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Vincent's Word Studies, by Marvin R. Vincent, [1886], at

Revelation Introduction


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The Revelation

This document has given rise to voluminous controversy as to its author, its origin, its purpose, and its interpretation. It has been held to be a forgery in the name of John; to have been composed by another writer in the apostle's name, not in order to deceive, but in order to record an oral revelation of John; or to have been the work of another John. Some who deny that John wrote the Gospel, have attributed Revelation to him, and the authenticity of the latter is maintained by some prominent rationalistic critics.

The Apostle John was banished to the Island of Patmos, probably by the Emperor Domitian, a.d. 95 or 96, and the book, composed either during his exile, or, as is more likely, after his return to Ephesus, contains the revelation given him there in a series of visions. It is directly addressed to the Seven Churches of Proconsular Asia; the number seven being representative, and not including all the Asiatic Churches. Its design was to encourage the Church during that trying period, predicted by Jesus himself, between the close of direct revelation and the second coming of the Lord. This encouragement centers in the return of Jesus to give His people eternal life and to trample down His foes. As related to the progress of doctrine in the New Testament, it represents the final consummation in the redeemed Church, the heavenly Jerusalem, which is foreshadowed in the rise and growth of the Apostolic Church.

The style is figurative and symbolical. It deals with principles rather than with particular events. To the neglect of this characteristic, and the corresponding attempt to link the symbols and prophecies with specific historical incidents or personages, are due most of the extravagances of interpretation. No satisfactory argument against its authenticity can be drawn from its contents as related to the other writings of John. It proclaims the same eternal truths which are asserted and vindicated in the Gospel and in the Epistles - the sovereignty of God, the conflict of sin with righteousness, the temporary triumph of evil, and the final, decisive victory of holiness. As in the other writings, Christ is the central figure, the conqueror of sin and death, the crowning joy of the redeemed, and the object of their adoration. It emphasizes the divine hatred of sin and the certainty of the divine judgment of the wicked and of the future bliss of believers in Jesus. The main idea of the Gospel and of Revelation is the same - that of a decisive conflict between the powers of good and evil.

The symbolism of Revelation is Jewish, and not Greek or Roman. It is pervaded with the style and imagery of the Old Testament, and is molded by its historical and prophetical books. "The book," says Professor Milligan, "is absolutely steeped in the memories, the incidents, the thoughts, and the language of the Church's past. To such an extent is this the case that it may be doubted whether it contains a single figure not drawn from the Old Testament, or a single complete sentence not more or less built up of materials brought from the same source.... It is a perfect mosaic of passages from the Old Testament, at one time quoted verbally, at another referred to by distinct allusion; now taken from one scene in Jewish history, and now again from two or three together." Thus the heresy of the Nicolaitanes is the heresy of Balaam (Rev 2:14): the evil in the Church of Thyatira is personified in Jezebel (Rev 2:20): the angelic captain in the war against the dragon is the Michael of Daniel (Rev 7:7): Jerusalem, Mount Zion, Babylon, the Euphrates, Sodom, and Egypt are symbols of the holy bliss of the saints, of the transgressors against God, and of the judgment of the wicked (Rev 21:2; Rev 14:1; Rev 16:19; Rev 9:14; Rev 11:8). The battle of Har-Magedon carries us back to the great slaughters in the plain of Megiddo (Jdg 5:19; Psa 83:9; Kg2 23:29). The promises to the churches are given under the figure of the tree of life, the hidden manna, the white stone, the iron scepter, the pillar in the temple of God (Rev 2:7, Rev 2:17, Rev 2:27, Rev 2:28; Rev 3:5, Rev 3:12, Rev 3:20). Heaven is described under the image of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Rev 11:1, Rev 11:19; Rev 6:9; Rev 8:3; Rev 4:6). The plagues of Rev 8:1-13 are the plagues of Egypt: the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Korah are blended in the representation of the deliverance of God's people (Rev 12:15, Rev 12:16). Of the Prophets, Haggai contributes the earthquake of chapter 6, and Joel the sun changed into the blackness of sackcloth and the moon into blood: Isaiah the falling stars, the fig tree casting her untimely fruit, and the heavens departing as a scroll: Ezekiel the scorpions of chapter 9, the description of the New Jerusalem in chapter 21, the roll in Rev 5:1-14, and the little book in Rev 10:1-11 : Zechariah the opening of the seals in chapter 6 and the olive trees in chapter 11. The vision of the glorified Redeemer (Rev 1:12-20) is combined from Exodus, Zechariah Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and the Psalms.

Along with these coincidences there are certain contrasts, notably as respects the doctrine of Christ's coming, which, in the Gospel and Epistles lies in the background, while it is the main theme of Revelation. Revelation treats the impending judgment as external, the Gospel as spiritual. Revelation describes the triumph of Christianity under the imagery of Judaism; the consummation being an ideal Jerusalem and an ideal worship; while in the Gospel, Judaism appears in opposition to Christ, "standing without, isolated and petrified, and not taken up with it, quickened and glorified."

The symbols of the book are drawn from objects familiar to the writer - the locusts, the eagles, the millstone, the olive and palm and vine.

The principal objection urged against the common authorship of the Gospel and Revelation, is the difference in language and style. This difference must be frankly admitted. "The language," says Dr. Davidson, "departs materially from the usual Greek of the New Testament, presenting anomalies, incorrectnesses, peculiar constructions, and awkward dispositions of words, which have no parallel.... The language is so thoroughly Hebraistic as to neglect the usual rules of Greek." By many eminent critics these differences are regarded as irreconcilable on the assumption of a common authorship.

On the other hand, it may be urged that these differences are largely intentional; that the author departs from common usage under the peculiar demands of his subject, arising from the conditions under which he writes, and his intent to conform to the Old Testament style of address; and further, that his familiarity with correct usage is shown by other passages in the same book. Revelation, moreover, contains many of the words which are peculiar to the Gospel and Epistles, such as to witness, to tabernacle, to keep, to overcome, to name as the expression of character, true (ἀληθινός) in the sense of real; and the figures of hungering and thirsting, the manna, the living water, the shepherd and the sheep. It is, indeed, answered that, where the same words occur, they are used in a different sense; but many of these alleged differences disappear upon closer examination. The Hebrew character is only superficially different from that of the Gospel, which is Hebrew in spirit, though the Greek is much purer, and "the absence of solecisms arises from the avoidance of idiomatic expressions."

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