A Commentary on the Holy Bible
By Robert Drummelow
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The sketch of the purpose of the
book will have shown that the 'Preterist'
view is at the basis of the present Commentary.
The probability of this view is
supported by the analogy of other apocalypses.
And it seems natural to suppose
that the book would be meant to be intelligible by those to whom it
the language and the figures of the book are found to fit the condition of
the early days of Christianity, and to yield, on this system, a consistent
and unforced interpretation.
z. The Title. The title of
the book varies in the later MSS, though all ascribe it to John. One
MS of the llth cent, has ' the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to
the theologian John.' The word 'divine' in AV and RV is used in the
sense of ' theologian,' ' one who writes on God and the divine
nature.' The title in the oldest MSS is' the Revelation (Gk.
Apocalypsii) of John.' The writer calls the book ' Apocalypse,'
or ' Revelation,' only in 11.
Elsewhere he speaks of it as' prophecy' (cp. 18
'), and of himself as a ' prophet' (cp. 10
u 22 **). Yet the form which the prophecy has taken is
rightly described by the title ' Apocalypse.'
'Apocalypse' (i.e. 'uncovering,' 'unveiling') is a technical term
used to denote a particular kind of writing which sprang up among
the Jews mainly during the two centuries before Christ. It had its
antecedents in such eschatological passages (i.e. passages
foretelling the end of the present order of things) as Isa 24-27,
Joel, and Zech 12-14. The thoughts and images of such passages as
these were dwelt upon and developed in later times into apocalypses.
The book of Daniel is an apocalypse. Other writings of an
apocalyptic kind are, the 'Apocalypse of Baruch,' the Ethiopic 'Book
of Enoch,' the Slavonic ' Book of Enoch,' the 'Ascension of Isaiah,'
the 'Book of Jubilees,' the 'Assumption of Moses,' the 'Testaments
of the Twelve Patriarchs,' the 'Psalms of Solomon,1
the 'Sibylline Oracles.'
Apocalypses were written at times when the righteous suffered
oppression by a foreign power. JThe message^f the apocalypse.was
that deliverance was" coming, and that the righteous were to wait
for it in patience. In this sense an apocalypse differed from
prophecy, which, for the most part, warned unfaithful and wicked
Israel of the coming of a ' Day of the Lord,' and called for
repentance. Moreover, the apocalypse saw in the evil plight of the
righteous a sign of the power of Satan in the world, which made it
certain that God would soon intervene to overthrow the evil.
Apocalypses were written when men were troubled because the promises
of good made by the prophet^ seemed to be unftilfilled._
Accordingly, the apocalyptic" wtfteTTSeTout To justify the dealings
of God. He 'sketched in outfine the history of the world and of
mankind, the origin of evil and its course, and the consummation of
all things... The righteous
as a nation should yet
possess the earth, either in an eternal or in a temporary Messianic
king-' dom, and the destiny of the righteous individual should be
finally determined according to his works. For though amid the
world's disorders he might perish untimely, he would not fail to
attain through the resurrection thejrecomDejjae_ that was his due,
in the Messianic Kingdom, or in heaven itself' (R. H. Charles, HDB.).
Apocalypses were characterised by strange and mysterious figures,
seen in visions and explained by angels. Sometimes these figures
were new, and shaped to represent persons or events of the time.
Sometimes they were borrowed or adapted from older apocalypses, or
from the OT., or even from remote tradition. It is thought that some
of these last traditionary figures may have gradually developed out
of creation myths.
Apocalypses were pseudonymous, i.e. they were given forth under the
name of some great person of the past, such as Enoch or Moses. It
has been suggested that this was caused by the general feeling of
despair with which the times were viewed. Prophecy had ceased, and
perhaps no living person could hope for a hearing. But the pseudonym
may have had a better justification. The figures and traditions
which were used may have been so connected with those old great
names, that the apocalyptic writer looked upon his writings as
proceeding rather from the heroic saint he reverenced than from
himself (see HDB. arts. 1 Apocalyptic
Literature' and 'Revelation, Book of').
