Notes On The Apocalypse
by David Steele
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An Appendix





Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation, Philadelphia.




Missionary from the Reformed Presbyterian Church to the Jews in London, England.


Although we are "separated upon the wall, one far from the other," we are not altogether precluded from mutual salutation. Placed by our Master on two hemispheres, between which the electric current bears frequent tidings, our respective positions are advantageous for noting the events of providence. These constitute the signs of the times, and are the counterpart of prophecy. Prophecy and providence reflect light upon each other, and both are helpful to the interpretation of each; but He alone who is the "Wonderful Counsellor," can cause us to understand either.

In submitting the following work to the public, I venture to do so under your auspices, if not under the sanction of your name. And I embrace the present occasion, Rev. Sir, to bear willing testimony to your acknowledged scholarship,—your profound erudition, especially in Natural Science and Philology. I do also cheerfully and joyfully recognise you as a public witness; and at the present time of general defection, as an official and consistent witness in the British Isles for the integrity of our Covenanted Reformation,—that reformation which in its fuller development is destined to secure the rights of God and man in reorganized society. Such, I believe to be one of the cheering lessons which may be learned by Christ's witnesses from searching the Apocalypse.

That you, Dear Sir, may be long preserved, sustained and comforted by the providence and grace of the Most High, amid all your self-sacrifice, privation and reproach which you endure for the truth's Bake, is the prayer of

Your brother in covenant bonds,


PHILADELPHIA, February 1st, 1870.


The Apocalypse is one of the most sublime and wonderful dramatic exhibitions presented for human contemplation. Internal evidence concurs with authentic history, in demonstrating to the devout and intelligent reader, its divine origin. God, angels and men, are the principal actors. Men's natural curiosity may find entertainment in this book; and from no higher principle, many have doubtless been prompted to attempt a discovery of its mysterious contents. What is true, however, of supernatural revelation in general, is equally true of this book:—"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

To the right understanding of the Apocalypse, so far as the prophetical parts of it are contemplated, the following prerequisites would seem to be indispensable:—

1. A competent knowledge of what may be termed the fundamental doctrines of the gospel: such as the unity of the Divine Nature; the distinction of persons in the Godhead; the atonement and intercession of Christ; the total depravity and renovation of human nature; the resurrection and final retribution, etc.

2. Acquaintance with symbolical language, as the only language common to all men since the confusion of tongues.

3. Familiarity with the typical dispensation, from which most of the symbols are taken. 4. Freedom from all political bias.

No expositor of the Apocalypse appears to have possessed all these qualifications, however few and simple. The most learned and judicious interpreters of this book have been divines of Britain and of the United States.

After so many laborers employed in this harvest, the reader may ask,—What remains to be gleaned? To this inquiry, it may be sufficient to remind the devout Christian, that as the Apocalypse is the end of the Bible, so "the harvest is the end of the world;" and during the intermediate time "the Lord of the harvest is sending forth laborers." Prophecy has engaged the attention and occupied the thoughts of the writer, more or less, for the last thirty years. He has consulted the views of most of the distinguished and approved interpreters of the book of Revelation; among whom the following are named, viz.: Mede, Sir Isaac and Bishop Newton, Durham, Fleming, Gill, Whitaker, Kett, Galloway, Faber, Scott, Mason, McLeod; and many others: from all whose labors, he has derived much instruction; and from all of whom he has been obliged in important points to dissent.

The immediate occasion of this undertaking, was the urgent request of the people of his charge, that the substance of a course of lectures delivered in ordinary Sabbath ministrations, might be put into a more permanent form, for their future edification.

In the early centuries of the Christian era, so wild, enthusiastic and corrupt were the sentiments of some Millenarians, that this book ceased in great measure to be read or studied; and even its divine authority came to be questioned by many learned and pious men. As the "Dark Ages" of Popery resulted from neglect of the sacred Scriptures in general, so even among the first reformers the Apocalypse was viewed with suspicion as to its claim to inspiration. It is probable that many of the unlearned will hear with wonder, and doubt the assertion, that even the great reformer Luther rejected the Apocalypse, as being no part of the sacred canon! The same judgment he formed of the epistle by James! With characteristic boldness, he wrote as follows:—"The epistle of James hath nothing evangelical in it. I do not consider it the writing of an apostle at all.... It ascribes justification to works, in direct contradiction to Paul and all the other sacred writers.... With respect to the Revelation of John, I state what I feel. For more than one reason, I cannot deem this book either apostolic or prophetical, ... and it is sufficient reason for me not to esteem it highly, that Christ is neither taught nor known in it."[1] Such was the estimation in which that distinguished reformer held two inspired books of the New Testament at the dawn of the Reformation. How great the increase of scriptural light since his day!

The grand design of this book, as declared by its divine Author, is, "to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass," ... "to testify these things in the churches:"—to make known beforehand, to those styled his "witnesses," the certainty of a great apostacy,—the rise, reign and overthrow of the Antichrist, that "when it came to pass, they might believe," and exemplify before the world "the patience and the faith of the saints." During that protracted period, the witnesses could neither know their duty nor sustain their allotted trials without these necessary instructions.

From the position of the witnessing church—"in the wilderness" during the whole time of Antichrist's reign, which is also the position of the apostle John when viewing in vision the "woman upon the beast;" (ch. xvii. 3,) that appears to be the only advantageous position from which to view the actors in this wonderful scene. And since few have voluntarily "gone forth to Christ without the camp, bearing his reproach," or submitted to wear the mourning garments of "sackcloth," it is not at all surprising that the Apocalypse—emphatically a Revelation—should continue to be, to many, a "sealed book." But on the other hand, "blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein."

As this work is intended for the instruction and edification of the unlearned, rather than for the entertainment of the learned, words of foreign extract are used as seldom as possible. Practical remarks and reflections are rarely introduced; the principal aim being simply to ascertain and present to the reader the mind of the Holy Spirit. How far this object has been accomplished, is of course left to the judgment of the honest inquirer. The reader, however, in forming his judgment of the value of these Notes, may be reminded of that inspired rule in searching the Scriptures,—"Comparing spiritual things with spiritual." To assist him in the application of this divine rule, many chapters and verses are quoted from other parts of the Bible, but especially within the Apocalypse itself; that by concentrating the various rays upon particular texts or symbols, their intrinsic light may be rendered more luminous. Thus the interpretation given, if correct, may be confirmed and illustrated.


The heavens and the earth did not make themselves. The material universe furnishes to the intelligent creature a visible demonstration of the "eternal power and godhead of its Author." Besides, a sense of Deity is essential to humanity; and a supernatural revelation is not necessary to convince rational beings that there is a God. Man is a dependent being in common with all other creatures, and all creatures depend upon a first cause. That cause is God. Dependent as a creature, man may know something of the natural perfections of his Maker; and possessing a conscience, which implies accountability to a superior, he may know,—he must know, something of the moral attributes of God.

In view of these positions, we may account for the fact, too often overlooked by the reader of the Bible, that the Holy Spirit directed the first of all historians to begin his narrative so abruptly. Assuming that the reader is already assured of God's being, Moses proceeds at once to account for the origination of the material universe. In simple narrative he writes,—"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Thus God's being, and the eternity of his being are assumed as known by the first inspired penman; a fact or principle not to be disputed. True, the being of God has been questioned, but only by "fools"—"brutish people;" who, by their atheistical suggestions have proclaimed to their fellows their "brutish folly." (Ps. xiv. 6, xciv. 8, 9.)

As the Bible takes for granted that mankind have had a previous revelation in their own physical and moral constitution,—in the visible heavens and earth; the same is true of the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse. It assumes that the reader has some competent knowledge of the preceding books of the sacred Scriptures. The reader is supposed to be acquainted with the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations of the Covenant of Grace. Moreover, the moral law, as inculcated in the Old Testament; the Levitical priesthood and ministry, as being "shadows of good things to come;" the "doctrine according to godliness," taught in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament,—are all taken for granted and supposed to be received with a divine faith by all who would profit by this last book of the sacred canon.

