(1: 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.”
In this verse we are told the theme of the book. The Apocalypse is a series of visions concerning the second advent of our Lord. “Behold, He cometh with clouds.” In the Old Testament, clouds are inseparably connected with Divine visitation. When Jehovah gave Israel the law, He descended to Mount Sinai in a cloud (Ex. 19: 16). A cloud likewise covered the tent of the congregation when the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40: 34). See also Psalm 18: 11; 104: 3 and Isaiah 19: 1.
This passage is closely related Daniel 7: 13-14, in which the Son of Man is described as receiving His kingdom from the Father. It was this verse to which our Lord referred when adjured by the high priest as to whether He was Christ or not (Matt. 26: 64). Thus it appears that the “coming in clouds” is associated with the coming of the Son of Man to judgment. The same imagery is used by Christ in Matt. 24: 30 and Mark 14: 62. Moreover, Paul later revealed that at Christ’s coming, the dead will rise first, and those alive at His coming will be “caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4: 16-17).
All Pre-Millennialists agree that the coming in clouds is to be taken literally, and not in any figurative sense. Said the angels to the apostles: “This same Jesus,” which ascended in a literal loud, “shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1: 9-11). The key to correct interpretation is supplied by John himself, who writes: “And every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him.” The “also” refers to the Jewish nation, and so the “every” must denote those of other kindreds and nations and tongues. The fact that this book was sent to Christian assemblies in Asia, tells us that John could not have envisioned Christ’s coming as an event incapable of verification throughout all parts of the world.
Nevertheless, the Second Advent does admit of some localization. While every eye shall see Him (for every knee must bow before Him), our Lord will not return to Iran, or to Afghanistan, or to China, or to Brazil, or to America–but to the Mount of Olives, from whence He ascended (Zech. 14: 4). According to the prophecies of Zechariah, the coming of Christ in glory will be accompanied by the repentance of the Jewish nation (Zech. 12: 10-11) and the destruction of those nations that come against Jerusalem (Zech. 12: 9). Then all the kindreds of the earth –better rendered all the tribes of the land— will mourn because of Him. This unmistakably points to the Jewish national conversion, which is the subject of so many inspired Old Testament prophecies.
In the early years of the Christian church, this passage was sometimes employed as a proof-text in refuting the Docetae, a heretical sect which believed that Christ was only a man in appearance, and not in truth. Ignatius of Antioch writes: “But if they say that He will come at the end of the world without a body, how shall those ‘see Him which pierced Him,’ and when they recognize Him, ‘mourn for themselves’? For incorporeal beings have neither form nor figure, nor the aspect of an animal possessed of shape, because their nature is in itself simple” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, ch. iii).
The emphatic “Even so, Amen” sets upon these predictions a Divine seal of certainty. Surely all will come to pass.
(1: 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.”
The meaning of “Alpha and Omega” is given in Rev. 1: 17 and 22: 13. It was a term used by the Jews to denote the character of God as “the first and the last.” The term is interpreted in Isaiah 44: 6-7, where the Lord is revealed as the only True God, He Who alone can declare things to come. The Apocalypse shows that this term is eminently applicable to Jesus Christ as Son of God. So, too, regarding the Divine title of “The Almighty” (ho pantokrator), which is the Septuagint rendering of “Lord of Hosts.” This title is used nine times in the book of Revelation, and only once elsewhere in the New Testament (2 Cor. 6: 18).
(1: 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.”
John identifies himself with the persecuted brethren of the Christian church. We are not to think of him as above mortal men, as one to be worshipped and revered as divine. Although he, like Daniel, was greatly beloved, he was not immune from persecution. Like Paul, John was an ensample to those who should follow Jesus Christ. If John suffered tribulation, let us know that we too must partake of the same. “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14: 2). Our future reigning with Christ is conditional on our present suffering with Him, and on bearing His reproach before men. See also John 16: 33; Romans 8: 17; Phil. 3: 10; 2 Tim. 2: 12. Those who endure temptation will receive the crown of life (James 1: 12), and patience is a necessary virtue (2 Peter 1: 6), without which there can be no progress toward the “godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity” which will render us perfect (2 Peter 1: 7-8).
But how, we ask, did John come to be on the isle of Patmos? Among orthodox scholars, it is a settled opinion that John was exiled to Patmos on account of his Christian testimony. The important question is: did his exile take place during the reign of Nero, or of Domitian? The unanimous testimony of the early church, which places authorship of the Apocalypse toward the end of Domitian’s reign, can hardly be challenged on any fair grounds. The alternate theory, which places authorship about the year 65 A.D., relies on arguments which appear “iffy” and inconclusive. And anyone with an unbiased mind must agree that the evidence adduced is not cumulative enough to outweigh the traditional view.
Of course, the question will never be conclusively answered. The safest course, in any event, seems to be to rely less on the date of authorship than on what the book reveals or discloses–for, after all, it is an unveiling of truths concerning the second advent of our Lord.
Those who pursue this date of authorship controversy may want to consider a third theory, which holds that John was not exiled to Patmos at all. Rather, he came to be there on account of the revelation he was then to receive. That is, as Paul went into Arabia to receive the Word of God (Galatians 1: 17), so John went to Patmos, where he might receive the visions recorded in this book. This view appears to be taken by John Lightfoot, who writes: “John, travelling in the ministry of the gospel up and down from Asia, westward, cometh into the isle Patmos, in the Icarian sea, an island about thirty miles’ compass: and there, on the Lord’s day, he hath these visions; and an angel interprets to him all he saw” (Harmony of the New Testament).
Regardless of any other view, however, it is my firm opinion that the apostolic church was correct, and that John was exiled to Patmos during the persecution of Domitian; and that while there, he received the word of God.