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Title: Notes on the New Testament, Explanatory and Practical: Revelation

Author: Albert Barnes

Editor: Robert Frew

Release date: July 30, 2017 [eBook #55228]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Richard Hulse, Colin Bell, CCEL and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


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Transcriber’s Notes

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This book was written in a period when many words had not become standardized in their spelling. Words and abbreviations may have multiple spelling variations or inconsistent hyphenation in the text. These have been left unchanged unless indicated with a Transcriber’s Note.

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Drawn by S. BoughEngraved by T. Flemming





New Testament




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Author’s Preface

Editor’s Preface:—


Author’s qualifications for Apocalyptic exposition—Author’s plan in preparing his Commentary, affords assurance of his sobriety as an interpreter, and rebukes the scorn of hostile critics—Peculiarities of this edition.

Year-day Principle.

Importance of the question regarding—Protestant theory of Apocalyptic interpretation stands or falls with it—Rival schemes, nature and origin of—Advocates on both sides—Views of Dr. Davidson and Professor Stuart.

Arguments in favour of Year-day Theory.

1. Concurrent Testimony of Protestant Interpreters—Objection of Dr. Davidson—Reply—Use which the Reformers made of the Apocalypse—Views of Walter Brute—Views of Luther.

2. Symbolical Character of the Predictions in Daniel and the Apocalypse—Laws of symbolic propriety—Dr. Maitland’s famous objection, that a day is no symbol for a year—General principles on which Year-day view rests—Ground occupied by Mede—Principle of Bush and Faber—True basis—View of Birks and Elliott.

3. Indications of the Year-day Principle in Scripture—The case of the spies in the book of Numbers—Ezekiel’s typical siege—Objection of Professor Stuart—Professor Bush’s reply—Objection of Bishop Horsley—Objections from Isaiah, ch. xx. 2, 3—Daniel’s seventy weeks—Diverse views of opponents—Outlines of Discussion.

4. Exigency of Passages in which Prophetic Times occur—Saracenic woe in Rev. ix. 510—Turkish woe in Rev. ix. 15—The forty-two months of the Gentiles in ch. xi. 2—The times of the two witnesses in ch. xi. 311—The times of the woman in the wilderness, in ch. xii. 614—Forty-two months of the Beast, in ch. xiii. 5—Danielic periods—Objections alleged, novelty of the Year-day principle.

Author’s Introduction:—Sect. I. The Writer of the Book of Revelation.—Sect. II. The Time of Writing the Apocalypse.—Sect. III. The Place where the Book was written.—Sect. IV. The Nature and Design of the Book.—Sect. V. The Plan of the Apocalypse.


The Book of Revelation.


Patmos—the Port of Scala, and Town of Patino.

The Site of Ephesus, from the Theatre.

The Castle and Port of Smyrna.

Ruins of the Church of St. John, Pergamos.

Thyatira—General View.

Sardis—Remains of Ancient Temple, &c.

Philadelphia—General View.

Petrified Cascades at Hierapolis.

The Ruins of Laodicea.

Map of N. Italy, 4to—Scene of the Third Trumpet and Third Vial.

Engravings Printed in the Text.

Egyptian Calf-idol.

Human-headed Winged Lion; from the Nineveh Sculptures.

Eagle-headed Winged Lion; from the Nineveh Sculptures.

Medal of the Emperor Nerva wearing Crown.

Medal of the Emperor Valentinian wearing Diadem.

Symbolic Bas-reliefs from a Roman Triumphal Arch.

Emblem of a Roman Procurator.

Symbolical Locust, according to Elliott.

Standard-bearer of a Turkish Pasha.

Roman Standard, from Montfauçon.

Medal of Pope Leo XII.


When I began the preparation of these “Notes” on the New Testament, now more than twenty years ago, I did not design to extend the work beyond the Gospels, and contemplated only simple and brief explanations of that portion of the New Testament, for the use of Sunday-school teachers and Bible classes. The work originated in the belief that Notes of that character were greatly needed, and that the older commentaries, having been written for a different purpose, and being, on account of their size and expense, beyond the reach of most teachers of Sunday-schools, did not meet the demand which had grown up from the establishment of such schools. These Notes, contrary to my original plan and expectation, have been extended to eleven volumes, and embrace the whole of the New Testament.

Having, at the time when these Notes were commenced, as I have ever had since, the charge of a large congregation, I had no leisure that I could properly devote to these studies, except the early hours of the morning; and I adopted the resolution—a resolution which has since been invariably adhered to—to cease writing precisely at nine o’clock in the morning. The habit of writing in this manner, once formed, was easily continued; and having been thus continued, I find myself at the end of the New Testament. Perhaps this personal allusion would not be proper, except to show that I have not intended, in these literary labours, to infringe on the proper duties of the pastoral office, or to take time for these pursuits on which there was a claim for other purposes. This allusion may perhaps also be of use to my younger brethren in the ministry, by showing them that much may be accomplished by the habit of early rising, and by a diligent use of the early morning hours. In my own case, these Notes on the New Testament, and also the Notes on the books of Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, extending in all to sixteen volumes, have all been written before nine o’clock in the morning, and are the fruit of the habit of rising between four and five o’clock. I do not know that by this practice I have neglected any duty which I should otherwise have performed; and on the score of health, and, I may add, of profit in the contemplation of a portion of divine truth at the beginning of each day, the habit has been of inestimable advantage to me.

It was not my original intention to prepare Notes on the book of Revelation, nor did I entertain the design of doing it until I came up to it in the regular course of my studies. Having written on all the other portions of the New Testament, there remained only this book to complete an entire commentary on this part of the Bible. That I have endeavoured to explain the book at all is to be traced to the habit which I had formed of spending the early hours of the day in the study of the sacred Scriptures. That habit, continued, has carried me forward until I have reached the end of the New Testament.

It may be of some use to those who peruse this volume, and it is proper in itself, that I should make a brief statement of the manner in which I have prepared these Notes, and of the method of interpretation on which I have proceeded; for the result which has been reached has not been the effect of any preconceived theory or plan, and if in the result I coincide in any degree with the common method of interpreting the volume, the fact may be regarded as the testimony of another witness—however unimportant the testimony may be in itself—to the correctness of that method of interpretation.

Up to the time of commencing the exposition of this book, I had no theory in my own mind as to its meaning. I may add, that I had a prevailing belief that it could not be explained, and that all attempts to explain it must be visionary and futile. With the exception of the work of the Rev. George Croly,1 which I read more than twenty years ago, and which I had never desired to read again, I had perused no commentary on this book until that of Professor Stuart was published, in 1845. In my regular reading of the Bible in the family and in private, I had perused the book often. I read it, as I suppose most others do, from a sense of duty, yet admiring the beauty of its imagery, the sublimity of its descriptions, and its high poetic character; and though to me wholly unintelligible in the main, finding so many striking detached passages that were intelligible and practical in their nature, as to make it on the whole attractive and profitable, but with no definitely formed idea as to its meaning as a whole, and with a vague general feeling that all the interpretations which had been proposed were wild, fanciful, and visionary.

In this state of things, the utmost that I contemplated when I began to write on it, was to explain, as well as I could, the meaning of the language and the symbols, without attempting to apply the explanation to the events of past history, or to inquire what is to occur hereafter. I supposed that I might venture to do this without encountering the danger of adding another vain attempt to explain a book so full of mysteries, or of propounding a theory of interpretation to be set aside, perhaps, by the next person that should prepare a commentary on the book.

Beginning with this aim, I found myself soon insensibly inquiring whether, in the events which succeeded the time when the book was written, there were not historical facts of which the emblems employed would be natural and proper symbols, on the supposition that it was the divine intention, in disclosing these visions, to refer to them; and whether, therefore, there might not be a natural and proper application of the symbols to these events. In this way I examined the language used in reference to the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth seals, with no anticipation or plan in examining one as to what would be disclosed under the next seal, and in this way also I examined ultimately the whole book: proceeding step by step in ascertaining the meaning of each word and symbol as it occurred, but with no theoretic anticipation as to what was to follow. To my own surprise I found, chiefly in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a series of events recorded, such as seemed to me to correspond, to a great extent, with the series of symbols found in the Apocalypse. The symbols were such as it might be supposed would be used, on the supposition that they were intended to refer to these events; and the language of Mr. Gibbon was often such as he would have used, on the supposition that he had designed to prepare a commentary on the symbols employed by John. It was such, in fact, that if it had been found in a Christian writer, professedly writing a commentary on the book of Revelation, it would have been regarded by infidels as a designed attempt to force history to utter a language that should conform to a predetermined theory in expounding a book full of symbols. So remarkable have these coincidences appeared to me in the course of this exposition, that it has almost seemed as if he had designed to write a commentary on some portions of this book; and I have found it difficult to doubt that that distinguished historian was raised up by an overruling Providence to make a record of those events which would ever afterwards be regarded as an impartial and unprejudiced statement of the evidences of the fulfilment of prophecy. The historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire had no belief in the divine origin of Christianity, but he brought to the performance of his work learning and talent such as few Christian scholars have possessed. He is always patient in his investigations; learned and scholar-like in his references; comprehensive in his groupings, and sufficiently minute in his details; unbiassed in his statements of facts, and usually cool and candid in his estimates of the causes of the events which he records; and, excepting his philosophical speculations, and his sneers at everything, he has probably written the most candid and impartial history of the times that succeeded the introduction of Christianity that the world possesses; and even after all that has been written since his time, his work contains the best ecclesiastical history that is to be found. Whatever use of it can be made in explaining and confirming the prophecies, will be regarded by the world as impartial and fair; for it was a result which he least of all contemplated, that he would ever be regarded as an expounder of the prophecies in the Bible, or be referred to as vindicating their truth.

It was in this manner that these Notes on the Book of Revelation assumed the form in which they are now given to the world; and it surprises me—and, under this view of the matter, may occasion some surprise to my readers—to find how nearly the views coincide with those taken by the great body of Protestant interpreters. And perhaps this fact may be regarded as furnishing some evidence that, after all the obscurity attending it, there is a natural and obvious interpretation of which the book is susceptible. Whatever may be the value or the correctness of the views expressed in this volume, the work is the result of no previously-formed theory. That it will be satisfactory to all, I have no reason to expect; that it may be useful to some, I would hope; that it may be regarded by many as only adding another vain and futile effort to explain a book which defies all attempts to elucidate its meaning, I have too much reason, judging from the labours of those who have gone before me, to fear. But as it is, I commit it to the judgment of a candid Christian public, and to the blessing of Him who alone can make any attempt to explain his Word a means of diffusing the knowledge of truth.

I cannot conceal the fact that I dismiss it, and send it forth to the world, as the last volume on the New Testament, with deep emotion. After more than twenty years of study on the New Testament, I am reminded that I am no longer a young man; and that, as I close this work, so all my work on earth must at no distant period be ended. I am sensible that he incurs no slight responsibility who publishes a commentary on the Bible; and I especially feel this now in view of the fact—so unexpected to me when I began these labours—that I have been permitted in our own country to send forth more than two hundred and fifty thousand volumes of commentary on the New Testament, and that probably a greater number has been published abroad. That there are many imperfections in these Notes no one can feel more sensibly than I do; but the views which I have expressed are those which seem to me to be in accordance with the Bible, and I send the last volume forth with the deep conviction that these volumes contain the truth as God has revealed it, and as he will bless it to the extension of his church in the world. I have no apprehension that the sentiments which I have expressed will corrupt the morals, or destroy the peace, or ruin the souls of those who may read these volumes; and I trust that they may do something to diffuse abroad a correct knowledge of that blessed gospel on which the interests of the church, the welfare of our country, and the happiness of the world depend. In language which I substantially used in publishing the revised edition of the volumes of the Gospels (Preface to the Seventeenth Edition, 1840), I can now say, “I cannot be insensible to the fact that, in the form in which these volumes now go forth to the public, I may continue, though dead, to speak to the living; and that the work may be exerting an influence on immortal minds when I am in the eternal world. I need not say that, while I am sensitive to this consideration, I earnestly desire it. There are no sentiments in these volumes which I wish to alter; none that I do not believe to be truths that will abide the investigations of the great day; none of which I am ashamed. That I may be in error, I know; that a better work than this might be prepared by a more gifted mind, and a purer heart, I know. But the truths here set forth are, I am persuaded, those which are destined to abide, and to be the means of saving millions of souls, and ultimately of converting this whole world to God. That these volumes may have a part in this great work is my earnest prayer; and with many thanks to the public for their favours, and to God, the great source of all blessing, I send them forth, committing them to His care, and leaving them to live or die, to be remembered or forgotten, to be used by the present generation and the next, or to be superseded by other works, as shall be in accordance with his will, and as he shall see to be for his glory.”


Washington Square, Philadelphia,
March 26, 1851.

The works which I have had most constantly before me, and from which I have derived most aid in the preparation of these Notes, are the following. They are enumerated here, as some of them are frequently quoted, to save the necessity of a frequent reference to the Editions in the Notes:—

A Commentary on the Apocalypse. By Moses Stuart, Professor of Sacred Literature in the Theological Seminary at Andover, Mass. Andover, 1845.

Horæ Apocalypticæ; or, a Commentary on the Apocalypse, Critical and Historical. By the Rev. E. B. Elliott, A.M., late Vicar of Tuxford, and Fellow of Trinity College. Third Edition. London, 1847.

The Works of Nathaniel Lardner, D.D. In ten volumes. London, 1829.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. By Edward Gibbon, Esq. Fifth American, from the last London edition. Complete in four volumes. New York, J. and J. Harper, 1829.

History of Europe. By Archibald Alison, F.R.S.E. New York, Harper Brothers, 1843.

An Exposition of the Apocalypse. By David N. Lord. Harpers, 1847.

Hyponoia; or, Thoughts on a Spiritual Understanding of the Apocalypse, a Book of Revelation. New York, Leavitt, Trow, and Co., 1844.

The Family Expositor. By Philip Doddridge, D.D. London, 1831.

Ἀνάκρισις Apocalypsios Joannis Apostoli, etc. Auctore Campegio Vitringa, Theol. et Hist. Professore. Amsterdam, 1629.

Kurtzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Neuen Testament. Von Dr. W. M. L. De Wette. Leipzig, 1847.

Rosenmüller, Scholia in Novum Testamentum.

Dissertations on the Opening of the Sealed Book. Montreal, 1848.

Two New Arguments in Vindication of the Genuineness and Authenticity of the Revelation of St. John. By John Collyer Knight. London, 1842.

The Seventh Vial: being an Exposition of the Apocalypse, and in particular of the pouring out of the Seventh Vial, with special reference to the present Revolution in Europe. London, 1848.

Die Offenbarung des Heiligen Joannes. Von G. W. Hengstenberg. Berlin, 1850.

The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller. Newhaven, 1825.

Novum Testamentum. Editio Koppiana, 1821.

Dissertation on the Prophecies. By Thomas Newton, D.D. London, 1832.

The Apocalypse of St. John. By the Rev. George Croly, A.M. Philadelphia, 1827.

The Signs of the Times, as denoted by the fulfilment of Historical Predictions, from the Babylonian Captivity to the present time. By Alexander Keith, D.D. Eighth Edition. Edinburgh, 1847.

Christ’s Second Coming: will it be Pre-millennial? By the Rev. David Brown, A.M., St. James’s Free Church, Glasgow. New York, 1851.

Apocalyptical Key. An extraordinary Discourse on the Rise and Fall of the Papacy. By Robert Fleming, V.D.M. New York, American Protestant Society.

A Treatise on the Millennium. By George Bush, A.M. New York, 1832.

A Key to the Book of Revelation. By James M’Donald, minister of the Presbyterian Church, Jamaica, L. I. Second Edition. New London, 1848.

Das Alte und Neue Morgenland. Rosenmüller. Leipzig, 1820.

The Season and Time; or, an Exposition of the Prophecies which relate to the two periods subsequent to the 1200 years now recently expired, being the time of the Seventh Trumpet, &c. By W. Ettrick, A.M. London, 1816.

Einleitung in das Neue Testament. Von Johann Gottfried Eichhorn. Leipzig, 1811.

For a very full view of the history of the interpretation of the Apocalypse, and of the works that have been written on it, the reader is referred to Elliott’s Horæ Apocalypticæ, vol. iv. pp. 307487, and Prof. Stuart, vol. i. pp. 450475. See, for a condensed view, Editor’s Preface.



Professor Bush, in the Hierophant for January, 1845, at the close of a review of Barnes on the Hebrews, thus wrote:—“We sincerely hope Mr. Barnes may be enabled to accomplish his plan to its very ultimatum, and furnish a commentary of equal merit on the remaining books of the New Testament; with the exception, however, of the Apocalypse, to which, we think, his rigid Calvinian austerity of reason is not so well adapted; and which, we presume to think, would fare better under our own reputed fanciful and allegorical pen.”2 The indefatigable author has lived to accomplish his plan, and has ventured to include within it the mysterious prophecy, for the elucidation of which the reviewer imagined the severe character of his mind disqualified him. Many will think the supposed disqualification a foremost requisite in an Apocalyptic commentator, inasmuch as the Apocalypse has been too long interpreted on fanciful and allegorical principles; and it is now “high time for principle to take the place of fancy, for exegetical proof to thrust out assumption.”3 The advocates of what has been called the Protestant Historic Scheme of Interpretation, have been supposed peculiarly liable to delusions of this nature. It is, therefore, gratifying to find that this new defender of that scheme has been distinguished by a “Calvinian austerity of reason,” which may help to preserve both him and his readers from being in like manner led astray, and at the same time secure a more respectful tone from critics who have espoused opposite views. Bush, who has himself so ably defended the Protestant scheme on the other side of the Atlantic, now that he finds Barnes on the same ground, will think that the spirit of severe logic and searching inquiry which he has brought with him to the contest, render him all the more valuable an associate. In examining the former volumes of Mr. Barnes, we found it was no part of his system of interpretation to admit typical and mystical senses where the literal one could at all be adopted. We had to complain that his tendency was too strong in the opposite direction.4

The plan which the author tells us he adopted in preparing his commentary, is a singular illustration of his judgment and caution; and therefore affords another assurance of his sobriety as an interpreter of the symbols of John. Up to the time of commencing the exposition of this book, he tells us he had no theory in his mind as to its meaning. The utmost he contemplated, when he began, was to explain the meaning of its language and symbols, without attempting to apply that explanation to historical events. But, to his own surprise, he found a series of events, recorded chiefly in Gibbon, such as seemed to correspond, to a great extent, with the series of symbols found in the Apocalypse. Farther examination exhibited this correspondence still more strikingly; and the result was, that his views ultimately took the shape of those given by the great body of Protestant interpreters. He therefore justly claims to be another and independent witness in favour of the common interpretation.5 These statements, while they cannot but increase the reader’s confidence in the guide who now offers to lead him through the mazes of the Apocalypse, ought also to mitigate the scorn with which some have affected to regard all expositions of this school—speaking of them as “hariolations” and “surmises,” which set the reader “afloat upon a boundless ocean of conjecture and fancy, without rudder or compass.”6 It is easy to say such things, and they are therefore too often said by the followers of Eichhorn and Stuart; but accurate inquiry into the non-Protestant scheme will speedily convince anyone that the hariolations do by no means all belong to one side. We venture to say, that nothing so much deserving the name occurs in the whole series of Protestant expositions, as the absurd and unfounded guesses of the last-named writer regarding the witnesses in chap. xi., and the explanation of chap. xvii. 8, by an unfounded heathen rumour regarding the reappearance of Nero after he had been slain.7

With this edition of the Notes on the Book of Revelation we have not found it expedient to present any accompanying or supplementary notes. The author’s text has been carefully revised, and many errors which had crept both into the American and English editions have been corrected. On certain points we could have wished a little more fulness. The important question of the date of the book; the history of apocalyptic interpretation; and the principles of prophetic interpretation, particularly as regards designations of time, are matters lying at the very foundation of just views of the Apocalypse. The first of these points has, indeed, a page or two allotted to it in the “Introduction,” and is also incidentally noticed in the commentary; the second is less or more touched on in the exposition of difficult passages; but the last is almost entirely overlooked, on the ground that the author intends a full discussion of the subject in his forthcoming volume on Daniel. We somewhat regret this, because of the importance of the Year-day principle itself, and because every reader of the Notes on the Book of Revelation may not possess, or have immediately at hand, those on Daniel. We have no doubt that the author’s defence of this part of the Protestant citadel will prove one of the most able that has yet been given. It will, beyond a doubt, avoid the errors of those who have weakened the argument by insisting on points which, at best, are uncertain; and place the theory on a basis sufficiently broad to admit of rational and hopeful maintaining of it, in spite of numerous learned and able assaults. In the meantime, that our edition may not be without something, however brief and imperfect, on a point which on all hands is allowed to be fundamental, we purpose to devote the following pages to an examination of the Year-day principle.

The importance of the question on which we now enter can scarcely be overestimated. If the prophetic periods of Daniel and John; if the famous 1260 days, the time, times, and the dividing of time, are to be understood literally, and explained of the limited term of three and a half years, during the days of Nero and Antiochus Epiphanes, or days yet to come, towards the consummation and era of the second advent,8 then clearly the ideas that have been long current among Protestants are untenable. There is no figuration of Papal Rome, in the Apocalypse or in Daniel, existing through long and dreary ages, wearing out the saints of the Most High. There are no witnesses during that period of gloom ever and anon lifting up their testimony against the grand apostasy. There is no cheering assurance, derived from an infallible oracle, that the Papal system is doomed, that its days are numbered, and must now be drawing to a close. All the arguments against this “mystery of iniquity,” derived from Daniel and John, must be abandoned; and Protestants must, with shame, retire from a field so long and so successfully occupied by them, whilst the Romanists triumph in their overthrow. “If,” says Bush in his animadversions on Stuart, “your hypothesis be correct, not only has nearly the whole Christian world been led astray for ages by a mere ignis fatuus of false hermeneutics, but the church is at once cut loose from every chronological mooring, and set adrift in the open sea, without the vestige of a beacon, lighthouse, or star, by which to determine her bearings or distances from the desired millennial haven to which she was tending. She is deprived of the means of taking a single celestial observation, and has no possible data for ascertaining, in the remotest degree, how far she is yet floating from the Ararat of promise. Upon your theory the Christian world has no distinct intimation given it as to the date of the downfall of the Roman despotism, civil or ecclesiastical, of Mahometanism, or of Paganism; no clue to the time of the conversion of the Jews or of the introduction of the millennium. On all these points the church is shut up to a blank and dreary uncertainty, which, though it may not extinguish, will tend greatly to diminish the ardour of her present zeal in the conversion of the world.”9 Strange, indeed, it must be regarded, that while the Old Testament church was cheered by her chronological promises or predictions, marking her progress as she floated down the stream of time, and indicating, at any stage of it, how far she was yet distant from the happy times of deliverance that awaited her, everything of this kind should be systematically excluded from the sublime predictions of the New Dispensation. Strange, too, that the grand symbols of Daniel and John—that their glorious predictions, confessedly allowed to reach onwards to the consummation of all things, should embrace a brief chapter in the lives of such men as Nero or Antiochus, and give no notice of that gigantic apostasy which for ages has cast its dark shadow over Christendom, and no comfort to a sorrowing church walking amid the gloom. Yet if the Protestant exposition of Daniel and the Apocalypse has proceeded on false principles, the sooner a return is made to the right path the better, however humbling may be the confession of error, and grieving the loss of imagined advantage in our controversy with Rome. Truth is great, and must prevail. None of her friends would assail even the worst cause with weapons she did not approve.

On both sides of this question, the importance of which has been set forth in the preceding paragraph, we find men of the very highest character for learning and skill in biblical science. “On one side Maitland and Burgh are the most able; on the other Faber, Elliott, and Birks. In America the indefatigable Stuart has taken up the same ground as the former, and has met with a formidable antagonist in Bush.” To the first class—the literal day class, namely—must now be added the name of the author who has thus specified the chief combatants—Dr. Davidson of the Lancashire Independent College. He has taken up the subject in the third volume of his Introduction to the New Testament, and discussed it with all the learning and ability which his high position among English critics might have led us to anticipate. “Si Pergama dextra defendi possent, etiam hoc defensa fuissent.” We think we can discern in his able defence some symptoms of progress in the controversy. The line which Dr. Davidson pursues is essentially different in many respects from that of Professor Stuart. The American professor insists on many points which the English divine seems to have abandoned.10

Everything like dogmatism in the discussion of a question so circumstanced is of course to be carefully avoided. There are difficulties on both sides, of which no satisfactory solution has as yet been given. Our aim shall be to ascertain, if possible, on which side the greater amount of truth lies. While avowing a decided leaning to the Year-day theory, we shall endeavour to do justice to the arguments of its opponents, and shall frankly allow it whenever the arguments of its supporters seem to us weak or dubious.

First, then, it must be allowed that the concurrent testimony of the great mass of Protestant interpreters, the nearly unanimous voice of the Protestant church, furnishes a prestige in favour of the Year-day principle. If it do not supply an argument it creates a favourable feeling, which is worthy of a better name than “prejudice.” It is a prepossession, but a prepossession founded on perfectly just ground, namely, that wherever men of learning and research, as well as Christian people at large, have long and tenaciously held any particular view, there must be something in that view that has a better foundation than its assailants are willing to allow. This is certainly very different from “calling up the names of illustrious dead, as the infallible expounders of the Bible;” and from “giving our language the semblance of assuming that, to differ from current opinions, is to disown Protestantism and favour Romanism.” That there is something in this presumptive argument, which we seek to build on Protestant opinion, is obvious from the anxiety that is manifested to make out that the principle or theory in question has, in reality, no connection with the reformers and the Protestant cause. “The statement,” it is said, “that certain applications of the Apocalypse caused or promoted the Reformation is wholly incorrect. It is absolutely false. A spiritual apprehension of the simple gospel, accompanied with the power of the Spirit, led these illustrious men to separate from the Romish church. And then it should be remembered, by those who write like Bush of the reformers and the ‘Protestant’ interpretation, that not one of the reformers understood a day in prophecy to mean a year. To talk of the reformers, therefore, in connection with this so-called ‘Protestant’ notion, is worse than trifling. It conveys a false impression.”11 Two questions are involved here:—How far the reformers made use of the Apocalypse in their controversy with Papists? and whether the Year-day principle may be regarded as a “Protestant” notion? The fact is, in regard to the first question, that the Waldenses and Wickliffites, previous to the Reformation, drew their weapons from the Apocalypse; and if we do not present references or quotations to prove it, it is just because the matter seems too plain to admit of any doubt. One testimony shall suffice, namely, that of Walter Brute, A.D. 1391. According to Foxe, the martyrologist, he was “a layman, and learned and brought up in the University of Oxford, being there a graduate.” He was accused of saying, among sundry other things, that the Pope is Antichrist, and a seducer of the people. Being called to answer, he put in, first, certain more brief “exhibits;” then another declaration, more ample, explaining and setting forth the grounds of his opinion. His defence was grounded very mainly on the Apocalyptic prophecy. For he at once bases his justification on the fact, as demonstrable, of the pope answering alike to the chief of the false Christs, prophesied of by Christ as to come in his name; to the man of sin, prophesied of by St. Paul; and to both the first beast and beast with the two lamb-like horns, in the Apocalypse; the city of Papal Rome, also answering similarly to the Apocalyptic Babylon.12 Indeed, we may learn much as to how far the Apocalypse had, even in these times, come to be used against the Church of Rome, from the fears of the Papists themselves, which prompted the fifth council of Lateran authoritatively to prohibit all writing or preaching on the subject of Antichrist, and all speculation regarding the time of the expected evils—“Tempus quoque prefixum futurorum malorum vel Antichristi adventum, aut certum diem judicii predicare vel asserere nequaquan presumant.13 As to the reformers, properly so called, they appear in the field next, using the same weapons with increasing skill and energy, as the two great prophecies whence they were drawn came to be better understood. The pages of Milner, D’Aubigné, or other historians of the period, abound with evidence; and Mr. Barnes has collected part of it under chap. x. 6, to which the reader is referred. Luther and his German associates seem to have drawn more upon Daniel, while in Switzerland and England the Apocalypse, for the most part, was appealed to. We might multiply proofs, were it necessary, from the writings of Leo Juda, Bullinger, Latimer, Bale, Foxe, &c. It is enough to refer to the very copious extracts given in the last volume of the Horæ Apocalypticæ.14 As to the other question, namely, whether the Year-day principle can be regarded as a “Protestant” notion, opportunity will be found for the consideration of it when we come to consider the objection against that principle, drawn from its alleged novelty. Meantime we shall only remark, that while Luther certainly had arrived at no definite conclusions regarding the Apocalyptic designations of time, his mind nevertheless was in search of some principle by which he should be enabled to extend the times beyond the literal sense. Nor need it in any way surprise us, that definite ideas on this subject should only have been obtained when the notion became settled and prevalent that the Popedom was the Apocalyptic Antichrist, and the interpretation of the times on a scale suited to the duration of that system became, in consequence, imperative.

2. The next consideration we advance is, the symbolical character of most of the predictions in which the disputed designations of time occur. In Daniel and the Apocalypse, things pictured to the eye are the signs or representations of a hidden sense intended to be conveyed by them. Now, it seems reasonable to conclude, that in this symbolic or picture writing the times should be hidden under some veil, as well as the associated events. Nay, one would imagine that these were just the very things that specially required concealment, in accordance with the design of the predictions, especially such as relate to the future deliverance and glory of the church; which is, that the saints should understand as much as may sustain their hope, yet in a way of diligence, watchfulness, and prayer. It is said, indeed, that symbolical times are not essential to this partial concealment. It may be so, yet they are doubtless fitted to serve this purpose; and there cannot but appear a manifest impropriety in associating symbolical events with literal or natural times. Why the veil in the one case and not in the other? Is not this system of mixing the symbolic and the literal fitted to mislead? and, according to the theory of Maitland and others, has it not, in point of fact, led astray the greater part of the Protestant world? Is it wonderful, that when times are found “imbedded in symbols,” a symbolical character should have been attached to them too. Let it be observed also, that in cases of what has been called miniature symbolization, as where an empire is represented by a man or a beast, long periods, such as might very well be attributed to an empire, or to any great political or ecclesiastical system, could not, in consistency with symbolical propriety, have been expressed otherwise than we find them. On the supposition that long periods were designed to be expressed, they must necessarily have been symbolized by shorter ones. “Nothing is more obvious than that the prophets have frequently, under divine prompting, adopted the system of hieroglyphic representation, in which a single man represents a community, or a wild beast an extended empire. Consequently, since the mystic exhibition of the community or empire is in miniature, symbolical propriety requires that the associated chronological periods should be exhibited in miniature also. The intrinsic fitness of such a mode of presentation is self-evident. In predicating of a nation a long term of 400 or even 4000 years, there is nothing revolting to verisimilitude or decorum; but to assign such a period to the actings of a symbolical man or animal would be a grievous outrage on all the proprieties of the prophetic style. The character of the adjuncts should evidently correspond with those of the principal, or the whole picture is at once marred by the most palpable incongruity.”15 It appears, then, in regard to dates occurring in passages where this principle of miniature symbolization is adopted, there is a strong presumption in favour of the Year-day theory, or some theory suitably extending the times.

Dr. Maitland has attempted to dislodge his antagonists from this intrenchment. His argument is subtle, and must have been deemed triumphant, for it is repeated and praised as a master-stroke by almost every subsequent writer on the same side. Allowing even that symbols of time might be expected in symbolic predictions, along with symbols of events, he denies that a day can in any way be regarded as the symbol of a year. It is not, he argues, a symbol at all. We give the argument in his own words, premising only that the advocates of the Year-day principle, as we shall by and by see, appeal to Ezek. iv. 49 in proof of it:—“When you speak of the beasts I know what you mean, for you admit that Daniel saw certain beasts; but when you speak of ‘the days,’ I know not what days you refer to, for your system admits of no days: you take, if I may so speak, the word ‘goat’ to mean the thing ‘goat,’ and the thing goat to represent the thing ‘king;’ but you take the word ‘day’ not to represent the thing ‘day,’ but at once to represent the thing year. And this is precisely the point which distinguishes this case from that of Ezekiel’s, which has been so often brought forward as parallel to it. The whole matter lies in this, that the one is a case of representing, the other of interpreting. goat, not the word goat, represented a king; a day, that is the word day, is interpreted to mean a year.”16 The pith of the argument seems to lie in this, that while, in Daniel, kingdoms are represented by certain visible symbols—beasts, namely—there is no visible symbol of a year. We may interpret a day of a year, but we cannot say a day symbolizes a year. The objector appears to have been met, in the first instance, by the alleged difficulty of symbolizing times in a visible way; but the case of Pharaoh and his officers was at once appealed to, in whose dreams three years are represented by three branches and three baskets; and seven years by seven kine, and seven ears of corn.17 A writer in the Investigator rejoined, that large numbers, such as the 1260 or 2300, could not easily be represented in the same way; a statement which seems so very simple and obvious, that we cannot but wonder it should have elicited such a burst of indignation as this: “What! shall it be affirmed that he who called up a vision in which seven kine symbolized seven years, could not employ visible and equally intelligible representations of 1260 years? This were to limit the power of the Almighty, by arrogantly assuming, that though he presented a few years by outward pictures to the eye, He could not, with equal facility, and like intelligibleness to men, have painted a much larger number by external emblems. We refer the writer in the Investigator to Rev. xiv. 1, and ask him how the apostle John knew there were exactly 144,000. On his principle that large number could not have been presented to the eye. How then did he know that there were 144,000?”18 Does the critic mean that John must have come to the knowledge of it by picture representation? Is he sure of this? The number is the same, and the company is the same as in chap. vii. 4, and there we read, “And I heard the number of them which were sealed, and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.” The question is by no means one regarding what God could do, but one regarding merely the powers and capabilities of symbolic language; and we do not feel ourselves at all guilty of any unwarrantable “daring,” when we aver that large numbers could not be visibly represented like small ones. The real solution of the difficulty which the objection presents, seems to us to have been given by Birks, in his First Elements of Prophecy. “The beasts were conceptions visually suggested to the eye of the prophet, and nothing more; and the days, in like manner, were conceptions suggested by the words of the vision to his ear. The only difference is in the sense by which the mental image is conveyed; for it is plain that a day, when used as a symbol, must be mentioned, and could not appear visibly to the eye.”19 But whatever may be thought of this, and of the preceding observations, we have still our appeal to the matter of fact. If it be the fact, that in Scripture a day does represent a year, we have no concern about speculations regarding modes of representing. The only question is, What is the Bible mode? and to that question we shall very shortly apply ourselves.

Meanwhile, we would remark, ere leaving this part of the subject, that although we affirm that wherever we find the principle of miniature symbolization of events, there we have a strong presumption in favour of the times, if such there be, being also expressed on a miniature scale, yet we do not exalt this into a principle embracing the entire case. We shall endeavour to ascertain here, what such general principle is. It need not be disguised that the ground of it has been shifted more than once during the progress of discussion. Mede himself seems to have occupied ground by far too wide; and few or none now choose to defend the Year-day principle on the platform chosen by him who has been erroneously regarded as its originator. He maintained that, “alike in Daniel, and, for aught he knew, in all the other prophets, times of things prophesied, expressed by days, are to be understood of years.” But prophecies can be quoted almost without number in which the predicted times must be understood literally; and against this position, somewhat doubtingly and casually assumed by an illustrious interpreter, the artillery of Stuart and Maitland would be most successful, if any were found so foolish as to intrench themselves within it. Professor Stuart, however, chooses to write as if it were an essential part of the Year-day theory. He fights with a man of straw, and expends his logic and his ridicule alike in vain. He asks in triumph, If the 120 years, predicted as the period that should elapse before the flood, must be extended into a respite for the ante-diluvians of 43,200 years? and if the predicted bondage of Abraham’s posterity in Egypt, for 400 years, must be extended into 144,000 years? if the seven years of plenty, and seven of famine to Egypt, must mean 2520 years of each? if Israel’s forty years’ wilderness-wanderings are to last 14,400 years?20 No, truly! and yet the times in Daniel and John may be symbolical times notwithstanding. By Bush and Faber, the principle is much narrowed. The ground assumed is that of miniature symbolization. This covers a large part of the field within which the Year-day theory is applied; still, it must be allowed, that both in Daniel and the Apocalypse, there are passages where the times are construed symbolically, or according to the longer reckoning, without being associated with symbols of events. Of this kind is Daniel’s famous prophecy of the seventy weeks. What, then, is the true principle or basis of the Year-day theory? We are disposed to reply, as we find Mr. Barnes in one place has done, that it is the manner of the symbolical books of Daniel and John, to express times on the scale of a day for a year; and that in regard to those places, if such there be, where the times are literal, the circumstances of the case, or some expressions in the text, prevent the possibility of mistake, and leave the principle untouched. The circumstances of the case, for example, forbid us to explain Dan. iv. 32 in accordance with the principle of a day for a year. “According to this, Nebuchadnezzar must have been mad and eat grass 2520 years.”21 The limited life of man renders any such extension of times here positively absurd. So also with the other case, so much insisted on by the Day-day theorists, of Daniel fasting three weeks.22 “Surely no one will contend that Daniel fasted twenty-one years.” No, but not to mention that this is not a prophecy at all, the circumstances of the case forbid it; and besides, in this place, we have the addition of יָמִים (weeks of days), “inserted expressly to bar any such interpretation as would assign to it, as its first sense, the meaning of years.”23 It would, therefore, be most unwise24 to argue from these exceptive passages, where there can be no danger of mistakes, against the application of the Year-day principle to the great leading prophecies in Daniel and John, regarding the glorious epochs of the church, and the times especially of the consummation. Nor can anyone rationally contend, that because these prophets have adopted this style of a day for a year, in predictions of the character above specified—predictions which form the chief part of their writings—that they are in no single instance to depart from that style—that they are never to lay aside the symbolic and assume the natural. Birks and Elliott, it may be noticed finally, find, in those passages where the Year-day theory is applicable, a purpose of temporary concealment; it being “the express design of God, that the church should be kept in the constant expectation of Christ’s advent,” and that, “yet as the time of the consummation drew near, there should be evidence of it sufficiently clear to each faithful inquirer.” “This,” adds the latter writer, “sets aside, from its very nature, the objections that have been drawn from sundry prophetic periods, known to be literally expressed, in prophecies where no such temporary concealment was intended.”25

3. Having seen that the symbolical character of the predictions in which the disputed times for the most part occur, affords a strong presumption, amounting as nearly as possible to proof, in favour of some such principle as that involved in the Year-day theory, we inquire next whether there be any indications of such principle in Scripture?

The case of the spies in the book of Numbers26 has been appealed to by nearly all writers on the Year-day side, and by some of them with no little confidence. “They returned from searching the land after forty days.... After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.” We confess, however, that if this passage were the only one of its kind, we should not be disposed to build much on it. It has been too much pressed; and many will find it difficult to see anything typical or mystical in it. It cannot be proved that the spies were types of the whole nation, or that the days were meant to represent years. Dr. Davidson seems to give the true account of the passage when he says, “It is a simple historical prophecy, in which God ordained that as the spies had wandered forty days, so the Israelites should wander forty years in the wilderness because of their sins.”27 Taken in connection with other passages, however, it may serve to show that the “Year-day scale” readily occurs in Scripture, when another might as easily have been adopted. The very fact of the punishment of Israel in this case being on the precise scale of a year for a day, seems to indicate something of this kind.

Ezekiel’s typical siege presents a much stronger case. We give the passage at length. Ezekiel having been commanded to portray the city of Jerusalem on a tile, and conduct a symbolic siege against it, is further enjoined—“Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of the days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shalt bear their iniquity. For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.”28 Ezekiel was ordered to assume this painful position that he might be a sign or symbol of the sufferings of the Jewish nation; and the number of days during which he lay prostrate was declared to symbolize the years of their punishment. Here, then, we have a plain precedent showing that in symbolical representations days stand for years. The argument is equally valid whether we suppose the symbolical actions represented things past or things future. The principle is the same. The probability is, that at the time of the representation a few years of the 390 had yet to run; and the design was to show that Jerusalem should be destroyed, and the inhabitants led away captive into Babylon. It is not our province, however, to enter into any exposition of the prophecy. The grand objection made to the argument from this passage is, that in it the symbolic significancy of the days “is expressly stated at the outset.”29 “It is expressly stated that God had appointed a day for a year, whereas in Daniel and John no such information is given.”30 But what if there had not been an “express statement” of the principle? That omission, we imagine, would have been eagerly laid hold on as an evidence that no such principle was contained in it. The “express statement,” then, so far from being an argument against using this passage as a precedent, is in reality a strong argument in favour of so doing. Can anything be more unreasonable than to object to the passages furnishing a clue or key for certain difficulties elsewhere, that they are plain and express? Nothing, we apprehend, unless to object next that the passages for which a key is sought are not plain and express. We had thought that it belonged to the very nature of key-passages that they should be plain, and to the very nature of the passages for which the key was needed, that they should not be plain. The demand that there shall be the express statement in these latter which belongs to the former, is just to demand that there shall be no mystery about the times at all,—that they shall be revealed with perfect clearness, and that no wisdom and diligence be called for in evolving a principle and applying it to special cases. Bush’s reply to Stuart on this point is, we think, triumphant. “The obvious reply to all this (the want of express statement in Daniel and the Apocalypse) is, that the instances now adduced are to be considered as merely giving us a clue to a general principle of interpretation. Here are two or three striking examples of predictions constructed on the plan of miniature symbolic representation in which the involved periods of time are reduced to a scale proportioned to that of the events themselves. What, then, more natural or legitimate, than that, when we meet with other prophecies constructed on precisely the same principle, we should interpret their chronological periods by the same rule? Instead of yielding to a demand to adduce authority for this mode of interpretation, I feel at liberty to demand the authority for departing from it. Manente ratione manet lex is an apothegm which is surely applicable here if anywhere. You repeatedly, in the course of your pages, appeal to the oracles of common sense, as the grand arbiter in deciding upon the principles of hermeneutics. I make my appeal to the same authority in the present case. I demand, in the name of common sense, a reason why the symbolical prophecies of Daniel and John should not be interpreted on the same principle with other prophecies of the same class. But however loud and urgent my demand on this head, I expect nothing else than that hill and dale will re-echo it, even to the ‘crack of doom,’ before a satisfactory response from your pages falls on my ear. All the answer I obtain is the following:—‘Instead of being aided by an appeal to Ezekiel iv. 5, 6, we find that a principle is recognized there which makes directly against the interpretation we are calling in question. The express exception as to the usual modes of reckoning goes directly to show, that the general rule would necessitate a different interpretation.’ I may possibly be over sanguine, but I cannot well resist the belief, that the reader will perceive that that which you regard as the exception, is in fact the rule.”31

Dr. Maitland’s famous objection, that in Ezekiel the case is one of representing, whereas in Daniel and the Apocalypse it is one of interpreting, has already been met in a previous part of this Preface. The objection of Bishop Horsley is not very grave—namely, that because the day of temptation in the wilderness was forty years, and one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, we might as well conclude that a day is forty years or a thousand years, as that it represents but one year. So might we, indeed, if a number of passages could be produced in which a day has such significancy, and another set of passages could be produced to which the first set furnish a key that seems exactly to answer. In the meantime, we must recognize the difference between what is merely figurative language, and therefore loose and shifting, and the language of symbol.

But the case of Isaiah32 has been supposed to neutralize any argument built upon that of Ezekiel: “The Lord spake by Isaiah, go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. And the Lord said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years, for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners.” Now, it is argued that here “three years correspond to three years, not three days to three years. It is arbitrary to suppose with Lowth that the original reading was three days, or to supply three days, with Vitringa. The text must stand as it is.”33 But the interpretation of Lowth and Vitringa is not the only mode in which we may escape from the difficulty, as this learned writer seems to hint. We are not shut up to conjectural emendations. The “three years” in the third verse may be connected with what follows, as well as with what goes before; then the verse will run, “Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot; a three years’ sign and wonder,” which relieves us entirely from the supposition that Isaiah walked three years barefoot, and, by consequence, from the objection that is founded on it. All that is intimated is, that in some way or other (the passage does not say how) the prophet was a three years’ sign—a sign, that is, of a calamity that would last during that time, or commence from that time. In proof of the justice of this arrangement, it may be noticed that the Masoretic interpunction throws the three years into the second clause; that the Septuagint gives both solutions, by repeating τρία ἔτη;34 and that in a period of such alarm, when Ashdod was taken and the Assyrian pressing on them, it is not likely the symbolical representation would be continued so long. Indeed, this opinion seems to meet with little or no countenance.35 The opinion that seems generally to prevail is, that Isaiah indicated the three years’ captivity either by exhibiting himself in the manner described in the text for three days, which would intimate three years, or by appearing in this manner once only, and at the same time verbally declaring his design in so doing.

We come next to what is confessedly a main pillar of the Year-day theory, the prophecy of the seventy weeks in Daniel.36 “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem, unto Messiah the prince, &c.” Now, the all but universal agreement that this prophecy was fulfilled in a period of 490 years, usually reckoned from the 7th of Artaxerxes, and extending to A.D. 33, the year in which Christ died, seems at once to settle the question regarding the mode of computation. There are, indeed, those37 who maintain that this prediction has yet to be fulfilled, and they profess to look for its fulfilment in seventy weeks of days; but the number holding this opinion is exceedingly small. The great mass of writers, even of those who contend for literal times, reject it as quite untenable. This mode of cutting the knot, however, indicates the difficulty that is felt by some “Day-dayists” in reconciling the passage with their theory, and their dissatisfaction with the more usual method of reconciliation. That method adopts a new rendering. The words, it is said, ought to be translated seventy sevens; and these are assumed to be sevens of years, because in the early part of the chapter Daniel had been meditating on Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the seventy years’ captivity. By thus understanding the sevens at once of years, without the intervention of symbolic days or weeks, the argument for the Year-day principle, it will be seen, is entirely destroyed.

It would be difficult and tedious to trace the course of discussion fully to which the passage has given rise. A very general outline must suffice. It had been maintained by some who contended for “sevens of years,” that the word translated weeks (שָׁבֻעִים shabuim) was the regular masculine plural of שֶׁבַע (sheba), seven, and ought, therefore, to be translated sevens.38 But שָׁבֻעִים (shabuim), as was alleged in reply, “is not the normal plural of the Hebrew term for seven.” The normal plural is שִׁבְעִים (shibim); but that is the term for seventy, and cannot mean sevens.39 It seems now admitted on all hands, that both שָׁבֻעִים (shabuim) and the feminine form שָׁבֻעוֹת (shabpuoth) are plural forms of שָׁבוּעַ (shabua), which, according to the etymology of the word, signifies a hebdomad or septemized period.40 The only question that remains, therefore, regards the use of the word. What is its use? So that after much controversy, the matter stands very much as Mede left it. “The question,” says he, “lies not in the etymology, but in the use, wherein שָׁבוּעַ (shabua) always signifies sevens of days, and never sevens of years. Wheresoever it is absolutely put, it means of days; it is nowhere thus used of years.”41 Besides the places in Daniel, the word occurs absolutely elsewhere, in some one or other of its forms, eleven times, and in every one of these cases with the sense of weeks of days.42 It is true that if we except the places in Daniel, there is no instance in Scripture where the masculine plural שָׁבֻעִים (shabuim) is used to denote weeks. The word elsewhere used for that purpose is uniformly שָׁבֻעוֹת (shabpuoth) in the feminine. But we confess ourselves at a loss to understand why so much should be made of this. The word which Daniel uses is confessedly the masculine plural43 of the same word, which in the singular is translated “week,” and in the feminine plural “weeks;” and although there are instances in various languages of the masculine and feminine plurals having different significations, yet, in the absence of anything like proof that such is the case here, we must be guided by the use of the word in its other forms throughout the Scripture, when we come to interpret the peculiar form that occurs in Daniel. What good reason can be given for departing from the analogy of the other forms? This, it must be confessed, is entirely on the side of the Year-day principle; and the objection resolves itself into nothing more than this, that it is a peculiar form of the word which Daniel uses.

As to what is said of the qualifying word יָמִים, yamim (days), twice occurring in chap. x. 2, 3,44 in connection with שָׁבֻעִים (shabuim), giving the literal sense three weeks, days, or three weeks as to days, we cannot see that it furnishes any grave objection to our argument. It seems rather to strengthen it. For here we have two places in which the word in question, and the form of it in question, are declared to mean weeks of days. Does not this intimate that such is the ordinary and primary sense? Are we not as much entitled to draw this conclusion, as other parties to conclude that the qualifying word is added because the usual sense is sevens of years? Let us only suppose that the qualifying word had been years instead of days (sevens as to years), would it not very readily have been said in that case, Here is a plain declaration that sevens of years are to be understood; and certainly the places where no qualifying word occurs must be ruled by this? Gesenius supposes the addition of יָמִים (days) is merely pleonastic; but if any other reason must be found for it, that of Bush seems as satisfactory as any, which regards it as an intimation that the primary sense is the only admissible one in the circumstances.

4. We entitle our next head of evidence, Exigency of the passages in which the prophetic times occur. The very best plan of arriving at the truth in the question, whether the shorter or longer reckoning be the right one, is to test both by application to the disputed passages. Try the two keys, and see which best suits the lock. One section of the literal dayists have here, however, a great advantage over their opponents, inasmuch as their plan of placing the Apocalyptic fulfilments entirely in the future (with the exception, on the part of some of them, of the epistles to the seven churches), relieves them from every embarrassment that might arise from any specific historical application. Of course it is impossible to argue with men of this school, that their literal times do not answer to their historical events, for historical events they have none, and we cannot prove that their ideal fulfilments may not be realized.

To discuss fully this part of our subject, however, would require a volume embracing an exposition of nearly all the more important passages in Daniel and the Apocalypse. We intend only to offer a few passing remarks on one or two of these, referring such as wish to prosecute the subject, to the “Notes” in this volume.

Let us take first the Saracenic woe.45 We say not, in the meantime, that the interpretation which has given rise to this name is necessarily the right one. We merely wish to institute a comparison between it and another interpretation, which proceeds on the principle of the shorter dates. If the reader will turn to our author’s exposition, and attentively study it, he will, we think, be disposed to acquiesce in the justice of his closing remark, that, on the supposition that it was the design of John to symbolize these events (the Arabian conquests), the symbol has been chosen which of all others is best adapted to the end. Moreover, it will be seen that the Arabian history, according to the requirements of the passage, on the Year-day principle, furnishes a period of five months, or 150 years of intense stinging oppression, and immediately thereafter exhibits a gradual decline in power, along with a disinclination to persecute. Now what have we to oppose to this view on the part of those who advocate literal times? We turn to Professor Stuart. He tells us he can find no event in history that, with any good degree of probability, will correspond to a period of 150 years. “And,” adds he, “if we count five literal months, we are still involved in the same difficulty. Hence the tropical use of the expression five months, seems to be most probable and facile.” His conclusion is that “the meaning must be a short period.” We cannot think that this “tropical use” is very “probable;” it is however abundantly “facile;” and we know not how to argue with those who, when events will not correspond with their literal times, immediately take refuge in tropes. When Professor Stuart can find events that suit, his times are literal, as we shall immediately see; when he cannot find such events, his times are tropical. But a principle so “facile,” however it may suit his convenience, is not fitted to guide us in an inquiry into the prophetic periods. “The proper laws of interpretation,” our author has justly observed in his exposition of the place, “demand that one or the other of these periods should be found, either that of five months literally, or that of a hundred and fifty years.”

Take next the Turkish woe.46 We refer the reader again to the author’s exposition, that he may see how “the hour, day, month, and year” of this prediction—that is, the 391 years, and a 12th or 24th of a year—find their fulfilment in the history of the Turkish empire. But on the supposition that the times are literal, what events can be fixed on as occupying this period of little more than a year? or how, in transactions so great, should a single hour be mentioned? These questions are evaded by assigning a new sense to the clause εἰς τὴν ὥραν καὶ ἡμέραν, &c. It is said to mean only, “that at the destined hour, and destined day, and destined month, and destined year,” the calamity should happen; that is to say, it should occur simply at the appointed time. We venture to say that such a periphrasis for an idea so simple has no parallel elsewhere. For the criticism of the passage, we refer to Barnes and Elliott, who have successfully contended that the words completely reject this sense. The latter appeals also to the parallel passage in Dan. xii. 7, where “for a time, times, and half a time” is universally understood of the aggregate period of three years and a half.47

The forty-two months of the Gentiles is another and remarkable Apocalyptic period.48 If we do not, with our author, apply the passage in which this notation of time occurs, to the trampling down of the church by the Papacy during her long and oppressive reign of 1260 years, but seek an explanation from those who deny the Year-day principle, shall we find events that will better answer on the principle of literal times? Let us try. Professor Stuart, in this place, abandons the idea he sometimes resorts to, of supposing the periods “figurative modes of expressing a short time.” He thinks a “literal and definite period” is here meant; and he even condescends, in spite of all his hatred of historical comments, on historical events answering to this definite period. “It is certain,” says he, “that the invasion of the Romans lasted just about the length of the period named until Jerusalem was taken.” And again, in his Excursus on Designations of Time, he says that in the spring of A.D. 67, Vespasian was sent by Nero to subdue Palestine; and that on the 10th of August, A.D. 70, Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by Titus. Thus he makes out the literal period of forty-two months or three and a half years. He is, however, compelled to admit that the war actually began some time before Vespasian’s mission. But allowing all this to be correct, there was, as Mr. Barnes remarks, “no precise period of three years and a half, in respect to which the language here used would be applicable to the literal Jerusalem. Judea was held in subjection, and trodden down by the Romans for centuries, and never, in fact, gained its independence.” It is trodden down still. And yet we are told, in a laboured article written on purpose to set aside the Year-day principle, that there can scarcely be a doubt that the period in question (the forty-two months) is designed to mark the time during which the conquest of Palestine and of the Holy City was going on.

In close connection with this prediction, we have the times of the two witnesses.49 They were to “prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.” Again, we think the longer reckoning meets the requirements of the passage, and is consistent with the historical events offered in explanation. During all the dark period of Papal rule, there has been a competent number of witnesses testifying in favour of the truth. The reader will find ample details in the exposition within. Let us turn now to the exposition offered by the great chief of the Literal-day theorists. His theory requires him to find the witnesses in Jerusalem immediately previous to its fall. But where the witnesses in Jerusalem prophesying during three and a half literal years? History is quite silent in regard to any such parties; nay more, the accounts which we have of the period render it exceedingly improbable that any such parties could have existed in Jerusalem at that time. The Christians, warned by their Master, had fled to Pella, and thereby escaped the calamity in which their unbelieving countrymen were overwhelmed. Yet, in the absence of history, and in spite of history, suppositions are made to stand in its place. We are told that some of the faithful and zealous teachers of Christianity would certainly remain in spite of their Lord’s warning. These, it is supposed next, would be slain by the Zealots, who would, notwithstanding, be unable to destroy Christianity. The truth should ever have a resurrection. We offer no further remark on this, than that if pure imaginations are to be alleged, where history fails, there can be no difficulty in meeting the requirements of any theory, inasmuch as inventions are much more “facile” than facts. But the exposure of the dead bodies of the witnesses is supposed to be perfectly fatal to the Year-day principle in this passage. “What now,” it is asked, “if we should insist on interpreting this (the three days and a half of exposure) as meaning three and a half years? It would bring out an absurdity; for a single month in the climate of Palestine would in one way or another destroy any dead body, not to speak of its being devoured.” Doubtless this is an absurdity; but it is an absurdity obtained by subjecting a symbolical passage to a very singular process, in which one part of the symbol is explained, and then read along with the unexplained part. But explain both parts of the passage, the lying exposed, as well as the days, and then we have no incongruous sense, but an intimation, that for three and a half years the witnesses should be silenced, and be treated with great indignity, as if unworthy of Christian burial. Or if the question be regarding symbolical propriety, let the symbolical representation stand as it is—both parts unexplained; and what inconsistency is there in supposing dead bodies exposed for three and a half days in the climate of Palestine? If we choose to proceed on a principle like this, we may make as many absurdities as there are passages in the Apocalypse.

Next in order, we have the times of the woman in the wilderness,50 the thousand two hundred and threescore days, or time, times, and half a time, during which she was protected and nourished by God. Once more we refer to the author’s exposition of this passage for a defence of the Protestant interpretation, which explains it of the preservation of the church in a state of comparative obscurity during the long period of Papal oppression. But on the principle of literal days, that is, “if the period of the woman’s sojourn be only three years and six months, the preparation must be either quite disproportionate to the event, or the steps of the preparation will be crowded into the narrowest compass. The spiritual deliverance, the dejection of Satan, the renewed persecution, the protection, the flood, its absorption by the friendly earth, and the persevering rage of the dragon, will all be crushed into the space of two or three years. Surely nothing but the most distinct revelation could make us receive such an exposition of the true reference of so glorious a prophecy.”51 It is difficult, indeed, to conceive that a prophecy of this nature should find its fulfilment in any three and a half years of the church’s history; and our difficulties certainly are not diminished, when we come to consider the special interpretations that are constructed on this principle. We are told that the woman is the Jewish Theocratic church. But that church never dwelt 1260 days in the wilderness, nor can any historical event be alleged in illustration of such a view that does not bear its refutation on the face of it. The Christians who fled to Pella, will the reader believe it, are, for the sake of a theory, made to stand for the church, symbolized by the woman; and their protection, during the continuance of the Jewish war, is the woman’s wilderness sojourn. The flight is the flight of the woman, or Jewish Theocratic church, in the first instance. But the Jewish church, to answer the necessities of the case, is at once transformed into the Christian; and finally, a comparatively small body of Christians in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem is elevated into the dignity of the church, to the exclusion of the numerous societies of Christians existing elsewhere. These are the assumptions set forth in antagonism to the Protestant view; set forth, too, not as modest guesses, but as certain verities, to reject which, brings down on us the charge of ignorance of history, and of exegetical science.

Our limits forbid us to speak of the forty-two months of the beast,52 or of the periods in Daniel. Of the beast, it is manifest, that it is a power of no brief duration; but one which, existing through a long previous period, appears again at the great final battle immediately previous to the millennium, and is then destroyed. Great care is taken, in the chapter which describes the closing struggle, to identify the beast which was then slain with that which had previously appeared on the stage.53 As to the view which explains the beast of Nero, and the times of the three and a half years of his persecution, it is certainly enough to observe, that it requires the aid of a heathen hariolation to make it out, and may, therefore, be dismissed without argument. Of the periods in Daniel, particularly those in the seventh and twelfth chapters,54 we can only say that the mode of authoritatively asserting that the reference is to Antiochus Epiphanes, and then ridiculing the idea of any one man living through 1260 years,55 is a mode which must be abandoned by such as would secure a favourable reception for their views. We believe the sublime predictions of Daniel and John are occupied with far higher subjects—subjects of infinitely more concern to the church and the world than the history of the two tyrants, Antiochus and Nero.

[We had intended to consider some of the current objections against the Year-day theory, particularly that founded on its alleged novelty—“The spiritual common sense of the church,” according to Dr. Maitland, “being set in array against it, from the days of Daniel to those of Wickliffe.” Mr. Elliott has thoroughly examined this position; and the conclusion to which he comes, after a most painstaking inquiry, is—“That from the time of Cyprian, near the middle of the 3d century, even to the time of Joachim and the Waldenses, in the 12th century, there was kept up, by a succession of expositors, a recognition of the precise Year-day principle.” We have carefully examined the grounds of this opinion, and compared them with certain recent and able adverse criticisms, without having had our conviction shaken that, in the main, it is correct.]


From the Theatre.









§ I. The Writer of the Book of Revelation.

Much has been written on the question who was the author of this book. To enter into an extended investigation of this would greatly exceed the limits which I have, and would not comport with my design in these Notes. For a full examination of the question I must refer to others, and would mention particularly, Prof. Stuart, Com. i. 283427; Lardner, Works, vi. 318327; Hug, Intro. to the New Testament, pp. 650673, Andover, 1836; Michaelis, Intro. to the New Testament, iv. 457544; and the article “Revelation,” in Kitto’s Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature. I propose to exhibit, briefly, the evidence that the apostle John was the author, according to the opinion which has been commonly entertained in the church; the proof of which seems to me to be satisfactory. This may be considered under these divisions: the direct historical evidence, and the insufficiency of the reason for doubting it.

I. The direct historical evidence. The sum of all that is to be said on this point is, that to the latter half of the third century it was not doubted that the apostle John was the author. Why it was ever afterwards doubted, and what is the force and value of the doubt, will be considered in another part of this Introduction.

There may be some convenience in dividing the early historical testimony into three periods of half a century each, extending from the death of John, about A.D. 98, to the middle of the third century.

1. From the death of John, about A.D. 98 to A.D. 150. This period embraces the last of those men who conversed, or who might have conversed, with the apostles; that is, who were, for a part of their lives, the contemporaries of John. The testimony of the writers who lived then would, of course, be very important. Those embraced in this period are Hermas, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias. The evidence of this period is not indeed very direct, but it is such as it would be on the supposition that John was the author, and there is nothing contradictory to that supposition.

Hermas, about A.D. 100.—In the Shepherd or Pastor, ascribed to this writer, there are several allusions which are supposed to refer to this book, and which resemble it so much as to make it probable that the author was acquainted with it. Dr. Lardner thus expresses the result of his examination of this point: “It is probable that Hermas had read the book of Revelation, and imitated it. He has many things resembling it” (vol. ii. pp. 6972). There is no direct testimony, however, in this writer that is of importance.

Ignatius.—He was bishop of Antioch, and flourished A.D. 70107. In the latter year he suffered martyrdom, in the time of Trajan. Little, however, can be derived from him in regard to the Apocalypse. He was a contemporary of John, and it is not a little remarkable that he has not more directly alluded to him. In the course of a forced and hurried journey to Rome, the scene of his martyrdom, he wrote several epistles to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrneans, and to Polycarp. There has been much controversy respecting the authenticity of these epistles, and it is generally admitted that those which we now possess have been greatly corrupted. There is no direct mention of the Apocalypse in these epistles, and Michaelis makes this one of the strong grounds of his disbelief of its genuineness. His argument is, that the silence of Ignatius shows, either that he did not know of the existence of this book, or did not recognize it as a part of the sacred Scriptures. Little, however, can be ever inferred from the mere silence of an author; for there may have been many reasons why, though the book may have been in existence, and recognized as the writing of John, Ignatius did not refer to it. The whole matter of the residence of John at Ephesus, of his banishment to Patmos, and of his death, is unnoticed by him. There are, however, two or three allusions in the epistles of Ignatius which have been supposed to refer to the Apocalypse, or to prove that he was familiar with that work—though it must be admitted that the language is so general, that it furnishes no certain proof that he designed to quote it. They are these: Epis. to the Romans—“In the patience of Jesus Christ,” comp. Rev. i. 9; and Epis. to the Ephesians—“Stones of the temple of the Father prepared for the building of God,” comp. Rev. xxi. 219. To these Mr. John Collyer Knight, of the British Museum, in a recent publication (Two New Arguments in Vindication of the Genuineness and Authenticity of the Revelation of St. John, London, 1842), has added a third: Epis. to the Philadelphians—“If they do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are but sepulchral pillars, and upon them are written only the names of men. ” Comp. Rev. iii. 12, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God; and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God.” It must be admitted, however, that this coincidence of language does not furnish any certain proof that Ignatius had seen the Apocalypse, though this is such language as he might have used if he had seen it. There was no known necessity, however, for his referring to this book if he was acquainted with it, and nothing can be inferred from his silence.

Polycarp.—He was bishop of Smyrna, and suffered martyrdom, though at what time is not certain. The Chronicon Paschale names A.D. 163; Eusebius, 167; Usher, 169; and Pearson, 148. He died at the age of eighty-six, and consequently was contemporary with John, who died about A.D. 98. There is but one relic of his writings extant—his epistle to the Philippians. There is in Eusebius (iv. 15), an epistle from the church in Smyrna to the churches in Pontus, giving an account of the martyrdom of Polycarp. It is admitted that in neither of these is there any express mention, or any certain allusion, to the book of Revelation. But from this circumstance nothing can be inferred respecting the Apocalypse, either for or against it, since there may have been no occasion for Polycarp or his friends, in the writings now extant, to speak of this book; and from their silence nothing more should be inferred against this book than against the epistles of Paul, or the Gospel by John. There is, however, what may, without impropriety, be regarded as an important testimony of Polycarp in regard to this book. Polycarp was, as there is every reason to suppose, the personal friend of John, and Irenæus was the personal friend of Polycarp (Lardner, ii. 9496). Now Irenæus, as we shall see, on all occasions, and in the most positive manner, gives his clear testimony that the Apocalypse was written by the apostle John. It is impossible to suppose that he would do this if Polycarp had not believed it to be true; and certainly he would not have been likely to hold this opinion if one who was his own friend, and the friend of John, had doubted or denied it. This is not indeed absolute proof, but it furnishes strong presumptive evidence in favour of the opinion that the book of Revelation was written by the apostle John. The whole history of Polycarp, and his testimony to the books of the New Testament, may be seen in Lardner, ii. 94114.

Papias.—Papias was bishop of Hierapolis, near Colosse, and flourished, according to Cave, about A.D. 110; according to others, about the year 115 or 116. How long he lived is uncertain. Irenæus asserts that he was the intimate friend—ἑταῖρος—of Polycarp, and this is also admitted by Eusebius (Ecc. Hist. iii. 39). He was the contemporary of John, and was probably acquainted with him. Eusebius expressly says that he was “a hearer of John” (Lardner, ii. 117). Of his writings there remain only a few fragments preserved by Eusebius, by Jerome, and in the Commentary of Andrew, bishop of Cæsarea, in Cappadocia. He was a warm defender of the Millennarian doctrines. In his writings preserved to us (see Lardner, ii. 120125), there is no express mention of the Apocalypse, or direct reference to it; but the commentator Andrew of Cæsarea reckons him among the explicit witnesses in its favour. In the Preface to his Commentary on the Apocalypse, Andrew says, “In regard now to the inspiration of the book, we think it superfluous to extend our discourse, inasmuch as the blessed Gregory, and Cyril, and moreover the ancient [writers] Papias, Irenæus, Methodius, and Hippolytus bear testimony to its credibility.” See the passage in Hug, Intro. p. 652; and Prof. Stuart, i. 305. And in nearly the same words does Arethas, the successor of Andrew, bear the like testimony. The evidence, therefore, in this case is the same as in the case of Polycarp, and it cannot be supposed that Papias would have been thus referred to unless it was uniformly understood that he regarded the book as the production of the apostle John.

These are all the testimonies that properly belong to the first half century after the death of John, and though not absolutely positive and conclusive in themselves, yet the following points may be regarded as established:—(a) The book was known; (b) so far as the testimony goes, it is in favour of its having been composed by John; (c) the fact that he was the author is not called in question or doubted; (d) it was generally ascribed to him; (e) it was probably the foundation of the Millennarian views entertained by Papias—that is, it is easier to account for his holding these views by supposing that the book was known, and that he founded them on this book, than in any other way. See Prof. Stuart, i. 304.

2. The second half century after the death of John, from A.D. 150 to A.D. 200. This will include the names of Justin Martyr, the Narrator of the Martyrs of Lyons, Irenæus, Melito, Theophilus, Apollonius, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian.

Justin Martyr.—He was a Christian philosopher, born at Flavia Neapolis, anciently called Sichem, a city of Samaria, it is supposed about A.D. 103; was converted to Christianity about A.D. 133, and suffered martyrdom about A.D. 165 (Lardner, ii. 125140). He was partly contemporary with Polycarp and Papias. He travelled in Egypt, Italy, and Asia Minor, and resided some time at Ephesus. He was endowed with a bold and inquiring mind, and was a man eminent for integrity and virtue. Tatian calls him an “admirable man.” Methodius says, that he was a man “not far removed from the apostles in time or in virtue.” Photius says, that he was “well acquainted with the Christian philosophy, and especially with the heathen; rich in the knowledge of history, and all other parts of learning” (Lardner). He was, therefore, well qualified to ascertain the truth about the origin of the book of Revelation, and his testimony must be of great value. He was an advocate of the doctrine of Chiliasm—or, the doctrine that Christ would reign a thousand years on the earth—and in defence of this he uses the following language: “And a man from among us, by name John, one of the Apostles of Christ, in a Revelation made to him—ἐν Ἀποκαλύψει γενομένῃ αὐτᾷ—has prophesied that the believers in one Christ shall live a thousand years in Jerusalem; and after that shall be the general, and, in a word, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men together.” There can be no doubt whatever that there is an allusion here to the book of Revelation—for the very name RevelationἈποκάλυψις—is used; that Justin believed that it was written by the apostle John; and that there is express reference to what is now chap. xx. of that book. The book was, therefore, in existence in the time of Justin—that is, in about fifty years after the death of John; was believed to be the work of the apostle John; was quoted as such, and by one who had lived in the very region where John lived, and by a man whose character is unimpeached, and who, in a point like this, could not have been mistaken. The testimony of Justin Martyr, therefore, is very important. It is positive; it is given where there was every opportunity for knowing the truth, and where there was no motive for a false testimony; and it is the testimony of one whose character for truthfulness is unimpeached.

The Narrative of the Martyrs of Vienne and Lyons.—Lardner, ii. 160165. In the reign of Marcus Antoninus, Christians suffered much from persecution. This persecution was particularly violent at Lyons, and the country round about. The churches of Lyons and Vienne sent an account of their sufferings, in an epistle, to the churches of Asia and Phrygia. This, according to Lardner, was about A.D. 177. The epistle has been preserved by Eusebius. In this epistle, among other undoubted allusions to the New Testament, the following occurs. Speaking of Vettius Epigathus, they say—“For he was indeed a genuine disciple of Christ, following the Lamb whithersoever he goes.” Comp. Rev. xiv. 2: “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” There can be no doubt that this passage in Revelation was referred to; and it proves that the book was then known, and that the writers were accustomed to regard it as on a level with the other sacred writings.

Irenæus.—The testimony of this father has already been referred to when speaking of Polycarp. He was bishop of Lyons, in Gaul. His country is not certainly known, but Lardner supposes that he was a Greek, and, from his early acquaintance with Polycarp, that he was from Asia. When a youth, he was a hearer of Polycarp, and also a disciple of Papias. He was born about the beginning of the second century, and it is commonly supposed that he suffered martyrdom in extreme old age. He became bishop of Lyons after he was seventy years of age, and wrote his principal work, Contra Hæreses, after this. His testimony is particularly valuable, as he was in early life acquainted with Polycarp, who was a contemporary and friend of the apostle John (Lardner, ii. 165192). Of his reference to the book of Revelation, Lardner says: “The Apocalypse, or Revelation, is often quoted by him as the Revelation of John, the disciple of the Lord.” In one place he says: “It was seen no long time ago, but almost in our age, at the end of the reign of Domitian.” And again, he spoke of the exact and ancient copies of the book, as if it was important to ascertain the true reading, and as if it were then possible to do this. Thus Eusebius (Lardner, ii. 167) says of him: “In his fifth book he thus discourses of the Revelation of John, and the computation of the name of Antichrist: ‘These things being thus, and this number being in all the exact and ancient copies, and they who saw John attesting to the same things, and reason teaching us that the number of the name of the beast, according to the acceptation of the Greeks, is expressed by the letters contained in it.’” Here is an undoubted reference to Revelation xiii. 18. This evidence is clear and positive. Its value consists in these things: (a) That he was familiar with one who was the friend of John; (b) that he must have known his views on the subject; (c) that he must have been intimately acquainted with the common opinion on the subject of the authorship of the book; (d) that a spurious work could not have been palmed upon the world as the production of John; (e) that he bears unequivocal testimony to the fact that it was written by John; (f) and that he speaks of the “most exact” copies being then in existence, and testified to by those who had seen John himself.

Melito.—Lardner, ii. 157160. He was bishop of Sardis, one of the churches to which the book of Revelation was directed. He is supposed to have flourished about A.D. 170. He was a man greatly distinguished for learning and piety, and Jerome says that Christians were accustomed to name him a prophet. He was, moreover, remarkably inquisitive respecting the sacred books; and, at the request of Onesimus, he made extracts from the Scriptures respecting the Messianic prophecies, and also a complete list of the books of the Old Testament, which is still extant in Eusebius, Ecc. Hist. iv. 26. He wrote a Treatise or Commentary on the Book of Revelation. Dr. Lardner says of this, “What it contained we are not informed. I will say it was a commentary on that book. It is plain he ascribed that book to John, and very likely to John the apostle. I think it very probable he esteemed it a book of canonical authority.” Hug says (p. 653), “Melito himself calls it the Apocalypse of John.” Even Michaelis (Intro. to the New Testament, iv. 466) reckons Melito among the witnesses in favour of the book. The value of this testimony is this: (a) Melito was bishop of one of the churches to which the Apocalypse was directed; (b) he lived near the time of John; (c) he was a diligent student on this very subject; (d) he had every opportunity of ascertaining the truth on the subject; (e) he regarded it as the work of the apostle John; (f) and he wrote a treatise or commentary on it as an inspired book. It is not easy to conceive of stronger testimony in favour of the book.

Theophilus.—Lardner, ii. 203215. He was bishop of Antioch, and flourished about A.D. 169180. He wrote a work against the “heresy” of Hermogenes, referred to by Eusebius, Ecc. Hist. iv. 24. In that work he expressly speaks of the Apocalypse as the production of John; and Lardner says of his testimony, “That the book of Revelation was owned by him is undoubted from Eusebius. Eusebius has assured us that Theophilus, in his book against Hermogenes, brought testimonies from the Apocalypse of John,” pp. 214, 215. The value of this testimony is, that Theophilus doubtless expressed the current opinion of his time, and that he had ample opportunity for ascertaining the truth. There is also a passage in the writings of Theophilus which seems to be a direct allusion to the book of Revelation: “This Eve, because she was deceived by the serpent—the evil demon, who is also called Satan, who thus spoke to her by the serpent—does not cease to accuse; this demon is also called the dragon. ” Comp. Rev. xii. 9.

Apollonius.—Lardner, ii. 391393. He flourished about A.D. 192. Eusebius says of him, “He makes use of testimonies out of the Revelation of John.” The value of this testimony is, (a) that he quotes the book as of authority; and (b) that he ascribes it to John, evidently meaning the apostle John.

Clement of Alexandria.—Lardner, ii. 222259. He flourished about A.D. 192220. Many of his writings are extant. Lardner (p. 245) says of him, “The book of Revelation is several times quoted by him, and once in this manner: ‘Such an one, though here on earth he be not honoured with the first seat, shall sit upon the four and twenty thrones judging the people, as John says in the Revelation.’” Comp. Rev. iv. 4; xi. 16. Lardner adds, “And that he supposed this writer to be John the apostle appears from another place, where he refers to Rev. xxi. 21, as the words of the apostle.” Professor Stuart says (i. 317), “There is no good ground for doubt, from anything which is found in the work, that he received and admitted the Apocalypse as a work of John the apostle.” The known character of Clement makes this testimony of great value.

Tertullian.—He was the contemporary of Clement, and was the most ancient, and one of the most learned, of the Latin fathers (Lardner, ii. 267306). He was born at Carthage about the middle of the second century, and died about A.D. 220. He was reared in the study of the Greek and Latin languages, of philosophy and the Roman law, and possessed extensive information. “His testimony to the Apocalypse is most full and ample. He quotes, or refers to it in more than seventy passages in his writings, appealing to it expressly as the work of the apostle John” (Elliott, i. 27). “The declarations of Tertullian are so frequent and plain, that no doubt can possibly remain as to his belief” (Prof. Stuart, i. 318). “The Revelation of John is often quoted. I put together two or three passages, which show his full persuasion that it was written by the apostle and evangelist of that name” (Lardner, ii. 295). One of the passages referred to by Lardner is the following: “The apostle John, in the Apocalypse, describes a sharp two-edged sword coming out of the mouth of God.” Another is, “Though Marcion rejects his revelation, the succession of bishops traced to the original will assure us that John is the author.” There can be no doubt, therefore, that Tertullian regarded the apostle John as the author of the book of Revelation; and his confident assertion may be considered as expressive of the prevailing opinion of his time.

Thus far, to the end of the second century, the testimony of the fathers of the church, as far as we now have it, was uniform and unbroken; and so far as historical testimony is concerned, this should be permitted to decide the question. Marcion, indeed, who lived in the time of Polycarp, and whom Polycarp called “the first-born of Satan” (Lardner, ii. 95), rejected the book of Revelation (see the declaration of Tertullian in Lardner, ii. 275); but it is also to be remembered that he rejected the whole of the Old Testament, the account of the genealogy and baptism of the Saviour, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, the Hebrews, and the Catholic Epistles (Lardner, vi. 142151, 347350; viii. 489513). Besides the opinion of Marcion, the testimony was uniform, with the exception of the heretical sect of the Alogi, if there was any such sect, which is generally supposed to have arisen in the latter half of this century, who derived their name from their antipathy to the name of Logos, and who on this account denied both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. See Lardner, iv. 190, 191; viii. 627, 628. Lardner, however, maintains that there never was any such sect (viii. 628).

3. The third half century after the death of John, A.D. 200250. Among the names embraced in this period are those of Hippolytus, who flourished about A.D. 220; Nepos, an Egyptian bishop; the well-known Origen, the most acute critic of all the early fathers, and who devoted his life to the study of the Scriptures; Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who flourished about A.D. 246; and Methodius, bishop of Olympia in Lycia. All these, without exception, have left a clear and decided expression of their belief that the apostle John was the author of the Apocalypse. See that testimony at length in Prof. Stuart, i. 321326.

