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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 1



Other Authors
Verse 1

1. Ἀποκάλυψις. English idiom requires the definite article here (as with ἀπόδεξις in Hdt. I. 1). St Jerome (ad Galatians 1:11-12) overstates a little when he calls the word ἀποκάλυψις distinctly scriptural. Both verb and noun are used by Plato and Plutarch of simple disclosure of thought and act; ἀναφαίνω is the word in literary Greek for the proclamation of sacred mysteries. ἀποκαλύπτειν is first used in the sense of “reveal” Amos 3:7, LXX. οὐ μὴ ποιήσῃ κύριος ὁ θεὸς πρᾶγμα, ἐὰν μὴ ἀποκαλύψῃ παιδείαν πρὸς τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ τοὺς προφήτας.

Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, i.e. which He makes; as is explained by the words which follow; “which God gave to Him … and He sent and signified it,” &c. It is, however, possible to understand it, as some scholars do, “the Revelation which reveals Jesus Christ.”

ἣν ἔδωκεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεός. As the Son is of the Father in His essential being, so in His Manhood, both on earth and in glory, He receives from the Father all He has or knows. Compare in the Gospel Revelation 7:16, especially Revelation 17:7-8, also Revelation 14:10 (which is probably to be understood of the Godhead, while almost all that the Seer says refers to the glorified Manhood).

τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ. In Revelation 22:6 we have the same phrase of the servants of God: otherwise here it would be more natural to understand the servants of Christ: see on ἐσήμανεν ἀποστείλας. It is a peculiarity of this book and the early part of the Acts to use this word of believers in general: in the Epistles the Apostles use it of themselves: it is a misleading refinement to introduce the English distinction of slave and servant: in the East (Luke 15:17) servants bought with a price stood above, not below hirelings.

ἃ δεῖ. R. V[68] translates “Even the things which must …,” in apposition to ἀποκάλυψις or ἥν. R. V[69] marg. and A. V[70] rightly take the words as dependent on δεῖξαι. δεῖ “must” as part of a divine purpose, cf. Matthew 17:10; Matthew 26:54; Luke 24:26, &c.

ἐν τάχει. So Revelation 1:3 fin., Revelation 22:6-7. Compare on the one hand Matthew 24:29; Matthew 24:34, and on the other Habakkuk 2:3; Luke 18:8; 2 Peter 3:8-9. These last passages suggest that the object of these words is to assure us of God’s practical readiness to fulfil His promises, rather than to define any limit of time for their actual fulfilment.

ἐσήμανεν ἀποστείλας may be understood of God, as in Revelation 22:6; or of Christ, as in Revelation 22:16 : the latter reference is here more probable. Unless it be certain that the Apocalypse is a homogeneous record of a single vision, there is a possibility that the combination of different beginnings adds to the difficulties of interpretation. Apart from this the sense will be, “He, having received the Revelation from the Father, sent by His angel, and indicated it to His servant John.” The angel is the same who is mentioned in Revelation 17:1, &c., Revelation 19:9, Revelation 21:9, Revelation 22:6; Revelation 22:8; Revelation 22:16.

Verses 1-3


Verse 2

2. ὂς ἐμαρτύρησεν, i.e. who bears witness in the piesent work. The past tense is used, as constantly in Greek—e.g. in St John’s own Epistle, I. Revelation 2:14—of the act of a writer which will be past when his work comes to be read. The “witness “John is said to bear is that contained in this book—not, as some have imagined, in his Gospel.

There is, however, some evidence to the identity of authorship of the two, in the resemblance between the attestations to the authority of this book in these three verses, and to that of the Gospel in Revelation 21:24. The two may be conceivably presumed to proceed from the same persons, probably the elders of the Church of Ephesus.

τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ. His Word made known to man, especially as revealed to St John himself; not the personal Word of God of St John’s Gospel Revelation 1:1 and Revelation 19:13, as He is immediately mentioned under another name.

τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. See Revelation 22:16 for a similar description of the special Revelation of this book. Both “the Word “and “the testimony “are repeated in Revelation 1:9, and here they refer to the general Revelation of Christian truth for which the Seer was in exile.

ὅσα εἶδεν. These words exclude two possible senses of ἐμαρτύρησεν, that the writer bare witness by writing a gospel, or by suffering for the truth: possibly also they imply a limitation of what goes before, as if all “the Word” and “the testimony” were too great to be told, and the Seer had done what was possible in recording all he saw.

Verse 3

3. ὁ ἀναγινώσκων καὶ οἱ ἀκούοντες. Plainly the author of the book, or of this endorsement of it, contemplates its being read publicly in the Church. ἀναγινώσκων is the proper word for reading aloud. The apostolic Epistles were thus read, first by the Churches to which they were addressed, then by others in the neighbourhood (Colossians 4:16): even the sub-apostolic Epistles of Clement and Polycarp, and the decidedly post-apostolic one of Soter, Bishop of Rome, were in like manner read in the churches that originally received them, or to which their authors belonged. In the course of the second century, both the Gospels and the apostolic Epistles came to be read in churches generally, as the Law and the Prophets had been read in the synagogues. In the time of Justin Martyr (Apol. I. 67)—not to insist on 1 Timothy 5:18, 2 Peter 3:16—it is plain that the New Testament Scriptures were thus recognised as sharing the authority and sanctity of the Old.

καὶ τηροῦντες, i.e. if they attend to, mind what is written in the word of this prophecy; if they observe the precepts and warnings and meditate on the revelations therein. He who reads and they who hear are only blessed if they do this; John 13:17; Matthew 7:24 sq. τηρεῖν is constantly used of ‘keeping’ the Law, the Commandments, &c., throughout the N.T.: but is commoner in all St John’s writings than in any other.

Verse 4

4. Ἰωάννης. The Apostle, the son of Zebedee, who (probably afterwards) wrote the Gospel: see Introduction, pp. xl, xlix.

ταῖς ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαις. The number of course is symbolical or representative: there were other churches in Asia, e.g. at Colossae and Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13). But the Seven Churches represent “the Holy Church throughout all the world.” It was very early observed, that St Paul also wrote to seven churches—the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philippians, Ephesians (?), and Colossians.

ταῖς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ. The proconsular province of that name. In Acts 16:6 “Asia” seems to be used in a still narrower sense, being distinguished from the adjoining districts of Phrygia and Mysia, as well as from the provinces of Galatia and Bithynia; so that it would correspond approximately with the ancient kingdom of Lydia. But as Pergamum was in Mysia, and Laodicea in Phrygia, it seems that here the word is used to include the whole province.

χάριςκαὶ εἰρήνη. So St Paul in all his Epistles to the Seven Churches, Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; and so Philemon 1:3; Titus 1:4. In other private letters the form varies—χάρις, ἔλεος εἰρήνη, 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2—as in St John’s second Epistle. St James (Revelation 1:1) uses the common secular salutation χαίρειν (cf. Acts 15:23): St Peter has “grace and peace” as here, but in his first Epistle does not say from Whom they are to come.

ἀπὸ ὁ. The sacred Name is in the nominative, being treated as indeclinable: as though we should say in English “from He Who is,” &c. For general remarks on the grammatical (or ungrammatical) peculiarities of this book, see Introduction, p. xxxix. Here at least it is plain, that the anomaly is not due to ignorance, but to the writer’s mode of thought being so vigorous that it must express itself in its own way, at whatever violence to the laws of language.

ὁ ὤν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος. A paraphrase of the “Ineffable name” revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14 sq.), which we, after Jewish usage, write “Jehovah” and pronounce “the LORD.” Or, rather perhaps, a paraphrase of the explanation of the Name given to him l. c., “I am That I am”—which is rendered by the LXX. Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, by the Targum of Palestine on Exod. “I am He who is, and who will be.” The same Targum on Deuteronomy 32:39 has “Behold now, I am He who Am and Was and Will Be.” Probably ὁ ἑστὼς, ὁ στὰς, ὁ στησόμενος, the Title which according to the ΄εγάγη Ἀπόφασις Simon blasphemously assumed to himself, was the paraphrase of the same Name current among Samaritan Hellenists.

