on Revelation 1 :4
John to the seven Churches - The apostle begins this much in the manner of the Jewish prophets. They often name themselves in the messages which they receive from God to deliver to the people; e.g. "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem." "The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah; to whom the word of the Lord came." "The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel, the priest." "The word of the Lord that came unto Hosea, the son of Beeri." "The word of the Lord that came to Joel." "The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa." "The vision of Obadiah; thus saith the Lord." "The word of the Lord came unto Jonah." So, "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which he sent and signified to his servant John." "John to the seven Churches," etc.
The Asia here mentioned was what is called Asia Minor, or the Lydian or Proconsular Asia; the seven Churches were those of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Of these as they occur. We are not to suppose that they were the only Christian Churches then in Asia Minor; there were several others then in Phrygia, Pamphylia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, etc., etc. But these seven were those which lay nearest to the apostle, and were more particularly under his care; though the message was sent to the Churches in general, and perhaps it concerns the whole Christian world. But the number seven may be used here as the number of perfection; as the Hebrews use the seven names of the heavens, the seven names of the earth, the seven patriarchs, seven suns, seven kinds, seven years, seven months, seven days, etc., etc.; in which the rabbins find a great variety of mysteries.
Grace be unto you - This form of apostolical benediction we have often seen in the preceding epistles.
From him which is, and which was, and which is to come - This phraseology is purely Jewish, and probably taken from the Tetragrammaton, יהוה Yehovah; which is supposed to include in itself all time, past, present, and future. But they often use the phrase of which the ὁ ων, και ὁ ην, και ὁ ερχομενος, of the apostle, is a literal translation. So, in Sohar Chadash, fol. 7, 1: "Rabbi Jose said, By the name Tetragrammaton, (i.e. יהוה, Yehovah), the higher and lower regions, the heavens, the earth, and all they contain, were perfected; and they are all before him reputed as nothing; והוא היה והוא הוה והוא יהיה vehu hayah, vehu hoveh, vehu yihyeh; and He Was, and He Is, and He Will Be. So, in Shemoth Rabba, sec. 3, fol. 105, 2: "The holy blessed God said to Moses, tell them: - אני שהייתי ואני הוא עכשיו ואני הוא לעתיד לבוא ani shehayithi, veani hu achshaiu, veani hu laathid labo; I Was, I Now Am, and I Will Be in Future." In Chasad Shimuel, Rab. Samuel ben David asks: "Why are we commanded to use three hours of prayer? Answer: These hours point out the holy blessed God; שהוא היה הוה ויהיה shehu hayah, hoveh, veyihyeh; he who Was, who Is, and who Shall Be. The Morning prayer points out him who Was before the foundation of the world; the Noonday prayer points out him who Is; and the Evening prayer points out him who Is to Come." This phraseology is exceedingly appropriate, and strongly expresses the eternity of God; for we have no other idea of time than as past, or now existing, or yet to exist; nor have we any idea of eternity but as that duration called by some aeternitas a parte ante, the eternity that was before time, and aeternitas a parte post, the endless duration that shall be when time is no more. That which Was, is the eternity before time; that which Is, is time itself; and that which Is to Come, is the eternity which shall be when time is no more.
The seven Spirits - before his throne - The ancient Jews, who represented the throne of God as the throne of an eastern monarch, supposed that there were seven ministering angels before this throne, as there were seven ministers attendant on the throne of a Persian monarch. We have an ample proof of this, Tobit 12:15: I am Raphael, one of the Seven Holy Angels which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One. And in Jonathan ben Uzziel's Targum, on Genesis 11:7 : God said to the Seven Angels which stand before him, Come now, etc.
In Pirkey Eliezer, iv. and vii: "The angels which were first created minister before him without the veil." Sometimes they represent them as seven cohorts or troops of angels, under whom are thirty inferior orders.
That seven Angels are here meant, and not the Holy Spirit, is most evident from the place, the number, and the tradition. Those who imagine the Holy Ghost to be intended suppose the number seven is used to denote his manifold gifts and graces. That these seven spirits are angels, see Revelation 3:1; Revelation 4:5; and particularly Revelation 5:6, where they are called the seven spirits of God Sent Forth into All the Earth.
on Revelation 1 :4
John to the seven churches which are in Asia - The word "Asia" is used in quite different senses by different writers. It is used:
(1) as referring to the whole eastern continent now known by that name;
(2) either Asia or Asia Minor;
(3) that part of Asia which Attalus III, king of Pergamos, gave to the Romans, namely, Mysia, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Lydia, Carla, Pisidia, and the southern coast - that is, all in the western, southwestern, and southern parts of Asia Minor; and,
(4) in the New Testament, usually the southwestern part of Asia Minor, of which Ephesus was the capital. See the notes at Acts 2:9.
The word "Asia" is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it occurs often in the Books of Maccabees, and in the New Testament. In the New Testament it is not used in the large sense in which it is now, as applied to the whole continent, but in its largest signification it would include only Asia Minor. It is also used, especially by Luke, as denoting the country that was called "Ionia," or what embraced the provinces of Caria and Lydia. Of this region Ephesus was the principal city, and it was in this region that the "seven churches" were situated. Whether there were more than seven churches in this region is not intimated by the writer of this book, and on that point we have no certain knowledge. it is evident that these seven were the principal churches, even if there were more, and that there was some reason why they should be particularly addressed.