It is further assumed in the Apocalypse, that the humble inquirer into the mind of the Holy Spirit has a knowledge of ancient history, of the character and destiny of Egypt, Babylon, etc. And finally, it is requisite that the successful inquirer into the mind of God be acquainted with the language of symbols; and, above all, that he be resolved, with the inspired writer John, to take a position with the mystic woman in the wilderness.

With these few preliminaries, we proceed:


1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

2. Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

3. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand.

Verses 1-3.—Here, our divine Mediator appears in the continued exercise of his prophetical office "in his estate of exaltation." While present with his disciples on earth, he told them he had many things to say to them, but they could not hear them then. (John xvi. 12) Upon his ascension he fulfilled his own and his Father's promise in sending the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth—bring all things to their remembrance, and show them things to come. (v. 13.) The fulfilment of this promise we have in the whole of the New Testament,—doctrines, facts and predictions.

Jesus said,—"Of mine own-self I can do nothing." (v. 30.) The same is true of his teachings as of his works:—"The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself, (xiv. 10.) In all that "Jesus began both to do and to teach," (Acts i. 1,) he was instructed by his Father. These things are all plainly implied in the first verse. Indeed, the official actings of the three Persons in the Godhead had been frequently taught by Christ during the time of his personal ministry; and they are more fully and frequently recorded by the beloved disciple than by any other evangelist, in that gospel which still bears this apostle's name. Thus, it appears that although this book is called a "Revelation of Jesus Christ," he is not the ultimate author. It is a revelation "which God gave unto him." By God here, we are to understand the person of the Father. The reader is thus conducted to the divine origin of all supernatural revelation,—the eternal purpose of God. (Heb. i. 1, 2.) The object of the whole Bible, in the evolvement of the divine economy of man's redemption, appears to be the unfolding of the ineffable mystery of the Trinity, and displaying the perfections of the Godhead, to his own glory as the highest and last end.

The channel through which the divine will comes to the church, is exhibited in the beginning of this book. Originating with God the Father, passing to the Mediator, communicated to a holy angel; by his ministry it is made known to John, who reveals it to the church! How beautiful the order here! How wonderful and condescending on the part of God!

Although we commonly and justly designate the whole Bible by the name "Revelation;" yet we are to consider that this book is so called by way of eminence. Doubtless it is so styled by its divine Author because it reveals events which were then future, and which could not be discovered by human sagacity. But this holds equally true of other parts of the Scriptures, especially those parts which are prophetical. It may be that this book is called "Apocalypse" because of the opposition which it was to encounter from Antichrist, as also because of its singular and intended use to a peculiar portion of professing Christians. As on the one hand the Romish church, and too many who protest against her encroachments, prohibit or discourage the disciples of Christ from reading this book; so, on the other hand, it has been of singular use to others in strengthening their faith and ministering to their comfort.

John "bare record of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ and of all things that he saw." A question arises here,—What is the difference, if any, between the "word of God" and the "testimony of Jesus Christ?" Or is there any distinction intended by the Holy Spirit? Most readers as well as expositors view these expressions as identical. We shall meet with them, or their equivalent, frequently hereafter; and it may be proper at the outset to inquire a little into this familiar phraseology. (See chapters i. 9; vi. 9; xii. 11, 17; xx. 4, etc.)

Recognising the inspired rule of interpretation,—"comparing spiritual things with spiritual," we refer to Psalm lxxviii. 5, where "testimony and law" are obviously distinguished. The same distinction will be found in Isa. viii. 16, 20. The prophet refers the reader to two tests of doctrine and practice: first the "law." But as the spouse of Christ is unable, in her perplexity, to apply the law to the present case in a manner satisfactory to herself, she is directed by her Lord, (Song i. 8,) to "go forth by the footsteps of the flock." That is, search and ascertain how the disciples applied the law in similar circumstances, and imitate their approved example. This is a rule recognised and often inculcated in the New Testament. (Heb. vi. 12.)

The inspired penman in Psalm lxxviii. 5, refers to the covenant transaction at Mount Sinai, where the "law" was exhibited as an appendix to the covenant of grace—"added to the promise." (Gal. iii. 19.) The reader will find this whole matter set before him, perhaps to his surprise and delight in Exod. xx. 1-17. The Lord (Jehovah) is the God (Elohim) of his people. How shall they know that he is their God? By the law?—No, for that is a rule to all men. They know by the testimony as distinct from the law. Testimony consists of facts. God's people knew that he was their God, because he "brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." This was "the doing of the Lord,"—"the testimony of Jesus Christ." And so it is an important and precious truth to us at the present day.—"The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that God is the Lord (Jehovah) and our God."—This great historical fact is the controlling motive to acceptable obedience to the moral law. To this, among other truths of the gospel, every faithful minister will "bear witness" with the apostle John.

John also bore witness to "all things that he saw," as presented to him in a succession of visions to the end of this book, in view of some of which, he "wondered with great admiration." (xvii. 6.)

In the third verse there is a "blessing" pronounced on all such as "hear, read and keep those things which are written in the words of this prophecy." A mere reading and hearing of the Apocalypse will not secure the blessing. It is suspended on the keeping. "Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book." (Ch. xxii. 7.) The divine and compassionate Author of this prophecy, who "knoweth the end from the beginning," foresaw the violent and ignorant opposition even to the reading of it, which would be encountered by those for whose special direction and comfort it was given. While the "man of sin" would attempt to deprive the church of the light of the Bible in general, the great "Antichrist" would join him in special hostility to this book. The judgment of the former is, that the Bible in the hands of the people will generate heresies; of the latter,—the Apocalypse is so "hard to be understood" as to be unintelligible. A revelation, and yet unintelligible! This is very nearly a contradiction. Such sentiments betray rebellion against the authority, and a reflection upon the wisdom and beneficence of God. All Christians acknowledge, as Peter says of the writings of Paul, that in this book are "some things dark and hard to be understood:" but there have been always and now are, some disciples who do not subscribe to the teaching of most expositors of this book,—that their actual fulfilment, alone, will interpret these predictions.—Doubtless it was in view of such discouragements that our Lord prefixed and repeated the special blessing. And this promised blessing of the Master himself is sufficient to countervail all the discouragements and hostility of the adversaries, thrown in the way of the reader and expositor. Moses "endured as having respect unto the recompense of the reward." Let us copy his example. "He is faithful that promised." Let the pious reader, therefore, disregard the counsel to "omit the reading, of this book in family worship," as we have sometimes heard; whether it be tendered by Papist, Prelate or Presbyterian, because it is directly contrary to the express command of Christ, (John v. 39,) and because by following such counsel, he would forfeit the special blessing here promised.

4. John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;

5. And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness, and the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

6. And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to whom be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Vs. 4-6.—Here we have the customary salutation, addressed to the churches of Asia Minor. Many other churches had been organized in other parts of the earth at this date; (A.D. 96:) but the special reason why John saluted these seven, and addressed an epistle to each, would seem to be his vicinity to them in the place of his present sojourning, and probably his personal acquaintance with them in the exercise of his ministry among them, (v. 11.) His prayer for these churches is substantially the same as that prefixed to most of Paul's epistles. Grace and peace are inseparable in the divine arrangement. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." (Isa. lvii. 21.)

