BOOKS: BIBLICAL STUDIES (1500BC-AD70) / EARLY CHRISTIAN PRETERISM (AD50-1000) / FREE ONLINE BOOKS (AD1000-2008)
Introduction to The Revelation of John
INTRODUCTION TO THE APOCALYPSE
By John Lightfoot
As it will be easily admitted, to place this book last of all the New Testament, because it stands so in all Bibles, so on the other hand it will be caviled at, that I have brought in the writing of it so soon, as before the fall of Jerusalem; since it hath been of old and commonly held, that it was penned in the reign of Domitian, far after these times that we are upon. But the reasons, by which I have been induced thereunto, will appear out of some passage in the book itself, as we go through it.
As God revealed to “Daniel, the man greatly beloved,” the state of his people, and the monarchies that afflicted them, from his own time, till the coming of Christ; so doth Christ to “John, the beloved disciple,” the state of the church, and story in brief, of her chief afflicters, from thence to the end of the world. So that where Daniel ends, the Revelation begins; and John hath nothing to do with any of the four monarchies that he speaketh of, but deals with a fifth, the Roman, that rose, as it were, out of the ashes of those four, and swallowed them all up.
The composure of the book is much like Daniel’s in this, that it repeats one story over and over again, in varied and enlarged expressions; and exceeding like Ezekiel’s, in method and things spoken. The style is very prophetical, as to the things spoken; and very Hebraizing, as to the speaking of them. Exceeding much of the old prophet’s language, and matter adduced to intimate new stories: and exceeding much of the Jew’s language, and allusion to their customs and opinions, thereby to speak the things more familiarly to be understood. And as Ezekiel wrote concerning the ruin of Jerusalem, when the ruining of it was now begun, so, I suppose, doth John of the final destruction of it; when the wars and miseries were now begun, which bred its destructions.
The three first chapters refer to that present time, when John wrote: and they contain the story of his obtaining this Revelation, and of the condition of the seven churches of Asia at that time, declared in the Epistles directed to them.
John, travelling in the ministry of the gospel up and down from Asia, westward, cometh into the isle Patmos, in the Icarian sea, an Island about thirty miles’ compass: and there, on the Lord’s day, he hath these visions; and an angel interprets to him all he saw.
He seeth Christ, clothed like a priest, podere (see the LXXX in Exod. 28:4), and girded over the paps, as the priests used to be, with the curious girdle. His appearance, full of majesty hand gloriousness, described in the terms of Daniel. Amongst other his divine titles, he is called, “Alpha and Omega,” terms ordinarily used by the Jews (only uttered in their Hebrew tongue) to signify “the beginning and the end, or the first and the last.” “Abraham and Sarah performed all the law from Aleph to Tau.” (1) “He walks in integrity is as if he performed all the law, from Aleph to Tau.” (2)
He directs epistles to be sent to “the seven churches of Asia;” who are “golden candlesticks,” though very full of corruptions (it is not a small thing that unchurches a church); and inscribed to “the angels of the churches.” This phrase translates “Sheliach Tsibbor,” the title of the minister in every synagogue, who took care for the public reading and expounding of the law and prophets: and these epistles are sent, accordingly, to the ministers of the several churches, that they might be read openly in their congregations.
There are seven several epistles, to the several churches, dictated immediately and sent by Christ; and another general one from John, to them all, in which he shows that warrant and way of writing those seven.
He terms the Holy Ghost, “the seven spirits,” according to the Jews’ common speech, who, from Isa. 11:2, speak much of “the seven spirits of Messias.” And, speaking of Christ’s “coming with clouds,” (3) from Dan. 7:13, and from the words of Christ himself, (4) he at once teacheth that he takes at Daniel, and speaks of Christ’s coming and reigning, when the four monarchies were destroyed; and especially referreth to the first most visible evidence of his power and dominion, in coming to destroy his enemies, the Jewish nation, and their city. And here is one reason that induceth me to suppose this book written, before that city was destroyed.
Coming to read the present condition of these Asian churches, in the epistles written to them, we may pertinently think of that saying of Paul, “This thou knowest, that all they that are in Asia, are turned from me;” a great apostasy, of which there is too much evidence in these churches, as also mention of some sad fruits of it, and means and instruments inducing to it. As, 1. Unbelieving Jews, which the Holy Ghost, all along, calls, “a synagogue of Satan;” with these, the church of Smyrna was pestered, and, more especially, Pergamus, where their mischievousness is styled, the very throne, or “seat of Satan;” and where they had murdered Antipas, a faithful martyr already. 2. False apostles and seducers; some that pretended apostolic power and commission, and, it may be, coloured their pretences with magical wonders, that they might act more apostle-like. These the church of Ephesus was trouble with, but had discovered their delusions and found them liars. 3. Other seducers, that, it may be, came not in the demonstration of such devilish power; but answered that, by their horrid devilish doctrines, “the doctrines of the Nicolaitans,” which taught to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. In Thyatira, a woman-seducer cried up this doctrine, a whore and witch, a Jezebel; wherefore, she and her children, that is, her disciples, are threatened to be destroyed by the plague; the vengeance upon the fornicators with Baal-Peor.