It is unnecessary to pursue the historical evidence further. If the testimony in favour of the work is unbroken and clear for an hundred and fifty years, the testimony of those who lived subsequent to that period would add little to its strength. To the names already mentioned, however, there might be added those of Epiphanius, Basil, Cyril of Alexandria, Ephrem the Syrian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Hilary of Poictiers, Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, and many others.

Such is the external positive testimony in favour of the opinion that the book of Revelation was written by the apostle John.

To this might be added certain internal marks, or certain facts in the life of John which accord with this supposition, and seem to confirm it. They are such that if they did not exist there might be some room for plausible doubt, though it must be admitted that, in themselves, they do not amount to positive proof of any considerable strength that he was the author. There is not room to dwell upon them, and they can only be briefly referred to. They are such as these:—(1) That the author calls himself John , evidently with the design of representing himself as the apostle of that name; for (a) his supposed relation to the churches of Asia Minor is such as the relation of the apostle John was, and (b) the name John, unless there was something to qualify it, would be naturally understood as referring to the apostle of that name. (2) The fact that John lived at Ephesus, and was well known to the seven churches of Asia Minor. (3) The fact that he lived to extreme old age—to the time when the book was supposed to have been written. See § II. (4) The fact that there was a persecution in the time of Domitian, when this book is supposed to have been written; and (5) what might be derived from a comparison of this book with the acknowledged writings of John.

II. To confirm the argument, it is necessary to show the insufficiency of the reasons for doubting that John was the author. This point may be considered under two heads—the alleged grounds for doubting that it was written by John by the ancients; and the reasons alleged by the moderns.

(1) The ancients.

(a) It has been maintained that it was rejected by Caius, a presbyter at Rome. He flourished, according to Cave, about A.D. 210. See Lardner, ii. 394410. There is a single passage in his writings, from which it has been inferred that he designed to reject the Apocalypse. This is in the following words—“And Cerinthus also, who by his revelations, as if written by some great apostle, imposes upon us monstrous relations of things of his own invention, as shown him by an angel, says, ‘that after the resurrection there shall be a terrestrial kingdom of Christ, and that men shall live again in Jerusalem, subject to sensual desires and pleasures. And being an enemy to the divine Scriptures, and desirous to seduce mankind, he says there will be a term of a thousand years spent in nuptial entertainments’” (Lardner, ii. 400, 401).

The whole force of this depends on the supposition that Caius meant to refer to Rev. xx. 46.

But in regard to this the following remarks may be made:—(a) Caius was strongly opposed to Cerinthus, and to his views; (b) he was opposed to the prevailing doctrine of Chiliasm, or the doctrine of the millennium, as then extensively held—that Christ would reign personally on the earth with his saints for a thousand years; (c) it may be possible that Cerinthus may have forged a work pretending to be of apostolic origin, in which these doctrines were affirmed; (d) it is possible that the book of Revelation, as left by John, may have been interpolated and corrupted by Caius thus. Some one of these suppositions is more probable than the supposition that Caius meant to reject the book of Revelation; for,

1. The views referred to by Caius, as held by Cerinthus, are not the views which are found in Rev. xx. He spoke of a “terrestrial kingdom of Christ;” says that “men would again live in Jerusalem;” that they “would be subject to sensual pleasures;” and that the “term of a thousand years would be spent in nuptial entertainments.” None of these opinions are found in the book of Revelation as we now have it.

2. The title given by Caius to the book—Revelations instead of RevelationἈποκάλυψις—as we find it in the book itself, chap. i. 1, would seem to indicate a different work from that of John. Eusebius always refers to the Apocalypse by the noun singular (Prof. Stuart, i. 341), and this is the general manner in which the work has been designated. If Caius had designed to refer to this, it is probable that he would have used the common term to designate it.

3. These views receive some confirmation from a passage in Theodoret, “who spoke of Cerinthus in such a way as seems to imply that he had forged an Apocalypse for the promotion of his designs.” That passage is, “Cerinthus forged certain revelations as if he himself had seen them, and added descriptions of certain terrible things, and declares that the kingdom of the Lord will be established on the earth,” &c. See Prof. Stuart, i. 342. On the whole, nothing of material importance can be derived from the testimony of Caius in proof that the Apocalypse was not believed to have been written by John.

(b) Dionysius of Alexandria doubted the genuineness of the Apocalypse as being the production of John, though he did not deny its inspiration. He was made bishop of the see of Alexandria A.D. 247 or 248, and died about A.D. 264 or 265. See Lardner, ii. 643722. He was a pupil of Origen, and enjoyed a high reputation. The full testimony of Dionysius in regard to this book may be seen in Lardner, ii. 693697. I will copy all that is material to show his opinion. He says, “Some who were before us have utterly rejected and confuted this book, criticising every chapter; showing it throughout unintelligible and inconsistent; adding, moreover, that the inspiration is false, forasmuch as it is not John’s; nor is a revelation which is hidden under so obscure and thick a veil of ignorance.” [Prof. Stuart (i. 346) translates this, “It contains, moreover, no revelation; for it is covered with a strong and thick veil of ignorance.”] “And this not only no apostle, but not so much as any holy or ecclesiastical man was the author of this writing, but that Cerinthus, founder of the heresy called after him the Cerinthian, the better to recommend his own forgery, prefixed to it an honourable name. For this, they say, was one of his particular notions, that the kingdom of Christ should be earthly; consisting of those things which he himself, a carnal and sensual man, most admired, the pleasures of the belly and its concupiscence; that is, eating, and drinking, and marriage; and for the more decent procurement of these, feastings, and sacrifices, and slaughters of victims. But, for my part, I dare not reject the book, since many of the brethren have it in high esteem; but allowing it to be above my understanding, I suppose it to contain throughout some latent and wonderful meaning; for though I do not understand it, I suspect there must be some profound sense in the words; not measuring and judging these things by my own reason, but ascribing more to faith, I esteem them too sublime to be comprehended by me.” Then, having quoted some passages from the book, he adds, speaking of the author, “I do not deny, then, that his name is John, and that this is John’s book; for I believe it to be the work of some holy and inspired person. Nevertheless, I  cannot easily grant him to be the apostle, the son of Zebedee, brother of James, whose is the Gospel ascribed to John, and the Catholic Epistle; for I conclude from the manner of each, and the term of expression, and the conduct of the book, as we call it, that he is not the same person; for the Evangelist nowhere puts down his name, nor does he speak of himself either in the Gospel or the Epistle. I  think, therefore, that he [the author] is another, one of them that dwelleth in Asia; forasmuch as it is said, that there are two tombs at Ephesus, each of them called John’s tomb. And from the sentiment, and words, and disposition of them, it is likely that he differed from him [who wrote the Gospel and Epistle].”

This is the sum of all that Dionysius says in regard to the genuineness of the book.

Respecting this the following remarks may be made:—

1. Dionysius, though he did not regard the work as the work of John the apostle, yet received it as an inspired book, though far above his comprehension.

2. He does not agree with those who altogether rejected it, as if it were no revelation, and contained no inspired truth.

3. He did not ascribe it, as it has been supposed by some that Caius did, to Cerinthus.

4. All the objections that he urges to its being the work of the apostle John are derived from the book itself, and from the difficulty of supposing that the Gospel of John, and the First Epistle of John, should have been written by the same author. He refers to no historical proof on that point; and does not even intimate that its genuineness had been called in question by the early writers. It is clear, therefore, that the objections of Dionysius should not be allowed to set aside the strong and clear proofs of a historical nature already adduced from the early Christian writers. See the opinion of Dionysius examined more at length in Prof. Stuart, i. 344354. Comp. Hug, Intro. pp. 654656.

(c) It may be added, in regard to the historical testimony from the ancients, that the book is not found in many of the early catalogues of the books of the New Testament, and that this has been made an objection to its authenticity. Thus Gregory of Nazianzen, in a piece composed in verse, containing a catalogue of the canonical Scriptures, omits the book of Revelation; in the catalogue of sacred writings annexed to the canons of the council of Laodicea, A.D. 363, it is also omitted; in the so-called Canons of the Apostles, a supposititious work of the latter part of the fourth century, it is also omitted; it is also omitted in a catalogue of sacred books published by Cyril of Jerusalem, A.D. 360; and it is mentioned by Amphilocus, bishop of Iconium, A.D. 380, as among the books that were doubtful. “Some,” says he, “admit the Apocalypse of John, but most persons say it is spurious.” See Michaelis, Intro. New Test. iv. 489; Prof. Stuart, i. 357, seq.

In regard to these omissions, and the doubts entertained by later writers on the subject, it may be remarked in general, (1) That it is well known that in the latter part of the fourth century and onward many doubts were entertained as to the canonical authority of the Apocalypse, and that, together with the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Second Epistle of Peter, and the Second and Third Epistles of John, it was reckoned among the books called Antilegomena; that is, books spoken against, or books whose canonical authority was not admitted by all. (2) This fact shows, as has been often remarked, the great vigilance of the church in the early ages, in settling the canon of Scripture, and in determining what books were to be admitted, and what were to be rejected. (3) These doubts, entertained in a later age, cannot affect the clear historical testimony of the early writers, as we now have it; for the question of the origin of the Apocalypse, so far as the historical testimony is concerned, must be determined by the testimony of the writers who lived near the time when it is alleged to have been written. (4) The objections alleged against the Apocalypse in later times were wholly on internal grounds, and were mainly derived from the fact that it was supposed to countenance the doctrine of Chiliasm, or the doctrine of the personal reign of Christ and the saints, for a thousand years, in Jerusalem; and from the fact that the followers of Cerinthus appealed to this book in support of their pernicious errors. The book seemed (see chap. xx.) to countenance the views early entertained by many on the subject of the millennium, and, in accordance with a common method of controversy, its canonical authority was therefore called in question. Thus Hug (Intro. p. 654) says, “It was amidst the disputes concerning the millennium that the first explicit and well-authenticated denial of the Apocalypse occurred.” Nepos, bishop of the Arsinoitic præfecture in Egypt, had maintained that the doctrine of the millennium could be defended from the book of Revelation by a literal exposition. Dionysius opposed this view, and, in the violence of the dispute on the subject, the authority of the Apocalypse itself was called in question by Dionysius, on the grounds referred to above. “He did this, however,” says Hug, “with such moderation, that he might not offend those who had so readily agreed to a compromise;” that is, a compromise by which, as bishop, he had endeavoured to reconcile the contending parties. Hug has shown conclusively (pp. 654656) that this constitutes no objection to the genuineness of the book. It was on such internal grounds entirely that the authenticity of the book was called in question, and that it was ever placed among the disputed books. That objection is, of course, of no importance now. (5) It is well known that, mainly by the influence of Jerome and Augustine (see Prof. Stuart, i. 334), all these doubts were removed, and that the Apocalypse after their time was all but universally received, until Luther, for reasons derived from the book itself, in the early part of his life, again called it in question.

Such is a summary of the historical argument in favour of the genuineness of the book of Revelation; and such is the nature of the evidence which has satisfied the Christian world at large that it is the work of the apostle John, and is, therefore, entitled to a place as an inspired book in the canon of Scripture. In ancient times there were no objections to it on historical grounds, and it is unnecessary to say that there can be none on these grounds now.

(2) The objections to its genuineness and authenticity in modern times are wholly derived from the contents of the book itself. These objections, as stated by De Wette, and as expressing the substance of all that is urged by Ewald, Lücke, Credner, and others, are the following:—

1. That the Apocalyptical writer calls himself John, which the evangelist never does. It is added, also, by Ewald, Credner, and Hitzig, that in chap. xviii. 20 and xxi. 14 the writer expressly excludes himself from the number of the apostles.

2. That the language of the book is entirely different from that of the fourth Gospel, and the three Epistles of John the apostle. It is said to be characterized by strong Hebraisms, and by ruggedness; by negligence of expression, and by grammatical inaccuracies; and that it exhibits the absence of pure Greek words, and of the apostle’s favourite expressions.

3. That the style is unlike that which appears in the Gospel and the Epistles. In the latter it is said there is calm, deep feeling; in the Apocalypse a lively creative power of fancy.

4. That the doctrinal aspect of the book is different from that of the apostle’s acknowledged writings. It is said that we find in the latter nothing of the “sensuous expectations of the Messiah and of his kingdom,” which are prominent in the Apocalypse; that the views inculcated respecting spirits, demons, and angels are foreign to John; and that there is a certain spirit of revenge flowing throughout the Apocalypse quite inconsistent with the mild and amiable disposition of the beloved disciple.

For a full consideration of these points, and a complete answer to these objections, the reader is referred to the Commentary of Prof. Stuart, vol. i. pp. 371422. A more condensed reply is found in Kitto’s Cyclopædia of Biblical Literature, in an article by the Rev. S. Davidson, LL.D., Professor of Biblical Literature and Oriental Languages in the Lancashire Independent College, vol. ii. pp. 614618.

The objections do not seem to me to have the importance which has been attached to them by many persons, but it may be satisfactory to see the manner in which they are disposed of by Dr. Davidson; I therefore copy his answer to them.

“Let us now consider the internal evidence in favour of John the Apostle, beginning with an examination of the arguments adduced on the other side by De Wette. These do not possess all the weight that many assign to them. We shall follow the order in which they have been already stated.

“1. We attach no importance to this circumstance. Why should not a writer be at liberty to name himself or not as he pleases? above all, why should not a writer, under the immediate inspiration of the Almighty, omit the particulars which he was not prompted to record? How could he refrain from doing so? The Holy Spirit must have had some good reason for leading the writer to set forth his name, although curiosity is not gratified by assigning the reason. The Old Testament prophets usually prefixed their names to the visions and predictions which they were prompted to record; and John does the same. But instead of styling himself an apostle, which carries with it an idea of dignity and official authority, he modestly takes to himself the appellation of a servant of Christ, the brother and companion of the faithful in tribulation. This corresponds with the relation which he sustained to Christ in the receiving of such visions, as also with the condition of the Redeemer himself. In the Gospel John is mentioned as the disciple whom Jesus loved, for then he stood in an intimate relation to Christ, as the Son of man appearing in the form of a servant; but in the book before us Christ is announced as the glorified Redeemer who should quickly come to judgment, and John is his servant, intrusted with the secrets of his house. Well did it become the apostle to forget all the honour of his apostolic office, and to be abased before the Lord of glory. The resplendent vision of the Saviour had such an effect upon the seer that he fell at his feet as dead; and therefore it was quite natural for him to be clothed with profound humility, to designate himself the servant of Jesus Christ, the brother and companion of the faithful in tribulation. Again, in chap. xviii. 20 the prophets are said to be represented as already in heaven in their glorified condition, and therefore the writer could not have belonged to their number. But this passage neither affirms, nor necessarily implies, that the saints and apostles and prophets were at that time in heaven. Neither is it stated that all the apostles had then been glorified. Chap. xxi. 14 is alleged to be inconsistent with the modesty and humility of John. This is a questionable assumption. The official honour inseparable from the person of an apostle was surely compatible with profound humility. It was so with Paul; and we may safely draw the same conclusion in regard to John. In describing the heavenly Jerusalem it was necessary to introduce the twelve apostles. The writer could not exclude himself (see Lücke, p. 389; and Guerike’s Beiträge, p. 37, seq.).

“2. To enter fully into this argument would require a lengthened treatise. Let us briefly notice the particular words, phrases, and expressions to which Ewald, Lücke, De Wette, and Credner specially allude. Much has been written by Ewald concerning the Hebraistic character of the language. The writer, it is alleged, strongly imbued with Hebrew modes of thought, frequently inserts Hebrew words, as in chap. iii. 14; ix. 11; xii. 9, 10; xix. 1, 3, 4, 6; xx. 2; xxii. 20; while the influence of cabbalistic artificiality is obvious throughout the entire book, and particularly in chap. i. 4, 5; iv. 2; xiii. 18; xvi. 14. The mode of employing the tenses is foreign to the Greek language, and moulded after the Hebrew (chap. i. 7; ii. 5, 16, 22, 23, 27; iii. 9; iv. 911; xii. 24; xvi. 15, 21; xvii. 13, 14; xviii. 11, 15; xxii. 7, 12). So also the use of the participle (chap. i. 16; iv. 1, 5,  8; v. 6, 13; vi. 2, 5; vii. 9, 10; ix. 11; x. 2; xiv. 1, 14; xix. 12, 13; xxi. 14); and of the infinitive (chap. xii. 7). The awkward disposition of words is also said to be Hebraistic; such as a genitive appended like the construct state; the stringing together of several genitives (chap. xiv. 8, 10, 19; xvi. 19; xviii. 3, 14; xix. 15; xxi. 6; xxii. 18, 19); and the use of the Greek cases, which are frequently changed for prepositions (chap. ii. 10; iii. 9; vi. 1, 8; viii. 7; ix. 19; xi. 6, 9; xii. 5; xiv. 2, 7); incorrectness in appositions (chap. i. 5; ii. 20; iii. 12; iv. 24; vi. 1; vii. 9; viii. 9; ix. 14; xiii. 13; xiv. 2, 12, 14, 20, &c.); a construction formed of an αὐτός put after the relative pronoun (chap. iii. 8; vii. 2, 9; xiii. 12; xx. 8); frequent anomalies in regard to number and gender (chap. ii. 27; iii. 4, 5; iv. 8; vi. 9, 10; ix. 13, 14; xi. 15; xiv. 1, 3; xvii. 16; xix. 14; and viii. 11; xi. 18; xv. 4; xvii. 12, 15; xviii. 14; xix. 21; xx. 12; xxi. 4, 24; also chap. xvi. 10; xix. 1, 8, 9). In addition to this, it is alleged by Credner, that the use made of the Old Testament betrays an acquaintance on the part of the writer with the Hebrew text (comp. chap. vi. 13, 14, with Isa. xxxiv. 4; chap. xviii. 2, with Isa. xiii. 21, xxi. 9, xxxiv. 14, Jer. l. 39; chap. xviii. 4, 5, with Jer. li. 6, 9, 45; chap. xviii. 7, with Isa. xlvii. 7, 8; chap. xviii. 2123, with Jer. xxv. 10, li. 63, 64). In contrast with all this, we are reminded of the fact that, according to Acts iv. 13, John was an unlearned and ignorant man.

“The book is deficient in words and turns of expression purely Greek, such as πάντοτε, πώποτε, οὐδέποτε; compound verbs, as ἀναγγέλλειν, παραλαμβάνειν, ἐπιβάλλειν; the double negation; the genitive absolute; the attraction of the relative pronoun; the regular construction of the neuter plural with the verb singular (except chap. viii. 3; ix. 20; xiv. 13; xviii. 24; xix. 14; xxi. 12); ἀκούειν with the genitive. Favourite expressions, such as occur in the Gospel and Epistles, are seldom found, as θεάομαι, θεωρέω, ἐργάζομαι, ῥήματα, πάλιν, φωνεῖν, μένειν, καθώς, ὡς (an adverb of time), οὖν, μέν, μέντοι, κόσμος, φῶς, σκοτία, δοξάζεσθαι, ὑψοῦσθαι, ζωὴ αἰώνιος, ἀπόλλυσθαι, οὗτος (τοῦτο) ἵνα; the historic present. There are also favourite expressions of the writer of the book, such as do not occur in John’s authentic writings: οἰκουμένη, ὑπομονή, κρατεῖν τὸ ὄνομα, τὴν διδαχήν, παντοκράτωρ, θεὸς καὶ πατήρ, δύναμις, κράτος, ἰσχύς, τιμή, πρωτότοκος τῶν νεκρῶν, ἡ ἀρχή τῆς κτίσεως τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ ἄρχων τῶν βασιλέων τῆς γῆς, ὧδε in the beginning of a sentence. The conjunction εἰ, so common in the Gospel, does not occur in the Apocalypse; but only εἰ μή, εἰ δὲ μή, and εἴ τις. The frequent joining of a substantive with μέγας, as φωνὴ μεγάλη, θλίψις μεγάλη, φόβος μέγας, σεισμὸς μέγας, rather reminds one of Luke than John; μείζων, so frequent in the Gospel, is not found in the Revelation; and, on the contrary, ἰσχυρός, which occurs seven times in the Apocalypse, is foreign to the Gospel.

“The following discrepancies between the language of the Gospel and that of the Epistles have been noticed: ἀληθινός is used of God both in the Gospel and the Apocalypse, but in different senses; so also κύριος, and ἐργάζομαι; instead of ἴδε the Apocalypse has only ἰδού; instead of Ἱεροσόλυμα only Ἱερουσαλήμ; instead of ἐάν τις, as in the Gospel, εἴ τις; περί, so often used by John, occurs only once in the Apocalypse, and that too in relation to place; ὄχλος is used in the plural. Words denoting seeing are differently used in the Gospel and Apocalypse; thus, for the present we find in the latter βλέπειν, θεωρεῖν, ὁρᾶν; for the aorist of the active εἶδον, βλέπειν, and θεωρεῖν; for the future ὄπτεσθαι, and for the aorist of the passive also ὄπτεσθαι; μένειν has a different meaning from that which it bears in the Gospel; instead of ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου, and ὁ πονηρός, we find ὁ σατανᾶς, ὁ διάβολος, ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας.

“Such is a summary statement of an argument drawn out at great length by Lücke, De Wette, Ewald, and Credner.

“Some have attempted to turn aside its force by resorting to the hypothesis that the book was originally written in Hebrew and then translated into Greek. This, however, is contradicted by the most decisive internal evidence, and is in itself highly improbable. The Apocalypse was written in the Greek language, as all antiquity attests. How, then, are we to account for its Hebraistic idioms and solecisms of language, its negligences of diction, and ungrammatical constructions? One circumstance to be taken into account is, that the nature of the Gospel is widely different from that of the Apocalypse. The latter is a prophetic book—a poetical composition; while the former is a simple record in prose, of the discourses of Jesus in the days of his flesh. It is apparent, too, that John in the Apocalypse imitates the manner of Ezekiel and Daniel. The New Testament prophet conforms to the diction and symbolic features of the former seers. ‘If the question should be urged why John chose these models, the obvious answer is, that he conformed to the taste of the times in which he lived. The numerous apocryphal works of an Apocalyptical nature, which were composed nearly at the same time with the Apocalypse—such as the book of Enoch, the Ascension of Isaiah, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, many of the Sibylline Oracles, the fourth book of Ezra, the Pastor of Hermas, and many others which are lost—all testify to the taste and feelings of the times when, or near which, the Apocalypse was written. If this method of writing was more grateful to the time in which John lived, it is a good reason for his preferring it.’56 In consequence of such imitation, the diction has an Oriental character; and the figures are in the highest style of imagery peculiar to the East. But it is said that John was an illiterate man. Illiterate, doubtless, he was as compared with Paul, who was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel; yet he may have been capable of reading the Old Testament books; and he was certainly inspired. Wrapt in ecstasy, he saw wondrous visions. He was in the Spirit. And when writing the things he beheld, his language was to be conformed to the nature of such marvellous revelations. It was to be adapted to the mysterious disclosures, the vivid pictures, the moving scenes, the celestial beings and scenery of which he Was privileged to tell. Hence it was to be lifted up far above the level of simple prose or biographic history, so as to correspond with the sublime visions of the seer. Nor should it be forgotten that he was not in the circumstances of an ordinary writer. He was inspired. How often is this fact lost sight of by the German critics! It is, therefore, needless to inquire into his education in the Hebrew language, or his mental culture while residing in Asia Minor, or the smoothness of the Greek language as current in the place where he lived, before and after he wrote the Apocalypse. The Holy Spirit qualified him beyond and irrespective of ordinary means for the work of writing. However elevated the theme he undertook, he was assisted in employing diction as elevated as the nature of the subject demanded. We place, therefore, little reliance upon the argument derived from the time of life at which the Apocalypse was composed, though Olshausen and Guerike insist upon it. Written, as they think, twenty years before the Gospel or Epistles, the Apocalypse exhibits marks of inexperience in writing, of youthful fire, and of an ardent temperament. It exhibits the first essays of one expressing his ideas in a language to which he was unaccustomed. This may be true; but we lay far less stress upon it than these authors seem inclined to do. The strong Hebraized diction of the book we account for on the ground that the writer was a Jew; and, as such, expressed his Jewish conceptions in Greek; that he imitated the later Old Testament prophets, especially the manner of Daniel; and that the only prophetic writing in the New Testament naturally approaches nearer the Old Testament, if not in subject, at least in colouring and linguistic features.

“These considerations may serve to throw light upon the language of the book, after all the extravagancies of assertion in regard to anomalies, solecisms, and ruggednesses, have been fairly estimated. For it cannot be denied that many rash and unwarrantable assumptions have been made by De Wette and others relative to the impure Greek said to be contained in the Apocalypse. Winer has done much to check such bold assertions, but with little success in the case of those who are resolved to abide by a strong and prevalent current of opinion. We venture to affirm, without fear of contradiction, that there are books in the New Testament almost as Hebraizing as the Apocalypse; and that the anomalies charged to the account of the Hebrew language may be paralleled in other parts of the New Testament, or in classical Greek. What shall be said, for instance, to the attempt of Hitzig to demonstrate from the language of Mark’s Gospel, as compared with that of the Apocalypse, that both proceeded from one author, viz. John Mark? This author has conducted a lengthened investigation with the view of showing that all the peculiarities of language found in the Apocalypse are equally presented in the second Gospel, particularly that the Hebraisms of the one correspond with those of the other. Surely this must lead to new investigations of the Apocalyptic diction, and possibly to a renunciation of those extravagant assertions so often made in regard to the harsh, rugged, Hebraized Greek of the Apocalypse. Who ever dreamed before of the numerous solecisms of Mark’s language? and yet Hitzig has demonstrated its similarity to the Apocalyptic as plausibly as Ewald, Lücke, and others have proved the total dissimilarity between the diction of the Apocalypse and that of John’s Gospel.

“The length allotted to this article will not allow the writer to notice every term and phrase supposed to be peculiar. This can only be done with success by him who takes a concordance to the Greek Testament in his hand, with the determination to test each example; along with a good syntax of classical Greek, such as Bernhardy’s. In this way he may see whether the alleged Hebraisms and anomalies have not their parallels in classical Greek. Some of the allegations already quoted are manifestly incorrect, e.g., that ἀκούω with the genitive is not found in the Apocalypse. On the contrary, it occurs eight times with the genitive. Other words are adduced on the principle of their not occurring so frequently in the book before us as in the Gospel and Epistles. But by this mode of reasoning it might be shown, that the other acknowledged writings of the apostle John, for instance his First Epistle, are not authentic. Thus ῥήματα, one of the words quoted, though frequently found in the Gospel, is not in any of the three Epistles; therefore, these Epistles were not written by John. It is found once in the Apocalypse. Again, ἐργάζομαι, which is found seven times in the Gospel, and once in the Apocalypse, as also once in each of the Second and Third Epistles, is not in the First Epistle; therefore the First Epistle proceeded from another writer than the author of the Second and Third. The same reasoning may be applied to θεωρέω. Again, it is alleged that the regular construction of neuters plural with singular verbs is not found, with the exception of six instances. To say nothing of the large list of exceptions, let it be considered, that the plural verb is joined with plural nouns where animate beings, especially persons, are designated. Apply now this principle, which regularly holds good in classical Greek, to the Apocalypse, and nothing peculiar will appear in the latter. Should there still remain examples of neuters plural designating things without life, we shall find similar ones in the Greek writers. Another mode in which the reasoning founded upon the use of peculiar terms and expressions may be tested is the following. It is admitted that there are words which occur in the Gospel and Epistles, but not in the Apocalypse. The adverb πάντοτε is an example. On the same principle, and by virtue of the same reasoning, it may be denied, as far as language is concerned, that 1 Timothy was written by Paul, because πάντοτε, which is found in his other epistles, does not occur in it. In this manner we might individually take up each word and every syntactical peculiarity on which the charge of harshness, or solecism, or Hebraizing has been fastened. It is sufficient to state, that there are very few real solecisms in the Apocalypse. Almost all that have been adduced may be paralleled in Greek writers, or in those of the New Testament. The words of Winer, a master in this department, are worthy of attention: ‘The solecisms that appear in the Apocalypse give the diction the impress of great harshness, but they are capable of explanation, partly from anacoluthon and the mingling of two constructions, partly in another manner. Such explanation should have been always adopted, instead of ascribing these irregularities to the ignorance of the author, who, in other constructions of a much more difficult nature in this very book, shows that he was exceedingly well acquainted with the rules of grammar. For most of these anomalies, too, analogous examples in the Greek writers may be found, with this difference alone, that they do hot follow one another so frequently as in the Apocalypse,’ (Grammatik, fünfte Auflage, pp. 273, 274). Should the reader not be satisfied with this brief statement of Winer, he is referred to his Exeget. Studien, i. 154, seq., where the professor enters into details with great ability.

“The following linguistic similarities between John’s Gospel and the Apocalypse deserve to be cited: μετὰ ταῦτα, Apoc. i. 19; iv. 1; vii. 1, 9; ix. 12; xv. 5; xviii. 1; xix. 1; xx. 3;—Gosp. iii. 22; v. 1, 14; vi. 1; vii. 1; xix. 38; xxi. 1. μαρτυρία, Apoc. i. 2, 9; vi. 9; xi. 7; xii. 11, 17; xix. 10; xx. 4;—Gosp. (μαρτυρέω or μαρτυρία) i. 7, 8, 15, 19, 32, 34; ii. 25; iii. 11, 26, 28, 32, 33; iv. 3, 9, 44; v. 3134, 36, 37, 39;—1 Epist. i. 2; iv. 14; v. 611. ἵνα, Apoc. ii. 10, 21; iii. 9, 11, 18; vi. 2, 4, 11; vii. 1, &c.;—Gosp. vi. 5, 7, 12, 15, 2830, 3840, 50; xi. 4, 11, 15, 16, 19, 31, 37, 42, 50, 52, 53, 55, 57; xii. 9, 10, 20, 23, 35, &c.;—1 Epist. of John i. 3, 4, 9; ii. 1, 19, 27, 28. ὄψις, Gosp. vii. 24; xi. 44;—Apoc. i. 16. πιάζειν, Apoc. xix. 20;—Gosp. vii. 30, 32, 44; viii. 20; x. 39; xi. 57; xxi. 3, 10. τηρεῖν τὸν λόγον, τὰς ἐντολάς, or some similar expression, Apoc. iii. 8, 10; xii. 17; xiv. 12; xxii. 7, 9;—Gosp. viii. 51, 55; xiv. 15; xxiii. 24, &c. ὁ νικῶν, Apoc. ii. 7, 11, 17, 26; iii. 5, 12, 21; xv. 2; xxi. 7. This verb is quite common in the First Epistle, chap. ii. 13, 14; iv. 4; v. 4, 5;—Gosp. xvi. 33. ὕδωρ ζωῆς, Apoc. xxi. 6; xxii. 17; comp. Gosp. vii. 38. Compare also the joining together of the present and the future in Apoc. ii. 5, and Gosp. xiv. 3. The assertion of the same thing positively and negatively, Apoc. ii. 2, 6, 8, 13; iii. 8, 17, 21; Gosp. i. 3, 6, 7, 20, 48; iii. 15, 17, 20; iv. 42; v. 19, 24; viii. 35, 45; x. 28; xv. 57; 1 Epist. ii. 27, &c. In several places in the Apocalypse Christ is called the Lamb; so also in the Gospel, chap. i. 29, 36. Christ is called ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ, Apoc. xix. 13, and in the Gospel of John only has he the same epithet. τηρεῖν ἔκ τινος, Apoc. iii. 10; Gosp. xvii. 15. σφάττειν, Apoc. v. 6, 9, 12; vi. 4, 9; xiii. 3, 8; xviii. 24; only in the 1st Epistle of John, chap. iii. 12. ἔχειν μέρος, Apoc. xx. 6; Gosp. xiii. 8. περιπατεῖν μετά τινος, Apoc. iii. 4; Gosp. vi. 66. σκηνόω, Apoc. vii. 15; xii. 12; xiii. 6; xxi. 3; Gosp. i. 14. The expulsion of Satan from heaven is expressed thus in the Apoc. xii. 9: ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν γῆν; in the Gosp. it is said, νῦν ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἐκβληθήσεται ἔξω, chap. xii. 31. (See Scholz, Die Apokalypse des heilig. Johannes übersetzt, erklärt, u. s. w. Frankfurt am Main, 1828, 8vo; Schulz, Ueber den Schriftsteller, Character und Werth des Johannes, Leipzig, 1803, 8vo; Donker Curtius, Specimen hermeneuticotheologicum de Apocalypsi ab indole, doctrina, et scribendi genere Johannis Apostoli non abhorrente, Trajecti Batav. 1799, 8vo; Kolthoff, Apocalypsis Joanni Apostolo vindicata, Hafniæ, 1834, 8vo; Stein, in Winer and Engelhardt’s Kritisch. Journal, v. i.; and the Jena Literatur-Zeitung for April, 1833, No. 61.) It is true that some of these expressions are said, by Lücke, De Wette, and Credner, to be used in a different sense in the Apocalypse; others not to be characteristic, but rather accidental and casual; others not original, but borrowed. Such assertions, however, proceed more from à priori assumption than from any inherent truth they possess. In regard to the charge of cabbalism, especially in the use of numbers, it is easily disposed of. The cabbala of the Jews was widely different from the instances in the Apocalypse that have been quoted. Perhaps John’s use of the number 666 comes the nearest to one kind of the cabbala; but still it is so unlike as to warrant the conclusion that the apostle did not employ the cabbalistic art. His mysterious indications of certain facts, and the reasons of their being in some measure involved in darkness, are explicable on other than Jewish grounds. There is no real cause for believing that the apostle had recourse to the artificial and trifling conceits of the Rabbins. In short, this argument is by no means conclusive. As far as the language is concerned, nothing militates against the opinion that the Apocalypse proceeded from John, who wrote the Gospel. The contrary evidence is not of such a nature as to demand assent. When rigidly scrutinized, it does not sustain the conclusion so confidently built upon it.

“But it is also affirmed, that the doctrinal views and sentiments inculcated in the Apocalypse are quite different from those found in the Gospel. This may be freely allowed without any detriment to their identity of authorship. How slow the Germans are in learning that a difference in the exhibition of truths substantially the same is far from being a contradiction! A difference of subject in connection with a different plan, demands correspondent dissimilarity of treatment. Besides, there must be a gradual development of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God on earth. Sensuous expectations of the Messiah, such as are alleged to abound in the Apocalypse, may be perfectly consistent with the spirituality of his reign, though it appears to us that the representations so designated are figurative, shadowing forth spiritual realities by means of outward objects.

“But what is to be said of the pneumatological, demonological, and angelogical doctrines of the book? The object for which John’s Gospel was primarily written did not lead the apostle to introduce so many particulars regarding angels and evil spirits. The intervention of good and the malignant influence of evil spirits are clearly implied in the Old Testament prophets, particularly in Zechariah and Daniel. It is therefore quite accordant with the prophetic Hebraistic character of the Apocalypse, to make angelic agency a prominent feature in the book. And that such agency is recognized in the Gospels, is apparent to the most cursory reader. The special object with which the fourth Gospel was written was different from that which prompted the composition of the Apocalypse, and therefore the subject-matter of both is exceedingly diverse. But still there is no opposition in doctrine. The same doctrinal views lie at the foundation of all the representations contained in them. In the one, the Redeemer is depicted in his humble career on earth; in the other, in his triumphs as a king—or rather, in the victorious progress of his truth in the world, notwithstanding all the efforts of Satan and wicked men to suppress it. As to a spirit of revenge in the Apocalyptic writer, it is not found. The inspired prophet was commissioned to pronounce woes and judgments as soon to befall the enemies of Christ, in consequence of their persevering, malignant efforts. As well might an evil disposition be attributed to the blessed Saviour himself, in consequence of his denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. The same John who wrote the Apocalypse says, in the Second Epistle, ver. 10, ‘If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.’ It must ever strike the simple reader of the Apocalypse as a positive ground for attributing the authorship to John the apostle, that he styles himself THE servant of God by way of eminence, which none other at that time would have ventured to do; and that he employs the expression, I John, after the manner of Daniel, as if he were the only prophet and person of the name. Nor can it be well believed that a disciple of the apostle, or any other individual, should have presumed to introduce John as the speaker, thus deceiving the readers. The apostle was well known to the Christians of his time, and especially to the Asiatic churches. He did not therefore think it necessary to say John the Apostle for the sake of distinguishing himself from any other. See Züllig’s Die Offenbarung Johannis, Stuttgart, 1834, 8vo, p. 136.”

§ II.The Time of Writing the Apocalypse.

The evidence as to the date of the Apocalypse may be considered as external or historical, and internal.

1. External or historical. On this point the testimony of the early Christian fathers is almost or quite uniform, that it was in the latter part of the life of the apostle John, and towards the end of the reign of Domitian; that is, about A.D. 95 or 96.

The principal testimony to this fact is that of Irenæus. It will be recollected that he was a disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was himself the disciple of the apostle John. See § I. (b). He had, therefore, every opportunity of obtaining correct information, and doubtless expresses the common sentiment of his age on the subject. His character is unexceptionable, and he had no inducement to bear any false or perverted testimony in the case. His testimony is plain and positive that the book was written near the close of the reign of Domitian, and the testimony should be regarded as decisive unless it can be set aside. His language in regard to the book of Revelation is: “It was seen no long time ago, but almost in our age, at the end of the reign of Domitian” (Lardner, ii. 181). Or, as the passage is translated by Prof. Stuart: “The Apocalypse was seen not long ago, but almost in our generation, near the end of Domitian’s reign.” There can be no doubt, therefore, as to the meaning of the passage, or as to the time when Irenæus believed the book to have been written. Domitian was put to death A.D. 96, and consequently, according to Irenæus, the Apocalypse must have been written not far from this time.

This testimony of Irenæus is confirmed by that of Clement of Alexandria. Relating the well-known story of John and the robber, he speaks of the event as having occurred on his return from exile in Patmos “after the death of the tyrant,” and represents him as then an infirm old man. The testimony in the book itself (chap. i. 9) is clear, that John was on the island of Patmos when these visions were seen. The “tyrant” whose death is here referred to must necessarily be either Nero or Domitian, as these were, up to the end of the first century, the only imperial persecutors of the Christians. It cannot be supposed to be Nero, since at the time of his persecution (A.D. 64) John could not be supposed to be an “infirm old man;” being probably not much above, if indeed so much as sixty years of age. See Eusebius, Ecc. Hist., b. iii. chap. 23. Of this testimony Prof. Stuart, who himself supposes that the Apocalypse was written before the death of Nero, says (i. 264), “The tyrant here meant is probably Domitian; at least, although he is not named by Clement, it is clear that Eusebius so understands the matter.”

Victorinus, bishop of Pettaw and martyr in Diocletian’s persecution, in his Commentary on the Apocalypse, written towards the close of the third century, says twice expressly that the Apocalypse was seen by the apostle John in the isle of Patmos, when banished thither by the Roman emperor Domitian. See the passages quoted in Elliott, i. 39, and in Prof. Stuart, i. 264. The testimony is unequivocal.

To these testimonies from the early fathers may be added that of Jerome, who says that “John saw the Apocalypse on the island of Patmos, to which he was sent by Domitian,” and in another place he says that this occurred in the fourteenth year of the reign of Domitian (Adv. Jovin. lib. i., Lardner, iv. 446, 447).

And to these plain testimonies may be added those of Sulpicius Severus and Orosius, contemporaries of Augustine; Gregory Turonensis (cent. vi.), Isidorus Hispalensis (cent. vii.), Marianus Scotus, Primasius, and others. See Prof. Stuart, i. 264, 265, and Elliott, i. 38, 39.

Such is the positive testimony that the book was written near the end of the reign of Domitian and about A.D. 96. It is true, that notwithstanding this positive testimony, there were some writers who assigned it to an earlier date. Thus Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, in the latter half of the fourth century, speaks of John as having prophesied in the isle of Patmos in the days of the emperor Claudius (A.D. 4154); a time when, as Michaelis observes, it does not appear from history that there was any imperial persecution of Christians whatever, and when, moreover, the probability is that, of the seven Apocalyptic churches, scarcely one was in existence, and the apostle John was in no way associated with them. Lardner (iv. 190) seems to suspect that, in the passage referred to, the name Claudius was a fault of the transcriber. Epiphanius, however, received the Apocalypse as the work of John and as an inspired book (Lardner, iv. 190). Others have ascribed the date of the book of Revelation to the time of Nero. Thus, in the later Syriac version, the title-page declares that it was written in Patmos, whither John was sent by Nero Cæsar. This version, however, was made in the beginning of the sixth century, and can have little authority in determining the question. It is not known by whom the version was made, or on what authority the author relied, when he said that John was banished to Patmos in the time of Nero. So also Andreas and Arethas, commentators on the book of Revelation, one of them in the beginning of the sixth century and the other in the middle of the sixth century, make quotations from the book in such a manner as to show that they supposed that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. They, however, made no express declaration on that point, and their testimony at anyrate, at that late period, is of little value. A few other later writers also supposed that the book was written at an earlier period than the reign of Domitian. See Prof. Stuart, i. 268, 269.

Such is the sum of the historical testimony as to the time when the Apocalypse was written; and that testimony, it seems to me, is so clear as to settle the point so far as the historical evidence is concerned, that the book was written near the end of the reign of Domitian, that is, about A.D. 95 or 96. My exposition of the book proceeds on the supposition that it was written at that time.

2. There is another inquiry, however, as to the internal evidence, for on this ground it has been maintained that it must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem and in the time of Nero. See the argument in Prof. Stuart, i. 270282.

Now, in regard to this it may be remarked in general, that on the supposition that it was written near the close of the life of John, and in the time of Domitian, it can be shown that there is no internal improbability or inconsistency; that is, in other words, all the known circumstances in regard to John, and to the condition of the church at that time, would accord with that supposition. For,

(a) It is known that John spent many of the later years of his life at Ephesus, in the midst of the seven churches to which the book was addressed, and the epistles in the book are such as they would be on that supposition.

(b) It is admitted that there was a persecution of Christians in the time of Domitian; and of the persecution which he excited against Christians, Mosheim remarks that “he was an emperor little inferior to Nero in baseness of character and conduct. This persecution undoubtedly was severe; but it was of short continuance, as the emperor was soon murdered” (Mosheim, i. 69). It commenced about A.D. 93 or 94. It is not certainly known how far it extended, but as the ground of the persecution was a fear of Domitian that he would lose his empire from some person among the relatives of Christ who would attempt a revolution (Mosheim, i. 69; Milman, Hist. of Christianity, 193), ere is every probability that it would be directed particularly to the East and the countries near where the Saviour lived and died.

(c) It is not improbable that John would be banished in this persecution. He was a man of great influence among Christians, and it is to be presumed that he would not escape the notice of those who were actively engaged in carrying on the persecution. Moreover, it is as probable that he would be banished as that he would be put to death; for, though we have few facts respecting this persecution, and few names are mentioned, yet we have one recorded instance in which banishment on account of professing the Christian religion took place. Thus Milman (Hist. of Christianity, p. 193), speaking of two of the cousin-germans of Domitian, says, “The one fell an early victim to his jealous apprehensions. The other, Flavius Clemens, is described as a man of the most contemptible indolence of character. His powerful kinsman, instead of exciting the fears, enjoyed for some time the favour of Domitian. He received in marriage Domitilla, the niece of the emperor; his children were adopted as heirs to his throne; Clemens himself obtained the consulship. On a sudden these harmless kinsmen became dangerous conspirators; they were arraigned on the unprecedented charge of Atheism and Jewish manners; the husband Clemens was put to death; the wife Domitilla banished to the desert island of either Pontia or Pandataria.” Nothing is more probable, therefore, than that John the apostle should be also banished to a desert island—and Patmos was admirably adapted to such a purpose. See Notes on chap. i. 9. There is, therefore, everything in the circumstances to make it probable that the book was written at the time in which it is so uniformly said by the early historians to have been. Those things seem to me to make it proper to acquiesce in the general opinion so long entertained in regard to the date of the Apocalypse, for there is, perhaps, no book of the New Testament whose date is better determined on historical grounds than this. These considerations also make it unnecessary to examine the alleged internal evidence from the book that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, especially as it will be shown in the Notes that the passages usually relied on (chap. vi. 9, 10; vii.; xi. 3, 8; xvii. 8, 11; and chap. i. 1, 3; xxii. 7, 20) are susceptible of an easy and satisfactory explanation on the supposition that the book was written in the time of Domitian, or after the destruction of Jerusalem. See also Editor’s Preface.

§ III.The Place where the Book was Written.

The book itself purports (chap. i. 9) to have been written in the island of Patmos, where the writer says he was “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ;” that is, clearly, where he had been banished for his attachment to the Saviour. For an account of this island, see Notes on chap. i. 9. The only question that has ever been raised on this point is, whether this was a reality, or a poetical fiction—that is, whether the writer in his visions merely seemed to have been transferred to the place, and this was made the imaginary scene of the vision. The latter supposition has been entertained by Eichhorn in his Introduction to the New Testament (1810), and by some other writers.

In favour, however, of understanding this as a literal fact, the following considerations may be suggested:—

1. The clear statement of the writer himself (chap. i. 9)—a statement that should be received as literally true, unless there is something in the character of the composition, or some intrinsic improbability in the case, to set it aside. If the composition were avowedly fictitious or poetical, then it would be understood that such a statement was not to be received literally. And thus, in a prophetic record, it might be clear that it was a mere visionary representation, in which the prophet seemed to be transported to some place where there would be no danger of misunderstanding it. Undoubtedly, on this principle, some of the visions of Ezekiel and Jeremiah are to be regarded as located at some place remote from that where the prophet was; and thus many of the visions in this book are located in heaven or elsewhere. But these cases are wholly different from the statement in chap. i. 9. Patmos is not represented as the mere scene of a vision. The statement occurs in a plain prose narrative, and there is no intrinsic improbability that it is true.

2. This accords with the representation of history, and with the probabilities of the case, that John was actually banished to Patmos in a time of persecution. See § II. On this point the representations of history are uniform, and they are such, that if a writer had designed to forge a book in the name of John, he would, in all probability, have fixed on Patmos as the scene of the vision, from the fact that he was actually banished there.

3. If Patmos was merely a fictitious place, why should John select it? What was there in that island that would have occurred to him as a proper place to be the scene of such visions? It was little known; it had no sacred associations; it had never been represented as a place visited by the Most High, and it had no particular relation to the scenes which are referred to. One born in Judea, and trained under the influence of the Hebrew religion; one who was a disciple of Christ, and who had witnessed the scene of the transfiguration or the ascension, would have been much more likely to select Sinai, Carmel, Hermon, Tabor, or Olivet, as the scene where the visions were to be laid. These were consecrated spots. On these God had manifested himself in a peculiar manner; had conversed with men, and had given glorious exhibitions of his character and plans. Why should not one of these spots—any one of them in itself is as well adapted to be the scene of such visions as the lonely isle of Patmos—have been selected? Why was a Grecian island chosen—a place not once named in all the sacred writings, and so small and so desolate as to have been almost entirely, before this, unknown even in the heathen world?

4. All the circumstances have the aspect of reality. It was a real persecution to which the writer refers, and it was a real affliction which he was experiencing, and the concinnity of the passage requires us to understand this as a real transfer to a lonely island. If that were a mere vision, then we should be required also to understand the statement that he was “a companion of others in tribulation” as a vision also, and his affliction as an account of an ideal transfer to that island. But this is contrary to the spirit of the passage in chap. i. 9; and the whole, therefore, should be understood as the statement of a literal fact.

These considerations are sufficient to show, that the common opinion, that the visions were seen in the island of Patmos, has every probability in its favour, and should be received as correct. Whether the record was actually made on that island, or was made afterwards, is a point on which no light can be observed, and which is of no importance. From such passages, however, as those in chap. x. 4; xiv. 13; xix. 9; and xxi. 5, it would seem probable that the record was made as soon as the visions were seen, and that the book was actually written in Patmos.

§ IV.The Nature and Design of the Book.

This must be learned from an examination of the book itself, and the views entertained on this point will be determined, in a great measure, by the principles which are adopted in interpreting it. From the examination which I have given of the book, and the methods of interpretation which I have adopted, it seems to me that the matter and design of the book may be expressed in the following specifications:—

1. It was composed in a time of persecution, and in view of the persecutions and hostilities, external and internal, to which the church was then, and would be exposed. Christianity was then in its infancy. It was comparatively feeble. It encountered the opposition of the world. The arm of the civil power was raised to crush it. It was also exposed to the attacks of internal foes, and persecutions would arise from its own bosom, and formidable enemies in future times would seem to endanger its very existence. Heresies, and divisions, and corruptions of doctrine and of practice, might be expected to exist in its own bosom; times of conflict and darkness would come; changes would occur in governments that would deeply affect the welfare of the church; and there might be periods when it would seem to be doubtful whether the true church would not become wholly extinct. The faith of Christians was, doubtless, sorely tried in the persecution which existed when the book was written, and would be in like manner often sorely tried in the corruptions and persecutions of future ages.

2. The Apocalypse is designed to meet this state of feeling by furnishing the assurance that the gospel would ultimately prevail; that all its enemies would be subdued, and the kingdom of the Messiah set up over all the world. It was intended to impart consolation to the people of God in all ages, and in all forms of persecution and trial, by the assurance that the true religion would be at last triumphant, thus furnishing an illustration of the truth of the declarations of the Saviour respecting the church, that the “gates of hell should not prevail against it,” Mat. xvi. 18. Hence everything in the book tends to the final triumph of the gospel; and hence at the close (chap. xx.), we have the assurance of its far-spread diffusion over the earth, for a period of a thousand years, and (chap. xxi., xxii.) a graphic view of the state of the redeemed when they shall be delivered from sin and woe, and when all tears shall be wiped away from their eyes.

3. The method of doing this is by giving a rapid glance at the great events of history, bearing on the church in all coming times, till it should be triumphant; or by sketching a bold outline of the principal things that would serve to endanger the church, and the principal divine interpositions in behalf of the church, until its triumph should be secured upon the earth. This might have been done by direct statement, or by plain and positive assertion, as it was by many of the prophets; but the end, in this case, would be better secured by a glance at future history, in such a way, that while the great fact of the final triumph of the gospel would be kept before the church, there might be furnished a clear demonstration, in the end, of the divine origin and inspiration of the book itself. This latter object, indeed, would have been in fact accomplished by a plain declaration, but it would be best accomplished by such details as would show that the whole course of events was comprehended by the Holy Spirit—the real author of the whole. A general view of these details may be seen, according to the principles which I have adopted in the interpretation of the work, in the Analysis at the close of the Introduction, § V.

4. The method in which this is mainly done in this book is by pictures or symbols; for, above all the other books in the Bible, the Apocalypse is characterized by this method of representation, and it may eminently be called a book of symbols. It is this which has made it appear to be so obscure; and this particularly which has given occasion for so great a variety in the methods of interpreting it—for there is no kind of representation that furnishes occasion for so much fanciful interpretation as that of symbolical writing. The true principle of interpreting symbolical language has been hitherto little understood, and consequently every writer has indulged his own fancy in affixing such a meaning to the symbol as he chose. The result has been, that there has been no generally admitted principle of interpretation respecting this book, and that the variety of conjectures indulged, and the wild and vain theories advanced, have produced the impression that the book is not susceptible of a plain and sensible exposition. A very common belief is, that symbolical language must, from the nature of the case, be obscure and unintelligible, and that a book, written in the manner of the Apocalypse, must always be liable to the wild vagaries of imagination which have been so commonly exhibited in the attempts to explain this book. These considerations make it proper to offer a few remarks here about the nature of symbolical language, and on the question whether a book written in that language is necessarily unintelligible, or incapable of a plausible interpretation.

A symbol is properly a representation of any moral thing by the images or properties of natural things. Thus a circle is a symbol of eternity, as having neither beginning nor end; an eye is a symbol of wisdom; a lion, of courage; a lamb, of meekness and gentleness. This general idea of symbols is found in types, enigmas, parables, fables, allegories, emblems, hieroglyphics, &c. The symbols mostly used in the book of Revelation are pictures, and could be painted—and, indeed, a great part of the book could be represented in a panorama, and would constitute a series of the most splendid drawings that the world can conceive. The following remarks may throw some light on the reason why this mode of representation was adopted, and on the question whether a book written in this manner is necessarily unintelligible.

(a) This method of representation is not uncommon in the ancient prophecies. A considerable portion of Daniel and Ezekiel is written in this way; and it is often resorted to by Isaiah and the other prophets. It was a method of representation which accorded well with the warm and glowing imagination of the Orientals, and with the character of mind in the early periods of the world. It was supposed to be capable of conveying ideas of important events, although it was doubtless understood that there might be some degree of obscurity in the representation, and that study and ingenuity might be requisite in understanding it—as is always the case with parables and enigmas. We have frequent instances in the Bible of a certain kind of trial of skill in expounding dark sayings and riddles, when the sense was intentionally so conveyed as to demand acuteness of thought in the explanation. The utterance of truths in symbolic language accorded much with this prevailing bent of mind in the ancient and the oriental world—as we see in the symbolical representations in Egypt. If the use of symbols, therefore, in the Apocalypse be urged as an objection to the book, the objection would lie with equal force against no small part of the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets, and against a method of writing which was actually in extensive use in the early ages of the world. To object to it, must be to object that our own methods and views were not the views and methods of all past ages; that the improved modes of communication in existence now were not in existence always.

(b) Such a method of representation may be, however, clear and intelligible. The purpose of prophecy does not require that there should be in all cases an explicit statement of what will occur, or a particular detail of names, dates, and circumstances—for if such a statement were made, it is plain that it would be possible, on the one hand, for an impostor so to shape his conduct as to seem to fulfil the prophecy, and, on the other, for wicked men, knowing exactly what was predicted, to prevent its fulfilment. All that is demanded in such predictions is, (1) such a statement as undoubtedly refers to the future event; (2) such a statement as, when fairly interpreted, describes such an event; and (3) such a statement as that, when the event occurs, it shall be clear that this was the event referred to, or that the prediction cannot properly be referred to any other event; that is, so that they shall compare with each other as the two parts of a tally do. Now, that symbolical language may have these characteristics, and may be in these respects sufficiently clear and plain, is evident from the following considerations:—

1. A picture may be a correct representation of an event. It was thus among the Mexicans, who, by means of pictures, were enabled to give a correct representation of the landing of the Spaniards, and to convey to their monarch a correct idea of the number and character of the Spanish forces.

The following extract from Dr. Robertson’s History of America, book v., § xii., referring to the landing of the Spaniards in Mexico, will illustrate this:—“During this interview [an interview between Cortes and the ambassadors of Montezuma], some painters in the train of the Mexican chiefs had been diligently employed in delineating, upon white cotton cloths, figures of the ships, the horses, the artillery, the soldiers, and whatever else attracted their eyes as singular. When Cortes observed this, and was informed that these pictures were to be sent to Montezuma, in order to convey to him a more lively idea of the strange and wonderful objects now presented to their view than any words could communicate, he resolved to render the representation still more animated and interesting, by exhibiting such a spectacle as might give both them and their monarch an awful impression of the extraordinary prowess of his followers, and the irresistible force of their arms.”

2. A symbol may be as definite in its signification as the arbitrary character which constitutes a letter with us, or the arbitrary character which denotes a syllable or a word with the Chinese. There is some reason to believe that the letters in most languages were at first pictures or symbols; but whether this is true or not, it is easy to conceive that such might have been the case, and that as definite ideas might have been attached to the symbols employed as to the arbitrary marks or signs. Thus, it is easy to suppose that a circle, a lion, an eagle, a horse, a banner, an axe, a lamb, might have been so employed as always to denote the same thing, in the same way as the letters of the alphabet do, and thus, consequently, the number of symbols employed might have been very numerous, though still retaining their definite character.

3. The truth of these remarks has been illustrated by the recent investigations of the symbolical language or hieroglyphical signs in Egypt. On the celebrated Rosetta stone, an inscription was found in three compartments of the stone, in three different languages—the first in hieroglyphical or symbolical language, the language used by the priests; the second in enchorical or demotic language—the language in common use among the Egyptian people; and the third in Greek. It was conjectured that the inscription in each language was the same, and that consequently there might be a key for explaining the symbols or the hieroglyphics so common in Egypt. Acting on this suggestion, Champollion was enabled to read the inscription in the Egyptian language, and to determine the meaning of the symbols in so common use in the ancient inscriptions, and the symbolical language of Egypt became as intelligible as other ancient forms of record—as it was undoubtedly when it was at first employed. Each of the symbols had a well-known signification, and was adapted to convey a definite idea. An account of this stone, and of the symbols of Egypt generally, may be seen in Gliddon’s Ancient Egypt, chap. i. The symbols employed by the Hebrew prophets may have had, as used by them, as definite a meaning, and may be as susceptible of as clear an interpretation now, as the symbols employed in Egypt, or as any other language. The only real difficulty in interpreting them may have arisen from the fact that they referred to future events (see Notes on Rev. xvi. 12); the employment of such methods of writing was in accordance with the genius of the Orientals, and gave great poetic beauty to their compositions.

4. It should be added, however, that peculiar care is necessary in the interpretation of writings of this character. There is much room for the indulgence of the imagination, and facts have shown that in almost nothing has so much indulgence been given to the fancy as in the interpretation of such books as Daniel and the Apocalypse. Indeed, the explanations of these books have been so loose and wild, as, with many, to bring the whole science of interpretation of the prophecies into contempt, and to produce the very common impression that a rational and consistent exposition of such books as Daniel and the Apocalypse is impossible. A better mode of interpretation, it is hoped, however, is to prevail—a mode in which there will be more careful attention to the true meaning of symbols and to the proper laws of symbolic language. The true method may not have been reached, and many errors may occur before it shall be reached. For many ages the meaning of the Egyptian hieroglyphics was entirely unknown. Thousands of conjectures had been made as to the method of reading those symbols; vast ingenuity had been exhausted; the hope was sometimes entertained that the clue had been discovered, but it was at last felt that all those proposed methods were fanciful, and the world had settled down in despair as to the possibility of deciphering their meaning. The accidental discovery of the Rosetta stone, and the patient labours of De Sacy, Akerblad, Tychsen, and especially of Champollion, have changed the views of the world on that subject, and the hieroglyphics of Egypt have become as intelligible as any other language. It is possible that the same may be true in regard to the meaning of the symbols of the sacred prophets; and that although those of Daniel and John may have seemed to be as obscure as those of Egypt, and although the most wild and extravagant opinions may have been entertained in regard to their meaning, yet the time may come when those books shall take their place among the well-understood portions of the Bible, and when the correspondence of the predictions couched under these symbols with the events shall be so clear, that there shall be no lingering doubt on any mind that they are a part of the divine communications to mankind. Whether this attempt to explain one of those books will contribute anything to a better understanding of the true meaning of the symbolical language employed by the prophets, must be submitted to the judgment of the reader.

§ V.The Plan of the Apocalypse.

The book of Revelation may be regarded as divided into seven portions, embracing the following general points:—The introduction, chap. i.; the epistles to the seven churches, chap. ii., iii.; the preparatory vision, chap. iv.; the relation of the church to the external world, embracing the outward or secular aspect of things as bearing on the church, chap. v.‒xi. 118; the internal state of the church, embracing the rise and destiny of Antichrist—or, the internal history of the church until the overthrow of that formidable power and the permanent and triumphant establishment of the kingdom of Christ, the last temporary apostasy, and the general judgment, chap. xi. 19; xii.‒xx.; the final condition of the righteous in their state of triumph and glory, chap. xxi., xxii. 15; and the epilogue or conclusion, chap. xxii. 621. This plan, as pursued in this attempt to explain the book, may be seen more in detail in the Analysis on the following pages.



  1. General Introduction, Chap. i.
    1. The title and design of the book, chap. i. 13.
    2. Dedication to the seven churches of Asia, chap. i. 48.
    3. Vision of the Redeemer, chap. i. 918.
    4. Commission to write to the seven churches, chap. i. 19, 20.
  2. Epistles to the Seven Churches of Asia, Chap. ii. iii.
    1. Epistle to the church at Ephesus, chap. ii. 17.
    2. Epistle to the church at Smyrna, chap. ii. 811.
    3. Epistle to the church at Pergamos, chap. ii. 1217.
    4. Epistle to the church at Thyatira, chap. ii. 1829.
    5. Epistle to the church at Sardis, chap. iii. 16.
    6. Epistle to the church at Philadelphia, chap. iii. 713.
    7. Epistle to the church at Laodicea, chap. iii. 1422.
  3. Preparatory Vision, Chap. iv.
    1. The scene laid in heaven, chap. iv. 1, 2.
    2. The vision of God, of the elders, and of the living creatures, ch. iv. 38.
    3. The worship rendered to God, chap. iv. 911.
  4. The external relations of the Church—the relation to secular affairs—political changes and revolutions, as bearing on the Church, Chap. v.‒xi. 118.
    1. The Sealed book, containing the record of these events, in the hand of him that sat on the throne. The Lamb of God only could open it. The joy in heaven that one was found who could open the seals, chap. v.
    2. The opening of the seals
      1. The opening of the first seal, chap. vi. 1, 2.

        The white horse.—Peace, prosperity, and triumph, fulfilled in the state of the Roman empire from the death of Domitian, A.D. 96, to the accession of Commodus, A.D. 180.

      2. The opening of the second seal, chap. vi. 3, 4.

        The red horse.—Bloodshed, discord, civil strife; fulfilled in the state of the Roman empire from the death of Commodus, A.D. 193, and onward.

      3. The opening of the third seal, chap. vi. 5, 6.

        The black horse.—Calamity, distress, want, trouble; fulfilled in the Roman empire, in the scarcity of food that prevailed; the excessive taxation; the special order not to destroy the olive-yards and vine-yards; the sources of revenue, in the time of Caracalla, A.D. 211, and onward.

      4. The opening of the fourth seal, chap. vi. 7, 8.

        The pale horse.—The reign of death, in the form of famine, pestilence, disease; fulfilled in the Roman empire in the bloodshed, famine, and pestilence that prevailed in the time of Decius, Gallus, Æmilianus, Valerian, and Gallianus, A.D. 243268.

      5. The opening of the fifth seal, chap. vi. 911.

        The martyrs.—Fulfilled in the Roman empire in the persecutions, particularly in the time of Diocletian, A.D. 284304; the last of the efforts in the Pagan world to extinguish the Christian name.

      6. The opening of the sixth seal, chap. vi. 1217.

        Consternation and alarm as if the world was coming to an end; fulfilled in the Roman empire in the threatening invasions of the Goths in the neighbourhood of the Danube, pressed on by the Huns, and producing universal alarm and consternation, A.D. 365, and onwards.

        Intermediate vision between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals. A view of the persecution of the church, and the glory of the saints in heaven, designed to sustain the mind in the midst of so much gloom, and to furnish the assurance that innumerable multitudes of men would be brought to glory, chap. vii.

        (a) The impending storm of wrath that seemed to threaten universal destruction is suspended in order that the servants of God might be sealed, chap. vii. 13.

        (b) The sealing process, indicating the preservation of the church in these times of danger, and the influences that would designate and save the true people of God in all time to come, chap. vii. 48.

        (c) A vision of an immense host before the throne, gathered out of all people and all lands, chap. vii. 912.

        (d) A view of the martyrs who would be saved; a view designed to give comfort in the trials that would come upon the people of God in this world, chap. vii. 13, 14.

        (e) A view of the happiness of heaven, where all suffering will cease, and all tears be wiped away, chap. vii. 1517.

      7. The opening of the seventh seal, chap. viii.‒xi. 118.

        Seven trumpets given to seven angels to sound, and the preparatory arrangements for sounding, chap. viii. 16.

        Two series of events referring to the West and the East in the downfall of the Roman empire:—

      1. The West—to the fall of the Western empire—four trumpets.

        (1) The first trumpet sounded, chap. viii. 7.

        The invasion of the Roman empire by Alaric, king of the Goths, A.D. 395‒410.

        (2) The second trumpet sounded, chap. viii. 8, 9.

        The invasion of the Roman empire by Genseric, king of the Vandals, A.D. 428468.

        (3) The third trumpet sounded, chap. viii. 10, 11.

        The invasion of the Roman empire by Attila, king of the Huns, the “Scourge of God,” A.D. 433453.

        (4) The fourth trumpet sounded, chap. viii. 12, 13.

        The final conquest of Rome and the Western empire by Odoacer, king of the Heruli, A.D. 476490.

      2. The East—to the fall of the Eastern empire—two trumpets, chap. ix.

        (5) The fifth trumpet sounded, chap. ix. 112.

        The Mahometans, or Saracens.

        (6) The sixth trumpet sounded, chap. ix. 1319.

        The Turkish power.

        The interval between the fall of the Eastern empire and the sounding of the seventh trumpet, chap. ix. 20; xi. 13:—

        (a) The result of these judgments, chap. ix. 20, 21.

        They produce no change in the moral condition of the world; fulfilled in the state of the Papal world after the conquest of Constantinople, and before the Reformation.

        (b) An angel is seen descending from heaven with emblems of majesty, joy, and peace, chap. x.; fulfilled in the Reformation:—

        (α) The angel with the rainbow on his head, and his face like the sun, a proper symbol of the Reformation as a work of peace, and accompanied with light and knowledge, chap. x. 1.

        (β) The little book in his hand, a symbol of the principal agent in the Reformation—a book—the Bible, chap. x. 2.

        (γ) His crying with a loud voice, symbolical of the Reformation as arresting the attention of the nations, chap. x. 3.

        (δ) The seven thunders—the anathemas of Papal Rome—the thunder of the seven-hilled city, chap. x. 3.

        (ε) The purpose of John to record what the seven thunders had uttered, and the command not to write; the mistake which the Reformers were in danger of making, by regarding the doctrine of the Papacy as the truth of God, chap. x. 4.

        (ζ) The solemn oath of the angel that the time predicted would not then occur, but would occur in the time when the seventh angel should sound, chap. x. 57; fulfilled in the anticipations of the Reformers that the world was about to come to an end, and the reign of Christ about to commence, and the assurance of the angel that this would not then occur, but that a long and important interval must take place.

        (η) The command given to John to go and take the little book from the hand of the angel, chap. x. 8; fulfilled in the delivery of the Bible again to the church.

        (θ) The command to eat it, and the consequences—sweet in the mouth, and bitter to the belly, chap. x. 9, 10; the effect of the pure word of God on the soul indicated by the one; the bitter consequences, in persecution and opposition, that would result from the attempt to make the truth known to the world, indicated by the other.

        (ι) The assurance that he would yet prophesy before many people, and nations, and tongues, and kings, chap. x. 10; fulfilled in the restoration of preaching in the church, founded on the Bible, and in the immediate and ultimate influence of the Bible in making the gospel known to the world.

        (c) The measuring of the holy city, chap. xi. 1, 2; the determining of what constituted the true church at the time of the Reformation.

        (d) The two witnesses, chap. xi. 313. Those who bore faithful testimony to the truth in all the corruptions of the church; their trials and their triumph; fulfilled in the succession of true and sincere Christians whom God raised up from time to time to testify to the truth. They would be persecuted, and many of them would be put to death; they would seem to be finally silenced, and would be treated with great indignity, as if their dead bodies should remain unburied; they would, however, come to life again, that is, at the time of the Reformation they would rise and testify against the corruptions of the Papacy, and would triumph as if they ascended visibly and gloriously to heaven.

        (7) The sounding of the seventh trumpet. The final triumph of the church, and the establishment of the kingdom of God in the overthrow of all its enemies, chap. xi. 1418. This ends the first series of visions; and this expresses in general terms what is drawn out more in detail in the next series of visions, Part V., embracing more particularly the rise and progress of Antichrist.

  5. The Church internally—the rise of Antichrist, and the effect of that formidable power on the internal history of the Church, to the time of the overthrow of that great power, and the triumphant establishment of the kingdom of God, Chap. xi. 19; xii.‒xx.
    1. General Introduction to this series of visions, Chap. xi. 19; xii.
      1. A new vision of the temple of God opened in heaven, chap. xi. 19.
      2. A representation of the church, under the image of a beautiful woman, chap. xii. 1.
      3. The particular thing designed to be represented—the church about to increase and to fill the world, chap. xii. 2.
      4. The deadly hostility of Satan to the church, and his purpose to destroy it, represented by a great red dragon waiting to destroy the man-child, chap. xii. 3, 4.
      5. The ultimate safety of the church, represented by the child caught up to heaven, chap. xii. 5.
      6. The fact that the church would be a long time obscure and hidden—represented by the woman fleeing into the wilderness, chap. xii. 6.
      7. A scenic representation of the great contest going on in the universe about the church—represented by a conflict in heaven between Michael, the protector of the church, with his angels, and Satan, the great enemy of the church, with his angels, chap. xii. 7.
      8. The ultimate discomfiture of Satan, represented by his being overcome and cast out of heaven, chap. xii. 8, 9.
      9. A song of victory in view of this triumph, chap. xii. 10, 11.
      10. The fact that Satan would be allowed, for a limited time, to persecute the church, chap. xii. 12, 13.
      11. The church in the wilderness, chap. xii. 1417.

        (a) The church would be driven into obscurity, like a woman fleeing into a desert—representing the condition of the church while the Papacy should have the ascendency, ver. 14.

        (b) The church would still be preserved, though in obscurity—represented by the woman nourished by some unseen power, ver. 14.

        (c) Satan would still rage against the church—represented by the dragon pouring forth a flood of waters to overwhelm the woman, ver. 15.

        (d) The church would be protected, as if the earth should open its mouth to swallow up the water—representing the interpositions from an unexpected quarter in delivering the church from its perils, ver. 16.

        (e) The wrath of Satan against the remnant—representing the attempts of the Papacy to cut off individuals when open and general persecution no longer raged, ver. 17.

    2. The two beasts, representing the great persecuting power in the church, Chap. xiii.
      1. The first beast, representing the Roman civil or secular power that sustained the Papacy in its career of persecution, chap. xiii. 110.
      2. The second beast, representing the Papal ecclesiastical power, giving life to the former, and perpetuating its influence on the earth, chap. xiii. 1118.
    3. A representation designed, under a succession of symbols, to cheer and sustain the church in its present and prospective trials, with the assurance of its final triumph, and the ultimate destruction of all its foes, Chap. xiv.
      1. A vision of the redeemed in heaven, triumphant and rejoicing, ver. 15.
      2. The ultimate spread of the gospel through all the world, ver. 6, 7.
      3. The fall of Babylon, the great Antichristian power, ver. 8.
      4. The final overthrow of all the upholders of that Antichristian power, ver. 912.
      5. The blessed state of those who should die in the Lord in any time, whether of persecution or peace, ver. 13.
      6. The consummation of all things—the final triumph of the church, and the overthrow of the wicked, ver. 1420:—

        (a) The great harvest of the world by the Son of God—the gathering in of the righteous, ver. 1416.

        (b) The final overthrow and destruction of the wicked, ver. 1720.

    4. Preparation for the final judgment on the beast and his image, Chap. xv.
      1. A new wonder is seen in heaven; seven angels appear, having the seven last plagues, to fill up or complete the wrath of God, ver. 1.
      2. Those who in former times had suffered from persecution by the power represented by the beast, but who, in the midst of trial and temptation, had maintained their faith steadfast, now appear to celebrate with a song of victory the prospective downfall of the great foe, ver. 24.
      3. Arrangements made for executing the wrath of God. The temple is open in heaven; seven angels come out having the seven last plagues; one of the four living creatures gives command to them to go and execute the divine purpose, presenting seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God; the temple is forthwith filled with smoke, preventing all access to the mercy-seat, and indicating that the divine purpose was inexorable, ver. 58.
    5. The execution of the purpose, Chap. xvi.
      1. The first vial, ver. 1, 2. The first blow struck on the Papacy in the French Revolution.
      2. The second vial, ver. 3. The scenes of blood and carnage in that Revolution.
      3. The third vial, ver. 47. The calamities brought by the French invasions upon the countries where the most bloody persecutions had been waged—the north of Italy.
      4. The fourth vial, ver. 8, 9. The overturning of the governments that sustained the Papal power, in the wars consequent on the French Revolution.
      5. The fifth vial, ver. 10, 11. The direct assault on the Papal power; the capture of the pope himself, and the temporary entire subjugation of Rome by the French arms.
      6. The sixth vial, ver. 1216. The decline of the Turkish power; the rapid extension of the gospel in the East; the rallying of the strength of Paganism, Mahometanism, and Romanism—represented by the three frogs that came out of the mouth of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet: the preparation of those powers as if for some great conflict, and the decisive struggle between the church and its foes, as if the issue were staked on a single battle—in Armageddon.
      7. The seventh vial, ver. 1721. The complete and final overthrow of the Papal power, as if in a tremendous storm of hail, lightning, and thunder, accompanied with an earthquake.
    6. A particular description of the judgment on this formidable Antichristian power, under a new image of a harlot (Chap. xvii.) in the form of an explanatory Episode.
      1. Introduction to the Episode; the vision of the woman sitting on many waters, ver. 13.
      2. A particular description of the Antichristian power referred to, under the image of an abandoned and gaily-attired woman, ver. 36.
      3. A particular explanation of what is designed to be represented by the image of the scarlet-coloured woman, ver. 718:—

        (a) The angel promises to explain it, ver. 7.

        (b) A symbolical representation of the design of the vision, ver. 814.

        (c) A more literal statement of what is meant, ver. 1518. The whole designed to characterize Papal Rome, and to describe the manner of its rise and the means of its ultimate destruction.

    7. A description of the effect of that judgment in pouring out the seventh vial on that formidable Antichristian power, under the image of a rich and luxurious city; a further explanatory Episode, Ch. xviii.
      1. A vision of an angel coming from heaven, ver. 13.
      2. A warning voice calling on the people of God to come out of the mystical Babylon, and not to partake of her sin and her doom, ver. 48.
      3. Lamentation over her fate:—

        (a) By kings, that had lived delicately with her, ver. 9, 10.

        (b) By merchants that had been enriched by her, ver. 1117.

        (c) By mariners that had trafficked with her, ver. 1719.

      4. Rejoicing over her fate, ver. 20.
      5. The final destruction of the mystical Babylon—the Papal power—represented by a millstone cast by an angel into the sea, ver. 2124.
    8. A further episodical representatation of the effects that would result from the fall of the powers that opposed the reign of the Son of God and the introduction of the Millennium, with an account of the final destruction of these powers, Chap. xix.
      1. A hymn of the heavenly hosts in view of the destruction of the mystical Babylon, ver. 17:—

        (a) A voice of many people in heaven, shouting Hallelujah, ver. 1, 2.

        (b) The sound echoed and repeated as the smoke of her torment ascends, ver. 3.

        (c) The four and twenty elders, and the four living creatures unite in the song, ver. 4.

        (d) A voice heard commanding them to praise God, ver. 5.

        (e) The mighty shout of Hallelujah echoed and repeated from unnumbered hosts, ver. 6, 7.

      2. The marriage of the Lamb as the reason of this increased joy, ver. 8, 9.
      3. John, overcome with this scene, and filled with rapturous joy in view of the final triumphs of the church, prostrates himself before the angel to worship him, ver. 10.
      4. The final conquest over the beast and the false prophet, ver. 1121:—

        (a) A description of the conqueror—the Son of God—as he goes forth to victory, attended by the armies of heaven, ver. 1116.

        (b) An angel is seen standing in the sun, calling on all the fowls of heaven to come to the great feast prepared for them in the destruction of the enemies of God, ver. 17, 18.

        (c) The final war, ver. 1921. The beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gather together for the battle; the beast and the false prophet taken, and cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone; the remainder of the enemies of the church slain. The last enemy of the church on earth is destroyed, and the way is prepared for its universal triumph.

    9. The Millennial period and the final judgment, Ch. xx.
      1. The binding of Satan, ver. 13.
      2. The Millennium, ver. 46. Thrones are placed as if there were to be a judgment; the spirit of the martyrs and saints is revived again as if they were raised from the dead, and lived again on the earth; Satan is confined, and the church enjoys a state of repose and prosperity, for the period of a thousand years.
      3. The release of Satan for a little time. ver. 7, 8. After the thousand years are expired, he is permitted to go forth again among the nations, and to awaken a new form of hostility to Christ and the church.
      4. The final overthrow, subjugation, and punishment of Satan and those opposing hosts, and the final triumph, therefore, of the church, ver. 9, 10.
      5. The final judgment on all mankind, ver. 1115. All the dead are raised; the sea gives up its dead; Death and Hades give up their dead, and a solemn and just judgment is pronounced on all mankind, and the wicked are consigned to the lake of fire.
  6. The final condition of the righteous—the state of future blessedness, Chap. xxi.; xxii. 15.
    1. A vision of the new heavens and new earth, as the final abode of the righteous, chap. xxi. 1.
    2. That blessed future abode represented under the image of a beautiful city descending from heaven, chap. xxi. 24.
    3. A particular description of the city, as the final abode of the righteous; its general appearance, its walls, its gates, its foundations, its size, its light, its inmates, &c., chap. xxi. 927; xxii. 15
  7. The epilogue, or conclusion, Chap.. xxii. 620.
    1. A solemn declaration that the things revealed in this book are true, ver. 6, 7.
    2. The effect of those revelations on John, ver. 8, 9.
    3. A command not to seal up what had been revealed, ver. 10.
    4. The unchangeable condition of the righteous and the wicked in the future state, ver. 14, 15.
    5. The blessedness of those who have a right to enter into the Holy City, ver. 15.
    6. Jesus declares himself to be the author of all these revelations, ver. 16.
    7. The free invitations of the gospel to all men, ver. 17.
    8. A solemn injunction not to change anything that had been written in this book, ver. 18, 19.
    9. The assurance of the Saviour that he would come quickly, and the joyous assent of John to this, and prayer that it might occur, ver. 20.
    10. The benediction, ver. 21.



