ATS Bible Dictionary
An extraordinary and supernatural disclosure made by God, whether by dream, vision, ecstasy, or otherwise, of truths beyond man’s unaided power to discover. Paul, alluding to his visions and revelations, 2 1 Corinthians 12:1,7, speaks of them in the third person, out of modesty; and declares that he could not tell whether he was in the body or out of the body. Elsewhere he says that he had received his gospel by a particular revelation, Galatians 1:12.
For the BOOK OF REVELATION, see APOCALYPSE.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary
An uncovering, a bringing to light of that which had been previously wholly hidden or only obscurely seen. God has been pleased in various ways and at different times (Hebrews 1:1) to make a supernatural revelation of himself and his purposes and plans, which, under the guidance of his Spirit, has been committed to writing. (see WORD OF GOD.) The Scriptures are not merely the “record” of revelation; they are the revelation itself in a written form, in order to the accurate presevation and propagation of the truth.
Revelation and inspiration differ. Revelation is the supernatural communication of truth to the mind; inspiration (q.v.) secures to the teacher or writer infallibility in communicating that truth to others. It renders its subject the spokesman or prophet of God in such a sense that everything he asserts to be true, whether fact or doctrine or moral principle, is true, infallibly true.
Revelation, Book of
=The Apocalypse, the closing book and the only prophetical book of the New Testament canon. The author of this book was undoubtedly John the apostle. His name occurs four times in the book itself (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), and there is every reason to conclude th
Revelation of Christ
The second advent of Christ. Three different Greek words are used by the apostles to express this, (1) apokalupsis (1 Corinthians 1;7; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13); (2) parousia (Matthew 24:3, 27; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; James 5:7, 8); (3) epiphaneia (1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 4:1-8; Titus 2:13). There existed among Christians a wide expectation, founded on Matthew 24:29, 30, 34, of the speedy return of Christ. (see MILLENNIUM.)
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary
1. (n.) The disclosing or discovering what was previously unknown.
2. (n.) That which is revealed.
3. (n.) The act of revealing divine truth.
4. (n.) That which is revealed by God to man; esp., the Bible.
5. (n.) Specifically, the last book of the sacred canon, containing the prophecies of St. John; the Apocalypse.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. THE NATURE OF REVELATION
1. The Religion of the Bible the Only Supernatural Religion
2. General and Special Revelation
(1) Revelation in Eden
(2) Revelation among the Heathen
II. THE PROCESS OF REVELATION
1. Place of Revelation among the Redemptive Acts of God
2. Stages of Material Development
III. THE MODES OF REVELATION
1. The Several Modes of Revelation
2. Equal Supernaturalness of the Several Modes
3. The Prophet God’s Mouthpiece
4. Visionary Form of Prophecy
5. “Passivity” of Prophets
6. Revelation by Inspiration
7. Complete Revelation of God in Christ
IV. BIBLICAL TERMINOLOGY
1. The Ordinary Forms
2. “Word of Yahweh” and “Torah”
3. “The Scriptures”
I. The Nature of Revelation.
1. The Religion of the Bible the Only Supernatural Religion:
The religion of the Bible is a frankly supernatural religion. By this is not meant merely that, according to it, all men, as creatures, live, move and have their being in God. It is meant that, according to it, God has intervened extraordinarily, in the course of the sinful world’s development, for the salvation of men otherwise lost. In Eden the Lord God had been present with sinless man in such a sense as to form a distinct element in his social environment (Genesis 3:8). This intimate association was broken up by the Fall. But God did not therefore withdraw Himself from concernment with men. Rather, He began at once a series of interventions in human history by means of which man might be rescued from his sin and, despite it, brought to the end destined for him. These interventions involved the segregation of a people for Himself, by whom God should be known, and whose distinction should be that God should be “nigh unto them” as He was not to other nations (Deuteronomy 4:7 Psalm 145:18). But this people was not permitted to imagine that it owed its segregation to anything in itself fitted to attract or determine the Divine preference; no consciousness was more poignant in Israel than that Yahweh had chosen it, not it Him, and that Yahweh’s choice of it rested solely on His gracious will. Nor was this people permitted to imagine that it was for its own sake alone that it had been singled out to be the sole recipient of the knowledge of Yahweh; it was made clear from the beginning that God’s mysteriously gracious dealing with it had as its ultimate end the blessing of the whole world (Genesis 12:2, 3; Genesis 17:4, 5, 6, 16; 18:18; 22:18; compare Romans 4:13), the bringing together again of the divided families of the earth under the glorious reign of Yahweh, and the reversal of the curse under which the whole world lay for its sin (Genesis 12:3). Meanwhile, however, Yahweh was known only in Israel. To Israel God showed His word and made known His statutes and judgments, and after this fashion He dealt with no other nation; and therefore none other knew His judgments (Psalm 147:19 f). Accordingly, when the hope of Israel (who was also the desire of all nations) came, His own lips unhesitatingly declared that the salvation He brought, though of universal application, was “from the Jews” (John 4:22). And the nations to which this salvation had not been made known are declared by the chief agent in its proclamation to them to be, meanwhile, “far off,” “having no hope” and “without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12), because they were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenant of the promise.
The religion of the Bible, thus announces itself, not as the product of men’s search after God, if haply they may feel after Him and find Him, but as the creation in men of the gracious God, forming a people for Himself, that they may show forth His praise. In other words, the religion of the Bible presents itself as distinctively a revealed religion. Or rather, to speak more exactly, it announces itself as the revealed religion, as the only revealed religion; and sets itself as such over against all other religions, which are represented as all products, in a sense in which it is not, of the art and device of man.
