Towards Understanding Revelation

12/10/22 REVELATION 1:1a, PART 2

We’re continuing on with the commentaries of the 18th century. Here’s the first one:

The Latin Fathers term it the Revelation, and they do so with propriety: for matters before covered are revealed in this book. No prophecy in the Old Testament has this title: it was reserved for the Revelation of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, (and for it) alone. It is a Manifesto, as the term is, and that of the kingdom of Christ…of Jesus Christ. The title is prefixed by [uninspired] men…[The Revelation of John the Divine] This title is ancient indeed, but it presupposes doubts respecting the writer of the Apocalypse, which arose a long time after the age of the apostles; it also presupposes the introduction into the Church of the surname, the Divine,’ and its being assigned to John; and it implies that there were other Apocalypses, from which this true one was to be distinguished. The surname, Divine (as attributed to John), almost supersedes that of Apostle. It is indeed John, the apostle, who wrote this book; but the Author is Jesus Christ. By prefixing the name John, the ancients wished to distinguish the true Apocalypse from the many apocryphal books. Apocryphal gospels and epistles presuppose others that are canonical, and so apocryphal apocalypses presuppose a genuine Apocalypse.”  [from GNOMON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, by John Albert Bengal, 1742]

This is an interesting take on the origin of John ‘the Divine.’ It sounds like speculation rather than researched facts, but interesting all the same.

On to the next one:

“This Book contains a Discovery or Revelation of many Secrets, which Christ made known concerning the present and future State of his Church in this World.”  [from A PARAPHRASE AND NOTES ONTHE REVELATION OF ST JOHN, by Moses Lowman, 1745]

As we’ve seen elsewhere, and will see again, the word revelation means a disclosing of things hidden or previously unknown. I really don’t like the word “secrets” used about the Bible: some things are less obvious, or even hidden, but “secrets” implies an intentional hiding and whispering behind closed doors. Also, after looking at the state of the church in John’s time in Chapters 2 and 3, it is about prophecy rather than “secrets”. And again, I don’t think we will conclude that it is about the future of the Church.

“The Revelation – Properly so called; for things covered before are here revealed, or unveiled. No prophecy in the Old Testament has this title; it was reserved for this alone in the New. It is, as it were, a manifesto, wherein the Heir of all things declares that all power is given him in heaven and earth, and that he will in the end gloriously exercise that power, in spite of all the opposition of all his enemies. Of Jesus Christ – not of ‘John the Divine,’ a title added in latter ages. Certain it is, that appellation, the Divine, was not brought into the church, much less was it affixed to John the apostle, till long after the apostolic age. It was St. John, indeed, who wrote this book, but the author of it is Jesus Christ.”  [from NOTES ON THE REVELATION OF JOHN,  by John Wesley, 1765]

In his Introduction, Wesley states that he “despaired of understanding” Revelation until he read Bengal’s Gnomon. He further states that his writing is a partial translation, partial abridgment of the Gnomon, which we can actually see here. He has shortened and paraphrased Bengel’s thoughts on the subject. It’s interesting to see how the writers influenced each other.

That’s all for the 18th century, let’s get started with the 19th: 

“The book takes its title, it seems, from the first verse. All scripture is a revelation in some sense; but this is a disclosure of things to come.“  [from THE WORKS OF THE REV. ANDREW FULLER IN EIGHT VOLUMES, VOL. 6, by Andrew Fuller, 1825] 

Apparently Rev. Fuller didn’t understand that it was common in Jewish literature to name a book by the first line. But I like his statement about all scripture being a ‘revelation in some sense.’

“At the Cross, men were allowed to accomplish their purpose — no judgment was sent forth against them — it was the time of long-suffering mercy — there was then One who said ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’: but the coming day of apostasy will have to be met, not by mercy, but by vengeance. God has not in reserve any other sacrifice for sins; and if that which He has provided and proclaimed be rejected — if despite be done to that Spirit of Grace which now bears witness to that sacrifice, nothing can remain but ‘judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.’ “

I find this an interesting idea: that “God has not in reserve any other sacrifice for sins.” It seems like He could have something in reserve. But, if He did, what could be more impactful than Jesus’ death and resurrection? And truly, should we need anything else? I know that there are people out there today, 2000+ years later, who think of Christ as ‘make believe’ and as not even an historical figure. But if these people cannot even be bothered to do the research, I’m not sure that even having Jesus return for a reprise death and resurrection would convince them. And so we end up with the ‘‘judgment and fiery indignation” scenario. This isn’t exactly a new idea, just an interesting way to say it.

