Revelation of John 1That is, "This revelation God the Father gave to Christ his Son, as Mediator, and therewith a commission to impart it to his faithful servants, especially the ministers of his church, and particularly to St. John, who bare record in his gospel, and in his epistles, that Jesus Christ was the essential and eternal Word of God, and also bare record of the testimony of Christ, that is, of his doctrine and miracles, of his death and sufferings; declaring all things that he saw, namely, in his visions, and as they were represented to him."
Here note, 1. The favour granted to St. John, he had a vision or revelation of future things. Revelations from God were sometimes by visions, sometimes by voice, and sometimes by dreams: this revelation which John had, was of a mixed nature, partly by vision, and partly by voice.
Note, 2. The primary author of this revelation, God the Father, the first Person in the Trinity, he revealed it; The revelation which God gave.
Note, 3. The order in which God gave forth this revelation; first, it is given to Christ, The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him: next unto the angel, then unto St. John, to reveal it to the church. Christ, as God, knew all things from eternity, but as man and mediator he received this revelation from God the Father, and imparted it by the angel to his servant John; we see then that Christ, in his state of exaltation, by revealing to his servants the mind and will of God.
Note, 4. The subject-matter of the revelation, Things which should shortly come to pass; mark, not things which were already past, (then this book had been an history, and not a prophecy,) but which should certainly and suddenly come to pass; that is, they should shortly begin to be accomplished, and to take effect; not that they should all be immediately performed, but in God's time, in respect of whose eternity a thousand years are but as one day.
Note lastly, The fidelity and great integrity of St. John, in the making known to others all things that he saw; that is, he had by his writings told the churches what Christ by his angel told him, even all that he heard and saw in this vision, as St. Paul did not shun to declare the whole counsel of God, Acts 20, (he doth not say he hath declared the whole council of God, for who but God himself could declare that?) So St. John here bare record of the whole word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw and heard.
Observe here, that great encouragement which the spirit of God gives to all Christians to read and regard, to consider and meditate upon the things contained in this divine book, that is, the necessary parts of Christianity, which are here mixed with darker passages; all must read, study, and practise these, that hope for blessedness: Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.
Hence note, That although the book of the Revelation be in itself a very abstruse and mysterious part of holy scripture, yet Christians ought not to be debarred, much less to debar themselves, from reading of it, and consulting with it: blessed is he that readeth, that is, attentively, understandingly, and affectionately; and blessed is he that keepeth the things that are written, that is, in his mind and memory, in his affection and practice, so as to adhere to the truth, whatever trials and temptations it may expose him to.
Observe here, 1. The persons to whom St. John writes, and the particular churches which he does salute, namely, the seven churches of Asia, which were then the most famous and flourishing churches in the Christian world, but now overrun with barbarism. Sin has laid the foundation of ruin in the most flourishing churches and kingdoms.
Observe, 2. The apostolical salutation given to these churches, Grace be unto you, and peace; by grace understand the free favour and rich love of God in pardoning, sanctifying, and saving; and by peace, the inward sense of that love, and all outward mercies and temporal blessings whatsoever.
Observe, 3. The persons in whose name, or from whom this salutation is sent and given;
1. From God the Father, who is described by his eternity and immutability, which is, which was, and which is to come.
2. From the seven Spirits which are before the throne: from the Holy Ghost, who is thus described in regard of the perfection and variety of his gracious operations: the Holy Spirit is called seven, because he is perfect in working; and he is said to be before the throne, because continually present with God, and ready to perform what is needful for the church of God.
3. From Jesus Christ, who is described according to the threefold office, of a prophet, priest, and king; his being called the true and faithful witness, points out his prophetical office, that he is the great prophet of his church, who reveals the will of the Father fully and faithfully to the sons of men; his being styled the first begotten of the dead, points out his priestly office, and intimates that he died, that he rose again from the dead, and that he first arose, or was the first begotten from the dead; that is, the first that arose from the dead by his own power, to a state of immortality, and never to die more; some indeed rose before him, but then they were raised by him, he was the first that ever raised himself: others were raised from the dead, as Lazarus, before Christ, but they died again; whereas Christ rose from the dead never to die more; he entered into a state of immortality after his resurrection, and lives for ever to make intercession for us.
