Revelation 1:1-10

That evening in April can never be forgotten, when sailing through the Archipelago on the way from Palestine to Smyrna, and just as the sun was sinking in subdued splendor over its western rocky ridges, our eyes rested on the Isle of Patmos. Though privileged to enjoy, a few weeks before, the most hallowed associations of all connected with the Apostle of Love, while treading the streets of Jerusalem and the shores of the Lake of Galilee, we had expected to renew these in another form, as we were afterwards permitted to do, amid the desolate ruins of Ephesus, where his own saintly life mellowed by venerable age was closed, and where his Gospel in all probability was written. But sudden and unexpected was this new souvenir of the Gospel era, seeming to rise on the bosom of the deep like one of his own visions. The trail of golden light, brighter had it been seen half an hour before on the molten waters, was yet sufficient irresistibly to recall the description of "the Sea of Glass mingled with fire."

The Island itself was obscure, but it took its place thenceforward in the shrine of memory, among the world's holiest sanctuaries. Our emotions awakened at beholding the exile home of the Beloved Disciple—the very spot where, before the eye of the rapt prophet, there passed the dream of all dreams—"the visions of God"—where the portals of heaven seemed as if they had descended and the gates of pearl had been flung open, while he heard unspeakable things which it is not possible for a man to utter!

More than half a century had elapsed since John had pillowed his head on his Lord's bosom at the Last Supper, gazed in tearful agony by the cross, and wistfully followed Him with the other bereaved men of Galilee gathered on the Mount of Ascension, until the cloud received Him out of their sight. John alone of all the Apostolic company still survived—the only living link connecting the Church of his day, with the ministry of the Great Master; and, like the last plank of a dismembered vessel, he was now driven by a storm of persecution to this solitary rock in the Aegean Sea.

We have no account whatever of the immediate cause of his banishment from his adopted home in the great capital of Asia. We can only surmise it to have been the faithful, unflinching proclamation of the divine Person and glory of his Lord—the reiterated sermon on the great opening and closing texts of his Gospel: "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." "These things are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God."

It would almost seem indicated indeed, in this introduction to the Apocalypse, that that cardinal article in his former writings was the same for which he was still content to suffer: "who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." It was the "new power" on the earth—'the power of God unto salvation,' which had come into antagonism with the power which, enthroned on the seven hills, would brook no rival even in name. It was the "another King, one Jesus," which had roused the susceptibilities—kindled the jealous fury—of the minions of Caesar throughout every province of the vast empire—Ephesus not excepted.

Be this as it may; from being the beloved Apostle, the most honored of men, he was now an exile and castaway on this inhospitable shore; his hoary locks appealing in vain to Roman clemency for exemption from galling servitude and drudgery in the mines of Patmos. But where cannot God find His people and His people find their God? He who to the lonely Jacob converted the dreary waste and the crudest of pillows into the gate of heaven, could make the wilds of an island-prison bright with His glory—resplendent with His presence! He seems, indeed, in every age of the Church, to have given special proofs and assurances of His grace and love to His more favored servants, when called either to the endurance of trial, or tempted to lapse into despondency.

When the heart of Moses was ready to faint under Israel's repeated murmurings, God set him in the cleft of a rock and made all His glory to pass before him.

When Elijah, the most heroic of the Old Testament worthies, waxed weak as other men, when, in a moment of singular infirmity, leaving work and duty, he could see apparently nothing but godless altars blazing throughout the land—ten thousand knees bowing to Baal and kissing his impious shrine—God made all the elements of nature preach to him of the power he had disowned, and followed these by the 'still, small voice;' thus, by manifestations alike of omnipotence and love, rebuking his distrust and reviving his faith.

When Paul, in a later age, had the thorn in the flesh sent to buffet him—the time and occasion of his trial was made that of richer communications of divine grace. He was led most gladly, therefore, to glory in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon him.

So it was with John. That aged sufferer, whose ninety years had furrowed his cheek with wrinkles, was now drinking the foretold cup and being baptized with the foretold baptism of his suffering Master and Lord. Exiled, forlorn, unbefriended by man, he was about to hold mystic communings with his Savior, shared by no mortal before or since. It was to be in the Isle of Patmos as he had before personally experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration—when the heavenly visitants had vanished, his best Friend was still left, to extract loneliness from his solitude and sorrow from his heart. He "saw no man but Jesus only!"

