Towards Understanding Revelation

5/10/23 REVELATION 1:1b, PART 3

We’re continuing in the 19th century, looking at the second phrase, “which God gave Him, to show His servants”:

“…the closing book…is called, in distinction from the others, ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’ It contains the ‘many things’ he had to say to his disciples, in addition to those recorded by the evangelists; but which they could not then bear, John 16:12.”

12I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 13Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.  (John 16:12,13; KJV)

Of course, the issue with this idea is that Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be showing them what they needed to know, whereas John got Christ, and then an angel from Christ, showing him the visions. I accept that John was given a special insight and visions, rather than the ‘still, quiet voice,’ but I kind of think that negates using this verse. 

Continuing on with the quote:

“It is the revelation ‘which God gave unto him,’ for ‘there is a God in heaven that revealed secrets, and maketh known…what shall be in the latter days,’ Dan. 2:28.” 

But there is a God in heaven that revealed secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these  (Daniel 2:28; KJV)

An out-of-context quote: the quote was directed to Nebuchadnezzar. Just because this was said to Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t make it automatically applicable to everyone else. The author does the same thing with the next quote:

“God communicated by his servants the prophets what should ‘come to pass hereafter,’ by visions which were ‘certain,’ and by ‘the interpretation thereof’ which was ‘sure,’ Dan. 2:46.

45 Foreasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereofsure. 46Then the king Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshipped Daniel, and commanded that they should offer an oblation and sweet odors unto him.   (Daniel 2:45-46; KJV)

“But Daniel was commanded to ‘shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end,’ when many should ‘run to and fro,’ and knowledge should ‘be increased.’ And it was added, ‘Go thy way, Daniel; for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end: Many shall be purified and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.’ Dan. 12:4,9,10.”

But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased…And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.   (Daniel 12:4,9,10; KJV)

This quote is more appropriately used. I think this is the first time we’ve seen the idea that the book that Daniel was told to seal up is the same book as the one with the seven seals in Revelation. It makes sense, but it’s hard to say if it’s true or not.

Continuing with the quote:

“It will thus be seen, that provision had been made for the future unveiling of what was left obscure in the predictions of the Old Testament writers; and for the unsealing of what was then closed up and sealed. This revelation must come from God; for the Savior has testified, that ‘of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.’ Matt. 24:36. ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.’ Deut. 29:29.”    [From A BRIEF COMMENTARY ON THE APOCALYPSE, by Sylvester Bliss, 1853]

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.   (Deuteronomy 29:29; KJV)

Just a note here about when I choose to provide a full quote: if the author quotes from the Bible, providing enough of the quote to give a true picture of what the Bible was saying, then I don’t bother to provide the context. So, in this last part of the quote, the author provided enough of the Matthew 24:36 quote to give the complete picture of what the quote meant, and enough context to render it understandable. The Deuteronomy quote, however, left out the last part referring to the law. This Bible quote is taken out of context because it is truly about the law, so I provided the full quote.

There was more to this quote by Mr. Bliss, but it did not add anything else new to our understanding, so we will move on:

Every Christian of spiritual intelligence must have felt more or less fully the peculiar character of the book on which we are now entering, ‘The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him.’ It is evident that the Lord Jesus is viewed here, not in His place of intimacy as the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father, but in one of comparative distance. It is His revelation, but yet it is the revelation which God gave Him. Somewhat similar is that remarkable expression which has perplexed so many, in the gospel of Mark, chap. xiii. 32, ‘But of that day and that hour knoweth no man: no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.’ He is the servant-Son of God all through that gospel; and it is the perfection of a servant not to know what his lord doeth—to know, if we may so say, only what he is told. Here, Christ receives a revelation from God; for, however exalted, it is the position He took as man which comes out conspicuously in the Revelation. And what makes this the more striking is, that of all the inspired writers of the New Testament, none dwells with such fulness upon His supreme and divine glory as John in his gospel. In the Revelation, on the contrary, it is the very same John who brings out with the greatest detail His human glory. In keeping with this, the Revelation is ‘to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.’ How different from this is the tone of John xv, 15, ‘Henceforth I call you not servants;” and also of John xvi [16:14,15], speaking of the Spirit, ‘He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I that he shall take of mine and shall show it unto you.’”  

Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.   (John 15:15; KJV)

“So we see through the gospel from first to last, that the design of the Spirit is to give the disciples the title and consciousness of their sonship with and through Jesus, the Son of God in the highest sense. Thus in chap. i. 11, 12, ‘He came unto his own and his own [people] received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.’  And again, after His death and resurrection, the Lord says, chap. XX. 17, ‘Go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; unto my God and your God.’ Of course they were servants also, and there is not a shade of incongruity. Still, the difference of the relationships is immense; and the Revelation clearly is addressed to the lower of these relations. The reason, I presume, is, partly because God is therein making known a certain course of earthly events with which the lower position is most in harmony; (the higher one of sons being more suitable to communion with the Father and with His Son;) and partly because God seems to be here preparing the way for dealing with His people in the latter day, when their position as His servants will be more or less manifested, but not the enjoyment of nearness as sons: I allude to the interval after the removal of the Church.”   [From LECTURES ON THE BOOK OF REVELATION, by William Kelly, 1861]

This quote is interesting because Mr. Kelly totally ducks the idea that Christ, as part of the Godhead, might not need a revelation from God. He instead finds Revelation to be more about Jesus’ humanity, which is the exact opposite of what I think. Except for the Gospel of John, the whole rest of the New Testament is about the humanity of Jesus. In Revelation we see Jesus the Christ, with His brass feet, flaming eyes, and as the magnificent warrior who destroys the armies at Armageddon. But, I do have to include the opposing points of view.

I’m not really on board with his view of ‘servants’ either. There are a number of metaphors used to describe the followers of Jesus: servants, slaves, bride, sons, and friends. Each describes the followers in at least one sense: i.e. the followers await the return of Christ as a bride waits for her husband to come collect her after he’s prepared a place for her.  The followers of the latter days (after the removal of the Church) are no longer described as ‘the bride,’ but take on the description of ‘tribulation saints.’ They will be ‘servants’ only in the same sense that we are: as serving each other as Jesus’ directed us to and as He did. It will not be any “more or less manifested” than it is now. And they will be as ‘sons’ in the same way we have always been.

Here’s the next quote:

As one well says, These words—‘ which God gave unto him ’—show how peculiarly this book is to be regarded as coming from God as God. It is not the instruction of the Father to children in the bosom of the family: but it is God on the throne of government, instructing the servants of Jesus. 

“From the disclosure being given by God it is rendered certain, that some part of the book contains new truth: though it appears also (as the sequel will show) that a considerable portion of it had more or less been discovered to the prophets and apostles. But even where they were permitted to declare something of the same times, this prophecy is far more complete. This is the golden thread, on which may be strung all the pearls of former prophecy.”   [From THE APOCALYPSE EXPOUNDED BY SCRIPTURE, by Robert Govett, 1864]

Mr. Govett was still being quoted actively a hundred years later by J. Vernon McGee. This quote hints at why that was.  He makes an excellent point about God providing this revelation as “God on the throne of government” rather than as “Father to children” (also ducking the ‘Jesus needs a revelation’ question, but at least providing a new thought). Then he goes on to describe Revelation as “the golden thread on which may be strung all the pearls of former prophecy,” which I think is a really true and poetic at the same time. 

On to the next quote:

“This book is further announced as the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him. Though specified in this one instance, this mode of revelation is not peculiar to the Apocalypse, but is common to all the books which constitute The Word. All are the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and all were given unto Him by God.This does not imply that God and Jesus aretwo Persons. We cannot conceive of one Divine Person giving a revelation to another Divine Person in all respects equal with Himself. But when we understand God and Jesus to be the names of two distinct essentials of the Deity, the statement is intelligible and clear, and the truth it expresses is seen to be highly important and beautifully instructive. Jesus, as the Eternal Word or Wisdom of God, is the immediate Author of Revelation, as He is of Creation and Redemption. But besides the Divine Wisdom, there is another essential of the Deity, in which Revelation as well as Creation has its origin. That other essential is Divine Love. In all that the Almighty does His Love is the moving cause and His Wisdom is the efficient cause. The Love of God is that from which all things exist; the Wisdom of God is that by which all things exist. “To us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things” (1 Cor. viii. 6). “He is before all things, and by Him all things consist” (Col. i. 17). This law of Divine action our Lord Himself teaches in the Gospel,—“I can of Mine own self do nothing; as I hear, I judge. The words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father, that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works” (John v. 30, xiv. 10). True, the Lord spake this with immediate reference to His Humanity, as dependent on His indwelling Divinity. But this makes no real difference; for the Humanity of the Lord was the Word made flesh. And whether manifested in flesh or not, the Word could do nothing and say nothing of itself, but from the Divine Love that dwelt eternally within it. As Love is in Wisdom, and reveals and manifests itself by Wisdom, so does the Father in the Son, so does God in Christ. Therefore there is a most sublime and instructive truth expressed in the declaration, that the revelation that Jesus gave to John He Himself received from God. The truth is this: The prophecy which the Lord Jesus was about to deliver to His chosen servant came from His Eternal Divinity through His Divine Humanity, from His infinite Love through His infinite Wisdom—a prophecy, therefore, which reveals the Lord’s Divinity and Humanity, His Love and Wisdom, distinctly and unitedly, to His Church, and through the Church to the whole human race.”

