Book of Revelation
(Revised Text). "John to the seven churches in Asia, Grace unto you and peace, from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness. The First-born of the dead, and The Prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loves us, and freed us from our sins by his own blood, and hath made us a kingdom, priests unto Him who is his God and Father; to Him be glory and dominion unto the ages. Amen. Behold, he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him, and all the tribes of the land shall mourn about him. Even so; Amen. I am Alpha and Omega, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
There is not another book of Holy Scripture which opens with so much special remark and solemnity. There is everything here to impress the belief, that there is not another so profoundly important, or meant to be studied with such particular care and seriousness. We have had before us the impressive account of itself with which this marvellous book opens. The text is a special additional preface, by John, which will be quite sufficient to occupy us tonight. Strictly, it is no part of the Apocalypse. It has proceeded from the same Spirit, and is in a measure anticipative of its contents; but it deals more with the writer’s personal feelings, than with any features of the grand message itself. It is the mere prelude to the piece-the apostolic overture to the Revelation of Christ. But, it is a magnificent introduction. Though marked with the frequent sententious abruptness of this apostle’s writings, there is not, in all human literature, a more sublime or appropriate opening. Separating it into its several parts, I find:
I. AN AFFECTING SALUTATION
II. AN EXULTANT ASCRIPTION
III. A SOLEMN PROPHETIC ALLUSION
IV. A DEVOUT THEOLOGICAL RECOGNITION
Having carefully surveyed these, we shall have comprehensively explored the whole text. May the Lord aid us in the attempt, and fill us with the Spirit of him whose words we are to consider!
As to the Salutation, we may note first that Christianity is courteous. It enlivens all kindly feelings, and prompts to every gentle amenity from one to another. There is no refinement of manner, or polish of feeling and behavior, which it does not foster. Coarseness and vulgarity have no place in the domain of genuine piety. He who speaks in the text was bred in humble life, but, by the exalting power of the gospel which he preached, he was raised into a courtliness of tone and temper, as sincere as it was lovely. He does not venture to deliver his great message to the churches without first declaring his own kind wishes toward them. Though a high officer, and addressing persons of much inferior estate to himself, his loving heart begins with the pouring out of gracious affection, sympathy and benediction. By apostolic example, then, as well as by apostolic precept, we are taught to be kindly affectioned one toward another, and to be courteous to all people.
This gracious Salutation is addressed "to the seven churches in Asia." We sometimes speak of "the Church" in its entire collective capacity, as if it were but one body. And such it really is in its source, head, faith and sacraments, but not in its earthly organization. We also speak of the Church of a particular country or denomination; and not improperly when we wish to designate clusters of churches of particular and distinctive type, or regime, or geographical contiguity. But the Scriptures express themselves differently. They do not contemplate the Christians of so many countries or confessions, as so many churches; but find a church in every individual congregation, having its own minister, elders and deacons, without regard to any corporation other than itself. "Asia" is a large district of country, lying on the north of the Mediterranean, east of the outlet of the Euxine. It had but one general government at the time.
But the Apocalypse does not speak of the collective body of Christians on that territory as "the Church of Asia." They were organized into distinct congregations in the several towns and cities, and these separate and independent assemblies are spoken of as so many "churches." They are addressed singly as "the churches which are in Asia," such as "the Church in Ephesus," "the Church in Smyrna," "the Church in Pergamos," etc. The ecclesiastical unit is, therefore, to be reckoned from the local assembly under one minister, and such helpers as may be grouped around him, in the acknowledgment and the administration of the commands of Christ. These several units, or any number of them, may lawfully join together in other and more general organizations and administrations, but never so as to ignore or supersede the proper churchly character of each without regard to the rest. The original order of the Church, as the apostles founded it, and as they addressed and left it, is congregational. And every system which obliterates that order, in so far departs from what God and his inspired servants have authorized and ordained. John knew of no churches but the individual congregations, however they might voluntarily come together for mutual counsel and general edification.