REVELATION IV, V
Now cometh a second vision. That before, was of “things then being,” but this, and forward, of “things to come.” (5) “A door open in heaven, and the voice of a trumpet talking with John,” out of it. The scene of John’s visions, said to be “in heaven,” is according to the scheme of the temple and the divine glory there. And hence you have mention of the altar, candlesticks, sea of glass (the brazen laver made of the women’s looking-glasses), the ark of the covenant, and the like. And as, at the opening of the temple-doors, a trumpet sounded, so is the allusion here. The door in heaven opened, and a trumpet calls John to come in and see what was there. “And immediately he was in the spirit.” (6) Why, was he not in the spirit before? (7) And was he not in the spirit, in seeing the door in heaven opened? &c. But we may observe a double degree in rapture; as inspired men may be considered under a double notion; viz. those that were inspired with prophecy, or to be prophets and to preach, and those that were inspired to be penmen of divine writ, which was higher. John hath both inspirations for revelations to both ends, both in the vision before, and this: then he was in the spirit, and saw the vision; and was in the spirit, and inspired to pen what he saw, and what to be sent to the churches. And, in the first verse of this chapter, he is in the spirit, or hath a revelation; and, in ver. 2, he is in the spirit; and is inspired so as to take impression and remembrance of these things, to write them also.
He seeth Christ enthroned in the middle of his church, in the same prophetic and visionary emblem that Ezekiel had seen; (8) and this is a commentary and fulfilling of that scene that Daniel speaketh of. (9) In Ezekiel, the Lord, when Jerusalem was now to be destroyed, and the glory of the Lord that used to be three, and the people were to flit into another land, appeareth so enthroned, as sitting in judgment, and flitting away, by degrees, to another place: as, compare Ezek. I and x, well together. So Christ here; when the destruction of Jerusalem was now near at hand, and his glory and presence to remove from that nation, now given up to unbelief and obduration, to reside among the Gentiles, he is seated upon his throne, as judge and king, with glorious attendance, to judge that nation, for their sins and unbelief, and stating the affair of his church, whither his glory was now removing.
The scheme is platformed, according to the model of Israel’s camp: 1. The tabernacle was in the middle there; so is the throne here. 2. There, the four squadrons of the camp of Levi next the tabernacle; so here the four living creatures. 3. The n the whole camp of Israel; so here, twenty-four elders, representatives of the whole church, built from twelve tribes, and twelve apostles.
In the hand of him, that sat on the throne, was a book, sealed, which no creature could open. This justly calls us back to Dan. Xii ver. 4, where “words are shut up, and a book sealed unto the time of the end,” and now, that that is near drawing on, the book is here opened.
The opening of the six seals in this chapter, speaks the ruin and rejection of the Jewish nation, and the desolation of their city; which is now very near at hand.
The first seal, opened, (10) shows Christ setting forth in battle array and avengement against them, as Psalm xliv. 4, 5. And this the New Testament speaketh very much and very highly of; one while calling it, “his coming in clouds;” another while, his “coming in his kingdom;” and sometime, his “coming in power and great glory,” and the like. Because his plaguing and destroying of the nation that crucified him, that so much opposed and wrought mischief against the gospel, was the first evidence, that he gave in sight of all the world, of his being Christ; for till then, he, and his gospel, has been in humility, as I may say, as to the eyes of me, he persecuted whilst he was on earth, and they persecuted after him; and no course taken with them, that so sued both; but now he awakes, shows himself, and makes himself known by the judgment that he executeth.
The three next seals, opening, show the means by which he did destroy, namely, those three sad plagues, that had been threatened so oft, and so sore, by the prophets, “sword, famine, and pestilence.” For,
2) Marg. Tripl. Targ. In Deut. 28:13.
3) Rev. 1:7
4) Matt. 24:30
5) Chap. iv. 1
6) Chap. iv. 2
7) Chap. i. 10
8) Ezek. 1, and x
9) Dan. vii, 9, 10, 22
Email PreteristArchive.com's Sole Developer and Curator, Todd Dennis
(todd @ preteristarchive.com)
Opened in 1996