This chapter contains a general introduction to the whole book, and comprises the following parts:—

I. The announcement that the object of the book is to record a revelation which the Lord Jesus Christ had made of important events which were shortly to occur, and which were signified by an angel to the author, John, ver. 13. A blessing is pronounced on him who should read and understand the book, and special attention is directed to it because the time was at hand when the predicted events would occur.

II. Salutation to the seven churches of Asia, ver. 48. To those churches, it would seem from this, the book was originally dedicated or addressed, and two of the chapters (ii. and iii.) refer exclusively to them. Among them evidently the author had resided (ver. 9), and the whole book was doubtless sent to them, and committed to their keeping. In this salutation, the author wishes for them grace, mercy, and peace from “him which is, and which was, and which is to come”—the original fountain of all light and truth—referring to the Father; “from the seven Spirits which are before the throne”—referring to the Holy Spirit (see Note on ver. 4), by whom all grace is communicated to men; and from the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the revelation is imparted. As it is his revelation, as it is designed peculiarly to glorify him, and as it predicts the final triumph of his religion, the author appends to this reference to him a special ascription of praise, ver. 58. He refers to the great work which he had done for his people in redeeming them, and making them kings and priests to God; he assures those to whom he wrote that he would come in glory to the world again, and that all eyes would see him; and he represents the Redeemer himself as applying to his own person a title—“Alpha and Omega,” “the beginning and the ending”—which indicates his exalted nature, and his supreme authority.

III. The commission of the writer, or his authority for thus addressing the churches of Asia, ver. 920. His authority to do this is derived from the fact that the Lord Jesus had appeared to him personally in his exile, and had directed him to reveal what he saw in vision, and to send it to those churches. The statement of this commission is made as impressive as it well could be. (a) The writer was an exile—banished to a lonely island on account of the common faith, ver. 9. (b) On the day of Christian rest—the day set apart to the memory of the Saviour, and which he sacredly observed in his solitude as holy time—when in the spirit of calm contemplation on the truths appropriate to this day, he suddenly heard the voice of his Redeemer, like a trumpet, commanding him to record what he saw, and to send it to the seven churches of Asia, ver. 10, 11. (c) Then follows (ver. 1218) a magnificent description of the appearance of the Saviour, as he appeared in his glory. He is seen standing in the midst of seven golden candlesticks, clothed in a long white robe, girded with a girdle of gold, his hair white, his eyes like a flame of fire, his feet like brass, and his voice like the roaring of mighty waters. In his hand are seven stars, and from his mouth goes a sharp sword, and his countenance is like the sun in the full splendour of its shining. John falls at his feet as if he were dead; and the Saviour lays his right hand upon him, and animates him with the assurance that though he had himself been dead he is now alive, and would for ever live, and that he has the keys of hell and death. (d) Then follows the commission itself, ver. 19, 20. He was to make a record of the things which he saw. He was especially to unfold the meaning of the seven stars which he saw in the right hand of the Saviour, and of the seven golden candlesticks, as referring to the seven churches of Asia Minor; and was then to describe the series of visions which pertained to the future history and destiny of the church at large.

In the scene represented in this chapter, there is some imagery which would be suggested by the arrangements in the temple at Jerusalem, and it has been supposed (Elliott, i. 72, 73) that the vision was laid there, and that Christ is represented as walking among the seven lamps “habited as the ancient high-priest.” But the vision is not such an one as would have been presented in the holy place in the temple. In that place there was but one lamp-stand, with seven sconces; here, there were seven separate lamp-stands; there were there no “stars,” and the vestments of the Jewish high-priest were not those in which the Saviour is represented as appearing. He had no mitre, no ephod, no breastplate, and no censer. The object was not to represent Christ as a priest, or as superseding the Jewish high-priest, but to represent him with costume appropriate to the Son of God—as having been raised from the dead, and received to the glory of heaven. His vestments are neither those of a prophet, a king, nor a priest; not with such garments as the ancient prophets wore, nor with crown and sceptre such as monarchs bear, nor yet with the usual habiliments of a priest. He appears as the Son of God, irrespective of the offices that he bears, and comes as the glorified Head of the Church to declare his will in regard to the seven churches of Asia, and to disclose the future for the guidance and comfort of his church at large. The scene appears to be laid at Patmos, and the apostle in the vision of the Saviour does not appear to have regarded himself as transferred to any other place. The view which is to be kept before the mind in the description of “the things that are” (ch. ii., iii.), is that of seven burning lamps, and the Son of God standing among them. Thus, amidst these lamps, representing the churches, he dictates to the apostle what he shall write to the churches; thus, with seven stars in his hand, representing the angels of the churches, he dictates what shall be said to them. Is it unnatural to suppose that the position of those lamps might have been arranged in the vision in a manner resembling the geographical position of the churches themselves? If so, the scene would be more significant, and more sublime.


T HE Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This is evidently a title or caption of the whole book, and is designed to comprise the substance of the whole; for all that the book contains would be embraced in the general declaration that it is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The word rendered RevelationἈποκάλυψις, whence we have derived our word Apocalypse—means properly an uncovering; that is, nakedness; from ἀποκαλύπτω, to uncover. It would apply to anything which had been covered up so as to be hidden from the view, as by a veil, a darkness, in an ark or chest, and then made manifest by removing the covering. It comes then to be used in the sense of disclosing or revealing, by removing the veil of darkness or ignorance. “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed.” It may be applied to the disclosing or manifesting of anything which was before obscure or unknown. This may be done—(a) By instruction in regard to that which was before obscure; that is, by statements of what was unknown before the statements were made; as in Lu. ii. 32, where it is said that Christ would be “a light to lighten the Gentiles”—φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψις ἐθνῶν; or when it is applied to the divine mysteries, purposes, or doctrines, before obscure or unknown, but made clear by light revealed in the gospel, Ro. xvi. 25; 1 Co. ii. 10; xiv. 6; Ep. iii. 5. (b) By the event itself; as the manifestation of the wrath of God at the day of judgment will disclose the true nature of his wrath. “After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” Ro. ii. 5. “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation (Gr. revelation) of the sons of God,” Ro. viii. 19; that is, till it shall be manifest by the event what they who are the children of God are to be. In this sense the word is frequently applied to the second advent or appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, as disclosing him in his glory, or showing what he truly is; “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed,” 2 Th. i. 7—ἐν τῇ ἀποκαλύψειin the revelation of Jesus Christ; “Waiting for the coming (the revelation—τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν) of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Co. i. 7; “At the appearing (Gr. revelation) of Jesus Christ,” 1 Pe. i. 7; “When his glory shall be revealed,” 1 Pe. iv. 13. (c) It is used in the sense of making known what is to come, whether by words, signs, or symbols, as if a veil were lifted from that which is hidden from human vision, or which is covered by the darkness of the unknown future. This is called a revelation, because the knowledge of the event is in fact made known to the world by Him who alone can see it, and in such a manner as he pleases to employ; though many of the terms or the symbols may be, from the necessity of the case, obscure, and though their full meaning may be disclosed only by the event. It is in this sense, evidently, that the word is used here; and in this sense that it is more commonly employed when we speak of a revelation. Thus the word גָּלָה (gâlâ) is used in Am. iii. 7, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants.” So Job xxxiii. 16, “Then he openeth (marg. revealeth or uncovereth; Heb. יִגְלֶה) the ears of men;” that is, in a dream, he discloses to their ears his truth before concealed or unknown. Comp. Da. ii. 22, 28, 29; x. 1; De. xxix. 29. These ideas enter into the word as used in the passage before us. The idea is that of a disclosure of an extraordinary character, beyond the mere ability of man, by a special communication from heaven. This is manifest, not only from the usual meaning of this word, but by the word prophecy, in ver. 3, and by all the arrangements by which these things were made known. The ideas which would be naturally conveyed by the use of this word in this connection are two: (1), that there was something which was before hidden, obscure, or unknown; and, (2), that this was so disclosed by these communications as to be seen or known. The things hidden or unknown were those which pertained to the future; the method of disclosing them was mainly by symbols. In the Greek, in this passage, the article is wanting—ἀποκάλυψιςa Revelation, not , the Revelation. This is omitted because it is the title of a book, and because the use of the article might imply that this was the only revelation, excluding other books claiming to be a revelation; or it might imply some previous mention of the book, or knowledge of it in the reader. The simple meaning is, that this was “a Revelation;” it was only a part of the revelation which God has given to mankind.

The phrase, “the Revelation of Jesus Christ,” might, so far as the construction of the language is concerned, refer either to Christ as the subject or object. It might either mean that Christ is the object revealed in this book, and that its great purpose is to make him known, and so the phrase is understood in the commentary called Hyponoia (New York, 1844); or it may mean that this is a revelation which Christ makes to mankind, that is, it is his in the sense that he communicates it to the world. That this latter is the meaning here is clear, (1), because it is expressly said in this verse that it was a revelation which God gave to him; (2), because it is said that it pertains to things which must shortly come to pass; and, (3), because, in fact, the revelation is a disclosure of events which were to happen, and not of the person or work of the Lord Jesus Christ. ¶ Which God gave unto him. Which God imparted or communicated to Jesus Christ. This is in accordance with the representations everywhere made in the Scriptures, that God is the original fountain of truth and knowledge, and that, whatever was the original dignity of the Son of God, there was a mediatorial dependence on the Father. See Jn. v. 19, 20, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for whatsoever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him (δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ) all things that himself doeth.” “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me,” Jn. vii. 16. “As my Father hath taught me (ἐδίδαξε με), I speak these things,” Jn. viii. 28. “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak,” Jn. xii. 49. See also Jn. xiv. 10; xvii. 7, 8; Mat. xi. 27; Mar. xiii. 32. The same mediatorial dependence the apostle teaches us still subsists in heaven in his glorified state, and will continue until he has subdued all things (1 Co. xv. 2428); and hence, even in that state, he is represented as receiving the Revelation from the Father to communicate it to men. ¶ To show unto his servants. That is, to his people, to Christians, often represented as the servants of God or of Christ, 1 Pe. ii. 16; Re. ii. 20; vii. 3; xix. 2; xxii. 3. It is true that the word is sometimes applied, by way of eminence, to the prophets (1 Ch. vi. 49; Da. vi. 20), and to the apostles (Ro. i. 1; Ga. i. 10; Phi. i. 1; Tit. i. 1; Ja. i. 1); but it is also applied to the mass of Christians, and there is no reason why it should not be so understood here. The book was sent to the churches of Asia, and was clearly designed for general use; and the contents of the book were evidently intended for the churches of the Redeemer in all ages and lands. Comp. ver. 3. The word rendered to show (δεῖξαι) commonly denotes to point out, to cause to see, to present to the sight, and is a word eminently appropriate here, as what was to be revealed was, in general, to be presented to the sight by sensible tokens or symbols. ¶ Things which must shortly come to pass. Not all the things that will occur, but such as it was deemed of importance for his people to be made acquainted with. Nor is it certainly implied that all the things that are communicated would shortly come to pass, or would soon occur. Some of them might perhaps lie in the distant future, and still it might be true that there were those which were revealed in connection with them, which soon would occur. The word rendered “things” () is a pronoun, and might be rendered what; “he showed to his servants what things were about to occur,” not implying that he showed all the things that would happen, but such as he judged to be needful that his people should know. The word would naturally embrace those things which, in the circumstances, were most desirable to be known. The phrase rendered “must come to pass” (δεῖ γενέσθαι), would imply more than mere futurity. The word used (δεῖ) means it needs, there is need of, and implies that there is some kind of necessity that the event should occur. That necessity may either arise from the felt want of anything, as where it is absent or wanting, Xen. Cyr. iv. 10; ib. vii. 5, 9; or from the nature of the case, or from a sense of duty, as Mat. xvi. 21, “Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go (δεῖ ἀπελθεῖν) to Jerusalem” (comp. Mat. xxvi. 35; Mar. xiv. 31; Lu. ii. 49); or the necessity may exist, because a thing is right and just, meaning that it ought to be done, as Lu. xiii. 14, “There are six days in which men ought to work” (δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι). “And ought not this woman (οὐκ ἴδει), whom Satan hath bound, &c., be loosed from this bond,” Lu. xiii. 16 (comp. Mar. xiii. 14; Jn. iv. 20; Ac. v. 11, 29; 2 Ti. ii. 6; Mat. xviii. 33; xxv. 27); or the necessity may be that it is conformable to the divine arrangement, or is made necessary by divine appointment, as in Jn. iii. 14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must (δεῖ) the Son of man be lifted up.” “For as yet they knew not the Scriptures, that he must (δεῖ) rise again from the dead,” Jn. xx. 9; comp. Ac. iv. 12; xiv. 22, et al. In the passage before us, it is implied that there was some necessity that the things referred to should occur. They were not the result of chance, they were not fortuitous. It is not, however, stated what was the ground of the necessity; whether because there was a want of something to complete a great arrangement, or because it was right and proper in existing circumstances, or because such was the divine appointment. They were events which, on some account, must certainly occur, and which, therefore, it was important should be made known. The real ground of the necessity, probably, was founded in the design of God in redemption. He intended to carry out his great plans in reference to his church, and the things revealed here must necessarily occur in the completion of that design. The phrase rendered shortly (ἐν τάχει) is one whose meaning has been much controverted, and on which much has been made to depend in the interpretation of the whole book. The question has been whether the phrase necessarily implies that the events referred to were soon to occur, or whether it may have such an extent of meaning as to admit the supposition that the events referred to, though beginning soon, would embrace in their development far distant years, and would reach the end of all things. Those who maintain, as Professor Stuart, that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, and that the portion in ch. iv.‒xi. has special reference to Jerusalem and Judea, and the portion in ch. xii.‒xix. to persecuting and heathen Rome, maintain the former opinion; those who suppose that ch. iv.‒xi. refers to the irruption of Northern barbarians in the Roman empire, and ch. xii., seq., to the rise and the persecutions of the Papal power, embrace the latter opinion. All that is proper in this place is, without reference to any theory of interpretation, to inquire into the proper meaning of the language, or to ascertain what idea it would naturally convey. (a) The phrase properly and literally means, with quickness, swiftness, speed; that is, speedily, quickly, shortly (Rob. Lex.; Stuart, in loco). It is the same in meaning as ταχέως. Comp. 1 Co. iv. 19, “But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will.” “Go out quickly into the streets,” Lu. xiv. 21. “Sit down quickly, and write fifty,” Lu. xvi. 6. “She rose up hastily (ταχέως) and went out,” Jn. xi. 31. “That ye are so soon removed (ταχέως) from him that called you,” Ga. i. 6. “Lay hands suddenly on no man,” 1 Ti. v. 22. See also Phi. ii. 19, 24; 2 Th. ii. 2; 2 Ti. iv. 9. The phrase used here (ἐν τάχει) occurs in Lu. xviii. 8, “He will avenge them speedily” (lit. with speed). “Arise up quickly,” Ac. xii. 7. “Get thee quickly out of Jerusalem,” Ac. xxii. 18. “Would depart shortly,” Ac. xxv. 4. “Bruise Satan under your feet shortly,” Ro. xvi. 20; and Re. i. 1; xxii. 6. The essential idea is, that the thing which is spoken of was soon to occur, or it was not a remote and distant event. There is the notion of rapidity, of haste, of suddenness. It is such a phrase as is used when the thing is on the point of happening, and could not be applied to an event which was in the remote future, considered as an independent event standing by itself. The same idea is expressed, in regard to the same thing, in ver. 3, “The time is at hand”—ὁ γὰρ καιρὸς ἐγγύς; that is, it is near, it is soon to occur. Yet (b) it is not necessary to suppose that the meaning is that all that there is in the book was soon to happen. It may mean that the series of events which were to follow on in their proper order was soon to commence, though it might be that the sequel would be remote. The first in the series of events was soon to begin, and the others would follow on in their train, though a portion of them, in the regular order, might be in a remote futurity. If we suppose that there was such an order, that a series of transactions was about to commence, involving a long train of momentous developments, and that the beginning of this was to occur soon, the language used by John would be that which would be naturally employed to express it. Thus, in case of a revolution in a government, when a reigning prince should be driven from his kingdom, to be succeeded by a new dynasty, which would long occupy the throne, and involving, as the consequence of the revolution, important events extending far into the future, we would naturally say that these things were shortly to occur, or that the time was near. It is customary to speak of a succession of events or periods as near, however vast or interminable the series may be, when the commencement is at hand. Thus, we say that the great events of the eternal world are near; that is, the beginning of them is soon to occur. So Christians now speak often of the millennium as near, or as about to occur, though it is the belief of many that it will be protracted for many ages. (c) That this is the true idea here is clear, whatever general view of interpretation in regard to the book is adopted. Even Professor Stuart, who contends that the greater portion of the book refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the persecutions of heathen Rome, admits that “the closing part of the Revelation relates beyond all doubt to a distant period, and some of it to a future eternity” (ii. p. 5); and, if this be so, then there is no impropriety in supposing that a part of the series of predictions preceding this may lie also in a somewhat remote futurity. The true idea seems to be that the writer contemplated a series of events that were to occur, and that this series was about to commence. How far into the future it was to extend, is to be learned by the proper interpretation of all the parts of the series. ¶ And he sent. Gr., “Sending by his angel, signified it to his servant John.” The idea is not precisely that he sent his angel to communicate the message, but that he sent by him, or employed him as an agent in doing it. The thing sent was rather the message than the angel. ¶ And signified it. Ἐσήμανεν He indicated it by signs and symbols. The word occurs in the New Testament only in Jn. xii. 33; xviii. 32; xxi. 19; Ac. xi. 28; xxv. 27, and in the passage before us, in all which places it is rendered signify, signifying, or signified. It properly refers to some sign, signal, or token by which anything is made known (comp. Mat. xxvi. 28; Ro. iv. 11; Ge. ix. 12, 13; xvii. 11; Lu. ii. 12; 2 Co. xii. 12; 1 Co. xiv. 22), and is a word most happily chosen to denote the manner in which the events referred to were to be communicated to John, for nearly the whole book is made up of signs and symbols. If it be asked what was signified to John, it may be replied that either the word “it” may be understood, as in our translation, to refer to the Apocalypse or Revelation, or what he saw (ὅσα εἶδε), as Professor Stuart supposes; or it may be absolute, without any object following, as Professor Robinson (Lex. supposes. The general sense is, that, sending by his angel, he made to John a communication by expressive signs or symbols. ¶ By his angel. That is, an angel was employed to cause these scenic representations to pass before the mind of the apostle. The communication was not made directly to him, but was through the medium of a heavenly messenger employed for this purpose. Thus, in Re. xxii. 6, it is said, “And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.” Comp. ver. 8, 9 of that chapter. There is frequent allusion in the Scriptures to the fact that angels have been employed as agents in making known the divine will, or in the revelations which have been made to men. Thus, in Ac. vii. 53, it is said, “Who have received the law by the disposition of angels.” “For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast,” &c., He. ii. 2; “And it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,” Ga. iii. 19. Comp. Notes on Ac. vii. 38, 53. There is almost no further reference to the agency of the angel employed for this service in the book, and there is no distinct specification of what he did, or of his great agency in the case. John is everywhere represented as seeing the symbols himself, and it would seem that the agency of the angel was, either to cause those symbols to pass before the apostle, or to convey their meaning to his mind. How far John himself understood the meaning of these symbols, we have not the means of knowing with certainty. The most probable supposition is, that the angel was employed to cause these visions or symbols to pass before his mind, rather than to interpret them. If an interpretation had been given, it is inconceivable that it should not have been recorded, and there is no more probability that their meaning should have been disclosed to John himself, for his private use, than that it should have been disclosed and recorded for the use of others. It would seem probable, therefore, that John had only that view of the meaning of what he saw which anyone else might obtain from the record of the visions. Comp. Notes on 1 Pe. i. 1012. ¶ Unto his servant John. Nothing could be learned from this expression as to what John was the author of the book, whether the apostle of that name or some other. Comp. Intro. § 1. It cannot be inferred from the use of the word servant, rather than apostle, that the apostle John was not the author, for it was not uncommon for the apostles to designate themselves merely by the words servants, or servants of God. Comp. Notes on Ro. i. 1.

2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

2. Who bare record of the word of God. Who bore witness to, or testified of (ἐμαρτύρησε) the word of God. He regarded himself merely as a witness of what he had seen, and claimed only to make a fair and faithful record of it. “This is the disciple which testifieth (ὁ μαρτυρῶν) of these things, and wrote these things,” Jn. xxi. 24. “And he that saw it bare record”—μεμαρτύρηκε, Jn. xix. 35. Compare also the following places, where the apostle uses the same word of himself: 1 Jn. i. 2; iv. 14. The expression here, “the word of God,” is one the meaning of which has been much controverted, and is important in its bearing on the question who was the author of the book of Revelation. The main inquiry is, whether the writer refers to the “testimony” which he bears in this book respecting the “word of God;” or whether he refers to some testimony on that subject in some other book with which those to whom he wrote were so familiar that they would at once recognize him as the author; or whether he refers to the fact that he had borne his testimony to the great truths of religion, and especially respecting Jesus Christ, as a preacher who was well known, and who would be characterized by this expression. The phrase “the word of God”—τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ—occurs frequently in the New Testament (comp. Jn. x. 35; Ac. iv. 31; vi. 2, 7; xi. 1; xii. 24); and may either mean the word or doctrine respecting God—that which teaches what God is—or that which he speaks or teaches. It is more commonly used in the latter sense (comp. the passages referred to above), and especially refers to what God speaks or commands in the gospel. The fair meaning of this expression would be, that John had borne faithful witness to, or testimony of, the truth which God had spoken to man in the gospel of Christ. So far as the language here used is concerned, this might apply either to a written or an oral testimony; either to a treatise like that of his gospel, to his preaching, or to the record which he was then making. Vitringa and others suppose that the reference here is to the gospel which he had published, and which now bears his name; Lücke and others, to the revelation made to him in Patmos, the record of which he now makes in this book; Professor Stuart and others, to the fact that he was a teacher or preacher of the gospel, and that (comp. ver. 9) the allusion is to the testimony which he had borne to the gospel, and for which he was an exile in Patmos. Is it not possible that these conflicting opinions may be to some extent harmonized, by supposing that in the use of the aorist tense—ἐμαρτύρησε—the writer meant to refer to a characteristic of himself, to wit, that he was a faithful witness of the word of God and of Jesus Christ, whenever and however made known to him? With an eye, perhaps, to the record which he was about to make in this book, and intending to include that, may he not also refer to what had been and was his well-known character as a witness of what God communicated to him? He had always borne this testimony. He always regarded himself as such a witness. He had been an eyewitness of what had occurred in the life and at the death of the Saviour (see Notes on 2 Pe. i. 17, 18), and had, in all his writings and public administrations, borne witness to what he had seen and heard; for that (ver. 9) he had been banished to Patmos: and he was now about to carry out the same characteristic of himself by bearing witness to what he saw in these new revelations. This would be much in the manner of John, who often refers to this characteristic of himself (comp. Jn. xix. 35; xxi. 24; 1 Jn. i. 2), as well as harmonize the different opinions. The meaning, then, of the expression, “who bare record of the word of God,” as I understand it, is, that it was a characteristic of the writer to bear simple but faithful testimony to the truth which God communicated to men in the gospel. If this be the correct interpretation, it may be remarked, (a) that this is such language as John the apostle would be likely to use, and yet (b) that it is not such language as an author would be likely to adopt if there was an attempt to forge a book in his name. The artifice would be too refined to occur probably to anyone, for although perfectly natural for John, it would not be so natural for a forger of a book to select this circumstance and weave it thus unostentatiously into his narrative. ¶ And of the testimony of Jesus Christ. That is, in accordance with the interpretation above, of the testimony which Jesus Christ bore for the truth; not of a testimony respecting Jesus Christ. The idea is, that Jesus Christ was himself a witness to the truth, and that the writer of this book was a witness merely of the testimony which Christ had borne. Whether the testimony of Jesus Christ was borne in his preaching when in the flesh, or whether made known to the writer by him at any subsequent period, it was his office to make a faithful record of that testimony. As he had always before done that, so he was about to do it now in the new revelation made to him in Patmos, which he regarded as a new testimony of Jesus Christ to the truth, ver. 1. It is remarkable that, in confirmation of this view, John so often describes the Lord Jesus as a witness, or represents him as having come to bear his faithful testimony to the truth. Thus in ver. 5: “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful and true witness.” “I am one that bear witness—ὁ μαρτυρήσω—of myself,” Jn. viii. 18. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness—ἵνα μαρτυρήσω—to the truth,” Jn. xviii. 37. “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness”—ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστὸς, κ.τ.λ., Re. iii. 14. Of this testimony which the Lord Jesus came to bring to man respecting eternal realities, the writer of this book says that he regarded himself as a witness. To the office of bearing such testimony he had been dedicated; that testimony he was now to bear, as he had always done. ¶ And of all things that he saw. Ὅσα τε εἶδε. This is the common reading in the Greek, and according to this reading it would properly mean, “and whatsoever he saw;” that is, it would imply that he bore witness to “the word of God,” and to “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” and to “whatever he saw”—meaning that the things which he saw, and to which he refers, were things additional to those to which he had referred by “the word of God,” and the “testimony of Christ.” From this it has been supposed that in the former part of the verse he refers to some testimony which he had formerly borne, as in his gospel or in his preaching, and that here he refers to what he “saw” in the visions of the Revelation as something additional to the former. But it should be remembered that the word rendered andτε—is wanting in a large number of manuscripts (see Wetstein), and that it is now omitted in the best editions of the Greek Testament—as by Griesbach, Tittmann and Hahn. The evidence is clear that it should be omitted; and if so omitted, the reference is to whatever he had at any time borne his testimony to, and not particularly to what passed before him in the visions of this book. It is a general affirmation that he had always borne a faithful testimony to whatever he had seen respecting the word of God and the testimony of Christ. The correct rendering of the whole passage then would be, “And sending by his angel, he signifies it to his servant John, who bare record of” [i.e. whose character and office it was to bear his testimony to] “the word of God” [the message which God has sent to me], “and the testimony of Jesus Christ” [the testimony which Christ bore to the truth], “whatsoever he saw.” He concealed nothing; he held nothing back; he made it known precisely as it was seen by him. Thus interpreted, the passage refers to what was a general characteristic of the writer, and is designed to embrace all that was made known to him, and to affirm that he was a faithful witness to it. There were doubtless special reasons why John was employed as the medium through which this communication was to be made to the church and the world. Among these reasons may have been the following: (a) That he was the “beloved disciple.” (b) That he was the only surviving apostle. (c) That his character was such that his statements would be readily received. Comp. Jn. xix. 35; xxi. 24; 3 Jn. 12. (d) It may be that his mind was better fitted to be the medium of these communications than that of any other of the apostles—even if they had been then alive. There is almost no one whose mental characteristics are less correctly understood than those of the apostle John. Among the most gentle and amiable of men; with a heart so fitted for love as to be known as “the beloved disciple”—he yet had mental characteristics which made it proper that he should be called “a son of thunder” (Mar. iii. 17); a mind fitted to preserve and record the profound thoughts in his gospel; a mind of high poetic order, fitted for the magnificent conceptions in this book.

3 Blessed57 is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: 58for the time is at hand.

3. Blessed is he that readeth. That is, it is to be regarded as a privilege attended with many blessings, to be permitted to mark the disclosures to be made in this book; the important revelations respecting future times. Professor Stuart supposes that this refers to a public reading, and that the phrase “those who hear the words of this prophecy,” refers to those who listened to the public reader, and that both the reader and hearer should regard themselves as highly favoured. It is, however, more in accordance with the usual meaning of the word rendered “read,” to suppose that it refers to the act of one’s reading for himself; to learn by reading. So Robinson (Lex.) understands it. The Greek word, indeed, would bear the other interpretation (see Lu. iv. 16; Ac. xiii. 27; xv. 21; 2 Co. iii. 15); but as this book was sent abroad to be read by Christians, and not merely to be in the hands of the ministers of religion to be read by them to others, it is more natural to interpret the word in the usual sense. ¶ And hear the words of this prophecy. As they shall be declared or repeated by others; or perhaps the word hear is used in a sense that is not uncommon, that of giving attention to; taking heed to. The general sense is, that they were to be regarded as highly favoured who became acquainted in any way with what is here communicated. The writer does not say that they were blessed who understood it, or that they who read or heard it would fully understand it; but it is clearly implied, that there would be so far an understanding of its meaning as to make it a felicitous condition to have been made acquainted with it. An author could not be supposed to say that one should regard his condition as a favoured one who merely heard words that he could not understand, or who had placed before him magnificent symbols that had to him no meaning. The word prophecy is used here in its more strict sense as denoting the disclosure of future events—a large portion of the book being of this nature. It is here synonymous with Revelation in ver. 1. ¶ And keep those things which are written therein. Keep in mind those things which relate to the future; and obey those things which are required as truth and duty. The blessing which results from having in possession the revealed truth of God is not merely in reading it, or in hearing it: it results from the fact that the truth is properly regarded, and exerts a suitable influence over our lives. Comp. Ps. xix. 11: “And in keeping of them there is great reward.” ¶ For the time is at hand. See ver. 1. The word here used—ἐγγύς—has the same signification substantially as the word “shortly” in ver. 1. It would apply to any event whose beginning was soon to occur, though the end might be remote, for the series of events might stretch far into the future. It cannot be doubted, however, that the writer meant to press upon them the importance of attending to these things, from the fact that either entirely or in part these things were soon to happen. It may be inferred from this verse, that it is possible so to understand this book, as that it may convey useful instruction. This is the only book in the Bible of which a special blessing is pronounced on him who reads it; but assuredly a blessing would not be pronounced on the perusal of a book which is entirely unintelligible. While, therefore, there may be many obscurities in this book, it is also to be assumed that it may be so far understood as to be useful to Christians, in supporting their faith, and giving them elevated views of the final triumph of religion, and of the glory of the world to come. Anything is a blessing which enables us with well-founded hope and joy to look forward to the heavenly world.

4 JOHN to the 59seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, 60from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the 61seven Spirits which are before his throne;

4. John to the seven churches which are in Asia. The word Asia is used in quite different senses by different writers. It is used (1) as referring to the whole eastern continent now known by that name; (2) either Asia or Asia Minor; (3) that part of Asia which Attalus III., king of Pergamos, gave to the Romans, viz. Mysia, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Lydia, Caria, Pisidia, and the southern coast—that is, all in the western, south-western, and southern parts of Asia Minor; and (4), in the New Testament, usually the south-western part of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital. See Notes, Ac. ii. 9. The word Asia is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it occurs often in the books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament. In the New Testament it is not used in the large sense in which it is now, as applied to the whole continent, but in its largest signification it would include only Asia Minor. It is also used, especially by Luke, as denoting the country that was called Ionia, or that which embraced the provinces of Caria and Lydia. Of this region Ephesus was the principal city, and it was in this region that the “seven churches” were situated. Whether there were more than seven churches in this region is not intimated by the writer of this book, and on that point we have no certain knowledge. It is evident that these seven were the principal churches, even if there were more, and that there was some reason why they should be particularly addressed. There is mention of some other churches in the neighbourhood of these. Colosse was near to Laodicea; and from Col. iv. 13, it would seem not improbable that there was a church also at Hierapolis. But there may have been nothing in their circumstances that demanded particular instruction or admonition, and they may have been on that account omitted. There is also some reason to suppose that, though there had been other churches in that vicinity besides the seven mentioned by John, they had become extinct at the time when he wrote the book of Revelation. It appears from Tacitus (Annal. xiv. 27; comp. also Pliny, N. H. v. 29), that in the time of Nero, A.D. 61, the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake, in which earthquake, according to Eusebius, the adjacent cities of Colosse and Hierapolis were involved. Laodicea was, indeed, immediately rebuilt, but there is no evidence of the re-establishment of the church there before the time when John wrote this book. The earliest mention we have of a church there, after the one referred to in the New Testament by Paul (Col. ii. 1; iv. 13, 15, 16), is in the time of Trajan, when Papias was bishop there, sometime between A.D. 98 and 117. It would appear, then, to be not improbable that at the time when the Apocalypse was written, there were in fact but seven churches in the vicinity. Professor Stuart (i. 219) supposes that “seven, and only so many, may have been named, because the sevenfold divisions and groups of various objects constitute a conspicuous feature in the Apocalypse throughout.” But this reason seems too artificial; and it can hardly be supposed that it would influence the mind of John, in the specification by name of the churches to which the book was sent. If no names had been mentioned, and if the statement had occurred in glowing poetic description, it is not inconceivable that the number seven might have been selected for some such purpose. ¶ Grace be unto you and peace. The usual form of salutation in addressing a church. See Notes on Rom. i. 7. ¶ From him which is, and which was, and which is to come. From him who is everlasting—embracing all duration, past, present, and to come. No expression could more strikingly denote eternity than this. He now exists; he has existed in the past; he will exist in the future. There is an evident allusion here to the name Jehovah, the name by which the true God is appropriately designated in the Scriptures. That name יְהֹוָה, from הָיָה, to be, to exist, seems to have been adopted because it denotes existence, or being, and as denoting simply one who exists; and has reference merely to the fact of existence. The word has no variation of form, and has no reference to time, and would embrace all time: that is, it is as true at one time as another that he exists. Such a word would not be inappropriately paraphrased by the phrase “who is, and who was, and who is to come,” or who is to be; and there can be no doubt that John referred to him here as being himself the eternal and uncreated existence, and as the great and original fountain of all being. They who desire to find a full discussion in regard to the origin of the name Jehovah, may consult an article by Prof. Tholuck, in the Biblical Repository, vol. iv. pp. 89108. It is remarkable that there are some passages in heathen inscriptions and writings which bear a very strong resemblance to the language here used by John respecting God. Thus Plutarch (De Is. et Osir., p. 354), speaking of a temple of Isis, at Sais, in Egypt, says, “It bore this inscription—‘I am all that was, and is, and shall be, and my vail no mortal can remove.’”—Ἐγώ εἰμι πᾶν τὸ γεγονός, καὶ ὄν, καὶ ἐσόμενον· καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν πέπλον οὐδείς πω θνητὸς ἀνεκάλυψεν. So Orpheus (in Auctor. Lib. de Mundo), “Jupiter is the head, Jupiter is the middle, and all things are made by Jupiter.” So in Pausanias (Phocic. 12), “Jupiter was; Jupiter is; Jupiter shall be.” The reference in the phrase before us is to God as such, or to God considered as the Father. ¶ And from the seven Spirits which are before his throne. After all that has been written on this very difficult expression, it is still impossible to determine with certainty its meaning. The principal opinions which have been held in regard to it are the following:—I. That it refers to God, as such. This opinion is held by Eichhorn, and is favoured by Ewald. No arguments derived from any parallel passages are urged for this opinion, nor can any such be found, where God is himself spoken of under the representation of a sevenfold Spirit. But the objections to this view are so obvious as to be insuperable. (1) If it refers to God as such, then it would be mere tautology, for the writer had just referred to him in the phrase “from him who was,” &c. (2) It is difficult to perceive in what sense “seven spirits” could be ascribed to God, or how he could be described as a being of “Seven Spirits.” At least, if he could be spoken of as such, there would be no objection to applying the phrase to the Holy Spirit. (3) How could it be said of God himself that he was “before the throne?” He is everywhere represented as sitting on the throne, not as before it. It is easy to conceive of angels as standing before the throne; and of the Holy Spirit it is more easy to conceive as being represented thus as ready to go forth and convey a heavenly influence from that throne, but it is impossible to conceive in what sense this could be applied to God as such. II. The opinion held by Grotius, and by John Henry Heinrichs, that it refers to “the multiform providence of God,” or to God considered as operating in seven or many different ways. In support of this Grotius appeals to ch. v. 12; vii. 12. But this opinion is so far-fetched, and it is so destitute of support, as to have found, it is believed, no other advocates, and to need no further notice. It cannot be supposed that John meant to personify the attributes of the Deity, and then to unite them with God himself, and with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to represent them as real subsistences from which important blessings descend to men. It is clear that as by the phrase, “who is, and who was, and who is to come,” and by “Jesus Christ, the faithful and true witness,” he refers to real subsistences, so he must here. Besides, if the attributes of God, or the modes of divine operation, are denoted, why is the number seven chosen? And why are they represented as standing before the throne? III. A third opinion is, that the reference is to seven attending and ministering presence-angels—angels represented as standing before the throne of God, or in his presence. This opinion was adopted among the ancients by Clemens of Alexandria; Andreas of Cesarea, and others; among the moderns by Beza, Drusius, Hammond, Wetstein, Rosenmüller, Clarke, Professor Stuart, and others. This opinion, however, has been held in somewhat different forms; some maintaining that the seven angels are referred to because it was a received opinion among the Hebrews that there were seven angels standing in the presence of God, as seven princes stood in the Persian court before the king; others, that the angels of the seven churches are particularly referred to, represented now as standing in the presence of God; others, that seven angels, represented as the principal angels employed in the government of the world, are referred to; and others, that seven archangels are particularly designated. Compare Poole, Synop. in loco. The arguments which are relied on by those who suppose that seven angels are here referred to are briefly these: (1) The nature of the expression here used. The expression, it is said, is such as would naturally denote beings who were before his throne—beings who were different from him who was on the throne—and beings more than one in number. That it could not refer to one on the throne, but must mean those distinct and separate from one on the throne, is argued from the use of the phrases “before the throne,” and “before God,” in Re. iv. 5; vii. 9, 15; viii. 2; xi. 4, 16; xii. 10; xiv. 3; xx. 12; in all which places the representation denotes those who were in the presence of God, and standing before him. (2) It is argued from other passages in the book of Revelation which, it is said (Professor Stuart), go directly to confirm this opinion. Thus in Re. viii. 2: “And I saw the seven angels which stood before God.” So Re. iv. 5: the seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, are said to be “the seven Spirits of God.” In these passages, it is alleged that the article “the” designates the well-known angels; or those which had been before specified, and that this is the first mention of any such angels after the designation in the passage before us. (3) It is said that this is in accordance with what was usual among the Hebrews, who were accustomed to speak of seven presence-angels, or angels standing in the presence of Jehovah. Thus in the book of Tobit (xii. 15), Raphael is introduced as using this language: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.” The apocryphal book of Enoch (chap. xx.) gives the names of the seven angels who watch; that is, of the watchers (comp. Notes on Da. iv. 13, 17) who stand in the presence of God waiting for the divine commands, or who watch over the affairs of men. So in the Zendavesta of Zoroaster, seven amshaspends, or archangels, are mentioned. See Professor Stuart, in loco.

To these views, however, there are objections of great weight, if they are not in fact quite insuperable. They are such as the following: (1) That the same rank should be given to them as to God, as the source of blessings. According to the view which represents this expression as referring to angels, they are placed on the same level, so far as the matter before us is concerned, with “him who was, and is, and is to come,” and with the Lord Jesus Christ—a doctrine which does not elsewhere occur in the Scriptures, and which we cannot suppose the writer designed to teach. (2) That blessings should be invoked from angels—as if they could impart “grace and peace.” It is evident that, whoever is referred to here by the phrase “the seven Spirits,” he is placed on the same level with the others mentioned as the source of “grace and peace.” But it cannot be supposed that an inspired writer would invoke that grace and peace from any but a divine being. (3) That as two persons of the Trinity are here mentioned, it is to be presumed that the third would not be omitted; or to put this argument in a stronger form, it cannot be supposed that an inspired writer would mention two of the persons of the Trinity in this connection, and then not only not mention the third, but refer to angels—to creatures—as bestowing that which would be appropriately sought from the Holy Spirit. The incongruity would be not merely in omitting all reference to the Spirit—which might indeed occur, as it often does in the Scriptures—but in putting in the place which that Spirit would naturally occupy an allusion to angels as conferring blessings. (4) If this refer to angels, it is impossible to avoid the inference that angel-worship, or invocation of angels, is proper. To all intents and purposes, this is an act of worship; for it is an act of solemn invocation. It is an acknowledgment of the “seven Spirits,” as the source of “grace and peace.” It would be impossible to resist this impression on the popular mind; it would not be possible to meet it if urged as an argument in favour of the propriety of angel-invocation, or angel-worship. And yet, if there is anything clear in the Scriptures, it is that God alone is to be worshipped. For these reasons, it seems to me that this interpretation cannot be well founded.

IV. There remains a fourth opinion, that it refers to the Holy Spirit, and in favour of that opinion it may be urged, (1) That it is most natural to suppose that the Holy Spirit would be invoked on such an occasion, in connection with him “who was, and is, and is to come,” and with “Jesus Christ.” If two of the persons of the Trinity were addressed on such an occasion, it would be properly supposed that the Holy Spirit would not be omitted, as one of the persons from whom the blessing was to descend. Comp. 2 Co. xiii. 14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” (2) It would be unnatural and improper, in such an invocation, to unite angels with God as imparting blessings, or as participating with God and with Christ in communicating blessings to man. An invocation to God to send his angels, or to impart grace and favour through angelic help, would be in entire accordance with the usage in Scripture, but it is not in accordance with such usage to invoke such blessings from angels. (3) It cannot be denied that an invocation of grace from “him who is, and was, and is to come,” is of the nature of worship. The address to him is as God, and the attitude of the mind in such an address is that of one who is engaged in an act of devotion. The effect of uniting any other being with him in such a case, would be to lead to the worship of one thus associated with him. In regard to the Lord Jesus, “the faithful and true witness,” it is from such expressions as these that we are led to the belief that he is divine, and that it is proper to worship him as such. The same effect must be produced in reference to what is here called “the seven Spirits before the throne.” We cannot well resist the impression that someone with divine attributes is intended; or, if it refer to angels, we cannot easily show that it is not proper to render divine worship to them. If they were thus invoked by an apostle, can it be improper to worship them now? (4) The word used here is not angels, but spirits; and though it is true that angels are spirits, and that the word spirit is applied to them (He. i. 7), yet it is also true that that is not a word which would be understood to refer to them without designating that angels were meant. If angels had been intended here, that word would naturally have been used, as is the case elsewhere in this book. (5) In Re. iv. 5, where there is a reference to “the seven lamps before the throne,” it is said of them that they “are,” that is, they represent “the seven Spirits of God.” This passage may be understood as referring to the same thing as that before us, but it cannot be well understood of angels; for, (a) if it did, it would have been natural to use that language for the reason above mentioned; (b) the angels are nowhere called “the spirits of God,” nor would such language be proper. The phrase, “Spirit of God” naturally implies divinity, and could not be applied to a creature. For these reasons it seems to me that the interpretation which applies the phrase to the Holy Spirit is to be preferred; and though that interpretation is not free from difficulties, yet there are fewer difficulties in that than in either of the others proposed. Though it may not be possible wholly to remove the difficulties involved in that interpretation, yet perhaps something may be done to diminish their force. (1) First, as to the reason why the number seven should be applied to the Holy Spirit. (a) There would be as much propriety certainly in applying it to the Holy Spirit as to God as such. And yet Grotius, Eichhorn, Ewald, and others saw no difficulty in such an application considered as representing a sevenfold mode of operation of God, or a manifold divine agency. (b) The word seven often denotes a full or complete number, and may be used to denote that which is full, complete, or manifold; and might thus be used in reference to an all-perfect Spirit, or to a spirit which was manifold in its operations. (c) The number seven is evidently a favourite number in the book of Revelation, and it might be used by the author in places, and in a sense, such as it would not be likely to be used by another writer. Thus there are seven epistles to the seven churches; there are seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials of the wrath of God, seven last plagues; there are seven lamps, and seven Spirits of God; the Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes. In ch. i. 16, seven stars are mentioned; in ch. v. 12, seven attributes of God; ch. xii. 3, the dragon has seven heads; ch. xiii. 1, the beast has seven heads. (d) The number seven, therefore, may have been given to the Holy Spirit with reference to the diversity or the fulness of his operations on the souls of men, and to his manifold agency on the affairs of the world, as further developed in this book. (2) As to his being represented as “before the throne,” this may be intended to designate the fact that the Divine Spirit was, as it were, prepared to go forth, or to be sent forth, in accordance with a common representation in the Scriptures, to accomplish important purposes on human affairs. The posture does not necessarily imply inferiority of nature, any more than the language does respecting the Son of God, when he is represented as being sent into the world to execute an important commission from the Father.

5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the 62faithful witness, and the 63first-begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto 64him that loved us, and 65washed us from our sins in his own blood,

5. And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness. See Notes on ver. 2. He is faithful in the sense that he is one on whose testimony there may be entire reliance, or who is entirely worthy to be believed. From him “grace and peace” are appropriately sought, as one who bears such a testimony, and as the first-begotten from the dead, and as reigning over the kings of the earth. Thus grace and peace are invoked from the infinite God in all his relations and operations:—as the Father, the Source of all existence; as the Sacred Spirit, going forth in manifold operations upon the hearts of men; and as the Son of God, the one appointed to bear faithful testimony to the truth respecting God and future events. ¶ And the first-begotten of the dead. The same Greek expression—πρωτότοκος—occurs in Col. i. 18. See it explained in the Notes on that passage. Comp. Notes, 1 Co. xv. 20. ¶ And the prince of the kings of the earth. Who has over all the kings of the earth the pre-eminence which kings have over their subjects. He is the Ruler of rulers; King of kings. In ch. xvii. 14, xix. 16, the same thought is expressed by saying that he is the “King of kings.” No language could more sublimely denote his exalted character, or his supremacy. Kings and princes sway a sceptre over the millions of the earth, and the exaltation of the Saviour is here expressed by supposing that all those kings and princes constitute a community over which he is the head. The exaltation of the Redeemer is elsewhere expressed in different language, but the idea is one that everywhere prevails in regard to him in the Scriptures. Comp. Mat. xxviii. 18; xi. 27; Jn. xvii. 2; Ep. i. 2022; Phi. ii. 911; Col. i. 1518. The word princeὁ ἄρχων—means properly, ruler, leader, the first in rank. We often apply the word prince to an heir to a throne who is not invested with absolute sovereignty. The word here, however, denotes that he actually exercises dominion over the rulers of the earth. As this is an authority which is claimed by God (comp. Is. x. 5, seq.; xlv. 1, seq.; Ps. xlvii. 2; xcix. 1; ciii. 19; Da. iv. 34), and which can only appertain to God, it is clear that in ascribing this to the Lord Jesus it is implied that he is possessed of divine attributes. As much of the revelations of this book pertained to the assertion of power over the princes and rulers of this world, there was a propriety that, in the commencement, it should be asserted that he who was to exert that power was invested with the prerogative of a ruler of the nations, and that he had this right of control. ¶ Unto him that loved us. This refers undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus, whose love for men was so strong that nothing more was necessary to characterize him than to speak of him as the one “who loved us.” It is manifest that the division in the verses should have been made here, for this commences a new subject, not having any special connection with that which precedes. In ver. 4, and the first part of this verse, the writer had invoked grace from the Father, the Spirit, and the Saviour. In the latter clause of the verse there commences an ascription of praise to the Redeemer; an ascription to him particularly, because the whole book is regarded as a revelation from him (ver. 1); because he was the one who especially appeared to John in the visions of Patmos; and because he was to be the great agent in carrying into execution the purposes revealed in this book. ¶ And washed us from our sins in his own blood. He has removed the pollution of sin from our souls by his blood; that is, his blood has been applied to cleanse us from sin. Blood can be represented as having a cleansing power only as it makes an expiation for sin, for considered literally its effect would be the reverse. The language is such as would be used only on the supposition that he had made an atonement, and that it was by the atonement that we are cleansed; for in what sense could it be said of a martyr that he “had washed us from our sins in his blood?” How could this language be used of Paul or Polycarp; of Ridley or Cranmer? The doctrine that the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin, or purifies us, is one that is common in the Scriptures. Comp. 1 Jn. i. 7; He. ix. 14. The specific idea of washing, however—representing that blood as washing sin away—is one which does not elsewhere occur. It is evidently used in the sense of cleansing or purifying, as we do this by washing, and as the blood of Christ accomplishes in respect to our souls, what washing with water does in respect to the body.

6 And hath made us 66kings and priests unto God and his Father; 67to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

6. And hath made us kings and priests unto God. In 1 Pe. ii. 9 the same idea is expressed by saying of Christians that they are “a royal priesthood.” See Notes on that verse. The quotation in both places is from Ex. xix. 6: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests.” This idea is expressed here by saying that Christ had made us in fact kings and priests; that is, Christians are exalted to the dignity and are invested with the office, implied in these words. The word kings, as applied to them, refers to the exalted rank and dignity which they will have; to the fact that they, in common with their Saviour, will reign triumphant over all enemies; and that, having gained a victory over sin and death and hell, they may be represented as reigning together. The word priests refers to the fact that they are engaged in the holy service of God, or that they offer to him acceptable worship. See Notes on 1 Pe. ii. 5. ¶ And his Father. Even his Father; that is, the Saviour has redeemed them, and elevated them to this exalted rank, in order that they may thus be engaged in the service of his Father. ¶ To him be glory. To the Redeemer; for so the construction (ver. 5) demands. The word “glory” here means praise, or honour, implying a wish that all honour should be shown him. ¶ And dominion. This word means literally strengthκράτος; but it here means the strength, power, or authority which is exercised over others, and the expression is equivalent to a wish that he may reign.

7 Behold, he 68cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and 69they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth 70shall wail because of him. 71Even so, Amen.

7. Behold he cometh with clouds. That is, the Lord Jesus, when he returns, will come accompanied with clouds. This is in accordance with the uniform representation respecting the return of the Saviour. See Notes on Mat. xxiv. 30. Comp. Mat. xxvi. 64; Mar. xiii. 26; xiv. 62; Ac. i. 9, 11. Clouds are appropriate symbols of majesty, and God is often represented as appearing in that manner. See Ex. xix. 18; Ps. xviii. 11, seq.; Is. xix. 1. So, among the heathen, it was common to represent their divinities as appearing clothed with a cloud:

“tandem venias, precamur,

Nube candentes humeros amictus

Augur Apollo.”

The design of introducing this representation of the Saviour, and of the manner in which he would appear, seems to be to impress the mind with a sense of the majesty and glory of that being from whom John received his revelations. His rank, his character, his glory were such as to demand respect; all should reverence him, and all should feel that his communications about the future were important to them, for they must soon appear before him. ¶ And every eye shall see him. He will be made visible in his glory to all that dwell upon the earth; to all the children of men. Everyone, therefore, has an interest in what he says; everyone has this in certain prospect, that he shall see the Son of God coming as a Judge. ¶ And they also which pierced him. When he died; that is, they who pierced his hands, his feet, and his side. There is probably an allusion here to Zec. xii. 10: “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.” The language here is so general that it may refer to any act of looking upon the pierced Saviour, and might be applied to those who would see him on the cross and to their compunctious visitings then; or to their subsequent reflections, as they might look by faith on him whom they had crucified; or to the feeling of any sinners who should reflect that their sins had been the cause of the death of the Lord Jesus; or it might be applied, as it is here, more specifically to the feelings which his murderers will have when they shall see him coming in his glory. All sinners who have pierced his heart by their crimes will then behold him and will mourn over their treatment of him; they, in a special manner, who imbrued their hands in his blood will then remember their crime and be overwhelmed with alarm. The design of what is here said seems to be, to show that the coming of the Saviour will be an event of great interest to all mankind. None can be indifferent to it, for all will see him. His friends will hail his advent (comp. ch. xxii. 20), but all who were engaged in putting him to death, and all who in any manner have pierced his heart by sin and ingratitude, unless they shall have repented, will have occasion of bitter lamentation when he shall come. There are none who have a more fearful doom to anticipate than the murderers of the Son of God, including those who actually put him to death, and those who would have engaged in such an act had they been present, and those who, by their conduct, have done all they could to pierce and wound him by their ingratitude. ¶ And all kindreds of the earth. Gr., “All the tribes—φυλαὶ—of the earth.” This language is the same which the Saviour uses in Mat. xxiv. 30. See Notes on that passage. The word tribes is that which is commonly applied to the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus used, it would describe the inhabitants of the Holy Land; but it may be used to denote nations and people in general, as descended from a common ancestor, and the connection requires that it should be understood in this sense here, since it is said that “every eye shall see him;” that is, all that dwell on the face of the earth. ¶ Shall wail because of him. On account of him; on account of their treatment of him. The word rendered wailκόπτω—means properly to beat, to cut; then to beat or cut one’s self in the breast as an expression of sorrow; and then to lament, to cry aloud in intense grief. The coming of the Saviour will be an occasion of this, (a) because it will be an event which will call the sins of men to remembrance, and (b) because they will be overwhelmed with the apprehension of the wrath to come. Nothing would fill the earth with greater consternation than the coming of the Son of God in the clouds of heaven; nothing could produce so deep and universal alarm. This fact, which no one can doubt, is proof that men feel that they are guilty, since, if they were innocent, they would have nothing to dread by his appearing. It is also a proof that they believe in the doctrine of future punishment, since, if they do not, there is no reason why they should be alarmed at his coming. Surely men would not dread his appearing if they really believed that all will be saved. Who dreads the coming of a benefactor to bestow favours on him? Who dreads the appearing of a jailer to deliver him from prison; of a physician to raise him up from a bed of pain; of a deliverer to knock off the fetters of slavery? And how can it be that men should be alarmed at the coming of the Saviour, unless their consciences tell them that they have much to fear in the future? The presence of the Redeemer in the clouds of heaven would destroy all the hopes of those who believe in the doctrine of universal salvation—as the approach of death now often does. Men believe that there is much to be dreaded in the future world, or they would not fear the coming of Him who shall wind up the affairs of the human race. ¶ Even so, Amenναὶ, ἁμήν. “A double expression of so be it, assuredly, certainly, one in Greek and the other in Hebrew” (Professor Stuart). Comp. Ro. viii. 16, “Abba, Father”—ἀββᾶ, ὁ πατήρ. The idea which John seems to intend to convey is, that the coming of the Lord Jesus, and the consequences which he says will follow, are events which are altogether certain. This is not the expression of a wish that it may be so, as our common translation would seem to imply, but a strong affirmation that it will be so. In some passages, however, the word (ναὶ) expresses assent to what is said, implying approbation of it as true, or as desirable. “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight,” Mat. xi. 26; Lu. x. 21. So in Re. xvi. 7, “Even so (ναὶ), Lord God Almighty.” So in Re. xxii. 20, “Even so (ναὶ), come, Lord Jesus.” The word Amen here seems to determine the meaning of the phrase, and to make it the affirmation of a certainty, rather than the expression of a wish.

8 I 72am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, 73the Almighty.

8. I am Alpha and Omega. These are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, and denote properly the first and the last. So in Re. xxii. 13, where the two expressions are united, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” So in ch. i. 17, the speaker says of himself, “I am the first and the last.” Among the Jewish Rabbins it was common to use the first and the last letters of the Hebrew alphabet to denote the whole of anything, from beginning to end. Thus it is said, “Adam transgressed the whole law, from א to תּ”—from Aleph to Tâv. “Abraham kept the whole law, from א to תּ.” The language here is that which would properly denote eternity in the being to whom it is applied, and could be used in reference to no one but the true God. It means that he is the beginning and the end of all things; that he was at the commencement, and will be at the close; and it is thus equivalent to saying that he has always existed, and that he will always exist. Comp. Is. xli. 4, “I the Lord, the first, and with the last;”—xliv. 6, “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God;”—xlviii. 12, “I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.” There can be no doubt that the language here would be naturally understood as implying divinity, and it could be properly applied to no one but the true God. The obvious interpretation here would be to apply this to the Lord Jesus; for (a) it is he who is spoken of in the verses preceding, and (b) there can be no doubt that the same language is applied to him in ver. 11. As there is, however, a difference of reading in this place in the Greek text, and as it cannot be absolutely certain that the writer meant to refer to the Lord Jesus specifically here, this cannot be adduced with propriety as a proof-text to demonstrate his divinity. Many MSS., instead of “Lord,” κύριος, read “God,” θεὸς; and this reading is adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, and Hahn, and is now regarded as the correct reading. There is no real incongruity in supposing, also, that the writer here meant to refer to God as such, since the introduction of a reference to him would not be inappropriate to his manifest design. Besides, a portion of the language here used, “which is, and was, and is to come,” is that which would more naturally suggest a reference to God as such, than to the Lord Jesus Christ. See ver. 4. The object for which this passage referring to the “first and the last—to him who was, and is, and is to come,” is introduced here evidently is, to show that as he was clothed with omnipotence, and would continue to exist through all ages to come as he had existed in all ages past, there could be no doubt about his ability to execute all which it is said he would execute. ¶ Saith the Lord. Or, saith God, according to what is now regarded as the correct reading. ¶ Which is, and which was, &c. See Notes on ver. 4. ¶ The Almighty. An appellation often applied to God, meaning that he has all power, and used here to denote that he is able to accomplish what is disclosed in this book.

9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

9. I John, who also am your brother. Your Christian brother; who am a fellow-Christian with you. The reference here is doubtless to the members of the seven churches in Asia, to whom the epistles in the following chapters were addressed, and to whom the whole book seems to have been sent. In the previous verse, the writer had closed the salutation, and he here commences a description of the circumstances under which the vision appeared to him. He was in a lonely island, to which he had been banished on account of his attachment to religion; he was in a state of high spiritual enjoyment on the day devoted to the sacred remembrance of the Redeemer; he suddenly heard a voice behind him, and turning saw the Son of man himself, in glorious form, in the midst of seven golden lamps, and fell at his feet as dead. ¶ And companion in tribulation. Your partner in affliction. That is, he and they were suffering substantially the same kind of trials on account of their religion. It is evident from this that some form of persecution was then raging, in which they were also sufferers, though in their case it did not lead to banishment. The leader, the apostle, the aged and influential preacher, was banished; but there were many other forms of trial which they might be called to endure who remained at home. What they were we have not the means of knowing with certainty. ¶ And in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. The meaning of this passage is, that he, and those whom he addressed, were not only companions in affliction, but were fellow-partners in the kingdom of the Redeemer; that is, they shared the honour and the privileges pertaining to that kingdom; and that they were fellow-partners in the patience of Jesus Christ, that is, in enduring with patience whatever might follow from their being his friends and followers. The general idea is, that alike in privileges and sufferings they were united. They shared alike in the results of their attachment to the Saviour. ¶ Was in the isle that is called Patmos. Patmos is one of the cluster of islands in the Ægean Sea anciently called the Sporades. It lies between the island of Icaria and the promontory of Miletus. It is merely mentioned by the ancient geographers (Plin. Hist. Nat. iv. 23; Strabo, x. 488). It is now called Patino or Patmoso. It is some six or eight miles in length, and not more than a mile in breadth, being about fifteen miles in circumference. It has neither trees nor rivers, nor has it any land for cultivation, except some little nooks among the ledges of rocks. On approaching the island, the coast is high, and consists of a succession of capes, which form so many ports, some of which are excellent. The only one in use, however, is a deep bay, sheltered by high mountains on every side but one, where it is protected by a projecting cape. The town attached to this port is situated upon a high rocky mountain, rising immediately from the sea, and this, with the Scala below upon the shore, consisting of some ships and houses, forms the only inhabited site of the island. Though Patmos is deficient in trees, it abounds in flowery plants and shrubs. Walnuts and other fruit trees are raised in the orchards, and the wine of Patmos is the strongest and the best flavoured in the Greek islands. Maize and barley are cultivated, but not in a quantity sufficient for the use of the inhabitants and for a supply of their own vessels, and others which often put into their good harbour for provisions. The inhabitants now do not exceed four or five thousand; many of whom are emigrants from the neighbouring continent. About half-way up the mountain there is shown a natural grotto in a rock, where John is said to have seen his visions and to have written this book. Near this is a small church, connected with which is a school or college, where the Greek language is taught; and on the top of the hill, and in the centre of the island, is a monastery, which, from its situation, has a very majestic appearance (Kitto’s Cyclopædia of Bib. Lit.). The annexed engraving is supposed to give a good representation of the appearance of the island. It is commonly supposed that John was banished to this island by Domitian, about A.D. 94. No place could have been selected for banishment which would accord better with such a design than this. Lonely, desolate, barren, uninhabited, seldom visited, it had all the requisites which could be desired for a place of punishment; and banishment to that place would accomplish all that a persecutor could wish in silencing an apostle, without putting him to death. It was no uncommon thing, in ancient times, to banish men from their country; either sending them forth at large, or specifying some particular place to which they were to go. The whole narrative leads us to suppose that this place was designated as that to which John was to be sent. Banishment to an island was a common mode of punishment; and there was a distinction made by this act in favour of those who were thus banished. The more base, low, and vile of criminals were commonly condemned to work in the mines; the more decent and respectable were banished to some lonely island. See the authorities quoted in Wetstein, in loco. ¶ For the word of God. On account of the word of God; that is, for holding and preaching the gospel. See Notes on ver. 2. It cannot mean that he was sent there with a view to his preaching the word of God; for it is inconceivable that he should have been sent from Ephesus to preach in such a little, lonely, desolate place, where indeed there is no evidence that there were any inhabitants; nor can it mean that he was sent there by the Spirit of God to receive and record this revelation, for it is clear that the revelation could have been made elsewhere, and such a place afforded no peculiar advantages for this. The fair interpretation is, in accordance with all the testimony of antiquity, that he was sent there in a time of persecution, as a punishment for preaching the gospel. ¶ And for the testimony of Jesus Christ. See Notes on ver. 2. He did not go there to bear testimony to Jesus Christ on that island, either by preaching or recording the visions in this book, but he went because he had preached the doctrines which testified of Christ.

10 I was 74in the Spirit on the 75Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

10. I was in the Spirit. This cannot refer to his own spirit, for such an expression would be unintelligible. The language then must refer to some unusual state, or to some influence that had been brought to bear upon him from without, that was appropriate to such a day. The word Spirit may refer either to the Holy Spirit, or to some state of mind such as the Holy Spirit produces—a spirit of elevated devotion, a state of high and uncommon religious enjoyment. It is clear that John does not mean here to say that he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit in such a sense as that he was inspired, for the command to make a record, as well as the visions, came subsequently to the time referred to. The fair meaning of the passage is, that he was at that time favoured, in a large measure, with the influences of the Holy Spirit—the spirit of true devotion; that he had a high state of religious enjoyment, and was in a condition not inappropriate to the remarkable communications which were made to him on that day. The state of mind in which he was at the time here referred to, is not such as the prophets are often represented to have been in when under the prophetic inspiration (comp. Eze. i. 1; viii. 3; xl. 2; Je. xxiv. 1), and which was often accompanied with an entire prostration of bodily strength (comp. Nu. xxiv. 4; 1 Sa. xix. 24; Eze. i. 28; Da. x. 810; Re. i. 17), but such as any Christian may experience when in a high state of religious enjoyment. He was not yet under the prophetic ecstasy (comp. Ac. x. 10; xi. 5; xxii. 17), but was, though in a lonely and barren island, and far away from the privileges of the sanctuary, permitted to enjoy, in a high degree, the consolations of religion—an illustration of the great truth that God can meet his people anywhere; that, when in solitude and in circumstances of outward affliction, when persecuted and cast out, when deprived of the public means of grace and the society of religious friends, He can meet them with the abundant consolations of His grace, and pour joy and peace into their souls. This state was not inappropriate to the revelations which were about to be made to John, but this itself was not that state. It was a state which seems to have resulted from the fact, that on that desert island he devoted the day to the worship of God, and, by honouring the day dedicated to the memory of the risen Saviour, found, what all will find, that it was attended with rich spiritual influences on his soul. ¶ On the Lord’s day. The word here rendered Lord’s (κυριακῇ), occurs only in this place and in 1 Co. xi. 20, where it is applied to the Lord’s supper. It properly means pertaining to the Lord; and, so far as this word is concerned, it might mean a day pertaining to the Lord, in any sense, or for any reason; either because he claimed it as his own, and had set it apart for his own service, or because it was designed to commemorate some important event pertaining to him, or because it was observed in honour of him. It is clear, (1) That this refers to some day which was distinguished from all other days of the week, and which would be sufficiently designated by the use of this term. (2) That it was a day which was for some reason regarded as peculiarly a day of the Lord, or peculiarly devoted to him. (3) It would further appear that this was a day particularly devoted to the Lord Jesus; for, (a) that is the natural meaning of the word Lord as used in the New Testament (comp. Notes on Ac. i. 24); and (b) if the Jewish Sabbath were intended to be designated, the word Sabbath would have been used. The term was used generally by the early Christians to denote the first day of the week. It occurs twice in the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians (about A.D. 101), who calls the Lord’s day “the queen and prince of all days.” Chrysostom (on Ps. cxix.) says, “It was called the Lord’s day because the Lord rose from the dead on that day.” Later fathers make a marked distinction between the Sabbath and the Lord’s day; meaning by the former the Jewish Sabbath, or the seventh day of the week, and by the latter the first day of the week, kept holy by Christians. So Theodoret (Fab. Haeret. ii. 1), speaking of the Ebionites, says, “They keep the Sabbath according to the Jewish law, and sanctify the Lord’s day in like manner as we do” (Professor Stuart). The strong probability is, that the name was given to this day in honour of the Lord Jesus, and because he rose on that day from the dead. No one can doubt that it was an appellation given to the first day of the week; and the passage, therefore, proves (1) that that day was thus early distinguished in some peculiar manner, so that the mere mention of it would be sufficient to identify it in the minds of those to whom the apostle wrote; (2) that it was in some sense regarded as devoted to the Lord Jesus, or was designed in some way to commemorate what he had done; and (3) that if this book were written by the apostle John, the observance of that day has the apostolic sanction. He had manifestly, in accordance with a prevailing custom, set apart this day in honour of the Lord Jesus. Though alone, he was engaged on that day in acts of devotion. Though far away from the sanctuary, he enjoyed what all Christians hope to enjoy on such a day of rest, and what not a few do in fact enjoy in its observance. We may remark, in view of this statement, (a) that when away from the sanctuary, and deprived of its privileges, we should nevertheless not fail to observe the Christian Sabbath. If on a bed of sickness, if in a land of strangers, if on the deep, if in a foreign clime, if on a lonely island, as John was, where we have none of the advantages of public worship, we should yet honour the Sabbath. We should worship God alone, if we have none to unite with us; we should show to those around us, if we are with strangers, by our dress and our conversation, by a serious and devout manner, by abstinence from labour, and by a resting from travel, that we devoutly regard this day as set apart for God. (b) We may expect, in such circumstances, and with such a devout observance of the day, that God will meet with us and bless us. It was on a lonely island, far away from the sanctuary and from the society of Christian friends, that the Saviour met “the beloved disciple,” and we may trust it will be so with us. For on such a desert island, in a lonely forest, on the deep, or amid strangers in a foreign land, he can as easily meet us as in the sanctuary where we have been accustomed to worship, and when surrounded by all the privileges of a Christian land. No man, at home or abroad, among friends or strangers, enjoying the privileges of the sanctuary, or deprived of those privileges, ever kept the Christian Sabbath in a devout manner without profit to his own soul; and, when deprived of the privileges of public worship, the visitations of the Saviour to the soul may be more than a compensation for all our privations. Who would not be willing to be banished to a lonely island like Patmos, if he might enjoy such a glorious vision of the Redeemer as John was favoured with there? ¶ And heard behind me a great voice. A loud voice. This was of course sudden, and took him by surprise. ¶ As of a trumpet. Loud as a trumpet. This is evidently the only point in the comparison. It does not mean that the tones of the voice resembled a trumpet, but only that it was clear, loud, and distinct like a trumpet. A trumpet is a well-known wind-instrument, distinguished for the clearness of its sounds, and was used for calling assemblies together, for marshalling hosts for battle, &c. The Hebrew word employed commonly to denote a trumpet (שׁוֹפָרshophar) means bright and clear, and is supposed to have been given to the instrument on account of its clear and shrill sound, as we now give the name “clarion” to a certain wind-instrument. The Hebrew trumpet is often referred to as employed, on account of its clearness, to summon people together, Ex. xix. 13; Nu. x. 10; Ju. vii. 18, &c.; 1 Sa. xiii. 3; 2 Sa. xv. 10.

11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto 76Ephesus, and unto 77Smyrna, and unto 78Pergamos, and unto 79Thyatira, and unto 80Sardis, and unto 81Philadelphia, and unto 82Laodicea.

11. Saying. That is, literally, “the trumpet saying.” It was, however, manifestly the voice that addressed these words to John, though they seemed to come through a trumpet, and hence the trumpet is represented as uttering them. ¶ I am Alpha and Omega. Ver. 8. ¶ The first and the last. An explanation of the terms Alpha and Omega. See Notes on ver. 8. ¶ And, What thou seest. The voice, in addition to the declaration, “I am Alpha and Omega,” gave this direction that he should record what he saw. The phrase, “what thou seest,” refers to what would pass before him in vision, what he there saw, and what he would see in the extraordinary manifestations which were to be made to him. ¶ Write in a book. Make a fair record of it all; evidently meaning that he should describe things as they occurred, and implying that the vision would be held so long before the eye of his mind that he would be able to transfer it to the “book.” The fair and obvious interpretation of this is, that he was to make the record in the island of Patmos, and then send it to the churches. Though Patmos was a lonely and barren place, and though probably there were few or no inhabitants there, yet there is no improbability in supposing that John could have found writing materials there, nor even that he may have been permitted to take such materials with him. He seems to have been banished for preaching, not for writing; and there is no evidence that the materials for writing would be withheld from him. John Bunyan, in Bedford jail, found materials for writing the Pilgrim’s Progress, and there is no evidence that the apostle John was denied the means of recording his thoughts when in the island of Patmos. The word book here (βιβλίον), would more properly mean a roll or scroll, that being the form in which books were anciently made. See Notes on Lu. iv. 17. ¶ And send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia. The churches which are immediately designated, not implying that there were no other churches in Asia, but that there were particular reasons for sending it to these. He was to send all that he should “see;” to wit, all that is recorded in this volume or book of “Revelation.” Part of this (ch. ii., iii.) would appertain particularly to them; the remainder (ch. iv.‒xxii.) would appertain to them no more than to others, but still they would have the common interest in it which all the church would have, and, in their circumstances of trial, there might be important reasons why they should see the assurance that the church would ultimately triumph over all its enemies. They were to derive from it themselves the consolation which it was fitted to impart in time of trial, and to transmit it to future times, for the welfare of the church at large. ¶ Unto Ephesus. Perhaps mentioned first as being the capital of that portion of Asia Minor; the most important city of the seven; the place where John had preached, and whence he had been banished. For a particular description of these seven churches, see the Notes on the epistles addressed to them in ch. ii., iii.

12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw 83seven golden candlesticks;

12. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. He naturally turned round to see who it was that spake to him in this solitary and desolate place, where he thought himself to be alone. To see the voice here means to see the person who spake. ¶ And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks. These were the first things that met his eye. This must have been in vision, of course, and the meaning is, that there seemed to be there seven such lamps or candelabras. The word rendered candlesticks (λυχνία) means properly a light-stand, lamp-stand—something to bear up a light. It would be applied to anything that was used for this purpose; and nothing is intimated, in the use of the word, in regard to the form or dimensions of the light-bearers. Lamps were more commonly used at that time than candles, and it is rather to be supposed that these were designed to be lamp-bearers, or lamp-sustainers, than candlesticks. They were seven in number; not one branching into seven, but seven standing apart, and so far from each other that he who appeared to John could stand among them. The lamp-bearers evidently sustained each a light, and these gave a peculiar brilliancy to the scene. It is not improbable that, as they were designed to represent the seven churches of Asia, they were arranged in an order resembling these churches. The scene is not laid in the temple, as many suppose, for there is nothing that resembles the arrangements in the temple except the mere fact of the lights. The scene as yet is in Patmos, and there is no evidence that John did not regard himself as there, or that he fancied for a moment that he was translated to the temple in Jerusalem. There can be no doubt as to the design of this representation, for it is expressly declared (ver. 20) that the seven lamp-bearers were intended to represent the seven churches. Light is often used in the Scriptures as an emblem of true religion; Christians are represented as “the light of the world” (Mat. v. 14; comp. Phi. ii. 15; Jn. viii. 12), and a Christian church may be represented as a light standing in the midst of surrounding darkness.

13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks 84one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

13. And in the midst of the seven candlesticks. Standing among them, so as to be encircled with them. This shows that the representation could not have been like that of the vision of Zechariah (Zec. iv. 2), where the prophet sees “a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon.” In the vision as it appeared to John, there was not one lamp-bearer, with seven lamps or branches, but there were seven lamp-bearers, so arranged that one in the likeness of the Son of man could stand in the midst of them. ¶ One like unto the Son of man. This was evidently the Lord Jesus Christ himself, elsewhere so often called “the Son of man.” That it was the Saviour himself is apparent from ver. 18. The expression rendered “like unto the Son of man,” should have been “like unto a son of man;” that is, like a man, a human being, or in a human form. The reasons for so interpreting it are, (a) that the Greek is without the article, and (b) that, as it is rendered in our version, it seems to make the writer say that he was like himself, since the expression “the Son of man” is in the New Testament but another name for the Lord Jesus. The phrase is often applied to him in the New Testament, and always, except in three instances (Ac. vii. 56; Re. i. 13; xiv. 14), by the Saviour himself, evidently to denote his warm interest in man, or his relationship to man; to signify that he was a man, and wished to designate himself eminently as such. See Notes on Mat. viii. 20. In the use of this phrase in the New Testament, there is probably an allusion to Da. vii. 13. The idea would seem to be, that he whom he saw resembled “the Son of man”—the Lord Jesus, as he had seen him in the days of his flesh—though it would appear that he did not know that it was he until he was informed of it, ver. 18. Indeed, the costume in which he appeared was so unlike that in which John had been accustomed to see the Lord Jesus in the days of his flesh, that it cannot be well supposed that he would at once recognize him as the same. ¶ Clothed with a garment down to the foot. A robe reaching down to the feet, or to the ankles, yet so as to leave the feet themselves visible. The allusion here, doubtless, is to a long, loose, flowing robe, such as was worn by kings. Comp. Notes on Is. vi. 1. ¶ And girt about the paps. About the breast. It was common, and is still, in the East, to wear a girdle to confine the robe, as well as to form a beautiful ornament. This was commonly worn about the middle of the person, or “the loins,” but it would seem also that it was sometimes worn around the breast. See Notes on Mat. v. 3841. ¶ With a golden girdle. Either wholly made of gold, or, more probably, richly ornamented with gold. This would naturally suggest the idea of one of rank, probably one of princely rank. The raiment here assumed was not that of a priest, but that of a king. It was very far from being that in which the Redeemer appeared when he dwelt upon the earth, and was rather designed to denote his royal state as he is exalted in heaven. He is not indeed represented with a crown and sceptre here, and perhaps the leading idea is that of one of exalted rank, of unusual dignity, of one fitted to inspire awe and respect. In other circumstances, in this book, this same Redeemer is represented as wearing a crown, and going forth to conquest. See ch. xix. 1216. Here the representation seems to have been designed to impress the mind with a sense of the greatness and glory of the personage who thus suddenly made his appearance.

14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and 85his eyes were as a flame of fire;

14. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow. Exceedingly or perfectly white—the first suggestion to the mind of the apostle being that of wool, and then the thought occurring of its extreme whiteness resembling snow—the purest white of which the mind conceives. The comparison with wool and snow to denote anything peculiarly white is not uncommon. See Is. i. 18. Professor Stuart supposes that this means, not that his hairs were literally white, as if with age, which he says would be incongruous to one just risen from the dead, clothed with immortal youth and vigour, but that it means radiant, bright, resplendent—similar to what occurred on the transfiguration of the Saviour, Mat. xvii. 2. But to this it may be replied, (a) That this would not accord well with that with which his hair is compared—snow and wool, particularly the latter. (b) The usual meaning of the word is more obvious here, and not at all inappropriate. The representation was fitted to signify majesty and authority; and this would be best accomplished by the image of one who was venerable in years. Thus, in the vision that appeared to Daniel (ch. vii. 9), it is said of him who is there called the “Ancient of Days,” that “his garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool.” It is not improbable that John had that representation in his eye, and that therefore he would be impressed with the conviction that this was a manifestation of a divine person. We are not necessarily to suppose that this is the form in which the Saviour always appears now in heaven, any more than we are to suppose that God appears always in the form in which he was manifested to Isaiah (ch. vi. 1), to Daniel (ch. vii. 9), or to Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu in the mount, Ex. xxiv. 10, 11. The representation is, that this form was assumed for the purpose of impressing the mind of the apostle with a sense of his majesty and glory. ¶ And his eyes were as a flame of fire. Bright, sharp, penetrating; as if everything was light before them, or they would penetrate into the thoughts of men. Such a representation is not uncommon. We speak of a lightning glance, a fiery look, &c. In Da. x. 6, it is said of the man who appeared to the prophet on the banks of the river Hiddekel, that his eyes were “as lamps of fire.” Numerous instances of this comparison from the Greek and Latin classics may be seen in Wetstein, in loco.