The solitary pilgrim in his place of banishment, contemplating the Abrahamic covenant, and realizing that grace and that peace in which he desires his fellow disciples to share, sets before us the threefold source whence these divine influences flow. First, "from him which is, and which was, and which is to come;" a description of God the Father, whose personal subsistence has priority in the Godhead, and who occupies the like priority in voluntary relationship and economic standing. From the Father personally, as the representative of Trinity, we have seen (in verse 1,) this book emanated; and now from the same we are taught that "grace and peace" come to fallen man. Second, John's prayer here, differs from Paul's usual form in the beginning of his epistles; for Paul omits the Holy Spirit, commonly saying,—"Grace be to you, and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ," (as in Gal. i. 3.) In this last book of Scripture we have the co-equal Three introduced as co-operating in the work of man's redemption. Thus our attention is directed to the "seven Spirits which are before the throne;" by which we are to understand the Holy Ghost, in his essential equality with God the Father, but in the place of official subordination. The Holy Spirit is one personally, but seven in his manifold gifts and graces, with special reference to the "seven churches." And whereas the divine Spirit, in the order of his personal subsistence and operation is third, here he occupies the second place in the order of revelation. Third, The special reason for reserving the notice of our Saviour to the last place, is doubtless that the "beloved disciple" may take occasion to leave on record an expression of his admiration of the Mediator's person, one of whose names is "Wonderful," (Isa. ix. 6;) and that he might exemplify the ruling principle of his own heart,—"We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John iv. 19.) The apostle dwells upon the personal glory of Immanuel, contemplating him in his threefold office of prophet, priest and king.—He is "the faithful witness" in his prophetical office. "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (John i. 18;) "who, before Pontius Pilate, witnessed a good confession." (John xviii. 37.) He is "the first-begotten of the dead." He "died unto sin once," as an expiatory sacrifice to atone for the guilt of an elect world. Being a "priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek," "he ever liveth to make intercession,"—"death hath no more dominion over him," as it had over Lazarus and many others who "came out of the graves after his resurrection." (Matt, xxvii. 52, 53.) Among all, he has the preeminence. (Col. i. 18.) He is "the Prince of the kings of the earth." There is not in the sacred volume a title of our Redeemer more full or expressive than this, on his headship or royal office. A prince is of royal parentage. Such is the understanding of mankind in all civilized nations. Joseph in Egypt typified, in part, the kingly office of Christ; and Solomon on the throne of Israel partially typified him in his dominion: but as Balaam foretold that he should be "higher than Agag," (Num. xxiv. 7,) so we may say he is higher than Joseph,—"A greater than Solomon is here." "Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou." When the Father says to the Son, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever," (Ps. xlv. 6,) this is consistent with "excepting him that did put all things under him." (1 Cor. xv. 27.) Although we are not warranted to say with some, "The Father is the fountain of the Godhead, we may warrantably and boldly say, the Father is the fountain of authority. (John vi. 38.) The dominion of the Mediator is universal, reaching "from the roofless heaven to the bottomless hell." It is comfortable to the disciples to know this in anticipation of the rise and reign of Antichrist. He is, by the appointment of the Father "head over all things," (Eph. i. 22,)—"able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him," to "consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming, that Wicked, the Man of Sin." (2 Thess. ii. 8.)

In view of the personal dignity and mediatorial dominion of Christ, the apostle gives expression to his admiration and wonder at the amazing love and condescension displayed by him on behalf of himself and all others, on whom that love was fixed from everlasting, and whose guilt and pollution were taken away by the atoning and cleansing blood of the Lamb. To these saving benefits is to be added the honour to which the redeemed are advanced as "kings and priests,—a royal priesthood." The living Head is "a priest upon his throne," (Zech. vi. 13,) and all the members are assimilated to him. (1 Pet. ii. 5, 9.)

7. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

Verse 7.—How animated the language, sublime the conception, and awe-inspiring the sentiment here! Time is annihilated! The end is seen from the beginning, and all eyes are directed to the sovereign Judge of the world, as he comes in majesty to fix the final destiny of all the children of Adam! These have constituted only two classes sincere world began. "Every eye shall see him," but the eye will affect the heart very differently. The hearts of some, with holy Job, will be filled with joy unspeakable, (Job xix. 26, 27;) but others, with mercenary Balaam, will be inspired with terror and dismay. (Num. xxiv. 17.) Of "them that pierced him," who shall be able to abide his indignation? Judas, Caiaphas, Herod and his men of war; Pontius Pilate, and all who have consented to the counsel and deed of them, "must appear before his judgment seat." "All kindreds of the earth," covering all the combinations of "Antichrist" during the definite period of twelve hundred and sixty years, "shall wail because of him," (Rev. xiv. 10, 11.) Assured of the equity of Messiah's judgment, the apostle, in the exercise of "like precious faith with all them that believe," subjoins his hearty assent,—"Even so, Amen:" "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord." Doubtless the design of the Holy Spirit in this verse is to furnish ground of encouragement to those who were to be engaged in the protracted conflict with the powers of darkness foreshadowed in the prophecy of this book.

8. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

Ver. 8.—The same divine person, to whom the apostle directs the doxology in the 6th verse, is introduced in the 8th: that is, the Lord Christ. He claims eternity and omnipotence. He describes himself here in the very words which in the 4th verse are descriptive of the eternal subsistence of the person of the Father. "Alpha and Omega," the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, are explained in the words,—"the beginning and the ending." This language is not to be understood as expressing or defining the duration of the Godhead only; but it points also to the divine purpose and providence. To the same purpose speaks our Redeemer under the name of Wisdom:—"The Lord (the Father) possessed me in the beginning (head, purpose) of his way, before his works of old." (Prov. viii. 22.) In joint counsel with the Father, ere the wheels of time began to move, and being "almighty" to execute the purposes of God, he is perfectly qualified to act as the final Judge of the world. And in the great and last day "every tongue must confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. ii. 11.) "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living." (Rom. xiv. 9.)—"God is judge himself." (Ps. 1. 6.)

9. I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Ver. 9.—Again, the inspired writer addresses the Christians in Asia, acquainting them very briefly and simply with his present local situation; not so much to move their sympathy with him, as to express his unabated affection for them:—"I am your brother, and companion in tribulation." Although the "like afflictions were accomplished in his brethren," the Devil was permitted to "cast" only "some of them into prison." But it is remarkable that John utters not a word, much less manifests any resentment, against the persecutor. He was "in the isle that is called Patmos:"—but he does not say who sent him there. Historians tell us that he was banished by Domitian, the Roman emperor; others say, by Nero; but the former is more probable. This island is proverbially barren. It is situated among a number of islands in the Aegean sea, a point of the Mediterranean running northward between Europe and Asia, and not very remote from most of the churches here addressed.

The ground of controversy between John and his persecutors was "the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ." Of these he "bare record." (v, 2.) "This," say most expositors, "was the cause of John's banishment." This unguarded language confounds the difference between a cause and an occasion. John had given no cause of banishment to his enemies. The true cause of their hostility was their hatred of the "word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." For these John contended earnestly, as Jude enjoined; (ver. 3:) just as Paul and others were "bold in their God to speak the gospel of God with much contention." (1 Thes. ii. 2.) We have here the standing ground of strife between the believer and the infidel; between Christ and Belial, between the church and the world. There is a divine hand interposed all along in this warfare, and the conflict will terminate only in the extermination of one of the parties. (Gen. iii. 15; Rev. xx. 10.)

10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

Ver. 10.—The beloved disciple had often "tasted the good word of God," while the bosom-companion of Christ in the time of his ministry on earth: His "heart burned within him." (Luke xxiv. 32.) Especially had this been his happy experience on the holy Sabbath. Now that his condition is solitary, being by violence "driven out from the inheritance of the Lord," (1 Sam. xxvi. 19,) his gracious Master favours him with a special visit. Did he not say to his disciples while he was yet with them,—"I will not leave you comfortless? I will come to you." (John xiv. 18.) The Comforter was promised to supply the want of the Saviour's bodily presence, (v. 16,) and now John is "in the Spirit," and it is "the Lord's day,"—the Christian Sabbath. We may well suppose this disciple never was happier, no, not when he was "leaning on Jesus' bosom." He would not now envy the emperor or any of his persecutors in all their outward peace and prosperity. He was in an ecstasy,—"whether in the body or out of the body he could not tell:" but his soul was susceptible of the impressions of Christ's love, and of the intimations of his sovereign will. "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I do?" (Gen. xviii. 17.) "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." (Amos iii. 7.) John does not boast as Balaam,—"falling into a trance, but having his eyes open:" yet he heard and saw as distinctly and clearly as if his perceptions had come through the medium of his bodily ears and eyes. "He heard behind him a great voice as of a trumpet," not to alarm, but to engage attention.

11. Saying, I am Alpha and Omega; the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

V. 11.—Christ speaks, asserting his eternity, and consequently his equality with the Father. This book being written in the Greek language, our Saviour names and appropriates to himself the first and last letters of the alphabet in that language, and gives the interpretation,—"the first and the last," as in v. 8. John is directed to write and send to the seven churches all that is contained in this last book of the Bible. The churches are named here, and in the second and third chapters they are addressed severally in a letter to each. It may be noted that besides the general commission to preach the gospel to every creature, apostles had a special call to write; and sometimes a prohibition,—"write not," (ch. x. 4.) Many of the most learned and godly divines whom we would consider best qualified, have never left any writings for the instruction of posterity; whilst others less qualified, either in respect of literature or piety, or not at all qualified, have filled the world with books without a special call from Christ. (John xx. 30, 31; xxi. 25.)

12. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And, being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

13. And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

14. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

15. And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

16. And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

Vs. 12-16.—His attention being arrested, the apostle "turned to see the voice,"—that is, the person from whom the voice came. A glorious vision was presented to his view,—"seven golden candlesticks" or lamp-bearers, in allusion to the golden candlestick with the seven lamps as placed in the tabernacle. (Exod. xxv. 31-40.) "In the midst of the candlesticks appeared one like unto the Son of man," the Mediator, clothed in sacerdotal garments, supplying oil for the light, after the example of Aaron and his sons. (Exod. xxvii. 20, 21.) The "garment" may signify his mediatorial righteousness,—the "golden girdle" the preciousness of his love,—"his head and his hairs white like wool," his purity and eternity,—"his eyes as a flame of fire," his omniscience, by which he searches the reins and hearts, and sees the end from the beginning; "his feet like unto fine brass," the stability of his appointments and the excellency of his providential dispensations,—"his voice," the irresistible energy of his word to quicken, terrify or destroy at his pleasure. (John v. 25, Heb. xii. 26.) "The sharp two-edged sword" will represent his awful justice against the impenitent who resist his righteous authority. "With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked." (Is. xi. 4; Luke xix. 27.) "His countenance as the sun shining in his strength," disclosed to the beloved disciple such splendor as to overwhelm him. The like display of divine majesty was insupportable to Saul of Tarsus when on his way to Damascus. (Acts xxvi. 13.) To the workers of iniquity, "our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. xii. 29.) It is a certain truth,—"The vengeance of the gospel is weighter than the vengeance of the law." (Heb. x. 28, 31.) "Let us therefore fear."

17. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18. I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

19. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;

20. The mystery of the seven stars, which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

Vs. 17-20.—We have the effect of the vision upon the beloved disciple. He who had leaned on Christ's bosom at supper, and who had seen his Master transfigured on the holy mount, was now utterly overwhelmed with the effulgence of his glory. John "fell at his feet as dead." So it was with Daniel, "a man greatly beloved." (Daniel x. 4-8.) But the compassionate Saviour dispelled his fears, as in all similar cases; making known to his astonished servant his supreme deity and real humanity, as "the first and the last," who died for the sins, and was raised again for the justification of his people. (Rom. iv. 25.) He is "alive for evermore,"—become "the first fruits of them that slept." (1 Cor. xv. 20.) He "dieth no more. Death hath no more dominion over him." (Rom. vi. 9.) And so complete is his victory over the king of terrors, the last enemy of the believer, that he hath "the keys of hell and of death." He has the "key of the bottomless pit," (xx. 1;) having triumphed over principalities and powers, making a show of them openly. (Col. ii. 15.) Whether Christ used the word, "amen," to ratify the truth of his immortality; or whether this is an expression by John of his joyful acquiescence in that truth, is not material: we know on satisfactory evidence, that our Lord is a prophet and king, as well as a priest, "after the power of an endless life." (Heb. vii. 16; Rom. xiv. 9.)

John is next commanded to write,—First, "the things which he had seen;" that is, the description of the foregoing vision:—Second, "the things which are;" that is, the actual condition of the church, as delineated in the diverse characters of the seven churches addressed, as in the next two chapters:—Third, "the things which shall be hereafter:" that is, the prophetical part of the book, from the beginning of the fourth chapter to the close, as containing the prospective history of the church and of the nations, as she was to be affected by them, or they by her, till the consummation of all things. This is the division of the book made by the divine Author himself, and it is a natural and intelligible one. All attempts of learned and pious men by other divisions to render this mysterious part of the Bible more clear to the unlearned reader, tend only to display the ingenuity of the writers,—not to say their temerity, while they "darken counsel by words without knowledge." Such artificial divisions are as unfounded, in the apprehension of sober expositors, as the attempts of impious Arians and others, to turn the historical narrative of the creation and fall of man into an allegory!

The meaning of the "seven stars and seven candlesticks" is then explained to John. The word, "are," is used in a figurative sense, and not to be taken literally. It means here, symbolize, represent or signify. It is to be interpreted in the same sense as in the following places of sacred Scripture:—"It is the Lord's passover." (Exod. xii. 11.) "That rock was Christ." (1 Cor. x. 4.) "This is my body." (Matt. xxvi. 26.) None but a Papist will have any difficulty here, or perhaps,—a Lutheran!


Some commentators, among whom may be mentioned the learned Dr. Gill, a leading Antipedobaptist minister of England, have imagined, that the seven epistles addressed to the Asiatic churches, contain a mystical prophecy of the church general, covering the whole period of her history from the apostolic age till the end of the world. According to this fancy,—for it is nothing more than a fancy; the church in Smyrna, will represent the church's condition in the second stage of her history, when Arianism prevailed! And the Laodicean must represent her last, and so her worst condition! How will this harmonize with the 20th chapter, where she appears in triumph over all her antichristian foes? This is given as a specimen of the unbridled fancy and licentious imagination with which even good men may be tempted to approach the reading and interpreting of this important and instructive part of God's word. But Peter informs us that some persons in his time, "wrested" those parts of Paul's writings which were "dark and hard to be understood:" and this was not the worst of their conduct, for they treated "the other scriptures also" in the same reckless and irreverent manner, which were neither dark nor hard to be understood. (2 Pet. iii. 16.) These epistles are no more mystical or prophetical than those of the apostle Paul. They are simply and properly descriptive, although like all other epistles, they are applicable to the church general in all ages, and equally suited to the case of individuals, as is clear in the close of each:—"If any man have an ear, let him hear."

1. Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

2. I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

3. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

4. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

5. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

6. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Verses 1-7.—This first epistle, addressed to the church in Ephesus, comes from the Lord Jesus, who holds the stars in his right hand; who gives commission to the ministry, gives them authority as his ambassadors to negotiate with mankind, communicates to them the light which they diffuse in the world, sustains them in their respective spheres, and controls them as they move in their orbits. He walks in the midst of the candlesticks, as the sun in the system of nature, trimming and snuffing the lamps that they may burn more clearly.

This is the second epistle sent from Christ to the church of Ephesus. Paul, who is thought to have planted this church, (Acts xviii. 19,) had written to those Christians some thirty years before, while he was a prisoner in Rome. (Eph. i. 4; vi. 20.) Paul and John were nothing more than Christ's amanuenses,—"the pen of a ready writer." (Ps. xlv. 1; 1 Cor. iii. 7.)—"The angel of the church" is at once a symbolic and collective name, including also the idea of representation:—not a pope or any other prelatic personage. No doubt in our Saviour's estimation the saints take precedence here of the "bishops (overseers.) and deacons," as they do in Phil. i. 1; Eph. iv. 8-12. All ecclesiastical officers are Christ's gift to the church; but the object or recipient of the gift is more valued than the gift. And just here is the point where prelates "do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures." They have arrogated to themselves the honourary title of "clergy;" and for the sake of distinction, and to give plausibility to their ambitious pretensions, call the membership of the church the "laity,"—contrary to the express decision of the unerring Spirit. Peter cautions the "elders" that they be not as "lords over God's heritage,"lot, clergy; where it is obvious that the body of the people, as distinguished from their rulers, are denominated the clergy. Moreover, it is evident to any unbiased reader, that the membership, and not a bishop only, are addressed by our Lord in these epistles; as when he says,—"some of you." (v. 10.) Hence it may be inferred that there is no proof in these epistles on which to erect the antichristian hierarchy of diocesan prelacy; and consequently that ecclesiastical government is by divine right, lodged in the hands of a plurality of presbyters.

