This chapter is a general preface to the whole book, and contains,
- An inscription, declaring the original and the design of it (v. 1, 2).
- The apostolic benediction pronounced on all those who shall pay a due regard to the contents of this book (v. 3-8).
- A glorious vision or appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ to the apostle John, when he delivered to him this revelation (v. 9 to the end).
The apostle John, having in the foregoing chapter written the things which he had seen, now proceeds to write the things that are, according to the command of God (ch. 1:19), that is, the present state of the seven churches of Asia, with which he had a particular acquaintance, and for which he had a tender concern. He was directed to write to every one of them according to their present state and circumstances, and to inscribe every letter to the angel of that church, to the minister or rather ministry of that church, called angels because they are the messengers of God to mankind. In this chapter we have,
- The message sent to Ephesus (v. 1-7).
- To Smyrna (v. 8?11).
- To Pergamos (v. 12?17).
- To Thyatira (v. 18, etc.).
Here we have three more of the epistles of Christ to the churches:
- I. To Sardis (v. 1-6).
- To Philadelphia (v. 7?13).
- To Laodicea (v. 14 to the end).
In this chapter the prophetical scene opens; and, as the epistolary part opened with a vision of Christ (ch. 1), so this part is introduced with a glorious appearance of the great God, whose throne is in heaven, compassed about with the heavenly host. This discovery was made to John, and in this chapter he,
- Records the heavenly sight he saw (v. 1-7). And then,
- The heavenly songs he heard (v. 8 to the end).
In the foregoing chapter the prophetical scene was opened, in the sight and hearing of the apostle, and he had a sight of God the Creator and ruler of the world, and the great King of the church. He saw God on the throne of glory and government, surrounded with his holy ones, and receiving their adorations. Now the counsels and decrees of God are set before the apostle, as in a book, which God held in his right hand; and this book is represented,
- As sealed in the hand of God (v. 1-9).
- As taken into the hand of Christ the Redeemer, to be unsealed and opened (v. 6 to the end).
The book of the divine counsels being thus lodged in the hand of Christ, he loses no time, but immediately enters upon the work of opening the seals and publishing the contents; but this is done in such a manner as still leaves the predictions very abstruse and difficult to be understood. Hitherto the waters of the sanctuary have been as those in Ezekiel’s vision, only to the ankles, or to the knees, or to the loins at least; but here they begin to be a river that cannot be passed over. The visions which John saw, the epistles to the churches, the songs of praise, in the two foregoing chapters, had some things dark and hard to be understood; and yet they were rather milk for babes than meat for strong men; but now we are to launch into the deep, and our business is not so much to fathom it as to let down our net to take a draught. We shall only hint at what seems most obvious. The prophecies of this book are divided into seven seals opened, seven trumpets sounding, and seven vials poured out. It is supposed that the opening of the seven seals discloses those providences that concerned the church in the first three centuries, from the ascension of our Lord and Saviour to the reign of Constantine; this was represented in a book rolled up, and sealed in several places, so that, when one seal was opened, you might read so far of it, and so on, till the whole was unfolded. Yet we are not here told what was written in the book, but what John saw in figures enigmatical and hieroglyphic; and it is not for us to pretend to know "the times and seasons which the Father has put in his own power.’’ In this chapter six of the seven seals are opened, and the visions attending them are related; the first seal in v. 1, 2, the second seal in v. 3, 4, the third seal in v. 5, 6, the fourth seal in v. 7, 8, the fifth seal in v. 9-11, the sixth seal in v. 12, 13, etc.
The things contained in this chapter came in after the opening of the six seals, which foretold great calamities in the world; and before the sound of the seven trumpets, which gave notice of great corruptions arising in the church: between these comes in this comfortable chapter, which secures the graces and comforts of the people of God in times of common calamity. We have,
- An account of the restraint laid upon the winds (v. 1-3).
- The sealing of the servants of God (v. 4-8).
- The songs of angels and saints on this occasion (v. 9?12).
- A description of the honour and happiness of those who had faithfully served Christ, and suffered for him (v. 13, etc.).
We have already seen what occurred upon opening six of the seals; we now come to the opening of the seventh, which introduced the sounding of the seven trumpets; and a direful scene now opens. Most expositors agree that the seven seals represent the interval between the apostle’s time and the reign of Constantine, but that the seven trumpets are designed to represent the rise of antichrist, some time after the empire became Christian. In this chapter we have,
- I. The preface, or prelude, to the sounding of the trumpets (v. 1-6).
- II. The sounding of four of the trumpets (v. 7, etc.).
In this chapter we have an account of the sounding of the fifth and sixth trumpets, the appearances that attended them, and the events that were to follow; the fifth trumpet (v. 1-12), the sixth (v. 13, etc.).
This chapter is an introduction to the latter part of the prophecies of this book. Whether what is contained between this and the sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:15) be a distinct prophecy from the other, or only a more general account of some of the principal things included in the other, is disputed by our curious enquirers into these abstruse writings. However, here we have,
- A remarkable description of a very glorious angel with an open book in his hand (v. 1-3).
- An account of seven thunders which the apostle heard, as echoing to the voice of this angel, and communicating some discoveries, which the apostle was not yet allowed to write (v. 4).
- The solemn oath taken by him who had the book in his hand (v. 5-7).
- The charge given to the apostle, and observed by him (v. 8?11).
In this chapter we have an account,
- Of the measuring—reed given to the apostle, to take the dimensions of the temple (v. 1, 2).