ὁ ἦν is doubly ungrammatical. We have not only the article in the nominative after ἀπὸ but a finite verb doing duty for a participle, because γενόμενος or γεγενημένος would be inapplicable to the Self-Existent. Compare the opposition of the “being” of God or Christ, and the “becoming” or “being made” of creatures, in St John’s Gospel, John 1:6; John 1:8-9, John 8:58. Cf. also for another form of the same antithesis, Revelation 1:18.

ὁ ἐρχόμενος. Though ἔσομαι is freely used throughout the New Testament, ἐσόμενος is only found once (St Luke 22:49); so ἐρχ. is probably only used to express future time. It certainly does not refer to the Coming of Christ, Who is separately named afterwards. Else “He that is to come” is often used as a familiar and distinctive title of Christ, see Matthew 11:3; Matthew 21:9; John 6:14; John 11:27; Hebrews 10:37; John Ep. II. 7; cf. Ep. I. Revelation 2:18, where the same word is pointedly used of Antichrist. With this more general sense we may compare “things to come” John 16:13; John 18:4, “the wrath to come” 1 Thessalonians 1:10, and “the world to come” Mark 10:30. As the last was already familiar to the Jewish schools, it may be a question whether it is to be explained from the Coming of God to judge the earth, e.g. Malachi 3; Psalms 98. In any case the threefold name belongs to God—if we are to distinguish—to the Father, rather than to the Trinity.

ἀπὸ τῶν ἑπτὰ πνευμάτων. Cf. Revelation 3:1, Revelation 4:5, Revelation 5:6. If the second of these passages stood alone, it would be possible to understand the name of Seven Chief Angels (see Revelation 8:2), but in 6 this is quite impossible, even if we could suppose that here creatures could not only be coupled with the Creator as sources of blessing, but placed between God and Christ. Can we identify “the Seven Spirits,” thus made in some sense coordinate with the Father and the Son, with the Holy Ghost, Who is known to us in His sevenfold operations and gifts, Who perhaps has some sevenfold character in Himself, as some may infer from the passages in this book and from the unquestionably relevant parallels in Zechariah 3:9; Zechariah 4:10? This too is difficult: the Seven Spirits are the Eyes not of Him that sitteth upon the Throne, but of the Lamb (cf. Isaiah 11:2); they are before the Throne, in some sense therefore it would seem external to the Essence of the Most High. It has been generally held since St Augustine, that before the Incarnation the Second Person of the Trinity manifested Himself on earth in a created Angel; if so the Seven Spirits might be a heavenly manifestation of the Third.

ἃ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου αὐτοῦ. The omission of the copula in a relative clause is not in the style of this book: τῶν ἐνώπιον, the reading of א A, is more in the general style of the book, though it mars the symmetry of the passage.

Verse 5

5. ἀπὸ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὁ μάρτυς. The anacoluthon is probably an intentional parallel to that in the previous verse, though here the threefold title might have been declined if the writer had pleased. There is a tendency throughout the book, where one clause stands in apposition to another, to put the nouns in the second clause in the nominative regardless of the rules of ordinary Greek.

ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός. See 1 Timothy 6:13 : Jesus Christ was in His Death much more than a martyr, but He was also the perfect type and example of martyrdom. Observe His own words in John 18:37—to which perhaps St Paul l.c. is referring. It may be doubted whether μάρτυς is used in the N.T. in the later sense of “martyr.” The distinction between martyrs and confessors was not fixed in the days of the Martyrs of Vienne and Lyons: whoever confessed Christ before men was still said to “bear witness” to Him.

ὁ πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν. “Firstborn” rather than “firstbegotten;” cf. τὰς ὠδῖνας τοῦ θανάτου, Acts 2:24, where the metaphor is hardly pressed so far as in 2 Esdras 4:42. The genitive is explained by St Paul, Colossians 1:18 ὁ πρωτ. ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν. The sense is that He is “first to enter life.” The thought in Romans 1:4 is similar.

ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς. A reminiscence (hardly to be called a quotation) of Psalms 89:27, “I will make Him My First-born, higher than the kings of the earth.”

τῷ ἀγαπῶντι. “It is His ever-abiding character, that He loveth His own,” John 13:1.—Alford. The contrast of tense between this clause and the next is quite correct, though it struck the later copyists as harsh.

λύσαντι. The balance of evidence is in favour of this reading. The preposition ἐν in a Hebraistic book like this would be used of an instrument, where we should say “by” or “with”: while to later readers the idea of “washing in” would seem more natural. So we should probably render “released us from our sins by His own Blood”—the Blood of Christ being conceived as the price of our redemption, as in 1 Peter 1:18-19—not, as in Revelation 7:14, Revelation 22:14 (according to the preferable reading), and perhaps in St John’s Ep. I. Revelation 1:7, as the cleansing fountain foretold in Zechariah 13:1. If therefore we ask “when Christ thus freed us,” the answer must be, at His Passion, not at our conversion or baptism.

Verse 6

6. καὶ ἐποίησεν. Lit., “And He made”; the construction τῷ ἀγαπῶντικαὶ λύσαντι is broken off rather strangely, as it is resumed by αὐτῷ; otherwise a finite verb after participles is not strange in Hebrew or Hebraistic Greek.

βασιλείαν ἱερεῖς. A phrase synonymous with βασίλειον ἰεράτευμα of 1 Peter 2:9. That is an exact quotation from the LXX. version of Exodus 19:6, and a more correct translation of the Hebrew than this which is meant to be literal. St John (or the translation he follows) has hardly realised the equivalence of the Hebrew construction, in which the word that means “kingdom” would be inflected, with the Greek construction, in which the word that means “priests” would be inflected: and so he sets down “a kingdom, priests” side by side, leaving the mere juxtaposition of the two nouns to express the relation between them, as though both were indeclinable.

τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ. “His God and Father “as in Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 1:3 (perhaps); 1 Peter 1:3. There is no doctrinal reason for preferring A. V[71] of John 20:17, but it has been pointed out that, if the sense were the same here as in the parallel passages of SS. Peter and Paul (which τοῦ Θεοῦ μον inf. Revelation 3:12 goes far to prove), the usage of this book would require τῷ Θεῷ αὐτοῦ καὶ Πατρὶ αὐτοῦ; but, for whatever reason, there is more than one instance in the first three chapters of the Apocalypse of slight and fitful approximations to the rules of ordinary Greek.

Verse 7

7. This verse, as indeed may be said of the whole book, is founded chiefly on our Lord’s own prophecy recorded in St Matthew 24, and secondly on the Old Testament prophecies which He there refers to and sums up.

μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν. “With the clouds of heaven.” The preposition here and in Mark 14:62, which also recalls Daniel 7:13, corresponds with the Version known as Theodotion’s, not with that known as the LXX. which reads ἐπί. It is generally agreed that Theodotion was later than Aquila, who was probably a contemporary of Akiba (†135). Little is known of the history of the Version that bore his name, or of the gradual growth of that ascribed to the LXX. There is some reason to think that the ‘LXX.’ paraphrased an older Version of Daniel which ‘Theodotion’ revised: and it is certain that ‘Baruch’ which imitates the Book of Daniel is nearer to ‘Theodotion’ than the ‘LXX.’ See ‘Theodotion,’ Smith’s Dictionary of Christian Biography; ‘Hermas and Theodotion,’ Salmon’s Introduction to N.T. 3rd ed., pp. 586–601.

καὶ οἵτινες αὐτὸν ἐξεκέντησαν. Zechariah 12:10; in his Gospel, John 19:37, St John translates that passage correctly, and here refers to the same translation, also found in Theodotion: that of the LXX. is wrong and almost meaningless. But while the words here are taken from Zechariah, the thought is rather that of Matthew 26:64 : “they which pierced Him “are thought of, not as looking to Him by faith, and mourning for Him in penitence, but as seeing Him Whom they had not believed in, and mourning in despair.