Note also the style and substance of this Salutation. Such addresses were common in the intercourse of the ancients. Their writers were accustomed to wish to their readers every good and prosperity. The Egyptian steward greeted the Hebrew strangers with the words-"Peace be to you." The Assyrian King headed his royal proclamation with-"Peace be multiplied unto you" (Daniel 4:1; 6:25; 2 Peter 1:2). And David sent to Nabal saying: "Peace be to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast" (1 Samuel 25:6). The like may be heard to this day, in the common salutations of the people of those lands. But never did Jew or Gentile give such a salutation as this. It is not the ordinary prosperity of the world which is here bespoken, but something infinitely higher. John wishes the churches "peace" indeed, but a peace preceded by, and rooted in "Grace." No one, in his right mind, will despise the comforts and blessings of this life.
They are all good and precious gifts of God, which are to be thankfully received and devoutly appropriated. But, what is all this world’s prosperity if there be no peace with God, and no spiritual consolation in the conscience? Of what avail is it to pass brilliantly over the stage of time, only to sink forever in the darkness and sorrows of eternity! What we sinful beings need is Grace, and the peace which has its root in grace. "By the deeds of the law shall no man living be justified" (Psalms 143:2). There must be some outlet of divine benignity by which we can be accepted notwithstanding these disabilities under the law. That outlet has been found in the Gospel, which publishes absolution and eternal life on the simple condition of faith. And this is that "Grace" of which the apostle speaks, and by which Paul declares Christians to be saved. It is God’s favor to us in Christ Jesus, notwithstanding our fallen condition. It is the forgiveness of sins, the inspiration of a new life, the renewal of the soul to holiness. It is the removal of God’s wrath from us and our purgation from all enmity toward God, reconciliation and atonement with our Maker, and full participation in all the blessings of his uninterrupted favor. It is justification, and all the peace with God, and in our own hearts and estate, resulting from justification. In other words, what the apostle here bespeaks upon the churches is, the entire fullness of the blessing of the Gospel, in all its length and breadth and depth and height of consolation and eternal prosperity.
Notice also the sources from which he implores all this. From man, no such blessings could come; nor yet only from God as God, or from this or that person in the Godhead alone. The whole Deity in its mysterious and eternal Tri-unity is concerned in furnishing what is bespoken. It is first of all "from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come" (Revelation 1:4,8); that is, from the Absolute One, who knows no change, no dependence on time or place, but to whom the present, the past, and the future are one and the same eternal now; who is, and who was, and who is to be, even the infinite, incomprehensible, unapproachable Father of lights, from whom cometh every good and every perfect gift, and with whom is neither variableness, nor the least shadow of turning. Hence, the joyful thanksgiving, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope" (1 Peter 1:3).
In the next place, it is "from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;" that is, from the Holy Spirit, in the full completeness of his office and powers, as sent forth for the illumination, comfort and edification of all the subjects of God’s redeeming grace. "Seven" is the number of dispensational fullness and perfection; and as there are seven churches, making the one Church, so there are "the seven Spirits of God," making up the completeness of the one gracious administration of the Holy Spirit. "Before the throne;" that is, connected with the throne, and fulfilling the purposes of Him who sits upon the throne. The Holy Spirit is one sent (John 14:26). He goeth forth from the throne, and serves in behalf of the throne. He is God himself imparted to work in his elect the good pleasure of his own will, making his grace availing in them and for them, filling them with "all peace and joy in believing," helping their infirmities, witnessing to their adoption, and carrying into effect all the divine administrations of the kingdom of grace.
But there is a third, from whom these great blessings are implored-"from Jesus Christ." There is neither grace nor peace for man, except through Christ. He is the stone which was set at naught by the builders, who is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among people whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12). If God the Father hath begotten us again to a lively hope, it is only "by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). If we now have liberty to enter into the holiest, it is only "by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (Hebrews 10:19-20). And if there cometh to us peace, it is because "this man is our peace," and standeth and feedeth in the strength of the Lord, and in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God (Micah 5:4-5).