Lastly, Christ is styled the prince of the kings of the earth, which phrase shows both his influence upon them, (as giving laws and rules unto them,) and their dependence upon him, who do recieve their power and government, their protection and dominion, all from his hand.
In the former verse our Saviour was considered in the excellency of his person, and with respect to what he is in himself; in this verse he is considered in the execution of his office, or with respect to what he is unto his church.
And here observe, 1. His affection in general towards us, he hath loved us; our blessed Redeemer hath given ample and full demonstration of his great and wonderful love unto his church and people, and none doth so properly and passionately love the church as Christ himself; before conversion he loves his people with a love of commiseration and compassion; after conversion, he loves them with a love of complacency and delight.
Observe, 2. The discovery and manifestation which Christ has made of this his love particularly towards us, He hath washed us from our sins in his own blood; that is, he hath given himself a sacrifice for our sins, and by the merit of his blood freed us from the guilt of sin in our justification, and also by the efficacy of that blood cleansed us from the filth of sin in our sanctification: the blood of Christ hath both a pacifying and a purifying influence; it pacifies God's wrath, and purges the sinner's conscience; the blood of Christ merited the Spirit of God for our sanctification, and so reconciled us to God, as well as obtained pardon for us, in a way of meritorious satisfaction, and so reconciled God to us: He washed us from our sins in his own blood.
Where note, A great emphasis in the double word of property.
1. Our sins; that is, every one of our own sins, without any imitation or exception whatsoever, as to the number or heinous nature of them: the sin against the Holy Ghost is indeed excepted; and this proceeds from the incapacity of the sinner, not from the inefficacy or insufficiency of Christ's sacrifice for sin.
2. There is also an emphasis in the word of property with respect to Christ, when it is called his own blood: the Levitical priests sprinkled the people with blood, but it was not their own blood, but the blood of bulls and goats; but Christ spared not his own blood, and he did not barely sprinkle us with it, but washed us with it: it was not the blood of his finger, but the blood of his heart: his very life went with it; He washed us from our sins in his own blood.
Observe, 3. The consequent effect and happy result of all this love of Christ towards us, and undertaken for us, He hath made us kings and priests unto God.
1. Kings, not in a temporal but a spiritual sense; they reign as kings over their unruly lusts and corruptions, over Satan, over the world, over death the king of terrors; they begin their reign upon earth, without which it were impossible to perfect and complete it in heaven.
2. Priests, consecrating themselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, and offering up, not expiatory, but gratulatory sacrifices unto him, namely, prayer and praise, supplication and thanksgiving. Ye are an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 1Pe 2:5
Observe, 4. After this description of Christ, follows an ascription of all that glory and honour, dominion and power, which is his due, and our duty to ascribe unto him: To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Where note, That the same honour and glory, dominion and power, being here attributed and given to Christ, which Christ teaches us to ascribe and render unto God, Matt 6:1 it is a sure testimony that Christ is God, and as such to be acknowledged and adored by us: To whom be glory, &c.
These words are a majestic description of our Saviour's coming to judgment; they are ushered in with a note of attention and admiration, Behold! which denotes also the truth and certainty of his appearance, and upbraids us likewise for our natural backwardness to believe, mind, and meditate upon, the coming of Christ; we are too much guided and governed by sense: what we see nothing of, we believe little of; therefore St. John here begins with a note of incitement in the word, Behold! It follows, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him.
This was fulfilled, 1. When Christ came by the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem, by taking vengeance on his murderers, when his crucifiers might discern that those heavy and direful judgments were inflicted on them for their crucifying Christ, and persecuting Christians.
But, 2. It will be more eminently and universally fulfilled at the general day of Judgment, when Christ will come riding upon the clouds, as in a triumphant chariot, and all human eyes shall then see him; his persecutors and despisers, particularly, beholding him, but not all alike: such as pierced him, but repented, whose hearts were afterwards pierced for their piercing of him, these at that day shall see Christ with astonishing joy, though they put him to bitter sorrow; the death of Chirst has procured mercy for those whose cruelty did procure his death: but as for such as pierced him, but never repented, but such as pierced him in his person, or in his members, they shall also see him to their sorrow, and shall wail, or take on heavily, because of him; that is, because they must be judged by him.