Christ notices what is commendable, before he administers reproof. "I know thy works."—There seems to be an incompatibility between the "patience" commended, and not being able to "bear them which were evil." But patience under persecution or any other providential dispensation, is perfectly consistent with an enlightened zeal against error and immorality. Indeed, the two graces,—patience and zeal, are inseparable in themselves, and as connected with all the other graces of the Holy Spirit.—There were such in the primitive church, who claimed to be apostles, and who, upon trial, were discovered to be impostors. Paul, in the exercise of the miraculous gift of "discerning of spirits," could, without presbyterial examination of witnesses, personally detect "false apostles, deceitful workers" in Corinth. (2 Cor. xi. 13.) But John was not at Ephesus, and therefore the ordinary rulers are approved by Christ for the faithful exercise of discipline. Persons who falsify the doctrines and corrupt the order and ordinances of divine appointment, are the worst of liars, and having been by competent authority "found" to be such; they may be so called without breach of charity. When discipline is neglected or relaxed, error and tyranny soon enter, with "confusion and every evil work." But when false teachers have gained followers and influence in the church, the friends of truth and order will be in danger of yielding to the pressure. They are liable to become "weary and faint in their minds," (Heb. xii. 3;) but zeal for their Master's honor will animate them to contend for the faith so as to secure his approbation. It is remarkable that so much labor, patience, zeal etc., should be found in this church while chargeable with having "fallen from first love." Habits contracted in the fervor of early affection to Christ, may continue to influence an individual or a church, when the fervency of affection is sensibly abated. This state of feeling the exercised Christian will confess and lament. Nothing but repentance and reformation in such a case will procure the approbation and restore the favor of Christ. Continued impenitence is threatened with removing "the candlestick," the gospel, ministry and ordinances.

The Nicolaitans were a sect of corrupt professors of Christianity of whose doctrines and deeds little or nothing is certainly known. It is most generally supposed that they were a sort of Antinomians, who turned the grace of God into lasciviousness; and there is a tradition, not well sustained, that their heresy was derived from Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch, one of the seven deacons of whom we read, Acts vi. 5. The similarity of name seems to have suggested this fancy; for there is no historical evidence that one who was "of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom," was permitted thus to fall away. Their deeds, however, were hateful to Christ, and therefore hateful to his real disciples: for one of the infallible marks of a state of grace is to hate what,—yes and whom,—our Lord hates. (Ps. cxxxix. 21, 22.) All who read or hear these things are interested in them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. What Christ saith in each of these epistles, the Spirit saith; and what is said to each church is said to all the seven; that is, to the whole visible church. "To him that overcometh" false apostles, the deeds of the Nicolaitans, any doctrines or practices in opposition to the truth of Christ, or militating against the honor of Christ; to such he "will give to eat of the tree of life," from which Adam was excluded upon the breach of the first covenant. (Genesis iii. 22-24.) What the first Adam lost by the fall, the last Adam will restore with interest, (1 Cor. ii. 9.) The felicity of the saints in glory can be represented only by sensible things; and even then but very imperfectly. (1 Cor. xiii. 12; 1 John iii. 2.)

8. And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

9. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich,) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

10. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

11. He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

Vs. 8-11.—Smyrna is the second in order of the seven churches addressed through the ministry as the official representatives. Our Saviour here assumes those titles mentioned in ch. i. 17, 18, which bespeak his divine personal dignity and voluntary humiliation, his eternal Godhead and true manhood,—"God manifest in the flesh," having by death triumphed over death, to deliver them who through fear of death were all their life-time subject to bondage. (Heb. ii. 15.) This church was subjected to "tribulation,"—persecution in name, substance and person. The members were either of the poorer sort of the citizens of Smyrna, or rendered poor by fines,—"the spoiling of their goods."—"But thou art rich," rich in faith, in good works, in the gifts and graces of the Spirit, the earnest of the heavenly inheritance.—In this place a colony of Jews had gained such social influence as to move the populace, and even the local magistrates, to offer violence to the servants of God. It does not appear that these Jews were professing Christians of any creed, but just such as Paul often encountered in Judea and elsewhere. (Acts xvi. 19-22.) The devil instigated the Jews, and they the Gentiles; and both, the magistrates, to silence the testimony of Christ's witnesses, by which all were tormented. The design of the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning, was to destroy that church; but Christ's design was to try her members. Only some were to be imprisoned, and the time of trial would be limited to "ten days,"—a definite for an indefinite, but short time. Those who resist the truth contradict its advocates, and blaspheme the holy name of God, though professing to be either Jews or Christians, area "synagogue of Satan." "A crown of life" is promised to such as proved "faithful unto death." They shall not be "hurt of the second death;" that is, eternal death. (Ch. xx. 14, 15.)

12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;

13. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

14. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

15. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.

16. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.

Vs. 12-17.—To the church in Pergamos reproofs and threatenings are addressed by him who has the "sharp sword." Satan had his throne in this place, whence he assailed the true doctrine and disciples of Christ by heresy and persecution. In such a great fight of afflictions there was one distinguished, like Stephen, for boldness and fortitude, who "resisted unto blood, striving against sin." And wherever there is a "faithful martyr" for Christ, who "holds fast his name, and will not deny his faith" at the risk of his life, his divine Lord will condescend to register his name among that noble company who "by faith have obtained a good report." (Heb. Xv. 2.) The "doctrine of Balaam" and that of the Nicolaitans led to gross immoralities in apostolic times as of old in the days of Moses. (Num. xxxi. 16.) And thus it appears, that old heresies, which have been condemned, are afterwards revived under new names, and patronized by new leaders. In such a case, we have the authority of Christ for calling them by the same names of those whose principles they adopt, and whose example they emulate. It was no breach of charity, therefore, by our forefathers to designate those who "delated" them to the cruel persecutors in Scotland by the name of "Ziphites," or to call the archtraitor Sharp,—"a Judas." The Lord Jesus "hates the doctrine" as well as "deeds of Nicolaitans," which are subversive of truth and godliness. Those who oppose the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans in any age when these are popular, must expect persecution. But when "troubles abound for Christ's sake, consolations much more abound by Christ." This is to "eat of the hidden manna." Also, the "white stone" or pebble,—the token of justification,—will be given to the conqueror in the Christian conflict. The allusion here is to the mode of procedure in courts of judgment among the ancient Greeks. White stones were cast for acquittal; black for condemnation. The manna is hidden, and so is the white stone, both signifying the sustaining and consoling evidence of the Comforter,—the Holy "Spirit witnessing with the spirit" of the persecuted believer, that he is a "child of God." It is the same thing as the "hundred-fold in this life," promised by Christ. (Matt. xix. 29.)

It is worthy of notice, in the condition of this church, that while among a minority may be found an "Antipas,—faithful martyr" for the cause of Christ, against those who hold the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans: the majority are called upon to "repent,"—evidently for conniving at the destructive errors and immoralities of those seducers. And unless the discipline of the church was employed to "purge out these rebels;" the Master would take the work into his own hand, and "fight against them with the sword of his mouth:" and then such as screened or spared these sinners might expect to partake of their just punishment. Rulers in the church "must give account for those over whom they watch."

18. And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;

19. I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

20. Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.

21. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.

22. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.

23. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

24. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, (as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak;) I will put upon you none other burden:

25. But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come.

26. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

27. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received of my Father.