These storms of persecution might rage as they would around his unsheltered head; but he was about to know, as few have done before or since, the truth of those grand prophetic words, "a MAN" (the Brother-man he had loved on earth—the glorified-Man now exalted on the Throne)—"a MAN shall be as a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

The first five opening words indicate the design of the whole Book—"The Revelation of Jesus Christ." For while in their primary meaning it is a Revelation made to Christ by God the Father of things future; still, in no remote or accommodated sense is He the Revealed as well as the Revealer. As it was the adorable Redeemer in His Divine and human nature—the God-man whom John in his Gospel had delighted to honor—so now in his Apocalypse, the Gospel of his old age, it is still the same Great figure which fills the inspired canvas; not the Revelation of dogmas and doctrines, but of the glorified Person of his Living Lord—exhibiting Him as superintending all events in the future of His Church and the world—overruling all their conflicts for His own glory and the ultimate triumph of His cause and kingdom.

The Book in the truest sense is the Revelation, the Unveiling, the Disclosure, the Manifestation of Christ—the glorious Being in the midst of the golden candlesticks—the slain Lamb standing before the throne—the Lion of the tribe of Judah—the Conqueror on the white horse—the enthroned Judge. All the other elements and details of the visions, gorgeous as they are, are subordinate and subsidiary to this. The earthly cry is, "Come, Lord Jesus!" The heavenly cry is, "Worthy is the Lamb!" Christ is thus 'all in all' to the Church on earth and to the Church of the glorified.

The evolution of successive events in history and providence is represented as being in His hand as the Church's Great Head and Ruler. Over that grand scene of earth and its kingdoms—as picture after picture in magnificent unfolding passes before us—the sublime ascription seems to reverberate in undying echoes, "Alleluia! for the Lord God omnipotent reigns!"

The prologue, which occupies the first three verses, is followed by John's own salutation or dedication. Affectingly simple is the introduction of his own name in contrast with the doxology with which it is conjoined. "John, to the Seven Churches which are in Asia." 'John'—no enumeration of his ancestors—no arrogating of title or assumption of Apostolic dignity or prerogative—no assertion of his near and privileged communion with his beloved Lord. And again, when he repeats the name in verse 9, it is only with the touchingly simple addition of, "John, brother and companion in tribulation." Strong corroborative testimony, were that required, that he and no other was the author of the Book. He speaks as one needing no additional or special designation, further than being the bearer of the honored name known widely and well throughout infant Christendom.

He utters the opening benediction of "Grace and peace" from the thrice Holy Trinity (ver. 4). The FATHER is described as "Him who is, and who was, and who is to come;" the Great I AM in the eternity of His unchanging nature. The HOLY SPIRIT is described in the plenitude of His gifts and graces, under the sevenfold symbol of perfection—'like the seven prismatic colors in the one ray of light;' "the seven spirits who are before His throne." And inverting the customary order of enumeration, he closes with the more lengthened adoration of the Divine SON.

This embraces a beautiful description. "The Faithful Witness"—He who came to bear witness to the truth—the Revealer of the Father. "The First-begotten of the dead"—the conqueror of the last Enemy—the first-fruits of those who sleep. The Prince of the kings of the earth—the mighty Ruler seated on the throne of universal empire, and of whom it had been predicted, "I will make Him my First-born, higher than the kings of the earth," adding the yet more endearing delineation, which the Apostle of Love of all men was best qualified to give, (shall we say with a tear in his eye?) "Him who loved" (or rather, in the present tense "who loves") us;" (who loving His own at the beginning, loves with a deathless, unswerving love unto the end), "and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us a kingdom—priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!"

Having appropriately concluded his preface with this doxology, we expect he will now proceed to put in writing the magnificent messages, whether in the shape of letter or vision, which had been revealed to him. But as the succession of bright picturings pass before his mental eye, he interrupts the narrative, in order that he may add one sentence—interject one preliminary reference to that Great event to which all theology—all history—all time points. His inmost burdened thoughts seem to find relief in the triumphant exclamation, "Behold, He Comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen!" (verse 7).

Owing to the important place the theme occupies in the Book, and in order more effectually to rivet upon it the attention of the reader, we may be forgiven so soon reiterating the assertion dwelt upon in the Preface, that this last topic takes its befitting place in the introduction, as the "Key-note" of all the divine music which seems to swell and circulate in the subsequent heavenly visions. We repeat, "the glorious appearing of the Great God our Savior," as it thus meets us on the threshold, so it is interwoven with the faithful counsels to the Seven Churches. It blends with the intermediate Revelations. It is the last utterance when the vision and the prophecy are sealed up—the last voice heard amid the roll of apocalyptic thunders—"I come quickly; surely I come quickly." While the Evangelist, just as he is awaking from his entranced dream, when the golden Temple-gates are closing, and the heavenly glories vanishing from his sight—breathes the fervent prayer, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"