But although the book we call
'the Revelation of St. John' is one of a class, it does not follow
that it has no deeper value for us than the others of its class. The
fact that it has been taken into the Canon of Scripture, while they
have been rejected, shows that it outshines them all. In this 'the
Revelation' is like other books of the Bible. The histories, the
Psalms, the Wisdom books of the OT., have been distinguished from
others which are left outside the Canon. And Lk 1' shows that our
Gospels were not the only memoirs of the life of Christ which
existed in the earliest Christian age. Again, the title of the book
is evidence that, as regards other apocalypses, it claims to stand
above them all. Other apocalypses, as has been said above, professed
to come from some great man of the past,
as Enoch, and we know that only in a very loose sense could such a
profession be justified. Our Apocalypse does not go back to some far
distant and hardly more than nominal author. It is not even, as in
the title, the Apocalypse of John, for that title is of uncertain
date. The true title is given in 1 *. The book is ' The Revelation
of Jesus Christ.' The book claims to have Jesus Christ as the author
of the revelation it contains. The place St. John assigns to himself
is that of a prophet who is able to receive from Christ a revelation
and to communicate it to others. Christian believers may be unable
to see how there can be any true connexion between Enoch and the
book which bears his name. But they do not doubt the reality of the
gift of prophecy, or the fact that Christ could and did reyeal
Himself to His Apostles.
Purpose. The Christians in the western part of Asia Minor, for whom,
during the latter part of the 1st cent., the book was specially
written, had evidently been undergoing great trials. The purity of
their Churches wassullied by teaching which condoned
[immoraTTESTneathen practices, and by growing worldliness: op. 32-17'-
They had experienced persecution, both from the religious hatred of
the Jews (cp. 29 39)
and from the Roman government. Tinder the Roman government, religion
had become largely identified with Imperialism. Temples had been
dedicated, in various places, to Rome and the emperor, and the
emperor had been called 1 Lord and
God.' To a Christian, worship such as this was blasphemy (cp. 13
'), and, rather than join in it, many had died: cp. 213 6» IS" 176
1820. The book was written during a
lull in the persecution, which would, however, be temporary: cp. 2M>
Thus the times were dark and threatening for the Christian Church.
Christians were not only shut out from all the splendour and glory
of life, from the honours and ambitions, from the riches and
festivities which they saw daily in surrounding heathen society, but
which they must not taste. They were not even allowed to live their
simple lives in their own way. All the power of the empire was being
directed upon them in inflexible hostility, and if they would not
yield it seemed as if they must be crushed. Christ had promised His
perpetual Presence, but they felt no lifting of the weight of the
Roman hand. Christ had promised to come again, and they yearned for
His coming that He might deliver them, but it seemed as if they
yearned in vain. And in this strain and stress came the seducing
advice of 'Jezebels' (cp. 2 s0, who
bade- them save their lives
J3o, to brace them, to
endurance, came thcmessage of the Revelation. Tne^Jlings which were
seen, rich and mighty though they appeared, were temporal, about to
pass away: but the things which were not seen were eternal and to
abide for ever. God was on His throne, and the future of the world
was in the hand of Christ. The persecuting empire was inspired and
supported by Satan, but God was stronger than Satan. Satan had
already been conquered, essentially, by the work of Christ, and his
overthrow, and the overthrow of his instruments, would soon be seen
openly on earth. Rome, the persecuting empire, the heathen worship
and priesthood, and the wicked of the earth, were all to fall before
the conquering Christ. Last of all would be the general judgment,
and then the incomparable and eternal bliss of the New Jerusalem. In
these ways Christ would come, and come quickly.
Therefore let Christians bear
manfully their perils and pains. There was nothing strange in the
demand that was made upon them. Christ Himself had endured before
them. It was by death that He had won His victory, and their victory
was to be won in the same manner. Therefore death for Christ was not
defeat but overcoming, and great glory with Christ would be the
reward of those who so overcame.
Interpretation. Our interpretation of Revelation depends upon what
view we take as to the period of the Church's history to which the
figures and scenes preparatory to the climax of the book refer.
There have been three chief schools of interpretation. One school
(called the ' Futurist') regards the book as dealing with the end of
the world, and with events and persons which will immediately
precede that end. The 'Historical' school sees in the book a summary
of the Church's history from early days until the end. The ~
1 Preterists' look back to the past,
and interpret the book as having to do with the times in which it
originated. A fourth method sees in the book symbolical
representations of good and evil principles, common to every age,
and to be understood spiritually. According to this last method, the
New Jerusalem, e.g.. would be explained as representing the
blessedness, even in this earthly state, of true believers whose
lives are hid with Christ in God.
The sketch of the purpose of
the book will have shown that the '
Preterist' view is at the basis of the present Commentary.
