1:1-3 This book is the Revelation of Jesus Christ; the whole Bible is so; for all revelation comes through Christ, and all relates to him. Its principal subject is to discover the purposes of God concerning the affairs of the church, and of the nations as connected therewith, to the end of the world. These events would surely come to pass; and they would begin to come to pass very shortly. Though Christ is himself God, and has light and life in himself, yet, as Mediator between God and man, he receives instructions from the Father. To him we owe the knowledge of what we are to expect from God, and what he expects from us. The subject of this revelation was, the things that must shortly come to pass. On all who read or hear the words of the prophecy, a blessing is pronounced. Those are well employed who search the Bible. It is not enough that we read and hear, but we must keep the things that are written, in our memories, in our minds, in our affections, and in practice, and we shall be blessed in the deed. Even the mysteries and difficulties of this book are united with discoveries of God, suited to impress the mind with awe, and to purify the soul of the reader, though he may not discern the prophetic meaning. No part of Scripture more fully states the gospel, and warns against the evil of sin.
Who bare record of the word of God - Who bore witness to, or testified of ἐμαρτύρησεν emarturēsen the Word of God. He regarded himself merely as a "witness" of what he had seen, and claimed only to make a fair and faithful "record" of it. "This is the disciple which "testifieth" (ὁ μαρτυρῶν ho marturōn) of these things, and wrote these things," John 21:24
. "And he that saw it bare record" - μεμαρτύρηκε memarturēke John 19:35
. Compare also the following places, where the apostle uses the same word of himself: 1 John 1:2
; 1 John 4:14
. The expression here, "the word of God," is one the meaning of which has been much controverted, and is important in its bearing on the question who was the author of the Book of Revelation. The main inquiry is, whether the writer refers to the "testimony" which he bears in this book respecting the "word of God"; or whether he refers to some testimony on that subject in some other book with which those to whom he wrote were so familiar that they would at once recognize him as the author; or whether he refers to the fact that he had borne his testimony to the great truths of religion, and especially respecting Jesus Christ, as a preacher who was well known, and who would be characterized by this expression.
The phrase "the word of God" - τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ ton logon tou Theou - occurs frequently in the New Testament (compare John 10:35; Acts 4:31; Acts 6:2, Acts 6:7; Acts 11:1; Acts 12:24); and may either mean the Word or doctrine respecting God - that which teaches what God is - or what he speaks or teaches. It is more commonly used in the latter sense (compare the passages referred to above), and especially refers to what God speaks or commands in the gospel. The fair meaning of this expression would be, that John had borne faithful witness to, or testimony of, the truth which God had spoken to man in the gospel of Christ. So far as the "language" used here is concerned, this might apply either to a written or an oral testimony; either to a treatise like that of his gospel, to his preaching, or to the record which he was then making. Vitringa and others suppose that the reference here is to the gospel which he had published, and which now bears his name; Lucke and others, to the revelation made to him in Patmos, the record of which he now makes in this book; Prof. Stuart and others, to the fact that he was a teacher or preacher of the gospel, and that (compare Revelation 1:9) the allusion is to the testimony which he had borne to the gospel, and for which he was an exile in Patmos. Is it not possible that these conflicting opinions may be to some extent harmonized, by supposing that in the use of the aorist tense - ἐμαρτύρησε emarturēse - the writer meant to refer to a characteristic of himself, to wit, that he was a faithful witness of the Word of God and of Jesus Christ whenever and however made known to him?
With an eye, perhaps, to the record which he was about to make in this book, and intending to include that may he not also refer to what had been and was his well-known character as a witness of what God communicated to him? He had always borne this testimony. He always regarded himself as such a witness. He had been an eyewitness of what had occurred in the life and at the death of the Saviour (see the notes on 2 Peter 1:17-18), and had, in all his writings and public administrations, horne witness to what he had seen and heard; for that Revelation 1:9 he had been banished to Patmos: and he was now about to carry out the same characteristic of himself by bearing witness to what he saw in these new revelations. This would be much in the manner of John, who often refers to this characteristic of himself (compare John 19:35; John 21:24; 1 John 1:2), as well as harmonize the different opinions. The meaning, then, of the expression, "who bare record of the word of God," as I understand it, is, that it was a characteristic of the writer to bear simple but faithful testimony to the truth which God communicated to people in the gospel. If this be the correct interpretation, it may be remarked:
(a) that this is such language as John the apostle would be likely to use, and yet
(b) that it is not such language as an author would be likely to adopt if there was an attempt to forge a book in his name.