And as three titles are given to each of the other sources of grace and peace to the churches, three are also given to Christ. If the eternal Father is He which is, and which was, and which is to come; if the Holy Spirit is spirit, sevenfold, and before the throne: Jesus Christ is "the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth." Isaiah prophesied of him as "A witness to the peoples: a leader and commander of the peoples." God said of him, "I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth" (Psalms 89:27), and his throne "as a faithful witness in heaven" (Isaiah 55:4; Psalms 89:27,37). And as was predicted, so it has come to pass. "To this end was I born," says he, "and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth" (John 18:37). Having died a martyr to his testimony, and given his life an offering for sin, he was restored to life again, as all the Scriptures witness, and became "the first fruits of the resurrection," "the first-born from the dead." And having been "faithful unto death," God hath exalted him, far above all principalities and powers, that at his name every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Conceive of these three, then, as one Almighty and ineffable Godhead,-the Father in the absoluteness of his unchanging nature and universal presence, the Spirit in all the completeness of his manifold energies and diversified operations, and the Son in the virtues of his blood-sealed testimony, of the new begotten power of his resurrection, and of the super-royal administrations of his eternal kinghood, each in his place, and all as one, laid under contribution, and unreservedly and irrevocably pledged, for the blessedness of them that believe; resound the depths of such a fountain of good; test the firmness of such a basis of confidence; survey the strength and majesty of such a refuge for the soul; weigh the treasures of bliss which are opened up in such a presentation; and you may begin to form some conception of the resources of the saints, and of the real breadth and joyousness of this apostolic Salutation to the churches. Is it any wonder that John’s heart took fire at the contemplation, or that he should abruptly pass from affectionate greeting to jubilant doxology? Surely "the name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is set on high" (Proverbs 18:10).
II. Let us look, then, for a few moments at this exultant Ascription. He does not even name the object of it. He seems for the time to be so bewildered among the glories of the Godhead as not to distinguish whether but one, or three, are embraced in his joyous adoration. He speaks of One who loves, and one who atones, and one who renders this love and atonement effective to our deliverance and exultation; and yet includes the three in one, giving glory and dominion forever and ever unto Him that loves us, and freed us from our sins by his own blood, and made us a kingdom, priests unto his Father and his God. But before he completes the sentence, his rapt heart settles upon Him alone whose Apocalypse he is about to unfold. A higher testimony to the proper Deity of Christ could not well be given. He also runs together the present, the past, and the future in the same conception, as in the previous description of God himself. He speaks of an exercise of divine love, which now is (agapoonti (NT:25), loves; not agapeesanti (NT:25), loved); of a cleansing by blood, which has taken place; and of a regency and priestly dignity which remains to be realized in its fullness hereafter. All these are embraced in the grace and peace of which he had just spoken, and each separately, as well as all conjointly, is made the subject of sublime praise to Him from whom it proceeds. Observe the particular specifications:
The ever-adorable One "loves us." We are apt to think of the great love of God as past; as having spent its greatest force, and reached its highest culmination, when He gave His only begotten Son to humiliation and death in our behalf. But in this we are mistaken. That love is a present love, and in as full force at this moment as when it delivered up Jesus to the horrors which overwhelmed him on the cross. Nay, the greatest stress and perfection of it is in exercise now, being the more intensified by reason of what was there so meekly endured for us. That was a love for enemies; what must it then be for friends? That was for man in his unloveliness and sins; what must it then be for those who have been washed from their sins, and clothed in all the heavenly beauty of the Saviour’s righteousness? That was a love for the self-ruined and the lost, without claim upon divine compassion; what must it then be to the redeemed, who are recommended by all the worth and claims of the sinlessness, and unswerving obedience, and high divinity of Christ? Oh, the breadth, the length, the depth, the height, of the love of Christ, Who shall measure it? Who can comprehend it? It encompasses us like a shoreless, bottomless sea. It passeth knowledge. It transcends all thought. And it is in full force now, to make us forever blessed. Alas, what Doxology is strong enough adequately to acknowledge it?