ἐπʼ αὐτόν. Literally, “at Him.” “At sight of Him,” “over Him,” the sense in Zechariah, is hardly applicable here.

ναί, ἀμήν. “Yea, Amen”: the two words, Greek and Hebrew, being similarly coupled in 2 Corinthians 1:20. The second, like the first, is an emphatic word of confirmation—so used e.g. repeatedly by our Lord Himself, St Matthew 5:18, &c., where it is translated “verily.” The popular tradition that “Amen” means “So be it” is only partially true: even in its liturgical use, we append it to creeds as well as prayers. It comes from the same Hebrew root as the words for “faith” and “truth”; the primary meaning being apparently “solidity.” See on Revelation 3:14.

Verse 8

8. τὸ ἄλφα καὶ τὸ ὦ. The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet used, as in Rabbinical proverbs the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet were, as symbols of “the beginning and the end.” These latter words (ἀρχὴ καὶ τέλος) are not here a part of the genuine text; they come from Revelation 22:13. The word “Omega” (like “Omicron,” “Epsilon,” “Upsilon,”) is a mediaeval barbarism; but it is a convenient one, and it has secured a firm place in our language by the English rendering of this passage.

κύριος ὁ θεὸς κ.τ.λ. The group of titles represents “the Lord Jehovah the God of Hosts,” a combination of Hosea 12:5 and Amos 9:5. The word we render “Almighty” (perhaps rather meaning “of all might”) does not correspond to the word “Shaddai” which we translate “Almighty” in the Old Testament. The LXX. evade this word in the Pentateuch, even in Exodus 6:8 and parallel passages; it is never translated by παντοκράτωρ except in the Book of Job. Elsewhere in the Septuagint παντοκράτωρ always stands for “Sabaoth.” So in the Athanasian Creed, “Almighty” is coupled with the Divine names “God” and “Lord,” not with the Divine attributes “eternal, incomprehensible, uncreated.”

Verse 9

9. Ἐγὼ Ἰωάννης κ.τ.λ. “I John, your brother and partaker in the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience in Jesus.” The condescending choice of titles—if the writer is the son of Zebedee—is unique in the New Testament. To the opening part of the salutation there is a parallel in 1 Peter 5:1. The collocation of the latter words is peculiar, nor is the sense of ὑπομονὴ clear; probably here and in Romans 8:25, as in Psalms 38:8 (LXX.), it combines the ideas of expectation and endurance. The disciples knew from the first, Acts 14:22, that the tribulation came before the kingdom, and a phrase which coupled the two might have become familiar before they learnt that there was to be the discipline of prolonged waiting.

ἐγενόμην. Had come there, found myself there. Here and in the next verse he avoids, perhaps intentionally, the use of the word for continuous and absolute “being”: see note on Revelation 1:4.

Πάτμῳ. One of the Sporades, the south-eastern group of the islands of the Aegean. According to the tradition, as given by Victorinus, he was condemned to work in the mines—which, if trustworthy, must mean marble quarries, as there are no mines, strictly speaking, in the island. Christians were sent to the mines (Roman Christians to those of Sardinia) at least as early as the reign of Commodus (Hipp[72] Ref. Haer. IX. 12), and this was much the commonest punishment during the Diocletian persecution in which Victorinus suffered himself. In St John’s time it was commoner to put Christians to death; but the tradition is probably right; ‘deportation,’ confinement without hard labour on a lonely island, was then and afterwards reserved for offenders of higher secular rank.

διὰ τὸνἸησοῦ. Cf. Revelation 6:9 and Revelation 20:4. Apart from these references the words might mean (a) that the Seer had gone to the island to preach the Gospel, (b) that (by special revelation or otherwise) he had withdrawn there to await this vision. As it is, the traditional view that he was banished there for being a Christian is clearly right.