The artifice would be too refined to occur probably to anyone, for although perfectly natural for John, it would not be so natural for a forger of a book to select this circumstance and weave it thus unostentatiously into his narrative.
And of the testimony of Jesus Christ - That is, in accordance with the interpretation above, of the testimony "which Jesus Christ bore for the truth"; not of a testimony "respecting" Jesus Christ. The idea is, that Jesus Christ was himself "a witness" to the truth, and that the writer of this book was a witness merely of the testimony which Christ had borne. Whether the testimony of Jesus Christ was borne in his preaching when in the flesh, or whether made known to the writer by him at any subsequent period, it was his office to make a faithful record of that testimony. As he had always before done that, so he was about to do it now in the new revelation made to him in Patmos, which he regarded as a new testimony of Jesus Christ to the truth, Revelation 1:1. It is remarkable that, in confirmation of this view, John so often describes the Lord Jesus as a witness, or represents him as having come to hear his faithful testimony to the truth. Thus, in Revelation 1:5; "And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful and true witness." "I am one that bear witness - ὁ μαρτυρῶν ho marturōn - of myself," John 8:18. "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness - ἵνα μαρτυρήσω hina marturēsō - to the truth," John 18:37. "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness" - ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστὸς ho martus ho pistos, ... Revelation 3:14. Of this testimony which the Lord Jesus came to bring to man respecting eternal realities, the writer of this book says that he regarded himself as a witness. To the office of bearing such testimony he had been dedicated; that testimony he was now to bear, as he had always done.
And of all things that he saw - Ὅσα τε εἰδεν Hosa te eiden. This is the common reading in the Greek, and according to this reading it would properly mean, "and whatsoever he saw"; that is, it would imply that he bore witness to "the Word of God," and to "the testimony of Jesus Christ," and to "whatever he saw" - meaning that the things which he saw, and to which he refers, were things additional to those to which he had referred by "the Word of God," and the "testimony of Christ." From this it has been supposed that in the former part of the verse he refers to some testimony which he had formerly borne, as in his gospel or in his preaching, and that here he refers to what he "saw" in the visions of the Revelation as additional to the former. But it should be remembered that the word rendered "and" - τε te - is missing in a large number of manuscripts (see Wetstein), and that it is now omitted in the best editions of the Greek Testament - as by Griesbach, Tittmann and Hahn. The evidence is clear that it should be omitted; and if so omitted, the reference is to whatever he had at any time borne his testimony to, and not particularly to what passed before him in the visions of this book.
It is a general affirmation that he had always borne a faithful testimony to whatever he had seen respecting the Word of God and the testimony of Christ. The correct rendering of the whole passage then would be, "And sending by his angel, he signifies it to his servant John, who bare record of" (that is, whose character and office it was to bear his testimony to) "the word of God" (the message which God has sent to me), "and the testimony of Jesus Christ" (the testimony which Christ bore to the truth), "whatsoever he saw." He concealed nothing; he held nothing back; he made it known precisely as it was seen by him. Thus interpreted, the passage refers to what was a general characteristic of the writer, and is designed to embrace all that was made known to him, and to affirm that he was a faithful witness to it. There were doubtless special reasons why John was employed as the medium through which this communication was to be made to the church and the world. Among these reasons may have been the following:
(a) That he was the "beloved disciple."
(b) That he was the only surviving apostle.
(c) That his character was such that his statements would be readily received. Compare John 19:35; John 21:24; 3 John 1:12.
(d) It may be that his mind was better suited to be the medium of these communications than that of any other of the apostles - even if they had been then alive.
There is almost no one whose mental characteristics are less correctly understood than those of the apostle John. Among the most gentle and amiable of people; with a heart so suited for love as to be known as "the beloved disciple" - he yet had mental characteristics which made it proper that he should be called "a son of thunder" Mark 3:17; a mind suited to preserve and record the profound thoughts in his gospel; a mind of high poetic order, suited for the magnificent conceptions in this book.