It is not, however, implied in this exclusive claim to revelation-which is made by the religion of the Bible in all the stages of its history-that the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that in them is, has left Himself without witness among the peoples of the world (Acts 14:17). It is asserted indeed, that in the process of His redemptive work, God suffered for a season all the nations to walk in their own ways; but it is added that to none of them has He failed to do good, and to give from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. And not only is He represented as thus constantly showing Himself in His providence not far from any one of them, thus wooing them to seek Him if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27), but as from the foundation of the world openly manifesting Himself to them in the works of His hands, in which His everlasting power and divinity are clearly seen (Romans 1:20). That men at large have not retained Him in their knowledge, or served Him as they ought, is not due therefore to failure on His part to keep open the way to knowledge of Him, but to the darkening of their senseless hearts by sin and to the vanity of their sin-deflected reasonings (Romans 1:21), by means of which they have supplanted the truth of God by a lie and have come to worship and serve the creature rather than the ever-blessed Creator. It is, indeed, precisely because in their sin they have thus held down the truth in unrighteousness and have refused to have God in their knowledge (so it is intimated); and because, moreover, in their sin, the revelation God gives of Himself in His works of creation and providence no longer suffices for men’s needs, that God has intervened supernaturally in the course of history to form a people for Himself, through whom at length all the world should be blessed.
2. General and Special Revelation:
It is quite obvious that there are brought before us in these several representations two species or stages of revelation, which should be discriminated to avoid confusion. There is the revelation which God continuously makes to all men: by it His power and divinity are made known. And there is the revelation which He makes exclusively to His chosen people: through it His saving grace is made known. Both species or stages of revelation are insisted upon throughout the Scriptures. They are, for example, brought significantly together in such a declaration as we find in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God…. their line is gone out through all the earth” (19:1, 4); “The law of Yahweh is perfect, restoring the soul” (19:7). The Psalmist takes his beginning here from the praise of the glory of God, the Creator of all that is, which has been written upon the very heavens, that none may fail to see it. From this he rises, however, quickly to the more full-throated praise of the mercy of Yahweh, the covenant God, who has visited His people with saving instruction. Upon this higher revelation there is finally based a prayer for salvation from sin, which ends in a great threefold acclamation, instinct with adoring gratitude: “O Yahweh, my rock, and my redeemer” (19:14). “The heavens,” comments Lord Bacon, “indeed tell of the glory of God, but not of His will according to which the poet prays to be pardoned and sanctified.” In so commenting, Lord Bacon touches the exact point of distinction between the two species or stages of revelation. The one is adapted to man as man; the other to man as sinner; and since man, on becoming sinner, has not ceased to be man, but has only acquired new needs requiring additional provisions to bring him to the end of his existence, so the revelation directed to man as sinner does not supersede that given to man as man, but supplements it with these new provisions for his attainment, in his new condition of blindness, helplessness and guilt induced by sin, of the end of his being.
These two species or stages of revelation have been commonly distinguished from one another by the distinctive names of natural and supernatural revelation, or general and special revelation, or natural and soteriological revelation. Each of these modes of discriminating them has its particular fitness and describes a real difference between the two in nature, reach or purpose. The one is communicated through the media of natural phenomena, occurring in the course of nature or of history; the other implies an intervention in the natural course of things and is not merely in source but in mode supernatural. The one is addressed generally to all intelligent creatures, and is therefore accessible to all men; the other is addressed to a special class of sinners, to whom God would make known His salvation. The one has in view to meet and supply the natural need of creatures for knowledge of their God; the other to rescue broken and deformed sinners from their sin and its consequences. But, though thus distinguished from one another, it is important that the two species or stages of revelation should not be set in opposition to one another, or the closeness of their mutual relations or the constancy of their interaction be obscured. They constitute together a unitary whole, and each is incomplete without the other. In its most general idea, revelation is rooted in creation and the relations with His intelligent creatures into which God has brought Himself by giving them being. Its object is to realize the end of man’s creation, to be attained only through knowledge of God and perfect and unbroken communion with Him. On the entrance of sin into the world, destroying this communion with God and obscuring the knowledge of Him derived from nature, another mode of revelation was necessitated, having also another content, adapted to the new relation to God and the new conditions of intellect, heart and will brought about by sin. It must not be supposed, however, that this new mode of revelation was an ex post facto expedient, introduced to meet an unforeseen contingency. The actual course of human development was in the nature of the case the expected and the intended course of human development, for which man was created; and revelation, therefore, in its double form was the divine purpose for man from the beginning, and constitutes a unitary provision for the realization of the end of his creation in the actual circumstances in which he exists. We may distinguish in this unitary revelation the two elements by the cooperation of which the effect is produced; but we should bear in mind that only by their cooperation is the effect produced. Without special revelation, general revelation would be for sinful men incomplete and ineffective, and could issue, as in point of fact it has issued wherever it alone has been accessible, only in leaving them without excuse (Romans 1:20). Without general revelation, special revelation would lack that basis in the fundamental knowledge of God as the mighty and wise, righteous and good maker and ruler of all things, apart from which the further revelation of this great God’s interventions in the world for the salvation of sinners could not be either intelligible, credible or operative.
(1) Revelation in Eden.
Only in Eden has general revelation been adequate to the needs of man. Not being a sinner, man in Eden had no need of that grace of God itself by which sinners are restored to communion with Him, or of the special revelation of this grace of God to sinners to enable them to live with God. And not being a sinner, man in Eden, as he contemplated the works of God, saw God in the unclouded mirror of his mind with a clarity of vision, and lived with Him in the untroubled depths of his heart with a trustful intimacy of association, inconceivable to sinners. Nevertheless, the revelation of God in Eden was not merely “natural.” Not only does the prohibition of the forbidden fruit involve a positive commandment (Genesis 2:16), but the whole history implies an immediacy of intercourse with God which cannot easily be set to the credit of the picturesque art of the narrative, or be fully accounted for by the vividness of the perception of God in His works proper to sinless creatures. The impression is strong that what is meant to be conveyed to us is that man dwelt with God in Eden, and enjoyed with Him immediate and not merely mediate communion. In that case, we may understand that if man had not fallen, he would have continued to enjoy immediate intercourse with God, and that the cessation of this immediate intercourse is due to sin. It is not then the supernaturalness of special revelation which is rooted in sin, but, if we may be allowed the expression, the specialness of supernatural revelation. Had man not fallen, heaven would have continued to lie about him through all his history, as it lay about his infancy; every man would have enjoyed direct vision of God and immediate speech with Him. Man having fallen, the cherubim and the flame of a sword, turning every way, keep the path; and God breaks His way in a round-about fashion into man’s darkened heart to reveal there His redemptive love. By slow steps and gradual stages He at once works out His saving purpose and molds the world for its reception, choosing a people for Himself and training it through long and weary ages, until at last when the fullness of time has come, He bares His arm and sends out the proclamation of His great salvation to all the earth.