VISION OF THE SON OF MAN, Revelation 1:10-20

Verse 10

10. ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι. Was caught into a state of spiritual rapture. Song of Solomon 4:2 and (nearly) Revelation 17:3, Revelation 21:10; cf. 1 Kings 18:12; Ezekiel 3:12; Ezekiel 3:14; Ezekiel 37:1; also 2 Corinthians 12:2-3.

ἐν τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ. Undoubtedly here used (though for the first time) in the sense now traditional throughout Christendom. Some commentators have proposed to translate, “I was, in spirit, on the day of the Lord,” i.e. was carried away in Spirit to the Great Day of the Lord’s Coming. But the parallel of Revelation 4:2 seems against this, though Revelation 17:3 and Revelation 21:10 may be pleaded in its favour.

φωνὴν μεγάλην ὡς σάλπιγγος, λεγούσης. This participle, used throughout the book in different genders and cases, with or without a show of grammatical construction (here it is only a show, for we should expect λέγουσαν), seldom seems to mean more than quotation marks in English. Is the speaker the same as in Revelation 1:17; Revelation 3:22? This is implied by the gloss from Revelation 22:13 (see crit. note) and probable from the context: the contrast between a voice like a trumpet and a voice like many waters is not decisive; but the voice in Revelation 4:1, which is expressly said to be the same as the voice here, seems to belong to a herald-angel rather than to the Lamb: if so here, when the Seer turns to see, the Angel has vanished in the light of the Lord.

Verse 11

11. εἰς Πέργαμον. Probably a neuter. The seven cities are enumerated in the order in which a traveller on circuit might visit them, going north from Ephesus to Smyrna and Pergamos, then inland to Thyatira, and southwards to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

Verse 12

12. βλέπειν τὴν φωνήν. The meaning is obvious and the inconsequence of language characteristic.

λυχνίας. These are stands for portable oil-lamps, which stood on the ground and in shape though not in size resembled our candlesticks. The Latin word was candelabra which served to support torches, funiculi ardentes, before lamps were in common use at Rome: afterwards candles nearly like ours were used by the poor and as night-lights (Mart. XI. 40), because though one gave less light than a lamp it required less attention. In the middle ages candles became commoner than lamps, for wax and tallow were to be had everywhere, whereas oil had to be fetched from the neighbourhood of the Mediterranean: so candelabra (and λυχνίαι) were translated candlesticks i. e. sticks or shafts that carry candles.

Verse 13

13. ὅμοιον υἱῷ ἀνθρώπου. It might be better with Tischendorf and Westcott and Hort to read ὅμοιον υἱὸν here and at Revelation 14:14; if so the writer makes juxtaposition do the work of construction, as sup. 16, see n. In the title of our Lord in the Gospels (except John 5:27) and in Acts 7:56 both words have the article. The absence of the article here proves not that our Lord is not intended, but that the title is taken not from His own use of it but direct from the Greek of Daniel 7:13, where also both words are without the article. There the human figure which succeeds the bestial shapes symbolizes the kingdom of the saints of the Most High more certainly than the personal King, the Head of the mystical Body. Here it is a question of taste rather than of grammar whether we are to translate “a son of man”: the words themselves mean no more than “I saw a human figure,” but their associations would make it plain to all readers of the Book of Daniel that it was a superhuman Being in human form; and to a Christian of St John’s day as of our own, Who that Being was.

ποδήοη. Certainly a garment of dignity (as Sirach 27:8; Daniel 10:5, LXX. where Theodotion gives the Hebrew in Greek letters βαδδιν; Ezekiel 9:2; Ezekiel 9:11), probably especially of priestly dignity, as Exodus 25:6; Exodus 28:4; Exodus 28:31 (where the next verse suggests comparison with John 19:23). The same word is used in the so-called Epistle of Barnabas (c. 7) of the scarlet robe in which the Lord will appear when coming to judgement; some suppose that the writer had in his mind this passage and perhaps Revelation 19:13.