There is mention of some other churches in the neighborhood of these. Colosse was near to Laodicea; and from Colossians 4:13, it would seem not improbable that there was a church also at Hierapolis. But there may have been nothing in their circumstances that demanded particular instruction or admonition, and they may have been on that account omitted. There is also some reason to suppose that, though there had been other churches in that vicinity besides the seven mentioned by John, they had become extinct at the time when he wrote the Book of Revelation. It appears from Tacitus (History, xiv, 27; compare also Pliny, N. H., v. 29), that in the time of Nero, 61 a.d., the city of Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake, in which earthquake, according to Eusebius, the adjacent cities of Colosse and Hierapolis were involved. Laodicea was, indeed, immediately rebuilt, but there is no evidence of the re-establishment of the church there before the time when John wrote this book.
The earliest mention we have of a church there, after the one referred to in the New Testament by Paul Colossians 2:1; Colossians 4:13, Colossians 4:15-16, is in the time of Trajan, when Papias was bishop there, sometime between 98 a.d. and 117 a.d. It would appear, then, to be not improbable that at the time when the Apocalypse was written, there were in fact but seven churches in the vicinity. Prof. Stuart (i., 219) supposes that "seven, and only so many, may have been named, because the sevenfold divisions and groups of various objects constitute a conspicuous feature in the Apocalypse throughout." But this reason seems too artificial; and it can hardly be supposed that it would influence the mind of John, in the specification by name of the churches to which the book was sent. If no names had been mentioned, and if the statement had occurred in glowing poetic description, it is not inconceivable that the number seven might have been selected for some such purpose.
Grace be unto you, and peace - The usual form of salutation in addressing a church. See the notes on Romans 1:7.
From him which is, and which was, and which is to come - From him who is everlasting - embracing all duration, past, present, and to come. No expression could more strikingly denote eternity than this. He now exists; he has existed in the past; he will exist in the future. There is an evident allusion here to the name Yahweh, the name by which the true God is appropriately designated in the Scriptures. That name יהוה Yahweh, from היה haayah, to be, to exist, seems to have been adopted because it denotes existence, or being, and as denoting simply one who exists; and has reference merely to the fact of existence. The word has no variation of form, and has no reference to time, and would embrace all time: that is, it is as true at one time as another that he exists. Such a word would not be inappropriately paraphrased by the phrase "who is, and who was, and who is to come," or who is to be; and there can be no doubt that John referred to him here as being himself the eternal and uncreated existence, and as the great and original fountain of all being.
They who desire to find a full discussion in regard to the origin of the name Yahweh, may consult an article by Prof. Tholuck, in the "Biblical Repository," vol. iv., pp. 89-108. It is remarkable that there are some passages in pagan inscriptions and writings which bear a very strong resemblance to the language used here by John respecting God. Thus, Plutarch (De Isa. et Osir., p. 354.), speaking of a temple of Isis, at Sais, in Egypt, says, "It bore this inscription - 'I am all that was, and is, and shall be, and my vail no mortal can remove'" - Ἐγώ εἰμι πᾶν τὸ γεγονός, καὶ ὅν, καὶ ἐσόμενον καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν πέπλον οὐδείς τω θνητὸς ἀνεκάλυψεν Egō eimi pan to gegonos, kai hon, kai esomenon kai ton emon peplon oudeis tō thnētos anekalupsen. So Orpheus (in Auctor. Lib. de Mundo), "Jupiter is the head, Jupiter is the middle, and all things are made by Jupiter." So in Pausanias (Phocic. 12), "Jupiter was; Jupiter is; Jupiter shall be." The reference in the phrase before us is to God as such, or to God considered as the Father.
And from the seven Spirits which are before his throne - After all that has been written on this very difficult expression, it is still impossible to determine with certainty its meaning. The principal opinions which have been held in regard to it are the following:
I. That it refers to God, as such. This opinion is held by Eichhorn, and is favored by Ewald. No arguments derived from any parallel passages are urged for this opinion, nor can any such be found, where God is himself spoken of under the representation of a sevenfold Spirit. But the objections to this view are so obvious as to be insuperable:
(1) If it refers to God as such, then it would be mere tautology, for the writer had just referred to him in the phrase "from him who was," etc.
on Revelation 1 :4
1:4 John - The dedication of this book is contained in the fourth, fifth, and sixth verse s; but the whole Revelation is a kind of letter. To the seven churches which are in Asia - That part of the Lesser Asia which was then a Roman province. There had been several other churches planted here; but it seems these were now the most eminent; and it was among these that St. John had laboured most during his abode in Asia. In these cities there were many Jews. Such of them as believed in each were joined with the gentile believers in one church. Grace be unto you, and peace - The favour of God, with all temporal and eternal blessings. From him who is, and who was, and who cometh, or, who is to come - A wonderful translation of the great name JEHOVAH: he was of old, he is now, he cometh; that is, will be for ever. And from the seven spirits which are before his throne - Christ is he who hath the seven spirits of God. The seven lamps which burn before the throne are the seven spirits of God. The lamb hath seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God. Seven was a sacred number in the Jewish church: but it did not always imply a precise number. It sometimes is to be taken figuratively, to denote completeness or perfection. By these seven spirits, not seven created angels, but the Holy Ghost is to be understood. The angels are never termed spirits in this book; and when all the angels stand up, while the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders worship him that sitteth on the throne, and the Lamb, the seven spirits neither stand up nor worship. To these seven spirits of God, the seven churches, to whom the Spirit speaks so many things, are subordinate; as are also their angels, yea, and the seven angels which stand before God. He is called the seven spirits, not with regard to his essence, which is one, but with regard to his manifold operations.