- Of the two witnesses of God (v. 3?13).
- Of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and what followed upon it (v. 14, etc.).
It is generally agreed by the most learned expositors that the narrative we have in this and the two following chapters, from the sounding of the seventh trumpet to the opening of the vials, is not a prediction of things to come, but rather a recapitulation and representation of things past, which, as God would have the apostle to foresee while future, he would have him to review now that they were past, that he might have a more perfect idea of them in his mind, and might observe the agreement between the prophecy and that Providence that is always fulfilling the scriptures. In this chapter we have an account of the contest between the church and antichrist, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.
- As it was begun in heaven (v. 1–11).
- As it was carried on in the wilderness (v. 12, etc.).
We have, in this chapter, a further discovery and description of the church’s enemies: not other enemies than are mentioned before, but described after another manner, that the methods of their enmity may more fully appear. They are represented as two beasts; the first you have an account of (v. 1–10) the second (v. 11, etc.). By the first some understand Rome pagan, and by the second Rome papal; but others understand Rome papal to be represented by both these beasts, by the first in its secular power, by the second in its ecclesiastical.
After an account of the great trials and sufferings which the servants of God had endured, we have now a more pleasant scene opening; the day begins now to dawn, and here we have represented,
- The Lord Jesus at the head of his faithful followers (v. 1-5).
- Three angels sent successively to proclaim the fall of Babylon and the things antecedent and consequent to so great an event (v. 6–13).
- The vision of the harvest (v. 14, etc.).
Hitherto, according to the judgment of very eminent expositors, God had represented to his servant, John,
- The state of the church under the pagan powers, in the six seals opened; and then,
- The state of the church under the papal powers, in the vision of the six trumpets that began to sound upon the opening of the seventh seal: and then is inserted.
- A more general and brief account of the past, present, and future state of the church, in the little book, etc. He now proceeds,
To show him how antichrist should be destroyed, by what steps that destruction should be accomplished, in the vision of the seven vials. This chapter contains an awful introduction or preparation for the pouring out of the vials, in which we have,
1. A sight of those angels in heaven who were to have the execution of this great work, and with what acclamations of joy the heavenly hosts applauded the great design (v. 1-4).
2. A sight of these angels coming out of heaven to receive those vials which they were to pour out, and the great commotions this caused in the world (v. 5, etc.).
In this chapter we have an account of the pouring forth of these vials that were filled with the wrath of God. They were poured out upon the whole antichristian empire, and on every thing appertaining to it.
- Upon the earth (v. 2).
- Upon the sea (v. 3).
- Upon the rivers and fountains of water (v. 4). Here the heavenly hosts proclaim and applaud the righteousness of the judgments of God.
- The fourth vial was poured out on the sun (v. 8).
- The fifth on the seat of the beast.
- The sixth on the river Euphrates.
- The seventh in the air, upon which the cities of the nations fell, and great Babylon came in remembrance before God.
This chapter contains another representation of those things that had been revealed before concerning the wickedness and ruin of antichrist. This antichrist had been before represented as a beast, and is now described as a great whore. And here,
- The apostle is invited to see this vile woman (v. 1, 2).
- He tells us what an appearance she made (v. 3-6).
- The mystery of it is explained to him (v. 7–12). And,
- Her ruin foretold (v. 13, etc.).
We have here,
- An angel proclaiming the fall of Babylon (v. 1, 2).
- Assigning the reasons of her fall (v. 3).
- Giving warning to all who belonged to God to come out of her (v. 4, 5), and to assist in her destruction (v. 6-8).
- The great lamentation made for her by those who had been large sharers in her sinful pleasures and profits (v. 9–19).
- The great joy that there would be among others at the sight of her irrecoverable ruin (v. 20, etc.).
In this chapter we have,
- A further account of the triumphant song of angels and saints for the fall of Babylon (v. 1-4).
- The marriage between Christ and the church proclaimed and perfected (v. 5–10).
- Another warlike expedition of the glorious head and husband of the church, with the success of it (v. 10, etc.).
This chapter is thought by some to be the darkest part of all this prophecy: it is very probable that the things contained in it are not yet accomplished; and therefore it is the wiser way to content ourselves with general observations, rather than to be positive and particular in our explications of it. Here we have an account,
- Of the binding of Satan for a thousand years (v. 1-3).
- The reign of the saints with Christ for the same time (v. 4-6).
- Of the loosing of Satan, and the conflict of the church with Gog and Magog (v. 7–10).
- Of the day of judgment (v. 11, etc.).
Hitherto the prophecy of this book has presented to us a very remarkable mixture of light and shade, prosperity and adversity, mercy and judgment, in the conduct of divine Providence towards the church in the world: now, at the close of all, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away; a new world now appears, the former having passed away. Some are willing to understand all that is said in these last two chapters of the state of the church even here on earth, in the glory of the latter days; but others, more probably, take it as a representation of the perfect and triumphant state of the church in heaven. Let but the faithful saints and servants of God wait awhile, and they shall not only see, but enjoy, the perfect holiness and happiness of that world. In this chapter you have,
- An introduction to the vision of the new Jerusalem (v. 1-9).
- The vision itself (v. 10, etc.)
In this chapter we have,
- A further description of the heavenly state of the church (v. 1-5).
- A confirmation of this and all the other visions of this book (v. 6–19).
- The conclusion (v. 20, 21).