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"The Book of Revelation is the book for the present hour. There is a special blessing promised to those who read it and to those who hear it and treasure the truth that God has seen fit to give us. . ." With these words Donald Barnhouse begins this helpful devotional commentary on the New Testament book that puzzles so many . The hallmark of this commentary is its applicability to Christian living and not simply its clear explanation of the text.
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RevelationAn Expositional Commentary
By Donald Grey Barnhouse
ZondervanCopyright © 1985 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVerses 1-3
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
1 Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him, to show to His yielded servants what must speedily happen; and He made it known, having sent it through His messenger unto His yielded servant, John; 2 who attested the Word of God and the witness of Jesus Christ in all that he saw.
3 Happy is he who reads and they who hear the words of the prophecy, and treasure what is written therein, for the time is near. (Rev. 1:1-3, Free Translation)
We are living in the strangest days that man has ever known. The world has passed through terrible times before, but never has the whole earth been so bound together in its wild plunging through one catastrophe after another as today. There have been wars down through the ages, but never wars that have touched so many nations as the conflicts through which we have passed in this generation. There have been political crises, but not on a scale that touched all of the continents.
Civilization has brought so many new means of communication that the matters which affect one nation affect all. Events that take place in Europe and Asia become news that vitally concerns the farmer in the Mississippi valley. Thoughtful Bible students agree almost universally that we are living near the end of the age, and that at any moment the outline of prophetic events preserved for us will begin its course of fulfillment. The world will then rush rapidly through all of the scenes of history which God has written in advance.
The book of Revelation is the book for the present hour. There is a special blessing promised to those who read it and to those who hear it and treasure the truth that God has seen fit to give us. There is always a blessing attendant upon the study of the Word of God, but the blessing promised here is an added one. Our Lord has said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). That blessing is ours whether we be gathered for prayer, for communion, or even for social joy, if we remember that we are gathered in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The blessing that is promised here is a particular blessing that belongs to the study of this last book of the Bible. There is special strength to be found through the understanding of the prophetic message - a strength that will arm us for the conflict of the days ahead, if our Lord tarries.
If we know this book, we will be kept from any astonishment or fear as the age in which we live becomes dead ripe for plucking. There are terrible judgments coming upon the world. Those who know this book have no fear whatsoever; for the believer may know not only God's plan but his own personal place in that plan. This is why Paul was able to write to the Thessalonians, "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day.... for God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:4, 5, 9).
The God of eternity, who knows the end from the beginning, is saying to His own: "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29: 11 ). He has brought us to a place where we, too, can know the end before it comes to pass. The final results of all the sinister tendencies which we see in the world today, the doom of the world system in which we live, and of the professing church which has so signally failed to live up to the God-given ideal, and the judgments that are to fall upon Israel, are all written in detail in this marvelous book.
In many editions of the Bible, the title page of this book contains the words, "The Revelation of Saint John the Divine." This is not God's title for the book, but a name which was given by fallible men. The true name of this book is found in its opening phrase. It is the "Revelation of Jesus Christ." John wrote it, it is true, but its purpose and its subject are the revelation of our Lord and the accomplishment of His purposes. This is what we are to see in this book. It is not merely the revelation of a prophetic plan, but the revealing of a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. We shall see Him as the Messiah of Israel, the Lord of the Church and the Judge of the world. If we fail to note His relationship to any one of these three groups, we shall be blinded to the true meaning of this book.
The Greek name of the book is apokalupsis-apocalypse-which in its simplest etymological definition means the taking off of a covering-an unveiling. It is used eighteen times in the New Testament and when used of a person always indicates that he is visible. It is a well-known fact that the first use of any Greek word in the New Testament is almost sure to have in its context that which explains the sense of the word and gives it its meaning in all further usages. This word apokalupsis is first used in Luke 2:32 where Simeon, the godly old man who waited for the consolation of Israel, took the baby, Jesus, in his arms and blessed Him. "Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, 'Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten [this is the word] the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel'" (Luke 2:28-32). Thus the meaning is given. It is a shining forth of a person; it is an unveiling of God. Elsewhere it is translated "appearing," as in I Peter 1:7; "coming," as in I Corinthians 1:7; and "manifestation," as in Romans 8:19. It is a laying bare, a disclosure. There is a sense in which the whole Bible is a revelation. God, who could have hidden Himself had He so desired, has been pleased to disclose, to reveal. This is true of Genesis and Matthew as well as of Daniel and the other prophets; but this last book in the Bible is a special unveiling with a special blessing, showing forth the risen Lord Jesus as God's answer to every problem of the world.
There is an opinion that has been circulated widely from pulpit and pew that this book is too vague, too obscure, too complex to be understood by any ordinary mind. The devil likes to have people believe this. There are men-even men who have been ordained as supposed interpreters of God's Word-who say that it is not a book to be preached, that it contains too much Oriental symbolism which cannot be understood in our day. Others say that it is a book reserved only for the most profound students and the deepest thinkers. Such an attitude is a contradiction of the very name of the book. Revelation is not a puzzle or an enigma. This book is not called the hiding or the mystery of Jesus Christ, but the revelation of Jesus Christ. Practically everyone who reads these words knows the way of salvation, even though some individuals may not appropriate that knowledge for themselves. It is not sufficient to know that salvation is through faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but to be born again is to be acquainted with a personal salvation which takes a lost soul out of death and into life; God has told us that all Scripture is profitable, and in the Revelation we find a light that illuminates all the rest of the Bible so that God's plan throughout the ages becomes a clear stream of truth. A pyramid that is built of many stones must have as its peak a perfect pyramid. The whole of God's Word, is indeed, a pyramid of truth, and the book of Revelation is the perfect pyramid that crowns it all.
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to Him ..." What is the implication of this verse? Could God the Father reveal something to the Lord Jesus Christ about Himself? Yes! This verse is the answer to one of the great problems of the Gospels. Jesus Christ was not only perfect deity, but He had a perfect humanity. He "increased in wisdom and stature." He grew from day to day in His sinless humanity. In His deity, He knew all things; in His humanity, He learned. Speaking to His disciples of the day when He should come again, He said, "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father" (Mark 13:32). He did not know these things when He spoke, for in His humanity He had limited Himself, but He knows them now. This Man, obedient in all things, obedient unto death, has been raised from the dead, taken into heaven, seated on the throne of God, and given the full revelation of Himself.
When the disciples asked the Lord some days after the resurrection, "Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He answered, "it is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (Acts 1:6, 7). Yes, the times and seasons are in, God's power, but in the last book of the Bible they are given over to the Lord Jesus Christ as a revelation for His servants. Now, He knows the exact moment when He will arise from His Father's throne and come forth to set in motion the events that are to take place upon the earth. So in this book God the Father is speaking to the risen Lord Jesus. If the language is difficult for us to understand, this may be the answer: it is the language of the Father. God is speaking with God, revealing His plan.
Another definite reason why some men find this book obscure is that it is a revelation which God gave to Christ "to show to His yielded servants what must speedily happen." The original word is doulos and means much more than a servant. Some servants could be sullen, lazy, rebellious. This word, however, is used to translate the Hebrew "bondslave." Our minds go back to the Scripture record of the days of Jubilee when all the slaves in Israel were liberated. If a slave loved his master and did not wish to go out of his slavery into poverty and misery, he was taken to the door of the tabernacle and a hole was bored in the lobe of his ear with an awl, thus showing that he had given himself over to his master forever as his willing slave. This was certainly in the mind of Paul when he called himself the servant of Jesus Christ.
Excerpted from Revelation by Donald Grey Barnhouse Copyright © 1985 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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