28. And I will give him the morning-star.

29. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Vs. 18-29.—The most lengthy epistle is sent to the church in Thyatira. He who is the "Son of God," a divine person, possessing the essential attributes of omniscience and immutability, has more to say to this church than to any of the rest. Commending, as usual, whatever was commendable,—their "works, charity, service," etc.; "and the last to be more than the first:" he has, nevertheless, "a few things against them,"—especially "suffering that woman Jezebel to teach." Is this "woman Jezebel" to be taken in a literal or figurative sense? Analogy seems to require a metaphorical sense. If, in the preceding epistle, "Balaam" is not to be understood literally and personally, but figuratively and representatively, so Jezebel represents an individual, or rather as that other woman, (ch. xvii. 4.) a faction or sect, who propagated destructive heresy. Jezebel was daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Zidonians, whom Ahab married contrary to the express law of God. (1 Kings xvi. 31; Deut. vii. 3.) She was a violent persecutor of the Lord's people, because she was given to idolatry; and she was an instigator of all the cruelty perpetrated by that wicked king, "whom Jezebel his wife stirred up." As Ahab suffered his wife to control his policy, "giving him the vineyard of Naboth," etc., so it appears, the rulers in this church are blamed for permitting "a woman to teach," contrary to the law of Christ." (1 Tim. ii. 12.) She "called herself a prophetess,"—why not then require her to show her credentials? Permitted to usurp the functions of a public teacher, she "seduced Christ's servants" to join in the abominable rites of the heathen. Spiritual fornication, especially when conducted by female agency, has always issued in that which is literal. This may be verified from the time of Noah and Balaam till the erection of nunneries under the sanction of the "man of sin." The distinction here between "committing fornication" and "eating things sacrificed unto idols," intimates that the "adultery" is to be taken in a literal sense. Time was allowed for repentance, "and she repented not." All this time the rulers were culpable: therefore the Lord himself, as before, will interpose to rectify such gross sin and scandal. This he would do by visiting these impenitent transgressors with some incurable disease which would issue in certain death. So he did in the church of Corinth. (1 Cor. xi. 30.) By this example he would teach "all the churches, that it is he who searcheth the reins and hearts,"—demonstrating his divine omniscience.—"But unto you I say." Where now is to be discovered, in this address of the Saviour, that "presiding minister," or diocesan bishop, whom the anti-christian prelates affirm our Lord addresses in all these epistles? "And unto the rest in Thyatira,"—still no prelate addressed; but those laborious and patient ones previously commended, who "had not known the depths of Satan." Those deceivers pretended to instruct their deluded followers in the "deep things of God;" but Christ calls them "depths of Satan." It is usual with the devil's factors to delude credulous persons with pretending to teach them deep mysteries,—"curious arts. (Acts xix. 18, 19.)

To such as withstood the adversary and his allies, Christ would give no additional injunctions to those which they had received. And to animate them to continued fidelity and fortitude in future conflicts with these enemies of all righteousness, he holds forth an ample reward. He shall share in the honor of his Master, conferred on him by his Father. Whatever may be comprehended in this promise, it can be made good to the victorious Christian only by Him who is divine. None else has "power over the nations," but he to whom "all power is given in heaven and in earth." (Matt, xxviii. 18.) "The morning star" may signify Christ himself, (ch. xxii, 16,) or the "first fruits of the Spirit," (Rom. viii. 23,) or the full assurance of grace. (2 Peter i. 19.)

As before, what "Christ saith, the Spirit saith;" and the instruction, warning and threatening sent to the church in Thyatira, was addressed to all churches and to every human being endowed with an "ear to hear." It is assumed in the beginning of the Apocalypse, that only some will have sufficient education to "read the words of the prophecy of this book;" and such is the condescension of our gracious Master, that those who, by reason of invincible ignorance, cannot read, yet may share in the reward promised to such as "hear and keep" the sayings of this book. And no doubt thousands have received this reward since the begun decline of Popery, who were privileged to hear and to "know the joyful sound" of the gospel proclaimed by the heralds of the Reformation. In the times of Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others, who were their compeers and successors, many were called from darkness to light, in continental and insular Europe, who could not read.

All are commanded to "search the Scriptures." Now to be able to obey this reasonable command, either all must be instructed in the knowledge of Hebrew and Greek,—the two languages in which the Bible was originally written, or the Bible must be translated into the languages of all nations. But the former supposition is impracticable, and therefore the latter is dutiful. And after all that has been done, and is yet to be accomplished, in translating the sacred writings into the languages of the nations of the earth, the "angels of the churches" will be employed by the chief Shepherd in feeding his flock.


1. And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

2. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

3. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

4. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.

5. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

6. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Vs. 1-6.—As hitherto in these epistles we do not discover a "presiding minister" above an elder, so neither do we in this one find any hint of a "bishop and pastors." All Christ's bishops are elders, and "all are brethren." (Acts xx. 17, 28.) Prelacy,—that is, preferring one pastor before another in office, is expressly prohibited by the church's only Lawgiver. (Matt. xx. 25, 26.) The attempts to annul this law of Christ has caused more sin and suffering to his disciples than any one external agency of the devil. The whole history of the church furnishes the evidence of this.

The church in Sardis is addressed by him who "hath the seven spirits of God and the seven stars," who has authority by office to give the quickening influences of the Spirit to the dead, and his reviving influences to the dormant; for revival presupposes life. Their "works were not perfect before God," however they might appear to men. The majority were in a languishing condition, had "given themselves over to a detestable neutrality" in the Lord's cause. And as the whole body is justly characterized by the major part; this church is described as "dead." "Be watchful,—remember,—repent." These duties point out the prevailing sins, namely, slothfulness, forgetfulness and security. Where these predominate, "things that remain are ready to die." And there is no other remedy but that of applying to the "Seven Spirits of God," which Christ is ready to shed abundantly on all who make believing application.

Christ threatens to "come as a thief" upon those who do not "watch." In similitudes, we are not to indulge a licentious fancy in our attempts to interpret them. The objects of the thief's visit and that of Christ are not the point of resemblance; for "the thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy." The point, and the only point of resemblance, is the suddenness of the visit. Ignorance or neglect of this rule of interpretation has been a fruitful source of error, especially in expounding Revelation.

In this epistle, the order hitherto observed by the Saviour is reversed. What was praiseworthy in other churches was first noticed. Here the commendation follows the reproof. "Thou hast a few names," etc. A virtuous minority are "undefiled in the way." They have nobly withstood the prevailing contamination, and therefore Christ will admit them to fellowship and honor. The victor shall be "clothed in white raiment,"—grace shall be perfected in glory; and their names, which were inscribed in the book of life,—the register of the church of the first-born, shall be confessed by Christ "before his Father and before his angels," as having "followed the Lamb," when others went back like Orpah. (Ruth i. 15.) Let those who, having "put their hand to the plough," are tempted to "look back," consider "what the Spirit saith" to the church in Sardis.

7. And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;

8. I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and has not denied my name.

9. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

10. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

11. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

12. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name.

13. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Vs. 7-13.—This church, like the one in Smyrna, is "without rebuke," in the midst of similar trials.—Christ's message is prefaced, as usual, by some description of himself, implying his supreme deity and authority. "He that is holy, he that is true," is more than a creature. As "there is none good but one, that is God;" so, "there is none holy as the Lord," (Jehovah,) (1 Sam. ii. 2.) Here is another, among many plain proofs, of our Saviour's proper divinity. His divine authority is held forth in his "having the key of David," etc. A key is the symbol of authority, (Matt. xvi. 19,) and the reference is to that prophecy, (Isa. xxii. 20-24,) in which the mediatorial dominion of Christ is set forth, by calling Eliakim to the place of authority in the room of Shebna. "The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder." It is in virtue of this extensive grant of power from the Father, that the Lord Christ has a right, as Mediator, to send his ambassadors into all nations, to call sinners (rebels) back to their rightful allegiance; and also to execute deserved punishment upon all who do harm to his servants. (Ps. cv, 15.) In the exercise of his rightful authority, he has set before this church an "open door" of liberty, of opportunity, of activity; that she may put forth her "little strength" in keeping Christ's word and confessing his name amidst opposition, reproach and violence; for it is obvious, that when impostors fail to reach their objects by deceit, they will resort to forcible measures. Because this church was unable to purge herself by corrective discipline,—having but "a little strength," therefore Christ declares his purpose to strip these lying Jews of their cloak of hypocrisy, and exhibit them in their true character a "synagogue (church) of Satan." (James ii. 2.) Seeing that in apostolic times there were apostles, ministers, churches of the devil, is it to be supposed that we violate the law of charity, if in our own degenerate age, when heresies abound, when ecclesiastical order is trampled upon, we venture to apply the language of the Holy Spirit to unholy and profane amalgamations? No, it is part of the special business of Christ's witnesses to unmask specious hypocrites and warn of danger from false teachers, (2 Cor. xi. 13-15; Gal. i. 6, 7,) that "their folly may be made manifest to all men." (2 Tim. iii. 8, 9; 2 Peter ii. 1, 3.)—The cruel enemy, who in the day of prosperity boasts of his success, in the day of adversity becomes the most arrant coward and cringing suppliant,—whether it be Saul or Shimei. (1 Sam. xv. 30; 2 Sam. xix. 18.) Haughty persecutors have been changed to humble suitors for an interest in the prayers of their victims,—"to worship before their feet." "The word of Christ's patience" may signify any truth or doctrine of the Bible which is of supernatural revelation. The same idea is suggested by the phrase, "the present truth,"—any divine truth which may come to be opposed or denied, especially as it may bear upon the personal glory of our Redeemer. Love to Christ is often tested by an enlightened and firm adherence to the "truth as it is in Jesus," when "false apostles will sell it for a mess of pottage." (Prov. xxiii. 23; 2 Cor. xiii. 8.) The first promise here is of a temporal kind, of protection in time of general danger. The "temptation" thus predicted may refer to some of those "ten persecutions" waged by the Roman emperors against the Christians, as that of Trajan in particular; but doubtless, like many other predictions, it was to have more than one fulfilment. The expression, "all the world" does indeed sometimes mean the Roman empire, (Luke ii. 1;) but perhaps it would be rash to affirm, that it is to be always thus limited. Like "the kingdom of heaven,—the kingdom of God,"—phrases which have unquestionably a two-fold signification, so it will be safer to consider this expression as of a similar kind. All other churches would be exposed to trial, from which this one would be exempted. The trial might consist of persecution, or the spreading of heretical principles and wicked practices, followed by apostacies. At such a time of trial, a firm adherence to the "doctrines which are after godliness," would be imperative duty, and the only way to secure the victor's crown. The gracious reward of fidelity here promised is a permanent and honorable place in the heavenly temple,—the temple of Christ's Father, whose name the citizen of the New Jerusalem should bear for ever, and should be known and recognised as "fellow-citizen with the saints." These names may be safely interpreted as importing, "son, daughter of the Lord Almighty, citizen of Zion, Christian." As "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch," so their gracious Master will "confess their names before his Father and the holy angels." (Acts xi. 26; Rev. iii. 5.)