15 And 86his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and 87his voice as the sound of many waters.

15. And his feet like unto fine brass. Comp. Da. x. 6, “And his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass.” See also Eze. i. 7, “and they” [the feet of the living creatures] “sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.” The word here used—χαλκολιβάνῳ—occurs in the New Testament only here and in ch. ii. 18. It is not found in the Septuagint. The word properly means white brass (probably compounded of χαλκός, brass, and λιβανός, whiteness, from the Hebrew לָבָן, white). Others regard it as from χαλκός, brass, and λιπαρόν, clear. The metal referred to was undoubtedly a species of brass distinguished for its clearness or whiteness. Brass is a compound metal, composed of copper and zinc. The colour varies much according to the different proportions of the various ingredients. The Vulgate here renders the word aurichalcum, a mixture of gold and of brass—perhaps the same as the ἤλεκτρον—the electrum of the ancients, composed of gold and of silver, usually in the proportion of four parts gold and one part silver, and distinguished for its brilliancy. See Robinson, Lex., and Wetstein, in loco. The kind of metal here referred to, however, would seem to be some compound of brass—of a whitish and brilliant colour. The exact proportion of the ingredients in the metal here referred to cannot now be determined. ¶ As if they burned in a furnace. That is, his feet were so bright that they seemed to be like a beautiful metal glowing intensely in the midst of a furnace. Anyone who has looked upon the dazzling and almost insupportable brilliancy of metal in a furnace, can form an idea of the image here presented. ¶ And his voice as the sound of many waters. As the roar of the ocean, or of a cataract. Nothing could be a more sublime description of majesty and authority than to compare the voice of a speaker with the roar of the ocean. This comparison often occurs in the Scriptures. See Eze. xliii. 2, “And behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the east: and his voice was like the sound of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.” So Re. xiv. 2; xix. 6. Comp. Eze. i. 24; Da. x. 6.

16 And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went 88a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as 89the sun shineth in his strength.

16. And he had in his right hand seven stars. Emblematic of the angels of the seven churches. How he held them is not said. It may be that they seemed to rest on his open palm; or it may be that he seemed to hold them as if they were arranged in a certain order, and with some sort of attachment, so that they could be grasped. It is not improbable that, as in the case of the seven lamp-bearers (Notes, ver. 13), they were so arranged as to represent the relative position of the seven churches. ¶ And out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. On the form of the ancient two-edged sword, see Notes on Ep. vi. 17. The two edges were designed to cut both ways; and such a sword is a striking emblem of the penetrating power of truth, or of words that proceed from the mouth; and this is designed undoubtedly to be the representation here—that there was some symbol which showed that his words, or his truth, had the power of cutting deep, or penetrating the soul. So in Is. xlix. 2, it is said of the same personage, “And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword.” See Notes on that verse. So in He. iv. 12, “The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword,” &c. So it is said of Pericles by Aristophanes:

“His powerful speech

Pierced the hearer’s soul, and left behind

Deep in his bosom its keen point infixt.”

A similar figure often occurs in Arabic poetry. “As arrows his words enter into the heart.” See Gesenius, Comm. zu, Is. xlix. 2. The only difficulty here is in regard to the apparently incongruous representation of a sword seeming to proceed from the mouth; but it is not perhaps necessary to suppose that John means to say that he saw such an image. He heard him speak; he felt the penetrating power of his words; and they were as if a sharp sword proceeded from his mouth. They penetrated deep into the soul, and as he looked on him it seemed as if a sword came from his mouth. Perhaps it is not necessary to suppose that there was even any visible representation of this—either of a sword or of the breath proceeding from his mouth appearing to take this form, as Professor Stuart supposes. It may be wholly a figurative representation, as Heinrichs and Ewald suppose. Though there were visible and impressive symbols of his majesty and glory presented to the eyes, it is not necessary to suppose that there were visible symbols of his words. ¶ And his countenance. His face. There had been before particular descriptions of some parts of his face—as of his eyes—but this is a representation of his whole aspect; of the general splendour and brightness of his countenance. ¶ Was as the sun shineth in his strength. In his full splendour when unobscured by clouds; where his rays are in no way intercepted. Comp. Ju. v. 31: “But let them that love him [the Lord] be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might;” 2 Sa. xxiii. 4, “And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds;” Ps. xix. 5, “Which [the sun] is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.” There could be no more striking description of the majesty and glory of the countenance than to compare it with the over-powering splendour of the sun.—This closes the description of the personage that appeared to John. The design was evidently to impress him with a sense of his majesty and glory, and to prepare the way for the authoritative nature of the communications which he was to make. It is obvious that this appearance must have been assumed. The representation is not that of the Redeemer as he rose from the dead—a middle-aged man; nor is it clear that it was the same as on the mount of transfiguration—where, for anything that appears, he retained his usual aspect and form though temporarily invested with extraordinary brilliancy; nor is it the form in which we may suppose he ascended to heaven—for there is no evidence that he was thus transformed when he ascended; nor is it that of a priest—for all the peculiar habiliments of a Jewish priest are wanting in this description. The appearance assumed is, evidently, in accordance with various representations of God as he appeared to Ezekiel, to Isaiah, and to Daniel—that which was a suitable manifestation of a divine being—of one clothed in the majesty and power of God. We are not to infer from this, that this is in fact the appearance of the Redeemer now in heaven, or that this is the form in which he will appear when he comes to judge the world. Of his appearance in heaven we have no knowledge; of the aspect which he will assume when he comes to judge men we have no certain information. We are necessarily quite as ignorant of this as we are of what will be our own form and appearance after the resurrection from the dead.

17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

17. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. As if I were dead; deprived of sense and consciousness. He was overwhelmed with the suddenness of the vision; he saw that this was a divine being; but he did not as yet know that it was the Saviour. It is not probable that in this vision he would immediately recognize any of the familiar features of the Lord Jesus as he had been accustomed to see him some sixty years before; and if he did, the effect would have been quite as over-powering as is here described. But the subsequent revelations of this divine personage would rather seem to imply that John did not at once recognize him as the Lord Jesus. The effect here described is one that often occurred to those who had a vision of God. See Da. viii. 18, “Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground; but he touched me, and set me upright;” ver. 27, “And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterwards I rose up, and did the king’s business.” Comp. Ex. xxxiii. 20; Is. vi. 5; Eze. i. 28; xliii. 3; Da. x. 79, 17. ¶ And he laid his right hand upon me. For the purpose of raising him up. Comp. Da. viii. 18, “He touched me and set me upright.” We usually stretch out the right hand to raise up one who has fallen. ¶ Saying unto me, Fear not. Comp. Mat. xiv. 27, “It is I; be not afraid.” The fact that it was the Saviour, though he appeared in this form of overpowering majesty, was a reason why John should not be afraid. Why that was a reason, he immediately adds—that he was the first and the last; that though he had been dead he was now alive, and would continue ever to live, and that he had the keys of hell and of death. It is evident that John was overpowered with that awful emotion which the human mind must feel at the evidence of the presence of God. Thus men feel when God seems to come near them by the impressive symbols of his majesty—as in the thunder, the earthquake, and the tempest. Comp. Hab. iii. 16; Lu. ix. 34. Yet, amidst the most awful manifestations of divine power, the simple assurance that our Redeemer is near us is enough to allay our fears, and diffuse calmness through the soul. ¶ I am the first and the last. Notes, ver. 8. This is stated to be one of the reasons why he should not fear—that he was eternal: “I always live—have lived through all the past, and will live through all which is to come—and therefore I can accomplish all my promises, and execute all my purposes.”

18 I am 90he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have 91the keys of hell and of death.

18. I am he that liveth, and was dead. I was indeed once dead, but now I live, and shall continue to live for ever. This would at once identify him who thus appeared as the Lord Jesus Christ, for to no one else could this apply. He had been put to death; but he had risen from the grave. This also is given as a reason why John should not fear; and nothing would allay his fears more than this. He now saw that he was in the presence of that Saviour whom more than half a century before he had so tenderly loved when in the flesh, and whom, though now long absent, he had faithfully served, and for whose cause he was now in this lonely island. His faith in his resurrection had not been a delusion; he saw the very Redeemer before him who had once been laid in the tomb. ¶ Behold, I am alive for evermore. I am to live for ever. Death is no more to cut me down, and I am never again to slumber in the grave. As he was always to live, he could accomplish all his promises, and fulfil all his purposes. The Saviour is never to die again. He can, therefore, always sustain us in our troubles; he can be with us in our death. Whoever of our friends die, he will not die; when we die, he will still be on the throne. ¶ Amen. A word here of strong affirmation—as if he had said, it is truly, or certainly so. See Notes on ver. 7. This expression is one that the Saviour often used when he wished to give emphasis, or to express anything strongly. Comp. Jn. iii. 3; v. 25. ¶ And have the keys of hell and of death. The word rendered hellᾅδης, hades—refers properly to the underworld; the abode of departed spirits; the region of the dead. This was represented as dull and gloomy; as inclosed with walls; as entered through gates which were fastened with bolts and bars. For a description of the views which prevailed among the ancients on the subject, see Notes on Lu. xvi. 23, and Job x. 21, 22. To hold the key of this, was to hold the power over the invisible world. It was the more appropriate that the Saviour should represent himself as having this authority, as he had himself been raised from the dead by his own power (comp. Jn. x. 18), thus showing that the dominion over this dark world was intrusted to him. ¶ And of death. A personification. Death reigns in that world. But to his wide-extended realms the Saviour holds the key, and can have access to his empire when he pleases, releasing all whom he chooses, and confining there still such as he shall please. It is probably in part from such hints as these that Milton drew his sublime description of the gates of hell in the Paradise Lost. As Christ always lives; as he always retains this power over the regions of the dead, and the whole world of spirits, it may be further remarked that we have nothing to dread if we put our trust in him. We need not fear to enter a world which he has entered, and from which he has emerged, achieving a glorious triumph; we need not fear what the dread king that reigns there can do to us, for his power extends not beyond the permission of the Saviour, and in his own time that Saviour will call us forth to life, to die no more.

19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;

19. Write the things which thou hast seen. An account of the vision which thou hast had, ver. 1018. ¶ And the things which are. Give an account of those things which thou hast seen as designed to represent the condition of the seven churches. He had seen not only the Saviour, but he had seen seven lamp-stands, and seven stars in the hand of the Saviour, and he is now commanded to record the meaning of these symbols as referring to things then actually existing in the seven churches. This interpretation is demanded by ver. 20. ¶ And the things which shall be hereafter. The Greek phrase rendered hereafterμετὰ ταῦτα—means “after these things;” that is, he was to make a correct representation of the things which then were, and then to record what would occur “after these things:” to wit, of the images, symbols, and truths, which would be disclosed to him after what he had already seen. The expression refers to future times. He does not say for how long a time; but the revelations which were to be made referred to events which were to occur beyond those which were then taking place. Nothing can be argued from the use of this language in regard to the length of time embraced in the revelation—whether it extended only for a few years or whether it embraced all coming time. The more natural interpretation, however, would seem to be, that it would stretch far into future years, and that it was designed to give at least an outline of what would be the character of the future in general.

20 The mystery of 92the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and 93the seven candlesticks which thou sawest, are the seven churches.

20. The mystery of the seven stars. On the word mystery, see Notes on Ep. i. 9. The word means, properly, that which is hidden, obscure, unknown—until it is disclosed by one having the ability to do it, or by the course of events. When disclosed, it may be as clear, and as capable of comprehension, as any other truth. The meaning here, as applied to the seven stars, is, that they were symbols, and that their meaning as symbols, without a suitable explanation, would remain hidden or unknown. They were designed to represent important truths, and John was directed to write down what they were intended in the circumstances to signify, and to send the explanation to the churches. It is evidently implied that the meaning of these symbols would be beyond the ordinary powers of the human mind to arrive at with certainty, and hence John was directed to explain the symbol. The general and obvious truths which they would serve to convey would be that the ministers of the churches, and the churches themselves, were designed to be lights in the world, and should burn clearly and steadily. Much important truth would be couched under these symbols, indeed, if nothing had been added in regard to their signification as employed here by the Saviour; but there were particular truths of great importance in reference to each of these “stars” and “lamp-bearers,” which John was more fully to explain. ¶ Which thou sawest in my right hand. Gr., “upon my right hand”—ἐπὶ τῆς δεξιᾶς μου: giving some support to the opinion that the stars, as they were seen, appeared to be placed on his hand—that is, on the palm of his hand as he stretched it out. The expression in ver. 16 is, that they were “in (ἐν) his right hand;” but the language here used is not decisive as to the position of the stars. They may have been held in some way by the hand, or represented as scattered on the open hand. ¶ The seven golden candlesticks. The truth which these emblematic representations are designed to convey. ¶ The seven stars are. That is, they represent, or they denote—in accordance with a common usage in the Scriptures. See Notes on Mat. xxvi. 26. ¶ The angels of the seven churches. Gr., “Angels of the seven churches:” the article being wanting. This does not refer to them as a collective or associated body, for the addresses are made to them as individuals—an epistle being directed to “the angel” of each particular church, ch. ii. 1, 12, &c. The evident meaning, however, is, that what was recorded should be directed to them, not as pertaining to them exclusively as individuals, but as presiding over or representing the churches, for what is recorded pertains to the churches, and was evidently designed to be laid before them. It was for the churches, but was committed to the “angel” as representing the church, and to be communicated to the church under his care. There has been much diversity of opinion in regard to the meaning of the word angels here. By the advocates of Episcopacy, it has been argued that the use of this term proves that there was a presiding bishop over a circle or group of churches in Ephesus, in Smyrna, &c., since it is said that it cannot be supposed that there was but a single church in a city so large as Ephesus, or in the other cities mentioned. A full examination of this argument may be seen in my work on the Apostolic Church [pp. 191199, London ed.]. The word angel properly means a messenger, and is thus applied to celestial beings as messengers sent forth from God to convey or to do his will. This being the common meaning of the word, it may be employed to denote anyone who is a messenger, and hence, with propriety, anyone who is employed to communicate the will of another; to transact his business, or, more remotely, to act in his place—to be a representative. In order to ascertain the meaning of the word as used in this place, and in reference to these churches, it may be remarked, (1) That it cannot mean literally an angel, as referring to a heavenly being, for no one can suppose that such a being presided over these churches. (2) It cannot be shown to mean, as Lord (in loco) supposes, messengers that the churches had sent to John, and that these letters were given to them to be returned by them to the churches; for, (a) there is no evidence that any such messenger had been sent to John; (b) there is no probability that while he was a banished exile in Patmos such a thing would be permitted; (c) the message was not sent by them, it was sent to them—“Unto the angel of the church in Ephesus write,” &c. (3) It cannot be proved that the reference is to a prelatical bishop presiding over a group or circle of churches, called a diocese; for, (a) There is nothing in the word angel, as used in this connection, which would be peculiarly applicable to such a personage—it being as applicable to a pastor of a single church, as to a bishop of many churches. (b) There is no evidence that there were any such groups of churches then as constitute an episcopal diocese. (c) The use of the word “church” in the singular, as applied to Ephesus, Smyrna, &c., rather implies that there was but a single church in each of those cities. Comp. ch. ii. 1, 8, 12, 18; see also similar language in regard to the church in Corinth, 1 Co. i. 2; in Antioch, Ac. xiii. 1; at Laodicea, Col. iv. 16; and at Ephesus, Ac. xx. 28. (d) There is no evidence, as Episcopalians must suppose, that a successor to John had been appointed at Ephesus, if, as they suppose, he was “bishop” of Ephesus; and there is no probability that they would so soon after his banishment show him such a want of respect as to regard the see as vacant, and appoint a successor. (e) There is no improbability in supposing that there was a single church in each of these cities—as at Antioch, Corinth, Rome. (f) If John was a prelatical “bishop,” it is probable that he was “bishop” of the whole group of churches embracing the seven: yet here, if the word “angel” means “bishop,” we have no less than seven such bishops immediately appointed to succeed him. And (g) the supposition that this refers to prelatical bishops is so forced and unnatural that many Episcopalians are compelled to abandon it. Thus Stillingfleet—than whom an abler man, or one whose praise is higher in Episcopal churches, as an advocate of prelacy, is not to be found—says of these angels: “If many things in the epistles be directed to the angels, but yet so as to concern the whole body, then, of necessity, the angel must be taken as a representative of the whole body; and then why may not the angel be taken by way of representation of the body itself, either of the whole church, or, which is far more probable, of the concessors, or order of presbyters in this church?” (4) If the word does not mean literally an angel; if it does not refer to messengers sent to John in Patmos by the churches; and if it does not refer to a prelatical bishop, then it follows that it must refer to some one who presided over the church as its pastor, and through whom a message might be properly sent to the church. Thus understood, the pastor or “angel” would be regarded as the representative of the church; that is, as delegated by the church to manage its affairs, and as the authorized person to whom communications should be made in matters pertaining to it—as pastors are now. A few considerations will further confirm this interpretation, and throw additional light on the meaning of the word. (a) The word angel is employed in the Old Testament to denote a prophet; that is, a minister of religion as sent by God to communicate his will. Thus in Haggai (i. 13) it is said, “Then spake Haggai, the Lord’s messenger [Heb. angel, מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָהSept. ἄγγελος κυρίου], in the Lord’s message unto the people,” &c. (b) It is applied to a priest, as one sent by God to execute the functions of that office, or to act in the name of the Lord. Mal. ii. 7, “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts”—מַלְאַךְ יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת—that is, “angel of the Lord of hosts.” (c) The name prophet is often given in the New Testament to the ministers of religion, as being appointed by God to proclaim or communicate his will to his people, and as occupying a place resembling, in some respects, that of the prophets in the Old Testament. (d) There was no reason why the word might not be thus employed to designate a pastor of a Christian church, as well as to designate a prophet or a priest under the Old Testament dispensation. (e) The supposition that a pastor of a church is intended will meet all the circumstances of the case: for, (1) it is an appropriate appellation; (2) there is no reason to suppose that there was more than one church in each of the cities referred to; (3) it is a term which would designate the respect in which the office was held; (4) it would impress upon those to whom it was applied a solemn sense of their responsibility. Further, it would be more appropriately applied to a pastor of a single church than to a prelatical bishop; to the tender, intimate, and endearing relation sustained by a pastor to his people, to the blending of sympathy, interest, and affection, where he is with them continually, meets them frequently in the sanctuary, administers to them the bread of life, goes into their abodes when they are afflicted, and attends their kindred to the grave, than to the union subsisting between the people of an extended diocese and a prelate—the formal, unfrequent, and, in many instances, stately and pompous visitations of a diocesan bishop—to the unsympathizing relation between him and a people scattered in many churches, who are visited at distant intervals by one claiming a “superiority in ministerial rights and powers,” and who must be a stranger to the ten thousand ties of endearment which bind the hearts of a pastor and people together. The conclusion, then, to which we have come is, that the “angel of the church” was the pastor, or the presiding presbyter in the church; the minister who had the pastoral charge of it, and who was therefore a proper representative of it. He was a man who, in some respects, performed the functions which the angels of God do; that is, who was appointed to execute his will, to communicate his message, and to convey important intimations of his purposes to his people. To no one could the communications in this book, intended for the churches, be more properly intrusted than to such an one; for to no one now would a communication be more properly intrusted than to a pastor.

Such is the sublime vision under which this book opens; such the solemn commission which the penman of the book received. No more appropriate introduction to what is contained in the book could be imagined; no more appropriate circumstances for making such a sublime revelation could have existed. To the most beloved of the apostles, now the only surviving one of the number; to him who had been a faithful labourer for a period not far from sixty years after the death of the Lord Jesus, who had been the bosom friend of the Saviour when in the flesh, who had seen him in the mount of transfiguration, who had seen him die, and who had seen him ascend into heaven; to him who had lived while the church was founded, and while it had spread into all lands; and to him who was now suffering persecution on account of the Saviour and his cause, it was appropriate that such communications should be made. In a lonely island; far away from the abodes of men; surrounded by the ocean, and amid barren rocks; on the day consecrated to the purposes of sacred repose and the holy duties of religion—the day observed in commemoration of the resurrection of his Lord, it was most fit that the Redeemer should appear to the “beloved disciple” in the last Revelation which he was ever to make to mankind. No more appropriate time or circumstance could be conceived for disclosing, by a series of sublime visions, what would occur in future times; for sketching out the history of the church or the consummation of all things.


This chapter comprises four of the seven epistles addressed to the seven churches; those addressed to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, and Thyatira. A particular view of the contents of the epistles will be more appropriate as they come separately to be considered, than in this place. There are some general remarks in regard to their structure, however, which may be properly made here.

(1) They all begin with a reference to some of the attributes of the Saviour, in general some attribute that had been noted in the first chapter; and while they are all adapted to make a deep impression on the mind, perhaps each one was selected in such a way as to have a special propriety in reference to each particular church. Thus in the address to the church at Ephesus (ch. ii. 1), the allusion is to the fact that he who speaks to them “holds the seven stars in his right hand, and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;” in the epistle to the church at Smyrna (ch. ii. 8), it is he who “is the first and the last, who was dead and is alive;” in the epistle to the church at Pergamos (ch. ii. 12), it is he “which hath the sharp sword with the two edges;” in the epistle to the church at Thyatira (ch. ii. 18), it is “the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet like fine brass;” in the epistle to the church at Sardis (ch. iii. 1), it is he who “hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars;” in the epistle to the church at Philadelphia (ch. iii. 7), it is “he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth;” in the epistle to the church at Laodicea (ch. iii. 14), it is he who is the “Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.”

(2) These introductions are followed with the formula, “I know thy works.” The peculiar characteristics, then, of each church are referred to, with a sentiment of approbation or disapprobation expressed in regard to their conduct. Of two of the churches, that at Smyrna (ii. 9), and that at Philadelphia (iii. 10), he expresses his entire approbation; to the churches of Sardis (iii. 3), and Laodicea (iii. 1518), he administers a decided rebuke; to the churches of Ephesus (ii. 36), Pergamos (ii. 1316), and Thyatira (iii. 19, 20, 24, 25), he intermingles praise and rebuke, for he saw much to commend, but, at the same time, not a little that was reprehensible. In all cases, however, the approbation precedes the blame; showing that he was more disposed to find that which was good than that which was evil.

(3) After the statement of their characteristics, there follows in each case counsel, advice, admonition, or promises, such as their circumstances demanded—encouragement in trial, and injunctions to put away their sins. The admonitions are addressed to the churches as if Christ were at hand, and would ere long come and sit in judgment on them and their deeds.

(4) There is a solemn admonition to hear what the Spirit has to say to the churches. This is in each case expressed in the same manner, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (ch. ii. 7, 11, 17, 29; iii. 6, 13, 22). These admonitions were designed to call the attention of the churches to these things, and, at the same time, they seemed designed to show that they were not intended for them alone. They are addressed to anyone who “has an ear,” and therefore had some principles of general application to others, and to which all should attend who were disposed to learn the will of the Redeemer. What was addressed to one church, at any time, would be equally applicable to all churches in the same circumstances; what was adapted to rebuke, elevate, or comfort Christians in any one age or land, would be adapted to be useful to Christians of all ages and lands.

(5) There then is, either following or preceding that call on all the churches to hear, some promise or assurance designed to encourage the church, and urge it forward in the discharge of duty, or in enduring trial. This is found in each one of the epistles, though not always in the same relative position.


The contents of the epistle to the church at Ephesus—the first addressed—are these: (1) The attribute of the Saviour referred to is, that he “holds the stars in his right hand, and walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks,” ch. ii. 1. (2) He commends them for their patience, and for their opposition to those who are evil, and for their zeal and fidelity in carefully examining into the character of some who claimed to be apostles, but who were, in fact, impostors; for their perseverance in bearing up under trial, and not fainting in his cause, and for their opposition to the Nicolaitanes, whom, he says, he hates, ver. 2, 3, 6. (3) He reproves them for having left their first love to him, ver. 4. (4) He admonishes them to remember whence they had fallen, to repent, and to do their first works, ver. 5. (5) He threatens them that, if they do not repent, he will come and remove the candlestick out of its place, ver. 5; and (6) he assures them, and all others, that whosoever overcomes, he will “give him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God,” ver. 7.


U NTO the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith 94he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

1. Unto the angel. The minister; the presiding presbyter; the bishop—in the primitive sense of the word bishop—denoting one who had the spiritual charge of a congregation. See Notes on ch. i. 20. ¶ Of the church. Not of the churches of Ephesus, but of the one church of that city. There is no evidence that the word is used in a collective sense to denote a group of churches, like a diocese; nor is there any evidence that there was such a group of churches in Ephesus, or that there was more than one church in that city. It is probable that all who were Christians there were regarded as members of one church—though for convenience they may have met for worship in different places. Thus there was one church in Corinth (1 Co. i. 1); one church in Thessalonica (1 Th. i. 1), &c. ¶ Of Ephesus. On the situation of Ephesus, see Notes on Ac. xviii. 19, and the Intro. to the Notes on the Epistle to the Ephesians, § 1, and the engraving there. It was the capital of Ionia; was one of the twelve Ionian cities of Asia Minor in the Mythic times, and was said to have been founded by the Amazons. It was situated on the river Cayster, not far from the Icarian Sea, between Smyrna and Miletus. It was one of the most considerable cities of Asia Minor, and while, about the epoch when Christianity was introduced, other cities declined, Ephesus rose more and more. It owed its prosperity, in part, to the favour of its governors; for Lysimachus named the city Arsinöe, in honour of his second wife, and Attalus Philadelphus furnished it with splendid wharves and docks. Under the Romans it was the capital not only of Ionia, but of the entire province of Asia, and bore the honourable title of the first and greatest metropolis of Asia. John is supposed to have resided in this city, and to have preached the gospel there for many years; and on this account, perhaps, it was, as well as on account of the relative importance of the city, that the first epistle of the seven was addressed to that church. On the present condition of the ruins of Ephesus, see Notes on ver. 5. We have no means whatever of ascertaining the size of the church when John wrote the book of Revelation. From the fact, however, that Paul, as is supposed (see Intro. to the Epistle to the Ephesians, § 2), laboured there for about three years; that there was a body of “elders” who presided over the church there (Ac. xx. 17); and that the apostle John seems to have spent a considerable part of his life there in preaching the gospel, it may be presumed that there was a large and flourishing church in that city. The epistle before us shows also that it was characterized by distinguished piety. ¶ These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand. See Notes on ch. i. 16. The object here seems to be to turn the attention of the church in Ephesus to some attribute of the Saviour which deserved their special regard, or which constituted a special reason for attending to what he said. To do this, the attention is directed, in this case, to the fact that he held the seven stars—emblematic of the ministers of the churches—in his hand, and that he walked in the midst of the lamp-bearers—representing the churches themselves; intimating that they were dependent on him, that he had power to continue or remove the ministry, and that it was by his presence only that those lamp-bearers would continue to give light. The absolute control over the ministry, and the fact that he walked amidst the churches, and that his presence was necessary to their perpetuity and their welfare, seem to be the principal ideas implied in this representation. These truths he would impress on their minds, in order that they might feel how easy it would be for him to punish any disobedience, and in order that they might do what was necessary to secure his continual presence among them. These views seem to be sanctioned by the character of the punishment threatened (ver. 5), “that he would remove the candlestick representing their church out of its place.” See Notes on ver. 5. ¶ Who walketh in the midst, &c. In ch. i. 13 he is represented simply as being seen amidst the golden candlesticks. See Notes on that place. Here there is the additional idea of his “walking” in the midst of them, implying perhaps constant and vigilant supervision. He went from one to another, as one who inspects and surveys what is under his care; perhaps also with the idea that he went among them as a friend to bless them.

2 I95 know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil; and 96thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, 97and are not, and hast found them liars:

2. I know thy works. The common formula with which all the epistles to the seven churches are introduced. It is designed to impress upon them deeply the conviction that he was intimately acquainted with all that they did, good and bad, and that therefore he was abundantly qualified to dispense rewards or administer punishments according to truth and justice. It may be observed that, as many of the things referred to in these epistles were things pertaining to the heart—the feelings, the state of the mind—it is implied that he who speaks here has an intimate acquaintance with the heart of man, a prerogative which is always attributed to the Saviour. See Jn. ii. 25. But no one can do this who is not divine; and this declaration, therefore, furnishes a strong proof of the divinity of Christ. See Ps. vii. 9; Je. xi. 20; xvii. 10; 1 Sa. xvi. 7; 1 Ki. viii. 39. ¶ And thy labour. The word here used (κόπος) means properly a beating, hence wailing, grief, with beating the breast; and then it means excessive labour or toil adapted to produce grief or sadness, and is commonly employed in the New Testament in the latter sense. It is used in the sense of trouble in Mat. xxvi. 10, “Why trouble ye [literally, why give ye trouble to] the woman?” (comp. also Mar. xiv. 6; Lu. xi. 7; xviii. 5; Ga. vi. 17); and in the sense of labour, or wearisome toil, in Jn. iv. 38; 1 Co. iii. 8; xv. 58; 2 Co. vi. 5; x. 15; xi. 23, 27, et al. The connection here would admit of either sense. It is commonly understood, as in our translation, in the sense of labour, though it would seem that the other signification, that of trouble, would not be inappropriate. If it means labour, it refers to their faithful service in his cause, and especially in opposing error. It seems to me, however, that the word trouble would better suit the connection. ¶ And thy patience. Under these trials; to wit, in relation to the efforts which had been made by the advocates of error to corrupt them, and to turn them away from the truth. They had patiently borne the opposition made to the truth, they had manifested a spirit of firm endurance amidst many arts of those opposed to them to draw them off from simple faith in Christ. ¶ And how thou canst not bear them which are evil. Canst not endure or tolerate them. Comp. Notes on 2 Jn. 10, 11. That is, they had no sympathy with their doctrines or their practices, they were utterly opposed to them. They had lent them no countenance, but had in every way shown that they had no fellowship with them. The evil persons here referred to were, doubtless, those mentioned in this verse as claiming that “they were apostles,” and those mentioned in ver. 6 as the Nicolaitanes. ¶ And thou hast tried them which say they are apostles. Thou hast thoroughly examined their claims. It is not said in what way they had done this, but it was probably by considering attentively and candidly the evidence on which they relied, whatever that may have been. Nor is it certainly known who these persons were, or on what grounds they advanced their pretensions to the apostolic office. It cannot be supposed that they claimed to have been of the number of apostles selected by the Saviour, for that would have been too absurd; and the only solution would seem to be that they claimed either (1) that they had been called to that office after the Saviour ascended, as Paul was; or (2) that they claimed the honour due to this name or office, in virtue of some election to it; or (3) that they claimed to be the successors of the apostles, and to possess and transmit their authority. If the first of these, it would seem that the only ground of claim would be that they had been called in some miraculous way to the rank of apostles, and, of course, an examination of their claims would be an examination of the alleged miraculous call, and of the evidence on which they would rely that they had such a call. If the second, then the claim must have been founded on some such plea as that the apostolic office was designed to be elective, as in the case of Matthias (Ac. i. 2326), and that they maintained that this arrangement was to be continued in the church; and then an examination of their claims would involve an investigation of the question, whether it was contemplated that the apostolic office was designed to be perpetuated in that manner, or whether the election of Matthias was only a temporary arrangement, designed to answer a particular purpose. If the third, then the claim must have been founded on the plea that the apostolic office was designed to be perpetuated by a regular succession, and that they, by ordination, were in a line of that succession; and then the examination and refutation of the claim must have consisted in showing, from the nature of the office, and the necessary qualifications for the office of apostle, that it was designed to be temporary, and that there could be properly no successors of the apostles, as such. On either of these suppositions, such a line of argument would be fatal to all claims to any succession in the apostolic office now. If each of these points should fail, of course their claims to the rank of apostles would cease; just as all claims to the dignity and rank of the apostles must fail now. The passage becomes thus a strong argument against the claims of any persons to be “apostles,” or to be the “successors” of the apostles, in the peculiarity of their office. ¶ And are not. There were never any apostles of Jesus Christ but the original twelve whom he chose, Matthias, who was chosen in the place of Judas (Ac. i. 26), and Paul, who was specially called to the office by the Saviour after his resurrection. On this point, see my work on the Apostolic Church [pp. 4957, London ed.]. ¶ And hast found them liars. Hast discovered their pretensions to be unfounded and false. In 2 Co. xi. 13, “false apostles” are mentioned; and, in an office of so much honour as this, it is probable that there would be not a few claimants to it in the world. To set up a claim to what they knew they were not entitled to would be a falsehood, and as this seems to have been the character of these men, the Saviour, in the passage before us, does not hesitate to designate them by an appropriate term, and to call them liars. The point here commended in the Ephesian church is, that they had sought to have a pure ministry, a ministry whose claims were well founded. They had felt the importance of this, had carefully examined the claims of pretenders, and had refused to recognize those who could not show, in a proper manner, that they had been designated to their work by the Lord Jesus. The same zeal, in the same cause, would be commended by the Saviour now.

3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and 98hast not fainted.

3. And hast borne. Hast borne up under trials; or hast borne with the evils with which you have been assailed. That is, you have not given way to murmuring or complaints in trial, you have not abandoned the principles of truth and yielded to the prevalence of error. ¶ And hast patience. That is, in this connection, hast shown that thou canst bear up under these things with patience. This is a repetition of what is said in ver. 2, but in a somewhat different connection. There it rather refers to the trouble which they had experienced on account of the pretensions of false apostles, and the patient, persevering, and enduring spirit which they had shown in that form of trial; here the expression is more general, denoting a patient spirit in regard to all forms of trial. ¶ And for my name’s sake hast laboured. On account of me, and in my cause. That is, the labour here referred to, whatever it was, was to advance the cause of the Redeemer. In the word rendered “hast laboured” (κεκοπίακας) there is a reference to the word used in the previous verse—“thy labour” (κόπον σου); and the design is to show that the “labour,” or trouble there referred to, was on account of him. ¶ And hast not fainted. Hast not become exhausted, or wearied out, so as to give over. The word here used (κάμνω) occurs in only three places in the New Testament: “Lest ye be wearied, and faint,” He. xii. 3; “The prayer of faith shall save the sick,” Ja. v. 15; and in the passage before us. It means properly to become weary and faint from toil, &c.; and the idea here is, that they had not become so wearied out as to give over from exhaustion. The sense of the whole passage is thus rendered by Professor Stuart:—“Thou canst not bear with false teachers, but thou canst bear with troubles and perplexities on account of me; thou hast undergone wearisome toil, but thou art not wearied out thereby.” The state of mind, considered as the state of mind appropriate to a Christian, here represented, is, that we should not tolerate error and sin, but that we should bear up under the trials which they may incidentally occasion us; that we should have such a repugnance to evil that we cannot endure it, as evil, but that we should have such love to the Saviour and his cause as to be willing to bear anything, even in relation to that, or springing from that, that we may be called to suffer in that cause; that while we may be weary in his work, for our bodily strength may become exhausted (comp. Mat. xxvi. 41), we should not be weary of it; and that though we may have many perplexities, and may meet with much opposition, yet we should not relax our zeal, but should persevere with an ardour that never faints, until our Saviour calls us to our reward.

4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

4. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee. Notwithstanding this general commendation, there are things which I cannot approve. ¶ Because thou hast left thy first love. Thou hast remitted (ἀφῆκας) or let down thy early love; that is, it is less glowing and ardent than it was at first. The love here referred to is evidently love to the Saviour; and the idea is, that, as a church, they had less of this than formerly characterized them. In this respect they were in a state of declension; and, though they still maintained the doctrines of his religion, and opposed the advocates of error, they showed less ardour of affection towards him directly than they had formerly done. In regard to this we may remark, (1) That what is here stated of the church at Ephesus is not uncommon, (a) Individual Christians often lose much of their first love. It is true, indeed, that there is often an appearance of this which does not exist in reality. Not a little of the ardour of young converts is often nothing more than the excitement of animal feeling, which will soon die away of course, though their real love may not be diminished, or may be constantly growing stronger. When a son returns home after a long absence, and meets his parents and brothers and sisters, there is a glow, a warmth of feeling, a joyousness of emotion, which cannot be expected to continue always, and which he may never be able to recall again, though he may be ever growing in real attachment to his friends and to his home. (b) Churches remit the ardour of their first love. They are often formed under the reviving influences of the Holy Spirit when many are converted, and are warm-hearted and zealous young converts. Or they are formed from other churches that have become cold and dead, from which the new organization, embodying the life of the church, was constrained to separate. Or they are formed under the influence of some strong and mighty truth that has taken possession of the mind, and that gives a peculiar character to the church at first. Or they are formed with a distinct reference to promoting some one great object in the cause of the Redeemer. So the early Christian churches were formed. So the church in Germany, France, Switzerland, and England came out from the Roman communion under the influence of the doctrine of justification by faith. So the Nestorians in former ages, and the Moravians in modern times, were characterized by warm zeal in the cause of missions. So the Puritans came out from the established church of England at one time, and the Methodists at another, warmed with a holier love to the cause of evangelical religion than existed in the body from which they separated. So many a church is formed now amidst the exciting scenes of a revival of religion, and in the early days of its history puts to shame the older and the slumbering churches around them. But it need scarcely be said that this early zeal may die away, and that the church, once so full of life and love, may become as cold as those that went before it, or as those from which it separated, and that there may be a necessity for the formation of new organizations that shall be fired with ardour and zeal. One has only to look at Germany, at Switzerland, at various portions of the reformed churches elsewhere; at the Nestorians, whose zeal for missions long since departed; or even at the Moravians, among whom it has so much declined; at various portions of the Puritan churches, and at many an individual church formed under the warm and exciting feelings of a revival of religion, to see that what occurred at Ephesus may occur elsewhere. (2) The same thing that occurred there may be expected to follow in all similar cases. The Saviour governs the church always on essentially the same principles; and it is no uncommon thing that, when a church has lost the ardour of its first love, it is suffered more and more to decline, until “the candlestick is removed”—until either the church becomes wholly extinct, or until vital piety is wholly gone, and all that remains is the religion of forms.

5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen; and repent, and 99do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will 100remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

5. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen. The eminence which you once occupied. Call to remembrance the state in which you once were. The duty here enjoined is, when religion has declined in our hearts, or in the church, to call to distinct recollection the former state—the ardour, the zeal, the warmth of love which once characterized us. The reason for this is, that such a recalling of the former state will be likely to produce a happy influence on the heart. Nothing is better adapted to affect a backsliding Christian, or a backsliding church, than to call to distinct recollection the former condition—the happier days of piety. The joy then experienced, the good done, the honour reflected on the cause of religion, the peace of mind of that period, will contrast strongly with the present, and nothing will be better fitted to recall an erring church, or an erring individual, from their wanderings than such a reminiscence of the past. The advantages of thus “remembering” their former condition would be many; for some of the most valuable impressions which are made on the mind, and some of the most important lessons learned, are from the recollections of a former state. Among those advantages, in this case, would be such as the following:—(a) It would show how much they might have enjoyed if they had continued as they began, how much more real happiness they would have had than they actually have enjoyed. (b) How much good they might have done, if they had only persevered in the zeal with which they commenced the Christian life. How much more good might most Christians do than they actually accomplish, if they would barely, even without increasing it, continue with the degree of zeal with which they begin their course. (c) How much greater attainments they might have made in the divine life, and in the knowledge of religion, than they have made; that is, how much more elevated and enlarged might have been their views of religion, and their knowledge of the Word of God. And (d) such a recollection of their past state as, contrasted with what they now are, would exert a powerful influence in producing true repentance; for there is nothing better adapted to do this than a just view of what we might have been, as compared with what we now are. If a man has become cold towards his wife, nothing is better fitted to reclaim him than to recall to his recollection the time when he led her to the altar, the solemn vow then made, and the rapture of his heart when he pressed her to his bosom and called her his own. ¶ And repent. The word here used means to change one’s mind and purposes, and, along with that, the conduct or demeanour. The duty of repentance here urged would extend to all the points in which they had erred. ¶ And do the first works. The works which were done when the church was first established. That is, manifest the zeal and love which were formerly evinced in opposing error, and in doing good. This is the true counsel to be given to those who have backslidden, and have “left their first love,” now. Often such persons, sensible that they have erred, and that they have not the enjoyment in religion which they once had, profess to be willing and desirous to return, but they know not how to do it—how to revive their ardour, how to rekindle in their bosom the flame of extinguished love. They suppose it must be by silent meditation, or by some supernatural influence, and they wait for some visitation from above to call them back, and to restore to them their former joy. The counsel of the Saviour to all such, however, is to do their first works. It is to engage at once in doing what they did in the first and best days of their piety, the days of their “espousals” (Je. ii. 2) to God. Let them read the Bible as they did then; let them pray as they did then; let them go forth in the duties of active benevolence as they did then; let them engage in teaching a Sabbath-school as they did then; let them relieve the distressed, instruct the ignorant, raise up the fallen, as they did then; let them open their heart, their purse, and their hand, to bless a dying world. As it was in this way that they manifested their love then, so this would be better fitted than all other things to rekindle the flame of love when it is almost extinguished. The weapon that is used keeps bright; that which has become rusty will become bright again if it is used. ¶ Or else I will come unto thee quickly. On the word rendered quickly (τάχει), see Notes on ch. i. 1. The meaning is, that he would come as a Judge, at no distant period, to inflict punishment in the manner specified—by removing the candlestick out of its place. He does not say in what way it would be done; whether by some sudden judgment, by a direct act of power, or by a gradual process that would certainly lead to that result. ¶ And will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. On the meaning of the word candlestick see Notes on ch. i. 12. The meaning is, that the church gave light in Ephesus; and that what he would do in regard to that place would be like removing a lamp, and leaving a place in darkness. The expression is equivalent to saying that the church there would cease to exist. The proper idea of the passage is, that the church would be wholly extinct; and it is observable that this is a judgment more distinctly disclosed in reference to this church than to any other of the seven churches. There is not the least evidence that the church at Ephesus did repent, and the threatening has been most signally fulfilled. Long since the church has become utterly extinct, and for ages there was not a single professing Christian there. Every memorial of there having been a church there has departed, and there are nowhere, not even in Nineveh, Babylon, or Tyre, more affecting demonstrations of the fulfilment of ancient prophecy than in the present state of the ruins of Ephesus. A remark of Mr. Gibbon (Decline and Fall, iv. 260) will show with what exactness the prediction in regard to this church has been accomplished. He is speaking of the conquests of the Turks. “In the loss of Ephesus the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick of the Revelations; the desolation is complete; and the temple of Diana, or the Church of Mary will equally elude the search of the curious traveller.” Thus the city, with the splendid temple of Diana, and the church that existed there in the time of John, has disappeared, and nothing remains but unsightly ruins. These ruins lie about ten days’ journey from Smyrna, and consist of shattered walls, and remains of columns and temples. The soil on which a large part of the city is supposed to have stood, naturally rich, is covered with a rank, burnt-up vegetation, and is everywhere deserted and solitary, though bordered by picturesque mountains. A few cornfields are scattered along the site of the ancient city. Towards the sea extends the ancient port, a pestilential marsh. Along the slope of the mountain, and over the plain, are scattered fragments of masonry and detached ruins, but nothing can now be fixed on as the great temple of Diana. There are ruins of a theatre; there is a circus, or stadium, nearly entire; there are fragments of temples and palaces scattered around; but there is nothing that marks the site of a church in the time of John; there is nothing to indicate even that such a church then existed there. About a mile and a half from the principal ruins of Ephesus there is indeed now a small village called Asalook, a Turkish word, which is associated with the same idea as Ephesus, meaning, The City of the Moon. A church, dedicated to John, is supposed to have stood near, if not on the site of the present mosque. Dr. Chandler (p. 150, 4to) gives us a striking description of Ephesus as he found it in 1764:—“Its population consisted of a few Greek peasants, living in extreme wretchedness, dependence, and insensibility, the representatives of an illustrious people, and inhabiting the wreck of their greatness. Some reside in the substructure of the glorious edifices which they raised; some beneath the vaults of the stadium, and the crowded scenes of these diversions; and some in the abrupt precipice, in the sepulchres which received their ashes. Its streets are obscured and overgrown. A herd of goats was driven to it for shelter from the sun at noon, and a noisy flight of crows from the quarries seemed to insult its silence. We heard the partridge call in the area of the theatre and of the stadium.... Its fate is that of the entire country; a garden has become a desert. Busy centres of civilization, spots where the refinements and delights of the age were collected, are now a prey to silence, destruction, and death. Consecrated first of all to the purposes of idolatry, Ephesus next had Christian temples almost rivalling the Pagan in splendour, wherein the image of the great Diana lay prostrate before the cross; after the lapse of some centuries Jesus gives way to Mahomet, and the crescent glittered on the dome of the recently Christian church. A few more scores of years, and Ephesus has neither temple, cross, crescent, nor city, but is desolation, a dry land, and a wilderness.” See the article “Ephesus” in Kitto’s Cyclopedia, and the authorities there referred to. What is affirmed here of Ephesus has often been illustrated in the history of the world, that when a church has declined in piety and love, and has been called by faithful ministers to repent, and has not done it, it has been abandoned more and more, until the last appearance of truth and piety has departed, and it has been given up to error and to ruin. And the same principle is as applicable to individuals, for they have as much reason to dread the frowns of the Saviour as churches have. If they who have “left their first love” will not repent at the call of the Saviour, they have every reason to apprehend some fearful judgment, some awful visitation of his Providence that shall overwhelm them in sorrow, as a proof of his displeasure. Even though they should finally be saved, their days may be without comfort, and perhaps their last moments without a ray of conscious hope. The accompanying engraving, representing the present situation of Ephesus, will bring before the eye a striking illustration of the fulfilment of this prophecy, that the candlestick of Ephesus would be removed from its place. See also the engravings prefixed to the Notes on the Epistle to the Ephesians.

6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the 101Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.

6. But this thou hast. This thou hast that I approve of, or that I can commend. ¶ That thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes. Gr., works (τὰ ἔργα). The word Nicolaitanes occurs only in this place, and in the 15th verse of this chapter. From the reference in the latter place it is clear that the doctrines which they held prevailed at Pergamos as well as at Ephesus; but from neither place can anything now be inferred in regard to the nature of their doctrines or their practices, unless it be supposed that they held the same doctrine that was taught by Balaam. See Notes on ver. 15. From the two passages, compared with each other, it would seem that they were alike corrupt in doctrine and in practice, for in the passage before us their deeds are mentioned, and in ver. 15 their doctrine. Various conjectures, however, have been formed respecting this class of people, and the reasons why the name was given to them. I. In regard to the origin of the name, there have been three opinions. (1) That mentioned by Irenæus, and by some of the other fathers, that the name was derived from Nicolas, one of the deacons ordained at Antioch, Ac. vi. 5. Of those who have held this opinion, some have supposed that it was given to them because he became apostate and was the founder of the sect, and others because they assumed his name, in order to give the greater credit to their doctrine. But neither of these suppositions rests on any certain evidence, and both are destitute of probability. There is no proof whatever that Nicolas the deacon ever apostatized from the faith, and became the founder of a sect; and if a name had been assumed, in order to give credit to a sect and extend its influence, it is much more probable that the name of an apostle would have been chosen, or of some other prominent man, than the name of an obscure deacon of Antioch. (2) Vitringa, and most commentators since his time, have supposed that the name Nicolaitanes was intended to be symbolical, and was not designed to designate any sect of people, but to denote those who resembled Balaam, and that this word is used in the same manner as the word Jezebel in ch. ii. 20, which is supposed to be symbolical there. Vitringa supposes that the word is derived from νῖκος, victory, and λαός, people, and that thus it corresponds with the name Balaam, as meaning either בַּעַל עָם, lord of the people, or בִּלַע עָם, he destroyed the people; and that, as the same effect was produced by their doctrines as by those of Balaam, that the people were led to commit fornication and to join in idolatrous worship, they might be called Balaamites or Nicolaitanes, that is, corrupters of the people. But to this it may be replied, (a) that it is far-fetched, and is adopted only to remove a difficulty; (b) that there is every reason to suppose that the word here used refers to a class of people who bore that name, and who were well known in the two churches specified; (c) that in ch. ii. 15 they are expressly distinguished from those who held the doctrine of Balaam, ver. 14, “So hast thou also (καὶ) those that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.” (3) It has been supposed that some person now unknown, probably of the name Nicolas, or Nicolaus, was their leader, and laid the foundation of the sect. This is by far the most probable opinion, and to this there can be no objection. It is in accordance with what usually occurs in regard to sects, orthodox or heretical, that they derive their origin from some person whose name they continue to bear; and as there is no evidence that this sect prevailed extensively, or was indeed known beyond the limits of these churches, and as it soon disappeared, it is easily accounted for that the character and history of the founder were so soon forgotten. II. In regard to the opinions which they held, there is as little certainty. Irenæus (Adv. Hæres. i. 26) says that their characteristic tenets were the lawfulness of promiscuous intercourse with women, and of eating things offered to idols. Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. iii. 29) states substantially the same thing, and refers to a tradition respecting Nicolaus, that he had a beautiful wife, and was jealous of her, and being reproached with this, renounced all intercourse with her, and made use of an expression which was misunderstood, as implying that illicit pleasure was proper. Tertullian speaks of the Nicolaitanes as a branch of the Gnostic family, and as, in his time, extinct. Mosheim (De Rebus Christian Ante. Con. § 69) says that “the questions about the Nicolaitanes have difficulties which cannot be solved.” Neander (History of the Christian Religion, as translated by Torrey, i. pp. 452, 453) numbers them with Antinomians; though he expresses some doubt whether the actual existence of such a sect can be proved, and rather inclines to an opinion noticed above, that the name is symbolical, and that it is used in a mystical sense, according to the usual style of the book of Revelation, to denote corrupters or seducers of the people, like Balaam. He supposes that the passage relates simply to a class of persons who were in the practice of seducing Christians to participate in the sacrificial feasts of the heathens, and in the excesses which attended them—just as the Jews were led astray of old by the Moabites, Nu. xxv. What was the origin of the name, however, Neander does not profess to be able to determine, but suggests that it was the custom of such sects to attach themselves to some celebrated name of antiquity, in the choice of which they were often determined by circumstances quite accidental. He supposes also that the sect may have possessed a life of Nicolas of Antioch, drawn up by themselves or others from fabulous accounts and traditions, in which what had been imputed to Nicolas was embodied. Everything, however, in regard to the origin of this sect, and the reason of the name given to it, and the opinions which they held, is involved in great obscurity, and there is no hope of throwing light on the subject. It is generally agreed, among the writers of antiquity who have mentioned them, that they were distinguished for holding opinions which countenanced gross social indulgences. This is all that is really necessary to be known in regard to the passage before us, for this will explain the strong language of aversion and condemnation used by the Saviour respecting the sect in the epistles to the churches of Ephesus and Pergamos. ¶ Which I also hate. If the view above taken of the opinions and practices of this people is correct, the reasons why he hated them are obvious. Nothing can be more opposed to the personal character of the Saviour, or to his religion, than such doctrines and deeds.

7 He102 that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the 103tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

7. He that hath an ear, let him hear, &c. This expression occurs at the close of each of the epistles addressed to the seven churches, and is substantially a mode of address often employed by the Saviour in his personal ministry, and quite characteristic of him. See Mat. xi. 15; Mar. iv. 23; vii. 16. It is a form of expression designed to arrest the attention, and to denote that what was said was of special importance. ¶ What the Spirit saith unto the churches. Evidently what the Holy Spirit says—for he is regarded in the Scriptures as the Source of inspiration, and as appointed to disclose truth to man. The “Spirit” may be regarded either as speaking through the Saviour (comp. Jn. iii. 34), or as imparted to John, through whom he addressed the churches. In either case it is the same Spirit of inspiration, and in either case there would be a claim that his voice should be heard. The language here used is of a general character—“He that hath an ear;” that is, what was spoken was worthy of the attention not only of the members of these churches, but of all others. The truths were of so general a character as to deserve the attention of mankind at large. ¶ To him that overcometh. Gr., “To him that gains the victory, or is a conqueror”—τῷ νικῶντι. This may refer to any victory of a moral character, and the expression used would be applicable to one who should triumph in any of these respects:—(a) over his own easily-besetting sins; (b) over the world and its temptations; (c) over prevalent error; (d) over the ills and trials of life, so as, in all these respects, to show that his Christian principles are firm and unshaken. Life, and the Christian life especially, may be regarded as a warfare. Thousands fall in the conflict with evil; but they who maintain a steady warfare, and who achieve a victory, shall be received as conquerors in the end. ¶ Will I give to eat of the tree of life. As the reward of his victory. The meaning is, that he would admit him to heaven, represented as paradise, and permit him to enjoy its pleasures—represented by being permitted to partake of its fruits. The phrase “the tree of life” refers undoubtedly to the language used respecting the Garden of Eden, Ge. ii. 9; iii. 22—where the “tree of life” is spoken of as that which was adapted to make the life of man perpetual. Of the nature of that tree nothing is known, though it would seem probable that, like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it was a mere emblem of life—or a tree that was set before man in connection with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that his destiny turned on the question whether he partook of the one or the other. That God should make the question of life or death depend on that, is no more absurd or improbable than that he should make it depend on what man does now—it being a matter of fact that life and death, happiness and misery, joy and sorrow, are often made to depend on things quite as arbitrary apparently, and quite as unimportant as an act of obedience or disobedience in partaking of the fruit of a designated tree. Does it not appear probable that in Eden there were two trees designated to be of an emblematic character, of life and death, and that as man partook of the one or the other he would live or die? Of all the others he might freely partake without their affecting his condition; of one of these—the tree of life—he might have partaken before the fall, and lived for ever. One was forbidden on pain of death. When the law forbidding that was violated, it was still possible that he might partake of the other; but, since the sentence of death had been passed upon him, that would not now be proper, and he was driven from the garden, and the way was guarded by the flaming sword of the cherubim. The reference in the passage before us is to the celestial paradise—to heaven—spoken of under the beautiful image of a garden; meaning that the condition of man, in regard to life, will still be the same as if he had partaken of the tree of life in Eden. Comp. Notes on ch. xxii. 2. ¶ Which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Heaven, represented as paradise. To be permitted to eat of that tree, that is, of the fruit of that tree, is but another expression implying the promise of eternal life, and of being happy for ever. The word paradise is of Oriental derivation, and is found in several of the Eastern languages. In the Sanskrit the word paradésha and paradisha is used to denote a land elevated and cultivated; in the Armenian the word pardes denotes a garden around the house planted with grass, herbs, trees for use and ornament; and in the Hebrew form פַּרְדֵּס, and Greek παράδεισος, it is applied to the pleasure gardens and parks, with wild animals, around the country residences of the Persian monarchs and princes, Ne. ii. 8. Comp. Ec. ii. 5; Ca. iv. 13; Xen. Cyro. i. 3, 14 (Rob. Lex.). Here it is used to denote heaven—a world compared in beauty with a richly cultivated park or garden. Comp. 2 Co. xii. 4. The meaning of the Saviour is, that he would receive him that overcame to a world of happiness; that he would permit him to taste of the fruit that grows there, imparting immortal life, and to rest in an abode fitted up in a manner that would contribute in every way to enjoyment. Man, when he fell, was not permitted to reach forth his hand and pluck of the fruit of the tree of life in the first Eden, as he might have done if he had not fallen; but he is now permitted to reach forth his hand and partake of the tree of life in the paradise above. He is thus restored to what he might have been if he had not transgressed by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and in the Paradise Regained, the blessings of the Paradise Lost will be more than recovered—for man may now live for ever in a far higher and more blessed state than his would have been in Eden.


The contents of the epistle to the church at Smyrna are these: (1) A statement, as in the address to the church at Ephesus, of some of the attributes of the Saviour, ver. 8. The attributes here referred to are, that he was “the first and the last,” that “he had been dead, but was alive”—attributes fitted to impress the mind deeply with reverence for him who addressed them, and to comfort them in the trials which they endured. (2) A statement (ver. 9), as in the former epistle, that he well knew their works and all that pertained to them—their tribulation, their poverty, and the opposition which they met with from wicked men. (3) An exhortation not to be afraid of any of those things that were to come upon them, for, although they were to be persecuted, and some of them were to be imprisoned, yet, if they were faithful, they should have a crown of life, ver. 10. (4) A command to hear what the Spirit said to the churches, as containing matter of interest to all persons, with an assurance that any who would “overcome” in these trials would not be hurt by the second death, ver. 11. The language addressed to the church of Smyrna is throughout that of commiseration and comfort. There is no intimation that the Saviour disapproved of what they had done; there is no threat that he would remove the candlestick out of its place. Smyrna was a celebrated commercial town of Ionia (Ptolem. v. 2), situated near the bottom of that gulf of the Ægean Sea which received its name from it (Mela, i. 17, 3), at the mouth of the small river Meles, 320 stadia, or about forty miles north of Ephesus (Strabo, xv. p. 632). It was a very ancient city; but having been destroyed by the Lydians, it lay waste four hundred years to the time of Alexander the Great, or, according to Strabo, to that of Antigonus. It was rebuilt at the distance of twenty stadia from the ancient city, and in the time of the first Roman emperor it was one of the most flourishing cities of Asia. It was destroyed by an earthquake, A.D. 177, but the emperor Marcus Aurelius caused it to be rebuilt with more than its former splendour. It afterwards, however, suffered greatly from earthquakes and conflagrations, and has declined from these causes, though, from its commercial advantages, it has always been a city of importance as the central emporium of the Levantine trade, and its relative rank among the cities of Asia Minor is probably greater than it formerly bore. The engraving in this vol. will give a representation of Smyrna. The Turks now call it Izmir. It is better built than Constantinople, and its population is computed at about 130,000, of which the Franks compose a greater proportion than in any other town in Turkey, and they are generally in good circumstances. Next to the Turks, the Greeks form the most numerous portion of the inhabitants, and they have a bishop and two churches. The unusually large portion of Christians in the city renders it peculiarly unclean in the eyes of strict Moslems, and they call it Giaour Izmir, or the Infidel Smyrna. There are in it about 20,000 Greeks, 8000 Armenians, 1000 Europeans, and 9000 Jews. It is now the seat of important missionary operations in the East, and much has been done there to spread the gospel in modern times. Its history during the long tract of time since John wrote is not indeed minutely known, but there is no reason to suppose that the light of Christianity there has ever been wholly extinct. Polycarp suffered martyrdom there, and the place where he is supposed to have died is still shown. The Christians of Smyrna hold his memory in great veneration, and go annually on a visit to his supposed tomb, which is at a short distance from the place of his martyrdom. See the article “Smyrna” in Kitto’s Cyclopedia, and the authorities referred to there.

8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith 104the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

8. And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write. On the meaning of the word angel, see Notes on ch. i. 20. ¶ These things saith the first and the last. See Notes on ch. i. 817. ¶ Which was dead, and is alive. See Notes on ch. i. 18. The idea is, that he is a living Saviour; and there was a propriety in referring to that fact here from the nature of the promise which he was about to make to the church at Smyrna: “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death,” ver. 11. As he had himself triumphed over death in all its forms, and was now alive for ever, it was appropriate that he should promise to his true friends the same protection from the second death. He who was wholly beyond the reach of death could give the assurance that they who put their trust in him should come off victorious.

9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but 105thou art rich,) and I know the blasphemy of 106them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the 107synagogue of Satan.

9. I know thy works. The uniform method of introducing these epistles, implying a most intimate acquaintance with all that pertained to the church. See Notes on ver. 2. ¶ And tribulation. This word is of a general signification, and probably includes all that they suffered in any form, whether from persecution, poverty, or the blasphemy of opposers. ¶ And poverty. It would seem that this church, at that time, was eminently poor, for this is not specified in regard to any one of the others. No reason is suggested why they were particularly poor. It was not, indeed, an uncommon characteristic of early Christians (comp. 1 Cor. i. 2628), but there might have been some special reasons why that church was eminently so. It is, however, the only church of the seven which has survived, and perhaps in the end its poverty was no disadvantage. ¶ But thou art rich. Not in this world’s goods, but in a more important respect—in the grace and favour of God. These things are not unfrequently united. Poverty is no hindrance to the favour of God, and there are some things in it favourable to the promotion of a right spirit towards God which are not found where there is abundant wealth. The Saviour was eminently poor, and not a few of his most devoted and useful followers have had as little of this world’s goods as he had. The poor should always be cheerful and happy, if they can hear their Saviour saying unto them, “I know thy poverty—but thou art rich.” However keen the feeling arising from the reflection “I am a poor man,” the edge of the sorrow is taken off if the mind can be turned to a brighter image—“but thou art rich.” ¶ And I know the blasphemy. The reproaches; the harsh and bitter revilings. On the word blasphemy, see Notes on Mat. ix. 3; xxvi. 65. The word here does not seem to refer to blasphemy against God, but to bitter reproaches against themselves. The reason of these reproaches is not stated, but it was doubtless on account of their religion. ¶ Of them which say they are Jews. Who profess to be Jews. The idea seems to be that though they were of Jewish extraction, and professed to be Jews, they were not true Jews; they indulged in a bitterness of reproach, and a severity of language, which showed that they had not the spirit of the Jewish religion; they had nothing which became those who were under the guidance of the spirit of their own Scriptures. That would have inculcated and fostered a milder temper; and the meaning here is, that although they were of Jewish origin, they were not worthy of the name. That spirit of bitter opposition was indeed often manifested in their treatment of Christians, as it had been of the Saviour, but still it was foreign to the true nature of their religion. There were Jews in all parts of Asia Minor, and the apostles often encountered them in their journeyings, but it would seem that there was something which had particularly embittered those of Smyrna against Christianity. What this was is now unknown. It may throw some light on the passage, however, to remark that at a somewhat later period—in the time of the martyrdom of Polycarp—the Jews of Smyrna were among the most bitter of the enemies of Christians, and among the most violent in demanding the death of Polycarp. Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. iv. 15) says, that when Polycarp was apprehended, and brought before the proconsul at Smyrna, the Jews were the most furious of all in demanding his condemnation. When the mob, after his condemnation to death, set about gathering fuel to burn him, “the Jews,” says he, “being especially zealous, as was their custom—μάλιστα προθύμως, ὡς ἔθος αὐτοῖς—ran to procure fuel.” And when, as the burning failed, the martyr was transfixed with weapons, the Jews urged and besought the magistrate that his body might not be given up to Christians. Possibly at the time when this epistle was directed to be sent to Smyrna, there were Jews there who manifested the same spirit which those of their countrymen did afterwards, who urged on the death of Polycarp. ¶ But are the synagogue of Satan. Deserve rather to be called the synagogue of Satan. The synagogue was a Jewish place of worship (comp. Notes on Mat. iv. 23), but the word originally denoted the assembly or congregation. The meaning here is plain, that though they worshipped in a synagogue, and professed to be the worshippers of God, yet they were not worthy of the name, and deserved rather to be regarded as in the service of Satan. Satan is the word that is properly applied to the great evil spirit, elsewhere called the devil. See Notes on Lu. xxii. 3, and Job i.

10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou 108faithful unto death, and I will give thee a 109crown of life.

10. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. He did not promise them exemption from suffering. He saw that they were about to suffer, and he specifies the manner in which their affliction would occur. But he entreats and commands them not to be afraid. They were to look to the “crown of life,” and to be comforted with the assurance that if they were faithful unto death, that would be theirs. We need not dread suffering if we can hear the voice of the Redeemer encouraging us, and if he assures us that in a little while we shall have the crown of life. ¶ Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison. Or, shall cause some of you to be cast into prison. He had just said that their persecutors were of the “synagogue of Satan.” He here represents Satan, or the devil—another name of the same being—as about to throw them into prison. This would be done undoubtedly by the hands of men, but still Satan was the prime mover, or the instigator in doing it. It was common to cast those who were persecuted into prison. See Ac. xii. 3, 4; xvi. 23. It is not said on what pretence, or by what authority, this would be done; but, as John had been banished to Patmos from Ephesus, it is probable that this persecution was raging in the adjacent places, and there is no improbability in supposing that many might be thrown into prison. ¶ That ye may be tried. That the reality of your faith may be subjected to a test to show whether it is genuine. The design in the case is that of the Saviour, though Satan is allowed to do it. It was common in the early periods of the church to suffer religion to be subjected to trial amidst persecutions, in order to show that it was of heavenly origin, and to demonstrate its value in view of the world. This is, indeed, one of the designs of trial at all times, but this seemed eminently desirable when a new system of religion was about to be given to mankind. Comp. Notes on 1 Pe. i. 6, 7. ¶ And ye shall have tribulation ten days. A short time; a brief period; a few days. It is possible, indeed, that this might have been literally ten days, but it is much more in accordance with the general character of this book, in regard to numbers, to suppose that the word ten here is used to denote a few. Comp. Ge. xxiv. 55; 1 Sa. xxv. 38; Da. i. 12, 14. We are wholly ignorant how long the trial actually lasted; but the assurance was that it would not be long, and they were to allow this thought to cheer and sustain them in their sorrows. Why should not the same thought encourage us now? Affliction in this life, however severe, can be but brief; and in the hope that it will soon end, why should we not bear it without murmuring or repining? ¶ Be thou faithful unto death. Implying, perhaps, that though, in regard to the church, the affliction would be brief, yet that it might be fatal to some of them, and they who were thus about to die should remain faithful to their Saviour until the hour of death. In relation to all, whether they were to suffer a violent death or not, the same injunction and the same promise was applicable. It is true of everyone who is a Christian, in whatever manner he is to die, that if he is faithful unto death, a crown of life awaits him. Comp. Notes on 2 Ti. iv. 8. ¶ And I will give thee a crown of life. See Notes on Ja. i. 12. Comp. 1 Pe. v. 4; 1 Co. ix. 2427. The promise here is somewhat different from that which was made to the faithful in Ephesus (ver. 7), but the same thing substantially is promised them—happiness hereafter, or an admission into heaven. In the former case it is the peaceful image of those admitted into the scenes of paradise; here it is the triumph of the crowned martyr.

11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the 110second death.

11. He that hath an ear, &c. See Notes on ver. 7. ¶ He that overcometh. See Notes on ver. 7. The particular promise here is made to him that should “overcome;” that is, that would gain the victory in the persecutions which were to come upon them. The reference is to him who would show the sustaining power of religion in times of persecution; who would not yield his principles when opposed and persecuted; who would be triumphant when so many efforts were made to induce him to apostatize and abandon the cause. ¶ Shall not be hurt of the second death. By a second death. That is, he will have nothing to fear in the future world. The punishment of hell is often called death, not in the sense that the soul will cease to exist, but (a) because death is the most fearful thing of which we have any knowledge, and (b) because there is a striking similarity, in many respects, between death and future punishment. Death cuts off from life—and so the second death cuts off from eternal life; death puts an end to all our hopes here, and the second death to all our hopes for ever; death is attended with terrors and alarms—the faint and feeble emblem of the terrors and alarms in the world of woe. The phrase, “the second death,” is three times used elsewhere by John in this book (ch. xx. 6, 14; xxi. 8), but does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. The words death and to die, however, are not unfrequently used to denote the future punishment of the wicked.

The promise here made would be all that was necessary to sustain them in their trials. Nothing more is requisite to make the burdens of life tolerable than an assurance that, when we reach the end of our earthly journey, we have arrived at the close of suffering, and that beyond the grave there is no power that can harm us. Religion, indeed, does not promise to its friends exemption from death in one form. To none of the race has such a promise ever been made, and to but two has the favour been granted to pass to heaven without tasting death. It could have been granted to all the redeemed, but there were good reasons why it should not be; that is, why it would be better that even they who are to dwell in heaven should return to the dust, and sleep in the tomb, than that they should be removed by perpetual miracle, translating them to heaven. Religion, therefore, does not come to us with any promise that we shall not die. But it comes with the assurance that we shall be sustained in the dying hour; that the Redeemer will accompany us through the dark valley; that death to us will be a calm and quiet slumber, in the hope of awakening in the morning of the resurrection; that we shall be raised up again with bodies incorruptible and undecaying; and that beyond the grave we shall never fear death in any form. What more is needful to enable us to bear with patience the trials of this life, and to look upon death when it does come, disarmed as it is of its sting (1 Co. xv. 5557), with calmness and peace?


The contents of this epistle (ver. 1217) are as follows: (1) A reference, as is usual in these epistles, to some attribute of Him who addressed them, fitted to inspire respect, and adapted to a state of things existing in the church, ver. 12. That to which the Saviour here directs their attention is, that he has “the sharp sword with two edges”—implying (ver. 16) that he had the power of punishing. (2) A statement, in the usual form, that he was thoroughly acquainted with the state of the church; that he saw all their difficulties; all that there was to commend, and all that there was to reprove, ver. 13. (3) A commendation to the church for its fidelity, especially in a time of severe persecution, when one of her faithful friends was slain, ver. 13. (4) A reproof of the church for tolerating some who held false and pernicious doctrines—doctrines such as were taught by Balaam, and the doctrines of the Nicolaitanes, ver. 14, 15. (5) A solemn threat that, unless they repented, he would come against them, and inflict summary punishment on them, ver. 16. (6) The usual call upon all to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, and a promise to those who should overcome, ver. 17.

Pergamos was a city in the southern part of Mysia, the capital of a kingdom of that name, and afterwards of the Roman province of Asia Propria. It was on the bank of the river Caicus, which is formed by the union of two branches meeting thirty or forty miles above its mouth, and watering a valley not exceeded in beauty and fertility by any in the world. The city of Pergamos stood about twenty miles from the sea. It was on the northern bank of the river, at the base and on the declivity of two high and steep mountains. About two centuries before the Christian era, Pergamos became the residence of the celebrated kings of the family of Attalus, and a seat of literature and the arts. King Eumenes, the second of the name, greatly beautified the town, and so increased the number of volumes in the library that they amounted to 200,000. This library remained at Pergamos after the kingdom of the Attali had lost its independence, until Antony removed it to Egypt, and presented it to Queen Cleopatra (Pliny, Hist. Nat. iii. 2). It is an old tradition, that, as the papyrus plant had not begun to be exported from Egypt (Kitto), or as Ptolemy refused to sell it to Eumenes (Professor Stuart), sheep and goat skins, prepared for the purpose, were used for manuscripts; and as the art of preparing them was brought to perfection at Pergamos, they, from that circumstance, obtained the name of pergamena (περγαμηνή) or parchment. The last king of Pergamos bequeathed his treasures to the Romans, who took possession of the kingdom also, and created it into a province by the name of Asia Propria. Under the Romans, it retained that authority over the cities of Asia which it had acquired under the successors of Attalus. The present name of the place is Bergamos, and it is of considerable importance, containing a population of about 14,000, of whom about 3000 are Greeks, 300 Armenians, and the rest Turks. Macfarlane describes the approach to the town as very beautiful: “The approach to this ancient and decayed city was as impressive as well might be. After crossing the Caicus, I saw, looking over three vast tumuli, or sepulchral barrows, similar to those on the plains of Troy, the Turkish city of Pergamos, with its tall minarets, and its taller cypresses, situated on the lower declivities and at the foot of the Acropolis, whose bold gray brow was crowned by the rugged walls of a barbarous castle, the usurper of the site of a magnificent Greek temple. The town consists, for the most part, of small and mean wooden houses, among which appear the remains of early Christian churches. None of these churches have any scriptural or apocalyptic interest connected with them, having been erected several centuries after the ministry of the apostles, and when Christianity was not an humble and despised creed, but the adopted religion of a vast empire. The Pagan temples have fared worse than these Christian churches. The fanes of Jupiter and Diana, of Æsculapius and Venus, are prostrate in the dust; and where they have not been carried away by the Turks, to be cut up into tombstones or to pound into mortar, the Corinthian and Ionic columns, the splendid capitals, the cornices and the pediments, all in the highest ornament, are thrown into unsightly heaps” (Visit to the Seven Apocalyptic Churches, 1832. Comp. Missionary Herald for 1839, pp. 228230). The engraving represents the ruins of one of the ancient churches in Pergamos.

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the 111sharp sword with two edges;

12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamos. See Notes on ch. i. 20. ¶ These things saith he which hath the sharp sword, &c. See Notes on ch. i. 16. Comp. He. iv. 12; Ec. xii. 11; Is. xlix. 2. Professor Stuart suggests that when the Saviour, as represented in the vision, “uttered words, as they proceeded from his mouth, the halitus which accompanied them assumed, in the view of John, the form of an igneous two-edged sword.” It is more probable, however, that the words which proceeded from his mouth did not assume anything like a form or substance, but John means to represent them as if they were a sharp sword. His words cut and penetrate deep, and it was easy to picture him as having a sword proceeding from his mouth; that is, his words were as piercing as a sharp sword. As he was about to reprove the church at Pergamos, there was a propriety in referring to this power of the Saviour. Reproof cuts deep; and this is the idea represented here.

13 I112 know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and 113hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

13. I know thy works. The uniform mode of addressing the seven churches in these epistles. See Notes on ch. ii. 2. ¶ And where thou dwellest. That is, I know all the temptations to which you are exposed; all the allurements to sin by which you are surrounded; all the apologies which might be made for what has occurred arising from those circumstances; and all that could be said in commendation of you for having been as faithful as you have been. The sense of the passage is, that it does much to enable us to judge of character to know where men live. It is much more easy to be virtuous and pious in some circumstances than in others; and in order to determine how much credit is due to a man for his virtues, it is necessary to understand how much he has been called to resist, how many temptations he has encountered, what easily-besetting sins he may have, or what allurements may have been presented to his mind to draw him from the path of virtue and religion. In like manner, in order to judge correctly of those who have embraced error, or have been led into sin, it is necessary to understand what there may have been in their circumstances that gave to error what was plausible, and to sin what was attractive; what there was in their situation in life that exposed them to these influences, and what arguments may have been employed by the learned, the talented, and the plausible advocates of error, to lead them astray. We often judge harshly where the Saviour would be far less severe in his judgments; we often commend much where in fact there has been little to commend. It is possible to conceive that in the strugglings against evil of those who have ultimately fallen, there may be more to commend than in cases where the path of virtue has been pursued as the mere result of circumstances, and where there never has been a conflict with temptation. The adjudications of the great day will do much to reverse the judgments of mankind. ¶ Even where Satan’s seat is. A place of peculiar wickedness, as if Satan dwelt there. Satan is, as it were, enthroned there. The influence of Satan in producing persecution is that which is particularly alluded to, as is apparent from the reference which is immediately made to the case of Antipas, the “faithful martyr.” ¶ And thou holdest fast my name. They had professed the name of Christ; that is, they had professed to be his followers, and they had steadfastly adhered to him and his cause in all the opposition made to him. The name Christian, given in honour of Christ, and indicating that they were his disciples, they had not been ashamed of or denied. It was this name that subjected the early Christians to reproach. See 1 Pe. iv. 14. ¶ And hast not denied my faith. That is, hast not denied my religion. The great essential element in the Christian religion is faith, and this, since it is so important, is often put for the whole of religion. ¶ Even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr. Of Antipas we know nothing more than is here stated. “In the Acta Sanctorum (ii. pp. 3, 4) is a martyrology of Antipas from a Greek MS.; but it is full of fable and fiction, which a later age had added to the original story” (Professor Stuart, in loco). ¶ Who was slain among you. It would seem from this, that, though the persecution had raged there, but one person had been put to death. It would appear also that the persecution was of a local character, since Pergamos is described as “Satan’s seat;” and the death of Antipas is mentioned in immediate connection with that fact. All the circumstances referred to would lead us to suppose that this was a popular outbreak, and not a persecution carried on under the authority of government, and that Antipas was put to death in a popular excitement. So Stephen (Ac. vii.) was put to death, and so Paul at Lystra was stoned until it was supposed he was dead, Ac. xiv. 19. ¶ Where Satan dwelleth. The repetition of this idea—very much in the manner of John—showed how intensely the mind was fixed on the thought, and how much alive the feelings were to the malice of Satan as exhibited at Pergamos.

14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, 114who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to 115eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to 116commit fornication.