"And freed us from our sins by his own blood." We are prone to overlook this as an accomplished fact. As we refer the height of the divine love and compassion to the past, and so diminish the comfort which belongs to us from it as a present reality; so we are too apt to refer our absolution in Christ’s blood to some future attainment, and to hold back from the proper appropriation of its virtue except as connected with certain works or experiences of our own. In both instances we are grievously at fault. As God’s great love, in all its fullness, is a present love; so our absolution through the blood of Christ is a past absolution. We have not to wait and work to be forgiven. The work has long since been done. The decree went forth, the releasing word was spoken, the forgiveness was declared, when Jesus left his tomb; and all that any man has to do on that subject is to believe it, and to appropriate to himself the glorious reprieve.
What saith the Scripture? "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned" (John 3:17-18). What of "the hand-writing of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us?" (Colossians 2:14). Has not Jesus long since entirely disposed of it? Does not the apostle testify that He hath blotted it out, and taken it out of the way, nailing it to his cross? (Colossians 2:14). It is not written, that "there is now therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit?" (Romans 8:1). And in the light of passages like these, I should stultify the message which God has given me to deliver, and detract from the richness of that Gospel which I am ordained to preach, if I did not come to you with the blessed announcement of a pardon already passed, and a complete absolution already spoken, for all your sins, however many or deep-dyed, on the simple condition that you but believe my word, and take the assurance to your souls.
And we live beneath our privilege and fail to make the required use of the great expiation which has been wrought, and want in proper appreciation of our Saviour’s work, if we do not rise up from our prostration under the law, and cast from us forever the whole burden of its condemnation. Can you not feel, even as I pronounce these words, the starting pulsations of that life of freedom which flows down to us from Calvary’s cross? Can you not this moment look back to that mysterious and all-availing immolation of the Son of God, and believe that it was the taking away of your guilt, even yours? O my downcast, sorrowing brother, look, look, at that scene of sacred bloodshedding; weigh the virtues of that expiation; fathom the depths of its power; realize the blessedness of its efficacy; behold in that day of atonement the incoming of thy year of jubilee, breaking thy bonds, returning to thee thy lost estate, restoring thee to thy unfallen friends; and see if there be not cause for some Miriam’s song of triumph-some reason for thee to join in this joyous doxology.
"And made us a kingdom-priests unto his God and Father." The glory brightens as the account proceeds. That we should have a place in the affectionate regard, and tender, effective love of the great Lord, is much. That we should have forgiveness for all our sins, made perfect by his free grace at the cost of his own life’s blood, is almost too much for belief. But, to affection is added honor, and to salvation, official dignities. We are not only loved, and freed from our sins, but, if indeed we are Christians, we are princes and priests, named and anointed for immortal regencies and eternal priesthoods. Let people despise and contemn religion as they may, there is empire connecting with lowly discipleship, royalty with penitence and prayers, and sublime priesthood with piety. Fishermen and tax-gatherers, by listening to Jesus, presently find themselves in apostolic thrones, and ministering as priests and rulers of a dispensation, wide as the world, and lasting as time. Moses, by his faith, rises from Jethro’s sheepfold to be the prince of Israel; and Daniel, from the den of condemnation and death, to the honor and authority of empire; and Luther, from his cell, to dictate to kings and rule the ages. There is not a believer, however obscure or humble, who may not rejoice in princely blood, who does not already wield a power which the potencies of hell cannot withstand, and who is not on the way to possess eternal priesthood and dominion.
Consider then what is embraced in the priestly reign of the saints in the ages to come, "what untried forms of happy being, what cycles of revolving bliss," are before us in those high spheres, what scepters are to be wielded and what altars served amid the sublimities of our immortal destiny, what streams of ascending influence shall concentrate in those holy administrations, letting forth God to His creatures, and guiding the adoration of realms unknown as yet to the unsearchable bosom of the invisible God; and who that believes does not feel his heart stirred to its profoundest depths, and the devout ascription of "glory and dominion forever and ever" rising unbidden to his lips, unto Him who so loved us, and has done such great things for us? "Oh, that people would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works toward the children of men!" (Psalms 107:8,15,21,31).