14. And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

17. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.

18. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.

19. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

21. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

22. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Vs. 14-22.—It appears that in Paul's time a Christian church had been planted in Laodicea. (Col. ii. 1; iv. 16.) This church had the benefit of his ministry as well as that of Ephesus: and as both these churches were comparatively near to all the other five, we may suppose that a man of his zealous, active and persevering character and habits, would "impart unto them some spiritual gift." (Rom. i. 11.)

It is evident that this church had degenerated more than all the others. In her there is nothing to commend. Her officers and members are described in their real character by him who is the "Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the beginning of the creation of God." Each of these titles speaks the divine dignity of Christ. They are all to be understood in an absolute, not in a comparative sense. As "there is none good (absolutely so,) but one; that is, God," Matt. xix. 17; so Christ only is the "Amen" in such sense that he "cannot lie" as a "witness.'" He "speaks that which he has seen with his Father." (John viii. 38.) Jesus is, moreover, the "Beginning;" the author, owner and sovereign ruler of "the creation of God." This is clearly taught in Col. i. 15-18, where the same person, who (in v. 18) is called "the beginning," as here; is (in v. 17,) said to "be before all things;" by whom (v. 16,) "were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth."—Creation is a work proper to God only. But our Redeemer has "created all things." Now, according to Heb. iii. 4, "he that built all things is God;" therefore he of whom these things are spoken is "the Most High God." And so said the inspired prophet long ago, "For thy Maker is thine husband." (Isa. liv. 5.) In the language of Jeremiah, (x. 11,)—thus do we say to Arians, Socinians, and other self-styled Unitarians,—"The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens:" and their blinded votaries, "except they repent, shall all likewise perish."—However far the body of this church had declined, it does not appear that they had yet, as a community, gone the length of "denying the Lord that bought them."

Spiritual pride, self-sufficiency, seems to have been the prevailing sin among these degenerate professors. Like the Pharisee, they would boast of their riches, the spiritual gifts which they possessed, by which they flattered themselves that "they were not as other men." Possibly they might excel in knowledge, that "knowledge which puffeth up;" in utterance,—"great swelling words of vanity," by which they gained both "filthy lucre" and the admiration of an ignorant and carnal multitude. Such is too often the actual condition of ministers and people, when they are all the while under the power of sin, and wholly "blind" to their spiritual destitution. Self-deception is fatal; and it would be just in the Lord Jesus to give such persons up to their own hearts' lusts. So he threatens,—"I will spue thee out of my mouth," as a man's stomach loathes that which is nauseating. The like figure is used by Isaiah, (lxv. 5,) personating his Lord when describing similar characters:—"These are a smoke in my nose,"—intolerably offensive.—To us the case of this church would appear hopeless. It is not so, however: on the contrary, he assures them that these sharp rebukes proceed from love. "As many as I love, I rebuke, and chasten." (Heb. xii. 6-8.) And from the "counsel" which he gives, as farther evidence of his love, we learn wherein this church was lacking,—in grace, justifying righteousness, and the saving self searching illumination of the Holy Spirit. As this church had not the promise of exemption from the coming "temptation," (v. 10,) the "gold tried in the fire" of persecution will be indispensable to preserve any from apostacy, whereby their cloak of hypocrisy would be removed, and they be exposed to "shame."—Christ "stands and knocks."—If the church refuses him admittance, yet if but one will "hear his voice and open the door," he will certainly communicate such consolations,—the "joy of his salvation," that it may be said they sup together. (Song v. 1.)

This, as before, is the "hundred-fold," promised in this life, as a foretaste and pledge of heavenly felicity.—There is added, a participation in his honor and authority; for those who suffer with him shall also reign with him. (2 Tim. ii. 12.) Whilst "this honour is to all his saints," it is to be conferred upon them by Christ. This assertion may seem to contradict what Christ said to the mother of Zebedee's sons, (Matt. xx. 23,)—"to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give."—No, it is not his to give,—"but, except to them for whom it is prepared of his Father." Then it is his to give,—his right. Of the honor and felicity promised to such as "fight the good fight of faith," none can have an adequate conception without actual experience. (1 John iii. 2.)


Although the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity in Unity be not expressly taught or asserted in these epistles, it is nevertheless often and plainly presupposed. Each epistle begins and closes with express mention of two divine persons as equally the author. What Christ says, the Spirit says to these churches. But there is a third divine person often mentioned who is called "God," and "Father." (Ch. ii. 7, 18, 27, etc.;) and in the first verse of chapter third, one speaks who has the seven Spirits of God," where the Trinity is included. Thus, while in these epistles this important doctrine of the adorable Trinity,—a doctrine which lies at the very foundation of a sinner's hope, is obscurely revealed, as being clearly discovered in the preceding parts of the Holy Scriptures; the subsequent part of this book of Revelation is intended, among other objects, to demonstrate the distinct subsistence and economical actings of the co-equal and eternal Three, in the protection and salvation of the church, and in the control and moral government of the universe.

Again, on the groundless and chimerical assumption of those expositors who view these epistles as prophetical of seven successive periods of the destiny of the church general, the last estate would be worse than the first,—Laodicea being the worst of all. But this is obviously contrary to the description contained in ch. xx. 1-10, where the saints are represented as in possession and exercise of all their purchased and social rights. Neither does authentic history prove that the church of Christ was more prosperous under the "ten persecutions" by the heathen Roman emperors than in the apostolic age, as the superior condition of the church in Smyrna to that of Ephesus would require. The very contrary is true; and hence the groundlessness of such interpretation, however respectable the names of its authors. The object of our Saviour in all the instructions, counsels, warnings, rebukes and threatenings addressed to these several churches is doubtless the real benefit of his people in after generations;—just as his dealings with the church in Old Testament times, "were written for our admonition and learning." (Rom. xv. 4; 1 Cor. x. 11.) Moreover, some persons have inferred from our Lord's treatment of these churches, a divine warrant for the existence, and an imperative Christian duty for the charitable recognition, of all the conflicting and antagonistic organizations of our time, popularly styled Christian churches. But as the designation, "Christian churches," is in the apprehension of some too general, the term "evangelical" is used by them as restrictive of the term "Christian." Still the question will present itself,—What constitutes a church "evangelical?" And this question is still without any definite answer. Perhaps no two persons would include in one category the same denominations of professing Christians. For example,—Is a community to be considered a Christian church in which the "doctrine of Balaam" is taught? Does the law of charity require the recognition of an organization as a Christian church, in which a "Jezebel would be suffered to teach, and to seduce the servants of Christ?" Is that a Christian church which denies the supreme deity of Christ, and rejects the seals of the covenant of grace,—the only charter of the Christian church's existence, on earth? Or is that combination to be viewed as a Christian church which has no regular ministry, but expressly rejects the "pastors and teachers" of Christ's appointment and the morality of the sabbath? These, and many other questions of similar or analogous import, will suggest negative answers to all who fear God, respect his authority, and are free from the bewildering effects of popular error.