Continuing with the same quote:

“The Revelation, in its prophetic parts, belongs to the closing hour of human history. It does not profess to record the progressive steps by which, during the last 1800 years, men have advanced toward their final greatness — for in that case it must have been a history of the world; it seeks not, therefore, to detail the means by which the final point of human greatness is reached; but it teaches us the character of that greatness, and reveals its doom. The manner and the place in which the combined apostasy of man, of Israel, and of a large section of professing Christendom, will be finally developed; the mode of the interference of God in chastisement, and then the mission of His Son in judgment, are declared in the Revelation. It presents to us the world already standing in full possession of its last prosperity; and then reveals the manner in which the Almighty hand of outraged goodness interferes to crush the proud power of evil, and to bring in everlasting righteousness…”

I agree with his statement about the “combined apostasy of man,” but the only difference between those committing apostasy and those who the author thinks are becoming great is: Jesus.  Man is not advancing towards “final greatness.” Christians should be recognizing that we are sinners, that Christ forgives us and ‘takes away’ our sins, but that doesn’t change the fact that while here on this earth we will always be sinners. 

I find the statement about “the world already standing in full possession of its last prosperity” to be very interesting. I think it decidedly describes a lot of the world today. And if man were really becoming great, it would describe the whole world in my opinion.

Finishing up the quote:

“The Revelation assumes the path of human progress to be, at present, evil; it assumes the failure of the Church’s testimony; it assumes that Christ’s servants will never behold the establishment of Truth in the earth, until judgment shall first have wrought its work, and they have themselves been taken to their heavenly mansions of glory. This the prophets had declared; this the teaching of the Lord Jesus had confirmed; and to this the captivity of John in Patmos bore testimony. They, consequently, who are unprepared to admit these things, are unprepared to understand the Revelation…”  [from the Introductory Observations of THOUGHTS ON THE APOCALYPSE by Benjamin W. Newton, 1843]

This last paragraph of Mr. Newton’s quote is spot on. I agree with every word!

On to the next quote:

“This apparently simple and intelligible sentence [The Revelation of Jesus Christ] has been regarded by many as replete, in the original, with real difficulties. It has therefore been the subject of much controversy among critics; nor, down to the present hour, has all doubt respecting its true meaning been removed…The Revelation of Jesus Christ — Apokalupsis has often been said not to be a word of pure Greek idiom…[but] Plutarch uses it …and Porphyry employs it …Julius Pollux also… The verb (of apokalupsis), is of the same meaning substantially as apokalupsis, i. e. it literally signifies to uncover, to disclose, and so (secondarily) to bring to light, to reveal, etc. Apokalupsis may therefore be well translated revelation….It is here employed as the title of the the book at the head of which it stands, and of course it lacks the article [the] which, if prefixed, might convey a wrong sense, i.e. it might mean the revelation in a monadic sense, excluding other books from the like claim; or else it might imply some previous mention of the book, or previous knowledge of it in the reader’s mind; all of which would be incongruous. In English, however, there lies not the same objection against employing the definite article in this case, as our usage does not altogether accord with the Greek. Accordingly, we fine the definite article the commonly employed before the word Revelation; and I have conformed to this usage…The context…affirms two things, viz. first, that this apokalupsis has respect to what is to take place in future, and secondly, that God and Christ and his angel all co-operate in making the disclosure to John. — There is indeed a possible sense of the word apokalupsis which is different from this, viz. when it means manifestation or exhibition of any thing or person…

“…Is Christ subject or object? That is, is he the personage who is in possession of the revelation and discloses it according to his will; or is he the individual to whom the revelation has respect, and in regard to whom it makes disclosures? The Genitive case…would in itself bear either construction; and both constructions are common throughout the Scriptures; but here the sequel…renders it quite certain that the first sense is the only one which the passage will bear.”  [from COMMENTARY ON THE APOCALYPSE VOL. 2 by Moses Stuart, 1845]

Mr. Stuart gives a good summary of how this phrase stands in Greek. Later writers will declare that Christ is both subject and object; we’ll see if they can back it up with the Greek.

Moving on with a basic statement:

“The word, Apolkalupsis, from which we have our word Apocalypse, signifies literally, a revelation, or discovery of what was concealed or hidden.” [from THE NEW TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, VOL 2 by Adam Clarke, 1846]

And now the last quote:

“Such is the title of this book, that is, the unveiling of this glorious one; his coming forth with his mighty acts, to assume the dominion of the world. It is not to be regarded as a mere recital of events by him, but as a Revelation of him. See 1 Pet. i. 13.

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (1 Peter 1:13; KJV)

“The word ‘ Revelation’ when predicated of a Person, is invariably used to signify the appearance of that person. It is translated ‘appearing,’ 1 Pet. i. 7; and ‘manifestation,’ Rom. viii. 19. 

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ  (1 Peter 7; KJV)

For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.  (Romans 8:19; KJV)

“A verbal form is given to it by our translators, in 2 Thess. i. 7; but it is the same word that is used. 

And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.  (1 Thessalonians 1:7; KJV)

“Perhaps, with this position, one passage may seem to clash—Eph. iii. 8. 