III. But we pass to another topic, in which we find a pre-eminently solemn prophetic allusion. The mention of these kinghoods and priesthoods of the saints, and the glory and eternal dominion of Christ, suggests an occurrence which must precede the full realization of these things, both for Christ and his people. And, with his soul on fire with these sublime contemplations, thirsting for the great consummation, and running over with interest in the tidings which he was about to communicate, the loving apostle seems to have felt as if the grand climacteric of time had come: "Behold he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him: and all tribes of the land shall mourn about him. Even so. Amen."
Again he omits to mention the name of Him of whom he is speaking. There is, however, no room for mistake. This coming One is the same who freed us from our sins by his own blood, and who is to have glory and dominion forever and ever. John was present when that blessed One left the earth. He had heard the angels say: "Ye men of Galilee, this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). He had seen how "a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9), and thenceforward carried in his memory what the words of the angels authorized him to regard as a picture of something in the future to which he ever looked with the profoundest interest. And all the stupendous visions of the Apocalypse did not for one moment disturb that picture, or divert his mind from it. However variously he may have been moved, as scene followed scene in the great exhibition of the divine purpose, the keynote to which he ever returned was the coming and kingdom of that ascended Lord. Even in all the long course of unending ages, that upon which his thoughts most firmly fastened was, the coming again of the Lord Jesus. With this he begins; with this he continues; and with this he ends. But let us separate his words a little, and look at their several implications individually.
"He cometh." Here is the great fact unequivocally stated. Christ has not gone to heaven to stay there. He has gone for his Church’s benefit; and for his Church’s benefit he will return again; not in spirit only, not in providence only, not in the mere removal of people by death, but in his own proper person, as "the Son of man." Few believe this, and still fewer lay it to heart. Many sneer at the very idea, and would fain laugh down the people who are so simple as to entertain it. But it is nevertheless the immutable truth of God, predicted by all his prophets, promised by Christ himself, confirmed by the testimony of angels, proclaimed by all the apostles, believed by all the early Christians, acknowledged in all the church creeds, sung of in all the church hymnbooks, prayed about in all the church liturgies, and entering so essentially into the very life and substance of Christianity, that without it there is no Christianity, except a few maimed and mutilated relics too powerless to be worth the trouble or expense of preservation.
That religion which does not look for a returning Saviour, or locate its highest hopes and triumphs in the judgment scenes for which the Son of man must reappear, is not the religion of this book, and is without authority to promise salvation to its devotees. And those addresses to the churches which have no "Behold he cometh" pervading or underlying them, have not been indited by "the Seven Spirits of God," nor sent by Him whose Apocalypse is the crown of the inspired Canon. Complain at it, dispute it, despise it, mock at it, put it aside, hate it, and hide from it, as people may, it is a great fundamental article of the Gospel, that that same blessed Lord, who ascended from Mount Olivet, and is now at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, shall come from thence to judge the quick and the dead, and to stand again on that very summit from which he went up. This is true, as Christ himself is true; and "he that hath an ear to hear, let him hear." Amen.
"He cometh with the clouds." Here is the great characteristic in the manner of his coming. "With the clouds," that is, in majesty and glory; with the awful pomp and splendor of Him "who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind" (Psalms 104:3).
"And every eye shall see him." Here is the publicity of the sublime event. It is not said that all shall see him at the same time, or in the same scene, or with the same feelings. Other passages teach us that some eyes will see him while he is yet to others invisible; and that he will be manifested to some at one time and place, and to others at other times and places, and in different acts of the wonderful drama. But, somewhere, at some time, in some stage of his judicial administrations, there never has been and never will be that human being who shall not see him. To everyone that has lived, and to everyone who shall live, he will show himself, and compel every eye to meet his eye. The dead shall be brought to life again, and shall see him, and the living shall see him. The good shall see him, and the wicked shall see him. Some shall see him and shout: "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation" (Isaiah 25:9); and others shall see him and cry 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; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelation 6:16).