The probability of this view is supported by the analogy of other
apocalypses. And it seems natural to suppose that the book would be
meant to be intelligible by those to whom it
the language and the figures of the book are found to fit the
condition of the early days of Christianity, and to yield, on this
system, a consistent and unforced interpretation. The advocates of
the other systems have differed widely among themselves, e.g.
explaining the woman (c. 17) and the beasts, now to mean the Roman
Church and the Pope, now .the Turks and Mohammed, now the French
Revolution and Napoleon. But while this Commentary adapts the
Preterist view, it is not denied
that, the principles of God's government of the world being always
the same, practical use may be made of visions and figures which
refer to past circumstances by applying the principles which they
reveal to the events with which we ourselves have to do.
and,win security by outward
conformity to was addressed, and would have arisen oat of 3»ea.then
requirements and'hea'tnen ways. ^- the circumstances of their state.
question remains whether those predictions which have to do with the
millennium, 'i.e. the thousand years during which Christ would reign
on earth (cp. 20*'), were meant to be understood literally or
spiritually. The earliest interpretation was literal. Those who
accepted the book expected a literal reign of Christ on earth. It
was for this reason that many, not believing in a literal
millennium, would not accept the book as canonical. It was only the
spread of spiritual interpretation, by which the ' thousand years'
denoted the present/period of the Church, the view advocated by
Jerome and Augustine, that enabled the Church as a whole to receive
Unity. The structure of Revelation is not what might have been
expected. We might have expected a prophecy which passed on in
regular course, developing evenly from stage to stage until the end
was reached. Instead of this we find progression indeed, but of a
rough and uneven nature, and a number of dissimilar and abrupt
visions and figures, often not so much flowing one out of another as
piled one upon another. During the last twenty years some critics
have attempted to account for these features by supposing, either
that the book is composed of two or three earlier apocalypses,
worked over and fitted together by a Christian editor, or else that
the author drew upon various older materials, fragmentary in
character, which he has used and incorporated.
The former of these theories
seems to be improbable. The book certainly follows out a plan, even
though it be roughly. And critics have not agreed in the results of
their attempts to dissect the book and to display the joints and
lines of union. But it seems more likely that the writer made some
use of older materials. It is certain that he made large use of <he
OT., especially of Ezekiel and Daniel, e g. cp. lls
4«'- 1311 189'.
It is not, on the face of it, unlikely that some of the
figures which cannot be
traced to OT. sources may have been derived from lost or traditional
materials, eg. chs. llf. We can see, indeed, that Jewish, and even
heathen, ideas and beliefs were so used by the writer, and were
given a Christian meaning: cp. 217 91*-'
u 138,18 !66,7 1716 202-t. However,
if this theory be true, we should suppose that the writer's use of
such materials would be parallel to his use of the OT. He never
slavishly copied from the OT., but employed and adapted OT. language
and figures as if they were so familiar to him that he naturally
expressed himself by their means. Similarly he may have pondered
upon existing apocalyptic materials until they had become part of
the furniture of his mind. The striking parallels of Rev. with Mt24
= Mkl3 = Lk21, l?*-^ 1235-*8,
seem to show the dependence of the author of Kev. upon the discourse
of Christ on the Mount of Olives. E.g. cp 1
l, 'which God gave unto Him,'
with Mt24S«; 'shortly come to pass,' with Mt2434;
while chs. 2f. show that the situation foretold in Mt24*-14
is present. Cp. also 61-8
with Mt 24 29-31 ; 81 with Mt24"i; 8TM2 with
The Visions. Supposing that some part of the theories mentioned in
the last section be true, how can it be said that St. John received
the contents of the book in a vision? The answer is threefold. (1)
It is not necessary to understand the book as claiming to have been
wholly received, as it stands, in one vision at one time. The first
vision was received in Patmos. Others may have followed at
subsequent times. (2) It is not necessary to suppose that the very
words of the book were taken down, as if from dictation, by the
writer. The writer claims to be a prophet (cp. 10
and In the exercise of his gift he may have developed afterwards the
facts which were revealed to him by vision. (3) The memory of
previously acquired knowledge cannot but have a large share in the
apprehension of truths divinely received. Such truths must be
rendered into a language previously learned; and if they are
rendered into figures previously assimilated, that is only another
form of the same process. And the vision itself may, perhaps, be
divinely adapted to the language and figures which are already
contained in the mind of the recipient of the vision.
Authorship. The writer of the book calls himself 'John': cp. 1M.» 22s.
No other description or definition is given. To the early Christian
Church, 'John' would signify John the Apostle. Besides this, the
writer was of account among the Churches of the Roman province of
Asia, and was in exile in Patmos. Early Christian tradition asserts
both these things of St. John. It would seem, therefore, that the
book was written either by the Apostle, or by some one who wished it
to be thought the work of the Apostle.