14. But I have a few things against thee. As against the church at Ephesus, ch. ii. 4. The charge against this church, however, is somewhat different from that against the church at Ephesus. The charge there was, that they had “left their first love;” but it is spoken in commendation of them that they “hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes,” ch. ii. 6. Here the charge is, that they tolerated that sect among them, and that they had among them also those who held the doctrine of Balaam. Their general course had been such that the Saviour could approve it; he did not approve, however, of their tolerating those who held to pernicious practical error—error that tended to sap the very foundation of morals. ¶ Because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam. It is not necessary to suppose that they professedly held to the same opinion as Balaam, or openly taught the same doctrines. The meaning is, that they taught substantially the same doctrine which Balaam did, and deserved to be classed with him. What that doctrine was is stated in the subsequent part of the verse. ¶ Who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel. The word stumbling-block properly means anything over which one falls or stumbles, and then anything over which anyone may fall into sin, or which becomes the occasion of one’s falling into sin. The meaning here is, that it was through the instructions of Balaam that Balak learned the way by which the Israelites might be led into sin, and might thus bring upon themselves the Divine malediction. The main circumstances in the case were these: (1) Balak, king of Moab, when the children of Israel approached his borders, felt that he could not contend successfully against so great a host, for his people were dispirited and disheartened at their numbers, Nu. xxii. 3, 4. (2) In these circumstances he resolved to send for one who had a distinguished reputation as a prophet, that he might “curse” that people, or might utter a malediction over them, in order, at the same time, to ensure their destruction, and to inspirit his own people in making war on them: in accordance with a prevalent opinion of ancient times, that prophets had the power of blighting anything by their curse. Comp. Notes on Job iii. 8. For this purpose he sent messengers to Balaam to invite him to come and perform this service, Nu. xxii. 5, 6. (3) Balaam professed to be a prophet of the Lord, and it was obviously proper that he should inquire of the Lord whether he should comply with this request. He did so, and was positively forbidden to go, Nu. xxii. 12. (4) When the answer of Balaam was reported to Balak, he supposed that he might be prevailed to come by the offer of rewards, and he sent more distinguished messengers with an offer of ample honour if he would come, Nu. xxii. 1517. (5) Balaam was evidently strongly inclined to go, but, in accordance with his character as a prophet, he said that if Balak would give him his house full of silver and gold he could do no more, and say no more, than the Lord permitted, and he proposed again to consult the Lord, to see if he could obtain permission to go with the messengers of Balak. He obtained permission, but with the express injunction that he was only to utter what God should say; and when he came to Balak, notwithstanding his own manifest desire to comply with the wish of Balak, and notwithstanding all the offers which Balak made to him to induce him to do the contrary, he only continued to bless the Hebrew people, until, in disgust and indignation, Balak sent him away again to his own land, Nu. xxii., xxiii., xxiv. 10, seq. (6) Balaam returned to his own house, but evidently with a desire still to gratify Balak. Being forbidden to curse the people of Israel; having been overruled in all his purposes to do it; having been, contrary to his own desires, constrained to bless them when he was himself more than willing to curse them; and having still a desire to comply with the wishes of the King of Moab, he cast about for some way in which the object might yet be accomplished—that is, in which the curse of God might in fact rest upon the Hebrew people, and they might become exposed to the divine displeasure. To do this, no way occurred so plausible, and that had such probability of success, as to lead them into idolatry, and into the sinful and corrupt practices connected with idolatry. It was, therefore, resolved to make use of the charms of the females of Moab, that through their influence the Hebrews might be drawn into licentiousness. This was done. The abominations of idolatry spread through the camp of Israel; licentiousness everywhere prevailed, and God sent a plague upon them to punish them, Nu. xxv. 1, seq. That also this was planned and instigated by Balaam is apparent from Nu. xxxi. 16: “Behold these [women] caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord, in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.” The attitude of Balaam’s mind in the matter was this: I. He had a strong desire to do that which he knew was wrong, and which was forbidden expressly by God. II. He was restrained by internal checks and remonstrances, and prevented from doing what he wished to do. III. He cast about for some way in which he might do it, notwithstanding these internal checks and remonstrances, and finally accomplished the same thing in fact, though in form different from that which he had first prepared. This is not an unfair description of what often occurs in the plans and purposes of a wicked man. The meaning in the passage before us is, that in the church at Pergamos there were those who taught, substantially, the same thing that Balaam did; that is, the tendency of whose teaching was to lead men into idolatry, and the ordinary accompaniment of idolatry—licentiousness. ¶ To eat things sacrificed unto idols. Balaam taught the Hebrews to do this—perhaps in some way securing their attendance on the riotous and gluttonous feasts of idolatry celebrated among the people among whom they sojourned. Such feasts were commonly held in idol temples, and they usually led to scenes of dissipation and corruption. By plausibly teaching that there could be no harm in eating what had been offered in sacrifice—since an idol was nothing, and the flesh of animals offered in sacrifice was the same as if slaughtered for some other purpose, it would seem that these teachers at Pergamos had induced professing Christians to attend on those feasts—thus lending their countenance to idolatry, and exposing themselves to all the corruption and licentiousness that commonly attended such celebrations. See the banefulness of thus eating the meat offered in sacrifice to idols considered in the Notes on 1 Co. viii. ¶ And to commit fornication. Balaam taught this; and that was the tendency of the doctrines inculcated at Pergamos. On what pretence this was done is not said; but it is clear that the church had regarded this in a lenient manner. So accustomed had the heathen world been to this vice, that many who had been converted from idolatry might be disposed to look on it with less severity than we do now, and there was a necessity of incessant watchfulness lest the members of the church should fall into it. Comp. Notes on Ac. xv. 20.

15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.

15. So hast thou also them, &c. That is, there are those among you who hold those doctrines. The meaning here may be, either that, in addition to those who held the doctrine of Balaam, they had also another class who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes; or that the Nicolaitanes held the same doctrine, and taught the same thing as Balaam. If but one class is referred to, and it is meant that the Nicolaitanes held the doctrines of Balaam, then we know what constituted their teaching; if two classes of false teachers are referred to, then we have no means of knowing what was the peculiarity of the teaching of the Nicolaitanes. The more natural and obvious construction, it seems to me, is to suppose that the speaker means to say that the Nicolaitanes taught the same things which Balaam did—to wit, that they led the people into corrupt and licentious practices. This interpretation seems to be demanded by the proper use of the word “so”—οὕτως—meaning, in this manner, on this wise, thus; and usually referring to what precedes. If this be the correct interpretation, then we have, in fact, a description of what the Nicolaitanes held, agreeing with all the accounts given of them by the ancient fathers. See Notes on ver. 6. If this is so, also, then it is clear that the same kind of doctrines was held at Smyrna, at Pergamos, and at Thyatira (ver. 20), though mentioned in somewhat different forms. It is not quite certain, however, that this is the correct interpretation, or that the writer does not mean to say that, in addition to those who held the doctrine of Balaam, they had also another class of errorists who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. ¶ Which thing I hate. So the common Greek text—ὃ μισῶ. But the best-supported reading, and the one adopted by Griesbach, Tittmann, and Hahn, is ὁμοίωςin like manner; that is, “as Balak retained a false prophet who misled the Hebrews, so thou retainest those who teach things like to those which Balaam taught.”

16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and 117will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

16. Repent. See ver. 5. ¶ Or else I will come unto thee quickly. On the word quickly, see Notes on ch. i. 1. The meaning here is, that he would come against them in judgment, or to punish them. ¶ And will fight against them. Against the Nicolaitanes. He would come against the church for tolerating them, but his opposition would be principally directed against the Nicolaitanes themselves. The church would excite his displeasure by retaining them in its bosom, but it was in its power to save them from destruction. If the church would repent, or if it would separate itself from the evil, then the Saviour would not come against them. If this were not done, they would feel the vengeance of his sword, and be subjected to punishment. The church always suffers when it has offenders in its bosom; it has the power of saving them if it will repent of its own unfaithfulness, and will strive for their conversion. ¶ With the sword of my mouth. Notes on ch. i. 16; ii. 12. That is, he would give the order, and they would be cut as if by a sword. Precisely in what way it would be done he does not say; but it might be by persecution, or by heavy judgments. To see the force of this, we are to remember the power which Christ has to punish the wicked by a word of his mouth. By a word in the last day he will turn all the wicked into hell.

17 He118 that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the 119hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a 120new name written,121which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

17. He that hath an ear, &c. Notes on ver. 7. ¶ To him that overcometh. Notes on ver. 7. ¶ Will I give to eat of the hidden manna. The true spiritual food; the food that nourishes the soul. The idea is, that the souls of those who “overcame,” or who gained the victory in their conflict with sin, and in the persecutions and trials of the world, would be permitted to partake of that spiritual food which is laid up for the people of God, and by which they will be nourished for ever. The Hebrews were supported by manna in the desert (Ex. xvi. 1635); a pot of that manna was laid up in the most holy place, to be preserved as a memorial (Ex. xvi. 3234); it is called “angels’ food” (Ps. lxxviii. 25), and “corn of heaven” (Ps. lxxviii. 24); and it would seem to have been emblematical of that spiritual food by which the people of God are to be fed from heaven, in their journey through this world. By the word “hidden,” there would seem to be an allusion to that which was laid up in the pot before the ark of the testimony, and the blessing which is promised here is that they would be nourished as if they were sustained by that manna thus laid up before the ark: by food from the immediate presence of God. The language thus explained would mean that they who overcome will be nourished through this life as if by that “hidden manna;” that is, that they will be supplied all along through the “wilderness of this world” by that food from the immediate presence of God which their souls require. As the parallel places in the epistles to the churches, however, refer rather to the heavenly world, and to the rewards which they who are victors shall have there, it seems probable that this has immediate reference to that world also, and that the meaning is, that, as the most holy place was a type of heaven, they will be admitted into the immediate presence of God, and nourished for ever by the food of heaven—that which the angels have; that which the soul will need to sustain it there. Even in this world their souls may be nourished with this “hidden manna;” in heaven it will be their constant food for ever. ¶ And will give him a white stone. There has been a great variety of opinion in regard to the meaning of this expression, and almost no two expositors agree. Illustrations of its meaning have been sought from Grecian, Hebrew, and Roman customs, but none of these have removed all difficulty from the expression. The general sense of the language seems plain, even though the allusion on which it is founded is obscure, or even unknown. It is, that the Saviour would give him who overcame a token of his favour which would have some word or name inscribed on it, and which would be of use to him alone, or intelligible to him only: that is, some secret token which would make him sure of the favour of his Redeemer, and which would be unknown to other men. The idea here would find a correspondence in the evidences of his favour granted to the soul of the Christian himself; in the pledge of heaven thus made to him, and which he would understand, but which no one else would understand. The things, then, which we are to look for in the explanation of the emblem are two—that which would thus be a token of his favour, and that which would explain the fact that it would be intelligible to no one else. The question is, whether there is any known thing pertaining to ancient customs which would convey these ideas. The word rendered stoneψῆφον—means, properly, a small stone, as worn smooth by water—a gravel-stone, a pebble; then any polished stone, the stone of a gem, or ring (Rob. Lex.). Such a stone was used among the Greeks for various purposes, and the word came to have a signification corresponding to these uses. The following uses are enumerated by Dr. Robinson, Lex.:—the stones or counters for reckoning; dice, lots, used in a kind of magic; a vote, spoken of the black and white stones or pebbles anciently used in voting—that is, the white for approval, and the black for condemning. In regard to the use of the word here, some have supposed that the reference is to a custom of the Roman emperors, who, in the games and spectacles which they gave to the people in imitation of the Greeks, are said to have thrown among the populace dice or tokens inscribed with the words, “Frumentum, vestes,” &c.; that is, “Corn, clothing,” &c.; and whosoever obtained one of these received from the emperor whatever was marked upon it. Others suppose that allusion is made to the mode of casting lots, in which sometimes dice or tokens were used with names inscribed on them, and the lot fell to him whose name first came out. The “white stone” was a symbol of good fortune and prosperity; and it is a remarkable circumstance that, among the Greeks, persons of distinguished virtue were said to receive a ψῆφον, stone, from the gods, i.e., as an approving testimonial of their virtue. See Robinson’s Lex., and the authorities there referred to; Wetstein, N.T., in loco, and Stuart, in loco. Professor Stuart supposes that the allusion is to the fact that Christians are said to be kings and priests to God, and that as the Jewish high-priest had a mitre or turban, on the front of which was a plate of gold inscribed “Holiness to the Lord,” so they who were kings and priests under the Christian dispensation would have that by which they would be known, but that, instead of a plate of gold, they would have a pellucid stone, on which the name of the Saviour would be engraved as a token of his favour. It is possible, in regard to the explanation of this phrase, that there has been too much effort to find all the circumstances alluded to in some ancient custom. Some well-understood fact or custom may have suggested the general thought, and then the filling up may have been applicable to this case alone. It is quite clear, I think, that none of the customs to which it has been supposed there is reference correspond fully with what is stated here, and that though there may have been a general allusion of that kind, yet something of the particularity in the circumstances may be regarded as peculiar to this alone. In accordance with this view, perhaps the following points will embody all that need be said: (1) A white stone was regarded as a token of favour, prosperity, or success everywhere—whether considered as a vote, or as given to a victor, &c. As such, it would denote that the Christian to whom it is said to be given would meet with the favour of the Redeemer, and would have a token of his approval. (2) The name written on this stone would be designed also as a token or pledge of his favour—as a name engraved on a signet or seal would be a pledge to him who received it of friendship. It would be not merely a white stone—emblematic of favour and approval—but it would be so marked as to indicate its origin, with the name of the giver on it. This would appropriately denote, when explained, that the victor Christian would receive a token of the Redeemer’s favour, as if his name were engraven on a stone, and given to him as a pledge of his friendship; that is, that he would be as certain of his favour as if he had such a stone. In other words, the victor would be assured from the Redeemer, who distributes rewards, that his welfare would be secure. (3) This would be to him as if he should receive a stone so marked that its letters were invisible to all others, but apparent to him who received it. It is not needful to suppose that in the Olympic games, or in the prizes distributed by Roman emperors, or in any other custom, such a case had actually occurred, but it is conceivable that a name might be so engraved—with characters so small, or in letters so unknown to all others, or with marks so unintelligible to others—that no other one into whose hands it might fall would understand it. The meaning then probably is, that to the true Christian—the victor over sin—there is given some pledge of the divine favour which has to him all the effect of assurance, and which others do not perceive or understand. This consists of favours shown directly to the soul—the evidence of pardoned sin; joy in the Holy Ghost; peace with God; clear views of the Saviour; the possession of a spirit which is properly that of Christ, and which is the gift of God to the soul. The true Christian understands this; the world perceives it not. The Christian receives it as a pledge of the divine favour, and as an evidence that he will be saved; to the world, that on which he relies seems to be enthusiasm, fanaticism, or delusion. The Christian bears it about with him as he would a precious stone given to him by his Redeemer, and on which the name of his Redeemer is engraved, as a pledge that he is accepted of God, and that the rewards of heaven shall be his; the world does not understand it, or attaches no value to it. ¶ And in the stone a new name written. A name indicating a new relation, new hopes and triumphs. Probably the name here referred to is the name of the Redeemer, or the name Christian, or some such appellation. It would be some name which he would understand and appreciate, and which would be a pledge of acceptance. ¶ Which no man knoweth, &c. That is, no one would understand its import, as no one but the Christian estimates the value of that on which he relies as the pledge of his Redeemer’s love.


The contents of this epistle (ver. 1829) are as follows: (1) A reference, as is usual in these epistles, to some attribute of the Saviour which demanded their particular attention, or which was especially appropriate to the nature of the message which he was about to send to them, ver. 18. The attributes which he fixes on here are, that his eyes are like a flame of fire—as if they would pierce and penetrate to the recesses of the heart; and that his feet are like fine brass—perhaps indicative of majesty as he moved among the churches. (2) A statement, in the usual form, that he was entirely acquainted with the church, and that therefore the judgment which he was about to pronounce was founded on a thorough knowledge of what the church was; and a general commendation of them for their charity, service, faith, and patience, ver. 19. (3) A sever reproof of the church, notwithstanding, for their tolerating a teacher of dangerous doctrine, whom he calls Jezebel, with the assurance that she and her children should not go unpunished, ver. 2023. (4) An assurance to all the rest in Thyatira that no other calamity or burden would come upon the church than what was inevitable in delivering it from the dangerous influence of these doctrines, and a solemn charge to them to hold fast all the truth which they had until he should come, ver. 24, 25. (5) A promise, as usual, to those who should overcome, or who should be victorious, ver. 2629. They would have power over the nations; they would be associated with the Redeemer in ruling them; they would have the morning star. (6) A call, as usual, on all who had ears to hear, to attend to what the Spirit said to the churches.

Thyatira was a city of Asia Minor, on the northern border of Lydia, and commonly reckoned as belonging to Lydia. It was about twenty-seven miles from Sardis; about a day’s journey from Pergamos, and about the same distance from the sea-coast. Its modern name is Ak-hissar, or the white castle. According to Pliny, it was known in earlier times by the name of Pelopia (Hist. Nat. v. 29). Strabo (xiii. p. 928) says that it was a Macedonian colony. The Roman road from Pergamos to Sardis passed through it. It was noted for the art of dyeing (Ac. xvi. 14), and Luke’s account in the Acts has been confirmed by the discovery of an inscription in honour of Antonius Claudius Alphenus, which concludes with the words οἱ βαφεῖςthe dyers.

The Rev. Pliny Fisk, the American missionary, who visited the city, thus describes it: “Thyatira is situated near a small river, a branch of the Caicus, in the centre of an extensive plain. At the distance of three or four miles it is almost completely surrounded by mountains. The houses are low; many of them of mud or earth. Excepting the motsellim’s palace, there is scarcely a decent house in the place. The streets are narrow and dirty, and everything indicates poverty and degradation. We had a letter of introduction to Economo, the bishop’s procurator, and a principal man among the Greeks of this town.... He says the Turks have destroyed all remnants of the ancient church; and even the place where it stood is now unknown. At present there are in the town one thousand houses, for which taxes are paid to the government” (Memoir of the Rev. P. Fisk; Boston, Mass., 1828).

The following description, by the Rev. Mr. Schneider, missionary of the American Board, will give a correct view of Thyatira, as it existed in 1848: “From Magnesia we proceeded to Thyatira, the site of one of the Apocalyptic churches, now called Ak-hissar. The population consists of about seven hundred Mussulman houses, two hundred and fifty Greek, and fifty Armenian. The town is located in a plain of considerable size, and is hardly visible on being approached, by reason of the profusion of foliage. The plain itself is bounded on all sides by mountains, and cotton and a kind of reddish root [madder], used for dyeing red, are raised abundantly. I observed that this root is extensively cultivated in all that region, and forms an important article of export to England, where it is used for dyeing purposes. In Ac. xvi. 14 we read of Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira. May not this root be the very article with which her purple was coloured, which she was selling at Philippi, when the Lord opened her heart to attend to the things spoken by Paul? It seems to me probable. But, if it was so, this art of colouring appears to have been lost, for I could not find that it is now at all practised in that place or that region.

“The Christian traveller and missionary naturally looks for something interesting in a place where once existed a true church of Christ. But, alas! how sadly is he disappointed! The place presents an appearance in nothing different from other Turkish towns. Everything wears a Mussulman aspect. The houses, streets, dress, occupation, and language of the inhabitants all indicate a predominating Turkish influence. Christianity exists there in name, but it is the bare name. Its spirit has long since fled. The Greeks, especially, seem to be peculiarly superstitious. I visited their church, and found it full of pictures and other marks of degenerate Christianity. A long string of these images, extending from one side of the church to the other, was suspended so low as to permit the worshipper to approach and kiss them; and so frequently had this adoration been bestowed on them, that all appeared soiled from the frequent contact of the lips. Over the entrance of the church I observed a representation of a grave old man, with a silvery beard, surrounded by angels. Suspecting the object designed to be shadowed forth, I inquired of a lad standing by what that figure meant. He instantly replied, ‘It is God.’ I observed two similar representations of the Deity in the interior of the church. The churchyard is used as a burying-place; but only those whose friends are able to pay for the privilege of entombing their dead can enjoy it. Candles are lighted at the heads of the graves in the night, and incense is often burned. When the process of decay has proceeded so far as to leave nothing but the bones, these are taken up and thrown into a sealed vault, over which a chapel is fitted up, in which mass is said over these relics of the dead for the benefit of their souls! A feeling of abhorrence came over me as I stood in the place where such abominations are committed.

“The Armenians are far less superstitious. Comparatively only a few pictures are to be seen in their church, and three or four individuals are more or less enlightened, and in an inquiring state of mind. We had a long interview with one of them, the teacher, and left some books with him. I am not without hopes that a little gospel leaven has been deposited here, the effects of which will appear at some future day” (Miss. Herald, Feb. 1848). The engraving in this volume will give a representation of this city as it now exists.

18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath 122his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;

18. And unto the angel of the church. See Notes on ch. i. 20. ¶ These things saith the Son of God. This is the first time, in these epistles, that the name of the speaker is referred to. In each other instance there is merely some attribute of the Saviour mentioned. Perhaps the severity of the rebuke contemplated here made it proper that there should be a more impressive reference to the authority of the speaker; and hence he is introduced as the “Son of God.” It is not a reference to him as the “Son of man”—the common appellation which he gave to himself when on earth—for that might have suggested his humanity only, and would not have conveyed the same impression in regard to his authority; but it is to himself as sustaining the rank, and having the authority, of the Son of God—one who, therefore, has a right to speak, and a right to demand that what he says shall be heard. ¶ Who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire. Comp. Notes on ch. i. 14. Before the glance of his eye all is light, and nothing can be concealed from his view. Nothing would be better fitted to inspire awe then, as nothing should be now, than such a reference to the Son of God as being able to penetrate the secret recesses of the heart. ¶ And his feet are like fine brass. See Notes on ch. i. 15. Perhaps indicative of majesty and glory as he walked in the midst of the churches.

19 I123 know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

19. I know thy works. See Notes on ch. ii. 2. He knew all they had done, good and bad. ¶ And charity. Love; love to God, and love to man. There is no reason for restricting this word here to the comparatively narrow sense which it now bears. Comp. Notes on 1 Co. xiii. 1. ¶ And service. Gr., ministryδιακονίαν. The word would seem to include all the service which the church had rendered in the cause of religion; all which was the proper fruit of love, or which would be a carrying out of the principles of love to God and man. ¶ And faith. Or, fidelity in the cause of the Redeemer. The word here would include not only trust in Christ for salvation, but that which is the proper result of such trust—fidelity in his service. ¶ And thy patience. Patient endurance of the sorrows of life—of all that God brought upon them in any way, to test the reality of their religion. ¶ And thy works. Thy works as the fruit of the virtues just mentioned. The word is repeated here, from the first part of the verse, perhaps to specify more particularly that their works had been recently more numerous and praiseworthy even than they had formerly been. In the beginning of the verse, as in the commencement of each of the epistles, the word is used, in the most general sense, to denote all that they had done; meaning that he had so thorough an acquaintance with them in all respects that he could judge of their character. In the latter part of the verse the word seems to be used in a more specific sense, as referring to good works, and with a view to say that they had latterly abounded in these more than they had formerly. ¶ And the last to be more than the first. Those which had been recently performed were more numerous, and more commendable, than those which had been rendered formerly. That is, they were making progress; they had been acting more and more in accordance with the nature and claims of the Christian profession. This is a most honourable commendation, and one which every Christian, and every church, should seek. Religion in the soul, and in a community, is designed to be progressive; and while we should seek to live in such a manner always that we may have the commendation of the Saviour, we should regard it as a thing to be greatly desired that we may be approved as making advances in knowledge and holiness; that as we grow in years we may grow alike in the disposition to do good, and in the ability to do it; that as we gain in experience, we may also gain in a readiness to apply the results of our experience in promoting the cause of religion. He would deserve little commendation in religion who should be merely stationary; he alone properly develops the nature of true piety, and shows that it has set up its reign in the soul, who is constantly making advances.

20 Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman 124Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to 125eat things sacrificed unto idols.

20. Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee. Comp. Notes on ver. 4. ¶ Because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel. Thou dost tolerate, or countenance her. Comp. Notes on ver. 14. Who the individual here referred to by the name Jezebel was, is not known. It is by no means probable that this was her real name, but seems to have been given to her as expressive of her character and influence. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab; a woman of vast influence over her husband—an influence which was uniformly exerted for evil. She was a daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon, and lived about 918 years before Christ. She was an idolater, and induced her weak husband not only to connive at her introducing the worship of her native idols, but to become an idolater himself, and to use all the means in his power to establish the worship of idols instead of the worship of the true God. She was highly gifted, persuasive, and artful; was resolute in the accomplishment of her purposes; ambitious of extending and perpetuating her power, and unscrupulous in the means which she employed to execute her designs. See 1 Ki. xvi. 31, seq. The kind of character, therefore, which would be designated by the term as used here, would be that of a woman who was artful and persuasive in her manner; who was capable of exerting a wide influence over others; who had talents of a high order; who was a thorough advocate of error; who was unscrupulous in the means which she employed for accomplishing her ends; and the tendency of whose influence was to lead the people into the abominable practices of idolatry. The opinions which she held, and the practices into which she led others, appear to have been the same which are referred to in ver. 6 and ver. 14, 15 of this chapter. The difference was, that the teacher in this case was a woman—a circumstance which by no means lessened the enormity of the offence; for, besides the fact that it was contrary to the whole genius of Christianity that a woman should be a public teacher, there was a special incongruity that she should be an advocate of such abominable opinions and practices. Every sentiment of our nature makes us feel that it is right to expect that if a woman teaches at all in a public manner, she should inculcate only that which is true and holy—she should be an advocate of a pure life. We are shocked; we feel that there is a violation of every principle of our nature, and an insult done to our common humanity, if it is otherwise. We have in a manner become accustomed to the fact that man should be a teacher of pollution and error, so that we do not shrink from it with horror; we never can be reconciled to the fact that a woman should. ¶ Which calleth herself a prophetess. Many persons set up the claim to be prophets in the times when the gospel was first preached, and it is not improbable that many females would lay claim to such a character, after the example of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, &c. ¶ To teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication. Comp. ver. 14. Whether she herself practised what she taught is not expressly affirmed, but seems to be implied in ver. 22. It is not often that persons teach these doctrines without practising what they teach; and the fact that they desire and design to live in this manner will commonly account for the fact that they inculcate such views. ¶ And to eat things sacrificed unto idols. See Notes on ver. 14. The custom of attending on the festivals of idols led commonly to licentiousness, and they who were gross and sensual in their lives were fit subjects to be persuaded to attend on idol feasts—for nowhere else would they find more unlimited toleration for the indulgence of their passions.

21 And I gave her 126space to repent of her fornication; and 127she repented not.

21. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication. Probably after some direct and solemn warning of the evil of her course. The error and sin had been of long standing, but he now resolved to bear with it no longer. It is true of almost every great sinner, that sufficient time is given for repentance, and that vengeance is delayed after crime is committed. But it cannot always be deferred, for the period must arrive when no reason shall exist for longer delay, and when punishment must come upon the offender. ¶ And she repented not. As she did not do it; as she showed no disposition to abandon her course; as all plea of having had no time to repent would now be taken away, it was proper that he should rise in his anger and cut her down.

22 Behold, 128I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

22. Behold, I will cast her into a bed. Not into a bed of ease, but a bed of pain. There is evidently a purpose to contrast this with her former condition. The harlot’s bed and a sick-bed are thus brought together, as they are often, in fact, in the dispensations of Providence and the righteous judgments of God. One cannot be indulged without leading on, sooner or later, to the horrid sufferings of the other: and how soon no one knows. ¶ And them that commit adultery with her. Those who are seduced by her doctrines into this sin; either they who commit it with her literally, or who are led into the same kind of life. ¶ Into great tribulation. Great suffering; disease of body or tortures of the soul. How often—how almost uniformly is this the case with those who thus live! Sooner or later, sorrow always comes upon the licentious; and God has evinced by some of his severest judgments, in forms of frightful disease, his displeasure at the violation of the laws of purity. There is no sin that produces a more withering and desolating effect upon the soul than that which is here referred to; none which is more certain to be followed with sorrow. ¶ Except they repent of their deeds. It is only by repentance that we can avoid the consequences of sin. The word repent here evidently includes both sorrow for the past, and abandonment of the evil course of life.

23 And I will 129kill her children with death; and 130all the churches shall know that 131I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts; and 132I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

23. And I will kill her children with death. A strong Hebraistic mode of expression, meaning that he would certainly destroy them. It has been made a question whether the word children here is to be taken literally or figuratively. The word itself would admit of either interpretation; and there is nothing in the connection by which its meaning here can be determined. If it is to be taken literally, it is in accordance with what is often threatened in the Scriptures, that children shall be visited with calamity for the sins of parents, and with what often occurs in fact, that they do thus suffer. For it is no uncommon thing that whole families are made desolate on account of the sin and folly of the parent. See Notes on Ro. v. 19. If it is to be taken figuratively, then it refers to those who had imbibed her doctrines, and who, of course, would suffer in the punishment which would follow from the propagation of such doctrines. The reference in the word death here would seem to be to some heavy judgment, by plague, famine, or sword, by which they would be cut off. ¶ And all the churches shall know, &c. That is, the design of this judgment will be so apparent that it will convince all that I know what is in the hearts of men, even the secret acts of wickedness that are concealed from human view. ¶ I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts. This is clearly a claim to omniscience; and as it is the Lord Jesus who speaks in all these epistles, it is a full proof that he claims this for himself. There is nothing which more clearly appertains to God than the power of searching the heart, and nothing that is more constantly claimed by him as his peculiar prerogative, 1 Ch. xxviii. 9; Ps. vii. 9; xi. 4; xliv. 21; cxxxix. 2; Pr. xv. 3; Je. xi. 20; xvii. 10; xx. 12; xxxii. 19; He. iv. 13. The word reinsνεφροὺς—means, literally, the kidney, and is commonly used in the plural to denote the kidneys, or the loins. In the Scriptures it is used to denote the inmost mind, the secrets of the soul; probably because the parts referred to by the word are as hidden as any other part of the frame, and would seem to be the repository of the more secret affections of the mind. It is not to be supposed that it is taught in the Scriptures that the reins are the real seat of any of the affections or passions; but there is no more impropriety in using the term in a popular signification than there is in using the word heart, which all continue to use, to denote the seat of love. ¶ And I will give unto every one of you according to your works. To every one of you; not only to those who have embraced these opinions, but to all the church. This is the uniform rule laid down in the Bible by which God will judge men.

24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the 133depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.

24. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira. The word—“and”—καὶ—is omitted in many MSS. and versions, and in the critical editions of Griesbach, Tittmann, and Hahn, and the connection demands that it should be omitted. As it stands in the received text, it would seem that what he here says was addressed to those who had received that doctrine, and to all others as well as to them; whereas the declaration here made pertains manifestly to those who had not received the doctrine. With that particle omitted the passage will read, as rendered by Professor Stuart, “But I say unto you, the remainder in Thyatira, so many as hold not this doctrine,” &c. That is, he addresses now all the members of the church who were not involved in the charges already made. He does not say how large a portion of the church had escaped the contaminating influence of those opinions, but to that portion, whether great or small, he addresses only words of exhortation and comfort. ¶ As many as have not this doctrine. To all who have not embraced it, or been contaminated with it. It may be presumed that there was a considerable portion of the church which had not. ¶ And which have not known the depths of Satan. The deep art and designs of Satan. Deep things are those which are hidden from view—as of things which are far underground; and hence the word is used to denote mysteries, or profound designs and purposes. The allusion here is not to any trials or sufferings that Satan might bring upon anyone, or to any temptations of which he might be the author, but to his profound art in inculcating error and leading men astray. There are doctrines of error, and arguments for sin, to originate which seems to lie beyond the power of men, and which would appear almost to have exhausted the talent of Satan himself. They evince such a profound knowledge of man; of the divine government; of the course of events on earth; and of what our race needs; and they are defended with so much eloquence, skill, learning, and subtlety of argumentation, that they appear to lie beyond the compass of the human powers. ¶ As they speak. This cannot mean that the defenders of these errors themselves called their doctrines “the depths of Satan,” for no teachers would choose so to designate their opinions; but it must mean, either that they who were opposed to those errors characterized them as “the depths of Satan,” or that they who opposed them said that they had not known “the depths of Satan.” Professor Stuart understands it in the latter sense. A somewhat more natural interpretation, it seems to me, however, is to refer it to what the opposers of these heretics said of these errors. They called them “the depths of Satan,” and they professed not to have known anything of them. The meaning, perhaps, would be expressed by the familiar words, “as they say,” or “as they call them,” in the following manner: “As many as have not known the depths of Satan, as they say,” or, “to use their own language.” Doddridge paraphrases it, “as they proverbially speak.” Tyndale incloses it in a parenthesis. ¶ I will put upon you none other burden. That is, no other than that which you now experience from having these persons with you, and that which must attend the effort to purify the church. He had not approved their conduct for suffering these persons to remain in the church, and he threatens to punish all those who had become contaminated with these pernicious doctrines. He evidently designed to say that there was some token of his displeasure proper in the case, but he was not disposed to bring upon them any other expression of his displeasure than that which grew naturally and necessarily out of the fact that they had been tolerated among them, and those troubles and toils which must attend the effort to deliver the church from these errors. Under any circumstances the church must suffer. It would suffer in reputation. It would suffer in respect to its internal tranquillity. Perhaps, also, there were those who were implicated in these errors, and who would be implicated in the punishment, who had friends and kindred in the church; and the judgments which were to come upon the advocates of these errors must, therefore, come in a measure upon the church. A kind Saviour says, that he would bring upon them no other and no weightier burden, than must arise from his purpose to inflict appropriate vengeance on the guilty themselves. The trouble which would grow out of that would be a sufficient expression of his displeasure. This is, in fact, often now all that is necessary as a punishment on a church for harbouring the advocates of error and of sin. The church has trouble enough ultimately in getting rid of them; and the injury which such persons do to its piety, peace, and reputation, and the disorders of which they are the cause, constitute a sufficient punishment for having tolerated them in its bosom. Often the most severe punishment that God can bring upon men is to “lay upon them no other burden” than to leave them to the inevitable consequences of their own folly, or to the trouble and vexation incident to the effort to free themselves from what they had for a long time tolerated or practised.

25 But 134that which ye have already hold fast till I come.

25. But that which ye have, &c. All that there is of truth and purity remaining among you, retain faithfully. Comp. ch. iii. 11. ¶ Till I come. To receive you to myself, Jn. xiv. 3.

26 And 135he that overcometh, and keepeth136 my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

26. And he that overcometh. Notes on ch. ii. 7. ¶ And keepeth my works unto the end. The works that I command and that I require, to the end of his life. Comp. Jn. xiii. 1. ¶ To him will I give power over the nations. The evident meaning of what is said here, and in the next verse, is, that in accordance with the uniform promise made to the redeemed in the New Testament, they would partake of the final triumph and glory of the Saviour, and be associated with him. It is not said that they would have exclusive power over the nations, or that they would hold offices of trust under him during a personal reign on the earth; but the meaning is, that they would be associated with him in his future glory. Comp. Notes on Ro. viii. 17; 1 Co. vi. 2, 3.

27 And137 he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be 138broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.

27. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron. There is an allusion here to Ps. ii. 9: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” There is a slight change in the passage, “he shall rule,” instead of “thou shalt break,” in order to adapt the language to the purpose of the speaker here. The allusion in the Psalm is to the Messiah as reigning triumphant over the nations, or subduing them under him; and the idea here, as in the previous verse, is, that his redeemed people will be associated with him in this dominion. To rule with a sceptre of iron, is not to rule with a harsh and tyrannical sway, but with power that is firm and invincible. It denotes a government of strength, or one that cannot be successfully opposed; one in which the subjects are effectually subdued. ¶ As the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers. The image here is that of the vessel of a potter—a fragile vessel of clay—struck with a rod of iron and broken into fragments. That is, as applied to the nations, there would be no power to oppose his rule; the enemies of his government would be destroyed. Instead of remaining firm and compacted together, they would be broken like the clay vessel of a potter when struck with a rod of iron. The speaker does not intimate when this would be; but all that is said here would be applicable to that time when the Son of God will come to judge the world, and when his saints will be associated with him in his triumphs. As, in respect to all the others of the seven epistles to the churches, the rewards promised refer to heaven, and to the happy state of that blessed world, it would seem also that this should have a similar reference, for there is no reason why “to him that overcame” in Thyatira a temporal reward and triumph should be promised more than in the cases of the others. If so, then this passage should not be adduced as having any reference to an imaginary personal reign of the Saviour and of the saints on the earth. ¶ Even as I received of my Father. As he has appointed me, Ps. ii. 69.

28 And I will give him 139the morning star.

28. And I will give him the morning star. The “morning star” is that bright planet—Venus—which at some seasons of the year appears so beautifully in the east, leading on the morning—the harbinger of the day. It is one of the most beautiful objects in nature, and is susceptible of a great variety of uses for illustration. It appears as the darkness passes away; it is an indication that the morning comes; it is intermingled with the first rays of the light of the sun; it seems to be a herald to announce the coming of that glorious luminary; it is a pledge of the faithfulness of God. In which of these senses, if any, it is referred to here, is not stated; nor is it said what is implied by its being given to him that overcomes. It would seem to be used here to denote a bright and brilliant ornament; something with which he who “overcame” would be adorned, resembling the bright star of the morning. It is observable that it is not said that he would make him like the morning star, as in Da. xii. 3; nor that he would be compared with the morning star, like the king of Babylon, Is. xiv. 12; nor that he would resemble a star which Balaam says he saw in the distant future, Nu. xxiv. 17. The idea seems to be, that the Saviour would give him something that would resemble that morning planet in beauty and splendour—perhaps meaning that it would be placed as a gem in his diadem, and would sparkle on his brow—bearing some such relation to him who is called “the Sun of Righteousness,” as the morning star does to the glorious sun on his rising. If so, the meaning would be that he would receive a beautiful ornament, bearing a near relation to the Redeemer himself as a bright sun—a pledge that the darkness was past—but one whose beams would melt away into the superior light of the Redeemer himself, as the beams of the morning star are lost in the superior glory of the sun.

29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

29. He that hath an ear, &c. See Notes on ver. 7.



The contents of the epistle to the church at Sardis (ver. 16) are: (1) The usual salutation to the angel of the church, ver. 1. (2) The usual reference to the attributes of the Saviour—those referred to here being that he had the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, ver. 1. (3) The assurance that he knew their works, ver. 1. (4) The statement of the peculiarity of the church, or what he saw in it—that it had a name to live and was dead, ver. 1. (5) A solemn direction to the members of the church, arising from their character and circumstances, to be watchful, and to strengthen the things which remained, but which were ready to die; to remember what they had received, and to hold fast that which had been communicated to them, and to repent of all their sins, ver. 2, 3. (6) A threat that if they did not do this, he would come suddenly upon them, at an hour which they could not anticipate, ver. 3. (7) A commendation of the church as far as it could be done, for there were still a few among them who had not defiled their garments, and a promise that they should walk before him in white, ver. 4. (8) A promise, as usual, to him that should be victorious. The promise here is, that he should walk before him in white; that his name should not be blotted out of the book of life; that he should be acknowledged before the Father, and before the angels, ver. 5. (9) The usual call on all persons to hear what the Spirit said to the churches.

Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, one of the provinces of Asia Minor, and was situated at the foot of Mount Tmolus, in a fine plain watered by the river Pactolus, famous for its golden sands. It was the capital where the celebrated Crœsus, proverbial for his wealth, reigned. It was taken by Cyrus (B.C. 548), when Crœsus was king, and was at that time one of the most splendid and opulent cities of the East. It subsequently passed into the hands of the Romans, and under them sank rapidly in wealth and importance. In the time of Tiberius it was destroyed by an earthquake, but was rebuilt by order of the emperor. The inhabitants of Sardis bore an ill repute among the ancients for their voluptuous modes of life. Perhaps there may be an allusion to this fact in the words which are used in the address to the church there: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments.” Successive earthquakes, and the ravages of the Saracens and the Turks, have reduced this once-celebrated city to a heap of ruins, though exhibiting still many remains of former splendour. The name of the village which now occupies the place of this ancient capital is Sart. It is a miserable village, comprising only a few wretched cottages, occupied by Turks and Greeks. There are ruins of the theatre, the stadium, and of some ancient churches. The most remarkable of the ruins are two pillars supposed to have belonged to the temple of Cybele; and if so, they are among the most ancient in the world, the temple of Cybele having been built only three hundred years after that of Solomon. The Acropolis serves well to define the site of the city. Several travellers have recently visited the remains of Sardis, and its appearance will be indicated by a few extracts from their writings. Arundell, in his Discoveries in Asia Minor, says: “If I were asked what impresses the mind most strongly in beholding Sardis, I should say its indescribable solitude, like the darkness of Egypt—darkness that could be felt. So the deep solitude of the spot, once the ‘lady of kingdoms,’ produces a corresponding feeling of desolate abandonmentin the mind, which can never be forgotten.”

The Rev. J. Hartley, in regard to these ruins, remarks: “The ruins are, with one exception, more entirely gone to decay than those of most of the ancient cities which we have visited. No Christians reside on the spot: two Greeks only work in a mill here, and a few wretched Turkish huts are scattered among the ruins. We saw the churches of St. John and the Virgin, the theatre, and the building styled the Palace of Crœsus; but the most striking object at Sardis is the temple of Cybele. I was filled with wonder and awe at beholding the two stupendous columns of this edifice, which are still remaining: they are silent but impressive witnesses of the power and splendour of antiquity.”

The impression produced on the mind is vividly described in the following language of a recent traveller, who lodged there for a night: “Every object was as distinct as in a northern twilight; the snowy summit of the mountain [Tmolus], the long sweep of the valley, and the flashing current of the river [Pactolus]. I strolled along towards the banks of the Pactolus, and seated myself by the side of the half-exhausted stream.

“There are few individuals who cannot trace on the map of their memory some moments of overpowering emotion, and some scene, which, once dwelt upon, has become its own painter, and left behind it a memorial that time could not efface. I can readily sympathize with the feelings of him who wept at the base of the pyramids; nor were my own less powerful, on that night when I sat beneath the sky of Asia to gaze upon the ruins of Sardis, from the banks of the golden-sanded Pactolus. Beside me were the cliffs of the Acropolis, which, centuries before, the hardy Median scaled, while leading on the conquering Persians, whose tents had covered the very spot on which I was reclining. Before me were the vestiges of what had been the palace of the gorgeous Crœsus; within its walls were once congregated the wisest of mankind, Thales, Cleobulus, and Solon. It was here that the wretched father mourned alone the mangled corse of his beloved Atys; it was here that the same humiliated monarch wept at the feet of the Persian boy who wrung from him his kingdom. Far in the distance were the gigantic tumuli of the Lydian monarchs, Candaules, Halyattys, and Gyges; and around them were spread those very plains once trodden by the countless hosts of Xerxes, when hurrying on to find a sepulchre at Marathon.

“There were more varied and more vivid remembrances associated with the sight of Sardis than could possibly be attached to any other spot of earth; but all were mingled with a feeling of disgust at the littleness of human glory. All—all had passed away! There were before me the fanes of a dead religion, the tombs of forgotten monarchs, and the palm-tree that waved in the banquet-hall of kings; while the feeling of desolation was doubly heightened by the calm sweet sky above me, which, in its unfading brightness, shone as purely now as when it beamed upon the golden dreams of Crœsus” (Emerson’s Letters from the Ægean, p. 113, seq.). The present appearance of the ruins is shown by the engraving in this volume.


A ND unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the 140seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; 141I know thy works, that thou hast 142a name that thou livest, and art dead.

1. And unto the angel of the church in Sardis. Notes on ch. i. 20. ¶ These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God. See Notes on ch. i. 4. If the phrase, “the seven Spirits of God,” as there supposed, refers to the Holy Spirit, there is great propriety in saying of the Saviour, that he has that Spirit, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is represented as sent forth by him into the world, Jn. xv. 26, 27; xvi. 7, 13, 14. It was one of the highest characteristics that could be given of the Saviour to say, that the Holy Ghost was his to send forth into the world, and that that great Agent, on whose gracious influences all were dependent for the possession of true religion, could be given or withheld by him at his pleasure. ¶ And the seven stars. See Notes on ch. i. 16. These represented the angels of the seven churches (Notes on ch. i. 20); and the idea which the Saviour would seem to intend to convey here is, that he had entire control over the ministers of the churches, and could keep or remove them at pleasure. ¶ I know thy works. See Notes on ch. ii. 2. ¶ That thou hast a name that thou livest. Thou dost profess attachment to me and my cause. The word life is a word that is commonly employed, in the New Testament, to denote religion, in contradistinction from the natural state of man, which is described as death in sin. By the profession of religion they expressed the purpose to live unto God, and for another world; they professed to have true, spiritual life. ¶ And art dead. That is, spiritually. This is equivalent to saying that their profession was merely in name; and yet this must be understood comparatively, for there were some even in Sardis who truly lived unto God, ver. 4. The meaning is, that in general, the profession of religion among them was a mere name. The Saviour does not, as in the case of the churches of Ephesus and Thyatira, specify any prevailing form of error or false doctrine; but it would seem that here it was a simple want of religion.

2 Be watchful and 143strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works 144perfect before God.

2. Be watchful. Be wakeful; be attentive and earnest—in contradistinction from the drowsy condition of the church. ¶ Strengthen the things which remain. The true piety that still lives and lingers among you. Whatever there was of religion among them, it was of importance to strengthen it, that the love of the Saviour might not become wholly extinct. An important duty in a low and languishing state of religion is, to “strengthen the things that still survive.” It is to cultivate all the graces which do exist; to nourish all the love of truth which may linger in the church; and to confirm, by warm exhortation, and by a reference to the gracious promises of God’s word, the few who may be endeavouring to do their duty, and who, amidst many discouragements, are aiming to be faithful to the Saviour. In the lowest state of religion in a church there may be a few, perhaps quite obscure and of humble rank, who are mourning over the desolations of Zion, and who are sighing for better times. All such it is the duty of the ministers of religion to comfort and encourage; for it is in their hearts that piety may be kept alive in the church—it is through them that it may be hoped religion may yet be revived. In the apparent hopelessness of doing much good to others, good may always be done to the cause itself by preserving and strengthening what there may be of life among those few, amidst the general desolation and death. It is much to preserve life in grain sown in a field through the long and dreary winter, when all seems to be dead—for it will burst forth, with new life and beauty, in the spring. When the body is prostrate with disease, and life just lingers, and death seems to be coming on, it is much to preserve the little strength that remains; much to keep the healthful parts from being invaded, that there may be strength yet to recover. ¶ That are ready to die. That seem just ready to become extinct. So, sometimes, in a plant, there seems to be but the least conceivable life remaining, and it appears that it must die. So, when we are sick, there seems to be but the feeblest glimmering of life, and it is apparently just ready to go out. So, when a fire dies away, there seems but a spark remaining, and it is just ready to become extinct. And thus, in religion in the soul—religion in a church—religion in a community—it often seems as if it were just about to go out for ever. ¶ For I have not found thy works perfect before God. I have not found them complete or full. They come short of that which is required. Of what church, of what individual Christian, is not this true? Whom might not the Saviour approach with the same language? It was true, however, in a marked and eminent sense, of the church at Sardis.

3 Remember145 therefore how thou hast received and heard; and hold fast, and 146repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee 147as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

3. Remember therefore how thou hast received. This may refer either to some peculiarity in the manner in which the gospel was conveyed to them—as, by the labours of the apostles, and by the remarkable effusions of the Holy Spirit; or to the ardour and love with which they embraced it; or to the greatness of the favours and privileges conferred on them; or to their own understanding of what the gospel required, when they were converted. It is not possible to determine in which sense the language is used; but the general idea is plain, that there was something marked and unusual in the way in which they had been led to embrace the gospel, and that it was highly proper in these circumstances to look back to the days when they gave themselves to Christ. It is always well for Christians to call to remembrance the “day of their espousals,” and their views and feelings when they gave their hearts to the Saviour, and to compare those views with their present condition, especially if their conversion was marked by anything unusual. ¶ And heard. How thou didst hear the gospel in former times; that is, with what earnestness and attention thou didst embrace it. This would rather seem to imply that the reference in the whole passage is to the fact that they embraced the gospel with great ardour and zeal. ¶ And hold fast. (1) Hold fast the truths which thou didst then receive; (2) hold fast what remains of true religion among you. ¶ And repent. Repent in regard to all that in which you have departed from your views and feelings when you embraced the gospel. ¶ If therefore thou shalt not watch. The speaker evidently supposed that it was possible that they would not regard the warning; that they would presume that they would be safe if they refused to give heed to it, or that by mere inattention and indifference they might suffer the warning to pass by unheeded. Similar results have been so common in the world as to make such a supposition not improbable, and to make proper, in other cases as well as that, the solemn threatening that he would come suddenly upon them. ¶ I will come on thee as a thief. In a sudden and unexpected manner. See Notes on 1 Th. v. 2. ¶ And ye shall not know what hour I will come upon thee. You shall not know beforehand; you shall have no warning of my immediate approach. This is often the way in which God comes to men in his heavy judgments. Long beforehand, he admonishes us, indeed, of what must be the consequences of a course of sin, and warns us to turn from it; but when sinners refuse to attend to his warning, and still walk in the way of evil, he comes suddenly, and cuts them down. Every man who is warned of the evil of his course, and who refuses or neglects to repent, has reason to believe that God will come suddenly in his wrath, and call him to his bar, Pr. xxix. 1. No such man can presume on impunity; no one who is warned of his guilt and danger can feel that he is for one moment safe. No one can have any basis of calculation that he will be spared; no one can flatter himself with any probable anticipation that he will have time to repent when God comes to take him away. Benevolence has done its appropriate work in warning him—how can the Great Judge of all be to blame, if he comes then, and suddenly cuts the sinner off?

4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me 148in white: for they are worthy.

4. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis. See the analysis of the chapter. The word names here is equivalent to persons; and the idea is, that even in a place so depraved, and where religion had so much declined, there were a few persons who had kept themselves free from the general contamination. In most cases, when error and sin prevail, there may be found a few who are worthy of the divine commendation; a few who show that true religion may exist even when the mass are evil. Comp. Notes on Ro. xi. 4. ¶ Which have not defiled their garments. Comp. Notes on Jude 23. The meaning is, that they had not defiled themselves by coming in contact with the profane and the polluted; or, in other words, they had kept themselves free from the prevailing corruption. They were like persons clothed in white walking in the midst of the defiled, yet keeping their raiment from being soiled. ¶ And they shall walk with me in white. White is the emblem of innocence, and is hence appropriately represented as the colour of the raiment of the heavenly inhabitants. The persons here referred to had kept their garments uncontaminated on the earth, and as an appropriate reward it is said that they would appear in white raiment in heaven. Comp. ch. vii. 9; xix. 8. ¶ For they are worthy. They have shown themselves worthy to be regarded as followers of the Lamb; or, they have a character that is fitted for heaven. The declaration is not that they have any claim to heaven on the ground of their own merit, or that it will be in virtue of their own works that they will be received there; but that there is a fitness or propriety that they should thus appear in heaven. We are all personally unworthy to be admitted to heaven, but we may evince such a character as to show that, according to the arrangements of grace, it is fit and proper that we should be received there. We have the character to which God has promised eternal life.

5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the 149book of life, but I will 150confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

5. He that overcometh. See Notes on ch. ii. 7. ¶ The same shall be clothed in white raiment. Whosoever he may be that shall overcome sin and the temptations of this world, shall be admitted to this glorious reward. The promise is made not only to those in Sardis who should be victorious, but to all in every age and every land. The hope that is thus held out before us, is that of appearing with the Redeemer in his kingdom, clad in robes expressive of holiness and joy. ¶ And I will not blot out his name out of the book of life. The book which contains the names of those who are to live with him for ever. The names of his people are thus represented as enrolled in a book which he keeps—a register of those who are to live for ever. The phrase “book of life” frequently occurs in the Bible, representing this idea. See Notes on Phi. iv. 3. Comp. Re. xv. 3; xx. 12, 15; xxi. 27; xxii. 19. The expression “I will not blot out” means, that the names would be found there on the great day of final account, and would be found there for ever. It may be remarked, that as no one can have access to that book but he who keeps it, there is the most positive assurance that it will never be done, and the salvation of the redeemed will be, therefore, secure. And let it be remembered that the period is coming when it will be felt to be a higher honour to have the name enrolled in that book than in the books of heraldry—in the most splendid catalogue of princes, poets, warriors, nobles, or statesmen that the world has produced. ¶ But I will confess his name, &c. I will acknowledge him to be my follower. See Notes on Mat. x. 32.

6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

6. He that hath an ear, &c. See Notes on ch. ii. 7.


This epistle (ver. 713) comprises the following subjects: (1) The usual address to the angel of the church, ver. 7. (2) The reference to some attribute or characteristic of the speaker, ver. 7. He here addresses the church as one who is holy and true; as he who has the key of David, and who can shut and no one can open, and open and no one can shut. The representation is that of one who occupies a royal palace, and who can admit or exclude anyone whom he pleases. The reference to such a palace is continued through the epistle. (3) The usual declaration that he knows their works, and that he has found that they had strength, though but a little, and had kept his word, ver. 8. (4) A declaration that he would constrain some who professed that they were Jews, but who were of the synagogue of Satan, to come and humble themselves before them, ver. 9. (5) The particular promise to that church. He would keep them in the hour of temptation that was coming to try all that dwelt upon the earth, ver. 10. (6) The command addressed to them as to the other churches. He solemnly enjoins it on them to see that no one should take their crown, or deprive them of the reward which he would give to his faithful followers, ver. 11. (7) A general promise, in view of the circumstances in Philadelphia, to all who should overcome, ver. 12. They would be made a pillar in the temple of God, and go no more out. They would have written on themselves the name of his God, and the name of the holy city—showing that they were inhabitants of the heavenly world. (8) The usual call on all to attend to what was said to the churches, ver. 13.

Philadelphia stood about twenty-five miles south-east from Sardis, in the plain of Hermus, and about midway between the river of that name and the termination of Mount Tmolus. It was the second city in Lydia, and was built by King Attalus Philadelphus, from whom it received its name. In the year 133 B.C. the place passed, with the country in the vicinity, under the dominion of the Romans. The site is reported by Strabo to be liable to earthquakes, but it continued to be a place of importance down to the Byzantine age; and, of all the towns in Asia Minor, it withstood the Turks the longest. It was taken by Bajazat, A.D. 1392. “It still exists as a Turkish town, under the name of Allah Shehr, ‘City of God,’ i.e. the ‘High Town.’ It covers a considerable extent of ground, running up the slopes of four hills, or rather of one hill with four flat summits. The country, as viewed from these hills, is extremely magnificent—gardens and vineyards lying at the back and sides of the town, and before it one of the most beautiful and extensive plains of Asia. The missionaries Fisk and Parsons were informed by the Greek bishop that the town contained 3000 houses, of which he assigned 250 to the Greeks, and the rest to the Turks. On the same authority it is stated that there are five churches in the town, besides twenty others which were too old or too small for use. Six minarets, indicating as many mosques, are seen in the town, and one of these mosques is believed by the native Christians to have been the church in which assembled the primitive Christians addressed in the Apocalypse. There are few ruins; but in one part are four pillars, which are supposed to have been columns of a church. One solitary pillar has been often noticed, as reminding beholders of the remarkable words in the Apocalypse—‘Him that overcometh I will make a pillar in the temple of my God’” (Kitto’s Encyclo. See also the Missionary Herald for 1821, p. 253; 1839, pp. 210212). The town is the seat of a Greek archbishop, with about twenty inferior clergy. The streets are narrow, and are described as remarkably filthy. The engraving in this volume will give a representation of the town as it now appears.

7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith 151he that is holy, 152he that is true, 153he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and 154shutteth, and no man openeth;

7. And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. See Notes on ch. i. 20. ¶ These things saith he that is holy. This refers undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus. The appellation holy, or the holy one, is one that befits him, and is not unfrequently given to him in the New Testament, Lu. i. 35; Ac. ii. 27; iii. 14. It is not only an appellation appropriate to the Saviour, but well adapted to be employed when he is addressing the churches. Our impression of what is said to us will often depend much on our idea of the character of him who addresses us, and solemnity and thoughtfulness always become us when we are addressed by a holy Redeemer. ¶ He that is true. Another characteristic of the Saviour well fitted to be referred to when he addresses men. It is a characteristic often ascribed to him in the New Testament (Jn. i. 9, 14, 17; viii. 40, 45; xiv. 6; xviii. 37; 1 Jn. v. 20), and one which is eminently adapted to impress the mind with solemn thought in view of the fact that he is to pronounce on our character, and to determine our destiny. ¶ He that hath the key of David. This expression is manifestly taken from Is. xxii. 22, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder.” See the passage explained in the Notes on that place. As used by Isaiah, the phrase is applied to Eliakim; and it is not to be inferred, because the language here is applied to the Lord Jesus, that originally it had any such reference. “The application of the same terms,” says Professor Alexander on Is. xxii. 22, “to Peter (Mat. xvi. 19), and to Christ himself (Re. iii. 7), does not prove that they here refer to either, or that Eliakim was a type of Christ, but merely that the same words admit of different applications.” The language is that which properly denotes authority or control—as when one has the key of a house, and has unlimited access to it; and the meaning here is, that as David is represented as the king of Israel residing in a palace, so he who had the key to that palace had regal authority. ¶ He that openeth, and no man shutteth, &c. He has free and unrestrained access to the house; the power of admitting anyone, or of excluding anyone. Applied here to the Saviour, as king in Zion, this means that in his kingdom he has the absolute control in regard to the admission or exclusion of anyone. He can prescribe the terms; he can invite whom he chooses; he can exclude those whom he judges should not be admitted. A reference to this absolute control was every way proper when he was addressing a church, and is every way proper for us to reflect on when we think of the subject of our personal salvation.

8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an 155open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.

8. I know thy works. See Notes on ch. ii. 2. ¶ Behold, I have set before thee an open door. Referring to his authority as stated in ver. 7. The “open door” here evidently refers to the enjoyment of some privilege or honour; and, so far as the language is concerned, it may refer to any one of the following things: either, (1) the ability to do good—represented as the “opening of the door.” Comp. Ac. xiv. 27; 1 Co. xvi. 9; 2 Co. ii. 12; Col. iv. 3. (2) The privilege of access to the heavenly palace; that is, that they had an abundant opportunity of securing their salvation, the door being never closed against them by day or by night. Comp. Re. xxi. 25. Or (3) it may mean that they had before them an open way of egress from danger and persecution. This latter Professor Stuart supposes to be the true meaning; and argues this because it is immediately specified that those Jewish persecutors would be made to humble themselves, and that the church would but lightly experience the troubles which were coming upon the world around them. But the more natural interpretation of the phrase “an open door” is that it refers to access to a thing rather than egress from a thing; that we may come to that which we desire to approach, rather than escape from that which we dread. There is no objection, it seems to me, to the supposition that the language may be used here in the largest sense—as denoting that, in regard to the church at Philadelphia, there was no restraint. He had given them the most unlimited privileges. The temple of salvation was thrown open to them; the celestial city was accessible; the whole world was before them as a field of usefulness, and anywhere, and everywhere, they might do good, and at all times they might have access to the kingdom of God. ¶ And no man can shut it. No one has the power of preventing this, for he who has control over all things concedes these privileges to you. ¶ For thou hast a little strength. This would imply that they had not great vigour, but still that, notwithstanding there were so many obstacles to their doing good, and so many temptations to evil, there still remained with them some degree of energy. They were not wholly dead; and as long as that was the case, the door was still open for them to do good. The words “little strength” may refer either to the smallness of the number—meaning that they were few; or it may refer to the spiritual life and energy of the church—meaning that, though feeble, their vital energy was not wholly gone. The more natural interpretation seems to be to refer it to the latter; and the sense is, that although they had not the highest degree of energy, or had not all that the Saviour desired they should have, they were not wholly dead. The Saviour saw among them the evidences of spiritual life; and in view of that he says he had set before them an open door, and there was abundant opportunity to employ all the energy and zeal which they had. It may be remarked that the same thing is true now; that wherever there is any vitality in a church, the Saviour will furnish ample opportunity that it maybe employed in his service. ¶ And hast not denied my name. When Christians were brought before heathen magistrates in times of persecution, they were required to renounce the name of Christ, and to disown him in a public manner. It is possible that, amidst the persecutions that raged in the early times, the members of the church at Philadelphia had been summoned to such a trial, and they had stood the trial firmly. It would seem from the following verse, that the efforts which had been made to induce them to renounce the name of Christ had been made by those who professed to be Jews, though they evinced the spirit of Satan. If so, then the attempt was probably to convince them that Jesus was not the Christ. This attempt would be made in all places where there were Jews.

9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which 156say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to 157come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

9. Behold, I will make. Greek, “I give”—δίδωμι; that is, I will arrange matters so that this shall occur. The word implies that he had power to do this, and consequently proves that he has power over the heart of man, and can secure such a result as he chooses. ¶ Them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews. Who profess to be Jews, but are really of the synagogue of Satan. See Notes on ch. ii. 9. The meaning is, that, though they were of Jewish extraction, and boasted much of being Jews, yet they were really under the influence of Satan, and their assemblages deserved to be called his “synagogue.” ¶ And are not, but do lie. It is a false profession altogether. Comp. Notes on 1 Jn. i. 6. ¶ Behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet. The word rendered worship here, means, properly, to fall prostrate; and then to do homage, or to worship in the proper sense, as this was commonly done by falling prostrate. See Notes on Mat. ii. 2. So far as the word is concerned, it may refer either to spiritual homage, that is, the worship of God; or it may mean respect as shown to superiors. If it is used here in the sense of divine worship properly so called, it means that they would be constrained to come and worship “before them,” or in their very presence; if it is used in the more general signification, it means that they would be constrained to show them honour and respect. The latter is the probable meaning; that is, that they would be constrained to acknowledge that they were the children of God, or that God regarded them with his favour. It does not mean necessarily that they would themselves be converted to Christ, but that, as they had been accustomed to revile and oppose those who were true Christians, they would be constrained to come and render them the respect due to those who were sincerely endeavouring to serve their Maker. The truth taught here is, that it is in the power of the Lord Jesus so to turn the hearts of all the enemies of religion that they shall be brought to show respect to it; so to incline the minds of all people that they shall honour the church, or be at least outwardly its friends. Such homage the world shall yet be constrained to pay to it. ¶ And to know that I have loved thee. This explains what he had just said, and shows that he means that the enemies of his church will yet be constrained to acknowledge that it enjoys the smiles of God, and that instead of being persecuted and reviled, it should be respected and loved.

10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, 158I also will keep thee from the hour of tempta tion, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

10. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience. My word commanding or enjoining patience; that is, thou hast manifested the patience which I require. They had shown this in the trials which they had experienced; he promises now, that in return he will keep them in the future trials that shall come upon the world. One of the highest rewards of patience in one trial is the grace that God gives us to bear another. The fact that we have been patient and submissive may be regarded as proof that he will give us grace that we may be patient and submissive in the trials that are to come. God does not leave those who have shown that they will not leave him. ¶ I also will keep thee. That is, I will so keep you that you shall not sink under the trials which will prove a severe temptation to many. This does not mean that they would be actually kept from calamity of all kinds, but that they would be kept from the temptation of apostasy in calamity. He would give them grace to bear up under trials with a Christian spirit, and in such a manner that their salvation should not be endangered. ¶ From the hour of temptation. The season; the time; the period of temptation. You shall be so kept that that which will prove to be a time of temptation to so many, shall not endanger your salvation. Though others fall, you shall not; though you may be afflicted with others, yet you shall have grace to sustain you. ¶ Which shall come upon all the world. The phrase here used—“all the world”—may either denote the whole world; or the whole Roman empire; or a large district of country; or the land of Judæa. See Notes on Lu. ii. 1. Here, perhaps, all that is implied is, that the trial would be very extensive or general—so much so as to embrace the world, as the word was understood by those to whom the epistle was addressed. It need not be supposed that the whole world literally was included in it, or even all the Roman empire, but what was the world to them—the region which they would embrace in that term. If there were some far-spreading calamity in the country where they resided, it would probably be all that would be fairly embraced in the meaning of the word. It is not known to what trial the speaker refers. It may have been some form of persecution, or it may have been some calamity by disease, earthquake, or famine that was to occur. Tacitus (see Wetstein, in loco) mentions an earthquake that sank twelve cities in Asia Minor, in one night, by which, among others, Philadelphia was deeply affected; and it is possible that there may have been reference here to that overwhelming calamity. But nothing can be determined with certainty in regard to this. ¶ To try them that dwell upon the earth. To test their character. It would rather seem from this that the affliction was some form of persecution as adapted to test the fidelity of those who were affected by it. The persecutions in the Roman empire would furnish abundant occasions for such a trial.

11 Behold, 159I come 160quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

11. Behold, I come quickly. That is, in the trials referred to. Comp. Notes on ch. i. 1, 1116. ¶ Hold that fast which thou hast. That is, whatever of truth and piety you now possess. See Notes on ver. 3. ¶ That no man take thy crown. The crown of life appointed for all who are true believers. See Notes on 2 Ti. iv. 8. The truth which is taught here is, that by negligence or unfaithfulness in duty we may be deprived of the glory which we might have obtained if we had been faithful to our God and Saviour. We need to be on our constant guard, that, in a world of temptation, where the enemies of truth abound, we may not be robbed of the crown that we might have worn for ever. Comp. Notes on 2 Jn. 8.

12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God; and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is 161New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.

12. Him that overcometh. See Notes on ch. ii. 7. ¶ Will I make a pillar in the temple of my God. See the introductory remarks to this epistle. The promised reward of faithfulness here is, that he who was victorious would be honoured as if he were a pillar or column in the temple of God. Such a pillar or column was partly for ornament, and partly for support; and the idea here is, that in that temple he would contribute to its beauty and the justness of its proportions, and would at the same time be honoured as if he were a pillar which was necessary for the support of the temple. It is not uncommon in the New Testament to represent the church as a temple, and Christians as parts of it. See 1 Co. iii. 16, 17; vi. 19; 2 Co. vi. 16; 1 Pe. ii. 5. ¶ And he shall go no more out. He shall be permanent as a part of that spiritual temple. The idea of “going out” does not properly belong to a pillar; but the speaker here has in his mind the man, though represented as a column. The description of some parts would be applicable more directly to a pillar; in others more properly to a man. Comp. Jn. vi. 37; x. 28, 29; 1 Jn. ii. 19, for an illustration of the sentiment here. The main truth here is, that if we reach heaven, our happiness will be secure for ever. We shall have the most absolute certainty that the welfare of the soul will no more be perilled; that we shall never be in danger of falling into temptation; that no artful foe shall ever have power to alienate our affections from God; that we shall never die. Though we may change our place, and may roam from world to world till we shall have surveyed all the wonders of creation, yet we shall never “go out of the temple of God.” Comp. Notes on Jn. xiv. 2. When we reach the heavenly world our conflicts will be over, our doubts at an end. As soon as we cross the threshold we shall be greeted with the assurance, “he shall go no more out for ever.” That is to be our eternal abode, and whatever of joy, or felicity, or glory, that bright world can furnish, is to be ours. Happy moment when, emerging from a world of danger and of doubt, the soul shall settle down into the calmness and peace of that state where there is the assurance of God himself that that world of bliss is to be its eternal abode! ¶ And I will write upon him the name of my God. Considered as a pillar or column in the temple. The name of God would be conspicuously recorded on it to show that he belonged to God. The allusion is to a public edifice, on the columns of which the names of distinguished and honoured persons were recorded; that is, where there is a public testimonial of the respect in which one whose name was thus recorded was held. The honour thus conferred on him “who should overcome” would be as great as if the name of that God whom he served, and whose favour and friendship he enjoyed, were inscribed on him in some conspicuous manner. The meaning is, that he would be known and recognized as belonging to God; the God of the Redeemer himself—indicated by the phrase, “the name of my God.” ¶ And the name of the city of my God. That is, indicating that he belongs to that city, or that the New Jerusalem is the city of his habitation. The idea would seem to be, that in this world, and in all worlds wherever he goes and wherever he abides, he will be recognized as belonging to that holy city; as enjoying the rights and immunities of such a citizen. ¶ Which is New Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the place where the temple was reared, and where the worship of God was celebrated. It thus came to be synonymous with the church—the dwelling-place of God on earth. ¶ Which cometh down out of heaven from my God. See this explained in the Notes on ch. xxi. 2, seq. Of course this must be a figurative representation, but the idea is plain. It is, (1) that the church is, in accordance with settled Scripture language, represented as a city—the abode of God on earth. (2) That is, instead of being built here, or having an earthly origin, it has its origin in heaven. It is as if it had been constructed there, and then sent down to earth ready formed. The type, the form, the whole structure is heavenly. It is a departure from all proper laws of interpretation to explain this literally, as if a city should be actually let down from heaven; and equally so to infer from this passage, and the others of similar import in this book, that a city will be literally reared for the residence of the saints. If the passage proves anything on either of these points, it is, that a great and splendid city, such as that described in ch. xxi., will literally come down from heaven. But who can believe that? Such an interpretation, however, is by no means necessary. The comparison of the church with a beautiful city, and the fact that it has its origin in heaven, is all that is fairly implied in the passage. ¶ And I will write upon him my new name. See Notes on ch. ii. 17. The reward, therefore, promised here is, that he who, by persevering fidelity, showed that he was a real friend of the Saviour, would be honoured with a permanent abode in the holy city of his habitation. In the church redeemed and triumphant he would have a perpetual dwelling; and wherever he should be, there would be given him sure pledges that he belonged to him, and was recognized as a citizen of the heavenly world. To no higher honour could any man aspire; and yet that is an honour to which the most humble and lowly may attain by faith in the Son of God.

13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.


The contents of the epistle to the church at Laodicea (ver. 1422) are as follows: (1) The usual salutation to the angel of the church, ver. 14. (2) The reference to the attributes of the speaker—the one here referred to being that he was the “Amen,” “the faithful and true witness,” and “the beginning of the creation of God,” ver. 14. (3) The claim that he knew all their works, ver. 15. (4) The characteristic of the church: it was “lukewarm”—neither “cold nor hot,” ver. 15. (5) The punishment threatened, that he would “spue them out of his mouth,” ver. 16. (6) A solemn reproof of their self-confidence, of their ignorance of themselves, and of their pride, when they were in fact poor, and blind, and naked; and a solemn counsel to them to apply to him for those things which would make them truly rich—which would cover up the shame of their nakedness, and which would give them clear spiritual vision, ver. 17, 18. (7) A command to repent, in view of the fact that he rebukes and chastens those whom he loves. (8) An assurance that an opportunity is still offered for repentance, represented by his standing at the door and praying for admittance, ver. 20. (9) A promise to him that should be victorious—in this case, that he should sit down with him on his throne, ver. 21; and (10) the usual call on those who had ears to hear, to attend to what the Spirit said to the churches.

Laodicea was situated in the southern part of Phrygia, near the junction of the small rivers Asopus and Carpus, on a plain washed at its edges by each. It was about forty miles from Ephesus, and not far from Colosse and Hierapolis. In the time of Strabo it was a large city; but the frequency of earthquakes, to which this district has been always liable, demolished, long since, a large part of the city, and destroyed many of the inhabitants, and the place was abandoned, and now lies in ruins. It is now a deserted place, called by the Turks Eski-hissar, or Old Castle. From its ruins, which are numerous, consisting of the remains of temples, theatres, &c., it seems to have been situated on six or seven hills, taking up a large space of ground. The whole rising ground on which the city stood is one vast tumulus of ruins, abandoned entirely to the owl and the fox. Col. Leake says, “There are few ancient sites more likely than Laodicea to preserve many curious remains of antiquity beneath the surface of the soil; its opulence, and the earthquakes to which it was subject, rendering it probable that valuable works of art were there buried beneath the ruins of the public and private edifices.” The neighbouring village contains some fifty or sixty people, among whom, on a visit of a recent traveller there, there were but two nominal Christians. “The name of Christianity,” says Emerson (p. 101), “is forgotten, and the only sounds that disturb the silence of its desertion are the tones of the Muezzin, whose voice from the distant village (Eski-hissar) proclaims the ascendency of Mahomet. Laodicea is even more solitary than Ephesus; for the latter has the prospect of the rolling sea or of a whitening sail to enliven its decay; while the former sits in widowed loneliness, its walls are grass-grown, its temples desolate, its very name has perished.” A thunderstorm gathered on the mountains at a distance while this traveller was examining the ruins of Laodicea. He returned to Eski-hissar, and waited until the fury of the storm had abated, but set off on his journey again before it had entirely ceased to blow and to rain. “We preferred,” says he, “hastening on, to a farther delay in that melancholy spot, where everything whispered desolation, and where the very wind that swept impetuously through the valley sounded like the fiendish laugh of time exulting over the destruction of man and his proudest monuments.” See Professor Stuart, vol. ii. pp. 44, 45; Kitto’s Encyclo.; Smith’s Journey to the Seven Churches, 1671; Leake, Arundell, Hartley, MacFarlane, Pococke, &c. The engraving in this vol. will furnish a representation of the ruins of Laodicea.

14 And unto the angel of the church 162of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the 163Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

14. And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write. See Notes on ch. i. 20. ¶ These things saith the Amen. Referring, as is the case in every epistle, to some attribute of the speaker adapted to impress their minds, or to give peculiar force to what he was about to say to that particular church. Laodicea was characterized by lukewarmness, and the reference to the fact that he who was about to address them was the “Amen”—that is, was characterized by the simple earnestness and sincerity denoted by that word—was eminently fitted to make an impression on the minds of such a people. The word Amen means true, certain, faithful; and, as used here, it means that he to whom it is applied is eminently true and faithful. What he affirms is true; what he promises or threatens is certain. Himself characterized by sincerity and truth (Notes on 2 Co. i. 20), he can look with approbation only on the same thing in others: and hence he looks with displeasure on the lukewarmness which, from its very nature, always approximates insincerity. This was an attribute, therefore, every way appropriate to be referred to in addressing a lukewarm church. ¶ The faithful and true witness. This is presenting the idea implied in the word Amen in a more complete form, but substantially the same thing is referred to. He is a witness for God and his truth, and he can approve of nothing which the God of truth would not approve. See Notes on ch. i. 5. ¶ The beginning of the creation of God. This expression is a very important one in regard to the rank and dignity of the Saviour, and, like all similar expressions respecting him, its meaning has been much controverted. Comp. Notes on Col. i. 15. The phrase here used is susceptible, properly, of only one of the following significations, viz.: either (a) that he was the beginning of the creation in the sense that he caused the universe to begin to exist—that is, that he was the author of all things; or (b) that he was the first created being; or (c) that he holds the primacy over all, and is at the head of the universe. It is not necessary to examine any other proposed interpretations, for the only other senses supposed to be conveyed by the words, that he is the beginning of the creation in the sense that he rose from the dead as the first-fruits of them that sleep, or that he is the head of the spiritual creation of God, are so foreign to the natural meaning of the words as to need no special refutation. As to the three significations suggested above, it may be observed, that the first one—that he is the author of the creation, and in that sense the beginning—though expressing a scriptural doctrine (Jn. i. 3; Ep. iii. 9; Col. i. 16), is not in accordance with the proper meaning of the word here used—ἀρχὴ. The word properly refers to the commencement of a thing, not its authorship, and denotes properly primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. The two ideas which run through the word as it is used in the New Testament are those just suggested. For the former—primacy in regard to time—that is properly the commencement of a thing, see the following passages where the word occurs: Mat. xix. 4, 8; xxiv. 8, 21; Mar. i. 1; x. 6; xiii. 8, 19; Lu. i. 2; Jn. i. 1, 2; ii. 11; vi. 64; viii. 25, 44; xv. 27; xvi. 4; Ac. xi. 15; 1 Jn. i. 1; ii. 7, 13, 14, 24; iii. 8, 11; 2 Jn. 5, 6. For the latter signification, primacy of rank or authority, see the following places: Lu. xii. 11; xx. 20; Ro. viii. 38; 1 Co. xv. 24; Ep. i. 21; iii. 10; vi. 12; Col. i. 16, 18; ii. 10, 15; Tit. iii. 1. The word is not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to have an existence. As to the second of the significations suggested, that it means that he was the first created being, it may be observed (a) that this is not a necessary signification of the phrase, since no one can show that this is the only proper meaning which could be given to the words, and therefore the phrase cannot be adduced to prove that he is himself a created being. If it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact. But it cannot be made out from the mere use of the language here; and as the language is susceptible of other interpretations, it cannot be employed to prove that Christ is a created being. (b) Such an interpretation would be at variance with all those passages which speak of him as uncreated and eternal; which ascribe Divine attributes to him; which speak of him as himself the Creator of all things. Comp. Jn. i. 13; Col. i. 16; He. i. 2, 6, 8, 1012. The third signification, therefore, remains, that he is “the beginning of the creation of God,” in the sense that he is the head or prince of the creation; that is, that he presides over it so far as the purposes of redemption are to be accomplished, and so far as is necessary for those purposes. This is (1) in accordance with the meaning of the word, Lu. xii. 11; xx. 20, et al. ut supra; and (2) in accordance with the uniform statements respecting the Redeemer, that “all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth” (Mat. xxviii. 18); that God has “given him power over all flesh” (Jn. xvii. 2); that all things are “put under his feet” (He. ii. 8; 1 Co. xv. 27); that he is exalted over all things, Ep. i. 2022. Having this rank, it was proper that he should speak with authority to the church at Laodicea.

15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: 164I would thou wert cold or hot.

