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The Address, or Salutation, and the Doxology.
Chap. i. ver. 4-8.
4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia : Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne:
5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father : to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which piereed_him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.
8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
Ver. 4. John to the seven Churches which are in Asia.] This book being written in an epistolary form, begins, like other apostolic epistles, with a Salutation, followed by a Doxology. It is addressed to the seven Churches in Asia, that is, the Lydian or Proconsular Asia, which at that time is said to have contained five hundred great cities. Of these, Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos, three of the seven, contended for the pre-eminence. All the seven were cities of great account, even in Roman estimation ; but they seem selected by the Holy Spirit with a view to their Christian distinction. (Vitringa.)
Here we meet for the first time with the mention of the number seven, which is afterwards so frequently and symbolically used in this sacred book ; wherein we read of seven Spirits of God, seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, seven heads of the Dragon and of the Beast. In which passages, for the most part, as in others of holy scripture, this number appears to represent a large, complete, yet undefined quantity. Hannah, in her Song, (1 Sam. ii. 5,) says, the barren hath borne seven (that is, a large but indefinite number of) children.” So, God threatens that he will punish the Israelites seven times, that is, very completely and severely. In the Hebrew etymology of this word seven, it signifies fulness and perfection. (Daubuz.) Philo styles it Tɛlɛopopos, the completing number; and it is mentioned as such by Cyprian. With the Israelites this number became thus important, because God, having completed his work of creation in six days, and added thereto the seventh, a day of rest, commanded them in memorial thereof, to reckon time by sevens. Through the nations of the East, this manner of computation passed on to the Greeks and Romans, as hath been shewn in a variety of instances. By the seven Churches of Asia are implied all the Churches of Asia, and, it may be, all the Christian Churches, in whatever situation or period of the world. Such was the opinion of the most ancient commentators on the Apocalypse, who lived near to the time of its publication ; for such is delivered to us by Andreas Casariensis, Arethas, Victorinus, Cyprian, &c., who profess to follow them. Andreas, the most ancient of these, commenting on this passage, Says, το μυστικον των απανταχη εκκλησιων σημαινων. These particular churches being now sunk in Mahometan superstition, all the Christian Churches at this day and to the end of time, inherit the prophetic knowledge revealed, the advice given, the threatenings denounced, and the blessings promised, by their divine Lord.
Ver. 4, 5. Grace be unto you, and peace, &c.] The salutation, in this epistle, resembles those in other epistles of the New Testament; in almost all of which the inspired writer entreats “Grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.' But there is here a considerable variation in the form of expression, which seems to take its colouring from the vision that St. John, the writer, had beheld, and is going to describe; for the description of God the Father is the same as that by which he is addressed in ch, iv. 8, and which is of the same meaning as the I am of Exodus iii. 14; that is, the eternal God, whose name, Jehovah, signifies he that is, and was, and shall be. Hammond, Vitringa.
The description of God the Son is likewise taken from the vision ; for our Lord there styles himself the faithful and true witness, (ch. iii. 14.) He is so called prophetically by Isaiah, (ch. lv. 4.) The primitive Christians, who in the Gallic Churches suffered martyrdom, considered the title of martyr or witness as peculiarly belonging to the Lord Jesus, who sealed his doctrine with his sacred blood, and they were unwilling that it should be applied to themselves. (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. lib. v. c. 2.)
In the same passage of the vision, our Lord calls himself also, the beginning of the creation of God; and by St. Paul he is styled “ the first fruits from the dead. (1 Cor. i. 20.) And in respect to the third character here assigned him,
prince, or ruler (Apxwv) of the kings of the earth,” it is an object of the whole prophecy to exhibit him “ King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Ch. xvii. 14. xix. 16.)
But in this salutation, in conjunction with God the Father and God the Son, thus exhibited, there is a third power mentioned, from whom also grace and peace are entreated to descend upon the Christians of the seven Churches, namely, “ from the seven Spirits which are before his throne." To understand which emblem, we must refer likewise to the vision, (ch. iv. 5,) where seven lamps of fire are seen burning before the throne of God, and are affirmed to be “ the seven Spirits of God.” And when we consider, that no created Being, ever so resplendent, can with any propriety or pretension, be conjoined with the Father and the Son, in the divine prerogative of receiving prayers and bestowing grace, as in this salutation, and that the seven Spirits of God are in this sacred book described, as belonging to the Son, as well as to the Father, (ch. iii. 1. v. 6,) we shall be strongly inclined to conclude, that no other power can be here intended, but that perfect, universal, holy Spirit of God, which proceeds from the Father and the Son, and, in the form of fire, descended upon the apostles at the great day of Pentecost. The comment of Venerable Bede on this passage is just and forcible : “ Unum Spiritum dicit septiformem, quæ est perfectio et plenitudo.” And indeed, as Vitringa has justly observed, it has been the received doctrine of the Church, that by the seven Spirits and the seven lamps of fire, is represented the Holy Spirit, or the seven Charismata thereof, mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah.
1 There is a striking resemblance between the “cloven tongues like as of fire,” and the lights beaming from oil on the branches of the lampbearer. Acts ii. 3.
2 Clemens Alexandriensis, and a few others among the ancients, says Vitringa, and some modern writers, among whom is Dr. Hammond, have supposed the seven Spirits to represent seven superior angels, such as those to whom the seven trumpets (ch. viii.) are committed. But this learned and able commentator powerfully resists this interpretation. “ They," says he, “ are expressly said to be the seven eyes of the Lamb, or Christ, and the seven lamps of God; but these are inherent in God, a part of the Deity by which he perceives ; they are not external of the Godhead, and therefore must be his Holy Spirit. Of all the commentators who have interpreted the seven Spirits to be the seven archangels, Joseph Mede is the most able; and his defence of this system may be seen in pages 40, 61, and 908 of his works. But this insuperable objection to his conclusions will still remain—that no created Being can be united in the Godhead with the Father and Son, so as to receive prayers and decree blessings. And in answer to this learned writer's assertion, that the eyes and horns of the Lamb cannot represent the Holy Spirit, let it be considered, that when the Saviour appears in the form of a Lamb, it is his human, suffering form, when his extraordinary and divine knowledge and power were both derived to him from the Holy Spirit. (Luke iv. 18.)
But the Persons in the Godhead do not in this passage appear in their regular order. The Holy Spirit is placed before the Son. To account for which, we must again have recourse to the vision, (ch. iv. 5,) where this emblem of the Holy Ghost is seen attendant upon the Father alone; this being the point of time before the appearance of the Son under his human character, represented by the Lamb, to take his place on the throne. (See the Note, ch. iv. 5.) Another reason which may be assigned for this apparent irregularity,—a reason not inconsistent with that already stated is,—that the mention of the Son seems reserved to the last, in order that it may connect immediately with his character and description, as the great Agent of the prophecy, which follows in the four succeeding
Ver. 5. Unto him that loved us, &c.] The Doxology follows the Salutation, as in some other of the sacred epistles. But in this instance it is addressed more especially to the Son of God, as the giver and