πρὸς τοῖς μασθοῖς. So Revelation 15:6 of angels. In Daniel 10:5 and Ezekiel 9:2 (LXX.) angels wear the girdles of gold or gems in the ordinary human way, on their loins. The Seer like the Prophets draws his images from earthly pomp which in his days had grown more splendid. The girdle is probably crossed upon the breast, as in the figure of Darius in the great mosaic of the Museo Borbonico and in statues of the kings of Greek tragedy: anyway it visibly serves not to brace the wearer for labour but simply to keep his stately robe duly arranged.

Verse 14

14. ὡς ἔριον λευκόν, ὡς χιών. Cf. Daniel 7:9 LXX. ὡσεὶ ἔριον λευκὸν καθαρὸν (Theodotion has ὡσεὶ ἔριον καθαρὸν); otherwise we might translate and punctuate “like wool, as white as snow.” Though the Person seen is the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13, the description is more nearly that of the Ancient of Days, ibid. 9. We need not wonder that Their union was made more plain to the later Prophet.

Verse 15

15. χαλκολιβάνῳ. The ancients were not clear whether this word meant brass (or, strictly speaking, bronze) as clear as a scented gum, or a scented gum that shone like brass; the former sense is decidedly most probable from the context, the various and the parallel passages. Anyway the word seems to be a compound of χαλκὸς and λίβανος, which is borrowed from a Hebrew word meaning white, which is feminine. Possibly this may account for the well-attested reading πεπυρωμένης. Perhaps the real meaning is “white brass,” i. e. the Latin orichalcum (vid. Verg. Aen. XII. 87), which was like gold (Cic. Off. III. xxiii. 92)—i. e. perhaps was our “brass” as distinct from bronze. In Ezekiel 1:4; Ezekiel 1:27; Ezekiel 8:2 we have a word which probably (comparing ibid. Ezekiel 1:7, Ezekiel 40:3, Daniel 10:6) means the same, but which the LXX. translate electrum—meaning perhaps by this not amber, but an alloy of gold with silver or other metal. Some think that sense suitable here, as symbolising the divine and human natures of our Lord.

πεπυρωμένης. The genitive absolute is not in the general style of the writer; the construction must be “like unto fine brass as though it [the brass] had been burnt in a furnace.” Anyway incense cannot be meant, which would be burnt in a censer not a furnace and consumed not refined by burning.

ἡ φωνὴ αὐτοῦ.… Cf. Ezekiel 43:2 (Heb.; but LXX. φωυὴ τῆς παρεμβολῆς ὡς φωνὴ διπλασιαζόντων πολλῶν).

Verse 16

16. ἔχων. The present participle of this verb here and in Revelation 6:2; Revelation 6:5, Revelation 10:2, Revelation 19:12, Revelation 21:12 is used as fully equivalent to a present indicative: and here the construction of ἔχων must determine that of ἐκπορευομένη, which by itself would not be difficult. If present participles of all verbs were used in this way, it would be probable that the writer was “following the Hebrew usage, according to which what we call the participle is the nearest approach there is to a distinctive present tense.” Language of New Testament, Part II., p. 83.

ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ. The general style of the writer is ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ τῇ δεξιᾷ as B2 reads here; in ordinary Greek the form in the text is if anything commoner.

ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ. The image is perhaps suggested by Isaiah 49:2; but the application made of it in Revelation 2:10, Revelation 19:15; Revelation 19:21 is more like in sense to Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8. It is relevant to compare Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; but the use of similar images by different Apostles must not be allowed to lead us into a sort of Christian mythology, as though the imagery were as absolutely and unalterably fixed as the doctrine symbolized by it. In ch. 19 we see plainly that not the sword but the Owner of it is “the Word of God”: in Revelation 2:23 we have the same sense as in Heb. l. c., but the image of the sword is not there used to illustrate it.

ἡ ὄψις. The same word is used in John 11:44 in the sense of “face,” and so it is best to take it here, though it might mean “appearance” generally. In Ezekiel 1:27, the LXX. use the word for “colour,” not for “appearance.”

