpreting the book that “we see Jesus” in all the events of this present time, we shall not fail to receive the blessing that is promised to them that read and hear the words of this prophecy!
In the light of the foregoing it will also be possible correctly to understand the text when it informs us, that God gave this revelation to Jesus Christ in order to “show unto his servants the things which must shortly come to pass. “To show” these things does not merely mean to lift the veil that hides the future from our view. If this were the meaning, the book of Revelation would really present us with a history of this entire dispensation written beforehand. We would then be able to trace the fulfillment of this prophecy step by step in the consecutive events of this present time more or less accurately, and to determine approximately if not exactly what time it is on the world-clock. It would follow that we would also be in a position to predict “the day and the hour” of the coming of the Lord. This view really underlies the church-historical method of interpretation of this book. The various visions of this book are directly applied to certain definite historical events that are supposed to be clearly predicted here. The very fact, however, that interpreters of this class differ widely in their choice of the events to which these visions are supposed to refer, is sufficient to condemn this method. Besides, as we said before, it is not necessary for the believer thus to be able to foretell the future. To be sure, the book of Revelation shows us in general outlines what will be the course of events in this dispensation with a view to the coining of the Lord and the perfection of His kingdom, but not in the sense that this prophecy is a history written before hand. “To show” the things that must shortly come to pass means to reveal them to us in a new light, in their real significance, as a part of God’s own program, as a revelation of the coming Lord! We must “see Jesus” even in the events of the present world. We must have sufficient light to “hold fast that which we have,” even in the midst of the confusion and darkness and gloom of the picture presented by the history of the world, and of the church in the world. To enable us to see the events of this present time in the light of Christ’s coming, that is the purpose of this book. Hence, the things that must shortly come to pass must be shown to Christ’s servants. By the term “servants” is meant, not a special class or group of believers, such as the apostles; but all the believers in their relation to. Christ as their Lord, They are His servants. They were liberated from the dominion of sin and the slavery of the devil in order to serve Christ with a new obedience. His Spirit dwells in them. In Him they are new creatures. His Word they possess and love. They are His friends, because they do whatsoever He commanded them. And let us note that only His servants can receive the words of this prophecy, and that they alone have need of them. Nay more, it is only in the measure that we are faithful to the Lord in the midst of the present world and walk as His servants, that the light of this revelation of Jesus Christ can possibly brighten our pathway. Then, indeed, we shall have tribulation. For, as they have hated Him, so they will hate His servants. And the servant is not greater than his Lord. Then the things that are below and the events of this present time shall have no comfort for us, until we see all things in the light of this prophecy. But seeing them in this light, we shall be of good cheer, being confident that our Lord hath overcome the world!
Two details we must still consider in connection with these things that come to pass: they must come to pass; and they will come to pass shortly. It is good for us to know, as we look about us in the world, that the things that take place must come to pass. This must expresses the necessity of all the events of this present time from a twofold aspect. First of all it points us to the eternal and perfect and all-wise counsel of the Almighty as the ultimate reason and ground of this necessity. All things are but the unfolding of the eternal good pleasure of the Most High. They are, indeed, determined. All things are determined, large and small, good and evil. But they are determined not by cruel fate or blind force, but by the counsel of the all-wise Creator of all things. When we accept the Word of God and believe that all things <must come to pass, our hearts find rest, because they find rest in Him! And, secondly, thismust points to the end, the telos, the final destination of all things, the perfected kingdom of heaven and its revelation in the day of Christ. This second aspect of the must is, of course, inseparably connected with the first. Just because all things have their ultimate reason and necessity in the counsel of God, therefore they must come to pass in order to realize the divine end of all things: the tabernacle of God with men! We may express the same thought thus: all things come to pass because Christ is coming! What a glorious assurance of hope even in the darkest moments of history! Let us declare this truth as His witnesses in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation!