15. I know thy works. Notes on ch. ii. 2. ¶ That thou art neither cold nor hot. The word cold here would seem to denote the state where there was no pretension to religion; where everything was utterly lifeless and dead. The language is obviously figurative, but it is such as is often employed, when we speak of one as being cold towards another, as having a cold or icy heart, &c. The word hot would denote, of course, the opposite—warm and zealous in their love and service. The very words that we are constrained to use when speaking on this subject—such words as ardent (i.e. hot or burning); fervid (i.e. very hot, burning, boiling)—show how necessary it is to use such words, and how common it is. The state indicated here, therefore, would be that in which there was a profession of religion, but no warm-hearted piety; in which there was not, on the one hand, open and honest opposition to him, and, on the other, such warm-hearted and honest love as he had a right to look for among his professed friends; in which there was a profession of that religion which ought to warm the heart with love, and fill the soul with zeal in the cause of the Redeemer; but where the only result, in fact, was deadness and indifference to him and his cause. Among those who made no profession he had reason to expect nothing but coldness; among those who made a profession he had a right to expect the glow of a warm affection; but he found nothing but indifference. ¶ I would thou wert cold or hot. That is, I would prefer either of those states to that which now exists. Anything better than this condition, where love is professed, but where it does not exist; where vows have been assumed which are not fulfilled. Why he would prefer that they should be “hot” is clear enough; but why would he prefer a state of utter coldness—a state where there was no profession of real love? To this question the following answers may be given: (1) Such a state of open and professed coldness or indifference is more honest. There is no disguise; no concealment; no pretence. We know where one in this state “may be found;” we know with whom we are dealing; we know what to expect. Sad as the state is, it is at least honest; and we are so made that we all prefer such a character to one where professions are made which are never to be realized—to a state of insincerity and hypocrisy. (2) Such a state is more honourable. It is a more elevated condition of mind, and marks a higher character. Of a man who is false to his engagements, who makes professions and promises never to be realized, we can make nothing. There is essential meanness in such a character, and there is nothing in it which we can respect. But in the character of the man who is openly and avowedly opposed to anything; who takes his stand, and is earnest and zealous in his course, though it be wrong, there are traits which may be, under a better direction, elements of true greatness and magnanimity. In the character of Saul of Tarsus there were always the elements of true greatness; in that of Judas Iscariot there were never. The one was capable of becoming one of the noblest men that has ever lived on the earth; the other, even under the personal teaching of the Redeemer for years, was nothing but a traitor—a man of essential meanness. (3) There is more hope of conversion and salvation in such a case. There could always have been a ground of hope that Saul would be converted and saved, even when “breathing out threatening and slaughter;” of Judas, when numbered among the professed disciples of the Saviour, there was no hope. The most hopeless of all persons, in regard to salvation, are those who are members of the church without any true religion; who have made a profession without any evidence of personal piety; who are content with a name to live. This is so, because (a) the essential character of anyone who will allow himself to do this is eminently unfavourable to true religion. There is a lack of that thorough honesty and sincerity which is so necessary for true conversion to God. He who is content to profess to be what he really is not, is not a man on whom the truths of Christianity are likely to make an impression. (b) Such a man never applies the truth to himself. Truth that is addressed to impenitent sinners he does not apply to himself, of course; for he does not rank himself in that class of persons. Truth addressed to hypocrites he will not apply to himself; for no one, however insincere and hollow he may be, chooses to act on the presumption that he is himself a hypocrite, or so as to leave others to suppose that he regards himself as such. The means of grace adapted to save a sinner, as such, he will not use; for he is in the church, and chooses to regard himself as safe. Efforts made to reclaim him he will resist; for he will regard it as proof of a meddlesome spirit, and an uncharitable judging in others, if they consider him to be anything different from what he professes to be. What right have they to go back of his profession, and assume that he is insincere? As a consequence, there are probably fewer persons by far converted of those who come into the church without any religion, than of any other class of persons of similar number; and the most hopeless of all conditions, in respect to conversion and salvation, is when one enters the church deceived. (c) It may be presumed that, for these reasons, God himself will make less direct effort to convert and save such persons. As there are fewer appeals that can be brought to bear on them; as there is less in their character that is noble, and that can be depended on in promoting the salvation of a soul; and as there is special guilt in hypocrisy, it may be presumed that God will more frequently leave such persons to their chosen course, than he will those who make no professions of religion. Comp. Ps. cix. 17, 18; Je. vii. 16; xi. 14; xiv. 11; Is. i. 15; Ho. iv. 17.

16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

16. So then because thou art lukewarm—I will spue thee out of my mouth. Referring, perhaps, to the well-known fact that tepid water tends to produce sickness at the stomach, and an inclination to vomit. The image is intensely strong, and denotes deep disgust and loathing at the indifference which prevailed in the church at Laodicea. The idea is, that they would be utterly rejected and cast off as a church—a threatening of which there has been an abundant fulfilment in subsequent times. It may be remarked, also, that what was threatened to that church may be expected to occur to all churches, if they are in the same condition; and that all professing Christians, and Christian churches, that are lukewarm, have special reason to dread the indignation of the Saviour.

17 Because thou sayest, 165I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

17. Because thou sayest, I am rich. So far as the language here is concerned, this may refer either to riches literally, or to spiritual riches; that is, to a boast of having religion enough. Professor Stuart supposes that it refers to the former, and so do Wetstein, Vitringa, and others. Doddridge, Rosenmüller, and others, understand it in the latter sense. There is no doubt that there was much wealth in Laodicea, and that, as a people, they prided themselves on their riches. See the authorities in Wetstein on Col. ii. 1, and Vitringa, p. 160. It is not easy to determine which is the true sense; but may it not have been that there was an allusion to both, and that, in every respect, they boasted that they had enough? May it not have been so much the characteristic of that people to boast of their wealth, that they carried the spirit into everything, and manifested it even in regard to religion? Is it not true that they who have much of this world’s goods, when they make a profession of religion, are very apt to suppose that they are well off in everything, and to feel self-complacent and happy? And is not the possession of much wealth by an individual Christian, or a Christian church, likely to produce just the lukewarmness which it is said existed in the church at Laodicea? If we thus understand it, there will be an accordance with the well-known fact that Laodicea was distinguished for its riches, and, at the same time, with another fact, so common as to be almost universal, that the possession of great wealth tends to make a professed Christian self-complacent and satisfied in every respect; to make him feel that, although he may not have much religion, yet he is on the whole well off; and to produce, in religion, a state of just such lukewarmness as the Saviour here says was loathsome and odious. ¶ And increased with goods. πεπλούτηκα—“I am enriched.” This is only a more emphatic and intensive way of saying the same thing. It has no reference to the kind of riches referred to, but merely denotes the confident manner in which they affirmed that they were rich. ¶ And have need of nothing. Still an emphatic and intensive way of saying that they were rich. In all respects their wants were satisfied; they had enough of everything. They felt, therefore, no stimulus to effort; they sat down in contentment, self-complacency, and indifference. It is almost unavoidable that those who are rich in this world’s goods should feel that they have need of nothing. There is no more common illusion among men than the feeling that if one has wealth he has everything; that there is no want of his nature which cannot be satisfied with that; and that he may now sit down in contentment and ease. Hence the almost universal desire to be rich; hence the common feeling among those who are rich that there is no occasion for solicitude or care for anything else. Comp. Lu. xii. 19. ¶ And knowest not. There is no just impression in regard to the real poverty and wretchedness of your condition. ¶ That thou art wretched. The word wretched we now use to denote the actual consciousness of being miserable, as applicable to one who is sunk into deep distress or affliction. The word here, however, refers rather to the condition itself than to the consciousness of that condition, for it is said that they did not know it. Their state was, in fact, a miserable state, and was fitted to produce actual distress if they had had any just sense of it, though they thought that it was otherwise. ¶ And miserable. This word has, with us now, a similar signification; but the term here used—ἐλεεινὸς—rather means a pitiable state than one actually felt to be so. The meaning is, that their condition was one that was fitted to excite pity or compassion; not that they were actually miserable. Comp. Notes on 1 Co. xv. 19. ¶ And poor. Notwithstanding all their boast of having enough. They really had not that which was necessary to meet the actual wants of their nature, and, therefore, they were poor. Their worldly property could not meet the wants of their souls; and, with all their pretensions to piety, they had not religion enough to meet the necessities of their nature when calamities should come, or when death should approach; and they were, therefore, in the strictest sense of the term, poor. ¶ And blind. That is, in a spiritual respect. They did not see the reality of their condition; they had no just views of themselves, of the character of God, of the way of salvation. This seems to be said in connection with the boast which they made in their own minds—that they had everything; that they wanted nothing. One of the great blessings of life is clearness of vision, and their boast that they had everything must have included that; but the speaker here says that they lacked that indispensable thing to completeness of character and to full enjoyment. With all their boasting, they were actually blind,—and how could one who was in that state say that he “had need of nothing?” ¶ And naked. Of course, spiritually. Salvation is often represented as a garment (Mat. xxii. 11, 12; Re. vi. 11; vii. 9, 13, 14); and the declaration here is equivalent to saying that they had no religion. They had nothing to cover the nakedness of the soul, and in respect to the real wants of their nature they were like one who had no clothing in reference to cold, and heat, and storms, and to the shame of nakedness. How could such an one be regarded as rich? We may learn from this instructive verse, (1) That men may think themselves to be rich, and yet, in fact, be miserably poor. They may have the wealth of this world in abundance, and yet have nothing that really will meet their wants in disappointment, bereavement, sickness, death; the wants of their never-dying soul; their wants in eternity. What had the “rich fool,” as he is commonly termed, in the parable, when he came to die? Lu. xii. 16, seq. What had “Dives,” as he is commonly termed, to meet the wants of his nature when he went down to hell? Lu. xvi. 19, seq. (2) Men may have much property, and think that they have all they want, and yet be wretched. In the sense that their condition is a wretched condition, this is always true; and in the sense that they are consciously wretched, this may be, and often is, true also. (3) Men may have great property, and yet be miserable. This is true in the sense that their condition is a pitiable one, and in the sense that they are actually unhappy. There is no more pitiable condition than that where one has great property, and is self-complacent and proud, and who has nevertheless no God, no Saviour, no hope of heaven, and who perhaps that very day may “lift up his eyes in hell, being in torments;” and it need not be added that there is no greater actual misery in this world than that which sometimes finds its way into the palaces of the rich. He greatly errs who thinks that misery is confined to the cottages of the poor. (4) Men may be rich, and think they have all that they want, and yet be blind to their condition. They really have no distinct vision of anything. They have no just views of God, of themselves, of their duty, of this world, or of the next. In most important respects they are in a worse condition than the inmates of an asylum for the blind, for they may have clear views of God and of heaven. Mental darkness is a greater calamity than the loss of natural vision; and there is many an one who is surrounded by all that affluence can give, who never yet had one correct view of his own character, of his God, or of the reality of his condition, and whose condition might have been far better if he had actually been born blind. (5) There may be gorgeous robes of adorning, and yet real nakedness. With all the decorations that wealth can impart, there may be a nakedness of the soul as real as that of the body would be if, without a rag to cover it, it were exposed to cold, and storm, and shame. The soul destitute of the robes of salvation, is in a worse condition than the body without raiment; for how can it bear the storms of wrath that shall beat upon it for ever, and the shame of its exposure in the last dread day?

18 I counsel thee to 166buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that 167the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.

18. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire. Pure gold; such as has been subjected to the action of heat to purify it from dross. See Notes on 1 Pe. i. 7. Gold here is emblematic of religion—as being the most precious of the metals, and the most valued by men. They professed to be rich, but were not; and he counsels them to obtain from him that which would make them truly rich. ¶ That thou mayest be rich. In the true and proper sense of the word. With true religion; with the favour and friendship of the Redeemer, they would have all that they really needed, and would never be in want. ¶ And white raiment. The emblem of purity and salvation. See Notes on ver. 4. This is said in reference to the fact (ver. 17) that they were then naked. ¶ That thou mayest be clothed. With the garments of salvation. This refers, also, to true religion, meaning that that which the Redeemer furnishes will answer the same purpose in respect to the soul which clothing does in reference to the body. Of course it cannot be understood literally, nor should the language be pressed too closely, as if there was too strict a resemblance. ¶ And that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear. We clothe the body as well for decency as for protection against cold, and storm, and heat. The soul is to be clothed that the “shame” of its sinfulness may not be exhibited, and that it may not be offensive and repellant in the sight. ¶ And anoint thine eyes with eye-salve. In allusion to the fact that they were blind, ver. 17. The word eye-salveκολλούριον—occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is a diminutive from κολλύραcollyra—a coarse bread or cake, and means properly a small cake or cracknel. It is applied to eye-salve as resembling such a cake, and refers to a medicament prepared for sore or weak eyes. It was compounded of various substances supposed to have a healing quality. See Wetstein, in loco. The reference here is to a spiritual healing—meaning that, in respect to their spiritual vision, what he would furnish would produce the same effect as the collyrium or eye-salve would in diseased eyes. The idea is, that the grace of the gospel enables men who were before blind to see clearly the character of God, the beauty of the way of salvation, the loveliness of the person and work of Christ, &c. See Notes on Ep. i. 18.

19 As168 many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

19. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Of course, only on the supposition that they deserve it. The meaning is, that it is a proof of love on his part, if his professed friends go astray, to recall them by admonitions and by trials. So a father calls back his children who are disobedient; and there is no higher proof of his love than when, with great pain to himself, he administers such chastisement as shall save his child. See the sentiment here expressed fully explained in the Notes on He. xii. 6, seq. The language is taken from Pr. iii. 12. ¶ Be zealous, therefore, and repent. Be earnest, strenuous, ardent in your purpose to exercise true repentance, and to turn from the error of your ways. Lose no time; spare no labour, that you may obtain such a state of mind that it shall not be necessary to bring upon you the severe discipline which always comes on those who continue lukewarm in religion. The truth taught here is, that when the professed followers of Christ have become lukewarm in his service, they should lose no time in returning to him, and seeking his favour again. As sure as he has any true love for them, if this is not done he will bring upon them some heavy calamity, alike to rebuke them for their errors, and to recover them to himself.

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and 169knock: 170if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

20. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. Intimating that, though they had erred, the way of repentance and hope was not closed against them. He was still willing to be gracious, though their conduct had been such as to be loathsome, ver. 16. To see the real force of this language, we must remember how disgusting and offensive their conduct had been to him. And yet he was willing, notwithstanding this, to receive them to his favour; nay more, he stood and pled with them that he might be received with the hospitality that would be shown to a friend or stranger. The language here is so plain that it scarcely needs explanation. It is taken from an act when we approach a dwelling, and, by a well-understood sign—knocking—announce our presence, and ask for admission. The act of knocking implies two things: (a) that we desire admittance; and (b) that we recognize the right of him who dwells in the house to open the door to us or not, as he shall please. We would not obtrude upon him; we would not force his door; and if, after we are sure that we are heard, we are not admitted, we turn quietly away. Both of these things are implied here by the language used by the Saviour when he approaches man as represented under the image of knocking at the door: that he desires to be admitted to our friendship; and that he recognizes our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away—perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back. The language here used, also, may be understood as applicable to all persons, and to all the methods by which the Saviour seeks to come into the heart of a sinner. It would properly refer to anything which would announce his presence:—his word; his Spirit; the solemn events of his providence; the invitations of his gospel. In these and in other methods he comes to man; and the manner in which these invitations ought to be estimated would be seen by supposing that he came to us personally and solicited our friendship, and proposed to be our Redeemer. It may be added here, that this expression proves that the attempt at reconciliation begins with the Saviour. It is not that the sinner goes out to meet him, or to seek for him; it is that the Saviour presents himself at the door of the heart, as if he were desirous to enjoy the friendship of man. This is in accordance with the uniform language of the New Testament, that “God so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son;” that “Christ came to seek and to save the lost;” that the Saviour says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” &c. Salvation, in the Scriptures, is never represented as originated by man. ¶ If any man hear my voice. Perhaps referring to a custom then prevailing, that he who knocked spake, in order to let it be known who it was. This might be demanded in the night (Lu. xi. 5), or when there was apprehension of danger, and it may have been the custom when John wrote. The language here, in accordance with the uniform usage in the Scriptures (comp. Is. lv. 1; Jn. vii. 37; Re. xxii. 17), is universal, and proves that the invitations of the gospel are made, and are to be made, not to a part only, but fully and freely to all men; for, although this originally had reference to the members of the church in Laodicea, yet the language chosen seems to have been of design so universal (ἐάν τις) as to be applicable to every human being; and anyone, of any age and in any land, would be authorized to apply this to himself, and, under the protection of this invitation, to come to the Saviour, and to plead this promise as one that fairly included himself. It may be observed farther, that this also recognizes the freedom of man. It is submitted to him whether he will hear the voice of the Redeemer or not; and whether he will open the door and admit him or not. He speaks loud enough, and distinctly enough, to be heard, but he does not force the door if it is not voluntarily opened. ¶ And open the door. As one would when a stranger or friend stood and knocked. The meaning here is simply, if anyone will admit me; that is, receive me as a friend. The act of receiving him is as voluntary on our part as it is when we rise and open the door to one who knocks. It may be added, (1) that this is an easy thing. Nothing is more easy than to open the door when one knocks; and so everywhere in the Scriptures it is represented as an easy thing, if the heart is willing, to secure the salvation of the soul. (2) This is a reasonable thing. We invite him who knocks at the door to come in. We always assume, unless there is reason to suspect the contrary, that he applies for peaceful and friendly purposes. We deem it the height of rudeness to let one stand and knock long; or to let him go away with no friendly invitation to enter our dwelling. Yet how different does the sinner treat the Saviour! How long does he suffer him to knock at the door of his heart, with no invitation to enter—no act of common civility such as that with which he would greet even a stranger! And with how much coolness and indifference does he see him turn away—perhaps to come back no more, and with no desire that he ever should return! ¶ I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. This is an image denoting intimacy and friendship. Supper, with the ancients, was the principal social meal; and the idea here is, that between the Saviour and those who would receive him there would be the intimacy which subsists between those who sit down to a friendly meal together. In all countries and times, to eat together, to break bread together, has been the symbol of friendship, and this the Saviour promises here. The truths, then, which are taught in this verse, are, (1) that the invitation of the gospel is made to all—“if any man hear my voice;” (2) that the movement towards reconciliation and friendship is originated by the Saviour—“behold, I stand at the door and knock;” (3) that there is a recognition of our own free agency in religion—“if any man will hear my voice, and open the door;” (4) the ease of the terms of salvation, represented by “hearing his voice,” and “opening the door;” and (5) the blessedness of thus admitting him, arising from his friendship—“I will sup with him, and he with me.” What friend can man have who would confer so many benefits on him as the Lord Jesus Christ? Who is there that he should so gladly welcome to his bosom?

21 To him that 171overcometh will I grant to 172sit with me in my throne, even as 173I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

21. To him that overcometh. See Notes on ch. ii. 7. ¶ Will I grant to sit with me in my throne. That is, they will share his honours and his triumphs. See Notes on ch. ii. 2627; comp. Notes on Ro. viii. 17. ¶ Even as I also overcame. As I gained a victory over the world, and over the power of the tempter. As the reward of this, he is exalted to the throne of the universe (Phi. ii. 611), and in these honours, achieved by their great and glorious Head, all the redeemed will share. ¶ And am set down with my Father in his throne. Comp. Notes on Phi. ii. 611. That is, he has dominion over the universe. All things are put under his feet, and in the strictest unison and with perfect harmony he is united with the Father in administering the affairs of all worlds. The dominion of the Father is that of the Son—that of the Son is that of the Father; for they are one. See Notes on Jn. v. 19; comp. Notes on Ep. i. 2022; 1 Co. xv. 2428.

22 He174 that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

22. He that hath an ear, &c. See Notes on ch. ii. 7.

This closes the epistolary part of this book, and the “visions” properly commence with the next chapter. Two remarks may be made in the conclusion of this exposition. (1) The first relates to the truthfulness of the predictions in these epistles. As an illustration of that truthfulness, and of the present correspondence of the condition of those churches with what the Saviour said to John they would be, the following striking passage may be introduced from Mr. Gibbon. It occurs in his description of the conquests of the Turks (Decline and Fall, iv. 260, 261). “Two Turkish chieftains, Sarukhan and Aidin left their names to their conquests, and their conquests to their posterity. The captivity or ruin of the seven churches of Asia was consummated; and the barbarous lords of Ionia and Lydia still trample on the monuments of classic and Christian antiquity. In the loss of Ephesus, the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick of the Revelations: the desolation is complete; and the temple of Diana, or the church of Mary, will equally elude the search of the curious traveller. The circus and three stately theatres of Laodicea are now peopled with wolves and foxes; Sardis is reduced to a miserable village; the God of Mahomet, without a rival or a son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos; and the populousness of Smyrna is supported by the foreign trade of Franks and Armenians. Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy or courage. At a distance from the sea, forgotten by the emperors, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religion and freedom above fourscore years, and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans. Among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect, a column in a scene of ruins; a pleasing example that the paths of honour and safety may sometimes be the same.”

(2) The second remark relates to the applicability of these important truths to us. There is perhaps no part of the New Testament more searching than these brief epistles to the seven churches; and though those to whom they were addressed have long since passed away, and the churches have long since become extinct; though darkness, error, and desolation have come over the places where these churches once stood, yet the principles laid down in these epistles still live, and they are full of admonition to Christians in all ages and all lands. It is a consideration of as much importance to us as it was to these churches, that the Saviour now knows our works; that he sees in the church, and in any individual, all that there is to commend and all that there is to reprove; that he has power to reward or punish now as he had then; that the same rules in apportioning rewards and punishments will still be acted on; that he who overcomes the temptations of the world will find an appropriate reward; that those who live in sin must meet with the proper recompense, and that those who are lukewarm in his service will be spurned with unutterable loathing. His rebukes are awful; but his promises are full of tenderness and kindness. While they who have embraced error, and they who are living in sin, have occasion to tremble before him, they who are endeavouring to perform their duty may find in these epistles enough to cheer their hearts, and to animate them with the hope of final victory, and of the most ample and glorious reward.


This chapter properly commences the series of visions respecting future events, and introduces those remarkable symbolical descriptions which were designed to cheer the hearts of those to whom the book was first sent, in their trials, and the hearts of all believers in all ages, with the assurance of the final triumph of the gospel. See the Introduction.

In regard to the nature of these visions, or the state of mind of the writer, there have been different opinions. Some have supposed that all that is described was made only to pass before the mind, with no visible representation; others, that there were visible representations so made to him that he could copy them; others, that all that is said or seen was only the production of the author’s imagination. The latter is the view principally entertained by German writers on the book. All that would seem to be apparent on the face of the book—and that is all that we can judge by—is, that the following things occurred: (1) The writer was in a devout frame of mind—a state of holy contemplation—when the scenes were represented to him, ch. i. 10. (2) The representations were supernatural; that is, they were something which was disclosed to him, in that state of mind, beyond any natural reach of his faculties. (3) These things were so made to pass before him that they had the aspect of reality, and he could copy and describe them as real. It is not necessary to suppose that there was any representation to the bodily eye; but they had, to his mind, such a reality that he could describe them as pictures or symbols—and his office was limited to that. He does not attempt to explain them, nor does he intimate that he understood them; but his office pertains to an accurate record—a fair transcript—of what passed before his mind. For anything that appears, he may have been as ignorant of their signification as any of his readers, and may have subsequently studied them with the same kind of attention which we now give to them (comp. Notes on 1 Pe. i. 11, 12), and may have, perhaps, remained ignorant of their signification to the day of his death. It is no more necessary to suppose that he understood all that was implied in these symbols, than it is that one who can describe a beautiful landscape understands all the laws of the plants and flowers in the landscape; or, that one who copies all the designs and devices of armorial bearings in heraldry, should understand all that is meant by the symbols that are used; or, that one who should copy the cuneiform inscriptions of Persepolis, or the hieroglyphics of Thebes, should understand the meaning of the symbols. All that is demanded or expected, in such a case, is, that the copy should be accurately made; and, when made, this copy may be as much an object of study to him who made it as to anyone else. (4) Yet there was a sense in which these symbols were real; that is, they were a real and proper delineation of future events. They were not the mere workings of the imagination. He who saw them in vision though there may have been no representation to the eye, had before him what was a real and appropriate representation of coming events. If not, the visions are as worthless as dreams are.

The visions open (ch. iv.) with a Theophany, or a representation of God. John is permitted to look into heaven, and to have a view of the throne of God, and of the worship celebrated there. A door (θύρα) or opening is made into heaven, so that he, as it were, looks through the concave above, and sees what is beyond. He sees the throne of God, and him who sits on the throne, and the worshippers there; he sees the lightnings play around the throne, and hears the thunder’s roar; he sees the rainbow that encompasses the throne, and hears the songs of the worshippers. In reference to this vision, at the commencement of the series of symbols which he was about to describe, and the reason why this was vouchsafed to him, the following remarks may be suggested: (1) There is, in some respects, a striking resemblance between this and the visions of Isaiah (ch. vi.) and Ezekiel (ch. i.). As those prophets, when about to enter on their office, were solemnly inaugurated by being permitted to have a vision of the Almighty, so John was inaugurated to the office of making known future things—the last prophet of the world—by a similar vision. We shall see, indeed, that the representation made to John was not precisely the same as that which was made to Isaiah or that which was made to Ezekiel; but the most striking symbols are retained, and that of John is as much adapted to impress the mind as either of the others. Each of them describes the throne, and the attending circumstances of sublimity and majesty; each of them speaks of one on the throne, but neither of them has attempted any description of the Almighty. There is no delineation of an image, or a figure representing God, but everything respecting him is veiled in such obscurity as to fill the mind with awe. (2) The representation is such as to produce deep solemnity on the mind of the writer and the reader. Nothing could have been better adapted to prepare the mind of John for the important communications which he was about to make than to be permitted to look, as it were, directly into heaven, and to see the throne of God. And nothing is better fitted to impress the mind of the reader than the view which is furnished, in the opening vision, of the majesty and glory of God. Brought, as it were, into his very presence; permitted to look upon his burning throne; seeing the reverent and profound worship of the inhabitants of heaven, we feel our minds awed, and our souls subdued, as we hear the God of heaven speak, and as we see seal after seal opened, and hear trumpet after trumpet utter its voice. (3) The form of the manifestation—the opening vision—is eminently fitted to show us that the communications in this book proceed from heaven. Looking into heaven, and seeing the vision of the Almighty, we are prepared to feel that what follows has a higher than any human origin; that it has come direct from the throne of God. And (4) there was a propriety that the visions should open with a manifestation of the throne of God in heaven, or with a vision of heaven, because that, also, is the termination of the whole; it is that to which all the visions in the book tend. It begins in heaven, as seen by the exile in Patmos; it terminates in heaven, when all enemies of the church are subdued, and the redeemed reign triumphant in glory.

The substance of the introductory vision in this chapter can be stated in few words: (a) A door is opened, and John is permitted to look into heaven, and to see what is passing there, ver. 1, 2. (b) The first thing that strikes him is a throne, with one sitting on the throne, ver. 2. (c) The appearance of him who sits upon the throne is described, ver. 3. He is “like a jasper and a sardine stone.” There is no attempt to portray his form; there is no description from which an image could be formed that could become an object of idolatrous worship—for who would undertake to chisel anything so indefinite as that which is merely “like a jasper or a sardine stone?” And yet the description is distinct enough to fill the mind with emotions of awe and sublimity, and to leave the impression that he who sat on the throne was a pure and holy God. (d) Round about the throne there was a bright rainbow: a symbol of peace, ver. 3. (e) Around the throne are gathered the elders of the church, having on their heads crowns of gold: symbols of the ultimate triumph of the church, ver. 4. (f) Thunder and lightning, as at Sinai, announce the presence of God, and seven burning lamps before the throne represent the Spirit of God, in his diversified operations, as going forth through the world to enlighten, sanctify, and save, ver. 5. (g) Before the throne there is a pellucid pavement, as of crystal, spread out like a sea: emblem of calmness, majesty, peace, and wide dominion, ver. 6. (h) The throne is supported by four living creatures, full of eyes: emblems of the all-seeing power of him that sits upon the throne, and of his ever-watchful providence, ver. 6. (i) To each one of these living creatures there is a peculiar symbolic face: respectively emblematic of the authority, the power, the wisdom of God, and of the rapidity with which the purposes of Providence are executed, ver. 7. All are furnished with wings: emblematic of their readiness to do the will of God (ver. 8), but each one individually with a peculiar form. (j) All these creatures pay ceaseless homage to God, whose throne they are represented as supporting: emblematic of the fact that all the operations of the divine government do, in fact, promote his glory, and, as it were, render him praise, ver. 8, 9. (k) To this the elders, the representatives of the church, respond: representing the fact that the church acquiesces in all the arrangements of Providence, and in the execution of all the divine purposes, and finds in them all ground for adoration and thanksgiving, ver. 10, 11.


A FTER this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven; and the first 175voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, 176Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.

1. After this. Gr., “After these things;” that is, after what he had seen, and after what he had been directed to record in the preceding chapters. How long after these things this occurred, he does not say—whether on the same day, or at some subsequent time; and conjecture would be useless. The scene, however, is changed. Instead of seeing the Saviour standing before him (ch. i.), the scene is transferred to heaven, and he is permitted to look in upon the throne of God, and upon the worshippers there. ¶ I looked. Gr., I sawεἶδον. Our word look would rather indicate purpose or intention, as if he had designedly directed his attention to heaven, to see what could be discovered there. The meaning, however, is simply that he saw a new vision, without intimating whether there was any design on his part, and without saying how his thoughts came to be directed to heaven. ¶ A door was opened. That is, there was apparently an opening in the sky like a door, so that he could look into heaven. ¶ In heaven. Or, rather, in the expanse above—in the visible heavens as they appear to spread out over the earth. So Eze. i. 1, “The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” The Hebrews spoke of the sky above as a solid expanse; or as a curtain stretched out; or as an extended arch above the earth—describing it as it appears to the eye. In that expanse, or arch, the stars are set as gems (comp. Notes on Is. xxxiv. 4); through apertures or windows in that expanse the rain comes down, Ge. vii. 11; and that is opened when a heavenly messenger comes down to the earth, Mat. iii. 16. Comp. Lu. iii. 21; Ac. vii. 56; x. 11. Of course, all this is figurative, but it is such language as all men naturally use. The simple meaning here is, that John had a vision of what is in heaven as if there had been such an opening made through the sky, and he had been permitted to look into the world above. ¶ And the first voice which I heard. That is, the first sound which he heard was a command to come up and see the glories of that world. He afterwards heard other sounds—the sounds of praise; but the first notes that fell on his ear were a direction to come up there and receive a revelation respecting future things. This does not seem to me to mean, as Professor Stuart, Lord, and others suppose, that he now recognized the voice which had first, or formerly spoken to him (ch. i. 10), but that this was the first in contradistinction from other voices which he afterwards heard. It resembled the former “voice” in this, that it was “like the sound of a trumpet,” but besides that there does not seem to have been anything that would suggest to him that it came from the same source. It is certainly possible that the Greek would admit of that interpretation, but it is not the most obvious or probable. ¶ Was as it were of a trumpet. It resembled the sound of a trumpet, ch. i. 10. ¶ Talking with me. As of a trumpet that seemed to speak directly to me. ¶ Which said. That is, the voice said. ¶ Come up hither. To the place whence the voice seemed to proceed—heaven. ¶ And I will show thee things which must be hereafter. Gr., “after these things.” The reference is to future events; and the meaning is, that there would be disclosed to him events that were to occur at some future period. There is no intimation here when they would occur, or what would be embraced in the period referred to. All that the words would properly convey would be, that there would be a disclosure of things that were to occur in some future time.

2 And immediately I was 177in the Spirit: and, behold, a 178throne was set in heaven, and 179one sat on the throne.

2. And immediately I was in the Spirit. See Notes on ch. i. 10. He does not affirm that he was caught up into heaven, nor does he say what impression was on his own mind, if any, as to the place where he was; but he was at once absorbed in the contemplation of the visions before him. He was doubtless still in Patmos, and these things were made to pass before his mind as a reality; that is, they appeared as real to him as if he saw them, and they were in fact a real symbolical representation of things occurring in heaven. ¶ And, behold, a throne was set in heaven. That is, a throne was placed there. The first thing that arrested his attention was a throne. This was “in heaven”—an expression which proves that the scene of the vision was not the temple in Jerusalem, as some have supposed. There is no allusion to the temple, and no imagery drawn from the temple. Isaiah had his vision (Is. vi.) in the holy of holies of the temple; Ezekiel (ch. i. 1), by the river Chebar; but John looked directly into heaven, and saw the throne of God, and the encircling worshippers there. ¶ And one sat on the throne. It is remarkable that John gives no description of him who sat on the throne, nor does he indicate who he was by name. Neither do Isaiah or Ezekiel attempt to describe the appearance of the Deity, nor are there any intimations of that appearance given from which a picture or an image could be formed. So much do their representations accord with what is demanded by correct taste; and so sedulously have they guarded against any encouragement of idolatry.

3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

3. And he that sat was to look upon. Was in appearance; or, as I looked upon him, this seemed to be his appearance. He does not describe his form, but his splendour. ¶ Like a jasperἰάσπιδι. The jasper, properly, is “an opaque, impure variety of quartz, of red, yellow, and also of some dull colours, breaking with a smooth surface. It admits of a high polish, and is used for vases, seals, snuff-boxes, &c. When the colours are in stripes or bands, it is called striped jasper” (Dana, in Webster’s Dictionary). The colour here is not designated, whether red or yellow. As the red was, however, the common colour worn by princes, it is probable that that was the colour that appeared, and that John means to say that he appeared like a prince in his royal robes. Comp. Is. vi. 1. ¶ And a sardine stoneσαρδίῳ. This denotes a precious stone of a blood-red, or sometimes of a flesh-colour, more commonly known by the name of carnelian (Rob. Lex.). Thus it corresponds with the jasper, and this is only an additional circumstance to convey the exact idea in the mind of John, that the appearance of him who sat on the throne was that of a prince in his scarlet robes. This is all the description which he gives of his appearance; and this is (a) entirely appropriate, as it suggests the idea of a prince or a monarch; and (b) it is well adapted to impress the mind with a sense of the majesty of Him who cannot be described, and of whom no image should be attempted. Comp. De. iv. 12: “Ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude.” ¶ And there was a rainbow round about the throne. This is a beautiful image, and was probably designed to be emblematical as well as beautiful. The previous representation is that of majesty and splendour; this is adapted to temper the majesty of the representation. The rainbow has always, from its own nature, and from its associations, been an emblem of peace. It appears on the cloud as the storm passes away. It contrasts beautifully with the tempest that has just been raging. It is seen as the rays of the sun again appear clothing all things with beauty—the more beautiful from the fact that the storm has come, and that the rain has fallen. If the rain has been gentle, nature smiles serenely, and the leaves and flowers refreshed appear clothed with new beauty: if the storm has raged violently, the appearance of the rainbow is a pledge that the war of the elements has ceased, and that God smiles again upon the earth. It reminds us, too, of the “covenant” when God did “set his bow in the cloud,” and solemnly promised that the earth should no more be destroyed by a flood, Ge. ix. 916. The appearance of the rainbow, therefore, around the throne, was a beautiful emblem of the mercy of God, and of the peace that was to pervade the world as the result of the events that were to be disclosed to the vision of John. True, there were lightnings and thunderings and voices, but there the bow abode calmly above them all, assuring him that there was to be mercy and peace. ¶ In sight like unto an emerald. The emerald is green, and this colour so predominated in the bow that it seemed to be made of this species of precious stone. The modified and mild colour of green appears to everyone to predominate in the rainbow. Ezekiel (i. 28) has introduced the image of the rainbow, also, in his description of the vision that appeared to him, though not as calmly encircling the throne, but as descriptive of the general appearance of the scene. “As is the appearance of the bow that is on the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about.” Milton, also, has introduced it, but it is also as a part of the colouring of the throne:—

“Over their heads a crystal firmament,

Whereon a sapphire throne, inlaid with pure

Amber, and colours of the showery arch.”

Par. Lost, b. vii.

4 And round about the throne were 180four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, 181clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads 182crowns of gold.

4. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats. Or rather thronesθρόνοι—the same word being used as that which is rendered throneθρόνος. The word, indeed, properly denotes a seat, but it came to be employed to denote particularly the seat on which a monarch sat, and is properly translated thus in ver. 2, 3. So it is rendered in Mat. v. 34; xix. 28; xxiii. 22; xxv. 31; Lu. i. 32; and uniformly elsewhere in the New Testament (fifty-three places in all), except in Lu. i. 52; Re. ii. 13; iv. 4; xi. 16; xvi. 10, where it is rendered seat and seats. It should have been rendered thrones here, and is so translated by Professor Stuart. Coverdale and Tyndale render the word seat in each place in ver. 25. It was undoubtedly the design of the writer to represent those who sat on those seats as, in some sense, kings—for they have on their heads crowns of gold—and that idea should have been retained in the translation of this word. ¶ And upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting. Very various opinions have been entertained in respect to those who thus appeared sitting around the throne, and to the question why the number twenty-four is mentioned. Instead of examining those opinions at length, it will be better to present, in a summary manner, what seems to be probable in regard to the intended reference. The following points, then, would appear to embrace all that can be known on this subject. (1) These elders have a regal character, or are of a kingly order. This is apparent, (a) because they are represented as sitting on “thrones,” and (b) because they have on their heads “crowns of gold.” (2) They are emblematic. They are designed to symbolize or represent some class of persons. This is clear, (a) because it cannot be supposed that so small a number would compose the whole of those who are in fact around the throne of God, and (b) because there are other symbols there designed to represent something pertaining to the homage rendered to God, as the four living creatures and the angels, and this supposition is necessary in order to complete the symmetry and harmony of the representation. (3) They are human beings, and are designed to have some relation to the race of man, and somehow to connect the human race with the worship of heaven. The four living creatures have another design; the angels (ch. v.) have another; but these are manifestly of our race—persons from this world before the throne. (4) They are designed in some way to be symbolic of the church as redeemed. Thus they say (ch. v. 9), “Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.” (5) They are designed to represent the whole church in every land and every age of the world. Thus they say (ch. v. 9), “Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” This shows, further, that the whole representation is emblematic; for otherwise in so small a number—twenty-four—there could not be a representation out of every nation. (6) They represent the church triumphant—the church victorious. Thus they have crowns on their heads; they have harps in their hands (ch. v. 8); they say that they are “kings and priests,” and that they will “reign on the earth,” ch. v. 10. (7) The design, therefore, is to represent the church triumphant—redeemed—saved—as rendering praise and honour to God; as uniting with the hosts of heaven in adoring him for his perfections and for the wonders of his grace. As representatives of the church, they are admitted near to him; they encircle his throne; they appear victorious over every foe; and they come, in unison with the living creatures, and the angels, and the whole universe (ch. v. 13), to ascribe power and dominion to God. (8) As to the reason why the number “twenty-four” is mentioned, perhaps nothing certain can be determined. Ezekiel, in his vision (Eze. viii. 16; xi. 1), saw twenty-five men between the porch and the altar, with their backs toward the temple, and their faces toward the earth—supposed to be representations of the twenty-four “courses” into which the body of priests was divided (1 Ch. xxiv. 319), with the high-priest among them, making up the number twenty-five. It is possible that John in this vision may have designed to refer to the church considered as a priesthood (comp. Notes on 1 Pe. ii. 9), and to have alluded to the fact that the priesthood under the Jewish economy was divided into twenty-four courses, each with a presiding officer, and who was a representative of that portion of the priesthood over which he presided. If so, then the ideas which enter into the representation are these: (a) That the whole church may be represented as a priesthood, or a community of priests—an idea which frequently occurs in the New Testament. (b) That the church, as such a community of priests, is employed in the praise and worship of God—an idea, also, which finds abundant countenance in the New Testament. (c) That, in a series of visions having a designed reference to the church, it was natural to introduce some symbol or emblem representing the church, and representing the fact that this is its office and employment. And (d) that this would be well expressed by an allusion derived from the ancient dispensation—the division of the priesthood into classes, over each one of which there presided an individual who might be considered as the representative of his class. It is to be observed, indeed, that in one respect they are represented as “kings,” but still this does not forbid the supposition that there might have been intermingled also another idea, that they were also “priests.” Thus the two ideas are blended by these same elders in ch. v. 10: “And hath made us unto our God kings and priests.” Thus understood, the vision is designed to denote the fact that the representatives of the church, ultimately to be triumphant, are properly engaged in ascribing praise to God. The word elders here seems to be used in the sense of aged and venerable men, rather than as denoting office. They were such as by their age were qualified to preside over the different divisions of the priesthood. ¶ Clothed in white raiment. Emblem of purity, and appropriate, therefore, to the representatives of the sanctified church. Comp. ch. iii. 4; vi. 11; vii. 9. ¶ And they had on their heads crowns of gold. Emblematic of the fact that they sustained a kingly office. There was blended in the representation the idea that they were both “kings and priests.” Thus the idea is expressed by Peter (1 Pe. ii. 9), “a royal priesthood”—βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα.

5 And out of the throne proceeded 183lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven 184lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the 185seven Spirits of God.

5. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices. Expressive of the majesty and glory of Him that sat upon it. We are at once reminded by this representation of the sublime scene that occurred at Sinai (Ex. xix. 16), where “there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud.” Comp. Eze. i. 13, 24. So Milton:

“Forth rushed with whirlwind sound

The chariot of Paternal Deity,

Flashing thick flames.”

“And from about him fierce effusion rolled

Of smoke, and lightning flame, and sparkles dire.”

Par. Lost, b. vi.

The word “voices” here connected with “thunders” perhaps means “voices even thunders”—referring to the sound made by the thunder. The meaning is, that these were echoing and re-echoing sounds, as it were a multitude of voices that seemed to speak on every side. ¶ And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne. Seven burning lamps that constantly shone there, illuminating the whole scene. These steadily burning lamps would add much to the beauty of the vision. ¶ Which are the seven Spirits of God. Which represent, or are emblematic of, the seven Spirits of God. On the meaning of the phrase, “the seven Spirits of God,” see Notes on chap. i. 4. If these lamps are designed to be symbols of the Holy Spirit, according to the interpretation proposed in chap. i. 4, it may be perhaps in the following respects: (1) They may represent the manifold influences of that Spirit in the world—as imparting light; giving consolation; creating the heart anew; sanctifying the soul, &c. (2) They may denote that all the operations of that Spirit are of the nature of light, dissipating darkness, and vivifying and animating all things. (3) Perhaps their being placed here before the throne, in the midst of thunder and lightning, may be designed to represent the idea that—amidst all the scenes of magnificence and grandeur; all the storms, agitations, and tempests on the earth; all the political changes; all the convulsions of empire under the providence of God; and all the commotions in the soul of man, produced by the thunders of the law—the Spirit of God beams calmly and serenely, shedding a steady influence over all, like lamps burning in the very midst of lightnings, and thunderings, and voices. In all the scenes of majesty and commotion that occur on the earth, the Spirit of God is present, shedding a constant light, and undisturbed in his influence by all the agitations that are abroad.

6 And before the throne there was a 186sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were 187four beasts, full of eyes before and behind.

6. And before the throne there was a sea of glass. An expanse spread out like a sea composed of glass: that is, that was pellucid and transparent like glass. It is not uncommon to compare the sea with glass. See numerous examples in Wetstein, in loco. The point of the comparison here seems to be its transparent appearance. It was perfectly clear—apparently stretching out in a wide expanse, as if it were a sea. ¶ Like unto crystal. The word crystal means properly anything congealed and pellucid, as ice; then anything resembling that, particularly a certain species of stone distinguished for its clearness—as the transparent crystals of quartz; limpid and colourless quartz; rock or mountain quartz. The word crystal now, in mineralogy, means an inorganic body which, by the operation of affinity, has assumed the form of a regular solid, by a certain number of plane and smooth faces. It is here used manifestly in its popular sense to denote anything that is perfectly clear like ice. The comparison, in the representation of the expanse spread around the throne, turns on these points: (1) It appeared like a sea—stretching afar. (2) It resembled, in its general appearance, glass; and this idea is strengthened by the addition of another image of the same character—that it was like an expanse of crystal, perfectly clear and pellucid. This would seem to be designed to represent the floor or pavement on which the throne stood. If this is intended to be emblematical, it may denote (a) that the empire of God is vast—as if it were spread out like the sea; or (b) it may be emblematic of the calmness, the placidity of the divine administration—like an undisturbed and unruffled ocean of glass. Perhaps, however, we should not press such circumstances too far to find a symbolical meaning. ¶ And in the midst of the throne. ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου. Not occupying the throne, but so as to appear to be intermingled with the throne, or “in the midst” of it, in the sense that it was beneath the centre of it. The meaning would seem to be, that the four living creatures referred to occupied such a position collectively that they at the same time appeared to be under the throne, so that it rested on them, and around it, so that they could be seen from any quarter. This would occur if their bodies were under the throne, and if they stood so that they faced outward. To one approaching the throne they would seem to be around it, though their bodies were under, or “in the midst” of it as a support. The form of their bodies is not specified, but it is not improbable that though their heads were different, their bodies, that were under the throne, and that sustained it, were of the same form. ¶ And round about the throne. In the sense above explained—that, as they stood, they would be seen on every side of the throne. ¶ Were four beasts. This is a very unhappy translation, as the word beasts by no means conveys a correct idea of the original word. The Greek word—ζῶον—means properly a living thing; and it is thus indeed applied to animals, or to the living creation, but the notion of their being living things, or living creatures, should be retained in the translation. Professor Stuart renders it, “living creatures.” Isaiah (vi.), in his vision of Jehovah, saw two seraphim; Ezekiel, whom John more nearly resembles in his description, saw four “living creatures”—חַיּוֹת (ch. i. 5)—that is, living, animated, moving beings. The words “living beings” would better convey the idea than any other which could be employed. They are evidently, like those which Ezekiel saw, symbolical beings; but the nature and purpose of the symbol is not perfectly apparent. The “four and twenty elders” are evidently human beings, and are representatives, as above explained, of the church. In ch. v. 11, angels are themselves introduced as taking an important part in the worship of heaven: and these living beings, therefore, cannot be designed to represent either angels or men. In Ezekiel they are either designed as poetic representations of the majesty of God, or of his providential government, showing what sustains his throne; symbols denoting intelligence, vigilance, the rapidity and directness with which the divine commands are executed, and the energy and firmness with which the government of God is administered. The nature of the case, and the similarity to the representation in Ezekiel, would lead us to suppose that the same idea is to be found substantially in John; and there would be no difficulty in such an interpretation were it not that these “living creatures” are apparently represented in ch. v. 8, 9, as uniting with the redeemed from the earth in such a manner as to imply that they were themselves redeemed. But perhaps the language in ch. v. 9, “And they sung a new song,” &c., though apparently connected with the “four beasts” in ver. 8, is not designed to be so connected. John may intend there merely to advert to the fact that a new song was sung, without meaning to say that the “four living beings” united in that song. For, if he designed merely to say that the “four living beings” and the “four and twenty elders” fell down to worship, and then that a song was heard, though in fact sung only by the four and twenty elders, he might have employed the language which he actually has done. If this interpretation be admitted, then the most natural explanation to be given of the “four living beings” is to suppose that they are symbolical beings designed to furnish some representation of the government of God—to illustrate, as it were, that on which the divine government rests, or which constitutes its support—to wit, power, intelligence, vigilance, energy. This is apparent, (a) because it was not unusual for the thrones of monarchs to be supported by carved animals of various forms, which were designed undoubtedly to be somehow emblematic of government—either of its stability, vigilance, boldness, or firmness. Thus Solomon had twelve lions carved on each side of his throne—no improper emblems of government—1 Ki. x. 10, 20. (b) These living beings are described as the supports of the throne of God, or as that on which it rests, and would be, therefore, no improper symbols of the great principles or truths which give support or stability to the divine administration. (c) They are, in themselves, well adapted to be representatives of the great principles of the divine government, or of the divine providential dealings, as we shall see in the more particular explanation of the symbol, (d) Perhaps it might be added, that, so understood, there would be completeness in the vision. The “elders” appear there as representatives of the church redeemed; the angels in their own proper persons render praise to God. To this it was not improper to add, and the completeness of the representation seems to make it necessary to add, that all the doings of the Almighty unite in his praise; his various acts in the government of the universe harmonize with redeemed and unfallen intelligences in proclaiming his glory. The vision of the “living beings,” therefore, is not, as I suppose, a representation of the attributes of God as such, but an emblematic representation of the divine government—of the throne of Deity resting upon, or sustained by, those things of which these living beings are emblems—intelligence, firmness, energy, &c. This supposition seems to combine more probabilities than any other which has been proposed; for, according to this supposition, all the acts, and ways, and creatures of God unite in his praise. It is proper to add, however, that expositors are by no means agreed as to the design of this representation. Professor Stuart supposes that the attributes of God are referred to; Mr. Elliott (i. 93), that the “twenty-four elders and the four living creatures symbolize the church, or the collective body of the saints of God; and that as there are two grand divisions of the church, the larger one that of the departed in Paradise, and the other that militant on earth, the former is depicted by the twenty-four elders, and the latter by the living creatures;” Mr. Lord (pp. 53, 54), that the living creatures and the elders are both of one race; the former perhaps denoting those like Enoch and Elijah, who were translated, and those who were raised by the Saviour after his resurrection, or those who have been raised to special eminence—the latter the mass of the redeemed; Mr. Mede, that the living creatures are symbols of the church worshipping on earth; Mr. Daubuz, that they are symbols of the ministers of the church on earth; Vitringa, that they are symbols of eminent ministers and teachers in every age; Dr. Hammond regards him who sits on the throne as the metropolitan bishop of Judea, the representative of God, the elders as diocesan bishops of Judea, and the living creatures as four apostles, symbols of the saints who are to attend the Almighty as assessors in judgment! See Lord on the Apocalypse, pp. 58, 59. ¶ Full of eyes. Denoting omniscience. The ancients fabled Argus as having one hundred eyes, or as having the power of seeing in any direction. The emblem here would denote an ever-watchful and observing Providence; and, in accordance with the explanation proposed above, it means that, in the administration of the divine government, everything is distinctly contemplated; nothing escapes observation; nothing can be concealed. It is obvious that the divine government could not be administered unless this were so; and it is the perfection of the government of God that all things are seen just as they are. In the vision seen by Ezekiel (ch. i. 18), the “rings” of the wheels on which the living creatures moved are represented as “full of eyes round about them,” emblematic of the same thing. So Milton—

“As with stars their bodies all,

And wings were set with eyes; with eyes the wheels

Of beryl, and careening fires between.”

¶ Before. In front. As one looked on their faces, from whatever quarter the throne was approached, he could see a multitude of eyes looking upon him. ¶ And behind. On the parts of their bodies which were under the throne. The meaning is, that there is universal vigilance in the government of God. Whatever is the form of the divine administration; whatever part is contemplated; however it is manifested—whether as activity, energy, power, or intelligence—it is based on the fact that all things are seen from every direction. There is nothing that is the result of blind fate or of chance.

7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

7. And the first beast was like a lion.general description has been given, applicable to all, denoting that in whatever form the divine government is administered, these things will be found; a particular description now follows, contemplating that government under particular aspects, as symbolized by the living beings on which the throne rests. The first is that of a lion. The lion is the monarch of the woods, the king of beasts, and he becomes thus the emblem of dominion, of authority, of government in general. Comp. Ge. xlix. 9; Am. iii. 8; Joel iii. 16; Da. vii. 4. As emblematic of the divine administration, this would signify that He who sits on the throne is the ruler over all, and that his dominion is absolute and entire. It has been made a question whether the whole body had the form of a lion, or whether it had the appearance of a lion only as to its face or front part. It would seem probable that the latter only is intended, for it is expressly said of the “third beast” that it had “the face of a man,” implying that it did not resemble a man in other respects, and it is probable that, as these living creatures were the supports of the throne, they had the same form in all other particulars except the front part. The writer has not informed us what was the appearance of these living creatures in other respects, but it is most natural to suppose that it was in the form of an ox, as being adapted to sustain a burden. It is hardly necessary to say that the thing supposed to be symbolical here in the government of God—his absolute rule—actually exists, or that it is important that this should be fairly exhibited to men. ¶ And the second beast like a calf. Or, more properly, a young bullock, for so the word—μόσχος—means. The term is given by Herodotus (ii. 41; iii. 28) to the Egyptian god Apis, that is, a young bullock. Such an emblem, standing under a throne as one of its supports, would symbolize firmness, endurance, strength (comp. Pr. xiv. 4); and, as used to represent qualities pertaining to him who sat on the throne, would denote stability, firmness, perseverance: qualities that are found abundantly in the divine administration. There was clearly, in the apprehension of the ancients, some natural fitness or propriety in such an emblem. A young bullock was worshipped in Egypt as a god. Jeroboam set up two idols in the form of a calf, the one in Dan and the other in Bethel, 1 Ki. xii. 28, 29. A similar object of worship was found in the Indian, Greek, and Scandinavian mythologies, and the image appears to have been adopted early and extensively to represent the divinity.

Egyptian Calf-idol.

The above figure is a representation of a calf-idol, copied from the collection made by the artists of the French Institute at Cairo. It is recumbent, with human eyes, the skin flesh-coloured, and the whole after-parts covered with a white and sky-blue drapery: the horns not on the head, but above it, and containing within them the symbolical globe surmounted by two feathers. The meaning of the emblems on the back is not known. It is copied here merely to show that, for some cause, the calf was regarded as an emblem of the Divinity. It may illustrate this, also, to remark that among the sculptures found by Mr. Layard, in the ruins of Nineveh, were not a few winged bulls, some of them of large structure, and probably all of them emblematic. One of these was removed with great difficulty, to be deposited in the British Museum. See Mr. Layard’s Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. pp. 6475. Such emblems were common in the East; and, being thus common, they would be readily understood in the time of John. ¶ And the third beast had a face as a man. There is no intimation as to what was the form of the remaining portion of this living creature; but as the beasts were “in the midst of the throne,” that is, under it as a support, it may be presumed that they had such a form as was adapted to that purpose—as supposed above, perhaps the form of an ox. To this living creature there was attached the head of a man, and that would be what would be particularly visible to one looking on the throne. The aspect of a man here would denote intelligence—for it is this which distinguishes man from the creation beneath him; and if the explanation of the symbol above given be correct, then the meaning of this emblem is, that the operations of the government of God are conducted with intelligence and wisdom. That is, the divine administration is not the result of blind fate or chance; it is founded on a clear knowledge of things, on what is best to be done, on what will most conduce to the common good. Of the truth of this there can be no doubt; and there was a propriety that, in a vision designed to give to man a view of the government of the Almighty, this should be appropriately symbolized. It may illustrate this to observe, that in ancient sculptures it was common to unite the head of a man with the figure of an animal, as combining symbols. Among the most remarkable figures discovered by Mr. Layard, in the ruins of Nineveh, were winged, human-headed lions. These lions are thus described by Mr. Layard:—“They were about twelve feet in height, and the same number in length. The body and limbs were admirably portrayed; the muscles and bones, although strongly developed, to display the strength of the animal, showed, at the same time, a correct knowledge of its anatomy and form. Expanded wings sprung from the shoulder and spread over the back; a knotted girdle, ending in tassels, encircled the loins. These sculptures, forming an entrance, were partly in full, and partly in relief. The head and forepart, facing the chambers, were in full; but only one side of the rest of the slab was sculptured, the back being placed against the wall of sun-dried bricks” (Nineveh and its Remains, vol. i. p. 75). The following engraving will give an idea of one of these human-headed animals, and will serve to illustrate the passage before us—alike in reference to the head, indicating intelligence, and the wings, denoting rapidity.

Human-headed Winged Lion.

On the use of these figures, found in the ruins of Nineveh, Mr. Layard makes the following sensible remarks—remarks admirably illustrating the view which I take of the symbols before us:—“I used to contemplate for hours these mysterious emblems, and muse over their intent and history. What more noble forms could have ushered the people into the temple of their gods? What more subblime images could have been borrowed from nature by men who sought, unaided by the light of revealed religion, to embody their conceptions of the wisdom, power, and ubiquity of a Supreme Being? They could find no better type of intellect and knowledge than the head of a man; of strength, than the body of the lion; of rapidity of motion, than the wings of a bird. These winged, human-headed lions were not idle creations, the offspring of mere fancy; their meaning was written upon them. They had awed and instructed races which flourished 3000 years ago. Through the portals which they guarded, kings, priests, and warriors had borne sacrifices to their altars, long before the wisdom of the East had penetrated into Greece, and had furnished its mythology with symbols long recognized by the Assyrian votaries” (Nineveh and its Remains, vol. i. p. 75, 76). ¶ And the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. All birds, indeed, fly; but the epithet flying is here employed to add intensity to the description. The eagle is distinguished, among the feathered race, for the rapidity, the power, and the elevation of its flight. No other bird is supposed to fly so high; none ascends with so much power; none is so majestic and grand in his ascent towards the sun. That which would be properly symbolized by this would be the rapidity with which the commands of God are executed; or this characteristic of the divine government, that the purposes of God are carried into prompt execution. There is, as it were, a vigorous, powerful, and rapid flight towards the accomplishment of the designs of God—as the eagle ascends unmolested towards the sun. Or, it may be that this symbolizes protecting care, or is an emblem of that protection which God, by his providence, extends over those who put their trust in him. Thus in Ex. xix. 4, “Ye have seen how I bare you on eagles’ wings.” “Hide me under the shadow of thy wings,” Ps. xvii. 8. “In the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice,” Ps. lxiii. 7. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him,” De. xxxii. 11, 12, &c. As in the case of the other living beings, so it is to be remarked of the fourth living creature also, that the form of the body is unknown. There is no impropriety in supposing that it is only its front aspect that John here speaks of, for that was sufficient for the symbol. The remaining portion “in the midst of the throne” may have corresponded with that of the other living beings, as being adapted to a support. In further illustration of this it may be remarked, that symbols of this description were common in the Oriental world. Figures in the human form, or in the form of animals, with the head of an eagle or a vulture, are found in the ruins of Nineveh, and were undoubtedly designed to be symbolic. “On the earliest Assyrian monuments,” says Mr. Layard (Nineveh and its Remains, vol. ii. p. 348, 349), “one of the most prominent sacred types is the eagle-headed, or the vulture-headed, human figure. Not only is it found in colossal proportions on the walls, or guarding the portals of the chambers, but it is also constantly represented in the groups on the embroidered robes. When thus introduced, it is generally seen contending with other mythic animals—such as the human-headed lion or bull; and in these contests it is always the conqueror. It may hence be inferred that it was a type of the Supreme Deity, or of one of his principal attributes. A fragment of the Zoroastrian oracles, preserved by Eusebius, declares that ‘God is he that has the head of a hawk. He is the first, indestructible, eternal, unbegotten, indivisible, dissimilar; the dispenser of all good; incorruptible; the best of the good, the wisest of the wise; he is the father of equity and justice, self-taught, physical and perfect, and wise, and the only inventor of the sacred philosophy.’ Sometimes the head of this bird is added to the body of a lion. Under this form of the Egyptian hieraco-sphinx it is the conqueror in combats with other symbolical figures, and is frequently represented as striking down a gazelle or wild goat. It also clearly resembles the gryphon of the Greek mythology, avowedly an Eastern symbol, and connected with Apollo, or with the sun, of which the Assyrian form was probably an emblem.” The following figure found in Nimroud, or ancient Nineveh, may furnish an illustration of one of the usual forms.

Eagle-headed Winged Lion.

If these views of the meaning of these symbols are correct, then the idea which would be conveyed to the mind of John, and the idea, therefore, which should be conveyed to our minds, is, that the government of God is energetic, firm, intelligent, and that in the execution of its purposes it is rapid like the unobstructed flight of an eagle, or protective like the care of the eagle for its young. When, in the subsequent parts of the vision, these living creatures are represented as offering praise and adoration to Him that sits on the throne (ver. 8; ch. v. 8, 14), the meaning would be, in accordance with this representation, that all the acts of divine government do, as if they were personified, unite in the praise which the redeemed and the angels ascribe to God. All living things, and all acts of the Almighty, conspire to proclaim his glory. The church, by her representatives, the “four and twenty elders,” honours God; the angels, without number, unite in the praise; all creatures in heaven, in earth, under the earth, and in the sea (ch. v. 13), join in the song; and all the acts and ways of God declare also his majesty and glory: for around his throne, and beneath his throne, are expressive symbols of the firmness, energy, intelligence, and power with which his government is administered.

8 And the four beasts had each of them 188six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they 189rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

8. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him. An emblem common to them all, denoting that, in reference to each and all the things here symbolized, there was one common characteristic—that in heaven there is the utmost promptness in executing the divine commands. Comp. Is. vi. 2; Ps. xviii. 10; civ. 3; Je. xlviii. 40. No mention is made of the manner in which these wings were arranged, and conjecture in regard to that is vain. The seraphim, as seen by Isaiah, had each one six wings, with two of which the face was covered, to denote profound reverence; with two the feet, or lower parts—emblematic of modesty; and with two they flew—emblematic of their celerity in executing the commands of God, Is. vi. 2. Perhaps without impropriety we may suppose that, in regard to these living beings seen by John, two of the wings of each were employed, as in Isaiah, to cover the face—token of profound reverence; and that the remainder were employed in flight—denoting the rapidity with which the divine commands are executed. Mercury, the messenger of Jupiter among the heathen, was represented with wings, and nothing is more common in the paintings and bas-reliefs of antiquity than such representations. ¶ And they were full of eyes within. Professor Stuart more correctly renders this, “around and within are full of eyes;” connecting the word “around” [“about”], not with the wings, as in our version, but with the eyes. The meaning is, that the portions of the beasts that were visible from the outside of the throne, and the portions under or within the throne, were covered with eyes. The obvious design of this is to mark the universal vigilance of divine providence. ¶ And they rest not. Marg., have no rest. That is, they are constantly employed; there is no intermission. The meaning, as above explained, is, that the works and ways of God are constantly bringing praise to him. ¶ Day and night. Continually. They who are employed day and night fill up the whole time—for this is all. ¶ Saying, Holy, holy, holy. For the meaning of this, see Notes on Is. vi. 3. ¶ Lord God Almighty. Isaiah (vi. 3) expresses it, “Jehovah of hosts.” The reference is to the true God, and the epithet Almighty is one that is often given him. It is peculiarly appropriate here, as there were to be, as the sequel shows, remarkable exhibitions of power in executing the purposes described in this book. ¶ Which was, and is, and is to come. Who is eternal—existing in all past time; existing now; and to continue to exist for ever. See Notes on ch. i. 4.

9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, 190who liveth for ever and ever,

9. And when those beasts give glory, &c. As often as those living beings ascribe glory to God. They did this continually (ver. 8); and, if the above explanation be correct, then the idea is that the ways and acts of God in his providential government are continually of such a nature as to honour him.

10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their 191crowns before the throne, saying,

10. The four and twenty elders fall down before him, &c. The representatives of the redeemed church in heaven (Notes, ver. 4) also unite in the praise. The meaning, if the explanation of the symbol be correct, is, that the church universal unites in praise to God for all that characterizes his administration. In the connection in which this stands here, the sense would be, that as often as there is any new manifestation of the principles of the divine government, the church ascribes new praise to God. Whatever may be thought of this explanation of the meaning of the symbols, of the fact here stated there can be no doubt. The church of God always rejoices when there is any new manifestation of the principles of the divine administration. As all these acts, in reality, bring glory and honour to God, the church, as often as there is any new manifestation of the divine character and purposes, renders praise anew. Nor can it be doubted that the view here taken is one that is every way appropriate to the general character of this book. The great design was to disclose what God was to do in future times, in the various revolutions that were to take place on the earth, until his government should be firmly established, and the principles of his administration should everywhere prevail; and there was a propriety, therefore, in describing the representatives of the church as taking part in this universal praise, and as casting every crown at the feet of Him who sits upon the throne. ¶ And cast their crowns before the throne. They are described as “crowned” (ver. 4), that is, as triumphant, and as kings (comp. ch. v. 10), and they are here represented as casting their crowns at his feet, in token that they owe their triumph to Him. To his providential dealings, to his wise and merciful government, they owe it that they are crowned at all; and there is, therefore, a propriety that they should acknowledge this in a proper manner by placing their crowns at his feet.

11 Thou art 192worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; 193for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

11. Thou art worthy, O Lord. In thy character, perfections, and government, there is that which makes it proper that universal praise should be rendered. The feeling of all true worshippers is, that God is worthy of the praise that is ascribed to him. No man worships him aright who does not feel that there is that in his nature and his doings which makes it proper that he should receive universal adoration. ¶ To receive glory. To have praise or glory ascribed to thee. ¶ And honour. To be honoured; that is, to be approached and adored as worthy of honour. ¶ And power. To have power ascribed to thee, or to be regarded as having infinite power. Man can confer no power on God, but he may acknowledge that which he has, and adore him for its exertion in his behalf and in the government of the world. ¶ For thou hast created all things. Thus laying the foundation for praise. No one can contemplate this vast and wonderful universe without seeing that He who has made it is worthy to “receive glory, and honour, and power.” Comp. Notes on Job xxxviii. 7. ¶ And for thy pleasure they are. They exist by thy will—διὰ τὸ θέλημά. The meaning is, that they owe their existence to the will of God, and therefore their creation lays the foundation for praise. He “spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” He said, “Let there be light; and there was light.” There is no other reason why the universe exists at all than that such was the will of God; there is nothing else that is to be adduced as explaining the fact that anything has now a being. The putting forth of that will explains all; and, consequently, whatever wisdom, power, goodness, is manifested in the universe, is to be traced to God, and is the expression of what was in him from eternity. It is proper, then, to “look up through nature to nature’s God,” and wherever we see greatness or goodness in the works of creation, to regard them as the faint expression of what exists essentially in the Creator. ¶ And were created. Bringing more distinctly into notice the fact that they owe their existence to his will. They are not eternal; they are not self-existent; they were formed from nothing.

This concludes the magnificent introduction to the principal visions in this book. It is beautifully appropriate to the solemn disclosures which are to be made in the following portions of the book, and, as in the case of Isaiah and Ezekiel, was eminently adapted to impress the mind of the holy seer with awe. Heaven is opened to his view; the throne of God is seen; there is a vision of Him who sits upon that throne; thunders and voices are heard around the throne; the lightnings play; and a rainbow, symbol of peace, encircles all; the representatives of the redeemed church, occupying subordinate thrones, and in robes of victory, and with crowns on their heads, are there; a vast smooth expanse like the sea is spread out before the throne; and the emblems of the wisdom, the power, the vigilance, the energy, the strength of the divine administration are there, represented as in the act of bringing honour to God, and proclaiming his praise. The mind of John was doubtless prepared by these august visions for the disclosures which follow; and the mind of the reader should in like manner be deeply and solemnly impressed when he contemplates them, as if he looked into heaven, and saw the impressive grandeur of the worship there. Let us fancy ourselves, therefore, with the holy seer looking into heaven, and listen with reverence to what the great God discloses respecting the various changes that are to occur until every foe of the church shall be subdued, and the earth shall acknowledge his sway, and the whole scene shall close in the triumphs and joys of heaven.


This chapter introduces the disclosure of future events. It is done in a manner eminently fitted to impress the mind with a sense of the importance of the revelations about to be made. The proper state of mind for appreciating this chapter is that when we look on the future, and are sensible that important events are about to occur; when we feel that that future is wholly impenetrable to us; and when the efforts of the highest created minds fail to lift the mysterious veil which hides those events from our view; it is in accordance with our nature that the mind should be impressed with solemn awe under such circumstances; it is not a violation of the laws of our nature that one who had an earnest desire to penetrate that future, and who saw the volume before him which contained the mysterious revelation, and who yet felt that there was no one in heaven or earth who could break the seals, and disclose what was to come, should weep. Comp. ver. 4. The design of the whole chapter is evidently to honour the Lamb of God, by showing that the power was intrusted to him which was confided to no one else in heaven or earth, of disclosing what is to come. Nothing else would better illustrate this than the fact that he alone could break the mysterious seals which barred out the knowledge of the future from all created eyes; and nothing would be better adapted to impress this on the mind than the representation in this chapter—the exhibition of a mysterious book in the hand of God; the proclamation of the angel, calling on any who could do it to open the book; the fact that no one in heaven or earth could do it; the tears shed by John when it was found that no one could do it; the assurance of one of the elders that the Lion of the tribe of Judah had power to do it; and the profound adoration of all in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth in view of the power intrusted to him of breaking these mysterious seals.

The main points in the chapter are these: (1) Having in ch. iv. described God as sitting on a throne, John here (ver. 1) represents himself as seeing in his right hand a mysterious volume; written all over on the inside and the outside, yet sealed with seven seals; a volume manifestly referring to the future, and containing important disclosures respecting coming events. (2) A mighty angel is introduced making a proclamation, and asking who is worthy to open that book, and to break those seals; evidently implying that none unless of exalted rank could do it, ver. 2. (3) There is a pause: no one in heaven, or in earth, or under the earth, approaches to do it, or claims the right to do it, ver. 3. (4) John, giving way to the expressions of natural emotion—indicative of the longing and intense desire in the human soul to be made acquainted with the secrets of the future—pours forth a flood of tears because no one is found who is worthy to open the seals of this mysterious book, or to read what was recorded there, ver. 4. (5) In his state of suspense and of grief, one of the elders—the representatives of that church for whose benefit these revelations of the future were to be made (Note on ch. iv. 4)—approaches him and says that there is one who is able to open the book; one who has the power to loose its seals, ver. 5. This is the Messiah—the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David—coming now to make the disclosure for which the whole book was given, ch. i. 1. (6) Immediately the attention of John is attracted by the Messiah, appearing as a Lamb in the midst of the throne; with horns, the symbols of strength; and eyes, the symbols of all-pervading intelligence. He approaches and takes the book from the hand of Him that sits on the throne; symbolical of the fact that it is the province of the Messiah to make known to the church and the world the events which are to occur, ver. 6, 7. He appears here in a different form from that in which he manifested himself in ch. i., for the purpose is different. There he appears clothed in majesty, to impress the mind with a sense of his essential glory. Here he appears in a form that recalls the memory of his sacrifice; to denote, perhaps, that it is in virtue of his atonement that the future is to be disclosed; and that therefore there is a special propriety that he should appear and do what no other one in heaven or earth could do. (7) The approach of the Messiah to unfold the mysteries in the book, the fact that he had “prevailed” to accomplish what there was so strong a desire should be accomplished, furnishes an occasion for exalted thanksgiving and praise, ver. 810. (8) This ascription of praise in heaven is instantly responded to, and echoed back, from all parts of the universe—all joining in acknowledging the Lamb as worthy of the exalted office to which he was raised, ver. 1113. The angels around the throne—amounting to thousands of myriads—unite with the living creatures and the elders; and to these are joined the voices of every creature in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, and in the sea, ascribing to Him that sits upon the throne and the Lamb universal praise. (9) To this loud ascription of praise from far-distant worlds the living creatures respond a hearty Amen, and the elders fall down and worship him that lives for ever and ever, ver. 14. The universe is held in wondering expectation of the disclosures which are to be made, and from all parts of the universe there is an acknowledgment that the Lamb of God alone has the right to break the mysterious seals. The importance of the developments justifies the magnificence of this representation; and it would not be possible to imagine a more sublime introduction to these great events.


A ND I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a 194book written within and on the back side, 195sealed with seven seals.

1. And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne. Of God, ch. iv. 3, 4. His form is not described there, nor is there any intimation of it here except the mention of his “right hand.” The book or roll seems to have been so held in his hand that John could see its shape, and see distinctly how it was written and sealed. ¶ A bookβιβλίον. This word is properly a diminutive of the word commonly rendered book (βίβλος), and would strictly mean a small book, or a book of diminutive size—a tablet, or a letter (Liddell and Scott, Lex.). It is used, however, to denote a book of any size—a roll, scroll, or volume; and is thus used (a) to denote the Pentateuch, or the Mosaic law, He. ix. 19; x. 7; (b) the book of life, Re. xvii. 8; xx. 12; xxi. 27; (c) epistles which were also rolled up, Re. i. 11; (d) documents, as a bill of divorce, Mat. xix. 7; Mar. x. 4. When it is the express design to speak of a small book, another word is used (βιβλαρίδιον), Re. x. 2, 8, 9, 10. The book or roll referred to here was that which contained the revelation in the subsequent chapters, to the end of the description of the opening of the seventh seal—for the communication that was to be made was all included in the seven seals; and to conceive of the size of the book, therefore, we are only to reflect on the amount of parchment that would naturally be written over by the communications here made. The form of the book was undoubtedly that of a scroll or roll; for that was the usual form of books among the ancients, and such a volume could be more easily sealed with a number of seals, in the manner here described, than a volume in the form in which books are made now. On the ancient form of books, see Notes on Lu. iv. 17. The engraving in Job, ch. xix., will furnish an additional illustration of their form. ¶ Written within and on the back side. Gr., “within and behind.” It was customary to write only on one side of the paper or vellum, for the sake of convenience in reading the volume as it was unrolled. If, as sometimes was the case, the book was in the same form as books are now—of leaves bound together—then it was usual to write on both sides of the leaf, as both sides of a page are printed now. But in the other form it was a very uncommon thing to write on both sides of the parchment, and was never done unless there was a scarcity of writing material; or unless there was an amount of matter beyond what was anticipated; or unless something had been omitted. It is not necessary to suppose that John saw both sides of the parchment as it was held in the hand of him that sat on the throne. That it was written on the back side he would naturally see, and, as the book was sealed, he would infer that it was written in the usual manner on the inside. ¶ Sealed with seven seals. On the ancient manner of sealing, see Notes on Mat. xxvii. 66; comp. Notes on Job xxxviii. 14. The fact that there were seven seals—an unusual number in fastening a volume—would naturally attract the attention of John, though it might not occur to him at once that there was anything significant in the number. It is not stated in what manner the seals were attached to the volume, but it is clear that they were so attached that each seal closed one part of the volume, and that when one was broken and the portion which that was designed to fasten was unrolled, a second would be come to, which it would be necessary to break in order to read the next portion. The outer seal would indeed bind the whole; but when that was broken it would not give access to the whole volume unless each successive seal were broken. May it not have been intended by this arrangement to suggest the idea that the whole future is unknown to us, and that the disclosure of any one portion, though necessary if the whole would be known, does not disclose all, but leaves seal after seal still unbroken, and that they are all to be broken one after another if we would know all? How these were arranged, John does not say. All that is necessary to be supposed is, that the seven seals were put successively upon the margin of the volume as it was rolled up, so that each opening would extend only as far as the next seal, when the unrolling would be arrested. Anyone, by rolling up a sheet of paper, could so fasten it with pins, or with a succession of seals, as to represent this with sufficient accuracy.

2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?

2. And I saw a strong angel. An angel endowed with great strength, as if such strength was necessary to enable him to give utterance to the loud voice of the inquiry. “Homer represents his heralds as powerful, robust men, in order consistently to attribute to them deep-toned and powerful voices” (Prof. Stuart). The inquiry to be made was one of vast importance; it was to be made of all in heaven, all on the earth, and all under the earth, and hence an angel is introduced so mighty that his voice could be heard in all those distant worlds. ¶ Proclaiming with a loud voice. That is, as a herald or crier. He is rather introduced here as appointed to this office than as self-moved. The design undoubtedly is to impress the mind with a sense of the importance of the disclosures about to be made, and at the same time with a sense of the impossibility of penetrating the future by any created power. That one of the highest angels should make such a proclamation would sufficiently show its importance; that such an one, by the mere act of making such a proclamation, should practically confess his own inability, and consequently the inability of all of similar rank, to make the disclosures, would show that the revelations of the future were beyond mere created power. ¶ Who is worthy to open the book, &c. That is, who is “worthy” in the sense of having a rank so exalted, and attributes so comprehensive, as to authorize and enable him to do it. In other words, who has the requisite endowments of all kinds to enable him to do it? It would require moral qualities of an exalted character to justify him in approaching the seat of the holy God, to take the book from his hands; it would require an ability beyond that of any created being to penetrate the future, and disclose the meaning of the symbols which were employed. The fact that the book was held in the hand of him that was on the throne, and sealed in this manner, was in itself a sufficient proof that it was not his purpose to make the disclosure directly, and the natural inquiry arose whether there was anyone in the wide universe who, by rank, or character, or office, would be empowered to open the mysterious volume.

3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.

3. And no man in heaven. No one—οὐδεὶς. There is no limitation in the original to man. The idea is, that there was no one in heaven—evidently alluding to the created beings there—who could open the volume. Is it not taught here that angels cannot penetrate the future, and disclose what is to come? Are not their faculties limited in this respect like those of man? ¶ Nor in earth. Among all classes of men—sages, divines, prophets, philosophers—who among those have ever been able to penetrate the future, and disclose what is to come? ¶ Neither under the earth. These divisions compose, in common language, the universe: what is in heaven above; what is on the earth; and whatever there is under the earth—the abodes of the dead. May there not be an allusion here to the supposed science of necromancy, and an assertion that even the dead cannot penetrate the future, and disclose what is to come? Comp. Notes on Is. viii. 19. In all these great realms no one advanced who was qualified to undertake the office of making a disclosure of what the mysterious scroll might contain. ¶ Was able to open the book. Had ability—ἠδύνατο—to do it. It was a task beyond their power. Even if anyone had been found who had a rank and a moral character which might have seemed to justify the effort, there was no one who had the power of reading what was recorded respecting coming events. ¶ Neither to look thereon. That is, so to open the seals as to have a view of what was written therein. That it was not beyond their power merely to see the book is apparent from the fact that John himself saw it in the hand of him that sat on the throne; and it is evident also (ver. 5) that in that sense the elders saw it. But no one could prevail to inspect the contents, or so have access to the interior of the volume as to be able to see what was written there. It could be seen, indeed (ver. 1), that it was written on both sides of the parchment, but what the writing was no one could know.

4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.

4. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy, &c. Gr., as in ver. 3, no one. It would seem as if there was a pause to see if there were any response to the proclamation of the angel. There being none, John gave way to his deep emotions in a flood of tears. The tears of the apostle here may be regarded as an illustration of two things which are occurring constantly in the minds of men: (1) The strong desire to penetrate the future; to lift the mysterious veil which shrouds that which is to come; to find some way to pierce the dark wall which seems to stand up before us, and which shuts from our view that which is to be hereafter. There have been no more earnest efforts made by men than those which have been made to read the sealed volume which contains the record of what is yet to come. By dreams, and omens, and auguries, and astrology, and the flight of birds, and necromancy, men have sought anxiously to ascertain what is to be hereafter. Compare, for an expression of that intense desire, Foster’s Life and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 111, and vol. ii. pp. 237, 238. (2) The weeping of the apostle may be regarded as an instance of the deep grief which men often experience when all efforts to penetrate the future fail, and they feel that after all they are left completely in the dark. Often is the soul overpowered with grief, and often are the eyes filled with sadness at the reflection that there is an absolute limit to the human powers; that all that man can arrive at by his own efforts is uncertain conjecture, and that there is no way possible by which he can make nature speak out and disclose what is to come. Nowhere does man find himself more fettered and limited in his powers than here; nowhere does he feel that there is such an intense disproportion between his desires and his attainments. In nothing do we feel that we are more absolutely in need of divine help than in our attempts to unveil the future; and were it not for revelation man might weep in despair.

5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the 196Lion of the tribe of Judah, the 197Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

5. And one of the elders saith unto me. See Notes on ch. iv. 4. No particular reason is assigned why this message was delivered by one of the elders rather than by an angel. If the elders were, however (see Notes on ch. iv. 4), the representatives of the church, there was a propriety that they should address John in his trouble. Though they were in heaven, they were deeply interested in all that pertained to the welfare of the church, and they had been permitted to understand what as yet was unknown to him, that the power of opening the mysterious volume which contained the revelation of the future was intrusted particularly to the Messiah. Having this knowledge, they were prepared to comfort him with the hope that what was so mysterious would be made known. ¶ Weep not. That is, there is no occasion for tears. The object which you so much desire can be obtained. There is one who can break those seals, and who can unroll that volume and read what is recorded there. ¶ Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This undoubtedly refers to the Lord Jesus; and the points needful to be explained are, why he is called a Lion, and why he is spoken of as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. (a) As to the first: This appellation is not elsewhere given to the Messiah, but it is not difficult to see its propriety as used in this place. The lion is the king of beasts, the monarch of the forest, and thus becomes an emblem of one of kingly authority and of power (see Notes on ch. iv. 7), and as such the appellation is used in this place. It is because Christ has power to open the seals—as if he ruled over the universe, and all events were under his control, as the lion rules in the forest—that the name is here given to him. (b) As to the other point: He is called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” doubtless, with reference to the prophecy in Ge. xlix. 9—“Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion;” and from the fact that the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah. Comp. Ge. xlix. 10. This use of the term would connect him in the apprehension of John with the prophecy, and would suggest to him the idea of his being a ruler, or having dominion. As such, therefore, it would be appropriate that the power of breaking these seals should be committed to him. ¶ The Root of David. Not the Root of David in the sense that David sprung from him as a tree does from a root, but in the sense that he himself was a “root-shoot” or sprout from David, and had sprung from him as a shoot or sprout springs up from a decayed and fallen tree. See Notes on Is. xi. 1. This expression would connect him directly with David, the great and glorious monarch of Israel, and as having a right to occupy his throne. As one thus ruling over the people of God, there was a propriety that to him should be intrusted the task of opening these seals. ¶ Hath prevailed. That is, he has acquired this power as the result of a conflict or struggle. The word used here—ἐνίκησεν—refers to such a conflict or struggle, properly meaning to come off victor, to overcome, to conquer, to subdue; and the idea here is, that his power to do this, or the reason why he does this, is the result of a conflict in which he was a victor. As the series of events to be disclosed, resulting in the final triumph of religion, was the effect of his conflicts with the powers of evil, there was a special propriety that the disclosure should be made by him. The truths taught in this verse are, (1) that the power of making disclosures, in regard to the future, is intrusted to the Messiah; and (2) that this, so far as he is concerned, is the result of a conflict or struggle on his part.

6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a 198Lamb, as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven199eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

6. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne. We are not to suppose that he was in the centre of the throne itself, but he was a conspicuous object when the throne and the elders and the living beings were seen. He was so placed as to seem to be in the midst of the group made up of the throne, the living beings, and the elders. ¶ And of the four beasts. See Notes, ch. iv. 6. ¶ Stood a Lamb. An appellation often given to the Messiah, for two reasons: (1) because the lamb was an emblem of innocence; and (2) because a lamb was offered commonly in sacrifice. Comp. Notes on Jn. i. 29. ¶ As it had been slain. That is, in some way having the appearance of having been slain; having some marks or indications about it that it had been slain. What those were the writer does not specify. If it were covered with blood, or there were marks of mortal wounds, it would be all that the representation demands. The great work which the Redeemer performed—that of making an atonement for sin—was thus represented to John in such a way that he at once recognized him, and saw the reason why the office of breaking the seals was intrusted to him. It should be remarked that this representation is merely symbolic, and we are not to suppose that the Redeemer really assumed this form, or that he appears in this form in heaven. We should no more suppose that the Redeemer appears literally as a lamb in heaven with numerous eyes and horns, than that there is a literal throne and a sea of glass there; that there are “seats” there, and “elders,” and “crowns of gold.” ¶ Having seven horns. Emblems of authority and power—for the horn is a symbol of power and dominion. Comp. De. xxxiii. 17; 1 Ki. xxii. 11; Je. xlviii. 25; Zec. i. 18; Da. vii. 24. The propriety of this symbol is laid in the fact that the strength of an animal is in the horn, and that it is by this that he obtains a victory over other animals. The number seven here seems to be designed, as in other places, to denote completeness. See Notes on ch. i. 4. The meaning is, that he had so large a number as to denote complete dominion. ¶ And seven eyes. Symbols of intelligence. The number seven here also denotes completeness; and the idea is, that he is able to survey all things. John does not say anything as to the relative arrangement of the horns and eyes on the “Lamb,” and it is vain to attempt to conjecture how it was. The whole representation is symbolical, and we may understand the meaning of the symbol without being able to form an exact conception of the figure as it appeared to him, ¶ Which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. See Notes on ch. i. 4. That is, which represent the seven Spirits of God; or the manifold operations of the one Divine Spirit. As the eye is the symbol of intelligence—outward objects being made visible to us by that—so it may well represent an all-pervading spirit that surveys and sees all things. The eye, in this view, among the Egyptians was an emblem of the Deity. By the “seven Spirits” here the same thing is doubtless intended as in ch. i. 4; and if, as there supposed, the reference is to the Holy Spirit considered with respect to his manifold operations, the meaning here is, that the operations of that Spirit are to be regarded as connected with the work of the Redeemer. Thus, all the operations of the Spirit are connected with, and are a part of, the work of redemption. The expression “sent forth into all the earth,” refers to the fact that that Spirit prevades all things. The Spirit of God is often represented as sent or poured out; and the meaning here is, that his operations are as if he was sent out to survey all things and to operate everywhere. Comp. 1 Co. xii. 611.

7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.

7. And he came and took the book out of the right hand, &c. As if it pertained to him by virtue of rank or office. There is a difficulty here, arising from the incongruity of what is said of a lamb, which it is not easy to solve. The difficulty is in conceiving how a lamb could take the book from the hand of Him who held it. To meet this several solutions have been proposed. (1) Vitringa supposes that the Messiah appeared as a lamb only in some such sense as the four living beings (ch. iv. 7) resembled a lion, a calf, and an eagle; that is, that they bore this resemblance only in respect to the head, while the body was that of a man. He thus supposes, that though in respect to the upper part the Saviour resembled a lamb, yet that to the front part of the body hands were attached by which he could take the book. But there are great difficulties in this supposition. Besides that nothing of this kind is intimated by John, it is contrary to every appearance of probability that the Redeemer would be represented as a monster. In his being represented as a lamb there is nothing that strikes the mind as inappropriate or unpleasant, for he is often spoken of in this manner, and the image is one that is agreeable to the mind. But all this beauty and fitness of representation is destroyed, if we think of him as having human hands proceeding from his breast or sides, or as blending the form of a man and an animal together. The representation of having an unusual number of horns and eyes does not strike us as being incongruous in the same sense; for though the number is increased, they are such as pertain properly to the animal to which they are attached. (2) Another supposition is that suggested by Professor Stuart, that the form was changed, and a human form resumed when the Saviour advanced to take the book and open it. This would relieve the whole difficulty, and the only objection to it is, that John has not given any express notice of such a change in the form; and the only question can be whether it is right to suppose it in order to meet the difficulty in the case. In support of this it is said that all is symbol; that the Saviour is represented in the book in various forms; that as his appearing as a lamb was designed to represent in a striking manner the fact that he was slain, and that all that he did was based on the atonement, so there would be no impropriety in supposing that when an action was attributed to him he assumed the form in which that act would be naturally or is usually done. And as in taking a book from the hand of another it is wholly incongruous to think of its being done by a lamb, is it not most natural to suppose that the usual form in which the Saviour is represented as appearing would be resumed, and that he would appear again as a man?—But is it absolutely certain that he appeared in the form of a lamb at all? May not all that is meant be, that John saw him near the throne, and among the elders, and was struck at once with his appearance of meekness and innocence, and with the marks of his having been slain as a sacrifice, and spoke of him in strong figurative language as a lamb? And where his “seven horns” and “seven eyes” are spoken of, is it necessary to suppose that there was any real assumption of such horns and eyes? May not all that is meant be that John was struck with that in the appearance of the Redeemer of which these would be the appropriate symbols, and described him as if these had been visible? When John the Baptist saw the Lord Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. i. 29), is it necessary to suppose that he actually appeared in the form of a lamb? Do not all at once understand him as referring to traits in his character, and to the work which he was to accomplish, which made it proper to speak of him as a lamb? And why, therefore, may we not suppose that John in the Apocalypse designed to use language in the same way, and that he did not intend to present so incongruous a description as that of a lamb approaching a throne and taking a book from the hand of Him that sat on it, and a lamb, too, with many horns and eyes? If this supposition is correct, then all that is meant in this passage would be expressed in some such language as the following: “And I looked, and lo there was one in the midst of the space occupied by the throne, by the living creatures, and by the elders, who, in aspect, and in the emblems that represented his work on the earth, was spotless, meek, and innocent as a lamb; one with marks on his person which brought to remembrance the fact that he had been slain for the sins of the world, and yet one who had most striking symbols of power and intelligence, and who was therefore worthy to approach and take the book from the hand of Him that sat on the throne.” It may do something to confirm this view to recollect that when we use the term “Lamb of God” now, as is often done in preaching and in prayer, it never suggests to the mind the idea of a lamb. We think of the Redeemer as resembling a lamb in his moral attributes and in his sacrifice, but never as to form. This supposition relieves the passage of all that is incongruous and unpleasant, and may be all that John meant.

8 And when he had taken the book, the 200four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them 201harps, and golden vials full of 202odours, which are the 203prayers of saints.

8. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts, &c. The acts of adoration here described as rendered by the four living creatures and the elders are, according to the explanation given in ch. iv. 47, emblematic of the honour done to the Redeemer by the church, and by the course of providential events in the government of the world. ¶ Fell down before the Lamb. The usual posture of profound worship. Usually in such worship there was entire prostration on the earth. See Notes on Mat. ii. 2; 1 Co. xiv. 25. ¶ Having every one of them harps. That is, as the construction, and the propriety of the case would seem to demand, the elders had each of them harps. The whole prostrated themselves with profound reverence; the elders had harps and censers, and broke out into a song of praise for redemption. This construction is demanded, because (a) the Greek word—ἔχοντες—more properly agrees with the word eldersπρεσβύτεροι—and not with the word beastsζῶα; (b) there is an incongruity in the representation that the living creatures, in the form of a lion, a calf, an eagle, should have harps and censers; and (c) the song of praise that is sung (ver. 9) is one that properly applies to the elders as the representatives of the church, and not to the living creatures—“Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.” The harp was a well-known instrument used in the service of God. Josephus describes it as having ten strings, and as struck with a key (Ant. vii. 12, 3). See Notes on Is. v. 12. ¶ And golden vials. The word vial with us, denoting a small slender bottle with a narrow neck, evidently does not express the idea here. The article here referred to was used for offering incense, and must have been a vessel with a large open mouth. The word bowl or goblet would better express the idea, and it is so explained by Professor Robinson, Lex., and by Professor Stuart, in loco. The Greek word—φιάλη—occurs in the New Testament only in Revelation (v. 8; xv. 7; xvi. 14, 8, 10, 12, 17; xvii. 1; xxi. 9), and is uniformly rendered vial and vials, though the idea is always that of a bowl or goblet. ¶ Full of odours. Or rather, as in the margin, full of incenseθυμιαμάτων. See Notes on Lu. i. 9. ¶ Which are the prayers of saints. Which represent or denote the prayers of saints. Comp. Ps. cxli. 2, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense.” The meaning is, that incense was a proper emblem of prayer. This seems to have been in two respects: (a) as being acceptable to God—as incense produced an agreeable fragrance; and (b) in its being wafted towards heaven—ascending towards the eternal throne. In ch. viii. 3, an angel is represented as having a golden censer: “And there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” The representation there undoubtedly is, that the angel is employed in presenting the prayers of the saints which were offered on earth before the throne. See Notes on that passage. It is most natural to interpret the passage before us in the same way. The allusion is clearly to the temple service, and to the fact that incense was offered by the priest in the temple itself at the time that prayer was offered by the people in the courts of the temple. See Lu. i. 9, 10. The idea here is, therefore, that the representatives of the church in heaven—the elders—spoken of as “priests” (ver. 10), are described as officiating in the temple above in behalf of the church still below, and as offering incense while the church is engaged in prayer. It is not said that they offer the prayers themselves, but that they offer incense as representing the prayers of the saints. If this be the correct interpretation, as it seems to be the obvious one, then the passage lays no foundation for the opinion expressed by Professor Stuart, as derived from this passage (in loco), that prayer is offered by the redeemed in heaven. Whatever may be the truth on that point—on which the Bible seems to be silent—it will find no support from the passage before us. Adoration, praise, thanksgiving, are represented as the employment of the saints in heaven: the only representation respecting prayer as pertaining to that world is, that there are emblems there which symbolize its ascent before the throne, and which show that it is acceptable to God. It is an interesting and beautiful representation that there are in heaven appropriate symbols of ascending prayer, and that while in the outer courts here below we offer prayer, incense, emblematic of it, ascends in the holy of holies above. The impression which this should leave on our minds ought to be, that our prayers are wafted before the throne, and are acceptable to God.

9 And they sung a 204new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God 205by thy blood, out of 206every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

9. And they sung a new song. Comp. ch. xiv. 3. New in the sense that it is a song consequent on redemption, and distinguished therefore from the songs sung in heaven before the work of redemption was consummated. We may suppose that songs of adoration have always been sung in heaven; we know that the praises of God were celebrated by the angelic choirs when the foundations of the earth were laid (Job xxxviii. 7); but the song of redemption was a different song, and is one that would never have been sung there if man had not fallen, and if the Redeemer had not died. This song strikes notes which the other songs do not strike, and refers to glories of the divine character which, but for the work of redemption, would not have been brought into view. In this sense the song was new; it will continue to be new in the sense that it will be sung afresh as redeemed millions continue to ascend to heaven. Comp. Ps. xl. 3; xcvi. 1; cxliv. 9; Is. xlii. 10. ¶ Thou art worthy to take the book, &c. This was the occasion or ground of the “new song,” that by his coming and death he had acquired a right to approach where no other one could approach, and to do what no other one could do. ¶ For thou wast slain. The language here is such as would be appropriate to a lamb slain as a sacrifice. The idea is, that the fact that he was thus slain constituted the ground of his worthiness to open the book. It could not be meant that there was in him no other ground of worthiness, but that this was that which was most conspicuous. It is just the outburst of the grateful feeling resulting from redemption, that he who has died to save the soul is worthy of all honour, and is fitted to accomplish what no other being in the universe can do. However this may appear to the inhabitants of other worlds, or however it may appear to the dwellers on the earth who have no interest in the work of redemption, yet all who are redeemed will agree in the sentiment that He who has ransomed them with his blood has performed a work to do which every other being was incompetent, and that now all honour in heaven and on earth may appropriately be conferred on him. ¶ And hast redeemed us. The word here used—ἀγοράζω—means properly to purchase, to buy; and is thus employed to denote redemption, because redemption was accomplished by the payment of a price. On the meaning of the word, see Notes on 2 Pe. ii. 1. ¶ To God. That is, so that we become his, and are to be henceforward regarded as such; or so that he might possess us as his own. See Notes on 2 Co. v. 15. This is the true nature of redemption, that by the price paid we are rescued from the servitude of Satan, and are henceforth to regard ourselves as belonging unto God. ¶ By thy blood. See Notes on Ac. xx. 28. This is such language as they use who believe in the doctrine of the atonement, and is such as would be used by them alone. It would not be employed by those who believe that Christ was a mere martyr, or that he lived and died merely as a teacher of morality. If he was truly an atoning sacrifice, the language is full of meaning; if not, it has no significance, and could not be understood. ¶ Out of every kindred. Literally, “of every tribe”—φυλῆς. The word tribe means properly a comparatively small division or class of people associated together (Professor Stuart). It refers to a family, or race, having a common ancestor, and usually associated or banded together—as one of the tribes of Israel; a tribe of Indians; a tribe of plants; a tribe of animals, &c. This is such language as a Jew would use, denoting one of the smaller divisions that made up a nation of people; and the meaning would seem to be, that it will be found ultimately to be true that the redeemed will have been taken from all such minor divisions of the human family—not only from the different nations, but from the smaller divisions of those nations. This can only be true from the fact that the knowledge of the true religion will yet be diffused among all those smaller portions of the human race; that is, that its diffusion will be universal. ¶ And tongue. People speaking all languages. The word here used would seem to denote a division of the human family larger than a tribe, but smaller than a nation. It was formerly a fact that a nation might be made up of those who spoke many different languages—as, for example, the Assyrian, the Babylonian, or the Roman nations. Comp. Da. iii. 29; iv. 1. The meaning here is, that no matter what language the component parts of the nations speak, the gospel will be conveyed to them, and in their own tongue they will learn the wonderful works of God. Comp. Ac. ii. 811. ¶ And people. The word here used—λαός—properly denotes a people considered as a mass, made up of smaller divisions—as an association of smaller bodies—or as a multitude of such bodies united together. It is distinguished from another word commonly applied to a people—δῆμος—for that is applied to a community of free citizens, considered as on a level, or without reference to any minor divisions or distinctions. The words here used would apply to an army, considered as made up of regiments, battalions, or tribes; to a mass-meeting, made up of societies of different trades or professions; to a nation, made up of different associated communities, &c. It denotes a larger body of people than the previous words; and the idea is, that no matter of what people or nation, considered as made up of such separate portions, one may be, he will not be excluded from the blessings of redemption. The sense would be well expressed, by saying, for instance, that there will be found there those of the Gaelic race, the Celtic, the Anglo-Saxon, the Mongolian, the African, &c. ¶ And nation. ἔθνους. A word of still larger signification; the people in a still wider sense; a people or nation considered as distinct from all others. The word would embrace all who come under one sovereignty or rule; as, for example, the British nation, however many minor tribes there may be; however many different languages may be spoken; and however many separate people there may be—as the Anglo-Saxon, the Scottish, the Irish, the people of Hindoostan, of Labrador, of New South Wales, &c. The words here used by John would together denote nations of every kind, great and small; and the sense is, that the blessings of redemption will be extended to all parts of the earth.

10 And hast made us unto our God 207kings and priests: and we shall 208reign on the earth.

10. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests. See Notes on ch. i. 6. ¶ And we shall reign on the earth. The redeemed, of whom we are the representatives. The idea clearly is, in accordance with what is so frequently said in the Scriptures, that the dominion on the earth will be given to the saints; that is, that there will be such a prevalence of true religion, and the redeemed will be so much in the ascendency, that the affairs of the nations will be in their hands. Righteous men will hold the offices; will fill places of trust and responsibility; will have a controlling voice in all that pertains to human affairs. See Notes on Da. vii. 27, and Re. xx. 16. To such a prevalence of religion all things are tending; and to this, in all the disorder and sin which now exist, are we permitted to look forward. It is not said that this will be a reign under the Saviour in a literal kingdom on the earth; nor is it said that the saints will descend from heaven, and occupy thrones of power under Christ as a visible king. The simple affirmation is, that they will reign on the earth; and as this seems to be spoken in the name of the redeemed, all that is necessary to be understood is, that there will be such a prevalence of true religion on the earth that it will become a vast kingdom of holiness, and that, instead of being in the minority, the saints will everywhere have the ascendency.

11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the 209number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;

11. And I beheld. And I looked again. ¶ And I heard the voice of many angels. The inhabitants of heaven uniting with the representatives of the redeemed church in ascribing honour to the Lamb of God. The design is to show that there is universal sympathy and harmony in heaven, and that all worlds will unite in ascribing honour to the Lamb of God. ¶ Round about the throne and the beasts and the elders. In a circle or area beyond that which was occupied by the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. They occupied the centre, as it appeared to John, and this innumerable company of angels surrounded them. The angels are represented here, as they are everywhere in the Scriptures, as taking a deep interest in all that pertains to the redemption of men, and it is not surprising that they are here described as uniting with the representatives of the church in rendering honour to the Lamb of God. Comp. Notes on 1 Pe. i. 12. ¶ And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand. One hundred millions—a general term to denote either a countless number, or an exceedingly great number. We are not to suppose that it is to be taken literally. ¶ And thousands of thousands. Implying that the number before specified was not large enough to comprehend all. Besides the “ten thousand times ten thousand,” there was a vast uncounted host which one could not attempt to enumerate. The language here would seem to be taken from Da. vii. 10: “Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.” Comp. Ps. lxviii. 17: “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.” See also De. xxxiii. 2; 1 Ki. xxii. 19.

12 Saying with a loud voice, 210Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

12. Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. See Notes on ver. 29. The idea here is, that the fact that he was slain, or was made a sacrifice for sin, was the ground or reason for what is here ascribed to him. Comp. Notes on ver. 5. ¶ To receive power. Power or authority to rule over all things. Comp. Notes on Mat. xxviii. 18. The meaning here is, that he was worthy that these things should be ascribed to him, or to be addressed and acknowledged as possessing them. A part of these things were his in virtue of his very nature—as wisdom, glory, riches; a part were conferred on him as the result of his work—as the mediatorial dominion over the universe, the honour resulting from his work, &c. In view of all that he was, and of all that he has done, he is here spoken of as “worthy” of all these things. ¶ And riches. Abundance. That is, he is worthy that whatever contributes to honour, and glory, and happiness, should be conferred on him in abundance. Himself the original proprietor of all things, it is fit that he should be recognized as such; and having performed the work which he has, it is proper that whatever may be made to contribute to his honour should be regarded as his. ¶ And wisdom. That he should be esteemed as eminently wise; that is, that as the result of the work which he has accomplished, he should be regarded as having ability to choose the best ends and the best means to accomplish them. The feeling here referred to is that which arises from the contemplation of the work of salvation by the Redeemer, as a work eminently characterized by wisdom—wisdom manifested in meeting the evils of the fall; in honouring the law; in showing that mercy is consistent with justice; and in adapting the whole plan to the character and wants of man. If wisdom was anywhere demanded, it was in reconciling a lost world to God; if it has been anywhere displayed, it has been in the arrangements for that work, and in its execution by the Redeemer. See Notes on 1 Co. i. 24; comp. Mat. xiii. 54; Lu. ii. 40, 52; 1 Co. i. 20, 21, 30; Ep. i. 8; iii. 10. ¶ And strength. Ability to accomplish his purposes. That is, it is meet that he should be regarded as having such ability. This strength or power was manifested in overcoming the great enemy of man; in his control of winds, and storms, and diseases, and devils; in triumphing over death; in saving his people. ¶ And honour. He should be esteemed and treated with honour for what he has done. ¶ And glory. This word refers to a higher ascription of praise than the word honour. Perhaps that might refer to the honour which we feel in our hearts; this to the expression of that by the language of praise. ¶ And blessing. Everything which would express the desire that he might be happy, honoured, and adored. To bless one is to desire that he may have happiness and prosperity; that he may be successful, respected, and honoured. To bless God, or to ascribe blessing to him, is that state where the heart is full of love and gratitude, and where it desires that he may be everywhere honoured, loved, and obeyed as he should be. The words here express the wish that the universe would ascribe to the Redeemer all honour, and that he might be everywhere loved and adored.

13 And 211every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, 212Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

13. And every creature which is in heaven. The meaning of this verse is, that all created things seemed to unite in rendering honour to Him who sat on the throne, and to the Lamb. In the previous verse a certain number—a vast host—of angels are designated as rendering praise as they stood round the area occupied by the throne, the elders, and the living creatures; here it is added that all who were in heaven united in this ascription of praise. ¶ And on the earth. All the universe was heard by John ascribing praise to God. A voice was heard from the heavens, from all parts of the earth, from under the earth, and from the depths of the sea, as if the entire universe joined in the adoration. It is not necessary to press the language literally, and still less is it necessary to understand by it, as Professor Stuart does, that the angels who presided over the earth, over the under-world, and over the sea, are intended. It is evidently popular language; and the sense is, that John heard a universal ascription of praise. All worlds seemed to join in it; all the dwellers on the earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, partook of the spirit of heaven in rendering honour to the Redeemer. ¶ Under the earth. Supposed to be inhabited by the shades of the dead. See Notes on Job x. 21, 22; Is. xiv. 9. ¶ And such as are in the sea. All that dwell in the ocean. In Ps. cxlviii. 710, “dragons, and all deeps; beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl,” are called on to praise the Lord; and there is no more incongruity or impropriety in one description than in the other. In the Psalm, the universe is called on to render praise; in the passage before us it is described as actually doing it. The hills, the streams, the floods; the fowls of the air, the dwellers in the deep, and the beasts that roam over the earth; the songsters in the grove, and the insects that play in the sunbeam, in fact, declare the glory of their Creator; and it requires no very strong effort of the fancy to imagine the universe as sending up a constant voice of thanksgiving. ¶ Blessing, and honour, &c. There is a slight change here from ver. 12, but it is the same thing substantially. It is an ascription of all glory to God and to the Lamb.

14 And the 213four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.

14. And the four beasts said, Amen. The voice of universal praise came to them from abroad, and they accorded with it, and ascribed honour to God. ¶ And the four and twenty elders fell down, &c. The living creatures and the elders began the work of praise (ver. 8), and it was proper that it should conclude with them; that is, they give the last and final response (Professor Stuart). The whole universe, therefore, is sublimely represented as in a state of profound adoration, waiting for the developments to follow on the opening of the mysterious volume. All feel an interest in it; all feel that the secret is with God; all feel that there is but One who can open this volume; and all gather around, in the most reverential posture, awaiting the disclosure of the great mystery.

The truths taught in this chapter are the following: (1) The knowledge of the future is with God, ver. 1. It is as in a book held in his hand, fully written over, yet sealed with seven seals. (2) It is impossible for man or angel to penetrate the future, ver. 2, 3. It seems to be a law of created being, that the ability to penetrate the future is placed beyond the reach of any of the faculties by which a creature is endowed. Of the past we have a record, and we can remember it; but no created being seems to have been formed with a power in reference to the future corresponding with that in reference to the past—with no faculty of foresight corresponding to memory. (3) It is natural that the mind should be deeply affected by the fact that we cannot penetrate the future, ver. 4. John wept in view of this; and how often is the mind borne down with heaviness in view of that fact! What things there are, there must be, in that future of interest to us! What changes there may be for us to experience; what trials to pass through; what happiness to enjoy; what scenes of glory to witness! What progress may we make in knowledge; what new friendships may we form; what new displays of the divine perfections may we witness! All our great interests are in the future—in that which is to us now unknown. There is to be all the happiness which we are to enjoy, all the pain that we are to suffer; all that we hope, all that we fear. All the friends that we are to have are to be there; all the sorrows that we are to experience are to be there. Yet an impenetrable veil is set up to hide all that from our view. We cannot remove it; we cannot penetrate it. There it stands to mock all our efforts, and in all our attempts to look into the future we soon come to the barrier, and are repelled and driven back. Who has not felt his heart sad that he cannot look into that which is to come? (4) The power of laying open the future to mortals has been intrusted to the Redeemer, ver. 57. It is a part of the work which was committed to him to make known to men as much as it was proper to be known. Hence he is at once a prophet, and is the inspirer of the prophets. Hence he came to teach men what is to be in the future pertaining to them, and hence he has caused to be recorded by the sacred writers all that is to be known of what is to come until it is slowly unfolded as events develop themselves. The Saviour alone takes the mysterious book and opens the seals; he only unrolls the volume and discloses to man what is to come. (5) The fact that he does this is the foundation of joy and gratitude for the church, ver. 810. It is impossible that the church should contemplate what the Saviour has revealed of the future without gratitude and joy; and how often, in times of persecution and trouble, has the church joyfully turned to the developments made by the Saviour of what is to be when the gospel shall spread over the world, and when truth and righteousness shall be triumphant. (6) This fact is of interest to the angelic beings, and for them also it lays the foundation of praise, ver. 11, 12. This may arise from these causes: (a) from the interest which they take in the church, and the happiness which they have from anything that increases its numbers or augments its joy; (b) from the fact that in the disclosures of the future made by the Redeemer, there may be much that is new and of interest to them (comp. Notes on 1 Pe. i. 12); and (c) from the fact that they cannot but rejoice in the revelations which are made of the final triumphs of truth in the universe. (7) The universe at large has an interest in these disclosures, and the fact that they are to be made by the Redeemer lays the foundation for universal joy, ver. 13, 14. These events pertain to all worlds, and it is proper that all the inhabitants of the universe should join in the expressions of adoration and thanksgiving. The universe is one; and what affects one portion of it really pertains to every part of it. Angels and men have one and the same God and Father, and may unite in the same expressions of praise.


This chapter contains an account of the opening of six of the seven seals. It need hardly be said to anyone who is at all familiar with the numerous—not to say numberless—expositions of the Apocalypse, that it is at this point that interpreters begin to differ, and that here commences the divergence towards those various, discordant, and many of them wild and fantastic theories, which have been proposed in the exposition of this wonderful book. Up to this point, though there may be unimportant diversities in the exposition of words and phrases, there is no material difference of opinion as to the general meaning of the writer. In the epistles to the seven churches, and in the introductory scenes to the main visions, there can be no doubt, in the main, as to what the writer had in view, and what he meant to describe. He addressed churches then existing (ch. i.‒iii.), and set before them their sins and their duties; and he described scenes passing before his eyes as then present (ch. iv. v.), which were merely designed to impress his own mind with the importance of what was to be disclosed, and to bring the great actors on the stage, and in reference to which there could be little ground for diversity in the interpretation. Here, however, the scene opens into the future, comprehending all the unknown period until there shall be a final triumph of Christianity, and all its foes shall be prostrate. The actors are the Son of God, angels, men, Satan, storms, tempests, earthquakes, the pestilence and fire; the scene is heaven, earth, hell. There is no certain designation of places; there is no mention of names—as there is in Isaiah (xlv. 1) of Cyrus, or as there is in Daniel (viii. 21; x. 20; xi. 2) of the “king of Grecia;” there is no designation of time that is necessarily unambiguous; and there are no characteristics of the symbols used that make it antecedently certain that they could be applied only to one class of events. In the boundless future that was to succeed the times of John, there would be, of necessity, many events to which these symbols might be applied, and the result has shown that it has required but a moderate share of pious ingenuity to apply them, by different expositors, to events differing widely from each other in their character, and in the times when they would occur. It would be too long to glance even at the various theories which have been proposed and maintained in regard to the interpretation of the subsequent portions of the Apocalypse, and wholly impossible to attempt to examine those theories. Time, in its developments, has already exploded many of them; and time, in its future developments, will doubtless explode many more, and each one must stand or fall as, in the disclosures of the future, it shall be found to be true or false. It would be folly to add another to those numerous theories, even if I had any such theory (see the Preface), and perhaps equal folly to pronounce with certainty on any one of those which have been advanced. Yet this seems to be an appropriate place to state, in few words, what principles it is designed to pursue in the interpretation of the remainder of the book.

(1) It may be assumed that large portions of the book relate to the future; that is, to that which was future when John wrote. In this all expositors are agreed, and this is manifest indeed on the very face of the representation. It would be impossible to attempt an interpretation on any other supposition, and somewhere in that vast future the events are to be found to which the symbols here used had reference. This is assumed, indeed, on the supposition that the book is inspired—a fact which is assumed all along in this exposition, and which should be allowed to control our interpretation. But assuming that the book relates to the future, though that supposition will do something to determine the true method of interpretation, yet it leaves many questions still unsolved. Whether it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, on the supposition that the work was written before that event, or to the history of the church subsequent to that; whether it is designed to describe events minutely, or only in the most general manner; whether it is intended to furnish a syllabus of civil and ecclesiastical history, or only a very general outline of future events; whether the times are so designated that we can fix them with entire certainty; or whether it was intended to furnish any certain indication of the periods of the world when these things should occur;—all these are still open questions, and it need not be said that on these the opinions of expositors have been greatly divided.

(2) It may be assumed that there is meaning in these symbols, and that they were not used without an intention to convey some important ideas to the mind of John and to the minds of his readers—to the church then, and to the church in future times. Comp. Notes on ch. i. 3. The book is indeed surpassingly sublime. It abounds with the highest flights of poetic language. It is Oriental in its character, and exhibits everywhere the proofs of a most glowing imagination in the writer. But it is also to be borne in mind that it is an inspired book, and this fact is to determine the character of the exposition. If inspired, it is to be assumed that there is a meaning in these symbols; an idea in each one of them, and in all combined, of importance to the church and the world. Whether we can ascertain the meaning is another question; but it is never to be doubted by an expositor of the Bible that there is a meaning in the words and images employed, and that to find out that meaning is worthy of earnest study and prayer.

(3) Predictions respecting the future are often necessarily obscure to man. It cannot be doubted, indeed, that God could have foretold future events in the most clear and unambiguous language. He who knows all that is to come as intimately as he does all the past, could have caused a record to have been made, disclosing names, and dates, and places, so that the most minute statements of what is to occur might have been in the possession of man as clearly as the records of the past now are. But there were obvious reasons why this should not occur, and in the prophecies it is rare that there is any such specification. To have done this might have been to defeat the very end in view; for it would have given to man, a free agent, the power of embarrassing or frustrating the divine plans. But if this course is not adopted, then prophecy must, from the nature of the case, be obscure. The knowledge of any one particular fact in the future is so connected with many other facts, and often implies so much knowledge of other things, that without that other knowledge it could not be understood. Suppose that it had been predicted, in the time of John, that at some future period some contrivance should be found out by which what was doing in one part of the world could be instantaneously known in another remote part of the world, and spread abroad by thousands of copies in an hour, to be read by a nation. Suppose, for instance, that there had been some symbol or emblem representing what actually occurs now, when in a morning newspaper we read what occurred last evening at St. Louis, Dubuque, Galena, Chicago, Cincinnati, Charleston, New Orleans; it is clear that at a time when the magnetic telegraph and the printing-press were unknown, any symbol or language describing it that could be employed must be obscure, and the impression must have been that this could be accomplished only by miracle—and it would not be difficult for one who was disposed to scepticism to make out an argument to prove that this could not occur. It would be impossible to explain any symbol that could be employed to represent this until these wonderful descriptions should become reality, and in the meantime the book in which the symbols were found might be regarded as made up of mere riddles and enigmas; but when these inventions should be actually found out, however much ridicule or contempt had been poured on the book before, it might be perfectly evident that the symbol was the most appropriate that could be used, and no one could doubt that it was a divine communication of what was to be in the future. Something of the same kind may have occurred in the symbols used by the writer of the book before us.

(4) It is not necessary to suppose that a prophecy will be understood in all its details until the prediction is accomplished. In the case just referred to, though the fact of the rapid spread of intelligence might be clear, yet nothing would convey any idea of the mode, or of the actual meaning of the symbols used, unless the inventions were themselves anticipated by a direct revelation. The trial of faith in the case would be the belief that the fact would occur, but would not relate to the mode in which it was to be accomplished, or the language employed to describe it. There might be great obscurity in regard to the symbols and language, and yet the knowledge of the fact be perfectly plain. When, however, the fact should occur as predicted, all would be clear. So it is in respect to prophecy. Many recorded predictions that are now clear as noon-day, were once as ambiguous and uncertain in respect to their meaning as in the supposed case of the press and the telegraph. Time has made them plain; for the event to which they referred has so entirely corresponded with the symbol as to leave no doubt in regard to the meaning. Thus many of the prophecies relating to the Messiah were obscure at the time when they were uttered; were apparently so contradictory that they could not be reconciled; were so unlike anything that then existed, that the fulfilment seemed to be impossible; and were so enigmatical in the symbols employed, that it seemed in vain to attempt to disclose their meaning. The advent of the long-promised Messiah, however, removed the obscurity; and now they are read with no uncertainty as to their meaning, and with no doubt that those predictions, once so obscure, had a divine origin.

The view just suggested may lead us to some just conceptions of what is necessary to be done in attempting to explain the prophecies. Suppose, then, first, that there had been, say in the dark ages, some predictions that claimed to be of divine origin, of the invention of the art of printing and of the magnetic telegraph. The proper business of an interpreter, if he regarded this as a divine communication, would have consisted in four things: (a) to explain, as well as he could, the fair meaning of the symbols employed, and the language used; (b) to admit the fact referred to, and implied in the fair interpretation of the language employed, of the rapid spread of intelligence in that future period, though he could not explain how it was to be done; (c) in the meantime it would be a perfectly legitimate object for him to inquire whether there were any events occurring in the world, or whether there had been any, to which these symbols were applicable, or which would meet all the circumstances involved in them; (d) if there were, then his duty would be ended; if there were not, then the symbols, with such explanation as could be furnished of their meaning, should be handed on to future times, to be applied when the predicted events should actually occur. Suppose, then, secondly, the case of the predictions respecting the Messiah, scattered along through many books, and given in various forms, and by various symbols. The proper business of an interpreter would have been, as in the other case, (a) to explain the fair meaning of the language used, and to bring together all the circumstances in one connected whole, that a distinct conception of the predicted Messiah might be before the mind; (b) to admit the facts referred to, and thus predicted, however incomprehensible and apparently contradictory they might appear to be; (c) to inquire whether anyone had appeared who combined within himself all the characteristics of the description; and (d) if no one had thus appeared, to send on the prophecies, with such explanations of words and symbols as could be ascertained to be correct, to future times, to have their full meaning developed when the object of all the predictions should be accomplished, and the Messiah should appear. Then the meaning of all would be plain; and then the argument from prophecy would be complete. This is obviously now the proper state of the mind in regard to the predictions in the Bible, and these are the principles which should be applied in examining the book of Revelation.

(5) It may be assumed that new light will be thrown upon the prophecies by time, and by the progress of events. It cannot be supposed that the investigations of the meaning of the prophetic symbols will all be in vain. Difficulties, it is reasonable to hope, may be cleared up; errors may be detected in regard to the application of the prophecies to particular events; and juster views on the prophecies, as on all other subjects, will prevail as the world grows older. We become wiser by seeing the errors of those who have gone before us, and an examination of the causes which led them astray may enable us to avoid such errors in the future. Especially may it be supposed that light will be thrown on the prophecies as they shall be in part or wholly fulfilled. The prophecies respecting the destruction of Babylon, of Petra, of Tyre, of Jerusalem, are now fully understood; the prophecies respecting the advent of the Messiah, and his character and work, once so obscure, are now perfectly clear. So, we have reason to suppose, it will be with all prophecy in the progress of events, and sooner or later the world will settle down into some uniform belief in regard to the design and meaning of these portions of the sacred writings. Whether the time has yet come for this, or whether numerous other failures are to be added to the melancholy catalogue of past failures on this subject, is another question; but ultimately all the now unfulfilled prophecies will be as clear as to their meaning as are those which have been already fulfilled.

(6) The plan, therefore, which I propose in the examination of the remaining portion of the Apocalypse is the following: (a) To explain the meaning of the symbols; that is, to show, as clearly as possible, what those symbols properly express, independently of any attempt to apply them. This opens, of itself, an interesting field of investigation, and one where essential service may be done, even if nothing further is intended. Without any reference to the application of those symbols, this, of itself, is an important work of criticism, and, if successfully done, would be rendering a valuable service to the readers of the sacred volume. (b) To state, as briefly as possible, what others who have written on this book, and who have brought eminent learning and talent to bear on its interpretation, have supposed to be the true interpretation of the symbols employed by John, and in regard to the times in which the events referred to would occur. It is in this way only that we can be made acquainted with the real progress made in interpreting this book, and it will be useful at least to know how the subject has struck other minds, and how and why they have failed to perceive the truth. I propose, therefore, to state, as I go along, some of the theories which have been held as to the meaning of the Apocalypse, and as to the events which have been supposed by others to be referred to. My limits require, however, that this should be briefly done, and forbid my attempting to examine those opinions at length. (c) To state, in as brief and clear a manner as possible, the view which I have been led to entertain as to the proper application of the symbols employed in the book, with such historical references as shall seem to me to confirm the interpretation proposed. (d) Where I cannot form an opinion as to the meaning, to confess my ignorance. He does no service in a professed interpretation of the Bible who passes over a difficulty without attempting to remove it, or who, to save his own reputation, conceals the fact that there is a real difficulty; and he does as little service who is unwilling to confess his ignorance on many points, or who attempts an explanation where he has no clear and settled views. As his opinion can be of no value to anyone else unless it is based on reasons in his own mind that will bear examination, so it can usually be of little value unless those reasons are stated. It is as important for his readers to have those reasons before their own minds as it is for him; and unless he has it in his power to state reasons for what he advances, his opinions can be worth nothing to the world. He who lays down this rule of interpretation may expect to have ample opportunity, in interpreting such a book as the Apocalypse, to confess his ignorance; but he who interprets a book which he believes to be inspired, may console himself with the thought that what is now obscure will be clear hereafter, and that he performs the best service which he can if he endeavours to explain the book up to the time in which he lives. There will be developments hereafter which will make that clear which is now obscure; developments which will make this book, in all past ages apparently so enigmatical, as clear as any other portion of the inspired volume, as it is now, even with imperfect view which we may have of its meaning, beyond all question one of the most sublime books that has ever been written.

This chapter describes the opening of the first six seals. (1) The first discloses a white horse, with a rider armed with a bow. A crown is given to him, symbolical of triumph and prosperity, and he goes forth to conquer, ver. 1, 2. (2) The second discloses a red-coloured horse, with a rider. The emblem is that of blood—of sanguinary war. Power is given him to take peace from the earth, and a sword is given him—emblem of war, but not of certain victory. Triumph and prosperity are denoted by the former symbol; war, discord, bloodshed, by this, ver. 3, 4. (3) The third discloses a black horse, with a rider. He has a pair of balances in his hand, as if there were scarcity in the earth, and he announces the price of grain in the times of this calamity, and a command is given not to hurt the oil and the wine, ver. 5, 6. The emblem is that of scarcity—as if there were oppression, or as a consequence of war or discord, while at the same time there is care bestowed to preserve certain portions of the produce of the earth from injury. (4) The fourth discloses a pale horse, with a rider. The name of this rider is Death, and Hell (or Hades) follows him—as if the hosts of the dead came again on the earth. Power is given to the rider over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and with wild beasts. This emblem would seem to denote war, wide-wasting pestilence, famine, and desolation—as if wild beasts were suffered to roam over lands that had been inhabited; something of which paleness would be an emblem. Here ends the array of horses; and it is evidently intended by these four symbols to refer to a series of events that have a general resemblance—something that could be made to stand by themselves, and that could be grouped together. (5) The fifth seal opens a new scene. The horse and the rider no longer appear. It is not a scene of war, and of the consequences of war, but a scene of persecution. The souls of those who were slain for the word of God and the testimony which they held are seen under the altar, praying to God that he would avenge their blood. White robes are given them—tokens of the divine favour, and emblems of their ultimate triumph; and they are commanded to “rest for a little season, till their fellow-servants and their brethren that should be killed as they were should be fulfilled;” that is, that they should be patient until the number of the martyrs was filled up. In other words, there was (a) the assurance of the divine favour towards them; (b) vengeance, or the punishment of those who had persecuted them, would not be immediate; but (c) there was the implied assurance that just punishment would be inflicted on their persecutors, and that the cause for which they had suffered would ultimately triumph, ver. 911. (6) The opening of the sixth seal, ver. 1217. There was an earthquake, and the sun became dark, and the moon was turned to blood, and the stars fell, and all kings and people were filled with consternation. This symbol properly denotes the time of public commotion, of revolution, of calamity; and it was evidently to be fulfilled by some great changes on the earth, or by the overturning of the seats of power, and by such sudden revolutions as would fill the nations with alarm.


A ND I saw when 214the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.

1. And I saw. Or, I looked. He fixed his eye attentively on what was passing, as promising important disclosures. No one had been found in the universe who could open the seals but the Lamb of God (ch. v. 24); and it was natural for John, therefore, to look upon the transaction with profound interest. ¶ When the Lamb opened one of the seals. See Notes on ch. v. 15. This was the first or outermost of the seals, and its being broken would permit a certain portion of the volume to be unrolled and read. See Notes on ch. v. 1. The representation in this place is, therefore, that of a volume with a small portion unrolled, and written on both sides of the parchment. ¶ And I heard, as it were the noise of thunder. One of the four living creatures speaking as with a voice of thunder, or with a loud voice. ¶ One of the four beasts. Notes on ch. iv. 67. The particular one is not mentioned, though what is said in the subsequent verses leaves no doubt that it was the first in order as seen by John—the one like a lion, ch. iv. 7. In the opening of the three following seals, it is expressly said that it was the second, the third, and the fourth of the living creatures that drew near, and hence the conclusion is certain that the one here referred to was the first. If the four living creatures be understood to be emblematic of the divine providential administration, then there was a propriety that they should be represented as summoning John to witness what was to be disclosed. These events pertained to the developments of the divine purposes, and these emblematic beings would therefore be interested in what was occurring. ¶ Come and see. Addressed evidently to John. He was requested to approach and see with his own eyes what was disclosed in the portion of the volume now unrolled. He had wept much (ch. v. 4) that no one was found who was worthy to open that book, but he was now called on to approach and see for himself. Some have supposed (Lord, in loco) that the address here was not to John, but to the horse and his rider, and that the command to them was not to “come and see,” but to come forth, and appear on the stage, and that the act of the Redeemer in breaking the seal, and unrolling the scroll, was nothing more than an emblem signifying that it was by his act that the divine purposes were to be unfolded. But, in order to this interpretation, it would be necessary to omit from the received text the words καὶ βλέπε—“and see.” This is done, indeed, by Hahn and Tittmann, and this reading is followed by Professor Stuart, though he says that the received text has “probability” in its favour, and is followed by some of the critical editions. The most natural interpretation, however, is that the words were addressed to John. John saw the Lamb open the seal; he heard the loud voice; he looked and beheld a white horse—that is, evidently, he looked on the unfolding volume, and saw the representation of a horse and his rider. That the voice was addressed to John is the common interpretation, is the most natural, and is liable to no real objection.

2 And I saw, and behold 215a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth 216conquering, and to conquer.

2. And I saw, and behold. A question has arisen as to the mode of representation here: whether what John saw in these visions was a series of pictures, drawn on successive portions of the volume as one seal was broken after another; or whether the description of the horses and of the events was written on the volume, so that John read it himself, or heard it read by another; or whether the opening of the seal was merely the occasion of a scenic representation, in which a succession of horses was introduced, with a written statement of the events which are referred to. Nothing is indeed said by which this can be determined with certainty; but the most probable supposition would seem to be that there was some pictorial representation in form and appearance, such as he describes in the opening of the six seals. In favour of this it may be observed, (1) that, according to the interpretation of ver. 1, it was something in or on the volume—since he was invited to draw nearer, in order that he might contemplate it. (2) Each one of the things under the first five seals, where John uses the word “saw,” is capable of being represented by a picture or painting. (3) The language used is not such as would have been employed if he had merely read the description, or had heard it read. (4) The supposition that the pictorial representation was not in the volume, but that the opening of the seal was the occasion merely of causing a scenic representation to pass before his mind, is unnatural and forced. What would be the use of a sealed volume in that case? What the use of the writing within and without? On this supposition the representation would be that, as the successive seals were broken, nothing was disclosed in the volume but a succession of blank portions, and that the mystery or the difficulty was not in anything in the volume, but in the want of ability to summon forth these successive scenic representations. The most obvious interpretation is, undoubtedly, that what John proceeds to describe was in some way represented in the volume; and the idea of a succession of pictures or drawings better accords with the whole representation, than the idea that it was a mere written description. In fact, these successive scenes could be well represented now in a pictorial form on a scroll. ¶ And behold a white horse. In order to any definite understanding of what was denoted by these symbols, it is proper to form in our minds, in the first place, a clear conception of what the symbol properly represents, or an idea of what it would naturally convey. It may be assumed that the symbol was significant, and that there was some reason why that was used rather than another; why, for instance, a horse was employed rather than an eagle or a lion; why a white horse was employed in one case, and a red one, a black one, a pale one in the others; why in this case a bow was in the hand of the rider, and a crown was placed on his head. Each one of these particulars enters into the constitution of the symbol; and we must find something in the event which fairly corresponds with each—for the symbol is made up of all these things grouped together. It may be farther observed, that where the general symbol is the same—as in the opening of the first four seals—it may be assumed that the same object or class of objects is referred to; and the particular things denoted, or the diversity in the general application, is to be found in the variety in the representation—the colour, &c., of the horse, and the arms, apparel, &c., of the rider. The specifications under the first seal are four: (1) the general symbol of the horse—common to the first four seals; (2) the colour of the horse; (3) the fact that he that sat on him had a bow; and (4) that a crown was given him by some one, as indicative of victory. The question now is, what these symbols would naturally denote.

(1) The horse. The meaning of this symbol must be drawn from the natural use to which the symbol is applied, or the characteristics which it is known to have; and it may be added, that there might have been something for which that was best known in the time of the writer who uses it, which would not be so prominent at another period of the world, or in another country, and that it is necessary to have that before the mind in order to obtain a correct understanding of the symbol. The use of the horse, for instance, may have varied at different times to some degree; at one time the prevailing use of the horse may have been for battle; at another for rapid marches—as of cavalry; at another for draught; at another for races; at another for conveying messages by the establishment of posts or the appointment of couriers. To an ancient Roman the horse might suggest prominently one idea; to a modern Arab another; to a teamster in Holland another. The things which would be most naturally suggested by the horse as a symbol, as distinguished, for instance, from an eagle, a lion, a serpent, &c., would be the following: (a) War, as this was probably one of the first uses to which the horse was applied. So, in the magnificent description of the horse in Job xxxix. 1925, no notice is taken of any of his qualities but those which pertain to war. See, for a full illustration of this passage, and of the frequent reference in the classic writers to the horse as connected with war, Bochart, Hieroz. lib. ii. c. viii., particularly p. 149. Comp. Virg. Geor. iii. 83, 84:

“Si qua sonum procul arma dedêre,

Stare loco nescit, micat auribus, et tremit artus.”

Ovid, Metam. iii.:

“Ut fremit acer equus, cam bellicus, aere canoro

Signa dedit tubicen, pugnæque assumit amorem.”

Silius, lib. xiii.:

“Is trepido alituum tinnitu, et stare neganti,

Imperitans violenter equo.”

So Solomon says (Pr. xxi. 31), “The horse is prepared against the day of battle.” So in Zec. x. 3, the prophet says, God had made the house of Judah “as his goodly horse in the battle;” that is, he had made them like the victorious war-horse. (b) As a consequence of this, and of the conquests achieved by the horse in war, he became the symbol of conquest—of a people that could not be overcome. Comp. the above reference in Zec. Thus in Carthage the horse was an image of victorious war, in contradistinction to the ox, which was an emblem of the arts of peaceful agriculture. This was based on a tradition respecting the foundation of the city, referred to by Virgil, Æn. i. 442445:

“Quo primum jactati undis et turbine Poeni

Effodêre loco signum, quod regia Juno

Monstrârat, caput acris equi: sic nam fore bello

Egregiam, et facilem victu per Secula gentem.”

In reference to this circumstance Justin (lib. xviii. 5) remarks, that “in laying the foundations of the city the head of an ox was found, which was regarded as an emblem of a fruitful land, but of the necessity of labour and of dependence; on which account the city was transferred to another place. Then the head of a horse was found, and this was regarded as a happy omen that the city would be warlike and prosperous.” Comp. Creuzer, Symbolik, vol. ii. p. 456. (c) The horse was an emblem of fleetness, and, consequently, of the rapidity of conquest. Comp. Joel ii. 4: “The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and as horsemen, so shall they run.” Je. iv. 13: “Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles.” Compare Job xxxix. 18. (d) The horse is an emblem of strength, and consequently of safety. Ps. cxlvii. 10: “He delighteth not in the strength of the horse.” In general, then, the horse would properly symbolize war, conquest, or the rapidity with which a message is conveyed. The particular character or complexion of the event—as peaceful or warlike, prosperous or adverse—is denoted by the colour of the horse, and by the character of the rider.

(2) The colour of the horse: a white horse. It is evident that this is designed to be significant, because it is distinguished from the red, the black, and the pale horse, referred to in the following verses. In general, it may be observed that white is the emblem of innocence, purity, prosperity—as the opposite is of sickness, sin, calamity. If the significance of the emblem turned alone on the colour, we should look to something cheerful, prosperous, happy as the thing that was symbolized. But the significance in the case is to be found not only in the colour—white—but in the horse that was white; and the inquiry is, what would a horse of that colour properly denote; that is, on what occasions, and with reference to what ends, was such a horse used? Now, the general notion attached to the mention of a white horse, according to ancient usage, would be that of state and triumph, derived from the fact that white horses were rode by conquerors on the days of their triumph; that they were used in the marriage cavalcade; that they were employed on coronation occasions, &c. In the triumphs granted by the Romans to their victorious generals, after a procession composed of musicians, captured princes, spoils of battle, &c., came the conqueror himself, seated on a high chariot drawn by four white horses, robed in purple, and wearing a wreath of laurel (Eschenburg, Man. of Class. Literature, p. 283. Comp. Ovid de Arte Amandi, lib. v. 214). The name of λεύκιπποςleucippos—was given to Proserpine, because she was borne from Hades to Olympus in a chariot drawn by white horses (Scol. Pind. Ol. vi. 161. See Creuzer’s Symbol. iv. 253). White horses are supposed, also, to excel others in fleetness. So Horace, Sat. lib. i. vii. 8:

“Sisennas, Barrosque ut equis præcurreret albis.”

So Plaut. Asin. ii. 2, 12. So Homer, Il. K. 437:

Λευκότεροι χιόνος, θείειν δʹ ἀνέμοισιν ὁμοῖοι.

—“Whiter than the snow, and swifter than the winds.” And in the Æneid, where Turnus was about to contend with Æneas, he demanded horses:

“Qui candore nives anteirent cursibus auras.”

—“Which would surpass the snow in whiteness, and the wind in fleetness” (Æn. xii. 84). So the poets everywhere describe the chariot of the sun as drawn by white horses (Bochart, ut supra). So conquerors and princes are everywhere represented as borne on white horses. Thus Propertius, lib. iv. eleg. i.:

“Quatuor huic albos Romulus egit equos.”

So Claudian, lib. ii., de Laudibus Stilichonis:

“Deposito mitis clypeo, candentibus urbem

Ingreditur trabeatus equis.”

And thus Ovid (lib. i. de Arte) addresses Augustus, auguring that he would return a victor:

“Ergo erit illa dies, quâ tu, Pulcherrime rerum,

Quatuor in niveis aureus ibis equis.”

The preference of white to denote triumph or victory was early referred to among the Hebrews. Thus, Ju. v. 10, in the Song of Deborah:

“Speak, ye that ride on white asses,

Ye that sit in judgment,

And walk by the way.”

The expression, then, in the passage before us, would properly refer to some kind of triumph; to some joyous occasion; to something where there was success or victory; and, so far as this expression is concerned, would refer to any kind of triumph, whether of the gospel or of victory in war.

(3) The bow: and he that sat on him had a bow. The bow would be a natural emblem of war—as it was used in war; or of hunting—as it was used for that purpose. It was a common instrument of attack or defence, and seems to have been early invented, for it is found in all rude nations. Comp. Ge. xxvii. 3; xlviii. 22; xlix. 24; Jos. xxiv. 12; 1 Sa. xviii. 4; Ps. xxxvii. 15; Is. vii. 24. The bow would be naturally emblematic of the following things: (aWar. See the passages above. (bHunting. Thus it was one of the emblems of Apollo as the god of hunting. (cThe effect of truth—as that which secured conquest, or overcame opposition in the heart. So far as this emblem is concerned, it might denote a warrior, a hunter, a preacher, a ruler—anyone who exerted power over others, or who achieved any kind of conquest over them.

(4) The crown: and a crown was given unto him. The word here used—στέφανος—means a circlet, chaplet, or crown—usually such as was given to a victor, 1 Co. ix. 25. It would properly be emblematic of victory or conquest—as it was given to victors in war, or to the victors at the Grecian games, and as it is given to the saints in heaven regarded as victors, Re. iv. 4, 10; 2 Ti. iv. 8. The crown or chaplet here was “given” to the rider as significant that he would be victorious, not that he had been; and the proper reference of the emblem was to some conquest yet to be made, not to any which had been made. It is not said by whom this was given to the rider; the material fact being only that such a diadem was conferred on him.

(5) The going forth to conquest: and he went forth, conquering and to conquer. He went forth as a conqueror, and that he might conquer. That is, he went forth with the spirit, life, energy, determined purpose of one who was confident that he would conquer, and who had the port and bearing of a conqueror. John saw in him two things: one, that he had the aspect or port of a conqueror—that is, of one who had been accustomed to conquest, and who was confident that he could conquer; the other was, that this was clearly the design for which he went forth, and this would be the result of his going forth.

Having thus inquired into the natural meaning of the emblems used, perhaps the proper work of an expositor is done, and the subject might be left here. But the mind naturally asks what was this designed to signify, and to what events are these things to be applied? On this point it is scarcely necessary to say, that the opinions of expositors have been almost as numerous as the expositors themselves, and that it would be a hopeless task, and as useless as hopeless, to attempt to enumerate all the opinions entertained. They who are desirous of examining those opinions must be referred to the various books on the Apocalypse where they may be found. Perhaps all the opinions entertained, though presented by their authors under a great variety of forms, might be referred to three: (1) That the whole passage in ch. vi.‒xi. refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the wasting of Judæa, principally by the Romans—and particularly the humiliation and prostration of the Jewish persecuting enemies of the church: on the supposition that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem. This is the opinion of Professor Stuart, and of those generally who hold that the book was written at that time. (2) The opinion of those who suppose that the book was written in the time of Domitian, about A.D. 95 or 96, and that the symbols refer to the Roman affairs subsequent to that time. This is the opinion of Mede, Elliott, and others. (3) The opinions of those who suppose that the different horses and horsemen refer to the Saviour, to ministers of the gospel, and to the various results of the ministry. This is the opinion of Mr. David C. Lord and others. My purpose does not require me to examine these opinions in detail. Justice could not be done to them in the limited compass which I have; and it is better to institute a direct inquiry whether any events are known which can be regarded as corresponding with the symbols here employed. In regard to this, then, the following things may be referred to:—

(a) It will be assumed here, as elsewhere in these Notes, that the Apocalypse was written in the time of Domitian, about A.D. 95 or 96. For the reasons for this opinion, see Intro. § 2. Comp. an article by Dr. Geo. Duffield in the Biblical Repository, July, 1847, pp. 385411. It will also be assumed that the book is inspired, and that it is not to be regarded and treated as a work of mere human origin. These suppositions will preclude the necessity of any reference in the opening of the seals to the time of Nero, or to the events pertaining to the destruction of Jerusalem and the overthrow of the Jewish persecuting enemies of the church—for the opinion that those events are referred to can be held only on one of two suppositions: either that the work was written in the time of Nero, and before the Jewish wars, as held by Professor Stuart and others; or that it was penned after the events referred to had occurred, and is such a description of the past as could have been made by one who was uninspired.

(b) It is to be presumed that the events referred to, in the opening of the first seal, would occur soon after the time when the vision appeared to John in Patmos. This is clear, not only because that would be the most natural supposition, but because it is fairly implied in ch. i. 1: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.” See Notes on that verse. Whatever may be said of some of those events—those lying most remotely in the series—it would not accord with the fair interpretation of the language to suppose that the beginning of the series would be far distant, and we therefore naturally look for that beginning in the age succeeding the time of the apostle, or the reign of Domitian.

(c) The inquiry then occurs whether there were any such events in that age as would properly be symbolized by the circumstances before us—the horse; the colour of the horse; the bow in the hand of the rider; the crown given him; the state and bearing of the conqueror.

(d) Before proceeding to notice what seems to me to be the interpretation which best accords with all the circumstances of the symbol, it may be proper to refer to the only other one which has any plausibility, and which is adopted by Grotius, by the author of Hyponoia, by Dr. Keith (Signs of the Times, i. 181, seq.), by Mr. Lord, and others, that this refers to Christ and his church—to Christ and his ministers in spreading the gospel. The objections to this class of interpretations seem to me to be insuperable: (1) The whole description, so far as it is a representation of triumph, is a representation of the triumph of war, not of the gospel of peace. All the symbols in the opening of the first four seals are warlike; all the consequences in the opening of each of the seals where the horseman appears, are such as are usually connected with war. It is the march of empire, the movement of military power. (2) A horseman thus armed is not the usual representation of Christ, much less of his ministers or of his church. Once indeed (ch. xix. 1416) Christ himself is thus represented; but the ordinary representation of the Saviour in this book is either that of a man—majestic and glorious, holding the stars in his right hand—or of a lamb. Besides, if it were the design of the emblem to refer to Christ, it must be a representation of him personally and literally going forth in this manner; for it would be incongruous to suppose that this relates to him, and then to give it a metaphorical application, referring it not to himself, but to his truth, his gospel, his ministers. (3) If there is little probability that this refers to Christ, there is still less that it refers to ministers of the gospel—as held by Lord and others—for such a symbol is employed nowhere else to represent an order of ministers, nor do the circumstances find a fulfilment in them. The minister of the gospel is a herald of peace, and is employed in the service of the Prince of Peace. He cannot well be represented by a warrior, nor is he in the Scriptures. In itself considered, there is nothing more unlike or incongruous than a warrior going forth to conquest with hostile arms, and a minister of Christ. (4) Besides, this representation of a horse and his rider, when applied in the following verses, on this principle becomes most forced and unnatural. If the warrior on the white horse denotes the ministry, then the warrior on the red horse, the black horse, the pale horse, must denote the ministry also, and nothing is more fanciful and arbitrary than to attempt to apply these to teachers of various kinds of error—error denoted by the red, black, and pale colour—as must be done on that supposition. It seems plain, therefore, to me, that the representation was not designed to symbolize the ministry, or the state of the church considered with reference to its extension, or the various forms of belief which prevailed. But if so, it only remains to inquire whether a state of things existed in the Roman world of which these would be appropriate symbols. We have, then, the following facts, which are of such a nature as would properly be symbolized by the horse of the first seal; that is, they are such facts that if one were to undertake to devise an appropriate symbol of them since they occurred, they would be well represented by the image here employed.

(1) It was in general a period of prosperity, of triumph, of conquest—well represented by the horseman on the white horse going forth to conquest. I refer now to the period immediately succeeding the time of John’s banishment, embracing some ninety years, and extending through the successive reigns of Nerva, Trajan, Adrian, and the two Antonines, from the death of Domitian, A.D. 96, to the accession of Commodus, and the peace made by him with the Germans, A.D. 180. As an illustration of this period, and of the pertinency of the symbol, I will first copy from an historical chart drawn up with no reference to the symbol here, and in the mind of whose author the application to this symbol never occurred. The chart, distinguished for accuracy, is that of A. S. Lyman, published A.D. 1845. The following is the account of this period, beginning at the death of Domitian:—“Domitian, a cruel tyrant, the last of the twelve Cæsars.” (His death, therefore, was an important epoch.) “A.D. 96: Nerva, noted for his virtues, but enfeebled by age.” “A.D. 98: Trajan, a great general, and popular emperor; under him the empire attains its greatest extent.” “A.D. 117: Adrian, an able sovereign; spends thirteen years travelling through the empire, reforming abuses and rebuilding cities.” “A.D. 138: Antoninus Pius, celebrated for his wisdom, virtue, and humanity.” “A.D. 161: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the Stoic Philosopher, noted for his virtues.” Then begins a new era—a series of wicked princes and of great calamities. The next entry in the series is, “A.D. 180: Commodus, profligate and cruel.” Then follows a succession of princes of the same general description. Their character will be appropriately considered under the succeeding seals. But in regard to the period now supposed to be represented by the opening of the first seal, and the general applicability of the description here to that period, we have the fullest testimony in Mr. Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; a writer who, sceptic as he was, seems to have been raised up by Divine Providence to search deeply into historic records, and to furnish an inexhaustible supply of materials in confirmation of the fulfilment of the prophecies, and of the truth of revelation. For (1) he was eminently endowed by talent, and learning, and patience, and general candour, and accuracy, to prepare a history of that period of the world, and to place his name in the very first rank of historians. (2) His history commences at about the period supposed in this interpretation to be referred to by these symbols, and extends over a very considerable portion of the time embraced in the book of Revelation. (3) It cannot be alleged that he was biassed in his statements of facts by a desire to favour revelation; nor can it be charged on him that he perverted facts with a view to overthrow the authority of the volume of inspired truth. He was, indeed, thoroughly sceptical as to the truth of Christianity, and he lost no opportunity to express his feelings towards it by a sneer—for it seems to have been an unfortunate characteristic of his mind to sneer at everything—but there is no evidence that he ever designedly perverted a fact in history to press it into the service of infidelity, or that he designedly falsified a statement for the purpose of making it bear against Christianity. It cannot be suspected that he had any design, by the statements which he makes, to confirm the truth of Scripture prophecies. Infidels, at least, are bound to admit his testimony as impartial. (4) Not a few of the most clear and decisive proofs of the fulfilment of prophecies are to be found in his history. They are frequently such statements as would be expected to occur in the writings of a partial friend of Christianity who was endeavouring to make the records of history speak out in favour of his religion; and if they had been found in such a writer, they would be suspected of having been shaped with a view to the confirmation of the prophecies, and it may be added also with an intention to defend some favourite interpretation of the Apocalypse. In regard to the passage before us—the opening of the first seal and the general explanation of the meaning of that seal, above given, there is a striking resemblance between that representation and the state of the Roman empire as given by Mr. Gibbon at the period under consideration—from the end of the reign of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. By a singular coincidence Mr. Gibbon begins his history at about the period supposed to be referred to by the opening of the seal—the period following the death of Domitian, A.D. 96. Thus in the opening sentences of his work he says: “In the second century of the Christian era the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilized portion of mankind. During a happy period of more than fourscore years the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Adrian, and the two Antonines. It is the design of this and the two succeeding chapters to describe the prosperous condition of their empire; and afterwards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall; a revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth,” vol. i. 1. Before Mr. Gibbon proceeds to give the history of the fall of the empire, he pauses to describe the happy condition of the Roman world during the period now referred to—for this is substantially his object in the first three chapters of his history. The titles of these chapters will show their object. They are respectively the following:—Ch. i., “The Extent and Military Force of the Empire, in the Age of the Antonines;” ch. ii., “Of the Union and Internal Prosperity of the Roman Empire, in the Age of the Antonines;” ch. iii., “Of the Constitution of the Roman Empire, in the Age of the Antonines.” In the language of another, this is “the bright ground of his historic picture, from which afterwards more effectively to throw out in deep colouring the successive traits of the empire’s corruption and decline” (Elliott). The introductory remarks of Mr. Gibbon, indeed, professedly refer to “the age of the Antonines” (A.D. 138180); but that he designed to describe, under this general title, the actual condition of the Roman world during the period which I suppose to be embraced under the first seal, as a time of prosperity, triumph, and happiness—from Domitian to Commodus—is apparent (a) from a remarkable statement which there will be occasion again to quote, in which he expressly designates this period in these words: “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus,” i. 47. The same thing is apparent also from a remark of Mr. Gibbon in the general summary which he makes of the Roman affairs, showing that this period constituted, in his view, properly an era in the condition of the world. Thus he says (i. 4): “Such was the state of the Roman frontiers, and such the maxims of imperial policy, from the death of Augustus to the accession of Trajan.” This was A.D. 98. The question now is, whether, during this period, the events in the Roman empire were such as accord with the representation in the first seal. There was nothing in the first century that could accord with this; and if John wrote the Apocalypse at the time supposed (A.D.  95 or 96), of course it does not refer to that. Respecting that century Mr. Gibbon remarks: “The only accession which the Roman empire received, during the first century of the Christian era, was the province of Britain. In this single instance the successors of Cæsar and Augustus were persuaded to follow the example of the former rather than the precept of the latter. After a war of about forty years, undertaken by the most stupid, maintained by the most dissolute, and terminated by the most timid of all the emperors, the far greater part of the island submitted to the Roman yoke,” i. 2, 3. Of course the representation in the first seal could not be applied to such a period as this. In the second century, however, and especially in the early part of it—the beginning of the period supposed to be embraced in the opening of the first seal—a different policy began to prevail, and though the main characteristic of the period, as a whole, was comparatively peaceful, yet it began with a career of conquests, and its general state might be characterized as triumph and prosperity. Thus Mr. Gibbon speaks of Trajan on his accession after the death of Nerva: “That virtuous and active prince had received the education of a soldier, and possessed the talents of a general. The peaceful system of his predecessors was interrupted by scenes of war and conquest; and the legions, after a long interval, beheld a military emperor at their head. The first exploits of Trajan were against the Dacians, the most warlike of men, who dwelt beyond the Danube, and who, during the reign of Domitian, had insulted the majesty of Rome. This memorable war, with a very short suspension of hostilities, lasted live years; and as the emperor could exert, without control, the whole force of the state, it was terminated by an absolute submission of the barbarians. The new province of Dacia, which formed a second exception to the precept of Augustus, was about thirteen hundred miles in circumference,” i. 4. Speaking of Trajan (p. 4), he says farther: “The praises of Alexander, transmitted by a succession of poets and historians, had kindled a dangerous emulation in the mind of Trajan. Like him, the Roman emperor undertook an expedition against the nations of the East; but he lamented with a sigh that his advanced age scarcely left him any hopes of equalling the renown of the son of Philip. Yet the success of Trajan, however transient, was rapid and specious. The degenerate Parthians, broken by intestine discord, fled before his arms. He descended the river Tigris, in triumph, from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian Gulf. He enjoyed the honour of being the first, as he was the last, of the Roman generals who ever navigated that remote sea. His fleets ravaged the coasts of Arabia; and Trajan vainly flattered himself that he was approaching towards the confines of India. Every day the astonished senate received the intelligence of new names and new nations that acknowledged his sway. They were informed that the kings of Bosphorus, Colchis, Iberia, Albania, Osrhoene, and even the Parthian monarch himself, had accepted their diadems from the hand of the emperor; that the independent tribes of the Median and Carduchian hills had implored his protection; and that the rich countries of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria were reduced into the state of provinces.” Of such a reign what more appropriate symbol could there be than the horse and the rider of the first seal? If Mr. Gibbon had been writing a designed commentary on this, what more appropriate language could he have used in illustration of it? The reign of Hadrian, the successor of Trajan (A.D. 117138), was comparatively a reign of peace—though one of his first acts was to lead an expedition into Britain: but though comparatively a time of peace, it was a reign of prosperity and triumph. Mr. Gibbon, in the following language, gives a general characteristic of that reign:—“The life of [Hadrian] was almost a perpetual journey; and as he possessed the various talents of the soldier, the statesman, and the scholar, he gratified his curiosity in the discharge of his duty. Careless of the difference of seasons and of climates, he marched on foot, and bareheaded, over the snows of Caledonia and the sultry plains of Upper Egypt; nor was there a province of the empire which, in the course of his reign, was not honoured with the presence of the monarch,” p. 5. On p. 6 Mr. Gibbon remarks of this period: “The Roman name was revered amongst the remote nations of the earth. The fiercest barbarians frequently submitted their differences to the arbitration of the emperor; and we are informed by a contemporary historian that he had seen ambassadors who were refused the honour which they came to solicit, of being admitted into the rank of subjects.” And again, speaking of the reign of Hadrian, Mr. Gibbon remarks (i. 45): “Under his reign, as has been already mentioned, the empire flourished in peace and prosperity. He encouraged the arts, reformed the laws, asserted military discipline, and visited all the provinces in person.” Hadrian was succeeded by the Antonines, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius (the former from A.D.  138 to 161; the latter from A.D. 161 to the accession of Commodus, A.D. 180). The general character of their reigns is well known. It is thus stated by Mr. Gibbon: “The two Antonines governed the world forty-two years with the same invariable spirit of wisdom and virtue. Their united reigns are possibly the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government,” i. 46. And after describing the state of the empire in respect to its military and naval character, its roads, and architecture, and constitution, and laws, Mr. Gibbon sums up the whole description of this period in the following remarkable words (vol. i. p. 47):—“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hands of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic, had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom.” If it be supposed now that John designed to represent this period of the world, could he have chosen a more expressive and significant emblem of it than occurs in the horseman of the first seal? If Mr. Gibbon had intended to prepare a commentary on it, could he have shaped the facts of history so as better to furnish an illustration?

(2) The particular things represented in the symbol. (a) The bow—a symbol of war. Mr. Elliott has endeavoured to show that the bow at that period was peculiarly the badge of the Cretians, and that Nerva, who succeeded Domitian, was a Cretian by birth. The argument is too long to be abridged here, but, if well founded, the fulfilment is remarkable; for although the sword or the javelin was usually the badge of the Roman emperor, if this were so there would be a peculiar propriety in making the bow the badge during this period. See Elliott, vol. i. pp. 133140. But whatever may be said of this, the bow was so generally the badge of a warrior, that there would be no impropriety in using it as a symbol of Roman victory. (b) The crown—στέφανος—was, up to the time of Aurelian, A.D. 270 (see Spanheim, p. 60), the distinguishing badge of the Roman emperor; after that, the diadem, set with pearls and other jewels, was adopted and worn. The crown, composed usually of laurel, was properly the badge of the emperor considered as a military leader or commander. See Elliott, i. 130. At the period now under consideration the proper badge of the Roman emperor would be the crown; after the time of Aurelian, it would have been the diadem. In illustration of this, two engravings have been introduced, the first representing the emperor Nerva with the crown, or στέφανος, the second the emperor Valentinian, with the diadem.

Medal of the Emperor Nerva wearing Crown.

Medal of the Emperor Valentinian wearing Diadem.

(c) The fact that the crown was given to the rider. It was common among the Romans to represent an emperor in this manner; either on medals, bas-reliefs, or triumphal arches. The emperor appears going forth on horseback, and with Victory represented as either crowning him, or as preceding him with a crown in her hand to present to him. The engraving on p. 146, copied from one of the bas-reliefs on a triumphal arch erected to Claudius Drusus on occasion of his victories over the Germans, will furnish a good illustration of this, and, indeed, is so similar to the symbol described by John, that the one seems almost a copy of the other.

Symbolic Bas-reliefs from a Roman Triumphal Arch.

Except that the bow is wanting, nothing could have a closer resemblance; and the fact that such symbols were employed, and were well understood by the Romans, may be admitted to be a confirmation of the view above taken of the meaning of the first seal. Indeed, so many things combine to confirm this, that it seems impossible to be mistaken in regard to it: for if it should be supposed that John lived after this time, and that he meant to furnish a striking emblem of this period of Roman history, he could not have employed a more significant and appropriate symbol than he has done.

3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.

3. And when he had opened the second seal. So as to disclose another portion of the volume. Notes, ch. v. 1. ¶ I heard the second beast say. The second beast was like a calf or an ox. Notes, ch. iv. 7. It cannot be supposed that there is any special significancy in the fact that the second beast addressed the seer on the opening of the second seal, or that, so far as the symbol was concerned, there was any reason why this living creature should approach on the opening of this seal rather than on either of the others. All that seems to be designed is, that as the living creatures are intended to be emblems of the providential government of God, it was proper to represent that government as concerned in the opening of each of these four seals, indicating important events among the nations. ¶ Come and see. See Notes on ver. 1.

4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

4. And there went out another horse. In this symbol there were, as in the others, several particulars which it is proper to explain in order that we may be able to understand its application. The particular things in the symbol are the following: (a) The horse. See this explained in the Notes on ver. 2. (b) The colour of the horse: another horse that was red. This symbol cannot be mistaken. As the white horse denoted prosperity, triumph, and happiness, so this would denote carnage, discord, bloodshed. This is clear, not only from the nature of the emblem, but from the explanation immediately added: “And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another.” On the colour, compare Bochart, Hieroz. P. i. lib. ii. c. vii. p. 104. See also Zec. i. 8. There is no possibility of mistaking this, that a time of slaughter is denoted by this emblem. (c) The power given to him that sat on the horse: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. This would seem to indicate that the condition immediately preceding this was a condition of tranquillity, and that this was now disturbed by some cause producing discord and bloodshed. This idea is confirmed by the original words—τὴν εἰρήνην—“the peace;” that is, the previously existing peace. When peace in general is referred to, the word is used without the article: Mat. x. 34, “Think not that I am come to send peace—βαλεῖν εἰρήνην—upon the earth.” Comp. Lu. i. 79; ii. 14; xix. 38; Mar. v. 34; Jn. xiv. 27; xvi. 33; Ac. vii. 26; ix. 31, et al. in the Greek. In these cases the word peace is without the article. The characteristics of the period referred to by this are: (a) that peace and tranquillity existed before; (b) that such peace and tranquillity were now taken away, and were succeeded by confusion and bloodshed; and (c) that the particular form of that confusion was civil discord, producing mutual slaughter: “that they should kill one another.” (d) The presentation of a sword: and there was given unto him a great sword. As an emblem of what he was to do, or of the period that was referred to by the opening of the seal. The sword is an emblem of war, of slaughter, of authority (Ro. xiii. 4), and is here used as signifying that that period would be characterized by carnage. Comp. Is. xxxiv. 5; Re. xix. 17, 18; Le. xxvi. 25; Ge. xxvii. 40; Mat. x. 34; xxvi. 52. It is not said by whom the sword was presented, but the fact is merely referred to, that the rider was presented with a sword as a symbol of what would occur.