(2) Revelation among the Heathen.
Certainly, from the gate of Eden onward, God’s general revelation ceased to be, in the strict sense, supernatural. It is, of course, not meant that God deserted His world and left it to fester in its iniquity. His providence still ruled over all, leading steadily onward to the goal for which man had been created, and of the attainment of which in God’s own good time and way the very continuance of men’s existence, under God’s providential government, was a pledge. And His Spirit still everywhere wrought upon the hearts of men, stirring up all their powers (though created in the image of God, marred and impaired by sin) to their best activities, and to such splendid effect in every department of human achievement as to command the admiration of all ages, and in the highest region of all, that of conduct, to call out from an apostle the encomium that though they had no law they did by nature (observe the word “nature”) the things of the law. All this, however, remains within the limits of Nature, that is to say, within the sphere of operation of divinely-directed and assisted second causes. It illustrates merely the heights to which the powers of man may attain under the guidance of providence and the influences of what we have learned to call God’s “common grace.” Nowhere, throughout the whole ethnic domain, are the conceptions of God and His ways put within the reach of man, through God’s revelation of Himself in the works of creation and providence, transcended; nowhere is the slightest knowledge betrayed of anything concerning God and His purposes, which could be known only by its being supernaturally told to men. Of the entire body of “saving truth,” for example, which is the burden of what we call “special revelation,” the whole heathen world remained in total ignorance. And even its hold on the general truths of religion, not being vitalized by supernatural enforcements, grew weak, and its knowledge of the very nature of God decayed, until it ran out to the dreadful issue which Paul sketches for us in that inspired philosophy of religion which he incorporates in the latter part of the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
Behind even the ethnic development, there lay, of course, the supernatural intercourse of man with God which had obtained before the entrance of sin into the world, and the supernatural revelations at the gate of Eden (Genesis 3:8), and at the second origin of the human race, the Flood (Genesis 8:21, 22; Genesis 9:1-17). How long the tradition of this primitive revelation lingered in nooks and corners of the heathen world, conditioning and vitalizing the natural revelation of God always accessible, we have no means of estimating. Neither is it easy to measure the effect of God’s special revelation of Himself to His people upon men outside the bounds of, indeed, but coming into contact with, this chosen people, or sharing with them a common natural inheritance. Lot and Ishmael and Esau can scarcely have been wholly ignorant of the word of God which came to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; nor could the Egyptians from whose hands God wrested His people with a mighty arm fail to learn something of Yahweh, any more than the mixed multitudes who witnessed the ministry of Christ could fail to infer something from His gracious walk and mighty works. It is natural to infer that no nation which was intimately associated with Israel’s life could remain entirely unaffected by Israel’s revelation. But whatever impressions were thus conveyed reached apparently individuals only: the heathen which surrounded Israel, even those most closely affiliated with Israel, remained heathen; they had no revelation. In the sporadic instances when God visited an alien with a supernatural communication-such as the dreams sent to Abimelech (Genesis 20) and to Pharaoh (Genesis 40; Genesis 41) and to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1) and to the soldier in the camp of Midian (Judges 7:13)-it was in the interests, not of the heathen world, but of the chosen people that they were sent; and these instances derive their significance wholly from this fact. There remain, no doubt, the mysterious figure of Melchizedek, perhaps also of Jethro, and the strange apparition of Balaam, who also, however, appear in the sacred narrative only in connection with the history of God’s dealings with His people and in their interest. Their unexplained appearance cannot in any event avail to modify the general fact that the life of the heathen peoples lay outside the supernatural revelation of God. The heathen were suffered to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16).
II. The Process of Revelation.
Meanwhile, however, God had not forgotten them, but was preparing salvation for them also through the supernatural revelation of His grace that He was making to His people. According to the Biblical representation, in the midst of and working confluently with the revelation which He has always been giving of Himself on the plane of Nature, God was making also from the very fall of man a further revelation of Himself on the plane of grace. In contrast with His general, natural revelation, in which all men by virtue of their very nature as men share, this special, supernatural revelation was granted at first only to individuals, then progressively to a family, a tribe, a nation, a race, until, when the fullness of time was come, it was made the possession of the whole world. It may be difficult to obtain from Scripture a clear account of why God chose thus to give this revelation of His grace only progressively; or, to be more explicit, through the process of a historical development. Such is, however, the ordinary mode of the Divine working: it is so that God made the worlds, it is so that He creates the human race itself, the recipient of this revelation, it is so that He builds up His kingdom in the world and in the individual soul, which only gradually comes whether to the knowledge of God or to the fruition of His salvation. As to the fact, the Scriptures are explicit, tracing for us, or rather embodying in their own growth, the record of the steady advance of this gracious revelation through definite stages from its first faint beginnings to its glorious completion in Jesus Christ.
1. Place of Revelation among the Redemptive Acts of God:
So express is its relation to the development of the kingdom of God itself, or rather to that great series of divine operations which are directed to the building up of the kingdom of God in the world, that it is sometimes confounded with them or thought of as simply their reflection in the contemplating mind of man. Thus it is not infrequently said that revelation, meaning this special redemptive revelation, has been communicated in deeds, not in words; and it is occasionally elaborately argued that the sole manner in which God has revealed Himself as the Saviour of sinners is just by performing those mighty acts by which sinners are saved. This is not, however, the Biblical representation. Revelation is, of course, often made through the instrumentality of deeds; and the series of His great redemptive acts by which He saves the world constitutes the pre-eminent revelation of the grace of God-so far as these redemptive acts are open to observation and are perceived in their significance. But revelation, after all, is the correlate of understanding and has as its proximate end just the production of knowledge, though not, of course, knowledge for its own sake, but for the sake of salvation. The series of the redemptive acts of God, accordingly, can properly be designated “revelation” only when and so far as they are contemplated as adapted and designed to produce knowledge of God and His purpose and methods of grace. No bare series of unexplained acts can be thought, however, adapted to produce knowledge, especially if these acts be, as in this case, of a highly transcendental character. Nor can this particular series of acts be thought to have as its main design the production of knowledge; its main design is rather to save man. No doubt the production of knowledge of the divine grace is one of the means by which this main design of the redemptive acts of God is attained. But this only renders it the more necessary that the proximate result of producing knowledge should not fail; and it is doubtless for this reason that the series of redemptive acts of God has not been left to explain itself, but the explanatory word has been added to it. Revelation thus appears, however, not as the mere reflection of the redeeming acts of God in the minds of men, but as a factor in the redeeming work of God, a component part of the series of His redeeming acts, without which that series would be incomplete and so far inoperative for its main end. Thus, the Scriptures represent it, not confounding revelation with the series of the redemptive acts of God, but placing it among the redemptive acts of God and giving it a function as a substantive element in the operations by which the merciful God saves sinful men. It is therefore not made even a mere constant accompaniment of the redemptive acts of God, giving their explanation that they may be understood. It occupies a far more independent place among them than this, and as frequently precedes them to prepare their way as it accompanies or follows them to interpret their meaning. It is, in one word, itself a redemptive act of God and by no means the least important in the series of His redemptive acts.