And these things must come to pass shortly. This expression cannot be used to sustain the view that practically the entire contents of the book of Revelation must be considered as being fulfilled with the destruction of the Roman empire. For the idea that all things that must become history before the final coming again of the Lord will be realized shortly is not at all foreign to the New Testament. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand,” the apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome. Rom. 13:12. And the apostle. Peter exhorts us: “But the end of all things is at hand: be, ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer.” I Pet. 4:7. To the church of Philadelphia the Lord Himself declares: “‘Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no one take thy crown.” Rev. 3:11. And again in Rev. 22:1 we read: “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book;” and in vs. 12 of the same chapter: “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” In the last three passages the word translated “quickly” is the same as that which is rendered “shortly” in 1:1. And this is, indeed, the meaning. The Lord comes quickly. He does not tarry. He is not slack concerning the promise. And this implies that the things which must come to pass before that final coming and in the process of that coming must also come to pass shortly or quickly. This may not appear so to us. Centuries have elapsed since these words were written, and still they have not been fulfilled. Nineteen centuries to us seems a long time, hardly to be denoted by the term “shortly.” But we must remember, not only that God’s measure of time differs from ours, but also that tremendous things must come to pass before the end shall be. The whole church must be gathered, the fullness of the Gentiles and of the Jews; the measure of iniquity must be filled; Antichrist must reach his culmination and have his day; God and Magog must play their own part in the things that must come to pass. If we consider the nature of the things that must come to pass, we begin to see that they do, indeed, occur with astounding rapidity, especially in our own day. However this may be, the Scriptures teach that all things come to pass quickly; there is no delay; so that also the view that God restrains the progress of sin is contrary to this Scriptural teaching. All things hasten unto the end!
This revelation, then, of which Jesus Christ Himself is the object, God gave unto Him, the text informs us. Of all revelation, and therefore also of this part of it, God is the sole author. We must think here, of course, of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and not merely of the Father as the first person of the Holy Trinity. We must make a distinction, therefore, between God and Christ as the Mediator in His human nature. Scripture, although clearly teaching that Christ is the eternal Son of God, very God, equal with the Father and the Holy Ghost, nevertheless makes this distinction. This is very evident from those passages that speak of God as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is the God also of Christ, the Mediator according to His human nature. And this God is the Author of all revelation. Hence, we read here: “which God gave unto him.” It is a thoroughly Biblical conception that also Christ in His bullion nature receives all revelation from God. In proof of this we refer you to the texts mentioned in the exegetical notes preceding this chapter. There is, of course, a difference between Christ and us with respect to the way in which God’s revelation is received. We can receive the revelation of God only indirectly, through Christ, through the “apostles and prophets,” through the Scriptures; while Christ, because He is the Son of God in human nature, received that revelation directly and immediately, without the intermediation of other agencies. But this does not alter the fact as Such that also Christ receives all revelation from His “God and Father.” God gave this revelation to Him. And this particular revelation was given to Christ after His exaltation. It is wholly in harmony with His position at the right hand of God, according to which He has all power in heaven and on earth, stands at the very pinnacle of all creation, that God gave this revelation to Him. For, to a position of supreme power and authority belongs the possession of all knowledge and wisdom. Later in the book of Revelation (ch. V) somewhat the same thought is presented symbolically in the vision of Christ’s taking the book with its seven seals from the hand of Him that sitteth on the throne. But this we hope to explain in the proper place.
Having received this revelation from God, Christ communicated it to His servants. He did so by “signifying” it to His servant John through the mediation of “his angel.” The original is somewhat difficult to translate. Instead of: “and he sent and signified it by his angel,” we read: “and he signified, sending or having sent through an angel.” The aorist participle (aposteilas) of the Greek verb for “to send” is used, and for this we have no exact equivalent in the English language. Let me just say this about it, that the aorist in Greek stresses the act as such rather than any time element. The idea, therefore, is plain enough. The text emphasizes two elements. In the first place, it gives us to understand that when Christ communicated the revelation He received from God to His servant John, He “signified” it. This means that He cast it into the form of signs and symbols derived from our earthly life and experience. The book of Revelation is a book of visions, full of signs and symbols. And this “signifying” must have been necessary. It seems to imply that the form in which Christ imparted this revelation to His servant John differs from the form in which Christ Himself received it from God. Christ is heavenly, the Lord of heaven, the resurrected Lord in glory. He is able to receive the revelation of heavenly things directly, in heavenly form. But we are still earthy, in our humiliated body. And we cannot receive the revelation of heavenly things in other than earthly forms, signs and symbols. This, then, is one of the truths that must constantly be born in mind if we would interpret the book of Revelation, though it is also one of the principles of interpretation that is very frequently violated by many commentators. Christ “signified” the revelation He had received from God, to His servant John. And this signification took place through the meditation of “his angel.” It appears from the rest of the book, that different angels were employed to bring these visions to the perception and mind of John. Yet, it is not improbable that one particular angel served as the “interpreting angel,” and the reference here is to this angel particularly. It is Christ’s angel, because the Lord is exalted far above all powers and principalities, and above every name that is named. The angels, too, are His messengers, sent put in His service. Nor is it strange that an angel here mediates to communicate and signify this revelation to John.