One other point has still to be noted in these preliminary verses. It is the Day on which this Revelation was made (verse 10): "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." The Day whose morning sun, to the forlorn exile, rose bright with the remembrance of a completed redemption—when he loved in thought to enter afresh the vacant sepulcher, and listen in trembling transport to the words of the angels. The Day on which, ever since that Great Easter, he had been in the habit of meeting with the faithful to keep the simple commemorative feast, and which in spirit he sought, even in his present solitude, to keep still. The Lord's Day! The present may have possibly, probably, been one of special prayer. The aged Apostle, with all the fire of former love unquenched, may have been wrestling at the mercy-seat, breathing often and again his favorite supplication, "COME, Lord Jesus, COME quickly!" He is heard while yet speaking! That rising sun brings with it the glories of a Pentecostal Sabbath—"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day." By this expression he would seem to denote that he was in a state of holy rapture and ecstasy—withdrawn from earthly things, like Moses on Sinai, or Elijah on Carmel.

The material element, for the time being, was subordinated to the spiritual. The windows of the outer senses were closed, and the entranced and illuminated inner eye became cognizant of a higher world of divine realities. Whether it was in the darkness and silence of his dungeon-vault, or in the traditional cave on the southern rocks of Patmos—or when, engrossed in meditation, he wandered companionless on the shore, listening to the music of the Aegean waves, we know not. But of this we may feel assured, never had John seen such a Sabbath, and never could he see such again, until the pledge and emblem were exchanged for the full vision and fruition of the eternal Sabbath above! What sights! what sounds! what forms! what scenery!—fit recompense surely for years of conflict and toil. The solitary place was made glad.

What Christian Church was ever consecrated like this? Where the most magnificent Sanctuary made with hands that has ever witnessed such glory? The worshiper—one lonely exile. His temple—a rock in mid-ocean. The theme he listens to—the Church-militant—its sufferings—its triumphs—its eternal rewards. The Preacher, no earthly ambassador—but his adorable Lord, arrayed in the lusters of His exalted humanity. Oh! never did the tones of the Sabbath-bell fall so joyfully on the ear, as when the exiled and banished Pilgrim was startled from his bended knees by the trumpet-voice exclaiming, "I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last!"

At the moment, indeed, as we shall find, he is struck down trembling and astonished. He is unable to bear the uncreated brightness that unexpectedly burst upon him. But a gentle Hand raises him up, and well-remembered tones restore confidence and inspire love. The tears of banishment are dried. He is made to forget the absence of a beloved brotherhood of disciples and saints, in the presence of ONE who 'sticks closer than a brother.'

What Christ was to John, He is to His people still. How often does He convert their times of trial into seasons of special consolation! How often is the couch of sickness and the chamber of bereavement made a Patmos, where the bereft and exiled soul, shut out from the world, holds sweet converse with its Redeeming Lord—an island in the world's heaving ocean of vicissitude, made resplendent with the glories of Jesus and eternity! Ofttimes, Jesus seems to lay low in the dust, our earthly hopes and refuges—desolating homes and friendships—making the world itself a Patmos, only to prepare, as He disciplined John, for an apocalypse of Himself. How many, thus driven by the windy storm and tempest to the crevices of the Rock of Ages, have had from its sheltering clefts such realizing views of a Savior's presence, and enjoyed such hallowed experiences of a Savior's love, as to make earth's darkest spots of sorrow radiant with the bliss of a foretasted heaven!

"Behold He Comes!" "Surely I come quickly!" Let these words, beginning and closing the "Memories of Patmos," ring in our ears (like a vesper bell) chimes of joy and hope; peals of warning and of solemn preparation. Nearly twenty centuries indeed have elapsed since they were uttered, and still the world holds on its course—the trance of the ages has not been broken by this assured manifestation of the Redeemer's glorified Person. We put our ear to the earth—there is heard no sound of His chariot-wheels. There is nothing in the unvarying sequences of the natural world—there is nothing in past history or in present experience, to indorse and countersign this predicted imminency of the Advent. Be it so—"For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay."

Some may indulge unseemly levity as to the apparent stultifying of the Divine declaration—the bridal lamps kept trimmed in hourly expectancy of the Bridegroom's approach, while no footfall for weary centuries has been heard. But of this we may be assured, that He to whom a thousand years are as one day, has some wise and sufficient reasons alike for the apparent delay, and for the urgent transmission from age to age of the stirring and ever-needful prophetic watchword. One of these reasons doubtless is, that "He is patient with us; not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

Yes, when we shall be at last permitted to take our stand on the shores of the true Glassy sea, with the Harps of God, and before us the unmeasured cycles of a limitless future, we shall then, by the use of a higher than earthly wisdom, be brought to see how brief after all was the period of probation, and to vindicate the verity and truthfulness of the Divine utterance "Surely I come quickly!" "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when He comes."