Lord! how will the sight of a pierced Saviour then pierce their souls with sorrow, with vexation of heart, and anguish of spirit! To behold Christ with an eye of sense then will be very grievous to them that do not behold him with an eye of faith now; see him they shall, they must; but alas, they had rather be covered with mountains and hills falling upon them, than thus behold him!
Observe farther, How St. John closes this description of Christ's second coming, with a pathetic option on his own and the church's behalf, in the last words of the verse--Even so, Amen; intimating, that the saints, or church of God, do expect and believe that assuredly it will be so, and do also earnestly desire and pray that it may be so.
Learn hence, That Christ will undoubtedly come to put an end to the sufferings of his afflicted church, and to punish his and their persecutors; with whose coming the saints are well pleased, and do earnestly desire and long for it; behold, he cometh, Even so, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Observe here, 1. That what was applied to God the Father, at the fourth verse, namely, that he was, is, and is to come, is here by Christ applied to himself at the eighth verse: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is, which was, and is to come.
Alpha is the first, Omega the last, letter of the Greek alphabet, and as such they enclose all the rest. Christ calling himself the first and the last, that is, the first cause and the last end, (as nothing began before him, so nothing can outlast him,) he does hereby discover his divinity to us, that he is co-essential and consubstantial with the Father, the same attribute being given to both: understand we then that this text plainly speaks the godhead of Christ, against the Socinians.
Christ calling himself the first and the last, takes to himself absolute perfection and power, sovereignty and dignity, eternity and divinity; he is the first, because he was before all beginning, and because he shall continue for ever, without end, because he is the end of all things, and because when we have attained him, we are at the highest and last of our attainments; we rest, and have no more to seek when we have found Christ, for he brings us to the Father, in whom we have eternal rest through himself, the Son: and the last title Christ assumes to himself, namely, the Almighty, bespeaks his divinity; he is God Almighty, able to accomplish all his promises to his people, and to execute his threatenings on his enemies; and if the adversaries of our Saviour's godhead in the glass of this text do not see his divinity, it is not because they cannot, but they will not see. I am, says Christ, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is, which was, and is to come, the Almighty.
The preface being ended in the foregoing verses, here begins the body or visionary part of this book; the first vision is here before us, concerning the seven Asian churches.
In which vision we have observable, 1. The person that received it, he is described by his name, John, I John; by his spiritual relation, I John your brother; by his then present condition, your companion in tribulation, undergoing like sufferings with you; your companion in the kingdom of Christ, that is, in expecting of, and hoping for, the same kingdom of heaven and glory which ye expect; and I am also your companion in patience, called the patience of Jesus Christ, because in his word he requires it, because by his Spirit he produces it, because in his own example he gave us a pattern of it: and perhaps principally because the present state of the kingdom of Christ in this world calls for it.
Observe, 2. The place where St. John received this vision; in the isle of Patmos, not far from the Asian churches, into which the emperor Domitian banished him, having, as is said, cast him first into a caldron of burning oil, out of which he miraculously escaped. Ecclesiastical history says, St. John was very near an hundred years old, when he was by that bloody emperor banished into Patmos, for preaching the word of God, and for bearing testimony for this truth, that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world.
Learn, That the greatest honour which an apostle, an aged apostle, a beloved apostle, can be admitted to the participation of, is to suffer banishment and death for bearing a faithful testimony of Jesus Christ.
Observe, 3. The time when St. John had this glorious vision of Christ, communion with him, and communications from him: it was upon the Lord's day; I was in the Spirit, that is, in spiritual meditation, in spiritual ecstasy, in a transporting rapture by the Spirit, under his more immediate illumination and powerful influences; on the Lord's day, namely, the first day of the week, so called, because Christ at his resurrection took possession of it for his own, and because applied to his special worship and service, and as such religiously observed by the apostles, Acts 20:7 and by the universal church, ever since the apostle's days.
In that St. John, in a solitary island, kept the Christian Sabbath, we learn, that the religious observation of the Lord's is a duty incumbent upon all persons and in all places.
Learn, 2. How Christ owned his own day, and encouraged St. John in his religious and strict observation of it, by the influence of his Holy Spirit upon him, and by communicating extraordinary revelations to him; I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice.