Wow! This author just nails it as far as I’m concerned! The only objection that I noted when reading it was the designation of God as “infinite Love.” He is, indeed, “infinite Love,” but I don’t like seeing someone confine Him to only that. It also plays into the hands of those in this day and age who want to see God as only Love, and thus, as “a Being Who could not condemn anyone to eternal punishment (except for Hitler)”. However, calling God “infinite Love” gets the point across, and it’s a great point being made, so I can live with it.

Let’s continue with the quote:        

“The revelation which God gave to Jesus was to show unto His servants things that must shortly come to pass. It appears from this that the prophecy was intended for the members of the Church, or rather for those of them who, amidst the general defection, should be found steadfast in the faith, serving the Lord in singleness of mind. According to the spiritual meaning of the term, the servants of the Lord are the faithful, or those who serve Him in faith. But as there is no faith without love, and no faith and love without works, faith that worketh by love is that which makes men the Lord’s true servants. Those are the servants to whom this revelation is immediately addressed. They only are interested in the subject of which it treats, and they only are capable of receiving the light which enables the mind to understand it. Unto the faithful servants of the Lord only can this revelation show the things which must shortly come to pass. 

One quibble here: when I first read “and no faith and love without works,” it seemed to me that the author was saying that faith and love came from works, and that didn’t seem right. On second and third reading I think he means it like in James, that faith and love cannot survive without works. Here are some lines from James that give clarity:

17…faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…20are you willing to acknowledge, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless? 21Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected…24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone…26For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.  (James 2:17,20-22,24,26; NASB)

On with the quote: 

“The things revealed are those contained in the book which it is our aim to understand. It may be sufficient here to say, that these things relate to the Church, or the religious states of mankind, as the Lord foresaw them, and as this book reveals them. The Apocalypse presents events which were then future. The decline of religion and the end of the Church, which rendered the Lord’s Second Coming necessary, and the restoration of religion and the establishment of a new Church, which the Lord’s coming was to effect, are the general subjects of the Revelation. The Revelation does not give a continuous history of the Church, from the time of the First to the time of the Second Advent. Glimpses are opened to the sight of the faithful, in some of the visions presented to the Lord’s servant, to whom the revelation was first made; but the book as a whole describes the states of the Church as it would be at the close of the Dispensation, immediately before the coming of the Lord and the descent of the New Jerusalem, as the Church which was to succeed that which would pass away.”   [From COMMENTARY ON THE REVELATION OF ST JOHN, by William Bruce, 1877]

I find it fascinating that so many people see Revelation as being ‘about the Church.’ Here, Mr. Bruce even talks about a ‘new Church’ being established at the Lord’s Second Coming. The only use of the word ‘church’ in the Gospels is in Matthew 18:17:

And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.   (Matthew 18:17; NASB)

There are other translations (including Hebrew Matthew) that use words like ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’ rather than church. Jesus never really talked about a ‘church’ like we know it. Paul certainly did, but it seems that he was following the model of the synagogue, and that model developed after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus talked about our bodies being temples within which we would worship, and about loving fellow believers, which evolved into what we call ‘fellowship.’ 

The only talk about ‘church’ in Revelation are the letters to the churches in Asia of chapters 2 & 3. If you step away from the idea of ‘church,’ then you can see that Revelation, except for chapter 2 & 3, has nothing to do with the Church, including in the Millennium. There is talk of a new Temple, but nothing about a ‘new church.’ More than that, Jesus referred to His followers as His Bride; and Paul referred to the Church as Christ’s Bride. The Bride is to be taken home before the tribulation (pretribulation) or during/after the tribulation (mid- or post-tribulation), so why would there be a need for another church in the millennium? Whose bride will that church be? What would the purpose of such a church be? Worship will be a part of everyday life in the millennium, a church as we know it would be superfluous.

Let’s move on to the next quote:

And this book is not only the Revelation of Jesus Christ, it is also the Revelation which ‘God gave unto him.’ We are clearly told in the New Testament, that the mediatorial kingdom, with all its glory, is the reward which the Savior received from the Father when the great work of redemption was finished. We may therefore consider all the glory of the Messiah, revealed in this book, as the gift of God. It is made known to man by the will of God. And besides this, the revelation is a part of the glory, for even such glory would have been no glory, if it had continued for ever unknown.”

A couple of interesting points here: that Revelation is, at least partly, a record of the glory received by Christ following the redemption, and that there would be no glory if it was unknown (kind of like the tree-falling-in-the-forest metaphor).  

I tend to believe that God and Heaven are outside of time. I think the probably over-simplified way to look at it is that time is a river that God can enter at any point. Having said that, I have trouble understanding how there was anything in Heaven “following” anything on earth. Christ has glory in Heaven…always has, always will. He is the Redeemer, always was, always will be. While He lived in time, He agreed to feel the constraints of time, which includes the possibility of failure, but He also remembered being timeless. It’s a difficult concept, and I haven’t worked it all out in my head, but it seems to me that being outside of time is what eternity is all about.

I don’t really buy the ‘no glory if it’s unknown’ concept either. This idea also depends on a timeline in Heaven. But, let’s return to the quote:

“The object of this God-given Revelation is ‘to show unto his servants…’ By the servants of God are meant of course the true members of the church on earth. We must remember the circumstances in which these servants were placed, or we will not be able to understand the design of this book. They were to pass through great persecutions; men and devils were to be arrayed against them; error and Antichrist were to oppose them; their blood was to be poured out like water in the streets of every city. Against the coming of such dark days of persecution, the servants of God needed encouragement. If they were not encouraged and strengthened, they would think their God had forgotten them, and make shipwreck of their faith. What would strengthen them more than to forewarn them of the persecutions through which they had to pass, to assure them of the protection of their divine Lord and of their final triumph, and to reveal to them the everlasting glory of Christ in which they were to have a share? What would encourage them more than to reveal to them the history of the church and its divine Lord from that day until the time when all the great multitude of the redeemed should be gathered home?”     [From LECTURES ON THE REVELATION, by William J. Reid, 1878]

This last paragraph is written as if everything is over and “Phew! we made it through. How lucky we were to have had that book to tell us what was coming!” 

I looked Mr. Reid up, and he was an American: the pastor of the First United Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. His country had just finished a brutal and bloody civil war, yet he seems to see no need for comfort and encouragement. I looked ahead at his lecture on the binding of Satan and found that he thinks Satan has been bound since before Adam and Eve…God “in His wisdom” has allowed Satan “limited liberty” so we see him tempting Eve, tempting Jesus, etc. until he is bound for good, after the Millennium. He also sees the beast as “the Papacy,” and the false prophet as “Mohammedanism,” and because these had not been overthrown in his time, then the battle of Armageddon must be “in the future.”  It’s too bad that he died in 1902 and did not live to see the devastations of the First World War, it might have altered his view a bit.

The last quote of the day:

“The words following, which God gave unto him, seem to make it clear that we are to view Jesus Christ as revealing, and as revealed only in a remoter sense of the phrase, if at all. The things here to be made known are given to him of God, and by him so communicated, as to show unto his servants…By ‘servants’ must be meant all followers of Christ, and students of his word. Perhaps the term used implies something as to the temper in which those to whom the things herein contained shall be effectually disclosed, must be found; not a captiously critical temper, least of all one of hostility to the great aims and methods of Christ’s spiritual kingdom; but one in which he is acknowledged as supreme Lord, and in which there shall be loyal and fervent sympathy with him in all that he purposes, all that he claims, and all that he does.”    [From COMMENTARY ON THE REVELATION, by Justin A. Smith, 1884]

I don’t especially like the implication that Jesus Christ doesn’t exactly have much to do with the revelation. But, the discussion on the term ‘servants’ is pretty interesting, and I think I can agree that a ‘servant’ of Christ would acknowledge Him “as supreme Lord,” as well as being “loyal” and in “fervent sympathy with him.”

That’s enough for today. Hopefully we will make it into the 20th century next time.

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