"And they which pierced him." Though his manifestation shall be absolutely universal, it has an awful distinction with reference to some. Of all beings who shall then wish to be saved that sight will be those who murdered him. But they shall not escape it. They must each and all some day confront him, and meet his all-penetrating gaze. From the wretched man who betrayed him, down to the soldier who pierced his side, and all who have made common cause with them in wronging, persecuting, wounding and insulting that meek Lamb of God, shall then be compelled to face his judgment-seat, and to look upon him whom they have pierced.
"And all the tribes of the land shall mourn about him." Is not this a special word for the Jews? Is it not an allusion to a wail of penitence which shall be elicited from long apostate Israel, when they shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and doubt of his messiahship no more? Does it not refer to the fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10, where the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him as one is in bitterness for his first-born? Oh, the intensity of that bitterness! Brethren, I do not wonder that worldlings and half-Christians have no love for this doctrine, or that they hate to hear about Christ’s speedy coming. It is the deathknell of their gaieties and pleasures-the turning of their confidence to consternation-the conversion of their songs to shrieks of horror and despair. There is a day coming, when "the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of man shall be made low" (Isaiah 2:17); when there shall be "upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity" (Luke 21:25); when "all the tribes of the earth shall mourn;" when people shall "go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth" (Isaiah 2:19), "into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty" (Isaiah 2:21); when people "shall seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them" (Revelation 9:6).
And that day is the day of Christ’s coming, and those dismayed ones are such as love not his appearing. Fear and dread shall fall upon the wicked; trouble and anguish shall make them afraid; and people’s hearts shall fail them for fear, and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth. The saints will then have been caught away to their Lord. From the same field, the same shop, the same bed, one shall have been taken and the other left. And on those remaining ones, who had not watched, neither kept their garments, nor made themselves ready, shall the terrors of judgment fall, and not a family or tribe of all that live shall escape.
"Even so, Amen." Some take this as the seal and ratification of the solemn truths which have just been uttered. If this be the true meaning, what particular stress is to be laid upon these things-how sure to come to pass-how unmistakably certain! Brethren, it does seem to me, when I look at the Scriptures on this subject, that even the best of us are not half awake. May God arouse us by his Spirit, and not permit us to sleep until the thunders and terrors of the great day are upon us! But I find another and more natural sense of these words. I find in them John’s acquiescence in all that the great day is to bring, and his prayer, as repeated at the end of the book, that the Lord would hasten its coming. Terrible as it will be to the wicked, and the unprepared, and those who refuse the warnings which we give them, it is a precious day to the saints, a day to be coveted, and to be prayed for with all earnestness of desire.
The poor faint-hearted Christianity of our times can hardly contemplate it without trembling and annoyance. Many who profess and call themselves Christians would rather not hear about it, and would prefer, if they had their choice, that Christ might never come. It was not so in the days of Christianity’s pristine vigor. Then the anxious inquiry of disciples was, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?"
(Matthew 24:3; Mark 13:4). "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). Then Christians wrote to each other in joyous congratulation, that their citizenship was in heaven, whence they looked for the coming of the Saviour; and comforted one another in the assurance that the Lord himself is to descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and, as directed by their Lord, lifted up their heads, and looked up with joyful hope at every turn in human affairs which they could by any means construe into a probable herald of his nearing epiphany.
Then the prayer, "Thy Kingdom come," had a depth of meaning and lively anticipation which now has almost been lost. Then "the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7) had a power over the soul which made it "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8); and the most earnest and constant call of apostles and their followers was, "Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly. Even so. Amen." Nor can the Church ever be her true self, or enter into the true spirit of her faith, or rise to the true sublimity of her hope, where this is not the highest object of her deepest desire. For how, indeed, can we regard ourselves as rightly planted upon the apostolic foundation, if we cannot join with heart and soul in this apostolic prayer?
IV. To all this, the apostle yet adds a most devout reference to Christ, and to Christ’s declaration concerning himself, the further to confirm the solemn truthfulness of his words, and to incite us to lay the more stress upon them.
Great things, and, to human reason, very improbable things, were upon his mind, and about to be submitted to the churches. Their importance, and the predisposition on the part of people to disregard them, seemed to call for some especial pledge of the likelihood and certainty of their accomplishment. And that pledge he gives by devoutly referring everything to that omniscient, eternal and almighty Being, whose Apocalypse he was commissioned to describe. He invokes the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, He who was, and is, and is to come, the Almighty, as his judge in these utterances, to whom also he leaves the fulfillment of all that had been given him to write. It was as much as to say, if this was not a faithful and honest declaration of his inmost feelings and belief, and a true account of what he had seen and heard, such is the majesty of the Being who is to deal with him for it; and that, if there be any unlikelihoods in these things, such is the character of Him from whom he has received them, and to whom he refers for the power to make good his words.
And how sublime is the majesty of our blessed Redeemer as thus set forth! Never before had he given such an account of himself. He had intimated as much, and permitted his apostles to use language which implied the same. But never until in this Apocalypse had he formally assumed to himself such divine majesty. Here He proclaims Himself to be the Almighty, the very God, the One existing before anything was made, comprehending all things in His own existence, and possessing immensity and eternity. Look a moment at the particulars.
"I am Alpha and Omega." These are the names of the letters which begin and end the Greek alphabet. It is the same as if it were said in English, "I am A and Z." That is, our Saviour claims to be what letters and language were meant to be, namely the expression of truth. He is THE WORD-the embodiment of all divine verities from first to last. God is a Spirit-an invisible, incorporeal, intangible, unapproachable Spirit. But that hidden and unsearchable Mind may be expressed, may let itself forth in comprehensible utterance. And that expression, that utterance of invisible Godhead is Jesus Christ-the Divine Wisdom-the only communication from the absolute to the created.
"The beginning and the ending." This is not found in some of the oldest and best copies of this book. It was, perhaps, introduced merely as an explanation of the clause going before it. It does not seem to convey any additional thought. He is the first, because all things took their beginning from him; and he is the last, because in him shall all things have their consummation. But what follows is unmistakably, genuine.
"Who is, and who was, and who is to come." This sublime form of speech is used to describe the Eternal Father; but it belongs equally to the Son. He is the I AM, whose being is the same through all reckonings of time. As the Father exists in all the past, present, and future, eternal and unchangeable; so Christ, who is the express image of the Father, is "the same, yesterday, today, and forever." He was with the Father before the world was. He is now at the right hand of the Father. And he is to come in the name and the glory of the Father in those eternal administrations which are the joy and hope of his people.
"The Almighty." Than this there is no higher name. It declares the complete and unqualified subjection of all created things to our Lord Jesus Christ. It leaves nothing which is not put under Him. Oh, the adorableness and majesty of our Redeemer! Who could play false in such a presence? What son of Belial may escape righteous retribution in such hands? What untruthfulness can there be in such a Being? What lack for the full performance of all the will and purpose of One with such characteristics! Rather than give way to doubt and unbelief, let us fall down in lowly adoration at his feet, take His truth, and rejoice in Him as our hope and our everlasting consolation.
But, I must conclude these observations for the present. The Apostolic prelude to this solemn book is sufficiently before us to be made of great spiritual profit. Let us see to it that we do not fail to realize that advantage which it is intended and so well fitted to impart. Here is grace and peace from the Triune God spoken for our acceptance; let us see to it that we do not receive the inspired salutation in vain. Here is a glorious celebration of an accomplished absolution, an existing love, and sublime endowments, all made ours in Christ Jesus; let us make sure that our hearts are in tune to the same lofty song. Here is an apostolic admonition to direct our most earnest thoughts to the personal return of our Lord, which is to be so dreadful to the unready and so joyous to them that watch and pray; let us make it our business to be properly exercised in that "Behold." Here also we are referred to the ineffable greatness and divinity of our Redeemer and Judge; and let us beware how we trifle with his word, question his power, or dash ourselves against his Almightiness.
And "unto Him that loves us, and freed us from our sins by his own blood, and hath made us a kingdom-priests unto Him who is his God and Father; to Him be glory and dominion unto the ages. Amen."