Observe, 4. The vision and revelation itself, which began with his hearing a loud voice like a trumpet; that is, the voice of like a trumpet; that is, the voice of Christ, full of majesty and power, spake unto him, saying, What thou seest, that is what thou shalt see and hear, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches.
Here note, 1. That the book of the Revelation was written by Christ's own direction, therefore warranted to be of divine authority.
Note, 2. That what Christ commanded St. John carefully to write, it becomes us heedfully to read; for though what St. John wrote and sent concerned the seven Asian churches at that time, and had a particular respect to their present state; yet all scripture is written for our learning, and we are to beg spiritual wisdom from God to make a right use and holy improvement of what is written.
As if St. John had said, "I turned to see the person whose voice I heard speaking with me, and I beheld seven golden candlesticks, representing the seven Asian churches, and in the midst of those candlesticks I saw one in the shape of a man, which reminded me of Christ the Son of man, clothed in garments much like unto Aaron's the high-priest, who was an illustrious type of Christ, our great and merciful High-priest, who made an atonement for us on earth, and maketh now intercession for us in the highest heavens."
Note here, 1. The comparison made between the churches of Christ and the golden candlesticks; they are candlesticks, in regard of the light which they held forth; the candlestick does not give light of itself, but holds it forth to others: it is the church's duty to keep within herself the pure word of God, and to keep herself pure from being besmeared with errors in doctrine, or vice in conversation.
Churches, the holiest and purest of all churches, are rather candlesticks than candles; Christ is the light, the word is the lamp, the church but the instrument to convey the light unto us.
Again, the churches are golden candlesticks; gold is the most precious of metals, the church is the most excellent of all societies; for it beautifies all societies whatsoever that are members of the church of Christ.
Note, 2. How Christ was seen by St. John walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks, present in and with his churches; that is, St. John had in his vision a very lively representation of Christ in his human nature; not that St. John now saw Christ in his manhood really, for that was then in heaven, but he had a resemblence of it in the vision.
Note, 3. The description given of Christ, as walking in the midst of his gospel church.
He is, 1. described by his attire, habited like Aaron the high-priest, with a garment down to his feet, and girt with a golden girdle; to signify, that as Aaron was of the old so Christ is the high priest of the new testament, presenting continually to his Father the memorials of his death, the merits of his sacrifice, and making intercession with the Father for our gracious acceptance with him.
2. He is next described by the parts and members of the body: His head and hair as white as snow and wool, signify his eternity and his purity, that he is the Ancient of days, even the Father of eternity, and perfectly innocent, pure and holy: His eyes like flaming fire, denoting his piercing knowledge; that as head of his church, he espies out all her ways, words, and thoughts: His feet like burning brass, and his voice like many waters; which expressions represent the enemies of his church; and that vengeance he would execute upon his murderers, in particular, at the destruction of Jerusalem, and upon all the impenitent rejectors of his gospel grace, at the general judgment: then will they understand what they now will not believe, that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
3. He is next described by what he had in his right hand, namely, seven stars, representing the seven angels, bishops and ministers of the seven churches. These are called stars, their office and duty being to enlighten the church, both by the light of life and doctrine; and as stars are seated above, so should their conversation be in heaven, and their affections not set upon the things below.
Stars give direction, light, and influence, to others; they were not made for themselves. Ministers must not chiefly seek their own, but others' good. Stars are swift in their motion, and their motion is constantly in their own orb and sphere. Vain is the pretence of care and concern for other churches, whilst we neglect our own.
Finally, ministers are stars, as in respect to their situation, and in respect of their constant and regular motion; so in respect of their continuance and duration. Stars are fixed in heaven, so are ministers in the church; Christ holds them in his hand, otherwise the world would soon have them under their feet.
4. He is described by a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, denoting the piercing power of the word of God to conquer sin, convert sinners, and to condemn and slay the unconverted.
Lastly, it is added, that his countenance was as the sun that shineth in his strength; that is, very glorious in itself, and very comforting and refreshing to those that are his members, his sincere believers and followers. This part of the description of Christ sweetly follows the former: when his feet were as burning brass, to tread down and consume his enemies; his countenance was as the sun, to cheer and cherish, to comfort and refresh his friends.