This might, indeed, have been inferred from its very nature, and from the nature of the salvation which was being worked out by these redemptive acts of God. One of the most grievous of the effects of sin is the deformation of the image of God reflected in the human mind, and there can be no recovery from sin which does not bring with it the correction of this deformation and the reflection in the soul of man of the whole glory of the Lord God Almighty. Man is an intelligent being; his superiority over the brute is found, among other things, precisely in the direction of all his life by his intelligence; and his blessedness is rooted in the true knowledge of his God-for this is life eternal, that we should know the only true God and Him whom He has sent. Dealing with man as an intelligent being, God the Lord has saved him by means of a revelation, by which he has been brought into an evermore and more adequate knowledge of God, and been led ever more and more to do his part in working out his own salvation with fear and trembling as he perceived with ever more and more clearness how God is working it out for him through mighty deeds of grace.
2. Stages of Material Development:
This is not the place to trace, even in outline, from the material point of view, the development of God’s redemptive revelation from its first beginnings, in the promise given to Abraham-or rather in what has been called the Protevangelium at the gate of Eden-to its completion in the advent and work of Christ and the teaching of His apostles; a steadily advancing development, which, as it lies spread out to view in the pages of Scripture, takes to those who look at it from the consummation backward, the appearance of the shadow cast athwart preceding ages by the great figure of Christ. Even from the formal point of view, however, there has been pointed out a progressive advance in the method of revelation, consonant with its advance in content, or rather with the advancing stages of the building up of the kingdom of God, to subserve which is the whole object of revelation. Three distinct steps in revelation have been discriminated from this point of view. They are distinguished precisely by the increasing independence of revelation of the deeds constituting the series of the redemptive acts of God, in which, nevertheless, all revelation is a substantial element. Discriminations like this must not be taken too absolutely; and in the present instance the chronological sequence cannot be pressed. But, with much interlacing, three generally successive stages of revelation may be recognized, producing periods at least characteristically of what we may somewhat conventionally call theophany, prophecy and inspiration. What may be somewhat indefinitely marked off as the Patriarchal age is characteristically “the period of Outward Manifestations, and Symbols, and Theophanies”: during it “God spoke to men through their senses, in physical phenomena, as the burning bush, the cloudy pillar, or in sensuous forms, as men, angels, etc…… In the Prophetic age, on the contrary, the prevailing mode of revelation was by means of inward prophetic inspiration”: God spoke to men characteristically by the movements of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. “Prevailingly, at any rate from Samuel downwards, the supernatural revelation was a revelation in the hearts of the foremost thinkers of the people, or, as we call it, prophetic inspiration, without the aid of external sensuous symbols of God” (A.B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, 1903, p. 148; compare pp. 12-14, 145;). This internal method of revelation reaches its culmination in the New Testament period, which is preeminently the age of the Spirit. What is especially characteristic of this age is revelation through the medium of the written word, what may be called apostolic as distinguished from prophetic inspiration. The revealing Spirit speaks through chosen men as His organs, but through these organs in such a fashion that the most intimate processes of their souls become the instruments by means of which He speaks His mind. Thus, at all events there are brought clearly before us three well-marked modes of revelation, which we may perhaps designate respectively, not with perfect discrimination, it is true, but not misleadingly,
(1) external manifestation,
(2) internal suggestion, and
(3) concursive operation.
III. The Modes of Revelation.
1. Modes of Revelation:
Theophany may be taken as the typical form of “external manifestation”; but by its side may be ranged all of those mighty works by which God makes Himself known, including express miracles, no doubt, but along with them every supernatural intervention in the affairs of men, by means of which a better understanding is communicated of what God is or what are His purposes of grace to a sinful race. Under “internal suggestion” may be subsumed all the characteristic phenomena of what is most properly spoken of as “prophecy”: visions and dreams, which, according to a fundamental passage (Numbers 12:6), constitute the typical forms of prophecy, and with them the whole “prophetic word,” which shares its essential characteristic with visions and dreams, since it comes not by the will of man but from God. By “concursive operation” may be meant that form of revelation illustrated in an inspired psalm or epistle or history, in which no human activity-not even the control of the will-is superseded, but the Holy Spirit works in, with and through them all in such a manner as to communicate to the product qualities distinctly superhuman. There is no age in the history of the religion of the Bible, from that of Moses to that of Christ and His apostles, in which all these modes of revelation do not find place. One or another may seem particularly characteristic of this age or of that; but they all occur in every age. And they occur side by side, broadly speaking, on the same level. No discrimination is drawn between them in point of worthiness as modes of revelation, and much less in point of purity in the revelations communicated through them. The circumstance that God spoke to Moses, not by dream or vision but mouth to mouth, is, indeed, adverted to (Numbers 12:8) as a proof of the peculiar favor shown to Moses and even of the superior dignity of Moses above other organs of revelation: God admitted him to an intimacy of intercourse which He did not accord to others. But though Moses was thus distinguished above all others in the dealings of God with him, no distinction is drawn between the revelations given through him and those given through other organs of revelation in point either of Divinity or of authority. And beyond this we have no Scriptural warrant to go on in contrasting one mode of revelation with another. Dreams may seem to us little fitted to serve as vehicles of divine communications. But there is no suggestion in Scripture that revelations through dreams stand on a lower plane than any others; and we should not fail to remember that the essential characteristics of revelations through dreams are shared by all forms of revelation in which (whether we should call them visions or not) the images or ideas which fill, or pass in procession through, the consciousness are determined by some other power than the recipient’s own will. It may seem natural to suppose that revelations rise in rank in proportion to the fullness of the engagement of the mental activity of the recipient in their reception. But we should bear in mind that the intellectual or spiritual quality of a revelation is not derived from the recipient but from its Divine Giver.