It ought to be considered that all these seven churches were one church, as originally constituted, having the same,—that, is, a divine, scriptural organization. And although in the divine forbearance, they were still owned by Christ, notwithstanding the errors, heresies and immoralities which had crept into them; yet it is manifest that he threatens some of them with divorce, total extinction in case of impenitence. He has indeed fulfilled his awful threats in making them a desolation. Is it reasonable to suppose that he would reorganize these, or recognise others which incorporate the same or the like corruptions in doctrine and practice for tolerating which he has "removed their candlestick," or "spued them out of his mouth?" (Absit blasphemia.) To say so, or write so, does not manifest the "charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." Alas! the present condition of the church general contains frequent evidences, that our Saviour's affectionate counsels, solemn warnings, and awful threatenings, are neither duly pondered nor dutifully regarded.


With this chapter the prophetical part of the Apocalypse begins. This is the place where the third division of the book commences, of which intimation had been given to John.—"Write ... the things which shall be hereafter." (Ch. i. 19.) The third is therefore much the largest part of the whole book, comprising all from the 4th to the 22d ch. It is also to be noticed that the fourth and fifth chapters are properly of the nature of an introduction to what follows, presenting to view, as it were, a grand theatre on which are to be exhibited the dramatic characters and events which constitute the outline of history in the church and the world from the apostle's time till the consummation of all things.

Expositors commonly frame and lay down some rules by which they suppose symbolic language in general, and the symbols of this book in particular, may be interpreted. On examination, however, it will be discovered that the learned are not agreed either in the nature or number of such rules, and sometimes an expositor who has exerted his ingenuity most in devising canons of interpretation, forgets to apply them.

All languages, whether spoken or written, are more or less metaphorical, interspersed with what are called figures of speech. It is customary to represent nations and tribes, whose language abounds in symbols, as but little advanced in civilization; and to view oriental nations as more disposed to indulge in tropes and figures than those of the west; but perhaps this relative estimate of the modes of speech in the eastern and western hemispheres will admit of some modification, when we consider the gesticulations and similes by which the aborigines of America attempt to give expression to their ideas. The word hieroglyphics, signifying sacred sculpture, derived from the ancient mode of writing by the priests of Egypt, has received conventional currency among the learned, as descriptive of any writing which is obscure, "hard to be understood." And all who read this book will find some of it "dark" indeed. The divine Author intended that it should be so, (ch. xiii. 18;) yet he calls it emphatically, a "Revelation."

We have already noticed, that the symbols in this book are taken from the ceremonial law in part, and part are taken from the works of creation. The heavens and the earth present to our senses a variety of material objects; some more, some less calculated to arrest our attention. Among these, the sun, moon and stars,—earth and sea, mountains and rivers, occupy prominent places. To facilitate our knowledge of these, and prompt reference to any part of them, we generalize or throw them into groups. Thus we speak familiarly of the "solar system," the "animal, vegetable or mineral kingdom." Now, just transfer these systematized objects from the material and physical, to the moral and spiritual world. Then consider what relation any one object bears to the system, and what influence it has upon the other objects of which it is a part, and its import may be generally, satisfactorily and certainly ascertained. Thus the same canons or rules which we apply in the interpretation of other writings, will be equally available in "searching the Scriptures,"—never, never forgetting that it is the Spirit of Christ that "guides into all truth," or his own all-comprehensive rule of interpretation, "comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Cor. ii. 13.)

In order to the right observance of the divinely prescribed rule, "comparing spiritual things with spiritual," we must often refer to the prophecies of the Old Testament,—to the second and seventh chapters of Daniel in particular, because that prophet, while the church was captive under the power of literal Babylon, was favoured with a discovery of the purpose of God, that a succession of imperial powers should afterwards arise to "try the patience and the faith of the saints." As in the case of Pharaoh, so in the whole history of the rise, reign and overthrow of succeeding persecuting powers, Jehovah's design was precisely the same,—"to make his power known, and that his name might be declared throughout all the earth." (Ex. ix. 16; Rom. ix. 17.) In connexion with this, he would "glorify the riches of his grace on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory," by sustaining them in the furnace of trial.

1. After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said. Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.

2. And immediately I was in the Spirit; and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.

3. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.

Verses 1-3.—"After these things," contained in the three preceding chapters, the glorious vision of the mediatorial person, and the writing and sending of the seven epistles; there seems to have intervened a pause. While John was in expectation of farther discoveries of "things which were to be thereafter," "behold, a door was opened in heaven," the place of Jehovah's special residence. But as this "heaven" is sometimes the theatre of war, (ch. xii. 7,) of course it is not to be taken literally. As a symbol it generally signifies organized society, over which the Most High presides. The "door opened" afforded the means to John of seeing the objects within. The "voice as of a trumpet," which arrested his attention, was that of Christ,—the "voice of the Lord, full of majesty." (Ps. xxix. 4; ch. i. 10, 11.) John was in his own apprehension, like Paul, "caught up into the third heaven," that he might behold in glorious succession "things which must be hereafter." Why must they be? Simply because such was the "purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working; whose counsel stands, and who doeth all his pleasure." (Eph. i. 11.) Can a rational creature work without a plan? And shall mortal man be more rational than his Maker? The objects which were presented to John are not to be understood as material objects. It was requisite that he should be "in the Spirit," before he could see them. The exercise of his bodily senses, the organs of sensation, must be suspended, that he might have a perception of the objects presented in vision. As the "spirits of just men made perfect" in glory, in a disembodied state, are still conscious and active; so are we warranted to conceive of souls yet in the body as being in a state analagous,—falling into a trance. (Acts x. 10.) The first object seen by John was a "throne set in heaven," the emblem of sovereignty. "One sat on the throne," who cannot be described, only in an obscure manner by comparison, being "the invisible God, whom no eye hath seen, nor can see." Yet we know with certainty it is the person of the Father, because he is in the next chapter plainly distinguished from "the Lamb." Seated on the throne,—and "in the throne he is greater than the Mediator." A relation between these divine persons was shadowed forth in Egypt between Pharaoh and Joseph. (Gen. xli. 40.) Occupying the throne of the universe, the Father sustains the majesty of the Godhead, and represents the persons of the adorable Trinity; for the idea is equally unscriptural and absurd, that either person appears or acts (ad extra) in absolute or essential character. (Is. xlii. 1; John x. 18; xiv. 31.) He that "sat, was ... like a jasper and a sardine stone,"—not like any human form, but in allusion, perhaps, to the Shekinah or visible glory above the mercy-seat in the most holy place, he appeared in the essential purity or holiness of his nature and awful justice,—one "who will by no means clear the guilty." The rainbow is the familiar emblem or "token of the covenant." Its being "round about the throne" teaches us, that God "in wrath remembers mercy." As "green" is the color most pleasing to the natural eye, so is the rainbow of covenant mercy most grateful to the penitent sinner, contemplated by the eye of faith. God is "ever mindful of his covenant." (Ps. cxi. 5.)

Ever since the revelation of mercy to fallen man, God deals with mankind, not in essential or absolute character, but by covenant in economical standing. All along since that epoch in the history of this world, "the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." As yet, however, the Son is not brought upon the stage in the apostle's present view. The Son has his appropriate place in the vision, where he will appear as Mediator. In the conflict to be carried on for twelve hundred and sixty years by the combined powers of earth and hell "against the Lord and his Anointed," we have the agencies exhibited in these two chapters only on heaven's side. The opposing hosts will afterwards appear.

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