The external evidence for the
apostolic authorship is very strong, coming from Fathers in all
parts of the Church. The earliest witnesses are Justin Martyr (circ.
140 A.d.), and
probably Melito, bishop of Sardis (circ. 170), and Theophilus,
bishop of Antioch (circ. 180). Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (circ.
180), who had known Polycarp the disciple of St. John, distinctly
says that it was written by the Apostle. The apostolic authorship is
also witnessed to by the Muratorian Fragment (circ. 200), Tertullian
(circ. 220), Hippolytus, bishop of Ostia (circ. 240), Clement of
Alexandria (circ. 200), Origen (circ. 233), and Victorinus, who
wrote the earliest extant commentary on Rev., and who was martyred
under Diocletian (303).
the other hand, an Asiatic sect of the end of the 2nd cent., known
as the 'Alogi," rejected all the writings of St. John, and among
them Rev. They did not .appeal to any knowledge or tradition as to
the authorship, but said that they found the book unprofitable, and
that there was no Church at Thyatira. Their rejection of St. John's
writings was probably caused by their doctrinal views. Caius, a
presbyter of Rome (circ. 200), ascribed the book to Cerinthus, a
heretical teacher, who lived at Ephesus in the reign of Domitian, in
whose system were combined elements derived from Judaism,
Christianity, and Oriental speculation, and whose tenets seem to be
opposed in the Gospel and Epistles of St. John. Both the Alogi and
Caius opposed the Montanists, who appealed to Rev. in support of
Dionysius of Alexandria
(circ. 250) denied the apostolic authorship, but wholly on critical
grounds, arguing from the language of the book, and from its
unlikeness to the Gospel and to the First Epistle. He thought it
must have been written by another John, perhaps John Mark, and said
that he had heard that there were two tombs at Ephesus, each called
that of John. Eusebius of Csesarea tells us that Papias spoke of a
'John the Presbyter,' distinguishing him from the Apostle, and he
hazards a guess that possibly this Presbyter waa the John of
will be seen that the evidence of tradition is altogether in favour
of the apostolic authorship of the book. Those who rejected it did
so on grounds of internal evidence, which we are as competent to
judge as they were. The internal evidence, i.e. the matter and style
of the book, does at first sight make it difficult to accept the
apostolic authorship. The Greek of the other writings of St. John in
is smooth and free from
barbarism, while that of Rev. is the reverse. But this may be
accounted for by the character of the book*. The Gospel and Epistles
were probably written calmly and meditatively, repeating much that
the Apostle had been in the habit, for years, of saying to his flock
in Greek-speaking Ephesus. But St. John was a Jew, although a Greek
dress had come to surround his thought. In Rev. he is borne along by
the rapture of his visions, and the Jew that he was by nature and by
upbringing might, not unnaturally, have burst through the Greek
veneer. Besides this, it is plain that the writer's mind, at the
time of writing, was filled with the Jewish Scriptures, and with
Jewish apocalypses, and it may have seemed to him fitting that the
style of the new Apocalypse he was producing should be in harmony
with other apocalypses which both he and his first readers knew. The
Hebraic style may have seemed to him to be almost as much a
necessity for an apocalypse as the symbolic and figurative material.
There would be nothing forced or unreal about this, for Hebrew was
native to St. John, while Greek must have been to him always more or
less artificial. This consideration will increase in force if, as is
quite likely, eighteen or twenty years were spent by St. John in
Greek-speaking Ephesus between the writing of Revelation and the
writing of the Gospel and Epistles.
As to the language.
It is true that characteristic words and thoughts of the Gospel do
not appear in Rev. On the otht-r hand, it is only in the Gospel and
First Epistle of St. John and in Rev. that Christ is called 'the
Word' (cp. Jn 11 Rev 19 13). The title Lamb," so frequently applied
to Christ in Rev., reminds us of Jn 1 29i 36(
though the form of the word is slightly different; the symbol of the
Shepherd applied to Christ (cp. Rev 7 17 Jn 10 1.271.2116),
and the figure of living water, or water of life, are common to
Gospel and Rev.; and there are other striking likenesses, such as
the wordstranslated' true' (Rev 3 7, etc.),' overcome,'
On the whole, the
difference between the style of the Gospel and Rev., though great,
can be accounted for, and does not seem to outweigh the very strong
and early testimony to the apostolic authorship of Revelation.