Verse 17

17. ἔπεσανεκρός. So Daniel 8:17 sq., Daniel 10:8-9; Daniel 10:15 (Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 43:3; Ezekiel 44:4 do not necessarily imply so much): cf. Exodus 3:6; Exodus 20:19; Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:22; Isaiah 6:5; and also Luke 24:37; John 21:12. St John was in presence of both the sources of supernatural terror—of God’s Presence made manifest, and of One come from the dead.

ἔθηκεν. So in Daniel 10:10 a hand: Daniel 10:16 ὡς ὁμοίωσις υἱοῦ ἀνθρώπου, Daniel 10:18 ὡς ὅρασις ἀνθρώπου touches the prophet: in each place the touch is followed by encouraging words.

ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος. i.e. the Eternal, as Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12; the ancient (? Arianising) variant πρωτότοκος suggests that as the Firstborn among many brethren, the inheritor of an everlasting kingdom, the Son even in His Manhood is an Image of the Father’s eternity.

Verse 18

18. ἐγενόμην is emphatic in intentional contrast to ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος, and still more to ζῶν εἰμί, setting His temporal and temporary death against His eternal life; see on Revelation 1:4.

τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τοῦ ἅδου. Hades is the receptacle of the dead: usually personified in this book, as indeed is death, Revelation 6:8, Revelation 20:13-14. But here they are rather conceived as places, prisons wherein the dead are confined, and from which Christ can deliver them. We read of “the gates of death “in Psalms 9:13, Job 38:17; and “the gates of hell” in Isaiah 38:10, Matthew 16:18.

Verse 19

19. ἅ εἶδες. If the Revelation be a homogeneous record of a single trance, this must mean the vision just described, otherwise we might think the Seer was bidden to write all his visions. Jeremiah had prophesied more than twenty years (Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 36:1) before he was bidden to write. If so it would follow from μετὰ ταῦτα and ἡ φωνὴ ἡ πρώτη, Revelation 4:1 that the earlier visions pass again before the Seer.

ἃ εἰσίν. Whether the verse means that the Seer is to write the whole vision, whether of past, present or future events, or that he is to write the vision and its interpretation and its appointed sequel, is hard to decide because there is nothing in the general arrangement of the book to support either sense. The use of εἰσὶν twice in the following verse (perhaps in Revelation 16:14), and Revelation 17:9 sqq. tells in favour of the latter, so too does the change from the plural εἰσὶν to the singular ἃ μέλλει γίνεσθαι. In a careful writer this would almost certainly mark a contrast between the several meanings of what was shown in the visions and the mass of future events.

Verse 20

20. τὸ μυστήριον. The only possible construction of these words is as an accusative in loose apposition to ἃ εἶδες κ.τ.λ.; perhaps the writer left them without any construction. If he had attended to details of style he would have been more likely to begin anew with “This is the mystery …” than to continue, “Write what thou sawest … the mystery …”

μυστήριον in the N.T. bears a meaning not very far removed from its primary meaning in classical Greek. There it is a secret rite which only the initiated share, and so a secret lore which they only know. Generally we may paraphrase it, “the hidden divine truth now made known, but made known to God’s favoured ones only”: see Ephesians 3:13 for the completest illustration of its meaning. Here the sense is, “I reveal to thee the hidden, sacred meaning of the stars and candlesticks.”

τὰς ἑπτὰ λυχνίας: symmetry would have required these words to be in the genitive, for the mystery includes both the stars and the “candlesticks”; the accusative depends probably on εἶδες, even if τὸ μυστήριον depends on γράψον; the connexion being “the seven stars which thou sawest and [with them thou sawest] the seven golden candlesticks.”

ἂγγελοι. For the meaning of the word “Angels” here, see Excursus I.

αἱ λυχνίαι αἱ ἑπτά. Plainly this image is suggested by the seven-branched candlestick of Exodus 25:31 sqq.—still more by the earlier mystical vision of one resembling it, in Zechariah 4. But here the image of seven detached candlesticks does not exactly correspond to the description of either, nor are we to assume that the significance of those is exactly the same as of these.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Revelation 1:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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