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REVELATION OF JOHN
I. TITLE AND GENERAL CHARACTER OF BOOK
2. Uniqueness and Reality of Visions
II. CANONICITY AND AUTHORSHIP
1. Patristic Testimony
2. Testimony of Book Itself
3. Objections to Johannine Authorship-Relation to Fourth Gospel
III. DATE AND UNITY OF THE BOOK
1. Traditional Date under Domitian
2. The Nero-Theory
3. Composite Hypotheses-Babylonian Theory
IV. PLAN AND ANALYSIS OF THE BOOK
1. General Scope
2. Detailed Analysis
V. PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION
1. General Scheme of Interpretation
2. The Newer Theories
3. The Book a True Prophecy
VI. THEOLOGY OF THE BOOK
The last book of the New Testament. It professes to be the record of prophetic visions given by Jesus Christ to John, while the latter was a prisoner, “for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9), in PATMOS (which see), a small rocky island in the Aegean, about 15 miles West of Ephesus. Its precursor in the Old Testament is the Book of Dnl, with the symbolic visions and mystical numbers of which it stands in close affinity. The peculiar form of the book, its relation to other “apocalyptic” writings, and to the Fourth Gospel, likewise attributed to John, the interpretation of its symbols, with disputed questions of its date, of worship, unity, relations to contemporary history, etc., have made it one of the most difficult books in the New Testament to explain satisfactorily.
I. Title and General Character of Book.
“Revelation” answers to apokalupsis, in Revelation 1:1. The oldest form of the title would seem to be simply, “Apocalypse of John,” the appended words “the divine” (theologos, i.e. “theologian”) not being older than the 4th century (compare the title given to Gregory of Nazianzus, “Gregory theologian”). The book belongs to the class of works commonly named “apocalyptic,” as containing visions and revelations of the future, frequently in symbolical form (e.g. the Book of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Bar, the Apocalypse of Ezra; see APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE), but it is doubtful if the word here bears this technical sense. The tendency at present is to group the New Testament Apocalypse with these others, and attribute to it the same kind of origin as theirs, namely, in the unbridled play of religious fantasy, clothing itself in unreal visional form.
2. Uniqueness and Reality of Visions:
But there is a wide distinction. These other works are pseudonymous-fictitious; on the face of them products of imagination; betraying that this is their origin in their crude, confused, unedifying character. The Apocalypse bears on it the name of its author-an apostle of Jesus Christ (see below); claims to rest on real visions; rings with the accent of sincerity; is orderly, serious, sublime, purposeful, in its conceptions; deals with the most solemn and momentous of themes. On the modern Nerotheory, to which most recent expositors give adherence, it is a farrago of baseless fantasies, no one of which came true. On its own claim it is a product of true prophecy (Revelation 1:3; Revelation 22:18 f), and has or will have sure fulfillment. Parallels here and there are sought between it and the Book of Enoch or the Apocalypse of Ezra. As a rule the resemblances arise from the fact that these works draw from the same store of the ideas and imagery of the Old Testament. It is there the key is chiefly to be sought to the symbolism of John. The Apocalypse is steeped in the thoughts, the images, even the language of the Old Testament (compare the illustrations in Lightfoot, Galatians, 361, where it is remarked: “The whole book is saturated with illustrations from the Old Testament. It speaks not the language of Paul, but of Isaiah and Ezekiel and Daniel”). These remarks will receive elucidation in what follows.
II. Canonicity and Authority.
1. Patristic Testimony:
The two questions of canonicity and authorship are closely connected. Eusebius states that opinion in his day was divided on the book, and he himself wavers between placing it among the disputed books or ranking it with the acknowledged (homologoumena). “Among these,” he says, “if such a view seem correct, we must place the Apocalypse of John” (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 25). That it was rightly so placed appears from a survey of the evidence. The first to refer to the book expressly is Justin Martyr (circa 140 A.D.), who speaks of it as the work of “a certain man, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ” (Dial, 81). Irenaeus (circa 180 A.D.) repeatedly and decisively declares that the Apocalypse was written by John, a disciple of the Lord (Adv. Haer., iv.20, 11; 30, 4; v.26, 1; 35, 2, etc.), and comments on the number 666 (v.30, 1). In his case there can be no doubt that the apostle John is meant. Andreas of Cappadocia (5th century) in a Commentary on the Apocalypse states that Papias (circa 130 A.D.) bore witness to its credibility, and cites a comment by him on Revelation 12:7-9. The book is quoted in the Epistle on the martyrs of Vienne and Lyons (177 A.D.); had a commentary written on it by Melito of Sardis (circa 170 A.D.), one of the churches of the Apocalypse (Euseb., HE, IV, 26); was used by Theophilus of Antioch (circa 168 A.D.) and by Apollonius (circa 210 A.D.; HE, V, 25)-in these cases being cited as the Apocalypse of John. It is included as John’s in the Canon of Muratori (circa 200 A.D.). The Johannine authorship (apostolic) is abundantly attested by Tertullian (circa 200 A.D.; Adv. Mar., iii.14, 24, etc.); by Hippolytus (circa 240 A.D.), who wrote a work upon it; by Clement of Alexandria (circa 200 A.D.); by Origen (circa 230 A.D.), and other writers. Doubt about the authorship of the book is first heard of in the obscure sect of the Alogi (end of the 2nd century), who, with Caius, a Roman presbyter (circa 205 A.D.), attributed it to Cerinthus. More serious was the criticism of Dionysius of Alexandria (circa 250 A.D.), who, on internal grounds, held that the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse could not have come from the same pen (Euseb., HE, VII, 25). He granted, however, that it was the work of a holy and inspired man-another John. The result was that, while “in the Western church,” as Bousset grants, “the Apocalypse was accepted unanimously from the first” (EB, I, 193), a certain doubt attached to it for a time in sections of the Greek and Syrian churches. It is not found in the Peshitta, and a citation from it in Ephraim the Syrian (circa 373) seems not to be genuine. Cyril of Jerusalem (circa 386 A.D.) omits it from his list, and it is unmentioned by the Antiochian writers (Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret). The Canon attributed to the Council of Laodicea (circa 360 A.D.) does not name it, but it is doubtful whether this document is not of later date (compare Westcott; also Bousset, Die Offenb. Joh., 28). On the other hand, the book is acknowledged by Methodius, Pamphilus, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril Alex., Epiphanius, etc.
2. Testimony of Book Itself:
The testimony to the canonicity, and also to the Johannine authorship, of the Apocalypse is thus exceptionally strong. In full accordance with it is the claim of the book itself. It proclaims itself to be the work of John (Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; Revelation 22:8), who does not, indeed, name himself an apostle, yet, in his inspired character, position of authority in the Asian churches, and selection as the medium of these revelations, can hardly be thought of as other than the well-known John of the Gospels and of consentient church tradition. The alternative view, first suggested as a possibility by Eusebius, now largely favored by modern writers, is that the John intended is the “presbyter John” of a well-known passage cited by Eusebius from Papias (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 39). Without entering into the intricate questions connected with this “presbyter John”-whether he was really a distinct person from the apostle (Zahn and others dispute it), or whether, if he was, he resided at Ephesus (see JOHN, GOSPEL OF)-it is enough here to say that the reason already given, viz: the importance and place of authority of the author of the Apocalypse in the Asian churches, and the emphatic testimony above cited connecting him with the apostle, forbid the attribution of the book to a writer wholly unknown to church tradition, save for this casual reference to him in Papias. Had the assumed presbyter really been the author, he could not have dropped so completely out of the knowledge of the church, and had his place taken all but immediately by the apostle.
3. Objections to Johannine Authorship-Relation to Fourth Gospel:
One cause of the hesitancy regarding the Apocalypse in early circles was dislike of its millenarianism; but the chief reason, set forth with much critical skill by Dionysius of Alexandria (Euseb., HE, VII, 25), was the undoubted contrast in character and style between this work and the Fourth Gospel, likewise claiming to be from the pen of John. Two works so diverse in character-the Gospel calm, spiritual, mystical, abounding in characteristic expressions as “life,” “light,” “love,” etc., written in idiomatic Greek; the Apocalypse abrupt, mysterious, material in its imagery, inexact and barbarous in its idioms, sometimes employing solecisms-could not, it was argued, proceed from the same author. Not much, beyond amplification of detail, has been added to the force of the arguments of Dionysius. There were three possibilities-either first, admitting the Johannine authorship of the Apocalypse, to assail the genuineness of the Gospel-this was the method of the school of Baur; or, second, accepting the Gospel, to seek a different author for the Apocalypse-John the presbyter, or another: thus not a few reverent scholars (Bleek, Neander, etc.); or, third, with most moderns, to deny the Johannine authorship of both Gospel and Apocalypse, with a leaning to the “presbyter” as the author of the latter (Harnack, Bousset, Moffatt, etc.). Singularly there has been of late in the advanced school itself a movement in the direction of recognizing that this difficulty of style is less formidable than it looks-that, in fact, beneath the surface difference, there is a strong body of resemblances pointing to a close relationship of Gospel and Apocalypse. This had long been argued by the older writers (Godet, Luthardt, Alford, Salmon, etc.), but it is now more freely acknowledged. As instances among many may be noted the use of the term “Logos” (Revelation 19:13), the image of the “Lamb,” figures like “water of life” words and phrases as “true,” “he that overcometh,” “keep the commandments,” etc. A striking coincidence is the form of quotation of Zechariah 12:10 in John 19:37 and Revelation 1:7. If the Greek in parts shows a certain abruptness and roughness, it is plainly evidenced by the use of the correct constructions in other passages that this is not due to want of knowledge of the language. “The very rules which he breaks in one place he observes in others” (Salmon). There are, besides, subtle affinities in the Greek usage of the two books, and some of the very irregularities complained of are found in the Gospel (for ample details consult Bousset, op. cit.; Godet, Commentary on John, I, 267-70, English translation; Alford, Greek Test., IV, 224-28; Salmon, Introduction to the New Testament, 233-43, 2nd edition; the last-named writer says: “I have produced instances enough to establish decisively that there is the closest possible affinity between the Revelation and the other Johannine books”). Great differences in character and style no doubt still remain. Some, to leave room for these, favor an early date for the Apocalypse (68-69 B.C.; on this below); the trend of opinion, however, now seems, as will be shown, to be moving back to the traditional date in the reign of Domitian, in which case the Gospel will be the earlier, and the Apocalypse the later work. This, likewise, seems to yield the better explanation. The tremendous experiences of Patmos, bursting through all ordinary and calmer states of consciousness, must have produced startling changes in thought and style of composition. The “rapt seer” will not speak and write like the selfcollected, calmly brooding evangelist.
III. Date and Unity of the Book.
1. Traditional Date under Domitian:
Eusebius, in summing up the tradition of the Church on this subject, assigns John’s exile to Patmos, and consequently the composition of the Apocalypse, to the latter part of the reign of Domitian (81-96 A.D.). Irenaeus (circa 180 A.D.) says of the book, “For it was seen, not a long time ago, but almost in our own generation, at the end of the reign of Domitian” (Adv. Haer., v.30, 3). This testimony is confirmed by Clement of Alexandria (who speaks of “the tyrant”), Origen, and later writers. Epiphanius (4th century), indeed, puts (Haer., li.12, 233) the exile to Patmos in the reign of Claudius (41-54 A.D.); but as, in the same sentence, he speaks of the apostle as 90 years of age, it is plain there is a strange blunder in the name of the emperor. The former date answers to the conditions of the book (decadence of the churches; widespread and severe persecution), and to the predilection of Domitian for this mode of banishment (compare Tacitus, History i0.2; Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 18).
2. The Nero-Theory:
This, accordingly, may be regarded as the traditional date of composition of the Apocalypse, though good writers, influenced partly by the desire to give time for the later composition of the Gospel, have signified a preference for an earlier date (e.g. Westcott, Salmon). It is by no means to be assumed, however, that the Apocalypse is the earlier production. The tendency of recent criticism, it will be seen immediately, is to revert to the traditional date (Bousset, etc.); but for a decade or two, through the prevalence of what may be called the “Nero-theory” of the book, the pendulum swung strongly in favor of its composition shortly after the death of Nero, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (held to be shown to be still standing by Revelation 11), i.e. about 68-69 A.D. This date was even held to be demonstrated beyond all question. Reuss may be taken as an example. According to him (Christian Theology of the Apostolic Age, I, 369;, English translation), apart from the ridiculous preconceptions of theologians, the Apocalypse is “the most simple, most transparent book that prophet ever penned.” “There is no other apostolical writing the chronology of which can be more exactly fixed.” “It was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, under the emperor Galba-that is to say, in the second half of the year 68 of our era.” He proceeds to discuss “the irrefutable proofs” of this. The proof, in brief, is found in the beast (not introduced till Revelation 13) with seven heads, one of which has been mortally wounded, but is for the present healed (Revelation 13:3). “This is the Roman empire, with its first 7 emperors, one of whom is killed, but is to live again as Antichrist” (compare Revelation 17:10 ff). The key to the whole book is said to be given in Revelation 13:18, where the number of the beast is declared to be 666. Applying the method of numerical values (the Jewish Gematria), this number is found to correspond with the name “Nero Caesar” in Hebrew letters (omitting the yodh, the Hebrew letter “y”). Nero then is the 5th head that is to live again; an interpretation confirmed by rumors prevalent at that time that Nero was not really dead, but only hidden, and was soon to return to claim his throne. As if to make assurance doubly sure, it is found that by dropping the final “n” in “Neron,” the number becomes 616-a number which Irenaeus in his comments on the subject (v.30, 1) tells us was actually found in some ancient copies. The meaning therefore is thought to be clear. Writing under the emperor Galba, the 6th emperor (reckoning from Augustus), the author anticipates, after a short reign of a 7th emperor (Revelation 17:10), the return of the Antichrist Nero-an 8th, but of the 7, with whom is to come the end. Jerusalem is to be miraculously preserved (Revelation 11), but Rome is to perish. This is to happen within the space of 3 1/2 years. “The final catastrophe, which was to destroy the city and empire, was to take place in three years and a half….. The writer knows…. that Rome will in three years and a half perish finally, never to rise again.” It does not matter for this theory that not one of the things predicted happened-that every anticipation was falsified. Nero did not return; Jerusalem was not saved; Rome did not perish; 3 1/2 years did not see the end of all things. Yet the Christian-church, though the failure of every one of these predictions had been decisively demonstrated, received the book as of divine inspiration, apparently without the least idea that such things had been intended (see the form of theory in Renan, with a keen criticism in Salmon’s Introduction to the New Testament, lecture xiv).
3. Composite Hypotheses-Babylonian Theory:
What is to be said with reference to this “Nero-theory” belongs to subsequent sections: meanwhile it is to be observed that, while portions of theory are retained, significant changes have since taken place in the view entertained of the book as a whole, and with this of the date to be assigned to it. First, after 1882, came a flood of disintegrating hypotheses, based on the idea that the Apocalypse was not a unity, but was either a working up of one or more Jewish apocalypses by Christian hands, or at least incorporated fragments of such apocalypses (Uslter, Vischer, Weizsacker, Weyland, Pfieiderer, Spitta, etc.). Harnack lent his influential support to the form of this theory advocated by Vischer, and for a time the idea had vogue. Very soon, however, it fell into discredit through its own excesses (for details on the different views, see Bousset, or Moffatt’s Introduction to the New Testament, 489;), and through increasing appreciation of the internal evidence for the unity of the book. Gunkel, in his Schopfung und Chaos (1895), started another line of criticism in his derivation of the conceptions of the book, not from Jewish apocalypse, but from Babylonian mythology. He assailed with sharp criticism the “contemporary history” school of interpretation (the “Nero-theory” above), and declared its “bankruptcy.” The number of the beast, with him, found its solution, not in Nero, but in the Hebrew name for the primeval chaos. This theory, too, has failed in general acceptance, though elements in it are adopted by most recent interpreters. The modified view most in favor now is that the Apocalypse is, indeed, the work of a Christian writer of the end of the 1st century, but embodies certain sections borrowed from Jewish apocalypse (as Revelation 7:1-8, the 144,000; Revelation 11, measuring of the temple and the two witnesses; especially Revelation 12, the woman and red dragon-this, in turn, reminiscent of Babylonian mythology). These supposed Jewish sections are, however, without real support in anything that is known, and the symbolism admits as easily of a Christian interpretation as any other part of the book. We are left, therefore, as before, with the book as a unity, and the tide of opinion flows back to the age of Domitian as the time of its origin. Moffatt (connecting it mistakenly, as it seems to us, with Domitian’s emphasis on the imperial cult, but giving also other reasons) goes so far as to say that “any earlier date for the book is hardly possible” (Expository Greek Testament, V, 317). The list of authorities for the Domitianie date may be seen in Moffatt, Introduction, 508.
IV. Plan and Analysis of the Book.
1. General Scope:
The method of the book may thus be indicated. After an introduction, and letters to the seven churches (Revelation 1-3), the properly prophetic part of the book commences with a vision of heaven (Revelation 4; Revelation 5), following upon which are two series of visions of the future, parallel, it would appear, to each other-the first, the 7 seals, and under the 7th seal, the 7 trumpets (Revelation 6:1-11:19, with interludes in Revelation 7 and again in Revelation 10; Revelation 11:1-12:1); the second, the woman and her child (Revelation 12), the 2 beasts (Revelation 13), and, after new interludes (Revelation 14), the bowls and 7 last plagues (Revelation 15; Revelation 16). The expansion of the last judgments is given in separate pictures (the scarlet woman, doom of Babylon, Har-Magedon, Revelation 17-19); then come the closing scenes of the millennium, the last apostasy, resurrection and judgment (Revelation 20), followed by the new heavens and new earth, with the descending new Jerusalem (Revelation 21; Revelation 22). The theme of the book is the conflict of Christ and His church with anti-Christian powers (the devil, the beast, the false prophet, Revelation 16:13), and the ultimate and decisive defeat of the latter; its keynote is in the words, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20; compare Revelation 1:7); but it is to be noticed, as characteristic of the book, that while this “coming” is represented as, in manner, ever near, the end, as the crisis approaches, is again always postponed by a fresh development of events. Thus, under the 6th seal, the end seems reached (Revelation 6:12-17), but a pause ensues (Revelation 7), and on the opening of the seventh seal, a new series begins with the trumpets (Revelation 8:2). Similarly, at the sounding of the 6th trumpet, the end seems at hand (Revelation 9:12-21), but a new pause is introduced before the last sounding takes place (Revelation 11:15). Then is announced the final victory, but as yet only in summary. A new series of visions begins, opening into large perspectives, till, after fresh interludes, and the pouring out of 6 of the bowls of judgment, Har-Magedon itself is reached; but though, at the outpouring of the 7th bowl, it is proclaimed, “It is done” (Revelation 16:17), the end is again held over till these final judgments are shown in detail. At length, surely, in Revelation 19, with the appearance of the white horseman-“The Word of God” (19:13)-and the decisive overthrow of all his adversaries (19:18-21), the climax is touched; but just then, to our surprise, intervenes the announcement of the binding of Satan for 1,000 years, and the reign of Jesus and His saints upon the earth (the interpretation is not here discussed), followed by a fresh apostasy, and the general resurrection and judgment (Revelation 20). Precise time-measures evidently fail in dealing with a book so constructed: the 3 1/2 years of the Nero-interpreters sink into insignificance in its crowded panorama of events. The symbolic numbers that chiefly rule in the book are “seven,” the number of completeness (7 spirits, seals, trumpets, bowls, heads of beasts); “ten,” the number of worldly power (10 horns); “four,” the earthly number (4 living creatures, corners of earth, winds, etc.); 3 1/2 years-42 months-“time, and times, and half a time” (Revelation 12:14) = 1,260 days, the period, borrowed from Daniel (7:25; 12:7), of anti-Christian ascendancy.
2. Detailed Analysis:
The following is a more detailed analysis:
1. Title and Address (Revelation 1:1-8)
2. Vision of Jesus and Message to the Seven Churches of the Province of Asia (Revelation 1:9-20)
3. The Letters to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2; Revelation 3)
(1) Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
(2) Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)
(3) Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-17)
(4) Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)
(5) Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)
(6) Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)
(7) Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)
II. THE THINGS TO COME. FIRST SERIES OF VISIONS: THE SEALS AND TRUMPETS
1. The Vision of Heaven
(1) Adoration of the Creator (Revelation 4)
(2) The 7-Sealed Book; Adoration of God and the Lamb (Revelation 5)
2. Opening of Six Seals (Revelation 6)
(1) The White Horse (Revelation 6:1, 2)
(2) The Red Horse (Revelation 6:3, 4)
(3) The Black Horse (Revelation 6:5, 6)
(4) The Pale Horse (Revelation 6:7, 8)
(5) Souls under the Altar (Revelation 6:9-11)
(6) The Wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:12-17)
3. Interludes (Revelation 7)
(1) Sealing of 144,000 on Earth (Revelation 7:1-8)
(2) Triumphant Multitude in Heaven (Revelation 7:9-17)
4. Opening of Seventh Seal: under This Seven Trumpets, of Which Six Now Sounded (Revelation 8; Revelation 9)
(1) Hail and Fire on Earth (Revelation 8:7)
(2) Burning Mountain in Sea (Revelation 8:8, 9)
(3) Burning Star on Rivers and Fountains (Revelation 8:10, 11)
(4) One-third Sun, Moon, and Stars Darkened (Revelation 8:12). “Woe”-Trumpets (Revelation 8:13)
(5) The Fallen Star-Locusts (Revelation 9:1-11)
(6) Angels Loosed from Euphrates-the Horseman (Revelation 9:12-21)
(1) Angel with Little Book (Revelation 10)
(2) Measuring of Temple and Altar-the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-13)
6. Seventh Trumpet Sounded-Final Victory (Revelation 11:14-19)
III. SECOND SERIES OF VISIONS: THE WOMAN AND THE RED DRAGON; THE TWO BEASTS; THE BOWLS AND LAST PLAGUES
1. The Woman and Child; the Red Dragon and His Persecutions (Revelation 12)
2. The Beast from the Sea, Seven-headed, Ten-horned (Revelation 13:1-10); the Two-horned Beast (Revelation 13:11-18)
3. Interludes (Revelation 14)
(1) The Lamb on Mt. Zion; the 144,000 (Revelation 14:1-5)
(2) The Angel with “an Eternal Gospel” (Revelation 14:6, 7)
(3) Second Angel-(Anticipatory) Proclamation of Fall of Babylon (Revelation 14:8)
(4) Third Angel-Doom of Worshippers of the Beast (Revelation 14:9-12)
(5) Blessedness of the Dead in the Lord (Revelation 14:13)
(6) The Son of Man and the Great Vintage (Revelation 14:14-20)
4. The Seven Last Plagues-the Angels and Their Bowls: the Preparation in heaven (Revelation 15)-the Outpouring (Revelation 16)
(1) On Earth (Revelation 16:2)
(2) On Sea (Revelation 16:3)
(3) On Rivers and Fountains (Revelation 16:4-7)
(4) On Sun (Revelation 16:8, 9)
(5) On Seat of Beast (Revelation 16:10, 11)
(6) On Euphrates-Har-Magedon (Revelation 16:12-16)
(7) In the Air-Victory and Fall of Babylon (Revelation 16:17-21)
IV. EXPANSION OF LAST JUDGMENTS (Revelation 17-19)