In inquiring now into the period referred to by this symbol, we naturally look to that which immediately succeeded the one which was represented by the opening of the first seal; that is, the period which followed the accession of Commodus, A.D. 180. We shall find, in the events which succeeded his accession to the empire, a state of things which remarkably accords with the account given by John in this emblem—so much so, that if it were supposed that the book was written after these events had occurred, and that John had designed to represent them by this symbol, he could not have selected a more appropriate emblem. The only authority which it is necessary to refer to here is Mr. Gibbon; who, as before remarked, seems to have been raised up by a special Providence to make a record of those events which were referred to by some of the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible. As he had the highest qualifications for an historian, his statements may be relied on as accurate; and as he had no belief in the inspiration of the prophetic records, his testimony will not be charged with partiality in their favour. The following particulars, therefore, will furnish a full illustration of the opening of the second seal: (a) The previous state of peace. This is implied in the expression, “and power was given to him to take peace from the earth.” Of this we have had a full confirmation in the peaceful reign of Hadrian and the Antonines. See the Notes on the exposition of the first seal. Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the accession of Commodus to the imperial throne, says that he “had nothing to wish, and everything to enjoy. The beloved son of Marcus [Commodus] succeeded his father amidst the acclamations of the senate and armies; and when he ascended the throne, the happy youth saw around him neither competitor to remove, nor enemies to punish. In this calm elevated station, it was surely natural that he should prefer the love of mankind to their detestation; the mild glories of his five predecessors to the ignominious fate of Nero and Domitian,” i. 51. So again, on the same page, he says of Commodus, “His graceful person, popular address, and imagined virtues attracted the public favour; the honourable peace which he had recently granted to the barbarians diffused an universal joy.” No one can doubt that the accession of Commodus was preceded by a remarkable prevalence of peace and prosperity. (b) Civil war and bloodshed: to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. Of the applicability of this to the time supposed to be represented by this seal, we have the fullest confirmation in the series of civil wars commencing with the assassination of the emperor Commodus, A.D. 193, and continued, with scarcely any intervals of intermission, for eighty or ninety years. So Sismondi, on the fall of the Roman empire (i. 36), says, “With Commodus’ death commenced the third and most calamitous period. It lasted ninety-two years, from 193 to 284. During that time, thirty-two emperors, and twenty-seven pretenders to the empire, alternately hurried each other from the throne, by incessant civil warfare. Ninety-two years of almost incessant civil warfare taught the world on what a frail foundation the virtue of the Antonines had reared the felicity of the empire.” The full history of this period may be seen in Gibbon, i. pp. 50197. Of course it is impossible in these Notes to present anything like a complete account of the characteristics of those times. Yet the briefest summary may well show the general condition of the Roman empire then, and the propriety of representing it by the symbol of a red horse, as a period when peace would be taken from the earth, and when men would kill one another. Commodus himself is represented by Mr. Gibbon in the following words:—“Commodus was not, as he has been represented, a tiger, born with an insatiate thirst of human blood, and capable, from his infancy, of the most inhuman actions. Nature had formed him of a weak, rather than a wicked disposition. His simplicity and timidity rendered him the slave of his attendants, who gradually corrupted his mind. His cruelty, which at first obeyed the dictates of others, degenerated into habit, and at length became the ruling passion of his soul,” i. 51. During the first three years of his reign “his hands were yet unstained with blood” (Ibid.), but he soon degenerated into a most severe and bloody tyrant, and “when Commodus had once tasted human blood, he was incapable of pity or remorse,” i. 52. “The tyrant’s rage,” says Mr. Gibbon (i. 52), “after having shed the noblest blood of the senate, at length recoiled on the principal instrument of his cruelty. While Commodus was immersed in blood and luxury he devolved the detail of public business on Perennis, a servile and ambitious minister, who had obtained his post by the murder of his predecessor,” &c. “Every sentiment of virtue and humanity was extinct in the mind of Commodus,” i. 55. After detailing the history of his crimes, his follies, and his cruelties, Mr. Gibbon remarks of him: “His cruelty proved at last fatal to himself. He had shed with impunity the best blood of Rome: he perished as soon as he was dreaded by his own domestics. Marcia, his favourite concubine, Eclectus, his chamberlain, and Lætus, his pretorian prefect, alarmed by the fate of their companions and predecessors, resolved to prevent the destruction which every hour hung over their heads, either from the mad caprice of the tyrant, or the sudden indignation of the people. Marcia seized the occasion of presenting a draught of wine to her lover, after he had fatigued himself with hunting some wild beasts. Commodus retired to sleep; but while he was labouring with the effects of poison and drunkenness, a robust youth, by profession a wrestler, entered his chamber, and strangled him without resistance,” i. 57. The immediate consequence of the assassination of Commodus was the elevation of Pertinax to the throne, and his murder eighty-six days after (Decline and Fall, i. 60). Then followed the public setting-up of the empire to sale by the pretorian guards, and its purchase by a wealthy Roman senator, Didius Julianus, or Julian, who, “on the throne of the world, found himself without a friend and without an adherent,” i. 63. “The streets and public places in Rome resounded with clamours and imprecations.” “The public discontent was soon diffused from the centre to the frontiers of the empire,” i. 63. In the midst of this universal indignation Septimius Severus, who then commanded the army in the neighbourhood of the Danube, resolved to avenge the death of Pertinax, and to seize upon the imperial crown. He marched to Rome, overcame the feeble Julian, and placed himself on the throne. Julian, after having reigned sixty-six days, was beheaded in a private apartment of the baths of the palace, i. 67. “In less than four years Severus subdued the riches of the East, and the valour of the West. He vanquished two competitors of reputation and ability, and defeated numerous armies provided with weapons and discipline equal to his own,” i. 68. Mr. Gibbon then enters into a detail of “the two civil wars against Niger and Albinus”—rival competitors for the empire (i. 6870), both of whom were vanquished, and both of whom were put to death “in their flight from the field of battle.” Yet he says, “Although the wounds of civil war were apparently healed, its mortal poison still lurked in the vitals of the constitution,” i. 71. After the death of Severus, then follows an account of the contentions between his sons, Geta and Caracalla, and of the death of the former by the instigation of the latter (i. 77); then of the remorse of Caracalla, in which it is said that “his disordered fancy often beheld the angry forms of his father and his brother rising into life to threaten and upbraid him” (i. 77); then of the cruelties which Caracalla inflicted on the friends of Geta, in which “it was computed that, under the vague appellation of the friends of Geta, above twenty thousand persons of both sexes suffered death” (i. 78); then of the departure of Caracalla from the capital, and his cruelties in other parts of the empire, concerning which Mr. Gibbon remarks (i. 78, 79), that “Caracalla was the common enemy of mankind. Every province was by turns the scene of his rapine and cruelty. In the midst of peace and repose, upon the slightest provocation, he issued his commands at Alexandria in Egypt for a general massacre. From a secure post in the temple of Serapis he viewed and directed the slaughter of many thousand citizens, as well as strangers, without distinguishing either the number or the crime of the sufferers,” &c. Then follows the account of the assassination of Caracalla (i. 80); then, and in consequence of that, of the civil war which crushed Macrinus, and raised Elagabalus to the throne (i. 83); then of the life and follies of that wretched voluptuary, and of his massacre by the pretorian guards (i. 86); then, after an interval of thirteen years, of the murder of his successor, the second Severus, on the Rhine; then of the civil wars excited against his murderer and successor, Maximin, in which the two emperors of a day—the Gordians, father and son—perished in Africa, and Maximin himself, and his son, in the siege of Aquileia; then of the murder at Rome of the two joint emperors, Maximus and Balbinus; and quickly after that an account of the murder of their successor in the empire, the third and youngest Gordian, on the banks of the river Aboras; then of the slaughter of the next emperor Philip, together with his son and associate in the empire, in the battle near Verona:—and this state of things may be said to have continued until the accession of Diocletian to the empire, A.D. 284. See Decline and Fall, i. 110197. Does any portion of the history of the world present a similar period of connected history that would be so striking a fulfilment of the symbols used here of “peace being taken from the earth,” and “men killing one another?” In regard to this whole period it is sufficient, after reading Mr. Gibbon’s account, to ask two questions: (1) If it were supposed that John lived after this period, and designed to represent this by an expressive symbol, could he have found one that would have characterized it better than this does? (2) And if it should be supposed that Mr. Gibbon designed to write a commentary on this “seal,” and to show the exact fulfilment of the symbol, could he have selected a better portion of history to do it, or could he have better described facts that would be a complete fulfilment? It is only necessary to observe further, (c) that this is a marked and definite period. It has such a beginning, and such a continuance and ending, as to show that this symbol was applicable to this as a period of the world. For it was not only preceded by a state of peace, as is supposed in the symbol, but no one can deny that the condition of things in the empire, from Commodus onward through many years, was such as to be appropriately designated by the symbol here used.

5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo, a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.

6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, 217A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou 218hurt not the oil and the wine.

5, 6. And when he had opened the third seal.. Unfolding another portion of the volume. See Notes on ch. v. 1. ¶ I heard the third beast say, Come and see. See Notes on ch. iv. 7. It is not apparent why the third beast is represented as taking a particular interest in the opening of this seal (comp. Notes on ver. 3), nor is it necessary to show why it was so. The general design seems to have been, to represent each one of the four living creatures as interested in the opening of the seals, but the order in which they did this does not seem to be a matter of importance. ¶ And I beheld, and lo, a black horse. The specifications of the symbol here are the following: (a) As before, the horse. See Notes on ver. 2. (b) The colour of the horse: lo, a black horse. This would properly denote distress and calamity—for black has been regarded always as such a symbol. So Virgil speaks of fear as black: “atrumque timorem” (Æn. ix. 619). So again, Georg. iv. 468:

“Caligantem nigra formidine lucum.”

So, as applied to the dying Acca, Æn. xi. 825:

“Tenebris nigrescunt omnia circum.”

Black, in the Scriptures, is the image of fear, of famine, of death. La. v. 10: “Our skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine.” Je. xiv. 2: “Because of the drought Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are in deep mourning [literally, black] for the land.” Joel ii. 6: “All faces shall gather blackness.” Na. ii. 10: “The knees smite together, and there is great pain in all loins, and the faces of them all gather blackness.” Comp. Re. vi. 12; Eze. xxxii. 7. See also Bochart, Hieroz. P. i. lib. ii. c. vii. pp. 106, 107. From the colour of the horse here introduced we should naturally look for some dire calamity, though the nature of the calamity would not be designated by the mere use of the word black. What the calamity was to be must be determined by what follows in the symbol. Famine, pestilence, oppression, heavy taxation, tyranny, invasion—any of these might be denoted by the colour of the horse. (c) The balances: and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. The original word here rendered a pair of balances, is ζυγὸν. This word properly means a yoke, serving to couple anything together, as a yoke for cattle. Hence it is used to denote the beam of a balance, or of a pair of scales—and is evidently so used here. The idea is, that something was to be weighed, in order to ascertain either its quantity or its value. Scales or balances are the emblems of justice or equity (comp. Job xxxi. 6; Ps. lxii. 9; Pr. xi. 1; xvi. 11); and when joined with symbols that denote the sale of corn and fruit by weight, become the symbol of scarcity. Thus “bread by weight” (Le. xxvi. 26) denotes scarcity. So in Eze. iv. 16, “And they shall eat bread by weight.” The use of balances here as a symbol would signify that something was to be accurately and carefully weighed out. The connection leads us to suppose that this would appertain to the necessaries of life, and that it would occur either in consequence of scarcity, or because there would be an accurate or severe exaction, as in collecting a revenue on these articles. The balance was commonly the symbol of equity and justice; but it was also, sometimes, the symbol of exaction and oppression, as in Ho. xii. 7: “The balance of deceit is in his hands; he loveth to oppress.” If the balances stood alone, and there were no proclamation as to what was to occur, we should look, under this seal, to a time of the exact administration of justice, as scales or balances are now used as emblems of the rigid application of the laws and of the principles of justice in courts, or in public affairs. If this representation stood alone, or if the black horse and the scales constituted the whole of the symbol, we should look for some severe administration, or perhaps some heavy calamity under a rigorous administration of laws. The reference, however, to the “wheat and barley,” and to the price for which they were to be weighed out, serves still further to limit and define the meaning of the symbol as having reference to the necessaries of life—to the productions of the land—to the actual capital of the country. Whether this refers to scarcity, or to taxation, or both, must be determined by the other parts of the symbol. (d) The proclamation: And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say. That is, from the throne, ch. iv. 6. The voice was not that of one of the four beasts, but it seemed to come from among them. As the rider went forth, this was the proclamation that was made in regard to him; or this is that which is symbolized in his going forth, to wit, that there would be such a state of things that a measure of wheat would be sold for a penny, &c. The proclamation consists essentially of two things—that which refers to the price or value of wheat and barley, and that which requires that care shall be taken not to injure the oil and the wine. Each of these demands explanation. ¶ A measure of wheat for a penny. See the margin. The word rendered measureχοῖνιξ, chœnix—denotes an Attic measure for grain and things dry, equal to the forty-eighth part of the Attic medimnus, or the eighth part of the Roman modius, and consequently was nearly equivalent to one quart English (Rob. Lex.). The word rendered penny, δηνάριονLat. denarius—was of the same value as the Greek δραχμή, drachmē, and was equivalent to about fourteen cents or sevenpence. This was the usual price of a day’s labour, Mat. xx. 2, 9. The chœnix, or measure of grain here referred to, was the ordinary daily allowance for one man [Odyss., xix. 27, 28). See Stuart, in loco. The common price of the Attic medimnus of wheat was five or six denarii; but here, as that contained forty-eight chœnixes or quarts, the price would be augmented to forty-eight denarii—or it would be about eight times as dear as ordinary; that is, there would be a scarcity or famine. The price of a bushel of wheat at this rate would be about four dollars and a half or 18 shillings—a price which would indicate great scarcity, and which would give rise to much distress. ¶ And three measures of barley for a penny. It would seem from this that barley usually bore about one-third the price of wheat. It was a less valuable grain, and perhaps was produced in greater abundance. This is not far from the proportion which the price of this grain usually bears to that of wheat, and here, as in the case of the wheat, the thing which would be indicated would be scarcity. This proclamation of “a measure of wheat for a penny” was heard either as addressed to the horseman, as a rule of action for him, or as addressed by the horseman as he went forth. If the former is the meaning, it would be an appropriate address to one who was going forth to collect tribute—with reference to the exact manner in which this tribute was to be collected, implying some sort of severity of exaction; or to one who should distribute wheat and barley out of the public granaries at an advanced price, indicating scarcity. Thus it would mean that a severe and heavy tax—represented by the scales and the scarcity—or a tax so severe as to make grain dear, was referred to. If the latter is the meaning, then the idea is that there would be a scarcity, and that grain would be dealt out by the government at a high and oppressive price. The latter idea would be as consonant with the symbol of the scales and the price mentioned as the other, if it were not for the additional injunction not to “hurt the oil and the wine”—which cannot be well applied to the idea of dealing out grain at a high price. It can, however, be connected, by a fair interpretation of that passage, with such a severity of taxation that there would be a propriety in such a command—for, as we shall see, under the explanation of that phrase, such a law was actually promulgated as resulting from severity of taxation. The idea, then, in the passage before us, would seem to be, (a) that there would be a rigid administration of the law in regard to the matter under consideration—that pertaining to the productions of the earth—represented by the balances; and (b) that that would be connected with general scarcity, or such an exercise of this power as to determine the price of grain, so that the price would be some three times greater than ordinary. ¶ And see thou hurt not the oil and the wine. There has been a great variety of interpretations proposed of this passage, and it is by no means easy to determine the true sense. The first inquiry in regard to it is, to whom is it addressed? Perhaps the most common impression on reading it would be, that it is addressed to the horseman with the balances, commanding him not to injure the oliveyards and the vineyards. But this is not probably the correct view. It does not appear that the horseman goes forth to destroy anything, or that the effect of his going forth is directly to injure anything. This, therefore, should not be understood as addressed to the horseman, but should be regarded as a general command to any and all not to injure the oliveyards and vineyards; that is, an order that nothing should be done essentially to injure them. If thus regarded as addressed to others, a fair and congruous meaning would be furnished by either of the following interpretations: either (a) considered as addressed to those who were disposed to be prodigal in their manner of living, or careless as to the destruction of the crop of the oil and wine, as they would now be needed; or (b) as addressed to those who raised such productions, on the supposition that they would be taxed heavily, or that large quantities of these productions would be extorted for revenue, that they should not mutilate their fruit-trees in order to evade the taxes imposed by the government. In regard to the things specified here—oil and wine—it may be remarked, that they were hardly considered as articles of luxury in ancient times. They were almost as necessary articles as wheat and barley. They constituted a considerable part of the food and drink of the people, as well as furnished a large portion of the revenue, and it would seem to be with reference to that fact that the command here is given that they should not be injured; that is, that nothing should be done to diminish the quantity of oil and wine, or to impair the productive power of oliveyards and vineyards. The state of things thus described by this seal, as thus interpreted, would be, (a) a rigid administration of the laws of the empire, particularly in reference to taxation, producing a scarcity among the necessary articles of living; (b) a strong tendency, from the severity of the taxation, to mutilate such kinds of property, with a view either of concealing the real amount of property, or of diminishing the amount of taxes; and (c) a solemn command from some authoritative quarter not to do this. A command from the ruling power not to do this would meet all that would be fairly demanded in the interpretation of the passage; and what is necessary in its application, is to find such a state of things as would correspond with these predictions; that is, such as a writer would have described by such symbols on the supposition that they were referred to.

Now it so happens that there were important events which occurred in the Roman empire, and connected with its decline and fall, of sufficient importance to be noticed in a series of calamitous events, which corresponded with the symbol here, as above explained. They were such as these: (a) The general severity of taxation, or the oppressive burdens laid on the people by the emperors. In the account which Mr. Gibbon gives of the operation of the Indictions, and Superindictions, though the specific laws on this subject pertained to a subsequent period, the general nature of the taxation of the empire and its oppressive character may be seen (Decline and Fall, i. 357359). A general estimate of the amount of revenue to be exacted was made out, and the collecting of this was committed to the pretorian prefects, and to a great number of subordinate officers. “The lands were measured by surveyors who were sent into the provinces; their nature, whether arable, or pasture, or woods, was distinctly reported; and an estimate made of their common value, from the average produce of five years. The number of slaves and of cattle constituted an essential part of the report; an oath was administered to the proprietors, which bound them to disclose the true state of their affairs; and their attempts to prevaricate or elude the intention of the legislature were severely watched, and punished as a capital crime, which included the double guilt of treason and of sacrilege. According to the different nature of lands, their real produce in the various articles of wine or oil, corn or barley, wood or iron, was transported by the labour or at the expense of the provincials to the imperial magazines, from whence they were occasionally distributed for the use of the court or of the army, and of the two capitals, Rome and Constantinople,” i. p. 358. Comp. Lactant. de Mort. Persecut., c. 23. (b) The particular order, under this oppressive system of taxation, respecting the preservation of vineyards and oliveyards, may be referred to, also, as corresponding to the command sent forth under this rider, not to “hurt the oil and the wine.” That order was in the following words:—“If any one shall sacrilegiously cut a vine, or stint the fruit of prolific boughs, and craftily feign poverty in order to avoid a fair assessment, he shall, immediately on detection, suffer death, and his property be confiscated” (Cod. Theod. l. xiii. lib. xi. seq.; Gibbon, i. 358, note). Mr. Gibbon remarks: “Although this law is not without its studied obscurity, it is, however, clear enough to prove the minuteness of the inquisition, and the disproportion of the penalty.” (c) Under this general subject of the severity of taxation—as a fact far-spreading and oppressive, and as so important as to hasten the downfall of the empire, may be noticed a distinct edict of Caracalla as occurring more directly in the period in which the rider with the balances may be supposed to have gone forth. This is stated by Mr. Gibbon (i. 91) as one of the important causes which contributed to the downfall of the empire. “The personal characters of the emperors, their victories, laws, and fortunes,” says he, “can interest us no farther than they are connected with the general history of the decline and fall of the monarchy. Our constant attention to that object will not suffer us to overlook a most important edict of Antoninus Caracalla, which communicated to all the free inhabitants of the empire the name and privileges of Roman citizens. His unbounded liberality, however, flowed not from the sentiments of a generous mind; it was the sordid result of avarice,” &c. He then proceeds at length to state the nature and operations of that law, by which a heavy tax, under the pretence of liberality, was in fact imposed on all the citizens of the empire—a fact which, in its ultimate results, the historian of the Decline and Fall regards as so closely connected with the termination of the empire. See Gibbon, i. pp. 9195. After noticing the laws of Augustus, Nero, and the Antonines, and the real privileges conferred by them on those who became entitled to the rank of Roman citizens—privileges which were a compensation in the honour, dignity, and offices of that rank for the measure of taxation which it involved—he proceeds to notice the fact that the title of “Roman citizen” was conferred by Caracalla on all the free citizens of the empire, involving the subjection to all the heavy taxes usually imposed on those who sustained the rank expressed by the title, but with nothing of the compensation connected with the title when it was confined to the inhabitants of Italy. “But the favour,” says he, “which implied a distinction, was lost in the prodigality of Caracalla, and the reluctant provincials were compelled to assume the vain title, and the real obligations, of Roman citizens. Nor was the rapacious son of Severus [Caracalla] contented with such a measure of taxation as had appeared sufficient to his moderate predecessors. Instead of a twentieth, he exacted a tenth of all legacies and inheritances; and during his reign he crushed alike every part of the empire under the weight of his iron sceptre,” i. 95. So again (Ibid.), speaking of the taxes which had been lightened somewhat by Alexander, Mr. Gibbon remarks: “It is impossible to conjecture the motive that engaged him to spare so trifling a remnant of the evil; but the noxious weed, which had not been totally eradicated, again sprung up with the most luxuriant growth, and in the succeeding age darkened the Roman world with its deadly shade. In the course of this history we shall be too often summoned to explain the land-tax, the capitation, and the heavy contributions of corn, wine, oil, and meat, which were exacted from the provinces for the use of the court, the army, and the capital.” In reference to this whole matter of taxation as being one of the things which contributed to the downfall of the empire, and which spread woe through the falling empire—a woe worthy to be illustrated by one of the seals—a confirmation may be derived from the reign of Galerius, who, as Cæsar, acted under the authority of Diocletian; who excited Diocletian to the work of persecution (Decline and Fall, i. 317, 318); and who, on the abdication of Diocletian, assumed the title of Augustus (Decline and Fall, i. 222). Of his administration in general Mr. Gibbon (i. 226) remarks: “About that time the avarice of Galerius, or perhaps the exigencies of the state, had induced him to make a very strict and rigorous inquisition into the property of his subjects for the purpose of a general taxation, both on their lands and on their persons. A very minute survey appears to have been taken of their real estates; and wherever there was the slightest suspicion of concealment, torture was very freely employed to obtain a sincere declaration of their personal wealth.” Of the nature of this exaction under Galerius; of the cruelty with which the measure was prosecuted—particularly in its bearing on Christians, towards whom Galerius cherished a mortal enmity (Decline and Fall, i. 317); and of the extent and severity of the suffering among Christians and others, caused by it—the following account of Lactantius (De Mort. Persecut., c. 23) will furnish a painful but most appropriate illustration:—“Swarms of exactors sent into the provinces and cities filled them with agitation and terror, as though a conquering enemy were leading them into captivity. The fields were separately measured, the trees and vines, the flocks and herds numbered, and an examination made of the men. In the cities the cultivated and rude were united as of the same rank. The streets were crowded with groups of families, and every one required to appear with his children and slaves. Tortures and lashes resounded on every side. Sons were gibbeted in the presence of their parents, and the most confidential servants harassed that they might make disclosures against their masters, and wives that they might testify unfavourably of their husbands. If there were a total destitution of property, they were still tortured to make acknowledgments against themselves, and, when overcome by pain, inscribed for what they did not possess. Neither age nor ill-health was admitted as an excuse for not appearing. The sick and weak were borne to the place of inscription, a reckoning made of the age of each, and years added to the young and deducted from the old, in order to subject them to a higher taxation than the law imposed. The whole scene was filled with wailing and sadness. In the meantime individuals died, and the herds and the flocks diminished, yet tribute was none the less required to be paid for the dead, so that it was no longer allowed either to live or die without a tax. Mendicants alone escaped, where nothing could be wrenched, and whom misfortune and misery had made incapable of farther oppression. These the impious wretch affecting to pity, that they might not suffer want, ordered to be assembled, borne off in vessels, and plunged into the sea.” See Lord on the Apoc., pp. 128, 129. These facts in regard to the severity of taxation, and the rigid nature of the law enforcing it; to the sources of the révenue exacted in the provinces, and to the care that none of those sources should be diminished; and to the actual and undoubted bearing of all this on the decline and fall of the empire, are so strikingly applicable to the symbol here employed, that if it be supposed that it was intended to refer to them, no more natural or expressive symbol could have been used; if it were supposed that the historian meant to make a record of the fulfilment, he could not well have made a search which would more strikingly accord with the symbol. Were we now to represent these things by a symbol, we could scarcely find one that would be more expressive than that of a rider on a black horse with a pair of scales, sent forth under a proclamation which indicated that there would be a most rigid and exact administration of severe and oppressive laws, and with a special command, addressed to the people, not for the purposes of concealment, or from opposition to the government, to injure the sources of revenue. It may serve further to illustrate this, to copy one of the usual emblems of a Roman procurator or questor. It is taken from Spanheim, De Usu Num. Diss., vi. 545. See Elliott, i. 169. It has a balance as a symbol of exactness or justice, and an ear of grain as a symbol employed with reference to procuring or exacting grain from the provinces.

Emblem of a Roman Procurator.

7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.

7. And when he had opened the fourth seal. See Notes, ch. v. 1. ¶ I heard the voice of the fourth beast say. The flying eagle. Notes, ch. iv. 7. As in the other cases, there does not appear to have been any particular reason why the fourth of the living creatures should have made this proclamation rather than either of the others. It was poetic and appropriate to represent each one in his turn as making proclamation. ¶ Come and see. See Notes, ver. 1.

8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given 219unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill 220with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

8. And I looked, and behold a pale horseἵππος χλωρὸς. On the horse, as an emblem, see Notes on ver. 2. The peculiarity of this emblem consists in the colour of the horse, the rider, and the power that was given unto him. In these there is entire harmony, and there can be comparatively little difficulty in the explanation and application. The colour of the horse was paleχλωρὸς. This word properly means pale-green, yellowish-green, like the colour of the first shoots of grass and herbage; then green, verdant, like young herbage, Mar. vi. 39; Re. viii. 7; ix. 4; and then pale yellowish (Rob. Lex.). The colour here would be an appropriate one to denote the reign of death—as one of the most striking effects of death is paleness—and, of course, of death produced by any cause, famine, pestilence, or the sword. From this portion of the symbol, if it stood with nothing to limit and define it, we should naturally look for some condition of things in which death would prevail in a remarkable manner, or in which multitudes of human beings would be swept away. And yet, perhaps, from the very nature of this part of the symbol, we should look for the prevalence of death in some such peaceful manner as by famine or disease. The red colour would more naturally denote the ravages of death in war; the black, the ravages of death by sudden calamity; the pale would more obviously suggest famine or wasting disease. ¶ And his name that sat on him was Death. No description is given of his aspect; nor does he appear with any emblem—as sword, or spear, or bow. There is evident scope for the fancy to picture to itself the form of the destroyer; and there is just that kind of obscurity about it which contributes to sublimity. Accordingly, there has been ample room for the exercise of the imagination in the attempts to paint “Death on the pale horse,” and the opening of this seal has furnished occasion for some of the greatest triumphs of the pencil. The simple idea in this portion of the symbol is, that death would reign or prevail under the opening of this seal—whether by sword, by famine, or by pestilence, is to be determined by other descriptions in the symbol. ¶ And Hell followed with him. Attended him as he went forth. On the meaning of the word here rendered hellᾅδης, hades—see Notes on Lu. xvi. 23, comp. Notes on Job x. 21, 22; Is. xiv. 9. It is here used to denote the abode of the dead, considered as a place where they dwell, and not in the more restricted sense in which the word is now commonly used as a place of punishment. The idea is, that the dead would be so numerous at the going forth of this horseman, that it would seem as if the pale nations of the dead had come again upon the earth. A vast retinue of the dead would accompany him; that is, it would be a time when death would prevail on the earth, or when multitudes would die. ¶ And power was given unto them. Marg., to him. The common Greek text is αὐτοῖςto them. There are many MSS., however, which read αὐτῷto him. So Professor Stuart reads it. The authority, however, is in favour of them as the reading; and according to this, death and his train are regarded as grouped together, and the power is considered as given to them collectively. The sense is not materially varied. ¶ Over the fourth part of the earth. That is, of the Roman world. It is not absolutely necessary to understand this as extending over precisely a fourth part of the world. Comp. Re. viii. 710, 12; ix. 15, et al. Undoubtedly we are to look in the fulfilment of this to some far-spread calamity; to some severe visitations which would sweep off great multitudes of men. The nature of that visitation is designated in the following specifications. ¶ To kill with sword. In war and discord—and we are, therefore, to look to a period of war. ¶ And with hunger. With famine—one of the accompaniments of war—where armies ravage a nation, trampling down the crops of grain; consuming the provisions laid up; employing in war, or cutting off, the men who would be occupied in cultivating the ground; making it necessary that they should take the field at a time when the grain should be sown or the harvest collected; and shutting up the people in besieged cities to perish by hunger. Famine has been not an unfrequent accompaniment of war; and we are to look for the fulfilment of this in its extensive prevalence. ¶ And with death. Each of the other forms—“with the sword and with hunger”—imply that death would reign; for it is said that “power was given to kill with sword and with hunger.” This word, then, must refer to death in some other form—to death that seemed to reign without any such visible cause as the “sword” and “hunger.” This would well denote the pestilence—not an unfrequent accompaniment of war. For nothing is better fitted to produce this than the unburied bodies of the slain; the filth of a camp; the want of food; and the crowding together of multitudes in a besieged city; and, accordingly, the pestilence, especially in Oriental countries, has been often closely connected with war. That the pestilence is referred to here is rendered more certain by the fact that the Hebrew word דֶּבֶר, pestilence, which occurs about fifty times in the Old Testament, is rendered θάνατος, death, more than thirty times in the Septuagint. ¶ And with the beasts of the earth. With wild beasts. This, too, would be one of the consequences of war, famine, and pestilence. Lands would be depopulated, and wild beasts would be multiplied. Nothing more is necessary to make them formidable than a prevalence of these things; and nothing, in the early stages of society, or in countries ravaged by war, famine, and the pestilence, is more formidable. Homer, at the very beginning of his Iliad, presents us with a representation similar to this. Comp. Eze. xiv. 21: “I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence,” דֶבֶרSept., as here, θάνατον. See also 2 Ki. xvii. 26.

In regard to the fulfilment of this there can be little difficulty, if the principles adopted in the interpretation of the first three seals are correct. We may turn to Gibbon, and, as in the other cases, we shall find that he has been an unconscious witness of the fidelity of the representation in this seal. Two general remarks may be made before there is an attempt to illustrate the particular things in the symbol. (a) The first relates to the place in the order of time, or in history, which this seal occupies. If the three former seals have been located with any degree of accuracy, we should expect that this would follow, not very remotely, the severe laws pertaining to taxation, which, according to Mr. Gibbon, contributed so essentially to the downfall of the empire. And if it be admitted to be probable that the fifth seal refers to a time of persecution, it would be most natural to fix this period between those times and the times of Diocletian, when the persecution ceased. I may be permitted to say, that I was led to fix on this period without having any definite view beforehand of what occurred in it, and was surprised to find in Mr. Gibbon what seems to be so accurate a correspondence with the symbol. (b) The second remark is, that the general characteristics of this period, as stated by Mr. Gibbon, agree remarkably with what we should expect of the period from the symbol. Thus speaking of this whole period (A.D. 248268), embracing the reigns of Decius, Gallus, Æmilianus, Valerian, and Gallienus, he says, “From the great secular games celebrated by Philip to the death of the emperor Gallienus, there elapsed twenty years of shame and misfortune. During this calamitous period every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted by barbarous invaders and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its dissolution,” i. 135.

In regard to the particular things referred to in the symbol, the following specifications may furnish a sufficient confirmation and illustration: (a) The killing with the sword. A fulfilment of this, so far as the words are concerned, might be found indeed in many portions of Roman history, but no one can doubt that it was eminently true of this period. It was the period of the first Gothic invasion of the Roman empire; the period when those vast hordes, having gradually come down from the regions of Scandinavia, and having moved along the Danube towards the Ukraine and the countries bordering on the Borysthenes, invaded the Roman territories from the East, passed over Greece, and made their appearance almost, as Mr. Gibbon says, within sight of Rome. Of this invasion Mr. Gibbon says, “This is the first considerable occasion [the fact that the emperor Decius was summoned to the banks of the Danube, A.D. 250, by the invasion of the Goths] in which history mentions that great people, who afterwards broke the Roman power, sacked the Capitol, and reigned in Gaul, Spain, and Italy. So memorable was the part which they acted in the subversion of the Western empire, that the name of Goths is frequently, but improperly, used as a general appellation of rude and warlike barbarism,” i. p. 136. As one of the illustrations that the “sword” would be used by “Death” in this period, we may refer to the siege and capture of Philippolis. “A hundred thousand persons are reported to have been massacred in the sack of that great city” (Dec. and Fall, i. 140). “The whole period,” says Mr. Gibbon, speaking of the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, “was one uninterrupted series of confusion and calamity. The Roman empire was, at the same time, and on every side, attacked by the blind fury of foreign invaders, and the wild ambition of domestic usurpers,” i. 144. “Such were the barbarians,” says Mr. Gibbon in the close of his description of the Goths at this period, and of the tyrants that reigned, “and such the tyrants, who, under the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus, dismembered the provinces, and reduced the empire to the lowest pitch of disgrace and ruin, from whence it seemed impossible that it should ever emerge,” i. 158. (b) Famine: “Shall kill with hunger.” This would naturally be the consequence of long-continued wars, and of such invasions as those of the Goths. Mr. Gibbon says of this period: “Our habits of thinking so fondly connect the order of the universe with the fate of man, that this gloomy period of history has been decorated with inundations, earthquakes, uncommon meteors, preternatural darkness, and a crowd of prodigies, fictitious or exaggerated. But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present, and the hope of future harvests,” i. p. 159. Prodigies, and preternatural darkness, and earthquakes, were not seen in the vision of the opening of the seal—but war and famine were; and the facts stated by Mr. Gibbon are such as would be now appropriately symbolized by Death on the pale horse. (c) Pestilence: “And shall kill with death.” Of the pestilence which raged in this period Mr. Gibbon makes the following remarkable statement, in immediate connection with what he says of the famine:—“Famine is almost always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes must, however, have contributed to the furious plague, which, from the year 250 to the year 265, raged without interruption in every province, every city, and almost every family of the Roman empire. During some time five thousand persons died daily at Rome; and many towns that had escaped the hands of the barbarians were entirely depopulated,” i. 159. (d) Wild beasts: “And shall kill with the beasts of the earth.” As already remarked, these are formidable enemies in the early stages of society, and when a country becomes, from any cause, depopulated. They are not mentioned by Mr. Gibbon as contributing to the decline and fall of the empire, or as connected with the calamities that came upon the world at that period. But no one can doubt that in such circumstances they would be likely to abound, especially if the estimate of Mr. Gibbon be correct (i. 159), when speaking of these times, and making an estimate of the proportion of the inhabitants of Alexandria that had perished—which he says was more than one-half—he adds, “Could we venture to extend the analogy to the other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed in a few years the moiety of the human species.” Yet, though not adverted to by Mr. Gibbon, there is a record pertaining to this very period, which shows that this was one of the calamities with which the world was then afflicted. It occurs in Arnobius, Adv. Gentes, lib. i. p. 5. Within a few years after the death of Gallienus (about A.D. 300) he speaks of wild beasts in such a manner as to show that they were regarded as a sore calamity. The public peril and suffering on this account were so great, that in common with other evils this was charged on Christians as one of the judgments of heaven which they brought upon the world. In defending Christians against the general charge that these judgments were sent from heaven on their account, he adverts to the prevalence of wild beasts, and shows that they could not have been sent as a judgment on account of the existence of Christianity, by the fact that they had prevailed also in the times of heathenism, long before Christianity was introduced into the empire. “Quando cum feris bella, et proelia cum leonibus gesta sunt? Non ante nos? Quando pernicies populis venenatis ab anguibus data est? Non ante nos?” “When were wars waged with wild beasts, and contests with lions? Was it not before our times? When did a plague come upon men poisoned by serpents? Was it not before our times?” In regard to the extent of the destruction which these causes would bring upon the world, there is a remarkable confirmation in Gibbon. To say, as is said in the account of the seal, that “a fourth part of the earth” would be subjected to the reign of death by the sword, by famine, by pestilence, and by wild beasts, may seem to many to be an improbable statement—a statement for the fulfilment of which we should look in vain to any historical records. Yet Mr. Gibbon, without expressly mentioning the plague of wild beasts, but referring to the three others—“war, pestilence, and famine”—goes into a calculation, in a passage already referred to, by which he shows that it is probable that from these causes half the human race was destroyed. The following is his estimate:—“We have the knowledge of a very curious circumstance, of some use perhaps in the melancholy calculation of human calamities. An exact register was kept at Alexandria of all the citizens entitled to receive the distribution of corn. It was found that the ancient number of those comprised between the ages of forty and seventy had been equal to the whole sum of claimants, from fourteen to fourscore years of age, who remained alive after the reign of Gallienus. Applying this authentic fact to the most correct tables of mortality, it evidently proves that above half the people of Alexandria had perished; and could we venture to extend the analogy to the other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine had consumed in a few years the moiety of the human species,” i. 159. The historian says that it might be “suspected ” from these data that one-half of the human race had been cut off in a few years, from these causes; in the Apocalyptic vision it is said that power was given over one “fourth” of the earth. We may remark, (a) that the description in the symbol is as likely to be correct as the “suspicion” of the historian; and (b) that his statement that in this period “a moiety of the race,” or one-half of the race, perished, takes away all improbability from the prediction, and gives a most graphic confirmation of the symbol of Death on the pale horse. If such a desolation in fact occurred, there is no improbability in the supposition that it might have been prefigured by the opening of a prophetic seal. Such a wide-spread desolation would be likely to be referred to in a series of symbols that were designed to represent the downfall of the Roman power, and the great changes in human affairs that would affect the welfare of the church.

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the 221altar the 222souls of them that were slain for 223the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 224How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and 225avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

11 And 226white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should 227rest yet for a little season, until228 their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

9‒11. And when he had opened the fifth seal. Notes, ch. v. 1; vi. 1. ¶ I saw under the altar. The four living creatures are no longer heard as in the opening of the first four seals. No reason is given for the change in the manner of the representation; and none can be assigned, unless it be, that having represented each one of the four living creatures in their turn as calling attention to the remarkable events about to occur, there seemed to be no necessity or propriety in introducing them again. In itself considered, it cannot be supposed that they would be any less interested in the events about to be disclosed than they were in those which preceded. This seal pertains to martyrs—as the former successively did to a time of prosperity and triumph; to discord and bloodshed; to oppressive taxation; to war, famine, and pestilence. In the series of woes, it was natural and proper that there should be a vision of martyrs, if it was intended that the successive seals should refer to coming and important periods of the world; and accordingly we have here a striking representation of the martyrs crying to God to interpose in their behalf and to avenge their blood. The points which require elucidation are: (a) their position—under the altar; (b) their invocation—or their prayer that they might be avenged; (c) the clothing of them with robes; and (d) the command to wait patiently a little time. (1) The position of the martyrs—under the altar. There were in the temple at Jerusalem two altars—the altar of burnt sacrifices, and the altar of incense. The altar here referred to was probably the former. This stood in front of the temple, and it was on this that the daily sacrifice was made. Comp. Notes on Mat. v. 23, 24. We are to remember, however, that the temple and the altar were both destroyed before the time when this book was written, and this should, therefore, be regarded merely as a vision. John saw these souls as if they were collected under the altar—the place where the sacrifice for sin was made—offering their supplications. Why they are represented as being there is not so apparent; but probably two suggestions will explain this: (a) The altar was the place where sin was expiated, and it was natural to represent these redeemed martyrs as seeking refuge there; and (b) it was usual to offer prayers and supplications at the altar, in connection with the sacrifice made for sin, and on the ground of that sacrifice. The idea is, that they who were suffering persecution would naturally seek a refuge in the place where expiation was made for sin, and where prayer was appropriately offered. The language here is such as a Hebrew would naturally use; the idea is appropriate to anyone who believes in the atonement, and who supposes that that is the appropriate refuge for those who are in trouble. But while the language here is such as a Hebrew would use, and while the reference in the language is to the altar of burnt sacrifice, the scene should be regarded as undoubtedly laid in heaven—the temple where God resides. The whole representation is that of fleeing to the atonement, and pleading with God in connection with the sacrifice for sin. ¶ The souls of them that were slain. That had been put to death by persecution. This is one of the incidental proofs in the Bible that the soul does not cease to exist at death, and also that it does not cease to be conscious, or does not sleep till the resurrection. These souls of the martyrs are represented as still in existence; as remembering what had occurred on the earth; as interested in what was now taking place; as engaged in prayer; and as manifesting earnest desires for the divine interposition to avenge the wrongs which they had suffered. ¶ For the word of God. On account of the word or truth of God. See Notes on ch. i. 9. ¶ And for the testimony which they held. On account of their testimony to the truth, or being faithful witnesses of the truth of Jesus Christ. See Notes on ch. i. 9. (2) The invocation of the martyrs, ver. 10: And they cried with a loud voice. That is, they pleaded that their blood might be avenged. ¶ Saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true. They did not doubt that God would avenge them, but they inquired how long the vengeance would be delayed. It seemed to them that God was slow to interpose, and to check the persecuting power. They appeal therefore to him as a God of holiness and truth; that is, as one who could not look with approval on sin, and in whose sight the wrongs inflicted by the persecuting power must be infinitely offensive; as one who was true to his promises, and faithful to his people. On the ground of his own hatred of wrong, and of his plighted faithfulness to his church, they pleaded that he would interpose. ¶ Dost thou not judge and avenge our blood. That is, dost thou forbear to judge and avenge us; or dost thou delay to punish those who have persecuted and slain us. They do not speak as if they had any doubt that it would be done, nor as if they were actuated by a spirit of revenge; but as if it would be proper that there should be an expression of the divine sense of the wrongs that had been done them. It is not right to desire vengeance or revenge; it is to desire that justice should be done, and that the government of God should be vindicated. The word “judge” here may either mean “judge us,” in the sense of “vindicate us,” or it may refer to their persecutors, meaning “judge them.” The more probable sense is the latter: “How long dost thou forbear to execute judgment on our account on those that dwell on the earth?” The word avengeἐκδικέω—means to do justice; to execute punishment. ¶ On them that dwell on the earth. Those who are still on the earth. This shows that the scene here is laid in heaven, and that the souls of the martyrs are represented as there. We are not to suppose that this literally occurred, and that John actually saw the souls of the martyrs beneath the altars—for the whole representation is symbolical; nor are we to suppose that the injured and the wronged in heaven actually pray for vengeance on those who wronged them, or that the redeemed in heaven will continue to pray with reference to things on the earth; but it may be fairly inferred from this that there will be as real a remembrance of the wrongs of the persecuted, the injured, and the oppressed, as if such prayer were offered there; and that the oppressor has as much to dread from the divine vengeance as if those whom he has injured should cry in heaven to the God who hears prayer, and who takes vengeance. The wrongs done to the children of God; to the orphan, the widow, the down-trodden; to the slave and the outcast, will be as certainly remembered in heaven as if they who are wronged should plead for vengeance there, for every act of injustice and oppression goes to heaven and pleads for vengeance. Every persecutor should dread the death of the persecuted as if he went to heaven to plead against him; every cruel master should dread the death of his slave that is crushed by wrongs; every seducer should dread the death and the cries of his victim; every one who does wrong in any way should remember that the sufferings of the injured cry to heaven with a martyr’s pleadings, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood?” (3) The robes that were given to the martyrs: And white robes were given unto every one of them. Emblems of purity or innocence. See Notes on ch. iii. 5. Here the robes would be an emblem of their innocence as martyrs; of the divine approval of their testimony and lives, and a pledge of their future blessedness. (4) The command to wait: And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season. That is, that they must wait for a little season before they could be avenged as they desired, ver. 10. They had pleaded that their cause might be at once vindicated, and had asked how long it would be before it should be done. The reply is, that the desired vindication would not at once occur, but that they must wait until other events were accomplished. Nothing definite is determined by the phrase “a little season,” or a short time. It is simply an intimation that this would not immediately occur, or was not soon to take place. Whether it refers to an existing persecution, and to the fact that they were to wait for the divine interposition until that was over, and those who were then suffering persecution should be put to death and join them; or whether to a series of persecutions stretching along in the history of the world, in such a sense that the promised vengeance would take place only when all those persecutions were passed, and the number of the martyrs completed, cannot be determined from the meaning of their words. Either of these suppositions would accord well with what the language naturally expresses. ¶ Until their fellow-servants also. Those who were then suffering persecution, or those who should afterwards suffer persecution, grouping all together. ¶ And their brethren. Their brethren as Christians, and their brethren in trial: those then living, or those who would live afterwards and pass through similar scenes. ¶ Should be fulfilled. That is, till these persecutions were passed through, and the number of the martyrs was complete. The state of things represented here would seem to be, that there was then a persecution raging on the earth. Many had been put to death, and their souls had fled to heaven, where they pleaded that their cause might be vindicated, and that their oppressors and persecutors might be punished. To this the answer was, that they were now safe and happy—that God approved their course, and that in token of his approbation they should be clothed in white raiment; but that the invoked vindication could not at once occur. There were others who would yet be called to suffer as they had done, and they must wait until all that number was completed. Then, it is implied, God would interpose, and vindicate his name. The scene, therefore, is laid in a time of persecution, when many had already died, and when there were many more that were exposed to death; and a sufficient fulfilment of the passage, so far as the words are concerned, would be found in any persecution, where many might be represented as having already gone to heaven, and where there was a certainty that many more would follow. We naturally, however, look for the fulfilment of it in some period succeeding those designated by the preceding symbols. There would be no difficulty, in the early history of the church, in finding events that would correspond with all that is represented by the symbol; but it is natural to look for it in a period succeeding that represented, under the fourth seal, by Death on the pale horse. If the previous seals have been correctly interpreted we shall not be much in danger of erring in supposing that this refers to the persecution under Diocletian; and perhaps we may find in one who never intended to write a word that could be construed as furnishing a proof of the fulfilment of the prophecies of the New Testament, what should be regarded as a complete verification of all that is represented here. The following particulars may justify this application: (a) The place of that persecution in history, or the time when it occurred. As already remarked, if the previous seals have been rightly explained, and the fourth seal denotes the wars, the famine, and the pestilence, under the invasion of the Goths, and in the time of Valerian and Gallienus, then the last great persecution of the church under Diocletian would well accord with the period in history referred to. Valerian died in A.D. 260, being flayed alive by Sapor, king of Persia; Gallienus died in A.D. 268, being killed at Milan. Diocletian ascended the throne A.D. 284, and resigned the purple A.D. 304. It was during this period, and chiefly at the instigation of Galerius, that the tenth persecution of the Christians occurred—the last under the Roman power; for in A.D. 306 Constantine ascended the throne, and ultimately became the protector of the church. (b) The magnitude of this persecution under Diocletian is as consonant to the representation here as its place in history. So important was it, that, in a general chapter on the persecutions of the Christians, Mr. Gibbon has seen fit, in his remarks on the nature, causes, extent, and character of the persecutions, to give a prominence to this which he has not assigned to any others, and to attach an importance to it which he has not to any other. See vol. i. pp. 317322. The design of this persecution, as Mr. Gibbon expresses it (i. 318), was “to set bounds to the progress of Christianity;” or, as he elsewhere expresses it (on the same page), “the destruction of Christianity.” Diocletian, himself naturally averse from persecution, was excited to this by Galerius, who urged upon the emperor every argument by which he could persuade him to engage in it. Mr. Gibbon says in regard to this, “Galerius at length extorted from him [Diocletian] the permission of summoning a council, composed of a few persons, the most distinguished in the civil and military departments of the state. It may be presumed that they insisted on every topic which might interest the pride, the piety, the fears of their sovereign in the destruction of Christianity,” i. 318. The purpose evidently in the persecution, was, to make a last and desperate effort, through the whole Roman empire, for the destruction of the Christian religion; for Mr. Gibbon (i. 320) says that “the edict against the Christians was designed for a general law of the whole empire.” Other efforts had failed. The religion still spread, notwithstanding the rage and fury of nine previous persecutions. It was resolved to make one more effort. This was designed by the persecutors to be the last, in the hope that then the Christian name would cease to be: in the providence of God it was the last—for then even these opposing powers became convinced that the religion could not be destroyed in this manner—and as this persecution was to establish this fact, it was an event of sufficient magnitude to be symbolized by the opening of one of the seals. (c) The severity of this persecution accorded with the description here, and was such as to deserve a place in the series of important events which were to occur in the world. We have seen above, from the statement of Mr. Gibbon, that it was designed for the “whole empire,” and it in fact raged with fury throughout the empire. After detailing some of the events of local persecutions under Diocletian, Mr. Gibbon says, “The resentment or the fears of Diocletian at length transported him beyond the bounds of moderation, which he had hitherto preserved, and he declared, in a series of edicts, his intention of abolishing the Christian name. By the first of these edicts the governors of the provinces were directed to apprehend all persons of the ecclesiastical order; and the prisons destined for the vilest criminals were soon filled with a multitude of bishops, presbyters, deacons, and exorcists. By a second edict the magistrates were commanded to employ every method of severity which might reclaim them from their odious superstition, and oblige them to return to the established worship of the gods. This rigorous order was extended, by a subsequent edict, to the whole body of Christians, who were exposed to a violent and general persecution. Instead of those salutary restraints which had required the direct and solemn testimony of an accuser, it became the duty as well as the interest of the imperial officers to discover, to pursue, and to torment the most obnoxious among the faithful. Heavy penalties were denounced against all who should presume to save a proscribed sectary from the just indignation of the gods, and of the emperors,” i. 322. The first decree against the Christians, at the instigation of Galerius, will show the general nature of this fiery trial of the church. That decree was to the following effect: “All assembling of the Christians for the purposes of religious worship was forbidden; the Christian churches were to be demolished to their foundations; all manuscripts of the Bible should be burned; those who held places of honour or rank must either renounce their faith or be degraded; in judicial proceedings the torture might be used against all Christians, of whatever rank; those belonging to the lower walks of private life were to be divested of their rights as citizens and as freemen; Christian slaves were to be incapable of receiving their freedom, so long as they remained Christians” (Neander, Hist. of the Church, Torrey’s Trans. i. 148). This persecution was the last against the Christians by the Roman emperors; the last that was waged by that mighty Pagan power. Diocletian soon resigned the purple, and after the persecution had continued to rage, with more or less severity, under his successors, for ten years, the peace of the church was established. “Diocletian,” says Mr. Gibbon (i. 322), “had no sooner published his edicts against the Christians, than, as if he had been committing to other hands his work of persecution, he divested himself of the imperial purple. The character and situation of his colleagues and successors sometimes urged them to enforce, and sometimes to suspend, the execution of these rigorous laws; nor can we acquire a just and distinct idea of this important period of ecclesiastical history, unless we separately consider the state of Christianity in the different parts of the empire, during the space of ten years which elapsed between the first edicts of Diocletian and the final peace of the church.” For this detail consult Gibbon, i. 322329, and the authorities there referred to; and Neander, Hist. of the Church, i. 147156. Respecting the details of the persecution, Mr. Gibbon remarks (i. 326), “It would have been an easy task, from the history of Eusebius, from the declamations of Lactantius, and from the most ancient acts, to collect a long series of horrid and disgustful pictures, and to fill many pages with racks and scourges, with iron-hooks, and red-hot beds, and with the variety of tortures which fire and steel, savage beasts, and more savage executioners, could inflict on the human body.” It is true that Mr. Gibbon professes to doubt the truth of these records, and attempts to show that the account of the number of the martyrs has been greatly exaggerated; yet no one, in reading his own account of this persecution, can doubt that it was the result of a determined effort to blot out the Christian religion, and that the whole of the imperial power was exerted to accomplish this end. At length the last of the imperial persecutions ceased, and the great truth was demonstrated that Christianity could not be extinguished by power, and that “the gates of hell could not prevail against it.” “In the year 311,” says Neander (i. 156), “the remarkable edict appeared which put an end to the last sanguinary conflict of the Christian church and the Roman empire.” This decree was issued by the author and instigator of the persecution, Galerius, who, “softened by a severe and painful disease, the consequence of his excesses, had been led to think that the God of the Christians might, after all, be a powerful being, whose anger punished him, and whose favour he must endeavour to conciliate.” This man suspended the persecution, and gave the Christians permission “once more to hold their assemblies, provided they did nothing contrary to the good order of the Roman state.” “Ita ut ne quid contra disciplinam agant” (Neander, ibid.).

12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great 229earthquake; and the sun230 became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

13 And the 231stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her 232untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

14 And the 233heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and 234every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, 235hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;

16 And 236said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

17 For the 237great day of his wrath is come; and 238who shall be able to stand?

12‒17. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal. See Notes, ch. v. 1; vi. 1. ¶ And, lo, there was a great earthquake. Before endeavouring to ascertain to what the sixth seal was designed to refer, it is proper, as in the previous cases, to furnish a particular explanation of the meaning of the symbols. All the symbols represented in the opening of this seal denote consternation, commotion, changes; but still they are all significant, and we are to suppose that something would occur corresponding with each one of them. It cannot be supposed that the things here described were represented on the part of the roll or volume that was now unfolded in any other way than that they were pictures, or that the whole was a species of panoramic representation made to pass before the eyes. Thus understood, it would not be difficult to represent each one of these things in a painting: as the heaving ground—the agitated forests—the trembling hills—the falling cities and houses—the sun blackened, and the moon turned to blood.

(a) The earthquake, ver. 12: There was a great earthquake. The word here used denotes a shaking or agitation of the earth. The effect, when violent, is to produce important changes—opening chasms in the earth; throwing down houses and temples; sinking hills, and elevating plains; causing ponds and lakes to dry up, or forming them where none existed; elevating the ocean from its bed, rending rocks, &c. As all that occurs in the opening of the other seals is symbolical, it is to be presumed that this is also, and that for the fulfilment of this we are not to look for a literal earthquake, but for such agitations and changes in the world as would be properly symbolized by this. The earthquake, as a symbol, would merely denote great agitations or overturnings on the earth. The particular character of those changes must be determined by other circumstances in the symbol that would limit and explain it. There are, it is said, but three literal earthquakes referred to in the Scripture: that mentioned in 1 Ki. xix. 11; that in Uzziah’s time, Am. i. 1; Zec. xiv. 5; and that which took place at the Saviour’s death. All the rest are emblematical or symbolical—referring mostly to civil commotions and changes. Then in Hag. ii. 6, 7: “Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” That is, there would be great agitations in the world before he came. See Notes on He. xii. 2628. So also great changes and commotions are referred to in Is. xxiv. 19, 20: “The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage.” An earthquake, if there were no other circumstances limiting and explaining the symbol, would merely denote great agitation and commotion—as if states and empires were tumbling to ruin. As this is here a mere symbol, it is not necessary to look for a literal fulfilment, or to expect to find in history actual earthquakes to which this had reference, any more than when it is said that “the heavens departed as a scroll” we are to expect that they will be literally rolled up; but if, in the course of history, earthquakes preceded remarkable political convulsions and revolutions, it would be proper to represent such events in this way.

(b) The darkening of the sun: And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair. Sackcloth was a coarse black cloth, commonly, though not always, made of hair. It was used for sacks, for strainers, and for mourning garments; and as thus worn it was not an improper emblem of sadness and distress. The idea here is, that the sun put on a dark, dingy, doleful appearance, as if it were in mourning. The general image, then, in this emblem, is that of calamity—as if the very sun should put on the robes of mourning. We are by no means to suppose that this was literally to occur, but that some great calamity would happen, of which this would be an appropriate emblem. See Notes on Is. xiii. 10; Mat. xxiv. 29. Comp. Is. xxiv. 23; xxxiv. 4; l. 3; lx. 19, 20; Eze. xxxii. 7, 8; Joel ii. 10; iii. 15, 16; Am. viii. 9. What is the particular nature of the calamity is to be learned from other parts of the symbol.

(c) The discoloration of the moon: And the moon became as blood. Red like blood—either from the smoke and vapour that usually precedes an earthquake, or as a mere emblem. This also would betoken calamity, and perhaps the symbol may be so far limited and modified by this as to denote war, for that would be most naturally suggested by the colour—red. Comp. Notes on ver. 4 of this chapter. But any great calamity would be appropriately represented by this—as the change of the moon to such a colour would be a natural emblem of distress.

(d) The falling of the stars, ver. 13: And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth. This language is derived from the poetic idea that the sky seems to be a solid concave, in which the stars are set, and that when any convulsion takes place, that concave will be shaken, and the stars will be loosened and fall from their places. See this language explained in the Notes on Is. xxxiv. 4. Sometimes the expanse above us is spoken of as a curtain that is spread out, and that may be rolled up; sometimes as a solid crystalline expanse in which the stars are fixed. According to either representation the stars are described as falling to the earth. If the expanse is rolled up, the stars, having nothing to support them, fall; if violent tempests or concussions shake the heavens, the stars, loosened from their fixtures, fall to the earth. Stars, in the Scriptures, are symbols of princes and rulers (see Da. viii. 10; Re. viii. 10, 11; ix. 1); and the natural meaning of this symbol is, that there would be commotions which would unsettle princes, and bring them down from their thrones—like stars falling from the sky. ¶ Even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs. Marg., green; Gr., ὀλύνθους. This word properly denotes winter-figs, or such as grow under the leaves, and do not ripen at the proper season, but hang upon the trees during the winter (Rob. Lex.). This fruit seldom matures, and easily falls off in the spring of the year (Stuart, in loco). A violent wind shaking a plantation of fig-trees would of course cast many such figs to the ground. The point of the comparison is, the ease with which the stars would seem to be shaken from their places, and hence the ease with which, in these commotions, princes would be dethroned.

(e) The departing of the heavens, ver. 14: And the heaven departed as a scroll. That is, as a book or volume—βιβλίον—rolled up. The heavens are here described as spread out, and their passing away is represented by the idea that they might be rolled up, and thus disappear. See Notes on Is. xxxiv. 4. This, too, is a symbol, and we are not to suppose that it will literally occur. Indeed it never can literally occur; and we are not, therefore, to look for the fulfilment of this in any physical fact that would correspond with what is here said. The plain meaning is, that there would be changes as if such an event would happen; that is, that revolutions would occur in the high places of the earth, and among those in power, as if the stars should fall, and the very heavens were swept away. This is the natural meaning of the symbol, and this accords with the usage of the language elsewhere.

(f) The removal of mountains and islands, ver. 14: And every mountain and island were moved out of their places. This would denote convulsions in the political or moral world, as great as would occur in the physical world if the very mountains were removed and the islands should change their places. We are not to suppose that this would literally occur; but we should be authorized from this to expect that, in regard to those things which seemed to be permanent and fixed on an immovable basis, like mountains and islands, there would be violent and important changes. If thrones and dynasties long established were overthrown; if institutions that seemed to be fixed and permanent were abolished; if a new order of things should rise in the political world, the meaning of the symbol, so far as the language is concerned, would be fulfilled.

(g) The universal consternation, ver. 1517: And the kings of the earth, &c. The design of these verses (1517), in the varied language used, is evidently to denote universal consternation and alarm—as if the earth should be convulsed, and the stars should fall, and the heavens should pass away. This consternation would extend to all classes of men, and fill the world with alarm, as if the end of all things were coming. ¶ The kings of the earth. Rulers—all who occupied thrones. ¶ The great men. High officers of state. ¶ And the rich men. Their wealth would not secure them from destruction, and they would be alarmed like others. ¶ And the chief captains. The commanders of armies, who tremble like other men when God appears in judgment. ¶ And the mighty men. Men of great prowess in battle, but who feel now that they have no power to withstand God. ¶ And every bondman. Servant—δοῦλος. This word does not necessarily denote a slave (comp. Notes on Ep. vi. 5; 1 Ti. vi. 1; Phile. 16), but here the connection seems to demand it, for it stands in contrast with freeman. There were, in fact, slaves in the Roman empire, and there is no objection in supposing that they are here referred to. There is no reason why they should not be filled with consternation as well as others; and as this does not refer to the end of the world, or the day of judgment, the word here determines nothing as to the question whether slavery is to continue on the earth. ¶ And every freeman. Whether the master of slaves or not. The idea is, that all classes of men, high and low, would be filled with alarm. ¶ Hid themselves in the dens. Among the caves or caverns in the mountains. See Notes on Is. ii. 19. These places were resorted to for safety in times of danger. Comp. 1 Sa. xiii. 6; xxiv.; Ju. vi. 2; Je. xli. 9; Jos. Ant. book xiv. ch. xv.; Jewish Wars, book i. ch. xvi. ¶ And in the rocks of the mountains. Among the crags or the fastnesses of the mountains—also natural places of refuge in times of hostile invasion or danger. See Notes on Is. ii. 21. ¶ And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, &c., ver. 16. This language is found substantially in Ho. x. 8: “And they shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us.” It is also used by the Saviour as denoting the consternation which would occur at his coming: “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us,” Lu. xxiii. 30. It is language denoting consternation, and an awful fear of impending wrath. The state of mind is that where there is an apprehension that God himself is coming forth with the direct instruments of his vengeance, and where there is a desire rather to be crushed by falling rocks and hills than by the vengeance of his uplifted arm. ¶ From the face of him that sitteth on the throne. The face of God—for he seems to be coming forth with the displays of his vengeance. It is not said that God would actually come forth in a visible form, but their consternation would be as great as if he were to do this; the state of mind indicated by this was an apprehension that it would be so. ¶ And from the wrath of the Lamb. The Lamb of God; the Lord Jesus. See Notes on ch. v. 6. There seems to be an incongruity between the words wrath and Lamb; but the word Lamb here is so far a proper name as to be used only to designate the Redeemer. He comes forth to execute wrath, not as a Lamb, but as the Son of God, who bore that name. It would seem from this that they who thus dreaded the impending terrors were aware of their source, or had knowledge enough to understand by whom they were to be inflicted. They would see that these were divine judgments, and would apprehend that the end of the world drew near. ¶ For the great day of his wrath is come, ver. 17. The threatening judgments would be so severe and awful that they would suppose that the end of the world was coming. ¶ And who shall be able to stand? To stand before him, or to withstand his judgments.

It is unnecessary to say that there has been, in this case, as in reference to every other part of the book of Revelation, a great diversity of opinion respecting the events symbolized by this seal. Grotius applied it to the wars between the Jews and Romans under Nero and Vespasian; Dr. Hammond supposed that the defeat of the Jewish leaders in those wars was particularly symbolized; Mr. Brightman referred these symbols to the persecution under Diocletian; Mr. Mede, Dr. Cressner, Dr. More, Mr. Whiston, Mr. Jurien, Mr. Daubuz, Mr. Lowman, Bishop Newton, Mr. Elliott, and others, refer it to the defeat of the Pagan powers, and the final suppression of those powers as opposed to Christianity; Vitringa regarded it as foreshadowing the overthrow of the antichristian powers of the western Roman empire; Cocceius explains it of the wars of the Emperor Frederick against the German princes in the sixteenth century; Dean Woodhouse, of the day of vengeance at the end of the world; Mr. Cunninghame, of the same period as the seventh trumpet, commencing with the French revolution, and to be consummated by the visible advent of the Son of God; Professor Stuart, of the destruction of Jerusalem; and Mr. Lord, of a series of events, part of which are fulfilled, three of them corresponding with the first three vials—the first expressive of the revolution of France, the second of a despotism extending through several years, and the third of the overthrow of that violent dynasty, at the fall of Bonaparte, in 1815. It is not my purpose to examine these views; but, amidst this great variety of opinion, it seems to me that the obvious and natural application of the opening of the seal has not been adverted to. I shall suggest it because it is the most natural and obvious, and seems to be demanded by the explanations given of the previous seals. It is, in one word, the impending judgments from the invasions of the northern hordes of Goths and Vandals, threatening the breaking up of the Roman empire—the gathering of the storm, and the hovering of those barbarians on the borders of the empire; the approaches which they made from time to time towards the capital, though restrained as yet from taking it; the tempest of wrath that was, as it were, suspended yet on the frontiers, until the events recorded in the next chapter should occur, then bursting forth in wrath in successive blasts, as denoted by the first four trumpets of the seventh seal (ch. viii.), when the empire was entirely overthrown by the Goths and Vandals. The precise point of time which I suppose this seal occupies is that succeeding the last persecution. It embraces the preparatory arrangements of these hordes of invaders—their gathering on the frontiers of the empire—their threatened approaches toward the capital—and the formation of such vast armies as would produce universal consternation. A brief notice of these preparatory scenes, as adapted to produce the alarm referred to in the opening of the sixth seal, is all that will be necessary here; the more complete detail must be reserved for the explanation of the four trumpets of the seventh seal, when the work of destruction was consummated. These preparations and threatened invasions were events sufficiently important in their relation to the church, to what preceded, and to the future history of the world, to be symbolized here; and they are events in which all the particulars of the symbol may find a fulfilment. Anyone has only to look on a chart of history to see how appropriately this application of the symbol follows, if the previous explanations have been correct. In the illustration of this, in order to show the probability that these events are referred to by the symbols of the sixth seal, I would submit the following remarks:—

(1) The time is that which would be naturally suggested by this seal in its relation to the others. If the fifth referred to the persecutions under Diocletian—the last great persecution of the Pagan powers in attempting to extinguish the Christian name—then we should naturally look for the fulfilment of the opening of the next in some event, or series of events, which would succeed that at no very distant interval, and that pertained to the empire or power that had been the prominent subject of the predictions in the previous seals. It would also be natural to look for some events that might be regarded as conveying an expression of the divine feeling in regard to that power, or that would present it in such an aspect that it would be seen that its power to persecute was at an end. This natural expectation would be answered either by some symbol that would refer to the complete triumph of the Christian system, or by such a series of judgments as would break the persecuting power itself in pieces. Now the threatened irruption of the northern barbarians followed the series of events already described with sufficient nearness to make it proper to regard that series of events as referred to.

(2) The events were of sufficient importance in the history of the empire to deserve this notice in the foreshadowing of what would occur. They were connected with the breaking up of that mighty power, and the complete change of the aspect of the world, in a political and religious point of view. A new order of things arose in the world’s history. A new religion became established. New kingdoms from the fragments of the once-mighty Roman empire were founded, and the affairs of the world were put on a new footing. These mighty northern hordes not only spread consternation and alarm, as if the world were coming to an end, but they laid the foundations of kingdoms which continue to this day. In fact, few more important events have occurred in history.

(3) This series of events was introduced in the manner described in the opening of the sixth seal. I have already said that it is not necessary to suppose, in the fulfilment of the symbol, that there would be a literal earthquake; but nothing in the symbol forbids us to suppose that there might be, and if there were we could not but consider it as remarkable. Now it so happens that the series of events pertaining to the Gothic invasions is introduced by Mr. Gibbon in the following language: “A.D. 365. In the second year of the reign of Valentinian and Valens, on the morning of the twenty-first day of July, the greatest part of the Roman world was shaken by a violent and destructive earthquake. The impression was communicated to the waters; the shores of the Mediterranean were left dry by the sudden retreat of the sea; great quantities of fish were caught with the hand; large vessels were stranded on the mud; and a curious spectator amused his eye, or rather his fancy, by contemplating the various appearances of valleys and mountains which had never before, since the formation of the globe, been exposed to the sun. But the tide soon returned, with the weight of an immense and irresistible deluge, which was severely felt on the coasts of Sicily, of Dalmatia, of Greece, and of Egypt; large boats were transported, and lodged on the roofs of houses, or at the distance of two miles from the shore; the people, with their habitations, were swept away by the waters; and the city of Alexandria annually commemorated the day on which fifty thousand persons had lost their lives in the inundation. This calamity, the report of which was magnified from one province to another, astonished and terrified the subjects of Rome; and their affrighted imagination enlarged the real extent of the momentary evil. They recollected the preceding earthquakes which had subverted the cities of Palestine and Bithynia; they considered these alarming strokes as the prelude only of still more dreadful calamities, and their fearful vanity was disposed to confound the symptoms of a declining empire and a sinking world,” vol. ii. pp. 115, 116. Mr. Gibbon then proceeds to detail the evils of war, as greatly surpassing the calamities produced by any natural causes, and adds (p. 116), “In the disastrous period of the fall of the Roman empire, which may be justly dated from the reign of Valens, the happiness and security of each individual was personally attacked; and the arts and labours of ages were rudely defaced by the barbarians of Scythia and Germany.” He then proceeds with an exceedingly interesting description of the origin, the habits, and the movements of the Tartar nations, particularly the Huns, as they moved to the West, and precipitated the Gothic nations on the provinces of the Roman empire, until Rome itself was thrice besieged, was taken, and was sacked (ii. 116266). The earthquake referred to occurred in A.D. 365. The movements of the Huns from their territories in the neighbourhood of China had commenced about A.D. 100, and in A.D. 375 they overcame the Goths lying along the Danube. The Goths, pressed and overcome by these savage invaders, asked permission of the Romans to cross the Danube, to find protection in the Roman empire, and to cultivate the waste lands of Thrace (Gibbon, ii. 129, 130). In the year 376 they were transported over the Danube, by the permission of the Roman emperor Valens; an event which, according to Mr. Gibbon, in its ultimate result, was the cause of the downfall of the empire; for they learned their own strength; they were attracted by the riches of the capital and the hope of reward, until they finally drew the Western emperor to Ravenna, sacked Rome, and took possession of Italy.

(4) A slight reference to the series of events in these periods of consternation and conquest may show more closely the nature of the alarms which would be caused by the prospect of these dreadful invasions, and may prepare us for a better understanding of the successive calamities which occurred under these invaders, when the empire fell, as described by the four first trumpets of the seventh seal. I shall copy from the tables of contents of Mr. Gibbon’s history, under the twenty-sixth, thirtieth, and thirty-first chapters:—

365. Earthquakes.
376. The Huns and Goths.
100. The emigration of the Huns.
375. Their victories over the Goths.
376. The Goths implore the protection of Valens.
”   They are transported over the Danube into the Roman empire.
”   They penetrate into Thrace.
377. Union of the Goths with Huns, Alani, &c.
378. Battle of Hadrianople.
”   The defeat of the Romans.
383395. The settlement of the Goths in Thrace and Asia.
395. Revolt of the Goths.
396. Alaric marches into Greece.
398. Is proclaimed king of the Visigoths.
400403. He invades Italy.
406. Radagaisus invades Italy.
”   Besieges Florence.
”   Threatens Rome.
”   The remainder of the Germans invade Gaul.
407. Desolation of Gaul.
408. Alaric marches to Rome.
”   First siege of Rome by the Goths.
408. Famine, plague, superstition.
409. Alaric accepts a ransom and raises the siege.
”   Fruitless negotiations for peace.
”   Second siege of Rome by the Goths.
410. Third siege and sack of Rome by the Goths.
”   Respect of the Goths for the Christian religion.
”   Pillage and fire of Rome.
”   Captives and fugitives.
411416. Fall of the usurpers Jovinus, Sebastian, and Attalus.
409. Invasion of Spain by the Suevi, Vandals, Alani, &c.
415418. The Goths conquer and restore Spain.”

(5) This would coincide, in the effects produced on the empire, with the consternation and alarm described in the passage before us. The symbols are such as would be employed on the supposition that these are the events referred to; they are such as the events are fitted to suggest. The mighty preparations in the East and North—the report of which could not but spread through the empire—would be appropriately symbolized by the earthquake, the darkened sun, the moon becoming like blood, the stars falling, the departing heavens, and the kings and great men of the earth fleeing in alarm to find a place of safety, as if the end of the world were drawing near. Nothing could have been so well adapted to produce the consternation described in the opening of the sixth seal, as the dreaded approach of vast hosts of barbarians from the regions of the North. This alarm would be increased by the fact that their numbers were unknown; that their origin was hidden; and that the advancing multitudes would sweep everything before them. As in other cases, also, rumour would increase their numbers and augment their ferocity. The sudden shock of an earthquake, the falling stars, the departing heavens, the removal of mountains and islands, and the consternation of kings and all classes of people, would be the appropriate emblems to represent these impending calamities. In confirmation of this, and as showing the effect produced by the approach of the Goths, and the dread of the Gothic arms, in causing universal consternation, the following extracts may be adduced from Mr. Gibbon, when describing the threatened invasion of Alaric, king of the Visigoths. He quotes from Claudian. “‘Fame,’ says the poet, ‘encircling with terror her gloomy wings, proclaimed the march of the barbarian army, and filled Italy with consternation.’” Mr. Gibbon adds, “the apprehensions of each individual were increased in just proportion to the measure of his fortune; and the most timid, who had already embarked their valuable effects, meditated their escape to the island of Sicily, or to the African coast. The public distress was aggravated by the fears and reproaches of superstition. Every hour produced some horrid tale of strange and portentous accidents; the Pagans deplored the neglect of omens and the interruption of sacrifices; but the Christians still derived some comfort from the powerful intercession of the saints and martyrs,” ii. 218, 219. See further illustrations in the Notes on ch. viii. 713.


The state of things represented in this chapter is, that where there had been awful consternation and alarm, as if the end of the world were coming, and where the signs of the approaching consummation of all things are, as it were, held back until there should be an opportunity of sealing the number that was to be saved. This is symbolized by four angels standing in the four quarters of the earth, and holding the winds and the storms that they should not blow on the earth until the servants of God should be sealed in their foreheads. The idea is that of sudden destruction about to burst on the world, which, if unrestrained, would apparently bring on the consummation of all things, but which is held back until the purposes of God in regard to his people shall be accomplished—that is, until those who are the true servants of God shall be designated by some appropriate mark. This furnishes an opportunity of disclosing a glorious vision of those who will be saved, alike among the Jews and the Gentiles. The fact, as seen in the symbol, is, that the end of the world does not come at the opening of the sixth seal, as it seemed as if it would, and as it was anticipated in the time of the consternation. The number of the chosen was not complete, and the impending wrath was therefore suspended. God interposes in favour of his people, and discloses in vision a vast number from all lands who will yet be saved, and the winds and storms are held back as if by angels.

The points, then, that are apparent in this chapter, without any reference now to the question of the application, are the following: (1) The impending ruin that seemed about to spread over the earth, apparently bringing on the consummation of all things, restrained or suspended, ver. 1. This impending ruin is symbolized by the four winds of heaven that seemed about to sweep over the world; the interposition of God is represented by the four angels who have power over those winds to hold them back, as if it depended on their will to let them loose and to spread ruin over the earth or not. (2) A suspension of these desolating influences and agents until another important purpose could be accomplished—that is, until the servants of God could be sealed in their foreheads, ver. 2, 3. Another angel, acting independently of the four first seen, and having power to command, appears in the east, having the seal of the living God; and he directs the four angels having the four winds not to let them loose upon the earth until the servants of God should be sealed in their foreheads. This obviously denotes some suspension of the impending wrath, and for a specific purpose, that something might be done by which the true servants of God would be so marked as to be publicly known—as if they had a mark or brand to that effect imprinted on their foreheads. Whatever would serve to designate them, to determine who they were, to ascertain their number, would be a fulfilment of this act of the sealing angel. The length of time during which it would be done is not designated; the essential thing is, that there would be a suspension of impending judgments, in order that it might be done. Whether this was to occupy a longer or a shorter period is not determined by the symbol; nor is it determined when the winds thus held back would be suffered to blow. (3) The number of the sealed, ver. 48. The seer does not represent himself as actually beholding the process of sealing, but he says that he heard the number of those who were sealed. That number was an hundred and forty-four thousand, and they were selected from the twelve tribes of the children of Israel—Levi being reckoned, who was not usually numbered with the tribes, and the tribe of Dan being omitted. The number from each tribe, large or small, was the same; the entire portion selected being but a very small part of the whole. The general idea here, whatever may be the particular application, is, that there would be a selection, and that the whole number of the tribe would not be embraced; that the selection would be made from e