Observe here, 1. The effect which this glorious representation of Christ in this vision had upon St. John; he was astonished and amazed at it, and fell down at Christ's feet as one almost dead.
Note from hence, That the holiest man on earth is not able to bear the presence of Christ here, nor able to stand before his gracious manifestation of himself, when he comes to reveal himself in mercy towards him. See Hab 3:15,16.
Lord, how unable then will the wicked be at the great day to stand before the manifestation of thy fury! If at this visionary representation of Christ, St. John trembled, and fell at his feet as dead, how unable will the impertinent world be to look him in the face at the great day, when he shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, rendering vengeance to them that know not God!
Observe, 2. The seasonable care of Christ for St. John's relief in this great exigency: He laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not. Hereby Christ discovered both his readiness to help, and his ability to help; the right hand is the supporting hand, the strengthening hand; Christ did not send an angel to comfort St. John, but laid his own hand upon him, to assure him both of safety and succour.
Observe, 3. As what Christ did, so what he likewise said, for St. John's comfort and support under the burden of his fears: Fear not, says Christ, for I am the first and the last; that is, I am an eternal Being, without either beginning or end.
Again, I am he that liveth, and was dead. As if Christ had said, "Fear not death or dying, for I have overcome death by dying, and conquered the king of terrors in his own territories; but, behold, I am now alive for evermore, for the benefit of my church, and to protect and defend my faithful servants."
Nay, farther, to show that his life was not a bare subsistence, but clothed with power, Christ adds, "I have also the keys of hell and of death; that is, a sovereign power over the whole invisible world, to let into heaven, and to lock into hell as I please." The keys are an emblem of authority and power; the steward who has the keys of the house, commands the house.
There are four keys which Christ keeps in his own hands; the key of the womb, the key of the clouds, the key of the earth as of a granary of corn, and the key of the grave.
When Christ says here, I have the keys of hell and of death, the meaning is, that he has a sovereign dominion over both worlds; over this in which we live, and over that into which we die, whether the one or the other part of it, heaven and hell both: for the words must not be understood with a debasing limitation, only respecting hell, as if Christ had only the keys of the bottomless pit: but the original word Hades, signifies the invisible world, consisting of both heaven and hell; and he has a power over both, and also over death too, which is the common passage into both places.
Learn hence, 1. If Christ has the power of death, and keeps the key of the grave, in his own hand, that men do not die at random, by accident and chance, but by determination and judgment; Christ by an authoritative act turns the key, and gives man his exit out of the world.
Learn, 2. That Christ, who has the key of death, has also the key of Hades, the upper and lower Hades; heaven and hell; and such as go out of the world, go not out of being, but go into one of those states and places.
Learn, 3. How admirable, and yet how amiable, Christ should be in all our eyes, who hath these keys in his own hand, with such merciful intentions towards us; and how willingly should we die, when the keys of death are in so great, so kind an hand as his! O how happy is it when this power of our great Redeemer over death and the grave, and a placid resignation to his pleasure, do concur and meet together, not from stupidity, but trust in him that keep the keys!
Lord, when the key is turning, and thou art letting in souls into the invisible world, let thy servant depart in peace, and everlastingly see thy salvation!
This chapter concludes with a solemn charge given by our Saviour to St. John, to write and record the vision of the seven stars, and seven golden candlesticks, which he had newly seen; letting him into the mystery of both, by telling him, that the seven stars are seven angels; that is, signify seven angels; and the seven candlesticks are, that is, signify seven churches, and represent them.
In like manner, when Christ says in the sacrament, This is my body, the meaning is, this bread signifies and represents my body.
Here note, That the bishops and governors, the pastors and teachers, of the church are called angels, because they are sent by God on his message, because they had their commission from him; and to signify that unspotted purity which be found with them, both in life and doctrine; and they are represented by stars, to denote their dignity and duty, their usefulness and beneficialness, the swiftness and constancy of their motion, but especially in regard to their nature.
A star is of the same nature with the heavens, celestial; not earthly, not elementary: ministers should be heavenly, holy, blameless, inoffensive; they should teach by tongue and hand, and instruct by lip and life. God grant that in our hearts we may experimentally find the works of holiness, and in our lives express the power of holiness. Amen.
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