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ  (Ephesians 3:8; KJV)

But all doubt is removed by a reference to Gal. i. 11, 12, which clearly shows, that the word in the former passage, as in other places, refers to the personal appearing ‘of Jesus Christ.’” [This appears to disagree somewhat with what Moses Stuart said about subject and object, making a special case when the word is used in regards to a person.]

But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.  (Galatians 1:11-12; KJV)

“The word revelation, or disclosing, apocalypses, which in the New Testament is chiefly used by Paul, stands in a near relation to the word mystery or secret. Mysteries are the object of revelation, and the territory of the latter extends as far as the territory of mysteries. See Dan 2:19, Ephes. 3:3, ‘By revelation he has made known to me the secret,’ ver. 5, 9, Rom. 16:25. 

Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision, Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven. (Daniel 2:19; KJV)

3How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words 4Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit…9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 3:3,4,5,9; KJV)

Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began (Romans 16:25; KJV)

“The condition of the revelation, accordingly, is the inaccessibility of a matter to the ordinary faculties of the mind. For, this is the common idea of a mystery. Hence, the sphere of revelation comprehends also that, which has already been made objectively manifest, and has become the church’s own, in so far as it may be communicated to a particular individual…commonly the word is used to denote the new disclosure of truths,  which hitherto had lain beyond the reach of the mind. Such can only be found in moments of holy consecration, when the soul, as the chosen instrument of God, is raised above itself and is brought into closest fellowship with God, the source of truth…

“The book is the revelation of Jesus Christ and the prophecy of John. The object of the revelation are the mysteries; its product is the prophecy. No revelation without prophecy and inversely. What viewed in respect to the manner of receiving it is revelation, the same, when viewed in respect to the manner of its delivery, is prophecy. Paul says in the passage [1 Corinthians 14:6], ‘Now, brethren, if I come to you and speak with tongues, what shall I profit you except I shall speak to you either by revelation or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?’ Here we have a double pair of corresponding parts; revelation and prophecy constitute the one, knowledge and doctrine the other. ‘The speaker attains to his knowing either by revelation, by a supernatural communication imparted by the Spirit of God, and when he gives utterance to this, he is a prophet. Or it may be by learning, meditation, inquiry in a merely human manner, and with the common help of the Holy Spirit; and then his knowing is a gnosis, a knowledge, and the utterance of it, in a manner that should now be naturally adapted to the mode of receiving it, will be a purely intelligent one, working on the understanding.’ As the conditions in which the revelation is received, differs from that in which the knowledge is matured, so the mode of deliverance in the prophet differs from that of common teaching. That which has been received in ecstasy can only be delivered in an elevated state of mind; that is, in so far as the delivery stands immediately connected with the receiving, and the receiving has not, as was usually the case with Paul, been already wrought into a sort of knowledge.  All prophecy, just because it has revelation for its basis is closely allied to poetry, though it does not properly resolve itself into this: its respect to the church, and the understanding of her members, prevents it from doing so…

I found this last bit to be an informative thesis on revelation vs prophecy and how they differ from knowledge and doctrine. It makes sense and provides a basis for discussion.

“…By the word itself nothing is indicated here as to the special object of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. But the thing to be supplied is furnished by the circumstances which occasioned the revelation. These determine the character of every revelation and prophecy. None swims in the air, none is entirely general. The object of the revelation given to the prophets is uniformly such, as in the given circumstances was adapted for counsel, for warning, or consolation. And if it is certain, that the starting-point here was the oppression of the church by the world-power, the object of the Revelation of Christ to the apostle can only be, what was fitted for the edification of the church under such circumstances, the preservation of the church amid the persecutions of the adversary, the destruction of the latter, and the final complete triumph of the church…”  [from CLARKS’S FOREIGN THEOLOGICAL  LIBRARY, VOL 22: HENGSTENBERG ON THE REVELATION OF ST JOHN, VOL 1 & 2 by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, 1851]

 This where Mr. Hengstenberg and I part company. There are a lot of cases where “the starting-point” is relevant to “the object of the revelation,” as he says.  But even in the Old Testament this is not always true. Let’s take Ezekiel 38-39 for instance. I have not read any account that places the attack on Israel outlined in Ezekiel 38-9 in the past somewhere. It seems to be a universal idea that this prophecy is yet to happen; which means that it’s been waiting about 2500 years for fulfillment. So in this case (and there are others), the “object of revelation” really had nothing to do with what was going on in Israel 2500 years ago, even though at that time, Babylon had captured the Jews, and Ezekiel was writing to minister to his hopeless generation. Parts of Ezekiel 38-39 could perhaps be made out to be relevant to his generation, but through the years it has been deduced that it was a prophecy not yet fulfilled.

And the same point can be made regarding Revelation. I have to assume that Mr. Hengstenberg is building up to at least a partial preterist approach: that he cannot accept that after Chapter 3, Revelation could be speaking about an unknown future. I admit that I could be wrong in my views, but so far the preterist viewpoint has not won me over. I’ll let you know if that happens.

Next time we’ll pick up with more of the 19th century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: